Collapse of the College “Wealth Premium”?

Annie Lowrey

 

Is college worth it? As the cost of American higher education soars, inequality widens, and wages stagnate, millions of Millennials and Gen Zers have asked themselves that question. The answer, at least from economists, has remained a resounding yes. One study found that college graduates earn nearly twice as much as their peers without a college degree.

But what if those earnings are no longer translating into financial security and long-term prosperity? A new study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests that might be the case. College still boosts graduates’ earnings, but it does little for their wealth.

The paper, by William R. Emmons, Ana H. Kent, and Lowell R. Ricketts, is an exercise in pulling apart averages. As a general point, college graduates earn more and are worth more than people without college degrees. And, as a general point, the college earnings and wealth premiums—meaning how much more a person with a college diploma makes and owns than an otherwise similar person—are large. But upon close examination, terrifying generational and demographic trends emerge.

The college earnings premium has proved durable and considerable overall. White people born in the middle of the century got more of an earnings boost for attending college than white people born in the 1980s—but the boost for both groups was big. (“People” is close-enough shorthand here; the authors use a more technical household comparison.) And black people born in the ’80s got a similar income bump to black people born in the ’40s and ’50s.

But the wealth premium has collapsed precipitously over the past 50 years. White graduates born in the ’30s were worth 247 percent more than their non-college-educated peers; white people born in the ’80s were worth just 42 percent more. Among black families, the wealth premium sat at more than 500 percent for those born in the ’30s and fell to zero—yes, zero—for those born in the ’70s and ’80s.

Notably, the study corrects for the fact that households tend to accumulate wealth as they age; the issue is not that members of the Greatest Generation and Boomers have had more time to let their homes appreciate and their money sit in the stock market. They were always on a different wealth trajectory than their kids and grandkids.

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The authors cite a few reasons this might be the case. The first has to do with asset prices. Older generations were able to buy houses and stocks when prices were low, then saw the value of those assets rise. Recent generations have faced high housing prices and have found themselves unable to buy their way into the stock market. Therefore, they have not been able to take advantage of the recent run-up in asset values. “The three oldest cohorts we studied generally have experienced fortuitous asset price fluctuations,” the authors write.

The second potential factor involves Wall Street’s financial engineering. Younger folks have come of age during an era of consumer debt, with banks more than happy to load customers up with credit cards, car loans, and so on. Those debts then get subtracted from the value of families’ assets when determining their net worth, helping to explain the Millennials’ crummy wealth accumulation. “The leveraging of college-graduate balance sheets over time is entirely consistent with the progressive weakening of their overall financial positions that we identified—even while the college and postgraduate income premiums remained intact,” the authors write.

Finally—most obvious, and perhaps most important—is the cost of college and graduate school itself. The price of consumer goods has increased by a factor of four since the late 1970s. College costs have increased by a factor of 14, the study notes. More and more students have taken out heavy debt burdens to be able to go to school, burdens that then eat away at their earnings, month after month, for years on end. That has forced millions of Millennials to delay life milestones, including getting married, having children, and owning a home, for years, if not for decades, if not forever.

Even if going to college is still important for young people’s earnings and employment, it is less of a clear economic boon than it was 30 years ago. In it way, the paper makes a powerful argument for making college a public good, low-cost or even free for everyone. The spiraling cost of higher education is choking Millennial families, and more young people would be able to go to college—and get the full financial benefit of getting a degree—if they were able to do it for the same price as their parents paid.

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Can You Have a Rewarding Intellectual Life Outside Academe?

Recent piece that had me thinking about all the trials and tribulations associated with this job path.  What do you think? The more input the better.

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Original article Here

By Warren Hoffman

“You have an awesome job — you know that, right? I’m jealous.” Those words were uttered by a tenured professor over coffee one day, as I told him about my then-job working in theater as a literary manager and dramaturge.

Had I heard him correctly? He was the one with the swanky permanent teaching job while I couldn’t find a tenure-track gig in literature to save my life.

But despite all the romantic notions attached to “the life of the mind,” that wasn’t the first time (or the last) that I heard a tenured scholar admit to feeling envious of a career outside of academe. They always say they feel beaten down by the academic system — more specifically, by heavy teaching loads, politicized faculty meetings, and ever-expanding campus bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, drawing on my knowledge of theater, I had become the literary manager of a major U.S. regional theater — developing new works, providing research for plays, scouting new playwrights, and writing articles for the theater’s magazine that were read by hundreds of people every performance. While it wasn’t what I had imagined myself doing with a Ph.D., the theater had become my classroom, where I ran public interviews with award-winning writers and actors. I grappled with complex thematic issues and found myself in the library collecting dramaturgical research for directors.

I was, in many ways, doing what I had been trained to do. I just wasn’t doing it at a university.

I share this experience now because the contingent-faculty crisis has rightly been taking up more and more column space in an effort to get academe to sit up, take notice, and do something about the shrinking pool of tenure-track jobs. Debates about the problem often lead to a lot of finger-pointing and wishful thinking that it could be resolved if only “someone” — institutions, departments, learned societies, foundations — could wave a magic wand and make more tenure-track jobs appear. It is a frustratingly complex issue.

While I, too, hope that institutions will find ways to support, retain, and even increase the number of tenure-track positions on their faculties, I’d like to pose a different question here: Why is getting a tenure-track job still seen as the only way to lead a fulfilling life of inquiry in the humanities? More to the point: What do those of us who pursue a doctorate want to do to lead fulfilling lives as scholars?

The answer, I would suggest, is not purely a thing — e.g., a tenure-track job — but rather a set of activities: the ability to teach, write, lecture, and think critically about the world around us. Those actions, while they are primarily located in the realm of higher education, are not by any means restricted to that sector.

I found that out myself more than 10 years ago when — after five years on the faculty job market, and despite having done all the “right” things such as getting a postdoc, publishing a book and articles, and teaching — I was still without a tenure-track position. Not looking to live just anywhere and also not interested in patching together a subsistence living of underpaying adjunct jobs, I decided to pivot and look for work outside of academe. The results have been exciting, rewarding, and eye-opening.

My first job, described above, led me to work in theater, applying much that I had learned to an art form I love. Instead of reading and writing about contemporary American drama in the abstract, I was actually in the room helping to create it. It was often a heady experience, to be sure. From there I served as director of arts and culture for a Jewish community center, applying my background in Jewish cultural texts to public programming for hundreds of people each year. Then a stint in community grantmaking. And now, coming full circle, I am executive director of an academic learned society that serves its members not just by advocating for their scholarship, but by helping them along their career paths in whatever varied forms that might take.

As I look back at my own unexpected career path, though, I never abandoned the activities of teaching, research, writing, and thinking critically. While academe is a place where ostensibly all of those actions coalesce, it’s not the only place where they exist. With some creativity and flexibility, each element can be interwoven with a life outside of a college campus.

At multiple jobs, I was able to negotiate, as part of my hiring package, regular time off to teach a course on a college campus. I don’t want to glorify the adjunct system, as it is definitely broken and pays far too little for the amount of work involved. However, in certain circumstances, adjuncting can be a way for Ph.D.s working outside of the ivory tower to maintain an active role as scholars and teachers. Adjunct teaching is not glamorous, but when it’s not your main source of income, it can be gratifying work. Freed from departmental politics, I was able to swoop in, teach, and leave — and I liked that. I not only got to continue honing my teaching skills and be with students in a classroom, but I also had the opportunity to develop new courses that often turned into public lecture topics.

Research and writing attract many people to academic life, but it’s possible to do that kind of work in other sectors, too.

In fact, my own writing and publishing has flourished since leaving academe. I’ve published two books, both with academic presses. The second, which was a trade crossover book about musical theater, sold out its first print run and will be republished this year in a revised second edition. This book was a joy to work on because I was able to write it for myself — not to please a tenure committee or a small group of academics. In writing it, I was able to combine a scholarly approach with a desire to share my work with a wider reading public.

It’s true that carving out time to write and do research when you have a full-time job is difficult, but it is doable. And in fairness, many faculty members with heavy teaching loads these days are equally struggling to find time to write.

The one area of research that remains problematic once you leave the academic world is using campus libraries, complete with checkout privileges and access to online databases. If institutions could find ways of supporting research access for independent scholars, this would be a tremendous boon both for them and for institutions, which, ostensibly, are invested in the production of new bodies of knowledge and scholarly output.

My work as a graduate student trained me to think critically, and while I may spend more time nowadays thinking about spreadsheets than similes, it doesn’t mean the work I do now is less gratifying. As a Ph.D. outside of academe, I still spend a great deal of time lecturing and giving public talks. Through this work, I’ve not only found attentive, engaged audiences (often more so than in an intro class), but I’m excited to share my academic knowledge with the wider public in ways that are deep and meaningful.

I know that a tenure-track job will remain the holy grail for many Ph.D.s, but with creative recalibration, you can find multiple, rewarding ways to be “an academic.” When people ask me if I still would have gone to graduate school knowing that I wouldn’t find an academic job, my answer remains a solid yes. While I might not need a doctorate for some of the jobs I’ve had, the training I received helped shape the way I view and interact with the world, and that’s something I value deeply.

Today, as the executive director of an academic learned society, I see a twofold challenge before us:

  • We must advocate for tenure-track jobs and the shore up of academic employment.
  • At the same time, we must validate and celebrate the vast variety of career options available outside of academe that draw on the important skills of reading, writing, and critical thinking that many of us have spent years cultivating.

Warren Hoffman is executive director of the Association for Jewish Studies.

Student loan assistance may become as popular as 401(k) plans?

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Mixing a bit of personal finance and education today. This is something that was talked about a few years ago, but is now making news. Student loan debt in the USA now sits at a staggering 1.5 trillion (and growing) dollars. This debt has outpaced credit card debt, and other consumer debt to become the largest debt held by Americans outside of their mortgages.

What do you think? Is this attacking the symptom over the disease? Is this something that might catch on? Comments welcome!

see the full article here

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/20/student-loan-assistance-becomes-a-mainstream-workplace-benefit.html

Student loan assistance may become as popular as 401(k) plans

  • Around 70 percent of college graduates are in debt today. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, and many owe more than $100,000.
  • Hundreds of companies are now offering student loan assistance to their workers.
  • “It’s as meaningful to recent graduates as 401(k)s,” said Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi, a Boston-based firm that designs student loan repayment programs for companies.

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Jessica Crowley used to dwell on an unpleasant thought. When her children began college, she’d still be repaying her own student loans.

But a few months ago, the company where she works announced a new benefit: student loan assistance.

Now, New York Air Brake, which makes train control systems, pays Crowley $166 a month toward her student loan balance, which means she’ll be debt-free sooner than she thought.

“It’s going to shorten my loan life by a couple of years,” Crowley, 30, said. “It’s going to be a big difference.”

Jessica Crowley, who receives student loan assistance from her employer New York Air Brake.

Source: Jessica Crowley
Jessica Crowley, who receives student loan assistance from her employer New York Air Brake.

Student loan assistance, which started as a niche offering by a handful of companies, is finding its way into the mainstream menu of workplace benefits.

“This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit,” said David Pratt, a professor at Albany Law School who studies employee benefits.

This year, Fidelity began to offer businesses a way to contribute to their workers’ education debt. Since then, more than two dozen companies have signed up, and it expects that number to double by January.

“This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit.”-David Pratt, professor, Albany Law School

“This is going to grow rapidly over time,” said Asha Srikantiah, vice president of workplace emerging products at Fidelity. “We’re seeing so many more people who have debt and who are overwhelmed by that.”

Indeed, 7 in 10 college graduates have student loan debt. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20 percent owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt.

Companies offering assistance grows

Helping employees with their education debt is a great way to attract new talent, said John Samaan, senior vice president and head of human resources at Millennium Trust Company.

The financial services firm began offering its employees student loan assistance a few months ago. Now, 20 percent of the company’s 300 employees are already enrolled, Samaan said.

“We got a lot more inquiries from potential candidates,” Samaan said. “People want to join us to be able to participate in this program.”

Options Clearing Corp., a large clearinghouse for equity derivatives, also started providing its employees student loan contributions this year. More than 70 employees signed up within the first month, said Erin Smith, first vice president of total rewards at the company.

She said student loan assistance is the number one benefit being talked about at job and recruiting fairs.

“Most companies provide a pretty standard benefit menu, like medicine, dental and vision, so when you introduce a program that differentiates you, that really matters,” Smith said.

“It’s as meaningful to recent graduates as 401(k)s.”-Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi

More than 350 companies are administering education debt benefits to their employees through Gradifi, a Boston-based firm that designs student loan repayment programs for companies.

“It’s as meaningful to recent graduates as 401(k)s,” said Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi.

It’s not enough, critics say

To be sure, there’s some skepticism about how much the private sector can remedy a $1.5 trillion — and growing — outstanding student loan debt balance.

“The problem is we’re treating the symptom of a disease — and the disease is that education is more expensive in this country than anywhere else in the world,” said Pratt, the Albany Law School professor.

Student debt could hold back economic growth, Fed chief says

Student debt could hold back economic growth, Fed chief says  

The country needs a more universal solution, like bringing down the cost of tuition, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University.

“It doesn’t work if it’s provided via employers, because it’s always going to be a small amount that offer it,” Bronfenbrenner said. “And they’re going to provide this, but then take away that.”

Indeed, the number of companies supplying the benefit remains relatively small — around 4 percent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

And one of the factors likely contributing to the nation’s swelling student loan debt is that the number of employers helping their workers with their original education costs is shrinking.

Company contributions to undergraduate education expenses dropped to 53 percent in 2017, from 61 percent in 2013, accordingto the Society for Human Resource Management.

During that period, graduate school assistance at work also fell, to 50 percent from about 60 percent.

“The problem is we’re treating the symptom of a disease — and the disease is that education is more expensive in this country than anywhere else in the world.”-David Pratt, Albany Law School professor

Still, the benefit can make a big difference for the employees who do receive it.

For example, if someone has a student loan balance of $26,500 on a 10-year repayment term with a 4 percent interest rate, a $100 a month contribution from his or her employer would free them from their debt three years earlier.

It can also help employees better take advantage of other workplace benefits.

Ed Farrington, head of retirement strategies at Natixis Investment Managers, said the company realized after annual surveys of 401(k) plan participants that student loan debt was hindering millennials’ ability to save for retirement.

“We thought, what can we do to try eliminate one of those barriers?” Farrington said. “And we said we want to start helping people who are carrying student loan debt.”

Maggie McCuen, who works at Natixis and uses the student loan assistance program.

Source: Maggie McCuen
Maggie McCuen, who works at Natixis and uses the student loan assistance program.

It seems to be working for Maggie McCuen, 26, public relations manager at Natixis, who’s been receiving the assistance at work for around two years now.

“The money that I would have been spending on the student loan I’ve been reallocating to my 401(k),” McCuen said. “I think I’ve put away at least four times as much.”

Abbott, an Illinois-based health care company, recently announcedthat it will contribute to employees’ 401(k) plans if they’re putting at least 2 percent of their salary toward their education debt.

Will loan assistance become as big as 401(k)s?

There’s still an unfortunate tax hurdle that will likely stall the growth of a student loan assistance benefit, experts say.

Companies recieve no particular tax incentive for such contributions while employees must report their payments as income to the IRS.

However, a number of recent bills seek to make this assistance tax-free, up to a certain amount. Companies including Starbucks and Verizon have expressed support for such a measure.

“Congress needs to take the next step and make this benefit tax free,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of SavingforCollege.com and a student loan expert. “Most people don’t remember that 401(k) plans started in exactly the same way about 35 to 40 years ago.”

What is to be done?

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Back in the saddle…featuring new writing tips!

I know, I know. Its been a month. A few days ago, I received a distressed Whatsapp message from a friend letting me know how much they missed my occasional posts.  I have some projects in the works, but wanted to share something I came across recently that both made me smile, and inspired me to write more.

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The below excerpt is from James Altucher.  (www.jamesaltucher.com) I stumbled over his stuff a few months ago. I was struggling with some melancholic bullshit, and I hit the web hard to read through it, as I often do. One  late night trek down the web based rabbit’s hole I discovered Mr.Altucher. Hes quite an eclectic character, but his stuff gave me a good old fashioned and much needed jolt of inspiration.

 

I want to be creative, I want to write, travel, and push myself as far as I can go.

 

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“Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it.

Nobody would talk to me for more than 30 seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours.

Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “The girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.”

We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.

33 other tips to be a better writer:

1) Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph

Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

2) Take a huge bowel movement every day

You won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

3) Bleed in the first line

We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. If you want people to relate to you, then you have to be human.

Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.

4) Don’t ask for permission

In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.

5) Write a lot

I spent the entire ’90s writing bad fiction. Five bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the Pulitzer prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.

6) Read a lot

You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.

7) Read before you write

Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays. Here are some authors to start:

  • Denis Johnson
  • Miranda July
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Ariel Leve
  • William Vollmann
  • Raymond Carver

All of the writers are in the top 1/1,000 of 1% of writers. What you are reading has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.

8) Coffee

I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.

9) Break the laws of physics

There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. My post, Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters, is an example.

10) Be Honest

Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry that you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. If you aren’t being honest, you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.

11) Don’t Hurt Anyone

This goes against the above rule, but I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule.

Don’t be a bad guy.  Was Buddha a Bad Father? addresses this.

12) Don’t be afraid of what people think

For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing.

Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top.

Maybe there are 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend.

So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them. We all have our boundaries. But try this: For the next 10 things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.

[Related: How to Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0]

13) Be opinionated

Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things… write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on.

Barry Ritholz told me that he doesn’t start writing until he’s angry about something. That’s one approach. Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.

14) Have a shocking title

I blew it the other day. I wanted to title this piece: “How I torture Women” but I settled for “I’m Guilty Of Torture.” I wimped out. But I have some other fun ones, like “Is It Bad I Wanted My First Kid To Be Aborted” (which the famous Howard Lindzon cautioned me against).

Don’t forget that you are competing against a trillion other pieces of content out there. So you need a title to draw people in. Else you lose.

15) Steal

I don’t quite mean it literally. But if you know a topic gets pageviews (and you aren’t hurting anyone) than steal it, no matter who’s written about it or how many times you’ve written about it before. “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm” was able to nicely piggyback off of how amazingly popular Yasser Arafat is.

16) Make people cry

If you’ve ever been in love, you know how to cry.

Bring readers to that moment when they were a child, and all of life was in front of them, except for that one bittersweet moment when everything began to change. If only that one moment could’ve lasted forever. Please let me go back in time right now to that moment. But now it’s gone.

17) Relate to people

The past decade or more has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight.

Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.

18) Time heals all wounds

Everyone has experiences they don’t want to write about. But with enough time, its OK. My New Year’s Resolution of 1995 is pretty embarrassing. But whatever… it was 16 years ago.

The longer back you go, the less you have to worry about what people think.

19) Risk

Notice that almost all of these rules are about where the boundaries are. Most people play it too safe.

When you are really risking something and the reader senses that (and they WILL sense it), then you know you are in good territory. If you aren’t risking something, then I’m moving on. I know I’m on the right track if after I post something someone tweets, “OMFG.”

20) Be funny

You can be all of the above and be funny at the same time.

When I went to India I was brutalized by my first few yoga classes (actually every yoga class). And I was intimidated by everyone around me. They were like yoga superheroes and I felt like a fraud around them. So I cried, and hopefully people laughed.

It was also a case where I didn’t have to dig into my past but I had an experience that was happening to me right then. How do you be funny? First rule of funny: ugly people are funny. I’m naturally ugly so its easy. Make yourself as ugly as possible. Nobody wants to read that you are beautiful and doing great in life.

21) The last line needs to go BOOM!

Your article is meaningless unless the last line KILLS.

Read the book of short stories “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson. It’s the only way to learn how to do a last line. The last line should take you all the way back to the first line and then “BOOM!”

22) Use a lot of periods

Forget commas and semicolons. A period makes people pause. Your sentences should be strong enough that you want people to pause and think about it. This will also make your sentences shorter. Short sentences are good.

23) Write every day

This is a must. Writing is spiritual practice. You are diving inside of yourself and cleaning out the toxins. If you don’t do it every day, you lose the ability. If you do it every day, then slowly you find out where all the toxins are. And the cleaning can begin.

24) Write with the same voice you talk in

You’ve spent your whole life learning how to communicate with that voice. Why change it when you communicate with text?

25) Deliver value with every sentence

Even on a tweet or Facebook status update. Deliver poetry and value with every word. Else, be quiet.

26) Take what everyone thinks and explore the opposite

Don’t disagree just to disagree. But explore. Turn the world upside down. Guess what? There are people living in China. Plenty of times you’ll find value where nobody else did.

27) Have lots of ideas

I discuss this in “How to be the Luckiest Man Alive” in the Daily Practice section.

Your idea muscle atrophies within days if you don’t exercise it. Then what do you do? You need to exercise it every day until it hurts. Else no ideas.

28) Sleep eight hours a day

Go to sleep before 9pm at least four days a week. And stretch while taking deep breaths before you write. We supposedly use only 5% of our brain. You need to use 6% at least to write better than everyone else. So make sure your brain is getting as much healthy oxygen as possible. Too many people waste valuable writing or resting time by chattering until all hours of the night.

29) Don’t write if you’re upset at someone

Then the person you are upset at becomes your audience. You want to love and flirt with your audience so they can love you back.

30) Use “said” instead of any other word

Don’t use “he suggested” or “he bellowed,” just “he said.” We’ll figure it out if he suggested something.

31) Paint or draw.

Keep exercising other creative muscles.

32) Let it sleep

Whatever you are working on, sleep on it. Then wake up, stretch, coffee, read, and look again.

Rewrite. Take out every other sentence.

33) Then take out every other sentence again.

Or something like that.


Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. He had another plan. Lets go to Thailand, he said. And become monks in a Buddhist monastery for a year. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said. It will be great and we’ll get life experience.

It sounded good to me.

But then he got accepted to the University of Wisconsin and got a PhD. Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. And as for me…

I don’t know what the hell happened to me.”

 

find the link here :

https://jamesaltucher.com/2011/03/33-unusual-tips-become-better-writer/

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As featured on NPR…

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Super stoked to announce that I was able to sit down for a chat with NPR local station affiliate WMUK 102.1!  I made the short trek over to Kalamazoo, to sit with Zinta Aistars, for the Between the Lines program. This program focuses on writing and the creative. The hour I was in the studio seem to blast by.    The link is live and up now.

Gypsy professor on between the lines

 

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This was so much fun! Zinta’s interview style is easy and engaging. She picked a great picture for the cover of the piece. Me, eyeballs deep in the mighty chicken fish, the local legend of the hawker stalls of Kuala Lumpur.

We chatted motivation, culture, history, writing, the blog, and a few things in between. I’ve been waiting to announce this, and find this timing perfect, as I leave for Iceland on a twisted weekend adventure this week! If you dont remember that story is here: A Note on Spontaneity

Listen to the interview if you need a smile on your way to wherever, and leave me some Monday motivation! Hopefully not the last time I find myself on the airwaves. I would love feedback.

 

 

Cheers!

 

In Defense of the Lecture

This piece appeared in Jacobin roughly this time last year. Being a student of pedagogy and learning strategies…as well as a lecturer, I found that I spent quite a bit of time going over this.

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What do you think?

 

Few have savaged lecturers as brutally as the the Enlightenment-era printmaker William Hogarth. In Scholars at a Lecturethe presenter reads from his prepared text, his eyes down, indifferent to his audience. The budding academics are no more impressive; those in thrall to the lecturer’s nonsense have slack faces with lolling eyes and open mouths. The others don’t offer any critique but yawn, doze, or chat idly among themselves.

In The Reward of Cruelty, the lecturer, who cannot be bothered to rise from his chair, pokes lackadaisically at Tom Nero, a criminal whose body has been turned over for dissection. The audience shows little interest. Hogarth’s most damning image of a lecturer, however, depicts one who does inspire his audience, but to dubious ends. In Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticisma minister thunders on about witches and devils as parishioners swoon with terror. The minister’s text quotes II Corinthians: “I speak as a fool.”

Scholars at a Lecture. William Hogarth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hogarth’s satirical prints repeat a common belief about lectures: Those who claim the lectern are dullards or charlatans who do so only to gratify and enrich themselves. The louder they speak, the more we should suspect them. True knowledge, he implies, does not come from speechifying blowhards and self-satisfied experts, but from practical observation of the world.

This distrust has now spread to the lecturer’s natural habitat, the university. Administrators and instructors alike have declared lecturing a stale teaching method and begun advocating new so-called content delivery techniques, from lab- and project-based learning to flipped classrooms and online instruction, that “disrupt” the sage-on-the-stage model. While these new methods work well, we should not completely abandon the lecture. It remains a powerful tool for teaching, communicating, and community building.

Detractors claim that lectures’ hierarchical, inflexible, and unidirectional structure doesn’t suit our dynamic, crowd-sourced world. To be sure, lectures are top-down affairs that occur at fixed times. But these aspects are assets, not weaknesses: they benefit both students and instructors.

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

The regular timing of lectures contributes to their sociality, establishing a course’s rhythm. The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

One common lament among university students is a sense of social isolation during the school year. While lectures won’t necessarily introduce students to their best friends or future partners, they do require attendees to get dressed, leave the house, and participate in a shared experience. This simple routine can head off lonelieness and despondency, two triggers and intensifiers of depression.

Further, dismissing the value of attending lectures only encourages students to skip weeks of classes and then frantically try to catch up later, a destructive cycle that compounds loneliness with anxiety. Students not only fall behind but also miss opportunities to speak with their peers and instructors.

Like a metronome, lectures regularly punctuate the week, grounding other elements of students’ lives by, for instance, encouraging regular sleep schedules and study periods, which can also reduce anxiety and stress.

Audiences outside academia clearly understand the benefits of collective listening. If public lectures did not draw sizable crowds, then museums, universities, bookstores, and community centers would have abandoned them long ago. The public knows that, far from being outdated, lectures can be rousing, profound, and even fun.

The attack on lectures ultimately participates in neoliberalism’s desire to restructure our lives in the image of just-in-time logistics. We must be able to cancel anything at the last minute in our desperate hustle to be employable to anyone who might ask. An economic model that chops up and parcels out every moment of our lives inevitably resists the requirement to convene regularly.

Critics frequently complain that lectures’ fixity makes it difficult for students to work. We should throw this argument back at those who make it: the need for students to work makes it hard for them to attend lectures. Work, not learning, is the burden that should be eradicated. Education is not an errand to be wedged between Uber shifts; it represents a long-term commitment that requires support from society at large. This support is thinning; eroding the legitimacy of lecturing makes it thinner still.

Neoliberalism has also made it hard to recognize the work students perform in lectures. Many critics dismiss lecture attendance as “passive learning,” arguing that students in lectures are aren’t doing anything. Today, declaring something passive completely delegitimizes it. Eve Chiapello and Norman Fairclough argue that activity for its own sake has become essential to personal success: “What is relevant is to be always pursuing some sort of activity, never to be without a project.” Indeed, in our constant scramble to project adaptable employability, we must always seem harried, even if our flailing about isn’t directed toward anything concrete. Without moving around or speaking, lecture attendees certainly don’t look busy, and so their activity gets maligned as passive, unproductive, and, consequently, irrelevant.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: they take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen.Listening to a sustained, hour-long argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity. But today, the act of listening counts for very little, as it does not appear to produce any outcomes or have an evident goal.

No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate. As Professor Monessa Cummins, department chair of classics at Grinnell College states:

Can [students] listen to a political candidate with a critical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.

Discussion sections after lectures always reveal the expert listeners. They ask the best questions, the ones that cut straight to the speaker’s main themes with an urgency that electrifies the whole audience, producing a flurry of excited responses and follow-up questions. Good listening grounds all dialogue, expands our body of knowledge, and builds community.

Although they probably haven’t thought about in these terms, many of the lecture’s critics would probably favor one side of Aristotle’s scheme of knowledge, which separates theory from practice. Historian Pamela H. Smith succinctly describes the difference: theory (episteme, scientia) describes knowledge based on logical syllogism and geometrical demonstration. Practice (praxis, experientia) encompasses things done — like politics, ethics, and economics — or things made — technē, which require bodily labor.

Before the modern era, technē was widely denigrated. Smith writes, “Technē . . . was the lowly knowledge of how to make things or produce effects, practiced by animals, slaves, and craftspeople. It was the only area of knowledge that was productive.” Today of course, the tables are turned; technē’s productive quality elevates it above supposedly impractical theory. Indeed, under capitalism, anything that doesn’t immediately appear as productive, even if only in the most superficial way, is dismissed as a waste of time.

Good lectures build knowledge and community; they also model critical civic participation. But students have suffered a wide variety of bad lecturers: the preening windbag, the verbatim Powerpoint reader, the poor timekeeper who never manages to cover all the session’s material. Lecturing does not come naturally and can take years to master, yet very few instructors have the opportunity to learn how to deliver a good lecture. Given the outsize emphasis many universities place on publication and grants — not to mention the excessive workloads, low pay, and job insecurity the majority of instructors face — lecturers have little incentive to invest the time and effort it takes to gain these skills.

Meanwhile, active learning partisans sometimes overlook the skill it takes to conduct their preferred methods effectively. Becoming a good lab instructor, project facilitator, or discussion leader also takes time and practice. In addition to bad lectures, I’ve sat through plenty of bewildering labs and meandering seminars. Because these teaching methods have the guise of activity, however, their occasional failures are not dismissed as easily as those of the supposedly passive lecture.

Lecturing is increasingly impugned as an inactive and hierarchical pedagogical method. The type of labor demanded in the lecture hall — and the type of community it builds — still matters. Under an economic system that works to accelerate and divide us, institutions that carve out time and space to facilitate collectivity and reflection are needed more than ever.

link here

The war on public education; Time to organize

Here we go, a lesson from over the pond. A few of our states are showing promise in the K12 scene… progress is long overdue. The American Higher education scene has been bled out.

Why I’m a striking lecturer: I want to stop the slow death of public education

On the picket line I’ve seen how much widespread support there is, by those fighting against broader attacks on education

University workers attend a rally outside the Scottish Parliament on 8 March 2018 over pensions changes
 ‘Under the ‘defined contribution’ scheme, the typical lecturer would lose about £10,000 a year in retirement.’ Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Iam a lecturer, currently on strike. I am also a part-time MA student, whose lecturers are on strike. And I am the mother of a student whose lecturers are on strike. There have been attempts by many vice-chancellors to pit students and their parents against striking staff, often by positioning staff as selfish and greedy, and students as the consumers whose livelihoods they harm. But even though I dread the hole in my next pay packet, and know exactly what it is like to see classes disappear when I have an essay to write, and though I feel for my daughter, who worries about the impact this will have on her degree – and therefore her future – for me there has been no moment of doubt, no internal war.

This unity of purpose is mirrored on the picket lines, where the active support of students has made even the coldest days feel like high summer. They arrive at 8am daily to brew us “solidari-tea”, they make banners, art and music, they occupy buildings, and march alongside us, even in heavy snow. And the support is broad: a YouGov poll conducted on the eve of the strike showed that 61% of students supported it, and only 2% blamed the strikers for the disruption to their studies.

The issue that has led to this dispute is pensions, and yet large numbers of casualised staff are on the picket line too – part of a growing cohort of young academics for whom the only jobs on offer are paid hourly, and meagrely, with no security and very little opportunity to do research. Viewed from the precarious position of many staff and most students, pensions of any sort must seem like an impossible dream. So why do the majority of them support us?

Partly, because they can see the injustice. Often presented as if a gift, like some fat cat’s golden handshake, pensions are in fact part of our pay. People who choose to teach in universities do so because they believe that teaching and research are a public good, and worth doing in return for modest pay and a decent pension. So when the vice-chancellors, represented by Universities UK (UUK), announced their intention to switch from a “defined benefit” scheme to a “defined contribution” scheme, the betrayal was keenly felt.

Under the “defined contribution” (aka “die quickly”) scheme, the typical lecturer would lose about £10,000 a year in retirement. It is a deeply cynical move by people with vested interests, which if successful, would mark the end of higher education as a public service.

Why are university staff striking?

Show

The fact that the majority of vice-chancellors involved have now publicly distanced themselves from UUK’s position, including OxfordCambridge, and others who appeared implacably hostile to the strikers’ demands only days ago, is a sign of the weakness of their argument, as well as the strength of the strike. Many universities have expressed dismay at how their own contribution to UUK’s “consultation” was presented. UUK also claimed that defined benefits have become prohibitively expensive – a claim that turned out to rest on an implausible scenario in which every university went bust tomorrow, and which has been challenged even by the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, universities enjoy record surpluses, vice-chancellors are being given obscene salaries and lavish expenses, and cash is poured into trophy buildings to make the “brand” easier to “sell”. And all while junior staff struggle to pay their rent, and students in huge debt sit in overcrowded seminars.

But, like most strikes, this one is about much more than money. My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.

In universities, this slow draining of hope began with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and gathered pace when they were tripled in 2010. Successive governments, enthusiastically aided by overpaid senior management drawn from outside the university sector, have turned higher education into a utilitarian and consumer-driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market. The raid on pensions fits this pattern – it is an attempt to shift the risk of volatility in the market from the employer to the individual, to pave the way for further privatisation and rid universities of any remaining sense of responsibility for the long-term health and dignity of their workforces.

The real reason for the widespread support for the strike is that these broader attacks on education as a public service affect the entire academic community – the full-time staff, the casualised staff, and, of course, the students.

The problems we face – debt, increasing workloads, precarity, mental health issues – are not only shared, but systemic. Students understand that staff working conditions are their learning conditions; staff understand that students’ financial stress is an assault on their freedom to learn. On the picket lines, the conversation has not been about pensions, but how we can democratise universities, and restore them to their real purpose. Every member of the academic community knows education is potentially life-enhancing, liberating, world-changing. That is something worth fighting for.

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 Becky Gardiner is a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and former comment editor of the Guardian