Redundant Communication

I’ve had several conversations in recent weeks with students and parents about the dreaded acronym: G.P.A. Many students are below the 3.0 requirement for the program and several others, while above 3.0, are not where they would like to be to get into their dream college. Most of the time, we are talking about a few basic fundamentals for success in school: effective time management, being present in class, paying attention, and asking questions. These are not revolutionary strategies, and most students have heard them repeatedly over their school career from parents and teachers. Still, for many students, it’s not sinking in.

This inability (or unwillingness) to mind seemingly simple advice is no different than my four-year-old punching his brother in the back whenever he gets frustrated, despite my and Andrea’s repeated pleas and punishments. He hears me when I tell him, he understands it’s wrong, but he keeps doing it. Likewise, despite your demands, your 14-year-old keeps checking her phone when her teacher is explaining an important concept. So what do I do with my son to help him stop punching his brother? What do you do with your sophomore daughter who won’t submit work even though she knows it’s hurting her grade, no matter how many times you beg her?

It turns out a person needs to hear something between 10 and 20 times before it sinks in (after 20 times it becomes counterproductive). But there is a catch here. Harvard Business professor Tsedal Neeley concluded in a study of “redundant communication” in organizations, that employees were much more likely to change their behavior in response to messages from those who were not in a position of authority.

So let’s extrapolate this out to students: we know that parents and teachers are authority figures. So yes, and you’ve heard it from me many times: these messages need to be coming from peers and mentors.

This is not to suggest that parents shouldn’t have direct conversations with their kids about, for example, subpar grades from the first semester. And yes, sometimes good old-fashioned nagging is just fine (otherwise I never would have cleaned my room when as a kid). But also look for those other people in your kids’ lives who don’t hold any authority over them and let them deliver these important messages multiple times and in multiple ways.

And of course, we must keep in mind that some kids just aren’t ready to change their behavior until it they’re ready, no matter what anyone else does or says.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. James just punched Sam in the back again.

Sources

“It’s Not Nagging: Repetition is Effective Communication” Jojarth, Martin.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/its-nagging-repetition-effective-communication-marton-jojarth/

“How Managers Use Multiple Media: Discrepant Events, Power, and Timing in Redundant Communication” Neeley, et al.

https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/orsc.1110.0638

Making Big Decisions

With the May 1st college decision deadline quickly approaching, I’ve been talking to seniors a lot about plans for next year. Consider this familiar scenario: A student has been accepted to their dream school out of state, but will have to pay $20,000/year. They’ve also been accepted to a great school that was third on their list, but will pay nothing. While you may have your own ideas about the “right” decision, in reality there are compelling reasons for both. Some would argue the more expensive dream school is a worthy investment for the experience, the reputation of the school, and the chance to realize a lifelong dream. Others would say it’s foolish to turn down a full ride to any 4-year institution, and that your college experience is what you make of it. Both are sound arguments. Neither is wrong.

These hard choices pervade all of our lives: Do I leave a job I love for a large pay increase at a job I might hate? Do I move to a city with higher taxes but much better services? Do I allow my son to work while he’s still in school? Do I encourage my ailing parents to move into assisted living?

According to Ruth Chang, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, we struggle with big decisions because the way we frame them is problematic. Some reasons just can’t be quantified. For instance, in the initial example, there’s no way to assign measurable value to four years at your dream school; nor can you assign specific value to zero college debt. The better way to look at these decisions is to acknowledge that while they may not be equal, they are, in Chang’s words, “on a par.”

Framing big decisions like this allows us to be more open about which path to take. So instead of being paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, we can say, “These are both good choices. I’ll be fine either way. Let me consider what I really want for my life right now and in the future.”

And as many of us parents know, the decisions we make about our kids only get bigger with time. “Should I let her climb on that playset” becomes “Should I let her go on Spring Break with another family” becomes “Should I pay for a new trombone” becomes “Should I tell her I don’t approve of her fiance.” But if we can reframe the way we approach these decisions, we and our kids can make better choices and live better lives.

Although many seniors have already made their decisions about next year, several are still grappling with it, and of course, the events of the last year have made things even more complicated. But if we can help alleviate their fears about making the wrong decision, they will be freed up to make the best, right decision for them.

Sources

Chang, Ruth. “How to Make Hard Choices.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices?language=en.

Image (upper right): from https://thenounproject.com/

Episode #18 (Phil Zaroo)

The Unique Bond Between Father and Daughter, Bidets, And Why Your Dad Dying Means So Much

For Episode 18, I sat down with Phil Zaroo, a close friend and one of my favorite people to talk to, mostly because we disagree a lot.  He’s a father of three, an ex-liberal, ex-journalist, hater of all things U of M, and bearer of brutal honesty.  We’ve had countless yelling matches over the years about social and political issues,  but in this fatherhood-focused conversation we keep it mostly civil.  Phil offers some unconventional takes on parenting, shares the raw experience of losing a parent, breaks down the delusion of the archetypal U of M fan, riffs on the burgeoning bidet market, chokes up when talking about his daughters,  and talks old-school discipline.  Enjoy. Click here to listen.

Episode #17 (Moses Price)

For Episode 17, I sat down with Moses Price, a man I don’t know well enough to call a close friend, but one who I feel like I’ve known my whole life. Among our similarities, he’s a Flint native, a father of two boys, an educator, a huge sports fan, and the proud head chef in his home. In this wide-ranging conversation we explore, among other topics, the YouTube basement, raising black boys, his Flint roots, why video games get a bad rap, and the evolution of teen problems. With a name like Moses Price, it’s a wonder he’s not a pastor. But don’t worry, the man can preach. Enjoy. Click here to listen.

What Kamala Harris Means to My Boys

I’m not really not one for ceremony or even national tradition. I don’t talk to my kids enough about what goes on in the government and I may regret it someday. But on January 20th around 11:45 am, I yelled to my boys who were upstairs building a fort: “Sam! James! Get down here! You have to see this!”

Kamala Harris was about to be sworn in.

Although the refrain about this historic occasion has been, “This is a huge moment for little girls, especially little black girls,” I was also thinking, “This is a huge moment for little boys, especially little white boys.”

There is no debating the importance of kids seeing people who look like them ascend to the most powerful positions in this country. But it’s also important that we normalize it for those who have seen themselves in those positions for millennia.

When I tried to explain to Sam and James the historic nature of this inauguration, they were confused. “Why were girls or people with brown skin not allowed to be vice president?” For them, this just didn’t seem normal. Sam’s principal is a black man and one of James’ teachers is a black woman. So why couldn’t the vice president be a black woman?

I have a lot to learn about institutional racism. I’m also not a psychologist. And yes, we have a long way to go in terms of equity in this country. But I do know that something different is going on in my boys’ little brains than was mine at age four or five. They are internalizing something that should be normal for all of us. So while Harris certainly is going to make mistakes and will probably be disproportionately criticized for them, I hope, thanks in part to her, my kids never use race or gender as a reason to question someone’s leadership.

80% of our Eagle Scholars are black girls, and they are an impressive bunch. These are girls who will be arguing big cases in court, leading Fortune 500 companies, teaching my children in schools and treating my children in hospitals. They will be, as they are now, leaders in their ever-expanding circles. Thanks in part to Kamala Harris, perhaps one of my boys will work for them some day. And there will be nothing extraordinary about it.

New Podcast Episode – #13: with Joe Johnson

Picking Your Own Trash, The Joy of Coaching Your Kids, and Why Quality Beats Quantity (with Joe Johnson)

Listen here: https://anchor.fm/rory-hughes/episodes/13–Picking-Your-Own-Trash–The-Joy-of-Coaching-Your-Kids–and-Why-Quality-Beats-Quantity-with-Joe-Johnson-eofhr0

For this episode I sat down with Joe Johnson, AKA MC Schlep, one of the two good friends I made in graduate school.  Joe has always been just ahead of me in most life events–getting married, buying a house, having kids, becoming a functioning adult–so I feel lucky to have learned from him.  In this chat we explore, among other topics:  the mindset of an East Sider; how his experience at Warren De La Salle, an all-boys Catholic school, shaped him; trash picking; bargain grocery-shopping; coaching his kids; losing both parents relatively young; and the importance of low post position in a marriage.Enjoy.

21 Hopes for the Class of 2021

There’s a line from my favorite show of 2020, Ted Lasso, in which one of the characters shares a common British idiom, “It’s the hope that kills you.” It’s an extreme version of our “Don’t get your hopes up” and one that certainly fits 2020. During a pivotal scene in the show, Ted, a small-time college football coach turned British Premier League soccer manager (trust me, it works) challenges this claim. He argues that hope is what keeps us going.

So for 2021, in the spirit of Ted Lasso, I’d like to offer 21 hopes that I have for our class of 2021.

  1. They hang out together a lot, in person.
  2. They continue to spend time outdoors.
  3. They make college and career decisions based on what’s best for them, not what society expects.
  4. They continue to speak and act out for racial justice.
  5. They continue to unleash their creativity (for those of you who attended Ms. Bomphray’s poetry showcase, you know what I’m talking about!)
  6. They have mature conversations with people from different backgrounds and with different worldviews.
  7. They use credible sources.
  8. They cite their sources.
  9. They engage in the political process.
  10. They read books.
  11. They value compassion.
  12. They seek out challenges.
  13. They don’t wish away their childhood.
  14. They thank their friends, families, teachers, and coaches for their help.
  15. They do things for the sake of doing them, not to check a box or make themselves look good.
  16. They find a career they love.
  17. They cherish their experiences as much as (or more than) their possessions.
  18. They laugh a lot.
  19. They experience a relatively normal graduation ceremony.
  20. They don’t suffer any more losses.
  21. They remember that what they experienced in 2020, cliche as it may sound, will make them stronger.

Class of 2021 and everyone else, here’s to hoping in 2021, even when it seems foolish.

New Podcast Up: Season 2, Episode 1 with Senator Jim Ananich

For Season 2, Episode 1, I sat down with Michigan State Senator Jim Ananich, a friend of nearly three decades. Our relationship had been characterized by tennis and basketball, using my 50% discount at Bennigan’s when we weren’t hungry, and spontaneous explosions of Dayton Family rap sessions in public. Somehow we’ve become responsible adults with children, and Jim is now the highest ranking democrat in the Michigan Senate. Thankfully he has not lost his integrity or his sense of humor.  In this chat we cover a lot: his harrowing adoption journey; losing both parents at a young age; and fatherhood as a catalyst for growth. Sit back, get ready to learn and to laugh.

Also covered in the conversation:

  • When your kid doesn’t care that the governor is calling
  • Peabo Bryson
  • Why dumb people shouldn’t form education policy
  • Raising a biracial son
  • Dragging days, flying weeks
  • The self-destructive macho veneer of most men

The Power of the One-On-One

Last Sunday, my son Sam went up to his elementary school for a socially-distanced meetup with his Kindergarten classmates, who to that point had only been iPad avatars. While I usually jump at the chance for his little brother to experience the super-combo of socialization and outdoor activity, I suggested Andrea take Sam on his own so I could take James, with whom I’d been having a tough time connecting. Three hours later, I said, incredulously, “Why don’t we do this more often?”

Anyone with children can relate. It’s something that comes up frequently in conversations with other parents: underappreciating the value of exclusive time with their children. We notice the small things in these interactions that are hard to pick up with other kids or partners around – the nervous laughter, the furrowed brows, the long pauses, the seemingly out-of-nowhere questions that reveal something important. It’s as if we can actually hear our kids thinking.

Turns out there is some logic around why one-on-one interactions are so powerful. “Relational Load” is a phenomenon that suggests that the more people involved in an interaction, the more taxing it is. Consider that in a one-on-one, you are only tracking the communication between you and one other person. Once you add a third person, the “load” increases to three, because now you’re tracking your communication with each person, plus their communication with each other. At four the load becomes six, at five it becomes ten, and by the time you get to eight people, the load is 28! No wonder you are so exhausted after a staff meeting or your student is exhausted after a day at school.

The one-on-one loses much less in a virtual setting than the large group interactions. My one-on-one conferences with students have never been more productive, honest, and focused. With no other students present, they have no choice but to engage. This is in stark contrast to my larger online presentations, which are essentially me trying to entertain a giant black hole.

So for your student, if they’ve had enough of you (or even if they haven’t), encourage them to reach out to a teacher or counselor for a one-on-one. They could also connect with an aunt or uncle or anyone else in a mentoring role who can provide that increasingly rare jewel we call “undivided attention.”

TOP: James and his grandma in a one-on-one

Patience

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient* with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

–Lao Tzu

*Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset.

I didn’t understand the true meaning of patience until I had kids.

Not only is patience paramount in parenting, but it’s also most critical at precisely the moment you have none left. Take bedtime. By 7:30, I’ve been through a full day of work, cooked a meal my kids won’t eat, run a few frustrating virtual errands, and sunken into a hazy food and stress-induced coma.

Right when the patience-meter is almost zero, James refuses to brush his teeth, Sam asks for a different dinner, and they both pick my least favorite, 30-page book for storytime. At this moment, although I have the “capacity to tolerate (this) trouble,” it’s really hard to do so “without getting upset.”

So by the definition I gave at the beginning, by the end of the day I am not a patient person.

As much as I marvel at the patience of adults in the current school setting–watching my wife breathe deeply as she re-teaches 25 4th-graders how to mute their mics for the 60th time, for example–because I interface mostly with students, they’re the ones who have me in awe right now.

Students are learning Calculus while watching their siblings. They’re rewriting assignments when their wifi dies. They’re teaching their parents how to use Canvas. They’re respectfully emailing teachers when they need extra help. They’re showing up on Fridays at voluntary study groups. All of this with a global pandemic and a historic election in the backdrop. Like our own children, students can certainly be frustrating, they can be absent-minded, they can be obstinant, they can even be ungrateful. But we cannot call them impatient.

With the pandemic and the election dragging on indefinitely, we’ll have to go deep in our reservoir for patience, not only as we wait for the outcomes, but as we relate to our opponents. Let’s turn to our students for inspiration on how to be patient at such a difficult time. In fact, let’s turn to them more often in general.

We may as well get used to the young people leading us. Soon enough, we’ll have no other choice.

Joke’s On Me

A month ago, my boys thought iPads only worked on airplanes. In light of the growing body of research about the dangers of kids and mobile devices, I was in the Anti-Tech-for-Young-Kids-Except-For-TV-Because-Hey-I-Gotta-Stay-Sane camp. So when my son’s school informed us he’d be receiving an iPad for Pre-Kindergarten, I was apoplectic. I had spent Sam’s entire life teaching him that iPads were evil.

I wouldn’t even utter the word “iPad” when it arrived. It’s a “learning pad,” I said, “and it only works during school time.”

So you can guess what happened after Sam had spent just ten minutes is his first Zoom meeting. “Dad. I can’t look at the screen anymore. I have to turn this off. You know screens are bad for me.”

Gulp.

I’d spend five years railing against something that we would need to rely on for the next several months, if not longer. The joke was on me. Suddenly I didn’t feel so high on my horse as Mr. Fishing and Golf Dad.

What I had perceived to be an advantage for Sam had now become a disadvantage, at precisely the time he needed to feel a sense of efficacy and belonging: his first experience in school. This reinforced a lesson I’ve been learning and relearning over the last six months: Embracing change, even when it goes against the very core of my being, is inevitable, and it’s probably healthy.

What I used to think was surrendering my values is now simply accepting reality.

Every day Andrea and I alternate between encouraging Sam to engage in this bizarre online Kindergarten world (25 5-year-olds singing “The Hello Song” with bad audio, for example) and telling him it’s okay to take a break. We want to instill the importance of education and of honoring commitments, but we also know a 5-year-old should probably put down the screen occasionally to wrestle with his brother.

So whether it’s Sam on his iPad, your 9th grader blaring his French horn in front of a Chromebook camera, or your 6th grader working on a project without ever meeting her group members, remote learning is forcing all of us—parents, educators, and students—to surrender what is ideal for what is real. It’s a hard lesson, and one especially young people often don’t learn until much later in life, but the optimist in me believes they will all be stronger for it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shut off the learning pad.

Looking Beyond the Lost Senior Year

This post originally appeared at Nerdy.com: https://www.nerdy.com/blog/2020/looking-beyond-the-lost-senior-year

If your house is home to a recent high school graduate, you’ve probably seen articles like this one, whose author argues that the truncated school years of millions of high school seniors will have a long-lasting, deleterious effect. No prom, no College Decision Day, no in-person graduation—none of the quintessential milestones and traditions that define the American high school experience. 

Many of my own students have used the term “lost” to describe their senior year. It’s sad. It’s unfair. It’s unprecedented and often traumatic. But what if there’s also something of a silver lining?

It is undeniable that many people have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Many individuals have lost jobs, lost family members, and experienced a suffocating pall of anxiety and depression. COVID-19 will go down in history as one of the defining events of our generation. In no way am I suggesting that this is, overall, good for people. Instead, I’m highlighting what might be some hopeful outcomes for high schoolers.

Let’s begin with the fact that American teenagers already experience anxiety and depression at a disproportionate clip. Two of the primary causes are being overscheduled and losing a close connection with their parents. Sleep deprivation among teenagers has reached staggering levels, with less than 9% of teenagers getting enough sleep. Here’s a typical schedule for a high school senior:

  • 6:30 a.m. — Wake up.
  • 7:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. — Attend school.
  • 3:00-5:00 p.m. — Attend an extracurricular. 
  • 5:00-9:00 p.m. — Work.
  • 9:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. — Do homework and chores.
  • 12:30 a.m. — Go to sleep.

Somewhere in the day, your student might find the time for two potentially nutritious meals, often while multi-tasking and not always with their families.

Many high schoolers try to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends, but the notion that you can bank enough rest in two days to make up for five days of exhaustion is a fallacy. Even if they could catch up, they’re operating at a suboptimal level for five days, only to crash for two.

The schedule outlined above leaves no room for the spontaneous activities that are critical to mental health—time in nature, time with friends, and perhaps, yes, time with video games. I’m not advocating that your child loafs around all day. 

“But a brain is like any other muscle. Without sufficient rest, it will be pushed to the limit and torn apart.”

Basic neuroscience teaches us that a healthy brain, teenage or not, needs idle time so the subconscious can do its important work of background process learning. If it means they’re happier and healthier, so be it. Maybe daydreaming should be considered a legitimate extracurricular activity.  

Another fallacy in America is that teenagers are hard-wired to be rebels, that they want no part of their parents once they reach puberty. On the contrary, this is exactly the time when your child wants to communicate more. In many other countries and ancient societies, the teenage years are and were a time to engage with elders in order to learn how to navigate adulthood.

In The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, Ned Johnson and William Stixrud talk about home as a safe base, “[where] they can go to seek a respite from it all, where they feel safe and loved unconditionally, where they can fully relax, so that they can gather the energy to go back out.” For some families, the COVID-19 pandemic may have created a desperately needed extended time for seniors at their safe base. 

I spoke with a mother of one of my students, who, despite acknowledging the challenges of being stuck at home with three children, admitted, “I feel blessed to be able to spend this time with my (senior) daughter before she goes to college. Before, she was going to practice, to work, to all kinds of extracurriculars. And right now she is going through a bit of a personal crisis. So it’s really important to connect.” Pre-quarantine, this mom may have sent her child off to college without addressing things that only mom and daughter can suss out together. Another mother told me pre-pandemic she was lucky to have family dinners a few times a month. Now it’s every night.

Jogging around my neighborhood, I see teenagers and parents talking to each other. At the state park near my house, a normally sleep-deprived, annoyed son was out kayaking with his mom, smiling and enjoying the outdoors together. It’s as if stripping away all of the trivialities of daily life has reminded parents why they love their children—and vice versa. 

Take note: I’m not suggesting that a shelter-in-place order is what students need for the foreseeable future, or that there haven’t been some trying moments for all families. Kids need their friends, they need to get out of the house, they need to engage with teachers and counselors and coaches for a sense of identity and belonging. 

Yes, losing some of the most fun and important parts of senior year is a bummer. But let’s not forget that in March 2020, we already had a crisis on our hands, one that has been brewing for years: the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our teenagers. 

From here, from this Great Pause, perhaps we can build a new model for the quintessential American teenage experience. 

What is Essential?

The COVID-19 crisis has, in short order, reframed the way I view myself, my family, my community, my work, and my world. Although as of this writing no one in my family has been stricken with or died from the virus, several students and colleagues have lost family members. Several more will follow.

I’ve reached out to students to see how they’re doing, several of whom are likely not responding because they are dealing directly with this crisis in some way. Of those responding, one is working long hours at a grocery store, another is babysitting her brother while her mom works overtime at Amazon where someone recently tested positive, and another is being kept from his mother and grandmother who are in the hospital with Coronavirus.

As an educator married to another educator, I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be working from home and in good health. Although I am an advocate for public education, it is debatable whether my job is essential right now.

Which begs the question of what is actually essential: medical workers, first responders, police officers, grocers, delivery drivers, pharmacists. In the words of governor Whitmer, people who work in industries that “protect and sustain life.” Three weeks ago that list would have looked much longer: lawyers, investment bankers, pro athletes, filmmakers, YouTubers. No offense to any of those professions, but they are not essential right now. Valuable in many ways, yes. Essential? No.

What is essential is what we can’t live without.

So in the context of this national crisis, how might this change our students’ answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Might this be a chance to inspire our students not to pursue careers that earn the most money, but that are the most “essential?”

In a prophetic moment, a few weeks ago I polled our Eagle Scholars (graphic in the upper right) about potential career paths. I was stunned by the results: public service was the most popular response, over STEM, Business, the Arts, and Humanities.

Maybe this crisis will elevate farmers, small grocery store owners, nurses, first responders, police officers, and delivery drivers to a higher status. In short, jobs whose primary goal is not to profit from others, but to serve others, pandemic or not.

When we come out of this – and we will come out of this – perhaps it will have inspired a new generation driven not by rugged individualism but social responsibility.

I hope we’re all here to see it.

What is the Universe Telling me?

COVID-19 is forcing us to the right.
(Image Credit)

Regardless of age, health or location, the smartest people I know have self-quarantined. On their counsel, I’m also home with my wife and two boys working remotely and working harder domestically. Between looking for ways to keep Sam and James occupied, checking in with friends, and talking to my parents over the fence in a bizarre Home Improvement meets Every Body Loves Raymond scenario, this question is on a loop in my head:  What is the universe telling me right now?

Consider the education system.  With classes going online for several weeks (or months), parents, teachers, and administrators are rethinking everything we do and how we do it. Suddenly high stakes testing, class size, and evaluations are meaningless.  Soon enough, we are going to have some strange bedfellows: public, charter, private, and online education.

What is the universe telling me?

If we get this right, we could be looking at the biggest positive change in the history of American education.

A month ago, I bragged about having my head in the sand.  I was in a state of blissful myopia, ignoring social media and the news, mainstream and otherwise. Now? Being uninformed is not only irresponsible, it can be deadly. As someone young enough to not be at high risk and old enough to know better, it’s incumbent upon me to know what’s happening so I can act accordingly.

What is the universe telling me?

Blissful ignorance is selfish.

I checked in with my friend Chris over the phone for our longest call in years.  After acknowledging the gravity of the situation, he cut the tension with a story about heading to Kroger in a Hazmat suit to buy salad dressing for his 80-year-old neighbor. For the first time in months, I was literally rolling on the floor laughing. 

What is the universe telling me?

Seek out opportunities to laugh really hard with other people.

As a sports fan, March and April are truly the best time of year: March Madness, opening day in baseball, The Masters, the NFL draft, the NBA playoffs.  Typically most days have been full of options for escape, even during my darkest times, since childhood. No more.  Time to read, write letters, exercise, meditate, call people I haven’t called in awhile, engage and be fully present with my family. In other words, be Dionysus, not Appollonius (see graphic above).

What is the universe telling me?

Slow down, breathe, move inward. When this passes, we will all emerge more whole.

What Cordell Taught Me About Diversity

Cordell (far right, suit), Me (middle, offensively unstylish turquoise shirt)

Diversity:

1. ethnic variety, as well as socioeconomic and gender variety, in a group, society, or institution.

2. A cliché term used in mission statements, tag lines, sales pitches, and school websites to show that an organization is more than just a bunch of people who look the same.

On the first day of first grade at Cook Elementary School in Flint, I noticed I was one of three white kids. I was too young to recognize the novelty of my situation but old enough to feel uncomfortable. Some time that first day, a smiling, stout little kid with glasses approached me and asked if I wanted to be his friend.

Turns out we lived a block from each other and ended up spending countless afternoons hanging out, laughing, talking sports, and having deep, seemingly endless conversations about things that mattered.

We both enrolled in Flint’s Magnet Program in elementary school, a place where true diversity of thought, creed, class, race, existed. Cordell and I were lynchpins in a posse of class clowns whose mission was to earn As and Bs while acting like complete imbeciles. (Apologies to Ms. Butler, Mr. Butler, Mr. Debevec, and Ms. Hearn for all of our indiscretions, and thanks for being truly amazing teachers).

Though we remained in contact, Cordell and I parted ways in middle school (I moved across town to a whiter, more affluent area) and then reunited for high school. I remember heated debates in 9th grade English about controversial, complex social and political issues like race and class. Cordell’s bellowing, full-bodied laugh always cut the tension of these arguments. I longed for that laugh because I often left these arguments feeling as uncomfortable as I did that first day at Cook. I found myself questioning my beliefs, and wondered if Cordell thought, no matter how close we were, I would never really understand him. After all, I was just a privileged white kid.

Since those days in Flint, which we still reminisce on as some of our best, Cordell and my paths have converged and diverged: he studied African American History with plans to become a teacher and is now working in the private sector; I studied journalism and ended up in public education. Cordell coached baseball in Dexter; I coached golf in Redford. He’s a bachelor; I’m married with two kids. He moved back to Flint; I live in Ann Arbor. He believes in the power of social media; I’m convinced it’s a hellscape of broken dreams. He’s got a deep understanding of the history of Black oppression; I’ll probably never truly get it.

A few days ago, I shot Cordell a text (unfortunately that is now our primary form of communication) to get his take on the presidential elections. In a few words, he challenged me, then shared an article about the folly of the “Everyone needs college” argument. I read the article, processed it, and shared it with several people. Again, I began to question the foundations of my belief system, partly because of what it said mostly because of who shared it with me.

So what does this all have to do with diversity? I believe diversity (of thought, creed, race, political views, etc) holds the most power when it’s set in common experiences and deep relationships. Yes, there is value in reading about other people’s experiences in interacting with people of diverse backgrounds. But it’s only because I see Cordell as a complex human with nuanced (and sometimes fluid) ideologies and values, that I can learn and grow from him and actually change my mind.

Last month, we brought 50 students to U of M Ann Arbor for a tour that focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. When I looked at the pictures of this visit, I felt like I was looking at the Flint Magnet Program all over again: bright, thoughtful young people with diverse backgrounds sharing a common, powerful experience (see pictures below).

During panel discussions, U of M students and staff talked about the importance of learning to study with, break bread with, and live with people whose backgrounds were vastly different from their own. At one point, I teared up, overcome with a unique emotion – some combination of nostalgia and pride. While many first-gen, minority, and rural students struggle mightily with this transition, because of the common, diverse experiences and deep relationships, I believe our students will be just fine. That is a credit to the program, the school, our staff, but most importantly the students and you, the parents.

Cordell, if you’re reading this, thanks for being such a good teacher all these years.

* A giant thank you to my good friend and Flint Magnet product Mischa Boardman, Kat Walsh, Alesha Montgomery, DJ Hawkins, Catalina Ormsby, Laura Saavedra, DJ Jackson, Antonio Junior-Robins, and everyone else affiliated with U of M’s Center for Educational Outreach who made this possible. It was truly an amazing experience and one that created several future Wolverines.

SOURCES

“Educated Fools.” Thomas Geoghegan. The New Republic.https://newrepublic.com/article/156000/educated-fools-democrats-misunderstand-politics-social-class

Dear Friend Who’s About to Have a Kid: Life is About to Get Simple

Dear Friend Who’s About to Have a Kid,

As an expectant father, most of what you’ve been told is that parenting is really hard. Other synonyms: difficult, tough, challenging, life-altering, impossible, a grind. But “hard” seems to be the adjective of choice for the modern, unsolicited advice-giving parent, usually along with a sigh and a head shake.

Sleepless nights, maddening carseat scenarios, nightmare plane rides, strain on marriage, strain on space, strain on body, strain on professional life…just a lot of strain, really.

So I’m not going to sit here and regale you with the countless other reasons why having a child will be the hardest thing you do. On the contrary, I’d like to make the case that, on balance, parenting will actually make your life a lot simpler.

Some reasons:

You will always have an excuse to arrive late, leave early, or not show up at all.

No more hemming and hawing when you get these texts:

Colleague: “See you tonight at the Christmas party?”

Boss: “Can you stay late to finish the project?”

In-laws: “Wanna pop over to watch the latest Meryl Streep’s vehicle?”

Friends: “Moving again. Help me lift the couch?”

A simple “Can’t make it. Kid thing” will suffice. No explanation necessary. Keep responses vague and you don’t even have to lie.

Best part is you can always hedge with something like: “Gonna do my best to make it, but if so, will probably need to leave early. Kid thing.”

Better yet, don’t respond at all and no one will hold it against you. No one gets the benefit of the doubt like a parent.

You won’t need to set an alarm.

It can be glorious when they shuffle in with bed-head and snuggle you on a Saturday morning. It can be maddening on a Monday when you were up with them until 3 am and you’re trying to get 20 more minutes of uninterrupted sleep before a full workday. Regardless, it’s one fewer item you need to worry about. Congratulations, your wife will birth the world’s most sophisticated alarm clock.

You will become more efficient.

My folks watched my boys the other day and I accomplished more in three hours that my pre-kid self would have in two weeks. Something about having finite amounts of time that ramps up your productivity.

You won’t need motivation to get (or stay) in shape.

There’s a reason we’re built to have kids in our twenties: millenials can eat nuclear waste between Fortnite binges and still stay fit. At 40, a trip to the post office saps most of my energy. But for the first few years, 90% of parenting is getting your kid tired enough to sleep, so physical fitness is as important as emotional resilience. If I don’t stay in shape, the nightly game of “Dinosaur King on the Mountain” in my basement could put me back into physical therapy.

You will never need motivation to go to work or to stay at your job.

Mouth to feed = “I don’t need this job.” Mouths to feed = “I can’t lose this job.”

You will become a better person.

Imagine life with a parrot on your shoulder and a mirror in front of your face, both reminding you, incessantly, of your faults.

Actual exchange from this morning in the van:

Sam: “Dad, can you put on the Superman song?”

Me: “Buddy, I can’t use my phone while I’m driving.”

Sam: “Why?”

Me: “Because it’s not safe.”

Sam: “But you just did it back there when you turned on the Batman song.”

Me: “I know buddy, but…(stammering). Hey, look at that excavator over there!”

It’s not even that you become a better person because you necessarily want to become a better person. It’s just less of a hassle.

So friend, as you await this miracle, take comfort knowing that just because something is more challenging, doesn’t mean it’s more complicated.

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite minimalists, Henry David Thoreau:

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Fatherhood will afford you to let alone pretty much everything.

Except what matters.

— Rory

Wanna hear interviews with dads? Check out The Detroit Dadcast.

Swimming Lessons: A Microcosm of Parenting

Last month I signed up my three-year-old son for swimming lessons at the local YMCA. One of my 2019 goals is to make sure both of my boys are semi-proficient swimmers, and I knew if I didn’t pay up front, it was never going to happen. Most of my friends are Goldfish Swim School zealots, but the one time I went there I was freaked by the bizarre, flourescent setup in which parents ogle at their kids through a window while checking Instagram and paying bills.

No, I wanted to be a good citizen and do lessons through the YMCA, a community organization that overcharges me for adequate services.

My wife and I prepped Sam throughout the week with the typical feigned excitement when you want your kid to do something you’re pretty sure he’s not ready to do. “It will be awesome, buddy! You love swimming!” But we knew it wasn’t the swimming part that was going to be a problem. It was the part about handing him to a strange person in a large body of water amidst cacophonous echos with elderly women AquaZumba-ing in the deep end.

It’s a lot to take in for a marginally-adjusted adult like myself, let alone a 3-year-old.

Nevertheless, we loaded the car and headed to the Y, me with high hopes, Sam with other plans.

I’m going to pause the story to share with you the emotions I felt, in order, from the time we left the house to the when we got home.

Excited.

Nervous.

Hopeful.

Frustrated.

Horrified.

Regretful.

Sad.

Proud.

Overcome.

This was in a 45-minute time frame. I defy you to name anything, aside from the second half of a Detroit Lions game, that can evoke this range of emotions.

Here’s what happened.

Excited: As we drove down to the Y, I made up some cheesy song about swimming lessons and noticed Sam crack a smile. “I’m winning him over,” I thought.

Nervous: Upon entering the building, Sam clinged to my leg like an oversized slug and started crying, “I don’t want to do swimming lessons, daddy.”

Hopeful: We got him dressed in the locker room and he started to peel himself away from my leg and giggle a little. “We’ve got this.”

Frustrated: Because it was our first time there, I didn’t know the protocol. There were no clear signs and no one to direct me where to go; I could sense Sam feeling my uncertainty. “Damn it, should’ve gone to Goldfish.”

Horrified: When I finally sorted out where to go, I walked over to the side of the pool with Sam and tried to hand him to the poor teacher, whose other two students were already in the water, frolicking around with no anxiety whatsoever. Then, Sam let out a blood-curdling scream so loud that I’m certain everyone underwater heard. This scream quickly morphed into an all-out hysterical cry, and I could feel the 100+ people in the pool area, the folks in the cardio room on the second floor, as well as the folks in the lobby staring through the giant windows (actually worse than Goldfish, upon reflection), at which point I was overwhelmed with

Regret: For being so selfish, for projecting my 2019 resolution on my kid, who just may not have been ready for this.

Sadness: So Sam and I sat on the ledge watching the other kids enjoy their lesson, while I was careful not to make eye contact with the other parents — there was nothing I was going to say that wouldn’t be somewhat hurtful to my son, even if he didn’t understand it. I was sad for me for thinking I could make this work, sad for Sam that he couldn’t enjoy the lesson. After the silence, Sam looked up and said, “Dad, can I still watch Transformers?”

“No, son. Remember you had to do the lesson. You didn’t even get in the water.”

I could see his little brain humming. I thought he might react with another wave of tears, but he just nudged a little closer.

“Maybe you could show your teacher how you can jump in?”

This negotiation continued for the entire 30-minute lesson, all the while I was holding out hope that he might join the other kids, if only for five minutes.

Pride: He didn’t. He did, however, in a Toddy Gurley-esque burst of speed, make a hard buttonhook cut to the right, sprint to the edge of the pool and launch himself so confidently and violently that you would’ve thought he knew how to swim. The teacher darted over to grab him as I caught the eye of the lifeguard whose omnipresent “I’m bored as hell” look became “That kid’s got balls.” The teacher helped Sam out of the water and handed him to me, at which point I said, “Sorry about that. I bet you’ve seen it all.”

“Not that,” she said.

In the car, I cried. I’m not sure if it was the sadness or the pride, or just the overwhelming love I felt for Sam. I think part of the reason I cried is because I knew this was just the beginning in a long series of experiences in which I’ll have to navigate the space between forcing Sam to do things that are difficult and letting him wait until he’s ready. Perhaps parenting is 90% that sentence and then a bunch of miscellaneous stuff.

Lesson #2 is next Saturday, 10:45 sharp. I’m beginning to think the lesson may not be his.

The Real Culprit

I’ve begun a regular practice of one-on-one lunch meetings with students. And while spending so much time in the cafeteria has changed my views on a lot of things (for example, unlike in the movies it’s quite civil in there and the food is actually decent), it has only solidified my view on something else.

One of the questions I ask my students — specifically those who are struggling — as they attempt to jam a spicy chicken sandwich in 11 minutes: What is the main reason you are not achieving what you are capable of achieving?

Not “The work is too hard.” 
Not “I have a new girlfriend.” 
Not “I’m too busy with sports.”

You guessed it: “I spend too much time on my phone.”

To be fair, ask any adult and if they’re honest, this statement would apply to them as well — the average person checks his/her phone between 50 and 200 times per day. Consider the learning, the productivity, the attention, the ability to connect with people, the deep thinking, that is lost when we are constantly jumping like Pavlov’s dogs to a tiny glowing box that probably has nothing consequential to show us.

Ironically, the founders of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other tech behemoths are vigilant about their kids and phones; one of the reasons for their success is that they were able to stay hyper-focused for long periods of time. For more on this, check out The Wait Until 8th pledge. Don’t our kids deserve the same?

A 2017 grad who is now at U of M told me he leaves his phone in his dorm room, then leaves the building to study. How many of us could do that without triggering some anxiety?

I’m not suggesting that phones are inherently evil, or that they don’t offer some fantastic benefits. They save me those annoying trips to the bank, for example. They’ve also allowed me to bow out of a dinner party without an awkward conversation.

But let’s be real about what is lost when our students, at a time when their brains are most malleable, choose Youtube, Snapchat, FaceTime, etc, when there is studying to be done and, more importantly, a living, breathing world to experience.

For a deeper dive into how screen time is affecting our kids and what you can do about it, please join us on March 6th at 6:30 for a special screening of the acclaimed film, Screenagers. Details here.

In the meantime, I’ll be making kids put away their phone at lunch so they can focus on our conversation…and not choking on that chicken sandwich.

How wrong I was: golf as a dad

adapted from the “Against the Grain” column in the August 2016 issue of Golf Chicago Magazine

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. — from Self-Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today we call this “flip-flopping.” Politicians are skewered for this. It’s how I justify being completely wrong.

Last year, just before the birth of my son, I wrote a letter to my wife pleading that she allow me to maintain my regular golf habit once I became a dad. My friends, family, and the seven people who read this column assured me I was delusional. Exactly one year later, I’m playing much less and much worse. But I wasn’t delusional; I was just naive. Here are six realities I hadn’t anticipated:

I don’t want to play as much as I used to.

It’s not that I don’t still love it; it’s just the cost is so much greater than before. A year ago I might miss Game 4 of the NBA finals to play 18, but then I could always DVR it. You can’t DVR fatherhood. Every moment passes, every milestone is reached, every smile and new discovery happens with or without you. Cliché, also true. How would I feel if I had missed Sam’s first words: “Dada” and “Garbage,” which he uses interchangeably.

I’m getting worse.

The day I published that letter, my handicap was 5.6 and dropping. Now it’s 7.9 and rising. I’ve played 18 holes five times this year, which puts me on a pace to play 10 times total — the lowest since Charles Howell III was relevant . The other day, following a gaggle of blades, shanks, and chunks — the kind that are commonplace when you don’t play — I actually mumbled: “I should quit this stupid game.” It was both a terrifying and seductive thought, to have an out from this expensive, maddening, paradoxical sport.

I struggle to stay in the moment.

The other day my buddy asked me where his ball went and I was too busy checking my nonexistent text messages to watch. I’m compelled to check my phone — a practice I’ve railed against for years — every few holes to make sure Sam hasn’t fallen off a table or swallowed a beetle. I know being present is paramount in golf, but the moment can feel trivial, even distracting, when your progeny is elsewhere.

I’m exhausted.

Another friend warned that parenthood brings a new meaning to the word “tired.”

A child’s brain and body are in perpetual motion, which means that, by default, so are yours. The energy you had to clean the house or meet your buddy for beers is usurped by this little dictator, who is relentless in his thirst for stimulation. Leftover energy is spent trying to translate his whines, grunts, and shrieks. If you’ve ever traveled to a non-English speaking country you understand the fatigue at the end of a full day trying to figure out what the hell is going on. So if this is happening for two thirds of the day, one third of the day loading clubs, unloading clubs, checking in, hitting balls, and walking for 18 holes playing a game at which you are getting worse, sounds exhausting.

I can’t manage my time.

Having children puts a different dimension on time. This year felt like three months, and a full day often feels like three hours and all you’ve done is walked around the block, picked bananas from your hair, and helped your kid open and close a garbage can 30 times. Sam wakes at 6 am and goes to bed at 7 pm. If I golf in the morning, I miss the most fun part of the day — playing with Sam and mom, eating breakfast, putting him down for a nap. Playing in the afternoon means forfeiting Team Nap Time from 2–3:30. And If I play in the evening, I miss the hardest time to be a single parent: dinner, bath, bedtime.

I feel guilty.

My friend says, “Guilt is self-inflicted” every time he drags in a five-footer, and while I don’t agree with its use in that context, he’s right. My wife is actually encouraging me to play, partly because she knows it’s fundamental to my being, but partly because every round, prorated, is costing us $200. But the deeper issue is wired in our nature. Our ancestors left the nest only for a purpose — to, say, hunt a mastodon. Chasing a white orb though a man-made field seems trivial and selfish by comparison. The same buddy whose push-slices I didn’t watch: “Man, I even feel guilty being out here and my daughter is at a friend’s house all day.” A year ago I would have scoffed, convinced his wife had eaten his manhood; this time I nodded and checked my phone again.

If Emerson is right, a year from now I’ll feel different. Maybe I’ll argue abandoning your sacred hobby will cause resentment toward your family. Or that you appreciate golf more when you play less. By then maybe every round will cost me $300 and maybe it will be worth every cent.

Maybe by then Sam will no longer be confusing me with garbage.

This is worth playing worse.