Change of Heart

In December, I wrote that two-thirds of the time I think positively about blogging and so I planned on continuing. I enjoy my work as an educator a lot; however, I now realize I’m not passionate enough about education to comprehensively “cover” it in my non-work hours.

Even if I attempted to comprehensively cover it, I’m not sure people would  tune in.

Sometime since the first of the year my blogging enjoyment quotient dipped. I don’t regret the time I’ve spent blogging, but I haven’t been as successful as I hoped in creating a growing, engaged readership. In hindsight, my lack of success is probably because I haven’t filled any particular niche and I haven’t networked with other bloggers nearly enough.

Time for a blogging sabbatical.

Thank you for reading. And thanks to Dean, Travis, Francis, Lynn, Scott and others for commenting on occasion.

Gateway Drug

This is the best paragraph I’ve read in awhile. It’s from an essay titled, “The Triumph of the Readers” by Ann Patchett, which appeared in the WSJ on 1/17/09.

Like the chicken pox, getting infected by the desire to read is best when it hits us early. As a child I was so committed to “Charlotte’s Web” that I pleaded for, and received, a pig for my ninth birthday, a gift that segued nicely into my “Little House on the Prairie” obsession. Was I, with my American classics, more noble than today’s middle-schooler who reads and rereads his copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”? Was I less noble than my straight-A sister who read “Le Petit Prince” in French? No on both counts. I am a firm believer in the fact that it isn’t so much what you read, it’s that you read. Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we’ve never met, living lives we couldn’t possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character’s skin. Whether you’re in the life of Wilbur the pig, or Greg Heffley, the wimpy kid, or that little blonde prince in the desert, you’ve stepped outside of yourself for awhile, something that is beneficial to every child. Even if you’re stepping into “Valley of the Dolls,” it’s better than nothing. I’m all for reading bad books because I consider them to be a gateway drug. People who read bad books now may or may not read better books in the future. People who read nothing now will read nothing in the future.

Now I feel bad for nagging my daughters all these years about their affinity for Archie comics.

Religious Life and Leadership 2

After the too lengthy “Religious Life and Leadership 1″ post, I feel like I can be relatively concise here. 

I agree with my mother who says “variety is the spice of life,” but religious services are amazingly predictable. On some level, routines are comforting, but more than that, they probably contribute to a nostalgia for years gone by. But religious leaders and organizations don’t seem terribly reflective about how the exact same traditions that long-standing members find value in, may not resonate as much with younger, more diverse visitors.

I’m curious as to why there’s not more experimentation, especially with forms that promote interaction between religious leaders and members and between members themselves.

One of the most consistent routines is a mid-service sermon or homily by a religious leader or pastor. He or she typically speaks somewhere between 10-40 minutes depending on denominational traditions. Within my Lutheran denomination, you could go from church to church, and pastor to pastor, and find quite a few commonalities.

In contrast to Baptist or Pentecostal preachers, Lutheran pastors are much more subdued. More like a poet at a public reading than a union organizer at a large rally. I was reminded of this while visiting a Baptist church on MLK day. As the visiting Pentecostal pastor grew increasingly animated, I wondered why on earth he was using a microphone. Maybe Lutheran pastors would get more worked up if Lutherans threw a “call and response” switch which is about as likely as the Phoenix Cardinals making it to the Super Bowl.

Lutheran pastors tend to focus their sermons on the biblical excerpt for the day. Their exegesis is more historical than contemporary in nature. The classic Lutheran style is literary, my poetry reading reference was intentional. It’s rarely clear what the implications of the scripture might be for young people at school on Monday morning, middle-aged people in their respective families and workplaces, and the elderly in the various contexts in which they live. The pastor reveals relatively little about his or her spiritual struggles and probably to keep the political peace, pressing controversial issues are tip-toed around.

I’m not even sure if “good” sermons are remembered from one Sunday to the next.

I’m not sure I’d like to see more passionate, applicable, authentic sermons as much as a complete rethinking of the model where the same person communicates a few insights each week with little to no participation from anyone else. Imagine a pastor finishing her sermon and instead of moving straight to the offertory music, saying, “So what do you think? Let’s take some time to hear a few reflections, questions, or even differing perspectives.” My guess is the 50+ set would say “What the heck, I don’t want to have to participate in the service. Isn’t it written somewhere in the bible that ‘Thou shall go from the sermon to the offertory music?!” 

I’ve attended churches where a more informal, alternative, interactive, hippy service has been introduced only to be poorly attended and then given up on. So I suspect I’m in the minority.

I just wonder, if religious leaders were more reflective about the outline of their services and found ways to promote interactivity, if more people would engage.

Friday’s Fitness Footnote 09.2

Turns out I jinxed myself with my “injury free” reference in my 2008 fitness wrap up. PC and I weren’t even out of the hood last week when I pulled up with an invisible knife in my right calf. I’m guessing soleus micro tear. Didn’t run for five todays until W morn when I didn’t even make it 50 yards. That was depressing. I didn’t think cycling was having any effect because I couldn’t feel anything while riding, but even though I haven’t been going hard, it must have been making matters worse. I’ve been stretching the heck out of it all to no avail. 

In the meantime I’ve been enjoying cycling and swimming. I got invited to swim with the Masters regulars M morn and enjoyed being the slowest person in my lane. Brian and Geraldine swam in college, I on the other hand, played pick up basketball. One day in 1983, the college player of the year walked into the gym. He was in town to receive the Wooden award as the best player in college. MJ up close. Despite my obvious availability, I wasn’t invited into his game. No surprise I guess that he didn’t want any piece of me.

Tangent. In my fifth year, while working on my MA, I got a job tutoring athletes. After my first session, bossman asked if Reggie Miller showed. I said no so he told me to call him up in the dorms and ask him where he was. “Reggie, this is Ron. . .” “Oh man,” he interrupted, “I thought you were a woman!” I told him there wasn’t much I could do about that and he never showed. Not sure if he passed Western Civ, but he’s done okay for himself.

Normally I’m running during Masters swimming which is too bad because I enjoy it. I swim a bit harder and the time flies. I talked to a friend in the locker room who said they did 30 100′s (short course yards) in Masters the day before in honor of a 30 year old teammate. They did them on 1:45, every third IM. I decided to try a revised version, 18 on 1:40, and really liked it. I do the free in 1:21-1:23 which provides a lot of rest, but I do the IM in 1:32-1:36 which obviously doesn’t allow for hardly any recovery.

Cycling has been a mix of spinning indoors and chilly outdoor riding. Travis and I got in a very nice 33 miler last Sunday with temps in the high 30′s. I recently read a blog written by a Hawaiian triathlete and she bagged a ride because it was 64 out. 

Ready for the product recommendation? I can’t wait for the CEO to write and offer free product!

The endurance crowd must be particularly gullible because there are about as many recovery drinks on the market as there are endurance athletes. 

Call me old school, but this recovery drink will change your life. Drive straight to Costco and buy one, two, or twelve half gallons. Don’t forget to dilute it with equal parts skim milk otherwise, no matter how hard you work out, you’ll end up looking more like Oprah than you probably want.

Sorry O, that was uncalled for.

Slumdog Millionaire

I liked it, but based upon the reviews I had skimmed, I thought I’d love it. I really enjoy good foreign films and I’m increasingly intrigued by India, so I guess my expectations were too high. Not in my Top 20. I liked Monsoon Wedding more.

Here’s a note I wrote my 16 year old about the following Slumdog review.

Even though you haven’t seen the film, read this review as an example of good writing. I agree with some, but not all of his analysis. What I really like though is his contrarian bent. He has the confidence to go against the grain and say something distinctive. Good writing is a lot like excellent musicianship in that first you have to be technically sound, but then you have to develop a distinctive style which is typically referred to as voice.

20-200-2 Much?

Is getting 20 years and  200,000 miles out of our 1993 Toyota Camry Wagon 2 much to ask?

I ask because at 16 and 163 I’m starting to feel like a surfer at the end of a long ride pressing up and down on the board with my feet while trying to get the most out of the 12 inches of white water.

I could write a “Marley and Me” like book about the car and me, but oddly we never named it. One admittedly short chapter would be about the time I drove into the garage and THEN realized the bikes were on the roof. 

The picture below isn’t the actual car, but it looks an awful lot like it. I had bike racks drilled directly onto the roof early on and the wife must have been mad at me a few years ago when she dented in the right front bumper. 

Tinting the windows was the best decision ever. Let’s just say the ladies have paid the wagon and me A LOT more attention ever since. 

Mechanically it’s pretty solid, and the tires are relatively new, but the driver’s door handle snapped off a while back so now I have to grab the remaining two inches with two fingers. There are annoying electrical problems too. The interior dome light doesn’t work even after replacing the bulb so I keep a flashlight handy. And after replacing the turn signal bulbs, the instrument panel lights shuts off after every use of a turn signal (all fuses are fine). Blondie and blonder found that very entertaining on the way to school last week. I wouldn’t wish the upholstery on anyone and the inside roof has a bit of residue from where water probably seeped in through the holes that were drilled for the rack.

Oh, and sometimes it won’t start until it feels like it even though the battery is relatively new (faulty safety neutral switch?).

Killer radio though and a good radio compensates for a lot of shortcomings.

Since I don’t know if the air bag will open, and gas prices have plummeted, I’ve taken it back over. I’d rather kill myself than my wife. “Here lies Dad. He took one for the fam.”

Speaking of dads, mine always got 8 years out of his American cars back in the day. I think he’d be proud that I’ve doubled him up and I like to think he’s rooting for me to stay on the bull until it completely tires.

I have to admit though, the Venza looks nice and I’ve been looking at “pre-owned” Highlander Hybrids on Craigslist. The question is, can I hold off until the London Olympics? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Whopper Virgins

I pity most bloggers whose readers just want to be titillated with pop culture pablum (Dano). Not at Education Plus whose readers are known for their intellect and seriousness of purpose. 

Thanks to Monika, I’m keeping the week-long video string alive with this perplexing 7 minute plus vignette.

You’re assignment  is to deconstruct it for me. Who funded the “research?” Why? What’s it supposed to accomplish? Is it harmless fun, does it foreshadow the end of civilization, or something in between?

Best reply wins a Whopper. You may begin.

Here’s an alternative essay assignment.

Lasting, Meaningful Work

Print versions of newspapers are endangered species. In part, for that you can thank Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Craigslist, which I’m a fan of, has crippled print classified revenue. For the newly unemployed journalists this is a negative and painful turn of events, for the rest of us it should be a precautionary tale about the Information Revolution and our children’s educational futures.

The plight of print newspapers begs a question: In an Information Revolution characterized by increasing global interdependence what type of K-12 and higher education experiences will enable young people to find lasting, meaningful work? More specifically, what knowledge, what skills, what sensibilities will increase the odds that young people will avoid economic dislocation as a result of increasing automation and outsourcing? 

Too few educators are asking those questions.

The young, internet savvy students in my globalization course are familiar with foreign call centers, but are surprised to learn the extent outsourcing is taking. As a reminder that whatever data or services can be digitized and sent abroad for processing probably will be, I provide each of them with a one inch long piece of coaxial cable to keep in their pockets throughout their PLU experience. After distributing the pieces of cable, I ask them what they think the key ingredients of an outsource-resistant education are.

Initially at least, they stare at me blankly (51 seconds in).

After awhile though, the wheels start to turn, and they begin responding with thoughtful insights.

Instead of revealing their thinking, what do you think?

Historically, a part of the “American dream” was that children would enjoy an even better quality of life than their parents. Now though, many anxious parents wonder whether their children will enjoy their same quality of life. By themselves, high school diplomas, G.E.D’s., and even higher education degrees don’t guarantee anything. Just ask the journalists at the Christian Science Monitor or Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Mo Rest, Mo Clarity of Purpose

I almost always teach a course during my university’s J-term, but not this year. Even though the email stream hasn’t stopped, and I’m going in once a week, slowing down and writing at home has been wonderful.

During my last sabbatical I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were ever deepening levels of rest and renewal. I had assumed I’d reach a rest/renewal point of diminishing returns after a few weeks or months, but I didn’t. You know that Mase, Puff Daddy, The Notorious B.I.G. song on your iPod, Mo Money, Mo Problems . . .

. . . I’m working on one called Mo Rest, Mo Clarity of Purpose. I have the lyrics down, but I’m still perfecting the dance moves. No doubt it will set you back 1.29 once the new iTunes launches. 

Ever spun a light road bike wheel with a primo hub? With little effort it will spin and spin and spin. Takes a long time to come to a complete rest. I feel like a road bike wheel. I can’t say I’ve come to a complete stop, but I’m spinning more slowly than normal. The result is a fresh perspective on what’s most important. 

The single greatest cost of my modern-default pace of life is a loss of perspective on what’s most important over the medium and long-term. For me to think deeply about what’s most important in life, I need to stop spinning. The slower I spin, the more I ask questions about life purposes, the more I ask questions about life purposes, the more appreciative I am of the people around me and the more meaningful my actions.

I wonder why almost everything that’s written about overwork focuses on stress and physical health when the most damaging trade-off is a relative loss of perspective on the “bigger picture.” As a result of this break, I’ve been more perceptive of how we sometimes resist slowing down and thereby avoid questions about life purposes. 

If we watch enough television, read enough fluff, aimlessly surf the net, shop til’ we drop, bounce around Facebook, text and talk on cell phones long enough, we can avoid a question we’ve been highlighting at PLU: What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? 

I need to be more intentional about unplugging each day to be more mindful of my life purposes and to rise above the tyranny of the urgent.

Friday’s Fitness Footnote 09.1

Subtitle, the economics of socks. Sometimes it’s true, you get what you pay for, and sometimes it’s not. For example, smart wool is all the rage, but despite premium prices, I wear right through them. Six months and it’s just my dogs and terra firma. Total disappointment. The question is why did I stray in the first place from the world’s best socks?

Also expensive, but I found a “20% off” internet coupon and they gave me free shipping so the total came to $18.40 for 3. I bought three packs. $6 per and I promise you these babies will last six years. I challenge you trendy smart wool lovin’ readers  to find socks for $1/year. 

One problem. They say “Ironman” on them so Travis, my bro, and other real Ironpeople will call me a poser and hurl things at me whenever they see me in them. That’s why I’m keepin’ my shoes on. 

Sorry to burst the bubble of all of you who thought you’d never live to see me endorse a product, but soon I’m sure I’ll be asked by Wigwam/Ultimax to sign a lucrative sponsorship deal for free socks.

Everyone has a price at which they’ll sell out, mine is $18.40 and free shipping. 

Even if you’re not a runner, even if you prefer to rock the high black dress socks with shorts in the summer, buy a pack or two or twelve now. These socks will change your life.

I hope I haven’t set the bar too high with this inaugural fitness footnote. I just hope I can continue to provide this type of essential, hard-hitting, insightful fitness-related writing every two weeks.

Postscript. I returned from FL two days ago and quickly opened my Road Runner Sports package. I was disappointed that the new version of the socks aren’t quite as thick as the old ones. This is one case in which less is not more. Alas, I guess this unpleasant surprise is symbolic of America’s relative decline. When political scientists and economic historians tell the story of the decline, I suspect they’ll point to the thinning of the Wigwam/Ultimax triathlon socks as an important marker. They’ll still change your life, maybe just not as much as before.