Should Yale (and Other Elite Colleges) Require Students Take a Kobayashi Maru Test?

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When it comes to “The Game,” precedent has no say. The annual Yale-Harvard ritual evokes a rivalry that transcends the ages, as well as the win-loss record of the season’s previous games. So it was in 1979 when the heavily favored undefeated Yale Bulldogs fell to the Harvard Crimson in the season’s ultimate game by the score of 22-7.

Even the final score means nothing. In 1968, when Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to earn a tie, the Harvard Crimson headline read: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”

This year, the 136th edition of The Game was much anticipated. ESPN had it moved up an hour to a noon start since the Yale Bowl has no lights. Yale, with a record of 8-1, scoring an average of 37.4 points-per-game and fighting for the Ivy League title, was the odds-on favorite to defeat Harvard, losers of four straight. Was anyone surprised, then, that the first half ended with Harvard beating the Bulldogs by a solid 15-3 margin?

The halftime show changed everything.

After both bands cleared the field and as the annual George H. W. Bush honorees were being announced, several commonly dressed individuals walked assertively into the center of the field from each of the four corners.

At first, they looked to be part of the ceremony. Then it appeared they were nothing more than merry pranksters. After all, The Game has been the venue of many a delightful and memorable MIT stunt. Within minutes, though, it became apparent what it really was.

It was a throwback. An archaic expression reminiscent of a scene from Scott Johnston’s popular book Campusland (think Animal House meets 1984). Not to be outdone, Yale officials decided to channel their inner Doonesbury (think M*A*S*H the movie meets M*A*S*H the TV series).

It was a surreal juxtaposition.

And that made Yale President Peter Salovey’s words from just a few days earlier all the more relevant…

On the morning of the preceding Thursday, the President’s face strained as he searched for precisely the most perfect phrase. His initial question to the Dean’s Panel on Leadership would not only launch the inaugural session of Yale’s annual Alumni Assembly & Convocation, but set the tone for the entire weekend.

“Are our students resilient?” he asked before immediately apologizing for the implied generalization. Salovey, who earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Yale in 1986, then posed a contrapositive as way of explanation.

“Earlier in this football season, we all learned the power of resiliency when the Bulldogs, down by two touchdowns late in the game against Richmond, rallied to score twice in the final 90 seconds to win 28-27,” said the University President.

He then lamented that, in accepting the best of the best, perhaps Yale students lack one important trait: failure. For it is only by failing that we learn to cope with failure, learn to build resiliency and, ultimately, learn to build character vital to supporting and leading a sustainable community.

Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, a Harvard grad, said it more succinctly: “Football doesn’t build character. It reveals character.” Then again, Levy studied English, not psychology, so he tends to be more certain of his words.

Indeed, it was Levy’s team that has forever defined resiliency. The 1990-1993 Buffalo Bills are the only NFL team to go to four straight Super Bowls. That’s not what made them resilient. What made them resilient is that they lost every one of those Super Bowls. Failure did not dissuade them. It inspired them.

Was that the resiliency Salovey was referring to? Perhaps. For it was universally agreed on by the panel of distinguished Yale deans that the fields of sport offer the best environment to teach resiliency, to teach young adults that failure is a necessary part of growth, instrumental to both life and learning. You can scoff off a poor grade since few if any see it, but to fail in the public arena, now that’s real failure.

Upon hearing Salovey suggest incoming students lack a portfolio of failure, you might immediately conclude, “Well, why not just change the admissions standards and accept more students with a demonstrable record of failures?”

Aye, there’s the rub. For, wouldn’t the more creative students find a loophole to this requirement? In doing so, they could paint a picture of a personal Thermopylae they had to suffer (before, of course, their ultimate grand victory over the more powerful Persians).

Yes, adding a “Describe your most horrific failure (in no more than 250 words)” essay question to the application would only yield innumerable “how I turned lemons into lemonade” stories.

It’s just like when you’re in a job interview and you’re asked to name your greatest weakness. Out comes things like “I’m too friendly,” or “I’m too loyal” or “I tend to work more than most.”

Every weakness is a strength. Every failure is a success.

The answer, therefore, is not to change the application process, but to change the student experience. Make failure a graduation requirement.

That doesn’t quite get to the heart of the quest for resiliency to which Salovey alludes. You don’t want mere failure. You want failure that challenges the nature of the student and, in its course, improves that student’s character. In other words, Yale should require every student take a Kobayashi Maru test.

For those less familiar with Star Trek, the Kobayashi Maru test represents a no-win situation every cadet must endure before graduating from Star Fleet Academy. The purpose of this test is to ensure a potential captain – a potential leader – will remain calm even as the ship is disintegrating and death looms certain.

Why is this critical to leadership? Because, no matter how bad the circumstances, how impossible the odds, there’s still a chance. Without calm and deliberate (you might even say dispassionate) leadership, however, that chance will be forfeited…

And “forfeit” was what was on of minds of the more enlightened spectators in attendance at the Yale Bowl on Saturday, November 23, 2019.

Not at first. As the half-time sit-in began, the first impression from most of the crowd was a wry “isn’t that cute” smile. The loud speakers continued to play the usual festive football music, as if to reinforce the point this was all part of the show.

The antic no doubt brought back nostalgic memories for many an alum, whether it be the Vietnam War sit-ins, the Black Panther demonstrations or the anti-Apartheid protests. “Ah, glory be the age of youth, when we were indestructible.”

Not that all those sitting at midfield were students. Officially, the event was staged by students from Harvard and Yale, but alumni and other onlookers took part.

After several minutes, though, those smiles turned to anxious frowns. The music went silent. The teams broke from their second-half warm-up routines and decided to surrender the field by going back into their respective locker rooms.

Meanwhile, not only was campus security not doing anything to remove the disruptors, but the yellow vested authority allowed crowds to rush the field to join the squatters. Rather than politely ending, the situation was broadly escalating.

It was now a mob. Reasonable people thought the better of it and left. That would count as the second worst decision made by people that day.

Soon a voice, in regular intervals, began announcing with all the dry emotion of a NASA launch commentator, “Out of respect for both teams, please return to your seats.”

As if to emphasize insolence, the trespassers shouted back, “OK, Boomer!”

To which, the Boomers in the stands, striving to capture the obvious humor, rejoined, “Get off my lawn!”

But humor could not win on this day. Anger rose victorious. With irony coming in a close second.

You see, many in attendance likely would have been sympathetic to the various causes promoted by the demonstrators. Indeed, had they chosen the tailgates in the parking lot to make their statement, they would have been more fondly received.

But right there, right at that time, with sunlight fading and their recalcitrance laid bare, each passing minute eroded the sympathy of the crowd. It was becoming quite real that, should Yale officials fail to coax them to leave the field, the Bulldogs would have to forfeit the game and any hopes of winning the Ivy League Championship.

Whatever their causes, these protesters would have only succeeded in destroying a lifetime of dreams and hopes of the dozens of young men who had worked so hard to get where they were right then and right there.

Most of the crowd did not feel comfortable being forced to be co-conspirators in such a travesty.

The “Emperor Has No Clothes” moment for the SJW movement?

That realization may have been understood far beyond New Haven. Barstool Sports tweeted: “Yale-Harvard is under delay because of a student protest. We’ve hit peak 2019.” For Boomers, this is Millennial-speak meaning “SJW has Jumped the Shark.” Hence, irony.

Finally, after some 45 minutes, the yellow vests, having doubled with reinforcements, surrounded the agitants. Those mercurial participants – the casual pranksters – fled as quickly as they had arrived. The stalwart originals – the true protesters – remained seated on the artificial turf. Eventually, security led them away. In all 42 were arrested, including Hollywood actor and Yale graduate Sam Waterson.

To extend on Salovey’s thoughts, when one hasn’t experienced failure, one begins to develop a sense of entitlement. It’s an “I’m always right” kind of attitude. It leads to an utter lack of respect for others.

This is not resilience. It’s rudeness.

The Yale football team hammered home the point. Down by two touchdowns with less than a minute-and-a-half to go in the game, the Bulldogs could have simply blamed their fate on the protesters. That’s not resilience. Resilience doesn’t mean saying you’re a winner. Resilience means going out there, fighting through inevitable failure, and winning despite the odds.

Calm, cool, behaving as if they’d been there before (remember Richmond), Yale did score two touchdowns to tie the game in its waning seconds. This, though, would be no repeat of 1968. With Dartmouth winning, a Yale tie would mean losing the Ivy League Championship.

Yale had to win. But they were fighting two foes – man, in the form of a determined Harvard team intent on demonstrating its own resilience (as it had done so many times before); and nature, in the form of the fast approaching darkness (courtesy of the one-hour delay due to a pleasant prank turned seriously wrong).

Under gloom of night, the Sons (& Daughters) of Eli rush the field to celebrate their resilient champions.

History has now forever etched on this day a new classic tale. It’s a tale of two eternal rivals, a tale of shared resiliency and, ultimately, a never-ending tale that, though Harvard’s team had fought to the end, Yale did win (in the second overtime on the cusp of day descending into night).

The difference between civil disobedience and civil disruption is the difference between oratory and anarchy. President Salovey grasps the wisdom of this distinction, but is constrained to straddle the fine line between the two opposing extremes. The Game, however, may have provided an opportunity for all to see precisely what he means.

The gridiron men of Yale have now twice passed the Kobayashi Maru test, the comeback against Harvard being the most lasting and significant. Would that those who made the choice to jeopardize this have a real opportunity to enjoy discovering their own Kobayashi Maru test.

Open House Tip for Elementary School Parents (Part II): How to Reduce the Odds Your Child Will Be Bullied in High School (and Middle School)

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The Secret Behind Silent Success

There’s a joke that folks like to tell at various self-help conferences. It’s usually in the inspirational key-note speech. Two guys are out camping. One guy brings his fastest running shoes. The other guy brings heavy rugged hiking boots.

The boot guy asks the sneaker guy why he’s wearing sneakers. The sneaker guy says, “In case we meet a bear.”

The boot guy looks perplexed. “You’ll never be able to run faster than a bear,” he says.

“Don’t have to,” says the sneaker guy matter-of-factly, “I just have to run faster than you.”

If you haven’t read Part I of this two-part series (“A Surprise Gambit Leads to Victory and Yet Another Surprise – This Time for the Victor,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, September 12, 2019), you should before continuing. In this Part II, I’ll break down some of Continue Reading “Open House Tip for Elementary School Parents (Part II): How to Reduce the Odds Your Child Will Be Bullied in High School (and Middle School)”

Cuomo’s Albany Red Flags New York

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Imagine a knock on your front door in the middle of the night amid urgent screams from the other side. Half-asleep, you stretch yourself out of your comfortable bed and stumble your way to your foyer.

More awake now, you’re curious as to where all that light is coming from through the small sidelight windows that sandwich the entrance to your home. The knock at the door suddenly turns into a rapid pounding as your hands fumble around the door knob. “I’m right here!” you shout back. The bellows on the other side get only louder, and deeper.

After a moment, you can feel the lock disengage. You twist the knob and slowly begin to open the door. Perhaps a crack to see what’s going on, you tell yourself.

Only you never get the chance. The moment the bolt is released, the door bursts open and Continue Reading “Cuomo’s Albany Red Flags New York”

There’s Something Pleasantly Relaxing About a Steady Summer Rain

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What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

It’s a lazy summer Saturday. Tiny droplets gently pitter-patter on the skylight in the family room. Too soft to be called a “drumbeat,” it’s a beat nonetheless. A stable beat. A mesmerizing beat.

A beat the has you closing your eyes and relaxing. You snuggle a bit as you sink into the comfortably cozy couch cushions. It’s a reclining couch, triggered by a small button strategically placed within easy reach of your left arm. An electric whir compliments the soft thud of the continuing wet beat overhead as you lean back into your leisurely morning.

What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

Continue Reading “There’s Something Pleasantly Relaxing About a Steady Summer Rain”

The Liberty of the Ad Lib

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Did you see what I did there?

“Liberty”…

“Ad Lib”…

Get it?

OK. I have to admit. It is a bit of a stretch. At least from a literal standpoint. The “lib” of “ad lib” doesn’t stand for “liberty.” It’s actually the short form of the Latin phrase ad libitum.

Ad libitum literally translates to “at one’s pleasure.” There’s no “liberty” in it at all. Our word “liberty” derives from the Latin word liber. In Latin, liber and libitum mean two different, albeit not wholly unrelated, things.

The Latin liber means “free” or “unrestricted.” You can easily see how we get “liberty” from Continue Reading “The Liberty of the Ad Lib”

Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?

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I‘ve always been puzzled by this thought: Was I born 50 years too early or 50 years too late? This thought resurfaced this week as I rode the train back and forth to Chicago while the rest of the world dazzled itself with remembering the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

It reminds me of a skit I once did as Cubmaster for Peter’s pack. We had our meetings in the cavernous Mendon Firehall. It was always filled to capacity. Filled with boys, their parents, and their siblings.

That night I donned a pair of Buzz Lightyear “wings” (actually they were my young nephew’s and I don’t know how I fit them over my shoulders without overstretching them). After strutting a few steps with those wings, I added a Woody hat on top of my head.

Maybe one of the Toy Story movies was out that year.

In either case, I asked the pack to guess who I was. Some of the boys says “Buzz” and some said “Woody.” I said “Nope” to each guess. Then I looked up to the parents in Pack 105 and said – in a distinct John Wayne kind of voice – “Well, pilgrim, some people call me a ‘The Space Cowboy.’”

And so it has been in my life. Teetering on the precipice of “born too early” while simultaneously straddling the ledge of “born too late.” Some might view this as a Continue Reading “Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?”

We’ll Always Have Paris… How The Business of Sequels Destroyed America’s Youth

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They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. That may be true, but it is also the greatest impediment to progress.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain business sense to imitation – and I don’t mean outright theft of intellectual property. I’m referring to the “variation on a theme” that has become a successful marketing trope since well before Beethoven, Bach, and The Beatles.

Companies use the goodwill (and good publicity) generated by a top selling product, give it a tweak here and there, then come out with a “new” product that borrows heavily from the theme of the original. Rarely, however, does this sequel product ever reach the heights of its predecessor.

Here’s an example. Following the tremendous success of Continue Reading “We’ll Always Have Paris… How The Business of Sequels Destroyed America’s Youth”

The Fantastical (Real-Life) Time Machine

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I had the pleasure of being invited to perform for Living History Day at SUNY Fredonia a couple of weeks ago. The all-day event features dozens of “acts.” It’s offered to hundreds of 7th graders from throughout the Greater Western New York region. They’re bussed in early in the morning and attend live demonstrations of everything from Seneca Indian dances to artillery cannon fire.

These 12-year-olds watch as regiments from the Revolutionary War (both sides), the War of 1812 and the Civil War (both sides) conduct their drills. They see real-life colonial cooking, frontier gaming, and homespun crafts. The learn from medicine women, Suffragettes, and military historians. They discover 18th century artifacts, 19th century women’s fashions, and 20th century genealogical grave hunting.

All this is done in period dress. Not just generic period dress, but actors dress as actual historical characters. I walked in with Harriet Tubman. Later I saw her talking to Abraham Lincoln. I could have sworn I saw a British general drinking coffee with Susan B. Anthony.

And they were all in costume. Even the civilians wore clothing of the era they represented. You can see from the pictures from the event. Everyone donned the fashion of the time from which they spoke and lived.

All except me.Continue Reading “The Fantastical (Real-Life) Time Machine”

Should You Go Wide or Go Deep?

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Remember a couple months back when I said I discovered a way to add more hours to my day? (If you don’t, here it is: “That Time I Discovered ‘Idle Time’ Doesn’t Really Exist,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, March 14, 2019). With all that rediscovered time I was able to explore a dusty section of unread books in my expansive library. (And by expansive, I mean… Wait. Forget it. It only gets Betsy mad.)

I began this new venture by perusing an entire series of books from the pens of the greatest copywriters. These books defined the advertising industry as it emerged from the 19th century into the 20th. They represent the primordial tracks from which Madison Avenue men evolved. They spawned a persuasive style that combined art and science into an effective (sometimes too effective) tool.

By “art” I refer to the words that effectively captivate and motivate the reader. But how do the words work as intended?

That’s where the “science” comes in. Today we call it “market research.” Claude C. Hopkins, acknowledged as perhaps the greatest copywriter, called it “scientific advertising.” His book by the same name (published in 1923) shows how an ad means nothing unless it stimulates its audience to act. He not only wrote the ads, he studied how Continue Reading “Should You Go Wide or Go Deep?”

One-Upping Warren: This is the Right Way to Forgive Student Loans

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It was one of those silly socialist ideas that normally come from the mouth of Bernie Sanders. No one took it very seriously in 2016 when the then 74-year-old Vermont Senator tried to win the (we now know rigged) Democrat nomination from Hillary Clinton. He proudly declared “free college for everyone!” The kids loved it. The adults giggled.

The Clinton establishment knew this kind of talk wouldn’t fly in fly-over country (hint: that’s us). It was too radical. Too impractical. Too communist. So they laughed at Bernie and encouraged him to say what he said.

Little did we know.

Andrew Cuomo, with a watchful eye on his own 2020 political ambitions, decided to see Continue Reading “One-Upping Warren: This is the Right Way to Forgive Student Loans”