One Child Policy

Shanghai, China

The Old Boy in Shanghai laughed when he was asked about the one child policy.

“The key number is not 1. It is 4. What this means is that every child who is born, he not only has 2 parents who are focusing on him exclusively but also 4 grandparents. And since most parents usually work, the child has 4 doting grandparents who actually raise him. They tend to spoil him.

The problem is that, when the child finishes school, he needs to compete in the world. That means he needs to go up against the top 1%, and in China, that means there are a LOT of competitors because that top 1%  of 1.3 billion people drives the entire economy.

Also, 20 years down the road, that one worker will need to earn an income and pay taxes, which will support, not only his parents, but also his grandparents. That’s why the government is already allowing some exceptions. For example, if both parents were only children themselves, they can have two children. So the government will change that policy. It is just a matter of time.”


On Subways and Suffering

Seoul, Korea

It was almost 23 hours door-to-door from Toronto to Seoul yesterday, and that gave me plenty of time to ponder two stories that might have otherwise flown under the radar.

First, Subway just passed McDonalds in total number of franchises worldwide. Given the great preponderance of Golden Arches in North America, that’s hard to comprehend. Was it Jarrod’s losing all that weight or was it that snappy “5 dollar foot-long” jingle that did the trick? Whatever it was, Subway’s success is definitely not a result of those off-putting “monkeys in space suits” ads.  When you are munching on a salami sandwich, the last thing you want to think of is an orangatang in a lab coat…

Second, when Harvard’s basketball team upset Princeton last week, the Crimson fans stormed the court. There’s nothing unusual in that. What was unusual was the Princeton coach’s decision to have his team remain on the bench, so that they could witness the jubilation.  Coach Sydney Johnson wanted his players to “drink the pain.” (There must be a statue of John Calvin somewhere on Princeton’s stately campus.) Johnson believes that witnessing that scene will help motivate his players when they play Harvard for the championship next week.

Johnson’s decision reminds me of my favourite Pat Riley story. Riley had literally faxed his resignation to the New York Knicks, a team he had grown to despise, and the very next season his new team, the Miami Heat, was upset in the deciding game 7 by those same Knicks when an off balance, last second, desperation shot gave New York the improbably victory. When a reporter asked Riles right after the game for his thoughts, he said simply, “It’s my job to suffer.”

Starbucks Musings

Good morning. I offer 3 points for your consideration today. I happened to stumble upon the first 2 last week when I attended the National Association of Independent Schools conference, a gathering of 4,000 teachers and administrators from the US, Canada, and around the globe.

Point One: I have many character flaws and among them is an addiction to overpriced coffee. There is probably a 12-step program I should join to help me come to terms with this problem.

Anyway, much to my chagrin, there was no coffee store within walking distance of the conference centre, but they did have a contraption, and it was unlike any I had seen before. It was a Starbucks machine. Now, I’d come across coffee machines in the past, but they tend to be a lot like soda machines that don’t quite work; the coffee sits in tin box for months at a time, and after you pay your money, a warming element spits out a tepid brew that has the bouquet of a carburetor.

But this Starbucks machine was different. After you swiped your credit card, you could see the gizmo actually grinding the coffee beans before it brewed a perfect cup of coffee. It wasn’t fast; it took about 2 minutes, so there was a long line of my caffeine addicted brethren, but this actually gave us all the time to ponder questions such as, “What won’t the machines of the future be able to do? And if an IBM computer can win on “Jeopardy” as it did last week, how long will it be until someone comes up with a ‘Principal’s Machine’?”

(I can see it now. All you do is swipe your credit card, and out pops a cliché-riddled rant, perfectly appropriate for just  about any Monday morning assembly!)

Yesterday, I happened to tell the barista at the Village Starbucks about this new fangled device, and I could tell right away that she wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was. She almost snapped at me as she said, “They don’t have these machines in Canada, and they probably wouldn’t allow them in.” I can understand her perfectly human response. I feel   the same way, whenever I think about that “Principal’s Machine.” But I also remember that in 1988, when I  first became an administrator at a small boarding school, I brought my desktop computer from home and put it in my office. When my administrative assistant saw the spiffy Apple 2 C sitting on my desk, she became upset and immediately asked me to take it home. She was convinced that, if I learned how to use that machine, then she would be out of a job…

If you buy Daniel Pink’s argument about left and right brain differences, then you believe that most of the linear, analytical, and sequential work of today will either be done overseas or done by a machine of some sort. Think of “Turbo Tax” or “Dragon Dictation” just for starters. And it’s not just that technology is changing the way we live and work. It is that the rate of that change is exploding before our eyes — even as we are trying to figure out what it will all mean. In the meantime, though, if you are interested in developing a UCC application –I’m serious about this — please let me know. Can’t you just hear someone say, “UCC, yeah, we’ve got an app for that!”

Point Two: The best speaker I heard at the conference was a young guy named Sal Khan. I’ll show you a clip on him in a minute. The back-story is that Sal started to tutor his cousins in Math a few years ago, and because Sal lives in California and his cousins live in New Orleans, he did this tutoring on line. Sal’s cousins soon invited others to join the tutoring session, and eventually, because they had a hard time juggling schedules, Sal started to put some of his lessons on You Tube.

Here’s where things get interesting: What surprised Sal was that soon his cousins and the other tutees told him that they actually preferred “YouTube Sal” to the real Sal. While it was a bit deflating for Sal, he quickly understood why: his students could stop, review, and redo part of the lectures whenever they wanted– and they never felt stupid.

(That last point is important because “feeling stupid” can undermine learning in general and risk-taking in particular. Especially given all that we know about the importance of creativity and its link with risk, we need to figure out a way to address this fear.)

As a result, Sal ended up putting more and more of his lessons on YouTube. Eventually Bill Gates found out about his work, and the result is that Sal is now building an on-line academy where anyone can learn anything at anytime for free. (If you thought I was worried about the “Principal’s Machine,” Sal’s “Khan Academy” takes my fear factor to a whole new level!)

Take a look:

A final note on this: Sal Khan thinks that his academy and others like it may cause us to “flip the paradigm” of teaching.  Some math teachers, for example, are assigning Khan Academy videos for homework, and this allows them to spend class time doing what we traditionally think of as homework. The advantage is that you, again, can watch the You Tube as often as you want to gain a deep understanding of the concepts, and then you have the chance to apply those concepts when you are working in class, either by yourself or with other students. It also gives teachers the opportunity to do more academic coaching.

Point 3: I know you are all very, very busy these days, but if there is one story from the outside world that you need to be aware of it’s what is going on in North Africa and in the Middle East.  What is absolutely mind-boggling is that this amazing, and frightening and world-changing movement, one that has swept through Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya and Bahrain, all started with one man, Mohamed Bouazizi.


Tunisia is a country plagued by massive government corruption, and one day last December – just 2 months ago – Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit-seller, decided he wouldn’t put up with it any more.  (By the way, you can tell from the photo-shopped poster, that Mohamed is already being glamorized. I’m convinced that Hollywood will Westernize all of this somehow, and Harrison Ford or Justin Biever will play Mohamed in the movie.)

The true story is that, after being abused one too many times by a government official, Mohamed literally set himself on fire as a means of protest, and this fire has sparked cataclysmic change — not just in Tunisia but in the entire Arab world. Part of this is again, a result of technology. The authoritarian governments have tried to shut down the Internet, but smart people have found ways to work around this, and pictures and videos of protesters have swept from one disgruntled country to another.

Part of this historic change is a result 9/11. (Warning: the next section gets a little political.) In the past, the US would support just about any regime, as long as they maintained stability kept the flow of oil constant. So if the rulers of a country didn’t allow people to vote, if they didn’t allow women to drive a car, if they kept their populations illiterate, we in the West turned a blind eye because we wanted cheap fuel. On 9/11 we learned that we would pay a heavy price for these transgressions. Those who were disenfranchised became radicalized, and they focused their fury on those who supported their oppressors. As a result, today the US is much less enthusiastic about supporting rulers who do not have the support of their own people.

It’s been said that the fax machine contributed to the Berlin Wall’s coming down in 1989. In much the same way, Facebook and other social media tools are making ours a more transparent world, a world where people in one country can see what happens in another. We can’t hide things from one another – for better or worse – and repressive regimes are paying the price.

So my three points from today:

  1. Think about that Starbucks machine and what it means about the future – not just the future of coffee — but also about what this kind of technology will mean for how we live and work
  2. Take a look at Khan Academy’s web site. It could be a great resource and perhaps even a game changer for you.
  3. Keep your eye on North Africa and the Middle East, and ask yourself about the role that technology plays in this and in the other social changes that are heading our way. Every time you see a new gizmo, ask yourself what it may mean — beyond just the immediate convenience. And remember the simple truth that first, man shapes tools, and then tools shape man.  Thank you.

Without Blinking an Eye

At last week’s National Association of Independent Schools conference, I heard author Sheena Iyengar tell this story:

A ferocious Japanese warrior invaded a small village, and everyone in the community ran away — with the exception of one Zen Master.

The Warrior: “Fool, you, too, should have fled! Don’t you see that I can kill you without so much as blinking an eye?”

Zen Master: “And can’t you see that I can be killed without  so much as blinking an eye?”

Iyengar pointed out that a key component of leadership is the control of self, and she stressed that self-control is a choice.

I frequently talk to our boys about the importance of having and using a “pause button,” but all of this makes me wonder why the Lakers’ resident Zen Master, Phil Jackson, would ever pick up a technical foul, especially if he had his Zen on…

The Slap Heard Round the World

There are a number of lines you can use, if you want to see a high school boy roll his eyes. One of the most effective goes something like this: “One man can make a difference and you – as a single individual – can make a difference, too.”

You can get a boy to double clutch on the eye roll, though, if only for a moment, by telling him the story of the fruit seller in Tunisia.  The answer to the question, “How did the massive social and political change that is sweeping across North African and the Middle East begin?” flows from the actions of one man.

Nobody expected Mohamed Bouazizi to change the world, but that’s what he did when in his own way, he screamed out, “I’m not going to take it any more!” after he was slapped by a government official. Bouazizi protested his country’s massive corruption by setting himself on fire, and that fire has found more kindling than anyone could have possibly predicted.

You have to wonder what Faida Hamdi, the government official who slapped Bouazizi in December, makes of all of this today. This policeman’s daughter who is described as having “a strong personality” would at least agree that one woman can make a difference, too.

A View From the Arena

At last night’s Founders Dinner, the former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, talked about the many challenges of leadership. According to the Prime Minister, today’s political leaders are too often driven by popularity polls and short term victories, and he pointed to Canada’s greatest Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, as an example of someone who was willing to pay the price for taking the long view.

MacDonald lost an election because he would not compromise on his vision, and yet, in the long run, it was MacDonalds’ dream of uniting a continental nation, which eventually made Canada what it is today.

Mr. Mulroney mentioned that President Gerald Ford admitted that he knew, even before he did it, that pardoning Richard Nixon would cost him the presidency. But Ford did this because he was convinced it was the right thing to do.

That willingness to do what is unpopular in the short term – that willingness to do the “hard, right thing” is what separates leaders from the well intentioned. Before closing, the Prime Minister referred to Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena.”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Will, Amir, and the Boss

Whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen’s “10th Avenue Freeze Out” on old guy radio, I am reminded of what student governments focused on back in the mid-70’s. It was a simpler time when the burning issue was whether or not the administration would allow us to have a juke box in the cafeteria. (They did, and we rejoiced by playing the Springsteen ditty on high volume each morning.)

I thought of that today during an Upper School assembly, when our head steward, Will Hall, interviewed Old Boy, Amir Heinitz, live from Cairo via Skype. Will’s interview would have made Ted Koppel proud. (Anybody who can ask a question while poking fun at Anderson Cooper is worthy of high praise.)

Heinitz offered a broad overview of what is happening today in Egypt and explained how it all came about. He was particularly critical of the government thugs. “They were released from prisons just to create havoc. They are attacking journalist and trying to intimidate reformers.” By contrast, he was optimistic about the military’s role: “90 -95% of the military have been positive. They are concerned with security.”

Amir ended the conversation by pointing out that he feels a responsibility to tell those abroad what is happening in the streets of Cairo. “We know that the world respects Egypt’s yearning for democracy.”

I know that technology is a double-edge sword, and I wish more boys spent more time Dickens and less with X-boxes, but I think this morning, even the Boss would have been proud.

The View from Seoul

What does Kim Jong-il see when he looks at the streets of Cairo?

My Korean friend sat by the window, watching the snow fall.

“I’ve been watching the news in Egypt and it’s not as simple as Westerners might think. Let me tell you how we see things from my part of the world.

My country has the world’s 8th largest economy, and we burn a million barrels of oil each and every day. Without that oil, everything shuts down. And I mean everything. Factories and offices would close. The economy would come to a halt, and people would die. Remember, it is colder in Seoul than it is in Toronto.

We have a 15-day supply of oil, so what’s vitally important from our point of view is that the supply chain not be disrupted. Sure, we would like the people of Egypt to enjoy more freedom, more democracy, but at the same time we need stability. The world will suffer – my country would suffer if things became disrupted.

And that’s not something I am sure you understand.”


The Write Off

Why we all need a second chance.

This morning I’d like to tell you a story that Mr. McKay sent to me. On one level, it’s a piece of fiction about a student and a teacher. On another it’s about all of us. Let me warn you that it is a bit sentimental, but I hope you’ll indulge me with this.

As she stood in front of her grade 5 class on the very first day of school, Mrs. Thompson told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children; she remembered that his clothes were messy, and that he often needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s before putting a big F at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records, and she put Teddy’s off until last. When she finally got around to reviewing his file, she was in for a surprise.

Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners. He is a joy to be around!”

His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home must be a struggle.”

His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”

His fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends, and he sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem, and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students gave her Christmas presents. All the presents were wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s.

His present was clumsily wrapped in a heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open his in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she explained how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mom used to.”

After the children left, Mrs. Thompson cried. From that day on, she paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the top students in the class and despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, he had became a favourite.

Six years went by before she got a note from Teddy. He wrote that he had finished high school third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he had ever had.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, and would soon graduate from college with highest honours. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best teacher he had ever had.

Four years later and another letter arrived. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, Teddy had decided to go further. The letter explained that she was still the best teacher he ever had, and the letter was signed, “Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.”

The story does not end there. There was another letter that spring in which Teddy said he was going to be married. He said that his father had passed away a few years earlier, and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Mrs. Thompson attended that wedding, and she wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy had given her when he was ten years old. It was the perfume his mother wore on their last Christmas together.

Ok. I told you it was a sentimental story. But I offer three unsentimental reflections:

First, while I was moved by the story, I don’t buy the initial description of Mrs. Thompson because I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t want a student to succeed, and I’ve never known a teacher who took delight in giving a student an F. Teachers are our culture’s last and best idealists. They are drawn to their life’s work, not because they see it as a get-rich scheme. (It’s not.) They do what they do because they believe that what’s most important is helping someone else reach his potential. Your success is ultimately their success, too.

Second, it is way too easy to look at this story from Teddy’s point of view. You may be nodding your head in agreement and thinking, “Yes. I have suffered. Yes, I, have been misunderstood, and yes, I have bad hygiene.” (ok, maybe you aren’t thinking about your hygiene.) But if you are asking the question, “Where was my Mrs. Thompson when I needed her?” then the challenge is to look at the story from the perspective of the teacher.

Finally, Mrs. Thompson was guilty of something we have all done: she wrote someone off.  She assumed that the kid who needed a bath was not her kind of student. It was a mistake, but aren’t we all guilty of doing the same thing from time to time?

Do we write guys off who don’t meet our own personal standards? Do we pigeon hole others if they care too much about the violin or too little about cricket?

I know I’ve committed this sin. One example jumps quickly to mind. Last year, on a particularly busy day, I was supposed to coach a basketball game, and I was running late when I realized I hadn’t asked anyone to run the clock. When I got to the gym, I saw one student sitting there, and asked him if he could help out. He paused for a moment and then asked, “Will I get a CAS (service) hour for doing it?”

It’s not a bad question, but it hit me at just the wrong time in just the wrong spot, so I confess my instinct was to write the guy off. (I found myself wondering: If I asked him for a cup of coffee, would he ask for a CAS minute?)

I mention my own shortcoming because we don’t always have what Mrs. Thompson had, which was the benefit of hindsight. She could read those reports and gain a deeper understanding of Teddy Stoddart. We don’t have that luxury, but we do have the opportunity to give folks a second chance. That’s something all of us – even those of who occasionally chase CAS hours –deserve.