Knowledge is Good: Just Ask the Instructors in New Jersey

May 16, 2005
It has been said that a person must have a vision if they are to succeed in this life. The same holds true for organizations.
It has been said that a person must have a vision if they are to succeed in this life. The same holds true for organizations. The equation is simple. No vision = no future. A number of us here in New Jersey are working on a new vision for a really neat organization that has seen some hard times of late. That organization is the New Jersey Society of Fire Service Instructors and our product is knowledge.

We are working against long odds to breathe life back into this struggling institution. It is our belief that knowledge is a critical commodity in the world and we want to bring fire instructors together to share that knowledge, improve its delivery, and thereby strengthen our influence within the fire service in New Jersey.

It is our belief that certain things cannot be taught, they must be lived and shared. New instructors need to interact with veteran instructors. There is a sharing and caring which occurs when the occasion to interact is provided. That is one of the things we want to do; provide a forum for sharing, coaching, and mentoring.

Perhaps you too are having trouble with an organization to which you have devoted a significant number of years of your life. We all have those things that we value and we all like to be with people who share our beliefs and values. It would be my guess that this is the reason for joining and supporting organizations which mirror our beliefs. Perhaps the manner in which we are fighting our battle can provide guidance for you.

All of us within our instructor's cohort believe in the value of gaining and sharing knowledge. We see a future where our organization can have a crucial role in the fire service educational delivery system here in the Garden State. Before we can create our full vision, we need to infuse a bit of life into the existing model. We are redefining the organization and reassessing the product.

Many people abuse instructors and denigrate what we do. Others just do not like to continue on the path of lifelong learning. There is a classic picture of instructors as people who teach because they cannot perform. I am familiar with these stories. That is why I always worked to overcome the image of the person who taught because they could not perform.

Let me start by asking you a simple question. How many of you are old enough to remember the classic 1978 movie Animal House? If you are of that generation then you will be able to identify the title of this week's commentary. "Knowledge is good" was the motto of the founder of Faber College, Emil Faber. It was emblazoned upon the base of his monument, which you see during the opening credits of the movie.

If you recall the story line of the movie as well as I do, then you will know that the heroes of the Delta House fraternity took a somewhat cavalier view of the learning process. Going to class was the price the fraternity members occasionally paid for the privilege of swilling beer at their on-campus fraternity house. Any knowledge gained in this manner was probably an accidental by-product of class attendance. There was an especially personal link to this movie for me.

My personal association with knowledge and the academic world, like many of my generation, began by first attending and then flunking out of college. In my case the place was the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the time was way back in the faraway era of 1966.

Like many others of my generation that blast in the face was a devastating wake up call. In my case, my parents were distressed and I was a bit shocked to say the least. Failure was never a part of my learning experience prior to 1966. It took me decades to acknowledge my role in the failure.

While a cavalier approach to the learning process lay at the root of my problems (just like the Delta gang), my demise came mostly at the hands of the Beta Theta Pi (again think Delta Tau Chi) fraternity, combined with the assistance of a variety of alcoholic beverages taken internally. More of my time was spent attending athletic practices and fraternity parties than cracking the books.

There was a penalty to be paid for my errors. I was asked to leave the school. The authorities suggested that I take a year or so to mature and then return to the hallowed, ivy-covered halls of the university. As all of us over the age of 50 know all too well, that such an invitation was a one-way ticket to the military in the 1960's.

My lack of understanding of the learning process, combined with my lack of maturity, gained me an admission ticket to the "College of Hard Knocks: AKA The U.S. Air Force". What you might ask did I learn from years in the "college of hard knocks?"

It was my misfortune to meet a number of ill-prepared people masquerading as supervisors. They were not prepared for the job. To be sure there were some really outstanding people, but they were not the norm. To this day, my old U.S.A.F. roommate John Harris and I share a phrase which we understand to mean one of those really marginal performers.

When either of us wants to make a point, we revert to the phrase, "

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