Good ReadsIt’s a Headline World

It’s a Headline World

It’s a Headline World

I think there must be surtax on words these days! Maybe each printed word used costs money! Could it be Conrad Black has a monopoly on all the good words in the thesaurus? Everywhere brevity is in vogue!

On Twitter you have a limit of 280 characters, up from 140 previously, to tweet an idea no matter its message. At the Ottawa Citizen an OP-ED must be under 700 words, no matter the thought. For the Retired Teachers Organization magazine submission your article must be trimmed to fewer than 700 words no matter the topic.

It’s a Headline world, I think!

Depth of treatment does not seem to be wanted. Thoroughness sometimes seems unappreciated. Covering all possible angles often seems to be discouraged.

I saw it as an elementary teacher of English to French Immersion one year. I had 4 spirited classes of 8 and 9 year olds and was required to write a comment for each child on the report card. I put a lot of time, consideration and effort into writing pertinent sentences as the new principal instructed. We were asked to do the impossible in a simple report comment, of course, and say what the child had learned, what problems the student had encountered and how we were going to correct them. For my weakest students I had extra notes, plenty of work samples and tons of suggestions to write about. For those, I wrote a few concise paragraphs which delineated as best I could the child’s progress.

After a full day in the classroom, I diligently entered my comments on the computerized form, some completely filling the small box I had for ‘Language.’ I had however not accomplished my task correctly because the French teacher told me she needed to have her comments expressed first and I would get what space she did not need. On one report card form I was left two lines. I cut my comment to the bone and basically said the child was struggling and needed extra help at home each night.

When the principal reviewed the comments, she said it would be better if I selected board generated pre written statements from a list provided. I deleted my second attempt at a suitable personal evaluative statement and selected the board suggested comment, “Much improved!” if I recall correctly. I decided to simplify my reports and use the same comment for every child. I figured if that one did not reflect their term, I should be fired, because that was my job, making sure they improved! The principal told me after reviewing my single two word comment for every boy or girl I taught, that my report cards were much, much better this term! In my opinion they were the worst report cards I ever completed and said virtually nothing!

Headline writing seemed to be what was wanted!

I saw it again when I worked as a Private Adoption Practitioner some years later. A typical Home Study report was about 15 single spaced pages plus supporting documentation. This would be average for a professional, no Issues, kind of solid couple in their 30’s, with no other children. The extensive list of areas we were required to assess were laid out by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

I had, towards the end of my career, a case with 2 adults in their second marriages, many children between them from other unions, biological children of their own, and a live in Nanny to prepare and assess. The couple wanted to adopt a complex sibling group of older children, of another race, another religion, another culture, another language, from half way across the world, with a history of multiple homes and institutionalizations, and significant health problems. This was the most difficult case with which I was ever confronted.

 I told the eager and most generous family upfront it was highly unlikely they would ever get their request approved by the Ministry. Almost every rule in the playbook would be violated. However, they wanted to try, so I put them through the proverbial mill. After many arduous months of preparation and assessment, I felt confident they could do the job. So I wrote a detailed report which was 40 pages in length and thorough enough I thought, that the Ministry would have a hard time turning this amazing family down. We were absolutely certain that we had addressed every conceivable objection we thought might be used to deny the adoption proposed.

When the monstrous file was reviewed a supervisor emailed me to say it was too long. She did not have time to read it. I was to cut it in half and then she would look at it.

I could not believe it! It was not about the content of the report. It was not about any areas I needed to address more clearly. It was not about any specific objections to this adoption plan, nor even about the best interests of the children. It was just too long.

Headline writing seemed to be what was wanted!

I wrote and asked the bosses what part of the report they wanted eliminated? The medicals on the children, perhaps?  The school plans for the adoptees, maybe? Or possibly would they prefer the family’s readiness to deal with the innumerable expected difficult behaviours these older traumatized children would likely present? I had a few other things to say as you might imagine, but had to edit the report anyway! Fortunately, despite my absolute frustration with this Headline thinking supervision, the family was approved and some very sweet but needy children came to Canada to a loving home!

After retirement, I volunteered in a Long Term Care facility. There were a number of issues I wanted to bring to the attention of the appropriate authorities and had pages of copious notes and letters containing salient information about experiences there. I approached several top notch professionals in my extensive network for advice, including a high level person in law enforcement. This person carefully read most of my notes, reflected on the best course of action, and told me to write a letter to the Ministry. I was told to keep it very short, one page perhaps because they did not like reading long reports and possibly wouldn’t.

Headline writing seemed to be what was wanted!

I wonder what is driving this headline mentality these days. It seems to be everywhere. Opinions are formed, conclusions are drawn, and decisions are made sometimes without even reading and understanding the full story.

What has happened to the concept of doing an excellent thorough job, completing the most comprehensive work possible and writing reports with fine detail and considerable depth of thought? Are our schools not insisting our students learn and write with more than superficial knowledge on topics? Are our children not rewarded for depth and breadth in their treatment of all assignments? Could it have anything to do with college and university professors lamenting the diminished strength of their students’ ability to write well, use correct grammar, sentence structure and connected expression of thoughts in formulation of an argument in their essays? What is causing educated adults to feel confident to hold and express an opinion on a topic, even make important decisions on it, often with only Headline knowledge about it? Why has it become popular to read the Executive Summary on an issue and feel ready to weigh in on a position or vote? Why is this rather childlike approach prevalent in the workforce and what are some of the pitfalls?

I do wonder, as Dr. Phil McGraw might comment, “How is that working for us?”

A tree cannot be compared to a forest!

A kiss cannot be compared to a love affair!

And a headline cannot be compared to a Saturday edition of the Ottawa Citizen!

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