Seeing the Forest through the Trees

How is it that some of the nation’s most intelligent and accomplished people overlook a simple truth. As trite as it may be, the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees!” is as true as it is timeless. In the midst of the trees, or any other complex reality, it is incredibly difficult to see the whole of which we are apart. The consequence of being so immersed in the detail is that we are not fully aware of the external forces that influence whatever it is that we do. Without that broader perspective and the knowledge and understanding it provides, we find it difficult to resolve the challenges we face.

The analogy is very much like the reality in public education. Public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers work hard to address the challenges they face, particularly those in communities populated by large numbers of disadvantaged students, and yet satisfactory solutions elude us. Public school teachers and administrators seem disconnected from what outsiders perceive as the reality. Educators judge their work by the effort and commitment they put into teaching our children while those outside of the system judge the work of our schools by the performance of its graduates. Far too often those assessments are on opposite ends of the curve.

That raises the operative question. How do we judge any process developed to produce a product, service or any other outcome? Do we judge those outcomes by how hard people think they work and how much they say they care, or by the quality and utility of the outcomes, themselves?

The incremental improvements made in public schools over the last half century are comparable to course corrections of a ship at sea. The corrections are intended to allow the ship to arrive more quickly to its destination. If the destination, itself, is incorrect, however, the course adjustments are not only irrelevant, they might divert us even farther from our destination.

With respect to our system of public education, the education process as it is currently designed is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to optimize each child’s academic success, particularly disadvantaged kids. The data from public schools in communities all over the U.S. supports this assertion. What we hear so often from public school educators is that “public schools are better than they have ever been.”

How these educators respond to challenges about the low performance of disadvantaged students provides insight into our dilemma. What educators say is that the performance of these kids is a consequence of poverty and segregation and fixing these socio-economic issues is the responsibility of society; not public schools and teachers. The unfortunate result of this disavowal of responsibility is that, in response to a half-century of poor performance of the disadvantaged, public school educators have made no substantive changes to the education process. They have, instead, relied on incremental improvements that are as irrelevant to American society as the course corrections at sea, by ships steaming toward the wrong destination.

It is clear to this observer—one who has spent an entire career working to help my organizations and clients fix ineffectual processes on the one hand and who has walked in the shoes of public school teachers while subbing, on the other—that the education process at work in our schools is fatally flawed. Because it is flawed, it has proven almost impossible for children who start at a disadvantage to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to escape poverty and become fully productive and responsible citizens. The fact that public school educators have done nothing to address this critical deficiency is the motivating force behind the education reform movement.

What we need from public school educators is for them to acknowledge what they know to be true. The process does not work for disadvantaged kids.

The good news is that the reinvention of the education process is a relatively easy thing to do. All it requires is that we take the time to re-examine what it is that all kids need, including the disadvantaged, and then engineer a structure that is designed for the express purpose of meeting those needs. This is what this author has done in creating a new education model.

So what do kids need?

1) What kids need is more time on lessons with which they struggle. They must not be pushed to move on to the next lesson before they have mastered a current one. As success on many lessons depends on a student’s ability to apply what they have already learned, struggling students are set up for failure, are rarely able to catch up, and fall further behind. This repetitive bruising of young egos is devastating. .

2) What kids need is a fair starting point on a unique academic plan that builds on what they know and what they can do. What matters is whether each of the children for whom we are responsible learns as much as they are able at their own best speed. Students are not competing with one another in the classroom rather they are each laying their own foundation and building for their own unique futures.

3) What kids need are warm and nurturing relationships with all of the adults who share responsibility for teaching, protecting, caring, and advocating for them and the more such people there are the better off the child.

4) Children need the people who care, protect, teach, and advocate for them to work together as a team. The more these educators, mentors, and care givers communicate with one another and work together, the better it is for the child. This need places a premium on the parents and teachers working together as partners to be a positive force in the lives of our children.

5) Children need these relationships to be stable and enduring. We want each child to have the same quality of relationships that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers. Often, it takes an entire school year to create these special bonds and, far too frequently, it never happens within as single school year. Once formed, why would we want to sever such relationships because it is May or June?

6) Kids need to experience and celebrate success at every opportunity. They must also learn that success is neither a destination nor a trophy. Success is a process in which we learn how to set goals and objectives, how to achieve them by learning from the mistakes we make along the way. It is the child’s mistakes that point us to areas where they need more work. We want children and teachers to think of mistakes as the building blocks of success and accomplishment.

7) Our children need to master the skills, knowledge, and discipline they will need in order to have real and meaningful choices available to them when they leave school. This is only possible when our children are able to utilize in the real world that which they have learned. If they cannot use it, they have not learned it and our job on with that child is not yet done. It serves no one’s interest when a child is allowed to fail.

Creating an education process that is tasked, structured and resourced to help children meet their needs is our responsibility and it is eminently doable. It simply requires that we acknowledge that the existing process is irreparable and then go back to the drawing board.

Use Your Imagination and Experience as a Positive Force for Change Rather Than As an Obstacle!

In almost any other venue in American society, when something is not working properly we waste little time before we fix it. We may try to fiddle with the problem for a while but if that fails to produce the outcomes we want we move quickly to revamp or replace a faulty component or process. Very few of us are willing to put up with disappointing outcomes.

This is especially true in business. Few businesses can endure dissatisfied customers as doing so is the quickest way to lose one’s business. When a pattern of disappointing outcomes is recognized, business owners feel a sense of urgency to find a solution. Only rarely will tinkering or other incremental adjustments do the trick. What is needed is a trip back to the drawing board, analyzing feedback, clarifying purpose and objectives, challenging one’s assumptions, and finding a new solution. Very often, the new solution involves a radical departure from the manner in which things were done in the past.

“But, this is the way we have always done it” is never an acceptable answer to dissatisfied customers. Learning how to be an agent for change is one of the core principles of positive leadership.

How is it that the American people can be tolerant to the point of disinterest in the fact that millions of American children are failing in public schools. Disadvantaged kids failing in a nation that boasts of American ingenuity and its commitment to human rights? It seems incongruous. Do we not care about disadvantaged kids? Do we think them incapable of learning and therefore undeserving of our time and attention?

In my last blog post, I quoted Linda Darling-Hammond from her book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010). Dr. Darling-Hammond is President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, a Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University where she is Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She wrote:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

In the midst of the failure of so many of our most precious children, how is it that public school educators do little more than ask teachers to try harder while the education reformers are on a mission to shut them down? How is it that public school educators and the advocates that support them leave some of the most fundamental assumptions in public education unchallenged? Challenging assumptions is also one of the core principles of positive leadership:

• Does it really make sense for the education process at work in our public schools to be structured as if education is a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest?

• Do we really want public education to be a competition in which some kids win and others lose?

• How can we continue to justify asking children to move from one lesson to the next, one semester after another, and from grade to grade when they are unable to apply much of what they were expected to learn.

• Do we never second guess our tradition of accepting the failure of a significant percentage of public school students as an unalterable given?

• Does it still make sense to ask all children to progress through academic standards at the same pace as other children of the same age, even though there is great disparity in their level of academic preparedness?

• Other than the fact that this is the way we have done it for over a century, does it still make sense to move students from Kindergarten through grade 12, changing teachers every year?

• Is it fair to kids who want to learn to see valuable classroom time usurped as teachers allocate increasingly larger percentages of their time to unmotivated students who act out in class and exhibit no motivation to learn?

• Do we ever consider the possibility that there might be a better way to help kids learn?

It is so easy to blame public school teachers, whom I consider to be unsung heroes, for the problems in their schools and communities but doing so is no different than blaming soldiers on the front lines of combat for the faulty strategy and tactics of their commanders.

Our public school teachers need our help not our recriminations and they need our patience as it is only natural that they be resistant to change. That being said, the best thing public school teachers can do in their own best interests and the interests of their students is speak out about the inadequacies of the education process.

The education process at work in schools all over the U.S., both public and private, does not provide our children with the best chance to learn and it does not place our teachers in a position to teach at the top of their ability. The education process and the entire system of public education is flawed. Not only is it destroying young lives it is robbing our nation and our society of its ability to provide a safe community for its citizens, to compete successfully in a dynamic world economy, and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly interdependent global society.

Public school educators are challenged to step back to a vantage point from which the educational process can be examined as an integral whole. You are invited to evaluate the education model I have developed and an accompanying white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ If you do not think my model will work, use it as a springboard to come up with something that will work. Use your experience and imagination as a positive force for change rather than be an obstacle in the way of progress.

Withstanding the Relentless Wave of the Education Reform Movement

Throughout the U.S., the movement to privatize education is advancing, whether in state legislatures or local school districts, and it is a relentless force. Education reformers are on a mission to replace under-performing public schools with charter schools and other private alternatives. They are committed to giving parents a “choice.” Most of the public schools reformers are targeting are located in urban and rural communities with populations that are as diverse economically as they are culturally. That public school educators have not taken the time to understand the true motivation of reformers places their futures and ours at risk.

This unrelenting pursuit of privatization on the part of education reformers, and the policy makers who support them, is driven by the poor performance of students. The zeal of these crusaders, however, is not just about the numbers rather it is guided by the intransigence of public school teachers and administrators who insist that public education is better than it has ever been.

The irony is that public education might, indeed, be better than ever but it is nowhere near good enough. This leaves public schools, their teachers and communities in a showdown, winner-take-all poker game in which they hold no cards.

The facts are indisputable. In states throughout the U.S., the percentage of children unable to pass their state’s competency exams in math and English language arts is unacceptable. If you have doubts that what I say is true, go to the website of a nearby public school district that serves a significant percentage of poor and minority students and examine the data. Better yet, go to the website of your state’s department of education and look at statewide data. Although children who fail are often poor and include a disproportionate percentage of children of color or for whom English is a second language, they come from all segments of U.S. population. The data is alarming.

It is my assertion that most of the problems facing 21st Century American society are rooted in the separation between the haves and have nots and between white Americans and people of color. The chasm that divides us exists because disadvantaged children enter public school at age five or six and then exit, 13 years later, without the knowledge and skills necessary to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy and without the ability to participate in the American dream. Instead, they return to their communities and join the previous generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor and who live under a canopy of hopelessness and powerlessness.

As these men and women clog up our justice system, fill our prisons to overflowing, raise their children on welfare, and become hardcore unemployable they elicit the bitterness and resentment of mainstream Americans who are asked to bear the economic burden. Many of these “mainstream Americans” have been reared in a society that has long been permeated by racism and discrimination and the events of our time validate, in their minds, the long-held traditions in which blacks and other people of color were viewed as inferior. Is it any wonder that, in the anger and frustration of so many, the American people have elected an authoritarian outsider as President of the United States on the basis of his promise to make American great again? Sadly, what is great for some is misery for others.

The biggest cause of this separation is that the needs of disadvantaged students are not being met by public schools and by the educational process at work in those schools. Public education was intended to be the great equalizer that would give every American child a ticket to the American dream. Instead, public education has become a brittle shell of its former self. While American society has changed exponentially, public education has plodded along with a seemingly endless series of incremental improvements none of which help our public schools serve the mission for which they were created. Public school educators have forgotten whom they exist to serve.

Would we be content, for example, to let physicians practice early 20th century medicine in response to the health challenges facing 21st people? Of course not, and we cannot afford to let our public schools prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century using outdated early 20th century methodologies.

Public schools, their teachers and administrators must recognize and acknowledge that they are viewed as obsolete by the education reform movement in America. Reformers are committed to putting public schools out of business. Unfortunately, the leaders of the reform movement, who are enormously successful business people, have forgotten the very principles upon which their own success has been built. They think that just by taking over the responsibility for educating our nation’s children, their success and the success of their students will be guaranteed. Unfortunately, they have not taken the time to understand the needs of their customer. It is ironic that this is not a mistake they would make when making an acquisition of another business entity.

This flaw in the internal logic of the reform movement, with its focus on high stakes testing and privatization, creates a real opportunity for public education. It is an opportunity, however, that cannot be seized and realized until educators are willing to go back to the drawing board and re-examine the needs of their customers. We need our public school educators to understand that not only are they responsible for the outcomes public schools produce they are also responsible for finding a solution that produces the outcomes our society so desperately needs. Blaming external forces is unacceptable. As I said in a recent post, what public school educators need is a paradigm shift.

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010) Linda Darling-Hammond writes:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

Now, seven years after these words were published, very little has changed in the way the American education process is structured and we are still getting the same outcomes we were getting then.

I utilized an axiom from operations management with a similar theme when developing my education model. It is a model that I believe will transform public education in America and seize the initiative from the reform movement. It says:

“If a system, process, or operation continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they might be, then the system is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented.”

What my model does is:

• Change the objectives and expectations of teachers;

• Identify and address the unique needs of each and every student;

• Alter the structure of the education process to support teachers in meeting our new objectives and expectations;

• Rewrite the rules by which the game is played; and,

• Change the manner in which we keep score.

What we will soon discover after implementing such changes is that anything is possible. Reinventing the education process is a simple human engineering exercise. We have the ability to create a process to do whatever we need it to do, if only we are willing to use our ingenuity and open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that exist outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I invite the reader to visit http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ to check out my education model and also a white paper that sets out the logical foundation of the model and summarizes the findings and conclusions in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America.

If public school teachers and administrators continue to bury their heads in the sand and refuse to accept responsibility for fixing what is broken, the outcome for public schools and teachers is inevitable. The reform movement is riding the crest of a powerful wave and they will not be deterred. The only solution is to eliminate the failure and help every child develop the knowledge, skills, and character they will need to live the American dream. Only then will Americans see the false promise of privatization; only then will parents have a real choice.

An Open Letter to Public School Superintendents

Below is a letter being sent to superintendents of public school districts in the U.S.

The solution to the problems in public education is so simple, conceptually, that most educators seem unable to see it. The over-riding objective is: “Don’t let kids fail!”

How we keep children from failing is by restructuring the educational process in such a way that every child is given as much time as they need to learn a given lesson. This model is constructed on the premise that education is not a race to see who learns the most the fastest and where how they finish becomes part of their permanent record and the basis on which future expectations are set. Rather, it is a process by which students learn as much as they are able at their own best speed and where performance is a function of their progress along their own unique path.

Here is a letter mailed to the first group of superintendents:

Dear Superintendent:

It is frustrating when whatever you do, the performance of schools serving disadvantaged kids seems intractable. Please consider the possibility that the educational process in public education is poorly designed to meet the needs of these kids. In operations management there is an axiom that if a process produces unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work, the process is flawed. The only way to get the outcomes we want and need is to replace or reinvent the process.

I am seeking at least one public school superintendent who is open to the idea that kids should not have to fail. Just one man or woman who is willing to believe there is a solution for disadvantaged kids and who is searching for a new idea that might work.

I am a writer and former leadership and organizational development consultant who, in 2002, gave up consulting to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing books. During the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012, in which I wrote 3 books, I worked, part-time, as a substitute teacher for Fort Wayne Community Schools. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers.

That experience has given me a unique perspective in that I have witnessed and experienced the challenges teachers face but am able to evaluate what I felt and saw from the point of view of an independent consultant. As a consultant, my job was to help clients examine their business processes to understand why they were getting disappointing outcomes and then guide them toward a solution. Invariably, this required that their processes be re-engineered. What I also learned is that there is always a solution if one can look outside the boundaries of conventional thinking.

Although the overwhelming majority of public school teachers are dedicated professionals doing the best they can within what I describe as a flawed process, they have been blamed for the problems in public education so vehemently that they are, understandably, defensive. This is unfortunate because teachers are perfectly positioned to translate what they see in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. Teachers know the educational process is flawed every time a student shows up in their classrooms so far behind that he or she has stopped trying. They know the process is broken each time they must move a class on to the next lesson, knowing there are students who are not ready. They know something is wrong whenever they must record an “F” in their gradebook or are asked to help a student qualify for graduation when that student has made minimal effort over a four-year period.

I urge you to take time to review the educational model I have developed and the accompanying white paper that provides an overview of the logic behind the model as well as the findings and conclusions offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America. You can find the model and white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/.

I am seeking a public school corporation willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools. In school districts throughout the U.S. there are elementary schools where students perform well below their counterparts in other schools in their community and around the state, as measured by standardized competency exams. This is not a new phenomenon and has, in fact, been a pattern that can be traced back to the beginning of high-stakes testing and before. By the time these students reach middle school, their performance drops, suggesting that the further along they move through their K-12 academic career, the further behind they fall. By the time these students reach high school, many have given up and have stopped trying. Our teachers and principals see this, routinely. It need not be this way!

Would it not be worthwhile, and in the best interests of students, to examine a new idea? Imagine being the first school district to lead the nation in meaningful educational reform that actually changes the lives of American students?

I look forward to the opportunity meet with you to discuss my model and white paper and invite you to contact me at (260) 740-8285. We still have time to implement my model in the fall semester of the 2017/2018 school year.

Most public school educators have found it difficult to envision any other way to do what they do. Surely there is someone out there who can.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

An Open Letter to President and Mrs. Obama

Dear President and Mrs. Obama:

While the election of Donald Trump has created great uncertainty for the poor and minorities, there is no uncertainty about the impact Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos will have on public schools and our nation’s most vulnerable children. If ever we needed powerful champions for American public schools, their students, and communities we need it now.

During your eight years in office, your administration had very little impact on public education. Disappointing, I know, but the facts are indisputable that millions of American children are struggling in school. Once you leave the White House, however, you will be perfectly positioned to lead public education through a transformation. All that is required is that you open your hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about the reasons why so many of our children are failing and what we can do about it.

Think about what is happening in our public schools in urban and rural communities all over the U.S. The numbers are staggering. In just two school districts in Fort Wayne, Indiana, more than 7,000 students in grades 3 through 8 are unable to pass both math and language arts components of the 2016 ISTEP+ exams (Indiana’s version of high stakes testing). While seventy to eighty percent of African-American children are among that population, that total also includes white and other minority students.

These children are not just statistics; they are living, breathing boys and girls with names and fading dreams. Multiply that total by the number of struggling urban and rural school districts in the U.S. and we are talking about millions of children. This is a national tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope. That the percentage of children who pass both exams actually drops when they reach middle school is evidence that the longer we allow this reality to persist, the further behind these children will fall.

While many students do excel in public schools, the overwhelming majority of the students who are struggling will leave school without the skills necessary to give them choices about what to do with their lives. They will return to the communities into which they were born and will begin producing a whole new generation of children who are destined to fail in school and are doomed to live in poverty, just as their parents and grandparents have done. Many will end up in prison or die an early, violent death. This is not an exaggeration, it is incontrovertible fact.

This tragedy in public education exists because both education reformers and public school educators are wrong in their assertions about the cause of these failures and what to do about them. While public school teachers and administrators defend public education in spite of compelling evidence that the needs of disadvantaged children are not being met, education reformers promote the privatization of our schools through the use of charter schools and vouchers so that parents can use tax dollars to pay for their children to attend charter schools and other private schools.

The fallacy in this latter approach is that education reformers are doing nothing to help the public schools that are being abandoned. It is as if they have decided to help the children they can and let the rest fend for themselves. We cannot permit public education to become triage where we pick and choose to whom we will offer the opportunity for a quality education without which the American Dream cannot exist.

How many failing children does it take before we declare the evidence to be compelling? Only a fortunate few of these young people will find a good job on which they can support their families, contribute to American enterprise, and pay their fair share of taxes. The rest will continue to be an economic burden to taxpayers and a social burden on their communities and justice systems. The fact that these Americans are perceived as a burden is the single greatest factor in the chasm that divides the American people. It is this reality that solidifies the anger and resentment in the hearts of so many Americans and allows them to justify their prejudices and, in some cases, their bigotry. Donald Trump’s election is proof positive.

There is a simple axiom in business that if a system or process consistently fails to produce acceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people are working, then the system is flawed. Clearly, the educational process at work in our schools is flawed. In almost any other venue, leadership would promptly replace the flawed process with one that can and will produce the desired outcomes. Educators are not trained, however, to step back and examine what they do systematically. In public education, educators and reformers are entrenched in a ferocious battle over all of the wrong things and we keep making the same mistakes and enduring the same unacceptable outcomes.

Every once in a while, throughout history, there have been voices crying out in the wilderness with new ideas that changed the world. Consider the possibility that this appeal might be such a voice and, then, visit http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. There, you can review the implementation plan for my Education Model and a white paper that provides an overview of the findings and recommendations offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-first Century America. It is an education model that enables public school teachers to give disadvantaged students the time and attention they need to learn while allowing other students to move ahead at their own pace and that rejects the idea that learning is a competition with winners and losers. It is a model that is structured to support success and that rejects failure, absolutely.

Thank you for your service to our nation and for the class and compassion with which both of you have served. Then, please recognize that your work is not done. With your help we can alter the reality for disadvantaged children, far too many of whom are poor, black, and other minorities. Our nation’s children need you more than ever.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

Bullies and Daughters

I don’t agree with how my daughter responded to the outcome of the election but I do understand it and share her sentiment. Half the nation went a little nuts with protesting in the streets and others writing racist epithets on other people’s property. What my daughter did was criticize people whose votes helped elect a man whom she considered to be immoral and who modeled racism and sexism. Not quite the same as throwing stones at police.

She was highly emotional in the aftermath of the recent election. She is the mother of two non-white kids, for mercy’s sake, and is not the first mother to rise up in anger when perceiving that their kids are threatened; a reasonable fear given the bigotry and bitterness on display throughout the election. Defensive mothers can be ferocious. I’m the grandpa, here, and I am every bit as fearful for my grandchildren as is their Mom and Dad.

It would be nice if one chose to walk in another’s shoes before attacking, especially when one professes to be a libertarian whose mantra is “respect the rights of others to think, believe and feel what they want.” Why not stop and think, “She’s wrong, but then I don’t know how I would feel in her situation.” Can you begin to imagine how you would feel worrying that your black son might be stopped by police at a time or place where his presence could be misconstrued?

Most adults have learned to show a little restraint and back off when someone they should care about is in the midst of an emotional crisis. They let tempers cool before chiming in with their own opinion. Others seize such occasions to stick their noses in and pick a fight with those who are vulnerable at such times and then they brand their target as a bully. They have to have their say even when they must surely know that doing so will fan the flames, escalate the intensity of such exchanges, and result in deep resentment.

Such people are instigators and it seems pretty clear to me who the real bullies are, here.

How Can Trump Make America Great Again When He Has Made Us Embarrassed To Be Americans?

How can Donald Trump make America great again when he has made so many of us embarrassed to be Americans?

How can we trust a man who is so willing to accuse other people of wrong-doing? Just because Trump shouts out, over and over again, that “Hillary is a crook” and “should be in prison” doesn’t make it true. I remember being taught that the people who are quickest to accuse other people are often guilty themselves. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, in Hamlet, “[he] doth protest too much, methinks!”

How have we gotten to such a point in our nation’s history that a candidate for President of the United States can make false accusations, ridicule and bully people, make sexually inappropriate comments to women, brand the citizens of whole nations and the worshipers of an entire religion as evil and as a threat to our public safety, and make outlandish promises without ever actually saying what he intends to do?

Even more difficult to fathom is the willingness of millions of American voters to believe everything Donald Trump has to say and jump on his bandwagon as if he is going to save our nation. He has already done more harm to America than any other public figure in our lifetimes and he has only run for President. He has brought out the worst in us, not the best. One can only wonder how much harm he can do if he actually gets elected to the Presidency?

We cannot possibly solve our nation’s problems and face the challenges of the 21st Century until we can find common themes on which the American people can unite. What Trump is doing is dividing the American people to such a degree that it seems improbable that we can ever work together to serve the best interests of the population, in all of its diversity. The only way he can possibly accomplish anything that he is promising will be to impose his will on the people and that means abandoning our democratic principles.

Is this the America we want for our children and grandchildren? If it is not, then please vote this coming Tuesday and that means voting for Hillary Clinton. Whether or not we agree with her on every issue, this women is guilty of none of the insane accusations that have been made, rather she has worked her entire life to help make things better for people. And, to suggest that this makes her responsible for all of the things that have gone badly is beyond ridiculous.

Read what Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Vice President, and the former Republic Governor of Massachusetts had to say about Clinton. In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, William Weld said: “I’m here vouching for Mrs. Clinton.”

“I have a lot to say about Mrs. Clinton that has not been said by others recently and that I think needs to be said. I mean I’ve known her for 40 years. I worked with her, I know her well professionally. I know her well personally. I know her to be a person of high moral character. A reliable person and an honest person, however Mr. Trump may rant and rave to the contrary.”

Talking about the massive difference between the Democratic and Republic party candidates, Weld said, “One would be chaos for the country, I think. And the other would be a very business-like and capable and competent approach to our affairs.”

How you vote in this Presidential election may be the most important thing you will ever do for your country!

The Danger of Donald Trump

As far back as twenty years ago, I became concerned that our nation was losing its sense of purpose and that the American people had begun to take democracy for granted. Democracy is a delicate concept that requires an equilibrium between freedom and responsibility. For democracy to work, people must share the same or at least a similar vision for our nation and its people. They must be willing and able to find common ground—a solution with which all parties can live.

When views become so disparate and extreme that people are unable to forge amenable agreements, democracy is put to a severe test. This is what we have seen in recent years with a Congressional gridlock where the best Congress can do is pass temporary legislation to hold off a government shutdown for a few weeks or months. Passing substantive legislation has become problematic, so great is the discord in Congress. This is also what happens when the focus of the principal players is to attack their opposition rather be a positive advocate for their own platform. It is a lack of positive leadership.

It has taken me 2 weeks to sort through my thoughts and feelings while watching parts of the Republican convention. I must confess that I could not make myself watch more than snippets of the major speeches during the convention. The rhetoric was simply too. . . . I cannot seem to come up with a word that accurately describes the disgust, fear, and even anguish of watching the Republic Party’s candidate for the Presidency of the United States calling people names, insulting their character, pandering to the racism and hatred in the minds of so many Americans, and making absurd promises that only the most gullible adults could believe. As I have written before, Donald Trump is the antithesis of positive leadership.

What I have come to realize is that watching Donald Trump at the Republican Convention is the scariest thing I have seen in my lifetime. It is not simply the things he says or the way he bullies people but something far more subtle but at the same time more profound. Donald Trump and many of the people who support him seem willing to trample the rights of people of whom they do not approve or with whom they do not agree. There is a viciousness to it that says no one matters but me and mine. This is hardly a recipe for democracy.

Throughout my lifetime, there has been simple concept that I have heard in many contexts and stated in many different ways that says “everyone counts or no one counts.” Is there anyone on God’s Earth that you would be willing to grant the power to pick and choose to whom we should extend the protections of the Constitution of the United States as delineated in the Bill of Rights?

During the entire Obama administration, attacks against our nation’s President have been nothing short of virulent and the overwhelming majority of the accusations are absurd and found to be untrue by any of the independent fact-checking services. The same is true of Hillary Clinton. You do not see Donald Trump attacking her ideas and accomplishments rather you see him brand her as a liar, much as he did with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio during the primary elections.

Our focus in determining to whom we wish to give our vote for President of the United States should be looking at their body of work and their overall integrity. In doing so we need to keep in mind that the longer one has been in public life or business the more mistakes they will have made and the more misstatements will have been uttered. It is simply a reflection of the fact that none of us are perfect, not even our candidates for the Presidency.

When we compare Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump you have two extremes in terms of career activity and objectives. Hillary Clinton has spent most of her life in some form of public service, whether working as a community activist or as a public official. Donald Trump has spent all of his life focused on his business interests. Both career choices are noble. If they are to be judged they can only be judged on the basis of the number and types of victims left in the wake of their respective careers.

Measuring overall integrity is problematic but what we can measure is the relative truthfulness of the two candidates. Truthfulness may not be the same thing as integrity but it is certainly a reflection of integrity.

Recently, Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize winning fact checking service that spares no one, found that 55 percent of Trump’s public statements were “false” which Politifact defines as “not accurate” and half of those received Politifact’s “Pants on Fire” rating which is defined as “A statement that is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.” (http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/)

This is compared to 13 percent of Hillary Clinton’s statements that were found to be “false” and only 2 percent of her statements were judged as “Pants on Fire.” (http://www.politifact.com/personalities/hillary-clinton/)

Looking at the two candidates from the perspective of truth, 72 percent of Hillary Clinton’s public statements have been judged to be “mostly true” compared to 29 percent of Donald Trump’s public statements.

If he acts true to form, one would expect Donald Trump to declare that Politifact is “unfairly biased against him.” It seems only fair to point out that other Republican candidates such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich were found by Politifact to be truthful roughly 70 percent of the time. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, by the way, were found to be 35 percent and 59 percent truthful, respectively. Bernie Sanders was truthful 72 percent of the time and had no “pants on fire” falsehoods.

In case you are wondering, President Barack Obama, according to Politifact, is mostly truthful 75 percent of the time, compared to Rush Limbaugh, who was found to be truthful only 17 percent of the time. I point that out only because so many of the outrageous accusations against President Obama and Hillary Clinton were originally voiced by radio and other talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh. That people are so willing to believe such people says a lot about Twenty-first Century America.

The rude surprise that awaits Donald Trump is that, should he be elected, his authoritarian approach will face the same gridlock as his predecessors. The only way he can implement any of the ideas reflected in his campaign promises would be if he were to circumvent or otherwise subvert the democratic process. This, my friends, is what makes Donald Trump so scary.

If the differences that divide the American people continues to expand, it is only a matter of time until someone like Donald Trump is elected to the Presidency who believes they have sufficient power to impose their will on the American people and the democratic process. This would mean the end of the American democracy as we know it.

When I began to grow concerned, twenty years ago, I began writing a novel about how things could go horribly wrong if we were to lose our faith in democracy and elect an authoritarian outsider to the Presidency on the basis of his pledge to restore domestic peace and prosperity (make America great again) at any cost. My novel, entitled Light and Transient Causes, was published in 2013. I encourage the reader to check it out. If we want to prevent something like this from happening we must understand just how bad things could be if we abandon our faith in democracy. You can check my novel out at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/light-and-transient-causes-a-novel/

Separate and Apart – Again and Again

What happened in Dallas will happen again. These acts are symptomatic of the degree of separation between us. Although interactions between police and African-Americans bring the matter into the sharpest focus, these acts represent only the surface of the deep, dark place where racism resides in the collective consciousness of the American people. It is just one of the divisive issues that creates sufficient anger, resentment, and mistrust that so many Americans want more authoritarian leadership and are willing to support Donald Trump for President. It is an American tragedy.

We have also witnessed, in Dallas, an expression of grief that is shared by well-meaning Americans of every race, color and creed. We saw protesters from each side of an issue reaching out to embrace and comfort one another. This is a sign of hope. For healing to occur we, first, must grieve but we cannot legislate an end to the racism that exists in the hearts of man and neither can we wish it away. If we want a future in which all are truly equal, we must address the conditions, other than the color of our skin, that separate us as a people and that lead to police and African-American confrontations.

More often than at any time in our history, white Americans see well-educated African-Americans move into their neighborhoods and rub elbows with them on the job. Coming in contact with these black neighbors and co-workers begins to produce subtle shifts in the attitudes and perceptions of white Americans. We also see more inter-racial friendships and dating. It is hard to be prejudiced against a people who look like someone you have loved.

For many white Americans, however, their core values do not change. Instead, they carve out space in their mental view for the exceptions that these neighbors and co-workers represent. Yes, “he’s black but he’s a good worker or a good neighbor.” When these same white Americans see stories about drive-by shootings, black men arrested and sent to prison, or even when they pass judgment on the contents of a welfare mother’s grocery cart, all of their deeply-rooted stereotypes are re-confirmed.

We must challenge our fundamental assumptions about our society and about the way we educate our children. Poor people do not choose to live in economically depressed neighborhoods in America; they live there because it is the only place they can afford to live. They lack the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for good jobs and that give them choices of where and how to live. Poor Americans, whatever the color of their skin, lack such choices because the educational process at work in American public schools is neither structured, tasked, nor equipped to teach disadvantage kids.

We are not powerless to alter this reality. Solving the problems of poverty and academic failure are possible but only if we are able to imagine a different reality. They are simple human engineering problems that will yield to the fertile imagination of the human mind.

People will remain poor for as long as we continue to defend a system of public education that consistently fails the poor and the disadvantaged, with African-American children affected the most. In spite of all the talk about education reform in the U.S., we do nothing to help disadvantaged kids but try to entice families away from our most challenged public schools with charter schools and vouchers or we tinker with a flawed educational process with one meaningless, education reform after another. We fail to see that incrementalism has the same destructive power as erosion and that it is subverting the very purpose of public education.

If we cannot address the problems in our public schools, the social crises these problems create will continue to prompt people to reach out for a more authoritarian leadership and Donald Trump for President might be the least of our fears. The problems in our society are functions of the choices we make and if we want better outcomes we must be prepared to make better choices. Those choices must begin with how our public schools respond to the challenge of disadvantaged kids.

Positive Leadership Involves Building Positive Relationships

Most often when men and women are struggling in their role as leader their problems are a function of their relationships with the people with whom they interact. Rarely does it matter whether the relationship issues are with the leader’s employees, fellow supervisors, the people to whom they report, or members of their supply chain, both internal and external. The dynamics are pretty much the same in all human relationships, with the exception of romances and friendships. What distinguishes love/partnerships and friendships is that these relationships exist in the context of choice.

All other relationships typically happen as a result of us coming into frequent contact with others through work, team play, neighborhoods, or other serendipitous event. When our daily lives bring us into close contact with another human being, the extent to which we get along and are able to interact on a positive basis goes a long way in determining our happiness and success. If we like the people with whom we must spend time, then life is so much easier, less stressful, more productive, and happier. Sometimes these relationships blossom into friendships or partnership but rarely are we able to make this happen.

For people who are having relationship issues, in the work place or other non-intimate situations, there are two simple rules at play. The first, is if you are unhappy with the way other people are treating you, start by taking a critical look at how you treat them. Inevitably, how others treat you is a reaction to your behavior toward them.

The second rule at play is one of the core principles of positive leadership. It is only when we accept responsibility for relationships/problems that we begin to acquire the power to change/solve them. In this case, we have no direct power over the way people are treating us or responding to us. We do, however, have control over how we choose to interact with them and respond to the negative nuances.

Never be afraid to ask people for their help in improving your relationship with them but asking for that assistance in the right way is imperative. If they interpret your request as “I don’t like the way you are treating me and we need to change it!” you can be sure they will view your request as self-serving.

Simply approach the person(s) with sincerity and acknowledge that the relationship seems strained. Ask what you can do to improve it. Once that subject is broached it becomes easier to arrive at a point where you each accept responsibility for the friction that exists between you. Very few people welcome friction in their relationships but that friction persists because few are willing to take the initiative to do something about it. Most people will respond to an olive branch, however, if they sense sincerity.

Accepting responsibility and reaching out to others is the essence of positive leadership and it can change your life and the lives of the people around you. My book, The Difference is You, Power Through Positive Leadership will show you how much power you have to make a difference.