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The Wound That Never Ever Heals

June 29, 2016

Today’s blog is one that has been percolating on a back burner of my mind since before I started these weekly blogs seven years ago. I think it is safe to say that this particular blog has to do with a topic so seismic that readers will never be the same after they digest it.

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Thirty-six years ago it was, deep in the heart of Texas, when I was asked to take on a new challenge: Develop, advertise, and run an Adult Degree Program. When I accepted, I had no idea that it would be so complex that it would take me over a year to structure it and get it to full steam. Reason being that the process of awarding experiential college credit to adults of all ages for knowledge and skills gained outside the traditional classroom ended up taking me into uncharted waters. The challenge: take an adult in his/her 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, and develop procedures and instruments that would take into consideration the individual lifetime trajectory of each one, and somehow, out of all those separate life stories, shorten each one’s distance to a college degree. Talk about a daunting challenge!

Complicating it no little was the fact that back then the very concept of experiential credit was still in its infancy—it was something institutions of higher learning had never tackled before. There were mighty few textbooks or guides that would explain to someone like me how to develop and run such a program. Totally different from the usual choreography of eighteen-year-olds who’d been studying in elementary and secondary schools for twelve years who’d come to us with a full head of steam, expecting us to guide them through four years of more of the same. Adults, who had been out of education for X number of years, and who had long lost whatever forward momentum educationally they’d ever had, were an entirely new species to me. How in the world could I jump-start them?

Finally, after advertising all across North America, our first batch of candidates arrived, by car and by air, to our campus in Johnson County, Texas. Arrived, loaded down with insecurities and frustrations, uncertain as to why they’d spent so much of their hard-earned money in a cause that was so new they’d be the first group of people to try it out and see if it would work. Many of them older than their Director—me.

Never can I forget the sight of them uncertainly edging into the then college—now university—board room on the third floor of Heritage Hall (the highest point in the county), with unparalleled views of the countryside from the large windows. Some, out of breath from climbing three flights of stairs, were the last to file in, look around at a room full of strangers and find a seat around the long central table. Some two dozen of them finally sat down, looked around expectantly for their shepherd, and waited—for what would come next.

Nothing in life had prepared me for this confrontation. Rarely, if ever, had I felt so insecure, vulnerable, or unprepared. What did all those quizzical faces want of me? I wouldn’t learn that day—indeed, I’d still be learning four years later. By then, I’d discovered that there were no norms in any of these groups. About the closest thing to a norm might have been the word, “Desperation” – almost all of them, after years of struggle in the real world, had discovered that in their job markets, there were two chains of command: the de-jure and the de-facto. On letterhead, someone was in charge of everything, and below, in descending order of authority, were what we tend to call “the pecking order.” That’s the de-jure chain of command. But then we have the de-facto chain of command: In reality, a lowly secretary may be the power behind the throne and is, in effect, running everything.

But it is small compensation when a de-facto employee knows s/he is the most important person in the entire institution/company, when nobody else recognizes the fact. The reality, almost everywhere, is that regardless of the de-facto factor, the person who has that piece of paper [diploma] is awarded the position and the salary. And this was one of the principal reasons they showed up in Southwestern’s board room. They were there to get that precious piece of paper that almost single-handedly opens doors into the good life.

They were also there, in part, because they were insecure and crippled by feelings of low self-worth. For so long had they been devalued position-wise, compensation-wise, and praise-wise, that most of them had come to believe that they, in truth, were pigeon-holed right: they really were inferior to their degreed fellow-workers. But they hoped that I, somehow, could change that. Significantly, it was heart-warming to see how many of these students received promotions and salary increases even before they completed their Adult Degree, thus validating their forward progress.

As for me, somehow, some way, I had to find a way to become a miracle worker—or I might just as well close shop and go back to coasting in the comfort zone of deep and predictable academic ruts.

Was there a miracle tool somewhere?

And where in the next two weeks would I stumble on the “wound that never ever heals”?

Stay tuned; we’ll pick up right here after July’s book of the month.

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The Power of Handwriting

June 15, 2016

In the news recently: the quandary Colorado drivers’ license officials faced when a young applicant came in who was unable to sign his name. Reason being, he was never taught cursive handwriting in school.

Our daughter reported that our own grandson was unable to understand a note I wrote him because he hadn’t been taught cursive.

So whose short-sighted idea was this? To make it all but impossible for our next generation to be able to decipher letters written by their ancestors? To be unable to decipher writing on historic documents; to be unable to read early Bible script; to be unable to understand calligraphy in general.

Just when we think we’ve heard of everything, here comes this! Already, we’ve been jolted by the discovery that fewer and fewer schools are teaching civics and history. The results leap out at us in each day’s news, with voters and presidential candidates making nation-changing decisions without having taken civics classes or history (other than deconstructed) classes in school. Result: an Orwellian world where political decisions are made on the basis of ignorance and media sound-bytes rather than by thoughtful study of the issues.

Interestingly enough, a local public school principal told me that the girls in their lower grades are fascinated by, and drawn to, cursive handwriting on book covers.

In the April 5, 2016 Wall Street Journal, Robert Lee Hotz’s article titled, “The Power of Handwriting,” jumped out at me.

Studies have shown that today’s college students take lecture notes in two ways: writing them by hand or typing them on their laptops. The speed varies: on an average, students write 22 words a minute or type 33 words a minute. So much for speed—but what are the results?

According to Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University, “The longhand note-takers did significantly better than laptop note-takers despite the fact that laptop note-takers had more notes.”

Kenneth Kiewra, of the University of Nebraska concludes that “The very feature that makes laptop note-taking so appealing—the ability to take notes more quickly—is what undermines learning.”

Hotz maintains that people who write their notes longhand appear to “learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas than those who type their notes on laptops.”

According to Kiewra, “Ever since ancient scribes first took reed pen to papyrus, taking notes has been a catalyst for the alchemy of learning, by turning what we see and hear into a reliable record for later study and recollection. Indeed, something about writing things down excites the brain, brain imaging studies show. ‘Note-taking is a pretty dynamic process,’ says cognitive psychologist Michael Friedman of Harvard University who studies systems for taking notes. ‘You are transforming what you hear in your mind.’”

So why the discrepancy? “Those who wrote their notes longhand took down fewer words, but appeared to think more intensely about the material as they wrote, and digested what they heard more thoroughly.”

Laptop note-takers tend to take verbatim notes, but apparently little that they type is synthesized in their brains during the process.

* * *

So the conclusion seems obvious: Bring back cursive—if for no other reason than the sheer beauty, symmetry, and self-discipline that results from mastering calligraphy.

* * * * *

The day after I wrote this, I was in a Post Office line when the young woman (mid 20’s) just ahead of me was asked the usual credit-card related question by the postal clerk:

“Credit or debit?”


“Sign it, please.”


“I said, ‘Sign it, please.'”

“Well, they didn’t make me sign it before!”

“Well, they do now. It’s a new postal regulation.”

“Oh . . . . well, uh . . . , I guess it’ll have to be debit,” and left in a huff.

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May 25, 2016

Many years university in Texas, we experienced a change in presidents. Naturally, I was more than a little curious about what my new boss might be like. Would I like him? Respect him? And would he like, respect, and appreciate me?

Having heard that he’d already moved into his office, I wandered over to the administration building to see what I could find out. The office was open, and the presidential secretary was absent from her office. Timidly, I walked into the president’s office, hoping I’d be able to learn a lot about the new CEO by what was hanging on the walls and positioned on his desk or on cabinets and tables.

I could find nothing! Not even the usual diplomas validating academic expertise. Couldn’t believe it: must have been just a rumor that he’d moved in. But then . . . I spied something underneath the clear plexiglass on his desk. I had to sidle around the desk to the presidential chair before I could identify what was on that small piece of paper.

As close as I can remember, this is about what it said: “The man who hires me will find a lot done after a year, a great deal in two years, and everything in three.” – Confucius

I was still trying to digest its significance when the new president walked in and caught me snooping. Smiling, he said, “Oh, I can see you found it!”

And that started our friendship and mutual involvements. He was easily the most exciting and motivating administrator I have ever worked for. Because of the climate he created, the seven years of his tenure there resulted in the seven most significant years of my own academic career.

But back to the quotation by Confucius. Miraculously, still alive after 2,500 years [he lived from 551-479 B.C. in ancient China].

So how did Confucius know, way back then, that man’s maximum achievement potential has such a short life-span? It’s true, for ever since I first read that small piece of paper, I’ve been wondering why it is that human beings tend to exhaust their growth potential in but three years. In western culture, about the only related aphorism I can think of is, “A new broom sweeps clean” —but it doesn’t tell us how long it will sweep clean.

In my own life, I’ve found that change (especially when it is also geographical) dramatically increases my store of adrenaline, the euphoria that produces such a high. But I’ve also noted that such adrenalin boosts only last so long before they cease to be much of a factor.

Which presupposes a grave danger to employers. If indeed, employees exhaust their maximum creativity in three short years, why keep them on afterwards? Of course, one reason for doing so is that an institution would quickly burn out if all its employees were simultaneously racing in the red zone. This is why the ideal organization contains about one-third young Turks, one-third those who provide thoughtful balance, and one-third corporate memory. The eager beavers can tank an institution virtually overnight; the middle employees are still strong contributors to growth but refuse to be pushed into decisions before their consequences are well thought out. But the veterans, cynical though they may be about success odds, roll their eyes as they will as they mutter, “Oh, not this again! It’ll never work!,” still are needed for their corporate memory prevents the institution from forgetting what brought them this far in the first place.

Interestingly enough, marriage too is subject to the same law of diminishing returns: honeymoon-highs burn at fever-pitch for a year, not so high the second year, and by the following year, spawn what we call “the three-year itch.”

Being aware of this three-year phenomenon helps us mitigate their effects some, especially if we come up with our own three-year-plans after one triad has passed. But rare is the Leonardo da Vinci whose creative thrust abates but little even late in life.

But why is Confucianism so alive and well today, not only in China but also in the West as well, 2500 years after the sage lived?

Stay tuned.

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January 20, 2016

The title of Quoctrung Bui and Claire Cain Miller’s December 24, 2015 New York Times column was “Short Ride to Mom’s House Reveals a Changing America.”

In it the authors explore the changing demographics that are impacting today’s decisions having to do with holiday observance. The long-held assumption has been that, at least at Christmas and Thanksgiving, it was a given that adult children would make any sacrifices it took to travel long distances to be with family on such yearly high days.

But the reality contradicts perceptions: Today’s typical adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother; only 20% live more than a couple hours (driving time) from their parents. Surprisingly, over the last few decades, Americans have become more insular, less mobile than before. Especially is this true for those with less education or lower incomes.

So, why is this change? Chief is that our federal government offers less help for family caregivers than is true for many other affluent nations. When Social Security was enacted, few Americans lived to be older than 65. Not so today: more and more, Americans are living into their 70s, 80s, 90s, and even 100s. Result: with multiple generations depending on each other for support, baby boomers needing more care as they age, two-income families seeking child-support assistance, and jobless adult children moving back in with their parents, families are becoming ever more dependent on each other.

Women are most likely to be the caregivers since they tend to significantly outlive men.

Wealthier people can afford to pay for such things as child-care and elder-care; the same is not true for low-income people. As a consequence, wealthy people who can afford such services tend to live greater distances from the rest of their families. However, even middle-class families are increasingly finding it necessary to live close to each other.

Interestingly enough, Northeasterners and Southerners tend to live close to their families. West Coastal and Plains people tend to live farther apart. Married people live farther apart than do singles. Women are less likely to leave their home towns than are men. Blacks are more likely to live near their parents – especially their mothers – than are Whites. Because of many factors, especially the breakdown of the nuclear family, over one-third of today’s children are being raised by grandparents.

One thing is all but certain: in the future, America will have to be more creative in providing more options so that aging parents can be given the needed care necessary to remain in their own homes rather than turning to institutional care, which is getting ever more expensive.

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BLOG #46a [renumbered], SERIES #6
November 18, 2015

The true heritage of a nation is not GDP, big banks, or fortunes—no, it is our children, our teenagers. And that is why the recent news reveals an ongoing tragedy of epic proportions.

You may have heard, listened to, or watched the news, and moved on to more interesting things. You should not have—you should have been staggered!

It was this: Today, the average teenager is glued to an electronic screen nine hours a day—NINE HOURS A DAY! That does not even count the screen-time in schools. Back when I wrote Remote Controlled (Review & Herald, 1993), readers were shocked that the youth of our nation were watching TV four hours a day. Now that figure has more than doubled!

Business owners bemoan the sad state of affairs today: that they can find so few educated people to fill their positions. Why should they be surprised when the teenagers who ought to be preparing themselves for career success are instead immersed in mindless yadda-yadda for 60% of their waking hours! And each year that passes, it gets worse.

Now, let’s see if things are better for our younger ones and compare. You see, our childhood [half of what we learn in a lifetime is learned by the age of six] represents the gestation period for all that we later become in life. And what’s happening to our children? They are watching electronic imagery six hours a day—in other words about 40% of their waking hours. Even more if they are getting nine or ten hours of sleep a night.

Math scores have been plummeting ever since the 1970s (one generation into the television age); seemingly it cannot find bottom. The same is true with reading. How precious few teens or young adults can structure a coherent, grammatically correct sentence—much less a paragraph!

One would think that such news as this would galvanize the nation. Earlier on, scholars, pundits, and futurists assumed all these scientific breakthroughs and dramatic increases in knowledge would result in an ever more intelligent electorate. Instead, society keeps getting dumber and dumber. Since they don’t read newspapers, magazines, or books, they base all their key decisions in life on 30-second sound-bytes, with disastrous effects on voting patterns. Many futurists feel that democracy itself cannot survive such a prolonged free-fall of the American mind.

One would also expect parents, who value more than anything else in the world—or ought to!—their children, would immediately take control of their children’s growing-up years, dramatically reducing mindless electronic watching, now approaching zombyism, and say in effect: Starting with this very moment, we, with God’s help, will make raising clear-thinking, academically-qualified, career-prepared children our number one priority in life!

So what is your answer to be?

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June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.