Hardships

I think this project is really taking a toll on me as a person and a lot of the other students who feel the same way. In community conversations today I realized that Tseion’s quote about silence meant a lot. The silence does hurt a lot. It makes people who experience racism, sexism, homophobia, and hundreds of other things feel alone. I am very stressed out at the moment. I realize I am doing a lot of stuff as a 17 year old that are really really tiring and they make you feel bad sometimes, as if the effort is not really worth it. I am really proud of the way the administration responded to the issue and I hope this does spark some change. I also realize that asides from this, I need to be more vocal about other student’s struggles. The health department needs to be more accommodating of LGTBQ sexual health education. I think I am at a moment where I, and a lot of other people, feel alone in this struggle because it is always the same voices trying to do all the work. It makes you feel really tired both mentally and physically. A lot of things seem like they just don’t work the way they should not just here but in general. I don’t get why its so hard for people to just look out for one another. I do not understand why things are so bureaucratic.

Media and Articles

I visited this article to get a sense of what globalization is

http://globaledge.msu.edu/blog/post/1277/the-current-state-of-globalization–how-connected-is-the-world-

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edward-goldberg/the-globalization-5—the_b_8733924.html

I read this to keep track of some of the things BRICS does

http://www.globalresearch.ca/putin-leads-brics-uprising/5462262

This explained to me a little about the US’s dependency on foreign countries

http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonchang/2012/01/22/china-is-175-6-dependent-on-the-u-s/

Free trade and Globalization

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/11/15/in-an-increasingly-globalized-economy-free-trade-is-more-important-than-ever/

Outside Countries Success

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2015/11/doing-well-doing-good

http://m.friendfeed-media.com/e97c3446eff0508b3e9f72434cf3b2fff47f571d

https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/162/27607.html

http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Political-Theory.Americanism.pdf

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/where-are-americas-bold-foreign-policy-plans-14571

https://www.rt.com/op-edge/325227-ukraine-imf-loan-russia/

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-world-is-mystified-by-americas-enduring-racism-and-bizarre-gun-laws-2015-6

 

Updates

I didn’t realize last night that Ms. NA actually got back to me about the little talk we had on Wednesday. The essence of the email was about how short our conversation had been and her hopes to talk again before the department meeting (she also formalized the invitation to attend the meeting). She also thanked us for our interests in caring about the history department.

I am still in the process of gathering extra supporters and people who would be able to meet with the teachers and administration. I don’t think my voice is anymore important than anybody else’s voice so I think its a important to have a sizable amount of support. Right now we have around 8 students who are willing to make time to talk about these issues and I am hoping to reel one more person in today. I have been really busy with these things and its surprising how much time and effort something like this takes. Its a lot of talking, persuading, and often times just sitting back and talking to others about why its important. Obviously talking to the students hasn’t been hard. To be totally honest even talking to the teachers is not all that hard. Its turing those talks into something productive that makes something out of the talks. I am mostly worried that the talks will stall again within the administration like they did last year.

I feel like in all, my relationship with the administrative team perhaps is not as close. Theres a lot of personal reasons why I want to bring back some of the history electives. My history elective that I would take in a heart beat is Latin America. Just due to my background. The point is not just that its affecting me and my choice classes, its also all the other people with genuine interest in learning these things and things about themselves. Right now we have a lot of Islamophobia going on in this country and I feel like a lot of people judge without really knowing their story. The last time “The Many Faces of Islam” I was a 7th grader. Even writing that and remembering all the things going on in this country make me a little disappointed and I lost my train of though about what I was going to write next. I am looking forward to having those conversations with whoever is willing to listen and give us a shot to change things. In my mind, we are doing a major compromise as things are right now. A lot of our backgrounds don’t get into the required courses already, I am not even going to touch the required courses. I don’t want to encounter the bureaucracy at school. We just want the electives back. Its a step somewhere. I don’t think its too difficult to ask of that to the History department, and its not even really their fault. Its circumstances. But I also feel like you can work around those circumstances.

I have also been reflecting about the books I have read so far in english courses. At the top of my head, there are two books (I will give props that some of the stories from last year in world literature were written by people all over the world, and I really liked those stories) who have included non-european authors. The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was one of them and the other was Zenzele, which was an addition to the Sophomore curriculum. In the case of quality not quantity, I will say those two books spoke a lot about the ways that a lot of students experience life. We all joked about it (during MSA or Umbrella), because who doesn’t need to laugh about some hard truths, but the narrator of the story sounds a lot like our mothers. Our mothers telling us to be proud of our roots, worried about their native countries (or just cultures and race), while we are just trying to fit into a social scene unlike anything in our native homes. That message probably wasn’t received by the other students in class, and we didn’t discuss the books in that way either, but to those in the room that related, it was soothing.

Email to Mr. Levinson

*This is the email I mentioned in the previous post
Hi Mr. Levinson,
I wanted to talk to you about an issue that we have noticed at school. I am just one of few students who came back from SDLC. One of the things that came to my mind after those three days was the History department (as well as the English department). I had considered that I had not seen any elective courses in the past few years (asides from Africa since 1945, First Peoples, the Modern Jewish Tradition and the new class Brazilian History) which I could take to learn about a different perspective of history, aside from the one taught in our freshman, sophomore and junior required courses, which so happen to be primarily through the lenses of colonizing powers. Looking at the course of study I noticed that there are a lot of electives that would provide the opportunity to learn history from a different point of view (or even just specialize in a region in ways that we never had “time” for). The classes in fact do exist, and the problem is the lack of availability to take such courses. The following electives were not offered this year:
Advanced Topics in American History
Advanced Topics in World History
Africa Since 1945
Contemporary Affairs
European History
Gender and Social Change
History of East Asia
Introduction to Philosophy
Latin American History and Culture
The Many Faces of Islam
The Modern Jewish Tradition
Race and Ethnicity in the United States
Recording History
Seminar in World Religion
Small States in a Big World
Social Justice in History
With the help of Shavette we looked a little deeper into this. We looked to see when the last time such electives were offered (from the 2011-2012 school year until this year). The last time Social Justice was taught was back in the 2011-2012 school year, when I was a 7th grader. The same is true for The Many Faces of Islam. The last time Race and Ethnicity was taught was during the 2012-2013 school year, when I was an 8th grader. The same is true for Latin America History, China Yesterday & Today, and Contemporary Affairs. World Religion was last taught during the 2013-2014 school year three years ago. I think it is very unfortunate that for some reason, whatever that may be, some of these electives have not been offered during my time as an Upper School student here at Uprep. What is equally as concerning is the fact that the availability of these electives have continued to drop as the years have gone by. This semester only one elective that focuses on topics, not taught about substantially in the required history courses, was offered (First Peoples). That is a huge drop from only four years ago, when up to four of such electives were offered in a given semester (second semester of the 2012-2013 school year taught Latin America History, China Yesterday and Today, Small States in Big World, and Contemporary Affairs). Speaking personally to Ms. NA, and Shavette talking to Mr. Kassissieh, the circumstance that has created that drop in availability has been the required civics course.
We all agree that civics is definitely an important class that should be taken seriously. We also believe that the other courses that teach us about other world cultures and history through different lenses are also important. Those other world cultures and different perspectives are already not usually taught in our required courses which is why we have to rely upon electives in the first place. This is why it is problematic that such electives are also not being offered as often as they once were. With the changes in the English department and the strategic planning that is going on right now, we would like to emphasize the need for diversity in what we learn, who’s perspective we learn it from, and what areas we are learning from. We would like to work with you as well as the English and History departments to talk about ways in which our vision could happen. None of us believe that merely blaming civics is enough and we must instead find a solution so that all those electives that were once offered may be offered again. We also hope that the future electives in English class also include more world literature to embrace diversity. I bring this up again remembering the meeting we were able to have last year, with the whole administrative team, where we talked about the way the curriculum does and does not represent student cultures and backgrounds. We hope that we may be able to meet with you again, along with a few teachers (and department heads), to talk about ways in which we can all work together to ensure that Uprep embraces diversity and allows students to pursue their educational interests. The students cc’d on this email are just a few of the students who feel the same way as me and together we hope to be able to represent the student body’s voices during these meetings. We look forward to speaking with you in the coming weeks or months.
Thank You Mr. Levinson,
Aisse Torres

Communicating My Concerns

I managed to make time yesterday to email Mr. Levinson to tell him about some of my thoughts regarding the curriculum. I decided to do this now as opposed to after break after hearing that his schedule is pretty busy. I think it is important to talk to someone from the administration as well as the department heads. I am not fully sure how the power dynamics work at Uprep so I went ahead and contacted Ms. NA and Mr. Levinson. I now have a pretty coherent group of students who would like to be at these meetings and join me in this discussion. I am trying to recruit one or two more people (very specific people) so that they may also join. One of the students who I am working with had a conversation with Mr. Gans. Mr.Gans has become someone that I feel I can trust when it comes to these issues and hopefully he will be a voice for us as well, when we move over to talking about the english department. Mr. Gans expressed his interest in helping us out in any way that he can. It seems like a small gesture but it really means a lot to have someone who will back us up asides from our usual allies like Shavette and Pedro. I think the trust level also went really high after spending some time at SDLC and speaking with faculty and staff.

As soon as this moves forward I will be really interested in gathering more teachers who can either help me understand how the school works or what I can do to at least get the discussion going for the next few years. I also spoke with Ms. Hundley who happens to teach a lot of the history electives, which I am really bummed I will probably never be able to take during my remaining year and a half at Uprep, and she supported our initiative as well.

I will include the email that I sent to Mr. Levinson in the next post as well because it pretty much summarizes my last two posts in a way that focuses my attention to the culture at Uprep. I do want to say that I got a response from Mr. Levinson, which I accidentally deleted, and he thanked me for the thoughtfulness and he assured us he would work with Shavette to get the necessary people to get together and talk about this issue. I didn’t feel like it was much but as soon as I talked to Mr. Gans and Shavette it felt clear that Mr. Levinson was willing to work to make this better or at least listen to us. We have a meeting with him next Tuesday during lunch. Ms. NA also invited us to the department meeting on January 6 and we are still talking about whether its a good idea to combine the efforts to both the english and history department at the same time or not. For this meeting I decided that I’d like to have mostly just us as students talking and likely Shavette there just as reassurance. We are hoping thats not the only meeting we will have. If we do have future meetings we would probably hold more supporting voices like teachers and other members of the faculty or staff who have lent their support to us.

Beginning Conversations

In the past three days my goal of getting students voices to be heard has garnered a lot of thought from various students. I have had a lot of talks with Shavette and other students regarding having their voices heard. It has become really evident to me with conversations that we had in MSA that students are disappointed in the lack of availability to learn about their culture (story) in a place like history or english class. This is something that I understood during my time in SDLC. I knew or maybe just realized that I know my counties history but not my cultures history.

I don’t think that is intentional. I think its the byproduct of a lot of xenophobia, as well as just the institution of what people think education should be like in this country. If we talk about the history of public education, you can’t speak of it without talking about the melting pot.  Public education (education in general) was supposed to help assimilate the surge of different cultures that entered the country during the late 1800’s and even till the mid 1900’s. The melting pot is the idea of different ingredients in a pot (people of different cultures and religions) being put together to lose their individuality to become a uniformly consistent product.It was always the fear that retaining any sort of “loyalty” to your upbringing country made you any less American. I disagree. I think I can be very loyal to my own country while still being proud of my roots. I am sure that was the case with a lot of people who painfully made the decision to leave all that they knew in order to have a chance at the American Dream.

I am not for a minute blaming America for this. Its natural I think. Taking a look at history, that is the very essence of nationality. To put being an American Citizen above all other aspects of ones life. It just so happens that the people in power who could determine what is meant to be American were of European decent often protestant. It was a matter of circumstances. The 1860’s were hard for America. It was fighting that same question with itself. America fought a war which tore the country into two sections of the country. Two different political parties, two different ways of life, and two different visions of the future. Despite clear winner of the war, till this day we see that confederate flag waving in parts of the deep south.

Fast forward a few years and America finds itself in two world wars. America needs to put being an American above anything else so that we defend our status as a country of power. It makes sense that education would teach students one side of history. The side of history that for years had been the ruling class, whose superiority was protected by public institutions. It was about forgetting your cultural history and learning to embrace your country’s history. It isn’t all that hard to see how America continues to have internal animosity, but when faced with foreign challengers, those same people stand together in solidarity.

That is not the America today. America still is trying to continue its nationalist ideals. However above all if you look at America, you see a diverse country. You see the voices of people, who had been silenced throughout history come out of the shadows to demand that America embrace that diversity and embrace them as Americans. Not only that, but in today’s globalized economy more than ever people are expected to earn the respect of foreign countries, businesses, and cultures. So why hasn’t education caught up to that change?

We have all heard it before. “University Prep is committed to developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world”. Yet when I reflect upon the past three years of my upper school education here at University Prep, I don’t see the urge to fully embrace being a citizen of the world. Everything is taught through the lenses of the “winners”. The countries who colonized and made enormous wealth and gained lots of power from the subduing of other cultures. Commerce, Civilization and Christianity. Those three words tell you everything about the ideologies of those countries who stepped in other countries to change and exploit them.

Looking through some of the schools electives that weren’t offered this year, we see that a lot of classes of other cultures aren’t offered that often. The last time “The many faces of Islam” was taught was back in the 2011-2012 school year. The last time a Latin America course was taught in school, I was in 8th grade. The list goes on and on. Talking to students, its clear they all would love to learn more about these cultures. Whats being repeated by people who have the power to change this is that civics becoming a requirement reduced them. I don’t understand the logistics of this, nor do I understand how the decision came down. What I do know is I am not the only one who sees this, and I am not the only one who wishes those classes would be back.

I am in the process of gathering a few other students who will be willing to be the group of students to bring this up and spread the word to gain more supporters. I am waiting to receive the data of people who signed up for such courses when they were available and today I am drafting an email to people in the administration about this issue. Its a very wide open idea, and its going to take a lot of time. I don’t even fully know what it is that we need as a school to make an impact in this area, but I know that the conversation has to start somewhere even if its just a few students.

http://hilo.hawaii.edu/academics/hohonu/documents/vol04x06fromthemeltingpot.pdf

Statement of Purpose

Before I left to attend SDLC my independent project/paper was supposed to be about politics and logistics that prevented environmental justice advancement. Upon my return from SDLC, I cannot think of anything I’d rather focus my project on as much as understanding peoples stories. I will not share specific stories that I heard from people out of respect. What I will say is that learning peoples stories and sharing some struggles that although perhaps are different, the essence of the struggle is the same. We all simply want our struggles and stories to be heard and respected. We want empathy from others. We want to be able to coexist in a manner that allows each of us to be ourselves.  That sounds really pure and simple, even really cheesy. I will say it is really cheesy. However these issues are not that easy to solve. In fact, if anything, I have learned that a lot of the problems that individuals and groups face today are the lack of empathy that other groups and individuals share with them.

One might ask why is this important. I asked that question to myself a lot. I only began to see the answer when I reflected on myself. I pushed down other social justice issues beneath my own with the idea that issues pertaining to race, ethnicity, and discrimination were the major problems in the world. In my mind not even the fact that I was a woman was more important than the fact that I was hispanic (latina) and living in a country which is flooded with stereotypes and xenophobia regarding my background and culture. I thought I knew exactly who I was and what my responsibility was to my people. I never felt so ashamed as the moment, in which people who are also looked down upon by a society trying to form its own strict code of who belongs and who doesn’t, shared their stories with me and I realized the pain and misery that they felt because of who they are. I had always been sympathetic to people who experienced bigotry, prejudices, and racism because I made that connection with them in a way that I couldn’t for the other issues.

In those three days I learned more than I have learned in my entire life. The stories of people who experienced discrimination based on their gender (oftentimes chosen), sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, culture, religion and a lot of times a combination of all of them, changed the way I look at the world. I cannot claim that my story and my struggle is anymore important than any of the other four thousand people in that room. That is how advancement is detained. Anyone who is trying to convince someone that a struggle, as large as environmental justice, is important needs things beyond the facts, mathematics, science and graphs. It takes understanding people and their view of the world.

I was able to listen to a very brilliant man that changed my life in a way that I will never be able to fully explain. One of the best motivational speakers I have ever met. One of the best listeners I have ever met and one of the best public speakers. He taught me three different things. All in less than twenty-four hours after coming back from my trip to SDLC. It perfectly formulated my thoughts and ideas into three steps on how to create change. To be able to be an agent of change you need three things. The most important one, in my opinion is the first one.

You need to earn the right to be heard. You need to gain the respect of who you are trying to communicate with. That comes in many forms but I do not believe there is one more important than being able to develop a relationship with the other person. This goes back to learning peoples stories. Its about taking a step back from yourself and realizing other peoples needs, ideas and thoughts. Its about connecting with someone far beyond the present needs. Forming that bondship and making connections that make the other person see the world through your lenses (and vice versa). Its the essence of a systems thinker. It applies to humans as well.

My independent project therefore is about getting people’s stories heard in a small community who claims that its mission is to create intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizens of the world. As the leader of MSA and Umbrella, I will work with other students to create places where they may come together and talk to people who share their same stories through affinity groups. I will also work with other students who believe their stories aren’t being heard to create a place where they are heard. Most importantly heard by students who haven’t been exposed to it so that we can be prepared, as a generation that is going to have to deal with a lot of world problems, to form solutions that embrace the diversity of our world and protects the stories that cultures and people hold sacred.