Something is wrong; I’ve discovered a terminal illness
That makes me sit in class with a death-like stillness
Leaving scars on my conscience; a limb must be severed
The remedy is bankrupt, despite my endeavors Continue reading
Schooling is not the same as education education - it is sacred. Here it is commodified - twisted, manipulated, thrown away with every spit bubble lazily popping at your mouth, every glazed over look you give your teacher Continue reading
Sometimes when I write on this blog, I cite a problem or frustration in my life, then sort of summarize how I plan to handle my frustration. But there comes a time when all you can do is recognize that a problem exists; there’s not always a clear solution or way for individuals to handle it, and now is one of those times.
My friends and I are counting down the days until the first semester of senior year ends, until we can officially declare ourselves “second semester seniors.” Maybe then, I’ll be able to go on a proper vacation, because I haven’t gone on one in a few years, unless you count exhausting debate tournaments or college trips.
And the college process itself is brutal. I don’t hate colleges, I just abhor the process itself. The colleges themselves are merely wonderful institutions full of opportunities, but the process seems to have brought out the worst in all of us. It has torn families apart, it has stressed me out beyond belief, and it has scared me to death. Peers, who used to look out upon the world with wide and innocent eyes, now squint at the sun and scurry back inside to slave away at their homework (a little exaggeration, but that’s honestly what it feels like). My college counselor puts it simply: we are, but should try not to, sell our souls to the devil.
Is it too extreme to say that I no longer believe in altruism anymore? Maybe I’ve been feeling too pessimistic, but it seems like every service project, every volunteer opportunity, every leadership position has just become a row on a Common App, a check on a box, a mask for something to augment, to boost, to plump up someone’s college application.
A year ago, I wrote a post entitled “What It Means to Debate.” Looking back on what I had written, I still agree largely with what I had written. But alas, we are never stationary and that means that my opinion has changed, shifted, and accumulated much more knowledge and experience since when I last touched on the subject on policy debate as an activity.
8. The Novices.
They are the future of your debate team, the kids that will be seniors when you’re juniors in college, whose life courses you have the ability to influence depending whether you convince them with your charisma and behavior to stick with debate.
When you think about it, debate is what you make it and part of what you make it is demonstrated to others that join as weak freshmen and look to the seniors to see what they might look like one day. Continue reading
The overly obsessive with looks
When looks come to dominate everything else that I prioritize in life, I know that something is wrong. I never want to be so concerned with my outward appearance that my focus on this inevitably trades off with the quality of my inward appearance. I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: these features are fleeting. You look great today, but shit happens: accidents, acne, puberty, and life. So if my bathroom were to ever be crowded with only bottles and sprays and combs and brushes and q-tips, someone slap me please.
The funniest is watching people grasp onto their fading beauty with desperate fingers, because the struggle represents his or her inability to accept an inevitable fate. I really do believe in the idea that the more makeup you cake on, the more you have to hide on the inside. The more you curl or straighten your hair, the more limp it is the next day. We are draining the life out of our bodies to try to fit unrealistic visions of beauty! I want to age gracefully.
The perpetually tired
I understand that part of being a high schooler is waking up grouchy and exhausted, but I desperately want some mornings when I’m genuinely happy to wake up. I want there to not always be days where laziness takes over and priorities are dropped without a thought. Whenever I go many days without proper sleep (like here at debate camp), the disastrous side effects snowball and overwhelm me; a crash is always imminent. I can’t stay awake and I’m forced to down cups of coffee and tea, and the acid from both corrodes my teeth. On the other hand, I’m normally not late or overly-jittery when I get a proper night of sleep.
I don’t want to become obsessed with technology, but I fear that I may be very far down this path already. I spend hours on my computer and my phone; of course, some of this time can be attributed to debate, but I definitely spend more time than is healthy. Additionally, I don’t feel comfortable if I don’t have access to it. I live off of wifi.
I would never allow myself to stay indoors all day and to develop eye, ear, and back problems because of both the overuse and misuse of technology, because none of those issues gives me a reason to live life…
The pure adult
I never want to lose some aspect of my childhood. I feel inspiration and nostalgia from flipping through old photos, and I experience pure happiness when I am confronted with something from my past – a TV show, a novel, or a journal. I don’t want to lose myself in the pressures of getting a job or starting a family or paying bills, and I want to preserve the beautiful period of my life that I appreciated so much.
The one who loses sight of the big picture
My friend once calmed me down about something stupid by playing the game of five. Will some issue matter in 5 days, months, and years? Personal crises virtually disappear when you remember that you have a life that spans more than the 4 years in high school, and that this too shall pass.
Friends are super important. Some you meet early in your life, and some you meet towards the close of a chapter, but what really matters is who stays in your life. People will inevitably leave. Those who stay are those who matter, and I never want to forget these people for others who just come and go. Those who come and go erupt into your life with a bang and leave just as suddenly, and at the end of the day, you will want someone to come and sit down with you in a cafe and talk about life, no pressure.
Specifically, this entails not letting others dictate your life. Your parents, your friends, your significant others and their opinions are not static, and neither are you. But when it comes to making big life decisions, it’s really important to realize that your big picture encompasses just you. If you take life just step by step and don’t create a least a general plan for what you want to make of yourself, then you’ve got nothing to look forward to and no framework to follow; the decisions and epiphanies that you make and experience today affect the person you will be tomorrow, as it pertains to education and occupation.
When I hear the word independence, I think first of a song by The Band Perry that I’ve always liked; one of the few country songs that I’ve ever enjoyed. The lyrics that I can recall by heart go something like:
Most of my friends will live and die in this zip code…
To me, it just sounds very honest, blatant, and depressing. Travel is one of the best ways to ways to expand your perspective, to overcome the limits of physical confines.
To never venture out of your zip code? *shudders*
The lyrics of the song bring to my attention the concept of college, more importantly, WHERE you decide to go to college. In some cases (but certainly not all cases), staying in-state for college represents a last-resort. It means that the state college is the most you think you can amount to, that you don’t have very big dreams for your future. Of course, if you were to live in a state with a wonderful college within its barriers, then obviously what I said before doesn’t really apply.
But in talking to lots of people, I found that this…belief is widespread. Friends have told me that they don’t want to go to the state college because they don’t want to be like the majority of people at their school, settling for the bare minimum.
Independence relies heavily on the degree of education a person receives. Regardless of whether you go to Princeton or Podunk U, as long as you go to a school that you BELIEVE to be selective and/or competitive, you are going in the right direction.
The way that the world operates today, the likelihood of someone amounting to great success without a sturdy education is quite low. Of course, we blow up and emphasize the cases that have made it big, but it’s important to keep a level head.
The key to approaching independence and education is balance. Education is very crucial to your development in the social, political, and economic world, but ultimately NOT the only important factor. If you somehow lose yourself or sell your soul to the devil in the process of amassing a strong educational foundation, you won’t be able to effectively utilize or appreciate the fruits of your strenuous labor.
So when it comes to independence, the lyrics of the country song are just one approach to the issue. Staying within your zipcode doesn’t necessarily say anything detrimental about the sort of education you are getting/going to get, but if you were never to travel outside the border in your lifetime, you’d be missing out on many life-changing experiences.
Note to readers: I am not North Korean. I’m not even South Korean. I’m Chinese. Cool? Okay cool.
A summary about the status quo of North Korea
North Korea is commonly believed to have the most oppressive dictatorship on the planet. If you question government legitimacy, you will be denied every basic right, and will either be sent to a prison camp or publicly executed. You are not allowed to leave the country without permission from the state.
These prison camps? They’ve been around for five times as long as Nazi camps and twice as long as Soviet camps. There are often no reasonable justifications for being sent to one of these camps; you might be sent simply because you are related to someone who committed a political crime.
The government has attempted to create an information blockade – no radios, no Internet access, no international calls. North Korea has been isolated from the rest of the world for decades.
The people are starving – the agricultural policies are sub par, the climate conditions are brutal, and food imports are limited. Malnutrition is a commonplace.
The refugee crisis
People leave North Korea for a myriad of reasons. They might be desperate for food, medicine, or money. They might hear from outsiders about the world that exists outside of North Korea – they might want to experience it for themselves. They will want to escape economic hardship, political and religious persecution, and the lack of basic, fundamental freedoms.
A scanty number of those who attempt to escape to China will actually make it. Over half of the women who succeed will become prostitutes. Those who get caught? Beatings, torture, prison camps, or execution. Take. Your. Pick.
Hope for the future?
A quote from the LiNK website that answers this question perfectly:
“North Korea is changing. Significant grassroots changes have been happening since the late 1990s, driven by the people themselves, and these developments and trends have the potential to lead, eventually, to a radically transformed and better North Korea.
However, there has not been enough focus on these changes happening at the people-level, and the issue of North Korea is not associated with dynamism or change. This is because, traditionally, the focus of the international community has been on the level of international politics and nuclear weapons.
If the world knew of the dynamism and resilience of the North Korean people in the face of extraordinary challenges, and could see that underneath this Cold War style stalemate, there is a far more interesting story of hope for change, we believe many more people would be motivated to help the North Korean people.”
What exactly is going on that we need to so badly encourage?
After a devastating famine, the North Korean people established illegal markets to obtain food. These markets are primarily female-dominated, and the regime has failed to break up these illegal activities. Simply put, “the markets are here to stay.”
There’s also more communication with the outside world. These illegal markets have triggered food imports from China, a country that is significantly more democratized and liberated than North Korea. Through these activities, the citizens realize that neighboring countries are very, very much advanced.
Even if trade with China were to stop, a leap in access to outside information has truly impacted the mentality of the North Korean people. We’ve got phones, TV’s, radios, and foreign media to help them learn about the reality of the outside world.
“All signs are that this ‘education in reality’ will only continue, and will further empower the North Korean people to push for the change they want inside the country.”
That means that the people are growing increasingly suspicious of the government. No longer are they completely oblivious and brainwashed about reality; there has been less tattletaling on people who are questioning regime legitimacy.
“Ultimately this could result in the emergence of a growing civil space for the people, who are breaking off from the state not just at an individual level but increasingly at a community level.”
And like all social movements, no matter where they originate, the driving force behind this sort of progressive change is young people. I’m talking, people in their 20s and 30s, who have not yet accepted the traditional ideologies of the past, who have not yet condoned the omniscient supremacy. These are the people who will be the make-or-break factors in the push for change.
We don’t want your pity
I don’t want you (the reader) to fall prey to compassion fatigue. I know that we see desolate pictures of North Koreans suffering very often. At first, it seems like something to pity, something that you, as an ethical human being, should do something about. But then you see pictures of starving African children, and then women in the Middle East who have been raped, as well as homeless children in upstate New York, and then you hesitate to take action. The media constantly bombards us with images that attempt to call us to action, to make a change, raise awareness, or donate money to some cause. The result of this is compassion fatigue, when we can no longer put up with all these ethical obligations. Only then do funny memes get created and the idea which originally was intended to arouse guilt and compassion starts to mock the subject of the photos, which backfires on the point of these images.
I don’t intend this to happen with this post. The point of my writing about this is not to evoke pity in you. It is to shed light on the flawed lens through which we have been observing North Korea as a regime, a country, a military power, a nation led by a “madman,” and as a group of individuals – citizens that are starting to squirm under the oppression of a tyrannical ruler. We shouldn’t just realize the difference and feel bad about their unfortunate situation. Rather, we should raise awareness. Some sort of revolution/governmental overthrow might happen, and the success of such a movement largely depends on the support that the North Korean citizens could potentially receive from the outside world. We need to know about the humans rights crisis. We need to something about it. But this post is just the first of many others, to shed light on the inequality in North Korea, and to demonstrate how we might do something about it. This first post was just to illustrate what exactly is happening right now.
(quotes are from the LiNK website, linked above)
When I was in junior high, I heard from my cousin (who had many debater friends) about the high school debaters that all went to the “squad room” during their free time to do work and chill and hang out and make friends. Wow, was that a misnomer. All my junior high life I had imagined the “squad room” to be a room with padded walls and cushioned floors, sort of like a wrestling room. I expected there to be tubs of evidence in neatly organized files being highlighted with actual highlighters. But I was young, and times have changed since then. I was wrong.
The squad room at our school is located near the edge of campus, in a basement of a building infamous for its strange odor. But I found that after visiting the squad room a couple of times, I was able to overcome the stench of who-knows-what. There are a couple of couches, tables and chairs to sit on, enticing you to sit and talk to your friends. Awards from previous tournaments hang on the wall, as if to remind us that we are currently occupying the space of past debaters that have long moved onto college, champions of big tournaments that set examples for younger members of the squad. Glancing at the walls will send you a subtler signal that there’s always a reason to continue working hard.
A whiteboard with a single purple Expo marker hangs on the wall, filled with all sorts of messages, whether from the debaters ourselves, or from the friendly, spirited teacher who goes around to every classroom, writing positive quotes in a quote bubble in the corner of every whiteboard.
Furthermore, it’s more or less a no-judging zone, or a safe haven, of sorts. Sure, we’re not all best friends that hold prayer sessions for each other and we don’t all share common interests and beliefs, but that just makes us more diverse and interesting altogether. We can talk about the activity that we all love without the judging eyes of our peers (that assume that debate is merely conversing about Congress) boring into the back of our heads. We’ve all been exposed to radical, philosophical literature, so we’re less likely to arbitrarily assume. It’s like in the Perks of Being a Wallflower, when Charlie and friends go to Bob’s place to be who they actually are, to express their true nature. Perhaps I’m overstating the effect of such a setting to have on a group of people, but I still like to think optimistically about our “dwelling.”
It’s not perfect. As previously mentioned, it sometimes smells weird. Lots of people don’t clean up after themselves; there’s often sticky juice on the floor and crumbs on the tables, and loose-leaf paper and textbooks everywhere, but I don’t really mind it that much. Of course, people don’t always get along and drama happens, but in general, we’re a well-functioning unit. Congregations in the squad room represent “the mixing of all grades for the pursuit of a common goal,” as a friend has so eloquently described. Wonderful relationships are formed between seniors and freshmen, between juniors and sophomores, as help and advice on topics not entirely limited to debate is exchanged.
Practice debates take place; this is the setting where people can improve their debating skills the most. Here, there is interaction between people of all levels. Information is transferred between the students themselves, which I find to be one of the best communicative aspects of the activity.
Sometimes, I will walk down the hall where the squad room is located and hear the music from three classrooms away. We were fortunate enough that someone had left a pair of good quality speakers in our humble sanctuary. Frequently, Kanye’s “Mercy” blares out of the room and annoys the class next door, but most times, we’re undisturbed, surrounded by the booms of the deep, resonating bass.
But this post is not just about our squad room. It’s not solely about the squad rooms in other debate schools either. We all have a squad room of our own. For whatever extracurricular or hobby that we enjoy, there’s a place where people with similar interests can gather and express their appreciation for said extracurricular or hobby. In my experience, I find the squad room at our school to be an overall wonderful place to make friends and learn random things. I can listen to strange, unfamiliar music or just do homework in a free period. I can watch Youtube videos and read blog posts, and I can ask questions and check up on people that I would normally not see during the day.
Do you have an abode, or a sanctuary where you can hang out with people with shared interests? Let me know! :)
Thanks to a friend for the writing prompt!
To debate is to participate in one of the most beneficial activities that young people could ever participate in. We, the future generation of our country, will be comprised of the professional football players and cheerleaders, the innovative scientists, the actors, the playwrights, the occasional Broadway performer, the cosmetic surgeon, the teacher, the soccer coach, and the list could go on and on. But imperative to the future generation are the politicians, presidents, congress people, and even the educated voter that has acquired such knowledge from something such as…policy debate.
Intro to Debate
Policy debate is a fast paced, excruciatingly intense activity that teaches many different skills. As technology becomes increasingly common in our everyday lives, computers, flash drives, and whatnot have transformed the style of debate into something contemporary and high tech. Debaters talk at high speed, the best speaking as rapidly at 400 words per minute (while the average person manages about 100 WPM). My sister, who has never seen a policy debate in her life, tells me that when I ‘spread,’ (speed read) I sound unreasonably mad. I tell her half-jokingly that it’s more passion than anger.
Before I joined our debate club, I was expecting to walk into a room full of smart, intellectual geeks that talked about politics. In some sense, I was correct. But there’s so much more to the debate community! They are passionate people; I was constantly in awe to hear people speak with such enthusiasm in their voice. Each year I have debated, I’ve learned so much about the topics that are chosen. Who would have thought that policy debate could have allowed me to know so much about military withdrawal, space development, and transportation infrastructure? I have a clear idea of how our economy functions, as well as what’s going on in world politics outside of the United States. I’ve become knowledgeable about presidential debates and various bills that go through Congress, and the effect it has on our country. Who would have thought that the entirety of my sophomore year I’d be arguing that it was imperative that the United States invest in an asteroid-detecting survey system because an asteroid collision was the greatest existential risk to humanity?
I’ve learned risk calculus. I can make better decisions, because I can weigh one choice against another. I LOVE IT. I USE THESE SKILLS IN MY CLASSES EACH AND EVERY DAY!
I love the debate community. I am very fortunate to go to a school that is very competitive and involved in policy debate. I’ve always been surrounded by wonderful role models that consistently inspired me to improve and learn more. I was shocked when junior year started and I started advancing to elimination rounds; younger students that had just started debate would ask me questions and look up to me, just like I used to admire the junior and senior debaters when I was a freshman.
But even greater is the relationship between schools. While most maintain secrecy about new strategies and files that are constantly updated between tournaments, debaters have consistently managed to maintain strong friendships. Despite the extremely (and I mean EXTREMELY) intense competition between schools and even within them, the community is able to stay tightly knit because of the inside jokes that no one else in our schools seems to understand. Whether it be about a funny rebuttal speech or an absurd argument test-driven to observe its effectiveness on a judge, non-debaters at my school swear that it sounds like we’re speaking a different language. In a way, it is a private, exclusive form of communication that few people can speak and write in. I’m constantly asked by my peers to “spread,” the same way that someone would ask me to speak a different language; it entertains and intrigues them.
I see this happen on a small scale: debaters that live within one state congregate at parties and have fun. I also observe the astounding relationships that are able to be maintained all over the country! Who would have thought that a high school kid living in Georgia would be able to create wonderful friendships with people from Kansas, Utah, Ohio, Illinois, California, or New Jersey? Perhaps it’s because we are all engrossed in our computers doing research, but we have also become accustomed to emailing, chatting, and video-calling each other. I’ve always feared the possibility of becoming socially awkward when being forced to speak face-to-face with people after spending so much time online, but I feel as though debaters are an exception to this phenomenon. We spend so much of our time eloquently persuading others why our point of view is correct that there isn’t much of a reason to worry.
Just like great relationships that emerge from sports or other extracurricular activities, debate friendships are made to last. From those of us that will grow up to be politicians, diplomats, or ambassadors, or even those that pursue another career but are educated in politics, we won’t look back at our debater days and remember “that one round where we won/lost against that one team on that one argument with that one judge;” chances are, we will remember fondly those who shared those special moments with us. Debaters tend to accept each other for who they are, continually learning new things from each other. It’s more than an extracurricular activity; other after-school activities cannot compare with the lessons we learn and the bonds that we form. It has become a way of life for so many people.
Education and Skill Set
Wow, am I a better public speaker or what? I’ve developed so much in public speaking through the years. My palms don’t sweat as much, my voice doesn’t shake as easily. I can give a final rebuttal with confidence in my tone, which really can set me apart to the judge, when he/she must decide which team was more persuasive.
Now, I’ll rant about the internet. One of the greatest benefits of policy debate is the information that accumulates in your brain over the years, all thanks to the World Wide Web. It’s free, unlimited information that obliterates many of the barriers that certain schools used to face when it came to doing research. While some people live in different regions where the judges can be drastically different, I’ve always remembered a very short but simple quote from Jarod Atchison: “On any given day, anyone can win.” The sole purpose of this activity is to convince the judge, not dispute the other team. When it comes down to it, the ultimate speech stems from all the confidence and knowledge you’ve acquired from camp, debate practices, and other debate rounds. I think that a good debater should be able to adapt to whatever the judge has ideologically engraved in their mind.
Disadvantages to Consider
On the other hand, whilst I love the activity with all my heart and soul, there are obvious disadvantages to pursuing such an activity. I can think of one major setback: the time commitment. Oh man, does this activity grant me so many sleepless nights! I finish my homework at 11 PM some nights, glance at the block, and mentally ask myself: Sleep, or debate work? The answer is the same every time: Debate, duh. If you want to be a good debater, you can’t expect to have the skills and information innately. I’m sure colleges will be taken back when a resume portrays four years of hardcore debate, but they probably wouldn’t expect you to provide much more in other extracurriculars if you were truly invested. Debate is the single most time-consuming activity you will ever know. Some people start at zero ground, knowing nothing about the topic. Some people might start at negative ground, disadvantaged by lack of funding, strange geographic funding, etc. But no matter where you start, there is ALWAYS the possibility of ending up at the same place as any other team, even the most prestigious team in the nation. The only thing standing in your way is the question: do you want it badly enough?
One last question to ask: Do you have the passion? If you’re doing debate simply for the opportunity to put it on your college apps, go sulk in a corner and rethink your decision. If you’re doing it because you don’t KNOW whether or not you have the passion, then I salute you! Whatever the future has in store, good luck. Whatever happens, happens. Being passionate about debate is crucial to bring you above and beyond. You can transform from this technical-debating robot that wins some debates by simply making more arguments than the other team into an emotionally wax-poetic lunatic that tugs on the judge’s heartstrings, allowing them to ponder the debate works. This is how to acquire the highest speaker points! This is how you earn your reputation in debate as being extremely persuasive.