EppsNet Archive: Community College

Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


Teaching Computer Science: No School After Halloween

4 Nov 2014 /
Indonesian scholars

Indonesian students crossing a collapsed bridge to get to school

There was no school yesterday because the Newport-Mesa Unified School District at some time in the past noticed that a lot of kids didn’t show up the day after Halloween, so they decided not to have classes on the day after Halloween. Evidently this applies even if Halloween is on a Friday, followed by two weekend days plus an extra hour on the time change. Kids still need that extra day to get ready for academics again.

Some time ago, I saw a news story about kids in Indonesia who had to cross a river via a rope suspension bridge to get to school. Then the bridge partially collapsed so it looked like the photo on the right. And of course the kids are determined to get an education so they’re all basically climbing their way across the river and back every day.

If the bridge collapsed completely, they’d probably swim across.

Meanwhile, American kids need 3 days off to bounce back after Halloween. I showed the class the photo of the kids crossing the river. “This is why everyone hates us,” I told them.

I don’t understand this policy of “kids don’t want to come to school after Halloween so we’ll just take the day off.” I don’t think kids want to come to school any other day either. It’s inconvenient. You have to get up early, sit at a desk and listen to people talk all day. Let’s just cancel school entirely!

If I were in charge of education, not only would schools be open after Halloween but I’d make sure that we covered a ton of critically important material that day so that anyone who wasn’t there would be hopelessly behind and never catch up. I want to see who the competitors are. You don’t want to show up after Halloween? OK . . . have fun at community college.

Work is the same way . . . on the plus side, it gives your life the illusion of meaning but on the other hand, it really cuts into your day. Get used to it kids . . .


My Family’s Guide to Failure

19 Dec 2010 /

At a recent family gathering, someone whom I won’t name here recommended to my son, a high school senior, that he start looking for a community college to attend for a couple of years before transferring to a four-year school.

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “Do you have any more good ideas? Maybe he should punch himself in the face really hard.”

One of the things I love about my boy is that when he does something, he puts his heart into it. He takes on the risk of failure.

The safe approach — and historically the preferred method in my family — is to do things indifferently, fail, then announce that you weren’t really trying and that you could have succeeded if you’d wanted to.”

We have family members who — despite, to my knowledge, having never done or said an intelligent thing in their lives — never seem to lose their reputation as untapped geniuses who could have done great things if they’d ever set their mind to it.

“You apparently haven’t been paying attention the last 17 years,” I continued. “You’re not there every night when he’s up late working on honors classes and AP classes, trying to accomplish the goals that he’s set for himself, which as far as I know, don’t include community college. Why don’t you ask him if he wants to go to community college? Or is that not relevant to your recommendation?”

“Community college is a lot less expensive and he’ll take the same classes the first two years anyway.”

“They’re really not the same classes,” I said. “You have to teach a class to the level of the students.

“If you’re teaching a general ed class at a highly selective university where every kid came out of high school with a 4.3 GPA and 10 AP classes under their belt, then you can conduct the class at a very challenging level and expect that the kids will get it.

“If you’re teaching the ‘same’ class at a community college, where the only prerequisites for being there are opposable thumbs and a pulse, then you’re going to have to dumb it way, way down.

“Throw in the fact that the students will add no value to the teacher’s ideas, no one will ask an interesting question and no one will answer a question with an interesting answer and you’ll find that the ‘same’ classes are not the same classes at all.”

To summarize the Epps Family Guide to Failure:

  • Aim low.
  • Revel in mediocrity.
  • Hide your light under a bushel.
  • Hide it under a bushel of idiots at the local community college.