According to a recent study, people regret more what they did NOT do rather than what they did. In other words, sins of omission weigh more heavily on the mind than sins of commission.
The paper concluded: “In the short term, people regret their actions more than inactions. But in the long term, the inaction regrets stick around longer.”
I wanted to test the validity of this finding by querying my students. Granted, most of them are only in their mid-20's and are too young to lament what they have NOT done, since they have plenty of time to DO it, unlike most people in their 80's or 90's.
Still, I wanted to probe their mind to see if even at a relatively young age, the burden of inaction began to pile up and influenced their outlook on life.
This was the question I posed to them: What is the one thing that you have NOT done in your life so far that you regret the most and that, if you could go back in time, you would definitely DO it?
And this is what poured forth from most of them, that they should have traveled to other countries when the opportunity came and when they had the time, instead of opting to earn money through part-time jobs.
Brian’s response was typical: “I regret most not traveling overseas after high school when I had fewer responsibilities: France, Italy, China. But now I am too busy with all the stuff of life!”
Diana: “Wish I traveled. I wish I took a break just for me to have some fun, instead of working all the time.”
Karen: “Not going to Europe with my school friends when I had the opportunity. Now it’s too late! Already I have so much responsibilities!”
Leslie: Not traveling when I was younger. So many places, beautiful people, good food!
Kemala was born in Indonesia and studied in Germany before migrating to United States. Her plaintive regret is palpable: “I am really sad that I did not travel in the countries of Europe when I was in Germany. I always thought, ‘I can do it later,’ but now it seems too late. Caught up with too many things! I went back to Indonesia and now I am in the US and I don’t know when I can travel in Europe.”
Liz has the same remorse: “Not going backpacking with my sister last summer in Europe. She had such a great time and came back a new person! I was too busy working and making money. Bad mistake. The experience would have been so much better!”
Fred is a successful businessman but cannot shake off his regret: "I should have traveled to other countries when I was younger in my 20’s. Now I am older (37) and established and vested in my company. It’s harder to step away and take vacations. With age, we slow down physically. Now I am tired, something I was not when I was younger.”
Yvonne looks back with sorrow at the decision she made two years back: “I had an opportunity to teach English to children in Korea. I didn’t do it and now I am busy with life here. I wish I did what I really wanted to but didn’t. It would have made so much difference, more to me than to those children.”
Melanie also regrets not traveling: “The farthest I have been to are Lake Tahoe and Carmel. I am currently saving up money to travel to Mexico to see my grandparents.”
We have all met or read about people whose lives were transformed by travel. Take veteran actor Robert Redford, 82, whose latest movie, The Old Man & the Gun, has just been released to theaters around the country. In an interview (TIME, October 15, 2018), he disclosed how, while growing up in lower-working-class environment in Los Angeles, he hung out with his high-school crowd who often got into trouble. But a certain wanderlust always gnawed at him. “I wanted to be in Paris. I wanted to be in Spain. So when I was about 19, I saved up enough money to last me for a year.” Redford left the United States. “That experience is what really changed my life, because then I saw the outside world.” His time away changed his view of the world and of his home country. It saved him from a life that could have splintered into many useless fragments. “When I went to Europe, I understood more about politics and about human nature.” This new perspective is what he attributes to his activism.
I held up this example to my students and told them to seize the next opportunity that came along and just go!
While not traveling was their biggest regret (some are determined not to repeat that mistake), there were other regrets of inaction too.
Amanda regrets not opening her own business when she could, her own fashion store. “Nut maybe I can still make my dream come true.”
Gutierrez regrets not completing his Bachelor’s Degree right after high school. “I decided to focus more on money, so I dropped out of San Jose State University. It is difficult returning to school later in a life of career and child.”
Diaz regrets not taking more risks. “I always played it safe, do what others told me to do. I promise to listen more to my guts and do what I want to do, not what others tell me to do. It’s true: no risk, no gain!”
Cheryl regrets not completing her education and getting a career when she was 25. “By now I would have had my own house, called my own shots. Instead, I got married after high school. I promised I would return after a few months. Did not happen. By the time I returned to school, 7 long years have passed! I am now a mom with babies and both my husband and I work and there is no time or fun for anything, with babies around!”
Perhaps the most poignant response came from Jonathan. “Even though I am young, the one thing I haven’t done in my life is give my parents some stability, like buying them a house or helping them retire. My parents work extremely hard and growing up, I gave them a very hard time. I just want to be able to pay for their hard work and show them how much I care for them. They are older, and I don’t want anything to happen to them before I can help them.”
I was compelled to tell Jonathan: “You still can!”
But for the most surprising response, at once baffling and filled with bathos, this one beat all other entries. Clark wrote: “I should have dated more. I waited until I was 25 and the first person I dated, I ended up marrying her. Because of my lack of dating, I never learned to kiss properly and be romantic enough, because I had no practice. My wife dislikes that about me. I wish I had dated more!”
The dropout and failure-to-graduate rates in California’s 72-district, 114 community colleges serving over 2.1 million students are unacceptable. A study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership at Cal State Sacramento found that 70 percent of community college students fail to graduate or transfer to a four-year institution. These students typically drop out without any degree but with considerable debt.
One strategy used to redress this grim reality was to pour resources into remedial math and English courses, populated disproportionately by African-American and Latino students. It failed abysmally. Only 18 percent of elementary algebra students completed transfer-level math to CSU and UC systems in three years, and only 6 percent of pre-algebra students.
Something radical had to be done. Enter Assembly Bill 705. Introduced by Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, it was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Jan. 1, giving community colleges a deadline for full implementation by the fall of 2019.
The two revolutionary aspects of the bill are: a) colleges must maximize the probability that a student enter and complete transfer-level coursework in math and English within one year and b) colleges must use high school coursework, high school grades or high school GPAs to place incoming students into transfer-level courses, providing concurrent support as needed.
To appreciate the radical nature of AB 705, consider what I have witnessed with heartbreaking regularity in my years of teaching math. Joe, a high-school graduate with a 3.0 GPA, enrolls in his local college as a springboard for admission to UC Davis to major in sustainable agriculture. He expects to spend at most 3 years to accumulate enough units to transfer. Without delving into his aspirations, however, the college gives him an impersonal placement test where he falters with fractions. He gets trapped into a three-semester sequence of non-transferable basic skills classes of pre-algebra, algebra 1 and 2. He manages to pass the first two but algebra 2, with complex conjugates, quadratic equations and such, proves insurmountable. Overcome by emotional and psychological problems, Joe drops out and accepts a low-wage job below his potential.
AB 705 recognizes that it is the structural problem of under-placement and long sequence of classes that prevent students like Joe from graduating. Under AB 705, Joe is placed in transferable statistics in his very first semester, with help in math provided as just-in-time or co-requisite remediation. Excited by the relevance of the predictive power of statistics to his major, Joe aces the course. In a year, he completes transfer-level math and English requirements for a four-year institution.
Pipe dream? No. Pilot projects at San Diego’s Cuyamaca College and San Bruno’s Skyline College among others have shown that placing students in transferable math and English courses based on high school GPA quadruples the completion rate.
AB 705 has its challenges and detractors. Some claim it is too draconian. Others, that it was forced down from above without adequate faculty consultation. These are legitimate concerns, but the overriding factor for embracing AB 705 is that through proper placement and emphasizing acceleration over remediation, it can lift students from failure to success.
The Golden State has the fifth largest economy in the world, after the United States, China, Japan, and Germany. Its demand for a skilled, innovative workforce is skyrocketing. California’s community colleges must play a significant role in nurturing and educating this workforce. Faculty, counselors and administrators must work together to help students reach the high bar set by AB 705. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have been guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations, with minority students bearing the brunt of our casually cruel mindset. We wrongly focus on what our students don’t know rather than what they know. The pilot projects have shown that students rise to the challenge of higher expectations. By demanding more, we can not only help our students succeed academically but also guide them toward a life of meaning and purpose.
At the Montgomery Hill Observatory of Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, California, there is a public stargazing night on the first or the second Friday of every month. It is here that a decade ago I first saw Saturn through the observatory’s 7” refractor telescope. I will never forget that magical moment: The “Lord of the Rings” planet 750 million miles or so away from the earth that seemed so inviting that I wanted to reach out and touch it.
George Bernard Shaw offered the most damning argument against teachers and the profession of teaching. In Man and Superman (1903), the Irish playwright declared through his protagonist: “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”
Comedian Woody Allen clarified the idea further for us: “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
A snider version is available on the Internet (author unknown): “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”
In a previous article, I suggested that making a connection between the vocabulary of Math and English can help students overcome their fear of math word problems while increasing their appreciation of English texts. Is that true? Does it really work? Here are some student responses to the hypothesis, as they experienced it themselves.
Some students generally dislike math word problems. The difficulty is particularly pronounced in introductory algebra, intermediate algebra, and introductory statistics courses. Students often cannot make sense of what the question is asking them to solve. It frequently comes down to a difficulty with the English language. The challenge is not restricted to ESL students but to native speakers as well. Students can solve algebraic problems if they are expressed in straightforward mathematical notations but if the same problem is expressed in words, they are lost.
In November of 1964, the legendary physicist Richard Feynman, then forty-six years old, delivered a Seven-Part series of Messenger Lectures at Cornell University on “The Character of Physical Law.” (http://www.cornell.edu/video/playlist/richard-feynman-messenger-lectures)
Feynman began his lecture with these words: “It is odd, but on the infrequent occasion when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics. I believe that is probably because we respect the arts more than the sciences.”
“Let’s Make a Deal” was the name of a TV game show that began in 1963 and lasted for over two decades. It was best known for what came to be called the “Monty Hall” problem that captured the counter-intuitive nature of probability.
What interests me here is showing how to calculate in your head the approximate monthly payment you will have to make on a car, given its price and the interest rate applied in financing it. (The assumption is that you are not paying full price at the time of buying. Most of us don’t have that much cash, true for maybe 99% of the population!)
In a recent article in the NY Times on how mistakes made by doctors lead to harm for patients, this sentence conveyed the statistics: “Of the 651 hospital patients studied, 309 had errors on their medication lists, and over half those errors had the potential to cause harm”
By itself, the sentence seems to convey the gravity of the situation. Yet the average reader is unable to gain a foothold with the numbers. What if more (or less) patients were studied, what would the number of mistakes be then? And how would you compare different studies over time to gauge whether the situation was improving or not?