Favoring My Private Self

I learned to write at UCLA. In the early 80s. First in a small Remedial English composition class filled with future professional athletes, and later, in history course after history course. One of the myths we erroneously tell ourselves at places like my employer, a smallish private liberal arts university, is that personalized learning can’t happen at large public universities. I’m living proof that’s not true. Sure, often, those history course discussion sections were lead by doctoral students, but they were outstanding and demanding beginning teachers.

Like marathon training, there are no short cuts in learning to write. Defying conventional wisdom about large, public university professors, my teachers and their assistants bled all over my papers. I paid close attention to their feedback and quickly caught up to my peers. And then continued improving quarter by quarter.

One memorable day in my sophomore year, in a large class on Central America, my professor, E. Bradford Burns, read my name and the title of my essay and said it was one of the three most outstanding in the class.

Stunned is putting it mildly. Wish my dad had been there.

After watching me skate through high school the first eighteen years of my life, he thought I should skip college and go to work for him sweeping floors in the Los Angeles factory he ran. Or join the military. If those harangues were reverse psychology, they worked. To succeed I knew I had to apply myself, and I did.

Another leap forward as a writer came exactly one decade later when, thanks to the encouragement of a young innovative mentor from Stanford, I wrote a 324 page doctoral dissertation in novel-like form. In it, I told the story of an International Studies magnet high school in Southern California. I was the very rare doctoral student who enjoyed the vast majority of the dissertation research and writing process.

As a professor, I’ve published quite a bit, but have not found academic writing gratifying. The whole tree in the forest thing. If only a handful of other egghead professors read it, is it worth it? For better or worse, a decade ago, I cut back and started the humble blog.

Which brings us to the present. My E. Bradford Burns booster shot of confidence has faded a bit. Sometimes I think, if I was a good writer, the humble blog would have a larger readership. In fact, I might have to stop referring to it as the humble blog. More important than assessing how well I write or not is the incontrovertible fact that I enjoy it.

One thing I like about it is that it’s difficult. In particular, I struggle with how to engage people without revealing at least some of my inner landscape. For example, right now, apart from writing a semi-autobiographical novel, I can’t figure out how to meaningfully explore and explain what I’ve been thinking most about—motivation, or what causes us to do the things we do, or more to the point, what causes me to do the things I do, without compromising other people’s and my privacy. I’ve struggled with that since the beginning, and doubt I’ll ever master it. I error on the side of maintaining others’ and my privacy.

That means there’s way more unspoken content between blog posts than within them. When I go four or five days without posting, sometimes I’m out of interesting ideas, but other times, I’m just favoring my private self.

I doubt I’m unique in this regard. Isn’t there more to your thinking than you typically let on? Aren’t you semi-transparent at best? Don’t you struggle with being vulnerable? With trusting others with your innermost thoughts? Aren’t we all icebergs of sorts, with much more going on below the surface than anyone realizes?

Or maybe with you, what you see, is what you get. In which case, I am unique.

 

 

 

 

 

Why We’re Likely to See More Student Protests in the Future

In some courses I use a class activity I created that requires my predominantly white future teachers to advise me, their hypothetical principal, on what our increasingly diverse and divided hypothetical high school’s priorities should be. They rank issues in order of importance, first individually, then as teams of “teacher-leaders”. They always rank “Our faculty is predominantly white; as a result, students question whether we value cultural and ethnic diversity” as the least important of the seven issues. In doing so, they say faculty members’ open-mindedness is more important than the color of their skin.

Meaning they are utterly clueless as to what it’s like to never see anyone that looks remotely like them in positions of authority. Some bus drivers, an occasional custodian, but never a teacher or administrator. How does that experience, year after year after year, effect African-American or Latino students’ thinking about what’s possible in the future?

Contrast my students’ thinking with current campus protest leaders:

libresco-datalab-students.png

From least important to single most important. The challenge will be increasing the diversity of college and university faculty given what we know about who is earning PhD’s, the typical prerequisite to higher education faculty positions. Most doctoral students attend selective undergraduate institutions which are struggling to recruit and retain students of color:

Among the 100-odd “very high research activity” institutions scored by Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, most saw their percentage of black undergraduates shrink between 1994 and 2013, the product of modest growth in black enrollment amid a much more rapid expansion of students on campus, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

This list includes not only Ivy League schools and selective private colleges, but also many large public universities, including UCLA, Florida State, and the University of Michigan. Meanwhile, other institutions of higher education—including speciality schools, baccalaureate programs, and colleges that primarily offer associate degrees—have seen black representation increase, sometimes dramatically. Source.

Long story short, the “x” axis, demand for increasingly diverse faculty does not align well at all with the “y” axis, supply of African American, Latino, and other PhD graduates of color. Meaning more protests ahead.

 

 

 

You May Now Unplug the Treadmill

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive (or negative) life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. For example, a person excitedly drives a new car home from a lot. They’re marginally happier. But a few weeks later it’s dirty and the driver has adapted to the improved interior, handling, and quietness. The loving feeling dissipates.

Now that you’re an expert on the hedonic treadmill, you’re ready for a March Madness story about our tendency to think the grass is usually greener on the other side. Let’s title the story “Why is contentment so elusive?”

UCLA, my team, got schooled in the opening round. A few days later, the coach got whacked. The backstory to why is an interesting case study in leadership, but that’s peripheral to our story.

Along with many others, Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Brad Stevens (Butler) have been mentioned as possibile replacements. Because of a new Pac-12 conference television deal, UCLA can triple or quadruple their current “small market” salaries. Both coaches, young and very successful, have been sought after by other schools in recent years.

Here’s what an Indiana reporter recently wrote about Stevens and UCLA.

UCLA just spent $138 million renovating Pauley Pavilion. Stevens is going to be able to negotiate, not just a top salary, but also facility upgrades (the Bruins need a practice facility), length on the contract, security on that contract (Howland got a buyout for the remaining four years on his deal), and assurances that this coach can run the program as he sees fit.

You give Stevens all of that, coupled with the lifestyle that living in Beverly Hills (just a long jump shot from the UCLA campus) brings, and all of sudden Butler fans have a very legitimate reason to be nervous.

I don’t question Stevens’ love of Butler in any way. I love my alma mater, as well. But when he visits the UCLA campus and tours a renovated Pauley Pavilion, visits the private school where his children will attend in Beverly Hills, eats lunch and plays golf at Bel-Air Country Club (just across Sunset Blvd. from the campus), takes Tracy and the kids shopping along Rodeo Drive, and has them (second) home-shop in Hermosa or Manhattan Beach, where they’ll spend their weekends, I can’t fathom that Stevens doesn’t give pause before waving it off.

The same reporter acknowledges:

There is no doubt, Stevens’ love of raising his family in Indiana, his love of Hinkle Fieldhouse, his love of his players, coaches and administration, his affection for everything about his position at Butler, is going to be tested if the UCLA Athletic Director calls.

Finally, he writes:

Stevens has always said “No, thanks” to job offers. And perhaps he will again. But an opportunity to coach UCLA is different. I told him he’d be crazy to turn it down.

I fully expect Stevens to say “thanks, but no thanks” again. And while he’d be a great coach, I’m actually rooting for him to stay off the treadmill. The writer is projecting his desire to live large in some place like Los Angeles onto Stevens. I suspect Stevens knows money changes you. Sending your kids to a Beverly Hills private school will definitely change them and probably not for the better. And if Stevens wanted a second house twenty miles from his primary residence, he would have probably jumped on the elite program coaching treadmill already.

Few’s the same way. Prefers Spokane, Washington over West Los Angeles. Some people are like moths, attracted to the bright lights of big, celebrity filled cities, but both Few and Stevens are reported to be “intensely private” and know there’s a cost to lost anonymity. Nearly everyone thinks they’d be a lot happier if they made a lot more money. A preternatural minority knows that’s not the case.

I applaud Few’s and Stevens’ self-understanding, wisdom, and willingness to not just say “no” to a lot more money once, but repeated times. Here’s hoping they keep daring to be different.

Ask yourself "What would Nike do?" and then do the opposite. Just don't do it.

Ask yourself “What would Nike do?” and then do the opposite. Just don’t do it.

When Parents are Too Child-Centered

[Adapted from Shirley S. Wang in the Wall Street Journal]

Anthropologist Elinor Ochs and her colleagues at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families have studied family life in Samoa and the Peruvian Amazon region, but for the last decade they have focused on the American middle class.

Ten years ago, the UCLA team recorded video for a week of nearly every moment at home in the lives of 32 Southern California families. The families owned their own homes and had two or three children, at least one of whom was between 7 and 12 years old. About a third of the families had at least one nonwhite member, and two were headed by same-sex couples. Each family was filmed by two cameras and watched all day by at least three observers. The researchers acknowledge their presence may have altered some of the families’ behavior.

Among the findings: The families had a very child-centered focus. Parents intend to develop their children’s independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own.

Ochs, who began her career in far-off regions of the world, noticed that American children seemed relatively helpless compared with those in other cultures she and colleagues observed. In Samoa children serve food to their elders, waiting patiently in front of them before they eat. In Peru’s Amazon region children climb tall trees to harvest papaya and help haul logs to stoke fires. By contrast, Los Angeles parents focused more on the children, using simplified talk with them, doing most of the housework and intervening quickly when the kids had trouble completing a task.

In 22 of 30 families, children frequently ignored or resisted appeals to help. In the remaining eight families, the children weren’t asked to do much. In some cases, the children routinely asked the parents to do tasks, like getting them silverware. ‘How am I supposed to cut my food?’ one girl asked her parents.

Asking children to do a task led to much negotiation, and when parents asked, it sounded often like they were asking a favor, not making a demand, researchers said. Parents interviewed about their behavior said it was often too much trouble to ask.

Another finding: When the fathers came home from work, 86% of the time at least one child didn’t pay attention to him. “The kids,” the researchers noted, “are oblivious to their parents’ perspectives.” The researchers theorize that stems from a tendency in U.S. society to adapt to and focus on the children, rather than teaching children to focus on others. Americans tend to encourage children to pay attention to objects more than faces, emphasizing colors and shapes, for instance, over people. In Samoa, children are expected to be attentive to others from a very young age, and parents stress focusing on what others need.

This is a Monday, so I understand if you’re wondering what this research has to do with schooling. In short, everything. Teachers are intimately familiar with the “learned helplessness” the researchers allude to and the “helicopter parents” who swoop in and try to fix their children’s problems for them. No wonder it’s so hard for teachers to get students to think first and foremost about what’s in the best interest of the classroom.

I believe middle (and upper-middle and upper) class America has long since passed a child-centered point of diminishing returns. What explains this profound, albeit relatively recent trend? I wonder if the answer lies in large part in the aforementioned sentence, “Parents interviewed about their behavior said it was often too much trouble to ask.” By which I wonder if they mean, “After working all day we’re too exhausted to teach our children how to set the table, how to make their beds, what to do with their dishes after meals, let alone to remind them of those responsibilities, and also how to pay attention to others’ feelings, and how to solve problems themselves.”

Too few parents realize that by investing time and energy on the front-end, through teaching their children how to help around the house, how to interact respectfully with others, and how to peacefully resolve conflicts, they save themselves major frustration and hardship on the back-end.

Plus, by investing lots of teaching time on the front-end, they increase the odds that their children will become thoughtful, appreciative young adults who know the world doesn’t revolve around them.

And when caring, respectful, selfless students outnumber entitled, dismissive, self-centered ones, teaching will become especially rewarding. And everyone will live happily ever after. Amen.

Understanding Teens

Turns out adolescent anger is contagious.

Mary Daily in the January 2012 issue of the UCLA Magazine summarizes Psychiatry Professor Andrew Fuligni’s and colleagues new research on adolescent development and family relationships.

A study that involved 578 ninth-graders from three ethnically diverse LA public high schools (redundant phrase) showed that adolescents had more arguments with parents or other family members on days when they also had conflicts with their peers, and vice versa. The participants completed a questionnaire at school and kept a diary for 14 days. The daily family-peer link was the same across ethnicities.

In Fuligni’s own words, “Adolescents interactions in the home and with peers shape each other on a daily basis, at least in part, through emotional distress.”

He adds, “Adolescents tend to respond with more extreme and negative emotions than do preadolescents or adults, probably because it’s the time in their lives when they are experiencing multiple transitions that might be stressful—puberty, dating, and changing schools as examples.”

Therefore, do everything possible to minimize family conflict in the interest of improved peer relations, and don’t take every argument personally, instead try to find out if things might have gone sideways with a friend or friends at school.

March Madness and the Miami Heat

“Heat Lose 5 in a Row” reads the ESPN link. The reason? Their starters’ positive point differential is less than their bench player’s negative point differential. Turns out two superstars, one good player, and a bunch of below average players is not an equation for dominating.

Contrast the 2011 Heat with the 2001 Seattle Mariners who went 116-46 based on the GM’s philosophy of being above average at every position.

What does this have to do with March Madness? Well, when you’re filling out your brackets you have to distinguish between 2011 Miami Heat teams and 2001 Seattle Mariners teams.

For example, Arizona—2011 Miami Heat. Belmont—2001 Seattle Mariners.

Heard a great radio interview this week with Rick Byrd, the Belmont coach who has won 500 games in 25 years at Belmont. Imminently likeable dude whose 2008 team, despite their 15 seed, had the lead and the ball against Duke with 45 seconds left. Eleven of his players play at least 10 minutes and none play more than 25. Another coach says, “You could argue their second team is as talented as their first team.”

Another excerpt from a longer tribute to the Belmont Bruins. “Belmont’s bench averaged 40 points per game, the highest average in the country.”

I’m not saying they’re Final Four-bound, but look for a Belmont upset, or two, or three. I’ll be rooting for them. Just hope they don’t leave my Miami Heatish UCLA Bruins in ruins.

[postscript—Pressing Pause is especially big in the “O” states. Duck and Buckeye boosters, really sorry to hear the NCAA has come knocking. I’m sure it’s much ado about nothing. Why can’t they just leave all your student-athletes alone? Hang in there. Penalties expire.]

Sports Report

• USC is reportedly paying Kiffin $4m/year. Not sure whether that’s $750k a win or $1m.

• Another brilliant essay by the best sportswriter at work today. I’d like to think I coulda’ been a decent sportswriter, but I would hate to have to go mano y mano with this guy.

• Ran a half marathon Domingo with Dano, Katie, and Annie. Another beautiful morning in Paradise. I ran well and I’m supposed to credit Lance with an assist. I left the house on the mountain bike without any gel (liquid carbos). Lance and cutest daughter in the world rode by on mountain bikes, got comfortably ahead, and handed off one of their gels. Shortly afterwards, I started mowing down people. But since Lance said “Thank you though for showing me that I have at least 8 years of physical fitness left” as if I’m about to keel over, I don’t think I’ll give him the credit he otherwise deserves. He is going to tear up the mountain bike course on the Sky to Sea race in B’ham in a week and a half.

• A few questions which will only make sense if you read Simmon’s essay. What’s your “one word”, not as a baller, but as a person? Is that the word you’d use to describe yourself, the word others would use to describe you, or would the one word be the same for both? In other words, is their congruence between your self perception and other’s perceptions of you? For myself, I’m undecided between “deluded” and “balanced”.

• 1,095 peeps ran the Capital City Half Marathon. 391 M’s (36%) and 704 F’s (64%). Hypotheses?

Nearing the Finish, Pretty Dog Tired

Right After Finishing