The Lost Art of Connecting Dots: Part Thirteen

Sometimes you run across things so obvious they beggar belief. It’s as if your brain freezes, as if you can’t trust your own senses to see what’s happening, to attribute cause and effect, and to react angrily, determinedly, and constructively. To illustrate the point, I offer two exhibits.

Exhibit A is this article from PsychCentral — “Schools Fail to Educate at Least 30 Percent of Our Students” — which says this, in part:

Most of the urban and rural students, primarily from families below the poverty level, are not getting even a rudimentary education … the U.S. has a 30 percent rate of students failing to graduate high school … in urban settings typically 50 to 70 percent of the students fail to graduate … What needs to be done is quite clear … take power away from the unions and ineffective school boards; require longer school days and longer school years; eliminate tenure for teachers and offer merit pay to the best teachers; fire those who can’t teach effectively; certify teachers without degrees in education but who demonstrate the ability to teach effectively (which also increases the percentage of minority teachers for schools dominated by minority students); fire principals whose schools are ineffective; fund charter schools; and offer school choice. So the path to success is known. But it is blocked by a recalcitrant bureaucracy and a stubborn teachers union that prefers the status quo.

Please take note of these excerpts from that citation:

  • Take power away from the unions and ineffective school boards.
  • Require longer school days and longer school years.
  • Eliminate tenure for teachers and offer merit pay to the best teachers.
  • Fire those who can’t teach effectively.
  • Certify teachers without degrees in education but who demonstrate the ability to teach effectively.
  • Fire principals whose schools are ineffective.
  • Fund charter schools.
  • Offer school choice.

Are we going to do any of those things? Are we going to insist — demand — that any of those things be done by our duly elected representatives? Would they do any of those things, even if we demanded them? Hell, no.

But here’s what we are going to do: We’re going to put the power of the federal government behind every effort to maintain the status quo. We’re going to mobilize the Office of the Attorney General of the United States and the Department of Justice to protect and defend the teachers who’ve unionized to ensure their ability to do what they want, when they want to do it. We’re going to bring the Fed down on parents and other concerned people who care about more about the educations their children aren’t getting more than they care about the ideological, politically popular, special-interest brainwashing their children are getting. We’re going to shut them up, shut them down, and prevent them from speaking up in their own interests. And Uncle Sam will carry the big stick.

I’m sorry. What’s that? You think I’m blowing smoke or exaggerating? Oh. In that case, I invite you to get a load of Exhibit B:

Two expressions come immediately to mind. The first — in a corollary to the admonition, “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied” — is earnestly, piously, and consistently uttered by all politicians who don’t want us to understand what their real motivations are. Those motivations are power, control, votes, and the political careers the Constitution recommends against their having. And what they always say is, “It’s for the children.” Bullshit.

The second expression is desperately, hopelessly, resignedly, and ignorantly uttered by all of those who don’t care what’s going on, don’t want to know what’s going on, feel powerless to change what’s going on or — worst of all — approve of what’s going on. And what they always say is, “It couldn’t happen here.” Bullshit.

It is happening here, kids. And we’re letting it happen.

That knocking sound you hear is the Piper. He’s pissed. And he really wants to be paid.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Mark — I don’t disagree with the shifts PsychCentral is advocating, but after being in the business of education for 50 years, I can tell you that those changes will have this amount of impact:


    They’re not the real cause of our educational malaise. They may exacerbate the situation, but they’re a little like looking at someone who is overweight and saying “Hey, you need to exercise more,” or “You need to stop eating chocolate.” They might have incremental impact – and I mean minuscule impact – but they don’t deal with the root causes. Here are three factors that would move the dial.

    1. We don’t know what we’re trying to achieve on behalf of the kids we’re teaching. We’re locked in a structure that is more than one hundred years old – physical structure such as rows, bells, grouping by age and aged-old courses – and we’re expecting that structure to suffice for the 21st century problems we’re facing. Local entities need to have a serious discussion that answers these two questions (1) “What do we expect our kids to know and be able to do with their knowledge in new, unrehearsed situations when they walk across the high school stage to get their diplomas?” And just as important, if not more important (2) “Who do we want them to be as people? What qualities do we want them to demonstrate with others?” If locally controlled districts/schools* seriously discussed these questions, most would be forced to realize “Holy shit, why are we doing what we’re currently doing?” Btw, many charter schools respond to these questions in their applications. Here’s an example of an educator who gets it:

    * Get the Federal and State Governments, for the most part, out of education. Put the responsibility on local control. Perform or else.

    And related, oy, the incessant testing to see what fragments of knowledge kids know vs helping them to develop critical thinking. (For example, God forbid we let kids study and debate CRT!)

    2. Recognize that a substantial percentage of kids (estimates are as high as 40+%) are going through the schoolhouse doors having experienced one or more “adverse childhood experiences.” Neurologically, the resulting trauma makes it almost impossible for students to learn because they are not in a safe emotional space. (Don’t take my word for it. Ask Dr. Hughes!) This is not as simple as “Oh, just toughen up.” Kids who have experienced a large number of ACEs and the resulting trauma simply cannot access their pre-frontal cortex where executive functions and learning take place. Here’s the extended problem: most teachers are not trained to recognize student trauma and don’t have any training on how to deal with it other than to send the child to a school social worker or psychologists. And due to budget woes, well, you can fill in the rest of this sentence.

    3. Most universities/colleges are still churning out teachers who are well-versed in traditional content and skills, but lack the fundamentals for dealing with kids as kids. School districts across the country spend BILLIONS of dollars a year to retrain teachers and administrators in such basics as emotional intelligence, mindfulness and other interpersonal skills that would help them approach learners differently and prepare kids for 21st century work. Bottom line: schools and higher ed need to be much more collaborative in how they are supporting instruction and learning. They need to structure defined partnerships so that kids have a reasonable and structured pathway for themselves matriculating to higher ed or C&T. Some school districts and higher ed institutions get that:

    So, Mark, there are dots and there are dots. I’m no fans of what unions have become, but as a teacher I experienced firsthand how abusive administration and school boards could be. That said, they are not the real cause of our educational woes.

    Happy to discuss further.

    • Jeff, as they say in the old Bud Light commercial, I love you, man. Here are the ways in which I agree with you:

      1, The federal government has no interest in what we should be trying to achieve on behalf of the kids we’re teaching. The fed is interested in the constituencies from which it gets votes and money (hello, unions) and in preserving the raison d’etre of every bureaucracy — to sustain itself, to grow, and to maximize its power and control.

      2. Granted. There will be no perfect system to mitigate and ameliorate ACEs. The only certainty is that relinquishing control to the government is the worst of all our options.

      3. Most universities/colleges may be churning out teachers who are well-versed in traditional content and skills, but I don’t know how that squares with their interests in advancing their own ideological special interests. That’s not education. It’s indoctrination and pandering to those of like ideological leanings. And I’m not as sure as you are that we should think of college students as kids; although, given their levels of (im)maturity, they are, increasingly so.

      Our only differences may be that I’m a bigger proponent of incremental gain (invite parents in and government out), and I believe some dots are most evident than others.