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Cartoons on the School Reform to Boost Student Self-Esteem*

Beginning in the 1980s, a concerted effort by policymakers concerned about U.S. students performing low on international tests involved the idea of how students saw themselves. The thinking was that low self-esteem caused low test scores.

Solution? Raise students’ regard for themselves. The movement spread rapidly especially after a California legislator got his bill through both houses of the legislature and the governor signed the new law that assigned the state’s schools raise students’ self-esteem. Critics, of course, pointed out that the causal arrows that policymakers believed in, that is, if you raise students’ self-esteem, then achievement will rise as well–those arrows could just as well point the other way. That is, higher achievement using direct ways of helping students academically  could result in their higher self-regard.

Without knowing for sure which way the causation goes, cartoonists have had a field day with this school reform as it permeated through the rest of society.  So enjoy the cartoons on what started out as a school reform called the “self-esteem movement” and became a running joke for all aspects of human behavior.
























*Reader from Sweden reminded me that comedian George Carlin had a stand up bit on “child worship” that included the self-esteem movement. It is on YouTube. Readers should know that its 8 minute run is filled with expletives. For those sensitive to such language, you have been warned.




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Cartoons on Leadership

Leadership, leadership, leadership–the word is everywhere. Across schools and universities, corporations, foundations, and–of course–government, just-in-time leadership will solve all problems. The idea of the man or woman who can rescue an organization from its low performance is (and has been) prevalent in a capitalist democracy where the individual reigns supreme. And so, getting the right leader and practicing “good” leadership continues to grip management science as well as popular prescriptions for ending failure and achieving success.

Let’s see what cartoonists with their wicked pen and ink have said about leaders and leadership. Enjoy!




























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How a Taxi Ride Changed My Life (Ed Bridges)

Ed Bridges died on March 7, 2019.

I posted a talk he gave in June 2012 to Stanford University doctoral and masters graduates.

Bridges was Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University. His focus on educational administration, leadership, principal preparation, and problem-based learning has earned him the respect of colleagues and students for decades. We have been colleagues and friends for over 30 years.

I re-post his talk for two reasons. First, what Ed said is filled with hard-earned wisdom for those who wish to live a full life. Second, because I miss him.


It is an honor and a privilege to be your commencement speaker. After accepting the invitation to be your speaker, I consulted my oldest and one of my dearest friends. Since he had served as the president of four Canadian universities and the Chairman of the Board for the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, I knew that he had listened to many commencement speeches and delivered a few as well. Over a Guinness, I said, “George, what advice could you give me?” He paused, leaned over, and spoke softly and slowly. Here is what he said, “A commencement speaker is like a body at an Irish wake; the organizers need you for the party and don’t expect you to say much.”

I intend to follow my friend’s advice and talk briefly about how my life was changed following a taxi cab ride I took more than 40 years ago. However, before recounting this story, let me preface my remarks with a few things that don’t appear in my bio or curriculum vitae. They provide a context for the important lesson I learned during my taxi cab ride.

Elliott Eisner speaks of career planning as an oxymoron. John Krumboltz refers to professional careers as a happenstance. Both of my colleagues are right as far as I am concerned. To their cogent observations, I would add the words spoken nearly 41 years ago by one of my three sons, then six. At the dinner table one evening, my son said, “Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a baseball player. What do you want to be when you grow down?” How prophetic that question was. Since retiring, my height has shrunk two inches, and I am still trying to figure out what I want to do next.

My professional career certainly had a life of its own. As a 16 year old, I walked across the stage at Hannibal High School in Hannibal, MO to receive my high school diploma. Having received first place in the state for a news story I had written for the school newspaper which I edited, I planned to enter the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and become a reporter. To offset my expenses, I worked one summer in a shoe factory and another summer as a Gandy Dancer, an occupation immortalized in a song titled, “The Gandy Dancers Ball.” Believe me, it was no ball. During the day we laid railroad tracks in the hot Missouri sun, drove spikes, shoveled gravel, and set railroad ties. At night we slept in box cars on a railroad siding. The closest I came to journalism school was to marry one of its graduates, Marjorie Anne Pollock, who became the reporter in the family. Next month we celebrate our 58th wedding anniversary and a wonderful life together.

Now let me turn briefly to that fateful taxi cab ride and the lesson I learned that had a profound effect on my life. The lesson I learned concerns choices.

Every choice involves a sacrifice, for oneself and for others. That statement is hardly profound; however, its consequences are. Oftentimes, we are so blinded by our wants and desires that we ignore the sacrifices inherent in the choices we make. My work in the shoe factory and later as a Gandy Dancer led me to appreciate that everyone, regardless of their station in life, has wisdom to share if you bother to listen. Many years ago I flagged a cab in Chicago and began a conversation with the cabby. Here is what he said that influenced my life:

“I wanted a nice home for my family in the city, a summer home on Lake Michigan, and a car for my wife and each of my two children. To afford these, I needed to work two full time jobs. We had the nice home, the summer home on Lake Michigan and cars for everyone in the family. My wife divorced me, and my children would have nothing to do with me. By working two jobs, I got what I wanted, but I lost what I had. What I had was more important to me than what I wanted.”

This cabby, fine man that he was, was so blinded by his desires that he failed to consider the sacrifices for his family and himself. Sadly, this is an all too common mistake.

Equally sad, if I had been riding with the same cabby today, I probably would not have learned this valuable lesson. Instead of listening to him, I would have been talking on my cell phone, surfing the internet with my smart phone, texting, or tweeting.

In light of this cabby’s story, let me ask each of you in the audience and on stage two questions, each one a variant of the same question.

  1. What are the three or four most important things in your life?
  2. What sacrifices are you unwilling to make no matter what the choice or opportunity is?

These are tougher questions to answer than you might think and even more difficult to act upon.

Not too long after the cabby told me his story, I created a mental list of the things in life that meant the most to me. This list exerted a major influence over my choices for the rest of my professional career:

  1. my family
  2. my students including teaching and advising
  3. my research and writing on practical problems, no matter how controversial they were or whether they were valued by members of the academy

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have added a fourth—my own personal health.

For some reason faculty meetings did not make my list.

Thanks to that cabby, I can enter the check-out line when my time comes with few regrets. I am not estranged from my four children. My wife and I like, as well as love, each other. I have students who continue to care about me as I continue to care about them. I have several really close friends, the kinds who feel comfortable sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other. Strangely, the more I paid attention to the sacrifices and set aside my desire for professional recognition, the more recognition I received.

At every Irish wake, it is customary to offer a toast to the body. Instead, let me offer a toast to this year’s graduates. May you experience success, enjoy your journey, and end your life with few regrets because you did not let your desires blind you to the sacrifices inherent in your choices.



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Cartoons about School and District Leaders

Here are some pokes at principals and superintendents that may get you to smile or grimace, chuckle or frown. Some may even get you to laugh. If so, I have accomplished what I set out to do with this collection. Enjoy!



































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Teaching at MetWest (Part 2)

A 27 year veteran of teaching in the Oakland Unified District (OUSD), Shannon Carey greets me at the door when I arrive at 8:30 on Friday, February 1st. She is wearing a UC Berkeley shirt (teachers that day wore clothes that advertised where they attended college) over jeans and dark ankle boots. The classroom furniture is arranged in a horseshoe with tables seating two tenth graders each facing one another across the open space in the middle of the horseshoe. There are two large couches in rear of room. The walls of the large classroom hold whiteboards in the front of the room with nearby easels showing assignments and homework.  Posters adorn other walls.





The schedule for this period is listed on the front white board:

Friday, February 1, 2019

I can reflect deeply on my strengths and weaknesses [Shannon mentions later in the lesson that this is the objective of the lesson]

8:30 Independent Reading

8:50-9:40 Non-Cognitive Variables: Self-Assessment and Interviews

Circles Today

HW [homework]

Gateway Project

–self assessment

–interview w/adult

–interview w/peer

Due Friday

As I scan the room at 8:45, everyone is reading a book or article—no devices or online reading that I see. Three students are sitting on the well-cushioned couches in the rear of the room. A sampling of what students are reading around me:

*Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

*Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

*Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods

In the open space within the horseshoe sits Shannon with her laptop. Sixteen students are there that morning. They walk in toss their cell phones in a box that Shannon holds and go immediately to their tables and take a book out of their backpack. The first half-hour is Independent Reading.

As students are reading, Shannon who is responsible for teaching English and Social Studies and integrating both into her Advisory role in helping students become college-ready, scans classroom, walks around and checks students’ notebooks and assignments lying on table (students know this morning routine and have papers lying on tables). She picks up and date stamps the students’ “work samples” such as “Semester Reflections” and papers from other classes at MetWest. Shannon submits these to OUSD Alternative Education for certification that students are part of Independent Study schools, ones that have greater flexibility in students’ schedule and program than regular OUSD schools.

After a half-hour, Shannon segues to next part of lesson. She asks students to put away their readings and says: “I need everyone’s eyes on me.” She then begins a whole group discussion of handout on “Non-Cognitive Variables.” She cautions Juan to stop playing with stapler and Hunter to put away his book–he is sitting across from me and continues to read Food of the Gods.

Teacher asks: “Does anyone know a relative, adult, or friend who has gone to college?” Half of the students raise their hands. Shannon calls on students by name to tell about who they know and what they were told about college.

Shannon then turns to “Noncognitive Variables” handout. “Does anyone know,”she asks, what “cognitive” means? A few students offer answers and teachers builds on their responses. She summarizes a definition–“mental processes”–writes it on whiteboard and asks class to write it down. Then asks choral question  : “How many of you knows someone who is school smart?’ Students call out and raise their hands. “What else do you think you need besides school smarts?” Student says: “high test scores.” Shannon replies that high scores does not mean you succeed in college.”

What ensues is a whole-group discussion of non-cognitive variables–what teacher calls “people skills,” “soft skills,” and “social skills.” Asks class to take notes. As the teacher-led discussion proceeds with questions from the teacher and responses from different students, Shannon’s energy is obvious.

Calling it a mini-lecture, Shannon displays slides on front whiteboard of noncognitive variables listed on handout. She and class enumerate each one with teacher coaching individual students to define each one:

*Positive Self-Concept or Confidence

*Realistic Self-Appraisal

*Understands and Deals with Oppression

*Prefers Long-Range Goals To Short-Term Or Immediate Needs

*Availability of Strong Support Person

*Successful Leadership Experience

*Demonstrated Community Service

*Knowledge Acquired in A Field

Shannon asks different students to read each variable, group defines it–teacher asks students to put the variable in everyday language (“dumb it down,” she says), and then directs class to rate themselves on each variable on a four-point scale (e.g., 4= “This really, totally, positively describes me” to 1=”I do not think this describes me at all”). As the whole group discussion unfolds, teacher constantly scanning class for students who are not attending, cautions them, and returns to Q & A of discussion.

For variable on “Oppression”, a student with head scarve talks about sexism she recognizes in and out of school. Other students chime in. Shannon uses example of family discussions about immigration and fears about deportation. Teacher makes point that it is less a personal problem and more of a systemic, social problem.

Class’s progress through variables on handout halt as three students enter classroom nad give announcements on new tardy and absence policies. Also announce that they are selling cookies and candies for Valentine Day. They exit.

Shannon asks individual students to read variables. For some, she offers personal examples from her life and occasional student chimes in with his or her experience. She asks Mohammed to read last variable and asks him for his “Knowledge of A Field.” She reminds him and others about internships they are involved in and their passions about cosmetic make-up, video gaming, and working with animals at a veternarian’s office.

Now, for final segue in the lesson, Shannon turns to questions listed in handout such as “Which two variables do you feel you most demonstrate/ Give TWO reasons why you think this.” And “Which noncognitive variables did you score the lowest in?” As she scans class, she calls on Kevin to stop bothering student at his table. She asks students to read these questions and assigns class to answer them and turn handout in Friday.

As time for session comes to a close, Shannon passes out green detention slips for being tardy and walks around checking on students’ completion of their assignments. Students begin packing up, picking up their cell phones, and wait for the buzzer to sound. Session ends at 9:40.

I move to a different classroom to observe another Teacher/Advisor.


MetWest is a small California high school (about 160 students in 9-12 grades) located in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It is part of a national network of Big Picture schools. In a recently built facility housing an elementary school, social service agencies, and a television studio, MetWest’s atrium is spacious with walls covered in photos, posters, each teacher’s advisory students, and upcoming events. Classrooms are on the ground and first floors of this part of the complex.

As one of about 65 Big Picture schools in the nation (the original Met is located in Providence, Rhode Island), MetWest replicates the model with a schedule of three days of academic/advisory classes and two days when students are out of the building working as interns in businesses, public agencies, and places where adults agree to mentor the intern for the quarter. There is an all-school meeting chaired by students that gathers on Fridays. The overall aim of the program is to engage students by putting them “at the center of their own learning.” Or as the Big Picture literature says:

[Students] would spend considerable time in the community under the tutelage of mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, and heart  – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.

Displayed in the school’s atrium are listings of advisor/teachers and their students with internships. Here’s Shannon’s:



For media articles on MetWest, see here, here, and here.

In subsequent posts, I will describe other MetWest teachers in their classes, internships, student exhibitions, and the different ways that this school defines “success” and “failure.”



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Cartoons on Teaching Social Studies

For this month of giggles, grins, and groans I offer a collection of cartoons on kids and teachers during social  studies lessons. Well, most of them. Enjoy!



























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Cartoons on Teaching

For this month I have gathered a melange of cartoons about teachers of various subjects that made me chuckle, smile, and even grin. I hope they do the same for you as we bid goodbye to 2018.




























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