Wednesday, November 23, 2011


For what do you have to be thankful this year?

Do you think that people who live on the street and have no money could possibly have anything to be thankful for? Why or why not?

Some people say that the two words "thank you" are the two most important words in the English language? Do you agree with this? Why or why not? What other two, three, or four word phrases might count among the most important words in English?

Do you think that stores should be open on Thanksgiving day? Why or why not?

Can you think of anything for which the whole world should be thankful?

Monday, November 21, 2011

George Bush and the Supercommittee

The Washington Post is running an article with the heading, "Supercommittee’s failure pushes Bush tax cuts to forefront of 2012 campaign." The article states, "(Bush's) tax changes have repeatedly provoked fiery partisan debate since they were enacted during President George W. Bush’s first term. Now, with the cuts due to expire at the end of 2012 and their fate left unresolved by the supercommittee, both parties are already positioning themselves to exploit the issue for maximum electoral advantage."

Questions for Discussion

1. Do you think that people with more money should be forced to pay more money in taxes than people with less money? Why or why not? Argue both the positive and negative sides of this question.

2. The Supercommittee is not expected to successfully reach an agreement. What can we learn about Washington, D.C., from the fact that the Supercommittee was unsuccessful?

3. Do you think that the leaders of Congress thought that the committee would be able to successfully propose ways to make the deficit smaller when they first created it? Why or why not?

4. If you could tell the members of Congress one thing that they most likely have not heard before what would you tell them? Why would you tell this to them?

Friday, November 18, 2011

McDonald's Eggs

The Chicago Tribune is running an article with the heading, "McDonald's drops egg supplier over animal cruelty report." The article reports, "MCDonald's dropped an egg supplier Friday, following reports of cruelty... A three-month investigation conducted by ABC News and Mercy for Animals, a non-profit organization devoted to animal welfare, produced a video alleging abuses at farms run by McDonald's egg supplier Sparboe in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado."

Questions for Discussion

1. Why do you think that farm managers would allow animals to be mistreated? Psychological reasons? Economic reasons? Other reasons?

2. Do you think that this is a case of punishing an entire company for the behavior of a few people within the company? Is it appropriate to fire a company because of the poor behavior or lack of quality from a few employees? Why or why not?

3. Do you think that it is appropriate to eat food from animals that were mistreated during their lifetimes? Why or why not? Do you think that it is appropriate to buy food at restaurants that knowingly buy meat from farms that mistreat animals? Why or why not?

4. Do you think that executives at McDonald's really care how the animals are treated or did they stop using this farm company for other reasons? If so, what other reasons? Does it really matter why McDonald's stopped using this company? Why or why not?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

U.S., Australia, and China

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "U.S. Expands Military Ties to Australia, Irritating China." The article begins, "President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States planned to deploy 2,500 Marines in Australia to shore up alliances in Asia, but the move prompted a sharp response from Beijing, which accused Mr. Obama of escalating military tensions in the region."


1. What is the difference between a country's ally and a person's friend? Should countries treat one another in the same way that people should treat their friends? Why or why not? (Give specific examples as to how friends and allies are similar and specific examples as to how they are different.)

2. What three questions would you ask in order to better understand the relationship between China and the United States as it relates to the Pacific Rim? Why do you think that these questions would improve your understanding of the relationship?

3. Do you think that the United States of America should try and develop relationships with Pacific nations with which China may not be pleased? Why or why not? Should the self interests of China matter to the United States? Why or why not?

4. What benefits might come to the United States as a result of having soldiers stationed overseas? What disadvantages might come to the United States as a result of having soldiers stationed overseas? If you had to develop one rule for deciding whether or not the U.S. should station soldiers in specific places what would the rule be? Why?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "On Libya, Herman Cain has his own ‘oops’ moment." The article begins, "This time the subject was Libya. The candidate was Herman Cain. The question was whether he agreed with the way President Obama handled the matter. The answer, drawn out over more than five awkward minutes, produced another “oops” moment in the race for the Republican presidential nomination."

Questions for Discussion

1. Do you think that the President of the United States should know the name of every world leader? (There are almost 200 members of the United Nations.) Why or why not? Do you think that you should know the name of every world leader? Why or why not?

2. Do you think that it is important for a presidential candidate to remember specific components of every policy proposal that he includes in his platform, or set of ideas explaining why he should be President? Why or why not?

3. Can you think of one common fact that it is important for all people to know? How many such facts can you think of? (What about common facts that all people living in your country should know?) Why do you think that these facts are so important?

4. What kinds of strategies do you think make it easier to remember things? (For example, when I fill up two cups with pop, for example from a self-serve machine, I never want to confuse whose cup is who. So, I tell myself that I am always right and keep my cup in my right hand. (I'm really not so arrogant in real life.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Innovator's Innovation

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Google's Lab of Wildest Dreams." The article begins, "In a top-secret lab in an undisclosed Bay Area location where robots run free, the future is being imagined." It continues, "It’s a place where your refrigerator could be connected to the Internet, so it could order groceries when they ran low. Your dinner plate could post to a social network what you’re eating. Your robot could go to the office while you stay home in your pajamas. And you could, perhaps, take an elevator to outer space."

Questions for Discussion:

1. Do you think that it is more important to think about the past, the present, or the future? Why? Is it important to think about each of these time periods or just one or two? Explain!

2. If you could invent just one product to make your life easier, a product not mentioned in this article, what would you invent? Why?

3. If you were investing in a company what three characteristics would you consider the most important predictors of success? Do you think that a company must think about futuristic ideas in order to be successful? Do you think that a company must be innovative to be successful?

4. What is the difference between a bad idea and a good idea? Can one idea be both bad and good? What is the best idea that you have ever heard of in your life?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wilson Ramos: Kidnapped and Rescued

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos says police, kidnappers exchanged heavy gunfire in dramatic rescue." According to the article, Ramos said, "For a few moments...I thought I would never see my family and that was something painful, super painful.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What is the most important thing about a family? Do you think that you can ever replace a family with friends? Why or why not?

2. If you had been in Wilson Ramos' place, what would you have been thinking on a moment by moment basis as you were driven from your home to the hideout? Would time have flown by or stood still? Explain!

3. The socialist country of Venezuela does not have warm relations with the United States. It's leader Hugo Chavez is not liked by the U.S. government. What questions would you ask to learn more about the relationship between Venezuela and the United States? Do you think that this event could prompt better relationships? Why or why not?

4. What strategies do you have for dealing with pressure when it is at its worst? Are there strategies for dealing with pressure that you would like to implement but find it very difficult to do so? Why do you find these strategies difficult to implement? Explain!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cain's Changing Plan

Do you think that the changes that Herman Cain made to his 9-9-9 plan are a sign of weakness, a sign of strength or neither? Why?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Muammar Gaddafi

Do you think that the Lybian resistance should have captured Gaddaffi alive if at all possible? Why or why not?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Pride of an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs share many common experiences, that I would imagine non-entrepreneurs cannot experience. Recently I have been thinking about one of my favorite experiences as an entrepreneur - providing other people with work.

At the present time, about 35 people work with A Pass Educational Group. This means that over the course of a month, I write about 35 checks to employees and freelancers. Every time I write a check I have a good feeling. I am making a difference. People who work for me count on their financial compensation, just as I count on their productive output. (I really hope that this does not sound arrogant, but it feels good to provide others with work and compensation.) Of course, I need money, as well. Without my associates I would not be able to make money either.

Sometimes I stop and think about the backgrounds of some of the people who work with me - stay at home mothers; recent college graduates; more mature people towards the end of their careers; etc. Without the money that these people are making they would not be able to live in the ways that they do live.

Interestingly, as an entrepreneur I also make decisions that affect my entire business. These decisions can either provide my associates with more work or less work. Several days ago I had the opportunity to make just such a decision. A client of mine asked if we would like to develop 10 courses for her institution. I accepted the work several hours later and hours later heard back from the client. Another vendor had communicated with this client before me. Consequently, the client had awarded the other vendor half of the work. She wanted to know if we were still interested in doing half the work.

This situation upset me. Of course, I thought about the situation from my own perspective as opposed to that of anybody else's. Earlier in my life I would have made a very quick decision in this scenario. I would likely have responded "no thank you." I would have explained that I thought I was wronged and that since we couldn't trust the client we weren't going to do work with her. (Needless to say, I am building a successful company now and I didn't build one earlier in my life.)

Though I was initially upset, I recognized that the client was still offering me a significant amount of work. This work would obviously allow me to earn extra money. It also would have provided additional work for my associates. Rather than rejecting the work, I sent back a note that we would love to do the work. I explained that I viewed this work as an initial opportunity together and that hopefully our work together would expand and last a long time. I made this decision because I was not only thinking about myself. I was thinking about people who work with me.

(Interestingly and tangentially, my client's decision makes a lot more sense to me today than it did several days ago. After all, how would I have felt if I had been the second vendor? While I interpreted the client's initial letter as offering me work, it is possible that she did not interpret it in this way?)

As an entrepreneur I have the opportunity to provide other people with work. But, in order to do this successfully, I must make decisions that while not feeling good in the moment, are ultimately the right decisions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Second Chance?

I would be the first to admit that I was probably not the most enjoyable student to have in class. I was probably a hand full for most of my teachers. I remember once I decided to give a substitute teacher a rough time so I started coughing. I was in high school and I coughed so much for this poor sub that finally he looked at me and told me to take the rest of the period off. I wasn't going to get in trouble but I wasn't going to have to stay in class either.

Despite my behavior there were times when I decided to behave better. For example, I vividly remember a conversation with my fourth grade teacher in which he asked me why I consistently misbehaved. I answered that I wanted the other students to think that I was cool. He explained that there were other students in the class who had a lot of friends who behaved very well. I told him that I would try to behave better. I seriously intended to behave better. But the next day in music the class became a little rambunctious. It was simply too easy for me to join in the fun. (Maybe even lead the fun.) I'll never forget the look on my homeroom teacher's face when he came to pick us up. The music teacher told him that several of us had misbehaved. Of course, my name was mentioned. He was truly disappointed and did not feel as if the conversation that we had had the day before meant anything to me. Of course, since I remember this conversation thirty years later, it certainly meant something to me. I wanted to behave better but my impulses got the better of me. The teacher did not believe me when I told him that the conversation had meant something to me.

As educators, how many of us have experienced something similar with out students? We have a serious conversation with them about study habits or behavior and the next day they seem to ignore everything that we have said. The truth is, however, that as teachers we cannot really know how our students thought about what we said. We need to realize that as children sometimes students do things that they do not mean to do. If adults can do this, can't students do the same thing? We need to give our students a second chance, even a fifth or a sixth chance.

Several years later, a teacher of mine told the class that he would give us extra-credit if we wrote essays describing the way that we thought about what we were learning in his class. I decided to take the teacher up on this offer. At the end of each class the teacher asked us to write a short paragraph presenting our opinions on the topic under discussion. I specifically mentioned in my extra credit writing that I enjoyed these brief thought pieces. I enjoyed the reflection. However, a few days later a couple of the students in my class were grumbling that they did not want to write the thought pieces. I agreed that I didn't want to write the thought paper. The teacher looked at me and said, "But, you wrote that you liked these thought papers." He was putting me on the spot in front of my classmates. I responded, "I needed to write something to get the extra credit. I didn't really mean it." He looked at me and said, "Then you don't really get the extra credit." I remember feeling very disappointed. In reality I did like these thought pieces, in general. I just didn't enjoy settling down enough to write them, particularly at the moment that I had to settle down.

How often as educators do we have students say one thing even if they mean something else? As teachers it is important to not only think about what students say but also what students mean. It is important to consider why students say what they say. It is important for us to let our students know that we care what they have to say. We should let our students know that we recognize that feelings and emotions can change. I certainly didn't feel listened to by this teacher.

One more quick story:

One day in high school I became very upset with my chemistry teacher. I felt that she graded a test incorrectly. (I had a terrible temper that I have since learned to control.) My chemistry teacher claimed that I told her to "Go to hell." I didn't acknowledge that I said this or believe that I said this, but she insisted that I did. (Since I was highly emotional and she wasn't let's take her word for it.) Considering that I went to a religious prep school I certainly could have been thrown out of the school. But instead the dean of students, with the chemistry teacher's ascent, restricted me and made me complete a "pink sheet." This meant that for two weeks I had to carry this sheet around and have every teacher sign it saying that I behaved in class. (Of course, I also apologized to the chemistry teacher.) If a teacher had refused to sign this sheet, I would have been expelled. I successfully worked myself off of restriction.

The point is that my high school faculty understood that as a teenager I needed a second chance. They didn't hesitate to give me one. I went on to graduate from high school on national honor society. The faculty's decision could certainly have altered my life. (Would I have been accepted to Columbia if I had not been given a second chance in high school?)

The next time you are interacting with a student give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Remember that youth are not adults. The purpose of being a student is to learn, not just academic lessons but life lessons. If you are too quick to dismiss students it is likely that the life lessons will not be learned.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Teaching Religion in Public Schools

I'll never forget one day as a teenager teaching several good friends of mine who happened to be Christian about the meanings of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The thing that surprised me was that I was (am) Jewish. How was it possible that I, as a Jew, could teach my Christian friends the meanings of their holidays?

Even more interesting, I was a student at a Jewish prep school. My world history and American history teachers spent considerable time teaching about Christianity and the nature of Christian beliefs. My classmates and I were Jewish - we knew that. But, we did not live within a vacuum in the world. We did not live within a Jewish "bubble."

My friends, on the other hand, went to a public high school - one of the highest regarded high schools in the United States. But, they still did not study any kind of religion in their school. They knew very little about their own religion and almost nothing about Judaism.

I can't help but wonder how many American adults truly understand the meanings of Good Friday, Easter, and Passover. (Obviously, I am just mentioning the holidays that are currently occurring. There are so many others from a variety of religions that could also be mentioned.) How many Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.) and Jewish adults understand the interconnections between these two religions?

Unfortunately, many public high schools tend to be afraid to teach about religion.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It is only fear that limits the teaching of religion. Many educators interpret this amendment as mandating that religion should not be taught in public schools. But, of course, this is not accurate. There is a significant difference between establishing a religion as the central religion of the United States and teaching the essence of religious ideology. Too many educators are afraid that they'll run into trouble if they teach the beliefs of various religions. But, the Constitution does not prohibit any kind of teaching. Indeed, enlightened people should not be afraid to learn anything, or teach anything.

The teachers in my Jewish prep school understood that teaching is not the same thing as indoctrinating. It is time for teachers in all schools to understand the same.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sh!! Listen to the Most Important Person in the World!!

I've been teaching Jewish religious school for more than twenty years. These schools typically meet for about five hours a week, during the afternoon and/or Sunday morning. While students definitely need to learn how to read Hebrew and about Jewish history and culture, these are not the most important things for students to learn. The most important thing for students to learn is how to connect with their own inner voice. Some might call this the voice of God or godliness. Others would not. It's important for students to become calm and quiet. It's important to simply listen to themselves and the natural context in which they live.

You might say that this is an important topic for religious school but totally irrelevant to a high quality secular education. I completely disagree. All children, all people, have inner voices that seek to be fulfilled. These inner voices appreciate connecting with aesthetically pleasing phenomena - a beautiful sunset, a powerful camp fire, an inspiring story, the intricacies of a flower, silence. These phenomena help individuals connect with themselves and the world in which they live. Secular educational has a responsibility to help students learn these skills. Secular education has a responsibility to promote spirituality, a necessary ingredient for a self fulfilled individual.

Te December 1998/January 1999 issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership was titled, The Spirit of Education. Numerous educational leaders argue that it is important to teach students to hear the spirituality of the world. The job of figuring out how to accomplish this goal is complicated. However, just because something is difficult does not meant that it should be avoided. Teachers and curriculum developers should certainly be focusing on this objective. After all, it is vital for human development.

One quick note before I conclude this blog post: Recently I have been writing a lot more than I have written for quite some time. Readers might be wondering why. The simple answer is that I missed the opportunity to express my thoughts and ideas in writing. Consequently, I took the important step of giving myself this writing venue.

While I am fulfilling this need for myself, young people do not yet have the capacity to fulfill all of their needs on their own. Nor can they even recognize all of their needs. Consequently, as educators we must help students do this. Spirituality is one human need. Educators must provide an outlet for spiritualism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Passover: A Holiday of Freedom

According to the Old Testament, after the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, God heard their cries and redeemed them. Much can be learned from the story of the Exodus. But, I'd like to focus on something that can be meaningful to all people.

What does the word "freedom" mean?

Ask many people and they'd tell you that being free means that you can do whatever you want to do. If you want to sleep all day you should be free to do just that. If you want to say something you should be free to do so, regardless of what you say.

The problem with looking at freedom in this way is that one does not consider the relationship between actions and fulfillment. One does not recognize the absolute importance of being fulfilled if they believe that being free means that one can do whatever one wants whenever he wants.

The Old Testament reports that exactly seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Hebrews arrived at Mt. Sinai where God revealed the Ten Commandments. Is it odd that exactly seven weeks after becoming "free" the Hebrews are told that they must follow certain specific laws?

I don't think that this is odd at all.

Too much freedom is debilitating. When people are completely free to do whatever they want it's easy to become paralyzed and do nothing. (Just think of a day gone by when rather than completing what you wanted to, you lounged and relaxed.) It's easy to alienate other people so that it becomes impossible to maintain any meaningful relationships. (Just consider the husband who violates the norms of marriage and sleeps around. What kind of relationship does he have with any of the women with whom he sleeps? What kind of a relationship does he have with himself?)

What does this mean for the classroom?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Voices in My Head

Before I write this post, I should clearly state that I am not a psychologist and I do not even play one on tv.

Why is it that we often joke about people having voices in their heads? I'm not talking about the kinds of voices that people who are schizophrenic have. Rather, I'm talking about the voices that reflective individuals have. For example, as I sit here writing this blog post, I am not writing everything on the screen that pops into my mind. Rather I am searching for the best words and the best phrases to convey my ideas. Basically, I am thinking and my thoughts are little voices.

I think that too often people are embarrassed about the voices that they have in their heads. I'll use myself as an example to clarify the kinds of voices that I mean. For many many years I had a very low self esteem. I used to say to myself, "I hate myself." "I am a wimp." "I can't do anything right." Imagine the negative ways in which these voices influenced me. (By the way, the voices were not accurate. While I was thinking these thoughts, I was doing well enough in school to get accepted to Columbia University. I was a leader in my high school youth group. Finally, I was matriculated at Columbia earning a fairly high GPA. But, if I'd thought this myself during those years I quickly would have rationalized, "Oh, come on, this is school. School is easy. Anybody could do well in school if they just tried.") I did not understand these voices and feelings. Furthermore, I never could have articulated them.

You might be wondering how I came to develop higher self esteem. For it is fairly safe to say that somebody with a low self esteem would probably not publish the previous paragraph.

Shortly after I graduated from college I had an idea. (Actually a therapist helped me formulate this idea.) Each day I would identify the things that I had done during the day that were truly accomplishments. At times I felt so down, that shaving felt like an accomplishment. But, over time, my lists helped me develop better feelings towards myself. Now, I often hear voices in my head that actually make me feel good. "I have a successful business." "I can make other people feel good."

Teachers work with students every day. My guess would be that on a regular basis, students have voices in their heads. These voices can promote high self-esteem. But, they can also promote low self esteem. I wonder how many teachers actually think about the voices and feelings of their students. My thought would be that not very many do so. Essentially this means that teachers do not get to know their students as individuals. I fear that not many parents think about these variables either. This means that many children and adolescents do not have adults who truly know them. Without this knowledge of youth it is very difficult to help them grow up in the best possible way.

It took me until I was in my mid-20s to feel good about myself. What if my parents or teachers had understood my feelings. Would they have been able to help me feel good about myself at a younger age. I was lucky. Eventually I did find somebody who could help me develop a deeper understanding of myself. Some people never really learn to understand their feelings and emotions.

We kid about voices in heads. But this kidding is destructive since everybody does have voices in their heads. These voices should be understood not made fun of.

What do you think?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Baseball in the Spring

Imagine that two different trains leave two cities at the same time, travelling in opposite directions along the same railroad track. The two trains leave at 11:00am. The train leaving from Chicago is travelling at 70 miles per hour. The train leaving from New York City is travelling at 55 miles per hour. The distance between New York City and Chicago is 711 miles. At what time will these two trains meet each other?

Most students would probably think, who cares. After all, couldn't they just look at train schedules?

The other day I was sitting at a baseball game with a friend and he started telling me about a book in which the author analyzed baseball statistics to determine who the best players at each position really were/are. (Interestingly, I just Googled baseball, statistics, and books and got a long list of books that relate to the topic.) My friend's comment prompted me to think, why don't more school exercises incorporate examples from subjects that are relevant to students? Wouldn't it be easier for many students to focus on math if they were asked to consider topics that they find interesting? Couldn't they learn the same math skills? Baseball is in the air, why isn't it in the classroom?

I recently read a blog post written by a Phillips Academy student who spent time in China. She visited a school and at one point was asked to teach a class to her age-mates. She writes, "Throughout my time there, several teachers had me introduce myself to the class, and one even had me teach a short lesson in English. I chose to go over the pronunciation and meaning of Justin Bieber’s song Baby because I knew that many of my classmates were big fans of his. My class was a hit with almost 100% active class participation!"

This high school student gets it. Students become engaged when they learn within relevant contexts. Her students were not really studying Justin Bieber's song; the lesson was on literary analysis. But, the context was interesting.

Why don't more teachers get this?

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Asking Questions Contributing to Intellectual Discussion

I've often wondered, is it possible to contribute to intellectual conversations simply by asking questions?

Here's what I mean and why I am asking the question -

As people who have read me before know, I have a long tradition of asking questions about current events news articles. These questions are designed to promote high quality conversations on worldly topics. But the questions themselves do not offer direct insights and opinions. Rather they provide structures that support others in offering insights and opinions. Consequently, I can't help but wonder, if I ask questions am I personally contributing to intellectual discussion?

I guess another question could be asked - if a student asks a question in a classroom that promotes thought, should the question be considered as significant a contribution as an insightful comment or opinion? I'm specifically referring to the kind of question that would promote further discussion, not a closed ended question that could be answered with a simple yes or no.

Personally, I think that questions can often be more provocative and enhancing than comments. Questions are the impetus for learning. Questions demonstrate critical thinking ability. However, I fear that we live in a society in which questions are not considered as important as answers. People tend to want, not answers, but the answer.

Since single answers often do not exist, such thinking is limiting. But, I don't think that we live in the most intellectually engaging society.

What do you think?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Video Games and Education

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between video games and learning. More specifically, why can so many students who have a very difficult time engaging in school easily play video games, which also require intense concentration. What can educators learn from video games?

There are many different things that educators can learn from video games but here's one that I consider super important. When people play video games they know what they are trying to do. Players understand the game objectives. They know what they are supposed to do to beat the video game and they work hard to ensure their own victory. (Consider how boring a game might be if players did not know what they were trying to do. OK - such a non-descript game might be fun once in a while. But, by and large gamers like to know what they are trying to do.)

If people like knowing the objectives for which they are working, why is it that so many teachers have a hard time making learning objectives transparent?

Ask a student what they learned at school today and they'll likely say, "nothing." I'm convinced that the reason for this is not because students don't learn anything in school. Rather, it is because students cannot breakdown the vagueness of what they have learned into a meaningful sentence or two. It's not only that students can't do this. They also don't want to take the effort to do so.

Video games would likely not survive if players could not easily identify their objectives. But, of course, it's much easier for learning lessons to survive. They have a captive audience. Regardless, like good game designers, teachers should spend more time illuminating specific learning objectives for students. Curriculum developers must do the same.

Just a thought!!