Guest Post via @clarksroom: A Battle of Wits!

We tend to over-complicate things. Maybe that statement is over-simplification, but I think it is true. In education we tend to make things way more complicated than they need to be, at least I think so. As I go throughout my day as a middle school administrator, it seems I have to make a thousand decisions. It may be closer to a couple hundred, but it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount coming at me every day. Very early on in my tenure at my current school, I stopped over-thinking many of these decisions and just made the simplest decision. There are times when this is not the best decision, but I have found those times to be few and far between.

Maybe academia likes to over-complicate things to validate what is going on. After all, if the simplest solution is the best, maybe we do not need all the degrees and high pedigrees. If that is true the Dr. PhD’s of the world get nervous and the Mike Rowe’s start getting excited.

This reminds me of the scene in The Princess Bride in which the man in black and Vizzini have a battle of the wits. Vizzini makes the battle [conversation] as complicated as possible in order to gain power over the man in black. Vizzini gets highly agitated when the man in black does not appear to be apprehensive at Vizzini’s perceived intelligence. Vizzini does not even think of the possibility of poison in both cups, which in hindsight is the simplest explanation for the man in black’s calm demeanor.  The entire scene’s script is below if you want to read it…’s AWESOME!

Here is a more concrete example. At my site we have 5th through 8th graders, the 5th and 6th grades have different bell schedules as the 7th and 8th grades. We also have a third bell schedule for a Mod/Severe class. It was very disruptive to the learning environment to have bells going on all day, as well as confusing. The first question I asked was, why do we need bells? For the most part, the teachers were managing time well, the bells just got in the way. That was the simplest answer to the issue, stop the bells. We have a very old bell system so the idea of getting a new one from the district was not financially possible or a reality.

So, I Googled it.

For a few hundred dollars there is a software that runs on each teacher’s computers that ring the bells through the computer speakers. It took a couple hours to setup. Each grade level can have different bells and sounds tailored to their needs. Simple!

Try simplifying, it might save your sanity.

hqdefault_liveVIZZINI: So, it is down to you. And it is down to me.
VIZZINI: If you wish her dead, by all means keep moving forward.
MAN IN BLACK: Let me explain…
VIZZINI: There’s nothing to explain. You’re trying to kidnap what I’ve rightfully stolen.
MAN IN BLACK: Perhaps an arrangement can be reached.
VIZZINI: There will be no arrangement [pauses, deliberately] and you’re killing her!
MAN IN BLACK: But if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.
VIZZINI: I’m afraid so — I can’t compete with you physically. And you’re no match for my brains.
MAN IN BLACK: You’re that smart?
VIZZINI: Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?
VIZZINI: Morons.
MAN IN BLACK: Really? In that case, I challenge you to a battle of wits.
VIZZINI: For the Princess?
VIZZINI: To the death?
VIZZINI: I accept.
MAN IN BLACK: Good. Then pour the wine.
MAN IN BLACK: Inhale this, but do not touch.
VIZZINI: I smell nothing.
MAN IN BLACK: [Takes the packet back] What you do not smell is called Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man.
MAN IN BLACK: All right: where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead.
VIZZINI: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy’s? [pauses to study the MAN IN BLACK] Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I’m not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
MAN IN BLACK: You’ve made your decision then?
VIZZINI: Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
MAN IN BLACK: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
VIZZINI: Wait till I get going! Where was I?
MAN IN BLACK: Australia.
VIZZINI: Yes — Australia, and you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
MAN IN BLACK: [beginning nervousness] You’re just stalling now.
VIZZINI: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong. So, you could have put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard which means you must have studied. And in studying, you must have learned that man is mortal so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
MAN IN BLACK: [nervously] You’re trying to trick me into giving away something — it won’t work —
VIZZINI: [triumphant] It has worked — you’ve given everything away — I know where the poison is.
MAN IN BLACK: [fool’s courage] Then make your choice.
VIZZINI: I will. And I choose [stops suddenly and points at something behind the Man in Black] what in the world can that be?
MAN IN BLACK: [Turns, looks] What? Where? I don’t see anything.
VIZZINI: Oh, well, I-I could have sworn I saw something. No matter.
MAN IN BLACK: What’s so funny?
VIZZINI: I’ll tell you in a minute. First, let’s drink — me from my glass, and you from yours.
MAN IN BLACK: You guessed wrong.
VIZZINI: [roaring with laughter] You only think I guessed wrong… [louder now] …that’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned. Ha-ha, you fool.
VIZZINI: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ahahahaha, ahahahaha, ahahaha–
BUTTERCUP: Who are you?
MAN IN BLACK: I am no one to be trifled with, that is all you ever need know.
The MAN IN BLACK leads her off the mountain path into untraveled terrain.
BUTTERCUP:  To think — all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.
MAN IN BLACK: They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to Iocaine powder.


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