I’m on the road this week, giving talks on my new book about learning to fail better: that is, first, to give ourselves the permission to take on challenges where we might very well fail; second, to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out. This is, I argue, vital on a personal level, as well as vital for the economy, because that’s where innovation and growth come from.
The other day, after one of my talks, a 10th-grade girl came up and shyly asked if I had a minute. I always have a minute to talk to shy high school sophomores, having been one myself.
And this is what she asked me:
“I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?”
I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is “America, you’re doing it wrong.”
I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time? When you’re ready to splash out on an edgy assisted-living facility?
Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines. This is not the first time I’ve heard this from kids and teachers and parents. But I’ve never heard it phrased quite so starkly.
Megan McArdle, “Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail”, Bloomberg View, 2014-02-20.
October 2, 2014
September 11, 2014
What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.
Steven Pinker, ” The Trouble With Harvard: The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it”, The New Republic, 2014-09-04.
June 15, 2014
The average middle school kid in Pennsylvania must be a druggie, if the local school boards mandate drug testing for grade five and up students:
At Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pa., a community 20 minutes north of Harrisburg, an eighth-grader chose to skip the National Junior Honor Society this year, reports Eric Veronikis at PennLive:
Leila May was drug-tested once during her fifth grade year, once in sixth grade and three times as a seventh grader because Susquenita School District randomly tests students in grades five through 12 who participate in extracurricular activities and apply for parking permits.
She always tested negative but her parents have tired of the intrusion and embarrassment and her mother Melinda says they’re weren’t willing to sign another consent form. “It’s sad that this is what we had to resort to. It’s ridiculous.”
Twelve years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Board of Education v. Earls (2002) that schools generally have discretion to impose drug testing on participants in extracurricular activities even without particularized suspicion, on the grounds that such activities are voluntary.
Well, I guess the local school board must have good reasons to implement the kind of drug testing regime that professional sports leagues or military organizations might use … although I’m scratching my head to figure out what they could possibly be.
June 4, 2014
Seattle just changed their minimum wage to $15 per hour (that’s the city, but not the surrounding suburbs). Tim Worstall outlines what we may see in this handy real world economic experiment:
The first and most obvious effect of a $15 an hour minimum is that there are going to be job losses. Don’t forget that the message from the academic literature is that “modest” increases in the minimum don’t seem to have “much” effect on employment levels. And we’d all agree that a $100 minimum would have rather large effects. So our puzzle here is to try to decide what is the definition of “modest”. Clearly $100 an hour isn’t. But also we can dismiss something like $1 an hour as being problematic. Since no one at all gets paid a sum that small making the minimum $1, or $1.50, has no effect on anything whatsoever.
The best result we have from the academic literature is that a minimum wage in the 40-45% region of the median wage has little to no effect on unemployment. The reason being similar to that of a $1 one. So few people get paid so little that it just doesn’t affect the wages of anyone very much. The same research tells us that once we get to 45-50% of the median wage then we do start to see significant unemployment effects.
This $15 an hour in Seattle will be around 60% of the local median wage. We would therefore expect to see reasonably large unemployment effects.
We would also expect to see unemployment among high school graduates rise very much more than the rate in general. For this minimum applies only inside the City of Seattle: it doesn’t apply to the surrounding counties or suburbs that aren’t part of that political jurisdiction. Imagine that you were a college graduate having to do some basic work to make ends meet while you were waiting for that career opening. If you’re going to get $7.25 outside Seattle and $15 inside it you’d probably be willing to make the trip each day to earn that extra. Of course, as a high school graduate you would too. But now think of yourself as the employer. You’ve got the choice of a college graduate or a high school graduate, both willing to do the same job at the same price. Who are you going to hire? Logically, the higher grade worker, that college grad.
So we would expect minimum wage jobs within Seattle to be colonised by those college grads at the expense of those high school ones. We would therefore expect to see a much larger rise in the unemployment rate of those high school grads as against the general unemployment rate. In fact, we’d expect to see this happening so strongly that we’d take the empirical evidence of that widening unemployment gap to be evidence that it was this minimum wage rise causing it.
May 31, 2014
“The smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria, immediately followed by permanent insanity”
Paula Bolyard says that this collection of TV public service announcements from the 1970s may go a long way to explain why as parents they obsessively over-protect their kids (the Millenial generation). I loved this one:
In an effort to communicate a hip-sounding anti-drug message that teens could relate to, this PSA probably achieved the opposite of its intended effect. It made drugs seem fun and cool and glamorized drug use more than demonizing it.
Here are some gems from this hilarious PSA:
I know what you’re thinking. What is marijuana? What makes it so dangerous? Where can I get some marijuana? Well, brother, I’m not going to nickle and dime you. I’m not like ‘the man’ all you kids are rebelling against. I’m hip. I know what young people are dealing with these days.
Yes, he actually said “nickle and dime you.”
Rolled in Zig Zags or puffed from 7th period wood shop projects, the smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria, immediately followed by permanent insanity. Users are prone to unpredictable behavior including junk food binges, joy rides, and a sudden urge to wear sunglasses at night.
At long last I now know why my brother was so interested in wood shop in junior high.
Long term use of marijuana can lead to a psychological dependency. Soon you’ll be taking all sorts of measures to get your fix. People will start calling you names like ‘pothead’ or ‘Smokie McBongwater.’ Losing all motivation, it’s likely that you will drop out of school take a sudden liking to sitar music and maybe even get felt up by a cop or two.
This explains basically everything about the 70s.
Is marijuana really where it’s at? Is it really as righteous as you think? There is more to life than grass. There are fulfilling careers and grrrr000vy beach parties. The closer you look the more seeds you find in your stash. Follow your hopes and dreams. Be someone. Do yourself and your country a favor. Don’t let this happen to you.
Raise your hand if you’re convinced.
May 27, 2014
Cory Doctorow sympathizes with young people who have literally grown up with the internet:
The problem with being a “digital native” is that it transforms all of your screw-ups into revealed deep truths about how humans are supposed to use the Internet. So if you make mistakes with your Internet privacy, not only do the companies who set the stage for those mistakes (and profited from them) get off Scot-free, but everyone else who raises privacy concerns is dismissed out of hand. After all, if the “digital natives” supposedly don’t care about their privacy, then anyone who does is a laughable, dinosauric idiot, who isn’t Down With the Kids.
“Privacy” doesn’t mean that no one in the world knows about your business. It means that you get to choose who knows about your business.
It’s difficult to explain to people just how open their online “secrets” really are … and that’s not even covering the folks who are specifically targets of active surveillance … just being on Facebook or other social media sites hands over a lot of your personal details without your direct knowledge or (informed) consent. But you can start to take back some of your own privacy online:
If you start using computers when you’re a little kid, you’ll have a certain fluency with them that older people have to work harder to attain. As Douglas Adams wrote:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
If I was a kid today, I’d be all about the opsec — the operational security. I’d learn how to use tools that kept my business between me and the people I explicitly shared it with. I’d make it my habit, and get my friends into the habit too (after all, it doesn’t matter if all your email is encrypted if you send it to some dorkface who keeps it all on Google’s servers in unscrambled form where the NSA can snaffle it up).
Here’s some opsec links to get you started:
- First of all, get a copy of Tails, AKA “The Amnesic Incognito Live System.” This is an operating system that you can use to boot up your computer so that you don’t have to trust the OS it came with to be free from viruses and keyloggers and spyware. It comes with a ton of secure communications tools, as well as everything you need to make the media you want to send out into the world.
- Next, get a copy of The Tor Browser Bundle, a special version of Firefox that automatically sends your traffic through something called TOR (The Onion Router, not to be confused with Tor Books, who publish my novels). This lets you browse the Web with a much greater degree of privacy and anonymity than you would otherwise get.
- Learn to use GPG, which is a great way to encrypt (scramble) your emails. There’s a Chrome plugin for using GPG with Gmail, and another version for Firefox
- If you like chatting, get OTR, AKA “Off the Record,” a very secure private chat tool that has exciting features like “perfect forward secrecy” (this being a cool way of saying, even if someone breaks this tomorrow, they won’t be able to read the chats they captured today).
Once you’ve mastered that stuff, start to think about your phone. Android phones are much, much easier to secure than Apple’s iPhones (Apple tries to lock their phones so you can’t install software except through their store, and because of a 1998 law called the DMCA, it’s illegal to make a tool to unlock them). There are lots of alternative operating systems for Android, of varying degrees of security. The best place to start is Cyanogenmod, which makes it much easier to use privacy tools with your mobile device.
May 17, 2014
In NPR’s Code Switch, Gene Demby reports that younger Americans share a lot of values, regardless of race, but are not fans of official Affirmative Action (although I wonder if MTV still qualifies as a “reliable weather vane of popular youth culture”):
“The first thing we wanted to just find out was how much our audience knew about bias, talked about bias and cared about bias,” Luke Hales, the lead researcher on the survey, told me. The poll was conducted ahead of MTV’s Look Different project, which is meant to help young people deal with bias and discrimination in their daily lives.
Equality Is Good …
What the pollsters found is that many values are shared across all racial groups, like a strong sense of the importance of equality. But they also found that the respondents seemed to lack historical perspective, which might not be too surprising because of their ages. Another reason they may not have much historical perspective? Race isn’t something they talk about very much. (More on that in a minute.)
Here’s what they agreed on, across all races. Respondents believed people should be treated the same, regardless of race, and they felt people their age believed in equality more than older people. Most felt President Obama’s election was proof that racism was mostly a phenomenon of the past, and that race was not a barrier to accomplishment.
Eight in 10 said they knew someone who was biased; 6 in 10 felt that they were not personally biased. More than half said that bias was a serious problem but that it was mostly hidden, and a solid majority said they’d worked to get rid of their own biases.
The pollsters found that respondents wanted a colorblind society and believed that “never considering race would improve society” — while at the same time they also said “embracing diversity and celebrating differences would make society better.”
Kids today! They just can’t seem to make up their minds.
… But Affirmative Action? Not So Much.
Significant majorities of both young whites (74 percent) and people of color (65 percent) said they were opposed to preferential treatment being given to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.
Relatedly, majorities of people of color and white people felt that people of color use racism as an excuse more than they should.
May 8, 2014
April 11, 2014
BBC News Magazine looks back at the moral panic about Dungeons & Dragons in the early 1980s:
In 1982, high school student Irving Lee Pulling died after shooting himself in the chest. Despite an article in the Washington Post at the time commenting “how [Pulling] had trouble ‘fitting in'”, mother Patricia Pulling believed her son’s suicide was caused by him playing D&D.
Again, it was clear that more complex psychological factors were at play. Victoria Rockecharlie, a classmate of Irving Pulling, commented that “he had a lot of problems anyway that weren’t associated with the game”.
At first, Patricia Pulling attempted to sue her son’s high school principal, claiming the curse placed upon her son’s character during a game run by the principal was real. She also sued TSR Inc, the publishers of D&D. Despite the court dismissing these cases, Pulling continued her campaign by forming Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) in 1983.
Pulling described D&D as “a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings”.
Pulling’s pamphlet on the dangers of D&D:
In 1985, Jon Quigley, of the Lakeview Full Gospel Fellowship, spoke for many opponents when he claimed: “The game is an occult tool that opens up young people to influence or possession by demons.”
These fears also found their way into the UK. Fantasy author KT Davies recalls “showing a vicar a gaming figure – he likened D&D to demon worship because there were ‘gods’ in the game”.
Veteran roleplayer Andy Smith found himself in the unusual position of being both a roleplayer and a Christian. “While working for a Christian organisation I was told to remove my roleplaying books from the shared accommodation as they were offensive to some of the other workers and contained references to demon-worship.”
Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.
March 27, 2014
First, the comment that @FakeTSR linked to:
It was never a fair fight between fundamentalist Christianity and D&D. One was a dangerous system full of dark mysticism and threats to warp a young mind beyond repair, and the other was a tabletop RPG.
And then, the article by Annalee Newitz:
Thirty years ago, a war raged between the dorks who played Dungeons & Dragons, and the conservative parent groups who believed that gaming was debauched at best and Satanic at worst. Lives were ruined. People died. And now that war is over. I still can’t believe we won.
Still, unlike my fantasy of being a hot half-elf, the Christians actually had some control over our lives. My best friend got kicked out of Catholic school for playing D&D, which we counted as a win because it meant she could come to our shitty public school and play D&D with us. Outside our southern California town, however, D&D players weren’t getting off so easily. They were ostracized by their peers, kicked out of public schools, and sent to glorified reeducation camps by parents who feared their children were about to start sacrificing babies to Lolth the spider demon.
Update, 28 March: Techdirt‘s Timothy Geigner sorrowfully points out that even though this particular moral panic eventually came to a happy end, the lessons of each significant outbreak of hysteria are not carried forward and the next professional pants-wetting politician or “concerned parent group” does not get the scrutiny they deserve.
As the article says, looking back from the vantage point of a world where entertainment is strewn with the fantasy genre, it’s stunning to see the propaganda that had been unleashed. Unsurprisingly, said propaganda has since been eviscerated, with all the common tales of kids killing themselves being shown to be completely unrelated to anything having to do with children’s games. Still, this kind of thing propagated like hell-fire. For all the normal, non-Satan-worshipping kids out there that were just trying to have a little fun, it must have seemed like insanity would rule the day. Fortunately, it didn’t.
Winners who are now all grown up and who have moved on to their next moral panic, be it violent video games, drill gangster rap, or any number of the next thing the younger generations will come up with. The cycle repeats. Every generation was young, became old, and feared the new young again. That’s too bad, but for those of us still reveling in our youth, real or imagined, it’s nice to know that the moral panic over video games, like all those before it, will eventually subside.
March 18, 2014
Selfies are “this year’s droopy pants, backwards baseball caps, or visible piercings, as a shorthand for all that is wrong with today’s youth”
Nick Gillespie loves the Millennials. No, he really does:
That discomfort you’re sensing all around you? It’s the American Establishment loading its Depends diapers over the prospect of a younger generation that is turning its back on political parties and other zombified artifacts of our glorious past.
On the heels of the Pew Research report titled “Millennials in Adulthood,” two leading New York Times columnists have penned anxious articles sweating it out over the “The Self(ie) Generation” and “The Age of Individualism.”
“Millennials (defined by Pew as Americans ages 18 to 33) are drifting away from traditional institutions — political, religious and cultural,” muses Charles M. Blow, who sees a “a generation in which institutions are subordinate to the individual… This is not only the generation of the self; it’s the generation of the selfie.” Oh noes! And it’s only gonna get worse: “In the future,” worries Ross Douthat, “there will be only one ‘ism’ — Individualism — and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide.”
Does it strike anyone else as odd that selfies — clearly less the product of rising narcissism and more the product of the same awesome technology that empowers citizens to capture cops beating the shit of innocent people — have emerged as this year’s droopy pants, backwards baseball caps, or visible piercings, as a shorthand for all that is wrong with today’s youth? Getting bent out of shape over selfies may just be the ultimate #firstworldproblem.
February 3, 2014
January 26, 2014
In Spiked, Tom Slater talks about the constantly moving concept of “adulthood”:
The spike in young people staying and moving back home, although undoubtedly exacerbated by the floundering economy, nevertheless marks a profound cultural shift in the attitudes of young people towards independence. And it doesn’t take much digging to grasp the roots of it all.
The value of adulthood is battered out of young people nowadays. When last year psychologists announced they were extending the clinical definition of adolescence to 25, it felt sadly appropriate. Indeed, in all corners of society, young people are being fretted over and micromanaged with all manner of initiatives to help them negotiate the adult world. From university wellbeing services to the recent attempts of one charity to rebrand youth joblessness as a mental-health crisis, young people are imbibing the idea that they are essentially overgrown children in need of constant support and intervention.
The sense of victimhood is bolstered by the ‘jilted generation’ brigade, who insist that young people have been undone by the avarice of their baby-boomer forbears. As a result, so we’re told, young people will never be able to achieve the same success their parents’ generation enjoyed. Moving out into less-than-lush surroundings has come to be seen as a kind of concession to the oldies wot wronged us. The bizarre focus on house prices in this discussion is particularly revealing on this point. Young people have been led to believe that their parents skipped renting and started buying up houses when they were barely out of school – an idea which Grace Dent gave a thorough rinsing in the Independent this week. In this sense, Generation Y have begun to conceive of themselves as the victims of an illusory, more prosperous past, to the point where even renting a box-room in a mould-ridden house-share is an inconvenience they’re not prepared to endure.
With all of this in mind, you can almost see why they choose to stay at home and spend their disposable income on other things. If things are indeed so bleak, why not buy a car or, as is increasingly becoming the norm, save up your wages and go travelling? Young people seem to forget having your own wheels or jetting off around the world are luxuries that were never within the grasp of their supposedly cash-rich parents.
January 19, 2014
There’s been some noise made about how the “reality TV” show 16 and Pregnant has influenced teens to such a degree that the teenage pregnancy rate dropped by a significant figure. Nick Gillespie has a few questions about the claims:
Television: Is there anything it can’t do?
After decades of being slammed by bluenoses, bureaucrats, and Bruce Springsteen for sexing up and dumbing down the masses, it turns out that the small screen has accomplished what no amount of promise rings, Twilight movies, or mandatory banana-on-a-condom classes have managed to do: reduce the number of teenage births.
At least that’s what the authors of a widely discussed new study say. In “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing,” (available online for the low, low price of $5.00 from the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Melissa S. Kearney (University of Maryland) and Phillip B. Levine (Wellesley College) write “The introduction of 16 and Pregnant along with its partner shows, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth.” According to their calculations, the shows are responsible for “a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following [their] introduction.”
The study is far less interesting for the specific claims it makes about teen birth rates than it is as a variation on persistent attitudes toward cultural production and consumption redolent of Frankfurt School anxieties over media’s impact on the proletariat. In many ways, “Media Influences on Social Outcomes” is simply the latest echo of the idea that TV, music, movies, novels, and the like don’t simply move audiences to laughter, tears, or contemplation but compel them to act in particular ways.
In other words, we’re all just mindless, easily brainwashed dupes who are being programmed by our media.
In more doctrinaire versions of Frankfurt School analysis, the producers of content are drivers and audience members are, well, just passengers along for the ride. To their credit, Kearney and Levine aren’t nearly so deterministic, even though they are quick to ascribe causative power to a particular set of programs.
In 2002’s Is Art Good for Us?, University of Tulsa professor Joli Jensen refers to this sort of thinking as an “instrumental view of culture.” It presumes “that art is an instrument like medicine or a toxin that can be injected into us and transform us.” This view, says Jensen, “is very tempting because if certain kinds of culture cause bad things in society, then you can change that culture and fix society.” The instrumental view implies formal or informal commissars that must oversee and direct cultural production, making sure more “good” art is made. After all, you are what you read, or watch, or hear. Morally suspect art leads to crime, chaos, and bad behavior.