Monday, June 20, 2016

Trump - no pushback

When I sent out my email yesterday, in which I took my criticism of Trump to a new level (calling him a monster, comparing him to David Duke and Joe McCarthy, and warning an acquaintance who's publicly supporting him that "The risk that your personal reputation is materially and permanently harmed has gone up a lot"), I braced myself for the blowback that always occurs when I send out a very partisan email: angry emails condemning me for using my email blasts for such purposes, requests to be removed from my email list, etc.
The response so far: crickets. I was so surprised that I went back and checked to make sure it had gone out (it had).
Of the 7,000+ people on this email list, I'd guess 1,000-2,000 are Republicans – and not a single oneemailed me to say, "Whitney, I think you're wrong about Trump. You're misunderstanding what he's saying and/or he doesn't really believe what he's saying and/or even if he does, he'll never be able to implement it and/or as much as I don't like what he's saying, I think Hillary is much worse, so I'm holding my nose and supporting him."
Not a single reader emailed me to argue against what I wrote. That has never happened before, and I think it speaks volumes…

 Subscribe in a reader

Kudos to Ken Burns! (on Trump)

Kudos to Ken Burns! Every prominent person needs to use their platform (like a commencement address) to heap scorn on Trump and make it clear that he and everything he stands for - narcissism, mendacity, misogyny, xenophobia, violence, hatred and bigotry - are completely unacceptable.

"There comes a time when I and you can no longer remain neutral, silent — we must speak up and speak out," said Burns, who is known for historical documentaries. "For 216 years, our elections — though bitterly contested — have featured the philosophies and characters of candidates who were clearly qualified."

"That is not the case this year," he said, to a round of applause. 

[Read the full speech]

During his takedown, Burns made several stinging points without even using the candidate's name.

"He is an insult to our history," Burns said. A moment later, he implored: "Do not be deceived by his momentary good behavior. It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert."

Burns described the candidate as one who "is against lots of things but doesn't seem to be for anything," offers "bombastic and contradictory promises," is a "terrifying Orwellian statesman," "insults veteransthreatens a free pressmocks the handicappeddenigrates womenimmigrants and Muslims."

Burns reminded the audience that Trump avoided several chances to disavow David Duke, an advocate for white supremacy and former Ku Klux Klan leader.

Trump is "a person who easily lies," he continued; "who creates an environment where the truth doesn't seem to matter, who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment." He is "an infantile, bullying man, who depending on his mood is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties and long-standing relationships," Burns said. His candidacy "is a political Ponzi scheme."

"Asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747," he declared.

Ken Burns Offers Blistering Takedown Of Donald Trump In Stanford Commencement Speech

"Asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747."

06/12/2016 04:14 pm ET | Updated 5 days ago

· Editor/Reporter, The Huffington Post

 Subscribe in a reader

A spot-on editorial about the importance of training teachers

A spot-on editorial and cover story in this week's Economist about the importance of training teachers and how the current ed school system in the US isn't getting the job done:

FORGET smart uniforms and small classes. The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers. One American study found that in a single year's teaching the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do. Another suggests that, if black pupils were taught by the best quarter of teachers, the gap between their achievement and that of white pupils would disappear. 

But efforts to ensure that every teacher can teach are hobbled by the tenacious myth that good teachers are born, not made. Classroom heroes like Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society" or Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dangerous Minds" are endowed with exceptional, innate inspirational powers. Government policies, which often start from the same assumption, seek to raise teaching standards by attracting high-flying graduates to join the profession and prodding bad teachers to leave. Teachers' unions, meanwhile, insist that if only their members were set free from central diktat, excellence would follow.

The premise that teaching ability is something you either have or don't is mistaken. A new breed of teacher-trainers is founding a rigorous science of pedagogy. The aim is to make ordinary teachers great, just as sports coaches help athletes of all abilities to improve their personal best (see article). Done right, this will revolutionise schools and change lives.

… There can be few crafts more necessary. Many factors shape a child's success, but in schools nothing matters as much as the quality of teaching. In a study updated last year, John Hattie of the University of Melbourne crunched the results of more than 65,000 research papers on the effects of hundreds of interventions on the learning of 250m pupils. He found that aspects of schools that parents care about a lot, such as class sizes, uniforms and streaming by ability, make little or no difference to whether children learn (see chart). What matters is "teacher expertise". All of the 20 most powerful ways to improve school-time learning identified by the study depended on what a teacher did in the classroom.

A well-deserved shout-out for Relay:

TO THE 11- and 12-year-olds in his maths class, Jimmy Cavanagh seems like a born teacher. He is warm but firm. His voice is strong. Correct answers make him smile. And yet it is not his pep that explains why his pupils at North Star Academy in Newark, New Jersey, can expect to go to university, despite 80% of their families needing help to pay for school meals.

Mr Cavanagh is the product of a new way of training teachers. Rather than spending their time musing on the meaning of education, he and his peers have been drilled in the craft of the classroom. Their dozens of honed techniques cover everything from discipline to making sure all children are thinking hard. Not a second is wasted. North Star teachers may seem naturals. They are anything but.

Like many of his North Star colleagues are or have been, Mr Cavanagh is enrolled at the Relay Graduate School of Education. Along with similar institutions around the world, Relay is applying lessons from cognitive science, medical education and sports training to the business of supplying better teachers. Like doctors on the wards of teaching hospitals, its students often train at excellent institutions, learning from experienced high-calibre peers. Their technique is calibrated, practised, coached and relentlessly assessed like that of a top-flight athlete. Jamey Verrilli, who runs Relay's Newark branch (there are seven others), says the approach shows teaching for what it is: not an innate gift, nor a refuge for those who, as the old saw has it, "can't do", but "an incredibly intricate, complex and beautiful craft"

Education reform

Teaching the teachers

Great teaching has long been seen as an innate skill. But reformers are showing that the best teachers are made, not born

Jun 11th 2016 | BOSTON, NEWARK AND NEW YORK | From the print edition

 Subscribe in a reader

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado (and former Denver school superintendent)

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado (and former Denver school superintendent) generally eschews the national media so he's not well known, but he is an amazing guy – my favorite senator, along with Cory Booker – and would make my short list of possible future Presidents. This weekend's Washington Post magazine has an in-depth profile of him:

In an era of ideological polarization and hyper-partisanship, he is a pragmatic centrist whose instincts run to bipartisan compromise.

In the shouting match that American politics has become, he'd rather listen than talk, steering clear of the national media.

In a capital seething in self-importance, his is the rare ego that does not precede him into the room.

And at a time when politicians get ahead by being nasty, superficial and glib, Bennet gets by, as one Republican staffer put it, by being "the most affable and knowledgeable guy in the room."

Bennet is the anti-Trump, the anti-Cruz — but also the anti-Hillary, straightforward and authentic. In many ways, he is a throwback to a bygone era, an optimist with impeccable establishment credentials who finds himself miscast for today's politics of anti-establishment anger and resentment. Whether he is able to survive the vitriol of this year's election and find a constructive role to play in Washington offers a test of whether there is still a place in American politics for talented, experienced leaders more interested in governing than winning.

"What people want is principled bipartisanship, and what they are getting is unprincipled partisanship," Bennet told me. "There would be no point in running again if I didn't believe that could change."

…It is not uncommon for Bennet to find himself at odds with party leaders. At the twice-weekly caucus lunches, Bennet often chafes in silence as Democratic leaders plot their latest partisan maneuver or exhort senators to stay "on message." Although disinclined by temperament to be the constant critic or lead ill-fated rebellions, he has challenged the leadership on a few occasions. That he prevailed, a number of senators told me, is a measure of the respect he has from his colleagues. 

"I have heard him give speeches in caucus, off the cuff, and turn the issue 180 degrees," said Sen. John Tester of Montana, a friend and frequent foosball rival.

"He wants us to be less political and more focused on the issues," said Schumer, who will takeover as Senate Democratic leader next year and shows no sign of becoming less political.

Schumer, by the way, long ago called back Ritter to admit he'd been wrong about Bennet. He now calls him "an ideal senator."

Here's the part of the article about his work when he was Denver school superintendent – we could all learn a lot of this:

So when Denver's school superintendent came to tell the mayor that he was going to leave for another job in 2004, Hickenlooper asked him what he thought of Bennet as his replacement. "Who's Michael Bennet?" asked the superintendent.

To Bennet's friends and family, the idea of his becoming a big-city school superintendent seemed nutty. Not only did he have no training or experience in education, he had never attended a public school. Neither had any of his three daughters. Even among experienced superintendents, failure rates were high and tenures short. His longtime mentor, Gov. Celeste, remembers telling Bennet, "If you have any hope of a political career, it's the worst possible thing you could do." 

Bennet, however, was intrigued by the challenge. He called up other superintendents, read everything he could get his hands on about school reform, and by the time of his interview with the school board had come to three conclusions: "One, I couldn't believe how bad urban school systems were doing. Two, I had no idea whether my lack of experience would be a negative or positive. And three, I desperately wanted the job." He was chosen over a Latina who had been a community college president and the black superintendent of another school district.

The board's unconventional choice was soon tested when the new superintendent announced a plan to close Manual High School, once the pride of Denver's African American community. Manual's enrollment had fallen nearly by half, classroom discipline was weak, gangs ruled the corridors. Even after repeated reform efforts — contracts with parents, performance pay for teachers, "small school" restructuring — 97 percent of Manual's students were failing the citywide math exam, 90 percent the writing test. Only 20 percent who entered ninth grade actually graduated. Bennet's proposal was to send students to other schools and start over at Manual with a new principal, new teachers, new students and a new approach to education.

"It was his stake in the ground," said Allegra "Happy" Haynes, a former city councilor who moved with Bennet from city hall to the schools. "Manual really stood out in terms of how bad it was."

Not everyone saw it that way. Manual's teachers felt they were being blamed unfairly for their unruly and unprepared students. Black and Hispanic students felt abandoned. African American leaders saw it as an insult to their community. Students marched on school headquarters, and black ministers denounced Bennet.

Haynes remembers attending a community meeting with Bennet in a packed auditorium with people crying and jeering at him whenever he spoke. "He stood there all night and never once got defensive," she said. "It was an extraordinarily painful experience for him, but the way he saw it, it was the things that we weren't doing for these kids that was the real civil rights issue."

Bennet soon realized that closing the school was only the first step; he also had to make sure that its students would be offered something better somewhere else. He created a spreadsheet to track where all 558 students were going, set up a network of academic counselors to advise them and recruited hundreds of community leaders to serve as life mentors or provide them with part-time jobs. By July, however, it looked as though hundreds of Manual students might simply drop out of school. So for six weeks the superintendent of schools spent nights and weekends going door to door to enroll students in other programs. When schools reopened in September, all but about 100 Manual students were enrolled somewhere else — a higher return rate than in previous years. 

At Denver's other 160 schools, Bennet initiated annual "town meetings" with teachers at every school — four or five per week — to listen to their complaints and suggestions. Every principal was assigned to one of 15 groups that met with the superintendent once a month. 

"He's the only superintendent I know of who spent half of every day with teachers and principals," said Jaime Aquino, whom Bennet recruited from New York City to be chief academic officer. Central office employees were evaluated on how responsive they were to the schools, rather than the other way around. 

In dealing with a sometimes hostile teachers union, Bennet's strategy was to create allies among teachers open to reform while isolating hard-liners. He pushed bigger pay raises for starting teachers and those willing to teach at low-performing schools. Only after pouring money into enhanced teacher training did he push for more merit pay. Charter schools were incorporated into the public system. And with his support, the Colorado legislature gave teachers at any school the power to opt out of union contracts to gain the flexibility for educational innovation. Today, teachers at nearly 20 percent of Denver schools have voted to opt out.

"He had a lot of credibility with teachers that the union leaders couldn't ignore," said Tom Boasberg, a childhood friend from Cleveland Park whom Bennet lured from a telecom company to be the school system's chief operating officer. Boasberg would eventually succeed Bennet as superintendent.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Washington-based Council of Great City Schools, credited Bennet with beginning the transformation of one of the country's most troubled urban systems into one that is now one of the highest performing. According to an evaluation done by his organization, the number of students found to be proficient in reading and math increased by 6 percentage points during Bennet's four-year tenure, and the upward trend has continued ever since. 

Even today, when Bennet visits the city's schools, teachers and principals come up to give him a hug and reminisce. He still remembers their names and what projects they had worked on together.

"It was the best job I ever had," he said, almost wistfully, as we sat in his Senate office one evening.

…And in the long-running battle over reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind education law, colleagues give the former school superintendent credit for finally convincing Democrats that the federal role in education had become overbearing and inflexible while convincing Republicans of the imperative to hold states accountable for poor-performing schools.

"He bridged the gap with the Republicans," said Sen. Patty Murray, ranking Democrat on the Education Committee, who called Bennet "the pragmatic voice of reason."

For Bennet, the education bill was something of a bittersweet victory. The eight years it took to pass it, he said in yet another speech to an empty chamber in December, revealed a disturbing lack of urgency on the part of too many of his colleagues who were "content to treat America's children as if they are someone else's rather than their own." The same outcome, he told me later, could have been had years earlier if party leaders had simply given their members the green light to compromise.

The can-do senator in a can't-do Congress

June 16
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a critic of unregulated money flowing into politics today. (Nigel Parry/For The Washington Post)

 Subscribe in a reader

Anorexia - Excellent article

 Below are the two best NYT Magazine articles I've ever read, one from 2006 on anorexia and one from 2008 about suicide. Both fundamentally changed what I thought I knew about these two calamities. The first one argues that the best way to treat anorexia isn't sending your daughter to a shrink, but to force feed her (or threaten to do so unless she eats 3,000-4,000 calories/day and returns to a normal weight). The second argues that it is NOT true that putting up barriers on high bridges or removing guns from a house doesn't matter because someone who's suicidal will just find another way to do it.


This one on anorexia is still very much worth reading, especially if you have a daughter in or near her teenage years. A truly terrifying disease...

Had the diagnosis been, say, diabetes, we would have been given a list of guidelines and medications -- a road map for recovery. We would have looked at research and treatment protocols. Look anorexia up on Amazon, and you'll find hundreds of titles, but we couldn't sort the useful books from the flaky ones. And in terms of treatment, there isn't much systematic scientific research on the disease. No one could tell us exactly how to make our daughter well. All they could say for sure was that the odds weren't good. Anorexia is one of the deadliest psychiatric diseases; it's estimated that up to 15 percent of anorexics die, from suicide or complications related to starvation. About a third may make some improvement but are still dominated by their obsession with food. Many become depressed or anxious, and some develop substance-abuse problems, like alcoholism. Almost half never marry. It is thought that if anorexia is not treated early on, during adolescence, it tends to take an average of five to seven years for the person to recover -- if it happens at all. I pictured Kitty, starved and weak, at 16 and 18 and 21, and felt sick.

I went home and started researching, hoping to find another option. Among the few studies done on anorexia treatment, I came across one from 1997, a follow-up to an earlier study on adolescents that assessed a method developed in England and was still relatively unknown in the United States: family-based treatment, often called the Maudsley approach. This treatment was created by a team of therapists led by Christopher Dare and Ivan Eisler at the Maudsley Hospital in London, in the mid-1980s, as an alternative to hospitalization. In a hospital setting, nurses sit with anorexic patients at meals, encouraging and calming them; they create a culture in which patients have to eat. The Maudsley approach urges families to essentially take on the nurses' role. Parents become primary caretakers, working with a Maudsley therapist. Their job: Finding ways to insist that their children eat.

The two studies showed that 90 percent of the adolescents recovered or made significant gains; five years later, 90 percent had fully recovered. (Two other studies confirmed these results.) In the world of eating disorders, I was coming to understand, this was a phenomenally high success rate.

The idea that parents should be intimately involved in the refeeding of their children can be quite controversial, a departure from the conventional notion that the dynamic between parent and child causes or contributes to the anorexia. Many therapists advocate a "parentectomy," insisting that parents stay out of the treatment to preserve the child's privacy and autonomy. They say that a child must "choose" to eat in order to truly recover. Maudsley advocates see the family as the best chance a child has for recovery; no one else knows the child as well or has the same investment in the child's well-being. That felt right to us.

Over the last few years, most eating-disorders researchers have begun to think that there is no single cause of anorexia, that maybe it's more like a recipe, where several ingredients -- genetics, personality type, hormones, stressful life events -- come together in just the wrong way. Maudsley practitioners say that focusing on the cause is secondary, ultimately, because once the physiological process of starvation kicks in, the disease takes on a life of its own, unfolding with predictable symptoms, intensity and long-term consequences. Anorexics become almost uniformly depressed, withdrawn, enraged, anxious, irritable or suicidal, and their thinking about food and eating is distorted, in part because the brain runs on glucose, and when it has been deprived over a long period of time, when it's starved, it goes haywire. It's important to get the patient's weight up, fast, because the less time spent in starvation, the better the outcome. Adult anorexics who have been chronically ill for years have much poorer prognoses than teenagers.

One Spoonful at a Time

 Subscribe in a reader

Excellent article on suicide

Here's an exc one on suicide:

Little wonder, then, that most of us have come to regard suicide with an element of resignation, even as a particularly brutal form of social Darwinism: perhaps through luck or medication or family intervention some suicidal individuals can be identified and saved, but in the larger scheme of things, there will always be those driven to take their own lives, and there's really not much that we can do about it. The sheer numbers would seem to support this idea: in 2005, approximately 32,000 Americans committed suicide, or nearly twice the number of those killed by homicide.

But part of this sense of futility may stem from a peculiar element of myopia in the way we as a society have traditionally viewed and attempted to combat suicide. Just as with homicide, researchers have long recognized a premeditation-versus-passion dichotomy in suicide. There are those who display the classic symptoms of so-called suicidal behavior, who build up to their act over time or who choose methods that require careful planning. And then there are those whose act appears born of an immediate crisis, with little or no forethought involved. Just as with homicide, those in the "passion" category of suicide are much more likely to turn to whatever means are immediately available, those that are easy and quick.

Yet even mental-health experts have tended to regard these very different types of suicide in much the same way. I was struck by this upon meeting with two doctors who are among the most often-cited experts on suicide — and specifically on suicide by jumping. Both readily acknowledged the high degree of impulsivity associated with that method, but also considered that impulsivity as simply another symptom of mental illness. "Of all the hundreds of jumping suicides I've looked at," one told me, "I've yet to come across a case where a mentally healthy person was walking across a bridge one day and just went over the side. It just doesn't happen. There's almost always the presence of mental illness somewhere." It seemed to me there was an element of circular logic here: that the act proved the intent that proved the illness.

The bigger problem with this mental-illness rubric is that it puts emphasis on the less-knowable aspect of the act, the psychological "why," and tends to obscure any examination of the more pedestrian "how," the basic mechanics involved. But if we want to unravel posthumously the thought processes of the lost with an eye to saving lives in the future, the "how" may be the best place to look.

To turn the equation around: if the impulsive suicide attempter tends to reach for whatever means are easy or quick, is it possible that the availability of means can actually spur the act? In looking at suicide's close cousin, murder, the answer seems obvious. If a man shoots his wife amid a heated argument, we recognize the crucial role played by the gun's availability. We don't automatically think, Well, if the gun hadn't been there, he surely would have strangled her. When it comes to suicide, however, most of us make no such allowance. The very fact that someone kills himself we regard as proof of intent — and of mental illness; the actual method used, we assume, is of minor importance.

But is it?

As it turns out, one of the most remarkable discoveries about suicide and how to reduce it occurred utterly by chance. It came about not through some breakthrough in pharmacology or the treatment of mental illness but rather through an energy-conversion scheme carried out in Britain in the 1960s and '70s. Among those familiar with the account, it is often referred to simply as "the British coal-gas story."

…Beyond sheer lethality, however, what makes gun suicide attempts so resistant to traditional psychological suicide-prevention protocols is the high degree of impulsivity that often accompanies them. In a 1985 study of 30 people who had survived self-inflicted gunshot wounds, more than half reported having had suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours, and none of the 30 had written suicide notes. This tendency toward impulsivity is especially common among young people — and not only with gun suicides. In a 2001 University of Houston study of 153 survivors of nearly lethal attempts between the ages of 13 and 34, only 13 percent reported having contemplated their act for eight hours or longer. To the contrary, 70 percent set the interval between deciding to kill themselves and acting at less than an hour, including an astonishing 24 percent who pegged the interval at less than five minutes.

The element of impulsivity in firearm suicide means that it is a method in which mechanical intervention — or "means restriction" — might work to great effect. As to how, Dr. Matthew Miller, the associate director of the Injury Control Research Center, outlined for me a number of very basic steps. Storing a gun in a lockbox, for example, slows down the decision-making process and puts that gun off-limits to everyone but the possessor of the key. Similarly, studies have shown that merely keeping a gun unloaded and storing its ammunition in a different room significantly reduces the odds of that gun being used in a suicide.

"The goal is to put more time between the person and his ability to act," Miller said. "If he has to go down to the basement to get his ammunition or rummage around in his dresser for the key to the gun safe, you're injecting time and effort into the equation — maybe just a couple of minutes, but in a lot of cases that may be enough."

It reminded me of what Richard Seiden said about people thwarted from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. When I mentioned this to Miller, he smiled. "It's very much the same," he said. "The more obstacles you can throw up, the more you move it away from being an impulsive act. And once you've done that, you take a lot of people out of the game. If you look at how people get into trouble, it's usually because they're acting impulsively, they haven't thought things through. And that's just as true with suicides as it is with traffic accidents."

The Urge to End It All

 Subscribe in a reader

Sunday, June 05, 2016

My commencement address at Eaglebrook School on Friday

"If you are a dumbass, there will be consequences!"
Believe it or not, I used that line (what I tell my daughters is the "#1 Immutable Law of the Universe") in my commencement address on Friday at my alma mater, Eaglebrook, a private 6th-9th grade boarding school in Deerfield, MA. In 7th and 8th grades in 1980-81, I was a day student there, and it was a transformative experience for me: for the first time, I experienced what a first-rate education was.
Over the years, I've kept in touch with the school and was deeply honored when the headmaster invited me a few months ago to give the address at this year's commencement. There were just under 100 graduating students, plus younger students, family, friends, teachers, etc. – a total of maybe 400 people. This is what I saw from the podium:
I've done so many TV appearances and speeches over the years (mostly about investing and education reform), but this was the first time I'd spoken to young adults. Oh, the stress – what could I say that was both meaningful and memorable to 15-year-old boys?!
I ended up speaking quite a bit about my work in education reform and my experiences with Teach for America and KIPP. In fact, other than discussing my "#1 Immutable Law of the Universe", the rest of my advice was all related to KIPP's motto, "Work hard, be nice."
I worked so hard on this speech – and was making major edits right up to the very last moment! I'm really happy with how it went and have gotten lots of nice feedback.
Below are excerpts and I've posted the entire speech (7 pages) here, including an appendix (8 pages) with all of the things I wrote and wanted to say, but didn't have time. Enjoy!
Excerpts from my Eaglebrook commencement address
So with that, I'd like to talk to you about three things I've learned, based on my own experiences as a young man, being a father to three teenage daughters, and my involvement with education reform for the past 27 years.
The idea for the first one came from my youngest daughter, who just turned 14. I've done lots of public speaking, but I've never addressed an audience of young adults like yourselves, so I asked her what I should say. Her suggestion was: "Tell 'em about your #1 Immutable Law of the Universe," which is something I've been saying to my daughters for years. Against the advice of some of my friends, I decided to share it with you in its all of its unfiltered glory, so here goes: "If you are a dumbass, there will be consequences!"
I like it because it's memorable: I'm pretty sure that the word "dumbass" has never been used in any commencement address ever. The question is, is it meaningful? I think it is.
…the foundation of a successful life is playing defense – and by that I mean avoiding the obvious mistakes that can really set you back.
I'm not talking about the big, general things: if you're mean to people, don't expect to have many friends; if you're lazy and dishonest, you won't have much of a career; if you don't take care of your body, of course it's going to break down…
No, I'm talking about the blindingly obvious things, ranging from touching a stove to see if it's hot (I did that once) or touching an electric fence to see if it's live (I did that too), all the way up to things that can derail – or end – a life.
By now you're probably thinking, "Jeez, what kind of commencement speaker is this? What a downer he is! When is he going to tell us how great we are, how we should put on our sunglasses because our future is so bright, and how we need to seize the day?"
Well, you are and you should – but the reason I started with these stories is because the foundation for a successful life is playing good defense. If you want to get ahead, you have to start by not falling behind.
So now let's turn to the fun stuff: playing offense and being successful in life. I have great news for you: the fact that you're graduating from Eaglebrook means that your odds of success in life are already off the charts. You've received a great education so far and will surely continue to. The vast majority of you have families who love and support you, and you have never known (nor will you ever know) violence, hunger or homelessness – the kinds of things I saw up close growing up in Tanzania and Nicaragua, that I see when I visit my parents and sister, who live in Kenya today, and that I see every time I visit a school in an inner-city neighborhood in the U.S.
So congratulations: you are well on your way to winning the game of life…but you're still going to need to make a lot of good decisions and avoid a lot of bad ones along the way. I have plenty of experience with both, so I'd like to share two more pieces of advice.
But relax: I'm not going to lecture you! Instead, I'd like to tell you a few stories about my life and experiences that I hope will help you to achieve some of the success and happiness that I'm fortunate enough to have.
All the little things you do dozens of times every day – your habits – define who you are – and once these patterns are set, they're really tough to change.
So if you remember anything from today, I hope it will be this: it's critically important to develop good habits early in life.
I'm not going to spend any time today talking about obvious good habits like eating healthily and exercising regularly, as important as they are. I'm only going to talk about two: work hard, be nice.
This is the motto of KIPP charter schools.
…On the walls of every KIPP school is the slogan, "Work hard, be nice!" [It's also the title of a great book about KIPP.] It's so simple that you might dismiss it, but if you think about it, those four words capture an awful lot of what you need to be successful in life.
And here's the ending:
My parents always told my sister and me (and this is from an email my mom sent me this week): "You have been born into the best time in world history and, mostly by accident of birth, have been given every opportunity – love, education, health, exposure to the world, and a decent living standard. If you take these gifts and use them to simply enrich yourself, then you – and we – will have failed. To be a success, you have an obligation to make the world a better place."
I know it's a cliché, but as the saying goes, "if it's trite, it's right!" And there was an important added bonus: I discovered that the more I gave, the more I got back in return.
For me, giving back – becoming a giving machine – has been a combination of big things like full-time jobs, starting new nonprofit organizations, and serving on boards like KIPP, which I've already talked about, but it's also lots of day-to-day little things.
There are so many examples I could give, but here's one I do every day: if I find a mess, I clean it up – yes, even if I didn't make it. My pet peeve these days is my daughters leaving their dirty dishes in the sink.
Trust me, if you go through life leaving messes for other people to clean up (like I used to), they're going to resent you. In contrast, if you not only clean up after yourself, but others; if you do more than your fair share, offer the other person the bigger piece of dessert, remember their birthday, give them an unexpected gift, it will make such a difference.
Since I started becoming a much more giving person about 20 years ago, the quality of my life has improved exponentially.
Why? For starters, it makes me feel good. I also have many more close friends – and they forgive me and stay my friends even when I screw up and do something that makes them mad at me (which I'm prone to doing more often than I'd like). When I ask a favor of someone, they're more likely to say yes. A month from now, I'm climbing two famous peaks in Europe – Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn – to raise money for KIPP, so I've been hitting up all of my friends – and they've already donated nearly $100,000. Lastly, while this may sound crass, having a well-deserved reputation as a good guy really helps my business. Other investors are more inclined to share investment ideas with me, and my investors are more likely to stay in my fund rather than yanking their money when my performance stinks, as it has over the past year.
To repeat what I said earlier: the more I give, the more I get back – and it leads to an immeasurably happier life.
I've thrown a lot at you here, so let me quickly summarize: defense wins championships, work hard, and be nice.
If you do these things, I promise you that you'll lead a long and rewarding life, filled with love, laughter and happiness.
It's yours for the taking.
Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2016!
PPS—Of course I had to take some shots at Trump (though only in the appendix):
The successful loner
Another myth out there is the individual success story – the guy who, solely through his own brilliance and hard work, rises to the top – someone like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk (Donald Trump, laughably, would have you believe this about him). None of it's true. Nobody gets anywhere on their own. Every person who has achieved anything in life has done so by standing on the shoulders of others, usually starting with parents, then teachers and other mentors.
And here:
Another true measure [of a person] is how they handle mistakes. Everybody screws up sometimes; what differentiates them is how they handle it. It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is for so many people to admit a mistake, apologize for it and, if possible, try to make up for it. Look at Donald Trump: has he ever admitted a mistake in his life (and he's made plenty)? As a result, what a mentally and emotionally crippled and noxious person he is – he's like a five-year-old!
PPPS—Here are the headings of every section in the appendix:
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The impact Eaglebrook had on me
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Skating through high school and college
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Hard work (and working half days)
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The habit of patience or delayed gratification
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>More on playing defense and getting ahead
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Generalize and then specialize
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>More on good habits: eat healthily and exercise regularly
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Nice guys finish first
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The successful loner
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>What I learned from Michael Porter
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Co-founding the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and how money doesn't equal happiness
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Arrogance vs. humility
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Buffett and Munger's definition of success
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Build deep friendships
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The two more important decisions you will ever make
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The true measures of a person
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>How I try to make a difference in the investing world
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The little ways I try to be a giving machine
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>More on me being a dumbass as a kid
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>More on Genarlow Wilson

 Subscribe in a reader

Reply to Diane Ravitch re. Bridge International Academies

I'm on the board of Bridge International Academies, which runs more than 460 low-cost private schools, serving nearly 100,000 students, in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and, soon, India and Liberia. Bridge addresses one of the world's most severe and vexing problems: that children in the ~800 million families around the world subsisting on less than $2/day (roughly half in India and most of the rest in sub-Saharan Africa) are getting little/no education, thereby almost certainly trapping them in desperate poverty.
Bridge has its critics. The more successful it is, the more threatening it is to the local teachers union and educational establishment, so they've been stirring up lots of trouble, threatening regulatory action, spreading rumors, etc. Bridge's global ambitions have also drawn the ire of Education International, the global union federation of teachers' trade unions.
Diane Ravitch, not surprisingly, has criticized Bridge, writing:
"I have blogged about Bridge, not favorably. I don't like the idea of opening for-profit schools in poor countries. Not just the for-profit part, but it lets the government off the hook so it need not provide a free public education system for all of its children. It will outsource it to Bridge."
Here is the email I sent her today in response, which she said she will post on her blog:
Hi Diane,
I suspect you're going to oppose Bridge no matter what I write because it's a mostly non-union for-profit business that typically charges poor parents tuition.
But what the heck – worth a try.
As background, Bridge runs more than 460 low-cost private schools, serving nearly 100,000 students, in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and, soon, India and Liberia (which is in the process of inviting school management companies like Bridge to run its schools; in September, Bridge will implement its model to try to turn around 50 currently failing public primary schools in partnership with the government).
One thing both you and I agree on is that poverty has an enormous effect on a child's ability to learn. This is exactly what Bridge has set out to help solve. Bridge addresses one of the world's most severe and vexing problems: that children in the ~800 million families around the world subsisting on less than $2/day (roughly half in India and most of the rest in sub-Saharan Africa) are getting little/no education, thereby almost certainly trapping them in desperate poverty.
Most of these children attend at least elementary school (K-8), which is now usually free even in the poorest countries, but there are two big problems: 1) they're really not free: the schools charge various fees for uniforms, textbooks and supplies, teachers demand bribes to pay attention to a child, etc.; and 2) the government schools are horrifically bad – not inner-city U.S. bad, but 10x worse. For example, teacher absenteeism averages 25-35% in surveys in various poor countries, plus 25-50% of the teachers who do show up aren't teaching – they're hanging out, running side businesses at the school, etc. Thus, the effective absenteeism rate is ~50% (Bridge's, in contrast, is 99% lower at 0.5%). And the half that are in the classroom are teaching a mere 2 hours and 19 minutes a day on average and are barely literate themselves: 65% of teachers in Kenya couldn't pass an exam based on the curriculum they teach.
Consequently, the parents of roughly half of these children worldwide instead send them to low-cost private schools, somehow scraping together the fees, which average ~$6/month (not much different than what they'd be paying anyway at the supposedly "free" government schools). These schools, typically microenterprises run by local entrepreneurs who might have a high school education at best, are scarcely better than the government schools, but at least the teachers show up every day (otherwise the parents won't pay).
This is where Bridge came in. Its co-founders looked at this market and asked: "How can we guarantee quality for these parents, as a price point they can afford?" They looked at the core challenges – teacher preparedness and absenteeism, absence of learning materials, lack of monitoring and evaluation, etc. – and designed a model to tackle them. By designing the model for scale, Bridge was able to invest up front in research and development, technology and training.
Essentially Bridge goes to some of the most marginalized communities in the countries it operates in, identifies local talent, trains them in pupil-centered learning and gives them the resources they need to be great teachers. It then provides a comprehensive central support system for these teachers, and uses technology (tablets and smart phones) to monitor attendance and learning outcomes.
The evidence is showing that it is succeeding: Bridge pupils reach fluency at twice the rate of their peers, as shown in the study, The Bridge Effect, posted here. This is the equivalent to 32% more schooling in English and 14% more in math (0.34 SD in reading, 0.13 SD in math effect size).
And most importantly to parents in Kenya, a few months ago Bridge students earned historic results on the KCPE, the exam given to all 8th graders in the country, which largely determines which students will go to high school, and of what quality. Bridge students were 2.5x more likely to earn a score that qualified them for National Secondary Schools (the highest-rated schools) and 2.4x more likely to earn a score that qualified them for County Secondary Schools (the next-highest-rated schools). Overall, Bridge students had a 60% pass rate (a score of 250+ on the 500-point scale) vs. 44% nationwide, with a 264 mean score vs. 242 (a 0.37 SD effect size). In summary, based on measured pupil growth in terms of standard deviations above the control, what happened with Bridge students on the KCPE is among the largest impacts ever seen in a large-scale education intervention globally.
Perhaps most importantly, Bridge is developing and supporting a cohort of confident and ambitious young people and giving them the opportunities for a better future. It secured over 100 scholarships for its graduating class to attend high school in the US and Kenya and is working on a long-term scholarship program. I recommend you watch this clip of a 13-year-old Bridge graduate and scholarship recipient, Grace, talking to a crowd of 1,200 women. I don't know many American kids that age with that such confidence, poise and eloquence. And here's a picture of Rahab, who performed for Liberian President Sirleaf last year and led her dance team to a top-10 placing at the national music competition last year:
Bridge has its critics. The more successful Bridge is, the more threatening it is to the local teachers union and educational establishment, so they've been stirring up lots of trouble for Bridge, threatening regulatory action, spreading rumors, etc. Bridge's global ambitions have also drawn the ire of Education International, the global union federation of teachers' trade unions.
In response to critics, let me be clear: neither you nor I would send our kids to a Bridge school. To make the schools affordable ($6/month doesn't go very far, even in poor countries!), extracurriculars are limited and the facilities are pretty basic. There's no glass on the windows. The campus is small. The floors are concrete. Children sit at benches. But, this is similar or better than what other schools look like in the area.
The teachers all teach off teacher guides, developed centrally to align to the country's educational standards and delivered wirelessly to a small tablet device like a Nook or Kindle. Thus, if you walked into a 3rd grade math class at any of Bridge's ~400 schools in Kenya at 10am on Tuesday, you would find the same lesson being taught. Each class might be at different places in the lesson according to the needs of the kids, but all teachers are on the same scope, sequence and lesson plan. They still have to maintain order, engage the class in discussion, help struggling students, etc. – but they don't spend any time developing a curriculum or lesson plans.
One of Bridge's core successes is getting teachers to master classroom management techniques. They are taught how to lead a class without beating the children, which is very common. Many Bridge students say that this is the first time they have teachers who listen to them, allow them to ask questions, and develop a positive relationship with them.
About 30% of Bridge teachers in Kenya have a teaching certificate. Interestingly, based on the careful tracking and evaluation Bridge does of all of its teachers, it can detect no difference between the certified teachers and those who aren't (Bridge does a three-week training program for all new teachers, whether certified or not).
To track the progress of every student, Bridge develops and regularly administers internal tests, whose results are collected centrally, so it can tell which students have mastered the material that was just taught, and let principals and teachers know which students need extra help.
To your argument that "it lets the government off the hook so it need not provide a free public education system for all of its children. It will outsource it to Bridge." I agree that, in a perfect world, the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia and India would provide a truly free, quality education to all children. OK, now let's get back to the real world. Have you ever been to any of these countries? I can assure you that it will be decades before any of these countries even come close to this goal. In the meantime, Bridge is ready, willing and able to provide this right now – at a cost far below what governments are spending (Bridge estimates that Kenya spends ~$350/pupil/year vs. Bridge at less than $100 – for a far better result). In light of the cost and outcomes, the more governments (like Liberia's) that engage Bridge as a partner to deliver publicly-financed education, the better. In fact, I hope that Bridge's future lies in this area – performance-based government contracts – rather than charging poor families for something that we both agree should be free.
For further information, the Economist did a cover story last year about low-cost private schools (click here to read it), and here is a link to a video Bridge made.
I'd welcome any questions or comments you have.
Best regards,

 Subscribe in a reader