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Thursday, May 25, 2023

Education(?) and Learning(!)

    Think back. What happened in your third-grade classroom on this date in May? What did you learn that day? 

     The day was maybe six hours long, but by now it is an undistinguishable fragment of your education career. You don't remember what was going on in that place on that day, because it almost certainly is buried in your great mass of schoolroom experience. 

     Overall, you probably sat in various classrooms for eight school years or so of elementary education and four years of high school. How can you know what all that sitting contributed to who you are today? 

     And then maybe you went to college, and perhaps grad school. What exactly did all those hours do for you? It may be easier to identify specific payoffs from certain grad courses and from skills training courses and workshops -- but even some of that wasn't of use to you, or has been forgotten. 

     On the other hand, how much of what you know or do was acquired in one-on-one conversation you had and demonstrations you watched? And trial and error? 

     And how much knowledge and understanding, however it came to you, was absorbed and integrated into your immense mental capacity, the great dynamic that drives the thousands of tumbling thoughts, reactions and decisions that create and determine the days of your life?

     It's useful to turn those memories and questions over in the mind as we witness -- or conduct -- considerations about education today and how we do it. 

     My Dad and I discussed the best purpose of education, specifically in terms of higher education, when I was preparing to go to Holy Cross, as he had done (Dad, Class of 1923; Jim, Class of 1958). We did not at all consider college to be skills training. It was to develop the mature person, the contributing citizen.

     Occasionally, I have wondered over the years if that concept was too grand and somewhat empty, maybe too vague. Well, maybe not. Read on. 

     My daughter Maureen extended the Milliken-HC line with her 1983 English Lit degree, and likewise became a newspaper editor. A few years ago, she was quoted thusly in a Holy Cross magazine article:

            My father did a lot of hiring during his newspaper career and always said that a good liberal arts education, combined with newspaper experience,  was      preferable to a journalism degree. 

         To that end, I believe I got a fantastic education - not only the subject matter, but the Jesuit emphasis on analysis and thinking, questioning and delving deeper. I see so many people in this business who just don't know how to think, how to question. You'd think in journalism it would be second nature, but with a lot of people it doesn't even occur to them. 

         On top of that, I find a lot of people have very limited world views, very limited knowledge of history and the world around them, and don't even have the smarts to realize they need to know more  or the ability or curiosity to find it out.

     In terms of newswriting, interviewing, deadline-meeting and other technical skills special to newspapering, Maureen picked them up easily, as I did and as I presume my Dad did, on the job. How? Using those superior skills, the ones she articulated so well. 

     I'm convinced that no particular day of school, or moment in class or conversation, was determinative in the development of my accumulated abilities to think, learn and communicate. I'm equally sure that the overall progress, the direction, the specific judgments were rooted in those long-ago exchanges with Dad. Plus the recent insights from my daughter.

     Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mo.



Sunday, May 21, 2023


                        Looking at Katahdin on the way to Baxter State Park, Maine

Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Hazard to Your Contentment

     It's sort of a downside of retirement, this gradual dawning of the truth. It happens when, freed of the consuming confines of worklife, you have the time and leisure to actually think. It can be hazardous to your contentment. 

     Example: As a manager, I fired very few people, but maybe I shouldn't have fired any. I faintly recall the tight, combative feeling that develops when that final straw drops like a lead pipe, and you unholster the ultimate management weapon. I hated that feeling. I never hated the person I was rejecting/ejecting, though. I felt I was reluctantly administering just desserts. 

     Now, from the purgatory sanctuary of an easy chair, the retiree can shake the dust from such memories and honestly assess the garment itself -- the underlying relationships. No question those particular relationships were not good, and I identified the precipitating causes at the other end. But how about how the situation developed?

     Two of the histories occupy my attention today.

     The first is that of a headstrong young man who had flatly, and repeatedly, rejected suggestions and admonishments. His direct supervisor came to me with a demand that he be fired. He had been quite offensive and the supervisor was really angry. 

     Then, as the three of us sat down, he pulled out a note he had worked out for himself about how he was promising to change his ways. I shoved that aside and proceeded with the dismissal. I thereby may have missed an opportunity to help that young man mature a bit, and to deepen my own skill set. Maybe we could have worked from the new start he was offering..

     That same supervisor later created a growth opportunity for me in a related circumstance. She gradually developed an rebellion against management restraint. There was a confrontation, then a follow-up session at which I conditioned her continued employment on an explicit understanding of the management order. In short, it must be made clear that she worked for me. She couldn't accept that and walked out. 

     In effect, the event resulted in a more constructive tone in the office. Sloppy, unintended and overdue, but for the better.

     I made my "him-or-me" demand of my own boss in a later conflict with an incompetent,  bullheaded colleague, -- and got the offending guy fired. 

     The final few decades of my career were devoted to project management consulting,. I realize now that at that time I was handing out more advice about navigating personalities and relationships than about network diagrams and risk management. 

   And so, nowadays completely on the outside looking in, reading the histories and thoughts of other people from other workplaces. It's still a learning experience. 

     Learning what?

     I find myself reverting to a fundamental view of management: As a manager, I was responsible. How did I conduct my part in the initiation of each individual relationship? Did I thoroughly examine, thoughtfully consider and wisely manage the beginning and the various events and moments along the way?

     As the most responsible party, what did I do or fail to do as my various relationships grew? Did I lead, advise, instruct, initiate, respond, support, critique effectively? Did I learn what I needed to know in order to conduct each activity and invest in it appropriately?

Doing such an assessment in these silent moments of maturity is a long process, maybe an open-ended one. It can be  uncomfortable. Sometimes there's a shocking flash of enlightenment, delightful or horrifying.     

     As it continues, you get to know yourself. Work at it. There are many roads to this journey, and some of them can end in deep satisfaction.