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Posts Tagged ‘student’

So, if you want to piss me off, tell me what I can’t do.   I may not even want to do it, but if you tell me that I can’t, I will have no choice but to not only do it, but do it well.  This characteristic is both a blessing and a curse. 

I not only think I can, but I know I can.

On one hand, it has inspired me to excel in a number of things, especially academics.  For example, although I did not grow up in the civil rights era, I still had to contend with teachers that automatically assumed that I could not possibly be as smart as my white or Asian counterparts.

In middle school, we had a special day with our teachers to discuss future classes in high school.   I had a teacher tell me that I shouldn’t take AP (advanced placement) classes because it would be too difficult for me.  I took AP history and calculus in high school, and did well in both.  As a matter of fact, I was given a C in AP history, despite the fact that according to my records I should have had an A.  I talked to the teacher about it, showed him my records, showed him his grade policy and made it clear to him that my grade should not be a C, but an A.  The teacher changed the grade.  After he changed the grade, it pissed me off.  How could a teacher make an error in judgment that allows him to change a grade from a C to an A?  I have been a teacher now for approximately 15 years, and I have NEVER made an error that big.  As you can tell, this event that happened to me almost 25 years ago still bothers me.  It was clear that I was treated differently than my other classmates.  Another example occurred in high school, when for one semester, I was demoted to remedial English.  Granted, English was not my strongest subject, but remedial?  Even the teacher of the remedial English class did not understand why I was enrolled in her class.

I could easily turn this blog into a social commentary on how racism is alive and well and has held many students back simply based on the color of their skin.  I graduated from high school with a 3.9, I am in my high school’s hall of fame for track & field, and I graduated from UC Berkeley, and I still have multiple stories of people telling me that I was not smart enough to do things.  What about the black students that were B students, or C students, or even D students?  If as an A student I still faced obstacles, I can’t imagine what other students faced.  But this is not a blog about race, or not just about race, but about the obsession people have with what can’t be done.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do.  I can do anything, and just because you have chosen to limit yourself, don’t dare put that small thinking on me.  But, why are so many people concerned with other people’s opinions on what they can and can’t do?  And why am I not?  The easiest answer would be my parents, as I believe strongly that they instilled in me my “don’t give up” and the “don’t you dare tell me what to do” attitude.  But I want to go a little bit deeper.  In many ways it reminds me of ‘cultural legacy’ as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’.  I actually blogged about this book in My First Book Review.  In other words, do I have this attitude because of my culture?

In his book, ‘Outliers’ Gladwell describes a famous psychological experiment by Nisbett and Cohen.  They monitored reactions of people to being insulted.  Students were asked to answer a number of questions and then walk down a long, narrow hallway where unbeknownst to them, another person who was also part of the experiment would whisper the word “asshole” as they walked passed.  The researchers found that it did not matter if you were black, or white, rich or poor, a nerd or a jock, you responded to the insult the same, except for one surprising variable.  If you were from the South, regardless of your background, you reacted strongly to the comment, but students from the North actively calmed themselves when they heard the comment.  The author suggested that the “Culture of Honor” was passed down through generations of Southerners irrespective of almost any other environmental or genetic factor.

I think about the history of African-Americans in this country and wonder if I am the recipient of a “Culture of Rebellion”.  I think about the long list adversities that black people have suffered in this country, but yet have been inspired to create music, poetry, innovation, and various forms of success in spite of the obstacles placed in the way.  Although I would never compare my obstacles to slavery, lynch mobs, nor laws of discrimination, but the fact remains, I have a strong visceral response to people trying to prevent me from doing things.  Can culture be inherited?  If you have a cultural history in which the ‘sky was the limit’ or your ancestors had many options, maybe limitations would not be such a bad thing.  But if your ancestors were oppressed and limited by the dominant culture, self-imposed limitations would be counter-intuitive and very maladaptive to an oppressive environment.  As a matter of fact, under oppressive conditions, a spirit of rebellion would be necessary for upward mobility.  Quite frankly, if you examine history, some of the greatest innovations and social movements have come out of great adversity.   Maybe it is from my parents, maybe it is genetic, or maybe I have inherited a “Culture of Rebellion”, but I am glad I have it and I hope my kids will have it too, because no one should limit their potential by telling them what they can and cannot do.

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A couple of months ago Taco Bell was sued.  The lawsuit claimed that Taco Bell was wrong for calling their beef burritos, well, beef burritos because the burritos only contained 35% beef.  Taco Bell responded to the lawsuit by stating that their beef burritos contained 88% beef.  Soon after the news of the lawsuit became public and Taco Bell’s response, Taco Bell put their burritos on sale for 88 cents.  Don’t think this new price was lost on me, what about you?  Nonetheless, I have accepted the fact that their burritos are 88% beef.  It also makes me better appreciate McDonald’s for stating that their burgers are 100% beef.  Especially since I used to think that this was as stupid advertisement.  I often thought why would they tell me that their burgers were 100% beef? 

Remember this commercial?

What else would it be?  Turns out there are other options.  But here is my problem:  I actually don’t mind that Taco Bell beef burritos are not 100% beef.  But why won’t Taco Bell tell us what is in the remaining 12%? I haven’t eaten there since.  I’m just sayin …

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So, what would you do if you knew you were going to die before the age of 50 and the last 10 years of that life would be in various stages of dementia?

I teach introductory biology at the college level.  Every year about this time I am finishing up the genetics portion of the class, specifically inheritance.  We talk about dominant versus recessive traits and what they mean for diseases, such as Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s Disease is determined by a dominant gene.  What this means is that if you receive the defective gene from your mother or father, you will have the disease.  This is in contrast to a disease like Sickle Cell Anemia which is a recessive disorder, meaning you must receive the defective genes from BOTH your parents.  If you have Huntington’s disease (a dominant disorder) and you have children, there is a 50% chance that your child will also have the disorder.  It would be like flipping a coin, heads your child has the disease, tails they do not.

What is Huntington’s Disease (HD)?  Huntington’s is a disorder that affects the nervous system.  People with HD will lose muscle control, and most noticeably, loss of mind control.  They will eventually develop the characteristics of someone with Alzheimer’s and then die.  Currently there is no cure.  Once symptoms begin, the life expectancy is 10-20 years.  Symptoms can begin as early as age 20.  Although there is no cure, the test to determine if you have HD is relatively simple.  As a matter of fact, we simulate testing for HD in the introductory biology lab.

So, why am I writing about this?  Well, every year I ask my students a simple question: If one of your parents had HD, would you want to know if you have it?  There is a 50% chance that if your parents have HD, you will develop it as well.  I generally get a 50/50 split on those that would want to know and those that would not, however, if a students wants to know if they have HD, the reason is always the same.  I have paraphrased the most common reason below:

“I would want to know if I have HD because I would live my life differently.  I’d have more fun, do the things that I want to do, knowing that I would die in the relatively near future.”

And my response is always the same:

“Why aren’t you living your life that way NOW?”

So, my question to all my readers out there is; “Why aren’t you living your life that way NOW?”

I am always amazed at the number of people that I meet that are miserable, I mean just plain miserable.  They hate their jobs, they hate their marriage, they hate people, and in general they hate their life.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate people, but I don’t hate life.  I love my life.  It is not perfect, but there really isn’t much I’d do different if I knew I were to die tomorrow.  Actually, that is not true, if I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I certainly wouldn’t spend it at work, but if I knew I was going to die in 10 years, I don’t think I would quit my job.  I like my job.  Trust me, my life is not perfect, but I can honestly say that I would not plan drastic changes for my life.

What I think the Huntington’s Disease question does is make you think about how you are living your life.  Are you living a life that you are proud of? Happy with?  Or, like my students, would you make drastic changes if you knew you would die in 10 or 20 years?  Do the people in your life know that you love them?  Are you making choices that make you happy, or are you waiting for the world to be different so that you may reap its benefits?  Trust me, if the latter is you, wait no longer, because the world ain’t changing.

If you believe in God, are you right with Him?  If you don’t believe in God, are you OK with that?  How will people look at your life after your gone?  “I can’t say much about Frank, but one thing I do know, is that man loved to sit on the couch and watch TV.”  Will this be you?  Funny thing is, that is partially me, and I am OK with that.  The bottom line, are you OK with things, knowing that one day you will die?  I’m not saying eat, drink, and be merry, but be right with yourself, and be happy with where you are NOW, for tomorrow we die.
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If I die tomorrow after posting this blog, know this, I died pissed.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in what I wrote above, it has more to do with the fact that I HATE irony.  If I die tomorrow, you know what people will be talking about, this stupid post.  I am almost not going to post this for that very fact.  So, if I do die tomorrow, and you are being interviewed about this post, here is how I want it to go down.  “Excuse me miss, it is my understanding that you read Brett’s post before he died?  How did that make you feel?  Was it eery?”  Here is what I want your response to be:

“Post, what post? Ohhh, the one about dying?  Yeah, that sucked.  No, not that part about him dying, but the post.  It just wasn’t his best.  He even bragged about it as one of his favorites.  Honestly, I just didn’t get it.  I did like the post about the McRib though.  Mmmmmm, McRib.  As a matter of fact, I’m heading to get one now.  Gotta run.  Peace!”  [Give your back hand of the two-finger peace sign and bounce].

Then the McRib has it’s best-selling year EVER!  How could you not think of me every time you saw the McRib.  Pure Awesomeness!  I’m just sayin’ …

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