Sunday, April 17, 2005

NPR Essay, This I Believe

Last weekend at a family event I was talking with my nephew who was excited about an article he had read in Wired Magazine. Like a lot of smart young men, he had been interested in his younger days in building robots, so he was drawn to this great story about a group of high school kids from Phoenix who had won top honors in a contest to build an underwater robot.

I blogged about it the next day because I also thought it was a great story. I titled my post Wired Magazine has a great story and posted it the following morning. The writer did a good job, but I felt the need to introduce the characters more clearly to readers. I was pleased with my post, moved on, and thought nothing more about it.

But the next morning, Monday, I woke up to the sound of Colin Powell on NPR reading an essay which I soon learned was created for the This I Believe project, a renewed idea of a series that in the fifties had created a lot of interest on radio.
When I looked it up on the NPR website, I saw that they were soliciting essays from anyone who was interested, telling in 500 words or less something personal that could be entitled "This I Believe..."

Immediately, I pulled up my post from the day before and started to work editing it back to five hundred words.
That's hard. I had to delete a lot of stuff, but I came to realize how sloppy my writing had become with no real need for editing. It is no wonder that the internet is exploding. If everyone else is a redundant as I, with no editorial oversight to put a lid on their output, about half or more of everything in the archives can be eliminated. Here is my result:

This month as I turn sixty-one I may be among the oldest bloggers, but the experience is shaping a personal credo in a way that would not have been possible when I was young. I have been reading blogs for three years and keeping my own since last August. Nothing else in the information age will form and challenge a credo better than blogging. For your project I have modified my post from yesterday linking to a story in the current issue of Wired Magazine, which can be read at several levels.

At the generational level, I should note that without a contact with my nephew I would never have known about the article. Even though we like many of the same things, there is a generational gap in how we find and process information. For me the world of information technology is a breathtaking recent development. Young people have no memory of a time when knowledge was limited to an educated class taught to read, research and coordinate knowledge in ways now obsolete. The story in Wired reflects this gap in a different way.At the social level the story is about how a bunch of kids from Phoenix with nothing going for them but street smarts and energy were able to outdistance more priviliged competitors in competition that should have been "out of their league."

At the political level we are faced with in-your-face excellence in the context of illegal aliens, often condemned for sucking benefits from a social "support" system while giving nothing in return. And because it appears in a magazine for nerds and kids, readers of this story will be more interested in technology and engineering than social implications. It is revealing that my nephew was a lot more animated about the way that these underdogs were able to compete, the factual details of their inventive genius and creativity, than any social implications the story may have. As a cafeteria manager my experience with immigrants has made me hopeful rather than resentful. Whether from Asia or the Carribean or Eastern Europe or Africa my immigrant employees have been bright spots of success and good work in a food service career that has seen thousands of subordinates.

Most of all I have been impressed with what most people call "family values" and work ethics. Unlike our citizens whose backgrounds are pockmarked by divorce, "single parent families," illegitimacy, day care and a need for creature comforts, immigrants take nothing for granted. It is normal for well-educated immigrants to go to work readily at jobs that citizens of the same educational achievement would never consider. Family connections are valued to the point that child care is rarely left to anyone outside the immediate family. Also, it is not remarkable for people working at low incomes to find enough money to send home to the family they left behind. Finally, after I put my thoughts and opinions into words, I provided a link to the article.

[It's not a very good essay now that I read it cold. It looks and reads too much like what it is, a chopped down, poorly-organized hack job that should have been cut back more with explanatory content added to make it come alive. Oh well...the fat is in the fire.]

That's not the end of the story.
As I drove to work yesterday I was listening to Weekend Edition on NPR.
I was thrilled when I caught the name "Cristian" and realized I was hearing an interview with the main characters in the story I had found last week.

Four high school kids from western Phoenix and an underwater robot named Stinky beat out the nation's brightest students (including a team from M.I.T) in the 2004 Marine Advanced Technology Education Center Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition. It's a boost to their college hopes, which had been far from a sure thing due to financial disadvantages.

The journey of the Carl Hayden High School team is chronicled in Wired magazine and raises issues surrounding college funding for the children of immigrants. Susan Stamberg talks to two of the members, Cristian Arcega and Lorenzo Santillan. We also hear from their computer science teacher, Allan Cameron.

Quelle excitement!

I'm not vain enough to think that my essay was the link between NPR and this interrview, but it makes me feel great to have been in on something, even if it is something minor, before it got national attention.
I know why blogging is addictive.
It's like fishing. If you go fishing, bored all day, sitting in the sun, catching nothing, all it takes to make you come back and do it all over again is to catch a fish or two and feel that excitement.

1 comment:

bob (a.) said...

Hi Hoot -

I noticed that the big guy posted a note about this here:

Maybe NPR is blogging ...