Category Archives: Education

What is the World’s Dirty Secret?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere is a point, months or years after graduation, that one longs to return to college. Nostalgia grabs you by the lapels and cries out: “remember the great camaraderie; the epic parties; the memorable meals; the thought-provoking, passionate discussions, young love, and the idle time for contemplation or getting lost in the world of ideas? Remember all that?” Of course, those years slip by so quickly, like sand through your fingers. And now, stuck in the routine of a boring, soul-crushing 9-to-5 job, you really begin to miss those years and those amazingly transformative experiences. But, year by year those memories recede before us and you stretch your arms farther, like Gatsby reaching out to recapture his past, and a younger version of his beloved Daisy.

It is exactly that paralyzing ennui that motivates Jesse Fisher to return to college and visit with his favorite college English professor, Peter Hoberg, in the 2012 enchanting film, Liberal Arts (written and directed by Josh Radnor). By visiting college and his favorite teachers, Fisher hopes to recapture his passion, his purpose in life. Hoberg dispenses a lot of wisdom, including this gem: “Any place you don’t leave is a prison.” However, during one memorable scene, while discussing aging, Professor Hoberg shares the world’s dirty secret with his former student:

Professor Peter Hoberg: You know how old I am?

Jesse Fisher: No, how old are you?

Hoberg: It’s none of your goddamn business. Do you know how old I feel like I am?

Fisher: [Shrugs]

Hoberg: 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face and I look in the mirror and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.” [Sighs] Teaching here all these years, I’ve had to be very clear with myself, that even when I’m surrounded by 19-year-olds, and I may have felt 19, I’m not 19 anymore. You follow me?

Fisher: Yeah.

Hoberg: Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

So if you are a young adult, now you know what most middle-aged adults know. But please be discreet, don’t tell anyone… remember it’s our little secret.

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Misconceptions About the Modern College Student

alex atkins bookshelf educationA survey in October 2018 by Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan organization, asked a representative sample of Americans, as well as individuals who worked in the field of education (leaders of educational institutions, leaders of educational associations, politicians, policy makers, etc.) to describe what they considered to be the typical modern college student. Turns out that most Americans, including the educational experts that should know better, need some serious schooling! — LOL! — most have many misconceptions about today’s college students. Executive Director Julie Peller stated “The data confirms that in several key areas the public is unaware of the demographic shifts that have occurred in higher education. Although policy insiders understand that the needs and aspirations of college students have evolved, the [incorrect] pop culture archetype for the typical college student still seems to dominate the perceptions of many Americans.”

So what are some of the misconceptions about the modern college student? According to the report, the “pop culture archetype” of the modern college student is:
18-24 years old
Lives on or near campus
Parents help with college costs
Attends a 4-year university
Attends full time
Has no children or other family obligations
Has spending money for clothes, beer, and travel

So how far off are these misconceptions from reality? Quite a bit. As one education insider explained, “Picture an 18-year-old from a middle-class background who gets support from parents and goes to school full time. That is probably the experience of most of us in the policymaking community. But that is increasingly not representative of a college student today.” And that’s putting it mildly. Here is the profile of the actual modern college student:
41% of college students are older than 25
13% of first-year students live on campus
55% are financially independent 
39% attend a college part-time; 36% of undergraduate students attend a 2-year college
26% are parents
42% of independent college students live at or below the federal poverty line

Class dismissed.

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For further reading: https://higherlearningadvocates.org/news/survey-reveals-gap-between-public-and-policymakers-when-it-comes-to-understanding-todays-college-students-2/
https://www.aacu.org/aacu-news/newsletter/2018/november/facts-figures


What is the Genius of the Constitution?

alex atkins bookshelf movies

Sometimes a film from the past speaks to the present in a very compelling — and perhaps eerie — way. Take the prescience of the 1994 film, With Honors, regarding the topic of the balance of power between Congress and the President that has dominated the news in the last few months. In With Honors, Monty Kessler (played by Brendan Fraser), an honors student in the government program at Harvard University, and his new companion, Simon Wilder (played by Joe Pesci), a homeless man, attend a class lecture. The professor, Mr. Pitkannan (played by legendary author Gore Vidal) poses a question to the class: “Our founding fathers, or to be more politically correct, founding parents designed the Constitution to prevent the presidency from becoming another form of tyranny — an elected king. Well, did they succeed?… Could the President of the United States without consulting those he governs, more or less destroy the entire world?

Monty: “The President cannot bomb without reason.”

Professor Pitkannan: “He has the reason. He thinks we need more parking spaces. The point is — can he destroy the world?”

Monty: “Not without Congress.”

Pitkannan: “Now Mr. Kessler, after four years at Harvard has it escaped your attention that the President can make war for 90 days without consulting Congress… My question still stands: what is the particular genius of the Constitution? You sir [pointing to Simon], do you have an opinion on this?…

Simon: “You asked a question sir. Let me answer it. The genius of the Constitution is that it can always be changed. The genius of the Constitution is that it makes no permanent rule other than its faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves.”

Pitkannan [in a sneering tone]: “Faith in the wisdom of the people is exactly what makes the Constitution incomplete and crude.”

Simon: “Crude? No sir. Our founding parents were pompous middle-aged white farmers. But they were also great men because they knew one thing that all great men should know — that they didn’t know everything. They knew they were going to make mistakes. But they made sure to leave a way to correct them. They didn’t think of themselves as leaders. They wanted a government of citizens — not royalty. A government of listeners — not lecturers. A government that could change — not stand still. The President isn’t an elected King, no matter how many bombs he can drop. Because the crude Constitution doesn’t trust him. He’s a servant of the people.”

[The classroom erupts in applause.]

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How Reading Makes You Smarter

atkins-bookshelf-booksA few years ago, the Pew Research Center published a report on the reading habits of Americans. The study focused on how often adults (aged 18 and older) read print books, audiobooks, and e-books. Unfortunately the results were not promising: the number of people who are not reading any books has tripled in the past three decades. Specifically in 1978, 8% of American did not read a book within the past year. In 2002 that number jumped up to 18%; and in 2014 that number increased to 23%. What those individuals don’t know, and dedicated readers do know (at least intuitively), is that reading makes you smarter and has several beneficial effects on the brain. Here are seven ways that reading makes you smarter:

1. Reading encourages empathy. Studies indicate that reading literary fiction increases empathy and sympathy as readers respond to the struggles of a protagonist. Reading allows the reader to step into the life of the protagonist and imagine what it would be like to have those experiences.

2. Reading poetry encourages deep self-reflection. Studies show that reading poetry activates areas of the brain that are associated with introspection and autobiographical memory.

3. Reading improves memory. Reading activates the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. In one study, readers read simple descriptive phrases (like “dark blue carpet”) while placed in an MRI machine. The MRI indicated that these simple phrases were enough to activate the hippocampus. Using fewer words encourages readers to use their imagination to “fill in the blanks” and create a virtual scene or world.

4. Reading improves decision-making and emotional processing. Researchers have found that reading activates key parts of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex, lateral temporal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobe. The medial prefrontal cortex is involved with decision-making and memory recall. The lateral temporal cortex is responsible for emotional association and visual memory. The posterior cingulate cortex is involved with episodic memory recall. And finally, the inferior parietal lobe is responsible for understanding emotions and interpreting sensory data.

5. Reading improves your verbal skills and vocabulary. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between verbal skills and reading. As most readers know, reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary by looking up new words you encounter. The more you read, the greater your working vocabulary will be. Reading also helps discover new ways of describing situations, feelings, and places as well as creating images in the mind’s eye.

6. Reading strengthens the mind. The brain is not a muscle, of course, but studies suggests that mind-building (mental exercise) is analogous to body-building. In another MRI study, researchers found that brain retains activity for as long as five days after reading a book. MRI of subjects revealed increased activity in the left angular and supra marginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri areas of the brain that are associated with comprehension.

7. Reading helps slow down mental aging. Studies show that reading improves memory and sentence processing in older adults. The steady exposure to literary ingredients that encourage imagination (eg, metaphors, imagery, abstract ideas, etc), the brain gets mental exercise, remaining active and healthy.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book and start getting smarter.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Reading is Critical to the Writer
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For further reading: https://www.dailyinfographic.com/what-reading-does-to-your-brain?


30 Epigrams That Can Make You More Creative

alex atkins bookshelf educationThe wisdom of Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher who is considered one of the founders of ontology (the study of being) and greatly influenced the philosophy of the Stoics, particularly Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. Sadly most of his writings have been lost to the sands of time, save for about 125 fragments, epigrams, that appear in the writings of other Ancient Greeks. These early philosophers were very fond of epigrams, an idea expressed in a clever way. (The word epigram is derived from the Greek work epigramma, meaning “an inscription.”) Moreover, many of Heraclitus’ epigrams are paradoxical requiring contemplation and interpretation; therefore, in many cases, there is no one right answer. Those early philosophers were really onto something…

Despite being more than 2,500 years old, the epigrams of Heraclitus have been a tremendous wellspring for modern authors who have rediscovered and repurposed them in the last few decades. Authors like Ryan Holiday (The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living); William Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy); and Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior), for example, have very successfully mined the wisdom of the stoics for valuable insights into how to live and have a meaningful life. In 2001, creativity expert Roger von Oech (author of A Whack on the Side of the Head), stumbled onto the wisdom of Heraclitus as a key to unlocking creativity. In his book, Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It), he writes: “I’ve selected thirty epigrams which I believe best express Heraclitus’ philosophy of the creative spirit. I call these his Creative Insights… Viewed as a whole… [they] provide us with a set of tools on how to be more creative… Indeed, Heraclitus’ enigmatic style in itself forces us to think differently. To understand his vivid metaphors and unusual paradoxes, we’ve had to tolerate ambiguity and probe for symbolic meanings. We’ve also had to be imaginative and think of multiple interpretations… [These epigrams are] a treasure box of creative inspiration.” The 30 Creative Insights of Heraclitus of Ephesus are listed below:

1. The cosmos speaks in patterns.
2. Expect the unexpected, or you won’t find it.
3. Everything flows.
4. You can’t step into the same river twice.
5. That which opposes produces a benefit.
6. A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected.
7. If all things turned to smoke, the nose would become the discerning organ.
8. The Sun will not exceed its limits, because the aven­ging Furies, ministers of Justice, would find out.
9. Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things.
10. I searched into myself.
11. Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight.
12. Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand.
13. When there is no sun, we can see the evening stars.
14. The most beautiful order is a heap of sweepings piled up at random.
15. Things love to conceal their true nature.
16. Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings.
17. Sea water is both pure and polluted: for fish it is drinkable and life-giving; for humans undrinkable and destructive.
18. On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point.
19. It is disease that makes health pleasant, hunger that makes fullness good, and weariness that makes rest sweet.
20. The doctor inflicts pain to cure suffering.
21. The way up and the way down are one and the same.
22. A thing rests by changing.
23. The barley-wine drink falls apart unless it is stirred.
24. While we’re awake, we share one universe, but in sleep we each turn away to a world of our own.
25. Dogs bark at what they don’t understand.
26. Donkeys prefer garbage to gold.
27. Every walking animal is driven to its purpose with a whack.
28. There is a greater need to extinguish arrogance than a blazing fire.
29. Your character is your destiny.
30. The sun is new each day.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Fragments by Heraclitus 
Whack on the Side of Your Head by Roger von Oech
Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger von Oech
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
A Guide to the Good Life; The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine

Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Life by Dan Millman
The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose by Dan Millman


A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives Before He Dies

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

From George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the sprawling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the source of HBO’s highly acclaimed series, Game of Thrones. The quotation appears in chapter 34, when Jojen Reed is talking to Bran Strark. Jojen, a member of the House Reed, possesses greensight, the power of prophetic green dreams. Although Jojen has greensight, he is not a greenseer, as he explains to Bran: “No, [I am not a greenseer] only a boy who dreams. The greenseers were more than that. They were wargs [a skinchanger, a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions] as well, as you are, and the greatest of them could wear the skins of any beast that flies or swims or crawls, and could look through the eyes of the weirwoods [deciduous trees of Westerns that have blood red leaves and bone white trunks] as well, and see the truth that lies beneath the world.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Reading is Critical to the Writer
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Why Reading and Diction are Critical to the Writer


The Secret to a Great Life: Amor Fati

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe great Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus believed that philosophy was not just a theoretical discipline but a way of life. During his life (55 – 135 AD), he endured and saw more than his share of adversity. He was born a slave and was crippled (there are conflicting accounts: he was either born that way or one of his masters crushed his leg). Eventually, after the death of Nero in 68 AD, Epictetus obtained his freedom and traveled to Epirus, Greece to teach philosophy. Fortunately for us, his wisdom and teachings are preserved in the Discourses and Enchiridion. The secret to a great life, according to Epictetus, was what Nietzsche called amor fati, a Latin term meaning “a love of fate” or “love of one’s fate.” Specifically, Epictetus wrote: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” In other words, don’t curse your fate: accept it — furthermore: love it. Epictetus and the stoics believed that everything that happens in one’s life — whether good or bad — is fate’s way of reaching its ultimate purpose: shaping you into the person you should be.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks
The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz
The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel


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