Varsity Blues

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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Steve James on Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:39 pm

You never know where just making the decision and forcefully applying yourself will take you.


Yep. That's the truth.
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby edededed on Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:29 pm

Ian: Yeah, it's just good to have balance in learning - not to mention that it helps hireability as well (we don't all want to live on soup cans).

School in Japan is sad in general - people are naturally smart, but they don't study unless there is a test coming up. College is, as you said, mostly club activities for many. I went to an Ivy, and I struggled to keep good grades - my 1 year studying in Japan was a breeze (4.0 GPA!). If you even put in some sincere effort, you would be given an A. (This at one of Japan's unis that are considered "tough" once you get in.) In Japan, a lot of people are quite direct in saying that they learned nothing in university (and learned everything afterwards, i.e. at work). They say this with no shame, either.

Steve: Yeah, congrats on the retirement - and it sounds like you had a great job, doing what you enjoyed, and getting/giving value from it. Undergraduate often seems like a waste these days - more partying than studying (not to mention the drugs). I was never a party-guy (I think I went to 2-3 total), but I have always been bad at networking as well... But "lamp to be lit, not cup to be filled" - that's a great philosophy, I will try to apply this more! But - finding the light switch I think can be quite challenging... How to light a kid who only thinks about YouTube/games/TV/luxury brands/money? I'd love to hear.

Peacedog: Darn, military school sounds like it was really tough - I wonder if your esoteric studies, etc. was a part of getting you through (as you mentioned that you were not a super athlete before, etc.)?
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Steve James on Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:09 pm

How to light a kid who only thinks about YouTube/games/TV/luxury brands/money? I'd love to hear.


At the Ivy, I didn't need to inspire students. If they graduated, they'd be set. I was just out of grad school; I was fired up with theory, and I loved my subject. But, those were the days when we had to go to a computer center to do work. I was in NYC during the summer, and went to my old school to use the computers there. One day, I met the chair of a department who said they needed someone. I decided to take a position there because most of the students were like me.

Few of them had ever met someone who'd gone to an Ivy League school or taught at one. None had ever been encouraged to do anything more than get a degree and get out. So, since I had been relatively successful, I inspired them by simply telling them my story, and what I thought of the educational system. Outside of modelling, I deliberately shamed them by emphasizing that they didn't know what they needed to know. I mean, what they needed to know to be successful people, not just students.

My strategy was to ask them why they knew whatever they thought they did. I told them that if they couldn't express themselves, the'd be useless to themselves and the community. I stressed that it wasn't their fault they couldn't write well, but they could fix it themselves. Of course, not all of them took the advice. However, even students who failed said they knew it was because they didn't work hard enough or listen.

I think they liked the class because I was there to learn and enjoy myself more than to fill their heads. I.e., it's hard to inspire someone to do something that one is not inspired to do. My students never thought that I took what I did in the classroom as work. I told them honestly that I'd do it for free.

I know many of my students have gone on become teachers. My youngest son has a PhD. My daughter has her MA, but she's also got three kids. My oldest son is a colonel and taught at West Point. That's another point I use to inspire. I tell my students that my job is to make them teachers. So, I only teach them what I think is really important for them to know.

Btw, I taught the same things I would have in the Ivies. The only modification being that I might give two chapters of a book to read rather than the entire novel. Students didn't always do all the reading. However, I tested them the same way. In fact, the colleges were/are having university initiatives to ensure that curricula are consistent. Students want a degree from one college to be equivalent to another. But, that's not the case. Sometimes, credit for certain courses from certain colleges are not accepted by "elite" colleges in the city.

Well, since I was on the committee, I suggested that all the colleges use the same syllabus that the elite schools, and give the same tests. Surprise, it wasn't close to happening before I left, and I'd been suggesting it for more than a decade. Frustration over things like this were what made it easy for me to retire. I couldn't imagine putting up with that bs for more years.
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby edededed on Sun Mar 17, 2019 9:41 pm

Steve - you sound like a real teacher, someone who teaches from the heart, and not just to do a job. Many kudos to you, although you do not need them - I hope your students who teach today continue the way you did! That is, not just teaching knowledge, but inspiring and leading students to teach themselves.

Aside 1: Although I graduated from an Ivy, I wasn't exactly "set" - probably because I worked my whole life in Japan (the only Ivy they know is Harvard - and I didn't go there!).

Aside 2: In Japan, the curriculums for primary (and secondary?) schools seem almost the same for everybody. In a sense, it is fairer (which makes it much easier to compare); but on the other hand it also means that everyone's "collective knowledge" is very limited - because everyone read the same chapters of the same books only. (Plus, since people do squat-diddly during university here, the various curricula of university don't really help.)

University texts being expensive is another problem. I really like the OpenStax initiative to provide nice, free textbooks to everybody (small price to print). I hope that they keep expanding and improving. But I wonder if higher learning will change in the next 10-20 years - it's too expensive and still following an old format.
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Steve James on Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:48 pm

Books are another of my pet peeves. So, because accreditation committees delight in "assessment," they demand that courses use a specified text that has concrete connections to the stated "student learning outcomes." But, they want a text because they want to tell the bookstore what to order. I used a text one year that was $35. It was fine. Then a second edition came out. The bookstore said that they wouldn't be ordering the previous edition. Of course, the new edition was $70 and had only a few differences and some new introductions.

My response was to tell students to get used copies from amazon. Oh boy, the school did not like that because I was not using the bookstore. Consequently, I created my own text for students and put it on pdfs that they could download for free. The school still didn't like it. So, I ended up sending in orders for a text, and then I emailed registered students a syllabus that didn't have the text on it.

Btw, they split the text into two volumes and charged $70 a piece. It's a racket. Though, some professors don't care at all. Some even argued to me that "They have plenty of money for phones and sneakers." They're right, but there are students (particularly single mothers) who have to chose between spending on tuition and books or buying food, medicine, and paying rent.

The year after I graduated college, one of my friends also graduated with high marks. She was mother on welfare with two children. She would go to class, and soon her older daughter started attending too. Well, her story got local attention. She was accepted to grad school. Great story, until the government came asking for her welfare money back. She wasn't supposed to accept it and go to school. Her daughter had been baby-sitting until her mom graduated. I think her mom had to find a job to pay some funds back. I was away and didn't follow what happened.
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby edededed on Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:55 pm

Totally agree! The ridiculous new editions (with few changes) and pressure by schools to buy them are definitely a racket of some kind. And not all students are rich, as you said.

The story about your friend is terrible - just GREAT for government to quash the dreams and efforts of one of its citizens. But of course money is more important than life and success. (Also noting that modern money is all just created by governments at will.)
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Peacedog on Mon Mar 18, 2019 6:21 am

Ed,

Other way around actually, but thanks. As a History major at a school where you were required to take 140 hours of math and engineering (I graduated with over 210 credit hours), I had to learn how to nug things out.

That paid off big time with my esoteric studies.

I never got higher than a C+ in any of my math or engineering courses in four years. Unlike the other guys, I didn't give up.

Meditative/yogic stuff is very similar in that regard. When you do this stuff correctly, it is often physically uncomfortable, boring as hell and all about small progressive improvements.

If someone knowns how to grind, it works out. If they don't, it doesn't.

Business, life, family, any thing with a tangible skill set in the real world seems to work the same way. I don't think any secret exists to that process.

While not really an academic myself, I appreciate it when guy's like Steve spell it out regarding academia. It means more coming from someone like him who understands that industry and has enough experience to be taken seriously.
Last edited by Peacedog on Mon Mar 18, 2019 7:31 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby edededed on Mon Mar 18, 2019 7:35 am

Ha ha - well, I have done a bit of math and engineering in days yonder, so your analogy is illustrative for me! One problem is that if you don't use it... you lose it... :(

I guess that the concentration skills could be quite helpful in study.
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Steve James on Mon Mar 18, 2019 10:24 am

Well, what do you know. It turns out that parents should stress character over grades. https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/tur ... admissions

The report includes concrete recommendations in three core areas:

Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.

Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.

Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.


I read a story asserting that some high tech firms (I already know about law firms) will only accept students from Ivy League colleges. The question is really whether the solution isn't to change that. I know some companies use tests as part of the job interview. But, they often choose to interview people from elite colleges.

This does not result in students actually learning more or receiving better educations. One of the girls at the center of this latest scandal admits on line that she doesn't like school or studying. Yet, she will, or would have, received offers and interviews simply based on her school's rep. That's why I think some of the Ivy's want and try to pick students who are interested, not just the ones with the best grades.

Some really dedicated students have to work to work to pay tuition and don't have the time or money to pay for prep courses. I think that's why there's so much pressure put on students to get into the elite schools. It will make their careers. I think that may be true, but it's the wrong reason to try to want to be there. Btw, I don't think any educational obstacle is insurmountable. Someone has to stop someone who wants an education from getting one. In fact, it's much easier to convince them that they don't need one at all.

The great thing about a real Ivy League school is that there were resources for anything the student desired when it came to learning. If you're interested in history, you can read an actual gilded medieval manuscript. Or, if you want, you can learn to scull or play squash. It is a privilege that really was intended for the wealthy. As I said, though, you can get copies of the same books through inter-library loan. Sigh.

Yeah, I think I would favor tests about what one would do on the job. To become a carpenter's apprentice, in NY, you had to take a test. There was some math, most of it basic and practical. There were a lot of pictures of tools that you needed to identify from various parts of the trade. That is, after apprenticeship, you might be assigned as a construction carpenter, a wood worker's shop, a house framer, or a bridge/pier builder. Of course, if you weren't familiar with any of the trades, it was hard to pass. If you had friends in the union or the business, though, they'd tell you the difference between a peavey and a gaff. :)
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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Steve James on Tue Mar 19, 2019 1:14 am

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Re: Varsity Blues

Postby Steve James on Tue Mar 19, 2019 1:29 am

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