Category Archives: Teacher Talk

Thanksgiving 2018: A Time to be More Than Thankful

By: Brigadier General Douglas Murray, PhD, Chief Academic Officer/Dean of Academics

Each year for the past five years, I have shared my reflections on the meaning of Thanksgiving to us as Americans. My inspiration comes from the anniversaries celebrated during the current year. Many readers might argue that as a nation, there is little to celebrate in 2018. They would point out numerous examples of violence, a polarized society marked by an equally polarized political process, and an attitude that says to disagree with me makes you wrong. Yes, the argument can be compelling, but are these events a true reflection of America? One who did not believe so quoted John Meacham, author of The Soul of America, in a Guest Editorial in the Northwest Florida Daily News. He said, “History shows us that we are frequently vulnerable to fear, bitterness, and strife. The good news is that we have come through such darkness before.” Senator John McCain wrote that America  could meet any challenge “when we start believing in ourselves again and when we remember that our exceptionalism hasn’t anything to do with what we are … but with who we are: A people united by ideals.”

As I look back over the year past, there are three anniversaries that relate to this thought: the 10th Anniversary of the ending of World War I in 1918, the 50th Anniversary of what Time Magazine called “the year that shaped a generation, 1968, and the 50th anniversary of the television airing of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” in 1968. Together, they highlight some of the darkest hours in our history, and how we came through them. That is what makes us Americans and deserves our gratitude this Thanksgiving.

On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed ending the Great War. The celebration that began that day is marked each year since as Veteran’s Day. This year, in fact, there was a grand celebration in France. The horror of that war led President Wilson in 1918 to turn to the ideals in our Constitution and propose a way other than war to resolve conflict. That proposal became the League of Nations, which, while not preventing World War II, did offer the model for what became the United Nations.

This year, we also marked the 50th anniversary of the year that the Wall Street Journal called “the year America came apart.” Some in our society and media would characterize 2018 the same way. Lance Morrow, in his 1988 written essay, explains the Wall Street characterization. He writes, “American culture and politics ventured into dangerous and experimental regions…Nineteen sixty-eight was a tragedy and horrific entertainment: deaths of heroes, uprisings, suppressions, the end of dreams, blood in the streets of Chicago, and Paris, and Saigon.” We emerged from those challenges in 1968 ever the more stronger. One year later, we landed a man on the moon, and twenty years later, ended the more than eight decades of the Soviet threat to the free world, and ended the cold war. In 2015, I wrote in this newspaper, “Resolutely, each time we as a nation have been challenged; we have met and overcome the adversity. Doing so has bettered us.” And, that is something quite significant to be thankful for on this holiday.

No person better reflects that spirit than Fred Rogers who in 1968 invited the world to visit his neighborhood. In it, he introduced the audience, particularly the children, to the values and principles that characterize the American culture and literally in the words of the Time article above, “shaped a generation.” Is it more than coincidence that in 1968 – that year of darkness- there should emerge Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which in the words of one analyst created “a balm of kindness and empathy in divisive times.” Fred Rogers’ legacy reflects the spirit and commitment of the American people to strive to be ever more than they could be. As a people, and as a nation that is something to celebrate as we sit down with family and friends for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Finally, Fred Rogers’ legacy suggests one more thing we should do as part of celebrating this holiday.  He talked to the children about America, and his example must inspire us to spend some time to talk to our children and grandchildren about the real meaning of this holiday and why it is a uniquely American holiday. Many of our youth do not know the story of America, of a nation dedicated to the freedom, rights, and dignity of the individual and the first government in history based upon the consent of the governed rather than the authority of a king, czar, or emperor. Surveys of our youth reflect acceptance of authoritarian governments. A World Values Survey in 2011 indicated nearly 25% of Americans between 16 and 24 felt a democracy was not the best way to run a country. That must change. Ben Franklin, upon being asked following the Constitutional Convention, “What have we got a republic or a monarchy?” responded, “A republic if you can keep it.” Something to also think about this Thanksgiving day.

 

NMMI Scholars Program: Building the Citizen Leaders of Tomorrow

By: LTC Kalith Smith, Director of Toles Learning Resource Center

Several years ago, I was tasked with setting up a program for talented and driven students at New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI). It was a daunting task. How do you take a curriculum that has been vetted and improved over the course of 125 years and make it even more challenging? To read more about the program we developed, click here.

We determined the key issue was building a student’s ability to think critically across the spectrum. Challenging to be sure, but what we identified as the skill that our most successful alumni possess was being able to try new things, and, regardless of success or failure, build on those results and do it while creating, living and breathing teamwork. This was recently highlighted as Laura Entis (2017) wrote about what Fortune 500 executives are looking for in their employees: team players who can dream big and work with others to achieve a goal ethically and keep moving forward no matter the obstacles. Our challenge, in short – how do we develop the citizen-leaders that will guide the nation in the coming century?

Creating an environment where students would learn to follow rules and learn the importance of the structure that is a constant at military school while challenging themselves academically is tough. A team comprised of all the Department Chairs developed the curriculum that would be somewhat flexible, dependent on the Scholar’s intended thesis topic. A student would have to take the necessary courses, but they could accelerate their studies in a subject area of interest. The team keyed in on utilizing the summer for students to continue to challenge themselves. We decided to accelerate English so all of the students who enter the program after their 9th grade year will work incredibly hard over the summer to complete sophomore English, then enroll in junior English as 10th graders. This initial test of will is necessary for students to determine if this challenging curriculum is right for them.

For the second summer, we needed a program that would push students to consider not just what was in a textbook but the roots of our knowledge. To question everything and consider better alternatives, students needed to learn how Western thought was derived. Answering the question of how we ended up here as a civilization seemed crucial in considering where we were going. The decision was made that St. John’s College’s Great Books Program would provide the groundwork, as students could choose an academic topic that interested them and find out what the entire timeline of thought on the topic considered. Recently St. John’s College was singled out in American higher education in being “contrarian,” helping students to think differently, to not just fall into the trap of believing what they are taught, but to learn the fundamentals of how we think. As noted in the New York Times (Bruni, 2018), Walter Sterling, the Dean of the Santa Fe campus noted:

Your work and career are a part of your life…Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.

As fate would have it, success breeds success. As NMMI considered how to build a more global student body, we were presented with study-abroad opportunities that are unique and provide not only an immersion experience overseas but an immersion experience at some phenomenal boarding schools. The Scholars are poised to be the first to take advantage of these new opportunities, as their hard work and tenacity have been proven over two summers of intellectually challenging offerings. In creating our future citizen-leaders, NMMI believes in the power of our global community, and studying in another country provides an experience that cannot be replicated.

The class of 2018 saw the first two students complete the entire Scholars Program, including completing challenging coursework and writing a thesis. Each student related their area of interest to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This culmination of the Scholars Experience is key to being “freed” from a way of thinking that all too often in American education is locked into learning as it is needed for a test versus breaking free from the confines of the traditional model and pushing yourself farther. In the hands of these young people, the future of the American Experience is bright. As we always have, we choose to break free of our confines and imagine the possibilities. I can only imagine the shadows that the Founding Fathers saw on the wall, but they signed the Declaration anyway. How trying were the times of Lincoln, but the Emancipation Proclamation was made and its wake fundamentally changed our nation. How challenging were they days of Dr. King, but he saw a future where we would all be, “free at last”.

The next great American leaders are in our classrooms, practice fields and dining halls today. We don’t know the challenges of the future, but we do know that, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” Winston Churchill. We are still a home to tomorrow’s leaders and these young cadets have the foundation to change the world.

To help support future Scholars through the NMMI Foundation, please contact Kris Ward in Development at 575-624-8158 or wardk@nmmi.edu.

NMMI Receives High Marks from AdvancED Assessment

School Cited Again for Continuing Educational Excellence

New Mexico Military Institute received accreditation for the maximum period by AdvancED, the largest community of education professionals in the world–a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of a variety of educational institutions and systems to ensure that all learners realize their full potential. “While our (AdvancED’s) expertise is grounded in more than a hundred years of work in school accreditation, AdvancED is far from a typical accrediting agency. Our goal isn’t to certify that educational institutions are good enough. Rather, our commitment is to help these institutions continuously improve.”

Of 31 Institution ratings across three Domains (Leadership, Learning, Resource), NMMI received 0 (zero) findings of “Needs Improvement” and 23 findings of “Exceeds Expectations.” NMMI was cited for three Powerful Practices: 1) Commitment to NMMI’s Strategic Plan; 2) A strong, formalized system of supportive adults dedicated to student success; and 3) effective and efficient use of resources in support of NMMI’s mission. Powerful Practices reflect noteworthy observations and actions that have yielded clear results in student achievement or organizational effectiveness and are actions that exceed what is typically observed or expected in an institution.

 AdvancED performed their review of NMMI early in 2018 and released their findings recently with, “It was evident throughout the review that continuous improvement was valued as a driving force for NMMI.”  Furthermore, “The (AdvancED) Team recognized that the New Mexico Military Institute is a magnificent guided testing site to carry out the institution’s mission and vision.  It is emphatically poised for even higher levels of excellence.  Centering future growth on the actions in this review has the potential to propel the institution to its desired internal level of excellence and distinction, making it a sustainable, replicable model across the world.”

Accreditation is not a one-time event. AdvancED-accredited schools must commit to continuous improvement every year and be re-accredited every five years. Accreditation is intended to protect schools, employers, and students. It guarantees that a particular high school is teaching its students at a level that is acceptable nationally.

Thus, when students acquire an NMMI diploma, they can be assured that colleges will accept it and recognize NMMI’s inherent educational value. Similarly, when colleges accept students, they can be assured that an NMMI cadet/scholar has received a quality education from an accredited school.

Located in Roswell, New Mexico, the New Mexico Military Institute offers a rich history and tradition of educating tomorrow’s leaders through a program of strong, challenging academics, leadership preparation, and character development. Known as “The West Point of the West,” NMMI remains the only land-grant co-educational college preparatory high school and junior college in The United States. Serving the educational needs of an international student population, the Institute has strict admissions standards that yearly result in an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students who come from more than 36 states, 2 US territories (Puerto Rico and American Samoa), and 33 foreign nations.

NMMI grants High School diplomas and Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. The Institute’s emphasis on qualities of honor, integrity, and responsibility, contributes to its unique educational philosophy. Leadership training is provided to all cadets at the college level, through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program, and at the high school level through the Junior ROTC program. The ROTC Program offers college cadets the opportunity to receive a commission in the U.S. Army through the 2-Year Early Commissioning Program. Cadets may pursue commissions in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines through the Service Academy Preparatory Program.

NMMI graduates prove successful in every field of endeavor, business, industry, public service, education, the professions, or careers in the military. National statistics and surveys of graduating classes show consistently that 95 percent of NMMI graduates go on to complete a four-year degree at outstanding schools such as Penn State, Stanford, Rice, Cornell, University of Texas, Arizona State University, University of Colorado, and the nation’s Service Academies.

Study Hall at NMMI!

By LTC Joel Dykstra, Associate Dean of Humanities

Many of you may have heard about our new mandatory guided night study hall for high school freshmen and sophomore RATs. One of the areas of focus for academics this year is student success and the habits that can contribute to student success. One of the most important habits is the ability to focus and get though assignments. We felt that if the new students could learn how to finish their homework assignments and complete their readings, they would have a much better chance of seeing academic success right away. Our goal is all As and Bs by midterm in all classes!

Guided night study hall takes place in classrooms in Lea and Willson Halls. Students are assigned to a classroom with no more than ten students. Each room has an adult proctor. The first night or two saw a few growing pains as students learned where their rooms were and what was expected of them. As the first week wore on and students received assignments, they started to get into the rhythm of working on academics.

I decided to visit the rooms on Thursday night, the last night of the first week, to see how things were going. I thought some of you might like to see what guided night study hall is all about. Please feel free to take a look at the pictures and read some short descriptions below.

Before I start with the story, I want to thank everyone who has made this possible. The administration put a lot of support behind this effort with resources. A number of faculty and staff members put in time to plan this effort. The registrars and counselors made sure the sections were available and that students were signed up. The staff of the Toles Learning Center coordinated the hiring and training of the proctors as well as many of the logistics of the project. Many of our own teachers and staff members as well as some alumni and members of the community applied to work on this effort. At night, the Dean, the Vice Dean, the Director of Institutional Research, the Director of the Toles Learning Center, and the Director for Early Warning could be seen walking around lending moral support and  guidance to the cadets.

As I arrived to the building, I was greeting by RATs who came to night study hall doing the RAT walk. Some of them had fun showing off for the camera, but all of them were polite and seemed to have a good attitude about arriving at study hall.

 

 

When I got to the first room, one of the cadets was doing some pushups. I think he may have arrived late! His RAT buddy thought that he might be able to do even better pushups with a broken finger and all! As a former Army sergeant, I found his form to be pretty decent!

 

 

As I began to visit rooms, I was encouraged to see almost everyone working on homework of some kind. Many students were working on their Math or English homework.

Quite a few students had their school-issued laptops out and I was impressed to see that almost all of them had English papers or other academics-related items on the screen. I did not see any students watching videos or playing games.

 

Over in Willson Hall, the situation was much the same. In all of the rooms, I asked the students how many had already turned in homework assignments this week. Almost everyone raised his or her hand. When I asked how their first week at the school had gone, the responses were positive and many of the students said the schedule was busy but not too rough. I did not hear anyone say that he or she did not like being at the Institute.

 

In most of the rooms, the majority of the students were working quietly by themselves. Some were listening to headphones to help them concentrate, but none of them were bothering other students in the room.

 

 

In a couple of cases, the students were helping each other and were eager to demonstrate it in front of the camera!

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned all night was that real cadets wear pink!

I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly our cadets had begun to buy into importance of getting real work done during night study hall. I hope that many of you will see a difference in the amount of homework that is turned in and the ability of the students to participate in class because of their preparation ahead of time. Wouldn’t it be great if this good start turned into long-term habits! Many of the parents that we spoke to at matriculation were hopeful that their students would take the next step towards academic success at the Institute. I am looking forward to seeing those parents at parents’ weekend and showcasing the progress that we made in guided night study hall.

As the Term Comes to a Close…

By LTC Kalith Smith, Associate Dean Cadet Academic Services Division/Director of the TLRC

When the final few moments of a term filled with hard work, sweat, tears of joy (and occasionally the agony of defeat) comes to a close and the last rays of a setting sun fill empty rows of books, I remember. It is always at this moment where the clarity of the struggle is made clear. It is isn’t the grade, but the journey. Not the conference championship, but the camaraderie. Not the new position in the Corps, but those family, friends, mentors and challenges that made you strong enough to accept the challenge. As one semester comes to a close at this extraordinary institution, I remember all of the Cadets, alumni, faculty and staff that make the journey possible and I am glad to be a small part of the legacy that is NMMI.