What Don’t People Get about the Ovarian Lottery?

Alison Gopnik shared her latest research, “The Potential of Young Intellect, Rich or Poor“, in the Wall Street Journal today, and while the research is encouraging, readers’ reactions to the story were quite disappointing.

Gopnik begins by noting that in 2015, 23% of American children under 3 grew up in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. By the time children reach first grade, there are already big gaps, based on parents’ income, in academic skills like reading and writing.

Gopnik and her colleagues at Berkeley have been interested in studying whether schooling can reverse these gaps, or are the gaps doomed to grow as the children get older? In particular, they wanted to see if certain skills are the birthright of all children, rich or poor?

The study tested 4-year-old Americans in preschools for low-income children run by the federal Head Start program. These children did worse than middle-class children on vocabulary tests and “executive function”—the ability to plan and focus. But the poorer children were just as good as their wealthier counterparts at finding the creative answer to the cause-and effect problems.

They also studied 4-year olds from low-income families in Peru, and found the same results – they solved even the most difficult tasks as well as the middle-class U.S. children.

Gopnik notes that although the children tested weren’t from wealthy families, their parents did care enough to get them into preschool.  The results suggest that children didn’t need middle-class enrichment to be smart, that all children may be born with the ability to think like creative scientists. But those abilities need to be nurtured, not neglected.

I view the results of Gopnik’s research as mostly positive; it’s good to know that young children are inherently good at creatively solving cause-and-effect problems – a critical skill for school success. But it’s also concerning that students in preschools for low-income children did worse on vocabulary and executive function tests, also critical skills for school success.

So to me it’s clear that students from low-income schools are behind those children from middle and upper income schools when it comes to certain academic skills.

It’s the ovarian lottery, as Warren Buffett has called it, simply playing out as expected. And this disadvantage that the low income children faced was through no fault of their own.

Yet when I read the comments, I became quite disappointed in people’s reaction to the research.

Here’s part of one comment:

These children are not victims of inequality. They are not lesser persons, they do not have restrictions on their actions, they are not forced into servitude.

No one is saying the children are lesser persons, but the idea that they have no restrictions on their actions? The children in the study are four-years old! And yes, they are victims of inequality, at least as far as income is concerned.

Here’s the start of another comment:

This study from communist Berkeley University is pathetic.

You expect me to read anything else you have to say?

Here’s another comment:

Conversely, losers who breed out of wedlock and are poor role models  with limited IQs then wonder why their offspring are substandard.    Losers = losers.

Seriously? I don’t even know how to respond to such a comment, except to say that I am saddened that there are people who think like this.

There were a few comments that tried to turn this into a political issue, such as this one:

It is not in the Democrat’s interest to force schools to nurture kids’ abilities. 

Talk about a conspiracy theory…

Other comments note that it is not different income levels that cause such problems, but lack of parental involvement. I agree that parental involvement is critical, but once again, a 4-year old doesn’t have much say in that, so why should they face a lifetime of difficulty because of a lack of parental involvement in their upbringing?

I know there are many situations when children succeed despite their economic background or lack of parental involvement, but the odds are certainly stacked against them. How about showing them a little empathy, instead of sharing disparaging comments about their parents? And how about thanking the majority of teachers who are trying hard to make a difference in these children”s lives, regardless of the children’s economic or family status?

The ovarian lottery, the luck of birth, call it what you want. The simple fact remains that where you are born, when you are born, and to whom you are born, are likely the biggest determinants of success in life.

And yet it is something that children have no control over, yet many suffer as a result, and perhaps even worse, some people don’t seem to care.


There’s Always That One Guy (well in this case, two)

This past week was Vision Board week in my Intro to Business class.

It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year. It’s when each student takes five minutes to share his or her goals and dreams with the rest of the class. The whole process takes a full week, but as I’ve noted before, I believe it is time well spent.

As I noted in my earlier post about the Vision Board project, the assignment accomplishes many things:

  • it gets students thinking about their future
  • it offers students a chance to be creative with the photos and quotes they select, and with the design of the board
  • it offers students a chance to work on their public speaking skills
  • it offers students the chance to get to know each other in a meaningful way

But as great as the week was, a couple of students put a bit of damper on things (at least from my perspective) by not showing up to make their presentation, and never notifying me of their absence in advance (or since).

Out of 85 students, maybe two doesn’t sound so bad.

But looked at from another perspective, if 83 out of 85 students were fully capable of completing the assignment and showing up to present, then surely all 85 students were fully capable.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand what motivates such student behavior. Whether it’s skipping out on a presentation like these two guys did, or cheating on a test, or not contributing your fair share to a team project, it’s just plain wrong.

Yet it seems like there’s always one (or two) students who engage in such behavior.

Are they lazy? Do they just not care? Do they weigh the pros and cons of such behavior and believe that the consequences aren’t severe enough? Are they feeling stressed out?

I’ve heard that research shows that students who cheat in college are more likely to engage in unethical behavior in the corporate world, and I’m guessing those conclusions could be extended to this situation.

Students who don’t show up for their presentation are likely people you won’t be able to count on as a colleague in the corporate world.

So while these students may not view the consequences of such behavior as significant at the collegiate level, there are serious repercussion for such behaviors once they graduate.

Maybe I need to stress this more, beginning with the first class of the semester, and reinforcing the message throughout the term. And I need to let students know that if they are feeling stressed, I will work with them as best as I can to help alleviate the stress – but they need to take the first step and let me know. Otherwise, I can’t help them.

While it’s too late for these two students in my class now, perhaps their failure can serve as a lesson for students in the future.

The Benefits of Having a Purpose in Life

The Japanese have a great word – ikigai – which is thought to combine the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live”, and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for”. Together these definitions create the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life.

While many people struggle to find what their purpose is in life (myself included), experts suggest reflecting on four simple questions:

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need from you?
  • What can you get paid for?

As you can see from the diagram at the top of the page (copyright World Economic Forum), when the answers to all of these questions intersect with each other) in the middle, that is where you will achieve ikigai.

There are four combinations of the four questions that only include three of the four circles. For example, looking at the diagram above, when you combine What are you good at? with What does the world need?, with What can you be paid for?” you are “comfortable but have feelings of emptiness.

According to Dan Buettner, an expert on Blue Zones, the areas of the world where people live longest, the concept of ikigai pervades the life of these islanders. Combined with a particular diet and support network of friends or “moai”, ikigai is helping people live longer on Okinawa as it gives them purpose.

But just knowing your ikigai is not enough — you must put your purpose into action, says Buettner. Researchers stress that ikigai can change with age.

And if trying to answer four questions seems like too much, Neil Pasricha, a Canadian entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and author (his newest book is The Happiness Equation suggests finding your purpose through his Saturday Morning Test. This entails contemplating your response to one question “What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do?”

If I answer that with “sitting around reading”, it looks like I would satisfy the What do you love? What are you good at? What does the world need from you?. However, I likely won’t make any money from such a passive activity.

According to the diagram, such a choice would lead to delight and fullness, but with no wealth. Since I need to make a living, perhaps I should wait to ask myself that Saturday question again, in six years.

Here’s to all of you finding ikigai.

1,000 Straight Days of Blogging

Yesterday was not only a milestone for my marriage (36 F***ing Great Years), but for my blog as well.

I started this blog on January 1, 2015, and have posted something every day since. That means yesterday’s post was number 1,000.

So pardon me for a little trip down memory lane.

Here’s what I wrote when I reached number 500:

This all started back on January 1, 2015 in response to a 31-day write and run challenge from Matt Frazier followed by a Seth Godin blogging challenge. Back then my goal was to get to the end of January, but then once that happened, I realized I enjoyed the daily discipline of writing something, anything. Admittedly, some days were, and still are, tougher than others to think of something to write about. Then I set my goal for 100 consecutive days of posting, and once I hit that goal I figured I would just keep doing it.

And so here I am. I’m sure if someone had asked me when I first started blogging if I thought I could publish something for 1,000 straight days, I would have said that was impossible.

After all, here’s the sort of things I was writing to my blog during that 31 day challenge:

I know it’s only been two weeks, so it’s not much of a sample size, but I continue to struggle with things to write about. 

and then later in that same blog I wrote about my plan for how to come up with ideas for my posts:

I am going to try to be a better witness to the daily events that surround me, from the routine to the ridiculous, and from the outrageous to the heartwarming. (And that most certainly has been the case.)

And here’s an excerpt from a blog post during my first week of blogging:

My writing process for this 31 day challenge has been to just sit in front of the computer and stare at a blank screen, and hope that something to write about magically comes to me.

As you can see, it was hard coming up with something to write about during those first 31 days, so thinking I could come up with something for 1,000 days would have seemed crazy.

But to paraphrase the picture at the top of this post, a journey of 1,000 blog posts begins with a single post. Or as Seth Godin might say, drip, drip, drip.

But what has kept me going are the readers of the blog and fellow bloggers.

And so just like my very first post was about gratitude, I thought it would be appropriate to share my gratitude again.

I owe a great deal of thanks to my wife, who has read EVERY. SINGLE. POST. (yes, it is as painful as it sounds), and has helped make each blog post better. I also want to thank my three sons who offered their encouragement since the beginning. I also want to thank my Aunt, who also seems to have read everything I wrote. It has also been nice to hear from many friends, neighbors, and relatives, especially those whom I have not heard from in a long time (40 plus years in some cases).

I also want to thank David Kanigan, Seth Godin, and Fred Wilson. I’ve never met these three guys, but they are also committed to blogging on a daily basis, and thus provide a great deal of inspiration to me.

Seth Godin has been blogging almost every day since January 2002.

Fred Wilson has posted to his blog every day since September 23, 2003.

David Kanigan has been posting nearly every day since October 2011.

That’s a lot of blogging. And a lot of motivation. And not to mention great sources of ideas for a blog post (or two).

And for those of you who like to plan ahead, mark your calendars for June 22, 2020. That’s the day I reach number 2,000.

36 F***ing Great Years

Hot damn!

It’s hard to believe that my wife and I were married 36 years ago today.

It was such a great f***ing wedding. I’m sure lots of people have looked at the photos from that day and silently said to themselves, “How the hell did he pull that off?” – I definitely married up.

And if you’re also thinking, “this blog doesn’t sound like you”, I don’t give a sh*t.

You see, research suggests that swearing in public can sometimes make people like you more. Here are the results of some studies on the f***ing issue:

  • One study of Italian adults found that, when fictional political candidates swore in a blog post, voters formed a better impression of them.
  • Other studies showed that saying “damn” in a speech about college tuition made the speaker seem more persuasive.
  • A paper published this year found that white-collar workers in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States used swearing to get attention or convey urgency, as well as to develop friendships and build solidarity.
  • Another paper found that coworkers said “f**k” around each other as a sign of friendship.
  • One study of Swedish workers similarly showed they used swearing to relate to each other.
  • Finally, in one 2007 study, a researcher found that swearing can help you break into the workplace “in crowd.”

Based on all of this research, I figured I better start cursing up a storm if I want people to like me. So I thought, what better way to start of my profanity than with my blog.

I hope you like the new style; if not, go f**k yourself.

P.S. If writing and speaking like this is what it takes to be part of the “in crowd”, I’ll happily remain an outsider…

P.P.S. And Happy Anniversary to my wife, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me!

Is There Anything People Won’t Supersize?

Even though McDonald’s stopped supersizing its fries and drinks in 2004, apparently the idea is alive and well.

You’ve probably seen the supersized version of games such as chess, Jenga, or Connect 4.




But a supersized cheat sheet?

Professor Reb Beatty of Maryland’s Anne Arundel Community College told his accounting class that they were allowed to bring in a “3×5” cheat sheet to use during the test.

 Beatty, however, failed to specify the unit of measurement he was referring to.

So one enterprising young man (I’m not surprised it was a guy), decided to create a 3 by 5 foot cheat sheet, as shown at the top of the post.

When I first heard about this, one of my first thoughts was ‘where is he going to keep such a large cheat sheet?’. If the room had traditional student desks, it would not fit completely on one desk, and even if it was balanced on one desk it seems like it would get in the way of other students. But based on the picture, there did not appear to be such issues.

It seemed like the professor handled the situation with humor and good judgment, since technically the student had not done anything wrong. Plus, the student obviously put a lot of time into preparing the cheat sheet, and I am sure all that time working with the accounting material helped the student to learn the material as well.

It sounds like the student did well on the exam, scoring a “high B or a low A.” and only referred to the cheat sheet a couple of times.

I do not allow cheat sheets during my accounting exams, but I do provide practice problems prior to the test so that students get a sense of what the exam will be like.

However, my math teacher does allow a two-sided sheet of notes (I think he specified notebook sized sheets), and I have found it extremely useful. I spend quite a bit of time deciding what to put on the cheat sheet, and it helps me to focus my studying. And just like the accounting student above, all of that time working with the subject material helps to reinforce the concepts and gives me added confidence going in to the test.

I know it sounds quite inconsistent to say how helpful I find a cheat sheet when I am I the role of a student, while at the same time I note that I do not allow them in my role as a teacher. I really don’t have a good explanation for the inconsistency, so it may be I’ll have to revisit such a policy for the classes that I teach.

Maybe I’ll take a poll of my students and see what they think, but I think I have a pretty good idea what such a poll will tell me – students love cheat sheets.

So I may follow-up on this post in a few months if I change my policy to let you know what the results are.

And who knows, I might even be able to turn this into a research project and get it published…

This Is Why I Love Sports

What a great weekend for football, at least if you’re a Penn State/Philadelphia Eagles fan.

The excitement started last night with Penn State’s last second touchdown against Iowa:

And then there was today’s amazing win by the Philadelphia Eagles over the New York Giants as a result of a game-ending 61-yard field goal, by a rookie!

The Eagles win is just one more in a series of miraculous wins over the Giants.

The first one was in 1978, when the Giants quarterback, Joe Pisarcik, fumbled a handoff on what should have been the last play of the game. The fumble was picked up by Herman Edwards, who ran in for a touchdown. This game became known as the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

That was followed by another improbable win in 2003 when Brian Westbrook returned a punt for a touchdown on the last play of the game.

And then history repeated itself when DeSean Jackson did the same thing in 2010. What was even more remarkable about this game was that the Eagles were losing 31-10 with just eight minutes to go in the game. This game became known as the Miracle at the Meadowlands 2.

While it’s certainly more relaxing to watch a game when your team is winning by a comfortable margin, there is nothing quite as exciting as a last-second victory (or as a heartbreaking as a last-second loss).

Fly, Eagles, Fly!

The End of a 60 Year Tradition at Buzzed Youth University (BYU)

I’m a big fan of college traditions; here are some classics:

N.C. State: students dress in wild costumes and then participate in a 5 mile race to and from the local Krispy Kreme store, where each participant downs a dozen donuts in an hour or less.

Georgetown University: Each Halloween the movie The Exorcist (part of which was filmed at Georgetown) is screened on campus and set to end just before midnight. Students immediately head to the campus cemetery and celebrate–by howling at the moon.

Baylor University: The Waco Suspension Bridge crosses the Brazos River in downtown Waco and is the inspiration behind Baylor’s Tortilla Toss. Students aim for a cement platform out in the river, a remnant of a demolished bridge, and tradition says that if they can fling their tortilla onto the concrete, they will graduate within four years.

William & Mary: Right before students take off for Winter Break is the long-awaited Yule Log ceremony. Students are treated to live holiday music and student speeches explaining international holiday traditions. The climax is when the university president takes the stage dressed as Santa Claus and reads a rousing rendition of a story like Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

But I guess some traditions aren’t meant to last forever.

For the first time since the 1950s, Brigham Young University will be selling caffeinated beverages on campus.

Mormons avoid drinking coffee and tea, but in 2012, the Church issued a press release that noted: “the Church revelation spelling out health practices … does not mention the use of caffeine.”

Even after that, BYU, which is owned and operated by the Mormon Church, continued to ban the sale of caffeinated soft drinks.

That all changed this week when Dining Services began making caffeinated soda available. The change was in response to consumer requests which had become much more frequent.

It’s not clear what will happen to Caffeine Corner, a student-run service that says it can deliver a cold Coke, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper anywhere on campus within five minutes. Employees don shirts that say, “I’m a caffeine dealer.”

Reports of an unusually large number of students staying awake for their 8:00 am accounting class for the first time in 60 years have not yet been confirmed.

Stop Doing This If You Want People to Like you.

In a strange coincidence, I read two articles today that each offered up reasons why people may not like you. (I’m not sure what that says about the types of articles that somehow end up in my inbox or Facebook feed.)

Between the two articles, there was just one characterisitic that was in common to both.

One article, Science Reveals Why We Don’t Like Some People by Robby Berman, offered up four behaviors that can potentially turn off people. Those behaviors are:

  • Being an egomaniac
  • Humblebragging
  • Pestering people about their ethical choices
  • Correcting people’s typos

The second article, “13 things you’re doing that make people dislike you immediately written by Shana Lebowitz, offers up the following advice:

  • Sharing too may photos on Facebook
  • Having too many, or too few, Facebook friends
  • Disclosing something extremely personal early on in a relationship
  • Asking someone questions without talking about yourself at all
  • Posting a close-up profile photo
  • Hiding your emotions
  • Acting too nice
  • Humblebragging
  • Getting too nervous
  • Not smiling
  • Acting like you don’t like someone
  • Having a hard-to-pronounce name
  • Name-dropping

So if you look closely, you will notice that one characteristic is common to each list – humblebragging. If you’ve never heard of the phrase, here is a definition from Wikipedia:

an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.

Here’s an example I found on the Internet:

the fact that Wikipedia lists me as a notable alumni of my college speaks ill of the reliability of crowd-sourced info

There’s even a Harvard Business School Research working paper on the topic, “Humblebragging: A Distinct – and Ineffective – Self-Presentation Strategy“. The study concludes that “despite the belief that combining bragging with complaining or humility confers the benefits of each strategy, we find that humblebragging confers the benefits of neither, instead backfiring because it is seen as insincere.”

So it seems as if a key aspect to getting people to like you is to not engage in humblebragging.

So moving forward, I’m going to stop pretending to be humble, and instead just start bragging about everything I accomplish.

The problem with this new approach is that I guess I actually have to accomplish something…

Who Knew A Nose Job Could Be So Powerful

Back in the 1950s, Dr. Edward Lewison, a prominent facial surgeon in Canada, believed he had the answer to the growing problem of recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.

His proposed solution? Free nose jobs and face-lifts for inmates.

Lewison hypothesized that more attractive patients would behave better. He set out to prove this by performing more than 450 operations over a decade at the Oakalla Prison in British Columbia.

The data seemed to support Lewison’s beliefs. The recidivism rate for prisoners who underwent surgery was 42 percent, compared to 75 percent for those who did not have cosmetic surgery. non-altered inmates. “Formerly hostile and incorrigible individuals became polite and gracious,” Lewison wrote.

The idea caught on, spreading to more prisons and eventually seeing thousands of inmates treated.

Kevin Thompson, currently a criminology professor at North Dakota State University, was doing research in the 1980s when he heard that many of the local prisons in Texas ran residency programs for plastic surgeons. The surgeons were working on inmates’ love handles and eye bags — the assumption being that these “flaws” were part of the reason they ended up in prison.

Overall, nose jobs were the most popular operations, but prisoners also opted for face-lifts, chin implants and liposuction. The desire for such surgeries by the prisoners did not surprise Thompson, since many of them felt discriminated against based on how they look.

According to Zara Stone at Ozy, it’s a well-documented fact that attractive people receive better attention and more opportunities, and that the reverse is true for those considered ugly. She raises the question of whether this could be the real reason for criminal activity?

The hope with all these programs was that the cosmetic surgery would lead to new behavior.Thompson evaluated nine cosmetic surgery recidivism studies – six showed surgery reduced recidivism by between 6 percent and 33 percent, two found no change and one found it actually increased it by 12 percent.

Unfortunately most of these “experiments” ended in the 1990s, with critics pointing out that the studies lacked proper controls and follow-up.

But despite the apparent success of such programs, not even Thompson believes that prisons should offer cosmetic surgery.  “The findings are too mixed — there’s other things going on in people’s lives, and they’re using the lack of attractiveness as a crutch to blame others for their problems,” he says. Instead of making criminals look better, he says, “we should focus more on skill building and character development.”

I agree with Thompson that prisons should offer programs that focus on skill building and character development, but I don’t see a problem with also providing cosmetic surgery to those who would most benefit from such a procedure.

As to the cost of such surgeries, that seems like it would be more than offset by the increased likelihood that there would be a reduction in recidivism. Putting someone back in jail would likely be a much more expensive proposition.

We’ve got the largest incarceration rate in the world, and something needs to be done. What’s needed are creative ways of looking at the problem, and I think Lewison was on to something.

I think cosmetic surgery for prisoners needs to be revisited. I don’t see any downside, but the benefits could be life changing.