Monday, January 31, 2005

First Ammendment

Most Americans are proud of the First Amendment of the Constitution. We point to it and reassure everyone on the planet that we have a country that allows free speech. An article in USAToday reminds me that rights are most often lost because we forget the importance of those rights.

Here is the lead paragraph: "One in three U.S. high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more say the government should approve newspaper stories before readers see them, according to a survey being released today." Somewhere along the line, we have a growing number of students that think that the role of the journalist in our society is to support, or at least not criticize those of us who live in our society.

If journalists do not watch and report on those in power, there is little hope that we will remain free. A free press is the backbone of a free society. Without that, we're all in trouble.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Fair And Balanced

We must learn to keep an eye on the media. There job is different from ours. They must make profits and we are trying to inform ourselves. So, when we're out there in media land we must always keep in mind that they are trying to build audience and we are trying to decide if our country is on the right track.

In a recent posting of Media Matters , they investigate the fair and balanced coverage the inauguration received. They describe themselves as "Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit progressive research and information center. . ." Take a look at the "balance" between Republican and Democratic individuals represented during broadcast.

Media Matters reports, "Between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Republican and conservative guests and commentators outnumbered Democrats and progressives 19 to 7 on FOX*, 10 to 1 on CNN (not including a Republican-skewed panel featuring Ohio voters), and 13 to 2 on MSNBC."

We must be aware and then take the time necessary to inform ourselves, or our decisions will be made for us with lopsided information.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

How Do We Know?

How do we know the things we know? We experience it for ourselves and should we be unable to do that, we are dependent on other people. Some of those people will be eye witnesses to what happened. They will likely be reporters whose task it is to give us a sense of what happened. In short, mass media has the task of informing us about what is happening when we can't experience it personally.

Over time, the mass media has changed its role. It no longer has a primary task of giving us information that we need, but instead are giving us information that we want. As a consequence we all have to find an adequate replacement for what we need to know.

At times and in certain places there are media that come closer to keeping us informed. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer gives us some idea that there is a problem. This article relates events that took place during the presidential debates and immediately after. For example: "The candidates understood that their misleading claims would draw less scrutiny than the latest attacks and counterattacks or their speaking and management styles. That's why the Kerry/Edwards campaign seemed to feel no remorse in its constant assertions that the Iraq war cost $200 billion, an exaggeration of $80 billion at the time. That's why President Bush repeatedly made the false accusation that Kerry's plan would 'nationalize' American health care."

Our best method to help the media make better decisions is to support them when they do things we require. Don't support them when they don't. They make their profits on the creation and maintenance of large audiences. Keep that in mind.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

When We Think About It

If we really wanted to improve education in the United States as the Bush administration often suggests, what should they be doing? It’s not clear that they are trying to improve education, but instead repair something that the Bush administration appears to believe is broken. If its broken, why not fix it? If its not broken, why not support it?

An article in today's New York Times, How We Learn, set me to thinking that we could do something to improve the chances that American education will improve. Let's figure out how we learn and then model our schools to reflect that.

Friday, January 14, 2005

We're Not All The Same

If we are not now in school, most of us remember certain things about school. One example, when our quizzes or tests were returned, some of us wanted to keep the results to ourselves. Others wanted to know what we got. We always suspected that they had done well and they wanted to let us just how well they had done. Not all of us are good at taking quizzes/tests.

Those who are good are able to put themselves into a group of people who often get higher grades but are not necessarily better able to do things. In this country, it appears that the leadership feels that testing is the best and perhaps the only way to determine whether education is working.

President Bush recently made this statement in a speech concerning education: "If you believe every child in America can learn, then it makes sense to raise the bar," Bush said at an appearance at a suburban Washington high school. "That's called accountability for results," Bush said. The accountability that he is talking about is testing. Some of us will look better than others just because we don't take tests well. That's a painful fact that many of us can remember or are going through right now.

Bush says that his administration would pay for the testing. On the other hand, he said that he would pay for No Child Left Behind and he didn't. This could lead to a wide range of tests given region by region across the country. In any case, do we really want to give those who take tests well an clear advantage over those who can't take tests well.

I have an acquaintance who was on the screening committee for applicants for medical school. His committee felt that the best doctors didn't necessarily come from the group with the highest grades. There are other things out there that we need to look for other than "How well do you perform when taking tests?"

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Time Is Always A Problem

When we're doing things we enjoy time seems to fly by and when we're doing things we don't enjoy time often seems to drag. If you're going to become really good at listening you probably are going to have to change the way you feel about concentrating on what other people are trying to say to you.

It takes time, energy, ability to concentrate and a willingness to set aside your own concerns and problems to consider what someone is trying to say to you. It will also have some unique frustrations. Since very few of us spend a lot of time with people who really listen to what we're saying it often comes as a surprise that someone is actually listening to what you have to say. As a consequence, many of us haven't really thought about what we want others to hear, know and understand. So when someone really listens we find ourselves saying things like, "Well, what I think I mean is. . ." That's bad training for everybody. The listener knows that they have wasted their time and you feel foolish, because you don't even appear to know what you're thinking.

Its a two way street and both of you need to work on listening. When you're listening you're not trying to formulate what you're going to say to the person who is talking. Instead, you're seeking to understand what they are saying, why they are saying it and what they hope to accomplish by saying it. Once you have that under control you are in a better position to think about what they have said. Now your task is to think about what you're going to say, if anything. Sometimes listening is all that is necessary. But, if more is needed, now you have a solid idea of what is necessary. Take your time and respond in a thoughtful and appropriate manner.

That's the stuff friendships are built on, but it doesn't come naturally. It comes with thought, fitness, willingness and practice. Give it a try.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Our Culture And Time

Effective communication takes time. Our culture appears to value doing things quickly. "Time is money.” "Don't waste time." There are many more ideas that we are taught by our culture which implies that whatever we're doing it probably would be done better if it is done quickly.

Of course, we can think of things that we don't want to end, things that we enjoy. But, for most things the pressure is in the direction of quicker is better. But, in most cases, effective communication needs time. It is important to take time to listen, for example. We're so impatient that we try to multi-task everything. Drive a car in traffic while talking to someone on our cell phone, often ignoring the person you asked to come along on the trip. We think nothing of that kind of behavior.

To be effective at listening we're going to have to make time. We're also going to have to realize that multi-tasking is dangerous when trying to solve a problem with your boss or mate. You're not wasting time when you take time to listen.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Communication Is Difficult

In some areas we pride ourselves on being different from others. In fact, we try to create a style for ourselves. Some go further and tattoo and pierce themselves which clearly creates a distinctive identity. Probably more important than the distinctions we make between ourselves and others physically are those that are part of us. Those differences that are a result of who are parents are , where we were born and what experiences we've had, are must more important.

Sometimes we're tempted to not listen to others because we know what we would be doing or thinking by just hearing what they are saying. We can't safely think that we know what others are thinking and saying without careful listening. Because we are different in how we mean, we must first determine how "they mean" before we decide we know what they are saying. In our busy world, we just don't take the time to do what is necessary.

Make time to listen. Determine "how they mean" and then consider your response. Without careful listening, we are part of the problem. First, give yourself the chance to know. Then consider who you are, and who they think you are before responding. Things might go better.