Our choices still have consequences

I haven?t heard much about Madeline Hunter lately. Her seven steps for preparing school lesson plans were all the rage when I started teaching back in the 1990s.

In fact, I attended a packed conference at the Hutchinson Sports Arena where the queen herself held court. Her message was that teachers make a series of decisions about how they will present each lesson. Those choices determine how well the instructor reaches all his or her students.

Hunter died in 1994. Did the idea that all of us, whether teachers or not, need to make solid decisions die with her?

Sometimes I think so.

We can point to all sorts of bad decisions in the news of late. University of Kansas basketball star Brandon Rush decided not to pay a few pesky traffic fines he accumulated in Douglass County over the past two years.

As a result, he was arrested last week, then released on a $500 bond. So far, the consequences to his roundball career have not been significant. But, the decision to not worry about those moving violations could have resulted in his suspension from the team, potentially damaging his professional career.

Come to think of it, however, these days a rap sheet is just as likely to enhance a pro sports career as it is likely to negatively affect it.

We often hear of high school athletes making bad choices as well. How many times have students risked suspension and worse by deciding to attend parties where illegal drinking has taken place. Sometimes they are caught and ruled ineligible. Sometimes they get away with it. Sometimes they die in car crashes. All are potential consequences. Yet, the choice is made to gamble, to put it all on the line.

I, too, have taken chances and have driven while impaired. In my case, it has been sleepiness that has impacted my reaction time and concentration.

On a less serious note, I recall making a nearly catastrophic decision when I was in college. I occasionally made a few extra bucks covering high school basketball games.

On one snowy, icy Friday night, I was one of the last to leave the parking lot after a game. I put the car in reverse, and nothing happened. My tires had been warm when I had arrived and had melted a patch of snow under each wheel. Those spots had refrozen during the game, and the tires of my 1974 Gremlin were rendered gripless.

Having not had the benefit of enough experience with this type of situation, and seeing no one around to give me a shove, I decided to put the automatic transmission into ?drive? and give the car a quick push. I figured a car couldn?t travel all that fast without the driver pressing the accelerator. I should be able to get it moving and then jump in behind the wheel in time to stop the car before it hit anything, I surmised.

Guess what I found out. It is extremely difficult to catch a moving vehicle, and even a Gremlin will get going rather rapidly given its own free rein.

I learned that, though a car seems to be traveling slowly when one is in it, the actual speed is deceiving.

So, chasing the car across the frozen, ice rink of a parking lot was bad choice number one. The second bad idea was a decision to attempt to get into the car while it was moving. I grabbed the open door, swung into the driver?s seat, applied the brake and managed to stop the vehicle moments before it slid into the ditch at the opposite side of the parking lot.

I could easily have been drug under the car and killed. But, my choice was dictated by the fact that I didn?t want to be inconvenienced, and likely more importantly, I didn?t want to be embarrassed by having to call someone to pull my car out of the ditch.

I learned a physics lesson even though I had never taken the class in high school. I believe the mathematical formula is: Gremlin + ice + application of force = momentum, speed and potential death.

I beat the odds that day. I gambled, and I won. But, the situation scared me enough that I vowed never to try that again.

Not everyone is as lucky. I mean no disrespect to the young woman or her parents, but it seems obvious to me that Emily Sanders, the 18-year-old from El Dorado who was murdered recently, made a series of bad decisions that ultimately cost her life.

There is no point in playing the blame game, but I question what an underage young woman was doing in a bar in the first place. What choices placed her at the wrong place at the wrong time, talking to the wrong person?

The frightening part of this story is that we have students in our own community who are making those types of decisions every day. It has been my experience that young people believe they are immortal, and that things like what tragically happened to that El Dorado teenager just won?t, can?t happen to them.

Many teens believe that when adults discipline them, we are just being mean or unreasonable and we just ?don?t understand.?

I believe world-savvy adults understand far more than young people about choices, and it is our obligation to do whatever we can to help our teens gain from our experience. That may mean stepping in on occasion and saying ?NO,? despite the pleading and cajoling we may be subjected to.

Yes, teens can rightly point to the fact that adults don?t always make the best decisions. Every time one of us lights up a cigarette or chooses to drive impaired, we are setting a bad example.

When we invade countries based on partial or shaky intelligence, then stubbornly insist that no mistake was made, we send the wrong message.

We should admit our errors and apologize for them.

Madeline Hunter was right. Life is a series of choices. Some are small. Some are large. And some are potentially catastrophic. Maybe the fact that we are not hearing much about teaching and learning good decision-making skills lately is a telltale sign.

The question may well be, who is making these choices for us?

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