Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Did I Accomplish Today?

John N. Gardner

The day before I wrote this blog I did something very satisfying: I mowed grass along the right of ways for about ¾ of a mile on either side of the mountain road which leads to our home. It really needed it after all the spring rains we have had combined with our North Carolina warmth. It looked so much better after I mowed. I could see what I had accomplished. The outcome was clear and measurable. It was also satisfying. That is why I like mowing my grass.
But I wouldn’t want to do this every day. And I wouldn’t want to earn my livelihood mowing grass. There was a time in my life when I thought I would however. That was before I went to college and discovered “the life of the mind”. When I was in high school I had a little landscaping service business. Had six other teenage boys who worked for me. We cut grass, did some small landscaping jobs. I was very proud of our work. My job was to get the jobs, schmooze the customers, supervise my fellow teenagers, and do a lot of the grunt work myself. I always felt a sense of accomplishment. My father was scared to death I wouldn’t want to go to college. And he was right, I didn’t. But he offered me a deal: one year of college and if I didn’t like it, I could return to my landscaping work.
So I went to college and loved it and never returned to landscaping. But I have been in a vocation where I do ask myself most days: what have you accomplished today, John? Can you see what you did? Is is measurable? Was it satisfying to you and to others?
I think we all need to be doing something where we can ask those same questions and be satisfied with our answers. And that is why I like mowing the grass every now and then.
When I was younger, but an adult, I had a father-in-law. He was a humble, old-fashioned carpenter who built homes and other things made out of wood to make people happy, primarily women. He was probably the most content man I have ever met—that is content with his vocation and therefore with everything else. Every day he could see what he had done. Every day he pleased someone with his work, who would live with that work for years and be satisfied with it every day. My step son chose to follow in this man’s footsteps, and after finishing his BA (which I made him pursue just as my father did me) he became a carpenter, which he continues now 21 years later.
I like to think I am a carpenter who occasionally mows grass. I build things (in the world of higher education) that last and that please people. And they and I live well for years afterward with what I helped build for them.
We can all aspire to that. You have to keep asking: “What did I accomplish today?”

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Perspective I am Going To Keep Reminding Myself Of!

John N. Gardner

If I have any regular readers of this blog, I am sure it will come as no revelation when I say that I am aware that I am becoming increasingly despondent about the direction my country is moving in on what I have come to call its “race to the bottom.” But I had a message sent to me today from a close friend and colleague, Dr. Elsie Froment, who is a Canadian historian (of US twentieth century history). She is also a senior academic administrator at Trinity Western University in Vancouver.

Her message with a perspective I am now going to share reached me a day after I returned from the state of Maine, a place I love to visit and work in as I have had occasion to do frequently this year. I always “return” to New England thinking in advance that those people aren’t as crazy as the rest of the country. But upon reading the Portland newspaper’s report of current new legislative initiatives, I was stunned to see that a bill has been introduced to reintroduce billboards to the state. And now here’s a whopper: another bill to bring back child labor. This particular bill would end the current limitations on the number of hours a teenager could work while in high school and would permit instead students through the age of 20 to work an unlimited number of hours; and here’s the kicker: it would make it legal to pay them a new SUB minimum wage! As we move forward on our educational race to the bottom, now here is a policy that definitely should be emulated by other states. Discourage students from studying more in high school and further distract them and weaken their preparation for college. What are these people thinking? So this is what I find looking for sanity as I leave my home state for several days where here in North Carolina a legislator of the same party has introduced a bill to authorize North Carolina to develop its own separate currency!

Back to Dr. Watt: she visited the University of South Carolina for the better part of two years in the mid 1990’s, to work in the University’s archives, including a review of my own papers, in order to study the impact of the social protest movement of the late 1960’s early 70’s on the launching of the so-called “freshman year experience” international movement. If this subject catches your fancy you really should request a copy of her dissertation. It will enable you to look at our present educational and social crises and help you see opportunity in them for positive transformation.

In her message she shared with me this perspective: “The larger scene can be discouraging but persistent, peaceful, l personal, integrity in public service generates a legacy of positive change in countless people’s lives. The FYE history documents that”.

I lived through that history and she is absolutely correct. I need to keep reminding myself of this.