Archives for January 2010

Is Sitting in a Classroom a Waste of Time?

CB047194Each time school resumes some look forward to returning to the classroom with anticipation, others with dread. Both groups will spend many days sitting in a classroom.

Joe Holmes, a student at George Mason University, says sitting in classrooms all day brings on learned helplessness. Instead of being out doing, trying out and living, we tell the young to “prepare” for these things.

I heartily agree with Joe when he says

When you’re constantly being told to prepare for life, you slowly begin to think you aren’t ready to live it. You need to wait to be taught formally how to do something before you give it a try. But this is at odds with the reality of life. As I heard (ironically enough) in a quote from my school’s agenda: When it comes to experience, we always get the test before the lesson.

It’s like believing you need to read the manual to your new computer or digital camera thoroughly before you can start using them. Just the opposite is true. You can only learn to use technology by trying them out, making mistakes and finding the solutions. No manual covers every contingency.

My youngest daughter has a theory that a piece of technology should be easy enough to understand without a manual. I think this is the basis of the term “user-friendly.”

But I don’t think this translates into the classroom being a waste of time. (You knew I wasn’t going to leave it there, didn’t you.)

While formal education has room for much improvement in its implementation, and cannot fully prepare us for the “real” world, it has some advantages. Here are four of them.

1.  You have time to focus on very specific pieces of learning allowing time to explore in detail.  In the classroom you can not only learn the parts and pieces of a subject, but discuss their history and relevance.

Being in the classroom is like learning the parts and operation of a car without concern for all the traffic. Being in the real world, by contrast,  is like driving the car where everything has to work together while you have to also focus on your own driving and that of others.

2. You get an opportunity to try out ideas and engage the attention of a subject specialist (if you’re fortunate,) as well as vigorously engage in debate without risking a bloody nose.

3. You digest information in small pieces allowing time for absorption before taking on the next bite.

There are some things are best learned slowly, in order and in small steps. Math is one of them. For most of us, it’s very useful to learn to add and subtract before we tackle multiplication and division. Even though we moan and groan about those drills and multiplication tables, what we learn in basic math lays the foundation that serves us in many transactions for the rest of our lives.

Perhaps we could learn to math using rocks by a stream or shells on the beach, but steady consistent practice is invaluable and a distraction-free environment is helpful.

4. You get the attention of a teacher (again if you’re fortunate) who cares not just about a subject she loves, but also is dedicated to helping you build your strengths, take risks to grow and find your voice.

During four decades of teaching, one thing that amazed me was how touched my students were  by the mere fact that I learned their names and remembered them even outside of the classroom. (This was especially true for my college students ) It made me believe that many of them didn’t get enough positive attention, acknowledgement and validation outside that classroom.

There are many things we must learn outside the classroom and without the benefit of a manual or formal training. And, the time inside the classroom shouldn’t be a time when we suspend living life. Our youth should definitely not be squandered in a never-ending state of preparation. As a matter of fact, the best use of lessons from the classroom is to apply them to life constantly.

We certainly can’t wait until we think we’ve learned everything on a subject before we start to apply it to our lives. As a matter of fact, you must use the classroom to explore and pursue your dreams as you amass the content common to our culture.  Many of the inventions, advances and findings we enjoy were sparked by ideas in the classroom that needed development, tweaking and sometimes completely reworking.

We leave the starting gate at birth, and the formal classroom is not a detour, but one of the many learning experiences along the way. Enjoy the trip.

3 Reasons Self-Storage Units May Not Be Your Friend

movingdaymccordmuseum-montreal-1930There was a time when you prepared to move by sorting through your possessions making decisions about what to keep, give away, sell or throw away.

Then along came the creation of self-storage units where, for a monthly fee, you can cram your old mattress, lava lamp, TV with the nonfunctioning VHS, and stacks of other possessions whose time had come and gone into a metal unit with a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. The self-storage companies grew and expanded as people clung tighter and tighter to things they would never use again but couldn’t let go.

There are some benefits to self-storage units

Self-storage units are great for temporary use.

  • RV and boat owners can safely store these when restrictions disallow parking them on the street or in driveways.
  • Small businesses with home-based or very small offices safely store their inventory, financial records and seasonal decorations for less than it would cost to have a large commercial building big enough for office and storage.
  • Homeowners use self-storage units to hold the contents of an entire room or two during remodeling, to clear space for a holiday boutique or special event or when they are between houses.

When I sold my house, for example, I stayed with a friend for five weeks until escrow closed on my new house. I put all my household possessions in a self-storage facility near a freeway for those five weeks so it would be convenient for the big move when we were ready.

I treated the move from my house to the storage unit the same as if I was moving directly into my new house. I sorted, gave away and threw away over many weeks. Anything that wasn’t going to go into the new house was not going into storage.

I got rid of more than I took. It was very liberating for me, though not well-received by all.

I had been using my mother’s dining room set in my old house because she didn’t have room for it when she downsized to a studio apartment in a senior facility. But it wasn’t my style so I had no plans to take it with me, much to her dismay. She would never use it again, but she didn’t want to give it away. Visiting it at my house was a good compromise for her.

When I told her I wasn’t taking it with me, she asked. “What are you going to use in your new dining room?” I knew she was more concerned about the fate of her much-beloved dining room set than about my empty dining room.

“Nothing,” I returned, “until I get the furniture I want.”

She pondered my response trying to process the notion that my dining room would be sans-furniture for a while.

I had ended my term of being a storage for her dining room set, and definitely ended my willingness to keep anything I no longer wanted.

Are you storing someone else’s stuff that they will never use again?

This is where many people get stuck. They just can’t let go of their own stuff and can’t say no to other people’s stuff.

For too many people, however, the wide availability of the self-storage units offers an option that has leads down the path of literally clinging to old baggage. In this regard, there are three reasons public storage units are not your friend.

1. Delay decluttering

They encourage you to store things rather than make an immediate decision about them. So much of what you keep is no longer of use to you, and yet you can’t seem to let go. When the storage unit becomes full to the brim you are forced to thrown something away after all, or rent a larger unit. Ka-ching!

Have you ever gone to visit your stuff in storage only to discover that it is mildewed, broken or shop-worn? Now your stuff is of no value to you or anyone else. And, to top things off, with rules changing about what and where we can discard things, you may even have to pay to dispose of it.

Now that just doesn’t make sense. You have paid dearly to postpone doing what you could have done in the first place and free of charge.

2. Weigh you down

Did you think putting your old bed, worn couch and miscellaneous lamps in storage got rid of them?

Just because you can’t see them regularly anymore doesn’t mean they’ve left your consciousness. If you feel stuck in your life, not as creative as you could be, it may be that the stuff you have stored that is blocking the flow in your consciousness.

3. Eat up your money

Self-storage units were a great idea for the companies who created them. They don’t even have to employ many people since you deliver and unload your own stuff. On top of that, they charge extra for locks and other accessories, as well as restrict your access by setting “viewing” hours.

I haven’t checked, but I bet they are not even liable if your stuff comes up missing.

When you rent a storage unit you have just created another bill. And it comes relentlessly each month. You don’t earn interest or even get a birthday card each year. In the end, if you are not able to keep up with this bill you earn the ignominious title “non-paying tenant” and your contents are considered abandoned and will be sold to the highest bidder at auction.

These auctions are a big business since you never know what folks have stored. Modern-day treasure hunters love the mystery and possibility of finding something of value among your stuff.

Now you’ve lost your stuff for good while several layers of people have benefitted financially. Everyone except you, that is.

So, before you sign that contract to store your stuff in a self-storage unit reevaluate your reason, the anticipated time frame, and the financial costs. If you discover that you are just delaying decluttering, don’t proceed. Declutter instead, then celebrate the money you’ve saved and bask in that feeling of lightness also known as peace of mind.

[Photo from Creative Commons, “Moving Day” from McCord Museum, Montreal]

Updated August 12, 2019

Five Cheap Stress-Busters

caughtdancing2007In an Oct. 2009 issue of Health Magazine, Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton, shared that her favorite cheap stress buster was “a long drive with the windows down, like a happy dog. ”

There was a time when this would have been one of my favorite stress-busters too. But since the roads around me are more stress-creators than stress-busters, I began to think about other things that now fit the bill. Although stress relievers can cost lots of money, I’ve just listed the cheap ones.

1. Go for a brisk walk.

It doesn’t have to be a long walk, but getting out of the house and into the air gives me a lift. Besides, since I started walking regularly I’m getting to know my neighbors better. This isn’t an issue in some towns, but in our area where we spend a disproportionate about of time in our cars, it’s a sad fact that we don’t know our neighbors as well as we should.

2. Do some people-watching.

When I need a break I enjoy going to the local bookstore, mall or coffee shop and just observing the people walking by. Sometimes small snatches of their conversations spark blog ideas; other times I am just amazed at human behavior in action.

3. Read a fiction book

I read mostly nonfiction, but fiction takes me away and relieves stress. Right now I’m reading the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. This series was an HBO special but I was into the fifth book before I ever saw the TV version.

4. Go to a movie.

The $5-before-noon admission at my local movie theater enables me to see the movies that appeal to me, like Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey, Jr. that opened on Christmas Day. Even though movies are available for home viewing pretty fast after they are released, there is no experience like watching a movie on the big screen with booming surround sound.

5. Dance around the house.

When I put on a CD or turn on the radio to hear an upbeat tune, dancing around the house to the music gets my heart pumping, relieves my stress and lifts my mood. [My son caught me dancing in the pic above]

How about you? What are your favorite cheap stress-busters?

Do You Have to Continually Grow as a Person to Be Happy?


I was having lunch with a group of fellow Toastmasters when one of them, Tom, shared an experience.

When he was a youngster Tom spent a lot of time fishing with an older man who lived in the town. When he finished high school Tom went off to the Air Force and later moved to California where he had a family and enjoyed a long career.

When Tom retired, he returned to his hometown for a visit and went down to his fishing spot to reminisce about the good times he had there. To his surprise, the old man who was his former fishing companion was still there over three decades later in his old familiar spot patiently waiting for a fish to take the bait.

When the old man looked up and saw Tom, he greeted him “Where’ve you been?”

I’m not sure what else the old man had done in the incurring three decades that had passed,  but clearly he consistently kept up his favorite pastime of fishing. To Tom it seemed that this old man’s life was frozen in time and yet he seemed happy.

Is it necessary for all of us to go after bigger and bigger goals, move to higher and higher heights in order to be happy? What if this old man had maintained his same routine for all those decades without pursuing any new goals, meeting any new challenges, or expanded his thinking beyond what it took to keep up his daily routine?

When I think about happiness as a destination, I believe there are some people for whom it is a short trip. They discover in childhood or early adulthood what they enjoy, where they prefer to live and their passion. Then they spend their remaining days enjoying it.

What do you think?

If You Want to Be Great, Serve

Dr.-KingCelebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day takes many forms for many people. I’d like to focus on his call to all of us to serve. In his speech, “The Drum Major Instinct,” he said that if you want to be great, serve. Regardless of background, education and ethnicity we can all serve others and in so doing help ourselves and all of humankind

We must all earn a living, but serving others must come first. Just as King filled a void when he spoke out for justice and freedom, so must we fill a void with the product or service we offer, as well as the lives we lead.

There are infinite ways to earn a living in this world. The career or business we each choose must be the one that fills a need within others and brings deep satisfaction to us.

To serve, King points out, all you need is a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. Thankfully, these things are within everyone’s reach. To tap into them all you have to do is ask for them, believing that they are yours.

May Martin Luther King Jr. Day be a reminder to you to live your life from your heart and soul, and serve those around you with integrity and joy.