The 3 Rs

My first on-stage performance was with my sister when we were in the third grade. We sang the old song “School Days.” I think it was an old song then, and may be archaic now.

The words were:
“School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days
Reading and -Riting and -Rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.”

Education in the Elementary grades, which encompassed grades 1 – 8, used to be focused on those three things: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. Commonly labeled as the Three Rs, referencing the beginning sounds of the words, not the spelling.

Success in these three disciplines was seen as foundational to all future education, and a strong indicator for success in adult work life.

Change

Work opportunities changed over the years, and education changed, too.

Teachers began teaching things that family had been responsible for. Sports sponsored by the schools worked its way down into the primary grades.

The politicians grabbed onto the idea that introducing more content earlier would provide a better, more productive work force. Politicians, not teachers, became the ones that decided Curriculum.

It has now become mandatory that Kindergarteners know how to read, before the school term begins. Pre-schools sprang up. Parents passed the responsibility for teaching to them. Classrooms with 40 students assigned to one teacher are common. Survival becomes the focus, rather than learning.

Part of my introduction to more than one school where I was hired to teach included the caution to give grades of As and Bs so the parents wouldn’t complain to the administration. Plus, with those grades, no one would show up for parent-teacher conferences, because their kids were all “doing fine.”

Enough Education bashing

My 8-year-old grandson has been reading for years. He now reads at the 5th grade level. So, I’m not opposed to kids reading at an early age.

But, not all babies and toddlers have parents and grandparents who read to them. Sad, but true. Yet, many reading skills need to be instilled by age 3.

Reading is the key

Success in reading is the key to success in all other academics – perhaps even the key to success in life today. Notice the Today at the end of that sentence. I had more than one uncle who never read anything after leaving high school, yet they operated successful farms.

That was 60 years ago.

My son has chosen to go back to college to prepare for new employment. The class met for two hours the first morning, then they were sent home with several hours worth of reading to do. While he was fully employed, with certification and proven skills, he could see that it was taking him where he did not want to go.

People in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are being forced out of jobs that they thought would take them to retirement. Re-education for employment is the only recourse.

Learning from reading is a set of skills that lie at the foundation of today’s education.

What if you are weak in reading? Are you doomed to unemployment?

No. You can improve your reading skills without taking remedial reading classes.

Kick up your skills

History is replete with examples of men and women who became notable, but who started out with miserable reading skills, even no formal schooling. They improved by reading more.

It’s a solitary task, but reading more is key to reading better.

I don’t mean romance novels, or other entertainment-driven writing. Read history and science, biographies and poetry. Read literature that challenges your vocabulary and thinking.

Many books today are available as audio books. Even those that are not narrated by people can be read to you by computer voices through Kindle and other e-readers.

It is my experience that the audio of the text needs to accompany your eyes and mind looking at the words. There are times when listening to a book without seeing the text is okay. I used to spend more than an hour each direction commuting to and from work. I listened to books.

Reading will take you places and introduce ideas that will enhance your life in ways you can’t even imagine.

Success in Reading

I have had students brought to me in the junior high grades, unable to read at first grade level. Within a year of working carefully with audio accompanying print material, those students would be reading on grade level. You can understand how this enhanced their lives.

I have also worked with students coming into the American school system from a foreign country. Most had only a limited ability to read English. Yet, working with recordings of the textbooks, they became English proficient in one year.

This was before the days of technology that has robots reading. My wife and I created the recordings of the curriculum materials and provided them to the students.

Read. Use audio books when possible. Find a discussion group, a book club, some people with whom you can discuss what you are reading. Take a class at the local community college or high school that uses a discussion approach to teaching and learning. These are likely to be courses in the Humanities.

Read. Discuss. Learn. This three-part exercise will enhance your life.

For those of us who are excellent readers, my teacher-advice is the same… Read more. I know I need to follow my own advice in this. I still have two or three books in progress all the time. I read more when I was teaching.

Facility in reading will likely propel you to the connected R – wRiting. But, that’s a topic for another time.

Oh, by the way. My sister and I were awesome with our song.

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See with New Eyes

The doctor said, “You’ll discover that things are not the colors they appear to you now.”

I thought, “Sure. I see okay now. My problem is with night driving, nothing else.”

But, surgery was scheduled.

I am a photographer. I am trained to see. I have worked in Photoshop for years, even decades. I used to teach Photoshop at a local community college. But my doctor said, “You’ll be surprised when you work with your photos after your eyes are healed.”

I thought, “Yeah, right.” (Said with a downward inflection on ‘right’ indicating disbelief.)

It has been a few weeks now since the surgery.

I was not anticipating the difference it made. It’s like I have new eyes. My wife has even commented that my eyes look different to her now. This surgery really has enhanced my life.

IRL (In Real Life)

This got me thinking about what we see IRL, compared to what we think we see.

The Doctor was right. I was surprised. I had been seeing colors darkly, as through the haze of a dark veil.

My perception was flawed. And I had been ignorant of it. I needed an operation to replace the lenses that I was looking through.

We, each of us, see life through five lenses that help us interpret what we see.

While I would struggle to find a positive aspect to my cataracts, the following list of lenses have both positive and negative influences. I am not trying to be comprehensive in my presentation here.

My goal is to create awareness and thought regarding our perceptions of the world.

Experience Lens

Experience is one of the most influential lenses through which we view our world. What we have experienced shapes what we are able to see.

I was once part of a committee given the task of selecting a leader for a large organization. One of the first requisites used to filter candidates stated simply “World View.” If the person had not traveled outside of the United States, and beyond North America, he or she was immediately disqualified.

A person who has not seen how people in the Third World countries live, cannot understand their perspectives. An organization that works in those countries needs a leader who is able to view business through a lens beyond the USA lens.

Education Lens

Education lenses influence how we interpret what we see. College is supposed to give us an historical context, and a broad exposure to knowledge, through which to see life. Each course that we study adds to our ability to understand or interpret ideas, events, and viewpoints.

Education is the fastest way to Enhance the Life of anyone.

Belief Lens

Belief lenses are largely imposed on us through Family life enculturation. I know that I was both sheltered and indoctrinated by my family, through the habits, traditions, and beliefs they incorporated into our lives.

This lens helps to bring stability to society.

Ignorance Lens

Ignorance lenses are influences that impact everyone negatively. There are so many things about which I am ignorant. Everyone is ignorant in many ways. But we tend to not look carefully at the degree of ignorance that focuses how we relate to an idea.

Due to ignorance I will likely make decisions and connections that negatively affect me. When I acknowledge my lack of knowledge in a particular area, I am less likely to make an absolute decision about it.

Because it is difficult to admit our own ignorance, this lens is difficult to re-focus.

Prejudice Lens

Prejudice lenses have spun out of my experiences, education, and beliefs, and have, for the most part, become my prejudices. Certainly, I have modified what my parents and teachers presented in a prejudicial light. Yet, I tend to sway toward those prejudices, rather than away from them.

Prejudice lenses are the most difficult to re-focus, because they are rooted in our other four lenses, experience, education, beliefs, and ignorance.

Lens Operation

Knowing the existence of these lenses and their origins, makes it possible for me to inspect each one for validity. Again, an operation is needed.

Step one in this operation is to admit to the presence of these lenses or filters. That may be uncomfortable at first. But without taking this step you will be blind to the glory of the light and colors that surround you. You will continue to see through a veil.

You will be held captive by what you believe you see.

Step two involves removing each lens and investigating the evidence for and against each opinion, belief, and “fact” that you look at through that lens.

Look carefully at how the lenses, as filters, intersect in their influences. Go to authoritative sources, including people – experts – and investigate.

As you engage in introspection, ask the question, Why is this belief or attitude or behavior part of me? Inspect each one for its influence and impact.

Accept what passes your New Eyes Inspection. Be careful not to reject any lens or filter without engaging with a trusted adviser or mentor.

Just as I could not remove the cataracts from my own eyes I probably cannot by myself remove the faulty lenses that determine what I see in life. Not everyone is equipped to be a trusted adviser. Choose carefully.

It is never too late to look carefully at yourself and see with new eyes.

The best operation you can have to correct the problems with how and what we see, is to allow Jesus to open our eyes so we can see the way He sees.

My new eyes have greatly enhanced my life.

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The Danger in Good Enough

My mother was an amazing cook. At church potlucks people would search for the dishes she brought to be sure they got some. As I was growing up, meal-time did not reveal that we were poor. I cannot remember even one thing that she served us that I thought was yukky.

She could take the left-overs and invent new gourmet-quality dishes. It was from these early food experiences that I developed a discriminating palate. Yes, I’m picky about food. Bland just doesn’t satisfy me. Food doesn’t have to be spicy, but it should burst flavor all inside my mouth when I eat it.

Recently I asked a friend about the quality of food at a restaurant I was considering. “It’s good enough.” she responded. For her it was an acceptable place to eat. I chose to go elsewhere.

Good enough was never good enough for my mother. She had the habit of working for excellence.

Habit

Habits exert a strong influence on our attitudes and efforts. Every choice we make is either the first step in establishing a habit, or an additional step in reinforcing an existing habit.

Doing less than what I’m capable of falls into the category of a Bad Habit. I believe I should demand excellence from myself. While I may not achieve mastery in everything I do, I will achieve at a higher level than I would if I settle for good enough.

Dangers

First, the good-enough habit strangles the effort to excel. Even the idea of putting in extra time and effort to get a better result, will probably not be acted on when a person has a habit of good enough.

Second, you will never achieve what lies beyond good enough. You will never know what genius you are capable of until you do more than you think you can.

Your Best

Your Best lies beyond Good Enough. It will take extra effort, harder work, more time, but excellence emerges from that. The achievement of excellence, even the effort to achieve excellence, enables you to do even greater things the next time.

And, in this process, Excellence becomes a habit. It becomes more than a habit. It weaves into the very fabric of who you are.

Why

It may often seem that you are the only one giving this extra effort. But, when you entertain the thought that good enough really is good enough, accept the fact that doing more, working for excellence, is for two valuable reasons:

1) to shape yourself into what’s possible;
2) to be a model for your children, your students, your colleagues.

As you model going beyond, you will enjoy a deep satisfaction with your work. You will avoid the doubts and worries that you could have done more and achieved different results. You will measure yourself and know that you have grown into a better you, more than what you were. It is also likely that you will begin to realize that you are capable of much more than you previously thought.

You will also enhance other lives in ways that you never dreamed possible. Your efforts will serve as a challenge to those around you. They will begin to push themselves to go beyond the minimum, to seek to enhance their lives.

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There probably are times when it is OK to short-cut the work and stop at Good Enough. I would be glad to hear from you about when good enough really is good enough.

I would also like to hear from you about going beyond, working for excellence. Share an experience with me.

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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly of Habit

The other day I climbed into my car and set out for my son’s place. It was a trip that required little attention; I had driven the route many times.

Everything was going just fine as I made turns and crossed streets at traffic signals. Then, I made a visual survey of my surroundings to check my progress. Oops! Something was wrong!

For the past year I had been making frequent trips to a local Cancer Treatment Center, The first half of the trip is along the same route as getting to my son’s place. As I looked out the windows of the car, I realized that I was within sight of the wrong place. I was almost to the Cancer Center parking lot. I had missed a turn.

Every one of us has habits. We need habits to streamline the routines of our lives. Habits help enhance our lives. Without habits we would have to focus energies and extra time on what might be considered minor daily events.

I believe it is safe to say that habits fall into one of three categories: Good, Bad, or Ugly. Certain circumstances may cloud the issue and suggest that a habit is better placed in a different group. Other habits clearly fit in only one.

The science of habit is more clearly understood today than it was years ago. Habits are formed due to repetition of behaviors, events, tasks. It takes about one month of frequent, consistent repetition to establish a habit. Behaviors that are related to an external chemical or emotional, physical duress, may habituate more quickly.

Good Habits

Many routines are good ones, life enhancing one. These are the ones that streamline our lives without adding negative baggage to our daily loads. Getting dressed for work while planning the work day; exercising at the gym; getting food from the plate to our mouths; driving to work. Even relationship events, like talking to my spouse, saying “I love you” often, and going to church.

Rote knowledge also falls into this grouping. Addition facts, multiplication facts, business rules and laws. Things that we know without having to scratch our heads in wonder. Handwriting. Talking. Singing.

When I was a child, I always sat in the same seat at the table for meals. Colors were assigned to each member of the family, also. Tupperware Red was my color. Cereal bowl and tumbler. Life was easier with that pattern. No squabbling over who sits where.

Bad Habits

Wasting time with TV or on digital games. These pastimes are so readily available on our phones and tablets that we are unaware of the amount of time spent. Yet, for most of us, these pursuits are not moving us toward the enhanced life we really want. Snacking probably falls into this group. Mindlessly popping food into our mouths at all hours of the day and night. Drinking diet soda is known to be unhealthy for us, yet many persist in the habit. Artificial sweeteners in general are not as healthful as the advertisements indicate.

Ugly Habits

Destructive behaviors and attitudes take us far away from the Enhanced Life. Oh, the Promise they offer of the Good Life is the opposite of that, but the reality is ugly. We can easily end up with habits that hurt ourselves and others. Chemical addictions are physically and morally bad for us.

But, other Ugly habits can be identified: self-criticism, a negative perspective of self and/or life, seeing myself as a victim, pessimism, distrust – all lead away from an enhanced life. These beliefs and behaviors impact those around us, also, and tend to rub off on family and colleagues.

Steps to Take

As with other parts of our lives, we need to regularly take a purposeful inventory of our habits. I think perhaps this was the real purpose of the New Year’s Resolution process.

With a trusted adviser or coach, analyze the habituated portions of your life. Make a written list – or use a digital tool and store the file for ready access. Just like the drawers and closets of our physical environments, clutter accumulates in our daily routines and relationships.

Identify your habits with names, so you can address them more efficiently. Remember, they are habits, so we likely don’t notice that we do them and where they are taking us.

Be careful who you get to assist with this step. Not all acquaintances are equipped to benefit you on this quest.

Solutions

In the process of enhancing your life, you must be purposeful in creating a plan to replace a few bad habits with good ones. Don’t work on many at one time. One or possibly two (if they are already tied together in some specific co-dependency) at a time. You probably acquired the habits one-at-a-time, it is best to replace them in the same way.

Remember, the Law of Habit indicates a requirement of up to a 66 day strategic plan to create a replacement habit. Use visuals, like pictures, notes, quotes posted around your environment, so you are more aware of the evidences that an old habit is trying to re-assert itself.

We can’t just eliminate a bad habit. The empty space will be filled with something, either the old habit or a new one. Choose wisely.

The Reward

Surround yourself with Positive Influences. Control more carefully what goes into your brain through your eyes and ears. Load your e-reader and library with Positive Thinking books – and load your consciousness with their truths. Look for the good, the beautiful in life.

It is true, whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right. I encourage you to choose “I Can!”

Keep your eyes on the Reward – a changed, enhanced life that makes you, and those around you, happier and healthier.

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Why You Need Silence

I had decisions to make. These were not easy decisions, like whether or not to eat lunch, or if I should ride my bike to the library. I needed to decide if I should let a girl in my class know that I liked her. I was just entering that time of life when I noticed that girls were different from boys.

Girlfriend stuff is tough to decide on.

I know, this is so NOT an adult problem.

Learn from Childhood Events

But, hear me out. Is it possible to learn adult things from childhood experiences? I certainly hope so. I’d hate to have to make a bunch of dumb adult mistakes to learn something I could have learned at twelve years of age. I think people who do that are referred to as immature by other adults who have their act together.

When I was living on the farm with my aunt and uncle, I had lots of time to think. Working several acres of garden takes time… alone. This was way before transistor radios, Walkman players, and all the gadgetry that is ubiquitous today.

After milking was done and cleaned up, I went out into the corn field and worked all morning, with a break only at lunch time. It was so quiet I could almost hear the corn growing. I learned to use the time for thinking and remembering. I learned to not be afraid of silence.

During my childhood I also discovered trees. Climbing trees. If there was a tree near, I could usually be found somewhere near the top, waving slightly in the breeze, looking at the world from above.

Magic in Silence

The magic in both of these experiences, I came to understand, was the silence. I liked silence. I gathered energy and enthusiasm from it. Energy to go back to work, enthusiasm to do the work well.

Many childhood decisions were made for me by my parents: which school I would attend; whether or not the teacher was the boss of me during school hours; if I would attend church, and which one; what time I would go to bed; if home chores were my job; even what books I could check out of the library.

My childhood was mapped out for me by may parents. As I grew older, they might ask for my input on some decisions.

Choosing a girlfriend was strictly my business. So, I climbed a tree to think. I had to also decide how I would let the lucky girl know she had been chosen. High in the tree, with only the breeze and bird calls for music, I could gather my thoughts and decide.

As an adult, I understand that many will identify me as an Introvert from these confessions. That’s okay.

I still seek silence and alone-time when I am writing and when I have decisions to make. I recommend it to you as a good thing.

I also discovered that silence can be found in noise. Silence can be an internal state.

The constant noise of the lawn mower creates a solitude for thinking. Many lesson plans and sermons originated from time behind a mower. Dreams sprang from the time. Reflection on the past day or week, as individual students were analyzed so I could do a better job of meeting his or her needs in the classroom.

Need Silence to Really Hear

Elijah needed to be reminded of a spiritual truth or two, so God sent him to a cave. At the entrance to the cave he experienced a tornado, a firestorm, and an earthquake. The record says, God was not in any of these. There might be a lesson in this as our weather gets crazier all the time.

At last, Elijah heard a still, small voice in the silence of the cave. It was God. Elijah recognized the voice and understood the message and mission he was to complete.

Amid the cacophony of today’s hectic pace, a still, small voice probably will go unheard.

Jesus recognized the wearing away of energy and enthusiasm among his disciples, and gathered them close to direct them: Come apart and rest awhile. Be in the stillness. Hear the voice of God, see His handiwork in nature. Reflect on His presence throughout your life.

What to do with the Sound of Silence? Seek it out. Make silence happen around you. Embrace it. Make it your friend. Feed on it and gain energy for the work you have to do.

Oh, and about the girlfriend decision. I asked my sister to call the Chosen One, then took the phone from her and said, “Don’t tell anyone that I like you!” Immediately, I was embarrassed, and passed the phone back to my sister. From then on I could not even speak to her at school, so the friendship didn’t blossom into girlfriend status. Lesson learned. Silence is better than sticking your foot in your mouth.

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