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Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Most Valuable Mental Habit

Years ago, in college, as my mind was being stretched and shaped by a few key professors, I remember being in conversation with Dr. Wickersham one day. I do not remember specifically what we were talking about, but I finally thought I had put together a solid and intelligent point, and as soon as I "had my footing" in the conversation, Wickersham took the whole thing to another level, examining what we were discussing from a larger perspective. He had cultivated the habit of seeing particular things as specific examples of a larger generalizable order. This habit, I believe, is the most valuable intellectual habit one can acquire in school. I have believed this since that conversation, and my experience as a teacher has only confirmed my original belief.

The ability to generalize and see something as part of a larger structure, as part of a pattern, not just an isolated incident, is especially important in math (the subject I teach). I am constantly trying to get my students to see the larger "class" of problems that a specific problem belongs to, because once we learn to solve a few specific examples, we can work out a general solution for all problems of that type. The quadratic equation is a good example of this. There are many variations on the theme of quadratics (2nd degree equations), and many ways to solve certain kinds of quadratics, but the quadratic equation is the general solution to all quadratics.

Some students seem naturally good at this skill, whether because of their environment, up-bringing, or personality. Other students have tremendous difficulty with this, even after it has been repeatedly demonstrated and highlighted. What interests me is: what is the most effective way to teach this concept and to get students to apply it on their own? If anyone has any thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments.

Also, I apologize for my absence recently; school has been very busy! Thanks to the reader who posted the nice comment about looking forward to my next post! It's always nice to know I'm not shouting into the wind.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

iNACOL 2013

I have just finished attending my first iNACOL conference. Imagine a group of educators gathering with a common dream to improve educational experiences for students. One of the things that most impressed me with this conference was that despite the fact that everyone at the conference was interested in using technology in their classrooms, that was not the focus. Everything was focused on students, and improving education for them. I was awed and inspired and challenged by the presenters and my fellow conference attendees.

Here are a sampling of the "big ideas" I took away from my first iNACOL:

We are striving to prepare an ever more diverse population of students for an increasingly challenging and rapidly changing future. The problems we face in modernity are more complex than those of the past, and today's students need to be tomorrow's leaders and problem solvers. We have a duty to prepare students to meet their future with confidence, capacity, and competency. Dewey said it best: ""

As educators, we need to develop a critical understanding of how the brain works, and specifically how the brain learns (cognitive science), so that we can apply that knowledge in our classrooms to solve problems.

We cannot rely on technology to solve our educational problems. We need brain research-based solutions that are student centered. Technology can be used as a tool to implement our solutions and scale them, but the technology itself will never solve our problems.

We must become design experts, understanding how to engage students in relevant issues, training them to think critically, analytically, quantitatively, qualitatively, globally, locally, etc. Everything we do should start with the student experience, and we should build out from there.

We need to train students to solve problems that are based in the real world.

We need to give students choice in what they learn, how they learn it, and when they learn it. We need to empower students to drive their own personalized education and hold them to high standards when demonstrating their mastery of material.

Some traits of successful persons in the future will be: adaptability, creativity, learn from mistakes, perseverance, the ability to understand complex systems without being reductionist, growth oriented, curious, able to make connections...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Arts and Sciences in Education

The Washington Post recently posed this on its website (link here):

Humanities majors: Make your case

The demand for employees skilled in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields continues to rise, as does the cost of education. So, does the United States need more humanities majors? Or should students pass on the humanities in favor of STEM degrees? And, if they do, will it help the United States maintain an innovation edge? Guest writers have made the “yes” and “no” case both on TV and with us here. Now, it’s your turn. Do we need more humanities majors? Cast your vote, and then defend it in the comments below.

YES: We need more humanities majors
NO: We don’t need more humanities majors

Begin Commentary:

There has been a lot of ink in the press lately about the liberal arts and their "value" (a word which sometimes obscures more than it reveals). The above poll from the Washington Post is just the most recent example. In this post I'd like to suggest that the question above is not framed properly. It pits "STEM" fields against the "humanities". This, to me, is a false dichotomy. I have a BA in mathematics, and then went back to school to pursue post BA education in classical languages (Greek and Latin). I did both, because both enriched me as a person. Both gave me valid and useful perspectives and tools. Both taught me to think about things in new ways. Both challenged me to stretch my understanding of myself, our world, and contemporary issues.

I would like to humbly suggest that any life that is deprived of either science and math OR the humanities (art, music, history, literature, language study, etc.) is incomplete. And that an individual's education should not be about "getting a job" or "maintaining an innovation edge", but about improving one's self. Education isn't a means to a goal; it is the goal. (Thank you Andrew Abbott, for that insight!)

Furthermore, I would suggest that both the arts and the sciences achieve their greatest significance when they learn from one another. The study of science and mathematics can bring new insight to the fields traditionally assigned to the humanities, and the humanities can inform science and mathematics. I believe the world might be a better place if a few more scientists read a little more Kurt Vonnegut and Plato, and a few more literature majors took the time to learn Calculus and Physics.

In the words of Alfred North Whitehead, "You cannot divide the seamless cloak of knowledge." And to borrow from Aaron Sorkin's dialogue in "The West Wing" (in the episode "Gone Quiet"), "There is a connection between progress of a society and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo Da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was the age of Shakespeare."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

John of Salisbury

My favorite post-classical educational philosopher is John of Salisbury. He was a 12th century English scholar and statesman. John was the secretary of two successive archbishops of Canterbury (Theobald and Becket), and a noted author. He wrote a biography of Becket, and he wrote two more famous works: one on politics, Policraticus, and one on education, Metalogicon.

John was a staunch defender of the artes liberales (the liberal arts, or the arts which have the power to free the human soul). One of my favorite quotes from the Metalogicon is:

The liberal arts are said to have become so efficacious among our ancestors, who studied them diligently, that they enabled them to comprehend everything they read, elevated their understanding to all things, and empowered them to cut through the knots of all problems possible of solution.

This, to me, is the true measure of a great education. Those who are truly educated have the tools to analyze and acquire new information and understanding. A strong liberal arts background equips one with those tools.

For those who are regular readers, I've started reading the collected works of Thomas Jefferson. So expect quotes and thoughts from one of my favorite Americans to be coming soon!

Keep reading!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Awesome Short-Short Story...

I was listening to RadioLab today while jogging, and I heard Jenny Hollowell read her short-short story "A History of Everything, Including You." It was amazing! I'm embedding the audio here for you to hear (no pun intended). It happens toward the beginning. It's worth 5 minutes!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Player Piano XXI

"'To a better world,' he started to say, but he cut the toast short, thinking of the people of Ilium, already eager to recreate the same old nightmare. he shrugged. 'To the record,' he said, and smashed the empty bottle on a rock." (340)


At the end of the book, there is a great revolt among the "common people" in Ilium, and they destroy all kinds of machines in their outrage. The government cordons off the whole section. But within a few days, there are people taking the smashed pieces of technology and putting them together in new ways and being "awed" by the technology just as they were before. Here I think Vonnegut speaks to the power of technology to "awe" us, to astound us even. It's more of a feeling than a thought. If you've never felt this awe, I encourage you to watch some of the videos of the testing of the Trinity bomb (the first atom bomb); or watch an Apple keynote from a WWDC. Apple does a wonderful job of generating this feeling of "Wow..." when you watch them display their products.

But for all the amazement that we instinctively feel toward these new technologies, I think we need to cultivate a healthy skepticism as well. A sampling of the questions that are worth considering when it comes to new technology: Who will benefit from this "advancement"? How will this new technology enable humans to be better humans? How will this new technology affect me (my behavior, my cognition, my emotion, etc.) and other humans? Is this new technology environmentally sound (does it harm the planet's ecosystems)? Is this new technology necessary? Does it do more than just distract me?

Be a gadfly. Ask tough questions. Socrates said that humans ought not to live unexamined lives. It seems to me that as a culture, as a human race, we've lost that truth. Let's take-up the banner once again to challenge ourselves and each other to live the examined life, rather than blithely going along with whatever corporations and governments tell us.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Player Piano XX

"The main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings, not to serve as appendages to machines, institutions, and systems." (315)

"We'll rediscover the two greatest wonders of the world, the human mind and hand." (336)


A double dose today. I think these two snippets do a nice job of summing up the central themes of Vonnegut's Player Piano. I have one more quote that I'll drop tomorrow sometime.

As an educator, I'm thinking to myself that Vonnegut's Player Piano holds a lot of challenging assertions, and that despite having been written in 1952, it speaks to our modern condition (which is the true test of a "great work"; it's why we still read the Iliad and Dante's Inferno). Now would seem a good time to re-introduce this classic American novel into our classrooms. We need more people asking critical questions of our "systems" (corporations and governments); we need more Pauls in our world.

Our very "progress" oriented and technologically oriented 21st century United States, has, I believe, put the cart before the horse. Instead of making decisions based on what's best for humans, we're doing what's best for the sake of efficiency (economic or otherwise), and we're driving a technological agenda without regard for how it's affecting human beings. If you want a good synopsis of the early findings on the result of prolonged interaction with technology on the human brain, read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Player Piano XIX

"Machines and organization and pursuit of efficiency have robbed the American people of liberty and the pursuit of happiness." (314)


Vonnegut wrote that in 1952. It is worth our time, in 2013, to consider the question: "Has the pursuit of efficiency robbed the American people of liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" I don't think we could unequivocally affirm this idea. But certainly the drive for efficiency in the realm of finance and banking has created a dangerous system that is having negative impacts upon the lives of many people through the recession we've been dealing with for the last five years.

In what ways do our current culture, economy, and government, put efficiency and organization as higher priorities than the needs of the people?

While I was reading Player Piano, the main theme seemed to revolve around the effect of technology on the lives of human beings. I still think this is true, but as I reflect upon the critical quotes I pulled out of the book and post them here on this blog, I think Vonnegut's text is a call to reflection on the proper place of technology in a civilization. The text now seems to me to be summoning us to ask critical questions about who is running "the show", and whose best interests do they have in mind? Cui bono?

Paul (the protagonist), and Vonnegut by extension, is not really anti-technology. He's pro-human, and he's upset that humans have subjugated themselves (their needs, instincts, and gifts) to the realm of technology and machines. In the "fictional" world of Player Piano, decisions are being made based on what's best for "progress" and for the advance of "technology" rather than what's best for people. This is a central focus I think the book explores, and calls each of us to explore.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Player Piano XVIII

"You perhaps disagree with the antique and vain notion of Man's being a creation of God. But I find it a far more defensible belief than the one implicit in intemperate faith in lawless technological progress--namely, that man is on earth to create more durable and efficient images of himself, and, hence, to eliminate any justification at all for his own continued existence." (302-03)


One of the great gifts of philosophy is that it always brings us back to the bedrock questions of humanity: Why am I (or humanity if you prefer) here? What is the purpose of my existence and how can I best achieve this purpose? What is the "good" life? How does one cultivate virtue and happiness? Yay for philosophy! Do we exist to create fancier machines? I think not.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Piano Player XVII

"Without regard for the wishes of men, any machines or techniques or forms of organization that can economically replace men do replace men. Replacement is not necessarily bad, but to do it without regard for the wishes of men is lawlessness. Without regard for the changes in human life patterns that may result, new machines, new forms of organization, new ways of increasing efficiency, are constantly being introduced. To do this without regard for the effects on life patterns is lawlessness." (301-02)


Vonnegut here makes an interesting point that has not been taken into consideration in the 60 years since he wrote Player Piano. Our culture's "method" for adopting new technology over the past 150 years has been to ask: can we do it? If the answer was yes, then we said, "How can we do it in a way that saves money?" And then we did it. 

Can we make an internal combustion engine? Yes. How will it save us money? Engines can be put to work doing the work of hundreds of thousands of employees. You have to pay employees; you don't have to pay machines. No one asked the employees whether this was what they wanted. Please don't misunderstand me: the internal combustion engine has had a profound impact on our development as a society, and has had positive effects. But it has had some lousy effects too (the exhaust that planes and auto-mobiles put into the atmosphere alone is a staggering thought, not to mention the health effects those chemicals will have on our children's children's children...). 

My point is that when confronted with new technology, no one stops and says: what are the pros and cons of this? Who will it affect? Can we alter it somehow to limit the downside? If the upside of a new technology is increased profit for a company, and the downside is all on the government, society, or individual, should we say to the company, "No, you cannot make this technology, because your device adversely affects people."?

This raises an interesting question: do companies have obligations to their employees (their nation/culture? their world?) beyond those outlined in the employment contract? Should a company consider how new policies, practices, "advancements", machines, tools, software, etc. will impact its employees (or their nation, world, or humanity?) before adopting them?

The point here is that unfettered "development" of new technologies or "advancements" without proper oversight, control, consideration, and questioning is not a good thing. As a society, we need a well-formed conscience that puts human beings first, ahead of machines, corporations, efficiency, and profit.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Player Piano XVI

"Man has survived Armageddon in order to enter the Eden of eternal peace, only to discover that everything he had looked forward to enjoying there, pride, dignity, self-respect, work worth doing, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption." (301)


I sometimes wonder if we aren't headed down a path that leads to this conclusion. So often, especially as an educator, I hear people disparage manual labor. But I think a healthy balance of hard work with intellectual activity is one way to find fulfillment. As much as I complain about doing yard work, I always feel a deep satisfaction after spending a day in the yard and seeing the beauty that my hard work accomplished.

I think the best outcome of technological progress would be if we, as a human race, could leverage technology for our mutual benefit, to raise up the poorest people in the world, and to eliminate the need for us to do unpleasant tasks. This could enable us to reconnect with a simpler way of life; a way of life that shows more respect for our planet and our fellow humans. If every human could pursue a life course that s/he wanted and allowed her/him activate her/his greatest potential, we could truly enter the "Eden of eternal peace" Vonnegut writes about.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Empathy and Technology

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the effect of technology on our values (inspired by a Vonnegut quote). Today, I found this article in the New York Times about empathy and how technology can connect and distance us from human interaction at the same time. Worth checking out!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Player Piano XV

"People are finding that, because of the way the machines are changing the world, more and more of their old values don't apply any more. People have no choice but to become second-rate machines themselves, or wards of the machines." (290)


In the United States, at least, the past century has seen dramatic technological "progress", and, simultaneously, we've seen a seismic shift in values. The question is: has the development of new technologies been a driver for shifting cultural values? Just because two things happen at the same time does not necessarily mean that one causes the other.

For example, you could ask what effect e-mail has had on hand-written letters. Obviously people write fewer hand-written letters or notes because of the advent of e-mail. But that's not necessarily a "value". "Communication" seems to be a higher priority today than it was decades ago, because technology has given people greater mobility. No longer are families necessarily concentrated in proximate geography. Separation of space has led to ever more elaborate means of communication (telegraph, telephone, email, text message, video-phone, etc.); but one could reasonably question of the quality of newer modes of communication. Obviously you cannot express in a single tweet what you would have written in a letter 50 years ago; but that's not the purpose of Twitter. You could turn that letter into an e-mail without losing much. But I will say that "communication" seems to be growing more telegraphic (no pun intended) with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. When was the last time you sent or received a lengthy e-mail that contained significant personal information? I would argue that while we have more means of communicating at our disposal than we did 15-20 years ago, the general quality of our communication has decreased in recent years. The "value" seems to be on quantity, not quality.

Has technology driven this shift (if you agree with my assessment in the previous paragraph)? Driven is a strong word, but I think we can say that technology has contributed to this shift. Technology has certainly enabled this shift. It's easy, today, to "feel connected" to people through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., but I suspect that much of the "connection" that we feel is veneer, and a thin one at that. Stars, retweets, likes, and inane (and often impersonal) comments are no substitute for long, deep, consistent conversations about life's enduring questions.

It is worth noting that Nietzsche bought a typewriter when his vision began to fail toward the end of his life, and within a couple months of using it to compose instead of writing long-hand, he noted a change in the style of his writing. He felt that the technology of the typewriter altered the way he composed. Composition style isn't necessarily a "value" either, but I think there's good evidence that technological changes are impacting us at a micro and macro level as humans.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Piano Player XIV

The previous post began a brief exploration of Vonnegut's criticisms of collegiate sports in Player Piano, and the next few quotes all come from the same scene. If you missed it, I would recommend going back and re-reading the previous post. This scene takes place in chapter 28.

As Roseberry tries to talk Buck Young into quitting school to join the football team, an engineer from the Ithica works, Harrison, who worked with Paul, intervenes. He says to Young...

"Here you are at a crossroads, my boy. You're lucky. Not many crossroads left for people. Nothing but one-way streets with cliffs on both sides." (279)

The "progress" of their society has taken away most of the options for people. Most people's fortunes and futures are pigeon-holed as they take various aptitude tests and either become part of the elite "engineers and managers" of society, or they join the army or the "reeks and wrecks" (a civilian workforce). And Harrison goes on to suggest this to Buck Young...

"'If you are good,' he said, 'and if you are thoughtful, a fractured pelvis on the gridiron will pain you less than a life of engineering and management. In that life, believe me, the thoughtful, the sensitive, those who can recognize the ridiculous, die a thousand deaths.'" (279)

Finally, Harrison says...

"Go out and make your money on the gridiron, with blood and sweat and sinew. There's honor and glory in that--a little, anyway--and you'll never hate yourself." (280)

This chapter gives us more insight into how the "progress" of technology in this fictional society has damaged the opportunities for people and how it has sucked the life and soul out of those who "manage" the "progress". Harrison, a man who can certainly "recognize the ridiculous", has been sapped dry by the "system".

How many crossroads do people have today? Are we, as a society, making more paths for people to be successful or are we cutting off pathways to success? Is a society responsible for helping its citizens be successful? Is society better if more of its citizens achieve some measure of success? How can society open up more paths to success for individuals?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Player Piano XIII

Introduction: The next few quotes from Player Piano are from what I think is a really pivotal scene. There's a bright young man, Buck Young, studying at Cornell to be an engineer/manager, which would ensure him a future among the muck-a-mucks in the administration of the country as he rose through the ranks. But it turns out that Young is also a great football player. So there is this great scene in a bar, in which Cornell's football coach, Roseberry, tries to convince Young to play for him. The twist is that in Vonnegut's fictional society, students who play football are not allowed to go to school!

It seems that Vonnegut here is making fun of universities and the old stereotypes of "students" recruited to universities for their football-playing abilities, who then never attended a single class, but somehow managed to graduate anyway. In the world in Player Piano, the football coach, Roseberry, has a huge budget, a beautiful office, and his team brings lots of money into the university, both in donations and in ticket sales. While Roseberry is trying to persuade Young to leave school and join the football team, Young asks if he couldn't do both, because he really doesn't want to give up school. Roseberry's reply is classic:

"You can't play college football, and go to school. They tried that once, and you know what a silly mess that was." (278)

So, the next few quotes are going to come from this scene in which Vonnegut takes a healthy poke at what he saw in 1952 as some of the issues in collegiate athletics. The sad part is, with all of the scandals in collegiate athletics we've seen in the last few years, I think this section of his book is as meaningful now as it was when he wrote it. Perhaps if a few more athletic directors and university presidents read Vonnegut, we would learn some lessons and improve.

Monday, May 27, 2013

School and Education

High school, it seems, has changed. It has become competitive. Young men and women — 13 to 18 years old — must work more or less tirelessly to ensure their spot at a college deemed worthy to them and their families. So rather than living their adolescent lives — lives brimming with desires and vitality, with vim, vigor, and brewing lust — these kids are working at old age homes, cramming for tests, popping Adderall just to make the literal and proverbial grade. And for what? So they can go to a school that puts them in debt for the rest of their lives. School has become a great vehicle of capitalism: it quashes the revolution implicit in adolescence while simultaneously fomenting perpetual indebtedness.” (Daniel Coffeen)


I'll get back to Vonnegut and Player Piano soon, but I wanted to share this quote I found online. I don't necessarily agree with everything in the quote, but I think the author has a point that in developing an educational system for teenagers, we've lost some of what makes this time of life unique and enjoyable. I particularly like his point at the end. Real education should challenge students to think and live outside the constraints of the previous generation. It should push us into new frontiers and experiences to enrich and deepen our understanding of the human experience. Unfortunately, I think, too often, we get caught up in the informational side of education and forget the formative side of it. Education should impact who we are throughout our lives; it should be about more than just memorizing information for an exam (something I think about a lot this time of year with exams around the corner or just behind us).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Blended Learning Video!

In a previous post I mentioned my school's integration of "blended learning" and talked a little about why I'm excited about this opportunity. I decided to make a brief video explaining what blended learning is and what some of its advantages are. Check it out!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Player Piano XII

"Paul wondered at what thorough believers in mechanization most Americans were, even when their lives had been badly damaged by mechanization." (253)


This is an interesting thesis to play around with. There does seem to be a bit of a "wow" factor with most people and technology. The "wow" factor certainly dissipates as time passes (e.g. I remember how amazing it was when tablet computers first came out and we could control things just by touching them, but now the idea of manipulating computers with touch commands seems second nature.), but there is a degree to which, in the US at least, we are "wowed" by the bells and whistles of technology (mechanization in Vonnegut's language). Vonnegut's thesis goes beyond being "wowed", to suggest that  Americans are "believers in mechanization", by which he means the power of technology to improve the quality of life and solve a variety of problems. I think there is a certain unstated belief among many Americans that we are on a path of "progress", and that this progress will continue unbounded and will impact everyone equally. I think in some of the "occupy" movements, there were hints of disillusionment, but I think that represented a small part of the country.

The second part of Vonnegut's thesis is that mechanization has "damaged" American's lives. This is one of the repeated themes of Player Piano. Vonnegut is trying to demonstrate how "mechanization" has devalued culture by removing the creativity from art, and how it has taken productive labor away from workers, who are left to stew in menial jobs or to sit at the bar wasting away. There is some truth here: the tractor allowed farms to be run on fewer people (i.e. put people out of jobs); the factory (the epitome of mechanization in the workplace) introduced horrific labor practices; the application of mechanization and factor principles to food production and cattle raising has given us some of the least healthy food in the history of US agriculture (although we have way more of this unhealthy food). Mechanization has also allowed us to sequence the genome, land on the Moon, cure diseases, produce enough food to save countries experiencing famines, etc. So I don't mean to say that technology/progress/mechanization is evil. But it has not always produced what's best from a human standpoint.

Ultimately, however, we can't turn back the clock. We can't undo our mechanized world. The best we can do is start where we are, and try to figure out how to move forward in the way that's best for everyone and that is the most humane.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Piano Player XI

"Anyone that competes with slaves, becomes a slave." (281)


This reminds me of a quote from Suli Breaks (follow him on Twitter @sulibreaks or visit his YouTube site here; he has lots of great videos worth viewing; his website is, the well known British poet, who said, "Even if you win the rat race, you're still just a rat."

When I look around, I see many people striving to be the best at what they do, and I think improvement and growth are good things. But what are you striving to be better at? The mechanics in the Manhattan Project strove to be the best bomb makers in the world, and they succeeded to a degree that would change the world forever. Bernie Madoff strove to be the best swindler that he could be, and succeeded in ruining the lives of many people in the process. What are you striving for?

I believe that we're put here on Earth to better ourselves and our communities. I believe that we need to strive for self-improvement, but that our self improvement should never come at the detriment of our communities, and that we should watch carefully what race we run, because to win the rat race gives us no honor. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Player Piano X

"And my husband says somebody's just got to be maladjusted, that somebody's got to be uncomfortable enough to wonder where people are, where they're going, and why they're going there. That was the trouble with his book. It raised those questions and was rejected." (245)


At this point in the book, there's a woman who is talking about her husband, who is an author. He had his manuscript rejected by the national publishing company (the only publishing company in this fictional world), and it's basically because his book challenged the status quo and for challenging people to think critically about their culture. There's this ancient idea of the societal "gadfly" as Socrates called himself: this individual who questions and challenges the group currently in power and the cultural status quo. That's exactly what the government in "Player Piano" doesn't want to happen. They don't want people to question progress, technology, mechanization, or any of the developments their organization has brought about. They just want people to mindlessly do their work.

I think this is a perennial problem with groups in power: they don't want anything to change that might cause them to lose their power. Thus, they don't want people to consider new possibilities or think about "where they're going, and why they're going there", as Vonnegut wrote.

I think this kind of loyal dissent is at the heart of what makes democracy work. Without individuals who stand outside the power base and question and prod and challenge, we can never grow. As Vonnegut wrote in an early quote, only those on the edge see the undreamed of possibilities.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Player Piano IX

"It was as though a navigator, in order to free his mind of worries, had erased all the reefs from his maps." (221)


I liked this quote, because the main character was thinking about how people ignored rather glaring "warning signs" that not everything was alright. He was pointing out that this was as ridiculous as a navigator erasing the reefs from his map to "free his mind of worries", which is, of course, silly, because the reefs are still there whether you know about them or not.

At school, we're planning for some big transitions in the near future, and one of the things we're focusing on is finding the "reefs", so that we can navigate around them. I think rather than ignoring the "reefs" in life, we need to pay attention to them, and learn how to get around them. Everyone hits rocky patches in life (work, home life, personal life, spiritual life, etc.), but the trick is to look for the things that will sink you and to try to work around them.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Player Piano VIII

“Used to be there was a lot of damn fool things a dumb bastard could do to be great, but the machines fixed that. You know, used to be you could go to sea on a big clipper ship or a fishing ship and be a big hero in a storm. Or maybe you could be a pioneer and go out west and lead the people and make trails and chase away Indians and all that. Or you could be a cowboy, or all kinds of dangerous things.....Now the machines take all the dangerous jobs, and the dumb bastards just get tucked away in big bunches of prefabs that look like the end of a game of Monopoly, or in barracks...” (p. 207)


This passage caught my attention in the book, because there are ways in which the world seems more "tame" or less "adventurous" than it used to. Part of that is simply the march of time. We explored the west and tamed the frontier by settling it. Eventually we ran out of land. There are a couple really good books about the psychological impact of wilderness and frontiers if you're more interested in that subject: Nash's "Wilderness and the American Mind" and Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". But Vonnegut's point here seems to be that technology and "progress" removed opportunities for people to feel "on the edge" or as though they were interacting with something larger than themselves that had purpose and meaning; something they were truly a part of, not just present within; something, dare I say the word, *dangerous*.

It has always seemed to me that a little danger is a healthy thing. I used to go backpacking in Colorado in the summers, and while we took precautions and thought about safety, no such endeavor is ever without an element of danger. But the danger was part of what made the trip worth doing! It was exciting to be in the back country for days. And I was there once when something went terribly wrong, and a member of our party almost died. That would have been tragic, and fortunately two members of our party hiked out and got search and rescue to fly a helicopter in at first light and med-evac the woman out to save her; she's fine. But the reality is, we were in a dangerous place, and if it hadn't been for that element of danger, then we might as well have gone for a walk in our neighborhood park.

I think our culture has tried to strip away risk and danger, and I don't think that it has served us well as a country. I think our entire country and culture ethos was founded on risk taking and embracing an element of danger: pilgrims and settlers who sailed across the Atlantic under adverse conditions to settle in an unknown land; pioneers who went West into an untamed wilderness full of predators and possibilities; revolutionaries who stood their ground and fought a war to be free, because they valued their freedom so highly that they were willing to give their lives for it. Our own Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

So, my message for the something dangerous! Live a little!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blended Learning

Being an educator, I try to stay abreast of current educational trends. The rise of online learning opportunities over the past few years has been vertiginous (MOOCs, iTunesU, The Great Courses, nearly every university, and most states offer an online option for high school public students). At my own school, we have launched an online branch of our school, which makes us one of the first Catholic schools to delve into the world of online learning. I have been impressed (and sometimes not impressed) to varying degrees with the options I've seen. But there is a third way...

Blended learning takes the best of what online learning has to offer and combines it with the best of what human classroom teachers have to offer. In blended learning, students take classes on a computer in the context of a brick-and-mortar school with other students, sports, electives, clubs, theater, etc. And then teachers pull students out in small groups (or one-on-one) to introduce new concepts, remediate learning problems, extend coursework into real world application projects, and challenge students with enrichment.

Some of my colleagues and I have been in Michigan for the past two days touring schools which are trying to implement this new blended learning concept. We have seen lots of good stuff. I've been considerably more impressed with blended learning than straight online courses. The combination of online and human work and interaction, when done well, seems to be a winning combination.

As I tell my students, we have to let the computer do what it does best: assess for rote memorization and short answer questions, crunch large amounts of information quickly, give students instant feedback on formative and summation assessments, display digital learning content that actually helps students grow conceptually, and engage students with multi-media. We also have to let human teachers do what we do best: engage students in critical thinking, extended dialogue, meta-analysis, inspiration, application, the joys of learning, the personal touch, intervention, and reading the affect of the student. With a computer doing its part and a human teacher doing her/his part, students get the best of both worlds and can thrive. I'm excited about this new opportunity on the frontier of education.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Player Piano VII

"In order to get what we've got, Anita, we have, in effect, traded these people out of what was the most important thing on Earth to them-the feeling of being needed and useful, the foundation of self-respect." (175)


This is one of the central themes of the whole book: that the unchecked "progress" of technology and the mechanization of human tasks has robbed humanity of it's dignity. I thought this was an interesting theme, just because it lines up so well with Catholic Social Teaching and the papal encyclicals on labor. 

I don't usually wave my Catholic flag too much on this blog, but I am Catholic, and I teach at a Catholic school. The papal encyclicals are very strong on this same point: labor is fundamentally good and work is a natural part of human life; part of our sense of self-worth and dignity is derived from working hard and producing a positive effect in the world. It feels good to mow and trim my lawn; it's hard work, but at the end of the day I can sit back and say "wow...that looks nice!"

I'm not suggesting that we hit the "undo" button on technological development. But I think as human beings we need to find a way to get in touch with the elemental facets of the human condition, one of which is work. If you haven't ever worked a hard day in your life to produce a desired outcome (yard work, cutting down a tree, building a shed/barn/house/deck, etc.) then you're missing a piece of the human experience.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Player Piano VI

"Paul had a vision of civilization as a vast and faulty dike, with thousands of men like Doctor Pond in a rank stretching to the horizon, each man grimly stopping a leak with his finger." (152)


This quote comes from a section in the book when Paul is trying to purchase an old run-down farm without any modern amenities or conveniences. "Doctor Pond" is the realtor, who is trying to talk him out of this and explaining to him that it is "below his station". Doctor Pond's job is to help people find real estate that matches their station in this highly structured and hierarchical society, so that those folks at the top of the hierarchy have nicer homes than those "below" them.

Paul can sense that his highly structured society has undercurrents of instability, and that the whole thing, while appearing solid, is really build on very shaky ground. His analogy of the people trying to put a finger in the "dyke of society", to keep the facade in tact is an apt one. By the end of the book, Paul's observations will ring true, as the dyke breaks and the flood-gates open (metaphorically).

It makes me wonder: what structures in our own societies seem solid but are really just a facade? What structures might be on the verge of extinction/collapse, but we haven't quite recognized it yet?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Player Piano V

"Somewhere, outside of society, there was a place for a man-a man and wife-to live heartily and blamelessly, naturally, by hands and wits." (146)


Again, this quote shows how the main character, Paul, sees society as something that has disrupted the "natural order". He sees the "system" as interfering with the ability of humans to live "naturally by hands and wits". I'm not sure that I 100% buy into the idea of technology as something that interferes with the natural state of humanity (particularly because technology is a creation of humanity). I think that technology, like many tools, can be used for good or for evil. And sometimes people use technology to separate humans from one another and to keep us from reaching our full potential as humans; that I think is bad. But when technology helps us connect, explore, engage, learn, strive, and hope...these I think are characteristically human things, and anything that helps us do them better cannot be all bad.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Player Piano IV

"He wanted to deal, not with society, but only with Earth as God had given it to man." (137)


The main character of the story, Paul, becomes obsessed at one point with buying a farm and living more "naturally", away from machines and such. He starts to see society as the obstacle to a more authentic order of God and nature. It strikes me as interesting that while technology has permeated our society, there are not many people who reject technology as interfering with the natural order of God. I've never met anyone who was anti-technology for theological reasons. I'm not sure that Paul's reasons in the book are entirely "theological" either; but there is certainly an implication in the book that somehow humanity has messed up God's natural order with our societal worship of technology. Technology and the concept of "progress" can be a kind of idol that society worships instead of God.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Player Piano III

"...nothing of value changed; that what was once true is always true; that truths were few and simple; and that a man needed no knowledge beyond these truths to deal wisely and justly with any problem whatsoever." (124)

Comments: I like what he says here about truths, that they are "few and simple". I have generally found this to be true in life. A real, honest-to-goodness, eternal Truth, seems to come from nowhere and everywhere all at once. It strikes you as both profound and simple. And you wonder why you never noticed it before. Robert Pirsig has a quote about this in "The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance": "The truth knocks on the door, and you say, 'Go away, I'm looking for the truth,' and so it goes away. Puzzling." I've always liked that quote, because I think it can capture the myopic nature of our linear, finite, bounded human existence.

Back to Vonnegut, I like what he says that these "few simple" truths are sufficient for one to deal wisely and justly with the world. This also rings true with my own experience. Staying focused on these few simple truths also helps one act justly and wisely. One ought not to let one's perspective become too crowded or clouded. Clarity must be a priority.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Player Piano II


“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded. “Big, undreamed of things--the people on the edge see them first.” (p. 84)


In the book, the main character, Paul, has this old friend Ed Finnerty. They came up threw the ranks together as young men out of college, and Ed had been assigned to some important bureaucratic job. Ed shows up at a critical point in Paul's life, and gives him a different perspective on the current state of affairs in their world. Ed has rejected the whole machine based idea of "progress". He has retreated from "the system", and is trying to find his own way. He is struggling to reconnect with his own humanity, and I think he goes to Paul, because Paul's the only real friend he's ever had. This quote is his, and I think it reflects his position well. Finnerty has left the norms of society, and is living "on the edge" (like a modern John the Baptist). And there's a tension between Paul's wife and Finnerty. Paul's wife is trying to pull Paul to the center, but Finnerty is trying to pull Paul to the "edge".

I like what he says about people on the edge seeing "undreamed of things...first". This is worth reflecting on. Those who are solidly in the center of the current system, I think, are too trapped to really see what's coming next. As Finnerty says, only those on the edges, on the periphery, can see what's on the horizon. That's where innovations and even revolutions happen.

Monday, May 6, 2013


I am an avid chess player, and I moderate our chess club at school. I am often looking for good on-line resources for chess puzzles and such. Today I found This site has a puzzle of the day (not too difficult, but good strategy reviews), an endgame simulator, a database of openings, training modules for visualization, and articles and videos about chess. This is a virtual treasure trove! I highly recommend checking it out if you're into chess.

Play on!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Player Piano I

A few couple months ago I read the book Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a relatively easy read. It was Vonnegut's first book, and it was published in 1952. I would highly recommend it. Here's a brief thematic synopsis:

Set in a "futuristic" society (futuristic for 1952), in which nearly all jobs have been replaced by machines, Player Piano is a social commentary on the effects of mechanization on society, workers, and managers. The society in the book has two very distinct classes: 1) the lower classes of people who used to do manual labor for a living, but whose jobs have been replaced with machines. Many of the middle-age people in this class have "retired" (which means they go to the bar and hang out with other retired folks). Young people in this class are forced to choose between joining the military or joining a civil service program that handles the manual labor projects (e.g. repairing potholes) that machines don't do. 2) the upper classes of people who are managers or engineers, who enjoy the privileges of wealth. People are sorted into these two classes based on their IQ.

Vonnegut's overall theme is that by replacing manual labor with machine labor, society became more efficient, but removed the dignity of manual labor. Also that in this society, people became increasing disassociated from each other and from the tangible world. At one point, the main character wants to buy a farm so he can work the farm and actually grow real plants, because he feels such a yearning for a connection to the land.

Dr. Paul Proteus is the main character. He is a promising young manager of one of the major manufacturing plants in the East. He starts the book as a great supporter of "the system". But by the end of the book, he realizes how the system has de-humanized them and how it does more harm than good. He becomes part of a revolution to try to over-throw the system.

In posts to follow, I'll be taking selected quotes from the text, giving them some context, and then discussing their significance. Hope you enjoy!

Keep reading!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Commentary: I couldn't let our poetry exhibition come to a close without sharing another poem from my favorite American poet, Robert Frost. It also seemed appropriate to save "Fire and Ice" for last given its theme. Hope you've enjoyed our celebration of poetry month!

Monday, April 29, 2013

"When, in disgrace..." by William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fat,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Commentary: I love sonnets, and Shakespeare is the king of sonnets. So I wanted to be sure to share one before national poetry month concluded.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time" by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Eagle of the Night (The Owl)" by Dwina Murphy-Gibb

Eagle of the night, friend of strangers in the dark,
Seer of the unseen, you who are of silent feathers,
Companion of Athena,
You, who bring light to those without sight,
Be my eyes in the blackest of deep places,
Be my breastplate of wisdom in the Court of Indra,
Be the bearer of keen insights in sooth-saying
And the revealer of Truth in all omens and faces.

Eagle of the night, guardian owl of all forest trees,
Keeper of the woodland, you who are witness to secrets,
Companion of Hecate,
You, who bring solace to walkers of the twilight,
Be my ears in the depths of noiseless places,
Be my potent quill in the writing of sacred Law,
Be the plumed cloak of refuge, talon and claw,
And the revealer of mysteries in all arts and graces.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Teaching" by Richard Hague

What should be mostly silence
is too loud.
Everyone throws stones into the river.
Everyone wants to catch the birds.
Everyone shoots at the fish.

Meanwhile, behind them,
a sycamore swallows the sun.
One sparrow folds all darkness in its wings.
A worm turns as slowly as history
in the intricate gut of a hawk.

Commentary: Another poem from my friend Richard Hague. This one comes from his collection entitled "Public Hearings" published by Word Press in 2009. You can find more of his works on by clicking here. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Thou winning near the goal -- yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, thou thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands crest?
What little town by river or sea-shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! fair attitude! with breed
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say's,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Fergus and the Druid" by William Butler Yeats

Fergus. This whole day have I followed in the rocks,
             And you have changed and flowed form shape to shape,
             First as a raven on whose ancient wings
             Scarcely a feather lingered, then you seemed
             A weasel moving on from stone to stone,
             And now at last you wear a human shape,
             A thin grey man half lost in gathering night.

Druid. What would you, king of the proud Red Branch kings?

Fergus. This would I say, most wise of living souls:
             Young subtle Conchubar sat close by me
             When I gave judgment, and his words were wise,
             And what to me was burden without end,
             To him seemed easy, so I laid the crown
             Upon his head to cast away my sorrow.

Druid. What would you, king of the proud Red Branch kings?

Fergus. A king and proud! and that is my despair.
             I feast amid my people on the hill,
             And pace the woods, and drive my chariot-wheels
             In the white border of the murmuring sea;
             And still I feel the crown upon my head.

Druid. What would you, Fergus?

Fergus.                                         Be no more a king
             But learn the dreaming wisdom that is yours.

Druid. Look on my thin grey hair and hollow cheeks
           And on these hands that may not lift the sword,
           This body trembling like a wind-blown reed.
           No woman's loved me, no man sought my help.

Fergus. A king is but a foolish laborer
             Who wastes his blood to be another's dream.

Druid. Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams;
            Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round.

Fergus. I see my life go drifting like a river
             From change to change; I have been many things --
             A green drop in the surge, a gleam of light
             Upon a sword, a fir-tree on a hill,
             An old slave grinding at a heavy quern,
             A king sitting upon a chair of gold --
             And all these things were wonderful and great;
             But now I have grown nothing, knowing all.
             Ah! Druid, Druid, how great webs of sorrow
             Lay hidden in the small slate-coloured thing!

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Ulysses" by Lord Alfred Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known--cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
IT may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"If" by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!