“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”


There is an old proverb: “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This quote is attributed to George Bernard Shaw from Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionists.” I, of course, do not agree with this proverb and find its popularity offensive. I teach my students how to think. I teach for the love of teaching. I teach by giving my students real world examples and applications. But most of all, I teach from personal experience.

If you read the proverb, and “Maxims for Revolutionists” you will find that there is a distinct note of sarcasm in Shaw’s statements.

I love sarcasm. I don’t think that there is a moment in my life where I have not used sarcasm. It might be a defense mechanism I developed over time, but I find humor in sarcasm. And that is how this proverb should be read. Because just 2 lines later he also states, “Activity is the only road to knowledge.”

No one ever quotes that statement. It’s just not as funny.

However, when you are writing an essay or technical document, there is no place for sarcasm. You have to be straightforward, direct, exacting. If you are writing a novel, then you can integrate sarcasm into one of your characters to add depth.

All I am saying is that you have to be careful when using proverbs, and sarcasm, when expressing your point. If you are speaking to someone who does not know you, then they may take what you are saying very seriously instead of with the grain of salt you added to it.

And remember, when you are teaching, include activities that relate to real world applications, not just the mindless fill-in-the-blank stuff that is included with your textbook. Allow your students to see how this knowledge that you are imparting unto them will be used when they get out school, that is why they are there, not just because the law requires it. And that is why you are there, to teach them using your personal experience.

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