Can you teach kids to love learning?

Seth Godin recently blogged on the subject “What’s high school for?” His suggestions included adding project management, presentation skills and leadership training to the curriculum.

I love Seth’s blog and learn a lot from his insights, but I’m betting he doesn’t have high-school-aged children. Here’s what I want my kids to learn in high school:

  1. How to write a paper. I’m not talking about a research thesis. I’d be happy to see a one-page book report that was cleanly written and properly edited.
  2. Basic organizational skills. The typical teen has 5,000 songs filed and categorized on her iPod. Yet she either forgets to write down her homework assignments, or misplaces the paper she wrote them on.
  3. How not to phone it in. My kids are pretty smart, which means they can get decent grades on papers they write at 2 a.m. the night before they’re due, based on material taken from Wikipedia. I have been unable to convince them that there is an advantage to actually researching a topic and formulating original conclusions about it.
  4. How to answer the phone and/or email. If it’s not a text, it doesn’t get their attention, no matter how many times I point out that old fogies like college admissions people and employers still use the phone.

As for the other skills Seth recommends–to tell you the truth, I’d just as soon hold off on turning them into little consultants. But I heartily concur with his suggestion that we give them “An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more.” The question is, how?

Over and above

One error that scalds my eyeballs is the confusion of “above” and “more than.”  Here’s the rule: “Above” implies a relationship between objects, while “more than” refers to numerical comparisons. So “the UFO hovered above the Chrysler Building” but “the event raised more than $50,000.”

And what about “over?” William Safire has argued that it should never be used with numbers, but most major style guides beg to differ. The best advice comes from the Associated Press: “Use whichever term sounds best.”

In praise of recycling

I keep a folder called “Templates” on my desktop. Whenever I write a proposal, create a spreadsheet, or send a query letter that contains language I may want to use again, I save a copy into it.

Some of the pieces are dated. But over the years, this practice has saved me countless hours of writing time.

What are your best time-saving tips?

As if things weren’t confusing enough

There’s no official name for the group of words that are their own opposites—I’ve seen them called Janus words, contronyms and antagonyms. Whatever the name, it’s fun to speculate on how they developed. Examples:

Sanction. Allow/boycott
Snap. Break into pieces/fasten together
Stem. Originate/cut off
Anxious. Anticipate eagerly/await with dread
Screen. Conceal/display
Custom. Usual/special
Bolt. Secure/run away