Haikus – In Praise of Good Spirits

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“Vanished Panda”
Endangered, adored
majestic spectacle, gone
at the sight of love.

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“Passive Sloth”
Complacency sleeps
through tossed discretions, giggles
after office time.

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“Quenched Platypus”
Novelties visit
speakeasies brimming with thoughts
unspoken, but loud.

DIY: Another “Dress Your Jar” Tutorial

Two years ago, I won a contest. 25 free magazines a month, a selection of my choosing. I like a good laugh from Cosmo, take inspiration from Rolling Stone, and peruse Vogue for what to emulate the next time I go to the thrift store. But over time, it accumulated, to where four large cardboard boxes sit in my room. Filled with glossy paper. Given that my job doesn’t carry itself into my room, requesting all-nighters, I can now focus on using that paper for crafting.

Mod Podge, which is basically fortified white glue, puts all the paper to use and brings boring items to life. Last year I also got a gift card to the craft store. One of my gift projects didn’t fall through, so I ended up with a drab coin jar sitting on my desk. I’ll be happy to describe a process you can apply to any old decorative item.

YOU WILL NEED: 

1. Mod Podge (the “matte” variety will do. You can also get the “antique” type from the same hobby shops. Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, etc. The “antique” Mod Podge gives the paper a brownish tinge and an Instagram effect, depending on how many layers you apply).

2. Magazine paper.

3. Scissors.

4. Paint (Optional).

5. Clear Spray Paint (Acrylic Sealer, Resin Spray, Varnish, etc.)

6. More paper, or cardboard, to protect your floor.

7. Paintbrushes

THE STEPS: 

This was a coin jar I attempted to paint with yellow acrylic paint. It wasn’t going well. I grabbed one magazine with a lot of print. You can choose any color scheme, but in my case, I settled on standard text on white paper.

1. Cut your magazine paper into many pieces, in whatever shapes you like. I aimed for triangles, though I’m sure some rhombuses made their way, as well as some trapezoids. Sort the pieces according to color, shape, or whatever variable you’ve chosen to add to your household object (coin jar, pot, vase, glass, etc.).

2. Get a brush and dip it into the Mod Podge. For neatness’ sake, you may want to pour a little bit of Mod Podge (You will not need a lot if you are cautious and conservative) into a small plastic cup. You can apply the magazine strips in several ways, including:

Brushing the Mod Podge onto the backs of the paper strips, and then pasting the paper onto the object, OR

Brushing a layer of Mod Podge onto a large portion of the object, pasting the strips accordingly. 

3. For a strong paper coating, repeat step 2 twice. 3 layers of paper pasted onto your object should be sufficient. It is a lengthy process, though the tedium pays off. For this project, it took me around 5 hours to paste the paper, and that was while watching a movie and chatting with people.

4. In this case, my object had a lid. I repeated steps 2 and 3. Do this for all pieces of your object, unless you want a part or two uncovered by paper, or you would like to add another creative touch.

5. Give the project 2 to 3 hours to completely dry.

6. Spray your sealer to all parts of the object. Follow the directions on the product’s can. You may need to complete multiple sprays given the shape of your object. My coin jar was completely covered in 3 layers of sealant. DO NOT spray indoors. It’s just not safe.

7. Wait 72 hours for the sealer to completely dry.

OPTIONAL: Add texture or color. I attempted to “splatter paint” the jar because I thought yellow paint would go well with the predominantly blue lid. Follow your paint’s directions when waiting for it to dry.

Finally, enjoy! Or give your newly dressed object to someone you think will enjoy it.

Today, the coin jar resides in Virginia. I am not in Virginia. I miss the little coin jar.

(What cool things have you done with Mod Podge?)

Question, but do not Question

the child etches “whys” into forsaken dust
heels cracked, swollen, the bluntness of shale
nowhere to be found, a necessary venture
untouched, but coarser as scorned wives scream
when batteries melt, and cigarettes curl
and water in the fountain will tempt
the most sensible of traveling birds
that harbor terrors on which newscasters feed
and face masks adore, eyes and brows
do shrivel in the face of deified plague
vague, calculated prospects
and suspects exiled as the arbitrary talk

*Cat No. 14 of the 500 Cats Project

The Top Ten Things Public Schools Are Doing Wrong Regarding Students’ Motivation

This may be an inflammatory post. I’m feeling rather opinionated, and overly reflective tonight as I chomp on crackers and listen to my newly christened teacher friend talk about how her first year on the job has been more disillusioning than ever. As she talked, I jotted down some things she mentioned. Then I backtracked to my own high school experience. I remember graduating in the top two percent of my class. More than anything, emphasis rested on class rank. While the course load was heavier than what I experienced in college, I don’t particularly remember much of the material I studied to graduate in the upper ranks. I took away practical skills, like writing and how to fill out your annual tax forms, but that was about it. I’m sure many of you would call high school a blur. But I’m also sure many of you may have differing opinions on the public school system in general. Here, I list the top ten things I personally believe public schools are doing wrong when it comes to student motivation. These are just my thoughts, with bits from my own experience that obviously deviates from yours. I am no one. Laugh.

1.Class Rank – When schools implement class rank and the awards of valedictorian and salutatorian when students are already very competitive, intrinsic motivation is threatened. Students take AP classes not out of interest, but because bonus points are added to their grade point average. They could be taking elective courses that spark their interest, such as culinary arts or painting, but choose not to because the AP classes boost their likelihood of obtaining a high class rank. Students do not read or do assignments to learn for the sake of it. Rather, they memorize information to perform well on tests, rather than develop a conceptual understanding of the class material. It does not matter that they learn, but rather, if they do “better” than other people. They fail to master the material, and instead put more effort towards racking up points to make it to the top.

2.Low Standards for Passing Grades – Some school districts have set “70” as a passing grade, while others such as ______ Independent School District have relied on the meager “60” as passing. Depending on the class and how it is taught, much may not be required to earn the 60 or 70. This puts failure-avoidant students at a disadvantage. They are motivated by not wanting to fail the class, and often, barely pass. They do not master the material, nor gain an adequate, conceptual understanding of what is taught if a modest amount of effort is required to pass. They are only concerned with obtaining the minimum grade, just as competitive students are mainly concerned with earning a top class rank without actually retaining content.

3.Material Goods Given in Exchange for Good Grades – When a school district gives students money or lavish items such as iPods and iPads in exchange for good grades, intrinsic motivation is also undermined because students no longer wish to learn, but rather, memorize and ace tests to fund trips to the mall or stifle their boredom. For the college-bound, a rude awakening awaits when they find that good grades in college do not entail luxurious rewards. Also, when the reward is given so often, it loses its “wow” factor, and students are not as gratified when receiving them. The reward loses its intended effect, and student performance may stagnate or even flounder.

4.Competition of Class Averages Between Class Periods – It isn’t uncommon for a teacher to promise a pizza party to whichever class earns the highest overall average over the six weeks’ term, semester, or simply a big exam. The students may not internalize the goal of doing well, seeing it as set by the teacher to make himself look good because his students would work harder and earn better grades. Or, like students competing for class rank, the students would do well, but not necessarily retain information. They only care about the pizza, or “beating” the other classes. They would not necessarily master the information taught.

5.“Accelerated Reader” Competitions – Elementary and intermediate schools often hold book-reading competitions in which the student with the most “Accelerated Reader” points receives a monetary reward or a gift card to a popular store or restaurant. The student is shallowly tested on comprehension skills, and points increase based on the number of pages a book contains. It isn’t uncommon to see a student skim or read through a book without absorbing its content. The student is only extrinsically driven by the reward at the end and doing better than others. Reading comprehension doesn’t exactly improve when you passively read to rack up on page numbers and points.

6.Overworked Guidance Counselors – Students with long term goals are at a disadvantage when few guidance counselors work at their high school and are often overwhelmed by a large number of students. The guidance counselors are often unable to help students compartmentalize their long term goals into several short term goals, nor discuss how they are to reach their goals, including admittance to a prestigious college or attending a vocational school after graduation. Students could even lose sight of their goals, abandoning them altogether or attempting to reach them inefficiently, with suboptimal results.

7.Paying for 100% of Students’ AP Exam Fees – It is not uncommon for school districts to pay for the entirety of students’ AP exam fees in economically disadvantaged schools. As the students’ family is not paying for the exam, its importance may be minimized in the students’ eyes and performance may be subpar.  Tests may be blown off as efforts to prepare for them become insubstantial. Passing the AP exam no longer remains a priority especially if a student receives bonus points on transcripts regardless of whether he or she makes the marks needed for college credit.

8.Teachers Required to Comply with a Failure Rate – Public school teachers are often required to have a set failure rate that they cannot surpass. This mandate often results in passing off students who may not have performed at the standard needed to advance a grade level or graduate. Older students may be aware of this, feel that they will be passed anyway because a teacher is legally required to, and not put forth an honest effort in class. The students do not even internalize the goal of passing because it is already achieved for them through the teacher’s being required by the state, school district, or school administration to pass the majority of his or her students. Yes, as a high school student, this information was relayed to me. By my own teachers.

9.Lack of Vocational Programs – Lack of vocational programs limits the variety of opportunities open to a student for goal-setting and personal success. The student may not identify with programs already existing for college-bound students and as a result, does not set goals he or she can honestly internalize and enjoy working towards. Consequently, unmotivated and uninterested students often drop out or perform poorly in school.

10.The Idea that Every Child Must Go to College – The idea that every child must go to college definitely coalesces with Problem 9 as options are limited for students who do not fit the “college-bound” mold. It is this idea that ______’s “4 by 4” plan is based on. A student with no interest in going to college should not be mandated to take advanced math classes if the desired career pathway does not require these skills. The goal of going to college is set not by the students themselves, but instead by the state of ______, and a handful of teachers. The students may resent teachers and other authority figures for hailing the importance of college, as they may not understand that some students do not have the financial backing or family support to attend, or have other obligations after high school. The students will reject this goal of going to college, and having little options and support for different types of goal-setting, they remain disadvantaged and lack perspective as to what they wish to do in the future to gain financial independence.

Again, personal observations and opinions from no one. Just a young blogger who got a high school diploma through the Texas public school system, and got triggered listening to a venting friend.

Feel free to divulge your thoughts and share your experiences.

Aggression and Theory of Mind – Robert Sapolsky on the Uniqueness of Humans

Robert Sapolsky’s Stanford University lecture touches upon ways in which humans are similar to other living beings, like primates such as the chimpanzee, or small domesticated pets. Your childhood hamster, Tex. Though we may not at all be unique in terms of genes and basic neurology (I learned this on a summer trip to the Smithsonian, reading a chart which pointed out that humans share a great proportion of genetic similarity with the banana), Sapolsky emphasizes that humans possess uniqueness in regards to empathy.

Sapolsky makes a notable comparison concerning aggression. He remarks that like us, male baboons can kill their own kind in a cold, calculated fashion (as we have seen in historical examples of the Holocaust and actions of Pol Pot’s regime). Fraternizing in a group called a “border patrol,” these animals will relentlessly kill other baboons from a nearby group. I have never committed murder, but I can attest that when highly aggravated, I can act in ways that many would deem “uncivilized,” or even “animalistic.” The same can be said for many other humans. In middle school, I got into a share of fights with students I shared disagreements with. My home life was rather turbulent, and I can recall several physical altercations between myself and my mother. Though I myself did not initiate the altercations, I felt so threatened by her actions that I retaliated to a certain extreme. At the time, I didn’t care, nor think about the consequences of what I was doing, but I felt I had to protect myself. Now, when my guidance counselor learned of several of these incidences, I was told that even though my mother treated me horribly, I had no right to do what I did, as “She is your mother, and the way you acted was like a junkyard dog. Is this how young women act? Are you a young woman, or an animal? You’re fifteen. Not seven.” Even in the face of ongoing abuse, I noticed that I was expected to act complacently, turn the other cheek, and be the “better person.” I often wonder if the woman who reprimanded me would have practiced the inaction she proselytized in disdain for my behavior.

Sapolsky moves on to the theory of mind chimpanzees possess, versus secondary theory of mind only we humans employ in daily interactions. Chimpanzees’ theory of mind is rather rudimentary: an understanding that one chimpanzee has information that the observing chimpanzees do not possess. The observing chimpanzee must do everything in his power to get that information, regardless of the harm or disadvantage inflicted upon his peer. On the other hand, the secondary theory of mind that governs human interaction encompasses empathy, the “Golden Rule,” and social norms which constitute a common culture. Using these tools, we, unlike animals even as similar as the chimpanzee, are able to appreciate issues of morality discussed in books such as Crime and Punishment. We participate in time consuming projects after which rewards may not immediately come to fruition (Personally, I am currently working on an article to submit for publication that requires a great degree of data collection and a frustrating amount of statistical analysis).

Although we, like the chimpanzee, are very much driven by physiological wants, we are also able to delay gratification to further work on tasks at hand. It’s a rather unique ability, and while humans can be pretty terrible to each other, the capacities Sapolsky speaks of not only contribute to the structured society we live in, but enable us to move onward. Think, act, innovate. Maybe it’s a blessing, a curse that only complicates, or possibly a tool to use of your own volition, in light or dark. I can say for certain that I’ve never heard of a chimpanzee who blogs.

An Unpredictable Spring Awakening

Contentment’s pastoral peace
Runs through the veins of leaves that mother
Appeasing myself, as I lay
Soaking up the quiet, and thinking
About what The Economist plans to post
On its front page, a month from now

I rest, beneath a buried scorn
For the weather forecast that lied
Because if it were really 44 degrees
I could be indoors
Reading an Economist stained with Earl Grey

But why the displeasure
It has no space
To brood and preach
As children race on cardboard skateboards
Without their coats
And freed of boots

*Cat No. 13 of the 500 Cats Project