Thursday, September 16, 2010

keeps pulling me back in

Article 1           NY Times, reputable newspaper

Article 2 , brilliant joke site

A rare non-consumer-media article from me today. I hate writing about politics, but a good deal of what ails me comes from watching this failtrain of news. Like my protest article (see March 2010), I completely acknowledge my ability to be wrong. These are my thoughts and feelings converted to text as best I can, and oftentimes while I have mixed views, what I write here is what I think most. This is going to be long, so strap in. I'm writing this because I've read two articles recently on similar subjects, and while I think the two articles raise some good points and, for the most part aren't BS, when I read articles like this I feel like an angry finger is being unfairly pointed at me, and my natural response is to go "Get that finger out of my face". In addition, I feel like too many people complain about the state of the US, citing its position on the global totem, lazy youth and disunity. So if you decided not to read those articles, let me break them down for you just a little bit. It goes like this: these days it seems like the USA and especially our younger generations don't work hard enough. Test scores are low, teachers cite absenteeism and apathy as major problems, and economically, well you know. Work ethics have been lost to get rich quick-ism and spoiled....ness, then everyone cries "How come I'm not rich yet?". With the economy suffering badly and other nations rising up in fits of inexpensive and tough labor, these men pointed fingers at everyone who is young. They say that in the 40s no government officials when were afraid to ask the people to contribute and to sacrifice and also were not afraid to tell people that hard work would be needed. And the young people of the time were reputedly not afraid to give that hard work, roll up their sleeves and make it happen. So now that I've laid it out, let me respond.

(1) Tests
 The articles above cite test scores as evidence for low work ethic, as well as lament the fact that we're #11-ish on global charts. I loved K-12 school. In normal classes, I really felt mentally stimulated and wanted to come back the next day. You know what part really made me apathetic? Standardized test time. I couldn't learn anything while they went on, they were boring, and honestly did not feel indicative of my actual abilities. I remember feeling like it was a waste for everyone to try and quantify language ability. You can quantify math, sure, but again the material didn't always match up with what I was taught 100%. If I'd scored low, it would only indicate that I was taught the wrong thing. 9 times out of 10, if I missed a math question, it was because I was like "What is that?", not because my existing abilities sucked. If we compare these scores with those of other nations, it only indicates that they can do this or that better because they were taught this or that, not that they are better period. What I'm trying to say is that more and more emphasis and stress is being placed on standardized test scores, and that's probably not good.  Those test scores have done nothing for me. I went to junior college, so when I transfered to a university, I didn't need my SAT. The high school exit exam? If you can spell your name, you can pass it.   So what are we gauging with these scores, and if the scores are low, how is it indicative of low work ethic? The problem is boredom. All of the kids I see are actually very driven. I was a relatively well-prepared student, and today's students are leagues ahead of my younger self on average. Apathy is probably a problem in the classroom because we're dumping more and more money, time and effort into trying to get our kids to score high on these exams.
"Stop learning for a minute -- we need to test for learning"

When scores dip, the repairs that we make focus on the scores, making the kids even more bored. Iron-ee! Here's something you probably didn't know: kids love to learn. They do not hate learning new things automatically. What they hate is having to produce high test scores for the sake of high test scores. The process is actually more akin to memorization, not thinking. When they leave school, they'll be able to produce high test scores, but not actually function as mentally autonomous or creative members of society. Way to suck the life out of school. I've also read that other nations study fewer subjects (but more in-depth) than we do. We study ~12 subjects (in a math class for instance) a year where they study ~4. If we didn't jam so many items into a kid's head that he/she is likely to forget them by the time tests roll around, maybe they'd do better and we could actually compete.

(2) There's only 1 #1, get over it
Another thing that bothers me is the people who flail their arms in panic whenever they hear the US is not #1 in this or that. I hear pundits go on and ooooooon about how sad they are to see America now and back when they were kids, America was king. They have this idea in their head that the correct order of the world is to have America as the most powerful nation, as if letting anyone else take over for a while would be like letting the bad guys win. News flash, people: Since 1776 (or whatever), up to and including 194X, America was not the most powerful or rich nation ever. That comfy chair has only been ours for the last 60 years at most. America was fraught with failure and a lack of unity for almost its entire existence. The generations raised after 1940 have exclusively known America as the top contender, and can't handle the shock of it only measuring up as just "pretty darn good" now. With 6 billion people on Earth and almost 200 nations, how can we expect to hold #1 if every. last. person and nation is trying for it?

What i'm trying to say with this is that just because we're not the #1 something, it's no reason to panic. It's actually kind of selfish if you think about it. I'm the type who rolls my eyes every time someone tries to convince me that the US is an evil corporate polluting racist whatever. However, I do think it is a little selfish and even xenophobic to not want to share any of the good stuff that our top position affords. So we want our house in the suburbs full of TVs, computers and such, but we don't want the poor countries making our stuff to finally rise to our economic level? As far as I'm concerned, they earned it. Just like the US did when it was manufacturing. Just like Rome, Greece, Mongolia, etc, America can't stay the top forever. We will lose our spot eventually and there's nothing we can do. While getting to this spot took work, it also was the result of some very lucky breaks, probably some exploitation, and convenient opportunities. What about that says entitlement? Be glad you were born in America and not Ethiopia or something. Isn't #2 good enough? It is at this point that I feel clarification is necessary. I'm not what you'd call "patriotic", at least not in the widely accepted form of the word. I'd call it "appreciative". At no point in this article is it my intention to "bash" the US, seem unappreciative of the luxurious (compared to global average) lifestyle afforded to me, or even act like I know politics. I am critical of most things, especially when they are things that I consider important. At the moment, the climate of news media and general unrest of the people has me feeling like everybody's losing their minds when there's really not that much cause for it. It's gotten to the point where the hysteria (excuse me, feminists) is what's become the major contributor to itself. We can excel and achieve without looking at it like it's a fight with another political group or another nation.

(3) Lazy youth
I'm a scatterbrain. Let me go back a little bit and talk about the young people. It's easy to look at children and teens now and think that they aren't very capable. With TV, really bad pop music, computers, the internet, twitter, facebook, videogames, and teen pregnancy, it's easy to get the impression that the youth of the na-ation are worthless, and when it's time for them to become the adults, America is doomed. DOOOOMED! While culture changes quickly enough that I'm only 23 and already don't get teens, I could probably say that I never did. Even as a teen myself, I was not able to comprehend many of the activities, dispositions and psyches of the people I went to school with. This can probably be said about people "like me" who went to high school 5 years before me, 10 years before me, and so on. We live in a media culture these days that unfortunately broadcasts the lowest common denominator. Like in any generation, we have workers, intellectuals, idiots, lazy-asses, etc. I'm an okay student, and while I was growing up, I was constantly reminded (first-hand) that the generations before mine did not hold education in as high esteem as they do now. Manual skills, not raw educational rankings, were what they used to focus on. You can't tell me that scholastic ineptitude wasn't a problem before but it is now. You can't. It's not like every student in the 50s did their schoolwork and did it perfectly. Every generation had their idiots and rebels and such. In the 50s it was the greasers. In the 60s it was the hippies. In every generation, the problem is that we only really see the flamboyant idiots. That is, it doesn't really help that we don't put our best in the media instead of idiots. But honestly, you couldn't say that the adult world doesn't have this problem too.

 Because there's really nothing to understand about something like (I'm jumping ages here, but you get the idea) Jersey Shore, they can broadcast it and EVERYBODY will understand it. Therefore, everyone can view it and give it ratings. I don't want to get into bashing TV right now (I want to), but what I'm trying to say is that you never see the workers or intellectuals. On the TV and such, you only see the criminals, sluts and mouths. So don't worry, older people, when you see this. It does not reflect the teen population at large, just like most reality TV doesn't reflect the adult population at large. There are smart, hardworking students in school right now preparing themselves for futures just like there always have been. It's easy to think that with all the distractions and toys we have now, none of the kids are putting time into work and school, but trust me: they are. They have to. More than ever, students are incredibly aware of the fact that they have to go to college. In fact, a college degree isn't even a very (very) useful tool anymore. To do anything in this world, you kind of need a Master's. Anyways, like always, and heck even more than before, students today are getting it done. And they're the ones that are going to have to clean up this mess that your generation got us into. So I don't think giving them ish is very fair.

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