(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

Too big to Succeed (Part I)

Posted on: Apr. 5, 2011  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: General

My daughter is about to graduate from college and my son is about to graduate from high school.  As many parents, while I am extremely proud, however, I worry about the opportunities that await them.  When I think about how the world will change for them, my twisted mind seems to wrestle with college graduation rates, NCAA violations, commodity prices, and electoral races.  They all are indicative of stories gone wrong but at the same time they may be behemoths that cannot be tamed.  Are these institutions getting too big to succeed?  Are they dragging down the opportunities for all of us?

Here are a few more questions around this problem.  If our institutions are going to change for the better than can that change be directed? Are things so complex that we do not even know what we need to do in order to change but also would not even know how to isolate whether any change made had the desired effect?  Many colleges only graduate sixty-percent of their undergraduate class and of those that do graduate; many students take six years to do so.  Recently, it seems to come to light more and more that NCAA rule violations may be commonplace.   These violations then would be systemic.  Commodity prices seem to change when there is no real on-the-ground supply reason that the prices are moving.   Political candidates seem to be a case of not only the cream not rising to the top but the cream being spoiled.  In all of these cases, we can follow the money.

The point is not that money is corrupting but that systemic problems are arising from the way the story of each of these institutions works.  In the case of college students, the extrinsic pressure to get into the best school, pay for school, and then get a job after school seems to drag down educators, students and their parents, and even employers who want to hire them so that students are less motivated, less prepared, and less skilled.  This type of pressure does not allow students the freedom to learn how-to-learn and to gain a feeling of confidence and mastery.  In the case of the NCAA, the pressure to get the best recruits and win at this level pushes coaches and recruiters, boosters, parents of players, and other representatives of schools to game the system or skirt the rules.  In the case of commodity prices, it is rumored that those traders gaming the system are behind why we are all paying prices that do not seem to be tied to supply and demand.  In the case of political candidates, the pressure to be elected or reelected and the money needed to do so pushes candidates or incumbents to look beyond the issues and their constituents as well as their own values and principles.

In all of these cases, when the winners are the few then the losers are all of us in general.  Fairness aside, this omits the impact on our cultural values and the foregoing of a social change for the better.  In the case of students, they seem to lack the skills needed for college and then they and or their parents have to be saddled with debt or so large a tuition that many either do not graduate or get jobs where they cannot afford to pay back the debt load.  When employers find engineers and other formerly lucrative fields competing for jobs along with new graduates, the graduates either cannot find work at all, have to work for less, or take jobs below their level of college degree.  In the NCAA, some schools evade getting caught for some time and even if they do, they develop “successful” programs yet most colleges do not make money on sports.  The athletes interested in becoming professionals aren’t even going to school for an education.  Commodity traders making money while all of us pay higher prices seems to be a no-brainer to stop gaming the system.  Yet it takes an understanding of how these things are happening and leadership to then do something about it which does not seem to materialize.  In the case of political candidates, they get elected but seem to be Republicans or Democrats first and as for America getting better that seems either to be an afterthought or too difficult to tackle.

My daughter, to her credit, my wallet, and my pride, graduated from a prestigious school in three-and-a-half years.  The high school she went to had her formidably prepared for college.  Yet my son, who went to the same high school was bored, felt he could have learned a lot more, and has decided to wait a year before trying his hand at going to college.  Is he the type of kid that would be one of the ones that do not graduate if he decided to attend right away?  Is it the college’s job to get their students through?  According to Perry Nelson, who has worked at UCLA School Mental Health Project studying what works and what doesn’t in education, there is no single answer when it comes to something so complex.  We are looking at a holistic system where community, schools, teachers, parents, students, school boards, cultural mores, and all kinds of factors interconnect.  For parents and others concerned with this issue, you can read http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/postsecondary.pdf or go the website for all types of resources: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/

A system like No Child Left Behind creates so many systemic changes and each school must adapt to meet the standards required.  One of the criticisms is that so much effort had to be put to teach to the tests around those standards that getting some students interested and motivated in school is just an afterthought.  In my son’s case, he would wholeheartedly agree.  Nelson points out that there is a fine line between diagnosing a child as ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ) and that same child just being bored.  Like in politics, when someone is a Democrat or Republican first, how can the country become better?  When someone is teaching to standards first, are students becoming the best they can be?  In our corporate structure, if shareholder’s come first than is the corporation doing what it needs to do for long term improvement or just satisfying what the investors want to see short-term?

Again, are these institutions structured and contributing to a lack of opportunity?  It is no secret that there is a huge income discrepancy within the United States.  We have billionaires while at the same time many are just trying to make ends meet.  Is our economic distribution becoming like those of the NCAA athletes.  Your odds of making it are extremely low but if you do, you can make it big.  Some of this has to do with the country’s individualistic narrative but that is no license to stack the odds against the players of the game.   We will discuss whether the behemoth will become too fat to survive in the next blog and whether opportunity can improve for more than just a limited few.

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