Sunday, February 24, 2013

Provo Rant #1: Happy Valley Does Not Equate Happy People

There's an irony that exists on BYU campus. Well, I'm sure there are a few, but this one in particular has caught my attention.

Walking across campus on my way home the other day, I noticed how many scowls present themselves in the faces of people you pass. Most of the people that passed by me seemed to stare more intently at the sidewalk or their feet as they crossed a stranger's path. No smile, no hello, no head nod, there is no acknowledgment of the existence of a passerby. There even seems to be a concerted effort to actively ignore others and avoid potential social contact. And the scowls so often seen on the faces of BYU students are not necessarily just relaxed visages, but often effortful, though slight, distortions of the human face - a warning to discourage any person presumptuous enough to strike up conversation or even a warm greeting. (There are, of course, a few exceptions.)

There are a few reasons why this phenomenon might be considered ironic, one being that the area where I now live is often referred to as "Happy Valley." If this valley is indeed so happy, then where are the happy people? Perhaps they heard I was coming...

Another source of irony stems from considering the values claimed as part of this great institution. One of the greatest of those values taught among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) world-wide is that of charity and kindness to our fellow men and women- to reach out and uplift others. It seems slightly ironic, then, that a stranger to our values and culture, walking through BYU campus, would be more likely to encounter a frown or a look the other way.

Changes in weather don't seem to affect the happiness of BYU students, either. I first noticed this phenomenon when I started last fall- when the weather was much more pleasant than it is currently.

I have also had friends (most of them coming from southern states, interestingly) who have had similar experiences. Where is the friendly, neighborly West?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Beef with Gluten-Free Blogs

It has now been slightly over two years since I found out I have a gluten intolerance, and a few months shy of   two years being gluten free (I was definitely in denial for the first few months). I am happy to report that going gluten free has proved highly beneficial for my emotional and physical health, although it has been one heck of a ride psychologically. To give up something so ingrained into American culture (you can't even eat regular Ranch dressing for crying out loud!) and even more so ingrained in typical American Mormon culture has been more than difficult.

It's kind of funny. Once you find out you have to go gluten free, all of a sudden, a whole city seems to surface with all kinds of resources and ideas to help you, that it all seems overwhelming. There are SO many blogs out there that are gluten-free or gluten-free and dairy-free, or gluten-free, lactose-free, egg-free, meat-free, your-mom-free, you get the idea. Everyone tells you, look up this blog or, this site has great recipes, etc. What the DON'T tell you, is that most of the whatever-free blogs out there are written by people that are at least 5 years into this process. So while every gluten-free blog has a different answer to questions about the exact 12 kinds of flours that you need to make a loaf of bread the same texture, color, and density as your favorite childhood bread, they DON'T have answers to the questions a new gluten-free person really wants answered like "My whole pantry is stocked with foods now declared as poisonous. What do I eat this week so I don't starve to death or just kill myself since it would easier?" Or, "what can I feed my newly diagnosed son for lunch tomorrow since we've been buying lunch regularly? Since he is now gluten intolerant, there is probably nothing at the school cafeteria that he could eat." Or maybe you're just wondering "how do I not hate my life?" Or, "how do I avoid hating all the people around me that can eat all of my favorite foods while I must suffer in bitter anguish?" One thing I still haven't figured out is how to navigate social situations. There's always food! And it gets really awkward really quickly when someone asks you like you're an alien, "you don't want any cake?" And then there's this unavoidable 10 minute pitty conversation explaining why you can't and going through all the things you can't eat and the other person expressing sympathy, telling you how hard that must be. Just re-open the wound, why don't you?? But, I digress.

Here's the point. When you're new to the gluten-free way of life, the LAST thing you want is to sift through 100 complicated gourmet recipes of how to make red velvet cake cupcakes to find something for tonight's dinner. What you'd really like to know is what to do with what you already have in the pantry. Unless you're a chef or have cooking and baking as a main hobby, you're probably more concerned with surviving than with buying 20 different ingredients you can't pronounce and you probably don't know how to use. My guess is, you'd really like to not starve.

If this is your plight, my friend, my first suggestion is, DON'T LOOK AT GLUTEN-FREE BLOGS. They will most likely overwhelm you. You probably don't have the time or the interest to try so many cake and cookie recipes anyways. Don't worry, you'll probably get there in a few years, and you'll probably start a blog just like them, but for now just focus on today, tomorrow, or this week. Find ways to adapt the meals you like to eat. Substitute different ingredients for glutenous ones. Be bold with new combinations. And don't worry, you'll fail a few times, but that's the fun of it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hikes and PhDs

For those of you who have gotten/are working on a PhD (or watched someone else go through the process), you may enjoy the metaphor I discovered this morning in my impromptu solo hike to the "Y".

To set the stage, you should know a few things. I flew in last night after a full day of travelling, which aggravated an old ankle injury. I have been living at basically sea level for the last three years. I also have not exercised regularly since... well, ever. You should also know (as I did not) that "hiking the Y" is not an easy accomplishment - at least not for out of shape first-timers like me :)

I set out relatively early this morning (a perk of jet lag) for a nice easy jog. I thought I would check out the neighborhood, etc. As I was jogging along I looked towards the mountain and saw the Y. I've never hiked the Y, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea. It took me quite a bit of time to make it to the parking lot and I was already tired by then, but the Y looked so close and like such a doable hike. :)

Here is the experience. Perhaps you can relate; hopefully you can see some parallels, as I did.

(Context for the story for those of you who have not hiked the Y: there are 9 turns or switchbacks before you reach the top and each turn is marked with a sign which tells you which turn it is and how much distance to the next turn.)

You start up the trail with hopes and sights high. I can do this, you think to yourself.

As start up the trail, already tired due to what it took to get there, you cross paths with people coming back down. Many of them are older, and more experienced. Several sport ipods and many are lightly jogging with pleasant expressions and greetings. They're obviously doing this for pleasure. You soon realize, however, what you thought would be fun has turned into a death march.

By the first turn, you have already paused for respite at least three times, looking busy or like you're stretching when someone passes by. You take in the incredible view. You can see all places you have been and the places you want to go; the great expanse of what has been and what will be your experience.

By turn three, you think you're going to die and the thought crosses your mind, next time, I think I'm going to bring water. 

Somewhere between turns three and four you feel like you're going to vomit. The realization that you're only a third of the way there is depressing, but you push on.

By turn five you know you're going die, and sit for a rest - not caring at all how people will judge you. A nice older woman passes you on her way down the mountain, looks at you, and says somewhat mockingly, "Well, you're half way there!" The question you want to ask is, is the second half any easier?

At turn six you look to the view for some motivation to continue. You recognize, however, it's still the same view you've seen the whole way up.

Your back muscles are permanently tight at this point, and it takes increasingly more energy and drive to simply take the next step. You find yourself paying more attention to the mile markers on the trail. How much longer to the next post? You start to question how you're going to get yourself out of the mess you've gotten yourself into. Need an airlift off of the mountain is not outside the realm of possibilities.

The view becomes larger. You can see more, but with less detail and certainty than before. Where's my house again? 

By turn seven, you just don't care. You don't care about the pain.You don't care about the struggle. But you have gone through so much, and you certainly don't want to do it again. You have to reach the top.

At turn eight you realize a decision point is coming. Do you take the higher road to the top of the Y? Or satisfy yourself with the path to the bottom? But then you remember, when have Chapmans ever taken the easy road?

At turn nine you see a fellow struggler; someone you saw struggling as she passed you earlier on the trail. She pauses to take on the view as you continue onward. You take a breather a few feet later and look back to see she's headed down  the mountain now. Not up anymore. Maybe she wasn't struggling as much as I thought. Maybe it's just me.

You can see in the distance a water park waiting peacefully at the bottom of the mountain. Why wasn't that my morning activity?

Definitely the lower path, you decide. I don't care what people think of me. I want to live! I want to go home and get on with my life!

You top the next rise and see white- the Y! You draw nearer and realize you've been on the higher path all along. Well, actually, you reach the middle. but somehow you don't care anymore. You just want to go home.

Dirty, sweaty, and tired, you head back down the mountain. Was it all worth it? I don't know. But I've hiked the Y, and that means something to those who have done it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's true.

I saw this quote on my sister's wall and wanted to share it. It is an empowering message to all of us. May we echo this declaration in our actions each day.

"I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The dye has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won't look back, let up, slow down, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I'm finished and done with low living, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, positions, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk with patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power. My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, divided, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won't give up, shut up, or let up untiI have stayed up, stored up, and paid up for the cause of Christ. I must go until He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He returns for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear."

- B. Moorehead

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No What Left Behind?? Oh! No Child Left Behind!

Hold up. Before you march off red in the face with steam coming out both ears about the issue, let's take another look at the infamous No Child Left Behind Act.

I've heard all the huff and puff - all the critics - from parents to teachers to administrators to the students, to people who don't have any interaction with the school system at all! But after hashing things out in my Tests and Measurement class, I have a slightly different perspective on NCLB, but don't judge me yet! Keep reading!

So here are the main goals of NCLB (as per my Tests and Measurement textbook - citation will follow):

1. "High levels of efficiency" in math, english and science (aiming towards 100% efficiency). This includes students with special needs and students who aren't necessarily proficient in English.
2. All students will be taught by "highly qualified" teachers by 2005-2006. 
3. All students not currently proficient in English will become so.
4. All students will graduate from high school.
5. All students will be provided with a safe environment for learning.

Ok. So we look at these and there are possible a few things that come to mind. Most likely you fall into one of two camps - you can see the value, or you don't buy into it at all. To get a little context of where I fall (more towards... the middle of the two camps), I want to explain a principle about government as I see it.

Government is (loosely) an organization to protect citizens from foreign enemies and enemies within the state. The nature of this roll of protection provides that governments are by definition guardians of the minimum. Their tendency is to draw the line of the lowest achievement/action that can be take before serious consequences will follow from the state. Catch my drift? Problem: this legislation (NCLB) is a law built to encourage greater achievement headed towards perfection. Conceptually, I understand why perfection must be the end goal - how would it look if the goal was something like "all student will be 90% proficient in math and science." Maybe we would only get 90% of the way to the moon. I'm over simplifying a little, but you get the point. In order to achieve the most, it would make sense to make "the most" our goal: perfection. Now the way the government works would dictate a punishment system for not achieving perfect goals. It is difficult to regulate perfection on a legislative level/governmental level because the system was not set up to do so. We therefore set ourselves up for failure. The problem is not then with the goals so much as it is a problem with the punishment/ramification system of NCLB. Since this post is long enough already, you are free to look it up on your own, but it's not pretty.

One more thought on not leaving children behind: No Child Left Behind was the revised version of a renewal of a 1960s Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While initiation of NCLB has in many ways proved problematic, it was the first attempt in over 30 years to improve the educational system. As a result, there has been more attention drawn to the state of our educational system in the last few years than it has had in a long time. There were schools that were improved. Did one size fit all? No. But sometimes before you know what works, you gotta know what doesn't work. That's why I feel like although NCLB has a lot of holes to fill, it has given us something to work on and towards, and it has done a lot to serve as a gateway towards educational improvement in our country.

The End.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Diversity Awareness: Helpful or Hurtful?

What I'm about to tell you is very important. Are you ready?

Don't think about elephants.

So what did you think about? My guess is that you thought about elephants. And you are probably still thinking about them :) We will think about them again later. Don't forget.

So when reflecting on this idea of racial diversity and awareness, I would venture that we would all agree on the principle and intentions behind it. The idea is to create a society that lacks racial bias; a society that removes racial stigma. I think we also all support and agree with the value of this motivation. Is it possible that in our efforts to remove racial stigmas that we have gone too far? Are we looking beyond the mark?

Here's the issue: racial bias and stigma is created by racial boundaries - the separation of races and exclusive social circles based around racial premises. So how do we break down these barriers? I would suggest that by making ourselves more aware of them and drawing attention to them in excess, we have perpetuated the problem rather than subdued it. If I tell you not to think about an elephant, what do you think of? If I tell you not to think about races, what will you think of? Do you see the parallel? I am not suggesting that principles of self-reflection on ourselves or our society is bad, but there is a gentle balance that must be maintained in order to continue forward progression and improvement. I do suggest, however, that in an effort to create a society more accepting and tolerant of different cultures and races, we have perpetuated differentiation and therefore passive hostility between races.

Another thought (stay with me :) ). A current professor of mine specializes in adolescent development  - particularly in research relating to identity formation in general including racial identity formation in particular. The idea of supporting youth in creating their identity based on racial premises seems counterproductive to this society free from racial bias we are trying to promote. It also seems to be less than productive for the adolescent as well. Without some guidance on how to process the culture they are (by society's push towards racial pride) to endorse, they have little personal choice as to the kind of culture they want to adopt in their own lives. Let me explain what I mean. If you support black pride in a youth who is black, they are expected to accept (by default) every part of that culture and defend it in their own lives. Problem: there is a part of every culture - black, white, red, brown, yellow, blue, purple, whatever! - that could not and should not be perpetuated. But without giving them the tools of knowledge, they are left on their own. We know through ridiculous amounts of research the results of poor family life, poor education, poor monetary situations, but in the name of being politically correct, we impose racial pride on them without helping them realize they can choose to be who they want to be. Help them find their own identity? We are dictating their identity!

There are beautiful things about each culture too. Can we not try to take the best from each? Must we be victims of the hand we are dealt? I would suggest that we are not. We can become what and who we want to become - regardless of what we look like or where we come from. Can't we switch our focus more towards the future rather than fixating ourselves on the past?

Just a thought.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Adolescent Development

Can I tell you how excited I am for the coming school year?? I'M SO EXCITED! I am excited to learn theories and ideas from great minds. I'm really excited to shoot them down! Mua ha ha! Just kidding. But really, I am excited for all the great things I will learn and most likely share in this venue.

In my coming Adolescent Learning and Development class we have a graduate version of the good ole book report project to do. As I was reading through the list of possible books and their summaries, I realized a major principle of adolescent development. This principle is soooo obvious to the rest of the world: adolescence is the time of developing identity. DUH! Right? From an educational psychologist perspective, that's rocket science. But the real fun comes into play when thinking about what true identity is and what influences our identity. One major component in my opinion in gender. Another resounding DUH, right? But I must point out that the world we live in (at least part of it) is trying to move toward a world without gender (They obviously didn't do their Biology homework). News flash - gender is part of our identity. To take away gender or to dilute, convolute, or pollute the associated development wreaks havoc on adolescence. English translation: adolescent development + messed up ideas on gender = BAD IDEA. Messed up growing plant = messed up grown plant. Ta da! Scary rocket science.

So here's the bottom line. Identity is what it's going to be about this semester in this class. Identity is what it's all about in adolescence, and those who can teach and inspire youth (and adults for that matter) to find true individual identity -- not in conjunction or retaliation to trends or fads of society -- have a gift to share.