A page devoted to what I’m doing with my life right now.
As of September 2019:
a) Tim: Lab Rat
I’m back at school, teaching Psychology for the first time, and this happened:
Dear Readers, I was the unwitting subject of a psychological experiment. I thought I was a man; I’m actually a lab rat.
Sandy, 17, approaches me after school.
Sandy: I’m sorry, but I didn’t get my experiment done.
Me: Why not?
Sandy: [Lame excuse. But something seems weird. She looks like she doesn’t care. But this is 4.0 kid. What is going on?!]
[We negotiate a due date and late penalties. I even give her an idea for an experiment and even explain how she could easily do it tonight, right down the hall.]
She left. I felt good about getting her back on track, but the whole situation felt weird. Why didn’t she care?!
AND THEN, A HALF AN HOUR LATER, THE TRUTH COMES OUT. I will simply reprint what Sandy sent me below. It turns out: she wasn’t late with the experiment. That’s because: I was the experiment:
Question: How will my teacher/classmates react if I don’t do this experiment?
1. Hypothesis: If I don’t do the experiment, my teacher will say I should have it done, help me form a plan, and have me turn it in the next class. I think this because he is a flexible teacher who knows I try to do well. My classmates will be a little sympathetic and ask why I didn’t do it, but also won’t try to help much because, as teens in high school, they know it’s my fault if I don’t do it and I’m the one who will face the consequences, not them.
2. Test: I will test in class 9/5/19
3. Results: My teacher said I should have it done because it’s due and had me come up with an experiment I could turn in by the end of the week. He said he would deduct 10 points for being late 1 day and 25 points for being late 2 days. My classmates didn’t react very much. They said I could make an experiment quickly and write it up tonight to get it in on time.
4. Analyze results: My hypothesis was mostly correct. I didn’t predict that my teacher would deduct points, but I was correct in thinking he would help me plan an experiment. My classmates reacted how I expected.
5. Conclusions: I was able to easily judge the personalities of the people around me, and thus predict their reactions.
6. Errors: I didn’t get to test many classmates, as I sat at a table by myself and we didn’t talk to each other a lot in class. I can’t control the feelings or attitudes of my teacher or classmates on any particular day, which may have influenced their reactions. I only tested one teacher’s reaction to not turning in homework, it may not be the same with other teachers.
7. Questions: Would my teacher have reacted the same way with other students, or just me? What would my teacher do if I turned in this experiment late, after discovering I did this on purpose? If I had done this like a survey, so the people knew they were participating, would I have gotten different reactions?
* * *
Tim’s conclusion: I am amazed. I love creative kids who take the initiative! What a great situation!
Except I wonder: does this mean they’re going to run experiments on me all semester?
b) Throwing Axes and Visiting Museums.
My niece, Hannah, 17, stayed with me for four days so she could go to Rockhurst University’s D-II Volleyball Camp. Year after year, Rockhurst VB consistently lands in the semifinals.
These athletes are beasts. They bump, set, spike, sprint, hustle, act like a team, and smile literally six or seven hours a day, from 9-3 or 9-4. Why? High stakes. You can get 80% of college paid for just on athletics.
Hannah takes AP courses, reads a lot, is super-creative, easygoing, driven, and curious about everything. It isn’t fair: she’s good at everything just because she works at it, and enjoys life.
I took her to Blade & Timber where we threw axes at a plywood dartboard. On our first game, she beat everyone else. Final scores: 80 (Hannah), 70 (me, but I’ve done it before), 45, and 32 points.
I love having family close by.
c) Learning how to get the word out about something valuable.
I published Money for Teens: A Guide for Life on amazon. Because I teach Personal Finance, MFT discusses investing, starting a business this week, negotiating, making decisions, college without debt, and about 75 other topics. It has 19 exercises, too.
I wrote it four years ago for my own students—but after booking 63 guest speakers, listening to a zillion podcasts, reading more books, and basically remaining a passionate student, I revised it, and decided: let’s give it to the world.
Now I am learning how to get the word out about something valuable. The best advice I’ve heard so far is so good it’s overlooked: a lady who runs a hair salon told me:
* Love every person you meet;
* Only talk about the book if you think it would benefit that particular individual;
* Treat your people like gold.
She loves Jesus; I think she adopted the Golden Rule.
One more thing on getting the word out:
d) How I believe I best get anything done:
I dedicate an hour a day no matter what.
I earned a triple major by age 22 and an M.A. by 24. I wrote four novels from Sept. 2017 to March 2019. I ran 51 marathons and 500 half-marathons from 2005 to 2015. That was 40 miles per week, or 2,080 miles per year; or 20,800 in a decade.
I’m no one special. To make up for how average I am, I love to put in an hour a day. Here’s why:
1 hour a day equals nine whole work weeks.
I figure: no matter how dumb (college majors), bad of a writer (novelist), or slow (marathons) I am, putting nine work weeks has got to lead to improvement!
P.S. My knees feel great.
e) Getting three new classes ready, and refreshing (not repeating) two familiar classes.
I’ve taught 23 to 25 different kinds of classes: 11 kinds of college English at UMKC, six or seven kinds of high school math, at least four kinds of social studies, Personal Finance, and a smattering of others. In theory, variety makes teachers better.
So, I am getting Psychology, Economics, and Sociology ready to go.
I decided: we should do lots of games, experiments, projects, simulations, and hands-on activities.
Lecture doesn’t stick, anyway.
f) Questioning Everything
Do we really need to buy a house? Isn’t renting sometimes mathematically better? (I own a house.)
Do we need college? Isn’t there a shortage of blue collar workers? I have a list of 20 careers that range from $110,000 (elevator repairer) to $58,000 (plumber). The average income in America is $50,000.
Do we need a job? Don’t people who run their own businesses own more?
Is atheism really smarter? Weren’t Hitler and Stalin atheists? How well did that work out?
If socialism is so good, why does the prime minister of Denmark insist that he is running a capitalist, free market country?
Are home schoolers bad? Every single one I’ve met is very friendly, hard working, and well read.
And: what’s the best way I can help the most people?
g) 1980s East Germany and West Germany
This is quirky, but I am hooked several TV shows and movies:
Deuschland 83 (Germany 1983)
Deuschland 86 (Germany 1986)
The Weissensee Saga, Seasons 1, 2, and 3
Goodbye, Lenin! (A comedy)
and a lot of books.
Germany is so like America. The people work hard, laugh a lot, love their families—
—and live in the weirdest situation possible.
They are three minutes away from nuclear bombs annihilating them at any given second.
In the West: freedom, travel, 1980s music, riches, and fun. In the East: restrictions, hardly anyone can afford a car, punk music to protest the all-powerful government, smelly public housing, and alcoholic despair.
In the East, the all-powerful secret police keep thick files on every citizen. They imprison people over nothing; they ruin lives; they lock people in tiny rooms and don’t let them sleep for four days. People say, “Torture doesn’t work.”
Unfortunately, it does. Practically everyone breaks.
About 1 in 7 East Germans was an informer. The secret police put the squeeze on them, and then they have no choice but to rat out their friends, family, and spouses.
It might have been 1 in 3.
Eventually, when the U.S.S.R. went broke, East Germany hung on. They kept the torture and dictatorship going.
Deep down, everyone belongs to the same nation. And yet, one group is liberated; the other is crushed by the state. One country: two realities.
I am not sure why I am fascinated, but I will just mention a few things that we see today, in a different form:
- i) People promoting socialism as love, peace, and sharing. But the East Germans and the Soviets insisted that they were “building socialism.” On the surface, their ideals were sky high.
- ii) Society gets split in two—and instead of people being okay with a variety of people thinking any way they like, instead, dissent can lead to life in a hard labor camp, and/or death.
iii) The East Germans surveillance state was so powerful and all-pervasive that it became a model for statists all over the world.
I leave it to you to draw your own parallels to today, and your own conclusions.
h) I’m Teaching Economics and Psychology
These courses are brand new to me. They are challenging—I love it.
How to make courses that are abstract concept-heavy interesting to teenagers? I decided: through games, simulations, and activities.
In Economics, we demonstrated that free trade is always beneficial (according to the textbook) if it’s truly free. We did this through treats.
Every kid got a random treat (chocolate, pretzels, cookies, Cheetos, etc.). They then rated their treats on a scale of 1 to 10. Average rating: 5.6.
Then they were allowed to trade freely. Trade with anyone! Trade as many times as you like! Don’t trade at all if you don’t feel like it!
Three minutes later, the average score jumped to an 8.6.
In Psychology, we’ve already done experiments involving memory, the concept of “anchoring,” and—with their permission—I trained students to fear rolling dice because they soon associated throwing dice with a loud airhorn.
This is a wild adventure for me. When I started teaching college English long ago, a really fun and helpful instructor was someone who had students only: read, write, think, and discuss.
The trends have changed. Now, if I’m going to stay in teaching, I also need to try to blow their minds. And they have to become doers. Maybe our society didn’t sit still enough when I started, but nowadays, it appears that’s all some people get to do.
* * *
That’s all for July, August, and September—for now. As I close, let me say that I believe: be a kid again! Have a new experience!
God bless you,
* * *
For fun, I am taking two dance classes: Country Swing and regular ballroom (waltz, foxtrot, and swing).
b) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
On June 17, I went to a local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Terrifyingly, someone with super-heroic muscles lifted me off the mat and hurled me over his back. I landed with a thud and immediately felt my neck and spine.
I’m intact, I realized.
Then I felt exhilarated. He’s tossing me around like he’s a clean-shaven yet long-haired hippie version of King Kong.
And then the instructor did it again. I arced through the air, saw the ceiling and wall blur past, and—smack—I collided with the mat.
Within ten minutes, I was tossing and getting tossed around by other human beings. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I thought, you’re so cute. Where have you been all my life?
c) The 1980s.
Because of various things, I’d like to write—comedies, action novels—I’ve immersed myself in the 1980s this summer.
Eighties movies like Ghostbusters, Family Ties (which is hilarious: 1960s hippie parents are raising 1980s conservative Reagan-loving teens; Hollywood once was not woke), eighties music (Atomic Blonde soundtrack; 100 songs by German pop star Nena; best of CDs); eighties everything.
If decades have a theme, the theme of the 1980s was: bold, optimistic, achievement, and anti-communism. It was a gorgeous era. Some people like WWII. I like the Eighties.
d) My Attitude.
(See “a” and “b” above.)
I used to worry a lot about failure. Now, I worry about 1% as much as I used to.
Anymore, I try things as an experiment. I ask myself, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
Q. Couldn’t you embarrass yourself in dance class?
A. Yes, but I don’t really know any of these people, and I hope we all succeed.
Q. What about Jiu-Jitsu?
A. I could break my neck when they flip me over their backs and drop me on the mat.
Q. And shatter your spine.
A. Thanks, optimist. But I noticed that they do controlled drops. They really guide you all the way down. And you land square on your back. They even teach you to break your fall by thrusting out your palms. You just have to be careful, and take nothing for granted. I treat it the way I’ve always lifted weights and ran marathons: it’s 100% about proper form. People who practice proper form almost stay healthy 99.9999999% of the time.
Now I try things and don’t worry about how long it will take to learn them, or if I look imbecilic. Of course I look imbecilic; I’m new.
I’m a lifelong college and high school instructor. I’ll have three new classes next semester: Psychology, Economics, and Sociology. I read all of the textbooks; I’ll start putting these classes together in July.
I plan on making a big change. I’d like your opinions on it.
I’ve come to believe that smartphones are the new cigarettes. They are not good for our minds. They make us dumb and give us ADHD. Living with constant interruptions causes anxiety, depression, and dain bramage.
So, next year, I want to do four things:
1.Start every class with fifteen minutes of free reading.
For the nonreaders—please, parents: can you get your teen to help him or herself with books?—I will bring in comics, Sports Illustrated, and fashion magazines. We will work our way up to middle school books.For the readers, I will have 20-50 fun books to choose from.
For the people like Tessa and Jessica, two girls who each read about 100 pages a day last year—I will let them do whatever they want. All of my life, I’ve only made suggestions to A+ students; I never tell them what to do. That’s the government telling Thomas Edison how to run his Lab.
2. More activities: more projects, games, simulations, hands-on, practical, up-and-moving-around, socializing with each other. Less sit-and-get; more interaction.
3. Borrow from the book Teach Like a Champion 2.0. I like parts of this book.
4.This is the big one: A lot less digital.
The laptop and iPhone were always meant to be occasional tools, like a car, not needles that go in people’s arms.
- Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport.
- Irresistible, by Adam Alter
- The Art of Manliness podcast, #Episode 479: Digital Minimalism with Cal Newport
- The Art of Manliness podcast, #Episode 420: Irresistible with Adam Alter