Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New music video by Srdjan Ivkovic

Great producer from Belgrade has a new spot out; let me know what you all think, either on this blog or on the Youtube page. It's definitely worth checking out the rest of Srdjan's channel when you have the time.

Sponsored by Mr. Marijan Cvjeticanin, Esq. - attorney for matters of immigration, visas, green cards, bankruptcy cases, and general law cases.

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Interview With Santa

So who makes the presents - really?

We used to have our own workshops and factories in the North Pole, but we've outsourced most of our labor force: the elves mostly handle the gift wrapping and delivery logistics these days.

Have there been any layoffs?

Ho ho ho! No need! The elves don't need wages - they're immortal, and they eat the same diet as my reindeer. They also enjoy working just for the heck of it: we've been in business now for two thousand years, and they don't want to stop.

How, exactly, do you decide who's naughty and who's nice?

I've always crowd-sourced people's opinion of others. If your friends think you're nice, then so do I. If they think you're naughty... watch out.

But nobody gets coal anymore in their stockings, right?

Worse: they get fruit cake gift baskets.

I see. So what country is the most difficult to get presents for?

Right now, I'd say France; whatever I make for the French, their grinch of a president insists on taking 3/4ths of it for himself.

Do you get upset if people forget to leave cookies and milk?

Yes I do! In fact, if they do, I 'forget' to leave one of their presents under their tree.

What if they leave out beer instead of milk?

Then you'll get TWO extra presents that year. Santa likes to get hammered.

Do you ever leave notes for people, if they've been especially good or bad?

Not anymore: otherwise it'd be all over the internet the day after Christmas. Santa prefers to keep his privacy.

What do you do if the kids are awake?

I try to stay hidden as best as possible, or at least blend in with the tree. Mrs. Claus made me a camo suit recently, to help me out in those situations.

What if all else fails and a kid sees you?

That's why Santa keeps a tranquilizer gun in his sleigh.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Surviving the holiday rush (and having fun in the process)

Growing up, I only rarely went shopping with my parents, and I remember well the reluctance that we (my mother, father, sister and I) felt whenever we drove to malls and outlet stores, because of the hassle. That reluctance I have carried into adulthood, even if I'm shopping for necessities. Now, however, I can enjoy the atmosphere of some stores, and actually enjoy the process of shopping under many conditions. I believe this is because my girlfriend, over the past two years, has shown me that gift giving is a good way to show someone how much you care about them. To her credit, she has also coached me step-by-step on what to look for when shopping, and how to differentiate CLEARLY between one's wants and needs.

We have been extensively Christmas shopping these past few weeks, at many more stores than I could count on my fingers; this has given me a fresh perspective on the similarities and differences between "point-of-sale" stores, and provided me insight as to why some places are a 'hassle' while others are a pleasure to shop at.

The first thing I noticed about these stores is that, for businesses that cater to the same socioeconomic levels, there are general trends in their in-store atmospheres, which play a big role in their sales pitch. In stores that offer cheap, this-season-style clothes like H&M and Forever 21, the muzak they play consists of radio hits played at an ear-splitting volume, and their displays are lit with garish, bright-as-the-sun spotlights, which, together with the muzak, is designed to force you to stop thinking. They want shoppers to make impulse purchases, and to ignore the cost of the item(s) they buy or their dubious quality fabrics. The thrill of the purchases you make wears off the minute you've left the store - especially when, later on, you see ten guys (or girls) on the street wearing the exact same shirt, dress, or skirt as you.

In direct contrast to these low-tier stores, designers like BCBG, Guess, and J. Crew have a smooth yet bouncy ambiance, playing catchy techno music at mid-range volume, and illuminating their displays with subtler spotlights. They do this because they know that you are already looking to buy something when you walk in, and perhaps you are even a return customer. Thus, their stores have no need to scream "buy this now, or you'll miss out!" Instead, the message of their ambiance is; 'take your time to enjoy the displays, browse around, and make a purchase that you will feel good about both now and later.'

High-end retailers, which I've only been in recently, also aim to put you at ease in their stores. Not only do they have even softer ambient lighting and play quieter, more easy-listening mood music, but they also have ample floor space for people to browse their wares without fear of bumping and jostling others. No self-respecting bargain basement store has more than a foot or two of aisle space between the racks; they want to whip people up into a frenzied rush to find something, check out, and leave the store as quickly as possible. This is also why they usually have no places to sit down; they want you in and out ASAP.

Pricier stores are much more accommodating by nature; there are multiple places to sit, whether in the shoe section, the dress section, or by the fitting rooms. Whoever in a party is not actively shopping or trying things on can rest in peace and comfort. I believe this is because, while bargain stores profit by selling cheap things in great quantity, designer stores profit by selling smaller volumes of expensive, yet quality, pieces.

Similar trends exist in department stores, and based on my observations, Bloomingdales appears to be an ideal medium between the frantic atmospheres of Macy's and j. C . Penny and the dignified, sedate, atmospheres of Saks and Neiman Marcus. Although it lacks the finer points of shopping, such as the live DJs, jazz bands and Christmas Carolers found in Saks around the holidays, it does offer quality designer clothes and accessories, not to mention jewelry, handbags and home goods. What's more, it has the floor space, music, and acceptable lighting to make even a reluctant shopper like me enjoy being in their stores.

One big thing I learned about shopping in point-of-sale stores is that much of the hassle of shopping can be avoided simply by having a concrete plan of a) where to shop, b) what items you want to try on (which can be accomplished online) and c) how much you plan to spend. Most stores offer to match their online prices in-store, which means that, for anyone who isn't 100% certain about what they want to buy, it's still worth the schlep.

To everyone gearing up for (or are currently) holiday shopping, don't fret! Just have a plan, and bring plenty of food and drink (read: coffee) with you when you go. These humble tips should save you a lot of headache between now and the 25th.

Happy holidays, ladies and gents.



Friday, November 22, 2013

R.I.P. Lou Reed

If this is all there is, that wouldn't be so bad; there's so much of it, you can get lost in the mandala-like spiral of love and wonder that comes from being truly connected to the world, to those around you. What I have seen and done the past two years are more than I've experienced in the previous eighteen years combined.

I have learned what it is to love and to be loved. I have learned to be patient with myself, to be kind to others, but also to think and stick up for myself when the situation calls for it. Moreover, I have learned to let go of the anger, the resentment and the frustration I held against certain people, as I discovered that my time and emotions are better invested elsewhere. As a result, I am now content with both myself and my place in the world.

There's so much I have wanted to write here, but held back because it is a public space. I am no longer afraid; I will speak my mind, but I will not be cruel.

Be well, all.






Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Defining Literacy


    Although it is well established that there is a 'problem' with public education in America, there is no consensus as to what caused it: is a lack of funding for critical academic programs? Or is it because many parents don’t help their children with their schoolwork? Erica Goldson, who graduated Coxsackie-Athens High School in 2010, argues in her valedictorian speech that the root of the problem lies in a current overemphasis on standardized testing. "We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective." (Goldson) To become valedictorian, Ms. Goldson had to give up learning for the sake of her objective; the almighty 'A'. Non-valedictorians must also do 'whatever it takes' if they want to achieve their original objective, which, according to Ms. Goldson, is usually "to get out [of school] as soon as possible." (Goldson). This means that pursuing their passions, whether in the areas of literature, music, technology or the sciences, must take second seat to their schoolwork. For Ms. Goldson, the tragedy in this is that schools are failing to give their students a proper education; by forcing their students to adopt a "whatever it takes" mentality, they suppress their natural propensity towards intellectual inquiry. But the success of Ms. Goldson and others like her seems to contradict this idea; if some students are able to finish public school with an education, why can’t others?
            Peg Tyre, author of "The Writing Revolution", argues that public schools fail to educate students by not teaching them how to write analytically. Backing her claim is the success story of New Dorp High School, a formerly failing public school on Long Island that succeeded in improving its graduation rate from 63% to 80% between 2009 and 2011. Observing that its worst students were usually the least adept at expository writing, New Dorp’s principal changed the curriculum to make analytic writing a central component of every subject, from science and mathematics to history and english. Students were taught "how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts - but, because and so." (7) Once they had mastered the basics of sentence construction, they were taught "how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own." (7) Although the program is ostensibly a "rigid, unswerving, formula", it worked: from 2009 to 2011, New Dorp's passing rates on the English Regents exams jumped from 69% to 80%, and its passing rates on the Global History Regents shot from 64% to 75% (3). These statistics support the idea that analytical writing is a critical skill for any student's education. Although this may be the case, it is certainly not the whole picture. Erica Goldson would argue that, despite an improvement in passing rates on the regents, students were still not really learning, and the unless New Dorp stopped ‘teaching to the test’, it would continue to fail to educate its students.Both authors are trying to answer the question of what, exactly, students need in order to succeed within the education system. But neither Goldson nor Tyre can hope to find the answer without understanding what schools are supposed to be teaching in the first place.
    Paolo Freire, a writer best known for his work teaching Brazilian peasants, believes that schools aren't supposed to teach using any form of rote memorization, or lessons that involve a lecture, because these teaching methods create a disconnect between the lesson and the real world; something Freire refers to at “narration sickness” (368). Instead of immersing students in the world they are supposed to be learning about, the imperative of the lecture "leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content." People, places, and events, become discrete facts embedded in the matrix of the test they are taught towards, and students' minds become "receptacles to be "filled" by the teacher." (368) Because of this, public education becomes reduced to a series of business-like transactions:
Education thus becomes an action of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the "banking" concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human.
                                (368-9)
Like Erica Goldson, Freire believes that the education process provides negative feedback upon a student's willingness and ability to learn, which is inherently dehumanizing; if the best that students can aspire to do with the information they receive is collecting and cataloguing it, they have been gravely underserved. The daily transactions of lessons to be received, memorized, and repeated, serve to wear down the primal urge that all humans share to discover everything they can about the world around them. If Freire’s assertion holds true, then we cannot fix our education system without levelling the playing field; a greater level of communication must be established between teachers and their students, both in and out of the classroom.
    There is one instance, in my mind, where such communication has happened, which is between Ian Downing, a high school senior at Humanities Prep, and myself. For the past several weeks, I have tutored Ian on writing his PBAT, an essay that is prerequisite to his graduation, and we have often talked together on Skype before and after our Thursday afternoon tutoring sessions. Halfway through the month of April, Ian had not yet written the introduction to his paper, when the final draft was due the first week of May. When we sat down together that Thursday, I held my breath. How are we going to get this done in time? If we didn't do any writing that day, there would be no way he would finish his work by the deadline. I scribbled down a skeleton outline for the introductory paragraph, before sliding the paper over to him and explaining the process step by step. "Your first sentence is the hook; the statement, as in-your-face and controversial as you can make it, that will get your readers interested. In the second and third sentences, you expand the idea in question and give the readers a taste of why the issue is complicated - opposing sides of the 'debate', and so on. Your last sentence is the 'thesis' - the platform on which the rest of your paper will stand." I looked him in the eye and asked: "Are you up for it?" Ian nodded his head. "Sure, I can do it."
    Ten, fifteen, then twenty minutes passed. I kept trying to surreptitiously glance over at his work, but he kept turning the computer screen away from me. When he finally turned the computer around, what I read was even more than I'd dared hope for: he used an analogy to introduce his topic ("Our current economy is like an outfield in baseball. There is such a large area to cover and only three people available to do so.") Building on the analogy, he made the argument that a lack of economic diversity in the U.S. poses a significant risk to the middle and lower classes. He pointed out that the government bailouts of the banking and auto industries were largely ineffective in stimulating economic growth, and argued that greater economic strength would come from the encouragement of small businesses:
Because the government does not prioritize these [small] businesses, they are not only taking a gamble with little industries, but are not motivating small business owners to grow enough to become major sources of income.
Everything I would expect of a college-level paper, I found in this first draft of the introduction. It did need editing, but it showed me that my student had a firm grasp on the fundamentals of good writing. Although I would need to continue to push him to write more, and to expand and challenge his ideas, I did not need to pretend that this was a remedial English class. When I recently asked Ian via Skype what he thought the most helpful things I'd done with him in tutoring were, he listed my helping him with his intro as number one; "since I didn't know what to write for it exactly." Moreover, the second most helpful thing was "seeing your reaction to my paper each week, it kept me really motivated to write more." It seems as if what Ian needed from me was not a lesson on how to write a paper, but rather he needed me to teach him specific tools he could use to better express his ideas. As far as I can tell, Humanities Prep does a good job of educating students like Ian who take the time and effort to apply the lessons they learn in school in their everyday lives. However, Humanities prep is a high school that a. uses the New York Regents exam system and b. is a public school whose curriculum appears to match Freire's description of "The Banking Concept of Education." I doubt that Ian was able to Skype with any of his high school teachers, and certainly not on a regular basis. I can also assume that he didn’t have any tutors before me, as all students from humanities prep in this program were graduating seniors. So if Humanities Prep doesn’t emphasize teacher-student communication, as Freire prescribes, then why is its program still effective?
What Freire misses, in his attack on banking education, is that there are some things that have to be learned by rote. Freire assumes that ‘creativity, knowledge, and transformation’ occur spontaneously, which is patently untrue; students cannot learn without the proper intellectual tools. In the context of literacy, those tools include proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar usage. These tools require rote memorization, because they cannot be permanently impressed into a student’s mind after the first exposure. This is why Peg Tyre takes pains to point out that New Dorp’s success came from the fact that it abandoned the predominant theory of teaching literacy, which held that knowledge was “caught, not taught” (Tyre). Schools that subscribed to this theory, which included most public schools throughout the 1900’s, typically gave kids interesting, social, creative-writing assignments where their work would be shared, under the assumption that kids would “catch” what they needed to become successful writers. What this theory forgot, much to the detriment of public school students, was formal instruction in grammar, sentence composition, and essay writing. Although this theory works for some kids, it doesn’t work at all for kids who are unable to catch anything from their home environment, namely, kids who grow up in poverty, or who had weak early instruction, or have learning disabilities. These kids never learn how to write an essay, and New Dorp high school had a lot of students who fell under this category.
To develop students’ analytical skills, New Dorp’s program used classroom discussion to teach the socratic method. When students speak in class, they were required to use specific prompts, "I agree/disagree with ___ because...", "I have a different opinion...", "I have something to add..." and "Can you explain your answer?" (Tyre). This form of structured speaking turned classroom discussions into opportunities for classmates “to listen to each other, to think more carefully, and speak more precisely, in ways they could then echo in persuasive writing.” (Tyre) By doing this, New Dorp’s revamped curriculum was developing its students’ ability to translate lessons learned in the classroom into real-world actions, or what Sylvia Scribner refers to as ‘functional literacy’. According to writer Sylvia Scribner, functional literacy is defined as "the level of proficiency necessary for effective performance in a range of settings and customary activities." (9) By extension, Sylvia argues, functional literacy also applies to the ability to use computers and other now-commonplace technologies, which are forms of "second-order literacy" (11). In other words, literacy is the ability to use tools and concepts that you know to learn something that you don't yet know. This is why Erica Goldson credits her education largely to her 10th-grade English Teacher, Donna Bryan, who taught her how to open her mind and "ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine." (Goldson) Knowing how to ask questions before accepting doctrine is part of learning how to learn, which is exactly what functional literacy entails.
Paolo Freire would be against the concept of functional literacy, because he believes that literacy programs are intended to teach textbook doctrine - not to enable students to question it. If the banking concept of education is true, then the teacher’s role is "to regulate the way the world ‘enters into’ the students", instilling in them a mindset where they must become complacent with the unsavory aspects of the world, rather than attempt to change them. This implies that functional literacy is essentially a brainwashing tool used by those in power to maintain the status quo (373):
The more completely the majority adapt to the purposes which the dominant minority prescribe for them (thereby depriving them of the right to their own purposes), the more easily the minority can continue to prescribe. The theory and practice of banking education serve this end quite efficiently. Verbalistic lessons, reading requirements, the methods for evaluating "knowledge," the distance between the teacher and the taught, the criteria for promotion: everything in this ready-to-wear approach serves to obviate thinking.

Literacy is a notion prescribed by a minority to define what the majority of society should know, and how they should respond behaviorally to given situations. Students themselves are deprived of the right to self-determination in terms of what they learn, and what career choices are made available for their pursuit. Per Freire, this is accomplished by putting up an artificial social barrier between teachers and students, which takes the form of required readings and ultra-specific forms of testing, shoehorning nearly everyone into the same, narrow, education spectrum. This is an accusation that toes the definition of a conspiracy theory; our own government, which is one of the most stable, cohesive forms of government today, is so divided that there are factions within political factions - especially among the wealthy. No real, historical conspiracy has ever been executed as flawlessly as Freire imagines the ‘banking concept.’ Using Occam’s razor, which states that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is often the one that’s correct, we may assume that any grave errors in our education system are due either to incompetence or to well-intentioned, albeit misguided, initiatives.
It must be conceded that there is a certain ready-to-wear approach that the government has used over the past few decades, which can be seen most recently in the No Child Left Behind Act. That is what (likely) Freire is reacting to in this passage; such top-down education reform acts tend to do more harm than good because they allow no room for flexibility at the level of the school districts. The attitude that ‘what’s good for some is good for all’ fails, because not everyone learns the same way.
    One barrier to real education reform is coming up with an operational (read: measurable) definition of functional literacy. Because literacy is a social convention, it may have different connotations in different contexts. For example, although economics is not widely taught as a core subject, compared to history, literature or mathematics, I believe that it should be. During one tutoring session in April, when Ian and I first began to work on the body arguments of his PBAT, I noticed that although he had a cogent argument, there was a major logic gap between his argument that a lack of economic diversity would cause the downfall of the middle class and his main piece of evidence, which was that Apple, Inc. and other major tech companies played too large a role in the U.S. economy.  I stopped reading to point out the error. "You've got a great idea, here, Ian, but your discussion about Apple has nothing to do with it... at least nothing your readers will pick up on their own." Ian frowned a little and nodded as he re-read the passage. "Uh-huh." I backtracked in case I had hurt his feelings. "That's not to say you shouldn't talk about Apple at all; just not right here." I explained that he needed to find a numerical way to compare individual companies, as well as their respective industries, to the overall economy. Ian gave me a puzzled look; "And... how do I do that?" Both of us fell silent for a minute. Neither of us had taken any real economics courses, and my only grounding in the subject came from the fact that my mother is a lawyer who represents major firms on Wall Street. After a minute or two,I blurted out "Let's find out how much money Apple and other big companies make in yearly revenues, and then compare that to the U.S.'s GDP. That'll give readers the sense of perspective that you're trying to convey." This ad-hoc solution worked, but it bothered me that we had any difficulty figuring it out. Both of us should have at least had some idea of what numbers to analyze besides GDP and company annual revenues. Knowing how and why you get paid a certain salary, and where that money gets spent - both in retail and on taxes - is as necessary an intellectual tool as writing itself. Thankfully, although I was unable to help Ian produce a paper worthy of Paul Krugman’s critique, we were able to both satisfy the requirements of the paper and learn something new along the way, thanks to adequate research. That tutoring session impressed upon me that, whether or not economics becomes part of the ‘common core’ standards, the ability to effectively research a topic online is a form of functional literacy that everyone should master.
There are too many schools, and too many teachers, for any comprehensive education reform plan to be feasible. The public education system is simply too large for any single curriculum, or any one test, to be applicable to all students; one size simply cannot fit all. But there are guidelines that can help individual teachers and principals decide on what is best for their pupils. Peg Tyre's analytical writing program could help show students how to learn, when they might not otherwise know how to. Paolo Freire's model of liberating education could help give an education to students who may have given up on learning, due to extrinsic factors. Erica Goldson’s speech could help introduce newcomers to the national, and global, education forum. Lastly, Ian Downing’s term paper could help teachers realize that, besides reading ability alone, functional literacy is something that must be taught before anyone can do it themselves. The sheer number of moving parts involved in the education system is staggering, but it should not discourage anyone’s attempts to fix the parts that are broken. Like any organic system, if one teacher comes up with an effective solution for a given problem, other teachers will copy him or her. The same applies at any level, be it the principals of various high schools, or the administrators of different school districts; no one is alone in their attempt to better teach the next generations. But anyone attempting to start their own education crusade would do well to remember that inertia can come from the students themselves, and that one would do well to ask their permission before starting any new kinds of pedagogical movements. Per Erica Goldson; “We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.” (Goldson)



Works Cited
Freire, Paolo. "The “Banking” Concept Of Education." Dwc.edu. Daniel Webster College. 11 May 2013 <http://faculty.dwc.edu/wellman/Friere.htm>.
Goldson, Erica. "Here I Stand." America Via Erica. Blogger.com. 11 May 2013 <http://americaviaerica.blogspot.com/2010/07/coxsackie-athens-valedictorian-speech.html>.
Scribner, Sylvia. "Literacy In Three Metaphors." 11 May 2013 <http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true>.
Tyre, Peg. "The Writing Revolution." The Atlantic. The Atlantic. 11 May 2013 <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/>.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

WIC Essay 2 Draft I


WIC Final Essay D.1
Cameron Beaudreault
4/29/13

Although it is well established that there is a 'problem' with public education in America, there is consensus as to where the root of the problem lies: is it due to a lack of funding for various programs? Is it because American mothers aren't as good as 'tiger mothers'? Or worse; is it because the curriculum itself is either too hard, or too boring, for students to understand? Erica Goldson, who graduated Coxsackie-Athens High School in 2010, argues in her valedictorian speech that the current emphasis on standardized testing effectively discourages learning. "We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective." (cite) To become valedictorian, Ms. Goldson had to give up learning for the sake of her objective; the almighty 'A'. Non-valedictorians must also do 'whatever it takes' if they want to achieve their original objective, which, according to Ms. Goldson, is usually "to get out [of school] as soon as possible." Peg Tyre, author of "The Writing Revolution", argues that the main problem is that students are often unable to write analytically. Backing her claim is the success of New Dorp High School, a former failing public school on Long Island that managed to improve its graduation rate from 63% to 80% between the academic years of 2009 and 2011. Based on the observation that the worst students were usually the least capable of expository writing, New Dorp's program made analytic writing a central component of every academic subject, from science and mathematics to history and english. Children were taught "how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts - but, because and so." (cite) Once they had mastered the basic mechanics of sentence construction, they were taught "how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own." (cite) Although the program is ostensibly a "rigid, unswerving, formula", it worked: in the same time period between 2009 and 2011, New Dorp's passing rates on the English Regents exams jumped from 69% to 80%, and its passing rates on the Global History Regents shot from 64% to 75% (cite).  Although Peg Tyre has statistics to back her claim that poor writing makes for a poor education, Erica Goldson has the personal experience - and her grades - to back her claim that an overemphasis on testing makes for a bad education. Regarding the question of where, exactly, are students disenfranchised from the learning experience, perhaps the answer lies somewhere between the two.
In the great education debate, there is often a common thread of seeking to place the blame of failure upon one party or another, most commonly either on the teachers or the students themselves. Paolo Freire, a writer best known for his work teaching Brazilian peasants how to heighten their critical consciousness, argues that the blame lies with the teacher-student relationship, which suffers from "narration sickness". By fault of its lecture-oriented style, the teacher turns reality into something that is "motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable." (368) Instead of immersing students in the world they are supposed to be learning about, the imperatives of the lecture "leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content." People, places, and events, become discrete facts embedded in the matrix of the test they are taught with in mind, and students' minds become "receptacles to be "filled" by the teacher." (368) Because of this, the very mission statement of public school changes from encouraging intellectual inquiry and self-empowerment (as its creators intended) to reducing education to a series of transactions:
Education thus becomes an action of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the "banking" concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.
(368-9)
Like Erica Goldson, Freire believes that the education process provides negative feedback upon a student's willingness and ability to learn, which is inherently dehumanizing; if the best that students can aspire to do with the information they receive is collecting and cataloguing it, they have been gravely underserved. The daily transactions of lessons to be received, memorized, and repeated, serve to wear down the primal urge that all humans share to discover everything they can about the world around them. If what Freire asserts holds true, then we cannot fix our education system without levelling the playing field: students must be allowed to be the teachers from time to time, and teachers in turn must become the students. In order for this to take place, it is implied, a greater level of communication must be enabled between the two parties - both in and out of the classroom.
There is one instance, in my mind, where this exact level of communication takes place, which is between Ian Downing, a high school senior at Humanities Prep, and myself. For the past several weeks, I have tutored Ian on writing his PBAT, an essay that is prerequisite to his graduation, and we have often talked together on Skype before and after our Thursday afternoon tutoring sessions. Halfway through the month of April, Ian had not yet written the introduction to his paper, when the final draft was due the first week of May. When we sat down together that Thursday, I held my breath. How are we going to get this done in time? If we didn't do any writing that day, there would be no way he would finish his work by the deadline. I scribbled down a skeleton outline for the introductory paragraph, before sliding the paper over to him and explaining the process step by step. "Your first sentence is the hook; the statement, as outlandish and controversial as you can make it, that will get your readers interested. In the second and third sentences, you expand the idea in question and give the readers a taste of why the issue is complicated - opposing sides of the 'debate', and so on. Your last sentence is the 'thesis' - the platform on which the rest of your paper will stand." I looked him in the eye and asked: "Are you up for it?" Ian nodded his head. "Sure, I can do it."
Ten, fifteen, then twenty minutes passed. I kept trying to surrepititiously glance over at his work, but he kept turning the computer screen away from me. When he finally turned the computer around, what I read was even more than I'd dared hope for: he used analogy to introduce his topic ("Our current economy is like an outfield in baseball. There is such a large area to cover and only three people available to do so.") Building on the analogy, he made the argument that a lack of economic diversity in the U.S. poses a significant risk to the middle and lower classes. He pointed out that the government bailouts of the banking and auto industries were largely ineffective in stimulating economic growth, and argued that greater economic strength would come from the encouragement of small businesses:
"Because the government does not prioritize these [small] businesses, they are not only taking a gamble with little industries, but are not motivating small business owners to grow enough to become major sources of income."
Everything I would expect of a college-level paper, I found in this first draft of the introduction. It did need editing, but it showed me that my student had a firm grasp on the fundamentals of good writing. Although I would need to continue to push him to write more, and to expand and challenge his ideas, I did not need to pretend that this was a remedial English class. When I recently asked Ian via Skype what he thought the most helpful things I'd done with him in tutoring were, he listed my helping him with his intro as number one; "since I didn't know what to write for it exactly." Moreover, the second most helpful thing was "seeing your reaction to my paper each week, it kept me really motivated to write more." It seems to me that, if students and their regular teachers were to use similar routes of communication (either via skype or elsewhere online), the rapport would both help motivate students to do the work assigned them, as it helped Ian, and it would encourage students to take their intellectual inquiry above and beyond the scope of their classes.

Writing In Community Final Essay, Draft 2



Defining Literacy

Although it is well established that there is a 'problem' with public education in America, there is no consensus as to what caused it: is a lack of funding for critical academic programs? Or is it because many parents don’t help their children with their schoolwork? Erica Goldson, who graduated Coxsackie-Athens High School in 2010, argues in her valedictorian speech that the root of the problem lies in a current overemphasis on standardized testing. "We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective." (Goldson) To become valedictorian, Ms. Goldson had to give up learning for the sake of her objective; the almighty 'A'. Non-valedictorians must also do 'whatever it takes' if they want to achieve their original objective, which, according to Ms. Goldson, is usually "to get out [of school] as soon as possible." (Goldson). This means that pursuing their passions, whether in the areas of literature, music, technology or the sciences, must take second seat to their schoolwork. For Ms. Goldson, the tragedy in this is that schools are failing to give their students a proper education; by forcing their students to adopt a "whatever it takes" mentality, they suppress their natural propensity towards intellectual inquiry. But the success of Ms. Goldson and others like her seems to contradict this idea; if some students are able to finish public school with an education, why can’t others?
            Peg Tyre, author of "The Writing Revolution", argues that public schools fail to educate students by not teaching them how to write analytically. Backing her claim is the success story of New Dorp High School, a formerly failing public school on Long Island that succeeded in improving its graduation rate from 63% to 80% between 2009 and 2011. Observing that its worst students were usually the least adept at expository writing, New Dorp’s principal changed the curriculum to make analytic writing a central component of every subject, from science and mathematics to history and english. Students were taught "how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts - but, because and so." (7) Once they had mastered the basics of sentence construction, they were taught "how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own." (7) Although the program is ostensibly a "rigid, unswerving, formula", it worked: from 2009 to 2011, New Dorp's passing rates on the English Regents exams jumped from 69% to 80%, and its passing rates on the Global History Regents shot from 64% to 75% (3). These statistics support the idea that analytical writing is a critical skill for any student's education. Although this may be the case, it is certainly not the whole picture. Erica Goldson would argue that, despite an improvement in passing rates on the regents, students were still not really learning, and the unless New Dorp stopped ‘teaching to the test’, it would continue to fail to educate its students.Both authors are trying to answer the question of what, exactly, students need in order to succeed within the education system. But neither Goldson nor Tyre can hope to find the answer without understanding what schools are supposed to be teaching in the first place.
Paolo Freire, a writer best known for his work teaching Brazilian peasants how to heighten their critical consciousness, believes that schools aren't supposed to teach using any form of rote memorization, or lessons that involve a lecture, because these teaching methods create a disconnect between the lesson and the real world; something Freire refers to at “narration sickness” (368). Instead of immersing students in the world they are supposed to be learning about, the imperative of the lecture "leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content." People, places, and events, become discrete facts embedded in the matrix of the test they are taught towards, and students' minds become "receptacles to be "filled" by the teacher." (368) Because of this, public education becomes reduced to a series of business-like transactions:
Education thus becomes an action of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the "banking" concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human.
(368-9)
Like Erica Goldson, Freire believes that the education process provides negative feedback upon a student's willingness and ability to learn, which is inherently dehumanizing; if the best that students can aspire to do with the information they receive is collecting and cataloguing it, they have been gravely underserved. The daily transactions of lessons to be received, memorized, and repeated, serve to wear down the primal urge that all humans share to discover everything they can about the world around them. If Freire’s assertion holds true, then we cannot fix our education system without levelling the playing field; a greater level of communication must be established between teachers and their students, both in and out of the classroom.
There is one instance, in my mind, where such communication has happened, which is between Ian Downing, a high school senior at Humanities Prep, and myself. For the past several weeks, I have tutored Ian on writing his PBAT, an essay that is prerequisite to his graduation, and we have often talked together on Skype before and after our Thursday afternoon tutoring sessions. Halfway through the month of April, Ian had not yet written the introduction to his paper, when the final draft was due the first week of May. When we sat down together that Thursday, I held my breath. How are we going to get this done in time? If we didn't do any writing that day, there would be no way he would finish his work by the deadline. I scribbled down a skeleton outline for the introductory paragraph, before sliding the paper over to him and explaining the process step by step. "Your first sentence is the hook; the statement, as in-your-face and controversial as you can make it, that will get your readers interested. In the second and third sentences, you expand the idea in question and give the readers a taste of why the issue is complicated - opposing sides of the 'debate', and so on. Your last sentence is the 'thesis' - the platform on which the rest of your paper will stand." I looked him in the eye and asked: "Are you up for it?" Ian nodded his head. "Sure, I can do it."
Ten, fifteen, then twenty minutes passed. I kept trying to surrepititiously glance over at his work, but he kept turning the computer screen away from me. When he finally turned the computer around, what I read was even more than I'd dared hope for: he used an analogy to introduce his topic ("Our current economy is like an outfield in baseball. There is such a large area to cover and only three people available to do so.") Building on the analogy, he made the argument that a lack of economic diversity in the U.S. poses a significant risk to the middle and lower classes. He pointed out that the government bailouts of the banking and auto industries were largely ineffective in stimulating economic growth, and argued that greater economic strength would come from the encouragement of small businesses:
Because the government does not prioritize these [small] businesses, they are not only taking a gamble with little industries, but are not motivating small business owners to grow enough to become major sources of income.
Everything I would expect of a college-level paper, I found in this first draft of the introduction. It did need editing, but it showed me that my student had a firm grasp on the fundamentals of good writing. Although I would need to continue to push him to write more, and to expand and challenge his ideas, I did not need to pretend that this was a remedial English class. When I recently asked Ian via Skype what he thought the most helpful things I'd done with him in tutoring were, he listed my helping him with his intro as number one; "since I didn't know what to write for it exactly." Moreover, the second most helpful thing was "seeing your reaction to my paper each week, it kept me really motivated to write more." It seems as if what Ian needed from me was not a lesson on how to write a paper, but rather he needed me to teach him specific tools he could use to better express his ideas.  He already knew how to write a paper, and how to both research material for that paper and integrate what he learned into the 'big picture' topic. As far as I can tell, Humanities Prep does a good job ot educating students like Ian who take the time and effort to apply the lessons they learn in school in their everyday lives. However, Humanities prep is a high school that a. uses the New York Regents exam system and b. is a public school whose curriculum appears to match Freire's description of "The Banking Concept of Education." So why is its program still effective?
Perhaps the efficacy of an education program is not measured by what it does wrong, but by what it does right. What Goldson, Freire and Tyre all have in common is that they acknowledge that a school's success can be measured by what students are able to do outside of school. In a word, this can be boiled down to the concept of literacy. According to writer Sylvia Scribner, functional literacy is defined as "the level of proficiency necessary for effective performance in a range of settings and customary activities." (9) By extension, Sylvia argues, functional literacy also applies to the ability to use computers and other now-commonplace technologies, which are forms of "second-order literacy" (11). In other words, literacy is the ability to use tools and concepts that you know to learn something that you don't yet know. This is why Erica Goldson credits her education largely to her 10th-grade English Teacher, Donna Bryan, who taught her how to open her mind and "ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine." (cite) Knowing how to ask questions before accepting doctrine is part of learning how to learn, which is exactly what functional literacy entails.
There is some trouble with quantifying and measuring functional literacy, which makes it difficult to evaluate in a classroom setting. When Ian and I first began to work on the body arguments of his PBAT, he had written his first argument on the economic vulnerabilities caused by government reliance on major corporations for tax revenue. As I read what Ian had wrote, I noticed that although he had a cogent argument, that a large public debt would contribute to the downfall of the middle class, there was a major logic gap between his argument and his main piece of evidence, which was that Apple, Inc. and other related tech companies represented a disproportionately large chunk of the U.S. economy, I stopped reading to point out the error. "You've got a great idea, here, Ian, but your discussion about Apple has nothing to do with it... at least nothing your readers will pick up on their own." Ian frowned a little and nodded as he re-read the passage. "Uh-huh." I backtracked in case I had hurt his feelings. "That's not to say you shouldn't talk about Apple at all; just not right here." Drawing on what I knew, I explained to Ian that he needed to talk about other sectors of the economy, and to find a way to compare them to the economy as a whole. Ian gave me a puzzled look; "And... how do I do that?" Both of us fell silent for a minute. I didn't have the answer off the top of my head; I'm not an economist. Then, I blurted out "Let's find out how much money Apple and other big companies make in yearly revenues, and then compare that to the U.S.'s GDP. That'll give readers the sense of perspective that you're trying to convey." I knew where to look up a company's annual revenues, because I had worked at a hedge fund two summers back as a summer job. Even though that knowledge couldn't be considered a form of functional literacy, at least by societal standards, it was for Ian because his paper revolved around economics. In this instance, it was no big deal because I was able to help Ian find a solution to his problem. However, for other students working on their PBATs, they might not have learned how to find the information they need - or even what sort of information they're looking for. That tutoring session impressed upon me that internet research, in of itself, is a form of functional literacy that any student - any adult - needs to master.
Although functional literacy is, ostensibly, a good and necessary thing for a person to possess, Paolo Freire does not view it as such. According to Freire, the fact that the educator's role is "to regulate the way the world "enters into" the students" is reprehensible, for, following this same thought process:
The educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is better "fit" for the world. Translated into practice, this concept is well suited to the purposes of the oppressors, whose tranquility rests on how well people fit the world the oppressors have created, and how little they question it. (373)
Cast in this light, the standard of functional literacy is a weapon used by the oppressors - those who maintain the system of Banking Education for their own gain - to keep the status quo. Those who comply by studying under Banking Education are, effectively, allowing themselves to be brainwashed because their mind, the way they interpret the world, is molded to better fit the world they have grown up in. Rather than changing the more unsavory aspects of the world, they are taught to 'just roll with it.' By contrast, liberating education teaches its students that they can change the world, and that - in fact- they are obligated to do so:
Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge. Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context, not as theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as committed.
Peg Tyre would agree that Freire's concept of education, which promotes critical thinking in all domains of learning, is sound. However, she would disagree emphatically with the idea that functional literacy is a form of oppression used on high school students like those at New Dorp. In fact, one technique used at the school to develop students' analytical skills, developed by Judith Hochman, uses classroom discussion of canonical literature texts (in this case, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman) to teach the socratic method. When students speak in class, they were required to use specific prompts, "I agree/disagree with ___ because...", "I have a different opinion...", "I have something to add..." and "Can you explain your answer?" Students in one particular English class got into a debate about why the protagonist, Willie Loman, was described as being tired in the opening scene. One student proposed that Willie was tired because he was old (63, according to the stage directions), while another student argued that he was tired because his job was very hard and required extensive travelling. A third student spoke out, "I disagree with those conclusions," he said, glancing at the prompts. "The way Willie Loman describes his job suggests that the kind of work he does is making him tired. It is repetitive. It can feel pointless. It can make your feel exhausted."
As Tyre relates, the class was silent for a moment, acknowledging that Robert had analyzed the scene and derived a fresh idea from his own experience. (9) Classroom discussions like these prompt students to continually ask  

Sylvia Scribner does not, however, believe that literacy is solely defined as functional literacy. In fact, like Freire, she proposes that literacy is also a form of power; although, historically, literacy has been used as a form of oppression by the ruling elites to maintain their social status, it has also been a powerful agent for societal change (12). Because illiteracy is, in America, largely endemic in marginalized groups such as the urban poor, especially african-americans and latino communities, increasing literacy within these communities could potentially be a catalyst for political and social change (12).

Paolo Freire proposes a method of teaching literacy that, in contrast to The Banking Concept of Education, emphasizes "acts of cognition, not transferrals of information." (372) Dubbed "Liberating Education", this model places teacher-student dialogue as a centerpiece of the learning experience, such that "the students - no longer docile listeners - are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher." (373) This, too, is another critical aspect of literacy; the ability to communicate what you know and what you think with those around you.

ENDING: There are too many schools, and too many teachers, for any comprehensive education reform plan to be feasible. The public education system is simply too large for any single curriculum, or any one test, to be applicable to all students; in this instance, one size does not fit all. But there are guidelines that can help individual teachers and principles decide on what is best for their pupils. Peg Tyre's analytical writing program could help show students how to learn, when they might not otherwise know how to. Paolo Freire's model of liberating education could help give an education to students who may have given up on learning. Sylvia Scribner's metaphors for literacy can help give educators insight on how to gauge a student's progress without resorting to written examination.
1. Propose the concept of asymmetrical testing
2. discuss the idea of allowing teachers to choose their own curricula, within a level of oversight similar to what clinical psychologists & psychiatrists face.

Works Cited
Freire, Paolo. "The “Banking” Concept Of Education." Dwc.edu. Daniel Webster College. 11 May 2013 <http://faculty.dwc.edu/wellman/Friere.htm>.
Goldson, Erica. "Here I Stand." America Via Erica. Blogger.com. 11 May 2013 <http://americaviaerica.blogspot.com/2010/07/coxsackie-athens-valedictorian-speech.html>.
Scribner, Sylvia. "Literacy In Three Metaphors." 11 May 2013 <http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true>.
Tyre, Peg. "The Writing Revolution." The Atlantic. The Atlantic. 11 May 2013 <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/>.