President's Blog

 

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Today the nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In past years, I have shared some of my own views about this great American and extraordinary peacemaker. His life and his teachings have greatly influenced my beliefs, my values and my career. I thought it was worth sharing some of these ideas again.

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it seems like an appropriate time to not only reflect upon Dr. King’s life and contributions, but to embrace his vision and his values. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day … celebrate it through an act of service to the community!

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For most of our traditional-age students, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been a part of their entire lives. Sadly, it took fifteen years from the year of King’s assassination to establish this federal holiday.

The original legislation to commemorate Dr. King was introduced by Congressman John Conyers from Michigan just four days after the assassination. When the original bill was not passed, petitions were signed by six million people endorsing the holiday. The bill finally passed and was signed into law by President Reagan in 1983.

The original proposal was to celebrate the holiday on January 15th, the date of Dr. King’s birth. Because of a concern about the proximity to Christmas and New Year’s, the date of the holiday was set for the third Monday of January. This year we will celebrate this special day on January 20th .

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings have had a significant influence on the beliefs, values and philosophy of leadership of many people. Some who hold Dr. King in high esteem are chagrined that in the over 40 years since his death, we continue to confront serious issues of racism, poverty, injustice and violence.

When I teach a course on leadership, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is always part of the curriculum. My students always read Letter From A Birmingham Jail and often watch a video of the “I Have A Dream” speech. I am always amazed that for many students, this is the first time they have seen this speech or read any of Dr. King’s writings. He was an extraordinary speaker, but an equally powerful writer. While the videotapes of his speeches lack the technological qualities of today, his writings will still inspire any reader.

Today is a day to reflect on the life and the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the end of this blog entry, I have listed some of my favorite quotes from Dr. King’s writings and speeches that I have used repeatedly over the years. I would urge you to read some of Dr. King’s speeches and books. Take the time to read (or reread) Letter From A Birmingham Jail, and find the “I Have A Dream Speech” on the Internet and just listen. Hopefully, the quotes that follow will also help capture the core of his message.

But even more important, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a good time to reflect upon our own lives… to think about our values, our commitment to service and the Common Good, our willingness to speak out and act for justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is more than a holiday, it is a call to action. The best way to celebrate Dr. King’s life and contributions is to turn his teachings into action. I encourage you to read and reflect upon the words of Dr. King. I encourage you to work for justice and equality.

And sadly, we still face overwhelming challenges and threats to peace and equality in this country and throughout the world. How you act for justice and equality is a personal decision … but you must act. Helping at a social service agency, donating to support food and energy programs, tutoring, getting involved in political action, etc. … all are consistent with Dr. King’s vision.

But speaking out is as important and sometimes harder. When we are silent to injustice we indirectly condone this behavior and these actions. Our voices are powerful weapons of peace and justice. Keep Dr. King’s dream alive today and every day!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotations

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

A lie cannot live.”

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

“Life's most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

During the first few days of the new year, the news reports were replete with articles and stories about Colorado becoming the most recent state to legalize the sale of marijuana. Washington legalized the sale of marijuana several months ago. It appears that Alaska, Oregon and California may be next.

I now understand that my view is in the minority. Gallup reported in the Fall that a majority of Americans (58%) support legalizing marijuana. A decade ago, only 32% were in favor; in 1969 (Gallup’s first poll on this question), only 12% supported legalization.

I am against this trend. I am also against legalizing gambling. And I wish the laws about alcohol and tobacco sales were stiffened or at least enforced. But lest you think this blog is simply about morality and ethics, my reasoning is fundamentally educational.

A recent op ed piece by Ruth Marcus from the Washington Post alerted me to recent studies published by the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Academy of Sciences. The results are alarming.

According to the research of the AMA, “heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments of neurocognitive performance and IQ, and use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorder.” College students exhibit these behaviors more and more and they always impact their ability to be successful academically.

The AMA report also provides data revealing that marijuana is the most common drug associated with drugged driving, especially with drivers under 21. Further, use of cannabis “is related to later substance abuse disorders.”

One of the reports I read in early January emphasized that the new Colorado law (and the Washington law) restricts the sale of marijuana to those over 21. But the research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse details what those of us on college campuses already know. According to their studies, nearly half of all children have tried marijuana before graduating from high school. In fact, 16.5% of eighth graders have tried marijuana. Even more concerning, only 40% of 12th graders believe that there is a risk in regular use of marijuana (that percentage was 58% only two years ago).

The study published by the National Academy of Sciences is more detailed. The study was completed in 2012 and involved the study of over 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38. The most salient findings are as follows:

-       “Persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education.”

-       “Long term cannabis users saw an average decline of eight IQ points."

-       “The decrease in IQ was linked only to those with adolescent marijuana use, not those who started in adulthood.”

We can have the debate about the impact of alcohol, gambling and drugs on social behavior. We can have the debate about the rights of people to use these substances. But there is no debate that the use of marijuana (and alcohol and gambling) impact student academic success.

We try to educate students about these risks. Legalization just makes it more difficult. I vote “no.”

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

As my regular readers know, I enjoy data-based reports. While there is always room for interpretation, I often prefer this type of research more than pure opinions. A great source of data on education (all levels) in this country is NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). NCES is “the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.” As part of the Department of Education and mandated by Congress, NCES collects and analyzes statistics primarily related to the condition of American education from early childhood to postsecondary and adult education.

Since 2000, NCES has conducted an international comparative assessment entitled PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment). The study is conducted every three years and represents cooperation between NCES and OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development). OECD is an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries.

Specifically, PISA primarily provides information related to 15-year old students’ reading, mathematics and science literacy in 65 countries. The results of the Pisa 2012, just released, also include computer-based assessments in mathematics literacy, reading literacy, and general problem-solving, as well as an assessment of students’ financial literacy.

The results are very concerning. Regarding mathematics literacy, only 9% of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing," and 23% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 29 other education systems, higher than 26, and not measurably different than 9 others. The best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The results in science literacy were not much better. Only 7% percent of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing,” and 18% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 22 other education systems, higher than 29, and not measurably different than 13 others. Again, the best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The results in reading literacy followed a similar pattern of global mediocrity. Only 8% percent of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing,” and 17% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 19 other education systems, higher than 34, and not measurably different than 11 others. Again, the best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The scores on computer-based assessments were similarly non-competitive and the U.S. performance over the past decade has not significantly changed in relative performance and ranking.

This is not the first time that we have data reflecting our poor performance in these areas compared with China, Japan, Finland, Australia and Canada. But what caught my attention beyond this data was the connection some are making to these results and the economy of this country.

In a recent article, for example, Thomas Friedman, of “The World is Flat” fame, shared this related fact. In 1979, a third of the American workforce took home half of the national income. Today, half the national income is earned by the top 10%.

In fact, the foundation of the American middle class (high wage, middle-skilled jobs) are moving away in dramatic fashion to other countries (China and India) with better qualified employees or they are becoming automated (computers and robots).

The answer is not in higher wages, lower taxes or health care. The answer is in better education. Parents need to send their children to school ready to learn. Parents and their children need to support and respect teachers and administrators in all educational settings. Students must recognize their own need to learn. All stakeholders in our American educational system must work together for the benefit of our country’s economic future.

This will be my last blog for 2013. I will return in January 2014. I wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with health and happiness!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

Last week I wrote about the issue of gun control and a recent report from the Children’s Defense Fund entitled, “We Can Do Better: Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”  The responses to this blog have been interesting. Most who took the time to write shared my views on gun control. A few questioned the value of gun control and someone even challenged my patriotism.

This week I want to share some of the recommendations made by this report. None of these ideas are new, but they will take action…. your action, my action … and ultimately the action of our elected leaders.

The first recommendation is to “urge your members of Congress to protect children from gun violence. Support common sense gun safety and gun prevention measures …” Specific actions included in this recommendation are:

-       Universal background checks;

-       Limits on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines;

-       Consumer safety standards, childproof safety features, and authorized-user identification for all guns;

-       Better services for children and families facing violence in their homes and communities and for children with unmet mental health needs;

-       Public funding for gun violence prevention research and programs;

-       Resources and authority for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws.

The second recommendation is to “urge state and local governments to protect children from guns.”  If we can’t change federal laws, we can at least make our own state safer for children. Sadly, since Newtown, only four states have passed common sense gun reform. Specific actions in this case include:

-       Support laws to prevent child access to guns;

-       Support universal background checks;

-       Support limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition;

-       Oppose efforts to limit the ability of schools, physicians and others to do their part to keep children safe from guns;

-       Oppose laws allowing concealed weapons;

-       Demand the repeal of “Stand Your Ground Laws.”

If you are unwilling to work to change federal and state laws and policies, you can take personal action and responsibility. The report urges parents to “remove guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play.”  Even more, we can all “boycott products that glamorize violence.”  Finally, we can help to educate and influence our neighbors and friends by bringing attention to the truth about gun violence and to work against the culture of violence in our neighborhoods and our communities.

It’s not enough to share the belief that gun violence must be addressed. It will take action. I am just beginning to read Pope Francis’ teaching document, “Evangelii Gaudium” (the Joy of the Gospel). I am sure you will be reading about my impressions and reflections in future blogs.

But one sentence has remained in my mind as I am writing this blog on this topic. Pope Francis writes, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Gun violence is not as important to the media as healthcare, the economy, the rate in which people are spending money on holiday gifts and celebrity news. Here’s what I want for Christmas … new and improved laws on gun control so that more children are safe. Because in this season of Advent …. I believe we can do better!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

I was at a public event a week ago that was stopped several times to acknowledge and thank those from the military in attendance. We stood and applauded and thanked them for their service and sacrifice. While I shared in this expression of appreciation, I thought of statistics from a recent report published by the Children’s Defense Fund entitled, “We Can Do Better: Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

One of many statistics that surprised, shocked and saddened me was that, “the number of children and teens killed by guns in 2010 was nearly five times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action that year in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In fact, since 1963, three times more children and teens have died from guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers killed in action in wars around the world. That translates to seven children and teens being killed every single day by guns in America. A child or teen is killed or injured from guns every 30 seconds.

Last year, I joined hundreds of my colleagues in support of additional gun control. Our statement entitled, “College Presidents for Gun Safety,” was sent to every legislator, every government official and every media outlet. It was joined by the efforts of many organizations, individuals and communities. But even with the memory of Sandy Hook Elementary School fresh in our minds, modest legislation to increase background checks was defeated in Congress.

Maybe Sandy Hook was not enough to change our minds since the fact is that the number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each. In 2010, 18,270 children and teens died or were injured by guns. This means 17 classrooms of 20 children every week... an entire school building every week. The school building your children and my grandchildren attend ... one every week.

If you are interested in this issue, I would urge you to read this report. It can be found online at www.childrensdefense.org/dobetter. It provides statistics and analysis, as well as action steps to help address this issue. It also provides a selection of organizations you might join and/or support that are trying to address this issue.

Next week, I will share some of the suggestions for action. But the Forward to the report from Marian Wright Edelman frames it well:

“What can you do? Urge your members of Congress to protect children from gun violence by supporting common sense gun safety and gun violence protection measures for the nation including universal background checks, limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, consumer safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws. Parents, remove your guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play. Boycott products that glamorize violence.”

As we prepare to begin the Advent and Christmas seasons ... seasons that center so much on life and children ... this issue should not .... cannot be ignored.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)