I am pleased to participate in Bridgewater State University’s first Blog Fest, which celebrates social media week by drawing attention to some of the bloggers on our campus. The bloggers who are participating include those who use blogs (short for web log) as a regular part of their work, those who find it an interesting way to extend their work into new areas, and those who simply enjoy sharing their thoughts in a public arena. I have been blogging for a few years and now contribute to nearly a dozen blogs on a fairly regular basis, for all of the above reasons.
Blog Fest participants have been given suggested themes for each day of the week, in the form of questions to which we can opt to respond. Before answering the question for this first day, I want to mention a couple of my other blogs, as I will do throughout the week.
“Geography is what geographers do,” we sometimes say. The corollary is that individual geographers can approach the discipline in a variety of ways. This is my “main blog,” on which I share examples of the “geographic imagination” as I see it.
Geography at Bridgewater
I set up a separate blog for my academic department, through which we can share announcements of upcoming events, promote specific courses and internships, and – this is the most fun – brag about the achievements of our students and alumni! We find that the blog conveys the vibrancy of our department much better than a static web page can do. (Note that the actual blog address starts BSC rather than BSU -- a reminder to new bloggers to choose their addresses carefully!)
One of BSU’s most visible outreach efforts is the Geography Department’s EarthView program, in which we take a hand-painted, inflatable globe – one of two of its kind in the world – to area schools and special events. Well over 20,000 students – in small groups – have participated in EarthView programs, in which they get to see the earth from a very special point of view: inside! We use this blog to build on the connections we make during the programs. The blog includes geographic information about each school we visit, links to games and lesson plans, and articles about the topics that we cover with the kids – from tsunamis to Ellis Island.
Now, for the Blog Fest daily theme question:
What has been a learning experience that has impacted you the most in your life?
I am fortunate to be in a career that enables me to learn something new every day, and I have decided to write about what makes that possible, which is a positive attitude about who can be my teacher.
We often hear that when evaluating an argument we should “consider the source,” and this caution may sometimes be a useful source of caution. A seemingly contrary piece of advice – which I got from my father – is even more important: truth is truth, no matter who says or writes it. I read a lot of newspaper columns, some by writers with whom I disagree 95 percent of the time. But when they are right, I have learned to admit: they’re right.
A corollary to this is that I try not to judge people for ignorance (sometimes I fail). I wish I could remember who taught me this, because it has proved very important. He said, “Whenever you are amazed at how someone could possibly not know something, remember where you learned it.” Wow! Everything that is obvious to me now must have been unknown at some point. This has helped me to be – or at least to try to be – a bit less judgmental. It has also helped me to be grateful to all those who have helped me learn.
One story brings both of these lessons together for me. About 15 years ago, I worked in a specialty food company in McAllen, Texas. The Texas Secretary of Agriculture came to visit one day – a handsome, friendly man who would go on to become a governor – Rick Perry – with whom I agree on almost nothing. But he did something very interesting that I will never forget. As he moved through our factory, meeting assembly workers, shift supervisors, inspectors, and managers, I heard him ask the same, perfect ice-breaker question many times: “Where did you go to school?” This gave him a chance to find common ground with each person, wherever they were from, and however far they had gotten in their education.
Every time I want to scream at something he has said or done as governor, I have to remember that he once taught me something – and that everyone I meet has that potential.