UB calls out Deandre Ayton

This tweet scrolled through my feed yesterday:

Call me naive, but this tweet did not strike me as in good taste. It struck me as selfish, petty, and attention-seeking (which it accomplished, getting retweeted over 1,200 times.)

I had a conversation with a leading figure on Fredonia’s campus a couple months back. He told me he could sum up our campus’s mission in two words: “Kind and Generous.”

Call me naive, but I don’t think status-seeking should trump “Kind and Generous.”

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I got an Instagram account

Here it is: jonyanmaloney.

After resisting it as for years as a self-indulgent medium, I signed up. The tipping point was listening to Gary Vaynerchuck’s latest audiobook, Crushing It. This book and this book were also formative.

In creating an Instagram account, I’m making you a promise:

My Instagram account will not be:

  • Attention-seeking.
  • Designed to maximize ‘likes.’
  • Primarily about me.

My Instagram account will be:

  • Original
  • Inspiring
  • Primarily about you.

My Instagram account might:

  • Not work. If a post fails to resonate, not generating many ‘likes’, I will keep it up as a relic to ideas that failed.

I hope you’ll join me in thinking harder about the technology we choose to adopt, and a lot harder about how we use it.

Why college is stressful

Because you have to do it.

“I have to do my homework.” “I have to go to class.” “I have to graduate on time.” “I have to meet with my professor.” “I have to get to practice.”

Whenever you tell yourself you have to do something your body produces a stress response. You might be alarmed to learn how many times a day you’re telling yourself you have to do something. Sooner or later your willpower is depleted and you’re overwhelmed.

Being around friends who are also overwhelmed–reading their tweets and texts–doesn’t help either.

On the other hand, things you want to do aren’t stressful (at least not in the same way). You could spend 18 hours each day doing things you want to do without feeling overwhelmed. If done right, you’ll feel fulfilled. Things you want to do don’t take much willpower.

And so a gap opens up between “I have to learn” and “I want to learn”. For better or worse, it’s largely up to you to fill that gap.

You fill that gap by concretely answering the question, “What is this for?

No practicing physician has a strong working knowledge of organic chemistry, yet they were all required to take it to get into medical school. Organic chemistry is a purposeful roadblock in the system that weeds out people who don’t really want to be doctors.

The story the successful medical school student told himself was, “I want to be a doctor so much that I’m willing to learn organic chemistry.” Everyone else got overwhelmed.

Right now I’m taking a class in Java programming. I have a very clear story about it: “I want to write a computer application that will allow my athletes to track their data and save me time.” Learning HTML, CSS, or PHP overwhelms me because it doesn’t fit my story.

If the story you’re telling yourself about your college education is stressing you out, tell yourself a better story.

Incredibles 2

When Finding Nemo came out, people loved the character Dory so much that Pixar made a sequel: Finding Dory.

When Despicable Me came out, people loved the minions so much that Universal Pictures made Minions.

Madagascar –> Penguins of Madagascar. Toy Story –> Toy Story 2 –> Toy Story 3.

I’ve never been to Hollywood, but I imagine there’s enormous pressure to produce profitable movies. An easy way to guarantee your movie will be profitable is to create sequels of the movies people already love. Everyone wins.

Except everyone doesn’t win, not in the long run. Sequels, while they tend to entertain and produce profit in the short-term, fail to do much more than that. Sequels almost always fail to change the culture.

Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Godfather (1972), and Casa Blanca (1942) are still being watched, talked about, and changing our culture for the better.

Incredibles 2 will be forgotten in a few months.

Students aren’t stupid

Yesterday the Buffalo News published an opinion piece titled “Student illiteracy gives teacher a ‘mind grain’“.

The author, Deborah Kelly Kloepfer, is an adjunct English professor at Buffalo State. Ms. Kelly Kloepfer’s premise is that her freshmen students don’t know how to write:

“Having taught college writing for decades, I have become aware of a disturbing trend obvious in my recent classes of freshmen, who are pathologically attached to their cellphones.”

Already you’re rolling your eyes, but stay with me:

“Another consequence, more relevant to my pedagogical concerns, is a drastic reduction in time spent reading . . . Since my students don’t read much, there are many words they have heard but have never seen in print.”

Kelly Kloepfer uses her students’ writing blunders throughout the rest of the piece:

“A college student writing about how his grandfather died of a ‘hard attract’ or discussing ‘the preverbal straw that broke the camel’s back’ or confessing that he was in ‘a world win of pain’ stops me in my tracks.”

Then she pokes fun at them:

“I’m not judging these students because, I’ve learned, ‘we should not enter fear in other people’s business.’ But then again, we should not ‘sugar code’ the issues either. And, if you’re going to write, I say, ‘you minus well do it right.'”

Kelly Kloepfer is right to point out her students’ alarming lack of writing skills, given it’s a top skill employers are looking for. But there are problems with her argument, problems that reveal her students might be significantly smarter than she thinks:

* This piece was written in a newspaper, and newspaper circulation has been dwindling for decades. Do you know a single millennial who reads a newspaper regularly? If not, what was this piece for? Who was it supposed to reach?

* Young people understand that media stars are being born on Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly, and Youtube every week. Hardly anyone makes money publishing books, but lots of people make money building a personal brand with digital media.

* This morning I went for a walk and listened to a book using Audible. That was unthinkable five years ago, but audiobooks are often a more attractive option to young people than hard copies.

Of course we still need to teach college students how to write, but I’m not sure the best way is to hammer them with an opinion piece in a newspaper.

The best way, as I suspect it has always been, is to meet them where they’re at.

Why I have a gym membership

It would be easy enough to buy a few kettlebells.

It would be easy to take those kettlebells and learn this exercise, this exercise, and this one. That, combined with walking, running, bicycling, and a pull-up bar at the local playground is all I’d need to stay fit.

I still have a gym membership for three reasons:

1) It’s cheap for Fredonia faculty and staff:  $77 for the entire year. (prices might increase slightly soon.)

2) The gym gives me a place to do a focused routine. If I were at home I’d probably get distracted and break my routine.

3) There are other people at the gym. When it comes to human health, I think community trumps exercise.