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Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

College Admissions Scandal is an Indictment of Our Competitive, Celebrity Driven Culture

March 13, 2019 1 comment

Yesterday the NYTimes and virtually every media outlet in America broke a story regarding the indictment of fifty individuals for their roles in conspiring to secure seats for their children in elite colleges and universities. As the NYTimes article reported:

The scheme unveiled Tuesday was stunning in its breadth and audacity. It was the Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution, a sprawling investigation that involved 200 agents nationwide and resulted in charges against 50 people in six states.

And there are more indictments to come. But as the MSNBC interview below with Anand Giridharadas and Tressy McMillan Cottom indicates, the biggest indictment is that of our culture:

http://https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/fifty-charged-in-massive-college-admissions-scheme-1456907331756?fbclid=IwAR31UXBEEhNLlGUJFBmCSQsKu8M-WZALostGO-zh3dIYKKSaTd2M9zhDx08

After watching the interview and reflecting on this scandal, I recalled many parents who defended their decisions to “defend” their children when they were being disciplined by asserting that they were doing what any parent would do to support their child.  But, as these indictments indicate, not every parent is capable of doing what a billionaire can do.

But here’s are some tougher questions that I pose to myself and to other parents who are “…doing what any parent would do for their child”: 

  • Who is advocating for those children who DON’T have a parent capable of advocating?
  • If I can afford to have a realtor show me a house in any community, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I not providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford a house anywhere?
  • If I can afford to rent a house in an affluent community with prestigious schools for my family while maintaining another residence located in a less prestigious school district, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford to do so?
  • If I can afford to pay tuition for my child to attend school in a prestigious district and transport them to and from school, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I not am providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford a house anywhere?
  • The same kind of questions can be posed for parents who can afford tutors, music lessons, competitive team sports, and the books, electronic equipment, musical instruments, gear and coaching that accompanies those activities.
  • And, the same kinds of questions can be posed for parents who can afford to have family museum memberships, to send their children to summer camps, or take children with them on vacations abroad.

It would be beneficial of this scandal would compel us to look at the deep underlying inequities that impact children and recognize the need for our culture to be more compassionate toward those children who have the bad luck of being born to parents who care deeply about them but are financially incapable of “…doing what any parent would do for their child”?

 

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One Phrase Explains Demise of Alternative Colleges: “…a Desire for a Higher Return on Investment”

March 4, 2019 Comments off

I have a soft spot in my heart for so-called “alternative colleges”, a soft spot born from my own personal experience as an undergraduate and my older daughter’s experience as a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and my younger daughter’s experience at Amherst College.

As one who valued hands-on experiential learning and the opportunity to develop one’s own curriculum, I stumbled into an ideal situation as an undergraduate at Drexel University. When I entered Drexel, it was an “institute of technology” like it’s more famous role model Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It differentiated itself from other “institutes of technology” by offering a five year work-study program that enabled undergraduates to work six-month stints in industry where they could see how the abstract coursework they were completing in the classroom translated to the workplace. When I enrolled, I intended to pursue engineering, but after two six month assignments at the Ford Motor Company and increasingly daunting and uninteresting coursework in mathematics and science I decided to change majors to Commerce and Engineering— a hybrid major Drexel offered to disenchanted and/or challenged engineering majors who wanted to pursue a degree that would prepare them for the workplace at that time. While I found the coursework much more interesting and upgraded my cumulative average, after a successful six-month period at Mobil Oil, I turned down an offer to return there because I had decided to become one of the first students to enroll in Drexel’s fledgling “Humanities and Technology” college— an undergraduate degree that Drexel needed to offer in order to become a university instead of an institute of technology. My plan was to major in English, teach in the City, and find my way to a leadership role in that organization instead of climbing the corporate ladder. While my classmates dreamed of becoming CEO of their own business or of an existing Fortune 500 company, I dreamed of being Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia.

As a new student in a new and as-yet-undefined program, I was able to design my own major for my final two years. I took a heavy load of poetry, literature, and history courses, was tutored in the design of standardized tests by Drexel’s lone psychometrics professor, and dabbled in introductory courses in biology and pure mathematics (as opposed to the five calculus and many physics and chemistry courses I took as an aspiring engineer) in order to broaden my opportunities for education certification. I also spent three months as a student teacher in English at West Philadelphia HS. When I graduated, I had sufficient courses to be certified in English, social studies, science, and mathematics. Since Pennsylvania only allowed a prospective teacher to have two certificates, my academic advisor recommended that I get certified in English and mathematics. But more importantly, I had a sense that I had in some sense controlled my destiny for the previous five years.

When my daughters were selecting a college to attend, they leaned toward schools that did not have distribution requirements and allowed undergraduates to take a wide array of courses. My older daughter specifically sought out unconventional schools that would allow her to pursue coursework based on her own interests. The colleges we visited included some liberal arts schools that had distribution requirements, but also included Antioch in Ohio and The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA, the school she ultimately selected. My younger daughter was more interested in attending a school that would nurture her desire to become a writer, which led us to visit Brown, Wesleyan, and Amherst where she ultimately enrolled.

Given my personal experiences as an undergraduate and the fact that their mother majored in art as an undergraduate and was working as a fabric artist at the time they were aspiring to college, we supported the idea of them attending liberal arts colleges. We both recognized that once they obtained degrees they would be able to find their way in the world… and, from my perspective, if they could effectively design their own course of studies they would have a sense of agency that many college students who follow a prescribed curriculum lack.

With all of this as a backdrop, I was saddened to read Anemona Hartocollis’ article in today’s NYTimes that one of the groundbreaking “alternative colleges”, Hampshire, was on the verge of closing its doors. The reason?

The problems alternative colleges face point to a larger crisis in higher education: a shrinking college-age population, especially in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where many of these institutions are clustered. But they are also confronting a growing skepticism of the liberal arts, often a focus of nontraditional programs, and a desire for a higher return on investment.

The shrinking college-age population is a demographic reality, but the notion that college attendance is based on a “return on investment” is a mental construct that exemplifies everything that is wrong with traditional education and the so-called K-12 “reform” movement that perpetuates traditional schooling. A quote from Eva-Maria Swidler, a faculty member at Goddard College, an alternative college in Plainfield, Vermont, offers the best insight on the current state of affairs in undergraduate education:

“What I see happening under the aegis of ‘financial responsibility’ is a purging of colleges that serve unconventional students….What this purge leaves behind is a system of higher education even more focused on either training only the elites in the liberal arts or training everyone else as obedient workers for a corporate work force.

The call for students to be “ready-for-work” creates a demand for cookie-cutter curricula that prepare undergraduates for job vacancies that exist today but are unlikely to exist in the future… and by obediently completing these prescribed course sequences undergraduates who aspire to get a good “return on their investment” are denied the opportunity to control their own destiny, to learn-how-to-learn, to have any sense of agency, or be prepared for an ambiguous future.

Education is not intended to “prepare students for work”… it is, in the words of John Dewey, “life itself”. I did not realize it when I entered college, Drexel was following Dewey’s admonition:

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

I doubt that John Dewey ever uttered the phrase “return on investment”… indeed, I cannot think of any respected education philosopher who ever used that phrase. Nor did any creative genius.

Denver Administration “Accidentally” Sends Letter Threatening Deportation of Striking Teachers

January 27, 2019 Comments off

I try not to be cynical about school administrators, but the latest news from Denver Public Schools who are on the verge of a strike test my credulity.

Here’s a quick overview of what is going on: on the heels of a successful strike in Los Angeles that reinforced the public’s support for public school teachers and antipathy toward charter schools, the Denver teachers decided to strike. But at the 11th hour the Denver School Board invited the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene which, in accordance with state laws, postponed the strike. At the same time as the school board was ostensibly striving to find a middle ground, the Denver Superintendent sent out a memo to administrators imploring them to cross the picket lines. Then, in the coup de gras, her HR department issued a memo indicating that any undocumented teachers who participated in the walk out would be reported to ICE.

In response to the memo, according to Chalkbeat the newly appointed Superintendent offered an apology, stating “…she was shocked the evening before to learn that a district human resources employee had sent an email to schools on Tuesday that said immigrant teachers working in Denver Public Schools on visas would be reported to immigration authorities if they participated in an impending teacher strike.”

Following the school board’s last minute and arguably disingenuous effort to reach a settlement and her administrations admitted effort to recruit administrative staff to cross picket lines, her apology seemed hollow at best and dishonest at worst…. especially given that “…No employees were put on leave as a result of the email”. The Chalkbeat report did indicate, though, that the Superintended DID say that “…the district is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again” but “...did not elaborate on what they are.” 

I do not envy the effort the new Superintendent will have to make to dig herself out of the hole the Board has put her in… but I cannot believe that her decision to look the other way when a key HR staff member threatens to report teachers to immigration officials will help. All of this underscores the fact that teachers only join unions to protect themselves from unenlightened boards and administrators….

 

Gap Between Billionaires and Everyone Else on Earth Widens… Welcome to the Plutocracy

January 22, 2019 Comments off

Davos is convening this week, and as a result outlets like Common Dreams are publishing posts highlighting studies that show how the gap between the extraordinarily wealthy and the rest of the world are widening… and the gap is unimaginably immense!

Paul Buchheit, a blogger whose writings are often featured here, wrote a post with the sobering title “Capitalist-Style Wealth Gap: 1 Tech Guy = 1,000,000 Teachers” The “one tech guy” is none other than Jeff Bezos, who recently compelled hundreds of American cities to throw incentives his way for a second HQ for Amazon, incentives whose impact is not even a factor in Mr. Buchheit’s equation! But, as Mr. Buchheit highlights in his article, Mr. Bezos is hardly the only tech titian who’s made a billion dollars… and hardly the only one who’s earned it on the backs of his employees and thanks to the largesse of government policies.

An unapologetic Democratic Socialist, Mr. Buchheit concludes his essay with this:

Why Do Billionaires Want Even More Money? 

Harvard studies indicate that very rich people are likely to base their life satisfaction on the question “Am I doing better than other people?” A survey of 2,000 millionaires and multi-millionaires, who were asked how much money would provide perfect happiness, found that “basically everyone says [they’d need] two or three times as much.” 

Another insight comes from the “ultimatum game,” in which one player divides a pot of money between himself and another, and the second player can choose whether or not to accept the offer. If the offer is rejected, neither player gets anything. Offers below 30 percent are usually rejected. Even at the cost of losing money himself, a player apparently can’t bear to see another person outgain him.

Capitalism is a perfect system for people like this, who care only about making more money than everyone else, and fail to grasp the importance of a healthy, working society. It’s a game of winner-take-all. As Charles Koch said, “I want my fair share and that’s all of it.”

Common Dreams staff writer Jake Johnson used a slightly different data point to title his article on the economic divide: “A ‘Fundamentally Inhuman’ Economy: 26 Billionaires Own as Much as World’s 3.8 Billion Poorest People“. Mr. Johnson drew his facts from a recent Oxfam report on world poverty, which the billionaires attending Davos report is on the decline but only because the poorest-of-the-poor are earning slightly more than in years past. The reason for the expanding divide? Cuts to cooperate taxes. And who’s winning? Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and campaigns at Oxfam America, has the answer:

“The only winners in the race to the bottom on corporate tax are the wealthiest among us. Now is the time to work towards a new set of tax rules that work for the many, not the few,” he continued, echoing the popular slogans of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We need economic, political, and tax reform to level the playing field if we want to restore prosperity and opportunity for all, including women, girls whose needs are so often overlooked.”

The endless wars in the Middle East, the political bickering over a needless wall in our country, and the perpetual coverage of our President’s tweets are distracting us from the real problems in our country and the world… and those problems are the result of a mindset that believes “my fair share is all of it”.

What is the Employers Role in Skill Development? What is Government’s? What is the Individuals?

January 18, 2019 Comments off

I just finished scanning a Politico report titled The Future of Prosperity: Ladders to Success before closely reading the conclusion. Developed by a “working group” of 17 educators, business leaders, and futurists from think tanks, this report examined statistics on post-secondary education and employment and concluded that there is a mismatch between the skills being taught in post secondary education, desired by businesses, and sought by students. Here’s the overarching conclusion of the “working group”:

To meet the needs of a changing economy, the system will need to educate more Americans, in more subjects, at different stages in life, than it has in the past. POLITICO’s working group concluded that to meet that challenge, the current system needs significant disruption—and employers, higher- education institutions and governments will all need to pay a part.

In the minds of the working group, employers need to “…rethink what degrees and credentials they require of applicants and why, improve communication about what skills and jobs are needed, and provide more on-the-job training, including apprenticeships. They also need to come up with ways to certify skills that workers acquire on the job, and participate in efforts to develop new systems to upgrade workers’ skills and retrain displaced workers.”

The working group also urged colleges and universities to provide continuum of programs for those already employed and lacking degrees, focussing on “…stackable and modular courses and credentials that can combine skills and knowledge learned
in a variety of institutions.” They particularly emphasized the need for public institutions to “…move students’ job-training goals closer to the center of their mission.”

They also believe the federal government has a role to play. They need to help develop a “…new and more flexible approach to financial support (that) could open doors for people at more points in their lives“, and “...also incentivize new types of institutions, such as online education providers, built around training and “upskilling.” Finally, thy thought the government could serve as “…trusted repository of information“, effectively serving as the permanent record system tracking the education credentials collected by individuals as they wend their way through life-long education.

Implicit in all of this thinking are the following notions:

  • Employers have some responsibility for developing the talent they require
  • Post-secondary programs can operate independent of the workplaces but need to focus more on job-skills and less on learning-how-to-learn
  • The federal government should keep track of each individual’s work arc and skill development
  • Individuals can make informed choices about their career paths and change their minds as they progress and are ultimately responsible for developing the skills employers need

To be clear, the report makes no mention of the final bullet… of what is expected of individuals— i.e. students and employees. From the working team’s perspective, the employee/student is a cog in their machinery who should be molded based on changing specifications of the workplace.

The current system IS flawed for several reasons… but the major problem with the thinking behind this report from this liberal arts graduates perspective is that it assumes the primary purpose of schooling is the development of work skills. I think schools should build on the inherent love of learning that I witness in my grandchildren as they develop speaking skills, motor skills, and listen to me red them stories…. and that sense of wonder should be built into post secondary work and, as much as possible, even into the work one does to earn a living. And should that wonder be impossible to find in one’s life work, it should be inculcated into their lives outside of work. When employees and students lose that wonder for the world around them, they can quickly lose the joy of life itself.

 

 

 

In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.

Connecting the Dots: Meritocracy in Children’s Athletics and the Disappearance of Childhood

December 25, 2018 Comments off

Several posts on this blog made reference to Neil Postman’s 1980s book The Disappearance of Childhood, which describes how well-intentioned adults of my generation ended the existence of childhood by imposing tight schedules on their children instead of the freedom children of my generation experienced, highly organized sports activities instead of the pick-up games children of my generation threw together in an ad hoc fashion, and lots of lessons instead of the trial-and-error method of learning children in my generation experienced.

American Meritocracy is Killing Youth Sports, a recent Atlantic magazine article by Derek Thompson, underscores the damage done to childhood by our generation and illustrates how the next generation is diminishing it even more. In the article, Mr. Thompson omits the legacy of pick-up games but does describe how sports went from the town and school sponsored leagues that accepted all comers in all sports to the “elite” teams that sort and select only the best athletes who are increasingly “specializing” in only one sport. This means that amateurs like me, who had lots of chances to play lots of sports with lots of kids of varying abilities are left on the sidelines… and it means that lots of kids who played multiple sports in multiple leagues — like my sons in laws– are finding it necessary to resist the pull their children feel to specialize in one sport or one area.

From my increasingly curmudgeonly and nostalgic perspective, I wish that kids could be free to explore in the woods, play two-or-three man baseball games, pick-up basketball on outdoor courts, and touch football in open fields instead of being compelled to play in fancy uniforms in highly structured leagues….

 

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