Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Educating Less-Than-Humans

Between Shades of Gray
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The Holocaust was one of the most despicable incidences in history. An ultimate example of how deep ethnocentrism can come to exist in the minds of humans, we all hold it as a totem of complete hell. Yes, we all hold it, for it is not only the most gruesome, but also one of the most well-remembered events of our past, which is why so many people associate the Nazi regime with such oppression.
          But the Nazis can't take all the credit.
           Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys describes the escapades of Lina Vilkas, a Lithuanian teenager who, along with her entire family, is deported to a Soviet labor camp after Stalin invades the Baltic region.. The NKVD--Soviet police--are absolutely brutal, trying to force able boys away from their families and into the Soviet army. Lina, her mother, and her brother are separated from her father, who is placed in a prison, and experience such ghastly phenomena as living through the Arctic winter with a horrid lack of food, drink, sanitation, and medicine. Children perish every day, parents become mentally unhinged, and all guards are forced to think of the "Fascist swine", as they so lovingly call the prisoners, as, well, swine. Animals. Less-than-humans.
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
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          Likewise, the country of Belgium is not just significant for its chocolate. In the late 1800s, the Belgians had a monarch by the name of Leopold II, but that whole monarchy thing was fine because of their parliament, right? Wrong. Leopold wanted one phenomenon more than anything : an African colony. At this time, European interest in the African continent was at an all-time high, especially because the continent could provide those raw materials needed to fuel Europe's highly demanding factories. But Leopold jumped on the bandwagon very early on, and did so ferociously. Under the guise of trying to end slavery in the African interior, he actually enslaved almost every African in the Congo river region (everything from the middle of Africa westward.) These unfortunate souls were forced to grow crops, carry steamboats (yes, carry them) along the Congo river, and act as personal manservants to Europeans living in the region. Most Europeans were encouraged to kill any insubordinate individuals and cut off the hand or foot of a corpse as proof. Adam Hochschild's nonfictional account, King Leopold's Ghost, describes a brutal, African Holocaust.
          And remember that attitude I talked about? The one where other humans are animals, not even worth a glance? Well, as Hochschild states in his book, such an attitude is key to such systems as Leopold's in the Congo and Stalin's in Siberia. Out of respect for themselves, people won't treat other people in such horrible manners because both parties are indeed human. This is because other humans deserving such treatment justifies your deserving of such treatment--you're a human too, are you not?  However, if the victims are inhuman, such as "swine", the treatment can be dished out guilt-free.
          What if a weaker version of this phenomenon is present in the United States?
         One word: education. Standardized tests are being used to determine the futures of teachers in numerous states. Now, it is agreed that no two human beings are the same, yes? Each human, and therefore each student, has different needs and different situations that relate to those needs.  But in this system of adjudication, this quality of students is completely ignored; apparently, the affluence of students in the educational setting is not influenced by anything but the teacher's ability. How hilariously untrue. Imagine: one teacher has a class predominantly composed of privileged  gifted students, and another one has a class of predominantly at-risk children who struggle with the fundamentals of education. Guess which class is going to perform better on standardized examinations.
           And when one says that the fault is with those who organize the classes, I must disagree. Many a time it is that there are only at-risk stragglers in the population (probably because of an impoverished community). In such a situation, the greatest teacher on Earth cannot make three quarters of the class pass. However, she can make one half do so, but in many states, one half isn't good enough. The greatest teacher on Earth gets fired. Now who is being oppressed there?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Frivolously Follow Me this Friday! (Numero Cinco)

"Follow Me Friday" is hosted by Parajunkie's View and Alison Can Read. This week's featured blogs and therefore supreme administers of question are Oh! For the Love of Books and Ezine of a Random Girl, both of which are also composed by immensely interesting people indeed. So what question have they inquired of us today?

Activity: Take a picture or describe where you love to read most...

I actually have a tie. In first place, we have:

The bed in my grandma's guest room. This is the place where I sped through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as well as cried when Mr. Potter waved his children goodbye. It is also a place of immense frustration during the school year...thank you so much for that, AP Chemistry. Really, you're just a doll.

Another favorite spot of mine is right in front of my house. One usually sees me there each morning of the summer, watching the neighbors pass on daily strolls. The breeze on pages of a book is a phenomenon that awes me to this day.

Where we read is as important as what we read, because reading is never simply words on a page. Although said words may be the lead actor, who's to say your environment is not the supporting actor (a category which Max von Sydow should win HANDS DOWN at the Academy Awards this Sunday night) ? If I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the sewage drains of New York City, my mind would probably not associate the book with childhood comforts, as it currently does. Same text, different experience. And it is the reader, not the book, that will affect in the larger scheme of Earth.

All you must to do "follow" me is click on the RSS button above. Thank you, wonderful people!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

French Peasants > Decaying Vegetables

Lately, I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about revolutions. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, all that material for AP World History....I am truly surrounded by them. That's partly why, when everyone in my class was crying about A Tale of Two Cities, I found myself famished for more. Bewildered, but famished.
A Tale of Two Cities
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       If you don't remember from your own high school years: We begin with Lucie Manette as an innocent, English girl. Enter Mr. Jarvis Lorry, a man whose number-crunching world has been disturbed by some fascinating news-his old client, Dr. Manette, was released from the Bastille, a French prison. Lorry knows it is his duty to tell Lucie of the father she always thought was dead, and from an eventual reunion between the Manettes, Father and daughter hit it off like no tomorrow. Even when she is married to the ever-charming Charles Darnay (who is actually the son of a terrible, French aristocrat), the Doctor lives just upstairs. Meanwhile, the Defarges run a wine shop in St. Antoine, a section of Paris that wants to overthrow their oppressive, French monarchy like the Dickens (haha, get what I did there?) Meanwhile, Sydney Carton is a failed man, working as the metaphorical "jackal" of a manipulative lawyer named Mr. Styver. The Defarges' long-desired revolution breaks out, Darnay travels to France only to be imprisoned, the Lucie/Lorry/Manette super trio comes to help, Carton remains miserable, and we've got ourselves one helluva story. 
        A helluva story it is, but Dickens always has some philosophical tricks up his sleeve; he's quite the sly dog. Therefore, let's take a gander into what he says about revolution itself.
        The French revolutionaries think that everyone should enjoy "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity", not the kind of oppression dished out by French aristocrats. A perfect example of said oppression is when Darnay's uncle runs over a peasant child with his carriage. After the deed is done, the aristocrat conveys a face equal to that with which one greets a decaying vegetable. He complains about how poor people can't properly care of their kids, tosses some coins to the crowd as repayment, then drives on into the sunset with his high-and-mighty self. No one should have to endure such an atrocity....except when the good of a new, French Republic is at stake, of course. Once the revolutionaries attain power, you see, they pass a law that requires all individuals suspected of rebellion be slit open by the Guillotine. Sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, mommies, daddies...no one is safe. Forget Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity-at this point, most Frenchmen consider themselves lucky to be alive. 
         What went wrong, so many ask? Simply, the revolutionaries begin to value ideas that may help the people more than the people themselves. When Darnay is put on trial and Doctor Manette looks upset, the aging man is told that he should in fact be happy to sacrifice his son-in-law to the Republic. 
         Nowadays, everyone is buzzing about November's election. Every candidate is advertising his own brand of political, economic, and social change.  In a time where such emphasis is placed on new ideas, precisely who we change for must be ironed into our minds. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How To Escape the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad
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Okay, everyone, I highly apologize for my neglect-those darling midterms, you see. But not to worry, I have survived the emotional breakdowns! Horay!
    We shall get into the thick of things with a single word: time. Time is, according to physicists, one of  the universe's however so many dimensions. But for everyone who's not a physicist (such as moi), it's something we curse at, laugh at...generally must deal with until it brings us to eternal sleep. Now, let's further analyze said time of laughing and cursing-
     The statement that time brings us through different stages of life is indisputably correct. There is childhood, tweenage years, teens, early adulthood, mid-adulthood (home of the ever-so-wonderful, mid-life crisis!), late adulthood, and death. In my opinion, most people tend to consistently think of themselves as early-adults, for this stage is when their bodies are most able, lives most exciting, and abilities most promising. Anticipation is always better than the actual thing, is it not? And although most people identify themselves with early adulthood, the actuality of this identification will vary. Some people are effortlessly optimistic in their twenties only to become Debbie Downers by the time 50 rolls along. Drug dealers might become catechists. Hookers might become anxious mothers, just like Sasha Blake of Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. A risque figure on the streets of Naples during her late teens, the children Sasha bears in mid-adulthood hate it when she forces them to maintain bedtimes. Other figures do not experience such a change, figures such as Bennie Salazar, a record producer who always stays true to his sense of excellent music. For him, most pop music of the 2000's (boobilicious Katy Perry and Ke$ha come to mind) is nothing more than shit. In fact, when corporate businessmen want him to sell said shit to American listeners, he decides to give them a taste of shit pie in protest.
      But there is also a choice of becoming a Bennie or a Sasha. This choice all has to do with the fact that no matter how old we are, elements of a former self will always be available for use. We see this in Scotty Hausmann, whose years as a divorced custodian living in Manhattan have worn down the astonishing physique he possessed in high school into a flabby, AARP beneficiary. His magnetism on stage, however, is left untouched, as represented by his ability to entertain a crowd of thousands whilst verging on sixty. This quality of magnetism could only present itself, though, after he had been guided through a maze of self-discouragement made only by age; moments before his show, the rock star admits that the goon squad-what a teenage Scotty called "time"- has gotten him. But on a spring day in approximately 2023, Scotty Hausmann kicks that goon squad in the face and becomes a rock and roll legend.
       A reassuring fact is that you have control over the aforementioned choice. Sasha, wanting to leave the Neapolitan hookerdom behind her, chose to let time give her a new life. Bennie, believing that the opinion he forged in adolescence must hold true, embraces his past life and uses it as a building block for whatever amount of  future lay ahead of him. And through all stages of life, elements of their former selves were for hire.
      So now, the true question is how you will treat the goon squad.