Opinions: a great paradox

Opinions. Everyone has them. We love to voice our own and hate to receive others’ opposing ones.

Our opinions can be both fickle and immovable. At times, we can be easily persuaded to another point of view… sometimes, we refuse to even acknowledge the opinions of others.

I am very opinionated at times- I know that. However, I’ve noticed lately, especially in light of the upcoming election, that people often thrust their views upon others and adopt a “my way or the highway” stance. To counter this, people often ask others to keep their opinions to themselves. To me that sounds like asking people to stem their personality, to stop being themselves…which sounds like a bad idea all around.

When it comes to this blog, I think of it as a place to voice my opinions. Under the idea of free speech, can those who know of my blog ask me not to post something? Is that not limiting my freedom of speech? I understand that yes, my blog should have some limits: using this blog or any other writing to hurt or destroy is way out of line. However, within these limits, I believe that it’s a good thing for our opinions to get out there.

Recently, the speaker at my school’s Thanksgiving service spoke about similar ideas. The example the speaker gave was a seeing a friend of his comment on Facebook bashing supporters of  the opposing political party and asking them to unfriend him because of their contrasting views. Here, the actual opinion is fine to share, however, going as far as to no longer want to be friends with those who don’t believe in the same ideas, is hurtful and unrealistic. The speaker mentioned a quote from  Thomas Jefferson that I felt summed things up well:

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

We all have different opinions that we should be allowed to voice, but we should not let these differing points of view divide us.

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Perception is reality

Perception is reality. I hear this a lot and I’ve started to understand just how true it is. Sure what people think about you matters, but this is so much more than that.

For example, sometimes help can we unwanted. If the helper thinks what they are dojng is good, but the helpee doesnt, then thats a problem. like what if your baby sibling tried to help you on an art project. To them, scribbles look like museum worthy art but to you, it looks like someone spilled food all over your watercolor. Sometimes, intention and perception vary greatly.

Another more known example can be found in the sixth Harry Potter story, when Harry acts like he slipped lucky potion into Ron’s pumpkin juice. Ron believes it and as a result, performs to perfection. Perception becomes reality.

But even beyond interactions with other people, perception is a powerful thing. A couple summers ago, at a museum, I saw this exhibit that asked you to place your hand in a box and scratch the cast or. Apparently, this technique is used often in medicine to almost trick the patient into feeling the “relief.”

Another medical term relies on the power of perception. The whole idea of a placebo is to prescribe an inert pill or perform a “procedure” that really does nothing and not tell the patient. As a result, the patient, believing themselves to be cured often experience an improvement in psychological response to the ailment or even a physical betterment.

Mere perception has the power to save lives. Perception is often reality. And that’s a powerful thing.

Umbridge-ology

Ever read Harry Potter? If so, please recall the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix. Remember the lovely ministry-appointed teacher, Professor Umbridge? Her philosophy was simple: knowing the theory is enough to have mastered the material. No application, no practice, “wands away” and all that nonsense. She even said that just learning the theory is “Sufficient to get through the exams, which is what school is all about.”

As a whole, most people dislike Umbridge, simply because her philosophy and treatment of Harry are major turn offs. If the general public dislikes Umbridge, that would normally translate to a dislike of what she stands for. However, that doesnt seem to be the case. While hating Umbridge, most people (including myself for the longest time) continued to abhor her educational practices in the story, while following them in real life.

In this particular installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry is more than the main character, he is the educational protagonist- standing for practical applications and learning through doing.

What if we treated normal schools like Hogwarts and applied the popular Harry philosophy to our classes? Wouldn’t we all love to have a Harry Potter curriculum, able to really use the knowledge we receive and be prepared for the “real world”? I think Harry put it best when he said, “In school if you make a mistake you can just try again tomorrow but out there…. It’s different.”

Even before I ventured into the realm of edreform, I used to ask myself, “What’s the purpose of school?” I always figured school was designed to help prepare and equip us for life and being a big kid. I still believe that school should help us once we are done with formal education and that the learning should not be confined within school walls.

2012 Favorites

As the year comes to a close, I wanted to cultivate a list of a few of my favorite books, movies, videos that I saw or read this year, and I thought, why not share? I was inspired to do this by Mr. Couros and I hope my sharing inspires someone too!

Favorite Band– a tie between The Wanted and Mumford and Sons (yes I hopped on to the British bandwagon :D)

Favorite Movie– I loved Pitch Perfect (which I’ve seen twice so far). I keep listening to the songs on repeat and of course, I learned how to do the cups trick. 🙂

A book that really made me think– Cal Newport’s How to Become a High School Superstar and How to become a Straight A student (which I read towards the beginning of this year) turned around how I approach studying.

Favorite book (of the year)– Once again, I have two: Eat, Pray Love and Les Miserables (which I am currently powering through before I see the movie).

 Favorite non-educational site– youareyourwords.com, which is a site that allows you to turn a picture into an image made up of a quote of your choice. It’s picky about how big your photo can be, but when it works, it’s awesome!

Favorite educational blog post of mine– Either My Stance on EdReform or Old School Can’t Teach Students New Tricks

Favorite non-educational post of mine3,2,1 or Adventures in the Big Chinese Chicken

Inspirational video– I have two favorites. One I was involved in making and the other is just a good pump up. The first one is this student voice promo video. And the next is this commercial for Nike called No Excuses, and it really makes me think…

That’s all folks. Hope some of the links made you think or smile. 🙂

Bridging the cultural gap

This summer I spent 5 weeks living in China learning Mandarin. At least, that was my job description. In truth, I spent 5 weeks making memories to last a lifetime, learning and using Mandarin to survive living in China, and formed relationships that I hope will stay with me for a long time.

As I immersed myself among the Chinese, I experienced quite a few “culture shocks.” I had come prepared for the smog, but not the intermittent drops of liquid that could fall from awnings and windows at any time. Nor for the relative lack of Western toilets and showers (although I guess I ought to have seen that coming)… Even more interesting was the flouting of the cultural “rules” that I did anticipate, such as overly modest clothing, minimal PDA and more English speakers. We had been warned that Chinese did not like short shorts, tank tops or flip flops, but I think the younger generation has gotten the best of the older norms and wants to wear what they choose. The frequent sightings of PDA were also shocking as that was something we had been told was highly frowned upon. Since we discovered that it was not, it became sort of a game for my classmates and I to point out all instances of PDA. It has also been interesting to see how many couples match clothing and/or accessories over here. Hygiene is also not as strict in Beijing as in the U.S. Babies pee through their slit pants on the streets while vendors sell even skinless fruits on these same streets. I do enjoy however the immense availability of fruit here, even though I didn’t buy any. There are some little differences that also come about because of a difference in resources. For example, toilet paper is not flushed here because the water pressure is not strong enough to handle it. Also, nobody drinks tap water; water is either boiled, filtered (if you’re lucky), or bought bottled. Another major cultural difference, this time between specifically my home area and Beijing, is how easily accessible everything is either by bus, subway or taxi. In those ways the city reminds me of New York and its transportation freedoms.

Aside from the differences I saw culturally between China and the US, because my classmates and I came from all over the states, we had some interesting differences as well. I anticipated all my northern Phillips Academy classmates to not say y’all but I wasn’t aware that chocos (a popular sandal like the original Teva) is popular/heard of only in the south.

Regardless of these differences, Beijing really grew on me. I don’t think I’ll ever fully “embrace” the ever present smog, but I surely embraced most of the differences. And the differences between us didn’t keep my classmates and I from getting really close. I guess you could say we’re closing the gaps, one adventure at a time.

Flashback: China

A little while ago, a piece of mine was posted on the website of KidSpirit. Below is the full article and be sure to check out the site as well! 🙂

I wear clothes, eat food, and use other various products daily. You do too? What a coincidence.

This summer, I spent 5 weeks with a study abroad group in China. Without my parents. And I realized, among other more educational linguistic things, that those clothes, food and other things are really nice, but they cost money. I know, weird right?

In all honesty, I am not a big spender even back home. But here, with my awkward food clock, my random cravings, the pretty things at all the shops and some sheer necessities, I had to loosen up my purse strings. At first, I was cautious. Then, reckless. I mean, who knows when I’ll be back in China? And then I got worried, because all those big numbers made me feel irresponsible, like I was wasting money on things like my daily ice cream or having noodles instead of the bland cafeteria rice. But once I did the conversions and started getting a better sense of what things were worth (for instance, an ice cream for 32 cents), I relaxed a little.

It took some adjusting to get used to spending 100¥ a day and reassuring myself that it was just 20 dollars. But my parents imparted upon me some nice bits of wisdom, in classic philosophical style. My dad said something like, “If you only spend up to 20 dollars for one thing, then it’s not at all a crisis, or a waste of money. It’s a learning experience.”

Towards the end of the trip, when I thought I was sailing smoothly, I hit a little snag. I had lost my headphones and had gone to the mall in search of a new pair. I stopped by the Apple Help Store which looked like a legitimate store. They said they sold two different kinds of headphones: ones with a mic and ones without. The ones with a mic cost around double the other ones. However, the pairs didn’t look all that different. To err on the safe side, I bought the pair with a mic. At home after my purchase, I checked out the Apple website, only to find that they don’t make mic-less headphones and that I’d overpaid for mine regardless. I learned a couple of lessons that day. First, even if you think you’ve mastered something, there’s always room for improvement, so don’t get overconfident. Second, always do your research and check all your options before you buy something that seems like a weightier purchase or that costs more than your $20 trial threshold.

 

Leadership 2.0: Principals

About a month ago, I participated in an online session of a course for school admin. This particular session was called “What Do I Want In My Principal?”

As a student, I was asked to contribute my thoughts on this topic. Here (https://sas.elluminate.com/p.jnlp?psid=2012-11-27.1631.M.BF5846468DDBB6451EF67CC1F1F493.vcr&sid=2009083) is a link of the recorded session, but here are a few of my thoughts that I think are most relevant.

To me, a good principal is one who supports growth across the board. For example, in junior high, my principal Mr. A would be involved in various pln’s within different subjects that were geared towards not only helping the students learn better but helping the teachers learn new and different ways of teaching. That commitment to growth really speaks to me. Also, I think a good principal is one who can be also identified as a teacher. Both my junior high and high school principals also taught classes, while my elementary school principal, well I rarely ever saw him. Perhaps as a result, I felt it was easier to talk with my junior high or high school principals than with my elementary school one. Similarly, i think a warm vibe is an important quality to have because then people (like random students such as i am) feel comfortable going to them with questions or comments or suggestions. My current high school principal was new last year, and in an effort to get to know the faculty and students better, he opened up his lunch hour multiple times a week for an opportunity to eat with him and talk about anything we felt was going well, needed changing, or could be a helpful addition to our school. That was awesome but unfortunately, a lot of students didn’t grab that opportunity. I believe that a principal should not be a “ruler” of sorts. By this I mean, a principal should not make decisions unilaterally but by taking into account the voices of their administrative team, faculty, and even students. Along with being a non-dictator of a leader, comes the last two facets I have in mind: a good listener and an open mind. As a proponent of Student Voice in education, I feel like its important that a principal at least listens to their students. This doesn’t mean doing everything they ask but simply giving it some thought. That’s really important to me and it seems like a simple thing to do. The final “quality” is an open mind. In life, I’ve come to feel that this sort of encompasses everything. If one approaches life open to change, growth, suggestions, failure and commits to taking all these things in stride, the possibilities are endless.