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What Can We Learn from A Public School President Who Says He Cannot Write a Sentence?

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) president, Otis Mathis, admits he can’t write a coherent sentence.  He further argues that he is a role model as a leader who can’t write.  He’s a math whiz (high school) and can speak cogently…but when it comes to writing, it no worky (see: Otis Mathis Can’t Write)

Now, you may hear a skeptic’s voice in all of this, but my hope is to bolster you as an educator or as a learner.  Otis Mathis says he is a role model because he shows that even if you can’t write, you can become a success (a president of a school system, no less).

Clearly there is something wrong with this picture, but what?  It is easy enough to say that it would be an even better model if he could learn to write (overcoming the obstacle), however, something is more essential here concerning the future for our children.

Here is the question that needs careful reflection:

Do we pursue our talents or do we bend the world to our flaws?

The move is afoot to bend the world to our flaws.  In fact, if you read the articles on Otis Mathis, you’ll find that there are related lawsuits to drop certain competencies for admission in to various academic programs.  It isn’t that academia is nuts, but rather that there is a values shift in play.  The underlying issue is COMPETENCE v. FAIRNESS.  Another version of this dilemma asks if you are SPECIAL or is EVERYONE THE SAME.

The current uproar about healthcare has this issue at the core as well.  On some level there is the notion that things should be equal for everyone…and on another level, we all know that only one person can win American Idol.

I remember when our daughter played soccer as a little girl there was no score-keeping by the referees, coaches, or parents (it was seen as wrong and too competitive); except, the girls on the team all kept score!

Here’s the secret: Nature wins out over Culture.  The culture says let’s make it fair for everyone.  Nature says we are better than others at something.  Culture says bring competitiveness down.  Nature says you’ll survive with your strengths.  Culture says you are a victim who needs help.  Nature says your skill will help true victims.

My personal conviction is that Otis Mathis can learn to write (& if he’ll come stay with me for a week I can show him exactly how to connect his speaking to his writing).  I have a strength here and I’d love to serve him with it.  It was indeed the reason I organized the insights I’ve discovered into The Writing Course.

If you are still helping your children to get educated, please make sure two simple things are in play:

1. They are getting a solid and broad foundation.  This hooks their brain together…yes, reading AND writing AND arithmetic.
2. Encourage them to stretch to their strengths.  When they pursue their talents they make a contribution…which means they are almost infinitely more employable.

If you are still helping others to get educated at any age…what’s the difference?

You think it takes more, but it really doesn’t.  Keep at it…everything is better learned by practice; and, everything that is learned becomes useful.  The best examples are those who play to their strengths and serve others with them.  Don’t buy the whim of culture…just learn it, or admit it isn’t a strength— no matter what ‘it’ is.  Steer clear of trying to bend the world to think you don’t have to be educated to be an educator…it will always smell funny.


Dr. Fred Lybrand


How to Teach Children to Edit Their Own Papers

Think about editing for a moment.

All it involves is going back through something written and looking for two things:

1. Any mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

2. Any ways to say a sentence or phrase better (as needed or desired). Both of these are much easier to do if the child reads his/her own paper out loud.

Reading it out loud is exactly what works because writing has always been about getting someone else to read your work the WAY you want it read. This best comes about through SOUND! When we read our own writing the way it is written, we can see things to change with much greater ease…it is often obvious. It isn’t a perfect approach, but it helps a great deal…especially as this ‘feedback loop’ aides in hooking up your child’s brain (visual and auditory).

Try this: Before you grade / correct the next writing assignment (even copy work), have them go off by themselves and read the paper out load, making any ‘tweaks’ they want to. I bet you’ll see the mistakes drop and the quality go up! I sometimes find so many mistakes (for that child) that I ask, “Did you read this out loud?” Often they admit they didn’t…so I send them off to really edit. Other times, I just send them off to edit again if it is loaded with mistakes. I don’t want to take their own opportunity to learn to edit away…and I don’t want to waste my time doing their responsibility.

Bless you,

Fred Lybrand

P.S. Yes, I read this out loud!

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