Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

David Brooks’ “Wokeness” Op-Ed Artfully Crafts a Definition for That Term. My Question for him is this: Are You Sure America’s Definition of “Success” is Sustainable?

May 15, 2021 Comments off

For the second time in a week David Brooks has written an op ed piece that reflects my thinking. Thursday’s essay, “This is How Wokeness Ends“, describes two broad elements of what pundits call “wokeness”:

The thing we call wokeness contains many elements. At its core is an honest and good-faith effort to grapple with the legacies of racism. In 2021, this element of wokeness has produced more understanding, inclusion and racial progress than we’ve seen in over 50 years. This part of wokeness is great.

But wokeness gets weirder when it’s entangled in the perversities of our meritocracy, when it involves demonstrating one’s enlightenment by using language — “problematize,” “heteronormativity,” “cisgender,” “intersectionality” — inculcated in elite schools or with difficult texts.

He then describes the tortuous language that privileged students insist on using to demonstrate their enlightened status despite their evident place at the top of the “meritocracy”:

Performing the discourse by canceling and shaming becomes a way of establishing your status and power as an enlightened person. It becomes a way of showing — despite your secret self-doubts — that you really belong. It also becomes a way of showing the world that you are anti-elite, even though you work, study and live in circles that are extremely elite.

After identifying the purpose of the “meritocracy” at this point in the essay as funneling young people into leadership positions in society, Mr. Brooks makes a statement about our national ideology that I find irrefutable:

The primary ideology in America is success; that ideology has a tendency to absorb all rivals.

This prevailing ideology is, according to Mr. Brooks’ thinking, has a moderating effect. It tends to soften extreme positions because climbing the ladder to the top requires it. He writes:

In the 1960s, left-wing radicals wanted to overthrow capitalism. We ended up with Whole Foods.

A nice turn of phrase… but… when Amazon gobbled up Whole Foods I have a sense that MAYBE the left-wing radicals had a reawakening. MAYBE everyone is awakening to the fact that if the definition of “success” is the complete domination of the marketplace MAYBE success shouldn’t be the primary ideology in our country. Maybe our country needs to take a step back and replace the Whole Foods ethos with a Farmer’s Market ethos. And MAYBE instead of our “meritocracy” being based on zero-sum notions like acceptance into a top tier college based on test scores and resume building isn’t healthy or good for democracy. MAYBE going to school to accomplish the accumulation of wealth is the wrong building to lean our ladder against.

A West Point Mystery: Why Are Those Caught Cheating on Athletic Teams? Is There “Something about the Culture of Athletics that is at Odds with the Academy’s Mission with Regard to Honor”?

April 22, 2021 Comments off

Last week the NYTimes featured an article by Ed Shanahan described West Point’s decision to abandon its recently adopted policy of offering a second chance to students who were caught cheating on examinations, a decision that pleased a majority of alumni. The decision came on the heels of a major cheating scandal at the school involving 73 students, 51 of whom will be allowed to return and complete their program after repeating a year. The reason for the decision to abandon the second chance? A press release indicated:

….the program had “not met its intended purpose” of increasing the self-reporting of honor code violations and reducing cadets’ tolerance for them. As a result, the statement said, being expelled will now be “a potential punishment for any honor violation.”

…Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the academy’s superintendent since July 2018, personally decided the punishment of each of the cadets involved in the scandal, officials said.

“The tenets of honorable living remain immutable, and the outcomes of our leader development system remain the same, to graduate Army officers that live honorably, lead honorably and demonstrate excellence,” General Williams said in a statement. “West Point must be the gold standard for developing Army officers. We demand nothing less than impeccable character from our graduates.”

After reading about the how police officers unite behind their brethren when one of them mistakes a loaded gun for a taser, shoots an unarmed civilian, or needlessly pins suspect in a non-felony offense until they can no longer breathe, it is heartening to see the military standing behind a gold standard that relies on reporting any cheating witnessed by a classmate. It would be good to see the same kind of ethical standard adopted by Police academies, graduate schools of business, and even high schools. Over my career of 45+ years working in and with public schools I’ve read countless articles about the need to prepare students for the world of work and the rigors of college, but far too few articles about the need for students to “ honorably, lead honorably and demonstrate excellence“.  

Mr. Shanahan’s article, in addition to underscoring West Point’s intention to live up to this standard and describing the history of that college’s honor code also shared an interesting data point on the cheating scandals past and present. The majority of those caught were on athletic teams!

At West Point, all but one of the cadets caught up in the latest scandal were plebes, or in their first year; 52 were athletes who represented 10 different teams, officials said.

Tim Bakken, a professor of law at West Point, said the involvement of so many athletes in a cheating scandal was a recurring theme at the academy and he called for greater scrutiny of the issue and more transparency on the part of the institution’s leaders.

We have to ask the question of whether there is something about the culture of athletics that is at odds with the academy’s mission with regard to honor,” he said, adding that he was in favor of second chances and hoped that “West Point discloses more about what happened here.”

So… is there something about the culture of athletics that is at odds with the academy’s mission with regard to honor? Certainly at the professional level there have been concerns about honor. The student-athletes at West Point were born during the steroid era in baseball and, to a less publicized degree, in other sports. They’ve read about the doping scandals in bike racing. They recently witnessed allegations of sign stealing in the World Series and the subsequent suspension of managers who were involved in that activity. They’ve heard repeated questions about the New England Patriots’ coaching staff’s desire to get an edge by spying on the opposition’s practices and deflating footballs. In athletics, the credo has long been “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”.  This emphasis on winning at all costs is clearly at odds with ““ honorably, leading honorably and demonstrating excellence“.  

How to fix this, though, is the question. It doesn’t seem possible to operate a school designed to train military leaders at the college level without having sports teams that are capable of competing at the highest levels. If West Point took the same approach to athletics as, say, Evergreen State College, Hampshire, or Antioch would they be able to recruit candidates with the same fitness levels as they do now? If West Point competed at the Division III level would their applicant pool be diminished?

There are Division One coaches and professional managers and coaches who mesh the standards of honor and athletics…. but the rarity of such coaches only underscores the incompatibility of athletics and honor. John Wooden managed to win a series of basketball titles in the 1960s and 1970s. Rip Engle was a winning coach at Penn State without experiencing any of the scandals visited upon his successor. Walt Alston managed the Brooklyn-LA Dodgers for decades without encountering any scandals and winning Manager of the Year six times.  I will let sports fans who also read this blog to create their own list of coaches and managers whose ethics are questionable.

As long as “winning is everything” and “the one with the most toys wins” are the governing ethos of sports and the economy, expect to see cheating persist. When schools embrace honor systems predicated on the need to “ honorably, lead honorably and demonstrate excellence” we might see a change in our thinking as a culture.

Free College for All Gets Headlines… Free Entry-Level Training for Diesel Mechanics, Though, Makes a Difference

April 8, 2021 Comments off

Count me among the group who believes that college is oversold and job training for careers that require gritty soap are under-respected. Unfortunately, during the past several years, fly-by-night profiteering programs that offer federally backed loans have gotten far too large a market share in job training leaving prospective trainees without work and saddled with debt and the profiteers with full pockets. What’s the solution?

The NYTimes offered one way out of the woods in “Job training That’s Free Until You’re Hired is a Blueprint for Biden”, and article by Steve Lohr that describes a model developed by Social Finance. Social Finance is described on its webpage as a nonprofit

dedicated to mobilizing capital to drive social progress. We bring uncommon partners together around a common purpose: to measurably improve the lives of those in need.

Through a set of outcomes-based financing strategies called Pay for Success, we work to disrupt the status quo, shifting mindsets to align resources with impact.

As described in Mr. Lohr’s article, I would offer this prosaic description: Social Finance matches employers seeking skilled workers with prospective workers seeking skills that will yields higher pay. And based on my own prejudices for cooperative work-study and an emphasis on the work-ethic in a team setting, I see this model as a great way forward. As much as I wish major corporations would offer their own in-house training programs and wish that schools could create the kinds of networks that Social finance can create, I don’t foresee it happening any time soon. One of the key elements of the job training described in this article is mobility. That is, there is no assumption that those getting training in, say, Ohio, will work in that state. And though Mr,. Lohr does not say as much, it is evident that those who sign on for training enter knowing that this might be the case. As one who moved frequently as a youngster and as an adult, I see no problem in moving from one community to another. But as one who did extensive consulting in rural communities, I can also appreciate why some people would be very unsettled in moving from their home town to a community of strangers.

Will this work to scale? It will if the higher-minded mission of Social Finance works— that is if workers seeking higher wages are willing to shift their mindsets to align their opportunities with where the work is…. AND… employers are willing to align their compensation so that workers feel assured that their commitment to relocation is worthwhile.