ACICS is Back in Business!

acics logoAnd I do mean busine$$.  Yes, this is the same national accrediting organizing that was “derecognized” by the US Department of Education during the last few months of the Obama administration, a decision that stood until a couple of weeks ago.  Speaking of which, I was writing an email to a colleague about a previously Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)-accredited institution in California that was shut down.  In that email I mentioned that ACICS was going the way of the dinosaur.  Before hitting send, I decided to take a take a peek at its website.  Lo and behold, I saw this Message to Membership! in bold: Secretary of Education Orders Restoration of ACICS as a Federally Recognized Accrediting Agency as of December 2016 and Outlines Next Steps in the Compliance Review Process

Someone at ACICS, or probably one of its more influential supporters, put a bee in someone else’s bonnet, presumably someone in a position of power and, voilà, new life was breathed into ACICS.  (This NYT article from 1 April 2018 delves into some of this:  It Oversaw For-Profit Colleges That Imploded. Now It Seeks a Comeback.)  This has many implications, including the fact that all of the ACICS-accredited institutions that had to find new institutional accreditation by this June are suddenly off the hook.  It’s a happy day in National Accreditation Land.

What a relief for ACICS and its accredited schools.  What terrible news for those of us who value quality US higher education and are concerned about substandard institutions cashing in on the cachet of US education and, some cases, tarnishing its generally sterling reputation.  The half-full part of me was hoping that the Trump administration would overlook this tiny corner of US higher education and that there would be some justice, at least in this case.  But it was not meant to be, not with the likes of Trump and Betsy “Amway” DeVos calling the shots.  There’s simply too much money at stake.  And money, after all, is what drives key decisions in an oligarchy.

Keep in mind that this is the same ACICS that fell asleep at the wheel and allowed not-so-stellar universities like Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) to exist.  It was because of the crack investigative reporting of Buzzfeed that the public, including a certain US senator from Connecticut, learned of this visa mill.  That’s when the shit really hit the fan. 

Then there was the great Silicon Valley University (SVU), another visa mill, also in northern California, that has been in the news, often in tandem with NPU.  Both were ACICS-accredited and both were family businesses masquerading as nonprofits.  (SVU had its accreditation revoked last December and NPU is accredited through 31.12.18, for what that’s worth.)  In both cases, no one was minding the shop. 

How is ACICS rewarded for this egregious lack of oversight?  Allowed to continue with business as usual, which reminds me of this 2017 Bill Maher editorial.  I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop. 

In a word, disgraceful

Peace, MAA

Advertisements

Memories of a Syria at Peace

damascus

Listening to music broadcast by a radio station in Damascus evoked a flood of memories from a long ago trip to Syria that included the capital, the country’s second largest port city, Tartus, and the eventful bus ride that took me there.  I was there to set up a summer study abroad program for US students that would have included Jordan and Syria, definitely an off-the-beaten path destination in 2000.  The program never materialized because of political issues that subsequently began heating up in Israel. 

Some of my memories are of the beautiful scenery in and around Damascus and near the Mediterranean Sea, the delicious cuisine, and the friendliness of the people.  The fact that I held a US passport did not affect people’s attitudes towards me.  They wondered why I was there, what I thought of Syria, and what was really it like in the US, among other questions.  (These conversations were in English because my Arabic was limited to a few useful phrases.)  I also remember how safe I felt wherever I was.

Tartous
Tartous/طرطوس/Tartus
By Ali kattoub – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Syria of 1999 was a country at peace, a country in which people of different religions got along, were friends, and did business together.  That was before the US invasion, occupation, and near-total annihilation of Iraq, a neighboring country, which became a magnet for regional terrorism.  That was before the US and other competing geopolitical entities sunk their claws into Syria.  I have watched the war there – and the resulting death and destruction – with great sadness and anger.  The recent US missile strike is the latest outrage du jour. 

The US did what it is so good at, using its military to attack a sovereign country, this time under the pretense that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.  (The international community is still waiting for solid evidence to confirm this assertion.)

The US itself has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world.  Its clients have included a rogue’s gallery of leaders and countries including Saddam Hussein and Iraq, an ally that became a mortal enemy and joined a long and growing list of countries that the US has invaded, waged war on, or otherwise violated.

The US military launched 66 Tomahawk cruise missiles on three (3) Syrian targets at a total cost of $92.4 million.  It fired an additional 19 missiles of a different kind at a cost of $26.6 million.  (In case you’re counting, that’s a net total of $119 million.)  This does not include the many other costs associated with this attack, including, and most importantly, the lives of innocents that were snuffed out, cynically referred to by those firing the missiles as “collateral damage.”

fulbrightNow contrast this with President Trump’s request to cut funding to the Fulbright program by 71% from $252 million, already a drop in the bucket that is the US federal discretionary budget.  This program “has been a powerful force for peace, building relationships and understanding between the U.S. and 165 countries around the world” for more than 71 years.  Such are the twisted value and fiscal of the world’s leading rogue state. 

Peace, MAA

“Losing Hearts & Minds” Say What?

(US) American-Iranian Relations & International Education during the Cold War

The question remains about how institutions of higher education can thrive economically and promote responsible internationalization. On the one hand, educational exchange can help generate change around the world and enhance American influence and prestige. On the other hand, schools, like nations, should not compromise principles such as academic freedom to acquire financial gain or a global reach. American schools today should work to internationalize, but they should avoid getting involved with authoritarian states in a way that would damage, rather than bolster, long-term interests and the prospects for future dialogue.  (Matthew K. Shannon)

  There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is…  (J. William Fulbright)

NOTE:  No, this is obviously not a post about Viet Nam, at least not directly, but it is about overseas study as an integral part of international education.  (It is most definitely is true to the blog’s subtitle of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue.)  I haven’t read the book with the above title only this Inside Higher Ed interview with the author of the book.  Since I’m not one to shoot from the hip and review books without having read them, this is only some reflections about some of the answers.

Iranian Students Against the Shah

When I was an undergraduate back in the mid-70s, I had some friends from Iran, who were against the Shah.  I remember some of the discussions we had, including about the CIA-engineered coup d’état in 1953 and the overthrow of a democratically elected prime minister.  (Stephen Kinzer, among others, has documented this centerpiece of US foreign policy since the late 19th century in Overthrow:  America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.)

I also remembered an on-campus demonstration of masked Iranian students shouting “Down with the Shah” and “US advisers, CIA agents out of Iran”.  It was of course the CIA and the Israeli MOSSAD that helped to establish SAVAK, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s much-hated and feared secret police, domestic security and intelligence service.  That was months before the overthrow of the Shah.

I was studying in Germany when the hostage crisis began at the US Embassy in Tehran.  All my friends were either German or other international students, including one from Iran.  We talked about that incident not as representatives of the countries whose passports we carried but as human beings.

The Purpose of International Educational Exchange

I’ve always viewed overseas study as an opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country not for that country, in the case of the US, to “generate change around the world and enhance American influence and prestige.”  What kind of change is Mr. Shannon referring to, I wonder?  The kind that only serves US political, economic, and military interests?  The kind that spreads more “democracy and freedom,” at least on paper and, in reality, code for US domination, economic and otherwise, at the barrel of a gun?

80140100853620L
Courtesy of Cornell University Press

I hold this view because I’m a one-time patriot and a longtime global citizen not a US nationalist.  The US has done some good in the world but it also has a long, bloodstained track record in many countries, including Iran and the country I have called home since 2005.  Its leaders and a majority of its citizens have yet to overcome their country’s past in the spirit  of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past.” I wonder if Mr. Shannon, the author of Losing Hearts and Minds, is a patriot or a nationalist?  Like anyone, his world view, and the values system in which it’s rooted, clearly informs his work. 

I also wonder about his statement that the US should avoid getting involved with authoritarian states in a way that would damage, rather than bolster, long-term interests and the prospects for future dialogue.  That would eliminate the majority of current international student enrollment in the US, which is currently in steady decline, the result of a variety of factors that include, but also transcend, the current administration. 

Of Hearts, Minds, & US Nationalism

As someone who has lived and worked in Viet Nam for nearly 13 years and whose first-hand experience with the country dates to 1996, I’m not sure if Mr. Shannon chose the best title for his book.  I wonder if he’s also aware of its rather nasty connotation, given how it was used during the American War in Viet Nam, where not many “hearts and minds” were won by the foreign invader du jour and its client state.   

Finally, this whole notion of “winning hearts and minds” is not a justification for real international educational exchange, unless you represent the US government, the US Chamber of Commerce, or you’re a red, white, and blue true believer aka nationalist.  (We’re #1!  We’re the greatest!  USA, USA, USA!  You get my drift.) 

fulbrightMr. Shannon may want to learn more about J. William Fulbright’s views on this subject, including the one contained in the quotes above and below about the Fulbright Program, taken from this page of Selected quotations by J. William Fulbright on international educational exchange on the US State Department website, no less.  (Obviously, no one from the Trump administration has gotten around to deleting it yet.)   

The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy–the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program…is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope…. [From The Price of Empire]

Peace, MAA

The Art & Science of Creating Good Videos

youtube

Vietnamese get most of their information from online sources, including social media, primarily Facebook.  They also watch a lot of video, 2 hours, 43 minutes a day, to be precise, according to the results of the annual We Are Social and Hootsuite update.  As a result, YouTube ranks 4th among all websites in Viet Nam, according to SimilarWeb.  It is for this reason that videos should be an integral part of any digital marketing campaign. 

I see a lot of online videos intended to promote various educational institutions but not very many quality ones that young people, i.e., potential international students, would actually watch.  In all honesty, most fall into the bad and ugly categories.  Here are two examples.  It would be best to illustrate my points by showing you real videos but that’s not possible, for obvious reasons, the most important of which I would not want to embarrass the offending parties.

Low quality content:  A lot of videos I see are of the talking head variety.  Either students are sitting or standing in one location talking about their school and related experiences, or someone is interviewing them using a talk show format. 

In one video, the students being interviewed looked like prisoners, sitting with hands folder, and dutifully answering question after question.  In another, a student was obviously reading off of a script and looking into the camera with the occasional nervous smile.  Not convincing, invariably boring and, sometimes, painful, to watch. 

Vietnamese students will click on the link, watch for a second or two, and then quickly move elsewhere in search of more inspirational, educational, and/or meaningful content. 

Poor sound quality:  Content aside, many videos are not professional or even semi-professional.  Either staff or students are using substandard equipment and do not have experience making videos for the demographic in question.  It’s like with photography.  Everyone with a smartphone is a “photographer” but very few know how to take good photos worth looking at. 

nas dailyNas Daily is an example from Facebook that I often share with colleagues.  His daily one-minute videos are crisp, fast-paced, and a pleasure to watch and listen to with commentary, interviews, and background music.   He has over 5.8 million followers and over a billion views, which means he must be doing something right.  The point is his videos are worth watching. 

Peace, MAA

Q: How to Choose an Education Agent? A: Use Your Best Judgement

education-agents
Image courtesy of ETN Focus Workshops

And Don’t Forget the Tried-and-True Carrot & Stick Approach

Colleagues sometimes ask me to recommend education agents in Viet Nam. While I’d like to be able to help them in this regard, I can’t.  The simple reason is that this is such a problematic (read shady) and unregulated sector.  There is no one (or one company) that I can honestly vouch for.

If they ask me about a particular company, all that I can say it that I haven’t heard or read anything bad about that company, if that is indeed the case.  Some are well-established and have been around for a long time.  If I know that a specific company has been engaged in unethical or even illegal activity, I can share that information. (I rely on documented evidence not hearsay or gossip.)

My advice to colleagues is simple and straightforward.  Apply rigorous screening criteria and use your own best judgement, including intuition, a valuable yet underestimated quality.  Do prospective agents treat students and parents as clients and not their partner institutions, which pay them a per-head commission?  Do they counsel or script students when it comes to the visa interview preparation?  What do colleagues have to say about company A, B, or C?

Don’t rely on any external “stamps of approval,” which are limited in value for a host of reasons, including the (in)ability to monitor the activities of “certified” agents.  (Examples of naughty yet “certified” agents provide ample grist for another post or even a full-length article.  That’s an article waiting to be written by some enterprising investigative journalist.)

Here are some relevant articles and posts I’ve written: 

Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment (12.12.14)

Buyer beware – Advice for international students (15.7.16)

Take responsibility for ensuring ethical recruitment (30.9.16)

The Tip of the Iceberg? “China’s New Oriental accused of US application fraud”  (21.12.16)

Hold your education agents to your high standards, stay in frequent touch, and keep the lines of communication open.  Trust, if you have a reason to, but always verify.  Use the tried-and-true carrot and stick approach.  Business is based on trust, which is inextricably linked to integrity, relationship and performance.  If they don’t meet your high expectations, there are other fish in the sea.

Finally, don’t put too many of your international student recruitment eggs in the education agent basket, especially in competitive markets like Viet Nam.  You will also need to invest time and money in non-commission-based recruitment tools and techniques.

Peace, MAA

 

I Am Something…

escape criticism

How do I know I am something, in this regard?  Because I discovered the power of the written word, a la Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s famous 1839 metonymic adage, The pen is mightier than the sword, in a previous incarnation, another lifetime, while still a high school student.  I found it not only in what I read but in what I began to write.

The pen, the electric typewriter since my junior high days and, shortly thereafter, the keyboard in the dawning age of the microcomputer, has the power to inspire, delight, provoke, infuriate, exasperate, instill fear, and set the wheels of change in motion. 

Writing has the power to shine light on the dark and dank corners of unethical behavior, hypocrisy, lies, and injustice, and to criticize whatever and whomever is deserving of criticism, regardless of the cost.

burning bridgeThis unattributed saying often comes to mind: May the bridges I burn light the way.  There are bridges worth drenching in gasoline and tossing a lit match on.  You usually know them when you see them, the ones worth setting fire to.  Don’t be afraid of the consequences.  We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one, Confucius once said. 

When you are something, not everyone loves you, especially those whose actions and ideologies are on the receiving end of your criticism.  That is a small price to pay for speaking out on behalf of victims of exploitation and genocide, for example, both the living and the dead.  I’m reminded of this profound quote from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor:  We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  For this reason, there is no pretense of “objectivity” or a sense of balance in much of my writing.  Unlike most, I’m honest about whose ax I’m grinding. 

A related quote that inspires me in my work is from Martin Luther King, Jr., who paid the ultimate price for speaking truth to power at the early middle age of 39:  Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  Don’t let your life end prematurely because of fear. You still have to look at yourself in the mirror.  I sincerely hope you like what you see. 

You will still have to look back on occasion as the inventory that is your life accumulates, assuming you are accorded that privilege.  I hope you are able to look back with contentment, happiness, and inner peace.

I would much rather be something than nothing.  Wouldn’t you?  Aren’t you?

Peace, MAA

Teacher’s Damning Critique of US Educational System (& Society) Goes Viral

This is a Facebook post by Julie Marburger, a sixth-grade teacher at Cedar Creek Intermediate School near Austin, Texas, that went viral.  It reflects the views of many US American teachers and those who are aware of the extremely difficult conditions under which most work.  Her post was picked up by the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, TX, among other media outlets in the US and around the world.

Don’t miss her update at the end in which she laments the “broken and inadequate” educational system in the US, the need to hold children to higher standards, and the need for more manners, respect, and kindness in a divided society filled with conflict and hatred.

Along with many others, I admire her brutal honesty.  Her critique is spot-on.  Sometimes, the truth hurts but it’s the only way forward.  You can’t solve a problem until you recognize there is one. 

Peace, MAA


19895088_10213835715070926_2359887220953639424_n
Julie Marburger (Facebook)

I left work early today after an incident with a parent left me unable emotionally to continue for the day. I have already made the decision to leave teaching at the end of this year, and today, I don’t know if I will make it even that long. Parents have become far too disrespectful, and their children are even worse. Administration always seems to err on the side of keeping the parent happy, which leaves me with no way to do the job I was hired to do…teach kids.

I am including photos that I took in my classroom over the past two days. This is how my classroom regularly looks after my students spend all day there. Keep in mind that many of the items damaged or destroyed by my students are my personal possessions or I purchased myself, because I have NO classroom budget. I have finally had enough of the disregard for personal and school property and am drawing a line in the sand on a myriad of behaviors that I am through tolerating. Unfortunately, one parent today thought it was wrong of me to hold her son accountable for his behavior and decided to very rudely tell me so, in front of her son.

Report cards come out later this week, and I have nearly half of my students failing due to multiple (8-10) missing assignments. Most of these students and their parents haven’t seemed to care about this over the past three months, though weekly reports go out, emails have been sent and phone calls have been attempted. But now I’m probably going to spend my entire week next week fielding calls and emails from irate parents, wanting to know why I failed their kid. My administrator will demand an explanation of why I let so many fail without giving them support, even though I’ve done practically everything short of doing the work for them. And behavior in my class will deteriorate even more. I am expecting this, because it is what has happened at the end of every other term thus far.

I have never heard of a profession where people put so much of their heart and soul into their job, taking time and resources from their home and family, and getting paid such an insultingly measly amount. Teachers are some of the most kind and giving people I have ever met, yet they get treated so disrespectfully from all sides. Most parents can’t stand to spend more than a couple of hours a day with their kid, but we spend 8 with yours and 140 others just like him. Is it too much to ask for a little common courtesy and civil conversation?

It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to have a classroom of my own, and now my heart is broken to have become so disillusioned in these short two years. This is almost all I hear from other teachers as well, and they are leaving the profession in droves. There is going to be a teacher crisis in this country before too many more years has passed unless the abuse of teachers stops.

People absolutely HAVE to stop coddling and enabling their children. It’s a problem that’s going to spread through our society like wildfire. It’s not fair to society, and more importantly, is not fair to the children to teach them this is okay. It will not serve them towards a successful and happy life.

Many will say I shouldn’t be posting such things on social media…that I should promote education and be positive. But I don’t care anymore. Any passion for this work I once had has been wrung completely out of me. Maybe I can be the voice of reason. THIS HAS TO STOP.


UPDATE: Thank you, everyone for your words of support! I’m feeling a little shell-shocked over the attention I have gotten, to say the least. This is something I had no way of anticipating and have taken a few days to come to terms with.

I never intended to be a spokesperson for anything. I’m not the most qualified to do so, and I’m certainly not the best teacher out there, by far. But obviously my words, spoken in desperation that day, have struck a chord with many people. My Facebook Messenger inbox has been inundated with comments from teachers and others worldwide in agreement and support of my post.

If I could have the moment back, I might have said some things differently. For one, I would have pointed out that I have many amazing, hard-working, respectful students who show up every day and give their best and also many supportive, loving parents. For them I am thankful and hope I haven’t offended. But my frustration was also in their behalf. Because the actions of some are hindering their educational experience.

I believe this post resounded with so many because it speaks to three main issues we must address as a society:

First, the education system as we know it needs reform. It is broken and inadequate for our children.

Second, we absolutely have to hold our children to a higher standard of accountability in all areas. Inflating their success doesn’t raise self-esteem. If it did, we wouldn’t have the highest teen suicide rates in history right now.

Third, we as a society have to get back to treating one another with manners and respect. We are only going downhill with hatred and name-calling. No one wins when kindness dies.

I am a woman of faith and have been quite reflective this week on the good that I can bring to this world because of this experience. I have decided to (as soon as feasible) start blogging my feelings on all of the above and hope many of you will join me in the discussion. If we all work together, we can make the changes we need for our collective success