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Reimagining K-12 Public Education at the Yale School of Management

Thanking Steve Ross, the late financial economist and mensch

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Kerwin Charles, dean of the Yale School of Management, which is based in New Haven, Conn., has dedicated much of his research over the decades to studying issues that “de-limit,” as he puts it, the opportunities and outcomes for minority students and others in public school.

In 2019, in one of his first acts at Yale SOM, Dean Charles, whose scholarship has focused on labor economics as well as the “intergenerational transmission of economic status,” announced a $100 million donation from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to set up the Broad Center at Yale SOM.

In September 2020, the Broad Center at Yale SOM appointed its inaugural dean and executive director, Hanseul Kang, formerly the state superintendent of the public school system in the District of Columbia.

And its inaugural class of 20 fellows was named last October.  The 20 fellows, roughly three-quarters of whom identify as people of color, will serve a 10-month, tuition-free fellowship at the Broad Center at Yale SOM.  The fellows, who have met virtually, are scheduled to have their first in-person sessions on campus this June. 

From its inception in 1976, the Yale School of Management has been a pioneer in business school education.

For nearly 50 years, Yale SOM has trained its graduates for leadership roles in the public and nonprofit, as well as the private sectors.  Indeed, Yale SOM has long branded itself as the graduate school for those students, who want to improve business and society, which evokes the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, to repair the world.

In the early years of the new millennium, under then-Dean Joel Podolny, Yale SOM reconfigured its curriculum to expand beyond standard subjects like accounting, finance and marketing into classes that integrated all of those skills from the perspective of the customer, the innovator, the mid-level manager and other stakeholders in business and society.

Other b-schools took notice, and in some cases, they too changed their pedagogy.

Now, Yale SOM, under Dean Kerwin Charles, has extended its unique management brand to include training leaders in the public school system in major urban areas.

I am confident that, under Dean Charles, as under previous deans, Yale SOM will continue to be an institution that is humane, progressive and thoughtful.

Last year, Dean Charles issued a statement on racism following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans.  He pointed out that there is “no more pressing issue than confronting systemic racism.”

As he said, “Those who care deeply about equity and social justice are rightly exasperated when focus shifts, and hope for progress appears to evaporate.”

Dean Charles added, “I want to assure everyone in the Yale SOM community that our attention will not fade.”

The dean will be teaching a new course on systemic racism that will be open to all students at Yale SOM.  And the 20 public school leaders in the inaugural cohort at the Broad Center have all spent years trying to improve equity in the opportunities and outcomes for minority students, as well as kids from lower-income backgrounds.

I am heartened by these developments at Yale SOM under Dean Charles, since the school, as previously noted, has always been committed to social justice and innovative pedagogy. 

As it turns out, I am a graduate of Yale and Yale SOM.  And I am very fortunate to have graduated from both schools.

But I almost did not survive because of a horrible trauma that I endured in kindergarten and that continued for decades afterward.

I have written in the past about this trauma, including in my most recent piece.

My kindergarten trauma actually took place in the public schools in Hamden, Conn., a suburb of New Haven, and the trauma did in some respects “de-limit” my potential.

“To heal, we must remember,” as President Biden said so eloquently on the eve of his inauguration.

Of course, if a person has been traumatized at a very young age, he or she may require years, even decades to heal.

Still, President Biden is right.  In order to heal, it is necessary to remember.  

Not unlike exposure therapy, sometimes we are able to heal when our memories, on their own, percolate at a subconscious level into our consciousness.

That does not mean that remembering traumas is other than painful.  

In the past two years or so, I have come to understand much more fully what happened to me not only in kindergarten but also in later years in both public and private school, as well as during my time at Yale and Yale SOM.

I have never forgotten any of the details.  They have always been seared in my hippocampus.  But for many years, the memories were too traumatic for me to process.

Thankfully, I understand the past quite clearly now, and I embrace it.

Since Yale SOM often uses cases as part of its pedagogy, I thought that I might elaborate on my last piece and talk not only about my experience in public school kindergarten, but also my two years at the Yale School of Management.

As I have discussed in the past, my K teacher, Mrs. Crawley, began abusing me and singling me out for trips to the “dunce corner,” when I missed school for the Jewish High Holy Days in October 1970.

I had to hunch in the shadows in the back of the room at school, which was being held that year, ironically, at Mishkan Israel, a Reform synagogue that my family would later join in 1973, while Spring Glen School was being renovated on Whitney Ave. about a half-mile away.

Though other kids were subsequently sent to the “dunce corner,” I was the first one to be so abused, and I was targeted by Mrs. Crawley, even though, and no doubt because, I was the only Jewish kid, or the only practicing Jewish kid in the class.  I was also the only student, who could already read.

As I have mentioned before, I had been reading since I turned three, when my mother, herself a former public schoolteacher in Hamden, introduced me to flash cards in our kitchen.

I have overcome the hatred that was directed at me for months by Mrs. Crawley.  But the repercussions have been severe.

To recap a few more highlights from my last article, it took me decades before I figured out that I am really left-handed.  I started to dissociate in 1970 when Mrs. Crawley smacked my left hand and prevented me from using it.

There were hints along the way that I was a southpaw.

My second grade penmanship teacher, Mrs. Taddei, said that I wrote like a lefty in that I smudged the side of my palm with ink, and I curled my right hand around my pen when I wrote. 

I was always able to hit with more power left-handed when I fungoed balls in the backyard, and I could arm-wrestle better left-handed, too.

For years, I thought that I was somewhat ambidextrous.

In fact, I was non-dextrous, for the most part, when it came to fine motor skills.  And though I had good strength in my arms, my lack of fine motor skills was evidenced not only in my penmanship, which remains almost illegible.  My lack of fine motor skills also became clear when I had trouble fixing, assembling or disassembling gadgets.

Some people, who witnessed my struggles, may have thought that I was lazy or that I had acquired a kind of “learned helplessness.”

I am not lazy at all, and my poor fine motor skills were not due to any moral failing.  

Rather, my lack of dexterity was due to Mrs. Crawley’s sustained assault on me that lasted for six to seven months when I was just a 5-year-old boy, an assault that I am still, to an extent, processing 51 years later.

I am sure that Dean Charles and Dean Kang of the Broad Center at Yale SOM know that some children, who have been abused when they are very young, lose the ability to speak, a point I made in my last piece.

Thankfully, as I wrote before, I did not lose that ability.

But I did stop reading for five and one-half years, from October 1970, when I was in kindergarten, until April 1976, when I was near the end of 5th grade.

Those years, in primary school, are the years when the brain is in its formative stages.

Not surprisingly, I did not always test so well on reading comprehension for standardized tests, a multilayered irony given, as I say, that I was reading at the age of three.  Then, years later, in 1997, after I had my first psychotic break and around the time I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I started working at L.A. Weekly as a proofreader, a month before I started in earnest dating Barbara, my angel and late wife, whom I would marry in 2001 and who passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder in Sept. 2019.

I have healed gradually over the past two decades because of the love of Barbara, who, as I have noted before, was an extraordinarily innovative public school kindergarten teacher in the Anaheim, Calif., public school district.

As I mentioned in my last piece, Barbara introduced her students to Macbeth and Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry.  She taught the first Head Start class.  And she learned Spanish, so that she could communicate better with the parents of many of her students.  More than anything else, Barbara taught her students how to love during her career, which began in the Civil Rights era and continued into the late 1980s.

It is worth pointing out that Barbara and I were both damaged when we were quite young.

While I was traumatized by my kindergarten teacher, Barbara was cruelly neglected and mistreated in other ways by her mother.

Sometimes, Barbara and I could both be a bit cantankerous.  We were together 24/7 for nearly all of our 23 years as a couple.

I often invoke David and Bathsheba when I think of our marriage, a luminous one between writers and Muses, who were devoted to each other.  It is also true that, when I think of my love affair with Barbara, I am almost equally reminded of the sublime pairing of Antony and Cleopatra.  

I say this not only because Barbara, who was 80 when she passed away, was ageless.

We are also like Antony and Cleopatra in that our love is eternal and soars to infinity.

When asked by Cleopatra to quantify their love, Antony responds, “There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned.”

Bob Dylan made a similar point in the title of his song, “Love Minus Zero (No Limits).”

And the Zohar, the most authoritative text of the Kabbalah, refers to such limitlessness as “Ein Sof,” which means “without end” in Hebrew.

Even if Barbara and I could be cantankerous from time to time, we were and are unlimited in our love for each other.  In the late 1990s, Barbara nurtured me back to health when I was suicidal and diagnosed with schizophrenia.   She set me up with my writing corner and ushered into my life an “infinite variety” of joys, from Dylan’s music to the love of cats.

As for me, I escorted my Barbara to the bathroom in the middle of the night for years because she had difficulty walking.  I stayed overnight with her in the hospital through all her bouts of pneumonia, knee surgeries and other medical issues.  And she was so proud of me that I read the Zohar and told her about Jewish mysticism.

I would not be alive today, were it not for Barbara.  And Barbara often said that I saved her every day.  

I would never claim that I am or that I was “perfect and upright,” as God said of Job, but I was a very sweet and bright child. 

And, in spite of my flaws as an adult, my petty jealousies and frustrations, I have never tried to hurt anyone.

I have hurt people, but I have never tried to do so, whereas many people have gone out of their way to try to destroy me.  They have ganged up on me, ostracized me and lied about me.

For decades, they seemed to get away with their cruelty.

Those hateful, jealous people, some of them anti-Semites, like Mrs. Crawley, must have thought that I was a coward when I did not fight back.

But they were and are wrong.

I was not and am not a coward.

By now, it must have occurred to these sadists that the reason why I did not fight back when I was younger is because I had been so savagely traumatized as a 5-year-old boy in kindergarten.  And, as a result of that trauma in public school, I dissociated for decades whenever evil targeted me.

Trauma often has such an effect on people.  It can, as we know, trigger a response in the brain, in which some victims seem to relive their harrowing experiences.

In my case, when I encountered evil for many decades, I subconsciously drifted off into another world, as I did when I was sent to the “dunce corner” in kindergarten.

Dissociating very likely serves as an evolutionary adaptation for trauma victims, a point that I have made before.

Of course, if trauma occurs when you are very young, the consequences can sometimes be irreparable.

I will always contend that we can transmute any curse into a blessing, but that does not mean that it is not a battle.

Sometimes, we need to summon all the free will, all the love, that we have to defeat curses, superstition, fate and biology.  And, sometimes, we need help from God and from angels, whether we are students in public school, private school, or any school, including at the college or graduate school level.

Steve Ross, an eminent financial economist and a late professor at the Yale School of Management, was one such angel.

I did not actually know Professor Ross.  And I never spoke to him in my two years at Yale SOM.

He was not one of my teachers, and I did not feel that it was appropriate that I visit him at his office.

I was going through a very difficult time in my life when I was at Yale and Yale SOM.  I did not study much, because I was suffering internally at such a severe level.

For decades, I did not know why I was experiencing so much psychic pain.

While I never forgot that I had been sent to the “dunce corner” in kindergarten, I did not realize the accrued damage that had been done to me by my teacher, Mrs. Crawley, an anti-Semitic witch.

I am grateful that I have healed over the decades, and I have done so, without a doubt, because of the love of Barbara, the best kindergarten teacher ever.  

In healing all these years later, I have become aware not only of the evil that targeted me but also of acts of kindness that were done on my behalf, including by Professor Ross.

Among his innovations in the field of financial economics, Professor Ross conceptualized the Arbitrage Pricing Theory.  He also wrote a leading textbook on corporate finance, and he was a very fine writer.  

I am sure that he must have read the poem, “If,” by Rudyard Kipling.

The poem has become a cultural touchstone, used by many companies as well as schools to emphasize the importance of endurance, resilience and courage.

It has been popular for generations, particularly among boys.

My wife, Barbara, never liked the fact that the poem uses the male pronoun and seems to be directed only at young men.  I understood her point.

Still, there is no doubt that “If” is an inspirational poem.  It spoke to my father, who kept a pocket copy with him for decades after his own father committed suicide.

One passage that speaks to me and may have spoken to Professor Ross is this one: “Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies.  Or being hated, don’t give way to hating.”

I was once told by one of Steve Ross’ former colleagues that my reputation at Yale had been damaged by a Machiavelli.  The SOMer who told me this added that, because Steve Ross stood up for me, it “cost him.”  When I was told this some years ago, I did not understand what the person was talking about.  I was still clueless about the repercussions of my trauma from decades ago.

But, as I noted earlier, I have healed much more fully in recent years, and I now have a pretty fair idea what this individual was telling me.

I am very sorry that Professor Ross had any problems because he spoke up on my behalf.  And I offer my sincere apologies to the family of Professor Ross, who passed away in 2017.

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there were also other forces, marinated in longstanding grievances and insults, that were at work.  Those factors had little to do with me and everything to do with campus politics, academic bullying and the Machiavellian figure, who was tricked into believing lies about me by other failed Machiavellis.

These wannabe princes have all been hoisted on their own petards, because, as we know from the Book of Job, a book to which I frequently allude, “There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.”

God knows all and sees all.

That is why Job’s frenemies, who spew hatred at and abandon him, lose their property, their wealth, their names and more at the end of the book, while Job’s wealth, spiritual and otherwise, doubles after he repents to God and admits his failings.

While latter-day Iagos, like Job’s frenemies, live to denigrate, harm and damage the reputations of others, Professor Ross was a mensch, who clearly yearned to repair the world, and to help people, who were at risk and suffering.

He may have been one of the Lamed Vavniks, one of the 36 Righteous People, who, according to Jewish tradition, come along every generation to preserve the planet.

Steve Ross loved to nurture students, and he groomed several generations of young faculty, who rose in their careers.

Professor Ross, who was long touted for the Nobel Prize in economics, may not have “breathed a word about his loss,” in the words of Kipling, when he left the Yale School of Management for MIT.  He became the inaugural Modigliani professor there, which was a great honor, just as it was a great honor for him to be the Sterling Professor of finance and economics at Yale and the Yale School of Management.

He cared so much about Yale SOM, where he was a founding professor, that he was willing, as someone once told me, to “take one for the team” when the school may have been threatened years ago by others.

It is obvious that Steve Ross believed in something greater than himself.  He truly lived by a code of honor and by the principle of Tikkun Olam.  To paraphrase one of President Biden’s statements about our country, Steve Ross led “not by the example of his power, but by the power of his example.”

He exuded the ethos of the Yale School of Management, which is to train leaders who care not only about the bottom line, but also about ethics, compassion, education and society, with its many stakeholders, including the marginalized.

To return to the Book of Job, I have written before that God may very well have made a bet with the devil concerning me when I was a 5-year-old boy, just as Professor Ross may have had to deal with a devil, or its spawn.

But, as we know from the Book of Job, God wins His bet.  And so has Professor Ross.

In recent years, Bengt Holmstrom, who was formerly at Yale SOM and is now at MIT, and Robert Shiller and William Nordhaus, both at Yale, have all won the Nobel Prize in economics.  

All three of those Nobel winners were colleagues of Professor Ross, and he recruited some of them and other outstanding professors to the Yale School of Management and the Yale economics department.

After spending many decades sprawled out in mansions on Hillhouse Avenue, Yale SOM, roughly five years ago, moved into a new building, Evans Hall, a gleaming, blue-tinted structure on Whitney Avenue, a few miles from Spring Glen School, my public, elementary school, in Hamden.

Under Dean Kerwin Charles, Yale SOM, of course, now also includes the Broad Center, which is training teachers, principals and administrators of K-12 education for new leadership roles in the public schools.

In addition to its fellowship, the Broad Center at Yale SOM is also offering a Master’s degree in public education management, which is likewise tuition-free, due to the generosity of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. 

Mrs. Crawley, my public school kindergarten teacher, tried to destroy my soul.

And there have been many liars and sadists, Machiavellis, Iagos and Sammy Glicks, who have harmed or tried to harm me since I was in kindergarten.  Some of those sadists targeted me in public school, and some did so in private institutions.

Those liars have never created anything of beauty in their lives.  Not only are they imaginatively impoverished, they have no courage.  

Operating in windowless rooms, they “hide behind desks” like the Masters of War from Bob Dylan’s song of that name.  And their whole purpose is to “build to destroy.” 

Not one of these hacks can write anything other than a tortured text.

The reason why these hacks lack artistic gifts, endurance or strength is because they have no love in their souls.  And they have no work ethic.  They are not willing to devote years or decades to a cause that is greater than themselves. 

And they are jealous of those of us, who flow with love and who burst with original ideas, like Steve Ross, like Barbara, my late wife, and like me.

While hacks may have damaged my reputation, they destroyed their souls, if they ever had any.

And they failed to crush my spirit, because I am filled with love, which, as Barbara pointed out, is “the most powerful thing of all.”

Barbara also said that God is love, a beautiful Christian concept and one that I embrace.  

“Measure for measure” is a phrase that has become overly used.  We associate it with Shakespeare’s play of that name.  But before the Bard wrote that so-called problem play, the Zohar, a Kabbalistic text that I cited earlier, used that expression in Aramaic to refer to cases of poetic justice.

I view it as a Zoharic “measure for measure,” or a case of poetic justice, that the Yale School of Management, the only b-school in the country that could have nurtured me when I was ill, is the very institution that, among other issues, is no doubt teaching its fellows and Master’s candidates in public education management how to screen teachers, particularly those who teach the primary years, so as to weed out racists, sociopaths, anti-Semites, sadists and liars.

Leaders in the world of public and private education have to groom students and faculty with love and teach them to be part of something greater than themselves.  We need to instill ethics in all of society’s stakeholders, so that they will seek to repair the world, as did Professor Ross and Barbara, my late wife.

And we have to prevent hateful teachers and others from trying to “de-limit” the growth of young people.

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