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Saturday, October 22, 2011

How The Kitchen Floor Taught Me An Important Lesson

I'm finishing grading a five-day report from students on their experiences in observing their thinking patterns and behaviors, and learning about great strategies to improve their thinking and their lives. Their text is "25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living"

Truthfulness and honest introspection are common among this generation of students. The students in my classes submitted many insightful and courageous experiences. They give me lots of hope for the generation stepping up to bat in the game of life.

I feel honored to be a part of their lives and to be able to intersect with them for this short time of a semester. I am blessed to be a witness to their courage and their efforts.

Reading about many of my student's challenges in communicating and focusing, I'm tempted to comfort them by saying, 'You're not alone, that's part of being human.' I am also tempted to say that troubles communicating and focusing may be persistent problems that get better over time, but they seem to keep showing up no matter your age or what you do in life.

The kitchen floor, for example, is a great teacher in the areas of communication and focus.

For the first 30 years of my life I took my cues from television as to the proper way to clean the kitchen floor. Thousands of Spic and Span commercials in my childhood and more recently commercials from the Swifter brand had convinced me that the way to a clean kitchen floor was by mopping with a cleanser.

The results were less than Mr. Clean would have approved of. In fact 'lil old me-- of much lower standards than Mr. Clean in these matters-- did not approve. The corners, for example, never really got clean using a mop. Maybe the mop and bucket just seemed like over-kill for such a small space. The deck of a ship at sea, possibly, but not my home kitchen.

Finally, a woman who grew up in Mexico came to work for us cleaning our house. She taught me an uncomfortable lesson. She would start the kitchen floor project first by sweeping. Then she would take her shoes off and kneel down, with the bucket at her side, scrubbing, rinsing and repeating. Not missing a spot. Including the corners and beneath the fridge.

My reaction at first was to feel a sort of shame in our common Mexicanity. (Cool word, huh?) I felt embarrassed because she was so old fashioned and not 'with it'. "Oh, wow. How backward. How unenlightened of her to do it this way!"

Then, my sister came for a visit, and after a terrific time one night feeding family and friends, she took it upon herself the next morning to clean up the kitchen floor. I was thunderstruck when I saw her, my paragon of beauty and elegance, coolness and sophistication, on her knees, scrubbing up stains from last night's mole sauce.

I stood and stared, then joined her knees to knees. I asked if she always kneeled to clean the floor, and she answered me like I'd lost my mind, "Of course. It's the only way to do it. How else do you propose doing it?" "A mop--like on TV," I muttered. To which she quickly asked, "Well, what about the corners?"

Mr. Clean never got down on his knees. Mr. Clean was a cartoon.

Communication and focus. Lessons come from the oddest places, including corners.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Sporting Weekend

There's a thread that ran through this past weekend: seeing sports from new points of view. First, I added a third Zumba class to "dial up" my weekly exercise. Dancing to Zumba is a sport of a kind, I'll admit I'm stretching the point, but that's OK.

Next in my sports trifecta I saw the excellent movie, "Moneyball," which is less a sports movie than one about change and the pressure to squeeze the last decimal of probability out of sports because the stakes ($) are so high.

On Saturday, at the local TEDxSanAntonio, two of the best speakers were both using sports to arrive at interesting and unusual ends.

Jose Angel Garcia Elizondo is from Tampico, Mexico. He is an executive in a fuel distribution and service station company. The violence that has devastated Mexico has spurred him to fight both crime and a growing obesity problem in Tampico. He and a team of investors started a professional basketball team. The idea was to inspire boys and girls to play basketball and become more fit and healthy and have alternatives to joining the narcotraffic cartels. The Huracanes Tampico team have visited schools and performed for 15,000 kids.

On the same stage earlier in the day, San Antonian Gordan Hartman, former developer and businessman, and son of former friend and co-worker at KSAT TV, Gordon Hartman, spoke of starting a professional soccer team in San Antonio. The team's earnings will help pay for the operating expenses to Morgan's Wonderland, the world's first "ultra accessible family fun park designed with special-needs kids and adults in mind."

The two creative solutions to serious problems were a real revelation. My how times change: A basketball team for a Mexican city, a soccer team for an American city, and it all makes perfect sense when you consider how small the world has become.

But the reasons for creating each sports team are what really make these propositions (and realities) so cool. That's the real measure of how much the world has changed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When Is A Brow Too Little Too Late?

Bushy Eyebrows are Nicer Than You Know Now

Check it out, I'm all about the whole metro-sexual thing, it's fine with me for men to wear nice shoes and smell good.

The story was under the fold in today's Wall Street Journal:

I think it's my duty to let you know, men who Mother Nature has equipped with unruly eyebrows, some important secrets women have been keeping about eyebrows.

1. What you pluck today may not be back tomorrow! Plucking, shaving, threading, all of it is telling your little unsuspecting hair follicles they are no longer welcome.

2. Eyebrows are like the rest of us, they change over time. They get thin and lose some of their original color. Will you miss today's bushy brows when you need extra reinforcements later in life?

3. Plucking eyebrows now means painting them in later.

4. Painting them in naturally and evenly requires some artistic talent. Most ladies who are old hands at it can't manage it well.

OK, it's off my chest now. I have done my part. I don't care what this leads to. You can wear pantyhose, read romance novels and crave chocolate. Just don't start putting on your makeup in the car during the commute. That always gets the strangest looks from people driving past you.

P.S. I love men who look a tad Neanderthal. That's just the whole Mexican-Spanish-Arabic-thing that I'm hard-wired with.

P.P.S. My own little unibrow was something I missed as soon as I saw my first Frida Kahlo portrait, but, alas, it was too late. Don't make the same mistake!

Rocket, the photographer

The film, "City of God" hit me as hard-- as any good film should. It stopped me, sat me down and revealed truths that I had been looking for, and some I had not known I had been looking for.

Two good friends had been recommending it to me for years, but I resisted, thinking I had to be in the right state of mind for a hard movie about poverty in Brazil. Little did I know that the film would bring to light what is going on today in Mexico and along the border in South Texas.

The film is artful, masterful in its production style and editing. My colleague, Ron Wojnar, has his Advanced Editing students study the film for its editing in particular. As a journalist, I see the film's news media storyline of particular interest. The main character, Rocket, grows up in City of God, and aspires to become a news photographer.

The difference between the drug wars in Brazil and in Mexico is that they are more extreme here than in Brazil: In Mexico, newspapers would not play the role that they played in the movie set in Brazil, exploiting and exposing the gang wars of the neighborhood of City of God, nor the complicity and corruption of the police. Newspapers are silenced by the cartels, while the ones in Brazil are not shown to be afraid of writing about the violence. Yet.

The "happy ending" for Rocket, not given to many of his childhood chums or family, however tentative and tossed like a lifeline by capricious fate, would not happen in Mexico's drug wars today. Newspapers there, along with social media now, are not serving the function they perform in most countries.

The film is a jewel, a treasure and I'm amazed at the vision of the filmmaker, who based his movie on the true story of the boy who grew up in City of God to tell the stories of human ingenuity and perseverance in a drug based economy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

SurveyMonkey Solution To Assessing Group Participation
Waking up, I sometimes notice the first thing that is on the 'highway sign of my mental freeway'. Steve Martin’s movie set in Los Angeles invented that visual motif. Here in Pipe Creek there are few highway signs, except those announcing the bar’s regular belt sander races.
My imagined highway signs point me, usually in clear, concise English, to a solution for a problem I’ve been pondering, I’ve had lost items reappear, ideas for fixing something, new approaches to correcting a problem. I think of these billboard moments as a bit of a connection to the heavens. 

This morning’s billboard was a solution to a way to have my students give me an honest, well-thought out self and group evaluation of their work on a long-term group project, Topic Exploration. They are exploring topics such as "What is it like being a college student and working part-time?", "What is it like being a college student and paying for college" or "What is it like living in post 9-11 America?"
Topics Exploration is patterned after Michael Wesch’s "A Vision of Students Today". 

Six groups in each section of my five sections of Introduction to Mass Communications have spent the past three weeks refining a research question, and collecting responses to the question from social media  (usually Facebook, but others have also been used like Google docs and Google moderator). Some have collected more than 100 responses, others less than 50. Their analysis also included scholarly articles from the colleges online databases from the library. 
It’s been an “all electronic” project, no posters or hand written surveys were allowed, as the idea is to use “relevant technologies”. The students have been busy this week finishing their collection and analysis of the categories their responses fall into ( e.g. gender, age, pro, con).

They have started the fun part of creating their project electronic media productions. Their work in Powerpoint, Prezi, video and info graphics. Some are including white board animations. The productions should speak for itself-- self contained and complete, all about the data they have gathered and studied on their topic, with a bibliography, in the assigned length of between four and six minutes. It is a recording of their work; Students who create the project sit and watch it with the rest of the class as it plays.
As part of their evaluation and reflection on the project, ’ll have each of the group members fill out a brief survey that tells me how they evaluate themselves and their group members individually, on cooperation, contributions, communication, leadership. They can also note other comments, ideas they want to share with me on this survey.

I wanted to do this electronically, and was unable to get our college’s online system, Blackboard, to do exactly what I knew I could do with SurveyMonkey, but there were still unanswered questions as to how I would collect and manage responses from five sections of six groups each. 
One problem with group evaluations is that they tend to be dashed off by students when completed at a table with their group, usually with glowing remarks for all group members.  Partly, there is a lack of privacy when they fill out the surveys by hand sitting at the table with their group.  I know that to get honest, considered feedback will require the instrument to be brief and out of the view from their group member’s eyes, so I decided an electronic form would better than a hand out they would fill in at their desk.
I will use SurveyMonkey to distribute, but with one important difference. I’ll forego the usual very detailed survey that would take each student through about ten LIkert-style questions about their and their group’s work-habits and participation in the project’s planning and completion. 
Instead, I took the cue from my morning billboard moment, and created a simpler set of 1-3 questions that they can respond to in short paragraphs: In your opinion, which of your group members (including you) were group leaders whose work and participation you consider “above the call of duty”?  In your opinion, which of your group members (including you) should be recognized for their leadership skills? Conversely, which of your group members did less than their share of the required work?
I’m sure there are pro’s and con’s to what I am considering, both technical and otherwise. I have about a week before the evaluations are needed. Any ideas on how to improve? I can shoot you the link to the survey if you would like to check it out. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

At the eve of another election season, I am relieved to have one less thing to worry about.

I Take My Name Back, Dick Nixon.

I had a name for who I am in the arms of my mother, Mexicana.
And then my name changed to teen. I looked for me on American Bandstand,
but I couldn't find anyone there who looked like me, or my sister and brothers.

I wandered for some miles til I got to Woodstock, where I became a hippie.
My mother thought I looked funny.

Then I came to where I thought was home, when I became Chicana.
My mother couldn't stop laughing.

To simplify, I lived in Mexico, where I learned I wasn't Mexican,
but Americana.

Went back to the states where I read in the magazines
Others had taken to naming me, too.
Dick Nixon named me Hispanic.
This sounded to my young mind like a mental condition
for people of indeterminate origin or equality.
I knew that didn't meant me.

I've been labelled Latin American, Spanish, Mexican, Mexican American.
Lately, the lovely word, Latina, which sounds musical and happy.
I think that cranky, tired, turned-around and distracted describes me better.

Today, I'm a voter.
I've decided that my identity is mine to define,
Even as others persist in their labels.

Countries and governments are important, I know,
My citizenship is something of great value
(think of that long line of soldiers and sailors in my own family)
But labels, no words, are not as important as my worth.
My name and my purpose are mine to define.

A name or a label says nothing of
Why a person lives.