In recent years, the United States has entered a strange state of counterbalance that no economist has quite begun to understand. Federal spending on education, as well as teacher continuing education, has declined, and a recent study confirmed that the highest paid public employee in more than half of the states is a football coach, followed by a basketball coach. In 2016, the average American spent 50 percent less time studying and more time watching TV - some research suggests that the average American spends 302 minutes (over 5 hours) watching television daily - a startling statistic.
The irony here is that Americans are notoriously the most overworked people in the world, ranking even ahead of China. According to a recent article in The New York Times, “In 2006, the top twenty per cent of earners were twice as likely to work more than fifty hours a week than the bottom twenty per cent, a reversal of historic conditions.” And although we appear to have increased our productivity, invented a number of labor-saving techniques and devices, and have more people (including an increase in women) entering the workforce, how have our work hours somehow gone up? With more resources and more people we should be spending less time working and instead enjoying a steady balance of work and personal life.
But that is not the case.
The effects of the overworked, always anxious American have stretched farther than we think. In a 2012 article published in the Stanford University newspaper, Steven Tung compared Finnish public school education to that of the U.S. and found that even though Finnish students spent less time in school, had less homework and took no standardized tests, they ranked far higher on the Program for International Student Assessments. In 2009, the Finns ranked sixth in math, third in reading and second in science out of the 65 tested countries, while the U.S. was 30th in math, 17th in reading and 23rd in science. We spend more time in school during the day, week and year then our Finnish counterparts, yet we still manage to rank significantly lower on international tests.
I believe this is happening because we’ve become so accustomed to thinking “we have to be better, therefore we must do more.” Giving students more homework and more tests is intended to better prepare them for the intensely competitive workforce we’ve created where “more” and “better” are required of them. We are acutely aware of where we stand in the world with regard to education, and we think changing it by adding more and more is going to make us better. Allowing students to take AP classes - college level courses - was meant to prepare them even more for a secondary school education and instead has just become another incentive for students to overwork themselves trying to compete with each other. Students are no longer being taught to learn for the sake of learning, they are being taught either to a standardized test or for the sake of the curriculum. As everyone is expected to achieve more, do more, compete more, the quality of our work has declined, and our focus on bettering ourselves has been replaced with being better than others.
Americans have reached a point where our “work hard and get results” has almost come to a grinding halt, as it seems everyone is working harder than everyone else - so one must work even harder just to keep pace.
Not to mention that America is a fiercely consumer society. Sure, you may be working hard and making more money, but mainstream America has also made it a requirement that you then consume more. Advertising is everywhere and is much more tailored to your tastes, and employers expect their staff to be on top of all social media outlets---actively and constantly. And, new “faster” and “better” technology is unveiled everyday - another thing to keep up with.
It seems that although we’re working harder and more frequently, our results are becoming more and more watered down, and our quality of life is declining at a rapid rate. Understandably, lifestyle and culture won’t just change overnight, but being aware of our stress and working to relax the way we live might be a good start.
“I will never let my daughter do that,” -a graduated senior from class of 2016.
Unfortunately, I felt similarly after watching the performance posed by our juniors and seniors during the Distinguished Young Women competition last year. I arrived with high hopes and a general idea of what I was going to witness. Sitting in the front row of the backend section of the auditorium, I sat comfortably amongst some close friends, chatting anxiously as the lights house lights dimmed. None of us had ever been to the event, but because we knew so many participants that year--we were eager to support them.
As a little girl, I can remember looking up to those who I believed to be some of the most talented, inspiring, and composed young women on the island ready to show-case their talents and abilities. I grew up, never having the opportunity to attend, with the intention of one day participating.
The curtain split and the mystical silhouettes of my friends attracted all of our attention to the stage. Behind the bright lights, the girls performed a choreographed opening number. Their teeth, (coated with vaseline to keep them smiling), were always visible. I cringed throughout the following acts, in shock that such an event was still happening...at our high school. I sat, in agony, as I watched girls walk away empty handed after the awards were given out. All of their hard work; all of those hours, and for what; some news dresses and a pair of heels. While I am completely opposed to participation awards, to not gain any reward after being judged in accordance to some beauty standard, is appalling.
Watching the girls practice this year, the program is still centred around appearance, presentation, and “fitness.” While it is a performance after all, I feel as though more time, or frankly too much time is spent on the appearance and not enough on character. How can anyone determine who you are in a 60 second time frame as you respond to how you would make the world a better place? How can you judge a person's personality by the length of her dress, or how well she can cross the stage in heels? How can you determine if someone's personality is deserving of money for their education when they are limited to 60 seconds to speak? Finally, I will never understand the point of judging a girl's ability to perform a choreographed dance and workout routine to whether or not she should receive scholarship money.
On the Distinguished Young Women website, their mission is stated as, “a national scholarship program that inspires high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments.” With that said, we should ask girls something along the lines of, “When did you really get lost and how did you find your way back to yourself?”
I realize the majority of girls who participate in distinguished young women, do it solely for scholarship money, which is upsetting to me. I’ve heard the argument that DYW can be great sources of scholarship money for low-income young women, but I’d rather live in a world where those same girls don’t have to learn how to walk in high heels or painfully smile for an hour at a time in order to afford college. I’ve also heard the argument that the pageant experience builds confidence and community among the participants, but so does participating in a debate club or flashing across a soccer or lacrosse field.
Aside, from my views on the system, I think we must consider the emotional effects on the girls. Young women of all ages deal with their own insecurities. Why should we give girls another reason to second guess their worth? If I lose something because I didn’t spend enough time culminating my ideas or working hard enough than that is one thing. But when you lose DYW you don’t lose because someone was smarter or more ambitious and hardworking than you, you lose thinking maybe you weren’t pretty enough or maybe you slumped when you walked or perhaps your body didn’t look good enough doing sit ups on stage. Beauty is about resilience--girls and women who have been through something and come out the other side having learned something about themselves and others.
Picture this, an awkward cone shaped robot purrs down the sidewalk of a suburban neighborhood. As it goes, it sloppily spits packages and mail into people's driveways. It looks clumsy, slow, and like its trying really hard to complete a simple task. It is almost frustrating to watch.
However, the robot is a company's dream. It can work non-stop hours, requires no health insurance plans, vacation time, subsidized maternity/paternity leave time, and after years of perfecting the design, manufacturing and repairing these robots will only get cheaper.
For these reasons, a number of companies have already began experimenting with robot delivery systems (Amazon, Google, Boston Dynamics, UPS, Walmart, just to name a few). A Menlo Park startup called Matternet has been implementing drone deliveries of medical supplies since 2011 in countries around the world including Haiti, Switzerland, and the Dominican Republic. More recently, the company has begun to implement these technologies in hospitals at home by transporting medical supplies to customers or other hospitals via drone delivery. Matternat’s drones are capable of flying with packages up to 2.2 pounds for about ten miles. The drones fly at a speed of 40 mph and a ten mile flight should take about 18 minutes. They can take off of the hospital roof and land on another roof without the recipient present. Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet said, “‘It’s much more cost-, energy- and time-efficient to send [a blood sample] via drone, rather than send it in a two-ton car down the highway with a person inside to bring it to a different lab for testing,’” (www.wfmz.com). In the case of a mechanical failure during flight, a parachute deploys from the drone. The drones are programmed to avoid restricted airspaces like airports and government buildings as well as areas of high population density like schools and public squares. “‘We believe the value of new technology is most valuable where it is clearly needed,’” Evans said. “‘That’s why we wanted to focus on drones delivering medicine and not delivering pizzas’”(www.wfmz.com).
At this point, it seems almost inevitable that drone deliveries will one day be implemented on a large scale. However, most of these robots are tested in isolated environments cordoned off from humans and there is no way to know what will happen when robots hit the streets. Workers who feel their jobs are being threatened and pranksters may be inclined to vandalize or steal packages from the robot.
However, we do have some early indicators of what human and robot integration might be like - and it's not so good. Since launching its first prototype delivery robot three years ago robot company Knightscope, has had three bullying incidents. In 2014, a person attempted to “tackle a Knightscope delivery robot” and last year, in Los Angeles, a group of people tried to “spray paint [a Knightscope] robot which sensed the paint and sounded an alarm, alerting local security and the company's engineers.” The most extreme case occurred in 2014 when two Canadian engineers conducted a social experiment by sending a robot across Canada and into the United States. When the robot reached Philadelphia, the experiment came to a halt after the academics lost contact with the robot which they later found “abandoned on the roadside with its arms ripped off” (www.wfmz.com).
As robots begin to dominate our streets in larger numbers, I think the abuse will continue. Self driving cars are another big question mark. They are covered with cameras and sensors. If people know they can cut off or pass a self driving car and face no repercussions because they are certain the other car will stop, how will this change the way people drive?
Like integrations of the past, it seems likely that robots will face abuse. While they have the potential to make our lives cheaper and safer, it is likely that some people will greet their serendipity with wrath.
It seems that few people these days understand that sleep is equally as important as eating and breathing. Sleep isn’t optional. You need it to survive. Especially in today’s world where things are moving fast and you are expected to keep pace. Studies regarding sleeping habits among teenagers come to some of the most distressing conclusions, yet it seems like no one is talking about them. Experts report that teenagers need eight and half to nine hours of sleep. This is not a soft “need.” This “need” means need-need or their productivity will be cut in half and their attention span will walk off a cliff. This isn’t an argument, this is science. Teenagers need more sleep than any other age group. According to the National Sleep Foundation, in 2006, only 20 percent of all teenagers got that optimal amount on a school night. If you were to zero in on teens in grades 9 through 12, only 9 percent got optimal hours of sleep. Nine percent. If that statistic was to hold true today, that means out of the approximately 530 students enrolled at NHS right now, only 48 are getting the required eight hours of sleep. That was 2006, now it’s 2017 and experts are reporting lower and lower percentages. Two out of three students are found to be severely sleep deprived in many parts of this country, and things are just going to get worse if we don’t make it better very quickly.
Lack of sleep happens for a lot of reasons. Some would argue that kids stay up late on their phones, or watching TV, or talking to their friends - and educators are quick to jump to this conclusion as well. They assume that if we push school back (one of the many suggested solutions to the problem) then kids will just “stay up later.” However, I would argue that the extent of this problem goes far beyond kids being lazy and putting off their homework, or because they want to stay up late (because that certainly doesn’t hold up, ask any teenager you know).
In recent years, getting little to no sleep as a teenager has become almost like a trend. Conversations among students often include obvious bragging about how late they’ve stayed up all week, or how yesterday they pulled an all-nighter to study for one of their many AP classes. Half of my conversations with friends include the phrase, “I stayed up so late last night,” or “I just want to go home and sleep.” Even if you didn’t stay up late doing homework, it’s become the accepted norm to say you did when people ask so you don’t look lazy. We’ve created a standard that makes getting the right amount of sleep look lazy. Being so physically and mentally exhausted you can’t focus has become normal. Prioritizing work over sleep is expected.
“I’m so tired” has become a conversation filler.
Obviously, one or two nights where you don’t get enough sleep is normal. But kids these days aren’t just getting one or two. It’s turned into whole weeks or more of constant lack of sleep. Do we really want to be inviting students to participate in an environment where this is normal?
Because of this, sleep is now placed last on the list of “important things a teenager needs to do.” A couple spaces below “homework” and “drink water.”
And this has created a cycle that consists of kids coming home after school and sports, exhausted from a lack of sleep the night before and taking on homework that should take three hours, but takes five because they are so tired they can’t focus. A recent study of over 9,000 students in eight Minnesota public schools found that even starting school a half hour later - giving students just that much more sleep - saw a noticeable rise in GPA and standardized test scores.
Because they were alert, focused, and could get their work done faster, they went to bed earlier, breaking the sleep deprivation cycle.
Now I get it. “Life isn’t fair,” and you’ll always have to wake up early whether it be for work or meetings etc.. But we’re not adults, we’re still kids, and we’re growing and developing at rapid rates. Lack of sleep is directly tied to suicide, obesity, high blood sugar, and depression. It impacts us more than we think. Insufficient sleep literally impairs your judgment to a point where driving in a sleep-deprived state is like driving drunk. You get moody and frustrated more easily. You start zoning out during classes and may miss important lessons. You have to repeatedly ask what a friend just told you twice already because your attention span is spent. You’re hungrier so you snack more often and then wonder why you just ate so much.
We’ve all been there.
I’m not saying teenagers should be treated like babies who get nap time after lunch (though I’m not objecting to the idea), but more emphasis needs to be put on its importance. How much sleep you get in a night determines how your day will go and how productive and attentive you will be. How much sleep you get in a night basically determines who you are throughout the day: functional or not. I feel as though no one is addressing the fact that almost everyone in in high school is tired all the time. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to have the most energy as a teenager, not the least. Ask a teenager what he or she would rather be doing at any given moment and nine times out of ten, he or she will say, sleeping. We need to stop writing that off as, “oh, that’s just how teenagers are” or “well this generation is lazy” and actually realize how sad it is that so many of us have so little energy we can barely get through a school day. The more people blame teenagers for the problem, the more the adults in their world call them lazy - just for being sleepy - the more part of the problem you become.
Last weekend I visited my sister at college and attended a student-run improv comedy show.
When the show ended and everyone (mostly students) were filing out of the venue, comments ranged from, “wow - how did they come up with those skits on the spot?” And, “I could never get up on stage and pull that off!” It was clear to me that everyone was pretty impressed at what those players did.
Improv comedy lacks the type of organized structure that we are accustomed to seeing in a traditional staged performance. There are no scripts or stage directions...everything is spontaneous. Typically, at the start, members of the group randomly select an audience member to volunteer and share a story about something personal (i.e. the story of their first kiss - the more awkward it makes the volunteer feel the better - but it is all in fun) and improvise scenes around it. In the second half of the show, group members ask the audience for a single word (“falcon” was chosen at the show I attended), which they then use to generate their own storyline.
There is only one rule in improv, and that is the concept of “agreement.” According to bigthink.com, “all players of improv must accept anything that happens to them. Improv isn’t about wisecracks and one-liners. It’s about creating a structure where characters and narratives are quickly created, developed, and resolved...Comedy is the natural byproduct.”
So what actually makes improv funny?
To answer this question, it is helpful to understand “humor” on a more technical level. Humor, as defined by www.npr.org, is the “incongruity resolution - or the realization that two things don’t go together, and the brain's attempt to fix it.” An incongruity suggests a pattern, because something cannot be incongruous unless it violates some previously established pattern. Therefore, in more basic terms, humor is a result of one part of the brain recognizing a break in a particular pattern and another part of the brain - the so called “pleasure center” - generating an emotional response - laughter. For instance, if given the word “test,” the players could develop the following scene:
Ryan, a student, sits down to finish his math exam. The teacher begins whistling loudly and tapping his feet on the ground.
Ryan asks politely. “Mr. White, it's difficult for me to focus with the whistling. Could you please stop for a little?”
Mr. White responds, “my apologies - I never meant to distract you. I’ll stop right now.”
However, Mr. White then begins licking his fingers and counting the change in his wallet, clanging the coins loudly.
Ryan asks politely, “Mr. White, I work better when it's quiet. Is there any place I can go to finish up my test?”
Mr. White responds, “I will stop right now Ryan. I was totally out of place and will from now on remain quiet.”
Mr. White would continue to break the pattern by making noise, thereby causing an incongruity and creating humor.
Being the deep thinker that I am, I continued to think about improv long after the show had ended. That a group of students could spontaneously create two hours of dazzling humor around a random word - communicating only indirectly with one another - called for further analysis.
I offer that teaching improv has the potential to be an effective educational tool and should be offered as a class elective in school. The way I see it, the components of pattern recognition, quick thinking under pressure, and creative expression would provide students with increased academic potential (as a result of practicing pattern recognition), composure in high stakes situations (standardized tests), and self-esteem building (as a result of creative expression).
In fact, a study conducted by Willard Holt in 1995 (www.opencolleges.edu.au) concluded that “gifted students” have more sophisticated senses of humor since the key concept in humor is “understanding incongruity, and this involves a mental process similar to problem solving.”
Therefore, by placing students in constructive - and positive - environments where they must work through sequences of word play and identify an incongruity in a short period of time, they are learning how to think critically.
I think it is no coincidence that Walt Disney said, “laughter is no enemy of learning.” Perhaps it is time we try to re-vitalize the learning process.
Upon watching the movie Arrival, I’ve been provoked into questioning things that hurt my mind to question because they are so incomprehensible that to question them is an utter disaster. Let me lead you through my thought process.
First off, language. What is language? Why do we all speak different languages? Further, how does language affect how we think and feel? There is a language in Northern Australia called Guugu Yimithirr that doesn’t have words for left, right, front or back, instead they use south, east, north and west to portray direction. They don’t see someone standing in front of building, they see someone standing north of a building. How does this distinction make their sense of position in the universe different? Words to express love are different in every language. While English speakers call each other “honey” or “love” to show affection the Romans said “animae dimidium meae” meaning “the other half of my soul” and the French say things like, “dans tes bras c’est mon destin” meaning “my destiny is in your arms.” How do the words we use to describe people affect how we see them? During war we have a tendency to distance ourselves from the enemy using derogatory nicknames, allowing us to see them as inferior and therefore making it easier for us to kill them. The names we call them affect our mind to such an extent that we begin to perceive them as lesser beings than us, essentially as animals.
Language is that powerful.
Then there’s the fact that the written English language writes how it sounds, but ancients Egyptians used hieroglyphics, which write as they are seen. While our writing uses words to tell stories, hieroglyphics uses visuals to tell stories. Imagine trying to write a text to your mom about your day but you can’t describe it with letters you have to describe it how you saw with symbols that have no correlation to how the word actually sounds. How do you pronounce hieroglyphics? How do you speak them? You don’t. Because the way you read hieroglyphics has no correlation as to how you pronounce the words you are reading. Our minds feeble English minds just don’t work like that.
Then, I started thinking about letters and I arrived at a terrifying conclusion. Why is our alphabet recited in the order that it is? A, B, C, D, E etc. etc. has no actual reason to be in that order. Alphabetical order has no reason to be in that specific alphabetical order. They could have at least done us all a favor and put the vowels first and the consonants second or vice versa, or structure it so that similar sounds are grouped together. But no. We’re stuck with A, B, C, D and poor Z is left at the end. Shoutout to all the kids who got called on last in literally everything in middle school because the order of our alphabet makes no sense. No thanks to you Aaron, you get to choose your crayons first because you have two A’s at the beginning of your name. Thanks Aaron!
This philosophical realization next prompted my thoughts about how numbers go on forever, or rather how you can have infinities that are bigger than other infinities. The numbers between 0 and 1 are infinite but the numbers between 1 and 100 are also infinite, meaning they’re both infinite but wouldn’t you think the numbers between 1 and 100 would be more infinite than the numbers between 0 and 1? The answer is it is. The theory of infinite sets was developed by Georg Cantor, who concluded that some infinite sets are vastly bigger than others when he argued that natural numbers are less numerous (that was an unintentional pun) than “real” numbers. Real numbers are numbers that can be represented as a decimal even if the decimal itself may be infinite. Trying to comprehend this requires a quiet space and calming music. How can infinity be bigger than itself? If the universe goes on forever, than who’s to say there aren’t other universes larger and more infinite than ours? And, if the universe goes on forever than infinity is getting bigger and bigger as the universe expands. Does this not make you feel incredibly small? And incredibly insignificant?
It made me feel so.
This leads me to my final thought, which is the importance of questioning what’s around you. Question your language. Question why you say expressions that you do. Where did they come from? What effect do your words have on others? Question your writing. Question why you write words the way you do. Why do certain words prompt certain thoughts? Question why things are the way they are. Question why you somehow remember every single song lyric from 2004 but not where you put your phone two minutes ago. Don’t settle for what’s accepted until you make sense of it for yourself. There is so much we do not know and so many things we cannot explain. We have access to the entire world now. We have computers, iPhones, planes that can take us anywhere and access to nearly every book and movie ever written or made. If you decide to waste your time looking at what your friends are doing or worrying about what other people think of you, you are wasting your potential. Some would argue that the purpose of life is to find your purpose. You won’t find it if you don’t first decide you want to.
A recent study confirmed you are more likely to die by falling out of bed or being struck by lightning than you are to be killed by terrorists. However, notice that there are no bans from certain bed frames that might cause you to fall out, nor are we prohibited from wearing necklaces or bracelets during a lightning storm. Statistically those would be the logical precautions to take if we want to be efficient with our federal spending, we ought to put our money toward the things that are doing the most harm. Instead, we have now chosen to restrict all people from seven nations from entering our country because of the small chance that they might be terrorists.
To me this is very backwards.
There have been 13 total attacks on US soil by radical Islamists since 9/11. But an average of 87 people are shot every day, 609 every week by other Americans, and we don’t see any changes being made to the Second Amendment. More people are dying from cancer, pollution, car accidents, suicide, homicide and we have chosen to make our main focuses terrorism and immigrants. Where is our logic coming from?
This is not to say that terrorism isn’t one of the main issues in recent years, and by no means am I disregarding the victims of terrorist attacks as any less important than people killed by lightning. Terrorist attacks are brutal, they aren’t fair and they are wrong. But most importantly, and this is what people forget, they are meant to instill a sense of fear, they are done to make people afraid and to make us become angry and instinctive. The very definition of terrorism is the “use of violence and threats to intimidate, terrorize or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Am I not wrong in saying they are succeeding?
We are all afraid, so afraid in fact that we have completely banned the entrance of people from seven different nations. We have banned families from entering, we have banned refugees who have nowhere to go, we have banned students and scientists and doctors. People who want to help us, people who believe in our right to happiness and freedom. Isn’t that just playing into what they want? Terrorists want us to be fearful of them, and to change our beliefs and our morals and our laws to adapt to their attacks. They want us to turn against each other, and to replace our most cherished belief - that all people are created equal - with thoughts of panic and distrust.
There is no worse way to respond to terrorist attacks then to ban completely nonviolent people from entering a country. People who believed in our purpose and our hope are now angry and hurt.
Angry and hurt people who have nowhere to turn and who feel they have been betrayed by the United States are the people who become terrorists. By banning people from entering this country because we assume they are all terrorists we are only giving them more reason to become what we assume they are.
We have, yet again, gone backwards.
Trump is not “strong” because he has banned people from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. He isn’t “protecting the American people” or “keeping our democracy safe” by banning people from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. He is turning peaceful people who have been tempted, perhaps all their life, by the safety, equality and prosperity promised by this country into people of dejection and resentment. He is saying that we are better than them, he is saying that their religion is based in violence and hate and he is saying that they do not deserve to be here because of something that is out of their control.
I can tell you right now that blaming, shaming, bombing, and banning is not going to be what combats terrorism. Love of all persons, acceptance of all religions, generosity towards all nations and faith in our country and its’ fierce belief in freedom and liberty is what terrorists are most afraid of. Because terror is the root of terrorism, when we accept our fear of differences and end our need to blame, we will no longer feel terror towards others or terror towards ourselves.
I recently had the opportunity to present at The Nantucket Project, the an- nual three-day conference held on the is- land in late September that brings together thinkers, leaders, artists, innovators, de- signers, preachers, and educators for thought provoking dialogue and engage- ment. I had approached TNP Co-founder Tom Scott last fall about speaking at the conference as I had an idea that I felt needed to be “out there.” We went back and forth over the winter - with mostly me following up with him - and he had me speak with several other members of TNP core staff. About the second week of Sep- tember, he told me that I was officially in the line-up.
A number of interesting things happened that day. When I took my place among the other presenters in the front pew at the Congregational Church, Richard Saul Wurman (who founded TedTalks) told me - very politely - that I was in the wrong place, that the front pew was reserved for presenters. I told him I was one. I think he was surprised. After my talk, he told me that “he had seen a lot of talks and mine was really well done.” As the session wrapped up, other presen- ters and members of the audience, of all ages and from all walks of life, came up to me and told me that I was absolutely right on, that they agreed 100 percent with what I had said. During the reception that evening, Abby Falik, a recognized expert on education and founder of Global Citi- zen Year, an organization which promotes a bridge year between high school and college (as it “builds self-awareness, global skills and grit”), asked me to contact her about getting my presentation distributed. It seems to me that what I said really needed to be said.
Below is the text from my talk. I wonder how many of you will think it rings true.
It seems to me, that the level of pressure and the height of expectations that are being placed upon ambitious and driven high school students who are plan- ning to attend competitive colleges has be- come too great and is beginning to have negative effects on the quality of their ed- ucation. Students like myself and many of my peers, are beginning to perceive any grade lower than an “A” to be a failure...and as a result, this ability to achieve an “A” has begun to weigh in heavily in our choice of classes. I have witnessed very intelligent students driven away from taking a challenging class they found interesting because they were not convinced that they could earn an “A.” I can very much understand why they did this.
But the ability to earn an “A” should not be the determining factor of success. It is precisely in these more challenging environments, those in which students may not be able to earn the perfect letter grade, that they will learn a lot about a subject that actually interests them, and most importantly, a lot about themselves. Struggling in a challenging class and making mistakes provides you with the opportunity to reflect on your errors and improve upon your approach. Sure, I am a young person myself, but I have to believe that this is a very valuable experience for someone like myself to go through...and be comfortable with.
By raising the bar so high for high achieving students, to a point where they perceive any grade lower than an “A” to be a failure, I think we are robbing them of these valuable experiences.Now I understand that there are some politics involved here. Higher test scores, larger AP class offerings, and the like - these things make schools look good. And to a certain extent, these things pro- vide more opportunities for students. A rigorous academic environment is a good thing. However, I think we have reached a point... a point where the pressure being placed on high achieving students is be- ginning to take away from the quality of their education.
I wanted to speak at TNP because I wanted to get these ideas in front of an audience. I’m not sure what long-term ef- fects this may have on my generation - on our generation as high school students. But I thought a good first step would be to raise awareness of the mounting pressures being placed on many of us young, ambitious students and to consider what might be lost with such a high speed, high-pressured approach.
Once upon a time, politics was actually meaningful.
I know, this surprises me too.
When this country was founded more than two centuries ago, the major- ity of the politicians actually had valu- able ideas that were aimed at helping people, and their goal was to create a country that valued freedom and growth. Now, granted, they were all male and all white and most of them were racists and sexists, but when you really take a long look at today’s politicians, not much of that has changed. Which is really alarm- ing.
Further, rather than really trying to fix the social and economic issues that have continuously been a problem in this country, we’ve been immersed in some domestic conflicts (the Civil War) but also with two major world wars, fighting the Spanish, the Filipinos, and the Kore- ans, and costly, lengthy conflicts in Viet- nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We repeatedly have a problem with getting involved in problems that aren’t our own , and for some reason we don’t learn each learn each time we do it that it’s, more often than not, a bad idea.
And if you’re thinking, “Oh no, she’s wrong, we’ve dealt with our issues just fine,” I won’t disagree completely. We added some good amendments, we got rid of slavery (which, by the way, took way longer than it should have) and now I as a woman can vote! Awesome job team! Except - oh wait - racism, misog- yny, guns, abortion laws, the wage gap, student debt, global warming (it’s real) and our military spending budget. We just elected a President who is openly de- fined by all of those things, and the Vice President believes that gays can be “cured” with conversion therapy.
This aside, we haven’t moved much at all on a lot of major issues, it seems to me. Progress is so slow that as we move forward in time we just keep facing newer issues that build on to the old issues that haven’t been resolved so now all of a sudden, our old and new is- sues have built up into this massive pile of problems that has become such a mess that no one even knows where to begin. I will argue that this is just like your laundry basket, except it hasn’t been emptied in some 175 years.
This is where bad politicians come in. Every time the United States’ laundry basket starts to smell bad be- cause some issue starts becoming over- evident, someone will point it out, and then more people will notice it, and then soon everyone is smelling it and saying “Hey we should probably do some laun- dry.” Instead of taking out all the clothes and throwing them in a washing machine (which could consist of writing some leg- islation) the politicians will either say, “I don’t smell anything,” in which case everyone is left to deal with the problem until maybe (though unlikely) it gets ad- dressed later. Or, if we’re lucky (lucky?), they’ll spray some Febreze on the basket and run for president. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this isn’t work- ing, and never will work no matter how many times you try to ignore it or how many times you spray Febreze or what “flavor” Febreze you decide to use! It won’t work!
I’m not trying to say all politi- cians are bad, in fact, some are awesome and have their heads screwed on right and know how to compromise and plan and listen to the people. But for some reason, those politicians are so obscenely rare that people have begun to think that the bad ones who are really good at pre- tending to be good are actually good. And once you think they’re good and they start spewing hate and false state- ments and lies and distrust in others, you think that they make sense. You ignore the evidence, you ignore the important issues, and you take in the lies and the emotion that they feed . After all, you want life to be happy and good and you want your values to be known and lis- tened to - and this is what they promise you. But this is what you should be scared of.
Don’t be naive. Don’t let your- self decide who you’re voting for based on your emotions because emotions aren’t going to make policies and write legislation. Think about it: if the things a politician says he or she will do is realis- tic, then you need to think about the con- sequences. Politicians aren’t going to tell you the facts, they’re going to try and tell you their solution to a problem. Learning the facts on that problem is up to you, making the right decision based on your values is up to you, and educating your- self on issues that are important to you is key. If you take away anything from this drawn-out rant, take away that it is your job as an American citizen to wage a rag- ing, frustrating, tiresome battle against ignorance and bigotry. Only you have the power to empty the laundry basket, mom’s not going to do it for you.
ELL Teacher, NHS
Pride comes easily to this splendid island, but residents here pretty much let the charming shops, stunning beaches, protected moors, and renowned restaurants quietly speak for themselves. Nantucket is special-- all know it-- and so perhaps it's only the amazing history of the island that really needs a little vocal horn-tooting. For example, not many outsiders know that Nantucket was the energy capital of the world at one point in history. Whaler Pride goes deep, rooted in an exceptional place inhabited then and now by uncommon people.
I'm what locals call "a wash-ashore,” one who only recently made my way out to this "real corner of the world," as Herman Melville called it. There was something truly magical about crossing the thirty miles of ocean on a ferry from Cape Cod on a sunny August day, and seeing for the first time the two, tall white church spires over the busy harbor and historic village of Nantucket. Days earlier, I had just been hired as a teacher at Nantucket High School via Skype interviews. As I toured the island for the first time, I could hardly believe my good fortune in landing on such a solitary, shining jewel at sea. Then, when I walked into the high school foyer and saw a sun-washed finback whale skeleton hanging from the rafters, my jaw dropped almost as wide as the whale's. The dramatic Hall of the Whale in my new workplace is a visible reminder of the hard, dangerous work and long, well-chronicled voyages taken by the ancestors of families still living here.
At that first convocation in September, Superintendent Cozort spoke of "Whaler Pride" in his welcoming remarks to all of us working in the three public schools. This official motto does reflect a real spirit shared by so many longtime residents, both inside and outside the school community. People take a genuine pride and gratification in having found ways to be successful out here where the winds often howl at up to 40-60 mph, and electricity- let alone housing- is not cheap. There's a vigorous work ethic here where everyone does whatever it takes to pay for and to enjoy all the island has to offer. While life here may now be a breeze compared to those resilient whalers' lives from the 1800's, I see teaching assistants, administrators, librarians, kitchen staff, teachers, substitutes, and custodians working everyday to make the schools the best they can be. Maybe it's the excellence and beauty of the entire island that is calling us, like the steamship whistle every morning, calling us to sail, to give it our all as we nurture and challenge the children in our schools. Additionally, the kids we are educating in this tightly-knit community are those of our friends, relatives, and neighbors. So we care a lot, and we want everyone to know we're doing the best we can with their children.
We work long days in the schools on Nantucket. Whaler Pride is felt as a happy spirit of knowing we’re working hard to give every young person an opportunity to discover their unique potential. NPS teachers stay after school an extra half an hour for four days a week to assist young people. The volunteerism here is at a level I have never seen in my previous thirty years of working on the mainland (or "America", as it’s called). On Nantucket, it's one for all and all for one! When there is a need or an opportunity, Nantucketers just step up and get the job done. Here are some noteworthy examples.
Every fall many islanders come to the high school for a full evening of celebrating Hispanics and their culture. Before the December holidays, the community supports a huge, day-long Chinese auction, and a bake and craft fair with parents, businesses, and students working to raise not hundreds but tens of thousands of dollars every year for the senior class’s graduation, dinner, dance, and other activities. The Wintertide Arts Show at Nantucket High recently had a large turnout to see and enjoy students' art and photography, their woodwork from shop, treats from the culinary program, and hear students perform “Poetry Out Loud.” For Christmas, school children decorate lighted trees that line the streets downtown for shoppers to admire. The high school choir performs Christmas concerts for appreciative audiences on many evenings in December. In January, a make-your-own-team volleyball tourney gives all the high school students a fun way to compete and let off some steam. The schools truly are a social hub for the entire community. Each of these events calls for countless hours of planning and implementation gladly given by school personnel.
A long-time New Englander told me, "Wow- you jumped right over Martha's Vineyard, the island of millionaires, to the island of billionaires!" While this comment reflects a real island rivalry, the year-round residents on Nantucket are humble working folks who are grounded in a quiet pride of knowing they've cleverly figured out how to make it here. Many, including those in the schools, have two, or even three jobs. Nantucket is flourishing these days, as small businesses, restaurants, inns, and those working in construction, house cleaning, and landscaping, are seeing boom times. Many high school kids- locals and Central American immigrants-- work long hours after school and in the summer. But Nantucketers take as much pride in their resourceful ingenuity as they do their work ethic. While all of the New England schools take a week-long "winter break" at the same time, the Whalers prefer to enjoy the week after the mainland vacation, traveling off island to less crowded destinations, and competing less for prime plane seats. Competitive juices are better spent winning the coveted Island Cup in front of the hundreds of cheering Whaler football fans who ferried over to the Vineyard this year. Whaler Pride!
Administrators and teachers are proud to connect our students to the many world-class cultural opportunities offered here. The Nantucket Project and Nantucket Film Festival are two events that not only draw to the island some of the most creative and inspiring people in the world, but also enable our students to engage with them. At the elementary school, on the last day before the Christmas holiday, there's a joyous sing-along with famous Santa and his Elf who put on quite the show! The Whaler Pride of hard work in our classrooms extends to the sea where each summer some lucky students get a chance to hoist the masts and sail on the replica of a grand tall ship first launched in 1813.
Finally, two anecdotes may illustrate how Whaler Pride works “in the trenches,” so to speak. On my first day touring my new school, I checked on what would be my office space in a shared classroom and there, to my surprise, stood two administrators- not a custodian- cleaning out the room. So, I quickly learned- this is the Whaler way. Just roll up your sleeves, and quietly do what needs to be done- whatever it is. When the work is done, the pride carries over. On the night in June when all the seniors were celebrating their soon-to-be graduation with a delicious seafood dinner and dancing, the superintendent walked over to a table with teachers new to the island. Mr. Cozort leaned over to greet us, smiled coyly, and asked, "So- how many of you came from a school district where there was the option to have your Senior Ball at either of TWO different yacht clubs offering their services?"
With only a few more years left in my teaching career, I love working in a school district with so many happy, satisfied people. The children and young adults are learning so much, and the schools have such high expectations for all. The feeling of Whaler Pride on Nantucket is real. After a hard day of work, the beach beckons, and we earned it.