Teaching Science Through Hands-On Learning

“Hey.”

“Good morning!” I respond to my cooperating teacher, Mr. Mac , as I walk into the classroom at 8 a.m. on a drizzly Monday. After hanging my jacket on the coat rack and taking down the chairs from the back two tables, my typical morning routine (if you can call it that), I settle down at a table with my laptop and notebook, skimming through my notes to ensure I didn’t forget anything for the day.

“Any questions about your lesson?” Mr. Mac asks as he does one last email check and run through of his own lesson plans before the buses arrive.

I shake my head and say “I don’t think so,” but still keep looking through my notes as if questions would magically appear on the page. I never fail to have few to no questions for him before the students enter the room, and then come up with a plethora of them as the day progresses, and even more during the lesson, which is less than ideal and far too late.

Sure enough, about two hours later, in the middle of a lecture about writing informational essays, I remember that one of the students, who has visual and hearing impairments, may need a worksheet with larger text than the ones I printed out. Since he had always been out of the classroom during my other lessons with his math and reading specialists, it didn’t occur to me until now to do something different for him. I speed through the schedule up to my lesson in my head and know I will not have time to type and print a new worksheet in the time I had left. Shit. Hopefully I am just making it a much bigger deal in my mind than it really is.

As the hours drag on, I think through my lesson, trying to come up with answers for any questions the kids might ask, resolutions to any issues that may arise, retorts for any misbehaviors, and so on. If I don’t think of them now, I will be tongue-tied in front of twenty people, which is really not the best feeling in the world, trust me. One of the college students teaching in the class next to mine visits just before my lesson and informs me that she just taught her lesson on the same topic as mine, and only one of the kids had heard of the term “natural disaster” before. Sweet. Just a little extra challenge, that’s all. At least that’s what I keep repeating in my head. Already, I start altering my lesson timeline, trying to squeeze in an extra few minutes for an in depth explanation to the students about natural disasters, something I was praying they would already know about so I could skip over it and go straight to the group work portion of the lesson.

 

Starting this semester, I knew that I would need to teach three math and three science lessons. Math was simple enough — it has a pretty linear order of teaching, considering you need to use your prior knowledge when learning something new. I also had to follow the textbook and specific state standards. Science, on the other hand, has a lot more flexibility. And by flexibility, I mean New Hampshire is sort of in between standards right now for science; they are starting to switch over to a set of standards called Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS.  Being in this position makes it really hard for teachers to know what to teach because every class is teaching different curricula, which means all of the students enter a classroom at the beginning of the year with different scientific knowledge, and teachers do not know where to find solid footing so students are not relearning what they have already learned, while others are not skipping over major units that they never learned and potentially will never learn.

So when I asked my CT at the beginning of my science unit what he recommended I teach, he told me that I had no curriculum to follow, and he had not taught all that much throughout the year so far, so I could basically choose any topic that I found interesting. Lot of help that was. My first instinct was planets . . . because planets are awesome. I also remember having a lot of fun learning about planets when I was around third grade. However, once I started looking into the planet option, I found that all of my plans were way too elaborate to squeeze into three lessons spread out over potentially two weeks, and there was no easy way to cut the plans down, so that eliminated the solar system. Side note: this is a major problem with teaching science, especially in elementary school settings. There is an extremely fine line between making science lessons boring through lectures to cover more ground versus exciting and engaging through experiments but taking a lot more time. After weeks of deliberation, confusion, and mounting complications, my lessons ended up being about how humans can build houses to withstand natural disasters.

 

Day 1: Researching

I began the lesson by drawing a web on the whiteboard with “natural disasters” in the middle and names of natural disasters spawning off of it. I came up with simple hints to help the class guess certain disasters that I hoped they would have heard of, but to my, and my CT’s, shock, the whole class came up with a massive web and could describe all of the disasters they named without any help from the adults in the room. Seriously, what 8 year old comes up with “sandstorm”?

Natural Disasters Web

Once this web was complete, which really just meant that the students had come up with tsunami, tornado, thunderstorm, and hurricane, I split the class into four groups (pre-made — as in I spent more time figuring out the groups and which natural disaster each group had than planning the actual lessons) to research one of the four natural disasters, using books and articles I found about each of them. What a resource the school library is.

In general, the roughly thirty minutes of group research went well, although one group almost had a complete fall out because one of the girls was copying the work from another teammate and then going around trying to “cheat” by seeing what the other groups were doing, even though they were working on completely different things. We also had a student end up in tears, although it was arguably his fault, since he was upset the group wasn’t taking his ideas into consideration, when the whole rest of the lesson he was refusing to pay attention and playing with Flarp under the table.

Rating: 7.5/10.

Day 2: Building

After researching their given natural disaster, the second lesson was dedicated to the students building a house that they thought would hold up against the natural disasters. I brought in heaps of cardboard (thanks to my recent bout of online shopping) and recyclables for the class to build their houses out of. All in all, the groups worked well together, no tears were found. Team Tornado, the group with the huge fallout during Lesson 1, was missing their problem member, so they ended up powering through their building and was the first team to complete their house. Team Thunderstorm failed to follow the directions of “your house must resemble a house, with four walls and a roof,” instead building a bunker/submarine/shoe box looking house, but their teamwork was inspiring. Team Hurricane, the hurricane with the most aspects to take care of, struggled. Three out of the four members were distracted by the materials, leaving the fourth member to build the house on her own. Finally, Team Tsunami took the gold for teamwork. They worked nonstop the entire lesson, dividing up tasks evenly so they could finish in time. One student came up with an idea to build a kind of pier for their home to keep it well above where the water will be in the tray. The team leader told me “it’s really hard work, but I couldn’t have done it without my team.” I may have teared up.

Rating: 9/10

Day 3: Experimenting

My final lesson was solely devoted to conducting experiments against the houses. This was the day that I was most nervous about because I was in charge of physically flooding the houses and using the hair dryer. This means that I was in charge of whether the kids succeeded or failed, based on how much force I used with the water and wind, which was daunting. If I was too gentle, everyone would be happy that their house didn’t fall apart, but then they would not be able to see the destruction that natural disasters can cause accurately, which could lead to future misconceptions. However, if I actually tried to reenact a category 5 hurricane, not only would the whole class get upset and dejected, but I would also have a massive amount to clean up afterward.

To avoid all of these problems, I decided to let the students conduct the experiments instead of myself. That way, if all things went to hell, it wasn’t on me.

Looking back on the lesson, this decision was the best decision I could have made. All of the students were super pumped to dump water and blast hot air on their houses. On top of that, none of the houses were completely destroyed, so no one ended in tears or made fun of anyone for doing a bad job. Plus, all of the kids were completely enraptured by the rest of the students’ experiments when it was not their team’s turn, which was fabulous and unexpected. My CT even told me afterwards that he thought the lesson went great and he was definitely going to do the same lessons with his future classes.

Rating: 9.5/10

 

Now, it’s 3:30. I wave goodbye to students as they hop onto buses and into their parents’ cars to go home. As the yellow buses crackle slowly down the asphalt and part ways from the school grounds, I meander my way back inside the building, up the stairs, and enter the now empty, hollow-feeling classroom to prep for a new day.

 

 

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Commentary:

For this essay, I wanted to try something a little different from my previous essays. Realizing that I had already written two essays on class subjects in elementary school, I knew that if I wrote this essay about science the same way, it would get redundant and boring to read for anyone who had read my other essays. For those essays, I tended to focus on informational writing with inclusions of personal anecdotes to back up that information. For this essay, I attempted to do the exact opposite — write the essay almost as a story, focusing on my experiences, and then include information to back up these experiences. 

The Perks and Pitfalls of Teaching with Technology

Speaking as one who grew up with only the occasional overhead projector, which I am sad to say barely exists anymore, my elementary school experience was clearly not riddled with technology. Seeing how far elementary schools have come in the past decade since I was a student is baffling. When I started my education courses in college, my initial assumption was that the higher you went in school, the more technology was useful. It is logical to think that a kindergartner who cannot write a complete sentence has much less use for a laptop than a senior conducting lengthy writing and research. And while this idea does remain true to some extent, I was surprised at how much technology the second grade classroom I taught in last semester had. Not only did they have a cart full of Chromebooks and five iPads per room, about halfway through my placement, they implemented touch screen televisions to all of the classrooms in the school, which is kindergarten through second grade. I remember thinking in high school that I would be way ahead of the curve by knowing how to use a SMART Board by the time I made it to student teaching, thinking that SMART Boards were so new at that point, they would just be starting to enter elementary school classrooms in the few years it took for me to get a degree. Boy was I wrong. While I am not sure exactly the pros and cons between SMART Boards versus touch screen televisions, I do know that the televisions are definitely “steps up.” I put those words in quotes because, although they were supposed to be much better and more high tech, I failed to see the greatness of the television in the three months I worked with it.

Touch Screen Television

The television had all the bells and whistles of a SMART Board, but with one pen instead of four that could be any color and was more sensitive, the sound system was better, the screen could be a different screen than what was on the desktop it was hooked up to, and it was a more sleek design.

When the IT guy was telling my cooperating teacher (CT) and I about these added benefits, we thought it all sounded fantastic; that is, until we started using it once he left the room. Firstly, I should admit that neither my CT nor myself have really any idea what’s going on when it comes to technology, and basically everything that the IT guy said went right over our heads as he spoke. My CT even wrote down the most important tips he stressed to us, but we failed to understand what her notes meant when we were stuck with the alien tech alone.

Now, of course, this initial installation happened while the students were at music, so by the time it was finished installing, we had about seven minutes to figure out how to work the thing before they swarmed in. Naturally, as soon as the class came back, they all freaked out and wanted us to do cool things with it. My CT, bless her soul, thought she would be able to write them an awesome message with a fancy color, but we struggled to find where the blank white screen was, and once we found that, the screen was not responding well to the pen. By the time she wrote a wobbly “Hello Class!” the class was already distracted by other things. We gave each other a high five for the job well done though, wiped the sweat from our brows, and proceeded to turn off the television. That was enough for one day.

 

This bleak experience taught me a few things. First, teachers need a lot more than forty minutes to learn how to use a completely new technology. Just because we are teachers does not mean we aren’t students, too. Everyone has their own learning curve. Second, although our abilities at using the television were passable at best by the time I left in December, the amount of time it took us to learn the basics took away an abundance of time from student learning.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average teacher in the United States is between forty-two to forty-three years old. My CT was in her early thirties, and I am in my early twenties. If we, as a younger generation — the supposedly ‘tech-savvy’ generation — are having difficulties with this technology, I can only imagine what the rest of the teachers who are either around or above the average age are dealing with when they encounter these new technologies. Third, perhaps it was just our television, perhaps it was all of them in the school, but it never did work properly. The pen never worked right — we always just ended up using our finger, but it only registered a specific point of your finger when it was just the right temperature and moistness. We also could not ever figure out, even with the IT guy’s help, how to have it project a different screen than on the desktop, which was its main attraction. Moreover, the television had so many cords hooked into it that they were tangled all over the place, and since our morning meeting rug was directly below the television, the students were not allowed to sit under it because of all the cords, which eliminated roughly half the rug. Tip: if you ever try to fit eighteen kids onto a rug approximately 9’x 2′, don’t kid yourself, it’s not going to happen. 9’x 4′, sure, easily. 9’x 2′, no. Absolutely not.

Finally, the more fancy and high tech technology becomes, not only the more expensive it is, but also the more delicate it seems to be. We were so nervous about the television that we refused to let the students anywhere near it unless we were strictly watching them and explained exactly how to work it. It made us so overprotective of this device that it often distracted us from the kids because we were always worried someone, my CT and I included, was going to damage it. Whoever thought that putting over $20,000 worth of technology in a classroom of twenty five-to-eight year olds and one adult clearly never visited an elementary classroom in their adult years.

While my viewpoints on these issues seem mostly negative, I do think that technology is useful in schools, but to varying degrees.  Being someone who has grown up with changing technologies in high school, learning how to teach using these newer technologies in college, and then actually teaching with these technologies in elementary schools, I have a unique advantage of seeing all aspects, good and bad, of teaching with technology.

The teachers of an elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia recently fought for the implementation of more technology in their school. Specifically, they wanted to use more funding to purchase these touch screen televisions for all of their classrooms. The main arguments they made in their proposal for the televisions were:

Proposed technology should enable greater efficiency and productivity in activities that enhance learning and expand student and staff access to acquire knowledge with tools that are widely seen in colleges, technical schools and on the job. The vision of the APS Information Technology Department is to effectively integrate technology into education, thereby creating an exciting opportunity to blend infrastructure, access, and knowledge while enabling students, educators, schools, and communities to rapidly adapt to technological changes in the workplace and in society. We envision
using technology to strengthen the balance between the best of traditional education and new insights about how people learn.

The key to these details is the “rapidly” changing technologies that students will encounter once they leave school. If we do not teach them how to properly use these technologies in school, will they be sufficiently prepared for the ‘real’ world once they enter it? At the same time, are some of them, such as the touch screen television, worth the time and effort, or should we stick with the seemingly indestructible overhead projectors?

 

Essay Collection Prospectus

For my sequence of essays that I will be writing throughout the second half of the semester, I had a hard time deciding on one topic or idea that I was passionate enough to write about for that much time. After much consideration, I finally decided on writing about my second major, Education. Specifically, the issues that are playing a role in the changes, or lack thereof, of the American public school system. A few topics for the individual essays I have come up with are:

  • Students are now more technologically advanced than their teachers, which puts them at a disadvantage.
  • Classroom size is a big problem because as the student to teacher ratio grows, the less one-on-one time students have with their teacher for the specific help they need.
  • Homework: is it necessary? How much homework should be given based on grade level?
  • School hours: what is the optimal time students should go to school, considering days of the week and hours of the day?
  • Finland: why is their school system the best in the world, and what can the U.S. change to model after Finland?
  • How does home life impact students? i.e. parent relationships/divorce, etc.
  • Why do students hate math so much?

These are just a few options of essays that I will write throughout my sequence of essays. I am planning on writing between 3-5, depending on how long they end up being. For example, if I start writing the first one or two essays and they are very time consuming and lengthy, I will write 3-4. If they are shorter in length and I have time, I will write 4-5 essays.

Depending on the topic of the essay, I will include my personal experiences that I have had in elementary school classrooms as a student and as a teacher because when I added this to my first essay about essays in schools, the class seemed to enjoy it.

I envision this series of essays to be informative to my readers and give them a bit of information about the school system because these are relevant topics in today’s society that need be evaluated. Many of my readers potentially will have a say in some of these topics in the future, and they should be as best informed as possible before they take a side.

4 Replies to “Education Evaluation : Essay Collection Prospectus”

  1. Of course I can’t help but be drawn to your writing because I am currently just as involved with students lives as you are. For me your writing is something that I can relate to and I love every bit of it. I feel as though your second half semester essays will only continue to improve. Your last possible essay on why students hate math so much I think is one that I will definitely want to read. I have always struggled with that subject myself and I don’t even think I have found an answer to why I ‘hate’ it so much. I want to hear your side of this and maybe even have a statistical approach may help with the non-teachers to understand students and their struggles with math.

  2. This sounds like a compelling series. I used to be an education major, but a lot of those questions are quite important to society at large. So on a personal and a political level, I see these as worthwhile questions to ask, and essays to write.

    Keeping the content on track and not covering too much might be your struggle. But I trust that you will conquer that!

  3. I think that writing about your experience in the classroom is very useful because not everyone has that perspective. If you could describe your own experiences in a way that gives context and situates the reader at the front of the classroom, you will have achieved essay effectiveness.

  4. I found this idea for a series to be very interesting and relatable as I too am an education major. I think it could be a very cool area for you to play around with with your writing due to your personal connection to the matter of your essays. I think it would be very beneficial for you to ask yourself and answer questions regarding your experience both as a student and as a teacher because you challenge a lot concepts that have been in the educational system for a while, but as someone who went through the educational system I am left wondering what made you interested in a field as a career that seems to need a lot of reform in order to be more successful.

Math Malice: Why People Tend to Hate Math

“Thank you for teaching math today, Miss Reed. It was nice to do something completely different and not out of the book.”

On the first day of class, my professor had us raise our hands if we felt excited or nervous about teaching math. I was the only non-math major student to raise their hand for excited.

When I taught my math lessons a few weeks ago in a third grade classroom, I got the chance to introduce a unit, graphing. I did end up slightly nervous as the first lesson approached because I kept thinking, “what if the kids all hate what I am teaching or get confused?” My concern was due to the fact that the first lesson had to be taught from the class’ textbooks, which didn’t give me a lot of leeway for switching the lesson around or making it all that engaging. While I am not 100% sure if they were like this when I was in school, the textbooks nowadays literally spell out what the teacher is supposed to say and ask the students during the lesson word for word. And the teachers are expected not only to say this verbatim, but also to use this textbook every single day.

While this may work for high schoolers, or at least by high school, students are used to this method of teaching enough that they can sit through it relatively silently, kids are between the ages of seven and nine in third grade. For those of you who don’t know, seven year olds cannot sit in a desk listening to an adult chanting mathematical terms for an hour every day. But that is what teachers are expected to do. When students are forced to listen to math lectures every day,  no matter their age, they tend to lose the motivation to strive for success or interest in math.

When I started out in the classroom, I asked my cooperating teacher why he taught every math lesson the way that he did. I thought that this could potentially answer that nagging question that I have wondered far longer than the average person, “why do people hate math so much?” Basically, this answer can be partially answered by standardized testing. Students need to know a certain amount of information by the time they take standardized tests, and if teachers spend too long on topics, they cannot fit all of that information into their schedules. People typically think of standardized tests from high school, occasionally middle school, but in reality, these tests begin as soon as a child becomes a student at age four or five.

On top of standardized testing, probably a more prominent issue is that math is hard. While English is often an opinion, history is fact memorization, and science has a lot of room for error, math is typically either right or wrong, and there can be many ways to reach the answer. Thus begins the chicken and the egg dilemma of animosity toward math. Let’s be real here, we all had at least one teacher who made us hate math. Studies have proven that when a person of influence, in this case, most specifically the teacher, although parents can be blamed as well, shows dislike toward something, students mimic this emotion. Therefore, if teachers hate math or do not encourage the struggling students that they can succeed, those students will often hate math as well. Then, when those students become teachers, they will exude some level of distaste to their own students, and the ceaseless cycle continues. So to all my fellow teachers out there, I urge you to fake it ’til you make it. You never know how much you will affect your students’ lives, for the better or for the worse.

For my last math lesson I taught, I tried to think of something different that I knew my students would love and they had never done before. Then it hit me. What better way to excite children than with sugar? I gave each of the students a bag of M&Ms and had them graph the colors in a picture graph and bar graph. I did this in small groups, and rotated the groups throughout different stations set up around the room. My other stations consisted of “Gumball Math,” where students colored in gumballs based on addition and subtraction problems and graphed that data. Another station was “Ace the Trace,” a card game that had the kids graph the suits that they drew from the deck. My last station was “Pattern Graph,” which allowed the kids to grab a handful of pattern blocks and graph what they grabbed based on the shapes.

When the lesson was complete and all of the students had made it to each of the four stations, multiple students came up to me individually to say how much they loved the lesson. One student said “it was nice to do something completely different and not out of the book.” (Note: it is alarming yet extremely sweet when a student says thank you for teaching them. Seriously. Did you ever thank your teachers after a lesson?)

On top of that, every student in the class, even the ones who usually struggle or do not pay attention, completed the worksheets and were completely focused for the whole hour of math, a feat I had never witnessed during the lecture-based lessons. Once I heard the comments and saw their finished work, I knew that the only way to be successful in teaching, especially in teaching math, is to vary instruction and include fun, exciting ways of teaching it.

While this revelation may seem underwhelming or unsurprising, for teachers it is something that may be thought of on occasion, but rarely acted upon. Before seeing school from a teacher’s perspective rather than a student’s, I never realized how strict teacher’s schedules are. Between recess, lunch, meetings, specials, assemblies, interventions, snow days, days off, absent students, and so much more, I would be shocked to find a teacher who could squeeze in all of the Common Core State Standards in one year and have the students actually retain the information at the same time. The lessons I taught were engaging and informational, but it is unrealistic for me to think that when I become a head teacher, I could teach all of my lessons like these ones and eliminate the revolting textbook altogether. But hey, a girl can dream, right?

The Satirical Reality of the World

This essay focuses on the ways in which Aldous Huxley exposes major issues of his society in the 1920s and 1930s through satire. Satire enables him to convey the issues with a certain amount of freedom while giving reasons why these are issues and giving solutions to these issues.

 

 

“Nothing is certain nowadays except change.”

— Aldous Huxley

 

One of the most notable essayists of the past century is Aldous Huxley. Huxley, wrote numerous collections of essays on top of over 50 works, including the famous Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, the book where the rock band The Doors got their name. One specific collection, Aldous Huxley Complete Essays Volume IV, 1936-1938, includes four sections — “Painting, Music, Literature,” “History, Politics, Social Criticism,” “Science, Philosophy, Religion,” and “Travel,” and contains all of his published essays.

Born in 1894 in England, Aldous Huxley was the son of two notable writers and the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist and avid follower of Darwin, commonly known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.” Growing up surrounded by a family of writers and scientists, Aldous Huxley first love was actually of science, which can be seen throughout this collection of essays. He planned to become a biologist until he contracted a disease called keratitis punctata as a teenager, which nearly permanently blinded him. Due to his failed eyesight, he decided to pursue the other field of his family’s passion, writing. He builds many of his ideas based on topics he learned during his science career (“Aldous Huxley”). Debatably, his inclusion of science in his essays is partially what makes him such a notable essayist. Some of these essays were considered unconventional at the time they were written, and so by having foundational rational and defense backed up his ideas to make retaliation more difficult.

Throughout his twenties, Huxley rose to fame through his satirical pieces and first published novel, Chrome Yellow. He got married and had one son, Matthew, all the while still publishing more, often satirical, novels. Brave New World, a novel still part of the Western literary canon, introduced harrowing new ideas about the future, through scientific concepts, if the world kept heading down the path it was on. All of this satire throughout his works built a reputation for Huxley, and allowed him flexibility in his oppositional essay writing.

Around 1955, he began to reflect back on Brave New World and wrote Brave New World Revisited which recounted how closely his predictions in the original novel were coming true in real life 26 years later. This essay gave insight as to how quickly science was evolving in the world, and frightened Huxley to an extent because society had not taken his original novel as a warning like he had planned, and instead ran with ideas faster than he had ever dreamed. In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with throat cancer, but was able to complete one final essay, The Island, before his death at age 69 on November 22nd, 1963, interestingly the same day of C. S. Lewis’ death and J. F. K.’s assassination (“Aldous Huxley” 2016).

The first section of Aldous Huxley Complete Essays Volume IV, 1936-1938, “Painting, Music, Literature,” has seven essays, one of which is called “Literature and Examinations.” Ironically, this essay begins with Huxley describing how strange it is to be studied in university English classes. Many writers during the 20th century, or even before that as well, did not achieve fame while thy were still alive. Huxley, however, had become famous so quickly that his works were already being taught in schools, and he was asked for help from students studying him so they could graduate. Huxley admits that he “like(d) very naturally to think that (he was) being read; but the idea that (he was) being studied filled (him), after the first outburst of laughter, with a deepening gloom” (Huxley 59).

Next, Huxley moves into talking about how absurd teaching English is in school because all of the information, whether the novels students read, the essays that they write, or the research they conduct, are “of no importance whatsoever” (Huxley 59) unless the student is able to finish school with a high degree. Having a degree grants students a higher wage and higher social status, but few students ever make it this far in their educational careers.

Huxley then brings his argument into the question of examinations to earn these degrees mentioned above. While science, history, and math all can ask questions that can be answered measurably, the question then becomes “how do you measure a students knowledge in English?” Huxley states that he only way to measure this knowledge is by asking “yes” or “no” questions; however, these questions are often unable to learn the full extent of the student’s knowledge because they are too specific (Huxley 60).

Finishing the essay, Huxley implores the necessity for change in how degrees in English or the fine arts has to happen to be more effective. While this change will definitely not happen soon, “until (the employers of academic labor” have been educated to think differently” (Huxley 62) to be exact,  he hopes that it will be a change that does eventually occur. Huxley is able to convey these ideas through his style, which has bits of satire, but mostly blunt humor.

In the next section of the essay collection, entitled “History, Politics, Social Criticism,” 25 essays are brought to light that revolve around the section title’s three concepts, a few examples being “Notes on Propaganda,” “Pioneers of Britain’s “New Deal,”‘ and “Efficacy and Limitations of Large-Scale Social Reform.” Acknowledging that Huxley was writing these essays after living through World War I and just at the brink of World War II, the ideas of these essays are not only personal to Huxley, but extremely relevant and controversial to the rest of the world as well. One essay, entitled “How to Improve the World,” begins with “this is not a political article.” He starts the essay off by conceding to the fact that although the world must change, there is no simple, easy, or quick way for change to occur. Therefore, instead of writing a call to action, Huxley reinforces his style by writing a list of (sarcastic) changes he thinks need to happen, the first being the human body, specifically the diet. He says that even though nutrition facts exist, they are not being followed. Either people are too poor to afford a well-balanced meal, or they are wealthy enough to either not care enough to learn about what they should be eating or eat in excess. He then weaves his way into a discussion about the misuse and overuse of drugs; how advertisements push the use of drugs, and people are taking them to deal with the effects of their poor diets (which is not unlike today’s society). Huxley states

“the purpose is to produce, in huge quantities and at a very cheap rate, a large variety of more or less poisonous substances, capable of temporarily counteracting the effects of other poisons. How much better it would have been for everyone concerned (except perhaps the shareholders of the drug company) if the energy and ingenuity put into the manufacture of these palliative poisons had been applied to the task of making the use of them unnecessary! It is characteristic of human beings that, when anything goes wrong, they should always begin by thinking out some ingenious device for masking the superficial symptoms. The idea of going to the root of the matter and finding means for preventing the trouble from ever breaking out seems to occur to them only as a kind of afterthought” (Huxley 139).

Huxley then lists other issues with humans, including the fact that many people rarely exercise, wear irrational clothing, do all the right things to become dirty instead of stay clean, suppressing pain rather than dealing with it, sleep problems, taking too many holidays (or vacations in today’s American context), the need for the purification of news, human inconsistency, and possessing cars to seem superior to others. While he goes into detail and really exemplifies his satirical tone throughout the essay through these ridiculous and specific statements, Huxley does have sensible points to each of them. He is able to convey his idea, which is the impossibility of societal reform, through his satire because of listing these valid yet absurd issues.

Another essay from the second section of the book, called “English Snobbery,” is a short piece that questions why people are so interested in the wealthy. Huxley says that specifically in England above all other countries, everyone wants to know all about the rich, which is why not only gossip columns are strewn throughout all newspapers and magazines, but whole entire newspapers and magazines are printed that are solely devoted to giving the public updates about the upper class. Why is this, though? Why do we all want to know about these people? What makes their lives so much more interesting than our own, as upper middle, middle, and lower classes? Huxley finds three key answers to these questions; first, that “the English standard of living is high,” second, “for the rich and the titled, snobbery is not a superfluous luxury, but a necessity,” and third, “attachment to tradition” (Huxley 158).

Huxley argues that England has such a widely recognized belief that everyone should strive to become as wealthy as possible as their goal in life, which is why they revere the people who have managed to fulfill this goal before they die. People want to know more about these dignified beings so they can somehow find out how to become like them. Along with that idea, the upper class has become so accustomed to being in the spotlight, that many crave the attention enough that they fuel the need for newspapers and magazines to include this gossip about themselves. Last but not least, England has always been interested in the highest, wealthiest people in the country, the royals in specific, and this interest has spread over the past few centuries down to most of the upper class. By the time Huxley wrote this essay, and arguably even more so in today’s entertainment, we have grown to expect and need this gossip in our day to day lives. Again, Huxley exemplifies these points through his preferred writing style, satire (Huxley 159).

Moving into Section 3, “Science, Philosophy, and Religion,” it begins with “Time and the Machine.” “Time and the Machine” is a short essay in which Huxley examines the influence of time on the modern world. Due to industrialization and urbanism, he says, time changed so that instead of keeping track of time loosely, using the sun, moon, and weather to tell the day, month, and season, we now have started using time so specifically, where our schedules are based down to the minute. He claims that we, specifically England and the United States, have run into a paradox, where we have lost track of the larger intervals of time because we are so focused on the smaller increments; the problem being that at this point in time, (just after the height of industrialization), we need to utilize both the large and small units of time to live life to its fullest extent. Although parts of this essay is satirical, Huxley ends this argument sincerely by stating:

“(Man) is the inhabitant of an artificial universe that is, to a great extent, walled off from the world of nature. Outside the walls, time is cosmic and moves with the motion of sun and stars. Within, it is an affair of revolving wheels and is measured in seconds and minutes — at its longest, in eight-hour days and six-day weeks. We have a new consciousness; but it has been purchased at the expense of the old consciousness” (Huxley 299).

In a further essay in Section 3, titled “The Nature of Explanation,” Huxley introduces the conversation of what “explanation” is by carrying on his previous ideas revolving around society. He pronounces that all of us, as part of a society, has a goal in mind for how we wish our society should look, act, and feel. However, we fail to recognize the means to establish this ideal society because we are determined to uphold our traditions that we deem so paramount to our survival. Huxley argues that society’s “intellect, which hungers and thirsts for explanation, attempts to reduce diversity to identity” (Huxley 335). In other words, humans always want to know reasons behind everything in the world, always asking “why?” These questions can be answered by science. Yet we simplify these answers to cover a multitude of our questions for our personal ease.

Huxley’s example to explain this concept is by taking a piece of chalk and a piece of cheese. We know that both are comprised of electrons. Instead of going into a deeper investigation of these two objects, we just tell ourselves that they are made of the same thing and our question of “what is this made of” is solved. While “such reduction of the diverse to the identical may satisfy our hunger for explanation, [. . .] we have bodies as well as intellects, and these bodies have a hunger for Stilton and a distaste for chalk,” (336) or rather, even though we say they are made of the same thing, we know that chalk and cheese are not the same things but we do not go into further questioning of these facts. By the end of this essay, Huxley fails to find a solution to this problem, but explains that throughout the rest of his essays he would try to produce one. While this essay utilized satire, Huxley also took advantage of his scientific background knowledge in this essay, helping differ his style of writing from other writers through this unique perspective.

Finally, the collection ends with Section 4, “Travel,” which consists of two essays, “In a Tunisian Oasis” and “The Olive Tree.” “The Olive Tree” paints pictures in the readers mind through its imagery. Huxley starts off by explaining how vital and regal trees are in nature, and then talks in detail about his favorite tree, the olive tree. First, he lists the more practical reasons why olive trees are the best, a few examples most notably being its symbolization of peace and its creation of oil. Not only has oil been used in daily cooking since ancient times, it has also been “a profound religious, social, and sensuous significance” (Huxley 421) for different religions and cultures around the world.

After describing certain ways oil has been used over the last few millennia, Huxley discusses the beauty of olive trees, trees that “state their aesthetic case without the qualifications of mist, of shifting lights, of atmospheric perspective, which give to English landscapes their subtle and melancholy beauty” (Huxley 423).  This beauty is reflected throughout the entire year, because olive trees do not change their appearance depending on the season. Painters never have to change their palettes when working because the colors of olive trees have a “sober neutrality of tone” (Huxley 424).

Wrapping up the essay, Huxley states his fear; that olive trees may disappear in the future because “nothing is certain nowadays except change” (Huxley 426). With the rise of peanut trees means the fall of another, and Huxley sees this fall being the olive tree due to their similar uses. The last paragraph is Huxley’s direct call to action; his plea to stop the eradication of the olive tree because once it is gone, it will never come back. Huxley strays from his usual style slightly in this essay because the satire is gone for the most part, but the science lens is in full force.

So what do all of these essays, about vastly different topics, have in common? Each one brings to light major controversies of Huxley’s time, the late 1920s to early 1930s, through Huxley’s distinctive style. Knowing that these controversies, which mainly spawned from modernism, were relatively radical concepts at the time, Huxley needed to find a way to bring these topics up so his voice would be heard. Therefore, he utilized satire in the greater part of these essays, debatably one of the best ways writers can inflict social or political change. Most of these examples have a very serious undertone to them, but are actually written using unorthodox, occasionally verging on absurd, concepts or ways to fix these issues. However, they all end up giving the reader genuine, justifiable reasons why these issues are issues, and how we can go abut fixing these issues.

In addition, according an editor of this edition of the collection of essays, Robert S. Baker, all of these essays focus on “two principle problems. The first is the threat of instrumental reason” (Huxley xv).  This problem includes the idea that the rise of technology, while being beneficial in most lights, is also rising at such an alarming rate that society needs to start catching up to its innovations. If technology and the world are not growing at the same rate, we will have a significant, potentially irreversible dilemma on our hands.

Baker then adds that “the second problem is that of foundationalism or what he calls a “fixed foundation” of truth, and it is this latter issue that holds significant consequences for his turn to religion and mysticism” (Huxley xv). Having a background in both literature and science, Huxley is constantly battling between what has been proven versus what has been deemed reality. Baker believes that Huxley “had come to view the results of scientific inquiry as something that may “not always and necessarily correspond with reality” because the premises of science [. . . ] turn on “what we have chosen, for the particular moment, to regard as reality'” (Huxley xv).

Overall, Aldous Huxley was one of few who was a major influence to society in 1930s England and North America. Through his satire and logic through science, he was able to gain the attention of people around the world, opening their eyes to the problems, present and future, and forcing them to start at least acknowledging the problems, if not fixing them as well. While many of these issues have yet to be resolved, in fact most are even bigger controversies of our world today, the fact that Huxley was forward-thinking enough to bring them to light during their early stages made a large enough impact on society for a discussion to begin.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Aldous Huxley.” Biblio – Uncommonly good books found here., biblio.co.uk/aldous-huxley/author/676.

“Aldous Huxley.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 17 Feb. 2016,  www.biography.com/people/aldous-huxley-9348198.

Huxley, Aldous, et al. Aldous Huxley Complete Essays. Vol. 4, I.R. Dee, 2000.

On Recognition

“There may be no relationship that affects us more profoundly, that’s closer, finer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy on fraught with woe, than the relationships you have with your brothers and sisters.”  -Jeff Kruger

 

Last week my great uncle passed away unexpectedly. No need for pity, he was a horrible man to our family (may god rest his soul). For a tidbit of context, the two halves of my family are about as polar opposite as possible. My dad’s side includes the “picturesque” families with Ivy League children (one actually got a perfect SAT score — I’ll brag for him) while my mom’s side is filled with people getting arrested for drunk driving with their kids in the car and others cheating on husbands with ex-husbands, plural. This great uncle in particular was so dead set on making our lives a living hell that he constantly sabotaged my grandfather’s — his own brother’s — business by stealing stock and breaking equipment. This got bad enough that my sister and I weren’t allowed to go anywhere without someone else with us in fear that we would encounter him alone on our property. As Willy Wonka would put it, he was a bad egg.

My sister is four years older than me, so we never overlapped being in high school or college with each other. This meant that when she went to college, I had to suffer family events by myself for four long years. Take it from me, family events, especially the ones I had to endure, are only tolerable if you have your sibling with you. Unlike my sister and I, my parents know everyone at these events, and they actually enjoy being social. We, however, often sit by ourselves at these gatherings and make inappropriate jokes about everyone else until my mom decides that we can leave. Three years ago, our roles reversed. I was now the one in college, and my sister is back under my parents roof. We have made it almost a game — who can beat the other for the worst family outing that the other doesn’t have to endure.  For two and a half years, she had yet to beat me.

I got a text message from my sister the other day saying “well kid. We’re even.” She then proceeded to tell me that my parents brought her along to our great uncle’s calling hours, which I casually stopped her to say that I had gone through worse — she still hadn’t beaten me yet. I acknowledged that it was pretty good competition though; since I have been alive, only three relatively close family members have died that I can remember. Needless to say, my sister and I haven’t dabbled with death very often, so this was a rare turn of events.

Next thing I know, I see the “. . .” bubble on my screen, my indication that she was typing a message. The bubble vanishes. Her words appear. Here it was. The pinnacle. The climax. The Everest of Everests.

“OPEN MOTHER-CUSSING CASKET. HIS DEAD ASS WAS LAYING THERE IN A TINY LITTLE ROOM.”

I sat in my apartment staring at the screen for a good few seconds, not knowing what to say or do. As the “. . .” bubbles popped back up on the screen, I started tastelessly cackling. The hysteria grew as the next wave of texts filled the screen.

Finally, after a few solid minutes, I was able to calm down enough to have a slightly serious discussion about it with her, albeit with more than a few savage jokes thrown in for good measure. By the end of the conversation, however, I had to admit that she finally had me beat — a record that I hope I will never break, I might add.

Through the whole process of this death — from the moment he died to the calling hours to the funeral itself, my parents have given me the bare minimum, the need-to-know-to-keep-me-in-the-loop information, simply because, being away at college, it wasn’t a necessity that I knew all of this information since I was never close with the guy. My sister was the one to tell me all of what was happening, without needing me to ask, because she knew that I would never bother my parents about it, who were dealing with an extensive set of problems with wills, funeral arrangements, visiting family, etcetera.

 

In a Ted Talk called “The Sibling Bond,” Jeffrey Kluger states that there is no relationship that compares to the relationship between siblings. Siblings have the unique advantage of knowing you for basically your whole life; “our parents leave us too soon and our spouses join us too late.” Having a sibling creates a sense of consistency, reliability, and a permanent travelling companion for life. Through the good times and the bad times, there is a “primal appreciation” for the bond that is shared between siblings, and nothing can break that apart.

If those values were not enough to prove that siblings are one of the most powerful relationships one can have, over 95% of fights between children has to do with property. These often either involve a sibling stealing from another or deal with issues in fairness — if one child thinks they don’t have as good or as much as another child. Even though this may seem against the pro-sibling argument, fights, however frequent or infrequent, teach kids powerful lessons, including conflict avoidance, conflict resolution, when to stand up for themselves or others, loyalty, honesty, compromise, and the keeping of secrets. Although these values can be taught without siblings, they often takes longer to learn and are not as effective.

 

 

When I was around eight years old, I accidentally stabbed my sister. We were in a heated argument in the foyer of our house, the room where I had decided to sharpen a pencil for some reason. My sister had entered the room to yell at me, which is when we began arguing, about something neither of us remember anymore. Probably a stolen Barbie dress or whose job it was to unload the dishwasher. I began growing angrier and angrier with her because I knew that I was right, but she just wasn’t listening to me. Next thing I know, my purple Ticonderoga is sticking perpendicular out of her forearm — she still has the lead in her arm a decade and a half later as a wonderful souvenir — we are both screaming, and I have my hand clamped over my mouth to hold back vomit. I get queasy over a paper-cut, and even now, fourteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t toughened my stomach enough from gagging just reflecting on the memory. That same night, we were back upstairs playing Barbies, or rather our version of Barbies, which was “let’s have the Barbies go on vacation so we can build dream homes for them and not have to actually play with the dolls themselves.”

 

So why did I choose to write this essay on siblings? To be honest, I texted my friend and fellow English major, what topics she had been writing about recently. She answered “fiction prompts about sisters,” to which I thought “works for me,” and here we are. Seeing how I have twenty years of memories with my sister, I anticipated this essay to be easy to write, but it became more and more complicated the more I thought about it. Yes I have twenty years of memories, but that is a lot of memories to weed through in a short period of time. I knew though, that my sister deserved to be recognized in writing, because no matter how many fights we had as kids, and trust me, we had way more than our fair share, she has made me into the person I am today and I am thankful for that.

 

Being in college often means living apart from your family, which, naturally, results in less communication than staying at home does. Last September, my father had some aches in his chest and went to the hospital to get some tests done. My dad is one of those fitness dads, who exercises daily and eats relatively healthy, apart from my mom’s baked goods. What can I say, no one can resist her warm chocolate chip cookies. The point is, my dad knew right away something was wrong because his daily routine hadn’t changed in the past thirty years my parents have been married. They texted to let me know that they were getting these tests done, but didn’t elaborate too much because they didn’t have a lot of information at the time and didn’t want to add any stress to an already hectic start of the semester. A week or two later, they found a mass near his heart, a large one, and told him to go to a different hospital. (Living in Vermont, most of our hospitals are not big or well equipped enough for any serious problems, so my dad went to Dartmouth-Hitchcock, just about an hour away from where I go to school).  After running even more tests, they officially deemed the mass a tumor, but we still had to wait to find out if it was cancerous or benign. This was when my sister started texting me. She was our eyes and ears, listening into my parents’ conversations, outright and private, so we both had all of the information that they were given, whether they wanted us to know it or not. The tests came back about a week later. The tumor was benign, but they still wanted to run more tests to figure out what it was and how it started growing.

Just before Halloween, the doctors called my father. They told him that the most recent scan of his chest didn’t show the tumor anymore. It had vanished somehow. Gone. No trace left behind. They didn’t know what was going on.

Flash forward another two weeks, my dad has a rare disease called sarcoidosis, where masses grow and shrink randomly in the body. Even though doctors have no cause and no cure for this disease yet, apparently a strict diet can keep the masses from growing too large, which in effect will allow my dad to keep living his life relatively without change. My sister kept me updated with what my dad could and could not eat, how he was feeling, basically stealthily being his nurse just for me. During those few months, she was my anchor, keeping me from drifting away from what the core of my family was experiencing. Whatever they were going through, I felt I needed to go through as well. My parents didn’t understand this thought process, but my sister did.

 

Why Does the Essay Get Such a Bad Rap?

When I taught in a second grade classroom, by November, students were already expected to write essays that included at least five sentences — an introduction, three supporting details, and a conclusion — along with transition words, and proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

2nd Grade Essay on Being Thankful

 

Typically, when one thinks of “the essay,” their minds flash back to their high school selves, scrambling to write a paper about a book they either didn’t read or didn’t understand. Rarely are people reminded of pleasantly writing about a topic they are truly affected by, with no concerns about page limits or paragraph structures. We have all struggled to find the right words to receive that A, (or in some cases, just any passing grade), so our GPA doesn’t go down the drain. Often we rhetorically ask ourselves questions like “why are we doing this?” or “is this really going to affect my life after high school?” in one way or another, but we never expect an answer. Why are we taught the essay in school? Why are we only taught certain versions of the essay? How does learning essay writing throughout elementary, middle, and high school instill such a high level of detestation from so many students? These questions should be answered, and they should be explained to every student so students have a higher awareness and greater acceptance of the work they have to complete. When people are told to do something that they either do not completely understand or do not know why they have to do it, they will resent doing the work more than people who have all the information.

So, the answer to all of those questions that have raced through our minds countless times over the years? Two words. The government.

Over the past decade, the government has been implementing specific fundamentals that they believe all students should know by the time they graduate high school. Together, these fundamentals are called Common Core State Standards. Ever heard of it?

Currently, Common Core is being used in 42 states, Washington D.C., four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. By adopting Common Core for Math and English Language Arts*, these states and territories are signifying that their teachers will strive to teach their students all of the information within each standard by the end of every school year.

* Common Core has general Social Studies and Science standards for grades 6-12, but has yet to create them for grades K-5.

While Common Core does have its advantages and disadvantages, it is what the majority of the United States is practicing; therefore, we must take it into account when we look at how and why the essay is being taught from K-12. My initial expectation when I began researching was that the standards would specifically say “write argumentative essays with clear reasoning,” or something along those lines. However, I was shocked to find that nowhere in any of the Common Core State Standards do they use the word “essay.” The majority of the writing standards state similar claims to “write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.” So why do we use the term in classes if the standards do not? Are teachers limited to proving their students have learned these standards through essay writing, or could they prove that knowledge another way? Can teachers use the term “essay” for other standards than the ones they typically use it for?

Another shock when researching Common Core was seeing when the creators of the standards believe students should begin learning about the concept of essays. By the end of kindergarten, students should be able to “use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces” and  “informative/explanatory texts.” Also by the end of kindergarten, children are usually around five years old, give or take a year.

Going back to my second grade classroom, while these students were not graded on the assignment, because they are six, seven, and eight years old, which is a bit young to give a failing grade, I had to make sure that for the few students who failed to complete all of these requirements, they understood that next time they needed to complete their essays and follow all of the directions given. For example, the student from the example essay shown above was able to complete the essay about being thankful using the correct format that I taught; however, the next steps for me to address to this student would focus on remembering capital letter etiquette, specifically with “I,” and putting the misspelled words into his vocabulary notebook.

Flash forward ten years and these students are now in their senior year, where they have a new set of standards to follow in regard to their writing skills. The three main standards that essay writing practices are “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence,” “write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content,” and “write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.”

Although many more types of essays are out in the world, the four most commonly known types of essays are persuasive, expository, narrative, and descriptive. The Common Core standards for 12th grade give opportunity to teach the first three; though nowhere do they mention students being able to write descriptive essays, which are ironically the essays that arguably allows the most artistic freedom. My personal experiences with essay writing in high school mainly involved the first two types, argumentative and expository. Whenever my teachers focused our attentions on the third state standard, albeit infrequently, we more often wrote narratives through other forms of writing, such as articles or short stories. I remember when I had to write a narrative essay for my college applications trying diligently to avoid first person before realizing that it would never sound right if I did not use “I.” The concept of using first person in formal writing, specifically essays, being such a faux-pas had been so ingrained in my mind that I struggled to write what should have been a fairly straightforward assignment. Had the colleges asked for a short story pertaining to a certain point in my life, I would have had a much easier time writing what most likely would have been the exact same piece. The term “essay” had only ever been used in my life for a certain purpose in writing that did not include my own thoughts or experiences.

To conclude, let’s directly answer the questions asked above; first, why are we taught the essay in school? All of the states and territories who have included Common Core State Standards into their curriculum must meet the guidelines set within each standard.

Why are we only taught certain versions of the essay? Teachers only need to include enough writing in their classrooms to cover the Common Core standards for their state, and the majority of those standards revolve around two specific types of essay, the argumentative and the expository.

Finally, how does learning essay writing throughout elementary, middle, and high school instill such a high level of detestation from so many students? This question is more of an opinion rather than a fact; however, the more rigorous and demanding a standard is, the smaller the margin of variation teachers have for instruction. Moreover, since the Common Core standards do not require the use of the essay for completion, teachers have more flexibility for other writing standards, and do not necessarily use the essay for these standards. These standards are the ones where students have more freedom in their writing, which often means that students have a higher appreciation for them.

If students were told from the beginning of their writing careers, or at least at the point when they start caring about why they have to do what is assigned to them, they potentially would hold less resentment toward essays. Furthermore, since Common Core does not necessitate that the term “essay” is used in teaching, perhaps either cutting back on the term, using the term interchangeably with other terms, or using it for other writing as well, may help students enjoy writing essays more. So much weight is held in concern of the essay in schools right now because it is typically used infrequently enough and worth enough points to swing grades that students possess a certain amount of fear and uncertainty about writing an essay. If teachers use the term more casually in their classrooms, students could feel less pressure for perfection.