Net Neutrality Or Die

Ok maybe that’s a little extreme… However, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this passionately about something that is going on in the world. I truly believe Net Neutrality is a right that the public should have. So what is Net Neutrality? It is the belief that all content on the internet should be given the same credence (aka bandwidth) and people should be able to choose what content they want to see without any impediments (like limiting bandwidth for less popular sites).

There’s actually a really great video from Endgaget where they interview Tim Wu, who explains why Net Neutrality is so important and what has gone on recently. I recommend everyone watch it. So much so that I’m going to make it easy for you and embed it here.

As an American I take pride in the freedoms that we have but it worries me that these freedoms are being lost as corporations control more and more of our political process. Part of what makes the internet so great is that you can get anywhere and find even the smallest of blogs if you just search hard enough. Though the video above really describes this is in the mobile broadband space, what happens when we take one step in that direction. Why wouldn’t the telecom companies that provide business and home internet service not want to follow in mobile carriers footsteps and start limiting access from computers as well? I think this is the next big thing in technology that we really do need to fight for our rights. It may not seem like much now but it could change the whole internet tomorrow.

Way To Alienate People, Captain Genius-pants

Ok has anyone else seen that article that’s been making it’s way around about the guy at Wellesley? Yes, the one where he talks about how Wellesley girls are whores etc. I know Jezebel isn’t exactly somewhere that I frequent but I found this posted on my facebook news feed and was absolutely horrified. Being a women’s college graduate I can understand that it is difficult for a man to live at a women’s college. I remember my first year when one of my friends came to visit me (Daniel is generally quite the ladies man) and even he was a bit intimidated and flustered. We can be quite a fierce and intimidating group when you put us all together in one teeny location, I’ll give you that. But my dear, I really don’t think it’s a brilliant idea to call your peers whores. I mean these are the women you have to see on a daily basis, it’s just not that bright. And if your chief complaint is that you aren’t getting laid then perhaps the label “whore” is a misnomer, I believe the word you’re looking for would be “prude” (which I doubt would win you many friends either but would, at least in my opinion, be a touch more acceptable). Also I believe that you’re missing the point entirely of doing an exchange if the only purpose of this is “to get laid”. I mean I’m sure it would be a nice bonus but I believe exchange programs were instituted so that you could learn in a different environment not to pick up girls. Then again, what do I know, I’m sure had he been at Mount Holyoke I would be just another one of those “whores”.

It’s Complicated Facebook…

So my friend, Deidre (of Decoybetty) was writing about the phenomenon of “relationship status” in a guest post she recently did called You’re A Lot More Than Your Relationship Status and I have to agree with her. I am constantly flabbergasted at all the people who define themselves as single, in a relationship, it’s complicated or whatever. We’re only in our 20’s, whether I’m dating someone or not really doesn’t define me.

If you want to know if I’m single or taken, you should ask because that’s not who I am. If you ask me who I am, I’d still say I’m a renegade physicist even though I haven’t done physics in years. I’d say that I’m a confused 26-year old grad student trying to figure out her consulting gig the best she can and get to where she wants to go on that crazy corporate ladder. I’d say I have a very serious relationship with Grey’s Anatomy and that I could dance all night long. I’d say that I have a penchant for wearing ties but I’ve recently discovered that wearing dresses and fitted clothing is awesome since I’ve worked really hard to get in shape. I’d also say that I love soccer even though I think I suck at it and that I’ll keep going to ballroom classes until I can some day afford to compete (at least as an amateur). I’d say that I’ve had my heart broken but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in love and fairy tales and happily ever after. I’d say that I believe the best in people and am constantly disappointed when I get let down but I never learn that lesson and I like myself for always giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’d say that I am thoughtful and a fierce friend which are the characteristics that I value most in my friends too.

Here’s the thing, none of what I’ve described above has anything to do with whether I’m in a relationship or not. And perhaps I am a little more fierce about some bits more than others because of the fact that I very recently got my heart broken but I don’t define myself as single. I just happen to not be dating anyone, it is not a defining characteristic of my personality or even remotely who I am. In fact even when I was dating I never thought of myself as being not single. It’s just not something that I identify with. I am my own person and I would hope my partner would be as well. Perhaps when we’ve spent half our lives together I may start to consider my relationship as a defining characteristic of myself but at the moment I think my friends and my family have far more influence on who I am today than anyone I have ever dated has.

I mean I’d say I’m a feminist because I grew up with extremely strong matriarchs in my family and going to a women’s college just ingrained that further in me. I’m a cross-culture kid and I often forget this because at 26 it’s pretty much just who I am and I don’t even think about it anymore. The person I am today is made up of the environment I was brought up in, which was the huge sprawling metropolis of Houston, Texas. It’s in the Bengali that my family speaks at home and the way we flip in and out of this weird mixture between Bengali and English; as if everyone speaks both even though we live in the US. It’s in the conversations with my friends where I talk about how marriage is a “patriarchal construct” and this is “normal” because we went to a women’s college.

Quite frankly the excuse that society puts so much pressure on this is a cop out to me because aren’t we a part of society? I mean I don’t believe that who I do or do not date is really anyone’s business but my own. If I want you to know I’ll tell you, trust me. It’s pretty similar to how I feel about people asking whether I date girls or boys. If I wanted you to know, I’d tell you. I mean I don’t understand why people have this desire to be defined by whether they are in a relationship or not. Actually that’s pretty similar to how I felt in college about everyone making a big deal of coming out. I mean yes I understand it can be an empowering experience and all but there is so much more to who I am than who I date. At this point in my life I define who I am and no one else. Sure there are people who have touched my life and changed me but I’d say that my friends who I’ve known for 8+ years have probably had a more significant impact than any relationship I’ve been in.

I hear so often how we hate how the world views people who are single as if there is a stigma attached. Well, folks, we are part of society, it’s up to us to change it. If you don’t want your relationship status to be a defining characteristic then don’t let it be. I don’t talk about mine. I rarely ever have. I mean recently I was with someone long enough where I did start talking about things in we’s but I’m not there anymore and I’m ok with that. Am I going to let it define who I am? No, certainly not.

So do you like physics? Have you ever watched the sunrise over a river? Can you quote “the little prince”? Do you love 80’s music? Can you two-step (cause I might just fall in love with you in that case)? Who are you? Because I’m sure it’s more than just “single” or “in a relationship” or “married” or “it’s complicated”. At least I certainly hope so.

Job Hunting For New Grads

I know that in this economy, job searching can be intimidating. It’s intimidating for me and I’ve been working for nearly 4 years and in corporate America for nearly 3 and I, thankfully, still have my job (though I am keeping my ears open since things are pretty darn unstable).

While I’ve been speaking to quite a few of my friends and family members, I found out that there are a significant number of young’uns who are seriously intimidated by the job market. Not that I blame them, I’d be intimidated too if I were just entering the job market too. But I think that if you are creative about it you can definitely find something. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy and often you end up with things that are not fun but it is possible to get to where you want to go if you just have the tenacity to keep trying.

So let me backtrack a bit. When I was a senior in college I was too busy playing with my friends and writing my thesis to seriously job search. I applied to Teach For America in the spring – basically at the last minute, which was silly because it is much harder to get in that way. And I toyed with applying to the Peace Corps but didn’t really get around to that. Eventually, I applied to a few placement programs for placing young grads as teachers in private high schools but I was pretty late getting to them so there weren’t many places that were still looking. So come May, a few weeks before graduation I was panicking because I had my thesis defense coming up, graduation weekend and absolutely no clue what I would be doing after I graduated. Seriously, I had no idea whatsoever, it was the worst planned thing I’ve ever done. But you know I made it through my defense just fine (whew!) and graduation weekend was somewhat stressful but it went off ok. Let’s face it managing 8 family members in a new location where only you know where things are and everyone has a strong personality always is a bit challenging. The last thing I had to do was move out of the dorms and find a place to live and a job to get me through… well the rest of my life.

Thankfully I had a few good friends in the area and I hopped through a few apartments for the first few months after graduation. Let me clarify, my mom told me to come home but home is Texas and I was a bit stubborn and refused to let her pay my way down and didn’t have enough money to move myself home. So instead I opted to stay with friends for free until I found a job. So I applied to all sorts of odd jobs – not many that I actually wanted to do – just to tide me through the summer because by the time I had gotten to graduation I figured out that I wanted to teach for a couple of years. I was convinced that I wanted to be a public high school teacher for a little while because my own had made such a big impact on my life.

So the big dilemma was how do I make it through the summer without starving and being consistently homeless and finding a job for the upcoming school year without any certification or “qualification” to be a teacher. One thing I did have going for me is that I was convinced I was smart enough and qualified enough to do the job even though I had no “credentials”. When a person is job searching I think one of the most important parts is to think to yourself, “I am qualified. I don’t care what they have written on paper, I can do this job. And not only can I do this job, I can do an outstanding job of it better than anyone else out there.” (Ok, you don’t have to have that better than anyone else out there bit, but it does help to have some confidence in yourself).

So I actually ended up with this horrifying summer job where I was basically an Office Manager… or well that’s the closest to what you could call me. I did some web design, secretarial work, cooking (they would have “catered” lunches for their employees, and by catered I mean I went shopping and made them) and running random errands. The best part is that the whole business was a little shady if you ask me, it was a ticket reseller which I didn’t think was legal but apparently it is. It’s all about how you do it. Amazing the things you can learn when you will take almost any job someone will offer you. But it was enough money to get me through the summer – enough even to let me afford to live with a roommate and not just mooch off my friends.

Oh and for a short while, in that same period I was working for the ticket reseller, I was also an “assistant” for this woman who had OCD. That was another treat, so she lived pretty far away from where I was in a really rural area. And her house was filled with papers and things and I never knew the real meaning of OCD until I met her. Let me tell you OCD is not always synonymous with clean. Sometimes it is terrifying and anything but. I didn’t really last very long with that one but it was nice to have a little bit of extra spare cash for the while that I could deal with it.

So during this time I was looking for jobs teaching. So, how did I actually do that? Well to be honest, I just sent a letter with my resume and why I think I should be a teacher and they should hire me to every public high school in the area that I wanted to live in. Surprisingly, I got a call back from about 75% of the schools I sent a letter to. To top it off I got in person interviews to probably half of the schools that called me back. One of the states I applied to had much harder rules about Certification and I’m sure there are ways around it but it was the summer and pretty tough to figure something creative out at the time but the other state (and quite frankly the one I preferred to begin with) was much more lenient in the high need areas of Math, English and Special Education.

Now I know not everyone thinks teaching is awesome and I am no longer in the field but I think it is a great experience. I mean I absolutely loathed my administration and the bureaucracy can kill you but it is unbelievably rewarding to work with kids, especially in distressed neighborhoods. Also it’s not forever and it’s certainly something to consider when you’re young. I’m not a huge advocate for using it as a stop-gap in figuring out what you want to do with your life but who knows you might actually like it. Not to mention if you teach (in the public schools) for a certain number of years they will forgive some dollar amount of your student loans. I don’t remember the exact figures because I only stayed in the field for 1 year which was too short to qualify. Personally, I think teaching is one of the greatest professions out there and if you can find a school with good administration it is a blast to be there.

Teaching aside, I think there are some key things that young grads should keep in mind when looking for a job. I have a few friends who have been really down about getting a job with the way things are going. I mean tons of very qualified people have been laid off and that is totally true. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a job for you. And that doesn’t mean that you aren’t qualified. So here are some things that you can do:

  • Apply, apply, apply. Apply everywhere. Anywhere. Whatever you can find, just throw your resume in the hat and put a good cover letter in there for good measure too. If you can convince them you’re worth it, more power to you. If you don’t apply, you’ll never know.
  • Don’t just look at job boards. Email HR departments. Email everyone you know and ask them to pass your resume to HR or their managers or wherever. It never hurts to ask for help. Just do it.
  • Be confident when you have an interview. Don’t go in there thinking you can’t get it. They called you back, that means you’re good enough to get the job. You just have to show them that. Now let me clarify confident does not mean unnecessarily cocky.
  • Be honest. Don’t be self-deprecating but if they ask you if you know how to do something and you’re not super well versed, say something like “Well, I can’t say that I am comfortable saying that I am extremely well-versed in that area but I have dealt with it and I am confident that I can pick up anything I need to know quite quickly”.
  • Most of all, keep a positive attitude. If you don’t think you’re good, if you don’t think you can get a job no one else will for you. You have to be your own best advocate.
  • Make sure to follow up on any job you’ve applied to. If you sent someone a letter and this is something you want really badly, call them up. I can’t say it enough, it never hurts to try.
  • After an interview always, always send a thank you note – be it in writing (aka snail mail) or a phone call or an email. It doesn’t matter if the interview went fabulously or poorly, it is good practice to send a thank you note. Sometimes they’ll have you meet with too many people to remember, in that case make sure to send a thank you note to your contact and ask them to relay your appreciation to the group.

I mean let’s face it, everyone wants to hire that person who is: smart, attractive, well-dressed, organized, positive, charming and articulate. Now for the most part you can control 90% of people’s perception of you when you are at an interview simply by being well-dressed and appearing to be organized. If you are shy, it’s not the end of the world, you just have to learn how to be personable at an interview, which does not necessarily mean you have to be a “chatty Cathy”. Most of all a good attitude is composed of confidence and being positive. If you think in terms of “I can” instead of the “I can’t” mentality it will reflect when you speak to the person interviewing you. Also maintain a sense of professionalism, be personable but remember that these aren’t your friends they will be judging everything you say.

Let’s Lower Standards Some More

That sounds like a great idea. I love reading articles on education just to frustrate myself a little more with what people think are great ideas for the young people growing up in this country. My pet frustration of the day is how some schools are now expanding options for the “middle tier” of kids. So maybe I’m a little biased having been in honors/AP classes for my academic career. But I do not believe in catering to the so-called middle tier at all.

Perhaps what this system really needs are classes that cater to the fact that students are different but I don’t think we should be dragging the best and brightest down into the masses. If we have gifted and talented programs they are there for a reason! There are so many bright kids even in those classes who are not challenged enough. To drag them further down is criminal, in my opinion.

What this education system needs are people who think logically. Let’s think about it the so-called middle-tier are having issues because you have too many kids in classes that are too large for skill sets that are too diverse. If you simply cut down the class sizes and put kids that are on the same page in the classes that will solve all sorts of problems. I remember one of the best classes I took was my 3 person AP French Literature class. We learned so much in that one year because we were all on approximately the same level and could actually get through massive amounts of material and our teacher could cater to our actual needs. But she also wouldn’t let students into the class if you weren’t ready to take it, which I think makes sense.

In fact, in my high school they had 4 sets of classes. The ones I was in which were part of a special program that you had to apply to get into, much like college except there was no application fee required. Then there were honors classes that were part of the “regular” school and regular classes and special education classes. I think that system actually worked fairly well. Surely, some of the teachers in the “regular” school could have been better and that is something I feel very strongly that needs to be worked out.

But I don’t think that smart children should have to have their classes infiltrated by students who are not ready for those courses. It doesn’t help when you get into college and you have to compete with students from other countries who are the best and the brightest. It doesn’t help when you are in the work force and you are competing in a global economy. Not to mention a global economy that is currently crumbling so being the best is even more crucial. Being mediocre is not something to strive for and it is not something to cater to. I am all for pushing one’s boundaries but I don’t think compromising standards to allow more students into difficult classes is the right direction to be going in.

Teach For America – Teaching Irresponsibility

I am the first to admit that since leaving the education industry I haven’t given education nearly enough thought. I try to fit it in to my schedule but it doesn’t always work out so well. But I was recently directed to this fabulous article on feministe. And reading that really hit home with me.

I was only a teacher for a year and in terms of teaching careers that’s nothing. I had planned to go in for 2 years but it was never really in my long-term plans to be a teacher. Little did I know how much I would fall in love with my students. Had my administration not made me cry every day for about 2 months I may have even become a career teacher. But this post isn’t about my path in the public schools, it’s about Teach For America.

I remember being a senior in college whose after graduation plans were suddenly up in the air because I had recently made the decision that I did not want to go to grad school right after graduation. School had just overwhelmed me and I needed a break – this is probably far more common than I thought it was at the time, at the time I thought the world was ending.

But then I discovered Teach For America. Isn’t that the perfect alternative to bide your time before you go to grad school? You get to teach in the public schools where communities really need new teachers. It looks fabulous on your resume, grad school or otherwise and I loved TA-ing in college, it can’t be that far away from it, right? Wrong, teaching is nothing like being a TA. At least not a TA at a women’s college where you’re TA-ing help sessions that are not required. I mean all of your students show up because they’re over-achievers and they want to be there, not because they have to be and this is the last thing they’d like to be doing.

Anyway I spent much of my time goofing around and I applied late for the spring TFA application process and was rejected. I was actually really surprised that I was rejected considering I was a physics major but alas, physics is not a required subject in the schools and I wasn’t all that keen on teaching math or younger kids, limits your choices quite a bit. After that rejection, I was still quite set on being a teacher so I decided to broaden my scope to a couple of agencies and look into the private schools as well as send out my resume to some nearby public schools. I remember after reading all of the TFA literature I thought it was just a brilliant idea to make teaching a stop gap in figuring out what your real career path would be. Now by the end of the summer I had secured a position as a math teacher in an inner city (I’ll put the disclaimer that it was a small city) high school.

Now being hired directly into the school system you don’t have quite the same support as TFA or any teaching fellows program that I’ve heard of. But I’ve also heard their support system isn’t exactly stellar. In fact, a few friends of mine in TFA were a little upset because the teachers in the school and some of the students actually resented them for making this their 2 year stop gap. So I was lucky, in a way, that I somehow managed to sneak myself into the public school system without an education degree nor any training. And while I had an incredible learning curve that year I also found that to be a successful teacher you have to want to teach for the long term.

It is so difficult for kids to have their teachers keep changing every year. I remember when I told my students I was leaving they were so sad and upset and I felt like a horrible person. But I am glad I left when I did because I know now that I cannot work with that kind of public school administration and until we can effect some sort of reform in public school systems. The thing that you learn is that you really cannot be an effective teacher in the first year and I would even say that second year teachers are just barely starting to get the hang of it. Teaching is a field that is unlike any other and any time you make a mistake you are leaving an impression on multiple young minds that will forever remember your mistakes. It’s not like screwing up a line of code in a software program (I relate this to things I know, I know code), you can fix that in an instant (or at least some reasonable amount of time) and no one will care or remember that it was wrong in the first place. Trying to re-teach students an incorrect understanding of algebra, well, that could take years.

In essence, I take issue with the fundamental practice in TFA to only stay in the school systems for 2 years. I take issue with the fact that so many people think it is acceptable to treat teaching as if it is something that can be a transition phase in one’s life. It is reaching out and touching the lives of young people everywhere. It is not something that should be taken lightly and in fact you should really truly want to be an educator to go into education. I know we have a shortage of teachers but a bunch of young kids (the 20 somethings) that think that teaching is a great stop gap isn’t going to fix the problem we have with education. Creating an educational system where these young people want to stay, that’s the ideal. That’s what we should be focusing on. Creating an environment where kids will enjoy learning and teachers are respected is what will really make a difference.

Is It Really “No” Child Left Behind?

Because really, I think it seems more and more like every child has been left behind as we keep letting this ineffective measure remain in place.

This morning as I was riding the train to work I was expecting the financial markets to still be all over the headlines of my paper and sure enough they were but hidden away at the bottom right of the front page there was something else that caught my attention. There was a piece titled Under ‘No Child’ Law, Even Solid Schools Falter. Now having been a public school teacher, education still holds a special place in my heart (I just don’t have the patience to be able to deal with public school administration to continue in the system).

So the title of this act is just phenomenal propaganda but it doesn’t actually address any of this issues plaguing our public schools such as the budgets continually being cut. (Unless of course you are fortunate and live in a wealthy neighborhood where parents will rally and raise money for the local schools themselves out of their own pockets). But really the only thing this act has done is require more testing in the schools. Personally I don’t think that standardized tests are always a great measure of what people know. I happen to test well and yes they do reflect that on some level I am smart but I have friends who are just as smart as I am and who generally perform better in class than I do who test horribly. In fact when these standardized tests are so heavily weighted because of funding there is a lot of pressure to teach to the test from the administration (and no I’m not making this up, I actually worked in a school and was told to teach to the test). When you teach to the test you miss a lot of material that is just as important but because it’s not on the test teachers will just skip it. Especially new teachers who are being pressured. I mean these could be very innovative inspirational teachers yet they are being given instructions to expect the worst from their students and often times given nearly impossible goals. Not to mention students lose from these measures too. It is much more important to instill some joy in learning, what joy is there when you are constantly under pressure to pass a test. These days they even have exams in grade school, which I know did not exist when I was growing up (thankfully). I think it is absolutely ludicrous to think that some exam will miraculously mean that suddenly American public schools will perform better. Also how on earth do you call it no child left behind when every single state has a different standard. You cannot make unreasonable federal regulations when you choose not to help out the states. That is irresponsible and unjust. I dearly hope that whoever wins this next election will reconsider the state of the nations educational systems and try to create a system that may be a little less dysfunctional instead of continuing to make demands of the school system without giving them any support.

On a bright note I am supremely proud of Chicago for approving a gay friendly school for teens that are at risk of dropping out due to harassment.

Evolution in Education

I have always wondered why it is such a shock to have evolution be required in the public school curriculum. I find that most people I know are thoroughly shocked that in my high school (in Texas) it was unimaginable to not have evolution in the curriculum. I truly believe that not learning about evolution is the equivalent of allowing our country’s youth to be uneducated. I mean the public school system has enough flaws in it already, we don’t need to help detract from anyone’s education any more so than we already do. Imagine my shock when I read this article in the Times. To me it is simply mind-boggling to blindly say that evolution is not real when it has clearly been proven over the course of many decades. In fact it is the only theory we have as of yet for how humans came to exist. The universe has gone through many changes and it is just a little ludicrous to believe that *poof* God created humans overnight and well here we are. Does God explain what happened to the dinosaurs? Or all the other historical creatures that we have fossil records for? I just think we should be a little more practical about the whole thing. God and Evolution can exist in the same world. Also, who said you have to “believe” everything you learn at school. I may learn it but I can disagree with it. But to cut it out of the education system altogether is just unimaginable. After reading the article I am glad that it is now required in the Florida schools. You do not have to agree with everything you learn but you choose ignorance when you choose not to learn at all. And that just makes for a country full of ignoramuses and who really wants that? Certainly not me.