Why do we want our kids to fail?

Every day there’s a new article chronicling the plight of education in the United States. I just read one today in the Atlantic. Every pundit has a different scapegoat. It’s the teachers. It’s the teachers’ unions. It’s the parents. There’s no money. The school day isn’t long enough. Video games are the problem. Blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s all of these … and it’s none of these. The problem is that our children just aren’t learning. But how can we expect anything more of them. We put hurdles in their way every chance we can. The bottom line is we are not giving them the platform they need when they walk into school every morning. If you prepared yourself for work the same way – you’d be in the soup line outside the homeless shelter. I’m not a teacher, or principal. I’m just someone who raised a kid and paid attention what worked for my daughter (and for myself when I was growing up) … and what didn’t. Here’s are my observations – and correspondingly, my suggestions:

  • We need more physical education in school, not less. I find it ironic, that many parents put a priority on their own fitness and its benefits, yet don’t care if their children are chained to desks eight hours a day with none. The more exercise, the more oxygen that flows to the brain … and the better it works. We are taught exercise in old age to wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – yet ignore its benefits in young growing minds. And don’t get me started on the child obesity epidemic and the affects it has on focus and learning
  • Incorporate healthy food consumption in school. Whether it’s getting rid of junk food or adding healthy ‘in-school’ breakfast programs – food is the fuel for performance. We can say it’s the responsibility of the parents, but that doesn’t fix the problem. We can significantly make a dent by just “kick starting’ our kids every morning by feeding them nourishment that releases it’s energy gradually, rather that in a “spike and crash” fashion that most often is the norm. Even prison food is better. All we have to do is look at ourselves and the effect what types of food has on our own performance.


  • Change the average class length to two hours. Don’t increase the length of the school day. We have to get off this chasing the Chinese thing we’re enamoured with. Out of an hour class – only maybe forty minutes of it is actually used for instruction. Subtracting the time it takes to get from class to class, settle into their desks and waiting for the bell to ring – a third of class time is transition. Synaptic connections are strengthened best by focused periods of attention when the brain can build on a single topic – not constantly switching gears. Imagine organizing your work like a normal class schedule – yea right! Giving a child ninety or hundred minutes of concentrated thought on one topic will build the synapses so that half of it isn’t forgotten by the time they get home.
  • Teach writing … everywhere and all the time. Outside from composing music, the most stimulating thing you (or your child) can do is write. So why do our kids do so little of it in school. Writing is a skill that will be universal for the rest of their lives. Every discipline in school should incorporate writing in their curriculum. Have the kids write about the subject material – not just memorize. Use English class for more of an editing function – than just composition. By writing about the material in each class, serious thought will need be used.
  • Teach to relevancy not random facts. Currently our schools teach facts based around whats going to be on a standardized test. This instruction has no relevancy to our kids. It’s just random stuff that some old guy has told them they’re going to have to learn. Things happen in the world every day – and each can be a learning experience – a experience (a life story) that will stick and will be built on years in the future. You want children to be civic-minded – spend a month on the political elections when they’re happening. Conduct mock elections with the kids having roles in the campaign process. Discuss local as well as national issues. Engage them, show them the relevancy to their lives. Teach to stories. It’s been proven time and time again, a brain digests information via stories far better than anything else. Any sales trainer will tell you this. Yet we continue to pound random irrelevant facts into their brains and wonder why they don’t stick.
These are a just a few of my ideas. They’re really just about providing a structure for our kids to learn to think and use their brains. They don’t involve teachers pay, or new buildings, or new iPads (even though we should use them) or even the subject material. And for the most part they don’t really cost much. But they’re improvements that can make a serious difference in our children’s ability to learn.
More than anything, we just have to use common sense. So much of what I’ve described above, you do for yourself every day to help you perform and deal with your daily stresses. Why is it we can’t seem to think these same things would work for our kids? It’s almost like we want them fail.
Education is the paramount issue this country is facing – and yet we do nothing but throw around blame as our kids muddle through schools eight hours a day getting ready a for future they will be ill prepared to face.
It’s sad … just really, really sad.
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My daughter is getting a tattoo!

My daughter, Alex, texted me on Friday to tell me that she’s getting a tattoo. Alex is twenty-one and can do pretty much whatever she wants. I don’t financially support her, so I have no leverage on her. Alex has a couple of piercings, ears and one in the eyebrow (which I kinda like) – but she doesn’t have any tattoos. I guess I was hoping that she’d make through life like me, without one.

I don’t what it is about tattoos. Maybe it’s the permanency of it. At least with piercings – you can take them out. But with a tattoo … there you are, it’s yours forever. I just have this vision of Alex getting this thing she’ll regret in a week.

Rather than texting her back with the standard parental rant – “No you’re not getting it,” which would have been of no value – I waited to catch my breath. “What’s the tattoo going to be,” was my response four minutes later. “It’s going to be Phoenix on my arm,” replied my daughter. “I saw it and I couldn’t resist getting it.” “It’s me, especially after what I’ve gone through.”

Alex's tattoo scretch

If you’ve read any of my other posts here, you’d know Alex spent a good portion of her high school living in motels and a tent as we went through some rough times. And the year and half with her mother before then was even worse. She didn’t let it get her down, at least outwardly.

In fact she’s used those times to strengthen herself. Heck she got hired by Apple right after she turned eighteen. It’s kind of the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Alex is an embodiment of that. Alex is turning out great – mentally, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t be more pleased. She’s even a contrarian like me 😉

A lot of parents have a hard time communicating with their kids when they’re around this age. You never really know how they’re doing. They may say they’re good – but in reality they’re not. More times than not, they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. So if something bad happens – you have no idea it’s coming till it’s too late. It’s the “I had no idea” thing.

Well … my daughter told me an awful lot in that tattoo that she’s getting.

By definition, a Phoenix is the mythical bird that rose from the ashes to become stronger than ever.

What this tattoo tells me is that Alex went through a lot in high school, probably more than I thought. Just because I didn’t mind sleeping in a tent in the Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach, doesn’t mean it didn’t take its toll on Alex. More than ever I realize that.

But what I also realize is that now she feels strong, stronger from the experiences she’s had (good and bad). She’s in a very good “place” right now, and if she’s willing to brand herself with that fact … then I couldn’t be happier.

She has the perfect positive totem when times looks bleak and she’s not on her game. All she has to do is look at her arm. After all she’s a Phoenix.

“All’s good in the hood.”


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Influence … and responsibility

As everyone knows, unless you’ve been living under a rock, our country had a tragic shooting in Tuscon, Arizona on Saturday.  Representative Gabby Giffords and several others were shot outside a Safeway during a “Congressman on the Corner” rally.  Several of those shot were killed, including a nine year girl and a federal judge.

Gabby Giffords
Gabby Giffords shooting

Much of the attention has moved past the details of the shooting and gunman, Jared Loughner – to the influences and influencers behind it.  The mainstream media has anointed Sarah Palin the designate evil puppet master due to her target ridden anti-healthcare bill website graphic.  That and the vitriolic rhetoric that has become ubiquitous over the last two years have the Republican guard (excuse the pun, but I had to) spinning … physically and publicly.

Now I’m no Sarah Palin fan.  In fact, I believe her ascendancy to the political front has “dumbed down” public discourse to level not seen in decades – since probably the McCarthy witch hunt.  But that doesn’t mean I think she to responsible for this atrocity.   But I don’t think she’s blameless either.

When someone rises to a level where they have followers – by definition they have people who follow them.  With this, comes power and often wealth (however you define it).  But with this wealth and power also comes responsibility.  I suppose you can lead your herd blindly over the edge of a cliff, and it’ll ultimately be the fault of the lemmings, one can’t discount the responsibility of the influence.

Too often we only focus on the perks of power and influence, without looking at the ramification of possessing them.  In a “Perfect World,” if our leaders misused their givings we would just walk away, letting them spew their idioms to the wind, within only the earshot of the delusional.  But the last time I checked, the “Perfect World” was still way off on the horizon.

As humans we seem to gravitate towards answers to the unknown.  Where we find these answers is where the issue lies.  Too often we become products of our environment.  And our environment includes the people and messages they relay, often over and over ad nauseam.  Continued exposure to these messages, in fact any message that is continually repeated, will result in acceptance.  After all … isn’t this what the advertising industry is built on?

We could all hope that we could sit back and under informed circumstances come to rational decisions that will appropriately govern our actions.  But again, this is not the “Perfect World.”  And in the meantime, those with the followers, those with the messages … the messages our followers take as gospel – must be responsible.

While the message of this post is directed towards the events of Saturday … I think we should extrapolate, and make it ours.  If you’re reading this you probably have a group of followers.  Whether they friend you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter or just come to the parties you throw in your living room – they listen to what you say.  You may not be Sarah Palin, but you still have followers.  And some of these followers may act on what you say… or what they perceive you say.

I’m sure Palin had no idea her callous ranting, verbally and graphically, would result in actions like Saturday – and I’m not saying it did, that doesn’t make it any better.  All we can do is learn from our mistakes – all of us.

Before we post or Tweet of even jump up on our soapbox in front of our children or friends … let’s think about its effects and not take for granted the influence we may have over the people who listen to us.

Because with an audience, with influence, must come responsibility.  For the actions that result from our influence are really just an extension of our own.   And are you willing to live with the consequences.


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Happy Birthday Alex ;-)

Today is my daughter Alexandria’s twenty-first birthday.  As a way to send her into adulthood or … “On the Road of her Perfect World,”  I gave her a framed copy of my following “roadside assistance.”

Take what you can from it.


  • LEAD Amongst a generation of heroes … there still needs to be the one that leads.
  • FEED YOUR OPTIMISM In the tale of the two wolves … the one that gets fed wins.
  • EMBRACE CHANGE “It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent that survive and flourish, it’s the ones most able to change.”  Charles Darwin
  • GIVE Leave every person, place and thing better off from you being there.
  • REMEMBER THE PAST While your future may burn bright, it’s in your past the bulb was built.
  • HAVE FUN All the victories, all the accomplishments are but hollow action without a smile.


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“The one you feed …”

With all the polarization and animosity prevalent in today’s society. Maybe we should start with thinking about where it all comes from.


Image by Jim Brandenburg

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life…

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

One wolf is evil — he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.

The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied: “The one you feed.”

Kind of says it all.


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No … it’s our fault!

Back a year and half ago, Fargo, North Dakota (my home state) was going through a potentially devastating flood.  Associated Press reported a story about Fargo’s mayor,  Dennis Walaker – the hero of the Fargo flood.  Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“When an 8-year-old girl died after the car she was riding in spun out of control and was struck by another car, Walaker blamed the crash on a rut that the city failed to fix.  He thought it was important to let the driver — the victim’s 15-year-old sister — know it wasn’t her fault, and he wasn’t worried that it could open up the city to a lawsuit.”

When is the last time you or anyone else in your firm acted like this?


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“Saving education … 2 hours at a time”

I’ve noticed with school starting again, there’s been a lot of discussion on state of the American education system.  I recent report cited our high school students have fallen even further down the rankings compared with other countries around the globe.

And as always happens, the saber-rattling has started.  The teachers and their beloved unions want more money and smaller class sizes.  The Republicans want a return to fundamentals and the Democrats want more parental involvement and a return to a more liberal curriculum like music and art.  It’s the same thing every time one of these reports come out.  Thanks God we haven’t heard anything about raising the “whole language” carcass from the grave.

Now here’s my take on the education debate.  Let me lay down assumptions first so you follow what I’m going to propose as the “be all, end all” to the education dilemma.

The brain is an array of synaptic connections.  Theses connection are formed through learning and our experiences.  We all know that.  The brain is also a muscle of sorts.  And like any muscle, the more we exercise it the more the muscle develops.

Now let’s look how we develop our bodies.  Any trainer will tell you, “no pain, gain,” right.  A ten minute session of jogging isn’t going to do anyone any good.  Now a concentrated twenty-minute run will that hurts – will.  My question is why don’t we treat our “brain workout” the same way.  And with the way we have our schools structured, we don’t.

Every school I’ve ever seen segments out classes in one hour periods.  Hey, it’s the way it’s always been and well … damn that’s the way it needs to be.  You know what the one hour class is?  It’s a ten minute jog.  And the one hour class isn’t even an hour.  By the time you subtract the five-minute break, the ten minutes to get the kids settled down and the five minutes at the end of class when they’re waiting to get out … the class is only forty minutes long.

Forty minutes isn’t enough time to build any significant synaptic connections.  It’s barely enough time to reinforce those that have already there in the first place.  And let’s combine that with the fact that there will some synaptic breakdown from one day to next.

If you ever took a college class in the summer, you probably found out that you learn more.  That’s because the classes are conducted over a shorter time period – four to six weeks, with longer periods.  You get into it more and don’t have as much time to forget it.  It’s been thirty years since my stint at UND, and I can still can knock out a lease vs. buy analysis or value a public company … even though I haven’t done it since.

Remember the movie, “Stand and Deliver,” starring Edward James Olmos, based on a true story.  A dedicated teacher inspires his East Los Angeles dropout prone students to learn calculus and do so well that they are accused of cheating.  He did it with a concentrated effort over just three months that often involved weekend classes.  He put those kids’ brains through a “mental marathon.”

We have to help our kids build their brains as strong as possible on the road to their future.  Would you rather send your children out on dirt or pavement?

Here’s my solution:  “Saving education … 2 hours at a time”

Make classes two hours long!

Here’s what will happen:

  • There will be more actual time for instruction and learning.  Even with a break in the middle of the two-hour period, you don’t have that mental and physical transition of the normal one hour class.  A forty minute period turns into a 100 minute period, a twenty-five percent increase.
  • The quality of the time spent in the class will rise dramatically.  Once you get going, then it’s a lot easier to keep it going.  Isn’t there a law of physics that says that?  Complex thought can only be achieved once the synapses are firing, and to get them firing takes work … no different from getting your cardio up on a run.  You can’t go from 100 to 170 in ten minutes.
  • Here’s one for the teachers.  If a teacher only has three classes a day then there is a good chance they will only have to prepare for one or two different courses.  My dad was a high school teacher and routinely prepared for three a night.  The synaptic connection thing works here too.  A more concentrated class preparation will probably lend itself to a better class preparation.  Better  teacher prep … better student achievement.  WOW, what a concept.

I don’t know why we continue to fight against brain neurology.  We all know how learning works.  Yet we don’t seem to put our knowledge into practice.  It’s like we are so determined to hold on the past – and way things have always have been done.  The only way any change happens – is if it is radical, like the “whole language” fiasco.

“Knowledge, 2 hours at a time” isn’t radical.  It doesn’t involve more money.  It doesn’t involve merit pay (so the unions don’t have to get their feathers ruffled).  All it involves is just having two-hour classes.

I remember a story a few years ago about a truck that had driven under a bridge underpass and gotten stuck.  Highway officials, firemen and engineers all caucused for hours in search of a solution.  A little six-year-old daughter of a man stuck in the ensuing traffic backup asked one of the firemen why they just let the air out of the truck’s tires.

And as Occam so rightly said, “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”


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