29 January 2014

"Grit" - Part 3: Is it "an abundance of possibility" our kids need?

Note: Clearly, I will need a "Part 4" here, but I will publish this today, to support the ongoing conversation...

Dave Meister left a comment on my last post which included this story:
"Days like today remind me of my first year as an elementary administrator and going to school and finding a student in the window well of the school on a sub zero morning. She had a horrific life at home that the authorities (and I) failed to save her from. Her progress through school followed my mine ascension to a high school position. She became a very angry high school student that eventually dropped out. As far as I knew she never had any slack. She was smart in her own way...avoiding the worst of her world, but she became pregnant and dropped out. I have lost track of her, but know that we as a community failed her, but I know this, she had grit. It was ground into her by life experiences and she could not get past the scars."
The discussion of "grit" heated up across the Twittersphere in fascinating ways, and with that discussion a deeper conversation began about the components of "grit" and the origins of Angela Duckworth's theories.

Nancy Flanagan: Kiss My Grit 
Grant Lichtman: Does Grit Need a Deeper Discussion? which has become, perhaps, the conversation on the topic.
Josie Holford: Grit Hits the Fan 
Joe Bower: Let them eat grit - 4 reasons why "grit" is garbage  
Grit: Part One 
Grit: Part Two
and Vicki Davis: True Grit 

There are two key questions to get to, but first, maybe we should define "grit" if we're going to argue about it. And because of her deep role in "the selling of grit," let us use Angela Duckworth's definition as expressed in her "Grit Test" (pdf):
"Author Rose noted the key elements of the Protestant ethic to be “diligence, punctuality, deferment of gratification, and primacy of the work domain”' (Rose 1985, 102).
  • I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.  This is good according to Duckworth, and perhaps, to all of us.
  • New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.  This is bad according to Duckworth, but certainly might be debatable for many of us, and for many who work in what is called, "the creative economy."
  • My interests change from year to year. Also bad according to Duckworth, but also quite debatable. 
  • Setbacks don’t discourage me. This is good according to Duckworth, but, really? We do not get discouraged by repeated failures? What would we need to accomplish that?
  • I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest. Again, bad according to Duckworth, but also highly debatable.  
  • I am a hard worker. Of course, the very heart of "good" according to Duckworth and the essential belief behind the "Protestant Work Ethic." But what if someone said, "I'm a good caregiver" instead, or "I'm a deep thinker"? Why aren't those statements here?
  • I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one. Very bad in the world of Duckworth, which makes everyone from Steve Jobs to Paul Allen, Thomas Edison to Sergei Brin, a loser on this grit scale.
  • I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.  Another bad one on the Duckworth scale, keep your noses to your grindstones, lads.
  • I finish whatever I begin. Of course, this is what Duckworth wants, and why anyone who drops out of any school-based thing is a failure in Paul Tough's How Children Succeed. But is giving up on a task really a sign of weakness?
  • I have achieved a goal that took years of work. Another Duckworth "gold star"- you can see the type of personality being prized here. In school this is the single-minded pursuit of all As and graduation.
  • I become interested in new pursuits every few months.  Bad, how could it not be here? People who have wide-ranging interests make poor drones on the assembly line.
  • I am diligent. Ah, yes, like "hard worker," this is another Duckworth code word for "compliant" and "self-sacrificing to white middle class expectations." It is another "good" on the scale.
Note: if you use the PDF those questions with an asterisk are "bad" - they're marked to make it easier for us to judge our students.

Let's put this together - anything at all like ADHD is very bad, those "renaissance" types are bad, kids with high-level street survival skills are bad, but compliance with the expectations of "white" "western" society is very good. Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Bill Clinton, John Kennedy are all in the problem mode. The winners on Duckworth's measuring stick? The guys who spend their lives hunting for Big Foot in all kinds of weather, the Unibomber, the person spending 30 years in the same job.

If you read through Duckworth's "scale" you will see a pattern. Everything she sees as "good" is about scarcity - scarcity of time, scarcity of resources, scarcity of attention, even scarcity of support - her "good" is relentlessly independent, single-focused, and committed to whatever is expected. Everything "bad" is about abundance - many ideas, many projects, many interests, a belief that there is time to get things done.

This is not a "scientific" divide. Rather, it is a religious divide, and division created by whether one believes in Social Darwinism or not. Angela Duckworth believes in Social Darwinism, the root of the reprehensible eugenics movement of the 20th Century. She extensively quotes Francis Galton, "the father of eugenics," in her work, and, one tends to believe than an Ivy League professor knows who she is quoting and chooses to quote someone for a reason. 

But Angela Duckworth is also fierce in her religious convictions, a true believer in what I call "American Calvinism" - a secularized version of the Calvinist Protestantism which mythically arrived in North America with the early Massachusetts settlers.  

Let's see how Duckworth and the Puritans line up:
"[T]he key elements of the Protestant ethic [are] “diligence, punctuality, deferment of gratification, and primacy of the work domain” (Rose 1985, 102)"... "[John Calvin] believed that people could serve God through their work. Professions were useful, and work was the universal base of society and the cause of differing social classes, every person should work diligently in his own occupation and should not try to change from the profession into which he was born. To do so would be to go against God's own ordination since God assigned each person to his own place in the social hierarchy (Lipset 1990, 61-69)."
In Twitter conversations people have argued that the "work ethic" expressed above - and in the work of Duckworth and Paul Tough - is "not religious," and cannot really be seen as "racist." Those promoting "grit" are not "Calvinists" they say, and Duckworth isn't even "white," but in fact the nature of Duckworth's work, and the essence of Tough's reporting, are both fundamentally religious and fundamentally "racist" in terms of belief in what those back in the day might have called "Godly behavior," and in terms of group identities being "closer" or "further" from "God's plan."  

That the myths of the Protestant Work Ethic, and mythic identity racism, are embedded in the American power structure does not make them less religious in nature or origin, simply more troubling, because they have been used for all time to abuse those not wanted within that power structure. The Irish, as I noted in the last post, are lazy, illiterate, drunkards. African-Americans are lazy and uninterested in success. Italians are lazy and disrespectful of the law. Latinos are lazy, illiterate, and can't stay put and focus.

The myths of the Protestant Work Ethic and identity racism grew in America and has been carried forward for almost four centuries because it made those born to wealth and power feel good about themselves. How much better to describe your ancestors as having struggled alone against a brutal wilderness and wild savages than saying that your ancestors were "illegal immigrants" who stole a remarkably resource rich continent from its inhabitants. How much better to embrace Jackson's "Frontier Theory" than to worry about slaves and underpaid immigrants who built the early national roads, dug the Erie Canal, and built the railroads. How much better to celebrate "American Invention" than to discuss the wholesale intellectual property theft - from woolen mills to those railroads to the telephone debuting across those 1876 fairgrounds - which had enriched the American Republic's first hundred years.

Those myths continue to this day. How much better to say that your children get into the University of Pennsylvania, or Harvard, or the University of Virginia because they are smarter, because they work harder, because you, as a parent, have educated them better, than to discuss the advantages of race and class. How much better to say that you have succeeded in business because you speak correctly, or have the right "work ethic," than to discuss what you inherited.

This is "understood" so deeply that it has been "naturalized." To quote Edward Said (from his essay on Rudyard Kipling's Kim in his 1994 book Culture and Imperialism, in a way which describes Paul Tough's work quite well, “its author is writing not just from the dominating view-point of a white man in a colonial possession but from the perspective of a massive colonial system whose economy, functioning, and history had acquired the status of a virtual fact of nature.”

In other words, the myths of the Protestant Work Ethic and Identity Racism explain why we need not bother to build a fair and equitable society. And the myth of educational "grit" explains why we need not create fair and equitable schools. Life made easy for those in power.

But what if the key to resilience in school, in life, was abundance. What if "grit" was something which taught you the lessons of scarcity - of pure survival - but abundance offered you the "slack" you needed to get where you might want to go?

After all, would there be a Facebook if Mark Zuckerberg, from 18 to 21, had been working 40 hours a week at a mini-mart in White Plains while commuting to Westchester Community College? Where might Apple be if Jobs and Wozniak had not had that famous garage and food provided by parents? Where would I be if not for a fabulous high school teacher who gave me the time, space, and resources to keep going?

"Grit" - that response to scarcity - taught me to cheat. to lie, at times to steal (yes), to find any shortcut, to fight, to flee. Abundant moments, that opportunity for "slack" - those very Catholic "feast days for the soul" - taught me what I could aspire to.

This is not an idle, theoretical, conversation. In my "debate" with Paul Tough on Grant Lichtman's blog, I brought up examples of high schools which have provided "abundance," and Tough fought back by saying that these schools lacked the "concentrated poverty" of the schools he visited. But as I responded, that is the point. The schools he visited exist in school systems which have created a vicious level of socio-economic segregation, the schools I suggested exist in systems have done the opposite. New Rochelle, New York, or even Albemarle County, Virginia, could easily create significant sized high schools filled with nothing but poverty, as the City of Chicago has done. All it would take to do so would be for those places to mimic Chicago's school policies. But they have not. And the result of those political choices - even though both school systems do lose a good number of children to less inclusive private schools - are inclusive public secondary schools which offer abundant possibility and strong supports. Diverse academic and arts programs, strong counseling programs, and student-based choices.

creating "abundance" - time, space, choices, safety
Here are two examples. In Albemarle County, Virginia, in our most "at risk" high school - no, not a Fenger - we have not allowed that to happen, we added, a few years in response to student request, a music studio in our library.  This allowed a range of high poverty students, and we’re talking both black and white poverty, to come together around an existing set of community passions, from rap to hillbilly blues, and then to bring the middle class students, with rock, show tunes, and classical added, to join with them. We allowed these students to present their work, and to construct their core course learning via music, we did not impose our passions, our paths on them – rather we embraced theirs. From there we expanded an already inclusive theater program, including what we might call “street dance” and “street music” if we had real streets in that area. We kept kids in school. We kept kids in class. We kept kids engaged and involved in the positive. It changed, the students told us, the entire character of the school for the better. We have continued to build on those kind of efforts in that high school and others, because we have discovered the value of abundance.

"slack" generated by "abundance"
In our "at risk" elementary schools we have pursued a differing, but similar course. Our classrooms are now designed around what we call "choice and comfort," with kids able to discover what makes them comfortable in terms of learning environment and learning style. Kids lie on the floor, perch on stools, lean against high tables, sit on low tables. They write using differing technologies, from pencils to handhelds to tablets to laptops. They move when they need to. We no longer enforce Calvinist church behaviors, and so now we allow children to harness the full power of their cognitive energies on their learning. By providing an abundance of choice, an abundance of time, an abundance of tools, we have encouraged persistence in ways that "grit theorists" can only hope to emulate.

In other words, offering children abundance is a choice. It is a choice a community - a nation - can either make or not. And if a community, or a nation, chooses not to offer children abundance, I still find it remarkably unfair to complain that our children of scarcity lack character.

What Paul Tough ignores, from his perch at The New York Times, is the responsibility of organizations such as The Times to promote fundamental change. Tough does call for a better welfare system, which is lovely, I suppose, but not the equity our children need. In fact, The Times has waged quite the war for inequity in education through the reporting of Matt Richtel, an Tough, in a book which - whatever he says now - promotes the sense that what is primarily needed is "character," has done his own substantial harm.

Myth matters in the struggles for power. And understanding mythic belief matters even more. And as I have said on more than one occasion, education is the most political thing a society does, because it is a struggle for our future.

What Duckworth and Tough do in their, perhaps conscious for her, unconscious for him, unquestioning belief in the Protestant Work Ethic, is to give the power structure a pass, no matter how much either of them calls for more charity.

That is a a pass I will not sign on to.

- Ira Socol


I need to repeat, if necessary, those beliefs of mine which underlie my commitment to what I am writing. I was thrilled when @jonbecker (Dr. Jonathan Becker) called me a "scholar/advocate" in a tweet about my last post, because while some others would pretend otherwise, I never hide what drives me to tell the stories I am telling. So let me say again, I am the job-changing son of a job-changing father. I've given up on many things - attempts at school, careers, political efforts, writings, hobbies. I like to nap. I like to lie around and stare at the television. I cannot focus through a half hour meeting - none of which particularly matters. What does matter is that I am committed to the future of children who "fail to meet" societal expectations. I see ADHD as a positive, not usually a pathology requiring high levels of medication. I see social and cultural variety as a tremendous positive, and efforts like "the Common Core" as misguided attempts at homogeneity. I see age-based expectations and standards as an assault on the natural differences in children. And I believe that much which we take for granted in "white," "educated," "middle class," society needs to be questioned if opportunities are to be democratized.
"Scholars are often wary of citing such commitments, for, in the stereotype, an ice-cold impartiality acts as the sine qua non of proper and dispassionate objectivity. I regard this argument as one of the most fallacious, even harmful, claims commonly made in my profession. Impartiality (even if desirable) is unattainable by human beings with inevitable backgrounds, needs, beliefs, and desires. It is dangerous for a scholar even to imagine that he might attain complete neutrality, for then one stops being vigilant about personal preferences and their influences—and then one truly falls victim to the dictates of prejudice.

"Objectivity must be operationally defined as fair treatment of data, not absence of preference. Moreover, one needs to understand and acknowledge inevitable preferences in order to know their influence—so that fair treatment of data and arguments can be attained! No conceit could be worse than a belief in one's own intrinsic objectivity, no prescription more suited to the exposure of fools." - Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasurement of Man (revised), p. 36

23 January 2014

"Grit" Part 2 - Is "Slack" What Kids Need?

Paul Thomas, a Furman University professor who - in that best tradition of academic discourse - I alternately fight with and agree with, tells me that I was way too nice to Paul Tough when I wrote about "grit" back in December.

Turns out he was probably right.

The more feedback I received on the "Tough/Tough Kids" concept, the uglier, the more destructive, the more vicious the whole "movement" by America's elite seems to me...

Just this morning educators told me on Twitter that teaching "grit" was essential because of "mistakes made by the US governments "No Child Left Behind" law" and because of the pace of contemporary life. Even someone I think of "as smart" as @coolcatteacher - Vicki Davis - jumps in the water with pro-eugenics professor Angela Duckworth and brings "teaching grit" into her classroom.

Right up front on her website, queen of "grit" Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania
joins herself to the theories of notorious Eugenecist Francis Galton.
"Be careful," I like to say, "who you're jumping into bed with."
Horatio Alger's 1869 Pluck and Luck.
Alger sold the "grit" myth for half a
century via books like
Ragged Dick,
Brave and Bold, Sink or Swim.
In the end I realize that there is no difference at all between Paul Tough and Horatio Alger - including their respective research methods, and I realize that there is no difference between the researchers Tough quotes in his book, or those educators jumping on the "grit bandwagon," and those mid-19th century American preachers screaming about the lazy Catholics arriving from Ireland.
 "Irish beggars are to be met everywhere, and they are as ignorant and vicious as they are poor. They are lazy, improvident and unthankful; they fill our poorhouses and our prisons, and are as brutish in their superstition as Hindoos." - Toronto Globe 1851.
"Catholics, and most specifically, the Irish, were frequently vilified in the curriculum of New York’s public schools. Public schools used textbooks that portrayed the Irish immigrants as “extremely needy, and in many cases drunken and depraved…subject for all our grave and fearful reflection,”' PBS notes, "nearly seventy-five percent of our criminals and paupers are Irish," said Harper's Weekly in 1860. There is simply no doubt that the Irish who arrived in America between 1840 and 1910 - the Catholic Irish as opposed to the Protestant Irish (Scots-Irish) who arrived earlier - lacked "grit" in the minds of political leaders, religious leaders, journalists, and teachers. They were lazy - amazingly they need not even get to a specific Sunday church service at a specific time. They were easily distracted - did you know that in their churches they move a lot and have all these things to look at? They weren't motivated - wow! they like being home or with their community more than working - they're satisfied with low paying municipal jobs like being police officers! They were illiterate - in their churches there aren't prayer books! They don't all read the same thing at the same time like in our churches/schools!

Lacking "grit," the 19th Century
Irish immigrants could simply
not be assimilated.
Today, conceptual identical slanders are used against groups "we" don't like who are trying to enter They won't do homework! They won't try for hours to complete the same stupid worksheet! They won't retake that test! They wear their pants so you can see their underwear! They won't take off their hats! They won't sit up straight! In other words, they won't be like "us," and we better bang on them until they learn that they must.

"Grit is simple – it is developed by situations that require it.," Vicki Davis writes, "We all have tough in our life – but what do we do with it? Do we grit our teeth and push forward or do we fall back and lay on our floppy cushion with excuses in our mouths?" "I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one," is a negative phrase in Angela Duckworth's almost comical "grit analysis" (on which I received a 1.75, or "grittier than 1% of the US population") because we know, thank God, that Samuel Clemens stuck with that riverboat career and Albert Einstein fully committed himself to his Patent Office clerkship.

Let's be clear. What Duckworth, Tough, even Davis are referring to is essential to traditional school success. But the word they are seeking is not "grit" - as I said before, the kids they want to give "grit" to are the "grittiest" kids on earth - that's how they've survived - the word these "grit proponents" are seeking is "compliance." They want kids working hard at what they themselves value, which is, apparently, "white middle class conformity."

"Grit," school leader Dave Meister says, "is simply a term by which the privileged try distinguish their behavior from those they define as unworthy."

And this is the key. There is a reason Angela Duckworth quotes and relies on one of the "fathers" of the Eugenics Movement. Like IQ scores, like the Prussian Model of age-based school grades and grade level standards, like the institutionalized racism of certain dress codes or the KIPP SLANT formula, "grit" is a way of limiting the opportunity of those who might - measured by their own standards - compete educationally and economically with the children of rich people.

Let's go back to Dr. Thomas:
"Children in poverty line up at the starting line with a bear trap on one leg; middle-class children start at the 20-, 30-, and 40-meter marks; and the affluent stand at the 70-, 80-, and 90-meter marks.

"And while gazing at education as a stratified sprint, “no excuses” reformers shout to the children in poverty: “Run twice as fast! Ignore the bear trap! And if you have real grit, gnaw off your foot, and run twice as fast with one leg!”

"These “no excuses” advocates turn to the public and shrug, “There’s nothing we can do about the trap, sorry.”

"What is also revealed in this staggered 100-meter race is that all the children living and learning in relative affluence are afforded slack by the accidents of their birth: “Slack” is the term identified by Mullainathan and Shafir as the space created by abundance that allows any person access to more of her/his cognitive and emotional resources."
Because this is what kids need. Slack. This is what I was discussing, without the word, at the end of my last post. Because I thought about this over the last couple of days: What "grit" did Bill Gates demonstrate when he quit Harvard because his dad hooked him up with an amazing contact at IBM and his buddy found an operating system Gates could buy for almost nothing and sell for a fortune? What "grit" did George W. Bush show when he walked away from a National Guard commitment because, suddenly, he was more interested in a political campaign? What "grit" Barack Obama show evidence of as the child of a PhD student, with very supportive grandparents, at a multi-ethnic private school in Hawaii?

What "grit" does the Yale University student show when she calls home for more money from dad? What "grit" do upper middle class parents teach their kids when they drive them to school? When they go talk to their teachers about problems? When they provide money for sports lessons or music lessons? See Paul, Angela, Vicki, I'm confused, because all those I'm asking about have succeeded or will succeed famously...

What the people I mention above have is "slack" - the moments when necessity is not the sole driver. "The cost [of "scarcity" - the primary element in "grit theory"] is an undue focus on the necessity at hand, which leads to a lack of curiosity about wider issues, and an inability to imagine longer-term consequences. The effect of this scarcity-generated "loss of bandwidth" has catastrophic results..." The Guardian writes in a book review on the topic. The "struggle" that Tough, Duckworth, Davis, et al want for kids is the creation of "scarcity" among children already scarred by "scarcity." The "grit" they discuss imposes "scarcity" by focusing kids on the problems, the deficits, "the mountain" as Davis puts it, instead of the solutions, or, what we might call, the highway we try to build to our students' futures.

And now let me go back to Peter Høeg's Borderliners, but via a quote from my older sister a long long time ago when I called her desperate for a couple of hundred bucks to fix my car. She said, "no problem, I'll mail the check now," and then she said, "see, that's the difference now. I can help, and so you're ok. For a lot of people, the car breaks, they can't fix it, they lose their job, they end up homeless." Living in Brooklyn in the late 1970s, I saw evidence of what she meant on every corner. She had given me "slack," and no matter how much "grit" I might have had - no matter how much "grit" Angela Duckworth might think I have - only "slack" could save me in that moment. (I suppose I only got 1.75 on Duckworth's scale because I listed myself as "white" and well educated, without that I would probably have been closer to 0)

And so this is why the scene I alluded to in Peter Høeg's Borderliners has always been crucial to me: 
"We were going to shower. We were last. Valsang was standing on his side of the window. Humlum went in ahead of me. He walked straight through the warm shower as though it did not exist and in under the first of the cold ones. And there he stayed. He did not move, he just stood there, while his skin first went red and then white. He looked at his feet, I knew he stayed there so that I could stay in the warm shower and not be made to get a move on. I had shut my eyes, the warm water closed up, like a wall. I had never stood for as long before. - Peter eg, Borderliners
"Slack," "space that doesn’t force anyone to consider trade-offs," is the magical alternative to the "grit" and misery proposed for children by The New York Times, by Paul Tough, by the University of Pennsylvania's Angela Duckworth, by the University of Chicago School of Economics, by the American Economic Elites.

And "slack" is the idea I was reaching for, and found most wonderfully recalled in the work of eg.

And "slack" and "abundance" are what our "at risk" children need: "They show that abundance allows people slack, space that doesn’t force anyone to consider trade-offs. Conversely, scarcity removes slack. In moments of abundance, then, people behave differently than in moments of scarcity. The consequences for people in poverty are much greater, then, than the consequences for people in affluence."

In my understanding of "slack," "Negative Space," not the SLANT concepts of KIPP nor the "misery index" of Duckworth, is the path to opportunity. "this is really about allowing students to breathe. "It was a kind of no-man’s-land, a place of possibility," Beller says of Manhattan's [Central Park], and I thought of all the "places of possibility" of my youth, from an abandoned military base to an abandoned railway station, from the catwalk above the stage in my Junior High's auditorium to the odd turret spaces which ended the corners of my high school, from the long corridor linking the high school library to the rest of the building - broken into caves by panels displaying artwork - to the tops of the stair towers overlooking the river in the Kresge Art Center at Michigan State. These were places I could breathe, dream, fantasize, imagine, hope, cry. I thought of how a curve of rock along a winter beach might be the safest place I knew at age 13, or how the space in front of the air-conditioner on the roof of Macy's might have been the most intimate at 15," I wrote 18 months ago.

So we need to call out the "grit lobby" and their Eugenics belief system: When people put out things like,  Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania). Christopher Peterson (University of Michigan), Michael Mathews (United States Military Academy), and Dennis Kelly (United States Military Academy) [pdf] and write: "Why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence? In addition to cognitive ability, a list of attributes of high-achieving individuals would likely include creativity, vigor, emotional intelligence, charisma, self-confidence, emotional stability, physical attractiveness, and other positive qualities..." we need to point out that what they are pursuing is social reproduction and the preservation of wealth and power for elites. We have to point out that a religious paradigm of behaviors is not to be confused with a science of educational opportunity.

But most of all, we need to fight to do for all of our children what Oscar Humlum did for the narrator in the Borderliners passage. He interrupted the brutal industrial flow and gave a child a moment of abundance.

My God, isn't that our job?

- Ira Socol

03 January 2014

"Hey, you good?"

"It was a terrible pass.

Connor Cook knew it as he walked off the field; his back turned to a replay of the pass playing over and over from every possible angle above Michigan State's end zone.

Mark Dantonio knew it as he saw his quarterback slowly walk toward the sideline, his head slightly hung after he looked up at the scoreboard.

Cook, Michigan State's sophomore quarterback, was driving the Spartans near midfield with a little more than two minutes left in the first half and in position to either tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with the touchdown. Instead, he panicked when Stanford defensive back Usua Amanam blitzed him off the corner and he lofted a picture-perfect pass to Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson, who ran it back 40 yards untouched for a touchdown.

It was the kind of play that usually turns the tide of a game.

"It did. But in a direction that would surprise everyone not standing on Michigan State's sideline.

"Cook had already thrown two other passes that could have easily met the same fate but didn't when they inexplicably went through the hands of Stanford defenders. It was understandable to wonder if the pressure of playing in the Rose Bowl was getting to Michigan State's 20-year-old quarterback.

"So as Cook walked toward the sideline, Dantonio met him and asked him what he normally asks him when he throws a bad pass: "You good?"

'"Coach D was just giving me this look, and I was hoping he wasn't going to be super-upset and say something to put me down," Cook said. "Coach D does a great job of just having a good relationship with all of his players no matter what. If you do something stupid, he's not going to degrade you, he's not going to yell at you, so I walked off the field and he said, 'Hey, you good?' I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm fine.' I gave him a little fist pump. Everything was good after that."' [ESPN blog]

OK, yes, I am a Michigan State fan, a very loyal one, even if I think the graduate programs in the MSU College of Education are often dangerous to the health and welfare of children in the United States and around the world. But aside from that I think MSU is a great university, from its deep respect for the land-grant university traditions, to its campus full of the most amazing range of incredible programs. And one of the programs on that campus in East Lansing is the set of "varsity" sports - Basketball, Hockey, Football, Swimming, Soccer, et al. These sports, yes, cost far too much, pay (some) coaches way too much, and at times twist campus priorities in ways that should, at least, annoy any educator. And yet, at their best, they can inspire, they can unify a community, and they can teach...

And on New Year's Day in Pasadena, California, educators everywhere could find a vital lesson in the moment described above. And even with my delight in the athletic accomplishment... a great win in a great game against a great opponent... my greater delight is in what Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio explained to too many teachers, too many administrators, and almost every "edu-politician" from Bill Gates to Michael Gove to Arne Duncan: failure by our students is OK, failure by our students is part of education, failure by our students is not only the only way to help them succeed, it is the only reason we teachers and administrators have jobs.

"he's not going to degrade you, he's not going to yell at you..." he's not going to "lower your grade," or "retain you," or drop you out of the "honors courses." "He," that is, a real educator, is going to treat you with human respect, support you, and ask you to give it another try. And wow, you see, that seems to work out. The Michigan State University football team picked itself up from disaster and completed a season in which, essentially, everybody received an "A." Everybody, including seniors Andrew Maxwell - who lost the quarterbacking job early in the year but was rewarded for his efforts by getting game appearances in both the Big Ten Championship and The Rose Bowl - and Max Bullough - the defensive captain suspended for this game and sent home who nonetheless cheered his teammates on from afar.
QB Andrew Maxwell is in the record
books - Dantonio put him in Spartans
last 2 games.
"The 13-acre Bullough estate, which sits atop a hill that overlooks West Arm Grand Traverse Bay and is marked by a Michigan State flag in the driveway, was still glowing with Christmas lights Friday evening."
I just see so many crucial things here. Because, sadly in the MSU College of Education, I was criticized for "giving out too many As" in courses I taught. "Really," I would say, "isn't that my goal an A for every kid? What kind of a teacher would I be if had any other goal?" And because sadly, across America and too much of the world, we believe that failure should always have costly imposed consequences. We have a whole group of idiots (my term for them) who believe that third graders who struggle with reading need to be punished. We have a world full of leaders - and again sadly, teachers as well - who think failure on a test, in a course, on an f---in' homework assignment, requires punishment.
An opposite tack: An educator was so proud of this
incredibly insulting sign he Tweeted it -
Can his students limit his wardrobe?
If he had real relationships with his kids,
would he need this sign?
I see far too many classrooms where the simple lessons Mark Dantonio knows go un-understood. Just as I was writing this a woman with a doctorate in "educational leadership" from Seattle University went on Twitter arguing that demeaning and insulting children with signs as they walk into a classroom is 'good for them' (assuming they have grown up poor).

"He's not going to degrade you, he's not going to yell at you,' said Cook about Dantonio, and we really don't need to explain the why of this, do we? There is only one ethical code of human conduct, not one for adults and one for children, not one for teachers and one for students, not one for elites and another for people born powerless.

And we teach effectively, we teach well, when we act as if there is one system, and we approach relationships and our work with each other as human-to-human interactions, not moments to exercise our momentary positional power.

"So I walked off the field," Cook said, "and he said, 'Hey, you good?' I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm fine.' I gave him a little fist pump." Young kid in his (not quite) first full season playing college football and veteran, million-dollar-making football coach. There could have been a whole lot of positional power exercised there, we've seen that a lot watching American college games, but here, there was none.

Rutgers University's (ex) Basketball Coach thought differently than Dantonio...

...a generational divide? or is it about human dignity?
"after all, its not about how many times you get knocked down,
its about how many times you get back up."

But in that moment Mark Dantonio taught Connor Cook one more amazing lesson, not just in football, in life, in leadership. And he established a level of trust which lies behind every successful educational outcome. Cook trusts his teacher, the Spartans trust their teachers, and from that point, the sky is the limit for any student.

Do the moments in your school look like this? And if you say, "no, but... we've got all these pressures, the tests, kids coming from poverty..." consider that the Cook/Dantonio moment came in the midst of just a bit of pressure as well...

- Ira Socol