Having Pneumonia Has Actually Been a Good Thing

I started the school year with great enthusiasm and illness.  On August 27, I began teaching traditional students at Cardinal Stritch University each afternoon, my oldest daughter began 4th grade, and son began 2nd grade and my youngest daughter began afternoon K-4.  Despite the fantastic start, I was sick with bronchitis and pneumonia

The diagnosis itself was a relief to me.  With all the cancer in my extended family, I was grateful to know I didn’t have lung cancer.  In comparison, pneumonia seemed quite minor.

As many of you know I teach writing and public speaking.  I love being in front of the class and thoroughly enjoy my work.  Teaching with bronchitis and pneumonia has presented new challenges.  I now struggle to maintain my pace and a healthy breathing rate during lessons.  I worry that my new students may mistake this for nervousness.  Certainly with 15 years of teaching experience, I’d be beyond the nervousness that new public speakers get.  Now I have a new empathy with those who find public speaking so very challenging.  It’s a double edged sword.  When you struggle to breathe while speaking, you exert more energy and sweat.  This shakes your confidence and perpetuates the problem.  Now I will be much more sensitive when helping students overcome their fear of public speaking.  Focusing on breathing will go a long way toward alleviating some debilitating problems they face. 

In addition to gaining empathy for those frightened of public speaking, I am now better able to understand what my son goes through in his daily challenge with asthma.  He has lived with asthma since he was an infant and I’ve learned a great deal about respiratory viruses and all sorts of breathing difficulties through his many illnesses.  Nothing is quite like experiencing it firsthand, however.  When I can’t seem to get a good breath, I use my inhaler just like he does.  I never understood just how sensitive someone with breathing issues can be to air quality.  An errant pepperoni fallen off a pizza burning in the oven is enough to cause me pause. Those candle stores and perfume samples at the mall are also particularly annoying and I’ve had to go out of my way to avoid them.  When you are faced with these obstacles, they are more than a minor annoyance because they threaten your breath.  I understand that now in a way I didn’t before. 

Even after I get well, I know these lessons with stay with me.  They will help me become a better instructor and mother.  There is nothing quite like “walking in someone else’s shoes” to gain a better perspective. 

A Challenge to Voters

This semester, I am privileged to teach traditional college freshman at Cardinal Stritch University.  Many of these students are 18 to 20 years old and are very excited about voting in their first presidential election this November.  Their enthusiasm is both refreshing and contagious.

Let’s all try to remember that voting is a cherished freedom we are lucky enough to have in the United States.  Please take this responsibility seriously and carefully consider each candidate as well as the issues most important to you before casting your vote.  While this takes work and research, it is a worthy endeavor.

Consider the non-partisan quiz ISideWith.com as part of your fact-finding mission.  It’s quick and the results might surprise you.  If you are interested in sharing and discussing your results, please join the Critical Thinking in the Real World Facebook fan page.

There are many fact checking sites designed to sift through the political rhetoric for truth.  Consider PolitiFact.com.  The Washington Post, CNN and NPR also frequently post fact checks.  Don’t trust what you hear or read, investigate to find out which information can be trusted.

The best voter is an informed critical thinker.

You May Not Be A Critical Thinker If You’ve Said These Things

With the political season heating up, it may become difficult for even the most thoughtful people to remain respectful during election debates.  We could all use a reminder on the way to maintain civil discourse and keep debates focused on real arguable issues.  Having the freedom to debate and state our opinions is what makes this country great.  Voting is a privilege and we should treat it seriously.  This requires careful consideration and critical thought before casting our vote. 

The essence of critical thinking requires questioning.  A critical thinker must question everything he or she is told or believes and this includes even that which the person considers common sense. Critical thinkers are open minded because they seek to draw conclusions after asking many questions both about the information they receive and that which they locate through research. It requires us to think further and consider both our position and try to see the other side.

Here are some examples that may indicate a lack of critical thinking:

1. President Obama is evil. Mitt Romney is evil. Joe Biden is evil. Paul Ryan is evil. There many variations of this. Each reflects a lapse in critical thinking.  Just because you differ with any of these men on political or social policy does not make them evil. 

2.  President Obama, Mitt Romney, etc., doesn’t like America.  Why would anyone subject himself or herself to all the rigors of running for office if he or she did not genuinely love this country?  Could we just allow for the possibility that each candidate is truly patriotic?

3.  President Obama was not born in the country.  Please put this one to rest.  He was born in Hawaii and has the birth certificate to prove it. 

4.  President Obama (or President Bush) is not my president.  If you are an American, the president is your president.  You may not have voted for this person, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is (or was) the president.

5.  I’m leaving the country if Obama or Romney wins.  Please stop making empty threats like this one. If you think the value of living in the U.S. is conditional upon the current president, you are missing a great deal. 

There many examples of a lack of critical thought.  These are just a few. 

Please remember that the goal is not to call people out for their lapses in critical thought because we have all (myself included) made mistakes.  Let’s all make a vow to refrain from personally attacking those who disagree with our point of view. Civil discourse is possible and it is necessary.


What Can You Do To Make Things Better?

I had an enlightening exchange with someone I highly respect. He and I usually have very different views on politics.  Perhaps our discussion will help provide some insight on how differently conservatives and liberals view things.

Th conversation began when he asked me to post a topic on the Critical Thinking in the Real World Facebook discussion page, from The New York Times article, “In Superrich, Clues to What Might Be in Romney’s Returns” by James B. Stewart.

My friend and many others find this piece so very disheartening because they see it as a reflection on where society is going as a whole. It is indeed depressing to consider a world where each person is only out for his or her best interests to the detriment of everyone else.  I also find it sad when members of society (those who are extremely rich as well as those with any means at all) choose not to contribute to society.  But, and here’s a big difference, I don’t see this article reflecting the behavior of the majority of Americans.

I see examples of people’s generosity with their time, talents, resources and money locally and nationally.  That is what I choose to focus on and I believe that is what fuels my optimism. We do not need to wait and we shouldn’t wait to make a difference.  Consider what you can do today to have an immediate and long lasting positive impact.  Could you donate to a local food pantry?  Even a few jars of peanut butter, back to school supplies, gently used clothing, toys and books will have a big impact on a local homeless shelter or charity. Could you help an elderly neighbor by driving him or her to a doctor’s appointment? Would your children be willing to donate some of their latest art projects to a local nursing home or hospital?

There is great need for help all around us and we can make a difference.

Service should be a personal commitment.  Government projects can be effective as well.  We don’t have to wait for government programs or fair tax codes to make a significant positive impact, however.  What can you do today to make things better?

Negative Campaigns Are Here To Stay

With the elections just around the corner, media campaigns are pulling out all the stops.  All too often that means negative campaign advertisements.  It’s nothing new and it’s not necessarily worse than than in the past despite protests to the contrary.

Negative campaign ads are here to stay because they are effective. Many readers will protest that mud slinging ads don’t work and actually turn off voters.  This is also true.  But negative campaign ads are effective with apathetic voters.  Mud slinging succeeds in motivating otherwise disinterested Americans into voting against a certain candidate rather than for another.

New York TimesRoss Douthat wrote about the presidential campaign this week in Mr. Negative vs. Mr. Complacent. He discusses what many have termed the harsh campaign President Obama is running this year. The president is what Douthat terms “Mr. Negative.” Douthat argues his campaign “started out negative and has escalated to frank character assassination.”

Both Obama and Romney are guilty of negative campaigning, however.  Romney ads have taken the president’s words out of context on many hot button issues. Nancy Cordes of CBS News reports, “one ad shows Mr. Obama saying when he was seeking the White House the first time, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’ That was actually him quoting something John McCain, his opponent at the time, had said.”

Why negativity effective in engaging Americans?  University of Wisconsin Madison political scientist Kenneth Goldstein wrote a book about it—Campaign Advertising and American Democracy.  In the book, he argues that negative campaigns contribute to a health democracy because they succeed in engaging voters.  Goldstein says that much of the criticism regarding negative advertising is rooted in the incorrect assumption that Americans are easily manipulated. But the reality is that fewer people seem willing to do their own research and really depend upon ads to inform.

It may be hard to believe, but studies show negative ads help win political campaigns. Refraining from negativity speaks volumes about character, however. How will voters respond this election? Critical thinkers must see through these tactics, do their own research and vote of the facts.

Are You in Denial About Your Weight?

In the past few weeks, I’ve been on a new fitness plan and I’m more interested in articles about nutrition and fitness.  A recent New York Times piece, Are Most People in Denial About Their Weight? really caught my attention because it seemed to speak directly to me.

Given the ever-increasing obesity problem in the U.S., researchers have done many studies on the topic of weight.  Their findings don’t shock me.  “Because our bodies change over time, the brain must constantly adjust its perception. Scientists believe that this internal calibration system can sometimes go haywire, notably for sufferers of anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder, and possibly for obese people too.”

A Duke Univeristy study found that 1 in 4 overweight or obese people don’t believe they have a problem.  Dr. Gary Bennett focuses his work on preventing obesity and said, “It’s often said that the first step in improving a problem is believing that you have one. That’s particularly true for obesity.”

Have you ever been shocked by your appearance in a photo?  Perhaps that has motivated your to start your own fitness and diet regimen.  I finally came to the realization that my clothes weren’t shrinking, each photo couldn’t be taken from a bad angle and my thyroid condition wasn’t to blame for everything. Once I got serious about making a change, I dusted off my Insanity DVDs and began the ambitious 60-day workout challenge.  Three weeks into the program I began to really enjoy the intense cardio workouts, but realized exercise wasn’t enough and started to change my eating habits.

I had always balked at the the idea of keeping a food journal because it seemed way too time consuming and unnecessary, but even taking a much more critical look at everything I ate seemed to provide a serious benefit.  While making breakfast for my children, I’d often eat the remaining half bagel my youngest daughter didn’t finish and when my son ate all but the last third of his sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, I’d just finish that too as part of my cleaning up routine.  Now I realize that doesn’t sound like a lot, but then consider the rest of the day.  Preparing their lunches for school, I’d eat a handful of grapes as I was putting it in their lunch bags.  Since several of the Oreo cookies were broken, I’d normally eat those too instead of including them in the lunches.  How many calories had I consumed before 7:30 am and before I even technically ate breakfast? This morning examination was eye-opening for me.  Mindless eating is a big part of my problem, but I’m no longer in denial.

Now I am eating mindfully.  I’m doing a low carb diet, have cut out most sugar and I’m counting my calories.  This is not exactly fun.  In fact, it’s downright difficult.  I know it’ll be worth it, however.

Have you ever been in denial about your weight?  What motivated you to change?  How did you do it?  What helped you the most?

Is Stay at Home Parenting a Career?

The recent controversy surrounding a statement made by democratic strategist Hilary Rosen on CNN last night regarding Ann Romney’s lack of work experience reignited a discussion about a current issue and enduring questions.  Ann Romney responded to Rosen’s comment that “she never worked a day in her life” on Twitter.  She wrote, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” This exchange may have begun in a political campaign setting, but the questions raised are not limited to a specific party, demographic, race or gender.

Is stay at home parenting really work?  Can it be considered a career choice?

This is an issue with which I am most personally familiar and I’ve asked myself these questions numerous times.  As a mother of three, I spend the majority of my time caring for my family.  I am also a part time college instructor, freelance writer and host an active Facebook discussion page.  Each year as tax day arrives, I am painfully reminded that most of my work does not pay.  This fact makes me feel inadequate in many ways.  Our society places a huge emphasis on monetary contributions.  Money is evidence of work.  What happens then if the bulk of your work is unpaid?

There is tremendous value in stay at home parenting and it is absolutely work.  Children and the parents benefit from it, but the sacrifice is also huge.  I entered into this with my eyes wide open and waited to have children until my early thirties.  When I became pregnant, I researched daycares and contemplated going back to my full time faculty position.  But I knew I always wanted to be a stay at home mother, so I carefully considered ways to keep myself engaged in the work I love while being able to be at home.  My education and work experience helped afford me opportunities to teach part time in the evenings and online while accepting occasional writing projects to supplement daily parenting life.  This provides me with a way to contribute to our family monetarily and it also gives me some much appreciated intellectual stimulation. The choice to stay home is not one available to all parents and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do so.  Despite the difficulties and drawbacks, it is my choice and one I continue to think works best for me and my family. I don’t consider it my career, however.  In some ways, using that word seems to cheapen the work in my opinion.

The level of continual self sacrifice it takes to be a stay at home parent is daunting.  It is tough not to be envious of those earning both increasing financial compensation and personal enrichment in their full time careers. The work of a stay at home parent is constant.  There are no evenings off, breaks over the holidays and it can be messy as well as physically and emotionally exhausting.  The joys are tremendous too.  I see all my children’s highs and lows.  I am there to pick them up when there a stomach virus strikes while they are at school and I don’t have to cancel a meeting to do it.  I can and do volunteer in the classroom.  Our family’s schedule is more relaxed than it would be if I worked full time and I appreciate that very much.

One of the reasons I don’t consider stay at home parenting to be a career is that it seems to have a natural expiration date.  I don’t intend to be a stay at home mother forever and as much as I enjoy this time in my life, I look forward to the next chapter when I do pursue full time employment again. When I do go back to work full time, I will have more skills.  In addition to becoming a better teacher and writer, I’ve learned how to be an excellent multitasker and negotiator.  I am more patient too.  That is all because of the work I do as a stay at home mother.

Critical thinkers know that stay at home parenting is a valuable, it is work and we should never marginalize anyone who embraces this job.