Tuesday, March 27, 2018

2 Rantz

1. On the eggshells of youth

I’m a mass, or mess of contradictions and I know this. Hypocrisy, it could be said, is my watchword, so I apologize if this comes off to some people as a “do as I say” kind of rant. The fact is, I do try to live the life and alk all the alks, so give me the benefit of some doubt on this one.

We try too hard not to offend. Judaism has a strong theme of avoiding embarrassing people and we take this concept to an extreme sometimes, and hope that with enough honey, and enough spared rods, we catch our fly-children and get them to be good. The thing is, I don’t see it happening. We work so hard not to call out the young people so that they won’t feel put upon or offended by our harsh words. We hope that by sparing them this humiliation, and asking nicely, or hinting, they will choose to fly right. We don’t want them to be pushed away by our choice to walk up to them and tell them things that they don’t want to hear.

But that’s what they need.

If I have a student who is talking in the middle of my class, I have to break things down in a particular fashion:

A. The student must know that there is a classroom code which forbids talking
a. The student, by being in the class, is acceding to the code.
b. The student, making the choice to talk (especially if silence has been formally requested) is acting in a way which violates the code.
B. My reaction can be to
a. ask again for silence – this has proven ineffective already.
b. ignore the talking – this might be useful because the talking student then misses content, but others do also because of the noise/distraction, and the misbehavior is not remediated but, in a sense, rewarded
c. speak to the student privately later – while this seems useful, it does not change the distraction, nor does it overtly address the issue which sends a message to other students that the behavior is acceptable.
d. isolate the talker publicly – this is what embarrasses students. But the fact is, they have already forced my hand

Should our police shy away from catching criminals because it will embarrass the criminals? Should our justice system simply ask for compliance repeatedly? We can’t always be about happy talk. Certain aspects of society are in the realm of law and rules, not mercy and emotional safety. The individual has made the choice to break the rule. The move to identify the rule-breaker is not embarrassing – it is necessary. And the choice to be embarrassed by someone else’s pointing out a broken rule is a selective and manipulative way of discouraging any authority figure from doing the job of keeping an entire society in line.

Yes, I break rules. Yes, I would be ashamed if I were called out for my behavior. But I would be a fool to ignore that my shame should be aimed at my own lack of self-control and not at someone else’s response to a choice I made. I am not advocating a purely “strict justice” mode of behavior. Suggestion, private conversation and other modes of response are great early lines of defense. But at a certain point, we have to abandon this notion that a soft answer turns away wrath and we have to teach people that respect for laws and people are highly interdependent and once they abandon one, they lose the moral high ground to demand the other.

2. Maybe later is now

Technology is wonderful but it has ripple effects and one of them is that it has stripped away the idea of a deadline.

I like deadlines. They give me ulcers but in a good way. Yes, a good way. They teach discipline and they regulate the rhythms of life. Some things just have to be done by a certain time and some things have to be done even earlier than that. Learning to respect deadlines is an essential part of growing up. But technology has stripped away any respect for deadlines or any sense of urgency. This is, of course, ironic, as technology has allowed us to live in that present moment all the time because of all the instant gratification it provides. Send a letter? No way – I want an answer NOW. So an email? Not even – a text, and expect a text back on the same schedule (even worse with Whatsapp because you can see that the recipient received and read the message, so any delay in response is an insult). We want to download and watch something in the moment. Back in the day we had to wait for a download to happen (and hope it was without error).

But with all this speed, we have destroyed any need to long term planning or accommodating a deadline. I remember having to submit material for a magazine I was working on. We had to have it done with enough time for material to be typeset, read, returned, proofed, sent, blue lined and copy checked. Pictures had to be taken in time for them to be developed, submitted, laid out etc. So things had to be planned on a calendar well in advance. We learned to use our time, stagger our responsibilities and chart our progress. Now, with instant communication, phones that take pictures and such, nothing has to be planned because we assume that we can take care of everything at the last minute and it will all work out. This bleeds over into other areas – I don’t need to have my paper done well in advance because I don’t need time to type it up, even work on printing it at a printing center, or proofread it. The spell checker will do the work. The grammar checker well. The online site will create my bibliography instantly. I don’t need to keep a shopping list because my technology will keep track of what I have and need. Therefore, I don’t plan before I shop and have no idea what I can make that will go beyond what I recently made. I can get the directions while I drive so I don’t have to plan my trip, so I won’t remember to make t reservations well in advance. We have destroyed process and once we show such a lack of concern for deadline in one area, we have trouble instituting it in other areas. Planning is a skill that, to be applied properly, has to be recalled across the disciplines. If students don’t have to remember to write assignments down because the teacher will post it to a homework site, then they won’t remember to write other notes down in contexts where there is no teacher or web-posting to fall back on.

Do we subcontract our memories to the cloud? Sure. Do we rely on computers to be responsible for lower order thinking skills (thus destroying the foundation for our performance of the higher ones)? Absolutely. And are we, by letting technology dictate the pace of our lives, forgetting how to stretch things out and let them mature and develop over time? Yup, and that’s a really bad thing.

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