Are we doomed?

Philosopher George Santayana once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This has been misquoted and paraphrased many times, especially in the form: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Ere I enter into my primary rant this week. If “con” is the opposite of “pro,” what does that make the opposite of “progress”?

I confess that history was a subject in which I had great levels of failure while in high school. It consisted then of endless series of dates, each affiliated with some king or emperor, and some distant land I could not imagine.

I mentally summed it all in the two word phrase: “bo” and “ring.” It was not until many years later that I learned that “history” might be broken into “his” and “story.” It is, ultimately, all about people.

English historian Edward Gibbon penned “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” It was published in six volumes over the years from 1776 to 1789. Interesting historical time, that. Seems that quite a few miles away from England some new history was even then being created.

Wikipedia tells us this about the Gibbon history: “The work covers the history of the Roman Empire, Europe, and the Catholic Church from 98 to 1590 and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West.

Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first “modern historian of ancient Rome.”

Don’t hear much about Ancient Rome these days, do we – unless, of course, we study World Literature here at Winthrop. And then we are learning about the poets and novelists more than the historians of the time. Thumbnail: Rome was a city where the government had power and met in regular sessions.

The folks who did the meeting were called Senators, among other things. Senators were elected, and to stay elected they had to keep the people who elected them happy. First Century A.D. Roman poet Juvenal had a wry way of describing this: panem et circenses — “Bread and circuses.” Give the people free food and free entertainment, and they’ll keep voting you back into office. Of course that was 2,000 years ago, wasn’t it? What Santayana said couldn’t possibly apply to this time, could it?

Let’s see now, FDR’s New Deal in the aftermath of the Great Depression sort of paralleled the “bread” component, and movies readily available and at affordable cost sort of evoked the atmosphere of “circuses.” We need not worry, though, the Great Depression is long behind us, so that is “old history” anyway, isn’t it?

Except, let me see, did we recently have some reaction in Washington D.C., following the onset of the Great Recession? Um, quoting myself from above: “Rome was a city where the government had power and met in regular sessions.” Is there an image here?

Movies have been supplanted by the Internet, 24-hour TV broadcasts, and “social media.” With the Romans, if they were watching Christians being eaten by lions, they weren’t thinking about what their governing body’s members were doing.

If we are following Downton Abbey, do we have time to follow the blather and drivel being spouted in the hallowed halls of Congress? My beloved country, I fear for you. My days may not be too many more in this life, but I have a serious question in my mind.

Was George Santayana’s philosophical wisdom not just a whimsical observation over a century ago only applicable at the time he said it, or should we, perhaps, choose to open our eyes and ask ourselves whether we are allowing ourselves to be blinded and deafened by the bread and circuses of today?

Maximizing time with new FitDesks in Dacus

Students may have noticed a new addition to the library in recent weeks: FitDesks.  FitDesks are seated bicycles with a desk on it. The desk is large enough to fit a laptop or most normal size books. The two FitDesks are located in front on the Mac lab on the main floor of the library. Thus far, not many students have taken to them quickly.

One student, Shawanda Erby, tried one out but got off quickly because her flip flops weren’t comfortable to pedal in. She said she would use it but only under certain circumstances.  “If I have a test I’m studying for, if I’m dressed for it, then I would definitely consider using it,” Erby said.

This is not what the library originally wanted. Mark Herring, Dean of Library Services, said the FitDesks are intended to help encourage students want to come to the library more.

Some students have said the FitDesks are in a bad location because they are near large windows. After the observation period to see how many students want to use them, they will be moved to a more discreet location.

Personally, I like the FitDesks. As a mass communication major with a focus in broadcast, I use the Mac lab in the library frequently. When I make videos in the lab, exporting the video files usually takes five to seven minutes, depending on the video file size. The FitDesks’ location is perfect because I can hop on the bike for a few minutes and burn some calories while waiting for the computer to finish working.

I think more students should make use of the FitDesks because it’s an easy way to get moving without doing an intense workout. If you are already planning on pouring over a library book for a few hours, whether for fun or for a research project, it is a good use of your time.

The FitDesks are a good example of ways the university is looking out for its students as well. Not only is Winthrop encouraging students to be more active, but they also waited for the FitDesks to drop in price to save the university (and therefore the students) money.

Students should use the FitDesks more because the typical excuse for not working out is, “Oh, I’m just so busy.  I don’t have enough time.” The library’s efforts to bring in the FitDesks is a perfect opportunity to maximize time. Especially with summer fast approaching, students want to be in prime shape. This is a simple way to get closer to that goal.

It’s about growing up

I recall an old joke about some college grads. It went something like: “The engineering graduate asked, ‘What’s the load bearing ratio there?’, and the accounting graduate asked ‘What’s the cost/benefit ratio of that?’, while the English language and literature graduate asked ‘You want fries with that?’”

When you’re a student at a college like Winthrop, or a bigger one, or especially a really big one, that joke has a hollow ring to it. You came to college to gain an education. This education was to prepare you for life and employment ahead. You want to be a structural engineer, why on earth do you need to be part of a group dissecting a frog?

Yup, parts of the whole thing seem to be a pointless waste of time occasionally. Yet, there’s something involved that a lot of students might miss. Let’s examine it from a totally different view than one of what career you will follow later. Let’s do a little comparison shopping.

If you had grown up as a member of an Amish family, when you hit the magic age of 16 you would participate in a tradition called Rumspringa. Here is a brief description about the experience for a couple of Amish young ladies, taken from the website wndu.com.

“Mary and her friend Ruth, who will also remain anonymous, have been on Rumspringa since age 16. Contrary to popular belief, Rumspringa can last longer than a year. For some it takes several years. The coming of age process is a time Amish youth experience the outside world. They have freedom from parental control and since they are not baptized, they are not under the authority of the church.”

Did you catch that phrase “freedom from parental control”? Makes me think of something a very wise man once said: “The only substitute for experience is being 16.” All students here at Winthrop, along with faculty and staff smile at that thought. Yes, when we were sixteen we thought we already knew everything, and now that we are [insert current age here], we realize how far we were from the truth.

Up until age 18 in this country at least, most young people are under parental control, and once the magic 18 barrier is passed, the opportunities to vote, to join the military, to go to college open up. We become ourselves, no longer dependent on others for our daily lives and decisions.

So how does that work? Let’s see, if we join the military, we start in boot camp where people only slightly older than ourselves order us around and shout at us a lot. We are expected to follow certain stringent rules, many of which seem beyond trivial. Make our beds? Every day? And have them “inspected” to ensure that they are all perfectly neat and tidy? Where’s the adventure in that?

Then, how about this group: young men and women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, typically serve a year and a half to two years away from home, often in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, and under stringent rules that are monitored by other young people barely older than themselves. And they do it at their own expense.

There is, in fact, a commonality in these pictures. In each case the young people leave the structure and control of the home and discover that freedom involves learning to follow guidelines, adapt to associating with other people who are not members of their own families, and reaching to goals which have initially been structured for them.

And even if the English language and literature degree seems trivial in some eyes, the graduates have gained something much more valuable than pieces of paper with their name on them. They have grown up in a manner that has taught them to manage their lives, to interact with others, and to follow expectations that turn out to be fundamental in every field in life.

Yup, it’s just about growing up!

Why I wanted to be a teacher, but am no longer an education major

As a university known for it’s excellent education program, Winthrop prides itself on enhancing the already amazing student body and creating great teachers. Winthrop does such a great job getting students into the classroom as soon as possible — before they are even accepted into the college of education.

The education majors that I’ve met at Winthrop are usually quite intelligent. They work hard and pour their hearts and souls into their future career. Many of them study as hard as they work outside of the classroom.

As a senior, many of my education friends are in their internships. Five days a week at school and on top of that, some still have classes at Winthrop because of all of the curriculum changes within the past few years or so. That is certainly daunting. I knew that, though. I knew coming to Winthrop wouldn’t be easy. I knew being a teacher wouldn’t be easy, no matter how many people argued that having summers and weekends off would be worth it. That’s not why anyone should become a teacher.

At first, I told people I wanted to be a high school teacher because I didn’t like little kids and big kids were easier to get upset with and they at least understood why they were in trouble even if they didn’t care. I’m going to admit it. I lied. I didn’t go into education because it was easy. But, I just wasn’t ready to tell people why I did. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to see the world that I saw.

Being in high school saved my life. If I had been homeschooled, left alone all day with my parents, or had to work full-time (like many young people who drop out do), I would have slowly withered away. I would have become someone so bitter about their life that they couldn’t see anything positive.

Despite that, the actual “education” I received was lacking. It wasn’t the classes that saved me. I took and retook the same classes every. single. year. Not because I failed. No, I flew through classes in high school getting A’s and B’s without even studying. And that’s not okay.

I don’t think it was okay that school was “easy” for me. I didn’t appreciate the fact that the classes offered rarely varied. I didn’t appreciate that my teachers practically taught me the same subjects every year. Sometimes, we read different novels and stories in English classes, but the actual “lesson” we were supposedly getting was the same. Learn the vocabulary. Analyze. Search. Understand.

Well, I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how giving out A’s was so commonplace in middle and high school. The “No Child Left Behind Act” was a joke and I’m ashamed that our country ever considered that a good thing. I understand why it was put into place. But, it wasn’t worth it. Things have changed in the education world. Parents don’t blame their poor little angels for their bad grades, they blame the teachers. While, I’m not saying all teachers are perfect – because there are a few who are just awful and should never have pursued a career involving children – there are more teachers who care about their students than not.

The lack of actual teaching that they do, though, is horrendous. They work hard and put in effort and think of interesting and creative lesson plans. But, then a lot of the actual time they get is taken up by standardized testing and so much red tape, it’s a wonder how they are able to get anything done.

I, certainly, was in for a shock when I came to college. Within my first semester at Winthrop, I had learned more than I would have in a year back in high school.

I can hear people saying, “well, that’s because high school is different. College is for people who are serious.” Should it matter how serious someone is? Yes, you should appreciate students who are serious about learning. But, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to slack off on students who seem “uncaring.”

Here is the real reason I wanted to become a teacher: I wanted to save people. I didn’t want to just hand out standardized tests. I wanted to teach kids how to survive in the world. I wanted to show them that you can look at everything with new perspectives. I wanted to show them how they can take something ugly or boring and turn it on its head.

I wanted to show them how math can turn into a ten story building. I wanted to show them how poems can turn into lyrics which can turn into songs and notes coming from a guitar or piano.

One semester in the classroom and I smiled and watched my kids – because I called my students “my kids” as I’m sure many other real teachers do – and decided that middle and high school wasn’t for me.

Because if I were to become a teacher, I would be a public school teacher. As a public school teacher, I feared that I would come to hate and resent my job. I would come to actually see it as a job. I would always be afraid to do my job. If I were in elementary school, I would be afraid to hug my kids for fear of losing my job. One word from a kid, and my life and career could be ruined. I couldn’t handle that.

The public school system is trying. But, there are so many flaws, I wonder if we shouldn’t just try to rebuild it rather than tacking on as much as we can and repainting over the holes.

Yes, I quit wanting to become a public school teacher even though I’m sure those kids probably need me and it breaks my heart. But, I haven’t quit altogether, simply readjusted my goals because I refuse to teach under the thumb of policies that I don’t believe in or agree with.

Youth discrimination in today’s society

It is always said that since we are younger, we don’t have as much experience. However, in the world we live in now, and with technology, the younger generation can and will run the world. In my opinion, when that happens, the world will be better and more advanced.

The summer before my senior year of highschool, I wanted a job. Just a job to get my feet wet in the working world. Little did I know, it would be the hardest process I’ve ever had to go through.

I applied everywhere and when I got a call back, it was from BI-LO. My happiness went through the roof as I worried about what to wear, how to cover my tattoo, and how to wear my hair. I even googled “interview etiquette.”

I got to the interview about 30 minutes early and I waited because the manager had been interviewing another potential employee. First of all, when I walked in, the woman was as nice as can be until she pulled my application. She looked at it and then back up at me. She asked why I wanted the job and in the back of my head I just wanted to say “um, because…money,” but I didn’t. I was as nice and proper as I was taught to be.

About 30 minutes into the interview, she takes her glasses off, sits them on the stack of papers on her desk, folds her hands, and glares at me. Not a nice glare I might add. She explained to me that she wanted someone with “more experience” and someone a “little older.” I think that is basically the lamest excuse for not getting a job. If one doesn’t have experience then that means they are trying to gain it.

That is what I loathe about how the some of the older generation treats us. Many have us labeled as lazy, thugs and gangbangers, but the moment we want to go out and have something for ourselves and try to make our lives better, they call us childish and inexperienced.

If that manager had given me a chance, I would have showed her that I could be very hardworking and trustworthy like my parents raised me to be. It puts us right in the crosshairs between being independent and being told that “a child should stay in a child’s place.” Why stop us from wanting to buy our own CDs, clothes, and whatever else we want?

According to Family Education, a website on family and working teens, a working teenager can “acquire confidence, develop a sense of responsibility and feel more independent.” The site also mentions that teens that work get higher grades than those who don’t. Family Education mentions that when a teenager gets an after school job, it gives them the chance to show their parents that they can manage their money and that they can be responsible.

Teen jobs help build character and knowledge that parents try to instill but they need to learn out on their own. Teenagers are so underestimated but one day and one day soon, the older generation will realize that we are stronger than we seem. We are smarter with computers and other technology and we are great online. Even if some of us are lazy, it’s most likely because we get shut down every time we try to do something.

What about children who have to take care of themselves? The age discrimination is ridiculous because some kids don’t have parents or the ones that do have parents have to take care of the bills and the family. No one knows the story of anyone coming into an interview or turning in an application. If one doesn’t have experience, sometimes a leap has to be taken. I’m pretty sure we all have big dreams and big hearts. We just need the opportunity and obvious “permission” to let our hearts start talking and our dreams start working.

Street harassment is never acceptable

I was returning home after working a Saturday shift at the mall. I was dressed for work – that is, straight-leg pants, a long T-shirt, a sweater, with a bit of makeup on and my hair styled. I wanted to grab a quick meal so I stopped and went into a fast food chain to order.

On my way out, I passed some young boys who appeared to be of middle school age in soccer uniforms. I smiled at them and continued on the way to my parked car.

One of the boys turned and yelled across the parking lot – “Hey girl! I’m going to sex you up.” I whipped around, completely taken aback that it had come from such a young mouth, and caught his friend bent double, making obscene gestures at his waist and laughing.

So shocked that I had no real comeback, I asked where their mothers were – the boys only laughed at me and walked inside.

Presumably, they did it just to get a reaction out of me – “Haha, let’s mess with this girl” kind of fun. I was in no real danger, as these were children.

However, the experience was very problematic. Not because of any trauma, but rather the fact that these (literal) children felt so entitled that they were comfortable yelling at a complete stranger, dressed for work, in broad daylight and in a public place.

“Street harassment” is likely not in their vocabulary, and I’m sure that the furthest thing from their mind was attacking me, but this sense of entitlement at such a young age is an example of some of the problems at the heart of today’s rape culture.

Yes, I used the “R-word.” Yes, I am using it in an opinion article centered around the shenanigans of two young boys. No, I am not insinuating that these young boys or that any man who has honked at, cat called or stood uncomfortably close to me in a public setting are rapists.

Rape culture is simply a descriptor for the part of our society that normalizes male entitlement, sexual violence and harassment and consequently blames the victim (male or female) of such behaviors.

Examples of this would include telling me to “take it as a complement” that the boys found me attractive, or asking what I had been wearing. Rape culture removes the insidious nature of this behavior in favor of a “boys will be boys” or “it’s just part of life” kind of mentality.

Make no mistake, I am in no way equating my experience to the trauma of rape or sexual assault. However, the entitlement at the heart of street harassment allows rape culture to thrive. When people feel entitled enough to catcall, to harass, to coerce and sneak and mock those who they deem “fair game,” some will ultimately claim whatever they want as a display of power.

When we have failed as a society to instill respect for others’ bodies as well as their autonomy, we have created a dangerous space in which to send both our sons and daughters.