Destroy Your Life Timeline

Have you ever been depressed or saddened by your life course? Have you ever wanted to go back in time and change previous decisions? I play that game a little too often; “If only I would have stuck with pre-med…I could be a doctor right now,” “If only I would have enjoyed that stage in my life and not have rushed through it,” “If only I would have been more patient I wouldn’t be in this current predicament.” This game can be both good and bad depending on whether you learn from your mistakes or just continue sulking in a theatre of regrets.

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Another dangerous game to play is making a timeline for your “life.” By 22 I will have my college degree. By 25 I will be married. By 30 I will have my first baby. By 35 I will be a manager at work. This all too familiar timeline can be an excellent guide for our life goals, but many times it becomes a barbed-wire measuring stick. If your life goes off the tracks, you can feel lost and frozen with fear of the unknown. “What am I going to do now…I’m already (fill in the age)!” Age controls us more than we like to think and I am by no means immune to the pressure; just the other day I was thinking about going back to school but thought myself too old for the endeavor. So what is one to do if they find themselves flying off the tracks of their ideal timeline?

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The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
-Albert Einstein 

One of my most favorite things to do is to read about what other people have experienced in past lives. For example, what if you were really stressed out about not getting pregnant? Did you know Marie Antoinette took SEVEN years to consummate her marriage and the whole time she was freaking out about not having a baby? What if you stressed about not having the career you dreamed of? Did you know the first time Winston Churchill ran for office, he lost and subsequently became a war prisoner in South Africa? Or what if you think love will never come knocking on your door? Did you know Queen Victoria, thinking life was over after the death of her husband, fell in love with a Scottish servant?

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The point is that whatever you are worried about, someone has already lived it and come out of the situation better than ever. We are not on an isolated island; the past is there to help us as if it were an experiment – all different problems and scenarios tested over and over. We need to put this historical knowledge into practice by fostering patience and hope. What if Winston Churchhill had just given up hope? What would the world look like today? Your timeline might look like crap but do you really think it will never get better? Do you really think anyone has a perfect timeline as if life were a conveyor belt at Disney World?

We will not have failure – only success and new learning.
-Queen Victoria

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To Hope and Wait is to be human. We are most human in groups, and we must always look to others for wisdom. To be human is also to be present. What does the “future” have to do with the current moment? Your age is just a number but more than that, the future is just an imaginary pretext. The future is something in our heads, and there is truly nothing besides this moment in which these words are being read. That is a hard concept for people to grasp but when it is correctly understood life becomes disentangled from a timeline.

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An example of this is whenever old people get married. I think this is one of the best ways to tangibly understand the “present.” A 90-year-old bride doesn’t care about her timeline. She gets married so she can enjoy the here and now. Of course, this is all easy to write about, but it ‘s hard to put into practice. Again I remind everyone to Hope and Wait. Enjoy today and believe that tomorrow will be even better. Appreciate your timeline and be grateful for what you have instead of what you do not have. You will get through this stage in your life and one day smile at how far you have come; maybe your shaky timeline will provide wisdom and motivation for someone else.

 

Dirtbag Sex Ed

“She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness… Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods… The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

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When I was in 5th grade, my Mom received a letter from the school that detailed my need to attend the “puberty” class. This class was split between boys and girls; the male topics were all about hair growth, deodorant usage, and unexpected erections. I only know of these subjects from second-hand sources – I actually bailed due to feigned illness. I didn’t want to go because it seemed unbearably awkward and I guess my Mom let me skip to preserve my childhood for as long as possible. Flash forward to high school. Most of my sex education came from friends and the wrestling coach – Mr. Bittenbender. Mr. Bittenbender was one of those “five-decade” teachers who got a job post-WWII and refused to retire; his tenure was so long that he actually had my Dad as a student.

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Well, Mr. Bittenbender taught health and prescribed to the 1950’s style of teaching – short, simple, and outdated. Sex ed to him was showing a chart of the female and male body while simultaneously yelling about STDs and Communism. There was no talk about condoms, birth control, or even intercourse; just a poster of a wiener and vagina with an old guy touting the virtues of forced sterilization.  As if the Administration knew the flaw in this pedagogic method, they enforced a second layer of sex ed through English class. This sex ed was the most dirtbag of them all – The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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The Scarlett Letter is a great classic but why did every single high school student have to read it? Why didn’t we read Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities? Why was The Scarlett Letter the absolute must read? One answer. Sex. The Scarlett Letter follows the story of Hester Prynne who is convicted of adultery and forced to wear the letter “A” on her bosom for the rest of her life. It is a tale of Puritan hypocrisy and the ability for a person to be both condemned and redeemed from their past. The book actually details how Hester rises above her label to become a revered member of society and a person sought out for wisdom. The character – who is arguably most tormented – is not the accused adulterous but rather the adulterous Pastor who keeps his secret and eventually dies from guilt.

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The problem though with this profound message is that it sails over the heads of high schoolers. Nathaniel Hawthorne writes with such obscure syntax that most of his sentences drive even the most ardent teenagers to Spark Notes. Instead of reading the complicated story, students usually only get through the first part where Hester feels like crap because of her adultery. What point gets most hammered into the heads of teenagers? Sex is dangerous. Sex can destroy your life. Sex can be a devastating label. And hence this is the dirt bag sex ed which most of us had to endure. I can’t imagine a young girl going from first-hour Health to second-hour English and not feeling overwhelmed to the point of joining a monastery. Of course, sex is complicated and shouldn’t be taken lightly…but neither of these approaches did much to steer me in the right direction. I laugh now, but I wonder if a Bittenbender clone will be teaching the same stuff to my children? Will The Scarlett Letter still be used to fill holes in the curriculum? 

My Wife…the Doctor

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This June 21st, my wife and I will be technically celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary; I say technically because, in my opinion, we are going on 8 years. In 2009, my eyes beheld an exotic beauty who would forever change my life. Sure we didn’t have the marriage certificate, but I knew she was the one for me; 100 years earlier, our union would have been sealed in a matter of months. However, modern day society requires a very long waiting period, primarily because of one thing – school. See, back in 2009, our pimply-first kisses were constantly interrupted by an unending load of tests, homework, and research projects. Of course, we made time for each other, but there was always that incessant character of “school” in the corner staring us down during our cuddle sessions. School for me ended in 2013, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief – that sigh was short-lived because Christina was far from done; unfortunately, my wife decided to go on to reach the pinnacle of all degrees – a doctorate. What defined our marriage more than anything was education. Everything that we did had to be worked around syllabi which seemed to always paper the walls as if we were conspiracy theorists locked in a room – connecting each assignment with red yarn. To throw fuel on our fire of misery, Christina approached every project with a resolution that always seemed to satisfy Asian stereotypes.

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Christina approaches school completely different than myself. When I was in school, I didn’t take notes or really study the material – I knew how to take tests and get good grades without stressing out; I was always the guy asking for a pencil and storing my papers between the pages of books. Christina is the complete opposite. She not only takes notes but attempts to convert lecture information into a piece of art – multicolored pens work together to form a perfectly spaced and punctuated tapestry. These works of art are then put into a dewy decimal system – housed in a myriad of trapper keepers – an amount that would even make Staples envious. Folders of all shapes and sizes are strewn throughout the house, and somehow each one needs to be referenced for an assignment. The library of plastic is used to reach a perfect score – this being my biggest struggle with my wife’s schooling. Doctoral school is the zenith of education, you can’t go any higher upon completion. Hence, grades don’t really matter. To Christina, Doctoral school is no different than elementary school in the importance of the report card – the gold star will be obtained at all sacrifice. That sacrifice was my sanity. Here is a typical dialogue…

Me, “Hey my sexy woman, you want to go see a movie on Saturday?”

Wife, (Staring blankly at the computer as if high on meth) “Um…I need today to work on an assignment…it will probably take me a while.”

Me, (Calmly petting my Chihuahua) “Well, how much is it worth?”

Wife, (Now drooling as if a mini-stroke occurred) “5 points but I need those points to bump my grade up to an A-”

Me, (Sticking my chest out in rage and tightening my grip around my Chihuahua’s neck) “It doesn’t matter! You are a fricking crazy Filipina woman! Why the heck did you want this doctorate?!”

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Let’s just say, after 8 years of schooling my patience was at a minimum. There were so many occasions when Christina was flat out depressed, tired, and utterly ready to quit school; and sadly, I didn’t help many times with my negative comments which sent us both into despair. This doctorate tested our relationship on a daily basis and strained our marriage to a point I never want to see again. Like a storm when it reaches its apex, we thought there was no end to the suffering. But at last, hints of sun came from the skies, and the last drops seemed to be falling – not in a hail but a refreshing mist.

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All came to a head last week when I saw my wife walk across the graduation stage and receive her degree. The feeling I had at that moment was one of pure wonderment. Christina not only received a Doctorate of Nurse Practitioner but also earned honor cords for exemplary grades. I thought I knew my wife after 8 years, but that day I saw her in a brand new light; beyond any doubt, she is the hardest worker I have ever beheld. She motivates me to be a better man, and I would never have pushed with this blog if I didn’t see Christina pushing with school. So Christina, I just want to thank you. Thank you for never taking the easy way out. Thank you for raising the bar. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for the life lessons. Thank you for the smile that always crosses my face when I say – “Dr. Christina-Elizabeth Cabuena Oldham.”

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A Confession: Reading Fiction Hurts

Labor Day represents the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for millions of children. Kids are going back to school with their freshly purchased school supplies and a whirling set of emotions-ranging from excitement to dread. I always hated the first day of school. Summer was the best time in my life because I got to sleep in, watch TV all day, and eat carbs whenever I wanted. I always felt a tinge of PTSD whenever “Back to School” commercials began to inundate the airways. Why did I hate school so much? I always loathed the pointless homework and the assignments that supposedly stimulated our creativity. “Alright class, we are going to learn about George Washington…everyone go home and make a poster-board collage with magazine cutouts that remind you of our first president.” These types of assignments are present in every grade and I even see tinges of them in my wife’s doctorate program. In addition to pointless busy work, we had to read famous literature like Mark Twain, Of Mice and Men, A Tale of Two Cities, The Old Man and the Sea, etc. I was good at reading but I struggled to see the appeal in these books. Sure, I did enjoy some parts of these works but the process of reading fiction was usually tedious. Fiction for me made books unappealing and I saw no point in reading during my free time because movies and TV were so much more entertaining. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I realized nonfiction books were interesting and I could read over 50 of them a year without a ounce of misery.

Fast forward a couple years and I have read close to 100 nonfiction books that have taught me more information than my entire K-12 experience. With my newfound love for reading, I figured I should give fiction another shot. My old roommate loves John Steinbeck so I picked up some of his books-these were doable. My friend from high school loves Ernest Hemingway so I borrowed For Whom the Bell Tolls. I labored through this book like a fat guy running his first mile. In the end, I had to SparkNote the last chapters (sorry Megan) because the overall story line was driving me crazy. This experience has taught me an important lesson about myself and about people in general. Everyone is stimulated differently and likes to learn in their own unique way. It’s okay if you never pick up a 700 page book about George Washington and instead make a collage from magazine cutouts. It’s okay if you haven’t read Charles Dickens and instead you prefer to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s okay if you love classic literature but can’t stand to pick up a National Geographic magazine. In today’s world there is way too much information out there for us to absorb everything. Read and watch the things that you enjoy because life is too short; with that said, Breaking Bad can be just as academic as classic literature. The only thing I think is important is that you stimulate your brain by discussing things with others. Whether it is a book, TV show, movie, or magazine discuss it with someone else. This way we all learn from each other even though we all have very different tastes. Are my days of fiction over? Not completely. I think with a little more effort and discussion, I will find the books that make that fat-man mile a little easier.

History Class Gave Hitler a Free Pass

Did Hitler come to power on a Monday and subsequently start slaughtering Jews on a Tuesday? The answer is obviously no but we are primarily taught in school about the events of WWII-not how we got to WWII. Usually our history class did a hop skip and jump to the juicy parts to keep our teenage selves from getting bored. Most people’s history knowledge is best described as someone who watched Titanic but only skipped to the sex scene in the car, the naked painting on the couch, the boat sinking, and Jack falling off the door in the water. I am in this same sinking boat with most people and that is why I wanted to read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. Larson is an excellent writer because he makes nonfiction read like fiction. If you are not the type to read history then you should try Larson-I promise you will not be bored. In the Garden of the Beasts follows the American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his family while they lived in Germany between 1933-1938. The book primarily details the rise of Hitler and the atmosphere of Nazi Germany through the diary of Dodd and Dodd’s daughter-Martha. This family was able to detail what life was like in Nazi Germany and how Hitler slowly morphed into the monster we know of today.

In 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany. He did this through subjugating his competition and rallying his people behind the cause of German nationalism. Shortly after Hitler was elected he began to use the Gestapo to put fear into the hearts of Jews, Communists, and anyone who did not see exactly his way. People oftentimes were beaten in the streets or were reported missing for no apparent reason. Even Americans were beaten on many occasions for failing to give the Hail Hitler salute and observing the ceaseless military parades. Furthermore, the Nazis openly passed laws that disbanded Jews from marrying non-Jews, working in certain jobs, and using certain facilities in the city. All these things were well known around the world yet no government spoke up against Hitler’s practices? Why was this? In America it was because of greed and homegrown antisemitism. Firstly, America didn’t want to upset Hitler by condemning these early actions because Germany owed the US a lot of money. The debtors were focused on collecting their interest and Germany was having difficulty making their payments. Secondly, the US had specific immigration policies in place that prevented Jews from coming to the country because there was a clear dislike of Jews among many state officials. This atmosphere was similar in other Western countries and is one reason Hitler was allowed to continue these preliminary policies.

What about the German people? Why didn’t they stop Hitler? Some Germans did try to go against Hitler but most of them were killed or imprisoned for their treason. Most Germans in those early years thought Hitler was not going to last long in politics and would actually step down. Hitler slowly became more forceful in his control over the population and eventually everyone was afraid of espionage and being taken in by the Gestapo. Living in Germany during that time was stressful and scary no matter who you were-no one felt comfortable. It was this atmosphere that allowed Hitler to take full control when President Hindenburg finally passed away. At anytime during those early years Hitler could have been stopped. His policies were disliked by most people in and outside of Germany but nothing was done. Students are taught that the US came in triumphantly, stormed Normandy, defeated Hitler, and freed the Jews in the concentration camps. But when you really look into the details is the US not partially responsible for WWII? Hitler many times over broke the Treaty of Versailles but no Western country stepped in? The reasons for these are many: an isolationist attitude, fear of losing interest payments, the Great Depression, hypocritical racist policies in the South, etc. We can’t go back and change history but what we can do is learn from history. And how can we do this? We need to teach and learn about all the scenes that took place to understand how we got to that point. Without context, Rose getting painted butt naked by her lover, could be Rose getting painted butt naked by her kidnapper. Why is this important today? In America at least, there are still groups of people who are disenfranchised and political leaders who want further disenfranchisement. It seems we want to get right to the action and skip all the details-maybe that is why history repeats itself.

The Khan of Education

Let me preface this post with the fact that I hated every single year of my schooling. I was a fat frick who felt homework was pointless, teachers were lazy, and getting laughs in class was more important than paying attention to boring lectures. The best part of my school day was when I got to eat lunch or when a girl walked past me who was not adhering to the dress code. Fast forward to my 24 year old self who reads and writes for fun-just finishing The One World School House: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan. Salman Khan is the founder of Khan Academy, a free educational-video resource that is revolutionizing the way people learn. Basically, he creates 10-15 minute long videos that cover a subject with test questions which are answered until complete comprehension is reached. Simple idea, but it has blown up the educational world and is now used by millions of people of all ages. Khan is all about revolutionizing our current archaic system of education which originated in eighteen-century Prussia (think Germany but bigger). Prussia designed the K-12 system with the goal of indoctrinating children and inhibiting independent thinking to produce average-laborers for advancement of the empire. Dividing schools into subjects, grades, units, and periods was all done to mitigate deep thinking, big-picture connections, and abstract thought. The class period itself, was designed to prevent self motivated learning by implementing ceaseless interruptions of bells ringing. Breaking up thought and conversation was an important tool of control and stifling creativity. What the Frick! Today’s schools are structured in the same way and although they may not have the goals of Prussians they still result in the same type of educational dystopia. 

Learning in schools is not based on the variable of mastery, but the variable of time. The teacher must get through a certain number of units so that the students are prepared to take a standardized test. This focus on time, and not mastery, creates the problem of kids having limited comprehension that compounds as subjects get more and more advanced. This causes some kids to be tracked into advanced classes, mediocre classes, or special needs classes. In the end, this tracking limits a child’s potential and pigeonholes their entire future self image (I am smart or I am stupid so this is the best career for me). Schools are not designed to create the smartest student but the most tractable and average student possible. What is truly abhorrent about the whole system is that on average, each classroom receives 250,000-300,000 dollars of funding each school year (10,000 per student). Come on schools! Teachers get paid crap so where is this money going? To pompous administrators that spend most their days eating donuts at board meetings? Or to the brand new football stadium where kids can get concussions and decrease their IQ even more? We need to radically change the system so learning is self-motivated, fluid, and not a boring lecture. 

Khan is a smart dude and has several thoughts on how children should be taught. First off, no more units, subjects, or time based curriculum. Each student is in charge of their own learning pace through video lessons on the computer. Some kids will breeze through a subject and others will advance to new topics. Kids will not be divided by age but placed in a classroom with 75-100 students of similar comprehension levels-three to four teachers would provide guidance and help. 20% of the students can work on video lessons while other students work on stimulating projects like robotics, strategy games, literary conversation, etc. Khan does not want kids to stare at a computer screen all day but only posits that short videos can replace boring lectures and leave more time for stimulating real-world learning. This would mean far less homework, kids who are confident in connecting subject materials, and a sense of educational exploration that is currently discouraged in our Prussian school structure. In the current system, why would a kid advance in a subject when it won’t be covered on the next test? We need to partially remove ourselves from the almighty test because it is only are a snapshot of what was learned and it says nothing of the potential of a student to learn. In today’s increasingly creative world, GPA and standardized test scores are poor at predicting a successful employee. Projects, internships, personal references, and social competences are becoming more and more important in the workforce. I am such a strong supporter of self motivated learning because I am its poster child. As soon as I was able to control what I wanted to learn I became the most motivated student ever. The current system is broken and hopefully Khan’s ideas will change the world we live in. I think, Pink Floyd said it best, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.”