Since we are now talking about Duke, we should talk about it one many levels (this is The SuperSpade, right?). So, building on Sakara R.’s excellent piece, I’d like to look at another aspect of this situation.
In the Duke case, we have another instance of one race accusing another race of a crime. Most people know that this usually leads to complex emotional reactions from the accuser, the accusee, and fellow members of the respective races of both parties. I had a whole piece in my head about this, but I read Malcolm Gladwell‘s (author of Blink and The Tipping Point) thoughts on the subject and the broader issue of eyewitness testimony.
I know that I am guilty of saying things like “There are only 5 categories of white people,” and other statements (I know how ignorant that is, but I have said it. Pray for me.). Gladwell says that many innocent people may be locked up because of this mentality. As a Black man, I know that to be the case. The question that must be asked, if we are going to be intellectually responsible, is why do we often reject that this same phenomenon occurs in the opposite direction?
“There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise. The minute you get away from the fundamentals, the bottom could fall out .”
-Michael Jordan, I Can’t Accept Not Trying
“Don’t start something you are not going to finish…I hate that”
For me, the process of learning and change has always been uncomfortable, if not painful. Today was my first day back on the basketball court and needless to say it was a humbling experience. However, it reminded me of the process I went through to learn the game and the fruit that came from it.
Growing up, I was more nerd than athlete and disparaged every sport accept soccer. But around fifth grade, when all the guys went to recess, there was no one to play soccer with, so I figured I might want to give basketball a try. That summer, my father sent me to the one week Kevin O’Neill Summer Basketball camp. This was the premier camp in town. There were speakers, drills, and games. Every camper was assigned a team based on age group and we played each other for bragging rights and a chance to play in the playoffs at the end of the week.
My team was the worse team in the league. By Wednesday, I was ready to hang it up. I hated losing and being the laughingstock of the camp. But I played through it and practiced my drills.
On the last day of camp, everything seemed to come together. We went into sudden death overtime with the best team in our league. On a miss, I got the rebound and scored the game winning basket. I was hero for a day.
The following two years I attended the camp, I became progressively better. And my last year, I played in the finals in front of the entire camp and my parents. Although we did not win, I felt peace because I went from being on the worse team to being one of the best.
It’s Good For You
This scenario has played itself out in my life many times over, anytime there is a new beginning. I find myself looking up at the bottom and I work my way up to the top. I always feel like the tortoise in a world full of hares. Some people rise to the challenge and others never push it past the pain. Perhaps there have been times when you have felt the same. However I have found that with faith, persistence and tenacity, you can make it to where you want to go.
What the process requires along the way is patience and humility to learn and to begin again. Our society is predicated on flawless execution, but how does one attain perfection? Unless you are an idiot savant, you are going to have work through the discomfort. Success is right around the corner.
How Do I Learn?
It is important to know the process in which change and learning occurs when you find yourself in new situations. I have developed an acronym that I use in order to stay focused on the process and not the pain: P.I.P.A (Pay attention, Internalize, Practice, Apply).
First, discern what is required and what it will take to be successful. Also, look at how you feel and your gut level reaction to everything.
Second, make sure you truly understand what the process is and if you are willing to give what is going to be required. To paraphrase Jesus: Who begins a work and counteth not the cost?
Third, practice the skills you will need. First in no pressure situations and then put yourself in a simulated environment. You can also run through your routine using visualization. Picture yourself being successful at game time.
Fourth, when the time comes, apply what you have learned. If you have done the other steps properly, chances are you won’t stink up the joint. Remember Poor Preparation Prevents Perfect Performance.
Anything you want in this life is going to cost you something. The question is whether the price is reasonable. Do not rely on your gifts too heavily. Remember that work is the catalyst that transforms talent into skill.
Life will always grant a second chance to those willing to start over.
Even a phoenix must fall before it may rise again in splendor.
Be the Phoenix-You will rise again.
Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas
Question of the Week: Is there an instance where you have pushed through discomfort to be the best?
This site has not dealt with the situation at Duke University concerning the Black woman who was allegedly raped by members of the Duke Lacrosse team. Our silence is broken today, courtesy of the perspective of a valued reader and guest contributor, Sakara R.
Read, Learn, Respond.
Some of us may be too young to know the name Tawana Brawley- that is, until a 27-year-old black female student from North Carolina Central University
(http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/429338.html) stepped forward and alleged that she was brutally assaulted by at least 3 players of the elite lacrosse team at Duke University.
For those of you who may not know who Ms. Brawley is, she too, a young (15 at the time in the 1980’s) black woman from New York City, bravely stepped forward under the protective arms of Rev. Al Sharpton and relayed a horrific account of being abducted and brutally raped by 6 white police officers culminating in her being found bruised, bloodied, covered in human feces and dumped in the garbage.
For those of us who grew up never taking the Rev seriously (he’s never been a Dr. King, or even a Jesse Jackson for most of us) – but not necessarily knowing why –Tawana Brawley is the reason why; her claims of sexual assault were nothing more than a successful albeit disturbing method of grabbing everyone’s attention. The fallout of her hoax (Tawana Brawley has never wavered from her allegations) carried long-lasting ramifications certainly even she never conceived possible at the time: the Rev lost his credibility (and never apologized), and black women everywhere were infuriated, but not just because she lied.
We were infuriated because there is an unspoken reality to the lives of black women since before our first feet on the plantation- being raped and brutalized by white men of privilege who have gotten away without so much as a slap on the wrist. That white privilege is the very reason why women of color who have experienced such terror, never speak up. It’s one thing to be held against your will, to have your clothes ripped from your body while you scream in a way that is beyond animalistic, while you are spread apart, slapped in the face, punched into silence, and raped- forced to have sex, and in some cases, perform sexual acts on the aggressor…but it is something else entirely to not be believed- or to have the rapist’s reputation, namesake, or bank account casting you into shame and somehow distorting the facts – suddenly you’re a liar. Women have taken their own lives when faced with such blatant disregard –nothing is more sacred than the sanity within our own minds, and when we’re forced (again) away from that, when the truth is torn from us, there is nothing left.
That is the very reason why many of my sister friends, the majority of whom have experienced some sort of sexual abuse/assault in their lives (you all know someone who has, and if every woman you knew who has experienced sexual abuse/assault told you, you’d be jaw dropped and in disbelief at the numbers of victims), have called saying “I hope it’s true…I hope it’s true.”
Stop and think about that for a moment. What kind of society do we sisters live in where we as women are forced to “hope” that another sister has actually been raped? Where we “hope” she was dragged like an animal to its slaughter, into a small bathroom with three crazed, drunken white men, who ripped her fingernails from her, choked her, beat her in the face, likely forced her onto the sink, raise one of her legs so far up that it dislocated her hip, rape her not once, not twice, but three times, and then assault her with a broom handle as well? We feel this way because, though Tawana Brawley lied, her lie still lives in the bodies of every woman of color sexual assaulted, and the minds of every law official who investigates such cases; they look at us and wonder “is she lying?” We “hope” its true because, right, wrong or otherwise, if it is, and if the accused are found guilty, it will be justice for countless women who never had justice themselves. Do we want someone to be a rapist, or predator? No, but we recognize, whether we like it or not that sexual predators exist and need to be identified and severely punished; too often they just are not.
Quite simply, black America is holding it’s collective breath. We don’t know what the outcome will be. Either the student accusing the Duke elite was raped, or she wasn’t; it is absolutely that uncomplicated.
What are the influences that will make it easy? Nothing will make it easy – those who are privileged, ignorant and racist (and believe one black woman represents all black women), have a Tawana Bradley to point to and say “it’s probably all a lie”. And since we as women of color are not privileged and our voice is consistently oppressed, the fact that we have a history beyond 500 years of being abused by advantaged white men is not counted as a relevant consideration.
There are people who believe that because someone like Tawana Brawley ever existed, this is all likely to be a hoax – statistics don’t show that women of color overwhelmingly lie about being sexually assaulted/abused, in order to gain attention. There is no group of women that holds such title of stereotype. Still, an internet search of Tawana Brawley’s name is linked in every way to the current Duke case, and therefore the Duke case is linked to doubt.
There is no “black leader” stepping out on the edge to stand as the protector of this new alleged victim; a 27-year-old single mother of two children attending North Carolina Central University as a sophomore. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to whether or not she made wise decisions that fateful March night, or if working as an escort, or dancer is a good idea either, some prominent white men have even called her a “ho.” But here is another little-known fact in the lives of women: she isn’t the first and won’t likely be the last to engage in those professions to pay for her higher education – black, white or otherwise.
Jesse Jackson made a brief appearance on the news as his Rainbow Push Coalition dedicated itself to providing for all of the young mother’s college expenses going forward, and obviously there has been sharp criticism. Many have said that this was just a dumb idea on Jesse’s part; that he jumped the gun, should have waited to see what the courts decide, waited until the evidence was overwhelmingly in her favor. On the other hand, Jesse Jackson is no fool. He knows about Tawana Brawley – everyone does. So with those two facts on his side, he must have good cause to make that commitment. When asked if the money would still be committed if the accused were found not guilty, Jesse said yes. Again, he was accused of being out of his mind. However, I’ve heard quite a few people who seem to think that it’s helpful – one less “motive” for lying about being raped; college is paid for.
The alleged victim in this case never asked anyone to shine the spotlight on what she says happened and in fact the news was ignorant of the matter for weeks until a reporter came across a search warrant that peaked his interest. Students at Duke, hearing early on that a rape had occurred, complained loudly to its school administration that not enough was being done, and students at NCCU didn’t even know the woman was a member of their college community (http://www.afro.com/content/templates/?a=4840&z=1).
But other than the education support, we haven’t seen Jesse or anyone else on the news every day demanding justice is served; we’ve got DA Mike Nifong (http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/430653.html)
handling that all by himself. And while he’s working 18 hour days combing over evidence and hoping one of the 40+ attendees at the off-campus party steps forward as an act of contrition, he’s battling what has topped out at a dozen defense attorneys who are experts at securing verdicts of “not guilty,” even “not charged,” and have at their disposal money, and most of all, privilege. While Nifong is stuck with the evidence, the defense has the manipulation of public opinion. They’ve each received hefty retainers to devote every moment of their collective days, tearing up whatever information is out about the case; a simple way of tainting any jury pool against the alleged victim.
However, witness statements (an observant next door neighbor, http://www.newsobserver.com/100/story/424229.html), a time line that places her nowhere but the house rented by the lacrosse team captains, before going to the hospital by way of the nearby Kroger food’s parking lot and most important, a medical examination and rape kit that overwhelmingly point to physical as well as sexual assault, medical professionals who attended to her (and are specifically meticulous with this kind of evaluation) describe a level of emotional trauma and shock that could not be faked even an email from a teammate sent within an hour after the party broke up expressing a desire to want to have another party the following evening where he wanted to kill strippers and slice the skin from their flesh for sexual gratification lends itself towards “something happened that night” (http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/425834.html), are all pieces of evidence the DA stands by.
But, no one is stepping out on the edge; rather they’re talking to friends, colleagues and others and quietly thinking, “I hope it’s true.”
To make things all the more complicated, reporter DeWayne Wickham recounted in an April 17th article, an incident three years after the Tawana Brawley case, with shockingly similar details as the alleged Duke rape, where 6 white students at St. John’s University in New York were accused of raping a black student; 5 of them were members of the University’s lacrosse team. Though one of the accused agreed to testify against the others, those charged were found not guilty because the truth of her story was held in doubt
In a warped way, it almost doesn’t matter if the current allegations against Duke’s students is true, and powerful black Americans and common black Americans know that. When you’re up against privilege, anything is possible. It often feels like (and isn’t far from the truth if not the truth itself) the elite can be caught on camera committing anything from a misdemeanor to felony murder and still get away with it. If that is the case, then what is the truth in this matter? Will we ever know it? When the blind scale of justice finally tips, what side will rise above the other, and why? What side will we be on?
- Sakara R.
Do you remember those Chevrolet truck ads with the country guy singing, “Like a Rock/ I was strong as I could be/ Like a Rock/Nothin’ ever got to me”. I always liked that song mainly because I was fascinated by trucks as a boy and it seemed like a tough guy song.
This weekend I was in Bowling Green, KY at the National Corvette Museum for business and amongst the glistening Corvettes, there were speakers playing, “Like a Rock.” I chuckled, mainly because this whole weekend I felt like I was in the soul of America. And I liked it?
Black is Beautiful
So on Thursday, my colleague and I drove down to KY and when we went straight to the National Corvette Museum to set up the tent for our clinic that was to be held Friday and Saturday. Near our tent, there were two guys making sure people had the proper credentials to get in and one of them, Bill, came over to help us set up. Bill is wearing a red Corvette T-shirt, tight blue jeans, and a matching red baseball cap. After we finished setting up, Bill started talking to me about his Corvette and in a strong country accent, he said, “It’s Black on Black. Black is Beautiful.” Immediately, I went into race-conscious mode but I turned off the switch because it was actually funny; a white guy telling a Black guy that Black is beautiful but actually referring to something totally different.
I was working with guys from the entire Corvette team and just about every Corvette owner that came to our tent was all white. And anyone who has known me long enough knows that I often speak negatively (mostly joking though) of Southern culture and how much White folk down there are generally backwards with respect to race relations.
As a result, I was a little nervous about how well I would be accepted. But we had a blast!!! You know the type of laugh you have when you are trying to be polite when someone is trying to be funny and the other laugh when you have to control yourself because you know you make funny noises if you laugh too hard? I experienced the latter. And if you have ever been to England and you are Black, you can attest to the feeling that people there have transcended race and treat you with a respect that you seldom see here in the States. That is how I felt down in Kentucky. Now I know that not all White Southerners are welcoming of Blacks and all that, but the guys I worked with were hard-working folks that loved the product they produced. To be sure, maybe they would not have been so cordial had we met under different circumstances, but why shouldn’t I just take the situation for what it was? Right now, I am in a place where I am in between transcending race and being a slave to race. I got a hint of transcendence as I enjoyed the comfort and freedom to talk to these White guys saying things like, “Yo, that’s what’s up, or that’s fierce”, among others, without having to explain myself.
As my colleague and I drove around KY, I noticed a lot of young people 18-30 in mixed groups of Blacks and Whites. And there was an ease they had that you rarely see up North. I developed a theory that because so few people live down there to begin with, you really don’t have a choice to but to integrate.
I went to a majority-White private elementary school but I wasn’t forced to integrate because everyone in my neighborhood was Black. But what if I didn’t have that Black safety net to come home to? How different would I be today? I’m not sure but as I prepared for the KY trip you have me, Mr. City Boy, thinking I might have to break out some Cornel West or Randall Robinson to potentially educate these country boys when race was the farthest thing from my mind. It was liberating and uncomfortably pleasant.
America as home
I broke bread and chopped it up with All-American country boys all weekend and I never thought I would do that, yet alone have a good time. This got me thinking about what it means to be Black in America. Unfortunately, a lot of us could spend days discussing all the things that are wrong about America, but what is right about it? In other words, what do you like about America? My question is not meant to compare the good against the bad but to truly understand what is good and why you think that way.
I don’t know how to answer that question right now but if I had to start somewhere, I would start with the guys from the Corvette Plant. And I included the lyrics to the song, Like a Rock, by Bob Seger to point out that this All-American song also illustrates the struggle Blacks have made for justice and equailty. Because if anyone had to be strong like a rock, it was us.
Stay up fam,
“A friend creates comfort, but an enemy creates change. Big giants never guard small treasures.”
Long ago and far away, my grandparents temporarily relocated to rural Carbondale, Illinois. On my frequent visits, I did everything a country boy could do: run, trap insects in a jar, and eat a ridiculous amount of food. One fateful day, as my grandfather and I walked along the road, I inquired what created the random tunnels in the ditches running alongside the road. Instead of telling me they were gopher holes, he told me of a mythical creature called a “pincher” because if you put your hands in their hole, they grabbed you and never let go. Now, these holes were everywhere. You could not turn around without coming across them. In my five year old mind, the last thing I wanted was to be pinched. So, one day, I happened to look out of the window and I thought I saw a pincher, looking right up at me. I was scared to death and refused to go outside for the remainder of the day. The next day, I thought to myself, “Surely, the pincher is not still outside” and sure enough, he was. This went on for five days. I would not leave the house. Finally, I had reached my wit’s end. Pincher or no pincher, I was going outside. So the next day, I tip toed outside up to the pincher, only to find out it was only a jagged tree stump. I have never felt as foolish as I did that day. So whenever I am afraid or anxious, I think back to that day and I realize that my fear is really just a tree stump masquerading as a “pincher.” Fear, fear, go way Fear is the apprehension of a negative manifestation. It has not happened yet, but how often does our perception of our fears and anxiety translate into reality, only to find out upon closer inspection that they were not as bad as we had drawn them up to be? Fear must be confronted head on. When you feel the fear welling up inside, that is a cue to act. We must train ourselves to examine our fears against what we know to be true. What we do not know, we must find out because next to action, I have found familiarity and preparation are the best antidotes to fear and anxiety. Use fear as a catalyst for assessment, action and consequently change. What about the times when your fears are not baseless and there is a substantial chance of them manifesting themselves? Then you must engage in what I call “damage control.” This is a course of action that will minimize the negative outcome on you. If it is unavoidable, then accept it with serenity, look for the reality and move on. Five Smooth Stones In addition to the “Pincher Story”, when I feel outmatched, outwitted, or insecure (it does happen at times), I turn to the well-known story of “David and Goliath.” David faced his greatest challenge on that field. Behind him was obscurity and the cowardice of the Israelite army. On the other side of the giant was a kingdom and immortalization-a future bigger than he could ever imagine. And with him, all he had was unwavering faith, a slingshot and five smooth stones. In slaying the giant, David became one. Like David, we must put our fear to the side and fill it with something empowering. Our fear is a challenge calling us to our destiny. Sometimes, all we will have is faith to guide us down the path. But I believe that faith is enough. Life is an adventure, face it head on. Big giants do not guard little treasures. Get what is yours. Truth and Peace, Question of the Week: How do you overcome your fear?
Steven M DeVougas
Long ago and far away, my grandparents temporarily relocated to rural Carbondale, Illinois. On my frequent visits, I did everything a country boy could do: run, trap insects in a jar, and eat a ridiculous amount of food. One fateful day, as my grandfather and I walked along the road, I inquired what created the random tunnels in the ditches running alongside the road. Instead of telling me they were gopher holes, he told me of a mythical creature called a “pincher” because if you put your hands in their hole, they grabbed you and never let go.
Now, these holes were everywhere. You could not turn around without coming across them. In my five year old mind, the last thing I wanted was to be pinched. So, one day, I happened to look out of the window and I thought I saw a pincher, looking right up at me. I was scared to death and refused to go outside for the remainder of the day. The next day, I thought to myself, “Surely, the pincher is not still outside” and sure enough, he was. This went on for five days. I would not leave the house. Finally, I had reached my wit’s end. Pincher or no pincher, I was going outside. So the next day, I tip toed outside up to the pincher, only to find out it was only a jagged tree stump.
I have never felt as foolish as I did that day. So whenever I am afraid or anxious, I think back to that day and I realize that my fear is really just a tree stump masquerading as a “pincher.”
Fear, fear, go way
Fear is the apprehension of a negative manifestation. It has not happened yet, but how often does our perception of our fears and anxiety translate into reality, only to find out upon closer inspection that they were not as bad as we had drawn them up to be?
Fear must be confronted head on. When you feel the fear welling up inside, that is a cue to act. We must train ourselves to examine our fears against what we know to be true. What we do not know, we must find out because next to action, I have found familiarity and preparation are the best antidotes to fear and anxiety. Use fear as a catalyst for assessment, action and consequently change.
What about the times when your fears are not baseless and there is a substantial chance of them manifesting themselves? Then you must engage in what I call “damage control.” This is a course of action that will minimize the negative outcome on you. If it is unavoidable, then accept it with serenity, look for the reality and move on.
Five Smooth Stones
In addition to the “Pincher Story”, when I feel outmatched, outwitted, or insecure (it does happen at times), I turn to the well-known story of “David and Goliath.” David faced his greatest challenge on that field. Behind him was obscurity and the cowardice of the Israelite army. On the other side of the giant was a kingdom and immortalization-a future bigger than he could ever imagine. And with him, all he had was unwavering faith, a slingshot and five smooth stones. In slaying the giant, David became one.
Like David, we must put our fear to the side and fill it with something empowering. Our fear is a challenge calling us to our destiny. Sometimes, all we will have is faith to guide us down the path. But I believe that faith is enough.
Life is an adventure, face it head on.
Big giants do not guard little treasures. Get what is yours.
Truth and Peace,
Question of the Week: How do you overcome your fear?
Anyone who knows me that I past and present segregated housing patterns along with white flight is a large factor in explaining various socio-economic problems that we see today. From education to jobs to healthcare, and wealth, your address alone can and does have a huge impact on a person’s life. But now, self-segregation is reaching new levels.
In the affluent, Orange County, CA thousands of people were mailed surveys after they responded to highway billboards announcing that a new planned community, Ladera Ranch, would be coming soon. For starters, I work in the market research industry and all of the survey questions are fact-based and don’t require any moral inquiries. But the survey that went out for Ladera Ranch had questions like, “Abortions should not be legal unless there’s a threat to life,” read another. And, “I have been born again in Jesus Christ.” There were questions about corporate greed, divorce, the merits of foreign travel.
And over the next several years, the results materialized across thousands of acres: For the more conservative-minded “Traditionalists,” Covenant Hills, where homes have classic architecture and big family rooms, was built. For the green and soul-searching “Cultural Creatives,” developers built Terramor, where Craftsman-style houses are fitted with photovoltaic cells and bamboo flooring.
At Ladera Ranch, now a thriving community of more than 16,000 people, various villages are tailored not simply to practical needs, but to what marketers call different “values subcultures.”
“We were trying to characterize the lens through which people see the world,” said Brooke Warrick, who heads Ladera’s marketing firm, American Lives. I think Brooke said it best, they are trying to characterize the lens through which people see the world. To be sure, I do agree that “It’s not that the builders and marketers actually care whether buyers are right-wing Bible belters or left-wing tree-huggers as much as they care about selling houses… They must also manufacture community itself, which has become an amenity people crave, right along with tray ceilings.”
The reason why I am so intrigued by this story is that I often think about housing patterns in strictlw racial and economic terms, but this values thing is interesting. For example, “the religiously oriented “Traditionalists,” who, it was assumed, would prefer the more classic architecture there, and more family-oriented activities, such as the annual Easter egg hunt.” “On the other hand, the “Cultural Creatives” tended to be more liberal-minded, environmentally oriented and “less into conspicuous consumption.”
Obviously, this is a heightened form of social engineering and while initially, I thought this entire project was a conservative ploy to find a new term for white flight but then I started thinking about a quote from Randall Robinson. He said, (and I am paraphrasing), “One thing I learned in life is that I stopped wanting to be around people who don’t want to be around me.” Obviously those people were reference to White people but he might be on to something. Because if we keep it real, many Blacks who isolate themselves from other Blacks (generally speaking) feel that they have made it to the extent that they are surrounded by White people in the suburbs. Little do they know is that unlike many countries in South America, money does not “whiten” your skin. And just like decades of past, once a suburb has reached a critical mass of Blacks and other minorities, the White people move further from the city. (All my Michigan people please see Southfield.)
Beyond that, I wonder how I would respond to a billboard to a planned community that had cute Black babies with bright smiles and bushy hair. Furthermore, wouldn’t it be nice to live comfortably around people who shared your views and values? This is an extreme example but if you are a Christian, you wouldn’t raise your family in a community of Satists right? I just don’t see what’s so wrong with wanting to live around people who are diverse, open-minded, intellectual, believe in social justice, and are spiritually grounded.
In other words, if I could raise my family around the men of H.E.A.D.S. I would be perfectly fine with that. Those brothers possess the traits like I described before and they are funny! And if you want to talk about the importance of diversity of ideas, you can get on the internet and go on a Reading Rainbow of different ideas across the moreal and political spectrum. Also, the people of Ladera Ranch are all together so if you wanted to go to conservative town, it is probably within walking distance and I am sure the school district is a great mixing pot of kids whose ideas are greatly influenced by their parents, hence, the ability to debate is honed at an early age.
In closing, choosing a house is one of the most major decisions you will ever make. As such, is it so bad to self-segregate based on values or would we be doing more harm than good? I’m still thinking.
Stay up fam,
Michigan, my home state, is one with an elite educational system at the university level. University of Michigan (http://www.umich.edu/), Michigan State University (http://www.msu.edu/), Wayne State University (http://www.wayne.edu/), and others are great schools. Michigan also has a number of private colleges that serve the citizenry, such as Kalamazoo College (http://www.kzoo.edu/) and Lawrence Technological University (http://www.ltu.edu/). I’d like to talk about one private school in particular: Baker College (http://www.baker.edu/). Maybe I’m ignorant, but I think that a college should be able to graduate more that 19% of its students (http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006604170386), but that’s exactly (well, the *exact* rate is 19.2%) the graduation rate at the particular institution. Why is this? How does this happen? Let us attempt to address these questions and others.
There are millions of possible reasons for a student to go to a college and not finish it by graduating. Some may argue the legitimacy of these claims, but they are what they are. Ones I’ve heard have been, but are not limited to:
1. “It was too expensive.”
2. “They didn’t have anything that really interested me.”
3. “I wanted to move back home.”
4. “I had a child.”
5. “School is not for me.”
6. “This is hard/I don’t feel like I can succeed here.”
7. “I’m not getting the support I need.”
8. “I don’t like the students/faculty/staff here.”
I list these here to say that there are plenty of reasons (or excuses, depending on your perspective) to start and not finish college. Some are personal, others financial, others institutional. I envision a world where we eliminate financial and institutional barriers to education, leaving only the psychological to be dealt with on an individual basis. My reasoning for this is that if a system exists to distribute education as a common good, it should then minimize things that inhibit the public to receive that goods’ benefits. The analogy is your local power company. If there is a power company that charges you for electricity, it is up to them to run wires in a way that is accessible to you as a paying customer. They should not run cable up to 1 mile away from your house and then expect you to connect that last mile. That is essentially what is asked of people who want to be educated and cannot afford to: it’s here and it’s great, so find a way to pay for it! My conservative friends may see this as calling for educational welfare, but I see it as common sense. It is criminal to dangle something that a person needs in front of them when they do not have the means to get it and you can just give it to them!
With all of that said, let’s take a look at some quotes from the article and go a bit deeper into what’s going on.
“In Michigan and many other states, ‘money is directed at getting people enrolled, rather than getting them degrees,’ said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in California. ‘Michigan is getting the results it is paying for.’”
What this is describing is classic misappropriation: using a resource in the wrong way. This happens all the time in life with money, emotions, energy, and all sorts of things. A prime example or mis-spent money, as given to me by a good friend of mine today, was her description of a woman she saw who had purchased her three year old daughter a Louis Vuitton purse. If the reason for this being asinine are not apparent to you, please email me at TheSuperSpade@gmail.com for further explanation. Digressing from that, my point is that people do this, and the government does as well. This is normally the result of a lack of focus on what’s important. Instead of focusing on more pressing domestic issues like the situation in New Orleans, our current administration has prioritized these concerns below our interests in Iraq. As made painfully clear, misappropriation of anything leads to someone or something getting hurt, badly hurt. In the case of Baker, and the approach of the state of Michigan to higher education, the victims are students who have been able to enter into the collegiate ranks and then feel as though they’ve been left to fail. My conservative friends may see this as calling for educational welfare (yes, I did repeat this statement on purpose), but I retort by saying that anyone who needs help, or wants help, in any situation [including education], should be able to access it.
“One question is whether Michigan’s ultra-tight budget can afford to pay for students to try college rather than to finish college. Those who would like to see changes in higher education have said that Michigan should set graduation standards and allocate tax dollars based on specific results.”
Again, this is dealing with what the state’s focus is or should be. People who are really big on empirical evidence driving their decisions (often called technocrats) will find this data hard to ignore. But let me be clear in saying that it is not wrong to spend large sums of money to get kids into college. The suggestion made in the quote could be a valid one if it is instituted fairly. Unfortunately, ideas like this one have a history of being corrupted by personal bias and systemic prejudice. Therefore, such a system would have to have very careful oversight. That is highly unlikely given that Baker College is in the state that it is in due to lack of oversight.
“Baker Chief Executive Officer F. James Cummins said last week it’s misleading to judge the school on graduation rates because the college attracts many students with ‘formidable hurdles to retention.’”
Ok, so Baker takes on students that have challenges. That is admirable. In fact, all you need to get into Baker is a diploma. But stories like this make me question Baker’s policy for accepting any and everyone. Are they really doing it because they believe education is a basic right and need? Are they doing it because they genuinely believe that any student who graduated from high school can graduate from college? Are they doing it because they get a truckload of money from the state for each student they take? The motivation is difficult to discern and is probably some combination of these three and others. On its face, Cummin’s statement may have merit. Compare it to what Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point (haven’t read it yet, but I plan to) and Blink (interesting book, worth a read) calls The Pitbull Paradox. This basically says that Pit Bulls bite more people in part because they are more ferocious, but also because they are even-tempered; what people often overlook is the even-tempered part. Similarly, Cummins is saying that we graduate less students because we take on the students that lots of students in general and lots of students with “formidable retention hurdles.” The engineer in me says that his argument maybe has a hair of merit. The human that dominates me says that Cummins is looking for a cop-out to explain his schools poor performance. I’d like to hear what you all think and if I’m being unfair.
“‘I’m not happy with it,’ Cummins said. ‘I’d like to see it north of 30%.’”
This is just sad because of the low expectations. I’m no educator, but I’d like to think that if I ran what could be referred to as an educational institution, I’d be able to ensure the successful completion of at least half of my students. Cummins here is saying that he wants to step up from 1 in 5 students graduating to 1 in 3. Improvement is improvement, I’ll give him that. I think it is time to take big steps and not baby steps.
One Love. One II.
Garlin Gilchrist II
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