The Things They Taught Me (Ep. 104)

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(Photo: Will Folsom)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “The Things They Taught Me.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript here; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode grew out of our recent two-part podcast about the value of a college degree. (Part 1 is here, Part 2 here, and a related Q&A here.) The economists we interviewed argued that colleges generally turn out more productive and happier people, but none could explain exactly how that transformation happens.

So when Stephen Dubner recently had occasion to visit his alma mater, he rounded up three of his favorite professors to see if they could answer that question. In this episode, you’ll hear from Joe Murphy, a filmmaker and professor of media studies; Leon Lewis, an English and film professor; and Jim Winders, a cultural historian and musicologist. Winders talks about the very unpredictable art of teaching:

WINDERS: A classroom is a place where something is going to happen. And no matter how much the professor is prepared, no matter how receptive the student is, there’s no predicting what that’s going to be. And it always amazes me when a student will tell you years later, “I’ll never forget the day you said so-and-so.” You don’t remember saying that. But the student has remembered that and it has meant something to that person.

Plus, Dubner shares three life-changing lessons he learned in these professors’ classes, and asks if they remember them. Spoiler alert: they don’t.

Pete S.

I keep thinking about one of Dubner's life lessons learned and can't help but feel I've learned the complete opposite. The idea that you shouldn't blame your tools for not being able to fulfill your art contradicts almost everything I've ever learned in life. I believe you need the right tool for the job. Try changing a tire without the right tools, building a wood chair without a sharp plain or sturdy table saw, or play death metal with an acoustic guitar. I can get the job done with the tools available, but, more than likely, the end result does not optimally satisfy my needs or artistic goal.

I would love to see a follow-up episode where Dubner’s rules-that-he-lives-by are challenged by people who follow the opposite of his rules. Where the tool is critical to the result, where the greenhorn’s fresh perspective forces an establishment to rethink the status quo, and where disregarding the audience is necessary to realize a vision



I am a Freakonomics podcast subscriber and just listened to this episode. I loved the song that the podcast ended with - who plays it, and what was its name? Thanks!


Thomas Ducote

The person running the interview, thought he had great questions in class, and in looking back realized they where not so profound. But the responses he received changed his life. How how in some form we all use writing, mostly threw social media.


Very emotional podcast, thank you for this. made me tear up at how we humans satisfy eachother with something as simple as just interacting with one another.

it really is the simple things that make living on this planet a pleasure.

Fletcher Tanner

I can relate to this piece I feel that we are all a product of what the important people in our lives teach us whether it influences us our beliefs and the habits and even the things that guide our everyday behaviors and convictions that guide the way we live our lives and the influences we leave with other people.

Jessica Jensen

The podcast was very enlightening. It reinforced everything I ever thought about who succeeds and who does not. In order to succeed, you have to desire success. You have to want it, be able to taste it. This country of ours offers everyone the best chance to succeed and realize their dreams. The podcast also notes that a lack of means need not be an obstacle to success if a person is determined. Enough can not be said, however, about the need to be prepared as far as knowing your audience and knowing who your exposition is targeting.