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Like, the Buck Stops Here?


I am almost finished with David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, and at almost 1100 pages it’s not a quick read.  But McCullough knows how to tell a story and how to use just enough detail so that the reader can appreciate the cast of characters.  McCullough’s history isn’t a series of dates; it’s a series of events driven by real people  with personalities.  We see the strengths and weaknesses of those who made history and whose legacies still influence our lives today.

If you read history, you understand that our current President isn’t the only one to face what seems to be one Harry-Truman crisis after another.  Truman, after all, became President when Roosevelt died in office.  Truman dealt with the surrender of Germany, the decision to drop the first atomic bombs, the partition of Europe, the establishment of the state of Israel, the Berlin blockade, the Iron Curtain and the threat of communism.  And all of that within his first few years in office.

Much of McCullough’s information comes from letters and diaries that Truman and others around him wrote.   This was a literate generation of leaders who actually wrote to one another in clear, thoughtful prose and sent their letters via the post office. I cannot really imagine Truman, Churchill and Stalin tweeting.

Truman watched the 1948 Democratic convention in Philadelphia on new innovative technology:  a 12” fuzzy black and white TV that was installed in his office for the event. No 24-hour news coverage.  No talking heads, crazy or otherwise.  No instant analysis.  No Facebook page.  When he arrived in person at the convention center at 2 AM to accept the nomination for President, it was 93 degrees at the podium (no air conditioning).  And his speech was riveting, powerful, and inspired.

So my point today is that thoughtful, literate communication still matters although some would have us believe that hey, your first thought is your best thought. Writing clearly and correctly is a point I stress continually with my graduate students in education administration.  Clear writing reflects clear thinking.  Despite what the negative pundits say, fluency and clarity on the page and at the microphone are powerful.  (See The King’s Speech.)

On this President’s Day, I give you a short video of what some consider the state of popular communication today.  See what you think.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.