Mar 30 2018

Two Quotations on the Language of Leadership

London - Georgian Apartments

Two Quotations on the Language of Leadership

Just two quotations today, two to compare and comport and contrast within everything else that has been read and seen and consumed online. The first is from Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951):

Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts. No solid, tangible advantage can hold a following and make it zealous and loyal unto death. The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist. [1]

But compare the “shrewd realism” of George Woodcock (1912-1995)’s Mohandas Gandhi (1971):

Most Indians (whatever their caste or religious background) agree on Gandhi’s shrewd realism….

As Gandhi once remarked, in this life the ideal is never achieved. And those who seek to realize the ideal die either in the loneliness of unfulfillment or in the solitude of having betrayed the ideal of grand illusion of fulfillment. The latter fate was Lenin’s and Nehru’s; it awaits Mao Tsetung and Castro. The other fate, of dying alone, unfulfilled but essentially uncorrupted, was that of Kropotkin and Che Guevara and Zapata; it was also, despite all this triumphs, that of Gandhi. His successes were immense if one judges them by the goals of the majority of men; judged by his aspirations, he failed, yet his failure was a sign of the magnitude of his vision.[2]

 

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[1] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) §91, p. 107.

[2] George Woodcock, Mohandas Gandhi, (New York: Viking, 1971) 9, 49.


Jan 21 2017

I stayed home today

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

I stayed home today

I voted third party. So I didn’t partake in any protest today. But I don’t disapprove the idea of protesting; although I’m sure if particularly extreme examples of that protesting were presented to me in a biased, dishonestly-framed context (as this country’s institutional and individual-social-based media tend to present such things), I’m sure I too would disapprove of those things presented.

I confess to being in the habit of saying things like, “yeah, protesting in the streets may have worked in the 60s, but it doesn’t do dick these days….” But as I get older and learn to be more attune to my body’s aches and pains, I know that for corporate political bodies (like those protesting today) as well as for corporal individual bodies (like my poor hungover aching-self) that sometimes it feels good, indeed, cathartic (in every Aristotelian sense of the word), to purge oneself of anger and frustration the same way one would purge oneself of gas or snot the way one does when farting or belching or sneezing.

Yes, many onlookers–particularly many onlookers from very far away–see such farting and belching and sneezing as disgusting, but that has nothing to do with the individual need to expel the anxiety and frustration and infection that has been physically or mentally frustrating certain individuals with regard to the current political situation.

But spare me the holier-than-thou arguments: if Hillary had won there would still be rioting in the streets. The original tea party was a protest, the neo-tea party was a protest, and today’s marches and gatherings are but a protest.

So go ahead protestors. Fart it all out. It won’t change the status quo. But it may nonetheless be necessary in order to maintain our political health.


Jan 19 2010

Too Bureaucratic To Fail: Why Bad Schools Won’t Go Belly Up

The faithful like to claim that the word “church” means a body of people, not a building.

If only the state boards of education, teacher’s unions, parents of students, and textbook publishers felt the same way about the word “school.” Banks go belly up and receive government bailouts. Churches may morally corrode and financially “settle” with their victims, but they still get to keep their tax breaks. Yet rarely does student corruption (i.e. the demise of the individual’s enthusiasm to learn) or the administrative erosion of educational standards and practices impart any kind of penalty on a public school.

Things seems to have gotten so bad that talk of penalties are now on the table. The only question now is who will be the executioner of these educational institutions: parents or politicians? National Journals Eliza Krigman reports on a new “parent trigger” option for California, while at the partisan Texas Policy think tank, Brooke Terry considers that answers lie in policies found in the land of the buckeye, but notes:

If the evidence does not point to success, why do school leaders and policymakers continue to push for restructuring a school versus just shutting it down and starting anew? Politics.

It is very hard politically for a school superintendent or a politician to tell their constituents that a school in their community is so bad it is beyond fixing. They take a risk of angering their constituents who may have emotional ties to the school. So, in most cases, it is easier to come up with a list of action items to improve the school versus allowing the school to face the consequences of its mediocre performance and get shut down.

Terry also links to Andy Smarick at EducationNext.org, where Smarick proposes several reasons why the threat of closure might act as an effective penalty for public schools that produce poor students:

This would have three benefits. First, children would no longer be subjected to schools with long track records of failure and high probabilities of continued failure.

Second, the fear of closure might generate improvement in some low-performing schools. Failure in public education has had fewer consequences (for adults) than in other fields, a fact that might contribute to the persistent struggles of some schools. We should have limited expectations in this regard, however. Even in the private sector, where the consequences for poor performance are significant, some low-performing entities never become successful.

Third, and by far the most important and least appreciated factor, closures make room for replacements, which have a transformative positive impact on the health of a field. When a firm folds due to poor performance, the slack is taken up by the expansion of successful existing firms—meaning that those excelling have the opportunity to do more—or by new firms. New entrants not only fill gaps, they have a tendency to better reflect current market conditions. They are also far likelier to introduce innovations: Google, Facebook, and Twitter were not products of long-standing firms. Certainly not all new starts will excel, not in education, not in any field. But when provided the right characteristics and environment, their potential is vast.

But Smarick’s suggested benefits are mere political palliatives. His third benefit offers the least amount of remedy: When a firm folds due to poor performance, the slack is taken up by the expansion of successful existing firmsmeaning that those excelling have the opportunity to do moreor by new firms. If only there were some general way of proving this were true. Smarick offers some sexy examples with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but notice he didn’t mention Lehman Brothers or any other banking firm. I wonder who took up their slack when they failed?

Smarick’s second benefit is adequate, but his first is just absurd. Children would no longer be subjected to schools with long track records of failure and high probabilities of continued failure. Aren’t these “long track records of failure” a part of their American heritage? Shouldn’t we stop looking at the educational accomplishments of foreigners and merely be impressed with our own mistakes?