Are College Admission Questions Asking Too Much From “Emerging Adults”?

I was reading The Atlantic the other day and came upon an old article that was freshly linked to via Twitter.  (I’ll take “Sentences That Didn’t Make Sense When I Was in High School” for 500, Alex!)  This article was about the college admission process – specifically, the questions being asked on applications.

These essay prompts get at some of life’s greatest questions. And as this year’s college application season begins, 17-year-old high-school students around the world are frantically trying to answer with the insight and intelligence that will guarantee them an acceptance letter. Some are searching for profound thoughts and meaningful experiences in their short lives. Other applicants are embellishing the mundane in an attempt to make it sound extraordinary. High school students first come into contact with college through the admissions process. And right now, the first message they receive is: “Pretend to be something you are not.”

It was at this point in the reader-author conversation that my brain rudely interrupted.  It went something like this:

What?  What are you talking about?  I can only assume that this article was written based on some fallacies:

Fallacy #1: Everyone is meant to go to college.

The idea that the question needs to be one that considers everyone is a fallacy because it’s an admission process.  By definition, there are certain levels of academic development and abstract thinking at which a student is considered ideal for admission.  These criteria can change between schools, but the basic gist is they’re asking these questions because the answer is one that will indicate whether they want you.  Whether or not these questions are actually in line with such things may be a different story, but if we assume that they are just from the pure fact that it’s stupid for it not to be considering it’s their question, then the point is so that someone having trouble with the question will fall under the criteria of “go somewhere else.”  If that’s not the case, then the question would indeed need to be retooled.

In other words, just because the question isn’t for everybody doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the question.  The whole point is to disqualify people until you’re left with the qualified ones.

Fallacy #2: Students are expected to answer these questions definitively.

Julia Ryan continues to blast the admission questions in this article by saying that “College is about the journey. So why are schools asking high school seniors to already be at the end of it?”  This implies that questions like “What makes you happy?” or “Describe a time when you overcame adversity.” or “What is the meaning of life?” are all asked with the expectation that students have definitive answers that will determine whether they are college-ready.  I’m not an admissions worker or anything, but my answer to this is to point out that this assumption is a fallacy.  College is about the journey, as Ryan says, but these questions all give important assessments on the following important points:

  1. How self-aware is this person?  Assuming that I’m talking about what’s in the best interest of the student and the school, I would want to know that the student can reflect on their own conduct and performance before admitting them into a place supposedly devoted to higher learning.  Peers are expected to be as much of a contributing factor to the learning environment as the teachers are.
  2. Where are they on their journey?  Rather than expecting a student to be done with a journey, as Ryan claims the askers of these questions are doing, the inquiries discussed here are actually there to determine whether there’s any journey taking place at all – and if so, how reflective is the applicant regarding this journey?
  3. How do they deal with having to answer questions they don’t know the answer to?  You know, the skill needed to get through all of college.  This is literally the entire purpose of something being about “the journey,” because being on the journey and not finishing it yet means that we don’t have all the answers.  There is very little to suggest that these questions about adversity and the meaning of life are expected to be answered with something definitive, at which point the bitter admissions worker will go “Wrong.” and throw the whole application in the trash.  These questions are asked because people don’t have the answers.

All of these are important things to consider when considering a student for admission.

Fallacy #3: College is a place for kids to become adults.

No, not really.

Oh yes, certainly there is growth that takes place in college, but you’re an adult, no matter how many bouncy houses they have at orientation.

I find the perpetuation of this myth that college is for kids to be not only misleading but also alarming, especially as I have seen colleges themselves take this attitude on.  Aforementioned bounce house notwithstanding, I found this blog entry about whether college students are adults, and found many passages familiar – and infuriating.

The fundamental problem is that the university no longer thinks of students as adults. Adolescence in American culture has been extended to people’s mid-twenties, and with this stunted maturity, comes the same perpetual message: nothing you do counts right now, so have at it. The students welcome this because it gives them permission to act out and to put off the hard decisions for another five to ten years. But this also means that there are no clear criteria for when adulthood is evoked. Schools only call students adults when they want to punish them or collect their bills, and the students only invoke their own adulthood when they want something they’re not allowed to have. “Adult” has become a term of self-interested manipulation instead of a moral category to be universally acknowledged and respected.

(Weinstein)

So if the main complaint Ryan is making toward these questions is that college is supposed to provide the answers to these questions and help these kids become adults, I think it’s important to decide before applying what you’re going to be.  I think that this excerpt also makes it clear that as far as colleges are concerned regarding the stakes for failure, you are an adult – even if schools only call students adults when it’s in their own interests to do so.

It is here where I shift the focus of this entry, because this is a blog and I don’t have to explain myself to you, even as I do so with this very sentence.

This culture of “emerging adults” is one that must cease, immediately, because it promotes and implies that reckless behavior is the expectation – and worse, implies a cushion of protection by the “innocent” connotation that comes with calling an adult an “emerging adult.”  Oh he’s just an “emerging adult,” so he can make mistakes.

Like Weinstein says though, that’s not the real truth is it?  You can’t tell the institution that you couldn’t pay tuition because you’re an emerging adult, and you’re still figuring out how to make a budget and stick with it.  You can’t tell them that you didn’t know plagiarism was against the law.  You can’t tell them that you were inexperienced with alcohol tolerance, and that it’s only being an emerging adult that led you to accidentally urinate on their new statue and steal the Q from McQuarrie Hall.  A university will remind you real quick during these situations that you ARE an adult.

So we shouldn’t pretend that college is for becoming an adult when we know college is for adult learners.  We shouldn’t attack college admission questions when all we can do is answer them as best as we know how to answer them.  Let’s stop lying about the stakes – and if a school asks a question that you feel bad answering, maybe it’s not your school… like a job interview!  The interview goes both ways.

Works Cited

  1. Weinstein, Jack Russell. “PQED: Are College Students Adults?.” PQED. N. p., 2015. Web. <www.pqed.org/2015/07/are-college-students-adults.html>. Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.
  2. Ryan, Julia. “Applying To College Shouldn’t Require Answering Life’s Great Questions.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group., 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.

 

Advertisements

2017 Fourth Annual Northern California Instructional Technology Summer Summit #mouthful

summitlogo17m

NOTE: I do talk about this event in the latest episode of the Podcast.  Go listen!  Phan’s Homework is what it’s called, and you can find it on Google Play, iTunes, or… here, on this site.

So I just got back from the first date of Phan Summer Tour 2017.  Basically, I was asked by Classcraft to go to the Fourth Annual North –

No.  I’m going to call it the Redding Edtech Summit from now on.  That other name is awful and long.

Anyway, if one is part of the Classcraft Ambassador program, Classcraft will occasionally send one of you to the big Tech Summits to represent them and spread the word about how awesome a tool it is.  This one was kind of a special case, but I needn’t bore you with specifics.  In any case, I was there to represent Classcraft and to network.

When I showed up to that DMV-looking building they call an airport (it legit looks like there’s a parking lot outside that just happens to have airplanes in it once in a while), there was a dude there with a sign with my name on it.  Yeah, you’re jealous.

So we went straight from the airport to the actual event.  It was very obvious that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore*, because there were more than 3 kinds of trees.  Yep, San Jose pretty much has 3 trees:

  1. A maple looking tree
  2. A palm tree
  3. Whatever tree you’re allergic to

*That figure of speech doesn’t quite work when it comes to travel in the US, does it?  Stay with me, folks, I’m still in California.

Ryan Johnson (@mrjbusteacher)  was there.  Man, let me tell you, that fool does not play around.  What I mean by that is not that he is not a playful guy (he is).  What I mean is that he does nothing halfway.  This guy was 100% involved in the planning of this event, down to the individual vendor.  He was an outspoken advocate for Edtech in his community, and obviously a mover and shaker.  He also was the main reason I didn’t need an Über, because he either drove me around himself or arranged it with other people.  I actually did very little waiting for transportation.

Anyway, the Summit was at Parsons Junior High, and not only was I teaching a session on Classcraft, but I had also been shanghaied at the last second by Ryan to do the closing keynote.  I was well-received, I think.  You can be the judge: Ryan also took a video of my presentation, which cuts out right as the speech ends so that you have to take my word for it that people actually clapped.  Here is the video:

Although my table was the jankiest one there and held the least amount of swag (the pirate definition, not the weird millenial definition), Classcraft obviously had a rep at this place.  People had heard of it, and if they hadn’t, they were quickly wowed within minutes of a demonstration.  What’s not to like?  The artwork of Classcraft is awesome.  If I were to have a fantasy portrait of myself done, I’d track down their artist.  Look at this:

 

PhantheProphet.png

 

There were other vendors too, including but probably not limited to:

  • Texthelp
  • Keyboarding Without Tears
  • Peardeck
  • PowerSchool

So all in all, a great trip.  Tons of networking, and I got to promote a product that I’m really happy about.  I was very impressed also at all of the uses for tech talked about in Redding.  I’m from the Silicon Valley, but I had to admit that Redding’s technology game was surprisingly strong.  If you want to hear more about this, listen to my Podcast!

#GAFESummit in Modesto next!

Updates – May 19th, 2017

So I’ve had a lot going on lately, with a lot of activity resulting in very little blog output, so I thought that I’d provide some information for the nosiest people among us.

Phan Summer Tour 2017

I’m kidding around.  I am doing no such thing.  That being said, I will be doing a little bit of speaking at some Google Summits and things about Classcraft and Hip Hop Ed.  I may vlog it.  I may even vlog it and edit it, who knows?  A lot of this year has been new experiences in networking, classroom implementation, and in professional projects.  Most of this activity will be as part of the wonderful Classcraft Ambassador program, which has plunged me headfirst into gamification and engagement strategies, not to mention reignited some of my passion for teaching.  This is also rather alarming because I didn’t really need reigniting, so the enthusiasm level right now is real.  Yes, that’s right, I’m using real the way some people use unreal or even intense.  Or hardcore.  You just have to say it right.  Get a little of that Logan growl in there when you say real.

Nice, good job.

Some passion projects have included:

Classcraft

picscreens

Using Classcraft has transformed my classroom!  A lot of time and energy has also gone into making the MOST out of the benefits it has provided.  This has trickled into other parts of the profession, of course, but it has also put my brain into more of a “teaching” gear.  As a result, the blog also seems to have gained a focus on education, rather than scattered topics.  Never fear, I shall continue to write unrestrained, as the initial idea was to write about all aspects of being a teacher – including the parts that people don’t want to talk about.  Like what being a teacher does to your work-life balance.  Or your finances.  Or your relationship.  Or your gaming hobby.  Or your consumption of media.  Or your rule about using fragments.

Podcast: Phan’s Homework

phanhw
Click to listen/subscribe on Google Play

I actually started this with my wife.  She’s helping me organize the huge gaggle of content that is my brain.  I have a passion for speaking that I can’t quite capture in the written word.  Also, I think I’m funny, and I need you to check my ego.  After all, who needs self-esteem?

The appeal of a Podcast to me is that when I talk about things, the content tends to arrive organically in a way that mirrors how I – and hopefully by extension, some other humans – actually think.  This makes the consumption of the content easy to follow and intimate.  I don’t think I’m some masterful guru with wisdom to share, but I do think that I’m learning every day, and I do think that the way I tend to reflect and connect events in my life is possibly useful to other people.  Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, or maybe it’s why I’m a teacher: they way I talk tends to provoke thought, and the process itself along with the result is more often than not an amusing one.  Hence: Phan’s Homework – a teacher’s Podcast about school, home, and the limbo between.  Please, if you join my audience, do write me with feedback.  I want to commiserate, provide catharsis, and spark inspiration.  I want more teachers listening to podcasts and less teachers burning out and thinking nobody understands the struggle.

The struggle is real. (Don’t forget the growl.  Good.)

I am unsure about some the logistics of putting the podcast out; I have released it on Google Play Music, and I’m in the process of iTunes… I suppose I can have the feed run in a sidebar on this site, or simply link to it above.  I could have used a feed from a category on this site, but I gave it its own site in case people still want to consume this content without having to see my podcast.

Some other things you may hear about in the days to come include but are not limited to my YouTube channel, reading Oathbringer when it’s finally released sometime this year, playing Injustice 2 over the summer, trying to get my exercising back on point, and other things that come up when you’re an English Teacher and a gamer.

Tech Tips: Dual Monitors

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself repeating some of the same advice time after time, and I thought I’d put together a sort of collection of these common pieces of wisdom to refer to in the future.  Technology can be daunting, especially because sometimes overcoming the learning curve is an obstacle that can prevent it from being as useful as it’s supposed to be.  Cut my grading time in half, you say?  Sounds great.  Oh, you mean after 3 hours of bumbling my way through your software? A lot of teachers would just stick to their own methods.  I’ve tried to be braver about this in order to cut through some of that stigma and amass a plethora of knowledge regarding tech that can actually save time and actually make life easier.  Essentially, this will be a list of tech tips that are worth the learning curve.

Using Dual Monitors

Holy toledo, I made this one first because it saves so much frustration.  Half the reason people still print things out – like emails, memos, and even lesson plans – is because it’s so darn cumbersome to switch from window to window for reference.  Sure, you could arrange your windows side by side, but then you’re cutting your monitor real estate in half, and for many teachers, that makes us endlessly frustrated as we alt-tab, ctrl-tab our way through different windows and tabs.  So we print things out and hold the paper or list or whatever as we go through our grading and planning.

Using an extra monitor can seem daunting because it just looks like too much trouble. You have to plug it in, then connect it to your computer, and then fiddle with the display settings… ugh!

Do it when you know you’re going to spend some real time on your work, not for a quick email check.  I cannot convey enough how some of the most mundane, time-wasting things that you don’t even think about are solved by having two monitors.  In most cases, you only need to use one monitor because most teachers have laptops.  Once you set the monitor as an extension, you’ll feel so good with Google Classroom on one screen, Schoolloop on the other… or your powerpoint on one screen, your reference materials on the other… or even a parent’s email on one screen with their student’s work on the other.

Now you can drag the picture from the browser over to your powerpoint instead of alt-clicking and switching tabs.  It has changed the way I grade, the way I teach, and the way I plan.  I will never go back.  If you take your laptop from place to place, and the plugging/unplugging game starts to get to you, consider getting another device as a dedicated workstation.

I have a home computer that I use as a workstation and it has two monitors.  I use it for planning and grading.  I can do most of my planning and grading in about two work sessions per week – including essays!

dual.png
Notice also that my monitors are in portrait mode – a must for teachers, especially ELA!

My school laptop is now only for school and is plugged into the projector there, which extends my desktop and also outputs that extension to a second monitor.  The result?  On the left screen, my laptop, I can put up attendance, etc.  Anything I want the kids to see, I can drag to the right screen, and look at it without turning my back on my kids to look at the projector.

picscreens.png For on-the-go purposes, I usually just grab a Chromebook from the cart rather than my plugged-in laptop.

If you have an idea for a Teacher Tech Tip, or you have a problem that you hope I can solve with technology, go ahead and leave a comment or hit up my Twitter handle @TheEnglishPhan.

You Don’t Like Sleep.

Sleep is a beautiful thing.  Sleep helps you lose weight, grow taller, heighten your senses, process memories, dump old memories – you get all that for SLEEPING, an activity that, in theory, takes little to no effort, and only requires you to take the time to do it.

When I was young, I squandered the opportunities to sleep as often as I could.  Well, according to my memory anyway; apparently, when I was a baby I was a very good napper.  I didn’t do any of that crib-climbing stuff that I watched my little brother do with fascination.  In fact, at one point, my mom said she put me on a mattress on the ground – no restraints, fences, nothing – and I made no attempt to escape whatsoever.  What a loser.  My brother in that same situation for one parent-imposed naptime was crawling out of there like Gollum.

But intellectually, I fought naptimes, and I stayed up late doing homework, IMing, gaming, binge-watching Netflix and staying up with my insomniac brother.  Over time, I kind of forgot what it was like to have a full, complete sleep.  Sometimes I noted that I was too tired to sleep.  Yep, in moments of extreme tiredness, my body would do things not conducive to sleeping.  My body was too sleepy to figure out how to sleep – short of collapsing in exhaustion when I finally hit zero.

It was actually my wife who pushed me to go to bed on time during my first two or so years of teaching.  I still remember what it was like that first morning after an eight hours sleep.  I had super powers!  My food didn’t drag me down, my senses were loading up my brain with information, my work got done so fast with my usual planning that I had all this extra time, too!  Life was… better!  Who wouldn’t do this?!

Now, sleep is one of the only things that lacks in my life.  Lack of sleep makes it hard to lose weight, work, and even spend time with my wife – which, because I’m suffering from lack of sleep, makes it so I have to make up for all of this by… you got it: NOT sleeping – which made it WORSE.  Yes, learn this lesson now.  Right my wrongs.  Not sleeping will make you so bad at being awake that you won’t get a chance to sleep.

So now I see these young teenagers every day at my work, and on the surface of it, it looks like they’re smarter than I was.  “I love sleep!” they’ll say.  Yet, day after day, students will wander into my classroom with half-lidded eyes and profess to long nights of Netflix, gaming and Snapchatting.  I thought you loved sleep?

When I love something, I prioritize it.  I make time for it.  That’s not what’s happening when my students are thinking about sleep.  They are doing things that aren’t sleep, and putting it off further and further, and only thinking of it wistfully because they’re bad at being awake.  “I can’t wait till spring break so I can just get some sleep,” which means that they can do all of their night time stuff and oversleep with no consequences.

So maybe it’s time to be precise: Do you love sleep, or do you hate waking up?

If it’s the latter, would you hate waking up so much if you just got some sleep?

Why Eat?

So, like most of America that isn’t in denial, I’ve been trying to lose weight recently.  Why?  Because honestly, life is too short to spend most of it unable to touch your toes.  I can touch my toes right now, but it’s only a matter of time.

Like anyone will tell you, it’s difficult.  Over the summer I lost 30 pounds.  There my progress stopped, and I’ve been fluctuating ever since.  I have a couple theories about why I’m having trouble, and one of them is simply because there are too many reasons to eat.

1.  We eat when we’re hungry.

Well, DUHHHH.  When you’re hungry, you eat.  However, I think there’s a hunger inflation at play here.  It doesn’t make sense that I can eat one grilled cheese sandwich or a full buffet dinner and still feel hungry three hours later.  That’s like putting a hundred-dollar bill into a vending machine and getting the same lukewarm Dasani as the dude putting in 35 cents!  What you eat supposedly matters – so why is my body pretending that it’s all the same?  How can I trust anything if I can’t even trust my own body?

How am I supposed to even believe that I’ve ever been hungry?  I’ve never known hardship; I don’t think I’ve ever notably skipped a meal due to happenstance.  Weird qualifier, but I think it’s an important one; I’ve never been a victim of circumstance.  Meanwhile, my father came to the US with nothing but the clothes on his back and built a life up from scratch – and my body dares to tell me it’s hungry because I didn’t have egg with my rice and spam?  Thas some codswallop, coz!  I call malarkey!  It can’t be true!  Yet my stomach roars and demands to be fed – and I’m trying to retrain it like a naughty dog without developing an eating disorder.

The key here, I think, is recalibration.  I just need to ask myself: which triggers in my body indicate actual hunger, and which ones are false alarms?

2. We eat when we’re bored.

Need time to pass?  Prepping something to eat is one of the easiest ways to do it.  Munching away lets us look at the clock afterward with satisfaction.  Gathering ingredients, putting them together, and finally enjoying the fruits of your labor has helped many impatient children – and later, adults – deal with the trial of waiting.  

Human beings hate to wait.  My father hates to wait, my brother hates to wait – and I definitely hate to wait.  Asking a kid with ADHD to wait instantly places them into a time paradox in which 45 thoughts are had, processed, and possibly even voiced in the span of a few seconds.  Being told to wait has made me a victim of some cruel master of Time and Space chuckling away as he watched me figure out nine ways to make annoying clicking noises at my siblings while my parents tried to pump gas.  So of course, you give a kid a snack, he’s placated.  As an adult with nothing to do, it’s too easy to look for something “to munch on.”

People can’t handle monotony.  In fact, studies show that when you eat out of boredom, it’s not for the pleasure of the food.  When scientists put people in a room and had them watch the same 85-second clip of indoor tennis to watch, they gave these people some M&Ms to munch on.  The second time, they gave them the ability to self-administer electrical shocks.  They were both popular among our bored people.

That’s right. Apparently, my generation can’t even handle boredom without being self-destructive.  Not that human beings in general are known for handling boredom well.  Part of the argument for education for everyone is to keep kids “off the streets,” a euphemism for “not let them be bored because boredom and freedom lead to drugs, alcohol, and/or petty crime.”  True, education is a pretty good answer to that because it teaches brain activity in the face of boredom – quite literally – but I want to follow that ideal to the letter if I can… in other words, challenge my brain instead of filling my stomach.

3. We eat to socialize.

Eating is literally a social event – and a social lubricant.

“Hey, let’s have lunch!”  – That Guy We All Know

I just had lunch with a friend.  We ate pizza, and it was good, but my point is, why do we – including me – feel it’s necessary to eat in order to socialize?  This friend was a good enough friend that I know the pizza wasn’t necessary to have a stimulating experience.  Since getting married, in order to stay in my circle the amount of fun/stimulation required per square hour is pretty ridiculous, so the fact that I wanted to hang with him at all should have been enough.  Yet I can imagine that text.

whodied

Okay, I’m stretching a bit.  What I’m pretty sure happened was that people were awful at talking to each other and needed something in common.  The thought is “Hey, we all need to eat, so let’s all eat.”  It’s actually even a logical thought if it’s seen as a requirement for life; if we’re both going to eat, we might as well eat together and knock it out while we bond.  However, I feel the threat is when that balloons into “We need to eat whenever we’re together.”  (Not the case with you, dude, I was just using an example of socializing while eating).  I’m not like that with my friends – at least, not since college, but I have felt the social pressure to eat.  Part of it is linked to the one about boredom.  If you think dealing with boredom as an individual is difficult, dealing with boredom AND social awkwardness as a group is even worse – and probably what leads to both obesity and gang violence.

The key here is to be with people who have similar goals.  When I was doing P90x with the same pizza buddy, there was a shared unwillingness to negate the suffering we had just gone through with Ab-Ripper X that kept us from going off the rails and downing sundaes.  It’s a lot harder when you’re expected to just show self-control.  Part of me wants to post a picture of a starving person on the wall to remind me not to be overindulgent, but another part of me thinks it will have the opposite effect and lead to me eating even more out of appreciation for not being in that situation.

4. We eat for financial reasons.

This one is huge – especially if you’re raised by immigrants.  You’re taught not to waste food even if you don’t feel like eating it, and that somewhere people are starving, so you should be grateful for what you have.  This isn’t really an incorrect lesson as much as it is a traumatizing one.  After all, you definitely want your child to prioritize survival over pickiness without them being weeded out by Darwinism.

At the same time, this lesson can lead to some problems.  For one thing, buying anything at Costco becomes a commitment – sometimes for the worse.  You can’t go buy a salad because you need to finish all the burger patties before they get all moldy because there’s no more room in the freezer!  You need to eat ALL the bacon!  You need to eat all of the leftovers before they go bad, especially if one of your family members calls it quits and refuses to eat it.

5. We eat for emotional reasons.

Emotions definitely have impacted how people eat.  People use food to deal with their issues instead of coping with them head-on or seeking catharsis.  I’m pretty aware when something like this is happening, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to it.

However, there’s another aspect of emotion that is much more of a threat to me.  If someone you love cooks up, oh, I don’t know, a whole pan of the bombest fried rice on the planet, complete with egg and Chinese sausage, and then follows that by making french toast, do you refuse such gifts and say “no thanks, I’ll make some wheat toast?”

If you would, you’re a monster, and you’ll live those extra years of life cold and alone.

The food tastes good… because it has love.  More importantly, accepting that love is important.  So important that I not only used two forms of the same word, “important,” in one sentence, but also risked possibly making this sentence a fragment by beginning with “so” as a vague intensifier to make my point.

Yet, I want to live – which means finding a way to make my appreciation apparent in more ways than the happy reception of food.  In fact, I would say that the answer to all of this is a simple-to-say, hard-to-do one: Enrich my life so that food isn’t the crutch, the focus, or the answer.  As human beings, we are past the point where food is the focus of an entire day in order to survive – at least, in my current environment.  It’s time for my life to reflect that.  I should look forward to life, not to dinner.

Do you look forward to your food more than you should?  What reasons make you eat besides just hunger?