A couple of years ago I had dinner with a group of journalists at National Harbor while visiting Washington, D.C. One guest, Bernal E. Smith II, the publisher of a well-respected black newspaper in Memphis, would offer me a piece of information I’d never forget.
After dinner we congregated outside for a few minutes and he asked if I had heard of the book “Outwitting The Devil” by Napolean Hill. I told him I hadn’t heard of it. He searched his phone for a few seconds, then pulled up the quote he was looking for and read it to me.
The major object of all schooling is to force the students to cram their memories with facts instead of teaching them how to organize and make practical use of facts. This cramming system centers the attention of students on the accumulation of “credits” but overlooks the important question of how to use knowledge in the practical affairs of life. This system turns out graduates whose names are inscribed upon parchment certificates, but whose minds are empty of self-determination.
“Damn. What’s that called again,” I asked.
“Outwitting the Devil,” he replied.
The book was written in the late 1930s but – as legend tells it – not published until 2011 because Hill’s wife demanded he not release it during his lifetime. According to the book itself she felt it was too much a broadside against the religion and public education, and it could be career-ending for Hill.
“Outwitting” sets up a mock trial that puts The Devil on trial. Yes, the actual Devil. The imagined cross-examination by strong willed prosecutor is a useful ruse that has Beelzebub explain his methods of preventing humanity from becoming who God intends us to be. Known more for self-help (ala Tony Robbins before there was a Tony Robbins) Hill’s purpose as an author isn’t simple allegory, instead, it’s a vehicle for his theory on why we succeed or fail in life.
As Smith pointed out to me, the Devil lists public education as one of the powerful tools he uses to shackle us.
The Devil says:
Schoolteachers help me gain control of the minds of children not so much by what they teach the children as because of what they do not teach them. The entire public school system is so administered that it helps my cause by teaching children almost everything except how to use their own minds and think independently.
School children are taught not to develop and use their own minds, but to adopt and use the thoughts of others. This sort of schooling destroys the capacity for independent thought, except in a few rare cases where children rely so definitely upon their own will power that they refuse to allow others to do their thinking.
It’s the possibility of independent thinkers that haunts the Devil. He says he fears that “someday some courageous person will reverse the present system of school teaching” and create one where “children establish ways and means of developing their own minds from within.”
At that time, he laments, “the schoolteachers will no longer belong to my staff.”
Again, remember, that was written in 1938 when public schooling was increasingly seen as a democratizing force for the public good.
Hill’s message throughout “Outwitting” is broad and involved, so I can’t summarize it well, but it’s more than a critique of the oppressive properties of the church, state, schools, and other social mechanisms that paralyze us with fear and ignorance.
He’s building the case for a system of faith and thought that releases a confident, focused version of each person that Kat Williams might call our Mf-ing “Star Player” (explicit).
To that end, The Devil reveals the seven principles that threaten to free humanity from his evil grasp:
- Definiteness of purpose. Choose a purpose, a grand aspiration, a big goal, and move towards it relentlessly.
- Mastery over self. Discipline equals freedom. If you’re driven by impulse all your life, you’ll go nowhere, like a drifter.
- Learning from adversity. Failures are just failures. Whether we learn from themor let them stop us is up to us.
- Controlling environmental influence. Who you hang out with matters. What your room looks like matters.
- Time. Time can make drifting and negativity permanent. But it can also make positivity and wisdom permanent.
- Harmony. In order for you to balance mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of your life, you must be the main actor.
- Caution. Always act. But always think before you act.
And, finally, in education, here is what the Devil says is the way we all can fight back against his control of us (it is longer so I’ve edited some of it):
Teach all students how to recognize practical ideas that may be of benefit in helping them acquire whatever they demand of life.
Teach the students how to budget and use time, and above all teach the truth that time is the greatest asset available to human beings and the cheapest.
Teach children to be definite in all things, beginning with the choice of a definite major purpose in life!
Teach children the nature of and possibilities for good and evil in the principle of habit, using as illustrations with which to dramatize the subject the everyday experiences of children and adults.
Teach children the difference between temporary defeat and failure, and show them how to search for the seed of an equivalent advantage which comes with every defeat.
Teach children to express their own thoughts fearlessly and to accept or reject, at will, all ideas of others, reserving to themselves, always, the privilege of relying upon their own judgment.
Teach children to reach decisions promptly and to change them, if at all, slowly and with reluctance, and never without a definite reason.
Teach children that the human brain is the instrument with which one receives, from the great storehouse of nature, the energy which is specialized into definite thoughts; that the brain does not think, but serves as an instrument for the interpretation of stimuli which cause thought.
Teach children the value of harmony in their own minds and that this is attainable only through self-control.
Teach children that there is a law of increasing returns which can be and should be put into operation, as a matter of habit, by rendering always more service and better service than is expected of them.
Teach children not to have opinions unless they are formed from facts or beliefs which may reasonably be accepted as facts.
Teach children the danger of believing anything merely because their parents, religious instructors, or someone else says it is so.
Teach children to face facts, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, without resorting to subterfuge or offering alibis.
Teach children the full import of the law of compensation as it was interpreted by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and show them how the law works in the small, everyday affairs of life.
Teach children that definiteness of purpose, backed by definite plans persistently and continuously applied, is the most efficacious form of prayer available to human beings.
Teach children that the space they occupy in the world is measured definitely by the quality and quantity of useful service they render the world.
Teach children there is no problem which does not have an appropriate solution and that the solution often may be found in the circumstance creating the problem.
Teach children that their only real limitations are those which they set up or permit others to establish in their own minds.
Teach children that all schoolhouses and all textbooks are elementary implements which may be helpful in the development of their minds, but that the only school of real value is the great University of Life wherein one has the privilege of learning from experience.
Teach children to be true to themselves at all times and, since they cannot please everybody, therefore to do a good job of pleasing themselves.