The School Story

Contrary to what many of the upperclassmen have told me, I’ve actually been enjoying my sophomore year. Despite the late nights and constant procrastination, I haven’t had any bouts of demotivation or depression yet, and I still have role models to look up to instead of acting as the role model. However, last year was a different story. Here’s the best way I can organize it. 

Rejecting the System

Even though I was taking easier classes freshman year, by second semester, I had burned out and lost motivation to do well in school. In retrospect, I hadn’t fully made the transition to high school yet. Previously, I had worked hard “just because,” but there was a certain degree of wanting to impress the teachers as well. However, in high school, the teachers didn’t particularly care about each student, and BSing would often produce same grade as actually doing the work. If no one was going to take note of my work, why should I put effort into doing it? Interestingly, my “intellectual curiosity” (if that ever existed) died down at around the same time.

I started reading into education reform, aka learning more about school sucked,  Knowing that other people disliked the system seemed to justify my rejection of school. My readings gradually became more and more philosophical, delving into the purpose of education, and eventually, the purpose of life.

One of the more influential books I read was “The Teenage Liberation Handbook,” a guide to unschooling, aka rejecting formal structured education and “naturally” learning on your own. This meant ultimate freedom. I loved the idea of unschooling at first and was seriously considering it, until I realized that I didn’t have any motivation to learn on my own, nor did I know what I wanted to learn.

One of the central ideas around TTLH was that we’ve created an educational system where grades are the sole motivator. On the surface, that’s exactly what has happened, and it’s an exhausting system to navigate seen that way, which sadly, many people do. I felt like being a robot in the school was below me somehow. Why should I slave away in the system to produce some numbers on a transcript, when I obviously had so much more potential? REJECT THE SYSTEM.

…If only it were so easy. I had been supported by school my entire life, my grades sometimes the only thing keeping me going, and I realized that I was physically unable to not do my work. Even if it took procrastinating until the end, I would always finish my homework, the quality being questionable, but never incomplete.  Whether because of fear of what others would think or other motives, I grudgingly worked my way through freshman year, telling myself that “I’ll hate myself senior year if I don’t get all A’s this year.”

Reaccepting the system

It wasn’t until I read Paper Tigers and completely related to Wesley ‘s story, though about Asian-American identity rather than education, that I realized what I was trying to accomplish, and how unrealistic it was:

[Note: long passage below]

I finished school alienated both from Asian culture (which, in my hometown, was barely visible) and the manners and mores of my white peers. But like Mao, I wanted to be an individual. I had refused both cultures as an act of self-­assertion. An education spent dutifully acquiring credentials through relentless drilling seemed to me an obscenity. So did adopting the manipulative cheeriness that seemed to secure the popularity of white Americans.

Instead, I set about contriving to live beyond both poles. I wanted what James Baldwin sought as a ­writer—“a power which outlasts kingdoms.” Anything short of that seemed a humiliating compromise. I would become an aristocrat of the spirit, who prides himself on his incompetence in the middling tasks that are the world’s business. Who does not seek after material gain. Who is his own law.

This, of course, was madness. A child of Asian immigrants born into the suburbs of New Jersey and educated at Rutgers cannot be a law unto himself. The only way to approximate this is to refuse employment, because you will not be bossed around by people beneath you, and shave your expenses to the bone, because you cannot afford more, and move into a decaying Victorian mansion in Jersey City, so that your sense of eccentric distinction can be preserved in the midst of poverty, and cut yourself free of every form of bourgeois discipline, because these are precisely the habits that will keep you chained to the mediocre fate you consider worse than death.

[…]

You can either linger on the unfairness of this or you can get with the program. If you are an Asian person who holds himself proudly aloof, nobody will respect that, or find it intriguing, or wonder if that challenging façade hides someone worth getting to know. They will simply write you off as someone not worth the trouble of talking to.

Having glimpsed just how unacceptable the world judges my demeanor, could I too strive to make up for my shortcomings? Practice a shit-eating grin until it becomes natural? Love the world twice as hard?

I see the appeal of getting with the program. But this is not my choice. Striving to meet others’ expectations may be a necessary cost of assimilation, but I am not going to do it.

Often I think my defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness. But sometimes I think it’s the only thing that has preserved me intact, and that what has been preserved is not just haughty caprice but in fact the meaning of my life. So this is what I told Mao: In lieu of loving the world twice as hard, I care, in the end, about expressing my obdurate singularity at any cost. I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it.

The first step toward self-reform is to admit your deficiencies. Though my early adulthood has been a protracted education in them, I do not admit mine. I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who have a problem. Fuck all y’all.

It’s one thing to work through the system because of an intrinsic motive to learn–it’s another to work in school because you’re afraid to know what happens if you don’t. Even now, I’d like to think that’s I’m purely motivated by the former, but the prospect of failing the system still keeps me going at times.

Reconstructing the System

If I couldn’t completely reject school, I could at least adapt to it. To think that my interests would align perfectly with College Board’s curriculum and the courses offered at my school is insane, which meant that I had to judge myself what was worth putting effort into, and what was perhaps ok to BS.

This required a more active mindset than accepting whatever my teachers handed me, but in the end, it gave me more purpose in my work, and overall, it cured me of my demotivation. This doesn’t that I did all my work. I just couldn’t see the point in some assignments (ahem math homework) and I suffered the grade penalties.

Perhaps this is the just some burst of motivation during sophomore year, but for now, I’m happy with myself.

Actually, scratch that. I still have long way to go with learning, but I don’t feel like typing this out at midnight. To be continued.

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Systems

Everyone like to think that they have free will and that they can dictate the paths of our own lives, but how much do systems really shape who we become?

I think of any series of related influences as a system, with a unrefined input (a group of humans), and a specific output. Every day we obliviously wander through a plethora of systems, their existence and effects only becoming apparent in hindsight, if ever.

Perhaps the most relevant system that we’re placed in is school. Yes, that lovely place that gives homework. On the surface, school’s main purpose is to educate society, but if I learned anything after reading Class Rules, it’s that the environment and culture of a school matter much more than the actual facts learned. Obviously, people who come out of elite boarding schools are going to take different societal roles than those from inner-city public schools, but the ultimate inequity stems from that fact that we get little choice into the systems we get sorted into. Sometimes it’s a matter of which side of the street we live on. Sometimes it’s all at the mercy of one admissions officer. And perhaps the most fundamental difference: the socioeconomic conditions we were born into.

I’m only familiar with my own upbringing, but I can’t fathom how my values and perspective on life would be different had anything in my life changed–parents, schools, certain books, friends, random strangers, and everything else in between. No one event has been particularly life-changing, yet everything as a whole must have had some impact, or else I’d be a identity-less blob.

This leads to another question: Is the only thing differentiating everyone the systems they went through? Can people be defined by their systems?  If so, isn’t this just a matter of winning the birth lottery? If not, then what’s the “true” measure?

The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow

Disclaimer: I am writing this at midnight. My thoughts may or may not be coherent.

The Drunkard’s Walk is an extremely thought-provoking read on a topic most of us tend to overlook-randomness. As the title suggests, the book discusses probability and how randomness applies to most aspects of our lives, from the corporate world, to pop culture, to medical studies, to history, to our personal lives.

Cover from Goodreads

For me, the biggest gain in reading the book was recognizing the logical fallacies that humans tend to make when using probability and underestimating the role of statistics in the world. Starting with the Monty Hall problem from a game show, the book highlights multiple instances in which we tend to follow the wrong train of thought. In the case of Monty Hall,hundreds of thousands of Americans were outraged by this correct answer to this problem, including many PhD’s who were later proven wrong.

Court cases are also explained in this book, taking seemingly sound “evidence” and showing how the “statistics” are unrelated to what is being asked for, deceiving everyone in the courtroom, as well as myself. In most cases, the faulty logic resulted in the wrong verdict, just one instance where lack of mathematical knowledge harms society.

A whole chapter of The Drunkard’s Walk is dedicated to the history behind probability and how the formulas and theorems were first proven (Hint: It’s usually because of gambling.) The beginning is pretty basic, but my brain began to hurt as mathematicians’ knowledge of statistics deepened and began to consider how to accurately collect and interpret data.

Another fault of our brains pointed out by Mlodinow is that we like to find patterns in everything, whether they exist or not. Our brains have a hard time grasping the concept of randomness, and we tend to believe that every result has a cause and can be foreseen, which seems true in hindsight, where we can cherry-pick evidence to support the result. However, when predicting the future, so many factors are involved that a minor change in any variable could change the outcome significantly, known as the butterfly effect. From the motion of molecules to the stock market, the butterfly effect makes it impossible to predict to the future.

The Drunkard’s Walk concludes by showing the biases humans have towards perceived “successful” people, even with proof that success (aka fame and money) is mostly random.

As a math nerd, I enjoyed reading The Drunkard’s Walk, even if it was a little brain-busting at times. The information will stick with me for a while and is surprisingly “real-life”

The Other Perspective of that Jeff Bliss Video

Note: I had this chat like 2 weeks ago, back when the video of Jeff Bliss was going viral, and I realize that it’s complete out of date now. However, I still felt like posting it. :)

Note2: Yes, this is somewhat edited (mostly deleting stuff and taking out school names), and since WordPress formatting is weird, the slashes are supposed to be new lines (like pressing enter in chat).

Note3: Don’t ask me who I was talking to. I used the first initial for a reason, and you probably don’t know him/her. And well, if you are that person, (I don’t even know if you still read my blog) I hope you don’t mind.

M: have you seen the video with this guy telling off his teacher

A: i shared it yesterday

M: i don’t know when laziness started becoming the vogue/honestly, i think he’s just being lazy

A: well why should he learn something he doesn’t want or need to learn/when the teacher obviously isn’t encouraging him

M: because he’d be stupid otherwise/you learn/because learning is inherently good

A: aka cramming facts into your head?

M: sure/i don’t know who started this whole thing about what schools teach is “useless” /i think the person who came up with that idea is useless/God bless America that he’s not a lobbyist in Washington

A: so you think our education system is fine?

M: absolutely not/have you seen the curriculum in china?/that’s why it’s not fine

A:  http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf /read all of it/all 100 pages

M: but better keep the status quo/ than try to downgrade the education system

A: As a parent, you see what seven-year-olds in China are doing (trigonometry!) and you see the straight rows of silent students and rigor, and it’s easy to decide that there’s a race, and we’re losing. We are losing, but what we’re losing is a race to produce the low-paid factory workers of tomorrow”

M: dumbass exhibit A ^

A: seriously/do you think memorizing facts is the best way to get “educated”

M: do you think anyone would go to school just to learn/ LOL/honestly/you’re like asking for world peace or something/when our societies become communist then maybe what you’re saying would work

A: what am i saying?

M: to learn for learning’s sake/or whatever

A: so you go to school to game the system

M: i don’t even know what you’re saying/i don’t game the system/you’re using an either-or fallacy

A: you live in the system/AND STOP USING YOUR FANCY LOGIC ON ME

M: then why not make the best of it?/the system, i mean/if you live it, make the most of it

A: or change it

M: funny because you can’t

A: would you rather go to school in china/with a corrupt society/and high suicide rates

M: ha/no

A: .

M: i don’t even know why you care so much

A: i’m just been kind of annoyed at school lately/and how we’re doing everything just to impress people/who don’t even care

M: no you’re not

A: well to a point you are/like you said/who learns stuff for the sake of learning?

M: doesn’t mean you’re trying to impress people

A: then why are you memorizing all this information?

M: to do well in school/so i can go to a good college/so i can get a good job and live a good life/yup

A: does that mean anything in the end?

M: when you’re dead?/no/unless you’re famous

A: memorizing stuff obviously makes you famous

M: oh right/why do well in school/when you can just be a lazy ass and bitch at your teacher and be famous

A: well the teacher isn’t doing anything

M: i don’t know why you’re concerned/you go to _____.

A: so?

M: it’s not your problem/ why worry about it

A: i personally hate teachers that just make you read the textbook though/ or read powerpoints to you

M: can you do anything about it?

A: i want to

M: but you can’t/so there we go

A: because i know other people aren’t learning anything as well

M: if they’re doing well in the class/then they’re obvoiusly picking up stuff/oh wait/you go to _____.

A: why is going to _______ so important?

M: the people who do well could just be the people who have good peripheral eyesight

A: ?/oh/haha/that doesn’t happen at ______?

M: sure it does/i’ve seen it in action/people whispering/then i stare at them/and they back down/i think the ethical standard here is higher

A: i personally don’t think it matters as long as you eventually learn the information

M: so people who steal money/are actually innocent huh

A: learning/and money/are different/in that one is tangible/and the other/isn’t

M:only cash is tangible/ currency itself isn’t

A: WELL YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN

M: and sorry/i don’t see a point in us continuing such a conversation

A: ok then/topic change

M: i feel like i just wasted an hour

A: it’s a friday night

M: and said some stuff that doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal views

A: like what?

M: like the education system, the guy in the video, etc./i don’t think about this stuff because it’s useless to do so/so when i argue about it/i don’t really have my own dogma about it

A: so you’re just going to live as a robot the rest of your life?

M: ^pretty much, until i get rich and can pursue my dreams

A: and if you don’t get rich?

M: then i guess i’ll have to live as a robot

A: and you’re fine with that?

M: if i like my job, yeah

Half the Game

I started playing games on Facebook. And no, it wasn’t Tetris Battle or Candy Crush Saga or Words with Friends or Mousehunt or the other games Facebook tells me are popular.

Instead, I played Half the Game, a game where a woman living  in the developing world is trying to improve her life by completing various “quests” in her community and around the world that empower women. Eventually, these actions will make her a world leader.

Half the Game is part of the Half the Sky movement, which was inspired by the book of the same name  written by Pulitzer prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Many of the quests in the game follow initiatives in Half the Sky such as microfinancing, support groups, and building schools,  to name a few (Go read the book if you want to find out more)

screenshot

Screenshot of where I am in the game right now

As you play, you can also unlock free donations that correspond to the quests being completed in the game, which gives this game a real-life impact. This is a great incentive to play and also makes you more aware of how people can actually help with these causes.

Facebook games sound like an unusual way to raise awareness for a cause, but  they’ll reach people who previously would have never known about the cause– the people who probably would have never picked up Half the Sky because they hate books or something (which you shouldn’t but that’s just the truth)

I’m not sure what else to say other than to go play the game and just to be aware of these problems in the developing world, especially with women. It doesn’t seem “cool” to care about a cause anymore,  (because I would know *sarcasm) but as I heard somewhere, “If everyone cared about a cause, think about what we could achieve.” 

Not Written by Me: The Cheapening of Words: Genocide

I generously received another post from my friend Dinah a few days ago, and after being relieved that it wasn’t about anything that could potentially get me arrested, I decided to post it. This isn’t the type of stuff I normally write about but hey, that’s the whole point of guest posting, and any of you guys are welcome to submit posts! Here goes:

The Cheapening of Words: Genocide

It annoys me to no end to see people cheapening the word genocide. The more we use genocide to define things that clearly aren’t genocide, the less impact it has.

The word genocide was made to define the Ottoman Turks attempt to exterminate the Armenians (a crime the Turkish government refuses to apologize for, teach, or even admit happened).

When we’re calling black-on -black crime genocide, we’re making an egregious mistake. Genocide is the systematic attempt to eliminate an ethnic, national, religious, or racial group. Unless black gangbangers are trying to destroy the African race, it’s not genocide. Abortion isn’t genocide either and it’s not a Holocaust. Women who get abortions aren’t trying to destroy a race or religious group – it’s a fetus; it doesn’t have one yet.

By the time humanity is through comparing everything to the Holocaust and genocide, when one actually does happen, it won’t have any impact. The word genocide denotes a massive attempt to eliminate a certain group in an organized, conscious effort. Don’t dilute the word’s meaning for your purposes. There’s a reason Jews use the word Shoa for the Holocaust – too many people slap the word ‘Holocaust’ on anything they want to make look bad.

Here’s a basic checklist before you describe something as genocide (courtesy of the UN):

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a)     Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

So, once you’re done, has one or all of these conditions been fulfilled? If yes, then you may call it a genocide and rest easy in the knowledge that both the dictionary and the United Nations are on your side.

Writing Rants in Class

Instead of paying attention in class the other day, I decided to write  this rant.

I know it’s completely disorganized, and I wrote this in one take without a a plan and with messy handwriting, but I just wanted to be able to say everything.

I was originally planning to fold origami with this paper (hence the diagonal fold) but then I realized it wasn’t cut straight, so I wrote on it instead. And I guess I can’t connect pictures  without a noticeable line in the middle either.

Depressing Realistic Fiction

I finished reading Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson last night, and instead of writing another review, I really just feel like talking about the book.

Cassandra and Lia are wintergirls, two former best friends who stopped talking to each other and made a blood oath that they would be the skinniest girl in the school, skinnier than the other. Six months later, Cassandra is found dead alone in a motel room with no explained cause of death. What no one knows is that before her death, Cassie called Lia repeatedly for help. 33 times to be exact. And Lia never picked up.

Now, Lia is haunted by Cassie’s death and her guilt for not answering the phone that night, as well as dealing with her parents and stepmother who keep trying to help her with her eating disorder when she doesn’t want to get better.

wintergirls

Wintergirls reminds me of a phase I went through last summer where I just kept reading depressing realistic fiction. And honestly, I liked it. The characters are more insightful even if they’re depressed and screwed-up. In fact, it’s the screwed up-ness that gives them their free-spirited personality.

These books always makes you wonder why you even bother conforming with society when you could just do what you want and still be happy (or at least independent in a sense)

“I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how anybody does it, waking up every morning and eating and moving from the bus to the assembly line, where the teacherbots inject us with subject A and subject B, and passing every test they give us. Our parents provide the list of ingredients and remind us to make healthy choices: one sport, two clubs, one artistic goal, community service, no grades below a B, because really, nobody’s average, not around here. It’s a dance with complicated footwork and a changing tempo”

-from Wintergirls

That quote almost completely describes me, which is kind of scary, because I’m not too sure why or how I do it either. Maybe I just don’t have the nerve to go against what everyone else says. And that’s another theme that keeps going around through all these books:  You have to be strong in order to be different. Lia referred to her refusal to eat as “being strong,” and in other books, the main character either doesn’t care or manages to deal with everyone judging them or trying to “help” them.

So now that I’m questioning all of life now, on to the next book on my list: 1984. If anything, I feel like this book’ll make me go crazy and start talking in newspeak like most of the people I know who’ve read it, or just make me start thinking about everything and make me confused. Again. Yay.

Antisocial

Yesterday, one of my friends told me that I was antisocial and that she didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. Ouch.

Ok, I’ll admit, I’m not the most social person. I spend more time than I should writing to an Internet that has a doubtful number of readers, and most of my days are spent at home. Maybe I’m not even that social. But anti-social? Seriously?

And the reason I was called anti-social was because I refused to go to the movies  Aside from the fact that I don’t even like watching movies (books are so much more superior), I seriously don’t get how mutually staring at a screen with someone is “social.” You can’t even talk if you want to. Isn’t going to the movies essentially the “social” way of being antisocial? (or the antisocial way of being social? Which way is it?)

After telling this to my friend, she explained that the social aspect of going to the movies isn’t actually watching it; it’s what happens before and afterwards. Waiting for people to come, talking with the people who have arrived, and raving over the movie once it’s over. Which is a valid point, but wouldn’t any other place work as well? Why the movies where most of the time is spent passively looking at a screen?

I guess this isn’t an opinion commonly shared, but I just felt like writing that. I don’t really mind any other “social” event; it’s just going to the movies that bothers me. Sadly though, everyone seems to want to go to the movies these days.

And let me just say this about my friend in case she uh, reads this (even though she refuses to read my blog when I specifically ask, so I’m counting on that), and also for any of you that care: Most of the time she’s a fluffy happy friend who’s extremely ticklish, but if I ever need someone to tell me the brutally honest truth, it’s her.

So maybe I am slightly anti-social and should get out of the house more often, but I just refuse to believe it and stay in denial. What do you think?

Every Day

Right before my last day of finals, I decided to start reading a new book instead of studying. Which completely goes against what I wrote about in my last post, but whatever. Every Day by David Levithan is an amazing book.

The main character,”A”, has no identity and wakes up in the body of a new person everyday.  Each morning, “A” wakes up to a new gender, a new bed, a new family, a new everything. And before going to sleep, “A” has to lose it all and be prepared to wake up in the body of another person whether “A” wants to or not.

Someone living their normal life would randomly have one of their days controlled by “A”, who could do anything he/she (depending on who the person was) wanted to and take no responsibility for the actions once the day is over. Obviously, this could be a disaster, but “A” tries to keep everyone’s life as normal as possible, because everything’s simpler that way

“A” has the power to access the brain of whoever his host is, but “A” chooses to only access enough information to get through the day and not appear too much out of character. “A” has learned that there’s no point in getting too attached to any person, since none of it matters once the day is over.

Until the twist in the story. One day, “A” wakes up in the body of a rebellious guy named Justin, and over the course of a day, falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon. Perfect. Except “A”‘s only in Justin’s body for a day, and there’s no way for “A” to tell Rhiannon his/her feelings if “A” keeps changing forms everyday.

The rest of the book is spent solving that conflict and trying to communicating with Rhiannon, while also dealing with the challenges of living in different bodies every day. This leads to even more problems, which are all kind of simultaneously being solved and growing at the same time.

I love storylines like this. This book deserves 5 stars just based off the plot. The love story isn’t the central moving force of the story, (well I guess it kinda is, but…it’s different.) and the whole idea of a person like “A” out there is pretty intriguing.

“A” is a completely unbiased person (soul? concept?) who has literally lived thousands of past lives. What would “A” think of you if he/she/it got to live your life for a day? How would you react the next morning when you woke up and realized that someone was in your body, and that you don’t really remember much from the previous day?

Also, could you love a person if you were in a different body every day? Could you be in love with someone whose appearance changes daily? What makes you love someone?

Just a couple of questions that make you reflect back upon yourself. Once again, I love the idea of this book. (The writing is beautiful too.)

The only other books I’ve read by David Levithan are The Realm of Possibility, a collection of poetic snippets of peoples’ lives, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a collaboration novel with John Green.  Both books were pretty good, but Every Day definitely surpasses both

All these books include LGBT characters, which I’ll admit, I’m still not perfectly comfortable with reading about, but I’m getting more used to it as I keep reading. It’s not a topic commonly written about, or even talked about on a personal level, and I praise David Leviathan for writing so well about a sensitive topic.

That’s really all I have to say about Every Day, other then that you really should read it for the brilliant story and plot (and characters)

But anyways, I’ll be reading a lot more since it’s finally winter break, and here’s my mini- list of books I’m planning to read over the break, along with other books on my to-read shelf:

  • Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson
  • 1984, George Orwell (It looks a little too classic-y and long for my taste, but multiple people have told me that it’s good, so I’ll try)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
  • Annabel, Lauren Oliver 
  • If I really run out of books, something by Sarah Dessen (although I hope that doesn’t happen)
So happy winter break to everyone, and I hope to be writing more posts the next few weeks!