The Common Core – Childhood Education

I serve on the Advisory Board of Our Lady Queen of Angels Elementary school (K-8), a member school of The Partnership of Inner-City Education. The school has spent a significant amount of time and money transitioning its curriculum as the Common Core State Standards Initiative comes into effect. If you’re unfamiliar, the Common Core is an educational initiative in the United States to establish educational standards across the country and to better prepare students for both college and the workforce. There is a significant amount of literature including this Business Insider article that supports the fact the United States’ education system is rapidly falling behind. The Common Core is one step that will hopefully curb this decline and help improve the quality of education and outcomes for children across the country.

The Common Core seeks to establish standards across math and English that will prepare students to become contributing citizens of the world. There are no specific reading requirements but students are expected to read a range of materials and subjects in order to acquire new insights and consider varying perspectives. General writing standards are given to support the development of logical claims and sound reasoning based on relevant evidence. In addition, students are required to write opinion pieces and focused research projects, aimed at developing research and written analytical skills. There is an emphasis on discussion-based learning, utilizing group projects and class presentations followed by collaborative discussions. Basically, what this says is that rather than being focused on reading and having teachers present facts, the education will be focused on understanding and reasoning; a shift that I am confident will promote the notion of knowledge but more importantly, intelligence and cognition. Another interesting change that I believe makes sense, is a shift away from teaching cursive handwriting and instead, focusing on modern forms of media including basic typing. In math, the focus has moved away from regurgitation of formulas and towards strategic thinking and reasonable problem solving. I recall much of my early mathematical education being focused on repetition and numerical problems. The Common Core is focused on application so, in a basic example, rather than teaching students that 2×2=4, teachers will utilize real life examples – if you have two apples and you double that amount, you will have four apples. This is not to say the multiplication tables will be eliminated but there is a stronger focus on application and comprehension. The Common Core provides high-level parameters that determine the specific level of knowledge students should attain in each grade. It allows schools and teachers to be creative in designing unique or shared curriculums that will lead to this now standard level of knowledge base.

I believe the adoption of the Common Core will help improve the quality of the education offered in this country and it will help produce valued individuals that will contribute to society. I recently listened to a podcast on Freakonomics Radio,Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem,” which raises another important question about the quality of our teachers. While the Common Core attempts to create standards of the level of education students should attain throughout his or her schooling, it does not effectively address the way in which we teach our youth. These teachers go through a Master’s program, studying theorems and principles of teaching with minimal application. Perhaps there should be a more immersive environment for teachers to receive his or her necessary post-secondary education – an environment that promotes more direct involvement with students. As the Common Core attempts to better prepare students for the “real world,” maybe there should be a system to better prepare teachers. This obviously does not apply to everyone, but I can say from experience, that there are many unqualified teachers in our public education system. Childhood education is a global investment, and one that will have major implications for our future. We should be doing everything in our power to prepare students and teachers alike with the best resources available.

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Technically, I Got a Nose Job

During my junior year of college I broke my nose in a friendly scuffle, which caused a nasal septum deviation, otherwise known as a deviated septum. I was able to partially realign the peripheral for aesthetic purposes; however, the internal configuration was out of sync, impairing my ability to breathe through my right nostril. Without knowing the extent of the internal damage, I let the wound heal itself and once the bruising subsided effectively forgot the injury ever occurred. While not evident at the time, the restricted breathing became more apparent as it led to unforeseen complications that would affect my daily life. The frequency with which I was catching colds was increasing and the severity of the symptoms was worsening; persistent sinus congestion would lead to post-nasal drip which, in turn, would cause a sore throat.

It was roughly three years after the injury when I noticed a particular cold-induced sinus blockage was lasting longer than had been typical. My girlfriend suggested that I make an appointment to meet with Madeleine Schaberg, an ear, nose and throat specialist, to address these issues. I had not realized at the time, but after speaking with Dr. Schaberg, I was informed that my deviation was likely affecting not only my immune health but also my sleep cycle; the deviated septum was likely triggering sleep apnea, a disorder caused by interruptions in normal breathing patterns, thus negatively affecting sleep habits. After I presented my pertinent medical history, she proceeded with a nasal endoscopy and examined my left nostril with relative ease, but before she could get the endoscope past the hairs of my right nostril she began to chuckle – “I think we’ve found the culprit…the deviation in your septum is causing a 95% blockage on your right side, making it nearly impossible to breathe through.”  Since the cost of that appointment covered half of my annual deductible and rates were expected to increase with the ACA legislation, my decision to elect for surgery became that much easier. Dr. Schaberg referred me to a different specialist who focuses on rhinoplasties, which are often associated with plastic surgery procedures, so technically I got a nose job. I had heard a lot of bad things about this procedure and began to do some research of my own. Despite the dissuading testimonials, I was ready to go under the knife.

The procedure itself was nothing to worry about; however, the recovery was far less than enjoyable. I was told 2-3 days would be adequate time to recover to the point at which I could return to work, yet this was far from reality. It was not the pain that created cause for concern but rather the vast amounts of blood-saturated gauze that was taped to my face that made it extremely difficult to breathe with my head upright. Both nostrils were ‘packed’ with gauze while my septum was kept stationary with plastic stents, each nearly the size of a credit card. Frankly, I was unaware these were even in there until I went for a follow-up a week or so later and the doctor told me to look away while he used pliers to yank them out. Throughout the recovery, I was concerned even the slightest of contact to my nose would again dislodge the septum. It was necessary to sleep elevated on my back and I recall attempting to roll over one night and tapping my nose to the pillow, thinking to myself that I would need to go back and redo the procedure, but according to my doctor, this turned out to have been extreme cautiousness. I took a generic form of sleep aid (without a decongestant per my doctor’s orders), which offered some nighttime relief, and I indulged in terrible daytime television throughout the day, intermittently napping, drinking lots of fluids and eating soft foods. After the third day, the recovery started to become easier as I could tackle more solid foods and sit upright for longer periods of time without too much blood rushing to my head, and after a week, once the stents were removed, other than the residual bruising, all that was left of the recovery process was occasional sensitivity and daily sinus rinsing.

It’s been almost a year now since I had the procedure and the benefits are definitely noticeable. Part of the reason I decided to move forward with the procedure was that much of the research I had found suggested that the results were life-changing and while that term is rather strong, the surgery resulted in remarkable improvements in my daily life: the quality of my sleep is noticeably better, I do not become tired as frequently during the day, and I’m now capable of breathing through both nostrils and am no longer classified as a ‘mouth-breather’. If you are contemplating getting a septoplasty to improve your nasal passages, I would highly recommend it.

Catching Up With Old Friends

Last night I grabbed a drink and caught up with close friend from high school. He was one of my best friends growing up but as was the case with many friends from childhood, we didn’t do a great job staying in touch after graduation. While I had not seen him in many years, a sincere hug made the lapse feel like just days. From the outset, the tone was quite candid – within in five minutes, Will had asked what my annual salary was and despite knowing he’s taken on six-figure debt to fund med school, I felt sympathetic yet surprisingly comfortable telling him what I make.

At first we each gave the rundown of our lives over the past few years, noting how ‘old’ we felt. Shortly after we caught up on each other, we began gossiping quite bluntly. “Did you hear Jeff got married? Did you see how much weight Meghan put on…I always pinned her to have skinny genes?” By the end, I felt like I had attended my high school reunion, which apparently is not happening as Will informed me that the money we raised to fund the event was “lost in a bank account.” While he didn’t seem too taken back by this, he mentioned that our class advisor, who I did not see eye-to-eye with, somehow lost the password to the bank account (what does that even mean?) and that the “reunion chair” of our class now has a baby (did not see that one coming) and perhaps, not surprisingly, didn’t not want to take charge of organizing. This sounds a lot like a low level embezzlement scheme that could turn into a Lifetime movie, but regardless it appears that last night will have to suffice in lieu of an actual reunion. We spent time discussing the whereabouts of classmates, teachers, coaches and friends and between the two of us, we must have touched on half of the community.

When I got back to my apartment, reflecting back on our conversation, I realized we spent the majority of our time together talking about other people. Although this initially seemed unusual, I realized that while Will and I had a personal relationship, we also enjoyed mutual experiences and friends; in the years we spent growing up together, we played on the same teams, took many of the same classes, attended the same parties and played at the same poker table (easily over 100 times), so it’s only natural that we would reflect on shared memories. Telling old stories is cliché when getting together with old friends, but I really enjoyed catching up with Will, hearing what he is up to, and sharing updates on our friends and community.

Your Perceived Ideal: Setting Goals

A friend of mine recently said to me:

“My personality changes constantly; I have no idea who I’m going to be three years from now” 

Having had a similar realization recently, I knew exactly what he meant. Three years ago, I was sitting at my college graduation envisioning a lavish lifestyle in the ‘real world.’ I had a great job lined up as an investment banking analyst, I signed an apartment lease with two of my best friends (and one of their friends) and I was moving to the city where my female interest (Christina) resided. What more could I have asked for? With a college degree and a bright future ahead, it all seemed downhill from there – I anticipated I would get promoted, move into an extravagant apartment and eventually settle down.

During my college’s commencement address, Conan O’Brian said,

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique”  

At the time, I remember thinking to myself “Why don’t I just become my perceived ideal?” and I’ve only begun to understand the answer to that. The first reason is simple – Life doesn’t go the way you plan it. After working 364 days as an analyst I watched my peers happily get called into our manager’s office to receive their year-end compensation. After he called my name, I eagerly rushed into his office with a preconceived notion on how to allocate this lump sum, however, rather than a bonus, I was offered severance. Beyond the huge blow to my ego, this threw a troublesome wrench in my idealized plans. After the initial shock and anguish, I picked myself up and began aggressively applying to jobs, fortunately receiving two offers, ultimately landing a role at a middle-market investment bank. Having now worked here for almost two years, I can understand the second reason we don’t become our perceived ideals – Our ideals change over time. As time goes by, we become more comfortable in our own skin; our old relationships begin to fade, while new ones blossom; our principles become more coherent; and our desires begin to mature. My job experience has been invaluable in countless ways, yet, I’ve come to realize that investment banking is not my ideal. So while I couldn’t be happier with Christina, contrary to my original vision, I live in a dungeonesque pigsty and am rather discontent with my job; my experiences have taught me that I can hardly foresee my own future, and even if I could make a prediction, life likely has something else in store for me.

One thing I can say with confidence is that throughout all of the changes that transpire in my life, my family has stood by my side. My sister has been a particularly supportive mentor throughout the years, most recently encouraging me to write down my long-term goals. In addition to my 2- and 5-year goals, I have begun writing down my weekly and daily goals, and to be clear these are more minuscule goals such as ‘workout 3x’, ‘apply to 20 jobs’, ‘read 5 chapters’ etc. (not to be confused with my to-do list at work). There is plenty of literature that talks about the benefits of writing down goals including this Forbes article, however, for me, setting goals has given me a greater sense of purpose outside of my job, and more importantly, accomplishing them offers a unique sense of achievement. So while you may not know where your life will take you, set goals for yourself and envision your own future because it is through both the successes and failures you face in which you will define yourself.

P.S. My goal today was to start a blog.