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Attention to Detail (or the lack thereof)

For quite some time I have been frustrated by what appears to be an ever-increasing disregard for paying attention to detail. I see it in my students’ assignments, store clerks, correspondence from companies, employers’ reviews, etc. At first I thought maybe it was just my OCD that made it so glaring for me, but the more it happens, the more I believe it is a trend . . . a very dangerous one. That may seem like a melodramatic statement, but consider the risk when prescription bottles are mislabeled.  It’s very telling when attorney practices set aside resources for pharmacy mislabeling mistakes alone. A simple typo can wreak havoc on a company’s finances. Don’t take my word for it; check out The High Cost of Small Mistakes: The Most Expensive Typos of All Time by Cameron Fennell.

When I mark spelling or grammatical mistakes on student assignments, oftentimes their response is, “This isn’t an English class! Why are you marking that wrong?” Most of them assignmentget it when I say, “You are studying to be a TEACHER. Everything you do in the classroom is modeling for your students. If you expect them to learn how to spell and to use proper grammar in writing, you must model it for them every day and in all that you do.” However, sadly, some of them continue to plead their case until I say, “This is not negotiable.”

Today I received some correspondence from a company regarding my retirement from the university system. Once again, the funds had been transferred to yet another company and they were notifying me of the transfer (i.e. You now have a zero balance with us because we put your money somewhere else). Look closely at this picture. ValicCheck out the date. Seriously??? It says the money was transferred (past tense) on August 8, 2107. Hmmmm . . . . This is an official document! I’m just at a loss, truly.

My take on this (for whatever it is worth and that’s probably not even 2 cents but it helps to get it off my chest) is that we, as a society . . . parents in particular . . . have stopped expecting excellence from our children. We went through a time when we were more concerned about their feelings than we were about their development of life skills that would sustain them (and their communities). I believe we went overboard not wanting our children to cry, to hurt, to know failure (everyone gets a trophy). It may have begun as a noble cause and honestly I believe feelings are important. We want our children to Mandelabe empathetic, loving, and caring, but the fallout from expecting less is damaging. It’s damaging to our children, personally, and to our society, collectively. We stopped setting expectations to which they could rise. We stopped demanding they repeat a task because they hadn’t completed it correctly the first time. Instead we gave them an “A for effort.” Instead of figuring out the cause for bad grades, we took them for ice cream to make them feel better. Scholarly research even shows great benefits toward academic success when parents expect excellence. This may seem harsh, especially from someone who has dedicated her career to the health, education, and welfare of young children, but I believe because I have seen it from all sides over the course of many years, I have a unique perspective. I am convinced society’s trend toward not paying attention to detail is directly connected to our lack of expectations for our children.

Allow me to share a personal story with you. When my daughter was about 10 years old, she was washing dishes. She was in a hurry and wasn’t rinsing the dishes thoroughly, putting them in the dish drainer with soap suds on them. I pointed that out to her and told her she needed to rinse all of the dishes again. She had a meltdown and began to cry, telling me it wasn’t a big deal and I was being too hard on her (Clearly, she just wanted to be done with it so she could go outside and play). I calmly explained to her that it was my job, as her mother, to teach her the correct way to do things. If I didn’t, I wasn’t doing my washing dishesjob and that was unacceptable to me. I explained that the soapy dishes would have a film on them and asked, “How would you like it if your milk tasted soapy?” I told her I wanted her to grow up with the skills she needed to take care of herself and proper dish washing was one of those skills. I guess it made sense to her, because she stopped crying, re-rinsed all the dishes and went about her day, unscathed. I had to stop what I was doing and seize what I like to call a “teachable moment”, but it was well worth it. Could it be we are just too busy and involved in so many other things, we don’t always take the time to clarify expectations for our children in order to help them grow and develop? I will say, the best result of these few moments together is that my daughter is now an adult, owns a home, supports herself, and is a vibrant and productive member of society. She is also very empathetic, loving, and caring.  Score 2 for the daughter, 0 for the trend.

The good news is, this trend is fixable! It isn’t a terminal disease that offers no hope. We can change the trend. We can begin expecting children (of all ages) to spell correctly, use proper grammar, check and double check assignments/tasks, repeat a task until the outcome is a success and work to do their best in everything they do. Children will rise to our level of expectations. I believe that and it is vital to the health and well being of our society because those children grow into adults who check your groceries at the store, cash you out at the bank, prepare your legal documents, deliver your babies, fill your prescriptions, teach your children, sign your paychecks, report the news, are elected to office, make the laws . . .

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