The Admissions (& Other Books)

Read some good books over the March break.

admissions blue

First up, I inhaled Doug Kennedy’s The Blue Hour.  Doug is a college classmate who has garnered international respect.  (I do not mean to imply a causal connection.)  In fact, in 2007 he was awarded the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.  He also knows how to tell a captivating story. This suspenseful novel takes place in Morocco and like all of Doug’s books, is hard to put down.

admissions swans

Next came Melanie Benjamin’s (author of The Aviator’s Wife) novel The Swans of 5th Avenue. A work of historical “faction” set in mid-20th century high-society Manhattan, it focuses on the relationship between author Truman Capote and his “Swans,” a clique of high profile socialites that includes the likes of Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, and Pamela Churchill.  Interesting.

admissions pink

The third book, by John Niven, came from the awesome Continuum 33-1/3 series of small (4.5” by 6.5”) and short (100+- pages) books about classic music albums. Music from Big Pink, also a work of faction, is the 28th installment in the series of 100+- titles.  It cleverly enlightens on both the ground-breaking album and its creator, The Band.  Both are at the tip-top of my all-time favorites.  As evidence of my obsession, here is a photo I took of the Big Pink house in the Catskills a few summers ago.

Big Pink
And this brings us to Meg Mitchell Moore’s new novel, The Admissions. A few pages in, I gathered that it was about a high-achieving suburban San Francisco teenaged girl’s obsession to gain admission to Harvard.  I initially thought that I might recommend it to Hyde’s college counseling folks.

admissions cover

Then as the pages clicked by on my iPad, I began to see how the actions and attitudes of this girl’s parents and two sisters might be of particular interest to our Family Education department.

Before long, I began to perceive it as a good book for any Hyde person.

Finally, it became clear that this is a great book for any… person, especially any man, woman, or child striving in earnest to balance the drive for high expectations with a respect for serenity and virtue within a family setting.

The opening line in the Amazon review sums it up pretty well: “The Admissions brilliantly captures the frazzled pressure cooker of modern life as a seemingly perfect family comes undone by a few desperate measures, long-buried secret — and college applications!”

You’ve got:
–          The valedictorian pursuing the holy grail of the Ivy League;
–          The second-grader way behind her peers on reading level;
–          The free-and-easy middle child turning locked down and distressed;
–          The accomplished consultant dad, with a few secrets of his own, who makes the whole suburban Marin County lifestyle possible;
–          The do-it-all mom who alternates between fast-track real estate sales and keeping the whole household together.

Throughout the book, I kept trying to figure out the title.  I’m still not sure, but it ultimately dawned on me that its meaning simply can’t be limited to “admissions” in the college sense. I suspect that it also refers to the inevitable sporadic admissions of truth and guilt that surface in the book’s most heated moments.  Indeed, they create its most heated moments.  (Full Disclosure: That’s the way it often goes down at our house!)

In any case, the closing line of the Amazon review is a good way to leave it: “Sharp, topical, and wildly entertaining, The Admissions shows that if you pull at a loose thread, even the sturdiest lives start to unravel at the seams of high achievement.”

Read this book.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld

Character by Reflex

character reflex

Thirty+ years ago I was a young teacher/coach.  I recall the day a coach of a European professional soccer team came to Hyde to work with our players.  He began his first session by casually tossing a soccer ball back-and-forth with our athletes who were seated before him.  He did so as he spoke and they repeatedly caught and returned the ball back to him.  I took this to be his technique for maintaining their attention.  Then he abruptly stopped and caught them (and me) by surprise with this blunt statement: “If I did this in Europe, the kids would never reach up with their hands.  Instead they would head the ball, trap the ball on their knees, or juggle it with their feet. Until American kids get to the point where their first impulse is not to reach up with their hands, the Americans will never be competitive in World Cup soccer.”

This analogy applies to character development at Hyde.  We seek to graduate young adults with excellent character reflexes.  It is our hope that they will… be truthful, act with courage, step up to lead, exhibit enterprising curiosity, care for others – and do all of the above without thinking about it. Returning to Churchill’s definition — “Character is the habit of making right decisions.”  — It’s one thing to think about the right thing to do in a given situation.  It’s quite another to do it naturally “on the fly.”  That’s when it counts the most.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld

So, What is Character?

For fifty years, Hyde and character have marched hand-in-hand.  OK, so what is this thing called character?

Lots of folks have tried to define it.  Here are some definitions I like:

character 2

Winston Churchill: “Character is the habit of making right decisions.” That might be laconic, but it perhaps captures the behavioral part of it.


Kevin Ryan: “To know, to do, and to love the good.”  I love that.  (If you don’t know Kevin’s work, he’s the founder and director emeritus of The Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University.  He’s also one of the good guys.)

character 3

Thomas Lickona, founder of the Center for the 4th and 5th R, and definitely one of the good guys (!), delineates character into two distinct parts: “performance character” (e.g., self-discipline, grit, and persistence) and “moral character” (e.g., honesty, respect, and compassion). Good stuff.

I also like Lickona’s definition of character education as “the deliberate effort to cultivate virtue in its cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dimensions through every phase of school life.” That may come the closest to what we strive to do at all of our schools.

Guardian & Catapult
Informed by these and other individuals I have been fortunate to encounter in my pedagogic journey, I have come to perceive character as a dual force that serves as our guardian against temptation and our catapult to greatness.

Most character programs I’ve observed tend to be long on guardian and short on catapult. This is because of an unfortunate but all too common tendency to equate “character program” with “solution to a problem.” For example, parents and teachers might think, Hmm… Maybe a character program would cut down on bullying on the playground. Once the problem is solved, the character program returns to the shelf only to gather dust. Despite the fact that any rational person knows we need character in both good times and bad, our schools seem mired in the guardian trap which is tantamount to one hand clapping.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld


5 Things to Consider When Applying to College

common app

A career spent watching 1000s of kids head off to college led me to enough conclusions to write two books on the subject.  The first, College Success Guaranteed (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), offers 5 rules to help college-bound students actualize their executive functions. (Can you tell I taught history for a couple of decades?)

5 Rules Key ChainPicture1

Here’s a past post on the subject:

The sequel, College Success Guaranteed 2.0 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), follows with 5 Rules specifically designed to help the parents of these kids step aside, let go, and actually let them go to college…:-)…:

photo (7) CollegeSuccess3

Here’s a post on that one, as well:

Each spring I speak to audiences of high school seniors and their parents in hopes of starting them off on the right foot.  I choose this time of year because I’d rather not compete with the anxiety that has come to overwhelm far too many kids and families during the application process. (I get a kick out of asking, “If you’re getting this worked up over the whole thing, what are you going to do when something that is actually  important presents itself in your lives?”)  Anyway…

Someone recently asked, “What would you say to students and families who are, in fact , immersed in that process?”  Fair enough.  In the interest of consistency, here are 5 rules… er… factors for you to consider:

1)     Don’t over-apply (i.e., too many applications).  The folks in our college counseling departments at Hyde tell me that they generally recommend that students hold their number of applications at the high end of single digits.  One officer said to me, “If a student applies to more than 10 colleges, I question him or her as to whether enough careful research has been put into developing the list.” However, that doesn’t mean that everyone follows our guidance.  In fact, we’ve seen kids who have applied to more than 20.  (And no, I’m not exaggerating for effect.)

2)     If you don’t know the 6-year graduation rates of the schools you’re considering, perhaps you should. A school with a high graduation rate – e.g., 70% or higher – may well offer a more productive environment that might well have a positive impact on your behavior.   There are a bunch of web sites offering these statistics.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good one:

3)     Size and Geography – When I was applying to schools, I was asked three fairly timeless questions: 1) What size of school would you prefer? 2) What geographical region of the country most appeals to you? 3) Do you want to be in, near, or far away from a major city?  Forty-five years later, I ask kids these same questions. A few moments spent pondering them might well help you narrow down your choices.

4)     Know thyself.  As I write in College Success Guaranteed, Man is the only animal in the forest that bullshits himself.  Do you know… really know… the environment best suited to your highest academic performance and most productive social life.  How do you know you know?

5)  When all is said and done, good luck, but remember, whatever they decide — up or down — says a little about you and a whole lot about them.  Never let your self-confidence be determined according to others’ assessment of your worthiness.  That decision is yours… and yours alone.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld

Lacrosse Player Paul Rabil’s Secret to Keeping on Top of His Game

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the growing tendency toward specialization in youth sports.  I’ve written a few posts on the subject.  Here’s one:

The current issue of Lacrosse Magazine (December 2015) features a cover story on Paul Rabil, arguably the reigning best player in the professional ranks.  Honoring him as Person of the Year, the magazine’s extensive interview with him lifted my spirits when Rabil stated the following about youth lacrosse:

“… kids have to resist the temptation to be full time in one sport so they can be better quicker. I played four sports every year. Even now, I find myself reaching into my basketball memory bank and soccer routines for new ideas and movement patterns in lacrosse.”

Rabil 2

Yup.  Onward,  Malcolm Gauld