I was never a dog person. Since I got licked in the eye by my friends dog years ago, I’ve just been afraid. But since we got our dog, Mocha, about a year ago, I’ve had a pretty awesome time with her.

I believe we can learn a lot from Mocha. She is curious, she explores, she interacts with the world. On the most basic level, Mocha is learning. Just like Mocha, I think we are all naturally curious. The challenge is keeping that curiosity.

Mocha’s waking hours are spent begging for food, subsequently eating that food, barking at squirrels, running around the house, playing with her toys, and interacting with my family and me.

She has come a long way from the puppy she once was. She now knows not to fall for my pump fakes when we play fetch, and that she can jump up to the couch without our help. She still explores, she is still curious, she still learns.

I think we can learn a lot from her in this respect. She picks up on things from our world by interacting with us or by monitoring the outside world from her perch atop the windowsill.

Every kid has that instinct to learn, explore and interact. We pick up on patterns just by living. Of course we are more complicated than dogs. But ON the most basic level, kids and Mocha interact with the world and therefore learn. Not because they are told to, but because it is their instinct.

We have to take the idea of natural curiosity and natural learning and apply it to how we see school. Our world is a place with so much. Let us be kids, let us learn. We have to stay this curious forever.

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The title of my blog is “The World as a classroom”. One of the beliefs I hold most dear is that we are all connected. Whatever continent, religion, ethnicity, gender, we are all connected. On the mos basic of levels, like just breathing the same air, but also to all the complexities that make up our world and our spirit.

I’ve always been so curious about the world and people. The perspectives everyone has, their experiences, and how they see the world is an incredible thing to think about.What better way to understand, share, and think than to discuss, debate, and just plain interact with people around the world?

With the belief of learning from the world and the belief of fostering understanding of people, we will be starting a Global Classroom. It will develop into a place to discuss ideas, experiences, passions, issues and the world.

It will help to. . .

Foster understanding throughout the world starting during our most important years: childhood.

Develop our thinking through being exposed to new perspectives.

Introduce ourselves to new people and places

Come to an understanding that we are all connected .

There are so many possible things to get out of an interaction with people that limiting to a list like this is impossible.

Anything having to do with learning, connectedness, and an understanding of the complexity of our world, or just live and even more will be a possibility.

My name is Brian Magid and I’m a student at Syosset High School. And this is a post about reading.

Last week I finished the first book I’ve read for pleasure in a very long time. The experience was cathartcic in a way, but in order to explain why I have to explain to you my relationship with reading.

I used to love to read. From the moment I got off picture books, I devoured everything I could get my hands on. At first, I liked it because it was a new skill I had just learned and it made me feel intelligent. The world seemed like it opened up to me. But as my taste developed, I started to like to read because of how it stimulated my imagination. The shallow prose of a book was a thin layer that shielded endless depths of imagery and fantasy that you could just get lost in. I loved it.

Reading in school at this that time was all about encouragement. I grew up during the formation of the digital age, and it seemed like kids were reading less and less. Teachers were all about convincing students that reading was fun and awesome, and all their energy and lessons about it were devoted to this ideal. Any reading was great, as long as you were reading.

So, this was great for me. I loved an activity and I was encouraged to get into it more and more. Reading meant pleasure, and that’s why I loved it.

Then, all of a sudden, all of that changed. Overnight, reading went from an endless chasm of imagination to a flat, boring myriad of over analysis and undermined opinions. And I’m pretty sure I know why.

By High School, reading stopped being encouraged and started being expected. This was a job now, a chore. And that seems fine when you just hear it, you’d think “yeah this is high school now, you have to start taking on some responsibility. You’re not going to love everything you read but that’s part of growing up.” And I’m fine with that. But it’s the attitude that bothers me.

All of a sudden, reading has become a much less general term. When they refer to reading in high school, they’re talking about “classic” literature. Blank and outdated text ripe for over analysis. Reading for pleasure now implies that you need to read books other than these “classic” novels, and these are scoffed at by English teachers for not being up to their standard. I once lost an entire letter grade on a book report because I did it on a graphic novel (Watchmen, which by the way is listed in Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels of All Time). A woman who taught at an SAT course of mine repeatedly would put down students for whatever popular teen novel they were reading because they were apparently “pieces of fluff literature.” This kind of dissmissive attitude is what makes students resentful of reading, which should just be another medium of communication like film or television. Instead it gives people my age this negative stigma because they associate it with pedantic lessons on themes and diction. And teachers reinforce this.

Reading went overnight from a bottomless pit of imagination to a shallow layer of prose. It seems as though every layer of analysis added by a teacher just makes the work seem thinner and thinner. Reading just becomes about preparing for essays, and then why even read? Most students just use Sparknotes and get important quotes about the book from the internet. If they enjoyed reading, they wouldn’t do that. The essay is even worse. Students just spit their teachers’ opinions back on to the page, opinions they clearly dont agree with. You can just feel the apathy bleed through the page when you read an 11th grade thesis paper on themes and symbols in “The Scarlet Letter.”

This is why, for the past few years, I haven’t been able to read for pleasure. Because reading is now an ugly, pedantic, head-ache inducing activity. The layers upon layers underneath the prose were evaporated long ago.

Reading can be fun. It should be fun. And I want it to be fun again. If nothing else, I just wanna recapture what made me love it so much.

Fin.

 

As humans we strive to make ourselves standout. To be known for something, to feel confident about something, but really, just to feel as if we have a place and purpose. In school, I, as well as many other kids, only have 3 main routes to making ourselves our own person. Grades, school sponsored extra-curricular activities, and the courses we choose.

We all strive to make ourselves our own person. But how can we do this in a system of such formality, where scores and participation is the only distinction in people. We all are so much more than “scores and extra-curriculars”.

My point is that the institutions we find in a school only work to artificially separate (I use separate negatively) us. Being the best, participating in such and such, these are cool things, but it really isn’t setting you apart, it isn’t making yourself your own person. To do that we have to find our own path. Almost never do you hear people talking about how they found their true passions in school.

The insights most people get from life don’t come from school, they come from living. School has to evolve into a place where kids can find their passions their own way. School shouldn’t be a path, because learning is an off road endeavor. Passions and dreams are about finding yourself. School has to become a place to do that.

Extra-curricular activities are a great thing. I run cross country and track all year and I love it. It keeps me in shape, healthy and therefore confident. But in some cases, kids merely participate in these kinds of activities with the rationale of “it looks good for college”. Where is the love of something when all we do is for the purpose of college admissions?

Besides this point, the officiality behind the “club credit” and become president, secretary, treasurer, head of this, head of that, etc. It is enough to drive everyone crazy. People run for head’s of clubs merely because that will “look good for college”. Not only is that a waste of their own time, but it also turns these clubs into a place only for competition rather than a place to find like minded people and develop skills and thinking.

Clubs don’t exist to draw lines between people. They exist to help people delve into interests. Many clubs in their current form, don’t help people become who they are. They help people amp up their reputations and resumes, but for the kids who have true passions in something, many clubs are a far cry from helping them feel purposeful.

Course selection too is a big thing. AP, honors, college level, advanced, regents level, remedial, gosh. . . the stigma surrounding each of these is just annoying to think about. This past year I decided not to take the AP level social studies class. Many people said “What?? you’re not taking AP?? Slacker!!”

I didn’t take AP because I felt that I would get more out of a class that didn’t stress multiple choice tests and instead stressed writing and analyzation. People take many classes merely because some “look better” than others. Why is something like this one of the only ways to differentiate ourselves? Yes, maybe course selection can tell about somebody’s interests, but again, there is so much more to a person. People aren’t cut and dry and this system I feel doesn’t account for the human thought and interaction that make us all who we are. We all have passions and dreams. But who is to know that I am any different from the kid sitting next to me in math class? He has dreams, so do I. How do all of these levels of classes help us feel out who we are and make us feel purposeful? Plain and simply, they don’t.

Grades and scores is the final way in which we try to differentiate ourselves. Valedictorian! 2300 on your SATs?! Honor Roll! 5 on your AP test! 99 on my math midterm! Gosh a lot of this just makes me sick. Do you see a person behind any of these exclamations? Do you see a dream? A passion? An interest? A human?

I don’t understand why any of these exclamations matter in our world more than me stating “I love exploring a new place and connecting with the people who make that place unique”. Maybe my statement is a cliche, but it is a passion of mine, an interest, a dream.

Do you see a passion in someone who says they got a 5 on an AP test? What do I learn about myself if I get a good score in one thing? Maybe that I am a better test taker in one thing, and that is about it. These tests are passionless. No one comes out of an AP class and feels a purpose or a connection. These classes don’t help us find ourselves.

All we give people in school to differentiate themselves are things like grades, their course selection, and official bureaucratic clubs that too often make up our school. You know me. I’m not one to say “I feel like a number”. But we all strive to feel like humans. Where in school do we have that chance to make ourselves our own besides in the official settings that school allots us? This officiality and this measurement is stopping us from following the passions we deem important. These formal transcripts of our classes and the grades we received, they don’t tell us about a person.

We have to let kids develop their own way of making themselves their own people. Lets step back, stop giving them set in stone paths. Let us figure out what we love, what our dreams are, what we want to do. We will set ourselves apart by following our dreams and our passions. We by going along with formality that has been around all too long.

Our development, our learning, our growth is messy. It isn’t official. It isn’t set in stone. It doesn’t follow a path. We all have to find our own path. It is different in every person. We are all different people, and understanding and loving that, is how we will love each other.

Something I hear all too often is how only one or two quick solutions are needed to fix a broken system.  That is not how the world works. You know my big line, everything is complicated. The same is such with our broken system of learning. No one policy is going to create a perfect learning environment. A total change in how we think of school and learning is needed.

I was recently asked what my top three problems are with school. It is hard for me to answer that question because none of school’s problems stand alone. They are all of course interconnected so they must be treated as such. With that said, I will try to write down my three biggest problems with school. I cannot stress this enough. These problems are connected to everything we do in school. They do not stand alone in the system of education, nor do they stand without the problems of society. No quick fix can solve them. There aren’t two sides of a debate on how to fix all of these problems.

This is just me trying to cover the biggest problems with school in a list of three.

1. I believe one of learning’s main goals are to teach people differently and create new types of thinkers. But I feel we stress learning from the standpoint of getting a “good job” and getting into a “good college”. Needless to say, I think that needs to change. Instead of the point of school being to fill the already existing niches of society, school should have a broader goal of creating new, creative, idealist, pragmatic thinkers (the list of words isn’t limited to that). Our world isn’t what any of us want it to be. We have to start with our kids in order to change that. Keeping this same system we’ve had for years, unfortunately, won’t create new kinds of thinkers. Many of our greatest thinkers found formal education to be a waste. While I don’t think any education is a waste, I still believe formal education can change. Change from being “formal” and turn into something that creates a new world. The goal of education can’t be to fill the niches we already have, that is important, but education has to do more. Education’s goal has to be to create new thinkers. That isn’t how to make our world a better place.

2. The attitudes we have towards all things education is a big problem. These attitudes encompass everything, goal of school, role of teachers, the typical classroom, seeing education as a competition, everything. As I’ve already stated, we see education as a race for college and jobs. This of course puts stress on things like grades and tests. In addition to that I think our idea of what the role of a teacher is has to change. How we currently see role of teachers, I feel, isn’t how they should be seen. Teacher’s as of now are seen as the be all end all in learning a certain subject. I’ve heard kids say they hate a certain subject because of a certain teacher. On the other hand, I’ve heard of teachers changing kids lives for the better. Teachers should be the latter. Teachers can’t be the enforcers of a classroom, but a guide. Let us ask questions, let us learn what we want. Don’t relegate teachers to a role of testing technicians but don’t let teachers rule classrooms with an iron fists. The teacher student relationship must be one of learning on both sides. We must change our attitudes towards all aspects of education. Education is different for all kids and that has to be how we see it.

3. Lastly is that I feel like my interests and passions aren’t able to be followed in a place  as official and formal as school. Curriculums, state tests, even planned lessons (only sometimes), can be detrimental to me feeling in charge of my learning. Freedom is one of the biggest things I want in learning. I believe we are naturally curious, but even one our greatest thinker, Albert Einstein believes it is a miracle curiosity can survive formal education. Curiosity isn’t something that has to be built up. It is something we have. Look at baby’s and how they explore the world. I’m not a baby anymore, but I want to explore the world. Our world and our universe are wondrous and exciting, school, to put it plainly, isn’t. Let us follow our curiosity, that is how we will learn best.

As you can see it was hard for me to keep each of these problems confined to one point. They are all interconnected and seeing them as such will help us solve them. All of this takes a dramatic change in our thinking of school and learning.

Learning, along with love of each other, is perhaps the most important part of being alive. Learning is our instinct and our habit. School has become something that ruins that. Let us be curious, let us learn what we want to learn, let us follow our dreams and our passions. That is how we will make our world our own.

I got released early from my class today. In order to get a head start on my way to my next class, I wanted to cut through the cafeteria which leads to the other side of my school. I thought I was golden, I would sit in the hallway, maybe do a little reading, catch up on the news, It is nice to get to class early. Equipped with my overweight backpack, and my plastic grocery bag containing my food for the day, I proceeded to make my way through the cafeteria. I get to the door leading to the other side of school and suddenly I hear “No leaving until the period is over”. I then plead with the “hall monitor”, “Oh, but I didn’t have lunch this period”, I say. “That doesn’t matter, wait until the period is over”.

Maybe this sounds like just another “annoyed about having to take the long way” stories, but honestly let’s think about the whole system of hall monitors and no cell phones in class.

Here are a few things I am going to draw from this story.

1. This “hall monitor” doesn’t trust me to walk around school without making a ruckus or causing damage, destruction, doing drugs, etc.

2. These overarching policies schools make regarding kids, there whereabouts, and there prohibitions don’t account for situations that differ from what they see as the “norm”.

3. By not allowing us to simply leave the cafeteria, I and many others, feel as if our school automatically labels us as “childish”.

4. Not allowing us a say in the matters of these policies makes the school seem cold, impersonal, and not our own.

I was in math class one day, I had finished the classwork, begun the homework, and had decided to pack my things, take out my phone, text my friend, and read the news. Immediately I am told to put away my phone on the grounds that I am not supposed to use it in class. Why not? Seriously, why can’t I use my phone during class?

I go to class, but feel as if something going on in the world outside of my school has more relevance to me. Why do schools seek to limit our freedoms and keep us from the outside world so much? No phones? No hallway without a pass? No youtube? Facebook? And an incredibly rude “You can’t do that”, when we try to do these things. We are people and we think. And I personally believe these policies speak volumes about what our school is and how much of a far cry it is from what it should be.

I am a person. Therefore do not talk to me like I am always subordinate to you. There is a time to listen to the people who are supposed to be in charge of you, but there is also a time to tell them to start treating us like we have a place in the world rather than merely exist to go about the day you tell us is important.

“You can’t use your cell phone in here” Yeah? Well maybe I have more important things to think about, maybe your class isn’t doing a good job of making the subject matter relevant and meaningful to me, allow me to connect to the world outside of these walls, that place matters more than anywhere.

“Don’t leave this cafeteria”, Why not? This is my school, I intend to make it my own and go where I want. The policy of prohibiting us from leaving the cafeteria feels meaningless and merely acts to make me feel trapped.

School, and places of learning exist for the students. Teachers, hall monitors, and other such people who feel it is necessary to enact these policies are merely making us feel as if school is not our own. The best way to our minds and our hearts isn’t by making us “sit down and shut up”, but by allowing us to feel as if our learning and our school is our own. DO NOT do that to us. We exist to follow our curiosities and explore. DO NOT take that away from us.

Who sees me as legitimate? I don’t have a job, so I’m not a taxpayer. I don’t have my PHD. I can’t claim to have read 1000 books on any subject nor have I seriously researched anything. Heck, you know. . . I haven’t even graduated high school. Yet I have opinions and reactions to the same things everyone has to deal with. No, I’m not a scholar looking back at my high school experience and pondering its effectiveness. I’m a student. A student who loves learning and loves exploring the world. But on the rung of who you’d listen to. . . I’m behind everyone.

That is a funny thing you know? Systems are systems, the world is what we make it, but think about who is creating the education system. The most educated of people are of course! That all makes sense right. Who better to create the schools, than the people who were the best student?

Oh yeah… I bet you’re thinking “he’s going to say that educated people are “brainwashed by the system”. No, that is not where I am going. Educated people should be valued, and all people should be educated.

What I am saying is that someone like me, who has a passion for learning, will never get to the standard of success in life needed to become a prominent voice in policy making. That is the reality. I don’t have good grades, I won’t go to Harvard, I won’t be secretary of education. And I’m damn okay with that. I just want things to change though. I just want other voices to be heard. It is ironic because it is more likely that the people succeeding in a faulty system will move on to bigger and better things while the people who fail in such a system will likely never have a chance or a say in changing it. This system needs to change and I don’t know how to say it in any other way. Maybe it is a hippy cliche to say “the system”. But I am fed up with school. Gosh, I can’t stand it. The worst part of my day is going to school. Hey I guess I’m lazy. But I have legitimate concerns about how I learn. I find problems with how we learn. And voicing these problems merely gets me the usual answer of “just play the game”. Dammit I’m sick and tired of playing this game we call school. It is time for a change and that won’t happen unless we listen to new voices.