Sunday, July 31, 2011

Do it yourself

I'm reasonably sure that shower heads are not supposed to fall off when adjusted.  In fact, I'm absolutely positive that this is a malfunction suggesting the (somewhat urgent, perhaps) need for replacement of the shower head.  And can I make a link to education and teaching?  You bet I can.

I will be making a trip to the nearest DIY ('do it yourself' store) to purchase a replacement shower head and, well, do it myself.  Despite knowing friends who could, perhaps, do it more quickly and having plumbers in my community who could just do it for me, it would be inconsistent with most everything I write and say to simply turn this over to someone else.  Far too many of us in the 'developed' world have lost the ability to do much more than drive to work and use computers to help us analyze and communicate data.  Though I hear less of it now than I did in previous circumstances, I cringe when I hear 'outsource' used in conjunction with household maintenance, activities of daily living (cooking, for example), and the raising of our children.

The single act of replacing the shower head (which has, in case you're wondering, cracked at the juncture where the threaded section attaches) won't change the world or make much of a difference.  But embracing the mindset that capable people make better citizens--which includes better parents, better teachers, better employees, and just better people--and practicing that mindset to the fullest extent possible may make me a better parent, teacher, and friend.

Thoreau would have approved, I think.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You just can't plan these things...

Today, in a completely unexpected encounter, I found myself talking about the Capstone course to an executive at a large retail company.  In the midst of a discussion about sustainability, I went off (or on and on, depending upon perspective) about the shift I had observed in students who took the Capstone course this summer.

I found myself explaining that I'd taken a risk (which is not a surprise, by now, is it?) by substituting 'the lens of sustainability' for the traditional business simulation associated with Capstone.  As I rhapsodized (you had to be there) about the shift I'd observed in some of the students over the course of the semester, I heard myself explaining how some students moved from a negative or skeptical perspective (about the relevance of sustainability for business) to a recognition of the business value in thinking about the world--and the people in it--as a resource worth safeguarding.

And then?  She asked to see how I'd designed my course.  It seems that her job is, in part, helping consumers make the same shift from skepticism--which, in a retail context, may be more accurately described as cynicism--to understanding, if not embracing, the value of protecting and renewing resources.

Who knew?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Endings are beginnings

I just walked out of the classroom, down the stairs, and across the courtyard to the building where I office.  It was the final session of the summer for the Managerial M.B.A. program for full-time professionals.  It's the end of their two-year program.

I don't know how they do it, these students with jobs and families, many of whom commute from other cities for the Saturday classes.  It's not just the effort required to attend class, it's also the level of effort they put into their work, which translates to high-quality finished products.  These highly-motivated students want to be in school and want it enough to work hard.  They are a joy to teach.  And, as with the bright, motivated teams with whom I've worked, these students challenge me to work hard.  In some ways, it doesn't feel as though I'm teaching at all.

And the last sentence is the shadow side, perhaps, of this experience.  The students who need teaching the least are the ones who are the easiest to teach.  Instructors love the self-motivated high performers.  Part of why we love them is because they make us look good.

The structure of this capstone course means that I lectured very little and spent the majority of class time with small groups of students engaged in work; as a result, I was fortunate enough to be able to know them far better.  And I will miss them.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm all thumbs

A recent CNN article has been on my mind lately, as it's likely that sitting at my computer to work, sitting in my car to commute or travel, and sitting for more than 3-4  hours a day is deleterious to my health.  The simple truth is that I sit too much and it's bad for me. Or, as The Cat in the Hat might say, I sit, sit, sit and don't like it one bit (with apology to Dr. Seuss).

It's been on my mind because I am teaching a summer class that meets for four hours on Saturdays and I'm talking to my daughter about college, jobs, and life.  I've come to the conclusion that, with the exception of professional athletes, we've pretty much kicked all non-office work to the curb, at least in the U.S.  The 'smart' kids go to college to get white-collar jobs.  The 'important' jobs have titles, offices, and dress codes.  We have entire groups (classes, perhaps) of people who drive from home to somewhere else to do work--work that requires a great deal of sitting--with little tangible benefit.  And, in that process, we've become completely reliant on others to grow our food, build our homes, and provide maintenance for many of the things we own.

I'm not a proponent of total self-reliance or a return to Thoreau's Walden Pond.  But I'm troubled about our whole-sale adoption of the wonders and benefits of technology without a healthy counting of the cost.  And I wonder about the message--whether intended or not--that the 'best' jobs require a college education, a computer, an office, and a whole lot of sitting.

I can tell you for a fact that I am happier and healthier when my own life is much more balanced...when I use my head, my hands, and my heart in pretty equal measure.  I'm not sure we realize how much damage is being done by the slow transition from being whole people to being little more than brains with thumbs.