Thank you

 Dear Ms. Magnuson,
A year of incredibly hard work is done. And I think, actually I’m pretty sure, that it paid off. I am a different person because of this class, and because of you.
First of all, thank you for teaching me how to write.
I have written more in one year than I’ve written in my entire life. The weekly blog posts were at the same time the worst part of my weekend and the best thing for my writing. I hated writing about prompts I had no care for, and writing about prompts I did care about wasn’t the most pleasant thing either. Perfectionism is a real thing. And then there were the timed writes, essays and other gross, time-consuming stuffs. But eventually, I always made it. My writing improved, my grades went up, and I started to experience this new feeling: a little bit of joy every time I got to write. And that joy would not have emerged if you hadn’t forced me to keep going, to challenge and improve myself.
But I’ve learned so much more than how to write. Thanks to you and your teaching skills, I’ve learned how to think. Thinking is hard. Really hard. What do I think about justice, education, abortion, gay rights, and any other topic? Do I just echo the words of the internet, my parents and friends? Or do I have my own ideas? I am certain that before this year, it was the former. Now, I am becoming the latter more and more. (The amount of arguing I have with friends and family proves that.) I love how you would go on little rants about anything that popped into your mind. You have your opinions, and that has inspired me to develop my own.
I don’t care what I get on the AP Lang exam. (Just kidding I totally do.) What I mean is that I have learned so much from you that is not of significant to the exam (because the school system is messed up), but is of such great significance to my life. The exam can’t measure how much my writing has improved, or how at the start of the year I spent six hours writing my blog post and now I can do it in less than an hour, or how I learned to appreciate books that I really dislike, and even, I can’t believe I’m saying this, how to love poetry. Those are all things that happened, that you cared about. The exam only cares if I know how to analyze excerpts. You care about me as an individual.
And beyond writing and thinking, you taught me how to be a good human being that cares about other people, and you are really like a second mommy to me when I need you to be, and you taught me that NO! means yes, and that grades aren’t everything and that I should always read and write and never write run-on sentences. Obviously I should pay more attention to that last one.
Thank you for being my teacher. You are a wonderful, weird, mysterious, hilarious, intriguing woman and such a role model to me. I will miss you and your class. You were one of the biggest highlights of this long and dreadful junior year.
Love,
Lianne
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Goodbye

Disclaimer: I’m supposed to be writing about a controversial topic. I don’t want to write about a controversial topic because I have other things on my mind. So I’m going to write about those instead.

Disclaimer #2: This really is a way to get my thoughts straight so there may not be anything substantial in what you will be reading.

The word “goodbye” is a deceivingly simple word. Two syllables, one definition: “used to express good wishes when parting or at the end of a conversation” (according to google). I usually have the urge to sing it, thanks to the Sound of Music. A very common word, and yet it carries more emotions than any other word I know.

I spent the first three years of my life living everywhere and nowhere — we traveled around from country to country as my dad was doing his pilot training. When I was three years old we moved to Lesotho where we lived nine years. We then made a huge transition and moved to Kenya, where we have been living the past five years. Lots of places. Lots of people. Lots of goodbyes.

“Goodbye” became a go-to word. In the international community, everyone is always coming and going. We say hi, we say bye. That’s how it is. I know that at six or seven years old I cried when I said goodbye to my aunt and uncle. The next year, another couple left, and I cried a little less, the year after that, even more people left until in the sixth grade I was the only girl in my class — the other ten had all disappeared. It sounds weird, but I didn’t cry about them leaving at all. It was normal now, to say “goodbye.” People that did cry were weird, I thought. This is a normal part of life, as normal as going to school every day. Stop making a big deal out of it.

And so it has been for the past several years. I don’t cry. I can count the number of times I cry, as in tears falling down my cheeks, per year, on one hand. I am used to saying goodbye, used to being left, used to leaving. It’s a part of the TCK world.

And yet, today a good friend of mine told me they were leaving and something happened that hasn’t happened since elementary school: The thought of saying goodbye to them made a tear fall down my cheek. And then a couple more. And I was astonished that I was crying. I’ve grown soft, my hardness has faded. I’ve come to care so deeply about certain people that the thought of living without them is too hard to bear.

And I’ve come to realize that the people who cried during farewells weren’t the weird ones. I was. My hard face, with its closed tear ducts, was my way of blocking the pain and emotion the word “goodbye” brought, whereas others let that pain run freely over their faces. And I have been incapable of doing that. Until now. I wonder why?

Maybe it’s because the word “goodbye” itself is controversial. At least in the TCK world. Because it’s the word that we shrug off as being a normal part of everyday life, but it’s also a word of intense pain.

I don’t know how to deal with that thought. I think I’ll go cry about it.

The Facts

I took the AP Psychology exam today. It consists of 100 multiple choice questions and 50 minutes in which to write two essays. My hand was in serious pain after that.

It feels very satisfactory finishing such an exam. My mind is like, wow, I know so much, look at me answering multiple choice about this psychologist and this experiment and this disorder and wow look I can write like six pages in 25 minutes about random stuff that I will forget about in two days yay!!! I didn’t know the meaning of one term but still managed to spout out enough facts to make it seem like I knew what I was talking about. Facts!!! They can take you far.

Except that if I didn’t actually really care about the information in this subject all I would know is those facts. I wouldn’t know psychology applies to life, I wouldn’t be able to see the patterns, I wouldn’t know how to manipulate people by classically or operantly conditioning them, I wouldn’t develop my own opinions about the Zimbardo or Milgram experiment. See, look at me, I sound all smart spouting out these names, but if didn’t care about psychology the smartness would stop right here.

It’s like learning math or physics. I can sound all smart and think of random formulas I’ve learned, but that doesn’t mean I understand or care about them at all. I know the facts and that’s it.

The important part of learning is not that I know who Milgram was. The important thing is that I can analyze his experiment, think of the consequences it has for humanity, develop an opinion about it, and see the patterns- how it relates to World War 2 and other horrifying parts of history. (His experiment was on obedience — even if it meant delivering shocks to a person until they die). The important thing is that I learn how to use what I’ve learned to broaden my mind and understanding and to live life. School is not about the facts. They can take you far, but not all the way.

So I’m sure many people around the world will get fives on this AP Psychology exam. But will they actually understand all the facts they dumped onto that paper? Maybe our minds have just become textbooks — full of information but quite dull. Maybe this is what school has created us to be. I hope not. It would really be a waste of time. Just like exams are. All they measure is memory.

Hopefully, through taking classes, we learn to think deeply, understand thoroughly, ask questions, and somehow, live life. So that if we come across a question we don’t know how to answer, we will have so much understanding that we can just B.S. our way through it 🙂

Boredom

My mom loves boredom. When we, my siblings and I, were younger, every time we whined about having nothing to do, she would say “Good. Now you can think of something to do.” She would never give us options, except the option of doing the dishes. Which is worse than boredom I assure you.

The thing about boredom is that eventually, you get so tired of sitting around doing nothing that out of pure agony you find something to entertain yourself with. Keywords: entertain yourself with. Not be entertained by. (With entertainment I am talking about accessible household entertainment, not Broadway shows and such.) At least, that’s what it used to be like. As a kid I would be bored, and decide I needed to make a painting for my wall. Or build a Barbie house out of cardboard. Or better yet, transform the backyard into a village with tipis and tree houses and “vegetable” patches and designated “roads” for the bikes to drive on. My siblings and I entertained ourselves for hours using sticks and sheets and paint and whatever else we could find. TV, laptops and video games did not exist for us.

But times have changed. Now, boredom is resolved with screen time. Movies, TV, youtube. I find myself spending hours of my day watching random things. Only on long holidays (when I get bored of resolving my boredom with screens) do I indulge myself in creative activities like sewing, painting, and recreating my entire room. Though it’s true that I don’t have time to do this during school times, I do somehow find short amounts of time to let myself be entertained by the real or fictional lives of others. And the sad thing is, is that it’s not only

And the sad thing is, is that it’s not only me, but even young children. In this age of technology, there is just so much easy entertainment available. When I babysat two children some time ago, the mother told me: “Just put on a movie and then send them to bed.” So babysitting is just watching children watching a movie? That isn’t a lot of fun. We made pipe cleaner bracelets and painted pictures instead because it’s way more fun and a way to encourage creativity and problem-solving. (Also, I didn’t want to watch Toy Story.) This is what leads to growth and the ability to think of something interesting to do when we are bored.

I remember complaining to my dad when I was about ten that I “had no idea how to talk to people because they all use quotes from movies I had never seen and were always joking about movies and I never understood anything.” To which he said: “Do you really want to live your life watching other people live their lives?” It feels like that is what society has come to. Entertainment leads us to never have to think for ourselves. It breaks ties with others because instead of playing board games we huddle up with our screens and spend our time watching the lives of others. Oh yes, it is fun and effortless and mindless. But eventually, it becomes the only cure to boredom. And when that happens, what is even the use of having a creative, thinking mind?

ABC’s

Dear little bro,

Do you remember when you were five and our youngest sister was three and I decided I would teach you both the alphabet? You remember how she learned it faster than you did, because you saw all the letters backwards and had no way of making sense of them? I remind you: she was three and you were five. Remember how she sang the ABC song around the house and you didn’t even understand the concept of it?
But remember how you didn’t care at all? Instead, you taught her to do the things you could do. You built legos to create magnificent boats. You helped her make dollhouses and together you built sand-castles using any resources our garden held. Both of you forgot the ABC in favour of something more fun, interesting and useful. Why memorize some dumb old letters when you can build a world with just your hands?

And then you went to school. And it was a nightmare because the ABC came back and you couldn’t read it. And two years later the little sister came too, and within months she was reading the Bible for dinner-table devotions and you . . . tried but took two minutes to read one verse. To the annoyance of us all. Sorry. I know you couldn’t help it. The school wasn’t teaching you well. You repeated first grade, once in the American system and once in the Dutch system. You weren’t able to learn the ABC in either.

So every day you would come home and hide from the world of school, of rules, of not understanding. You would fight it in your passive way: by building legos and making fully working pocketknives out of cardboard which you would take to school to prove to your teachers no, you weren’t stupid you just thought in a different way.

Kids like you are mocked. When they are young, they are told they have learning disabilities. As if they aren’t able to learn. Which is preposterous. Children learn all the time. The fact that a child can speak, or listen, or share toys, or kick their legs on a swing to go higher or paint a picture all show learning. See, they are called learning disabilities because society has come to the conclusion that only what the education system teaches qualifies as something worth learning. You have dyslexia. That kid in your class has fine motor issues and can’t hold a pencil. Both of you are more creative than the rest of the class combined and yet you are mocked.

This needs to change. It is kids like you, that have an abnormally large amount of creativity that change the world. Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Phelps, Keira Knightly all have learning disabilities. And look at where their creativity led them. An actress, the maker of Disney, a well-known inventor and a man who took his ADHD and turned it into a swimming success. Creativity is important. It lets you think for yourself, problem-solve, create something out of nothing. Memorizing the alphabet is helpful, but creativity is the real deal.

So just like you shared your lego-building skills with your sister at the age of five, (and still today let’s be honest), the education system needs to share the gift of creativity with its students. You finally learned your alphabet by making it in 3D using clay. That kid with dyspraxia can hold a pencil now, because they did games like twister that involve fine motor skills. Kids in high school make musicals and storybooks and whatever else they can think of to make their projects and ideas interesting and creative. All the standard stuff, such as powerpoints and long speeches, are deemed boring. And yet these are what the school system teaches us, instead of encouraging the creativity. Look at the world today. There are so many problems that can’tbe solved by simply finding the value of “x” in an equation. We need creative minds so we can have creative solutions.

So little bro, what I’m saying is we should be like you. Who cares if we can read and write the ABC? What matters is if we can think for ourselves, be innovative and ultimately, create. That is what learning is about. You don’t have to change to fit into an education system. The system should change for you, and for all of us.

Sueing the School System

I’m a cookie-cutter student. I have high grades, I have all the school smarts and I really enjoy learning. I can’t kick a ball in a straight line or shoot a basket or sing or dance or climb mountains or do professional photography or draw pretty things, but that doesn’t matter because, hey, I’ve memorized the quadratic formula and I know how to use Newton’s Laws in a physics problem. Over the past two months, I’ve been doing a research project and have therefore studied the system of education quite a bit. The more I research it, the more I realize how messed up it is. And the more I realize how messed up it is, the more I dislike it, no matter how good I am at doing what it tells me to do.

The system of education we are currently in is terrible because it is directed to only one kind of student: the one with crystallized intelligence, which is the ability to use learned knowledge, such as on a test. The problem with that is the vast majority of people, including students, have strengths in other types of intelligences and learn in a completely different way than that of the education system we have today. And that the school system doesn’t encourage fluid intelligence, the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns. I have no idea how to apply the quadratic formula to anything, but at least I’ve learned it right?

And then there’s the problem that some students don’t learn the way the school system teaches them, regardless of how useful the information is. Take my brother, for example. He is dyslexic and has, for the past few years had difficulty reading. And my sister, who frequently fails her math tests but does extremely well on her history ones — and yet feels stupid because she doesn’t understand geometric formulas, which are apparently important to know. And then there’s my little kid sister, who is bored in class because she learns faster than all the other kids but is still forced to do all the review they do.

Education hasn’t changed in centuries. (See video below for more info). It is still about making every student learn the same information in the same way, just like it was in those crowded one-room nineteenth-century schools. School rooms have changed. Why haven’t the ways of teaching students changed? Every child has their own gifts, and instead of ignoring these in favour of learning the same rules in the same way everyone else does, education should be about strengthening these gifts. My mom works in learning support and is quite good at this. My brother’s dyslexia? Let him use clay and other forms of kinesthetic material to make an alphabet he can touch and understand. Plus, he has other gifts: that boy makes remote-control cars and boats and whatever else he can think of — from scratch. (Just because he can’t read the word “remote-control” doesn’t mean he can’t make one). My little sister’s boredom? Let her do ballet, singing, football and basketball to challenge her in other areas of her life. School shouldn’t be about whether or not kids can memorize facts for a test. School should be about challenging kids and helping them grow in a way that they can resonate with.

Of course, there are certain facts we all have to learn. Basic math skills, basic history, science, reading, and writing are what make us well-rounded people. But life is about more than just those things, and where education went wrong is that it put all the emphasis on them. Just think of all those tests we have to take and pass to get into a college. Not only the ones at school, which need to result in a good GPA, but also the ACT, SAT, TOEFL, and all the rest. Those, once again, don’t show learning and don’t encourage learning. They encourage stress, cramming and memorizing. And to what result? A piece of paper that, in our society, defines who we are.

There are better ways of doing this. Montessori schools, for example, are a great way of doing elementary education. They place kids in classes not by age but by what they know. My little sister would do great in such a school. More and more schools are using technology and other ways of learning visually and hands-on. But it’s not enough yet. For there to be a real change in the way we treat kids at schools, we need to completely change the system and create one where the emphasis is put on what students can do, and not on what they can’t.

If I were a teacher I would teach fractions using cake. Outside, on a picnic blanket. I would throw out all the desks and chairs and use bean bags instead. Every student knows those desks are terrible. I would give no tests, but grade on effort. Effort is what we use in the real world anyway. Any learning disabilities would be welcome, each of those kids is good at something, whether that be school-related or not. This sounds very naive and idealistic. But it shouldn’t. It is only because the system we have now is so bad that we can’t imagine one that could actually be good.

So really, I’m only a cookie-cutter student because of this system. If the system changed, every student could be an ideal, because education would be flexible to each student individually. Maybe the next generation of students will go to such a school. I can only hope.

Sarah Kay

One of my favourite poets/spoken word artists is Sarah Kay. She is a brilliant, talented young woman, who makes incredible poetry and has won several poetry slams. Her spoken word art and TED talks have greatly inspired me. In order to get you better acquainted with her, I have made a list of metaphors of what she is like:

  1. First of all, Sarah Kay is like a kitten. She is playful, adventurous, and sees the world as if for the first time. And at the same time she can be such a peaceful and adorable being.
  2. Sarah Kay is also a summer dress. If you have ever worn a summer dress you know that they are the most freeing, loose, and joyful clothing. Sarah Kay is very free. She writes to be free and shares her writing in the hope that she makes others free.
  3. Think back to elementary school science fairs. Got it? Imagine that one table where the kid cut the stem of a rose and dipped it into two different beakers filled with different colours of water. The rose petals eventually turn two different colours. This is Sarah Kay. Her diverse background creates a split stem that can be seen even in her poetry. Not only does she have both Japanese and New York roots, she also has a blend of religions that influence her daily life and create her to be the blooming poet she is today.
  4. Especially for students, Fridays are always hopeful and exciting days. Sarah Kay is extremely hopeful: poems such as “B” and “Hiroshima” show that amidst all sorts of despair her poetry brings her hope. And, as a reader, this really excites me.  One more thing: school-day Fridays are usually shorter, and she tends to keep much of her poetry, not the spoken word but the actual poetry, short.
  5. Matzah ball soup with noodles. If Sarah Kay were a food this is what she would be. Matzah ball soup is a traditional Jewish recipe. The noodles are an extra ingredient Kay’s mother, (who is not Jewish but is Japanese) put in whenever she would make it. It shows the intricate blend of cultures, nationalities and religions that Kay’s family is.
  6. Imagine the stereotypical English countryside with rolling hills, a couple of cozy cottages and some sheep scattered here and there. Maybe that’s not England, but just my imagination. Anyway, imagine this and then imagine the fresh green colour of this place. The clean grass, right after a rainfall . . . there’s a peaceful, joyous vibe. And that vibe is Sarah Kay. She is the pure green of the hills, a green of adventure but also of a soothing peace.
  7. Continuing this vibe, not only is Kay the colour of that grass, she is also the smell of that grass after a rainfall. This is a beautiful smell of fresh nature and finally being able to go outside again. Sarah Kay is, to me, a refreshment, after years of boring poetry she brings it to life.
  8. If Kay were to be a shape she would be a star. Ever since she was fourteen years old Kay has stood in the spotlight, performing her spoken word. And she is good at what she does- hence, a star. Not only that though: She has many sides. If I say star, you have no idea if I mean a 5-sided star, a 6-sided star etc. Same with Sarah Kay. Each poem shows a new side of her intricate soul and you never know how many sides she has in total.
  9. If Kay were a building she would be a library. She is full of stories waiting to be read, to be told, just like a library is.
  10. Logophile means lover of words. Sarah Kay loves words, and the power of story-telling. She encourages others to use words to express themselves. And she does so by . . . using words.
  11. If Kay were a musical instrument she would be a a piano. A piano is an instrument so intricate it can’t be explained, though the music it produces is captivating.
  12. Sarah Kay is most definitely the season spring. She is fresh and clean, making new beautiful things out of the darkness of winter. Her poems are like the budding flowers that come up during this time: full of promise and hope for the time ahead.
  13. It would seem very unthoughtful if I called Sarah Kay a pencil, seeing as she is a writer. Yet Kay is a pencil. Not only is she as skinny as one, she is the utensil we need to write. Her inspiring poetry and other talks encourage others to write as well.
  14. Sarah Kay perfectly embodies the moon. Just like the moon she provides enough light for others to create some of their own. And yes I know scientifically the moon doesn’t shine light but reflects the sun but who cares about science. At night, the moon lights up the sky to be just bright enough for people on earth to light a fire, or find a light-switch and turn on their own light. Kay has a project called project voice in which she teaches spoken word. Her aim: to help the children she works with find a way to tell their story, by telling her story. She uses her light to help them find their light.
  15. Lets end with another elementary school example. That nursery rhyme of the lady who lived in the boot? Remember? Well Sarah Kay is the lady who lived in the shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do. That’s not true. She does know what she’s doing, usually. But she does have many children: all the students she works with on a daily basis, giving workshops and presenting poetry to. And I’m pretty sure if she could live in a shoe she would, just for the experience. And so she could write a spoken word about it.