Never the Twain’s shall meet
I have had months here and there in the US, but I never had a formal education there. However, in my primary school days, since St Mark’s was outside the state system here in New Zealand, our textbooks were largely American.
It never did us any harm. The books we used for reading, from Houghton Mifﬂin mostly, were great teachers of values. So, from age ﬁve, which is when primary school here begins, we read about the Wright Brothers, George Washington and the cherry tree, Babe Ruth, and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Where we departed was in our teachers instructing us that color and harbor were misspelt—and then we knew there was a difference between English and American English.
I believed these ideas helped provide me with my values, along with my upbringing at home, from my grandmother and my parents.
So I was a bit surprised to read the following at the conservative Power Line blog up in Minnesota and thought, if a guy in New Zealand had read Mark Twain, why are fewer and fewer Americans?
Born as a Tom Sawyer (there used to be one in every Sawyer family!), I was introduced to Tom and Huck at an early age. While I found the name a burden during my early years, I later came to realize it was quite an asset to have a name people could remember.
In the 1960s and 1970s I could always respond to “How do you spell that name?” with “Just like in the book!” By the 1980s I noticed that response sometimes produced a blank stare from the younger clerks behind many a counter. By the 1990s that response had become useless. (Of course, trying “just like lawyer, but with an S” produced total perplexity—but that’s a subject for another letter). I ﬁgured out that the banning of Huckleberry Finn from grade schools and high schools was the source of the problem.
Interestingly, my wife and I travel a good bit and host numerous foreign guests in our home. Tom Sawyer is instantly recognizable to any young English-speaker from any continent outside of North America. They have all read Huckleberry Finn in the course of learning both English and American culture. Too bad America’s younger generations can’t share in this wonderful novel.
Mind you, I claim no cultural superiority for New Zealanders. Yesterday, one young lady insisted that both singular possessive and plural possessive were s-apostrophe, and that apostrophe-s was only used for the contraction of is. So much for our being well read: our state school teachers do not even pass on the rules of grammar to the next generation. People ask me why I do not have a PA, and the answer is blindingly obvious: I have not interviewed anyone for the role here who has a grasp of the English language—and I’m an immigrant who only knew one question, ‘Please may I go to the toilet?’ when starting school at age ﬁve.
When there are great novels that have imparted great values for generations, the last thing any nation should do is de-emphasize them. I now live in a nation that is only discovering its folk heroes properly, and I sure as heck hope we hang on to them, and teach kids about them in their daily reading.
The same applies in organizations, as a microcosm of a nation (as St Petersburg was): the great stories that give character to a brand must be repeated. It’s easy to understand why this is necessary in an organization to give it strength and differentiation, plus a rallying-point; it should not be tough, therefore, to grasp why this is needed in a nation and for a nation brand. Posted by Jack Yan, 03:32
"this is necessary in an organization to give it strength and differentiation, plus a rallying-point"
This is what fascinates me about so much of the "community" conversation I hear being used. The term is used without a lot of discussion about what it takes to form community. Shared story is certainly a key element (or "shared vision" as Senge noted in the 5th Discipline).
Having spent a good deal of my life forming community as a pastor starting new churches, I feel might be able to offer some value that the business world has often dismissed.
Strong brands like strong nations know their story and invite others into their community by telling the story. Otherwise, it is just a job.
You got me thinking...a lot! Thanks Jack!
# posted by Michael Wagner: 6/04/2006 01:57:00 AM
Thank you for your great comments, Michael! I get worried on occasion when I tell these yarns that aren’t directly related to branding, and I have to come back round to the topic. But I am glad they are useful.
Your work as a pastor would indeed be useful, to wake up many people in the business world as to their raisons d’être. In a church, it is about helping people discover themselves; I say it is little different in business. The worrying thing is if we start worshipping idols in business!
I went to state schools in NZ in the 50s and 60s and though I can't remember if Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were part of the syllabus, I certainly read both books. Only Babe Ruth would've drawn a blank from the list you gave.
I can see a problem with those books relating to today's kids though, mainly due to their rural setting. It's not for nothing The Simpsons is set in suburbia.
That’s a good point, Carl. Kids will ﬁnd it difﬁcult to relate to the rural settings, or any setting away from modernity. I guess this is why we hardly see black-and-white ﬁlms on TV any more.Post a Comment
I hope, however, that there are alternatives for young Americans if they are not to be exposed to Mark Twain—but I still think they should, because it is part of their value system. We had to put up with Shakespeare!
I have to say I have little idea what young New Zealanders have for their reading these days, though the School Journal was always good in my day.
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