The Importance of Positive Role Models for our Youth

Last night I received a very harsh tweet from some person who took issue with my comment that I felt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers risk destroying their franchise by making Jameis Winston the face of it.   We all know that Winston has proven he lacks maturity and has not handled fame well - in some ways like Johnny Manziel.  We have seen major sports leagues prioritize winning over everything else, and are not concerned with slapping players on the wrist for criminal behavior that would likely terminate them from most other jobs.   These are the players whose fans will buy jerseys for their children to wear proudly.   It is dangerous to idolize professional athletes.   However, sometimes we see these athletes demonstrate true leadership and welcome the fact that they are considered "role models."   Examples  of positive role models include Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, and possibly Russell Wilson (too soon to tell but he shows promise, as does Marcus Mariota).  But for those few gems out there, we see so many bad eggs whose off the field behavior makes front page news and oftentimes the police blotter.   We must be careful who we let our children idolize or look up to.  And they should look up to folks other than professional athletes.

There was a boy who played many sports but really liked baseball the best.  When he was 12 years old, he attended a summer baseball camp.  At the camp one day was a very special guest:  baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin.   Irvin was one of the first African Americans allowed to play in the major leagues.   He played with Willie Mays on the San Francisco Giants and before that had a a heralded Negro League career with the Newark Eagles.   He was a sensational hitter who was also a great ambassador for the sport.  

At the camp, Monte Irvin watched the boys take batting practice.   After this one boy took his swings at the plate, he hears Monte say, "son, come over here for a minute."   The boy walks over to Irvin and Monte says to him, "Son, I wanted to tell you that you have a great swing."  The boy is speechless.  A hall of famer is telling him that he has a great swing.   That was the day that the boy decided he wanted to not only learn about the Negro Leagues and Monte Irvin's life, but also wanted to work as hard as he could to become a major league baseball player.

That boy was me.

Lets Teach Historical Empathy In Schools

What is historical empathy? Here's a textbook definition (from "Empathy:  A Historical Concept):

In the historical context, the concept of empathy is much more than just seeing a person, idea or situation through the eyes of another, but rather is a much deeper understanding of the circumstances and concepts surrounding the event. Questioning how and why someone acted in a particular way would need to involve knowledge circumstances and an understanding of bias. Moreover, there would need to be an inquiry into the author of the text and an idea of the time and place in which the event occurred, while also considering changing social practices and ideals over time. Evidently, it is an empathetic understanding rather than just an emotional understanding; an individual must instead adopt a third person view where it is not what they personally would do in the situation, but what the individual in question did in relation to their own circumstances. Such positioning would encourage a more balanced, equitable view of history, which allows for a greater depth of understanding and insight into the content which is being discussed.

I am a history buff.  I have read all of the major biographies on the founding fathers and other famous American historical figures (e.g., Abraham Lincoln).  Recently, I read a biography about Robert E. Lee that was written by Jonathan Horn titled, The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.  In school. we didn't learn much about the General of the Confederacy, other than he led the secessionist forces and ultimately surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.   However, Lee is an intriguing historical figure.

The title of the book is the ultimate juxtaposition - as Washington was "the man who would not be king."   I don't want to give the details away, but Lee married into the Washington bloodline and he was forced to choose between the Union he fought for and the state he called his home (Virginia).  He did not support secession, and he was forced to make a choice that ultimately sealed his fate.  I could not begin to understand the conflicts that people had in the Civil War era.  Families were divided, and not just by geography.   The Union was on the verge of collapse.   You have to read the book to understand to a small degree what Lee was dealing with, how his views were shaped, and why he made the decisions he made.  The reader may not support those decisions, but if you use historical empathy, you can understand them.

This is how our children must be taught history - why choices were made in the circumstances afforded them.   This is why history should not be taught through a politically biased lens.   And we must tread cautiously when taking steps to amend an AP U.S. History Curriculum so that we do not forget the concept of historical empathy.

In Case You Didn't Believe Me About The Moral Hazard of Youth Sports....

I have written several posts in the last few months about the concerns I have with youth sports.   I have discussed the risks of a "winning at all costs" mentality, the lack of consistency with discipline, and the poor role modeling done by adults.  I encourage you to read the last few posts on my blog about this topic.

I was in my car this morning listening to the local sports radio hosts, and I was unfortunately not surprised to hear that the Jackie Robinson Little League Baseball Team (Chicago, IL) was stripped of its 2014 world title because they recruited players from outside their zip code - a clear violation of Little League rules.   The parents and coaches cheated the kids here.   Not only does this embarrass the United States, but lets not forget that the POTUS is from Chicago!  

This is yet another example of how the "winning at all costs" mentality is starting at such a young age.   Where is the uproar?   When did our priorities get so screwed up?   We are forgetting the role of youth sports, and winning is NOT the primary goal.   Yes, you play to win, but you play to learn, you play to be a good teammate, a good athlete and a good son or daughter.  You play to develop tools to live a life that is healthy in mind, body and spirit.   When you do that, you win in life. 

Why does this keep happening in our youth sports programs, our college sports programs, and our professional sports programs?   See the common link, everyone?   What you teach kids stays with them through their lives.  It's going to take a generation to fix this program, so we better start now.

Our Youth Must Learn The Power of Kindness

Today's youth expect things to be given to them.   Their mindset in most cases is that "if I do someone a favor, it will help me gain an advantage or that person will be expected to do something for me down the road."   Our youth are not being taught the power of unconditional generosity - and more specifically, "random acts of kindness."   I had this happen to me yesterday.

I was on a business trip out of town and spent several hours with a company there.  You'd think that the first thing I would remember about the trip was the interesting people I met and the exciting outcomes that resulted from the interaction.   And you couldn't be more wrong.

What I remember most emphatically was what happened BEFORE the meetings.   I arrived early, and stopped at a nearby coffee shop to get a drink and prepare for the day.   Unfortunately, there was not a free parking lot and you had to park on a city street with a parking meter.   I was not prepared for that and didn't have any coins laying around to put in the meter.   A driver pulls up and I told him I was going to give him the spot because I was from out of town and didn't have any change for the meter.   Without even hesitating , this guy rips out some coins and offers to give them to me - no questions asked.   I thanked him repeatedly for his kind gesture.  

When I went into the coffee shop, he comes in behind me, also wanting to get some coffee.   I asked him his name (which was "Jerry") and I offered to buy him coffee and told him that I am not used to folks going out of their way to offer a small gesture of kindness.   He said he didn't even think twice about it, and was happy to help out someone from out of town.  

This is what our kids need to learn - being kind disarms others and makes them more willing to listen, to befriend, and to love.   In the words of Charlie Chaplin:

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”

Jerry, I know you don't want anything in return, but when you visit Atlanta, look me up.

Sports Continues To Damage Our Youth

I spoke about the problems with youth supports at the end of 2014.   But sadly, no one is sounding the alarm bells.   And yet, the damage continues to proliferate.

  • A girls high school basketball coach runs up a 161-2 score and gets suspended, although the school has not been sanctioned in any way whatsoever.  Why not suspend the game via mercy rule in order to prevent the opposing players from suffering such an embarrassment?
  • The New England Patriots are being investigated for deflating footballs which gives quarterbacks, running backs, and other players a competitive advantage.  This is analogous to a pitcher doctoring a baseball or a hitter corking a bat.
  • We continue to see a "winning at all costs" mentality in amateur and professional sports.  It's all about "the ends justifying the means" a la Machiavelli.
  • While I am not a fan of Ohio State Quarterback Cardele Jones, some in the media criticize his decision to remain at Ohio State and not enter the NFL Draft.  The player had a total of 3 college starts but everyone is quick to push this kid into the pros.

What is going on here?

We see a moral hazard in sports - that is, people are trying to game the system.   College athletes forget they are students first, yet the big business of sports has shifted priorities.    We see young people looking at these athletes and coaches who engage in criminal and unethical behavior, both on the field and off the field, and believe "if they can act that way and not be punished, then I guess it's acceptable."   

It's time we all look at ourselves in the mirror.  What lessons are we teaching our kids?   How do we instill positive coaching philosophies when those in the national spotlight who have the bully pulpit do not believe this to be a major social issue?

I worry about my kids and your kids.   I want them to grow up and be responsible, caring, compassionate, ethically-minded adults.   But in a world where gaining an edge at all costs and rewarding criminal behavior is the norm, this job gets harder and harder.

Happy New Year From ReinventED Solutions

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog.   The great thing about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.   My view may not be your view, but freedom of expression is one of the foundations of a democracy.   Civil discourse is another, and I hope that civility continues to rule the day as together, we try and shape ideas to reinvent our public education system.

In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

Happy New Year, and wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and successful 2015.

Sports One Factor In The Degradation of Youth, But It Can Be Fixed

Again I wanted to explore the role of sports in youth development, and society as a whole.   I am a former athlete.  I know firsthand how important sports can be in molding a person's character.  In my playing days, I was fortunate to be a part of several championship teams.   Sports can be a unifying agent.   It can unify schools, communities, and, most importantly, people.   Regardless of whether we were winners or losers, our teams always represented our communities and schools to the highest standard.  And finally, I have friends for life.  Regardless of geography, we are connected by what we accomplished collectively on the field.   Sports was not about winning or losing - it was about learning non-cognitive skills such as commitment, teamwork, respect, leadership and sportsmanship.   

What I see now, even as a sports parent, is a most troubling development in youth/amateur sports that has manifested itself over decades.   With the growth of television broadcasting and other forms of distribution, players can now get national, perhaps global exposure that they never had before.   Even if they have not yet built the maturity to deal with such attention, they are forced to deal with it now.  If they fail, it's not a local failure.  It could be a global one.   Sports rights deals at the college level are at unprecedented levels.    College sports is a big business now.   We see football coaches in particular being fired for not winning championships, even if they have a stellar won-loss record.   Bo Pelini at Nebraska won 9 games this year, yet he was fired.   The only exception I can fathom to this distorted criteria is if a coach is fired "for cause."  It could also be inept coaching on the field, as we have seen countless times at schools such as Georgia.

I only bring up these two examples not to single out these schools, but rather to demonstrate that something has gone awry in amateur sports.   Let me give you another example.  At Ohio State, they are on their third quarterback this season due to injuries.   This student-athlete, Cardale Jones, is being asked to start his first game in perhaps the most important game of the year for the Buckeyes:  the Big 10 Championship.    And what does he say on Twitter? 

"Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS".

Notwithstanding his horrific sentence structure and use of grammar, doesn't this student have his priorities backwards?   Cardale, you go to college to get an education FIRST.   You're offered an opportunity to get a free education and play football at an elite program while getting your college degree.   Yes, you're getting an audition to hopefully make it to the NFL, but you're a student-athlete, not the other way around.

We have created a culture where you are forced to specialize in one sport at a young age, and that "winning is everything."  So what happens when you lose?  How do you deal with not winning?   Have our sports programs trained its coaches well and created support systems to ensure that our kids are developing character and learn how to deal with missteps?   What do the deluge of criminal acts taking place our high school sports programs, our college programs and our professional franchises tell us about the direction our society is heading?   Am I the only one who is saddened by the fact that we seem to live our lives around the sports event, and forget about life in general?

I believe we can fix this at the youth/amateur level very quickly.   We must reset our expectations at what the purpose of youth sports is and what it is NOT.   My kids' school is a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance ("PCA").  Positive Coaching Alliance is a national non-profit developing “Better Athletes, Better People” by working to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience.  I recently heard one of their representatives speak and received a complimentary copy of one of their books, titled, "Positive Sports Parenting:  How Second-Goal Parents Raise Winners In Life Through Sports." It's a brief read, and it may seem obvious.  However, it is extremely important for EVERY parent to read it cover to cover.   It reminds us as parents to focus on life lessons and let the players focus on competing and let the coaches focus on instruction.  It reminds us that winning is not the primary purpose of youth sports.  It reminds us that many of these coaches and referees are either volunteers or doing this NOT for the money.    Finally, it reminds us that we as parents have a responsibility to ensure our youth athletes focus on what's really important about youth sports:  not winning, but on self confidence, physical fitness, grace in both victory and defeat.

All of us - parents, coaches, educators, and children can refocus efforts to instill the true values that are derived from sports.   It's time we stop this "winning at all costs" mindset and start teaching our kids the true meaning of sport.  Sports is not about "ends justifying the means."   Sports is a tool, just like the arts, that build character.   And strong character makes you successful not only on the fields of sport, but also the fields of life.

It's time to reset our priorities and start building successful student-athletes.   I want my kids to grow up in a society where our athletes do not regularly dominate the news cycle for off the field conduct.   I hope you do as well.


The Unintended Societal Effects of Ineffective Social & Emotional Learning Programs

Frankly, I didn't really know how to title this post, which I've been contemplated for quite some time.   Lets look at a few very serious issues that have happened in our country over the past several months, and while they do not appear to have any common threads, perhaps they do?

  • Despite the increased awareness of cyber-bullying, bullying and other hazing activities in sports, we have seen troubling incidents in high school (Sayreville High School Football, Central Bucks West Football)
  • We have also seen hazing incidents in professional football, with last year's troubling Miami Dolphins locker room culture causing irreparable harm to rookie Jonathan Martin.
  • Several high profile criminal investigations in college football, which include 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the list of college athletes who have either been suspended or removed from their universities.
  • An alarmingly high number of NFL athletes who have been charged and/or indicted on criminal charges.   These include domestic violence (i.e., Ray Rice), physical harm to a child (i.e., Adrian Peterson), and many, many others that have exposed the alternate reality that professional athletes face versus the general population.

What is going on here?

I have a few theories, and I believe it is important that our communities and our schools take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we can do to address them.

  1.  We have forgotten what the role of sports is in our society.   Sports has become big business, and the lines have blurred significantly between amateurism and professionalism.  As such, our sports programs, even as early as high school, are being built with the false notion that "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."  That's a real quote, and although it was wrongly attributed to Vince Lombardi, it was really from the words of former UCLA football coach Red Sanders.  Sports is supposed to be about building many non-cognitive skills, such as character, leadership, sportsmanship, teamwork, persistence, and many others.   It's about doing your best, and sometimes you win, but sometimes you lose.   It seems we are all guilty of taking our eye off the ball and drilling into these young, impressionable minds, that if you don't win, you're a failure.   This mentality may be one factor in why hazing and other activities are still alive and well in many sports programs.  We need to do a better job training our coaches because they are supposed to be important role models in our children's lives, just like a classroom teacher.   John Wooden wasn't just a great coach of basketball, he was also a life coach.
  2. The lack of social and emotional learning in the home and the classroom.  I believe that we are not doing enough to expose our youth to sensitivity training around how you interact with others.   Poverty can only be blamed for so much.   As parents, we still have a fundamental responsibility to teach our kids right and wrong.  Many of them take out their lack of values in the home on the world around them, and ultimately, this emerges in our schools.  So while parents do share some of the blame, our schools do as well.   Don't just put up signs saying you don't tolerate hate.   The mindset has to permeate through your entire school culture in everything you do.   We need to remember to treat others the way we want to be treated.   Why should we expect our children to listen to and respect their teammates and coaches if they don't mimic these same behaviors in the classroom and in their homes?
  3. Who are good role models for our children?  This one speaks for itself.   If we allow our youth to idolize these professional athletes and then we do not punish them for moral and/or criminal transgressions, then they will believe it's ok to do wrong.   We should absolutely give second chances, but we need to take a hard look at how we discipline wrongdoers.   Many scholar-athletes feel the "rules don't apply to them."  Do you want your child to idolize Jameis Winston, or do you want them to idolize Nelson Mandela or Oprah Winfrey? 

The media plays a major role in this ecosystem as well.   Don't just gloss over the off-field transgressions and focus on the winning.   It's time that we all work together to try and address what I believe is a growing problem in our societal fabric.   Sports are supposed to be fun.  They are supposed to build character.   They are supposed to build the skills you will need to succeed not only on the field of competition, but also the field of life.  

Lets not assume that all of these issues are not related.   I hope that our society takes a good hard look in the mirror and starts identifying a practical approach to addressing them.   The long-term health of our society depends on it.

New Innovation Tool For Schools Shows Promise

Yesterday, a new publication published by 2Revolutions and The Learning Accelerator was released to the public.  It's worth reading, and it's titled, "So You Think You Want to Innovate: Emerging Lessons and a New Tool for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation."   It's 55 pages long, but it contains a robust planning tool that can help schools to not only assess but also to strengthen their infrastructures to ensure it is one that embraces innovation.    I hope that school districts take the time to review the material and consider completing the scorecard to take an honest assessment of their school environment.  They might find that it helps them identify the barriers to change and uncover strategies to alleviate them.


Welcome to the newly designed ReinventED Solutions blog!  I hope you enjoy the simpler blog layout and appreciate your continued interest in my thoughts about how to reinvent public education.   I hope you continue to read and comment and feel free to suggest ideas for future blog posts.

Why Youth Sports Are Essential To Public Education

Now that many of our public schools are back in session, I'm sure we'll be hearing more about budget problems and the philosophy of "addition by subtraction."   Time and time again, we hear from educators and education journalists that we should spend more money on core curriculum and that sports and the arts are non-essential activities that can afford to be eliminated should funds not be invested effectively. And there will be people like me who will be the first to immediately refute these ignorant points of view for not thinking about how critical these activities are to a child's social and emotional development - their "non-cognitive skills" so to speak.

Let me start out first by saying that I don't think everything is copasetic with youth sports.   We focus too early on winning and losing, all star teams, and not enough time on having fun, learning the game, and most importantly, sportsmanship.   Too many coaches have their priorities backwards and are psychological bullies on the field.   Negative reinforcement is the worst thing you can do to a youth athlete.  I should know.  I lost my son to the sport that gave me much success in life, baseball, because of a terrible coach.   Instead of fielding more teams, we need to field less teams that have well trained coaches.  

I don't watch the Little League World Series.  I haven't watched it in years.  Why?  Because it pains me to see 12 year olds throwing curve balls, splitters, and other junk that puts too much torque on their underdeveloped arms.   By the time these young pitchers reach their late teens or early 20s, many of them will experience serious arm issues and perhaps even Tommy John Surgery.   It's wrong - plain wrong.  When I was twelve, I went to a prestigious baseball camp in New Jersey and learned how to throw a "safe" slider by a former major league pitcher who eventually became the head coach of a Division I Baseball Program.   I never learned how to throw a "real" curve ball.  I used this pitch my entire career.

But as I was watching sports highlights last night, I saw for a brief moment that there is still good in youth sports.    Despite the over-exposure these youth face with the increased telecasts of the Little League Regionals as well as the Little League World Series, we sometimes see a coach whose priorities are right where they should be.   We see a coach who understands that there is agony in a tough defeat, but that it's important to put it all in perspective for these impressionable young minds.   We see a coach who realizes that it is his responsibility to be a coach first - not to get caught up in the moment and live vicariously through his players.   Yes, there are some coaches who understand that sports build non-cognitive skills in our youth - things like teamwork, persistence, and sportsmanship.   Youth sports are essential to a child's development, and if we spent a little bit of time training our coaches to be like Rhode Island Little League Coach Dave Belisle, we'd all realize that youth sports, like music and the arts, builds social and emotional skills.  These youth will remember this coach for the rest of their lives, and while they may be heartbroken at first, they will eventually look back with pride.  Why?   Because Coach Belisle taught his players, as well as youth coaches and players around the world, that a good coach is like a good school teacher - they shape your character and prepare you to not only excel in sports, but more importantly, excel in life.

Watch the 3 minute speech and judge for yourself.   We could all learn from this honorable man, who didn't memorize a speech.  He simply spoke from the heart, and at least for this occasion,  I was glad that there were cameras to capture the moment for the world to see.

The Verdict is in: Ed Reform in Georgia At Risk

Now that the recount on the GOP side of the election for State School Superintendent has been completed, it is clear that Georgia's recent ed reforms are at risk.   Richard Woods, the GOP nominee, brings a base of Tea Party conservatives and an anti-common core, local at all costs platform.   The Dems chose teacher's union darling Valarie Wilson, who, while supporting the common core,  has demonstrated a blatant disregard for public school choice and charter schools.   Both parties are seeing their education policies driven by a strong extremist base of support.   What does all of this mean?

The state has spent many millions of dollars implementing a system of reforms largely driven by its $400M+ Race to the Top grant award.  While it enacted a Common Core platform, it has recently seen its support of Common Core assessments shift to a vendor that is not part of the state consortium known as PARCC.  Instead, it is developing its own assessments and while saving roughly $25 million in the process, they have given the business to one of the major textbook monopolies, McGraw Hill.  In addition, the state has invested heavily in new teacher evaluations, new performance metrics, and a system to provide an alternate charter approval process should the local school districts not demonstrate a willingness to collaborate with new charter school options.

In a state that is still largely Republican, it is highly unlikely that Valarie Wilson will win the election; however, a Woods victory will take Georgia further away from a common framework that allows academic performance to be measured across states, and will also continue to wreck havoc with traditional public schools who already feel they are being short-changed in the wallet.   Wilson, on the other hand, would likely shift democrats towards an anti-reform stance that aligns with the current platforms of the AFT and NEA.  Charter schools will see their resources put at risk in a Wilson administration.  

But here's the rub.    In Georgia, the State Superintendent is not a position of power.  Why?  Because the governor controls the budget.   If Deal wins re-election, perhaps he can keep Woods' agenda in check, as he'll be a lame duck governor.   A Carter administration would make for an interesting duel should the GOP win the top education post.

At the end of the day, Georgia's citizens have made one thing perfectly clear.   They don't want the current reform process to continue, and instead, they want to cause more pain and stress in an already dysfunctional system.  Teachers have been put through the ringer - they just want to stay on the current path.  More change will not be welcomed.   

Ed reform in Georgia is certainly at risk.  How much we won't know until the November election when some of the uncertainties will be resolved.

GA State School Superintendent Election Is Moment Of Truth for Ed Reform in Georgia

This year's election for GA State School Superintendent is not getting the same microphone as the races for Governor and US Senator - nor should it.

However, for those of us who follow national, state and local education policy, this election is representative of the national conflict around reforming our public education system.   We can debate the pros and cons of whether this position should be an elected one or a position appointed by the governor another time.   As much as it creates unnecessary redundancies, bureaucracy and instability in our education system, Georgia has created this monstrosity by virtue of its outdated Constitution for which an amendment would be necessary to fix this dysfunction.  And we know from the Charter School Amendment two years ago that it would be a painful and destabilizing process for the state.

So lets return to the question at hand.   There were so many candidates in both parties running for this position, that Georgia is not faced with a runoff in each party on July 22nd to see who will run in the general election.   Turnout will likely be terrifyingly low and it will be these few voters who will determine which candidates secure their party's nominations.  

The election is pitting the Tea Party against the Common Core, and pitting an DFER against a status quo candidate supported by the nation's most powerful unions:  the NEA and AFT.  These organizations are now undermining President Obama's efforts to reform public education in this country.

The anti-Common Core faction is very strong in Georgia.   They almost rammed through a bill in the General Assembly that would have rolled back education reform efforts and set this state's education system back at least a decade.  What's good for America is obviously not what's good for Georgia - hence the strong forces against any national efforts that folks will presume without evidence will tread on state's rights.  Georgia has already moved forward with major education reforms and while change is never easy, it is way too soon to claim that they are not working or will not work.   Miracles don't happen overnight.

So what will Georgia do?   Will Georgia vote for more influence from teacher's unions?  Will they vote to unravel the Common Core and wreck more havoc in a system that is in the midst of major policy transitions and where educators are getting comfortable with such changes?   Will Georgia's voters vote for a candidate who will work across party lines to continue to reforms that Georgia signed up to enact based on its $400 million Race to the Top grant award?

This is the moment of truth for Georgia.   I hope they let the current reforms take root and not put our parents, teachers and children through more policy changes.    Only two candidates fit that bill:   Mike Buck and Alisha Morgan.    If those two win the runoffs, then Georgia should win regardless who you like amongst the two.  I know who I'm voting for - do you?

A Plea For Common Ethics: The Final Chapter

This is my final post in a series about the importance of ethics in public education reform.

Conveniently, I received a note from a reader of my blog post  that was republished in the AJC about the situation with the UGA football program.   Head football coach Mark Richt chose not to discipline 4 student athletes who were arrested in a check fraud scheme involving stipends received from the athletic department.  They dressed in full pads for practice the next day, and no discipline was ever announced.   UGA's discipline policy states that such discipline for misdemeanors is "at the discretion of the coach."   I was wondering if we would ever see resolution on this matter.

Yesterday, a story came out that one of these four student-athletes, safety Tray Matthews, was dismissed from the team because of additional, more recent infractions.  However, we do not know what these other infractions were.   Making matters worse, the player immediately tweets "Auburn or Louisville will be my home."  Why would he say such a thing?  (An aside:  we still don't know if the other three students were disciplined at all).

Let me refresh everyone's memory who may not be familiar with this issue.   Auburn, and even more importantly, Louisville, seem to be more than willing to immediately admit 4 star recruits who were cast aside by Georgia solely for disciplinary issues, regardless of their criminal nature.   You see, the former Defensive Coordinator for UGA is now in the same position at Louisville, and works for none other than our nation's ethical compass, Bobby Petrino.   Just recently, Louisville immediately scooped up disgraced UGA defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was dismissed by Coach Richt for drug-related incidents. 

So what does this all mean?   It means that there is a moral hazard on college sports because there is not a consistent disciplinary policy across programs.  Another story recently came out that talked about Georgia's efforts to push for a uniform drug policy in the SEC.  Unfortunately, the efforts appear "dead" because at a recent SEC meeting, the issue wasn't even brought to the table and discussed.  And so Georgia's efforts to take the moral high ground will continue to place it at a significant disadvantage, at least on the field, until such time as there is sufficient backlash to force the issue to be reconsidered.

This topic goes way beyond sports if you read my previous posts.   In a  recent blog on Ed Week, the author makes the claim that "ethics are caught, rather than taught."   I think it's a combination of both, and it's not only taught by educators, but more importantly, parents and other family members.   This goes far beyond whether a student-athlete should be punished for criminal behavior and be allowed to play, and whether schools should have consistent policies so that students aren't rewarded for making such mistakes.  If we want our students to be successful in life, they need to know right from wrong.  They need to know that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."  So before we get all wound up about common core standards, I say again, "how about common ethics first?"

Education Reform Starts In The Home

Every once in a while, a comment on a blog, or a blog topic itself, really gets under my skin.  The last time this happened was when UGA Football Coach Mark Richt decided not to discipline 4 players who were arrested for theft and deception and the opinion of some mothers that these kids "deserved to be back on the field immediately."   Now, another situation has me really thinking about education reform and the requirement that a two pronged intervention approach from educators AND parents is what is really needed to fix our education system.

I shared a story with Maureen Downey, editor of the Get Schooled blog for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, about a Florida high school that was charging up to $200 a seat to attend its graduation ceremony.  And for the first time, seniors had to pay a $20 fee to attend their own graduation!   She in turn published a post on her blog about the incident.   However, what really riled me up (I need to stop getting riled up or I'll lose my hair) was the fact that certain readers posted comments suggesting that they told their parents not to attend their own graduations because all they did was "do what they were supposed to do."  And that hit me like a knife to the heart.

Whether it's your first child or your last, as a parent, there is absolutely no good reason to miss your child's graduation, whether from high school or college.  Whether you graduated Valedictorian or graduated last in your class, graduating is an accomplishment, and one that should be celebrated by parents and children alike.   You reached a milestone and you should always celebrate such things with your children.  They need to know that you care, and that you're proud of them.   Now lets just dismiss the folly of charging seniors and their families to attend their own graduation.   There is no debate.  Families should attend graduations regardless of whether or not your child is getting any additional accolades. 

This is why I believe that education reform is so complex in the United States.  Prioritizing education is not just with dollars and policy, it is a MINDSET.   In Finland, they have this mindset.  They also do in Singapore and other countries with best-in-class education systems.   If parents don't feel that attending a graduation is important, then do you really think they're going to be there to help their child with homework, or in building both cognitive and non-cognitive skills?   So again, that is why feel more strongly than ever that education reform starts and ends in the home.   Teachers can only do so much, and if parents undo all of the work that teachers are trying to do in the classroom, then education reform will not succeed.

So do me a favor - attend your child's graduation.

Raising a Moral Child

The final segment of my three part blog post about ethics and public education is basically a reference post.  I came across a NY Times article from last week that I found quite interesting.   Titled, "Raising a Moral Child," the author unveils some fascinating research about how to raise a "moral" child.   As the article states, "When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring."  The article goes further:

If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave. In a review of research on emotions and moral development, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg suggests that shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people. Fearing this effect, some parents fail to exercise discipline at all, which can hinder the development of strong moral standards.

I highly recommend to read the NY Times article and review some of the innovative research cited therein.  As the author, Wharton Psychology Professor Adam Grant, concludes:  "People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character."

Parents, this is advice we must all heed.

The Importance of Teaching Ethics, Part 2

From a story at UGA, to one that hits closer to home:   high school sports.   Let me reiterate why it is so important that rules are rules, but "doing the right thing" in sports and in life is far more important.

Yesterday, I was watching a high school regional tennis tournament.  For those of you who know how high school tennis works, there are no umpires.  Line judges are only called if the players cannot agree on line calls or other situations that may come up during a match (e.g., keeping score).  Coaches and parents are not permitted to intervene on these things, which, while teachers the kids to problem-solve, does spur the moral hazard of cheating (or, as they like to say in professional tennis, "gamesmanship").   During the match, one of the players lost track of the score.  For everyone in the stands, it was abundantly clear that a game was lost.  If this player served the first game of a set, then how could they be serving in an "even"game based on what the score said?  It was supposed to be 4-2 in this player's favor, but instead, the score read 3-2.   Keep in mind that these players had played each other before, and the opposing player has a history of "cheating," slamming the racket against the net, etc.  The player clearly knew it was wrong, because they had served out the previous set.  Finally, coaches and parents spurred an intervention, which, while against the rules, was warranted.  There was a very long stoppage where USTA officials, coaches and players discussed the situation.  When the opposing player was asked about this, they denied that there was a game missing from the score!  After a long discussion, it was decided that because the players did not agree to the change themselves, they could not go back and fix the score.  So instead of this player winning the second set 6-4, they ended up losing the match in a second set tiebreaker!

The parents from the opposing team just stood there and defended their player.  After the match, the USTA official goes over to the opposing player and pats them on the back saying "nice job."   Nice job?   So we're supporting cheating here?  In all my years of playing Division I baseball, high school baseball, American Legion baseball, etc., I thought I had seen it all.   Why couldn't coaches be permitted to intervene if EVERYONE knew that a game was missing?   As a bystander watching this unfold, I was mortified.   Yes, the player should have kept track of the score, but why was another player allowed to blatantly cheat?   This happened at other times throughout the match - scores in a game getting messed up, not switching sides after 6 points in a tiebreaker, etc.

Bear in mind that this player attended a Christian school in the Metro Atlanta area.  I do not want to stereotype by any means, but at Christian Schools, there should be even GREATER emphasis on values such as integrity, honesty and sportsmanship.   In sports and in life, doing the right thing and as the Romans would say "show honor in battle," is the most important trait to have.    Luckily, this player's team lost the match, even though that line won under controversy.

Some folks who read this blog may disagree with my perspective on what transpired herein.  They'll say, "rules are rules."  However, watching this unfold and thinking about my last post about teaching ethics in K-12 education, this incident was a harsh reminder that we need to teach our kids about honesty.  A famous person once said that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."  Well, everyone was looking, and because of the archaic rules, no one was able to make this right.   Instead, bystanders were left with a stinging feeling that it's ok to cheat, just because your opponent couldn't remember the score.   And the player who was wronged had to learn a very harsh lesson.  I'm sure they won't ever forget the score anytime soon!   

We need to teach our kids that speaking up and being honest is more important than a ridiculous rule.   Maybe this player, and this school, needs to re-read a classic children's book titled, "Tell The Truth:  It's The Right Thing To Do."

Forget Common Core. How about Common Ethics and Morality?

I was gearing up to write a scathing piece that lambasted the Georgia Assembly for their reckless disregard for students and educators and their blind loyalty towards Jeffersonian, state-controlled philosophy.   I was going to refer my readers to the folly that took place in Georgia over the past few weeks, with the Georgia senate teeing up a disastrous bill, SB 167 that would have set Georgia's reform efforts back at least 8-10 years, and would have not only voided any set of standards conceived out of state, but would have also put to rest any chances of cloud-based education and digital learning being implemented in Georgia's schools.   When you have the author of the bill unable to cite examples of inappropriate Common Core Standards, you see why this was reckless and a breach of politicians' fiduciary responsibilities.   But enough said there - at least common sense prevailed at the end of the day when the bill was effectively killed for now by the Georgia House.

What I want to write about is something far more serious - ethics and morality.  You might have heard about four University of Georgia football players who were arrested for theft and deception and then subsequently allowed to practice by Coach Mark Richt!   The sports radio stations in Atlanta were talking about this all day, and I heard one talk show host saying unequivocally that these players should NOT be suspended or removed from the team.  I had to call into the station.   I said it was a "privilege" to play college sports, especially under a full or partial scholarship, and that they committed a crime and should be suspended indefinitely.   Another call echoed my sentiments, but then a woman (probably a mother) phoned in and accused us of not having ever played a college sport and that these kids deserved and were entitled to a second chance!

At this point, I was about ready to explode.   To use a Percy Jackson metaphor, my gut was ready to unleash a tidal wave on this woman!   First, let me say that this woman has probably experienced criminal behavior in some way, either herself or via a loved one.  She may even be the mother of a college athlete who has faced disciplinary action.   And she couldn't be more wrong.  

First of all, I was a Division I baseball player.   I went to an Ivy League school and they do NOT offer athletic scholarships.  I was listening to the radio hosts talking about mistakes - this wasn't a mistake.  A mistake is being late to class or handing in an assignment late.  A mistake is not being arrested for a misdemeanor!   What does this say about society when a college coach allows these students to practice the very next day???   How about these disciplinary options?

  • Suspend the players for the rest of the season
  • Void their scholarships and kick them out of school
  • Lose one year of athletic eligibility

Any type of arrest, once proven guilty, should be grounds for serious punishment.  These kids can still go to college, they can apply for financial aid just like any other student.  They can alternatively transfer to a junior college or some other institution after a period of time.   But for this female caller to shrug this off like playing a college sport is some irrevocable entitlement is not only ignorant, but not something a parent should ever say in this situation.   I can hypothesize that this woman never had any control over her children.  She taught them that when you do something wrong, you don't have to get punished.   So when these children grow up, they know no boundaries and never worry about being responsible for their actions.   And when discipline doesn't exist in the home, how can we make it work outside the home?

Ethics and morality must be integrated into the school environment at all times.   If we do not make this a priority, then we will continue to see spoiled, misguided college athletes who lack a moral compass making bad decisions and expect their coaches to look the other way.   Student athletes should be bound by the same disciplinary code as non-athletes.   I hope we see more outrage on Coach Richt's poor decision to look the other way.   We need a Common Core of Ethics and Moral Behavior, because this incident is deeply troubling on so many levels.  May it be used as a teachable moment for all children.

The Mob Mentality, Not Factual Evidence, Is Hampering Education Reform

Last year, Anthony Cody, a prominent NEA member and author of an Education Week blog titled, "Living in Dialogue."  wrote more than 80 posts in 2013 about the Common Core, and others specifically about Bill Gates.    Diane Ravitch will use any story on her blog to sensationalize the facts and rally the NEA troops, whether or not the facts have been verified or not.   Others like Paul Thomas regularly write in such an adversarial, unprofessional tone that it comes as no surprise why the mainstream media won't respond the his verbal volleys.   He, like all of the NEA bloggers who the NEPC republishes to try and amplify their perspectives to the base NEA membership,

Why am I highlighting and giving acknowledgement to certain bloggers who are fundamentally opposed to any meaningful change in public education and who regularly lobby personal attacks on those who oppose their views?   Because it is important to understand your opponent in any type of debate.   And it's clear that the mob mentality is alive and well in many of the camps involved in the Common Core policy debate.

I have posted contrarian views on some of these blogs.  What you will find is a mob mentality in full effect.   Teachers (mostly retired I suspect or using an unidentifiable alias) will preach the words of these authors as the holy gospel and verbally bully anyone who is opposed to their views, immediately claiming that those views do not matter, especially if you are not a member of the teaching profession.  And if you are not a member of the teaching profession, you are immediately characterized as a profiteer who seeks to profit from public education and are lumped with the so-called "privatizers" of public education:  the triumverate of Gates, Walton and Broad who in the minds of the NEA and AFT are the education equivalent of the "Axis of Evil."

But what fascinated me about the conduct of these people is that their behavior has been diagnosed.   I recently read a blog post about a book that is next up on my reading list:  You Are Now Less Dumb:  How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself    by David McRaney.    We're not only seeing the mob mentality with the NEA, but also with the Tea Party which is also trying to derail the Common Core.  The Common Core has not been implemented well, that I will readily confess.  However, what it has exposed is the fundamental tension in our republic (we are not a democracy - remember that) which is a tuggle between Federalism and state control.  Because the Common Core is being supported by the U.S. Dept. of Education although a state-led effort, states are forgetting about the advantages of a common set of academic standards and instead feel it is an assault on their state rights.  We will never be able to choose a side - the inherent tension between these two philosophies is here to stay and will always make education reforms very difficult to enact in the United States. 

The mob mentality is everywhere, especially in public education policy discussions.  Facts are ignored, research is regularly twisted to meet the needs of the argument, conclusions are taken out of context, all in the name of unionism.   Self interest groups cannot support anyone who disagrees with their platform and they will use whatever tactics are necessary to cut them down to size.   You can look at the comment threads on nearly every Ed Week blog or the blogs of the specific authors I mentioned above if you do not believe this to be the case.

One of the articles I alluded to above was from a popular blog called "Brain Pickings," by Maria Popova.  Dubbed "The Benjamin Franklin Effect,"  Maria talks about Franklin's mastery of human psychology and how to handle "haters."  McRaney gives valuable advice to those who want to try and win over their opponents instead of disparaging them further:

For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.


Cognitive behavior therapy is something that the self interest group "bullies" should prescribe to.   As McRaney adds:

The Benjamin Franklin effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted. If you are like most people, you have high self-esteem and tend to believe you are above average in just about every way. It keeps you going, keeps your head above water, so when the source of your own behavior is mysterious you will confabulate a story that paints you in a positive light. If you are on the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and tend to see yourself as undeserving and unworthy [and] will rewrite nebulous behavior as the result of attitudes consistent with the persona of an incompetent person, deviant, or whatever flavor of loser you believe yourself to be. Successes will make you uncomfortable, so you will dismiss them as flukes. If people are nice to you, you will assume they have ulterior motives or are mistaken. Whether you love or hate your persona, you protect the self with which you’ve become comfortable. When you observe your own behavior, or feel the gaze of an outsider, you manipulate the facts so they match your expectations.

Will Common Core survive?   It's clear the mob is gaining the upper hand right now, but the question remains, "how do you tame it?"   We are in uncertain times.  The Common Core has forced the hand on public policy.  Even if the end result is that many states create better standards, even if not uniform, it is still unlikely that public education will take the bold steps necessary to fix a dysfunational system that has not been fundamentally altered in more than a century.

The Education Establishment Does Not Understand Disruptive Innovation

Over the past week, we've seen some cautionary signs coming out of some of the new public school designs in k-12 education.   We've seen certain growing pains from the "flexible school" model coming out of Rocketship Education.  Education Week blogger, and public school protectionist Walt Gardener wrote a post today called "Bad News for Charter Schools"where he talked about the charter school closings in various states and making the sweeping conclusion that charters are not working.   And folks like Diane Ravitch believe wholeheartedly that charter schools are a "colossal mistake" and uses a conspiracy theory claiming that they give public money to private corporations.  These are VERY predictable responses and certainly not surprising to those who understand the principles of disruptive innovation theory:

  • If an innovation is in fact "disruptive," it will start out as low cost and likely inferior to the existing products or services in the market.
  • It will target areas of non-consumption

At this point, some charter schools may be sustaining innovations and not disruptive innovations.   Are they targeting a different set of consumers?  Are they being deployed disruptively?  If a charter school is controlled by the local school district, will it be able to disrupt the status quo?  This was part of the debate in 2012 in Georgia and other states about whether there should be alternate authorizers at the state level for public charter schools.

Is it too soon to gauge whether certain innovations are having the favorable impact expected of them?  In some cases, the answer is YES.  In a recent article titled "Schooling Rebooted,"we see a case study about Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona.  As the article states:

Carpe Diem has delivered some promising results, while serving a student population that was 46 percent low-income in 2011–12: Carpe Diem ranks among Arizona’s 10 highest-performing charter schools, outperforming Arizona’s statewide four-year graduation rate five of the six years between 2007 and 2012 (with a 96 percent graduation rate in 2011), and regularly exceeding the Arizona average at every grade level on the statewide assessment.The Carpe Diem model is also cost-effective. It requires fewer teachers per student than a traditional school, so Carpe Diem has achieved those results with only about $5,300 of the $6,300 per pupil allocation, according to Ryan Hackman, the school’s chief operating officer.

With new school designs, it's still a mixed bag.  Some models will be successful, and some may not,  But we know unequivocally that charter schools have certain accountability systems that traditional public schools do not.  If a charter school does not meet the requirements of its charter, it can be shut down.   Traditional public schools have historically not faced the threat of closure. 

At the end of the day, the defenders of the status quo expect charter schools and other new innovations to become instant successes.  That's not how innovation works.  These folks would be mindful that reforms and evolution take time, and can be painful at times.  Do you think the American Revolution was a smooth and orderly transition?  Far from it!  However, the analogy here is that we must have the courage to change our system because if you ask college professors or look at the abilities of our international graduates, the status quo is not an option.