Entries Posted in "Education"

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The Battle of Words
May 29, 2009

spellingbee2.jpgWithout fail, the Scripps National Spelling Bee always manages to deliver on entertainment, educational value, and irony-laced words. Though I doubt it's ever intentional, some of the words spelled in the final rounds of the last few years have been incredibly fitting for the times we were in. For example, one of the harder words of 2007, was "Kakistocracy," which means "Government under the control of a nation's worst or least-qualified citizens." It was true then, and sadly, it's still true now. I tucked that word into my arsenal to use on my future children or the next time I got pulled over by the police for a random criminal check (a virtual certainty when you are black and breathing and live in Seattle, Washington).

Usually I am glued to a television during the Scripps Spelling Bee in the same manner many are currently observing the NBA Finals. That probably makes me a nerd, but unfortunately, giving several hours a week to the NBA isn't paying my bills right now so my loyalty is at about zero. Sadly, spelling bees offer no amazing game-winning, half-court three pointers, or big names like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. What spelling bees do offer is a chance to observe how incredibly powerful language can be. I continue to be fascinated by the English language, but particularly, I'm intrigued by these pre-pubescent, somewhat nerdy type-competitors who are walking dictionaries of etymology and lexicon. Winning a spelling competition seems a bit of a waste of all the knowledge if you ask me. Then again, I can't spell "definitely" correctly without my trusty spellcheck (also known as the biggest ignorance enabler of the 20th century).

This year, however, the Scripps Spelling Bee threw me for a loop when the final, winning word was, brace yourselves, "Laodicean."

Did I hear that correctly? Laodicean? Do you know how incredibly easy that word is and should be? Here I usually sit in a complete stupor for most of the spelling bee because I can't even pronounce let alone spell the words these 11-year-olds are decimating in the first round alone and yet I can spell the final, winning, championship word in my sleep? Trust me when I say, I'm just not that smart when it comes to these things. I am the girl who a few years ago, once asked in all sincerity, "What day is Cinco de Mayo?" A student of Spanish I am not. These wordmongers could eat me for lunch in a spelling bee. So trust me when I say it is a sad day in American when this here writer can spell the winning word of the national spelling bee. Yet "Laodicean" is ranked among the most "difficult words" and fit to challenge these top spellers? America, I am concerned.

You probably think me to be a bit melodramatic. After all, it's a spelling bee for goodness' sake. Perhaps I am overreacting, but humor me anyway. Let's go over some of the winning words of the last decade or so, shall we?

2008 - guerdon
2007 - serrefine
2006 - Ursprache
2005 - appoggiatura
2004 - autochthonous
2003 - pococurante
2002 - prospicience
2001 - succedaneum
2000 - demarche
1999 - logorrhea

Those are definitely some tough words. Some of the most difficult words to spell are actually quite short. The above words present a challenge because their pronunciations can throw off the speller, as do the silent letters and particular word origin. I know for a fact I couldn't spell 95% of them without at least being off by a few letters. So what is my beef with "Laodicean?" Quite simply, it's a very easy word for anyone who has ever cracked open a stinkin' Bible. Please note: I do not think the Bible stinks...it was merely an idiomatic expression. See how cool words can be? Moving on.

"Laodicea" is a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill Biblical word. "Laodicea" was an ancient city and the "Laodicean church" was often referenced in the Bible. And why do I know this? Because as early as I could be scolded for telling my classmate to "shut up," I had the Bible drilled into every crevice of my cerebral cortex. There was a time when people of many different religions, ethnicities, and walks of life actually had read or studied the Bible at some point in their lives. Not for indoctrination, but for educational purposes. Fancy that! If you go back a few generations, you'll fine few among them who can't quote at least one scripture from the Bible. Today, there's a whole segment of young Americans who can't even name the first book of the Bible.

While some dismiss it as merely a historical text or a bunch of "old stories," even the most atheistic of scholars would be remiss to not admit the Bible is one of the single greatest and epic pieces of literary illumination to ever exist on the planet. Not only is it a mastery of allegory, narrative, prophecy, sarcasm, hyperbole, verse and metaphorical brilliance, it also happens to be the best selling book of all time, ever, period, no contest. So much historical context and literary insight has been drawn from the Bible it's difficult to find the point where the Bible ends and our nation's history begins. Just reading the Bible cover to cover instantly puts the average person light years ahead of their peers in terms of endurance and subconscious insight. To this day scholars remain in all out war about what certain scriptures and passages of the Bible infer. I've witnessed it at the halls of my very liberal, very secular university. Safe to say, the Bible is a pretty important book.

So it is quite interesting to me that in 2009, and among the most challenging of challenging words and supposed best and brightest subjects "Laodicean" is even intended to present a real challenge. My how far we've fallen away from being a learned society. I wonder if anyone has drawn a correlation between the incredible generational success of people of the Jewish faith in America and the fact that many (though not all) young, Jewish teenagers in America actually have a rite-of-passage where they have to learn and memorize the Torah, the Talmud or at least part of its contents? It's something to ponder.

Perhaps I'm playing with a few ideas that need to be fleshed out, but I think there is something to be said for historical literacy. I've previously written about how robbed this generation is of the privilege of being well-versed in our nation's founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. Just the simple act of digesting eloquent wisdom writings produces transference like no other.

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Why Privilege Isn't Enough
May 14, 2009

There have been a few trending news stories in the media I'd like to comment on particularly because one hits close to home. Over the years I've noticed our culture has a strange fascination with what I call "well to do" crimes. We simply can't understand how it is that supposedly "good" people from "good" upbringings who went to "good" schools could ever commit any type of heinous crime. When someone from the "wrong" side of the tracks commits a crime, we chalk it up to their upbringing, but if someone is clean and well-spoken, we want to run forensics on their kindergarten lunchbox and dig all into their past to find out where things "went wrong." I do not understand the fixation people have with figuring out why people do bad things.

The way I see it, sinners sin. What's not to get about that?

Sometimes I think the world needs to stop watching so much Oprah. Wake up members of humanity, people are not inherently good (aren't you glad you came to read this cheery message, today?). There is nothing in the history of civilization that points to a society where people were just born onto the earth and woke up the next day to declare, "You know what? I think I'm going to do the right thing today." "Maybe I won't own slaves." "Maybe I won't slaughter innocent people." "Maybe I won't be a dictator." "Maybe I won't claim I discovered land that was already inhabited." The world we live in is not an after school special. It is a world full of people who have to wake up every day and make a decision if they will choose life or death and choose right or wrong. It is a world where peoples' worldviews are not always formed in healthy environments.

Do you see this picture?


This is the man we all know as Adolf Hitler. What has always been interesting to me about some of the people who have left a legacy of death and destruction in their wake is that they were once babies too. Am I the only person who finds that totally crazy? Yet it's incredibly humbling and a reminder to us all that we all had a clean slate from which to begin --- the opportunity in our lifetime, to choose what path we'll follow.

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Spelling for a Better World
June 1, 2007

If you ever want to suffer a massive blow to your intellectual ego, watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee. What these pre-pubescent middle schoolers can do is nothing short of amazing.

To describe a spelling bee as "enthralling" is probably teetering on the edge of sanity, but I must say every time the national bee rolls around I am giddy. Between the bizarre mnemonics, the fainting, and the Alex Trebekian-bred announcers, I just can't get enough. As nerdy as that statement may sound, it speaks volumes that this year the bee made its way out of ESPN's weekend-crappy-time-slot obscurity and into prime-time on a major network station. If only we could get Dick Vitale to call the play-by-play next year. That would be one entertaining event.

If you hadn't noticed, spelling is now "hot." Well, sort of. I doubt the masses will be lining up for autographs of spelling bee champions any time soon. I sometimes wonder if there is a direct correlation with spelling aptitude and social awkwardness. Awkwardness certainly abounded on that Washington D.C. stage last night. Then again, I'd like to see any adult (myself included) stand up on stage in front of millions of viewers and spell "autochthonous" (the winning word of 2005) with such finesse. I reckon the nationwide acceptance and appreciation of such talent and ability has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years. Surely that's thanks to ventures like last year's fabulous, though not so blockbuster film--"Akeelah and the Bee"--a movie I am not ashamed to admit made me shed a tear or three. It's also a movie that despite rave reviews and the public blessing of "Reverend" Oprah Winfrey, didn't fare so well at the box office. Black girls winning spelling bees isn't quite as appealing as black women whoring themselves for Academy Awards, I guess.

The presence of "diversity" among the spellers is a matter of perspective. When I worked for Google, a large percentage of the company's employees were East Indian. Needless to say, naan is now one of my staples. Most companies would put a feather in their diversity cap for pulling such numbers. In the tech world however, it has become quite clear that a large presence of East Indian employees is the rule and not the exception. So diversity for Google meant recruiting more women and more Americans of color. In that same vein, I often notice that at spelling bees, diversity abounds, but really, it doesn't. The statistics are fascinating. Some commonalities found among the majority might be: quality of school district, socioeconomic status, and presence of two parents in the home. I'd be curious to know exactly what are the makings of a typical championship speller. I won't lie; year after year I wonder why we don't see any more black students up there competing for the title. The "Why" is probably a much bigger question than I'm willing to discuss here. This year, however, I was very pleased to see Kennyi Aouad, 11, of Terre Haute, Indiana, a "fly" in the proverbial buttermilk of academic competitions. I almost cried. Clearly spelling bees are emotional occasions for me.

I also shouldn't fail to mention this year's winner, Evan O'Dorney, whose winning word "serrefine" seemed to present little challenge to his studious mind. But my pick of the night was the lone girl in the top ten, firecracker Isabel Jacobsen of Madison, Wisconsin. I can't help but keep solidarity with my chromosome sisters. She made it into the top three spellers and to boot she is one smart cookie. In her video profile aired during the bee, she mentioned one of her favorite words I will soon be adding to my arsenal:

"Kakistocracy": Rule by the least-able or least-principled of citizens; a form of government in which the people least qualified to control the government are the people who control the government.
Out of the mouths of babes, eh? Come January 2009, I fear we might have more uses for "Kakistocracy" than we'd like should a few certain individuals be elected to the White House. Blogger Michelle Malkin has other suggestions for use of the word.

Until then, I'll be reading my dictionary, trying to catch up for next year.

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I Knew I Liked Steve Jobs
June 21, 2005

I'm not a fan of commencement speeches. In fact, I think commencement in general should be entirely revamped. The graduates should be given their diplomas first and then be dismissed to party while parents, relatives and faculty partake of the pomp and listen to the rambling commencement addresses which are generally wrought with cliches, and "feel good" messages that couldn't motivate me to move my couch let alone move my life.

So understand that it is with a relative amount of cynicism that I listened to Apple and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs' recent Stanford University commencement address. In a detour not typical of these types of speeches, Jobs avoided the bland talk of the responsibility that comes with a college degree and went in for the kill:

You've got to find what you love (an excerpt)

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Now that will preach. He ends:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Mr. Jobs, I'm taking notes. Read the speech in its entirety. The liberation of failure is unparalleled.

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High Schools Fail to Engage Students
May 12, 2005

Just in: American high schools stink. Why we need studies to figure these things out, I just don't know. Monday's USA Today reports on the failure of high schools to engage students:

A majority of high school students in the USA spend three hours or less a week preparing for classes yet still manage to get good grades, according to a study being released today by researchers who surveyed more than 90,000 high school students in 26 states.

The team at Indiana University in Bloomington calls the findings "troubling." The first large study to explore how engaged high school students are in their work, it adds to a growing body of evidence that many students are not challenged in the classroom.

Just 56% of students surveyed said they put a great deal of effort into schoolwork; only 43% said they work harder than they expected to. The study says 55% of students devote no more than three hours a week to class preparation, but 65% of these report getting A's or B's.

Because I spent my life in private school, high school was homework-heavy. We usually averaged between 5-6 hours of homework a night. To make it without drowning, we skimmed through readings and wrote essays on books we never read. It was busywork but nothing profound.

America's educational systems are all about regurgitation. "Memorize what we teach you and then spit it back out on the test...So long as you get the answers right, we'll pass you." That's why the Indiana University study isn't shocking. The average high school student has mastered regurgitation. I know I did. I could cram the night before a test and spit stuff out Modern European history verbatim. Too bad I can't remember squat about the topic now. Unfortunately, high schools (and many colleges) aren't teaching students how to think. I learned this most valuable skill from my parents.

God Bless 'em.

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When Handcuffs Aren't Enough
April 26, 2005

Remember a few weeks ago when I said that every social problem begins in the family? Well for all you naysayers out there, I offer you a prime example of parenting gone bad: "Police Handcuff 5-year-old After Tantrum." At this point, I'm sure we've all heard, seen, or read the story about last month's turbulence in a St. Petersburg, FL elementary school classroom. If you haven't, Baldilocks has a good run down. I won't bother regurgitating information. In short, Ja'eisha Scott, a 5-year-old girl with a history of bad behavior was acting out, being violent, and endangering others (and herself) in the classroom. The teacher couldn't control her, so the police department was called. The girl threw a tantrum and couldn't be "tamed" so she was handcuffed. End of story.

Now let me just say this: when we have to use officers of the law to control elementary school children, we are in DEEP DEEP trouble. As of late this has been an all too frequent occurrence.

In Philadelphia, a 10-year-old student was handcuffed and arrested for violating the school weapons policy when she brought scissors to school. In St. Louis, a kindergartener was handcuffed for being unruly and disruptive. Then there's the Texas mom who dialed 9-1-1 because her 9 and 12 year old daughters were fighting uncontrollably. Her reason? They were "bigger than her."

I don't know where you all come from, but my little brother is 6-foot-2 and can bench press my mother one and half times over, but it would be a cold day in a very hot place before my mother would ever be afraid of him. That my friends, is insane.

Do you see what happens when parents do not properly discipline their children? All literal hell breaks loose.

Of all the commentary I've read on the matter, I've yet to read anything with which I fully agree. Most people agree that handcuffing a five-year-old and broadcasting the video on national television is highly suspect. I'll co-sign on that. I hate our media. We sensationalize everything and I'm not particularly fond of seeing the same traumatizing (for the girl) images played over and over again. It's unclear who (if anyone) exactly has her best interest in mind.

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On CEOs and the Ivy League
April 7, 2005

USA Today published an interesting story today about companies intentionally seeking out CEOs without college degrees from Ivy League Schools. And before you start thinking that I am still riding my bitterness about Harvard, let me just remind you that the Crimsonites are responsible for accepting the same students that accused Jada Pinkett Smith of being "Heteronormative."

I rest my case.

The article features Brenda Barnes, CEO of Sara Lee foods (nobody does it like Sara Lee), who didn't graduate from one of the top business schools, but managed to snag a Chief Executive Officer position that makes Sara Lee the largest corporation with a woman at the helm. She did it all with a Bachelors degree from little ole Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. Apparently, this is a rising trend.

In the USA Today article, they've linked to a chart that shows colleges attended by CEOs hired at Fortune 1000 firms in 2004 and 2005. The number of CEOs that graduated from places like the University of Arizona and the University of Nebraska is pretty astounding. What's most shocking to me however is how few CEOs actually have graduate degrees.

I am seriously beginning to question the relevancy of the graduate degree. I suppose it depends on the field. But I will say this: Working in recruiting, you see a LOT of MBAs applying for entry-level sales positions. It's a bit disturbing.

And now on a completely unrelated note, I must interject a bit of Cosby show context. Anyone who knows me must get used to my propensity to recite entire paragraphs of Cosby Show dialogue in the midst of conversations. After all, the Cosby Show is the sum of all wisdom.

Anyone remember the time when Denise (Lisa Bonet AKA the space cadet who became even more eccentric and strange after she procreated with that Lenny Kravitz guy) was trying to choose a college and was deciding between NYU, "Hillman," Berkley, and the University of North Dakota at Bismarck? Classic. Maybe she should have gone there; she could perhaps be a CEO by now. In TV-land that is. Because the Cosby Show characters are not real. They are not. They are not. Eventually this will sink in for me.

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Where Education has Failed
March 3, 2005

Overheard on television during an episode of a reality show that shall go nameless:

Character 1: Wait, "African" is not a language.
Character 2: Yes it is! They have their own language.
Character 1: But Africa is a country.
Character 2: Right! And they speak African.
Words fail me.

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Masters Student Dismissed for Corporal Punishment Beliefs
February 16, 2005

WorldNetDaily reports:

A master's student at a New York college was kicked out of the graduate education program because of what officials claim was a "mismatch" between his personal beliefs and the goals of the program.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a nonprofit group, the trouble began when Le Moyne College master's student Scott McConnell wrote a paper that advocated "strong discipline and hard work" in the classroom and an environment that allows "corporal punishment."

Oh man that's funny. Could be because I'm writing this at 4:39 in the morning. Could be because it's funny. I'm not going to argue for or against corporal punishment in schools. I think that's a parent-mandated thing. But considering the popularity of shows like "The Supernanny" where a stern British woman has to come help pathetic American families parent their wayward children...yeah, you get the point. See my post "Spanking: the best way to save tax dollars" for more clarity.

(Brief caveat: Mkay, so I've seen once and read enough about this "Supernanny" show to get the gist. What I don't get is what type of parent pleads with a 4-year-old who hit them, called them a "poo-poo-head," and then screamed bloody murder for 5 minutes. Maybe it's cultural, but I'm 23, I'm grown, I pay my own bills, and if I ever called my mother a poo-poo-head, I'd be picking up the pieces of my face from the other side of the room.)

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The Pre-College Racket
February 7, 2005

From SAT prep to Graduate school, America's higher educational system has become a gigantic racket. A recent USA Today feature explores the rising pre-college financial costs that are preventing many young people from getting their feet in the door. Besides being unprepared educationally, students are often shocked at the expenses associated with simply taking the SAT. USA Today reports:

When Karin Iuzzolino applied to college, she skimped to hold down costs. She applied to four schools rather than the eight that interested her. She did not visit several colleges because transportation costs were prohibitive. She chose not to take an Advanced Placement exam because it cost $82.

The Boothbay, Maine, resident couldn't afford an SAT preparation course and settled for an inexpensive CD-ROM. The only thing she did not skimp on was standardized tests; she took the SAT four times and the ACT once.

Looking back, Iuzzolino, a 21-year-old sophomore at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, says applying to college was more expensive than she had ever imagined.

"I didn't expect a lot of the costs that came at me, especially the $50 and $60 application fees," she says.

While students from families of modest means know that it costs a lot to attend college, the expense involved in applying often comes as a surprise. And the cost will increase in March when the price of the SAT Reasoning Test (formerly the SAT I) rises from $29.50 to $41.50 because a writing component is being added.

The article doesn't even go into depth about the costs that follow the SAT. Additionally, students have to pay to have their required SAT score sent to every school to which they're applying.

Last year, Harvard University had a total of 19,750 freshmen applications. At $60 a pop, Harvard is raking in $1,185,000 a year in application fees alone. Not too shabby.

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Why I'm Not a Republican Parts I, II, III, IV
Reflections on the Ill-Read Society
The ROI of a Kid
The Double-Minded Haters
Hindsight
Hip-Hop in Education: Do You Wanna Revolution?
Oh parent Where Art Thou?
Requisite Monthly Rant: the State of the Nation
College Curriculum Gone Wild
Walmart Chronicles
An Open Letter to American Idol
Gonorrhea and the City

I Have a Talk Show