High on Reading: “Freeway” Ricky Ross Talks about Literacy at San Bernardino Valley College

SAN BERNARDINO, CA — Sentenced to life in prison in 1996, “Freeway” Ricky Ross had time to confront one of his biggest problems, other than being a legendary kingpin. Ross spoke to an audience of community leaders assembled on the campus of San Bernardino Valley College.

Maximum security incarceration meant days without sunshine, but Ross kept his mind active through reading books, a total of 300. Whilst in the middle of a reading frenzy in the law library, he discovered facts about the law that helped to reduce his life sentence and get him out of prison in 2009. In addition, a reporter’s discovery that one of Mr. Ross’s connections was working for powerful domestic and Latin American forces, also led to a review of his case and a reduction of his sentence.

Fighting against illiteracy

It was in prison that Ross, now in his 50s, and a published author, tackled the problem of his illiteracy. Among one of his many favorites, the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Ross encouraged educators to find out what kids are interested in learning about, and then get them relevant reading materials in order to ignite their passion for reading.

He recalled school and wanting to play college tennis, but not being able to enter college due to illiteracy. There were no alternatives: no tutors, no development programs for youth with the desire to contribute positively to society.

Unfortunately, there were adults near schools who were willing to get kids set up in the drug business. This is something Ricky Ross thinks about today. “I never saw a lawyer before until one was representing me in court,” he said highlighting one of the biggest problems facing communities: lack of integration and lack of access to diverse people. This was echoed by one of his childhood friends in the audience who stated that without exposure to people who are well-educated, or who have stable and lucrative legitimate careers, kids will not know much else except the underworld.

“Before, I judged my success by money,” he said after explaining that his speaking engagements on the subjects of literacy and crime are what inspire him to succeed, now. “But we can’t judge success by what kind of shoes somebody has on or what kind of clothes somebody has on. Otherwise, that makes a kid willing to do whatever it takes to get that status. And that’s where we are right now in this society. See, we don’t have a high value on education. I mean, we can look at what teachers get paid.”

One of the most important lessons Ross learned was that investing in oneself is one of the best investments anyone can make. “What I noticed is that what the books told me is working.”

Ross recounted his story to educators, legal professionals, activists and community members on Friday, August 8, 2014. During question and answer time, one audience-member told Ross that his story reminded him of the classic Frederick Douglass text, My Bondage and My Freedom. His enthusiasm for public speaking and for reading is only slightly equal to his zeal for traveling in order to promote his new book Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, written with Cathy Scott.

One of his current joys is talking with young people about their future. He speaks to youth, to college students, and to professional students, having given talks at UCLA and USC, among other educational institutions. “We have to bring our kids around people who they can associate with. We have to let our kids

The publisher of the Inland Valley News mentioned that many kids are fascinated with gang life. “What can we do as educators to turn the tide away from thug life?” Ross quickly countered with, “Let me talk with them.” The point being that it sometimes takes someone with a similar life experience to make an impact on someone’s life.

Reflecting on his own experience in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ross said he is not an advocate for more schools, but he is an advocate for better teaching.

“Teachers need to change the way they teach. The way they talk about our kids,” he said. “Napoleon Hill talks about a burning desire, a person with a burning desire, they’re going to get up and take action,” he said. Napoleon Hill, born in the late 1800s, authored the book Think and Grow Rich.

Ross got a lot of questions from the audience about how to promote literacy for youth.

Children will learn best, Ross said, when they are presented with subjects that interest them, such as money. Ross said he became an expert in crime because he was surrounded by crime. “There were very few people [when he was growing up] who could have told me how to buy a house, or how to be a real estate agent, or to be a lawyer. It’s hard to tell a kid to go be productive in school when they perceive that it is not relevant to them. I didn’t know a judge or a lawyer until I was in court.”

Members of Ross’s home community from the Susan Miller Dorsey High School-area, where he grew up, were in the audience. They echoed the need for children to gain exposure to highly educated, caring adults.

This event was sponsored by The Inland Empire Minority Led Resource Development Coalition, a group representing multiple agencies, and leaders working for the common good. Among the organizations in attendance were Curbside Community Center, San Bernardino Unified School District, United Way of San Bernardino County, County of San Bernardino Behavioral Health, and San Bernardino County Board of Eduction, and The Urban Excellence Trainings.

Raise the Wage

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How has the quality of your life improved in the past five years since the last federal minimum wage increase from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour? One debate is whether an increase in the minimum wage will lead to an increase in prices. Another debate is whether an increase in the minimum wage will stimulate spending causing the economy to grow.

I spoke with a recent graduate of a professional certification program who faces student loan debt. This person stated an increase in the federal minimum wage would be used to pay down debts.

Should The United States raise the federal minimum wage?

Books and Coffee: Universities, Business Ethics, and CSR

This blog was previously posted on LinkedIn.
Hands_MuralHow will corporations make it easier for workers to increase their knowledge about the world? Higher education as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one possibility.

Starbucks’ attempt to support employees’ academic education is, in my opinion, one example of CSR. I do not know the inside story of how the coffee giant and Arizona State University brokered the deal to support barista-student learning. But, educators and CSR managers will want to know more.

Why is this interesting?

First, much scholarship exists on corporations and the impact they have on universities (Buchbinder & Newson, 1990, and Nixon & Helms, 2002). However, scholarship on this topic generally brings up the question of university autonomy and corporate expectation. This is interesting from an educational and a business ethics standpoint. Business executives and university executives/professors, and employees and students may consider the various outcomes when corporations and educational institutions align.

Second, a corporation focusing on higher education completion for employees may indicate a shift in CSR from environmental concerns to that of investment in the individual for the common good.

What other CSR trends might emerge?

One emerging trend might be employers encouraging workers to develop new knowledge and skills outside of the work place. Once the workplace was the site for training, but perhaps things are changing. Training has new meaning, or training does not have the relevancy it once had. Instead, the focus may shift to learning and personal development.

Background

Historically, the private sector in the United States has generously supported higher education of MBAs and many other professionals seeking advanced degrees, and the CSR phenomenon is catching interest overseas, too (Matten & Moon, 2008).

Research question

What will happen when businesses extend their philanthropic support to undergraduate students as opposed to graduate and professional students?

Rationale

A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) business-school ethics class might tackle these questions and in doing so, might re-ignite interest on the topic of business ethics. Business ethics as a topic, it has been argued, has suffered from lack of popularity, in the past (Matten & Moon, 2004).

Conclusion

A well-educated workforce accepts specialists and generalists, alike.

More companies supporting the efforts of their employees to attain a college degree means an increase in the number of workers who may have the potential to broaden their knowledge of the world beyond work.

Increased knowledge may translate into increased opportunity for workers and college graduates to create sustainable, socially responsible outcomes for more people.

References

Buchbinder, H., & Newson, J. (1990). Corporate-university linkages in Canada: Transforming a public institution. Higher Education, 20(4), 355-379.

Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008). “Implicit” and “explicit” CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of management Review, 33(2), 404-424.

Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2004). Corporate social responsibility education in Europe. Journal of business Ethics, 54(4), 323-337.

Nixon, J. C., & Helms, M. M. (2002). Corporate universities vs higher education institutions. Industrial and Commercial Training, 34(4), 144-150.

Would you like to know more about this topic? Contact Gail Taylor, researcher, writer, blogger, instructor, and #OFAFellow.

Social Media as Medium for a Message about the Environment: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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Climate change, peak oil, reduce, reuse, recycle, simple living, these terms that I grew up hearing as a kid in West Virginia and Ohio are still relevant, today.

Research out of Great Britain shows, shows that a strategy of less consumption is associated with basic grassroots environmentalism (Whitmarsh, 2009). Researchers in Japan found that when newspapers focused more attention on environmental news, the public paid more attention to environmental initiatives. However, how best to inform the public about the topic of climate change is an area that needs more research.

Independent non-profits such as the legendary Greenpeace, and the new Organizing for Action, use social media and special events to raise public awareness about climate change.

One hypothesis may be that social media is replacing newspapers as the medium whereby most people receive information about the topic of climate change.

Social media seems to provide the kind of immediacy on the topic of climate change that traditional print media does not provide and therefore offers a fast method for getting out the message. The Tweet below from OFA demonstrates the phenomenon of issue-oriented Tweeting:

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References

Sampei, Y., & Aoyagi-Usui, M. (2009). Mass-media coverage, its influence on public awareness of climate-change issues, and implications for Japan’s national campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Global Environmental Change, 19(2), 203-212.

Whitmarsh, L. (2009). Behavioural responses to climate change: Asymmetry of intentions and impacts. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29(1), 13-23.

Should you have additional questions about climate change and social media, contact researcher, Gail Taylor. OFAction Summer Fellow.

What about Zizek? Or, When Will We Hear from Humanities Departments about This Incident?

Gosh. Being a humanities scholar kind of feels creepy now.

Anyone involved in the academic field of the humanities knows how difficult it can be to raise questions about scholarship within the field. Question-raising is controversial. What a paradox. Humanities scholars are trained to think critically.

Yet, there is a perverse element of hero-worshiping and a weird emphasis on repetition that is associated with the field of the humanities. Worshipping intellectual rock-stars can make raising questions about the field’s superstars dangerous.

In 2011, when I was writing my doctoral qualifying examinations, I raised a question about Slavoj Zizek. My question-raising provoked a major freak out amongst my faculty. I had no idea that I was treading on dangerous territory. But I learned.

However, now I feel confident that my questioning was leading somewhere. This is because general news outlets are reporting that the esteemed, yet controversial, critical theorist, Zizek, may have committed academic theft (read about it here and here) it would appear that all is quiet from the secretive halls of ivy.

That is to say, there seems to be no reaction, outwardly anyway, from humanities scholars about this alleged incidence of misappropriation.

Zizkek, himself, has responded to the incident, as you may see here.

Silent Peers

What to make of this silence from established humanities departments? Does anyone know of any humanities department leaders who are speaking publicly about the Zizek case of alleged plagiarism? What about Zizek’s rebuttal where he denies the charge of academic theft, while at the same time expressing sorrow?

Why have established scholars been slow to respond?

Maybe everybody’s on vacation.

(Or afraid.)

Starbucks, Zizek, and Scholars of Color

There are days when I think the microscope under which the humanities seem to be placed is unnecessary, and statist. But news of the possibility that Zizek may have taken text that appeared in a journal of possibly suspect ideology, seems to warrant further investigation.

I also wonder what scholars who might consider themselves people of color think about this controversy?

Here is a video of Zizek with Tariq Ramadan. What is to be made of such a dialogic between these two intellectuals?

Should scholars of color stop reading Zizek, or invite him to tea?

If Zizek were to join me at the Starbucks in Southern California where I sit listening to hippy music whilst writing this blog post, I would have lots of questions for him.

First, I would ask him if he has ever dated anyone who is African, or African American, or anyone who is of a representative group of peoples historically displaced due to either a). genocide, or b). post-colonialism.

I would ask him questions about empathy and compassion for the Other. I would ask him about fear and whether that had anything to do with his alleged plagiarism.

Finally, I also would ask him about what role isolation plays in his life.

Depending on how he would react to these questions, I then might learn a lot about his world view. Then, I would probe, further.

I really want to know what Zizek thinks about diversity. I want him to come to my university in California and talk about diversity.

I would ask Zizek whether he thinks there is enough diversity of thought in fields like critical theory, cultural studies, and cultural politics. I would ask whether now is the time for critical evaluation of these academic fields and the institutions which house them.

Coda

When thinking about Zizek, I stress the importance of paying attention to the humanities, and to the people engaged in the humanities tradition. The field appears to be undergoing rapid change.

Chaotic change, even.

Conclusion

Evaluation needed

Without critical institutional reflection, the humanities risk obsolescence.

Anyone who disagrees with this statement is welcome to help me organize a conference on the topic of Critical Self-Reflection in The Humanities and the Obsolescence of Post-Structural Thought. Scholars who have raised questions about Zizek may be invited to speak on the subject of Zizek. Scholars who have not questioned Zizek, may also speak. Zizek, himself, might want to attend, and participate.

Since Zizek is accused of possibly plagiarizing text from a journal that may be described as one that promotes an ideology of reductivism, why not critically interrogate the field of knowledge to which he is attached?

Questions may be asked about diversity of contributors to this field of knowledge. Are there any people who are unlike him in the field, and if so, how do they differ?

Other alternatives include launching research initiatives to investigate, problematize, and catalog paradoxical and conflicting Zizekianisms.

Thoughts?