Words Can Tear Down or Built Up

A friend in a Master’s program recently took a pass/fail class designed to weed out weaker and mismatched students from the program. After spending less than 10 minutes in one-on-one communication, the professor deemed him to be ill suited for the program and its associated profession; he was summarily failed. Although discouraged, he repeated the class with another instructor, who declared him to be functioning at the PhD level!

Another friend was wrapping up her last semester of college, doing her student teaching. Things were going well and the mid-semester report was glowing. Imagine her dismay when her mentor’s final assessment asserted that she was not fit to be an educator. It took quite a while for her to rebound from the shock and disappointment; she selected a different career and never taught again. Use your position to encourage others, to build them up, and to strengthen them. Click To Tweet

Anytime someone has authority over another, their words carry a great deal of weight—so much so that career choices can be unnecessarily abandoned and self-esteem destroyed.

If you find that you have to deliver disheartening news, make sure the recipient knows why; explain your reasons; salt it with something positive; and never abandon them when they are at their weakest.

It is far better to use your position of authority to encourage others, to build them up, and to strengthen them. Imagine my friend and how hard he will work and how far he will go, now that he is secure in the knowledge that he is functioning at the Ph.D. level.

With authority comes responsibility; use it well.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Are You Colorblind or Color Aware?

Are You Colorblind or Color Aware?I rarely think back to my time in high school, but recently I remembered a conversation I had with a classmate. Or at least I remember the end of our conversation.

I don’t know what we were discussing or what I said, but my friend glared at me. “You forget. I’m not like you… I’m Mexican!” She was right. I forgot. Or to be more precise, it didn’t matter to me so I no longer considered it.

As the initial shock of her rebuff wore off, my surprise gave way to pride. I was colorblind when it came to the tone of her skin. I treated her as an individual, not as a stereotyped member of a different race. I no longer noticed the hint of her accent or the physical characteristics that revealed her ethnic origin. I only saw a friend, someone I liked, who liked me, and was fun to be around.  Discuss and celebrate our differences. Click To Tweet

However, my smug self-satisfaction didn’t last long. My next reaction was distress. By failing to remember our differences, I assumed we were the same. I disrespected her by not acknowledging her culture, her traditions, and her family history. To be blunt, I viewed her as white—just like me.

For matters of race, being colorblind isn’t enough. We need to be color-aware, too. How to balance these opposing goals, though, is an ongoing struggle. Sometimes I manage okay, but other times I don’t do either as well as I would like.

That’s where dialogue comes in, being able to discuss and celebrate our differences. That’s when I need a friend who is brave enough and cares enough to gently say, “You forget; I’m not like you.”

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Lessons for a 5th Grader

Lessons for a 5th GraderI remember channel surfing once when a show caught my attention: “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.” Although I’d heard about the show, this was my first (and last) time watching it.

Overall, I fared better than the contestant, but then I didn’t have the pressure of a live audience and irksome host. I found it all to be mildly interesting.Remember, today's kids will be tomorrow's leaders. Click To Tweet

What caught my attention, however, was that two opportunities to “cheat” were given to the contestant. If he was unsure of an answer, he could opt to “peak” or to “copy” from his fifth grade classmates—and he did!

How incredibly insane, promoting cheating in the same context as highlighting fifth grade knowledge. With examples such as that, it is any wonder that cheating and plagiarism is reportedly rampant in schools and colleges? How about lying on job applications, embellishing resume facts, fabricating degrees, padding expense accounts, lying to congress, defrauding shareholders, spinning the news, cover ups, and the overall belief that the ends justify the means?

I’m not blaming all this on one simplistic game show, but that game show is perpetuating the mindset that it is okay to forgo integrity in favor of expedience. That conclusion has been building for years. Yet, the elementary school children who are watching this show now have one more example encouraging cheating.

Remember, it is these same people who will be tomorrow’s leaders—and it doesn’t seem that ethics and honesty have much of a chance.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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The Mathematics of Influence

I recently made a new friend.  She is pursuing her PhD in Mathematics.  Her course work is finished and she is focusing on her dissertation.  Interestingly, at one point in my life, I too wanted a PhD in mathematics, but she is the first person I’ve met who was actually doing it!

Aside from the math part, another intriguing aspect is what she’s researching.  At the risk of over simplification, she is studying the teaching techniques used by the people who teach the math teachers.

Consider, depending on the circumstances, that during a career, the average teacher will directly influence 500 to 5,000 students.

And, again depending on the circumstances, during a career, the average teacher of teachers will directly influence 500 to 5,000 teachers — and thereby indirectly influencing 250,000 to 25,000,000 students.

Now, if she can help these teachers of the teachers be more effective, say 500 to 5,000 of them during the course of her career, the span of her influence will be vast and pervasive, beyond what is reasonable to calculate.  That is a profound amount of influence that one person can make.  There is the very real possibility that she could improve and even change the way math is taught to the next generation.

And if you’re one who struggled with math in school, that should be some welcome news!

A Sad Situation

Locally, a 16-year-old girl was tragically killed in a house fire — because her parents had her chained to her bed.

After they were given appropriately long prison sentences for her death, the father vented to any who would listen. While he admitted a “possible error in judgment” over chaining her to her bed, he justified the action as being warranted and needed.

According to reports, he then said it wasn’t his — or his wife’s — fault, launching into a tirade of blame. He accused the local school system, the children’s protective service, the local law enforcement agency, and the state, asserting that they either knew about — or should have known about — the situation and intervened. These diverse and varied authorities should have stepped in, he claimed, to help them properly raise their daughter and prevent her unfortunate death.

I’m not sure what bothers me more, a child being chained up and dying in a fire or the people who caused her death claiming that it wasn’t their fault.

What were they thinking?

Back to School

In Michigan, today is the first day of school for most of those in public schools.  (By way of contrast, the Indiana school my daughter teaches at is starting their fifth week of classes.)

By State law, Michigan public schools cannot start classes until after Labor Day.  (Private schools need not follow this, but many do).

The reason for this peculiar timing is so to not cut short the summer tourist season.  When schools started earlier, Michiganders would cease their traveling mid-August.  Equally important, high school and college students would quit their summer jobs around the same time to go back to school.  Since many of them worked in industries relating to tourism, this made it harder to serve those tourists who showed up in late August.

Ironically, sports teams are not faced with such restrictions, so prior to classes commencing, most football teams had already played two games.

This seems to suggest that politicians are willing to place limits on education, but not on sports.

I think they have it backwards.

(In a somewhat related issue, some Michigan schools will only have a half day of classes, meaning that some of the kiddies will miss the President’s “stay in school” message, that has so many people in a tizzy.  Some might call that ironic twist, a silver lining)

Let’s Play Tag — In Cyberspace

I have been blogging since January 2008 and have made 315 entries to date — no wait, 316.  To organize these entries, I have concocted 30 topic categories, adding each post to at least one category, usually more.  This allows readers interested in the topics of, say, Computers and the Internet to read related posts, while skipping the Family or Movie Review musings.  This entry, for example, will be placed in the category of “Blogging,” for which there are now 24 entries.

I have recently begun adding “tags” to words that often find themselves in my posts, but which do not rise to “category” status.  So far, I have six words or themes that I have tagged:

  • Google, a company I love; 23 entries.
  • Microsoft, a company that I love and love to criticize; 21 entries.  (Five entries are tagged with both Goggle and Microsoft.)
  • Netflix, my fav; 13 entries
  • USPS, 10 entries (there are 61 posts that use the work “mail,” but I’ve yet to tag them).
  • AARP, 9 entries
  • NEA, 5 entries.

Of course, this post will have to be tagged with all six!

If any of these tags interest you, click on the above links and check them out.

Enjoy!

The Graduates

This weekend my bride and I will celebrate an event 22 years in the making.  Our son, Dan, and our soon-to-be-daughter, Kelli, will graduate from college on Sunday.  I am exceeding proud of them both.

First, not every high school graduate is college material and others opt for alternate paths.  Of those that head off to college, many are not cut out for the rigors of academia’s next level or lack the life skills to actually go to class and apply themselves.  Then there are those who change their major along the way — sometimes multiple times.  Lastly, there is the increasing phenomenon of being a “fifth year senior.”  Indeed some colleges seemingly count on that; it is quite common at our local State University.  Even for Dan, this was a threat.  Had he taken his first engineering class the first time it was offered and not taken any class without its prerequisites, he would have required nine semesters (four and a half years) to graduate.

We spent many hours pouring over the class materials and degree requirements in order to devise “the four year plan” (only bypassing one prerequisite in the process).  Poor Dan heard “the four year plan” so often that surely it caused him much ire and consternation, but he kindly let dear old dad continue to proclaim it.  Just recently, however, that mantra changed to “finish strong”; I didn’t want the beckoning of life’s post-college future to get in the way the present.

Indeed, he stuck to the four-year plan and he finished strong.  On Sunday, we will celebrate that reality — before we quickly segue into the next event that will also be 22 years in the making, a wedding six days later.

Congratulations Dan and Kelli — on your degrees and your nuptials.

A Lament for W

No, this isn’t a post about George W. Bush.

Instead, this is a blog about the letter W. I feel sorry for W; you see, it’s hard to pronounce.

Consider the phrase, the “World Wide Web.” It is easy to say; it’s concise, with only three syllables, rolling off the tongue.

Ironically, its abbreviation, “WWW” is a veritable tongue twister, requiring a total of nine syllables to spit out — or six, if you slur your speech. Though I’ve heard a few utterances of “Dub, dub, dub” instead of “Double-U, double-U, double-U,” I’ve never heard of W being pronounced “Dub” in other situations.

I think it’s time to start doing do. After all, the other 25 letters in the English alphabet all enjoy one syllable brevity. I think W deserves similar treatment. We need equality for all letters, regardless of their origin or history. Let’s strike a blow for balance and fairness by treating W with the same accord given to all other letters. Let’s be politically correct and call him “Dub” — like he deserves.

What do you think? Will it catch on? Will you give it a try?