Saturday, October 18, 2008

Society as an Organism

Lately I have been pondering over how our society works. After all, I am a teacher and my job is to prepare my students for the workforce. In order for our society to work, everyone must work together. Whatever task is given must be completed or it throws a monkey wrench to the churning gears of Work. We are given money to motivate us. Money is used to purchase items, things, possessions. This further encourages us to Work hard.

I have a problem with this. And at school, I feel more and more upset with this perspective. I have to get up on that stage every day (because that's really what my teacher's platform is), and convince teenagers that their sole purpose in life is to get a good job and earn money to survive. Now maybe it is because I teach Math, and yes, I could present the purpose of my lessons in a fluffier way, such as "We are here to learn different ways to solve problems in order for us to fulfill our dream jobs, such as... take pictures? No, never mind. Score a touchdown? Wait, I've got it. Become an entertaining actress?" (I am literally looking at my Dream Job wall in my classroom now.)

And again, you could be saying: But Amy... your kids need to know how to invest their money well so that they can afford all the basic necessities in life, such as transportation, shelter, and food. I hear you. But why is it so hard to survive in this world? Why do we have to use that threat (It is a threat.) to get 13 year olds to *want* to learn? What happened to learning just to learn, discover, and grow?

I will admit it now. I do not understand all this hype about money. When I was little (and maybe this is because I am Asian and my culture does not have these traditions), I did not own money. I owned no video games. I had toys from thrift stores, and I had my coveted Christmas Barbie each year. I think I grew up just fine. When I was in the second grade, I made my first business deal. I started seeing the value of money (whatever that was. Not like I could buy anything.) I rented a classmate an emerald (plastic) necklace for $20 a week. I lied to him by telling him it was real emerald. (Therefore, the high rate for renting.) I took advantage of his desire to let his mother wear it in order to have $20 in my pocket. Of course he got in trouble because $20 was missing. I actually just got a scolding and a glimpse at my father's poorly disguised delight. To him (and the capitalistic society we live in), I made a smart transaction.

But is this what we want? Do we want to cheat others in order to hold onto paper? We should look at money as what it is. It is the middle man. Items such as jewelry and food that we purchase should be seen as what they are. Not products but gifts.

It seems to be an age-old adage, but most of the things we want: do we need it or want it? If we just need it, we should not be in this bind. If I need food, I can grow it. If I need shelter, I can build it. If I need clothes, I can make it. If I can't "afford" it, something is seriously wrong. It means someone or some institution is holding it back from me. Why is it that milk costs so much more than it used to? Do we not have as many cows and farmers? And if not, do we not have higher unemployment and impoverishment? Do we not THROW AWAY surpluses each year in order to keep prices that high?
Nancy Gibbs from TIME magazine makes a good point about our spending. (Read her article, "Real Patriots Don't Spend" here.) Why are we so consumed with consuming? If our economy is so bad, why are we looking at more consumption? Look inside your closet and you will most likely find items you used to *want* and now no longer need OR want. In Aldous Huxley's futuristic society (The Brave New World), people are encouraged to spend to the point where consumerism is not only patriotism but humanism and the way of life. "Ending is better than mending" they say before throwing away. And "The more stitches, the less riches!" they admonish others. When we look at things as just things, it transl
ates into other areas in our society. If I can trade up my car for another far better design, why can't I do that with my wife? And I will "settle" the disagreement with some money! Ending is better than mending. In fact, why is it "common knowledge" that it is better to buy a cheap standard computer because "it will break down after a year anyways"? 

Poverty, the high class, and debt are all so ridiculous when you think about it. I have the ability to eat, live, and clothe myself, because I live on this Earth, where the availability of resources should be available to everyone, not controlled by the few. I am not convinced. I do not believe that those who are well-off are those who deserve it by being able to control the resources better. I know we can liken it to survival of the fittest, but I tho
ught man was above that. 

I don't need a new job. I don't need to be paid more. I need a new world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hawai'i for Dummies

Armed with our personal travel guide (see above), my cousin and I spent the first part of Fall Break in Big Island and Maui...

Our first stop was Big Island, also known as Hawai'i. It is the largest island in the Hawaiian island chain and the newest, in terms of its formation. The Hawaiian islands were formed by underground volcanos that eventually cooled down. Since Big Island is relatively new, it was the ugliest. The beaches did not have powdery white sand from erosion but were mostly rocky. There's even a Black Sand Beach and a Green Sand Beach.

Here we are at the black and rocky South Point, the southern-most point in the United States, in terms of latitude. It was very windy. Of course, someone was selling cheap souvenirs.

Since Big Island is still so new, most of the active volcanos are on Big Island. Each year, volcanic activity adds more and more land to the Big Island, too. We got to see Kilauea in action. Kilauea lies in the Halema'uma'u crater, and is actually a crater within a crater. Kilauea has been erupting since January 3, 1983 and has not stopped since. In March there was a huge explosion that released a large amount of sulfur dioxide. Tradewinds blew these gases over to neighboring islands, such as O'ahu, creating a thin layer of vog.

At night, you can hear rumbling coming from Kilauea; it is said to be the goddess Pele groaning and warning us. Legend has it that the goddess of fire, Pele, formed the Big Island as a place for her and her lover (a young chief on Kaua'i). Below is a photo of Kilauea's white plume, a lava vent (which looks like a cave), and a traditional portrait of Pele.

Maui was more scenic and populated. We got a sweet silver Subaru to drive around the island on. We loaded up on some candy at this blast from the past candy store. Our first stop was Lavender Farms, a nice garden on the side of a mountain. There was a nice view from the mountain top and there were some friendly cows grazing. Then we went to see Akaka Falls, a massive massive beast. At sunset, we headed over to Haleakala, which is a 10,023 ft mountain. It was super cold to be above the clouds, which made me glad I brought my SLC windbreaker!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

10 Reasons Why I'm Not Over You Yet.

Work is stressful. Kids with parents about to be deployed in the big October Deployment, future Christmas Eve Deployment (yeah. ouch.), tests to be graded, phone calls to be made, field trips to be arranged, you get the point- these distract me from the beauty of Hawai'i. This weekend, I went to Sandy's Beach and the infamous "blow hole" (insert That's What She Said joke here).

Below are the 10 good reasons why I'm not over Hawai'i yet. Enjoy!

My car parked at the side of the mountain for a scenic photo shoot. Yes, surprisingly, little Hokulani made it up the mountain.

Gabby and I after she convinced me to climb over the ledge.

A Japanese couple taking photos. Rupa, please note the *asian squat*.

Actually a great place for wedding photos. Look at the cave behind them! (And once again, the asian squat...)

Now it's the girlfriend's turn. You can tell he couldn't wait.

The elusive Hawaiian monk seal, basking in the sun @ Sandy's. The first time I saw one of these, I thought it was a log. Until it snored and rolled over...

Gabby and I taking an action action shot at sunset on Sandy's Beach.

Brieana tracing a heart around the baby footprint we found on the beach.

Running around on Sandy's. Trying to attract the attention of local surfers.

Driving back to a beautiful sunset over Diamond Head in the distance.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Teachers for Obama (My Official Endorsement)

There are many things you realize after teaching children. Teaching can change your whole view on life, because you realize how much of who you are is how much of who you were. Let me explain. Each student that enters my room comes in with a different world view. When I tell them to open their books, hand me a contraband item, or even to think about how they would solve a problem, their reactions hinge upon their world view. In their adolescent minds, they are racing. Thoughts may vary.

God, why do I have to do this?
Ok... fine.
Alright, let's do this!
HELL no.
I'll just wait.
Ok! What's next?
I need help but I'm scared to ask.
Oh, no. My mom is going to kill me!
My brain hurts.
I like pink.
As the "leader of my classroom", I am required to guide my students towards certain thoughts. I am required to have my students follow rules, learn the lesson, and pass the standardized test. No excuses, no shenanigans, no nothing. I am expected to teach them the *right* answers and correct them if they are wrong. Going into my first year of teaching, I found this to be a struggle. I was fresh out of college, janitors' union experience in my breast pocket, and ears full of random acts of kindness... aka Liberal-mania. My students, on the other hand, had mothers and fathers who not only supported the war and patriotism, but enlisted themselves to a lifetime of service- army kine, not volunteer kine.

This makes classroom discussions pretty interesting. I so want to present them my viewpoint, because I think it's right. I have had at least two decades of experiences and internal discussions, and I am pretty set in my ways. But convincing them of my viewpoint will only perpetuate the problem of finding truth through authoritative figures. We are who are due to who we happened to be around, chose to surround ourselves with. We are who we are based on what knowledge we had available to us and what information we sought out. Just like how Truth campaigns have a much bigger effect on children as opposed to the "Just Say No" campaign, children (and adults) want to make decisions on their own. We don't want to be told, even though it is often the easy way out. So though it pains me to stay in the middle of discussions, I know the truth (whichever way they interpret it) will conquer at the end.
With that said, I have been leading a double-life in terms of my political persuasion, trying to stay nuetral at school to prevent my own influence on under-age voters. But here begins my official endorsement of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States. As a teacher, student, and future mother (yes, I said the M word), there is NO way our country can go on like this! Our education programs (and positions) get cut every year despite the No Child Left Behind SCHEME. Because if we were really concerned with helping every student, we would not shortchange those who need us the most. Most positions schools end up cutting are the ones for Education Assistants and Teacher Aides, though who help teachers manage the classroom so that more students can get individual attention. And instead of paying teachers more (it's a given that we get paid too little), we pile on more responsibilities (aka paperwork) for teachers and administrators to do. This takes us away from the real goal: educating our children.

The education system, which should be our most valued entity, has suffered during the past 8 years. With a heavy focus on standardized tests (not arguing that we shouldn't have standards at all), teachers and students are pressured to "test well" as opposed to think critically. Teachers who are able to stuff as many facts into their students' brains and have it regurgitated through practice tests (see SAT prep books and prep classes) get rewarded. We get rewarded by being able to keep our jobs and not let our school down. Because when schools do poorly, we get penalized.It doesn't matter that military schools have a transient population of students who hardly get to stay in one place at a time to learn anything. It doesn't matter that my high school had a huge population of Haitian kids who can't even speak English. Schools that perform poorly (don't meet AYP) get on a pobation plan, which means a *private* company comes in and completely takes over the school curriculum. Usually some schools are given a "scripted curriculum", where teachers are told what to teach every day, taking away personal creativity and the drive to even teach. Most of the time, these scripted curriculums don't even prepare our students to succeed on the standardized tests because they are teaching the wrong benchmarks! Fortunately, my school is not one of those schools.

Teachers get no incentive to go above and beyond- other than the joy of knowing they made a difference. I'm sorry, but that joy can't feed me dinner when I am spending most of my time, energy, and money planning wonderful lessons and activities. According to Obama's plan, teachers who do a good job will be rewarded accordingly, not get the same treatment as their peers who choose to do the minimum. Let's bring dignity back to the classroom, where teachers are respected and looked up to. No more "But if you're so smart, Ms. Sun, why did you become a teacher?" and "Those who can't do, teach." I can go on and on.

Our country has dropped drastically in the world rankings when we look at reading, writing, and mathematics. Compare a speech by President Abraham Lincoln and our current president, George Bush. Setting aside Bush's frequent blunders, his diction, rythmn, and sentence structures are incomparable to Lincoln's inspirational quotes pregnant with similes and metaphors that paint images other than "the axis of evil." That reminds me. Note to self: Have students plot points on the axis of evil.
Each year, the Pell grant (for low-income students) is decreased by a couple hundred dollars. Take an average student that attends college for four years, and this adds up. We need to focus more on our country's education, because it is the factory that generates workers for our society. About half of college freshman need remediation! Meaning they graduated from high school lacking the tools to succeed. A similar but smaller statistic is true for first-time hires; they are not prepared to work in the real-world, and most employers spend too much time training and reteaching basic skills, such as writing and arithmetic. This is a huge waste of money. Let's get it right the first time around.

If given the chance to be a mother right now, I would definitely refuse. The times are not right yet. The children today are brought up on TV, the iPod Touch, fast food, and energy drinks. We have so much opportunity to fix things, but it's so easy to comply. At school, we sell snacks to raise money. Most everyone chooses to sell chips and soda as opposed to healthy snacks, because they are cheaper and more popular. But we choose to feed into it. This past week, the 8th grade team sold granola bars, Sun Chips, and juice (refusing to sell junk food). We suffered by earning only one-third of our "might have been" profits if we had sold junk food. But the point is that the kids were hungry and they fed their bodies with nutrition this week. Every day we could be making choices that we know will be right but result in more work.

My point here is that we can very well accept what is given to us. As humans, we love sticking to the status quo. It allows us to feel safe. But I think when we find the evidence too compelling, it's time for us to rethink things. I think it is high time we do something to change things. We need a better education system, we need universal health care, we need to help our environment, and we need to all work together. For too long, we have ignored the quality of our lives and have focused on getting by. I need to be able to enjoy my time at work, knowing my time is appreciated and I am not working to pay off the greed and irresponsibility of big companies on Wall Street.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"It's a Hard-knock Life..."

Okay, okay. In my second year of teaching, I have gotten better at the craft of teaching and I no longer have to go to bed at 3:00 am, making worksheets and setting the alarm. I no longer have an anxiety attack when adolescents enter the classroom. HOWEVER.

It's a hard-knock life being a teacher. Sure, I don't teach in the Bronx or carry a hand gun, but I have resorted to hustling...
Read the following *true* story:
STUDENT: Ms. Sun, can I borrow a pencil again? You can hold on to my ID until I give it back.
ME: Mmmm, no. One dollar, please.
STUDENT: Say what? (Pause. She's not joking.) Ok, fine.
OTHER STUDENT: Hey, that's my pencil!!
ME: Finders keepers. Losers were not there.

The next day I am pleased to hear that the pen I sold the student ran out of lead in the next class. He has not forgotten his pencil since. Darn.
Last night, I was at a restaurant and my credit card was declined. I do not spend an extravagant amount. I buy all my clothes at the Goodwill or Ross. I teach and go to grad school at the same time, but Teach For America pays for half of my tuition. I have no car payments or student loans. Why am I poor??
In order to get a raise of $8,000 more each year, I need to complete grad school and get my Masters degree. The lady in the front office works twice as hard as me and has worked at the same job for years and years. She has a family and she gets paid $400 less than I do each month. Why do we put so much emphasis on education in America and shortchange the ones who educate our children? Why am I poor??
The current plan is to teach for another year to get that extra $8,000 and then going to Taiwan to teach English. The teachers are paid more since the cost of living is lower. The average monthly rent is about $250 and you can get a meal for under $5. Teachers enjoy more respect than here in the U.S. (My students ask why I am a teacher if I "can do better.") The cost of health insurance is a fraction of ours here since they follow a socialized system. (Universal health care, anyone?) I would be able to live with family and get acquainted with Taiwan. Most importantly, I can better understand the Taiwan education system and then return to work on Education Policy.

"Ms. Sun, why you be hustling your own students?!"


Saturday, August 30, 2008

No Affirmative Action for Men

In 2006, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton, FL. gave their female students 64% of of the undergraduate diplomas, 75% of their honors degrees, and 79% of their highest honors, summa cum laude. (Read NY Times: "At Colleges, Women are Leaving Men in the Dust".) All over the U.S. (and in countries that may surprise you- Lithuania!) women are beating out men in terms of education. More women are graduating, receiving high honors, and participating in internships. Walk onto a college campus, and you will most likely see females walking around and taking the lead in clubs. Go to the dorms and you will find males sitting in front of their TVs avoiding it all. There are male students that spend an average of 15 hours/week watching TV or playing video games.

Some studies show that it is a direct reaction to our parents' generation, where women have to work twice as hard to leave their domestic roles and men feel entitled to power and titles. For most women (not all), we want to become more than just a mother. This does not mean we think the role of housewife is demeaning. We just deserve something more, which engages our minds and gets us paid. We are the ones on college campuses, working and climbing up. On college campuses (and even earlier in the primary and secondary school systems) men generally feel turned off from academics and rely more on social skills. For most men, they downplay the importance of education and hope that their charisma and a firm handshake will close the deal. (Read more at:

Ivy League schools that admit students based on "gender-blind" standards have seen an overwhelming number of women accepted compared to their male counterparts. But colleges want balance in order to create a more diverse campus. I say no to any sort of affirmative action for men. Go work for what you deserve.

Now the other issue with the academic imbalance between men and women is in the arena of dating. Since we are seeing an explosion of women in the academic arena, men are becoming scarce. According to mating rules, the gender of less supply maintains the upperhand. On engineering campuses, male students have a small selection of females so the women call the shots. A growing fear is that women will begin to date men with less education (aka "settle") since we won't have much to choose from. When the time comes, do we stay single or just settle for the peacock with brighter feathers and a bird brain? Stay single, ladies. If you can handle 3 jobs and school at once, you can raise a baby on your own. Chances are, you'll be doing it on your own anyways- despite his "help."


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Location, Location, Location

History buffs can tell you that location means everything. The first civilizations were started next to great rivers- each with their own "cradle of civilization." The Mesopotamians had the Tigris/Euphrates, in India the Indus Valley, and the Chinese had Huang He. These civilizations were able to flourish because of their easy access to water. Water allowed the growth of crops, travel, and rebirth at the end of each crop season. The yearly floods ensured constantly rich and fertile soil at the mouth of the river, which formed a triangle where the river flowed into the ocean. It is no wonder that these rivers were often referred to as life lines, and the Greeks named this triangle the "delta", symbolizing change.

But even now, well past the 10000 B.C. mark, we have our own "cradles" and location still matters. We do not need a river in the backyard to procure food, but family assets are a must. Though our society promotes social mobility, the family we are born into can still affect our survival. Many can agree that the location and condition of your childhood home says a lot about your current and future financial stability. While some families have an abundant family bank account (We'll call this the Euphrates.), others do not enjoy the constant flow of riches.

I consider myself lucky. When I applied to college, my parents were poor enough (but not too poor) for me to obtain financial aid. My family was middle class enough to instill the importance of education and hard work to cover the rest of the cost with merit-based scholarships. (And I'm not sure about this, but being a female minority may have helped, too.) After college, I was lucky enough to get a pretty well-paid job as a teacher. Now as a teacher, I get paid about $30,000- which is good, considering I recently graduated from college and some people don't even have the luxury of working at all. But that means that after taxes I only get about $1,000 per 2 weeks (year-round). I recently calculated my finances, and after paying for grad school, rent, car insurance, groceries, gas, traveling, etc., I will only save about $4,000 at the end of the school year. Thankfully, I have no college loans to pay off (for the aforementioned reasons), no payments (my parents helped me pay for the car), and no husband and/or children.

I think, in Biblical terms, I live by a mini river. And now I'm wondering how the people in the deserts are surviving. How are people with families saving up enough money to simply live? How are they able to save money for their own children? What if I got laid off one day? What if I were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow? What if I found myself pregnant and decided to keep the kid? (Don't worry, teaching is excellent birth control.)

But most importantly, what about the people who do not have half the resources I was lucky enough to have? The average college debt on graduation day is well over $20 thousand. The housing market is plunging. Our national debt is now at $3.5 trillion. And gas is now over $4/gal, over double the prices in 2000- "back in the old days when I started driving." The economy (not teaching) makes me feel old. It is like some sick time warp where the prices tell me I should really be at least 40 years old.

Hundreds of homeless people (including families) are now camping in Kapi'olani Park after being forced out of other parks since Kapi'olani has no set closing time. But all we care about is the negative effects on Waikiki's tourism. Their relocation should alert us instead. Something is terribly wrong when hard working people with jobs and frugal spending habit still cannot make ends meet. I don't remember ever seeing my teachers working at a second job to pay the bills. It is not only an embarassment but a warning sign. A rise in credit card debt and college debt should put us up in arms. This is the situation the next generation of kids will live through. If we can't survive, how far can they even go?

(By the way, Kapi'olani Park is right by the water.)