Things Positive Leaders Can Do, Part 4 – Be Active in Your Community

How much time and energy one devotes to one’s community will vary greatly according to the time of one’s life. What is important is that each of us acknowledges a responsibility to our community, to society, and to the world as a whole.

Remember to think about things in the context of our most basic values:

1. That every human being on the face of the Earth is a child of Creation and deserves our respect and concern,
2. That the Universe is the Creator’s gift to us, and
3. That every job well done, great or small, adds an element of beauty to the world.

We have an unyielding obligation to cherish life and the Universe. Everything we do must be judged in this context:
“Does it or does it not affirm life.”

We must:

• Respect all life and each and every human being,
• Reject racism,
• Conserve and protect the Earth’s resources:
• Participate in our government at the local, state, and federal level by:
• Help our neighbors
• Take care of our property
• Support the less fortunate with our energy, compassion, time and money
• Support our economy by doing our job to the best of our ability
• Give something back to our community

None of us can afford to live in isolation or to abdicate responsibility for the world and its challenges. Whether we accept it or not, the problems of the world will have an impact on our lives and on the lives of our loved ones. None of the world’s problems can be effectively resolved without the help of each of us. None of us are insignificant and each effort on the part of every individual makes a difference.

Remember the thoughts of Jane Goodall,

“The most important thing people can do for the future of the world is to realize that what they do matters.”

Every child that grows up hungry, angry, ignorant, illiterate, and estranged from the mainstream of our society threatens the safety and quality of life of the entire community. These children are our responsibility and the sooner we acknowledge that responsibility the better our chances of making a positive impact. If every gainfully employed man or woman would reach back to help one disadvantaged child, there would not be enough disadvantaged children to go around.

Most of us look out at the immense problems in the world and feel overwhelmed and powerless. This is a normal human feeling but it is just that—a feeling. We are not powerless and we need not feel overwhelmed. We have the power to make a difference if only we will do whatever is in our power to do; if only we will take the lead as a positive leader.
Give of yourself fully and practice the principles of positive leadership.

Former President George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign strategy of promoting “a thousand points of light” was an important acknowledgement that our government cannot solve all of our problems. In fact, just the opposite is true. More often than not our government tends to create more problems than it solves. When government attempts to solve our problems for us it tends to create dependencies rather than foster both independence and interdependence. The best solutions to our problems rest in the hands of individual men and women, acting in concert with their friends and neighbors, and acting on principle.

You can make a difference. More importantly, you must make a difference. The whole world is counting on you. Be a positive leader!

Response to the Column on Culture and Poverty by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post

Bravo for the rejection, by @eugenerobinson of the @washingtonPost, of Rep. Paul Ryan’s assertion that culture is to blame for poverty in the U.S. It is what I have been trying to say in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, but Robinson has said it better. Such proclamations do, indeed, provide an excuse for doing nothing. Such thinking also provides fodder for corporate reformers of education who want to privatize our schools and minimize the amount of influence a local community will have over the schools their children must attend.

Ironically, when traditional educators challenge such corporate reform agendas they make the same excuses by claiming that poverty is the cause of the problems with public education in America and, yes, I know this sounds counter-intuitive. Blaming poverty gives educators license to lower their expectations because “there really isn’t anything of significance we can do until our government effectively addresses the problems of poverty.”

I wish I could go back and add Robinson’s comment on culture, in the section of my book where I say that the problem with education in America is not poverty, it is the hopelessness that so often accompanies poverty. That hopelessness and powerlessness also contribute to a cultural devaluation of education on the part of a growing population of Americans; citizens who have become effectively disenfranchised and have given up hope that a quality education can create a better life for their children.

I wish I had done a better job of saying that the problems of poverty and educational failure are not the result of the many subcultures of American society; whether African-American, Hispanic-American, or other ethnic groups.

Why can we not recognize that this cultural diversity is not a weakness of American society but rather a strength that adds rich textures, flavors, sounds, and perspectives to a pluralistic democracy.

Blaming poverty for the problems in education, like blaming culture for the existence of poverty, is convoluted logic that blinds us to pragmatic solutions and is nothing more than an excuse for continuing to make the same mistakes we have been repeating for generations. Until we change this thinking our schools will continue to chew up and spit out huge numbers of American school children.

Even though this cultural devaluation is prevalent in many African-American communities in cities and poor rural communities throughout the U.S., it transcends race and exists anywhere that people have given up hope and no longer believe that they can exert control over the outcomes in their lives.

Poverty and the problems with education in America are symptoms of the same pathology as is the cancerous, cultural devaluation of education. They are all functions of hopelessness and powerlessness. The operative question becomes, “why don’t we attack hopelessness relentlessly.”

In my book, I suggest that education not only provides a barometer with which we can measure the severity of the problem, education also provides our society with the best opportunity to alter this reality. Make no mistake, if we continue to allow the spread of hopelessness it has ominous implications for the future of America. This is particularly true given the emergence of whole new economies that are challenging American supremacy in the dynamic and highly competitive world marketplace of the Twenty-first Century.

We must transform the educational process in America from a system that is focused on failure to one that acknowledges the cavernous disparity with respect to the level of motivation and preparation that young children carry with them on their first day of school. We must have a system that puts teachers in a position to help their students learn how to be successful rather than the current system that sets up huge numbers of children for failure and humiliation. And, then, we wonder why they begin to lose hope that an education provides a pathway to better opportunities.

We must urge Americans of all backgrounds and economic circumstances to believe that we are anything but powerless to change the outcomes that flow from our society’s shortcomings.

Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, offers a blueprint for change that outlines thirty-three specific action strategies for transforming American public education and also for infusing hope and faith in the American dream in the hearts and minds of every American man, woman, and child.

We Must Be Willing to Believe in the Possibilities if We Wish to have Better Outcomes

One of the things that distinguishes positive leaders from the rest of the crowd is the belief in the possibility of things. How many times, when presented with a new idea for solving a problem have you heard the response, “That’ll never work!” “You will never convince them of that.” “Management will never go for something that grand!” “You are biting off more than you can chew!” “You will never get the funding!” “What makes you think they will be willing to listen to you?” “That’s impossible!” “You are spitting in the wind!” You’re dreaming!”

We could go on and on with similar examples of the excuses people use for not trying. Every great idea in the history of the world began in the fertile imagination of an individual human being who looked out at the world with a fresh perspective. A huge percentage of these great ideas were perceived to be impossible by the dreamer’s contemporaries, by the wisest people of their time; by those in power whether a king, emperor, general, or president; by the religious authorities of that time in history, and even by their closest friends and family.

Very often the dreamer was persecuted for his or her revolutionary ideas, ideas often branded as heresy and blasphemy.

Not uncommonly, these history changing ideas were not even spoken or written about, initially, because their proponent underestimated their own ability to make a difference in the world around them. Often, such ideas lay dormant in the deepest recesses of the proponent’s mind until something happened that compelled the individual to act, even in the face of great opposition.

Listen carefully! Whether an idea is big or small, each and every one of us has, within us, the power to ask why not. Each and every human being has far more ability to alter the world around them than they give themselves credit for.

In our case, we are talking about reinventing education in the US. Yes, it is an enormous challenge, but it is well within the scope of possibility. We can move the odds of any given idea from “possible” to “probable” just by expanding the number of people who are willing to open their minds. We can change education in America, if only we will open our hearts and minds to new ways to looking at the educational process; to new ideas.

Think about this for a moment. If we were to decide to start over, to build an educational system from scratch that would do all of the things that we want and need it to do, I can guarantee you it would look entirely different than the way the system looks today.

Begin with this question in your mind. What if there was a way to do things differently that would accomplish all that we want while preserving the integrity of the system and its professionals?

If there is a way, wouldn’t it be worth our time and energy to find out? Is not education sufficiently important to the ongoing welfare of our society that we should leave no stone unturned in our quest for a answer?

Things Positive Leaders Can Do, Part 3 – Spend Time with your Children

This is the third in our series of action strategies for positive leaders. Being a positive leader is a 360 degree responsibility. Every aspect of our lives affects our ability to be a powerful positive leader and if we wish to fully develop our leadership skills we must focus on both our personal and professional lives. This means devoting significant attention to our families and children. Today we are concerned with our relationship with our children. Positive Leaders teach their children how to be positive individuals and how to become Positive Leaders.

Give of yourself to your family. There are very few things in life that can bring as much joy as a happy family. Devote yourself to your family. There are many people in the world who have a limited number of personal possessions but yet experience joy in life because of their family. Put your family at the top of your priority list and make a commitment to family.

Families mean children and our children deserve the absolute best that we have to offer. What our children want and need are not nice things that we can buy for them. There are few possessions that add real meaning to their lives. What our children require are loving, giving, caring, sharing, supportive parents who spend time with them. Parents who pay attention to them, teach them, listen to them, hold out expectations for them, protect them, set boundaries for them, and demand discipline of them. These things are your responsibility. Your children need you to be there for them, to be strong for them. They need the best that you have to offer. Here are just a few things you can do.

Read to your children. Parents who begin reading to their children when they are infants not only establish a pattern of literacy but also create strong emotional bonds. Think about the process of reading to children. It involves spending time with your children in an activity that is emotionally, physically, and intellectually intimate. We hold them on our lap, cuddle up next to them in an easy chair or in bed; we engage their imaginations; the sound of our voice becomes imprinted in their hearts and minds and memories; we share laughter, adventure, and an entire range of emotions.

Play with your children. Get down on the floor and play with them; enter their world. Encourage their imaginations and let them explore new adventures while teaching them that they are safe and secure in your arms. Teach them not to be afraid.

Find time each day. Spend time with your children to make them feel special even if it is only a few moments. Hold them in your lap, have a snack with them, sit down to a meal with them, talk to them. Ask about their day and then truly listen to what they have to say. Take the time to understand the things that are going on in their lives. Teach them that they can share victories and losses, sadness and joy, fears and aspirations with you. Listen empathically. Empathic listening is striving to understand.

Do family things. Go on outings, play games, help with their homework, do house or yard work together, take vacations together. Tell them how special they are and tell them how much you love them. Tell them stories about when they were little. Tell them stories about you when you were a child. Kid around with them and laugh with them, especially when they tease you. Teach them how to laugh at themselves by laughing at yourself.

Give your children the structure of discipline. Set clear guidelines and expectations. Talk about values and about right and wrong. Don’t be afraid to say no and don’t be talked into something you know in your heart isn’t right. If your children throw a tantrum or keep begging for things, be strong for them and stand your ground. Such tantrums truly are a test; they are an attempt on the part of the child to gain control over the situation, inappropriately. Many parents give in to their child during such tantrums because they feel embarrassed that people are watching and passing judgment on them. What young parents do not yet know is that when the rest of us are watching them deal with a child’s acting out, we are not thinking badly of them rather we are thinking, “Been there! Done that!” There is security in clear and definitive boundaries. Your children need you to teach them that they cannot win those types of battles. Teach them how to handle disappointment.

Teach them responsibility. Hold them accountable for their actions. Do not shield your children from the natural consequences of their behavior. Do not bail them out or protect them when they make mistakes, but don’t abandon them either. Teach them how to admit their mistakes and to learn from them. Teach them by example, by honestly admitting your own mistakes. Teach them that mistakes are a natural part of learning, growing, and reaching for ever-higher goals and expectations. Be there for your children. Help them learn that even when they must stand alone that they are never truly alone; that we are with them always, even in their moments of despair.

Set a good example for your children. Lead the kind of life you want them to have. Do not use the “Do as I say, not as I do!” approach. Live your values and explain them along the way. Helping your children observe you living your life provides a far more powerful model than anything you can do or say. If your life is centered around things, if you look for ways to avoid hard work, if your behavior is illegal or immoral, if your values are shallow and superficial; these are the traits your children will emulate. If, however, you embrace life with a positive attitude and spirit, you are providing a model that will sustain them throughout their entire life, long after you are gone.

Get involved with your children. Visit them at school, volunteer to accompany their class on field trips. Participate in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, 4-H, Little League, youth soccer, dance or music classes, etc. Support their teachers and coaches and recognize that these and the other professionals who come into their lives are your partners. The one thing that can most assure a quality education for your child is a full and active partnership between their teachers and parents. Avoid creating scenarios in which your children find themselves in the middle of opposing forces.

Hug your children at every opportunity, both physically and emotionally and don’t stop just because they get to be a certain age. Kiss them and smile at them. Remember that the children who are hardest to love are the ones that need it the most. Remember that hugs, kisses and smiles are life-affirming to both the giver and the receiver. Best of all they cost absolutely nothing. They are free of charge and they are available in infinite quantity.

Avoid the pitfalls of affluence. One of the most difficult things in all of parenthood is to raise your children in affluence. Parents who shower their children with material gifts and possessions, things that have not been earned by their hard work and accomplishment, create an entitlement mentality. Such personalities lead to selfish, empty, and unhappy lives. Teach them that people are more important than things.

Teach your children to give of themselves. It truly is better to give than to receive and there are few things in life that create as much joy as a generous heart. Teach them also that giving of one’s self sometimes requires that we allow others to give to us. Help them learn the art of gracious acceptance of the gifts of others. Help them develop an abundance mentality in which there is always enough to go around. Help them learn that being able to delight in the joys and successes of other people is a precious gift.

Mitigate peer pressure. As your children get older, peer pressure will become a powerful force in their lives and unless you have done your job of preparing your children well, that peer pressure can literally alter the direction of your child’s life. The answer is not transferring your son or daughter to a private school where they can be protected from the world. The answer is to share with them the values they need so that they can live successfully in the real world. Teach them how to socialize with their peers but give them the strength of character they will need to extricate themselves when the group goes too far. Kids in possession of a healthy self-esteem and a clear value system are capable of making good decisions in even the most challenging of circumstances.

Let them do it. Don’t do it for your children if they can do it for themselves. We learn by doing and parents that insist on doing everything for their children only create dependencies. Teach your children to be strong and independent rather than weak and dependent. Remember that spilled milk is easier to clean up than the mess we create when we raise children who cannot stand alone. Also remember that being able to stand alone is not being alone. Once your children learn how to be independent, begin shifting their focus to inter-dependence.

Remember what it was like when you were a child. Do not expect perfection from your children and don’t expect it from yourself. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes with your children, all parents do. But children are remarkably resilient creatures and they will survive your mistakes as long as you do your best to love and cherish them. Remember that, like you, they are a child of Creation, however you choose to view Creation.

Let Teachers Lead Students to Success

Below is a guest column by Ron Flickinger that appeared in the March 10, 2014 edition of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel referencing my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America.

Abandon Current Focus on Failure, let teachers lead students toward success.”

Things You as a Positive Leader Can Do, Part 2 – Be a Better Spouse or Lover!

This is the second in our series of things positive leaders can do to make a difference in world around them and in the lives of the people with whom they interact.

If you desire a better marriage or a better relationship with your spouse or lover be a positive leader and commit to becoming a better spouse or lover; be a better partner in life. Whether you are a man or a woman, your job is to give of yourself; to wish happiness for your partner and then to do whatever you can to make it happen. This is your mission in life, to be a giver rather than a taker. If you give of yourself fully, it is inevitable that your partner will give to you as well.

Be your partner’s best friend. Be his or her cheerleader, moral support, and advocate as well as lover and companion. Take joy in his or her success in life because they are your successes as well. Pull for them to be fulfilled in life and to be self-actualized. Do all these things and your partner will return them in full measure. It may not seem so at first, but by giving of yourself you are enriching your partner’s self-esteem. The healthier your spouse or lover’s ego the more he or she is able to give. Remember that “what goes around, comes around.”

Make your partner feel that they are important and that what they do and say is also important. Listen to them and communicate honestly. Let them know that they can count on you for honest feedback and that they need not be embarrassed because of their imperfections. The more you give and the more you share, the more you shall receive in return.

Give fully of yourself sexually and learn what makes your partner happy. Strive to give them pleasure and you will learn the magical secret of sexual fulfillment. The more you give of yourself the more you receive in return. When both partners strive equally to give the other pleasure, both will joyfully experience one of our Creator’s greatest gifts. The secret of life is, once again, giving. The more we give, the more we receive. It is truly a prescription for life.

When barriers are erected between you and your partner, break them down. Talk to one another no matter how difficult it seems. If you are unable to say it out loud, write a letter. If the barriers loom too large, seek help from a trained professional. Remember that the relationship is more important than anything you possess. It is more important than the house, the cars; it is more important than anything but your self-esteem. Your children are an inherent part of the relationship and not something separate and apart.

The relationship must always enhance the self to be healthy. If, at any time, the relationship seems to require that one partner give up his or her identity then the relationship is unhealthy. Healthy relationships demand the absolute commitment to the well-being of one’s partner. Each must be devoted to the other in this respect. Anything short of this is selfishness and selfishness is the destructive force at the root of much of the trouble in not only our relationships but also in our society.

Yes, there will be inevitable conflicts and differences of opinion. Both partners will have strengths and weaknesses and the sharing will, at times, be unequal. Neither has a right to expect perfection but both have the right to expect the best of one another. When problems arise, do not keep score of who did what to whom or who owes what.

Help each other. Share responsibilities. Talk about the personal goals and expectations of each and divvy up responsibilities according to those goals and expectations. Now that more and more women have careers, it is vital that the partners understand that a team effort is required at home. Both partners must share equally with the responsibilities of childcare and home. Remember that the best marriages and the healthiest children come from marriages that are distinguished by full partnership.

Sharing a life together can be the single greatest joy in life. It is greater than anything money can buy and it is worth any sacrifice. It is the source of strength that can sustain each partner through all of the ups and downs of life and that will allow you to delight in your life, no matter what challenges life brings to bear. When we see what is happening throughout our society, with the divorce rate and the breakup of families, it is a sad thing. It is a symptom of our systemic selfishness. Many men and women make poor decisions when selecting their mate, relying on superficial criteria. Then, we fail to give fully of ourselves in the effort to make the relationship work.

We place our value in things that are, at their core, meaningless. We want nice things: a beautiful house in a prestigious neighborhood, expensive furniture, nice cars, flashy toys, and nice vacations. Some of us consider it imperative that they belong to the most exclusive country clubs. We want all we can get, yet none of these things lead to joy and happiness. They are not inherently bad things but it is the quest for their acquisition that can lead to disillusionment and unhappiness. The only joy in life comes through our relationships with our Creator, however we individually may choose to view the Creation, and our relationships with the people whom we love and cherish. Things have no meaning and a life that has been dominated by the desire for material things is destined for heartbreak.

Rethink your values. Examine the focus of your time and energy. If that focus is on materialism rather than on the people in your life then it is time for a radical realignment. If you refocus that attention on your spouse, your children, your family and friends you will rediscover absolute joy in your life.

A Response to Diane Ravitch Blog Post, Poverty Matters

Poverty Does Matter, but not the way we like to think!

Poverty is important and it does matter, very much, in fact. And no, poverty is not a state of mind; it is a tragic condition in which millions of Americans languish.

Poverty is also an excuse for throwing up our collective hands as if the outcomes are out of our control. It is an excuse for continuing to do the same things we have always done, unquestioningly, convinced we are doing the best we can for the children in our classrooms, under adverse circumstances.

We cry out: “If only Congress would raise minimum wages; change the tax structure to more equitably spread the burden; if only they would find a way to lift the horrible mantle of poverty we could really help these kids.”

And, before you rush to stereotype reformers and their pseudo-counterparts and shut down your minds, I grew up in a low-income family and attended a school that, sixty years ago, was 30 percent black and 50% impoverished. In my first job as a juvenile probation officer I sat across a rickety card table that served as the dinner table for a mother striving to rear 4 children on welfare, drinking coffee while trying to find a way to keep her sons in school and out of the juvenile detention facility.

I sent my own three children to city public schools so they would learn to feel at home in the midst of diversity and not grow up to be elitist, upper-middleclass Americans, out of touch with how so many of our fellow citizens must live.

What I have learned from my own parents and from a lifetime of experience is that it is not poverty that keeps children from succeeding in school. For generations there have been children from the poorest families who have somehow learned how to excel academically; and these were not outliers to be discounted as not relevant to our discussion. Almost without exception there is a characteristic common to all of these youngsters. These children are blessed to have a parent or guardian who somehow still clings to hope that their child can have a better life.

Let’s cling to no illusions about the difficulties these parents face or that such parents are always successful. Sadly, many do fail in spite of the heroic efforts that are made . What matters, however, is that many do not fail and, as a result, their children enjoy some level of academic success.

It is not poverty that keeps children in poverty, it is the hopelessness that so often accompanies poverty. Poverty is, indeed, a very real condition but hopelessness is very much a state of mind. The operative question is why we do not attack hopelessness, ferociously. Hope and expectations are inextricably connected.

As much as I admire and respect public school teachers our public educators, as a whole, whether policy-makers, professors in college departments of education, administrators, or teachers cling to the traditions of an early twentieth century educational process that is woefully inadequate in a twenty-first century world; totally unaware of how what they do contributes to and reinforces the hopelessness of our nation’s disadvantaged.

These educators are blind to the fact that our educational process is focused on failure and sets the most vulnerable of our nation’s children up for failure and humiliation. Is it any wonder that these youngsters grow up to spawn new generations of children with little if any motivation to learn and even less hope for a better life.

For the love of all that is precious in life, can we not abandon our outdated assumptions and biases and open our hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about education in America? If only we will relinquish our obsession with tradition and open our minds to new possibilities we will discover answers that have existed, right in front of us, just beyond the illusory horizon of intransigence.

To you, Diane Ravitch, who for so long has been one of our best and brightest advocates for excellence in education, we need you seek to understand rather than rebut. We need you to think exponentially and to provide a whole new level of leadership in a fresh paradigm.

I am not suggesting that there is a perfect solution to the challenges of education in America; there is no such thing as a perfect solution. With each stride down a new avenue of thinking, however, we will discover new and better ideas and each new answer will lead to whole new sets of questions followed by even more answers and even better ideas.

You know better than any of us that time is of the essence. We must act before those who are rushing to privatize education, place even more reliance on standardized competency examinations, and who want to separate our schools from the communities they exist to serve lead us to disaster.