Sunday, November 27, 2016

The "Real" Mexico

This Thanksgiving my family traveled to Mexico. In the weeks leading up to the trip, anticipation and Kerouac gave me unbearable wanderlust. I wanted to travel anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to hop in my jeep and hit the road for a few months. I read excerpts from Mexico City Blues and Lonesome Traveler and On the Road and my need for an authentic experience became insatiable. Soon I was on a plane and then another plane and then eventually an airport surrounded by mountains in Cabos San Lucas.

As we were picking up our luggage we noticed an airport employee passing out local foods and drinks for the tourists. Pate being Pate, decided to pick up one in an attempt to seem cultured and quickly had it snatched from him by mom because it was actually Patron tequila.  We hopped in a van and drove for about 45 minutes through arid stretches of desert with mountains looming proudly in the horizon. Occasionally we'd reach a slum town with crowds of tired looking Hispanic men walking past tiny shops with Frida Kahlo emblazoned on the front. There were abuelos sitting outside on benches or tables laughing or playing cards. "This is the REAL Mexico" I remember thinking. Until we got to the resort.

We walked into the lobby and looked over the balcony to see a gorgeous beach, multiple pools, snack bars, and tons upon tons of friendly Mexican workers to cater to our every American need. And needless to say, I loved my trip. It was gorgeous, it was all inclusive, the service was impeccable and everything was fantastic quality. But part of me also felt limited, I had a great vacation but was it an actual Mexican experience? Probably not. Even going into town seemed to be Mexico for the American palate. It was full of shops and souvenirs, bars and timeshares. It felt lively and local enough to give me a bit of an experience, but not enough for me to feel like I actually got to experience Mexico.

What is the root cause of this situation and my feelings on it? Why do I feel the need to have an authentic experience like a stereotypical hipster? Is it over-stimulation of experiences in media? Postmodernism? Neo-liberalism? Cultural hegemony? The need to get out of my little ivory tower? Whatever the causes of the problem were, I started to think a lot about perception and experience. I had read and read about the experiences of Kerouac in Mexico. Him getting to connect with humanity at a deep level and finding empathy despite nationalities and race made me want to do the same. When I was in Mexico however I didn't find that. The only experiences I had with the Mexican people were in a service capacity, like they were genuinely afraid of displeasing me or my family.

What worries me the most is that I am not sure there is a way for me to find authenticity in an experience because everything is tailored to give me a premade experience. The resort gives me the nice elegance I desired of a tropical paradise while the town gives me the folksy rough and tumble that I desired after Kerouac. But both are commoditized and sold to me. And I realize that my reality is limited by my own perception and experience and I feel like I have a duty to expand that and to try and understand other cultures and nationalities but when I try to do that I am sold an illusion by neo-liberalism to appeal to my wanderlust which was given to me by Kerouac and postmodernism. Its all very confusing and I don't know what to do about it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

"The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility"

This quote is fine and dandy when referring to scientific knowledge, or knowledge on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. But it becomes more difficult of a question when you think about it in relationship to math. What ethical responsibility does knowing the quadratic formula carry? Or the pythagorean theorem? Or any mathematical operation for that matter? Numbers are just agreed upon values that exist platonically at best and at worst are a useful fiction. 

To make sense of this it all depends on the definitions you use.  Knowledge is defined by Merriam Webster as information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education. Ethics is defined as involving questions of right and wrong behavior : relating to ethics. With this established how does mathematical knowledge carry an ethical responsibility?

Given that mathematics is defined as the science of numbers, quantities, and shapes and the relations between them, and these numbers themselves have no inherent value besides what is assigned to them, mathematical knowledge demands implementation or it is useless.

The questions of knowledge and implementation as well as ethics in math are very common in the classroom. Every student has said or heard another student say "When will I use this in real life?" and this question is a valid one. Too often we hear the cop out answer "It teaches you to think" but this is simply an excuse for the fact that mathematical knowledge without implementation is useless. Because the math questions we deal with are useless and hypothetical for the most part. What use is it to ANYONE to find out how how much Mrs. Johnson spent on apples and bananas if apples are 7.50 and and bananas are 9.00?????? There is no ethical responsibility in that kind of math because math is not being implemented properly. It lies in a hypothetical world, the banana is a lie, and why can't the worker at the counter tell Mrs. Robinson how much the cost of her fruit was? 

When mathematical knowledge enters the real world however is when the ethical responsibility occurs. When it's not hypothetical apples anymore. When the math is imperative to finding out laws of the natural world, or building something important to your community, or learning more about nature through math. the essential thing with math and ethics is that math must be first applied to a field for it to be anything more than useless hypothetics.

Applying mathematical knowledge has led to numerous advancements in science, technology, chemistry, economics, and so much more. This trend applies to more than just math however. Just like math, IB students have an ethical responsibility with the knowledge we learn. Otherwise, like math, it is useless. Just as faith without works is dead, knowledge of any sort without implementation for the betterment of your local and global community is useless.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Last week, as I was walking to the bathroom during lunch I was approached by the U.S. Army recruiter. He was standing to the side of the table covered in Army knick-knacks that stood between me and the bathroom. I noticed him when I had first entered the lunchroom from the outdoor tables where I had been sitting. As a precautionary measure against being stopped and sales-pitched by GI Joe, I pulled up twitter on my phone and stared at it intently, avoiding eye contact with the large bald man in fatigues.

However, this did little to spare me, as it only prompted the recruiter to make a bizarre statement to get my attention. "You trying to call me?" he asked, referring to the phone in my hand. "Sir?" I replied, somewhat confused considering that my phone was in my hand down by my waist. Though once my confusion passed I realized that I had walked into his trap.

After chitchat and niceties he asked what I wanted to do with my life. This is a daunting question for any highschooler, but I resolved to show conviction in my answer. I knew that any sign of uncertainty or weakness in my answer would be pounced upon by the soldier standing before me. I explained in as confident a voice as I could force that I planned on going pre-law at UGA before attending law school elsewhere. His immediate response was "How do you plan to pay for that? Is your family well off?" He was targeting any weakness he could find in my plan, any flaw that could be exploited into convincing me to join the army.

My responses that I would go with the HOPE Scholarship as well as Zell Miller did not satisfy him. He stated that it would not cover everything and that if I joined the army they could pay for everything and that they had their own legal division. I replied that I wanted to join the army and attend the USMA when I was little but that after I got older I realized it wasn't for me. He shifted bluntly to suggesting that I could enlist as a regular soldier like him and something about sitting down with my parents and discussing things.

 I politely declined and went on my way to the bathroom, but the situation stayed in my mind for longer than I expected. I am neither anti-military nor unpatriotic, but something about that situation rubbed me the wrong way. He looked at me as a problem to be solved in that instant, a resource to be extracted, a number to fill a quota.

The following class, I was trying to unpack my feelings on the matter and why it bothered me so much. I started to see that the main problem I had was that I wasn't being talked to as a person, I was a number. I started to draw my own conclusions about the dangers of reducing people to data, dangers of authority, and how uncertainty can be exploited.

The main question that was running through my mind was "How could that conversation have turned out if I was less certain? Or if I placed more authority into what the soldier was saying?" And I don't have the answers to questions like that. I don't know how many people have been persuaded into joining the military like that off of the basis of uncertainty and how they assign authority to information given to them. And how do we address these kinds of problems? How do we fix them? Is it the nature of the military and something that education and knowledge can fix? Or should recruitment policy in the military itself be changed to be less abusive of authority? Are the policies being implemented morally questionable but necessary to national defense considering politico's findings that most army volunteers are unqualified and of those who are qualified, many don’t want to join? A recent Washington Post survey found that 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds expressed support for using ground troops against ISIL. But 85 percent said they would “probably” or “definitely” not join the military. Either way, being hunted down in lunch and heavily persuaded is a sketchy way to use authority and takes advantage of uncertain and often uninformed teenagers.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Emotion Presentation Reflection

Going into the presentation I knew I would be challenged most by the teamwork. Not because I don't get along with others, but because I tend to do better alone with full control over everything. Through this presentation I grew as a learner by increasing my ability to work efficiently in a group. In fact, by allowing other people to help me out some more actually made my presentation go even better than I could have expected.

Originally I was thinking a PowerPoint style of presentation, but Maria had an interesting new 3D presentation I had never seen before. After seeing a demonstration of it, I decided to go hands off on the visual aspect of the presentation as well as some interesting activities that she created after I did a little research on the brain and it's emotional centers.

I found loads of evidence on biology, which is affected by sense perception, controlling our emotional responses and evaluations of the external world and our own internal thoughts and memories. I put in the raw facts on this as well as some questions to lead to discussion on the matter, I also found the TedTalk on beauty and form and emotional connections to this within our brains. Maria took the questions I made and put them into color coded oragami birds to help interact with the audeince more. Malachi and Maria both found that clip from Up to show the isolated effects of visual stimuli on emotional responses.

During the presentation I think everyone did a good job sharing what they contributed and we had some thoughtful IB level discussion occurred. The clips were well done, the questions seemed to go over well, and the information was presented well. Everyone seemed at least moderately interested in brains and emotion so that was nice.

As a learner, I grew in my ability to utilize teamwork. I learned that micromanaging things gets in the way of good presentations and I should let my partners contribute rather than being a bossy no-it-all. As far as the knowledge I gathered researching this topic, I learned that literally everything I do is processed first through the emotional centers of fight or flight. I should take this into account when I get in arguments or overreact to things. It will help me take a step back and realize that my reactions are just chemicals in my brain. This will let me calm down and make more rational decisions.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

This I Believe

"A girl in my grade died today". My friend Jessica from GHP sent me that text last night. One of her classmates had been the only fatality in a nine car pileup on 75. She had been crushed by an eighteen wheeler.

The eerie similarity between that text and the opening lines of Camus' The Stranger had sent me into a bit of an existential crisis last night. Her death was random, a freak accident, an absurdity out of nowhere with no reason or meaning. We all hope our deaths will have meaning, some hope to die fighting in a war, or saving someone else, or warm in bed at age 95. We never wake up thinking that we will be crushed to death by an eighteen wheeler, but that easily could've been me, or Pate, or Jessica, or anyone else I know.

I could die tomorrow in an absurd accident and would it even mean anything? This girl died and sure there was a vigil in her small town of Union Grove and a short little traffic report, but did this girl die having lived her life in a way that was meaningful to her? Have I lived my life in a way that is meaningful to me? Honestly, if I died tomorrow I cannot truly say I feel like I have lived a meaningful life and that scares the living shit out of me.

As a 17 year old in the United States I am told that the stuff I do in school has meaning. Taking my classes is meaningful because it prepares me for tests. Tests are meaningful because they can give me college credit. That is only meaningful because it looks good on an application. Everything I do in my life seems to be preparation for something else. High school is preparation for college, college is preparation for a job, a job is preparation for a family, then you have to prepare for your kid's futures and then you end up preparing to die and make your funeral arrangements. I am through living a life just to constantly prepare for the future. I believe in being present in the here and now, in enjoying every moment I have, and in creating my own meaning in life.

This doesn't mean I will be a self-indulgent hedonist or that I will blow off all my work. I am just going to stop and enjoy life as it is. I will enjoy every experience and not overlook things because of the future. Through this I hope I can give some meaning to the senseless death of that girl who could have been me or anyone else. I hope I can live my life to repay her for changing my perspective, I don't even know her name and she has taught me a valuable lesson. My life is determined not by societal pressures or expectations, but by the meaning that I personally give it. This I believe.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How does the IB learner profile fit into my life and into the broader aims of the program?

The IB learner profile essentially serves as the gold standard for what it means to be an IB Programme student. This profile fits into my life by challenging me to reach a change in perspective on learning. I have to challenge myself to not just be able to regurgitate facts (a necessary skill to pass most classes.), but to also look at the implications of the facts that I learn. I have to rethink the idea that areas of learning exist separate from each other, to challenge myself to see the way historical context affects literature, the way mathematical advancements influence new ways of approaching scientific discoveries, to see how experiences and language influence the perspectives of people all over the world. It challenges you to take the curriculum learned in class and apply it, to see how it relates to overarching themes and international issues. The IB's learner profile changes my focus from what the fact I am looking at is to how does this fact affect areas of knowledge.

But how does any of this help the broader aim of the IB Programme: "To make the world a better and more peaceful place"? The short answer is that it makes IB students into better, more open minded people.

For example, being able to spout out facts on a different viewpoint makes you sound educated, but to fully understand a viewpoint from an epistemological standpoints gives you empathy. It allows you to look past the labels and boxes that people are separated into and to see that their reasons for what they believe come from reasons just as valid as your own. Having perfect Spanish grammar can help you get an A in your class, but understanding Spanish as it relates to culture and world view can help you relate to an entirely different culture than your own. It's hard to dehumanize Hispanics as "rapists and murders" when you begin to appreciate their standpoint in life. You can never fully know what being a native Spanish speaker is like it as you have not lived it, but the IB Learner Profile challenges you to try to understand it. By taking students who are scholastically elite and challenging their world view to wake up from The City of Dreams and see things internationally, the IB Learner Profile is ensuring that the next generation of influential young people share not only knowledge, but also understanding and compassion. This in turn will promote a better and more peaceful world.