Things my students told me

MATH_teacherAs I retire from the college I feel the compulsion to share some hard learned lessons. To all teachers, newbies and old hands, sooner or later someone will say…

“You are a bad teacher” Continue reading “Things my students told me”

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The Devil Made Me Do It

good_vs_evil_warfare_400_clr_6236Let’s assume for a moment that there is a Supreme Being. Let’s call this entity IT – not to be confused with Stephen King’s novel about a sewer dwelling evil clown named Pennywise.

According to the story,  IT decided to confer the Truth on one person. Put aside for a moment your curiosity as to why IT as Supreme Being didn’t simply tell everyone. (The rumor is that most people couldn’t handle the Truth.) In any event, IT decided to share the secret with the chosen one – henceforth referred to as CO. (Feel free to substitute your favourite variation about the CO.) Continue reading “The Devil Made Me Do It”

How Will They Learn? (Team Work)

push_the_bullseye_400_clr_18524If the school system seems inadequate to the task of instilling problem solving skills surely they will do better at team building. All those young people in the same place with the same goals. It screams team work!

 Would it be fair to assume that in order to teach team skills the instructors must be team players? Since teachers and professors are products of the school system they will only succeed to the extent that the school system succeeded – well you can see the problem.

Continue reading “How Will They Learn? (Team Work)”

Joy of travel

I wrote the following in 2011 and – for some reason – I never posted it. I just reread it and found it mildly interesting. So I hope you enjoy it. 

I have been on vacation – enjoying a cruise. I was quite pleased to find that I couldn’t use my Blackberry on board the ship. I am certain that with a tiny bit of effort I could have found a way – but quite honestly I didn’t have the will. There was an Internet café but to get to it I had to pass a bar. Need I say more?

I’m on my way home now, which is everyone’s least favourite part of any vacation. Let’s face it. Many of us love to travel but whoever said that “getting there is half the fun” must have been half in the bag. Really? I hate travelling. But I’m in Toronto, getting closer to home, and there is a story I want to share.

Continue reading “Joy of travel”

When evil comes to town

Snidely Whiplash“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”.

Often attributed to Edmund Burke, quoted by John F. Kennedy, and traced to Charles F. Aked – it is one of the most popular quotations of the modern world.

http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/04/good-men-do/

The origin of the quote is less important than the message. It seems to clearly state our individual responsibility to stand up against evil – things, people and practices.

I think, since this is such a popular quotation, it is safe to say that we collectively believe that we should take a stand against evil. Yet it seems that not a day passes without some corporation, business person or politician being caught out in deception or bad behaviour. This seems at odds with our stance against evil.

Perhaps the word “evil” is too melodramatic.  I know it makes me think of old movies in which good and evil were clearly distinguished – sometimes by the colour of the actors’ hat – sometimes by his moustache. In any event – it was easy. You rooted for the good guys and booed the bad guys. And the cavalry rode over the hill and put everything in order.

I’m sure that most of us believe that we are “good guys”. Not necessarily perfect, but certainly not evil. And, I’d wager that those politicians and business people do not see Snidely Whiplash or another “bad guy” when they look in the mirror.

As humans, we have an amazing capacity to fill the information gap with stories of our own making. And since we never have complete and accurate information we have a lot of room to be creative. Given that we believe ourselves to be basically good we sometimes find the need to reconcile our temptations (and actions) against our self-image.

We do not know how many people cheat (or lie or pad their expense accounts). It is fairly obvious that in certain situations there is reward for cheating (or lying or padding our expense accounts). If everyone else is doing it then we reason that we can too and still be a good guy. [Comparison against social norms is a powerful tool.]

We don’t see as the small “bad” as evil. We excuse questionable business practices as “just business”, certainly not evil – unless the practices affect our stock prices. Well that’s different –although perhaps, still not evil.

We see evil in murderers and rapists. We see evil in foreign leaders – although we need to be told which ones are evil and which ones are just eccentric.

We don’t see evil in the small cheats, the deceptions, the shirking of responsibility. Evil is too heavy a word for those things. And so we can quote the saying and feel that we will combat evil – if it ever comes to town.

Whether it a business decision or a board room discussion we need to recognize those things that make us uncomfortable – if they are not evil maybe they are slithery or not quite right. 

We cannot eradicate evil from the world but we can monitor ourselves. We can create new stories to fill the information gap – stories in which we believe that good people do not cheat (or lie or pad their expense reports). It is a small thing – but it may be all we can do.

[N.B. All references to “guys” should be read as gender neutral. Relax – this is not the worst thing you will deal with today.]

Run your own race

Tortoise and hareYou remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was born with the natural gift of speed.  The tortoise was, as you know, slow and plodding – excessively so.

As the tale goes, the tortoise and the hare decided to race. The hare, much impressed with his own speed and agility, ran around in circles, took a nap, read a book and in various ways demonstrated how fast he was and how little attention he needed to pay to the silly race. The tortoise, you remember, stayed the course, focused on the task, placed one foot after the other and a variety of other idioms. While the hare played the fool, the tortoise won the race.

But the story continues.

Continue reading “Run your own race”