Friday, November 15, 2013

Omniscient Narrator

People say all the time that they wish their lives had a soundtrack. They want romantic music to play on their dates and exciting music to play on their adventures. I don't care about that. I have a boyfriend and a cousin who would kill for that movie trope to be real, but I couldn't care less. Music or no music I'm ambivalent. What I want is an omniscient narrator following me around and telling me my story. How amazingly useful would that be?

In just an average situation in my life a narrator would be so useful. When I'm telling my roommate I would rather live with a friend next semester than her my narrator could either say, "Emily was making a terrific decision that she would only know about later," or, "Emily was inadvertently making a terrible mistake that she would regret and in the process she was angering her roommate." Then I'd know. There are so many ambiguous situations in my life. I'm about to have that conversation and I think an omniscient narrator would really help.

If you don't believe in the power of the omniscient narrator then you need to play the gave The Stanley Parable. If you play that game you will understand how awesome someone telegraphing your thoughts could be. They could help you solve problems and make decisions, but you could remain autonomous and make your life decisions with or against their advice. I think the coolest thing about that game and just the idea of an omniscient narrator is that it shows life as a series of possibilities. I never think of life as a branching tree of moments of mistake and triumph; I instead imagine life as a smooth progression from my birth until now. An omniscient narrator would point out the players where I'm making memories that will impact my future. There never is a warning when you are creating destiny, but an omniscient narrator would give you one.

I know this is as much of a pipe dream as time travel or teleportation, but it is fun to imagine it anyway. Maybe someday I'll be able to predict more of my own pivotal moments, but maybe seeing moments of impact is solely an activity for hindsight. I can only hope I get wiser with age so that my conscious comes closer to an omniscient narrator.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unexpected College Perks

When you are a senior in high school you are making your college choice with almost no data about the potential outcomes of your decision. When I was picking schools I didn't know which would be best out of the hundreds of viable options. It was all guesswork and gut feelings. I'm happier with Simmons every day, though. I would have probably been happy anywhere because the cognitive dissonance would not have allowed me to spend thousands of dollars and hate my existence, but each moment at this school convinces me it was the right choice. It's never the things the school promotes as its features that make me happy, either. It's always the unexpected perks.

For instance, 40% of undergraduate students in this school are going for some health profession. In my first semester I taught my mother to ask Simmons students, "Are you a nursing major?" instead of, "What's your major?" This fact means that everything at my school is clean. There are always trash cans by the bathroom doors so you don't have to touch the handles. The food is safe. The health center is good. The campus is fit. For someone who is conscious of those things it is really nice to notice the abundance of Purell floating around. I'm proud of how healthy we are in and out of the Sports Center.

We do have excellent grad programs too. There are graduate programs in Library and Information Science, Nursing and Health Sciences, Management, Social Work, and others. They are academically rigorous and they are what make the college "famous" I think. Each day I'm happier and happier with our library school because we have a gorgeous library. Students from all around come to our library. It's not Harvard, but it's pretty stellar. That one great convenience can undue so many ills because I am a sucker for a good book. 

Finally, the thing that actually is an incalculable, unexplainable variable I never could have known about when I entered College was the community. Today I was studying in the common area with my laptop and books splayed everywhere. I was focused on finishing an essay. At that moment a young woman I'd never met before walked over to me and said, "Hey. My friend and I have been watching you from over there for a while and you seem really focused. We wanted to give you this cookie we bought from the bake sale to remind you to reward yourself." She handed me a cookie in a plastic bag and walked away. I ate it with a giant smile plastered on my face. It could have happened at any university in the world, but it didn't. It happened at my school because here from First Year Seminar and Freshmen Orientation to Senior Seminar they teach us to work together, accept each other, and become a community. I could never have known, but Simmons has a student body that cares for one another. I'm indoctrinated. I'm a believer. I love my college.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Consumerism
















I was observing a fourth grade class today and we were talking about the problems associated with growing plants in space. One person said they thought we could breathe in space if only we could float some algae up there. Not quite. A moment later the conversation had shifted and I heard a young man say, "Yeah I want to be a millionaire. Then I'll be really rich and can do lots of things. I think I'm going to achieve it by inventing something in science and selling it to NASA because they have a lot of money." There are so many things wrong with that statement. It's really hard to decide where to start.

I think the first thing wrong with his statement is that he thinks NASA has a lot of money. It actually doesn't. They aren't even doing a space program right now. The politicians would like you to think they are funding science enough, but in my honest opinion they could generally be doing more.

Next, this boy thinks science is the best way to earn money. I certainly encourage young people to go into the sciences, but the actual best way to earn money is to be a doctor. Anesthesiologists get something like $234,000 every year. Natural sciences managers get something like $128,000. So go to med school ladies and gentlemen. It is still worth the crippling debt.

Perhaps the biggest problem was his misconception about the value of money. Is a million dollars that much money? Yes and no. You could certainly do a lot of things with it, but then it would be gone. If you want to never think about money again you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the American dollar isn't worth very much. This boy had a cultural misconception that he could buy more than he actually could. Why? Big businesses told him so.

I know this picture looks like an infinite regression that I created with Photoshop or a bunch of mirrors, but  it's not. Surprisingly, this is a photo I snapped while we were in the new Wegmans Food Market during a visit to my brother in Rochester. It's so big. The store is  shockingly, aggressively large. In my opinion, Wegmans falls into a category with Walmart as just an obscene store. Not only is it bigger than it needs to be (which I could forgive), but it is so unashamedly proud of its grotesque size that it markets itself in that disgusting Superstore way that almost makes you gag. Imagine if you were from Burundi (a generally pretty hungry country) and you just strolled into a store like Wegmans. You'd be nauseated by the richness that capitalism provides.

I know Wegmans is a good company to work for (unlike Walmart) and I almost feel bad bashing them because they do good things for the communities they exist in, but there is a Wegmans coming to the Fenway area of Boston and even though I want to endorse it I can't. On a microscopic level it will provide jobs and give new food options, but on a more macroscopic level it promotes unashamed consumerism that causes little boys to think once they have a million dollars they will be set for life and happy. I don't want our children to think that. It's simply not true.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fairness

I talk a lot about fairness on this blog. I have a whole post called Life's Not Fair and I've talked multiple times about the ways in which children, women, minorities, and just about everybody faces unfairness on this Earth. I want you to forget all that. I want you to forget that I had an opinion about fairness before this one. That's what I'm trying to do. This semester I've totally redefined the word fair and I'm trying to incorporate the new definition into my thoughts and actions.

Previously I held fair as a word meaning that everyone has the same opportunities for success.  I mistakenly believed that fairness was a road to equality. That must be wrong, though because all else being equal, it's not. I should have known, as well as anyone can know, that people are born into different circumstances. From biology to sociology people are born with with bad families, bad hearts, or mediocre brains. It's not their fault. It's not equal. I was brought up in a Capitalist culture that taught me fairness of opportunity was the only predictor of wealth and that anyone who tries can succeed. That's simply not true based on wealth discrepancies in our society.

I could write books about fairness (and maybe I will some day), but right now I will settle for thanking my university for just helping me define the word in a way that makes sense. The dictionary definition of being, "free of all obstacles to success" is completely unfair. My new definition is better. It's stolen from special education and reads that, "Every person gets what they need." Just let that soak and stew.

If we all followed this model of fairness then all the people who were sick would receive care and those that are sickest would receive it first. Students in school would get differentiated learning to help meet each of their own personal views. People would receive wages based upon actual standards of living. This doesn't actually sound like a utopia to me. It sounds like a slight modification on the world we know. This definition makes fairness feel achievable by recognizing innate difference and than catering to strengths.

I think the greatest benefit of making fairness into an affair where every person gets what they need is that it reduces so much everyday guilt we all fight. You treat your children differently because one needs you more. It's only fair. You are able to go to college while your friends are not because you need that training for your job. It's only fair. You are alive because you have more to do. It's only fair.

Maybe this is an oversimplification. I'm still working through it. I like it though. It feels better than the incalculable vastness of the other definition. At least with the special education definition of, "every person gets what they need" there is a place to start. Give one person what they need today. Help someone's life be a little more fair. I can do that. I have faith you can too.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Irritating Phrase

I feel like everyone has a few phrases that just drive them up a wall. On of my Dad's, for instance is, "That's the way it's always been." He can't handle it when people use that as a rationale to do things. I just use that as an example because it's on the blog. I'm sure you can think of things people say that you simply hate. I know most of mine.

When I sat down for a meeting with one of my professors today I didn't expect she'd throw out any of these because she's so lovely, but she said the evil words anyway. I spent a couple hours putting together a hypothetical unit lesson plan for some imaginary students. I thought it was ok. Maybe it needed some tweaking because it was my very first attempt at creating a curriculum, but it met all her requirements. She handed it back to me and said, "This is far too ambitious. I don't think children would be smart enough to understand this." That's one of my phrases. Let's be clear. Children are smart. They don't have any life experience, they are uncoordinated, they lack some higher processing functions, and their language is not as sophisticated as an adult's vocabulary, but they are smart.

Telling me children are stupid says more about you than the kids. If you think that children are stupid then they will behave like little idiots. You can't expect them to know everything, but you can't treat them like imbeciles either. I hear it in swimming lessons. I hear it in education classes. If you tell a child that they can't do something, even non-verbally, they will not do it. If, however, you tell them they can achieve greatness they will. All my five year-olds learn to swim four strokes because I tell them they should. If I can do it they can do it.

My professor thought my expectations were high. They are. We live in a country of standards-based education. If fourth graders are supposed to learn how to compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures then I don't see why I can't teach them that. It's not too ambitious to have expectations. That's what my professor forgot in her special education bubble. Sometimes you are allowed to set a goal that not everyone will reach. Once that goal is set, though, everyone will learn from trying to hit it.

This is where my training from games comes in. A game designer revels in spectacular failures. They make hard boss monsters so that once players kill them they have actually accomplished something. If they can't kill it that's fine. Players know it's possible. That's what I want to do for my little friends. I want to give them big battles and the tools to fight them. I want to always tell children that they are smart and capable. Please. Please don't ever say, "I don't think children would be smart enough to..."