Storytelling to change the world: Skip the PowerPoint?

From the Harvard Business Review

Writer and communication coach Carmine Gallo, writing on “What the Best Presenters Do Differently” for the Harvard Business Review (link here), reminds us of the importance of storytelling in trying to reach an audience:

Our minds are wired for story. We think in narrative and enjoy consuming content in story form.

Understanding the difference between presenting and storytelling is critical to a leader’s ability to engage an audience and move them to action. Unfortunately, presentation software often gets in the way. Slides should be designed to complement a story, not to replace the storyteller.

Gallo offers five core pieces of advice, and I’d recommend the full article for anyone who wants to dive into the detail. For this post, however, I want to emphasize Gallo’s first point: “Presenters open PowerPoint. Storytellers craft a narrative.” He adds:

If you want to engage your audience, you have to tell a story. But for most people who prepare presentations, storytelling is not top of mind.

Most “presenters” do what sounds logical: They begin by opening the slideware. But most presentation programs aren’t storytelling tools. They’re digital delivery mechanisms. PowerPoint’s default template asks for a title and text.

A bulleted list is not a story. A story is a connected series of events told through words and/or pictures. A story has a theme, attention-grabbing moments, heroes and villains, and a satisfying conclusion. Nicely designed slides cannot compensate for a poorly structured story.

OK, I’m biased. I’m a frequent public speaker, and I tend to get very positive feedback on talks before groups, both in-person and online. I think this has something to do with my not using PowerPoint.

Even when I’m not telling a story per se, I’m trying to educate and persuade an audience, typically about workplace bullying, dignity at work, or workers and workplaces generally. If an audience doesn’t know me, then I also have to establish my credibility and personal appeal, in addition to offering my content. Which brings me to…

…Aristotle’s On Rhetoric

In his work On Rhetoric, Aristotle — one of the greatest of the Ancient Greek philosophers — outlined three major properties of speech for purposes of persuasion:

  • Logos, or the core logic of the speaker’s argument;
  • Ethos, or the speaker’s essential credibility; and,
  • Pathos, or the speaker’s emotional appeal.

Of these three properties, logos can be translated into PowerPoint content, but ethos and pathos come from the speaker. The latter are harder to convey when the lights are dimmed and folks are gazing at slides flashing by on a screen. After all, one’s credibility and personal appeal come from developing a rapport with an audience.

In a typical 10-20 minute presentation, that means making a personal connection quickly. It’s still vitally important even if you have the stage for, say, 30-60 minutes.

Looking at those classic Greek philosophers, would Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, or Homer have used PowerPoint had such wiz-bang technology been available back in their day? Maybe, but if so, they would’ve done so sparingly, I think. In Homer’s case, I think he would’ve stuck to the tried-and-true oral tradition.

I understand the usefulness of PowerPoint and similar platforms for presenting content. They can be very useful for certain types of teaching, as well. But if a speaker wants to persuade rather than merely inform, then I believe the Aristotelian properties of logos, ethos, and pathos counsel in favor of pulling up the screen and looking at one’s audience in the eye.

***

Related posts

  • Stories can drive change, but workplace bullying stories often defy quick summaries (2016) (link here)
  • Storytelling for social change (2015) (link here)

WBI’s Workplace Bullying Podcast: Learn from authorities in the field

Dear readers, if you’d like to learn more about workplace bullying from leading researchers and subject-matter experts, then check out Dr. Gary Namie’s Workplace Bullying Podcast (link here). Here’s how Gary describes the series:

This podcast showcases the reality of workplace bullying and abusive conduct and related phenomena from the dark side of the world of work and society.

Dr. Gary Namie, Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute sits down with people of various disciplines, striving together to develop and share with you a greater understanding and insight around this topic.

The guests so far include:

  • Dr. Ståle Einarsen, Director of the Bergen Bullying Research Group and Professor at the University of Bergen in Norway, perhaps the world’s leading researcher on workplace bullying;
  • Dr. Maureen Duffy, preeminent expert on mobbing behaviors, who kindly recruited me to join her as a co-editor on a two volume book set, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2018);
  • Allan Halse, a relentless workplace anti-bullying advocate in New Zealand, founder of CultureSafeNZ;
  • Kathy Fodness and Alice Percy of MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees), a labor union spearheading anti-bullying efforts in Minnesota, including the adoption of a policy protecting state workers;
  • Attorney Ellen Pinkos Cobb, a leading researcher and author on workplace anti-bullying laws and author of a new book Managing Psychosocial Hazards and Work-Related Stress in Today’s Work Environment: International Insights for U.S. Organizations (2022);
  • “Luke,” a longtime TV news executive who explains abuse and toxicity in the world of corporate media;
  • G. Richard Shell, legal and business ethics professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and author of The Conscience Code: Lead with your Values. Advance Your Career (2021);
  • Carol Fehner, perhaps the original union anti-bullying activist and an expert on applying for Social Security Disability insurance;
  • Tim Jon Semmerling, PhD, JD, talks about litigating death penalty cases and explains attorney-on-attorney bullying;
  • Retired union leaders and anti-bullying advocates Greg Sorozan and Jeff Recht explain their pioneering work to engage the labor movement in addressing workplace bullying;
  • Carrie Clark, a long-time, leading anti-bullying advocate, shares how she experienced this abuse as a targeted public schoolteacher.

Folks, I have the pleasure of knowing many of these good people, and I’m delighted to recommend that you spend some time with them. Check out this important series to learn more about workplace bullying and how we can effectively respond to it.

In addition, I’ll be joining Gary for a couple of episodes during the coming months, including a special one in which I will play the role of the interviewer. Stay tuned!

On expanding our view of global leadership to embrace human dignity

The term “global leadership” is strongly associated with economic, political, and social dominance in a neoliberal context. Degree programs using global leadership or similar monikers tend to be offered through graduate schools of business, and they usually emphasize market command in terms of ideas, information, and products. The latter point also applies to business conferences and workshops invoking the term.

However, at last December’s Annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, hosted by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HDHS), I suggested that we should reframe global leadership through lenses of servant leadership and global stewardship. I expounded upon this topic and related it to themes of compassionate justice and therapeutic jurisprudence during my short remarks (under 10 minutes), which you may access here.

Definitions

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, it may help to define terms, and I’ll simply draw from Wikipedia:

Servant leadership is a…

…leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organization. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.

Stewardship is an…

…ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, cultural resources etc.

With these general definitions as guideposts, I would like us to conceptualize and practice global leadership in a way that emphasizes our roles as stewards of, and servants to, the health of this planet and its inhabitants. 

Google hits

Last fall, in preparation for the HDHS workshop, I did a quick Google search to see how many “hits” certain relevant terms would yield. Here is what I found:

  • Search “global leadership” = ~1,060,000,000 hits
  • Search “global stewardship” = ~93,000,000 hits
  • Search “servant leadership” = ~57,000,000 hits

Clearly, among these terms, “global leadership” holds sway. Hence my belief that we should invoke it to advance dignitarian values, while elevating global stewardship and servant leadership in association with the core term.

Legal systems

As I further noted in my HDHS presentation, we have to apply these concepts of servant leadership and stewardship to those served by our legal systems, on a global level. After all:

  • Many are ill-served by it right now.
  • Our laws & public policies and their applications are not necessarily just.
  • The experiences of litigation and dispute resolution can be traumatizing in and of themselves.
  • Access to quality legal assistance is far from universal.

One of the answers to this is the field of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), which examines whether our laws, legal systems, and legal institutions support or undermine individual and societal well-being and psychologically healthy outcomes in legal proceedings. I have discussed TJ often on this blog. In 2017, I helped to create the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, and last year I published a thorough assessment of the field, “Therapeutic Jurisprudence: Foundations, Expansion, and Assessment,” in the University of Miami Law Review. You may freely access it here.

On disability bullying

We have long known that children who have disabilities are more likely to experience bullying behaviors than their peers who are perceived as being non-disabled. The National Bullying Prevention Center (link here), for example, shares that in 10 U.S. studies examining “the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.”

Indeed, search the term “disability bullying” and you’ll find the top hits centering almost exclusively around bullying of kids with disabilities. I’m glad that we have established that connection. At the very least, it validates the experiences of those being targeted and helps us to focus on preventive and responsive measures.

What about bullying of adults with disabilities?

We see less attention given to bullying of adults who have disabilities. That’s among the reasons why I welcomed a recent column by disability expert Andrew Pulrang, “The Many Flavors Of Disability Bullying” (Forbes.com, link here):

There are few things as simply and straightforwardly awful as bullying disabled people. But there is so much more to do about ableist bullying than just condemning it.

Ableist bullying is surprisingly difficult to recognize and understand, because it’s more than one thing, and has has many facets and flavors.

Pulrang goes on to identify predominant forms of bullying behaviors directed at adults with disabilities:

  • “Simple, superficial mockery,” such as making fun of appearances, physical movements, and mental health conditions;
  • “Dismissing complaints” over problems that persons with disabilities might face;
  • “Portraying disabled people as privileged and entitled” as they struggle to deal with impairments and seek accommodations;
  • Making jokes about someone’s disability in their presence, as if to test their sense of humor; and,
  • Gaslighting disabled individuals into questioning their perceptions of reality.

He concludes:

To fight disability bullying, people of all backgrounds and roles need to not only refrain from these bullying behaviors, but also engage with and refute the kinds of thinking and assumptions that prompt them.

The legal angle

At times, those subjected to these forms of mistreatment may have legal recourse via civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. In workplace and public accommodations settings, the Americans with Disabilities Act figures most prominently. Here is where questions of reasonable accommodation come into play.

Furthermore, if someone is being subjected to workplace harassment because of their disability, they may have a hostile work environment claim under the ADA. However, such legal claims are hard to win. Occasional jokes or putdowns about a disability, for example, may not be sufficient to state a harassment claim under the ADA.

Ultimately…

A combination of more enlightened human behaviors and stronger legal enforcement will diminish bullying behaviors directed at people with disabilities. Obviously we have work to do on this front. If you doubt this, then consider that less than six years ago, the U.S. elected a President who cruelly mocked a reporter’s disability while on the campaign trail.

In the past, this one act would’ve been sufficient to self-torpedo any political campaign. I can only surmise that in 2016, some people voted for him in spite of this incident, while others were more inclined to vote for him because of it. Both possibilities teach us sad but important lessons about unfinished business in terms of advancing human dignity.

Want to teach at UCLA? You can! (For free, that is…)

At first, I thought it had to be a spoof, or perhaps the latest example of misinformation intentionally unleashed on social media. But it’s real. I’m talking about a job listing from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) for a part-time teaching position in its Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I’ve added emphasis in this quoted portion of the listing:

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.

Responsibilities will include: teaching according to the instructional needs of the department. Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry, or equivalent discipline and have significant experience and strong record in teaching chemistry or biochemistry at the college level.

The University of California, Los Angeles and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are interested in candidates who are committed to the highest standards of scholarship and professional activities, and to the development of a campus climate that supports equality and diversity. . . .

That’s right, the lucky applicant chosen for this position will be “on a without salary basis.” Or, if that’s not clear enough, “Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”

To see the full ad, go to the Inside Higher Ed listing or directly to the UCLA listing.

Beyond unpaid internships

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I have done a considerable amount of scholarship and legal advocacy work challenging the exploitative practice of unpaid internships. (Go here for a summary.) I’ve also taken a jabs at a related practice, that of “non-stipendiary fellowships” being offered by artistic and creative organizations.

In 2016, I participated in a symposium on equality in employment, sponsored by the University of Idaho Law Review. I spoke about unpaid internships and contributed an essay titled “‘Mass Exploitation in Plain Sight’: Unpaid Internships and the Culture of Uncompensated Work,” which may be freely accessed here. In the piece, I criticized an emerging set of practices that “undermines the basic exchange of compensation and decent treatment in return for work rendered.”

In addition, across the U.S., colleges and universities are reducing the number of paid full-time teaching positions and replacing them with part-time, low-paid appointments that come with little — if any — job security. UCLA has taken this exploitation to a new level, by offering a part-time teaching position and making it abundantly clear that no pay will be available in return for the professor’s hard work.

Perhaps UCLA considers this a form of pro bono, public service. Now, I’m fine with volunteer service and try to do my share of it. But this teaching announcement is materially different than a solicitation for volunteers. Among the applicants will be newly-minted Ph.D.s trying to gain credentials to attract full-time academic employment. Some may be barely making ends meet. And yet UCLA claims to value “a campus climate that supports equality and diversity”?

I hope that UCLA reconsiders this job announcement and replaces it with one that ensures compensation. Surely a university with an international reputation can scrounge together sufficient funds to pay its faculty, yes?

***

Story update, Sunday March 19: Since the original story broke in the Twitterverse, two explanatory threads are developing. The first is that UCLA has taken down the ad and added an apology plus explanation suggesting a more legitimate purpose for it:

One academic posted that the position is to help a Ukrainian scholar who would be paid through a non-profit agency.

The second thread is coming from the UCLA adjunct faculty union and its supporters, saying that UCLA has used unpaid positions before — using the same ad language — and has been called out for it. The union calls it a union-busting job listing and suggests that even if there’s a defensible intention, the listing itself misclassifies a position that should be paid (and thus, presumably, violates the collective bargaining agreement):

Best scenario is that if this is part of a legitimate (and laudable) attempt to help a scholar fleeing the war, then UCLA’s use of ad language that has triggered legitimate objections before and its vague explanation for the ad didn’t help matters. It also would’ve been appropriate to consult with the union on this, which apparently wasn’t the case.

 

Story update, Tuesday, March 22: After facing an outcry via social media, UCLA issued a statement clarifying that all adjunct faculty will be compensated. Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed (link here):

It turns out the University of California, Los Angeles, will actually pay all its adjuncts who teach.

The university on Monday afternoon issued a clarification of a job advertisement seeking an adjunct, without pay. And the university apologized.

“A recent job posting by UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry contained errors and we are sorry. We always offer compensation for formal classroom teaching. We will do better in the future and have taken down the posting, which we will make sure is correctly written and reposted. Our positions are open to all applicants,” read a statement by Bill Kisliuk, director of media relations at UCLA.

Anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill advances within Massachusetts Legislature

I’m pleased to report that here in Massachusetts, the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) has been reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development of the state legislature. Having passed this important hurdle, the bill is now before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. The HWB continues to be a key legislative priority for its lead sponsor, Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Bristol & Norfolk).

The HWB permits targets of severe workplace bullying to seek damages in court and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively towards bullying behaviors at work.

The sausage grinder known as the legislative committee process has resulted in some cosmetic changes to the original bill. First, the bill has been renumbered. It is now Senate No. 2723 (formerly it was Senate No. 1200), and can be accessed here. Secondly, the bill has been streamlined, removing some of the introductory language, while retaining all core components of the original version filed last year, including a new, express provision covering online behavior.

***

If you’re a Massachusetts resident and would like to see the HWB enacted into law, please contact your state senator and state representative and ask them to support Senate No. 2723. You may go here for contact information.

Also, please “like” our new Facebook page for the MA Healthy Workplace Bill, which you may access by clicking here.

A conversation on cancel culture, featuring former ACLU President Nadine Strossen

Flyer from the Feb. 22 event

On February 22nd, I had the privilege of participating in a “A Conversation on Cancel Culture,” featuring former ACLU president and law professor Nadine Strossen (New York Law School). The event was sponsored by the Suffolk University Law School chapter of the Federalist Society.

My main role was to engage Professor Strossen, a preeminent authority on free speech and civil liberties, in a wide-ranging conversation about cancel culture, as well as to provide some of my own points about cancel culture in the workplace. Thanks largely to Nadine’s thought-provoking insights, I believe that the program succeeded very well at exploring the parameters of cancel culture and its legal and social implications. 

If you’d like to watch a video recording of the program (approx. 90 minutes, including Q&A) without charge, then you may access it here

I’m grateful to my school’s Federalist Society chapter for extending this invitation. Both Nadine and I hold social and political views that, on balance, veer to the left of the Federalist Society, which is widely regarded as the nation’s leading legal organization favoring conservative law and policy positions. The Suffolk Law chapter contributed to a constructive dialogue about a contentious topic by offering its stage to us.

It was also a pleasure to welcome Nadine to Suffolk. Nadine began her law teaching career as a supervising professor in the Civil Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law. During her first year at NYU, among her students was a callow young man from northwest Indiana who benefited greatly from her instruction. Her ferocious intelligence, naturally friendly and supportive nature, and commitment to making a difference stood out immediately. During the years that followed, it was such a delight to see her star deservedly rise.

I’m working on a post specifically about cancel culture in employment settings, building on my remarks at this event. In the meantime, if you’d like to listen to a leading free speech expert in Nadine Strossen explore cancel culture generally, then please watch our conversation.

Bullying, mobbing, and incivility in the healthcare workplace

On Wednesday, I discussed bullying, mobbing, and incivility in healthcare workplaces at a Grand Rounds session hosted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, in New York City. It was a welcomed opportunity to discuss the challenges of the current healthcare work environment with physicians and other professionals.

Grand Rounds are a form of continuing professional education for those who work in healthcare settings. Sessions typically feature a presentation plus Q&A. Although many Grand Rounds presenters are experts in specific areas of healthcare practice and delivery, at times folks from related fields are invited to present.

When I first became involved with anti-bullying work in the late 1990s, it soon became evident that many healthcare workplaces were sites of significant bullying and related behaviors. I first started hearing accounts of bullying from nurses. Then came the stories from physicians, residents, and medical students. These streams of reports have remained consistent over the years.

Fortunately, some positive signs have appeared as well, at least at the bird’s eye level. Here in the U.S., two significant professional bodies — the Joint Commission and the American Medical Association — have now weighed in strongly against bullying-type behaviors.

The Joint Commission

In 2008 (modified and reaffirmed in 2021), the Joint Commission — an independent, non-profit organization that accredits health care organizations and programs — issued a standard on intimidating and disruptive behaviors at work, citing concerns about patient care (link here):

Intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse outcomes, increase the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians, administrators and managers to seek new positions in more professional environments. Safety and quality of patient care is dependent on teamwork, communication, and a collaborative work environment. To assure quality and to promote a culture of safety, health care organizations must address the problem of behaviors that threaten the performance of the health care team.

As you can see, the Joint Commission’s primary focus was on how bullying-type behaviors can have a negative impact on patient care.

American Medical Association

More recently, the American Medical Association — the largest national association representing the interests of doctors and other healthcare stakeholders — has issued statements, reports, and training materials covering bullying and related behaviors. The AMA defines workplace bullying as (link here):

…repeated, emotionally or physically abusive, disrespectful, disruptive, inappropriate, insulting, intimidating, and/or threatening behavior targeted at a specific individual or a group of individuals that manifests from a real or perceived power imbalance and is often, but not always, intended to control, embarrass, undermine, threaten, or otherwise harm the target.

These 2020 developments are shared on the AMA website (link here):

  • “‘Bullying in the workplace is a complex type of unprofessional conduct. Bullying in medicine happens as a result of a combination of individual, organizational and systemic issues,’ says an AMA Board of Trustees Report on the topic. ‘The first line of defense against this destructive behavior are physicians, residents and medical students. There is no justification for bullying, disrespect, harassment, intimidation, threats or violence of any kind to occur among professionals whose primary purpose is to heal. Physicians choose medicine as their life’s work for many reasons, one of the most important being their desire to help and care for people.'”
  • The AMA House of Delegates “adopted guidelines for the establishment of workplace policies to prevent and address bullying in the practice of medicine, saying that ‘health care organizations, including academic medical centers, should establish policies to prevent and address bullying in their workplaces.'”

In 2021, the AMA published a short training guide, Bullying in the Health Care Workplace: A Guide to Prevention and Mitigation, which can be accessed here.

My Advice

I closed my prepared remarks with recommendations on how healthcare institutions can address bullying behaviors, adapting them from a recently published piece on bullying in the legal profession, written for the American Bar Association:

  • “Understand that health care professionals have not necessarily been trained to work well with others. Some may not grasp the distinctions between assertive, aggressive, and abusive behaviors.”
  • “Include all stakeholders, recognizing that bullying can be vertical (typically top-down) and horizontal/lateral (peer(s) to peer(s)).”
  • “For healthcare employers, start at onboarding and orientation, messaging to new hires that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.”
  • “Include bullying in employee handbooks and employee training programs, per AMA recommendations.”
  • “Use climate surveys and 360 feedback mechanisms to help identify problems concerning bullying and related behaviors. Don’t sweep bad reports under the rug.”
  • “Consider coaching, counseling, and – if necessary – termination for abusive individuals, even if they are proficient in other areas of their performance.”
  • “Medical and nursing schools should include bullying and incivility in their curricula.”
  • “Especially during the pandemic, incivility and bullying behaviors from patients and their families should be part of education, training, and institutional responses.”

***

As I noted during my presentation, all the best practices and policies aren’t worth a thing if they are not implemented and followed with good intentions. But the fact that national healthcare associations are recognizing the harms caused by bullying behaviors to workers and patients alike is encouraging.

The Mount Sinai event attracted a strong turnout, and I received very positive feedback on the session from the program organizers. As I said to those who attended, I am especially grateful to all healthcare providers during this pandemic. I hope that they found the hour we spent together useful and interesting.

Sharing insights about workplace bullying and mobbing in SafeHarbor, Part III

This year, I’ve been writing about my visits to SafeHarbor (link here), the online site created by Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, to serve as “a community dedicated to the people affected by workplace bullying and those devoted to helping them.” I’ve also shared some past blog articles that I’ve posted for SafeHarbor members.

During my visit to SafeHarbor this evening, it struck me how a combination of knowledge, understanding, and — yes — technology has brought us to where a site like this can exist and sustain. Members can start discussions, comment on existing threads, and link articles, thereby contributing to an educative and supportive dynamic that can overcome distance and physical separation.

When I joined forces with Gary and Ruth Namie in the late 1990s, the internet was still in its infancy, with the first generation of online discussion boards offering a glimpse of what might come. While I have very mixed feelings about the omnipresence of digital technology in our lives, I am glad that we can harness it for good purposes such as this one.

Once again, here are more past blog articles that I’ve posted to SafeHarbor:

  • Not “Set for Life”: Boomers facing layoffs, discrimination, and bullying at work (2012) (link here)
  • Are calls for resilience and “grit” an indirect form of victim shaming & blaming? (2016, rev. 2019 & 2022) (link here)
  • Typing your workplace culture (2009; rev. 2022) (link here)
  • Music as therapy (2021) (link here)
  • On the social responsibilities of writers (2019) (link here)
  • Myths and realities about working in the non-profit sector (2014) (link here)
  • Let’s follow an Eightfold Path to psychologically healthy workplaces (2019) (link here)
  • Dealing with “gatekeepers” at work: Beware of Dr. No (2011; rev. 2020) (link here)
  • “How can I make a living doing workplace anti-bullying work?” (2019) (link here)
  • Five signs of the eliminationist instinct in today’s workplaces (2015) (link here)

A degrading money grab for classroom supplies in South Dakota

I’ve been meaning to write about a December spectacle in South Dakota, whereby public school teachers participated in a wild grab for 5,000 $1 bills in the middle of a hockey rink, before cheering spectators. This “Dash for Cash” was organized to give the contestants a chance to collect money for badly needed schoolroom supplies. As reported by Julian Mark for The Washington Post (link here):

At a junior hockey game in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Saturday night, $5,000 in one-dollar bills was dumped onto a carpet in the middle of the ice as 10 local teachers readied themselves to shovel up as much of it as they could.

When the competition began, the teachers — all wearing hockey helmets — crawled into the pile of cash, frantically stuffing the bills into their shirts as an arena of spectators hollered and cheered until every dollar was snatched up.

…Critics said the image of teachers on their hands and knees, scrambling for low-denomination bills, was “dehumanizing” and even “dystopian,” especially as teachers are paid relatively small salaries in South Dakota and nationwide.

…The event was billed as an opportunity for teachers to gather money for their classroom needs…. Schools had to apply for the competition, and teachers had to explain how they would use the money they won….

Although the intentions of the event sponsor — a local junior hockey league club — may have been good, the optics were pretty awful: Low-paid teachers on their knees in a public arena, stuffing $1 bills into their pockets so they could buy supplies for their students. As anyone familiar with K-12 education knows, many dedicated teachers selflessly spend substantial amounts of their own money to stock their classrooms, thanks in large part to wholly inadequate funding for our schools.

I’m sure that the money has been put to good use. But given the overall circumstances, the event undermined the dignity of public educators. If you doubt this assertion, can you imagine offering those working in other vocations the “opportunity” to scramble for $1 bills on behalf of those they serve? Doctors? Social workers? Lawyers? Engineers?

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