VOLUME 9, ISSUE 6 (APRIL 2012)

TEACHERISMS

Isabel Seckman Gadd ‘13

“What are some characteristics of hipsters? Plaid, handlebar mustaches, obsession with meats…” —Dr. Lerner

[Dr. Lerner would like you to go to the following link so you don’t think he’s “crazy”: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=meat+hipster ]

“I mean, there’s nothing sexier than someone who knows the capitals of all the countries in Africa.” —Mr. DuCett

“Fruits contain vegetables” —Mr. Gagstetter

Student: “Why is your biography so short?”

Dr Freund: “Because my life is so empty.”

 

 

2012 MLB PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR

Maverick Cummings ’13

I have compiled a list of some players to watch for based on their performance in 2011. The player’s performances vary from career bests to carrier worst in numbers. Other players have been involved in lucrative trades and should be looked at all season long to see how well they adjust to their new teams.

American League:

Albert Pujols–Los Angeles Angels (1B):

Going into his 11th season and still a threat, Pujols has never been on any other team but the cardinals until now. For $240 plus other odd perks, Pujols will now play for the Angels as their possible designated hitter and first baseman. With 37 homeruns, a .299 average and 99 RBI’s, my expectations for Pujols will be almost similar numbers, possibly better because he does not have to first base to be in the roster, so he will most likely be pinch hitting on his off days.

Matt Moore–Tampa Bay Rays (P):

This young gun will most likely be the next ace competing with David Price. Even though he pitched relief for a few innings last season, he baffled veterans with his velocity and movement on his pitches. Consistency is the only variable we have not seen long term, and hopefully for the Rays, it will be solid.

Curtis Granderson–New York Yankees (OF):

Granderson has proved that he can hit for power. Despite how early it is in his career. I think that Granderson can keep up his power. His power jumped up because a few minor adjustments, one of which was that he kept both his hands on the finish of his swing. For awhile little kids emulated power hitters like Bonds and Maguire who had the majestic finish of one hand, which ironically lead to Granderson’s poor year in 2010. Granderson not only has the ability to 35+ homeruns, but also to get his average up to low three hundreds like Pujols.

National League:

Steven Strasburg–Washington Nationals (P):

Sound the trumpets because the star is back from rehab! After Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2010, Strasburg will be pitching opening day against the Cubs. With only five career starts, this man is already a legend in town where baseball fans are passive in their admiration. He will give the Nationals something to believe as they take on the season with their ace. I have faith in this young man, but only the conditioning of his rehab will tell how well he will pitch this season.

Chipper Jones–Atlanta Braves (3B):

This year we will greet Chipper for the last time, as this amazing player will leave us after 2012. After suffering a knee injury last year, we can only expect modest numbers from this 18-year veteran. With lifetime average of .304 and 454 homeruns, the 6 time all-star will leave the game as Braves legend.

Jose Reyes–Miami Marlins (SS):

He says he wants to win and well…I’m not quite sure how well he will succeed. A new uniform, stadium, a few stars, and a notoriously ill-tempered manager (Ozzie Guillen) will only go so far. However, this Marlins team has the ability to compete with the Phillies and the Braves if they can put the whole equation together and work as a team instead of a few stars carrying the team. As we have learned in the past with teams like the Yankees and Red Soxs, and all forms of sports in general, a few stars does not make a World Series Championship team. I honestly do not know what to expect from him because most of the big news I here from him are his injuries.

 

 

FRAGMENTS OF NEW AMSTERDAM

Nika di Liberto Sabasteanski ’12

I’m walking home on Thursday afternoon westward to the F train between Columbia and Pitt. The construction crews are busy trying to make East Houston beautiful, but like the reconstruction project in the postbellum south, it’s taking a long time and chances are, we’ll keep our confederate flag up too. Don’t want to lose our identity or anything… over beauty. I can taste the grittiness of the tar and the soot in my teeth and I can feel the small bones in my ear, that I’ve always found to be so badly designed because of their fragility and importance, break from the sound of the jackhammer. As I continue along, pondering the gender implications of their sign “Men at Work”, I see a woman walking tentatively past me. Her face is frantic and she seems completely dependent upon whomever it is she’s talking to on the phone. She clutches it to her ear like an oxygen mask. When we are directly next to each other, facing opposite directions, she stops and looks around for her answer. Overwhelmed by the smells, noises and general lack of familiarity she cries out with her hands “Where am I?” and then she is gone. I smile slightly thinking of how many times I’ve thought that standing right where she was.

There is a homeless man on Delancey Street on the corner of Suffolk. For a long time, I was convinced that he was a performance piece since he seemed so out of place, so absurd. Even in the summer, he wears a thick down jacket painted silver. He sits on a milk crate that always seems about to tip into the oncoming traffic from the Williamsburg bridge and yet too close to me as I walk by. He doesn’t move or ask for money. In fact, he’s like one of those people who pretend to be statues, frozen in time. But his position is much more natural and certainly more comfortable and only his eyes follow you as you walk by, unnerving and blank. If memory serves me, I believe I have seen his face covered in silver paint as well. It gets better though. He wears a chain around his waist, with a padlock on the front, his chastity belt stolen from a bicycle. His ankle bracelet confirms that he’s for real and I walk by him quickly lest he unnerves me too much with his blankness and silver.

I wait on the platform of the JMZ at Essex waiting to go home. The air in the station is stifling at best and every time someone walks by me, the smell of stale urine wafts up from the tracks. I clearly just missed a train and even though there are three that stop there, the waiting time seems interminable. I take out my notebook to jot down some things I have to do when I get home but my planning is interrupted by a sound from the F station below. I can’t see the man behind the sound but I assume that he is an Eastern European man well into his 60s based on the voice. He must be talking into a megaphone because I can hear him quite clearly from my position but no one seems to notice. Like in a Twilight Zone episode, I seem to be the only one to hear what this man is saying. “Von, two, tree, four, five, six, sayven, eight, nine, ten, ten, nine, eight, sayven, six, five, four tree, two, von, von, two…” When he would get to 10 he would repeat the number and return down to one like he was counting down for a rocket launch. As he got closer and closer, expecting something to happen when he finished saying von, he would start back up again. As I boarded the train, he was still counting.

 

 

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’: THE COMMON MATH FINAL PART I OP-ED

Isabelle St. Clair ’13

Change is coming to BHSEC and the first thing it’s hitting is the math department. Over the pass two years this department has transformed its method of teaching and has created a whole new world of math. While the 9th graders have been spared the knowledge of some of these startling changes, the rest of the school is uncomfortably left to comprehend the true meaning of the shift. But what has changed? The most controversial one is the development and enforcement of the Common Math Exam.

As every BHSEC student hopefully knows by now, our school offers finals during the end of January and the beginning of June. These finals are three-hour-long exams that encompass all of the semester’s course work and test our general knowledge within specific topics. One of these days has become the Common Math Final Day, a day dedicated to the taking of one math test. The 9th and 10th graders and even some college students received finals that are all the same regardless of the teachers they had based on the courses they took. To clarify, all Pre-Calculus students would take the same exam independent of who taught the course. In the end, it seems like the entire school is learning the same thing and taking the exact same test, at least with regards to high school math.

The first time I took this particular exam was last June and I had accepted it with indifference. My test was composed of two parts: the first section was the general test, which the entire 10th grade took; and the second was Dr. Youngren’s attached supplement. While the idea of a supplemental test has been removed from the present Common Math Exam, BHSEC’s math department stands strong behind this test, a test that is a composition of problems submitted by all the teachers. This exam has thus evolved to become not a personalized one, but a standardized test, an exam that shapes the information taught and even limits the individuality of the courses.

A Common Math Final is perfect for students who have math teachers that teach each subject in the exact same way. However, at BHSEC we are proud to have so many different and unique teachers who make our school special. The implementation of a single test asks the students to take the information learned from one teacher and apply it to a question another teacher created. The high school students explained to me that this made the test extremely unfair because each of them were at a disadvantage, albeit they were all at the same disadvantage if each teacher contributed equally to the test. They argued that such tests did not accurately reflect the students’ understanding of the teacher’s particular lessons. Some teachers, they reasoned, went more in depth on one topic and other teachers focused on another, and thus the student’s math knowledge depended on the teacher. Arguably, this problem is precisely what the test is trying to alter.

As a result of this final exam students do not become products of their teacher, but learn to apply what they have learned to any problem. Students who agree with the principles behind the common final believe that learning is not about spitting the teachers’ numbers back at them, but solving a problem because they used the concept taught to them. It is in this way that the standard math exam becomes a tool for students to gloss over numbers and dive into concepts. Because the test is the same, the entire student body can collaborate to study for the exam and teach each other the various methods of figuring out a problem. And, as one student pointed out, because it is on the same day, students are less likely to cheat.

It is thus evident that this Common Math Exam has its disadvantages and its benefits, but we are all left to wonder: why has this taken place in the math department? Can such a testing method work within other subjects such as World Literature, Seminar, or Biology? Obviously, a good literature class requires a meaningful class discussion in which students and the teachers interpret the various texts. Math class does not generally involve heavy debates, although you’d be surprised. Yet what element of math has given teachers reason enough to give one test? It is strange to think about everyone taking the same test on Pride and Prejudice and to get the same prompt for an essay on Huckleberry Finn. Is it because the English teachers are so completely different that one test or one essay for the whole grade fails show the students’ understanding? Our math teachers are just as different and we understand math because of the teacher they are. We cannot wrap ourselves around the idea of fusing together the English department, but we can and have glued the math department together.

Of course, there is an answer to this question, and a rather reasonable one at that, but this exam is indicative of some changes at BHSEC. We have come to acknowledge math as a subject that is more about the concepts than the individual spark of the teachers. The Common Math Exam has altered the BHSEC curriculum for better or worse and in its place has created a new way of approaching math, a method that has been encouraged and dutifully accepted as well as healthily critiqued.

 

 

SCHOOL SPIRIT

Daniel Moon ’13

School spirit on many levels helps define the goal of the school by actively showing the community’s unique purpose and personality. In our case, our community consists of a tightly knit six hundred or so students who attend this school, faculty, and parents. In many ways a school’s spirit really defines the identity of the school.

Unfortunately, one thing that BHSEC students believe that our school lacks is spirit. A Year 2 student has told me once that BHSEC students are marked by apathy for the events that go on in our school such as dances in which student attendance is crucial for raising money. The student told me that there was poor attendance to the BHSEC basketball games, which indicate that students, as a body, are apathetic about such events. Largely this apathy comes from unawareness of events or the busy schedules that students have that prevent them from attending.

However, considering that BHSEC tends show to school spirit by having days such as Community Day, in which students do not go to classes but have a potluck, and Symposium Day, in which students present their individual academic works, I would disagree with the sentiment that our school lacks spirit. Before coming to BHSEC, I have never heard of a Community Day or a Symposium Day, and these events came to me as a pleasant surprise, especially because they promote sociability and enterprises where students explore presentation through food and intellect.

Recently, many BHSEC students who study Chinese attended the Wu Foundation dinner, commemorating the passing away of a beloved Chinese teacher who taught BHSEC previous years. In memory of language as a spoken trade, students performed dialogues in Chinese and read some Chinese poetry. The events held by our school and the willingness of students to attend those events reveal to me that BHSEC does in fact care about school spirit, it’s just not in the traditional sense of the phrase. Although the BHSEC spirit may occasionally come and go, an elusive presence, it is there nonetheless. Our school spirit, like many others, is marked by friendship.

I would maintain that the main component that enriches school life is friendship among students and faculty, and our school has that friendship. But the vitality of the friendships, which celebrate the livelihood of education and personal development, needs to be made clearer to students doubting the existence of it.

How can those friendships that embody our school be made evident daily rather than intermittently? Well, I do not have the answer to this question, but it is clear to me that Community Day is a step closer to the answer.

 

 

THE LONGEST WAR

Jack Jenkins ’12

Since day one of the American occupation of Afghanistan, our troops have fought alongside natives against the threat of terrorism in that country. Since then it has become our primary objective to prepare and train the security forces of the Afghan people to defend themselves against the terrorists that elude us. Earlier this year when American intelligence uncovered that Afghanistan’s immense drug economy partly financed the Taliban, troops were swift to burn entire fields of cannabis and cases of busted drug smugglers increased with increased security. America’s interest in Afghanistan was twofold: to fight terrorism directly, and to teach the Afghan people how to themselves one day. The crackdown on drugs is a good example of America’s interest in starving the terrorists of a great portion of their income, but also its interest in fostering a strong Afghan state modeled after our own.

After having ordered an additional thirty thousand troops into Afghanistan, Obama has created a timetable that promises the withdrawal of all American armed forces (military advisors will remain) from Afghanistan. Just recently, American and Afghan diplomats had reached an important agreement concerning the withdrawal, but unfortunately, the stupidity of a few individual Americans has nearly brought all of that good work to ruin. The Qu’ran burnings of Feb. 20th and the March 11th civilian massacre have outraged not only the Afghan people and their government, but the Taliban as well which promises to avenge the deaths of the civilians and the outrage of the burned holy books. Throughout the war, American soldiers have treated the Afghan people disgracefully (in 2010, a squad was found guilty of “thrill killing” Afghan civilians and urinating on fallen Afghan soldiers).

It’s hard not to face palm for this one. The longest war in our nation’s history – longer than the Vietnam War even – was finally taking a turn for the better, but now it is being circulated that our enemy has more in common with our ally than we do in terms of what they’re fighting for, which is a grave problem. There seem to be two global personalities for the American: the thoughtful, humanitarian, moral diplomat and the ruthless, base, unsympathetic soldier and its often hard to distinguish the two. If we plan to withdraw by 2014 leaving behind both a strong nation and a dependable ally against the war on terror, our citizens and soldiers have to get their acts together.

 

 

FINDING CINDY SHERMAN

Alyssa Freeman ’12

If you can find her amongst the myriad of images, across the galleries on the sixth floor of the MOMA, spend some time with Cindy Sherman. Her show runs through June 11, 2012. Sherman has been thrilling voyeurs for thirty years as a photographer and performance artist. She is the subject, model, make-up artist, creator, and choreographer of each and every one of her 170 photos. One can imagine Sherman’s infantry of costumes, wigs, and make up strewn across her studio. How many hours, days, weeks, months, or years has Sherman spent dressing and undressing to create the desired image for her camera?

This photo exhibition spans decades of her work and Sherman displays herself through media created images that confront the viewer and impact all levels of consciousness. In the series Untitled Film Stills, which began in the 1970’s, Sherman merges herself with glamorous screen stars in a manner that tempts the viewer into consciously thinking that the actress being portrayed is identifiable. In fact, none of the stills are replications but anyone familiar with Film Noir will look twice and wonder: Is that Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number, or Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park? No, it is Cindy Sherman. From a more contemporary perspective, the viewer might imagine Sherman from scenes in Madmen: Joan or Peggy in their early 1960’s apartments, caught by a haunting, emotional moment.

These stills are stereotypically female and here, Sherman oozes glamour and dramatic beauty. In sharp contrast, to the film series Sherman demonstrates that she can morph into images where gender is irrelevant. In a color photo series, she depicts herself through figures that span Art History, as a van Eyck Dutch boy, a page from the Roman era, and as Rembrandt himself. The likenesses to historical paintings are astonishing, causing viewers to question whether Sherman actually photographed herself in actual paintings. Shifting appearances again, in her most recent series, Sherman takes on aging, this time depicting herself in portraits as an older society woman living on the upper-east-side, our cultural equivalent to aristocracy. Here Sherman is offering a message about our culture’s view of aging women. The images here are of Sherman’s frozen-face, caked with make up and framed by stiff, stylized hair. Images of Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher stimulate the brain, in the same manner that the Film Stills recall images of glamorous stars. Aging woman in this series are not permitted the same range of emotions that younger woman are. Age is concealed by make-up, and vulnerabilities hidden behind wealth. The meaning of cultural and societal roles are highlighted and defined by the media.

To this end, Sherman’s work suggests that gender-identity, age, culture, and race can be transcended given the actor’s willingness to move in and out of assigned roles. Sherman is clearly a versatile artist, however her shifts from photograph to photograph suggest that we are all capable of altering personas depending on the context. The context defines the portrait as much as Sherman, as the actor, defines the subject. Each photo is carefully constructed through scenery: the film stars in their cities or 1960’s apartments, Rembrandt emerging in subtle light from darkness, or society women in their libraries.

Find Cindy Sherman at MOMA. Undoubtedly, you will appreciate the range of creativity demonstrated by the artist, and perhaps allow yourself to imagine the experience of transcending social class, time and gender. As your mind travels through all of the possible incarnations of your usual self, consider how Sherman expands herself by stepping into different roles. Consider the possibilities of stretching your own persona, and Sherman’s underlying message: question stereotypes.

 

 

INDEPENDENT STUDIES: FROM CANCER CELL GROWTH TO COMPLEX ANALYSIS

Emma Evans ’15

The road to success is not always defined. Some of us have known what we have wanted to pursue since our first discovery in the 8th grade laboratory. Others, myself included, are waiting for our interests to develop, evolve and change. BHSEC’s Independent Studies program enables both types of students to seek the cultivation of prior interest or to establish new fascinations entirely. An independent study is a self directed form of education in which a student, under the guidance of a mentor, chooses a particular field that they would like to explore on a higher level then what is currently offered to them.

During first semester, eleven independent studies were conducted. However, second semester is a classic time for the Y2s to conduct their own independent study as they have finally made it through the time and energy consuming college application process. With spring around the corner the number of independent studies has increased to twenty studies often with more than one student per study. Currently, students are exploring interests in a variety of fields from Arts as a Social Inquiry to Cancer Cell Biology. The independent studies program changes each semester and the courses offered always reflect the student body and their unique interests.

Education is what you make it and the students involved in independent studies are undoubtedly taking advantage of all of their resources. The students are the ones who essentially design the course. Dr. Lerner further explains how the study initiates “The process begins with the student developing a proposal”. After the student has developed a proposal and found a mentor that can facilitate their study what they get out of the course is almost entirely up to them. An independent study isn’t like a traditional class and students are expected to “to show a pretty decent amount of initiative and motivation” explains Dr. Cooper the mentor of the solar power independent study. Students put in what they get out and thus these students are often very enthusiastic to investigate and pursue their interests.

I had the opportunity to speak to a handful of the Y2s involved in their own studies. Amelia Holcomb raved about the independent study she is participating in with two other peers entitled Complex Analysis. “Complex analysis” she explained “is basically the study of calculus on imaginary numbers”. Amelia has always loved math and this study allows her to expand her knowledge of mathematics and forces her to fathom new ideas and concepts. Although she admits the independent study does come with a lot of work, it exposes her “to real world mathematics, that you just can’t get from a traditional math class”.

Additionally, Willa Collins, another Y2 explained how the Cancer Cell Biology independent study she is involved in completely altered her perspective on scientific research. In fact it allowed her to see a whole other path of career opportunities that she would be interested in undertaking. Willa’s study allows her to do legitimate research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She commented “My independent study involves spending six hours in the lab a week” Willa described and despite how painstaking and frustrating the work may be it is also very rewarding and exciting. “Before getting involved in this independent study I had very little interest in research. I thought it would be boring and frustrating, doing the same thing everyday.” However after being involved in the Cancer Cell biology study for only a few weeks her perspective was completely transformed. She realized how fun and interesting research really is. “It makes you feel like your part of something” and Willa even admitted that this is a field she may very well continue to pursue in college and throughout her life.

All of the students I spoke to were genuinely excited about their independent studies. They really enjoy being part of it and they would recommend independent studies to all BHSEC students interested in a particular subject area.

Independent studies are an excellent window into the realistic world of the subjects we are exposed to everyday in the classroom. Independent studies are “the best test of what real life holds for you,” Dr. Lerner commented and BHSEC offers us a chance to have control over our learning and extract what we learned inside the classroom and apply it to the real world.

 

 

THE HUNGER GAMES: A REVIEW

Alexi Block Gorman ’12

In the movie The Hunger Games, based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins, Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, an impoverished young citizen of District 12 of the nation of Panem, formerly the United States, who volunteers to participate in the annual sacrifice performed by the twelve districts. The sacrifice takes the form of a reality show on which the contestants, necessarily children between ages twelve and eighteen, must fight to the death, as only the last one alive may be sent home to his or her family. This story is masterfully adapted and directed by Gary Ross, who, given both the difficulties and opportunities of the audiovisual medium, arguably created an even more worthy work of art than the novel itself

The film starts beautifully with a display of false righteousness, a talk show host and the man called the gamekeeper marketing the horror of the coming hunger games as art. This sets the tone of the film’s critique of cultural corruption and the fallacy of honesty in media marketing. When the shot then jumps to images of Katniss’ village we are meant to notice the distinctly monochromatic attire and landscape of the people as snapshots appear of dirty children and old men gnawing on bones.

Katniss herself is played by an impressive actress; a single look tells us that Katniss has no respect for her mother, and something distant and forlorn in her eyes reminds us that she is being torn from her family even when the entitled characters are rejoicing for her and themselves, or at least pretending to do so. The actress alone cannot be credited for the delicate balance of the mood, of amazement fear and disgust (which were easier to maintain in the book where we heard all of Katniss’ thoughts) when the fast-paced film is filled with beautiful, emotional moments. We establish Prim’s character, the urgency that she not be made tribute, with one short panic attack, a single moment to emphasize the horror of the process and the emotional strength Katniss possesses for the sake of her sister.

The character Effie, District Twelve’s representative from the capital for the Hunger Games, looks comical in her overdone clothes, makeup, and colors (not to mention the falsely cheery attitude) compared to the starved and gaunt District Twelve citizens. However, the absurdity of her appearance and personality is explained in the context of the capital. There, in the capital, we see that all its privileged and entitled citizens suffer from the same excesses destroying America’s culture and humanity today—sensory overload has made them incapable of empathizing with anything less than extremes, hence the need for a reality show about war and death. The film makers clue us in to the sensory overload epidemic through visual over-stimulation—the citizens of the capital overindulge in makeup, adornment, and even colors are juxtaposed in such garish excess as to lose all distinction unless indulged profusely.

Unlike in the books, we are also shown the workings of the game designers, the mechanics of managing the games, and thereby we are made to remember at all times that the Hunger Games are a reality show, that death itself is not perverse, but this—death in such a closely controlled environment, death for thousands of others’ enjoyment—certainly is.

Much like the Game Keeper and game designers, President Snow is given far more dimension in the movie, and is given a poignant metaphor: his own carefully tended rose garden. Snow lectures the Game Keeper on keeping hope in line, discussing the death of children while pruning a rose with cold precision. To him the metaphor is that his nation is a garden that must not only survive but be aesthetically pleasing, so the less-than-pleasing parts must be pruned away, never mind that they are pieces of life he is sheering away from their branches, not for its own health but for its aesthetic affect. Even Snow’s amateur occupation as gardener is a role which requires one to get one’s hands dirty, yet Snow is enabled by the artifice of human captivity, to keep his hands impeccably clean.

But why children? Because they still believe in fairness and good vs. evil, and because the government needs innocence in order to corrupt, to manipulate, or else the game does not work. The ultimate message, though, beside the commentary on our sometimes-perverse culture, is that no matter what arbitrary circumstances are before us, we always have a choice.

Was this movie in itself sensory overload? Yes, and though the movie could in fact be a critique of itself and the over-stimulated culture it represents, the message it has to give is worth its unintentional irony.

 

 

THE FINAL STEP IN A LONG JOURNEY

Micaela Beigel ’14

This time of the year is a particularly crazy orchestration of organization for the administration of BHSEC, and keeping track of all the foreign countries my classmates have or will be traveling to this semester has proved nearly impossible. Last month BHSEC lead two trips abroad over midwinter break, a two-week trip to Madrid, Spain and another to Rome Italy. In the beginning of April, Mr. DuCett and Ms. Chen escorted another group of students to China from the annual Chinese exchange. One more exchange came to a close just last month when the Japanese exchange program finally completed it’s inaugural year after more then a year and a half in preparation.

On March 10th 2012, ten BHSEC students flew, accompanied by Mr. Mikesh and Dr. Brutsaert, to the city of Nagoya, Japan to complete the second half of the exchange. Now it was time for the Japanese students to host their American counterparts for about ten days. Though the exchange was meant to have taken place last March, the now infamous Japanese tsunami delayed the trip.

Though the students from Japan came to America with the supplemental purpose of sharing and educating students on their scientific experiments (they even lectured in a few of BHSEC’s college science courses), the BHSEC students traveled to Japan with a more cultural interest. While there the students experienced many cultural parallels to our own despite the separation of continents.

“It was completely lecture based” Alea Alexis ’14 starts off as she begins to describe the structure of schooling in Japan. “There is never a discussion or exchange in ideas, the teacher talks and the students listen.” In this way the classes are very different then ours, which encourage student-teacher interaction and discussion based thinking.

“The classes are also larger,” says Thea Lang, ’14, another participant in the exchange. She goes on to discuss how even though she didn’t speak enough Japanese to understand what was being discussed in class she got the feeling that the students weren’t always interested in the class topics, and that many of the teachers were stretched too thin. This is very different then the general atmosphere at BHSEC, where premium is put, especially in the college program, on learning things you are interested in. The students also wear uniforms, and though BHSEC students weren’t required to do so during their stay, a couple elected to in the spirit of full immersion. In most other ways the students in Japan are very similar to us, they played games and liked hanging out after school.

“We went shopping after school,” says Lang, “it was fun because we would spend all day at school and afterwards they would take us somewhere cool.” Thea also says that some of the host families spoke fairly good English, and that a member of her host family had even lived in England for a number of years. However, when asked what one of the best things in Japan was, hands down, the answer was consistently the food.

It’s clear talking with the BHSEC participants of the exchange that this was one of the best experiences they ever could have given themselves and even though it took a year longer to get underfoot, it was one hundred percent worth it.

 

 

KONY 2012

Hannah Frishberg ‘13

On March 5th the non-profit organization Invisible Children uploaded a 30 minute video to YouTube called “KONY 2012” so as to raise awareness of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Christian militant group in Africa whose leader, Joseph Kony, is number one on the International Criminal Court’s “Most Wanted” list for 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes (including forced enlisting of children into the rebel ranks, rape, pillaging, sexual enslavement, and murder). On its first day alone the campaign took in hundreds of thousands of dollars, and within only four weeks the video had reached 100 million views between Vimeo and YouTube, becoming the most viral video of all time. Initially, a wave of support for the campaign swept the internet, millions posting the video and praising Invisible Children for their all-inclusive approach to social activism, as well as for awakening the world to the evils of Joseph Kony. Not long after, however, the organization came under fire for its funding sources, spending practices, and oversimplification of a complex issue, among other things. Critics condemned the video for its focus on the life and son of Jason Russell, cofounder of Invisible Children and narrator of the video, and its spread of misinformation: despite the video’s claims, the LRA’s presence in Uganda is considered to be from a bygone era, and the US government was very much aware of Joseph Kony before Invisible Children’s campaign, dispatching advisers in 2008 to assist the Ugandan government with his arrest. Over a month now since the video hit the web, is has over a million more likes than dislikes, has garnered the interest of celebrities, politicians, and the public alike, and yet Joseph Kony seems no closer to arrest.

The issue lies in the concept of slacktivism – the act of participating in ineffective, feel-good activities which require little effort but make one feel like an activist. The KONY 2012 campaign advertises itself as a fun, all-embracing movement based on awareness (not action), encouraging participants not to research Uganda but to “Cover the Night” with KONY 2012 stickers and posters, so as to raise awareness of the LRA. (“Cover the Night” was the name of the campaign’s culminating event, held on April 20th, when advocates were encouraged to plaster their neighborhoods with advertisements for the campaign.) It is not to say that spreading awareness does not have merit, for it certainly does, and this campaign has done an excellent job of kindling national interest in Joseph Kony, but truth be told the KONY video does very little in terms of information beyond the most basic facts about the LRA and Kony, telling just enough so it is clear that both are bad and should be stopped. The rest is mainly misinformation and exploitative montages of white college students holding hands and putting up posters – but all to stop Joseph Kony, of course.

Although the merit of the KONY 2012 video’s content is questionable, it is stylistically brilliant. Of Hollywood quality, all images and individual bits of video are woven together flawlessly, dotted by inspirational quotes and with an empowering soundtrack throughout. Jason Russell, the narrator, is young and attractive, his son Gavin (who gets an inordinate amount of screen time, far more than all Ugandans in the film put together) blonde and adorable, and the rest of the cast easy on the eyes and just begging to be empathized with. The video is a testament to the power of aesthetics – the prettier it seems the more likely people are to buy it. The actual social cause of KONY 2012 is interchangeable; it is the attractive faces and quality camera that make the difference in supporters. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it is evidence that, through quality videos, people can be made to care, but also that, through quality videos, people can be made to care about anything, even ineffective, slacktivist campaigns like KONY 2012.

That KONY 2012 is truly an irreverent, slacktivist campaign is further evidenced by the Ugandan peoples’ frustration with Invisible Children’s depiction of their suffering. At a public screening of the video in Lira, Northern Uganda, the area worst affected by the LRA, the audience expected to see a film which reflected their experience, not a film about Jason and Gavin Russel. Attendees did not even finish viewing the video because people became so frustrated and angry at the telling of their story that they began throwing rocks. One Ugandan man at the screening expressed his disagreement with the campaign, stating “If people in those countries care about us they will not wear t-shirts with pictures of Joseph Kony for any reason. That would celebrate our suffering.” Clearly, Kony 2012 does not resonate with many of the people it is trying to help.

At BHSEC, there is a surprising lack of knowledge and interest for KONY 2012. Although our school is filled with activists, most seem disinterested or uncomfortable supporting something with as questionable audits as Invisible Children. Perhaps we use Facebook and YouTube less than the majority of Invisible Children supporters, or have enough activism opportunities in NYC that we don’t feel inclined to jump on this one. Whichever it is, the relevance of KONY 2012 is quickly fading, and the highly diminished number of views for Invisible Children’s new campaign video (1 million), which focuses much more on interviews with Ugandan individuals and truthful facts about Uganda, shows that the American masses will soon forget about Joseph Kony and Jason Russel. This will be a blip on the map in 10 years, memorable only until some other video tops its virility. The moral of the story is that passion and awareness are fleeting, and real action and intelligence are necessary to hold down any social movement.

 

 

MATHEMATIC TRANSFORMATIONS

Eliza Fawcett ’15

For many ninth and tenth graders at BHSEC, now is the spring of their discontent. A new standards-based grading system that has been implemented by the Math Department across the board has prompted student reactions ranging from rumblings to indignation.

So what’s all the fuss about? Instead of the traditional percentage-based grading style that utilizes a sensitive range of partial credit scoring, the Math Department has put a new system into operation that is centered around set skills, or “standards.” For a given unit, there are A, B, and C-level standards. A-level standards are considered the fundamentals of the topic, and are graded on a 0 (the standards are not met), possibly .5, or 1 (the standards are met) basis. B-levels cover “applications and combinations of skills or concepts,” and are scored 0, 1, or 2. C-levels are the challenge problems, and are graded 0-3.

Quizzes and tests are graded with the standards-based policy, but tests are also graded by a percentage based on the correctness of the student’s A, B, and C-level standards. Also, students are given one A-level problem daily at the beginning of class—a five-minute quiz—that can count towards the unit quiz at the end of the week (if a student scores a 1, the skill does not need to be retaken). Furthermore, a re-take of all the unit quizzes is offered in the week following the initial quiz: students are able to re-do specific problems so as to increase their score on any standard. All these scores can be tracked by a student on engrade.com, which displays the student’s grades and scores on tests, A, B, and C-levels standards, and homework.

What irks some students about the new system is the way in which a student’s overall grade is calculated: unit tests count for 40% of the grade, A, B, and C standards (completed on quizzes) count for a combined 40% of the grade (A’s are 26%, B’s are 7.2%, and C’s are 6.8%), homework counts for 10%, and the final exam rounds out the remaining 10%. Most surprising about the grade breakdown is firstly, the extreme emphasis on tests, and secondly, the low priority that homework receives.

The major complaint by students about the new system is that it is “unfair” since the points one can receive for each problem are too narrow or too harsh. Said one student “if you make a stupid mistake at the end of a problem, you don’t get any or barely any credit.” However, Mr. Rubenstein, who teaches ninth-grade Algebra and Geometry among other courses, maintains that “every system of grading is unfair in certain respects. It is really a matter of finding a system that reflects student understanding the best.” Furthermore, he asserts that one can receive full credit on a B or C-level problem that contains a minor mistake, and that A-level standards are graded in a “cautious” manner to differentiate between slight errors and bigger, conceptual problems. If a mistake is made, a student has three opportunities total to correctly complete an A-level standard.

A number of ninth-graders claim that the centralization of tests is “ridiculous”, or at least it seems that way when compared to the first semester, where homework, exams, and quizzes each took up a third of the grade. The stress on tests and quizzes, for some students, seems against the school philosophy. As one ninth grader stated, “I’ve become test-crazy, and that doesn’t really seem like Bard.” Others agreed that the math system is too standardized, while “this isn’t a standardized school.” Moreover, the emphasis on tests is contrasted sharply with the de-emphasis on homework. One student asked why “a five-minute quiz at the beginning of class counts for more than the homework you spent all night on.” Another complained that “Homework is very important for students—to learn and review the subject—but now it doesn’t really affect our grades.”

But Mr. Rubenstein explains that the de-emphasis on homework is actually a natural shift for the course, one that he implements “every year.” Making homework count for more in the beginning of the year “give[s] an incentive to doing it consistently.” Devaluing homework with the new grading policy, he says, is actually a way of priming students for the college program, where homework counts for less. In fact, Mr. Rubenstein expounds: “it is about training you to do what is best for yourself, and then transitioning to a system that is more like what you will encounter later.”

One of the goals the Math Department had in implementing this standards-based grading system was to create a policy that allows students to get specific feedback on the skills they needed to improve upon. As Mr. Rubenstein says, the new system allows students to know exactly where to focus their energies: he says it can be unclear “whether [in the old system] a 7 out of 10 mean[s] that things are good enough.” He explains that “We don’t want anything in between so you will take action to rectify the problems.”

One student commented that “It seems like it’s much more stressful for us and the teachers, who have to tutor so much.” But to Mr. Rubenstein, an increase in tutoring is a positive factor, and an indicator that the system is working: he explained that “There are far more students coming in to work on B and C level problems, which usually didn’t occur. To me that’s great, students are not letting material slip by them anymore and I think that it is due to their involvement on engrade and how clearly delineated the skills are.”

Another major complaint from the student end is the atmosphere of quiz re-takes. Although no one disputes the opportunity for a second chance, having what usually ends up being the entire grade funneled into the auditorium afterschool and aligned into rows creates quite a tense environment. One student commented that, in theory, “the fact that the whole grade goes to the quiz retake should be a red flag.” Whether that is a marker of increased student motivation, or an indicator that the material needs to be reviewed more thoroughly, depends on whether you’re talking to a teacher or to a student.

Obviously there is a lot of contention between students and teachers about this new system. While it is beneficial to be able to pinpoint exactly which skills a student needs to improve upon, the system does seem to make the process quite stressful. Perhaps the negatives of the new system seem worse, or more intense, when compared to the “norm” of last semester’s system. At the very least, having direct access to one’s grades online makes their incremental fluctuations all the more obvious, and, in some cases, nerve-wracking: a ninth grader explained that she had become too focused on her grades.

Nevertheless, Mr. Rubenstein concedes that the system is still somewhat of a work-in-progress. The math teachers are adjusting to the new demands of all staying on the same page, and “each unit, we make improvements.”

 

 

NOT JUST A CULTURAL EXPERIENCE

Micaela Beigel ’14 with contributions by Nika Sabasteanski ’12

It is no secret that BHSEC prides itself on its ability to provide its students with multiple unique tools for the furthering of academic interest and experience. Though there are many such outlets for this purpose available at BHSEC not all succeed in helping kids discover greater passion for certain subjects. However, it is clear that one area our school succeeds in is the ability to send its students across the globe on one of our multiple abroad or exchange programs. Some students would be surprised to learn of the sheer amount of programs we offer to the student body. There are a total five programs any student of BHSEC could embark upon; for a school of our size it would be considered a feat to accomplish such a thing. Last week BHSEC completed one half of its annual exchange program with China, and it was clear as I sat down with kids who took part in the exchange what a truly informative experience the program was.

After discussing the first half of the program with a couple of the students it became clear that most had a really fun time on the exchange overall and that none would change their involvement in the program even if they didn’t find the experience as enjoyable as they would have hoped. The participants said one element that made the trip especially rewarding was just the group who took part of the exchange. The students on the exchange became close as a result.

While in China, the students had the opportunity to experience a night spent on a high speed overnight train (something China is known for), a tour of a silk factory and some historical sites, and the chance to stay with Chinese host families for five days. One participant of the exchange eagerly told me that this was her favorite part of the trip hands down “The overnight train was amazing, it was nice because we had landed in Shanghai the day before (which is a very modern city) and I wanted to see the country, and historical sites of China. It was amazing to watch the high tech city give way to the more historical or rural places in China.”

As for the actual exchange with the students of our sister school in China there were a few mixed reviews on the experience. Generally students had an engaging experience but felt that there were a few cultural situations that they were not quite equipped to handle. One girl expressed frustration over the differences between the standards of hospitality or hygiene between the two cultures and another spoke of a custom commonly thought of polite in America (the act of finishing the food on one’s own plate) that is considered to be the opposite in China. She discussed how she wished she had known going into the program that this was the case, as it would have made first impressions with her host family less strained.

Finally, the students were also able to visit three schools while they were in China, and one of the most surprising things to the students was the way the Chinese pupils responded to their arrival. One girl commented that she felt as though they were being treated like celebrities and that the administrators went out of their way to welcome BHSEC students to their schools. All that being said, the students were extremely excited for the second half of the exchange, which began on April 23.

When the Chinese students arrived at BHSEC with their host families they were ushered into the library where I was able to get a few words with them. I began speaking to Abby, who was immeditately friendly and charismatic despite the fact that I was a complete stranger, and told me of her experiences even without prompts. Her first thought on New York was that we are very fashionable and that she had seen many beautiful people. Speaking excellent English, flavored with almost a British undertone perhaps from their language class, she told me that her school, Yali “is different. It’s bigger. You can’t change the chair by yourself, we listen to teachers.” While the last difference Abby mentioned might disconcert some BHSEC professors, she made it clear that our relationship with our teachers is much different than the rigid hierarchical interactions she has at her school. She explained that she was impressed with how we can just talk to teachers, almost like friends, and can disagree with them if we have differing opinions.

The students I spoke with not only explained to me the differences between teachers and students but also between how our relative classes are run. “There is seldom time for discussion” Abby said, while Paris and Vera nodded their heads adamantly. I asked them what they do when they get home and they said in near unison “Homework!” Their 3-4 hours of work a night is certainly comparable to our workload but they do not have extracurriculars or clubs to take the pressure off. Paris said quietly “We’re under a lot of pressure,” a sentiment that seems in keeping with many aspects of Chinese culture. Not only do they have a lot of work when they get home, many students live far away and as a result, their parents were forced to rent apartments near Yali. “This is expensive,” Vera said and they all agreed, fascinated that we travel from all ends of New York City just to get to school.

Yet the difference in our schools educational models was evident based on the substance of work that they do. Abby said shaking her head “No essays, our homework is quantitative, it’s very different. Not so creative. We do lots of copying. You don’t have to think too much.” By copying, she meant memorizing facts instead of drawing conclusions based on them, as we are trained to do here. Yet despite their structured environment and rigid schooling, they were bubbly and excited, complimenting my hair and my clothing. They each gave me their email addresses and told me to contact them the next time I’m in China. Before they had to go, Paris said to me “I want to be a journalist when I grow up. A war correspondent. And look at you, you are already a journalist.”

 
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