Part 2 of the Action component of our Strategic Action Plan to Reinvent Public Education – Engaging Parents and the Community


As we shift our focus to the community we must call on our political leaders for leadership, resell the American dream, and to educate all Americans on the paramount role of parents in improving the motivation to learn.


It would be so easy to stop at this point, thinking that our job is finished but, in reality, it has just begun. Education is simply a tool to help us prepare each new generation for the challenges our nation will face in an ever-more competitive world marketplace. It is a marketplace in which it will be impossible for us to compete, effectively, if we do not have the full participation of our entire citizenry. We simply must bring them on board.


As challenging and overwhelming as this may seem it is nothing more than an enormous marketing and advertising campaign to repackage and resell the American Dream. For all of the progress other economies have made with respect to their ability to compete with the U.S. we are still the unparalleled leader in marketing and advertising and we need to capitalize on this strength to re-engage every American to join their fellow citizens in rising to the challenges facing our nation. It is a perfect opportunity for African-Americans and other minorities to assume their rightful place as full partners in the American enterprise and in American society. We simply need to sell them on the idea that the time and the opportunities are prime.


The beauty of education is that nothing we do as a nation reaches into as many homes and as many families as our systems of education and it provides the perfect opportunity to not only transform public education but also to transform American society. It is an initiative in which the leaders of our school districts throughout the nation will be the point persons carrying the message of our political leadership. It is an initiative where our school superintendents and principals will be supported by leaders from government, professional athletics, entertainment, and the full spectrum of businesses. It is an initiative in which every single American man and woman will have a meaningful role to play.


What follows is the blueprint for action in the form of our final fourteen (14) action items.


 Action Item #20 – Our Presidents, present and future, must initiate and sustain a movement to re-sanctify the American dream, calling on leaders at every level of governments and business, and men and women in every community to believe in the American dream with their words and deeds and to ask American parents to accept responsibility for the education of their children. Further, that every American mother and father work hand-in-hand with their children’s teachers as full partners in the educational process. This is the categorical imperative of our time.


 Action Item #21 – Leaders at every level are challenged to ask parents everywhere, irrespective of race or economic circumstances: “Is your son or daughter a future President of the United States?  Is he or she a future CEO, physician, attorney, teacher, engineer, school superintendent, or other professional?” And then, those parents must be challenged to help their children achieve the best success of which they are capable.


  Action Item #22 – Educators accept that the over-riding objective must be to improve the motivation of students and that this requires the active partnership of the parents of those children. Toward this end, school boards need to re-establish expectations for their superintendents and principals to work toward this objective and determine how performance against those expectations will be evaluated.


  Action Item #23 – School Corporations must first target those segments of their community that are the lowest performing but no segment is to be overlooked.


  Action Item #24 – Educators must hit the streets using all available means to draw parents into their children’s schools and to engage those parents in the educational process. They must also work to enlist the assistance of community leaders toward that end and must hold themselves and their staffs accountable for the outcomes.


  Action Item #25 – Educational leaders must engage the creative energies of the entire community, including charitable foundations, for the purpose of developing and evaluating programs to help pull parents in as partners and to help them learn how to be effective in supporting the academic efforts of their children.


  In order to accomplish these objectives our school corporations must re-establish the expectations and priorities of principals and administrators.



  Action Item #26 – Superintendents must remove the administrative burdens from the shoulders of their principals, freeing them to devote their time and energy to their primary objective, even if it means employing more administrative support. Districts must create the expectations that principals and administrators spend 75 percent of their time in direct contact with parents, students, teachers, and staff.


  Action Item #27 – School Corporations must place a premium on positive leadership: Relying on positive leadership skills as the criteria for selection of principals and administrators and making real investments in ongoing leadership development for those principals and administrators.


  Finally, we must identify the communities with the greatest needs and we must use every tool and resource at our disposal to engage those communities and their leaders and to enlist their commitment to make education of our children the over-riding priority of every citizen. We must then replicate that process in each and every community in the nation.



 Action Item #28 – We need to call upon our presidents, present and future, to challenge celebrities from every venue, large and small, to make a commitment to public education by reaching out to their fan bases, asking them to accept responsibility for the education of their children. This challenge must be extended to every adult American, asking them to do whatever is within their power in order to make a difference.


  Action Item #29 – Initiate a cultural transformation using the African-America community as a model, on both a national and local front, in which black Americans, as a community:

  • Accept responsibility for their futures with no reliance on “The Man” to solve their problems for them;
  • Stop blaming the white people for the plight of blacks, whatever one’s opinion about the culpability of white society, simply because blaming others is a debilitating strategy;
  • Place a premium on education;
  • Raise expectations of black children in the classroom and relentlessly encourage our children to exceed those expectations;
  • Work as partners with our local school systems, both public and private, to support the teachers of our children.







 Action Item #30 – Local superintendents should encourage head start and other preschool programs in their school districts to redouble their efforts to pull parents into the process so that our children can continue at home the important work they do at their school.




 Action Item #31 – Superintendents of each district should establish a community advisory organization with representation from key members of each high school’s community: parents, churches, social and community organizations, neighborhood associations, and businesses. As noted earlier, these specific examples are specifically targeted at the African-American community because this is where the most glaring deficiencies can be found but they can easily be modified and local advisory organizations will tailor their activities to the unique requirements of their community. Examples of activities for which this organization will be responsible include:




  •          Reaching out to the community to solicit broad-based participation and support of the community;
  •          Asking all leaders of the African-American community to carry President Obama’s challenge into the homes of their community and to engage the community in the process of creating a new culture; one that challenges black children to assume their rightful place as players in the business and professional playing fields much as they have done in the world of professional athletics and entertainment;
  •          Brainstorming with people from across the spectrum of the community for innovative programs that will create the support systems necessary to facilitate this objective;
  •          Recruiting volunteers from among the ranks of professionals, business executives, craftsmen, tradesmen, athletes, and artists to reach out into the communities with which they have a connection and to connect with parents and students;
  •          Invite each school’s population of parents to a free lunch with their children, once per month;
  •          Using the same creative marketing techniques we use in promoting fundraising ventures, we can invite parents to workshops in the evenings or on Saturdays, to teach them how to help their children with homework;
  •          We can solicit parents to volunteer at their son or daughter’s school and, where necessary, we can enlist some of them to provide babysitting for those who have young children still at home;
  •         We can ask churches, neighborhood library branches, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, scout troops, and many other community programs to provide organized study, reading, and writing groups and to recruit tutors from among their ranks;
  •          We can find more creative ways to develop mentoring programs to bring young people into direct contact with men and women who demonstrate each and every day of their lives that success and achievement are within our power; and,
  • ·         We can ask families and neighbors of parents with school age children to support these parents in this process in every conceivable way.




 Action Item #32 – Successful men and women of each community should be challenged to reach back to their communities: to support the efforts of educators to pull parents in as partners in the educational process and/or to mentor to a child in need until there are not enough children to go around.




 Action Item #33 – Urge all Americans to give support and encouragement to the children in their lives: grandchildren, nieces and nephews, our children’s friends, kids from our neighborhood, even our own children. Let them know how important it is that they do their best and that we are rooting for them.






Fixing public education must be the categorical imperative of our time and the process will require the participation of the entire community. It is essential that parents be full partners in the educational process because these are the men and women who have the best chance of bringing a child to their first day of school, motivated to learn even in the face of the obstacles with which they will surely be confronted. If the child has wandered off the path, teachers and parents working together offer the best hope that these children can be redirected.


Improving the motivation to learn on the part of students and increasing their level of preparedness when they arrive for their first day of school must be the ultimate objective of every single thing we do and we must evaluate the efficacy of every program and investment on the basis of how well it services this purpose. We cannot afford to waste a single moment or dollar on things that do


We must also step back as educators, at all levels, to view our system of public education as an integral whole. We must apply a systems-thinking approach that will allow educators and policymakers to challenge their fundamental assumptions about public education; to understand how what we do contributes to the problem; and, ultimately, to re-engineer the system to do what we need it to do to optimize the power of a child’s motivation to learn. It must be a system focused on success that will help each child progress along their unique path at the best speed of which he or she is capable.


The entire educational community must reach out also to the current and future Presidents of the United States, urging them to fire the starter’s gun and lay down the challenge to every mother and father to accept responsibility for the education of their children and for partnering with their teachers and principals.


These things must be accomplished with an unprecedented urgency because the very future of our way of life is in jeopardy. If we fail to seize up this opportunity then the outcomes we will experience in the coming years will be decidedly unpleasant and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.






Exerpt #5 from Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, from The Introduction

Most Americans are unaware of the poor showing of the American educational system when compared to other nations in the world marketplace, but there does appear to be clear evidence that our children are performing poorly when compared to the children of other nations. This is particularly true of American children in our urban communities. As a result, our public schools are facing scathing criticism as are the educators who struggle to make the system work for our children. The cry goes out that our public schools are failing us and that teachers are to blame. Such claims are, at a minimum, misguided, at their worst a travesty.

In response to mounting pressure from federal and state officials, some school districts have resorted to major housecleaning; terminating teachers and administrators in groups both large and small. In other communities, state departments of public education are placing failing schools on probation and, in some cases, are threatening to take the schools over in an attempt to improve lagging test scores. In Fort Wayne Community Schools, the system to which we will often refer throughout this book, the district gave notices to more than 300 teachers and administrators at the end of the 2010/2011 school year and required them to reapply for their jobs as part of the district’s strategy for an academic shake up.

Such actions are tantamount to blaming soldiers for a war they were asked to fight. These efforts make an insignificant impact on the problem, especially when these schools rehire the same teachers and administrators and then move them to a different building. It does not work because teachers and administrators are only a small part of the problem and, in many cases, are themselves victims of an educational system that is both misdirected and poorly designed to do what we desperately need it to do in this ever-more complicated world.

So, what is the problem with public education in the United States of America? In response to what was meant as a rhetorical question, “What is the matter with these kids?” a middle school teacher with whom I shared a table in a faculty lounge summed up the problem with public education in the United States elegantly and concisely, if not kindly, in six words: “They just don’t give a shit!” And, he spat the words out.

My first response was to laugh. After ten years of substitute teaching, it has become glaringly obvious to me that there was more than a nugget of truth in the observations of this teacher, whose name and school I cannot recall. It is anything but a laughing matter, however.

There are, indeed, students who do care and parents who do support the educational process. The reality, however, is that an alarming percentage of those parents are pulling their children out of our urban public schools and placing them in a variety of private alternatives from parochial, charter schools, or other private schools to home schooling. In many places, state governments are encouraging such transfers through the use of voucher programs that allow the use of tax dollars to subsidize such transfers. Other parents are moving their families out of cities and into suburban and rural public school districts where they believe their children will receive a better education. The sad but compelling fact is that these suburban and rural public schools, and parochial and private alternatives, are out-performing their urban public counterparts on test scores to such a degree that it is difficult to be critical of parents who make such choices. The subsequent consequences with which our urban public school students and teachers must deal as a result of such departures are scary. We will return to this subject later in this chapter. Scarier, still, is that even our better schools are under performing relative to the school systems of other developed nations.

The only places where American students are consistently performing at an exceptional level are in special schools that exist, in small numbers, along the fringes of the mainstream educational system. Readers who have viewed the documentary, Waiting for Superman , were given a glimpse of a few examples of these remarkable little schools. As exciting as their performance might appear, these special little schools are not the answer to the American educational dilemma although they do offer a glimpse of the secret to solving the problem. They are not the solution because they are too few in number and simply cannot be replicated in sufficient numbers to solve the problem for the other ninety-nine percent of our nation’s student population. More importantly, they are not the solution because we have not made the effort to fully understand the reasons for their success. Instead, we stumble along in search of answers, blinded by our assumptions.

The leaders and advocates of such special schools suggest that their success can be attributed to two key factors. The first, these advocates suggest, is that these programs enjoy the luxury of being able to recruit exemplary teachers; the proverbial cream of the crop. The second is that, because these schools exist outside of the formal educational system, they are constrained by neither the bureaucracy of the public school system nor the power of teacher unions. Absent these constraints, according to their administrators, these schools are able to develop innovative curricula and place their exemplary teachers in exceptionally conducive environments, allowing them to do extraordinary things.

The freedom to do things differently and to break away from conventional wisdom creates a tremendous advantage for these schools and their students and mainstream educational policy makers and administrators must learn from their example. What we often ignore is that the most important advantage enjoyed by these special schools, we believe, is that the student populations of these schools are made up almost entirely of children whose parents are fiercely determined to see that their sons and daughters will get the best possible education.

Whether they are black, white, rich, poor, come from intact or fractured families is inconsequential. These parents took extraordinary action to get their children into these special schools, sometimes agonizing through a lottery process before their children are even accepted, and they are fully on board as partners in the educational process. It is from this fierce passion on the part of parents that students derive a powerful motivation to learn. When motivated students are supported by a sustained and active partnership between parents and educators, truly remarkable things happen. When combined with exemplary teachers utilizing innovative curricula and instructional methodology what takes place could be described as magical.

One would think it should be glaringly obvious that committed parents and their motivated sons and daughters are an essential ingredient in successful schools, wherever we find them, but the overwhelming majority of American educators and policy makers are so caught up in their daily challenges and so blinded by their preconceptions that they fail to see it.

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.

Review of “Reign of Error,” by Diane Ravitch, Chapter 4

[My apologies to my readers for the delay in fulfilling my commitment to review Reign of Error, by Diane Ravitch, chapter by chapter. My holidays were sandwiched by bouts of illness that played havoc with all of my efforts to achieve a long list of goals and objectives.]

Ravitch notes that students of forty to fifty years ago did not get the “high quality of education that is now typical in public schools with Advanced Placement courses or International Baccalaureate programs or even in regular courses offered in our top city and suburban schools.” She goes on to note the increase in special needs students, students that do not speak English, and children who from troubled families. . . . “

Ravitch is correct that the world has changed and I have no doubt that the schools of fifties and sixties would never be able to respond to the challenges with which present day public schools must contend.

In response to the claim of critics who say that our public schools are in decline, Ravitch notes “there is a tendency to hark back . . . to the mythical good old days. But few people realize that there was never a time when everyone succeeded in school.

She continues, “. . . corporate reformers insist that the public schools are in an unprecedented crisis. They tell us that children must be able to ‘escape’ their ‘failing public schools.’ They claim they are “for the children,’ unlike their teachers, who are not for the children.”

In almost all of this, Ravitch is absolutely correct and we concur with her that all of the things these reformers say they want to do for our children are based upon a flawed understanding of what is really happening within our schools. The contention of these reformers that they possess some magical insight and tools and resources that will transform our schools is blatantly false and the unbridled enthusiasm and zeal with which they will rush forward will not change the reality that they are simply wrong. What is very clear, and I concur with Ravitch. is that these reformers can do great harm to our children and to our communities.

The reformers are correct, however, when they say that our “public schools are in an unprecedented crisis.” Here it is Ravitch who is wrong and the enthusiasm and the zeal with which she counters these reformers will not change this reality. Her powerful advocacy also masks the reality that our current schools, policy makers, administrators, and teachers have no more clue what must be done to salvage education in America than do the reformers.

While “corporate reformers play to our anxieties” in claiming that our society and future is at risk, Ravitch and her supporters, which includes the overwhelming majority of public school educators, play to our defensive mechanisms and our blind prejudices. They fight the battle in much the same way opponents of healthcare reform do when these ardent advocates cite the “dangers of socialized medicine” with the full knowledge that mainstream Americans will salivate, in response, with Pavlovian predictability.

While the reformers “scare us with warnings of dire peril [and] mask their agenda with rhetoric that is soothing and deceptive” according to Ravitch, “preservers of the status quo” lull us with the soothing and deceptive elixir of “traditions and stability.”

Let us not, however, be too critical of Ravitch who details, in point after salient point, the fallacy of the reformers agendas. She is so very right in so many cases that one almost feels disloyal to challenge the other half of her argument.

Here are just a few:

“When they speak of ‘reform’ what they really mean is deregulation and privatization.

    Ravitch is correct.

When they speak of ‘accountability’ what they really mean is rigid reliance on standardized testing as both means and the end of education.

    Ravitch is correct.

When they speak of ‘effective teachers’ what they mean is teachers whose students produce higher scores on standardized tests. . . not teachers who inspire their students to love learning.

    Ravitch is correct.

When they speak of ‘innovation’ they mean replacing teachers with technology to cut staffing costs. Here Ravitch is incorrect in defending the assertion that innovations utilizing technology pose a threat to the teaching profession.

    This plays on the fears and misconception on the part of teachers who struggle to envision that such technology can, if properly designed, empower them to do more for their students. Such technological advancements arm educators with powerful tools. The reader is reminded to think about how smartphones have empowered Twenty-First Century people, allowing them to do so much more with less effort.

When they speak of ‘no excuses’ they mean a boot-camp culture. . . .

    Again Ravitch is incorrect. While a few of the most ardent advocates may envision a “boot-camp culture,” most are addressing the compelling need to rid American classrooms of disruptive behavior that diminishes the quality of the classroom experience as well as the quality of the outcomes. This can be accomplished without resorting to drill instructor tactics.

When they speak of ‘personalized instruction,’ they mean putting children in front of computers with algorithms that supposedly adjust content and test questions to the ability level of the student but actually sacrifice human contact with a real teacher.

    As noted above, Ravitch demonstrates her own inability to envision a utilization of technology that can actually enhances the interface between teachers and students because they are not distracted by activity that that eats up valuable time while contributing no instructional value. If one of our most accomplished advocates for quality education cannot open her mind to new possibilities, how can we expect open-mindedness from the men and women who must stand at the head of our classrooms?

When they speak of ‘achievement’ or ‘performance’ they mean higher scores on standardized tests.

    Here Ravitch is correct even though the problem is with standardized test scores and not with ever-rising expectations, the performance against which can be measured in any number of creative and positive ways if we arm teachers with the right tools.

When they speak of ‘data-driven instruction,’ they mean that test scores and graduation rates should be the primary determinant of what is best for children and schools.

    Ravitch has a point but, oddly, relies on test scores and graduation rates to support her own argument that school performance is improving.

When they speak of ‘competition,’ they mean deregulated charters and deregulated private schools.

    Once again, Ravitch is correct, up to a point. Sadly, the advocates of privatization do envision that competition will result in a clear delineation between schools that are effective and those that are not. What is odd, is that traditional educational practices are set up in a way that students must compete with their classmates, to the great disadvantage of the majority of American public school students and most educators, apparently Ravitch included, seem oblivious to the fact.

When they speak of ‘a successful school,’ they refer only to its test scores, not to a school that is the center of its community, with a great orchestra, an enthusiastic chorus, a hardworking chess team, a thriving robotics program, or teachers who have dedicated their lives to helping students with the highest needs (and often the lowest scores).

    Ravitch is correct.

The reformers define the purpose of education as preparation for global competitiveness, higher education, or the workforce. They view students as ‘human capital’ or ‘assets.’ One seldom sees any reference in their literature or public declarations to the importance of developing full persons to assume the responsibilities of citizenship.

    While Ravitch is correct that the “reformers” to whom she refers may seem to be placing too much emphasis on students as a “resource-in-development” for American producers of goods and services, traditionalists seem oblivious to the reality that American society, including the commercial segment, is the end customer of our schools. Schools would do well to be more cognizant of the importance of one’s customer. The reality is that while standardized test scores may be a poor assessment of student performance, employers that depend on our young people to be able to read, apply mathematical and scientific principles competently, and write coherent sentences are the ultimate judges of the performance of our educational systems.

Of equal importance are the topics that corporate reformers don’t talk about. Seldom do they protest budget cuts, no matter how massive they may be. They do not complain when governors and legislatures cut billions from the public schools while claiming to be reformers. They do not protest rising rates of child poverty. They do not complain about racial segregation. They see no harm in devoting more time and resources to standardized testing. They do not complain when federal or state or city officials announce plans to test children in kindergarten or even prekindergarten. They do not complain about increased class size. They do not object to scripted curricula or teachers’ loss of professional autonomy. They do not object when experienced teachers are replaced by recruits who have only a few weeks training. They close their eyes to evidence that charters enroll disproportionately small numbers of children with disabilities, or those from troubled homes, or English-language learners (in fact, they typically deny any such disparities, even when documented by state and federal data). They do not complain when for-profit corporations run charter schools or when educational services are outsourced to for-profit businesses. Indeed, they welcome entrepreneurs into the reform community as investors and partners.

    While Ravitch’s criticisms, here, are fair overall; she misrepresents the value, or lack thereof, of testing children in Kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. The advocacy of such testing, at least on the part people like myself, is not to judge the effectiveness of early educational programs and teachers, rather it is to assess the level of preparedness of children as they approach their first day of school and to help the school prepare an appropriate and unique educational plan for each child.

While Ravitch is often right, she paints everyone who wants to challenge conventional wisdom into the same corner and suddenly the word ‘reform’ takes on the same pejorative connotations as socialized medicine in the context of healthcare reform and triggers a shutdown of the minds of the majority of Americans educators and taxpayers.

Ravitch writes:

The central theme of this movement is that public schools are in decline. But this is not true. The public schools are working very well for most students. Contrary to popular myths, the scores on the no-stakes federal tests—the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—are at an all-time high for students who are white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. Graduation rates are also at an all-time high.

This may be the most inexplicable of Ravitch’s statements. In our review of Chapter 5 of her Reign of Error we will examine her analysis of test scores and challenge many of the conclusions she draws from her own evidence.

America: A Leadership Crisis of Great Urgency!

During the recent crisis with Syria, the Russian government as stepped up to offer a solution. What was most interesting was that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, chided the U.S., in response to a statement by President Obama, noting that “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

However much we might resent Putin’s audacity to say such a thing, maybe we need to stop and think about the possibility that he could be correct.

Any illusions we might have had regarding the invulnerability of the United States as the richest and most powerful nation in the world were surely shattered in the wake of Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade our nation’s credit rating in 2011. Our inability to dictate our political and military will in the Middle East and the blatant hatred demonstrated by the people who have attacked our Embassies are examples of a recurring theme that challenges our nation’s belief in itself as somehow special.

Maybe it is time for the American people to step back and take stock of who we are and how rate when compared to other developed and developing nations in the world.

The U.S. national debt is measured in trillions of dollars, with China, the single greatest challenge to our economic supremacy, our largest creditor. Our ability to compete in the world marketplace over the next half-century is dependent on the quality of the American workforce, which, itself, is powered by the American educational system. According to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.[1] That China ranks first in all three areas should strike fear, if not outright panic, in every American heart.

We are in the midst of a crisis of historic proportions in which our way of life as a people is in jeopardy. It is a crisis that cries out for positive leadership and yet our elected leaders in Washington stomp around like spoiled and stubborn children who have yet to learn how to work and play with others.

The challenges facing our nation and its people are immense. Whether our burdensome debt; an economy that is only a shadow of its former self; a natural environment that seems to be stumbling under the weight of a burgeoning population that fouls the very air that we breathe and the water we drink; a system of public education that is laden with failure; a health care system that fails to meet the needs of nearly a full third of its citizens, we place our future in jeopardy unless we meet these challenges.

We use oil, a diminishing natural resource, to fuel our demand for energy even though the future will belong to the first nation to develop reliable, alternate sources of energy whether solar, hydrogen, or nuclear fusion. Worse, we are dependent on foreign suppliers of oil that are friendly to us only as long as we are able to pay.

We are a people who have forgotten that the historical strength of our democracy has always been our rich diversity as a people living together, in harmony, under the rule of law. Today we govern ourselves with a two-party system in which loyal opposition has given way to enmity and distrust to such an extent that each side feels the other is out to destroy America.

We must understand that the problems of the Twenty-first Century are of such magnitude that the politics of the past are no longer adequate to meet our needs. We must find fresh solutions that satisfy the needs of the masses on the one hand and that foster a strong economy on the other. We need the kind of leadership that will demand that its people replace a rampant entitlement mentality with an abundance mentality centered on the belief that there is enough for everyone as long as each citizen is willing to give one hundred percent of themselves through hard work and participatory citizenship.

We need leadership that understands that we cannot preserve our nation’s status as the richest and most powerful nation in the world just because we think it is our right and privilege.

We are like a baseball or football team that has been in first place for so long we have forgotten what it took to rise to the top and we have become complacent. Right now, people of other nations, with China and Russia leading the way, are working hard to challenge our nation’s status. Just as importantly, the children of China and other nations are working hard to gain what they believe is an educational advantage that will seal the deal for their people and economy in the Twenty-first Century and beyond. That they are outperforming American children by a wide margin is simply unacceptable and we must answer the bell.

It is unreasonable to think that one nation will be able to dominate the future the way America has dominated the past but if we want a place at the head table, we have to elevate our game. To do so, we must reunite as a people and demand the best from ourselves, from our fellow Americans, from our children, and from our political leadership. We can ill afford to waste a minute let alone a generation.

Stand up, toe the mark, and get moving while we can still see the coat tails of our competitors. We need positive leadership and it must start with each and every one of us. That means me and it means you!

Tsunami of Challenges in the Twenty-first Century

Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, North Korea, and now Syria! The international crises seem to be flying at us like a swarm of bees while, at home, the U.S. struggles to maintain its unity and cohesiveness as a democratic society. Simultaneously, the dynamics of the world marketplace are making it more and more difficult for the U.S. to compete.

We should have no illusions that these are anything other than the leading edge of a political, economic, environmental and cultural tsunami that will sweep the globe in this Twenty-first Century. This new century will challenge the U.S. as it has never been challenged since the Civil War, and our lack of preparedness will place the very future of United States and our way of life in grave jeopardy.

Just as we must think exponentially to find new solutions for the cultural, political, economic and ecological challenges on the domestic stage we must also find new solutions for the crises on the international level. We need solutions that will unite the world’s developed and developing nations rather than worn out strategies from the past that divide even our most loyal allies.

These challenges on both the domestic and international arena pose a danger to the U.S. that is every bit as menacing as World War II. Somehow we must come together as a people, across all spectrums of our society and in all of our diversity in the face of this unprecedented danger, much like we came together in the face of the Axis powers of the Great War.

We now look back at those times and we have anointed the people of the 1940s as the Greatest Generation. Somehow Americans of the early Twenty-first Century must rise to an even higher level of greatness. If we fail to do so, the future that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will face will be a time of great suffering and tragedy and there will be no way for them to undo the damage we have done.

The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership

(The opening segment of the author’s book of the same title, now available as a Kindle book at

Are you happy with your job and with your career? Are you proud of your company and the people with whom you work? Do you feel like yours is a dead end job? Do you wish you worked somewhere exciting and challenging? Do you wonder if a break will ever come your way?

Do your supervisors respect you and recognize your efforts and contributions? Do they listen to you and ask for your input in tough situations? Do they give you the respect you feel you deserve? If you are a supervisor, how would your employees answer these questions about you?

Are you happy with your marriage? Is your spouse the kind of supportive partner you would like to have? Are your children turning out the way you hoped? Are your friends everything you want good friends to be?

Are you concerned about the direction in which our country is heading? Are you troubled by our nation’s economic competitiveness in the world marketplace? Do you worry about the bureaucratic ineffectiveness of our government? Does the moral fiber of our society appear to be unraveling? Do you think our systems of education are adequately preparing our children for the future? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood at all hours of the day?

Do the myriad of problems confronting our society leave you feeling discouraged and helpless? If you are like millions of other men and women, discouraged and helpless is exactly how you feel but listen closely. The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership is a message of hope.

The premise of this work is that there is much that we, as individuals, can do that will have an impact on the problems facing us in our personal lives, as a nation, and as citizens of the world community. The problems we face as a society, as we proceed through the Twenty-First Century, are functions of the quality of leadership of our human organizations.

Our message is simple. These problems, in all of their diversity and complexity, can be resolved thereby improving the quality of life for all human beings. Today’s problems will be replaced by new problems, to be sure, but these, too, have solutions. In each case, solutions flow from effective leadership. What is new about this idea is the definition we assign to leadership and how far we spread its mantle.

Positive leadership is a special kind of leadership that gives individual men and women incredible power to bring about positive change and to make a difference right now, right where you are, at this moment in time!

Now is the best time to impact your organization and the job or role you now occupy is the right place to do it!

Many people put things off, waiting for the right or perfect time and place. Just as there are no perfect solutions, there is no perfect time and place. There is no time or place other than here and now. Do it now or, as they say in the athletic shoe commercial, “Just Do It!”

Now is always the best time for taking action and, the best opportunities are not the ones that fall into your lap but the ones you make for yourself. Do not delay another hour; begin anew. Start doing things differently. Take Zig Ziglar’s advice:

“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’, you’re gonna keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’.”

Initiate changes in your life and in your approach to your duties, responsibilities, and your relationships and the world will begin to change in response. However small, even insignificant these changes may appear, they matter and they are the direct result of your leadership.

Be a positive leader in the same sense that you want the changes to be positive for everyone, whenever possible. Be concerned about values and begin thinking about the organization or community as a whole. Whatever the organizations of which you are a part, think about their purpose or mission and how you can best contribute to them. As you become more comfortable with your role as a leader, you will begin to see abundant opportunities to make an impact or to bring about change. You will recognize multiple opportunities for action; opportunities that have always existed but were imperceptible to you before you began to view yourself as a positive leader.
How great the impact and how grand the changes you can facilitate—how far-reaching your leadership can be—is limited by your talents and abilities but these boundaries are not nearly as confining as you imagine. It is like sitting in the middle of an unknown body of water where you see nothing but water on the horizon, in any direction. You don’t know whether you are in Lake Erie or the Pacific Ocean and until you strike out, using all of your talents and abilities, you will never know the answer to such questions.

Your leadership potential is also limited by other factors. Things like commitment, dedication, courage, faith, work ethic, persistence, etc., and these are things over which you have enormous control. The number of human beings in the world today who extend themselves to the full limit of their talents and abilities would probably not fill a large arena. For the overwhelming majority of us, the things that constrain us are things that we control, whether we know it or not.

Being an action leader means you are willing to pay the price for success. It means a willingness to work long hours, make personal sacrifices, delay material gratification, and forego leisure and social activities. Whatever it takes, you are willing to give. This takes real courage because, in our society, inordinate value is placed on working as few hours as possible; on reaching a point where sacrifices are unnecessary; where material wealth is abundant; and, where leisure time is paramount. To give these things up for a goal or objective no one else can see is an act of heroism and the world needs all the heroes it can get.