What Are We Willing To Risk?

02.26.10 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[4]

At some point in our lives...our careers, our education, our relationships...we ask ourselves if something is "worth the risk".  I know in my life there have been times when I have said "no" to that question and regretted it.  Fortunately, there have been more times when I've said "yes" and the benefits were more rewarding than I could have imagined.

Phil Cooke, a filmmaker and cultural media commentator I admire greatly, has a piece on his website that discusses this.  It's something to think about.

"Remove Risk, and You Remove Great Performance"

 February 23, 2010

"Tenure" usually refers to job security, particularly in the academic world. Essentially, it's about a senior professor's contractual right to keep from being fired without just cause. Supposedly, tenure helps keep senior professors at a university, so the school isn't always searching for new teachers, but more important, it's a guarantee that a teacher won't be fired for speaking out or teaching controversial ideas. Essentially, the core values of tenure are academic freedom. It's supposed to give teachers an incentive to stretch their thinking. However, we've discovered that without an element of risk, people do exactly the opposite. Instead of pushing the boundaries, many would say that tenured teachers seem more likely to coast or slack off. That seems particularly true when tenure is applied to high schools where the oversight is incredibly lax. California grants tenure after just two years in the classroom. New York waits for a total of three years. That means that after only 2 or 3 years, a teacher essentially has their job for life.

This makes is nearly impossible to get rid of bad teachers. LA Weekly reported that in the past decades, LA Unified spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven teachers for poor classroom performance. The sad result was that just two were fired, two others were paid large settlements and one was reinstated. 32 other teachers were paid $50,000 each in secret just to leave without a fight. One administrator told me there are nearly 100 separate steps to complete for the district to fire a single teacher, and it often drags on for years. Sometimes the teacher sits at home for years with full pay waiting for the outcome. With policies like that, is there any wonder California is bankrupt and the schools are shameful?

Human nature being what it is, we tend to rest on our laurels. When the risk is removed, our drive is often removed as well. When it comes to tenure, what started out as well meaning, has gone horribly wrong - to the point that I believe the entire tenure system needs to be yanked.

I love teaching and have many friends who are great professors. Benefits are a wonderful thing, but whatever the job, when you remove all the risk, you also remove the edge that it takes to succeed. Just ask the Winter Olympic athletes. If a Gold Medal was a sure thing, they wouldn't have spent so many years fighting the odds to become the great athletes we see today.

Cooke makes several good points.  The question is, what have you and I risked today?  Learn more at www.philcooke.com.




Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 03.02.10 Jim R. commented

I know Cooke is speaking about teachers and tenure but the point he makes is an excellent one. It is risk that produces results; without risk there is literally no reward. Thanks for posting this.

on 03.05.10 Jenna commented

I think you're right. If we don't risk anything how can we expect to gain anything? Risk isn't about taking stupid chances, it's about reaching out in faith, believing God has something more for us out there. If we don't do that we're living lives that are pretty sad.

on 03.08.10 AJ commented

When we take risks we prove God. people see His power through us when we trust Him and move forward with His leading. I don't mean that people who don't take risks don't trust God but unless we do, how strong is our faith?

on 03.11.10 Becky commented

I quit my job of thirteen years to go back to school full time. The school didn't work out, so I found an online school that better fits my needs. I wish I had known about this school before I quit my job. I could have continued working and studied when I wasn't working. Hopefully this will work out and I will have a full time job in six months.