Friday, August 19, 2011


Like so many, I appreciate the convenience of a GPS device while driving. Well, to be exact, I like it fine for the directions, but I really like the ETA and miles to go features the best. Today on our drive home from Buffalo, though, I was not at the wheel, and so in addition to enjoying some really spectacular scenery-- rolling NY farmland and gorgeous PA mountains in particular-- I spent some time looking at real maps.

I much prefer seeing the big picture and knowing where I am and where I'm going and how I plan to get there, something that turn by turn directions not only cannot provide, but actually discourage. Who needs that big old travel atlas when you have that handy electronic device advising you from the dashboard? Turns out, we do. In fact I heard a piece on the radio not so long ago about people who followed their GPS directions down dead-end dirt roads in Death Valley. Some were rescued after a few harrowing days and some died.

While we were on vacation I whipped up a batch of vegan shortcakes to go with some wonderful local peaches. "Where did you find this recipe?" someone asked and when I told her that I had made up, she was impressed. "I could never cook without a recipe," she said.

But she could. Anyone can. Recipes are like GPSs. If you follow them without paying attention to where you are going, then you probably have no idea as to where you are, but if you use them as a resource, then your destination remains in your control, so if you need to go back sometime, or you want to go another way, it's not a problem to turn a cherry almond cake into one with peaches, lime, and even a dash of hot chili.

And to climb one more rung on the analogy ladder tonight: this is one of the most important skills that we want our children to develop. Rote memory and following directions may be enough to pass most standardized tests, but it's critical thinking and the ability to apply the knowledge we have that will keep us from getting lost in Death Valley.

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