Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My favorite book and other winners

I taught a course called "Personal Reading for Professional Development" to education graduate students.  When a teacher gets a master's degree, she gets a raise but may still be required or enticed by the salary schedule to get more credits.  By the time she has a master's degree, she has many credits and often is up to here in thinking about her teaching.  But what about her life?  Usually, a person such as that is a reader, likes reading, has been reading and plans to read more.  I asked the students in that class to make a list of what they have read over their entire lifetime, from the Little Golden books (The Poky Little Puppy) to the latest murder mystery they just finished.  (Most people listed around 500 titles over the course of about 6 weeks.) During this course, the question frequently came up: What is your favorite book?


I have a degree and a background in testing, grading and statistics.  In school and in athletics, as in many aspects of life, especially American life, we want to know who the winner is.  Who is the most beautiful girl, the most valuable player, etc., etc?  If you have my background and personality, such experiences make you strongly favor the idea there are always multiple bests.  My own "best book" changes depending on my mood, who wants to know and what I just finished reading.  Americans are maybe overly-focused on being "No. 1" and they want to know who or what is No. 1 in every field, in every project, in every contest.  There is probably some sort of comfort in thinking there a best but in truth there is not one best.  Sure, we can crown someone Most Valuable Player but if you remove all the other players from the field, you will quickly find that they matter very much.  


Long ago, I read about the problem of getting a secretary: do I want a beautiful secretary or do I want a competent one?  As soon as I have two or more variables, such as looks and ability, I will find that the highest reading on one variable belongs to someone who does not have the highest reading on the other variable.  So, I may have have to choose which variable matters most to me.  Often these days, scientists and other smarties can offer 10 variables of importance, 10 variables that matter.  Longevity?  Absence of criminal record?  Pleasant personality?  Physical strength?  Work ethic?  Sickness record?  Stability of life situation?  General ability to handle stress and confusion?  Each of these variables is only partially related to being a wonderful secretary but all of them matter.  And don't kid yourself, a good staff can easily come up with many additional variables that matter that we haven't thought of yet.


Get a good secretary, praise him and thank Heaven for your good fortune. Get a book you like and enjoy it.

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