One Chance

By Lloyd Graff

The issue that seems to be giving America heartburn in 2016 and driving the election rhetoric is the gulf between the well-off and the falling-off. Underlying that is the feeling that it is getting harder and harder to move from “barely getting by” to “feeling successful.”

I listened to a remarkable podcast this week by Malcolm Gladwell called “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.” It was so good I listened to it twice. Gladwell recounts the struggle of “Carlos” (not his real name), an exceptionally gifted student from a broken home who is trying to reach his potential. He was spotted in 4th grade in a rough Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles by Eric Eisner, a wealthy Entertainment Industry lawyer turned philanthropist, who helps disadvantaged but brilliant kids reach their best life outcome. Eisner says that he has to find kids by the 4th grade; otherwise they will be sucked into gang culture or fall so far behind their affluent counterparts that they will be too discouraged to do the work to catch up.

The Carlos story is complicated by numerous crises in Carlos’ personal life: a missing father, an emotionally fragile mother who abandons Carlos and his sister and ends up in prison in Texas, and a foster child system that separates Carlos and his younger sister. Despite all of this turmoil, Carlos, who is now a teenager, continues to excel academically, even at the elite private high school 45 minutes away that Eisner has helped him get into.

The thrust of Gladwell’s podcast is that middle class and wealthier children get several chances to screw up in life, but kids like Carlos, if they are extremely lucky and smart, get one chance. If they screw up just once they miss their opportunity to rise above their bleak circumstances.

Listen to the podcast on youtube here:


I was reminded of Carlos while talking to Scott Wallace of southern Indiana’s Vincennes University, which has perhaps the most sophisticated training program in the country for aspiring CNC machinists.

Vincennes University “CNC Machinist Now” Grad

The Vincennes approach is a 60-credit hour Associates Degree with 5 instructors and 15 modern pieces of Hurco CNC lathes and machining centers.

In the two-year curriculum students are challenged with classwork and intensive instruction on the production equipment. Mr. Wallace indicated that most of the graduates go directly to the shop floor at employers in the Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois areas near Vincennes. Enrollment is full at 75 students for the first year. They have about 60 in the second year of the degree program.

They also have an advanced one-year program with 14 students in programming, which enables students to earn a second Associates Degree.

The Vincennes program costs $177 per degree hour, so a full-time paying student is on the hook for $10,000 tuition without assistance. Room and board adds to the tab.

I wonder if the smart, mechanically inclined young man or woman in Gary or Fort Wayne even thinks about their possibilities for a career that a Vincennes curriculum might provide. And even if somebody informs them about Vincennes, are their lives too complicated and filled with personal crises to take a chance on a two year commitment, $10,000 in tuition, and life away from what they are familiar with?

When Bernie Sanders and now Hillary Clinton float the idea of free college for all it sounds appealing, but Malcolm Gladwell’s piece dramatically portrayed how life gets in the way, even for the most gifted of students.

Vincennes is a nice option for kids who have some prior initiation to machining and math. Unfortunately, so many young people living in the inner cities have very little of both and are born into desperate circumstances which hold them down. If it is extremely difficult for an exceptionally gifted student like Carlos who has the help of a wealthy angel looking out for him, what chance do people have who don’t have such advantages?

Question: Does everyone have a chance to achieve prosperity in the United States?

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10 thoughts on “One Chance

  1. Another canuck

    Vincennes is a Haas Technical Education Center (HTEC). Do they really have Hurco machines? The Universities own website states “The VUHTEC CNC lab contains 15 industrial size Haas CNC machines plus an array of supporting manual machines and metrology equipment.”
    Maybe a fact check is needed?

    1. HarryCaray

      Lloyd is correct. There are several different platforms represented at VU. The Haas are in more of a showroom environment, the Hurco machines (along with other brand CNC, wires, sinkers, manaul equipment, etc) are on the other side of the wall.

  2. Old Guy

    Sounds like a great program for young people to get into machining. I had to learn the hard way, from crusty old men. Now I’m one of them.

  3. mike

    Plato stated we are who we are based upon our environment, and our education. Mr. Eisner is probably right regards “saving” someone by the 4th grade . . .

    Dan Quayle (read his book) former VP to President Bush Sr – stated quite clearly that “illegitimacy” will be the ruin of our nation, and our morals. If we witness no father at home then that becomes ones “normal”. People doing drugs or not working, living on the dole, abusing each other and their children . . . again – ones “norm”. No one going to school, no one paying attention, or very little of it.

    Another problem is lack of initiative, and no sense of urgency. But how does one teach these traits? i think they are “lived” – or learned in ones environment, and ones education. Without either – it is tough to move ahead, if not move at all.

    i was lucky – my parents remained married, and my Dad was very good to my Mom. They seldom argued, and if so – it was in private. Both my parents were educated (college graduates) and they wanted the same for me and my two brothers. My Dad flew his own airplane, and was an accomplished traveler to many world destinations. He held the bar high. We attended church, spent time together as a family, and appreciated what we had. My folks always lived below their means.

    Sadly – for many – it was not so lucky. My two best friends growing up both came from broken families. Expectations were different at their homes – survival was more front and center than planning for the future. Upon high school graduation – they were both on their own.

    Finally – for me it is was different. When my dad asked me my plans my Junior year of high school regards my future, i casually replied i was going to go to the local college, live at home and keep my job at the gas station. He as casually stated in reply “think again . . . and choose from the following”:

    1. move out and get a job
    2. move out and go to college (away from our local area where at the time the TV station could not be the same)
    3. move out and join the military

    i picked number 2 – whence he dropped me off at college at the appropriate date, said he would see me at Thanksgiving, and drove off. For me, life was never quite the same.
    Upon graduating from college i did join the military, receiving a commission as a second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force – which was another opportunity, and set of learning experiences.

    My one buddy struggled with booze and work, had two kids before he was twenty, and had it hard for a long time. My other buddy managed to fanagle his way into the local fire department, and made a career of it – and had it pretty good, all in all.

    if our family, church and schools not an important part of our lives: both early on and thru adulthood, then yes, there are going to be hard times. I commend Mr. Eisner – for the sheppard left the flock, to rescue the one sheep . . .

  4. HarryCaray

    Excellent piece Lloyd. I am a Vincennes University grad in Machine Trades before moving on to Purdue for engineering. VU opened many doors with the excellent program and professors. Amazingly, this school does draw many students from Gary (though most are not enrolled in the technology department) and Fort Wayne areas along with most of the rest of Indiana and parts of Illinois. Many of my graduating class, including me, were from north central Indiana.
    It has been over 15 years since graduating, and I am finding more and more ways to apply this knowledge base as my garage based machine shop has sprung to life. It will soon take the place of my current manufacturing engineering role as my career.
    America is still the land of opportunity, we just have to know where to look…and be willing to work for it.

  5. rick

    Look at Dr Ben Carson.

    Carson has stated that he spent much of his childhood in a very impoverished neighborhood in Detroit.

    Thorough all of his disadvantages he rose above it all.

    He is a “uniter”, unlike the current divider in chief…

  6. ed kays

    I do not believe in a free education. Anything given to you that you don’t earn does not have the same value. Almost any person who wants a college education can obtain the necessary loans to accomplish this. I worked and borrowed my way through to a BS in Manufacturing Engineering. I have owned my own business for 34 years which I started from scratch as the only employee. I am of average intelligence and didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together. If I can do this, most anyone else can. You just have to want it, and be willing to work hard enough and long enough to get it.


    1. Emily

      If you listen to the podcast Lloyd mentioned, you may have some insight as to why it’s not that easy for a lot of people.

  7. Dan McCool

    Vincennes University and Gene Hass just opened a new training & education center just north of Indianapolis in Lebanon In. Its a wonderful facility full of brand new Hass equipment

  8. steve

    177 dollars per credit hour. To make what 25.-30 dollars an hour if your lucky. The problem is your a trained professional and most can’t make a good living wage. People will pay a lawyer or a plumber 125.-250 per hour, But a machinist can’t. Even thou your just as professional. I’ve been in this trade for 30+ years and customers still only care about price. You can have the best quality and best equipment, but the bottom line is really what matters the most. It’s an honorable profession, But not respected the way it should be. My 2 cents.


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