Posts Tagged ‘learning’


The annual commencement speech at the University of Oz was delivered by the Wicked Witch of the West, her sister unable to attend the ceremony because she was bogged down with housework.

Good afternoon graduates. While it is customary to be warmly embraced by your commencement speaker, it is not in my purview to offer you hollow plaudits and pleasant platitudes. I will not coddle you, I will not play nice-nice with you, and I will most definitely not bull shit you.  You have a legitimate reason to celebrate because you did finish what you started out to do when you graduated from high school. That’s more than the close to 50% of college bound students can say who didn’t pass the finish line. But don’t get a swelled head. Across the fruited plains of America two million undergraduate degrees are being awarded.  Mathematically that means you are not even one in a million.

Economic statisticians love to point out that college graduates have a much higher life-time earning potential than non-graduates. Big deal. So you spent about $200,000 to get where you are today.  It will take you a decade to break even with your non-graduate contemporaries’ earnings. Imagine what you could have done with that $200,000.  Instead of earning 15 credits studying abroad for a semester, you could have actually lived abroad for four years and come away with a lifetime of valuable experiences.  You could have invested your $200,000 and bought a nice car with the interest.

But for the moment let’s forget about earning potential and let’s focus on what happened to you after four years on the Yellow Brick Road. What did you really learn? What did you really learn here in these hallowed halls and rolling hills that you couldn’t have learned somewhere else? How many hours did you spend in class and working on papers and projects that were wasted hours?  If your four years of college were an orange, how much juice would you have actually squeezed out?

If we were to be really honest you would know that it wasn’t the courses you took in college that made all the difference, but it was the course you set to navigate the waters of higher education. If you didn’t set a course, all the credit courses you took were for naught. But don’t think for a moment that your course had to be a rigid one because many a boat has been dashed upon the rocks because the navigator failed to trim the sails or let them fly when necessary.

Graduation is not a final destination. It’s a port. If you got the most out of your education you will see the open seas and be overwhelmed about all the opportunities that await you.

Please don’t think for a moment that your diploma is equipped with a GPS. Your diploma is like a driver’s license. And if you can remember the day you passed your road test you had no problem saying you still had a lot to learn.

Sometime in the next week or so, check your parents’ odometer and see how many miles they’ve journeyed on the Yellow Brick Road and ask them what they’ve learned in all the years they’ve been driving.

It is totally out of character for me to say anything that is not a tad wicked, but I will break character today and say this. You life is what you make of it and if I can offer you a suggestion, your life will be full of meaning if you take full responsibility for your actions, your motives and your decisions. You will never have full control of what happens to you in life, but you can retain control over how you deal with what life throws at you. So don’t spend your life blaming others.

Formal education eventually comes to an end, but learning does last a lifetime…if you choose a lifetime of learning.

Now get out of here before I turn you into a Munchkin.



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oz box

In my opinion, back to school ads should be banned until the last week of August. Summer should be a school-free zone where children can be children.

Other than getting a new pair of shoes, six # two pencils, a Bic pen, a marble composition book and a hair cut, I never got what I wanted, or perhaps I should say, needed before starting back to school. I wanted and needed a place where my natural curiosity could blossom. What I didn’t need was a place filled with pot holes deliberately placed to trip me up. And that’s what school was to me when I was a kid.  It was a place I dreaded because I wasn’t a good student.  Like a batter who has a full count with the bases loaded, bottom of the ninth with two outs…I chocked.

I hated spelling lists. I hated multiplication sheets. I hated text books of all subjects. I even hated lunch because the grape jelly in my peanut butter sandwich leaked through the white Wonder bread.

A school is just a place. And while it has the potential of being a great place for learning, I fear we have forced our teachers to replace teaching with teaching to a test. Instead of making learning a fantastic journey we have made it a long and boring trek.

L. Frank Baum did not have a school in Oz, but he did make a comment on education, a comment I call into question. Talking to the scarecrow he said, “Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

I have no problem with what he said about the brain, but I do have a problem with him saying that the only thing that makes a difference is a “diploma.”

Having spent the last 15 years teaching on the college level I have come to the conclusion that all that matters is the diploma or the degree. One of the problems with a college degree is that it’s like a mattress. You can’t actually compare mattresses because they all hide behind different funny names that mean absolutely…nothing.

It’s almost as difficult to compare college degrees, especially if you are comparing a degree given in 1970 when I got mine and with a degree given to a recent grad. The courses I had to take to earn my degree are not the ones a 2016 grad had to take.

Not that my courses were better because they weren’t. In fact my courses didn’t prepare me an iota for a job, let alone a career.  Today’s grad has taken very career specific courses coupled with internships that have prepared the grad for an entry-level job.

I believe we learn what we need to learn and what we want to learn. We need to learn and to master certain  skills to navigate the rough seas of life. Our little dingy can be flooded if we don’t have a handle on some of the more practical “things.”

Unfortunately, the list of what we have to learn has been lengthened to include only job skills. And while we do need to learn what it takes to be proficient in the field of our choice, many of us don’t make any time in our lives to learn what we want to learn.

And I fear that’s happened because our lives are so frenetic and the marketplace is so competitive that we no longer have time for broad learning that is fueled by yearning.

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I’m not making this up. And in an effort to be as transparent as possible the analogy I’m about to use is not original. But, it serves as a starting point for a blog about chains (not of the S and  M variety I hasten to point out.)

The story of fact goes that one way an elephant is trained is that at a very young age, say when the elephant is perhaps five or six months old, the little pachyderm, is chained or tied with a rope of some sort to a stake that has been pounded deep into the earth. Naturally the baby elephant tries to tug and tug on the rope in the hope of pulling the stake out of the ground. It is obvious to everybody but the baby elephant that there is no way on earth that this poor creature is going to be able to accomplish the task at hand.

After a number of days and perhaps weeks, the baby elephant gives up. Something amazingly sad happens here. Not only does the elephant give up, he has now been “re-wired” to believe that he will never be able to pull the stake out of the ground despite the fact that when the elephant is two, three or more years old he could easily ripper the stake from the ground

Only thing is, he has stopped believing in his ability to alter the course of his destiny. In fact, it has been illustrated that just by putting an ankle brace on the elephant with the rope hanging free, the elephant will stay put.

I doubt any of my three followers wonder where I am going with this. It’s obvious, isn’t it?  But connect the little elephant story to an old proverb: there are none so blind as those that will not see,” and the elephant analogy takes on a new dimension.

If we fail to recognize that most of us were chained to something in childhood…usually in school…we will always be blind, just like the people of Oz were blinded by all the green in the Emerald City. The people of Oz had given up their power to a humbug.

My God. How many of us do that when we go into the polling place and blindly pull on the lever of a particular party because we have been chained into believing, without giving it any real thought, that this is the party of right.

And worse, how many of us find ourselves in a workplace where the people actually believe all the crap that they’ve piled up despite the fact that it’s all a lie?

We are a schizophrenic nation. On the one hand we encourage young people to think without a willingness to believe that thinking demands questioning and questioning begets challenging old ways of thinking. That’s like shackling an elephant to a stake.

We want young people to become thinkers, but then we go ahead and hammer in a stake that’s rooted in approved thinking. We give them books to read but really don’t want them to learn the truth behind the words unless the truths are approved truths.

Growing up I learned early on what my trainers had in mind…and once I learned this, I stopped pulling on the chain. I let them think I was “trained,” but little did they know I was onto them and that’s why I took Robert Frost’s road less traveled.

It doesn’t make life any easier, but better to be free and be a questioner than to wrap your trunk around another elephant’s tail and march in an endless circle.

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