15 til John Green

Hey there!

I recently learned that there is a name for the condition I suffer from. It is tsundoku: the tendency to buy books and leave them on the shelf, unread. I always get so excited about reading books that I’ll buy four at a time and only end up reading some of them. And now that I have a name for this terrible habit, I feel like conquering it. More on that in a moment.

I have also recently discovered the vlogbrothers, the greatest nerds on YouTube. John and Hank Green are two brilliant, immensely thoughtful, creative, and influential brothers who created a YouTube channel to communicate with each other from opposite sides of the continent. A community of nerds, or nerdfighters, has sprung up around the vlogbrothers and their mission to decrease world suck. I bring these guys up because 1) if you’re reading my blog, you will probably enjoy their insightful and silly videos, and 2) because John is an author of a handful of books that I desperately want to read.

However, I couldn’t justify buying four new books with so many unread books already in my possession. So, I challenged myself to read 10-15 of the books I already own before I buy John Green’s beautiful box set. Luckily, fifteen rhymes with John Green and I’d rather read 15 books anyway. Thus, “Fifteen til John Green” was born!

My progress so far:

  1. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood is set in Kingston, the town I live in September to April. It’s based on the true story of a famous woman convicted (possibly wrongly convicted) of murder and sentenced to life in the women’s penitentiary in Kingston. Psychology was a budding field back then, and people didn’t really understand how our brains worked all too well. So, Grace Marks claims to not remember the murder or how it happened, many people believed she was just lying. A young psychologist wants to discover the truth behind it all and spends the majority of the novel interviewing her and listening to Grace’s version of her story. A long, but very interesting novel.
  2. Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert was fantastic. It’s a non-fiction book about how truly bad people are at predicting what will make them happy five minutes from now and five years from now. I’d heard this book mentioned so many times, but I forgot about it after I bought it. I guarantee that you will have a small identity crisis reading this book, and you will most definitely say “Other people may think like that, but I sure don’t!” at least once. It definitely lets you know that you can loosen up a bit when you’re trying to make the ‘right’ decision…because you’re probably making the wrong one either way. It’s not too long a book, and it’s absolutely worth every second.
  3. I also read a small collection of Sherlock Holmes adventures. All I will say on the matter is “WAY better than the movies, almost as good as the TV show”. I can’t wait to read the whole collection.
  4. Pride and Prejudice is one of those books I can’t believe I hadn’t read (or finished) yet, especially since I wrote an essay on it in April. I’d seen the movie and heard teachers analyze it before, so I was always like “Yea Lizzie! Yea Lizzie’s dad! You guys are awesome!” But then my English teacher last year turned the whole concept of the book on its head and made me think about all of it in a totally different way. It is definitely worth it to critically analyze this book as you go through (even if that sounds about as much fun as stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork). It really gives you a new perspective on love and social relationships.
  5. The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman was short and brilliant. I could hardly bear to put it down, so I finished it in one very interesting day. It’s such a weird book that asks you to just let go and accept things as they are told to you, even if they seem really weird. Even as I finished the book, I realized that I didn’t know what it was about, but I had enjoyed every page. I still don’t really know what it’s about. I guess I’ll have to read it again!
  6. I finally finished The Fellowship of the Ring! Some people warned me that I wouldn’t like it because it’s super detailed and historical and geeky, and I was like…do you know me but at all?? It was bloody flippin’ incredible! (I don’t think I actually have to say it was better than the movie, right?) The only problem with it is that I only bought the first one along with The Hobbit (which, to my horror, didn’t even match!), so now I’m dying to buy part 2 and 3. But that doesn’t really go along with my “finish 15 books before you buy four more” thing. Maybe I can do this challenge again. Something like… “Ten more til Mordor”? …okay, I’ll work on it.
  7. And I’m currently reading The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, which, so far, corroborates everything I know about the suckiness of school, but backs it all up with scientific facts! My day is made!

I have really enjoyed all of these books, but if I had to recommend one….I couldn’t do it. I can recommend two though. Read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s incredible. And definitely read The Waterproof Bible. Kaufman is a Canadian writer and the book takes place half in Toronto, Ontario and half in Morris, Manitoba, so it was fun for me to recognize all the street names and the horror of being in downtown TO in traffic. I think that was redundant…downtown Toronto and traffic are synonymous, right?

That’s all for now folks! Enjoy your week and DFTBA,
Kenzie

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Question everything.

There are many people who have moulded me into the person I am today, and influenced what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, and what I will accomplish in the future. But there is one person in particular who made this life path of reading, writing, learning, and wondering available to me. Mr. G , my Grade 8 History teacher, offered me a way of seeing the world in which questioning the way things are is both vital and fulfilling, as the way things will be is up to us, the students.

One thing that gets me fired up and frustrated and desperate for change is the approach to education in high schools. Despite this frustration, I don’t yet know how to fix the education system. I haven’t learned enough about how brains learn just yet. However, I do have an idea of where we need to start. And Mr. G has unknowingly provided a foundation for me that has directly influenced the development of this idea in my head.

Firstly, we don’t need better curriculums. Fantastic curriculums exist already. Albeit, they seem to only exist in extremely expensive private schools, but they DO exist! So we DO know what to teach kids. What we need more than that is a different attitude to learning. And that change starts with annoying children…

Note to all parents: scientists confirm your suspicions: each kid can ask dozens of questions every hour. From my own observations of parents and kids, it would appear that after a few rounds of “But, why???”…it is no longer cute or funny. According to Frazier, Gelman, and Wellman (2009), parents only give explanatory answers to their kids’ questions 50-60% of the time — less for younger children. And we know that kids really are asking questions to learn, not just to get attention, because kids react differently to explanatory answers (“You have to stay close to mummy when we’re at the mall because getting lost can be dangerous and scary.”) than they do to non-answers (“Because I said so”, “Ask your dad”, and “Not now”). Explanatory answers cue kids to be more curious and to ask more questions, whereas non-answers force kids to ask the same question again or make up their own answer. Furthermore, kids either learn that asking questions is a fruitful activity: self-directed learning is good!; or that asking questions gets you nowhere: people will tell me things if I need to know them.

Too often, students are encouraged not to ask disruptive questions like “But why did that happen?” or “But what if I did it this way?”. We are asked to learn the information as it is, without questioning it. Parents and teachers: when kids ask “Why?” , they are learning to learn. If toddlers and kids and teens get solid answers and are encouraged to be curious, the cycle will continue and they will learn all the things! If they get shut down every time they ask why things are the way they are…they’ll stop asking. And that alone is utterly terrifying to me.

Back to Mr. G… He once told my class,

“A good teacher is just a student who had a bad experience in school.”

And that thought has stuck with me for 7 years. But it’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I did some research. Mr. G, if you’re reading this, it turns out you were exactly right. Ronald A. Beghetto has done a lot of research on teachers, creativity, and the learning experience. One of his studies confirmed that “prospective teachers who viewed promoting creativity of students as highly important were significantly less likely to report that they enjoyed school” (2006).

Mr. G taught me that being inquisitive is one of the greatest, most admirable traits someone can have. Because the people who ask “Why?” are the people who effect change. They are the people who make all the difference in the world.

Mr. G made it okay to nerd out. He gave the go-ahead for students to be who they wanted to be and learn how they wanted to learn. And (though I was a brat when I graduated from his class) his lessons and encouragement have had the greatest impact on my life, now that I’ve had time to think about them. And I won’t ever be able to explain how grateful I am for that. Because I am now one of the biggest, proudest nerds you’ll ever meet. I love learning. I love going to class. And more than anything, I love sharing what I’ve learned with other people. Before Mr. G, I was one of those kids who tried to dumb it down to look cool (or something approaching cool), who tried to hide the fact that I powered through a book a day, who had stopped asking questions.

Mr. G was a teacher who didn’t just “teach”. He didn’t recite and quiz and discipline and check our notes for accuracy. He did everything in his power to light a spark in students that made them want to learn on their own. Maybe we didn’t see that then, but I can certainly see it now. He gave us permission to question everything, including authority (even his own), because authority is not always right by default. He did an incredible job of giving us the clearest, most accessible, most enlightening answers he could. And that is the greatest gift any student could ask for.

Parents and teachers are teaching kids that asking “Why?” all the time is disruptive and generally a bad thing to do. I propose that we start teaching kids the way Mr. G taught me: Yes, asking “Why?” IS disruptive. And that’s a damn good thing.

What are your thoughts on high school education? Did it work for you? Did you hate it? Did you have your own Mr. G? Let me know in the comments.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer thus far! DFTBA,

Kenzie

P.S. If you’re looking for more on this topic, read The Power of Why by Amanda Lang. It’s going on my newly official list of books teachers and parents must read.

P.P.S. My writing hiatus was longer than anticipated. I got super bored without writing and ideas were starting to get really crowded in my brain. More posts to come!

How to escape education’s death valley

“10% of kids are being diagnosed with ADHD. I’m not saying there’s no such thing – I just don’t believe it’s an epidemic. If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low-grade clerical work…don’t be surprised if they start to fidget!”
– Ken Robinson

New post coming soon! I’ve got some great news to share!
Kenz

Free Speech Nonsense

Hey, folks

free speech wall articleMaybe this has been beaten to death already, but I’d like to say my piece. If you go to Queen’s, you’ve almost definitely heard about the free speech wall being taken down due to racial slurs, blah blah blah… There are two main arguments I’ve heard here: One is that people have a right to their opinion no matter what it is, and they should be allowed to express that opinion. I agree. The other is that people also have to right to feel like they are safe and accepted at their university and not feel at risk of becoming the victim of a hate crime. I also agree. How can I possibly agree to both? Let me tell you…

There’s a difference between having a different opinion from others and just being plain offensive. This free speech wall had derogatory slang and offensive remarks (and, lets be honest, a lot of happy-go-lucky “tell someone you love them” crap, too). If political leaders got up on stage and said “Gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married cuz fags don’t deserve that shit. Fuck ’em all”, we wouldn’t take them seriously. We would probably boo them off the stage for lack of tact. On top of that, if you sound like an idiot when you talk by using cuss words and words designed to be offensive, no one will listen to the rest of your argument unless they’re looking for a good laugh. If you have an honest opinion that gay marriage would be disruptive to society or whatever, then fine. If you believe that black people are actually dumber than white people due to genetics, then fine, I guess. It’s not my job or right to tell you what you are allowed to believe. But if you truly want people to take your opinion seriously, then express your opinion intelligently, in a open debate where your opponent can defend themselves. Don’t scribble it on a free speech wall. No one’s going to see it and go “Oh hey! That’s a good point! I’ve never thought of it like that before.”

The people who put the wall up (and who were pissed when it was taken down) argue that it’s not the university’s job to tell people what is offensive and what isn’t, and to make decisions based on personal opinions of what’s offensive. But let’s get real: words like “fag” and “nigger” are intended to be offensive. No one uses those words in an intelligent debate or rational discussion. I can’t think of a single situation in which they can be used in a way that isn’t offensive.

If you’ve read the rest of my blog, you understand that I’m obviously a fan of inclusivity and equality. But, like I said, it’s not my job or right to tell people what to believe. There was one thing that stood out to me about this wall though. The wall was titled “Queen’s Free Speech Wall”. Someone crossed out the “Free” and wrote “FACELESS“. And I think that is pretty damn brilliant. It’s an anonymous opinion. Sure, someone may get to share their opinion that they don’t think would be accepted otherwise, but a lot of people will also write stupid things they don’t really mean because they know it won’t be traced back to them. Have you seen the Internet lately? One YouTube personality once told a story about someone who wrote her a tweet saying, “You should go kill yourself”. The YouTuber retweeted her comment out of shock and confusion. And the person I assumed was a total asshole for telling a stranger to go kill themselves was shocked that she had been called out and apologized for her behaviour, saying she had had a bad day and didn’t really mean it. Have a look at the bottom of this picture below: someone wrote “Abolish Human Rights”. Somehow, I don’t think that was an actual call to action based on sincere beliefs.

So there, I’ve said my piece. Let me know if you have another opinion, or if you think I missed something important in this post. And if you’re someone who’s written something stupid and derogatory because you didn’t think it would be traced back to you, please know that even anonymous words can hurt. And that really sucks if you caused someone pain with something you actually didn’t mean.

free speech wall

My Last Class

I am about to go into the very last class of my first year at Queen’s University.

Time has never passed as quickly as it has this year, especially this March and April. Fast than summer break, faster than exchange, faster than vacation. You know how time flies when you’re having fun? Apparently it surpasses the speed of light when you’re having a mental breakdown. That’s basically what this year has been for me. A complete breakdown and reassembly of how I think about myself, my education, and my relationships. I’ve learned a lot about myself that I wish I didn’t know. I’ve learned that it’s hard to make all the right moves in a long-distance relationship, that I’m not so great with handling others’ illnesses, and that I have some serious self-esteem issues that I didn’t know I had. I’ve learned what a panic attack really feels like. I’ve learned that I don’t like panic attacks.

But! I’ve also learned that even if I don’t make the right move, I can still fix things, especially with the help of loved ones. I’ve learned that other people do not have to define my life and how I operate through it . I’ve learned that I have an entire lifetime to work on myself and develop into the person I truly want to be. I’ve learned that I thrive under pressure and that I have way more umph! in me than I ever imagined or wished for. Most importantly, I’ve learned that, no matter how low I feel, no matter how many crappy choices I make, there are people in my life who will push me to go further, challenge me to do better, and support me through all of it. People like T.A.’s who see that I have potential, my parents who have always been there for me, my partner who encourages me like no one else, and even myself.

Coming up to the final exams of my first year of university is the first time in my life that I’ve looked in the mirror and honestly been able to say “What the hell, Kenz? You can do better,” instead of “You should be able to do better.” And for the first time in my life, I can respond (yes, I respond to myself) with “Wait a sec. Yea, I can do better than this,” instead of “I wish I knew how,” or “I wish I had it in me.” I can’t thank my family, my partner, and my new friends enough for helping me with this incredible personal growth that I didn’t know was possible.

It’s up to me to keep the cycle of positive reinforcement going. The joy of university for me is that the harder I try, the better my marks are. That’s just not something that happened for me in high school. I was aiming for university when they wanted cookie cutter, and you don’t get marks in high school for doing more than what your teacher asks for. Every week, especially at the end of the year when all the marks start flooding in, I realize that high school was a tiny, insignificant blip on my radar, a mere stepping stone to getting where I need to be right now.

Alright, enough philosophizing. I’ve learned a lot about applying for a major lately. At the beginning of the year, I was terrified that I just wouldn’t be capable of getting the grades to major in Psychology. It’s the most competitive major to get into in the Arts and Sciences at Queen’s. Now that we’ve reached the end of the year, despite all of my panicking, it turns out that a Psych major may very well be in my cards after all. (To all my lovely family members reading this, I know you were never worried, but I honestly was for a while.) As it currently stands, I need higher than a 70% on my final exam to get into Psychology, which is definitely doable. I’m feeling very confident (knock on wood) because the topics we’ve worked on this semester (personality, emotions, social life, development, etc.) are all things I’m absolutely fascinated by, so I’ve really soaked it all in. Wish me luck!

So, time for my last class … I wish it was one I liked. :P After this, I’m off to the library for more studying and final essay writing. As of this moment, there are 12 days, 21 hours, and 30 minutes until I am home at last, and dropping into unconsciousness in my proper-sized bed for a month. This will likely be my last communication until I become conscious again.

Let me know how your first year went or anything important you learned this year in the comments. I love to hear these things. Thanks for sticking with me through my first year, folks!

Kenzie

Spring, Studying, and Summer Plans…

Hey folks!

As of Wednesday, it is officially spring! Don’t get me wrong, I love school, but I am unbelievably excited for the beginning of summer. First year has been excellent. But let’s be honest, I still have another crazy round of exams to go through. Luckily for me, I only have three final exams and one final essay this semester. And (I’m not sure if I’m happy about this yet) they’re all pretty close together. So, while my studying will turn me into crazy-eyed-haven’t-showered-in-a-week Kenzie, I’ll be done my exams really quickly and chilling out at home before I know it! I’m not too sure when the packing part is going to get done though!

I’ve been spending insane amounts of time in the library lately. I’m just finishing up with a 6 hour stint, and it’s the shortest one all week. I have a new style of studying for Psychology (hopefully one that will work a little better than last semester), and it’s been taking up a bunch of time. I just finished a long English paper, and I’ve got to get started on a longer Religion paper soon so I have time to study for Psychology! It’s going to be a crazy busy few weeks for me, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to get through it alive.

boots-and-hearts-logoMy summer plans this year are so exciting that I just have to mention some of them. Firstly, I have to paint my new house some weekend this summer! Not that you care, but it’s going to be an awesome green colour! Next, my amazing boyfriend bought both of us tickets at Christmas to go to the Boot and Hearts Country Festival this summer! I can’t even tell you how excited I am for this. Names like Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, The Band Perry, Dean Brody, Chad Brownless, and Jason Blaine will all be there! Needless to say, I’m dying of excitement (only 132 days until the gates open!). Finally, (can you tell I was spoiled this Christmas?) my parents have surprised my brother and I with a Caribbean cruise. After my first year of university, and all the other personal crap that came with it, I am pretty freaking excited for this chance to chill out and do nothing but tan, swim, and read. Duh.

Oh, and also, I’m just about to finish Pride and Prejudice for my English course. It’s awesome to read something I’ve read before in a university course. Realizing all the different things that I completely missed out on is sooooo enlightening. Maybe I’ll minor in English?

That’s it for today, folks! See you soon,
Kenzie

To This Day

“When I was a kid, I hid my heart under the bed because my mother said, ‘If you’re not careful, someday, someone’s gunna break it.’ Take it from me, under the bed is not a good hiding spot. I know because I’ve been shot down so many times, I get altitude sickness just from standing up for myself. But that’s what we were told: ‘Stand up for yourself.’ But that’s hard to do if you don’t know who you are.” — Shane Koyczan

This is, I believe, the original. In the 18 days since this video was posted, it’s been viewed 6.2 million times. Tells you a little something about how we’re feeling.

Stay strong, folks. It gets better.

<3 Kenzie