Birthday Orchids

One of my hobbies is growing houseplants. In addition to their beauty, they help keep our indoor air clean and fresh all year long, even through a long winter of closed windows. Over 20 years ago, I started raising orchids. Orchids are not only extraordinarily beautiful, but they pose significant challenges in getting them to rebloom. They need special fertilizer since they are epiphytes with aerial roots that do not obtain nutrition from the soil, so they are planted in bark to imitate their natural habitat of growing on the bark of trees in the jungle. Of course, as with all plants, finding the right location for the proper amount of sunshine is also very important.

When our son was born 19 years ago, we bought an orchid to celebrate and put it in his bedroom. The next year, that orchid rebloomed, and I realized that Josh’s bedroom was an ideal location to grow orchids. Sure enough, at least one orchid has rebloomed during Josh’s birthday for all 19 of his birthdays.

Here are the orchids blooming in his room on his 19th birthday.

My wife, Sheryl, does not believe in coincidences, and in this case, I agree that it is no coincidence that orchids have bloomed in his bedroom every year on Josh’s birthday. Sure, I take good care of my orchids. But, Josh has also bloomed every year as he has grown and matured into a young adult studying abroad at the Technion in Haifa, whom we and many others admire, not only for his many talents and accomplishments, but for the caring attitude and empathy which pervades the way he sees the world and interacts in it. So, even though he is far away this year on his birthday, his spirit remains a part of his bedroom, and I believe that contributes to the continued annual reblooming of his bedroom’s orchids.

When parents raise their children, they always hope for the best, but ultimately, as their children become adults, they must acknowledge that their now adult children must make their own choices about how to live their lives. We raised Josh as a critical thinker in the hope  that he would make good choices. Now, on his 19th birthday, we receive much joy from thousands of miles away as we watch him make good choices living and learning in a foreign land. We wish him many more years of successfully navigating life through making good choices as an independent adult while I continue to care for the orchids in his bedroom so that they rebloom every year on his birthday, as a beautiful reminder of our beautiful son.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Critical Thinkers: Good for the Economy

While new and allegedly better standardized tests and an increased focus on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is all the rage, if you ask businesses and economists whether standardized tests and more STEM classes will improve the economy, they will tell you that there is still something missing from our work force: Critical Thinkers.

An anecdote from my junior high school education illustrates this issue.  My science teacher gave us a paper airplane assignment.  The rules were simple.  We could only use one standard 8.5×11″ piece of paper.  We could not add anything (like a paperclip).  We could tear the paper, but we could not remove any paper.  We worked on our planes and the contest begun in the hall, the winner determined by the plane which flew the farthest down the hallway.  Many fancy folds were made. However, my friend Brian made the simplest and best design.

Brian simply crumpled the piece of paper into a ball.  Due to its density it easily flew the farthest and straightest.  The teacher was furious as she believed he was making a joke of her assignment, and disqualified him, scolding him in front of the whole class. The truth is that Brian engaged in critical thinking and should have been praised for his simple yet effective innovation.

“When more than 400 senior HR professionals were asked in a survey to name the most important skill their employees will need in the next five years, critical thinking ranked the highest – surpassing innovation or the application of information technology.”

Certainly no one is suggesting that students do not need to learn to read and write or that STEM based classes are not valuable.  But the heavy push towards evaluating schools and teachers based on standardized test results is the antithesis to critical thinking education.

Good decisions require focusing on the most relevant information, asking the right questions, and separating reliable facts from false assumptions – all elements of critical thinking. And yet too few employees possess these essential skills. A survey of HR professionals conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and The Conference Board found that a full 70 percent of employees with a high school education were deficient in critical thinking skills. Even among employees with a four-year college education, 9 percent were deficient in critical thinking skills, 63 percent had adequate skills, and only 28 percent were rated excellent critical thinkers.

Sadly, since our educational system continues to get stuck in political rhetoric, one can even find political platform statements which fly in the face of economic progress, such as what the Republican Party of Texas wrote into its 2012 platform as part of the section on education:

“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

If politicians really want to promote education which improves our economy, they will increase emphasis on critical thinking and decrease emphasis on teaching  non-critical thinking test taking skills.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.