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Commentary: Can’t do it all

by Steve Harrison

I had to laugh. A recent new car purchase reminded me that a formal education and advanced degrees can’t always provide the know-how needed to accomplish the simplest of jobs. The task at hand was programing the car’s brain to allow it to open the garage door. John, the husband, and I spent the better part of a morning reading directions, watching YouTube videos, and attempting to accomplish the chore. We didn’t succeed, but did succeed in deprograming the garage door opener.

John will quickly tell you that I hate to follow directions. He would say that I don’t like to be told what to do. True as that might be, I can remember the early forms of state standardized tests that we had to take in school always included a portion of reading and following directions. It was my least favorite part of the reading portion of those tests. Maybe I do hate to be told what to do, but more often than not I fear I will be proven to be not terribly smart, unable to read, assimilate, and apply the basics provided in the directions.

Perhaps a teacher’s occupational hazard is being a bit of a know-it-all. Many of us achieved success with the three Rs early, which grew into many academic successes, landing many of us jobs in the education sector, some even becoming consultants of one kind or another, ready to save society with their methods. Today there is a suspicion surrounding experts: a lifetime political career, suspicious; a lifetime in government work, suspicious; award-winning artists: I could do that. Teachers face the stereotypical conclusion that those who can’t do, teach, and conversely we teachers sometimes forget that it takes a village.

John has a doctorate and I have a master’s degree. Yet with all those degrees and the abilities it took to get them — reading, analysis, figuring, computing, synthesis, understanding, application — we still weren’t able to program a simple garage door. We ended up calling a garage door company for help. Luis, maybe pushing 25, arrived promptly, and, I kid you not, within five minutes had reprogramed our old clicker and a new one, as well as programing the new car’s brain to open the door. In five minutes! I shared with him my utter disbelief and my embarrassment that we weren’t able to figure it out. He graciously passed it off to experience.

That humbling episode brought to mind a time a few years ago when John and I were attempting to get to USC for an art show. I had just taken a busload of kids to Exposition Park a few weeks before, and even though USC was not a location John and I went to often, we set off with a pretty good idea of where to go. Needless to say, we ended up hopelessly lost. A cell phone and a navigation system only added to our confusion and frustration — and, no, we didn’t stop and do it the old fashioned way by asking a gas station attendant for directions. We are men, not to mention that there are very few gas station attendants to ask! We missed the art exhibit and soothed our wounded egos with a glass of wine and a pizza at Bottega Louie in downtown L.A.

We need experts, and those on YouTube don’t always provide all the answers. For those of us who are controlling and confident in our intellectual abilities, it is hard to believe that there are people who know more than we do; and for those of us who taught, we are sure we can figure out the best way to do things. This may be true, right up to remodeling a kitchen, doing heart surgery, or programming a garage door. Many things are best left to the experts.

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