Declining American Education

Now that there are no quickly escalating international or domestic crises to report, the media has come around once again to discuss our declining education system.  But this is commonplace in the show business of entertainment news, is it not? So as a recent ‘finished product’ of the American education system, I feel as though I have a valid right and proper experience within the system to discuss such a topic.

A report was issued yesterday documenting our nation’s educational decline based on a global survey of test scores in various subject material – Reading, Math, Science, etc.  If you’ve even so much glanced at a television screen within the past few years, you know this is nothing new. I admit, I have not looked into or specifically researched how these scores were gathered and compounded into statistical data or what kind of testing this report is actually based on (probably standardized), but in any case I do not believe that matters because either way you slice the pie, I believe the problem is the same.

In reaction to this report, US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is quoted as saying in this NBC article, “We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators”. As a public high school and liberal arts college graduate, I have to say I only agree with the first point, “We must invest in early education”. Yes we must, but in a different way than implied here. Not to literally invest with dollars, but mentally invest with a cultivated, genuine, authentic interest in learning, reinforced by a foundation of positive pop culture – A foundation which our nation desperately lacks. The rest of the Duncan’s quote is representative of a flawed thinking that plagues most American adults approximately aged 40+.

With all due respect, individuals who tend to hold nostalgic views towards how the US educational system ‘used to be’ when compared to other countries need to drop their sentimentalism and focus on the now.  In this case, the past does not hold the answers for you.  The solutions you seek cannot be solved by pouring more money into a program that is already receiving more funding than the countries who have come out ahead of us this report, namely China and Japan (Morning Joe. Msnbc. New York. 3 Dec. 2013. Television).  You want to know what is really wrong with American education?  Lack of interest. Kids don’t care anymore! They haven’t for a while now. It’s that simple. Not only have I bore witness to this sobering fact but I have also personally experienced it within myself during my years being a part of this broken system.

I don’t mean to sound like teenage killjoy but it’s 2013 and we have to start thinking progressively in order to save the human race from its rapidly approaching downward spiral towards self-annihilation. Let’s talk about parents for a minute because that’s once facet of where the education conversation tends to end up. Okay, parents.  Facebook-using, iPhone-addicted, Candy Crush-playing, Words With Friends-attached parents.  Not saying parents don’t deserve a break every once in awhile. Sure it’s nice to unwind with a little social networking/game playing BS at the end of the day. Who doesn’t? But think about what your kids are learning from this behavior. These technological distractions that are totally within the realm of social acceptance are now the new drug of today. If parents are not neglecting their children with it, they are giving it to their children to calm them down and shut them up.  Hello, Huxley. Hello, Brave New World and behold our Soma of today! If we grew up as a society regularly drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, snorting cocaine, or injecting morphine from childhood how would our test scores be then? Think I’m overreacting? How long have you been on the computer or your phone before reading this? How long will you continue to be on until you turn away from it, because we don’t even shut things off anymore.  Technology can be used as a very positive thing, don’t get me wrong. But it is how and how frequently we are using it that is in my opinion, frightening.

Our youngest generation is submerged in a whirlwind of technology, entertainment, and instant gratification. They’re drowning and they don’t even know it. We are too and until we accept the fact that we are drowning, we cannot help those who already are. This problem is as much personal and individual as it is national. Because what Secretary Arne Duncan suggests: “raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators”, it won’t do us any good. Raise academic standards? So that everyone fails even harder? Make college affordable? So more kids can get in to escape their parents an drink copious amounts of alcohol and still get their degree? Recruit and retain top-notch educators? Well, if the kids don’t want to learn in the first place how the hell is that going to help you?

My generation is apathetic, self-centered, and self-destructive.  We drool for hours watching Jersey ShoreReal Housewives, and Tosh.0 which offer no ideals, no philosophic inquiries, suggest no introspection, evoke no emotion rather than spend any time watching things like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, any episode from any Star Trek series, or even 5 minutes of current events on the news. We fuck around on Buzzfeed for hours, Instagram our food, Facebook our daily schedules, and tweet celebrities we know will never tweet us back. We listen to Top40 radio as we aimlessly drive around in our parents’ cars wasting gas. We’re living on our own though we can’t afford it and we drink to excess every Friday and Saturday. We’re running from something but couldn’t tell you even in our highly inebriated state what the hell we’re actually running from. Well, fucking around on Buzzfeed won’t cure cancer, Instagramming food won’t make you more self-aware, Facebooking your daily routine won’t write that paper for you, and tweeting your celebrities begging for a follow just wasted 5 seconds of your life and at least an hour’s worth of self-inflicted sadness that you’ll never be able to figure what it’s from.

We need to scrap the dated national school system we’re in and start focusing on improving everything around us because as long as our education placement ranking declines and crumbles, so will the world around us. We need to find something to care about.  Because what happens once your iPhone battery dies and there’s a power outage? Then there’s nothing but you and yourself and maybe your books if you haven’t forgotten how to read. We are human beings. We are the most advanced species on our planet.  How can we let it come to this? How can we let it come to steady decline when we have already gotten so far? Tap into the history of founding fathers. Tap into the history of the Roman Empire, the Egyptians. Read about Indian philosophy and thought. Come to realize that all the wars ever fought were for nothing and that every book ever written and every discovery made throughout the course of time was paramount to the development of the human race. And now the torch is within our grasp.  We must carry it forward, not extinguish it out of ignorance and carelessness.

Now that world has all been discovered and we have no place left to go but the stars we need to unite, put aside our differences, and embrace our mind for what it’s worth.  Learn something worth learning, teach something worth teaching. Your iPhone does not hold the answers for you. It is the embodiment of marketing, fulfilling a need you didn’t know you had because it does not exist. It is a want and it is unnecessary. Education is necessary. How else are we to move ourselves forward if we’re surrounded by apathy and degradation? Yesterday, a high school freshman on Facebook posted a status that read, “dear board of education, so are we”. And my inward reply, “How sad,”. But here my outward reply is, “So what can we do to fix that?”

Let’s do something meaningful. Let’s accomplish great things. Otherwise, why not kill ourselves now? Why wait?

A Kickstarter Campaign Worth Pledging Towards

I think the first time I met Jenipher was this past May at a Saves the Day secret show at The Warehouse Motor Club in Middlesex, NJ.  As is the 21st century norm with making new acquaintances, we soon followed each other on various social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to keep in touch.  It was after we became cyberfriends that I had the pleasure of bearing witness to her constant doodle creations posts and artistic blossoms of positivity. These little breaths of fresh air always seemed to brighten my day.  With whimsical, funny, little doodles constantly gracing my news feed, you’ll find no objection from me. Jen is really unique in her ability to take a phrase or saying and splash it with color and give it a character or two to play a part, whether it’s something silly or a statement meant to calm and encourage.  She’s making doodles to accompany the ups and downs of life. And like all great creative minds, something that originally played a part in helping her get through a personal rough patch is now on the brink of growing even more to reach a much wider audience. (This is the part where YOU come in)

A few days ago Jen launched her very first Kickstarter campaign, determined to raise enough money to self-publish, “an encouraging, vibrant, SUPER honest, COLORFUL book to inspire tweens, teens [and women of all ages]!”  Over the years, Jen has realized how much drawing these doodles have helped her and others overcome the pressures of teenage struggle, adulthood, and just life in general while slipping in the a good-humored laugh once in awhile.  From her Kickstarter page she proclaims, “My goal is to write a super honest, encouraging, vibrant book with the intent to help teens feel less alone in this world. BUT a book that women [and men?!] in their 20’s and beyond can enjoy as well! By using MY story, and LOTS OF colorful illustrations, my goal is that others realize they aren’t alone on those dark, lowest of low days!” I think that’s so cool. As a musical artist/songwriter, I can totally relate. Nothing beats making a connection with someone through your creative output, especially creative output that was primarily intended for your own personal self-therapeutic needs.  Songs and doodles are similar that way.

What I also really like about her project is the fact that she wants it to be, “something RAW and HONEST and not all sunshine and butterflies….I…have created a book I’ve never seen in ANY bookstores. And one I WISH I had growing up!” Yes! I wish I had it growing up too! If this book is anything like the doodles I’ve seen, then absolutely, yes. Teenage Roe was no strange to dark, strange, and emotional turbulent times.  Many times we find ourselves in a ‘hindsight’s 20/20’ situation.  ‘Oh, if I only realized when I was younger’, ‘I wish I could’ve told my teenage self what I know now.’ Well until the invention of time machines, that’s not a very realistic future.  But what Jenipher’s book can do is be a tool for teenage girls and young adults now who are still in the dark and haven’t seen the other side of the tunnel yet. With a book that promises to cover, “Body Image, Depression, Eating Disorders, and Ambition”, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate book for girls to read today. Life is naturally full of ups, downs, struggles, and triumphs.  The social, cultural, and political landscapes we must trudge through day in and day out are not easy.  Whether you’re a grown man or woman, teenager, or young adult sometimes having someone or something telling us everything’s going to be alright in the end makes all the difference.

Check out her Kickstarter campaign or go to www.doodledream.com for more info.

Also see Nightly Doodles on Blogspot here and Etsy here.

24/7: New Roe! Project Annoucement

I delight in zoning out on the train and letting my thoughts take over the better half of my consciousness. It’s when everything runs most freely – when I’m not in control or required to be social.  I’ve been itching to get started on a new project to stretch my creative bounds and just have some fun with songwriting again. Since the beginning of my Song Shop project (which ends in February!), I’ve only very recently started to write songs independently and easily without fallback of project constraints. Before the Song Shop, along with going through a severe writers block and musical crisis, I realized I was getting bored with E Standard tuning. Because of that I’ve now been experimenting in Open D and already have 3 songs under my belt (which may possibly be released in the distant future).

In the 21st century with all this democratization of technology and no restraint on global creative output, I realized I like limits; I like constraints.  A project does that; It allows me to work within boundaries.  Sometimes creation can get so daunting because there are so many options available, billions of possibilities.  And I’m already indecisive as it is, so you can only imagine the anxiety attacks I have at times.

So I’ve come up with a new project concept. Take a look here. I’d love to hear your feedback –

How I Got Into Into It. Over It.

It’s wild how an album can grow on you. When you first stream it on your laptop, you don’t really get it; It passes through you. Damn those shitty speakers. But then maybe you give it another try, with headphones, in another headspace, in different mood entirely, at the end of the day when your thoughts seem the loudest. and holy shit. That album can change you; It slowly starts to steep into the fibers of your being and you find riffs and choice selections of words caught up in your daily thoughts.  It starts to embed itself into the soundtrack of your life, you start relating to it in a ridiculous number of ways whether it’s musically, literally, and/or thematically.

This could be any album, for you or for me.  I’ve had these feelings towards albums before but I can’t remember the last time I legitimately felt this way.  Currently, I’m talking about Into It. Over It.‘s ‘Intersections’. The album is stellar. It takes a couple a listens but you finally reach nothing short of an epiphany that Evan Weiss’ is nothing less than a humble genius. He is a brilliant songwriter, musician, performer, and storyteller – So much so that if you don’t look at him with some sort of admiration, respect, and/or envy I’m not sure you’re fully human.

January 2011, I went to the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn with my dad to see another yearly installment of the ‘Where’s the Band?’ tour featuring Chris Conley, Anthony Raneri, Matt Pryor, Ace Enders, and Evan Weiss.  I knew of the former four but not the latter.  He was a mystery.  Watching him open was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed in my life.  His singing and lyrics so sincere, that FINGERPICKING, and what tuning was he playing in? Surely that wasn’t Standard E…And it wasn’t.  I’d never seen anything like it. Evan is very well known for using many alternate tunings. And that factor is one of the reasons why I think he stands out so much – He goes beyond the norm. And I like that. He caught my ear and made me a fan for life.

I tell people this doesn’t happen to me often; I don’t usually get blown away by opening acts, in fact I usually come in with very low expectations for the openers as shitty as it sounds. But I think we’ve all been conditioned to feel that way because how many shows have we been to where we’re impatiently drinking our drinks, having run out of things to talk about in between because the opener is taking FOREVER and preventing us from seeing who we really came to see! But when that sort of thing happens – when I am wowed, goosebumped, easily attentive, and feel that static electricity inside my body sparking with excitement I don’t take it lightly.  It’s only happened to me three times before: Once with Evan, once with Kevin Devine, and the other time with Balance and Composure.

That first night in Brooklyn after his set, I awkwardly went up to him at the merch table and bought a CD of his then latest record, Proper.  I then proceeded to half-drunkenly ask him questions about his guitar and the like.  He was the sweetest and answered all my questions with a smile.  I saw him again at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque venue in Montclair three months later where he played to no more than 25 of us as we gathered around and listened to him play, some of us singing along. Six months later, I saw him headline and play full band for the first time at Santos Party House in Manhattan a week before Hurricane Sandy with Hostage Calm, Cheap Girls, and The Front Bottoms.

This past Thursday, I revisited the place where I first discovered him – the Music Hall of Williamsburg – to see him play full band again, this time better than ever. I went to the show by myself, which I’ve never done before…EVER. It was slightly nerve-wracking to travel all the way to Brooklyn via train and subway but I did it. I’m actually pretty proud that I did it. When I finally got on the 12:40 AM train to go home, I put in my headphones and queued up ‘Intersections’ for the ride back.  It was a completely different experience than when I had streamed it on my laptop a few days before.  Something was different. Something had changed.  And I realized, it was me that was different, me who had changed. Maybe it was my tired brain finally relaxing after an exhaustive afternoon of transportation and an evening of the finest rock n’ roll.  Maybe it was the vodka cranberry I had, combined with the comfort of sitting down for one of the first times that night.  Maybe it was the curtained sadness in my heart as I looked up admiringly at the bands I saw that night and reflecting on what I was doing with my life.  ‘Intersections’ quenched my thirst, it opened my eyes, it kept me awake, and my mind racing.  When I saw Evan again on Saturday, I bought the ‘Intersections’ vinyl.

Like anything I say, I can only tell you what I know to be true based off my experience.  If this sort of thing has never happened to you, you may not understand. But to those who this has happened to, you know what I mean.  It’s some sort of calling.  Some sort of affirmation of the life and energy that exists within you.  When a song resonates, you feel it in your soul; that central core in the center of your torso. And you feel the electric sparks spread throughout your body.

Evan is a huge vinyl junkie. And because of that, I think he understands what makes a good record. He doesn’t live in or even associate with the Top40 concept of “singles” or sticking with the mainstream “sound”. All of that’s irrelevant and I think he knows it. And I’m glad he’s a musician who stays true to himself and his talents. His music really reflects his authenticity and as a listener, that’s all I can ever hope to ask for.  Keep it up, Evan.  ‘Intersections’ has unexpectedly found a way into my heart. All your hard work was/is worth it and I will probably support you and your musical endeavors indefinitely.

‘Til next tour –

Meaning vs. Experience

Some days I just want to be content with everything – Be genuinely content with everything and everyone.  But would that be me?  Sometimes I wish it were – just to be so easygoing and positive. Maybe that’s what I subconsciously aim for on a day-to-day basis – to be some likable creature.

I want to be thinner, less insecure, more savvy with everything.  I have this subconscious quest to learn everything, know everything.  I’m not sure if that’s healthy or not.  I’m sure the cons will eventually flare up. But nothing beats a content headspace.

Staying home for the better part of the past four months as been a wonderful blessing.  But as with the equilibrium of all things, there is a darker aspect to the half of the whole.  Once Commencement was over and I cried my eyes out for most of the day, I continued to stay firmly resolute in my heartfelt rejection of society – How it works, how it functions, what it revolves around, the types of people involved.  It broke my heart (and still does) to realize that after all this effort, all this hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and emotional turmoil this what it all comes down to: A job – A foundation for a life, for a type of future I do not foresee myself having because I can’t see past the end of the month, nevermind the next five years.  But throughout these past few months, I think I’ve slowly been coming to peace with it.  Joseph Campbell’s always in the back of my head, telling me to say “yes” to everything – the good and the bad.

So the past few days I’ve been diligently drafting emails and cover letters to send to six different companies.  I know there’s something out there for me.  It’s just my worst fear is to not utilize my fullest potential, to feel like I’m wasting my time, or not being a part of something great.  That’s what I want – I want to move mountains with no bullshit.  I want to mean every word I say and make every action count.  Joseph Campbell says it’s not really the meaning of life we’re looking for at all, rather it’s the experience of life we’re seeking.  And maybe starting now, I’m willing to search for a different experience – One does not require staring at the four walls of my house all day.