Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Author's Page

I have recently setup my author's page. It allows you to post a photo and a little biographical information. It may also grab these blog posts, though I haven't gotten that to work yet. If you're reading this on Amazon's author page, scratch that last remark.

For anyone interested in what I'm working on next, I'm finishing up a book right now called Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, which will be released with Continuum Press also (the publisher for my first book). This summer, I'm finishing up work on three other proposals. The first one is for my next academic book, Democracy and Leadership, which you can learn about on my Web site's writings page. Next, I'm developing a book with a colleague on the moral, political, and economic promise of expanding internet access in rural Mississippi. Finally, I'm developing a project on civility, which will be intended for wide audiences. I've got a number of other projects in the works, but these are three that are on my mind at the moment. If you're interested in learning about a few other books I'm developing, visit my writings page, where I list a few more projects in development or email me to talk about it.

A bit more writing worth mentioning are a few pieces I'm putting together for Mississippi media outlets. First, I'm writing a piece on civility for The Clarion Ledger and another on rural access to disability services in Mississippi for The Oxford Eagle. Some new developments are starting up too for me to get on Mississippi Public Broadcasting's radio show to talk about disabilities and special needs in education, but that development is still new. I'll post more as there is more to say about it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Clarion Ledger Article from 6/10/10: "Cultural Divides: Barriers Remain to Educational Attainment"

This article came out this past Sunday in The Clarion Ledger. If you've got feedback for me on it, feel free to email me at Here's the text of the article.


Cultural Divides: Barriers Remain to Educational Attainment

Mississippi appears to be stuck in a vicious Catch-22, which accompanies the state's troubled racial history. On the one hand, Gov. Haley Barbour has noted that education is the No. 1 economic development issue in the state. At the same time, poverty and racial stereotyping inhibit educational success. The problem appears irresolvable.

Two reactions are common. The first one says things are not so bad in Mississippi - the denial of failure. The second sees failure everywhere and expects nothing else of the state - the prophecy of failure. Exceptional students who overcome adversity are proof for the deniers and negative stories about Mississippi are confirmation for the prophets of failure.

Both views are troubling. Most people have a hard time denying the state's great problems. Some think that if only we would quit pointing out Mississippi's troubles, we could get people to invest here and to grow business. There is some truth to this concern, but ignoring real problems only lets them grow. My own optimism for the future of the state comes from the fact that the Catch-22 is only apparent. It can be overcome. The difficult problem falls on the side of the pessimists. They create and sustain self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is an error of reasoning. When people commit this fallacy, they call some circumstance inevitable and then, through their own actions or inaction, they make it true. The conclusion they draw from the experience is that they were right: the outcome was inevitable.

Take an example from baseball. A kid who says he will never get a hit decides not to swing. When the third strike whizzes by, he says "See! There was no way I was going to get a hit!"

Failure in baseball has miniscule effects compared with failure in school. Imagine the same thought process at work when a student believes that he or she cannot succeed on a test. If messages continue to predict poor students' failure in education, we should not be surprised when some think there is no point to school.

A number of my students told me about their experiences in transition to college and gave me permission to pass on their messages. The first four are African-American students and the fifth is white. Christopher Cox said: "My high school guidance counselors told me that coming from my background that I would struggle during my tenure. They said that I should attend junior college. This increased my doubt in myself being able to achieve at a four-year institution . . . these statements were discouraging, " he said.

Chris will be a senior in the fall at the University of Mississippi and has a bright future ahead of him.

Nick Luckett shared with me the fact that some members of his community warned him against coming to UM in particular. They told him "Don't go there. You'll get killed." Clearly this warning was racially motivated.

But other teachers told him he would be better off attending a community college, rather than a four-year institution, advice with economic implications. He explained: "Despite all the negativity I received because I decided to come to Ole Miss, I have had a great experience here at this university and I am so glad that I came."

Next, Andre' Cotten and Melissa Cole, both inductees in the UM Student Hall of Fame, have related difficult transitions to college. Andre' wrote that "from my experience, I find that some prospective minority students get discouraged because of the stigma of social injustice that some people who are not familiar with the Ole Miss community attach to our university . . . on the contrary, from my experience as an undergraduate I found that there seems to be a comfortable place for everyone to fit within the Ole Miss family."

Melissa explained that "when I told my friends, neighbors and fellow church members that I would attend Ole Miss, I was always asked 'Why?' or was received with a frown." Certainly racial history played an important role in the culture that inspired these forms of discouragement, but it is important to notice the economic impact that comes along with it.

Finally, Brent Caldwell, one of my white students self-described as a person from a modest financial background, has explained to me that he has "a few friends whose parents didn't go (to college) and who gave them the attitude of 'well we didn't need to go to school; why do you?' . . . Unfortunately, most of these friends never went on to college or flamed out of community colleges." Brent explained that between himself and his former friends, he experienced a "palpable feeling of class difference there," which ended a number of his friendships.

In examples like these I see a symptom of what appears to be happening at all levels in the state. There is still an outlook that inspires people to think that certain institutions and successes are not "for us," for poor African Americans or whites, or for Mississippians generally. These attitudes are observable at many levels, despite the shining examples that contradict them.

The cultural challenges for Mississippi impact us all. When people get too used to hearing negative things about Mississippi, they become more likely to accept low expectations for the state. We need the opposite. We need high expectations, but without denying the problems we face.

Something very important for cultural leadership is at work in the examples of the successful students I have mentioned. I have asked my students how they overcame discouragements from going to college or from coming to the University of Mississippi.

Their answers are often that "I knew her" or "I knew him." Students saw examples of success and wanted it for themselves. A crucial component of leadership in educational attainment in Mississippi must come from a few individuals who swim against the powerful currents of discouragement. When they succeed, others can see that their own prospects might also be bright. The more our students succeed and are visible, the harder it becomes to assume that failure in school is the only option.

My proposal to overcome the apparent Catch-22 is simple: We must fight culture with culture and on many fronts. One way I suggest we do it is with a documentary. There are countless examples of success that we can show kids in Mississippi to contradict the harsh discouragements that many children confront. We have rich resources in our fantastic students who must be talked about, who must be shown to others as the exemplars that they are. A growing number of students have overcome self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. With a documentary we can highlight our many successful students.

We can make the video available for classrooms and public television, but we can also post it online for each student to watch through our expanding avenues of communication that technology has enabled. I envision a viral video that students can access directly on computers at school or in local libraries, to circumvent the common channels of discouragement.

Such efforts could be just the kind of force needed to turn today's cultural current around, to replace a negative and discouraging culture with a culture of excellence.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi, expressing only his own point of view in this article. His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, will be released in 2011. Contact him at


I've got a scanned version of this file here, in case you'd like to see the original printed version. You can visit my Web site here or send me feedback via email at

Clarion Ledger Article from 3/6/10: "Try Charter Schools Experiment Where Others Failing"

This was my first piece as a guest columnist for The Clarion Ledger. This article was published on March 6, 2010, page 9A. Here's the text:


In January, three University of Mississippi undergraduates advocated for charter schools before the Mississippi House Committee on Education out of concern for the crisis of education in the state. The Public Policy Leadership majors, Chelsea Caveny, Cortez Moss and Alex McLelland, met resistance to partial measures for progress.

Aside from a few vocal opponents, the general response from Republicans in the room was positive and some Democrats were cautiously open to charter schools. The most vocal opponents of charter school legislation worried about the children who stay behind in traditional schools. One representative exclaimed: “Separate but unequal!”

I can understand the resistance. If charter schools only help some, are they not institutions that tell others to wait? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to explain time and time again “why we can’t wait.” He was a great opponent of the numbing gradualism of his day. Being patient is not something suffering people can easily stomach. Despite this powerful motivation, however, the objection to gradualism is misapplied when it comes to charter schools. Charter schools represent the potential, certainly not a guarantee, for substantial progress in education in the state.

At the committee meeting in January, three worries arose. First, if charter schools are the answer, why not overhaul the whole system to follow their method? In response to this concern, the issue is not a desire for progress to be slow. Rather, what is needed is sincere experimentation. In different states and regions, different methods work well or poorly. Charter schools need fine-tuning. Good experimenters, furthermore, don’t stop after one try. Once a model is successful in our state, we should replicate it then and then only, as the urban prep schools did in Chicago.

The second worry that our legislators raised was that charter schools may not work as well in rural areas. There are clear exceptions to this concern, however, such as the KIPP schools (Knowledge Is Power Programs) which have locations in Helena-West Helena, Ark. What seemed to be lacking in the legislators’ responses to the students’ presentation was the will to try, to experiment with new ideas. Innovation and change require openness of mind to the possibilities that others may not have attempted.

A final concern came up. In the accusing charge of “separate but unequal!” was the reasonable worry people have about achievement gaps between white and minority students. This week, the House version of the charter school legislation made sure to emphasize that charters could be established only in replacing schools with a three-year track record of failure. This requirement would ensure that charters be created only where schools most need help, not simply as alternatives for already advantaged students.

Charter school legislation is moving forward for consideration. What is crucial for the future of Mississippi, I believe, is that we regain the will to experiment and to try new ideas. Charter school legislation may only be a partial measure, a step in a larger plan.

With good legislation written to allay the worries people have about charters, however, the charter school initiative could represent a great step forward and in the right direction.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi, expressing only his own point of view in this guest column. His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, will be released in 2011.


I've got a scan of this article here, posted on my Web site in case you'd like to see the original in print. If you'd like to visit my Web site, this link will take you to the main page.

Clarion Ledger writings

Today I've signed a freelance writer's agreement/contract with The Clarion Ledger to write pieces for their editorial section. I've received permission to post my articles online generally and on my blog here after they've come out in print. I'll post them and label them "Clarion Ledger Article: [Title of article]..." I know, it's a really creative label that required all that explanation...

Anyway, I've been very lucky to have had a strong response to my first two articles in the CL. I've received a number of very nice and encouraging emails. I appreciate everyone's input. Soon I'll post the first two articles I've had come out already. I should have another come out in July and will be sure to post it here as well. Happy reading. Feel free to send me feedback at

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poverty and Education in Mississippi - 1

Today, the Clarion Ledger published my piece called "Barriers Remain to Educational Attainment." The editors shaped the title. I'm not very experienced writing headlines.

The paper's Web site keeps posts online only for so long, so if this link to the article: doesn't work, that's why. For my digital records, I've scanned the article and posted it on my Web site here. You can go directly to the PDF file by clicking here.

An article should be coming out tomorrow too in the Oxford Eagle about the research and documentary plans I'm putting together.

One of the things that I'm planning (as explained in the Clarion Ledger article) is a documentary, highlighting the great successes in education that students have achieved in the face of substantial discouragement. I want kids, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents to see the forces that bear down on less fortunate children as well as the many examples of shining students who have overcome the odds.

For the documentary, I'm looking to setup a database of contacts (full name, full contact information, and info about the person, position, and insight about poverty and education in MS) to have ready once the plan, funding, and personnel line up. If you are interested in taking part and have a unique perspective that can add to addressing the story, email me at with the information I've mentioned.

Eventually, I hope to setup a Web site where people could enter their info online to add themselves as persons I could interview for the documentary. I look forward to learning from and with you about Mississippi's cultural challenges. To address them, we need to show them for what they are first. Then, we can work on solutions.