Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having me here today. I have been invited to
speak to you on the subject of CHANGE, especially the changes
you are going through, or being promised, or being threatened
with, here in your jobs at
But first I must tell you that even before
I got here, this whole situation has been changing in my
mind. For example, I have to admit
that although I once lived in
But the truth is as Im sure
you all know, and as I had to spend precious nano-seconds
online to find out that your College is named for two Oregon
Counties, which in turn were named for two men Lewis F.
Linn and Thomas Hart Benton who both happened to be Senators,
not from Oregon, but from Missouri.
At that time, back in the 1850s,
But then, I also had to deal with another confusing fact -- that when it comes to architecture, most of your buildings here at Linn-Benton are described as being in the style called Brutalist. You may or may not know, or even care, that this term was coined in 1953, from the French béton brut, meaning "raw concrete. But, considering what Im here to talk about today, it really took me aback. Couldnt your architects have chosen something a little kinder and gentler than Brutalism? On the other hand, maybe this is a good reminder that change can be brutal and unfeeling. Or to put it another way:
But WE you and I -- are always the ones who are supposed to change, arent we? In which case we find ourselves asking this question:
Well, just what is this change, brutal or
benign, thats going on here?
Its all laid out in a letter Ive been sent
a copy of, which your President, Greg Hamann,
wrote just 12 days ago. Its
a letter about his vision, and it focuses on something
called 40-40-20, which at first I thought must be some
kind of new optical prescription, perhaps for a person with 3
eyes. But no, its
a goal which youre all being asked to focus on.
The target date is 2025, and by then, according to this
formula, everybody in
I was also confused by the name of your Division: The Business, Healthcare, and Workforce Division. I could figure out Business and Healthcare. They were pretty familiar kinds of Department names to me. But what on earth did Workforce mean? Did it have something to do with forcing people to work? Is that part of the brutality? And in any case, why were these three Departments put together? Is there something they have in common, or were they just orphans that no other Division wanted?
Anyway, here are some messages for each of your Departments about Change too much change, or too little, as the case may be:
For the Business Department:
For the Healthcare people:
And finally for the no doubt overworked Workforce Department:
So here I am as your Change Consultant --
and at this point you might well ask just what are my qualifications
for this important, if rather temporary, position?
If youre wondering about my name, yes, Brilliant
is my real name. I
was born into a whole family named Brilliant in
Still, even with a very advantageous name, I myself did face an early life full of problems. As a child I had to deal with a whole series of brutal changes connected in some way with a historical episode called the Second World War. (Apparently there had been a previous one, no less brutal, called the First World War, but I was born just in time to catch the second one in the series.) It began when I was 5 years old, and it went on and on, until I was 12, giving me the impression that a world of nasty changes was the normal condition of things.
During those seven years, without my wishes ever once being consulted, I was taken from my home in England, first to my mothers home town of Toronto, Canada for 2 years, then for 5 years to Washington D.C. (where my father had a British Government wartime position, and we were able to comfortably sit out the rest of the war.) But then finally, when the war was over, I was plucked out of the middle of the 8th grade, and dragged back to England again a country where, after all those years over here, I never really felt I belonged. Nevertheless, I somehow made my way up through the British school and college system. But soon after getting a History degree at the University of London, I came back on my own to this country as an immigrant, and Ive been here ever since, mostly in California, except for a couple of sweet, sad, strange semesters in Bend, Oregon, about which more anon.
All the elaborate apparatus -- of buildings (Brutal or otherwise), courses, and degrees, are just icing on the cake, or, if you like, pie in the sky. Speaking of which, allow me to share this thought with you about the intimate connection between food and learning, and a couple of others about change in education:
But apart from that idea of teacher and student sitting together on a log, the one thing I learned from all my Education courses which seemed to me most valuable at the time was how to operate a movie projector. Of course those kinds of machines have now gone the way of the dinosaurs. But I must tell you about that particular learning experience because it provided me with one of the few opportunities I have ever had in my life to be a HERO. It happened like this:
We Education students, in order to complete
the required course in what was called Audio-Visual Education,
had to demonstrate our newly-acquired skill by going to some other
class on the campus and operating their
Up to that point, I had led a rather sheltered life, and I had never seen anything like this before. Once I got the film started, I was both fascinated and, frankly, horrified. I remember beginning to feel a little unwell and then, the next thing I knew, I was somehow lying on my back on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Someone had turned off the projector beside me, and switched the lights back on, and a bevy of student nurses was crowded around me, eagerly loosening my clothing, and fighting each other for a chance to give me first aid. You guessed it. To my acute embarrassment, for the first time in my life, I had fainted!
But here is where the heroism came
in. I had a duty to perform! Staggering to my feet,
and stoutly resisting all offers of further assistance, I commanded
that the lights again be dimmed, and I gallantly insisted on resuming
my role as projectionist. The show went on. I did not faint again,
and I even managed to take occasional peeks at the screen.
The great causes of Education and of Healthcare had been
served. I actually passed that
course with an A, instead of possibly getting an F for fainting. And I went on to an inglorious
but mercifully brief career teaching English at
Well, I followed up that particular educational
misadventure with a Ph.D. in History at
Yes, I had always dreamed of combining travel with education, so this was indeed the perfect job for me. The trouble was, you couldnt go round and round the world forever but where else was there to go? It spoiled me for any other kind of teaching so I had to find a new career.
This particular big change in my life happened
to occur in the late 1960s, at a time when the so-called
Hippie Era was in full flower in
So I started producing very brief insights,
reciting them as a kind of one-line poetry, and circulating them
on postcards. By a self-imposed rule,
they were never longer than 17 words. But
I also allowed myself the luxury of illustrating them, thus creating
a whole new form of art and literature which I called Pot-Shots
or Brilliant Thoughts. [Did everybody get a postcard?] Some of the very early
ones are still popular today.
One said NO,
That all got started in 1967, and since then,
I suppose like most of you, I have been through one or two other
changes. The most dramatic one happened
just this year, when I spent 10 weeks in hospital after getting
hit by a car back in January, while crossing a quiet and normally
peaceful street near my home in
But speaking of complete recoveries reminds me of what is supposed to be another major theme of our gathering here today: the complete education and especially that part of it which can or should be provided by a community college. This whole subject of completion and finishing is fascinating. According to scripture, God completed the whole world in 6 days, and he was so satisfied that he took the next day off. Here are a few of my own thoughts on this theme:
of course brings up the subject of famous last words.
One of my own favorites and this is more or less
a true story are the last words of the Civil War Union General
John Sedgwick. What he is recorded as
saying was: THEY COULDNT
Then there are the famous last words of the British Statesman, William Pitt, the Younger. You can find this in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. According to that eminent authority, there are several versions of what he said. Some claimed that he said: My country! How I love my country! A second version is My country! How I leave my country! Then some thought he just said My country! Oh, My Country! But theres one more version, that what he really said was: I think I could eat one of Bellamys veal pies.
Why do we keep coming back to food? What I need to do is bring
you back to COMPLETION. And
here I have to tell you that, when it comes to academic courses,
I myself have always completed every course I ever started
with one exception. At
just about the time that Timothy Leary was telling everybody to
Turn on, tune in, and drop out, I was dropping out
of a course in what was then called Data Processing
at San Francisco State College. It wasnt because
of Learys advice, but simply because I couldnt hack
it. I just wasnt
grasping what my fellow-students seemed to have no trouble with.
Of course, I neednt have worried.
I already had a Ph.D. from
But here are a few more positive thoughts on that same theme of completion:
Of course I realize that, as a general rule you dont want your students starting things they cant finish. But, as fair and rational thinkers, we do have to give INcompleteness its due. We must acknowledge that there are many instances of great works which have never been finished, and some are actually celebrated for that very reason. For example, theres that famous unfinished novel by Charles Dickens called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens may perhaps be forgiven for never finishing it, because he died, in 1870, when he was in the middle of writing it. But the great composer Franz Schubert had no such excuse for leaving us with what we know as his Unfinished Symphony. He wrote what he did compose of it, in 1822. He finished two movements, and began the third. Now symphonies were supposed to have 4 movements, and of course Schubert knew that. But he never got to the 4th movement of that symphony, even though he lived another 6 years, and even though he wrote 2 more symphonies. So it remains that acknowledged masterpiece, Schuberts Unfinished Symphony.
Then theres that other creative genius, Franz Kafka, who hardly ever finished anything, which is why he published very little during his lifetime. When he died in 1924, sadly, of TB, at the age of just 41, he left behind a bunch of unfinished works, including all his famous novels. On his deathbed, he gave strict instructions to his friend Max Brod that all those works were to be burned unread. But good old Max went ahead and published them anyway.
And of course, all those unfinished works, of Dickens, Schubert, and Kafka are considered public treasures today!
Of course Im not the only great mind to have thought about all this. Over a century ago, the English poet Christina Rossetti wrote: Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes; work never begun.
Incidentally, that Kafka story is one you should take to heart if you have any potentially embarrassing material, on paper or in any other forms, lying around. Theres a version of Longfellows famous poem, A Psalm of Life, that puts it this way:
But all this, you will tell me, is irrelevant. We dont need further justifications for students to drop courses and fail to ever graduate. We need to emphasize completion.
And in fact, to help me prepare for this talk today, your Dean Malosh was kind enough to provide me with a document on this very issue. No doubt most of you have already seen, or at least heard about, this report, and some of you are probably among the 20 people who are credited with writing it. Those people were apparently given the task of defining Completion as it relates to your students and their college careers, and making recommendations for getting more of them to that point.
The title of the document is Completion Agenda Task Force Definition and Recommendations. I have of course been studying it with great interest, and I must say that it has both intrigued and baffled me. It has also contributed to my own education. For example, on the first page, theres a reference to an occupation I had never heard of before. It talks about qualifications which you can help provide for certain occupations such as Flagger, Wildland Firefighter, or Welder. I could understand about the Firefighter and the Welder needing your special training, but Im ashamed to tell you I didnt know what a FLAGGER was. The word was not even in my Websters New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. But finally, after some intensive research, I came to the conclusion that a Flagger is what we used to call a Flag-man, which the Dictionary does recognize, and describes as a person whose work is signaling with a flag. So this is just one more specimen of another big change in our society the development of what we might call gender-speak that noble attempt to equalize the sexes linguistically.
But I must admit that I also didnt realize that a job like waving a flag to tell drivers to stop or slow down was one which required special certification. Ill have new respect now whenever I see one of these guys or gals at work. And I have an idea for a Flaggers Theme Song (if they dont have one already.) Its an old song you may have learned at camp, but Im sure youll agree its very appropriate in this context. There are various versions, but the way I learned it, it was called Bill Grogans Goat, and the tune was one you may also know as How Dry I Am.
So, as this song teaches us, if you are a flagger, you can help save lives perhaps even your own. But I must ask you to forgive me if I was a little surprised at the idea that you have to go to college to get that kind of job. Ive always had a tendency to put up red flags of my own where academic standards are concerned. You can probably blame it on my British background.
example, back in the early 1960s when I was still a fairly
recent immigrant from
The most important part of the report is of course its list of Recommendations, which are sensibly ranked in order of Priority. But believe it or not, the very first recommendation, the one accorded absolutely top priority, is another term that I couldnt understand. Once again, it wasnt even in my Dictionary. And I soon found that Mr. Webster and I were not alone in our bafflement. Nobody I asked about it, including my local librarian, could tell me what it meant. And even the omniscient Google seemed to have trouble pinning it down. But since this report was, in effect, written by and for you people, I have to assume that you all know the meaning of the term.
What Im talking about is the term CULTURAL MARKERS. The top line of the list of Highest Priority Recommendations says Review LBCCs cultural markers and it goes on to stress that All should reflect an emphasis on completion. Im still not sure what Cultural Markers means, but Ive now done enough research to hazard a guess that it might possibly be related to the term CULTURAL LANDMARKS. I could be wrong about this, in which case everything Im about to say is irrelevant but if Im right, this is a concept invented a few years ago by some professors at Beloit, a small college in Wisconsin possibly when they were snowed in one winter, and had nothing better to do.
make matters more confusing, those
There have nearly always been at least two women on the Supreme Court. (In other words, they cant even remember the time when the Supreme Court was an all-male body.)
has never been just a river in
Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you're talking about LeBron James.
The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
Women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
Communist Party has never been the official political party
Heres a Pot-Shot that seems very appropriate in this connection:
Now this is all very interesting, but Im still totally in the dark as to how any of it relates to that top listed priority of yours, about reviewing LBCCs cultural markers and making sure that they all reflect an emphasis on completion.
The rest of your completion agenda document, in similar fashion, seems to be trying to say something significant, but to me as an outsider, even with my 1957 M.A. in Education, it is full of incomprehensible jargon. Heres one example: Contextualize developmental ed classes dont use as stand-alones or prerequisites. Maybe you know what thats all about, but quite frankly when someone begins a sentence with contextualize, my inclination is to call in a flagger to flag that person off the road. And speaking of roads, theres also a part, under Priority 6, about gateway courses, where you are urged to make sure these courses do not act as road blocks. Now Im not at all sure what a gateway course is, but it would appear to me that any time a gateway becomes a road block, you are really in trouble!
And, since were talking about metaphorical roads you may at this point find some of these thoughts pertinent:
But this completion agendas, with its gateway courses, and contextualizations, are apparently all part of the changes you are facing, and change, as we say, can be brutal. Maybe we should get down to basics. You didnt invite me here to lambaste documents put together by hard-working, well-meaning, and probably underappreciated committees. What you want from me are some of my own special insights about CHANGE. Well, Ive given each of you a different one, and I hope you may find yours appropriate, but if not you can trade with somebody else. But anyway, in order to be fair, we have to talk about the opposite concept the things that dont change. There used to be a lot of them, or at least enough to satisfy most of us. We as a species all had a pretty good idea of some simple eternal truths. We all knew until recently that the Sun went around the Earth, that God was in his Heaven, and that a womans place was in the home. Then someone came along and said that the only things you could really be sure of were death and taxes. But in an age riddled with loopholes, taxes are no longer so inevitable, at least not if you have the right connections. And with funerals going out of fashion and freezing becoming the new alternative, even death is no longer quite what it used to be. So what certainties are we left with to cling to?
You might tell me:
Nevertheless, I can give you at least a couple of pretty sure things. (And Id better warn you, this is where we get into some pretty deep topics). The first unchanging certainty is one we owe to that insightful Frenchman Rene Descartes, who famously said I think, therefore I am. I dont know about you, but I take that to mean that your own existence, so long as you are aware of it, is the one thing you can be sure of. As a professional thinker, Ive naturally had occasion to put in my own two cents worth on that topic, with thoughts like these:
second certainty, which I personally am even more
fond of, is known as Plancks Constant. One
reason I like it so much is that I myself, as a teenager, had
a similar idea before I ever heard of Max Planck, the great German
physicist. (Thats Planck, P-L-A-N-C-K for those of you who
are taking notes. Remember,
there might be a test!) My
idea arose from thinking about TIME, and puzzling over this question:
We divide hours into minutes, and minutes into seconds,
and so on. So, what
is the shortest possible unit of time? How far can you go before
you get down to a piece of time which is so small that nothing
happens in it? My answer was to create
a unit of time which I called a TIME-
But Max Planck thought it through all the way. If I understand his theory correctly (and admittedly that is a very big IF) Planck started with the idea that we measure time by measuring how long something takes to pass by something else. So five minutes is what we have agreed to call the length of time it takes for the hand of a clock to go from one fixed point to another. Well then, how long would it take for something going at the greatest possible speed to travel across the shortest possible distance? Obviously I cant go into the details here, but Max Planck came up with my same idea only he didnt call it a time-atom: he called it a QUANTUM and that was the beginning of Quantum Physics. The beauty of it is that Plancks Constant, which expresses this idea, is a definite number, which you can look up. Its something that never changes thats why its called a Constant. It may be as close to CERTAINTY as you and I can ever come in this Universe.
But, speaking of the Universe, there is another number on which there seems to be a surprising amount of agreement today in the scientific community the age of the Universe, that is, the number of years since the Big Bang. That number is 13.7 billion years. What I find remarkable about this figure is that its so small compared with all the trillions we hear being bandied about every day in connection with our national budget. Isnt it strange that we have to thank our representatives in Congress for making the age of the Universe seem relatively insignificant!
Anyway, here are some of my own thoughts about the Universe:
But then, after we have congratulated ourselves that at least some things are certain, another German physicist named Werner Heisenberg seems to have upset the whole apple cart with his UNCERTAINTY THEORY which (again as I understand or misunderstand it) proves that you can never really be sure of anything. But even he would probably agree that the one thing you can be most sure of is constant change. Which brings us back to the whole reason you and I are here today. You want to help your students succeed. You want to help them know where they want to go, and how to get there. And this is going to require some big changes. Im sure that your speaker this morning, Byron McClenny, told you how BIG some of those changes will have to be and we should in no way hold it against him that hes from Texas, where everything has to be big. But I cant resist telling you the story about the Texan and the Englishman, in which the Texan is telling the Englishman about how big Texas is, and he says Why, in Texas you can get on a train one morning and travel the whole day, and the next day youll still be in Texas. And the Englishman says My word! And I thought our trains were slow!
Thats a good example of cultural differences. And maybe this is what those Cultural Markers are all about. I know you get students here from vastly different backgrounds, and with a wide range of capabilities and expectations. I know you probably get some who show up for the first day of class with all their books already purchased, and eager to get started, and others who possibly have no idea about what books they need to buy, let alone how to study them. I know that scheduling is just one of the obstacles that make attending this or any kind of college difficult for many students, especially if they also have to work. I know that access has traditionally been the big buzz-word in community colleges. Like the Statue of Liberty, this kind of institution has always said Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to go to college. Here are some thoughts about ACcess and SUCcess:
And in order to make sense of the whole educational predicament and give it some structure, we have this wonderful system of degrees and certificates, where even a flag-man sorry, a flagger can proudly produce a paper maybe even a parchment -- of qualification. And lets not forget that a Degree comes from the word that simply means a Step, and every Associates Degree is potentially the first step towards a Bachelors, a Masters, and the Degree that everyone knows means Piled Higher and Deeper.
of that, I have to tell you about my own attempt to find out what
a degree really means. The
most recent one in my own collection is dated
Well, years went by, but nobody I ever asked about all this seemed to have a clue. Finally, in 2003, 39 years after getting the degree, I decided that I did not want to end my days without having made a serious effort to get to the bottom of this mystery. If anybody knew the answer, it must be the University Board of Regents who had awarded the Degree. So I wrote a very formal letter to their Secretary, a lady named Leigh Trivette, asking could you please tell me specifically what my rights and privileges are? It took 4 months before I heard back -- and you can probably guess the nature of her reply:
Trivette wrote to me that We conducted
a search as to the origin of that language and its intent, and
have been able to determine only that it is standard for
I have published many thoughts about looking for meaning in life, such as these:
So although I was naturally disappointed, I was hardly surprised, to be deprived of all the rights and privileges which I had never actually had. I havent seen the text of your degrees and certificates here, which your students no doubt work so hard for, and receive with such pride -- but I hope they at least dont promise anything they cant deliver.
But you as educators are not in this honored profession (and let us agree that in this country it is never honored enough) to make promises, but to deliver something substantial to your students. Community Colleges, it might be said, are the bedrock of Higher Education. But its a very fluid kind of bedrock, changing and evolving like everything else in our society, and its never even been sure what to call itself. Looking back, and looking around, we find this kind of institution going under a variety of names like Normal School, City College, County College, and even City University. The one name that had the longest and widest play was Junior College, but there was something about that Junior that made people increasingly uncomfortable, which probably also explains why what used to be called Junior High Schools are turning into Middle Schools.
I quite understand this because if you can keep a secret,
and promise not to tell anybody I myself was once a Junior. That is to say, I was actually
called Junior even though I did not have my fathers
name, which was Victor. And this Junior,
which my mother, for reasons of her own, bestowed on me as an
infant, was not just a nickname.
I hated my real names, of Ashleigh and Ellwood, so much
my parents only used them when they were angry at me
that Junior Brilliant was the only name I allowed myself to be
known by, far into my adolescence.
Fortunately, at school in
The person hitherto known as John Brilliant wishes it to be known that his real name is ASHLEIGH ELLWOOD BRILLIANT, and in future he wishes to be known as such.
Thus the die was cast. I felt great relief, and a certain exaltation. But when I came back the next day to look proudly again at my notice, I found that some diabolical wit had put quotation marks around the word such.
But at least I wasnt Junior any more. Im glad to say that Such Brilliant never caught on -- and I can sympathize with the American Association of Junior Colleges who, in 1992, officially changed their name to the American Association of Community Colleges.
whatever the name, we have still got to get our students motivated,
organized, and heading in the right direction.
And I can say we, at least in spirit, because
I was once one of you. Yes, I was a teacher at
may have heard about what happened to me there.
If not, you can read about it in the official history of
what is now Central Oregon Community College, a book by Frank
Fiedler called Blazing A Trail, where youll
find a double-page spread headed THE BRILLIANT AFFAIR.
Or, next time youre in
thing led to another, and I found myself at the center of a state-wide
controversy, one of whose more fantastic moments saw the entire
faculty of the English department at the University in
So things do change. Times change. People change. And education certainly changes. In the first conversation I ever had with your Dean Ann Malosh, she said and I hope she wont mind me quoting her exact words I love change. If I may say so, I think youre very lucky to be led by someone with such a positive outlook. One of the biggest changes weve all seen in education is of course in relation to TECHNOLOGY. That Completion Agenda Task Force document which has been flung at you is full of words and expressions like electronic advising records, computerized placement tests, videos, websites, and blogs, none of which would have made any sense to your predecessors just a few years ago. Yet those of us who survive all these changes somehow do adjust to them.
And lets face it: there are brutal changes which we all accept virtually without a whimper. As just a single example, one of the biggest changes we all sheepishly go along with, twice a year, is a very basic and intrusive one the change in our measurement of time. Where does that hour go every year when we lose it? How do we manage to fit it in when it comes back? I personally always find this form of compulsory jet lag very hard to adjust to. But we should note that people in earlier times were not so docile. Back in 1752, when the British Parliament finally decided to accept the Gregorian Calendar, which had actually been in use in other countries since the 1580s, they decreed that, in order to make the change-over, the day following September 2nd in that year would not be September 3rd, but it would be September 14th. People couldnt understand what had happened, and believe it or not, there were riots in which people were killed, with mobs chanting GIVE US BACK OUR ELEVEN DAYS!
That never happens any more. And we never have mobs not even mobs organized on the Internet crying Give us back our dial telephones, our propeller planes, our carbon paper, and our typewriters. Things are different now, and supposedly better. But speaking of typewriters, I have to tell you that one of the most valuable things I ever learned in any school was in a Community College. It was in 1957, when I was in my twenties, and I took an evening class at Chaffey College in Ontario, California, in typing, an essential skill which had been sadly neglected in my British schooling. The class was large, but the teacher was very good. I dont even remember his name, but I bless him to this day, especially because, when personal computers came along, about 20 years later, one thing they didnt change was that old familiar QWERTY keyboard!
The fact is that some things always seem to be changing too much, while others are not changing enough. And if I may quote Dean Malosh again, too often, change is done TO people and not WITH them. But I ask you to remember the story of Bill Hogans goat, who coughed up those red shirts, and flagged that train. When the Monster of Change seems to be bearing down on you, like that approaching train, you too, like Hogans goat, may have the answer inside yourself. It may be that all you have to do is cough it up.
I know that President Hamann and Dean Malosh, and all of you, want the next chapter in your professional lives to be one in which you all change happily together, to create in your Division, and in Linn-Benton as a whole, an atmosphere in which students really want to succeed, and really do succeed, so that you can say to them (and to yourselves):
suppose I really should end on that inspiring note, but I cant
resist this opportunity to put my own personal mark of completion
on these proceedings by finishing with what has in a way become
my own theme song. It goes back to the 1960s,
when I found myself playing the role of a sort of mock hippie
song was about those diverging cultural streams. I made it the last number
in the song-book I published during that famous Summer of
Love, and I called it "The
Haight-Ashbury Farewell." It will be my final word
to you today about the things that change in our lives, and the
things that ought to stay the same. I'm sure you'll know the tune