Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Show Your Work

Growing up and attending Catholic schools, I encountered Sister Mary Jean, more a force of nature in a black habit than a member of the Sisters of Charity, who, today, we would say, was as interested in process as product. She didn't phrase it that way-- she wasn't so grandiose. She told us to 'show your work' on tests.

What she meant, of course, was she didn't want just answers, though they were always expected (correct ones, especially) but she also wanted us to show her we understood how things worked. It wasn't enough to produce an answer when the question had you multiply compound fractions. She'd been around the block often enough, despite the habit and the crucifix, to realize seventh-graders have excellent eyesight and my correct answer could have started out on Judy Burns' paper. (It didn't Judy, I swear. Your handwriting was terrible-you should've been a doctor. What? Oh-you are a doctor. Well, congratulations! I suppose there's little chance of a 'classmate discount' forty-two years on? Figured I'd ask.).

In a lot of ways, as I totter towards my dotage, I wonder why we don't have more Sister Mary Jeans, not just in our schools (though that would sure help, imho) but scattered across our society. We have reinvented ourselves financially as a Beggar Nation. living on OPM (other people's money) and well beyond both our, and their, means. We don't seem to make anything here anymore-aside from weapons of all sorts (and we spend a lot of money on them) and I can't be alone in wondering why it is we cannot harness the genius of design and construction that gives us the Virginia-class submarine, or the latest fighter jet or Stryker vehicle to produce livable and affordable housing, or to rebuild so many of our urban centers. (I just had an image of Xzibit, hosting Pimp My Ride with a Bradley, pop into my head-I apologize.)

For over two centuries, we were the envy of every other nation on earth. Citizens of every color and nationality aspired to be Americans, even if they had no actual idea of who we were or where we were located. We were as much a notion as a nation and we made friends by keeping our promises and showing our work. And now we have a short term memory, the doubtful handshake and situational ethics.
-bill kenny

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