Carnegie was a colorful character from the turn of the 20th century. He punched cattle and sold soap, bacon, and lard in the Badlands of South Dakota. He learned business in “pioneer hotels” and gambling with “squaw men.” In college, he finally “distinguished himself,” after many embarrassing failures, by learning to speak convincingly in public.
He went to New York and offered to teach a public speaking course at the YMCA. They refused to pay him his requested $2 a day, so he negotiated a commission. Soon he was making $30 a night (a small fortune at the time).
Many of the people he worked with wanted a course not only in public speaking, but also in dealing with people. A survey at the time revealed that, after health, adults were most concerned with “how to understand and get along with people, how to make people like you, and how to win others to your way of thinking.”
Carnegie searched in vain for a course that would teach those things. He researched the lives of famous people and read the advice of philosophers and psychologists. He then asked the businesspeople attending his courses to use the advice and give him feedback. In that way, the course grew “like a child.”
As the introduction says, it is a course that is “as real as the measles and twice as fun.” Its fans are many and distinguished. Warren Buffett, the multibillionaire investor and philanthropist, calls it the most important book he ever read.
Carnegie’s criticisms of the education system are not harsh, but they are familiar. He says that the things that are taught in school are not very practical, and that people search for more as soon as they are out in the real world. These people include some of the best-educated in the world, several of whom took his courses.
Carnegie claims that the content of his courses – public speaking, coping with worry, and dealing with people - were “incidental” to what he was really teaching: how to confront your fears and develop courage.
Can courage ever be included in a school curriculum?