Category Archives: Other

If Students Are Smart, They’ll Major in What They Love

By Cecilia Gaposchkin

It’s that time of year again: At many colleges, second-year students must declare their majors. Uncles, grandmothers, and friends will almost certainly ask: “What are you going to do with that?” Some parents will say, “I am not going to shell out this amount of money for my kid to major in ….”

Such responses are based on the premise that choosing a major amounts to choosing a career path, and thus a particular financial future, a degree of security, a lifestyle, an entire identity. The choice seems synonymous with “What do you want to do with your life?” and even “Who do you want to be?” As it is often understood, the decision is loaded in ways that are not useful for the student or for the mission of higher education.

As professors and academic advisers, we must be mindful of how pervasive these misconceptions are. We should take every opportunity to offer guidance to our students as they make these decisions. The premise that choosing a major is choosing a career rests on the faulty notion that “the major” is important for its content, and that the acquisition of that content is what’s valuable — meaning valuable to employers.

But information is fairly easy to acquire. And much of the information acquired in 2015 will be obsolete by 2020. What is valuable is not the content of a major, but rather the ability to think with and through that information. That is the aim of a liberal-arts education, no matter the major.

Ask employers. Company representatives who recruit at my college consistently say they don’t really care about someone’s major. What they want are basic but difficult-to-acquire skills. When they ask students about their majors, it’s usually not because they want to assess the applicants’ mastery of the content, but rather because they want to know if the students can talk about what they learned. They care about a potential employee’s abilities: writing, researching, quantitative, and analytical skills. Some majors teach and hone some of these skills more than others do. Some career paths will use some more than others. But almost all white-collar jobs will require writing, communication, assessment, numeracy, and above all the creative application of knowledge.

To assume a necessary link between particular courses of study and students’ career prospects is to limit their options, and in many cases, their capacity for discovery and intellectual growth. Dartmouth College, for example, has educated two U.S. treasury secretaries, yet neither of them majored in economics or government: Henry Paulson was an English major, and Timothy Geithner majored in Asian and Middle Eastern studies. Plenty of other Dartmouth alumni explode the perceived link between major and careers: Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, majored in history; Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who wrote and directed The Lego Movie and directed 21 Jump Street, majored in government and art history, respectively.

An alumnus who is a physician told me this year that majoring in history (my discipline) was the best thing he ever did. He explained that much of his job is listening to people’s stories and trying to figure out patterns and irregularities, and that doing those things well was what his history major had taught him.

On a larger scale, the premise of the “practical major” is corroding college intellectual life. As students flock to the two or three majors they see as good investments, professors who teach in those majors are overburdened, and the majors themselves become more formulaic and less individualized. A vocational approach to liberal-arts education eviscerates precisely the qualities that are most valuable about it: intellectual curiosity and passion.

“The big majors,” a political scientist at Dartmouth told me recently, “collect a lot of students who aren’t really interested in the subject, and, because of the class sizes, those students lose out on highly individualized instruction.”

The irony, he added, “is that the seemingly practical majors aren’t practical. The government department doesn’t teach you how to get and keep power. The econ department doesn’t teach you how to make and maintain wealth. The computer-science department doesn’t teach you how to code the way Google needs its engineers to code. Each of these are taught as a liberal art.”

And it turns out that the so-called practical major may not even be the best investment. A 2012 report suggests that, by students’ senior year, those studying in the liberal arts may be better critical thinkers than those who majoring in business. It is thinking within and with a discipline, idea, or problem that pushes the mind toward the creativity and confidence that underlie productive and informed action.

Graduates majoring in “practical” majors may well start at higher salaries than their counterparts in, say, comparative literature or art history. But as Derek Bok said in Our Underachieving Colleges, we should look at how graduates fare 15 years down the road. Often it is the art historians and anthropology majors, for example, who, having marshaled the abilities of perspective, breadth, creativity, and analysis, have moved a company or project or vision forward. The real investment comes in learning how to think. And the student who has chosen a major based on what she loves has increased the value of that investment.

By releasing students from the pressure of the practical major and allowing them to study what they are sincerely interested in, we allow them to become smarter, more creative, and more able. This is what potential employers value, not course content that is likely to be obsolete once they have finished training the recent graduate.


After 40 years, Utah man seeks forgiveness from Texas town

By Jason F. Wright

Dr. Kim Roberts of Salt Lake City and Robert Hanna of Denison, Texas, have never met. They’ve never chatted on the phone nor exchanged an email.

Instead, they’re linked by two letters and bonded by a brick.

In 1973, Roberts was serving as a missionary in Texas when his travels took him to Denison, a small city 75 miles north of Dallas.

Roberts remembers one afternoon strolling along and noticing something unusual about the red bricks in the sidewalk near the house they temporarily called home. Some of the standard-sized bricks were stamped with the words, “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk.”

Roberts eyed a few unstamped bricks loose on the edge of the road and decided it was time to take a souvenir. He carefully pried a couple of bricks loose from the sidewalk and replaced them with plain ones. He later learned that the unusual bricks had been laid at the turn of the century as a reminder to citizens of the tumbleweed town that they could reduce the spread of tuberculosis by not spitting on the ground.

Roberts wrapped up his brick and placed it in his suitcase. It then traveled with him over his remaining days in Texas, and eventually, on a plane to his family’s home in Seattle.

He was proud of his unique souvenir and took care of it. He painted the stamped letters white to help them stand out and coated the brick in lacquer. It was a fantastic conversation starter and a sweet memory of his service in Texas.

But as the years passed, the brick became heavier and heavier. In a recent interview, Roberts described his change of heart.

“As time went on, it hit me (that) I’d stolen something. But I didn’t steal an object. I’d stolen a part of history from this town.”

The feelings became stronger during the 80’s and 90’s and for the last eight years he whispered these words every time he saw the brick. “I should really send that back.”

One Sunday in church, during a lesson on honesty, he knew he couldn’t wait any longer. Like all of us, Roberts confides there are several things in his life he cannot completely correct.

“So, I guess I finally realized I should rectify what I can,” he said. “We all do things, and at the time, we think they’re humorous or not harmful to anyone. But as we mature, we grow in understanding and see that some of our past actions haven’t been that noble. So we repent, make it right, do all we can and the Atonement takes over.”

With those words on his mind, Roberts finally wrapped the brick back up and with the help of the Internet, found an address for the city offices of Denison, Texas. But sending a 110-year-old bubble-wrapped brick by itself wasn’t enough. Roberts needed to write a letter, and the letter needed to ask for forgiveness.

To Whom It May Concern:

This may seem like an odd letter accompanying an old package. Let me explain. Forty years ago I had the privilege of serving in the state of Texas as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent a few days in Denison and was fascinated with the many neatly paved sidewalks featuring the “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” logo. I determined that I needed one as a souvenir and helped myself to one, not thinking that my actions were a complete contradiction of who and what I represented. Over the years I have had occasional pangs of guilt, but while sitting in church this past Sunday and listening to a lesson on honesty I determined that now is the time to return the brick to its rightful owners. I do so with my full apologies for showing disrespect to the good people of Denison. I ask your forgiveness. I realize that the brick most likely cannot be returned to the previous place in the sidewalk in front of the house where I was staying at the time in 1973 (I don’t recall the address), but perhaps by placing it in a conspicuous place in your offices it will be a reminder that, in the end, honesty is the best policy. Thank you.

Kim G. Roberts

Some 1,200 miles away in Denison, city manager Robert Hanna was toiling away at another day. Not only was Hanna not in Texas in 1973 when the brick was stolen, he wasn’t even in his parents’ plans yet. Plus, the remaining “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” bricks were long gone from Denison’s sidewalks and streets.

He’ll never forget the day the heavy box arrived.

“Mr. Hanna,” Cheryl Green called from her desk outside his office. “You need to come see this.” The brick was so well wrapped and packaged, Hanna said it wouldn’t have just survived a drop from a mail truck; one could have run it over.

The brick and letter stunned him. “In my world, this never happens,” Hanna explained. “This is a one in a million thing. We have street signs, stop signs, you name it, stolen all the time. Nothing comes back.”

Hanna could not stop thinking about the gesture from the former LDS missionary. “I think God uses people like this. And it speaks to this man’s character. It was such a trivial thing. But to carry that around,” Hanna hesitated a moment before adding a simple and subtle, “Wow.”

Though not a member of the same church, Hanna has great respect for the faith and is familiar with its teachings. “God uses people to send messages,” he said, and he knew the message Roberts needed to hear.

Ten days later, he sat at his desk and penned a letter on Denison letterhead.

Dear Dr. Roberts,

Is it not written in 2 Nephi 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins?”

Be at peace with yourself and your actions. By taking what wasn’t yours, you preserved a piece of Denison history that the city did not see fit to preserve many years ago. Thanks to you and your actions, we can hold a piece of our community’s history once again and display it with pride. Behold! God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

May the Lord bless you in all things and grant you peace.


Robert Hanna

Back in Utah, Roberts was touched by the kind letter and filled with the peace he’d longed for. To him, it wasn’t just about a brick. It was about the pure principle of forgiveness.

When both humble men were asked what they hope people will remember about their inspiring story, their answers were nearly identical. It’s never too late to give up the bricks in our lives. And our loads become so much lighter when the bricks are back where they belong.

Even if it’s on a shelf in a small Texas town called Denison.


Beat the Carnies: The Secrets to Winning 5 Popular State Fair Games

by Brett & Kate McKay

It’s state fair time once again all over the country. And that means Ferris wheels, giant turkey legs, a visit from the world’s smallest horse, and, of course, the chance to try your hand at winning the carnival games that line the midway.

If you love playing these games at the state fair, but usually find yourself walking away from the booths empty-handed or with a dinky Chinese finger trap as a consolation prize, then this post is for you.

Step right up, gentlemen! Today you’re going to learn the secrets to beating the carnies and winning a giant stuffed animal for your gal.

General Guidelines

  • Assume most games are gaffed. Gaffedis carnie speak for rigged. Gaffs in midway games lie on a spectrum that ranges from “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” to downright criminal. Most gaffs don’t make the games impossible to win. They just make you work harder. For example, it’s common knowledge that the basketball rims at carnival free throw shooting games are usually smaller than regulation-size and bent into an oblong shape to appear larger in the front. Moreover, the baskets are often hung higher than regulation basketball goals. You can still make a basket, it just take a bit more skill and finesse. Bottom line, if a game looks really easy to win, assume that something’s been gaffed to make it harder.
  • Watch before you put down your money. One way to guard yourself from gaffed games is to watch other suckers, I mean customers, play. Check to see if the carnie uses different balls when he’s demonstrating the game from the ones he gives the customers. Observe what works for successful players.
  • Ask questions. Don’t assume you understand how the game works or what the rules are. Milk Can at the Vermont State Fair might have different rules than Milk Can at the Tulsa State Fair. Before you lay your money down, ask questions so you know exactly what you have to do to win.
  • Use the same equipment and stand where the carnie stood while playing. Carnies often demonstrate games to customers to show them how easy it is to win. When you step up to the counter, and before you lay your money down, ask the carnie if you can use the same ball he did and stand in the same spot he was standing in when he successfully completed the game. If the carnie hems and haws, it’s probably a sign that the game is gaffed and can only be won using a certain ball or if you’re standing in a certain spot. Take your money elsewhere.
  • Have fun! Don’t forget to have fun. Some people take these games way too seriously and scream bloody murder if they lose. If you lose, no need to make a federal case out of it. Most of the prizes aren’t even worth the $2 you paid to play the game. When I play state fair midway games, I like to think I’m paying $2 for a chance to test my skill at a particular game and to match wits with a carnie. It’s entertainment! If I lose, at least I had some fun doing it. On to the deep fried Snickers bar!

How to Win Five Popular State Fair Games

Milk Can

Milk Can is a classic state fair game that has been part of midways for over a century. The object of the game is simple: Toss a softball into a 10-gallon metal milk can from a line about four to six feet from the can. Sounds easy, right? Well, here’s the catch: these aren’t your ordinary milk cans. For carnivals, a concave piece of steel is welded to the rim of the can, making the hole just one-sixteenth of an inch larger than the softball. That’s a tight squeeze. Despite the small margin of error, Milk Can is actually one of the easier games to win (if you use the right technique). And it also usually offers some of the largest prizes on the midway.

The secret to winning Milk Can is to give the ball a bit of backspin and hit the back of the can’s rim. The backspin will decrease the ball’s momentum, and instead of bouncing off the can, it will slide into the hole. Easier said than done, of course!

  • Aim for the back of the rim. Remember, we’re trying to deflect the ball in, not sink the ball straight through the hole.
  • Toss the ball underhanded, but grip the ball on top. This will allow you to give the ball the needed backspin.
  • Give the ball some backspin as you release it. As you release the ball, give a little flick of the wrist so the ball starts spinning backwards in the air.
  • Throw the ball softly and with little arc. This point is debatable. Some people suggest that you give the ball a high arc so that it lands directly in the hole. While you could certainly go this route, there are two reasons you shouldn’t. First, the high arc might not be possible. Some carnies take this approach out of the equation by hanging big stuffed animal prizes right over the milk can, thus blocking a lofty throw. Second, the hole is too freaking small! You’d pretty much have to hit the hole dead-on to win. Remember, the best way to win Milk Can is to bank the ball off the back rim with some backspin. A soft, low-arc toss, with plenty of backspin will ensure that the ball sinks into the hole.

Rope Ladder

Ah, the Rope Ladder. My childhood nemesis. I don’t know how much money I’ve sunk into this game trying to reach the top, only to find myself spinning upside-down and being tossed onto a mattress. Defeat never tasted so bitter. Only the taste of a corn dog could wash it out of my mouth.

Rope Ladder is an addicting carnival game because it looks so simple to win. The object is to climb up an angled rope ladder with nine rungs and ring the bell at the top. The only problem is that both ends of the ladder are suspended over pivoting pulleys. One false move by a climber, and he’ll find himself spun upside-down and thrown off the ladder.

My 10-year-old self always thought the game was rigged, but Rope Ladder is actually very winnable. The secret is maintaining perfect balance the entire way up the ladder. Here’s how:

  • Make your center of gravity as wide as possible. Most people try to climb the rope ladder like it was any regular ladder–with feet and hands near the center of the rungs. Taking that approach will result in a guaranteed spin to the mattress. Instead of placing your hands on the rungs, place them on the rope. Next, place your feet as wide as possible on the rung, ideally where the rung and the rope meet.
  • Counterbalance every movement on the right side of your body, with a movement on the left. This is the tricky part. In order to maintain balance as you scale up the ladder, you need to counterbalance your movements. For example, when you lift your right arm to the next rung, you must simultaneously lift and move your left foot the same distance. Think of the way your dog walks–when he moves his right front leg forward, he moves his left rear leg, too, and vice versa. Do the same thing.
  • Lean forward. Best to keep your weight forward. Any shift back and you’ll be looking up at the sky.
  • Watch your knees and feet. Your knees and feet are prone to getting caught in the rope or on a rung while climbing up. To avoid that, keep your knees and toes pointed to the outside of the rope.

High Striker

For over a century, men at county and state fairs across America have tested their he-man strength with High Striker. Sometimes they compete for a stuffed doll for their gal, and sometimes the prize is the manly pride of beating their buddies.

If you’ve been to a fair or carnival, you’ve seen this game. A carnie stands next to a tower, goading men to step on up and show off their manly strength. Contestants are handed a heavy mallet and instructed to hit a pad that will launch a small puck up a track (usually a metal rod) along the tower. The man who rings the bell at the top wins the prize.

Many men think the key to winning this game is strength. Big buff football dudes will take the mallet in their paws and swing it as hard as they can, only to see the puck get up to the “Puny Weakling” level on the Strength-O-Meter. Dejected, they hand the mallet to their shrimp of a friend, only to see him ring the bell with ease, as seen in Pride of the Yankees.

  • The most important factor is swing accuracy. While strength is necessary, you have to hit the pad directly in the center if you want to ring that bell.
  • Swing the mallet just as you would when splitting wood. There are two schools of thought on proper swing technique. The first and most prevalent is to swing the mallet just like you’re splitting wood. Start with your stronger hand towards the head of the mallet and your weaker hand as close to the end of the handle as possible. Bring the mallet up and over your head, and as you swing down towards the pad, your strong hand will slide down toward the end of the handle to meet your weaker hand. This technique gives you a bit more control and balance. The other school of thought is to hold the handle as near to the end as possible with both hands and just bring the mallet head directly over your head and swing down. Sort of like Mario in Donkey Kong. Give a slight flick of the wrists–like Lou Gehrig does in the clip–right before you hit the pad. This technique gives you more power, but you lose some control and, consequently, accuracy. Use whichever of the two techniques works for you.
  • Aim for the center of the pad. Remember, the center of the pad is the sweet spot.
  • Make sure the face of the mallet hits the pad squarely. If the mallet’s face is tilted when you hit the pad, you lose some of the oomph in your swing. You want the mallet face to hit the pad flatly and squarely.

Shoot the Star

What man can pass up a chance to show off his marksmanship skills with Shoot the Star? You’re given a BB gun and 100 BBs. The object of the game is to shoot out every bit of the red star off the target with just 100 BBs. It’s a difficult task, but doable with the right know-how.

  • Check the size of the star. Back in the 1980s, the FBI actually ran a study on the chances a player has of winning Shoot the Star. They determined that the game can be won if the diameter of the star is less than 1 and 1/2 inches. Your chances increase as the star gets smaller. Your best odds are when the star is an inch wide or smaller in diameter.
  • Check the type of paper. The type of paper the target is printed on is another factor in shooting out the star. If the target is printed on high fiber paper or linen, shooting out the star will be more difficult.
  • Self-zero the gun. The BB guns you’ll be using have probably seen years of wear and use, so they likely have flaws and don’t shoot straight. Some people think that carnies purposely bend the rifle barrels a bit so they don’t shoot true and straight. Either way, you’ll likely need to make adjustments in how you aim, so you can hit your intended target. You can do this quickly through self-zeroing. Aim right above the top point of the star and quickly fire 3-4 BBs. Check where the BBs actually hit. They probably didn’t hit where you aimed. To make up for that, you’ll need to adjust where you aim the gun so the BBs hit where you want them to hit. If the BBs hit a bit high and right of where you aimed, you’ll know you’ll need to aim down and to the left to hit your intended target. It might take a few shots to get used to this.
  • Shoot a circle around the star. This is the big secret to winning this game. When most people read the instructions–”All Red Star Must Be Shot from Card to Win a Prize”–the first thing they do is take aim at the center of the star and try to obliterate all the red, piece by piece, with their 100 BBs. This strategy is almost guaranteed to fail. There will almost always be just a wee bit of red left–one hanging red “chad” and you’re sunk. Instead of shooting out the red piece by piece, shoot a circle pattern around the star. You’re basically cutting the red star out in a circle with your pellets. Difficult? Definitely. You’ll need around a 90% accuracy rate to accomplish the task. But it’s not impossible. Just take it slow and use the tips above.

Flukey Ball

In Flukey Ball, contestants must bank a wiffle ball off a slanted board and into the basket below. Sounds easy enough, but don’t be deceived. This game is tricky. But with the right technique, you can dominate it and win oversized combs by the fistful.

First, understand that the size of the board, the board’s angle, the size of the basket, the weight of the ball, and your distance from the target will vary from fair to fair. You’ll need to adapt these tips to your game’s unique set-up and rules.

  • Ask if you can lean. The closer you can get to the board, the easier it is to get the ball into the basket. If you can lean over the railing, lean over as far as possible to increase your chances of sinking the shot.
  • Make sure you use the same ball as the carnie. Some unscrupulous carnies will demonstrate how easy it is to win by using a heavier wiffle ball. Heavier balls are more likely to land in the basket after banking off the board. Watch to see which ball the carnie uses. If you notice that he gives you something different than what he used, he probably gave you the lighter, regulation-weight wiffle ball. Ask if you can use his.
  • Just graze the board. There are two different techniques to win Flukey Ball. What they both have in common is the need to toss the ball as lightly as possible and to just graze the board with it. The first technique is called the High Toss method. Toss the ball as high as you can, but aim it so that on the downward arc it just grazes the middle of the board. The second technique is the High Bank method. Instead of hitting the board on the way down, you graze the top of the board as the ball is going up so that it arcs back down into the basket. Which method you use is a matter of preference.
  • Give it some front spin. Whether you use the High Toss or High Bank methods, to ensure your ball goes in, add a bit of frontspin as you release it.

Games to Avoid

While most of the complete scam games at carnivals and state fairs have been outlawed in many states, there are a few games still around that you should avoid, as they are often gaffed in a way that makes it impossible to win.

One Ball

One Ball is a popular state fair game that has bilked customers for decades.

Three old-fashioned looking milk bottles are stacked in a pyramid on top of a box. You’re given one throw with a softball to knock all three milk bottles off the box. It looks like if you hit the ball right in the middle of the triangular zone where the three bottles meet, the stack will come tumbling down. You give your hardest throw and make a direct hit, only to find a single bottle remaining on the box. Gaaaaa!!!! You club yourself over the head with a giant turkey leg in frustration.

Here’s how One Ball can be subtly gaffed so that it’s impossible for you to win.

The carnie will make one of the bottles heavier than the other two, but still light enough that it can be knocked off the table with a direct hit. When the carnie sets up the bottles, he’ll put the heavy bottle on the bottom row and slightly to the rear. When you throw your ball, it will hit the lighter bottles first, but won’t have enough energy to knock the heavy bottle off.

If people get suspicious, the carnie will show that it’s indeed possible to win with a quick demonstration. However, when he sets up the pyramid for himself, he’ll put the heavy bottle on top of the pyramid which makes it easy to knock all three bottles off if you hit the ball right in the middle of the pyramid.

The gaff is so hard to detect that it’s just not worth paying money to play this game.


Here’s the typical setup for Swinger: A wooden pin sits on a table. Above it hangs a ball suspended from a rope. The object of the game is to swing the ball past the pin and knock it over as it returns towards you. Easy, right?


If the pin is sitting directly under the hanging ball, it’s impossible to win. Here’s why.

In order to swing the ball past the pin first, you’ll have to swing the ball to the side of the pin in an arc. Basic physics says your ball will return in an arc the same distance from the pin on the return swing, meaning the ball will miss the pin completely on its way back.

If the pin is placed one inch to the right or left of the point where the ball hangs, then you have a chance to knock it over on the return swing. Carnies will often let you practice with this set-up so you’re fooled into thinking you can win. But when the throw actually counts, they’ll shift the pin directly underneath the point where the ball hangs. The shift is so small that it can be hard to detect.

Just avoid this game.

Illustrations by Ted Slampyak. Copyright Slampyak and McKay.