Burning Down the House

Politics has often been called the art of compromise. However, far right legislators in the House and the Senate have decided that ideology matters more than anything else. Sen. Tommy Tuberville has blocked military promotions because he does not want the military to allow female servicepeople to have access to abortions, which has affected the country’s military readiness. Sen. J.D. Vance has blocked all nominations to the Justice Department because he opposes its inquiries into former Pres. Donald Trump’s alleged involvement in the January 6 riots and because he thinks the Justice Department is protecting Hunter Biden.

A larger group of House Republicans is holding the country hostage by blocking negotiations on the 2024 federal budget. They view themselves as protectors of working class American values. They want the IRS to shrink. They demand the cessation of support for the defense of Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression. They want impeachment hearings on President Biden. Perhaps most important, they want to reduce government spending on social programs.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, who is himself a Republican, has accused these legislators of wanting to “burn the whole place down.” Instead of working with people within their own party, they would rather try to get the government to bend to their will rather than work for a common good–unless you agree that their views actually represent a “common good,” which would put you in a statistical minority.

I suppose at the very least, their actions resurrect one of the oldest political questions: what, precisely, do we want a government to do?

Posted in National Politics | 4 Comments

At What Price Victory?

As a teenager, DeSanto Rollins dreamed of playing SEC football and parlaying his experience into a career in the NFL. Then injuries piled up, his in-game speed slowed down, and he found himself on the scout team at Ole Miss. Worse still, between his grandmother’s death and dealing with his injuries, he sank into a depression that made it hard for him to leave his bedroom. In fact, he essentially disappeared from the team for two weeks. From March 7 to March 21–peak time for spring practices–he neither participated in strength and conditioning nor responded to messages from coaches.

When Kiffin and Rollins finally met to discuss his absence from the team, their tete-a-tete produced a decapitation. Here’s an excerpt of that meeting provided by ESPN:

“I mean, you’re acting like my issues aren’t real.”

“I didn’t say they’re not real,” Kiffin responded. “You show up when your head — when your boss wants to meet with you. It wouldn’t have been like this. If you would’ve come here when you kept getting messages the head coach wants to talk to you, you say ‘I’m not ready to talk to him.'”

“I wasn’t,” Rollins said.

“What f—ing world do you live in?” Kiffin asked.

“I don’t see why you have to be disrespectful, honestly,” Rollins said.

“Get out of here,” Kiffin said. “Go, you’re off the team. You’re done. See ya. Go. And guess what? We can kick you off the team. So go read your f—ing rights about mental health. We can kick you off the team for not showing up. When the head coach asks to meet with you and you don’t show up for weeks, we can remove you from the team.

“It’s called being a p—y,” Kiffin said. “It’s called hiding behind s— and not showing up to work.”

This conversation, which took place March 21, became the basis for a $40 million lawsuit against the university, coaches, and the athletic staff.

My experience with college football coaches suggests that this exchange is the tip of the ice berg. The only form of accountability most of them understand lies in getting their teams to win. Win, and anything can be forgiven–verbal abuse, bullying, a lack of regard for academic priorities. Excuses will be made. Deals will be cut. Lose, and find a new line of work. The mental health of athletes is unimportant in that universe. It can’t be measured. Scholarship amounts, NIL deals, and wins can be.

I do not know the depths of the issues Rollins experienced, or the effectiveness with which he communicated those issues to the coaches. I do not know of “real world” working environments where a person can simply go AWOL for two weeks without expecting a tongue-lashing or a dismissal. Nor do I know if Rollins was simply a malcontent who loved excuses more than results. I can say that despite Kiffin’s horrible language, he did not remove Rollins from the team, which means, technically, that he still has a scholarship and all the amenities of being a student athlete at Ole Miss. It also means that he will have a harder time showing compensable damages.

However, this episode makes me wonder, broadly, about the expectations we have for those who coach sports. When does a tirade become abuse? At what point is a coach responsible for a player’s mental health? And when should either of those concerns be set aside in the name of pushing a team to victory?

Posted in Education, Sports | 4 Comments

Time and Money

Last week, the New York Times ran an opinion piece on the increasing number of students your age who do not see college as a necessary investment. This seems particularly true for students and families whose political orientation lies to the right of center, as they see colleges as bastions of left-leaning, ivory tower academicians. (Indeed, most college professors and administrators identify as liberal.)

The other issue involves cost. Those born before 1980 and who hold college degrees have experienced a substantial return on investment for their diplomas. Those born after 1980 have not, especially if they have degrees in fields that are not STEM oriented. Why? Largely because the cost of college attendance has doubled since 1992. Salaries, on the other hand, have increased by only about 5%. For those whose political beliefs run against the liberal politics of college instructors, this adds to the disinclination to seek a four-year degree.

Public policy has also encouraged a shift towards “certification” rather than “degree.” After 18 months of training at EMCC’s Communiversity, an 18 year-old with a high school degree can earn a salary at a local manufacturer in excess of $75,000, which easily exceeds the local average. Most people can earn such certification without taking out loans.

The problem with certification, of course, is that it does not offer the kind of flexibility that a bachelor’s degree does. It will not result in admission to professional programs that result in salaries of six and seven figures. It also will not protect workers from being replaced by robots and other forms of AI.

How will you measure the success of your college education?

Posted in Education | 10 Comments

The Thrill of Victory

As the father of a Division I football player, I know how much time it takes student-athletes to prepare their bodies to excel at the sports they play. Strength and conditioning, practice, and film review take at least 20 hours a week. That doesn’t include a summer regimen that can be even more brutally time-consuming. The games themselves take only about three hours.

High school athletes, generally speaking, might not spend quite as much time preparing for competition.

MSMS athletes, specifically, never do.

Our school demands students to prioritize academics over sports. We produce occasional individual state champions in sports like tennis or swimming; we are occasionally competitive in soccer, though I don’t recall ever getting past the second round of playoffs.

So why do we bother? What’s the purpose of playing interscholastic sports where our school’s core values make it less likely that we will be on a level playing field?

I appreciate the ways people learn teamwork, time management, and goal setting through athletics. I certainly don’t detest sports. However, would an intramural sports program serve our school’s needs better?

Posted in MSMS Stuff, Sports | 16 Comments

Absurdum est reductionem

West Virginia University’s announcement last week that it planned to eliminate its world languages department, as well as its fiction writing program and other humanities disciplines, sent shock waves through liberal arts departments across the country. The university’s president, Dr. Gordon Gee, said the proposed cuts, which would remove 169 faculty members and 32 majors, result from a $45 million deficit.

Naturally, he plans to keep engineering and football. WVU leadership has been putting money in those programs like they were slot machines for the last ten years, which follows a trend nationwide. Sometimes those machines pay out. Students in particular STEM majors do quite well for themselves after they graduate.

Yet it seems disingenuous to reduce funding for humanities then bemoan their inability to attract students, which is precisely what has happened in West Virginia. (For what it’s worth, there has been an upward tick in the number of humanities majors nationwide since 2016, largely because those majors give students critical thinking and communication skills that other majors don’t.) Dr. Gee’s suggestion for students who still want those classes is to take them online from schools that do offer them, which is the ultimate “screw you” to the humanities. Online classes, as we learned during the pandemic, aren’t worth a bucket of cold, week-old dog urine.

Rather than cut humanities programs, governments and universities alike should acquiesce to the notion that education, when done well, is an inherently inefficient, yet supremely important endeavor. They should fund it accordingly, whether than involves shiny new labs for STEM types, or language programs for people yearn to see the world differently. If the money starts to run short, make sure administrators and assistant coaches get the ax long before the people who do the actual teaching. This is only an “either/or” crisis if we allow the Gordon Gees of the world to make it one. How about a “both/and” solution? Let’s teach the left side of the brain as well as the right.

I’m not sure why teachers and leaders in the humanities must defend their existence every time they turn around. It isn’t like instruction in STEM disciplines is apolitical–remember the hullabaloo about stem-cell research?–or inexpensive, or that a STEM degree guarantees a steady income. What can be done to remind politicos, pundits, and university presidents that a good education can only be as deep as it is wide? Or do you find an “education” where you take almost all your courses in your major an enticing prospect?

Posted in Education, Politics | 8 Comments

Welcome Back!

As we open the 2023-24 school year, I’d like to remind you that when it comes to the blog, the rules are the rules and the facts are the facts.

The rules: 1. Only MSMS students will be allowed to post. 2. Students earn up to 25% of the total number of quiz points each quarter by participating. 3. Students can only post twice in the last week of the quarter. 4. Participants must keep comments civil, but are encouraged to disagree when moved to do so.

The facts: 1. After students submit their first post, I’ll approve it; subsequent posts require no approval. 2. I encourage students to email me with suggestions for topics we should discuss on the blog. The comments space below is a great place to leave suggestions!

Posted in MSMS Stuff | 5 Comments

Bon Voyage, Class of 2023

Thank you, seniors, for keeping discussions on the blog lively.

Juniors and seniors, do humanity a favor and get your noses out of your phones this summer. A full life cannot be lived within the confines of a digital device.

I’m excited about new books by Meg Abbott, Ace Atkins, Eli Cranor, S.A. Crosby, and Michael Smith, and can’t wait to get to them next week. I hope you’ll read something, too. I don’t care much what it is you’re reading. Just read.

I’m also excited about moving my line of sight from books and screens to oceans and rivers, and pastures and woods. Consider doing the same.

The blog closes for the school year at 5 pm today. Happy summer!

Posted in Education, Environment, Ethics | Leave a comment

A Post-GPA Generation

As you probably know, our Executive Director, Dr. Cook, has talked about developing a new curriculum–he has dubbed it “MSMS 2.0”– over the next couple of years. We’ve begun thinking about how requirements for Carnegie units might change. What would happen if the school began offering students written assessments of progress instead of grades? Do you see an upside to this? What are the potential problems?

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 27 Comments

Painful Questions

My youngest child graduates from high school on May 12–fifteen days before the MSMS graduation. He hasn’t had to be on campus for an afternoon class all semester. When finals roll around, he won’t have to take a final for any class in which he has an A. He chose not to apply for MSMS primarily because he loves sports more than he loves classes, though I am happy to report an interest in history and economics has begun to blossom in him. However, he also knew how much more work an MSMS degree requires.

Is it too much work? Do MSMS graduates–survivors?–actually learn more content than they learn how to game our college-oriented system? What damage would be done to the reputation MSMS enjoys if we were to let up ever so slightly on a requirement or two?

A senior recently pitched the idea that we should allow second semester seniors to earn exemptions from exams. If they’re happy with the grade earned to that point, let them go, she suggested. There’s nothing on the line for most of them at that point. They know where they’re going to college. Scholarships have been earned.

So, my friendly bloggers, should anything be changed about the final quarter seniors spend at MSMS? How can those changes involve accountability? How can they maintain–or better yet, bolster–MSMS’ standing educationally? Or should we stick with the status quo?

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 31 Comments

Hero or Villain?

Last week, Jack Teixira, a 21-year-old National Guardsman, leaked military secrets that could damage the efforts of Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression. It will certainly damage the reputation of the United States with its allies, and could help Russia identify American agents abroad.

What should be done to punish this person? Should he be tried in civilian or in military court? How are his actions different from those who seek open government?

Posted in Ethics, National Politics | 28 Comments