Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vocational Ed Gets the Ax in AZ

Apparently, a 2009 bill in the Arizona legislature cut $550 from the state's Department of Education. That included reducing funding for Career and Technical Education (CTE) from $11 million down to $57,000 - a 99.9% reduction. This is truly sad, and it continues to reinforce how clueless Americans, and especially elected officials committed to low taxes/limited government, are when it comes to the actual needs of the education system and necessary reforms.

While schools and politicians continue to appease voters with increasing test scores and college admissions, ignoring college graduation rates and the needs of the workplace, the area that gets neglected is good, old-fashioned vocational education. This is the aspect of the system that needs the most focus and reform.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just Showing Up and Living Deliberately

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend who works in a supervisory position, and we discussed the absolute rarity of consistent self awareness and a reasonable work ethic. Occasionally, her employees will note how "things just seem to run so much more smoothly" when she is there. Amazingly, it is lost on these employees that the situation is true precisely because she actively makes it so.

Because there is a sales and customer service component to her job, we discussed how important it is to pay attention to detail. People, be they customers or colleagues, like to be acknowledged, and something as simple as using someone's name or creating comfort out of shared interests can be so important. This is something I learned growing up with a personnel director as a father, as well as working in restaurants. If I heard a customer's name mentioned in passing, I could use it when I delivered their food. If someone was wearing a Cardinal's shirt, I could comment on the game. It is simply called paying attention.

This was reinforced to me when I took the kids to a rock climbing gym the other day. The manager was so attentive to our needs, regularly using our names when she saw us. Of course, we go there regularly, but we also hand in our ID cards each time ... so she knows who we are, and she lets us know that she knows. It's a nice touch that is the sign of a well-run business. And, it's not only natural - though that helps - it comes from working hard at the job and "paying attention to details."

I try to impart similar lessons to students - for, regardless of our subject, effective teachers know that so much of what we do is imparting knowledge and skills on "how to live." Much of life is "showing up" and being self aware. Being organized and self motivated is so important. I tell my students what a special commodity they will be if they simply show up on time each day and do their jobs on a regular basis without having to be reminded. Surprisingly, that is so uncommon.

This extends to the concept of self awareness, paying attention to details, or what Henry David Thoreau liked to call "living deliberately." Early in the year, I have a variety of activities in class focused on teaching students to pay attention to details and become close readers. We look at visuals and key in on details before interpreting them. I encourage students doing research to spend copious amounts of time simply reading. That way they know what they are talking about before they sit down to write. This is what Bob Dylan meant when he wrote "know your song well before you start singing."

From reading literature to conducting research to performing computations to public speaking to interviewing to meeting new friends or asking a girl/boy out, kids need to be taught those basic skills that come from living deliberately.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Super Average Tuesday

In the forty years I've lived, Americans have preceded practically each national election with the mantra and pledge to "throw the bums out." This year the Tea Party hysteria was lauded as the force that would bring that "change." And while there have been a few notable upsets, the reality is that while America has contempt for "Congress" and "government," they don't really have a problem with "their congressman" or "their government." Most of the challenged incumbents retained their seats in the primaries, and the reality is that the country and the world is not nearly as terrible as the pundits claim.

Monday, June 7, 2010


I was happy to see the Celtics even the score on Sunday night because Kobe Bryant just whines way to much for me to hear about him winning his fifth ring. Kobe has definitely got game - but I'm not really interested in hearing the Jordan comparisons, or the Magic comparisons for that matter. So, as Augustana sings, "I think [we'll] go to Boston, I think [we'll] start a new life ..."

However, let's hope the referees learn to swallow their whistles. The excessive fouls and calls - especially the bumping off the ball - is really annoying, and it is killing the game. Garnett and Odom and Perkins and Gasol with three fouls in the first half? That was ridiculous. They're big boys - let them play.