The Reputation Economy

The Reputation Economy

Empowerment doesn’t come from liking this or that thing, but from being true to our messy contradictory selves. There are limits to showcasing our most flattering assets because no matter how genuine and authentic we think we are, we’re still just manufacturing a construct, no matter how accurate it may be. What is being erased in the reputation economy are the contradictions inherent in all of us. Those of us who reveal flaws and inconsistencies become terrifying to others, the ones to avoid.

– Bret Easton

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“Yes, books are dangerous. They should be dangerous – they contain ideas.” ― Pete Hautman

“Yes, books are dangerous. They should be dangerous – they contain ideas.” ― Pete Hautman

It’s Banned Book week . . .

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With so much discussion around the ideas of micro-aggressions and trigger warnings, I’m pretty sure Socrates is rolling over in his grave. His idea of a robust conversation to strengthen the mind and the spirit is under attack right now which means the academy as we know it is under threat. I’m not sure how to stay effective in the classroom if I can’t ask hard questions and expose my students to difficult materials. We only grow as people if we have to, because after all, ignorance is bliss.

The Atlantic recently published a great article titled “The Coddling of the American Mind”. It offered fantastic insights about the un-education process we are currently facilitating in American schools. Let’s hope we start charging less for that!

I can see and feel the rising anxiety on my campus and in my classroom as young people expect second chances on tests and quizzes or challenge my data when it disagrees with their opinion. I am surprised and a bit nervous when they show up to class in their jammy-pants cradling their Sponge Bob dolls. It might be a fashion statement but it is certainly incongruent with the goals they stated in their first week on campus – the desire to get a good job that pays well.

There is a lot of buzz in Higher Ed about stackable credentials – adding industry specific certificates to bolster academic degrees for true work-force readiness. This is usually discussed as an add-on to a two-year Associate’s Degree, but perhaps we need to add a counseling certificate as a requirement to all faculty posts?

The following is a list of anxieties that can get “triggered” in the everyday life of today’s increasingly anxious youth. Described as “mental filtering”, these common cognitive distortions are playing havoc on today’s college campuses. Read at your own peril.

A partial list from Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J. F. Holland, and Lata K. McGinn’s Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders (2012).

  1. Mind reading. You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”
  2. Fortune-telling. You predict the future negatively: things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I’ll fail that exam,” or “I won’t get the job.”
  3. Catastrophizing. You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “It would be terrible if I failed.”
  4. Labeling. You assign global negative traits to yourself and others. “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”
  5. Discounting positives. You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”
  6. Negative filtering. You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.”
  7. Overgeneralizing. You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.”
  8. Dichotomous thinking. You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”
  9. Blaming. You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”
  10. What if? You keep asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?” or “What if I can’t catch my breath?”
  11. Emotional reasoning. You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.”
  12. Inability to disconfirm. You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought I’m unlovable, you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. “That’s not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors.”
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Great article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed by Dan Berrett about removing road-blocks from student learning. It really struck a nerve for me and reminded me of that old journalistic tool – who, what. where, when, how, and why. The content of all classes is only accessible if students know how to get to it. What are we really asking them to do in an assignment? How is that assignment attached to our intended outcomes for the class?

How Professors Can Make Assignments Transparent

Some exercises can become old favorites that faculty members assign out of habit. To make assignments more explicit to students, or “transparent,” instructors ask themselves the following:

Task: What, exactly, do they want students to do?
A task can be clear without accomplishing a professor’s goal for a lesson. One example: A psychology professor wanted students to develop metacognition, or a sense of how they think and how that changes. The first version of his assignment asked them to pick a psychological topic and describe in an essay how their thinking about it had evolved. The revised assignment involved two new tasks: first, asking students at the beginning of the semester to answer a series of questions about different psychological topics (like “Why do people dream?”) and to rate their confidence in their answers; then repeating the exercise at the end of the course and having them analyze the differences.

Purpose: Why are they asking students to do it?
Many traditional assignments come with no explanation at all; students complete them because their professors tell them to. More-explicit reasons can include monitoring how their views change; describing how language and institutions produce culture; and making an informed decision about a major or a career.

Criteria: How will they evaluate the work?
The most explicit evaluation criteria are often the easiest to give — and the least important, like spacing, type size, and margins. Or they’re vague: Follow directions, answer the question, write well, cite outside sources. Transparent criteria might include understanding the essential parts of a scientific paper and how to evaluate the use of evidence; employing data that are realistic and consistent with expectations; or demonstrating knowledge of the role of the media in creating standards of beauty. Some professors even ask students to suggest criteria.

Teach a person to learn and feed them for a lifetime!

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from the collection of Cecilia Thompson