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BFTP: Hardening of the opinions

sht081.jpgTho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
                        Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson

Cary and I met our goal of 23 miles in two days, not three. We survived hail, rain, wind, wolves, narrow bridges, defective camp stoves, slippery trails, and a damned cold night. We carried 40-50 pound packs to the highest point of the trail. Heroic hearts, indeed.

I have almost recovered.

Aging fellows like me need a good physical challenge now and again. More so now really than when youth had its horns out and went looking for some territory to defend or some mate to impress. It is simply about proving to oneself that one yet harbors a small ember of the strength and, perhaps, promise of youth. That the muscles still serve - though they take longer to warm up. That the lungs still work - perhaps harder than ever. But perhaps the best thing to know is that the brain still functions - enough anyway to read a map, talk politics and women, and survive a day or two in the wild. That we are foolish enough to take on the trail, but smart enough not to hurt ourselves too much in the process.

Yet it's not really a hardening of the arteries, I fear, but hardening of the opinions. A malady that seems endemic among people my age (and younger). How do I keep from becoming one of the old grumps in the teachers' lounge who counters every change advanced with, "Yeah, we tried it that way twenty years ago. It didn't work then and it won't work now."

It's tougher to stay mentally flexible than physically fit. What can you do to make sure you can still touch your intellectual toes?

Or as Tennyson might put it:

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. 

Original post May 20, 2008


I thought of this post since I am leaving on a backpacking trip with my grandson Paul and his Boy Scouts today. Looks like some challenging hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Still striving to stay both physically and mentally fit and flexible!

Paul and Grandpa 2018


Just as important as fact vs opinion

  • Schools have been teaching how to tell statements of fact from statements of opinion for at least 40 years (Fact - I was teaching it in 1976.)
  • Schools have not been doing a very good job of teaching how to tell fact from opinion. (Fact - a study by Pew Research shows that only 36% of Americans could discriminate fact from opinion.)
  •  I am good at telling facts from opinion. (Fact - based on a score of 100% on a quiz given by the Pew Research.) Or wait, maybe that's an opinion...

Knowing how tell whether something is a fact or an opinion has long been viewed as an important skill, especially for citizens in a country which is supposedly democratic. Yet with each passing day, whether because of current events or due to my encroaching senile dementia, I find telling fact from opinion seems not just more difficult, but insufficient in making good decisions.

Just a few random "skills" that are as important as fact/opinion discrimination:

  1. Determining the reliability of the facts. Just because something is verifiable doesn't make it true. Many statements are verifiably false should we only take the time to examine them.
  2. Understanding the relationship among facts, opinions, and values. How do our values impact what facts we use to support our opinions? Opinions are the result of weighing and selecting facts according to personal values.
  3. Asking if any writing can be free of bias. What is the purpose of the writing and how might that purpose influence the facts (and language) chosen for inclusion? Objectivity, like fairness, is perhap an unobtainable quality.
  4. Understanding the context needed to determine the importance or value of a fact. If I tell you that I weigh 200 pounds but neither my height or body fat percentage, how much good does knowing my weight do anyone trying to determine whether I am healthy?
  5. Accepting that no political stance is free of confmation bias. While Stephen Cobert's statement that facts have a liberal bias gets a nod and a chuckle from most of my friends, the sign of a genuine thinker is that she/he understands it is human nature to seek out the evidence that best supports one's personal values. And this includes liberals as well as conservatives.
  6. Understanding that opinions can be valuable. Many opinions, espcially expert opinions, are judgements based on the collection and analysis of lots of facts - facts that have been substantiated and place in context. A thoughtful opinion is an effective means of getting reliable information.

Oversimplification of good decision-making seems even more dangerous than not being able to tell fact from opinion. That's my conclusion.

But then as Arthur Bloch once said  "A conclusion is the place where you get tired of thinking."

Your opinion?

Yes, I noticed that difference is misspelled in the graphic above. But I still like the quote.


Conference envy - maybe not

My social network feeds are full of reports on activities at ISTE in Chicago and ALA in New Orleans. I have to admit I am feeling a little envious. National and international conferences have long been a staple in my PLC and I always loved getting to see friends, learn from my fellow professionals, view the latest and greatest gadgets, and complain about the vendor exhibits. And eat in nice restaurants and drink more than I should.

I miss you all.

The decision not to attend this year was a conscious one. Our district is well-represented at both conferences. And quite honestly, with one year left to go before retirement, our district PD dollars are better invested in those who will be serving our staff and students for many more years.  Yes, I could pay my own way, but I'd I rather use my vacation time and dollars on other activities.

For example:

This mess is the backpacking gear I am talking on a trip with my grandson Paul and his fellow Boy Scouts next week in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Philmont was closed due to fires)

Here is the list:

Careful readers will note food or water weight are not listed. For "ultra-light" hikers, this is about double the weight one should carry. After reading far too many books and articles on backpacking, I've concluded you can cut the weight you carry in one of two ways:

  • Take lighter stuff
  • Take less stuff
  • Preferably both

Lighter stuff is wonderful but it can be very expensive. I figured to reduce my tent weight by 2 pounds would have cost about $200. Sleeping bag, pack, stove, etc. all the same - fewer ounces cost considerably more dollars.

Or I could leave the Kindle home and the camp chair and the coffee and the camp shoes and ... A true hiking minimalist walks from dawn to dusk and uses time in camp to eat cold food and sleep for muscle regeneration. Which is not my idea of a good hiking/camping experience. True ultra-light hiking philosophies are for those who wish to cover great distances in very short periods of time. I say, what's the rush?

So I will be humping extra weight so that I might be able to sit in my chair, read a book, and have a cup of hot coffee in the evening at the campsite after a 10 mile day instead of a 20 mile day.

Friends and colleagues, have a wonderful time at ISTE and ALA. And think of me as I enjoy the company of my grandson, the views of Longs Peak, and the comfort of camp shoes after a day in the wild.