Oversharing to get into college

One Yale applicant wrote that she peed her pants rather than break off a conversation with an admired teacher. Another wrote about his small genitalia, recalls Michael Motto, a former Yale admissions offer. “He was going for something about masculinity and manhood, and how he had to get over certain things.”

Oversharing has gone over the top in college admissions essays, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. that assessment. “There are accounts of eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction.”

“Being a little vulnerable can give great insight into your character,” said Joie Jager-Hyman, a former admissions officer at Dartmouth College and the president of College Prep 360, which helps students assemble their applications. “I’ve had successful essays on topics like ‘my father’s alcoholism’ or ‘my parents got divorced because my dad is gay.’ ”

But going too far “can raise red flags about students’ emotional stability and about their judgment.”

Affluent parents pay admissions counselors to help students come up with just the right amount of angst.

Michele Hernandez, another prominent admissions counselor, runs one or more sessions of an Application Boot Camp every summer in which roughly 25 to 30 kids will be tucked away for four days in a hotel to work with a team of about eight editors on what she told me were as many as 10 drafts of each of three to five different essays. The camp costs $14,000 per student. That doesn’t include travel to it, the hotel bill, breakfast or dinners, but it does include lunch and a range of guidance, both before and during the four days, on how students should fill out college applications and best showcase themselves.

One of my daughter’s high school friends wrote a touching essay about coming out as gay. It got him into an Ivy League college. He’s not gay, but at least he did his own lying.

“The unlived life is not worth examining,” responds Robert Pondiscio in a comment.

To a significant degree, these kinds of self-involved, narcissistic essays are explicitly taught and encouraged in K-12 schools from elementary school onward. New York City schools in particular have long been dominated by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project approach to writing, made (in)famous by literacy guru Lucy Calkins, which teaches children as young as third grade to plumb the depths of the seven-year-old souls for “seed ideas” for personal narratives for their “writer’s notebooks.” Those ideas are then painstakingly massaged into “small moment” pieces, personal narratives and even, yes, memoirs.

The kids . . . learn to conflate the confessional and self-involved with “great writing.”

“If elite colleges stopped asking for personal essays as an admission requirement and instead asked for two piece of graded academic writing — a research report, an English or history paper — the market for confessional writing would dry up by sundown,” writes Pondiscio. “It would also be a better barometer of college readiness.”

And perhaps it would dry up the market for $14,000 four-day college-app cram camps.

Pondiscio, who’s just signed on as senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at Fordham,  has more in a post on a Fordham blog.

Dead Poets’ me-me-me message

Dead Poets Society, which came out 25 years ago, has had a pernicious influence on young writers — and on college English departments — charges novelist Stephen Marche in Esquire.

The story is a classic tale of writerly egomania, transferred onto the figure of a teacher. Robin Williams playing John Keating — he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance — was the origin of the “cool teacher” cliche that humiliated so many of us in the 1990s. Instead of staying in a classroom reading, he takes his students for long walks and life lessons. Instead of having them read interpretations of literature, he begins his class by having them rip out the pages of the introduction. He modestly suggests that they call him “O Captain, my Captain,” a title that Walt Whitman originally intended for a murdered Abraham Lincoln, martyred savior of the Republic. Keating is entitled to his students’ adulation, in the film, because he imbues in them a sense of self-worth, totally unrelated to their accomplishments.

The movie presents literature as “collective narcissism,” writes Marche. Reading and writing are easy.

Understanding the literary tradition was not a task. Nobody had to learn foreign languages or philology. Nobody had to work at it. What you really needed to be a writer was to be sensitive and to overcome the traditional strictures of mom and dad. You really just needed to be a rebel.

Dead Poets Society glorifies a terrible way to teach humanities writes Kevin J.H. Dettmar, an English professor, in The Atlantic. It’s anti-intellectual gush.

The movie has been voted the greatest “school film” ever and often named as one of the most inspirational films of all time, according to The Guardian.

The killer narcissist

Could Therapy Culture Help Explain Elliot Rodger’s Rampage? asks Brendan O’Neill on Reason. The 22-year-old started therapy at age 8 and reportedly was seeing multiple therapists while living in Santa Barbara and plotting “retribution.”

. . . he was full of self-regard, was incredibly self-obsessed, and was utterly outraged when people, especially women, didn’t treat him with the love and respect he felt he deserved.

Could Rodger’s fury at the world for failing to flatter his self-image as a good, civilized guy be a product of the therapy industry, of the therapy world’s cultivation of a new tyrannical form of narcissism where individuals demand constant genuflection at the altar of their self-esteem?

Therapy’s children are “invited to focus” on their inner selves rather than the world around them, writes O’Neill.

We see it in university students who want to ban everything that they think harms their self-esteem, because they’ve been educated to see any attack on what they think and how they feel as utterly unacceptable. We see it in the growing cult of self-revelation and the search for validation on social networks like Twitter, where individuals’ frenetic tweeting and their desperate desire for that all-important retweet speaks to the reorganization of society around the need for recognition, the need for an “admiring audience” to make the self feel puffed up. And we potentially see it, in its most extreme form, in Elliot Rodger, the son of therapy . . .

In his murder manifesto, Rodger complains that people’s attitudes towards him “really decreased my self-esteem. . . . if they won’t accept me… then they are my enemies.”

And then he makes the key cry of our therapeutic era: “It’s not fair. Life is not fair.”

Watch Rodger’s video. The most alarming thing is how cool and well-spoken he is. This is a man used to talking about himself, following years of practice in therapy sessions. Clearly having decided to have a love affair with himself, Rodger terrifyingly declares: “I am the closest thing there is to a living god… Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent, divine!”

He’s not a religious nut, writes O’Neill. “It’s a therapeutic thing.”

You might call Rodger a homicidal narcissist. His own life has supreme value. Nobody else matters.

Does “therapy culture” turn loners into enraged sociopaths?

Kohn: Parents are too controlling

Millenials aren’t confident, coddled and narcissistic, writes Alfie Kohn in The Myth of the Spoiled Child.  Parents aren’t too indulgent, he argues. They’re too controlling.

Otherwise liberal parents are adopting socially conservative practices, Kohn believes. “It’s widely assumed that parents are both permissive and overprotective, unable to set limits and afraid to let their kids fail,” he writes. “We’re told that young people receive trophies, praise, and A’s too easily, and suffer from inflated self-esteem and insufficient self-discipline.” Not so, he argues. “Complaints about pushover parents and entitled kids” are nothing new.

It’s possible to be overprotective and controlling.

ADHD or narcissism?

Many children diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may simply be slow to grow out of “normal childhood narcissism, writes psychologist Enrico Gnaulati in The Atlantic.

In the 1970s, a mere one percent of kids were considered ADHD. By the 1980s, three to five percent was the presumed rate, with steady increases into the 1990s. One eye-opening study showed that ADHD medications were being administered to as many as 17 percent of males in two school districts in southeastern Virginia in 1995.

ADHD symptoms — “problems listening, forgetfulness, distractibility, prematurely ending effortful tasks, excessive talking, fidgetiness, difficulties waiting one’s turn, and being action-oriented” — aren’t all that different from normal childhood challenges, he writes. In the past, a distractible, fidgety child would have been considered slower to mature and learn social skills. Now that child is quickly diagnosed with ADHD.

The core symptoms of ADHD resemble childhood narcissism, which is characterized by “overconfident self-appraisals, attention-craving, a sense of personal entitlement” and weak empathy for others, writes Gnaulati.

“Jonah” falls apart when he can’t master a task immediately. It could be a symptom of ADHD, writes Gnaulati. Perhaps he can’t retain the information needed. But it could be the “magical thinking” common for young children.

He believes mastering tasks should somehow be automatic—not the outcome of commitment, perseverance, and effort. Jonah’s self-esteem may also be so tenuous that it fluctuates greatly. For instance, when Jonah anticipates success, he productively cruises through work, eager to receive the recognition that he expects from parents and teachers. He is on a high. He definitely feels good about himself. But in the face of challenging work, he completely shuts down, expects failure, outside criticism, and wants to just give up.

“Parents who think their kid has ADHD often describe scenarios at home where the kid reacts to minor setbacks with bloodcurdling screams or to modest successes with over-the-top exuberance,” writes Gnaulati. For kids who really have ADHD, completing homework can be torture. But, for others, “dramatic displays of emotion are attempts to get out of tasks that warrant commitment, application, and effort.”

If parents give in, “these kids often do not acquire the emotional self-control necessary to buckle down and do academic work independently.”

I think the technical term is “spoiled brat.”

Gnaulati is the author of  Back to Normal, which is subtitled “why ordinary childhood behavior is mistaken for ADHD, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorders.”

Brainy, introverted boys are over-diagnosed with autism, he writes in Salon. “If we don’t have a firm grasp of gender differences in how young children communicate and socialize, we can mistake traditional masculine behavior for high-functioning autism.”

No time to play

Today’s children don’t have time to play independently – and to develop social skills — writes psychologist Peter Gray on Aeon. The adults are always in charge.

Growing up in the 1950s, Gray had a “hunter-gatherer education” in addition to formal schooling. The neighborhood kids played after school, often till dark, in mixed-age groups. They played on the weekends and in the summer.

We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us.

Since then, adult-directed sports for children have replaced “pickup” games, Gray writes. free-to-learn Adult-directed extracurriculars have replaced hobbies. Parents are afraid to let kids play without supervision.

As children’s free play has declined, children have shown more signs of anxiety and depression, he writes on psychological surveys. Since the ’50s, “the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.”

In addition, surveys show “a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism.”

Children aren’t learning social skills through play, writes Gray. At school, an authoritarian setting, they learn to compete rather than cooperate. Extending the school day will widen the “play deficit” even more, argues Gray.

A Boston College professor, Gray writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of a new book, Free to Learn.

Kids who want to work — mowing lawns — face “safety” barriers, writes Mollie Hemingway. On the neighborhood listserv, someone asked for feedback on “a group of adorable and entrepreneurial kids (young, maybe 9-11 years old)” looking for mowing jobs. “We didn’t see a parent with them supervising.”

A link was provided to Mowing the Lawn Can Be a Dangerous Chore, which recommended “polycarbonate protective eyewear” for anyone mowing — or in the vicinity.

To fix college, ban ‘I feel’

Among One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education collected by the National Association of Scholars, Naomi Schaefer Riley proposes a campaign against narcissism. She recalls a reality show called The Scholar in which ten high school seniors competed for a college scholarship.  Asked what famous person, dead or alive, she’d like to have dinner with, Melissa answered Plato. She said she’d “read his story about the cave” and wanted to “discuss her own ‘process of self-discovery’ with him.” Melissa won the scholarship.

Everything about college and the process leading to it makes students believe that their innermost feelings are of the utmost importance. Professors (the good ones, anyway) complain that students begin every answer with “I feel.” This is emblematic of a certain self-absorption combined with postmodern fuzzy thinking.

. . . Every paper turned in during the first year of college should depend entirely for its argument on the writings and thoughts of others without any reference to the student’s personal experience. The writing should include a general thesis backed up by specific quotations or examples from third parties. The only way to make eighteen-year-olds into intelligible writers and speakers is to force them to look beyond themselves.

Riley is the author of The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For.

Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute calls for banning grade inflation: “Pass a federal law that no teacher in a college or university that receives federal funds shall be allowed to award an A to more than 7 percent of the students in any course, and a B to more than an additional 18 percent.”

I’d like to tell ninth graders whether they’re on track to earn a bachelor’s degree, train for a skilled job, flunk out of a community college remedial course or drop out of high school. If they knew early enough, they could work harder to improve their odds — or set more realistic goals. Colleges wouldn’t have to provide so many remedial courses, which usually come too late to help.

Listening to students (narcissistic fools)

Education Nation is Full of Narcissistic Fools, writes Math Curmudgeon in a brilliant, read-it-all rant.

He didn’t actually watch NBC’s Education Nation, but he read The Innovative Educator’s list of what students want.

For example: “I can’t learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.”

Teachers can connect but it’s a two-way street and you’re not playing. If you can’t learn without the touchy-feely crap then you’ll never learn from Salman Khan, a computer, an online program, a disinterested presenter or any teacher who is even slightly less than your ideal of perfection.  That’s a damn shame.

“Teaching by the book is not teaching. It’s just talking.”

Teaching by the book is accepting that someone smarter than I and with more time and help from his graduate students, has put together a pretty damn good calculus book.  Why would I change it radically?

“Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.”

 Teaching is a profession and one that I enjoy but I am not your parent, your priest or your counselor. I am the teacher.

This is my job.

“Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.”

Curmudgeon disagrees. His job is to teach math. Nor does he aspire to be a “life coach” for students, though he wishes someone would say: “Stop being a navel-gazing narcissist and grow up.”

“Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.”

I love them, too. Now get out your iPads and load up the Kindle version of the textbook and get to work. If you can’t connect to the school’s network, then set up a wi-fi hotspot off your iPhone, go to wolframalpha.com, find the answer to the first part of the question and incorporate it into the Excel spreadsheet to further analyze the problem, dump the results to Powerpoint, send it to your portable printer or convert it to one of the four acceptable electronic formats.  Then, don’t send it to my email account but rather submit it to the class Moodle in the proper forum.  You know how to do that, right? By the end of the week, I’ll want you to be able to explain all this and apply your knowledge to something completely different, so you need to get cracking.

“Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.”

Seek out the teachers.  The good ones will be there. Just wait until you get to college and have the privilege of sitting with 400 of your closest friends in a lecture hall listening to a TA with a heavy foreign accent.

“Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas including teacher evaluations.”

Nope. Until you have some experience, your “opinion” is worthless and people will blow you off.  When you have that experience, you’ll find we already do listen.

“You need to love a student before you can teach a student.”

Awesomely silly.  And false.

Via Darren, who’s also a math teacher rather than a parent, counselor,  life coach, Facebook friend or XBox consultant.

Teaching empathy to the ‘Me’ Generation

In hopes of Teaching Empathy to the ‘Me’ Generation, Capital University’s Empathy Experiment immerses students in the experiences of the working poor, reports Miller McCune Online. The Columbus, Ohio recruited six volunteers for a no-credit course.

 The eight-week program required, for example, that students undergo a temporary eviction, be processed and stay a night at a homeless shelter, and go a night without eating. “It was a good chance for students to, frankly, get out of their comfort zone,” (trustee Ronald) St. Pierre says. They were to move from sympathy to empathy.

College students are 40 percent less empathetic than students a generation ago, concludes  University of Michigan psychologist Sara Konrath.

Spending a day in a wheelchair may teach students something about the challenges of mobility for the disabled. I don’t think it’s that easy to simulate poverty.

 

Cutting academics, adding ‘diversity’ czars

The University of California’s budget has been “cut to the bone,” says a spokesman.  Campuses are cutting academic programs — but adding “diversity” functionaries, writes Heather Mac Donald in City Journal.

The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Gibor Basri, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, earns $194,000 in base pay and has 17 people in his office. That could pay for a lot of assistant professors, who start at  $53,000, Mac Donald writes.

To save money, UC San Diego’s Academic Senate has cut master’s programs in electrical and computer engineering and comparative literature and dropped courses in French, German, Spanish, and English literature.

At the same time, the body mandated a new campus-wide diversity requirement for graduation. The cultivation of “a student’s understanding of her or his identity,” as the diversity requirement proposal put it, would focus on “African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Chicanos, Latinos, Native Americans, or other groups” through the “framework” of “race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, language, ability/disability, class or age.”

“Diversity” is “a code word for narcissism,” Mac Donald concludes.

Asian-Americans make up nearly half of UC-San Diego students (pdf); many major in math, science or engineering. Perhaps “me studies” has to be required because students are too busy taking academic courses in hopes of being able to pay back their student loans.

UC tuition is rising.