PBS has a winner with Daniel Tigers Neighborhood

I’ve written a bunch about my newly minted role as a grandfather. It’s what I love most about life these days, so it’s hard for me to ignore. My two grandchildren, Rhegan and Liam, fill me with an exuberant amount of joy. Such is the way of a one and three year-old. Life is about being in the moment — whether that moment is good or bad — which is inspiring to me.

More than that, Mom and Dad, and most times the grandparents too, are the most important people in their world. A humbling thought. The brands we all introduce to the munchkins are those that we have a similar faith in, especially with that faith placed on us.

Daniel Tigers NeighborhoodAnd so, whenever we watch a TV show with them, we look for Daniel Tigers Neighborhood on PBS Kids.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the amalgamation of teachable lessons, modernity, and the sentimentality of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s also a PBS program, a television brand in which I have a great deal of faith.

Daniel Tigers Neighborhood hits on on cylinders.  

Sure, Daniel Tiger will drive many adult crazy after a few episodes. It sports repetitive songs and saccharine characters. But the show isn’t for us, it’s for the kids. They love it like sugar. Unlike sugar, however, Daniel Tiger actually has positive affects on children and their emotional well-being Daniel (based on the puppet from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) copes with his parents going out for a date, while a catchy mantra of “Grownups come back” is sung. I’ve also watched episodes dealing with jealousy, sleeping in the dark or dealing with bullies. All of which are vital lessons for children.

With Daniel Tiger, I take comforted in knowing that it does the little buggers good.

Dumbing down: Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings

Safe Spaces. Trigger Warnings. I think I have heard the last straw in the downfall of the US higher education system. The University of Chicago has officially declared that having trigger warnings and providing safe spaces is not mandatory for its faculty.

safe spaces
Better run, kids, to your safe spaces! Here comes an opposing view!

For those of you thinking this is a blog about self-defense and campus shooting alerts — think again. It’s about providing a pre-warning that the faculty member is going to discuss a controversial issue that might be deemed offensive by some students. A safe place is a designated refuge for students to go to so they don’t have to hear it. (In the case of Brown University, an Ivy League school, safe spaces include pillows and Play-Doh.)

How is that for open discourse?

This is an outrage for those of us who care about a liberal (not in the political sense) education in our universities and colleges. When I attended Temple University in the 70s, I was exposed to a myriad of ideas and views. Many were different from my own. Some even challenged me to think deeply about my own positions and beliefs. All of them combined to provide me with an education based upon intellectual vigor and debate. What has happened now that we feel the need to protect the students from such debate? Why is it not mandatory to expose students hungry for knowledge (which is vastly different from hunger for information) to points of view and challenges to their own status quo?

In a word, insecurity.

Safe spaces will just keep our youth from learning and growing.

If you hold a deep-set belief in the correctness of something, you welcome challenges to that very thinking. That’s how you grow. Hopefully, your belief or position has been groomed on a varied exposure of opposing views and an intellectual and emotional willingness to challenge what might even be the foundations of your hierarchy of beliefs.

I hear shouts in the world today to shun political correctness. But that doesn’t seem to be really the case. I guess we simply want and welcome new voices when we fundamentally agree with them.

If the university environment is a conflict free zone, where are those who attend higher education supposed to be exposed to differences? How many times in our world history have minority views, no matter how challenging to the current orthodoxy, become the new normal? Should those seeking to gain knowledge be shielded completely from the findings of Galileo? Is the Earth still the center of the Universe?

Wake up. Our strength as a civilization is in challenging each other and holding rigorous and heartfelt debate. Anything less is coddling our offspring and dooming our civilization to a future in the dark ages.

For those who support safe places, I warn you to provide them in your own home later this month. When the Presidential debates are aired, there’s bound to be an opposing view or two. Better get the pillows and Play-Doh ready.

Starbucks tuition program is monumental

Starbucks might be the most generous company of all time.

Just this week, the coffee king agreed to expand its tuition program by adding $250 million towards the college pursuits of full-time and part-time employees. Starbucks isn’t just helping employees pay for college. It is going to pay for the whole shebang: the entirety of tuition. This, so workers can graduate without any collegiate debt to speak of.

That’s nice. Actually, the Starbucks tuition program is monumental.

I wish this opportunity existed when I was forging my way through college.

Get your college tuition here.
Get your college tuition here.

I’ve written quite a bit on the Starbucks brand – most recently, about their store expansion and its increasing selections of foods. While I do not always agree with all of the company’s decisions (selling more food, in particular), I do believe that its brand is rooted in honorable principals.

One such principal is that Starbucks always seems to honor its employees.

What does it offer: employees have full medical, stocks and sabbaticals, just to name a few benefits. Yet the gesture of paying for college might be the grandest of all.

Why exactly is Starbucks paying for school? It seems like a hefty promise to make, after all.

Partly, this is for employee retention, of course. Beyond that, however, this plan is built around the company’s recent promise to hire 10,000 “Opportunity Youth” young people who are out of work or out of school without any job prospects.

Now, thanks to Starbucks, those who thought they could only dream of expanding their worlds actually can, simply by filling out an application and getting hired.

In this day, where corporate giants do their very best to curtail employees earning power (think Walmart and the fast food companies), greedily socking away money for themselves, it’s refreshing to know there are those rarities that exist and buck the conventional trends.

It’s a wonderful thing that Starbucks is doing. Bravo.

The fallout from Rolling Stone

Can a publication that’s been around for 47 years be permanently harmed by one article? Can a movement be doubted because of the mistakes from that article?

Those are the questions I’m asking in light of Rolling Stone’s admission that its scathing article about a gang rape on the University of Virginia campus was, shall we say, incomplete. The article itself, published Nov. 19, was so shocking that it prompted the university to shut down operations among all the fraternities on campus, local police began an investigation and the article started a national discussion on sexual abuse on campuses.

The story was that troublesome and statistics have shown that there is a sexual abuse problem on our nation’s campuses. What Rolling Stone failed to do was to attempt to talk with those on the other side of the equation (the accused), which The Washington Post did – only to find out that many of the facts were questionable at best.

Still a worthy issue to raise, despite Rolling Stone's mistake.
Still a worthy issue to raise, despite Rolling Stone’s mistake.

For Rolling Stone, I believe its brand (outside of its music reporting, it has been known for not being afraid of publishing hard-edged journalistic pieces that go all the way back to Hunter S. Thompson and up to the recent article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal) will keep it relevant even as many will be wary of its true intentions. It’s true that Rolling Stone is not what it used to be in terms of having an important place in our collective culture, but its brand is strong enough to overcome this mistake long term.

For the raised awareness of sexual abuse on campuses, I have greater worries. This is a serious issue that should be discussed despite Rolling Stone’s misstep. Reports of sexual abuse on campuses are rising up to 50% from earlier this decade with a handful of our largest universities posting shocking numbers.

Now, there is fodder for defendants that those numbers are overblown and that there is no epidemic on our campuses. Of course, who is guilty or not should be proven at court, not by public opinion. But the movement itself has taken the far greater hit from Rolling Stone backing away from the story than Rolling Stone itself.

It will take some time for it to regain traction, and I agree with the UVA student newspaper that said this issue should not be ignored no matter what was true or not true about the Rolling Stone article.

But the hardest work the movement faces has now arrived.

It’s not all sunshine for for-profit universities

The fact that a few of the leading for-profit universities are seeing their stock prices rise may seem like good news, but a deeper look demonstrates that most are heading down the wrong, well-worn path.

For example, Strayer’s shares have risen 75% over the last year, the first bounce it’s seen in five years. In that span, the price had dropped 70%.

For-profit universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition
For-profit universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition

But the reason investors are interested again is because those online universities are cutting costs and lowering tuition. This is basically the equivalent of a business like, oh, Circuit City laying off workers, putting everything on sale and, soon enough, closing its brick-and-mortar stores.

This has been the basic problem with for-profit universities for years. In fact, a few years ago, we published a study on universities as a whole, including examining the for-profit ones, and came to that same conclusion.

As we noted then, “For-profits seek to strike a cord with low-income potential students looking for degrees to change their life’s circumstance.” That’s gotten them into trouble in the past with investors and government regulators alike. As CNN reported today, “Critics of for-profit colleges argue that they prey on the poor by over promising and under delivering on career prospects after graduation.”

So, basically, the rise in shares for for-profit universities (DeVry’s shares have risen 20% while Capella has jumped 13% in the past three months) is because of the same exact reasons why they were in trouble in the first place: Lack of depth among degrees (cutting costs) and preying on lower income students (cutting tuition).

It’s a route heading into disappointing returns again for the for-profits. It’s just being done a little more drastically. The for-profit universities need a different approach or their reputations – and bottom lines – will take a hit again.