Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Keep my hands to learn

(God, I am never going to write that post on villains at this point... I am soooooo distract-able...)

I write about myself on this blog a lot (A LOT... is it irritating? Please let me know if it's irritating). And tonight, I feel the urge to do a post that is entirely about me - or at least about me and what I'm planning on after my graduation. Why? Because I have a phone interview this Saturday and, while I'm not nervous for it (okay, not too nervous for it; I'm more excited, really), it's certainly coloring my way of thinking this week.

Tonight I went out to dinner with my parents and I ended up talking about my reservations for this job I'm interviewing for. It's through an organization called Teach For America and their goal is to help close in on the achievement gap between schools, particularly those in low-income areas in cities or rural areas. They take people - generally recent college graduates - and place them in schools to teach for two years, hoping to give kids a shot at quality education that they wouldn't get otherwise. I'm really thrilled that a program like this exists but I'm feeling myself criticizing it more than I think is healthy. Part of this is out of a self-protecting way that, if I don't get the position (which I likely won't, as only 17% of those who apply are selected), I won't be heartbroken. Part of it is because it is a two-year commitment, I'm terrible at making decisions, and I'm afraid of choosing something that I'm not actually passionate about or will burn me out or make me jaded or cynical. I know it's not going to be Freedom Writer's Diary or Mr. Holland's Opus or anything of that nature. But I'm more concerned that it's going to be more beneficial for me in the long run than the students I'm teaching.
Overall, what I'm worried about is having to throw away my ideals completely to make a difference. Let me explain this - I am a ridiculous idealist. I know this. My parents are struggling - understandably - to reckon with the fact that a lot of critical thinking has made a bit of a monster out of me; I don't want a normal job and have a dangerous disregard for money (for the most part - except for the fact that I very much like food and music and books and need money to have those things). But I don't want to accept the ordinary and hope that one day I find a way to push-back - I want to start now and keep going forward. I'm worried that Teach For America (TFA from here on out) will be a push-back, but one that I won't find strong enough. An article I read for an online activity I did as part of the application process (though not necessarily expressing TFA's views) suggested that the No Child Left Behind Act was doing a lot of good. And while I'm sure it is, I also have HUGE issues with it - namely that it makes testing the pinnacle of measuring knowledge and it's caused a lot of cuts to arts/music programs in to focus more on the math and sciences (I once read part of the act in high school... it was painful).
I have a not-so-secret secret to share with you - I HATE TESTS. Not all tests - short answer/essay ones I like. Because I'm a decent writer and, if I don't know the answer, I can at least meander my way through with some notion and try to explain my way through it. But I really hate multiple choice. Really do. Sure, it's easy - if you know the answer. Or the ones available are legitimate. You know what I hate? When the best possible option isn't available on multiple choice. I find this ridiculously frustrating. I also hate tests because they insist on reducing knowledge to a question and four (or so) possible answers, when it is so much more complicated than that. It also focuses on scores and numbers and reducing people to grades and averages... and I'm just not a fan of this way of learning. I much prefer discussions and talking over things and working with people or at least expressing oneself through words than just circling in dots that correspond with an apparently correct answer and treating people as just data points. Also, people have test anxiety - there's so much fear of getting the wrong answer and doing well that it makes taking tests really hard. This is why I always liked band in high school - there were no tests (okay, there were playing tests, but they were pretty chill). And it's music - there's more than one right way to do something. But I digress...

This all comes out of a supreme worry after I did this online activity for TFA and had to read a lot of data charts about test scores and collecting data for schools and dealing with school boards (ugh... the stories I could tell about attending school board meetings in my hometown. Don't ask my why I did that now; that's an entirely different story...) and I began to worry that this was going to turn into the psychology department, where data reigned supreme and everything was focused on testing performance. When I really want to hear about how the students are feeling and fairing and doing in the classroom.

You can find a ton of posts on Tumblr about how schools are actually not very good environments for education - they're like prisons, they promote hegemony (which we all know is boring), they make students develop self-depreciating attitudes about themselves. I had a really interesting discussing last summer with a friend from the Scotland trip I went on a couple of years ago about the book Instead of Education by John Holt. I haven't read it yet but I did get it for Christmas and am curious about it. From what I understand, it poses the idea of moving away from an instituted education system that might not always promote the best of ideas and instead, taking it upon ourselves to prize education and teach one another. Yes, yes, talk about ideals, but I'm interested in this idea, none the less. Because I went to school in a wealthy middle-class suburb and my experience still sucked. Imagine what it must be like in an low-income city or town?

Which is why I want to so badly get involved with TFA. But I'm also worried that their ideas of promoting change will mirror the very things I think are causing problems. I'm worried that I won't find their ideals enough, that I'll want to push farther beyond what they propose. And now I'm left worrying that I can't be happy with anything; that I've got too grandiose of hopes and ideals and that I can't just be grateful for the good that's being done. Everything doesn't have to be huge and revolutionary, as I've mentioned in bits before; change can come from small acts - for goodness sakes, our lovely hobbit friends teach us this in Lord of the Rings. But at the same time, this is going to be a gigantic commitment and huge step for me - and if I'm going to do it, shouldn't I feel comfortable making this step and believe it will really do some good? Sometimes I feel like I'm incapable of really being gracious; I know change can't happen overnight; it is slow-going and takes time. But I'm so worried that the things being done to make change are actually just leading us back in a big circle.

I came across this marvelous quote today on Tumblr, one I keep tossing around because it is relevant to my life in so many aspects and expresses myself in ways I'd never really gotten from a quote before. From Naguib Mahfouz's Sugar Street: "It's a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind." I want to help people; that's the one thing I know I want to do in my life/work/art/what have you. I'm just so worried that it will not be the right change I want to make. But I also found this quote from Shauna Niequist's "Bittersweet" relevant: "It's not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What's hard, she said, is figuring out what you're willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about."
What do I care more about? My ideals or helping people? Having this opportunity or clinging to the hopes that I can somehow be part of something that revolutionizes the education system? When else will I get the opportunity to do something like this? I think now I know - if I get it, I'll do it. It's certainly better than trying to find a job elsewhere that I probably don't really want and will only be taking until I can find something I really, really want to do or become an established writer. I think I'm just so afraid of failure and having to give up on my ideas to be a part of this that I'm forgetting that an action can have greater results than I think. I'm afraid I'm not good enough for this, that I'm not what they're looking for, that I'm too renegade or not strong enough or just not... inspiring enough maybe. I'm just a white girl from the 'burbs. But then I hear this line from Brother Ali's "Only Life I Know": "Who decided you don't got enough to teach children?" and I think, "Hell, yeah, I got enough. I can do this. Of course I can." And who said I really had to give anything up? (Well, I did. Forget I said that. I doubt my own integrity too much.) I don't have to give up my ideals but perhaps just keep them in check with the world I inhabit.

Because when it comes down to it, I want to do this. I really, really do. I want to make a difference. And this is a great way to start. I've always loved teaching. I've always cared about the education system. Yes, I want to write and travel the world and do crazy, adventurous things - but I also want to give back for all the blessings I've had throughout my college career. What have I got to lose? Absolutely nothing :D

Sorry that this has been such a word vomit. I know this has nothing to do with fangirls or media or anything but maybe you can glean something relevant from it. In final words, I would like to add something more upbeat (I feel like my posts have been a bit bogged down and blue lately, so I'm pulling this in for fangirly reasons and for positive inspiration). I've become quite the Tom Hiddleston fangirl as of late (*awkward foot shuffle* if you haven't noticed) and been paying loads of attention to his Twitter. He's currently doing awesome Hiddle-esque things in Africa through UNICEF UK and posting pictures and videos and so on. I read his blog post tonight about his first day there and, I have to admit, while I was feeling reservations about TFA, they pretty much evaporated after reading this. Tom Hiddleston, though I have never met you and you have no idea who I am, I would just like to take the opportunity to thank you for being a totally phenomenal human being. Not that you're reading this, but, you know, to the rhetorical powers that be, I would like to pay homage to your awesomeness. Seriously, man. You are pretty much the most inspiring person I know that I don't actually know (wait... yes, that makes sense. Sort of). I know people are going to congratulate you on going out and seeing the "real world" and getting in touch with reality and all of that jazz... but I think some people forget that most of us are pretty aware that the world isn't as idealistic as we'd like. We're not wrapped up in our ideals all the time or so hopeful and insulated or protected that we don't know the pain that goes on in the world. You know - and yet you stay utterly upbeat and positive and amazing. You've managed to balance realism and idealism. And for that sir, I salute you. Godspeed. (*ends fangirling speech and curls up in embarrassed blushing ball*)

Oh, hey, I did make this relevant to fangirls. Thanks, Mr. Hiddleston.


  1. Gina-Bo-Bina,

    You should definitely bring up your questions and concerns during your interview! They will ask you if you have any questions for them, and these are amazing questions to have. They show that you pay attention and if they give you the answers you aren't looking for, it helps you to decide if this is something you want to do or not. You're going to do amazing, and don't forget - if they're taking time out of their schedules to talk with you, they already like you! :) Miss you tons!

    1. I'm planning on bring these up; I'm sure they'll ask for questions at the end (they go by a script but hopefully they'll leave time for me to poke their brains about stuff). Thanks a ton for your confidence in me and I miss you too!