Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Race and Children’s Literature

— by Hannah Lee

Do you remember the joy of finding a book that reflected your life, your family? As an immigrant living on the Lower East Side, I learned about American ways through the Girl Scout manual, and was puzzled by the young adult stories of Beverly Cleary, who wrote about teenage boys who played football, and girls who rallied them with cheers in formation. By the time I became a mother, books about Asian-American families had become available, and I still happily collect them.

Back in the mid-20th century, book publishers were not interested in reaching a wider audience beyond the mainstream culture. Ezra Jack Keats was a pioneer, who convinced Viking Press to allow depiction of a black boy, Peter, in his 1962 book, The Snowy Day. He also broke new literary ground in portraying an urban setting and using collage to illustrate his text. The book won the 1963 Caldecott Award for “most distinguished American picture book for children.”

More after the jump.
Born in 1916 to Polish Jewish immigrants, Keats grew up poor in East New York, Brooklyn. His father discouraged his interest in writing, while simultaneously supporting his talent with tubes of paint. Keats changed his name from Jack Ezra Katz in 1947 in reaction to the Antisemitism in the country.

The reaction to The Snowy Day ranged from outrage for that Keats was not himself black to gratitude for expanding the racial profile of the book world. The poet and leader of the “Harlem Renaissance,” Langston Hughes, praised it as “a perfectly charming little book.” The writer Sherman Alexie read it as a child on an Indian reservation in the 1970s and reminisced:

It was the first time I looked at a book and saw a brown, black, beige character — a character who resembled me physically and spiritually in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation.

This summer we are treated with overlapping exhibits in our city’s institutions, with The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats at the National Museum of American Jewish History, a retrospective collection of the work of Jerry Pinkney at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a companion exhibit on Pinkney’s body of work at the Free Library on Vine Street.

A native son of Germantown born in 1939, Pinkney struggled with dyslexia, but he soared through his talent in drawing. Whereas Keats’ black characters could have been anybody, Pinkey’s artwork explicitly incorporates African-American motifs. He won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his illustration of The Lion & the Mouse, a version of Aesop’s fable that he also wrote. He also has five Caldecott Honors, among other awards. One of my favorite of his works is of Goin’ Someplace Special, written by Patricia McKissack. Set in the late 1950s in Nashville, it is about a time and place where the library was one of the few places that disregarded the segregationist Jim Crow laws and treated blacks with respect.

Books may not lead social movements, but they have lasting impacts in supporting individuals who live outside the mainstream. You are no longer fringe when there are books that reflect your life.

1st Children’s Aliyah Flight Arrives: Record 106 Children Aboard

— by Rebecca (Langer) Modell

Gilad Shalit accompanied the 231 North American Olima board this summer’s first charter Aliyah flight including Nefesh b’Nefesh’s 35,000th Oleh

El-Al flight 3004 landed Monday morning at Ben Gurion Airport with 231 new Israeli citizens aboard. Even before they took off, the passengers knew not to expect getting any sleep, as close to 50% of the occupants were children. This is a new record of children arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in cooperation with The Jewish Agency for Israel. The 106 young Olim are joining a whopping 989 children who will be making Aliyah throughout 2013 with Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel and JNF. This is an increase of 20%, compared to 822 children that made Aliyah in 2012.

In anticipation of the arrival, Nefesh B’Nefesh prepared reinforcements to help the parents watch over their children and keep them occupied during the long flight and at the arrival ceremony. Amongst the activities that awaited the children were Aliyah coloring books, games and custom-made t-shirts. Former Israeli IDF captive, Gilad Shalit, also joined the flight as a show of support and appreciation for the thousands of North American Olim who are fulfilling their dream to return to Israel and their contribution to the State of Israel.

Also on board were 41 families, including the 106 children as well as 54 singles — 13 of whom will be joining the IDF. Also of note were the 41 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.

Kindertransport 1938-1940

The Children’s Aliyah Flight reminds us for the story of the Kindertransport which saved “some ten thousand Jewish children out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the free city of Danzig nine month prior to the outbreak of World War II. For the most part, the children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms. One of those children, fourteen-year-old Viennese native Renee Perl, was destined to become the mother of congressional representative Allyson Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania.”
(Source:The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members)

The Co-Founder and Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart said:

As we welcome our 35,000th Oleh, it is exciting to see so many children amongst the Zionistic modern day pioneers who are helping to build and secure the future of the State of Israel. This new generation is joining young adults volunteering for the IDF and Olim moving to Israel’s North and South to help strengthen the periphery, to infuse the country with renewed passion and idealism.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said:

I am happy to welcome over 100 children who are making Aliyah today through Nefesh B’Nefesh and joining us here in Israel. Aliyah from North America is extremely important and makes us stronger as a nation.

The Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky said:

The Jewish Agency, which brings tens of thousands of Olim from across the globe sees Nefesh B’Nefesh as a dedicated partner in this important work.  The children and their parents who are arriving on this Olim flight from North America represent the future of Israel and every one of them strengthens Israeli society.

Hundreds of families and friends as well as Israeli dignitaries gathered at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome the country’s newest citizens at the arrival ceremony.

Those present included:

  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver;
  • Member of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs MK Dov Lipman;
  • Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky;
  • World Chairman of KKL-JNF, Effie Stenzler;
  • Vice President Global Sales of El Al, Offer Gat;
  • Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh Erez Halfon and
  • Co-Founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass & Tony Gelbart.

Photo credit: Shafar Azran and Peter Hamalgyi.

About Nefesh B’Nefesh: Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its over 35,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.  

Boycott Divestment Summer Camp

— by Alana Goodman

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Free Beacon

Anti-Israel college students will trek to a scenic campsite in upstate New York this summer to learn how to launch campus boycotts against the Jewish state at a program subsidized and run by one of America’s largest Quaker faith groups.

The American Friends Service Committee “We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute” describes itself as a “five (5) day intensive program for campus [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] organizers-those with campaigns already running and those hoping to get one launched in the 2013-2014 school year.”

More after the jump.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was officially launched by a network of pro-Palestinian groups in 2005 and seeks to use economic and cultural boycotts to isolate Israel, force the government’s hand on Palestinian negotiations, and evoke comparisons between the Jewish state and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

Students attending the AFSC’s Summer Training Institute, which is also sponsored by the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, will participate in “anti-oppression analysis workshops,” “non-violent direct action planning,” and “strategy sessions with BDS movement leaders,” according to the AFSC website.

The program runs from July 28 to Aug. 1 and promises “fun in a summer camp-like environment!” The cost of room and board is subsidized by the AFSC and the JVP, according to the website.

An AFSC official said the number of attendees for this year is not yet finalized and said the 2013 program will focus on “call[ing] attention to what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories while supporting a just and lasting peace that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Pro-Israel groups have vehemently opposed the BDS movement, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report that said the campaign was driven by anti-Jewish sentiment in March.

“It doesn’t help a single Palestinian. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for Palestinians. It is simply anti-Israel,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Abraham Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon. “Unfortunately, the community of the people associated with this particular church have embraced [the BDS campaign] completely, so much so that they are using up whatever moral capital they have to do training for an immoral, hypocritical, and anti-Semitic undertaking.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center report said the BDS program meets Natan Sharansky’s “three D’s” test for anti-Semitism: It follows “double-standards” by criticizing Israel while overlooking human rights abuses across the Arab world; “demonizes” Israel by comparing its actions to those of Apartheid regimes; and attempts to “delegitimize” the Jewish state by targeting its existence.

Cooper said students attend these events “thinking their actions are doing the equivalent of the folks that [participated in] the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or following the route of Martin Luther King Jr.-complete and utter nonsense.”

“What a shame, for young people, who are highly motivated that want to do something good in the world,” he added.

The AFSC’s Michael Merryman-Lotze, who helped organize the summer program, objected to the argument that the BDS campaign is anti-Semitic.

“We see nothing inherently anti-Semitic in the use of these proven nonviolent tactics nor in the BDS movement as a whole,” said Merryman-Lotze. “Are BDS opponents next going to argue that these same tactics were anti-White in the Jim Crow south and apartheid era South Africa?”

Merryman-Lotze also disputed claims from critics that the campaign has been ineffective.

“Why, if BDS is ineffective and largely a failure, have the Israeli government and groups like the ADL, the Wiesenthal Center, and AIPAC invested millions of dollars in developing campaigns to counter minimally funded grassroots BDS activism?” said Merryman-Lotze. “If our efforts are ineffective, why write a story about our planned training program? The answer is that BDS is effective and successful.”

While the BDS campaign has gained traction on college campuses and won support from some high-profile names such as Elvis Costello and Stephen Hawking, it has failed to have an impact on the Israeli economy or influence policy.

Israel’s tech industry in particular continues to boom, with Google purchasing Israeli company Waze for $1 billion on Tuesday.

“Culturally-just this week-two enormous, international sporting events were held in Israel,” one D.C. Jewish organization official told the Free Beacon. “Economically, the world’s largest tech companies are rushing to invest there. Politically, Israel stands out more than ever as the only stable Western ally left in the entire Middle East.”

The BDS movement’s failure to meet its objectives suggests that efforts to fund and support the campaign are aimed at opposing the Jewish state rather than achieving any legitimate policy goal, according to pro-Israel advocates.

According to the D.C. Jewish organization official.

“You’ve really got to ask yourself where boycott advocates keep getting the energy, given that efforts to economically and culturally isolate Israel have been an utter failure. Let’s pretend that boycotters succeed in getting everyone to stop buying Israeli hummus, which is something they actually think is important. If they keep that up for a few thousand years, it will almost offset this week’s billion-dollar acquisition of Waze by Google. No company in its right mind is ever going to boycott a country that’s been nicknamed ‘Start-Up Nation.'”

URJ’s Camp Harlam to Launch First Reform Day Camp

Harlam’s overnight camp, 2012

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), representing North America’s largest Jewish congregational Movement, and Camp Harlam, the URJ’s Philadelphia-based regional overnight camp, announced that they will open the first URJ-affiliated day camp in the summer of 2014.

The URJ’s foray into Jewish day camping is a strategic initiative meant to complement the Reform Movement’s focus on Youth Engagement and the URJ’s North American Camp Committee’s strategic plan. The expectation for the day camp is to be the first of its kind and a model, and other day camp initiatives will be considered for various target communities throughout North America in the coming years.

More after the jump.
“The URJ has been a leader in Jewish camping for over 60 years, keeping it as a high strategic priority for decades and making the case for camp as a true cornerstone in the development of Jewish identity,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Camp Harlam, like all of our URJ camps, has developed its own joyful and engaging brand of Reform Jewish living and learning in a truly beautiful, fully immersive, well-supervised, fun setting. The day camp initiative is a way to expand what Camp Harlam already does so well and offer more entry points for Jewish families to engage with the Reform Movement.

The URJ’s Director of Camp and Israel Programs, Paul Reichenbach, said:

URJ camp and Israel experiences give kids Jewish cultural roots and inspire them to seek more and more connections. A day camp model will enhance our ability to reach more kids and encourage them to embark on their own Jewish journeys.

Cyberbullying: What is it, How Does it Work?

— by Diane Flanagan

Cyberbullying has become a widely discussed topic both inside and outside of schools, with anti-bullying legislation heading to the desks of people like Florida Governor Rick Scott after clearing the Florida House and Senate in April 2013. Other states are following suit, and Montana is currently the only state with no anti-bullying legislation on the books.

In today’s age of digital, with more adolescent exposure to television and Internet than ever before, it’s not hard for children to find channels through which they can victimize their peers. Satellite packages alone come with 285 channels, stated Slackware, making it difficult to control what content our kids are exposed to. That leaves it up to parents and lawmakers to try to prevent cyberbullying.

More after the jump.
How does cyberbullying affect children?

We know what bullying is, but what is cyberbullying? The main differences, according to, are that cyberbullying can happen 24/7, not just on school grounds or in social situations; it can be done anonymously and spread very quickly, and ridding the digital world of the content afterward can be hard to impossible.

The effects can be myriad, but include drops in self-esteem, an unwillingness to attend school or a willingness to skip, falling grades, substance abuse and health problems.

How do we handle it legally? Do we do too much or too little with our anti-bullying laws?

New Jersey, for instance, is beefing up its anti-bullying laws to include incidents off school grounds and to strengthen its mandatory reporting policy. Many think this is a good idea.

On the other hand, many parents think that bullying has become a buzzword that’s being overused, with schools and parents litigating against kids for age-appropriate behavior, even if it’s mean. And some are even using the word “bully” against teachers on the courtroom floor.

What are parents doing to prevent bullying? Is it too much or not enough?

Parents who think the cyberbullying cause is overused are less likely to step to the forefront of their children’s personal lives; Others, however, think not enough is being done. This can take the form of talking one on one and monitoring from a distance, but it can also mean obtaining account passwords for more hands-on monitoring if behavior warrants it.

On the other hand, some parents think the current approach to cyberbullying is blown out of proportion. According to the New York Times, “What may be offensive in one household may be just a shoulder shrug in another.” Some parents just don’t believe in getting involved, and think that today’s obsession with the topic is just getting in the way of normal adolescent behavior.

Ultimately, it’s up to each parent to decide what to do. Until the issue settles down, and likely even after, the bottom line on cyberbullying will continue to be a matter of personal choice and debate.

Why I Let My Students Cheat On Their Exam

— by Peter Nonacs

On test day for my Behavioral Ecology class at UCLA, I walked into the classroom bearing an impossibly difficult exam. Rather than being neatly arranged in alternate rows with pen or pencil in hand, my students sat in one tight group, with notes and books and laptops open and available. They were poised to share each other’s thoughts and to copy the best answers. As I distributed the tests, the students began to talk and write. All of this would normally be called cheating. But it was completely OK by me.

Who in their right mind would condone and encourage cheating among UCLA juniors and seniors? Perhaps someone with the idea that concepts in animal behavior can be taught by making their students live those concepts.

More after the jump.
Animals and their behavior have been my passions since my Kentucky boyhood, and I strive to nurture this love for nature in my students. Who isn’t amazed and entertained by videos of crafty animals, like Betty the tool-making crow, bending wires into hooks to retrieve baskets containing delicious mealworms? (And then hiding her rewards from a lummox of a mate who never works, but is all too good at purloining the hard-won rewards of others?)

Nevertheless, I’m a realist. Almost none of my students will go on to be “me” — a university professor who makes a living observing animals. The vast majority take my classes as a prelude to medical, dental, pharmacy, or veterinary school. Still, I want my students to walk away with something more than, “Animals are cool.” I want them to leave my class thinking like behavioral ecologists.

Much of evolution and natural selection can be summarized in three short words: “Life is games.” In any game, the object is to win-be that defined as leaving the most genes in the next generation, getting the best grade on a midterm, or successfully inculcating critical thinking into your students. An entire field of study, Game Theory, is devoted to mathematically describing the games that nature plays. Games can determine why ant colonies do what they do, how viruses evolve to exploit hosts, or how human societies organize and function.

So last quarter I had an intriguing thought while preparing my Game Theory lectures. Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade. Might these goals be maximized simultaneously? What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game? Allow them to do everything we would normally call cheating?

A week before the test, I told my class that the Game Theory exam would be insanely hard-far harder than any that had established my rep as a hard prof. But as recompense, for this one time only, students could cheat. They could bring and use anything or anyone they liked, including animal behavior experts. (Richard Dawkins in town? Bring him!) They could surf the Web. They could talk to each other or call friends who’d taken the course before. They could offer me bribes. (I wouldn’t take them, but neither would I report it to the dean.) Only violations of state or federal criminal law such as kidnapping my dog, blackmail, or threats of violence were out of bounds.

Gasps filled the room. The students sputtered. They fretted. This must be a joke. I couldn’t possibly mean it. What, they asked, is the catch?

“None,” I replied. “You are UCLA students. The brightest of the bright. Let’s see what you can accomplish when you have no restrictions and the only thing that matters is getting the best answer possible.”

Once the shock wore off, they got sophisticated. In discussion section, they speculated, organized, and plotted. What would be the test’s payoff matrix? Would cooperation be rewarded or counter-productive? Would a large group work better, or smaller subgroups with specified tasks? What about “scroungers” who didn’t study but were planning to parasitize everyone else’s hard work? How much reciprocity would be demanded in order to share benefits? Was the test going to play out like a dog-eat-dog Hunger Games? In short, the students spent the entire week living Game Theory. It transformed a class where many did not even speak to each other into a coherent whole focused on a single task-beating their crazy professor’s nefarious scheme.

On the day of the hour-long test they faced a single question: “If evolution through natural selection is a game, what are the players, teams, rules, objectives, and outcomes?” One student immediately ran to the chalkboard, and she began to organize the outputs for each question section. The class divided tasks. They debated. They worked on hypotheses. Weak ones were rejected, promising ones were developed. Supportive evidence was added. A schedule was established for writing the consensus answers. (I remained in the room, hoping someone would ask me for my answers, because I had several enigmatic clues to divulge. But nobody thought that far afield!) As the test progressed, the majority (whom I shall call the “Mob”) decided to share one set of answers. Individuals within the Mob took turns writing paragraphs, and they all signed an author sheet to share the common grade. Three out of the 27 students opted out (I’ll call them the “Lone Wolves”). Although the Wolves listened and contributed to discussions, they preferred their individual variants over the Mob’s joint answer.

In the end, the students learned what social insects like ants and termites have known for hundreds of millions of years. To win at some games, cooperation is better than competition. Unity that arises through a diversity of opinion is stronger than any solitary competitor.

But did the students themselves realize this? To see, I presented the class with one last evil wrinkle two days later, after the test was graded but not yet returned. They had a choice, I said. Option A: They could get the test back and have it count toward their final grade. Option B: I would-sight unseen-shred the entire test. Poof, the grade would disappear as if it had never happened. But Option B meant they would never see their results; they would never know if their answers were correct.

“Oh, my, can we think about this for a couple of days?” they begged. No, I answered. More heated discussion followed. It was soon apparent that everyone had felt good about the process and their overall answers. The students unanimously chose to keep the test. Once again, the unity that arose through a diversity of opinion was right. The shared grade for the Mob was 20 percent higher than the averages on my previous, more normal, midterms. Among the Lone Wolves, one scored higher than the Mob, one about the same, and one scored lower.

Is the take-home message, then, that cheating is good? Well … no. Although by conventional test-taking rules, the students were cheating, they actually weren’t in this case. Instead, they were changing their goal in the Education Game from “Get a higher grade than my classmates” to “Get to the best answer.” This also required them to make new rules for test-taking. Obviously, when you make the rules there is no reason to cheat. Furthermore, being the rule-makers let students behave in a way that makes us a quintessentially unique species. We recognize when we are in a game, and more so than just playing along, we always try to bend the rules to our advantage.

Morally, of course, games can be tricky. Theory predicts that outcomes are often not to the betterment of the group or society. Nevertheless, this case had an interesting result. When the students got carte blanche to set the rules, altruism and cooperation won the day. How unlike a “normal” test where all students are solitary competitors, and teachers guard against any cheating! What my class showed was a very “human” trait: the ability to align what is “good for me” with what is “good for all” within the evolutionary games of our choosing.

In the end, the students achieved their goal: They earned an excellent grade. I also achieved my goal: I got them to spend a week thinking like behavioral ecologists. As a group they learned Game Theory better than any of my previous classes. In educational lingo, “flipping the classroom” means students are expected to prepare to come to class not for a lecture, but for a question-and-answer discussion. What I did was “flip the test.” Students were given all the intellectual tools beforehand and then, for an hour, they had to use them to generate well-reasoned answers to difficult questions.

The best tests will not only find out what students know but also stimulate thinking in novel ways. This is much more than regurgitating memorized facts. The test itself becomes a learning experience-where the very act of taking it leads to a deeper understanding of the subject.

Peter Nonacs is a professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCLA. He studies the evolution of social behavior across species, ranging from viruses, to insects, to mammals and even occasionally humans.

This article was originally published at Zócalo Public Square.

Perelman Jewish School Third Graders Learn Entrepreneurship

Josh Kopelman

— by Ronit Treatman

What is the most effective way to teach young people about entrepreneurship? To have seasoned businesspeople demonstrate how it is done. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Josh Kopelman, of First Round Capital, invited the third grade students at Perelman Jewish Day School’s Stern Center to visit him at First Round. They will have the opportunity to present business plans to him and two other venture capitalists, Wayne Kimmel and Marc Singer.

More after the jump.
The visit, which will take place on Thursday, April 25, is the culmination of a third grade unit of study about venture capitalism that began last fall. The students were taught basic business terminology and learned the steps to creating a successful business: starting with a big idea, developing a business plan, and considering such variables as the consumers, market, price, and location.

Singer (left) and Kimmel

The third graders were then asked to think about what sort of business they would want to start when they grow up. They formed partnerships with their classmates based on similar interests, and from there set out to develop a plan, and design their own businesses. In addition, Kopelman visited the third grade classes and taught an interactive lesson about the fundamentals of entrepreneurism and venture capitalism.  

The Stern third graders have continued to work with their business partners to further develop their big ideas, and look forward to presenting their business plans to the three venture capitalist dads. Who knows? Maybe an angel investment will occur!

Gala Concert “Celebrating Nelly: a Tribute to a Life in Music”

— by Elena Berman

Recently, I was sitting crossed-legged on the floor of my mother’s house, digging in her old green cardboard suitcase full of photographs and thank you cards. I poured over the black and white photographs from Odessa, depicting our family and close friends. There were also many pictures in color, of my mother surrounded by her former piano students, whom she taught over the years of her life in Philadelphia, which were proudly taken after numerous concerts my mother had presented. There were pictures of my mother’s students, and even her students acting in a musical play that she had directed based on the lives of Clara and Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. Strewn among the photographs were dozens of cards from the parents of my mother’s students, with words of gratitude for changing their children’s lives through her teaching. With deep sincerity they thanked her for bringing forth their kids’ potential and talent in music. They described her as being not only a teacher, but a great mentor and role model.

More after the jump.

Nelly Berman teaches two-year old Elena

We came to the U.S. 37 years ago with 3 suitcases. One contained precious photographs and indispensible music scores. Included was the Grieg concerto that I was working on, Chopin concerto I was hoping to learn, Rachmaninov Preludes that my mother loved to play, as well as a number of anthologies that my mother was hoping to use for her future American piano students. The other suitcases held all of the clothes and mementos that we could bring out of Russia.  In them, we also packed wooden cups and saucers, colorfully painted with gold and red flowers, and little black boxes, with miniature scenes from Russian fairy tales, painted with great skill. These trinkets were meant as souvenirs for our future American friends. Those two other suitcases were thrown out long ago, souvenirs given out, clothes discarded, but only this green suitcase, full of pictures of our former life in Odessa, and new life in the USA, was left as a keepsake.

I came upon an old picture of me, not more than two years old, an age completely erased from my memory. I am holding my hands carefully placed over the keyboard of our old Bechstein upright piano we had in our apartment in Odessa. My young mother Nelly is standing over me, showing me how to touch the keys properly. Excited to see this picture, I had it scanned at the NBS school office and emailed it to my mother.  “Look at your hand position,” she exclaimed proudly, glancing at the picture. “Most little kids’ fingers stick out in all directions, and they bang on the piano with such force. On this picture you already have a perfect round shape of your hands, with your wrists high and your fingers beautifully round. And you are focusing carefully on what I am teaching you.”

That is my mother Nelly, in that statement, always conscious of what is important in teaching music to students. In Odessa, she had been teaching piano hour upon hour, in a music school in our district, called “Music school No. 1”.  There, she had to follow a specific, mandated plan for assigning pieces to her students, based on the Ministry of Culture’s graded programs for all music students in the Soviet Union.  My mother would constantly rebel and assign the music that she felt would open the minds of her piano students. She would be reprimanded for it again and again. Music education was free – one of the special perks the Soviet Government allowed their citizens. Students, starting from the age of 7, had two lessons per week in their instrument. If not pianists, they were required to study piano as a secondary instrument. They also had weekly classes in theory, solfeggio, music literature, choir, and chamber groups for advanced students. All students had to pass an examination twice a year to continue their music education.

My mother was famous as a teacher in Odessa, her students not only won competitions but they adored her. I leaf through our old Russian music books that my mother still has. They are piled up on the Steinway in her house, a beautiful instrument she purchased in the USA. I see my mother’s writing in English on different pieces in the books – this Mozart Concerto was meant for Kyle Cesar Luo, the Debussy “Claire de Lune” was meant for Allison Klayman, the Beethoven sonata was for Ellen Morris, the Mozart Fantasy was assigned to Felix Zhang, the Prokofiev Vision Fugitives was intended for Daniel Schlosberg, the Chopin E minor concerto was intended for Nandira. Those students’ names bring memories of the years when I would sit at her lessons trying to pick up on all her skills of being able to inspire her students, achieving beautiful phrasing and dazzling technique.

Nelly, left, with NBS students, circa 1985.

I remember these children’s wonderful music making and their dedication and excitement about playing their instrument. Kyle has played with the Philadelphia Orchestra as a soloist not once but twice, and while attending Medical school, he played a Rachmaninov Concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic. He has become an eye surgeon like his father. Allison Klayman spent 5 years in China, learned Mandarin, and recently received a prize at Sundance Festival for her full length documentary called “Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry” which was screened at the Ritz and Bryn Mawr movie theaters this summer. Ellen Morris studied Physics at the University of Chicago and minored in piano performance, and then reversed the order. Felix Zhang was named one of the top twenty All American High school students in 2007 by USA Today, played a Tchaikovsky Concerto and is now graduated from Harvard, having done research on Alzheimer’s disease.  Daniel Schlosberg is working on his Master’s Degree in Composition at Yale University, has written an opera for the Yale Opera company, and is working at this moment with a famous Broadway musical theater composer, orchestrating his scores. And then, I found a picture in the suitcase of my mother hugging her two new little students, Nina Hartling and Nicolas Lu, whom she started to teach last year, after her stroke. There are so many others whose names I have forgotten, and whose path in life would love to discover!

In the Soviet Union, it was realized that students required at least2 lessons per week plus other instructional classes in order to become musically proficient, and this support was provided by the State. The U.S. does not support music in this way. It is left for parents to make their own decision to provide such financial support for these extra lessons. In many cases they cannot do it, and very talented students cannot realize their musical desires. The NBS Classical Music Institute was thus established in 1996, because the level of support needed to satisfy all of the worthy students that we had by then attracted, was not sufficient. It was then that the generosity and devotion to the advancement of classical music education came to us from Elaine Kligerman. She was willing to satisfy this need, and so the Scholarship Fund was developed.  Because of her generous support, just about every student who is worthy and desirous of having the additional lessons per week can have them. Mrs. Kligerman herself is an established pianist, having attended both the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. With her great knowledge of music and education, including 15 years of serving as adjunct piano faculty at Temple University, she recognized the importance of supporting these talented children.  As a result, the school has grown significantly in reputation, with its fame spread throughout the Philadelphia area as well as to New York and even to communities in California. Without Elaine Kligerman this would not be possible. I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Over the years, my mother brought truly outstanding teachers to the school, who shared her vision of the value and tradition of music education and love of teaching. Together they raised the bar for what each child could accomplish, giving them the tools to realize their fullest potential, inspiring them and nurturing their self confidence.

Nelly at 19 years old

I found another letter in her old green suitcase that she wrote 10 years ago:

“What is a 19-year-old girl teaching her first piano student in Odessa dreaming about?  Her wish was not a big house, a big car and diamonds. Her wish was the same as I have now – to give every child that is gifted in music the best teaching possible. For all 45 years of my teaching life I awake in the morning and review in my mind what students had achieved the day before.  The words in a song from my favorite Cary Grant movie say: ‘Close your eyes, make your wish, and make your life.’ It seems that Providence has enabled me to help talented music teachers from different countries find a home in my school and to be creative enough to bring about this unique school.  I would like to thank you all for coming and making my dreams come true.”

Join me in celebrating Nelly Berman’s gift of music to so many young people.

With much love and admiration,



The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work/Life Success

— book review by Kristi Hughes

Teresa Taylor snuck home one workday at lunch to surprise her nanny. The music was blaring; the nanny was cooking while on her cell phone. Teresa’s infant son was asleep in a swing, with swollen eyes from crying, lying in a soiled diaper. Teresa fired her nanny on the spot but she was due back at work. Her son needed her but so did her coworkers.

More after the jump.
Taylor, a working mom who, after years of feeling like she was always failing someone — coworkers, kids, husband or friends, finally uncovered the simple truth: she would never achieve the mythical thing called ‘balance’ for which so many women (and men) spend their adult lives searching. In fact, searching for it only creates failure, disappointment and frustration. Thus, Taylor conceived the new book The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success.

Taylor is a nationally recognized telecom executive who teaches integrity, focus, and vision, to working women everywhere in her new book. Part memoir, part guide and part inspiration, The Balance Myth provides unique yet palpable solutions for women to simplify the complexities of a modern professional lifestyle-from parenting and married life to travel, friendship and business and more.

Each chapter includes intimate personal stories — from accepting suicide, to struggling with infertility, to the responsibility that comes with top-level government clearances – which will both inspire and provoke readers to successfully navigate their own overwhelming, personal and professional challenges.

“You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react,” says Taylor. “By leaving behind the frustrating and useless idea of work-life balance, women can begin making positive work-life decisions.”.”

The Balance Myth explains that one really can’t have success in one area of their life without having success in the others. Women should abandon any feelings of ‘mommy guilt’ and start feeling ‘in power’ both inside the home and at the office. It suggests that life is all about creating alternatives, options, and backup plans, and it’s about asking for help. Further, The Balance Myth teaches women to respect, appreciate, and recognize their own professional AND personal accomplishments. Taylor has concluded that you can’t take the mother out of the career woman or the career out of the mother, and suggest that women use both to their advantage. The Balance Myth also includes the following themes:

  • Advice on overcoming adversity in the workplace
  • Time management because you are never off the clock
  • It’s impossible to live one life with two calendars
  • How to avoid daycare failure
  • How to implement a successful ‘layer’ system
  • How to manage a mommy meltdown
  • That you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room
  • The privileges of leadership as a mommy and an executive

Teresa Taylor serves on the board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem, Inc., a financial services holding company with $7.3 billion in assets, as well as the board of directors for NiSource, Inc., a Fortune 500 natural gas and electricity storage and transmission company. Additionally, Taylor is an executive adviser to Governor John Hickenlooper and serves on the Colorado Economic Development Commission. She also serves on the Global Leadership Council for Colorado State University’s College of Business and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Colorado Technology Association.

Previously, Ms Taylor was the COO at Qwest, a $12 billion telecommunications and media company, where she held numerous executive positions spanning a successful 23-year tenure. Taylor has been featured in a number of national business publications, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She is sought after as a speaker on topics including leadership, economic development, and innovation. She resides in Golden, Colorado, with her husband. She has two grown sons.