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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The trouble connecting the dots

By Dick Hirsch

I wish I could predict that I would be able to connect the dots in the new year, but I doubt it. Why am I so pessimistic? Because if I haven’t been able to connect the dots so far, how could I possibly expect to connect them now?

I am not alone in this concern.

Be honest and truthful as you ask yourself this simple question: Have I been able to connect the dots?

I know a number of intelligent people and most of them are frank to admit they have failed in any recent attempt to connect the dots. During discussions, a small but assertive minority will make some flaccid claims that on certain occasions they have had some limited success with the dots, but I don’t really believe them.

As the world has become more complicated and ominous, additional stress has been placed on the ability of those in positions of influence to connect the dots. Meanwhile, the dots themselves became much more difficult to isolate, identify and link. The object, of course, for those who may never have tried, is to carefully join one dot to the next, leading to an eventual solution. We are told that solutions to some of the most intimidating problems will be clarified if we could only connect the dots. For years there were few references to the importance of the dots, but that changed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the days that followed, the dots became more critical.

My experience with connecting dots is limited to those few pages in the coloring books we had at home when I was a child. I usually concentrated on the coloring pages, striving to stay within the lines, but when a page with dots presented itself I immediately responded to the challenge by connecting them without difficulty. They were simple; 1, 2, 3 and so on, up to 50 or 100, resulting in completion of a recognizable drawing. They were very elementary and that is the cause of the situation we have today.

Our educational system failed us by strictly limiting dot connecting opportunities, only publishing the most rudimentary problems. I understand there were some books solely devoted to dots, but I don’t recall ever seeing one. By the time we were in fourth or fifth grade we were no longer connecting dots; no self-respecting child of that age would want to be seen dallying with dots. It was considered a childish pursuit.

If only we had been given the chance to deal with more challenging dot structures....

Is it too late?

I decided a survey of dot connecting opportunities might be both enlightening and timely. My first stop was the neighborhood dollar store where the clerk immediately directed me to the aisle with the coloring books and crayons. There was a sizable inventory of coloring books, but only a few had any pages devoted to dots. The dot pages were just as I remembered them from years ago, containing a very simple collection of dots sprinkled on the page, which, when connected, yielded outlines of rabbits, dogs, trees and similar familiar objects. I was disappointed but not surprised. Those few pages clearly didn’t provide even the most basic kind of training required to prepare children for the kind of dot connecting ability needed by adults today.

You may not realize it, but there are many more dots in circulation than ever before. The dot has surpassed the period---the spot that goes at the end of sentences---and the point---the essential character that defines every decimal. The period and the point have been overwhelmed by the preponderance of dots.

I conducted an Internet search for dot books and found that publishers still believe they should be part of their product lines. There are many opportunities for purchase of dot books, some supposedly developed for adults, including one grandly entitled “The Greatest Dot Book in the World,” available at Another site offering such books is

Have I placed my own order? Well, let’s just say I am considering it since we can all use some practice in dot connecting. One conclusion I reached while reflecting on dots is this: if you look back at your own experience, the location of the dots that played a part in your life is now very obvious. That’s what is known as hindsight. While history is always relevant, what we need is dot connectors with foresight....



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