Monday, December 21, 2009

Teach for America essays

Letter of Intent:

I want to join Teach for America because I believe in the program's mission of providing equal opportunity and equal education for all students. School, as I understand it, has two distinct functions. One role is economic--to provide equal opportunity, to give students an equal chance to earn scholarships to top universities, and to help each student find a specialization they can use to make a living. The other role is social--to teach students how society as a whole works. In other words, school should not only determine where in the economy a student will "fit in", but also should give students an understanding of how the different pieces of society "fit together."

As much as we would like to, these two roles seldom can be combined. Someone can become a highly successful lawyer, doctor, or even (scarily) politician, without understanding much about the rest of society.

Standardization helps achieve equal opportunity, the economic role of schools, but makes it harder for teachers to explain how a topic relates to society as a whole. A student's "Why are we studying this?" is increasingly likely to be met with "Because we have to", "Because I said so", or likely the most common, "You want to go to college, don't you?" Such responses leave huge blank spots within a student's understanding of how different sectors of society are related.

I hope to teach mathematics. Often, mathematics is taught without mentioning non-mathematical subjects, and the subject can be taught quite well this way. Some students benefit from the focus on pattern-recognition that such an approach would bring out. But for others, the class can become needlessly boring. Technologies such as the TV, radio, and the electronic computer would never have occurred without mathematics. More relevant to most high-schoolers, mathematics teaches logic--it asks students to determine what they can know for certain. Just as we use logic in mathematics to determine what we know for certain about a problem, we can use logic in our lives to maintain consistency in our relationships.

During the past two years since graduating, I have spent time substitute teaching and volunteering in GED and after-school tutoring programs. Now that I have a 2.5 GPA, I look forward to continuing my career in education with Teach for America.

I believe many students are eager to understand how society fits together. I hope to provide that understanding to as many students as I can.

two examples of the jobs or activities that best highlight your leadership and achievement:

1 - interim Alabama organizer for 2008 Nader for President

What are/were your primary responsibilities in your current or most recent role?
As the Alabama State Coordinator, it was my job to collect the sheets of signatures that the state requires for a presidential candidate to appear on the ballot. I was in charge of collecting the signature sheets from 2 paid petitioners and from 6 or 7 volunteers. I also sent out a biweekly email updating donors about the campaign and took part in a weekly phone conference.

What was your most significant accomplishment in your current or most recent role?
I turned in the over 9,000 signatures to the Alabama Secretary of State's office in Montgomery, Alabama on August 19th, 2008, fulfilling Alabama's requirement of 5,000 signatures of registered Alabama voters for third-party candidates to be on the state ballot.

For number 2 I have two options - A) the conservative "after-school volunteer" or B) the more personal, but abstract "self-directed student" option

A) - Sarah Tate Reading Room

What are/were your primary responsibilities in your current or most recent role?
I served as an after-school tutor for 2nd-5th grade kids. After snack, I would work with one or two students usually on their math work. After working, students were free to play outside, use a computer, or create another activity such as a group game or chess.

What was your most significant accomplishment in your current or most recent role?
I introduced some kids to chess, helped them learn to use a laptop, and (most importantly) got to play some awesome games of wall ball.


Many people today define success within the game of limitless acquisition. They get jobs because it pays well, because it has “upward mobility”; usually not because they believe in their work. I believe my greatest success in school has been to escape form this approach to education, and begin to truly learn about our society, and how I can contribute to its progress.

(And I could reword some of that of course.)

Leaning toward option A)

hopefully math degree + caring about education + talking the phone interview about starting a technology club after school will be enough, so play conservative i'm thinking.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sufi Wisdom

Some quotes I especially liked from a book I read recently (Edenborn, good if you like sci-fi and thinking about broad social issues):

pg. 61 -
Echoes of my father's words permeate my mind and my heart. Vividly, I remember him sitting me down when twin fears of death and failure twisted me in their coils. He sat me down, dried my tears, and armored me with the wisdom of Abu Sa'id ibn Abi'l Khayr, a Persian Sufi master who lived a thousand years ago. The master said:
'Whatever you have in your mind, forget it.
Whatever you have in your hand, give it.
Whatever is to be your fate, face it!'
They are freeing words.

pg. 160 -
"This is an old trick," he explained, while unloading [coconuts] from my copter. "The monkey reaches into the hole to grab the treat but cannot pull his paw free without letting go. Because he is unwilling to let go, he is trapped by the force of his greed."
Though they are low-tech contraptions, my nieces and I find them wonderfully resourceful, the kind of outdoor-savvy skill set Isaac's kids have inherited, and Vashti and Champagne's kids have not. And Mu'tazz is Isaac's son in another respect as well, using the event as an opportunity to teach. "We all carry coconuts," he told the curious girls. "They are our problems, our woes, and we drag them around, shortsighted, too proud to let go and welcome God into our lives."

pg. 232 -
We remember your lessons We embrace the future. We fight for life with every drop of blood in our veins, but the microbes that threaten us come from God, and with God what can we do but surrender completely to whatever fate He has prepared?

pg. 254 -
When I tell the story about the frogs, I never tell it the same way twice. Sometimes they are green frogs, and sometimes they're brown. Sometimes I describe them with warts and other times without. They could be your common bullfrogs or Okinawan green tree frogs. They might even be toads. There could be ten, twenty, or a whole army of them, but the core of the story is always the same.

A group of frogs was traveling together, when two suddenly fell into a pit. The others rushed to the edge to see how very deep it was, and they realized the pair would never be able to get out. Don't even bother, they croaked, but the two trapped frogs started hopping anyway. They jumped and they hopped but they couldn't quite reach the top. All the time the crowd kept yelling for them to quit suffering and just give up, lay down and die. Finally, one of the two did exactly that. But the other ignored his fellow frogs and kept jumping with all his might. Against all odds, he made it out.
The others were amazed. Why did you keep trying? they asked. Didn't you hear us yelling for you to quit?
Oh, is that what you were doing, said the bewildered frog. I'm afraid I'm going deaf. All the time I was down there I thought you were encouraging me.