“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” Malcolm X – Character
How do you know when you should change your values?
Of the many elements of a strong character, none is more important than a person having a strong system of values. A person who has strong values stands for something, has a stable guide for behavior, and prevents him/herself from being taken advantage of. But, if a person is too rigid in their values, then that person becomes resistant to new ideas and opportunities. Developing the appropriate values to meet life’s challenges is an enduring pursuit.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts with Naim Sanders, elementary school principal and author, for a conversation about character and when it is important to stay true to our values and when we should reevaluate them in light of new realities.
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators who’ve created the Teach Different podcast to inspire all of us to think deeper, listen with more intention, and understand each other better. In this podcast we model a conversation method using claims, counterclaims, essential questions, and quotes from some of the world’s greatest thinkers. The method works with adults and students of all ages, at school or at home, and it’s implemented using Google forms. So, if you’re a teacher, parent, administrator, social emotional learning specialist, or anybody who wants to think in new ways and participate in conversations that really matter, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome!
Dan Fouts: 0:46
Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Teach Different podcast. This week we’re excited to have an elementary school principal with us who’s going to introduce himself once we start our conversation. I just want to remind our listeners of our 3-step method before we begin. We start with a quote, and today the quote is from Malcolm X. It’s a really provocative quote about character. Once we share the quote, then we’re going to break it down using our 3-step method of claim, counterclaim and essential question. We’re going to analyze the quote and look at it from different angles, then end with a provocative question that you can take with you to move forward.
We’re doing this as adult learners, because we need to learn as much as the kids do about how to have good conversations. But, the hope is that you take this conversation into your classroom to use with your students. We start with the adults, but we always want to end up with the kids.
Here’s the quote from Malcolm X on the theme of character, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” What’s our claim here? Naim, how are you looking at this? Please introduce yourself and give a little bit of your background.
Naim: 2:30 – Claim
Hi everyone. My name is Naim Sanders. I’ve had the liberty of being in education for roughly 21 years. I’ve served as an elementary school teacher, and as a principal for 15 years. I’ve done work outside of K12 education as an adjunct professor, and I have been fortunate enough to author several books that have been published.
When I think about the quote by Malcolm X, I think it’s imperative to understand that as educators, and really as human beings, we have to have principles that we stand on. When I’m working with teachers, I share that there have to be some established non-negotiables. One of them may be that we’re going to treat our students with kindness and love. That’s a non-negotiable. Those are some things you don’t necessarily bend on. One of the non-negotiable procedures we have in place at my school is greeting students as they come into the school and at the door. It shows that we value the student’s time here and we want to welcome them into the building. Malcolm X’s quote, “a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything,” means if you don’t have any principles in place, then you don’t have any values or things that you hold dear, then you’ll accept all. We know that the quickest way to failure is to always try to do everything. You can only do so much. There’s only so much time in a day, but once you try to do everything, you’re sure to meet with failure.
Steve Fouts: 4:06
Naim, what does “you’ll fall for anything” mean to you? You said the word accept, right? Did I catch that correctly?
Steve Fouts: 4:20
Is that where low expectations start? What does it look like when you’ll accept anything because you don’t have principles? Do you just walk around without expecting anything from anyone and you don’t expect them to expect anything from you? Can you go more into that? What do you mean by falling for something?
Absolutely. Let’s say you have the value of having high expectations and high standards. That is something you believe wholeheartedly in order to improve the quality of the school, improve the quality of learning, or the quality of teaching. It’s something that you don’t want to compromise, that willingness to have high expectations where things will get done right. When he said you’ll fall for anything, how will you respond when things aren’t done correctly? Are you so busy with being busy that it becomes unfocused and you’re not doing things with fidelity. We can say you can teach, but are you teaching with fidelity, are you teaching the correct way? We can say you can lead, but are you leading correctly? There’s only so much time in a day, so are you busy trying to do 100 things versus focusing on the 5 to10 things that could be done the right way and be done well. Fall for anything is being able to not compromise. whether it be your stance in leadership, whether it be your stance as an educator and teacher. Some things are unacceptable versus this is acceptable and the way I want things to be.
Dan Fouts: 6:00
Yeah, that’s really good. I think I’m better understanding your take on this. I really like that you’re applying this to a classroom setting. If the teacher doesn’t have a set of core values that he or she is sharing with the student’s regarding expectations for behavior, or whatever, then the student’s don’t have clear rules to follow. There’s no criteria for what is good and what is bad because you have not established a value system for your classroom.
Exactly. I think when you decide not to accept anything, then it allows you to go deeper into understanding why the problem exists. Oftentimes, as educators, we don’t spend enough time looking at the root of the issue which creates other issues.
Dan Fouts: 7:04
I heard the word compromise too, which I think is an interesting way to understand the quote. If you don’t stand for anything, you might compromise too much…
Steve Fouts: 7:19
…in the wrong ways. Compromise is not necessarily bad, right? That’s one of those balanced words to me. In certain contexts, compromise is good. It’s something that shows a great deal of patience and virtuous behavior. In other situations, it shows up as a weakness, if that’s the right word. It shows that there’s no rudder. Like you were saying, Naim, there’s a hundred things you need to do. If you haven’t prioritized the right ones you’re going to struggle, and you’re going to be giving when you should be taking and vice versa. I like compromise. I don’t know if I said it in the way that you were meaning, Naim, but that word leapt out at me.
You did, Steve. I think it’s also about a mindset and approach that you’re going to have. We’ve heard the saying that all students can learn. That’s a great mantra, but that’s a different attitude and mindset then all students will learn. They sound similar, but one is you can learn and the other is you will learn, right? So two different approaches. One compromises a little bit, while there’s no compromise on the other one. If you come into this classroom, you’re going to learn today, versus you can learn today.
Steve Fouts: 8:57
I love that, because “you can learn” is conceptual, it’s possible. “Will learn” is action oriented. It’s determination. It’s goals.
Dan Fouts: 9:11
It sets a priority on following through…
Dan Fouts: 9:18
…with your lessons and with getting kids to learn. That is a different message, and a much more empowering one.
Steve Fouts: 9:25
I mean Naim, that was great. We always start these conversations with quotes. Imagine students and consider how they would react to a quote like this? As a teacher, if you were going to ask them to put the quote in their own words, what do you think they would share?
You know it’s interesting. I think for the age range of students I serve, there would be a lot of appeal to the actual words of standing and falling. They may be able to relate to stability. For example, a man who is stable will avoid failure or falling. I really believe that concrete operational development is still there at that age.
Dan Fouts: 10:26
That’s really good. A fifth grader understands standing and falling. You don’t want to demonstrate that for them. They understand that. But, then nudge them into thinking about the meaning of a value system. What does it mean to believe in something and how is that standing? This is actually pretty abstract when you think about it. Do you think they could handle that?
I really believe that they can as long as the process is facilitated appropriately and the adults who are teaching it understand it as well. Students are a lot smarter, especially in today’s schools. They can understand and conceptualize thoughts in those ways. It’s just a matter of breaking it apart, walking them through it, and providing examples. I really think it’s a good lesson for our students to learn. I think a lot of things that go on in society today, like how youth are bombarded with so much information, that it’s hard for our kids to decipher what’s real and what’s not real, and what’s a good value and what’s not a good value. There are so many gray areas and they’re inundated with much more information than what we were exposed to. They have to try to decipher between what’s truthful and what’s not, what’s of value and what’s not, what should I stand by and what shouldn’t I stand by, what should I accept or not accept. I think it’s become more murky for youth today and it’s probably harder for teachers to teach. I use the example of being able to spell. You should learn spelling words. I firmly believe that you should learn how to spell words. I think of how many words I don’t know how to spell. But, do I need to know how to spell when a little red light comes up when I’m typing? How important is spelling? As long as I can get close to the word, right? So, is that a value and where does that value lie? That’s just a small example of the things our kids struggle with. We were taught to be great spellers, and told you need to know how to spell. While today students say, I can just Google it and it’ll spell and pronounce the word for me.
Steve Fouts: 12:46
It’s different and as educators we need to adapt.
Dan Fouts: 12:49
You know we really do. Don’t be old school to a fault.
Steve Fouts: 12:55
Some old school is good though.
Dan Fouts: 12:58
Another twist on this, or another example for the idea of standing is to help the kids think about what it means to stand up for a friend?
Dan Fouts: 13:13
What do you do if a friend is in trouble or a friend is being bullied? Bullying comes up in a lot of these conversations and I’m seeing it again here. If you don’t stand for anything, then you don’t have the value of wanting to help people in need. You’re not going to defend your friend if your friend is in trouble. Is that what you want to do?
Steve Fouts: 13:36
Let me add something to that. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re going to be knocked down. That’s one way to look at it. One way to end bullying, regardless of who’s around, is to stand up for yourself and that will end the bullying and that’s the only thing that will. If you don’t (stand up for yourself), get ready to keep falling.
I like that reference to stand too, because it lets you know it’s a choice. Whether it’s proactive or reactive, it’s still a choice. In order to stand I choose to do that, I choose to take those actions to stand and remain on my feet, right? Falling is something that’s, in a lot of cases, out of your control, you have less control over. So, one definitely has more imperatives for standing. Going back to your example of bullying, I choose to react to someone who is being treated wrongfully.
Steve Fouts: 14:39
That agency. That is a choice.
Dan Fouts: 14:40
I love that connection with falling and not being in control. Do you want to be in control or do you want to be a victim of your circumstances?
Right, I agree.
Steve Fouts: 14:52 – Counterclaim
That’s good. Well, I’m good with the claim for now. We kicked it off. We talked about what this quote means. We had some different themes that we talked about.
Now, let’s do the turn. Naim this is part of our 3-step protocol for conversations that work in the classroom and with adults. When you complete the claim, it’s time for some counterclaims, another perspective. The way we break it down for students is we ask them to raise their hand if they agreed with Malcolm X. Typically, half the class will raise their hands. Now I want everyone to disagree with the quote. I want you to give me a perspective or a thought that really turns this quote on its head. Maybe he’s missing something, or there’s a better way to look at the world. Do you have any counterclaims in mind, another way to look at this quote that would take exception with it?
I think one of the counterclaims that can be made is the reshaping. It calls you to reevaluate what you are standing for? Sometimes, especially as we grow as educators and serve students, we can find ourselves standing for the wrong things. We have to reshape what we’re standing for. When you look at the push for standardized testing and the value that it holds for a lot of people in education, whether you agree with them or not, it drives a lot of our decision making. When the pandemic hit we had to reshape our values and what’s important. Are we preparing kids for the stress of a test, whatever it may be in your state, or are we getting to the root of their social and emotional needs? Let’s push testing to the side. That stuff is no longer important. The counterclaim, looking at it from both sides of a different perspective, could be what is it that you’re standing for or what are you falling for?
Steve Fouts: 17:31
I’m thinking… That’s really good. I heard something in it Dan, but I’ll let you talk if you have something. I love the idea of reshaping, because this quote doesn’t work as well when you run into a situation in your life where you’ve believed something for so long, you stand by it. It’s a conviction. You’ve driven people and motivated people to achieve it. But, when it needs to be reevaluated, you might have to go home that night and stand for nothing, and start with a blank slate. That doesn’t mean you’ll fall for anything or that all of a sudden you’re going to compromise all of your beliefs and values. It means that you’re learning.
Steve Fouts: 18:32
It’s not necessarily bad to reset. There’s humility. I don’t know if I characterized what you meant by reshape, but I’m thinking of learning, and what it meant to me.
Dan Fouts: 18:50
And learning requires a reevaluation of values. You don’t grow as a leader, as a person, as a student, as an athlete without reevaluating what you’re doing constantly and matching what you’re doing with the current environment. The pandemic is such a great example. Think of the
reevaluation of values that schools are going through from your perspective as a principal, from my perspective as a teacher. I’m going to be scared to death
Dan Fouts: 19:27
In August, I’m going to walk into my classroom and I’m going to have to reset what this classroom is about. What can I accomplish? Why am I accomplishing it? What’s really important for the kids?
Yes, absolutely. I couldn’t articulate it better. It’s rethinking what’s important to us. When is the last time most educators have had to do that? We start every year with an idea of what we’re going to do. When have we had to seriously reconsider why we do what we do, and what’s behind it? A very good articulation of the counterclaim. I agree.
Dan Fouts: 20:07
It’s going to be scary. People don’t like to have the rug pulled out from under them. As I feel your energy Naim, you’re thinking the way Steve and I are thinking. This is an opportunity that you have to take advantage of, pay attention to, and do your best with. It’s a positive.
The pandemic provided a lot of discomfort and inconvenience, and people were afraid. But, it also provided the opportunity to reshape our service to not only students, but humanity. That was so essential for navigating how we’ll work with children in education, from are you okay, into building relationships, to missing getting a hug. Maybe you miss seeing an in person smile. Those types of things, for so many years, were taken for granted, like the collaboration of teachers, and in some cases, they lost importance. When they were taken away and we were filled with Zoom meetings I thought I just wanted to sit in a room with some human beings. I’m just happy to walk into a store and not have to wear a mask. Those little things are now coming back. We’re thinking about the things that we’ve overlooked. Re-evaluation and rethinking about what’s important has been so vital.
Steve Fouts: 21:59
What we’re standing for may be even more important than the fact that we’re standing for something. What is it that you’re standing for is a qualitative question. It’s okay if you’re not sure, because you’re learning, and you need guidance from someone. It’s okay to not have it all figured out, because maybe you’re searching for that thing that you know you can never let go of. I think that was a really good counterclaim, because it takes this quote and it adds a qualitative element. What are you really standing for?
Dan Fouts: 22:41
To big picture this for a minute. This is living. This is life. We’re constantly trying to figure out what we value, what we don’t value, when we should change who we are and what we’re doing. There are no clear answers here.
Steve Fouts: 23:02
And when we should stick to our guns.
Dan Fouts: 23:02
Right. Exactly. What are the non-negotiables? I think, Niam, you mentioned love and kindness. Those aren’t going away. So, there are certain bedrock principles that this pandemic won’t erase but will magnify for us. Other things, like the standardized tests and some of the measurement vehicles, may be put to the wayside. We’re going to be looking at different things. We don’t know what, but it’s going to happen.
One thing we found out was that our students and families need different things.
Dan Fouts: 23:43
Alright, I think we treated the claim and the counterclaim really well. This was a really good conversation. I think this conversation has applications to just about anybody who’s listening who is in education and has to deal with what’s going on with the pandemic. That came up as a theme that we’re connecting to. I think that’s really good. Naim, could you just mention the books you’ve written?
Thank you so much for the opportunity. My purpose in writing was really to serve and help educators, to help those who serve others. The first book was “The Beautiful Struggles of Teaching.” It can be found on Amazon and also on my website at www.naimsanders.com. Then I followed that book up with another book after receiving feedback about how this book would be good to use in a book study. So, I followed up with “The Beautiful Struggles of Teaching Workbook,” which can be used together for a book study with staff as an official, or unofficial, way to build professional development. When I wrote my next book, I thought about the actual place of education where so much goes on. There’s teaching, culture, and leadership. So, I wrote “A Sacred Place for Learning – Teaching, Leading & Culture.” I really do believe that schools are sacred places. We learned through the pandemic how sacred they are to society. When you take those away some valuable things are lost from our families. So, I wrote “A Sacred Place for Learning – Teaching, Leading & Culture,” which can be found on Amazon or please go to my website to read the blogs at www.naimsanders.com.
Dan Fouts: 25:53 – Essential Question
Outstanding. I love the fact that you’re going way beyond your job as a principal in trying to serve the larger education community. That’s wonderful.
We like to wrap up with an essential question to keep people thinking about some of the themes that we’ve talked about here. I’m going to use one that we’ve come up with. This is the last part of the protocol – claim, counterclaim and then the essential question. We share with teachers that they can use this essential question after a conversation as a reflection activity, to connect to their academic content, or however it fits into what they’re doing. How do you know when you should change your values? Something to think about now, and in the future. How do you know when you should change your values?
Thank you so much Naim. It was a pleasure having you on the show and we wish you the best of luck. Keep writing books and keep being a great principal.
Dan, Steve, thank you guys so much for having me. You’ve been a joy. It’s been a pleasure talking to you online and offline. I appreciate the service and the work you guys do for education as well.
Steve Fouts: 27:11
We appreciate that. Thank you.
Dan Fouts: 27:12
Thank you so much.
Thanks everybody we hope you walk away feeling energized by some great ideas and are confident conversations like this are possible. Just a little bit of planning and a 3-step method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more and check out our library of conversation starters. Each week we offer a unique quote, a sample claim, counterclaim and essential question to get you started.
Good luck, and don’t forget to teach different with conversations and make a difference every day.