Monday, November 18, 2013

Paying for Public School

My Macroeconomics teacher stressed that nothing is free.  This is especially true when it comes to public education in America.  The law requires children to go to school so naturally they have to make this service "free" and available to everyone.  But has the government succeeded in creating a structured, productive, and free learning environment?  Not by a long shot.

This is not entirely their fault.  The government supplies schools with a however limited money supply, as it is able and sees fit.  But it is the expectations of future employers and demands of teachers who prohibit public school from being truly free. (and the law of economics as well.)

First of all, students have to supply their own pencils, paper, ink, calculators, etc. for a class.  Then there are school projects that require poster board, supplies for 3-D models, and gasoline to make trips to the store.  Even regular assignments often can not be done without some form of monetary exchange.
Teachers resolve to sweep this issue under the rug.  Assignments that require a substantial amount of money are labeled "extra credit."  So now fortunate students are able to buy their grades, or rather, their parents buy their grades.  Or the teachers will claim that there is a way to complete the project without buying anything, but any student knows that their project will not be able to compare in the least bit.  And of course, there are the teachers who will not mention anything financial and simply give students a due date and that's that.

I recently completed a science project that required me to have sealed containers for three different biomes, filled with a self-sustaining system that includes plants, animals, soil, water, and whatever else you might find in a desert, forest, or lake.  Clearly, this is no small scale project.  The species inside the biomes have to survive in a sealed environment (no gas exchange) for 3 weeks.

My partner and I built our own terrarium in an effort to save money but needless to say, our total expenses was no where close to $0.  This three week long project, for one of my five classes, cost a grand total of $90.29 (not including the prices of the supplies we already had at home.)

Our teacher made no effort to cut the costs.  She only suggested that if we had a terrarium lying around, we should use that.  Very unlikely.  In my opinion, the project should have at least been a group assignment to help cut the costs instead of an individual/partner one.

With the limited budget for school, teachers are finding ways to tap into the funds of students' parents.  Many science classes have lab donation fee letters sent home and are expected to be returned with a check.  My required high school art class, ceramics, requires a flat fee of $20 per semester plus an additional $1 for every bag of clay I use on required assignments.

When I built a boat as a physics extra credit assignment, the wood and paper was "supplied" for $5.  But the project also required glue and water-based paint as well as tools to cut the wood, paint brushes, and clamps.

If this is what free education costs, I fear for my parents' wallets when I begin college.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gathering in Sorrow

Most people would argue that in a perfect world there would be no suffering, no heartbreak, no pain.  This would be followed by wishes to end all wars once and for all or to find a definite cure for cancer.  That sounds like a world I want to live in.  But after watching ESPN films: 30 for 30 - The Guru of Go, my mindset began to shift.

The Guru of Go follows the coaching career of Paul Westhead but also encompasses the unique story of Hank Gathers and his team.  Hank Gathers died during a game of college basketball.  This is without a question a tragedy for his friends, team, and family.  Despite all the sorrow, the story following his death is a powerful one.

Hank's death brought his team closer together.  Hank's teammate shot and made a left handed free throw in his honor.  Each one of his teammate's will remember that game and remember that player who was so passionate about what he did, he paid the ultimate sacrifice.  He inspired those who knew him and continues to inspire young generations of athletes.

Tragedy seems to bring people together.  Is sorrow and pain and suffering therefore necessary to a society?  It's hard to find a happier moment than when a soldier is returned home safely to his or her family.  Without that fear of never seeing each other again, would the family had still been as thankful for one another?  Or when a funeral brings a family together or an injured teammate rallies a team or a youth groups works together to rebuild homes after a hurricane- is misfortune the instrumental variable in all of these?

In a perfect world, families get along, friends lend helping hands, and neighbors care for one another.  Is the united fight against evil and all the pain it brings what makes a society "perfect"?

Monday, November 4, 2013


To be spontaneously innovative is proving to be quite a challenge for me.  Sophomore year it was the 150 point project, last year it was the DIY project, and now it's a "what if?" project.  Different names, same vague instructions.  My creative juices are running dry.

While reading with the kids that I babysit tonight, memories from my glorious DIY project were brought back.  (Read all the details of last year's golden project:  The rewards were rich, helping kids to grow both intellectually and socially.  In the timeline of my high school years, this project gets a gold star.
I hope to recreate that awesomeness in another project this year but what made everything work out so perfectly last year?  I had a partner with invaluable resources, a teacher who allowed me to miss his class once a week, and a classroom of eager six year olds.  Once my partner and I had our idea and it was deemed possible by our mentors, we hit the ground running.  Those were the glory days.

Our class this year has spent a lot of time discussing where great ideas come from.  I believe they are found when opportunity is recognized.  Last year, the stage was set- I knew the right people.  As for this year, I must continue to seek out opportunities.