Search This Blog

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's happening to America's education system?

Yesterday I read Robert Brokamp's guest post over at Get Rich Slowly. For those who don't have the desire to read his post, he questions America's standards of parenting and education in contrast to standards in other countries like China and India. The apparent catalyst for his post is Amy Chua's recently published memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Her book recalls her upbringing as a child of Chinese immigrants, and also covers her attempts (and failures) to mimic her parents' strict parenting with her own children.

But for every voice calling for sterner education and parenting, there is another arguing for less stress and more individual respect. In this post I hope to walk the line between the two and discuss my personal views on the subject. Stick around, you might find something to talk about.

Brokamp uses a few videos to highlight his point. First, the trailer for Two Million Minutes:
This documentary follows teens in America, India, and China. Unsurprisingly, it looks like the Americans are at the bottom of the totem pole.

Next up, the trailer for Waiting for Superman:
The overconfidence of American youth clearly goes hand-in-hand with the lax education standards. If a privleged American believes himself to be ripe with potential and gifted with talent, what incentive does he have to work his tail off for an education?
.
.
.

Yeah, I don't see any either.


But remember the other side of the argument I mentioned? They have videos too. First off, the trailer for Race to Nowhere:
Wait, so we're stressing and overloading our kids too much? What happened to the lazy, shallow students? These kids look to be working just as hard as the Indian and Chinese students.

Finally, a video of Erica Goldson, Valedictorian of her class at Coxsackie-Athens High School questioning the legitimacy of her education as a poster child for "Unschooling":
Well didn't that come out of left field? Crazy.

In the midst of this torrent of information and outcry, what's really the issue? What's really at stake? And - most important of all - what should we do?

I happen to have a few thoughts on the subject. Surprise, surprise.


1. Calm down, everybody!

Personally, I think these "issues" aren't completely out of hand. Have we lost all concept of what a great (or even good) education is? Perhaps. Can we drastically improve the American education system? Definitely, but it's time to buckle down and do it.

2. Only math and science?

While math and science standards seem to be all the rage, have we forgotten all about essentials like Language or Social Sciences? I think that's where our strengths have been for a while. And if there's anything I've learned thus far in my education, it's that focusing on building on your strengths is far more productive than attempting to fix problems. Why? Easy. You have far fewer major strengths to work on than you do perceived problems. Plus, you probably already know what it takes to work on your strengths. That's why they're strengths! You're a relative expert.

3. Suggestions regarding math.

The question you'll hear out of the mouth of every frustrated math student across America is this:

"When am I actually going to need this?!"

Teachers need to be able to demonstrate this, well before that question forms in the student's mind. Math teachers need to be able to offer positive models of what good mathematicians can do: show engineers working on NASA spacecraft, an Accountant keeping a failing company from bankruptcy, a computer programmer designing the physics engine in the next big video game. Beyond that, break down math concepts into tangible parts, and push kids to master them. It is my opinion that most of us could be working multivariable calculus problems without life-threatening issue if we had built up our math skills over time with a solid foundation.

4. Suggestions regarding science

I believe all students should be held to higher standards in science. Most kids just do the labs, put forth lame efforts, and are done with it. But again, if we hold them to a high standard, I'm convinced they'll rise to it. And also again, I'm pretty sure some examples of successful and cool (note: non-nerdy) scientists wouldn't hurt either.

5. They're not kidding when they say they're stressed.

American youth are cast into this role of competition: trying to be experts at everything. The Tiger Mother knows better than this for her children. Instead, she relegates them to strict educational and extracurricular roles and demands nothing but the best from them. Now I'm not saying this authoritarian style of parenting is the ideal, but I'm saying that the Tiger Mother has got something going for her. She's honest with her kids about their performance, she shows them the potential of deliberate practice, and she picks a few select skills to excel at.

The current way of doing things in American education leaves kids burnt out and unfulfilled. That's why Erica Goldson spoke against her education. That's why Brittany and Neil choose to party and procrastinate - they're looking for a way out of a broken system. Today's college freshmen are experiencing more mental health problems than ever.

6. It's time to reinvent ourselves, just a bit.

In today's world, the United States has to take a step back and reexamine the current status quo. We're trying to solve the economy, healthcare, social security, energy demands, poverty, third world conflict, and education problems all at the same time. Maybe it's time to look at the examples of other nations who have their game together. We can reverse-engineer a great education system by looking at, for example, the unconventional Finnish school system. No standardized tests, comprehensive learning, and an earlier start on consistent education - and it works. Finland is consistently rated as having the best education in the world, so we might as well learn from the best. And if we really want to kick it up a notch, we need to change the way we look at learning. I think President Obama said it quite well in his recent State of the Union Address:

“We need to teach our kids that it’s not only the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”

That's right, parents: This is your responsibility, too.


And with that, I'm done with my soapbox for today. Thank you for reading this long post, I hope you got something out of it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Spartan Sprint, here I come!

Hello all,

This past week I've begun my training for the Spartan Sprint, a race I'll be running with my friends on March 26th. My training plan is basically as follows:

Weightlifting (essentially Rippetoe's "Starting Strength" novice program)

3x per week, alternating between "Workout A" and "Workout B." Any substitutions to the original program (as pulled from this site) will be denoted in italics.

Workout A
3x5 Squat
3x5 Bench Press
1x5 Deadlift

Workout B
3x5 Squat
3x5 Press (on Overhead Press Nautilus machine instead of free weights)
5x3 Power Cleans (replaced by 5x3 Shrugs and 2 sets of dips to failure)

 Running (from Cool Running's famous "Couch to 5k" plan) .

Also a 3x per week deal! Clever, eh?


Week Workout 1 Workout 2 Workout 3
1 Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.
2 Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.
3 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following:
  • Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 400 yards (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 400 yards (or three minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following:
  • Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 400 yards (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 400 yards (or three minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following:
  • Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 400 yards (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 400 yards (or three minutes)
4 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
5 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes)
  • Walk 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog two miles (or 20 minutes) with no walking.
6 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes)
Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2-1/4 miles (or 25 minutes) with no walking.
7 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.5 miles (or 25 minutes). Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.5 miles (or 25 minutes). Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.5 miles (or 25 minutes).
8 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.75 miles (or 28 minutes). Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.75 miles (or 28 minutes). Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 2.75 miles (or 28 minutes).
9 Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 3 miles (or 30 minutes). Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 3 miles (or 30 minutes). The final workout! Congratulations! Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog 3 miles (or 30 minutes).


Download Couch-to-5K ®


All other physical activities will either be for fun, for experiment, or for gymnastics (1x per week, 2 hours). I believe this blended approach should give me some decent results in strength, cardiovascular endurance, and pure looks in about 2 months. The diet I'll be following is fairly simple - just avoiding soft drinks (which I already do) and highly processed foods (ie: junk food, a lot of carb-heavy foods) while using whole milk as a protein source outside of meats and normal dietary foods, and eating a varied diet. I'll also be taking one diet "cheat day" per week (normally Saturdays).


In order to track my results, I took measurements today in a few key areas:
R arm (at peak of bicep, unflexed): 30 cm
L arm (same): 28.5 cm
Waist (horizontal at navel): 82.5 cm
Hips/Ass (approx. at the base of... uh, you know): 87.5 cm
R leg (mid-thigh): 48 cm
L leg (same): 49 cm
R calf (about 8 cm beneath the knee joint): 36 cm
L calf (same): 36.5
Chest (horizontal at nipple-level): 86.5 cm
Shoulders (horizontal at armpit-level): 105.5 cm

I decided to take measurements in centimeters because it's more accurate when using lazy measuring technique (rounding to the nearest centimeter leaves a much smaller margin of error than rounding to the nearest inch). I performed all measurements by myself, being as careful as possible. I chose the spots I did because they reflect a blend between standard spots for measuring weight loss and for measuring muscle gain, which is what I'm trying to achieve. I know the calf measurement seems random, but that's more to satisfy my own curiosity about how that area will grow/shrink as a result of indirect strength training (squats, deadlifts) and running. Oh, and all of these were performed with joints in neutral or unflexed positions.

That's all for now, I'll be sure to post with any updates, changes, and results!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Random, but -

My friends Hayley and Alex here at the good ol' TCU have decided to start a Song Blog. I thought I'd post up their first effort:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Something weird that I do on Facebook...

Hello all,

I just thought I'd share a strange habit I recently picked up that has already started to pay off considerably. Rather than over-hype this revelation too much, I'll cut to the chase:

When I log onto Facebook, I put myself on the clock.

Literally. I pull out my handy-dandy iPhone, set a timer for 2 minutes, and log in. If I'm not done responding to notifications and messages by then, I say "oh well" and get off. Why? Because I noticed how much of a time suck Facebook was for me (and countless other college students) last semester, and I decided to do something about it. Thus far, this hasn't had any negative effects, in fact, it seems all positive.

I'm getting things done on Facebook in a short period of time, and using it more for keeping up with people who actually matter rather than creeping on people I kinda-ish-maybe recognize.

I'd encourage anyone reading this to try something similar. 2 minutes may seem somewhat Spartan, but it works for me. I'm guessing it's allowed me to cut down on at least 85% of my time spent on Facebook, which is quite a relief.

p.s. If you do try this, let me know how it works out for you via comment or email!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

If you've been making some kind of excuse for working out...

This should do the trick.

It's a story from Jedd at Diesel Crew about what he went through this Christmas. I know it's going to help me cut the bullshit!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

StrengthsFinder

Today marks (hopefully) a new step towards deciding on a college major.

I took an online assessment called StrengthsFinder, which is provided by Gallup. After completing this assessment, I was assigned 5 strength "Themes," which apparently describe me based on StrengthsFinder's criteria. These 5 were:

  • Futuristic: People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
  • Input: People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
  • Includer: People who are especially talented in the Includer theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them.
  • Learner: People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  • Restorative: People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
For the most part, I agree with these Themes. I've always been seeking out information and advice to improve my future, so Input and Futuristic make sense (in fact, one might say I consider what the future holds a tad too much). I've been an Includer since a child, it's what I was raised to be. And a Learner is one of my most proud traits - that I'm always seeking news pursuits. The only Theme that doesn't fully make sense to me is Restorative. I think I'm alright at solving problems, maybe even great at it - but I never considered it one of my Top 5 traits.

Hopefully I'll be able to grasp a better understanding of what these mean in class today (roughly 30 min away). I'll try to post a follow-up in my newly-enlightened state later today.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Just a cool link

Generally, if I get a guilty feeling for not posting here in a while, I plan to at least share a link of something sweet I've been reading. So without further ado, here's your link!

Get Rich Slowly has a great article on Underacheivement and the All-Or-Nothing Mindset by April Dykman. It's a thought-provoking read, enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Really cool video!

I just had to share this after I saw it on J.D. Roth's Foldedspace blog. It shows the story of Christian the Lion, an animal raised by humans, reintroduced to the wild, then reunited with his original caretakers - even as the alpha of a pride! Maybe it's the crazy story, maybe it's the image of a lion hugging his old human friends, maybe it's even the sweet Sigur Rós music played throughout; but something about this story just gets at me. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Welcome!

This is the first-ever post for me, and I think it's the start of something great. I'm a long-time blog reader, and I decided to finally take the plunge and start something. So I decided to start with this blog, a low-key electronic record of major things happening in my life. Also, I'll use this blog for random ideas and writings from time to time. I hope you enjoy this little experiment as much as I do!

So as for my life right now? The Horned Frogs just won the Rose Bowl! It was a great experience, and a great way to start off the new year.