Tuesday, April 7

Uncredited Appropriation: The Eighth Habit Of Highly Effective People

READER, let us suppose that you are the Superintendent of a large urban school district, the largest in your, let's say Midwestern, state, and one which has suffered for years from bad PR, inadequate funding, the lasting effects of de jure racism that lasted well beyond Brown, and forty years of being used as a political football, plus the usual litany of social problems; let us imagine it as a place where former Secretary of State, Four Star General, and Five Star Liar Colin Luther Powell came to town just to trounce your graduation rate, something he felt was so deserved he didn't bother wiping the figures off after he pulled them out of his ass. Let's call you Dr. X.

And let's say that some--critics, naysayers, bloggers--suspect you may be a little more concerned with your own reputation than is strictly necessary from the standpoint of effectiveness. Let's imagine, too, that one of these critics--pecksniff or dirty hippie, perhaps--has some sort of familial relationship to a teacher in your district, and that she (or he! this is hypothetical!) is a hard-copy sort, and prints out much of what is communicated to her professionally by email. And that one day on top of this stack is found a page headed:

Success Classics Top 50 Books

Here are 50 books recommended by Superintendent Dr. X to put readers on the path to success.

And your critic's attention is drawn by the brightly-colored bold font, plus he tends to curiosity, though not snoopishness, and the list is in plain sight, so he takes a seat--it's the dining room table, not his wife's office--and starts to read, and he doesn't get very far:

The Art of War/ SunTzu
The Art of Worldly Wisdom/ Baltasar Gracian
The Way to Wealth/ Benjamin Franklin
Ragged Dick/ Horatio Alger

[the Reader wishing an authentic experience may substitute for the forward slash the author's name being placed as far as possible on the opposite side of the page, far enough to require actual turning of the head and the attendant losing track of what line you were on, if not forgetting what the hell you were doing altogether.]

Okay, we've stopped; we imagine seeing Horatio Alger on a recommended reading list for any reason other than historical curiosity or mild, somewhat nostalgic leg-pull would stop a great many people. So while we're stopped let's mention a couple of things. One: in an academic setting, even a Failing Urban Public School, the basic form of a bibliography is fairly well established, and nowhere does it involve putting the title of the work on one side of the page and the author's name on the other. And two, if possible, could you find someone whose typing skills have been updated since the new century began? We will, later, go online for the full list, only to find the thing has been tabbed into an electronic version of Jumble™, the Scrambled Word Game™.

Okay, back to the list. I'm sorry, but the idea that someone in 2009 would recommend reading Horatio Alger for the inspiration doesn't just surprise me, it makes me a bit, well, suspicious. And let's note here that the idea of recommending a teacher or staffer read Ragged Dick somewhere where students might get a look at the title just beggars belief. Is there some subtle nuance of characterization and plot in Ragged Dick that recommends it over and above Phil the Fiddler or Paul the Peddler or Ben the Luggage Boy, Mark the Match Boy, Nelson the Newsboy, or Frank Fowler, the Cash Boy? And what th' fuck is a Cash Boy? Surely not what the modern reader imagines, however hard he tries not to? Then there's The Art of War, which signals we're right on the cutting edge of 80s pop psychology squish.

Look, maybe I have a character flaw, one not shared by Joe the Hotel Boy or Tattered Tom, the Street Arab. But I glance back down the list, and the Superintendent of this unnamed urban school district seems to be recommending to his staff that in addition to boning up on Ragged Dick, they consume a large, surprisingly neatly-round-numbered quantity of Self-Help treatises aimed at inspiring the mid-level insurance salesman to greater heights of actuarial accomplishment while, whenever possible, picking his pocket for seminar fees. Tony Robbins! Zig Ziglar! Jack Fucking Welch! W. Clement Stone! And I grow even more suspicious. This man has not read all these books he recommends. And the point of the exercise is rather lost on me, unless he was just subtly urging his typist to acquire computer literacy and she misunderstood and cc'd the entire workforce. I can understand an educator might read Lincoln on Leadership, but why not read The Living Lincoln and gain even broader insights into the man? Why The Art of War instead of The Analects? Why 50 books? Why not ten, or two, or one, fer chrissakes? Taken at face value it seems incredibly insular, and something other than discipline specific which, if you were familiar with Indianapo large urban school districts, probably wouldn't surprise you.

But we don't take things at face value, and quit getting ahead of me; ten seconds pasting four random titles into The Google (as it happens, I could have just typed "50 Success Classics") turned up the actual author of the list, one Tom Butler-Bowden, who peddles his commentaries on them, famously enough, it appears, that sticking your own name on top of the list seems rather foolhardy, and simply recommending Mr. Butler-Bowden, or Tom the Annotator, in the first place would have saved a lot of typing and nearly as much tabbing. Here, for the record, is the entire list in someone else's fractured format:

1. Horatio Alger Ragged Dick (1867)
2. Warren Bennis On Becoming A Leader (1989)
3. Frank Bettger How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success in Selling (1947)
4. Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson The One Minute Manager (1981)
5. Edward Bok The Americanization of Edward Bok (1921)
6. Claude M Bristol The Magic of Believing (1948)
7. Andrew Carnegie Autobiography (1920)
8. Chin-ning Chu Thick Face Black Heart (1992)
9. George S Clason The Richest Man in Babylon (1926)
10. Robert Collier Secrets of the Ages (1926)
11. Jim Collins Good To Great (2001)
12. Russel H Conwell Acres of Diamonds (1921)
13. Stephen R Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989)
14. Michael Dell Direct From Dell (1999)
15. Henry Ford My Life and Work (1922)
16. Benjamin Franklin The Way To Wealth (1758)
17. Timothy Gallwey The Inner Game of Tennis (1974)
18. Robin Gerber Leadership The Eleanor Roosevelt Way (2003)
19. John Paul Getty How To Be Rich (1961)
20. Les Giblin How to Have Power and Confidence In Dealing With People (1956)
21. Baltasar Gracian The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
22. Earl G Graves How To Succeed in Business Without Being White (1997)
23. Napoleon Hill Think and Grow Rich (1937)
24. Napoleon Hill & W Clement Stone Success With a Positive Mental Attitude (1960)
25. Tom Hopkins The Official Guide to Success (1982)
26. Muriel James & Dorothy Jongeward Born To Win (1971)
27. Spencer Johnson Who Moved My Cheese? (1998)
28. Robert Kiyosaki Rich Dad, Poor Dad (1997 )
29. David Landes The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1998)
30. Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz The Power of Full Engagement (2003)
31. Roger Lowenstein Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist (1995)
32. Nelson Mandela Long Walk To Freedom (1994 )
33. Orison Swett Marden Pushing To The Front (1894)
34. JW Marriott Jnr The Spirit To Serve (1997)
35. Margot Morrell & Stephanie Capparell Shackleton's Way (2001)
36. Donald T Phillips Lincoln On Leadership (1992)
37. Catherine Ponder The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity (1962)
38. Cheryl Richardson Take Time For Your Life (1998)
39. Anthony Robbins Unlimited Power (1986)
40. David Schwartz The Magic of Thinking Big (1959 )
41. Florence Scovell Shinn Secret Door to Success (1940)
42. Thomas J Stanley The Millionaire Mind (2000)
43. Brian Tracy Maximum Achievement (1993)
44. Sun Tzu The Art of War (4 th century BCE)
45. Sam Walton Made in America (1992)
46. Wallace Wattles The Science of Getting Rich (1910)
47. Jack Welch Jack: Straight From the Gut (2001)
48. John Whitmore Coaching For Performance (1992)
49. Richard Wiseman The Luck Factor (2003)
50. Zig Ziglar See You At The Top (1975)

[N.B. Dr. X's list of recommendations had them in a different order. Not to mention widely spaced.]

Okay, so we freely acknowledge a difference of opinion here. Some people think The Business Model is applicable to everything in Life, including education and other expenditures for the public good, whereas I think those people are full of shit. I'm sure there's actually much of value to be found in that list; I myself would pay top dollar to hear what Jack Welch had to say just before the hangman sprung the trapdoor. The problem is that in quantities it would take Hercules to clear out it seems less than worthless, unless you're looking for a way to get hollow people to pay you for other people's advice, and they pay by the piece. As we say in the Art biz, Money is how people with no talent keep score.

And I don't think I'm naive, or particularly cosseted for a Midwesterner, but the older I get the more childlike my wonder at how people will fucking lie to your face just, apparently, for the sense of achievement.


bill said...

The Poor Wife has tenure, one assumes.

Doghouse Riley said...

Much better--she's a lazy featherbedding union member!

And she had nothing whatsoever to do with this.

Grace Nearing said...

Excluding The Art of War, the only thing that list offers is a lethal dose of Babbittry.

Marcus Aurelius said...

Slave, fetch me a barfbag!

Narya said...

Charlie Babbitt? Probably not . . .

The one that amused me the most is the Edward Bok one, which I would actually like to find. He edited the Ladies Home Journal for many years, and his editorial stamp was substantial. He was also, if said stamp is any clue, suffering from an overdose of assholamine (according to a commenter at Twisty's, that's what you get when the enzyme malevolase works on privilegic acid).

Scott C. said...

Well, to be fair, in addition to the Babbitry it adds Alger's thinly veiled pleas to revive Athenian-style pederasty -- one more arrow, as it were, in the Harvard Business grad's quiver.

coriolis said...

1 - How the hell do you get thru grad school without learning Uncredited Appropriation is grounds for expulsion?
2 - How does "a large urban school district, the largest in your, let's say Midwestern, state" enforce its code of student conduct concerning said Uncredited Appropriation when the Superintendent, Dr. X, is such an asshat?

Molly said...

Plagiarize! It's why the good lord made your eyes!

arghous said...

Why not ten, or two, or one, fer chrissakes?

Because you'll get what might well have happened at the Denver Public Library in 2001 when Rick Ashton's first big move as city librarian was to encourage all employees to read Who Moved My Cheese?, had it not been ignored in derision?

Anonymous said...

What? A member of a teachers' union? One of those people who...improve student outcomes?


Brendan said...

Among the pleasures of being mostly offline lately was opening my feed reader to see six (6) new Riley posts. I inhaled them all, one right after the other, and the only bad part is I am now sure that the rest of the Internet will seem too stupid to bear.

Anonymous said...

Frank Fowler, the Cash Boy sounds suspiciously like Roberto, the Rent Boy, also noted for his widely-spaced stance.

Ragged Dick, indeed!


Sator Arepo said...

Um, where are the books? How many self-helpish loads of drivel does one have to replace to get some Plato in there? Or at least a Field Survival Manual, or something useful.

Euclid? Shakespeare? No? Rats. I'd rather read Burroughs than "7 Habits". Well, that's not fair; I'd rather eat lead paint, too.

bokonin said...

Nelson Mandela seems horribly out-of-place on this list. We should probably put the other living authors in jail for a couple decades just to make everything even.

And note to Anonymous: I've read "Ragged Dick". It quite sincerely struck me as a barely-disguised pedophile's fantasy (though in romance-novel form, not gay-porn form). I think it would strike a lot of people that way, were they to read the book before repeating "Horatio Alger tale" as a cliche for success.