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BFTP: Are the under-informed happier?

Clair and me in Havasupai, Grand Canyon, 2003

Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise. 
                                              Thomas Gray

I made the decision to go with my buddy Clair on a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike almost instantly. When he (more accurately, his sister) proposed back in April that a group of us do this trek, my thinking went:

  • I've hiked the Grand Canyon a number of times at the Havasupai Reservation and enjoyed it.
  • My calendar for September is open.
  • I have frequent flyer miles to use.
  • I need a physical challenge and it would be fun to spend some time with one of my best friends.

And here is what I found out only after doing just a little research and letting life intrude ...

  • The Rim to Rim Trail (Kaibab from the North Rim to the Colorado River, then the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim) is a four-day, 25 mile trek. (Havasupai was two half-day hikes separated by a couple nights camping.)
  • There is a 5,000 foot elevation loss (500 flights of stairs) over the first two days of hiking; there is a 4,000 foot elevation gain the last two days of hiking. (Havasupai elevation change was 2,000 feet down and back up.) People commonly lose all their toenails on the downhill jaunts. And I am guessing many lose their will to live on the uphills.
  • The temperature in the Grand Canyon area varies in September from below freezing on the North Rim to well over 100 degrees down in the Canyon.
  • One guide book of "classic hikes" rates the Rim to Rim a three on a scale of one to three in difficulty. It rates the Inca Trail a one. The Inca Trail nearly did me in.
  • People die of dehydration on this hike. And hypothermia. And snakebite. And abrupt deceleration that comes at the end of falls from great heights.(It's not the fall that killed him; it was the sudden stop.)
  • I realized that I am six years older and probably 20 pounds heavier than I was the last time I hiked the Canyon.
  • I've had three speaking engagements come up and a book draft to review this month. And I am program chair for the state library/tech conference. Oh, and that pesky day job seems to be keeping me busy.

So I ask myself, had I known in April what I know now, would I have so readily forked over the substantial deposit for this little adventure? Are we humans happier in our ignorance than we are in our knowledge?

But then would we do anything in life if we knew all the facts ahead of time?

I've continued my three-mile noon walks, but now wear hiking boots and carry a 25lb pack in training. The hike begins a week from this coming Sunday.

So far I have kept all my toenails.

(One encouraging thing is that in the book Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion, hikernuts are recreation enthusiasts, not a medical condition.)

Original post September 11, 2009 Oh, the trip was fantastic!


Learning guide words for the test

The LWW, my librarian wife, came home frustrated one day last week. She had spent the afternoon looking for a classroom set of print dictionaries so she could teach her kids how to use guide words.

"Seriously?" I asked. "I don't remember that being a terribly important skill even when I actually had to use a print dictionary."

"It's on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test I was told," she replied

Nice to know Minnesota is on the cutting edge of teaching life-skills - from the 20th century. I wonder if braiding buggy whips and sharpening quill pens are still essential for "career and college readiness as well?




BFTP: Reaching students who don't care about grades

If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That's how business works. But that's not happening here. You've got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity. And it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity. Daniel Pink

Dan Pink's TED talk about intrinsic motivation is well worth watching.


Pink very much comes to the same conclusion about what motivates adult workers as Alfie Kohn observed about what motivates students in Punished by Rewards back in 1993. See: "Creating Fat Kids Who Don't Like to Read."

Here's what both Pink and Kohn both tell me as an educator. If you want permanent, long-term learning or behavioral change, you won't do it with M&Ms, a special event for doing well on a test, or even saying "good job."

In fact we've all known lots of kids who were plenty smart but just didn't give a damn about what little letters appeared on their report cards. (My children will NEVER see my old report cards!) Yet we as a profession still pretend that all kids should care about their GPAs and state test scores.

Many kids, possibly a growing percentage, will only be reached through the heart, not the head. Only when they care about the topic and understand its relevance, interest, and meaning to them or to those they care about will they engage.

It's one reason we still need libraries with books on a wide range of reading levels on a broad range of topics if we want to create readers. It's why every child should have access to the Internet with its seemingly infinite range of topical information (and librarians to help children learn to find it) if we want to create life-long learners.

Unfortunately Arne Duncan or Barrak Obama don't understand this. At all. I'm guessing they were both "good" students for whom it was all about scores and stars.

Maybe it's time for somebody who had "not working to his potential" written on her report card running education. It would be different.

Original post September 4, 2009