Thursday, November 17, 2016

Shifting Away From Arts and Towards STEM

Last year, as I was filling out my senior year schedule, I thought to myself ‘what classes would Mason High School want me to take?’

Subconsciously, my eyes automatically found those under the math and science category.

At Mason, there is definitely an encouragement to take STEM classes more so than any humanities or art classes. I understand why this encouragement exists-- STEM prepares students for lucrative fields that are consistently growing. At the beginning of last year, when STEM first grew legs, I interviewed Jonathan Cooper, the district’s Innovative Learning Officer, about the integration of STEM in early education. He told me that he “saw a real need in our global economy for STEM education” and “it is (his) job to make sure students have the best advantage when they come out of (Mason).” Makes sense. But is there such a thing as too much STEM? Is the ‘best advantage’ for students being proficient in calculus or being competent writers? Mason could put more emphasis on the importance of English and the arts, and it starts with their definition of ‘Innovation.’

Here is a screenshot from Mason’s Quality Profile, which is code for a ‘more professional sounding newsletter.’ After reading this blurb, I thought it was interesting that they mentioned the importance of strong communication skills in today’s world, but went on to show statistics about STEM subjects.  Students communicate with their peers in any school setting, but would learn stronger communication skills in a writing or public speaking class than in a robotics class. I’m not saying to put the kibosh on robotics, but it wouldn’t hurt to offer a written and spoken communication class along with robotics, and maybe throw a statistic about it up on the Quality Profile. I also thought about the Mason students who love the arts, but are told that STEM is the only way to get ahead in this world. It is true that more jobs are opening in STEM fields and that typically they can be more lucrative. But if you love art, writing, or history, why not study it? I hope that Mason could put on their Quality Profile “100% of high school students plan on majoring in what they love.” That would be innovative. With this lurking pressure to go into STEM fields, I don’t think they could.
An infographic displaying the many benefits of an arts education.

The Arts also catalyze a creative mind, one that is more keen to problem solving and critical thinking. In Ria’s article coming out tomorrow about shifting away from the arts and towards STEM, she references a study done by the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium. In this study, scientists collected test scores from two groups of three to five year-olds. One group took the test right away, and the other participated in music activities for eight weeks prior to testing. The test scores from the group that participated in musical activities were substantially higher. Humanities and art classes exercise the left side of the brain, which translate to success in STEM fields. Students in STEM classes are always presented with complex problems. The left side of the brain is responsible for creativity, a key component in problem solving. If school’s emphasize the importance of the arts, STEM students will excel in all subjects.

I’m not advocating for arts because I suck at math. I have taken advanced math and science classes throughout high school and plan on majoring in data analytics. With all the constant chatter supporting STEM, educators are forgetting about the benefits of the humanities and arts. For those of you who love STEM and want to study it, go for it. Our country needs you, and you will go on to do amazing things. For those of you who don’t love STEM, don’t study it. STEM isn’t the only way to be ‘Innovative’. Hopefully, schools can realize this.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

To Smoke...Or Not To Smoke?

Excerpt from Pineapple Express (One of the best stoner movies of all time)
Saul: I wish I had a job like that. Where I could just sit around and smoke weed all day. 
Dale Denton: Hey, you do have that job. You do sit around and smoke weed all day. 
Saul: Hey, you're right. Hey, thanks man.

Ohioans could legally live the life of Saul in the next month. On November 3rd, Ohio will vote on Issue 3--whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana.

What are the details behind Issue 3?
Issue 3 could potentially legalize the limited sale and use of marijuana and create 10 facilities with exclusive commercial rights to grow the drug. The issue allows anyone over 21 years of age to use, transport, and share up to one ounce of weed. Citizens with a license purchased from the Ohio Marijuana Control Commission could use, possess, grow, cultivate and share up to eight ounces of homegrown marijuana and four flowering marijuana plants.The amendment would create 10 Marijuana growth and cultivation facilities, which would have exclusive rights to grow and sell the product.
Breaking it down
I would like to mention that I have never dabbled with weed, so I'm no expert in the industry. I have, however, researched this topic in depth. First off, Issue 3 can basically be broken down into three controversial contentions- moral issues, criminalization, and business concerns. Morality is probably biggest aspect of the issue for people voting no. You either are fine with the fact that a drug is legalized, or it violates everything you have ever believed on the topic. Criminalization is an important factor for those voting yes. You either want to convict and imprison people with procession of the weed, or you want to un-clutter our penetentaries by removing these low level drug abusers through pot legalization, who are really not harmful. Then you have the business spectrum of the issue. The main concern with creating 10 companies to grow and sell weed is that it comes with a high probability of a monopolized industry. You either don't want companies constitutionally abusing their right to the free market, or you want Ohio to make $500 million in tax revenue on the drug, or you honestly don't care.

The Pros behind legalization
With any potentially abused illegal product, there is the "forbidden fruit" theory. The immorality of marijuana use can only be based on one set of moral beliefs. By taking a “moral” stand against recreational drugs, or fighting the evils caused by the illegal drug trade, they increase their popularity amongst constituents. More deaths occur each year from intoxicated driving and diseases caused by smoking than deaths from marijuana use. If alcohol and tobacco are legal through regulation, why would pot be illegal? By providing legal supplies of currently illegal drugs then the price will fall, which would lead to a collapse in the illegal drug industry, and therefore a reduction in crimes committed by both drug suppliers and users. Also, legalization would decrease the amount of users indicted for basic procession. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana accounts for over half of drug arrests in America. Legalization would decriminalize weed, potentially decrease the number of prisons, and therefore lowering taxes. Is it effective to imprison a teenage boy for multiple years solely for marijuana procession? Many Ohioans suffer from chronic illnesses that could be treated with cannabis (medical marijuana), however they can not access this treatment through marijuana prohibition. Lastly, Ohio would regulate the quality and quantity of the weed available, while making large profits through marijuana taxation, which will be 15%.

The Cons behind legalization
To quote the book Freakonomics, "Is it possible to regulate something when a healthy black market exists?" Despite the fact that legalization can regulate marijuana, a black market will most likely continue to exist. Also, the easy availability of drugs could create new consumers rather than rescuing current ones. There is also "The Gateway Theory", which explains that the use of soft drugs, such as weed, will eventually lead to the use of hard drugs, which can seriously affect a user's health. A substance considered unhealthy cannot be produced and distributed with the help of the state, because the goal of the state is to protect citizens’ health and not to expose them to risk. That is the reason that Ohio will create 10 private facilities that will grow, cultivate, and sell marijuana. In theory, this would not be a monopoly because more than just a few companies control the industry. However, the module will realistically operate as though it is a monopoly. The investors of these companies have funded the ResponsibleOhio campaign, which actually put this issue on the ballot. So in essence, they are paying to try to amend the Ohio Constitution to grant themselves pot growing rights while fixing in place the tax rate they would pay. Also, drug abusers will no longer be imprisoned, and this may send a message to children that drug use is acceptable.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Breaking Point

It is currently 1:57 a.m, and I just finished watching the movie Whiplash. It was one of the best movies that I have ever seen.

This is about to be a major spoiler alert, so if you feel like you would watch this movie in the future, I advise you to stop reading. However, if you have seen the movie or don't care if it is spoiled, please continue.

Whiplash is about a very talented drummer named Andrew who is enrolled at Schaffer Conservatory, a fictional school based off a Juliard or Berkley. Andrew's instructor is the abusive and sadistic Terrence Fletcher, who believes that the two worst words in the English language are "good job." Fletcher degrades Andrew in front of his peers, barraging him with profanity and physically abusing him. Initially, Andrew's goal is to become the very best- he will stop at nothing to earn each core drum part, especially to the double time song, Whiplash. When Andrew is late to a concert one day after being in a car accident, Fletcher demands that he still perform. Through swollen eyes and cracked fingers, Andrew attempts to play Whiplash. But he makes one mistake.  And Fletcher dismisses Andrew from Schaffer. Andrew's mental sanity has been ripped apart, and he quits drumming, trying to forget the pain he has endured under Fletcher's furry. Word gets around that one of Fletcher's trumpet players committed suicide, and Andrew reports Fletcher's inhumane teaching methods, getting him fired from Schaffer. However, a month later, Fletcher and Andrew run into each other at a jazz nightclub. Fletcher is conducting a jazz ensemble and asks Andrew to be his drummer for one concert. Andrew agrees, somewhat eager to resume playing the instrument that he committed his existence to. Andrew goes on stage the night of the concert to find that Fletcher has purposefully given him the wrong sheet music, hoping he will fail in front of thousands. Andrew disregards the entire song and begins a ten minute solo, unveiling his frustrated emotions in one of the most climactic endings I have ever experienced. The film ends with the two making eye contact. They both know that Andrew has become one of the best young drummers in the world, however he had to undergo the hell that Fletcher put him through to get there.

The movie forced me to ask this question- when does pushing someone's limits cross a line? The story of Andrew and Fletcher is obviously displayed in the extremes- a student would have spoken up well before Fletcher had the chance to make a boy commit suicide. Director Daimen Chazelle leaves the audience with the uneasy feeling that Fletcher's actions were justified. In my opinion, Fletcher deserved no pride after Andrew's inner talent was uncaged. Because the talent was forced out. In a very delusional manner. It isn't worth it to teach a protégé when you taught one who is six feet under. My question for you is this- How far are you willing to go before reaching your breaking point, and is it even smart to make it that far?

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Book That Puts Me To Sleep

I read Clavin and Hobbes books each night for about fifteen minutes before I go to bed. I am currently reading "The Lazy Sunday Book," which was published in 1989.

I know that comic strips aren't in my reading level. I know that Mrs. Nally, my AP Comp teacher, would not approve of the reading choice. But the simplicity of Calvin's innocent six year old mind puts me to sleep. Bill Watterson captured childhood perfectly- a balanced mix of the real world and the abyss of our young imaginations.

Maybe it is so comforting because I see myself in Calvin. I would jump around my house with a foam tennis ball telling myself stories about riding dinosaurs or fighting samurais in ancient China. Calvin can close his eyes and turn himself to Spaceman Spiff, a courageous hero of the universe. Calvin can close his eyes and turn into Stupendous Man, a masked mystery man that can get out of any tight situation. The only person he interacts with lives inside his head.

Hobbes is Calvin's compadre- his need for adventure isn't as prominent as Calvin's, but he never fails to accompany his friend on any mission. Calvin's world is so simple, he wakes up, goes to school, and returns home in a world of his own. I want to do this more often. Because my imagination is what keeps me sane in this world. I will continue reading Calvin and Hobbes until I can become Spaceman Spiff again myself.

This is my favorite Calvin and Hobbes Strip. The power of Calvin's imagination brings back memories of my own.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Trump's Pull Factor

Donald Trump never seems to be slowing down.

Sitting at the top of the polls, Trump currently has 20% of the Republican vote. We may ask ourselves- how did a narcissistic television host and business magnate become an actual contender in the 2016 election? 

We live in a time of political estrangement. According to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, only 26% of Americans believe that our country is heading in the right direction. Only 3 of 10 people think that their views are represented in the government, according to a CNN poll. The times are perfect for Donald Trump. Trump is an outsider in politics, which appeals to those individuals who feel alienated. Trump believes he literally can solve any problem, which appeals to those in challenging times who will follow anyone who drips his level of confidence. Trump is uncensored and unfiltered. People are motivated by the turbulent spectacle of his success. He standouts in a nation that fosters wishy-washy politicians who feel the need to please everyone. In politics, you can't please everyone. Donald Trump knows that he can't. And he won't try to.

I don't agree with Trump's views. Making the statement that all Mexicans are drug addicts and rapists is preposterous. Making the statement that stupid people negotiate our trade bills is stupid itself. Making the statement that climate change is a hoax can't be supported when organizations like NASA and the EPA have been fighting it for years.

But I do respect the man in some mysterious way. Hopefully he is bringing a new dawn of politicians- politicians who will have the courage to speak their mind without being afraid that their views won't please everyone.

I respect people who speak their mind. Trump never seems to stop doing just that.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Obsolete Media? I Think Not

The Problem
Many high school journalism programs are being terminated across the nation. The lack of money that many public schools now face and a decreasing interest in journalism is forcing districts to stop offering the class.  This is because most school districts think of journalism as simply an elective. However, as an active writer on Mason High School's newspaper, The Chronicle, I can easily tell you why journalism is much more than an elective to everyone in the community.

The Reasons

The constant decrease of journalism classes and high school publications across America comes down to three factors- money, interest, and social media. School's shrinking budgets, lack of student enrollment, and social media outlets give districts the excuse to cut the class becasue students can recieve news through social media. Vikki Ortiz Healy of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "In an era of tight school budgets, high-stakes testing and changing news consumption habits, the once time-honored tradition of offering students the chance to be newspaper reporters has joined the list of school activities becoming obsolete for today's students." 

The Truth
With the creation of Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, students are under the impression that they are truly up to date with the news in their community. However, social media does not provide the same degree of interaction that comes with newspapers and broadcasts. You see the person's face and you listen to them tell their story when you sit down and watch a school broadcast. You get to hear what students have to say in extensive coverage when you pick up any school paper. You don't get this connection with social media. In a high school world where students feel surrounded by unknown faces and are struggling to find their place, journalism makes that world easier to navigate. At MHS, teachers are refusing to play our broadcast news program, MBC, becasue they believe there isn't enough time in a class bell. This is utterly ridiculous. Besides the fact that  MBC takes all of about 10 minutes, the program localizes our monsterous school into one community. While watching the last edition of MBC, I met a boy named Kusha. I had seen Kusha's face and dark brown hair in the hallway, but had never known who he really was. MBC changed that. I now know that Kusha is the founder of the Mason Community Horn Ensemble. Kusha brought adults, teacher, and students together with their passion for music. I would have never known that without MBC. I also never saw that post on Instagram. Journalism is essential to a united student body. Writing for The Chronicle, I have met more people and more amazing stories than I ever thought possible. Media is not a dying art. Students need to stay informed and need to hear the stories that I have encountered. For example, I wrote a story this year about Lauren Hill. Lauren was a basketball player at Mount Saint Joseph and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The doctors gave her 2 months to live. Lauren continued to stay positive and play the sport she loved while inspiring thousands of people. I got the chance to talk to her coach about what he thought about Lauren's character and how she impacted the team. Without journalism, I would have never talked to Mount Saint Joseph's basketball coach about his dying player. I doubt many students at MHS would have heard from his perspective as well. Journalism should be the last class districts cut on a tight budget, solely because of its power to connect people with faces and stories that they would not have seen otherwise. I have enjoyed every moment writing for The Chronicle and I wouldn't give it up for the world. According to Sally Renaud, executive director of the Illinois Journalism Education Association,"(Journalism) offers a sense of a vibrant intellectual community in the school. The kids are thinking, they're reporting what the other kids are doing, they get outside of themselves. It's bad to lose that sense of community." I couldn't end this post with a more fitting quote.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It's Going To Be OK

I feel less and less competent every day when I read the paper. 

As I eat my Frosted Flakes every morning and skim through the local schools section in The Enquirer, I see countless articles about the amazing things Mason High School students are doing. 

Aditya Jog, a sophomore in my Spanish class,  won the THINK contest at MIT and received funding for his project to create a more efficient way to convert solar power into usable energy. Bluye Demessie, a senior taking all honors and AP classes, won the opportunity to present his science fair experiment to President Obama in the White House. Freshman Natasha Saputra will be returning to Carnegie Hall this summer for the 6th time to showcase her legendary piano skills.

It's not even these stories that sometimes cause me to wonder why I'm not playing at one of the most famous arts stages in world. I can trace most of my self doubt to schedule planning week, where most of my friends are signed up for 5 or more AP classes. I'm taking 3, but I guess compared to the general population that's not good enough. We're all competing with each other for the better grade in AP Chemistry. We all are competing with each other for a spot on an Ivy League's admission list.

I was reading the New York Times and stumbled across an article that greatly relieved my academic stress. The article was written by Frank Bruni, and was published a few weeks ago during the chaos that comes with college admissions. The article outlined two stories of recent college graduates. One story struck me in particular. 

Peter Hart went to New Trier High School, a school very much like Mason. It has the same number of students and a similar academic rigor. Hart's best friend had her heart set on Yale, and she was admitted that spring. Hart was in the top third of his class and set his sights for the University of Michigan or the University of Illinois. Both rejected him. Instead, Hart applied for Indiana University and made it in. Hart noticed that "the students in his freshman classes weren’t as showily gifted as the New Trier kids had been", and Hart felt very competent in his new environment.  He took up a job at the Boston Consulting Group after graduation and upon the new hires was his friend that went to Yale. Hart is now getting a master's degree in business administration... at Harvard. 

I feel so much like Peter Hart, and can only pray that I have the same success story. So many of the students around us, our best friends even, have set their bar higher than I could imagine. I am a good student- don't get me wrong- I have above a 4.0 GPA and have taken my fair share of honors and AP classes. However, the constant need for Mason students to one-up each other and push themselves to their absolute academic limit rubs off eventually on all of us. I feel ignorant when the seventh grader next to me gets a better grade on an honors math test. I feel nervous when the seniors of the tennis team leave - half of them going to a premier college. I want to be performing at Carnegie Hall like Natasha or receive a perfect ACT score like so many upperclassman on my Speech and Debate Team do. We all feel this pressure at times.  Whenever I am panicking to do as well on a test as my friend did, I remember Peter Hart's story. For many students and their parents, taking every AP or being accepted into an elite college is not another challenge. It's simply another goal.

Success isn't measured by how hectic and rigorous a schedule is. So many people walking the halls of MHS forget this. When it comes to taking a class or applying for college, keep Peter Hart's story in the back of your mind. Who knows where any of us will end up, but to me Indiana University seems like a fine place to start.