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Finding the Leadership Lessons Hidden in the Noise

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 #iloveThePoorlyEducated trended on Twitter this morning as the  twitterverse went into cardiac arrest over the latest comments from Donald Trump.

The giant sucking sound we’re all hearing is the escalating hyperventilation among people who again, can’t believe what “the Donald” is getting away with saying. Verbal missteps that would have doomed any past candidate for president, Congress or dog catcher have only accelerated Trump’s credibility.

In the ensuing hysteria, it’s easy to zero in on his  “I love the poorly educated” comment and overlook the deeper meaning of Trump's rise.  What did Trump really mean when he said, "I love the poorly educated?"


·      I think education is unimportant, and I love those who don’t value it.

·      Some people didn’t get the first-rate education my children received.  That’s too bad, but I love them anyway.

·      I love that some people are too poorly educated to see through me.

The hashtag #iloveThePoorlyEducated is overflowing with interpretations. There's little doubt that his comments will be the focus on nightly news and late night talk shows.

But before we jump on the knee-jerk bandwagon, it might be a good idea to pause and ponder. What lessons might be gleaned from Trump’s inexplicable support from people of all demographics?

Accuracy, Kindness, and Results

Most of us who work in the field of education agree that words matter. Indeed, we are word meisters. We meticulously choose our words to ensure that we precisely convey what we mean.  Further, we work to avoid saying anything that might be misconstrued or offensive to others. This commitment to accuracy and kindness has transformed the lexicon of our culture.  We've replaced words like retarded, disabled, deaf, blind, upperclassman, chairman, and principal with kinder, gender-neutral or less stigmatizing terms.

Those we once called  “poor kids” have become “kids in poverty” or “our free and reduced lunch population.”   “The Blacks” as Trump says, are now African-Americans and offensive school mascots have been fired or replaced with more acceptable substitutes.

But in our rush to be caring and precise, have we trampling obvious truths?

Candid Speech

In a BAM Radio interview about the old No Child Left Behind version of ESEA, a question was raised.  Is it realistic to have a policy that expects 100% of school kids to graduate? The guest acknowledged that the goal was obviously unrealistic. However, he noted that it would be politically unacceptable to publically express the obvious truth. Yes, some kids will most certainly be left behind.  In other words, it would be politically incorrect to speak the truth.

Political correctness has been hotly debated over the years, and I’ve lived on both sides of this issue.  That said, I suspect most people would agree that problem solving requires truth telling.  To manage real-life challenges, we need the ability to clearly, simply acknowledge and discuss the facts.  Perhaps James Baldwin said it best,

 “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

NCLB is a great example. In the NCLB scenario, NOT acknowledging that some kids WILL be left behind precludes discussions of what to do about those kids who are.  Perhaps this explains why I only recently discovered the entire universe of solutions created for kids who are not moving ahead academically.

The concept of “alternative schools” was not on my radar. I’ve never heard alternative schools mentioned in a State of the Union address, a DOE press conference or on BAM Radio.   Yet, their existence is a well-established, generally unspoken solution to the children who are indeed being left behind.

Our Radically Changing World

What has become apparent is that people of all kinds, at all levels are looking for answers to the unprecedented, tectonic shifts taking place in our world.

People are anxious, uncertain and afraid.

People in virtually every demographic are looking beyond the veneer of polite language, reality distorting labels and sacred cows in search of real answers.

The energy around Bernie Sanders and Trump's trouncing of thoughtful, polished, politically correct leaders may be sending a message to all leaders.

-- We may be entering an era in which leaders at all levels will need to master the skill of speaking in more straightforward ways to the concerns of the communities they lead.

-- We may be entering an era wherein the ability to actually solve problems trumps the ability to euphemize them.

-- We may indeed be witnessing history in the making -- the death of political correctness and the ascendancy of a more coarse, but authentic public discourse.

No one knows yet whether 2016 will be the year that tact, diplomacy and political correctness died.  What we do know is that a leader’s ability to speak more candidly, courageously and simply to community needs is more important now than ever.


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I'm the executive producer of BAM Radio Network, which means I get to eat, sleep and drink education talk radio. Over the last 10 years, I've been a fly on the wall in over 4,500 discussions between some of the most thoughtful, passionate and fascinating educators in the nation. On these pages I share the most important lessons I've learned from them, along with an occasional rogue insight of my own. BACKGROUND: I am a 25-year veteran of the media. Over those two-and-a-half decades, I had the opportunity to author four books; write for The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times; and spent three years as a popular radio talk show host on KIEV in Los Angeles. I worked for seven years as an "on air" political commentator and co-hosted the Emmy Award-winning program Life and Times on PBS television. I eventually moved on to become a business reporter at KTLA in Hollywood. Owing to some great mentors, some good timing and perhaps a shortage of available talent, I managed to pick up five Emmy nominations and one Emmy Award along the way. Oh by the way, I went to Harvard. Well … actually, I was invited to speak there once, but I really learned a lot from the experience. :)

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Guest Sunday, 17 February 2019