Monday, May 31, 2010

WHO KNEW!!!!!!!!!

Wild Asparagus. My dreams have come true!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why Geography Matters

I know I know, Geography? Seriously, in this day and age who needs it? With the google map app... what is the purpose in learning and memorizing the world? It is easy to think that geography is worthless, pointless, or even useless with advancement of today's technology. Today I am going to try and help you understand why geography still matters, and possibly is even more important today than ever before.

Ok, I want to set up a scenario. You are on an airplane and you are bored silly. So you turn to the kid sitting next to you. You don't know this person, but he/she is very attractive and you wouldn't mind spending the next 4 hour flight talking with him/her. You guys start chatting about the site you saw on your vacation. Then he/she asks you, "Where you from?" You say, "Provo, Utah" He/She gets kinda a disgusted look on his/her face and says, "You are from Utah? Are you Mormon? How many wives does your dad have? Do you really worship seagulls? Can I feel your horns?" Now whether or not you are actually LDS does not really matter in this scenario, because I promise you, whenever you tell someone you are from Utah they are going to assume or ask if you are LDS. Let's describe what you are thinking and feelings as this person is asking these questions.

- What an idiot! Do they really think we have horns?
- I'm insulted.
- I don't even want to talk to that person anymore.
- How could anyone be so stupid.

Now here is my question for you.... do you think if you were talking to someone else you would ever ask questions just as ignorant, stupid, or insulting?
I know it is difficult for you guys to understand how proud people are of their own region or culture because most of us have lived here our entire lives. But I want to tell you a story that can help you understand how people feel about their own region or culture.

A few years ago I was standing in a super long line at the public bathroom at the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC. I really really needed to go to the bathroom and the line was so stinkin' long! So I started making conversation with the people around me to get my mind off my need. I started talking the lady in front of me and how filthy the bathrooms were. She started ranting about how it was George W.'s fault... I didn't want to get into an argument on how ridiculous it was to blame the cleanliness of a bathroom on the president... but I figured it would get super awkward as we were stuck in line.... so I tried to change the subject. I looked at my hair in the mirror and was embarrassed at how frizzy it was! I turned to the lady behind me and said, "This humility is horrible for my hair!" She replied in an accent how her hair was really bad when she first moved to the east coast but over time her hair has gotten used to it. I asked where she had moved from (Hoping it would explain her accent.) She answered that she came from Romania. I said, "And it wasn't very humid in Romania? I would think right by the Black Sea it would be very humid." The woman just kinda starred and then looked away. It was kinda awkward. What had I said? Why didn't she respond? So I faced forward and started kicking around a piece of toilet paper that was stuck to the ground. From behind me I heard sniffles. I turned around and saw the woman was crying! Finally I couldn't take it. I said, "Ma'am... I'm sorry, did I say something that offended you?" After gaining composure she said, "I have lived in this country for 23 years and you are the first American I have met that knew where Romania is."

Although the woman had lived in this country for over 20 years she still had that much pride for her homeland. Can you imagine how many people have probably made ridiculous, ignorant, and insulting comments to her? Americans don’t even know where her country is located!

Here is a video of an interviewer asking college students basic geography questions.
(I can’t seem to download the video! But it is kinda like Jaywalking, where they ask simple questions and people can’t answer.)

Does it make sense why people would call Americans ignorant? How does seeing how ignorant these college students are make you feel?

-“Miss Parson! No wonder everyone around the world hates Americans! We are idiots.”

You guys are exactly right. How sad that Americans are this ignorant about the world around them. And this is a reason why it is so important to learn geography. But I think there is an even more important lesson.
Let me read you a story. (I use the picture book but this link is Walter Cronkite narrating the story.)

WWI was a bloody bloody war. It was so brutal because it was the first major war after the invention of the machine gun. It changed war tactics forever. No longer can both sides stand there looking at each other and take turns loading their guns and shooting. The only defense they had found was to dig trenches. It was horrible in the trenches. This story takes place after both sides had spent months in the rat and influenza infested trenches.

Silent Night (Click on it)

So what was the difference? Why before Christmas day were the soldiers willing to shoot at each other, kill each other? What was the only thing they would shoot at after Christmas?

-The Sky
-Because before Christmas they weren’t people they were shooting at, they were just soldiers, enemies… annoyances.
-After Christmas, they had played together, prayed together, and mourned together.
-No longer were they shooting at the enemy, they were shooting at people.

What had changed? There had been this no-mans-land between them, that separated them, that had made it so it wasn’t hard to shoot to kill. Some might find this story discouraging... but I see so much hope in this story! There is so much hate in this world. There is so much violence. And I truly believe that if only we saw each other as people rather than enemies, maybe we could have more peace. If we learned more about each other, maybe if we saw we are all so similar, not that different... maybe we wouldn't fight so much... My student raised his hand the first year I did this and said, “So what you are saying Miss Parson is: ‘No matter how different we are, there is always common ground between us.” So this became the theme of my classroom this year.

The reason why it is so valuable for us to learn geography is so that we can see people as people, living breathing people. We really aren’t that different. We have a lot more similarities than differences. So let’s spend all year figuring out what we have in common with people that we think are so different from us, so we can see them as actual people, not enemies. (This is where the heart to heart ends)

So the last assignment I gave my students this year was to write on the theme. As I have discussed before, as a teacher sometimes you question whether or not you accomplished anything, if the work was worth it, if you had changed the students’ lives. Here is an example of the responses I got:

“No matter how different we are: there is always common ground between us.” I have to say that I was an idiot at the beginning of the year. I basically didn’t know anything concerning the world. I’m very sorry to say that I judged. I judged other cultures, religions, and people. Just because they were different. I was really ignorant, I didn’t even know that I was doing something wrong. Thanks to Miss Parson, now I know. She has taught us so much about the world. Some teachers could teach students the exact same stuff but the students would walk away the same. But with Miss Parson’s “Heart to Hearts” I am changed. I see the other people of the world as people. Pretending to stand in their shoes, I have learned how similar we are. We all are striving towards self-preservation. We all want freedom and success. We all care about our family, friends, and country. We all just don’t understand each other as good as we should. Also, it has been shocking to see how similar religions are. We are all trying to be better people as we strive for happiness. We all have our own standards, values, and beliefs, but… we are ALL people. I’ve never walked away from a class actually feeling like I am changed because of the class. I have learned so much this year. Thank you Miss Parson! You’re amazing and you influence so many lives for the better! - Melanie

All the work, all the pain... it was worth it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rising above Mediocrity.

(I’ll abbreviate the history aspect of this story as much as possible.)

In an Ancient Greek civilization around 500 BC on the island of Samos there was a brilliant architect/engineer who used the Pythagorean Theorem (Which was discovered by Pythagoras earlier on this island) to create a 3,000 ft water duct through a mountain. It was an unbelievable feat that Polycrates was able to have this water duct built, starting on both sides of the mountain and meeting in the middle with only 2 feet difference. Engineers are still blown away by advanced skills used to build the tunnel. What happened to Polycrates? He was crucified.

I will never forget the first time I taught this story. A student raised his hand and said, “What’s the deal Miss Parson? It seems that every time someone does something great in life they get killed.”

(Now going into present tense)

Why do you think that happens? Let’s talk about it. In life there is a line. You can’t see it. No one talks about it. But everyone can feel this line and know how to act according to this line. I am going to call this line, the norm.

What happens if you perform below this line? In any activity of life, whether it be in school, athletics, religious, social what do you feel if you are performing below this line? Student answers: “You feel pressure to step it up, get your performance to the norm.” You are right. As long as you are performing below the norm there is a constant pressure to increase performance until you are at the line. What happens when you are here:


When you are at the norm, what do you feel? Student answers: “You don’t feel anything.” So you don’t feel any type of pressure to improve? Student answers: “No, there is no reason to get better, you are normal.”

Now this might make you think a little bit but what happens if you are above the line?

(The students always struggle with this one so typically I give examples) Okay, here is an example. Let’s say I give an assignment for a 1 page essay tonight. You all go home, hang out with your friends, watch tv, and then finally you figure you’ve procrastinated long enough, so you go get on the computer… of course check your email, get on facebook….. next thing you know it’s 9:30 and you still haven’t started your paper…. So you whip out a ¾ page of b.s., make it a 13 point font and increase the boarders to 1.15 inches and call it a day.
You come walking into class with your paper and you overhear Billy Bob talking to me. He said, “Miss Parson, I couldn’t believe how much information I found about the essay. I spent 2 hours reading more information. After I read for two hours I started typing. I ended up typing 7 pages!” Now my question for you is… what are you thinking about Billy Bob? Are you thinking, “Wow! How cool that he wrote a 7 page essay!” Of course not! You are thinking, “What a loser!” “You only had to write a page… what were you thinking!” “Suck up!” Now my question for you, Why are you thinking negatively about this kid working so hard on his paper? The assignment is still the same for you. You are still going to be graded on the same rubric. Why are you going to make fun of this kid? Why are you going to try to discourage this kid?
Another example: You are on the school’s basketball team. After a long grueling practice where the coach made you run suicides for the last half… as you are coming out of the locker room on your way home you see your teammate running more latters. Do you think. “Wow! How cool that that player wants to get into even better condition!” NO! You think, “What the heck is that player trying to prove?” “Who does he think he is?” “We already ran! What an idiot!”

Why is it that every time we see someone trying to go above and beyond the norm we don’t want to encourage them, we want to drag them down?

I like to call it the Crab Syndrome. Rumor has it when you go crabbing you don’t need a large tall bucket to keep live crabs in. All you need is two crabs in any size container and they will stay in the container, no matter the size. Why? Because whenever either crab tries to crawl out, the other crab drags it down. We laugh and think, “Stupid crabs!” by dragging each other down they both are going to face their hot boiling death.

Why do we do the same thing? Why is it whenever we hear of, see, or know that someone is trying to rise above mediocrity we try and drag them down? Clearly there isn’t one reason, but the main reason I think is because whenever we hear of, see, or know that someone is rising above we feel a prick within us. The prick that says, “You should be doing it too.” The guilt of knowing that you have the capacity to be accomplishing a lot more than you currently are. The urge to start working a little harder…. But rather than following that desire, instead of actually doing something about that “prick” that you felt…. What do we do? We tear people down to make ourselves feel better. One of my favorite quotes says, “Criticism is part of the price paid for leaping past mediocrity.” Why do we stick to being mediocre? Because it’s easy. It’s comfortable. We are lazy. After giving this lesson once my student said this, “You have potential… the best compliment you can give a lazy person.” But think about what the world would be like if everyone was satisfied with being mediocre. What would our world look like if no one was willing work hard, take the risk, pay the price to rise above? The world would never change.

But luckily there are people that have wanted change. History has not been very kind to those people who try to rise above mediocrity. Many of the most influential of these people even sacrificed their lives in order to get the change they wanted. Can anyone give some examples of people who sacrifice their lives because they would not settle with being mediocre?

- Gandhi
- Jesus Christ
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Joan of Arc

Now we have a choice in life. We can be a crab… content staying where we are and pulling other people down or we can decide to rise above. You see it is a choice that we all have whether or not to rise above. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Mark Twain’s book Joan of Arc. Twain spent over 12 years of his life researching Joan in order to write this book. In the preface he describes Joan as such, “Joan of Arc, a mere child in years, ignorant, unlettered, a poor village girl unknown and without influence, found a great nation lying in chains, helpless and hopeless under alien domination, its treasury bankrupt, its soldiers disheartened and dispersed, all spirit torpid, all courage dead in the hearts of the people through long years of foreign and domestic outrage and oppression, their King cowed, resigned to its fact, and preparing to fly the country; and she laid her hand upon this nation, this corpse, and it rose and followed her.” In the book Twain created a fictional character that was Joan’s sidekick all growing up. At the end of the book, after Joan had rescued France, answered every question correct on trial and was still burned at the stake the sidekick reflecting back on his interaction with Joan his whole life and said, “Was this world wonder in our familiar midst all these years, and we too dull to see it?”… do you think there is someone among us that has the potential to rise above mediocrity and we are just too unaware to see it? Do you think there is someone in this very room that could change the world? More importantly, do you think you could be that world wonder, and are just too dull to see it?

Each of us have a choice. There a lot of things in life that we don’t get to choose. We didn’t choose where we were born. Who we were born to. How tall we are going to be. In a large extent what we are going to look like. So many things in life are going to happen to us that we didn’t choose either. But this is one thing where we have a choice. We have a choice to either sit at the bottom of a bucket completely content, knowing that we are the norm and pulling everyone down that tries to rise above…. Or we can choose to be better, work harder, pay the price and rise above. We can choose to try to leave the world a better place than where we found it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why Education?

(I am going to write in present tense, as if I was giving the lecture)

On a piece of paper, answer the following question.
Why you are getting an education?
Let's hear your answers.
Typical answers:
-My parents make me
-I want to go to college
-I want to get a good job
-If I don’t my parents get in trouble

When I was your age if you would have asked me why I was getting an education I would have said things very similar to what you have said. My actions were in accordance with these reasons. It didn’t take me very long in my education career to realize, you don’t have to actually learn anything. You just have to do whatever the teacher wants you to do. Every body knows when a teacher says, “Read the chapter and answer the questions in the back.” You don’t actually read the chapter! You read the questions in the back of the chapter and skim through the headlines looking for bolded words that will give you the answers. When a teacher tells you to read a book, you don’t actually read it, you watch the movie! When a teacher tells you to write a paper you put in as many quotes as possible, reword the quotes, and if it’s still not long enough, make the borders a little larger. The whole purpose of school for me was to jump through the hoops as easily and painlessly as possible. And I’ll tell ya what by the time I graduated from high school I was pretty good at BSing. I graduated with nearly a 4.0. I was terrified for college though because I kept hearing that things would be so much harder in college. I thought I was actually going to have to study. I was actually going to have to work. I was actually going to have to learn. The first few weeks of college I worked my tail off! I studied hard, I did all the readings, and then just like high school I realized…. Who was I kidding? I could get just as good of grades by BSing my way through! I made it my goal to do as little work as possible! It was great! While all my friends in my classes were studying in the library I was having the time of my life… going to punk rock shows, traveling around the west, and going to rodeos! I would get back from a great weekend and asked my friends what they did that weekend and when they said, “Studied!” I would laugh and say, “Suckers!” as I went on to tell them the great thing I did. I don’t want to brag but I became such a great BSer I almost couldn’t believe it! The crowning moment in my BSing career happened my last semester of college. I was in an American West class. The teacher required an UNBELIEVABLE amount of work, including a 20 page final. Of course my friends started on their paper around mid-term, while I decided to crank it out the night before it was due. I typed and typed and I typed… and when I just couldn’t say anymore about the comparison between the cowboys and the Indians I looked down and saw I only wrote 11 pages. I shrugged my shoulders and hit send. I was sweating bullets a few days later when the professor said that most people in the class got a C on the paper. He called each student up to his desk individually to hand them back their paper. My friends slowly got their papers…. B-…. C+….. B. I was terrified. What if BSing had finally caught up to me! What if the teacher saw right through it! What if I failed? What if I wasn’t going to graduate! The teacher called out, “Kristin.” I walked up to his desk, he handed me my paper. I turned to the grading paper as I walked back to my test. I couldn’t believe my eyes! A-! I threw up my arms and yelled YES! As I walked out the class under my breath I said to the teacher, “Sucker!” I was blown away. I had officially just BSed my way through my university degree and I couldn’t have been more proud!

Until I started student teaching…. I was student teaching in the high school I went to, in the classroom I took the class in, under the same teacher that I highly respected. I wanted to impress him. I will never forget the first time I stood in the front of the class and tried to teach the students. Within a few minutes of standing in front of a class of 32 students I realize I knew nothing. I knew that if any student asked a question that I couldn’t find the answer directly in the textbook… I would be completely clueless. I spent hours and hours outside of class every night trying to get as much knowledge as I could to prepare for the lesson the next day. Numerous times I called my friends in my program asking them questions about the content of the class. I was blown away when they could always answer my questions. When I asked, “Where did you learn that?” They would typically quote some book I was supposed to read. I realized all that time I thought I was cheating the system, cheating the teacher, cheating the work…. The only person I was cheating was myself. When my diploma was finally mailed to my house I had to laugh… I had just spent 4 years of my life, tens of thousands of dollars…. For what? A piece of paper. A piece of paper was completely empty.

It was then and there that I realized that there is so much more to an education beyond a piece of paper. There is so much more to education than getting good grades, going to college, getting a job. Getting an education was about improving myself. Getting an education was about having the knowledge, capacity, and power to see a problem in the world and try to change it. When I finally saw the purpose of learning I went crazy! Here is a picture of the number of books I read in the next 4 months of my life.

It was hard. It was really hard. My mind wasn’t used to focusing that long. My body wasn’t used to sitting still that long. But the results of my hard work were almost immediately apparent. I felt myself growing so much. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Now how can we take this story back to our classroom? Why am I telling you this story? Because really I just told you the secret to getting through school as painlessly as possible. I will tell you right here and now if your goal in life is only to make millions upon billions of dollars your best bet is to drop out of school right now. It would be a ton of hard work and you would fail over and over again, but if you just want billions, start businesses. And if you happen to be extremely lucky, you might hit it big. But there is clearly so much more to life than money. So think about it. What would happen if we actually wanted to learn? What would happen if we actually found value in learning beyond the piece of paper, beyond the threat of not getting a good job, even if it wasn’t the law to go… can you imagine what our school would be like? What if the students here actually wanted to be here! I want to show you a video about a group of girls that wanted to go to school more than anything. They were willing to walk miles, sacrifice almost everything, and risk their lives just to learn.

(I showed the whole episode, which I highly recommend, but here is a clip from it.)
As you are watching the video answer the following questions:
Why did the girls want to learn so bad?
What sacrifices were they willing to make?
How does this make you feel about the opportunity you have to come to school?
How are you going to change your behavior now that you’ve seen this video?

Oprah's Leadership Academy

Why did these girls want to learn so bad? They got it. They saw that learning and education provides opportunities and freedoms that nothing else can. They weren’t doing it for a piece of paper. They weren’t doing it because their parents were making them. They were doing it because they wanted the power that comes from gaining and education.

If there is only one lesson I can teach you this school year it is this: the value that education and learning gives you is so much more than a piece of paper, a grade, a pat on the back… and we should fight to find that reason so that we want to learn

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Heart to Hearts

At Paradigm High School where I taught Leadership, it was common for me to spend the majority of my time teaching trying to get students to take the moral high ground. Although it was painfully difficult to try and convince kids that rising above mediocrity was worth it, the rewards of watching them finally get it was indescribable! When I moved to a “normal” school I recognized that my students would not be as open and willing to listen to my moral lessons. They would think I was totally weird! I mean what kind of teacher thinks it's more important to be a good person than to memorize any subject. So I figured I needed to be more like a "normal" teacher when I went to a "normal" school. My first few weeks were horrible. They were hard. I was trying to use a textbook. I was trying to require worksheets and lectures from powerpoints. I felt like my very soul was getting sucked into the “crappy education” I had been preaching against for the past 3 years. I hated teaching (more than usual), I hated junior high, I hated my students. I went through a mid first quarter crisis when I just cried as I drove to work because I hated it so much.

Until the day I realized my students at this “normal” school needed the moral lessons just as much if not more than the privileged kids I taught at Paradigm. But I knew I had to set it up right. I couldn't just start throwing moral lessons into my lectures every day... So I set it up completely different when I was going to give this moral lesson. When the students walked into the class they saw “Hold on to your hats and glasses folks! This here is going to be the wildest ride in the wilderness! Sit quietly and get ready for your first <3 2 <3 (Heart to Heart). I pulled up my chair, piled textbooks on it so I could see their face, and began the legacy of the Heart to Hearts.

The rest of the year from time to time I would sit in my rikidy old metal chair on top of the textbooks and present a Heart to Heart. At the end of the year and a year later, my past students have forgotten the capital of New Jersey, the influence of Hellenism, and impact of the plate techtonic movements... but they can recite back almost word for word of each heart to heart.

This year my students love the heart to hearts so much that they fundraised enough money to buy me a new heart to heart chair. Many have requested that I write down the heart to heart stories. So since I am forced to sit in my last grad class for 6 hours every week, I am going to use the time wisely and write down a few classic heart to hearts.

1.Why care about education?
2.Rising Above Mediocrity.
3.Let it Roll
4.Why I teach 9th Grade
5.The Road Less Taken
6.Why foreigners hate America.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Last weekend I went on a date. Super cool guy. Super Smart. After we had spent hours and hours talking, having a wonderful time together there was one thing I knew this guy needed to know. I knew that this one thing had the means of ruining the relationship before it started. As we were hanging out at my house in the wee hours of the morning he said, "I think you should tell me your deepest darkest secret." (Clearly, totally kidding.) I took a deep breath and as I exhaled I softly said, "Okay." He looked shocked, "Are you serious?" I said, "Might as well. It has to come out sometime." The tension started to build as I contemplated how to state it. Finally I tilted my head down, as if I was ashamed and said, "I'm kinda political." Looking back what makes me smile is the serious look that this guy got on his face. Due to his world views and past experience he understand the gravity of this statement. He said, "Which side?" I was shocked! Almost insulted!!!... but then I realized I am an educator. My dad is an artist. It was probably very observant of him to consider that even though I do live in the heart of the conservative world I could possibly be a liberal. I asked him to guess what he thought my political views were. The tension in the room if possible got more intense. After stumbling on his words he said, "I honestly don't know. But you realize this could be a deal breaker right?" (Could we possibly be bigger geeks?) So I asked him where he stood. Sure he's a business man so I hoped there was no question but then I realized he had lived in San Fransisco for two years and I found myself questioning, "did he leave before he got too soft?(If you don't understand what I am quote, click here... You should have heard the sigh of relief from both parties when we realized neither of us were liberals... But I knew the conversation wasn't over.

He said, "So you are a conservative right?" I hesitated a little before saying, "Not exactly..." I started to explain my political philosophy. He started questioning my views, my ideas, where my political thought came from. I was excited for the challenge. I suggested some readings that really influenced my views. The more I talked I soon I found myself back peddling. It wasn't long before I found myself apologizing for something that I am so proud of. I couldn't believe what I was hearing myself saying! The conversation ended with, "I know, it's pathetic I am totally an idealist."

Since that date last weekend, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the negative connotation many people put on idealists. As if being a dreamer is a bad thing. As if creating laws based off what man can be is ridiculous. As if thinking with the right education darkness can disappear due to an abundance of light. The more I thought about it, the more ticked off I got that I felt the need to apologize for being a idealist. So this is a shout out to my favorite idealists and the sacrifices they made to changed the world.

Tommy J

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and Property. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Talk about an idealist! The notion that all men are created equal? That people should have these equal rights protected by a government? Coming from a historian that clearly knew in the history of the civilization such a society had never existed. But because Tommy believe in these ideals that seemed completely absurd at the time, he sacrificed everything he had... including his wife and daughter who died from illnesses caused by being forced from their home in winter when the British came after Tommy. Because he was a crazy dreamer that put the ideas of Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke, and Cicero into practical application our world is change.

The Mahatma
"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves."

"The Story of My Experiments with Truth" was the title of his autobiography. The humility I felt as I read his pursuit to discover truth helped me understand why this man was able to have such influence on a cynical jaded world. There were many times that even I, a self-proclaimed idealist, thought Gandhi was crazy! Marching 270 miles to the sea to make salt, going 21 days without food, spending over 7 years of his life in jail dreaming that this nonviolent protests would bring independence and peace to India. After spending his whole life searching for truth, he was killed because of his idealist dreams.

Prince of Peace

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm in love

Breakfast: Asparagus
Lunch: Asparagus
Dinner: Asparagus