Realist lives in a Dark Fantasyland

Things here at the college seemed a little too quiet. Leadership canceled the regularly scheduled Officers of the District meeting, leaving me with a full Friday to catch up on some projects and emails. Upon returning from lunch, however, I found an email alert that Realist had posted about the 10,000 Small Businesses graduation event we held this past Tuesday. The post upended my carefully planned catch-up activities and demanded an immediate response.

I have to hand it to Realist. He has a unique ability to get under my skin. And it isn’t just his misspelling of the words “corporate agreement” (  in his tags for the blog post. (I now hope more than ever that Realist is not a faculty member, or that “coprorate agrement” is code for something.) What I find more irritating is the sloppy journalism, disregard for facts, and inability to execute a standard Google search to fact-check his story. (Although, if he googles with the same spelling expertise he uses for his post tags, I can understand why he may find it hard to find sources of information.)

And Realist and I had been getting along so well.

What we celebrated on Tuesday (coverage here, here, here and here) was the hard work 37 small business owners dedicated themselves to completing. They attended ten classes, held every other Friday from January to May. Each class lasted 8 – 10 hours, meaning our scholars (ooh – I can’t wait for the post when Realist finds out we call our students ‘scholars’) spent over 80 hours in class. The classes were co-taught by CCC faculty (led by Professor Anita Kelley of HWC) and Babson College faculty. Babson, using their deep understanding of and expertise in business entrepreneurship, developed the curriculum and then worked with our faculty to customize it for Chicago. This curriculum had been classroom-tested at other 10,000 Small Businesses sites at community colleges in New York, Los Angeles, Long Beach, New Orleans and Houston.

In addition, scholars were assigned regular homework. They attended seminars related to the program but outside of regular classes. They worked with a business advisor to develop a business plan for growth. This capstone for their work specified how they were going to grow their business, incorporating what they had learned over the course of the program in areas such as finance, marketing, human resources, and leadership. Our scholars accomplished all of this while running small businesses that employ hundreds of Chicagoland residents.

We were able to conduct this program owing to a generous grant from the Goldman Sachs Foundation and the support of community partners, including the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicago Urban League, LISC Chicago, and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Realist embarked upon this inductive fallacy:

First of all, this is nothing more than an investment group looking to manufacture more jobs, which in turn will produce more profits and revenue, from which the investment group will benefit; and when I say benefit, I mean the only way an investment group measures benefit – in quantifiable dollars and more dollars. Quite different than the way academic institutions measure benefit – in the qualitative transformation of lives.

I heard Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, explain why they decided to fund 10,000 Small Businesses. Their motivation is all about the qualitative transformation of lives.  They see small business owners as the engines of job creation in the United States, and wanted to spend their Foundation’s money in helping these businesses create more jobs. 10,000 Small Businesses is all about helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses and creating jobs. At a pre-graduation meeting, scholar after scholar talked about how many Chicagoans they had hired as a result of participating in this program.

Getting a job is a fundamentally transformative event. I just had an alum (graduate – May 2012) come into my office thanking me for City College’s and the Mayor’s partnership with Allscripts to hire CCC graduates. This 56-year-old woman, sent to me by Professor Sammie Dortch, could not sing our praises highly enough. She was so thankful that we had enabled her to get a job that would sustain her and her family well above a living wage. She said, as if in rebuke to Realist, that this opportunity will transform her life.

I am so proud that Professor Kelley, one of our HWC faculty, played a lead role in helping to transform so many lives. I am so proud of Bral Spight, our 10KSB Executive Director, and his team for launching this first cohort of scholars so successfully. I am proud of our partners, and I am proud that Goldman Sachs wanted to partner with City Colleges to make this happen. I am most proud of our scholars, who worked so hard to apply to and complete this program. They are inspiring people, working hard for their communities, their families, and yes, for their businesses.

Realist says this activity “pollutes and dilutes the educational system.” He is wrong. This initiative has burnished our reputation, and more importantly, provided 37 entrepreneurs with skills and capabilities they did not have when they walked into our building in January. This seems like a justifiable, and laudable, activity in which an educational institution should engage.

Realist says “These “students” are only a means to a profitable end for one company. These 37 “graduates” are objects with which to barter for future gains. Call them corn, or cattle, but not students.” I challenge Realist to check the interviews on MSNBC – maybe Danielle Hrzic, owner of Gourmet Gorilla, who provides nutritious, organic meals to hundreds of Chicago schoolchildren – or Dennis Deer, a North Lawndale resident and owner of Deer Rehabilitation Services that provides substance abuse, domestic violence and training services for ex-offenders and police, who believes in “doing good in the hood.” Realist slanders these wonderful people with his false, unfounded, and derogatory statements. Realist owes every one of our scholars an apology. I am boiling with rage that a member of the HWC community would denigrate the accomplishments of a group of our students.

And yes, I consider our 10,000 Small Businesses scholars “our” students. I know Anita Kelley and every one of the other CCC faculty involved in the program consider them our students. It is shameful that Realist’s elitist, arrogant attitude prevents him from seeing that.

I am most concerned with Realist’s narrow, and narrow-minded conception of education and its role in building and supporting a vibrant, democratic, civil society. We celebrate the graduations of our credit students, but we also celebrate our certificate students who have not taken any credit courses. We are having one such celebration tomorrow at Daley College. CCC values its adult ed, ESL, GED and certificate students alongside credit students. Realist ignores our dual missions, and arrogantly proclaims credit classes as the only type of education worthy of pursuit.

Realist calls himself an entrepreneur and capitalist, and yet sees these pursuits as distinct – and based on his post – anathema to the ‘proverbial hat’ he wears as an educator. He calls upon us to “Truly educate in the academic and scholarly definition of the word.” Is he arguing that business schools are not institutions of higher learning? That law, public policy, social service and other professional schools do not educate their students, or that their missions are a perversion of his lofty concept of education? It must be hard to be Realist, living in bi-polar realities, having to remind himself whether he is an educator or a capitalist. Maybe that is why he is so nasty.

He should be both. We can be both. Our students come to us for many reasons. I want them to read Descartes. And Aristotle. And wrestle with the structure of DNA. And if other students, or the same students, are educated in how to run a business, or write a decent cover letter and resume, or get a job, then good on us.

And shame on Realist. My heart is heavier this gorgeous Friday afternoon knowing he is attempting to poison our wonderful Harold Washington community.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

10 thoughts on “Realist lives in a Dark Fantasyland

  1. I was with you Don. I too am not a fan of the Realist. I appreciated your response to his/her post. I did snicker a bit when you berated the Realist about spelling and later included “domestice violence” in your own post.

    And then, we got to the end and you make that final slap at the Realist and it was IRONIC. “And shame on Realist. My heart is heavier this gorgeous Friday afternoon knowing he is attempting to poison our wonderful Harold Washington community.” The Realist is not the poison. He/She is a response to the poison at District and HWC. Without the current lack of leadership there is no Realist.

    I would like to remind you who we are….we are mostly tenured professors and long-term staff and professionals. We came to work at Harold Washington College to serve a community of students who may not have ever been respected, taught, inspired or advised in education before they got here. We earned our place in this school and continue to work towards our students’ betterment. We are not political appointments, we have no connections to people in office and what we do is not often reported in the newspaper or remarked upon by those same political connections. We do the work; we are in the classrooms and in the offices. We are not sitting at a time-wasting meeting at District and we sure see our students a lot more than during registration and on the first day of school. And our community at HWC is wonderful Don, but not because of anything you have done or Cheryl has done. I haven’t noticed that you have done jack to make this a wonderful environment. Our school is wonderful because of the students, faculty and staff who share a common goal and thought…success starts here.

    So please, keep your responses to the Realist to facts. Responses couched in fact and beautiful language skills enhance your credibility. The personal attacks you will lose every time; because, even hidden under a cloak of anonymity, the Realist has earned his/her position at HWC – you haven’t ….yet.

    1. “The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
      The next best are loved and praised;
      The next are feared;
      The next despised:
      They have no faith in their people,
      And their people become unfaithful to them.

      When the best rulers achieve their purpose
      Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.”

      ~Tao Te Ching

      1. I love the Tao Te Ching’s humble philosophy of leadership, and the Taoist elements in Confucius, such as in Book 2 Chapter 1: “The practice of government by means of virtue may be compared with the pole-star, which the multitudinous stars pay homage to while it stays in its place.”

        So I find it ironic that the Tao quote is used: these are statements in support of a passive leadership style, one that favors example, virtue, calm, and gravity, rather than action and command. And I seem to recall an early remark you wrote or said last year: something to the affect that when there’s a choice between action and non-action, you prefer to err on the side of action. It stuck in my mind because I was teaching Confucius at the time, and I remember thinking to myself: “this is a distinctly non-Taoist form of leadership.”

        This is not a criticism (especially considering my final tenure application will be arriving at your office soon!), but it is interesting to me to see where people’s philosophical loyalties lay, and if there’s a problem in its execution.

        (For a completely irrelevant and pedantic point: Confucius’ Analects are inconsistent in his support for passive Taoist principles, and sometimes favors action).

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