Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Death and Motivation

In an odd coincidence, I watched episode 2 of "Band of Brothers" the HBO series with my two sons and talked with my daughter about her recent visit to a charter school in Harlem.  My boys are (almost) 11 and (just) 12.  Even though they don't have video games in our house, they play them with their friends.  In video games you die regularly and come back to life.  In the "Band of Brothers" they make painfully clear death has no re-dos.

The boys really like the series.  We will watch the whole thing together over the next two weeks.

On the same evening, I spoke to my daughter Lisa, a sophomore at the U. of Richmond about her Fall Break trip to NYC to see schools in Harlem.  One of these amazing schools she visited was located in the worst area of Harlem.  The school starts at 730 in the morning and goes to 430 in the afternoon, but the kids stay later if they need to finish their work.  They go six days per week, 11 months of the year.  More than 90% of the kids they graduate go to college.

The schedule is rigorous.  The work is hard.  So what is the biggest motivational problem for the school?

The student death toll.

Of the 1200 kids in that school, two to five die every month.  That's right, 2 to 5.  By the end of the year, that adds up to about 5% of the student body.

More than a million soldiers have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To date, about 6,000 soldiers have lost their lives in these wars or 0.6% of all soldiers.  If these wars had the same death rate as this relatively small school in Harlem, the death toll in these wars would already be worse than Viet Nam.

The unit I served with brought everyone home from Iraq--more than 2000 soldiers flying thousands of missions in helicopters.

Lisa said the teachers she met in these schools are amazing.  That is very easy to believe.  For all the problems with education, the best teachers really are miracle workers.

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