Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is it Initiative, Really?

I've been presenting a Monday Ponderance at assemblies since the beginning of last school year. Every once in awhile a student has quoted it or commented that they've remembered it in some similiar situation. Yesterday, though, I began an e-mail exchange with a 7th grade student who took the initiative to delve deeper into the meaning of the story. Below you'll see our exchange and I think you'll agree that this is the point of it all - the Honor Code, the discussions, the case studies, all of it - for conversations and thinking like this.

(Editor's Note: The story has been edited for text-speak, informal speech, and mechanical errors only)

Student: Dear Mr. Skeen, What does iniative (sic) mean?


Student: It does not have your annoyingly big word in the dictionary.

Skeen: You spelled it incorrectly: initiative. Now,

Student: Oh .... Personally, I don't think that initiative works with the story.

Skeen: An introductory act or step; leading action. The man wanted a job digging ditches. The job description said he needed experience, and he didn't have any. So, on his own, as "an introductory step," he began to dig trenches to practice and gain experience. You know, if you formalized your insight into an analysis of the story and the application of initiative, you could comment on my blog... (Editor's Note: This student would be the second to do so in two years...hint, hint)

Student: But isn't experience very different from an introductory step? Experience is more like a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something ( because I cite my sources ALL the time?)that fits the story. But it's not really a synonym of initiative so that doesn't work with the story.

Skeen: You're right, experience is not a synonym for initiative. The goal of the man was to gain experience. He couldn't gain experience in trench digging without doing it. So he took the initiative, the first step, to start a trench to gain that experience.

Student: But you are saying that he took initiative, which he did but he did not get experience so wouldn't it really be a waste? The man knows when they say experience, they mean real experience, not digging a trench in the woods. So, wouldn't it all be for nothing?

Skeen: The job was for a trench digger, so he went to dig a ditch in a tough plot of land. What better experience than choosing to dig a long ditch in a tough land? Why is this not appropriate experience for the job he was seeking?

Student: It doesn't work because when they asked for experience, they meant REAL experience, like already having a job in trench digging, not what he was doing. The man would sorta be lying to the people if he said he had experience, and if they gave him the job, that would be cheating.

Skeen: So you mean the act of digging a trench is insufficient experience? Is there more to the job of trench digger? If so, what skills does he need to be able to check off the experience box? I don't think he has cheated anyone by saying he has experience. He could be explicit in how he gained that experience, but I don't think that is lying.

Student: So, the thing that you said that you didn't think he was cheating, well that's an opinion and has no real content in an argument like this one. I think that real experience would be someone who was actually hired for a job as a trench digger. Trench diggers would need other qualifications, like getting along with people (since he probably wouldn't be digging a whole trench alone) and being able to work machinery that the company had (since he was using only a shovel). Because, if he couldn't work the machinery he could break it, or hurt himself and others. If he couldn't get along with people than digging the trench would take longer than it needed to.

Skeen: First, my statement is not an opinion but a fact based on the principle that to lie means not providing the truth to someone who is entitled to know it. The trench-business owner wanted experience. He was not explicit in what kind of experience. he is entitled to know if the man has experience and the man provided the truth that he does. OK, if we set aside the argument about whether going out and digging a trench is SUFFICIENT experience (you have to concede that digging a ditch is, in fact, experience even if it is not enough in your opinion) and get back to considering the point of whether his going out on his own and idgging a trench can be considered initiative. I believe it does decause it is an act he took on his own to better himself.

Student: But, you say that to lie means not to provide the truth to someone who is entitled to it. But the man who is hiring is completely entitled to the entire truth or else he may hire the man under false assumptions. Yes, the act he does may better himself, but it is not the BEST way to take initiative to get the job because it may not get him the job. Therefore, a better form of initiative would be to get a job at a trench digging site, perhaps not digging it but at least seeing how it was done.

Skeen: And we find ourselves back to the type of experience argument. However, in your original e-mail you were not satisfied the act of trench digging was initiative at all. Now you concede that it is, yet not the best. I think this is a different point and could be debated for a long time.....I hope you had fun with this exercise, because I did.

Student: It could be debated forever because there is no final answer, really. I do agree trench digging would give him experience, but not enough to apply for the job. This exercise is fun, we should have debates in actual classes.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Skeen, this is so funny! It's just like the debates we did in
    4th grade about that book we read, Shiloh!