Posted in education

Thoughts on the Public Education System

I grew up in America’s public education system, and I’ve heard all the complaints.  “We’re never going to use this in real life.” “All they do is teach to the test, this isn’t real education.” “There’s no point in learning this random stuff.”  “I hate history, it’s just memorizing a bunch of names and dates.”

“Why can’t I just focus on what I care about, and not waste time on all the rest?”

Well my fellow concerned student, let me tell you.

Imagine you’re a kindergarten teacher.  You have a crop of four-year-olds staring back at you.  Some will be doctors, some teachers, some construction workers, some accountants, maybe a few pilots or politicians or athletes, but you have no way of knowing which kid will end up where.  You have to teach them anyway, so what do you do? You start with general skills, stuff that pretty much everyone will end up needing. You teach them reading, writing, and basic recognition, introduce them to how school works, and start building skills like imagination, problem solving, and working with others.  

See, none of these kids really know what they want yet.  Sure Mike might tell you he’s going to be an astronaut, but ask him again next month and he’ll tell you he’s going to be Mickey Mouse.  

Fast forward and now they’re in grade school complaining about times tables.  They still don’t really know what they want to be, but they’re starting to pick favorite subjects and least favorite subjects.  Mike knows he’s never going to be a math teacher, hates math, and wants to quit. What do you do, fourth grade teacher? Do you let him?  Of course not. Like it or not, Mike is going to encounter math of some sort in his life. He’s going to need it throughout the rest of school, he’s going to need it to settle a tab, and he’s going to need it to help his seven year old daughter through her hated times tables.  He’s going to need to learn that some parts of life are more or less mandatory, and they won’t always be pleasant. He’s still in fourth grade with plenty of time to change his mind, and if he quits now he may deeply regret it later.

At this age, kids are still learning things that everyone needs to know at least to some degree.  They’re still becoming themselves.

But now Mike and his classmates are in high school, and certain subjects have never seemed more useless to him.  He’s set on being a physical therapist, and classes like history and algebra are “ruining his life.” He’s balancing his precious time between applying to his dream college, practicing for state tennis, taking the ACT, trying to have a social life. Mike hates just memorizing names and dates and formulas, it’s so pointless to him and he can tell you exactly why.  

He’s never going to use this.

This is wasting his time when he could be chasing his actual career.

He has become a slave to the system!

But Mike, what happens when you get into your dream college, walk into your required general ed math class, and have to delay graduation because you couldn’t pass?  What happens when you enter your first anatomy lab and find that it includes mountains of rote memorization, just like your hated history class, and your physical therapy career is suddenly hanging by a thread?  What if you need a second job and suddenly find yourself with no marketable skills outside your niche, or your dream job also requires experience in networking and web design?

Mike is missing the big picture.  He doesn’t see that if he doesn’t remember when World War II happened, he won’t understand the significance of literature from the 1940’s or the development of the atom bomb.  He doesn’t see that if he can’t do simple arithmetic in his head, he has no hope of doing complex derivatives; he’ll get so bogged down pulling out his calculator for every step that he can’t see the problem as a whole. If he can’t memorize different muscle groups and their function, he’ll never be able to know what his future patients need.  To get to that higher level of thinking, he has to know the basics and he has to be fast at them.  There is no shortcut to knowledge.  In most cases, the only way to know something is to grind, memorize, rinse, and repeat.  In most cases, the only way to get to advanced skill sets and professions is to first work your way through the boring, tedious, awful basics.

As stated by an anonymous Quora writer, “One cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply.”

Our workforce is a complex and interconnected network with several roles that need to be filled or the whole society collapses.  In each graduating class, we need a new batch of food service workers, civil engineers, psychiatrists, surgeons, bankers, journalists, the list goes on.  Mike’s class needs to fill those roles. The education system faces the task of preparing them without knowing who goes to which role, so it does the best it can: it prepares everyone for everything.  At the end of their average high school experience, nearly everyone in Mike’s class is prepared enough that they could essentially go into any major or any career and have a chance.

When Mike gets to college and decides to change his major to Technical Writing, he isn’t already hopelessly behind because his high school teachers made him write essays.  When Mike presents himself to an employer, he isn’t an automaton with no skills beyond the task at hand; he is a well-rounded human being with a wide intellectual overview of the world.  When Mike continues on through university he does well because he knows how to work the education system, and he realizes that his historical knowledge is making his writing stronger, his time in anatomy is helping improve his tennis game, his math skills helped him save up for a new laptop, and his persuasive writing skills helped him write a great cover letter land a job.  

Because Mike, at the end of the day, education wasn’t for what you thought it was.  It was for helping build you into better person, giving you a vast array of knowledge, and teaching you how to think.  Intelligence cannot be found in a vacuum. Even though your high school subjects are divided and taught separately, they’re really all pieces of the larger puzzle that work together and build off of each other, and you cannot be well educated by ignoring half of them. School was an opportunity, and if it was a waste of your time, that’s partly your fault.

In many ways this system is broken, but in the most important way it succeeded.

Education must not simply teach work–it must teach life.

W. E. B. Dubois
Posted in Life

My 2019 Simple Bullet Journal Setup

Have any of you ever been here? You see a thousand gorgeous bullet journal spreads on Pinterest, get all inspired, and then completely fail?

This is me. I love the idea of bullet journals–the aesthetic, the organization, the doodling, all of it. But it’s hard to make it work in practice, especially as a student. I just don’t have time in the day to give every week a beautiful spread or keep up on twelve different habit trackers. What I really needed from a bullet journal was space to keep track of all my assignments that was easy and organized, but still looked nice and aesthetic of course 🙂

It’s taken me a good while to figure out a balance, but I finally have a regular set of spreads that work for my college life, letting me be organized and simple while still having some visual fun.

So without further ado, here is the beginning of my 2019 bullet journal! (DISCLAIMER: Some pages have areas that are blurred out or covered in white boxes; this was done to protect personal information such as my daily schedule, location, etc.)

This year I’m using this dotted notebook, which is a little bigger than the standard and super affordable. On the inside cover I drew out a spacing cheat sheet, showing how to divide the page evenly into thirds, fourths, etc (full credit for this idea goes to AmandaRachLee). This is a big time saver and saves you from constantly counting boxes and doing math. The facing page is a brain dump that I’ve started filling with ideas for future spreads.
This is my version of a future log. I like having both a traditional calendar and a drop down calendar because it lets me see how the days of the week line up and also have space to write out events (so far I’ve only added federal holidays and birthdays). I decorated each month with a printed picture that seemed to go with the overall vibe of that month. As far as themes go, mine is kind of vague, but throughout all my spreads I used a general theme of neutral gray, nature photos, and simple layouts. I didn’t want to feel tied to a theme that I might not like down the road, but I did want my spreads to be vaguely cohesive. I love the look of these pages and I love my vague theme 🙂
This is the last four months of my future log. On the right page I have a running list of quotes I like and want to use in future spreads. I’ve never done this before, but I think it would be fun to incorporate more quotes on my monthly spreads as little emotional boosts.
This is my resolutions/goals spread, and is probably my favorite. I drew out a big quote that I want to make my theme for the year and added a lovely forest scene. On the left page I have spaces for goals in my four major life categories I want to improve this year. These are my year-long goals, and each month I make smaller goals building up to them (HIGHLY recommend this system, you can read more about it here). On the right side I wrote out my vision for the year and how I want my goals to work for me, and left space to brainstorm smaller goals.
This is my class schedule for the semester, decorated with a sky picture and sky-like colors to give it a really open and not stressed feel (or at least that’s the goal). On the left I drew out my schedule color-coded in a grid because I like being able to visually see how much time I have each day. On the right is the key, and I also left space to write out professors’ emails and office hours. Last semester I found I often forgot these and wasted time trying to find them in various syllabuses and websites, so I think it’ll be nice to have them all in one place.
That’s it for the year spreads! This is my monthly spread for January. I reused the image from my future log and decorated the spread to go along with it using colored pencils and washi tape. On the left side is a simple habit tracker and a quote, and on the right I have spaces for a calendar, events, and goals in each of my four categories. I plan to do all my monthly spreads in a similar fashion, reusing those future log images.
Straight into the weekly spreads! This is one of my ideas for a typical simple weekly spread: a strip along the side to decorate, a space for each day divided into a schedule and a to do list, and space at the bottom for weekly goals, a running generic to do list, and anything else I want to add for a given week. This week I filled my “decoration strip” with leaf doodles.
This is my other idea for a weekly spread; it’s essentially the same thing but oriented vertically. I plan to use both of these spreads and see what I prefer. I filled the strip at the top with a really simple colored pencil ombre. You could also fill it with washi tape, more doodles, stripes, a banner photograph, or anything else you want.

And that’s it! I’m happy with how this turned out and had a ton of fun making it. Here’s to a more organized and productive 2019!

For more tips on bullet journalling as a student, click here.

Posted in education, Life

Bullet Journalling tips for Students

A lot of bullet journal inspiration online just doesn’t really work for students. I mean, let’s be honest; we’re busy, and we don’t have the time or the mental space to be carrying around seven coordinated markers, updating a bunch of daily trackers, or devote a few hours a month to drawing out gorgeous spreads with a seasonal theme. Even some posts I’ve seen that claim to be for students just seem ridiculously time consuming. Like, nah. I have lab reports to write!

Fortunately, the best part about the bullet journal system is that it’s completely adaptable.

Here are my top five tips for realistically bullet journalling as a student.

I used my old bullet journal and my new 2019 journal as examples. (DISCLAIMER: Some pages have areas that are blurred out or covered in white boxes; this was done to protect personal information such as my daily schedule, location, etc.)

For each day, have a separate space for your schedule and your to do list. I’ve found it super helpful to split every day into two, one for my class/work schedule and one for assignments/tasks. Having your schedule blocked out each day is great because you can visually see how much time you will have, and be sure to never forget a class or accidentally go to class when it has been cancelled. Writing out your to do list separately also gives you a visual reference of how busy you are, and prevents assignments from getting lost in the shuffle.

This is an example of one of my busier weeks from last semester (busy enough that I didn’t take the time to decorate). Each day has the schedule on the left and the assignment list on the right. It was really nice to have the list and the schedule clearly separated, especially since I didn’t add color to the schedule like I did on less busy weeks (see below). If they weren’t separated it would look much messier, things would blur together, and I’d be much more likely to forget something.

Have a simple method to track assignments, such as this one. I write down every assignment on the day that it’s due, and write in regular reminders about big projects. There are several homework tracking methods out there, but I like this one for several reasons. It’s not complicated and it’s not on a separate page; it’s right there with your regular to do list that you look at all the time. You don’t have to refer to separate syllabuses or websites for each class, and you don’t have to worry about forgetting a small assignment or missing a due date. For big projects I write them on the due date, and write in a task such as “work on XXX project” on several days throughout the semester leading up to the project.

Image result for exceed notebook dotted
These are cheap but still good quality, and come in a few sizes and colors.

Cheapness is WAY more important than aesthetic. Especially after a long session on Pinterest or Instagram, it can be tempting to buy the best journal and markers out there and make every page a work of art. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s be real, we’re college students with limited funds. All your journal needs to do is work, and all you really need is a notebook and a pen or pencil. I found dotted notebooks at my local Walmart and they’re honestly really good. I use a cheap gel pen and gray washable marker that also came from Walmart, and some colored pencils I got as a birthday present years ago, and that’s it. You don’t need much.

Keep it simple and consistent. The whole goal of bullet journalling is to decrease your stress level, not increase it. I figured out a simple weekly layout that works for me, and I do it the exact same way every week. This was so helpful for me because I didn’t waste any time staring at a blank page trying to come up with a beautiful layout while my brain was buzzing with ten other things. If you find yourself stressed out trying to make everything beautiful or getting so caught up in designing spreads that you put off your homework, stop. Find something simple, and add crazy embellishments only if you have time and it makes you happy. As a bonus, simple spreads are more relaxing. My favorite spreads are those that have a lot of open space, light colors, and simple layouts. With all the business of college, it’s nice to have your journal be a clean space that makes it easier to breathe.

This is a good example of my basic layout, adapted to fit a certain week from last semester. Each day has a space for my schedule and a space for my assignments. On the bottom right I have space for my weekly goals and a running to do list for things that aren’t tied to a specific day, and there is more space I could have used for a cute quote or brainstorm if I’d wanted to and had the time. My standard decorating method is to pick five colored pencils and use them to make an ombre and highlight my goals. Here I also highlighted classes in dark green, work in blue, and events in a brighter green, just to add more color and separate my day.

Finally, make it work for you. Do you need more space? Try giving each day half a page or a full page, or getting a bigger notebook for next time. Do you think you’re bad at drawing? Try printing out images and gluing them in, only drawing simple things like stripes or stars, or just skipping drawing and letting your journal be simple. Do you feel confined trying to fit everything in boxes? Skip the boxes and have a series of lists, or even just one big running list. Do you love gorgeous complicated spreads? Find time for making them between semesters, on weekends, or in small increments throughout the week when you need a break. Try things out, and as you find things you don’t like, change them. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll find a spread that is uniquely yours.

Happy journalling! I love to hear more advice and ideas in the comments 🙂

To see my 2019 bullet journal setup, click here.

Posted in Life

New Year’s Resolutions: My System that Actually Works

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on

Be willing to be a beginner, every single morning.

Miester Eckhart

Do you know someone who actually keeps their New Year’s resolutions? These people are few and far between, and they get rarer every year. According to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail or are given up on by February of the same year. That statistic isn’t surprising, because most of us know we’re really bad at New Year’s resolutions. We’re used to not achieving our goals, and yet come January first, there we are again with our post it notes and motivational quotes.

This phenomenon is so interesting to me. Every year I see my friends and family set their sights high, and for a week or two they do so well. The gyms are full, kale is sold out at the local grocery, budgets are tightly kept, the sun is shining bright. But inevitably everyone misses a day, or doesn’t reach their first benchmark, and we all slide right back to our old habits. And we know it, and we tell ourselves it’s okay. When the new year comes, we suddenly believe in ourselves again and tell ourselves that now is the time, this time we’re actually gonna do it. But we usually don’t. It’s kind of sweet how we can start over and over again with such innocence, but sad how we so rarely succeed.

I’ve been this person, time and time again, until last year when I finally found a system that works.

First, here are the general principles that led me to this system.  These can apply to any goals you want to set, whether you want to try my system or not.

  • Break big goals into small goals. Part of the reason so many of us give up on our goals is that they are way too big to tackle. It’s okay to set this kind of goal, but it makes it much easier if you break it down into smaller pieces. Set small simple goals like writing before you turn on the TV, writing a chapter every two weeks, or writing for a half an hour each workday. These small goals should be easy, and achieving them will encourage you.
  • Set goals you can measure. We’ve all done them, but vague goals are quite honestly a waste of your time. These goals are bad because it’s hard to determine how successful you’ve been. How much “more healthy” do you want to be? What qualifies as “eating right”? Instead, translate this vague goal into something you can measure: eating a full serving of vegetables every day or avoiding sugary foods before lunchtime. The idea is to write your goal as something that you can definitively say “yes” or “no” to. That way you know exactly how far you’ve come and can’t make excuses.
  • Approach goals as a choice, not as something forced on you. Another reason we often fail is our whole approach to resolutions. Don’t think of it as “I need to lose weight.” Immediately that phrasing gives rise to stress, urgency, negativity, and even loss of self-worth. Think of it instead as “I choose to lose weight.” It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference. You are the acting agent. You are doing this because you want to and choose to, not because anything is making you. It’s empowering.
  • Have regular reminders/accountability systems. When you’re the only one keeping you accountable, it can be hard to stay on track no matter how committed you are. Your accountability system can be as simple as writing your goals down next to your mirror or having a friend work on the same goal with you. You can also set up a small fitting reward for each benchmark you pass, such as letting yourself buy a new running outfit if you go running every day for two weeks. Do anything that works for you to keep you from forgetting, keep you motivated, and keep you from cheating yourself.
  • Set goals over things you can realistically control. Of course, your goals need to be possible. It’s good to push yourself, but a new year has no magical power to make you Superman. Don’t set goals that depend on other people’s choices, or really that depend on anything but you. If you’re not sure how much you can handle, put your big goal on the back burner and try a smaller goal first. If you make it just fine, bump it up, and if you don’t, adjust. The goal is to succeed, no matter how small.
  • Avoid strict timelines on larger goals. This one is arguable, but makes a lot of sense to me. It’s okay to have a ballpark time you want to get it done, but it’s almost impossible to anticipate how your circumstances might change. Instead, set deadlines for your smaller goals and hold yourself to them. It’s much easier to meet a short deadline than a long deadline, and your short deadlines are adjustable if you have a sudden change in your pay, health, or free time. This flexibility allows you to keep your goals realistic, and still know you’re pushing yourself and will reach your goal as soon as you can.

Keeping all of this in mind, I came up with my resolution system last year.

It starts by identifying four main areas of your life that you want to improve or focus on. For example, last year my four areas came from a quote from one of my church leaders: listen, learn, labor, love. This year my four categories are spirituality, education, wellness, and creativity. Of course you can use as few or as many categories as you want, but try to keep it less than six so it’s manageable. It’s okay for these areas to be big and even vague. These ideas are what you want to work on for the whole year.

Then, explain what you want to improve about each of those big areas and brainstorm things you can do to make it happen.  This can be messy and slightly vague if need be. The goal here is to get all your ideas on paper, articulate your desires, decide what is most important to you, and start to think of realistic measurable actions you can take to improve your “categories.”

Each month, set a smaller goal for each of your areas and review the goals you made the previous month.  Make these something you can realistically do in a month (even if you have to break up something larger). This monthly approach lets you adapt your goals to whatever works best in your current environment, break up your big goals into something concrete, and keep yourself accountable by regularly evaluating your progress. A month is about how long most of us make it with your resolutions before we quit, so it’s the perfect space of time to pass between regroups and restarts. For example, one of my big areas this year is education, and my January goal to improve this aspect of life is to finish at least four applications for summer internships. This is something measurable, not too challenging, and appropriate for the time because most internship deadlines are coming up in February.

Each week, set five even smaller goals and hold yourself accountable to at least three of them. I know it sounds odd but hear me out on this one. I got the idea of setting five and holding myself to at least three from my sister who’s done it for years, and I absolutely love it. Having five goals gives me flexibility to include any random goals I feel the need to do that don’t really relate to my resolutions. For the crazy busy weeks, or for weeks when I overestimate myself, I only have to keep three of the goals and feel okay about letting two fall by the wayside. This system allows you to stay accountable and push yourself, but allows you to slip up without failing. Having these goals weekly lets you break up your monthly goals into bite sized pieces, and they’re very adaptable, simple, and hard to forget.

Rinse and repeat. Each month, look back briefly on your progress and then plan our your next steps. Each week, make manageable goals that move you forward and make yourself do at least a simple majority of them. If you have time and want to push yourself, these monthly and weekly goals can be big. If you’re very busy, they can be small as long as they are there and you are accomplishing them.

Remember, the goal is success. It doesn’t matter if it’s a very small success, it is still success, and it’s always better than aiming too high and accomplishing nothing. Start with small steps that you know you can do and do them. As you move forward, you’ll gain more confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed, and you’ll be emboldened to try bigger and better things.

Happy New Year everyone! I’d love to hear your resolutions and how you help yourself succeed.

Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill