Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Updates - Essay from Newsletter 24

What do you mean it’s not the same river?

What my dad taught me

My dad’s field was Philosophy of Education. It meant that for many years he trained teachers as a member of Oberlin College’s Education Department. They ran a Master of Arts in Teaching program for much of that time.

And then Oberlin decided to eliminate the department. Most of the state regulations for such departments were created for schools and programs much larger than theirs, and so members of the department joined other departments. One went to Psychology, one went to Black Studies, and my dad went to Philosophy.

I can remember his time in the Education Department, but most of my memories of him as a professor was when he was teaching Philosophy.

I mostly remember him sitting in the living room in his chair next to the cool table with the good lamp, re-reading the works he was going to teach.

What could possibly have changed in Plato since the last time he’d read it? I mean, the book was older than he was.

He reread the books every time he taught them and he said he saw something different every time.

My dad taught me many things - but that was one of most valuable lessons.

What Barry Manilow taught me

I know I’ve told this story, but it’s important.

I used to work for a radio station in Cleveland where we mostly said the same things all the time.

In radio you used to have to say the call letters and the city you were licensed in near the top of the hour. Often you’d have to say it as part of a positioning statement.

So every hour we said, “WMJI, Cleveland’s Magic 1-0-5 point 7” followed by whatever our slogan was at the time.

We came out of songs the same way, we went into commercials the same way, we did the weather and went back into music the same way. We had very little room for personality. That was FM radio in the late 80’s early 90’s.

Our program director arranged for an air staff picnic and a night at Blossom music center to see Barry Manilow.

But there was a point to the outing.

It didn’t matter whether or not we liked Manilow’s music, he wanted us to see Manilow singing some of his songs for the ten billionth time.

The audience was filled with people who could sing along with the music. But there were also people hearing it live for the first and likely only time.

That’s what the PD wanted us to take away. Look at what Manilow brought to the music.

I’d seen musicians I loved doing this, so it really was helpful to see someone I didn’t feel one way or another about doing it.

I came away with a great appreciation for what he did and became a better presenter on air and off after that.

The update

I’ve been updating my books every time the technology they’re based on updates. Each time I look at the book and think, “this is the way the book had to be written at that time. What has changed?”

Sometimes it’s the technology. Sometimes the language has new features that I want to cover. Sometimes the tools take care of issues we’ve had in the past. But sometimes, we just understand “the whole” differently than we did.

The people coming to my book are not coming from the same places the early adopters came from. They aren’t the same sort of people. They don’t want the same sorts of things.

And so I’ve updated the book in ways I didn’t anticipate.

I also didn’t update the book in a way I’ve struggled with for years.

Keeping a dated reference

Parts of the book grew out of a workshop I used to deliver. I have an example that features me and Kim as two attendees at a conference. I often used Kim as an example when I taught.

There’s a classic Calculus problem when you teach related rates that relates the radius of the ripples in a pond after you toss a rock in to the area inside the ripple. I’d forgotten the example I used until Kim visited my class one day. One of my students turned to her and said, “you know he throws you in a pond in this class.”

“Yeah,” she smiled, “I know.” She knew because I always asked her first if she minded. But she also knew that I believed the way you get students to remember the lessons is you have very dramatic images.

“Did you know,” the student asked, “that he also weighs you down with cement before tossing you in?”

She didn’t know that. I remember her smiling at the student before shrugging and nodding toward me as if to say, “nothing that comes out of his mouth surprises me.”

Anyway, I have this example with Kim in it. I always forget about it until I start on that section.

Before the lockdown I was in London teaching and a friend of mine was in the back of the class watching his team. I got to the example and he looked at me and I stumbled. As hard as it is to keep teaching this example that includes Kim, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to deliberately remove it from the curriculum.

And so it stays in my workshop.

And it stays in the book, A Swift Kickstart.

The book that I updated and released today on what would have been Kim’s 60th birthday.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 24. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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