I’ve never been a very big fan of English class (as anyone who has tracked my academic rants in high school). Which I find quite strange, because I have a complete and total appreciation for the activities of reading and writing. I love to read, especially works that get me to think in a new way (whether that work be fiction, non-fiction, or some postmodern blend of the two). And I love to write, mainly because it’s close to the only thing I can do (excluding some basic algebra) where I don’t feel like I have to think. And with a mind that’s nonstop thinking, it can be nice to get away from that for a while.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, especially out of books suited for the AP English Language and Composition class (okay, shoot me, I’ve temporarily transported myself back to high-school land. As I keep saying, the high school is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there!). They have gotten me to thinking: maybe the problem isn’t with me, maybe the problem is with the class!

I cannot think of any other subject taught in public school that is so absolutely confused about its purpose (close behind, however, is gym class: is the point physical fitness or the humiliation of those of us that don’t know how to throw or catch a spherical object? You can choose either one, but you must choose!). Should English class teach us how to read, how to write, how to love, how to not be racist (which I still uphold was the entire point of my 10th grade English curriculum!), or how to argue a point persuasively. Should English teach us how to best fulfill our human potential; or should it teach us the best place to put a comma? Again, it can do one or the other, but not both.

In the very name, then, we have a confusion. If I enter ‘chemistry’ class, I know very well I will be learning about chemistry. If I enter ‘calculus’ class, I can rest assured that on most days I won’t be dealing with the meaning of life. If I enter ‘geography’ class, I shouldn’t have to wonder if I’ll be learning about the Kennedy assassination (wait…). And yet, in ‘English’ class, the subject matter can range from anything as mundane as period placement to the most grand questions of the existential nature of human existence. Excuse me, why would we ever mix the two?!

It seems as if English takes on the role of the bastard child of public education, filling in the gaps left behind by the other subjects. Which is all well and good if you want to pass the ‘English’ section of the PSSAs (what’s that, Billy, you can spell ‘d-a-d’ out on the scantron? Well, by golly, here’s your diploma!). But it’s a horrible state of affairs if you’re actually concerned about any of those subjects that get mashed into the melting pot of a English curriculum.

‘English’ class could easily be separated into four or five other sub-classes, all of which belong together in a high school curriculum about as much as history belongs in a science classroom (yes, it’s important to understand the historical underpinnings of any scientific principle, but not when it gets in the way of learning what that principle is saying). The taxonomy of ‘English’ might flesh itself out with individual classes on the mechanics of writing, critical thinking, humanistic studies, philosophy, the art of rhetoric, the study of fiction, and the study of the classics. All of these subfields are eminently important for a young thinker (perhaps more so than knowing that the uranium is the heaviest non-synthetic element, or that centrifugal and centripetal are not the same thing), and yet they all get muddied together in English class. As a person that finds the study of all these fields very interesting in isolation (with the exception, perhaps, of the study of fiction when that fiction happens to be written by a certain Jane Austen), I do not find the mashing together of these subfields at all attractive. And if I, a lover of all things involving thinking, reading, and writing, do not find it so, how can we expect those that abhor such things to ever develop a liking for them?

I can understand the original premise for the mixing and matching of these separate fields. When public schools first came into existence, resources were scarce, and literacy perhaps even scarcer. If you only have 45 minutes a day to teach a student all they need to know about how to go about living as a person, you had best mix and match the best of parts. Use that Bible to teach them about parallelism. Contemplate what it means to be human by reading Frankenstein. In a economy of ideas based on scarcity, this all makes perfect sense.

But not today. Most children enter schools coming from a world absolutely dripping with the written, spoken, and felt word. Advertisements bombard students every hour of every day. Television, with real honest to gosh words, vie for their attention against computer websites and even their own friends. The computer itself has become a part of the lexicon, as have cellphones, to the point that conversations based almost solely on acronyms still get across (except for a certain English teacher that did not know what ‘WTF’ meant). Text messages have made an art of shorthand conversation.

In such a language rich world, the trick is no longer to expose children to language (one might argue the trick is to expose them to less of it), but rather to teach them how to harness it, how to do something with it. Critical thinking stands as the most important skill for for any individual in todays world, and yet a graduate of public school will not have one class on that subject throughout his entire educational career. College isn’t the time to reach people with these principles. Middle school is.

I don’t know if children still learn how to use dictionaries, but if they do, god bless. What a pointless exercise, even not so long ago when I first pursued it. I remember those ‘learning exercises,’ placing words in alphabetical order, and then looking, in that jumble of other words, for the one I needed, and then finally copying down exactly what the book already said. For what end? Computers get at words so much faster, and provide such a better context for that word, than any of the ‘student’ dictionaries ever could. In a similar vein, I fear that English has become outdated. Popular culture does a far better job in creating a common lexicon for us. Science classes do far better at teaching us how to think critically about the world around us. And the day to day situation of living in the modern world forces us to use and improve our language skills. Hopefully English will grow beyond its current position as the burial ground for old, stodgy ideas by old stodgy white men (and the occasional white woman).

But first, it has to change its name.

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I just have to love the internet sometimes.

I wonder if she knows what ‘superman that …’ means. ;)

Regardless, Ms. Zeigler was an awesome Spanish teacher. One of the best. I wish her great luck in West Chester.

Captain Planet: Super Hero

October 5, 2007

Because I haven’t posted anything in a while, I thought I’d go back into the archives and give you a little treat. This gem is from Senior year Physics. We had to write a one page paper on a superhero whose abilities either agreed with or contradicted the laws of physics. I, of course, chose Captain Planet. Behold our powers combine! Enjoy.

Captain Planet is a character from a pop culture television show of the 1990s. In times of need, the Planeteers, a multicultural group of young people brought together by Gaia, an unnamed, non-denominational “spirit,” summon Captain Planet. The five members of the Planeteers do this by combining the power of their magical rings, each of which has a special power related to the elements (in the alchemical sense) of earth, wind, fire, water, and (though not an element but a nice way to get love involved) heart. Captain Planet, being an amalgam of all these powers, is capable of controlling all of nature. In addition, he has super strength and can fly. Perhaps his greatest power is his ability to absorb sunlight in order to heal himself. His only weakness, not surprisingly, is toxic waste and other pollutants. Well, that, and his flamboyantly horrible red, blue, and green outfit.

The majority of Captain Planet’s abilities agree with the laws of physics, though most would require technology to actually implement them. For example, his ability to fly would require an aerodynamic machine (perhaps an airplane). His great strength could be simulated through a suit embedded with nanotechnology that augments his existing strength. And his ability to heal himself with sunlight could theoretically work if scientists could develop a way to embed and utilize functioning chloroplasts in humans. However, without technology, which the Planeteers abhor, none of these powers would be humanly possible. But then again, he is a super hero. And perhaps his greatest power is his ability to unite all of humanity behind a single cause: environmentalism. But everyone knows that is impossible because of both the laws of physics and the conventions of modern society.

More random nostalgic binging

September 10, 2007

If there’s one good thing coming from compiling a book of blog posts, it’s all the random events that I forgot happened but now rediscover.

Like this one. No one that reads this blog will get it. But trust me, it was funny.

Wow, tonight’s marching band practice was the awesomest ever. And by awesome, I don’t mean it went well. On the contrary, it probably went the poorest I’ve ever seen a practice go. But the fun had. Oh, the fun had.

It’s amazing that acting crazy / being crazy can be so much fun. I mean, randomly shouting at people / counting in Spanish / being chased around by “crazed” drummers can make for quite a night. Quite a night indeed.

Especially when you “left everything on the field” last Saturday.

Oh well, only the rest of this month to go.

“Do you know what Saturday?! It’s Championships! Freakin’ Cavalcade Championships!”

Oh, marching band.

Just found out a movie entirely about Jane Austen is coming out today! OMG, OMG, OMG. Like, which of my BFFLs want to go with me to this tear-fest through Ms. Austen’s life? Like, text me!

[Note: Don’t really text me. At least, not about that. ;)]

I can think of one person that will be watching this. Probably today.

Oh, I do love irony. And satire. The only things that I and Ms. Austen have in common.

Well, hello there. I haven’t seen you in a while. But then again, the blog works two ways, now doesn’t it? You can’t receive if you never give!

I just wanted to hop on here and give a shout out to the class of 2007. A great group of kids, all. Well, by all, I mean the 10+ kids that I actually know well from that class. I was thinking, and if I had to choose any high school class to be in [other than ’06, of course], I’d choose the class of ’07. So many great kids. Smart kids. Nice kids. Inspiring kids.

[What would it have been like to move with them throughout the years? I don’t imagine that train of thought will lead anywhere very useful. But maybe some day I’ll go down that track for fun.]

So, here’s to you, class of 2007! Welcome to the ‘real world’ of college. Not so real. And not so worldly. But it’s good to have you with us.

Namaste.

This is when you really start deciding who you are.

This is when you choose a look. This is when you start saying “dude” all the time, and without scare quotes, or only sometimes and heavily ironized, or maybe not at all. This is when you get your first tattoo and stud, or go for the cords and the blue oxford shirt. This is when you decide to study hard, to get top marks, even though it takes a lot of time — or you decide to blow it off and cruise with Bs, or drop out entirely and fuck ’em all. This is when you decide that you are the kind of person who really cares about the environment or gender equality or you decide that taking political positions is just so affected. If you’re more or less embedded in a minority niche, ethnic or economic, or both, this is when you decide to negotiate the dominant culture or, because the very idea of that is humiliating, you commit to the enterprises that belong to you already. This is when you get invested in team sports, or attach yourself to a skateboard and join the crew down at the financial center plaza. This is when you dabble in a bit of both, or several, because you’ve got other ideas, you’re not sure exactly what, sort of a loner-artist-type thing developing — but there’s examples of that in every third thing you read and see as well, so you’ve got the company of reflection even when you “go your own way,” because that’s such a category too, there’s no escaping it, this side of madness anyway, and even then, half the school shooters in the heartland saw themselves as Neo in The Matrix, or something along those lines, didn’t they?

Above all, this is when you choose the music you will live by, a soundtrack to accompany the performance of your life.

~ On High School, from Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It by Thomas De Zengotita

Fucking insane. All that stuff really does go on during high school. All the creation of identity. That must be why everyone in middle school yearbooks looks more or less the same: the same bland, childish clothes, hair, face. Except for the few rare exceptions that have already ‘high schooled’ ahead of their time.

And I don’t see a way to escape. Yet. It seems like no matter what direction you go, you’re still stuck in your label, even if it’s just the label of having no label. The identity of having no identity.

‘This is the soundtrack for our movie. Would you tell me when we get to the best part? I’ll play it for you.’

Ugh. What an ironic age we live in.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=184038&dest=9980]

Ever want to know how to solve a crime? Well here it is!

Just disregard all the educational material: the fun stuff is all at the beginning and end!

[blip.tv ?posts_id=183460&dest=9980]

Yes, THAT movie from THAT class.

Nipples. Hehehe.

Aw man. Good times. Enjoy!

(Happy Birthday, Dave!)

I’ve been digging through the archives here on my computer, and I stumbled upon a gem (in my personal opinion). It’s the preliminary graduation speech I wrote a year ago.

All I have to say is that I should have stuck with it. The one I ended up giving was bloated with cliches and narcissism.

For your perusal, here’s my first:

Let me start off by saying that I started this speech December 16th of this year, so any suckiness may be attributed to me, not to a lack of preparation or procrastination.

That out of the way, let me also say that I realize that on this day, you don’t want to hear me talk for 10 minutes. You probably don’t want me to talk for another sentence. This is your day, just as much as it’s mine, so I’ll try to keep this simple and sweet.

I’m not the smartest one out of this years graduating class. I’m not the most athletic, or the most talented. I don’t have the most friends, or know the most teachers. I don’t handle people the best, or know how to be a friend the best. To put it simply, I’m not the best of any of you. The best anything lies with you, and you can look forward to that. But somehow, by some fluke of luck, I ended up being the “valedictorian.” But, and I did not know this until this year, valedictorian’s Latin root just means, “to bid farewell.” So, really, I should be talking after Ed, but anyway, my point is that I’m not that important. On this day that leads to the future, I’m the least important factor, the thing you’ll remember the least.

And with that in mind, I’ll take this chance to say a little bit about a lot of things, knowing that you won’t remember it, but that I’ll be able to watch the video of this graduation and go, “Damn, I did good.” First, I’d like to take a page from my sisters book and say, we’re the next generation. Literally, we’re the start of the new, hi-tech, fancy smancy “millenials.” Not Gen Z.

But that doesn’t really matter. Just another label to add to the can. More importantly, I want to remind you that you can make a difference. In the end, that’s all that anyone can do, is make a difference. So, go out and make a difference.

Oh yeah, and thanks to my family, friends, and all the teachers that made these years bearable.

And because I said I’d say it: _________, I love your _______.

Namaste.

Yeah, have fun with that fill in the blank part at the end. :) If you guess it, I give you my goat.

PS – If you do guess the last part, keep in mind IT’S A JOKE. Thanks