Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout: What One Man Learned That Has Stayed With Him for a Lifetime

By Nancy Flory Published on August 27, 2019

On Tuesday, October 1, 2019, LIFE Today will host Dr. Rick Rigsby to discuss his book Lessons From A Third Grade Dropout. Recently, The Stream’s Nancy Flory sat down with Rick to talk about his book and get his perspective on teaching the lessons he learned to today’s kids. 

He was a pastor and people kept telling him they were thinking about suicide. “My first thought was something my father would never do, and that would be to judge them. To judge the quality of their mind. I’d think, ‘Boy, what a weak-minded person.’”

Then he had an experience that changed his mind. He lost his wife. “Go up to a casket of [your] wife and you will go right down that same road.” 

Rick’s wife died of breast cancer in the 1990s. His father stood beside him at the casket. “Son, just stand,” his father told him. Rick explained that his father meant. “What he was saying was, you stand on the promises of God. You stand on what you know to be true.” 

Passing It On

That was one of many lessons his father taught him. With only a third-grade education, Rick’s father was “the smartest man I ever met.” Roger Rigsby also taught his son how to be kind to others, help them, respect their time and live a life of integrity. Now Rick is teaching his sons the lessons he learned from his father. 

Rick’s two older boys are grown. He has two younger sons with his second wife, Janet. The older sons have successfully implemented the lessons into their lives. “Our oldest is now 36 and he understands the value of excellence. Our next one is 33. He understands the value of kindness. They understand showing up early and working hard and leaving late.” 

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He admits that adolescents don’t usually get it at the time. “Trying to teach an 18 year old to clean a toilet with excellence is sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. You’re going to have some rough moments, if you know what I’m saying.” Janet told him that eventually the kids do get it. “She constantly reminds me that it’s not now that we’re investing for. It’s when those boys are working. It’s when those boys are engaged. It’s when those boys are husbands. It’s when those boys are fathers.” 

“My dad … rose to the challenge. His lessons continue. To this very day, they’re embodied in me and my brother and in our children, the grandchildren. I see my father’s kindness in my oldest grandson.”

The Book

Rick’s book Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout started out as a curriculum at Texas A&M, where Rick worked at the time. Coach R.C. Slocum had asked Rick to find a curriculum that would teach life skills to the football team. After looking for curriculum and talking to other schools, Rick went back to Slocum. “I said, ‘Coach, I think I know what you are looking for. You’re looking for basic lessons that drive positive behavior. Let me tell you about the wisest man I ever knew in my life. A third-grade dropout.'” The coach responded,  “That’s it.” 

Rick Rigsby

In 2006 Thomas Nelson Publishing published the book that came from Rick’s curriculum. The book had some success from 2006 to 2012. Then, in 2017, Rick gave a graduation speech on the lessons he learned from his father. There was an “overnight explosion,” said Rick. The video went viral and the book became a best seller. Harper Collin has just re-released it. 

“I just have a word of encouragement to people that have planted seeds where they haven’t seen the fruit,” said Rick. “Just wait. It’s not ‘Will an opportunity come?’ but ‘Will I be ready when the opportunity comes?'”

Teaching Values Today

Part of the problem in teaching Roger’s values today is that many parents do not have a standard of expectations for their kids. They want to be their child’s friend. “My father wasn’t interested in being my friend,” Rick explains. “My father was interested in rearing me and he was interested in rearing me with the highest standards.” Roger had clear expectations for Rick and his siblings. 

Rick has advice for parents today. “There will be plenty of time to be your kids’ pal. Plenty of time. But during those formative years, love them unconditionally, help them understand the consequences of actions, and make sure you plant in them core values … that they will be great people who do great things.”


Nancy Flory is an associate editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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