The Beginning

I glanced over the contents of the screen for about the fifth time and triple checked the provided checklist. My heart raced and my fingers trembled as I directed the mouse to the “Submit” button. Click! and just like that my hard work sailed off into cyberspace. After months contemplating college choices,listing top choices and further narrowing that list down, the process was …simply …over.

The college admissions process is a daunting one, and with reminders everywhere from posters in the school hallways to episodes of Gossip Girl, it also proves to be quite inescapable. While we might not all be shoo-ins for the top school as are these Upper East Side characters, we can imagine it’d be nice to have an insider’s look at the college admissions process.

I started The Admissions of Linda, with that intention, to give fellow and future college applicants my perspective on the college applications process. When I was accepted to my first choice college via early decision, the plans for my blog were suspended, indefintely until I could figure out what to do next. I brainstormed throughout my holiday break, until the idea came to me: a collaborative blog of about 5 students as they journeyed through the admissions process and entered their freshman year at their respective colleges and universities.

While my blogging skills aren’t as seasoned as they could be, I am looking forward to embarking on this journey and working on this project with willing and able fellow applicants as the year continues.

Don’t Save the World

At my high school there is a lot of focus on college. It is expected that almost everyone in my class will attend some sort of four-year college, and there are visits every week from universities, trying to gain applicants. So much of what we juniors do is underlined by the fact that the work we do this year, the grades we get this year, the effort we put into this year, will be what universities look at when deciding our future. Yes, it’s a lot of pressure. But that’s not the part that gives me pause.

Activities.

What did I do this summer? For the most part, I stayed home. I started five knitting projects and almost finished three of them. I visited my local library and read a bit. I spent a weekend with my extended family in the Pocono mountains. I relaxed and had fun.

Then I compare that with an article my father showed me from the Philadelphia Inquirer. This article talked about the rising trend of exotic summer vacations for teens, often involving community service opportunities. One girl spent three weeks in Rwanda, advocating for the children of the genocide. Another teen spent her summer in Tanzania, building a house for the local schoolteacher. Someone else spent time in Costa Rica, constructing a water tower. Reading through college handouts, I can’t help but notice that the students they choose to profile have almost always saved the world in one way or another.
tiled world
This is the point where I tilt my head and sigh. Because, quite frankly, I don’t want to save the world.

Here’s my point: students should be able to participate in what they are genuinely interested in, and forget about whatever looks good on an application. Passion looks good on an application. So I’ll go get some of that, and forget about a humanitarian mission to Africa, because I’m just not interested. My summer this year? I’ll conjugate some verbs, learn some fancy purls, and pick up some books from the library. Oh– and volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Hey, what’s a junior to do?

Picture: one world from genista

Of Creativity & Art

This entry is cross-posted from my personal blog. Please direct your responses there.

What is creativity? I doubt many people, including teachers, could give you a good definition. In simplest terms, it is the ability to create. However, I like to use a more specific definition:

Creativity is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.

Leonardo da Vinci

Above: Leonardo da Vinci was a master of mixing creativity and art.

The key to creativity is the ability and act of transcending tradition. Using this definition, I think creativity is exceptionally rare in schools. Students are almost never asked to transcend tradition and think outside the box. In fact, doing so is punished. This rarity arises from a confusion about what creativity really is.

If you were to ask most teachers or administrators, you would hear a distinctly different story. Most will says their schools/classrooms stimulate and “unlock” creativityUnlocking creativity is a scary proposition in and of itself. Who locked it up in the first place?. Doing a word search on school mission statements will turn up an inordinate number of references to creativity. Someone should replace 99% of those occurrences with the word “art.”

What many school officials and teachers mean by creativity is really art. Art is all about practice and method. Art is about the perfection of technique. Art is about applying techniques rigorously in pursuit of a goal. In short, art is studied action; artificiality in behavior.

Painting yet another landscape is art, and neither is solving a mathematical equation. Both of them involve substantial practice and application of traditional rules.In many ways, art is very similar to science. Make no mistake: both can be very difficult. The level of effort it takes to perfect any art is astounding. However, this is distinct from creativity. Remember, creativity is all about transcending tradition. In many ways, creativity and art are polar opposites.

Actually, creativity and art are not so much polar opposites as two sides of the same coin.Sick of the casual metaphors yet? Creativity is used to think of new ideas and sources of ideas. Art is used to translate those ideas into presentable forms. To create a brilliant work, both creativity and art must be used.

In many ways, schools fail to recognize this. Art is constantly drilled in schools: when not directly transferring content, teachers often focus on teaching new skillsMost skills are really just a combination of practice and knowledge of method, similar to art.. However, very little attention is paid to the application of those skills in novel ways. Writing thousands of 5-paragraph essays will give you perfect form and will make you a very precise writer, but it will not make you a great and innovative one. Translating notes into a science fair board will, optimally, teach art to a degree. However, none of these things will teach creativity. When schools talk about their wealth of creativity, they usually mean art.

To a certain degree, I do not think creativity can be taught. The very nature of it makes creativity unteachable—you cannot teach someone to positively ignore convention, since in doing so they would simply be internalizing another rule. However, creativity can be practiced. Constantly making new ideas teaches you to see which work and which will not. Searching for pattens helps you to see patterns faster in the future. Luckily, art can be taught—and it should be taught. Without art, nobody will respect your creativity. The point is, creativity can be practiced but not taught.

Train

Above: A great example of tilt-shift photography from Vincent Laforet.

The next time you brag about how much creativity you foster, ask yourself if you really mean art.

Where have all the students 2.0 gone?

The answers are simple: Some of them have gone off to college, some have subtly retreated into a period of self growth, some have moved on with their lives.

The fact that teachers consistently remain where students don’t is painfully obvious. It’s natural that students move on and stop caring extrinsically about their grade in English or how to integrate blogging with their classroom. They’re able to blog and find their own life teachers for themselves.

Students come into the edublogosphere and then they leave it just as quickly.

So do students belong in the teacher eat teacher world of the edublogosphere? Can you really trust us to care for long enough?

I challenge you to show me proof. Send me links and email me with students you think are passionate leaders and doers. Students, if you’re reading this, speak up. Use this as your megaphone and tell the edublogosphere how you honestly feel.

Until then, this is an open pulpit waiting for the right voices.

Tragedy of the Student

Can a tragedy lead us to a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and realize itself? I believe that the nature of tragedy brings us closer to seeing the brightest aspects of the human condition; and instead of one particular “tragic flaw,” the true tragedy occurs when a character attempts to either secure his/her personal dignity, or find lost personal dignity. In searching for dignity, the character inevitably reacts passionately and defensively from the wound of indignity. This process begins the spiraling downfall that eventually leads the character to just self-evaluation and the capability to grow and learn.

When I started my blog, I had a very fuzzy notion of who I really was. I was still finding my way through the blurry masses of interests and activities, trying to find out what I really love and what I wanted to do with my life. I built my blog on the idea of exploration: expressing myself without limits and without a clear idea of what exactly I was expressing. Reading the tragedy of Oedipus recently, I discovered a few parallels in our respective journeys.

One of the major reasons for Oedipus’s fall was his lack of self-awareness. Oedipus, after being told by a drunk man that he wasn’t really his father and mother’s child, didn’t even know who his true family was. He built his identity as the king of Thebes upon a lie; not knowing his mother was his wife, his father a man who insulted him passing the road, and his false parents his true parents. Oedipus had no idea who he was. When he started gaining popularity and respect from conquering the Sphynx, his dignity rose. When he was crowned king of Thebes, his dignity rose. But the dignity was based on false notions of self, and so it was easily threatened when the truth came into question and Oedipus found out who he really was.

With my own stabbingly obvious lack of self-awareness, I write obsessively on my blog and tweet volumes on Twitter. I’ve built my online identity on something that’s transitive and changing. I don’t really think I’ll ever stop changing who I am, and that makes for a wobbly and unfounded online identity. It’s founded on something that will never stop moving, something that’s nonlinear and confusing to all but me. And from this foundation, my dignity rises and I start getting protective of this dignity. I’m more afraid to make mistakes, or conversely, I’m careless and I obfuscate myself to evade responsibility.

When Oedipus’s inflated dignity popped (which it did as soon as he found out he’d slept with his mom and killed his dad), he was left with nothing and yet everything. All of the falsities that he had based his so-called life upon were gone: he was able to look himself in the eye, so to speak, and know himself. He was finally able to hold his children and love them. He could honestly feel sadness and joy. He was able to see the world and himself clearly. Oedipus was enlightened by his tragedy.

The last week of my trip to San Francisco, I was alone in the house I was staying at. It was a gorgeous five-bedroom, four-bathroom house in the Marina, and I was by myself. The last three days of my trip in San Francisco, coming home from another perfect day, I’d sit on the bus and stare out the window and listen to music, knowing that tonight I’d sit alone in my basement, watching C-SPAN and packing my luggage. I felt pathetic. But I also felt strangely liberated; I was finally able to look at myself clearly, see how I’d changed, understand how I was feeling, and be okay with that. At the end of the summer, I could look back and know that put to the test of living and surviving pretty much on my own, I thrived.

Aristotle believes that “the man who has a rational, comprehensive, intellectual perspective on life can attain happiness… is ‘ideal for life’” and that “the man who sees but one side of a matter, and straightway, driven on by his uncontrolled emotions, acts in accordance with that imperfect vision, meets a fate most pitiful and terrible.” Honestly when I first read this, it spurred on some of my own uncontrolled emotions; maybe because I recognized the familiar behavior in myself, did I object to seeing my potential fate spelled out for me.

The familiarity that I felt spurred me to think of why exactly I felt such an affinity with Oedipus. The obvious similarities aren’t there: I’m not a king, and I know who my parents are. Even the reality in which we both inhabit seems to be wildly different: I don’t believe in Greek gods the way he did, and there aren’t any ominous prophecies in my future. Miller explained it best for me; Oedipus, or any tragic hero, is on a latent journey to finding out who they really are. And who better to relate this with than us students who know hardly anything about ourselves, who are learning and discovering?

In high school, we’re just beginning a lengthy process of individuation, and it’s scary and frightening and wonderful all at the same time. Oedipus was a nonentity in that he had no past, no sense of self, and no true personality or foundation. He was a blank slate that the town filled in for him, which gave him a sense of dignity. Teenagers are blank as well, filled in with silly methods of self-assurances that give us seeming dignity. It’s not until we take the first step forward to evaluating ourselves justly do we see life with a rational, comprehensive, intellectual perspective.

Arthur Miller said that tragedy isn’t pessimistic, and I believe he was right. Looking at the tragedies, we see that it’s possible to live through the agonizing pain of finding out who we really are. True dignity won’t exist until we find out who we really are, and embrace that completely (like Oedipus). The confidence in the rock-hard foundation of our self dignity gives us the eyes to see the world clearly and be truly fit for life and learning.






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Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported