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"Word to the Wise"

Philip G. Roets wrote a twice-weekly newspaper columns for the Oskaloosa Herald, Oskaloosa, Iowa, 1982-1994. Full collection is 1300+ columns.

Sample columns: Education and Learning
Word to the Wise: Selected Newspaper Columns


Ignorance Is a Tragedy.
Ignorance comes in many forms but the fundamental meaning is a lack; something is missing. The missing element is knowledge.

Nescience is lack of knowledge caused by lack of experience, years or opportunity. Age, experience, or opportunity will remove nescience. Illiteracy is the inability to read the written word. The ability to read is a skill that must be learned. It takes a lot of effort and practice.

Superficiality is lack of knowledge because of lack of interest, effort, time or ability. Naivete is lack of knowledge of the significance of what is said or read. Finally, there are prejudice and bias. Prejudice is a closed mind; bias is a slanted mind. In either case, knowledge is missing or imperfect because of a mind-set.

Deliberate ignorance is a tragedy because the greatest natural resource, a human mind, is wasted.

Education for the Taking.
Each year, as you drive around the country you see signs: “Apples, strawberries, cherries. Pick your Own. Pick on Shares.” Car after car comes flocking in, each filled with families. People really want to take advantage of this wonderful way to get fresh fruit, berries and vegetables for a little work.

Now, drive across the country nine months out of every year and look closely at the buildings marked “School.” On the front should be a sign: “Education: For the Taking. Gather on Shares.”

Free education? For the people entering the building, yes! The facilities are paid for by interested adults, past and present. Like the strawberry patches, the facilities for education are waiting. The strawberries do not jump off the vines into the containers, nor does education leap off the pages into the child’s mind. It calls for bending, stretching and picking. Education is free for the sharing but the learner has to make the effort. Education is in direct ratio to effort.

Children: Unfolded, Not Molded.
Education is a process - not a self-existent form into which children step and are molded. Like soft putty, children are susceptible to impressions but they are individual personalities to be unfolded.

This unfolding, this education, starts long before the child enters school, and continues long after the diploma is signed. The person is born with potential. Every person, place, thing, and action is part of this unfolding. Sensations, perceptions, feelings, images, memories, ideas: all are recorded and recalled in the marvelous inner-workings of the human knowledge process. Every new thread of knowledge that is presented is attached to something already present. Education, to be successful, must be a continuous, live uniting of the new with the known.

The end result can be breathtaking or disastrous. If this continuous thread is interspersed with prejudice, hatred, disappointment, and frustration, education will be a total failure. The person will have been molded into a misfit instead of unfolded into the real self.

Enjoy Studying!
How often we hear “I hate school! I hate to study! I hate to read!” The obvious question is why. The first sources investigated and blamed are teacher and parent. How did they fail this child? But this is a false start.

The person who doesn't like to study or read is a person whose imagination is locked, out of gear. Imagination is the faculty that makes all thinking and learning creative, progressive, and enjoyable. The mind deals in abstractions and essences. The mind is a tireless worker but it cannot add zest or fun to its work.

Imagination is the key to enjoyment. Other people can entertain you for a while. Lasting enjoyment and deep personal thrill come only from you. Your imagination has to select details, color the image, make the thought so appealing that you want to study, to delight in reading, and to enjoy school. Unless you train your imagination, all of life becomes a bore.

Philosophers Ask Why.
The initials Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) behind your name is an achievement. It means you pursued to perfection what you did naturally as a child: you asked the question “ why.” But getting that Ph.D. was not easy.

Everyone starts out in life with curiosity and asking unlimited “whys.” The natural talent is easily fulfilled as long as there is a teacher or a book with a ready supply of answers to all these ‘whys”. The time comes when that teacher or that book is not around and then the questioner is on his own. He has to do the looking and the research. He has to build on the known fact and arrive at his own opinions and conclusions and establish them as facts. The way is difficult and uncharted. Hypothesis after hypothesis must be examined just to make sure that is not the answer.

I like to give the abbreviation another meaning. Ph.D. would mean “Phenomenal Development” of the natural tendency to ask “Why?”

Yes, You Will Fail.
Just add water and stir. Put the whole package in the microwave and set the timer for 6 minutes. Take it out and serve. You can't miss! Just buy this keyboard, follow directions, and you will be playing for crowds - an accomplished pianist! Turn on a tape and learn languages while you sleep. You will wake up talking French or Chinese! You name it and there is a “no failure, foolproof” way to do it or find it.

More and more, we are adopting the philosophy that failure is bad and you should keep it completely out of your life. More and more, we become a nation who can't accept a failure or a loss. It's nice to succeed, but some of the greatest successes came because there was a failure. Penicillin, the first of the miracle-drugs, came about because something else failed.

Most children learn to walk by repeated failure and success. Would it be better to make them sit still until they can stand up and walk without falling? Would they ever learn to walk? Would it be better to give them some plan for instant success? Failures will come but look through and learn what they teach for the next step to success.

Graduation: The End-Product?
Some people have advised that the standards of measurement used in a factory be applied to the end-product of education, the student. Whoa up for just a second. There is one major difference that has not been considered. These students did not come as inert matter but as people with or without motives to learn. The teacher can be giving all and not one bit of it is reaching the student because the internal motivation is lacking. Motives are an internal dynamic force produced by the person and no one can supply for the lack of motives.

Excellence in education is a marvelous idea. Excellence in education depends on students who cooperate with teachers who work under an administration who lead in harmony with a school board who is perceptive in response to a public that is interested governed by a legislature who does its homework. Graduation Day presents the end-product of education effected by the collaboration of all these groups. If one group fails the others, there is no possibility of education or excellence in education.

The Power of Words.
One of the first lessons learned in General Science is the power of a sunbeam channeled through a magnifying glass and concentrated on one spot. The concentrated sunbeam can burn into wood or other combustible material. When this power is intensified it can bring about new effects.

Words have a similar quality. Words rolled out haphazardly have little effect, are boring and will scarcely be heard. But if the speaker concentrates on the exact word for the occasion, words can take on a dynamic force. The human mind is the magnifying glass. Words express ideas. But when words are carefully chosen, they not only express ideas, they get results.

For example, instead of “he said”, you could say “he declared, he affirmed, he stated, he mentioned or he whined.” Do you see what a different picture you get of the person talking with each of these words.? This is the power of well-chosen words that can influence minds.

Basic Skills of the Worker.
The basic skills needed by the ordinary worker include:

1. LEARNING TO LEARN: Effective learning in any situation;

2. READING: Improve reading comprehension because most workers will spend up two hours a day reading charts, graphs, forms, manuals, computer screens;

3. WRITING: Writing is still the primary means of contact between employers and employees, salespeople and customers;

4. COMPUTING: Strengthen math skills to work on inventories, make reports, do measurements;

5. LISTENING: Pay attention to people so that you understand not only the words, but the emotional context, the detailed directions;

6. SPEAKING: Respond appropriately to suppliers, customers, co-workers and use proper inflection, correct language, and body language.

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