Are You a With-It?

For years, my young son Joel thought I had an eye on the back of my head. Why? I told him so.

See!

Google Image
Google Image: “Four-eyed Monitor”

To keep this mischief-making, dangerous pranking boy surviving beyond childhood, I kept alive the delusion of a third eye until he grew old enough to catch on to my trick. “God gave you a smart Mommy,” I declared. “I have to be ‘with it.’ Otherwise, you’d be dead!” And I meant every word.

 

What does “With It” Mean?

Malcolm Gladwell in “Most Likely to Succeed” from The New Yorker (Dec. 15, 2008) discusses the value of “withitness” in several fields: sports, education, and business. About teaching in particular, he notes: Educational researcher Jacob Kounin, used the term “withitness” to define that hard-to-pin-down quality of intuition and smarts which helps one sense the behaviors, intentions, and motivations of those around her/him and act accordingly.

Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker staff writer
Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker staff writer

“Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.”

Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.

 

Our Experience

In the last six months we’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a few bankers, realtors, and multiple tradespeople who did home repairs or renovation during our move.

Here in a nutshell:

The Good

Mr. Painter: His eyes surveyed the kitchen walls as he spoke, “I can do this in two hours and include your paint in the price. I’ll even leave some paint for touch-ups.”  He fulfilled his promises. We were pleased.

Ms. Realtor: “I’ll call you in two hours with an update.” She did and we felt confident.

 The Bad

Mrs. Banker: “I’ll be right on it.” She wasn’t though, and we spent days and weeks feeling frustrated. Later, however, we found she was covering for the ineptitude of support people in the business.

Mr. Realtor: “Look at my credentials! I have a 5-Star rating . . . yadayadayada . . . !

However, credentials don’t always translate into performance. We frequently had to prompt him to act in our favor. Why can’t he be “with-it”? we wondered.

withitnotcartoon

 

The Best

We had lunch recently at Mimi’s restaurant. Our server Kristie performed perfectly without hovering. Before we left, she boxed up an un-eaten blueberry muffin and left-over dinner rolls in separate containers. Without prompting, she labeled each box.

withitmimicafebox

Item + Date + merci on the lid . . . certainly appropriate in a French restaurant á la New Orleans style. This server was definitely a “with it” woman!

 

* Ruth Garber Rohrer, a 93-year-old subscriber to The Mennonite magazine, read my September 2016 article in tribute to my Grandma Fannie Longenecker printed in this post.

Then I found Ruth’s editorial comment in the October issue.

Letters to the Editor, The Mennonite Magazine, October 2016, page 5
Letters to the Editor, The Mennonite Magazine, October 2016, page 5

Serendipitously,  I had discovered a link to my Grandma through one of her pupils in Sunday School at Bossler Mennonite Church, one I never knew existed. Ruth Garber Rohrer also has a presence on Facebook and socializes in the digital world.

ruthgrohrerfbscreenshot-copy

Ruth is “with it” indeed!

 

How I Define “With It”

* Keen perception through the senses: Seeing, hearing, “reading” a situation beyond mere facts.

* Ability to evaluate situations and/or scan people’s expressions and connect with them personally in a significant way.

* Ability to follow-through when action is needed.


 

What is your definition of “With It”? What qualities would you add to the list?

Did examples from your own life pop into your mind as you read this post. Here’s where to reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly or  – the best!

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School Daze: They Ain’t What They Used to Be

Flop – flop – floppity – bop bop! That was the sound of grandson Ian’s heavy plastic bag of supplies bouncing off his left leg walking into orientation last week at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School.

IanSchoolSupplies

I didn’t pay too much attention to its contents until I helped him place supplies into wire bins at the back of his classroom: Purell germicide, Clorox wipes, Ziploc freezer bags, even multiple boxes of Puffs tissues.. The only item I recognized as a school supply was a ream of paper to print pages from a classroom computer.

On the first day of class, Ian, now a third grader, carried an aqua-blue lunch zippered pouch and a black backpack no doubt stuffed with notebooks and crayons. As a first grader at Rheems Elementary School, I wore a dress and carried a plaid book-bag with a plastic handle and a metal lunch box, probably plaid too. In the 1940s, plaids or checks were in.

Google Images
Google Images
Second Grade: Rheems Elementary School
Second Grade: Rheems Elementary School

I didn’t learn the alphabet until I was five. But learning is speeded up these days. Students are pushed to advance. Ian and others in his age group probably have memorized their letters by age three or four. The curriculum in his particular third grade class includes reading twenty-five chapter books out of class during the school year. Peering into his book bag today, I spotted Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, and Kate DeCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie. Reminiscing, I remember reading aloud and silently during class, simple books. Our teacher read to the class after lunch as we rested our heads on the desktop. Instructors then encouraged but did not quantify the number of books to read until junior high school.

Teachers nowadays may teach spelling, but do not issue students textbooks such as The Common-Word Spellers like this one below published in 1921 by Ginn and Company.

SpellngBook

Nor do grammar book titles these days warn students about getting tangled in English problems, negative wording that educators today would probably nix.

EnglishProblemsFinal

This antique practical English text by Easterbrook, Clark, and Knickerbocker bears a copyright date of 1935. Quaint but exquisite pen & ink illustrations announce various chapter headings, which also depict social skills needed for the business world, especially preparing for a career in journalism. Thanks to this gift from friend Carolyn, you can catch a glimpse below of what curriculum planners and textbook authors thought students needed to succeed in the 1930s.

The technology depicted here is mostly obsolete, yet it feels like a novelty because we are eighty years removed from this era.

SalesTalkVacuum1935

Hat in hand is a tip-off that the gentleman running the vacuum cleaner expects $$$ from his sales presentation, not a huge hug from an appreciative wife. Is the woman at the desk examining the manual? writing a check? Housewives then did not hesitate to open their doors to the Fuller Brush salesman and their ilk.


RadioProgText

iPods with ear-buds have replaced the big box with knobs enjoying pride of place here on the table. How about you?


CharacterConversationText1935

In an age when Facebook posts, text messaging and Snapchat often constitute communication, leaning in and maintaining eye contact suggests that face-to-face conversation can reveal character. Does this scene recall meaningful conversation with a loved one?


LibraryCardCat1935

For some, hand-held Kindles and Google searches have replaced library bookshelves and the card catalog. Remember those? And careful notes written in ink on index cards?

 


Jenna and Patrick Dalton on their first day of school at Mandarin Middle School, book bags de rigeur (2016-2017 academic year)
Jenna and Patrick Dalton on their first day of school at Mandarin Middle School, book bags de rigueur (2016-2017 academic year)

“School is hard. It’s a job. But instead of getting paid in money you get paid with knowledge.”  ~ Jenna after her first day of school, August 15, 2016

* * *

Your turn: Do any of the pictures above ignite a memory or spark a story? What is your take on current technology? What ways of communicating should be preserved?

 

My Day of CHANGE @ a Middle School

“Mom, would you like to volunteer for Challenge Day at Mandarin Middle School in a few weeks?” Joel asked.

“I probably would but I would need to know more about it,” I answered.

Then my son proceeded to tell me about an initiative at the school he helps sponsor, “Be the Change,” a movement to help students break down walls of isolation and loneliness and replace them with compassion, understanding and love.

My day of change came on a Tuesday, when student ambassadors greeted me at the door and pointed me to the gym, where I found my daughter Crista, also a volunteer.

Challenge Day Ambassadors
Challenge Day Ambassadors

CristaMeVol

Seventh and eighth grade students filed in under an arch of welcome, volunteers forming a path of entry with our bridge of arms. Later, we found out students thought doing this was hokey.

There were rules:

NormsChallenge

ChallengeValidations

The facilitators, Chris (a guy) and Trish began with games: “Find 10 people you never met before and give them a high five.” All the students were strangers to me, so that was easy. The day proceeded with other forms of friendly physical contact: fist bumps and eventually hugs.

“Now, with your partners, slap the ball to the other side,” students stabbed at a super-sized beach ball to earn points. Music and dance underscored many of the day’s activities: Soul Train, Wildest Dream, Where are You Now? Time of Our Lives . . . .

Then the facilitators turned more serious, referring to parallel lines of blue tape they had previously attached to the gym floor.

“Cross the line if . . .”

  • you have ever been hurt by what someone said about your skin color, religion, or how you dressed.
  • you have been hit, beaten or abused in another way by a parent or other authority figure in your life.
  • someone you know hurts the family because of alcohol or drugs.
  • you have lost someone you loved recently or a long time ago.

Emotion was palpable as students and volunteers alike crossed blue lines. Viewing their somber faces, I intuitively felt students’ dawning awareness of similarities in the lives of their friends and classmates. One of the facilitators shared her challenging life story of abuse and neglect. Students sat agape, eyes transfixed as her startling story unfolded.

Before lunchtime we were assigned to family groups of 4 or 5, two boys and two girls. With guidance, each was ready to share something heartfelt in my group.

  • My parents fight all the time and I think they might get divorced.
  • I don’t know who my dad is and my mother left. I live with my aunt and cousins.
  • My mom died last summer and then we had to put my dog to sleep.

Tears flowed. Each group leader doled out Kleenex tissues.

There was share time, with scenes similar to this photo clip from a Challenge Day video in Michigan, which appeared on Oprah’s website.

ChallengeDayVideoOprah

Most of the students who grabbed the microphone at Mandarin Middle confessed to prejudice or bullying and then publicly asked for forgiveness. More hugs and tears.

The day closed with students writing a thank you note to express gratitude to a special person in their lives. Most chose their mothers. One girl in my group wrote two notes!

* * *

Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John are co-founders of the innovative Challenge Day program and the Be the Change Movement. Rich is a former high school teacher and championship wrestling coach. Yvonne is a gifted speaker, educator, and program designer.

Mark Twain joked, “When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail down the lid and feed him through a knothole.” I’m suspicious of the quote because I couldn’t find the attribution on http://www.bartleby.com, a website I trust. Yet, these lines survive in pop culture as does its sequel: “When he turns sixteen, seal up the knothole.”

The leadership at Mandarin Middle School, including my son, doesn’t believe this quip. And neither do I.

 

  • Have you heard of this program or one similar to it?
  • How have you made a change, major or minor, in your life?

 

Coming next: Are You Too Big for Your Pot?

Purple Passages with a Fish & a Kiss

Purple Passages with a Fish & a Kiss, March 2014 Edition

Winter

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.     Willa Cather, My Antonia

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?     Percy Bysshe Shelley “Ode to the West Wind”

Gardens

Bougainvillea in my Garden
Bougainvillea in my Garden

The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river.      Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Grief

In God’s garden of grace, even a broken tree can bring forth fruit . . . . The greater the grief the fewer the words.         Pastor Rick Warren on The View: Friday, Dec. 7, 2013

The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.    G. K. Chesterton

When a loved one becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. Author Unknown   (viewed on Kathy Pooler’s website, January 27, 2014)

Einstein

bestEinsteinFishQuote

(Quote on education attributed to Einstein but disputed by some sources.)

KissingEinstein

 SUCCESS and HAPPINESS

Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful.         Dr. Albert Schweitzer  (Quoted in Daily Devotional: The Word for You Today, Dec. 2013–Feb. 2014.)

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

Dear Reader: You may have noticed I have included only one garden quote today.

Can you add a quote or a thought about gardening or beauty?

Can you add any other quote to the themes this month?

 

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Homecoming: Old Friends, New Friend

“Going Home, going home, I’m just going home . . . .”  William Arms Fisher wrote a spiritual tune with nostalgic lyrics adapted from the famous largo in Dvorak’s 9th Symphony that hints of going home “through an open door.”

Last Saturday I walked through the open door back home to my college reunion during Homecoming weekend at Eastern Mennonite University. Nestled among the purple mountains of Virginia in the lush Shenandoah Valley, EMU‘s banner proclaims itself “A Chritian University Like No Other.”

OutdoorBanner

EMU was just a college when I attended. Now the campus seems twice as large and current students way younger than I remember. I kept having to adjust to the sensation of flipping between decades as I viewed the campus and my classmates in a time warp.

There were other adjustments too. College girls now were sporting blue jeans and serious jewelry; my female classmates, like me, all wore braids or buns with prayer coverings.

MarianCollege

Our class gift was the donation of the campus’ first piano. Now there was a magnificent pipe organ in the sanctuary, string ensembles playing folksy tunes, and (gasp!) a theatre department.

“Scatter seeds of loving deeds . . . till we are gathered home at last.” Walking Roots Band

Old Friends

My college room-mate Verna Mohler Colliver and me
My college room-mate Verna Mohler Colliver and me
Other room-mates and friends: Our name tags imprinted with college yearbook photos.
Other room-mates and friends: Our name tags imprinted with college yearbook photos.
Raymond Martin, motorcycle ridin' class-mate
Raymond Martin, motorcycle ridin’ class-mate

Yes, we have all changed. The institution has changed too, outwardly at least, but the mission of the university has remained the same: commitment to rigorous academics with an invitation “to follow Christ’s call, to bear witness to faith, serve with compassion, and walk boldly in the way of nonviolence and peace” in true Anabaptist Mennonite tradition. The motto that was displayed front and center in the sanctuary of the chapel when I was a student still remains: Thy Word is Truth John 17:17.

New Friend

Shirley Hershey Showalter and I have been getting acquainted in the blog world by visiting each other’s websites since March 2013. In September of this year her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets and Glittering World was published and she has been on a whirlwind book tour, yet she made time for us to meet and visit over breakfast at her home in Harrisonburg, VA on the edge of the EMU campus.

SHSandME

Her breakfast room and office space overlook the gorgeous Massanutten Mountains. The office space includes what you would expect from a college English professor, turned college president and now author–tons of books and orderly files. However, I discovered that there is a special chair where she weaves the magic: a red upholstered swivel chair facing the mountain view. No wonder her book sings!

magic chair
magic chair

“I promise: you will be transported,” says Bill Moyers of her memoir. Part Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, part Growing Up Amish, and part Little House on the Prairie, this book evokes a lost time in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when a sheltered little girl with big dreams entered a family and church caught up in the midst of the cultural changes of the 1950s and `60s.

Her website and blog: http://www.shirleyhersheyshowalter.com

Carolyn Stoner, winner of BLUSH book giveaway contest
Carolyn Stoner, winner of BLUSH book giveaway contest

Carolyn reports that she loves, loves, loves the book and has underlined certain passages and even inserted little pink sticky notes to earmark special pages. (Stickies concealed for photo!) Carolyn’s name was chosen in a drawing by commenting on my review of Shirley new book: Book review and Contest

Your comments welcome! I will always reply.