“What can we believe in? There’s nothing we can trust anymore.”
(from the movie, Inside Job).
(Sorry about the long title on this blog post – I could not figure out how to shorten it).
I watched the move Inside Job last night. (Yes, I know I’m late to this). It tells what happened leading up to and during the crash of 2008. It was tough to watch this movie. It is distressing, close to full-blown depressing.
The movie, which won the Academy Award for best Documentary, looks far and wide for a silver lining. The filmmaker, Charles Ferguson so wanted to find someone who could admit “we made a mistake, and we’ve learned from our mistake, and actually changed our ways.” No such luck. No one – not one – no, not one! — seems to have learned anything.
And you can pick your participants – the bankers; the politicians, (both Houses of Congress, the White House – both the parties); the mortgage company lenders; the ratings agencies; the academicians – they’re all complicit! Every one of them! (and let’s add the media into this mix).
I was disturbed by so much, but I think I was especially disturbed by the fact that the teachers/leaders at our most respected academic institutions are so enmeshed in this story. The teachers wrote that regulation was bad – taught their students that regulation was bad. The movie began with a quick look at Iceland, and later we learned that two well-known academicians wrote glowing reports for Iceland, about Iceland, proclaiming the banks to be healthy – and did not disclose that they were paid tens of thousands of dollars for writing such glowing reports. And, they make far more money serving on the boards of the institutions that are part of this saga than they do teaching.
And the office holders, Democrat and Republican, in the White House and Congress, protected the autonomy of the financial institutions, did not pass genuine regulations, removed regulations, hired back and forth, from the financial institutions to the government…
And the ratings agencies defended themselves by stating: “we are just offering our opinion.”
And the executives of the financial institutions knew (yes, they knew!) that the “investments” they were selling were “crap,” ”shitty” (these are direct quotes from their own internal communications), and yet they sold them anyway to trusting customers, while they placed bets on these very investments going bad, to make even more money.
Who are these people?
And if you think my brief summary is too simple, too harsh – please watch the film.
When Charles Ferguson accepted his Academy Award, he stepped up to the microphone with his Oscar in hand and stated:
“Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” (watch his acceptance here).
I watched this in the same week that I read, and prepared to present, the remarkable, and remarkably disturbing, book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch. Ravitch is a former fan of, even champion for, No Child Left Behind. But no more. She now sees that it simply does not work.
Here is what she wrote:
I have a right to change my mind.
Then she quotes John Maynard Keynes, who responded with these words to someone who chastised him for changing his mind: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”
Diane Ravitch believed one thing – it did not work! – and then she changed her mind.
That’s what learning is. It is paying attention, examining the facts, the evidence, and then changing your mind when you are proven mistaken/wrong.
If you have never changed your mind, you have likely never learned.
There is no Diane Ravitch in the financial meltdown saga. Oh, there are plenty of voices who warned against a lack of regulation, who warned about the coming problems. Good for them. But I know of no one from the inside who said, “I was wrong, and now I’ve learned, and I have genuinely changed…”
I read business books for a living. I read them, present synopses of them… I have read a lot of books on leadership. I know that there is a shortage of good leaders out there.
These companies held our ecocomy in their hands. The leaders of these companies needed to be the best, the very best, leaders we could produce. We all needed them to succeed. They failed.
And they seem to have learned nothing from the meltdown.
It is distressing.
Read the review of this movie by Roger Ebert here. It is worth reading.
Here’s the trailer for the movie:
This Friday (Aug. 5), 7:00 am, is the First Friday Book Synopsis. If you live in the DFW area, this provides a great opportunity for networking, with a terrific dose of content, quickly delivered…
Karl Krayer will present his synopsis of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (J-B Warren Bennis Series) by Douglas R Conant and Mette Norgaard.
I will present my synopsis of Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System by Joseph Michelli.
Both of these will provide valuable content, with useful, transferable principles. Come join us!, Friday, 7:00 am. (We finish promptly by 8:05). At the Park City Club, near the Tollway and Northwest Highway, in University Park.
Click here to register.
On Thursday (Aug. 4), noon, I will present my synopsis of The Death and Life of the American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch.
This is an important book, dealing with a genuinely serious issue.
I don’t often say this with such force and fervor, but… READ THIS BOOK!
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch.
Yes, I know I’m behind the curve on this. It has been out a while (it came out in March, 2010). I am reading the book to present it at next week’s Urban Engagement Book Club. It is a genuinely important book.
Ravitch has served in government, championed “No Child Left Behind,” and has changed her mind. Let me repeat that — she has changed her mind. She writes: “I have a right to change my mind.”
Here is just a piece of what she writes in this book:
“Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education. Schools that expect nothing more of their students than mastery of basic skills will not produce graduates who are ready for college or the modern workplace.”
Page after page with compelling quotes, and compelling arguments run throughout the book.
READ THIS BOOK!
If you are in the Dallas area, come hear my synopsis of this book at the Urban Engagement Book Club, noon, Thursday, August 4. Sponsored by CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries), the meetings are held at the Highland Park United Methodist Church, adjacent to the SMU campus. Click here for details.
Why do you read books? (or blogs, or magazines, or anything else?)
We live in an ever-more utilitarian age. We read in order to do something. We read in order to implement. To put it in business terms, we read in order to “execute.” In fact, we read the book Execution in order to execute.
There is an irony here. Most people read, and then fail to execute. But that is another discussion.
I’m writing about something deeper. Has our execution-centered age lost something profound about the love of learning? Last Sunday night on 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney hinted at this. It was prompted by the problems of unemployment. He argued that we need more people “doing things.” But, if they do, what about their college educations? He ended his piece with these words:
Would it be a waste of education for someone who graduates from Yale for example, to become a plumber, an electrician or a bricklayer? We need people who can actually do things. We have too many bosses and too few workers.
More college graduates ought to become plumbers or electricians, then, go home at night and read Shakespeare.
I thought of all this as I read an excerpt of The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman, the Oxford-educated Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland from 1854 to 1858. (I read the excerpt in the volume The English Reader, selected by Michael Ravitch and Diane Ravitch). One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Newman: “To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have grown much.”
In The Idea of a University, Newman wrote:
I am asked what is the end of University Education, and of the Liberal or Philosophical Knowledge which I conceive it to impart: I answer, that what I have already said has been sufficient to show that it has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end. Though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward…
Now, when I say that Knowledge is, not merely a means to something beyond it, or the preliminary of certain arts into which it naturally resolves, but an end sufficient to rest in and to pursue for its own sake, surely I am uttering no paradox, for I am stating what is both intelligible in itself, and has ever been the common judgment of philosophers and the ordinary feeling of mankind.
…it is more correct to speak of a University as a place of education, than of instruction…
I think about our monthly event, the First Friday Book Synopsis. It is a wonderful collection of people who come for many reasons — great food, great networking. But I think that some (maybe most) of the folks who show up come for this simple reason – they want to learn. They enjoy learning. Not learn in order to do. Just learn for the sheer joy of learning. And, as I have often said, the more you know, the more you know.
Yes, it is true that learning might produce ripple effects that help in the utilitarian/execution arena. But learning, just learning, learning for the sake of learning, is a noble pursuit – one that should be admired and cultivated.
If you found this post worth pondering, you might want to also read this post: Dehumanized — A Cause for Alarm in Education, and in the World of Business Books.