Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dealing with Fear

     It seems as if the whole week has been filled with news reports and alerts about France and Belgium. Terror has seized both nations after the ISIS attacks in Paris and the terrorists were linked to Belgium. Seeing these news flashes, a national feeling of empathy towards all those affected spread like wildfire in the United States. However, for most of us watching from television screens or cellular devices, worrying about what's going to happen within those countries borders is the least of our worries. Most of my friends can turn off the news and not wonder what will happen to these countries in the following days, weeks, and months. As much as I would love to be able to push the recent attacks to the back of my memory and not be distracted by a news alert featuring Belgium, I can't. As much as I would love to be able to say I'm not scared, I can't. When the place you call "home" despite having permanent residence in the United States for your whole life is practically turning into a war zone before your eyes; the one thing you can't help but feel is a growing pit inside your stomach; that growing pit is fear. 
      As fears of more attacks have lead to a level four security level in Belgium (the highest level), one might feel safe knowing that the military and police forces are ready to go at a moments notice. However, I don't feel a fear for a lack of help in a time of crisis. Being half way around the world from Belgium, I don't really feel fear any fear about what's going to happen twenty minutes from now. However, I do feel a fear. It's a fear that doesn't ease with growing news reports. I fear for my family and friends. I fear for them because no one knows what'g going to happen tomorrow. I fear for them because they are on the other side of the world, in a situation that I cannot even begin to relate to or even try to comprehend. 
       However, despite this growing pit of fear that seems to stay with me I've found ways to put my mind at ease. I've found that despite the terror, God was still present and isn't letting people down. Bible verses (1 peter 5:7, psalm 23:4 and psalms 56:3-4 to name a few) are marked and read whenever I realize my thoughts are turning away from what's going on in front me to what's going on 4,500 miles away. I look back through "Motivational Monday" quotes and remind myself of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous words: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." When the motivational quotes don't help; I do what any scared twenty year old college girl does very well. I call my mom.
     The fear that's been staying with me the past week probably won't be completely gone for a while. However, I know that despite the evil that was present in Paris this past weekend, the good in the people present in Paris during the attacks will forever outrank the atrocities that took place. It is because there was so much good showed during a time when Paris seemed to go through Hell that there is still a strong belief and faith that everything will be alright. It is this belief that makes the growing pit of fear inside my stomach vanish, if not for a while, at least a little bit. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dear Facetime, an open letter to a good piece of modern technology

Dear FaceTime,
      I realize society often gives technology a bad rap. Researchers are constantly questioning whether our increase in technology is a beneficial or degrading factor for communication. The internet is filled with jokes, videos, and comments about how people are becoming more absorbed in what's in a screen than what's going on behind the less than one inch thick layer of plastics, glass, and wires. Truth be told; walk into almost any building and anyone is bound to find a group of people focused more on a screen than on holding a face to face conversation with the person next to them. However, there is one part of technology that deserves a good rap. FaceTime, you deserve a lot of praise. While social media applications and websites such as FaceTime and Twitter seem to pull us away from current situations and people near us; you have allowed people to not only speak to each other from far away distances, but you have allowed people to see each other again.
     The people who matter the most to me currently live not across a street, road, town, or state from me. They don't even live across the country from me. They live approximately 4,500 miles away in a small country called Belgium. Phone calls whenever I go back to my home in the United States are always a great comfort; but it's not the same as actually getting to see my extended family. I can't see their expressions or how their faces look as they laugh. I can't see what someone's new hair cut looks like; I just have to close my eyes and visualize it.  FaceTime changed that for me. It allowed me to see just how wide my grandma can smile; or how much she can scowl when something isn't exactly right. I can see just how my grandad looks as he ponders on another history or science question; filled with an unmistakable gleam in his eye that reflects a need for understanding and a desire to learn more. While I'm still not able to give them a hug or smell soup simmering in the corner of the kitchen while freshly brewed coffee slowly drizzles it's way down into a coffee mug, I can see these things. And that's already more than what I previously had.
     People don't realize how much that means that I'm able to connect with my family back where I call "home" on a level beyond letters and traditional phone calls. It's made living 4,500 miles away a little bit more bearable. So while people are out giving technology a bad rap; let's remember one thing. Just because technology seems to be pulling a lot of people away; if used correctly it can bring families and friends, if not fully, partially back together.

Thank you,

A not so homesick - homesick European.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An open letter to America's Education Community Concerning Math and Science

Dear America’s Education Community,

It shouldn't be news to anyone that the United States is not number one in the world for mathematics and science. All around the United States; there's a cry going out for students to become more involved with math and science. According to the Pew Research Center and the Program for International Student Assessment; the United States of America is currently ranked 35th out of 64 countries for math and is ranked 27th in science*. Federal, state, and local programs are working with researchers to figure out why the United States is falling behind and what can be done to start regaining ground and catching up to countries, such as South Korea, Japan, Belgium, and the Russian Federation, that are leading in math and science. Theories suggest changing how teachers teach by adjusting to a "common core" or having set standards for everything. However what if it's not the “what” that is being taught; but rather fact that schools in the United States are removing one crucial element of education necessary for students to become engaged in Math and Science? Schools are forgetting to make it interesting.

Schools and Teachers in the United States are forgetting that in order for a student to learn, the student must be engaged in the subject. How does one become engaged in a subject that seems to be hard, boring, and the root of one of the most common questions "Why must I learn this" ? The solution to this problem isn’t hard to find.

Show the student how to apply the skills and let the student try to apply the skills being learned. Challenge the students by teaching them how to apply skills such as algebra, physics, or chemistry and biology instead of having them memorize the skills. Instead of piling on the endless worksheets and forcing students to memorize formulas, why can’t more projects take place? Why not challenge students to do research papers on mathematical and scientific topics that go broader than simply who created the microscope or who figured out the value of pi? Why not encourage participation in science fairs? Why not allow students to apply knowledge learned to solve everyday problems?

However, this is easier said than done. In fact, a student in Texas recently discovered that branching out on his own in an engineering class caused him to land in trouble. No, the student did not try to alter the school’s structure. The student also didn’t try to build a robot out of school computers. The student, Ahmed Mohamed from Mac Arthur High School in Texas, made a digital clock out of a pencil case and was arrested later in the day for carrying a “suspicious item” to school. Not only was he arrested, but it took a while before anyone seemed to believe him that the clock was actually a clock instead of a bomb. Police officers even accused him of making a “movie bomb” (a device made to look like a bomb). It wasn’t until President Obama tweeted about the subject that the student finally got some pretty sweet recognition and praise for what he actually did; he made a digital clock out of a pencil box at the age of 14.

Another very popular story concerning science and arrests is the story of Homer Hickem, the rocket scientist who’s story is the basis for the movie “October Sky”. Passionate about rockets, he overcomes trial after trail to finally create a working rocket in high school until one day he is arrested. Unable to prove that his rocket did not start the fire that lead to his arrest, he goes to work in a coal mine and does not finish his education until he teaches himself calculus to locate his missing rocket and prove that it did not start any fire. Homer’s story is true.

The solution to one of the problems currently facing our country, education, and students does not lie behind a scantron or piles of worksheets. It lies behind the face that we don’t allow students to challenge themselves when it comes to the fields of mathematics and sciences. Students aren’t shown what lies beyond the world of a text book or computer screen and when they venture out on their own, some are arrested. Instead of arresting Ahmed, why can’t we learn from him? For starters, find out what materials were used to make the clock and let the next physics/math project be making a digital clock. Instead of simply watching the movie “October Sky”, why not have students analyze what branches of science are involved. Allow them to find something they are interested in from the movie and do a project about it. Let them build models and try to solve physics and calculus problems similar to those that Homer had to solve.  

It should be that the United States is leading the world in science and math. Research Institutions and Universities across the country are filled with students from all over the world. However, the United States is lagging behind in what it should be excelling in. Student’s aren’t interested and that needs to change. Until students understand why something is important and that it shouldn’t be something that causes events to be ashamed of, such as being arrested, getting the students engaged will be a task nearly impossible for anyone to accomplish. How are you going to get a student interested?


A Concerned Science Major


Thursday, September 10, 2015

National Suicide Awareness Day: Tough Lessons

A little less than six years ago I was a freshman at Cedartown High School. I was learning all the things that you'd expect to learn in school. English, Literature, History, Biology, and anything else that is taught. However, I learned a lesson freshman year that I will never forget. I learned a lesson that no one should ever have to learn the hard way.

It started off as a regular spring day containing all the regular struggles of a high school freshman, pushing through the hallways, trying not to get trampled by upper classmen, etc. However, walking out of the second class of the day something was different. There was an electric tension and an eerie silence that replaced the usual cacophony of class change. I remember turning to one of my best friends and whispering "why are all the administrators in the hallway? what happened?"

We found out as we sat down in the next class. A few classmates were red eyed. Most of us were still clueless. Then the school counselors walked in.

My stomach had turned into knots. Something was wrong. Something was wrong that involved all of us.

The room fell silent. The counselors spoke. "One of your classmates passed away after attempting suicide."

The day before one of my fellow musicians, friends, and classmates was alive. Now I learned I would never get to attempt to teach her how to speak dutch. I would never hear her laughter behind me from the saxophone section. 

It was the worst feeling ever.

Many people say you should reach out and call a suicide hotline and tell someone who can do something about it. But what I learned six years ago was you can't always know how much someone needs help. I learned its sometimes those who don't ask for it who end up needing it the most.

That spring day's events 6 years ago changed me. I've become more conscious about what I say and what others say. I've learned to stand up for others instead of expecting someone else to do it for them. I want people to feel needed and for them to realize that even if all seems to go wrong, it isn't all wrong. 

The biggest lesson I've learned though is to make sure if you decide to be someone's friend, be there friend through the good times and the bad. Don't turn your back on them because of a personal decision they made; rather help them through what ever follows. Talk to them. Comfort them. Stand up for them. Don't tell people you love them just on the good days. Love them on the bad days. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dear Society, Please stop body shaming.

Dear Society,

       Spending my summer on what I would argue to be one of the most outdoor - oriented places in the state of Georgia, if not in the United States, I've managed to notice a few things here and there that stick out.  The main one is the fact that we are objectifying women in the form of body shaming. It's an odd form of body shaming; it's a quiet form of body shaming. No one is pointing at girls and calling out or gossiping about their weight. No one is performing acts of cyberbullying to body shame. Its occurring at a sub-conscience level and it needs to stop.
       Working at the pool, many camps of various organizations and ages come through to enjoy the cool water and exciting diving board. However, one trend continues with many of the camps; girls come in wearing either a one piece or wearing a t-shirt over a bikini in order to cover their midsection and follow the rules of modesty. The cause is usually argued that it's done for modesty. There's nothing wrong with being modest. If someone doesn't feel comfortable showing their stomach, it's alright. Often it's preferred to wear a one piece the majority of the time just because it's less of a hassle to worry about how well the top and bottoms will stay on when one dives in. However, why is it that it is considered immodest for a female to expose her stomach while males are allowed to walk around without shirts and still be considered modest? Is it because guys will judge girls and become excited over a stomach? It turns out, girls also judge guys by their stomach. Let's face it, which girl hasn't seen a picture of a movie star, musician, or just an ordinary guy in general and judged him and admired his body for having rock hard abs? My point. So I say, if you wish to argue the modesty point for why girls are forced to cover up their stomachs, make guys do it as well.
       However, it's not just a poolside issue. Drive anywhere in the United States on a hot day and guys of all shapes and sizes will be out without wearing a shirt. Women  are usually found outside wearing something that will cover up their upper bodies. If they are wearing a sports bra, they are usually pretty skinny and could pass for a lingerie model. Why is this? Why can't a size 10 woman wear a sports bra out to go for a run without feeling the slightest bit uncomfortable and feel as if people would judge her? Why is this the case when men, with or without a six pack, can seemingly go out without any worry that they might the target of body shaming?
       This issue goes deeper than just a few layers of skin and adipose tissue, it's an issue that, despite women being considered equal to men, establishes that women are not equal to men. We are still upheld to standards of physical perfection that are almost unrealistic and often only attainable if life-threatening measures are taken. We are taught through these subtle rules that you, Society, have put in place that modesty is defined as something that should only apply to women and not men. Your rules allow for men to go shirtless without judgement while women feel as if they must be a size 0, 1, or 2 to go comfortable out exposing their midriff. You're rules are treating us, women, as pieces of skin covering only fat. You're rules of modesty are doing the exact opposite of what they were put in place for.
       Society, change can be a very daunting daunting, however, objectifying women through sub conscience body shaming is something that needs to end right now. Either apply the same rules of modesty that you have set up for women to follow to the male population or get rid of these despicable standards of modesty that only women must follow.

     Running Without a Shirt and Swimming in a Two Piece.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Other Red, White, and Blue

      July 4th is the day many Americans spend beside a pool, beach, and/or a BBQ attempting to get the perfect hamburger grilling technique down and shooting off fireworks. Red, white, and blue stars and stripes were pretty much everywhere. In Rome, Georgia, however, there was a different Red, White, and Blue that managed to be pulled up into the United State's Independence Day festivities. The flag contained red and white stripes along with white stars up against blue. It was once a symbol of a union of 13 states that had a culture unlike anywhere else in the world. The flag is the now greatly debated Battle Flag of the Confederate States of America (which no longer exists; and ceased to exist in 1865).
       After the Charleston church shooting this summer, a photograph of the shooter with the confederate battle flag was found. The correlation was made that, since previous photographs and knowledge signaled that the shooter was a white supremacist, the confederate battle flag also correlates to white supremacy. That correlation can be deemed as a safe comparison or a faulty comparison based on how the 1860s and years leading up to the 1860s is interpreted.
       If making the claim that the confederate battle flag is a symbol for white supremacy, take into account that there's a lot of people who own a confederate flag. There's also a lot of people who support white supremacy. However, just because one owns a confederate flag does not mean one is in support of white supremacy. In the same sense, just because one person is a white supremacist doesn't mean he or she has a confederate flag hanging out the back of a large pickup truck parading through town on Independence Day.
       The confederate battle flag is a huge part of southern history and the history of the United States. (I've even picked up on this being Belgian.) It's a constant reminder of the Civil War, the struggle between states rights and national rights. It's a reminder that our great nation fell apart at one time and through the blood of many it was brought back together.
       Alas, not to long after the Charleston shooting South Carolina removed the Confederate Battle Flag from it's State Capital Building. Honestly; fine. The flag belongs in a museum; not on a government building (I hate to break the bad news, but the South is not rising again anytime soon).
      As vehicles with the Confederate Battle Flags still drive through the streets of Rome, Georgia, it's hard not to notice the similarities and differences between not only the flags, but the groups of people backing stance of the great flag debate. In the end, slavery was part of the Union and the Confederacy, it just stuck around longer in the South. Revolutions and the fight for rights were a part of both the Union and the Confederacy; the United States gained it's independence through revolting against the British Monarchy because of unfair and unequal representation with the government.
      So next time someone wants to declare that the Confederate Battle Flag is just for white supremacy or just for states rights, realize in the end, whether with good or bad intentions, it initially stood for a country of 13 states that left a National government because they felt as if they were not given equal rights as the rest of the nation.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

African American Music Artists' Call to End Racism and Police Brutality

In 1995 Michael Jackson released the song “They Don’t Care About Us” and recorded two music videos for it. One of them taking place inside a prison. The lyrics and video attack the issue of police brutality and racism in the late 20th century. However, the issue has spread into the 21st century and Michael Jackson hasn’t been the only artist to bring to light these issues. Recent cases such as the Travon Martin case, the Ferguson case with Michael Brown, the Walter Scott shooting in NYC, and the Eric Garner choke-hold case have brought to light that the police brutality and racial tensions against African Americans are far from resolved. In fact, a new case just recently occurred, the Freddie Gray case. For the community against police brutality this was the final straw as Baltimore, Maryland, the city where the incident took place, erupted into a riot-filled hell. However, the music industry is far from staying silent on the issue. In less than a year African-American music artists, specifically Rihanna, Common, and John Legend, have followed Michael Jackson’s footsteps to release music targeting racism and the need for a revolution against police brutality at a faster than ever pace thanks to social media and the internet.. As the United States of America holds its breath to see what will happen following the Baltimore Riots, African American music artists are not; African American music artists are using their talent to vocalize the need for an end to police brutality and racism. 
The Baltimore Riots started just as schools were let out on April 27, 2015. Facebook messages had started off to initiate a “purge” in Baltimore. These Facebook messages were sent by a few students who strongly disagreed with the police actions against Mr. Gray. However, it wasn’t until schools were let out and police blocked off ways for students to disperse home that the events truly started to unfold.  A scene very similar to the eyewitness accounts published in the “Mother Jones” is portrayed in the lyrics of “Beat it” by Michael Jackson. While the song was released in 1982, it is an accurate description for how the riots of Baltimore started.  Eyewitnesses claimed that the police were waiting for the students in full riot gear before anything happened.  There was no room for the students to “beat it” despite the heavy police presence sending a message that they didn’t want anyone out after school. In fact, the eyewitnesses also said that the students were all peaceful in nature when school was dismissed (Brodey and McLaughlin) 
John legend and Common’s music video published has also featured police attacking peaceful demonstrations during several marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with the march in Selma. In the music video for the Academy Award wining song “Glory”, by Common and John Legend, it shows clips of the movie “Selma” and the run in with police during Dr. Martin Luther King’s peaceful march across the Selma bridge. It’s key to note that also the lyrics of the song declare that their only weapon is to remain peaceful. While the Baltimore riots were not depicted by the news media as peaceful, there were efforts to keep the peace. One video leaked depicted an African American man standing between a line of police and angry protestors yelling out “Don’t touch them; Don’t give them a reason.” Another image showed an entire line of people standing between the rioters and the policemen. Staying peaceful is the best weapon at hand because it breaks the stereotype and image surrounding African Americans.  
In colonial Spain paintings of the Casta system depicted African’s as very violent and savages. That image didn’t go away; it hasn’t yet.  One reason the stigma hasn’t gone away is because of the socioeconomic conditions where a lot of African American’s live. Take New York’s Bronx and Brooklyn neighborhoods for example. According to the 2011 NYPD Annual Firearms Discharge Report, the highest amount of criminal shootings took place in the Bronx and in Brooklyn; the two areas in New York with the highest African American Population (U.S. Census Bureau) and cities in the top 25 for poverty (citytoplists). The amount of African Americans struck by police gunfire was 43% of all suspects. 56% of all subjects armed with firearms however, were African Americans. Crime rates are higher across the United States, generally, where there is an increased amount of povertyThese impoverished areas are often ignored by city officials and their citizens are usually limited in opportunities. Without the opportunities to be successful  or to even find means to be successful outside of the neighborhood, some of the people see that violence is the only opportunity and way to become heard and noticed by city officials. The fact however that African Americans are present in the poverty filled areas and in an environment that almost seems to encourage crime fuels the stereotype that African American’s are violent. 
The music industry is trying to change that. For Rihanna’s single “American Oxygen”, an image of tension is depicted in the opening scene. It’s the shadows of peaceful protestors projected onto a city hall, yet upon further examination silhouettes of policemen are standing by. The imagery is making an assumption that where ever there are demonstrations, the demonstrators will become violent. The police are waiting to take action. Just like eyewitnesses claim happened in Baltimore.  
After a collage of peaceful and violent protests that have occurred during the United State’s modern history, the last scene of Rihanna’s video goes along with her lyrics. The “New America” that she sings about is one where people of different races are no longer living with tensions. White’s are shown helping African American’s after a crisis and African American’s are shown helping white’s after a crisis. Hopefully, as the nation watches for what lies ahead in the wake of the Baltimore Riots, people will hear and see the message that African American music artists are conveying and will realize that the United States has seen enough of racism and police brutality; America needs to reform it’s ideas, break its stereotypes, and end racism and police brutality.