College???????????

I’ve read lately that President Obama is thinking about a program to make two years of community college free to all students.  On the surface, this seems like a great idea.  Statistics show that more and more jobs require at least a 2-year degree.  Cost is one of the deterrents to people going to school.  Well, if we make school free, more people will go.  And if more people get degrees, more of them will get better-paying jobs.  Hard to argue against that logic.

Until you consider reality.

My business background taught me enough times that “bad inputs” are really hard to make into “good outputs”.  If the apples are not ripe, it is hard to make good apple pie.  If the steel has impurities and weaknesses, it won’t make for a sturdy structure.  If you have warped wood, it is not easy to make a nice table out of it.  You have to start with good things coming into the system.

The “inputs” (students) are quite often not ready for post high school work.  That is where I am afraid we have not focused on the right thing with this community college idea.  My teaching experience was that students who are hungry generally are not going to do well day-to-day in class.  Same thing if the students are tired.  If there is little support to get ready for college at a younger age – the study habits, the desire to do well in every class (rather than saying “I am terrible at science”), the support for completing homework, asking for help, preparing for entrance exams, taking the tougher classes – the chance of success is minimal.

So we can offer free two years of college to everyone.  But if they are not ready socially, it won’t work most of the time.

Another challenge is those students are not ready for college academically.  Too many people need remedial classes.  A remedial class is one that is below college-level that are taken by college students.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 50% of community college students take remedial courses.  They take the classes, may or may not be able to use scholarship money, but do not get college credit.  The same site notes: “Less than 25 percent of remedial students at community colleges earn a certificate or degree within eight years”.  We can send people to community college for free, but if they are not academically ready, is it right?

Another challenge is career choice.  Too many people do not know what career they might want to pursue.  They have not been exposed to a lot of different careers.  They do not know the costs and benefits of a different careers.  We can send them to school but if they don’t know what they want to do with their degree or certification, what is the use?

I witnessed while teaching another real challenge in providing free education.  Today Ohio provides free post-high school education for any high school student – they can take college classes now.  It seems great,  Until you think about the motivations of all parties.  In reality, the incentive for the community classes is to have more people take as  many classes as possible.  Students x classes = Revenue.  What is the best way to “game” that formula?  Make sure people pass classes.  I have witnessed a community college providing easy classes that do not challenge students or give them the required knowledge.  Why would a community college do that?  If you have a class that is easy, word gets out.  More students (who are trying to get a degree) will take that “easier” class.  The community college gets paid no matter what.  Students happy. College happy.  The outcome is a student who is graduated.  But the outcome is not a student who has learned what is necessary to succeed at work.  Maybe this is situation that is not widespread, but I have witnessed it.

Providing an economical college education to more students is a really complicated subject.  But it seems to me that the money would be better invested in programs to help students and families prepare for school.  Career planning classes.  Strategies to be successful in school.  Matching classes and majors to what is needed in the real world (more of this is happening now).  Closer ties between business, communities and schools (also happening).  More innovation in the delivery of remedial courses at the community college level.

But tossing a bunch more students into the current system?  Not sure I support that.

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Conflict

The dictionary defines “conflict” as “to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash” and ” to fight or contend; do battle”. We generally think of conflict in terms of war or a fight between religions or perhaps a sports competition. My view when I see the word conflict is generally that two parties are colliding.

But there is another way to think about it.  What about the conflicts we have with ourselves?

As part of my reading for class, one writer defined conflict as “the inability to manage differences effectively”. That got me thinking about inner conflicts which are something we all deal with. Placing that definition into an “inner conflict” starts to make sense to me why change is so hard to make.

Each of us is made up of a different set of attitudes, intentions, ways of communicating and environment. All of these factors significantly impact our experience with conflict and capacity for resolution. It is REALLY HARD to look at ourselves objectively and manage the difference between what we are and what we want to be. Those differences sometimes seem so far apart that you feel like you can never get there. Or those differences are so night-and-day that you cannot fathom yourself making that change. But perhaps the huge gulf we see between the “present” and the “where we want to be” are exaggerated by our own personality. Virtually any change we want to accomplish – losing weight, changing jobs, learning a new skill, moving to a new city, getting more education – have been accomplished by many others. And I suspect many of those others overcame harder challenges.

Let’s take looking for a new job.  We may be unhappy with our current job.  We are underpaid or under appreciated or over stressed.  But the minute we start to delve into “looking for a new job”, we run into conflict.  We put up all kinds of barriers (“I don’t have time”, “I don’t know what I want to do”, “I won’t make enough money”, “How do I know anything else will be available”).  We tend to want to flee from the conflict.  It is disruptive.  But aren’t we trying to change something we are unhappy about?  Shouldn’t that be disruptive?

This was a quote from another article I read: “(conflict) is a warming light pointing at something in our environment or character that is not working for ourselves or others”.  Most of us would not say “conflict” is a “warming light”!  But conflict often is “pointing at something . . .not working for us”.  The beauty of an inner conflict is it is within us.  No one else is at conflict with us.  There is no uncomfortable confrontation with another.  If you start to think of inner conflict at a “warm light” rather than a “confrontation”, might it not be more comfortable to approach it?

Manitou Incline

Nate and I just got back from a long weekend in Colorado.  We spent most of the time visiting the Colorado Springs area.  We had a great time – as usual.

The most challenging thing we did was to climb the Manitou Incline.  The Incline was originally a spot for a funicular – one of those trams you sometimes see going up the side of a mountain.  After the tracks got wiped out in 1990, the train and its track were taken away.  What was left was a shaved out part of the side of a mountain.  The spot is now a popular fitness hiking destination.

The Incline gains over 2,000 feet (610 m) of elevation in less than one mile. That is nearly a 40% incline on average, which is really hard to understand how steep that is. It starts out at 6,600 feet up. So for those of us more accustomed to sea level, you are already starting at a tough height.  Nate and I joined hundreds of others traveling up the mountain on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Nate’s idea was to jog up the mountain – how hard can it be to go one mile?  After a short while, he realized that was not going to happen.  It was so tough, it took Nate 42 minutes.  Me?  It took me 57 minutes.  I stopped 17 times to try to get my breath and get my heart rate to slow down.  The middle section was so steep that I was “bear crawling” on my hands and feet for a while. Here is a shot I took looking down from somewhere near the middle of the Incline.  Perhaps you can see the steepness.

Manitou Incline

 

It was easily one of the hardest things I have ever done.  But getting to the top was such an accomplishment.  And Nate and I got to share it together. Manitou Incline Nate

Vincent Waggenspack

I’ve written before about the “Greatest Generation”.  My father was a member of that generation, those people born in the 1920’s, who grew up through the Great Depression and were forged as adults during World War II.  This week marks the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death.  I think about him often and I find that he appears in my dreams more than occasionally. IMG_0579

Recently I have been going through some old papers and pictures of his.  He was a 20 year old high school graduate who joined the navy in WW2.  He noted that he had never been out of his hometown of Geismer, Louisiana (population of a few hundred people), let alone the county or state before enrolling in the navy.  All of a sudden he finds himself in San Diego, California preparing to become a medic.  He and his six brothers survive WW2 and after six years he completes his service.  He spent his service time in the Pacific.  He was there when the Philippines were liberated from the Japanese.  While service, he was awarded the “Certificate of Membership Domain of Neptunus Rex, which is earned by all naval people who cross the equator for the first time.  Like most men and women of his generation, he never spoke much about his time in the service.  They did not brag about what they did, I guess because it was a “service” to the country.  Only when my own kids got old enough would he tell (I assume) half-fact, half-fiction bed time stories about being in the war.  He made the stories such that he was never glorifying, just making the stories fun for the kids.

In an interview he did with a student later in life, he was asked if he was nervous about life after coming out of the naval service.  His answer was “I was too young to be concerned” (even though he was 26 years old by then).  But he did acknowledge he had no idea what he was going to do after leaving the navy.  He had no post-secondary education and few marketable skills.  He did not have a job.  Luckily for him, the G.I. Bill was available for getting a college education through federal government funds.  So he worked full time and finished college in 3 1/2 years.

As I think back about what he did I am in awe.  He was a high school graduate with few marketable skills who joining the navy to help America.  Then he moved more than 1,000 miles from home to Alliance Ohio after meeting my mom (he was the only one of his siblings to ever leave Louisiana). He was motivated enough to gain a college degree within 3 ½ years. It is pretty remarkable.  Raising a family on a modest teacher’s salary.  A simple life lived well.  A person from very modest circumstances who did well.  A good role model for me.

“Roads” (and bridges) to Ruin

Congress is once again threatening to not fund part of the basic federal government role – helping to maintain our interstate roads and bridges.  Once again, it is all about that word “taxes”.

If you believe that our roads are an important benefit all citizens of the USA benefit from, keep reading

If you believe the federal government needs to provide some funding for those roads, keep reading.

If you don’t believe either of those statements, you can ignore this post.

For my mind, providing funding for road and bridge maintenance and construction is one of the top dozen roles of our federal government.  Why do I say this?  Every American benefits from a good infrastructure because we all use it directly or indirectly.  Indirectly we benefit because most of the goods we consume traveling over those roads.  The food we eat, the clothes we buy, the medicine we consume, and the people that serve us get to us through our roads.  Direct benefit comes from most of us travel to work, church, vacation, and school over those roads.  Whether you are a driver or not, you benefit greatly from our vast array of highways.  Since we all benefit, and the roads are everywhere, this is an area where the federal government has a role.

The FEDERAL gas tax has not been increased since 1993 (Jurassic Park and Sleepless in Seattle were top movies; Bill Clinton was in his first year as President).  The Highway Trust Fund, which depends on these federal gas tax revenues to maintain our roads, has seen its revenues fail to match its level of spending for 13 years straight.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, “one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years.” There aren’t many things that we still use that are 42 years old.

You can argue the facts if you wish.  But for me common sense says that a failure to increase funding, even at the rate of inflation, means that the funding will fall behind costs over time.  That is simple math (unless you can somehow argue that the cost for building and maintaining a road has gone down over time – statistics indicate that is not true).

But what does our Congress do?  They refuse to debate the issue.  Why? Many Congressmen have signed “no new taxes” pledges.  They maintain they must stick to that pledge.  Other Congressmen  say we need a tax cut elsewhere before adding this increase.  Others say by raising the tax, it gives the federal government leeway in spending more money on other programs which is bad.  I won’t argue with any of them.  But the fundamental questions remain the same.  (1) Do you believe the federal government ought to provide some of the spending for roads and bridges?  (2) Do you believe the reports that indicate our road infrastructure is old and crumbling (do you have your eyes open on the poor condition of our roads)?

Eventually action will need to be taken.  What will happen is the states will impose taxes.  Or they will charge tolls.  Or we will have long waits on roads when lanes are closed for slow repairs of because the road is damaged.  Or they will turn the roads over to private, for-profit companies that will charge us a fee for using “their” roads.  That is no different than a federal tax.  It is money coming out of our pockets.

I have been searching for a metaphor for the (in)action of the Congress.  I think it is similar to a parent saying, “I am not going to buy fast food for my child because it is bad for their health”.  But then the parent does not provide any food in the house for the child.  Since fast food is the cheapest and easiest food to procure, that is what the child will eat at lunch and dinner.  So again, the parent can say they stuck to their “principles” but the outcome is still the same.

So our Congressmen (they are mostly men) will tell as at every chance that they made sure THEY did not tax us any additional amounts.  We will shower them with our votes once again.  Yet we will end paying for the roads either through taxes, tolls, long waits on messed up roads or damages to our cars caused by bad roads.  That is your American Political Leadership in a short paragraph.

Are you a World Class Deflector?

I am.

So what is a “deflector”?  It is one of the ways we put up resistance to people, emotions, things in our life.  Think of it as a “shield” we place to stop ideas, emotions, situations from coming into our consciousness.

Rose and I had a short conversation about this the other day in relation to another person.  She was commenting that she had a brief conversation with a recently-separated male.  She was asking if he wanted to go to lunch on an upcoming day which was his anniversary day.  He told Rose that he would be just getting back into town, would have a lot of catching up to do and that day of the week was typically his really busy day.  So, “no thanks”.  As I heard Rose tell this story, I immediately saw the signs of a deflector.  In fact, I told her – while emphasizing that I did not mean this in any negative way – that I would probably say the same things if I was in that situation.  That (anniversary) day would mean nothing to me because it was a sign of “failure”.  I would deflect the day (and all the emotions surrounding it) – act like it does not exist.

That is deflection.  And is it good in that moment?

I recognize that deflection could be good for us or could be bad for us.  In the situation above, there would be emotion on that day – even if someone was to try to deflect it or ignore it.  That emotion would have to go somewhere.  Most of us would probably end up swallowing the emotion.  Maybe I could run it off.  Rose’s approach – acknowledging it – might bring some initial pain and sorrow.  But is the pain temporary?  Don’t know.

Getting back to me, how do I deflect?

  • If certain unpleasant situations comes up, I try to ignore it.  It does not exist to me.
  • If someone or something brings an uncomfortable angle to something I am trying to do, I don’t allow myself to think about it.
  • When someone complements me, I’ll shrug it off, laugh about it or say I really did not do anything good. I’m not worthy of the praise

Being a deflector is not all bad.  It is part of who we are.  Sometimes it does serve us well.  There may be certain people or situations that need to be ignored or shuffled to the side temporarily to make progress.  Some things may be too raw to deal with right now.  Some people try to get under our skin for their own enjoyment.  We are allowed to deflect them.

I had an interesting situation at class last time.  Someone came up to me and was truly happy for a good job I did on a particular part of class.  I shrugged it off with a “Thanks, but I could have done XYZ better”.  Later it came to my attention that this person was feeling bad in general and wondering if their contributions amounted to anything.  This led me to a big realization.  Here this person was genuinely happy for me and acknowledged me.  I brushed them off, not in a mean way.  But at that earlier moment, a “thanks for noticing how good a job I did”, rather than a deflection, would have made a big difference to that other person.

Embracing deflection as a strategy much of the time is simply a lazy, bad habit.  You are avoiding the truth.  I am trying to catch myself deflecting things and decide if it is really an appropriate strategy.  I need to notice it in myself and in others.  How about you?