February 2010

Just Imagine

Imagine for a moment being in a town where people have never been exposed to dogs: they know what a dog looks like, because they’ve seen pictures of them, or maybe seen them from a distance when they travel to other places… but they’ve never actually petted a dog, or walked one on a leash, or even spent five minutes observing one.

Now, some kook in the town wants to make it legal to keep pet dogs in the dog-free town.  “They will poop in the yards!” people exclaim.  “They will bark and make awful noise, and they will chase our cats!”  “Some people might even let their dogs in the house – just think of how unsanitary that would be, and how dangerous to the children!”   The townsfolk, having never been exposed to the companionship of dogs, are opposed.

Some bring up the scenario of dogfights, which attract gambling and other unsavory activities.

The dog-loving kook is fully supportive of a standard leash law, and that all dog owners should have to purchase a license from the city every year for every dog.  He supports requiring immunizations against dangerous diseases (like rabies), and the owner’s maintaining proof of such.  Many of the townsfolk mill about in opposition to the kook’s crazy dog plan, but little by little, respectable ordinary people step forward, cautiously expressing a willingness to consider the idea.

“My brother has a dog,” said one, “and he keeps burglars away from the house when my brother is gone.”  Another explains that she’d really like for her aged mother to have a dog for companionship.  Someone else mentions they’ve heard that dogs can actually be trained to assist the blind.  All of these people are in favor of reasonable limitations – no one suggests just letting the dogs run wild, stealing suppers from the table, biting children, and pooping on the town hall steps.

Can this hypothetical town accept change?  Is there any possibility that they can get past the fear of the unfamiliar, to find the benefits of a companion animal who helps guard their home, gives them a reason to go outdoors and walk, and offers unconditional love each day?

*  *  *

Now, turn your imagination 45 degrees, and see that the hypothetical town is our town.  The discussion is not about dogs, but about chickens.  The proposed regulations would be similar:  roosters would not be allowed (thus eliminating the noise component), the number of birds would be limited, confinement to the back or side yard would be required.  Registration and purchase of a license would also be required, just as it is for dogs.

The benefits are slightly different, but comparable.   Can this town ever get past its paranoia to try something new?

Mixed Messages

Mixed messages abound in the education world these days.  We want to graduate more students, but we want to make it harder to graduate; we want to add math, science, and foreign language requirements (read: add teachers), but we don’t want to increase funding for education.  And those are just a couple of examples from high school.

Higher Ed is in a similar predicament.  The goals are noble and good, but the means to achieve them are dwindling.  To wit:

Anyone who has recently been a college student, or any parent of a college student, knows that one of the biggest challenges to graduating on time is to get into the classes one needs, when one needs them.  Offering more sections, more frequently, would undoubtedly improve the college graduation rate.  Offering fewer sections (with more students in each) less frequently cannot possibly yield improvement in the graduation rate — it will have the opposite effect.

But to keep it simple, the analogy is thus:  jump as high as you can.  Next, you must jump 50% higher… so dig a hole, stand in it, and try again.

Let me know if this works for you.  Like my physics major and rugby player daughter tells me, “gravity sucks.”