Saturday Assorted Links

1. If you’re like me, it takes the World Cup to generate much interest in football. And if like me, your country didn’t qualify, you’re in search of a team. I present to you a cogent argument for Peru or La Blanquirroja.

2. Can you guess the language that is eating the world?

3. The beginning of the end for college admission tests?

“Starting this fall, Chicago will invite applicants to send a two-minute video ‘introduction.’ That idea echoes Goucher College’s recent embrace of video as a means of connecting with teenagers who grew up filming themselves with smartphones.”

4. I am often saddened by how casually acquaintances and friends of mine talk despairingly about the homeless. How best to help troubled men and women without homes raises more questions than answers. Progress is slow at best. In the meantime, there is something we can do for however long it takes to make genuine progress. We can acknowledge homeless men’s and women’s human dignity by treating them kindly. More specifically, we can take the lead from this African American man in challenging people’s anti-homeless cruelty.

5. Love never forgets.

6. This saddens me. Greatly. Of course the same could be written about Eldrick Tiger Woods and Ronaldo (no relation, despite the physical similarities) Byrnes.

And God said, “Thou Shalt Get Good Grades”

College bound secondary students do a fantastic job of internalizing parents’, teachers’, and college counselors’ expectations that they earn “A’s” on everything, do well on their college entrance exams, and participate in endless extracurricular activities. Wired to seek their parents’ approval, they acquiesce to a college admission committee full court press.

Parents of college bounders pay little attention to whether their children are curious, interested in ideas, and acting ethically in school. Given good grade mania, it’s unsurprising that most college bounders cut serious corners as a recent New York Times headline detailed in an article titled, “Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception.” A more accurate headline would have read “Studies Find More Students Cheating, Especially High Achievers.”

Parents of college bounders let their economic anxiety get the best of them and their children. They worry about whether their children will get into a good college, earn a degree, and find and keep a job that pays a livable wage and provides health benefits. Parent pleasing, achievement oriented students learn that school is a competition for good grades. Making sure one gets mostly “A’s” justifies all sorts of shortcuts including copying other’s work; befriending teachers as insurance in case of borderline grades; cheating on exams; and getting their parents to do their work.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A more humane alternative is to talk about academic achievement in terms of fulfilling one’s potential to make a positive difference in others’ lives. We need to challenge and encourage young people to imagine themselves as doctors, teachers, nurses, social workers, engineers, plumbers, business owners, and field biologists. People for whom considerable knowledge; communication, technical, and interpersonal skills; and character matter far more than one’s grade point average.

Forget being an “A” student. Instead, pay close attention and work really hard in school today so that five, ten, fifteen years from now you’re the best doc, teacher, nurse, social worker, engineer, plumber, business owner, or field biologist as possible. And thereby touch more people’s lives in more substantive ways.

Academic transcripts communicate little if anything about whether students are developing increasing self-understanding and an emerging sense of purpose, nor do they reveal what skills students are developing. And I’ve never seen an academic transcript that communicated whether or not students are fulfilling their potential to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Fight the power of good grade mania by framing academic achievement in terms of fulfilling one’s potential to make a positive difference in others’ lives and agitate for much more revealing academic transcripts.

Notes from the College Search

Spent Friday with the Good Wife and Sixteen visiting a private liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington—not the one with the very good Division 1 basketball team. The one with a very good Division 3 basketball team.

My main objective was not to embarrass Second Born by not saying or doing anything to bring myself attention. I was doing really well until mid-day. Early on we learned about the “Three Littles” that every student strives to accomplish. . . 1) get hit by a frisbee; 2) accidentally break a dish in the cafeteria; and 3) catch a “virgin” pine cone—meaning one that hasn’t hit the ground. In the middle of the campus tour, I faked catching a pine cone by droping to the rear, picking one up of the ground, then exclaiming to a few peeps around me, “Look, I did it. I caught a virgin pine cone.” Turned out more than a few people heard. Everyone liked my head fake except Golden Locks.

Thought one. A prediction. Higher education, like every other institution, is changing and will continue to change. However, the pace of change will be slower than the “experts” anticipate. Online “education”, or the cynic in me prefers, “internet coursework”, will continue to challenge the traditional “brick and mortar” model of schooling. Hybrid programs will become more common. But based on Friday’s sample of one, private, read pricey, residential liberal arts education is alive and well. “Spokane” University is thriving despite a relatively small endowment. It’s becoming more selective, it’s improving its already nice facilities, and it feels like there is a lot of positive momentum.

Thought two. A paradox. Many private liberal arts colleges offer financial aid packages that average 30-40% of the tuition and room and board “list price”. This coupled with Washington State’s public universities having to increase tuition 15% annually into the foreseeable future, means many families of high achieving students will find privates more affordable going forward. “Spokane” University has four merit-based scholarship tiers. The higher your grade point average and SAT or ACT score, the greater your financial aid. The second tier is a 3.7 and 1880 on the SAT if I remember correctly. That’s worth something like $15,000 each year. Any high schooler planning on going to college should think long and hard about taking any part-time job that might negatively impact their grades. You’d have to scoop ice-cream part-time at Baskin Robins for five years to make $15,000.

Thought three. Confirmation of a core belief. I believe economic anxiety explains most behavior these days. Especially, but not exclusively, middle and upper middle class parents of K-12 students. One of the day’s events was a panel discussion with four “Spokane” University students answering questions. Of the dozen or so questions asked during the hour, eleven were asked by parents. The only explanation I could think of for that was deep seated anxiety about their children’s futures. I wanted to tell the lady with red hair, who asked a few different questions, to “shut the hell up,” but I had already embarrassed TSwift once. Incredibly aggravating. Free parenting advice—at least try letting your son, who looked like a grown man to me, find his own way.

I took one picture. No, not of the beavers I saw on my run along the edge of the over flowing Spokane River, not of the baby ducklings, and not of the loquacious woman with red hair.

Dig the smart mix-use design

Finally, most importantly, make sure whatever college you decide to attend has plexiglass backboards.

Extra Circular Activities

I’m working on a paper on why students cheat so much in high school, how they rationalize it, and what it means for improving high schools. I’m in the pre-writing stage, re-reading and coding some of my first year college students’ papers on their high school experience. Here’s an excerpt from one of them. The humor lies in the typo and unintended pun:

On top of being a straight A student, my parents also expected me to participate in extra circular activities. By being involved I as able to show colleges I was a very well rounded individual who could balance the demands of school and extra circular activities.

Extra circular activities, the mind whirls. Could it be crew? Could this particular crew row in a giant circle in a large roundish lake? A donut eating club? A cross country team that runs in large circles around the city, school, track? A student government that sits in a circle? A folk dance club?

Friends don’t let friends develop spell-checker dependency.

Here’s another decidedly less funny excerpt from another student’s paper:

There was one word to describe my math teacher junior year: Exacting. This teacher had his class curriculum sealed tight.  He knew every part of his Power Point slides and what he was going to write on the board. He always followed the book closely and I was seriously struggling.  In his class, I was like a fish out of water, desperately trying to grasp the concepts of pre-calculus. I spent a majority of my time trying to slack my way to a good grade and not actually take the time to learn the concepts and functions taught.  I frantically tried to find loop holes and backdoors around assignments and test but had no luck.  I gave up, trying to find my way around the assignment and started to read the book and try and learn the curriculum.  However, while I was flipping through the pages of my book a short sentence in the bottom left hand corner of the page caught my eye, it read, “See teacher’s edition”.  Suddenly a light went off.  I went straight home after school ended, turned on my computer and proceeded to find a teacher’s edition book of high school pre-calculus.  I found it and purchased it.  I felt relieved that I had mastered the impossible and found a backdoor to success in my math class.    The teacher’s edition book had everything I needed, from test answers to assignments.  After that I never ran into a bump in the road and coasted through the rest of my junior year.

And finally, this sixth-grader has the makings of an excellent Donut Club prez. His paragraph is titled “The Fake Doughnut”.

Competitive Fire

You’re granted an “adolescent magic wand” with which you can provide the young adults you know an intense competitiveness or an above average ability to cooperate with others. Which do you choose?

Trick question because they’ll benefit from an intense competitiveness in the world of work and from cooperation-based experiences, knowledge, and skills in their personal lives.

An intense competitiveness will undoubtedly come in handy with the college admissions process, tightening labor markets, and the fluid, knowledge economy that an increasing number of Chinese, east-Indian, and Brazilian young adults are confidently entering.

Rewind to last week’s Narrows League Swim Meet at Foss High School in Tacoma, WA. Two hundred adolescent female swimmers exhibiting differing degrees of competitiveness. The mother and father in front of me sit passively until their daughter enters the water and then they go beserk. Their daughter, one of the top swimmers at the meet, seemingly feeds off their energy.

I’ve got the dad all figured out. Former national water polo player, then extreme fighter, and now UFC executive. He’s stolen my hair cut, but I let it go because I’m a wee bit intimidated by the tats running down his rippled triceps.

Event two for his daughter and I’m in full on eavesdropping mode. Dad is flexing for daughter and she’s eating it up from the behind the block. He air-shouts and she lip-reads, “GO HARD!” She eats it up as if there’s an electric current connecting them. Swims a 25 second 50 free and all I can think is the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My approach to spectating is more cerebral. I’m in Phil Jackson-mode, sitting quietly focusing more on writing down splits than firing up my daughter. Afterwards, when I get real excited, I flash her a thumbs up sign. Forget electricity, I barely muster a spark.

It must be my fault that my daughters lack competitive fire. But just about then the competitive fire water got muddier.

I’m in the top row of bleachers, leaning against the cinder block wall next to the father of our team’s swimmer of the meet. She won the 50 free, beating rippled triceps daughter in the process, despite having only the fifth fastest qualifying time and she won the 100 breast going away (1:08). Her dad, who I know, stood passively next to me while she swam. Like me, he doesn’t have a bicep to flex. Two egghead peas in a pod, we talk philosophically. Wait a minute, where does his daughter’s intensity come from?

I ask if she’s going to swim in college. “No, we’re discouraging her from doing that it’s such a time-suck.” Mental parenting report card. Two points for separating their egos, minus one for not letting her decide herself.

Maybe competitive fire is like most things in life, part nature, part nurture. Most adolescents are wired like their parent(s) and follow their lead, but not all. What works for each family is different.

Returning to the magic wand, being comfortable with competition is important, but of course there’s a point of diminishing returns. We all know people whose competitive nature gets the best of them.

Once a young person gets into college, and once they take a job, cooperation-based experiences, knowledge, and skills are more integral to their success. Not just their workplace success, but their happiness in life more generally. Which begs the question, why aren’t we more intentional about teaching young people how to cooperate with one another?