Dedication and Leadership

Dedication and Leadership by Douglas Hyde is one of my favorite books. Hyde, who had been a member of the Communist Party for over twenty years, renounced his membership and joined the Catholic Church in 1948. However, instead of abandoning the things he had learned as a member of the party, he instead adapted his lessons and training for his new life. This book is an instruction manual of sorts for other organizations (original audience is members of the Catholic Church) to apply the techniques to building dedication to the cause and leadership abilities in their membership.

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Hello, Free Time

Now, I know that the holiday season is always filled with families, gatherings, and more than its fair share of stress. But compared to the final exam week which you have just endured, it is pure rest and relaxation.

Maybe you’ll kick back and remember what it was like to read for pleasure. Or, more likely if you were like me, looking at a book is the farthest thing from your mind.  Maybe you will spend the entire break napping. I am sure you will want to spend time with family and your hometown friends.  Or, you want to be able to sit back and relax and watch a good movie.

Well, if a film is your plan, here are a few recommendations. Some are political. Some are holiday based. But they are all among my favorites.

The American President
This is without a doubt one of my favorite films. I show it to every American Government class that I teach. Most of the time, the guys get annoyed that I make them watch a “chick flick.” But, they always find it interesting by the end. It covers nearly every aspect of government (okay, it leaves the judiciary out) and shows how they work together. Did I mention that it also has amazing dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin and stars Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, and Michael J. Fox? Take my word for it, watch it!

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.

Amazing Grace
When most people think of the term “Amazing Grace,” they think of the song. I would venture to guess that most people do not know the song’s – or the composer’s – history. “I once was blind, but now I see” is only the beginning. This film is the story of William Wilberforce’s struggle to end the slave trade in Great Britain. It was a difficult and lifelong struggle. But, it does serve as a valuable reminder that a just cause is worth the effort. I will be honest. This is a difficult film to watch. But trust me, the ending is more than worth it.

When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon – men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more. 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
This is one of the ones I know I’m going to watch over the break. It should be shown to every political science freshman seminar course. It should be required viewing to every opening session of Congress and every state legislative body. The plot is well known: A naive man who loves his country is appointed to the United States Senate to be the puppet of his state’s political machine. The only problem is he is loyal to his principles and not the machine. So, the machine tries it’s best to destroy him. But, he doesn’t give up without a fight.

Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see.

White Christmas
This is a holiday classic. One of the several films made from the music of the failed (at the time) Holiday Inn, it features the crooning of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney and the dance steps of Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen Rohe.  As someone who was raised on the old musicals, this is a cornerstone of my childhood holiday experience. While it’s not exactly political, it is a good heartwarming way to spend a few hours.

I am not satisfied with the conduct of this division. Some of you men are under the impression having been at Anzio entitles you not to wear neckties. Well you’re wrong. Neckties will be worn in this area! And look at the rest of your appearance. You’re a disgrace to the outfit. You’re soft! You’re sloppy! You’re unruly! You’re undisciplined!… And I never saw anything look so wonderful in my whole life. Thank you all! 

What are some of your favorite holiday or political films?

“The only easy day was yesterday”

“So, first of all,let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
March 4, 1933

Having emerged from our Thanksgiving feast induced comas, we are faced with a harsh reality this week. Yes, it is the end of term. Looking out my window, I can almost seethe fear surrounding the students walking from the residence halls to central campus.

Fear is good. It is a powerful motivator. The trick is not becoming paralyzed by fear. You must overcome the fear of failure. Recognize the fear as a warning sign and use it to motivate you for what are admittedly two very difficult weeks. Every trick and tip I or anyone else has ever offered is now on the table. Your local barista is now your best friend. This is the championship of the academic world.

In two weeks, it will all seem anticlimactic. While the people on my side of the desk are still grading, you will have packed up your dorm room and headed home for the break and–hopefully – a halfway regular sleep schedule for a few weeks. In the end, your grades may not be what you wanted, but there is always next semester. Next Semester will be an almost clean slate. There is plenty of room for improvement then.

For now and the remainder of this semester, work diligently. Don’t panic. Keep a list of what you have to accomplish and mark things off when they are complete. Not only with this remind you of what you need to be doing, but it will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you move towards the end of finals. It is a great sense of fulfillment watching the check marks advance down the page.

Time management is more important now than ever. Don’t totally neglect sleep. You are not going to be able to even guess at the information on the test if you are sleeping on your desk. Don’t spend all your time working on your most difficult class. Stand Up from your desk and walk around for five minutes every hour or so. Remember to proof your assignments before you submit them. And finally, don’t forget to eat actual meals (and not just junk food) every now and then. Your body needs the nourishment.
Now, get to work.Just don’t forget to breathe.

Know when to ask for help

A long time ago,and it seems even longer, I had a larger tool box than a set of software applications that I used on my computer. As difficult (even for me) to believe now, I used to be a construction worker. I mainly did electrical work, but also did a fair share of framing as well. I learned enough background to be able to build most of the barns and sheds on my parents’ farm. (The picture is actually me replacing siding on our horse barn.)

One time, I was helping add on a back porch to our house. It was fairly simple. I managed to pour the concrete slab, frame the roof, lay the decking, and do all the boxing and siding without too much of a problem. But then it was time to lay the shingles.I know how to lay shingles. I know how to align the patterns, weave the seams so it doesn’t leak, and even know how to construct a ridge along the top from the tabs. There’s just one slight problem.

I can’t do it.

I don’t know what the issue is, but I have NEVER been able to do roofing. I’ve taught others how to do it. I can watch someone else and tell them what they are doing wrong. I had made it all the way to the end of that project, and I couldn’t do it by myself anymore. I had to call on my neighbors for help.

Sometimes, like in this situation, it is easy when to know when to ask for help. In others,pride or unreasonable expectations can easily get in the way. I learned one thing very early in college. It is much better to ask for help early.

The research methods course I tutored as a GA was difficult (the DFW – Drop/Fail/Withdraw – rate is around 24%). But there was one thing I noticed. The ones who I saw for the first time for the term paper and final exam I ended up seeing again the next semester. The ones who paid attention to the horror stories and started seeing me from the very first homework assignment? Out of nearly 250 students who took the course, only one student who sought help from the beginning of the term had to repeat the course.

Only ONE.

I’m not saying this because I’m a great tutor. I’m saying this because asking for help when you need it – and admitting you need it – is a vital part of education. I didn’t make it through college without asking for help. Indeed, it was far from it. Ralph (the GA at the time) and Will (who was a friend finishing his PhD in the same field) probably got extremely tired of me asking them questions. But that’s okay. You have to do what it takes to learn things.

This is not something that just disappears after graduation either. Still, as a faculty member conducting research, I have to ask for help. I’m currently working on a research project. My background is policy. This paper requires a lot of theory and history. So, I found co-authors who had the experience in those areas. With our three areas combined, it is now coming together nicely.

Never be afraid to ask for help in your studies. No one is brilliant enough to make it on his or her own. That’s why professors hold office hours. That is why supplemental instructors have jobs. That is why tutoring and writing centers exist. The entire structure of the university is to support you in your quest for knowledge. Make use of the resources at your disposal.

Learning to be Prepared

“In moments of crisis, the initiative passes to those who are the best prepared.”
~ Morton C. Blackwell ~

That quote is one which is firmly engrained in my memory. As number forty-one in Blackwell’s Laws of the Public Policy Process, it is not only great advice for those working in politics, but also for everyday life. I know I have shared it repeatedly with my advisees over the past few weeks. I even have a framed copy propped on the windowsill in my office.

In everything, preparation is the key. In your classes, your grades will be substantially better if you actually studied before the exam. Your grades will likewise improve if you studied over the course of the preceding week instead of holding out for a last minute all-nighter in the library.

Preparation is planning. It is being informed. Every college student should have a notebook with a list of classes required to graduate, a list of classes they have already taken, and a list of classes which are still required. As the time for registration draws near, compare the list of needed classes to the classes being offered. You should already know what classes are needed well before registration opens – and for that matter, before you meet with your advisor.

You are in control of your education. You are no longer in high school. While advisors (or advisers?) and professors are here to help you, you must be proactive. We can point you in the right direction, but you must also do your part as well. The goal of college is not to get you – the student – to be able to repeat information on a test. The point of college is not even to get good grades.

Instead, the entire point of college is actually two-fold. First, we should teach you – not what to think – but HOW to think. Over your course of study, you should learn how to process information and make decisions from it; knowledge is much more than being able to recite the information presented in a lecture. Secondly, we are to teach you the skills necessary to be successful in your career. If you miss a deadline in college, it might affect your grade. If you miss a deadline in the professional world, it could very well cost your job. I would much rather teach my students and advisees the value of a preparation and organization now, rather than them having to learn it from an employer later.