Monday, December 24, 2012

wrangling with Christmas trees

There's something beautiful about the scent of pine, all those terpines and phenols, as it fills the living room. It's a scent so distinctly Northwestern, fresh, rainy, and clean, that I think I'm going to miss it when I move for college, when I go and live someplace where these trees aren't ubiquitous.

Getting our Christmas tree into the house is always a bit more of a struggle for my family than most. My dad lops it down from our front yard, since we have an abundance of trees, and then tries to cut it down to size so it'll fit through the door without mimicking a medieval battering ram in function as well as form.

As I look at our bush-like tree, twinkling merrily in its garb of lights and ornaments, I realize I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, October 12, 2012

smells like school spirit

It's that time of year again, for school colors to come out, pompoms to wave, dress-up days, skits...a.k.a., the decadent pageantry during Homecoming Spirit Week. It occurred to me today that school spirit isn't all that different from patriotism. We have yells and chants, rousing music, we dress up in our school colors like people wear the flag on the 4th. And like patriotism, it's something almost everyone at least pretends to have. But I wonder if, like with patriotism, there's questioning underneath.

Because the thing is, at some point you realize that you ended up in your country not because of any awesome membership in the elect chosen to reside there, not because of some predestined fate, not because of anything that makes you uniquely American or Chinese or South African or what have you, but because of luck--because of accident of birth. And luck is something that is very difficult to be proud of.

To me, it makes little sense to have pride in such accidental membership. It justifies pride based not on the actions that should evoke it but rather because self-preservation dictates that you support your own group. Is this to say that we should disavow our allegiances because of what petty cause we have for them? Not at all.

Just, instead of rah-rah'ing for our mascot or our school's name or (in the case of patriotism) our country, we should celebrate ideals. And if in the process we find that our ideals may be more universal than our school spirit cheers or our patriotic sentiments, that's a good thing. (Guess what, it's easier to get someone to agree with "freedom, justice, and equality" than "I love America!") So why be divisive when we can unite around the things that really matter? I don't know about you, but I really care more about what we stand for than our name, our colors, or (sorry!) whether our football team won at the HC game tonight.

I think we should be proud of our schools. But I think we should have better reasons than, "because I go there." I'm proud because the amazing friends and classmates who performed at the Homecoming assembly today had creativity and drive. The folks who created clubs and rallied members to raise awareness and fundraise today inspire with their leadership and dedication. These kinds of strengths provide ideals we should celebrate.

Sure, it's hard to use face paint and pompoms to cheer on something as abstract as an ideal; but if we hope to give a glimpse of who we truly are, whether as the people of a nation or the students of a school, we will always have to go far deeper than a name.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Remarks at the National Press Club for the Women's Media Center Girls' State of the Union

Today I had the awesome opportunity to speak at the National Press Club in Washington DC to deliver remarks around girls and feminism, due to winning the Women's Media Center "Girls' State of the Union" contest earlier this year. Feminist icon (and tremendous role model) Gloria Steinem introduced me, and I delivered the following remarks.

I’d like to thank the Women’s Media Center for the tremendous opportunity to speak here today, and Ms. Steinem for the introduction—I’m honored. I’ve looked up to Ms. Steinem ever since I knew what feminism was. It’s not every day that you get introduced by an icon, so I may have to, at some point, pinch myself. I’m grateful for the introduction because, to be quite honest, it’s very hard for me to choose how to introduce myself sometimes—I feel like I have to choose somehow, because of the wide range of things I do, causes I support, or roles I embody—student, writer, teacher, activist. So a defining moment for me was when we were asked to introduce ourselves on the first day of my philosophy course at Stanford over the summer. I looked around the room, opened my mouth, and said: “I’m a feminist.”

My convictions didn’t start with finding a way to introduce myself, of course; they started gradually, and in some unlikely places. You see, growing up, like probably a lot of you, I loved princesses. I loved their fancy tiaras and elaborate dresses, convoluted names and inherited power. Now, this could have easily gone in the other direction—the influence of too many princesses getting rescued by Prince Charmings on white horses could have made me buy into this image of feminine as weak—except for the fact that I loved history, too. So in the pages of books, I did find my role models, just maybe not the role models most people would expect. I found Elizabeth the First infinitely cooler than Cinderella, because being imprisoned in the Tower of London while evading the possibility of your sister calling for your execution seems a lot tougher than throwing down a glass slipper. The lesson that being a bookworm taught me was that for every Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, there was a Catherine the Great or Joan of Arc or Eleanor Roosevelt. And when I starting writing my own stories, I determined that there had to be some characters who didn’t fit the stereotype of the “good little girl.” That came naturally to me, because that was around the same time I decided I was a feminist.

But I wonder why those three little words, “I’m a feminist,” can be so hard for girls and guys to say. When it is said, it’s often followed by some sort of apologetic qualifier—“…but, I still like when guys hold doors for me” and the like. Or it’s used in a pick-and-choose way, like “I’m a feminist when it comes to this,” or disavowed entirely “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist,” but then followed by an acknowledgement of current wrongs in society and a belief in equality for women that basically makes the speaker a feminist in all but name.
Be honest—you’ve probably done it, or you’ve seen it done.

We shouldn’t ever feel like we have to qualify, deny, or apologize for our belief in what’s right: equality. We can stop being scared of feminism. We need to make it cool, not scary or weird, to say, “I’m a feminist.” In Iowa during the Republican primaries there was a pledge going around, asking the candidates to affirm their family values. I would love for a feminism pledge to go around Congress. That might sound radical to some people. “Aren’t feminists those scary man-hating ladies in giant shoulder-padded power suits?” they might think. Not quite. According to the dictionary, feminism is just advocating “social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” Definitions have power, because when you tell people that’s what a feminist is they sit up and say, “Well I guess then I’m a feminist.”

If we all take this step, of affirming the importance of feminism, it will have a huge impact. But the people who will ultimately be able to make the most change--the people who should speak up the most--the people who will ultimately carry the feminist movement onwards--are today’s young people. Us. We need to make sure that today’s boys and girls know at least as much about the lives of Susan B. Anthony or Gloria Steinem as they do about Kim Kardashian or Snooki. That’s a vision of the girls’ state of the union that I as a teenage girl, hope to see. One where equality, respect, and fairness for all are more than ideals for the nation, but words embodied each and every day. Yet this vision may seem elusive in the present day. Talking to my peers, opinion seems to be split; some are well-informed and know that the work of feminism isn’t over; others point to how far we’ve come and question the necessity of the movement’s modern continuance.

And society has, in many ways, conditioned us to think that way, with artificial constructions of token “girl power” yet excessive segregation and limitation in the merchandise we’re offered, media we consume, and more. If we go on a shopping trip, a simple jaunt down the toys aisle can tell you that something is wrong. It’s easy to see what’s for girls and what’s for boys. The boys get star wars figurines and superheroes, and the girls get Barbies with feet made for high heels or Disney princesses sitting pretty and waiting for Prince Charming to rescue them.

Now you wander down to the magazine section and start looking at the selection for teenage girls: Seventeen, CosmoGirl, Teen Vogue, Girl’s Life. Relationships, celebrities, gossip, hair and makeup advice, “how to get flat abs” on every cover—what more could a teen girl want?

Now you’ve come to the clothing and shoes section. The high heels get higher and higher. In the juniors’ clothing section, almost every bra’s a pushup. You wonder why.
This department store experience might be virtual, but the merchandise within it isn’t. As a five-year-old, I had proportionally incorrect dolls; as a teenager, I see magazines marketed to girls that seem to value beauty over brains, and I see clothes that sell too much on the basis of “less is more,” especially if it’s lacy and pink.

I don’t think that the women I look up to got to where they are now because of Barbiesque figures; I think it took smarts and persistence and hard work. These aren’t the traits that are emphasized on store shelves with merchandise for girls. And misrepresentation of girls continues through adulthood. On TV we see the exploits of the Real Housewives of *insert city here*--stereotypical catfighting—and on Jersey Shore, the drunken adventures of Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki. Is it right that Snooki, who I hope will never be an influence in government and policy, has significantly more name recognition than Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior advisor? Who would you rather have your daughters looking up to?

We teenage girls hear a lot of mixed messages. We hear things like inside beauty is more important than outside beauty, love who you are, be yourself; and then we hear things like a quote from Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, discouraging Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign by saying, “She has a large posterior herself.” Is this an appropriate comment for anyone, man or woman, Democrat or Republican, to make? Hillary Clinton once said, “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.” Michelle Obama’s outfits are headline news items. Is this how you would want to be evaluated all the time, by your outward appearance? Step out the door and everything you wear, how you look, whether you’re wearing makeup or not, is scrutinized?

If there is any silver lining to growing up in an environment that tells us appearance is everything, it’s this: we should know from reading enough issues of CosmoGirl or Seventeen how to make something look good. But instead of lipstick or foundation on our skin, we can use feminism to give society a makeover. Making over society is what the Women’s Media Center is doing. Girls are taking action. The SPARK Summit petition asking that Seventeen Magazine provide girls with images of real girls, unaltered by Photoshopping, led to Seventeen vowing to change their ways. High school students Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel, and Elena Tsemberis successfully pushed for a female moderator in the presidential debates. Emma is a graduate of the Women’s Media Center Progressive Girls’ Voices training.

This kind of action is grassroots, it’s effective, and it’s needed. You see, by staying silent, apologizing for speaking up, or criticizing those who do, we’re falling into a waiting-for-Prince-Charming trap: the idea that someone else will come along and do the heavy lifting to rescue us.

But by fighting for ourselves, not being afraid to speak up, and using media to amplify our voices, we can do the rescuing ourselves—because progress doesn’t work the way of fairytales. Progress is a story we ourselves get to write. There are girls who aren’t waiting to write this story. They are taking action now, and it’s worth remembering on this International Day of the Girl that in some other countries, girls are risking their very lives to do so. Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an activist for girls’ education in Pakistan, was shot and grievously injured by the Taliban for her courageous work. Malala is still fighting for her life in a hospital. But what is uplifting in this story—aside from the tremendous bravery of one girl—is the solidarity of her community. Men, women, and children condemned the hateful, cowardly action of her attacker. And this quote stuck with me, as I watched the nightly news last night—a girl from Malala’s hometown, saying something along the lines of, “For every girl they try to silence, there will be thousands of us angry and ready to speak up.”

Are we angry?
Yes we are.
Are we ready to speak up?
Yes we are.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Music tastes and summer

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

- "Dog Days are Over," Florence + the Machine

What better way to start a post about my music tastes--and summer, or what's left of it--than with the refrain of "Dog Days are Over," from Florence + the Machine's first album, Lungs. You can probably already tell that I'm going through a serious fan phase right now. :) I personally prefer Ceremonials, though. Its haunting, ethereal quality has a way of surrounding you. I've had "No Light, No Light" stuck in my head more often than not, ever since I first heard it. ("No light, no light in your bright blue eyes / I never knew daylight could be so violent" and onwards.) "Never Let Me Go" is hands-down my favorite from Ceremonials ("Looking out from underneath, / Fractured moonlight on the sea / Reflections still look the same to me, / As before I went under"). These are lines that stick with you and rise up from memory at moments as passing, yet haunting, as the songs themselves. 

The Beatles, the Who, and Simon and Garfunkel round out the oldies music likes (a.k.a., soundtrack to my childhood, since my dad has always pretty much stuck to the radio station that plays 60s music). Mumford and Sons, Regina Spektor, Lily Allen, Lana del Rey, Gorillaz, Natalie Merchant, and This Is Your Captain Speaking (a local band, actually--they're really good) are current likes. So there. An unexpected consequence of all my Spotify-ing this summer: I finally have a solid answer for when people ask me "What kind of music do you like?" that doesn't rely on process of elimination.

So the discovery of the magic of earphones/listening to music that isn't necessarily what the rest of the family listens to (those two things are totally connected, by the way) aside, this summer has been pretty amazing. I like to say that ephemerality makes everything sweeter, and this summer felt so exceptionally short. One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Kate Chopin (this is the ending of her short story, "A Pair of Silk Stockings"):

"The play was over, the music ceased, the crowd filed out. It was like a dream ended. People scattered in all directions. Mrs Sommers went to the corner and waited for the cable car.

A man with keen eyes, who sat opposite to her, seemed to like the study of her small, pale face. It puzzled him to decipher what he saw there. In truth, he saw nothing – unless he were wizard enough to detect a poignant wish, a powerful longing that the cable car would never stop anywhere, but go on and on with her forever."
- Kate Chopin, "A Pair of Silk Stockings"

That quote (the story, in some ways) captures me; it'd be easy to make that cable car the metaphor for this summer, too. Much as I'm sure school is going to be fun, much as I look forward to various projects I'll be staring, journeys to embark on, TEDxRedmond hectic final planning to do, I've loved this summer and the people in it and I'll miss the cable car moments--those enthralling type that make me want to stay frozen in a memory forever. 


Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can't carry love with you if you want to survive

The dog days are over
The dog days are gone
Can you hear the horses
'Cause here they come

- "Dog Days are Over," Florence + the Machine

Sunday, August 26, 2012

TEDxRedmond announcement

from TxR committee member Rosalyn Leban--

"So, if you’re under 20 and you live in Seattle, there’s this really cool conference called TEDxRedmond. And you can come even if you’re like 120 but your ticket is FREE if you’re under 20.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that we’re having a youth art gallery, and if you’re an artist, you should email for more information. But, if you don’t have finished works that you want to display, there’s another opportunity to get your name out there: puzzle pieces! On the set! Where everyone can see them!
We’re giving out 1sqft puzzle pieces to the first 72 people to contact us.
How to get your puzzle piece on the set (and your free ticket):
  1. Sign up to attend the conference here.
  2. Email to request your puzzle piece
  3. Recieve and design your puzzle piece
  4. Send the piece back by September 10th
  5. Come to the conference on September 15th and see your work on the set!
How to showcase your art in the gallery:
  1. Sign up to attend the conference here.
  2. Email for more information
  3. Deliver your artwork
  4. Come to the conference on September 15th and see your work in the gallery!"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blogs worth reading, my music tastes, and summer. And TEDxRedmond. And polysyndeton, apparently.

I'm not sure what it is with teenage girls in Washington State, but we have a thing for blog writing. So much so that I have three recommendations of thoughtful, lyrically-written, far-more-frequently-updated-than-mine blogs. guessed it. Girls in Washington State.

Is it the water here?

Delitescency, by Niyathi
The first is a new find: "Delitescency," with the not unambitious tagline of "A teenager's view on human nature," is quietly beautiful; its sentiments, those both grave and whimsical, remind me of myself at odd moments. A quote: "This blog sets me free." Liberation is one of my favorite words, so this blog speaks to a kindred spirit. I highly recommend the post "Doll Dilemmas." Oh, that's one more thing: Niyathi and I both beheaded our Barbies. I promise, less disturbing than it sounds. Indeed, reading the blog gives one a sense of deepness and remove (in its consideration of issues of human nature, for instance) and immediate relatability, a rare gift. -

Merry Go Round, by Christina
I know Christina from our work together on the TEDxRedmond committee, but seeing the depth of her writing finesse provoked the same reaction from me as seeing a video of her singing: "What have you been hiding from us all this time?" :) The description--"a ride through the optimistic side of life and all its wonders" provides a clear introduction to the tone and mood of the site. From happy tidbits of all sorts--pictures, quotes, life updates--to moving poems (one of my favorites is "Noir," with lines like "Yesterday's tea was the color of deception" and "praying to the deep blues on the wallpaper to take us in"), Christina's blog is an enchanting merry-go-round indeed -

Allegro, by Maya
Maya is a friend, TEDxRedmond colleague, and fellow poet of mine (I fondly recall our work together on the City of Redmond Centennial Poetry project). She truly brings the best of all her many strengths to her blog: clarity, dedication, and serious consideration of every issue. Though her non-fiction writing is indubitably excellent, her poetry is the most magnetic aspect of her blog; I consistently envy her ease in creating poems of ethereal, wistful images with clear precision. Maya has the skill of bringing an image close enough that you can grasp it--before it slips through your fingers like so many grains of precious sand. My favorite stanza, the last, of her poem "Fireflies":
Open your hands
and watch dancing lights
fade into fluorescence."

Her blog is many dancing lights. -

Since I like polysyndeton I'm keeping the ridiculous title of this blog, but I'm actually going to write about all those things in my next post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Worth of Ideas

I once heard a quote along the lines of, "An idea--just an idea--is worthless if you don't do something with it, if it doesn't translate to action." A more famous variant comes from Thomas Edison's "The value of an idea lies in the using of it."

What do you think? Is the sheer idea, independent of direct action, worthless?

In the moment, the statement didn't bother me that much, but it did a great deal upon my future reflection. I'm reminded of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's famous "Just Words" speech during his gubernatorial campaign, in which he said in response to his opponent, "Her dismissive point, and I hear it a lot from her staff, is all I have to offer is words," he said. "Just words. 
We holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — just words. Just words. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Just words. ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words. 'I have a dream’ — just words."

Deval Patrick's powerful response, garnering tremendous applause, highlighted the power of words; I think it's also time we highlight the power of ideas. Sure, there's a lot already being done; after all, is dedicated to "ideas worth spreading" and they are clearly widely respected, with ever increasing reach. 

Yet still, we oftentimes overlook the inherent value of ideas. Isn't everything we hold dear (or not) an idea, somehow? Isn't love an idea, if we isolate it from merely the biological feeling; isn't hate an idea, too? In some sense the bonds of family are ideas--the idea, the knowledge somehow that we love and are loved unconditionally is one of the most comforting things there is, yet do we necessarily always translate that into action? (Come on, you know you haven't called up your grandparents.) 

I may be biased because I'm a huge TED fan and organize a TEDx conference here in Redmond (dedicated to the "ideas worth spreading" of youth), but I think there's also further objective evidence to support the power of ideas. In our wars overseas in recent memory, we've focused (at least out loud) on "winning hearts and minds" as much as fists.

Overlooking the value of ideas in their organic sense discourages intellectualism, and moreover, the joy of simply thinking. My best conversations haven't actually been the ones about the urgent problems or solutions right in front of us (much as I love politics) or the actions to be crossed off of to-do lists. Rather, they've more often than not been about issues that transcend action (or at least, actions by me alone). War and peace and love and hate, good and evil and humanity and nature, even, sometimes, the universe--problems I can never solve, places I can never go, us crazy people whom I sometimes can't understand. 

We all have philosophers within. To dispute the value of ideas, or set up an inappropriate comparison of superiority/inferiority between action and ideas, is to be nearsighted. It denies the beauty of the world that's larger than us. I find it simultaneously strange and humbling to realize what thin threads we are on the tapestry of history, how shallow our footprints on the sands of time can be. I believe surely in leaving those footprints and in the value of action. I mean, one of my favorite quotes is Horace Mann's rousing "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." But I also believe keenly that ideas have value all by themselves; for where will we achieve those victories, if not first within our minds? 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

the oppression of attention

Who doesn't love attention? We clamor for it as kids, throwing temper tantrums incessantly. We fight with our siblings. We conduct daring feats and do stupid things. Yet somewhere along the road this morphs into closing our doors, demanding our personal space, and yelling, "Just leave me alone!"

 I'll admit, I used to have little empathy for this mindset when I saw it evidenced by my older sister, Adrianna; to me, she was just distancing herself from the rest of the family for no reason. Now, however, I feel like I can relate a bit. These past couple of weeks have been highly unusual ones in my household. Adrianna's actually gone at music camp in Michigan, so I am for all intents and purposes an only child. You might think that I'd relish all the undivided attention from my parents now, but instead, I feel a certain oppression. This might sound ungrateful, so let me just say right now that I love my parents and value the time I spend with them. But I also feel that it may be a wider problem--one of desire for independence clashing with protectiveness and a misplaced definition of love as dependence--that causes and explains the "leave me alone" mindset many teens can relate to.

 At fourteen, I feel the pressures of impending adulthood and a sense of responsibility that I feel should be matched by my parents' trust; I'm growing older and I'll be off to college in two years, since I skipped grades. Yet at the same time, it's plausible to posit that my mom feels the time she has left with me ticking away and wants to capitalize on it. The sense of impending loss is undoubtedly ominous--to the both of us (I'll have to do my own laundry?! Just kidding). However, it's also undeniably a part of growing up. I need to be allowed to make my own decisions and mistakes, take leaps--and fall--without receiving too much help, because it's what I'll be doing for the rest of my life.

 In many ways this is what young people did for many years. You might have heard stories from your parents or grandparents about their thrilling adventures in their youth. When he was my age, my dad was taking trains around the East Coast or breaking his teeth on ill-advised bike rides. My mom was running away from home. In the olden days, fourteen-year-olds took on heavy responsibilities as well as risks (seriously, just read Little House on the Prairie). Yet in today's world, it's easy for parents to hover over the shoulder in more ways than one; nowadays, parents monitor children's activities on social media (like in the infamous example of Tommy Jordan, the father who shot his daughter's laptop after seeing her negative post on Facebook); stay in constant communication through Skype or texting; and even extend their influence beyond the ages children typically gain some modicum of independence. Professors in college tell anecdotes of parents calling them up to complain about a son or daughter's subpar grade. I feel that this infantilizes young adults, and that this seeming "protection" can only have negative ramifications later on. It reminds me of the ethos of the Lana Del Rey song "Without You," particularly one line: "I can be a china doll / If you want to see me fall." We may be coddled, dressed up, given every advantage--in short, prepped for perfection--but there are cracks in the porcelain. Will we break when we fall?

 (Of course, I want to add a quick disclaimer here that backing off from the parental hover doesn't mean being negligent. If teens are facing serious issues--i.e., around mental health or drug addictions--then they need attention, no matter how much they ask to be left alone.)

 Of course, my mom isn't a legitimate example of a helicopter parent. She's never shot a computer, incessantly chatted with me on Skype, or yelled at a teacher about a grade. Okay, like many parents, she can get borderline creepy when she has a camera (there was one stalker-ish photo through window blinds once)...but perhaps the most clear exemplification of my mom's feeling comes in the form of things she's said--often in a joking way, but probably with a kernel of truth--along the lines of, "I miss the old Adora" or "What happened to the little Adora?" Sure, I miss "the old Adora" sometimes too (who doesn't want to be able to innocently run around in the mud as much as they used to?) but I feel that these quotes belie a certain clinging to a persistent memory that no longer exists in reality. Imagine if I said things like, "I miss my old mother." I wonder how my mom would feel.

 So how do people grow up in ways that minimize conflicting feelings of independence desired versus dependence missed? Perhaps as the children start to fly from the quintessential "nest," parents can find some new "children" of sorts to lavish attention on. Excellent examples come from senior citizens who invest themselves heavily in volunteering and charitable causes. I think it's important to define the difference between attention and love, after all. As children, we have a tenuous idea of love; we often try to quantify it with how much we feel seen and heard. Now, I want the independence that comes with being sure of my parents' love, and not needing to feel them watch me. Besides, I know I'm not such a little kid anymore that I'm going to get jealous of whatever my parents start to pay attention to next...I mean, really, can you imagine fighting with a good cause the same way you used to fight with your siblings? So, Mom and Dad, don't take it the wrong way: leave me alone. Believe me: those are the new three little words parents everywhere should want to hear.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

some updates

I spoke at the Mashable Connect Conference in Orlando, Florida, recently--you can check out my speech, and the accompanying article (which has already gotten hundreds of tweets, amazingly!) here:

Also while in Florida, I had the chance to meet Dave Finnigan, the legendary juggler (author of several books on the topic, and founder of a non-profit, "Juggling for Success," which teaches young people important life skills through juggling). He taught me how to juggle, a first for me, and we also discussed his new program, "Climate Change is Elementary"! It's an awesome non-profit which brings compelling, interactive education on the issue of climate change to elementary school students. One of my favorite things is that it really empowers students--to learn about something in an active way (the program doesn't use slides and a lecture, but rather interactive movement and modeling), and to become activists. I love this approach and encourage you all to check out the website: and encourage your local schools to check it out! They're also hoping to partner soon with the Earth Island Institute, another great organization.

Furthermore, I finished my first AP tests this week--AP Art History (the hardest, and most epic one), AP English Literature and Composition (I thought it was going to be quite arduous when I started going through my massive stack of flashcards and saw words like "polysyndeton" and "epistrophe," but it was actually pretty manageable), and AP US History (my studying was a little last-minute, so I'm unsure, but I felt fairly good with most of the content). I feel like CollegeBoard makes way too much money off these exams--and is a little hyper active about test security--but I think it is cool that we high school students have an opportunity to get college credit, and do college-level work, in high school. Your thoughts on AP's and standardized testing?

Hope all you youth writers think of contributing to my writing blog,, and the education reform discussion on The Student Union: See you all with some more posts in the summer! :) (or sooner)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

on being overly apologetic

I never thought I had a problem with saying "Sorry" until I apologized to a chair.
"Sorry!" I gasped as I barreled past, almost knocking it to the floor. "I mean--nothing--chair--" and then I stopped talking, because I realized I looked like a big enough fool already.

But this issue of over-apologetic-ness has come to a point where even my biology teacher told me to "stop saying sorry!" Apparently, now that I'm aware of the word, I use it everywhere. I say, "Sorry" when I'm beginning to ask a question to a busy person, "Sorry" after a near-miss collision in the school hallway, "Sorry" to car drivers who patiently wait for me to run across the street (even though they probably can't hear me mumble)...all this despite the fact that, really, I've done nothing wrong.

With this unnecessary use of the word you might think that I'm an awesome apologizer (which, by the way, is not a word, though it totally should be). Not true. I can't remember the last time I apologized without the strange habit of crossing my fingers to invalidate it (blame it on a childhood filled with perceived injustices in sibling disputes, alright?)

So yeah, I really have a problem with the word "Sorry."


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Education: not ready to listen?

"The customer knows best." It's an adage seemingly old as time (for us young'uns, anyway). While it's not always the case (as anyone who has worked an intense over-the-phone customer service job before may know), it's certainly always valuable for businesses to listen to what clients are saying--whether surveys, market research, or feedback cards, many businesses have some structure in place to listen to their customers. And public feedback can have an important impact--Bank of America cancelled its $5-a-month debit card fee before it even began due to customer backlash.

In almost every area of the private and public sectors (think of representatives meeting with constituents or city hall meetings), there are ways for "customers"--those receiving the services or being represented--to make their voices heard. So why should education be any different?

Education? you might think. Surely there are those school board meetings or PTAs? But a crucial voice is missing in education: that of the student's. How often do classroom teachers ask students to provide them with feedback on how their teaching could be improved so students learn better? When was the last time administrators sat down with students and gave them decision-making power or at least input--no, not just over the theme of the Homecoming Dance or how to decorate the school for the holidays, but important issues like curriculum, required courses, or assessment?

I'm asking these questions because of an email from a prestigious education membership organization that my mom recently received in response to talks about a potential book I was hoping to write (that would bring issues of student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology to the forefront). It said that based on their research, the education community "is not yet ready to receive the message from a student."

If the education community is unable or unwilling to receive a message about education from a student, I think we have problems. We'd find it unacceptable if our representatives suddenly started refusing to meet with constituents or if companies like Bank of America kept on charging ridiculous fees despite public uproar. Yet we accept that education doesn't want to hear from students? We are the "customers" of our nation's schools. It's in our interest to learn in the best way we can--many of my fellow students have plenty of wise insights that I think could help change education for the better--but that simply won't happen if the adults in the room are covering their ears.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"One Expensive Chocolate Bar" - Story Written With Elementary School Students Over Video Conferencing

One Expensive Jumbo Chocolate Bar
     It was quite a festive scene at the McHugh house on January 17th . There were bright red and gold streamers, colorful lights, and a very big chandelier.
     It was all to celebrate Bob McHugh’s birthday. He was the baby of the family—he was just turning seven years old (and very proud of it). All day in school, he had been reminding his classmates how old he was.
     “I’m turning seven!” he shouted in the middle of PE class.
     “That’s very nice. Now go do five more pushups,” said the PE teacher gruffly.
     Bob was super excited about the number of presents he received on his birthday from friends and family. Not only did he get a brand new toy train set and an iPod, Bob also received fifteen dollars in cash from his grandpa.
     “That’s more than last year,” commented his brother David as Bob counted his money. “Wait—watch out, Bob—you’re throwing money all over the place—” David gaped helplessly as his little brother tossed money in the air and cackled.
     “I’m rich! I’m rich!” Bob crowed gleefully.
     “Uhhh…not quite,” David said matter-of-factly. “Fifteen dollars is a lot of money, but it’ll go really fast unless you manage it carefully.”
     “You sound like a banker, David,” Bob said, sounding bored. “What do you think I can get with all this money? Do you think I could get that jumbo chocolate Hershey’s bar?”
     “Bob, would you really want to spend all your money on chocolate?” David asked, aghast.
     “Sure! Why not? It’s not like there’s anything better to spend it on,” Bob said obliviously.
     “I could think of a lot of things, but sure, it’s your money,” David said, and, shaking his head at Bob’s foolishness, left the room.
     The next day Bob ran down to the local chocolate store to buy his jumbo Hershey’s chocolate bar. He plunked down all fifteen dollars on the counter and smiled happily.
     Over the next few days, Bob’s attitude toward chocolate changed dramatically.
     On day five of eating chocolate non-stop, Bob looked with despair at his only quarter-finished jumbo chocolate bar.
     “I’m gonna die before I finish all this chocolate,” he moaned as David walked into the room. “There’s no way.”
     “I tried to warn you,” David said. He could have added another “I-told-you-so” but decided against it. “Next time you get a lot of money for your birthday, why don’t you save it?”
     “You’re sounding like a banker again,” Bob said unhappily, but he listened. “Alright, go on.”
     “You can save it and then when you have enough money, you can buy something big that you actually want,” David said, “or need. Instead of the jumbo chocolate bar, imagine if you had put that fifteen dollars in the bank and saved for that summer camp you really want to go to, or for college—”
     “Or for a flatscreen TV,” Bob said hopefully.
     David rolled his eyes. He wondered if Bob would ever learn…
     “But I think I’ll save it for college,” Bob added quickly with an angelic smile.
     “Okay,” David said, a little relieved. Maybe “sounding like a banker” wasn’t such an insult after all.



I wrote this with elementary school students via video conferencing as part of a program called "A Kid's Guide to Smart Money."