Teaching Students to “Think Outside the Bacon”

By Bill Henk — Chocolate-covered bacon.  Sounds gross.  Tastes great.   Either way it qualifies as a chancy idea.  Who’s gonna eat something that seems so disgusting  — well, I mean besides crazies like me?

It turns out that the answer to this question is “PLENTY of people!”  The Wisconsin State Fair, where the new treat first surfaced locally, ran from August 6th to August 16th last year.  On each of those 11 dates, sales came in between 9,000 and 10,000 pieces of bacon per day.  Overall, that means nearly 100,000 strips were bought, and at $1.50 a pop.

The bottom line is that it takes LOTS of folks to buy and eat that many strips of bacon.  OK, I’ll concede that some customers who bought the stuff thought it was barfbag material.  But I’ll also bet that other chowhounds like me had several pieces.  I’m not alone in finding the blending of salty and sweet tastes to be simply irresistible.

Where’d This Stuff Come From Anyway?

To be honest, I don’t know who first came up with the idea of chocolate-covered bacon, but The Machine Shed restaurant in Pewaukee supplied it to our state fair.  [Notes to Readers: (1) This delicacy also sold at the state fair where Brett Favre now plays football; (2) the restaurant displays bacon gear and memorabilia that’s for sale in what amounted to a shrine near the cash register].

Anyway, a Saturday morning trip took the Henk family near the restaurant, so we decided to stop in for breakfast.  I couldn’t resist asking our waitress about the novelty bacon, and she kindly took the time to tell us all about it.  She confirmed the significant national and local media attention the unique food garnered for the place, and she described in great detail the enormous scope of the cooking operation that made so much specialty bacon possible.  In a word, “WOW!”

And even if the restaurant didn’t make a nickel with this seemingly far-fetched enterprise, the free advertising made the adventure more than worthwhile.  I learned about it on ESPN when morning co-host Mike Greenberg asked his long-time crony, Mike Golic, about his two favorite foods in the world to eat.

The former Notre Dame football star thought for a minute and his first answer was “It’s got to be bacon.”   Then after a little while longer he said, “something sweet like a dessert — I’ll go with anything chocolate.”  At that point, Greenberg grinned widely and said, “Somehow I knew that’s what you’d say, and OH, do I EVER have a surprise for you!”

At that point, the chocolate-covered bacon made its national TV debut.  And I have to admit, it did look gross.  But Golic loved it!

Anyway, The Machine Shed enjoyed widespread visibility and a surge of business, and it still benefits from the exposure, because of adventuresome food lovers like me.  And if our waitress’s enthusiasm reflects that of other employees, then they’ve had an absolutely terrific time with their 15 minutes of fame and its continuing aftermath.

Well, I’d better qualify that statement.  Some employees no doubt became sick to death of making the stuff in mass quantities, but maybe even they’d think the ordeal was worthwhile for the attention it received.

Cured Pig Meat, Cacao, and Education

Before going any further, I feel the need to ask, “Did you ever think you’d see a heading like the one directly above?” Me neither.

But putting those three odd entities together helps make my key point — society will benefit when schools teach kids how to think boldly and imaginatively, and without fear of failure.

That’s a radical departure from what schools do presently.  They focus almost exclusively on logical, deductive, convergent thinking instead.  Don’t get me wrong; these are important types of reasoning to be sure.  However, if linear, sequential thinking completely dominates our educational system’s approach to reasoning, then schools are  not only disservicing the children, but also putting limits on the creative processes that often lead to truly revolutionary discoveries.

Other Wacky Ideas

Just take a look at the world around us — it’s replete with ideas that originally seemed just plain goofy. For instance, who would think of putting chocolate and peanut butter together? — yet I’ve personally eaten about a million Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and I have a ton of fellow culprits on that count.  And the chocolate-covered pretzels that actually make it home from the mall (as opposed to many we invariably eat before pulling into our driveway) get consumed at a furious rate.

Even Homer Simpson had it figured out when he said, “Mmmm. Move over, eggs.  Bacon just got a new best friend – fudge.” But let’s look beyond chocolate-flavored food combos to other examples — some pretty powerful.

Back in their day,  pet rocks and Cabbage Patch dolls looked like total losers to me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The TV shows “24” and “Prison Break” could only run a few episodes with those premises, right?  Well, at least one of them is still going strong.   Then again, I thought, Mork, ALF, Seinfeld, and Survivor were short termers, too.  [Another Note to Readers:  I should not quit my day job to become a television programming executive].

And speaking of television, when the possibility of Pay TV first emerged, most people including me thought it was laughable since there were three FREE networks.  I also remember wondering back in 1979 where in the world EPSN would  get 24-hour programming when it first hit the airwaves.  Now the network produces programming for 12 ESPN channels that run round the clock, 365 days per year.

That brings me to yet another stunning success.  How could a tenuous enterprise like E-Bay work as far as the trustworthiness of the sellers, making payments, and other security issues?  When credit cards were first proposed, I thought it was one of the most harebrained ideas I’d ever heard.  What merchants are going to accept a card as payment?  Now I have a mass of credit cards bursting my wallet.      

And what about FedEx? This service  began as a college term paper that received a poor grade.  That’s because the professor thought the system had no chance to be mounted.  Chalk up another miss for the wisdom of higher education I guess.

OK, and who would buy one of those ridiculous Cheeseheads?   Yes, I have one.

But one of the best cases of the now cliché “thinking outside the box” belongs to Edward Jenner.  He’s the individual credited with the concept of vaccinations.  What possessed him to think that the way to protect people by exposing them to the harmful agent itself?   That idea for immunizing ran completely counter to logic at the time, but thank goodness he was observant and persisted with his hunch.

[Yet Another Infernal Note to Readers:  Some historians credit the Chinese, Indians, and Persians with the technique of vaccinations.  That would be no surprise, because the eastern world has come up with an array of health applications that appear nutty, like acupuncture, but really work].

Bringing Home the Bacon

In sum, what I’m suggesting here is that educators need to stretch beyond typical thinking activities and goals for students if we’re interested in promoting innovation.  There’s no shortage in Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) of descriptive verbs that represent the processes we want learners to experience and master in the cognitive domain.   Unfortunately, some less conventional ones  get very little play in schools, and that scenario needs to change.

Just think how different schools would be if we devised a wealth of learning activities that fostered genuine creativity.  As action verbs go, my choices would be that we teach kids how to:

  • concoct
  • dream
  • envision
  • fantasize
  • idealize
  • imagine
  • pretend
  • suppose

Now wouldn’t that be something?  Only then will educators REALLY be bringing home the bacon.


By the way, the bacon needs to be crisp or my precious chocolate-covered delicacy really IS disgusting.  If you’d like to make some at home, here’s a recipe.  And I’ll leave you with one more Homer Simpson quote, a restaurant order,

I’ll have the smiley face breakfast special. Uhh, but could you add a bacon nose? Plus bacon hair, bacon mustache, five o’clock shadow made of bacon bits and a bacon body?”

9 Responses to “Teaching Students to “Think Outside the Bacon””

  1. 1 Cindy Zautcke January 25, 2010 at 10:19 am

    People with great ideas also have many failed ideas. Here’s a post by Seth Godin about Tim Burton and the sheer volume of ideas he had that didn’t gain traction.


    Cindy Zautcke
    Institute for the Transformation of Learning
    Marquette University


    • 2 billhenk January 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

      Nobody writes blogs with an efficiency/impact ratio even close to Seth Godin, Cindy. Getting our ideas out the door and taking the attendant risks, like Tim Burton does, is almost always necessary to achieve success. For instance, in the writing for publication game, every prolific author I know can show you an overflowing file of rejection letters. Thanks for alerting readers to this wisdom.


  2. 3 Tim January 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Again, one of my favorite blogs to date. Love the message, and not just because of the bacon.

    Speaking of thinking outside the bacon, my colleague Theresa alerted me to this (surprisingly inspiring) story of a product called Bacon Salt:


    Incidentally, it’s vegetarian. And delicious. I recommend it on mashed potatoes, salad, veggies, burgers, and anything else you can imagine “outside the bacon.”


    • 4 billhenk January 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      Wow, what a great story. Talk about making the point that thinking unconventionally can lead to phenomenal success. I love the tag line that “everything should taste like bacon,” and I appreciate the inventors’ sentiment that being clueless is an advantage. The fact that the company was largely financed from an America’s Funniest Home Video payout is, well, even more priceless. Thanks, Tim.


  3. 5 JP January 26, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    In case you needed a picture of someone in a MU t-shirt enjoying some delicious chocolate covered bacon at the state fair: http://twitpic.com/zwf0m


  4. 7 Eamonn O'Keeffe January 28, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Anytime bacon, chocolate, Notre Dame, ESPN, Homer Simpson and Bloom’s Taxonomy can meet in one article/blog – “POW” – simply genious! Imagine the Venn diagram!! My hat is off to you, Bill…


    • 8 billhenk January 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Now that you’ve highlighted this incredibly odd mix of references in one post, Eamonn, it seems to me that what you have kindly classified as genius more likely qualifies as the ravings of an absolute lunatic. Or, maybe this is some weird ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ phenomena. Either way, John Venn would turn over in his grave.


  1. 1 What Can We Learn From American Idol? « The Marquette Educator Trackback on August 8, 2011 at 7:41 am

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