Archive for February, 2014


This psot first appeared on my education blog: schoolingamerica.wordpress.com.  It is applicable to the YBR. I’ve added a piece to the end to tie-it into the YBR.

Even though I have been teaching college courses for 14 years, I still have a lot to learn. While driving today I heard a radio talk show host talking about being a passenger. In short order I tuned out the talk show host and began to think about passengers in terms of being a college instructor.  I am the driver. Currently I have 20 passengers in my learning vehicle. Try as hard as I can, I cannot crack the shell of the students in my class.  And then it dawned on me. Passengers are passive, and the longer you’ve been a passenger the more passive you become.

We don’t put seatbelts on students, but we might as well, because we’ve restrained them.  Even before school, most children are passengers in life.  They just get in the back seat and turn off their imagination.  And it’s not their fault.  Our school system only has room for one driver.  So, from the start of their education, our children are passengers, or perhaps we should call them “passivengers”  because not only are they passengers they are passive.  After 12 years of being a passenger, they board the college bus where suddenly they are expected to stop being passengers.

What the hell are we thinking?  How do we expect such a magical transformation when we’ve never stopped to give college-bound students any driving lessons?  But now that I think about it, most college instructors only give lip service to turning over the wheel to the student. In cases, however, when an instructor wants to encourage his/her students to stop being passivengers…the request is met with blank stares and some resistance because most of our students have earned good grades by being passivengers.

Because the stakes are so high for today’s college student, few of them want to sit in the driver’s seat. Just buckle them up in the back seat, give them a syllabus, tell them what they have to do to earn an A…and step on the gas.

Leaders are not passengers..and neither are entrepreneurs. Success in the larger sense of the word does not come to students who remain passivengers.

The world needs fewer passivengers and more drivers.  I encourage students to take risks. To stretch their thinking. And yes, I challenge them to challenge the guy/gal in the front of the class.

I’ll let students in on something educators don’t want them to know. In life your grades don’t matter diddly-squat. When students are out on the battlefield in the real world, it’s not their grades that will keep them moving forward…it’s their DRIVE.

Tie-in to the YBR: Dorothy was definitel not a passenger nor a passivenger.  She might have been one in Kansas, but once she hit the YBR she took the wheel. And while she picked up three passengers along the way, they were not passivengers. In fact, each of Dorothy’s companions took the wheel on the YBR.

We need to take whatever steps necessary to take the wheel on the YBR.


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Photo: momentum-strategies.com

Photo: momentum-strategies.com

If there’s any one particular piece of contemporary jargon that leaves me scratching my head it’s the phrase “level the playing field.” It’s one of the many well-intentioned slogans that while it  is supposed to motivate, it has far too many trickle-down politically correct influences to suit me.

The makers of the level playing filed concept believed…and still believe…that society needs to eliminate or at least diminish the obstacles that prevent someone from having an equal opportunity in participating in a venture be it in education or business…or whatever. If two high school soccer teams were to meet on a literal playing field to compete in a championship playoff we could argue a point of fairness if the players on one team had all the latest high-tech soccer gear and the kids from the other team were playing in snow boots, sandals or inferior soccer cleats. It is obvious that one team would have a singular advantage and that the outcome of the game could be decided, in part, by the disparity in gear.

As a society we have made great strides in many areas to remove obstacles that make it difficult, if not impossible, for someone to participate/compete in a venture.  Making access to and inside building accessible to people with certain physical disabilities is just one obvious example that illustrates the positive point of leveling the playing field, making it possible for people with disabilities to work, go to the theatre, take mass transit, navigate city streets, etc.

Unfortunately the term “leveling the playing field” has taken on an entirely different meaning. Instead of meaning to remove obstacles, it now means, we have to be “fair” and in a way, penalize certain people by taking away something from them.  It’s all being done because we live in the era of political correctness where right and wrong have been turned inside out, where everyone is a winner, and where we are all entitled.

Let’s go back to those two soccer teams. One team comes from a very affluent area where kids begin playing soccer at a very young age and are coached by “really good coaches,” play on “really good soccer fields,” have “really good equipment,” and are “really competitive.” Meaning that not everyone makes the team even though it might not be fair because some of the kids’ parents paid for individual coaching and some went to “really good” soccer camps.

Just look around at the schools in your area and you’ll have to agree that some school districts seem to have a number of advantages compared to other districts, hence the reason for divisions where like schools play against like schools. Here’s where we’ve leveled the playing field. We wouldn’t expect a team from Division IV to be able to compete with a team from Division I. Perhaps not, but in life we are not grouped by division the same way. When a kid from a Division IV school wants to compete for a position on a college team with a kid from a Division I team, all bets are off and may the best player succeed. It would be unfair to put certain restrictions on the kid from the DI school just to level the playing field.

Does this  make it more difficult or challenging for the D IV kid to compete? Perhaps. But in this case the level playing field should be limited to the opportunity to show your stuff.  It would be unfair and unjust to prevent the D IV kid from competing just because. (This still goes on in society, and this is where I believe we need to break down barriers and fight elitism.)

But if we continue to level the playing field because we believe everyone is “equally” entitled, we are making a big mistake. I say do everything possible to remove those barriers, but don’t knock down those mountains, because without those mountains we’d have no reason to climb, not reason to reach the top, no reason to work like hell to accomplish something.

History is replete with stories of people overcoming obstacles to reach the peak. The same history is filled with stories of people who had all the advantages in the world but never made it to the top because they felt they were entitled to the gold medal…jsut because.

Just because you’re rich should not entitle you to anything (unfortunately it still does). Just because you are poor, that  shouldn’t entitle you to anything because you’re poor. If your poverty is an obstacle, we shouldn’t level the playing field, we should lift you up and provide you with the tools you’ll need to make it to the top. But you have to work for it, you have to earn it, and you have to want it.

I worked at a public college where almost any student could gain entrance.  Many “underprivileged” students were given money to go to school.  And you know what happened? Even though the playing filed was leveled, many of these students failed to succeed because they believed their entitlement was enough.

Dorothy and her traveling companions weren’t walking on a level playing field. The Wicked Witch of the West didn’t give a damn about entitlements. She was the obstacle. And Dorothy had to move forward despite every disadvantage because she wanted to.

A landscape without some mountains can be a barren desert.

I leave you with a  quote from a very unlikely source, but that’s what makes the quote more appetizing.

If you don’t have a mountain, build one and then climb it. And after you climb it, build another one; otherwise you start to flatline in your life. Sylvester Stallone

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(The following blog was first published on my education blog: http://www.schoolingamerica.wordpress.com)


I was in my car today (Sunday, Feb. 2) and I heard a segment of “Religion on the Line” for no other reason than that was the network my radio was set to at the time. The hosts were talking about gifted programs in schools and how the population of these programs was disproportionate to the school’s population.

Let me shift gears and present an analogy:  You have three sets of tulip bulbs. Each set includes a magnificent, top of the line bulb; an average garden variety; and a common grade bulb. Set one is planted in the best possible soil and tended with extreme care; the second set is planted in relatively good soil and given just the right amount of attention; the third set is planted in soil lacking in the proper nutrients and does not get sufficient care.

One would assume that the bulbs in set one would have the greatest chance for blooming success…even the common grade bulb would have the maximum opportunity to reach its maximum potential. Less would be expected from the bulbs in the second garden. And the blooming success of the bulbs in the third garden would be questionable.  Even the best bulb in the third garden would be at risk, despite the fact that it had the potential to bloom like the comparable bulb in the first garden.

Consider the bulbs to be students and the gardens to be different schools/school districts. I believe it goes without saying that top schools are usually located in what the “Religion On the Line” hosts called the better zip codes. It follows that these schools have money in their budget to afford their students with the tools for a “great” education.

Following this train of thought, one might also assume that programs for the gifted and talented would offer great opportunities to the top students…most of which, the hosts said would be students of non-color (?).

One of the hosts made a comment on the Stuyvesant Schools in NYC. He said that the largest percentage of students in the gifted program were Asian. He went on to add that he didn’t believe that Asians were inherently more intelligent than non-Asian students.

Two reflections:

One – I don’t believe any race or people of color are inherently smarter than any other group. It all comes down to the gardens, and in addition to the school garden, the community and home gardens also have a major impact on the bulb/student. Isn’t it possible that the Asian students are not growing in the same garden that some of their classmates are in?  While it might be that the school is the same, but the rigor of certain courses, like AP and honors classes, actually makes it a school within a school. And then you have the garden these Asian students live in. Isn’t it possible that their environment is one that stimulates academic growth and one that is supported by family and a larger invested community?

It does take a “village” to raise a child.

Two – There is something inherently flawed by the superficial zip code comparison both the hosts and other educators use. It is flawed logic when you compare the Garden City (LI) zip code with the Hempstead or Freeport (LI) zip codes because you are not only using the extremes, you aren’t providing a 3D portrait of the schools in those districts. Not all of Garden City school children are brilliant. Not all of them come from six and seven digit income homes. I would concede that the Garden City schools provide opportunities that the public schools in Hempstead and Freeport probably can’t provide. In addition the full learning opportunities of the zip codes used for illustrative purposes are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The comparison is also flawed because it does not take into the equation school districts in high-middle, middle, and low-middle zip codes. The more diverse the school population might be, the better chance there is of making an intelligent comparison.

I wonder if the population of gifted students better reflects the schools population.  If it does, then that is worth examining.  If it doesn’t then it demands looking into.

There is one thing else. Can we assume that just because a student experiences a “gifted” education that they will be better people, better citizens, better leaders, etc. ?

All the opportunities in the world do not translate to success however you might define that word.  Adversity sometimes brings out the best in people.

More on this in a future blog.

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