Midnight Musings: The I of id

Author’s note: At the time of this writing it is past the Witching Hour, and thus I am completely within my legal bounds to disregard all responsibility for the content and, more specifically, the coherency of the following. I don’t make a hell of a lot of sense on a handful of hours of sleep.

Academia has been put on hiatus, if that hasn’t been apparent from the distinct lack of entries in the last several weeks. On the off chance that those articles were actually of interest to any readers, I apologize for their absence, and can claim only a lack of subject material and motivation for its cause.

Today, though, I want to take a more introspective look. It’s what I’m best at – I’m severely introverted myself, and I spend far too much time thinking and reflecting and generally disregarding the world around and outside of me. En Tequila is advertised as a blog about, among other things, truth and skepticism and such fun things. So let’s take a break from our usual curb-stomping of modern politics or attempts to overturn the constructs that have been responsible for our evolution since we grew our own branch on the proverbial genetic tree, and talk about something a bit more abstract.

Who are you?

Classic question, is it not? Specifically, though, I wanted to examine, how our knowledge of ourself, how our awareness, changes us. How we change ourself. How knowing that we can change ourselves, changes ourselves. See the spiral?

But let me back up. I was reading through those fun little astrology horoscope books, that is supposed to tell you all about yourself according to your sign, or sometimes specifically your day of birth, even the time. Now, do I necessarily buy the accuracy of astrology? No. Do I read horoscopes for anything but laughs? Absolutely not. Still, there are only so many times when I can read a description of a Virgo and find myself so meticulously defined. However, how does reading these change your perception of yourself? Whether you believe them or not, and whatever source they might be, does realizing you possess a certain trait, quirk, or character “flaw” change you due to your knowledge of it? Maybe it’s not the stars – perhaps its a break-up, and learning that they’re leaving you because you’re a psychotic control freak, or maybe its having someone tell you what a great listener you are; when we are confronted with ourselves, presented with a mirror and are allowed to glimpse our reflection, does that in itself change what we see? While there are so many mirrors we encounter in life, we’ll continue along this astrological vein.

For example. Let’s say that I read about how “typical” Virgo’s are very deep thinkers, how they tend to plan out everything. Their exacting nature can rob them of spontaneity, as they prefer to plan things out, analyze and criticize them. Now I examine myself, having read this, and recall times as a young child when I would stand in the store toy aisle for almost the entire time my mother was shopping, trying to decide what toy I want to ask for. Weighing the pros and cons of this or that action figure – this one has voice buttons, but that one has flexible joints. The simplest of decisions have always been made difficult due to analysis paralysis. So, having read this as a common trait of Virgos, and perhaps in some desperate attempt to “break the system”, to be undefined, I decide (after much consideration) to try to be more spontaneous. So, next time, I grab a toy at random, without even looking at it until I put it in the cart.

So, was it only my knowledge of how I think and make decisions, that changed me? Does that make me a “different” person for it? However, doesn’t the fact that I chose to be spontaneous kind of defeat the purpose? That I grabbed the toy at random, only after I considered it, and even though I knew that I would, indeed, be choosing a toy? It chases itself in circles, really.

Enough about me and astrology, though. The point I’m trying to get to, is what do we gain by examining ourselves? What is the cost? Does it really change us? In what ways? Is that change something good, something desirable?

Let’s take a different case. Frank here has a hard time letting things go – he always stands up for himself, even when he knows he’s wrong. He’ll shove if you push, and he won’t hold his tongue over etiquette. Perhaps, then, he realizes this, or is told this by a friend, a co-worker, maybe his brother. So, does he choose, then, to try to be more considerate? Or does he accept it as “who he is” and goes with it, perhaps even emphasizing those traits? If he goes with it, perhaps it makes matters worse; now Frank not only stands up for himself in a confrontation, but will actively seek conflict in which he can defend himself. Or, he goes the other direction, and decides to hold his tongue even when he knows that he is actually in the right, but is too afraid that he’ll return to “that part” of him again.

Practice makes perfect, but no one is perfect, so why practice? If no one is perfect, should we accept our “flaws”, as we perceive them? Our shortcomings, or perhaps just traits, neither good or bad in and of themselves, that we don’t like? We just accept them as part of us, and we are powerless to change it, and should not even if we could. Or do we try to change? Do we try to move ourselves towards our individual “ideal” self, even if it goes against your nature?

Know thyself? How does one know itself? Does knowing thyself, change thyself? What kind of self would thy be if you didn’t try to change or know it?

What is the definition of yourself? To what extent are your personality traits a decision you make, or a decision made for you? Can people ever really, truly change of their own accord? Or must they force change upon them?

I know several things about myself, both good and bad. I know that I can be generous, nice, and understanding – to a fault. I know that I am modest, that much of my humor is self-deprecating in an attempt to avoid egotism and arrogance, as well as having the experience that everyone likes laughing with someone who can laugh at themselves. What do I decide to try to change, if anything? At what point do we become unhappy with a part of ourselves – where do we make ourselves a “better” person? Why should we even think that can be achieved?

Just some brain food to munch on while you all enjoy the more productive and coherent entries in this blog.

edit: Thank you, blake, for pointing out my little astronomy/astrology mix-up. I’m incoherent enough as it is without using improper terminology. Fixed that particular transgression.

Always question.
-Kaden

Kaden: Seeking Aid!

Hey readers!

No attempting-to-be-insightful blog posts today, I have a straight-up favor to ask. I was supposed to write something for this contest hosted by Urban Fantasy Writers. The goal was to re-write a historical speech (i.e., “I have a dream”) with an UF twist.

I need a speech.

Any favorites?

In particular, I was thinking about re-writing one of Hitler’s speeches, since it would set up well for a human vs vampire or something set-up. However, I don’t know much about such things, and I’ve been swamped with little details like, uh, graduating. So if you faithful readers could do me a solid, I’d be forever in your debt.

If anyone could suggest a historical speech, preferably with a link to a copy of the text or something. Then I can write something off it. I know that I should be doing the research myself, and feel free to scold me for my lack thereof, but I wanted to finish this. The deadline is this weekend. Don’t worry about the writing part, I’ll get it done. I just need some good source material.

Thanks, all.

Academia: Age of Intelligence

by Kaden Darez, Senior Teen Correspondent for En Tequila Es Verdad.

Author’s note: I was going to save this for a Carnival. Looking over it, I don’t really know if it has a point or not. It was something I typed up a while ago. So I’m posting it.

The age of intelligence. Anyone here hoping to find some deep insight on the time of intellect, you may be disappointed. If you are wishing to read about the trials and tribulations of culture, of arrogant ignorants struggling to come to terms with the concept that there is someone smarter than them, then you’re close but not quite on the mark. This is not about the era of intelligence, but rather the age of the individual in question.

What is the age of an intelligent person?

As a few of you might have realized by now, I am young. I am eighteen years old. A teenager. A run-of-the-mill slacker who won’t stay off the lawn and doesn’t value his education and wears his jeans so low that his pockets are held up by his knees. Right?

I dare you to say that to my face. Not for want of intimidation, but so that you can see my eyes, so that you can hear my words. I am not a faceless individual, I am not just another drop of water in a raging storm. I am a unique human being, and I have as many opinions, as shallow or as deep as anyone else. Oh, and I wear my pants correctly.

Why do we assume that those of young age are not intelligent? Why do we assume that hunched over senior citizens are equally blind to the world that surrounds them? Of course, not everyone does, but when was the last time you sat down with someone with a few generations between you and had an insightful conversation, when you were not trying to prove a point, or tell stories about going to school in the snow, barefoot, walking uphill both ways, but rather, when you were trying to actually learn something?

Certainly, there are plenty of examples amongst my peers of minds so dim they couldn’t illuminate a matchbox, but don’t go pointing out examples of stupidity and ignorance in my generation, when our current president is from yours.

My favorite thing to do at family reunions, weddings, holidays, or any formal occasion with a myriad of adults talking amongst themselves, is to simply engage in a conversation. Often, the scene plays out with them asking me a typical opening line, because I’m family and they have to be nice:

Adult: “So, what grade are you in?

Because of course, admitting that I am still in school, in high school and certainly not the elevated status of a college student, automatically denotes me as inferior, less intelligent, lacking morals and values and appreciation for everything my parents have worked so hard to provide me. So I tell them what year I’m in, which is usually followed by an equally anonymous,

Adult: “What classes are you taking?

Now right about…. there ^ is where the eyes glaze over. They press pause on their expression, keeping that phony smile on their face so they can feign interest, waiting for me to answer with some usual, “stuff” or “I dunno” that is the typical response of my childhood comrades.

If you look carefully, you can see the cogs in their brain spinning freely, not paying attention, no individual gear connected to another one in the context of this conversation. Whatever you tell them doesn’t even get the liberty of going in one ear, before going out the other. Rather, it simply is batted away by thoughts of their next margarita, and my responses usually go cartwheeling right past their ear, screaming indignantly but with all the efficiency of an autumn leaf in a hurricane. Still, I try, and smile and say,

Teenager: “Oh, just a few classes. Twentieth century History and Literature, Theory of Knowledge, AP Biology II, Japanese IV and AP Calculus.

That usually gets their attention, if they have enough brain power to light an LED. If not, then they usually pat me on the head with an, “Oh, P.E., that’s nice,” and make their way to the nearest food source. Still, I have some fairly bright people in my family tree, so I have had the wonderful experience of launching into a conversation, not only about what I’m learning but about what the adult knows, and we end up teaching each other. Isn’t that what learning is all about?

Now, in the post by our wonderful friend NP, she stated that,

“Students today put no value on their education.”

I can only extend my sympathies and sorrows that students don’t realize we have people like NP around, but in rebuttal to her statement, I ask, How are we to be expected to value our education, our intelligence, if adults don’t take us seriously? Sure, our teachers and principals expect us to learn and to thrive in an academic environment, and our parents certainly demand high performance, but when you are taken out of a strictly educational environment, we’re just those damned skateboarders again.

It’s quite a paradox, really, that we are often considered of less intelligence, fewer morals, and wilder behavior given certain trends in society. I will be the first to admit that Myspace and Facebook and YouTube play a part in diluting our gene pool, but those tools can also be used in productive ways. Presidential debates, for example, were posted on Youtube for all to see. Facebook is a wonderful networking tool that has been used to schedule large-scale study groups in preparation for AP and IB tests.

Here’s an example: I have been told by my family how I squander my education, yet if I were to set down my Calculus homework in front of them, none of them would be able to give me a derivative or an integral of a simple binomial equation. If I quiz them about the difference between monocot and dicot plants and how you can tell the difference, I get a blank stare. If I ask them about how the Cuban Missile Crisis was averted, I’d get a few general answers but usually not a whole lot of detail about the role of Kruschev, or why a few missiles in Turkey were important to the concluding negotiations.

Now, I’m just cherry-picking here, but it’s merely demonstrating how most of what we’ve learned in school, our parents have either forgotten or were never taught in the first place. I could go on, but I want to keep this fairly on topic: that youngin’s have the capacity for intelligence, but we’re constantly not taken seriously by the adult community.

We are the future, my friends, whether that is a bright prospect or a looming apocalypse. We are also a product of your opinions, the way you treat us and the way we respond. Give us the chance to prove our worth. You might be surprised what you find.

Dana was.

And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

(Still open to ideas about a unique sign-off)

Kaden: A few quick updates

Hey bloggers!

Well, our wonderful hostess should be picking from the dozen or so options for a banner for the Carnival right about now. In the meantime, a few orders of business.

I wanted to post the fourth segment in the Academia series, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to bore everyone with accounts of my experience that has no valuable insights. Perhaps if there is anything in particular that people would like to hear more about? I’m not sure what an eighteen year old would know that would interest the general population but I got a few comments on my earlier posts, so there must be someone other than Dana slogging through all this crap I write.

Next, before the Carnival gets right under way, I wanted to invite you all to a preliminary round of applause for our wonderful Dana, for being the flag carrier and putting this carnival together! I figure that my hoorah’s might go buried beneath the various contributions, so I’m abusing my godly powers of co-blogger and taking the initiative! Ha!

In addition to Dana, thank you to those who helped out with suggestions for the banner, names for the celebrated egg heads, and our awesome badge-maker.

So as preparations come to their close, I hope everyone has fun. This carnival could have some implications for me; see, with the people I know, the high school and virtual environment I saunter through, and the generation I’m growing up in, Dana hit the nail on the head when she explained how elitism is seen in a negative light. At first I thought that this carnival was supposed to be mocking elitists, because the idea of celebrating them was entirely foreign to me, so this should be quite an experience! I look forward to everyone’s contributions.

And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

(I have got to get my own sign-off phrase…)

Academia: Grade Inflation

Academia Series:
Part One
Part Two

In the world of business economics, inflation is defined as a general increase in the cost of goods and/or services. In education, grade inflation is the general rise in the expected standard grade level of students, which is accompanied by an uneven difficulty in achieving said expectations.

Everyone is familiar with the standard letter grade system in most American high schools. A through F (excluding E), these grades are supposed to gauge the student’s performance in class, which is usually derived from a combination of factors such as attendance, in-class focus and participation, homework, and test scores.

Now, not too long ago, straight-A students were part of the rare elite, the best-of-the-best valedictorians who seemed to know everything anyone could ever need to. This is because C was actually considered “average”. It was the baseline, the starting point. A C was what you used to get when you did an okay job – something that every student should, with only a little effort, be able to achieve. B was above-average. They tried a little bit harder, they studied longer, but a B was a good grade. Bright students were B averages. An A was “exceeding expectations”. “A” students went the extra mile. They aced most of the tests, they turned in all the homework, they were early to class every day. It took effort to get an A in some classes.

These days, however, parents are constantly expecting more from their kids. Now, a C is a “bad” grade. You’re not trying hard enough. You can do better. B’s have become the new average, though many parents still consider it to be barely “acceptable”. Now, A is the goal, and often the expectation.

In some classes, it has become easier to get an A. If you show up on time, you turn in all the assignments, and you study for the tests, it’s expected that you’ll get an A. Many teachers now grade homework based on if you tried, even if you didn’t get all the questions right, leading to an easier grading system. Other teachers provide lots of extra credit and easy opportunities, knowing that many of the students want and expect an A. Students will sometimes freak out if they are not getting an A.

Other teachers, however, do not buy in to grade inflation. Shindledecker, the amazing Biology teacher who was mentioned before, believed that a B or a C grade was still good, that it was a heartfelt effort on the part of the student. When we took his tests, he felt that all students should feel challenged by the test, so I cannot recall a single test where even one student got 100%. He said, “If you get 100% on everything, you shouldn’t be in this class.” There were even questions that he would get wrong on his own tests. So the tests were difficult, the homework was involved and required actual thought. If half the class only got a C, he felt that was as it should be. It shouldn’t be easy to get an A, because then it robs from those who actually try hard to do so.

So where does that leave us students? What effect does it have on the teachers? If everyone knows about this whole inflation thing, it can’t be a big deal, right?

Wrong.

Not everyone fully “gets” the concept of grade inflation, and that while some classes will grant you an A for sitting down and not speaking, other classes make it far more difficult. So if a student tries hard but still struggles, perhaps because an A is reaching beyond their ability, they get a “low” grade of a B or C.

Which is better for the student: To try hard and to struggle and to push yourself, and only get a C, or to slack off in an easy class and get a free A without learning anything?

Parent’s don’t always care, though, what experiences matter and what builds character. They just want the grades. So when a pressured student is falling behind, they freak out, and they talk to the teacher. Often it dissolves into “Please give me an A, if you don’t my parents will be really mad at me and they won’t get me the car they were gonna give me for graduation.” So teachers feel the pressure, too.

To put myself in the situation: I am in AP Calculus. I’m also close to failing the class. Mostly due to a lack of motivation, but it could’ve legitimately been due to me struggling to understand the material. So if I had a C, or even worse, a D or an F, which are in no way acceptable by my parents, then I am led to believe that I have failed myself in some way, that I was not good enough. Yet, I tried, and certainly I must have learned something. Yet, I could just as easily have dropped out and enrolled in a Geometry or Algebra class, not learning anything because I already know it, but skating through the class and taking away an A. Clearly, another A means another success, right?

Letters are a poor indication of a student’s worth or ability. What you don’t see is how hard they tried for that grade. How long they studied, or how often they goofed off and went on a date rather than practicing their Spanish homework. No, instead expectations of students are rising, which in some ways is good but overall puts pressure on the student.

Don’t judge by grades. There is a general shift in the way colleges view grades, which gives me hope. Instead of looking just at the G.P.A, many colleges now look at what the actual classes were. How many of them. How challenging were they. It’s a positive trend that I hope continues to parents.

The trials and tribulations of a young student’s mind cannot be summarized through the use of a single letter. Grades do not tell you the journey, only the end destination; but in the words of Book, “How you get there is the worthier part.”

And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

A Re-Introduction

Well, it seems that I’m not such an incompetent blogger as I thought! It seems that one of our host’s friends, George, took notice of my “Candidates and Classrooms” post – it was mentioned over at Decrepit Old Fool. I am flattered for the mention, and my thanks go out to the author!

One minor point, though…

I am very much male.

*checks trousers*

Yep. Definitely.

A simple mistake, especially given that I popped up out of the blue without any real introduction or description of myself. So here’s a quick moment for me to hog the spotlight and tell you what kind of human I am!

As mentioned, I am a guy. An 18 year old guy, about 6’2 with hazel eyes and brown air. My heritage is an eclectic mix of various European countries, nothing particularly strong enough to influence me more than the others. English is, allegedly, among the stronger of my ancestors – though my father was adopted, so this information is questionable. I have Native American on my maternal grandfather’s side, and Dutch Irish on my grandmother’s. I live in the beautiful pacific northwest, and I spend most of my time writing, reading, exploring the bright centers of the internet, and video gaming. I write for myself, in the form of a science fiction novel, and for others, as is the case with my game design projects, in which I work under an independent designer working on his debut project. I might decide to actually use my own Blogger blog (Musings Of A Teenage Mind) to discuss those projects. The blog is, currently, empty as I have found no good use for it, and my time has been spent here. I suppose if there was enough interest in it, I’d share my stuff there.

In any case, that’s most of the vital stats. Thank you for allowing me to talk about myself, it’s not something I’m in the habit of doing. So now, please go on to enjoy the better parts of the blog! I have posted the second part of my education-based blog series below, be sure to stop by if you are interested.

And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

Academia: AP vs IB

Thank you for your comments on my last entry, “Candidates and Classrooms”, and reading one of them mentioned the value of the AP classes. So here’s my spiel:

AP, or Advanced Placement, is indeed a very beneficial path to take during your high school career. I might have considered taking a few of the tests, given that I am in AP Biology and AP Calculus. I was already accepted into my school of choice, and few of the AP credits were applicable, so I opted out. However, this is not to say that the average student should turn down the AP classes and tests. In fact, I would readily encourage it, if you are planning on attending an academic college. There is no denying the benefit of not having to take a college course.

However, I believe that the presence of AP tests has its downsides, too. For one, it only encourages and reinforces the “teach the test” [see Candidates and Classrooms] method of education. For another, some schools are trying to actually award a higher grade point for AP classes; essentially meaning that 4.0 is not the highest potential GPA you could get, but rather you could get higher than that if you attend the right schools. I cannot say if it was actually put into action or merely proposed, but it certainly was, at least, discussed.

It also seems that the AP curriculum and the way our education system functions are at odds with one another. At some schools, the classroom time or facilities are insufficient to provide students with the full scope of the AP coursework. Overall, the AP classes feel very rushed, very hurried, with little emphasis on how anything is useful to you other than saving money – it’s all about passing the tests. There is a lot of stress involved, heavy course load, but somehow we make it through.

Basically, AP is a money-saver, but I doubt if we’ll remember any of it in a year.

So what about this IB thing? First, does anyone know anything about it?

The International Baccalaureate Organization, or IBO, or just IB, is an internationally standardized diploma program currently in place in approximately 125 countries around the world, in over 2,000 schools. There are 6 areas of study: Foreign Language (Spanish, French, German or Japanese, student choice), Science (Chemistry or Biology), Mathematics, Economics, History, and Literature. There are also two “levels” of study: Higher Level and Standard Level. The primary difference between the two is that HL tests are a measurement of two years of learning, with SL only one. Basically, HL encompasses information from both Junior and Senior year of study, with SL primarily on the Senior year classwork. With the exception of the Foreign Language, each area is comprised of 2 test sessions, ranging from one to three hours in length. This means that we take 11 test sessions total for Full IB Diploma.

A student can, optionally, take Certificate tests. These are just the test sessions in however many areas the student chooses to take. Undergoing the full IB program also throws on 50 hours of community service (on top of 100 hours we have to do anyway).

Get all that? There will be a test at the end of the post, so take notes.

The IB tests are less widely recognized than the AP test. In some classes, say Oregon State University, full IB Diploma “Scholars” are given $2,000 scholarship, and guaranteed admission, as a sophomore. Other schools, such as the Art Institute of Portland (my destination) threw a handful of confetti into the air and said, “Congrats”, and that’s about as far as the benefits took me. They also cost an arm and a leg to take, each area over $100 a pop. So the benefit of the tests are fewer.

Unless!

If you plan on studying aboard, than the IB tests can be a big boon. See, every student in every school in every country that participates in this program learns the same curriculum and takes the same tests on the same day – possibly even at the same time. So going abroad means that it actually is important. However, not many of us are going to go to Europe for college, as much as we might like to.

Having said that, what I like about the IB program is the actual curriculum. The classes are more in-depth, and are taught in a very unique style. It’s fun, interesting, and we find ways to apply what we know to the other areas of our life. I might do a more detailed exploration of IHS (International High School) and the IB program later, so I won’t go into it deeply.

Basically, though, the IB tests have less financial/academic value than the AP tests, because they are less likely to be recognized and to allow you to waive classes, however I find that the curriculum has a much better pace. Also, while all the information you learn in IB classes are useful for the test, the test themselves have such a wide range of questions, covering the entire range of possible things you could learn in the classes, that it is slightly less “teach the test” in style. The format of papers, perhaps, is very strictly taught as IB-criteria. However, take History. A teacher might go more in-depth into, say, the Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany during their study on Single Party States, rather than Mao in China. However, the IB test will allow you to select, for instance, three questions to answer, in essay form, from a list of fifteen to twenty questions, that range from Mao, to Castro, to Stalin. So instead of the classes teaching you what will be on the exam, the exams are meant to test you on something you will be taught.

Thus are the choices we make. Neither one is easy – but both are rewarding in their own ways.


And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

Academia: No Child Left Behind

Hello, readers!

It seems that I have neglected my promise of a weekly update. I recently asked our wonderful host for some ideas of topics that I might be able to comment on. I am only 18 years old, and never had much of a mind for politics, so most of the discussions here go right over my head.

However, there is one that I might be very qualified to reflect on. Education.

Bush has been in office eight long years now, (Eight. Christ. That still scares me.) which puts his first time in office when I was about 10 years old. That’s early elementary school, which means that I have no real recollection of what education is like without Bush in office. So it was at first difficult to figure out how to comment on something for which I have no real frame of reference, but I knew that I have always heard of the NCLB, or No Child Left Behind act, one of Bush’s little legacies he bestowed upon us lucky adolescents. So I took a few key ideas from that act and thought I’d share my thoughts.

Teacher Quality

One of the first things I came across was the idea of “Teacher Quality”. It required basically three things: a teaching license, subject expertise, and a bachelor’s degree. While certainly I agree that teacher’s should not be ignorant fuckwits who don’t actually know what they’re talking about, I find these criteria are not particularly useful in accomplishing that. Subject expertise I would say does contribute to a teacher’s ability, however with the emphasis on “teaching to the test” [see below] it is difficult to define what is expertise. Still, this doesn’t help figure out what makes a teacher a good one.

The inherit problem here is that not everyone agrees what should be taught, and how to teach it. There are paradoxical problems in education about what we “need” to know. For example, in my Junior year literature class, we had this teacher named Stephenson. Poor woman, having to teach my class. Now, she was a perfectly intelligent human being, but here’s a quick preview on our education:

The first day of class we read an article that told us that there are more than one “right” answer. Basically that any given situation could be interpreted various ways, that different viewpoints and perspectives will provide different ideas of what is “right”, and they are all equally valid. Yet, when we try to analyze events in such novels as Huck Finn or A Scarlet Letter, we were obviously being steered towards the correct interpretation. The problem was that according to Stephenson, there were only three possible correct meanings behind any given metaphor:

Life
Death
God/Jesus

Oh, and phallic symbols.

While it was fun to figure out how every character in Finn fits into these categories, it’s also troublesome when you are told that your opinion, your subjective interpretation is wrong.

Poor woman. We tormented her so much in class in so many ways; at one point, a student rode into class on top of a book cart, crashed into a desk and fell over in a heap. The same student would occasionally walk into class without pants. We would pass around a Spark Notes book before a test. I, meanwhile, sat in my corner and read and doodled and BS’ed my way through the tests. She ended up moving to England the last month of the school year, dumping a substitute on us. She hasn’t come back yet.

So trying to coerce your students into telling them what you want is not a sign of good teaching. However, it’s not always the teachers, its how they are told to teach, which brings me to the next point.

Teaching to a Test

In school, homework is pretty typical in most science, literature, or social studies classes. You are given some sort of comprehension assignment, usually reading, and are given a worksheet, which is usually just fill-in-the-blanks copies of said assignment. It’s a basic process of taking in the information, storing it long enough to fill in on the dotted line, and forget it. While obviously certain aspects of class are slightly more useful or engaging, this works not only for the microscope assignments but the macro-scope goal of education: score well.

Education’s entire goal is to score well on a test so that you can get into a better college. Really, that is what high school comes down to. It’s all about teaching you what is going to be on the test. If it’s not on the test, it doesn’t get taught.

Another personal example:

I am just finishing up my AP/IB Biology II class. In that, the teacher rushes through a full year college-level course, switching between a bird’s eye view of “This General Concept Might Be On The Test” to a very close inspection of “This Specific Section Will Be On The Test.” Some sections we pass over entirely if it’s not likely to be on the test, and we don’t stop long enough in any of the sections to internalize the information in order to be useful for any period of time longer than the end of the testing period. Even then, with all the days off and vacations they ambush us with, we never have enough time to get all the information anyway. One 50 minute class (usually with anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes of actual learning, due to goofing off, homework questions, and the fact we never start on time) is NOT enough time in a day to learn anything.

It’s far too often that I hear a teacher say, “We’re skipping this section because you don’t need it for the AP test”.

The most rewarding science class I have ever taken was my Sophomore year Biology I class. The teacher, an amazing man with the name “Shindledecker”, taught us how to think about biology. He’d talk with us all period long about what we’re learning, showing us different ways to approach it, how it applies to our life, and tips on how to remember them. Not memorize them for a test, but how to actually make the mental connections between what we learn in class and what we learn in life, in order to apply this knowledge in a useful way. I might not be able to give you the scientific definition of the function of the Endoplasmic Reticulum of a cell, but I know that it’s basically the “highway of the cell”, which conceptually is far more useful than knowing the jargon. One day, we walked into class and on the board was the word “Salmon” circled. A few lines were connected to it, such as “dams”, “bears”, and “fishermen”. Then we spent the entire period making connections between salmon and what it directly influences, and what those impacts would have on other factors, and so on and so forth.

However, the advanced classes, the classes in which you have the most potential to learn the most and apply it to life, are the classes which are forced to do well on tests. Thus, they must teach to the test.

See, because of NCLB, public schools only get their federal funding if they cooperate by conducting some kind of test on all students in the state as a method of measurement of educational progress. Almost all schools take the cheapest route; multiple-choice standardized tests. So they are forced to educate the students according to what these tests are on.

Now, this isn’t all bad. Reading comprehension levels have increased, and the test scores themselves have gone up, if that means anything, though the scores are a pretty hollow victory considering what we’re giving up.

However, NCLB opens up options for schools to “play” the system, such as giving the students “practice” exams, which are usually just last year’s tests, to prepare us for the upcoming exam. The focus is entirely on doing well on the tests. It’s quite ridiculous, really.

Restriction of Classes

No, not social classes. Because of the trends in education, non-core subject classes have been cut down ever year. My school used to offer all kinds of woodshop-type classes. We used to offer Russian as a language. While my school is particularly well off and still has many non-core classes, those classes as a whole have been reduced across the board. Focus on tests means that the students and staff are pushed towards math, reading, and the sciences, with a very low emphasis on arts, physical education, and similar courses.

This limits the curriculum. Let’s borrow from every high schooler’s friend, WikiPedia:

“Schools are required to use “scientifically based research” strategies in the classroom and for professional development of staff. Research meeting this label, which includes only a small portion of the total research conducted in the field of education and related fields, must involve large quantitative studies using control groups as opposed to partially or entirely qualitative or ethnographic studies, research methodologies which may suggest different teaching and professional development strategies but that do not result in evidence demonstrating efficacy”

Oh yeah, and there’s one of my personal favorite little quirks of the NCLB:

NCLB (In section 9528) requires public secondary schools to provide military recruiters the same access to facilities as a school provides to higher education institution recruiters. Schools are also required to provide contact information for every student to the military if requested.

Then of course, NCLB also wants all, and I mean ALL, as in 100% of students, to perform on the same level in the areas of math and reading. It’s a lofty goal, but not one that I think we should be striving for. Students are too individual, each with their own ways of learning, to expect everyone to be on the same level as everyone else. It limits those who are advanced, and it pressures and punishes those who are behind.

I’ve gone on for long enough. There are other issues with education today, but it can be summed up thusly:

Modern American education is too centered on learning specific core subjects for the purpose of high performance on standardized tests in order to prove “educational progress”, neglecting the individual needs of many students, and not teaching us the skills and imparting the knowledge that will make an actual difference on our lives.

Bush is leaving office. I don’t know what will happen to education. Not everything is bad, of course, but if I could ask for a few changes with our new leader, it would be that education focuses less on test scores, possibly removing standardized testing for the purposes of federal financing and the goals outlined by NCLB completely.

Later, I’ll comment more specifically on some of these topics. Including:

-Should teachers be paid according to a “merit pay” system?
-What should we actually teach our children?
-The role of technology in school
-Grade inflation
-Social pressures and influences in school

I am a Senior in high school, graduating on June 14th, this year. I have about three weeks left of school, so I will be reflecting a lot about my time in high school. 4 years, 32 classes. I got a lot to write about, so you’ll be hearing from me again.


And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost.
-Neil Gaiman

National Language

Good morning, afternoon, evening, or night, depending on when you catch this. This is my debut post as Kaden Darez, the Official Senior Teen Correspondent here at En Tequila Es Verdad. I had some great scene worked up where my first blog post here as co-blogger (really a sub-blogger; Verdad is Dana’s home, I’m just the freeloader friend who insists he’ll only be here for a few days, until he can get back on his feet, and that he’ll happily take the couch, and before you know it he’s been there for six months, lives in the guest room, takes all the hot water in the shower and ate the last cookie in the cupboard) would be this great, epic post full of wit and wisdom. Though even as I type this, it’s already becoming longer than I intended it to be, and I shall cut off my verbosity while it is still in manageable restraints, and move on to my point:

The previous post to this one commented on the idea of making English America’s official national language. To which, I have this to say:

XKCD is amazing, just in case you didn’t know.

I’ll post here every so often; I aspire to contribute something meaningful (or at least snarky) once a week, but we’ll see how that goes.

Kaden, out.

Comic and characters (c) www.xkcd.com and its creator(s).