Pale, male, and pissed off at being called stale

Today is my birthday and so, according to tradition, a higher number is now my age.

I am now unequivocally middle-aged, almost certainly closer to the grave than the cradle, but I don’t mind too much. I like being middle-aged, it suits my personality: being young was fun, for sure, but it was a chore compared to the don’t-mess-with-me-I’m-over-50 vibe that comes with the middle-age gig.

This is not just me making the best of the unavoidable march of time.

I have come to appreciate that the best things in life: good conversation, good wine, good books, are not so available in the noisy discotheques of my youth where I anxiously tried to fit in and appear attractive to women. Now I can relax and enjoy the conversation, the wine and the books and not get all antsy about looking idiotic dancing to Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” at the Chocolate Factory.

This, according to the phrase coined by NASA administrator Daniel Goldin in 1992, makes me “pale, male, and stale”: a self-deprecating description cooked up by a middle-aged white man to make the point that filling your top jobs with middle-aged white men, year after year, is a myopic leadership strategy.

Goldin didn’t describe the individuals as “stale”, just the organisation’s leadership as a whole, but the “stale” tag has become a synonym for “middle-aged” when used in conjunction with “pale” (meaning white) and “male” (meaning man).

This is a bit annoying.

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If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way

We should be careful of the curse of quotes.

A good quote is a dangerous thing, its pithy cleverness can suggest a lot more wisdom than is actually present.

This is a danger much amplified by social media.

A superficial clever-sounding meme can spread like a pandemic before a much wiser nuanced opinion has got its shoes on.

To paraphrase Dan Dennett’s brilliant word deepity*, I call these truthities: “a claim that appears true because it is so brilliantly phrased, but is in fact false or misleading”

On that positive note, I present below a list of quotes that I believe are true, wise and inspiring about the world of learning:

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