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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 5/4/20

Today, we begin with wisdom provided by Tom Masenga:

“Lord give me coffee to change the things I can change and wine to accept the things I can’t.”

Happy Monday!



Thank you, Adam Torson, for reminding me that today is the 50th anniversary of the Kent State massacre. On May 4, 1970, after a week of protests at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on students protesting the recent U.S. bombing of Cambodia. After 67 rounds were fired by the troops, four students, all between 19 and 20 years of age, were dead, one student was paralyzed for life and numerous others were injured.

The massacre was memorialized by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the anti-war song “Ohio.” Here is the tune “Ohio”, with a video of Kent State and the Vietnam protests of the time:



As families gather together due to canceled in-person college classes or a fly cross-country in a desire to hunker down together in one place, one can’t help questioning why many families live so far apart these days. There was a time when one went to school near home, found a job near home and seemed happy enough. While this generation is far more worldly than ours—often attending schools far away and with semesters abroad, there are costs, physical, financial, and emotional, to uprooting one’s life. I just am not sure the current model will be sustainable, particularly in light of burgeoning costs, questionable benefits, and the current circumstances. As people question being so far from family in times like these, with the uncertainty of when and under what circumstances classes will be given, people may start rethinking college choice.

With the coming of COVID-19, I think we’ve seen how physical proximity brings comfort, security and support. Coupled with the likely increased difficulties and costs of travel that will emerge when this crisis abates, perhaps the pendulum that often sent kids across country for college may revert to more regional schooling of the next generation.



In addition to the actual academic education one receives, the immersive interaction with a community of professors and fellow students with whom to learn—and the maturing that takes place in this environment—are important byproducts of a college education. With the cancellation of this last semester and the likelihood that many colleges will begin this Fall with an on-line program (and after that, a program with social distancing requirements that will diminish the experience), serious questions arise. Knowing the serious debt burdens that will greet many graduates, one must ask whether a product that lacks the in-person experiential learning from being at and immersed in college justifies the high price tag. If on-line education and physical distancing become the norm, will students opt to learn what is fundamentally the same subject matter on-line from a less expensive institution?

When colleges no longer can brag about four years of an idyllic undergraduate experience, will fewer students value the elite college experience and elect to go elsewhere? Will they opt to stay in more familiar surroundings nearer to home? Will more students defer admission, hoping to avoid on-line learning? The financial effects in the short term—no revenue from empty dormitories, decreased food service, declining tuition—will be devastating to those colleges less financially stable.



The college application process has become burdensome, costly, stress-inducing and, in the end, perhaps not worth all the effort. Those who have gone through the brutal, no-holds-barred battle for a slot at an “elite” institution can appreciate what I’m talking about. It’s a blood sport that is unhealthy, often leading students to make choices based more on ranking than on fit. As a result of this jolt to the system and the effects of measures to promote physical distancing, the “system” may be forced to adjust in myriad other ways. And that would be a good thing.

One interesting thing is that standardized tests may not be able to occur this year. This forced experiment might bring a rethinking of that process. And while AP exams apparently will go on, perhaps a serious debate can be had to decrease reliance on a system that encourages kids to take advanced classes in subjects of little interest or aptitude, solely to create a GPA and narrative that will resonate with far-off colleges. The desire of colleges to have some greater objective standards upon which to judge merit has allowed them to manipulate the pedagogy of secondary education, to the detriment of the students. It would be great for high schools no longer to “teach to the test” and allow students to take classes most appropriate—and interesting—to them.

Colleges have been playing into the ratings game for years, a system that perpetuates a false measure of “success” and “failure.” Colleges push for kids to apply who have no realistic chance of admittance, solely to reduce their acceptance percentage (and, therefore, artificially boost their “selectivity”). Add to that the “early decision” process—a perverse idea that allows colleges to shift much of the risk of enrollment numbers from the institutions onto seventeen year-old children. Forcing a child to make an irrevocable decision in October may make planning easier for colleges, but it does so at the expense of unnecessarily stressing out students and their families, while also ignoring the significant growth that takes place between the Fall and Spring of one’s senior year of high school. It seems patently wrong that institutions dedicated to teaching young adults have fostered this insidious numbers game.

Then there's the college admissions scandal, an inevitable outgrowth of the arms race for slots in ever more selective institutions. While there is no justification for the bad behaviors of these parents and educators within this scandal, one can see how these behaviors are an extreme outgrowth of an unfair system that rewards elaborate artifice and gamesmanship. Here’s an article from last June on the admissions scandal that focuses on the process by which naïve seventeen year-olds are pawns in this process of “resume building” and parental insecurity and social climbing:

There are some people out there on the front line of bringing ethics, inclusion, diversity, fairness, and rational behavior to this broken system. At the top of that list is my friend Jerry Lucido, quoted in the above article. He is the Executive Director of the USC Center for Enrollment Research Policy and Practice, studying enrollment issues that lead to unfair decisions and encourage bad behaviors. Perhaps the system will be more receptive to Jerry and his colleagues, who have been working on these problems for over a decade:

For a thoughtful discussion of the competitive arena in college admissions, offering a far more thoughtful discussion than I can, I encourage reading Jerry’s piece that suggests following the NFL model of “cooperative competition.” As Jerry points out, colleges are here to serve the public interest. It is time they be forced to consider that factor above all others in refashioning a system that would be kinder and fairer:

Is it possible that this crisis will usher in a “buyer’s market” for higher education? Certainly, with high school graduation numbers projected to continue declining in the next decade, COVID-19 only exacerbates the downward pressure on college revenues and may shift the balance of power from the institutions to the students. Maybe some good can come from this.



Here is short (five minute) Bach solo sonata with lovely commentary by Nathan Cole, the First Associate Concertmaster, as he plays from his own home:

And if you liked that, you’ll love this three minute rehearsal excerpt for Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture. A short video that shows a conductor imparting his vision and an orchestra playing part of this triumphant overture:



People are using items they find at home to recreate works of art. Here are a couple of articles about this phenomenon, which really has captivated me:

And a couple of examples:

Happy coming week,


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