Once in a while throughout the course of my career first as a public relations professional, now a public relations professor, I have hit a point where I ask myself “what’s the point?” A feeling of “here we go again” washes over me, and I’m tempted to curl up in the corner with my teddy bear.
I like to think my colleagues (both professional and academic) and I are making a difference for the future generations of PR pros who pass our way either as mentees or as students. Then “stuff” happens.
I got that feeling just recently thanks to an email from a student in one of my classes at Curry College, where I ride herd over the undergrad Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses.
The student…five days after the work was assigned and with less than two days to complete it…apparently decided that the instructions I had posted were written in Klingon.
Hence his statement/question: “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”
Now this truly was a “complicated” assignment. The question related to a famous libel suit back in the 1700s that we had discussed at length in our mass communication class. The wording of the question was, basically, “John Q. Public…what happened and why was it important for communicators?”
Needless to say, the entire scenario is discussed in detail in our textbook, and a quick Google search provides a wealth of additional info.
But, nowhere in the book does it specifically say “Kirk will ask this specific question and here is the answer all spelled out for you.”
Hence, “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”
I try to drive home to my troops the importance…since they harbor eager thoughts of being radio or television newscasters or, better yet(!), public relations professionals…of what we refer to as “critical thinking.”
The thought behind this concept is that you, the student/professional-to-be, will take a pile of assorted information, sift through it, and arrive at a conclusion of some sort…a resolution to the problem at hand.
Why do we give emphasis to this approach? Pretty simple, to me.
Because that’s the way it’s going to be once you stumble across the stage at commencement, give your “ate a bumblebee” grin for the photo with the president, and clutch your diploma in your clammy hands.
Your boss isn’t going to say, “Here’s a problem we’re facing, and here’s how I think we should deal with it.”
Unh-unh. Ain’t gonna happen.
The conversation is going to go something like this: “XYZ just happened. I need a plan to deal with the fallout by noon.”
Your challenge is to sort through the smoldering rubble, find the cause of the situation, identify possible options for resolution and come back to the boss with your recommended solution.
We spend a lot of time talking about “life after college,” “growing up,” and all that. And, once in a while, we think we’ve gotten through. A faint glimmer of understanding flashes across our young charges’ faces.
Then the question comes: “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”
One step forward; two steps back.