Friday, January 29, 2010

Democracy

In discussing the reading for today's class, the five of us at my table started talking about how the attitude towards children changes depending on the politics and social norms of the time, as well as where you are culturally. I commented how here in America, we are very into Democracy...and Capitalism. I trailed off thoughtfully.

"They're not really the same thing," J, the guy sitting next to me, agreed when he saw me struggling to make sense of what I was saying.

I struggled because it seems to me that Democracy has taken on new meanings lately. I don't know if this is really a new thing or if I only just now became aware of political and social trends (probably a mix of both), but it seems as though people throw around the word "Democracy" in order to prove their entitlement to...everything. Anything should be allowed. After all, we live in a free country. We believe in Democracy. It would be un-Democratic to suppress any way of living or state of being. In this country, all deserve to have money. All deserve to succeed. All deserve to live comfortable lives. All deserve to behave however they like so long as it does not harm anyone else. All deserve everything - in the name of Democracy. In the name of Democracy, there is a desire for automatic entitlement to things without earning it; people believe they ought to have things coming to them just because they live on American soil.

Similarly, Democracy suddenly seems to stand for an overabundance of Political Correctness. It is like there is a warped idea of what it means not to discriminate against others. We are so afraid of stepping on anyone's toes that we have made ourselves ridiculous. Our pride and common sense has disappeared and we have become a community of people-pleasers, no matter who those people are or what they stand for.

Is this what the founding fathers of America meant when they created a Democratic system of government?

"No," I told J. "I think Democracy and Capitalism can be related."

I explained what I meant. To me, Democracy does not mean everyone gets free reign. It does not mean people can have whatever they want because it's a free country. To me, Democracy means everyone has the opportunity to have such things. You still have to work for it. There is still a need for competition. That's where Capitalism comes in. No one is entitled to anything. Those who work hard will rise. Those who do not - well...sorry. I feel as though America: the Land of Opportunity has somehow morphed into America: The Land of Entitlement. Entitlement is not what this country is about. The freedom in this country is the freedom to compete, to be heard, to matter. Everyone in our society is allowed to compete. Everyone is given a voice and a say. Everyone's opinions and individual successes matter. In other societies, certain social and economic classes are suppressed, are never allowed the opportunity to rise, to succeed. In America, all can do so. All can rise. All can succeed. But they have to work for it. And the more we compete, the more we all succeed as a society. That's the relationship I see between Democracy and Capitalism. Democracy (among other things, like the right to vote) gives us the opportunity for all to partake in a Capitalist society.

Part of our reading for class talked about children developing a sense of self. This is true not only for children, but for adults as well. Before we can become effective members of society, we must have a certain self-awareness. We must understand what precisely makes each of us individuals.
Individuality is precisely that: a sense of self. Being an individual is not being not-others; it is not going against the norm. That is not having a sense of self, but rather wishing to be not whatever anyone else is. A true individual is one who is, not one who is not. The individual is one who is true to him/herself: who truly thinks, feels, and behaves according to what he/she believes is true and correct. This is not a reaction to others, but a reaction to yourself. This is a sense of self.

A society made up of those with a true sense of self is a society of individuals, and our nature as individuals leads us to healthy competition. If we are truly such a society, we will be one that is self-aware, and therefore critical, constantly growing and trying to better itself. We need to see our strengths, and we really need to see our flaws. We need to be aware of who we are, what we stand for, and why we stand for it. And we need to keep our rights as individuals faced with opportunities, we need to take those opportunities, and we need to work towards a better world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Principles Of Learning

This week in one of my classes, we discussed two important principles of learning:

1. Building on what you know

2. Building on your success

So often, schools administer assessment tests in order to discover what the students do not know. Once this information is ascertained, teachers begin to fill in those gaps. They start from the top, from the end goal, and work downward.

This is actually not the most effective way of teaching. By introducing completely new concepts to students, you throw them into an unfamiliar arena and expect them to excel with steady confidence. Additionally, you don't consider the student, but rather the missing information you wish the student to acquire. You start from the goal and work down toward the student. A better way to teach is to discover what the student does know and build upon that. Instead of working from the top down, you work from the student's knowledge base and build upward. You learn about the student's interests, passions, and strengths, and use those to guide the student toward new ground. The student, in turn, feels more confident about every step forward, because each step is taken from a familiar starting point. The student perceives, "I have succeeded up until now. Now I can take another step forward."

That brings me to the second principle - building upon success. There is nothing that strengthens confidence more than success. With every feeling of success, a person is more willing and confident to move forward. If the person feels unsure or shaky, he/she will feel much less willing and capable to advance. You cannot build higher on a structure with a shaky foundation. That's why it's important to recognize your student's (or your own, by the way) every advancement. Praise, especially after a particularly important step forward, awakens that initial desire and inspiration to succeed.

This does not apply merely to students in a classroom, but also to all people, and to your own self. If you ever want to push yourself to succeed, or help someone else succeed, I feel that both these principles are vital. You don't need to throw a party every time you do something you've never done before, but don't be afraid to give yourself a little proud smile. You did it. You advanced! Now take that feeling of pride and accomplishment and throw it into the next step up on the ladder towards your goals and ambitions. Let every past success inspire your next success. And remember that every unfamiliar territory begins with what you already know.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Different

For those of you who don't know, I just started graduate school this week. I'm studying Literacy and General Childhood Education.

Didn't know I was interested in teaching?

Funny. I'm not sure how well I knew it either not that long ago.

Tonight was my second class of the semester, and in tonight's class (called Child Development), we each had to talk to the person sitting next to us for five minutes and then introduce that person to the class. I was sitting in a spot where there were three of us, not two, and both women I spoke to for those five minutes are career changers. They both are probably at least ten years older than me (if not more) and have several children. I felt very young talking to them, and in some ways, I didn't feel young at all.

"You know," I said to them. "I'm not a career changer, but I did have a very different idea of what I'd be doing after college not that long ago."

"Really?" one of the women asked.

"Yeah. Ever since I was in high school, really, I applied and applied and applied to internships and jobs in the publishing world. I was sure that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with books. But at a certain point, I just wasn't getting a job in publishing. So after some serious rethinking, I'm here. But imagine if I had gotten a job in publishing. My life already would be so different, and would go in such a different direction."

"Yeah, it's funny, the paths our lives take," said the same woman.

"Yeah..." mused the other.

Sometimes I do wonder if I was never supposed to go into publishing in the first place, if it was sort of on purpose that I never got offered a job in a publishing house. When I attend my graduate school classes, when I sit in the library for three hours straight reading for class...I can't even describe what that feels like. You won't believe me. You'll think I'm over-exaggerating. But...I'm not. I'm really not. Every single second I'm there...I'm filled with this intense feeling of...rightness. I am doing the right thing. I am in the right place. I have set foot on a path where I know I can make a difference in people's lives concerning something I am passionate about. This is where I'm supposed to be. Not behind a desk at a publishing house.

Do I sound completely crazy to you?

But imagine how different things would be if just one place had offered to hire me? Just one? In all those years of applying.

Imagine how different my life would be if Stern had never put on a bizarre student-written play some years ago. Imagine if the Commentator had never written a blasting review of that play. Imagine if I had been too lazy to attend a random meeting of the drama society and heard Chana talk about her blog. Imagine if I had never, on a whim that night, decided to start my own blog.

Imagine if Ezzie had never started talking to me on gchat. Imagine if he had never invited me for Thanksgiving. Imagine if SJ and Fudge had never brought me there. Imagine if I hadn't stayed for Shabbos.

Imagine if SJ and I had not had all the same classes a few years ago in Stern. Imagine if The Apple and I had not been in fencing class together. Imagine if I had not decided to stay in Latin class as an only student. Imagine if I had not been an English Major.

Imagine if I had gone to Queens College.

Imagine how each decision, even small ones, how each chance encounter (if you believe in chance encounters), even seemingly unimportant ones, shape our lives so completely. How they've shaped my life.

Who would I be today if even one of those things was different? Or hadn't happened?

What if I'd never had an utterly boring job two summers ago and hadn't started writing a story and emailing the segments? Would I still be in the middle of a book right now? Would it be this book?

There are so many other factors in my life that could be different if it weren't for small things I decided to do, small risks I decided to take, small encounters I had. It's a crazy thing to think about.

I'm so happy with the way my life is turning out. I love my friends - the ones I didn't even know until a few years ago. I love all my old friends, too. I love what I'm doing. I love where I'm going. I love what I'm writing. I love what I've already written. I love that when I'm not reading or writing or in school, I'm doing things like playing the flute or attempting to illustrate things I've written.

And none of those things would be there if it weren't for the small things that have, in the words of Robert Frost, made all the difference. Really.

Imagine how different all of our lives could be if it were not for the small decisions, the chance encounters, the tiny interactions that begin beautiful friendships and relationships, that start us off on paths not only towards desirable goals, but where the paths themselves are such amazing places to be walking along.

I love life.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Beautiful

That girl, she sits alone in her chair
Off to the side of the room
And the rest of the people are laughing
And dancing
And feeling the flush of their bloom

And that little girl, her hands clenched in her lap
Her hair falling into her face
Her cheeks are pale white like an apple's insides
And she feels terribly out of place

And doesn't she know
She deserves to feel beautiful
Beautiful
Doesn't she know
Someone ought to be calling her beautiful

Tears spill down the cheeks
Of the girls who are filled
With the music's emotion
Those dancing duets
But not on the apple-white cheeks
Of the girl
Who is sitting alone
With no one to stir up her smile
And make her cheeks wet

Those notes pass right over her head
As she loses herself in her fantasy land
A place where a handsome lad
Sparkling a smile
Flashing his eyes
Offers her his hand

And he lifts her up from her seat in the corner
And spins her around so her dress and hair twirl
And they spin and spin and dance in the clouds
And he says she is beautiful
Because don't you know
She deserves to be called beautiful
Beautiful

And after they dance they go for a walk
Outside where the air is crisp
But she is not bothered by the cold
Because the cold cleanses her misty thoughts
And wakens her to feelings that are beautiful
Beautiful

Her lad, he is smart and they talk forever
They walk and talk forever
About life and philosophy
And things that are special
And at the end he calls her special
And beautiful
And important
Because she is
She is special and beautiful and important

The music stops and the room gets loud
Gets crowded nearby the chair
And the girl's eyes are misty
From her fantasy land
And she thinks
For the thousandth time
As everyone finishes their thousandth dance
Maybe next time
I will dance
My first dance
Maybe next time
I will be beautiful
Beautiful

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Writing Journal #1

I'm such a bad writer. Not that my writing is bad, but I'm bad at actually writing it. I'm so annoyed at myself, but every time I sit down to write, I get blank. Even when I try to just start writing anything, I write a little bit and then hit a wall. What happened to me? Why can't I write for hours anymore? Have I run out of things to say?

I'm really so frustrated with myself, because I do care about this, even though it seems like I don't. Every time I do something that isn't writing, I feel guilty because I know I'm spending time doing something else when I could be writing instead. But I feel lost in my writing.

One of the things I love about the project I'm working on is that it's a story that was born, and continues to be born. It's not one I mapped out and that is being written chronologically according to a plan. It's an idea in the form of a story and it is constantly giving birth to itself, so that I am continuously writing the beginning and the end.

I don't know if that made sense to anyone but me.

In an attempt to keep myself writing, I thought about keeping this writing journal for you all to see. It will contain my thoughts, difficulties, observations, and ideas about the writing of the day. Or maybe not. Maybe it will just contain the number of pages I've written. Who knows. I'm just trying to help myself along here.

Today I wrote two pages. Blech.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Things

Things I like (in no particular order):

1. Notebooks
2. .5mm lead pencils
3. Clean laundry
4. Fun colors and patterns
5. Playing the flute
6. Creative writing
7. Helping people with their writing/Editing
8. Brainstorming
9. Thinking
10. Analyzing
11. Socks
12. Pockets
13. Hair things
14. Chapstick (I'm not sure if I like it or if I just can't live without it. I think it's the latter.)
15. Snickers bars
16. Reese's
17. Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream
18. Mint chocolate chip ice cream
19. Well-written books
20. Imagining
21. The Swings (at amusement parks)
22. Gmail
23. South African accents
24. Clean kitchens
25. Clean bathrooms
26. Perfect temperature indoors
27. Bundling up in a sweater/sweatshirt/blanket
26. Snow
27. Sledding/snow tubing
28. The idea of flying (for real, not in an airplane)
29. Simulator rides
30. Fruit roll-up
31. Gushers
32. Fruit Snacks
33. Logic
34. Being able to reach things
35. Surprises
36. Responsible people
37. The chocolate crunchies in Carvel ice cream cakes
38. Calvin and Hobbes
39. Riddles and brain teasers
40. Crossword puzzles
41. Games
42. Running around
43. Adventure
44. Hot chocolate
45. Feeling special/loved/important
46. Israel
47. Getting lost with friends (but not by myself)
48. The sound of the sea
49. Macaroni and cheese
50. Being in control of my day

Things I don't like:

1. Big messes
2. Washing dishes
3. Plates and silverware that were put away not fully clean
4. Things that smell stale
5. Gross noises
6. People writing 2 instead of to or too
7. Loud ringing or vibrating of a phone (mine vibrates way too loudly...)
8. Not getting enough sleep
9. Feeling stressed
10. Long subway rides, especially involving transfers
11. When my ears are too cold
12. Not being able to reach things
13. Letting people down
14. Irresponsibility
15. Too much immaturity
16. People who act inappropriately
17. Insensitivity
18. Getting set up with a guy just because he wants to make Aliyah (I'm not even planning on making Aliyah any time soon! I have two and half years of grad school, for starters.)
19. When one person dominates the whole conversation
20. When people act silly or stupid to get attention/make people laugh
21. Whining past a certain age
22. Self-centeredness
23. When people care only about their grades, not about actually learning
24. People who take advantage
25. Anything gross
26. Spiders
27. Things that are dirty
28. People who don't use a tissue when they need one
29. The middle seat on an airplane
30. Being on a crowded train when I am literally being breathed on by strangers
31. Driving in major cities
32. How nyquil makes me feel
33. Alcohol
34. Avocado
35. Fish (to eat. I don't mind them when they're swimming!)
36. The overuse of ellipses
37. Being alone on Shabbos
38. Taking naps (and waking up disoriented)
39. Headaches
40. Dehydration
41. Being nauseous
42. Manicures (especially when they file your nails. It always makes me shudder!)
43. Cutting vegetables (they're so cold!)
44. Loading the dishwasher (you have to touch everyone's dirty plates)
45. Knuckle-cracking
46. Unmade beds
47. When people eat before they brush their teeth
48. Zucchini
49. Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night
50. Frizzy hair