Lisa VanDamme is the founder of VanDamme Academy, a K-8 private school, and Read With Me. In this episode, we talk about how education and art bolster our pursuit of a meaningful life. Along the way, we discuss the role of hierarchy in education, cultivating a love of literature, and why I believe that the Bible can’t be the voice of God, because if that voice exists on earth, it’s Victor Hugo’s.
Education & Parenting
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has just launched the Bezos Academy. “The @bezosacademy opens its doors on Oct. 19th. This one in Des Moines, WA, is the first of many free preschools that we’ll be opening for underserved children.”
The Bezos Academy is a non-profit organization that is launching a network of tuition-free Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities.
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This classroom is just the beginning. The @bezosacademy opens its doors on Oct. 19th. This one in Des Moines, WA, is the first of many free preschools that we’ll be opening for underserved children. Extra kudos to the team for figuring out how to make this happen even amidst COVID, and to Wesley Homes for stepping up with the facility.
Writes Terence P. Jeffrey on “D.C. Public Schools Spend $30K Per Student; Only 23% of 8th Graders Proficient in Reading“, CNS News, (September 16, 2020):
The public elementary and secondary schools in the District of Columbia spent $30,115 per pupil during the 2016-2017 school year, according to Table 236.75 in the Department of Education’s “Digest of Education Statistics.”
But only 23% of the eighth graders in the D.C. public schools were proficient or better in reading in 2019, according to the department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests.
“The individual human life fully lived is an end in itself.” – Ray Girn
Education innovator, Ray Girn, one of the world’s foremost experts in scaling Montessori education gives a moving speech on the importance of creating conditions to optimize a child’s environment so that they may live a life that is “fully lived.” Must listen.
The day before this show was recorded, Dr. Thomas Sowell began his 10th decade of life. Remarkably on one hand and yet completely expected on the other, he remains as engaged, analytical, and thoughtful as ever. In this interview (one of roughly a dozen or so we’ve conducted with Dr. Sowell over the years), we delve into his new book Charter Schools and Their Enemies, a sobering look at the academic success of charter schools in New York City, and the fierce battles waged by teachers unions and progressive politicians to curtail them. Dr. Sowell’s conclusion is equally thought provoking: If the opponents of charter schools succeed, the biggest losers will be poor minority children for whom a quality education is the best chance for a better life.
Amazon has posted the prepared statement by Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos to be given to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as Testimony before the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law.
Bezo reflects about his early life and the lessons he learned from his family on dealing with setbacks and adversity, the greatness of America in its worship of innovation and entrepreneurial risk-taking, and his excitement for creating things. Though there are things that one can criticize in the statement, it is an important read inside the mind of the CEO of one America’s most admired and successful companies.
Statement by Jeffrey P. Bezos
Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Amazon
before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
July 29, 2020
Thank you, Chairman Cicilline, Ranking Member Sensenbrenner, and members of the Subcommittee. I’m Jeff Bezos. I founded Amazon 26 years ago with the long-term mission of making it Earth’s most customer-centric company.
My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.
My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over. My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my mom. You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad. They have been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives.
You learn different things from your grandparents than you do from your parents, and I had the opportunity to spend my summers from ages four to 16 on my grandparents’ ranch in Texas. My grandfather was a civil servant and a rancher—he worked on space technology and missile-defense systems in the 1950s and ‘60s for the Atomic Energy Commission—and he was self-reliant and resourceful. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you don’t pick up a phone and call somebody when something breaks. You fix it yourself. As a kid, I got to see him solve many seemingly unsolvable problems himself, whether he was restoring a broken-down Caterpillar bulldozer or doing his own veterinary work. He taught me that you can take on hard problems. When you have a setback, you get back up and try again. You can invent your way to a better place.
I took these lessons to heart as a teenager, and became a garage inventor. I invented an automatic gate closer out of cement-filled tires, a solar cooker out of an umbrella and tinfoil, and alarms made from baking pans to entrap my siblings.
The concept for Amazon came to me in 1994. The idea of building an online bookstore with millions of titles—something that simply couldn’t exist in the physical world—was exciting to me. At the time, I was working at an investment firm in New York City. When I told my boss I was leaving, he took me on a long walk in Central Park. After a lot of listening, he finally said, “You know what, Jeff, I think this is a good idea, but it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for two days before making a final decision. It was a decision I made with my heart and not my head. When I’m 80 and reflecting back, I want to have minimized the number of regrets that I have in my life. And most of our regrets are acts of omission—the things we didn’t try, the paths untraveled. Those are the things that haunt us. And I decided that if I didn’t at least give it my best shot, I was going to regret not trying to participate in this thing called the internet that I thought was going to be a big deal.
The initial start-up capital for Amazon.com came primarily from my parents, who invested a large fraction of their life savings in something they didn’t understand. They weren’t making a bet on Amazon or the concept of a bookstore on the internet. They were making a bet on their son. I told them that I thought there was a 70% chance they would lose their investment, and they did it anyway. It took more than 50 meetings for me to raise $1 million from investors, and over the course of all those meetings, the most common question was, “What’s the internet?”
Unlike many other countries around the world, this great nation we live in supports and does not stigmatize entrepreneurial risk-taking. I walked away from a steady job into a Seattle garage to found my startup, fully understanding that it might not work. It feels like just yesterday I was driving the packages to the post office myself, dreaming that one day we might be able to afford a forklift.
Amazon’s success was anything but preordained. Investing in Amazon early on was a very risky proposition. From our founding through the end of 2001, our business had cumulative losses of nearly $3 billion, and we did not have a profitable quarter until the fourth quarter of that year. Smart analysts predicted Barnes & Noble would steamroll us, and branded us “Amazon.toast.” In 1999, after we’d been in business for nearly five years, Barron’s headlined a story about our impending demise “Amazon.bomb.” My annual shareholder letter for 2000 started with a one-word sentence: “Ouch.” At the pinnacle of the internet bubble our stock price peaked at $116, and then after the bubble burst our stock went down to $6. Experts and pundits thought we were going out of business. It took a lot of smart people with a willingness to take a risk with me, and a willingness to stick to our convictions, for Amazon to survive and ultimately to succeed.
And it wasn’t just those early years. In addition to good luck and great people, we have been able to succeed as a company only because we have continued to take big risks. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Outsized returns come from betting against conventional wisdom, but conventional wisdom is usually right. A lot of observers characterized Amazon Web Services as a risky distraction when we started. “What does selling compute and storage have to do with selling books?” they wondered. No one asked for AWS. It turned out the world was ready and hungry for cloud computing but didn’t know it yet. We were right about AWS, but the truth is we’ve also taken plenty of risks that didn’t pan out. In fact, Amazon has made billions of dollars of failures. Failure inevitably comes along with invention and risk-taking, which is why we try to make Amazon the best place in the world to fail.
Since our founding, we have strived to maintain a “Day One” mentality at the company. By that I mean approaching everything we do with the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of Day One. Even though Amazon is a large company, I have always believed that if we commit ourselves to maintaining a Day One mentality as a critical part of our DNA, we can have both the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one.
In my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the best way to achieve and maintain Day One vitality. Why? Because customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and a constant desire to delight customers drives us to constantly invent on their behalf. As a result, by focusing obsessively on customers, we are internally driven to improve our services, add benefits and features, invent new products, lower prices, and speed up shipping times—before we have to. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it. And I could give you many such examples. Not every business takes this customer-first approach, but we do, and it’s our greatest strength.
Customer trust is hard to win and easy to lose. When you let customers make your business what it is, then they will be loyal to you—right up to the second that someone else offers them better service. We know that customers are perceptive and smart. We take as an article of faith that customers will notice when we work hard to do the right thing, and that by doing so again and again, we will earn trust. You earn trust slowly, over time, by doing hard things well—delivering on time; offering everyday low prices; making promises and keeping them; making principled decisions, even when they’re unpopular; and giving customers more time to spend with their families by inventing more convenient ways of shopping, reading, and automating their homes. As I have said since my first shareholder letter in 1997, we make decisions based on the long-term value we create as we invent to meet customer needs. When we’re criticized for those choices, we listen and look at ourselves in the mirror. When we think our critics are right, we change. When we make mistakes, we apologize. But when you look in the mirror, assess the criticism, and still believe you’re doing the right thing, no force in the world should be able to move you.
Fortunately, our approach is working. Eighty percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Amazon overall, according to leading independent polls. Who do Americans trust more than Amazon “to do the right thing?” Only their primary physicians and the military, according to a January 2020 Morning Consult survey. Researchers at Georgetown and New York University found in 2018 that Amazon trailed only the military among all respondents to a survey on institutional and brand trust. Among Republicans, we trailed only the military and local police; among Democrats, we were at the top, leading every branch of government, universities, and the press. In Fortune’s 2020 rankings of the World’s Most Admired Companies, we came in second place (Apple was #1). We are grateful that customers notice the hard work we do on their behalf, and that they reward us with their trust. Working to earn and keep that trust is the single biggest driver of Amazon’s Day One culture.
The company most of you know as Amazon is the one that sends you your online orders in the brown boxes with the smile on the side. That’s where we started, and retail remains our largest business by far, accounting for over 80% of our total revenue. The very nature of that business is getting products to customers. Those operations need to be close to customers, and we can’t outsource these jobs to China or anywhere else. To fulfill our promises to customers in this country, we need American workers to get products to American customers. When customers shop on Amazon, they are helping to create jobs in their local communities. As a result, Amazon directly employs a million people, many of them entry-level and paid by the hour. We don’t just employ highly educated computer scientists and MBAs in Seattle and Silicon Valley. We hire and train hundreds of thousands of people in states across the country such as West Virginia, Tennessee, Kansas, and Idaho. These employees are package stowers, mechanics, and plant managers. For many, it’s their first job. For some, these jobs are a stepping stone to other careers, and we are proud to help them with that. We are spending more than $700 million to give more than 100,000 Amazon employees access to training programs in fields such as healthcare, transportation, machine learning, and cloud computing. That program is called Career Choice, and we pay 95% of tuition and fees toward a certificate or diploma for in-demand, high-paying fields, regardless of whether it’s relevant to a career at Amazon.
Patricia Soto, one of our associates, is a Career Choice success story. Patricia always wanted to pursue a career in the medical field to help care for others, but with only a high school diploma and facing the costs of post-secondary education, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to accomplish that goal. After earning her medical certification through Career Choice, Patricia left Amazon to start her new career as a medical assistant at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, supporting a pulmonary medicine doctor. Career Choice has given Patricia and so many others a shot at a second career that once seemed out of reach.
Amazon has invested more than $270 billion in the U.S. over the last decade. Beyond our own workforce, Amazon’s investments have created nearly 700,000 indirect jobs in fields like construction, building services, and hospitality. Our hiring and investments have brought much-needed jobs and added hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity to areas like Fall River, Massachusetts, California’s Inland Empire, and Rust Belt states like Ohio. During the COVID-19 crisis, we hired an additional 175,000 employees, including many laid off from other jobs during the economic shutdown. We spent more than $4 billion in the second quarter alone to get essential products to customers and keep our employees safe during the COVID-19 crisis. And a dedicated team of Amazon employees from across the company has created a program to regularly test our workers for COVID-19. We look forward to sharing our learnings with other interested companies and government partners.
The global retail market we compete in is strikingly large and extraordinarily competitive. Amazon accounts for less than 1% of the $25 trillion global retail market and less than 4% of retail in the U.S. Unlike industries that are winner-take-all, there’s room in retail for many winners. For example, more than 80 retailers in the U.S. alone earn over $1 billion in annual revenue. Like any retailer, we know that the success of our store depends entirely on customers’ satisfaction with their experience in our store. Every day, Amazon competes against large, established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and, of course, Walmart—a company more than twice Amazon’s size. And while we have always focused on producing a great customer experience for retail sales done primarily online, sales initiated online are now an even larger growth area for other stores. Walmart’s online sales grew 74% in the first quarter. And customers are increasingly flocking to services invented by other stores that Amazon still can’t match at the scale of other large companies, like curbside pickup and in-store returns. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on these trends, which have been growing for years. In recent months, curbside pickup of online orders has increased over 200%, in part due to COVID-19 concerns. We also face new competition from the likes of Shopify and Instacart—companies that enable traditionally physical stores to put up a full online store almost instantaneously and to deliver products directly to customers in new and innovative ways—and a growing list of omnichannel business models. Like almost every other segment of our economy, technology is used everywhere in retail and has only made retail more competitive, whether online, in physical stores, or in the various combinations of the two that make up most stores today. And we and all other stores are acutely aware that, regardless of how the best features of “online” and “physical” stores are combined, we are all competing for and serving the same customers. The range of retail competitors and related services is constantly changing, and the only real constant in retail is customers’ desire for lower prices, better selection, and convenience.
It’s also important to understand that Amazon’s success depends overwhelmingly on the success of the thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that also sell their products in Amazon’s stores. Back in 1999, we took what at the time was the unprecedented step of welcoming third-party sellers into our stores and enabling them to offer their products right alongside our own. Internally, this was extremely controversial, with many disagreeing and some predicting this would be the beginning of a long, losing battle. We didn’t have to invite third-party sellers into the store. We could have kept this valuable real estate for ourselves. But we committed to the idea that over the long term it would increase selection for customers, and that more satisfied customers would be great for both third-party sellers and for Amazon. And that’s what happened. Within a year of adding those sellers, third-party sales accounted for 5% of unit sales, and it quickly became clear that customers loved the convenience of being able to shop for the best products and to see prices from different sellers all in the same store. These small and medium-sized third-party businesses now add significantly more product selection to Amazon’s stores than Amazon’s own retail operation. Third-party sales now account for approximately 60% of physical product sales on Amazon, and those sales are growing faster than Amazon’s own retail sales. We guessed that it wasn’t a zero sum game. And we were right—the whole pie did grow, third-party sellers did very well and are growing fast, and that has been great for customers and for Amazon.
There are now 1.7 million small and medium-sized businesses around the world selling in Amazon’s stores. More than 200,000 entrepreneurs worldwide surpassed $100,000 in sales in our stores in 2019. On top of that, we estimate that third-party businesses selling in Amazon’s stores have created over 2.2 million new jobs around the world.
One of those sellers is Sherri Yukel, who wanted to change careers to be home more for her children. She started handcrafting gifts and party supplies for friends as a hobby, and eventually began selling her products on Amazon. Today, Sherri’s company employs nearly 80 people and has a global customer base. Another is Christine Krogue, a stay-at-home mother of five in Salt Lake City. Christine started a business selling baby clothes through her own website before taking a chance on Amazon. She has since seen her sales more than double, and she’s been able to expand her product line and hire a team of part-time employees. Selling on Amazon has allowed Sherri and Christine to grow their own businesses and satisfy customers on their own terms.
And it is striking to remember how recent all of this is. We did not start out as the largest marketplace—eBay was many times our size. It was only by focusing on supporting sellers and giving them the best tools we could invent that we were able to succeed and eventually surpass eBay. One such tool is Fulfillment by Amazon, which enables our third-party sellers to stow their inventory in our fulfillment centers, and we take on all logistics, customer service, and product returns. By dramatically simplifying all of those challenging aspects of the selling experience in a cost-effective way, we have helped many thousands of sellers grow their businesses on Amazon. Our success may help explain the wide proliferation of marketplaces of all types and sizes around the world. This includes U.S. companies like Walmart, eBay, Etsy, and Target, as well as retailers based overseas but selling globally, such as Alibaba and Rakuten. These marketplaces further intensify competition within retail.
The trust customers put in us every day has allowed Amazon to create more jobs in the United States over the past decade than any other company—hundreds of thousands of jobs across 42 states. Amazon employees make a minimum of $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum wage (which we have urged Congress to increase). We’ve challenged other large retailers to match our $15 minimum wage. Target did so recently, and just last week so did Best Buy. We welcome them, and they remain the only ones to have done so. We do not skimp on benefits, either. Our full-time hourly employees receive the same benefits as our salaried headquarters employees, including comprehensive health insurance starting on the first day of employment, a 401(k) retirement plan, and parental leave, including 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. I encourage you to benchmark our pay and benefits against any of our retail competitors.
More than 80% of Amazon shares are owned by outsiders, and over the last 26 years—starting from zero—we’ve created more than $1 trillion of wealth for those outside shareholders. Who are those shareowners? They are pension funds: fire, police, and school teacher pension funds. Others are 401(k)s—mutual funds that own pieces of Amazon. University endowments, too, and the list goes on. Many people will retire better because of the wealth we’ve created for so many, and we’re enormously proud of this.
At Amazon, customer obsession has made us what we are, and allowed us to do ever greater things. I know what Amazon could do when we were 10 people. I know what we could do when we were 1,000 people, and when we were 10,000 people. And I know what we can do today when we’re nearly a million. I love garage entrepreneurs—I was one. But, just like the world needs small companies, it also needs large ones. There are things small companies simply can’t do. I don’t care how good an entrepreneur you are, you’re not going to build an all-fiber Boeing 787 in your garage.
Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact on important societal issues. The Climate Pledge is a commitment made by Amazon and joined by other companies to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years early and be net zero carbon by 2040. We plan to meet the pledge, in part, by purchasing 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian—a Michigan-based producer of electric vehicles. Amazon aims to have 10,000 of Rivian’s new electric vans on the road as early as 2022, and all 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2030. Globally, Amazon operates 91 solar and wind projects that have the capacity to generate over 2,900 MW and deliver more than 7.6 million MWh of energy annually—enough to power more than 680,000 U.S. homes. Amazon is also investing $100 million in global reforestation projects through the Right Now Climate Fund, including $10 million Amazon committed in April to conserve, restore, and support sustainable forestry, wildlife and nature-based solutions across the Appalachian Mountains—funding two innovative projects in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy. Four global companies—Verizon, Reckitt Benckiser, Infosys, and Oak View Group—recently signed The Climate Pledge, and we continue to encourage others to join us in this fight. Together, we will use our size and scale to address the climate crisis right away. And last month, Amazon introduced The Climate Pledge Fund, started with $2 billion in funding from Amazon. The Fund will support the development of sustainable technologies and services that in turn will enable Amazon and other companies to meet The Climate Pledge. The Fund will invest in visionary entrepreneurs and innovators who are building products and services to help companies reduce their carbon impact and operate more sustainably.
We recently opened the largest homeless shelter in Washington state—and it’s located inside one of our newest headquarters buildings in downtown Seattle. The shelter is for Mary’s Place, an incredible Seattle-based nonprofit. The shelter, part of Amazon’s $100 million investment in Mary’s Place, spans eight floors and can accommodate up to 200 family members each night. It has its own health clinic and provides critical tools and services to help families fighting homelessness get back on their feet. And there is dedicated space for Amazon to provide weekly pro-bono legal clinics offering counsel on credit and debt issues, personal injury, housing and tenant rights. Since 2018, Amazon’s legal team has supported hundreds of Mary’s Place guests and volunteered more than 1,000 pro-bono hours.
Amazon Future Engineer is a global childhood-to-career program designed to inspire, educate, and prepare thousands of children and young adults from underrepresented and underserved communities to pursue a computer science career. The program funds computer science coursework and professional teacher development for hundreds of elementary schools, introductory and AP Computer Science classes for more than 2,000 schools in underserved communities across the country, and 100 four-year, $40,000 college scholarships to computer science students from low-income backgrounds. Those scholarship recipients also receive guaranteed internships at Amazon. There is a diversity pipeline problem in tech, and this has an outsized impact on the Black community. We want to invest in building out the next generation of technical talent for the industry and expanding the opportunities for underrepresented minorities. We also want to accelerate this change right now. To find the best talent for technical and non-technical roles, we actively partner with historically Black colleges and universities on our recruiting, internship, and upskilling initiatives.
Let me close by saying that I believe Amazon should be scrutinized. We should scrutinize all large institutions, whether they’re companies, government agencies, or non-profits. Our responsibility is to make sure we pass such scrutiny with flying colors.
It’s not a coincidence that Amazon was born in this country. More than any other place on Earth, new companies can start, grow, and thrive here in the U.S. Our country embraces resourcefulness and self-reliance, and it embraces builders who start from scratch. We nurture entrepreneurs and start-ups with stable rule of law, the finest university system in the world, the freedom of democracy, and a deeply accepted culture of risk-taking. Of course, this great nation of ours is far from perfect. Even as we remember Congressman John Lewis and honor his legacy, we’re in the middle of a much-needed race reckoning. We also face the challenges of climate change and income inequality, and we’re stumbling through the crisis of a global pandemic. Still, the rest of the world would love even the tiniest sip of the elixir we have here in the U.S. Immigrants like my dad see what a treasure this country is—they have perspective and can often see it even more clearly than those of us who were lucky enough to be born here. It’s still Day One for this country, and even in the face of today’s humbling challenges, I have never been more optimistic about our future.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and am happy to take your questions.
What Motivates Amazon’s Critics?
What really drives Amazin’s critics is a hatred of success: success of anyone who is achieving more than others.
No Need to Boycott Amazon.com
There is absolutely no moral reason to boycott the company.
Amazon Advocates Government Force To Increase The Minimum Wage
While Amazon has every right to choose how to compensate its workers, this minimum wage increase and Bezos’ encouraging the federal government to do the same are wrong.
Hands Off Amazon.com and Sell Off the Post Office
President Trump should focus on getting government out of business by deregulating—and privatizing the United States Postal Service.
Rebecca Girn, Chief Programs Officer and General Counsel of Higher Ground Education, has written an incredibly moving article — Keeping America Safe from… Montessori teachers? — that makes a two-pronged moral case for immigration.
1. The immigrants that go through the effort to legally come to America are exceptional and a benefit to the country.
In my experience, the very best teachers frequently come from other countries.
I am not sure why this is. I think in part it’s because it requires great personal heroism to overcome the significant hurdles that stand in the way of immigration to the United States. The teachers I have worked to bring to this country have been faced with years, sometimes decades, of intense effort in the face of constant anxiety and extended separation from parents, husbands, children.
Even prior to finding a job in the U.S. or formally petitioning for a visa, these teachers work to learn English, earn degrees, gain experience, and become expert in their field. Once they find us, and we file a petition on their behalf, we persist together through a maze of fickle, hostile immigration laws, wielded by immigration officials with broad discretion. They have the power to damage lives and kill possible futures. Even once the visa is approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a consular officer having a bad day can decide on a whim to refuse to issue the visa in the applicant’s passport, unmaking years of effort and expense.
By the time a person has overcome all of this, she is likely to be made of pretty strong stuff. Only a teacher who is crystal clear on her life goals can pay these costs and bear these uncertainties. She brings all that character, persistence, and passion into the classroom. It is the children who benefit.
2. In a free country, an immigration bureaucrat’s decision should not over-ride the rights of American employers.
Immigration — especially employment-based immigration — is a basic, straightforward issue of individual rights.
Whose rights am I talking about? Mine.
I’m an American citizen, born and raised. I’ve visited pretty much every state in the Union. I co-founded a business in this country employing thousands (immigrants remain just a small fraction of our workforce). I am an expert in Montessori education. I am an expert in what makes a good Montessori teacher.
So: whose judgment should I use when I’m trying to hire the best teachers? Whose judgment should I use when I’m working to bring our schools up to the highest possible ideal that I can conceive of? To lift up American children out of the stagnant educational cesspit most children are subjected to in this country?
Should I be forced to acquiesce to the judgment of a USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] officer who has never heard of Montessori, has no understanding of education or children, has never stepped foot in a classroom, doesn’t care if my business succeeds or fails, and doesn’t care if American children are educated or not? Or should I be permitted to use my own judgment?
I submit that it is my judgment that matters. It is my right to hire the person that I think is best for the job. It is my freedom that is being trampled by the stroke of a pen of a man who knows and cares nothing for my American dream.
Wow! Mrs. Girn’s entire article is worth a read.
Robert Tracinski made a similar argument back in 1999 in his article Restrictions on “H-1B” Visas Punish Ability and Trample the Rights of Employer and Employee (Capitalism Magazine):
The irrational premise behind our nation’s immigration laws is that a native-born American has a “right” to a particular job, not because he has earned it, but because he was born here. To this “right,” the law sacrifices the employer’s right to hire the best employees — and the immigrant’s right to take a job that he deserves. To put it succinctly, initiative and productiveness are sacrificed to sloth and inertia.
The “American dream” is essentially the freedom of each individual to rise as far as his abilities take him. The opponents of immigration, however, want to repudiate that vision by turning America into a privileged preserve for those who want the law to set aside jobs for them — jobs they cannot freely earn through their own efforts.
The quotas on H-1B visas — along with all other visas — should not just be expanded; they should be eliminated. Any immigrant who wants to come to America in search of a better life should be let in — and any employer who wants to hire him should be free to do so. Anything less would be un-American.
Update: Girn is interview on The Ross Kaminsky Show on “Why can’t I hire whichever teacher I want to?“ (16 July 2020).
In tandem with Blackout Tuesday, the collective Movement 4 Black Lives, a coalition of more than 100 black-rights organizations, is launching a “five days of action” in an effort to fight systemic racism.
Part of the effort is an “open demand” letter signed by Lizzo, John Legend, Taraji P. Henson, Natalie Portman, Jane Fonda, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, and more that aims calls for a stop to increases on police budgets and to increase spending on health care, education, and programs for black communities. [“Black Lives Matter Cofounder Patrisse Cullors on Blackout Tuesday and How the Music Community Can Help“, 2 June 2020]
Here is the full open letter:
Black People Are Dying of Police Terror and Covid19. It is time to defund the police NOW
Black communities across the nation are mourning the deaths of George Floyd, tortured to death by Minneapolis police, Ahmaud Arbery, a jogger who was killed while running in a residential neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, Breonna Taylor an EMT killed while asleep in her bed in Louisville,KY, Dreasjon Reed in Indianapolis and Tony McDade in Tallahassee. Their names are added to a devastatingly long list of Black people who have been killed at the hands of vigilantes or law enforcement. Not to mention the others whose names we don’t yet know, and may never know since they were killed without a camera recording it.
At the same time, the United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases. So far, more than 100,000 people — enough to fill a football stadium– have perished from the virus, with over one million cases confirmed, and those numbers don’t reflect all the people dying from virus-related illnesses. Black people are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, four times more likely to die than their white neighbors.
It is important to state this within the context of the scourge of anti-Black police terror and the resulting uprisings taking place across the U.S. The COVID-19 deaths and the deaths caused by police terror are connected and consequential to each other. The United States does not have a national healthcare system. Instead, we have the largest military budget in the world, and some of the most well-funded and militarized police departments in the world, too. Policing and militarization overwhelmingly dominate the bulk of national and local budgets. In fact, police and military funding has increased every single year since 1973, and at the same time, funding for public health decreased every year, crystallized most recently when the Trump administration eliminated the US Pandemic Response Team in 2018, citing “costs”.
The time has come to defund the police.
Black communities are living in persistent fear of being killed by state authorities like police, immigration agents or even white vigilantes who are emboldened by state actors. According to the Urban Institute, in 1977, state and local governments spent $60 billion on police and corrections. In 2017, they spent $194 billion. A 220 percent increase. Despite continued profiling, harassment, terror and killing of Black communities, local and federal decision-makers continue to invest in the police, which leaves Black people vulnerable and our communities no safer.
Where could that money go? It could go towards building healthy communities, to the health of our elders and children, to neighborhood infrastructure, to education, to childcare, to support a vibrant Black future. The possibilities are endless.
We join in solidarity with the freedom fighters in Minneapolis, Louisville, and across the United States. And we call for the end to police terror.
We call for defunding of police and for those dollars to be rerouted to create a public national healthcare system.
Join us in demanding your local officials take the pledge to:
Vote no on all increases to police budgets
Vote yes to decrease police spending and budgets
Vote yes to increase spending on Health care, Education, and Community programs that keep us safe.
No mention is made to reform the police — and that being a police officer is a noble endeavor, and that most police officers are good people trying to do their job
No mention is made of ending qualified immunity — where a government official is not personally held responsible for their actions.
No mention is made to work with the police to reform them.
No condemnation of the blacks — and whites — and their communities, harmed by riots and looting — and how disarming the good policeman leaves them at the mercy of murderers, rapists, and thugs.
The real terror is the destruction that the “no justice, no peace” mob has created.
There is some great news in U.S. Academia.
In 2011, Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan released a “Dear Colleague” letter, that “compelled schools to conduct sexual-misconduct inquiries as if they were show trials — stripping students of the ability to face their accuser, or to call witnesses, or to see the evidence against them” according to David Harsanyi.
This is no longer the case in 2020.
According to The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education “[a]dvocates for free speech and due process on campus won one of their biggest-ever victories today with the finalization of long-awaited new Department of Education Title IX regulations.”
Among the changes from the previous Obama Administration Department of Education regulations are:
- An express presumption of innocence; [!!!]
- Live hearings with cross-examination conducted by an advisor of choice, who may be an attorney;
- Sufficient time and information — including access to evidence — to prepare for interviews and a hearing;
- Impartial investigators and decision-makers;
- A requirement that all relevant evidence receive an objective evaluation.
The regulations also affirm institutions’ ability to use the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence, which the government previously forced schools to abandon in 2011 for the lower “preponderance” standard in sexual misconduct cases.
Finally, the regulations define “sexual harassment” as it was defined by the Supreme Court of the United States in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999). This definition provides a clear path for institutions to respond to allegations of misconduct while also protecting students’ expressive rights.
According to Harsanyi:
The Obama guidelines allowed accusers to appeal “not guilty” verdicts but did not guarantee the same right for the accused. Rather, it permitted penalties to be handed out before investigations were even conducted. And those who conducted the investigation, often a single untrained employee, were empowered to be both judge and jury. Adjudicators will now be trained, and the training material they use will be published on the school’s website to offer transparency.
The new rules, and there are 2,033 pages of them, also expand the protections for victims by asking schools to investigate allegations of stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence.
The rules also roll back broadsides against free speech instituted by the Obama administration, which forced schools to investigate sexual-themed speech that offended students. As with most things on campus these days, the process was hijacked by brittle and perpetually offended progressive students. [“Betsy DeVos Restores Due Process, Dems Freak Out“]
In a hypocritical twist, Democratic nominee for President Joe “Biden says he’ll reverse DeVos rule bolstering protections for those accused of campus sexual assault” (The Hill):
“It’s wrong,” Biden said. “And, it will be put to a quick end in January 2021, because as president, I’ll be right where I always have been throughout my career — on the side of survivors, who deserve to have their voices heard, their claims taken seriously and investigated, and their rights upheld…”
City Journal contributor, KC Johnson summarizes the hypocrisy of the Biden situation (now including allegations of sexual misconduct from Tara Reade):
Biden’s approach to campus sexual misconduct effectively reverses Blackstone’s central premise of common law: to undo the injustices of the past, this new tenet holds, it is better that 10 innocents suffer than one clearly guilty student escape. If this approach requires a presumption of guilt that sweeps up the innocent and the almost-certainly innocent as well as the guilty, that’s a price that society (and, of course, the innocent) must pay.
Biden’s current situation recalls that of former senator Al Franken, who bitterly criticized DeVos’s Title IX policies, only to flail about in defending himself against allegations (mostly less serious than what Biden faces) of sexual misconduct. Ideologically boxed in, Franken could not defend himself by challenging his accusers’ veracity, lest he appear to reject the party’s consensus about believing all complainants.
In an ideal world, Joe Biden would use his new experience as an accused party to champion fairer treatment across the board. More likely, he’ll fall back on a double standard, demanding that he receive the benefit of the doubt denied to others—especially students with far less power than he possesses.
The Zoom Corporation is offering free video conferencing tools for schools with no restrictions.
This is the future of education. Thank you, Capitalism!
- Zoom: https://zoom.us/docs/en-us/covid19.html free for K-12 schools in US, Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland, UAE, Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Poland, Romania, South Korea
- 8×8: https://8×8.vc/ – free video conferencing for everyone, no account required, webrtc
- Cisco WebEx: https://www.webex.com/go-covid19.html Unlimited usage (no time restrictions), up to 100 participants, VoIp and toll dial-in
- GlobalMeet Collaboration Basic plan available for free. It’s not a COVID-19 special, it’s free and open to everyone like Zoom is. https://www.pgi.com/sign-up/
- Google Hangouts: https://gsuite.google.com/products/meet Hangouts Meet video conferencing available to anyone for free until July 1,
- Lifesize: https://pages.get.lifesize.com/remote-work-with-lifesize/ For the next 6 months, they’re offering their premium enterprise-grade video conferencing solution everywhere you need it free of charge. This offer includes Unlimited hosts – Every employee has the ability to work remotely, Unlimited meetings – Come together as frequently as needed, and Unlimited call duration – Talk for as long as it takes to get the job done.
- LogMeIn: https://support.logmeininc.com/coronavirus – free for healthcare providers, educational institutions, municipalities, and non-profit organizations
- Microsoft Teams: 6 months free of e1 license to everyone:
- RingCentral: free video conferencing (based on Zoom), phones and meeting for healthcare providers, schools (K-12), and non-profit organizations
Who are the worst campus censors? The competition is stiff, but today the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education released its annual list of America’s 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech.
This year’s “worst-of-the-worst” list includes a college that fired a professor for an innocuous joke on social media, another that allowed its student government to flatly reject a student club because of its conservative beliefs, one that unilaterally canceled a faculty-organized lecture, and a college that chose to suspend a librarian for curating a historical display highlighting the university’s own photos of its racist past.
The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2020 are, in alphabetical order:
Babson College (Wellesley, Mass.)
Doane University (Crete, Neb.)
Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
Jones County Junior College (Ellisville, Miss.)
Long Island University Post (Brookville, N.Y.)
Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)
Portland State University (Portland, Ore.)
Syracuse University (Syracuse, N.Y.)
University of Connecticut (Mansfield, Conn.)
University of Scranton (Scranton, Pa.)
Detailed descriptions of each college’s speech-chilling misdeeds are available on FIRE’s website.
Education policy analyst Andrew Coulson travels to Michigan’s prestigious Cranbrook High School, one of the top ten private high schools in America, in “Push or Pull,” the second episode of School, Inc.
Cranbrook — and other excellent private schools in America –typically don’t “scale-up” to replicate their excellence on a larger scale and serve more students. So, is there someplace else where scaling up excellence is happening?
The answer is “yes” and it is in America’s charter schools.
But when charter schools compete with public schools, there is often trouble ahead. From those involved we hear how the Sabis School, tremendously successful in Springfield, Massachusetts, was prevented from operating in nearby Brockton, because a school superintendent decided such excellence was simply not in the best interest of his public school.
For six years the American Indian Charter School, part of a small network of California charter schools, ranked among the top middle schools in California. But in the spring of 2013 the Oakland Public School District voted to shut down all three American Indian Schools, because the charter school had chosen to use its own special education services, and not those controlled by the state; that resulted in a loss of revenue to the public school system.
Not every story has a negative outcome. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the city’s vibrant charter schools came to the rescue, and provided the facilities and services which other schools needed to get back on their feet. Finally, Coulson travels to South America, for a comparison of how the success of Chile’s wine industry sets the scene for the growth of the country’s successful private school networks.
Chile’s private schools consistently outperform schools in all other Latin American countries, but trouble is always on the horizon. Still the private school networks of Chile provide a note of optimism in Andrew Coulson’s journey to discover the secrets of School, Inc.
Haaretz has an interview with Sayragul Sauytbay, a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden:
Twenty prisoners live in one small room. They are handcuffed, their heads shaved, every move is monitored by ceiling cameras. A bucket in the corner of the room is their toilet. The daily routine begins at 6 A.M. They are learning Chinese, memorizing propaganda songs and confessing to invented sins. They range in age from teenagers to elderly. Their meals are meager: cloudy soup and a slice of bread. Torture – metal nails, fingernails pulled out, electric shocks – takes place in the “black room.” Punishment is a constant. The prisoners are forced to take pills and get injections. It’s for disease prevention, the staff tell them, but in reality they are the human subjects of medical experiments. Many of the inmates suffer from cognitive decline. Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped. Such is life in China’s reeducation camps, as reported in rare testimony provided by Sayragul Sauytbay (pronounced: Say-ra-gul Saut-bay, as in “bye”), a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden. Few prisoners have succeeded in getting out of the camps and telling their story. Sauytbay’s testimony is even more extraordinary, because during her incarceration she was compelled to be a teacher in the camp. China wants to market its camps to the world as places of educational programs and vocational retraining, but Sauytbay is one of the few people who can offer credible, firsthand testimony about what really goes on in the camps.
The article also posts the official Chinese response to Sauytbay’s claims:
In Xinjiang in recent years, [responds the Chinese embassy in Sweden], “China has been under serious threats of ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism. The vocational education and training centers have been established in accordance with the law to eradicate extremism, which is not ‘prison camp.’” As a result of the centers, according to the Chinese, “there has been no terrorist incident in Xinjiang for more than three years. The vocational education and training work in Xinjiang has won the support of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and positive comments from many countries across the world.”
None of the countries are listed, but one NBA billionare who is “educated on the situation at hand” on China agrees.
“A Little Candle” is a documentary about VanDamme Academy, a tiny school in Southern California with big ideas about education. If you are interested in learning more, go to www.alittlecandlemovie.com.
Without numbers, a great many myths about education and educational provision would go unchallenged. Before James Toohey started his work (with colleagues) on low-cost private schools, the accepted wisdom was that only government education could provide for the poor in developing countries. In this talk James explores these myths and shares his findings. He has been described in the pages of Philanthropy magazine as “a 21st century Indiana Jones” travelling to “the remotest regions on Earth researching something that many regard as mythical: private, parent-funded schools serving the Third World poor.
After its release in 2009, The Beautiful Tree drew widespread praise. The book tells the remarkable story of author James Tooley’s travels from Africa to China, and of the children, parents, teachers, and others who showed him how the poor are building their own schools and learning to save themselves.
See full video here.
“A Little Candle” is a documentary about VanDamme Academy, a tiny school in Southern California with big ideas about education.
“Danielle D’Souza Gill explains an incredible racial discrimination scandal at Harvard University that the mainstream media is largely ignoring… in under 90 seconds!”
Learn more at Students for Fair Admissions — “a nonprofit membership group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.” Their mission is to support and participate in litigation that will restore the original principles of America’s civil rights movement: “A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.”
Our take: the diversity that does matter in universities is intellectual — something sadly missing in a Harvard