Making a Checklist

For some unknown reason I have a tradition when I travel. I always forget one thing. Sometimes inconsequential, my cell phone; sometimes inconvenient, my contact lens case; and sometimes tragic. It’s Saturday as I write and I’m about to fly to Missoula for my nephew’s infant son’s baptism tomorrow. His asking me to be the godfather was the biggest surprise since the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor (Belushi, 1978). This time I forgot. . . the camera. Truly tragic.

I’m making a checklist in the hope it’s a turning point. If checklist’s are good enough for Atul Gwande and other docs, they’re good enough for me. Maybe I’ll even alphabetize it. I have “C” covered, cell phone, contact lens case, camera. Other “must include” suggestions?

Geography Help Sought

The iPad I ordered on 5/8 has finally shipped. Today it’s gone from Columbus, OH to Indianapolis, IN to Hodgkins, IL. Positive Momentum is huge in the Midwest. Can a Midwestern reader tell me if it’s moving west? And if in fact it is, can you calculate it’s Olympia, WA estimated time of arrival based on it’s current pace?

Teaching Writing

I’m in the middle of reading my sixteen writing students’ final papers for this semester. In general, I think the predominant 20th century model of higher education—students gathering in one location at a designated time to listen to a lecture—is hopelessly obsolete. When I was an undergrad I had the good fortune of having several professors who inspired me to read, think, write, and in the end learn more than I ever would have on my own. Despite that admission, I did my most important studying and learning in the Powell or Undergraduate library stacks. Head buried in book, analyzing others’ ideas, noting patterns, grappling with abstract concepts, mulling over papers I’d later write on a typewriter.

My first class, on the first Monday in October 1980, was memorable. Dude, I said to myself since I didn’t know anyone, that’s Kenny Fields (Milwaukee Bucks). And Don Rogers (Cleveland Browns before he overdosed) and Kevin Nelson (USFL). The best first year bball player and two of the best football players in my small writing seminar, what are the odds? Coolest full-length mink coats I’d ever seen. Wait a minute, did she say “Remedial Composition?”

I had been a mediocre high school student and I figured someone in admissions had made a mistake by accepting me, but damn, “Remedial Composition?”

Long story short, I had a great teacher, a no-nonsense, hands-on editor who taught me to write succinctly. Through hard work and a healthy fear of failure, I made genuine strides in just ten weeks. I wrote lots of papers throughout my first year since I was in a three-course Western Civ sequence. I was catching up to my peers pretty quickly. Early in my second year, in a 150-200 student Latin American History class the prof, who was pretty famous for getting under Ronald Reagan’s skin on the U.S.’s Latin American policy, read my name aloud for writing one of the most outstanding papers during one unit. In terms of my confidence, that was more significant than anyone could have realized.

But I digress. The class size at my university for writing seminars is about fifteen students too large. Teaching writing requires intensive one-on-one work. In their last paper, the students were asked to summarize what they learned about the course theme (Teaching’s Challenges and Rewards) and to describe the ways in which their writing did or didn’t improve. Most improved a lot and became more confident. I was disappointed when one admitted to me he was less confident. When I probed why he said because he had never had anyone read his work as closely as I had, and as a result, he learned he had a lot more work to do than he had previously realized. I can live with that.

Unfortunately, I learned too late in another students’ final paper that, despite always concluding with three strengths and three next steps, my careful reading and extensive commenting overwhelmed her and left her discouraged. I feel as if I failed her. She earned her best grade on that paper because it was an authentic, courageous, semi-subtle skewering of her professor.

We need more hybrid higher education models where students spend some of time interacting and learning on-line and some interacting and working on group projects in person. Writing is a process that will prove exceptionally difficult to teach on-line at virtual universities. It requires a student and what the Brits refer to as a tutor sitting shoulder to shoulder, reading, editing, talking, revising, and repeating, over and over.

When Does Education Stop?

The title of a 1962 (good year) Michener essay that I recommend. In it he refers to “Big Jobs,” like the novels he wrote, projects that require tremendous amounts of work over long periods of time. While reading the essay I was thinking it would be nice to tackle a big job, but what big job, and could I muster the necessary single-mindedness and stamina to see it through? Truth be told, I get distracted too easily. I’ve backslidden from my three times a day email system, I frequently glance at what the stock market is doing, and as if that isn’t depressing enough, today I’ve been repeatedly checking the weather in the hope I can cycle outdoors tonight. A skilled procrastinator.

My doctoral dissertation, a year-long, 325 page novel of sorts, about a global education high school in SoCal was a big job. So there is a precedent.

Interesting how Michener’s ideas sparked thinking exclusively about my work-life. As a male and the son of a work-centric father, am I less inclined to think about “big jobs” in the context of my personal life? Why, when I was reading the essay, did my “educator identity” trump my “husband” or “father” ones? Building intimate, loving, and supportive relationships with a spouse or children requires tremendous amounts of work for long periods of time. As I’ve written before, when it comes to raising happy, healthy, caring independent young adults, there are no shortcuts.

Eldest hija (Eh) is seventeen and so I can’t use “intimate” to describe our present relationship. She can’t even bring herself to watch her favorite television show (The Office) on the same floor of the house as her mother and me. Last weekend though, we all committed to a grand experiment. We threw caution (and Facebook) to the wind and agreed to spend 48 hours together on the Oregon Coast (a “top ten” most beautiful spot in the U.S.). I’m happy to report we enjoyed one another’s company.

Eh is going away to college in early September. Don’t tell her mom, but I read recently that when young adults go away to college, that’s it, they never come back, except to visit. So the weekend was special, an opportunity to reflect on what type of person she’s become.

Like all parents of seventeen year olds I’m sure, she drives me crazy at times (yes, I know it’s mutual), but in the end, I couldn’t be more proud of who she is becoming. Of all the things I’ve accomplished in my life—beating Lance in the 2009 Black Hills Triathlon, writing a blog post without any spelling errors, driving my wife crazy—seeing the person she has become is the most gratifying of all.

It was a big job well done. Of course her amazing muther gets at least half the credit.

China’s Communist Rulers

Paragraphs to Ponder—From Richard McGregor’s “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.” (available in June)

Like communism in its heyday elsewhere, the Party in China has eradicated or emasculated political rivals; eliminated the autonomy of the courts and press; restricted religion and civil society; denigrated rival versions of nationhood; centralized political power; established extensive networks of security police; and dispatched dissidents to labor camps.

The rise of China is a genuine mega-trend, a phenomenon with the ability to remake the world economy, sector by sector. That it is presided over by a communist party makes it even more jarring for a Western world which, only a few years previously, was feasting on notions of the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy.

Sports Report

• USC is reportedly paying Kiffin $4m/year. Not sure whether that’s $750k a win or $1m.

• Another brilliant essay by the best sportswriter at work today. I’d like to think I coulda’ been a decent sportswriter, but I would hate to have to go mano y mano with this guy.

• Ran a half marathon Domingo with Dano, Katie, and Annie. Another beautiful morning in Paradise. I ran well and I’m supposed to credit Lance with an assist. I left the house on the mountain bike without any gel (liquid carbos). Lance and cutest daughter in the world rode by on mountain bikes, got comfortably ahead, and handed off one of their gels. Shortly afterwards, I started mowing down people. But since Lance said “Thank you though for showing me that I have at least 8 years of physical fitness left” as if I’m about to keel over, I don’t think I’ll give him the credit he otherwise deserves. He is going to tear up the mountain bike course on the Sky to Sea race in B’ham in a week and a half.

• A few questions which will only make sense if you read Simmon’s essay. What’s your “one word”, not as a baller, but as a person? Is that the word you’d use to describe yourself, the word others would use to describe you, or would the one word be the same for both? In other words, is their congruence between your self perception and other’s perceptions of you? For myself, I’m undecided between “deluded” and “balanced”.

• 1,095 peeps ran the Capital City Half Marathon. 391 M’s (36%) and 704 F’s (64%). Hypotheses?

Nearing the Finish, Pretty Dog Tired

Right After Finishing

Ephemeral Victory

A Sports Illustrated story. Synopsis. A South Pasadena High School pole vaulter thought she won a meet and league title for her team on her final vault until the Monrovia coach pointed out she had a string friendship bracelet on which is against the rules. The pole vaulter was disqualified on the technicality, giving Monrovia the victory and league title.

I’m going to guess this was what the Monrovia coach was thinking upon seeing the bracelet. “We got em’. Victory is ours.”

Here’s an alternative idea. Let’s assume that none of the South Pas or Monrovia girls are going to become professional tracksters. And let’s assume that in ten or twenty years few people will remember or care about who won the meet and league title. And let’s speculate on how the Monrovia coach might have processed things had he been thinking more like an educator.

Specifically, what if he had asked, “What’s the take-away for my athletes if we claim victory based on the technicality? What is it if we refuse to stake our claim to victory? Which is likelier to result in classy adults?”

Or what if he had quickly huddled up with the team and asked them what they thought they should do? “Coach,” I’m betting they would have said, “let’s go congratulate them on their victory.”