Reflections: Horizontal Communications

Mrs. Gladys Sigman, my high school geometry teacher, introduced the concepts of parallel lines, trapezoid, and determining the degrees of an angle the first week of class. These concepts were present in everyday life, but as students we did not use the geometric names.  I remember our first assignment vividly.  Draw a house using the concepts we had discussed, using all the geometric designs in the house. 

  The concept of cooperative learning was not used in those days, therefore, any discussion had to be done after class. Sitting next to me in class was John Dalton, an astute student with immediate understanding of geometry, and Ronald Rowe who had the gift of gab and could articulate what John was saying. Throughout the year, the three of us would meet and discuss geometry and an array of other topics. Today, this process is referred to as horizontal communication.

My daily routine involves walking early in the morning and going by the University of the South’s dining room for coffee.  The dining hall is a large facility designed to accommodate students in both a small, intimate setting as well as large groups.  Recently, I observed 17 students having breakfast.  Some were sitting at tables for four, some were at tables with two or three, and several were eating alone.  All seventeen had their phones in hand.  There was no conversation, therefore, no horizontal communication. 

I am quite gloomy about the effect of the internet on leadership and learning. It is wonderful to have the immediate information the internet provides.  However, some of the greatest ideas of history, of philosophy, of literature came out of the anguish of struggling for understanding and might never have been reached if there was a helpful person who gave an immediate, relevant solution by pushing a series of buttons on an iPhone. I am equally distressed by the lack of relationships developed almost, “perchance”, as the result of conversations and proximity to other people. 

Whether on the front porch with friends, the classroom with students, riding down the road or the school dining room, horizontal communication is the way to go.


Retired in 2008 after 40+ years in education/psychology as researcher, teacher, administrator and college professor.
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