View from the window

Ah, blogging. It’s a demanding past time. I don’t have a good essay to post today. I have some other places that might be of interest. At Gifted Exchange, I’m writing about “Raising the ceiling” (riffing off Arthur Levine’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on “The Suburban Education Gap“). At CBS MoneyWatch, I did a post yesterday on “The new secret to financial success.” I learned that the publication date for What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend will be December 31. I’m looking for suggestions of people to interview for the sequel to that on WTMSPD At Work. I enjoyed listening to a (warning!) one hour conversation between Meagan Francis and Gretchen Rubin via The Kitchen Hour podcast. And I’m trying to take some time most days to stare out the living room window at this blazing scarlet maple tree (pictured). Come late afternoon, the light is just perfect. What have you been working on this week?

10 thoughts on “View from the window

  1. the gap between the so-called suburban good kids and the chinese top kids for example (or dare I say it the grade inflation in the undergraduates of US IVY league versus the international graduate students in the US’s best Universities is disturbing.. NPR had an interesting piece on how it has things to do with our cultural notion of struggle and how struggle is not exhalted in US education the way it is say in Japanese and Chinese culture it is — so whereas in a US classroom teh struggling kid is ignored and his struggle a sign of weakness in a japanese classroom he might be brought tot he board to work it out..t his is my sense of how I was limited in math as a child .. the idea that you are good at it or good at something b/c you are innately smart and not b/c you are willing to work at it and more than work at it — struggle and suffer over it… in this sense the success of the US is its weakness.. kind of how like the child of a great man is often not great himself.. tooo lazy ; )

    1. Ah, Cara, you nailed it. Yes, we don’t see the gift of struggle. I went to two different high schools. The first didn’t challenge me much (even though some amazing teachers did try and helped a lot). The second made me work my a** off. I felt so much smarter at the second because I’d *earned* it. There is no shame in being wrong, in struggling, in working hard and then ultimately triumphing or at least learning something in the process.

      1. I went to the same high school as Laura. However, I started off in a 4 year college, but switched to a 2 year college and got an associates degree.

        I still feel much smarter than a lot of people I know. I know college grads that can’t write as well, or know as much about math as I do. And I feel like I have more of a work ethic, and I’m willing to struggle to reach my goals.

        I think I need to credit this high school with all of the above, much more than anything else in my life. Even if I did obtain a 4 year degree, I think I would be saying the same thing.

  2. Yeah, there is an attitude at a lot of American schools that studying and working hard are for chumps. My high school was quite challenging, and I worked pretty hard there. I was not socially rewarded at all for that. I was rewarded by good grades and Ivy League college admission, but without any social aspect it actually seemed a little hollow. There were other kids who probably worked as hard, but they were better at hiding it and pretending they didn’t.

    I see the same attitude now, even in adulthood. No one wants to hear about how you’re working hard on some project. It’s always, “what are you doing for fun this weekend?” or “do you have any plans to relax?”

    1. Karen- there’s a fascinating op-ed in today’s WSJ from a librarian at Harvard who talks about an urban myth circulating among Chinese students (in China) about 20 aphorisms on the wall of the Harvard Library. They allegedly say such things as “Enjoy the Unavoidable Suffering.” My sense is that many Harvard students (and others) are figuring out ways to make suffering avoidable. This is going to merit its own post next week.

      1. My sense is that Harvard students spend way too much time on their (multiple) extra-curricular activities and don’t actually have that much difficulty with their undergraduate course work. Just sayin’.

      2. In my earlier comment I was definitely painting with too broad a brush. It varies a lot from campus to campus, even from field to field. When I was working at MIT, it was pretty clear that the students worked hard there. In fact, there seemed to be a lot of stress on campus. “Tool or die” was one student saying. I think maybe the problem is framing struggle as suffering, because they aren’t actually the same thing. A lot of suffering in this context is self-imposed, and ultimately unnecessary. It comes from perfectionism and comparing oneself to others. Whereas struggle is necessary, and is with yourself and maybe with the material itself.

        1. The MIT undergrads I knew actually had the most growth mindsets of anywhere I’ve known outside of graduate school, even moreso than Caltech. They were good at taking learning (though not always as good at passing required classes they didn’t care about) and socially rewarding that. But MIT itself has a big cultural divide, with half the campus being more traditionally nerdy (the MIT undergrads I know) and the other half being more “normal.” Still, a lot of stress from school, and only one extra-curricular per kid… I might let my kids go to MIT, but it would be tough on me. And in fairness to them, some of the learning was a struggle because some of the teaching was not great, making things more difficult than they needed to be for people who had trouble teaching themselves or who didn’t have helpful people on the hall willing to tutor.
          I’m not sure that “tool or die” is such a bad saying… it basically translates to “work hard or flunk out”… which is not such a bad message. The kids who succeed at MIT and ‘Tech are the ones who learn not to compare themselves to others early on and to focus on the learning instead. (The ones who do best are the ones who had to work to catch up as frosh– sophomore/junior year doesn’t hit them hard.) That’s a lesson many of us don’t get until graduate school.

          1. @NicoleandMaggie, I think MIT has done a lot to help make the experience there better, in terms of making it a good and productive struggle. Having the first year pass/fail for everyone, for example. And yes, I agree the undergrads do seem to have a good growth mindset.

            I just meant that the students clearly work hard at MIT and they don’t seem to hide it or pretend they don’t, like I’ve seen at other places. (And yes, Caltech is similar–I was a postdoc there in the 1990s). And, there is a downside to that much work. I caught the tail end of an NPR episode a couple of days ago, in which an MIT student described her “meltdown” in a blog.

            It seems to have opened and deepened a good conversation both with the students and the administration.

          2. I think MIT does a lot better job than Caltech does in terms of helping with the struggle. There’s a huge network of adult help at MIT that Caltech does not have.
            I went to a warm and fuzzy SLAC and one of my friends attempted suicide, primarily because she felt like an imposter. MIT has had the same suicide rate as the rest of the country for the age groups served. MIT is not alone in meltdowns, though MIT students do tend to have a flair for the spectacular. Some of that, however, may be because of their access to chemicals, scalable tall buildings, etc. that most college students do not have.
            One of the reasons I’m so concerned about my kids working up to their ability early is so that when they hit challenges later on, they’re used to thinking about the wall as scalable and not as proof that they’ve been imposters all their lives. For me, that hit in graduate school.

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