College should be the path to, not the end of a good life…


“Baruch College student plunges to his death during finals week: The student’s body was found Monday on a fourth-floor landing at the school’s Lawrence and Eris Field Building … A 20-year-old Baruch College student jumped to his death Monday — the start of finals week, authorities said….” NY Daily News

I suspect that we don’t know all of the facts of this particular situation, and we may never know. However, what we do know is that some “uncounted” number of high school graduates each year, walk across a stage at graduation; and walk onto the next stage of a promising career; and then something goes terribly wrong. As a former principal I have heard a lot of stories from graduates that fortunately are not tragic, and yet they were problematic, i.e. the roommate, dormitory and/or college from hell. But these problems, as disturbing and disruptive as they may be, don’t come anywhere close to the many stories I read each year about incidents on college campuses that involve theft, violence and death. Imagine the understandable good feelings of parents and family members who are under the belief that the “battle is being won”, because of their child’s acceptance into a college or university. And then imagine the opposite feelings of sadness and despair when they receive notification that their child is dead or seriously injured due to a suicide attempt, assault by a room/dorm/school mate, or they are the victim of a mass campus shooting. A best kept quiet truth is that every year students arrive on a college campus somewhere in the US, and then are assaulted (sexual and otherwise); illegally and improperly “hazed” by a school sanctioned organization; and either fail or succeed at suicide. Society wonders why, because these young people are supposedly the “winners” in the career lottery of life. But the situation is much more complex and institutions should take this problem on in an operational and programmatic way; or be forced to do so by congress. First, lets talk about who is arriving each year on our college campuses. In most cases these are very young people (most 16-19) who have spent their entire lives in the protective nest of the family home. For most, going away to college is perhaps their first experience with “independent living”; unfortunately they arrive with a wide range of preparation for that experience based on the quality of a family and/or high school “transition training” education. This approach is too arbitrary and inconsistent; high schools should create a national “standard” for a “mini-course” titled: “Transitioning into college life”. This course could use case studies and vignettes that will allow “myths”, “misconceptions” and “misunderstandings” about college life be presented to students. This class could also serve as a “safe-space” that would allow these 12th graders to ask questions “they always wanted to ask, but were afraid to do so”. The colleges can require a parallel course on their end; that would of course talk about the campus activities, but would also serve to connect students with a “counseling cohort” assigned to an adult who will keep weekly one on one eyes and ears (talking) on the student. Professors must also be professionally trained to identify and report to counseling personnel, behaviors, writings and, comments that would suggest that the student is having feelings of isolation, is academically overwhelmed, and possibly emotionally depressed. I understand that one of the educational objectives of a college life is: “Transition to adult practices and responsibilities”; but a little scaffolding is needed here, and that transition should not be a gamble or a walk over a field loaded with emotional mines; psychological roadblocks that would cause the student to either hurt themselves or others. We sometimes forget how young these folks really are! And so, we need to expand (and in most cases introduce) serious counseling programs at our colleges and universities. “Orientation like” programs are good; but I would expand the concept of orientation to a: “healthy mental adjustment program” that can’t be done in a large group/classroom setting. A student should have an adult who will listen to their anxieties and concerns about the new life they are about to undertake. Again, they are in many different stages of “exiting out” of teenhood; the institution should serve as a positive guide to insure that the process and path taken is the most productive. Parents (I know, this sounds a lot like my middle school parents “speech” !) don’t abdicate your role; you should continue to check on your child; have an honest and supportive avenue of communication; while at the same time allow them to grow in independence. Often times, an “experienced mind” can ask the right questions; and the answers to those questions can save a lot of grief, and perhaps a life.

The HBCU’s have for so many years created and maintained a model of professors, staff and administrators being more than facilitators, instructors of subjects and content. It was so inspiring to spend a day recently on the campus of Miles College in Alabama and see the “parental” interaction of the faculty and staff with and on behalf of the students; including the president of the college! The antidote to student against student violence on campus; against students harming themselves and others, is that someone, and some ones are connected to that student in a sincere, caring and authentic way. Some may say (and they are probably correct); that the young person of color who is not on a college campus may in fact be in greater danger of self-inflicted or other acts of violence; but statistics is no consolation to a family who has lost a child; and it is definitely not a rational for society not giving the solving of this problem our best efforts. College should be an important and exciting step toward a positive, rewarding and productive adult life; but it should not be a step into the abyss of danger, destruction and despair.

Boko Haram: The real sin is not “western education”; it is, no education


Ok, you lost me with the name of your organization: Boko Haram or “Western Education is Sinful” (and kidnapping innocent school girls is not?) Do these fellows (obviously lacking a sound history education themselves) realize that a great deal of what is characterized as “western education”, in fact, has in its roots in Asian, African, and particularly in science and mathematics, in Islamic historical scholarly work (hint: the word “Algebra”)? One is really forced to wonder about any movement that has as its primary “mission statement” the hindering and ending of learning. What are they so afraid that these young ladies and other young people in Nigeria might gain from being exposed to education, so-called western or otherwise? I remember many years ago my first reading of Ray Bradbury’s: Fahrenheit 451. As a lover of books and reading I was scared out of my seat (I guess the authors intent) by my reading of a fictional society that prohibited the reading of books as harmful to the “common good”. And to this day I have an “instinctual” resistance to any type of book banning; and that would included books that I find personally offensive. If education, learning, knowledge and thinking is the antidote then what is the disease? The disease is: “that you believe what I say and exactly as I say it” Boko Haram greatest fear is not other religions, Nigeria’s economic system, TV, social media or the “great satan”. Boko Haram greatest fear is the power of thinking- analytical, inquisitive and creative, on the part of Nigerian children. And in a strange and twisted way; their actions, more than “western education”, will distort and discourage a genuine interest in their religion. Christianity has been at its worst when it tried to oppose and suppress science and knowledge (I still cringe when I see exhibits from that “Christian natural museum”, of humans and dinosaurs running together). And in our own U.S. history, the slave owners thought it wise to discourage through legislation and violence, the simple act of a slave learning to read. Reading assisted in escape and rebellion planning; it prevented “free-persons” from having a secret written code. But the slave-owners greatest fear; and here they share the theory stage with Boko Haram; is the awareness that reading and learning changes a person, perhaps forever; and renders them unsuitable for slavery, oppression, domination and exploitation. The power of reading and learning suggest to the reader and learner that more than anything else they are full human beings. It is no wonder then, that Boko Haram is now threatening to “sell the girls”; as they have been removed from their status as students, as humans. I only wonder if Boko Haram is not completely crazy; for some how they knew that if they kidnapped 200+ Nigerian girls, the world would not use every effort and resource available to track down every one of the kidnappers; and execute an immediate death sentence; as a western educational lesson as to why they should never think about doing something like this again.

Note to a Disappointed and Discouraged Educator: Education is Our Metaphor and Our Path to Meaning….


(If things are not hard, then they are easy; and easy never produces anything worthwhile:-)

Dear ________________,

A lesson learned from a bad person or a bad experience; is different from a lesson delivered badly. Truth cannot always be a pleasant experience…. But, it is always an education. People (even in bad ways) are always teaching us; and we should always be in a posture of learning. After an unpleasant experience the question is: “What is the lesson that is to be learned here?” Education may be our chosen profession; but it is also the metaphor for our lives. When I think of Moses, Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, Paul and ultimately Jesus; I think of them in a teaching context. But I also see everyone, at every moment teaching, something. We are teaching in our response to good times; but equally, and just as important, teaching in our response to times of difficulty. Teaching and learning styles are clues to a person’s character; a clue to what they love and fear. Most people “teach” out of a feeling of inadequacy, anger and spiritual incompleteness; it is in a real sense, a lesson in fear. We often must serve as the recipients of real, or perceived past hurts. And for this reason that we should never take their words personally; we are in fact “props” in their tragic life drama. Education is synonymous with growth; of being in a new (perhaps scary), and better place. Education is about learning something you did not know. Learning to master something that previously made you afraid. A challenge to what you believed to be solidly true. To understand something (or someone) that represented a mystery to you. To acquire the skills that would allow one to create the possibility and opportunity of living an authentic and honest spiritual life. Knowing is better than not knowing; ignorance is neither blissful nor helpful in living a full and meaningful life. (The grossly ignorant will loudly and incorrectly proclaim the opposite). But the experience of living in a truth is always better than living in a lie. Ultimately you want to know how people truly feel; how far are they willing to go in service to your well being; how far they will go to hurt you. This may sound strange; (and it came to me after we spoke) but this time is a time of spiritual growth; I know it does not feel like anything good; but it very much is for your good. You are surprised by a response; (“How did I deserve that?”) but truth will emerge from the most untruthful and unexpected places. There is a boldness in wrong thinking and doing that forces it to reveal its true self in spite of the desire of the host to hide bad intentions. Isolation can be insulation against evil intentions. Revolting words can be a revelation to open a door of wonderful expectations. You can learn (and this is the best way) from the mistakes and missteps of others; and of course your own mistakes and missteps. But learning, being educated as to the true state of affairs; as to the true intentions of others; as to who you can really count on in times of difficulty; is not as bad as it feels; in fact it is as good as it can get in this life long school of life. Stay convinced, stay calm, stay confident in the will and work of the Master Teacher of the universe; the good teacher sacrifices for the good of the student (even if that sacrifice is misunderstood or underappreciated); is never robbed by the success of the student, and in fact rejoices in their learning; model this great and wonderful teaching style; and forever stay in that divine teaching-learning moment.