Archive for February, 2015

Reporting (and story telling)

How do you tell a story? Over my lifetime I have witnessed accidents, assaults, brawls, meetings and so forth that I needed to report. In the case of accidents, of which I have witnessed and been involved in several, my story was different from that of other witnesses. How much detail do you include? How much interpretation do you make (though you think of it as integral to the report)?

I am in the process of reading a book that has led me to reconsider some situations I have been involved in and tried to report on honestly at the time. I remember, as a professor, classes in which I needed to illustrate a point with a real life situation. Sometimes I came away feeling my story got it just right. Other times I came away feeling that I had blundered along much longer than I needed to, further confusing rather than providing an accurate illustration. And, I still have the same problem in reporting interactions with others.

The book that brought all of this up is Snow and Steel, about the Battle of the Bulge, by Peter Caddick-Adams. He started work on it by gathering artifacts left on the battlefield in Belgium and Luxembourg in 1978 and continuing to dig up files about the battle and letters from participants that no one else had found. The number of people and topics that he deals with is simply astronomical in 716 pages with reference material adding another 166 pages. Beginning with Hitler, he deals with the major (and not so major) players in the battle. He describes the battle beginning in what I take to be the south and moving north. His writing is clear and understandable.

The question for this little essay is how much of this information can I absorb and how much do I need to illustrate my point here. In fact, these are questions that face us in all of life. In this case, the amount of information is overwhelming and thank goodness I had already read a book on this topic some years ago so that I have a shaky framework in which to fit this encyclopedia.

In my own teaching prospective teachers, I began by trying to use reason to get students to work on the right (my) way of teaching. Over time what I found was that each student had her own ideas about the right way. In time I came to teach a course that got at students reasons for thinking and doing the way they did. I worked hard at challenging the way students thought about books we read. They had to confront those who thought otherwise and mustered reasons for doing so. Other students got into the act and I was sometimes forced to rethink my assessment. Like my students, I left classes having had to rethink what an author’s purpose and reasoning were. I came to understand that, after all, this was what our part of education was all about. We can never know all or the right way. We have to be open to a constantly changing world. Knowing that and doing it is still not easy.

So it is in life generally. Telling a story about history is somewhat different from telling a story about how to teach. In history, you are helping/encouraging students to add information and gain some understanding about what it means. In helping students learn how to teach, your information has to be integrated with what students have already imprinted in their brains from being students. In both cases your information has to be integrated with that already imprinted on the brain. Both situations involve using stories of somewhat different natures. And, of course, this is both similar and different from reporting on the street robbery you witnessed.

As both tellers and receivers, how do we figure out how to use story telling in the different situations that we experience in our lives every day?


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Next Week-Maybe

Broken leg bone for one of the family, several days in hospital, now home.   Accepting meals from wonderful friends and neighbors, cleaning  dishes and house, washing clothes, helping movement around the house and now shoveling snow.  Looking forward to sitting in front of my son-in-laws fire this afternoon with a glass and telling (probably the same old} stories.  This is it for this week.


Trench War 100 Years Ago

History is a constant source of interest and new information for me. Since the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, there has been a constant supply of “new” books on the topics, most of them written long ago and reissued. One that attracted my attention was Trench Warfare 1914-1918 by Tony Ashworth and originally published in 1980 In Great Britain.

He told the story of how British soldiers lived in trenches across from Germans sometimes separated by no more than a few yards. The Christmas Truce which served as the basis for the movie Joyeux Noel, is part of this series. The author used interviews with veterans, letters, diaries, memoirs and reports of a variety of military units.

From his research there emerged a fascinating story of how enemy soldiers managed to get along mostly by ignoring one another. However, the longer they lived close to each other the more they managed to avoid conflict. When ordered to fire on the other side, they aimed high. When ordered to use trench mortars, they fired long. When they knew that artillery was to fire on the other side, they would shout that information over. Retribution was always in kind. Twelve long mortar shots would be replied to with twelve long shots.

Replacements were immediately clued in as to the way things operated in the unit. Officers were led to see the value of this approach, or were simply deceived. The German army was divided along “national” lines; Prussians, Saxons, etc and only the Prussians insisted on acting as if there were a war on. Even some Prussian units got their officers to look the other way.

The book has photographs showing French officers sitting at a small table in a trench with a table cloth and flowers having a meal presided over by the cook. Germans are shown at afternoon tea. Musical entertainment with one side serenading the other was quite common on all fronts.

In 1917 the French army in some places refused to attack. Officially this was described as a mutiny. Yet, units did not put down their arms and walk away. They simply refused to attack the Germans, who being left alone, left the French alone. Obviously, the war did go on. As reported in an earlier blog, casualties for this war were enormous. And, yet, in the midst of all the staff planning and general orders, common sense did rear its head.

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What Do Economists Really Know?

Keeping up with the ups and downs of the economic world is something I am dependent on other people for. And, that drags me into what do these other people (economists) know. While I was an active professor, I watched our economics and economics related programs grow. I used to pick my colleagues brains about what was really going on-and they were glad to tell me. Somewhere in my journey I realized that economics was like the human beings who engaged in its practice; sometimes unstable with behavior that was not completely understood. From that standpoint, economics was not that different from education and education professors.

This recent change in means of producing an economic surplus has changed the system itself and the kinds of work and investment that kept it going. By its very nature capitalism brings change. For a long period after WWII, it supported investment in developing machines that made life easier: air conditioning, more sophisticated washing machines, etc. It was when we got to computers that life really began to change and economics with it. The ability to take pictures with computer driven cameras did away with the need for film and with it went Kodak. The whole industrial base for capitalism began to change. Economic communism lost its ability to stay the same and compete in the world.

In this country, we are more interested in getting and keeping jobs than in striking for higher wages/salaries. In today’s Wall Street Journal one of the editorials dealt with another growth dip. As a matter of fact, the whole paper deals with examples of today’s businesses trying to understand and work with what is going on. In particular, one of the fast food crowd is trying to understand why its business seems to be going down – again. The author of the article has an answer.

Meanwhile, economists crank out books explaining the situation. Each year brings a different set of authors and answers. Were I still teaching I would have a field day with all of the arm waving and pointing in different directions. As it is, I simply sit and read and wonder (worry).