John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What’s A One Liner Your Students Might Remember and Be Influenced By?

October 31, 2011John N. GardnerInsights1
John Gardner
President

The other day I had just come through a TSA screening line in Indianapolis and a TSA agent came up to me and handed me a bucket full of change that I had neglected to reclaim. The dialogue that ensued went something like this:

John: Well, another honest TSA Agent! Thank you very much.

Agent: Yes, sir. My mother taught me “never take anything that isn’t yours.” She told me that again and again and again.

John: Oh, yes, I understand. My mother’s voice is still alive and well in my head. She speaks to me there every day.

Agent: One day I handed a man $5000 he had left in the bucket in his wallet.

John: You certainly must sleep well at night. What America needs are more citizens like you (unlike the unregulated/deregulated Wall Street financiers who stole from all of us I thought but didn’t say).

Agent: Thank you Sir.

I left the exchange wondering what is it that we could say to our students “again and again” that might really sink in. What could you say that could become your mantra with students? Put it in your syllabus. Put it on your office door.

I wish I had raised the question to myself earlier in my career when I had lots of my own students. I know I had many principles which I tried to teach them, like the importance of voting, and reading a good daily newspaper. But a one liner?  No, I didn’t have one, except with my second son.

He is a great guy, now 36, married, has two children, a good honest, law abiding, tax paying citizen (and a college graduate). But when younger he was always trying to con me in little harmless ways. And my predictable response always was: “Son, you can’t sh*t an old sh**ter.” That’s all I needed to say and he would revise what he had just said that prompted me to say that and instead I would get a straight forward, honest rendering of whatever the facts at hand really were.

For about 13 of my 32.5 years at USC, I had a senior colleague whom I respected greatly, who every time he saw me would say: “John, are you happy in your work today?”  When I saw him coming I knew what he was going to ask me and he knew I knew what he was going to ask me. He and I also both knew what my answer would be. This is what we need more of today, more predictability in our professional and personal lives.

So what are you, my readers, going to make your signature one liner for your students? And/or your colleagues? I think we all need one.

Hmmmmmmm. Now what is mine going to be?

One Comment

  1. AnonymousOctober 31, 2011 at 9:33 amReply

    My favorite art teacher always said, "Look… to see, to remember, to enjoy." This has served me well throughout life. I have since passed this bit of wisdom on to my children!

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