Thursday, April 30, 2020

Oksana Baiul

Fondly remembering the 1994 Lillehammer games: How a 16-year-old Oksana Baiul melted my 11-year-old baseball-loving heart and introduced me to the Winter Olympics and the world of figure skating.

Aaron S. Robertson

Recently, I was having a conversation with several friends, and we ended up on the topic of the Winter Olympics. The next Olympic Winter Games is scheduled for February 2022 in Beijing, China.

During that conversation, I recalled, fondly, the very first Winter Olympics that I actively tuned into - the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway. Not coincidentally, it was also the first time that I actively tuned into the sport of figure skating. And it was all because of Oksana Baiul of Ukraine.

I was 11 years old in February 1994 when the latest issue of my Sports Illustrated for Kids subscription arrived in my mailbox. And there she was, at 16 years old, gracing the cover of the magazine. My 11-year-old heart skipped a few beats and then proceeded to melt.

1994 Sports Illustrated for Kids Oksana Baiul cover
The 1994 Sports Illustrated for Kids Oksana Baiul cover.
Prior to that issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids coming to the door, an issue that served as a preview to the upcoming games, I don't believe I had ever heard of Oksana Baiul, even though, I would soon learn, she was the ladies champion of the 1993 World Figure Skating Championships held in Prague, Czech Republic. But if I never heard of her beforehand, it wouldn't have been surprising, I suppose. For starters, I was a typical Midwestern city kid from a blue-collar family, and not yet exposed to much of anything that could be described as "the performing arts" or "the fine arts," much less "worldly" or "world culture." Not unless you want to count all the times I had Chinese, or spaghetti, or tacos, for dinner. I probably would have had trouble locating Ukraine on the map back then (or on the globe, as many classrooms still had). Furthermore, when it came to sports, I was a big baseball and basketball fan, more so baseball. Just several months before the Olympics, this native Milwaukeean and die-hard Brewers fan found himself rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1993 World Series against the Toronto Bluejays. I faithfully watched every single game from beginning to end. The Bluejays ended up taking the series. Actually, when I think about it, that was the first World Series that I actively tuned into.

And as far as the American figure skaters went, sure, I may have heard the names Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, and a few others before in passing, but so what? It didn't mean much to me. My friends and I were in love with baseball. We were boys of summer. Other than building the occasional snowman or snow fort, anything to do with winter sports and recreation seemed largely foreign and just plain blah to us. We were no Dan Jansens or Bonnie Blairs, that's for sure. When we weren't playing little league, or Cub Scout softball league, or games in the streets, we were building our card collections, watching the Brewers on TV, and taking in baseball trivia and history. In winter, we would switch over to playing baseball games on Nintendo and watching Milwaukee Bucks games on TV, all while impatiently waiting for spring training to come. But I'll tell you what - like every other American who didn't follow figure skating, I definitely became aware of the names Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding by 1994, following the infamous physical attack on Kerrigan by associates of Harding's. It was hard not to. It was a scandal that made the two young women household names around the world, and it eventually led to Harding being stripped of a U.S. championship title and banned from professional competition for life. Among the men responsible for the assault on Kerrigan were a bodyguard of Harding's, along with Harding's ex-husband. The attack occurred on January 6, 1994, in Detroit. Both competed in the Olympics the following month, and the tension between them was clearly visible as the investigation by the authorities and all the media buzz continued.

But it was this talented young woman from Ukraine that caught my attention and got me hooked on figure skating. And with it, I developed an appreciation for the Winter Olympics as a whole. I finally started paying attention to hometown heroes Jansen and Blair, who both took home gold from Lillehammer in their respective speed skating competitions.

The beauty, elegance, artistry, and grace of it all is truly amazing. It's theater, dance, ballet, and sport all rolled into one. And it's not all outwardly visible. It's not all simply physical movements, physical endurance, and physical appearance that we see. Far, far from it. I can't begin to imagine what goes on in the minds of these skaters - the amount of mental focus required to pull it all off successfully. Having to think of the next move in advance while somehow, simultaneously, being fully present in each and every moment. One slip of the mind, even for a split-second, can cost the entire show. And yet, they make it all seem so care-free. So seamless.

Following are four performances by Oksana Baiul during the 1994 Winter Olympics. The third video captures her gold medal performance, while the fourth one features a joint performance with Viktor Petrenko, also from Ukraine.

The very last video is entitled, "15 Strict Rules Female Figure Skaters Have To Follow." I came across it while conducting research for this post and thought it was worth sharing. Very informative and interesting.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The real purpose of K-12 education

We have to realize that K-12 education should be about preparing students for life, not university, and that some of the greatest, most rewarding career opportunities out there can be found in the vast vocational/trades/technical college realm.

Aaron S. Robertson

Recently, I finished reading a book called, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups, written by Leonard Sax and published in 2016.

Dr. Sax is both a medical doctor and a Ph.D. psychologist, and the inspiration for a lot of his writing comes directly from both his office visits with children and families, and from his numerous talks and tours at schools and in communities across the country and even the world. He currently has four published books out, one of them in a second edition. I recently ordered his Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls (2011) from Amazon, and just started reading it yesterday.

In the coming days and weeks, I plan on writing a number of posts here tied to The Collapse of Parenting. I'm spending a lot of time with the book, going back to revisit certain parts and really digging deep and reflecting on what I've been observing and experiencing in my short time in education so far. It's a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it to parents, expecting parents, those working in education (both K-12 and college level), and even employers and recruiters, who can certainly benefit from the rich insights and data the book offers on the younger generations coming up in the workforce.

To follow along with these specific posts, I've created the tag/label, The Collapse of Parenting. Click that link, and you'll be taken to all of the posts.

For this first post, I'd like to discuss Dr. Sax's thoughts on what he sees as the real purpose of K-12 education. Many Americans today, it seems, have this idea that K-12 education is designed to (or should be designed to) prepare students for admission into top colleges. It's an idea that, I can personally attest to from both my experiences as a high school student in the late 1990s and as someone working in K-12 education today, is arguably misguided, to say the very least. Actually, it's a disservice that is quite toxic. It deprives all individual students by downplaying or even outright hiding other opportunities, and it deprives our economy and society of needed talents and resources. We collectively depend on a rich diversity of skills, talents, interests, experiences, and specializations in order to produce the goods, services, ideas, and knowledge that move us forward.

Benefits of learning a trade

Now, to the credit of many U.S. school districts and experts in the world of education today, the conversation and landscape is already in the process of changing. The Collapse of Parenting came out at the very beginning of 2016, and since that time, many districts have begun moving away from presenting a college-only future to students. This was actually the basis for a previous post I wrote a little more than a year ago, Manufacturing and the trades in schools, in which I heralded what I see as the return of these skill sets and opportunities in schools and in the broader dialogue.

Nonetheless, we still have a very long way to go. I don't think it's anyone's fault, in particular. This college-only philosophy simply started off by slowly creeping into education and societal thought years ago already, and, before we know it, just about everyone is buying into it - parents, students, teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, the media, pop culture, savvy marketers, and so on. It took off to the point where it has dominated a good swath of K-12 education for quite a few years now, and it's difficult to get out from under its stranglehold.

Let's explore further. There's actually a two-pronged discussion taking place here, with both parts very much intertwined. First, we'll explore the misconception that the mission of K-12 education is to prepare students for college (college, in this context, is generally understood to be the four-year university path), and then, tying into that belief, we'll look at the misconception that vocational training/work in the trades/technical college education is somehow inferior to the university track.

To begin, Dr. Sax, in my opinion, hits it right on the head with this statement when he observes that:
At some level, sometimes subconsciously, many Americans – both parents and students – have accepted the idea that a primary purpose of K-12 schooling, maybe even the primary purpose, is to get accepted into a selective college and to prepare for college. That’s a mistake. The primary purpose of education should be to prepare for life, not for more school. And many of the skills needed to succeed in life are different from the skills needed for admission to a top college. (Sax, 2016, p. 189)
And just what are those skills needed to succeed in life? Well, based on my years in business and industry before moving to education as my primary field, I would certainly say that they include the abilities to effectively read, write, and communicate. Math for everyday life and work is a must. By that, I mean the ability to perform old-fashioned multiplication, addition, subtraction, division, and percentages with relative ease in one's head. The ability to synthesize information, reflect, and think critically. Knowing how to identify quality sources when conducting research of any kind. Understanding one's rights and responsibilities as a citizen, and this is where paying attention in social studies classes comes in. Definitely personal finance. The ability to face, understand, and accept failure as a part of life and work. And teamwork, getting along with others, playing fair, sharing, personal responsibility - essentially, Fulghum's Rules, which were instilled in us in kindergarten some 30-35 years ago, and which Dr. Sax points out have largely been replaced with, "...teaching diphthongs rather than teaching respect, courtesy, and manners" (Sax, 2016, p. 50). By contrast, kindergarten students in Finland still spend their school days playing, having fun, and learning how to get along, and, somehow, it's not preventing them from thriving academically as older students.       

Dr. Sax calls this whole college-only approach buying into "the middle-class script." He writes:
When I visit schools, I often meet with students, in groups both large and small. When I meet with middle or high school students, I sometimes engage them in semi-Socratic back-and-forth questioning. I pose questions and call on students who raise their hands. What’s the point of school? I ask. Why bother? To get into a good college – that’s the answer I most often hear from American high school students. So what’s the purpose of college? I ask. To get a good job, to earn a living, the students answer. This dialogue is the basis for what I have come to call “the middle-class script.” The script reads as follows:

1. Work hard in school so you can get into a good college.
2. Get into a good college so you can get a good job.
3. Get a good job and you will make a good living and have a good life.

There are several problems with this script. The first problem is that every line in it is false.

1. Working hard in school is no guarantee of admission to a top college. We all know stories of kids who worked hard, earned good grades, and didn’t get into any of their top choices.
2. Getting into a good college is no guarantee of a good job. The media and the blogosphere are full of stories of young people who have earned bachelor’s degrees from Princeton and Harvard and who are now waiting tables or simply unemployed.
3. Getting a good job is no guarantee of having a good life. (Sax, 2016, pp. 187-188)
He goes on to explain this last point by describing colleagues in the medical field as a prime example:
I have seen some such adults among my own physician colleagues. This man may be regarded as a successful surgeon; he may earn $600,000 a year; but he's miserable. He's unhappy because he is working 80 hours a week at a job he has come to loathe. If you are working 80 hours a week at a job which shrivels your soul, then you are a slave. I don't care whether you are earning $600,000 a year or more. Life is precious. Each minute is a priceless gift. No amount of money can reclaim lost time. If you are wasting your time on work you detest, you may come to feel resentful about the time you are losing. If you are a physician, you may come to resent your patients. I have learned to recognize such physicians, and I try to steer my patients away from them. (Sax, 2016, p. 190)
And now, here's where that tie-in to frowning upon vocational/trades/technical college training and education comes in. Dr. Sax explains how high school students expressing an interest in wanting to become mechanics are viewed in Germany and Switzerland compared to their peers here in the United States. He notes:
I find that parents in the United States, more than in any other country, have bought into the middle-class script. In Germany and Switzerland, for example, there is no shame if a 15-year-old chooses to train to become an auto mechanic rather than embarking on the university track. And that’s true even if both parents are university professors. Mechanics in those countries are respected and they earn good money.

Mechanics can earn good money in the United States as well, but there is a stigma, a lack of respect, attached to 'blue-collar' work in the United States today, which is utterly lacking in Mitteleuropa. In the United States, it is hard to imagine the child of two professors choosing to go straight into 'vocational training' to be a mechanic unless that child has been diagnosed with some sort of learning disability. Most Americans today regard 'vocational training' as a low-prestige option for below-average-IQ kids or for kids with learning disabilities. (Sax, 2016, pp. 188-189)
The four-year university path isn't for everyone, nor should it ever be. It's merely one of many post-high school avenues in which to try to find meaningful work, personal fulfillment, and the tools and resources to build a decent quality of life. And like any path in life and career, we must accept that, at the end of the day, there are no guarantees of anything. Things like meaningful work, personal fulfillment, happiness, and success, are all in the eyes of the beholder. They must come from within, because they are different for everyone. You may find them easily, or you may never fully discover them. They may last for many years, or they may quickly come and go. What's special and fulfilling today may become an ongoing burden tomorrow, as we see in the case of the $600,000-per-year surgeon. You may have to reinvent - or rediscover - yourself every so often.

“Most Americans today regard 'vocational training' as a low-prestige option for below-average-IQ kids or for kids with learning disabilities.” - Dr. Leonard Sax

As many of my regular readers here know, I'm a Ph.D. student. And as I reflect in a previous post, Embracing lifelong learning,
While it's true that this is the highest level of academic degree that can be attained, it's certainly not the be-all-end-all of learning. It doesn't make me a genius. It doesn't give me everything I'll ever need to know. All it demonstrates is that I can conduct original scientific research. Big deal. Far more people out there know a heck of a lot more than I do and are far more successful than I am without that formal education. And I sincerely hope that you become one of them.
As someone who has climbed the degree ladder of the university track, I often encourage high school students to explore careers in the trades and other opportunities in the vocational and technical college realm. There are a ton of them now - culinary arts and hospitality management, dental hygienist, real estate and property management, graphic design, early childhood education, Web and digital media design, information technology (IT), criminal justice and law enforcement, nursing, paramedic and EMT, fire protection, truck driving, marketing and sales, funeral service, human resources (HR), cosmetology, aviation. We can go on and on. There are so many awesome opportunities today in this vast realm, and many vocational and technical college scholarships go unfilled or with very little competition, which makes for great odds for someone who's seriously interested in exploring and putting in the work. There are plenty of traditional apprenticeship and other on-the-job-training opportunities out there, as well.

I share with high school and college students that if the vocational/trades/technical college programs were held in higher regard, discussed more, and presented as viable options when I was in high school (I graduated in 2001), then, who knows, my life's work and overall course may have been altered quite radically from what it is today. As I share in that previous post I wrote just over a year ago, Manufacturing and the trades in schools:
I graduated high school in 2001. While I was in high school in the late 1990s, manufacturing in the United States was undergoing a serious exodus. Perhaps the hardest hit areas were in the Midwest, where manufacturing was a way of life, providing many families with a stable, comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. Many of the men in my family, along with many of our family friends, were skilled machinists. And many of them lost their jobs in the late 90s, including my father, an uncle, and even my mother, who did assembly work. Many plants during this time closed up shop and moved down to Mexico, where labor and other resources were much cheaper.

At the time, the message to those of us in high school was, "Avoid manufacturing. It's dead in this country. There's no future in it. Go to college." The four-year university was all the talk. That was the path we were all encouraged - even outright steered toward - to pursue. Many students from my generation, including myself, were the first ones in our families to go to university. Pursuing a university education, we were told, would lead to a great, comfortable living, and one that's clean - away from the oily, dirty, dim-lit environment often associated with machining and factory work back then, however real or merely perceived.

Simultaneously, the other trades, along with technical colleges and vocational schools, were largely downplayed as post-high school options, as well. These jobs and paths just weren't really talked about much, it seemed, and when they were, they were often cast in the same light as the then-disappearing jobs in the manufacturing realm - grimy, labor-intensive, whatever the opposite of the pristine, well-lit, promising, and even futuristic jobs being churned out by the white-collar world. The university, we were told by our parents, teachers, guidance counselors, the media, and broader society, was the way of the future. Many schools were scaling back or outright eliminating shop and tech ed programs, or they were on their way to doing so in subsequent years.
In closing, while progress is being made to move away from the longstanding misconceptions that K-12 education's role is to (or should be to) prepare students for university and that somehow, any other post-secondary opportunities are inferior by comparison, much work remains. Such beliefs are doing a great disservice to both individual students and to the broader society and economy to which we all belong. Our thinking must change. We must rip up this "middle-class script" and write a new one in its place.

I'll leave you with this final thought, also from Manufacturing and the trades in schools:
Want the best of both worlds? I typically advise students these days to take a serious look at a technical college or vocational school education. Learn a provable hard skill or trade first, something that you're really going to enjoy. Enter the workforce with those skills and gain some practical on-the-job experience for a while. And then consider going for the bachelor's and perhaps even beyond, if that's something you'd like to do. Maybe get a bachelor's in a business/management/leadership program. Now, you have two good things going for you - first, you have that concrete, verifiable skill set. And you'll also have that bigger-picture education that can help you set the stage for a promotion into management or even off on your own as a business owner yourself some day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Andrea Bocelli Easter Sunday Milan Italy

In case you missed it or simply wish to watch it again, here is Andrea Bocelli’s breathtaking, memorable performance from Milan, Italy this past Sunday (Easter Day), April 12, 2020. Bocelli’s Easter Sunday performance even broke a YouTube record.

Paul Spiegelman

I recently came across a piece written by Paul Spiegelman for, and I'd like to share it here with you. Published just a little over a couple weeks ago, on March 27, it's entitled, "What It Means To Be A Leader Right Now". In this time of great uncertainty and anxiety, his words here remind us what's really important in life and work. I invite you to check it out when you have some time. It's a great read. Paul's been writing for for some time now, and it's always a pleasure to take in his insights whenever I have a chance.

I had the opportunity to interview Paul five years ago, at the beginning of 2015. At the time, he was serving as chief culture officer at Stericycle Inc., my former employer. You can read that interview here: Exclusive Interview: Paul Spiegelman, Best-Selling Author and Culture Executive.

From his bio on
Paul Spiegelman is the co-founder of the Small Giants Community, an organization dedicated to identifying, connecting, and developing purpose-driven business leaders. He is the former chief culture officer of Stericycle, the co-founder and former CEO of BerylHealth and the founder and chairman of The Beryl Institute. Paul is a New York Times best-selling author and has been honored with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Paul is a sought-after speaker and author on leadership, employee engagement, entrepreneurship, culture, and leading a purpose-driven life. He has made many radio and TV appearances and his views have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, and he is currently a columnist for Paul practiced law for two years prior to starting BerylHealth. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA and a law degree from Southwestern University. You can read more about Paul at

Monday, April 13, 2020

Periodic Table of Elements

Following are several resources to help you better understand or simply review the Periodic Table of Elements. We'll begin with an image of the Periodic Table. Simply click on the picture to enlarge it. Next, there's a brief video that provides a great, easy-to-understand introduction to the Table. Lastly, Dr. Edward Murphy of the University of Virginia delivers a fascinating lecture on the origin of the elements. The full description of the lecture, taken straight from its page on YouTube, is provided below. 

Periodic Table of Elements

Periodic Table Explained: Introduction

The Origin of the Elements

The world around us is made of atoms. Did you ever wonder where these atoms came from? How was the gold in our jewelry, the carbon in our bodies, and the iron in our cars made? In this lecture, we will trace the origin of a gold atom from the Big Bang to the present day, and beyond. You will learn how the elements were forged in the nuclear furnaces inside stars, and how, when they die, these massive stars spread the elements into space. You will learn about the origin of the building blocks of matter in the Big Bang, and we will speculate on the future of the atoms around us today.

Speaker: Dr. Edward Murphy, University of Virginia
Date: November 13, 2012

Interesting articles

Another mixer post here containing links to a number of thought-provoking, fascinating articles on a wide range of subjects that I've come across over the last few weeks. Some really great reading here.

"Turkey's unique hand-sanitising method"

For hundreds of years, this Ottoman-era cologne has been synonymous with Turkish hospitality. Now, it’s being used to fight coronavirus.

"The outbreak that invented intensive care"

A heroic community effort at a daring hospital saved lives, led to today’s ventilators and revolutionized medicine - it holds lessons for our times.

"The Maine Farmer Saving the World’s Rarest Heirloom Seeds"

Will Bonsall has spent a lifetime scattering seeds across the country. But will his efforts fall among the thorns?

"How Camus and Sartre Split up Over the Question of How to Be Free"

Their radically opposed ideas of freedom broke up the philosophical friendship of the 20th century.

"America's Devastating First Plague and the Birth of Epidemiology"

"6 Ways To Become A Better Listener"

Humans have an average eight-second attention span. You’re going to need to do better if you want to get things done.

"6 Ways to Look More Confident During a Presentation"

The right kinds of non-verbal communication correlate with success.

"They Survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression and the Holocaust"

"Coronavirus is unprecedented in our lifetimes. So is the economic crisis about to explode."

"The Thinking Error at the Root of Science Denial"

Could seeing things in black-and-white terms influence someone’s views on scientific questions?

"‘It’s a Superpower’: How Walking Makes Us Healthier, Happier and Brainier"

Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara believes that plenty of regular walking unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else. He explains why you should exchange your gym kit for a pair of comfy shoes and get strolling.

"Manage Your Personal Energy To Improve The Quality Of Life"

The more you enjoy your work, the more energy you’ll have to enjoy life. The opposite is also true.

"Leo Tolstoy on Finding Meaning in a Meaningless World"

“For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite.”

"Did Pontius Pilate Actually Convert to Christianity?"

"No One Told Babe Ruth He Had Cancer, but His Death Changed the Way We Fight It"

The Great Bambino’s treatment came at a major turning point in medicine.

"The Soviets’ Unbreakable Code"

The hidden history of the Fialka espionage machine.