Monday, August 24, 2015

Fear Only the Toaster

This time last year, my friend Dorothy was prepping for college while I geared up for senior year. Dorothy was the friend I looked up to as a junior. Part of this was that she was the only reason I passed chemistry. She would've been in AP if it hadn't conflicted with her schedule, so she would spend the period sleeping, reading comics, or talking to me, and somehow got her packets back with 100% scores. In addition to that, she was the kind of person who always had her life together. She got perfect grades but it never stopped her from enjoying her hobbies. She had plenty of friends, especially guy friends, so getting a date was never a problem. She didn't waste her time with boy drama and always seemed to be in a good mood. I figured if anyone was prepared for college, it was her.
But there had to be something. Her Achilles heel. And whatever Dorothy was dreading in her final days of freedom, I'd better start preparing for it now.
So I went up to her the day before she left.  "Dorothy, I want to know. What's the biggest thing you're concerned about for college?"
"Well," she sighed, all the weariness of a forlorn freshman dragging down her shoulders, "I don't know if I'll have a toaster."
"A toaster?" 
"Yeah. I know I'm bring the TV..." she rattled off a list of which roommate was bringing what. "But I don't know if anyone is bringing a toaster." 
And all my fears for my college bound friend promptly evaporated. "Oh Dorothy. Poor, poor Dorothy. Worst case scenario: you have to eat raw toast for a week before you can find the time to drop by a yard sale and buy one for a buck fifty."
(Also one of Dorothy's roommates ended up bringing a toaster so her life's in pretty good shape)
With two days left before I head out, I am pleased to announce that I have arrived in the Toaster Stage. A huge mound of Stuff lurks in a corner of my living room, ready to take over my dorm. Well, my half of the dorm. The other side belongs to some girl I've never met before.
But I'll be living with her.
When I'm not navigating a strange campus.
Full of people I don't know.
And classes I can't find.
Or pass once I get there.
But you know what?
I've spent years worrying about these things. Now, when people ask me if I'm "excited for college", I can't honestly answer yes, but I'm not "nervous for college" either. Just ready.
That's how you know you hit the Toaster Stage.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Body Language and Parental Permission in the Wake of an Organ Harvesting Scandal

I think by now we've all seen the Planned Parenthood sting videos, or at least read about the baby tissue and organ harvesting scandal, but here's one of the first videos for good measure.

Two things stick out to me as I'm watching these.
1. Body Language
The woman in the first video refers to the lungs, heart, and liver as lungs, heart, and liver, but the head as a calvarium. When was the last time you heard any kind of person-doctor, biology teacher, guy on the street-refer to the head as such? It's showing up on my screen with a red line, for heaven's sake. She uses different terminology because, no matter which side you're on, there's something nausea inducing about crushing a head. Calvarium is a euphemism, a dehumanization. Along with that, both the Planned Parenthood executives and undercover "buyers" are careful to refer to babies as "specimens", even dodging the more politically correct term, "fetus".
I'm a writer, but sometimes I hate words. Words are just packaging for ideas. A rose by any other name and all that.
Last month my family went on vacation with my friend Ashlin's family. Her youngest sibling is eleven month old Layla. We all took turns caring for her, but she was mostly the responsibility of her family and the other girls on the boat. Towards the end of the week someone asked my brother, "Can you take Layla?" He responded, "I already held it." Since Layla is a born baby, hardly anyone calls her "it", so we found his answer hilarious. We spent the rest of the trip referring to Layla as "it' whenever he was within earshot.
In the English language, the idea of referring to a person with that pronoun is so dehumanizing, Dave Pelzar used it to title his infamous memoir about surviving childhood abuse. Yet people continue to do it with both pre and post natal babies.

2. Parental Permission
Most adults seem to believe that parental permission is the difference between right and wrong. That a young child won't have nightmares after a violent movie if a parent is curled up on the couch beside them. That a teenager drinking under parental supervision is somehow better than a teen having a kegger with friends. That those parent permission slips for everything from science fair to field trips to that Obama speech we watched in seventh grade (someone explain to me why I need my mom's permission to watch my president speak) actually mean something.
I think right and wrong is the difference between right and wrong. Whether you're pro choice or life, you can't deny that there's something wrong with scrapping a kid for body parts. Even if the mother did give the go ahead.
At the end of the day, abortion is always about putting the parent's wants and needs first while dehumanizing the unborn child.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Middle Schooler and Professor Face Off Over Irish Discrimination (Teen Wins)


Richard Jensen was an elderly academic who decided Irish discrimination was a myth.
In a 2002 paper, Jensen wrote that the infamous NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs of the 19th century are an urban legend. After a supposedly exhaustive research endeavor that included combing seventy years worth of New York Times ads for the word Irish, he decided that they either
1. Never existed at all
2. There are so few of them that any Irish Americans who cry out in protest are hate-hungry oppression seekers.
When another academic, University of Missouri history professor Kerby Miller, begged to differ, Jensen accused him of being Irish and Catholic and wrong.
Miller is none of those things.
And we've got a fourteen year old girl to prove it.
Rebecca Fried was an eighth grader with access to google.When her dad brought home Jensen's article, she took to the internet. A short while later she found a whole crop of examples. She made a project out of it, organized her evidence into a thesis, and contacted Miller to read through it.
Oh, and in case you were worried?
She's not Irish.
Just an American kid who cares about discrimination.
Sorry, Jensen.
I've written before about how much I love teenagers who use their after school hours to quietly become experts in something. Fried-yep, I'm calling her by last name here, because she's a scholar-had her thesis, "No Irish Need Deny", printed in last month's Oxford Journal of Social History. From there it spread across the internet. As usual, because she's a teenager who figured something out, she's being hailed as a precocious wunderkind rather than someone who figured something out.
It gets better.
Jensen stumbled across Fried's work over on Irish Central and decided to grace the comment section with his presence. He claims that
1. This photo of a NINA sign used in the article, which I've borrowed for this blog post, is a fake (Keep in mind that even if it is, news sources regularly use stockphotos or similar sources to cut time or expense)
2. Fried doesn't have enough evidence
3. What she does have is the wrong kind of evidence, because for some mind boggling reason, anti-Irish newspaper ads are different than anti-Irish signs
And then Rebecca showed up to the party.
With all the politeness and professionalism teenagers are forced to use when defending their stance against someone older and crankier, she
1. Thanked him for gracing the comment section with his presence
2. Pointed him back to specific pages of her own article that contained tallies of NINA newspaper ads and store window signs
3. Thanked him. Again.
4. Closed with "I respect you and your work".
Can we raise the scoreboard?
Rebecca: 1.
Richard: 0.
In my most humble teenage opinion, I think Rebecca Fried is a savvy scholar who will give more teachers the what's for as she enters high school next month.
But don't take that at face value.
After all, some of my ancestors were Irish.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why School Doesn't Suck Anymore

"What do smart people think about. Fancy things I suppose. I wish I knew some fancy things alredy."
-Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

"When are we going to use this?"
That was our marching anthem in middle school. I'm not going to be an architect, engineer, or research physicist, so why should I learn this equation? Do I need to know the history of Texas if I'm never going to live in Texas? I'm pretty sure my job won't require me to write anything more complicated than an email. That plant's just a plant whether I know anything about the cell membrane or not. And tell me, senor, why am I learning how to say "Mis bis abuelos viven en un casa no muy lejos de tu casa?" My great grandparents aren't living, let alone living near anyone who speaks Spanish.
By high school our cries dissipated. Not because the teachers gave us answers we liked, but because we found our own. We became part time students, and spent the other part of our time in a vocational training that taught us things engineers, dental hygienists, and cosmetologists actually need to know. We interned at hospitals, aquariums, and publishing companies. When sophomores saw us walking the halls in scrubs or firehouse uniforms, name tags swinging from our necks, they knew we knew where we were going.
And how to get there.
We cut the fluff classes and applied for work release. We graduated early so we could save some money for college already. We went AP or stockpiled concurrent credit hours. And it finally clicked. Maybe we won't use any of our classes in every day life, except for driver's ed and cooking. But all of it's stepping stones to get us where we need to go.
I'm not just spouting this out. After thirteen years of school, I'm four weeks away from college and truly believe this. I couldn't be more excited-or more grateful. I have friends who aren't going to college, either because they can't muster up the confidence to do so or because their families aren't behind them. I thank my parents every day. My still-in-high-school friends are sick of my class chatter. "Did I tell you I got into my waitlisted plant science class? And that BYU offers a class called "Dinosaurs"? Not Dinosaurs 101 or Introduction to Dinosaurs. Just Dinosaurs. If I take that I can run around saying 'Oh crap, I'm late for Dinosaurs!' And I don't need math thanks to that ACT prep class. Oh, and once I get a few more English credits out of the way, I can take folklore!"
Now that I've passed all the stepping stones, I can learn whatever I want. And I've learned a secret:
It's not about the grades.
It's not about the diploma.
It's not about the transcripts.
It's not about the resume.
So far as society's concerned, education's about producing a population that isn't full of idiots, and so far as you are concerned, it's about making your life a little more colorful.
I'm ready, college.
Give me some fancy things to think about.