Argument

CONTENTS:

1. Maria Cassano / Old School Meditation: Presence of Mind in America’s Classrooms

 2. Emily Rogers / Standardized Tests: Not an Accurate Measurement of Student Achievement

3. Jessica Restivo / Toddlers or Technology: Which Comes First?

4. Danielle Vabner / The SAT: A Necessary Evil or Just Plain Unfair?

5. Renée Martin /The TextAid: A Solution to America’s “Texting While Driving” Epidemic

ESSAYS:

1. Maria Cassano / Old School Meditation: Presence of Mind in America’s Classrooms

If there is anything that America has always prided itself on (besides NASCAR, reality television, and the invention of bubble wrap) it would be its government’s dedication to making progress, and its citizens’ right to a great education. It might seem strange, then, that even despite all the laws passed each year regarding the US’s educational system, the general layout of it has remained basically the same: memorize, spit back, and—hopefully—retain.

With the world changing more rapidly than ever, you’d think that tactics for effective learning would be changing, too, but aside from the introduction of SMART Boards and the ixnaying of the occasional reproving knuckle-smack, my parents’ primary school experience was roughly identical to mine. We were taught how to follow directions, take orders, and focus for extended periods in an effort to, ultimately, prep us for the eight-to-five-work-day job that many of us would end up having. Still, never in my thirteen years of public schooling did I ever receive a lesson that taught me how to deal with the stresses that this eight-to-five job—or any other difficult life experience, for that matter—would inevitably create.

Since my first year of college, meditation has been my rock, providing the stability and peace of mind that no medication, professional help, or logic ever could. I was lucky enough to fall into this practice by chance, and was intrigued enough to continue research on my own, but with the way our society is so focused on “doing,” most people can’t find the point in sitting still for extended periods of time—yet it’s so much more substantial than that. It’s perceived as a practice reserved for hippies and old guys in Kashaya robes, but in actuality, if there was ever a skill that would be of the utmost importance to implement in people’s lives, it would be learning to take one’s given situation, and, no matter what it was, be content with it.

Mark Epstein, in his book Going on Being, describes the process like this: “The mind softens in meditation through the assumption of a particular mental posture called ‘bare attention,’ in which impartial, nonjudgmental awareness is trained on whatever there is to observe” (7). This description in itself should be enough to clear up the misconceptions that people have about what, exactly, meditation requires. So many people think that it’s all about emptying the mind until it’s just a dark, black void, to which they respond, “I don’t have the self-control or the attention span for that.”

The mind, in actuality, isn’t empty at all; rather, it’s exceptionally focused on one particular thing that exists right now, whether it’s one’s breathing, one’s bodily sensations, or something—a particular noise or image—in one’s surroundings. Epstein goes on to explain, “Problems are not distinguished from solutions in this practice; the mind learns how to be with ambiguity while learning to be fully aware” (7). All that’s required of a meditator, then, is the ability to merely exist at this very moment (which we all have, lest we’d be dead) and the ability to stop judgments from taking us out of this very moment (which is admittedly a bit more difficult, but, I promise you, still manageable).

In fact, if we have any difficulties with this process at all, it can be blamed on the fact that we simply weren’t introduced to it at a young enough age, like other cultures have been. In the same way that small children soak up foreign languages, this ideology—the idea that this present moment is far more important than past woes or future worries—would become second-nature to children who learned how to meditate in, say, first grade. Instead, we’re forced to rewrite our mental processes that tell us, “If you’re not doing something, you’re not making any progress at all.”

Meditation, however, is helping the body and mind to progress a lot further than it might seem. International scientific experiments and studies are linking meditation to an increase in focus, gratitude, empathy, compassion, general happiness, and overall health. Dr. Richard Davidson, for example, a neuroscientist who has done multiple studies on the effects of meditation in the brain, believes that “by meditating, you can become happier, you can concentrate more effectively, and you can change your brain in ways that support that” (Sykes).

One of his studies in particular required that a group of scientists record their stress levels through questionnaires before and after a course in meditation. While they did report less stress and an overall increase in happiness, the study reveals something much more interesting than that. Dr. Davidson measured their brain activity with a neuroimaging machine and found that there was a significant shift of activity from the right hemisphere of the brain into the left. “People with more left-sided activation report that they are more enthusiastic, that they are more active, that they are happier,” Dr. Davidson explains (Sykes). This shows, then, that personality traits that were once considered fixed characteristics—like pessimism, or the inability to concentrate—can in fact be altered through nothing more than concentrated thought. Think about that: taking a personality trait that you don’t like, and having the ability to change it.

Scientists have even started studying the brains of Buddhist monks—some of whom meditate for several hours each day, every day. MRIs show that there are significant physical differences between the brains of those who meditate and those who do not. In regular meditators, there is a noteworthy increase of grey matter, which indicates the creation of new synapses between nerve cells. This means that the brain is physically altering itself at a faster-than-normal rate (Bigger, Better, Faster, More: Brain Doping).

Dr. Sarah Lazar, on the other hand, argues that someone doesn’t need to be a monk in order to reap the benefits. She studied the brains of everyday people—a chef, a lawyer, a doctor—who sat and meditated for less than an hour each day. Amazingly, Dr. Lazar found that the cortexes of their brains were actually structurally different—.1 to .2 millimeters bigger than that of the control group. In particular, the insula (the part of the brain that manages emotions) was found to be thicker in those who had been meditating longer (Sykes). Now, even if you’re not someone who cares much about neuroscience, this will pique your interest: meditation is also directly linked to a release in dopamine—the same neurotransmitter that creates a blissful high when someone uses cocaine or methamphetamine (Bigger, Better, Faster, More: Brain Doping).

I didn’t know any of this scientific stuff when I first started meditating. All I knew was that I was sincerely, hollowly unhappy, and I needed some kind of release. It began, for me, as a nightly ritual—a means of uncoiling the tension in my body so I felt calm enough to sleep. It wasn’t until months later that I got the urge to research it, when I began to feel this overwhelming sense of empathy that had never been there before. My entire childhood and adolescence, I’d try to put myself into other people’s shoes, without much success, and I’d react based solely on what I knew I was supposed to feel. “That sucks,” I’d say to a friend who was breaking down, but it was really just to say anything at all. “You deserve better. I’m sorry.”

Suddenly, though, after this new practice had evolved into the most vital part of my day, a friend’s mental breakdown did suck, and I was sorry. I was unexpectedly able to feel everything that other people felt. This empathy wasn’t just limited to negative emotions; I could feel their happiness, too, rather than the sense of jealousy that’d always been there before, but when it was negative, I found I could help now. I could channel this deep sense of interconnectedness and understanding, and I was able to offer advice or some kind of comforting statement. My friendships improved tenfold, as well as my relationships with family and my ability to connect with near strangers, and, as a result, I found that I was starting to see myself with value—with some kind of purpose.

This year in particular, my external circumstances shouldn’t have (logically) harbored any feelings of internal peace or contentment. Having just transferred to a new university, my surroundings are very reminiscent of the surroundings that caused my unhappiness three years ago—overwhelming change, lack of familiar faces, insecurity about the future, and an immeasurable amount of free time to dwell on the aforementioned—but when I decided to start over, I was sure that if I’d done it once, I could do it again. I’d had no idea that, in the summer leading up to my first semester at this new school, my best friend would develop an acute case of schizophrenia due to an accidental overdose, and would end up committing suicide.

This semester has been a rollercoaster of tearing myself down and building myself up again, but against all odds, a mere five months later in a new place with relatively no support system, I find that I’m steadily regaining my balance. I’m nearly at the point where I have as much focus, awareness, and—believe it or not—optimism as I had before all of this happened. I credit this solely to the mind’s ability to find happiness within nothing more than the given moment, and my own dumb luck in stumbling across this practice three years ago.

If meditation were to be introduced into American schools, people wouldn’t still believe that their contentment was dependent on life cooperating with them, or the jobs they had, or even the amount of income they made. Roko Belic’s 2011 documentary, Happy reveals that after a person earns enough money to meet his or her basic needs, any increase in salary—even a significantly large one—doesn’t raise said person’s level of contentment. What does make someone happier, Belic found, was compassion, meaningful relationships, and gratitude, and if meditation is able to chemically change someone’s brain so that these things come about on their own, why isn’t this practice considered important enough to be taught as a class, just like math or history?

Some teachers, like Frank Young, for instance, have started to utilize the benefits of meditation in a classroom setting. A professor at the School of Visual Arts, Young begins every graphic design class with a half-hour meditation. He argues that “if students are not focused and relaxed, they may very well fall victim to the ‘monkey mind,’ a term used by some Buddhists to describe being distracted by stray thoughts and emotions” (“Using Meditation to Heighten”). Still, while this is a great start, it’s not enough. For one, in this instance, meditation is being taught to college students who probably hadn’t been introduced to the practice previously, and therefore might’ve experienced some kind of mental resistance that would limit their progress. For another, it’s being taught as a focus aid for graphic design rather than a course in itself—one that can be utilized in all aspects of life. Even in cases where young children are exposed to and helped by meditation, like in an experiment published within The Journal of Child & Family Studies, it’s usually introduced to children who suffer from ADHD and other behavioral problems (Bögels 777).

In countries that accept meditation as a way of life (like India, China, and other eastern nations) children are far more likely to come across this practice while their brains are still developing, and as a result, it’s much easier for them to grasp onto a state of relaxation and impartial awareness. This very acceptance of personal ability gives rise to the main divide between eastern medicine and western medicine.

Cultures that meditate regularly often believe in a holistic approach—the idea that mind, body, and spirit are all interconnected, and through focusing the mind and channeling life-force energy, humans possess the ability to heal themselves. Western doctors, who learn their practice on corpses and therefore aren’t familiar with energy flow, are more likely to prescribe medication, and while medication may cover up the symptoms of an illness, it doesn’t necessarily fix the cause of it. In the aforementioned experiment in The Journal of Child & Family Studies, just by the introduction of meditation into a child’s regimen, “adolescents’ attention and behavior problems reduced, while their executive functioning improved” (Bögels 775). That’s not to say that advancements in medicine aren’t important, and that’s not to say that we should abandon them entirely and go sit cross-legged in a field instead. It does, however, have something to say about the power of the human mind, that we, as conscious beings, have a lot more say in our conditions—both mental and physical—than we’re taught to give ourselves credit for.

As far as what this practice might look like in a classroom, the possibilities are endless. It could begin as young as kindergarten, starting as a ten-minute naptime-like segment of the day, and by fifth or sixth grade, develop into a full-blown course with lectures and guided meditation practices assigned for homework. The classes could be taught by anyone from ex-monks to yogis, which would offer students the opportunity to see the world from countless different perspectives, and all aspects of meditation could be covered—everything from common techniques to the neuroscience that supports them.

If schools in America were to adopt meditation into the basic curriculum, the next generation might understand that happiness and personal growth aren’t dependent on your situation, your income, your job, or even your surroundings. Instead, they’d understand that these things are based on whether or not you’re willing to practice presence of mind. In a country that stresses personal advancement, it doesn’t make sense that the only skills we’re taught are skills that don’t necessarily assure us any happiness at all. We are conditioned to think that we have the freedom to pursue happiness, but that’s the problem—people are constantly trying to pursue what they already have access to. After all, if we can’t change the past, and we can’t predict the future, all we have to work with is this very moment.

Works Cited

Bigger, Better, Faster, More: Brain Doping. Films Media Group, 2011. Films On Demand. Web. 17 November 2012.

Bögels, Susan, et al. “The Effectiveness Of Mindfulness Training On Behavioral Problems And Attentional Functioning In Adolescents With ADHD.”Journal Of Child & Family Studies 21.5 (2012): 775-787. Education Research Complete. Web. 17 Nov. 2012.

Epstein, Mark, M.D. Going on Being. New York: Broadway, 2001. Print.

Happy. Dir. Belic Roko. Wadi Rum Productions, 2011. DVD.

Sykes, Kathy. Meditation. Films Media Group, 2008. Films On Demand. Web. 17 November 2012.

“Using Meditation to Heighten Students’ Awareness.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 49.14 (2002): 0-A8. ProQuest Education Journals; ProQuest Health Management; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 17 Nov. 2012.

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2. Emily Rogers / Standardized Tests: Not an Accurate Measurement of Student Achievement

The standardized test has been a fixture in The United States’ educational system since the mid-1800s (“Standardized Tests”). Former President of the American Educational Research Association, W. James Popham, defines a standardized test as “any test that’s administered, scored, and interpreted in a standard, predetermined manner” (“Standardized Tests”). Although these tests have been a part of our schools for more than 150 years, as a method of measuring student achievement, standardized tests do not provide a valid interpretation of student learning.

In 2002 standardized testing became an even more integral part of the American education system, due to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was enacted during the George W. Bush Administration with bipartisan support (Davidson). The No Child Left Behind Act “. . . mandated annual testing in reading and math (and later science) in Grades 3 through 8 and again in 10th Grade” (“Standardized Tests”). The stakes were now greater than ever, and several potential problems immediately rose to the surface. Critics noted the need to address the tests’ outdated format; the tests’ bias against minorities; the external and emotional factors that affect performance; and the pressure on teachers to teach primarily to the test (“Standardized Tests”).

A major issue with standardized testing is how outdated the idea and format are in today’s technological society. The idea of a multiple-choice test came from Frederick J. Kelly in 1914. The nation needed to find a fast and easy way to deal with its growing student population; Kelly created what is known as “. . . the Kansas Silent Reading Test, sometimes called the ‘item-response’ or ‘bubble’ test” (Davidson). This original multiple-choice standardized test was loosely modeled after Henry Ford and his production of the Model T car. It was felt that if cars could be massed produced, so could our children’s testing. The No Child Left Behind Act requires tests, most of which are modeled after Kelly’s test (Davidson). Our nation has progressed tremendously since the age of the Ford Model T car, yet we continue to use antiquated testing methods. The nation’s educational leaders need, in 2013, to re-evaluate using standardized testing as a measure of achievement and bring assessment into “the interactive digital age” (Davidson).

Another major problem with the standardized test is the bias found in the test questions. Even the format of standardized tests is biased. It has been proven that the format of a multiple-choice question is easier for male students to comprehend (“Standardized Tests”). Data shows that females’ score lower on standardized tests, yet they earn higher grades in college (Carter). Minorities are also affected by these tests. All students are expected to have the same level of knowledge and ability even though some students are facing adversity and may not be up to the standards of the white officials who write these tests (Carter). The biases do not stop there; they also affect the scores of the poor. Students who come from low-income homes do not have the resources for tutoring or extra help that students from middle class or wealthy families have (Carter). As a result, “the poor certainty do not score as highly on average as wealthy students” (Carter). These tests can determine the course of our lives, and no one should have the upper hand in a nation where equality is a cornerstone of its beliefs.

Along with family backgrounds, the emotions and nerves students experience while taking tests prevent standardized tests from being adequate measures of students’ achievement. There are many other factors that go into taking an exam, especially one as important as a standardized test, other than the knowledge and understanding of the material. According to school administrator Derrick Meador, “Standardized testing evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day and does not take into account external factors.” Some students are simply not good test takers. These students are overwhelmed by the idea of a test, and they develop test anxiety and stress (Meador). Test anxiety can hinder the performance of a student even though they are more than capable of answering the questions correctly (Meador). Nerves can also affect a student’s performance on a standardized test, especially if this test can affect their future (Meador). “According to education researcher Gregory J. Cizek, anecdotes abound ‘illustrating how testing . . . produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students, and makes young children vomit or cry, or both’” (“Standardized Tests” 3). Personally, I have suffered from both test anxiety and test related stress. I am an honors student at my high school, and I have suffered through standardized tests since elementary school. I am the first to admit I am not a good test taker, especially when the test influences my class placement or college acceptance.

The atmosphere within the classroom is also affected by standardized testing. Teachers have had to alter their teaching methods since standardized testing became mandatory in 2002. “NCLB tests are drastically narrowing the curriculum” (“Standardized Tests”). Teachers are forced to “teach to the tests” (“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing”). This means they are not teaching information that is not on the tests, which may leave out vital parts of the curriculum (“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing”). This does not provide students with the opportunity to use higher-level thinking and analytical skills. It is also a hindrance to student creativity, and leaves little time for teachers to utilize different teaching styles. The narrowing of the curriculum creates a lackluster and boring environment for the students (Meador) and they are not being taught to the level they deserve.

Interestingly, these tests have not improved the education or achievements of America’s students. “After NCLB passed in 2002, the US slipped from 18th in the world in math on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading” (“Standardized Tests”). Policy and standardized test makers believe these tests are necessary for predicting the future of students, yet the “National Research Council report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working [. . .] ‘policymakers and educators do not yet know how to use test-based incentives to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education’” (“Standardized Tests”). Clearly, these tests do not show the achievements and potential of students efficiently; our nation’s educational system is falling in the ranks of the world. “Institutions of education should be preparing our kids for their future–not our past. In the Internet age, we are saddled with an educational system that was designed for the industrial age, modeled on mass production and designed for efficiency, not for high standards” (Davidson).

Works Cited

Carter, Chris. “The Case Against Standardized Tests.” The Case Against Standardized Tests–Article by Chris Carter. Chris Carter, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.

Davidson, Cathy N. “A Model T Test in the Internet Age.” Washington Post. 25 Sept. 2011: B.5. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.

Meador, Derrick. “Standardized Testing.” About.com. About.com Teaching, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.

“Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing.” Education Bug. EducationBug.org, 28 Aug. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

“Standardized Tests.” ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 25 Oct. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

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3. Jessica Restivo / Toddlers or Technology: Which Comes First?

Many adults would agree that their lives incorporate some use of technology on a daily basis. Whether it’s checking a Facebook account, utilizing the computer at work, or using a cellphone, digital technology seems to be a continuous distraction. However, the overuse of digital technology hinders the growth and development of young children. Computers, television, and cell phones limit the progress of a child’s social skills, values, cognitive development, sensory development, and motor development. Conventional play needs to be incorporated into a child’s everyday life in order to stimulate these fundamentals.

Play contributes to a healthy childhood. Its creative nature allows a child’s mind to go beyond the boundaries of a glowing screen. While playing a game on the computer, one is essentially following a set of rules that someone else has produced. In fact, research shows that the more time young children spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in the kind of play known to be essential to development and learning (Linn). Active play, other the other hand, develops a child’s motor skills and brain development.

Research conducted at Dimensions Early Education Program in Lincoln, Nebraska has shown profound evidence of the link between play and learning. Dimensions Early Education Program is an educational research foundation that urges educators and families to allow their children to connect with the world around them. This will contribute to a child’s learning process. Dimensions created an outdoor space for children to learn. The teachers are also researchers who observe their students actively in this unique outdoor classroom. In a 2008 study, Kade, a five-year-old boy, spent his time outside searching for “bones.” He used his imagination to turn a bucket and sticks into a deep investigation where he uncovered the remains of various animals. For example, he pulled out one of the sticks and confidently proclaimed it to be a tooth from a “saber-tooth cat” (Miller).

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, childhood development expert and author of Taking Back Childhood, stresses “the need for young children to manipulate objects physically, engage all their senses, and move and interact with the 3-dimensional world. This is what maximizes their learning and brain development” (Strauss). Carlsson-Paige explains that an activity through a handheld device does not utilize all the senses that more active play typically entails. While sitting in front of a screen can be a form of occasional entertainment, such play should never substitute for more physical activities.

Technology may also put at risk the development of a child’s ability to process information and develop relationships. Human interaction, though not necessarily a form of active play, shapes us more than many realize. Parents need to spend time with their children rather than leave them in front of a computer screen. Experts recommend that it is in a child’s best interest to receive between “three to four hours a day” of human interaction (Hatch). Dr. Ashley Montagu observes that the lack of this type of interaction will have real effects: “infants that are deprived of this amount of human touch and play exhibit more agitation and anxiety, and may become depressed in early childhood” (Hatch).

Digital technology can also lessen one’s ability to multitask. Technology provides a  never ending interruption in our lives. These distractions affect the way children’s developing brains absorb new information, and can lead to continuous partial attention (Hatch). Linda Stone, former Microsoft executive, claims that, “CPA is the state we enter into when we are using technology and are forced to split our attention between several different tasks” (Hatch).

Sarah Chumsky, vice president at Insight Strategy Group, a research and consulting firm that specializes in products for children disputes the mindset that condemns technology as an alternative for active play. Chumsky boldly states, “Technology is here to stay. If you have a problem with how it’s being used (or overused), then seek solutions that offer safe outdoor play options for all children. In the meantime, appreciate digital entertainment for the benefits it offers” (Chumsky). It is true that the use of technology in schools can make learning more interactive, can engage a student’s full attention, and can develop skills. For example, after examining over fifty studies on the effects of technology on youth, Dr. Patricia Greenfield of UCLA has found an increase in children’s visual reasoning skills over the past fifty years (Kim).

Although digital technology does have positive aspects, technology has its limits.  Digital technology may help a teacher to engage students’ attention, but is this attention masked by distraction? Many students associate technology with entertainment and enjoyment, and presenting a classroom filled with technologically programmed students with a glowing screen may just divert their mindset from focused to dreamy. I accept Chumsky’s point that technology is here to stay, and I also understand that moderation—not the elimination of technology—is the point. However, one should never confuse moderation with substitution. Teachers may find it useful to support their lessons with technological tools, but I feel that this is as far as it should go. Social skills must be implemented in the classroom as much as possible. This will create a comfortable learning environment, which will in turn, allow a child to grow.

Children have access to a wide range of digital material, so when does it become too much? Parents must be involved in observing how their children are using digital technology and regulate such use. Traditional play is just as important as to a child’s development as balanced nutrition. Human interaction and play will never be outdated. I warn all you technologically-fueled parents to put your cellphones down and realize you must interact with your children. They crave your personal attention more than any form of digital technology.

Works Cited

Chumsky, Sarah. Letter. “Letters; Sunday Dialogue: How Children Play.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 20 June 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.

Hatch, Kristina E. “Determining the Effects of Technology on Children.” Senior Honors Projects. Digital Commons. The University of Rhode Island, May 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2012.

Kim, Paul. “Technology in Education: Hurts or Helps?” The International Examiner. Iexaminer.org, Sept. 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.

Linn, Susan. Letter. “Letters; Sunday Dialogue: How Children Play.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 20 June 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.

Miller, Dana L, Kathy Tichota and Joyce White. (2009). “Young Children Learn Through Authentic Play in a Nature Explore Classroom: A White Paper Based on Research Conducted at Dimensions Early Education Programs in Lincoln, NE.” Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, 2009. Web. 12 Oct. 2012.

Strauss, Valerie, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige. “Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity?” Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2012.

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4. Danielle Vabner / The SAT: A Necessary Evil or Just Plain Unfair?

Junior year of high school can be defined in a few simple words: tests, tests, and more tests. Between tests given for various classes, AP tests given in the spring, and SATs and ACTs that will likely dictate which colleges you decide to apply to your senior year depending on your score, it seems never-ending. It’s certainly draining for teenagers of only sixteen and seventeen, who have enough to balance as it is between homework, friends, family, and extracurricular activities. Why, then, are high school students expected to take a five-hour exam such as the SAT (often multiple times) and excel? The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT) are often weighted rather heavily in the college admissions process, since, according to Popham, the scores of these standardized tests “. . . are used to predict the grades that high school students will earn when they get to college.” We must then ask ourselves: Is a standardized test the best way to measure what a student knows and has learned? Does a student’s scores on the SATs and/or the ACT have any bearing on how he or she will perform in college? In my opinion, it seems incredibly unfair that so much rides on one test. Standardized tests are not accurate indicators of a student’s intelligence or abilities; they also cause extreme stress for many high school students. They do not accurately prove whether or not a student is ready to attend college, as many might think. As a result, these tests should either be removed completely or should be made optional in the college admissions process.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test was created in 1926 by a group of CollegeBoard educators in order to “democratize access to college for all students” (Collegeboard.org). Essentially, the exam is designed so that students can demonstrate their critical thinking skills; if they achieve high scores (the highest possible score on each section is 800), then they have proven that they are ready to succeed in college. CollegeBoard also describes the purpose of each section of the three sections of the exam: the reading section is intended to measure students’ ability to “. . . draw inferences, synthesize information, distinguish between main and supporting ideas . . .”, the math section “. . . requires students to apply mathematical concepts, solve problems and use data literacy skills,” and the writing section “. . . requires students to communicate ideas clearly and effectively.” Over three million students all over the country take the SAT each year in an attempt to achieve the highest score possible and increase their chances of getting into the college of their choice.

The concept seems simple enough: the sole purpose of these standardized tests is to determine how much a student has learned and whether or not he or she would do well in a college environment. It seems perfectly logical that colleges would want proof that a student has strong critical thinking skills and can contribute to their school in a positive way, and that it’s difficult to measure that in any other way than a test. However, the sad truth is that for many high school students, there is an immense amount of pressure associated with these tests: “For most high school students who want to attend an elite college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life’s landmarks” (Murray). Many of them spend months and months preparing, knowing that their parents are more than likely expecting them to do well. Perhaps a student has dreams of attending an Ivy League school such as Harvard or Yale—if he or she does not obtain a score of at least 2300, chances are an Ivy League school will not even give their application a second look, and in many instances they may overlook a student who may be incredibly bright but may not be extremely skilled or proficient at taking tests.

For instance, I am not a good test-taker myself. I find that my mind often goes blank when I am taking a test, most likely due to pressure. Furthermore, I am not a math person; it seems as though my mind just simply does not work that way. As a result, I found the Math portion of the SAT to be extremely difficult. While I did excel in the Reading and Writing sections, my score truly took a hit due to the fact that I have trouble understanding Math. That, combined with the fact that I do not do well under pressure made taking the SATs incredibly stressful for me. My dream was to attend SUNY New Paltz—I had visited the school the previous summer, and I fell in love with the campus and the surrounding area. It was truly where I wanted to be, but I knew that my SAT score had to be within a certain range to be granted admission into the school. While I did manage to obtain a composite score that fell within the range that the school wanted, there was an incredible amount of stress associated with obtaining that score.

While SAT scores are not the only factor that colleges take into consideration, they still play a considerable role in the college admissions process. It is undeniable that the SAT (and in some cases, the American College Test, or ACT) hold far too much importance—so much so that it can determine whether or not they achieve their dream of attending college. In certain cases, the SAT or ACT is what stands in the way of success: “A test of one narrow quality, the ability to perform well in school, stands firmly athwart the path to success. Those who don’t have that ability will have much less chance than those who do to display their other talents later” (Lemann 3). Essentially, standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT solely measure a student’s academic ability. A student can be extremely smart in his or her own way but not do well on the SAT or ACT simply because they don’t do well in school. There are certain kinds of intelligence that go beyond school; what about those people? Those people should be able to have a chance to attend a good college, and it would seem that these standardized tests in some cases hinder a person’s ability to go to the college they want simply because they can’t get a high enough score on the SAT or ACT. However, if the SAT or ACT were made optional, then students would have the opportunity to impress college admissions if they feel that their score is impressive. If not, they shouldn’t have to; SAT scores should simply be made optional. It should not be the basis on which colleges make their decision regarding a potential student: “No test is good enough to serve as the sole or primary basis for important educational decisions” (FairTest.org). There are external factors that could contribute to a student’s score on the SAT: for instance, if a student is having problems at home, it may not be the best circumstance to take a five-hour exam.

A few small, prestigious colleges have already begun to make reporting SAT scores optional: “. . . Middlebury and Bennington are making the SAT optional. The charge that the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged children—a ‘wealth test,’ as Harvard law professor Lani Gunier calls it—has been ubiquitous” (Murray). This seems to be a valid point—students from wealthier communities have many more resources available to them than, say, inner city students. Privileged children have the money to make use of resources such as tutors, SAT practice books, SAT practice exams, etc. while students who come from underprivileged homes/communities most likely do not receive a high enough quality education to do well on the test. The SAT is a standardized test, but the problems on it are perhaps unfairly difficult for students who have not had a quality education. This makes these tests “‘fundamentally discriminatory’” (Ruiz).

Unsurprisingly, men and women are intelligent in different areas, and this contributes to the discriminatory and unfair nature of the test. According to The New York Times article by Ruiz, statistics show that men perform better in certain areas than women: “Mr. Rosner asserts that the math portion of the test is ‘male-learning,’ citing data from 1998 and 2000 which found that men performed better than women on 97 percent of math test questions whereas women performed better than man on only .8 percent of them”. This puts young women at an unfair advantage; most of them are automatically set up to score lower than young men on the math portion of the exam. This is precisely the type of data that points to the idea that the SAT favors “. . . white, male, upper income students with the means to prepare for [the test]”. Being a young woman myself who lacks math skills, I found that portion of the exam to be both challenging and stressful. I came from a relatively wealthy school district in Connecticut, but the simple fact is that I was not prepared to excel on the math portion of the exam. This was a source of extreme stress for me, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform well on that part of the exam. I was afraid that this would impact my college application in a negative way. However, if the SAT had been made optional, I would not have felt so pressured to excel.

The simple fact is that standardized tests do not accurately measure students’ intelligence, and they should not determine whether or not a student is admitted into their first-choice college. While perhaps the intentions of the SAT make sense, the fact that it is weighted so heavily in the college admissions process puts many students at a great disadvantage. This is precisely why the SAT should either be made optional or should be gotten rid of altogether—students will be able to demonstrate their intelligence in ways other than through standardized tests, thus making the college admissions process fairer and giving those who scored low on the SAT more of a chance to succeed.

Works Cited

“About the SAT.” CollegeBoard.org. CollegeBoard, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012.

“How Standardized Testing Damages Education.” Fairtest.org. FairTest. 20 Aug. 2007. 25 Oct. 2012. Web.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. New York: Farrar, Stratus and Giroux, 1999. Print.

Murray, Charles. “Abolish the SAT.” The American. The Online Magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, July-Aug. 2007. 22 Oct. 2012. Web.

Popham, James W. “Standardized Testing Fails the Exam.” Edutopia. The George Lucas Educational Foundation. 23 Mar. 2005. 23 Oct. 2012. Web.

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5. Renée Martin /The TextAid: A Solution to America’s “Texting While Driving” Epidemic

Sending one, simple text message while driving could drastically change someone’s life forever, or even bring someone’s life to an end. However, there are some drivers who have the mindset that getting into an automobile accident as a result of just sending a quick text message could never happen to them—that they’re safe drivers. Unfortunately, after actually experiencing an accident firsthand, some of these people don’t get the chance to explain to others that it really can happen to anyone; after all, it’s an accident. According to a document containing numerous texting-while-driving statistics compiled by Hofstra University in 2002, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis found that approximately 2,600 people die every year as a result of texting while driving, and an additional 330,000 are injured. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued more recent data, stating that every day more than nine people are killed in the United States as a result of texting while driving, and more than 1,060 are injured, which is a dramatic increase from 2002 data. Also, according to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), cell phone use was reported in approximately 18% of fatalities in America that were classified as being “distraction-related.” The DOT also stated that sending one text message could take your eyes off of the road for about 4.6 seconds. Driving at 55MPH, that would be like driving the entire length of a football field while blindfolded. Yet, despite these warnings and statistics, there are Americans who continue to text while driving because they cannot successfully resist the urge to text, and as a result, they can potentially cause harm to other drivers or even themselves while doing it. That is why instead of trying to eradicate texting while driving altogether, a safer solution for texting while driving must be found; the TextAid is that solution. Using bluetooth technology and an earpiece about the size of a hearing aid, one would be able to automatically listen to any text message that they receive while driving, and respond to it by simply talking to it when prompted. This way, they will not have to take their eyes off of the road for any reason.

The implementation of a portable, voice-activated device that can send a text message for the individual using it, such as the TextAid, is not only feasible, but it is profoundly important to society at large as it can save countless lives every year and give drivers a new opportunity to drive with less distractions and keep their eyes on the road.

Today, to address the issue of texting while driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering adding guidelines to “address portable devices not built into the vehicle, including aftermarket GPS navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communication devices.” They’re also considering addressing the implementation of voice activated controls to minimize distractions as well as advanced-warning and driver monitoring technologies to help prevent crashes that are caused by distracted drivers. This so-called “texting and driving epidemic” has even attracted the attention of celebrities. Celebrities such as Oprah have also advocated to their fans the necessity of pledging to never text and drive.

Currently, there are regulations against cell phone use while driving in every state with the exception of Hawaii. According to a CDC Motor Vehicle Safety article, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that prohibits all federal employees from texting while driving on government business as well as from texting when using equipment or vehicles that belong to the federal government. Some states including California, Illinois, and Maine, to name a few, have laws that restrict novice drivers from using cell phones while driving, regardless if they have hands-free devices or not.

Martin 1Martin 2

However, according to Fig. 2, the majority of people who send text messages or emails while driving are within twenty-one to twenty-four years of age; drivers at this stage of their lives would not be considered to be novice drivers, so the ban would not even apply to them in these states. For example, at the age of eighteen, in New York State, drivers are eligible to drive under an unrestricted license as they are classified as a Class D driver; some are even eligible to attain a Class D license at the age of seventeen if they enroll in a driver’s education course.

Fig.1and Fig. 2 both provide strong evidence that, regardless of some state bans on the use of cellphones while driving, this ban is not having a significant impact—particularly on younger generations. Legislation hasn’t been as effective as originally intended, and the numbers are clear. The amount of deaths and injuries related to cell phone use has only increased over time, and will continue to increase if there isn’t a safer method of texting and driving implemented for drivers. With the TextAid, drivers will be able to safely text and drive without having to take their eyes off of the road, and its ingenious technology will save the lives of thousands of Americans.

In order for the TextAid to be considered a well designed object, it must fit certain criteria. It must obviously be easy to use and function as a texting device, but it must also have sophisticated voice recognition technology, be compatible with all bluetooth phones, and it must be reasonably priced for the consumer. The physical design of the TextAid will focus on simplicity. Hearing-aid-sized, it will fit in a user’s ear rather than around their ear like existing bulky bluetooth devices. As previously stated, the TextAid would rely on bluetooth technology, meaning that it will be completely wireless. A small button on the exterior turns the device on and off, with a small USB port to charge it. USB charging means compatibility with existing cell phone car-chargers. Black in color, the TextAid looks sleek and minimalist, and therefore will appeal to modern tastes. Also, a small, sensitive microphone will be contained within the earpiece to detect instructions from the user. While turned on, the cell phone will automatically relay any text messages directly to the TextAid so that the person can hear the messages rather than read them. It will also state who the message is from. Then the individual would be asked by the TextAid if he/she would like to reply to the message or not, and a simple answer of yes or no would be required. If no, the TextAid will not prompt the user with any more questions and it will standby and wait for any other text messages to be received. The TextAid can also send text messages from the user if the user says, “TextAid, send a text message.” Such a phrase would be used in order to prevent the TextAid from being activated by normal conversation between people in the car. The TextAid will then ask to whom the message is to be sent, and the user can either respond with the name of a person or a phone number. Once verified, the user just needs to simply say the message clearly, and the TextAid will communicate this information to the phone. The TextAid will then read the message over again to you to ensure that it has heard you correctly. If it is correct, then it will send the message. If not, then you can edit it by saying the message over again. Not only could this technology be used to send a text message, but email as well. The TextAid has the potential to change the lives of drivers as texting will now not only become more efficient, it will also become safer. The TextAid would be a viable option that would satisfy what the NHTSA has been considering addressing; it would minimize distractions of the driver as it would act as a hands-free device that is activated by voice recognition. The utilization of such a device would allow the NHTSA to achieve their ultimate goal—to provide safer roads for all drivers in America.

The TextAid is a piece of technology that is highly feasible. Voice recognition software and bluetooth technology already exist. Having a bluetooth device the size of a hearing aid so that it wouldn’t be as obvious would be much more stylish in the eyes of most. For the development of this device, software engineers must be able to properly develop the program, as well as find a way to condense everything that is required for the device into an earpiece the size of a hearing aid. Also, bluetooth devices currently retail for around $100.00. If the TextAid is marketed around $90.00 it would add more competition to the market. Profit-per-device may not be as high as other devices; however, if it is required to offer this device as an additional add-on when a consumer is purchasing a bluetooth compatible cell phone, it can be assumed that more devices will be sold at this cheaper rate. As more devices are sold, the cost of production for each one will dramatically decrease.

As is the case with any new piece of technology, problems surely will arise. A potential problem of the TextAid is that the voice recognition software may not be able to properly recognize the words that the user is saying to the device. As a solution, frequent software updates would become available for the device. The user would simply have to plug the TextAid into the computer and then they would be able to receive software updates from the internet. Currently, the most well-known voice recognition application is Apple’s Siri, found on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. According to Apple, “. . . the more you use Siri, the better it will understand you” (iOS). Siri is capable of learning the user’s accent as well as other characteristics of their voice, and it uses “voice recognition algorithms to categorize your voice into one of the dialects or accents it understands.” Essentially, the more people that use Siri, the more languages and dialects it becomes accustomed to. Therefore, its overall performance continues to improve. The same could be said for the TextAid’s voice recognition program. The more people that use it, the more familiar it will become with various languages and dialects.

Another potential issue that may arise is that people who haven’t texted while driving before will have an excuse to now do so. Although this statement may be true, perhaps the reason why certain people didn’t text and drive before is because they found it to be unsafe and chose not to take the risk. If given a safe solution, texting and driving should be made legal, as it can be argued that talking on the phone with a hands-free device while driving is legal. As long as people are safely texting and driving and not risking their own lives or the lives of others, the issue of texting and driving will become much less prominent in the United States. As it is, according to a recent CDC study, a higher percentage of American drivers use their cell phones to make a call or send a text or email than drivers in numerous other European countries such as France, Germany, Belgium, the UK, or Spain. The TextAid would ultimately be sold internationally, but the most dramatic, beneficial effects to people would be seen in the United States. However, one could also say that there are still going to be people that text and drive without using this device. Of course completely eradicating unsafe texting and driving would be a nearly impossible feat, as there will always be those who believe that they are not distracted while they text and drive, and are not going to get in an accident. There are people on the road who feel that they do not need this technology. However, making this device easily accessible to people, along with more education on the consequences of texting and driving without a hands-free device, would greatly reduce the number of people injured or even killed as a result of texting and driving. In the end, lives would still be saved.

One variant of the TextAid that would also be available to consumers is a program that would be able to be installed into the vehicle, if the vehicle has a standard GPS system or bluetooth technology already built into the dashboard. Although this program would be available in such instances, the reason why the TextAid device itself is important to focus on is because the majority of people who practice unsafe texting and driving are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. At this age it is not unheard of—but it is highly unlikely—that they would be able to afford a car of such luxury that has this equipment standardized into the vehicle. The purpose of the TextAid device is to provide a safe, yet cost-effective way of texting and driving. If the TextAid was only developed into a program that worked on standardized GPS or bluetooth systems in a car, than the majority of the target audience for this product would not actually be affected. Giving more than one option for the TextAid program itself broadens the potential market as it pertains to more people.

It is highly important to invest in the TextAid and ensure that there are the funds necessary to allow this piece of technology to come to fruition. Although legislation to combat the epidemic of texting and driving exists in almost all of the fifty states, the results are not as dramatic as lawmakers have hoped. Thousands of people die every year as a result of texting and driving, and hundreds of thousands are injured. This number is only increasing. The warnings against texting while driving are prominent, yet people continue to do it. With the implementation of the TextAid, thousands of lives can be saved as a larger portion of drivers would be driving with less distraction. The TextAid is a device that would have a profound influence on society, as drivers wouldn’t have to take their eyes off of the road for the average “4.6 seconds” that it takes to send a text message; a time in which not only their life, but the life of another innocent driver could be lost.

Works Cited

“Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA, June 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.distraction.gov&gt;.

“Distracted Driving.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

“iOS: Learn More About Siri.” Apple. Apple, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

“Texting While Driving Statistics.” Hofstra University. Hofstra, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.hofstra.edu&gt;.

 

 

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