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Friday
Aug252017

Selective over-generalization

At a recent service club meeting, the pre-meeting table conversation revolved around the press coverage given to police officers. One of my WASPish fellow members declared that it was but a tiny fraction of law enforcement officers who act inappropriately and that makes society unfairly believe that all of them perform badly. Heads nodded in agreement.

A bit later the talk turned to a YouTube video where a group of young men watched and recorded a man drowning rather than saving him.  "Typical "millennial generation' behavior," the same fellow who had just made the pronouncement about the police officers asserted. Again heads nodded.

Except mine.

I asked "Why would you not apply the same logic to kids that you just applied to police officers? Why do you think this was not just a few kids giving the rest of their generation a bad name?" And I added, "I can guarantee my grandsons - who are both Boy Scouts - would have done everything in their power to save a drowning person."

I didn't see many heads nod.

Over-generalizing, believing stereotypes, making "allness" statements - I know I am selectively guilty of such thinking myself. But doing so is especially dangerous in educational leadership.

 Image source

Monday
Aug212017

Personal, professional, political: the social media quagmire

I have always been, and remain, a reluctant Twitter user.* And lately Twitter is conspiring to make me even less of a fan. Along with other social media forums.

To the extent possible, I have attempted to keep my political, personal, and professional lives somewhat separate on social media. I've read blogs and Twitter satisfied my FOMO by linking me to the best thinkers and newest publications in education and technology. Facebook let me keep up with friends and relatives, providing as well an endless supply of wit, humor and mindless trivia. And well, those old fashioned things called newspaper and magazines, both online and in print, were my source of reasoned political opinion from both the left and the right.

While there has always been some overlap in social media, I felt I had been able to keep communication spheres somewhat distinct. But the lines over the past year or so have blurred.

Politics seems to have wedged its way into both my personal and professional communication arenas. While education has always had a political element (I was the state school library organization's legislative chair for many years), tweets and posts have become more about national politics in general. Friends and relatives now share more political diatribes, satire, and outrage than they do photos of entrees and grandchildren. Just how sad is that? And our mainstream media has become more overtly polarized as well.

Perhaps trying the spaces between personal, political, and professional spheres of communication have always been an illusion. And maybe I am the only person who needs the occasional respite from the loudly banging drums and blaring trumpets of political screed. Or maybe I am too far into geezerdom to "get" social media.

But thank you my friends and colleagues for keeping politics from your tweets and posts to the extent your conscience allows. 

* Discussion via bumper stickerThe 140 character discussionPoster Power on Twitter10 useful Twitter alerts, I killed my Twitter account, etc.

Sunday
Aug202017

BFTP: What's the big deal about tpyos?

Hugh Howey, author of the Wool series* of science fiction novels, has an interesting take on typographical errors in his post, Happy INIEpendence Day!:

We all know this person, right? You send out a quick Tweet or Facebook update, and some friend informs you that you’ve split an infinitive, left a modifier dangling, ignored the necessity of the Oxford comma, or some other rule you didn’t learn in grade school and you sure as hell don’t remember now. You might have as an excuse that you were typing on your cramped cell phone or that you honestly don’t care about these rules. My rationale is normally that I goofed. Because even though I make a living at writing, I don’t know much about it. I just have ideas that I want to communicate, and I rely on spellcheck to make this as pain-free for the reader as possible.

Because really, what is language for? When you distill it right down to its essence, it’s all about the teleportation of ideas and imaginings, right? Think about how strange this process is: I see something in my mind, or I have a thought, and by emitting a strange series of sounds (or by drawing a string of symbols), I can implant into your brain what was previously in mine. Bizarro. And yet we do it every day and take it completely for granted.

If language is meant to communicate, why do we get in an uproar when it does its primary job, but with slight imperfections? In most cases, the intent of an error-filled sentence is clear. Heck, you can leave all the vowels out of this entire blog post and most people would still be able to read it. The Idea-Teleporter that we call “language” can be missing quite a few bolts and springs and still do its job.

And yet, many people expect perfection out of a tool that does not require it. It’s like wanting a car that not only delivers us to our destination, but emits no road noise, has plenty of cup holders, and will not break down. Ever. It can’t simply do what it was meant to do, it has to do it without error or a scratch. I can’t think of many things that are held to this standard, but the written word seems to be one of them.

Even as former English teacher and something of a grammar snob, I appreciate Howey's attitude. When I taught writing, I suggested to my students that they pay attention to the mechanics of writing because punctuation, spelling, sentence construction, and other "rules" will help them make their meaning clear - and poor mechanics can distort or hide a message. While I am always embarrassed when I find a careless mistake in my writing (and I have never re-read anything I've written without wanting to make at least one grammatical change), I don't know how much the missing word, extra comma, or wrong homonym really stands in the way of the meaning. 

The worst thing about grammar nitpickers is that others, fearing their criticism, may not be willing to publicly share their ideas. And while this is sad for adults, it's tragic when it happens to kids.

Oh, there is a typo in the title of this post. Can you find it?

* Anyone who is a fan of dystopian science fiction should give Wool a shot. Independently published, Howey had a great style, sympathetic characters, and great tension. And buying it for the Kindle is less than the cost of a used paperback.

Original post July 2, 2012.