My parents sometimes sent mixed messages when it came to fighting. They were adamant that I not start a fight with anyone, to be sure. However, they were – or at least my father was – just as adamant that if I were to get in a fight that I be ready to teach the attacker a lesson. This wasn’t an official thing, but if I told my dad I got hit, I remember him asking if I made the attacker sorry.
The whole fighting mechanism speaks to a frustration and inability to express oneself – specifically, the emotion of being upset. I didn’t know this when starting as a teacher, but apparently growing up in today’s society automatically means that you don’t know how to express anger and frustration without beating into someone’s face. Why is this still a thing? It doesn’t make sense to me. We have the words to express ourselves. We have YouTube for comparison, gifs for emotions… why is violence still a thing? Is there no replacement for the catharsis involved?
Or is it just… easy?
About one in four high school students reports having been in a physical fight in the past year.
Today, there are so many opportunities with social media to talk smack and say the wrong thing. Push someone a little bit too far. Something you post for one person can look like shade to another person. Even the best of texts can be re-read by someone and reacted to the next day. Worse, the immediacy of social networking means that the offense can reach scores of people and give every sleight a built-in audience.
Social media also rewards spectacle. A fight is a spectacle. Social media has taught students to flock to spectacle instead of avoiding it.
My father had a saying. He said this: sometimes people want to bring you down to their level, and you have to treat them as you would treat dog poop; walk around it, not through it. (My father is so poetic, I know.)
Lack of Problem-Solving Skills
It is important that we understand that some people have only been presented – either by example or directly – with a few options for solving the problems in their lives. In fact, someone with only the most basic instincts will choose either fight or flight. As a teacher, it is important to immediately make clear to our students that the time of fight or flight has long past – we are in an age of creativity and civilization. Let’s build some pyramids!
Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.
If you have no idea how to talk about your feelings, or are unused to figuring out ways to talk about your feelings, then you’re way more likely to swing at someone. Also, while it takes two to solve a problem amicably in these situations, it only takes one to fight; after all, if one person swings, there are not a lot of people that will not swing back and just take the punches. Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.
Here are some options just off the top of my head for solving problems – feel free to copy this list for home use.
- Apologize for something. What’s that? You’re not sorry? Then lie. He won’t know!
- Never talk again. Be like my dad. Walk around them. Let the poop image guide you. Stay in your lane.
- Write about it. Catharsis! Super important.
- Talk to someone you trust about it. They can give you perspective. Or just take your side and make you feel good without you actually doing anything. Note: choose confidants wisely. You want someone even-keeled.
- Speak plainly. This made me feel _______. This is why.
- Make new friends with someone. Increasing your circle decreases the percentage of conflict.
- Listen to Linkin Park or something. Or anyone with lots of guitars and sadness.
I remember the one time that I wanted to fight someone in high school, I remember a very clear voice ringing in my head through the red haze: “It’s not worth it.” I’m not self-extolling, but the clarity of that voice highlights for me the problem: we need to make sure our students also have that voice.
It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.
Fighting is easy. All you have to do is make a move, and the rest is instinct and consequence, completely outside of your control. This can feel liberating to a stressed, emotional young person. It’s those with the strength to take control of the situation and bear the burden that will bring us toward peace. In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout beats up a boy for insulting her father. It’s not a reaction to danger, but a response to her pride being threatened. Her father stresses that hurting other people and becoming a person who hurts other people is too big of a change to make based on the small-minded whims of those who would insult you. It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself. Your actions won’t match their slanderous words; they will match your true self. You will have integrity.
A side effect also is that you’ll make them feel lame and insecure because they’ll be all noisy and blustery while you walk away like they’re no big deal. Two for one!
“Physical Fighting By Youth” Child Trends.org. 2017. Web. <https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/physical-fighting-by-youth/>. 11 Dec. 2017.
I was reading The Atlantic the other day and came upon an old article that was freshly linked to via Twitter. (I’ll take “Sentences That Didn’t Make Sense When I Was in High School” for 500, Alex!) This article was about the college admission process – specifically, the questions being asked on applications.
These essay prompts get at some of life’s greatest questions. And as this year’s college application season begins, 17-year-old high-school students around the world are frantically trying to answer with the insight and intelligence that will guarantee them an acceptance letter. Some are searching for profound thoughts and meaningful experiences in their short lives. Other applicants are embellishing the mundane in an attempt to make it sound extraordinary. High school students first come into contact with college through the admissions process. And right now, the first message they receive is: “Pretend to be something you are not.”
It was at this point in the reader-author conversation that my brain rudely interrupted. It went something like this:
What? What are you talking about? I can only assume that this article was written based on some fallacies:
Fallacy #1: Everyone is meant to go to college.
The idea that the question needs to be one that considers everyone is a fallacy because it’s an admission process. By definition, there are certain levels of academic development and abstract thinking at which a student is considered ideal for admission. These criteria can change between schools, but the basic gist is they’re asking these questions because the answer is one that will indicate whether they want you. Whether or not these questions are actually in line with such things may be a different story, but if we assume that they are just from the pure fact that it’s stupid for it not to be considering it’s their question, then the point is so that someone having trouble with the question will fall under the criteria of “go somewhere else.” If that’s not the case, then the question would indeed need to be retooled.
In other words, just because the question isn’t for everybody doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the question. The whole point is to disqualify people until you’re left with the qualified ones.
Fallacy #2: Students are expected to answer these questions definitively.
Julia Ryan continues to blast the admission questions in this article by saying that “College is about the journey. So why are schools asking high school seniors to already be at the end of it?” This implies that questions like “What makes you happy?” or “Describe a time when you overcame adversity.” or “What is the meaning of life?” are all asked with the expectation that students have definitive answers that will determine whether they are college-ready. I’m not an admissions worker or anything, but my answer to this is to point out that this assumption is a fallacy. College is about the journey, as Ryan says, but these questions all give important assessments on the following important points:
- How self-aware is this person? Assuming that I’m talking about what’s in the best interest of the student and the school, I would want to know that the student can reflect on their own conduct and performance before admitting them into a place supposedly devoted to higher learning. Peers are expected to be as much of a contributing factor to the learning environment as the teachers are.
- Where are they on their journey? Rather than expecting a student to be done with a journey, as Ryan claims the askers of these questions are doing, the inquiries discussed here are actually there to determine whether there’s any journey taking place at all – and if so, how reflective is the applicant regarding this journey?
- How do they deal with having to answer questions they don’t know the answer to? You know, the skill needed to get through all of college. This is literally the entire purpose of something being about “the journey,” because being on the journey and not finishing it yet means that we don’t have all the answers. There is very little to suggest that these questions about adversity and the meaning of life are expected to be answered with something definitive, at which point the bitter admissions worker will go “Wrong.” and throw the whole application in the trash. These questions are asked because people don’t have the answers.
All of these are important things to consider when considering a student for admission.
Fallacy #3: College is a place for kids to become adults.
No, not really.
Oh yes, certainly there is growth that takes place in college, but you’re an adult, no matter how many bouncy houses they have at orientation.
I find the perpetuation of this myth that college is for kids to be not only misleading but also alarming, especially as I have seen colleges themselves take this attitude on. Aforementioned bounce house notwithstanding, I found this blog entry about whether college students are adults, and found many passages familiar – and infuriating.
The fundamental problem is that the university no longer thinks of students as adults. Adolescence in American culture has been extended to people’s mid-twenties, and with this stunted maturity, comes the same perpetual message: nothing you do counts right now, so have at it. The students welcome this because it gives them permission to act out and to put off the hard decisions for another five to ten years. But this also means that there are no clear criteria for when adulthood is evoked. Schools only call students adults when they want to punish them or collect their bills, and the students only invoke their own adulthood when they want something they’re not allowed to have. “Adult” has become a term of self-interested manipulation instead of a moral category to be universally acknowledged and respected.
So if the main complaint Ryan is making toward these questions is that college is supposed to provide the answers to these questions and help these kids become adults, I think it’s important to decide before applying what you’re going to be. I think that this excerpt also makes it clear that as far as colleges are concerned regarding the stakes for failure, you are an adult – even if schools only call students adults when it’s in their own interests to do so.
It is here where I shift the focus of this entry, because this is a blog and I don’t have to explain myself to you, even as I do so with this very sentence.
This culture of “emerging adults” is one that must cease, immediately, because it promotes and implies that reckless behavior is the expectation – and worse, implies a cushion of protection by the “innocent” connotation that comes with calling an adult an “emerging adult.” Oh he’s just an “emerging adult,” so he can make mistakes.
Like Weinstein says though, that’s not the real truth is it? You can’t tell the institution that you couldn’t pay tuition because you’re an emerging adult, and you’re still figuring out how to make a budget and stick with it. You can’t tell them that you didn’t know plagiarism was against the law. You can’t tell them that you were inexperienced with alcohol tolerance, and that it’s only being an emerging adult that led you to accidentally urinate on their new statue and steal the Q from McQuarrie Hall. A university will remind you real quick during these situations that you ARE an adult.
So we shouldn’t pretend that college is for becoming an adult when we know college is for adult learners. We shouldn’t attack college admission questions when all we can do is answer them as best as we know how to answer them. Let’s stop lying about the stakes – and if a school asks a question that you feel bad answering, maybe it’s not your school… like a job interview! The interview goes both ways.
- Weinstein, Jack Russell. “PQED: Are College Students Adults?.” PQED. N. p., 2015. Web. <www.pqed.org/2015/07/are-college-students-adults.html>. Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.
- Ryan, Julia. “Applying To College Shouldn’t Require Answering Life’s Great Questions.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group., 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.
I’m a pretty chill guy. Not critical at all.
No, that’s a lie, I’m pretty darn critical. That being said, most of the things I like to argue about and criticize are hypothetical, and not something that I feel passionately about. Usually, it’s because I’m discovering whether I care or not as I discuss – usually by the end of the argument, I care very much.
So it is with the Asian presence in pop culture.
Something is off…
When I first encountered this issue, it was (as it was for a lot of people) upon viewing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Short Round was just… offensive. I was a child, so I couldn’t really put my finger on it.
Then I watched Big Trouble in Little China in elementary school during afternoon day care. I was surprised when a character in the middle of the movie started fighting everybody with clear, practiced moves, as I had assumed the character to be a helpless bystander.
“He can fight?!”
Brandon, the aide watching my class during afternoon day care, said “He’s Chinese, so in this movie, of course, he knows kung fu.” Then he and the students around me laughed; his laughter was because the movie was making fun of pop culture by enabling it, and the students’ was because that logic just made sense to them.
I just didn’t get it. I assumed it was a plothole.
I grew older. I grew up on Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao – and absolutely anything by Tsui Hark, Corey Yuen, or Yuen Woo-Ping.
I found out that Jackie Chan was going to be in a movie with Jet Li. It would be called “The Forbidden Kingdom.” This is the poster:
It would get a western theatrical release! How exciting! Choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping?! Yes, yes, yes!
So imagine my surprise when the movie was in English. Okay. Interesting, considering almost nobody in the movie speaks it as a first language. Then I saw the most offensive part.
Who the flying Funk & Wagnalls is this, you ask? It’s the star of the movie.
What, was there not enough star power with Jet Li and Jackie Chan? These are international powerhouses. The marketing alone shows that they were aware of how Li and Chan would draw people in.
I was reading The Joy Luck Club with my class, and I decided to watch the movie. I didn’t end up showing it to my class because a lot of the movie has a mother talking to her daughter about her life at home in China – all in a thick, Vietnamese accent.
I got mad about it. I read Yellowface in college and got mad some more. Then I decided that the world needed to take a chill pill. It’s not worth being mad about, I thought. The world will learn, people will see.
Warning: the following image may cause intense physical pain to the viewer if they are in any way appreciative of the manga/anime Dragon Ball.
I can’t even talk about that one without seething for the rest of the day, (no matter who apologized) so I’m going to discuss one that all Americans have a chance of understanding.
Bones is one of those rare shows that both my wife and I enjoy. In it, a forensic anthropologist named Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan works with her FBI partner Seeley Booth to solve crimes by looking at the clues found in murder victims’ human remains. The show is entertaining because it has action, mystery, romance, and even elements of science fiction (the multi-million dollar Angelatron named for the Bachelor of the Arts grad that can hack into anything and create facial reconstructions from remains – no matter how grotesque of a condition they may be in. Once, the victim was already cremated.)
I was binge-watching the series with my wife on Netflix today when we got to an episode of Season 10 called “The Lost Love in a Foreign Land.” In this episode, Bones and Booth discover an underground human trafficking ring in which women were being trafficked out of Yianbian, China.
The murder victim looked pretty Korean to me, but that’s okay, I reasoned. [Further research explains this, as Yanbian is on the border between Korea and China. I didn’t know this, but before you start forgiving people, keep reading.]
Then it got insulting.
The Angelatron used facial recognition (or some other garbage tech) and pulled out a list of suspects. This led them to their suspect, Sung Dae Park.
I’m just so thoroughly disturbed by how Vietnamese his accent was. At this point, I realized that the story they wanted me to buy was that this Vietnamese guy had a Korean name and lived in a village in China. Maybe you can’t hear it, but his accent might as well have been Australian, and his name Igor Boris Natasha – that’s how noticeable these things are to an Asian audience.
I understand that the Korean thing can be explained by the bordering Korea thing, but you can bet that if it was a white person speaking Spanish, they would bother to explain why he knows the language. They just threw us Chinese people with Korean names… then had them played by Vietnamese people. Even if you excuse that, the accent! The ACCENT! Worse, the accent was a choice – by either the director, the producers… or Scott Ly, the actor himself. How do I know that? Look, Ma, no accent!
(“Ly” is a Vietnamese name, in case you’re doubting me.)
Maybe they couldn’t find anyone to play this character more authentically, you think. Well, Bones was filmed in Los Angeles.
This was just like the lady in The Joy Luck Club. If Jackie Chan can play a Vietnamese guy in his upcoming movie The Foreigner, then surely this is to be expected, right?
Wrong. I know I can’t effect change all by myself, but I’m putting them on blast. You thought surely nobody would notice?
We all notice. Be ashamed. Do better work.
That being said, I’m torn – because The Foreigner looks awesome.
This debate is one that often transcends any single plane of argument. One minute it’s about logistics, the next it’s about ethics. The situation starts as a simple hypothetical: A student asks to use the restroom in the middle of your class, at a time when you’ve just started getting your class into gear. What do you do?
Online, I’ve noticed that there are several lines drawn here. Parents almost unanimously cry foul at a teacher’s refusal, citing human rights for why their angels should be allowed to use the restroom whenever they feel the need, and that furthermore, they shouldn’t feel pressured to put themselves out in any way upon feeling said urge – the teacher needs to just let them go and suck it up, they say.
Students feel the same way – “We’re young adults, you can’t tell us what to do. Just go, no matter what the teacher says.”
Teachers are divided: Half say “Don’t let them go.” The other half says “Go, you don’t want to get sued, especially if admin won’t back you up.” Sad truth.
I will first tell you my bathroom policy, followed by my responses to these arguments.
I tell my students that my class is like a car ride, and that they need to go before they get in the car. If they ask to use the restroom, I use Classcraft to take 10HP from them with a preset called “Go on your own time,” or I say “No.” until they ask again. I do tell them that they are at my mercy, as in my class I am the Morning and Evening Star.
Is this a power trip? No. I will explain.
First of all, this argument needs to be put into context so that I don’t have a swarm of Common Sense Media parents clamoring for my execution. I teach high school. Young adults, they’re called. Not elementary students. My policy is based heavily on this factor. The three skills that I focus on in my class are the same that I would want my own kids to develop as young adults, and they’re the same traits that pushed me into adulthood and maturity. Students find that mastering these three things is the only thing they have to do to be sure they will do well in my class – the rest happens by itself, usually.
Phan’s Trinity of Maturity
- Managing Time
- Managing Priorities
- Managing Communication
At my school, students are given a passing period to use the restroom, etc. and of course breaks and lunch. If students don’t use the restroom during this time, then they are not managing their time, and they are certainly not prioritizing their own well-being.
What about a medical condition or an emergency?
The contingency I do allow is reliant on the 3rd skill. If you have a medical condition or an emergency, you need to adequately and effectively communicate it. That’s just survival.
My child shouldn’t have to humiliate themselves in front of the class to use the restroom.
Then certainly it’s their job – or at the very least the PARENT’S job if the student is determined to be helpless – to tell the teacher ahead of time and work out some kind of signal system if they have a condition…
I mean, it’s not like effectively conveying need in an emergency situation in a quick and efficient manner is a life skill or anything.
Communication is the major skill here, because I’m not a robot! If you can convey the gravity of the situation, you probably have nothing to worry about. It’s about knowing why the system is in place. The system says nobody can go, but the system is not in place to stop people with full bladders. It’s to facilitate learning.
If you need to pee and you’re not just trying to escape class because you’re bored, then you’ll have no worries, because you’ll have no problem finishing the sentence you’re on before going. You won’t have any qualms about handing over your phone while you’re gone either, right? Since you’ll be right back and it’s not like you were going to call your friends or tweet for 45 minutes and come back when the bell rings?
It’s messed up to take points away for having to use the bathroom in class!
If you really need to go, you can’t control it, right? It’s like having bad weather that cancels your practice. If you take the hit, then work extra hard to make up for the hit! That’s being responsible. If you accidentally break something, you still own up. If you have to go to the bathroom, it’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s not your classmates’ fault, so obviously it comes down to you to deal with the issue – and sometimes that means taking the hit. You know what? Life will go on. I don’t know what the aversion is to losing points for things that aren’t anyone else’s problem. That’s life. If I’m paid by the hour for a job and an asteroid strikes my car and keeps me from going to work, I’m not going to insist I get paid anyway. No, I take the hit. If your dog eats your homework, you take the hit and then in the future you take better care of your homework – and your dog.
And as for the student insistence that they have the freedom to just “go, no matter what the teacher says?” That’s true, you have that freedom. A teacher won’t bodily stop you. I can technically walk out of the classroom whenever I want, too.
You see, freedom comes only to those who accept the consequences. If a teacher forbids you to go, and you need to go, then by all means go. Then take the referral the teacher writes you, serve the detention, whine about it to your mom, and sleep soundly knowing you were in the right. Then use your knowledge of your teacher’s jerk attitude and the system to avoid having to go in their class anymore.
As for getting sued… well, honestly, no teacher can do anything if they fear being sued. My advice for that is usually just to be smart, be transparent, and always do your very best to do what’s right in your heart, and the world will have a hard time condemning you.
Yeah, sometimes I’m more naive than the students. I don’t really see how anyone who isn’t an idealist in some fashion or another can become a teacher, though.
NOTE: I do talk about this event in the latest episode of the Podcast. Go listen! Phan’s Homework is what it’s called, and you can find it on Google Play, iTunes, or… here, on this site.
So I just got back from the first date of Phan Summer Tour 2017. Basically, I was asked by Classcraft to go to the Fourth Annual North –
No. I’m going to call it the Redding Edtech Summit from now on. That other name is awful and long.
Anyway, if one is part of the Classcraft Ambassador program, Classcraft will occasionally send one of you to the big Tech Summits to represent them and spread the word about how awesome a tool it is. This one was kind of a special case, but I needn’t bore you with specifics. In any case, I was there to represent Classcraft and to network.
When I showed up to that DMV-looking building they call an airport (it legit looks like there’s a parking lot outside that just happens to have airplanes in it once in a while), there was a dude there with a sign with my name on it. Yeah, you’re jealous.
So we went straight from the airport to the actual event. It was very obvious that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore*, because there were more than 3 kinds of trees. Yep, San Jose pretty much has 3 trees:
- A maple looking tree
- A palm tree
- Whatever tree you’re allergic to
*That figure of speech doesn’t quite work when it comes to travel in the US, does it? Stay with me, folks, I’m still in California.
Ryan Johnson (@mrjbusteacher) was there. Man, let me tell you, that fool does not play around. What I mean by that is not that he is not a playful guy (he is). What I mean is that he does nothing halfway. This guy was 100% involved in the planning of this event, down to the individual vendor. He was an outspoken advocate for Edtech in his community, and obviously a mover and shaker. He also was the main reason I didn’t need an Über, because he either drove me around himself or arranged it with other people. I actually did very little waiting for transportation.
Anyway, the Summit was at Parsons Junior High, and not only was I teaching a session on Classcraft, but I had also been shanghaied at the last second by Ryan to do the closing keynote. I was well-received, I think. You can be the judge: Ryan also took a video of my presentation, which cuts out right as the speech ends so that you have to take my word for it that people actually clapped. Here is the video:
Although my table was the jankiest one there and held the least amount of swag (the pirate definition, not the weird millenial definition), Classcraft obviously had a rep at this place. People had heard of it, and if they hadn’t, they were quickly wowed within minutes of a demonstration. What’s not to like? The artwork of Classcraft is awesome. If I were to have a fantasy portrait of myself done, I’d track down their artist. Look at this:
There were other vendors too, including but probably not limited to:
- Keyboarding Without Tears
So all in all, a great trip. Tons of networking, and I got to promote a product that I’m really happy about. I was very impressed also at all of the uses for tech talked about in Redding. I’m from the Silicon Valley, but I had to admit that Redding’s technology game was surprisingly strong. If you want to hear more about this, listen to my Podcast!
#GAFESummit in Modesto next!