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Double The Fun: A Million Bucks For The Guv, Two Million For ChaCha

ComputermonitorLast month, local tech guru Scott Jones threw a $1 million fundraising bash for the Guv at his posh estate.

Today, we learn that his latest investment, a people-powered search engine called ChaCha, has received $2 million from Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which "provides financial support to highly innovative Indiana-based companies, thereby helping these firms make the transitional leap from general research and development to product development while also creating high-wage, high-skill, high-tech Indiana jobs and diversifying the state's economy."

A few questions spring to mind:

  • ChaCha already has attracted some big-name investors, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Rod Canion of Compaq, and Jones supposedly has tons of money. Should we be spending 21st Century funds on that kind of heavily-backed project when other new companies might need the money more?
  • Isn't it just a bit too convenient that Jones raised a million smackers for the Guv and then got twice as much in return?
  • What the hell is a people-powered search engine? If you are not smart enough to figure out how to use the Google, you probably should not be on the Internets.

Comments

http://www.chacha.com/info/about

Seems like a pretty good idea. Having people update what sites are most relevant based on what sites people go to after a search instead of just using web tags set up by sites to enhance their compatibility to a search. I guess that's the people power

Amen. Allocate the money to other up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs -- there are plenty of them in this state. Jones' Cha-Cha needs state funding like Mitch Daniels needs further spine compression. Jones has enough money to wire his mansion like a scene from Star Trek, with interactive picture frames in every room. If the state gives Jones anything it should be to fund his employee Gerry Dick's head-reduction, so that it is proportional with his body. My dog and children are terrified when his Wizard of Oz head appears on TV. Cheers.

don't forget the state switched their web search to chacha also

Hoosier Republicanism continues: you scratch my Brooks Brothers-covered back; I'll scratch yours. A million or two times over at taxpayers expense. And the average Hoosier will probably vote Mitch right back into office because "he's one of us." Jeez.

This is an outrage! How is it that the Star reports the story of the grant but doesn't investigate further to see how much this stinks? Mitch needs to be stopped.

a few reasons:
1. The investment is fundamentally aligned with fund mission.
2. Assuming there are lots of other worthy substitute investments may be invalid.
3. VCs invest in prospects. If you're a VC that invests only in startups that can't get sufficient funding elsewhere, what you are doing is not investing but probably "charity work" (unless you're more perceptive about spotting great opportunities than the entire market). This would then require more state funds to support a flawed model.
4. A investment in a successful startup will enable the future ability to seed lots of other startups. Say the fund's $2M gives a 10% stake. If ChaCha sells for $100M in 3 years (search is pretty hot) the fund now has $10M to plow into other locals. That assumes there's no partner profit-taking!
5. If you're a startup that is so attractive that you're beating off investors with sticks, you're probably cherry-picking your investors for other reasons. In this case, the startup may actually be doing the fund a favor by letting them in over other VCs/angels. (And if you're so attractive as a startup and can fund yourself, better to do that than give away the equity.)

Remember a lot of VCs passed on investing in Google bc they thought online search was getting commoditized by the incumbents(yahoo, lycos, ask jeeves, altavista, etc.). maybe people-power search is a great new model that can steal some market share.

Hey Nerd, the state fund is a grant program, and does not take stakes in companies! While the state fund is NOT for charity, it should look for those next Googles from Indiana that are being overlooked by all those brainiac VCs from the coasts and elsewhere! The idea is to help Indiana tech companies...

PS

This will probably flop like most everything else Scott Jones has done in the past 2 decades.

Nerd,

Those were my thoughts too... especially if this is an investment by the fund. However, I'm a bit confused by the use of "grant" in the Star's copy... I don't trust them to understand the difference and couldn't tell for sure contrasting the websites with comments that Kidd has made about the fund.

If it's a $2 million investment that gives the fund a stake in the company, I think it's a good idea... though somewhat risky, based on my review of their model.

If it's a $2 million grant, then I don't support the idea... at that amount, the return would have been much greater by seeding 100 small companies with $20,000 each.

A) I believe it's a grant and not an investment in this company, so the state gets nothing from future profits or sale of the company.

B) If it's an investment in the company, WHY is the State gambling with taxpayer money? For a Governor that believe's the Government is too big already, he has NO BUSINESS investing State money in venture capital. This is especially true if you look at Scott Jones' past failed ventures.

This is fishy from all angles.

All cha-cha has is the ability to connect people with questions to people who have more time than money (Cha-Cha pays the guides between 5 and 10 per hour when the guide is connected). Cha-Cha guides get paid barely anything and if you are looking for advice on something, I sugest either using google directly or heading down to a library.
--
This is just another payoff from a politician to one of his supporters. 2 million seems kinda high when the all the founder wants to do right now is to sell the business. Wait until Scott Jones sells this company or shuts it down while pocketing the leftover money.

well i didn't read the story but the concept of a grant from a fund didn't even enter my noggin. something for nothing? nice! what line do i get in? if that's the case, then the potential for conflict of interest is certainly higher because the direct benefit is one-way.

btw, government "gambles" with taxpayer money all the time by giving grants for all kinds of scientific, medical & technical research that may or may not pan out. one would hope there's enough rigor around the investment process though to justify the dollars...

in some states, government money is invested in venture capital already...like state employee pension funds.

Jen, if you think there's truly something unethical going on there, it's your duty to report it to David Thomas. On the other hand, if you don't think it's a big enough deal to make it a reportable offense, why bloviate on it?

Get a life, Fact Check. If you don't think this sounds fishy, you're living under a rock.

Hehehe, if you read my post, I didn't pass judgment on it. But, again I ask, has anyone filed a complaint with the Inspector General? If not, all this debate is a waste of time.

Most of these debates ARE a waste of time... unless you think there's some value in getting a quick roundup of opinions from the collective audience here.

And sometimes it's worth reading for Jen's witty headlines.

What would be a waste of time would be to report this to the Inspector General. How naive are you, Fact Check, to believe the Mitch-appointed IG would find any wrongdoing?

Dave Thomas? The Wendy's Inspector General? That is a joke. He has proven himself to be an IG in name only.

Some thoughts from someone who's mostly worked for Indy-area software startups:

1) Search strikes me as an overly crowded market. The top four search engines are:
- Google
- Yahoo
- Microsoft
- Ask.com (Owned by Diller's IAC)
That's four of the biggest software/Internet companies there are. Google hires CS PhDs like Wal-Mart hires minimum wage employees, I'd sure not want to compete with them in their core competency.

I should add that if we really want to build a mini silicon valley around here we need to start with the universities. Spend the money to hire a bunch of top-tier CS professors to teach at IUPUI. We've got some good ones like Gene Spafford at Purdue in the state university system already, but we're duplicating resources by having two good CS departments in Bloomington and West Lafayette when we could have one great one in Indy. There's a reason why these tech incubator areas spring up around major metros with top-tier CS programs.

http://www.paulgraham.com/siliconvalley.html

2) Scott Jones and Bezos know this. Thus I would guess that the "liquidity event" they're looking for is a sale to someone bigger. Totally fine and smart investment strategy for them to take. Not so good for the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which should presumably be trying to build a Indiana high-tech economy by supporting companies that have a long-term future here. There are many more compelling and less-well-funded software startups around here who's exit strategy is not "sell to one of the big boys".

3) The product itself doesn't strike me as very compelling. I get plenty of good search results through Google without needing to wait for some incredibly low-paid person (ChaCha guides make basically peanuts) to do it for me. Is there really a market out there crying out that Google and company doesn't work well enough for them? And if there is growth, will they really be able to recruit enough reliable guides to keep up? I'm skeptical, especially given the stories I've read about the guide program when researching the company.

This deal has political corruption written all over it. I hope the Dems keep this in the news, b/c I believe it will have real traction w/voters throughout the state.

The State made it so that their computers will not use any Search Engine but Google or Yahoo. I called and asked about it and the IT guys said that "Our Security is not able to handle anything but Google or Yahoo. Not too long after that ChaCha showed up on my Book Marks...and I note it now in the Indiana University computer also.
Money Honey!

I have been investing in and starting new Indiana technology companies since 1987 - Software Artistry, ExactTarget, NoInk Communications, Indian Math Online, Mezzia, Compression Engineering, Aprimo, and Vontoo -- to name a few.

I can speak from first hand experience - it is extraordinarily hard to build technology companies in Indiana. I have had big wins and crushing losses. That is the nature of the start-up business.

I am also perhaps the largest donor to Mitch Daniels' campaigns - I contributed $100,000 of the $1M fundraiser held at Scott Jones house to which you refer.

I did NOT contribute because of the 21st Century Fund's investment in Cha Cha. I was not aware of it, nor do I have issue with it.

The reason I have given so much money to support Governor Daniels is he is the best Governor I have seen in 20 years in Indiana.

He is the strongest supporter of Hoosier entrepreneurs the State has had in decades. He understands better than any previous Governor - all of whom I spent time with trying to encourage their support for Indiana entrepreneurs - that without risk-takers like Scott Jones we would have no new businesses.

Entrepreneurs create new jobs, new wealth and new taxes. They also give significantly to charitable organizations. Scott Jones is no exception - just visit your Indianapolis Zoo or Children's Museum.

To guilefully imply that Jones held a political fundraiser as a quid pro quo for the Governor influencing a State agency on his behalf is outrageous at best and slanderous at worst. It betrays ignorance of the difficulty of financing an Indiana company and reveals naiveté of the process for seeking 21st Century funding.

In recent years, I have applied for financing from the 21st Century Fund for technology companies that I have started in the State. From personal experience, I can tell you the process was rigorous, thorough, transparent and above reproach - under this administration and under the previous administration. And while I’ve never been granted the funding, I guess I’ve at least been spared the slander Scott Jones is receiving.

Hoosiers should support local entrepreneurs. Scott Jones could start his companies anywhere – Bangalore, Shanghai or Silicon Valley – cities that embrace and welcome entrepreneurs. Instead he’s supporting Indiana and giving Hoosiers high paying jobs.

Scott, if you decide technology entrepreneurs are not welcome in Indiana, I encourage you to start your next company in a more friendly environment. Bangalore is beautiful this time of year and I'm a partner in a VC fund there that would love to invest in your company.

Bob,

I appreciate your decision to share your thoughts here, and I'd like to see your new documentary.

No one is saying you -- or anyone at that fundraiser -- contributed to the Guv's re-election efforts to get preferential treatment; you jumped to that conclusion yourself.

What I am saying is that this situation -- raise a million political bucks, get a nice state contract and four million in grants in return -- doesn't look good.

I fully realize that things work differently in the business world, but in politics, perception is king. (Why else would the Guv be spending so much time at ribbon cuttings to counterbalance the job loss numbers that come out each month?)

As I understand it, there's a four-step process by which 21st Century grants are awarded. The first part involves a peer review, but the next two steps are controlled by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

Again, no one has said there's wrongdoing here, but there's a lot cozy ties that haven't been fully explained.

We're not talking about one VC guy handing a big check to a startup; we're talking about taxpayer money and how it's spent.

It's not unreasonable to question government. In fact, it's downright American to do so.

Again, thanks for stopping by. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from as I've tried to understand your vantage point.

TDW is right. Perception is almost everything in politics.

"The 21 Fund provides financial support for new companies making the transitional leap from general R&D to product development. By managing early stage development projects, the 21 Fund encourages entrepreneurial success and helps the new companies of today grow into the big companies of tomorrow."

I guess I keep focusing on the NEW part. It sounds as if you and Mr. Jones have been a part of SEVERAL ventures. I'd think by now you could finance them on your own and leave the grant money to those companies that truly are NEW ones.

Maybe you're right. We should be glad that tech businesses call Indiana home. But please don't insult my intelligence by saying that your big contributions to mitch have nothing to do with what you get in return.

I'm sure it is just a coincidence that the state not only drops the market leading search engine (google) on the state's web site for one that hasn't even busted out of the "other" category, but also forks over a good sized chunk of change to the guy who organizes a pretty successful fundraiser.

It is all about aiming higher, not even the hint of impropriety, and all that other stuff Mitch spewed during the campaign between bites of tenderloins and corn on the cob. And frankly, for this country bumpkin, this one doesn't pass the smell test.

I think it's fairly common for folks who operate solely in the business realm to be completely unaware of the way things like this are perceived by regular people.

If the Guv hadn't made such a huge deal about the Scott Jones fundraiser, I don't know that these questions would have come up, but he pushed that story out to every reporter in town.

Glad to see you've returned to Indiana for a few minutes of your time to support the Gov. As I recall, you were very partisan during the 04 campaign - speaking out against the Democrats who were running our state into the ground (during a national recession).

Believe or not, there are Democrats (even CEO's!!!) that think the Governor isn't the bestest governor there ever was. I happen to share that view. But then again, the good folks at Goldman Sachs probably wouldn't return MY phone calls, so I'm not sure I count for much.

And by the way, Mr. Compton, how did you feel about the Gov's 1% income surtax during his first State of the State? Or do you still file an Indiana return?

I just did a little more research and found this blurb on the 21st Century Fund's website:

"The changes implemented by the IEDC not only affected the 21 Fund’s goals and processes, but also influenced the 21 Fund’s impact on the State of Indiana in terms of its awards and their outcomes. In fiscal year 2006-07, the 21 Fund awarded 17 grants totaling $16,303,695; during the 2005-07 biennium, the 21 Fund awarded 38 awards totaling $42,254,599. Through these awards, the 21 Fund has demonstrated a dramatic shift toward primarily supporting small, entrepreneurial companies. In fact, 90 percent of the $42.3 million awarded was granted directly to small companies, in contrast to the 23 percent of total funds directed to small firms in the years prior to the IEDC’s management (1999-2005)."

Over a two-year period, the Fund awarded roughly $42 million in grants.

If you include the $2 million grant to ChaCha and a recent $2 million grant to Precise Path Robotics, which lists Scott Jones as its Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO, that means the 21st Century Fund has handed out almost 10 percent of the amount of its last biennial budget to Jones' business investments.

Also, on the political front, I'd point out that it wasn't Republicans who started the 21st Century Fund.

It's a good initiative, and we need to do everything we can to promote entrepreneurial efforts in this state. However, you have to wonder if there were people and companies who didn't receive funding under this wave of grants because a lot of money went to one guy -- who happens to be a huge donor to the Guv.

Again, perception.

you know, the more I think about it, the more angry Mr. Compton's tantrum makes me.

Basically, the 'argument' is we should be glad they allow us to give them our tax dollars unquestioningly. If we insist on persisting, then they will just go where there is more money, even if it is a FOREIGN COUNTRY.

So much for loyalty to country, eh?

First you should all feel free to call me Bob. No one calls me Mr. Compton.

To reply to a few of the questions raised by anonymous posters -

1- No I do not live in Indiana. I moved to Memphis in 1997 to become President & COO of Sofamor Danek - the largest medical device company in the spinal industry. I had invested in the company in 1988, when there were about 30 employees. Today the company is a $2.5 billion division of Medtronic, with a 150,000 sq ft plant and hundreds of employees in Warsaw IN.

2- My intent was not to make you angry or insult anyone's intelligence. I believe the vitriolic comments made on this blog about Scott Jones and the Governor and the insinuation of malfeasance are flat out wrong. They made me angry and insulted my intelligence, but I get it now.

3- You are right, investment capital does not have loyalty to country. Investment capital seeks returns commensurate with risk. If you have any money in the bank or mutual funds or stocks or bonds - you are seeking return. I don't know anyone who invests out of loyalty to country, but maybe the people on this blog do. You may all be GM shareholders.

The argument that investors should be loyal to a country is reminiscent to the argument I heard in Indiana back in the late 1970's about the auto industry - "Be American, Buy American". But eventually human beings will do what is economically rational. And look where Anderson IN is now - 20% unemployment I believe. One could argue that if you bought a foreign car in the past 2 decades you are responsible for Anderson's demise. I don't see it that way, but perhaps that is how the bloggers here view the collapse of the US auto industry - disloyal Americans.

4- People have loyalty to country and community, that is why they stay in a location and invest in their community - when they feel loyal to a place. Loyalty is a two way street and if people feel unwelcome, they naturally will leave. And it doesn't have to be overseas. There are lots of communities in the US that embrace and welcome entrepreneurs and investors - Austin, Research Triangle, San Diego, Silicon Valley, Boston, Northern Virginia -- to name just a few. Not Memphis, I can assure you.

5- I live just outside of Memphis, but in the city the long time mayor has expressed his leadership this way - "if you don't like Memphis, then get out." Unsurprisingly, that is exactly what happened. Now as businesses and upper income residents left, Memphis is offically ranked #1 in violent crime, #1 in political corruption and Forbes just named the city #1 in corpulence (I guess the skinny people left first). The school system is on the verge of a State takeover.

As you have instructed me, perception is everything and the perception in Memphis was business and wealth were not welcome - so they left. That's OK, I guess.

My perception about many people on this blog is that entrepreneurs and investors are not welcome in Indiana. That's OK. I don't have a problem with that. Just my perception.

6- Yes, I do file an Indiana Income Tax return even though I am not a resident. The reason is I have investments in growing companies in Indiana, companies that employ over 1,000 Hoosiers and I pay Indiana taxes on those earnings.

7- I would have to say I am not partisan - I back the candidate who I believe will provide the best leadership to secure a strong economic future and the best standard of living for every citizen. In Indiana, that is Mitch Daniels.

In the Presidential race, that is Barack Obama, in my view, and I have contributed my legal limit to his campaign and actively raised funds for him. I have spent enough time with him to believe he is the best choice for President.

8- I have given over $200,000 to the Daniel's campaigns - that is public record. I am not an investor in Cha Cha. What I got in return is a Governor who has re-energized the entrepreneurs in Indiana - maybe not all of them, but I've been investing there for 20 years and their spirits and optimism have never been higher in that time frame. And we have seen a surge in new capital coming to the State. These are good things for Indiana's citizens.

9- Definitions - NEW companies can be, and often are, started by OLD entrepreneurs. I have started nearly a dozen NEW companies and I am an OLD man.

10- Using Other's Capital - in my case, I have decided to fund my ventures all with my own capital or along with a few friends whom I enjoy having as partners. This limits the number of companies I can start because I am capital constrained at some point.

Scott Jones invests his own capital and leverages a variety of other capital sources. He is able to start more companies than me and capitalize them for faster growth.

But he's younger, smarter and has more energy than I do. And he's able to tolerate public abuse. I'm prefer fewer companies, slower growth and helpful partners.

Finally, yes I understand where you are coming from TDW - you don't feel Governor Daniels is doing a good job and you want him out. I felt the same way about Bayh, O'Bannon and Kernan - so I have enormous empathy for how you feel.

I was critical of all three Governors for their lack of support of Indiana's entrepreneurial sector, but I tried to make my case on facts and their performance, or lack thereof. That's the businessman in me.

You want Daniels out and are trying to manufacture a perception of impropriety as a mechanism to achieve that goal. I get that now. You want to create a certain perception, or in this case misperception, about the Governor's integrity as a way to achieve your political goals. That's the politician in you.

You are right, politics is a world in which I have no experience. But I'm learning a lot from you.

BTW - I am screening my film Two Million Minutes next week in Indiana. Because of the rules for the Sundance Film Festival where I have submitted my film, the screening must be by invitation only. Email me, and I'll invite you.

Bob

Thanks for the lengthy reply.

First of all, I'm not a politician; I'm a political hack.

Second, it's not a huge stretch to put a big fundraiser, $4 million in grants and a public contract together and see the possibility of political manipulation.

Getting defensive about it only makes the situation look worse. (I'm writing up a separate post on this.)

I find it somewhat perplexing that you'd give as much money as you have to the Guv when you clearly don't think our state is welcoming to entrepreneurs. Why support a venture you think is failing?

I would argue that there are plenty of opportunities here, though it's hard for me to resist noting that perhaps there'd be more if money available for new companies if established folks like Jones would rely on their own networks of VC and angel investors to fund their investments.

I guess what bothers me most about your stance is the negativity, and I see that reflected in the Guv's talking points, too.

He came into office riding his RV, talking a good game about aiming higher and lifting us up, but what has he done since then? Sent billions in contracts to other states and countries, ignored economic losses and cut a bunch of ribbons on jobs that may or may not come here years from now.

You make the world-is-flat argument that we should ignore boundaries and do what's cheapest for the consumer, but that's not always what's best for the consumer in the long run. (If you're a parent with small children these days, leaded or unleaded isn't just a question of which gasoline you pick to pump at the filling station.)

My basic problem with the Guv is that he talks out of both sides of his mouth. He patronizes average working Hoosiers by pretending to understand what they're going through at the same time he slaps the backs of those who see government as a public trough designed for the private sector.

But I digress, and it's time for lunch.

As far as "Two Million Minutes" is concerned, I'd love to attend. As a soon-to-be mom raised by two public school teachers who saved up to send me to private school and made sure to supplement my education with Japanese math drills and plenty of at-home academic supervision, I have a special interest in -- and an odd perspective on -- the future of education in America.

My e-mail is takingdownwords@yahoo.com.

"You are right, investment capital does not have loyalty to country. Investment capital seeks returns commensurate with risk. If you have any money in the bank or mutual funds or stocks or bonds - you are seeking return. I don't know anyone who invests out of loyalty to country"

Maybe I was too specific. The point is, the grass is always greener, so to speak. Why should I give you my tax dollars when you might just move on to the next best thing?

Dear "call me naieve" - you don't give me your tax dollars - I give YOUR state my tax dollars.

I have never taken a dime from the Hoosier State to start my companies in Indiana. And despite the pleas of my management team to tap into the 21 Fund for Vontoo, my Indy based permission voice messaging company - and get acceleration funding for the four new technologies we've patented - my answer is HELL NO.

It will take me longer and the growth will be slower, but only a masochist would take Indiana money to accelerate growth or hire more Hoosiers.

TDW - I contribute to Governor Daniels' campaigns because I believe he is doing great things for Indiana, a State where I still have $10M+ invested in a half dozen high technology companies.

Wow, look at that...you finaly tripped me up and got it out of me - you crafty political hack.

Yes...I confess, I am part of a very small consipracy of entrepreneurs and investors who are working night and day to grow new Indiana companies, create new jobs for Hoosiers and pay more taxes in Indiana.

So there --- you have finally found out my devious motivation for wanting a strong leader as the Governor of Indiana - someone who will spur growth and innovation -

And here is a real confession, maybe the kind you are looking for as you connect random dots...It is true I want to ...shall I say it...oh this is going to bring the TDW blog wrath down on me...oh well here it goes...

I want to earn a high rate of return on MY risk capital. I want my Indiana companies that employee 1,000 Hoosiers to succeed and I want the employees of those companies -everyone of whom has stock options - to share in the financial success. Because I believe that those who take the risk and produce the results should share generously in the rewards.

Hey - I have an idea maybe you'd like to invest in the next financing round of one of my IN ventures - I'd let you in for any amount of money that would be meaningful to you - an amount that, if we fail it would hurt, but not kill you. You could even come to Board meetings and see for yourself how the conspiracry of job creation really works.

Your Two Million Minutes invitation is on its way.

Now I'm not going to have to hire security guards am I? I was almost killed by the graduate students at Harvard's School of Education at the screning there - simply for suggesting that Global Education Standards might have passed America by.

Will you promise not to be disruptive? Or at least no more abusive than the radicals at Harvard?

I hope you will forgive me if I disagree with your two million minutes theory. By the time kids reach your theoretically critical four years it's already way too late. You can't expect a student whose mathematical skills are entirely tied to a calculator to master calculus. A student who's reading repertoire is limited to comic books with a vocabulary that hasn't surpassed fourth grade certainly won't master the finer points of critical thinking.

Our best hope for success in America lies in our preschools, kindergartens and grade schools. We need to dump the silly feel good programs of the past twenty years and replace them with old-fashioned hard work. Kids whose parents willingly submit them to hours of mindless sports practice shouldn't be allowed to balk at math drills! Our littlest ones need to have books, puzzles and blocks, not television or video games. Parents need to be engaged in making sure homework is completed and the homework needs to be relevant.

So where should we place the blame. Besides the lack of parental involvement, I place it squarely on the teacher education programs in this country that are more interested in developing the next corny teaching technique or dreaming up ridiculous paper pushing projects than actually turning out quality educators. Half of the students who enter teacher ed programs drop out in frustration and half of those who put up with the bureaucratic bs will quit teaching within two years of graduation.

What pushed America in the 20th century was fear and hard work. Fear of the Cold War, fear of the Russians, fear of being left behind in math and science. We're not afraid of anything here anymore. We're just a nation of the fat and the dumb! Hogs in the feedlot waiting for the slaughter.

And your four years, those two million minutes? Statistically our high school dropouts are among the brightest and most gifted. They're frickin' BORED. Our daughter started kindergarten when she was barely five and completed high school (including calculus) at one of Indy's most challenging college prep schools in three years AND tested into college as a sophomore. Most of the senior year of high school is wasted. Why spend countless hours on AP exams for which there is no guarantee of college credit when you can just go to college? Our high school exit exam tests freshman level reading and math! College has become high school for which we still have to remediate?? Why???

What would I suggest? No one gets to fourth grade without being able to do all four basic mathematical calculations IN THEIR HEAD. Not, three times six = six plus six plus six etc. Just 3x6=18. Memorized! Period! You can't master Pythagorus if you're still counting on your fingers! Reading is fundamental and the FUN part isn't all that important. We need to have required reading of the classics and not just one book a semester. School isn't supposed to be fun, it's supposed to be a student's work. Sure the books can be interesting and the drills made enjoyable. But the bottom line is - it's WORK! And it's important unless you want your kids to be the next generation of call workers for a company from India or China!

And from whence have I conjured up these insights? Dad TDW and I are former teachers. Dad TDW spent his last years as a department chair. We've witnessed in the years since the early 70's, the demise of curriculum designed for learning. They've been replaced by ridiculous concept-based theories designed to raise self-esteem. I have a great concept of brain surgery, but I sincerely doubt that you'd want me as your surgeon without a hell of a lot of study and practice.

So, while there is no doubt that our high school students are falling way behind those of other countries. Focusing there is like the little Dutch boy placing his finger in the dam. It's not where the leak is! It's just a symptom of a very deep and distressing problem with Americans and their view on what's important for their kids.

Dear Dad TDW and Mom TDW (you're starting to feel like family) -

I more than forgive you, I agree with you.

Although I would have liked for you and Dad to have seen the 54 minutes of film before deciding to disagree with me.

But that's OK don't let a lack of complete knowledge deter forming a firm opinion. The grad students at Harvard School of Education and most of the teachers in other screenings did the same thing - its a common trait of American educators. Take your own knowledge and personal experience and without benefit of new knowledge, extrapolate a world view and propose a solution. You have followed the pattern of other educators.

You are absolutely right, high school is very late in the problem.

But I was unable to get permission to film below the high school level in schools in China and the US.

Sorry - I tried very hard - the Indian schools were more than willing and I actually have a lot of footage of how they study and what their career aspirations are as early as 1st grade. Absolutely fascinating footage.

But the legal constraints in the US and the Communist constraints in China prevented my filming there. So as inadequate and lame as 2MM might be, when you actually see it you might agree it helps shake peoples' thinking about Global Standards of Education - something we might want to ponder and, perhaps, just maybe, tweak our hardwired opinions. Maybe not...

Sorry I disappointed you with my film that you haven't seen. I did the best I could under government constraints.

Please don't assume that I wouldn't have taken the time to search out the Broken Pencil website and view the trailer for the film. There are high achieving students in all countries and slackers as well. To stereotype students from Asia as all high achievers and Americans as slackers is disingenuous to say the least. If America wants to lead the world in education, we need to find a way to lasso the work ethic of India and China while maintaining our creativity. Why? Because it's no good turning out a bunch of wire choir fiddlers or piano pickers if there aren't any composers in the bunch!

WOW Mom,

Your asertion that we need to "lasso the work ethic of India and China while maintaining OUR creativity." Now there is a most revealing statement.

Do you envision India and China as vast hordes of hard working coolies?

How can you be sure the Indians and Chinese don't have THEIR creativity, as well as THEIR work ethic?

On what foundation do you base your inference that "Americans" are the creative ones, the "composers", and Indians and Chinese are the hard working "wire choir fiddlers or piano pickers".

Your stereotyping of Chinese and Indian people as "piano pickers" is pretty edgy there Mom and ill-informed, at the least. Hope you don't have Asian or Indian readers of this blog.

And you are flat out wrong on that point. I employ hundreds of Indian and Chinese in the US and in their own countries - they are not "piano pickers".

Read the latest Business Week about Asian design schools and the US companies hiring and investing there.

The best selling GM car in the world was designed entirely by a Chinese design team in China.

Indians in Silicon Valley have founded 40% of the new technology companies that have been backed by VC's in the last 5 years.

That sounds like they may be able to do a little more than pickin' and grinnin', Mom.

Be very careful going down that path - Hoosiers made that mistake with stereotyping the Japanese and underestimating THEIR creativity in car design.

Since you saw the Trailer for Two Million Minutes you obviously don't need to see the film.

And certainly don't waste your time viewing the video on my blog from Robert Riech, Dr. Shirley Jackson, Vivien Stewart, Tim Draper, Vivek Paul or Harvard economist Richard Freeman - nothing new to be learned from them.

Tell me, where in Asia and India you have you recently visited? How much time have you spent in schools, classrooms and homes in each country? How many Indians or Chinese have you hired - in say, the last 3 years? Would any of this information be useful to forming an educated world view by an educated educator?

Oh, and were you aware the number of Chinese students in gifted and talented programs exceeds the number of students in the entire US? You probably knew that.

POP Quiz - how many K-12 students are there in the US? in India? in China? You probably know, but does Dad?

Think about population proportions as you state "there are high achieving students in all countries and slackers as well." How might proportions make a difference - please show your work.

Finally, how can you possibly say with conviction that I have stereotyped anyone - you haven't seen the film!!

BTW - the young man from Carmel in my film (the film that you have not seen) had lunch with me on Wed and is going to work at one of my software companies over Christmas break.

From the first footage I saw, I knew Neil was the brightest and most talented student of the six, but that only becomes clear in the complexity and unfolding story of the full film and the post screening dialog - things you've not seen or participated in.

Mom, do you always take a small thread and imagine a whole garment? Do you always stereotype cultures you don't understand? Are you always right?

Blah blah blah blah ... the sound of someone who loves to hear his head roar.

My posts are always signed. Just skip them if you already know all this stuff.

Bob

Sorry to disappoint but I'm not going to pick up your ball and run with it. But quite frankly, you're starting to bore me. You've had your fifteen minutes of fame. I'm happy for you. But if you really want to effect change, then get off your elite high horse and walk with the pilgrims. Try teaching a kid who hasn't had a meal in days. Try teaching your classes while your encumbered with federal and state mandates that are both ridiculous and expensive. Try living outside your bubble a bit and you'll realize that your documentary may or may not have an accurate view of the educational world. But don't try to impose your views on those of us who've spent our lives in the trenches. You're like Bush - you're view of the war is safe and sanitized. I may have issues with the teacher education programs in this country, but I can certainly see why you pissed them off. Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes!

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