There was a lot of inherent cultural relativism in the science fiction I discovered then. It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!
That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.
And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.
Our collective obsession with elite students and institutions means public conversations about college are increasingly irrelevant to the lives of many of the actual students.
Rationally, no one should be happier about a score of 96 out of 137 (70 percent) than 72 out of 100, but my students were. And by realizing this, I was able to set the kind of exam I wanted but still keep the students from grumbling.
Key Takeaway #1: Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
Key Takeaway #2: High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.
Key takeaway #3: You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.
One of the perks of the job.
xxxx, get your shit together. Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential.
This is straight out of the Marcus Aurelius playbook. One of my favorite passages from Meditations comes in Book 5:
Display those virtues which are wholly in your own power–integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind.
Stuck in their habits, most adults shrug off standing desks despite the dire health warnings. Children, on the other hand, never wanted to be sitting in the first place.
How corrupt are Ivy League admissions?
It’s really long and really, really awesome. Definitely worth the time.
Very interesting perspective. I like this bit on lectures and attention spans:
Online education can also break the artificial lecture length of 50–90 minutes. Many teaching experts say that adult attention span is 10–15 minutes in a lecture, with many suggesting that attention span has declined in the Internet era. A good professor can refocus the attention of motivated students over longer periods. Nevertheless, it is clear that the standard lecture length has not been determined by optimal learning time but by the high fixed costs of traveling to school. Lower the fixed costs and lectures will evolve to a more natural level, probably between 5–20 minutes of length—perhaps not coincidentally the natural length of a lecture is probably not that different from the length of a typical popular music track or television segment.
Suppose you wanted to go live at a luxury resort for four years. You’d expect that to cost, wouldn’t you? (No one is going to write an editorial raging about how if you wanted to live at Club Med it would cost you at least $50,000 a year – probably more.) So why are people surprised that it costs a lot – really a lot – to send a kid to college for four years? College is the sort of thing that seems like it should cost a lot: beautiful buildings on nice land, nice gym, nice green spaces, expensive equipment, large staff that have to be well-paid because they provide expert services. If you want to be puzzled about something, figure out how and why it was ever cheap, not why it costs now.
Part of our challenge is that the tech sector has to acknowledge and accept that a broad swath of jobs in the middle of our industry require skills but need not be predicated on a full liberal arts education at a high-end university. The Stanford CS grads are always going to be fine; It’s the people who can’t go into the same trade as their dad, or who are smart but not interested in the eating-ramen-and-working-100-hours-a-week startup orthodoxy who we need to bring along with us into tech.
People who have excitement about deciding for themselves what to read and what to learn are people who stop going to school and join the workforce. The workplace, done right, is a place for self-directed learning.
Tenured academics has worked a great scam. They’ve managed to monetize peoples’ affection for regional football teams, and their desire for a work credential, and then somehow diverted that money into paying academics to work on whatever they want, for the rest of their lives, without any oversight by the football fans or the employers.
In addition to enjoying this nice little zinger, definitely read her 12 hypotheses about the college system in the wake of distance-learning disruption. Good stuff.
When we say, “What do you do?” we really mean what do you learn? Because that’s what makes a person interesting – what they are learning. No one wants to answer the question what do you do if they have a job where they are not learning. That’s how you know it’s the learning that matters.
I wasn’t much on school. I was 2 busy listening 2 the grass grow.
Letter from Prince to a fan, June 1984. Look at that cursive!
Oh you have a dream? You should pay a lot of money for that dream and maybe at the end of a lot of debt you’ll be better at that dream.
At some point you have to learn all you can and then forget everything that you learned in order to actually start making music.
I think a lot of people, if they’re not careful, can err on the side of the quantifiable and approach it like an athlete. Run that little bit faster, do that little bit more and think you’re being more successful. But the truth is that a lot of times it’s not necessarily about merely being the best athlete, it’s about attempting a new sport.
When I was reading this New Atlantis article on self-help, I found mention of Ben Franklin’s ingenious plan for becoming a better writer: imitation, summary, repeated practice. He set up lessons for himself, varying ways of copying from The Spectator…
- One method was picking an essay, summarizing every sentence with a brief “hint”, setting those summaries aside for a while, and then trying to recreate the essays from his own notes. Then he’d compare to the original and see where he came up short.
- Sometimes he’d put these hints on separate sheets, jumble them all up, and set them aside for a few weeks. Then he’d try to re-order them and re-write the essay, and compare his with the original.
- To work on his vocabulary, he transformed the prose stories into poetry, waited a while so the memory was no longer fresh, and then turned them back into prose again.
Dang. Who has time for all that? Basically everyone with discipline: “My time for these exercises and for reading was at night, after work or before it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the common attendance on public worship…”
He did this while still a teenager working at the printing shop. Here’s how Franklin tells it in his autobiography:
My father happened to find my [letters] and read them. Without entering into the discussion, he took occasion to talk to me about the manner of my writing; observed that, though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spelling and pointing (which I ow’d to the printing-house), I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances. I saw the justice of his remark, and thence grew more attentive to the manner in writing, and determined to endeavor at improvement.
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious. My time for these exercises and for reading was at night, after work or before it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the common attendance on public worship which my father used to exact on me when I was under his care, and which indeed I still thought a duty, though I could not, as it seemed to me, afford time to practise it.
What a badass.
This is a fascinating funny/sad inside look at for-profit education. [$]
The first chapter of our textbook, Your College Experience, was entitled “Exploring Your Purpose for Attending College,” and that’s where we would begin. It seemed strange to me that a credit-bearing college course should be dedicated to telling students why they should go to college, but the entire first-year sequence turns out to be an almost surreal riff on the socialization process of higher education, where secondary characteristics of college graduates become the actual subjects of the courses.
Probably going to go on a Stoicism bender pretty soon.
There is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don’t throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.