The “System” in the Educational System

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted here. Like….a couple of months. Was busy with college apps, then school work. But now, I have some time, so hopefully I’ll post more.

What I want to write about today is actually what’s been preventing me from blogging, from just sitting down quietly at my seat and just writing. I guess you could call it, school.

It’s annoying when I have to try to find a balance between school and art. I’m forced to squeeze in time to write what I want to write, to take photos at the most inconvenient times possible, or to listen and make lyrics to music. It’s as if school is trying to pull me away from my passion and forcing me to do a shit ton of grit work. It’s as if school is trying to say, yes we want you to be an enlightened individual, but you gotta follow our format. You gotta do what we say. And this system is annoying.

What I really wish for is the ability to squish this educational system with my passion into one. So that I can devote a good chuck of my time doing and sharpening what I like.

My English teacher one day noted how as kids, literature was everybody’s favorite subject. We all liked to listen to stories, to tell stories ourselves, to let our imaginations fly. But then came the educational system, which just butchered everything up and crammed into us grammar rules, analysis skills, and all that bullshit. And along the way, for many of us, literature became something boring. That magic was lost.

The educational system failed to capture the soul of the subject of literature. I could say the same goes with math, science, and so many other subjects. Most of us don’t see the beauty of it anymore; it’s just a bunch of facts and rote memorization.

Of course, however, it could have never captured it in the first place. It’s because the educational system is a system. 

But here’s the problem: there is no absolute way one can categorize the human learning experience. The fact we have first grades, second grades, and so on doesn’t make sense to me if it’s true that all of us learn at different paces. There’s no way either you could definitely pinpoint a person’s skill level to be either regular, AP, or honors level. We’re humans; you just can’t.

In fact, thinking that we can only hurts us more. A phenomenon called the Matthew Effect sums it up pretty nice, in which psychologist Roger Barnsley noticed that a huge majority of pro Canadian hockey players tended to be born in the earlier months of the year. Why? Because the recruiting system goes by year.

For instance, suppose the NHL recruits by year and takes all the little kids born in 1998. They’ll be put through some training or competition of sorts and from there, they’ll take the best few and put them in the “honors” camp — those likely to be pro. This seems fair, right? Not really so.

Psychologist Roger Barnsley

If you think about it, those born in December and later months are technically one year younger than those born in January and the earlier months. In other words, they’re less physically mature by one year, and therefore, easier to be beaten out. Do they suck? No, just that they’re younger. So what starts out as a small gap in age becomes a huge gap in skill once all those born in the earlier years are placed in the honors system and are bombarded with resources and whatnot. Those born later are likely to be put in the regular system and not given much attention.

Because of this systemic approach to athletics, society has just squandered the potential of nearly half the population– those born in later months of the year. So if you’re born in December, you should just give up playing pro hockey even if you have a talent in it– it’s almost impossible.

It’s unfair, and yes, it’s wrong. Because you cannot categorize how humans grow or develop as athletes. The same thing all applies to our education.

Fixing this is easier said than done, of course. But the utopian solution is if everything can be individual-based. It’s kind of like being home-schooled, or self-teaching yourself. In which you know what you want to do, in which you know how you learn, and you act on that. Instead of being forced into a system, you make your own system. You learn at your own pace, and you focus on what you know you want to do.

This does comes with problems of its own such as lack of motivation. So a good mix would be having a school system but trying to make it as individualized as possible. The only thing we should be wary of is not getting too much into the system itself.

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To Asian-American Students: Be Less “Asian”

Asian American stereotypes, like all racial stereotypes, are wrong and harmful. All Asians play piano. All Asians are test machines who can do dirty work but cannot think for themselves. All Asians are good at STEM and want to get into good colleges. Asians suck at sports and are better with books. These labels exist everywhere, from the sports world to yes, the college admissions process. Obviously, all these are wrong.

The sad thing is, we Asian Americans in general are reinforcing those labels.

About a month ago, groups of Asian American advocates filed a lawsuit against Harvard University claiming that despite higher standardized test scores and higher grades, Asian Americans were being unfairly held to a higher standard than that of other races. Lawsuits like these have increased with the implementation of holistic review, a process that ensures the accepted pool’s diversity in interest, socioeconomic background, experience, and lastly, race and ethnicity.

Asian American families specifically bristle at the race and ethnicity factor, accusing colleges of specifically targeting Asian Americans and calling it racial discrimination. However, by fighting holistic review, they are only proving colleges right—they may ace test scores, but when it comes to diversity, Asian Americans are lacking big time.

As evident, Asian Americans are the most competitive group applying to top-notch colleges. But when faced with a large pool of applicants who all have high scores and spectacular academic success, colleges can only make the logical choice of picking those who stand out – those with unique personalities or compelling stories.

Unfortunately, Asian Americans are, in general, quite uniform. When I asked around my Asian friends at school (which is predominantly Asian) about their potential career paths, the answers were always doctor, lawyer, engineer, doctor, lawyer, engineer, and so forth. I found myself to be the lone Asian at my school wanting to be a journalist or writer, and only a few others wanted to be in careers that weren’t STEM or high-paying. I found a surprising majority of Asian Arcadia students who played piano but very few, like me, who do not. Even their backgrounds were quite similar—taking SAT classes, studying for a lot of APs, aiming for good grades, etc. seemed to be what everybody was doing.

Yet, because so many Asians, Arcadian or not, follow this same path, it has become the definition of what it means to be “Asian,” racial stereotypes applied by Asians themselves. Thus, when colleges are looking through their applicant pools, they see all the same things among Asian-Americans. So no, they are not being racist when they reject an Asian despite his or her high qualifications; they are rejecting most Asians because they are unqualified in the diversity aspect—too many are doing the same thing and have the same background and thus are not compelling enough to stand out.

As a result, many admissions counselors have already advocated Asian American students to “be less Asian.” No, they are not asking students to take away their cultural identity, as many critics claim; they are simply asking to break away from those stereotypes. Such actions might entail pursuing something other than the typical STEM jobs or perhaps getting more into sports. None of these actions take away the Asian identity; it only makes them less Asian according to the stereotypes. And along the way, it significantly boosts one’s chances of being admitted.

To do this, however, with the simple goal of getting into college is wrong and dishonest to oneself. One should do it for his or her own good. There is this big shadow in which the Asian American community is shoving all its youth into one direction of pursuing the same fields and achieving the same scores and aiming for the same top colleges. Through this, not only has the stereotypes developed, but it is misleading and forcing many Asian American students to follow this set path that has become the Asian norm. The result is that many are lacking something—to which my personal knowledge and many other witnesses can testify—called passion.

Ultimately, the message is to break that norm. To my Asian-American peers: if you really have a passion for STEM, then by all means pursue it. However, if you are only pursuing it because your parents say so, because it is high paying, or because everybody is doing it, reconsider your choices and allow yourself to explore and break free from those Asian norms. If you do really have a passion for something, do something beyond school and tests that supports that passion. Pursue activities that are unique and different from that of your peers, whether it be football or playing something other than the piano or violin. All these activities will increase one’s chances of admission, but most importantly, it will allow one to become a better and more unique person overall.

Caged In The School System

I remember in English class a few weeks ago, my teacher was going over the concept of the American Dream. So to start off, she asked my class: what is your American dream? The first student she picked on answered, “Uh… probably go to a good college.” Second student she picked on said, “Go to a good college, and then get a good job.” Third student—good college and good job. Fourth student—good college and good job. Fifth student—good college and good job. And so on. The whole time, I was just thinking, wow, much diversity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pursuing a good college and career. After all, it does provide a good shot at a secure financial future. Yet, what troubles me is how, out of all the possibilities, everybody had the exact same dream, almost as if they all had the same parents. Or perhaps a better explanation, they were all under the same system—this system of school, grades, college, and education and its essentiality in life that has been propagandized to us students.

So was I. Back before high school, I wasn’t just under this system, I was into it. Give me a history textbook, and I would read the whole thing like it was a story, even the sections that the teacher skipped. Give me some math, and I would spend hours trying to figure out a method different from the textbook’s. I was even reading high school books like Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in elementary school, although I didn’t know it that time. Overall, my parents had really stressed education in my life, and I embraced it willingly.

Only thing is, I did it for the grades. I only did it for college as my parents told me to do, because I believed that my future was dependent on college. Not just any college, but it had to be one of those top-notch colleges or I would become homeless. Ridiculous ideas like these permeated my mind, and as a result, my attitude towards a subject was highly reliant on grades. If I got the A+, I “loved” the subject. If not, not so happy about it.

By the end of middle school, however, I had found my passion for writing and the arts, which was only reinforced throughout high school. It was a time when I thoroughly enjoyed a subject, regardless of letter grade. I was also getting tired of just doing tests and homework; to me, it began to seem more and more retarded, because who takes tests in real life? By then, my thought process was much more matured, and I realized not all people who went to community colleges were failures, and that colleges don’t really determine your life. That success wasn’t really about high salary and good name colleges, but more about personality, sympathy, and work.

Most importantly, I realized that all that time I was a caged bird that didn’t even know it was caged. I had thought my cage was my haven, and I had docilely accepted the hand that fed me. But at that moment I refused my parent’s insistence to pursue a science path just because it paid more than a writing career, at that moment when I decided to screw worrying about college, it was the first time I looked out my cage—out of the society, the environment, my
parents, school which had carved for me a path to follow, which told me this was the way I had to do it. I looked out my cage, and I was freed.

Unfortunately, the majority of students is caged, and will likely refuse to admit they live in a cage. Hopefully, there are those who can be freed in the long run. Ultimately, the basic message is not to promote disobedience of parents or society or whatnot; they are definitely only doing what they think is best for you. Rather, the message is to change that “they think” into “you think,” to not let your vision be limited by anybody else, to make sure that your dream is definitely your dream, and to not be the same boring guy whose main goal in life is to go to a good college just because society demands so. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

This article was meant to target my school audience, which is a very academically orientated school. However, I believe this can apply to any high-performing school environment and to the many students around the world whose entire life is revolved around college and education.

Education’s Competition Problem

To my readers, I am aware that I haven’t been blogging much, but thanks to a friend of mine, I will start a renewed interest in blogging more often, perhaps at least once a week, if not more. But for today, let’s start off by establishing how a typical competition works- say, something like a speech competition. There well be participants in the speech. There will also be judges. One by one, the participants go up and present,  and based on whatever rubric the judges have, each participant will earn a score. Through the score, the competitors are ranked first, second, and so on.

Now let’s take a second competition. It’s a competition of the animal kingdom. Our judge will be a human. And the competitors will be the following: a chimpanzee, a goldfish, a giraffe, an elephant, and another human. And what skill will they be competing in? The ability to climb a tree. It is this competition that will supposedly determine the future success rate of these competitors.

Now, we let this glorious competition begin. First, we have the chimpanzee. Dam, he can climb! Alright, he passes. Oh, then we have the goldfish. Nope, he fails. A giraffe– yea he can reach high, but he can’t climb. So much for the elephant. And the human– almost, but not as good as the chimp.

So obviously, the chimpanzee is gonna be really successful in his future survival, and all the other organisms can just give up in life. That’s what this competition is saying; that’s what our educational system is saying.

And that’s the precise problem with our educational system. It’s competition-based. It tells who wins and who loses based on only one asset of skills. But is the giraffe, elephant, and human really going to fail in life just because they can’t climb a tree? The giraffe has a high neck to make up for it. The elephant may not be agile, but it definitely has serious strength. And humans- why they’re the most dominant species on Earth right now. Same with the goldfish. As Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a goldfish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

The same goes with us students. Our educational system aims to procure the most successful people in the future, and the way the system determines that is via a set standard. Oh, you have a higher SAT score? You have better grades? Alright, go ahead to a good college. You’re not doing so well in school? I’m sorry, you won’t be doing so well in your future. But really? As you can see, that’s definitely not the case. Grades, scores, and the amount of extracurricular activities– all those things colleges look for– they don’t tell anything. Once again, they test only one asset of skills. They miss out on the student’s hidden potential.

Each of us is unique– in the way we think, in the way we act, in the way we write, in the way we talk. There is no set standard, no set rubric, on what defines good or not. Each of us is good in one way or another. To repeat, we are all geniuses. So the aim of the educational system should not be to determine who’s better or not based on one scale, but to supply an environment where each and every individual can have his or her genius shine out.

To be honest, I don’t have a good solution. But this is a problem that will require more than one mind to solve. It will require a collaborate effort from students, parents, and society as a whole.

The Love That’s So Rare

I remember when I was in middle school, during 8th grade, I hit upon the biggest moment in life. I fell in love.

I used to be a test machine, just writing essays and scoring high just so I  could appear smart to my fellow peers. It just felt great being smart and being able to subtly show off to my own classmates. This was basically who I was. Apparently, I was trapped in my own prison that I created for myself. I was unaware of the things going on outside my prison.

But that day I fell in love, the greatest moment in my school career happened. I fell in love, with literature. I suddenly realized what literature really meant. It wasn’t about grammar, it wasn’t about writing analysis, it was about explaining an event in an artistic way. I had looked beyond the superficialness and seen the great beauty of the inner core. It was just so beautiful.

Sadly, most students nowadays are stuck in the same sort of prison that I was stuck in. They just learn for grades. They don’t learn out from their own will. I mean, take an example of an arranged marriage. Why does the girl oblige to marry his husband? Because her parents and her culture said so. This is opposed to when the girl chooses her husband out of her own free will. The former is out of obligation, the latter is out of true love. Right now, the relationship between the subjects learned at school and the students is the former. Only very few are in the latter.

I was very furious about this. I noticed a pattern in whenever there was a math test that day, people started discussing about math. Whenever there wasn’t, they would just start going back on damn Facebook or doing all those shitty things. Where was this love? Was I and a few other friends the only people who discussed about math when there was no test?

It was just that they didn’t conform to my ideal vision of a perfect school. In this perfect school, everybody philosophizes and debates about various academic things- maybe in a sense like the School of Athens. They do this at all times, regardless of tests. And just like the ancient Greek philosophers, they do it because they love it. Because they truly love it.

School of Athens

This sacred love between subject and learner, sadly, is rare nowadays. The blame- parents. Parents are always emphasizing on going to a good college and getting a good job. They sorta make it seem as if THAT is the goal of life. And because parents are forcing their children to learn and score high, suddenly the chances of any of them loving the subject vanishes.

What I call for is for a society or an educational system that promotes this love between subject and learner. Think about how geniuses like Einstein or Beethoven came about- it was this love between themselves and their profession. Why else would they go great depths to make their fabulous discoveries or their wunderkind compositions? In fact, this love can make students better students, because out of this love, they would go beyond the things at school and into their own area of learning.

Many women reformers advocate for less arranged marriages and more marriages out of will. Why can’t this happen in the educational realm? If it does, we can make the school place into a truly happier place.