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What are some good pieces of advice that most college students are not ever likely to hear?

If I could, I'd give every college student a copy of the enduring essays "What Are You Going to Do With That?," by William Deresiewicz and "The Case for Breaking Up With Your Parents," by Terry Castle, stay with them until they read both essays completely, and tell them to re-read them on a yearly basis (I do), because I think that's almost all of what they need to hear. Scratch that, I'd pass copies to everyone and anyone:What Are You Going to Do With That?The question my title poses, of course, is the one that is classically aimed at humanities majors. What practical value could there possibly be in studying literature or art or philosophy? So you must be wondering why I'm bothering to raise it here, at Stanford, this renowned citadel of science and technology. What doubt can there be that the world will offer you many opportunities to use your degree?But that's not the question I'm asking. By "do" I don't mean a job, and by "that" I don't mean your major. We are more than our jobs, and education is more than a major. Education is more than college, more even than the totality of your formal schooling, from kindergarten through graduate school. By "What are you going to do," I mean, what kind of life are you going to lead? And by "that," I mean everything in your training, formal and informal, that has brought you to be sitting here today, and everything you're going to be doing for the rest of the time that you're in school.We should start by talking about how you did, in fact, get here. You got here by getting very good at a certain set of skills. Your parents pushed you to excel from the time you were very young. They sent you to good schools, where the encouragement of your teachers and the example of your peers helped push you even harder. Your natural aptitudes were nurtured so that, in addition to excelling in all your subjects, you developed a number of specific interests that you cultivated with particular vigor. You did extracurricular activities, went to afterschool programs, took private lessons. You spent summers doing advanced courses at a local college or attending skill-specific camps and workshops. You worked hard, you paid attention, and you tried your very best. And so you got very good at math, or piano, or lacrosse, or, indeed, several things at once.Now there's nothing wrong with mastering skills, with wanting to do your best and to be the best. What's wrong is what the system leaves out: which is to say, everything else. I don't mean that by choosing to excel in math, say, you are failing to develop your verbal abilities to their fullest extent, or that in addition to focusing on geology, you should also focus on political science, or that while you're learning the piano, you should also be working on the flute. It is the nature of specialization, after all, to be specialized. No, the problem with specialization is that it narrows your attention to the point where all you know about and all you want to know about, and, indeed, all you can know about, is your specialty.The problem with specialization is that it makes you into a specialist. It cuts you off, not only from everything else in the world, but also from everything else in yourself. And of course, as college freshmen, your specialization is only just beginning. In the journey toward the success that you all hope to achieve, you have completed, by getting into Stanford, only the first of many legs. Three more years of college, three or four or five years of law school or medical school or a Ph.D. program, then residencies or postdocs or years as a junior associate. In short, an ever-narrowing funnel of specialization. You go from being a political-science major to being a lawyer to being a corporate attorney to being a corporate attorney focusing on taxation issues in the consumer-products industry. You go from being a biochemistry major to being a doctor to being a cardiologist to being a cardiac surgeon who performs heart-valve replacements.Again, there's nothing wrong with being those things. It's just that, as you get deeper and deeper into the funnel, into the tunnel, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember who you once were. You start to wonder what happened to that person who played piano and lacrosse and sat around with her friends having intense conversations about life and politics and all the things she was learning in her classes. The 19-year-old who could do so many things, and was interested in so many things, has become a 40-year-old who thinks about only one thing. That's why older people are so boring. "Hey, my dad's a smart guy, but all he talks about is money and livers."And there's another problem. Maybe you never really wanted to be a cardiac surgeon in the first place. It just kind of happened. It's easy, the way the system works, to simply go with the flow. I don't mean the work is easy, but the choices are easy. Or rather, the choices sort of make themselves. You go to a place like Stanford because that's what smart kids do. You go to medical school because it's prestigious. You specialize in cardiology because it's lucrative. You do the things that reap the rewards, that make your parents proud, and your teachers pleased, and your friends impressed. From the time you started high school and maybe even junior high, your whole goal was to get into the best college you could, and so now you naturally think about your life in terms of "getting into" whatever's next. "Getting into" is validation; "getting into" is victory. Stanford, then Johns Hopkins medical school, then a residency at the University of San Francisco, and so forth. Or Michigan Law School, or Goldman Sachs, or Mc­Kinsey, or whatever. You take it one step at a time, and the next step always seems to be inevitable.Or maybe you did always want to be a cardiac surgeon. You dreamed about it from the time you were 10 years old, even though you had no idea what it really meant, and you stayed on course for the entire time you were in school. You refused to be enticed from your path by that great experience you had in AP history, or that trip you took to Costa Rica the summer after your junior year in college, or that terrific feeling you got taking care of kids when you did your rotation in pediatrics during your fourth year in medical school.But either way, either because you went with the flow or because you set your course very early, you wake up one day, maybe 20 years later, and you wonder what happened: how you got there, what it all means. Not what it means in the "big picture," whatever that is, but what it means to you. Why you're doing it, what it's all for. It sounds like a cliché, this "waking up one day," but it's called having a midlife crisis, and it happens to people all the time.There is an alternative, however, and it may be one that hasn't occurred to you. Let me try to explain it by telling you a story about one of your peers, and the alternative that hadn't occurred to her. A couple of years ago, I participated in a panel discussion at Harvard that dealt with some of these same matters, and afterward I was contacted by one of the students who had come to the event, a young woman who was writing her senior thesis about Harvard itself, how it instills in its students what she called self-efficacy, the sense that you can do anything you want. Self-efficacy, or, in more familiar terms, self-esteem. There are some kids, she said, who get an A on a test and say, "I got it because it was easy." And there are other kids, the kind with self-efficacy or self-esteem, who get an A on a test and say, "I got it because I'm smart."Again, there's nothing wrong with thinking that you got an A because you're smart. But what that Harvard student didn't realize—and it was really quite a shock to her when I suggested it—is that there is a third alternative. True self-esteem, I proposed, means not caring whether you get an A in the first place. True self-esteem means recognizing, despite everything that your upbringing has trained you to believe about yourself, that the grades you get—and the awards, and the test scores, and the trophies, and the acceptance letters—are not what defines who you are.She also claimed, this young woman, that Harvard students take their sense of self-efficacy out into the world and become, as she put it, "innovative." But when I asked her what she meant by innovative, the only example she could come up with was "being CEO of a Fortune 500." That's not innovative, I told her, that's just successful, and successful according to a very narrow definition of success. True innovation means using your imagination, exercising the capacity to envision new possibilities.But I'm not here to talk about technological innovation, I'm here to talk about a different kind. It's not about inventing a new machine or a new drug. It's about inventing your own life. Not following a path, but making your own path. The kind of imagination I'm talking about is moral imagination. "Moral" meaning not right or wrong, but having to do with making choices. Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new ways to live your life.It means not just going with the flow. It means not just "getting into" whatever school or program comes next. It means figuring out what you want for yourself, not what your parents want, or your peers want, or your school wants, or your society wants. Originating your own values. Thinking your way toward your own definition of success. Not simply accepting the life that you've been handed. Not simply accepting the choices you've been handed. When you walk into Starbucks, you're offered a choice among a latte and a macchiato and an espresso and a few other things, but you can also make another choice. You can turn around and walk out. When you walk into college, you are offered a choice among law and medicine and investment banking and consulting and a few other things, but again, you can also do something else, something that no one has thought of before.Let me give you another counterexample. I wrote an essay a couple of years ago that touched on some of these same points. I said, among other things, that kids at places like Yale or Stanford tend to play it safe and go for the conventional rewards. And one of the most common criticisms I got went like this: What about Teach for America? Lots of kids from elite colleges go and do TFA after they graduate, so therefore I was wrong. TFA, TFA—I heard that over and over again. And Teach for America is undoubtedly a very good thing. But to cite TFA in response to my argument is precisely to miss the point, and to miss it in a way that actually confirms what I'm saying. The problem with TFA—or rather, the problem with the way that TFA has become incorporated into the system—is that it's just become another thing to get into.In terms of its content, Teach for America is completely different from Goldman Sachs or McKinsey or Harvard Medical School or Berkeley Law, but in terms of its place within the structure of elite expectations, of elite choices, it is exactly the same. It's prestigious, it's hard to get into, it's something that you and your parents can brag about, it looks good on your résumé, and most important, it represents a clearly marked path. You don't have to make it up yourself, you don't have to do anything but apply and do the work­—just like college or law school or McKinsey or whatever. It's the Stanford or Harvard of social engagement. It's another hurdle, another badge. It requires aptitude and diligence, but it does not require a single ounce of moral imagination.Moral imagination is hard, and it's hard in a completely different way than the hard things you're used to doing. And not only that, it's not enough. If you're going to invent your own life, if you're going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone's going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they're not going to like it. Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable. They don't fit in with everybody else's ideas about the way the world is supposed to work, and still worse, they make them feel insecure about the choices that they themselves have made—or failed to make. People don't mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out.In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce has Stephen Dedalus famously say, about growing up in Ireland in the late 19th century, "When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets."Today there are other nets. One of those nets is a term that I've heard again and again as I've talked with students about these things. That term is "self-indulgent." "Isn't it self-indulgent to try to live the life of the mind when there are so many other things I could be doing with my degree?" "Wouldn't it be self-indulgent to pursue painting after I graduate instead of getting a real job?"These are the kinds of questions that young people find themselves being asked today if they even think about doing something a little bit different. Even worse, the kinds of questions they are made to feel compelled to ask themselves. Many students have spoken to me, as they navigated their senior years, about the pressure they felt from their peers—from their peers—to justify a creative or intellectual life. You're made to feel like you're crazy: crazy to forsake the sure thing, crazy to think it could work, crazy to imagine that you even have a right to try.Think of what we've come to. It is one of the great testaments to the intellectual—and moral, and spiritual—poverty of American society that it makes its most intelligent young people feel like they're being self-indulgent if they pursue their curiosity. You are all told that you're supposed to go to college, but you're also told that you're being "self-indulgent" if you actually want to get an education. Or even worse, give yourself one. As opposed to what? Going into consulting isn't self-indulgent? Going into finance isn't self-indulgent? Going into law, like most of the people who do, in order to make yourself rich, isn't self-indulgent? It's not OK to play music, or write essays, because what good does that really do anyone, but it is OK to work for a hedge fund. It's selfish to pursue your passion, unless it's also going to make you a lot of money, in which case it's not selfish at all.Do you see how absurd this is? But these are the nets that are flung at you, and this is what I mean by the need for courage. And it's a never-ending proc­ess. At that Harvard event two years ago, one person said, about my assertion that college students needed to keep rethinking the decisions they've made about their lives, "We already made our decisions, back in middle school, when we decided to be the kind of high achievers who get into Harvard." And I thought, who wants to live with the decisions that they made when they were 12? Let me put that another way. Who wants to let a 12-year-old decide what they're going to do for the rest of their lives? Or a 19-year-old, for that matter?All you can decide is what you think now, and you need to be prepared to keep making revisions. Because let me be clear. I'm not trying to persuade you all to become writers or musicians. Being a doctor or a lawyer, a scientist or an engineer or an economist—these are all valid and admirable choices. All I'm saying is that you need to think about it, and think about it hard. All I'm asking is that you make your choices for the right reasons. All I'm urging is that you recognize and embrace your moral freedom.And most of all, don't play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else's. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person.It's been said—and I'm not sure I agree with this, but it's an idea that's worth taking seriously—that you guys belong to a "postemotional" generation. That you prefer to avoid messy and turbulent and powerful feelings. But I say, don't shy away from the challenging parts of yourself. Don't deny the desires and curiosities, the doubts and dissatisfactions, the joy and the darkness, that might knock you off the path that you have set for yourself. College is just beginning for you, adulthood is just beginning. Open yourself to the possibilities they represent. The world is much larger than you can imagine right now. Which means, you are much larger than you can imagine.The Case for Breaking Up With Your ParentsShall I be ashamed to kill mother?—Aeschylus, The Libation BearersTime: last year. Place: an undergraduate classroom, in the airy, well-wired precincts of Silicon Valley University. (Oops, I mean Sun-Kissed-Google-Apps-University.) I am avoiding the pedagogical business at hand—the class is my annual survey of 18th-century British literature, and it's as rockin' and rollin' as you might imagine, given the subject—in order to probe my students' reactions to a startling and (to me) disturbing article I have just read in the Harvard alumni magazine. The piece, by Craig Lambert, one of the magazine's editors, is entitled "Nonstop: Today's Superhero Undergraduates Do '3000 Things at 150 Percent.'"As the breaking-newsfeed title suggests, the piece, on the face of it, is anecdotal and seemingly light-hearted—a collegiate Ripley's Believe It or Not! about the overscheduled lives of today's Harvard undergraduates. More than ever before, it would appear, these poised, high-achieving, fantastically disciplined students routinely juggle intense academic studies with what can only seem (at least to an older generation) a truly dizzy-making array of extracurricular activities: pre-professional internships, world-class athletics, social and political advocacy, start-up companies, volunteering for nonprofits, research assistantships, peer advising, musical and dramatic performances, podcasts and video-making, and countless other no doubt virtuous (and résumé-building) pursuits. The pace is so relentless, students say, some plan their packed daily schedules down to the minute—i.e., "shower: 7:15-7:20 a.m."; others confess to getting by on two or three hours of sleep a night. Over the past decade, it seems, the average Harvard undergraduate has morphed into a sort of lean, glossy, turbocharged superhamster: Look in the cage and all you see, where the treadmill should be, is a beautiful blur.I am curious if my Stanford students' lives are likewise chockablock. Heads nod yes; deep sighs are expelled; their own lives are similarly crazy. They can barely keep up, they say—particularly given all the texting and tweeting and cellphoning they have to do from hour to hour too. Do they mind? Not hugely, it would seem. True, they are mildly intrigued by Lambert's suggestion that the "explosion of busyness" is a relatively recent historical phenomenon—and that, over the past 10 or 15 years, uncertain economic conditions, plus a new cultural emphasis on marketing oneself to employers, have led to ever more extracurricular add-ons. Yes, they allow: You do have to display your "well-roundedness" once you graduate. Thus the supersize CV's. You'll need, after all, to advertise a catalog of competencies: your diverse interests, original turn of mind, ability to work alone or in a team, time-management skills, enthusiasm, unflappability—not to mention your moral probity, generosity to those less fortunate, lovable "meet cute" quirkiness, and pleasure in the simple things of life, such as synchronized swimming, competitive dental flossing, and Antarctic exploration. "Yes, it can often be frenetic and with an eye toward résumés," one Harvard assistant dean of students observes, "but learning outside the classroom through extracurricular opportunities is a vital part of the undergraduate experience here."Yet such references to the past—truly a foreign country to my students—ultimately leave them unimpressed. They laugh when I tell them that during my own somewhat damp Jurassic-era undergraduate years—spent at a tiny, obscure, formerly Methodist school in the rainy Pacific Northwest between 1971 and 1975—I never engaged in a single activity that might be described as "extracurricular" in the contemporary sense, not, that is, unless you count the little work-study job I had toiling away evenings in the sleepy campus library. What was I doing all day? Studying and going to class, to be sure. Reading books, listening to music, falling in love (or at least imagining it). Eating ramen noodles with peanut butter. But also, I confess, I did a lot of plain old sitting around—if not outright malingering. I've got a box of musty journals to prove it. After all, nobody even exercised in those days. Nor did polyester exist. Once you'd escaped high school and obligatory PE classes—goodbye hirsute Miss Davis; goodbye, ugly cotton middy blouse and gym shorts—you were done with that. We were all so countercultural back then—especially in the Pacific Northwest, where the early 1970s were still the late sixties. The 1860s.The students now regard me with curiosity and vague apprehension. What planet is she from.But I have another question for them. While Lambert, author of "Nonstop," admires the multitasking undergraduates Harvard attracts, he also worries about the intellectual and emotional costs of such all-consuming busyness. In a turn toward gravitas, he quotes the French film director Jean Renoir's observation that "the foundation of all civilization is loitering" and wonders aloud if "unstructured chunks of time" aren't necessary for creative thinking. And while careful to phrase his concerns ever so delicately—this is the Harvard alumni magazine, after all—he seems afraid that one reason today's students are so driven and compulsive is that they have been trained up to it since babyhood: From preschool on, they are accustomed to their parents pushing them ferociously to make use of every spare minute. Contemporary middle-class parents—often themselves highly accomplished professionals—"groom their children for high achievement," he suspects, "in ways that set in motion the culture of scheduled lives and nonstop activity." He quotes a former Harvard dean of student life:This is the play-date generation. ... There was a time when children came home from school and just played randomly with their friends. Or hung around and got bored, and eventually that would lead you on to something. Kids don't get to do that now. Busy parents book them into things constantly—violin lessons, ballet lessons, swimming teams. The kids get the idea that someone will always be structuring their time for them.The current dean of freshmen concurs: "Starting at an earlier age, students feel that their free time should be taken up with purposeful activities. There is less stumbling on things you love ... and more being steered toward pursuits." Some of my students begin to look downright uneasy; some are now listening hard.Such parental involvement can be distasteful, even queasy-making. "Now," writes Lambert, parents "routinely 'help' with assignments, making teachers wonder whose work they are really grading. ... Once, college applicants typically wrote their own applications, including the essays; today, an army of high-paid consultants, coaches, and editors is available to orchestrate and massage the admissions effort." Nor do such parents give up their busybody ways, apparently, once their offspring lands a prized berth at some desired institute of higher learning. Lambert elaborates:Parental engagement even in the lives of college-age children has expanded in ways that would have seemed bizarre in the recent past. (Some colleges have actually created a "dean of parents" position—whether identified as such or not—to deal with them.) The "helicopter parents" who hover over nearly every choice or action of their offspring have given way to "snowplow parents" who determinedly clear a path for their child and shove aside any obstacle they perceive in the way.•Now, as a professor I have had some experiences with "hel­icopter" parents, and were weather patterns on the West Coast slightly more rigorous, I'm sure I would have encountered "snowplow" parents as well. Indelibly etched on my brain, I tell the class, is a phone call I received one winter break from the aggrieved mother of a student to whom I had given a C-minus in a course that fall. The class had been a graduate course, a Ph.D. seminar, no less. The woman's daughter, a first-year Ph.D. student, had spoken nary a word in class, nor had she ever visited during office hours. Her seminar paper had been unimpressive: Indeed it was one of those for which the epithet "gobsmackingly incoherent" might seem to have been invented. Still, the mother lamented, her daughter was distraught; the poor child had done nothing over the break but cry and brood and wander by herself in the woods. I had ruined everybody's Christmas, apparently, so would I not redeem myself by allowing her daughter to rewrite her seminar paper for a higher grade? It was only fair.While startled to get such a call, I confess to being cowed by this direct maternal assault and, against my academic better judgment, said OK. The student did rewrite the essay, and this time I gave it a B. Generous, I thought. (It was better but still largely incomprehensible.) Yet the ink was hardly dry when the mother called again: Why wasn't her cherished daughter receiving an A? She had rewritten the paper! Surely I realized ... etc. One was forced to feign the gruesome sounds of a fatal choking fit just to get off the phone.Did such hands-on parental advocacy—I inquired—trouble my students? My caller obviously represented an extreme instance, but what did they think about the wider phenomenon? Having internalized images of themselves (if only unconsciously) as standard-bearers of parental ambition—or so Lambert's article had it—their peers at Harvard didn't seem particularly shocked or embarrassed by Ma and Pa's lobbying efforts on their behalf. According to one survey, only 5 to 6 percent of undergrads felt their parents had been "too involved" in the admission process. Once matriculated (there's an interesting word), most students saw frequent parental contact and advice-giving as normal: A third of Harvard undergraduates reported calling or messaging daily with a parent.Yet here it was—just at this delicate punctum—that I found myself reduced (however briefly) to speechlessness. Blindsided. So how often do my students—mostly senior English majors, living in residential dorms—text or talk to their parents? Broad smiles all around. Embarrassed looks at one another. Whispers and some excited giggling. A lot. Well, how much exactly? A lot. But what's a lot? They can't believe I'm asking. Why do I want to know? I might as well be asking them how often they masturbate. And then it all comes tumbling out:Oh, like, every day, sometimes more than once.At least two or three times a day. (Group laughter.)My father e-mails me jokes and stuff every day.My mother would worry if I didn't call her every day. (Nodding heads.)Well, we're always in touch—my parents live nearby so I go home weekends, too.Finally, one student—a delightful young woman whom I know to be smart and levelheaded—confesses that she talks to her mother on the cellphone at least five, maybe six, even seven times a day: We're like best friends, so I call her whenever I get out of class. She wants to know about my professors, what was the exam, so I tell her what's going on and give her, you know, updates. Sometimes my grandmother's there, and I talk to her too.I'm stunned; I'm aghast; I'm going gaga. I must look fairly stricken too—Elektra keening over the corpse of Agamemnon—because now the whole class starts laughing at me, their strange unfathomable lady-professor, the one who doesn't own a television and obviously doesn't have any kids of her own. What a freak. "But when I was in school," I manage finally to gasp, "All we wanted to do was get away from our parents!" "We never called our parents!" "We despised our parents!" "In fact," I splutter—and this is the showstopper—"we only had one telephone in our whole dorm—in the hallway—for 50 people! If your parents called, you'd yell from your room, Tell them I'm not here!"After this last outburst, the students too look aghast. Not to mention morally discomfited. No; these happy, busy, optimistic Stanford undergrads, so beautiful and good in their unisex T-shirts, hoodies, and J.Crew shorts; so smart, scrupulous, forward-looking, well-meaning, well-behaved, and utterly presentable—just the best and the nicest, really—simply cannot imagine the harsh and silent world I'm describing.•At the time, I wasn't sure why this conversation left me dumbfounded, but it did. It stayed with me for weeks, and I told numerous pals about it, marveling again at the bizarreness of contemporary undergraduate life. One said she talked to her mother five times a day! In the moment, the exchange had awakened in me a fairly dismal psychological sensation I'd sometimes felt in classes before (one hard to acknowledge, so out of step with official norms does it seem): namely, that teaching makes me feel lonely. Not all the time, but enough to notice. Lecturing before students, I will suddenly feel utterly bereft. A cloud goes over the sun. Though putatively in charge, I'm estranged from my charges—self-conscious, alone, in a tunnel, the object of attention (and somehow responsible for everything taking place) but unable to speak a language anyone understands. I feel sad and oppressed, smothered almost, slightly panicky. It's a sensation one might have in an anxiety dream—the sort in which you feel abandoned and overwhelmed and without something you desperately need. They've gone away and left me in charge of everything. At least in my own head, it's the sensation of orphanhood.One rallies, of course. Professor Freakout soldiers on and the feeling dissipates. The business of the day returns. But the psychological cloud can remain for a while, like a miasma. By asking my students a lot of intrusive and impertinent questions, I concluded afterward, I'd obviously brought this grisly mood on myself. Their charming, fresh-faced, matter-of-fact responses—yes, they were just as busy as their Harvard counterparts, but, yes, they also managed to stay in (surprisingly) close touch with parents (i.e., they loved and were loved in return)—had somehow triggered my orphan-reflex. I had only myself to blame. I chastised myself for having temporarily forgotten that students today—not just those at Harvard or Stanford, of course—live in a new, exciting, exacting "24/7" world, one utterly unlike (mentalité-wise) the one I inhabited as an undergraduate. They seem reasonably content with their lot; in fact appear to take the endless "connectivity" for granted—the networking, blogging, Skyping, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds. And why shouldn't they? Have they ever known anything else? None of it made me happy, but neither was I particularly happy with myself.Now, lest one wonder, I should say upfront I am not an orphan—or at least not in the official sense. At the time of writing, both my parents are still alive—in their mid-80s, but frail, beginning to fail. They don't live together. In fact, despite residing less than a mile apart, they haven't laid eyes on one another for almost 40 years. Not even by accident in the Rite Aid store. Don't ask. They've had five rancorous marriages between them. I haven't seen my father more than 10 or 12 times over the past decade. That my recurrent sense of psychic estrangement—not to say shock at my students' hooked-in, booked-up, seemingly bountiful lives—might be in some way connected with these Jolly Aged P's is a topic that would no doubt require a posse of shrinks to explore thoroughly. But even without reference to private psychodrama, I think I now at least half-grasp the reason why my students' overscheduled lives, so paradoxically conjoined (I felt) with intense bonds with parents, discombobulated me so thoroughly.Unsurprisingly, orphanhood—that painful thing—has everything to do with the case. Orphanhood conceived, that is, in the broadest sense: as a metaphor for modern human experience, as symbol for unhappy consciousness, as emblem of that groundwork—that inaugural experience of metaphysical solitude—that Martin Heidegger deemed necessary for the act of philosophizing. About orphanhood conceived, in other words, as a condition for world-making—as both the sorrow and creative quintessence of life.Now that's a bit of a mouthful, I realize, so let me explain it in simpler terms. If you teach the history of English and American literature (as I've done most of my life), it's safe to say you will end up, among other things, a state-of-the-art Orphan Expert. Not that it's that hard. You don't need to go back very far in literary history, after all, to find a plethora of orphaned or quasi-orphaned protagonists. At the outset of the play bearing his name, Hamlet, poor mite, might best be understood, after all, as a sort of half-orphan—indeed, a half-orphan with an unconscious wish to become a full-service orphan. If not downright matricidal, he seems aggrieved enough by his mother's perceived betrayals to wonder if hastening her demise might not make life at Elsinore Castle rather more enjoyable for everybody concerned.And what is Milton's Paradise Lost if not one of Western culture's great parables of self-orphaning? Along with the Oresteia and the Oedipus plays, it's a sort of poetical primer on how to forfeit the love and care of one's Creator in a few outrageous, easy-to-follow steps. Satan's not really to blame for the mess: He's just a figment, the kid who sticks chewing gum on the table leg. Adam and Eve know perfectly well what they are doing when they eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They want to eat it. And when they are seen, misery-ridden, leaving life in the Garden behind ("They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,/ Through Eden took their solitary way"), they carry with them all the pathos of suddenly abandoned children. They have no mother, presumably, and their Father is dead to them. Worse yet, they are wise orphans; they recognize their own culpability in their loss. Cosmically amplifying their sorrow is the sickening, banal, no-way-back knowledge that they've brought their banishment on themselves. Daddy took the T-Bird away. But we should never have been driving it in the first place.Yet for English speakers, it's in classic Anglo-American fiction—in the novel, say, from Daniel Defoe, Aphra Behn, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding to Dickens, Eliot, Twain, James, Woolf, Hemingway, and the rest—that the orphaned, or semi-orphaned, hero or heroine becomes a central, if not inescapable, fixture. Something about the new social and psychic world in which the realistic novel comes into being in the late 17th and early 18th centuries pushes the orphan to the foreground of the mix, makes of him or her a strikingly necessary figure, a kind of exemplary being. (By "orphan" I likewise include those characters—call them "pseudo-orphans"—who believe themselves to be orphans, but over the course of the narrative discover a mother or father or both.) So memorably have these "one of a kind" characters been drawn, we often know them by a single name or nickname: Moll, Tom, Fanny, Becky, Heathcliff, Jane, Pip, Oliver, Ishmael, Huck, Dorothea, Jude, Isabel, Milly, Lily, Lolly, Sula.Even if you haven't read the books in which these invented beings appear, you've probably heard of them and their stories; may even have a rudimentary sense of what they are like as "people" (self-reliant, footloose, attractive, curious, quick-thinking, lucky, tricky, a mischief-maker, the proverbial black sheep ... and so on). Alarmingly enough, orphaned protagonists appear regularly in stories written explicitly for children: Witness Little Goody Two-Shoes, Pollyanna, Heidi, Little Orphan Annie, Kim, Mowgli, Bilbo, Frodo, Anne (of Green Gables), Dorothy (she of Toto and Auntie Em), Peter (as in Pan), Harry (as in Potter). And needless to say, these parentless juveniles are usually the heroes or heroines of the books in which they appear. They may be wounded or fey or uncanny (what do we make of the vacant circles that Little Orphan Annie has for eyes?), yet they are also resilient, charismatic, oddly powerful.•Thus the first of two big lit-crit hypotheses I'll advance here: More than love, sex, courtship, and marriage; more than inheritance, ambition, rivalry, or disgrace; more than hatred, betrayal, revenge, or death, orphanhood—the absence of the parent, the frightening yet galvanizing solitude of the child—may be the defining fixation of the novel as a genre, what one might call its primordial motive or matrix, the conditioning psychic reality out of which the form itself develops.Now, even though I've made a talking point of it, what's important here is not merely the frequency with which orphaned heroes and heroines appear in fiction since the 18th century. Yes, from Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel onward, the phenomenon has inspired some brilliant commentary. In one of the most profound books on fiction ever written, Adultery in the Novel, Tony Tanner associates the orphan trope with the early novel's tendency toward diagetic instability—its ambiguous, unsettled "ongoingness" and resistance to closure:The novel, in its origin, might almost be said to be a transgressive mode, inasmuch as it seemed to break, or mix, or adulterate the existing genre-expectations of the time. It is not for nothing that many of the protagonists of the early English novels are socially displaced or unplaced figures—orphans, prostitutes, adventurers, etc. They thus represent or incarnate a potentially disruptive or socially unstabilized energy that may threaten, directly or implicitly, the organization of society, whether by the indeterminacy of their origin, the uncertainty of the direction in which they will focus their unbonded energy, or their attitude toward the ties that hold society together and that they may choose to slight or break.Like the Prostitute or Adventurer, the Orphan embodies the new genre's own picaresque "outlaw" dynamism.Precisely because the 18th-century orphan-hero is usually untried, unprotected, disadvantaged (not to mention misinformed or uninformed about his or her parentage), he or she can function as a sort of textual free radical: as plot-catalyst and story-generator—a mixer-upper of things, whose search for a legitimate identity or place in the world of the fiction at once jump-starts the narrative and tends to shunt it away from didacticism and any predictable or programmatic unfolding of events.A flagrant example of such jump-starting occurs in Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722). Here it is precisely the eponymous heroine's putative orphanhood (she knows only that her mother, whom she presumes to be dead, was a thief and gave birth to her in Newgate Prison) that catalyzes, among other scandals, one of the novel's most titillating (if outlandish) episodes: Moll's shocking marriage-by-mistake to her own brother. (Only well into their marriage, after she and her brother have several children, will Moll realize that her chatty mother-in-law, his mother, is also her mother—long ago transported to America, but still alive and flourishing.) Defoe purports to moralize in Moll Flanders—in his Preface he describes his narrative as free of "Lewd Ideas" and "immodest Turns"—a work "from every part of which something may be learned, and some just and religious inference is drawn." Yet bizarrely, through some inscrutable narrative magic, the very mystery in which Moll's birth is shrouded triggers one of the novel's most perverse and sensational incidents. What on earth are we meant to "learn" from it? Don't ever get married, in case your spouse is really your long-lost brother or sister?Yet Moll Flanders also illuminates a perhaps more profound aspect of the orphan narrative: its austere embedding of a certain hard-boiled psychological realism. Even when the hero or heroine recovers a lost parent, that person can shock or mortify. The "orphan mentality" can persist, alas, post-reunion. Thus Moll finds out that, yes, as she's been told, her mother is a raddled old Newgate jailbird, with the livid mark of the branding iron on her hand. Now, for most of us, such a revelation—even barring incestuous ramifications—would be disillusioning, to say the least. Imagine: After years of loneliness, of longing for a tender maternal embrace, you finally, miraculously, locate your birth mother: She turns out to be a convicted felon. A whore. A liar and check-kiter. A crystal-meth addict. No help there; she's way worse off than I am.•Freud famously described the "family romance" as the childhood fantasy that one's parents aren't,in actuality, one's real parents—that one was switched in the cradle, left in a basket on the doorstep, found under a cabbage leaf or the like, and that one's real father and mother are persons of great wealth, beauty, and high station, a king and queen, perhaps, who will someday return to reclaim you and love you in the way you deserve. He thought such fantasies especially likely to develop at the birth of a sibling, when anger at the parents—for introducing a presumably odious rival into the family circle—is at a height. Real parents are disparaged; imagined parents idealized. The scenario in Moll Flanders reads like a sendup of the Freudian romance: almost a spoof on it. It's not simply that the lost-and-found parent turns out to be disappointingly "trashy." She's quite shockingly trashy—sneaky, disingenuous, a terrible old crone with false teeth, sleazier than you even thought possible. But you're stuck with her, it seems, for life, unless you can find a way to write her back out of your story.If one wanted to be fancy, one might dub this familial antiromance the "emotional drama of the post-Enlightenment child." Moll does not cease to be "orphaned" having rediscovered her mother; on the contrary, she abandons her (and the brother-husband), and resumes her solitary adventuring. And while she will re-encounter the brother later—indeed inherit the Virginia plantation he and the mother have established—Moll never sees her mother again. The maternal reappearance alters little or nothing in the heroine's inner world: Psychologically speaking, Moll is as alone at the end of the fiction as she was when she started. She's what you might call a self-orphaner, an orphan by default. Evasive, secretive, deeply intransigent—one of life's permanentorphans.In the broad, even existential, sense of the term I deploy here, orphanhood is not necessarily reducible to orphanhood in the literal sense. At least metaphorically, virtually any character in the early realist novel might be said to be an orphan—including, paradoxically, many of those heroes and heroines who have a living parent (or two), or end up getting one, as Moll Flanders does. A feeling of intractable loneliness—of absolute moral or spiritual estrangement from the group—may be all that it takes. You don't need to have been abandoned by a parent in the conventional sense, in other words, to feel psychically bereft.Indeed, from a certain angle—and thus my second big lit-crit hypothesis—the orphan trope may allegorize a far more disturbing emotional reality in early fiction: a generic insistence on the reactionary (and destructive) nature of parent/child ties. The more one reads, the more one confronts it: Whatever their status in a narrative (alive, dead, absent, present, lost, found), the parental figures in the early English novel are, in toto, so deeply and overwhelmingly flawed—so cruel, lost, ignorant, greedy, compromised, helpless, selfish, morally absent, or tragically oblivious to their children's needs—one would be better off without them. You might as well be an orphan.Julia Kristeva remarks somewhere (my wording may not be exact) that "in every bourgeois family group there is one child who has a soul." And thus we meet them, in novel after novel: not only those who go literally motherless and fatherless, but also the children "with souls" who, for precisely that reason, will be persecuted by their foolish parents or parental stand-ins; ostracized, abused, made to submit to some hellish moral and spiritual reaming-out. Ruthlessly, imperviously, the realistic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries compulsively foreground this "orphaning" of the psyche; shape it into parable, and in so doing (I think) dramatize the painful birth of the modern subject—that radically deracinated being, vital yet alone, who goes undefined by kinship, caste, class, or visible membership in a group.Witness, for example, the predicament of the eponymous heroine at the outset of Samuel Richardson's august and appalling masterwork, Clarissa. (Published in 1748, Clarissa, for those of you who haven't read it, is the greatest novel ever written in any language.) Now although the young and virtuous Clarissa Harlowe has grown up, presumably happily, at Harlowe-Place surrounded by her "friends"—i.e., both of her parents, two siblings, and several uncles—as the novel opens, she's just been "orphaned" in the emotional sense: profoundly, inexplicably, and shatteringly rejected. (Ironically, the word "friend" in the 18th century can not only mean someone outside the family circle whom one likes or loves, but also a member, simply, of one's immediate family circle.) When Clarissa refuses to marry the man of her father's choice, a rich and grasping Gollum-like creature named Solmes (one always imagines him with webbed feet), her "friends" morph abruptly, and nightmarishly, into domestic dungeon-masters. They revile Clarissa and threaten to disown her; they lock her up in her room for days and refuse to see her or read her letters; they forbid her contact with anyone who might help her; her father curses her. As they prepare to marry her off to Solmes "by force," she seems ever more like one of the victim-children in fairy tales, the designated family sacrifice.Now Richardson critics over the past few decades have tended to skate past these terrifying opening scenes in order to concentrate on Clarissa's sufferings later at the hands of Lovelace, the charming sociopath and would-be rescuer who seduces her. Yes, Lovelace's depredations later are spectacular and obscene—he kidnaps her, drugs her, rapes her while she is drugged, and ultimately hounds her to death. Yet even before Lovelace enters the novel (or so I have always felt), Richardson has already saturated the novelistic mise-en-scène with an even more unnerving and absolute kind of horror. "Home" is the primordial horror-show in this novel—a place of dehumanization and soul-murder from which the child, to save herself, must somehow escape. Count the Harlowes, likewise, among the ghastliest fictional parents outside Greek tragedy—all the more so because they speak the language of sentimental bourgeois feeling. Even as they subject their daughter to unspeakable torments, they "love" Clarissa, they say; that is why she must be so brutally forced to obey.Yet one finds these dire mamas and papas everywhere in early fiction—even comic fiction. They are omnipresent in works by Fielding, Smollett, Burney, Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley, and Ann Radcliffe. Even Jane Austen, arguably, offers an indictment of parents as harsh as that in the Gothic fiction of Shelley or Radcliffe. Witness the foolish, manipulative, greedy, or otherwise profoundly unsatisfactory mothers and fathers in Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion. Austen typically veils the inadequacy, even malice, of her fictional parent-figures by festooning them with comic trappings: We laugh at the absurd Mrs. Bennet, the whinging Mr. Woodhouse, even the monstrous Sir Walter Elliot—the vain, pomaded, rank-obsessed father of Anne Elliot, heroine of Persuasion. (Mothers are often long-dead in Austen, and as in many other works by women from the period, the heroine is obliged to live with a cold, oppressive, or dissociated father.)In real life, having any of these narcissistic nongrown-ups for a parent would be a nightmare come true. They induce bewilderment and a sense of genetic incommensurability. How can Emma—brilliant, coruscating, kind—be the child of the dull, mewling, psychotically self-centered Mr. Woodhouse? Austen's heroines, in particular, are often especially changeling-like—sleek, witty, perceptive misfits, who appear oddly unintegrated into whatever (usually reduced) version of the family unit the novelist has devised for them.What to do with the parents who fail us so abysmally? Perhaps the most drastic solution is to imagine a fictional world from which parents have simply been erased—psychically blanked out—absolutely, and long in advance of any narrative unfurling. Charlotte Brontë's books are a terrifying case in point. They project worlds in which estrangement, loss, and silence about the past seem the precondition for narrative itself. Brontë omits the "back story"—or provides only a fatally impoverished one. Neither of her best-known narrators, Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, has a living father or mother: Jane's parents have died of typhus; of Lucy's we know nothing at all. Both heroines seem to emerge out of, and continually slip back into, an amorphous, staggering, irrevocable loneliness. One senses in their aphasia about the past some suppressed horror. Reading Lucy's glassy-eyed narrative, in particular, is like listening to someone who's had a head injury, or suffers from post-traumatic amnesia.We quickly learn not to expect any answers; some submerged trauma is itself the given, the starting point. Crucial information will never be forthcoming. For these are orphan-tales, drawing us, ineluctably, into a domain of emptiness and pain. Yes, Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe may know their own names—first and last both. (Many fictional orphans don't.) But, affectively speaking, everything else has gone blank. The system crashed long ago. Not only have they no parent or guardian to point to, they seem to have no idea—emotionally, spiritually—what words like "mother" and "father" might mean.•So what—you may be wondering—has all this gloomy business to do with my frantic, ambitious, madly multi-tasking students? With helicopter Moms and Dads? With so-called Velcro parents? The ones who keep messaging 24/7? Surely I don't wish to link all the ultra-depressing things one encounters in literature—O, the horror, the horror, etc.—with the banal, addictive, anodyne back-and-forth of contemporary student life? Hello, you have 193 new messages. Checking for software updates. Your start-up disk is almost full. Hey, it's Mom. I was just wondering if you'd had time yet to. ...Or do I?My answer must be both circumspect and speculative. I don't wish, on the one hand, to sound like someone nostalgic for pain—a relic, a loneliness-junkie, a cheerleader for real-world orphanhood, or (when you get right down to it) a proponent of Orestes-style matricide or patricide. (Not usually, anyway.) On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if we haven't lost the thread when it comes to understanding part of what a "higher education" ideally should entail. Pious college officials yammer on about the need for students to develop something they (the officials) call "critical thinking" and thereby gain intellectual autonomy: a foothold on adulthood. But I'm wondering if it isn't time to reaffirm an idea that "critical thinking" begins at home, or better, withhome—which is to say, that each of us at some point needs to think (dispassionately, daringly) about the "homes" from which we emerge and what we really think of them.Do you owe your parents your obedience? Your deference? Your love? Your phone calls? The questions sound harsh because they are. But our Skype-ridden times may require a certain harshness.Some of the primal myths of our culture—as the greatest artists and writers have always intuited—seem to authorize violence, real or emotional, between the human generations. Francisco Goya's sublime and horrific masterpiece, "Saturn Devouring His Son" (ca. 1819-23), depicts a shocking event in Greek mythology—the cannibalistic murder by the primeval Titan god Kronos (Saturn, in the Roman version) of one of his children. Having received a prophecy that he will be overthrown by one of his own offspring, Kronos devours each of his five children at birth. His wife Ops manages to save their sixth child, Zeus, only by hiding him away on Crete and feeding Kronos a stone in swaddling clothes in place of the newborn. Kronos is fooled and later, this same Zeus, father of the new Olympian gods, overthrows his father, as predicted.An image to shock and awe, undoubtedly, but also one of the great paintings made in that period we call the Enlightenment: that revolutionary era (say, roughly, 1660-1820) during which—for better or for worse—Western culture began to shake off some of the more baleful and stultifying aspects of the Judeo-Christian past and reimagine itself as "modern."The central insight of the period? It's so familiar to us, perhaps, that we have lost sight of its momentousness: that individual human beings are endowed with critical faculties and powers of moral discernment, and as a result, have a right, if not the obligation, to challenge oppressive, unjust, and degrading patterns of authority. Over the course of the 18th century and into the 19th, more and more educated men (and a few brave women) felt intellectually empowered enough to criticize previously sacrosanct "received ideas": traditional religious beliefs, established forms of government, accepted modes of social, legal, and economic organization, the conventional dynamics of family life, relations between men and women, adults and children—all those cognitive grids through which we customarily make sense of the world.At its most potent, the critique was severe—world-changing. A host of Enlightenment freethinkers—Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Hume, Mary Wollstonecraft, Adam Smith—articulated it in passionate and various ways: that the venerable cognitive models human beings had mobilized over the centuries to explain "the nature of things" were often nothing more than self-reinforcing and barbaric "superstition." Taken for dogma, these man-made belief systems had produced a host of ills: savage religious and political strife, the commercial exploitation of the many by the few, the enslavement and genocidal killing of masses of people, the degradation of women, children, animals, and the natural world—century upon century, in fact, of unfathomable global suffering.In his iconic essay of 1784, "What is Enlightenment?" Immanuel Kant put it thus:Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!Not that Kant imagined any cultural enlightenment to be easy or bloodless—especially given the seemingly intractable human proclivity for business as usual:Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance, nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me.I confess: I first read those words over 25 years ago, and they have never ceased to thrill me.I understand the orphan-narratives of literature the same way I do Goya's painting and Kant's exhortation: as imaginative vehicles designed to shock us into "critical thinking" about those Titan figures we call our parents, and the larger psychosocial forces they so often (wittingly or unwittingly) represent. The intimate authority of parents is, after all, the first kind of authority most of us experience; the parental command the first utterance we recognize as that which must be obeyed. Pain and suffering, we soon learn, will result from our disobedience.And soon enough, most of us become adept at shaping our wishes according to a system of superimposed demands. We learn as young children to control the way we eat, drink, and eliminate waste; we learn to clean our own bodies; we learn under what circumstances it is appropriate to yell or scream or cry, and when we must be silent. Later on, "adult" society will impose further, ever more complex demands. Thus we internalize all those second-order codes of behavior associated with the educational, political, religious, and economic domains within which we all attempt to function, with lesser or greater success.Yet might it not be the case that true advances in human culture—the real leaps in collective understanding—typically result from some maverick individual action—some fundamentaldisobedience on the part of the individual subject? Such maverick actions often disturb—precisely because they need to get our attention. We have to be jolted out of complacency. The greatest artists invariably disrupt and disturb in this way. Like many of the novelists I've been describing, Goya gives us a shocking scene of intergenerational violence—but he does so, precisely, I wager, to force us to confront some of the deepest and hardest feelings we have—about parental authority and its rightful scope, about family violence, about the power of the old over the young, about the role of paternalism in society and government, about whether or not, indeed, those people we designate as "fathers" (priests, doctors, political leaders, scientists) or "mothers" (nurturers, apple-pie makers, self-sacrificing soccer moms, iPhone FaceTime partners, Mama Grizzlies, Tiger Mothers) really Know Best, about whether it is incumbent upon us to exert ourselves against them.You don't have to be a professor, I think, to see Goya as a radical naysayer—a human being horrified by a certain bestial and soul-destroying kind of parental authority. The focus in the "Saturn" painting is on paternal despotism; but elsewhere in Goya's oeuvre we find, too, a frightful bevy of murderous mothers—notably in Los Caprichos (1799), a suite of fantasy-engravings depicting monstrous witches, crones, goats, and owls engaged in child-torture of different sorts. The questions Goya raises remain awful and unremitting, more than 200 years later. Is the rule of life eat or be eaten, even if what you consume is your own child? (One of the most terrible things about "Saturn Devouring His Son" is surely the fact that the headless, half-eaten "child" has the proportions not of a newborn infant, but of an adult human being.) Should we resist our creator's authority? When and how and why? Or should we let ourselves be murdered in his name? When and how and why?Such questions lie at the heart of great literature too. What the early novel dramatizes, it seems to me, is nothing less than a radical transformation in human consciousness—the formation of a new idea. For better or worse, the ferocious, liberating notion embedded in the early novel is that parents are there to be fooled and defied (especially in matters of love, sex, and erotic fulfillment); that even the most venerated traditions exist to be broken with; that creative power is rightly vested in the individual rather than groups, in the young rather than the old; that thought is free. The assertion of individual rights ineluctably begins, symbolically and every other way, with the primal rebellion of the child against parent.So where are we today? Are we in the midst of some countertransformation? A rolling back of the Enlightenment parent-child story? Are we returning to an older model of belief—to a more authoritarian and "elder centric" world? The deferential-child model has dominated most of human history, after all. Maybe the extraordinary Enlightenment break with the age-old commandment—honor thy father and thy mother—was temporary, an aberration, a blip on the screen.My own view remains predictably twisty, fraught, and disloyal. Parents, in my opinion, have to be finessed, thought around, even as we love them: They are so colossally wrong about so many important things. And even when they are not, paradoxically, even when they are 100 percent right, the imperative remains the same: To live an "adult" life, a meaningful life, it is necessary, I would argue, to engage in a kind of symbolic self-orphaning. The process will be different for every person. I have my own inspirational cast of characters in this regard, a set of willful, heroic self-orphaners, past and present, whom I continue to revere: Mozart, the musical child prodigy who successfully rebelled against his insanely grasping and narcissistic father (Leopold Moz­art), who for years shopped him around the courts of Europe as a sort of family cash cow; Sigmund Freud, who, by way of unflinching self-analysis, discovered that it was possible to love and hate something or someone at one and the same time (mothers and fathers included) and that such painfully "mixed emotion" was also inescapably human; Virginia Woolf, who in spite of childhood loss, mental illness, and an acute sense of the sex-prejudice she saw everywhere around her, not only forged a life as a great modernist writer, but made her life an incorrigibly honest and vulnerable one.In a journal entry from 1928 collected in A Writer's Diary, Woolf wrote the following (long after his death) about her brilliant, troubled, well-meaning, tyrannical, depressive, enormously distinguished father—Sir Leslie Stephen, model for Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse and one of the great English "men of letters" of the 19th century:Father's birthday. He would have been 96, 96, yes, today; and could have been 96, like other people one had known: but mercifully was not. His life would have entirely ended mine. What would have happened? No writing, no books—inconceivable. ...The sentimental pathology of the American middle-class family—not to mention the mind-warping digitalization of everyday life—usually militates against such ruthless candor. But what the Life of the Orphan teaches—has taught me at least—is that it is indeed the self-conscious abrogation of one's inheritance, the "making strange" of received ideas, the cultivation of a willingness to defy, debunk, or just plain old disappoint one's parents, that is the absolute precondition, now more than ever, for intellectual and emotional freedom.

How well does attending a magnet high school prepare students for college and beyond?

The following is an interview with someone who attended one of the top magnet schools in the US and is perceived by many to be one of the top secondary schools in the world.I dare you. I double dare you. If you read Yekaterina (Katya) Davydova's interview I dare you to say you have not received some of the best words you have ever read about getting an education, about preparing for jobs, and about how to contribute to others’ lives all along the way. You think I am exaggerating? I dare you to prove me wrong.*****************************************************************Can you give ups some information about your background. Are you the oldest, only middle, youngest? What is your family like and where did you grow up?Stemming from a Russian heritage, I was born in and spent the first seven years of my life in Uzbekistan, where economic, political, and life conditions were not ideal, to say the least. Food and goods were scarce, yet I still had a pretty good childhood--I remember playing in the yard with friends, which was enough for me. My parents were go-getters and sought better opportunity in America, so we emigrated after winning a Greencard lottery, and had to literally start over to learn the traditions and customs of the great United States. As an only kid, all the pressure was on me to succeed, and it was expected that I get perfect grades (anything below an ‘A’ had consequences). I loved growing up in the northern Virginia area, though, because I did well in school, enjoyed and pursued activities like gymnastics, ice skating, and reading, and made good friends. (Our closest family friends also won a similar lottery and moved just 30 minutes down the street.)"Portrait of a Young Child with Parents (Haha)" --Katya's titleYou attended what many (including me) think of as one the best high schools in the world. Do you agree and if so why and if not why not? There have been articles that have come out recently about all the stress that occurs at schools like TJ. Did you find that to be true? What did you like most about TJ?Attending TJ, to my parents and me, was just considered the next logical step, and I was expected to get in and do well. The reason we moved to Fairfax County in third grade, I later found out, was so that I could have access to the best education in the country, as the media confirmed (and, of course, I thank my parents for opening the doors for me to seek my own success).It is difficult for me to objectively judge whether TJ was indeed one of the best schools in the world, because I was so entrenched in that environment, and I didn’t know anything else. Sure, I’d heard of base school friends hanging out after school on weeknights and getting out at 2:20 every day to chill and play videogames, for example, but it seemed that at TJ, everyone around me was competing to see who got the fewest hours of sleep the night before, or complaining that they’d gotten a 93 on a test instead of a 94, and badgering their teachers to give points back. (Granted, that mentality sometimes prevailed within me, too, since I was [and am] a perfectionist who strived for the best).Stress-wise, I do not think 14-18 year olds should be put under such tremendous pressure to excel in academics, sports, extracurriculars, and maintaining sanity (many students didn’t; mental health was a taboo issue, and I know kids who truly suffered). My routine was getting up early to catch the base-school bus to Fairfax High School, then bus 45-60 minutes to TJ, learn until 4 PM, do homework and go to gymnastics practice, get home at 10:30 PM to eat and continue homework into the morning hours, and then sleep before the cycle started again. I underscore that that was the norm for me, and I was lucky to have the support of similarly-busy peers and friends. Despite the crazy hours, breakdowns at one in the morning, and the pursuit of perfection (partially exacerbated by my own and my parents’ high standards), I’m glad I went to TJ (though think I could’ve done just as well and been less stressed at a base school).The curriculum taught me to be prepared for the arduousness of college and allowed me to pursue unique passions that were less available elsewhere. For example, I studied astronomy for a year, and subsequently devoted my senior project to the subject, and loved it! I also was asked to be a football manager (and learned how to balance the demands of junior year), was captain of the gymnastics team for two years and absolutely loved the sport and my teammates/coaches, and enjoyed learning Spanish through the highest level and competing in speaking and writing contests. The thing I choose to remember most fondly was the friendships that I developed that still continue to this day, and the teachers who challenged me and fueled my curiosity and voracity for learning. I was hungry to learn, and that need was certainly satisfied.Lunch at TJ :Katya, 2nd from left, back row, with friendsHow did you manage to balance the high level of academics with all of your extracurricular activities? Which of your activities meant the most to you and helped to shape the person you are now?Do you know how people say, “I don’t have time for X!”? (I say that all the time too, oops.) During school, I made time for what was important; unfortunately, there’s no magic answer or Hermione’s time turner, as much as I wish there were more hours in the day!Since staying busy and trying to achieve the best in school was all that I’d ever known or done, I continued to prioritize that. In college, would there be times when I’d be outlining a paper on a Friday night in, or sitting on my roof writing my thesis, watching the party house next door thrown down on a random Tuesday afternoon? You bet. But I also recognized the value in committing myself to extracurriculars, and blocking off chunks of time to devote to them, since that’s how we garner relationships, mind-growing experiences, mentorship, and fun. One thing that helped me keep organized was my agenda, where I meticulously wrote everything down (assignments, excursions, concerts, etc.), and had to be consistent with my workouts, since that helped to structure my day. I also relied heavily on lists (of things to get done within a few hours, that day, that week, and longer-term). Actively writing my plans down made it possible to keep everything in scope and on track!As for activities, I was one of the first members of the CAV XFIT Club, which reenergized my workouts, taught me proper lifting form, enabled me to compete on ESPN’s Battlefrog Obstacle Course Race--and, most importantly, was a breeding ground for close friendships I maintain to this day. Slavic Student Association gave me a home among my fellow Russians, and it was great to be on the exec board as a sort of mentorship coordinator (hmm, realizing that the mentorship theme runs rampant throughout my life…!). The coed honor fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, exposed me to just the most incredible individuals and taught me the value of making time for fun and letting loose--the experiences I’d had with my brothers I wouldn’t trade for the world. Of course, being a Career Peer Educator was pivotal both times--since I was able to grow as a leader and presenter, and discovered and fostered my love for helping others in career-related fields--not to mention the sheer number of wonderful connections. Finally, being a Resident Advisor was extremely gratifying and difficult, since, despite lonely times and putting 25 other girls first, I look back on memories with my residents so fondly. (One night, they decided to put makeup on me, and it looked AWFUL, just terrible. None of us could stop laughing; and I’m still laughing out loud as I write this. They were the best.)The key point here is that throughout these activities, it was the people involved that helped to shape my experiences and the person I am today. In times of stress, it was sometimes hard to remember to disengage from work and spend time with others, something that I still struggle with, but ultimately, friends and basic human connection make the world go round.Katya and friends in "high stress" stats class at TJI know this may be a bit of an embarrassing question but here goes: have you always known you were smart? Or maybe a better way of saying it when did you become aware that you were intellectually gifted?I am flattered; thank you! And slightly surprised actually, since, sure, on paper I suppose I could be considered “smart” according to the numbers and accomplishments, but that’s not how I necessarily define myself. Again, it was expected (externally and internally) that I excel in everything, so I tried very hard and I guess it paid off. The trajectory was getting into the GT program in third grade, attending TJ, and then an excellent university, and in my mind, it didn’t happenbecause I was smart, it happened because I had a drive to succeed and I worked my tail off. I wasn’t really aware that I was “intellectually gifted” as you say, because I didn’t really know anything besides being in an intellectually-stimulating environment. It was probably only in college, where I got exposed to students and townspeople with such varied backgrounds, that I realized that I was lucky to have and pursue such fervent academic opportunities. Two things I’ve always known, though, were that I was curious and hardworking. I believe that got me where I am today.TJ senior year promHow did you go about deciding which universities to apply to and then how did you end up choosing the one you did? How important was your acceptance into the honors program to your decision? How did the Echols program help you during your 4 years?I only (“only,” by today’s standards) applied to five schools: three in-state and two out-of-state. The non-Virginian schools were fits-to-reaches (one was a highly-ranked private university; the other, a difficult-to-get-into school as an out-of-stater), while the Virginia schools besides UVA were pretty much guarantees based on academics and extracurriculars. The results played out as such--I got into the three in-state schools and neither of the-out-of state schools. I knew I was going to apply to UVA due to several reasons: it was the best option financially, it was one of the best schools in the country, and if you went to TJ you pretty much applied to UVA. (Rightfully so, since a quarter of our graduating class went to UVA. [They capped the number down severely after I graduated.]) Plus, everything that I’d heard about UVA and when I visited (and met you, Parke!) pointed to a great fit, and I was overjoyed when I got the acceptance letter.I remember feeling slightly surprised that I didn’t get into the Echols program when some of my friends did (and we all knew each other’s stellar GPAs--told you TJ was a highly-competitive environment!), but didn’t give it much thought afterwards.However, at the end of my first year, I applied and was accepted into the Echols Scholars program, since I’d randomly found out about that possibility, and, again, was very pleased. By the end of first year, though, I had completed most of my general education requirements so I wasn’t using the program in order to get out of taking those classes; instead, I liked the potential to sign up for classes earlier, be a part of a smaller community, and just feel more in charge of my education. All three aspects played well in my favor, since I was able to advocate for myself when negotiating hard-to-access classes through the double major and minor, was part of a motivated group of students who’d had fantastic opportunities like dinners with professors, and got invested in the program by becoming an Echols Scholar Peer Advisor (and Echols activities at Days on the Lawn) since I loved mentoring other students! To be completely honest, it didn’t really feel like I was in an honors program at all (and was surprised at the question!); I didn’t think of myself as “Katya the Echols Scholar”--I was just a student who was lucky to (and, admittedly, had worked hard for) have gotten exposed to such terrific opportunities.Third Year Slavic Student Association Exec TeamCould you talk about your NSF research project? How did you get it?The Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Experience (REU) was one of the best summers of my life--period. The academic and intellectual takeaways were gargantuan, but simply can’t compare to the people that made it possible and are some of my closest friends today.I first heard about these NSF-funded programs from my psychology major advisor, and remember working hard on the lengthy, essay-laden application. I was choosing between conducting original research for the summer before my 4th year of college, and Wediko, an intensive summer camp for children with emotional and mental disabilities. The REU would have augmented my research skills (I’d already had two years under my belt as a psychology research assistant), while Wediko would have played to my people-connecting strengths and garnered me exposure to behavior therapies in an immersive environment. Ultimately, I was accepted into both, but decided to go to the fully-funded (housing, meals, transportation) REU program because research “looked good” (and, yikes, I look back on this now and cringe, since I was aiming for a PhD in clinical psychology at the time), I wanted preparation for my thesis (to be decided 3 months after I sent in my application), and it seemed like a more rigorous option (since I’d already been a camp counselor for two summers past).Best. Decision. Ever.The nine of us came from varied backgrounds, half from community colleges, and the other half from ALL over the country (Utah, Indiana, New York, etc), and were assigned professor mentors who would guide us on independent research projects. I was in a lab that championed Actively Caring for People, and since I was interested in social behaviors, decided to investigate likeability versus popularity (think the movie Mean Girls) among the college population. I had summer school students come in and take surveys, and then analyzed the data, created and presented a poster, and also crafted an audio-visual PowerPoint presentation.It was a terrific learning experience because we got an overview of the research process: literature reviews, data analysis through SPSS (I remember my mentor stayed up with me and a fellow student until midnight running results), poster creation, and confidence-building through presenting. I grew as a researcher, truly, and that helped me with my thesis just a few months down the line.The biggest impact of this program, though, were the people. My roommate, Hadley, is one of my best friends to this day; my mentor, Shane (at that time a grad student under the rather inactive professor), has remained a mentor and dear friend (and I recently worked with him on the foundation which he started!); and I keep in touch with the other program participants and VT students (visiting them as far as North Carolina and Arizona). That summer, immersed in research but also in the mountains and nature of Blacksburg, the experience allowed me the freedom to pursue knowledge where I was constantly supported and challenged, and also to explore a brand new world (literally) replete with long runs, sunshine, and endless happiness. (Does this sound like a plug for NSF REUs and Blacksburg? Because they totally deserve it!)NSF REU hiking in BlacksburgYou have worked with both intellectually gifted children and with people with schizophrenia or other problems. In addition, you majored in psychology and cognitive science. All of this adds up to a passion for understanding the human condition. Can you describe a bit when this passion began? Was it a teacher or something you read or something else?I’ve always said that I like knowing what makes people tick. Actually, I just asked my parents to help walk me down memory lane to try to pinpoint a catalyst, and here’s what we came up with: Since we moved here when I was seven, everything was brand new, exciting, and rife with possibility. I had to know what was what! I think an inherent curiosity and optimism about the world (passed down from my mom; she was always amazed by the little things in life) helped kickstart my desire to understand what and why, especially in humans. Perhaps it was a feedback cycle, too--Americans are always interested in new cultures and “foreign people” since this is such a huge melting pot, and seeing a kid with a weird name perhaps may have piqued their curiosity, which in turn spurred my openness to seeking new experiences and human connection. I remember having a thriving babysitting business--from kids two years my junior, to 6-month-old babies, and everywhere in between--I just loved taking care of others! In elementary school, my mom says, I came home one day exclaiming that I would be a safety patrol, and then a year later, that I’d be a Peer Mediator. Thus began the journey of being in a mentorship role throughout my life. Wow, this reflection is making me realize that that is what I am passionate about (Thanks, Parke!).I suppose the desire to know and be entrenched in a totally new culture--especially coming from a place where the culture was not as open and friendly--fueled my motivation to connect with individuals and small groups. You might agree that one of the best feelings in the world is having a heart-to-heart with someone, or seeing another learn and understand something you’ve just taught (smile plastered on their face), and knowing how to connect with someone like that is truly, truly gratifying.Who were your mentors in college?When I worked at UVA’s Career Center, Dreama Johnson was running the Career Peer Educator program, and was therefore my supervisor. However, she always seemed to have this quality of being wholly present and real with her students, whether directing them on new work initiatives, or counseling them through the sinuous path that is the college student’s future vocational musings. Dreama was one of the best mentors I’ve had in my life, since I felt like I could trust her completely, and she shared with me the best leads for future jobs, people, and opportunities. For example, check out this serendipitous chain of events: Because I was a CPE, I conducted a workshop on some career-related topic (truly can’t remember now--it may have been related to LinkedIn or career fairs) to the Cognitive Science Society at UVA, replete with undergrads, graduate students, and alumni who’d come back to speak at the event. It was my largest crowd yet, and was invigorating!! Anyway, there, I met Laura Coutts, who’d known one of the other career counselors who worked with Dreama and me, and who’d known Dreama in college, I believe. Later on, I connected with Laura one-on-one, and she actually was instrumental to one of the other best summers of my life--she mollified my qualms about not knowing what to do after graduation, and talked about her time in Richmond, which definitely piqued my interest. Upon hearing my own career aspirations, she suggested several Richmond companies. I called up the founder/CEO of one of those small firms, and negotiated an internship the summer after graduation, before I was due to start my “big-girl” consulting job later that September. It was all a flurry of connecting events, and could not have been possible without the encouragement of Laura and Dreama. Both women and professionals are truly people connectors, and I do strive to also embody that quality.Gymnastics Team PartyWhen I was writing my thesis, Jamie, the graduate student under my professor, was a terrific mentor, since she not only provided timely and and fantastic insight/feedback on my writing and the research process, but also was open about and understanding of other life stressors. We’d meet biweekly to discuss progress and suggestions for the thesis, but also to chew over unrelated issues. I admired her incredible strength to not only power through her own immense workload, but to devote so much time to helping me with my research.Although Shane was not in any way affiliated with UVA, he is one of my most impactful mentors. At the Virginia Tech NSF REU program, he took over my professor’s research mentoring responsibilities, and has remained an incredible mentor and friend throughout the years. It absolutely floors me how he is so present and thoughtful whenever we catch up, and how he, too, is able to share so many vibrant points of view and connections (both thought-wise and people-wise). He is able to see strengths in individuals that they themselves sometimes might forget about, and offers such radiant positivity and “feel-good vibes” to any of his friends, acquaintances, and just about anybody else!A special shout out goes to two professors in the psychology department at school: Professor Dodson, who was my official advisor, and Professor Coan, with whom I took Abnormal Psychology and the grad class on the neuroscience of social relationships. Prof. Dodson’s mentorship was more formalized, in that he offered great advice about the psych field (and I’ll be forever grateful about his telling me about the NSF REU program), and pushed me to consider and stay on the psychology PhD track. I admired his deep knowledge (took a high-level course with him, too) and his easy-going attitude among the hustle-bustle of school (during our advising sessions, I fondly recall him kicking back in his chair, feet up on his desk, talking psychology); it reminded me there are options and to slow down. Prof. Coan was just such a charismatic person, eager to answer questions and excited by the prospect of curious students. Besides being a fantastic professor, I remember speaking to him on several occasions about feeling lost about what to do, and coming out of our conversations feeling both comforted and invigorated about the idea of possibility. I distinctly remember running into him at a coffee shop, and sitting down to an impromptu 20-minute conversation about his own story and leaving with the thought of “follow your dreams.” Still working on that one!More philosophically, it seems as though you believe we can change the way we think through mindfulness, and learning and listening to others. Am I right about this and if so could you expand a bit on how you arrived at these approaches to living in the world?This certainly is a big question, and one with which I continue to wrangle with every day! There are two parts to this: being aware of one’s surroundings, and being cognizant of other people's thoughts, emotions, and existence.First--yes, I do believe that life is about the little things, and noticing the miniscule beauty to break routine really gives one a boost! For example, on my daily walk from the car to the office building, I try to seek out a new detail I may not have previously seen, like the shape and cluster of footprints in the mud, or the divergent cracks in the sidewalk, or the array of leaves in the purposefully-installed plants adorning the walkway. That helps me to slow down when life is rushing by. However, I am notoriously bad at this, and do let the stresses sometimes overtake me. Regardless, it’s something I must continually remind myself of, to be fully aware and present in the moment (doesn’t this sound so mantra-y? Yikes! While perhaps trite-seeming words, this mechanism of focusing on the positive details actually does work!). Sometimes I wish I could be a literal fly on the wall of a busy street or place of congregation, and just observe, observe, observe.The second part has more to do with the human beings around us. When asked about my dream job, I refer to the person behind Humans of New York (those photographs of individuals with narratives of their story that we see on Facebook). To me, nothing (and I mean that) would be more exhilarating or rewarding, than stopping strangers on the street to get their story, to capture some sort of snapshot or ephemerality about them, and share it (through visuals or writing) with the world. Just imagine the sheer myriad of ideas you’d be exposed to! Incredible.I’ve been told I am good at connecting with folks (especially one-on-one), and I do think that is a strength, coupled with self-awareness (well, doesn’t that sound showy! Oh the irony. Haha!). One of the best gifts we can give to others is our time and attention, and I believe my mother instilled this into me, as did the author Kurt Vonnegut* (I made a point to read all of his works, and that goal is tantalizingly close to being accomplished). It never ceases to amaze me how much a simple glance or smile or nod can revolutionize and otherwise pick up my day. For example, when out running, I feel an immediate kinship with a fellow runner who waves in response to my wave--such a simple gesture, but it makes me run faster! Or, one of my friends wrote a heartfelt and handwritten thank you card for attending her surprise birthday party; I still remember that kind act, and the card made me smile and is currently sitting on my shelf.Sometimes, it feels like the world’s most simple yet untapped secret--to really ask how someone is, or remember a detail they’d told you last week and bring it up, or just make eye contact!! Seriously, how incredible does it feel to go from strangers to friends if one of you just sheds any preconceived societal notions or norms, and smiles and says hi? I’ve scored friendships this way--asked the fellow next to me in a coffeeshop what he was reading, and we ended up having a 2-hour discussion right then and there, followed by hanging out several times later. I can’t help but reiterate this simplicity, and am fueled to keep up these interactions the more I do them. Just don’t be afraid to initially try.*Here’s one of the most resonant quotes by Vonnegut, from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies--"God damn it, you've got to be kind.””Katya, RA, with her residents and friends going to Anatomy of Frank concertYou obtained some great internships in the course of your education. Once again, how did you pursue them and could you talk about the ones that affected you the most?First, to list the internships, many of which are towards my latter college years: National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) (summer before 4th year); Center for Open Science’s Human Resource Internship (2nd semester 4th year); Dual Recovery Center’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation Volunteer/Internship (2nd semester 4th year); UVA’s Career Peer Educator (2nd and 4th years); Floricane’s Organizational Development Internship (summer after 4th year).Now, some of these may not be considered “true” internships (the volunteering with men with comorbid schizophrenia and drug abuse at the Dual Recovery Center, for example—I didn’t get paid), but all were incredibly tremendous learning opportunities! I feel truly lucky.To obtain these internships, I can boil it down to having two things:knowledgeable connections, and the drive to keep asking questions and pursuing experiences. For example, my psychology mentor clued me in about the NSF REU, and I found out that Floricane existed through a chance meeting with Laura Coutts, who I’d mentioned was at a University Career Services event while I was a Career Peer Educator. (See how all the dots seem to connect? Amazing! [Side note: I found out about Center for Open Science (COS) after a random conversation with a professor in the REU program, who said he’d known the director/co-founder of COS. Four months later, COS came on my radar again and I found myself clicking the “Apply” button for the internship. The subject matter of the internship itself and the REU were not connected, but I wouldn’t have even fathomed the existence of COS if it weren’t for the REU.] The point here is that it is people who can open doors for you, and plant that seed of knowledge—and I was so lucky to make those initial connections.The second part of obtaining internships is to never stop asking questions and seeking those opportunities. I never would’ve worked at Floricane had I not called up the founder and demonstrated my interest through lots and lots of questions. The way I got into the Dual Recovery Center was asking whether I could do an internship outside of UVA’s Undergraduate Internship Program, and Googled the Dual Recovery Center, and called to schedule a meeting (which then turned into an interview). I think the intrinsic desire to know more and constantly seek out the opportunities simply by asking helped me to get where I am today. (And I’d so happy to chat with any of you readers about this!!! Please feel free to reach out!!!)Katya with other RAs in her dormThe ones that affected me the most would be the NSF REU (as I described above for the sheer amount of learning, for my mentor, and for the best friends that I made), but I also want to emphasize the Floricane opportunity. After fourth year, I had a free summer before my full-time job in September, and wanted to explore a new city. Destination: Richmond (since I visited once for a show and LOVED it). Well, I loved it even more that I got to spend almost an entire summer there—meeting a special person, falling in love with a band, reveling in the the running trails and river, and in the beer and city scene in general. At the actual internship, I learned about and participated in organization development, leadership training and work styles, facilitation and coaching, and working with a small team to impact diverse clients. I sat in on client meetings, helped to run and organize workshops (one was on mindfulness—how cool!), organized a LOT of company collateral (both print and online), and wrote blog posts on not only my experience but on subject matter itself. I learned two key things: one, that I love industrial/organizational psychology and connecting with clients to try to solve their problems (main tenets of Floricane); and two, that environment and life outside of work really matter. Being in Richmond and experiencing the city and friendliness of its people pushed me narrow down and articulate what I do and don’t want from future career pursuits.I want to underscore that these connections and the perceived fluidity of the story may not have seemed obvious at the time, but in reflection, it appear that every single step that I made (and that current students make!) coalesce into the bigger picture somehow.I am not sure I have known of anyone your age who has served as a mentor or advisor in as many capacities as you have. First of all what do you think makes a good advisor? Is it true for you that as a mentor/advisor you learned as much as you imparted wisdom?Why thank you! I truly wish I could do that for a living (and am seeking ways to do so—I get so much joy out of advising).A good advisor—contrary to the name—does not immediately advise, off the bat. In my view, it is not the goal of an advisor to tell his/her mentee “here’s what you should do,” but instead to offer nuggets of information or to “open the knowledge doors.” A crucial thing must happen before that, though: listening. Do you know that old story where, in a married couple, a woman is seemingly “complaining” and the husband gives her directions on how to “solve” her woes? That story where, in the first place, the woman just wants to be heard and acknowledged for her difficulties, and is not looking for discrete solutions? Sometimes, it takes a good advisor just to listen and have the advisee simply be heard and use the advisor as a sounding board. When the advisor repeats back what the advisee said (“So, what I’m hearing is…”), the latter can try to take a distanced look at whatever issue. (I’ve never actually dissected this process before in writing, so this is neat!) Of course, there are instances where the advisor may impart some wisdom, like an alumnus to a current undergrad, and that can be in the form of “Oh, so you’re interested in X--I know someone in that field, why don’t you give them a call, or consider Y activity to supplement X!”My favorite part about advising is being able to hear the perspectives of my mentees and the challenges they face. For example, I was leading a coaching session to a group of high school leaders, and learned not only about about the realities of new technology in their school (all students get laptops!) but also about the timeless issues of bullying and cliques. Fascinating! Or, I mentored several second years who weren’t sure about their majors of what to do in college, and they blew me away with the activities and clubs they were involved in. It’s so gratifying to hear younger students contribute in incredibly unique ways to the college community--and those vignettes especially mean so much because we have a shared bond over our university.Katya and other counselors for Summer Enrichment ProgramYou have served as a career peer educator. Can you describe what this role was? Could you give people who are in college or even in secondary school some advice about the things they should do to prepare themselves for searching for jobs and finding one that fits?From the website, “Career Peer Educators are full-time undergraduates who serve as a bridge between the Career Center and students by marketing programs, staffing events and leading workshops. CPEs are trained by career counselors on various aspects of the career planning and job search processes. In addition, they are "experts" on Career Center programs and resources and can offer one-of-a-kind advice as student leaders.”In my own words, as a CPE I got to connect with individuals and small groups to talk one-on-one about their resumes, career paths or majors, or any issue that was plaguing their minds (career/school or not), and give presentations on how to effectively stand out on LinkedIn or how to navigate a career fair. Let me share a vignette that I still hold dear in my heart to this day: A brazen first year came to my workshop about career fairs, and, after the presentation, I noticed him hanging around. So, I struck up a conversation with him, and despite the presentation materials, he still felt extremely nervous about attending his first fair (understandably so, since he was just a first year, and I admired his tenacity!). We talked it over, and I gave him some tips to just breathe and relax; these were more people-centric suggestions, as opposed to career-related. As a CPE, I worked a shift at the career fair the next day, and guess who I see? My baby-faced firstie, looking sharp in a suit. He came to my table and confessed that he was so scared and was breathing fast because he was nervous. I took him aside to a corner and essentially emboldened him, did some breathing exercises together, and told him he was going to crush it.An hour or two later, guess, again, who I see walk past my table? This time around, the young man, carrying himself with pride and a certain confident posture, comes over and says “Thank you. I couldn’t have done this without you.” Now thatmoment remains with me forever.Oh right, now for some advice! Got carried away walking down memory lane, there! Regarding the search for a well-fitting job, I’d recommend first sitting down with oneself and completing a self-assessment guide (one can Google a number of these). The goal would be to identify patterns in what activities the person enjoys, and what s/he naturally leans toward. Next, do some research! A lot of research! This may include subscribing to career-oriented websites (like Vault), reading books (career centers are GREAT for sprouting ideas for possible jobs), and CONDUCTING INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS. I cannot stress this enough. Talk to people both in and out of your field, since they are one of the greatest sources of information. People make the world go round in terms of connections for jobs and disciplines, truly.Up until my fourth year of college, I was certain I would go straight into a PhD program for clinical psychology. Then, with my thesis underway, I realized I didn’t want to spend the next 7 years conducting research! Talk about a change in the tide! So, I spent both semesters calling connections of connections and asking them about their jobs. That’s it! I learned about health coaching, financial advising, what it’s like to work for particular companies I had an interest in, and so much more. All the notes I took down from these conversations were stored in a notebook so that I could have a record of who I spoke with and when, and the relevant, subsequent action items. This leads me to my final nugget of advice (I hesitate to call it wisdom, as I’m still in the process of accruing it :P). Be open to the path that may seem either quite defined or, conversely, murky with indecision. For example, a lot of pre-meds switch majors and career paths altogether as they near the halfway point, and there is just SO MUCH OUT THERE to be discovered. Learn, learn, learn, and never stop questioning. Do I know specifically what I want to do with my life currently? I have a better inkling than I did upon graduation (by being open, researching, and conducting informational interviews, and trying my hand at various endeavors), but I’ve still got a lot of figuring out to do. Don’t stress out--I wish I knew that back then, too.It seems as you discovered yourself that the way to what we find ourselves doing is anything but linear. You wrote about this in a LinkedIn piece that I think would be useful for anyone of any age to read. Can I quote it here or at least some snippets of it?Absolutely! Here’s the link for easy access: (What follows is the opening of Katya's LinkedIn post)*****************************************************************Reach Out, Speak Out, and Listen UpIf you were to tell me your most powerful and vital professional resource, what might you say? A learning and development course? The latest training or directive? An industry information session for the current student or recent college graduate?Sure, those are all key aspects of progressing in your current role or seeking a new one.But what if the most truly invigorating, catalyzing, and helpful action you can take is as simple as a conversation?Breaking the StigmaWe’ve all heard the term “informational interview.” Usually, like its cousin “networking,” hearing the phrase is met with groans, discomfort, or panic about having to speak to a stranger. After all, you are reaching out to an unknown person and asking about their job, industry, and possibly advice. It can certainly be daunting!But it doesn’t have to be.Let’s break down this informational interview. First, we’ll nix the name—truly a mouthful—and instead call it a conversation. Google defines “conversation” as “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.” Tell me, how often do you engage in that? Your own familiarity with this type of idea- and word-exchange, and the utter realization that there’s not much more to it, is the first step of tearing down the barriers.The reason I am so passionate about proliferating the power of engaging in such conversations is because it’s one of the most natural things humans are wired to do.****************************************************************************Katya celebrating Halloween with some of her honor fraternity members: Phi Sigma PiYou are now with the Lewin group as International Business Project Coordinator & Senior Research Analyst. Can you tell us why you wanted this position, how you went about getting it and what it is you do?During October of my senior year at UVA, I attended my (first-ever) career fair and connected with the folks at Lewin and dropped off my resume, not really expecting much to come out of it. Later on in the year, while I was trying to pin down next steps after graduation, I received a call from Lewin in April, asking to interview. It was a success, and since I didn’t have anything else rather concrete at the time besides the summer internship in Richmond, I agreed to charge ahead in my first, real, corporate job in September, a few days after I got back from Richmond. Truthfully, I was a little reticent about taking the position, but knew that it would provide for tremendous learning experiences and exposure to disparate principles under the massive umbrella of health care.At first I started as a SAS programmer, coding statistical software to determine error rates for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (I promise this sounds fancier than it actually is)--and, boy was that a time for cerebral and emotional growth. Not only did I learn to code, but was shocked into adjusting to the 9-5 (or more…) consulting world, making new friends as an “adult” (what is adulthood?!), and trying to find a balance (still working on that). I realized I wanted to try more qualitative analysis, so moved on to work on projects related to Veterans Affairs, interviewing and synthesizing subject matter experts’ views, amassing literature and writing a huge literature review, and conducting focus group interviews with medical support assistants to write and deliver findings and recommendations. Now that was cool, since I got to interact with actual people first-hand, and be more entrenched in the work. Roughly 8 months after I started at Lewin, I got recruited by our parent company to be a project coordinator for an international reporting project, which entails meticulous organization of meetings, notes, fostering communication, and following up on global project tasks and tasks assigned to individuals from 3-4 different times zones. This is a great opportunity because it allows me to work with senior executives from DC, all up and down the eastern seaboard, and executives and professionals from our UK and India teams. The amount I’m learning about how to run a business is staggering, and, despite some really tough moments, I’m grateful.In addition to project work, I am also engaged in the Newsletter, Wellness, and Birthday Committees. The first entails writing monthly pieces about exciting Lewin ventures and topics (I got to interview our CEO over lunch twice!); the second entails helping run/promote events like 5Ks, and writing for the Wellness Blog; and the third is a self-started committee with a fellow coworker to organize and host quarterly birthday potlucks for our practice group in order to promote social cohesion and work breaks. That’s the kind of stuff I love--congregating folks together to see them happy and relaxed!You have one of the best mission statements I have read (I have not read all that many from individuals and your taking time to craft one already says a lot about you.):“Passionate and driven, I am committed to making a difference in how individuals, teams, and systems work more productively, effectively, and happily in an array of settings. Possessing both a strong research/data analysis background, and a wide range of leadership experiences in mentoring/coaching/facilitation and speaking engagements, project coordination and organization, conflict resolution, program development, outreach, and promotion, my aims are set high to help organizations and individuals reach their full potential via research and application of industrial/organizational psychology principles.”Thanks so much! While it can be difficult to summarize a person in one paragraph, and while I am constantly trying to be more in tune with my path, I think it’s necessary to operate under a set of defined principles that help to guide a person. My (shortened) mission statement of “I strive to help others thrive” helps to center my next steps around a singular, yet encompassing, idea."Revelling in Joy"Can passion be taught? What about being driven? Where do you think these qualities and your mission will take you in life?Excellent question! Short answer is, no, passion can’t be taught; it is a fire ignited from within. The longer answer is more optimistic and accessible, since I believe that exposure to various experiences--whether they are work- or life-related--enables a person to dip his/her toes into many potential passions. For example, I didn’t know that I was interested in industrial/organizational psychology until after my internship after college! Imagine that--despite being told we need to “find ourselves” in college and know what we want to do with our lives early on, there’s so much more exploration that’s going to happen afterwards!That being said, once a person has identified a passion, I think the drive to pursue it may follow. It doesn’t always, but perhaps the “true passion” hasn’t been fully uncovered yet.Another factor in passion and drive is the environment. If go-gettedness is modeled early on by parents, teachers, peers, etc., then, presumably the individual may follow suit. (Hmm, wouldn’t this be interesting to study empirically?!) Personally, I grew up in a pretty competitive environment, and my parents had crazy drive when they uprooted their lives and emigrated our family from Uzbekistan and began anew here. Subsequently, being in high-achieving academic programs, where everyone around you is either curing cancer or starting their own record label (yes, I know those people; they are incredible!), probably fostered my own drive and desire to do great things.However, if I could boil down passion and drive to one thing, it would be chasing curiosity. It boggles my mind at how much we don’t know, and is invigorating (to me) to try to find out as much as I can about the world. Whether that’s through travel, chatting up folks on the street, reading fiction and non-fiction alike, staying curious will drive one’s passions. Never stop asking questions. To answer your last question of where passion, drive, curiosity, and striving to help others thrive will take me--I only have a general, nebulous idea, but I am pursuing one or two discrete avenues voraciously, and will keep you posted :). Three things are certain: I vow to keep asking questions (of the world and of individuals’ stories), to be better and help others in doing so, and to never stagnate.Anything else you want to add?Thank you for giving me this chance to be a part of your blog; it is truly an honor! I’m still smiling at the serendipity of the situation, which underscores the power of human connection and reaching out to say hello. The world’s a beautiful, bright place with vibrant people, and we must remember that.*****************************************************************Katya the budding scholarAfter Katya generously agreed to let me interview her I started out my comments with the following sentence-- It is hard to know where to begin since there is so much I want to ask you about. While I did try to ask the most important questions, I could come up with, I think it’s clear that Katya invaluable information could be extended and turned into a book that should be shared with students, educators, career services professionals, and anyone who wants to learn about learning and about helping the community too.While TED talks are ok, they tend just to scratch the surface. Katya’s words go far deeper. It’s easy to quote memes and to skate across the surface of big issues (I do this all too often), but it’s hard to tell a story that is compelling, substantive, immediately useful in the real world. Read self-help books and they all pretty much say the same thing; Katya’s specific examples are not a template, nor should they be interpreted as such. For me, the biggest takeaway is what I would call the philosophical frame she has about the world. It doesn’t take a genius to notice Katya is smart and driven, but the foundation of her being is in the Vonnegut quote: There's only one rule that I know of, babies--"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”Vonnegut’s words may seem contradictory. The taking of God’s name in vain seems at odds with the injunction to be kind. But some of spiritual leaders have done or said similar things. Socrates blasted the citizens of Athens for their worship of power while also writing beautifully and movingly about the importance of love and ideals. I mention this as I think another writer got it wrong, at least when it comes to Katya and some others I know:“The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”W.B. Yeats The Second ComingKatya has strong convictions AND she is the “best” in many ways our society defines it—academic performance, jobs and recognition for her research, service and leadership. But all this does not come easily. She’s had parents pushing her and she’s pushed herself; she’s been in competitive environments throughout most of her life. For those who think these are things that can take a physical and emotional toll, they can and do. But at the same time they can build strength, grip and with the help of mentors and a mindful approach, a certain amount of serenity within the “widening gyre” (to quote Yeats’ poem again) of living in an increasingly competitive global community.Human beings often, to quote one more poet—Whitman—“contain multitudes.” Katya’s internal crowd consists of her own voices and those who have guided her along forking paths to where she is today. She will, not doubt, have more twists and turns ahead, but she will also reach back and help guide others through the labyrinth. I am invoking poets and myth here because Katya’s earned the word that describes her efforts and success—epic. But epic in a good way, not in the Homeric sieging of cities, but in the forging of lifelong friendships. As the photos show, and as Katya underscores, friendships outlast classes and majors.And if I did not know how to know where to begin this post, I really don’t know where to end. I could go on for a lot longer paraphrasing Katya’s wisdom, but instead I will just use the imperative: reread her words-again and again.Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank Katya for putting in such an epic effort at answering all these questions with substance, depth and care for others. She is one who really will make the world better. She already has.Katya guiding the world toward a better orbit

How would you build the confidence of a weaker student in a short period, using techniques from your style?

There is no such thing as a “weaker” student, rather weak materials, logic and teachers produce poor students. First, find materials that the student has a passion for. Once you find that subject or topic, then the student should become an expert in it. Although I am a paralegal by training and profession, my passion and love is recreational health and wellness along with fitness and sports nutrition. I spend hours studying it, practicing it and reading all about it. Watch the documentary below and you will know more than your teachers about the deliberate dumbing down of the system of education.Here is how you will build your confidence: read my entire answer, challenge it, check the resources and then how you learn and process information from what you are learning in school will change forever.I am not weak in knowledge about fitness, however, I have lost interest in learning about common law, bankruptcy, real estate law and litigation. I almost hate spending time in law now. It is so boring and useless that am working towards establishing myself as the fitness specialist that I spent most time studying.It is imperative that you become a very sophisticated reader and writer while developing your skills to understand and process information. When you get to the point of deconstructing or unpackaging ideas and information with logical reasoning, then you have become the superior student.American education and most western education is built on a web of myths, lies (LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME by James Lowen) illusions and indoctrination to accept what the architects of control (documentary below)have put out there. We are being systematically and deliberately being dumbed down in order to NOT ask the questions that really matter concerning life on this planet.The real war is a war on your consciousness and the colonization of your mind in the pursuit of mind control of the masses by the elites. Now we are talking about the origins of evil and the manipulation of consciousness. Read Jim Keith and Jim Mars.So you are NOT a weak student when you study and challenge what you are learning and deconstruct the source and validity of this knowledge.Teachers in the social sciences fear me because they know they are teaching lies and deception to their students that produce mindless people who lack the capacity to articulate, much less, understand what they are learning and why.Read what one educational whistleblower says about what you are learning below by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt.Here is what J. Krishnamurti says in his book EDUCATION AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LIFE about our current systems of education that are destroying your mind and promoting global genocide:When one travels around the world, one notices to what an extraordinary degree human nature is the same, whether in India or America, in Europe or Australia. This is especially true in colleges and universities. We are turning out, as if through a mould, a type of human being whose chief interest is to find security, to become somebody important, or to have a good time with as little thought as possible.Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist environment is not easy and is often risky as long as we worship success. The urge to be successful, which is the pursuit of reward whether in the material or in the so-called spiritual sphere, the search for inward or outward security, the desire of comfort – this whole process smothers discontent, puts and end to spontaneity and breeds fear; and fear blocks the intelligent un-derstanding of life. With increasing age, dullness of mind and heart sets in.There is an efficiency inspired by love which goes far beyond and is much greater than the efficiency of ambition; and without love, which brings an integrated understanding of life,efficiency breeds ruthlessness. Is this not what is actually taking place all over the world? Our present education is geared to industrialization and war, its principal aim being to develop efficiency; and we are caught in the machine of ruthless competition and mural destruction. If education leads to war, if it teaches us to destroy or be destroyed, has it not utterly failed?To bring about right education, we must obviously un-derstand the meaning of life as a whole, and for that we have to be able to think not consistently, but directly and truly.A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern; he repeats phrases and thinks in a groove. We cannot understand existence abstractly or theoretically. To understand life is to understand ourselves, and that is both the beginning and the end of education.The function of education is to create human beings who are integrated and therefor intelligent. We may take degrees and be mechanically efficient without being intelligent. Intelligence is not mere information; it is not derived from books, nor does it consiste of clever self-defensive responses and aggressive assertion. One who has not studied may be more intelligent than the learned. We have made examination and degrees the criterion of intelligence and have developed cunning minds that avoid vital human issues.Intelligence is the capacity to perceive the essential, the what is; and to awaken this capacity, in oneself and in others is education.Education should help us to discover lasting values so that we do not merely cling to formulas or repeat slogans; it should help us to break down our national and social barriers, instead of emphasizing them, for they breed antagonism between man and man. Unfortunately, the present system of education is making us subservient, mechanical and deeply thoughtless; though it awakens us intellectually inwardly it leaves us incomplete, stultified and uncreative.Without an integrated understanding of life, our individual and collective problems will only deepen and extend. The purpose of education is not to produce mere scholars, technicians, and job hungers, but integrated men and women who are free of fear; for only between such human beings can there be enduring peace.When there is no self-knowledge, self-expression becomes self-assertion, with all its aggressive and ambitious conflicts. Education should awaken the capacity to be self-aware and not merely indulge in gratifying self-expression.What is the good of learning if in the process of living we are destroying ourselves: As we are having a series of devastating wars, one right after another, there is obviously something radically wrong with the way we bring up our children. I think most of us are aware of this, but we do not know how to deal with it.Systems, whether educational or political, are not changed mysteriously; they are transformed when there is a fundamental change in ourselves. The individual is of first importance, not the system; and as long as the individual does not understand the total process of himself no system, whether of the left or of the right, can bring order and peace to the world.THE ignorant man is not the unlearned, but he who does not know himself, and the learned man is stupid when he relies on books, on knowledge and on authority to give him understanding. Understanding comes only through self-knowledge, which is awareness of one's total psychological process.Thus education, in the true sense, is the understanding of oneself, for it is within each one of us that the whole of existence is gathered. What we now call education is a matter of accumulating information and knowledge from books, which anyone can do who can read. Such education offers a subtle form of escape from ourselves and, like all escapes, it inevitably creates increasing misery.Conflict and confusion result from our own wrong relationship with people, things and ideas, and until we understand that relationship and alter it, mere learning, the gathering of facts and the acquiring of various skills, can only lead us to engulfing chaos and destruction. As society is now organized, we send our children to school to learn some technique by which they can eventually earn a livelihood. We want to make the child first and foremost a specialist, hoping thus to give him a secure economic position. But does the cultivation of a technique enable us to understand ourselves?While it is obviously necessary to know how to read and write, and to learn engineering or some other profession, will technique give us the capacity to understand life? Surely, technique is secondary; and if technique is the only thing we are striving for, we are obviously denying what is by far the greater part of life.Life is pain, joy, beauty, ugliness, love, and when we understand it as a whole, at every level, that understanding creates its own technique. But the contrary is not true: technique can never bring about creative understanding. Present-day education is a complete failure because it has overemphasized technique. In overemphasizing technique we destroy man.To cultivate capacity and efficiency without understanding life, without having a comprehensive perception of the ways of thought and desire, will only make us increasingly ruthless, which is to engender wars and jeopardize our physical security. The exclusive cultivation of technique has produced scientists, mathematicians, bridge builders, space conquerors; but do they understand the total process of life? Can any specialist experience life as a whole? Only when he ceases to be a specialist"."MANY of us seem to think that by teaching every human being to read and write, we shall solve our human problems; but this idea has proved to be false. The so-called educated are not peace-loving, integrated people, and they too are responsible for the confusion and misery of the world. The right kind of education means the awakening of intelligence, the fostering of an integrated life, and only such education can create a new culture and a peaceful world; but to bring about this new kind of education, we must make a fresh start on an entirely different basis.With the world falling into ruin about us, we discuss theories and vain political questions, and play with superficial reforms. Does this not indicate utter thoughtlessness on our part? Some may agree that it does, but they will go on doing exactly as they have always done - and that is the sadness of existence. When we hear a truth and do not act upon it, it becomes a poison within ourselves, and that poison spreads, bringing psychological disturbances, unbalance and ill health. Only when creative intelligence is awakened in the individual is there a possibility of a peaceful and happy life".What truth are you listening to that empowers you to become self educated?A WHISTLEBLOWER'S ACCOUNTCharlotte Thomson Iserbyt, former Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Education, blew the whistle in the `80s on government activities withheld from the public. Her inside knowledge will help you protect your children from controversial methods and programs. In this book you will discover:how good teachers across America have been forced to use controversial, non-academic methodshow "school choice" is being used to further dangerous reform goals, and how home schooling and private education are especially workforce training (school-to-work) is an essential part of an overall plan for a global economy, and how this plan will shortcircuit your child's future career plans and the international, national, regional, state and local agendas for education reform are all interconnected and have been for decades.A CHRONOLOGICAL PAPER TRAILthe deliberate dumbing down of america is a chronological history of the past 100+ years of education reform. Each chapter takes a period of history and recounts the significant events, including important geopolitical and societal contextual information. Citations from government plans, policy documents, and key writings by leading reformers record the rise of the modern education reform movement. Americans of all ages will welcome this riveting expose of what really happened to what was once the finest education system in the world.Readers will appreciate the user-friendliness of this chronological history designed for the average reader not just the academician. This book will be used by citizens at public hearings, board meetings, or for easy presentation to elected officials.Publication of the deliberate dumbing down of america is certain to add fuel to the fire in this nation's phonics wars. Iserbyt provides documentation that Direct Instruction, the latest education reform fad in the classroom, is being institutionalized under the guise of "traditional" phonics thanks to the passage of the unconstitutional Reading Excellence Act of 1998.Coexistence on this tightly knit earth should be viewed as an existence not only without wars...but also without [the government] telling us how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, from a speech given September 11, 1973.For over a twenty-five-year period the research used in this chronology has been collected from many sources: the United States Department of Education; international agencies; state agencies; the media; concerned educators; parents; legislators, and talented researchers with whom I have worked for at least twenty-five years. In the process of gathering this information two beliefs that most Americans hold in common became clear:1) If a child can read, write and compute at a reasonably proficient level, he will be able to do just about anything he wishes, enabling him to control his destiny to the extent that God allows (remain free).2) Providing such basic educational proficiencies is not and should not be an expensive proposition.Since most Americans believe the second premise-that providing basic educational proficiencies is not and should not be an expensive proposition-it becomes obvious that it is only a radical agenda, the purpose of which is to change values and attitudes (brainwash), that is the costly agenda. In other words, brainwashing by our schools and universities is what is bankrupting our nation and our children's minds.In 1997 there were 46.4 million public school students. During 1993-1994 (the latest years the statistics were available) the average per pupil expenditure was $6,330.00 in 1996 constant dollars. Multiply the number of students by the per pupil expenditure (using old-fashioned mathematical procedures) for a total K-12 budget per year of $293.7 billion dollars. If one adds the cost of higher education to this figure, one arrives at a total budget per year of over half a trillion dollars. The sorry result of such an incredibly large expenditure-the performance of American students-is discussed on page 12 of Pursuing Excellence-A Study of U.S. Twelfth Grade Mathematics and Science Achievement in International Context: Initial Findings from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMMS], a report from the U.S. Department of Education (NCES 98-049). Pursuing Excellence reads:Achievement of Students, Key Points: U. S. twelfth graders scored below the international average and among the lowest of the 21 TIMSS nations in both mathematics and science general knowledge in the final year of secondary school. (p. 24)Obviously, something is terribly wrong when a $6,330 per pupil expenditure produces such pathetic results. This writer has visited private schools which charge $1,000-per-year in tuition which enjoy superior academic results. Parents of home-schooled children spend a maximum of $1,000-per-year and usually have similar excellent results.There are many talented and respected researchers and activists who have carefully documented the "weird" activities which have taken place "in the name of education." Any opposition to change agent activities in local schools has invariably been met with cries of "Prove your case, document your statements," etc. "Resisters"-usually parents-have been called every name in the book. Parents have been told for over thirty years, "You're the only parent who has ever complained." The media has been convinced to join in the attack upon common sense views, effectively discrediting the perspective of well-informed citizens. Documentation, when presented, has been ignored and called incomplete. The classic response by the education establishment has been, "You're taking that out of context!"-even when presented with an entire book which uses their own words to detail exactly what the "resisters" are claiming to be true.The desire by "resisters" to prove their case has been so strong that they have continued to amass-over a thirty- to fifty-year period-what must surely amount to tons of materials containing irrefutable proof, in the education change agents' own words, of deliberate, malicious intent to achieve behavioral changes in students/parents/society which have nothing to do with commonly understood educational objectives. Upon delivery of such proof, "resisters" are consistently met with the "shoot the messenger" stonewalling response by teachers, school boards, superintendents, state and local officials, as well as the supposedly objective institutions of academia and the press.This resister's book, or collection of research in book form, was put together primarily to satisfy my own need to see the various components which led to the dumbing down of the United States of America assembled in chronological order-in writing. Even I, who had observed these weird activities taking place at all levels of government, was reluctant to accept a malicious intent behind each individual, chronological activity or innovation, unless I could connect it with other, similar activities taking place at other times. This book, which makes such connections, has provided for me a much-needed sense of closure.the deliberate dumbing down of america is also a book for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I want them to know that there were thousands of Americans who may not have died or been shot at in overseas wars, but were shot at in small-town 'wars' at school board meetings, at state legislative hearings on education, and, most importantly, in the media. I want my progeny to know that whatever intellectual and spiritual freedoms to which they may still lay claim were fought for-are a result of-the courageous work of incredible people who dared to tell the truth against all odds.I want them to know that there will always be hope for freedom if they follow in these people's footsteps; if they cherish the concept of 'free will'; if they believe that human beings are special, not animals, and that they have intellects, souls, and consciences. I want them to know that if the government schools are allowed to teach children K-12 using Pavlovian/Skinnerian animal training methods-which provide tangible rewards only for correct answers-there can be no freedom.Why? People 'trained'-not educated-by such educational techniques will be fearful of taking principled, sometimes controversial, stands when called for because these people will have been programmed to speak up only if a positive reward or response is forthcoming. The price of freedom has often been paid with pain and loneliness.In 1971 when I returned to the United States after living in the West Indies for three years, I was shocked to find public education had become a warm, fuzzy, soft, mushy, touchy-feely experience, where its purpose had become socialization, not learning. From that time on, and with the advantage of having two young sons in the public schools, I became involved as a member of a philosophy committee for a school, as an elected school board member, as co-founder of Guardians of Education for Maine (GEM), and finally as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) in the U.S. Department of Education during President Ronald Reagan's first term of office. OERI was, and is, the office from which all the controversial national and international educational restructuring has emanated.Those ten years (1971-1981) changed my life. As an American who had spent many years working abroad, I had experienced traveling in and living in socialist countries. When I returned to the United States I realized that America's transition from a sovereign constitutional republic to a socialist democracy would not come about through warfare (bullets and tanks) but through the implementation and installation of the "system" in all areas of government-federal, state and local. The brainwashing for acceptance of the "system's" control would take place in the school-through indoctrination and the use of behavior modification, which comes under so many labels, the most recent labels being Outcome-Based Education, Skinnerian Mastery Learning or Direct Instruction. In the seventies I and many others waged the war against values clarification, which was later renamed "critical thinking," which regardless of the label-and there are bound to be many more labels on the horizon-is nothing but pure, unadulterated destruction of absolute values of right and wrong upon which stable and free societies depend and upon which our nation was founded.In 1973 I started this long journey into becoming a "resister," placing the first incriminating piece of paper in my "education" files. That first piece of paper was a purple ditto sheet entitled "All About Me," next to which was a smiley face. It was an open-ended questionnaire beginning with: "My name is _______________." My son brought it home from public school in fourth grade. The questions were highly personal; so much so that they encouraged my son to lie, since he didn't want to "spill the beans" about his mother, father and brother. The purpose of such a questionnaire was to find out the student's state of mind, how he felt, what he liked and disliked, and what his values were. With this knowledge it would be easier for the government school to modify his values and behavior at will-without, of course, the student's knowledge or parents' consent.That was just the beginning. There was more to come: the new social studies textbook World of Mankind. Published by Follett, this book instructed the teacher how to instill humanistic (no right/no wrong) values in the K-3 students. At the text's suggestion they were encouraged to take little tots for walks in town during which he/she would point out big and small houses, asking the little tots who they thought lived in the houses. Poor or Rich? "What do you think they eat in the big house? the little house?" When I complained about this non-educational activity at a school board meeting I was dismissed as a censor and the press did its usual hatchet job on me as a misguided parent. A friend of mine-a very bright gal who had also lived abroad for years-told me that she had overheard discussion of me at the local co-op. The word was out in town that I was a "kook." That was not a "positive response/reward" for my taking what I believed to be a principled position. Since I had not been "trained" I was just mad!Next stop on the road to becoming a "resister" was to become a member of the school philosophy committee. Our Harvard-educated, professional change agent superintendent gave all of the committee members a copy of "The Philosophy of Education" (1975 version) from the Montgomery County schools in Maryland, hoping to influence whatever recommendations we would make. (For those who like to eat dessert before soup, turn to page ____ and read the entry under 1946 concerning "Community-Centered Schools: The Blueprint for Education in Montgomery County, Maryland." This document was in fact the "Blueprint" for the nation's schools.) When asked to write a paper expressing our views on the goals of education, I wrote that, amongst other goals, I felt the schools should strive to instill "sound morals and values in the students." The superintendent and a few teachers on the committee zeroed in on me, asking "What's the definition of 'sound' and whose values?"After two failed attempts to get elected to the school board, I finally succeeded in 1976 on the third try. The votes were counted three times, even though I had won by a very healthy margin!My experience on the school board taught me that when it comes to modern education, "the end justifies the means." Our change agent superintendent was more at home with a lie than he was with the truth. Whatever good I accomplished while on the school board-stopping the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System [PPBS] now known as Total Quality Management [TQM] or Generally Accepted Accounting Procedures/Generally Accepted Federal Funding Reporting [GAAP/GAFFR], getting values clarification banned by the board, and demanding five [yes, 5!] minutes of grammar per day, etc.-was tossed out two weeks after I left office.Another milestone on my journey was an in-service training session entitled "Innovations in Education." A retired teacher, who understood what was happening in education, paid for me to attend. This training program developed by Professor Ronald Havelock of the University of Michigan and funded by the United States Office of Education taught teachers and administrators how to "sneak in" controversial methods of teaching and "innovative" programs. These controversial, "innovative" programs included health education, sex education, drug and alcohol education, death education, critical thinking education, etc. Since then I have always found it interesting that the controversial school programs are the only ones that have the word "education" attached to them! I don't recall-until recently-"math ed.," "reading ed.," "history ed.," or "science ed." A good rule of thumb for teachers, parents and school board members interested in academics and traditional values is to question any subject that has the word "education" attached to it.This in-service training literally "blew my mind." I have never recovered from it. The presenter (change agent) taught us how to "manipulate" the taxpayers/parents into accepting controversial programs. He explained how to identify the "resisters" in the community and how to get around their resistance. He instructed us in how to go to the highly respected members of the community-those with the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Junior League, Little League, YMCA, Historical Society, etc.-to manipulate them into supporting the controversial/non-academic programs and into bad-mouthing the resisters. Advice was also given as to how to get the media to support these programs.I left-with my very valuable textbook, Innovations in Education: A Change Agent's Guide, under my arm-feeling very sick to my stomach and in complete denial over that in which I had been involved. This was not the nation in which I grew up; something seriously disturbing had happened between 1953 when I left the United States and 1971 when I returned.Orchestrated ConsensusIn retrospect, I had just found out that the United States was engaged in war. People write important books about war: books documenting the battles fought, the names of the generals involved, the names of those who fired the first shot. This book is simply a history book about another kind of war: * one fought using psychological methods; * a one-hundred-year war; * a different, more deadly war than any in which our country has ever been involved; * a war about which the average American hasn't the foggiest idea.. The reason Americans do not understand this war is because it has been fought in secret-in the schools of our nation, using our children who are captive in classrooms. The wagers of this war are using very sophisticated and effective tools:* Hegelian Dialectic (common ground, consensus and compromise) * Gradualism (two steps forward; one step backward) * Semantic deception (redefining terms to get agreement without understanding).The Hegelian Dialectic4 is a process formulated by the German philosopher Fredrich Hegel (1770-1831) and used by Karl Marx's in codifying revolutionary Communism as dialectical materialism. This process can be illustrated as:Synthesis (consensus)Thesis AntithesisThe "Thesis" represents either an established practice or point of view which is pitted against the "Antithesis"-usually a crisis of opposition fabricated or created by change agents-causing the "Thesis" to compromise itself, incorporating some part of the "Antithesis" to produce the "Synthesis"-sometimes called consensus. This is the primary tool in the bag of tricks used by change agents who are trained to direct this process all over the country; much like the in-service training I received. A good example of this concept was voiced by T.H. Bell when he was Secretary of Education: "[We] need to create a crisis to get consensus in order to bring about change." (The reader might be reminded that it was under T.H. Bell's direction that the Department of Education implemented the changes "suggested" by A Nation at Risk-the alarm that was sounded in the early 1980's to announce the "crisis" in education.)Since we have been, as a nation, so relentlessly exposed to this Hegelian dialectical process (which is essential to the smooth operation of the "system") under the guise of "reaching consensus" in our involvement in parent-teacher organizations, on school boards, in legislatures, and even in goal setting in community service organizations and groups-including our churches-I want to explain clearly how it works in a practical application. A good example with which most of us can identify involves property taxes for local schools. Let us consider an example from Michigan:The internationalist change agents must abolish local control (the "Thesis") in order to restructure our schools from academics to global workforce training (the "Synthesis"). Funding of education with the property tax allows local control, but it also enables the change agents and teachers' unions to create higher and higher school budgets paid for with higher taxes, thus infuriating homeowners. Eventually, property owners accept the change agent's radical proposal (the "Anti- thesis") to reduce their property taxes by transferring education funding from the local property tax to the state income tax. Thus, the change agents accomplish their ultimate goal; the transfer of funding of education from the local level to the state level. When this transfer occurs it increases state/federal control and funding, leading to the federal/internationalist goal of implementing global workforce training through the schools (the "Synthesis").5Regarding the power of gradualism, remember the story of the frog and how he didn't save himself because he didn't realize what was happening to him? He was thrown into cold water which, in turn, was gradually heated up until finally it reached the boiling point and he was dead. This is how "gradualism" works through a series of "created crises" which utilize Hegel's dialectical process, leading us to more radical change than we would ever otherwise accept.In the instance of "semantic deception"-do you remember your kindly principal telling you that the new decision-making program would help your child make better decisions? What good parent wouldn't want his or her child to learn how to make "good" decisions? Did you know that the decision-making program is the same controversial values clarification program recently rejected by your school board against which you may have given repeated testimony? As I've said before, the wagers of this intellectual social war have employed very effective weapons to implement their changes.This war has, in fact, become the war to end all wars. If citizens on this planet can be brainwashed or robotized, using dumbed-down Pavlovian/Skinnerian education, to accept what those in control want, there will be no more wars. If there are no rights or wrongs, there will be no one wanting to "right" a "wrong." Robots have no conscience. The only permissible conscience will be the United Nations or a global conscience. Whether an action is good or bad will be decided by a "Global Government's Global Conscience," as recommended by Dr. Brock Chisholm, Executive Secretary of the World Health Organization, Interim Commission, in 1947-and later in 1996 by current United States Secretary of State Madeline Albright. (See p. ___for quotes in entry under 1947.)You may protest, "But, no one has died in this war." Is that the only criteria we have with which to measure whether war is war? The tragedy is that many Americans have died in other wars to protect the freedoms being taken away in this one. This war which produces the death of intellect and freedom is not waged by a foreign enemy but by the silent enemy in the ivory towers, in our own government, and in tax-exempt foundations-the enemy whose every move I have tried to document in this book, usually in his/her/its own words.Ronald Havelock's change agent in-service training prepared me for what I would find in the U.S. Department of Education when I worked there from 1981-1982. The use of taxpayers' hard-earned money to fund Havelock's "Change Agent Manual" was only one out of hundreds of expensive U.S. Department of Education grants each year going everywhere, even overseas, to further the cause of internationalist "dumbing down" education (behavior modification) so necessary for the present introduction of global work force training. I was relieved of my duties after leaking an important technology grant (computer-assisted instruction proposal) to the press.Much of this book contains quotes from government documents detailing the real purposes of American education: * to use the schools to change America from a free, individual nation to a socialist, global "state," just one of many socialist states which will be subservient to the United Nations Charter, not the United States Constitution; * to brainwash our children, starting at birth, to reject individualism in favor of collectivism; * to reject high academic standards in favor of OBE/ISO 1400/90006 egalitarianism; * to reject truth and absolutes in favor of tolerance, situational ethics and consensus; * to reject American values in favor of internationalist values (globalism); * to reject freedom to choose one's career in favor of the totalitarian K-12 school-to-work/OBE process, aptly named "limited learning for lifelong labor,"7 coordinated through United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.Only when all children in public, private and home schools are robotized-and believe as one-will World Government be acceptable to citizens and able to be implemented without firing a shot. The attractive-sounding "choice" proposals will enable the globalist elite to achieve their goal: the robotization (brainwashing) of all Americans in order to gain their acceptance of lifelong education and workforce training-part of the world management system to achieve a new global feudalism.The socialist/fascist global workforce training agenda is being implemented as I write this book. The report to the European Commission entitled "Transatlantic Co-operation in International Education: Projects of the Handswerkskammer Koblenz with Partners in the United States and in the European Union" by Karl-Jurgen Wilbert and Bernard Eckgold (May 1997) says in part:In June, 1994, with the support of the Handswerkskamer Koblenz, an American-German vocational education conference took the University of Texas at Austin. The vocational education researchers and economic specialists...were in agreement that an economic and employment policy is necessary where a systematic vocational training is as equally important as an academic education, as a "career pathway."...The first practical steps along these lines, which are also significant from the point of view of the educational policy, were made with the vocational training of American apprentices in skilled craft companies, in the area of the Koblenz chamber. [emphasis added]Under section "e) Scientific Assistance for the Projects," one reads:The international projects ought to be scientifically assisted and analyzed both for the feedback to the transatlantic dialogue on educa- tional policy, and also for the assessment and qualitative improvement of the cross-border vocational education projects. As a result it should be made possible on the German side to set up a connection to other projects of German-American cooperation in vocational training; e.g., of the federal institute for vocational training for the project in the U.S. state of Maine. On the USA side an interlinking with other initiatives for vocational training-for example, through the Center for the Study of Human Resources at the University of Texas, Austin-would be desirable.This particular document discusses the history of apprenticeships-especially the role of medieval guilds-and attempts to make a case for nations which heretofore have cherished liberal economic ideas-i.e., individual economic freedom-to return to a system of cooperative economic solutions (the guild system used in the Middle Ages which accepted very young children from farms and cities and trained them in "necessary" skills). Another word for this is "serfdom." Had our elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels read this document, they could never have voted in favor of socialist/fascist legislation implementing workforce training to meet the needs of the global economy. Unless, of course, they happen to support such a totalitarian economic system. (This incredible document can be accessed at the following internet address: )Just as Barbara Tuchman or another historian would do in writing the history of the other kinds of wars, I have identified chronologically the major battles, players, dates and places. I know that researchers and writers with far more talent than I will feel that I have neglected some key events in this war. I stand guilty on all counts, even before their well-researched charges are submitted. Yes, much of importance has been left out, due to space limitations, but the overview of the battlefields and maneuvers will give the reader an opportunity to glimpse the immensity of this conflict.In order to win a battle one must know who the "real" enemy is. Otherwise, one is shooting in the dark and often hitting those not the least bit responsible for the mayhem. This book, hopefully, identifies the "real" enemy and provides Americans involved in this war-be they plain, ordinary citizens, elected officials, or traditional teachers-with the ammunition to fight to obtain victory.1 Noted Soviet dissident, slave labor camp intern, and author of The Gulag Archipelago and numerous other books.2 Statistics taken from The Condition of Education, 1997, published by the National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, NCES 97-388. Internet address: http://www.ed/gov/NCES.3 OBE/ML/DI or outcomes-based education/mastery learning/direct instruction.4Dean Gotcher, author of The Dialectic & Praxis: Diaprax and the End of the Ages and other materials dealing with dialectical consensus building and human relations training, has done some excellent work in this area of research. For more detailed information on this process, please write to Dean Gotcher of the Institution for Authority Research, 5436 S. Boston Pl., Tulsa, Oklahoma 74l05, or call (918) 742-3855.5 See Appendix ___ for an article by Tim Clem which explains this process in much more detail.6 ISO stands for International Standards of Operation for manufacturing (9000) and human resources (1400), coordinated through the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).7 "Privatization or Socialization" by C. Weatherly, 1994. Delivered as part of a speech to a group in Minnesota and later published in the Christian Conscience magazine (Vol. 1, No. 2: February 1995, pp. 29-30).Now you are becoming smarter than your peer and the gatekeepers called teachers. Educate yourself FIRST and then you will be able to use your skills, gifts and talents for good and not evil.

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