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F4 Sunday, November 29, 2009 ɀ ɀ ɀ COMMENTARY Richmond Times-Dispatch


Reflections on Gratitude and Friendlier Sidewalks
hanksgiving week is the perfect time to ognize life’s gifts even during the toughest of

T reflect and give thanks.
First, the reflection, which centers
on a simple step to improve friendliness.
times. Here’s my Thanksgiving list:
Wearing my publisher hat, I am thankful
to you, our readers and advertisers, for sup-
Based on my unscientific research, this isn’t porting our group’s newspapers, Web sites,
the easiest town to get a specialty publications, and emerging serv-
friendly response to “Hi, how ices. Your loyalty, support, and advice in-
are you doing?” spire.
The normal reaction is a I am thankful to know some of the most
silent stare, looking away, or outstanding individuals anyone can find in
a blank expression suggest- this world and who just happen to call the
TOM ing the comment wasn’t Richmond region home as well.
SILVESTRI heard. I am thankful to work with an outstanding
... All I did was say hello. group of resilient associates, who have been
through a lot in the past two years as the
Go ahead and try the ex-
periment: This week, set a goal of 100 people economy pooped out, buzzards swirled, and
to wave to or make eye contact with as you adversaries crowed. Never count out our
smile and say hi. Record the result. team as we rebuild for the future.
My best score is just over the double-digit I am thankful to be a member of a commu-
mark. It can be discouraging, but the long- nity that has modeled civil, public conversa-
term play is to keep at it until a passing grade tions on more than two dozen issues under
is earned. the banner of our Public Square.
At a recent community meeting, a Rich-
monder told the story of a man in her neigh- I am thankful for the chance to partner
borhood who decided to wave to passers-by. with a select group of business, government,
“He would be out there every day despite and nonprofit leaders whose goal is to im-
the weather. At first we thought he was prove the region’s quality of life and turn jus-
crazy. But after a while, we got used to see- tifiable impatience into needed solutions.
ing him and enjoyed waving back. It made us I am thankful for all the retirees of the
smile. Made us feel good,” she said. “Then Richmond Times-Dispatch and affiliated
one day, he wasn’t at his normal spot. businesses for paving the way with decades
Everyone wondered what happened. We of hard work, even those who sometimes
got concerned. We found out he was in the moan “what the heck are those
hospital. And you know, the people he %(!@($*(+_$- doing down there?”
waved to started coming to see him to make I am thankful to live in a region that’s rich
sure he was all right. He made such an im- in performing arts and full of talented artists
pression that people wanted to pay back his whose creativity interrupts stale thoughts
kindness.” and pushes new ways to think.
Wow. I am thankful for having only a four-mile
commute to the office.
The Times-Dispatch is thankful for people I am thankful to my wife and her family for
We all can build long lists as to why more their continuing support through all of the
people aren’t friendly in public. Safety is a who participate in the civil public discussion
work interruptions and travel.
paramount concern, of course, and all it takes — even when they use the backs of old I am thankful for having a roof over my
is one “Hey, chief, can you give me a dollar” head, never taking it for granted.
comeback to shut down the cause. But does it library cards to share their message. I am thankful you made it this far. Now,
really have to be this way? pick up the Richmond Greeting Initiative and
We all should want to live in a community run with it.
where you walk down a sidewalk, enter a Thank you.
store, cross paths at a public event, or stroll
through a parking lot — and complete a rou- to increase Richmond’s friendliness, starting tions will come quicker as well. Let the • Tom Silvestri is leader of the Richmond Media Group,

tine where kind acknowledgement of each with saying hello to anyone you meet. Join Greeting Initiative begin. which includes the Richmond Times-Dispatch,, Richmond Suburban Newspapers, and
other is a natural act. me in launching the Richmond Greeting Ini- A suggested warm-up would be to give He can reached at
Let’s get a head start on a 2010 resolution tiative. Who knows, maybe community solu- thanks today to people you value and to rec- or (804) 649-6121.


It’s Time to Make Economics Part of the Core Curriculum
n Oct. 6, Rep. Eddie Bernice ᔢ In order to purchase homes bly’s passage of financial education that students should be able to

O Johnson, a Democrat from
Texas, introduced in Con-
gress the Financial Education for
that they could not afford, millions
of Americans borrowed money on
conditions that they did not under-
Courses in
legislation in 2005, the state Board
of Education has invested con-
siderable time formulating curricu-
“compare the terms and conditions
of various sources of credit,”
while another calls on students
Teachers and Students Act, which stand (negligently in some cases, planning could lum guidelines. Its work will to “identify short-term and long-
would authorize federal grants for willfully in others) and with which soon come to fruition: Beginning term personal financial goals.” Sec-
pilot programs to they could not comply. The result- teach students with students entering the ninth retary Geithner and Rep. Rangel
teach financial liter- ing mortgage and credit crises grade in the fall of 2010, every would particularly appreciate
acy to middle and nearly brought down the entire U.S.
to become good Virginia public high school student a series of standards that focus
high school stu- financial system. financial will be required to take a course in on understanding income tax re-
dents. ᔢ Over the course of several dec- personal finance and economics in turns.
In this season of ades, the average American citizens. order to receive a standard di-
WALKER pitched legislative stopped saving almost entirely — a ploma. If it is passed, Johnson’s federal
RICHMOND battles about health trend only recently reversed by the legislation would be a shot in the
about a “core curriculum” — read-
... care reform, cli-
mate change, and
onset of the great recession. ing, writing, math, science, and his- arm for Virginia’s recent efforts to
financial regulation, it is difficult to ᔢ Individuals, families, localities, tory — so that it also includes The Board of Education involved improve financial education and for
imagine that Johnson’s bill will gar- states, and, indeed, the federal gov- money management. a range of stakeholders and experts similar programs undertaken by
ernment have demonstrated an in- Courses in financial planning in the process of drafting the Stan- other states and localities.
ner much attention, much less at-
tract the support necessary for en- ability to balance their books, and could teach students to become dards of Learning for the required Let’s hope, then, that Johnson
actment. the result is a debt burden with seri- good financial citizens in the same new course. Notwithstanding my can rally supporters from both sides
And yet, consider: ous consequences for future way that civics and government personal ambivalence about the ef- of the political aisle to support her
ᔢ The secretary of the treasury generations. courses nurture good political citi- fects that the SOLs have had on cer- bill. No less a luminary than Benja-
(Timothy Geithner) and the chair- zens. tain aspects of the public education min Franklin — whose The Way to
man of the congressional commit- Fortunately for citizens of the system, I am encouraged by the fi- Wealth was America’s first guide to
tee with primary oversight over the commonwealth, Rep. Johnson was nancial literacy SOLs. They are personal finance — would surely
Internal Revenue Code (Charles Given this litany of failures, has following in the footsteps of Vir- practical, targeted, and written so have approved.
Rangel) have both claimed, during there ever been a better time to fo- ginia legislators and policymakers as to enable a creative teacher to • Walker Richmond is an attorney at Richmond
the past year, that they did not un- cus on teaching financial literacy? who have been working to improve design lesson plans that could be & Fishburne in Charlottesville. He taught middle
derstand or were unaware of (!) the The trends and behaviors that financial education for several very valuable for the typical 16- school and high school social studies for six
year-old. years prior to attending law school. Contact
rules governing preparation of their contributed to the recession illus- years. him at (434) 220-5998 or
income tax returns. trate the need to expand our ideas Following the General Assem- For instance, one standard states


Taking the Time to Compose Can Heal the Head
s writing — as in putting pen to paper — test-takers chose to write the essay portion of will handwriting lessons ever be more valu- allowed our fingers to catch up to, or even

I really worth the time? Consider:

It took me 18 seconds to write this sen-
the exam in cursive instead of print, accord-
ing to a 2007 report by the College Board.
Should we be alarmed by the decline of
able than, say, keyboarding lessons in the
21st century?
Ultimately, it’s more important for stu-
outpace, our brains in nonverbal communica-
tion. It was one thing to speak without think-
ing; now we can type, text, and Tweet in the
It took me only six seconds to type it. handwriting? Not necessarily. dents to learn how to form and refine their same way.
That’s a huge difference. And here’s an- thoughts and communicate them. The mean- But handwriting, as a skill and process,
other one: Though I have good handwriting, Handwriting is a time-consuming and la- ing is more important than the method. frequently forces us to contemplate in ways
the written sentence looks a bor-intensive skill, so technology that accel- Still, there is another big-picture concept that texting and Tweeting don’t. Our hand
lot . . . well, rougher. erates our communication is extraordinarily here that gives reason to pause. rarely overtakes our head.
helpful. We can marvel at the elegant strokes Dr. John Ratey, a psychiatry professor at
Though decades removed
of, say, the Declaration of Independence, but Harvard Medical School, refers to “acquired If you’ve ever read, for example, a wartime
from grade school, I can still
it was a lot easier in college to write a paper attention deficit disorder” to describe how letter home, there can be something magical
see that grayish paper with
about it using a typewriter or computer. Did technology is rewiring modern brains. In a in what it captures — the attention to detail,
the blue horizontal lines —
the quality of that paper suffer, or was it actu- recent San Francisco Chronicle story, he the personal nature of each character’s
LEWIS F. some solid, some dotted —
ally enhanced, by virtue of technology? said today’s tech-savvy generation is evolving stroke, the cherished quality that comes from
BRISSMAN on which I learned handwrit-
away from the “genetic roots” of humankind,
... ing (or penmanship, as some There also can be a judgment or bias that which had time to contemplate complex
someone’s commitment to compose by hand.
of you knew it). I can still see gets attached to handwriting: You might “Compose” — to make or form something,
the long, thin poster running across the draw conclusions, perhaps wrongly, about or to bring a sense of calm to one’s self.
The immediacy of modern technology has
length of the classroom’s blackboard, show- someone’s intelligence or age based on pen- So perhaps the skill for a new generation
ing perfectly formed capital and lowercase manship. Vanderbilt University professor isn’t learning penmanship the way we did,
letters in block form and cursive. Steve Graham supported those SAT test-tak- nor is it the quality of the handwriting. It’s
And remember, children: Don’t lift your ers who chose print over cursive — he noted having the discipline to reflect before com-
pen when writing a word in cursive — those in the AP story that studies have found that municating, whatever the means.
letters are connected! (In fact, “cursive” is sloppy handwriting leads to lower grades, In the sentence at the top of this column,
derived from the Latin cursus, meaning “a compared with the same content written the extra time — 12 seconds — that hand-
running,” as in written with a running hand.) more neatly. writing required wasn’t worth it. But if we
But the penmanship many of us grew up There are practical considerations, too, for use those moments for thinking about what,
with is being supplanted. In 2011, the writing school systems and parents: With such a if not how, we communicate, then it will be
test of the National Assessment of Educa- strong focus on preparing students for stan- time well-spent.
tional Progress will require eighth- and dardized tests, is there time for penmanship
• Lewis F. Brissman, director of news production, writes
11th-graders to compose on computers, not (cursive, in particular) at the expense of occasional columns about words, language, and
by hand, a recent Associated Press article some other subject? And even though full newspapers — and suggestions are welcome. Contact him
noted. And only about 15 percent of SAT computer use isn’t the norm in all schools, at