Monday, November 23, 2015

The Power of Belief by Jared Weiss

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Oh, I’m glad I thought small?,” because I’m sure I haven’t. Coming into Hofstra University's WSC 1 Composition course, without even realizing it, my perception of my peers was quite provincial. This class taught me not to underestimate the value of anyone and not to sell anyone short, including myself. From the interviewing process, to the essay on college admissions, the essay on identity, running the gamut to all of the bolts and screws upon which this class operated, I received a head-on experience of ex ducare. Kobe Bryant once said, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do,” and that’s what this class did for me.

The first time I realized that there was more to this class than is derived from the course title was during my interview with Ian. Upon first glance, he seemed like an average student, but there was so much more behind those glasses of his. To maintain his privacy, I will only tell you a bit of what I learned. First, he had gone through hardships, which occurred from circumstances beyond his control, but these really sparked a fire in him, causing him to start working harder than ever before. Moreover, he is very serious, yet compassionate, as I was able to discover from talking to him for twenty minutes.

I became even more shell-shocked as I heard the other essays, which made me realize how diverse each of us was and what experiences each brought with them. Coming from a high school that basically kept everyone living in a tiny bubble, being at Cornell University for only three weeks, and then suffering through a traumatic illness, I wasn’t really sure what to expect or how everyone would react to me. The illness started last fall with a severe pneumonia in one of my lungs after being misdiagnosed with the flu. I was placed into a medically induced coma for two days and put on a ventilator and feeding tube. After this, I had an autoimmune response to the infection, so my body produced too many antibodies which blocked certain receptors in my brain and caused my body to have these odd movements; I couldn’t walk or talk at all at first. I was in  four different hospitals for a total of six weeks, but thankfully the doctor at the second hospital was an unbelievable person who figured out everything right away and placed me on high doses of steroids over the next few months. I also had to go through numerous therapies and had post-traumatic stress disorder, which was treated by a psychologist. In addition, I had to re-learn how to do basically everything that I had been capable of prior to the illness. Consequently, I was more than pleased with the results of the class: KP and all of the students made me feel like I belonged, and that was more than I could have asked for.

The class structure was definitely suitable for facilitating this environment of openness. From Day One, we students had to move our chairs into a circle, including the professor. This was a huge change from high school where students sit behind the teacher who acts as the master while we take information into our short-term memories and then spit it all back on the tests, otherwise known as the banking concept of education (Friere). If I didn’t know any better from the problem-posing model of education, I would say that the school hierarchy system is really messed up. However, in this class the professor was seen as our coach, who helped to make all of our impulses work in one cohesive unit rather than a bunch of individual parts. The typical model of teaching leads to ruthless competition as to who can be the best at regurgitating information. On the other hand, the paradigm for this class led to cooperation.

“After the fellow answered a particularly odd question, something about a mountain in Argentina, my host looked at me and said, ‘How much do you think I’d pay that guy to work for me?’ ‘How much?’ I asked. ‘Not a cent over $300---not per week, not per month, but for life.' I’ve sized him up. That expert can’t think”(Shwartz). This reminded me of “Life After College: The Challenging Transitions of the Academically Adrift Cohort"  by Roska and Arum whose research revealed, “Those who can’t critically think will be living with their parents their whole lives.”  This course taught me that it’s not about how many facts you know that can be looked up on Google nowadays, but it’s more about how well you can think for yourself.

Moreover, another helpful technique that made this class what it was involved reading each other’s essays and all of our multiple drafts prior to handing them in. This allowed for each draft to develop and become stronger, until it was our best piece of work. In addition to each student reading our drafts, KP, unlike any high school teacher, actually read through each of our essays in detail. Everything we handed to him was scrutinized and marked up very carefully in a way that we could use his corrections to improve our next essay. I know for a fact that he read everything carefully by the way he was able to size us up so accurately just based on our autobiographies. For instance, right away he knew that I was a baller, and a guy who wouldn’t quit in sports or in life. This shows dedication on the part of the teacher, really taking the time to get to know the students. I think that this rubbed off on each of us as we modeled this behavior and took the time to realize how much bigger the class really was. I don’t just mean the size of it, but I’m talking about the scope of experience and knowledge that was brought to the class. KP taught us that as weird as we are, he’s weirder, and that whatever we thought would disqualify us from being an asset to the class actually qualified us. This allowed us to show our true colors and to be ourselves despite what many of us had been told in past classes.

Going along with the idea of finding ourselves through writing was the essay on identity, which happened to be our fourth assignment, after we had learned what defines a person. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” Our true identity cannot be restricted or taken away by anyone and we must realize that no one is above and beyond anyone else, only in mindset. Kobe Bryant also said, “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan; I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”

There is nothing empowering about being someone you are not just to get people to like you. It took tons of reading to realize that colleges are playing games on us. In other words, they drive you to portray the image of someone you are not, just so you can get into college. Wait, but I thought that the point of college was to help you discover who you are and what you want to be? This is where the lie is located. We’ve been taught throughout school up to this point that you have to be the quintessential student just to have a chance with college admissions. After learning what I have from this class, I realize that I would rather just be me, because that is the best thing I can be. We as humans tend to have approval addiction, in which all we want is for everyone to love us and clap for us in every action that we take. He who attempts to please everyone pleases no one. So why should I care what anyone else thinks about me? I am my own person so, if I say I’m going to do something, then I’ll do it. This is one of the parts, however, where I slightly veer off in viewpoint from what KP tried to show us. I feel that in order to get to where you want to go, sometimes it is necessary to step on other people’s feet. This is just what I’ve gleaned from reading biographies on NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Also, before you can worry about anyone else, you must first worry about yourself. To that end, by thinking bigger for yourself, you indirectly give others the power to do the same for themselves. For instance, it doesn’t come natural for me to get in the way of others, but in the case of my Cornell basketball tryout, I knew what I had to do and from the time the tryout started nobody could get in my way. Typically, I like to give other people more shots than myself; however, I realized that I needed to shoot the ball more than usual just to be seen.

One of the activities that allowed me to see the power of expanding my thought horizons and really engaged my interest in what KP was trying to show us was the vase or the facial profiles activity. After much discussion as to whether this picture that he showed us was the profiles or a vase, KP told us that it was “both and neither.” This relates to everything that we see in our daily lives. Don’t judge something in absolute terms, but instead open your mind up to objectivity and say to yourself, “Maybe there are more dimensions to this than I first saw.” Humans are especially quick to judge other humans because this helps the mind to place people in categories. This is what creates stereotypes, and when someone comes up who doesn’t fit a particular category, the mind does something known as sub-typing in order to place the exception. However, if you keep an open mind and say that a person is “both and neither” the picture you had originally thought, then you have achieved a clearer state of mind.

One more thing that this course taught me was that it’s not about the grade you receive but rather, did you grow as a result? If I must answer the question as to what grade I should receive, my answer would be an A+. Why should I think anything else? That would be selling myself short. I consider myself an A+ thinker, an A+ person, who always gives an A+ effort, so that is what I think I deserve and have rightfully earned. Moreover, I saw a gradual improvement from essay to essay and was able to feel myself developing my own distinct voice. It had been demonstrated by papers and tests in my prior levels of education that I shouldn’t think for myself and I should reflect the work and thoughts of the teacher.  This course, however, strengthened my own opinions and allowed me to bring them out in the best way that I could, not the best way some stuck-up, test-driven, banking concept teacher told me to think. This class took me away from the conventional learning and allowed me to see the presence of alternative and more effective models of teaching.

 “Afterwards, the salesperson said to another, ‘I’m not going to let a $1.98 customer take up all my time and make me take the store apart trying to find him what he wants. He’s simply not worth it’” (Shwartz). This was essentially the attitude that I think most of us had coming into this class, that everyone else was just a “$1.98” person who had nothing more to offer. Leaving this class, I see that every human being has so much to offer, so everyone is essentially priceless. If nothing else, I learned to not sell anyone short of their potential, and have realized that there is so much more to life than just the “vases” or just the “facial profiles.”

It's now six months since I wrote this essay. After a great summer of rehab, I'm stronger physically than ever and am on both college talent-level basketball and soccer teams. I do a cross fit regime 4-5 days a week and can jump 34 inches at the moment. Although my speech isn't all better, it's still improving. Also, I'm taking classes at NYU this semester but not sure what I will do next semester.


Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. "The 'Banking' Concept of Education."

King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” African Studies Center at UPENN. 16 Apr. 1963.

Schwartz, David J. “The Magic of Thinking Big.” Book. 1959.

Roska, Josipa. Arum, Richard. “Life After College: The Challenging Transitions of the Academically Adrift Cohort." Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. July-August 2012.

"Kobe Bryant." Xplore Inc. 13 May 2015.



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