Monday, February 24, 2014

Only Option?

I get the chance to talk to a lot of high school seniors. I tell them that after they graduate they are in for a shock. If they go to a college or university, no longer will they have to ask for a pass to go to the bathroom. Many of them will live away from home for the first time. They will have the freedom to make more of their own choices than ever before.

And sadly, a lot of them will choose poorly. There is story after story of young adults who go off to college and really struggle their freshman year.

But why? Because many of them haven’t learned to make their own choices. In high school, especially now more than ever from what I’ve seen, students are being forced to do certain things instead of given a choice.

Here’s an interesting word for you: option. What does that mean to you? According to various dictionaries, it means “the opportunity or ability to choose something or to choose between two or more things” and “the power or right to choose” and “a thing that is or may be chosen.”

Now consider those definitions of the word “option” in relation to a saying that is printed on banners posted around schools: “Success is the only option.”

Think about it. “Only option” in and of itself is a contradiction. Having only one choice to make is not really a choice then, is it?

To that end, I don’t think high school fully prepares students for life after high school. That’s a pretty bold statement, though I did include the variable “fully” to give me some wiggle room to explain what I mean.

Here is something I do to help students prepare for real life: I give them the chance and the choice to fail.

That’s right. I believe I learn a lot more from my mistakes than things I get right on the first try.

It’s interesting when I tell students, “Here is the assignment for today. You can do it, or not. It’s your choice.”

Their response? Many will say, “Really? You aren’t going to make me do it?”

I say, “Nope.”

Inevitably, one of the students will ask, “But what if I don’t do it?”

My answer? “Then you will miss out on a chance to learn something. You’ll earn a zero on the assignment which will affect your overall grade.”

If you think about it, that’s how life after high school works. If you don’t do your job, you’ll get fired. You won’t have money. You can’t buy food. And so on and so on.

So why do schools then adopt slogans like “where success is the only option”? Because it sounds good—even though it is fundamentally wrong.

I propose instead: “Where every student can be successful.”

Monday, February 17, 2014

OCD or Good Habits?

I get to travel to all sorts of different classrooms. In doing so, I see how different teachers organize their classes. Some of them are really neat and organized. Some should be declared a disaster area. Seriously.

There was a class room I went to recently that was very organized. There were baskets, clearly labeled, where the students were supposed to turn in their assignments. The white boards were clean. Heck, even the dry erase markers were organized by color. It was amazing.

That same week, I was in a room where there were papers everywhere. The teacher’s desk was covered with assignments, folders, sticky notes and half-a-dozen knickknacks.

I understand that people have different personalities which can be reflected in how organized and clean they keep their environments. I, personally, prefer a clean environment. Granted, if you look at my workspace where I write my books, it may seem a bit cluttered. But that works for me. I know where everything is. It’s not quite the “A place for everything, and everything all over the place” situation, but it’s not as super organized as it could be.

Why do I bring this up? Hang in there a second and it will make sense.

In our current day and age, it seems like certain behaviors are given labels. To be fair, there are real and serious conditions where these terms are valid. Yet, I believe there are times when the terms are used too broadly.

For example, OCD means Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It’s real and can be a big issue for those who have it. But I, personally, think that the term is often used incorrectly. That’s a problem. Why? Because it cheapens the meaning of it.

Consider the word “awesome.” It comes from the word “awe” which means “a strong feeling of fear or respect and also wonder.” And “awesome” as a word? “An expressive of awe or inspiring awe.”

Therefore, when someone eats a taco, and then says, “Awesome!” Is that really what they mean? Did the taco honestly create a strong feeling of fear or respect or even wonder? Possibly, but I doubt it.

The same could be said for using the term “OCD” for an activity when in fact it may be a good habit. If you brush your teeth every night before you can go to bed, that’s a good habit. If you have to brush your teeth every hour on the hour, that’s more along the lines of OCD.

May I be so bold as to make a suggestion? Next time someone uses the term “OCD,” think, “is that really what they mean, or is it just a good habit?”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Us and Them

While attending BYU in Utah, my wife and I elected to by a mobile home instead of paying rent. It turned out to be a good financial investment as we were able to sell it when I graduated and took my first job in Idaho.

The way LDS congregations (known as “wards”) are set up is by geography. This means that the ward you attend is based on where you live. It may seem strange to some people, but it works. The boundaries are selected based on the number of members in a given area ensuring that the wards don’t get too big or are too small to support the needs of the members.

It just so happened that the mobile home park my wife and I lived in was in a ward with a subdivision of nicer homes of people that were fairly well off. Overall, that didn’t cause many issues, but once in a while, it did.

Here’s an example: One Sunday, a church leader was talking about providing service to those in need. A good idea, right? What bothered me personally, and several others in the meeting, was when he said, “We need to reach out to those people over there in the mobile home park and make sure we are taking care of them.”

I’m certain he meant no harm in the statement, but by saying it that way, he basically created an “Us and Them” situation. And I say that’s not a good thing.

As I read the news, many of the world’s conflicts are caused by people focusing more on what makes them different than what they have in common. Labeling people based on any particular trait that makes them different can overshadow shared commonalities.

That’s not to say everyone has to be the same. Heck, I’ll go as far as to say that it’s a good thing for people to embrace things that make them different—as long as that doesn’t become such a powerful representation that it obliterates the things we all have in common.

What kind of differences am I talking about? It can be skin color. It can be religion. It can be economic situation. It can be marital status. It can be sexual orientation. It can be which sports team you cheer for. And the list goes on and on.

I’ll openly admit that in my life I’ve been one of those who have perpetuated the “Us and Them” situation from time to time, and I’ve learned it wasn’t a good thing.

My first job was at McDonald’s. I worked after school and on the weekends. When I was scheduled to “close,” I couldn’t go home until everything was done. Over time, it was clear to me that the morning crew and the evening crew didn’t like each other very much. The morning crew would often complain about how the evening crew left things a mess from the night before. The evening crew would counter by saying “The morning crew doesn’t have it as bad as we do. They can go home once their shift is over and they don’t have to clean up.”

Then I graduated from high school and had a chance to work in the mornings during the summer. What I found out shocked me. The people in the morning were actually pretty cool. They had to deal with stuff we didn’t at night, like switching over from breakfast to lunch. In the end, I came to realize the morning and evening crews had a lot more in common than not. I felt bad for being one of the outspoken evening crew.

Recently, I was once again confronted with an “Us and Them” situation. I won’t go into details because frankly I’m sure there are several people who are cheesed off at me and I’m hoping they will understand where I’m coming from. What I tried to do is to get them to see they were perpetuating “Us and Them” by focusing on what I consider to be small differences and ignoring the larger commonalities.

In the end, let me make a suggestion: when you find yourself at odds with someone, take a moment and step back to look at the bigger picture. Focus on what you have in common with the other person instead of the differences.