Tag Archives: education

High School: My Experience, Perspective, and Advice

The following is a video from my YouTube Channel, Jack’s World. It’s a more personal video in that it contains some real-life experiences that I wanted to share. With schools set to open again very soon, I felt the time was right to reach out to those who are just entering high school. For me, it was a dark and sad period in my life. However, it didn’t have to be. I made it that way. As such, I want to offer some advice to others so that their experiences can be better than mine. Enjoy!

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A (Sincere) Question To Critics Of Critical Race Theory

Sawicky: Critical Race Theory is not what its critics suggest it is |  Community Views | loudountimes.com

In general, I try not to wade into a hot button political topic until the rhetoric has become less heated. I think it’s rarely productive to throw your voice into the fray when everyone is still shouting their talking points at the top of their lungs. I know I’ve weighed in on political issues in the past, but I’ve tried to do so from a broader, bigger picture perspective.

Sometimes, though, it’s too hard to wait for everyone to stop shouting. In certain instances, the extent of that shouting is symptomatic of a larger mentality. It’s not just about the topic that’s relevant. It’s the general sentiment, passions, and feelings surrounding it.

Not too long ago, it was social justice and feminism.

Before that, it was same-sex marriage.

Before that, it was civil rights and sex discrimination.

Go back far enough and you’ll see similar discourse. When an issue is very relevant, it brings out both heated rhetoric and the prevailing attitudes of the time.

Today, I get the sense that Critical Race Theory has become that issue. Whenever people talk about it, their political tribalism rears its head and it’s neither subtle nor pretty. While I don’t doubt this issue will eventually pass to make way for the next one, it’s something worth touching on.

At its core, the particulars of Critical Race Theory aren’t that radical. If you look it up on Wikipedia, it doesn’t sounds wholly unreasonable. It’s simply a study to evaluate how social, culture, and legal traditions have impacted larger institutions and social systems.

As a social science, it’s hardly revolutionary. These are concepts that social scientists have been studying for decades. The main difference with Critical Race Theory is its emphasis on race, especially those pertaining to the African American community. After what happened with the murder of George Floyd in 2020, it only grew in relevance.

Now, I’ve stated before that we, as Americans, should not avoid the less flattering parts of our history. Acknowledging past mistakes doesn’t make you any less patriotic. It just offers a larger perspective towards certain American ideals.

However, that’s a point that those protesting Critical Race Theory don’t seem to harbor. Ever since the George Floyd protests erupted last year, this theory has been attacked and protested on multiple levels. In general, I try to sympathize and empathize with the passions of these people. They are my fellow Americans, after all. I believe they have a right to voice those passions.

At the same time, I cannot help but groan and cringe. I also genuinely wonder if they understand the full implication of what they’re arguing.

It’s true that Critical Race Theory has some distressing implications. Beyond acknowledging America’s racist past, it further complicates efforts to create a more just society. Addressing the transgressions of the past is not as simple as passing a few pieces of landmark legislation.

The system, as it functions now, is still very flawed. Fixing it may require greater effort, as well as a larger cost. Many people, who likely believe in themselves to not be racist, are bound to have a problem with that. They see it as an agenda, one that will label them and their children as a racist by default.

Whether or not that’s a reasonable concern is beside the point. I won’t claim to know what those protesting Critical Race Theory are truly thinking. I’m not psychic. However, in reviewing all this heated discourse, I’d like to offer a simple question to these people. It’s a sincere question and one I ask you consider seriously.

Why do you oppose teaching or discuss one particular idea over the other?

With that in mind, take a step back and look at this without Critical Race Theory being the main subject. Now, take a moment to appreciate what you’re asking of society, at large. You’re saying this idea that you think is wrong or flawed should not be discussed.

Even if you think it shouldn’t be discussed outside certain fields, you’re still making a statement. This is a dangerous idea and it shouldn’t be discussed, especially with children. Even in a country like America, which espouses the value of free speech, you’re arguing for an idea to be censored or suppressed.

Now, I don’t doubt there are some horrible ideas out there. Some are legitimate precursors to violence. That’s why organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are rightly vilified and prosecuted. Except, Critical Race Theory is nothing like that. So why, in that context, does it warrant so much outrage? Again, it’s a sincere question and I’d like to get a sincere answer. Please explain your reasoning in whatever way you see fit.

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Why We Should Teach The Uglier Parts Of History (And Why Avoiding It Is Pointless)

Tulsa Race Massacre Sidelined Legacy of Black Wealth in Greenwood - WSJ

I am an American.

I am proud to be an American.

There’s no other country I’d want to be born in.

I say all while also acknowledging that America isn’t perfect. I’ve taken plenty of history classes, both in high school and in college. I’ve also sought out information about America’s past and the facts are clear. The United States of America does have some undeniably dark moments in its history. Some could be classified as outright atrocities.

It’s not wrong to state that those events happened and they were awful. In fact, I believe it’s critical for any country, nation, or community of any kind to admit their past failures and flaws. We cannot learn, grow, or improve as a society if we ignore those less favorable parts of our history. If we only ever know the good stuff, then we have no reason to improve and that only breeds complacency, arrogance, and stagnation. That’s something the world needs less of.

This brings me the controversy surrounding critical race theory. I know that just uttering that phrase in passing these days is sure to draw ire from certain crowds, some more so than others. In general, I try to avoid touching on topics like this when the outrage machine is still going full-throttle. Even when I do discuss something controversial, like abortion, I try to focus on the bigger picture.

Now, the specifics of critical race theory are too vast for me to get into. I’m certainly no expert, nor would I ever claim to be. I encourage people to investigate it themselves on Wikipedia. However, do not seek sources from the likes of PragerU, the Heritage Foundation, or any information source that claims to espouse the “truth” about Critical Race Theory.

They’re just right-wing propaganda pushers who are lying to you on behalf of their donors. They are not credible on this matter.

While I don’t see Critical Race Theory as being completely neutral either, it does have some relative themes. It gives greater scrutiny to how racism and past racist policies in America have had lasting effects on minority communities, even after the progress made during the civil rights movement.

That’s not an unreasonable approach to studying the past and present. After all, it’s undeniable that racism and its past effects still exist. If you deny that, then you’re just denying reality outright. Certain aspects of racism can’t be resolved by simply passing a law or enacting a certain policy. People and societies are just too complex.

Now, the way in which Critical Race Theory scrutinizes these issues isn’t perfect. In terms of analyzing and making sense of history, I think it doesn’t paint the clearest picture in terms of America’s racist past and how that past affects the present.

That said, I support it being taught or, at the very least, explored within a school. I think this is something we should teach kids and young people about in order to get them thinking about history, race, and the society in which they live. At the same time, I also think it exposes a critical element with respect to appreciating history and its many lessons.

The reason I’m bringing it up now is two-fold. Firstly, I think those protesting it are absurd and their reasons for criticizing critical race theory are equally absurd. Some are going so far as to try and ban it. Instead, they favor a more “patriotic” education for school age children. I put “patriotic” in quotes because there’s nothing patriotic about it. It’s just pure propaganda, plain and simple.

A true patriot doesn’t need propaganda to be proud of their country.

A true patriot loves their country, despite their flaws. Just like you do with someone you love, you don’t ignore those flaws and use them as motivation to be better.

The second reason I’m bringing it up has less to do with the political rhetoric surrounding Critical Race Theory. It’s being framed as though this is somehow redefining the story of America. It’s seen as somehow diminishing America’s greatness and ideals. Those who are blindly patriotic or excessively nationalistic are going to have a problem with that.

Now, blind and excessive nationalisms is a problem all its own. I won’t get into that, but I do feel that it highlights another important point about protesting new forms of study. In essence, those complaining about Critical Race Theory are working against their own agenda. They seem to forget that the internet still exists.

It doesn’t matter if efforts to ban Critical Race Theory succeed. It doesn’t matter if every American textbook removes all mentions of slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, or atrocities committed against Native Americans. That information is still out there. It’s on the internet and it’s easy for anyone with an internet connection to find.

In fact, by outright banning or opposing certain studies of history, it may only raise greater interest in it. Like it or not, people are going to get curious. Tell kids and teenagers that they should never learn about Critical Race Theory is only going to make them more curious. So long as they still have an internet connection, they will find that information.

That’s exactly why I’m in favor of teaching history that explores, analyzes, and dares to extrapolate from the uglier parts of history. It can do more than educate. It can also help us come to terms with our flaws and inspire us to be better.

A good example of this is the recent relevance of the Tulsa Race Massacre. There’s no getting around it. This event was a horrendous moment in American history and one that reveals just how ugly racism got in this country. Growing up, I never learned about this event. Most people probably never would’ve learned about it, had it not re-entered the news amidst recent pushes for racial justice.

This moment in history was awful. There’s no getting around that. Even if you’re an American who wasn’t alive during this event, we should still acknowledge it. We should still learn from it. That’s how we’ll get better. The past has so many painful lessons and we’ll never learn those lessons if we try to gloss over them.

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Rethinking Homework For The Post-Pandemic World

Homework sucks. Nobody likes doing it. I think that’s an uncontroversial opinion, even in these contentious times. I may no longer be in school, but I vividly remember how much I hated it. From grade school to college, it was often the worst part of any class, course, or subject. I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment.

That said, I understand why it exists. Like taxes or colonoscopies, it’s a necessary evil. It’s a means by which we test and reinforce the knowledge we teach to young, curious minds. At the very least, it’s a mechanism for determining who is actually learning and who is not.

I bring this topic up not to start a crusade against homework, as some already have in the past. I’m not looking to uphold or expand it, either. I’m raising the issue because the current state of public education is in a precarious state, especially in America.

It’s already well-documented that America’s ranking in the world of education leaves a lot to be desired. There are many systematic issues for that, some of which I’ve ranted about before. Changing that system doesn’t come easy, but if ever there was a time to re-think our approach, it’s now.

A global pandemic has caused huge disruptions to a lot of things, our schooling system being just one of them. In the span of a year, we’ve upended decades of entrenched educational traditions. The whole ritual of getting on a bus, going to a big building, and shuffling kids through multiple classes every day has been tabled.

Yes, it’s distressing for students, parents, and teachers alike.

At the same time, it presents an opportunity. This is a chance to rethink how we go about education. Why not start with homework? Nobody likes it. If we’re going to change anything, let’s start with that.

As tempting as it is to claim homework doesn’t have a single benefit, I can’t overlook the research that has been done on this topic. People have actually studied it. While the conclusions aren’t clear-cut, the current body of evidence suggests some amount of homework is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

How much constitutes “some?” That depends on a lot, both in terms of the students and the subject matter. Some students can handle more homework than others. For others, it’s genuinely detrimental to a student’s achievement. When you look at the data, the only consistent result is inconsistency.

To me, a guy who despised homework as much as any other school-age kid, its impact varied. There were some subjects that I was naturally more interested in than others. Subjects like history, biology, and writing were already something I did in my free time. Homework in those subjects wasn’t too much of a burden.

In other subjects, like English, Spanish, and certain math classes, it was little more than a test in frustration. I never learned anything from it. I just did it to get it done so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually learned from that kind of homework.

I know that’s just anecdotal on my part, but the research seems to bear that sentiment out. If a kid is interested in something, their natural curiosity will lead them to explore it. Homework can actually help with that effort. I can attest to that.

Back in high school, I took a world history course in my sophomore year. Around that same time, I developed a fondness for watching the History Channel, especially its many World War II documentaries. I wasn’t assigned to do it. I just did it because I was curious. It ended up paying off.

Later that year, we took an exam on the World War II period. I did not study at all for it, but I still got a perfect score. I just knew the material that well. The teacher even singled me out for my score, which was a nice bonus.

The same thing happened whenever I had to do an essay question for a test. I liked writing, so that was easy for me. I’m mediocre to awful at every other form of testing. I knew plenty of others who were the opposite. That’s kind of the point. Not everyone learns or tests the same way.

The same logic applies to homework. Since not everyone learns the same way, assigning the same kind of homework for everyone is bound to have mixed to negative results. It’s a blanket solution to a complex problem, which may ultimately hurt more students than it helps. It’s a reason why some jurisdictions have already experimented with eliminating it completely for certain grade levels.

I don’t think that solution is feasible, given how entrenched homework is within the current system. While I’m sure many students would celebrate its abolition, those same students may miss out on the benefits of learning outside school hours.

I know if there were no homework when I was going to school, I probably would’ve been more inclined to slack off. There’s a critical balance to strike when it comes to after-school learning. If school becomes too easy to brush off, then nobody benefits in the long run.

That’s why I’m more in favor of reforming it. One potential alternative is to switch from homework to retrieval practices. That practice emphasizes recalling what you learned rather than doing pre-made assignments. That may actually be easier in the current situation, given the growing prevalence of online schools and distance learning.

There are other alternatives that include a greater emphasis on projects, exploring basic life skills, or assigning certain educational games. Some may or may not be as effective, but like I said earlier. This might be the best possible time to consider those alternatives.

It has been year since I’ve been in school, but I remember enough to know that the system I went through had plenty of room for improvement. I also realize I was lucky. I went to public school in a relatively affluent area. I realize that my school had resources that others didn’t.

The current system for schooling hadn’t changed much since I graduated. Up until this year, public schools had clung to their tried and true traditions, which included their approach to homework. I think the time is right to rethink those traditions.

This past year has completely disrupted the schooling for an entire generation of kids. We don’t yet know the extent of that impact, but there’s still time to guide it. Reforming how we approach homework won’t fix everything, but it’ll definitely help the overall experience for the students. School is hard enough, even without a global pandemic. At the very least, let’s make this one arduous aspect of it a bit more bearable.

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My Graduation Speech For The Class Of 2020

G4

This week was a major milestone for a large cohort of young people. For once, it didn’t involve something overly depressing that made major headlines for all the wrong reasons. That, alone, is something to celebrate.

For many kids, both in high school and in college, this week marked the last week of classes. For the Class of 2020, this was the finish line for a journey that took some serious detours over the past several months. We all know why that is. Let’s not focus on that.

Regardless of the situation, graduation is a big deal. It’s a huge achievement for a young person. They made it through the arduous metamorphosis that is puberty and adolescence. They endured the frustrating rigor that is high school and/or college. Now, they’re ready to take a step forward with their lives.

Granted, they’re taking that step at the worst possible time. I can’t think of too many ways it could be harder for them, but that’s exactly why they deserve a little something extra. As such, I made a brief video. Think of it as my commencement speech to the Class of 2020. Many other celebrities are giving them. I’m not a celebrity and never will be, but I’d like to add my voice to that.

To the Class of 2020, this is for you. Enjoy!

 

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Funny/Disturbing Stories From (Bad) Sex Ed Classes

Sex is important. Most people would agree, no matter how prudish or repressed they might be.

Talking about it is important too and this is where most people disagree. There’s no getting around it. Talking about sex with anyone, be they teachers, parents, friends, or relatives, is uncomfortable and overwhelming. Most parents avoid talking to their kids about sex and most kids are just as eager to avoid those conversations.

The internet is not always helpful, either. That’s not to say there aren’t good resources for sex education. If you’re looking for something comprehensive, informative, and accurate, I highly recommend the resources from Advocates For Youth. Do not rely on “resources” like PornHub for sex education.

To the parents out there who keep avoiding the conversation, please take note of that. If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, then chances are they’ll learn it from porn and you do not want that. Learning about sex through porn is like learning to drive a car by playing Grand Theft Auto.

Ideally, kids still receive a decent level of sex education from school. I was lucky in that the schools I went to had a fairly comprehensive sex education program. It wasn’t perfect. They did not talk about things like orgasms, intimate communication, female arousal, or how feminine hygiene products work. It was still better than most, which made the kids in my area lucky.

Others didn’t have that kind of luck. Some people receive sex education that’s both inaccurate, bias, and downright damaging. Some comes from repressive religious institutions. Some come from repressive ideologies that barely see women as anything more than baby factories. It can be disturbing. It can also be hilarious. It can even be both.

If you need proof, please check out this funny collection of anecdotes I found, courtesy of the YouTube channel, Planet Reddit. I hope you find it funny and informative. I also hope it hammers home the importance of accurate, comprehensive sex education.

If you make it through the entire video, please spare a thought for the kids who endured those classes. Let’s just hope they didn’t fill the many gaps in their knowledge through porn.

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Recalling (And Thanking) My Favorite Teacher In High School

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I’ve made no secret of how much I hated high school. I’ve also made no secret of how miserable I was as a teenagers. I know most teenagers are inherently moody. It’s as unavoidable as acne, body hair, and homework. I was just a lot moodier than most teens and for piss poor reasons.

However, my teenage years and high school experience weren’t all purified misery. There were indeed a few notable bright spots. Since this is the time of year when high school students are preparing for their last round of tests or planning for college, I thought it would be a good time to share one of those bright spots.

It’s not a single event, moment, or achievement. It’s a person. Specifically, he was my favorite teacher out of every teacher I had up to that point in school.

Out of respect for my teacher’s privacy, I won’t use his real name. I’ll just call him Mr. Lee. If I were to list all the things that made Mr. Lee such a great teacher, it would take me all week and that’s if I skipped meals. There are some teachers who just read from books and assign homework. There are also teachers who genuinely care and genuinely love to teach. Mr. Lee was the latter.

I had him for two classes. First, I had him for a computer science class. Then, I had him for AP Calculus. In both classes, his skill and passion for teaching shined. That’s not easy to do when you’re teaching something like calculus to a bunch of hormonal teenagers, but the man made it look easy. He even seemed to have fun while doing it.

It probably helped that Mr. Lee was incredibly smart. By that, I don’t just mean he was qualified to teach those subject. Mr. Lee graduated from Harvard with honors. He had a masters degree in computer engineering. He could’ve easily gotten a job at a big tech company and earned six figures by the time he was 30. Instead, he decided to teach immature teenagers how to write computer code and do calculus.

That, alone, speaks to the kind of character this man had. He was the kind of teacher who had an answer for every question and he never needed to check a book, phone, or computer. When you asked him something, he wouldn’t just give you an answer. He’d give you a damn good reason as to why it’s the right answer.

Despite how smart he was, Mr. Lee still carried himself with uncanny humility. He never acted like he was better than everyone else for being so smart. He was actually very approachable. You could talk to the man about anything. I once had a 10 minute conversation with him about how to make the perfect pizza. I still smile whenever I recall him explaining how carefully he spread the cheese on every pie.

Mr. Lee didn’t just demand your respect. He earned it. More importantly, and this is what set him apart, he made you want to earn his respect. Nobody slouched in his class. Nobody disrespected him or tried to nap through a lesson. That was the one class you really couldn’t sleep through because Mr. Lee made every lesson so engaging.

Again, this man taught AP Calculus. That’s not an easy subject to make engaging.

He still found a way. He always found a way to make a concept easy to understand. It’s because of him that I passed every exam, including the notoriously difficult AP Calculus exam that every student dreaded. I don’t think I’ve ever been more confident taking a test that didn’t involve an essay question.

I owe that success to Mr. Lee. Without him, I would’ve been even more miserable in high school. His classes, as difficult as they were, made me feel like I was learning something valuable. I still appreciate that value to this day.

You don’t always know which teacher will impact you the most over the course of your life, but when they do, it’s worth cherishing. I doubt Mr. Lee will ever read this or remember me, but during a less-than-pleasant time in my life, he was a breath of fresh air. For that, I sincerely thank him.

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Telework, Online Learning, And What A Global Pandemic Can Teach Us About Both

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In general, people don’t radically change their habits unless there’s a huge incentive and/or a major disruption. By that, I don’t just mean habits relating to drug addiction, exercise regiment, or bedroom kinks. I’m mostly referring to peoples’ overall tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them, even if they have major flaws.

While it’s rare to get huge incentives to change those tendencies, it’s just as rare to face the kind of disruption that would force people to re-evaluate how they do things. People are, broadly speaking, pretty stubborn. It takes a lot of time and energy to abandon old habits in exchange for new ones. There’s no guarantee they’ll work. Sometimes, they’ll fail miserably.

In terms of disruptions, it’s hard to top a global pandemic. There’s just no way to overstate how big an impact something like that can have on a society. Pandemics have changed the course of history, as well as the course of society. They are the million-ton sledgehammer to whatever stable social system we have in place.

The ongoing crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest disruption our society has faced in over a century. It has jarred us all from our comfort zone, to say the least. Between cancellations of major events and concepts like social distancing, we’ve had to reassess how we go about our daily lives.

As frustrating and frightening as it has been, these kinds of disruptions also present rare opportunities. We may never face a situation like this that affords such opportunities, so we would be wise to take advantage of it. In this case, it has to do with how we go about work and school.

We all have this time-tested notion of what it means to have a job and get an education. Having a job means going to an office or work site, doing your work there, and then coming home after a certain amount of time. It varies from person to person, but that’s the general approach.

Going to school is similar. You get on a bus, go to some building across town, stay there for six or seven hours while going to multiple classes, and then you come home. That’s what we think of when we think about getting an education and going to school.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, this time-tested system has been disrupted. Going to crowded facilities is now a health hazard. Kids can’t go to some big school facility and workers can’t go to some crowded office for a third of their day. Instead, people are having to telework or utilize online classes. For now, this is just a temporary measure while we endure all this massive social upheaval.

At the same time, it also gives us a rare opportunity to see just how necessary it is to go somewhere else to do our work or get our education. It’s a relevant issue that goes beyond our current crisis. These questions are worth asking.

How necessary is it for us to go to some office or school to achieve what we seek?

Is that system really the best we can do?

What are the limitations of telework and online schooling?

What can be done to mitigate those limitations within the current infrastructure?

Can people be more productive with telework and online schooling?

How effective is our current system at supporting these options?

Now, I’m the last person who should defend the current school system. My past experiences with public school give me a somewhat heavy bias in assessing it. However, I doubt I’m alone in saying the current system has room for improvement.

When it comes to telework, I have less experience. In the past, I’ve had instances when I’ve been successful with telework. It depends on the situation and what I’m working on. I suspect that’s common for many jobs. An accountant and a brain surgeon work in very different spheres. One is easier to do at home. The other is a lot messier, to say the least.

It’s worth taking note of just how much we’re able to function over the next few weeks with respect to telework and online schooling. If a sizable chunk of the population demonstrates they can get the job done this way, be it with telework or online schooling, then that’s valuable insight that we should not ignore.

I understand that there are some jobs that cannot be done from home. There are also some things you can’t learn remotely. However, looking back at my experience in school, I’d say about 80 percent of what I learned could’ve been learned online. In terms of work, over half of what I did could’ve been done from home with a laptop and an internet connection.

There’s no reason we should be locked into this mindset that work involves leaving our house or that learning has to take place within a school. There are other ways to do these things and certain people might function better that way.

During a massive upheaval like this, things cannot and should not go back to exactly how things were. We have an opportunity to find a new approach to school and work. I say we take advantage of it as best we can.

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How I Learned A Powerful Life Lesson From “Goldeneye” (The Video Game)

goldeneyecover

I grew up during a strange time. I know every adult could make that claim with the benefit of hindsight, but I think I have some substance to back it up. It was a time when the internet barely existed, Saturday morning cartoons were still a thing, video games were still mostly toys, and MTV was the ultimate evil in the eyes of parents, priests, and teachers.

There were a lot of transitions that were just starting to happen. As a kid, I didn’t understand them. I barely even noticed them until years later. I still feel their influence and have learned many lessons as a result. Some lessons were more critical than others. I still remember the day I got my first email address and I made the password so easy that my little brother guessed it. That was a small, but critical lesson I had to learn.

Another one took place a few years before that and it involved a video game that is still near and dear to the hearts of many. That game is “Goldeneye” on the Nintendo 64. For some, just mentioning that game should bring back fond memories of countless hours spent in the basement, yelling at anyone who dared to pick Oddjob in multiplayer. Those were good times.

During that same time, I went to school in an era where things like the self-esteem movement and DARE were still a thing. It seems so archaic now, given how well-documented the failures of both initiatives have become in recent year, but it was a serious issue when I was a kid.

I remember seeing all sorts of platitudes and motivational messages on TV, in movies, and at school-sponsored events. They all conveyed the same sentiment.

You’re all special.

You’re all equally good at everything.

You can achieve anything if you’re determined and work hard enough.

It all sounds so nice, but there’s just one huge problem and it’s one my awesome, wonderful parents went out of their way to teach me. It’s not entirely true.

Yes, we’re all unique, which is not the same as being special.

Yes, we all have equal worth, but we’re not equally skilled.

Yes, you can achieve a lot with hard work, but you can’t achieve anything.

These all seem like rational, reasonable lessons to teach a kid. I’m certainly glad my parents made an effort to give me that perspective because it was hard to ignore the whole “you can achieve anything!” mantra that kept playing out every day. I admit I got caught up in it at certain times. I also got upset when I felt like I didn’t achieve something that I felt I’d worked hard enough for.

At some point, I had to learn that all this idealized encouragement was flawed. My parents did their part, but it took a particularly memorable experience to really hammer that point home. This is where “Goldeneye” comes in.

There was one summer in which this game basically dominated our entire day. I would wake up, meet up with my friends, and we’d start playing the game for hours at a time, much to the chagrin of our parents. These were good times. That, I cannot overstate. However, there was one issue that often came up over the course of that summer.

One of my friends, who I’ll call Shawn, was just too damn good at the game.

By that, I don’t just mean he won more multiplayer matches than most. I mean he always beat me. It didn’t matter which character I used. It didn’t matter which maps we played in. Aside from a few lucky shots, he pretty much kicked my ass every time I played him. Some of my other friends did challenge him, but he was still the best. That much, we all knew.

I thought he was good because he played more often than me. I thought I could eventually get to his level if I practiced enough. For a good two weeks in July, I essentially trained myself with match after match in “Goldeneye.” I tried to memorize every map. I tried to get a good feel for every character and weapon. I tried to hone my aim so that I made every shot count.

While I did improve, especially compared to some of my friends, it didn’t change the outcome. Shawn still beat me almost every time. It wasn’t that he played or practiced more. Shawn just had a natural talent for gaming. His reflexes were a lot quicker than most. He had a visual acuity that most couldn’t match. He could also concentrate in a way that was downright Zen-like.

To his credit, Shawn was humble about his skill. He didn’t brag or rub it in my face, although he certainly could have. He didn’t have to in order to get the point across. In certain activities, be they sports, video games, or underwater basket weaving, there are just people who are inherently more talented. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how much you train. You just aren’t going to reach their level.

I eventually came to accept that. It was the first time it really sank in. Hard work and dedication won’t help you achieve everything. It can help, but there are going to be people who just have more talent and you can’t always work around that. It was a hard truth that I’d tried to avoid up to that point, but after that summer, I came to accept it.

Coincidentally, this is around the same time when I stopped taking those self-esteem messages at school seriously. As I got older, my perspective became a bit more realistic. In the long run, that probably served me better than just blindly believing I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I genuinely worry how much I would’ve crushed my spirit if I had to learn that lesson the hard way later in life.

Again, I got lucky. On top of having two great parents who kept me anchored, I had a friend who was just naturally talented at kicking my ass in “Goldeneye.” While all those losses were annoying, they taught me a valuable lesson and one that still helps me to this day.

To Shawn, who I hope reads this one day, I sincerely thank you for that.

Also, I apologize for all those times I threw my controller at you.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology, video games

How The Internet Has Weakened (But Not Destroyed) Organized Religion

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The current state of organized religion is ripe with conflict and mixed messages. On one hand, religious affiliation has significantly declined over the past 30 years. According to a 2018 survey from Eastern Illinois University, around 23 percent of the US population identifies as having “no religion.” For comparison, that number was only 5 percent in 1972.

In other industrialized countries, the decline is even more pronounced. Throughout Europe, more and more people are drifting away from organized religion. That’s especially true of young people, who are one of the least religious demographics in modern history. In terms of the bigger picture, organized religion is facing a generational time bomb that’s just starting to go off.

At the same time, however, religion still exercises an absurd amount of political power. Religious groups, particularly those who align themselves with conservative politics, have enormous influence. Its platform is tightly woven with that of a major political party. Many people in positions of power identify as religious. Many more rely on a religious base to get elected.

It’s a strange trend that seems counter-intuitive. How can something be weakening due to declining adherents, but still wield so much power? In an age where the egregious crimes of religious institutions have been exposed and more people are educated on the many absurdities of various holy texts, it feels as though organized religion should be on its death bed.

While there are many factors behind this situation, I believe that one particular factor is more influential than most. It also happens to be the same factor that has done the most to weaken religion while helping to sustain its political and social influence. It’s a force that has already radically changed everyone’s life, regardless of their affiliation.

That force is the internet and its impact on religion cannot be overstated.

I’m old enough to remember what it was like to talk about religion in the pre-internet days. You listened to your parents, relatives, priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks. They told you the history and tenants of their religion. You might ask questions. You might not understand the philosophy behind it. No matter how curious or skeptical you were, you could only do so much to question it.

Most of the time, you just had to trust your elders that they knew what they were talking about. You also had to trust that they wouldn’t lie to you, which is often a risky bet. If you were really motivated, you might go to a library and do some research. Even then, you’d have an uphill battle a head of you, given the many complexities behind religion and why people believe in it.

These days, it’s exceedingly simple to fact check an absurd religious claim. If someone were to claim that a 900-year-old man built a 300-foot wooden boat that housed two of every kind of animal for 40 days during a global flood, you wouldn’t have to spend years in college to learn why that’s absurd. You could just pull out your phone, do a few simple searches, and find out why this claim is completely wrong.

Even a kid who has only taken a basic science class can look up any of the stories their priest, mullah, rabbi, or monk tell them to find out whether they’re based on real history or embellished folklore. Religious institutions, parents, and schools can fight to control the information their young people receive. Many organizations do engage in activities that are outright indoctrination.

However, as demographic trends show, the effectiveness of those efforts only go so far. The information about the absurdities, inconsistencies, lies, and agendas is still out there. It’s widely available to anyone who can access a smartphone or a computer. There’s only so much anyone can do to prevent someone from accessing that information.

As a result, organized religion will never have the same sway it once did in centuries past. No matter how much conservative reactionaries complain, it’s impossible to go back. The combination of modern education and accessible information ensures that major religious institutions will never wield the power they once did.

Given the complexities of modern societies and the geopolitics surrounding it, it’s just not practical for a centralized religious institution to exist. The Vatican can still make statements about morality, ethics, and spiritual matters. It just has no means of enforcing them, as evidenced by how little typical Catholics follow their edicts.

Even without this power, the same internet that has permanently weakened religion is also the same thing that sustains some of its considerable influence. In fact, the internet might act as a catalyst that can turn certain individuals from nominal adherents to ardent zealots.

Think back to the young people sitting in churches, mosques, synagogues, or temples. While some might casually look up the religious claims out of curiosities, others might go out of their way to find information that confirms these claims. Even if they’re factually wrong, they’ll look for any bit of information that they can twist to make it seem true and cling to it.

This is why creationism still persists, despite extensive resources that thoroughly debunk it. If someone is really determined to find information that affirms their beliefs, they’ll find it on the internet the same way people find cat videos and knife-wielding crabs. There will even be unscrupulous people to exploit them, including those who are convicted felons.

Like it or not, there are people who sincerely want to believe their preferred religion and will cling to anything that strengthens that belief. Given the open nature of the internet, shaped by the whims of users rather than objective truth, it’s distressingly easy for someone to customize what kind of information they receive.

If someone only wants news and memes about how their religion is true while everyone else is doomed to eternal torture in Hell, then that’s what they’ll get. They can get their news and information from exceedingly bias sources while brushing off others as fake news. There’s nothing from stopping anyone from using the internet in such a manner.

We already see how this has divided people along political lines in recent years. I would argue that this has been going on with religion for even longer. The rise of the religious right and the prevalence of religious media has done plenty to tighten their grasp on ardent believers. While less people may identify as religious, those who do tend to be more dogmatic about it.

Since those kinds of believers can be mobilized and pandered to, they’re a more unified political force. As such, appealing to them means gaining power. That power may be tenuous and limited, but it’s still viable power that plenty of politicians exploit, sometimes to an egregious extent.

In a sense, the internet has made it easy for both the extreme zealots and the inherently skeptical. Those who might have identified as religious out of tradition in the past are more comfortable identifying themselves as non-religious today. It also helps there’s not as much stigma to being a non-believer as there used to be.

At the same time, those who were devout before can become outright zealots if they consume enough extreme content. In fact, their declining numbers in the general population might give them more reasons to become zealous. History has shown that small bands of religious zealots can do a lot of damage. The internet might hinder their ability to gain adherents, but it might also make them more desperate.

It’s a scary possibility, but one I tend to believe is remote. While I might not be a fan of organized religion, I still have many friends and family members who are religious and wonderful human beings. The internet hasn’t changed that. In the long run, I believe that basic humanity that binds us all will win out in the long run. The internet won’t always help, but it’s certainly a valuable tool.

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Filed under extremism, human nature, philosophy, politics, religion