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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You can’t get ahead when you are trying to get even.

I go to school every weekday. I wake up early, I arrive on time, I pay attention, and I ask questions. After a full day of school I go to basketball practice for 2 hours. But then I get home and it is back to school work for the rest of the night. I enjoy learning and I like going to school, but as a hard working student, I am confused and intimidated by the notion that “America is in danger of falling behind.” Although I have heard of America’s seemingly lacking education, this article from the New York Times finally provides some facts. According to the PISA Standardized test, students in Shanghai scored the highest out of the 65 countries tested in math, science, and English. Disappointingly, the United States did not even make the top 10, or the top 20. According to this exam American students ranked 23rd.

Initially, I took these results too seriously, thinking that if the rigor with which I am studying is only earning my country 23rd place globally, I must be doing something wrong, right? Everyone must be doing something wrong. But then I thought why does my mentality have to be “us” against “them?” In English class we have been discussing the “other.” The “other” refers to those who are not considered the “norm” in their society. My class created a list of the accepted norms in the America society:

· White

· Christian

· Middle class

· Heterosexual

· English speaking

· A businessman

We had an honest discussion about what it is like to be on the outside of this preconceived “norm.” And we discovered that even lacking one of these qualities automatically puts you at risk of becoming an “other.” Labeling a group as the “other” has become a problem in the past years. For example, after 9/11 most people thought all Muslims were terrorists. Because there is not a lot of media around the Islamic culture, people start to believe this notion. Similarly, most people assume Asians are naturally smart. While it does seem that the Asian population takes education more seriously than other cultures, they are not smart merely because they are Asian. They are smart because they have worked hard to become so. I fear that we have already turned Asians into an “other” in terms of education. Instead of striving for perfection in our own school systems, we seem to keep creating excuses as to why places like China and Japan are better equipped for educational success. The same article as above provides some reasons as to why China scored so high on recent exams, “Chinese students spend less time than American students on athletics, music and other activities not geared toward success on exams in core subjects. Also, in recent years, teaching has rapidly climbed up the ladder of preferred occupations in China, and salaries have risen. In Shanghai, the authorities have undertaken important curricular reforms, and educators have been given more freedom to experiment.

My proposal is to try and combat thinking of things as “us” vs. “them.” Instead of fretting about the successes of the Chinese for their stellar test results, why not congratulate them? If the world truly is becoming extremely globalized, why not celebrate each other’s successes and learn from one and other. The article said that the Chinese are raising the teachers’ salaries and reforming teaching styles, why not try that here? We don’t have to make the same types of reforms as the Chinese, but we should make changes that will benefit us. I think we would like to believe that even though we are not as “smart” as the Chinese, we are better athletes or more well-rounded than our Asian counterparts, but that again creates the “us” vs. “them” mentality. If we dig a little deeper and try to learn more about the students who are scoring higher on their exams, we would probably learn that they are not that different than us. They probably have a favorite class, a favorite teacher, a teacher they don’t like, a crush that sits next to them in class. They probably get nervous before a big test and they probably are just as sleep deprived as us. In order to combat this “us” vs. “Them” thought, we need to start identifying what makes us similar. China is far away from the US, it is easy to create falsities about the country and its people, but what is the point in that?

Please leave your comments, questions, and insights. I am very interested in this topic and would love to hear your opinions as well!

Until next time…


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What’s Your Literary Diet?

Just as I am what I eat, I am what I read. Books fuel my mind and soul. When I finish reading a book, I usually feel satisfied, but in some cases I'm still hungry, and occasionally a book just doesn't sit well in my stomach. Although I don't follow any set literary diet, I have reaped the greatest benefits by reading extensively from a wide variety of materials. Every book I read is essential in its own way, and without the balance provided by each of their nutritional values, I think I would be malnourished. Of course, I can always eat better, but given the number of hours in my day, I strive to maintain a healthy intake and my soul seems to crave that which it needs. So, just as the food pyramid encourages robust physical health, perhaps there is a similar model for books — one that fosters optimal intellectual health.

Grains sit at the base of the pyramid. Most grains are filling and are a necessary staple to any diet. Books at the base of the reading pyramid are no different. I have read many staple books. The works of Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory come to mind; The Da Vinci Code and The Other Boleyn Girl are riveting and masterfully crafted. I admire "grain" books for their intricate story lines, well developed characters, and ability to connect me to the characters and feel everything that they experience. My Sister's Keeper is a perfect example of this. Picoult tied my heart to that book, making it a much more powerful read. Grain books are amazing pieces of literature, but they leave social, political, and racial injustices largely unexplored. So, just like the bread you get at a restaurant before the main course is meant to spark your appetite, reading grain books has encouraged me to find more detailed texts for deeper reading on subjects. For example, Philippa Gregory's stories about rags-to-riches monarchies were so fascinating that they ignited my interest in medieval history and royal lineage, and I have borrowed countless histories from the library trying to set the complex stories straight in my own mind.

Fruits and vegetables are just above grains in the food pyramid. I love fruits. The colors, textures, and tastes make each fruit unique. Each time I read a "fruit" book, I feel as if I have learned something from one of its qualities, be it the book's colorful language or characters, the sweetness or sourness of its message, or the intricate layers the author has crafted to create texture. I always finish a fruit book satisfied. My favorite such book is The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; I loved the author's use of multiple narrators to tell the story from varying perspectives. I also marveled at the extended metaphors that were developed throughout the text. Another favorite fruit book is The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, a wonderfully crafted narrative of a group of women and the bond they share. The allusions and imagery Diamant uses add another level to this epic novel from a unique point of view.

"Vegetable" books are the ones you don't always want to read, but you have to anyway. For me, vegetable books are the books about something that does not interest me. For example, Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder, was a thick text about philosophers. It took time to get used the style of writing, long chapters, and dull story line, but after I finished it, I could feel the vegetable-like benefits. I felt healthier for having read a book so far outside my usual diet. The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, was initially a vegetable book for me, as well. I didn't like the beginning of the book, had a very hard time believing the middle of the book, and was mad when the final plot twist happened and everything I had been told to believe was reversed. I didn't realize how powerful and engaging the writing had been until the book made this unexpected turn. I felt sympathy for the main character and finished the book with a much more open mind. The thing about vegetables – and vegetable books – is that they are rarely as bad as you initially make them out to be. Once you get used to their taste and experience their nutritional value, eating them doesn't seem like such a pain.

"Protein" books are deeply motivating stories, autobiographies about success and perseverance, or the books that make you think. They are meaty, dense with meaningful content that sticks with you. The first protein book I remember reading was Lance Armstrong's autobiography, It's Not About the Bike. Lance's vulnerable and honest voice inspired me to reevaluate the way I lived my life and the things I deemed important. The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria, was full of ideas about American culture and "the rise of the rest." It was an enlightening book about the changing of power globally. Protein books give you the power to question the world around you and insight into things that might need to be changed.

Dairy products come next as we move up the pyramid. Not all readers can tolerate "dairy" books. These stories tell the sad or unsettling tales of loss, loneliness, injustice, or desperation. Ceremony was hard to digest, but this beautifully crafted story by Leslie Marmon Silko opened my eyes to how cruel the United States has been to its minority veterans. It also shed light on the reasons behind Native American alcohol abuse and poverty. Toni Morrison's Beloved was similar, in that it highlighted a minority — African Americans — and provided new insight into the struggles they experienced. Although not everyone can tolerate these books, reading them helps us grow, overcome barriers, and stop perpetuating injustices.

At the tip of the pyramid are the fats. These delicious indulgences can be hard to avoid. My favorite "fat" novels are the books in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series; the quick, shallow text provides a necessary break after a stressful day. I don't advocate reading mass quantities of these books, but I think they are necessary in balancing one's reading diet.

My English class is reading, Reading Lolita in Tehran. When the government starts to ban certain books, in this novel, I couldn't help but think about how my "literary" diet would be affected if the United States censored what I read. Most of the books I mentioned above could be banned for a number of reasons: abuse of alcohol, polygamy, adultery, cheating, and premarital sex. My argument to those in favor of censoring literature is that they should keep in mind their literary diet. Just because the words on the list above are "immoral," does not make the reader immoral. In fact, I have gained much insight and perspective from "immoral" characters than from the model citizens. In order to be a healthy person, you need to nourish yourself with all the food groups. In order to nourish your mind, you need to read from all the different groups.

Until Next time,


Monday, November 29, 2010

“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning”

Take a moment to think about stereotypes that you or the people around you place onto people you see in passing, celebrities on TV, or maybe even entire countries. Everyone knows stereotyping is wrong, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to do it….Here is a TED talk about the dangers of a single story. If you have a few moments, watch it!

In English class, we are reading, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It takes place after the Islamic Revolution when strict laws were placed on the Iranian citizens. There are many

anecdotes about the oppressive government and unfair ways which are only magnified by the seemingly bright past that Iran once had. The book describes a time, prior to 1979 when Iran was one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. For example, women were encouraged to get a college education, people were allowed to listen to whatever music they wanted and watch whatever TV shows they desired. They could go on dates, party and the women did not have to wear the robe and head scarf.

Through my research on Middle Eastern women and Reading Lolita in Tehran it is clear that Iranian women can NOT be stereotyped, they are all too different. In the book, Nafisi talks about the women coming to her class (held in her living room) and as they shed their robes and head scarves, "splashes of colors separate one from the next. Each has become distinct through the color and style of her clothes, the color and the length of her hair" (Nafisi 4). When a whole population of women wears the same thing outside of their homes, a black robe and head scarf, it becomes difficult to remember that underneath all that fabric is an individual.

It is not an easy task to place yourself in someone else's shoes, but I ask you to try. Take a moment and think about a time when you were stereotyped. How did it make you feel? How did you respond to their assumptions? After being stereotype are you more conscience not to stereotype others? (please comment with your experiences!)

I am sure people have stereotyped me many times, but one that always comes to mind is the "you are so good at basketball because you are tall" stereotype. Throughout 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade people always assumed that I was a good basketball player because of my height. Yes, I understood why they would say that, but there assumptions still diminished all the long hours I spent practicing my dribbling and shooting. At first, I would laugh and not defend the hard work that merited my basketball achievements, but as the years passed I started to tell people that I practiced every day and that my height only helped my basketball abilities, it did not define them. Although this example isn't as severe as the stereotyping Muslim women are subjected to, there are many similarities between the two cases, being the lack of understanding and knowledge around the topic.

Here is an excerpt from a website about Muslim women:

What comes to your mind when you think of a Muslim woman? A mysterious, veiled victim of
male oppression, awaiting Western liberation? A slogan-shouting terrorist? An uneducated foreigner with whom you have little or nothing in common? Unless your social circle includes Muslim friends and acquaintances, the chances are t
hat your impressions of Muslim women have largely been formed by negative media stereotypes - images that usually have little to do with real life, and may have been designed to attract more viewers, sell more products, or gain support for someone's political agenda.

Here is a picture of Iranian women in their robes and head scarves, take a moment to really look at them.

Although there are similarities between these four women, look at the individuality that each of them possesses. Be it the shape or color of their sunglasses, the style of their purses, the style of their hair, the hint of color on their lips, or fit of their robe, these women are each unique. I hope you approach all people, ideas, and places that seem strange, different, or foreign to you with an open mind. Instead of stereotyping, research.

Until next time…


Monday, November 15, 2010

Be the CHANGE you wish to see in the world

"We must become the change we want to see in the world," these powerful words were spoken by Mahatma Gandhi. I have heard this quote countless times (as I am sure you have too). It is to-the-point, powerful, and easy to remember. But when was the last time you really thought about being the change you wish to see in the world?

…I worry about the depletion of water, but besides turning off my faucet when I brush my teeth, I haven't altered my water usage to being more efficient. I worry about global warming, but I still drive my car places that I could walk to….

The list could continue, but this past week I experienced how empowering it can be to be the change you wish to see in the world. My class is vying to win the Can Food Drive contest at our school (this is done by bringing in the most cans). In years past, all of my classmates, like me, had participated in the Can Food Drive, but on an uncommitted level. This year is different. Our class is committed to collecting cans in our houses, buying cans at the store with any extra money we have, and asking for the help of our families and neighbors. My class has brought in hundreds of cans, all of which will be donated to the local food pantry providing for the needy families in our neighborhood.

Hunger is a problem that many wish to eliminate, but like conserving water or saving the planet, it is never on the forefront of our minds. I always thought that bringing in a few token cans for the food drive was doing my part in the fight against hunger, but if I don't go out of my way to bring in as many cans as possible, then who will? That is the mindset that we need to have while resolving issues…me/you/we need to be the first to change in order for others to follow.

Think about this:

"The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."

~Vince Lombardi

Take a moment to think about something you have been fully committed too. Think about the effects of the commitment…

Now think about a time when you half-heartedly did something. Think about the effects of the lack of commitment….

(Please comment about either a time when you were committed or when you were not!)

Being committed to the Can Food Drive has made me happy. Sure, winning the contest would be nice, but the process of buying into an idea, or in this case event, has magnified the implications of how fulfilled I feel for contributing to the best of my abilities.

On a similar note…

My class had the honor of meeting Carl Wilkens a few weeks ago. Mr. Wilkens was the only American to stay in Rwanda during the Rwandan genocide. He came to my school and talked to us about his time in Rwanda. Mr. Wilkens saved many lives while in Rwanda by helping many people get food and providing a safe place to live. He was faced with adversity, loss, and obstacles. It would have been easy to move out of Rwanda, but he was committed to helping, and the best way he knew how to do that was to stay. His actions are honorable, heroic, and inspiring.

As a student who is always looking for a way to help better the world…but never really knowing how to make a big impact… hearing Mr. Wilkens's story and participating in the Can Food Drive have been outlets to think about how I can, "be the change I wish to see in the world." I believe that quote is a big part of education. Yes, we go to school to learn about reading, writing, math, and science, but like I said in my older post, that is only half of it. School teaches us how to communicate, problem solve, time manage, work with others, respect others opinions and defend our own opinions. Mr. Wilkens optimizes the things one can accomplish with a good head on their shoulders. Likewise, the Can Food Drive is proving to be something that has expanded the boundaries of our classroom. We are working together to optimize our can buying power, we are communicating by sending buyers to Costco with everyone's money, and we have been problem solving by trying to find sponsors.

The Can Food Drive and Carl Wilkens changed the way I think and have opened my eyes to the impact one can have if they are committed. You don't have to commit to a lot of things, but find something that makes you happy, and pursue that to the best of your abilities.

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful"

~Herman Cain

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comparing Apples and Oranges

In the novel Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, the reader gets to experience two separate cultures, American and Congolese, simultaneously. Many large cultural clashes take place, from religious views to clothing choice.

My Perspective…As a teenager growing up in Illinois, it is interesting to see how the American missionary family, the Prices, is adapting to the very foreign Congolese culture. There are many opportunities as a reader to ask how I would respond in certain situations. One large difference was the clear distinction between the way the Prices raise their kids and the way that the children in the Congo are raised.

My friend Jenna posted a blog about this quote from the novel: “It struck me what a wide world of difference there was between our sort of games… and [a native boy‘s]… I could see that the whole idea and business of Childhood was nothing guaranteed… [It is] invented by white people and stuck onto the front end of a grown-up life like a frill on a dress” (Kingsolver 114). I think the discrepancies in the definition of childhood should be explored, and I think Poisonwood Bible provides the perfect context.


The Prices have 4 girls when they venture to Africa and one of them dies while they are there. Kingsolver spent a lot of time throughout the book developing the differences in the Price children compared to those of the Congolese; the games the kid’s play, the chores they do, and the clothes they wear. Also, every few chapters, there was the telling of another Congolese funeral (if you could call it that) for their children. Kingsolver uses very descriptive and sensory rich language to describe the mourning. Until the point when one of the Price daughters dies, this American family had seemed immune to the dark side of Africa. However, once she dies, the mother mourns in a similar way as the Congo women, and although it is a very sad part, it exemplifies the vulnerability of ALL children. It finally brings the Price children onto the same level as the Congo children.

So What?

This made me question, which cultures method for raising children is correct?

In America, by the time a child is 17 parents have spent about $200,000 on them. Factor in college tuition, and the cost of a child is astronomical. Here is a link to an article that talks more about the cost of raising a kid. In Western society, childhood is a time to be innocent, to be worry free, go to school, explore hobbies, and to think that you have all the opportunities in the world ahead of you. Although very different, the Congolese childhood promotes responsibility, independence, and resourcefulness. Is one better than the other?

Because the Congo is very different than America, comparing the childhoods is like comparing apples and oranges. However, the Poisonwood highlights some chilling differences that no child should have to experience. In one passage, a young Congolese girl says she is leaving school. When asked why she says to work at night with Mother. It is then stated that that entails being a prostitute. She is about ten.

The only similarity that these two cultures seem to share is the fact that both childhoods try to prepare the kids for adulthood. It is a vicious cycle for the Congolese, because although these children are taught to survive, they are not taught how to thrive and how to make a better life for themselves. Girls often get pregnant young; miss out on an education, and then get married (usually before they are eighteen.) The society does not know how to function outside of those parameters and that is why education is vital in areas like these. Here is one telling example of the impact of education:

Women with primary education are significantly less likely to be married/in union as children than those who received no education. In Zimbabwe, 48 per cent of women who had attended primary school had been married by the age of 18, compared to 87 per cent of those who had not attended school (UNICEF estimates based on DHS 1999).” (For more interesting facts from UNICEF, go here!)

This is a very telling fact, and it leads me back to education and its importance. Education fosters excitement, exploration, questioning, and discovery. Can anyone argue the benefits that that would bring to a society? Imagine how much third world countries would prosper if education was accessible and promoted to all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

“Next to a sincere compliment, I think I like a well-deserved and honest rebuke.” ~William Feather

William Feather was successful editor in Cleveland, Ohio. His quote, "Next to a sincere compliment, I think I like a well-deserved and honest rebuke" is one that I think should be explored by people who have the power to influence others. I cannot count the number of times that a teacher has graded my work without sharing with me the reasons behind their opinions. In certain cases, I have received the top grade. Although that is always exciting, sometimes I make comments or connections that I hope the teacher sees as insightful or at least note worthy. On the other hand, there have been times when I have received a failing score with no explanation.


I still remember a 5th grade assignment where my class was required to make an "All About Me Book," consisting of information about our favorite hobbies, vacations, memories, etc. I don't remember what I talked about, but I remember my teacher praising my creativity, I think she even used my book as an example to my classmates. I remember feeling motivated to continue to do the best work I was capable of, because I enjoyed the way my hard work was received by my teacher. Similarly, I remember writing a short story for my sophomore English teacher. I turned in the first draft, confident that it was a quality short story. It was not. Luckily, it was graded only for completion, but more importantly, my teacher took time to give me criticism and compliments to aid in the process of rewriting. He told me to elaborate on imagery, develop the characters, and leave the reader with strong emotions. I remember being frustrated because I couldn't imagine fitting all of those elements into a SHORT story. His constructive criticism showed me HE had faith in my story and that with some reworking it could be something great. This motivated me. Instead of requiring one rewrite, he required many and only graded it when he thought it was our best work. I looked through my records and found the final version of this assignment and one of the first drafts. Even to this day, I smile at the final draft because I was able to learn a lot and submit a final product that I was proud of.

Both of these teachers had something in common: Interest. Interest in communicating with their students, interest in helping students understand the difference between good work and great work, interest in connecting with the student, interest is caring about the student's success. In a large class, I am always motivated by my teachers interest, be it in my assignments, my well-being, or my extracurricular activities, I like knowing that my teacher cares about me, and finds me interesting enough to get to know.

One definition of interest is, to cause a personal concern; induce to participate. Ways that people can show interest are, like William Feather stated, through a sincere compliment or through criticism. If neither of the two is given, what will motivate the student to continue to work hard? For some students, good grades are enough incentive to keep trying hard, but some students need someone to show interest in their work in order to be interested in it themselves.

Personal Story….

When I started my blog, I was excited that people would read my thoughts. However, after posting my second post all I could think of was who will want to read this? What makes my thoughts so important? I am grateful for all of the comments that I got on my blog about The Other Side of Learning; they have motivated me to write each post with care and consideration. Also, knowing that someone is reading what I am writing and more importantly, they care enough to comment on my opinions tells me that what I am writing is worthwhile.

For most students, criticism = mad grade. This article examines the difference between teachers nurturing their students and babying them with too many meaningless compliments. The happy medium for me is my story from above about my sophomore English teacher. When I wasn't afraid of failure or a bad grade, I was more receptive to constructive criticism. I knew that he had my best interest in mind throughout the assignment. I knew that he was interested in helping me understanding how to succeed rather than pointing out all the flaws in my writing. In a world where students are more concerned with grades and teachers are critical of the work their students are submitting, everyone needs to remember where their interests should lie. Teachers should be interested in motivating their students to succeed and they should be interested in finding ways to relate to each and every student (this means they have to show interest in each and every student). Students need to be interested in learning, not the final grade. If both parties stay true to their end of the deal, both sides should walk away feeling accomplished.

Here are some quotes to consider…

"He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help"~Abraham Lincoln

"Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them."~Unknown

Until next time…


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recurring Themes

“Change must always be balanced with some degree of consistency” ~Ron D. Burton. The Poisonwood Bible, the book I am currently reading in my English class is a perfect example of the importance of keeping certain things consistent while changing others; I will refer to these consistent things as recurring themes. For example, the author, Barbara Kingsolver, describes many things as either black or white. White represents cleanliness, purity, western thinking etc. Black represents dirtiness, primitiveness, Congolese people etc. Stylistically, she tells the story through different narrators, but manages to give each narrator a unique voice and personality. She alludes to the differences between Western culture and Congolese culture. Besides these main themes, Christianity, patriarchy, justice, independence, and growing up are all recurring themes in this novel. In a nutshell, even with all the variety in Kingsolver’s writing, she maintains certain themes not only to further her story, but to make it better. People learn to understand concepts, ideologies, perspectives, and attitudes when they are exposed to them more than once. This idea is successful in novels, but it also holds true in the real world.

Last week’s post and the wonderful comments I received in response to my post made me realize that not everyone has the same “recurring themes” in their lives that I do. This would cause us to have differing “most important things I have learned in school” lists. The characteristics that you develop at home correlate directly to your approach on education. That is why, like in literature, recurring themes at home are important factors in constructing an excited, curious, and open-minded mindset towards school. If you have not already guessed, my family has had a very positive impact on my outlook towards education.

Growing up, my parents asked me what my homework was, they helped me with some math problems, and they quizzed me Thursday nights for Friday’s spelling test. I know that already the tasks listed above exceed things that some peoples’ parents do, but for me, the activities above just scratched the surface. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were very sneaky in the ways that they fostered my passion for learning and my ability to excel in school. For example, they asked questions that made me think comprehensively about what I was learning which in turn taught me how to respond to their questions concisely and thoroughly. As a result, I grew comfortable communicating with my parents. The confidence I gained from explaining things to my parents, in the comfort of my home, translated to explaining those same ideas to my teachers and classmates at school.

My mom made sure my siblings and I were always reading. We went to the library and she let us check out whatever books interested us. Yet, she also encouraged us to talk to the librarians when we needed help finding a book (again with the communication skills) and to use librarians as resources for suggesting books as well as accessing research material found in the library. My love of reading strengthened my vocabulary, and the more I read the more advanced information I understood. In an article about early childhood education, this fact is stated, “By the 1st grade, children from "linguistically advantaged" homes have four times as many vocabulary words as youngsters from disadvantaged homes do. Reading is SO important on SO many levels, such as acquiring knowledge about the world around us and also the fact that reading other people’s ideas and stories helps you to discover a lot about yourself as well.

Another skill I learned early on was listening to directions and explanations. My parents, for example, showed me how to tie my shoes. They gave me riddles to remember and explained any questions I had, but they made sure I was the one who taught myself in the end. In this essay about education, “kindergarten teachers reported that about half of their children are unable to follow or understand directions and show a lack of required skills.” Teaching kids how to listen and complete a task is vital to learn at home, because the teacher will have a hard time teaching something if the kid has not been disciplined to listen and accomplish tasks given.

The last thing that I discovered before going to school was cooperation. Having 3 other siblings, I had to learn how to play with them nicely, I had to learn to compromise, and I had to learn to stand up for myself when I thought my brother or sisters were being unfair to me. My parents taught us to solve our problems with words, and for the most part, my parents stay out of sibling fighting and interactions because they want us to problem solve without their help. In homes that don’t have these communication lines open for problem solving, the stronger kids usually result to violence and the quieter kids usually become introverted and shy away from sharing or defending their ideas.

My examples could go on and on. I am so lucky to be growing up in such a nurturing environment, but it should be stated that the kids that don’t have a home where they can learn these things, are not lost causes by any means. Once a student knows that they have someone counting on them, cheering for them, helping them, and watching them, they are more likely to put forth an effort. Even if it is not a parent, teachers, coaches, advisors, and friends can fill the void. Like literature, life is better when there are recurring themes. So make it your goal to be there for someone else and reinforce a theme, be it communicating, listening, reading, asking questions, or problem solving.

Until next time…


Monday, October 4, 2010

The Other Side of Learning

Education is important. As an adolescent going through the school system, I can honestly say that school is preparing me to become a contributing member of society not just a knowledgeable person. Many people think that the point of going to school is to learn math, science, reading, and writing, but that is only half of the truth. The famous quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination” can be applied to the idea of education; education is a journey, not a destination.

The most important things I have learned in school are as follows (in no particular order):

1. I learned how to listen
2. I learned how to work with my peers (both smarter and less smart than myself)
3. I learned how to communicate with adults
4. I learned how to articulate my ideas
5. I learned how to ask questions
6. I learned how to ask for help
7. I learned how to manage my time
8. I learned the importance of integrity
9. I learned how to defend my opinions
10. I learned how to respect other people’s opinions
11. I learned how to be social
12. I learned how to study
13. I learned how to solve problems
14. I learned to think creatively

The process of learning things has taught me more about the world, people, and myself than any lecture has ever done. A population without this rite is at a great disservice, because if the youth don’t learn about these important aspects of their lives before they are brainwashed by the thinking’s of their society then when will they learn?

In English class we have been reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. I came across this passage and I was saddened by its implications, “crowds of boys from our village and the next one over come straggling in for their education. It’s only the boys, and not all of them either, since most of the parents don’t approve of learning French or the other foreign element in general” ( 126). One thing that strikes me in this passage is that all of the boys don’t go to school. Later on in the passage Rachel (the speaker) says, “by the time they are twelve or so, their education is over and out.” I understand that boys and girls are expected to help keep the village functioning, but if a little more time and effort were invested into education then the village could greatly benefit from increased efficiency and higher technology. Another thing I noticed was the parent’s rejection of education. They are stuck in a vicious cycle. The parents are only repeating what they did as children, but societies like these need education. The amounts of good that a sound education could provide for places like this are endless. The most disheartening thing about this passage was the fact that girls are neglected an education. I know how different their lives could be if they were educated. I draw a lot of my confidence from the knowledge and schooling that I have. I am able to talk to anyone, man or women, professor or waiter because I have confidence in my ability to articulate my ideas, confidence to defend my ideas, and the confidence that I deserve their time. People believe what they are taught, and if you are taught that your role in the family is to cook, clean, and bear children, then that becomes your personal narrative. However, if you are able to go to school and be exposed to different cultures, ideologies, and experiences or if you are able to be taught by someone who harnesses your potential then the course of your life could be incredibly altered. For me, my mind has been opened by studying the craft behind language and I have been empowered by teachers who have pushed me to my intellectual limits.

The oppression of girls around the world is scary, as I was reading about women in Saudi Arabia, I found this bit of information from A Human Rights Watch report (July 8, 2009). Saudi law “requires Saudi women to obtain permission from male guardians (fathers, husbands, brothers, or male children) before they can carry out a host of day-to-day activities, such as education, employment, travel, opening a bank account, or receiving medical care.” Imagine if your life was manipulated by someone else, someone who might not always have your best interests in mind? The scarier thought though, is that these women might not realize the injustices that they are living in. Because it is the norm in Saudi Arabia to be subordinate to males how could women know to expect more? Education is the answer to that question, and the opportunity for both boys and girls to be educated would make the world a better place, I guarantee it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.

In the technological revolution, it seems that almost everyone has a voice. Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other information filled websites have grown exponentially in the past few years. Average people are starting to record their daily histories. From news anchors to soccer moms to celebrities; people are sharing their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about life with the world. The amount of information is overwhelming, but the ease and quantity at which people are sharing is a marvel. As a senior in high school, I am exposed and well versed in most of these media forums. There are liberal perspectives, conservative perspectives and informative perspective on the happenings of the world, but I have always felt that there is a group of under represented people. For example, how do the laws passed in Washington effect people in California, how do families in third world countries deal with hunger, and what does it feel like to be a woman in the Middle East? Of course, there are many other questions and voices that I will blog about, and I hope to provide an interesting perspective into the lives of the often overlooked.

I am not guaranteeing answers to any of these questions, but I will present resources and insight in order to highlight a new perspective on issues that are currently in the news and issues that should currently be in the news. There are many preconceived notions about different religions, races, countries, ideas, and practices in this world that I ask you to read my blog with an open mind. In today’s world, many individuals, groups and even countries are trying to get people to understand them and I am proposing that we do the opposite; lets seek to understand, not to be understood.

On that note, I look forward to our journey together!

Until next time,