Starting something

Looking back over the past 60 years, I’ve had an interesting career thus far.  You might even call it an odyssey.

I’ve worn a lot of different hats, doing everything from running an agency of state government to playing Henry Higgins at a Florida dinner theatre.   But without question, my most satisfying job was teaching history at Midlothian High School - back in the days before block scheduling, SOLs, and other fat-headed “reforms” persuaded me that public education was committing slow suicide.

During my seven years at Midlothian, I gained enormous satisfaction from teaching U.S. and European history, but by far the best thing I did was to start a Key Club.
The Midlothian Key Club was no ordinary high school club.  Drawing on my experiences from the “real world”, I was able to establish an organization capable of accomplishing remarkable things.

To begin with, the club was highly selective.   Prospective members filled out a six-page application, which included essay questions.  They also submitted two letters of recommendation, one from a faculty member, the other from an adult not connected with the school.

Applicants were interviewed by a panel of five:  two other teachers, two graduating seniors from the club and I.  This panel then decided which applicants got in.

Selection was never easy, because membership was limited to sixty.  Beyond that, we kept a waiting list.  The club’s officers periodically culled inactive members - replacing them with students more likely to make a  contribution.

Much of the Key Club’s focus was on learning to plan and carry out complex projects.  From my years in the Chesterfield Jaycees, I adapted that organization’s “CPG” planning technique.  We operated under what we called a “Stone Soup” management system, which relied upon each member’s interests and abilities, rather than a rigid organizational chart.  (I later learned, while taking  MBA courses at UVA’s Darden School, that we’d been using ideas on the cutting edge of modern corporate thought.)
The Key Club did big things.  From our first project - a car wash that earned $1200 (in 1985 dollars) - we preferred ambitious projects.  Because every member contributed, over the course of a school year, we averaged a project a week.  

As a result, many Key Clubbers went on to remarkable college careers.   In 1989, when I returned to U. VA. for graduate study, two of my Key Clubbers had rooms on the Lawn - an honor reserved for the top 52 students in U. VA.’s graduating class.  The next year, another Midlothian Key Clubber won a Lawn room.

All in all, the three years I sponsored the Midlothian Key Club were the most satisfying of my life thus far.  For all my students learned, I learned even more.  

Above all, I learned that I’m happiest when I can bring people together to start something new - and especially when this happens in an atmosphere which is ad hoc and project-oriented, rather than bureaucratic.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy teaching and acting - two careers where a new group is brought together for a limited period of time, and committed to a distinct purpose.  Starting new things suits me - and at my age, I’d be a fool not to focus on the sorts of things I excel in. In recent years, I haven’t started nearly enough new things.  I had a hand in starting the Commonwealth Book Club - which continues to thrive after five years and fifty books.  I started a Shakespeare class at the Shepherd’s Center, which surprised people by attracting a goodly number of students.

But, for the most part, I’ve devoted the past few years to family business - and to solitary activities such as beekeeping and writing.  For some, that would be wonderful.  For me, it’s been a way to grow old before my time.

Approaching my sixty-first birthday, I’m feeling restless - and wondering if there are those among my readers who feel the same way.

I hope so, because there’s an organization I’d like to start in Chesterfield.  It would be called Transition Chesterfield, and it would be a local branch of the global Transition Movement.  

The Transition Movement has an interesting idea.  It’s an active organization, but a patient one.  Transition members share certain concerns:  anthropogenic global climate change; world overpopulation; declining reserves of fossil fuels; and the perpetual economic crisis resulting from the worldwide predominance of consumerism and corporate capitalism.  

Transition doesn’t focus on persuading skeptics of the reality of climate change, or peak oil, or the shortcomings of corporatism.  Instead, it assumes that the world will gradually wake up to these challenges - and prepares for that time by developing local plans for the changes that will come when society is ready for them.

Thus, Transition is an informal group preparing for the local aspects of a global shift to a smaller-scale, locally-oriented, and sustainable society and economy.

It would take perhaps a dozen people to start Transition Chesterfield.  I’m one.  Anyone interested?


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