Pop Quiz / On the Record: September-October 2003

October 1, 2003

Pop Quiz

Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol's first-hand examination of public schools in the U.S., comparing the educational experience in poor urban areas with that in wealthier suburbs, was selected as the summer reading assignment for incoming freshmen. We asked them: How did you like the book?

Says Kyra Smith, Savage Inequalities is "one of the most riveting books I have ever read." Smith says that, for her, many of Kozol's findings ring true. (Although her mother has taught in public schools for more than twenty-five years, Smith attended private school.) She says, "I was left questioning America's priorities. How could America place an unequal value on education based on race? As a black youth, it saddens me."

" I disagree that race is the main issue," says Sean Hou. "Kozol says that 'no white child' would suffer those conditions. I live in South Carolina, and we are constantly at the bottom of the list in education; the racial divide does not apply. Rural black and rural white schools are equally poor."

Kevin Ji was impressed by Kozol's depth of research but wary of his method of argument. "He uses his first-hand experience to prove his case, making the points more poignant. However, this has a downside, as I sometimes feel he is playing with my emotions." The book confirmed Ji's own experience: "I am a child of immigrants, and began my schooling in a fairly poor district. I saw the difference between this school and a more affluent school I later attended. Students from both schools get a diploma, but they have different levels of skills."

" It drags on for too long," says David Huie. "I was having d?j? vu, or should I say, 'd?j? lit,' because he scatters these very similar arguments across all of his different examples." Huie says that he could not relate to the reading. His public high school in Chubbuck, Idaho, has great facilities.

Brian Itami replied that Kozol "has mistaken a symptom for the underlying problem." Says Itami, "He has ignored underlying social issues, like the urban slum, which, in my opinion, is the true root cause of the inequality."

On the Record

What's the best advice and worst advice that you've received?

Best: Frequently ask your boss what you should be doing differently.

Most people do not want to give negative feedback, even your boss, so if you don't ask for it, you may never find out what you could be doing better--maybe right up to the day you are fired.

Self-assessment is a key to a successful career. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't really matter how many weaknesses you have, it matters much more knowing what your weaknesses are and compensating for them through your work habits or by working with others who have the skills you lack.

I didn't really understand how valuable this was until I started managing a group of employees. I came to realize that it didn't matter how smart someone was if the person wasn't applying their talent. More important was how perceptive they were and how quickly they could learn. They call these the "soft skills"; the people who had them were consistently the ones who were always asking me what they could improve and how.

Worst: Drop that course you might get a C in.

I followed that advice only once and have regretted it ever since. I was a materials science and engineering major, and I was taking an advanced mathematics course, which was not critical to my major but an interesting course. And a C would not have killed me.

It might have taken some time away from my research, and I might have finished my thesis work a month later, but, in hindsight, these are insignificant. Had I taken it, I think I would have been a more confident researcher during the subsequent couple of years, and I would have had more pride if I had stuck with it.

Work hard to get good grades but don't live by them and don't lose any sleep over them. Learn as much as you can about life, people, careers, anything, but not how to get the most A's.