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Twelve short years ago, when I was in kindergarten, the whole grade had a competition to encourage students to learn how to tie their shoes.

The competition was simple; as an incentive, the first class in which every student could tie their shoes was awarded an ice cream party. On the surface, while this may have seemed like a fun challenge, the duration of it was a source of stress for me. For the vast majority of people who were unaware, I have struggled with severe ADHD for my whole life. As a result, I often lagged behind my peers in learning simple activities, much like tying my shoes. This became problematic throughout my experience with the public school system, where most activities are fast paced, and your abilities are tested and judged before than you can fully develop them.

In an effort to compensate for my attentional shortcomings, I’ve developed a different way of doing things. Rather than following the textbook procedure to solve problems, since I rarely learn the textbook procedure in the allotted amount of time, I’ve often had to be inventive and figure things out on my own. That being said, as a kindergartener, just starting out in the public schooling system, I was poorly equipped to learn how to properly tie my shoes in 24 hours. Under pressure from my classmates to succeed, rather than figuring out the proper technique, I tied my shoelaces in knots all the way up to the ends, and then tucked them into my shoes. Although the technique worked just as well as the one I could not learn in time, I was told it was an unacceptable method, and I was forced to face the disappointed expressions of my classmates as we lost the competition. I was the only person in the whole class who couldn’t tie my shoes.
While I felt somewhat victimized for not being able to learn, I worked up the courage to walk up to my teacher, and asked, “How do you get a knot?”
Taking it as a legitimate question, she replied, “You know how to get a knot, sweetie. You take the strings and tie them together.”
This was exactly what I expected to hear, and in a moment of young self-assurance I then asked, “But if I put my shoelaces in knots, all the way to the top, doesn’t it mean I tied my shoes even better than everyone else?”

She stood in silence for a moment before informing me that there was only one acceptable way to tie my shoes, and that was the way which I was taught. That moment would prepare me for the rest of my educational experience thus far, as the restrictions on creativity would only get worse over time. That moment certainly prepared me for the day I had to drop out of Honors math in 7th grade, since several points were taken off on every test for not following the textbook procedure by which the problem was supposed to be solved. These unavailing procedures contributed to my failure, as well as my inability learn the Pythagorean Theorem, because there was no way for me to figure it out on my own after missing the concept in class.

I suppose my question to those in charge of public education in New York State is, can you blame me for missing the concept? I suffer from a learning disability, chronic ocular migraines, and was bullied severely on a daily basis in the classroom. Needless to say, it’s somewhat difficult to learn a complicated equation when you’re younger developmentally than your classmates, and you have a learning disability. It’s somewhat difficult to perform well on a Regents exam when you were up until 2:00AM the same day, trying to learn all the topics you weren’t given the time to master earlier in the year, before being thoroughly tested and moving on. It’s somewhat difficult to copy notes from the board when everything in sight is a blurred mess from the tears in your eyes, and you took off your glasses hours ago, because your classmates wouldn’t stop making fun of them.

This school system puts a kind of pressure on their students, combined with the rest of life’s burdens, that can’t be sustained in the long run. The most toxic element of the phrase “standardized testing” is the word “standardized”. By applying a ‘one-system-fits-all’ mentality to something as diverse as education, it conveys a substantially negative message to each individual student. By using these same tactics and measurements of ability on each student, you are intrinsically stating, “You are not special. You are not important. We have no concern for and attach no value to your individual strengths and weaknesses, and your success depends solely on your ability to do impersonal, accurate work and be subordinate while doing so.”

As a result, those who succeed in New York’s infamous public education system are seldom in tune with their creative, innovative side, and were conditioned not to be leaders, but to consistently work for someone else. It can be assumed that these are not the kinds of character traits in someone that we, as a nation, a state, or even simply as human beings would want running our government, operating on our families and friends in hospitals, working toward scientific advancements, or being spit from exorbitant colleges into the United States’ already struggling economy. While it may boost our state’s image to instill strict academic standards, it certainly does not boost our state’s image when these standards become so strict that students dread coming in to school each morning, when it becomes commonplace to cheat on assignments or abuse drugs to gain the upper hand, or when an exam needs to be curved drastically for a reasonable amount of students to pass. It does not boost our state’s image when our graduating classes become so creatively suppressed and collectivized that they have little to nothing to offer in the real world. It does not boost our state’s image when our very own students commit suicide, because they can no longer deal with the stress and the fear of failure that we’ve driven into them-which you’ve driven into them-with all of this nonsense.

I suppose, however, that this is less of an “us”, “we”, or “our” issue overall, than it is a “New York State Board of Education” issue. I say this because there seems to be little to nothing “common” about “Common Core”, with the sole exception of the system’s lack of support. From my experience, teachers, parents, and students alike all share a noticeable reaction of disgust upon mention of it, and yet, very few people work up the motivation to publicly speak against it. It’s perceived by most that this is just the way things are. That assumption is not inaccurate; only the men and women creating and voting upon these standards can control how out of line they’ve become. With the thorough consideration of those men and women, I can only hope that one day when I have children and send them off for their first day of school, I can take a sigh of relief knowing that they won’t have to see the public schooling system the way it is today. I can only hope that they won’t have to go through the awful experience that academics shouldn’t be, that I’m experiencing today.

New York State, you have two choices. You can continue to take massive leaps in the wrong direction for temporary personal gain, or you can make learning a beautiful experience again, for everyone. This should not be a difficult decision. After all, on a Regents Exam question, there are at least four choices. You have only two. Please make the right one…and when you have, don’t forget to bubble it in, inside the lines, with a sharpened #2 pencil. No pressure, but this test is worth 100% of your grade. All cell phones off. Backpack in the back of the room. The clock starts now.

Don’t blow it.

(Source: Flickr / taromatsumura, via openeyeseelies)

The way I spend the night of New Year’s eve and the first few hours of January 1st always foreshadows how my year is going to be.

I’m not satisfied with this knowledge at all.
In those few hours, I got irritated with my family several times, made plans and left home at the last minute, got frustrated about my appearance while getting ready and subsequently gave up on myself, showed up late, struggled to eat a sufficient amount all night, couldn’t give my friend her Christmas presents because they were locked in the car somewhere, and felt socially anxious and left out in a place where I typically feel at home.
     My friend’s mom was upset because her son was asleep for the countdown, and didn’t want to see her when she woke him up.
     I broke a commitment I had made to myself and kept for 2 years. I have broken it several times since. I have to deal with the guilt every day, and I’m worried it might start to become a problem again.
     One of my closest friends couldn’t be there due to prior engagements, so we spent the night without him. It looks like I’m going to spend the rest of the year without him.
     I decided I wasn’t going to start worrying about long overdue work until school started again. I’m failing most of my classes and now under intense stress to make everything up before the last week of the semester ends.
     I accidentally mentioned something I wasn’t supposed to mention because there were a few things bothering me, and it led to strained bickering. Those things have been bothering me progressively more as time passes. The strain has only gotten worse.
     Not a single text from someone I’d talked to every day for the past 1.5 years. Not a single text yesterday, either. Or the day before.
     One of the most stable people I know started crying. Every time I’ve talked to him since, he’s told me things weren’t going well.
     My mom stayed up late, tired, waiting for my brother to come home. They had a small argument. They’re having a serious argument as I type this.
My friend’s fucking cat didn’t even want to see me.

I stood alone for the countdown. I felt alone for the next 18 days.
Maybe that would be okay, if today wasn’t January 18th, but it is.

If I could rewind to the moment I got back home from vacation and start 2014 over, I would have done almost everything differently.
Raise your champagne and toast to the new year, everybody. Some of us are going to need it.


Painting by kenglye


Ernest Zacharevic


Diana Shpungin - Under Taken, 2011