Let’s Get Feisty 2.0: The Thought that Won’t Go Away

I originally posted this thought back in 2009. Lately I’ve had so much stirring inside about the potential for change that I decided to update my post with some new thoughts. I was surprised that it hasn’t much changed – this is a thought that just won’t go away. Which means, what? I think it means I need to consider it in greater depth and see what one person really can do.


feisty (adj) : tenacious, energetic, spunky; Belligerent; prepared to stand and fight especially in spite of relatively small stature or some other disadvantage (wiktionary.org).


It’s always fun to share photos and stories of family gatherings. With the recent passing of another year I have been reading a number of such stories posted by friends and family at various social networking sites.

One of these stories really stood out as a lesson for me as a curriculum designer so I thought it apropos to share.

A friends’ teenage grandsons purchased a gift for their younger brother that he had been asking for all year. It was a small gift and shaped such that traditional gift packaging would have quickly quashed the element of surprise so they, being teenage boys, decided to get feisty.

On Christmas morning, among the many neatly tied bows and glittering packages, stood a monstrosity of a gift with what appeared to be a ragged football protruding from one side. The teen boys snickered and jabbed one another in the ribs as they pointed their younger brother toward that package, “it’s for you”.

The young boy wasted no time tearing into the gift from his brothers as a crowd of grandparents, aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins looked on.

First came some holiday wrapping paper that, when ripped away, revealed a well-worn football which was duct taped to an old heating vent cover. This strange combination served as the gift box. Inside this bizarre gift box was a smaller box wrapped completely with masking tape. The boy was unshaken as he requested a pair of scissors. Cutting the box open he gasped and guffawed at the contents. It was a brick; a red brick with an attached brown paper package wrapped in several layers of black duct tape.

With an enormous smile on his face the boy cut the tape away from the brick and began working on the brown paper package. Had he finally reached his prize? Not quite. Inside the brown paper package was a paper tube (presumably from a roll of toilet paper). The tube was wrapped not only in more duct tape but also bound with a layer of baling wire!

The boy’s anticipation was palpable as he looked at his brothers in disbelief. “I need wire cutters!” One of the older boys was ready for this layer, and handed him a small pair. As he cut each wire he began laughing so hard he was nearly in tears.

A full fifteen minutes had passed since he started opening this present. It didn’t seem that long, not even to the crowd of onlookers who were enjoying every moment of the surprise almost as much as the young boy.

One last obstacle, the paper tube. The boy took the scissors, sliced the tube long ways and spread it apart at the cut…revealing the gift he had so longed for! He squealed with delight and launched himself at his older brothers simultaneously hugging and punching them. The rest of the family clapped and cheered at his success and his delight.

I said I believed there was a lesson in this story for those of us involved in curriculum design so here it is…

  • “Unconventional” (aka “feisty”) is interesting! It’s fun, it captures attention, sparks emotion, and leaves a lasting impression.

An adult wrapping the young boys gift may have never considered the outrageous an stuck with traditional packaging. Yes, the child would still have received the gift he had wanted all year but the impact upon him and the rest of the family members present that day would have been completely different. Perhaps the unwrapping of that gift would have even gone unnoticed except by the giver and the recipient. The teenage boys were feisty and that feistiness is what resulted in one of the most memorable gifts ever given or received in that family. Stories will undoubtedly be told of that gift for years, if not generations to come.

Of course there are risks in being feisty. I decided to pursue curriculum design because I am a creative soul and this career allows me all the latitude I need to express my creativity and gives me an opportunity to do so while having a role in the learning process. I have  been disappointed at the lack of innovation and the reliance upon static learning elements – even in an age when we have a virtual boatload of options that engaging and interesting. Why are we stuck? How does one person speak loudly enough to be heard?

Sometimes I think it’s easy to become so mired down in our sacred academic traditions that we forget how delightful it is to witness the magical moment when learning occurs. Across my industry I see a rising tide of people who are feeling the same frustrations I feel, and I see many stepping out boldly with new ideas. This is what we have to do. Just because education has been done the same way for centuries, does not mean we are bound to keep it that way. Come on, folks! Can anyone else see the glaring gap here? I posit that while it may not be appropriate for every lesson, we could all stand to take a cue from the teenage boys in this story and get feisty. Why not?

Lisa M. Menke is the Associate Dean for Online Instruction at York College of Nebraska. Lisa is an avid fan innovation in learning design and transmedia storytelling. Lisa holds a graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a graduate certificate in  online course development. Lisa and her family live in York, Nebraska.


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