Category Archives: Avi’s Spot

Who Gets to Graduate?

A riveting New York Times Magazine article, Who Gets to Graduate, gave me a lot of food for thought.

Did you know that of the students who enroll in a 4-year college, more than 40% haven’t earned a degree after 6 years? And that while 90% of the first-year students who come from families in the top income quartile finish their degree, among students born to the bottom half of the income distribution only 25% will graduate?

Current study of education shows that many students believe intelligence is a fixed quality that cannot be improved through practice or study. And when they experience cues that suggest they weren’t academically able — a bad grade on a test, for example — they interpret them as a sign that they can never succeed. Before long, the nagging doubts become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Among other experts, the article focuses on David Yeager, a 32-year-old assistant professor who is emerging as one of the leading experts on the psychology of education.” He conducted a number of experiments with staggering results; here’s one example:

“In the experiment, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out the scientific evidence against the entity theory of intelligence. “When people learn and practice new ways of doing algebra or statistics,” the article explained, “it can grow their brains — even if they haven’t done well in math in the past.” After reading the article, the students wrote a mentoring letter to future students explaining its key points. The whole exercise took 30 minutes, and there was no follow-up of any kind. But at the end of the semester, 20 percent of the students in the control group had dropped out of developmental math, compared with just 9 percent of the treatment group. In other words, a half-hour online intervention, done at almost no cost, had apparently cut the community-college math dropout rate by more than half.”

I found the implications of this profound – we are much more “plastic” than many of us believe, and incredibly small intervention can have incredible effects. The article explores this topic at length – I highly recommend you read it.


The Overprotected Child

The Atlantic has an excellent article called The Overprotected Kid, which I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last few days. The article focuses on playgrounds – nowadays typically boring, predictable, and safe – but in passing raises a whole lot of questions on how childhood has changed in the last few decades.

One line struck me in particular: “When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.” While these numbers may be extreme, they do highlight a trend – children today spend far less time unsupervised than in the past.

There are lots of reasons for this – a pervasive fear of strangers, overworked parents wanting to maximize time with their kids, a culture which emphasizes keeping kids busy and striving to realize their potential – but the bottom line is, the author claims, kids today are missing out on vital social skills and critical opportunities for personal growth.

Today’s overprotected kids are not challenged in a real way. They don’t explore, they don’t face their fears, they don’t gain a sense of competence and mastery, and they don’t learn how to negotiate with others and resolve conflict.

I have been blessed to live in a small community, and from a very young age my kids have spent lots of time on their own – hanging with other kids, climbing trees, building forts. They may not log as many hours of screen time as they’d like, but I believe they are far better equipped to deal with the challenges of adulthood than so many of their peers – whose well-intentioned parents have deprived them of the challenges they need to grow.

Have you read The Overprotected Kid? What do you think?

The Museum of History in Granite, The Center of the World

A recent New York Times Magazine article answered a question that bothered me for a long time – where is the center of the world?

Turns out it’s in Felicity, California. Jacques-André Istel, the founder (and lifetime mayor) of Felicity, has also created a fascinating history of humanity, carved by an artist in granite, designed to last for thousands of years.

A stone and glass pyramid marking the official center of the world; a beautiful church on a hill (and yes, the hill is man-made too); an epic monument which includes a celebration of George Washington’s great achievements as well as his taste in beer, all created by the person who made skydiving a popular sport – how could you go wrong? If I lived near Yuma, Arizona, I’d visit there today.

Center of the World

HH Early law panel 003 cropped

The Age We Live In

Do you feel a deep sense of unease due to the accelerated pace of technological change? Do you feel unsettled because the world around you is heading in directions unknown?

I think there is a sharp divide between people who feel comfortable with the age we live in, and people who much prefer the way things used to be. This post is devoted to the latter group – many of whom use cutting-edge technology all the time, but don’t have a clear image of how the world around them is evolving.

I recommend you read this article, which is a well-written description of our revolutionary information age, and offers a clearer picture of where we are heading.

You may not like what the author has to say. You may feel even more threatened. But the key to survival (and success!) in a rapidly evolving world is simple – adapt. I intend to.