Tuesday, December 8, 2009

90% and Failing

Recently I read two brief stories in which 90% was a very bad percentage. The first is a bible story from Luke 17:11-19. In this story Jesus entered a village and ran into 10 lepers. They kept their distance, but cried out to the Miracle-Man, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” And Jesus did. He sent them to show themselves to the priests, and on their way, they were cleansed. Only one came back. This one threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him. Ninety percent didn’t come back. Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?” No answer is given so we can only guess—catching up with family, tipping a pint at the village pub, who knows. Only one really got it—that a fabulous gift was given and gratitude is the right response.

My friend suggested this book to me, The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdale. This book is about higher education, and particularly about students. Clydesdale summarizes hundreds of hours of discussions with high school seniors, and then he continues those conversations with students in their first year out. Most have gone on to a college of some sort. And here is one of the major insights that emerged from all of this research—90% of the students in his project were not ready for college. The issue wasn’t that they needed better skills (reading, writing, arithmetic). The problem is even more fundamental than that. They were entirely disengaged and uninterested in what college had to offer. Clydesdale describes these students as having an “identity lockbox,” as having sequestered their deepest beliefs and stifled their curiosity so that almost nothing of lasting significance was taking place. In other words, only one in ten really got it—that a fabulous opportunity was available and engagement is the right response.

-- Donald Opitz

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