Monday, November 9, 2009

Exactly why I came to Wisconsin

Last month I wrote a column for The Badger Herald expressing my displeasure with the existence of the private dorms known as Statesider and Towers at the University of Wisconsin. I explained that the “Coasties’” inabilities to assimilate and live with those unlike themselves created unnecessary tension and stereotypes on this campus. At that time, I found it obnoxious, but upon further review I merely feel bad for those that choose not to live with people in between Boston and San Diego, as opposed to finding their decisions annoying.

Last night my roommates plus three others got back from a weekend in Las Vegas, a 48-hour span I will never forget. But what I realized is that what makes my group of closest college friends to cool, is its geographic diversity, kids who live in the private dorms, join Sammy or SDT and go to City bar every Tuesday and Saturday will never experience. Of the 13 of us in Vegas last weekend, we come from Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., California, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ghana; yes Ghana, the small country in northern Africa, not Ghana, Wisconsin – which doesn’t exist, by the way.

People have asked me why I came to Wisconsin from the Northeast. That’s why. If I wanted to meet kids from Newton, Sharon and Brookline, I would have gone to UMASS. Instead, I was in Vegas with a group from literally all over the world. In a year, I can be in any of those locations and know somebody. Those who choose not to assimilate can’t say the same thing; they’re simply choosing not to take advantage of the resources presented to them in a place far from home.

Too bad for them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A necessary change for national high school curriculums

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but my recent application for the Teach For America program makes this a perfectly relevant time for the unveiling.

This idea really took shape while I was studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, as I realized that it’s cool to be worldly, knowledgeable about different facets of life. I was learning about issues that were changing every day. Which countries were being considered for the European Economic and Monetary Union; how exchange rates would be affected by countries’ switch to one currency, the Euro; the importance of Turkey being considered for admission into the European Union.
These were real issues being discussed as I learned about them. It was cool.

What I realized was that those kind of learning experiences rarely happen below the collegiate level in this country, but the opportunities are unlimited. I was learning about the economic crisis last fall in my money and banking class, but my sister, a high school senior, probably couldn’t have told you what TARP was. Nor could she explain the fundamental differences between Barack Obama and John McCain’s platforms. Why? Because those issues weren’t being discussed in school.

For me, that’s a problem; high school curriculums are too rigid. In my mind, learning about current events is just as – if not more – important than learning about history. Why should kids learn about Chinese foot-binding in lieu of learning about the principles behind the government bailouts? Why is learning about the Korean War more important than learning about the War in Iraq? Why is understanding Nixon’s platform more important than that of Obama’s? The fact that there aren’t textbooks written about current events isn’t an excuse. Neither is standardized testing. Seventeen- and 18-year-old American students should understand what’s happening in the world around them, because you better believe their European counterparts do.

Learning about current events – both national and international, watching the news – should be mandatory for high school juniors and seniors. It’s an embarrassment that they all know who Paris Hilton is, but none know who Ben Bernanke is.

But it’s not the kids’ faults; they just follow the rules. A current events class, where students bring in articles to discuss and debate on a variety of topics would solve the problem. Fifty minutes a day discussing politics, economics, Google vs. Microsoft, stem cells is all I ask. I guarantee they would think learning is cooler than they do today. And they’d be that much better equipped for life after high school.