It’s Impossible to Teach Without Books

My wife has been a teacher in Oklahoma for five years and has never had the benefit of working with a new textbook. If she had been working in education longer, then that number would be higher. This is a major problem for Oklahoma teachers that sadly, needs to be spelled out. Textbooks are necessary as they give teachers a guided framework to teach students, useful resource material, a means of assessment, and a shared source all in one holistic package.

At least, they used to. Now teachers don’t get even that much. I’ll get to the reasons why, but first you need to realize what life is like for a teacher without classroom books for her kids.

If you’re lucky, you at least get consumables. Consumables are classroom materials that usually include a book, as well as a workbook with tearaway assessment materials (worksheets) that the kids use as their practice and to take grades. While these are better than nothing, they don’t meet the rigor and quality of real textbooks where the assessments are made from ruled paper. The big problem with them, however, isn’t that they don’t provide as much as the texts. It’s that they are very expensive solutions to only this year’s problem. Because they are consumed every year, there is little to nothing to use again next year. While we can complain that we have textbooks in classrooms for ten to 15 years… they’ve done the job for 15 years. Imagine ripping out all the portions of the text that provided activities for the kids to practice what they learned or for the teacher to know if they are getting it. That’s what a consumable solution looks like year two. Of course, this is usually how it works — with a giant pile of garbage created every year and a new set of consumables being purchased each and every year. Did I also mention that the sets are rarely the same requiring the teacher to completely redo her program to accommodate this new solution?

While this isn’t ideal, it makes the job of teaching at least possible. Without at least this solution, your life looks very similar to my wife’s for a few years, which was an abject nightmare.

Imagine that you’ve worked all day, from 7:30 AM to around 5PM herding 80 lbs malcontented chickens. Then you finally get home. Ah, the glories of rest and the comforts of family. But no, now work starts.

If you don’t have a system of integrated resources that align to your lesson plan then you have the happy duty of making one… from scratch… every week. You learn to respect the writers of textbooks when you get to do it yourself. That means all the lessons, the assessments, the testing, the lecture material, and it has to be colorful and entertaining or else it won’t compare to Call of Zombies VI. I’m a professional writer now, so trust me when I say books don’t write themselves. To do that on top of being a full-time teacher… with a family? You must be joking. Obviously, no teacher has the ability to literally write a textbook for her class every year. So for four years, my wife spent hours, upon hours, upon hours searching the internet either on Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers (like Etsy but teachers sharing assignments they created) for assignments and modules to allow her to teach her required subjects. Note that this means she has to spend her own money for assignments that aren’t integrated into the state-mandated curriculum in any way. But this is what happens when the state doesn’t provide your school with the resources to buy materials for you.

Maybe you’re thinking that this is a good thing, that if they create the curriculum then they are better able to do their jobs — teach kids. You’d be incorrect, as this robs them of how they teach. Think about when I went to Iraq with the Marines. That job is hard enough, right? We can agree there. Now imagine if I had to also buy my own gun and equipment. Worse, how well do you think our warfighters would be if they also had to build their own equipment? The job is designed to push people to their limits already in challenging and dynamic environments. Adding, “gunsmith” to the billet shouldn’t be necessary too. The same is true for teachers, yet we are basically sending them to war without weapons, armor, or a strategy, and telling to make do with what they personally buy from the internet.

But wait, there’s more! No matter what option she takes, she is still going to have no books to work from other than what she prints out herself. Did I mention paper rationing? Yes, on top of having no books, no consumables, and basically making the teachers invent their own curriculum this year, and when all teachers are doing what my wife is doing… that means they have literally nothing to teach their kids with! Frankly, that paper rationing started a minor revolt this year and the superintendent buckled.

But you want to know what is even crazier? It isn’t even a matter of not having the money to buy textbooks. The textbook companies are literally not even printing them. This is due to the chaotic nature of Oklahoma education standards placed on schools by the state. The standards determine what is and isn’t taught by Oklahoma teachers (You thought it was teachers, huh? Yeah right.) What happens when something doesn’t align with the current standards? It’s no good. It has to be thrown out. A brand new classroom set literally has no place in the classroom because of all the things it doesn’t teach decided upon by some committee in Oklahoma city because parents and activists threatened to say mean things on Facebook. Yeah, that’s how the system works. So textbook companies can’t do that. It takes years to create a new edition and they can’t keep up with states as fickle with their standards as ours. That’s why they threw up their hands and said “fooey with the Okies!” and stopped printing books we could use.

I’ll talk about the problems with Oklahoma’s standards later, but next, I want to illuminate you on something you’ve probably been asking yourself ever since this started, “Why not just use updated technology?”

Why not indeed…

 Next Article: The Myth of Classroom Tablets or Start at the Beginning

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It’s Not a Teacher Crisis – It’s a Tax Crisis

Oklahoma isn’t facing a teacher crisis, but a tax crisis. Simply, Oklahoma can’t give what it doesn’t have. You can see this in by looking at our Highway Patrol and Prisons are dangerously underfunded. This is not to mention other government organizations like the Department of Human Services, or often overlooked state jobs like court reporters, who have gone for more than a decade without a pay raise.

Could some reshuffling be done, cannibalize other state programs to support the monolithic budgetary needs of public education? Sure, but which parks do you want to close? What infrastructure do you want to cancel? What welfare do you want to cut? Who do you want to lay-off? We could do that, in some places we should, but this is not just a teacher crisis. Oklahoma just doesn’t have money.

So the other option, raise taxes.

Many of the current demands on Oklahoma legislatures are to raise the oil excise taxes, the tax on a good once it is drawn out of its original source, back to 7% from its current around 3% with other subsidies paid out to oil and energy companies. That’s certainly one option. I’m not discounting it. But like cutting programs, that will come with consequences too. While increasing the excise tax will relieve current pressures a few things need to be understood about the oil industry. First off, most of the oil which comes from a new well is drilled in the first three years. After that, it trickles for the next twenty. Many of the new wells are already beyond their three-year mark, but many other wells remain yet to be dug. We still have to account for international tampering in the oil industry, but eventually, that will end too. If Oklahoma makes reactionary decisions today to solve near problems, they miss the greatest industry boom in world history when foreign states can no longer artificially hold the price per barrel of oil so low.

So while I agree with many that raising the excise tax today could relieve many of  Oklahoma’s numerous hardships, we do so at the cost of many future opportunities. I’m not going pretend it’s an easy decision for lawmakers because they are literally choosing between our children’s education today, or risking those same children’s future employment tomorrow.

That said, taxes don’t just come from energy. The state is already taxed with high property, income, and even a grocery tax, but we also have on the table so-called vice taxes, such as raising sales taxes on alcohol, tobacco, as well as lottery and casino winnings. We also need to talk about a referendum which took place for a 1% sales tax increase that would have translated to a $5,000 pay raise directly to Oklahoma teachers. The voters in Oklahoma have spoken with directly with that one.

They voted “No.”

You can say that this reflects the culture of Oklahoma, which it may, but Oklahoma teachers need to accept it also says something about a state that no longer has faith in the industry. Yes, we aren’t paid well, but few in the state are. But even if Oklahoma teachers are paid better, can educators honestly say that there aren’t still massive roadblocks in the system preventing them from being the best teachers they could be? Here, I’m talking about the endless parade of benchmark testing to ensure that schools pass the test, technology grants with no quality training for its usage and implementation, the high cost of administrative oversight, students missing 10% of their school days for activity absences, and the lavish amounts of money spent on sports facilities when other teachers don’t have classroom book sets. Oklahoma education needs to grapple the reality that major changes are needed within the education system and not just at the state level.

I want to be fair, teaching in Oklahoma has challenges other industries don’t. The hours are murder and the conditions are impossible, especially for new teachers. I’m saying that as someone who has worked in Oklahoma education for three years, and who was deployed twice to Iraq with the US Marines. The resources aren’t there, and the struggle is mostly invisible to parents and the community. But the reason that it is called a teacher crisis and not a statewide budget crisis is because teachers are the largest and most organized publicly paid collective in the state. So it’s much easier for them to make demands upon the state than others. 

But Oklahoma isn’t hearing them anymore. As evidenced by the failure of Oklahoma voters to fund their own education system, they aren’t moved by arguments centered around, “for the kids”. This isn’t because they don’t love their kids. It’s because they don’t have faith in Oklahoma schools. They view that whatever funds raised through new taxes levied or programs cut are simply not going to make it to their children, but instead be absorbed by an inefficient education system unwilling to adapt to current needs. And I know the teachers. I was one. My wife is one. Many of the best people I know are still in the industry. But teachers need to deal with the fact that there exists a trust issue between educators and people of the state. Teachers are mobilizing and will probably be making many demands over the next few months; many they will get. However, if some hard conversations don’t begin at the state and local level which demand hard reforms to Oklahoma education, I fear the gap between Oklahoma and her teachers is only going to widen.

Next Article: The Problem with Shale or Start at the Beginning

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Oklahoma’s Big Oil Problem

Oklahoma education is tied to an overall funding crisis. You can’t talk about Oklahoma finances without talking about the oil industry and specifically, shale oil.

Shale oil production is a process of accessing oil that has previously been locked away within the rock deep underground. Not long ago, the only profitable way to drill for oil involved horizontal wells that dug into large pockets. Eventually, those pockets became difficult to find and the old “bobbing donkey” wells stopped pumping. In the last decade, however, new technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking have opened up new avenues for the black stuff.

How does this affect Oklahoma’s economy? It’s much more than just selling the oil. Images such as the one above are misleading, namely because there is never just one pipe. In reality, there would be dozens of pipes jutting in all directions. This was beautiful for the Oklahoma economy because someone had to build all that. Manufacturers built the pipes, the pumps, and the thousands of other support jobs created to support the drilling. People also had to truck all that, and local communities also began investing in infrastructure. The wells were only a part of it. The process was extremely labor intensive, which meant jobs and enough taxes in 2013 that Oklahoma’s problems included figuring out how to spend the surplus.

This economic boom didn’t happen by accident. Oklahoma used to have a high excise tax on oil. Excise taxes are taxes paid when a resource is exited from the soil. Oklahoma excise taxes were around 7% prior to the oil boom. But Oklahoma legislatures knew enough about the oil industry to know a horizontal well at the time cost around 5 times as much to build than vertical wells, though they had much more potential. They also knew that Oklahoma wasn’t the only place in the nation this technology could be used. So Oklahoma made the choice to lower excise taxes and offer other subsidies to oil companies to choose Oklahoma over other states. It paid off. Because of that choice, Oklahoma experienced an oil boom, and the US is currently experiencing the products of that wealth today.

In fact, the success of shale oil was so monumental that it had worldwide effects and put the United States to be a net oil exporter by 2020. Some people weren’t happy about that, like Saudi Arabia, who have long enjoyed the wealth gained from a profitable relationship with the United States and exporting its vast oil wealth around the world. In an attempt to kill the burgeoning American shale oil industry, Saudi Arabia did what only they can do: they slashed prices. They could afford this because the Saudis have enough oil that they could live off a loss in oil production for some 30 years without feeling the effects of their own luxurious lifestyle. The rest of the world, however, shuttered and stumbled, few places as much as Oklahoma and its still infant shale oil industry.

So shale responded by getting smarter by drilling down to one central location, which served as a hub for all the pipes that would be built, and also greatly improved the life of a well.

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By becoming far more efficient two things happened: the United States is currently experiencing an energy boom, but… the market for all industries supporting the actual drilling up the oil collapsed. The jobs Oklahoma expected to still be there have withered as we’re seeing those jobs disappear due to simple better business practices and the still artificially low cost of Saudi oil. Then consider the natural process of oil drilling. Once the ground is mapped, the pipes are drilled, the infrastructure built, and the pumping started, there isn’t much left to do from a manufacturing perspective. If it isn’t profitable to drill more platforms, then the jobs aren’t going to be replaced elsewhere. Once the work is done, the drilling starts and there is no new job creation anywhere. Fewer jobs being created by the shale industry shook up the Oklahoma economy. As Oklahoma’s strategy hinged on the continued growth of the industry, and to live off taxes from incomes on all the industries that supported the oil, international maneuvering and the necessary response from local business left Oklahoma in a hard place. This is where Oklahoma has been for a few years. As the nation benefits from massive volumes of cheap and readily available energy, Oklahoma is in a recession.

I say this a former Oklahoma teacher. Speaking rationally, I can’t blame my principal or the school board for problems that are happening a mile under our feet and all over the state. I also can’t blame Oklahoma City for decisions that weren’t even made in the Western Hemisphere specifically targetting our way of life. I want to be angry, but there is just no one to blame on this one and realities we have which we need to accept and understand. Blaming won’t solve this one. Well, maybe there is someone to blame – Scientists and Saudis.

Next Article: It’s Impossible to Teach Without Books or Start at the Beginning

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What’s With the Oklahoma Teacher Crisis?

Educators in Oklahoma are preparing to strike. This is following years of worsening work conditions and the recent news that Oklahoma is now the lowest ranked state in the country in teacher pay.

So how did we get to this point?

Teachers are asking for explanations from Oklahoma leaders why the state seems to have failed so deeply with education, and many are looking for partisan answers. Some blame conservative tax policies while many others advocate that the structure of Oklahoma schools is too rigid and fails to adapt. Others acknowledge most issues aren’t partisan at all. Most of the real problems for Oklahoma have little to nothing to do with politics, but the economy.

I’m a former Oklahoma school teacher married to a current Oklahoma school teacher. I’ve seen the debates from several angles, both as an educator, and now as a researcher. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working to unpack all the problems of Oklahoma education, by diving into causes of teacher burnout and the politics of Oklahoma education. Make sure to follow The War Elephant on Facebook to get more daily updates.

Next Article: It’s Not a Teacher Crisis – It’s a Tax Crisis or Start at the Beginning

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Thoughts on Bullying.

I was recently asked by a parent what they should do when their child feels they are being bullied. I teach middle and high school. I deal with kids who make bad choices regularly. A major aspect of my job is counselling them on ways to correct that behavior, or how to protect themselves from it in the future. I was also ruthlessly picked on and bullied during that period of my life, so I am glad a friend asked me answer this question. Since I learned how to deal with my bullies, I feel I have become a much healthier and happier person based on that life changing, and perhaps life saving, choice. I know that the experience of being bullied is anything but “character building” and has been shown in the answers to What are the long term effects of being a victim of bullying?, one of which being my own. Having said all that, I assume you love your child enough to read, because I have a lot to say on the matter.

1) Open a Dialogue.

The first thing that I think I would want as a parent is an understanding of the child’s situation. Information can open your eyes to depths of the problem as well as make it obvious what actions need to be taken. You know that your child feels that they are being bullied. What is this bullying like? Perhaps it isn’t as severe as you might have feared. Perhaps your child simply hasn’t learned the appropriate thing to say or do in a certain social situation and is getting negative reenforcement for that behavior from his peers. That isn’t bullying, but it still feels really bad. Those problems are normally easily corrected when an adult gives the child new options they haven’t yet considered or independently invented to solve that social problem. Remember that all situations a child will face have happened before; the question is, do they have the experience to handle it in a productive way?

Mentoring children is a lost artform. We, at least we in America, have the false belief that children should learn everything “out in the real world”. That may be how our parents raised us, but it may not be right. Speaking with your children in a setting about possible events that are bound to happen, before they happen lets them know what to prepare for. It lets them ask questions and allows you to impart wisdom before mistakes are made. Conveying new tactics to handle a particular situation will gift your child new routes to solve it when and if it comes.

Simply assuming this is your child’s fault, though, is obviously not always the case. I faced many situations growing up where I had absolutely no control over the actions of my aggressors. Perhaps it’s more than what is tolerable or what a normal child should be expected to be capable of addressing. You personally need to address it with faculty immediately, in that case. The point is, you don’t know if you don’t have open communication about it.

The second thing to consider about this is that this type of open communication between child and parent is going to get harder and harder as your child grows up. This distancing is natural and necessary. The early, formative years of a child’s development are meant for you to groom them and train them on all the social signals that they should be acting on. When they are very young you are teaching them how to take care of themselves and how to be social with others. As they age, be it by you or outside influences, they have learned most of the social signals and are more and more set in their ways in how they will respond to them. They are going to start trying to assert their independence from you at that point and attempt to find their own way. This is generally a good thing and necessary to being an adult, but in this case, it can be dangerous as it limits your information and therefore limiting the influence you have to help them deal their problems. My advice, if you have a child who is very young, ensure that communication between each other stays an important role in your family. If they are older, middle school aged or above, it will be very hard to build that communication.

1) a) Communicate with Educators Next, you have to ensure you have communication with the educators. As a teacher and as the husband of a teacher, I can tell you that most parents don’t have a relationship with their children’s education and the faculty. From the teachers’ perspective, many parents aren’t that invested in their child’s future. Don’t act shocked. It’s true. Seeing one who is, is refreshing. It lets teachers feel like they have support and will work hard to give you support as well… if you communicate to them. Keeping an open dialogue with your child’s school, the place where 95% of his social interactions take place, is a valuable way of knowing what the problem is and how best to handle it. It also lets your teachers know that there may be a problem, as well. Remember that to you, your child is special. To your child’s teacher, all sixty of their children are special, even the bullies. They know things you don’t, but also, could never know everything you think is important about your child. Be fair in your judgement of them and they will be fair in how they deal with you.

2) Don’t say him/her.

Your child is a boy. Boys, i.e. less than fully matured men, don’t respect nor show respect towards political correctness amongst themselves. Social dynamics with youth, at least in the United States, is very polarized between genders, though perhaps less so than past generations. That said, younger children are still socially simplified enough that they will be judging themselves based on their ability to fulfill what few gender roles exists at their age. Just as importantly, others are going to be judging them on their ability to showcase that ideal, as well. At most points while still in school, that still means the top boy is athletic, handsome and authoritarian, the top girl is still pretty and social. Intelligence is a bonus, but not necessary. Welcome to the real world. Anyone who fails to fit well enough into these roles will still face ostracism as there are relatively few other roles which they can adapt to, especially before they reach high school.

Others may want to say that this is morally wrong and I am sure that on some level, it is. You may want to fight this mentality. Go ahead, but unless you want to volunteer your child for a crusade against every form of social injustice that exists, I wouldn’t advise it. If you do, you would be bringing down upon him a level of unrestrained social martyrdom he doubtfully would want. Simply enough, if you are concerned about bullying, you are going to need to help him adapt to the social roles available in his culture. You need to raise your son with that thinking in mind because this situation is very different depending on the gender. Boys pick on boys in very different ways than girls pick on girls. Solving this problem with an ambiguous solution set will only make it worse.

3) Address the Social Causes of Your Child’s Bullying

You mentioned that your boy is red haired and fair skinned and asked if this is relevant. It isn’t. Those are just the things that distinguish your child from the others. The hard thing that you need to hear is that the others, the bullies, aren’t targeting your child because they have a problem with these identifiers. They have labelled these identifiers as weak or inferior because of how they view your child. For whatever reason, they have pooled your child as weak or inferior and are attaching labels, such as creating pejorative names based on some physical attribute, to justify that.

To make my point, I’d like to cite a project done by another teacher by the name of Jane Elliott. It is actually a project meant to showcase and teach children about prejudice, but is also a fascinating study on child psychology. In the lesson, which goes on for a few days, she divides her class into two groups, Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes. One day she treats the Brown Eyes with great amounts of disdain because of their inferiorities and uses the evidence to showthe Blue Eyes how they are better. The effect it has on the third graders is remarkable. By the end of the day, both groups have shown that they fully embraced the roles, one Blue child saying he felt good, like he was the “king” of the Browns and the others adapting to the role of the lessers. One student (a Blue) even went on to berate others in the class, resulting in a violent alteration with one of the Browns. Most remarkable, test scores even predicted which group a student was in after the lesson started. Remember, this is due to labels they had been assigned only hours before. On the second day the roles were reversed and the results were fascinating.

While this documentary is on prejudice, I see also the extreme nature in which children will attach perceived failures of character or social standing to physical attributes. The fact that your boy has red hair doesn’t matter. Some bully who doesn’t like your son, or is just a jerk in general, looked around and saw the one thing (at the moment) that appeared to differentiate your child from all those the bully wasn’t targeting. In this case, it could be red hair. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this will be true in the future. He might wind up in a group where everyone has red hair, but he is the one with a green shirt. As Mrs. Elliott’s experiment shows, other kids will accept the perceived failures once the theory is presented by an authority figure, i.e. the big kids, the older kids, the popular kids, the scary kids. It is easy to prove that a person is a failure, based on any example you like, as Mrs. Elliott’s work has shown. Given enough time, an arbitrary characteristic will become a stereotype. Given enough time, your child will learn to hate his hair color because he thinks it makes him stupid.

Having said that, let’s assume that your child’s red hair doesn’t have much to do with the other children making fun of him for being red headed. What then is causing their behavior? As I said before, what I would suspect, knowing nothing other than what I understand about bullies, is that bullies target those who they view as weak. These are children who don’t readily fit into the cultural ideal model, those who don’t have strong social networks among peers, those who are awkward and don’t quite know how to handle a situation correctly. Another situation I have seen is when a child succeeds greatly in one avenue, like academics or in favor by teachers, a bully will attempt to knock them down a few pegs by targeting insecurities and attempting to isolate them socially. This is actually a reaction on account of the bully’s own insecurities and their attempts to mitigate the social inequity. I think, in all honesty, if your child is being bullied, one of these scenarios is playing out. For me, it was all of them.

When I was young, I was overweight, nerdy, very bright, and socially inept. I was desperate for friendship so I tolerated far more than I should have. I was target practice for the Art of Bullying. So believe me when I say that I don’t want you to feel as if I am blaming the victim in this situation. I know more about how it feels than anyone. I also know that justice in these situations is rare. The cold, hard, bitter and unfair fact is that to solve this situation, your child is the one who is going to have to adapt, because the bully will never do so for him. They can’t be made to. They can’t be reasoned with. Your child is going to have to change some of his behaviors to avoid their attention. The reason I say that the victim must try to adapt isn’t because they are failures. It is because you can control the way you react to situations; you can’t control the way that others act.

3) a) Find new hobbies
One of the hardest things about fitting in when you’re young is that you just don’t know what you are in to. If your child is giving you signals that he may be feeling ostracized, maybe you should try to expand his interests. Even better, try to feed the interests in other activities he has, but that he doesn’t have an outlet for. These need to be activities that will force him to socialize face-to-face with other people. (Online video games don’t fit this description. It doesn’t matter what he tells you; they don’t. Once again, personal experience. Those are black holes and antisocial behavior.)

Is he interested in Anime? Take him to an anime convention. Does he like music? Get him lessons. Is your kid a giant nerd? Introduce him to Dungeons and Dragons. I wish, so badly that my town had a group of people who played Dungeons and Dragons. I would have been so into that if it was available. Sadly, my town didn’t have a strong nerd community and we were all isolated from meeting one another. Had such a thing existed, I could have associated with people who were more like me. I could have been happier doing things I wanted to do, rather than things others wanted to do that I hated, anyway. Had I had that chance, I would have been happily invested in my activities. If that had happened, I probably would have grown much more in my social abilities, rather than always feeling like the social outcast.

3) b) Find new friends
This was another one of my problems. I wanted to be friends with the wrong people. My town was very small. There weren’t a lot of options. I was pretty much stuck with the people who I shared a crib with in diapers until we graduated. What I didn’t truly accept, was that I had the ability to find a different group of people whom I would have rather spent my time being with. The truth is, my so called friends, probably would have wanted me more if I did leave them.

Oliver Emberton explores this phenomenon marvelously in his answer to Why is “neediness” such a repulsive characteristic? He correctly states, as verified by other studies, that many of our own perceptions of self worth are based on how badly others seem to need us. When they see many people wanting to spend time with them, they feel they are of high social value. When someone sees that I want to spend time with them, but then they see no one wants to spend time with me, that is a sign that I have little social value. When they see that I will accept their negative treatment because I need them still, they see me as extremely needy, which is detestable. The more you try to make others be your friend, paradoxically, the more you become a pariah. Turning the tables, when I decide to leave my social group for greener pastures, it sends the signal that I have found something better and that my old friends are less desirable, maybe even, that I feel I am of higher value. This has the effect of making them want to be around me more. It doesn’t mean they will roll out the red carpet or wash my car, but it is something to think about.

In pointing your son towards new friends who your son actually enjoys spending time with, see 3) a), you give him options to choose and prune his groups of friends. When you’re lucky, this can have the effect of isolating out the bad elements and making all those who once looked down on him for neediness feel compelled to see him more, if for no other reason, than because he asserted to them that he has value and that they are expendable too.

4) Observe a Continuum of Force.

I served in the Marines and when we deployed to places like Iraq or Afghanistan we had was known as the “continuum of force.” This was part of our rules of engagement and basically translates that when a potential aggressor is taking an action, such as driving too fast toward your guard shack, you take an increased defensive posture, such as attempting more and more vigorously to communicate to them to slow down until you are sure they are a threat. As the vehicle drew closer, you became more aggressive in how you dealt with it. When I joined the Marines I realized that this mirrored the system I was raised with.

For you as the parent, you have to try to classify many different actions which your child might face, grouping them according to severity. In this example, a kid walking up and saying, “Hi Buttface.” shouldn’t be solved the same way that being threatened with a knife would. Each one of these groupings of offenses your child might face can have one simple solution, i.e. tell the teacher, but telling the teacher every time will bring its own very negative social consequences. I can’t tell you how to categorize all these problems, but it is something you have to think about and address them according to your own family’s values. For me growing up, the continuum was rather simple. 1) Ignore the offense/ignore the offender > 2) Tell the person to stop > 3) Tell an adult > 4) Take self defensive actions as necessary.

4) a) Time is a consideration in this. Sometimes, (often) your child will be picked on when there is no adult around. Bullies are smart. They will attempt to isolate victims. You need to teach them to have the judgement to know when a step must be skipped and support him when he makes a judgement call as well as supportively correct him when he could have made a better one.

4) b) You’ll note, if you were reading carefully, that I said that defensive action should be taken when necessary. For me, that sometimes meant violence. Most people would never advocate violence, ever, especially teachers. I, however, know that there are times when it is needed if one is capable of grasping the consequences.

I had one completely unrestrained bully. He ruthlessly picked on me for the better part of a year. He was a year older and had a good fifty pounds on me. I wasn’t actually afraid of this, though. I had martial arts experience and had won several state championships for it. Because of that, however, I was told that if I were to ever get into a fight, I better never throw the first punch. The rule was designed to ensure that I, with my advanced fighting skills, did not become a bully. Ironic isn’t it? I was functioning under rules and a moral structure that was working against me, causing nothing other than unintended consequences.

I was a very quiet child who didn’t need the rule to be passive in most things, but it existed anyway. It wasn’t until after a full year that my mother saw my ongoing depression and forced me to open up (remember point 1 -Opening a Dialogue) that she realised the dilemma I was in. She told me to beat the kid up. It was remarkable to be given that advice. She told me that day, that a man can make any decision he wants, so long as he is willing to pay the consequences. For me, that would probably mean getting suspended and being grounded. Oddly enough, this was exactly what was needed. I go into that story in great detail here: Jon Davis’ answer to What is it like being bullied in school? I advise it for anyone who has had problems dealing with bullies. Please read it before casting judgement on my belief that violence is sometimes necessary. I count that day as the first of three days that defined the man I would become.

One lesson the experience taught me was the truth behind the axiom that a bullies don’t like the taste of their own medicine. They selectively target and prey on the weak. They target the weak because it makes them feel strong. It is empowering to them to see the power they hold over others. When they see that their power is threatened by their source of it, they don’t usually keeping fighting it. They target individuals because they are weak, so once a person stands up, the bully can’t resolve this. More often than not, they will seek out a new target, one which doesn’t challenge their authority. That challenge weakens their own standing, and they know it, so they always gravitate towards the kid who will provide them the greatest satisfaction, i.e. the weakest threat.

As I said, most people would never advocate defending yourself in the way I did. Most people, even experts, have never known what truly being bullied feels like. This whole bullying problem is still something that is theoretical, clinical, something to study. More often than not, they would never tell you something they might feel liable for down the road. Advocating self defence, even pre-emptive self defense in my case, is one of those things good psychologists would never say. If you don’t want to keep that option available to your family, it’s understandable, but know that choice is limiting the power they have. Someone with the knowledge of when to use violence, the morality to know when it is right, and the self control to stop when they no longer need to fight, is not a violent person. They are a force for good.

5) You Can’t Solve this Problem for Him

As I have said before, bullying is an attack on someone for their perceived weaknesses. If a person wants to overcome being bullied, not only today’s bully, but those he will face throughout life, they have to learn to do so on their own. That means without you. Independence is the greatest show of strength and a person who is confident enough to tackle problems without their parents holding their hand is someone who others will view as capable.

You should view your role in this as a mentor. Generally, by the time “bullying” starts, children are not really children anymore. They have reached that six to eight year limbo between child and adulthood where they need to learn how to think for themselves. They are old enough to place their own band aids and they know that if they don’t study they will fail the test. Your job as the nurturer is waning and if it doesn’t transition with their progression into adulthood, you will fail them.

That’s why this answer was structured so that you are the one who is giving advice, showing new options, and opening new doors. You aren’t the one who must walk through those doors. You aren’t the one who must grow. You are the adult. You are the one who has had the experiences. You are the one who is teaching them how to handle situations which they haven’t yet faced. You can’t fight their bullies and you can’t yell at their teachers until they spend their whole career circling your child, protecting them from the bad things when you aren’t around. That definitely won’t help with the ostracism. The only solution, assuming you don’t actually think your child is in literal danger, is to prepare them for the situations they may face in the future. Then you get out of the way, hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and cheer them on either way.

Thanks for reading!

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Military Education Doesn’t Mean Uneducated

A question was recently asked of me, “Why is so much power and authority entrusted to those with comparatively low levels of education, such as the common ranks of police and military?” There is a failure in this question. It assumes that a lack of education, which is more clearly interpreted as inadequate schooling, is the same as a lack of intelligence or knowledge. It’s a subtle form of class prejudice, whereby all those who don’t have the means to a “proper education” aren’t capable of being trusted. Having made note of that failure, I must address a second. It assumes that those possessing great power in the military and police are uneducated, meaning that they are not properly schooled with a great deal of actual time in seats at prestigious houses of higher learning. There is an ironic arrogance in that statement, as anyone who would ask it must be profoundly ignorant of how the United States trains its members. I’ve spoken of this before, when a professor in college thought it would was appropriate to explain to a student what an oxymoron was with the adage, “Military Intelligence” to snickers  Being that it was a civilian professor in a room filled with civilian students, I made sure to correct her and the rest of class.

Pictured above is a graduation ceremony of one of the four military academies of the United States. Here officers are trained for four years in everything from leadership to aerodynamics, structural engineering, telecommunications, and law.  They are among the greatest and most exclusive academic organizations in the United States and they supply the United States military with many of the world’s most advanced warfighting masters at only the beginning of their careers. To be accepted to one you must have shown exemplary talent, superior intelligence, and monumental initiative far superior to your peers among the “general” civilian population of pre-college aged youth.

Of course, the academies aren’t the only sources of education. Pictured above are students of the United States Army War College. In case you didn’t notice, I said that these men are students. The college provides graduate level instruction to senior military officers and civilians to prepare them for senior leadership assignments and responsibilities within the Department of Defense and other high value positions. Army applicants must have already completed the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the required Professional Military Education for officers in the rank of major. The College is one of the three senior such institutions including the Naval War College and the Air War College. A major focus of the school is placed on research and progressing military theory. Students are also instructed in leadership, strategy, and joint-service/international operations. When the students, Colonels and Lt. Colonels in the US military among others, complete the courses, the college grants its graduates a master’s degree in Strategic Studies.

The last two examples, though, focused specifically on military officers. The elite leadership of the United States military. Beyond this, there is the enlisted side. Pictured above is a training taking place at one of the Marine Corps Recruit Depots where 18 year old young men are transformed into elite fighting riflemen. Education is not about the time one spends in a classroom. It isn’t even about the knowledge that one acquires. It is about the transformation a person endures. As a person who has both graduated Marine Corps boot camp and a person who graduated cum laude from a four year university, I can honestly say that the growth I experienced in three months of boot camp was far, far more valuable than the education I received in four years of college. Without going into specifics on boot camp (which I have) undervaluing the experience that military enlisted professionals is a grave mistake.

Besides that, every Marine, Soldier, Airmen, Sailor, whatever, spends months, if not years, in technical training schools taking part in world class technical instruction and certification. These schools cram more education into a few short months than others in civilian trade schools could hope for in years of paid tutelage. Here, students fresh out of high school become trade professionals in advanced fields such as linguistics, satellite communications, and aviation technician repair specialist. I’m proud to say that my first specialty was a computer guy in the Marines. Yes, we have those. That MOS now specializes in information warfare, and in the war of the future you might just find some 21 year old Corporal hacking distant foreign servers to bring down their anti-air capabilities prior to an attack. A similarly trained individual in the civilian education system is lucky to even get a job making sure that the email is being delivered.

I can’t speak for the police officers of this country. I’ve never served with them, but I know enough to respect their qualifications. I do know that they aren’t just some barbarian with a badge and a gun. My sister herself is going through college to get her degree in Criminal Justice with hopes of joining the force. Having said that, I know that they are also well educated, much more than this question would assume. Considering how much risk they take everyday, often surpassing even that of deployed Marines such as myself, I feel that dismissing them as uneducated is profoundly ungrateful and disrespectful, besides also being ignorant of the sacrifices they make just to be sworn police officers. This is especially true when those making these assumptions do so because they simply haven’t invested the time to rid themselves of their own ignorance.

I’ve spoken often of the prejudices against the military as being a class of individuals designated as being fit only for the lessers of society who couldn’t get into college. As a college graduate myself, I can honestly say that I felt that the demands and capabilities of our higher education system are severely lacking. They lack the fundamental quality that a system that is supposed to prepare you for your future should have, they don’t motivate you to learn, and they don’t offer the slightest guarantee that the education they provide will be relevant once you stop taking out student loans to pay them. There is a myth that I think young people aren’t aware they have, that by being at a college, one will simply absorb “smartness” from brilliant professors and expensive facilities. They, however, don’t want to learn. They want to be there, get their piece of paper and go on to have success handed to them. Perhaps they lack a significant training and cultural indoctrination period that molds them into good students (like boot camp.) Quite honestly, though, colleges don’t do much more than allow, if not promote, the idea by lowering standards to bolster attendance while increasing tuition on an exponential scale.

I remember the most disturbing thing I have ever heard in my life was the semester before graduation hearing the words from my student councilor that the economy wasn’t hiring new graduates because they lacked the skills needed in the business world. My jaw dropped and she shrugged. So much for a college education.

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10 Reasons You Should Hire a Military Veteran

be different - business team

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a series of posts with the intention of communicating many of the advantages that military employment will add to company culture for those employers who take the leap of faith and put an honest effort into veteran employment. I am going to speak as a Marine and a former hiring manager. I was once a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps with two Iraq tours and have worked in the retail, real estate, the tech industry start-up and education sectors. In that time, I’ve hired more than enough people to know that it’s one of the hardest decisions you have to regularly make. The choices of who you bring into an organization will either make or break you far quicker than anything you as the individual are capable of. I also know that almost all the decisions you make as a hiring manager happen as the sum result of the generalizations and stereotypes you have attached to the bullet points on their résumé. Don’t feel bad. It’s important to not follow that instinct that all individuals are fundamentally good and fundamentally the same. That’s how you get robbed and your employees drive your company into the ground.

The facts are, you rely on those generalizations to give you the best guess of who is going to add value to your company’s culture and who isn’t going to burn the place to the ground. That said, what happens when you see military experience show up in your inbox? What generalizations do you hold? Do you really not know what it is you’re looking at? Would you like to know more? The problem with many hiring managers is that they have no idea what it means when they see a veteran’s resume. What qualities should you expect? What flaws? What do they add? How are they different from someone else? I wrote this piece to help communicate what to expect. Hopefully after reading you will be able to make an informed decision. You’ll be able to know better if this applicant is not only a good worker for you, but also someone who can grow and drive your company in the future, someone who can grow with you, and maybe even someone who can help you take your operations to the next level.

Leadership is Ingrained in Vets

What many people don’t know is that the United States Marine has an average age of only 19. What? Yes, that Marine is incredibly young, but it still needs to be led. Who do you think is doing this? 19 year olds. By the time most people are twenty in the Marines (this goes for the other services, as well) they are already an NCO. This stands for Non-Commissioned-Officer. Don’t let the “Non” throw you off. What an NCO means is, “The guy in charge who will make my life Hell if I screw up,” or just as often, “the guy whose job it is to make sure I stay alive.” By the age of 20 some kids have already become technical experts in a professional field, are teachers to younger service-members and have led small teams in everything from shop operations to combat deployments.

By the time I was 22 I was a Sergeant in charge of a team of 13 other Marines. We were all occupying very technical jobs in the computer networking field and  responsible for overseeing the maintenance and distribution of over $3 million dollars of Marine Corps property. You probably might think that that was a stupid investment on someone so young, but we pulled it off, with no fanfare I might add, and we did things like that all the time. It wasn’t until I received a degree in Business Management at 25, that the civilian world could trust me again with doing the same thing. I suppose, on the outside, people can’t be trusted with that kind of responsibility. Every day, though, vets do. The fact is that I could not have done this alone. I had those thirteen Marines who did the work and it was my job to coordinate. I had a very solid framework for leadership that include such gems as the Five Paragraph Order, Six Troop Leading steps, and the Thirteen Leadership Traits. These have become pivotal to my personal growth as a manager, teacher, and how I lead others. The military philosophies on the science of leading aren’t something that leave you. The military trains Service Members to lead by example. Skills like motivation and delegation are actually given time to be trained and implemented in the most hostile environments imaginable.

The military doesn’t just educate their members on the practical ways to manage behavior, such as the discipline and communication methods. Leadership is truly studied on the academic and theoretical level. More so than in other organization, this theoretical and practical leadership are put in practice as a matter of survival.

You want another note on leadership? In the military, no one can be fired, not at the bottom tiers at least. That means that you have to get the job done with the idiots God gave you. You are out there for seven to fourteen months with no replacements and just the same team along with all their problems. You have to train them, discipline them, correct them, counsel them and shape them, because you have no other choices. You didn’t even get to hire them. They were just assigned to you, more or less, at random. That is another reason why vets have such strong leadership skills. Could you honestly say that you could run a company the way the Marines do, with their success record, if you couldn’t even pick who gets hired and can’t even get rid of the ones who suck? You probably couldn’t, but the military does. Choosing team members and leaders who have proven they are able to do this means that you are choosing team members who are adaptable and know how to lead others.

Vets Understand Responsibility

In most veterans you will see a strong vein of personal integrity. It isn’t that they are better people than anyone else, far to the point. Many are socially unacceptable misfits by most people’s terms. It is that integrity is driven to such a degree that it is presented as a matter of life or death. Ethics and standards of behavior are codified, their policed, and a part of life to the point that it is a standard which will follow an individual. In the civilian world, that doesn’t go away. It creates employees with a proven track record of trustworthiness that are often assets to the organizations they join after they leaving military service.

I don’t mean to imply that civilians have no integrity. To contrary, there are many who are the most reliable people I have ever met, but in my experience, it can be hit or miss. In one job I had, by the time I had worked there for no more than a month nearly the entire staff had called out sick at least once, people wouldn’t show up for work, complained incessantly, and generally, would do anything to avoid work. It wasn’t legitimate sickness. It was dishonesty and an inability to be relied upon. The worst part… corporate wouldn’t even let me fire them! I know that I said that the Marines and the military in general can’t be fired and that makes vets good leaders, but firing people is a tool and needs to be used when you have it. Let’s face it, because of lawyers and HR reps afraid of wrongful termination lawsuits, people can get away with murder without being let go far too often. This blows the minds of some vets.

In the military there are no sick days. I am not exaggerating. You absolutely must come to work and then must go to Sick Call before they will ever acknowledge that there might be something wrong with you. And if it is a PT day you will run three miles before you get to go.

When on deployment we also work every day. Every single day. There are no holidays, no weekends, no birthdays. It is the same thing every day. If you show up late, even by five minutes, or so, you will be running for miles or end up digging a massive fighting hole and 300 sandbags in an effort to make the base more secure. (It’s not really about making the base more secure.) So you learn how not to get punished. In the civilian world they don’t reward this behavior, but they also don’t punish the latter.

“Why should I reward them for doing their jobs?” some might say.
“Because you won’t punish them for not doing it.” I’d reply.

People like us show up early, stay late and if you ask them to do something they work hard to see that it is done. In the worst case scenario, they will be responsible enough to tell you when they need help.  There is a point I made in the last section that I would like to take the opportunity to repeat for emphasis.

By the time I was 22 I was a Sergeant in charge of a team of 13 other Marines. We were all occupying very technical jobs in the computer networking field and  responsible for overseeing the maintenance and distribution of over $3 million dollars of Marine Corps property.

Most organizations wouldn’t consider this type of thing a wise decision, but in the military it is common for very young people to be given a great deal of responsibility, relative to civilian counterparts. You wonder how. This might help. Image you give an 18-year-old a rifle and tell him that it is only thing that will protect his life for next seven months. Follow this up with a few months of proof and little else but living with the constant reminder of this fact and I promise you that rifle will not be lost, broken, damaged and will come back to you polished and good as new. I promise. Military people get responsibility because when they were very young, there were serious consequences to the decisions they made. Civilians don’t go through this kind of trial by fire and training and many of them don’t make good decisions because of it. The military has given young men and women real life and death responsibility and choices before a regular civilian would have graduated college.

Intuition is a skill. It can be learned. The military teaches it.

What many people think is that leaders are born. Not in the military. Simply put, many times in the military people are presented with situations where they must make life and death decisions in the blink of an eye. How do you do that given that there are no pie charts to help you make the decision, no data scientists to weigh all the variables and no spreadsheets, journals or time to decide? Intuition. How exactly do you trust that someone will make the right decision when you plan to throw them into that kind of situation? Faith in a system of training which focuses on immediate decision making in response to only the information available at the time, intuition. The Marines and the military train intuition into their culture. You might not even know what intuition really is. Well, here goes.

Intuition is the ability to take massive amounts of information and quickly come to a decision from all possible options quickly and correctly. It is the precise execution of understanding gained through experience and study. You don’t do it with charts and graphs, you do it by absorbing all the knowledge available to you ahead of time and making it so readily available that the employee can access it at any given moment they wish. This sounds a lot like memory, but there is more than just recalling information. This means using that mental database to its fullest capacity. They are also able to sort through it and glean the right information without all the excessive over analysis that comes with having an abundance of information and options, often labeled “analysis paralysis” that can accompany a lot corporate level thinkers. This is one of the hardest things in the world to do and most people think you are either born with the ability you aren’t. This is a false assumption given to many by a society that worships heroes who magically just know what to do. Intuition, in truth, is a trainable skill and the vets have it already.

What they don’t have? They may not have the specific job essential abilities and skills you need. Provide them the training and let it add to their knowledge base. After that, let them use what they know, namely the ability to think, a skill often missing from many fresh college grads. You just have to provide the training and watch them succeed in implementing it.

Military people will tell you when something is wrong, even when you don’t like it, often.

I remember, more than just about anything in the military, life is punctuated with a steady stream of inspections. Almost impossibly high standards are demanded in everything from uniforms to gear. Even after getting out, the habit of a strong sense of standards runs deep. Vets have the wont of maintaining a certain level of acceptability in operations, safety, and professionalism in others. This often is directed downwards, but they also develop built in mechanisms for directing problems that are discovered upwards as well. Many that I know, also have a real problem not accepting that same level excellence in others. If a failure is present, expect the vet to let you know.

You need to understand that the military are people who have an incredible amount of responsibility, not only for “company property”, but for lives. Many seem to think that you give them an order, they say, “Sir, yes, sir!” and run off to their doom like mindless drones. It actually doesn’t work that way, and I’m sorry if that is what you want from a veteran employee. Remember, they’ve spent years earning respect and a place of distinction as field experts so expecting them to just go to a point of utter subservience to you is both demeaning and ridiculous. It also throws away one of their most valuable assets, their independence and strength of character to be able to tell those they work with when something is wrong without damaging those relationships. This really does go back to the habit of self preservation, in that you don’t just do what that young and inexperienced officer says when your experience tells you, it’s going to get you killed. National security and all, but you are going to at least offer your opinion before leaping off the cliff like a flock of lemmings.

That, however, is what I see in a lot of corporate scenarios I have seen and been a part of… Lemmings. Yes Men. If you all you’re looking for is a government sponsored yesman, you should keep looking. Most veterans won’t accept a place where their input isn’t valued and they shouldn’t. They have valuable knowledge, training and skills. That said, they aren’t going to disrespect you just to let their opinion be known. A military person knows how to use tact, a word I am learning more and more, doesn’t seem to appear in lexicon of most industry professionals. They will try to communicates to you that you may not be making a good choice. That much needs to be expected, so fragile egos need not apply. They are also not so afraid of you as to speak their mind when they have a good idea or think that one of yours could use a second look. They already have self-confidence gained through life experience. This type of mentality is important, but is often squashed by egotistical bosses.

Vets can get the job done in an environment where they are trained to succeed in.

When you make the choice to hire a veteran, you can know that when you give them a task they will do it, provided they have the means and support to get the job done. If it is safe, sound, and smart, vets will go at the task without the “incentive programs”, “rewards”, “blue jeans days” and all the other forms of extrinsic motivation that get in the way of doing business with a bunch of self-centered egotists. Veterans know what it means to have something that needs to be done. Vets have gained a sense of urgency and have seen the world through a big picture type mentality. If you ask them to do something they aren’t going to complain because it is too tough, too hard or infringes on their break time. When you need someone who is willing to work the long hours, do the hard tasks and the seemingly impossible, remember that in the back of their heads is, “Well at least I’m not getting shot at.” They have a strong respect for procedures and accountability. Service members know how policies and procedures enable an organization to be successful and they easily understand their place within an organizational framework. Vets get the obligation that comes with being responsible for the actions of subordinates and they understand how to properly alleviate issues through the proper supervisory channels.

Considering that, you may wonder why veterans you have worked with in the past, didn’t shape up like what was expected. A good thing to consider is that most hiring managers hire veterans with the wrong idea in mind. Usually, they are hiring lower to mid-level managers of whatever it is they are doing because that is the experience level that most veterans have. The problem is that these individuals often lack much of the tacit knowledge others gain through working their way up through the civilian side of the latter. You might be surprised at some of the things you would think are obvious that a veteran just won’t think of at first. It’s important to remember that most of their knowledge comes from the military, not civilian side of any industry, which has its own culture, regulations, implications, and priorities. That said, they solve problems in a completely different manner. They will do things completely differently than you have seen in your career. Often, this will be good because of the diversity it brings. Without an understanding of what is good in a civilian industry model, however, their techniques may be harmful. This is why, in the beginning, you should watch your veteran employees more to gear them for the new industry and be patient with these new mid-level employees making mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise expect from more junior employees who have worked the civilian side for a while.

That said, the important element of this combination is you giving them the instructions. If you don’t provide the support they need to do the work, they will fail. If you don’t make wise decisions and then ask them to do stupid things, they will fail. If you don’t make it possible for them do their job right, they will fail. Given a good vet and good task, however, they will never fail you. That’s why it is so important for managers to know that many military people need a great deal of structure in the beginning to survive in many organizations. They need to be trained well and given a solid framework with which to perform. Many hiring managers make the mistake of believing they will simply be able to hire a veteran and then that veteran will be a magic wand which can “get things done” absent any real training or supervision from the manager. This may happen, but just as likely that veteran employee might go off and drive your company or division into some random direction because you didn’t adequately direct their energy with training or guidance. Their drive is a useful fuel for the engine of progress in any strong company, but could just as easily have them fixing thousands of problems that either aren’t problems or don’t need to be fixed right now. They might even cause new issues because the military teaches and encourages movement and drive. If you don’t show them where they need to focus and what they need to do, then you have created a thermite mixture; a high energy burn that causes a big flash but usually breaks more than it builds.

When given a proper framework and adequate training, your veteran employees can amaze you at how hard they can work and what they can get done. Once that framework is established, many veterans are extremely independent. The thing that so many people seem to think about vets is that they want to have the strict and regimented hierarchy. Think about it, there is a reason they left the military. Most, in my experience, are confident in their abilities and just want to be left alone or to get busy with their team without strong supervision. From that point have flexibility to work strongly in teams or work independently. Military training teaches service members to work as a team by instilling a sense of a responsibility to one’s colleagues. In addition, the size and scope of military operations necessitates that service members understand how groups of all sizes relate to each other and support the overarching objective. While military duties stress teamwork and group productivity, they also build individuals who are able to perform independently at a very high level. As I mentioned before, military vets can be extremely independent. There have been numerous reports that show that military vets are more likely to start their own businesses than other demographic groups. They have natural drives to solve complex problems. They think tactically and strategically about problems. If you have given them the training and a framework to work within your organization they will be able to achieve your goals in ways you hadn’t considered before. They are resourceful and know how to use what assets they are given rather than look outside for support. This is what makes them entrepreneurial by nature and can help grow your companies from the inside rather than just be another task follower.

The Government Pays Them to get Educated, so You Don’t Have to.

Military vets come equipped with knowledge that isn’t comparable to most others. The United States military boasts some of the most educated war fighters in the world, not to mention in the history of warfare. All US service members must have, at the time of their enlistment, a high school diploma or the general equivalency diploma. To be more clear, more than 99% of those enlisted have a high school education comparable to about 60% that you will find in the general population. Also compared to the population of the United States more service members have also attended some college compared to their typical 18 to 24-year-old counterparts. They have all also passed a standardized test on to test for skills in English proficiency, mathematics, science and government. This test also serves as a placement exam for military jobs. Curious about the rigorous qualifications required to be good enough to join the United States Military? United States Military Enlistment Standards. Good luck.

To top this, most MOS schools or Military Occupational Specialty schools boast world-class educational training. First, you have to be good enough to get into the school you want, which can have very high scores required to get in. No, we don’t have the greatest recreational facilities and the dorms suck. It isn’t the Ivy League, but the education level is beyond par. While stationed in 29 Palms California, a hole in the middle of the California desert, I received two years worth of the most rigorous training in Computer Science, Data Network Administration and Information Systems maintenance. I say two-year except that I only had six months to do it. The training is taken very seriously. In 29 Palms I was 19-year-old PFC working on workstations and equipment with a cost of over half a million dollars, a task, by the way, I would be doing in the real world very soon anyway.

In your typical civilians education, students are allowed to pass with virtually any grade so long as they beg enough. In the military, every test is a fail if scored under an 80%, and if you fail you can be booted from the program. This is because, in the civilian education world, a school which doesn’t pass enough student’s isn’t viewed as exclusive, it is viewed as too hard. Students then refuse to attend, dropping tuition payments and the courses must be reevaluated to encourage more revenue. In the military, standards aren’t questioned. The service member fails and gets to demoted to a job set he can handle.

Add to this, military veterans are virtually the only class of citizens which earns a full ride scholarship to most any higher education they wish. While this is overlooked today, with a society where fresh college graduates are severely overpopulated and under educated, in the future labor will be a much more scarce commodity. Add to this, you have a person who already comes equipped with all the other training they’ve already endured. Lastly, if you have in your employ a trusted veteran who has not yet used his GI Bill, you have an amazing asset. You, as the employer, can encourage that employee to get their education and work for you during that time. Given a few years, you will have a marvelous manager with years experience and ready to take the reigns you’ve prepared for them. The best part of this arrangement is that you don’t have to pay for this. Many companies offer this as an incentive to join and in the future it will become a more common benefit. You, however, get to save that carrot for a Master’s degree.

Useful Diversity

Many companies hire a large portion of their staff where diversity is the prime differentiator. The theory is that diversity gives a company a large base of ideas with which to draw from for problem solving. This is thought of, normally, as racial or ethnic diversity, but can be applied to different backgrounds and even sub-cultures as well. This form of diversity is important, especially when the discussion of civil rights is a matter at hand. That said, in and of itself, ethnicity should not be considered a quality companies should hire for if the goal is to hire for diversity. What types of diversity are necessary for company success and evolution are those which make an individual useful while being very different from everyone else in the organization. Race and ethnicity, all else equal, rarely does this.

There are not ethnicities that provide true, useful diversities any culture, but there are cultures that add unique and predictable experiences that can help companies prosper. These cultures have their quirks, eccentricities, values, specialties, and perspectives which can guide teams in new directions and solve unique problems. For that reason, the real question isn’t if you are finding a HR perfect, color coordinated team page, but if you have a team with real depth based on a broad range of experiences. The better question might be for hiring managers, “Which cultures out there might add value, because they just care a lot about getting things done?” The point of diversity is not just to get different people working together, but also to get many different experience sets working together.

Think of it this way. If you build your diversity around different countries of origin, but everyone in the company has an almost identical skillsets, which were gained through almost identical means, how have you actually diversified your experience base? Say you are fortunate enough to have the ability to hire a team of Harvard graduates. Harvard is arguably the best university in the world in most many important fields. It is extremely exclusive and extremely competitive. For that reason, one would assume that success would come from a group such as this. Likely, it will, but the question is, will be it the greatest success? Consider adding in a few people from Stanford. Now you have two cultures of success with with two very different education systems. Different solutions are going to come from these two groups, one all of Harvard and one of a mixed class. Now consider how very different would the solutions formed from a group mixed in with a few graduates of the United States Naval Academy, or even one of self made entrepreneurial millionaires? How vastly different would the solutions to various problems be if such an amalgamation were to exist? The truth of the matter is that sometimes the Harvard group will sometimes create the best solution. Still, many other times, they will miss many things were would have been extremely obvious to everyone else, in spite of their individual and collective brilliance. For that reason, most of the time the greatest solution will come from the highly diversified group. They still have access to all their personal thought processes and their successful cultural quirk, but also now have access to another, the solutions that only become visible when multiple viewpoints are combined. This is a strategic asset and which can’t be replicated easily which means that the culture you build will differentiate you from other firms like you.

Few people can add as much constructive diversity as a military veteran. Few cultures have been engineered quite like those that military veterans have had memberships within. There are even fewer cultures that focus entirely on mission achievement, cooperation, and personal development. The fact is there is no culture in the world that shapes people in the way the military does. It changes people into something that civilians don’t really understand. What is more important is that it gives them options, mentalities, philosophies and a framework that sees opportunities and solves problems that will pass up most civilians. Even more important is that the thoughts going through their minds are centered around finding the problem and fixing it in the fastest and most efficient ways possible.

So to achieve useful diversity, it isn’t to focus on just bringing in different people, but people who have had experience successful cultures, cultures that somehow add value and are different than the culture already present an organization. That isn’t to say that the military is the only good and achieving culture in the world. It is just another one. What you want, to be clear, is an environment where there is a constant collision of successful problem solving systems in which only unique and inventive ideas can be generated. I know that this last section is more a concept of general business theory and not so centric on the military’s contribution to hiring a veteran. Well, I did graduated Cum Laude from business school and now run my own publishing firm, so I hope you take the advice regardless.

Having said this, when you start to try to diversify you team for success, you’re going to need a team which is capable of working with diversity. It isn’t built in. I will ask you a series of questions that might make it more clear why I would suggest a few military members be incorporated into such a team. What type of people have experience with extremely diverse teams? What type of group regularly asks its members to uproot and join new units and new teams? What is a group made of people from many different ethnic groups, income brackets, religious backgrounds and still manages to achieve world class results? What type of group regularly takes part in international activities with different cultures in which the fate of the mission revolves around team work? What type of group gives its members a huge amount of international travel and experience living abroad? It’s obvious the point I am making here. The military systematically builds individuals with experience that, later on as an unintended benefit, are built to join new groups of highly diverse individuals. More than that, the military is a culture which focuses on achievement, so by adding their processes to your own, you incorporate individuals who are already highly achieved in the arts of teamwork.

Adaptability and Global Thinkers

I remember when I was a young Marine I thought my only job would be to work on computers. I signed on to be a 0656, Tactical Data Network Specialist, which meant I did the same job of an IT support or network administrator, only I did it in a godforsaken desert or jungle environment with absolutely zero internal or external logistical support and with the possibility that my entire relay could be blown up on any given day. Most people don’t even realize the Marines have a computer nerd job specialty, but we do. It’s actually quite sophisticated and since my day has evolved to become part of the US’ strategy for offensive and defensive cyber operations. By the time I was 19, I was able to do what most people spend years in technical school attempting to be qualified for. It wasn’t my only job, though. After my first Iraq tour, the unit had to immediately begin getting ready for the next one. That meant training and most importantly, marksmanship training. One of the slots for coaches fell on my shop and being that all the other computer nerds were horrible shots, I was the only natural choice. So I tacked on an additional occupational specialty. Eventually I would also have under my belt proficiency with a number of weapons systems, not to mention the ability also be communicating in Arabic. All this to say, for all the jokes one has heard about the oxymoron of “military intelligence”, the military, and not just myself, are forced to be adaptable to compensate for overwhelming shortcomings in the reality of resources.

Consider the veteran’s history of technological understanding and consider what it means about their ability to mold themselves to changing technological environments, such as your company may face. Today’s military uses the cutting edge technology to maintain our dominance over the enemy in the battlefield. From communications technology to the security of computer networks and hardware, Service Members must stay aware of emerging technologies in the public and private sector. This means that the individual service member is always training and adapting their methodology to stay ahead and insure the greatest level of technological superiority of any fighting force. Add in to this the fact that their main job may not be their only job. The Squadron’s First Sergeant may also be the Communications Chief. The training NCO may also be a heavy equipment operator. The A-gunner may also be the one trained in triage medicine. They aren’t just adaptable because it looks good on a resume; in the military it is a necessity.

Besides needing to adapt to changing technology, they also must adapt to changing teams. Diversity and strong interpersonal skills are another given. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a Service member is a pleasant person to be around, but they have interpersonal skills that allow them to work with new and constantly evolving teams. They have learned to work side by side with individuals regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, economic status, and geographic origins as well as those of different mental, physical and attitudinal capabilities. Consider also, that none of us have every had the privilege of choosing who we work for, who we work with, or even who gets assigned to us. Imagine how successful your teams would be if you couldn’t even control who you hired. Hired? It’s almost impossible to get someone fired from the military, so imagine now your company without these to abilities. Now consider what kind of leadership makes it possible. Many Service members may also have also been deployed or stationed in numerous foreign countries that give them a greater appreciation for the diverse nature of our globalized economy. Many of those, like myself, had to also deal directly those in the foreign nations we worked. You really can’t find that sort of malleability in many places.

The hands on experience with technology and experiences with extreme diversity combine to give military vets one additional advantage that comes with the collision of these two experiences: A Global Mindset. Few people are knowledgeable of more than one realm of what makes the world tick. Fewer still, have first hand experience with these divergent metrics. Those who do have a unique grasp of geopolitics to the point that they can much more accurately see where the roads lead in their given focus, or at least have developed an eye for it. They look forward much more than those who look at the now. They have practice seeing how technology and culture interact because they have lived it. They care about what is going on in the world because they have been part of writing the history books. I’m not saying that your average Marine could predict how a new innovation in heat exchangers might fundamentally alter the social fabric of South East Asia. What I am saying is that if your business needs someone who is capable of learning a great deal about changing technologies or working internationally, or someone who has spent time thinking about the future of these realms, a military veteran might be a good choice for you to start your search.

Esprit de Corps; a culture built for mission accomplishment.


There is a French term that most Americans have never heard of. It’s called Esprit de Corps. Literally translated, it means, “the spirit of the group”. What it means is that there is a feeling in the culture of any collection of individuals that is affected by each one and that each is responsible for maintaining. Everyone in the organization comes into it each knowing the high expectations, history, heroes, and legends of the group. Each wishes to uphold the group’s traditions and each wishes not damage the reputation or morale of such an organization. They are motivated by one another and try harder not to let other members of the group down. When a culture such as this exists it’s expected average level of performance is above the normal for others like it. The normal is inferior and, when everyone is on board, you have an outstanding organization. You have a place where others will sacrifice their own time and resources to raise others. Esprit de Corps is the force that drives culture.

The Marines have a saying. The Marine Corps is a perfect organization made up of imperfect people. That is the level of respect each individual Marine has for their organization and when you have that level of fanaticism, you start to see each of them drive each other that much harder. If you’re that hiring manager, probably work for an imperfect organization and you surely know some imperfect people that work their. Vets aren’t perfect, by any means. I’m not saying they are, but they have experienced powerful cultures. Culture is what drives a company, far more so than leaders. Leaders will fail. They will grow and leave. They will become sick. They will make mistakes. They will die. Culture will never stop working for you. That is, it will never stop working for you, or working against you. What you need to do is get people who have experienced a strong working culture, maybe even a few who can lead that culture and get it spread around. It’s only when a team, or even a whole company works to the point that the individuals work for reasons other than themselves, for more than themselves, that you see explosive growth. More than that, it’s how you ensure long-term organizational success, regardless of leadership, regardless of temporary slumps in the economy, regardless of any storms which the company endures.

In summary, vets are a special breed. They have all the mentalities that good companies want. Tenacity, intuition, reliability, capability, responsibility, leadership and are part of a culture built on getting the job done. They are smart and they are serious. Seriously, why are all of our vets having such a hard time finding jobs? Perhaps it’s you.

The truth is, and this is why I write so much about fellow vets, many of us are having a hard time. Many civilians don’t understand us. People who have served are an enigma for many. They exist in contrast to many American values; an individualist society which champions personal expression, civil liberties, and personal financial, career, and political achievement, but that is built upon the presence of a class of warriors who, themselves enjoy little privilege to express themselves, have forgone many liberties, and have delayed their opportunities for the forms of achievement which society celebrates. In its extreme, we are society which cherishes our freedoms, luxuries, and security, but require, from time-to-time, volunteers who willingly sacrifice themselves in the greatest way imaginable. It’s a contradiction that I don’t think many have truly explored.

What’s more, the sheer presence of a veteran is becoming a rarer and rarer thing. Consider many years ago when our parents would tell stories about their fathers who fought in WWII in the Pacific, or their grandfather who battled in Europe. Those were truly different times. According the United States Census Bureau, the number of U.S. armed forces personnel who served in World War II between Dec. 1, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946 was around 16 million people. For the period since 9/11, the number of US Service members is around 10 million with around 2.5 million actually having served either in Iraq or Afghanistan. These statistics sound comparable until you think about the fact that the War on Terror has gone on for more than twice, nearly three times as long as World War II for the Americans. The 1940 US census calculated a total population of 132,164,569 citizens. Today that number is estimated to be more than 312,000,000. That means that the odds of you running into, or even being a veteran in 1945 was around 12%. Nearly 1 in every 8 people was a veteran. Given also that at that time the entire population was also directed toward the war effort, it’s reasonable to say that there was no one without an understanding of the military and a passion for caring for the returning war fighter. Today, however, the story is different. Considering all living veterans today, of any period, you will find a veteran population of about 22 million, that’s roughly 7% of the total population of the United States and only 3% having served since 9/11. You also don’t see a culture that is wired around service towards ending the war effort. Few work for the defense industry or toward any activity that has a real involvement in the wars.  War bonds also aren’t a thing. No one ever planted victory gardens in hopes of bringing home the troops. No one is recycling bacon grease or rationing gasoline in hopes that it will help us fight the terrorists. Realistically, nothing has changed much for the average American that one could really say relates to military activities. In truth it’s an afterthought or a political stance. Many citizens have opinions, but few have ownership. The truth of the matter, people who have any active role, veterans in particular, are getting rarer and rarer. One the one hand, it’s a sign of a peaceful society with few actual problems. One the other hand, its the pattern of a culture that has lost touch with the warrior subculture which shoulders the burden of American security without experiencing many of the rewards of it. This is a pattern which will continue in the future. By 2050, expect that the entire US veteran community will be less than 3% of the total population. Imagine, if you will, what this will mean for veteran benefits in the ballot boxes of the future when they are an even smaller minority of the voting population than they are today.

Frankly, people don’t associate with veterans that often. It isn’t often an intentional discrimination. It’s just much rare to find one than you think, as I have shown. Their rarity today is something of a novelty, owing a degree of admiration, a great deal of curiosity, often suspicion and fear, a few times disdain, but otherwise ignored because they are so severely misunderstood. This misunderstanding, in my opinion, comes from that break where no one really knows veterans. When people don’t really have any first hand experience with a veteran they fall back on stereotypes. There are many stereotypes which define us. Many of these I focused on because they are positive and help further the image of the United States warrior who has left the service. The truth is, no one perfectly captures all positive qualities of military service, but for the most part, there are so many good qualities which have been imbued into the character of a veteran of the United States. Many, if not most of qualities we have in common, are fundamental assets to employers. The pledge to support veterans is so strong that, for more than a decade thousands of companies have joined in numerous campaigns to hire veterans.

Yet you still aren’t hiring us. I wrote this post, if not just to show those individuals with hiring capacity  some of the benefits that come attached to hiring veterans, but to address the fact that, in spite of so many companies’ very public advertising toward campaigns supporting returning troops, vets aren’t being hired.

Since the slump in 2009 and the massive unemployment that followed, veterans have led in unemployment for reasons I can only guess. I assume much of it is based on unfair biases I have faced since getting out myself. I’ve often heard things like, “You’re so articulate for veteran” or “I don’t know, I just sort of expected you be, like, crazy hard core or something.” Many people asked if I had been shot at, or even killed someone. I’ve also been asked in interviews if I had ever been in combat, which I don’t know someone at Chase’s local bank branch would need to know for a standard sales position, and some have even asked if I have ever had an actual job before. I’m not sure what an actual job constitutes for most people many of the people I interviewed for after college. I guess my experiences running a telecommunications service team of 11 technicians and responsible for more than $3 million dollars in gear and equipment for what amounted to a four hundred person company didn’t count as an actual job. In college I even had to correct a professor who threw out the old joke when asked what an oxymoron was. She replied, “Military Intelligence” to the laughter of a roomful of 19 year olds still living in their childhood homes. To say “corrected” is probably not the appropriate term, but everyone in the room knew better than to make such an unfair generalization again.

“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Perhaps people do view that, because one forgoes college as a means to seek higher education, they are uneducated, or lack higher order cognitive processes. Perhaps media portrayal in movies, video games, and TV has simply just watered us down to two conflicting views as either a brave knight running off to do justice and make sacrifice, or of the radical bloodthirsty and murderous barbarian, too stupid to know when they are being used, both of which are completely unfit for the corporate world. Perhaps, as USA today back April of last year, followed by Forbes, have reported, there is more going on.

Many, apparently as many as one in three, employers consider the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. Since it is illegal to ask about mental health status during an interview many just take the safe route and assume there is a problem. Considering that as low as  7% of post-9/11 veterans are estimated to be experiencing PTSD it’s a far cry from a necessary precaution. I’ve read that some of the reasons for this fear are that there is a fear of safety, owing to the fear that a veteran with PTSD might “go postal” and commit an office shooting or other acts of violence. I’m just going to be honest, this is as ignorant as not hiring a black guy because he was probably in a gang.

“There’s stigma attached to PTSD and traumatic brain injury and other hidden disabilities that people may assume soldiers have when they’re leaving the military,” says Nancy B. Adams, branch chief at the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. “They may always have that at the back of their mind.”

Others consider that in the military, everyone is conditioned to follow orders and lack the ability to think for themselves. I hope I’ve shown this to be a major fallacy as service people are regularly given complex problems with limited resources where their creative thinking and ability to solve unusual problems are showcased. Sadly, the effectiveness of a Marine Corps logistics chief saving her squadron more than three million dollars over the course of a fiscal year, rarely makes the local news real when much more sensationalized media is available.

Lastly, there is the fact that you probably have no idea what a tactical data network specialist is or the qualifications and capabilities of Platoon Sergeant. What is the difference between a Major and Chief Petty Officer? Are they the same? Does it matter? What’s a DD-214? It’s all foreign jargon and no one knows what any of this nonsense means. There are even classes that transitioning veterans must take to communicate their value to hiring managers who don’t know how to read the résumé. I don’t really blame civilians for this. It isn’t really anyone’s fault, but just owes to the fact that there are realistically so very few veterans out there, relative to the number of people who know anything about them. That said, the best way to solve this problem might not be for you to learn what all the military lingo is. Perhaps the best thing to do is ask someone on your staff with military experience to decode it and see what kind of diamond lies beneath the rough of a sheet of paper which will determine their fate. Don’t have any veterans on staff to help you out with this? Oh… You should probably think about this Veterans Day.

So the next time Veterans Day rolls around, I hope you don’t just give the ceremonial greeting, “Thank you for your service.” Do something for them that they can’t do for themselves. Give a résumé or application that runs over your desk a second look, or a third. There is nothing sadder in the world we live in today than seeing someone who gave up four years of their lives of their life for the reward of a handshake and a pat on the back by people who don’t honestly respect them enough to want to work with them.

Don’t worry about me. I’m proud to say that after many employment struggles trying to get noticed after college, I am happily employed doing something I love where I can feel my experience is valued and crucial to the work I am doing. In my spare time, I am fortunate enough to get also get to write and share my experiences and assistance for other veterans for free thanks to patronage from the crowdsourcing platform Patreon. It let’s followers and supporters donate to on a recurring basis so that I can continue helping get the good word out about veterans. If you did enjoy this post, please consider pledging your support through the link I’ve provided at the bottom of this post. If you don’t want to go that far, please like, share and comment to get the word out about ways you can help veterans on this Veterans Day.

The last section I was going to write about in this series was “Triumph over adversity.” I’m not going to write that section though. We all know that the military is made of winners. They haven’t lost a battle since Korea. Wars may be lost if the politics are incorrectly managed, but that failure isn’t owed to those who fought them. We all know that the military produces people who are capable of overcoming adversity, but once they get out, they are alone. Their adversity is now and the military doesn’t prepare them for a society that doesn’t understand them, nor value their abilities. They are without the collective network of support one receives in the military. Now they are in the realm where they are judged based, not on their actions, but on current politics and media perception. Frankly, they don’t need your thanks. They need your support. They need your connections. They need to be introduced into your networks. They need to be invited to the opportunities extended to others. They need you to give them a job.

This has been an independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

What are the Advantages of Hiring a US Military Veteran? – Part VII

The Government Pays Them to get Educated, so You Don’t Have to.

Military vets come equipped with knowledge that isn’t comparable to most others. The United States military boasts some of the most educated war fighters in the world, not to mention in the history of warfare. All US service members must have, at the time of their enlistment, a high school diploma or the general equivalency diploma. To be more clear, more than 99% of those enlisted have a high school education comparable to about 60% that you will find in the general population. Also compared to the population of the United States more service members have also attended some college compared to their typical 18 to 24-year-old counterparts. They have all also passed a standardized test to test for skills in English proficiency, mathematics, science and government. This test also serves as a placement exam for military jobs. Curious about the rigorous qualifications required to be good enough to join the United States Military? United States Military Enlistment Standards. Good luck.

To top this, most MOS schools or Military Occupational Specialty schools boast world-class educational training. First, you have to be good enough to get into the school you want, which can have very high scores required to get in. No, we don’t have the greatest recreational facilities and the dorms suck. It isn’t the Ivy League, but the education level is beyond par. While stationed in 29 Palms California, a hole in the middle of the California desert, I received two years worth of the most rigorous training in Computer Science, Data Network Administration and Information Systems Maintenance. I say two-year except that I only had six months to do it. The training is taken very seriously. In 29 Palms I was a 19-year-old PFC working on workstations and equipment with a cost of over half a million dollars, a task, by the way, I would be doing in the real world very soon anyway.

In your typical civilians education, students are allowed to pass with virtually any grade so long as they beg enough, or if someone paid their way through again, and again, and again, not to mention that half the process of getting a degree is figuring out how to get the most done while doing the least amount of word. That’s great in the business world, but the last thing people need in the learning environment. In the military, every test is a fail if scored under an 80%, and if you fail you can be booted from the program. This is because, in the civilian education world, a school which doesn’t pass enough student’s isn’t viewed as exclusive, it is viewed as too hard. Students then refuse to attend, dropping tuition payments and the courses must be reevaluated to encourage more revenue. In the military, standards aren’t questioned. The service member fails and gets to demoted to a job set he can handle.

Add to this, military veterans are virtually the only class of citizens which earns a full ride scholarship to most any higher education they wish. While this is overlooked today, with a society where fresh college graduates are severely overpopulated and under educated, in the future labor will be a much more scarce commodity. Add to this, you have a person who already comes equipped with all the other training they’ve already endured. Lastly, if you have in your employ a trusted veteran who has not yet used his GI Bill, you have an amazing asset. You, as the employer, can encourage that employee to get their education and work for you during that time. Given a few years, you will have a marvelous manager with years experience and ready to take the reigns you’ve prepared for them. The best part of this arrangement is that you don’t have to pay for this. Many companies offer this as an incentive to join and in the future it will become a more common benefit. You, however, get to save that carrot for a Master’s degree.


This has been an independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

Should I get a Job in College or take a College Loan?

I would definitely suggest getting a job. College is just not that hard, academically speaking. It is a long series of doldrums punctuated with periods of post-procrastination cram sessions. If you are reasonably intelligent, college is only going to push you so far. Activities you do outside of class during your college years are those that will shape you as a person. Even more so, the way you spend that time, regardless of what you are doing in college, will either set you up for a good next ten years or send you spirally back into your pajamas wrapped in a blanket burrito of sadness in your mama’s basement eating Cheetos with the smelly cat. The classes, honestly speaking, just point you in a direction of interest as well as give you a minimum foundation with which to build upon later in your private and professional studies. Truly speaking, it is everything else that happens during college, besides the classes, that matters.

That said, it makes no sense to take a loan when you are going to be spending most of college just hanging out in the dorms. On the best of nights, you might attend a fantastic party where you build relationships and memories and blah, blah, blah. On a normal night( like 95%), you will probably be playing Call of Duty, talking about how inspiring some pretentious and uninteresting indie recording artist is, or not studying. The safe bet is that you will be not studying. On the worst of nights, you’re back at the party making decisions you’ll regret and that will haunt the furthest corners of your consciousness forever and ever and ever. All that to say, yeah, it may have been fun for a little while, but you aren’t going to get anywhere from these activities, at least, not as far as if you had made better decisions.

The time you are wasting could be invaluable later on. Consider this. Towards the end of college, you’re going to be faced with a slew of counsellors telling you things that, all of a sudden, you translate to, “Hiring managers, right now, aren’t hiring because students today don’t have the skills they are looking for.” In that moment, you realize, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I am just about to graduate college and I can’t get a job because my college has failed at its only purpose.

I know, right? #sad, #FML, #Firstworldproblems,  #First_world_problems_that_are_actual_problems

Don’t feel bad, there are hundreds of thousands feeling the burn from this last decade. What you can do to mitigate this feeling of agony mixed with the onset of a slow and painful doom, is to acquire those skills which matter to hiring managers. What are they? It depends on what you want to do. Video games don’t teach them. A job, any job, will teach some. One thing that many people will tell you is that it is far easier to get hired once you already have a job. Neat huh?

What that means is that a hiring manager looks at you with the stereotype that you are a failure because you don’t already have a job. You basically have to disprove his theory that there must be something wrong with you. He has this belief, mostly because he landed his first job back in the 90’s when the economy was bursting at the seams and thinks that everyone who isn’t as lucky as he was isn’t worth his used air. His name is Old Economy Steve. Look him up when you feel like being angry at the system. It won’t do much, but it will make you feel a bit better.

Old Economy Steve sucks for you, but it doesn’t really change anything. The fact of the matter is that no one owes you a job and there are, realistically, thousands of people more qualified than you looking for work. So Old Economy Steve matters. He is still the guy (read: jackass) who hires people. For him you need to prove:

1) You have useful skills he won’t have to pay to train someone for.
2) You are employable.

The single best way to do that is to already have a college job. There is little else to add to that statement.

The second major point is how ridiculously expensive college is. I know people have seen the numbers, let’s say you go to a school that charges a “moderate” amount. Are we talking about Harvard or Stanford here? No. I said “moderate”. You’re moderate school may still run you $80,000 over the next four years. Don’t cry about it. You’re the one who wants to go college, and even though managers say you won’t have the skills they are looking for when you graduate, none will hire you without a degree. I know, you’re screwed. Get over it.

What happens next? Let’s say you take the loan. The moment you graduate, you are expected to repay that loan, or at least start. The way that loans work, you are going to be paying that back amortized over the course of 10 years. There are other models where you start paying a little immediately, but let’s stick with the simple model. Let’s assuming an interest rate of 5%, which is good compared to many lending services. Here’s the fun part, immediately after you start working you are now obligated to pay it back, at $845 a month (actually after you graduate… they will charge you either way, whether you get a job or not. No one loves you. No one cares about your problems.) That’s right, on top of home expenses, living expenses, car, life, ext, day one of your actual adult life you get a bill close to 1 Grand. You will also get it another 119 more times. That, by the way, is before any taxes or fees your lending institution straps on. By the time it is all over, 10 years from now, that $80,000 is now $102,000 that you have paid out. That’s a freaking house in some parts of the country.

The other route looks like this. You work a lot. Not all the time, but a lot more than some of your friends. You’re smart, you take the loan anyway. You want to save money, but you don’t want to risk not finishing college. So you take the loan and you still get a job, but you pocket all your extra coin. You stay disciplined because life at the other end of college rightfully terrifies you and you keep saving your money throughout all of college. You spend the next four years going from one job to another, to another. Each time you are gaining valuable skills and some valuable friends. Note I didn’t say loveable friends, I said valuable friends. Eventually, you will find a job you like. You might stick with that company for a while. You might get in good with your boss. At the end of your time, you are faced with a choice, you could either stay at your job, perhaps take a promotion, since they know you already and you are now “qualified” (nothing magic happened. You just got a stinking piece of paper.) Maybe you decide you want more. Either way, you have shown an ability to work and stay employable with a good work history. Your employment adventures have also presented you with a strong base of connections (remember those “valuable” contacts?) From there you might go back to some other company. You might have an in with a friend you’ve met to get an interview, or you might decide to take everything you’ve done and try for a job of your dreams while still keeping your other job, just in case. Whatever way you choose, you have still saved up a lot of change. You’re going to use that to pay off your loan in as much as you possibly can at the beginning, before it starts accruing interest. Maybe you still have some left, but it is way easier to pay down $20K, $40K, or even $60K than $80,000. You’ll have work so paying down that loan will be much easier than that other guy who looks like this.

I’ll be honest, twenty years down the road, you’re going to run the risk of a mid-life crisis where you complain to your wife in your beautiful home about how you never lived or did anything fun, wild, or stupid. That said, you need to choose what you want your mid-life crisis to look like. Do you want it to be that middle aged dude, balding with a Corvette to relive the youth he never had, or that middle aged dude, balding with his hand over shaking over the phone and the suicide prevention hotline reliving Chris Farley’s “Van Down By the River” sketch. You’re probably sad now. Welcome to adulthood. Here’s a video to help.

Thanks for reading!

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Thanks for Reading What Businesses Should Learn from the Military



The Marines have a saying, “The Marine Corps is a perfect organization made of imperfect people.” A lot of companies today want to be a perfect organization of perfect people. That just isn’t possible. It’s also not fair to expect that of your very human employees. No one is built for the hole you have that you need filled. You have to mold them. You have to teach them, grow them, and you have to train them. Furthermore, that hole is never the same hole. Every time you make a decision, your competitors make a decision, the market changes or the winds of fate blow in the the wrong direction, the shape of that hole changes. You have to have people capable of growing to fit that too. More importantly, you have to have a culture in your organization that encourages them to learn and grow into it. I don’t know a lot of companies that accept that people come into the organization flawed and focus on making them better rather than spending millions in recruitment.

Lastly, I want you to remember that my advice is meant to be implemented in a process. It takes time to build the “perfect” organization. Many fly by night wonders happen every day, but ten years out, you’ll wonder where they disappeared off to. The fact is, they still exist, in the memory of their employees who all now work somewhere else. If anything, remember that creating the perfect training strategy is something that can’t be done overnight. It is a major part of culture and will need time to implement. If it helps, it took the Marines 238 years to become the heroes of the universe that they are today, and I am kind of a history buff, so I am pretty sure most of that was spent basically resembling, for all intents and purposes, pirates. The best we have ever been is over the last century where we have mastered the arts of warfare, expanding upon those arts, and passing them on to new generations. As I said, it took us a while to get to that point, but two and a half centuries is a long time to wait. Hopefully you can get a good culture growing in much less time than it took us to be what we are today. Of course, for all I know, focusing this much on training may not be the best idea for your company. Maybe you guys already have everything you need, but it works for the Marines, and that’s saying something.


Semper Fi


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