Archive: 2017

  1. 2017 Year in Review: Revenge of the Women

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    Women’s March – Jan. 2017

    2017 started at one of the bleakest moments for American women since the birth of the modern feminist movement in the 1960s.  Women faced the prospect of being governed for the next four years by an admitted sexual predator and a Republican Congress hellbent on taking away their health care.  To make matters worse, White women had actually put Trump in office, voting against the first female for President.  From this bleak beginning, a remarkable thing happened.  Women finally broke their silence.  They finally said enough is enough.  Starting with the massive Women’s March in January, which was larger than the inauguration of the Groper-in-Chief, and accelerating with the #MeToo movement that exposed sexual harassment in every corner of our society where men hold exclusive power, women are truly the biggest story of 2017 in the USA.


    Pundits warned us that Trump was unfit to be President throughout the presidential campaign, but did the American voter listen?  Of course not.  We don’t need no stinking experts to educate us about anything.  Instead, Americans voted their misogyny by electing a man who promised to put White men back in charge and back in the privileged positions that they had enjoyed for centuries until the civil rights movement insisted that everyone have an equal opportunity to succeed.  After Charlottesville VA, we learned that “Make America Great Again” really means “Make America White Again.”

    So, we got what we knew we were going to get — an ill-tempered, bigoted egomaniac who is utterly unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief and Leader of the so-called “Free World.”  Even his dwindling band of supporters must constantly apologize and clean up after their idol, who like an incontinent cow, continues to spew bullshit everywhere he goes, setting records for the number of lies that can be packed into 140 characters. While the media focuses on his Twitter feed, he is attempting to destroy the federal government by preventing public agencies from executing their stated missions and instead turning them into privatized entities for the benefit of the wealthy.  The Republican Party acts like the biggest problem in America is that the rich don’t have enough money.  So, in their sole legislative achievement of 2017, they passed a tax cut that gives 60 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent. For all they care, the rest of America can die of an opioid overdose in a cardboard box under the nearest freeway overpass.

    Never in American history has a President been embroiled in so much scandal so quickly.  Trump’s National Security Advisor lasted all of 3 weeks and has now plead guilty to a felony.  Three other Trump campaign aides have already pled guilty or been indicted.  His son and son-in-law are rumored to be next in line for indictment.  As of last count, 18 Trump campaign officials met with Russians tied to Putin during the campaign and every single one of them lied about it afterwards until caught.  Russian agents and bots used Facebook and Twitter to interfere in our election in support of Trump.  We still don’t know the full extent of the collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but what has already come out in the past year should be cause for alarm.  If the Russians had sent their warplanes and bombed Washington, DC, we would have declared all-out nuclear war.  Instead, they sent their secret agents and cyber warriors to attack our election using our own media as a weapon against us, and we are sitting around arguing about whether we should do something to defend ourselves.  One thing is for sure – Trump has a man-crush on Putin.  We still don’t know exactly why, but that will come out eventually, perhaps in 2018.

    Trumpism has also brought us cronyism, nepotism and many other forms of corruption.  Having seen first-hand overseas the devastating consequences of a culture of corruption, where nothing gets done without bribery and quid pro quos, I am particularly troubled at the rising level of corruption in our own federal, state and local governments.  People used to run for office to serve the public, but now it has become a means to serve and enrich oneself and one’s campaign donors.  If we don’t get money out of politics, we will face the same level of political corruption that we used to laughingly refer to as “banana republic.”  Perhaps we will be the first “apple republic” (with a nod to Johnny Appleseed).


    The U.S. economy continued to expand in 2017, growing at a rate of just over 2 percent, about the same as 2016.  The global economy also recovered from a slowdown in 2016 and posted healthy gains.  U.S. unemployment declined to 4 percent, reflecting continued hiring, although much of it was due to replacement of retiring boomers rather than business expansion.  Some economists argued that the U.S. had achieved full employment and that further hiring would be limited by the lack of willing workers.  Others pointed out, however, that about 18 percent of the workforce are working part-time or as contractors when many would prefer full-time employment.  Moreover, millions of Americans who dropped out of the labor market during the Great Recession have yet to return.  This suggests the economy can still absorb more new hires if employers are willing to offer full-time work at living wages with benefits.  Unfortunately, that does not seem likely, given the corporate world’s addiction to outsourcing and contingent workers as a means of controlling costs.  Although full-time employment as a percentage of the total has recovered from the Great Recession low of 80 percent, it has stalled over the past several years, while part-time employment continues to grow.  Moreover, wage growth has also not accelerated as one might expect in a tight labor market.  The average American got a 2.5 percent raise this year, barely keeping pace with inflation.

    Meanwhile, U.S. corporate profits rose by an average of 6 percent in 2017, spurring the stock market to record highs.  What are companies doing with all the extra profit they earned?  As we’ve seen above, less than half of the profit went to higher salaries.  The rest of it was handed to shareholders in the form of dividends, spent on buying up competitors through mergers, or was simply banked as undistributed profits, expanding the already sizable horde of cash that companies are piling up in tax-free havens around the world.  Technology investment rose in some sectors, particularly robotics and artificial intelligence.  From self-driving vehicles to self-service banking and retail, the future looks increasingly automated.

    The one thing few businesses did with their largess was expand operations and hire new workers.  You might be wondering why businesses don’t reinvest more of the money in growth.  The reason most cite is that the demand for new products and services is simply not there.  Every first year Accounting student knows that if a company produces more than it can sell, it will suffer a loss in the form of unsold inventory. Since the U.S. is largely a consumer-driven economy, demand only grows when people have more money in their pockets to spend.

    Instead of stimulating demand, the huge tax cuts recently passed by Congress are aimed at stimulating supply in the form of more money circulating in the economy.  The 40 percent reduction in the corporate tax rate and 5 percent drop in the rate paid by the wealthiest Americans amounts to a nearly 5 trillion-dollar give-away over the next decade.  The government’s own accountants estimate this will add 1.5 trillion to our bulging national debt and will exacerbate the widening gap between rich and poor. Things have already gotten so unequal that just three Americans – Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos – possess more combined wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population representing 160 million people.  Republicans claim that the tax cuts will spur so much economic activity that they will pay for themselves in increased tax revenues from all the extra money circulating in the economy.  Based on history, this trickle-down, supply-side economic theory is about as likely to happen as your winning the lottery.

    Predictably, government revenues will decrease dramatically and Republicans will be back in 2018 suddenly shocked (shocked!) to discover that tax receipts have declined, despite their prior assurances that no such thing could ever happen.  They will then call for cuts to all the government programs that they oppose (which now includes everything but the military).  Pundits have pointed out that the Republican Party even has a name for this strategy “starve the beast.”  It is a two-step process.  One, cut taxes on the rich and reduce government revenues. Two, cut the social safety net for everyone else to bring spending in line with reduced revenues and increase the tax burden on the middle class. This tax bill is candid about who it is intended to help – corporations get a permanent 40% tax cut while individual tax cuts will expire in 10 years, leaving the middle class on the hook to pay at least $1.5 trillion more in debt.

    Evidence from past Republican tax cuts going all the way back to the 1920’s and repeated in the Reagan and Bush eras shows that most of the extra tax relief provided to the rich never makes its way back into the economy to benefit the lower classes.  Instead, the wealthy tend to keep the money for themselves, increasing their luxury lifestyles.  Moreover, all the money sloshing around in the hands of the wealthy leads to rampant speculation and an overheated bubble which will eventually burst, leading to recession or worse. It happened in 1929, 1987 and 2008 and it will happen again in a few years, mark my words. Republicans may have bought themselves temporary victory in 2018, but this will blow up in their faces before long.

    If Congress really wanted to stimulate the economy, the most direct way would be to give every single American more money to spend, not just the wealthy.  If the 5 trillion in tax cuts was divided up equally, every single American man, woman and child would get $15,600.  Most of us would spend every penny of that on increased consumption, saving or debt reduction, providing a huge stimulus to the economy.  Instead, the average American worker will be lucky to get $1,000 extra and about one-third of the middle class will get a tax increase due to the elimination of many popular deductions, while the one percenters will get millions and even billions in tax relief they don’t need and won’t productively invest.

    Apparently, the real purpose of tax cuts is not to stimulate the economy, as advertised by advocates, but simply to enrich politicians and their wealthy donors at the expense of everyone else.  Since most Congressman are millionaires themselves and their top political donors are 1 percenters, they stand to benefit the most from the latest tax cuts.  Trump’s family alone is estimated to receive a one-billion-dollar windfall from the elimination of the estate tax, despite his repeated false claims that he will personally owe more.  Of course, there’s no way of telling for sure, since he refuses to release his tax returns and has declared it is smart to avoid paying taxes altogether.


    The #MeToo movement sprung up after shocking revelations about sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment business, starting at the Weinstein Company.  As more women took up the gauntlet and revealed their own #MeToo moment of sexual misconduct, more powerful men were exposed and forced to resign – TV news anchors, producers, actors, musicians and politicians among them.  By now, it is a movement that is flexing its political muscle, preventing accused pedophile Roy Moore from election to the US Senate. By exposing the misbehavior of powerful men, #MeToo has revealed a culture that is far from its professed ideal of treating women as equals.  Much as Americans like to criticize the rest of the world for its treatment of females, we now know our own house is full of lechery and abuse.

    Although the vast majority of #MeToo stories are from women harassed by men, a few stories have also been shared by men.  After over 50 years of silence, I have a #MeToo story I am prepared to share for the first time.  Emboldened by the bravery of the women who have come forward, I began to reflect on my own life experience.  When I was 14 years old and on a cross-country bus trip to Reno, NV, an adult male got on the bus and sat in the seat next to me.  He was perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s.  I said little to him during the long ride.  That night, while I was asleep, he reached over and grabbed my crotch.  When I awoke with his hand fondling me, I immediately jolted and turned away from him.  Moments later, I got up to use the restroom and when I came back, I changed seats.  I never said anything to him nor did he ever speak to me.  I felt dirty and ashamed that I let this happen, but never uttered a word out of embarrassment.  Did I suffer any long-term effects?  Not really.  I put it out of my mind and tried to never think about it.  Still, it was a shocking introduction to homosexuality for a 14-year-old boy who knew nothing of this at the time.  When I think back on it now, I realize he committed a serious crime, but at the time, I was convinced that no one would ever believe me or worse yet, would think I somehow invited the unwelcome conduct.

    Based on my own experience, I understand why some women take years before they can summon the courage to come forward and report what they have hidden in shame deep within themselves.  However, as painful as revelation can be, it can also be liberating.  When we speak out about the unspeakable conduct of predators, we put a name and a face on ugly behavior that has gone unreported since the dawn of human society. We make it harder for predators to get away with their abuse.  I hope that this leads us to a better society where we respect each other, not prey on each other.  I realize this is hopelessly optimistic, given our dog-eat-dog culture, but I applaud all the women who have had the courage to step forward and take a stand for dignity, respect and equality. We have so much work ahead to achieve the American dream of prosperity, liberty and justice for all.  


    This year was kind to everyone in my immediate family, myself included.  Despite attempting to cut back as I ease into retirement, I wound up working and earning more than last year.  My girlfriend Tania is busy opening a new restaurant in Redlands, my mother Harriet is enjoying retirement in the middle of her eighth decade, my sons Vince and Steven are both building their careers and granddaughter Jade has started school and loves it.

    My business continued to reap the benefits of increased investment in training and development.  According to Association for Talent Development’s 2017 State of the Industry report, both spending per employee and average hours of formal learning increased last year. Thanks to my many wonderful clients, I took trips to Haiti, UAE and the Philippines this year, and I managed to work in a bit of pleasure along with the business.  I also traveled to several U.S. cities for business, including San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Austin, DC, Phoenix, Erie PA and Dothan AL.  I am truly blessed to have three reliable clients who together give me all the work I can handle.  With customers like I have, I doubt I’ll ever retire!

    I decided to have my DNA tested this year to find out more about my ancestry and medical history.  It was quite an eye-opening experience. Medically, I was relieved to find out that I am unlikely to pass on any hereditary diseases to my off-spring, although the test did confirm that I have a hereditary disease that affects blood clotting and a 25% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This news gave me pause, but I would rather know what may happen and take steps now to prevent it than face the future in a state of ignorance.

    While the ancestry tests confirmed that I am primarily Irish, British and Scottish, I discovered other parts of my ancestry that I had never known, such as Italian, Romanian, Gypsy, Jordanian and West African lineage on my mother’s side and Native American (Iroquois) on my father’s side.  I had always thought of myself as a plain vanilla White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, but I found within my genes a much more diverse human being.  I believe if we were all to learn about our ancestry, we would realize that we have much more in common than the superficial differences which divide us.


    Priceless Moments

    2017 gave us many priceless moments we won’t soon forget, even if we tried.  Here are a few of my favorites.

    North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung Un:

    Your juvenile shouting match with Trump alarmed the world and led many to declare you crazy, but I see an insecure, unqualified leader who is desperately clinging to power at any cost, even if that means threatening to destroy the whole world.  In that way, you are just another tin-horned authoritarian with an oversized bullhorn.  The world has a bumper crop of leaders like you, including the current resident of the White House.  

    Former Presidential Press Secretary Sean Spicer (aka ‘Spicy’):

    It’s not easy lying with a straight face to cover the blizzard of lies emanating from your boss’ Twitter feed, but you took deception to a whole new level with claims that photographs showing far fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s were fake.  After all, who are you going to believe?  The President’s false claims or your own lying eyes? Even Nazis didn’t lie as blatantly as you.  At least you provided employment to one person – Melissa McCarthy made a mint caricaturizing you to perfection.

    Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein:

    One would think a wealthy kingmaker like you would be able to attract females without resorting to assault, but maybe it isn’t about the sex after all.  Maybe it’s about using your power to get whatever you want, because according to your buddy Trump, “When you’re famous, they let you get away with it.”  Well, not any more, bub.

    Late Night TV Comedian Jimmy Kimmel:

    Your monologues about your baby’s illness and the vital importance of health care probably saved the Affordable Care Act from certain Republican repeal.  Thanks for thinking about others who are less fortunate than a millionaire celebrity and might see their own infant die from lack of money to pay for outrageously-priced health care.  But I wonder what it says about America when a late-night comedian has more moral authority than the 49 U.S. senators who voted to deny coverage to 20 million people?

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

    The next time you block my FB account because I posted a 30 second clip of a copyrighted concert, please remind me to buy a FB ad with Rubles so I can reach 120 million of your customers with fake uncopyrighted propaganda.

    Singer/composer Luis Fonsi of Despacito (Slowly):

    Your catchy little ditty loaded with sexual innuendos was the smash hit that we could not get out of our brains, but the title also aptly sums up the government’s response to the devastating hurricane that hit your home of Puerto Rico.  Three months later, 30% of the island is still without power and potable drinking water.

     Bitcoin cryptocurrency:

    The latest speculative craze to sweep the world, bitcoin enjoyed a spectacular year, rising over 1500%.  But when everyone and his brother is telling you to jump into this gaming pit or suffer FOMO, it’s time to head the other way.  The big boys have made a killing and are about to pull the rug out under regular investors.  Remember the boom and bust?  This will be bigger yet.




  2. Psychological Process of Learning

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    One of the most important topics covered in the Designing Learning certificate program that I teach for ATD is the neuroscience of how humans learn.  Thanks to breakthroughs in medical science, we now know much more about how the brain functions when in a state of learning.  Applying this to instructional design and delivery of training promotes natural learning methods that tap into the way our brains are programmed to learn from the moment of our birth until our last breath.

    So, what has science taught us about how humans learn?  Learning begins with our five senses and their ability to experience the world around us. Those experiences are filtered through our short-term memory, which processes and assigns meaning to the sensory information it receives.  Some of that information is transferred to our long-term memory, where it joins the repository of everything we know and have experienced in our lives.  When we need a piece of that knowledge, we use memory and references to help us recall it from our long-term memory bank.   The process is illustrated below.

    Based on Memory Model by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin (1968)








    Note that as information enters and is processed by the brain, it can either be forgotten or passed along to our long-term memory, where it becomes a permanent part of us.  We forget for a number of reasons.  First, our senses may become overloaded by too much stimuli.  If we try to process a rapid series of images, we are likely to forget much of what just passed before our eyes.  Second, our working memory is also subject to overload.  While it is a marvelous processing center, it has limited capacity, typically no more than 7-9 discrete pieces of information.  Once we go beyond its capacity, the working memory can no longer process new information without getting rid of what it currently contains.  For example, imagine someone quickly reciting their telephone number in a voice mail message.  What is the likelihood you will remember that 10 digit number without writing it down?  Unless we encode new information in our long-term memory for future use, the information that we never use is forgotten forever and must be relearned.  Finally, our long-term memory can also cause us to forget when we are unable to retrieve (remember) a piece of knowledge when we need it.  We’ve all had the experience of having the name of something on the tip of our tongues, yet we can’t recall it.

    What causes us to remember?  One important factor is rehearsal or practice.  The more often we repeat something, the more likely we will remember it and be able to use it on demand.  That’s why we easily remember our own phone number, one we have likely had a long time and use frequently, while we don’t remember the phone numbers of acquaintances we rarely call.  Other key factors which contribute to remembering are:

    • Interest in the subject – we tend to remember what fascinates us and to forget what bores us
    • Effort – learning requires our full attention and considerable effort.  When we fail to give it our all, we learn less.
    • Recency – we tend to remember what just happened better than events in the distant past.
    • Sensory integration – the more senses that are involved in the memory, the more vivid it becomes and the more likely we will remember it later.  Our visual sense is the most powerful for learning.
    • Emotional element – we tend to remember events with a high emotional component, such as births, marriages and deaths.
    • Physical well-being – we learn best when we are rested and well-nourished.  Stress and sleep deprivation make learning even harder than it already is.


    Besides applying these fundamental learning principles, we can also promote more natural learning by tapping into the way our brains work in processing new information.

    Image result

    Robert Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction    











    According to educational psychologist Robert Gagne, the process of learning involves nine key events as shown above.    Let’s now explore each of these in more detail to see how they help participants learn.

    1. Gain attention
    We need to prepare learners by giving them reasons to learn the subject at hand.  We can appeal to self-interest (WIIFM) or point out the importance of the knowledge and skills to be acquired.

    2. Orient the learner
    We learn best when we see the big picture and meaning of the subject before diving into the details.  Providing a list of learning objectives and the requirements for successful learning helps learners orient themselves and gauge the amount of effort required to succeed.

    3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
    It helps us learn something new if we can relate it to something we already know or have experienced in the past. So it’s a good idea to ask learners about their past experiences and to use analogies to relate new content to familiar knowledge.  One thing to watch for is when prior knowledge contradicts the new knowledge.  In those cases, the prior learning will actually be a barrier to learning something new.  It may be necessary to first unlearn the old way before learning the new way.

    4. Present content material
    Presentation is the most obvious process of instruction, although it is often done through passive lecture which leads to forgetfulness.  To make presentation more effective, it should organize and chunk knowledge into meaningful bites that working memory can process.  This lowers the cognitive load on the learner.  It is also helpful to use multimedia to engage the senses and to engage learners in discussion and Q&A to deepen their understanding.

    5. Provide learner guidance
    Make the learning process simpler at first by providing instructional support and models. Use case studies and examples to illustrate the application of knowledge.

    6. Elicit performance practice
    Help learners internalize new knowledge and skills through relevant practice.  As much as possible, practice should model what learners are expected to do on the job.   Avoid practice that only calls for rote recall.

    7. Provide informative feedback
    To facilitate learning, provide feedback on the practice activities that learners engage in.  Two types of feedback are important: 1) confirmatory feedback that reinforces what learners did right and 2) corrective feedback that points out mistakes and ways to correct them.

    8. Assess performance
    To measure newly gained knowledge and skill and evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction, assessment should be included and based on the learning objectives.  This can be done through traditional written exams or through performance-based assessment of the learner or a product the learner has produced.  A pre-test is useful to isolate the learning gains caused by instruction.

    9. Enhance retention and transfer
    Learning does not become performance unless applied on the job.  To encourage skill transfer, provide job aids and reference materials that are accessible to learners on the job and encourage supervisors and experienced employees to continue skill building through coaching and mentoring.

    In Gagne’s books, Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction, he argued that these nine events should form the framework for instructional design.  Each lesson, module and course should incorporate these events based on the objectives.  He presented many examples to illustrate how this theory can be implemented in a wide variety of educational settings.

    To learn more about the psychological process of learning and the best ways to analyze, design and develop effective adult training programs, consider registering for an upcoming ATD Designing Learning certificate program.  I will be facilitating this course from December  13-15 in San Francisco.  More sessions are coming in 2018.




  3. What 23andMe Taught Me About Myself (and Humanity)

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    Like every other American, I have long wondered about my origins. Being a nation of immigrants presents challenges to tracing our roots. At some point, they stretch back to foreign soil, to places that most of us will never have the chance to visit. So, the ancestral trail can run cold quickly.

    Genetic Testing
    When I learned about the new field of genetic testing, I felt intrigued by the desire both to know more about myself and the science behind genetic testing. Several companies now offer genetic testing to the public, thanks to breakthroughs in sequencing and analyzing the human genome. They fall into three categories:

    • Ancestry
    • Medical
    • Both

    I chose 23andMe because they provide both ancestral and medical DNA analysis. They are one of the few genetic testing companies that have gained FDA approval to conduct medical tests and provide medical information based on genetics. Though my ancestry was the primary motivator to get tested, I also wanted to know more about my medical history, not so much for my own well-being, which is fortunately healthy, but for that of my children and grandchildren, who might inherit a genetic condition from me. Some people prefer to remain in the dark about their genetic health risks, thinking that ignorance is bliss. As an educator and life-long learner, I’d rather know the brutal facts than be in the dark.

    So, I ordered my test kit, spit in the test tube as directed and dropped it off in the mail. Six weeks later, I got an email informing me that my results were ready for viewing on the company’s secure website.

    I plan to describe my results in two parts: ancestry and medical, since each reveals fascinating, but quite different, results and insight on our being. This blog will focus on ancestry first, since it was my initial motivation to be tested. An upcoming blog will address the medical side of genetic testing.

    My Family Tree
    Based on what I knew about my family’s history, I expected to be primarily Irish, English and Scottish. This was based not only on my parents and grandparents’ backgrounds, but on a historical record that has survived the centuries. I have the good fortune of having contemporaneous records of my particular twig of the Ford family tree dating to 1828, when my Irish great3 grandfather kept a diary of his voyage from Glasgow, Scotland to Montreal, Canada, from whence he migrated to upstate New York, bought a farm and raised a family of Fords in the little, friendly town of Friendship, the very same place where my father was born nearly one hundred years later. The diary was handed down from Ford father to son until I received a copy. Most of my Ford ancestors are interred in the Friendship town cemetery.

    I also knew quite a bit about my mother’s side of my ancestry because my grandmother was the Rushford, NY town historian and had a passion for the past that she passed down to me. I knew that my mother’s roots in America went back farther to Boston, Massachusetts, where her ancestors landed in the late 1600s. Shortly afterwards, her ancestors migrated west to upstate New York, where they became farmers in the fertile valleys of the Finger Lakes region. There were rumors of marriages with outsiders, including an Iroquois Seneca, but no hard proof that I’d ever seen.

    So, when I opened my Ancestry Composition, I immediately observed that I am indeed majority British and Irish, as I had previously learned about my immediate ancestors. But when I looked deeper, I found that it only accounted for 54% of my DNA. The remaining 46% revealed parts of my heritage that had been heretofore unknown to me.

    The other nearly half of me was quite a diverse rainbow: German, French, Scandinavian, Italian, Roma Gypsy, Native American (Iroquois) and West African. That last one was the biggest surprise. Although only 1% of my genetic makeup, sometime late in the 1700’s, six to seven generations back, one of my great-grandparents was 100% West African.

    Completely unexpected, the revelation opens a whole new line of genealogy to explore. Current DNA testing cannot tell me from which parent I inherited West African genes nor whether the person was male or female. But I found a way to overcome the first limitation by having my mother also take the test. It revealed that she too had West African genes, confirming it was a grandparent on her side who married into our family around the time of the American Revolution.

    My working hypothesis is that a Southern slave made their way to New York, a free state, and met someone in my family with whom they bore a child. By the mid-1700’s, the Underground Railroad was already helping slaves escape from Southern bondage and ferrying them north. New York state and Rochester became a major destination for freed slaves who knew they were beyond the reach of bounty hunters who chased them all the way across the Pennsylvania border on their journey north. Frederick Douglas was the most famous former slave who made his way to Rochester, where he lived out his life and wrote his most important works.

    I am now left with many questions about this long-ago ancestor and a deeper understanding of who I am. I am intrigued to know who this person was and how he/she became part of my family tree. Even if I never unravel this mystery, just knowing about my African heritage, however miniscule, perhaps helps explain my love for jazz and basketball, among other aspects of African-American culture I enjoy.

    As for my alleged Native American heritage, I always found my grandmother’s claim a bit embarrassing, since so many White people like to say they have “Indian blood”, as if to absolve themselves of their White guilt for the genocide inflicted on Native Americans. As it turned out, my Native American ancestry was confirmed, but it happened about 300 years or 9-10 generations ago, so distant in my ancestral past that it represents less than 1% of my DNA.

    In the early 1700s, while the U.S. was still a British colony, European settlers lived nearby Iroquois villages throughout western New York, mostly in peace. Since there were far more European men than women, some took brides among the natives. I suspect one of my ancestors did just that, thus introducing Native American genes into my family line, although by now they are but faint echoes across the centuries.

    Thanks to my mother’s test results, I learned another startling fact about my past. It turns out she has no Native American genes, so her mother’s tale of an Iroquois Seneca maiden in our past is bogus. It was my father’s side of the family that gave me my Native American genes. Since I know the male side only arrived in America in the 1820’s, it must be someone from the female side who predated the Fords’ arrival in Western New York. I wonder who she was and how she came to be a part of my heritage around 300 years ago? In light of this, I have reconsidered my lifelong fascination with Native American cultures and their origins in East Asia. Perhaps I have been trying to understand an ancient part of myself all this time.

    Origin of Our Species
    Beyond my ancestors’ colorful history in western New York, I discovered that genetic testing can take us even further back to our origins as a species. Analysis of the Y-chromosome in males enables the construction of a paternal lineage tree dating back as far as 275,000 years ago. The family of lineages that share a common ancestor are called haplogroups. Because lineages share geographic roots, a person’s haplogroup can provide insight into the origins of ancient ancestors. For females, haplogroups are based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Each generation, mothers pass essentially identical copies of their mtDNA down to their children. Both males and females inherit mitochondrial DNA from their mothers, but only females pass it on. However, mtDNA isn’t copied perfectly every time. Every so often, a mutation — a change in the DNA sequence — occurs and is passed on to the following generations. Over many generations, mtDNA mutations stack up in patterns that uniquely mark individual maternal lines that can be linked to ancestry.

    Thus, I discovered that genetic testing provides a more scientific way to differentiate human populations, instead of relying on obvious physical characteristics like skin, hair or eye color. So far, scientists have identified about 30 major haplogroups in the human population, and numerous subgroups representing the vast diversity in our evolution as a species across the globe.

    My paternal haplogroup is R, specifically the L51 subgroup, which is common in Northern Europe. The test revealed that my paternal ancestors appeared in northern Europe about 22,000 years ago and settled in that region until great-great-great grandpa Daniel boarded a boat for the New World in 1828. This accounts for my British, Irish, German, French and Scandinavian roots. I’d like to imagine that we were Vikings once, roaming the North Sea, exploring and marauding. But the most recent origin of Ford is related to river crossings at places where the water level is low enough to traverse on foot or horseback. The people in Ireland and England who lived near the fords in the many rivers and streams that crisscross those nations eventually took Ford for their surname.

    My maternal haplogroup is U3, which originated much earlier, after modern humans expanded out of East Africa into the Middle East about 45,000 years ago. Many individuals carrying U3 still occupy this ancestral homeland, including about 40% of Jordanians. My mother’s ancestors likely headed west through Turkey into the European continent about 12,000-8,000 years ago. There, about 9,000 years ago, they encountered the Roma Gypsies, who migrated to southeastern Europe from southwestern Asia and spread to Italy and Spain. My Italian and Gypsy ancestry can be traced back through my mother’s haplogroup, which is rare in Europe but still prevalent in the Middle East and among the Roma Gypsies.

    Our Common Humanity
    The most striking thing I learned about my ancestral genetics is the incredible diversity it revealed. I’ve always thought of myself as a rather plain vanilla While Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) male, someone devoid of diversity, left outside of its orbit altogether. Now, I realize that my ancestors include people not only from northern Europe, but also southern Europe, the Middle East, West Africa and North America. I contain within my genes pieces of all humanity which can be traced back to our common ancestor in East Africa – homo sapiens – over 275,000 years ago. Thanks to this new understanding of who I am, I feel much more connected to the rest of humanity. I believe if we all got ancestral genetic testing, we would finally discover that we truly have more in common than the superficial differences which currently divide us.


  4. Interview with ATD Education Manager regarding Designing Learning Certificate Program

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    Here’s an interview I recently did with ATD’s Amanda Smith on their Designing Learning Certificate Program. Dr. Ford has been a Facilitator of this program since 2004.