The Debate of Purpose

I have decided to use this newfound free time to finally go through my old uncategorized blog posts and sort them with tags and categories. (I had originally written them before I knew about these features…)

While reading my old posts it’s become painstakingly clear how many of my posts are really not noteworthy. It’s made me wonder about the essential struggle I’ve always had with my blog:

Is it better to prioritize the habit of consistent reflecting/writing or should I prioritize only blogging when I feel as if I have something of quality to say?

I frequently debate this because it’s a question of purpose and if this blog is designed based on me or my potential readers, and I spent about an hour earlier today going back and forth with one of my friends about the topic.

I know the habit of reflecting is immensely valuable to me as an individual. Though I also know that it can be annoying to have frequent notifications when something isn’t really worth the time. As much as I try to make all of my posts have some sort of point or message to them, I am very aware that they aren’t all profound or inspiring, and sometimes I struggle to be able to write anything at all.

The thing is, once I decide that I’m only going to blog when I think I find something really valuable to write about, all of a sudden nothing ends up being good enough. That’s how I end up in the habit of not blogging at all besides when I go to the occasional event.

I don’t know what life will look life after social-distancing or if I will continue to blog as frequently as I’m trying to right now, but I do know that I believe the purpose of this blog remains the same as it was in 2014 when I started it: it’s a place for me to reflect and learn more about myself by trying to find something interesting I observed about every day. If people want to read my posts, then that’s just an added bonus that helps keep me committed to doing the task and gives them a look into my learning process which I know at least some people value being able to see.

So I’m sorry if you’re one of those people who feels some of my more random posts are just cluttering you notifications. But then again, maybe this isn’t the blog for you to be following then, because I plan to continue seeing this blog as a place focused on my learning and growth which for now means writing even if I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say.

I suppose this may even be one of those posts, but this is a debate I frequently have and needed to work through and writing helps me do that, so here we are.

Glad It’s With Me

“What’s the most random thing in your house that you’re really grateful for having right now? Why?” 

For me I’m super grateful for this dinky little whiteboard I got from a store called “Wonderland” I found while walking back from classes one day. It’s purple, the magnets already broke, and it has the illustrated ABC’s on the back of it and I love it!

I’ve always been a kinesthetic and visual learner. I’m the kid who likes to stand and move around while working and all of my notes include mind maps and lots of arrows. Once, freshman year of high school, I even brought my own giant whiteboard from home into school so I could use it to outline my essay during our world history midterm exam. I find that whiteboards make it easier for me to brainstorm all of my thoughts on a topic and then use lines, arrows, and circles to visually/physically be able to make all sorts of connections. It’s helped my writing tremendously, so now I use whiteboards as a way to start my brainstorm process for pretty much every assignment I do that requires critical and creative thinking.

I love whiteboards so much that at home I now have a whiteboard wall, a whiteboard desk, a giant whiteboard hanging on a wall and a smaller whiteboard on top of my desk. I use them for everything from drawing out gymnastics routines to outlining essays to just a place to do scratch work.

I lasted about a week in New Zealand before deciding I had to buy a whiteboard to use while here. (Though I did have 2 of my “homemade whiteboard” – a sheet of printer paper in a clear sleeve – they just weren’t cutting it alone. ) And now being stuck inside, I’m especially grateful for this dinky little whiteboard as I’ve already gotten so much use out of it while having this time to brainstorm new ideas and get ahead on assignments.

What random thing are you grateful for having around right now?

School and Wellbeing

I’ve been in New Zealand for three weeks now and just finished up my second week of classes. I had originally planned on writing today about the observations I’ve made about NZ education during these first two weeks – now that I’ve gone to all of my classes at least twice; however, plans change when there’s a pandemic. 

I woke up this morning to lots of emails that all essentially said: The coronavirus is getting worse so we’re shutting down campus, moving classes online, and canceling study abroad programs, therefore, everyone needs to return home to the US as quickly as possible.

Honestly one of the worst ways to wake up.

I cried. I got mad. I went to class – because why get behind?

Now I’m trying to be patient, calm, and distract myself from checking for new emails every 30 seconds.

Crazy enough it wasn’t until talking to a barista at lunch that I realized that it wasn’t the virus itself that made me sad or mad or even scared.

I was sad because I’ve been waiting for years to study in New Zealand and now I finally get here and things are going well and I’m being told to come home. Then I got mad because I realized the situation here is actually far safer than traveling through multiple airports and returning to Atlanta where there have been far more reported cases of the virus then the 4 contained cases in a different part of New Zealand from where I’m studying. (I’ve already written several emails to different people hoping to be allowed to stay since New Zealand is not the average country at the moment.) Then I got concerned with how it’s going to affect my education.

I started wondering if I have to go back to the states will I be able to keep taking my NZ classes online; how will I be able to attend tutorials which count towards my overall average? I wondered, will this push my graduation back another semester? I wondered how my financial aid will be impacted – will I lose a full semester of funding from being here for these few weeks? Will my airfare home get covered? Will I be able to re-enroll in the fall even though I was supposed to be in NZ until November? Will school even be back in August or will classes still be online or will they just officially cancel classes? If my university decides they don’t think it’s better for me to stay here, can I stay anyway, or will my visa get terminated, or will classes then not transfer?

I say all of these questions in the past tense, but I suppose I’m still wondering them I’m just trying not to focus on them as much at the moment.

Right now I’m just thinking about how crazy it is to have such a strong feeling of knowing history is being made. These next coming days in front of us will be in history textbooks.

And furthermore, I’m thinking how it’s equally crazy that in this time of world crisis, my thoughts immediately think about how my schooling will be impacted over thinking about my actual health… Have I really become that drilled into the system? And it’s not just me. I’ve made friends with other exchange students here from all over the US and they’re starting to receive similar emails requesting study abroad students to come home. They too are wondering the same questions centered around how this will impact us getting our degrees.

I didn’t cry this morning because I was scared that the virus has reached a point that requires schools shutting down and students going home. I cried because of all the questions above making me immediately think about how stressful this situation is going to make my education. And I wasn’t alone… WHY???

Why do students think first about education over health?

Is this because our generation is still young and naive and therefore, doesn’t have the same sense of worry? Is it because the situation isn’t as bad here so we aren’t thinking about the implications as intensely? Is it because every professor keeps reminding us that this is not actually the most deadly disease currently being transmitted? Or could it be because our education system focuses on schooling above wellbeing so that’s what we’ve learned to focus on too?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of all of the above, but it’s the last question that worries me the most. When I think about my k-12 schooling, I know that individual teachers might say “put your health first and we’ll be here for you,” but I’m not sure how much I really saw this mentality in action systematically.  Whether it be mental or physical illnesses, you never really got a break from school. I remember a kid who had a serious concussion during the year that was denied from exempting exams, despite still attaining the necessary A average in the class, but it was because their illness caused them to miss too many days of school. I remember kids leaving early, or for days, due to therapy, but they had to pick up packets of strenuous homework before they left. I remember being sick myself and wanting to skype into classes so I wouldn’t have to deal with the make-up work and the amount of catch up you have to play from just missing a few days for being sick.  – Granted, I acknowledge my own bias because I’m aware of how personally I can be overly anxious about this kind of thing, but I know I’m not the only one that stresses time off from being sick.

And now we have this virus that is causing schools to move to online and I just wonder, especially now – how do we remain aware of wellbeing in our education system?

Should we even be having classes still? I can really argue both ways.

Part of me immediately thinks, “Of course! It’s the middle of the semester and we’ve already done half the work it seems silly to stop doing school work now if we’re not actually sick. It would make me more annoyed to have to not count any of this semesters’ work and start over and get pushed back a semester, plus school can be a good distraction sometimes.”

However, on the other hand, I think about all the students who typically rely on school for food, housing, work-study, etc. The students having to all of a sudden rapidly relocate. The international students worrying about family members overseas. I think about the teachers now working from home and having to balance between watching their own kids since schools are closed while also trying to change their lesson plans to be compatible with online learning. Not to mention I can only imagine all of the challenges involved with being in an area that’s actually infected. And when I think about all of these challenges I seriously wonder if students and teachers are mentally healthy enough to be also worrying about tests and projects and watching online lectures right now.

There’s no “right” answer, everything has pros and cons. And I know everyone is trying the best they can to make appropriate decisions in this time of great uncertainty, but I  can’t stop wondering about this balance between school and wellbeing and how this current volatile situation could be a chance to reconsider our actions towards wellbeing during the typical school year.

Science tells us there are good stressors and bad stressors – stressors that motivate us to work harder and grow as scholars and those that hinder us and decrease our mental and physical capacity. How might we make sure school isn’t a bad stressor? It doesn’t need to be, but oftentimes I find that it is.

Personally, I’m trying really hard right now to not be overwhelmed with the thought of being forced to leave my exchange program early and all that entails. I don’t think I like the fact that I’m more concerned with my education than my health at the moment but at least it’s led me to interesting observations that are also serving as good distractions. And I wonder, how are we going to learn from this pandemic about the balance between school and wellbeing, and how are we going to utilize what we learn once it’s under control? 

 

 

 

With that, happy Friday the 13th… and almost Pi Day! Hope this weekend isn’t my last here in New Zealand.

iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

iNACOL Day 2: Self-Reflection

Today was amazing! From the start of the day hearing from keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth from New Zealand who somehow made me even more excited to study abroad next year in that amazing country all the way to end of the night where I participated in some fantastic networking events, I was just in awe of this wonderful community.

This was a jam-packed day of learning and networking from 7am – 9pm, but I’m not going to go in detail about everything I did and learned. Instead, I’m going to try and consolidate my thoughts down to one key take away. Today that key take away was actually a self-reflection of starting to better visualize the path I’m headed on.

I’ve been passionate about transformative education since high school, but as I get older and closer to graduate I’m starting to get asked a lot more questions about “what’s next? what do you really want to do? where do you want to go with this?” Well, my method to planning for the future tends to go like this: I say yes to lots of things and get involved in lots of projects. Then I like to stand back and look for patterns/trends in the choices I’ve made to help determine what I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve made a difference, and how I would like to proceed in my learning journey.

Today I stood back and considered the choices I’ve been making in terms of sessions I choose to attend at conferences (this one and others included). The trend I’ve noticed is that I have a deep interest in professional development (including the onboarding process in particular) and research in the science of learning and teaching. Amongst all sorts of choices, I keep finding myself drawn to these two areas, so as of right now I believe that’s the direction I’d like to continue with in the future.

I see myself in both a research and practitioner role, so with that in mind, I’d like to continue my studies by doing graduate school work related to the science of learning and teaching but I’d also like to be active in the field growing professional development programs.

Some people question my desire to go into graduate school, often because they think I want to go just because of old cultural norms around needing higher credentials, but that is not the case for me. I want to go to grad school because I like to learn and I am fascinated by certain classes taught and research being conducted at this level of schooling. I am also very accepting of the idea that we learn by doing though, and that is why I also think it would be beneficial to work some after undergrad (perhaps 2 years or so) before going back for a masters degree, this way I could have a more informed view about what is actually needed in the field in terms of research.

I’m not set in stone with this plan, and I tend to be a person that just says yes when opportunities come my way and that is often how my path is most influenced, but getting the chance to think more deeply about this path of mine through self-reflection inspired by my morning sessions and networking practice at tonight’s community events was very helpful today.

Some times takeaways aren’t a particular conversation or quote or new idea, sometimes takeaways are about how the conversations, quotes, and ideas worked together to influence your own self-discovery. That was today for me and I’m grateful for that opportunity to grow as an individual.

iNACOL Day 1: Questions to Ponder

Being able to attend events like iNACOL Symposium (as of today now known as Aurora Institute) really means a lot to me because it’s an opportunity to dive deep into the world of k-12 education – a world which I’ve been somewhat disconnected from since entering undergrad. It’s been amusing to me to see all of the surprised faces when people learn I’m a young learner that chose to attend this conference; my number one asked question of the day is, “So why are you here? Is it for a class or something…?” Yet to me what is surprising is the lack of young learners in attendance, especially since this particular conference has no registration fee for k-12 students. I have always said that my personal motivation in this field is driven by the belief that young learners should be at the forefront of education transformation. Students are the primary users of school, and every good design project will say you have to start with the users to talk with them, empathize with them, and build with them in order to actually create something that meets user needs and therefore will last.

Anyway, despite the lack of young learners, we had some great conversations today! I felt like my day was divided by three main conversations so I’ll focus my reflection on those three areas: professional development, research on online learning, and whole child development.

 

Professional Development:

In the realm of professional development, we mainly just discussed a lot of interesting questions several of us are having in regards to what effective PD looks like in innovative k-12 environments. Personally, I’m interested in the question, “How might we re-design teach training from the very beginning (i.e. undergrad teacher education)?” because if re-design teacher education then it should make the onboarding process for new teachers entering innovative learning environments much smoother. We didn’t really discuss this question in-depth today, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to work on framing this question since I have recently realized that it is a reoccurring theme in my pondering. We did however talk a lot about, “HMW measure/insure the impact of professional development on teacher growth?” I found this question particularly interesting because a lot of discussions in education have been focused around competency-based learning and how to measure/assess this style of learning. And theoretically, I see no reason why these same methodologies couldn’t be used to measure/assess teacher learning and growth. Why don’t we always practice what we preach? If we truly believe that teachers are learners too, doesn’t it make sense to provide them with frequent and specific feedback on their work? Some teachers might not yet be comfortable with the idea of receiving constant feedback on their work, but we can’t improve as individuals, schools, or larger communities without feedback. As one of our table group members said “It’s a wonderful place, your comfort zone, but nothing grows there.”

 

 

Research on Online Learning:

Moving on into the day, we discussed a lot about education research specifically within the context of online and blended learning. Today I learned that I don’t know very much about online or blended learning. I’ve taken a few online courses in the past, and I had mixed opinions about them, but that’s about my extent of knowledge in this area of education. I never realized how many different kinds of online learning systems that exist until today but apparently there are over eight based on what came up in our discussions. I don’t have a particular interest in this topic, but today was really the pre-conference day for iNACOL and since I was going to be here anyway, I decided to participate in a session and the only free session was about online and blended learning, thus that’s what I participated in. To be honest, I felt like there was a lot of information that went over my head. The session was designed based on past feedback from online teachers who requested more sessions specific to online/virtual/blended education; thus there were a lot of experts in the room talking about a lot of specific elements of research and practice.

While I didn’t have a lot of take aways today specific to online learning, I did appreciate the general focus on new education practices needing to be grounded in research. A big thing being pushed was that every change should be backed by research, and I think that’s an important idea because it proves people aren’t creating change just for the sake of it. There is a lot of thought and evidence behind decisions which helps make a very convincing case for change that goes beyond just, “Well the old system clearly doesn’t work.”

Something I also heard a lot of today was the idea of “researcher or practitioner.” This came up because our presenters were wanting to bridge this gap, noting that researchers really want to hear from practitioners what kind of research is actually needed in the field that way when research is conducted it can be of real use in the field. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the idea that we have to either be a researcher or a practitioner. Maybe it’s just the reality that we all tend to be one or the other, but I’d imagine it would be more interesting if we all did a little of both. I don’t see why k-12 practitioners can’t also be researchers. Sure timing might be challenging, but if a school could have adult learners both researching and practicing innovative teaching methods I can only imagine the sort of interesting insights that would come about.

 

 

Whole Child Development:

Finally, the end of my night included a great opening keynote given by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizar with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The keynote was all about education needing to be whole child-focused which means focusing on 6 key aspects: physical health, mental health, social-emotional development, identity development, academic development, and cognitive development. One of my favorite things she said was, “When we’re most vulnerable is when learning takes place.” I was fortunate to have an overall pretty great high school experience with very supportive peers and mentors, but I also am very aware that this is not the case for many k-12 students. Dr. Stafford-Brizar showed word clouds about studies showing when students and teachers alike were asked to pick a word that comes to mind when they think of school they thought of things like stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. We know all too well that mental health is an extreme problem in education today, but we have to intentionally design time, space, and culture focused on supporting mental health in order for these issues to change. Dr. Stafford-Brizar made an analogy I loved and will probably now unintentionally butcher: “We don’t expect calculus to be learned in a morning meeting or an advisory session; we intentionally design class lessons to teach these skills. So why do we expect mental health to be learned without intentionally designing for it to be taught to students?” My big wonder though is how do we actually do this in practice? Dr. Stafford-Brizar suggests starting with the adults and making sure their mental health is addressed so that it permeates into the student body. But culture change is anything but easy. So how might we create a culture that’s comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable? Starting with the adults seems like a great idea, but what does that really mean and look like in the start? There is no switch that will all of a sudden make everyone totally open to talking about personal struggles at school. I’ve seen examples of schools that do a really great job with mental health, but I still don’t feel like I have a good concept on how they got started. Or in some cases, I know that the school was founded with mental health as a key principle to the mission so there wasn’t the same cultural shift that has to happen in a preexisting environment trying to become more aware of mental health needs.

So overall I would describe day 1 as a day of thought provoking questions. I didn’t have any mind blowing, game changing takeaways, but sometimes it’s okay to just take away lots of questions because every question is an opportunity to learn.

 

 

Pictures from today:

Traditional but Good?

I finished reading “Whatever it Takes” and I found it truly fascinating because it challenged a lot of my thoughts on the education system. It’s hard to argue that the Promise Academy isn’t a wonderful thing: it’s educating children in poverty and helping them get into college by staying on grade level. However, Canada’s primary measurement of success is entirely based on standardized testing. Kids are drilled for the test. There are early morning classes and afterschool classes and even Saturday classes all aimed at further test prep. The book talks about how test prep during the school day started to squeeze out time meant for things like the arts and projects and physical activities and the biggest supporter of these programs, the first middle school principal, Terri Grey, was eventually fired because her priorities didn’t align with preparing students for the test. 

This method of schooling goes against pretty much everything I’ve come to believe about education. I think assessment is important – this is how we get feedback and measure progress – but, the traditional methods of school assessment, such as grades and standardized tests, are no longer measuring the right outcomes of schooling. To truly be prepared for college and beyond in today’s world, a student needs more than the ability to memorize information and control anxiety and focus long enough to take a four-hour long test. Students need to be critical and creative thinkers that know how to solve complex problems on diverse teams. They need to know how to network, present, research, listen, empathize, and take agency just as a start. These skills are not measured on standardized tests, so if you only teach to the test, how do you develop all of these other skills? I don’t think it’s possible. As Grey hinted at, these are two very different education paradigms that would be paradoxical to co-exist. 

Sure, soft skills were mentioned from time to time in “Whatever it Takes.” It seemed certain teachers tried to incorporate soft skills in their classroom, but these were often minor lessons about being polite and talking and listening in a professional manner, and these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of important soft skills to know. There was no mention of collaboration or giving presentations or complex problem-solving or anything to that caliber. 

Now I understand that, as a new charter school, Promise Academy had a duty to perform. They had to do well on standardized tests in order for the city to let them continue with their charter. Furthermore, while I don’t think standardized tests should be the ultimate measurement of success, I can’t deny that they do help measure basic knowledge (ignoring the elements of test anxiety and being distracted, etc). For the students in Harlem attending Promise Academy’s Middle School, the vast majority were below grade level. I can understand how it might be hard to think beyond, “We need these kids at grade level on these tests,” and going into testing bootcamp mode is one solution to this problem. It’s hard to spend time on projects and developing soft skills when there is the hugely apparent obstacle of kids lacking basic math and reading skills. I can empathize with this train of thinking, but I can’t accept that teaching to the test is the best method for preparing students for college and beyond even for kids who have “fallen behind.” But I also can’t deny that Canada was successful. His methods got underperforming kids up to standard and even off to college. 

That in itself is still pretty remarkable and that’s exactly why this book has been challenging for me to read. It’s made me wonder: how can a school that to me is focusing on all the wrong things, also be doing so much good? And while struggling with this question for past few days, I think I’ve finally come to an answer: it’s because traditional schooling is not inherently bad. Traditional schools can still help kids learn, be a safe environment, be supportive, help kids get to college and be a place alum are proud to come home to. Traditional schooling isn’t all bad, it’s just that it needs an update – the core principals of our education system haven’t changed in the past century since it’s founding, but we live in a very different world now. 

Our world requires more of employees now, like the soft skills previously mentioned. We’ve learned that our students can do more now, like contribute on community projects no matter how young they are. Our colleges expect more now, like participation in the arts, extra projects, and sports. “Whatever it takes” has made me realize that most of the time when I’ve thought about learner-centered education, I’ve a – mostly been discussing high school students, and b – not given a lot of thought to educating underperforming students. But most of all, this book has reminded me why it can be so hard to convince skeptics of learner-centered education; it’s because some traditional schools are in fact doing good for society, but the thing is, now it’s time to be doing even more.

Touring Auschwitz

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This weekend we visited Krakow so we could take a day tour of Auschwitz.

Visiting a place with so much history and emotion associated with it, the common questions to ask are, “How was it? How are you feeling?” So I’ve been trying to ask and answer these question for myself.

How was it?

It was serial. It’s hard to imagine the horrors that took place in these camps.  In some ways, I’m still struggling to believe humans could commit such atrocities.

IMG_3853I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past about the true nature of human beings and it’s situations like this that bring me back to those debates. I don’t believe people are all good or all bad. But I think what’s harder to come to terms with is how wide this spectrum can be and how easily susceptible some people can be to believe things like the idea that some lives have no worth. I find this very hard to even try to empathize with, and yet, I want to believe people can’t be all bad. We did learn today that one of the children’s quarters was equipped with a sanitation room of sorts, so there was at least some small level of pity towards these kids of Polish civilians. Big picture though, it feels disrespectful to even try to justify such a small act as a sign of some level of humanity while looking at the dozens of unstable bunkers, cattle cars, and buildings designed for the sole intent of extermination.

IMG_3842.jpgWhat really made this experience serial and mind-boggling though was how nice it was while we were there. The weather was warm with a slight breeze and overcast in a not gloomy way. There was green everywhere; so many trees and well-kept grass. It was just so paradoxical to see ruins and ashes and discuss mass death while surrounded by so much nature and life.

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It was clean too. I suppose I expected this in terms of the paths being clear of trash and exhibits being neat and well restored. Though something about how much it truly felt like a museum seemed in a way very odd considering for the past few weeks we’ve continued to be reminded of just how not long ago these events occurred.

How are you feeling?

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Some may say it’s a weak word but first most I feel sad. Saddened with humanity and the knowledge that we can and have inflicted so much harm and cruelty in the world. And with this sadness comes confusion. Those lingering thoughts of, “How is this possible? How is this even conceivable?”

Though sad and confused I also find myself grateful. Grateful for the time and place in which I was born and the opportunities and privileges I have because of this. Grateful also for the chance to actually visit this place in person and connect with history in ways not possible otherwise.

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Furthermore, I find myself left with the thought that people are capable of so much. So much destruction but also so much compassion. It brings comfort hearing stories like that of Schindler who used his power of money and influence to save thousands of Jews; it’s a reminder that even in the face of corruption there can still be people to see past peer pressure and fear and proposed logic and instead fight for humanity.

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Which brings me to the most surprising and unexpected thing I’m feeling: inspired. I’m inspired by all the people who helped save lives. I’m inspired by the victims of these crimes who fought so hard for their survival. I’m inspired by the artist who captured these crimes on photos and notebooks to preserve the stories and memories of victims. I’m inspired by the survivors who worked to turn these camps into a memorial and museum so that history wasn’t left to go forgotten.

IMG_3837.jpgSad, confused, grateful, contemplative, and inspired- that’s how I feel upon traveling back from Auschwitz. I was told this would be a life changing experience. I’m personally not a huge fan of the commonality with which some people use this phrase since the idea of “life-changing” seems so grand and should be special to a few truly life-altering moments, but I suppose there is some truth to this notion. This was an experience like no other and while maybe I didn’t have any big life-changing world view or change of passion or life direction or anything like that, I know I will have a newfound level of depth and consideration whenever I think about the Holocaust, nature of humans, and the power of power.

So I guess that’s how it was and how I’m feeling.

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New Read, New Perspective

I’m only two chapters into Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough, and I’m already so intrigued by this story on education, poverty, and trying to change the life of kids living in Harlem.

Geoffrey Canada grew up in poverty in Harlem and successfully climbed to middle-class status and feels utterly grateful for how he got to where he is today. Thus, Canada began working to help other Harlem kids catch up on their academics, but after spending years working in an after-school program he started to become frustrated with just how many kids were still slipping through the cracks. Whatever it Takes details the journey Canada took to start the Harlem Children’s Zone with the goal being, “to transform every aspect of the environment that poor children were growing up in; to change the way their families raised them and the way their schools taught them as well as the character of the neighborhood that surrounded them” (Tough 19). This new approach Canada believed had the potential to change the way Americans viewed poverty and change the lives of poor children by the masses so they could “grow into fully functioning participants in mainstream American middle-class life” (Tough 4).

So why are poor people poor? Chapter two of Whatever it Takes presents a lot of research from different perspectives that attempt to answer this question. Honestly, it was fascinating to read about completely conflicting ideas society has concluded about poverty. Is it all about money, or what else might be a part of this story? Does government aid help or hinder? What resources are most key to success? How do parenting styles affect child development?

These various researchers did seem to agree on a few things: intelligence is highly valued in today’s society, intelligence and socioeconomic status are correlated, children intelligence is correlated with the intelligence levels of their parents, there are distinct parenting style differences between the middle class and poor.

The most interesting area of consideration to me was the concept of different parenting styles and the developmental effects they have on kids.

In particular, I enjoyed reading about Annette Lareau, sociologist and author of Unequal Childhoods, who was discussed as an example of someone focusing on the assets of all types of parenting; rather than looking at parenting styles with a conclusion of “this way is better.” Lareau’s theory is that middle-class parents treat kids like, “apprentice adult,” meaning that they are invited into conversations almost as equals and are encouraged to “ask questions and challenge assumptions and negotiate rules” (Tough 49). Additionally, middle-class children have very busy schedules with activities that the entire family will get involved in. Meanwhile, poor families had very different parenting styles. Children in poor families learn to entertain themselves in creative ways due to participating in far fewer extracurriculars, and kids learn to treat adults with respect; in Lareau’s study, she observed “much less freedom to talk back, question authority, or haggle over rules and consequences” in poor households (Tough 49).

Lareau concludes that the middle-class parenting style emphasis individualism at the expense of developing the family group which is developed more so in a poor family.

I fear my summarizing is far oversimplifying all of this information, but what really interested me in all of this is how recently I have observed the notion and stigma of “entitlement” becoming more common. Yet, Lareau seems to believe the middle-class parenting style is both creating this sense of entitlement while also developing the individual and skills that are currently preferred by modern American culture in the workplace: learning how to question, challenge, negotiate, multitask, and represent ones’ self.

So I guess my question is: Have we gone too far?

In my head I visualize the idea of skills gained from parenting styles as a parabola; for so long we have valued in the workplace the skills associated with middle-class parenting styles, thus my theory is, these parental tendencies were enhanced in an attempt to enhance the skills being developed by new generations of kids entering the workforce. However, like all things, you can almost always have too much. Have we too strongly favored the middle-class parenting values and now one of the outcomes – entitlement – has reached a tipping point where the parenting style is, in fact, creating undesirable outcomes?

Do we perhaps need to put a greater emphasis on fostering good family relations and respect as is found to be more commonly fostered in poor families? How do we do this? How is this cultural norm that is so deeply in rooted in our modern American culture shifted to be better balanced?

I don’t even know the true magnitude of this supposed entitlement problem I am proposing, but from my experience working with children in gymnastics, I know children behavior and belief of being “deserving” has seemed to have grown significantly in the past few years even. Meanwhile, families seem to almost always be “unique” or “broken” or “untraditional” or whatever you want to call it that boils down to the idea that families spend less time together. Seems like there could be a greater correlation there and that was just really fascinating to me.

I truly appreciate when required learning is fascinating enough to feel like you’re just learning because you want to be, and that’s so far what the entire summer program I’m on has felt like, so I am especially grateful and excited for the future learning to come in the next 6 weeks.

Safe to Challenge

There’s only so much that can be covered up with flashy lights and crazy tricks. Performers are storytellers and sometimes the artist can only take the story so far; at the end of the day, you also need to have a good story for the performance to truly be worthwhile.

Broadway right now has a lot of flashy shows with big fan followings and it just seems odd and almost a little sad to me. I want more original stories. Don’t get me wrong I saw Frozen in theaters 3 times and thought the musical version was a pretty good adaptation, and I’m still wanting really badly to see Mean Girls the Musical; however, I miss being surprised by a totally original story. No gimmicks, just good old fashion storytelling.

Today I saw SpongeBob the Musical, and somewhat to my expectation, it was a bit too gimmicky for me. The cast had some really impressive actors and vocalist who I appreciated very much for their efforts, but unfortunately, I don’t think the storyline did their talents justice. The set and costumes were also very intricate and fascinating to see, and I feel like I’d almost suggest seeing the show just for the sake of experiencing everything technical that somehow get’s pulled off. At the end of the day though, I just really wish there could have been more substance to the show. It was pretty one level the whole time and I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters or story, which you don’t always notice during the show with everything going on, but afterwards your like “eh,” and that’s never a great way to feel at the end of a performance.

I’m excited to see more shows that I don’t know that much about later this week and then when I’m back in town two weeks from now. I really appreciate how fortunate I am to get to see so many shows. I know I can be a little judgy sometimes when it comes to theater productions, especially with so much of my family being in this business, but it’s just because I value the art of storytelling and feel the need to give my honest opinions on the shows I see.

I was having a conversation with one of my aunts the other day about how someone tried saying, “Isn’t the theater suppose to be a safe place?” In actuality, though it’s almost the exact opposite. Theater that doesn’t challenge ideas, beliefs, and/or opinions is typically the boring kind. The theater is all about making big and bold statements that make you think and question; safe statements don’t tend to leave you thinking or questioning your core values. Theater is “safe to challenge,” it’s a safe bet that anything and everything might be said and you have to be okay with the fact that you might not always be comfortable; that’s the best part is when you leave with your mind blown.