Written off

It seems that the Indiana Department of Education has taken the dubious step of eliminating handwriting from its elementary curriculum. What a sad day.

I’m sure many people can (and will) make the argument that keyboarding–which is replacing handwriting in the curriculum–is much more relevant to everyday life in today’s world. When evaluating time spent on a keyboard versus time spent with a pen in hand, I’d even agree. I don’t, however, understand why this has to be an either/or proposition. I learned both. My kids are learning both–in the same schools which are now eliminating handwriting.

I’m not against teaching–and even requiring–keyboarding skills in elementary schools; quite frankly, I’m all for it. What I am against, however, is eliminating the handwriting curriculum. A lot of good things come from picking up a pen, and we risk losing those.

  1. Handwriting is personal. It helps make or fortify connections. It’s also demonstrative. When something really matters, particularly when you want to show someone you really care, you write a note. A thank you note or a sympathy card printed in block letters, or worse yet, typed, just isn’t the same. A handwritten note takes effort, and in the absence of a face-to-face encounter, it’s often the next best thing.
  2. Handwriting, aka cursive, makes the pen-to-paper relationship easier. Its fluidity means the writer must lift her hand from the paper less often, facilitating faster, more efficient note-taking than, say, printing. And, while some people may argue that eventually students of all types will take notes on iPads, tablets, or other electronic media, I’m not completely convinced. I love every one of those tools, but I’ve found that my retention level significantly increases when I write compared to when I type. I’m just more engaged. Besides that, I’m hoping that many of those devices end up banned from meetings and similar fora, since they tend to be used for conducting other business and thus become distractions. (The latter, however, is probably better saved for another post.)
  3. Signatures. How will we handle those?

You may think my arguments are more idiosyncratic than broadly significant, but I steadfastly believe that removing the personal from our everyday interactions ultimately will not yield positive consequences. When people connect with people, things happen. The more tools we have to do this, the better.

So keep the handwriting lessons, Indiana, right alongside the keyboarding. It doesn’t have to be a trade-off.

Can’t see the forest

I love learning a new language. My foray into French has been intellectually stimulating for me, and j’adore discussing the finer points of grammar, verb infinitives and conjugations, negations, and regional vocabulary. I want to dive in and dissect it all.

Today, however, I realized that I still can’t carry on a simple conversation in my new language. I’ve been gleefully soaking up the rules and neglecting the reason I took the class in the first place: to speak French. I’ll be woefully underequipped when my French uncle and cousins arrive this fall if I don’t refocus. It’s just that the details are so much fun.

Real power, I’m learning, is not found in focusing on the details by themselves. Instead, it comes from leveraging the details to accomplish the mission. I don’t think it will matter much that I can properly conjugate a verb if I can’t speak a sentence.

The details count. They really, really do. I believe that wholeheartedly. Just don’t get mired in them to the point that you forget why they’re there.

It’s a GRRRRRRRREAT day for football!

Back in college, I was a football manager (yes, you read that correctly). As you would expect, we had practice every day, regardless of the weather. Unless there was more than a hint of lightning involved, you’d find us on the outdoor practice fields tucked behind the athletic center. In pretty-close-to-coastal New England, that often meant damp, chilly, increasingly dark afternoons as the season progressed through October and November.

Heedless of the weather, one of the assistant coaches–Lou–showed up in athletic shorts to every single practice. When he would arrive at the edge of the field on particularly nasty days, he would unfurl his lumbering frame into a stretch and announce to the world, It’s a GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREAT day for football! Bundled up and chilled (and often already soaked to the bone), I’d glance at the crazy man in shorts who was eager to take on a muddy field of hulking, hyped-up college guys. Invariably I’d have to smile to myself; if he could do it, so could I.

To this day, I still think of Lou and the example he set. As a coach, he could have bundled up and retreated to the sidelines with a portable heater. Instead, he subjected himself to the same conditions as his players and worse; where they were covered with pads and pants, he endured every practice in shorts. No one could accuse him expecting more from his players than from himself.

On tough days when I have a big project looming, when I shy away from running because of the weather, or when I just don’t feel like getting out of bed, listen carefully. You might hear me murmur Lou’s favorite line before I jump in with both feet.

In my opinion

I had sort of an epiphany today. I was pondering my position on several subjects and thinking how self-righteous it must be to think I’m right on every one. Then I realized something. No one will hold an opinion that she thinks is wrong; what would be the point? Of course I think I’m right about everything.

The trick, then, is not to hold an opinion so steadfastly that it can never change. If I’m presented with facts and logic that defy my position, I must consider those and re-evaluate my stance. Sometimes that may mean I have to alter my viewpoint, and other times I may discover arguments that leave me more resolute. The important thing is that I’m willing to continually test my opinions and positions for validity–and to give them up when it makes sense.

There’s nothing wrong with believing I’m right, but there’s everything wrong with being unwilling to admit I’m wrong. Think about it.

 

(Unrelated: Happy birthday, Jeff!)

The grass is always greener

I didn’t want to be here in Fort Wayne. I didn’t want to come back to Indiana after college. It took me two years, a wedding, and a house of my own to stop wishing I were somewhere else and finally put my feet down on the ground. I heard a saying around that time, Bloom where you’re planted, and it stuck with me. I settled down and settled in–for a while, anyway.

Some time over the years, the restlessness crept back into my soul and the wanderlust returned. Maybe they were never really gone but only buried, simply to resurface after time eroded the heaps of denial under which they had been interred.

In any case, the desire to be somewhere–anywhere–else keeps sneaking back into my thoughts. Over the last few months, however, a tentative appreciation for my geographic circumstances has begun to act as a counterbalance. The reason? I’ve begun to see the community through the eyes of others in ways both grand and slight:

  • Family members in town for a wedding who were surprised and pleased to find two festivals and a downtown concert taking place;
  • Respected associates who presented the city to me in ways I hadn’t considered;
  • A worldly aunt and uncle whom I adore picking up a local magazine at my house and reading about the area with delight and appreciation;
  • A new acquaintance who really believes the city has the right “bones” to be something great.

I could give several more examples, but I think I’ve made my point. The difference between how I feel today and how I felt 20 years ago is that I now realize I have room for both; my desire to experience the world beyond Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the ability to appreciate the community in which I live do not have to be mutually exclusive.

A large part of the overarching theme of this blog, effectively connecting with others, is predicated on knowing where you stand. (Know thyself, right?) I’ll always seek the new and different the world has to offer. I’ll always be drawn to secret and not-so-secret treasures that reside outside of my ZIP code, regardless of where I live. So why not enjoy where I live, too? At the moment, Fort Wayne is where I’m planted, and I’m finally ready to bloom.

What makes you different?

 

Flipping through a magazine not long ago, I landed on an extended spread about some talented graphic designers. There were four or five of them, and each feature provided some background and work samples. What caught my attention was one of the questions each had been asked: What makes you different?

That must have been a terrific exercise for those designers. Not only did they have to examine their own work with a critical eye, they also had to consider it in the greater context of the work of their peers AND to effectively communicate that assessment. They had to be their own critic, publicly.

I am certainly no stranger to self-examination, but for some reason, the way this question was presented really resonated with me. This isn’t about the things I might be good at; it’s about the things that set me apart. So what does make me different? And how am I leveraging that? I’ve been chewing on this ever since.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do; something makes you stand out from the crowd. Find it and cultivate it.

That’s an odd question

What’s your passion?

I ask this question every time I interview someone for a job. At first it tends to stymie the interviewee because he doesn’t know what kind of answer I want, so I usually follow it by asking, If you were at a party, what’s the one topic that could keep you talking all night? I can tell the minute the question hits home because the interviewee’s eyes light up and the answer pops out before he has a chance to think about it. It may not be typical for an interview, but I learn a lot from this line of questioning.

Over time, I’ve come to believe that a person who can answer this question without a lot of thought has a pretty decent sense of self; he doesn’t have to search for focus. In addition, if he is really passionate about something, he can’t leave that thing alone–and he can’t wait to tell me about it. He finds ways to touch it, feel it, play with it whenever he can in his daily life, even if actually doing the thing isn’t practical all the time.

What do I mean? If a person’s passion is world travel, for example, he may not be able to afford frequent trips. I’d be willing to bet, though, that he’s the guy who reads travel magazines, eagerly asks questions about friends’ trips, watches TV shows about exotic places, and is always researching his next destination on the internet. 

I’d much rather have a person on my team who finds creative ways to feed his hunger than someone who lets his passion languish. He’s the guy who can focus on a goal, who knows how to jump hurdles and find alternate solutions. He has drive, commitment, and enthusiasm; I just have to figure out how to tap into them. That’s a much easier task than trying to develop those qualities in someone. (In fact, except where it concerns my kids, that’s not my job.)

There’s certainly a longer list of criteria that I have for my hiring process, and there’s no wrong answer to my passion question. I don’t hire people based on their passions themselves, but I don’t hire people who aren’t passionate about something.

The next time you want to get to know someone–whether in an interview or just in conversation–ask the question. You might be surprised what you learn.

Don’t touch that dial

My almost-adolescent daughter is devoted to a particular local radio station. It doesn’t matter if a song she likes is playing on another station, she doesn’t want to change the channel from her station. When we get in the car, she asks for it specifically. The radio in her room is tuned to it, and she knows all the on-air personalities.

The funny thing is that her favorite station was also my favorite station decades ago. I don’t mean the same kind of station, I mean the very same station–the same frequency, the same call letters, everything. I don’t know about you, but I think that is nothing short of amazing. How has this station remained relevant to local youth through all these years when so many others have come and gone?

I think it has everything to do with commitment and staying true to a mission. Somewhere along the line, the station’s decision-makers determined they would target a specific segment of the market, a particular demographic. They play a fairly mainstream variety of current music which seems to appeal to teens and newly-minted adults. As their listeners age and their tastes change, the station doesn’t change its programming to try to keep them. Rather, it stays true to its commitment to mainstream cultural relevance, cultivating an ever-evolving crop of listeners as individuals pass through the target demographic.

What I’m trying to say is that while change is important to survival, it has to be in the right place. Don’t change your mission; change to accommodate your mission. You just might have to dance to different music.

Pre-requisites

When I was preparing to go to grad school, I found that I needed one class (studiously avoided during my undergrad years) as a pre-requisite before I could enter the program. I enrolled in an evening course at a local satellite campus and jumped in with enthusiasm.

As a working adult who had been through this before, my attitude toward learning was certainly different from that of many of my classmates. I didn’t know what I would face in grad school, but since that course was a pre-req, I wanted to be sure I knew the material backward and forward. I needed to start the grad school program with a solid foundation.

Most of my classmates, however, were simply present to check off a universal requirement for their undergrad studies. In many cases, the course itself didn’t have much to do with their chosen fields of study. Consequently, their level of engagement was limited to passing (at worst) or maintaining a good GPA (at best). Even knowing this, I visibly cringed the first time I heard a voice call from the back of the room, “Do we need to know this for the test?” Her presumption, of course, was that if the material wasn’t going to be on the test, she didn’t need to know it. Her participation wasn’t about actually learning; it was about passing the test.

I’ve carried that experience with me for the 16 years since I took that class. To this day, I wonder how many people walked away from that class with any practical knowledge–and there certainly was some to be had. I watch my kids sometimes take the same approach to their schoolwork. I occasionally watch colleagues and acquaintances complete tasks with little regard to the reasons for them. I wonder what people are taking away from their experiences, what they are doing with the knowledge they accumulate. Are are tucking it away for future reference? Or do they walk away upon completion? Do they “learn it for the test” and then forget it? Or do they assimilate their life experiences for future application?

I think everything eventually comes back around. Treasure your experiences, even the pre-reqs. You just never know when you’ll need them.

That’s not a good idea…

On my way to work today, I saw a woman riding down the road on her bicycle. Her two young children rode beside her on their own two-wheelers, and an even smaller child sat strapped into a seat behind her. One of the solo kids was still finding her cycling equilibrium and could barely hold her front wheel straight. They rode three abreast, filling one lane of a *gulp* five-lane road.

I’m still not sure what to make of this. As an occasional cyclist myself, I know that bicycles have the same road rights as automobiles in the State of Indiana. Other than a two-abreast statutory limit, this woman and her children were following the rules. If this was their only method of transportation to get from point A to point B, can I really fault them?

On the other hand, this early morning velo-endeavor just didn’t look safe: a family on bicycles, three wide, rolling and wobbling down a busy 5-lane road in a heavy traffic period. Add to it that even though this occurred within the city limits of a small town, the road itself is a state highway regularly used by 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, and impatient morning commuters. I shudder to think of the possibilities.

So maybe I do know what to make of this. As I turn this over in my mind, I am left with this rejoinder: just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. The next time you wonder whether to do something, don’t just consider the ability or right to accomplish it. Consider also whether you ought to do it. That might make all the difference.