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LESSONS FROM BLACK FELT-TIPPED FLAIRS

by Glenn D. Israel

  One of Ken's most powerful tools for developing scholarship was a felt-tipped Flair pen. Sometimes he used green or red but most often black. Perhaps he had a reason for using black -- I never thought to ask. What I do know is that he used that pen to teach me lessons about scholarship and writing that I use daily.


  Unlike other students, I seldom had lengthy conversations with Ken about theoretical perspectives or specific studies. Instead, much our dialog took place on the pages of my thesis and dissertation. I wrote my ideas on those pages, and, in turn, Ken would reply through marginal notes. My response would be made in the next draft -- and so it went until we reached a common understanding.

  Whenever I got Ken's comments on a copy of the thesis or dissertation chapter that he'd reviewed, I would anxiously scan the pages for his responses. Sometimes I was crushed -- the pages would be covered with black marks. Whole paragraphs would be crossed out, sentences re-worked, and comments like "Where's the evidence?" emblazoned in the margins. The latter would force me to reflect on what I had written and ask "What does the literature say about this?" or "What does my data show?" Ken's black felt-tipped pen always challenged me to think logically and to write clearly.

 


  I remember one particular occasion (of many) when I turned my brain off while writing part of my dissertation. Sure enough, Ken wrote "This is Bullshit!" in the margin of draft. Even with the passage of time, I can still see those words on that page in my mind's eye.

  Needless to say, not every comment that Ken wrote on my drafts was critical. He often found a good idea hidden in a jumble of jargon, fuzzy thinking and imprecise concepts. Comments like "Good point" and "This is a very good argument -- well stated" provided the encouragement needed to keep me going through the daily grind of writing my dissertation.


   Ken taught me how to write better. He taught me to think more critically about what I wrote, what assumptions I had made, and what evidence I provided to support my arguments. Those were lessons that were difficult to learn but will stay with me for a lifetime. Thank you, Ken.


   Glenn D. Israel is professor in the department of agricultural education and communication at the University of Florida. He is also acting director of Program Evaluation and Organizational Development, Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Ken Wilkinson chaired his masters and doctoral committees.

  Israel earned his masters and doctorate degrees in rural sociology at Penn State and his bachelors degree in community development at the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Israel is the recipient of the 1996 Excellence in Extension and Public Service Award of the Southern Rural Sociological Association for innovativeness in community development and program evaluation. During his eleven years at UF, his major responsibilities have included providing leadership to improve the Cooperative Extension Service's capacity in evaluation through such activities as teaching in-service education courses for Extension faculty and coordinating comprehensive program evaluations of state major programs. He also contributes to Extension programs to develop citizens' leadership skills and conduct community needs assessment projects. He developed a handbook, which was published by the Southern Rural Development Center, on involving youth in community development projects. His research has focused on community needs assessment processes, leadership and human resource development.

    Glenn D. Israel
    Program Development and Evaluation
    PO Box 110285
    University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL 32611-0285.
    Voice: 352-392-0386
    Fax: 352-392-9633
    E-mail: gdi@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu