What's better than a great teacher? A bundle of great teachers. Starting with Mrs. Lambert in 2nd grade, who put him and his best friend Marilyn in their own reading group, through Mrs. Sokol in 4th grade, who fortunately covered the entire year before the Christmas break because she succumbed to cancer shortly thereafter, and finally Mrs. Lubben in 6th grade, who set high expectations in the second week of classes by silently sneaking up behind Rick when he thought he had free time on his hands and was assiduously re-arranging his pencils in his desk and informing him 'there will be no time wasted this year playing with pencils,' Rick was blessed with teachers who pushed him to exceed his own limits, not just float at the top because the competition wasn't that stiff.
Junior High was crammed full of every extra-curricular activity offered. Football, wrestling, track. Band and chorus. Student Council. Science Fair (1st place 7th grade for his 'computer,' which actually was a black box, and really used punch cards, but could only count to 2047, and 1st place overall in 8th grade for 'What Determines the Strength of Concrete,' the answer to which continues to serve Rick well today, when he is contemplating housing in developing countries).
Then the Big Bang. Spurred on by the Des Moines Register, for whom he was a diligent carrier for five years, Rick applied to, was accepted by, and received a scholarship from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. The best prep school in the world. Possibly the universe. A Maquoketa friend asked, “Why would you want to go away to school?,' and Rick thought, “Who wouldn't?”
To his parents Andover was a mixed blessing. To Rick it was not. The expansion of his universe was unequivocally a good thing, because he never lost his home planet, and he gained a whole galaxy to tramp around in. Damned good luck on his part.
Some of the Andover class work was easy, if you did your homework every day – math and science. Some required more effort and only reluctantly yielded rewards – English and history. And a small but very important part, assuming one wanted to eventually graduate, bordered on impossible – French. So impossible Rick can still remember every grade he received for the three required years (65, 65, 65, 65 for the year; 65, 65, 65, 65 for the year, 45, 45, 60, 60 for the year). Phew! That was a most generous 'my contract was not renewed so on my way out the door I'm going to do a miserable little kid a big favor' concession by a teacher. Thank you sir, you are not forgotten.
Rick took advantage of the fact he was from Iowa and made the varsity wrestling team as a 9th grader. And he placed 3rd in the prep school tournament. That was a very good move, to steal a wrestling phrase, and it greatly elevated his position in the all boys all the time Andover pecking order. Unfortunately his wrestling career ended at that point, when a genial but antique doctor decided to put him in a full length back brace for the next three years. The moral of the story is – be careful what you ask for (get out of cross country running), you just might get it.
In other non-academic pursuits there is not much to relate. Teenagers have an enormous propensity for wasting time when they are given the chance. A debating society highlight was devoting an entire year to making Scooter Libby's life miserable (sorry Scooter – they were just smart aleck 9th graders and your serious 10th grade stuff pushed them over the edge). Best friends who did productive things and let Rick watch them provided plenty of entertainment. Learning to smoke and drink did, too.
One thing Rick never learned was how to impress an interviewer who didn't really need him on board the ship. He thought an 800 on his math SAT spoke for itself, but it only whispered. No Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford. Oh well. Instead of 'settling' for USC or Reed or Pomona or Antioch Rick decided to take a shot at a Stanford transfer, and enrolled at Menlo College in Menlo Park, California.
It was a good year for Rick, but not necessarily for the country. Earth Day and Kent State. Woodstock and Altmont. Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy . Professors at Menlo were in most cases just what he needed, and the last English teacher of his academic career was a definite capstone. Mr. Arnovick – are you reading this? At the end of the year, having finished the entire calculus sequence, there was no good reason to return. The Stanford interviewer was no more impressed this time around and probably thought it prudent not to accept yet another student who looked like he might be throwing rocks through library windows during non-study hours.
Eventually Rick did go back to college, as an adult. He needed to understand double entry accounting for the business, so signed up for a class at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. And thought it prudent to pay double and take the class for credit. It turned out Coe knew what they were doing when they provided five year guaranteed class schedules for non-traditional students – they were creating annuities. Eight years later Rick graduated, with a degree in Business Administration and an emphasis in Accounting. Almost an emphasis in Economics, but he never got that History of Economic Thought class on his schedule.
A bunch of prizes, but one stands out. Rick was only required to take one non-business class, Ways of Knowing. He had to write a short story, and it won some highly coveted writing prize. It was about Mrs. Lubben – remember her?
Coe was great. The truly inspiring teachers are too many to list, but those who think Iowa's small private colleges don't earn their fancy price tag are dead wrong. Don't buy more education than you can afford, but do buy the best education you can afford. You will never regret it.
Finally an MBA at the University of Chicago. Two years of flying to Chicago every Friday. Fortunately it is only a 37 minute flight – Rick's study group members had to fly in from Ann Arbor, New York City, and Mexico City.
There really are reasons why Chicago is one of the greatest universities in the world (OK, the greatest university in the world). They're called professors. They like to argue. They like to debate. They win Nobel Prizes. And they like to teach.
And, when presented with new information, they change their minds. What do you do when you are presented with new information?