The Great Gatsby

16 05 2005

The Price

What was the price that nobody paid,
At the end of the war, when nobody stayed,
Por qué fuimos al otro lado del mar,
Cuando en las noches no pudimos regresar,
In the dreams of our mind we danced in two streets,
Out of place, another act, another scene,
Las vidas terminan, no crecen, solo faltan,
La huerta ya se quemó, solamente queda un árbol,
And what was left was never, never the same,
The shadows of joy were product of shame.
A la luz botamos la mano, solo esperando,
Esperando que el mundo se cambie.
But the light is all there is to get,
An immaterial desire in physical form,
Como un espantoso sueno, podemos ver,
En lo que debemos lograr y tener,
There isn’t anything else out here,
Only the women, the cash, and the beer,
No digas que somos tristes,
En realidad, somos bastantes felices.

—-

Dear Carraway,

I’m doing what I want to,
But I know I won’t want it,
I’m only, only reaching,
Trying and seeking,
I’m going for the gold,
Know I’m not all that old,
And I won’t take it slow,

Reaching past the waves,
Grasping what can’t be made,

So you’d call it looking back,
Judge, but don’t be too fast,
The ladder is quite defined,
Golden rung will soon be mine,
I’m pouring the sweet salvation,
Taking what it takes,
Life past celebration,

Hoping for the past,
Somehow we’ll bring it back,

Driving I can see her,
In my dreams I’m with her,
All the way at the top,
Die before I stop.
I just keep going,
Walking and destroying,
Like a child in the morning,

I saw my life at death’s black port,
To death I said, “Not today, old sport”.

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Convocation

16 05 2005

I spoke today on the stress of SAT’s, College Board, and the struggle for students to be perfect and the diffucties in getting to that plateau. We live not in the Information Age, but rather in the aftermath of it. The overwhelming quantities of data including that such-and-such stage performance in third grade, etc that college hopefuls submit make these same colleges look for not so much an easy way out, but rather a rock to cling to, a number that provides a qualification for all this excess data – the SAT.

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CONVOCATION SPEECH TRANSCRIPT

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

The SAT is certainly an important part of school life; it separates us, divides us, and directs our lives into distinct paths. It is a classification for us, something that we are led to believe distinguishes the Ivy Leaguers from everyone else. College counselors who truly know how it works, like Mr. Allen, will tell you that SAT scores are not as important as grades. However, grades are determined over months of interaction that give the teacher time to qualify and eventually quantify the level of comprehension. The SAT, on the other hand, spits out a number in less than four hours.

No other four hours affect our academic lives as much as the SAT, which as the “measure of the critical thinking skills you’ll need for academic success in college” has a new essay section. There are problems with this essay however. Students are not penalized for incorrect facts. “The official guide for scorers explains: ‘Writers may make errors in facts or judgment that do not affect the quality of their essays’”. In other words, you can lie and that’s perfectly acceptable, assuming it’s relevant. One SAT essay writer wrote that the Revolutionary War was fought in 1842 and, according to the rules; being wrong doesn’t undercut the essay at all. But hey, that’s only sixty-six years off.

Dr. Les Perelman, a director of writing at M.I.T., has stated [quote] “regardless of what a student wrote, the longer the essay, the higher the score”. He also said, “If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you’d be right over 90 percent of the time”. Just by looking at it. “How to prepare for such an essay? “I would advise writing as long as possible,” said Dr. Perelman, “and include lots of facts, even if they’re made up.” This, of course, is not what he teaches his M.I.T. students. “It’s exactly what we don’t want to teach our kids,” he said.” The National Council of Teachers agrees. “It cautions that a single, 25-minute writing test ignores the most basic lesson of writing – that good writing is rewriting. It warns that the SAT is pushing schools toward “formulaic” writing instruction.”

The College Board feels writers who know what they’re talking about will generally say more. Tell you what, writers who actually think before they write something, you know good writers, sometimes might need more than 25 minutes to write an essay. And maybe good writers only write down a little because they’re thinking too much. But I guess that’s bad.

The SAT implies that college isn’t really about thinking, analyzing, preparing, exploring, writing and rewriting. No, apparently it’s about glancing at the question and scribbling down some quick sentences. According to Mr. Cullinan, in France, students are given three hours to write their university essay. This represents a completely different approach, a different expectation level, a higher bar for literacy. This is not what the SAT expects. No, instead the College Board believes in a McDonald’s literacy level. Can you read the menu? Do you understand where to put the numbers, the dollar sign, and the period? Are you an effective consumer, intelligent enough not to think, but rather to purchase to buy? It is consumer-level literacy. Imagine, for a moment, three hours for an exam. Unless you’re either completely lost, you can probably write an essay which is reflective of your ability as a writer and as a thinker. The essay that gets sent to the colleges of your choice after the SAT wouldn’t be a 25-minute scribble; it would be a quality piece that represents the full level of your understanding and ability as a writer. Just imagine.

In reality, the deepest understanding that we should come to is about ourselves. How, in light of recent examinations, do we view ourselves? Are we just test-takers, trained for SAT’s and AP’s, do we show up, pay fourteen grand, accept our grades as they come, get handed a diploma and a great college? Or are we here for something more? Take some time and really ponder it … who are we as students? I challenge our school community to move past to move past test prep classes and to actually learn the material over time, to grow on it, develop these thoughts in and out of the classroom, to know and understand it, and to realize the testing game that’s being played in front of our eyes for what it is and not for what the College Board and we ourselves have made it out to be. We have to realize that our integrity is at stake; we need to come to grips that the College Board doesn’t determine who we are; we need to realize it’s just a statistic and not a very good one at that. And as a student, I am more than a statistic. I will “play the game, but I don’t have to believe in it”.

The College Board, when it comes to the wire is what makes or breaks us. In the high pressure selection process between two similar students, it is these apparently objective numbers that quickly push one student above another. At such a level, everything becomes so competitive that everything counts, scores are stretched beyond objective levels of importance; it is at that pressure point that such quantitative results reach their limits. Given the enormous pressure for students to keep perfect every single aspect of their lives including grades, conduct, even relationships with teachers, to achieve the select ranks of the Ivy Leagues, should we not call, no demand perfection from the College Board to provide the absolute best possible tool for discernment? All the pressure put into rising above everyone else might cause some people to buckle slightly under the competitive strain, make the slightest mistake and then what … do we condemn those people? Apparently we do. But we shouldn’t. We must be more compassionate, more understanding, and more human to realize that the stress placed on us to arrive at the summit is tremendous; in life, perfection is not required, but consciousness is. We cannot be perfect; everyone makes a misstep and knowing that, we’ve got to do two things: call for the College Board to give us the best tools for making statistical decision-making and be more understanding when we ourselves make mistakes.