Monday, August 1, 2011

Problems with for-profit education

I have a client who is getting terrible advice and direction from his academic advisors at a for-profit university. All my clients, of course, are having trouble--they wouldn't come find me if they weren't. But it seems to me that the students at for-profit schools get hit the hardest--they pay the most and get the least support, and the least useful support. I do not mean to suggest that all for-profit schools are doing their students a disservice, but I think that some are.

A for-profit school has, at best, a mixed incentive to graduate its students: every student who doesn't graduate will pay fees for the next semester. Of course graduating students helps you promote your business to future clients, but still--on the principle that a bird in the hand in worth two in the bush--for-profit schools have an incentive to keep students from graduating.

For-profit schools also have an incentive to cut resources spent on educating students to a minimum--the lower the costs, the higher the profit. Of course, to the extent that there are accreditation boards, there is a bar of quality over which all schools must pass, but there is incentive to stay as close to the bar as possible.

For-profit schools, it must be kept in mind, are intended to make a profit. That is a strong incentive which necessarily guides the decisions made by for-profit schools. There may be other motivations guiding them, but their desire to make a profit is necessarily central. And it's an aim that competes with the aim of educating people.

In public education, the aim of the school (ideally) is to educate people to contribute to the common good. Of course there may be corrupt people within the public education system who are trying to work that system for their own gain, and thus detract from the resources spent on the students, but then again, it's not as if for-profit companies are free from individual malfeasance.

I guess I would say that if you're thinking of giving your money to a for-profit school, you might well benefit from seeing if there are any public universities that offer comparable programs.

I have worked with students who did have helpful faculty at their for-profit school, but the worst I've ever seen at a real school (public, or private non-profit) is far above what I've seen at the for-profit schools. The quality of the feedback received by the client who prompted this post is really atrocious--in three rounds of submission, he has gotten useful feedback twice, but once the useful feedback was followed by direction that was absolutely indefensible from any scholarly perspective.

If you're having trouble at your for-profit school, I can help, and I'll charge less than your school.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

When it rains, it pours.

Sometimes things happen in groups. The old saying "bad things come in threes," comes to mind. We, perhaps, remember the bad things more readily than the good. Do good things also come in threes? or fours? or pairs?

Currently, it seems like I'm having one of those groupings with all sorts of "bills" coming due at once. Not actual bills (well, those, too, and having those contributes to the sense of lots happening at once), but occasional costs, all happening to hit at once. I had to replace my computer last week (it was 4.5 years old), and the software. And then my backpack died (it was about 9 years old). And then my glasses broke (3 years old). Then the annual auto registration is also due this month. And I was hoping to take a short vacation (which would cost extra $$ over my normal expenditures).

And I was thinking about how such basically random events sometimes all happen at once, and then we maybe feel like everything is falling apart, when it just happens that it was a random grouping of events, each of which was individually basically certain.

It's not a sign of things breaking down. It's just random chance serving up a double helping of difficulty.

Of course, when the sun shines, things are good: just as there are confluences of negative events that make for occasional difficult weeks, there are confluences of things working right that make for weeks that go by easily. We don't necessarily notice those weeks, though. I clearly remember places in Tolkein's work where he says "but stories of good times are quickly told," I suppose that's at work here: the stories of good times are more easily told. This reminds me of the value of having some practice of stating what you're grateful for or what is good in your life: if you want to remember the good, sometimes you have to work for it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I write about when I write about what I think about when I'm running.

Among other things, I think of annoying extensions/alterations of Murakami's title (which itself is an adaptation of of a Raymond Chandler title).

What I was thinking, partly, was that I could nearly write a book out of the different thoughts that fill one run--to write them all would take at least as long as the hour or two that I was out running....but probably longer, because turning ideas into structured sentences isn't instantaneous. That assumes that I could even remember all the things that I thought about.

I spent a lot of today's run thinking about how thinking aversive thoughts can make things worse. By thinking about how difficult the thing is, the negative anticipation builds up. And this makes dealing with the thing worse. And how you don't want to remind people too strongly of the unpleasant aspects of things that they have to do.

Also considered were: the question of how soon to start exercise after an injury; what my friend was up to at the moment I passed her house; what route I was going to run; how the same group of people managed to get on the same public volleyball courts every week (you'd think sometimes some else would get there first)...there are too many people passed to wonder at every person's story.
I thought about writing, of course. I thought about how understanding other people's stories is the foundation for writing good fiction. I didn't think this then (or at least not as I remember): understanding other people's stories is the foundation of good communication, generally.

Part of what I thought about while running today was how one of the important tasks for the writer is to filter through all the possible ideas that could be talked about, and to stay focused on topic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What I don't think about when I'm running

I was out for a walk today (about 10 miles, but not yet running after falling down--almost two weeks ago now--still sore).

I saw one runner overtake another, and both of them had a look on their face like the competition meant something. Even though they were just running on a bike path.

It started me thinking about Murakami again and how so much of his relationship to running is competitive. He talks about how important it is for him to beat a certain time when he runs a marathon; he talks about how important it is just to run in races; he talks about passing other runners enough that it's clear that he likes to pass other runners. Obviously he's not so consumed with competitive fire that he can't deal with the many better runners in the world, but still...

Personally, I don't run races, partly because the whole competitive pass you/pass me thing is distasteful. The first race I ever ran in (I ran because my friend's organization was having a fund-raiser), I remember gaining on some guy near the end of the race and the look on his face as he pushed to stay ahead of me. I was just out trying to run the right amount for my body--hard enough to be working hard, but not hard enough to really suffer.

In all the races I've run, my plan was only to finish without suffering; to take the run as if it were any other run--pace myself so that I get the right workout for me. I start off slow, and let my pace increase as I feel myself get into the groove. At the end I slow down, if the run is long enough--generally the slow down comes around mile nine, if I run that far. And I basically did the exact same thing in the races I ran, too.

I was wondering, however, about the parallel to writing. Murakami's book, of course, is all about the parallel between running and writing. Because I can see that there is a possible relevant parallel: Murakami's competitive, goal-driven attitude is gratified partly by the accomplishments--like completing and publishing a book. Me, I don't have that; I just enjoy the process--which maybe explains why I haven't completed several books: I'm not really concerned with the result, so much as with the process.

In this, I think I could learn from Murakami. There's something to be said for my laid-back, no-pressure writing attitude--I enjoy writing and do a fair amount. But balance is good: there's a lot of value in the bringing a project to completion, and one wants to have the drive that finishing takes.

I was talking with a writer yesterday who has been blocked, but who said, "I've been writing, and it seems like I'm making progress."
I responded "If you're writing; you're making progress. It's not about 'seeming.'"

In the light of this discussion, I see that there are two sides to this, and in a way we were both right. I was right from the perspective of the writing process and the writer's relationship to writing. If you haven't been writing at all, and you start to write, that's making progress in your writing practice. But if your writing doesn't ultimately move towards the complete work, submitted and accepted, then one essential dimension of progress is missing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who is going to say a good word for you if you don't?

I was talking yesterday with a fried of mine who has recently hooked up with an agent who will book him for speaking engagements. And we were talking about work and publishing and he was saying, basically, that in general, and with the agent in particular, if someone sees you out promoting yourself, that makes you more attractive to them because they know that you will help them with their work. This was, of course, in the context of publishing books and my promoting my own business.

The way he framed it was very good for me, because I am not enthusiastic about self-promotion. I want my merits to be recognized by for themselves. This is, I know, naive--there is plenty of merit out there, and the question of whose attention you catch is important.

Writers who lose confidence in their own merits often can become blocked--especially when asked to promote themselves or their own ideas.

Believe in your writing!
(And if you're having trouble believing in your writing, you should contact me because I'm excellent at helping people with that problem! <- that's self-promotion right there.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What I think about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Partial)

I just finished reading through Murakami's book this morning, and I think what might have struck me the most was just how different our experience or running is.

Murakami closes the book with following:
I dedicate this book to all the runners I've encountered on the road--Those I've passed, and those who've passed me. Without all of you, I never would have kept running.

And towards the end he says:
For a runner like me, what's really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied.

These are, to me, alien ways of thinking about running. In my title to this post, I made a point of saying that these are only partial thoughts--I dare say Murakami may have only presented some of his ideas; some ideas, probably, were edited out as not helpful to the book as a whole. I make this point partially to acknowledge that Murakami might have other motivations than those he states here. But these two motivations have nothing to do with why I run. Really, really nothing.

Murakami, of course, runs races every year; he runs marathons every year. He runs every day. I've run in three (of about 7, 8 and 10 miles), and won't run in another race until the friend who got me to go to those, tries to get me to go to another--but my friend is doing ultramarathoning now, and I'm not interested in 50k races. My friend ran in a 100-mile race--a trail run, no less--last year (he made it something like 70 or 80 miles before he injured himself and had to quit). A 10-mile trail run sounds nice, but I'll pass on the century. And all things being equal, I'd rather run alone than in a crowd, so who needs a race?

I run for the joy of it. I run because--though there are some difficulties to enjoy--the center of the activity is the pure physical pleasure of the body working right. And the meditative nature. And--when I get off the city streets and into the the parks in the Berkeley hills--I'm out of the city, running on trails bordered by scrub (a lot of invasive broom, also native sages, poppies, grasses), or sheltered by the redwood-bay-oak woods in the canyons here.

To the extent that Murakami's book is partially a reflection on writing (as he himself suggests), I wonder what this says about the practical implications of our two approaches. Murakami, of course, publishes lots of stuff; he's famous. I don't publish lots of stuff; I'm not famous. One can easily see how Murakami's goal-driven approach would mean more in terms of practical success.

I'm a romantic, I suppose, in hoping that a process-oriented approach can also be successful. I suppose what is ideally called for is both the love of the process and the goal going hand in hand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What I think about when I'm not running (sort of)

Saturday I fell down a flight of stairs. And landed, mostly safely, on my ass. Well, I suppose on my coccyx, really. Boom. And, well, running isn't so easy right now. Walking isn't either.

The question is, though, how do you deal with this kind of thing? It's been rough for me, since I do a lot of thought clearing when I'm running. In many ways running is meditation for me--ideas pass through my head, usually without judgment, just as ideas. By the time I'm done running, I've usually gotten through some of the things that were clogging up my thoughts. And this is good, because it lets me get on to things that are more interesting and more useful and more enjoyable.

When that forced meditation is taken away, I have a lot more time to worry about things. The key to responding to this is to try to fill that time usefully otherwise. The difficulty lies in the loss of energy due to the healing process.

Writing, I find, is a useful way of dealing with similar thought clearing processes. It's not meditative in the sense that there is a strong analytical/judgmental aspect to the process of putting my ideas on paper, but in ideal circumstances, I am able to keep the judgmental aspects on the page and am free from judging the writing itself, and in this sense it allows the ideas to express themselves without judgment.

Thinking about Murakami's book, I don't recall that he really talks about injury and being unable to exercise. He talks about some injuries, but it doesn't seem in the sense that any of them really stopped him from running. He talks about worrying that an injury might keep him from running a race, but not about just the gap in a regular schedule when a common practice is dropped out. I wish I could keep up running when injured, but some injuries are not well served by use. I wonder how differently he feels when laid up.