Daniels: You make your luck

“Earned success” is the key to a fulfilling life, said Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor and now Purdue president, in this year’s commencement speech at Purdue.

Mitch Daniels told Purdue graduations to own their achievements and failures.

Mitch Daniels told Purdue graduations to own their achievements and failures. Photo: Mark Simons/Purdue

One of the most dangerous ideas of our time is that “we are less masters of our fate than corks floating in a sea of luck,” Daniels said. “Or, even more absurd, that most of us are victims of some kind, and therefore in desperate need of others to protect us against a world of predators and against our own gullibility.”

Though “we all get important help along the way,” ultimately, “your successes, and your failures for that matter, are, like your diplomas today, really up to you,” he said.

That’s a very different message from the one President Obama stressed at Howard’s commencement, six days earlier, writes columnist George Will.

President Barack Obama told Howard graduates, "You didn't do nothing." Photo: Alex Getty

President Barack Obama told Howard graduates they’ve succeeded due to luck. “It wasn’t nothing you did.” Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Obama said: “Yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky. That’s a pet peeve of mine: People who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky. That God may have blessed them; it wasn’t nothing you did.”

Daniels conceded that luck plays a role, writes Will. However, except for “tragically bad luck,” it rarely “decides a life’s outcome.” People can improve their odds by making wise choices, Daniels said.

Daniels quoted Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” And movie pioneer Samuel Goldwyn: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” And Frederick Douglass: “We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is work.”

This year, “the presumptive Democratic nominee is a progressive committed to government ambitious enough to iron the wrinkles of luck out of life, and to distribute equity to life’s victims, meaning to everyone,” writes Will.  “The presumptive Republican nominee is a world-class whiner” who is telling Americans they’re victims.

“Daniels’ argument confuses what’s possible with what’s probable,” writes Eduwonk. Purdue graduates have the skills and credentials to make their own luck, for many born in poverty, economic mobility is a longshot.

Practice makes … a 12% boost

It takes 10,000 hours of practice to be a success, writes Malcom Gladwell in Outliers.

The 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense, responds Richard Kunert on Brain’s Idea. He cites a new meta-analysis published in Psychological Science.

Overall, practice explains 12 percent of performance, the study concludes. That varies by the task.

. . . if the context in which the task is performed is very stable (e.g., running) 24% of performance is explained by practice. Unstable contexts (e.g., handling an aviation emergency) push this down to 4% .

The value of practice peaks for games at 26 percent and hits 21 percent for music. It accounts for 4 percent of performance in education, the study concludes, and less than 1 percent in the professions.

Tale of two schools

Students from a primarily Latino public school in the South Bronx got together with students from a ritzy private school for an exercise in “radical empathy,” reports the New York Times magazine in The Tale of Two Schools.

Under the supervision of Narrative 4, the students paired off, one from each school, and shared stories that in some way defined them. When they gathered as a group a few hours later, each student was responsible for telling the other’s story, taking on the persona of his or her partner and telling the story in the first person.

I was impressed by the low-income students’ confidence that they can have a better future. Nagib Gonzalez, 18, said: “Being poor is the biggest motivation for me because I come from the bottom, and my goal is to reach the top. People say that success is not determined by income, and I mostly agree, but I want my success to be determined by income. I want to be able to support my family.”

Charter grads go farther, earn more

Charter high school students go farther in school and earn more as adults, concludes a Mathematica study. Researchers followed Florida and Chicago charter eighth graders for 11 years, comparing those who attended a charter high school and classmates who went to a traditional high school.

Charter students don’t earn higher test scores, on average, unless they attend “no excuses” charters, previous research has found. However, they’re significantly more likely than similar students to complete high school and enroll in college. 

. . . students attending Chicago and Florida charter high schools were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate and 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college than comparison groups of students who attended charter middle schools but matriculated to traditional public high schools.

The former charter high students earned more at age 25 than the control group, Mathematica found. That suggests charter high schools “are endowing students with skills, knowledge, work habits, motivation, and values that are important for long-term success but are not fully captured by test scores.”

‘Skill builders’ succeed without a degree

Community college “skill builders” who complete a few vocational courses can raise their earnings by as much as 15 percent, a new study finds.

North Carolina has launched a four-year plan to improve success rates at community colleges. The system has created “stackable” credentials that let students earn a vocational certificate, work and then return, if they wish, to add a higher-level credential.

Don’t follow your passion

Don’t Follow Your Passion, advises Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. Try things and get passionate about what works. He’s got a new book out, How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

How to succeed at community college

Community colleges are finding ways to engage students and raise their odds of success, a new study finds. One college warns students they must show up for class or be kicked out.

In Tennessee, volunteer “success coaches” help first-generation students fill out college forms, apply for financial aid and navigate the system.

States link financial aid to academic progress

Every year states hand out $11 billion in college aid — usually without tracking whether students earn a degree. That’s changing. Some states are linking financial aid to students’ academic progress.

To really improve college access and success, double or triple the average Pell Grant, recommends financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz.

It’s your education

In reading about Mt. Everest, Ric00chet encounted a quotation from nick Heil’s Dark Summit.

Ultimately, no greater responsibility exists than that which falls on each individual climber – whether he or she is an expedition leader, guide, Sherpa, or paying client. Too much has been written, said, filmed, and photographed for anyone going to Mount Everest not to be fully aware of the risks of climbing to 29,035 feet. Only a fool would put complete faith in someone else to guarantee their safety, or bail them out of trouble if a problem arises, though certainly the mountain continues to attract its share of fools.

Education is like that too, she writes.

I tell my students it is their education and they are responsible – I have learned as much from horrid teachers as good ones – sometimes more because I had to work a lot harder to pull the information out of the stratosphere. If you are an active learner you will learn. If you are waiting for someone to deliver it to you, make it “relevant”, make it fun – you will be left behind.

In an earlier post, Ricochet remembers sage advice: At work, at home or at school, be where you are. Many of her students are present physically, but not mentally.

They talk, sleep, text, do homework for other classes, read novels. I believe that you learn math by doing math. I do math. They are not there. They take a test and bomb it. Somehow it is up to me to come up with something to fix it. They were in class when I taught the material. They were in class when I asked them to do work. They were in class when I reviewed the material for a study guide I created by going over what was taught. (remember doing that?) They were in class when I asked if there were any questions.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up,”  Woody Allen once said. Mind and body.

Self-control, not self-esteem, leads to success

Does confidence really breed success?  “What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident – loving yourself, believing in yourself – is the key to success,” says psychologist Jean Twenge. “Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue.”

About nine million young people have filled out the American Freshman Survey, since it began in 1966.

It asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers in a number of basic skills areas – and over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.

More students say they’re gifted in writing ability, yet test scores show writing ability has gone down since the 1960s, says Twenge.

And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.

Self-esteem doesn’t lead to success, says Roy Baumeister, a Florida State professor who’s studied the topic for years. “Self-control is much more powerful and well-supported as a cause of personal success,” he says.

In one study, university students who’d earned C, D and F grades “received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-worth.” They did worse than students with similar grades whose self-esteem had been left alone. “An intervention that encourages [students] to feel good about themselves, regardless of work, may remove the reason to work hard,” writes Baumeister.