As much as I love to criticize the American education system, I have to admit that we have it pretty good here.  At the very minimum, education is (somewhat) valued in the United States, and we aren’t shot for just asking to learn more.  Here in the United States, as long as a kid wants to learn and is willing to put in the time and effort, he or she is given opportunities to do so.

However, the same isn’t always the same in other countries.

American Cairo International College

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Don’t go gentle into that good night

I remember renting Spielberg’s Interstellar a couple weeks ago in order to blow a couple hours of my life on some cheap R&R. I ended up blowing my mind.  In whole, the movie enraptured me with its quite-accurate technobabble, sarcastic robot minions, and Anne Hathaway.  However, Michael Caine, as he was portraying the controversial Doctor John Brand, had a line that particularly caught my eye–

Do not go gentle into that good night

The eponymous line of Dylan Thomas’ poem, this brief shard of poetry highlights what I’m about to describe in this post here and now.

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!BRAWLING!

When I was working with the MUFASISTAS (represent) I did almost all of the question-writing.  My teammates helped out with presenting ideas, testing the effectiveness of our positions, and making visuals for our group.  

Embedded image permalinkWorking with All Quiet on the Western Front was definitely an interesting experience.  World War I is one of my favorite eras of history just because of its gruesome, bloody significance.  In answering our questions, us Mufasistas (represent) really tried to get philosophical with our questions.  For example, we highlighted the philosophical concept of moral absolutism (the ends never justify the means) when analyzing whether or not lying to spare pain was moral.  Daniel and I espeically loved the questions that allowed us to explore the gray, because that’s really the most rewarding part of having a debate and discussion.

At its base, a debate is a test of will, ideas, and mental fortitude.  Two sides, temporarily opponents, attempt to persuade an audience that either of their positions is the more credible, and the that the other position is flawed in some way. Generally, it’s a pretty good way to for students to practice rhetoric and to discover the flaws in their viewpoints.  Rather than writing persuasive essays in private, students are able to write persuasive speeches in public.

Nelson Mandela is quoted to having said:

“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”

Cold War Map Digital Art
The Cold War (’45-’91) is analogous to a classroom debate.

The practice of debating is kinda integral to the human psyche, in that us humans always love competing with each other and being “right” rather than someone else.  In this case, that means that competition between us students results in us really putting our all into debating.  In a bigger perspective, that means that competition between people, nations, and ideologies results in us really putting our all into beating up and “winning” over someone who appears to be against us.

cold war

Like I mentioned above, debates like the BRAWL are a good way for students to exercise their brains a little bit and be involved in abstract, philosophical, or morally “gray” concepts/subjects, as in our everyday lives most students don’t really have the opportunity or desire to think about things like world peace, That’s always a good thing!

However, while a lot of us students (me included) really liked the BRAWL, there were some rather big flaws with it.

The whole point of debates is to promote conflict and competition.

The reason we do debates is to be competitive.  Two teams are supposed to try to beat to each other and “win” the debate after they prove that their position is more valid than that of the other teams.  Furthermore, the competitive nature of the debate is what really makes them fun to participate in.

Who doesn’t love getting up there and just owning the other team?

People like things that they can win at.  That’s why sports, games, and contests are so popular.  All of those things presents to us humans a chance to be the very best for a small moment, no matter how insignificant that might be .

The biggest failing of our BRAWL was that, a lot of the time, it just wasn’t a debate.  It was just a big, as Daniel aptly put it, a “big kumbayah session” for half the time.  Most of the groups simply just agreed with each other, and couldn’t present debatable ideas or solutions.

Therefore, questions like “how do we treat despair” ended just making the entire class fall to sleep, while the final bonus question “is war necessary” was a bona-fide battle royale.

If the BRAWL is to be repeated, the questions have to be legitimately debatable.  The answers can’t just be simple, common-sense morality issues.  Instead, they need to be topics on which us students have a legitimate chance of being split half-and-half on.

On that note, the BRAWL should contain less questions: quality over quantity.  Most of the time, the debates were generic, lame, and slow.  If the entire class was presented with the opportunity to debate just a few, controversial questions — it’d be more interesting in that there’d be simply more debate.

Conflict is human nature.  Conflict is what makes life interesting and rewarding.  Television shows, literature, and films don’t portray slice-of-life, no-conflict plotlines.  No!  They have intrigue, death, feelings, emotions, romance, and twists.  These things are conflict.  If the BRAWL is to succeed next time around, it needs more conflict.

So, yes, war is necessary.

We are all religious

I used to be a hardcore atheist. Interestingly, after delving more into the realms of physics and mathematics, I’ve kind of gone back on my principles. No, I’m not any particularly any denomination, but I do think there is some higher being out there. I don’t really believe in any religious texts or figures, but just simply in the fact that everything in this world was arranged by a supernatural power.

Why do I say this? Well, like sobias mentioned, “everyone is religious”, however, I have a somewhat different take on things.

In science and math, we study patterns all the time. For example, in chaos theory, the probabilities can all be graphed into a coherent “wave”. Furthermore, in mathematics, Fibonacci Theorem is an amazing demonstration of the “golden ratio” that appears so often in nature and the human mind, seemingly without any reason.

When you start to see patterns emerge in seemingly random sequences of numbers, something has to be afoot.

I know that sobias’ point was that everyone really does worship something in their lives, but I took a different stance on it. Maybe everyone is religious because our world is built religiously. There’s too many coincidences, and the one thing I don’t believe in is coincidence.

It turns out “red” equals “blue” after all.

One would think that the Cold War was fought over significant ideological differences between the Western World and the Eastern Bloc.

That’s not really the case.

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Schools prepare us for the workforce…in a bad way

I’ll never forget my first sophomore English class.  Straight off the bat, my teacher, who we’ll call Mr. T, sprung into an hour-long lecture regarding the “arbitrary” nature of the report card, the idiocy of the American education system, and (much to the chagrin of every single Honors student in the room) the fallacy of exams and tests.  After the smoke settled and as I was gathering my socks from the floor, everyone in the room thought: “What?  Our self-worth isn’t determined by our grades?”.  It was quite “the experience.”

This cartoon, by Randy Glasbergen, summarizes my everyday experience in my sophomore English class.

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