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.

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”

Confessions of a Numbers Guy

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Admit it. How many of you read the headline and immediately thought of running the rackets? Tsk, tsk. Too many late-night gangster movies watched on AMC for you!

No, this numbers guy has nothing to do with gambling. I’m not worried about some random fed chasing me down on some random RICO charge. These numbers deal with only one thing: math in its various (legal) applied forms.

My high school teachers knew me better than I knew myself. For four years I paraded from class to class singing the hosannas of science. In science class I asked the toughest questions (especially in physics). In social studies class I trumpeted the scientists during the Age of Enlightenment. In English class I rebelled – even to the point of denying any Continue Reading “Confessions of a Numbers Guy”

Classic vs. Timeless: Do You Know the Difference?

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Ten years ago, I wrote a play for The Monsignor Schnacky Players. It was called The Macaroni Kid. The melodrama told the heartwarming but comedic story of a young orphan trying to reunite with his long, lost mother. Kidnapped by gypsies as a baby, he doesn’t know her name, he doesn’t know where she lives, he doesn’t even know what she looks like. All he remembers is her voice and the beautiful songs she would sing to him.

Now a young man, he decides the only way to find his mother is to sing everywhere, every chance he has. Only then, maybe, if he is lucky, she will find him. (That’s the heartwarming part.)

The only trouble with his plan; he can’t sing. But everyone is so captivated by his story and his quest that they don’t have the heart to tell him. (That’s where the comedy comes in.)

This isn’t a new story. It’s a spin on the familiar “boy-loses-girl/boy-looks-for-girl/boy-finds-girl” three act drama well known among story-tellers, scriptwriters, and playwrights. Lest you think “mother” doesn’t qualify for “girl,” I suggest you reread that timeless Greek classic Oedipus Rex.

There. I just did it. I used “timeless” and “classic” in the same sentence.

Most people view “timeless” and “classic” as interchangeable adjectives. They’re not.

By definition, “timeless” mean “eternal” and “classic” means “highest quality.” That means Continue Reading “Classic vs. Timeless: Do You Know the Difference?”

Say “Yes!” to Life

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As any good soul of the space generation would, I leapt at the chance when the Kodak Center offered tickets to see William Shatner host a screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. As with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea last year, (see “Exclusive Interview: 2001: A Space Odyssey actor Keir Dullea one-on-one with Sentinel Publisher Chris Carosa,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, January 26, 2017), I had hoped to score an interview with the man who first portrayed Captain Kirk. Alas, our schedules didn’t allow it.

Catarina, perhaps feeling slightly sorry for her Continue Reading “Say “Yes!” to Life”

What is the “Content Economy” and Why are We Headed There?

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A classmate of mine recently posted the following on Facebook along with a picture of one of those new order kiosks popping up across the county: “Greeting the future of fast food at McDonald’s on River Road in Bethesda. Sure hope the whole ‘coal’ thing works out for everyone, since there won’t be any jobs here before too long.”

Now, before you get started, yes, this is a liberal friend (I proudly remain friends with those of all political persuasions). But let’s ignore the “coal” comment and focus on the “future of fast food” statement. The evolution to the fast food kiosk was predicted when states started raising the minimum wage. It would have happened sooner or later (just like the auto-attendant has replaced the receptionist). The higher minimum wage just hastened the inevitable. It starts with the front of the counter with order takers. For fast food places, expect to see automation in the kitchen, too. This is Continue Reading “What is the “Content Economy” and Why are We Headed There?”

7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…

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Americans seem to have been infatuated with the concept of extraterrestrial life ever since Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli placed his eye on the lens of that new (and very powerful) refractor telescope in the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera. The Brera Observatory (so named because it was located in the Brera district of Milan, Italy) to this day sits on the very urban corner of Via Brera and Via Flori Ocsuri. The Jesuit astronomer Ruđer Josip Bošković (or “Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich,” depending on which ethnic group you believe controlled Dubrovnik in the Republic of Ragusa at the time of his birth) built the observatory in 1764. Within a decade, Pope Clements XIV issued his July 21, 1773 papal bull formally suppressing the Jesuits. Among other things, this papal bull passed the ownership of the observatory to municipal, rather than religious, authorities.

His early work having brought fame both to him and his country, the Kingdom of Italy bought Schiaparelli an 8.6 inch Merz Equatorial Refracting Telescope from famed German optician Georg Merz. In 1874 the telescope was installed on the roof of the Brera Observatory and Schiaparelli used it initially to study double stars. With the opposition of Mars set to happen on September 5, 1877, Schiaparelli turned his sight to the Red Planet. (An “opposition” is an astronomical event that occurs when the Earth is exactly between the Sun and the planet.) It was during this period of observations, beginning on September 12, 1877, that Schiaparelli drew his now famous map of Mars. Here lies, as they say, the rest of the story.Continue Reading “7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…”

It was 50 Years Ago Tonight I Decided to Become an Astronomer

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Ever since I can remember I loved science. All sorts of science. My mother was a substitute teacher. Before I went to kindergarten she would bring home books from her third grade class and teach me to read. My favorite book was the science text book. I particular enjoyed reading about dinosaurs. When you like dinosaurs, you tend to like fossils and rocks. When you like fossils and rocks, you tend to like volcanoes and earthquakes. When you like volcanoes and earthquakes, you tend to like hurricanes and tornadoes. When you like hurricanes and tornadoes you tend to like weather and atmospheric phenomenon. When you like weather and atmospheric phenomenon, you tend to like planets and stars.

Yep, I liked science. But of all the flavors of science, I liked astronomy the best. Growing up in Buffalo, I just happened to be in luck. In 1966, SUNY launched a pioneer program in what could only be described as one of the first distance learning experiments in the country. Called University of the Air, the pilot program contained only two courses with credite and was available only to the Buffalo and Albany campuses. The courses would be aired on the local PBS station. Now here’s the twist: one of those courses was an Continue Reading “It was 50 Years Ago Tonight I Decided to Become an Astronomer”

The Soul of the Machine

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blue-computer-1472956The group of more than a dozen met at a row of tables by the windows towards the back of the Pinehurst dining room. It was the early 1990s, and most businesses by then had discovered the most profitable way to increase productivity meant equipping its employees with personal computers. Spreadsheets, word processing, and this new thing called “PowerPoint” became the standard. Employers, though, had one challenge – they were ill-prepared to train their employees. It was one of those “old dog – new tricks” conundrums.

So the HFL Board of Education decided the best way the school district could add value to Continue Reading “The Soul of the Machine”

To The Final Frontier… and BEYOND!

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Star_Trek_300As a kid, when you visit older cousins you rarely see, you step tentatively. Going through the front door of their house, you step tentatively. Pacing through their immaculate living room, you step tentatively. Finally, when the adults take their leave and you’re left alone with your cousin and he invites you into his play room, you step tentatively.

First of all, he’s older than you. That makes him smarter, which means he can trick you in almost every dimension. Second, he’s Continue Reading “To The Final Frontier… and BEYOND!”