Monday, June 17, 2013

Creators of Happiness

As said by a monk in an encounter with Pico Iyer, "to one rooted in Heaven, [all] places on earth will look the same." After watching the movies "Into the Wild" and "Lost in Translation", Alaska and Tokyo, respectively, serve as sacred locations to which people run away too so they can escape their problems. Nonetheless, by also taking this quote in consideration, how would these havens of peace differ from the places people were before? The answer is they do not. 

"Our shrinking world gave more and more of us a chance to see (...) how much we [have] in common" (Pico Iyer, Global Soul, page 17). Globalization has reached a point where one can have access to whatever one wants anywhere in the world- if you are an Afro-Malaysian living in Canada, chances are there will be a Malay restaurant fairly close to you, and there will be a group of people who gather to listen to traditional African music. 

However,  it is a well known fact that problems will exist regardless of where you go. With this in mind, I concluded that I would never be able to find my Alaska, or meet my soul mate in Tokyo. First of all, I believe that we make our own destiny, and that things only happen to you if you are on the correct state of mind to experience such. As stated by Newton's third law of motion, every action causes a reaction- consequently, every choice you make is the collection of all your previous actions, thoughts and experiences. 

As stated by Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book Cosmopolitanism, "(...) even the cleverest people are not easily shifted by reason alone". Even though to me its seems logical that there is no such thing as a magic place where I could run away to every time I have a Math test or my History essays are due, there is a general consensus that people do believe in fate and destiny- 40% of the American public. Rather than a physical location, I believe ones Alaska or Tokyo should be something within, a state of mind. Personally, my Alaska would currently be a couple of hours where I could turn off all technologic devices, perhaps with the exception of my iPod, and lay down calmly in my kitchen floor, surrounded by Mexican food.

Is it currently realistic? Obviously not, but it is a thought that has been pushing me throw this past weeks at school: the idea that in two days from now I will be in vacations and I will finally have time to focus mostly on what I like. 

In August of this year, I will officially become an IB Diploma candidate, something I have been waiting for my entire life. When the stressful situation of these new experiences pressure upon me, I assume that at some point I will feel so demotivated I will want to give up- nevertheless, I will not. We live in a world that is "economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed that cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire that cannot be satiated, and hatred that has no outlet except against itself" (Gary Snyder, Planetary Culture, page 42).  This roughly sums up the reason why the majority of people around the world are studying rather than pursuing their Alaska: theoretically, if one wants a good job and a stable life in the future, prestigious higher education is required. We want this job so we can then make enough money to live life comfortably and give our selves/families the best life possible, and we mistakenly compromise our happiness in the way. 

Matt Killingsworth once said that "If you want to be happy, stay in the moment." Thankfully, I am just over the stage in my life where I over obsessed about the reason for my existence (yes, it is cliché but true) and about what courses I will be taking next semester. I have promised myself that even though i currently have no certain career path, I will not compromise my happiness for wealth. 

Indeed, as each day goes by, I find that too many people encourage us, current students, to "pursue our dreams"- which according to them is to pick the right college. Well, life sometimes is more than just studying or passing that one test in a subject you hate. Today, for instance, a few classmates and I will be joining a protest advocating against the economic, social and political chaos Brazil currently finds itself in. And right before joining the protest, I will be on my Hip Hop rehearsal. These are both things that make me happy and that not necessarily guarantee that I will have a brighter future, but that I am enjoying the present. As suggested by Snyder, hate only brings on hate, and if you hate the situation you find yourself in and do nothing to change it, you will continue to be miserable. You are responsible for your own happiness, and the sooner people realize this, the lesser our society will be about consumerism and the easier it will become for us to have a glimpse of a return of morality.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bystanding: The Illness of the Century

The term 'genocide' was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, a combination of the greek word genos (race) and the Latin word -cide (to kill). Nonetheless, genocides have been occurring for longer than most people believe- historian Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress, even attributes the disappearance of the Neanderthals to a genocidal attempt. Still, it is undeniable that the scope, frequency and intensity of these massive killings has intensified ever since the French Revolution in the late 18th century.

Commonly, people associate such an emotionally charged word as genocide with what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust- perhaps, because this is the one event that the majority of history departments across the globe cover when studying the two World Wars. In the same sense, students tend to associate these massacres with something of the past, belonging to "history". Sadly, this is not true. Genocides occur to this day, and there is not nearly as much attention given to them as there should be- no media coverage, no outside interventions, no external manifestations to attempt to stop them. According to, nine countries are currently experiencing genocide's at  stage seven risk: Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar and Ethiopia. This is according to the classification of genocide under eight stages, where stage seven represents the real extermination of races, minorities or ethnicities. The majority of people go unaware of these facts throughout their entire lives- and the few fortunate ones who do have access to this type of information choose to ignore it; why spend time reading an article about some tragedy in Darfur if you can stalk you crush on Facebook while playing Candy Crush Saga?

We live in a society dominated by the bystander effect where, according to this social psychological phenomenon, individuals are less likely to offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present. We all have become accommodated with the idea that, if we do not act in a certain situation, that someone else will do it. Personally, I believe the group most susceptible to this type of behavior are teenagers, who always assume that adults will act upon certain events, that we are too young to take any significant actions that will result in change. As proven by this video, people are so comfortable in their oblivious lives that they will not go out of their way to help another person- that is, unless they feel they are somewhat directly involved with that person. In the video, for instance, the two cases where people received help were when a) it was a female in distress, receiving help from a male, and b) when it was a well-dressed man lying down in the front of a commercial train station, and other business workers stopped by to check on him. The same happens to us, privileged teenagers: unless we are on the country or part of an ethnic group being directly under attack, we do nothing to fight for the causes of others.

I too classify as a bystander and, embarrassingly, a well informed one. I am well aware of the situations of hardships millions of people are going through, and still I choose to take no direct action. I always assume that, for instance, if I do not go to Africa and build houses for the poor population or stop the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, that someone else will. After all, I am nothing but a student living far away from these sights of aggression, why should I get myself involve, risk my life for people I do not know? If genocide was to occur in Brazil and my family and friends were directly involved with it then yes, I would take direct action, but otherwise I feel inclined into stating that I would just be another bystander. However,I do feel like I have an obligation to help those less fortunate that me, and it feels extremely selfish and shameful to recognize that you completely judge the bystanders on the video (we all do), but that you are no different than them.    

With this in mind, I admit that, for the moment, I am a bystander, but this will change in the future. Even though I am not sure about what I want exactly for my career, my one dream for the past year or so has been to work for Amnesty International. Is it somewhat optimistic and surreal? Sure. But we all have dreams, and the notion that, while I sit in my comfortable U$40 chair and type my school assignment into my laptop, a child is dying of hunger because he does not have the few cents that would buy him something to eat. Helping those who have been through difficulties overcome obstacles and have hope for a brighter future as well as advocating for human rights are ideas that really fascinates me, hence the interest in working with Amnesty International rather than any other NGO. Will I be able to stop genocides right away? Perhaps not, but at least I will not be sitting down in my comfort zone waiting for others to take action. At the moment, I will not abandon my studies are go to a foreign country and help oppressed peoples, but in a near future, I will make a change in this world.

Nonetheless, there are a few actions that we can always take to improve our surroundings. We may not be able to stop the ongoing war in Palestine, but we sure can help feed the poor in our community, help spread a political idea, actively participate in protests regarding internal issues of our countries. After all, we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and the following article includes a few practical ways to start making a difference. Stop bystanding on situations that you could easily provide aid too- this is the key for a brighter and more peaceful future. All it takes is one person to take action, and a series of others will follow through. Today, I will not be this leader internationally, yet locally... who knows what tomorrow holds?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To IB or not to IB

I have been a student at the International School of Curitiba (ISC) for the past thirteen years and, ever since elementary, I always heard about this mythical creature called the ‘IB’.  Supposedly, this was some type of monstrous course you had to take in High School-it took away your sleep and made everyone look like zombies. Now that I am a sophomore, only a quarter away from becoming an IB candidate, I see everything from a different perspective.

Every one is entitled to one unrealistic dream, and mine is of working for Amnesty International- or at least for any other NGO of this sort. Model United Nations is one of my biggest passions together with writing and public speaking. Still, I do not wish to work directly to the United Nations since, unfortunately, I believe the organization is not as transparent as it should and that, even if it helps countries and people deal with crisis, not all funds are used in an appropriate manner. If this was to actually be my future goal, my college major most certainly would not have anything to do with Physics, hence representing that me taking this course will be useless. Well, no knowledge is completely useless, but it will most certainly have nothing to do with my future. 

For the last few months, I have spent every available hour in my day pondering: what will I do with my life? This is the first question you need to ask yourself as an IB student- you must have at least a broad idea about what are your interests, your likes and dislikes.  I have been completely torn between my options, being that I am sixteen years old and I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life- I have dreams, everyone does, but not that will help me decide what classes I will be taking for the next two years. So many unanswered questions… and if it had been not for our career orientation sessions, I would perhaps be having a nervous breakdown right now. Our counselor has been making us take typology tests such as Holland Codes and Myer-Briggs tests and, they have helped me have a cleared idea of what my academic strengths are. Of course, I understand that they do not provide me with exact guidelines of who I am and what will I do in college; yet, it is a start for me to be working with. According to these tests, my ideal job would include an area that involves public speaking, writing and lecturing others; I am of social and enterprising nature. Not that I do not agree with these results, because I do, but they do not englobe all of my areas of interest. For instance, even though I am not one of those mathematics or biology prodigies, they are subjects I clearly enjoy and whose account was not taken into consideration by either of these tests.  

As my last few months as a student with a fairly regular sleeping pattern, I am very excited to choose my classes for next year, and presentations on each course have made me understand more about what I will have to choose from.  For instance, I previously had no understanding whatsoever of the difference between Literature and Language and Literature- now that I do, I am certain of which one pleases me more and where my profile matches best. I was almost absolutely sure of what High Level and Standard Level classes I want to take, but these plans were ruined as soon as the only class I did not plan to take, Physics, became an obligatory course if we want to earn the Brazilian Diploma. This was the one subject I knew would not make a difference in my future because, given that I have already had contact with it for approximately two years, never was I fascinated by the quantum world and all that Physics has helped us accomplish. I recognize that it is an important subject; still, not one that I would like to take. This ruined my plan of taking High Level Biology as my science option and Economic as my elective given that now I will have to take Physics as my science course and Biology as my elective.
Life at an IB School 
Even though I recognize that taking the IB will be to my benefit once I enter college, I constantly find myself reflecting about rather will IB or not IB. I am still not sure I want to study abroad, and I hope the remaining time I have before I need to send our college applications will be enough for me to make this decision. The work load of an IB student is significantly bigger from that of an average student in Brazil, yet I see this as woking harder now in High School to suffer less once I get into college- wherever that may be. After all, I know that I am not the quickest decision maker in the universe –it took me about eight years to ‘man up’ and face my IB choices-, but ISC offers a strong support for students who are as lost as I am. Just be sure that, if you are also facing though decisions regarding your future, that you apply yourself entirely to whatever it is you choose to do. IB will most certainly put you in front of other fellow students in college- you will be more prepared to face the challenges imposed on you by your upcoming adult life. Make sure to put enough effort so that you only have to do things once- it must be the worse feeling in the world to spend two years of your life preparing for an exam so you can earn a diploma and fail such exam. Furthermore, make sure you are not taking a burden heavier that you can carry- you do not want to end up like Hitler and fail HL Math.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Ruins of Standardized Testing

On Seatle's MAP Boycott

Standardized tests have been a debated issue for the past few years, regarding their effectiveness and until which point they actually evaluate the true nature of the students with all the potential they have to offer. In January 2013, teachers from Seattle’s Garfield High School refused to apply the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test on their students. The boycott came after the district decided to make the scores the students obtain part of the teacher’s evaluation this year. This meant that all those students who do not take the test seriously and just guess through all the questions would be hurting their school’s and their teacher’s image upon the district- the test has no effect whatsoever on their grades of on their image.

 Schools all over the country have shown support to Garfield High School by sending them gifts, monetary support or simply congratulations. Others have been considering to also strike for this cause, as was the case of teachers in Chicago and in Washington State. The movement appears to be gradually gaining support from students, parents, educators and administrators around the country- they have even been praised by the American Education Association and the American Federation of teacher: [We] proudly support their efforts in saying ‘no’ to giving their students a flawed test that takes away from learning and is not aligned with the curriculum.

 Indeed, this test will eventually fall out of use. Not only does it not test all areas of student knowledge, but it also tests them on content that does not match their curriculum. It adds nothing to student’s knowledge and is of no interest to students. With the experience I have had with MAP testing myself for the past few years, I can affirm that, after a while, the test just becomes dull. If we, students, know how to solve the problem or analyze the poem, chances are we will do our best to get the right answer. Yet, if we have no idea on what it is talking about, we rather skip it than actually try- after all, our scores will not impact us. Before reading this article, I had no idea my scores actually affected my teachers, I believed they were only used to access student improvement over the years. Perhaps, many people do not know about the end function of this test either. Not that I do not apply myself to the test, because I do, but if I knew that my performance was affecting the image of my school, I would have tried harder to get the challenging questions correct.

Standardized testing is a concept that will eventually descend into oblivion. Student creativity, independence and uniqueness are characteristics being emphasized every time more by society and schools, skills that are not tested by these sorts of tests. Each person learns through a different manner and has different academic strengths, strengths that are not properly evaluated of valued by any of these tests. The future lies in essay writing and personalized tests, designed to assess the different perspectives students have to add to a college or an institution rather than their ability to memorize dates and events. Who knows if by the time our younger relatives get to high school is we will still be using these types of meaningless tests?

 I congratulate Garfield High School teachers on their courage to stand up and fight for what they believe, to challenge the paradigms of the system. Perhaps, if other institutions had the same audacity to do what Garfield’s teachers did, the American education system would be in a much better condition.

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