Junior Year: No Exceptions

Dear Reader,

I used to love writing short stories in elementary school. I wrote stories about little girls who were superheroes, about alien colonies with funny names, about birthday parties. My fifth grade teacher was supportive of my imagination and told me I was a good writer. I believed her. A few years later when it felt like I was going through a middle school identity crisis and everyone around me had their “thing,” I decided to cling to my writing. That writing would be my “thing.”

Well, AP Lang has challenged this image of myself.

One of my strongest friendships was formed this year because I needed to cry with someone when my self-doubt as a writer reached a new time high. I’d stay up into the early morning finishing assignments that I dreaded to do and had pushed off until the night before. In one of our last timed essays in class, I only wrote three sentences in the entire period. My mind could no longer concentrate. I left the classroom with tears in my eyes. I didn’t feel like a good writer my fifth grade teacher had made me out to be. I felt incompetent, incapable, defeated many many times.

But it was my choice to take this class.

I chose this challenge. I chose to challenge my writing with the hopes to grow as a person and as a writer. I met many other challenges during my junior year that were out of my control, that I didn’t choose to face. These unfortunate events have made me appreciate choice and the adventures I can choose. I’m grateful that I chose AP Lang, and given the opportunity to redo junior year, I’d choose AP Lang again.

Through AP Lang, I’ve learned that writing is hard. I’ve learned how seriously I take my words. I’ve learned that peer editing is one of the greatest tools I could have, and that reading my words aloud actually does help.

I heard that junior year is one of the hardest years before I began the year. I thought that because I had already taken an AP class the previous year and do well in school, I’d be an exception to the stress and ickiness of junior year. I thought that since I’d done well in my other English classes and enjoyed writing, I wouldn’t struggle through AP Lang like everyone else.

I’ve learned that I’m not an exception.

What do I expect to do with all that I’ve learned this year? I think I’ll just have to wait and see.

– Nora

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Gay Controversy Calls for Love

Dear Reader,

I’m a very affectionate person. My love language is physical touch, so I show my friends that I care about them through hugs and hand holding. These public display of affection is acceptable at my school, and in most other settings, because there is an unspoken understanding that both my friend and I are only friends, that we are not in a romantic relationship but rather both of us are are attracted to boys. If I were a lesbian on the other hand, this acceptance of affection would not be so well received. Public displays of homosexuality, along with being openly gay, are still highly controversial (despite certain western countries that have become more supportive of people who aren’t heterosexual).

A growing argument in favor of homosexuality is that people who are attracted to people of the same gender are born that way. This understanding refutes the previously popular argument that homosexuality was a choice made by the individual, or even a mental disorder the individual had, and that particular adverse actions could reverse this “unnatural” behavior (such as shock treatment). While homosexuality has been present in societies since even before the Ancient Greeks, it’s only been more talked about in these last few decades.

Currently in 2017, more than twenty countries legally recognize and allow same sex marriages. These specific governments view it as a misuse of their power if they tried to dictate who can and cannot marry. Because of this, public displays of affection between same sex couples are expected to be more acceptable in liberal cities, countries, and states compared to conservative communities.

The conservative take on homosexuality and public displays of homosexuality is that it is morally wrong and unnatural. Conservative Christians interpret the Bible as condemning homosexuality. Other cultures see homosexuality as a taboo topic that should be ignored and avoided at all costs. In Kenya, homosexual acts are treated as crimes punishable by a prison sentence. In a lot of other countries, people who come out publicly as gay are often ostracized from society and many are even attacked by mobs. These cultural traditions and religious beliefs sow the seeds of homophobia — a fear and intolerance of gay people that dehumanizes and rejects them from society.

What could unite these two opposing sides?

Love.

It sounds cheesy, I know, but through love comes the realization that we are all people — regardless of our sexuality. In the words of singer Burt Bacharach, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love / It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”

Love opens the door for two disagreeing sides to engage in discussion because love allows us to respect and value the other and what opinions he has to share. Love encourages listening. It’s not until homosexuals, homophobes, those who support gay rights, and those against them can come together to have a conversation that a more solid solution to the controversy will be provided.

We must continue to love each other if we hope that such a day will ever come.

– Nora

IS vs. OUGHT: Education

Dear Reader,

It’s that time of the year where seniors are making decisions about colleges. For the first time in my life, college no longer seems like an idea hidden in the mists of the far off future; it feels more and more tangible now that I’m wrapping up my junior year. To apply to college is a big enough decision that first I need to consider what the benefits are of a higher education. Why do twelve years of primary and secondary not satisfy the goals of education (that universities and colleges have been created)?

What even is the goal of education?

From my personal experience, education strives to teach — more specifically, to teach information that can be repeated back to the teacher. For example, in my chemistry class, I was taught about significant figures. I then had to regurgitate my knowledge and understanding of significant figures to answer test questions and when doing other calculations.

As a result, education emphasizes the value of facts: valuing what is known as opposed to exploring the unknown. The education system presents these facts in independent categories, explaining why there is an unnatural schism of subjects (as pointed out by Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”). This means that writing and grammar are seen as belonging to English class while problem solving belongs to math class, etc.

Instead of focusing on organizing information and skills into their own boxes, education ought to teach students to root themselves in curiosity, to become creative thinkers, to actively engage learning, to pay attention, to form good habits. In this version of education, a “well educated” person would be someone who thinks critically, asks questions, and uses her tools to evaluate and solve problems beyond the surface level.

Given that this is not the reality of the education system, why should I submit myself as a student only to facts, to the separation and categorization of abilities, to the pursuit of a college education? As flawed as the school system is, education is purposeful, making it important and invaluable.

In class, when I am taught about how things work, I can better appreciate them; for example, I can better appreciate the greenery around me after learning the complex systems and processes carried out by plant cells. Such appreciation enriches my world view.

The point of education is to diversify my perception and understanding of the world. The point of education is also to empower the student; when I have studied a subject in depth, I am more confident and more willing to share my knowledge with others. The point of education is to equip the student with skills that can prepare her for what lies outside the classroom.

There is a point to education.

– Nora

Desensitization

Dear Reader,

Lately, as I’ve been focusing and reading about the effects of entertainment on culture and public discourse, I’ve come to understand the dangers of desensitization.

Desensitization is the act or process of indifference or unconsciousness.

In other words, it’s the mental erosion of emotion and reaction, making us less sensitive to an event or action that merits attention and importance. It commonly comes about through overexposure to media; for example, watching violent movies and playing games where the goal is to kill. This desensitizes us to the horrors of violence in real life because it presents violence as entertaining by simplifying violence into amusement.

But not all entertainment causes us to be desensitized: being entertained by a Mexican soap opera is not the same thing as being entertained by the racist comments of a news anchor. The former is a work of fiction that prides itself on its reputation of absurd plot twists and overacting; it is meant to entertain, not to be taken seriously.

The news anchor, on the other hand, should be informing the public instead of degrading anyone because of their race, yet despite this expectation, there are people who will still find racist comments as entertaining. To laugh at this manifestation of racism is to communicate that racism is funny, that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, that it’s okay. And thus the desensitization begins.

In Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death, he explains, “The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether” (87). It’s not so much entertainment itself but what we find to be entertaining that will prove to be detrimental to society.

If we find politics to be entertaining, then we shouldn’t be surprised that the current American president was a reality TV star. If we find sexism against women to be entertaining (or even acceptable as the election of a sexual harasser for president in the US seems to imply), how can we expect women to be respected in the work place. If we find violence to entertaining, what atrocity will be great enough to get a reaction from the public and inspire a desire to rebel against violence?

Like the spectators in the Hunger Games, we (as in our society) are amused by horrors and injustice because they’re presented as “entertainment.” If we allow ourselves to be entertained by actions or words that have the power to hurt people, we will quickly become desensitized to the hurt of others.

— Nora

Creative Thinkers are Creative Doers

Dear Middle School Teachers,

When I was in middle school, I learned how to write a thesis-driven essay, to use the scientific method, and to solve algebraic problems using the order of operations. Though I was given these tools and taught how to use them, I understood that these skills were limited, that they were not meant to go beyond the classroom. I had this mentality until sophomore year when I took AP US History — a course that encouraged me to see beyond the classroom, to ask questions the textbook wouldn’t answer, and to expand my definition of “history” because of my teacher. Taking this class taught me to think creatively.

Creative thinking is the ability to form connections between knowledge and tools in order to problem solve. (The “tools” I’m referring to include writing, drawing, organizing, processing, planning, interacting with others, asking questions, etc.) Virtually any skill is welcome in the realm of creativity as long as the beholder of the skill can use it go beyond the obvious answer and the minimum effort to solve a problem.

The skills that can be used to strengthen creativity (and likewise, the skills that are strengthened through creativity) are not taught in a single class; therefore there should not be a single class dedicated to creativity. If there were to be a “creativity class,” it could give the impression that creativity only belongs in the classroom. That creativity is an individual and independent subject, separate from all other classes and facets of life.

This is not the message that should be communicated to students.

I’m writing to you, middle school teachers, because I firmly believe in the influence you have on your students. As they come out of elementary school and learn to navigate their pre-adolescent years, your students discover new independence and intellectual autonomy. As a result, they form thinking and working habits. If, in the midst of all this transition, you should not only teach them how to develop certain skills but also how the underlying skills in being able to write an essay or solve a math equation relate to all subjects and to problem solving in general, then you are helping nourish their creative spirits. Show them that creativity applies to matters beyond short story writing in English class and painting in art class. Show them that creativity is welcome in your classroom.

Whether you teach math, science, English, history, etc., show your students the relevance of creativity by challenging them to see the bigger picture, to ask questions, to approach problems with confidence because you have given them all the tools they need to solve a problem or to complete a project. If every teacher were to do this in every classroom, this could inspire a whole new generation of creative thinkers just like my AP US teacher inspired me.

– Nora

Vegetarianism

Dear Reader,

My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to transition into a vegetarian diet.

It all began when I watched the documentary, Cowspiracy, in my model U.N. class last semester. The documentary focuses on the environmental impact of animal agriculture in the United States. For instance to produce a single pound of beef, 442-8000 gallons of water are used¹. A single cow occupies 2-5 acres of land, resulting in 45% of Earth’s land being covered by livestock. The documentary was full of staggering statistics that shocked me.

Though this documentary primarily promotes veganism as a way to be more environmentally friendly, I decided to begin with the easier step: vegetarianism. It has required self motivation, self discipline, and commitment. Taking initiative to change this part of my lifestyle has showed me what I am capable of accomplishing if I follow through with a goal.

My original motivation for becoming a vegetarian was to minimize my carbon footprint, but it also has its health benefits. A vegetarian diet has been linked to lower levels of cholesterol, and to less risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, developing kidney stones and cataracts².

Vegetarianism is environmentally sustainable and allows for a healthier lifestyle and it’s benefitted my own life. I’d encourage you to evaluate your lifestyle and to take initiative to form healthier habits too. It is within your power to make a change. We are all responsible of taking care of this earth. Before, as an omnivore, it took 3 acres of land to feed me for one year; now, it only takes 1/2 an acre1. Anyone can make a difference.

And it’s up to you to take the initiative to make the change that will benefit your health and the environment. I did, and more than four months in, I’ve loved the change.

– Nora

¹ Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. A.U.M. Films and Media, http://www.cowspiracy.com. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.
² Group, Edward. “9 Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet.” Global Healing Center, 30 Sept. 2015, http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/9-health-benefits-of-a-vegetarian- diet/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.

Figuratively Speaking

Dear Reader,

Have you ever met Marianne Moore? Let me introduce her to you. But I’ll let you now that this poet and woman cannot be captured or understood by a simple introduction. I’ll try to do her justice through metaphors.

  • If Marianne Moore was an animal, she’d be a weaver bird. Weaver birds collect odds and ends to give them a new purpose by building their shelter. Moore was a collector of words and quotes, and instead of hoarding like a pack rat, she used her collection to inspire and build her poetry.
  • If Marianne Moore was a plant, she’d be a mangrove tree. A mangrove tree has unusual, high-arching, and tubular roots that allow it to survive on the banks of salt water. Marianne Moore also has unusual roots: growing up in her grandfather’s home in Missouri, sharing a made-up language with her mother and brother, being raised by her mother and her mother’s girlfriend in the late nineteenth century. These roots shaped her into a unique woman and poet who defied stereotypes surrounding poetry written by women.
  • If she was an article of clothing, she would be a pair of ripped jeans. Most jeans with rips in them are intentionally designed that way. Moore’s poetry is like this. The sudden line breaks and occasional rhyme seem accidental until you pay closer attention and find that each stanza will follow a syllable pattern dictated by the very first stanza and when read aloud, the rhyme scheme feels natural. Moore is making a statement by making the own rules for her poetry much like the fashion statement ripped jeans try to make.
  • If she was a day of the week, she’d be Monday. What happens on a Monday can set the tone for the rest of the week. She was the Monday of the modernist movement; Moore was writing modern poetry during her years at university (long before she entered the eccentric and artistic circles of Greenwich Village, New York City). She was a leading figure that shaped the modernist movement and inspired fellow poets and their poetry.
  • If she was a food, she’d be ravioli. Marianne Moore was a woman who looked unassuming from the outside. Moore would wear plain clothes, and she lived a humble, chaste, and traditional life. Many of her skeptics took this appearance as a sign that she wasn’t truly a modern poet. However, her mind and her words revealed a woman rich in thought and ability. Ravioli may look like any other pasta dish from the outside, but its filling separates the ravioli from the rest. One bite into a piece of ravioli gives way to an abundance of texture and flavor.
  • If she was a color, she’d be dark purple. Purple is a rich color associated with creativity and spirituality. Dark purple is a more low-key, less obnoxious shade of purple. Moore had a colorful personality that despite living a modest lifestyle, this wouldn’t make her colorless. Dark purple unites two key features of her personal life and personality: her faith and creativity.
  • If Marianne Moore was a sport, she’d be kickball. Kickball is usually played by young boys out in the schoolyard. Growing, Moore was a tom boy and always played with her older brother. They would play outside and speak in their own language. As a child, she insisted that she be called ‘brother’ and referred to with male pronouns.
  • If Marianne Moore was a type of transportation, she’d be a bicycle. It’s said that you can never forget to learn how to ride a bicycle once you’ve learned. Moore became the editor in chief of the literary magazine The Dial in 1925 and put her poetry on hold during this time. When the magazine ran out of business, she returned to writing poetry. It was just like riding a bike because despite the pause in her career, she continued to produce poems of a high caliber.
  • If she was a store, she’d be a family owned drug store. This is the place where you can buy milk, magazines, scratch tickets, stamps, hair products, and over the counter medicine. Like a family owned drug store, Marianne Moore was eclectic and loyal to her family values and history.
  • If she had attended Hogwarts as a young muggle, she would’ve been a Ravenclaw. She was a bright girl who obtained a higher education by studying at Bryn Mawr College (as a woman in 1905, this was a big deal). She was intellectually ambitious and later became editor-in-chief of the literary magazine of her time. Moore sought advice from her contemporaries, such as Ezra Pound, to learn how to grow and improve in her poetry. She challenged herself intellectually throughout her life just as a Ravenclaw would do.
  • If she was a musical instrument, she’d be a church organ. Marianne Moore’s grandfather was a Presbyterian Minister; she grew up in a Christian household and her faith would accompany her throughout the rest of her life. A church organ is an intimidating instrument that is challenging to understand and even more so to play. This is like Moore’s poetry: complex and extremely difficult to decipher what she is saying beyond the surface level.
  • If Marianne Moore was a season, she’d be autumn in late September. This time of the year acts as a precursor of what’s to come. It’s the transition period between summer and fall where everyone is teetering into sweater weather. Moore served as a bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While she lived a simple life characteristic to the late nineteenth century, her poetry was the advent of the modernist movement. Moore was the trailblazer because female poets before her had been restricted to sappy, romantic poetry. Moore marked the end of one season and foreshadowed the beginning of a new one.
  • If she was an appliance, she’d be a toaster. The functions of a toaster derive from other kitchen appliances. A toaster needs to be fiddled with in order to find what setting will toast your bread the way you want it. This was what Moore did with her poetry. Her work was inspired by those who came before her and who had written pieces before her poem. She then fiddled with her words, her stanza, her structure, until she found a shape and sound that she liked and continued the pattern for the remainder of the poem.
  • If she was a natural disaster, she’d be a tornado. Tornadoes are unpredictable. Because of this, less is known about tornadoes compared to other natural disasters. Compared to other poets, less is known about Marianne Moore. In her first published collection of poetry, she left a note that reads, “Omissions are not accidents,” meaning that anything she left out of the collection (and from the eye of the public for that matter) was calculated. She was mysterious like a tornado and just as powerful with her words.
  • If Marianne Moore was a Disney princess, she’d be Merida from Brave. There is no romantic interest in Brave much like there was no romance (that we know of) in Moore’s life; she never dated and never married. Brave is largely based around Merida’s relationship with her mother. Moore’s relationship with her mother played a huge role in her life; she lived with her mother until she was 67, at which time her mother passed away. Though they had a loving relationship, Moore sought shelter and independence through her poetry because of the close and at times stifling relationship she had with her mom.

Hopefully this has answered any questions and filled any holes in your knowledge of Marianne Moore. It’s been an honor getting to know her well enough to introduce her to you.

– Nora