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Delivering Gunn’s Culture and Politics

December 2009

Volume 6 Issue 4 Was Orwell Right? Security, Not Suppression Henry Gens Page 4 The Western Police State Tara Golshan Pages 4-5

Solo Pieces Sanctions and the Nuclear Bomb Andrew Liu Pages 5-7 Grow Up, California Sam Neff Page 7 Paranormal Activity Ryan Lee Page 16

The Regulars Healthcare Act Page 3 The Great Outdoors Aaron Guggenheim Page 5 Academic Pressure at Gunn Brittany Cheng Pages 8-9 Survey Results Demystified Miyabi Ishihara & Yichen Yang Page 10 We’re Not Over-Pressured Kevin Zhang Pages 10-11 High-Pressure Problems Ian Wilkes Pages 11-12

The Missing Fix Robert Chen Pages 12-14

A Creature Most Loved Robert Chen Page 6

College Board Sarah Zubair Page 15 Seize Your Life Mr. O’Connell Pages 15-16

THE INS AND OUTS OF EDUCATION

Simon Shachter Photo: Priya Ghose


The Chariot Editors-in-Chief Robert Chen Aaron Guggenheim Senior Editors Ben Bendor Andrew Liu Sarah Zubair

About Us The Chariot is intended to create and promote political discussion at Gunn and make people aware of issues that matter. We ask that you respect all opinions which are reflected in our publication, and write letters to the editors if you wish to voice your opinion. The views expressed do not reflect that of The Chariot, but rather those of the individual writers.

Copy Editors Andre Garrett Tommy Huang

The Chariot was originally founded in 2004 as the Partisan Review by Gunn alumni Ilan Wurman (‘06), Channing Hancock (‘06), and Sarah McDermott (‘05).

Graphics/Layout Brittany Cheng Scott Wey Alexandra Yesian Circulation Jacob Guggenheim

Visit our website, www.gunnchariot.com if you wish to view any issues from previous years or for more information about us. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or requests to join can be sent to gunnchariot@gmail.com If you’d like to make a donation or subscribe, please send checks to:

Publicity Priya Ghose Contributing Writers Ron Ackner Yoni Alon Arjun Bharadwaj Neil Bhateja Corey Breier Will Cromarty Naor Deleanu Henry Gens Tara Golshan James Gupta Anish Johri Ryan Lee Alice Li Max Lipscomb Jeff Ma Sam Neff Saurabh Radhakrishnan Roxanne Rahnama Hina Sakazaki Yoyo Tsai Daljeet Virdi Charlie Wang Ian Wilkes Kevin Yang Stanley Yu Ethan Yung Omer Zach Kevin Zhang Foundation/Group Sponsors Adobe Systems Daughters of the American Revolution Palo Alto Lions Club Palo Alto Roller-Masonic Lodge Patrons ($100+) Lauren Michals and Vinod Bharadwaj Steven Guggenheim Shirley Zeng and Yajun Liu

Marc Igler Re: The Gunn Chariot 780 Arastradero Road Palo Alto, CA 94306 Checks can be made out to Gunn High School with “The Chariot” on the memo. Dear Readers, We are immensely proud to be coming out with our fourth issue of this year. We couldn’t do it without the help of some very charitable parents and organizations that have donated money to help cover the printing expenses of each issue. Two organizations of note are The Daughters of The American Reveloution, a woman’s group and The Palo Alto Lion’s Club which has both have given generously to help support and continue The Chariot. This year, as it does every year, the Lion’s Club will be hosting a speaking contest that offer cash prizes to the winners and finalists this upcoming year, around February. The website is http://www.4c1lions.org/studentspeakersrules.htm and we encourage all students to participate. We’ll keep you informed as more details becomes available. This issue, we’ve decided to focus our attention on education. We are covering everything from academic pressure at Gunn to fixing the education system to Collegeboard and admissions. We think that this is especially time sensitive since we are nearing the end of the first semester and the pressure is on to raise grades and get in college applications. We hope that by providing this broad overview of education, adults will better understand the issues concerning students today, students will better understand their own lives, and parents will better understand their children’s woes. Please read the articles with an open mind, even if you disagree with the opinions expressed.

Sponsors ($50-99) Contributors ($21-50) Special thanks to Advisor, Marc Igler 2

December 2009

Sincerely, Robert Chen and Aaron Guggenheim Editors-in-Chief


The World in a Blurb The Race to Acquire Cadbury All of the world’s biggest food companies are in hot pursuit of Cadbury, the British chocolate maker. The manufactures currently in the race to acquire the company are Nestlé, Kraft, Ferraro and Hershey. A merger would help any of these companies win into the Cadbury-dominated chocolate market. While Kraft is currently pushing a hostile merger deal, it is Cadbury’s wish is that Hershey comes up with the money to buy their company. Hershey has a longstanding reputation with Cadbury, even selling chocolates in the U.S under the Cadbury name. But, until any merger is complete, the fate of Cadbury is still very unclear. Obama’s Approval Ratings President Obama’s job approval ratings, which have unexpectedly declined for months, appear to have fallen to the mid-high 40’s. Gallup’s most recent update of Obama’s ratings indicates 49% positive and 44% negative. Additionally, the aggregate, compiled by Nate Silver, currently has results fairly similar to those of Gallup, which is based upon averages of polls conducted in threeday intervals. Looking at the model created by Mr. Silver, it seems that Obama’s popularity decline may have begun to level out, although further decline is not out of the question. Obama Wraps up Asia Trip President Obama wrapped up a weeklong trip to Asia on November 19, concluding his tour among four of the most powerful Asian economies – Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea. Throughout his trip, as he has done elsewhere in Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, Mr. Obama preached a message of conciliation and diplomacy, speaking of a “new era of engagement with the world based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” a sharp departure from the United States’ approach during the Bush administration. Although Mr. Obama did try to focus on cooperation between the US and the visited countries, he made little headway on central issues of disagreement on a trip characterized as “bumpy.”

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The Chariot

If it bothers you that the China government does it, it should bother you when your cable company does it.

– Andrew McLaughlin, White House deputy chief technology officer on net censorship

We’re going to show young people how cool science can be. – President Obama, announcing STEM: Science, technology, engineering, and math

Hopefully research like this will help parents realise that it’s natural and healthy for children to get outdoors and get mucky and that it doesn’t do their health any harm.

– Margaret Morrissey, a spokesperson refererring to UCSD research pointing to the harms of being too clean

What’s That? Healthcare Act

On November 7, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which could extend coverage to 36 million of the uninsured, was narrowly passed in the House of Representatives. Under this bill, all permanent residents would be required to obtain coverage, either through a company or a plan purchased through the national health care exchange, which would act as the new marketplace for health care. Nearly all companies would have to either provide plans for employees or contribute to a federal fund, while subsidies would facilitate the extension of health care coverage. The H.R. 3962 also includes plans for reforming the industry; new rules would limit unfair practices, such as rejecting patients with pre-existing conditions. A “pro-life” amendment seeks to proscribe subsidized plans from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or health endangerment. At the time of publication, the Senate is debating its own version of a health care reform bill. December 2009

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WAS ORWELL RIGHT? The Chariot

Security, Not Suppression Henry Gens Contributing Writer When one alludes to the term “police state,” images of Cold War Russia, modern-day North Korea and similar Orwellian dystopias come to mind. Barring these examples, the literal definition of a police state is one that that maintains complete and repressive control over the political, social and economic aspects of its citizens. How is it then that Britain, one of the world’s oldest and most influential democracies, is increasingly thought of as one of these oppressive regimes? Surely the jolly old Queen herself should not be mentioned in the same breath as Kim Jong-Il, the ruthless dictator of the DPRK. Nevertheless, pundits are quick to label Britain as a potential police state. This is, of course, much ado over nothing. The issue of security has always been contentious, for by its very nature it is a double-edged sword. A nation’s decision to implement and expand security measures in response to a perceived threat is nearly always accompanied by a backlash from civil rights groups. Sometimes these people are justified in opposing the new measures, especially when the acts are arbitrary and unfair; however, when the new laws address a legitimate threat their implementation is undeniably for the better. Britain’s revamped security has thus 4

December 2009

far been of the latter kind. As the British National Security Strategy Report outlines, the current threat is from within the state— there is no comparable external threat, such as previously experienced with Cold War era Russia. One needs to look no further than the 2005 London Bombings to understand the gravity of these threats. The British response, though, has been alarmingly overwhelming for many. The nation currently employs over four million Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance cameras, which ranks among the most in the Western world. However, these cameras are only placed in public spaces and are solely used to discourage and report crime. What sets this apart from a police state is that Britain has a rational rule of law, and thus only true criminals need worry about the implications of the cameras. The CCTV system keeps the police officers in check as well. In 2005, limited CCTV footage cast doubt on the defense of the police officers who shot and killed an innocent man in the Stockwell Tube station. No real police state would persecute its own officers in such a manner. Britain keeps its surveillance in check in other places as well, ensuring that things don’t get out of hand. An example of this is the court order in May of 2009 demanding that hundreds of thousands of DNA samples from innocent people previously accused of crimes be erased from the national database. At its peak this database held around seven million peoples’ DNA, which the Home Office used to solve an estimated 17,000 crimes in 2008 alone. Nevertheless, Britain respects personal and has started to purge this database. This abidance to court decree, as well as the strong age-old roots of democracy, provides the distinction between merely having good security and being a police state. If the laws of a state are just and the state complies wholeheartedly with those

laws, it is unreasonable to confuse good national defense with being a police state. Indeed, Britain does not aim to control the political, social, or economic aspects of its citizens in the slightest. To start labeling Britain as a police state is nothing short of ludicrous. Truly it is the greatest of exaggerations, especially when Britain is only aiming to protect, not repress, its citizens.

The Western Police State Tara Golshan Contributing Writer In 2008, Britain was ranked first as the most repressive regime in Western Europe and fifth in the world (tying with Russia) in terms of surveillance. The results have prompted endless discussion. It brings up the the question, how close has England become to the Orwellian world of 1984? The answer is seen throughout the nation, from the cameras set at almost every street corner, to the secret police intelligence units dispatched to keep a close eye on political groups and the deep interference with citizen’s privacy. The constant surveillance has begun to encroach on people’s freedoms. An estimated four million cameras have been installed, and the worlds largest national DNA database is being made. With more than seven percent of the nation already logged in, Britain is looking at its residents


down to their genes. All under the name of crime fighting, this DNA database and the Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras are only the beginning of Britain’s surveillance. British Civil Liberties advocates are beginning to call the nation close to the ‘Orwellian’ nation depicted in 1984. Under Britain’s Terrorism Act, which was made a law in 2000 and was later added to in 2008, photography of policemen is prohibited, officers have the right to free search and seizure in specifically defined areas, and enforce unspecified house arrest. If violated, the punishment can be as high as ten years in prison. These powers given to the sub-machine gun armed officers have been reportedly abused, yet no reforms have been made. According to the former head of the Scotland Yard, George Churchill-Coleman, these anti-terrorist precautions have been taken farther than needed. Coleman expresses the terrible feeling that the country has begun to sink into a police state and emphasizes that Britain should police on a democratic standard. Lord Goodlad states in agreement that there is no justification for the government to be so deeply pored over the country. Dame Stella Rimington, former head of the MI5, claimed that the fear of terrorism has been and is being exploited to erode civil liberties and furthermore turn Britain into a police state. The rights of the country’s citizens are slowly being eroded, leaving the people of Britain with their actions monitored, their human rights ignored, their privacy disturbed and in a police-controlled nation.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Sanctions and the Nuclear Bomb Andrew Liu Senior Editor Behind the United States of America’s policy towards Iran are two fundamentally flawed assumptions: first, that simple “talking with the enemy” will bring concessions and second, that Iran would suddenly become a leviathan danger upon obtaining the nuclear bomb. But President Obama needs to throw these assumptions out and realize that we can only minimize the Iranian threat by complementing talks with sanctions while concurrently realistically sizing up the dangers that a nuclear Iran presents. First, the US needs to complement talks with sanctions. For the past year, pure diplomatic engagement has been the crux of President Obama’s approach to Iran. Recent history shows that efforts to negotiate first have been anything but fruitful. The problem is not that the US has not courted Iran, but rather the opposite, that Iran is stubbornly mute when other nations attempt to reach out. The US, under multiple administrations, has offered wide-open talks with Iran ever since 1979, but each US attempt to compromise has been met with Iranian rebuffs and excuses. Even the most recent October 1 “deal” struck by the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Iran–to have Iran export 75 percent of her enriched uranium to another country in exchange for fuel–has fallen flat due to Iranian stalling tactics. President Obama’s pure negotiation track is playing right into the hands of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is trying to draw out talks with the US and her allies to avoid sanctions while his centrifuges produce more than six pounds of enriched uranium a day. The talks also restore legitimacy to the shaky regime and give cover to Khamanei’s Revolutionary Guard, which brutally cracks down on the opposition “green movement.” Without credible de-

The Chariot

The Life The Great Outdoors Aaron Guggenheim Co Editor-in-Chief

Some of the best times in my life have been outdoors. Whether I was on a run with friends or just out and alone by myself, being outdoors has always held a special allure for me. The better parts of it are captivatingly beautiful and free from everything that consumes our everyday lives. There are no computers whirring or phones ringing, but instead, everything in suburbia is replaced by a wonderful simplicity that you can’t find elsewhere. I believe wholeheartedly that what I have seen and experienced while outside is a thousand times better than what you can see on your high-definition plasma screen television screen. The whole point is to urge you to get outside this coming Christmas break. Visit the national parks, as their beauty might not remain intact forever. Even if you don’t leave the area, you can still venture outside. In the Palo Alto area alone, there are over a half-dozen beautiful openspace preserves, complete with dirt trails and a good helping of nature. So please, get on your bike, go for a run or whatever; just try some good old-fashioned outdoors. You just might like it.

December 2009

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Gunn Update

A Creature Most Loved Robert Chen Co Editor-in-Chief You’ve seen them before, lurking in the shadows after class, waiting to pounce on your unsuspecting teachers. The bell rings, the class files out, and the point-grubbers are the only ones left. “I was wondering” or “could you help me,” they begin. Ah, but it’s just a façade. What the point grubbers truly want is to milk those few extra points from the teacher’s conscience, to guilttrip the teacher into silencing the irritating flurry of interrogatives. They weasel their way to a better grade, one point at a time. They begin politely at first. But all too often, the point-grubbers escalate to subtle condescension, patronizing the teachers’ intelligence. They think, “Of course I’m right because after all, why would I be wrong?” Why point-grub? Some say it’s for their honor; better to grub than to be one. Others do it for grades, since the ends always justify the means. Many have made it habit. They reason that by consistently pestering their teachers, in the future the teachers will pay extra attention whilst grading just to rid themselves of the point-grubbers. Whatever the reason, the pointgrubbers continue their noble pursuit for grade justice, one test at a time. We need to admire these esteemed creatures and follow their technique, because only then can we receive the A’s we deserve.

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terrence, Iran will pretend to cooperate while pursuing her military nuclear program and hiding from international scrutiny, as evidenced by the recent discovery of the seven year old covert Qom facility. But what stick should President Obama wield? Certainly not that of military strikes–they would give the Iranian regime massive support, not only among the Iranian people, but throughout the Arab world and trigger pro-Iranian insurgent groups all across the Middle East. And according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, strikes would only set back, not fully eliminate, the Iranian nuclear program, meaning a big price tag for a precious little delay. Internationally coordinated sanctions, however, could be the answer, not the broad, crippling sanctions that many call for. Instead, the US and UN Security Council should specifically target the powerful regime, Iranian banks, Revolutionary Guard and other entities that support the nuclear program (the same organizations that are in power). Not only would this capture the benefits of general sanctions in discouraging the nuclear program and upholding international credibility in deterrence, but it would also have minimal economic impact on ordinary Iranians. In this approach, talks would actually produce results with the international community holding the threat of sanctions if the Iranian regime were to go back on her promises as she does now. While sanctions have had limited effect in the past due to Russian and Chinese hindrance, the political climate now, after international ire at Iran over the failed October deal, is favorable for broad UN sanctions. Even Iranian opposition leaders are on board and are “starting to see value in [sanctions],” according to recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Now is the time to commit to a sanctions-talks approach. Of course, many factors including potential Russian and Chinese opposition, the shifting economy, political intrigue within the Iranian regime and US ability to get the international community on board complicate the situation, making

sanctions far from a silver bullet solution. But they would raise the costs of Iranian subterfuge and keep the Iranian regime accountable, a welcome departure from the status quo failed policies. A nagging question remains–what happens if sanctions fail, and Iran does obtain the bomb? This brings up the second flawed assumption in Iran policy–that Iran will suddenly become drastically more dangerous the day she gets a nuclear weapon. Politicians and the media love to exaggerate the Iranian threat, but the reality is that the Middle East has hosted nuclear weapons for decades and that the nine nations in the nuclear club include already antagonistic former and current pairs of enemies such as the United States and Russia, and India and Pakistan. Given historical precedent, it is dubious that Iran would suddenly provoke conventional or nuclear warfare. Moreover, Israeli deterrence, as well as the long-existent threat of mutually assured destruction, will keep Iranian leaders from even contemplating the use or proliferation of these weapons to terrorists. Knowing that Israel has a massive arsenal of 200 or so active warheads, we should not panic if Iran is even able to get one. Deterrence has worked with mass murderers like Stalin and short-sighted dictators like Kim Jong-Il; it will certainly work with the carefully plotting Supreme Leader Khamenei and his fellow autocrats who are currently trying to calculate how to best hold onto power. Plus, when we consider this politically unstable, Third World, international pariah with a hurting economy and less military influence than is often assumed, the threat posed by even a nuclear-armed Iran is less than it is often made out to be. And it is not even clear that Iran is close to a nuclear weapon. While Iran has clearly been trying to obtain one with all of her centrifuges and hidden facilities, the multistage development and technology necessary for the nuclear bomb need a lot more than mere attempts. Hyping up the Iranian threat gives Iran more leverage in negotiations and more power in international public opinion than she deserves, hurting US strategy in coun-


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tering Iranian intentions. By removing this assumption, President Obama can get better concessions from Iran in other areas such as sponsorship of terrorism, political freedoms, fair elections and oil politics. Of course it is better that Iran not have nuclear weapons, which is why we should enact internationally coordinated, specifically tailored sanctions against the Iranian leadership to complement negotiations. However, in pursuing a sanctions-talks approach, we need to keep in mind the real size of the Iranian threat and play our cards accordingly.

Grow Up, California Sam Neff Contributing Writer Anyone watching the news over the past year knows California has budget issues. Heck, take a sample of ten Californiarelated headlines from the past three years, and my guess is more than half of them would star our dysfunctional legislature and its inability to get a budget passed sooner than four months beyond the constitutional deadline. Californian voters are fully aware that their government is failing them, with our legislature at 13% approval and our Governorator at below 28%. A recent Field Poll designed by political scientists from Stanford, Berkeley, and Cal State Sacramento shows that the majority of Californian voters believe that radical changes are needed in our state government. That’s actually a pattern in California. Voters here really love big, radical changes. It’s voter fervor that passed term limits, the 2/3 vote budget/tax requirements, Prop 13’s property tax limits and it is voter fervor that kicked out Gray Davis in favor of a movie star. At this point, restructuring is California’s knee-jerk reaction to trouble—big, radical changes with exciting results and consequences that take decades to develop. In fact, almost all of California’s current troubles can be traced back to those old propositions.

The 2/3 vote requirement to pass a budget or tax is a clear player in our modern troubles, where a 1/3 minority can hold a budget hostage until they get their way. Term limits force an eternal rotation of legislators, leading to a lack of experience in forging compromises, as well as an eternal election campaign encouraging politicians to remain beholden to interest groups for funding and support. Three strikes and other minimumsentence laws overfill our prisons and sap the budget tens of thousands of dollars per year per inmate. Proposition 13 has been a bonanza for corporate property holders, while the state and local governments, particularly schools, have been starved of much-needed revenues. Yet, Californian voters remain blissfully unaware that things like Prop 13 and the 2/3 vote requirement are why their schools are failing, or that term limits lead to inexperienced legislators and deadlock in legislature, or that 3-strikes has forced our prison system into humiliating Federal receivership. In fact, the same Field Poll shows that the majority reject changes to these areas or any of the others that experts recommend fixing—experts whose jobs hang on knowing how to fix a government. Of course, there is a bigger problem of basic math. Californians want a world-class university system. We want national and state parks that are the envy of the nation and environmental protections at the forefront of the world. But we don’t want to pay for them—we want to pay the same dollar amount in taxes that we paid back in the 1980s. These are two irreconcilable desires. Kimberly Nadler, associate professor of government at Cal State Sacramento and coauthor of the Field Poll, put it well:

Caliwho hires a personal trainer in order to get in shape and lose weight, but tells her first thing, ‘There are two things I refuse to do: I won’t exercise, and I won’t eat less.” Six months later, when we are asked if we ‘approve’ of personal trainers, we’re livid. Look at us! We can barely climb a flight of stairs! We’ve gained weight. We need to throw those personal trainer bums out!

This have-it-all philosphy is why disapproval rates are so high. Schools are failing, DMV lines are enormous, the prisons are overflowing, and the only people to blame are the ones forced to balance our tax cuts with our increased services: the politicians. We’re also simply confused. The Field Poll asked if people believed that the State could continue to provide services at the same high level while cutting $25 billion. 57%, a huge majority, thought that it was possible simply through eliminating waste and inefficiency. It’s not. $25 billion is more than a quarter of the General Fund—more than twice what we spend on community colleges, CSU, and UC combined. One huge recent budget gimmick, monthly 3-day statewide worker furloughs, was good for only $1.3 billion. There are no easy fixes. What’s perhaps scarier is one basic knowledge question asked by the Field Poll about Proposition 13, the “Property Tax Revolution”. The poll simply asked whether Prop 13’s tax cuts applied to residential property, corporate property, or both. College dropouts were most likely to get the right answer—that both were protected. People with four-year degrees were the most likely demographic to get it wrong—and believe that it was residential only. Prop. 13 handed corporate property-owners an immense tax break that our schools are finally starting to feel, and voters don’t realize that school funding went straight to corporate America. California has two real options, right now. We can continue to believe that there is $25 billion of free money in the budget, we can continue to believe that Prop. 13 has no bearing on failing schools, we can continue to believe that California is special and that we can have something for nothing. Or we can start restructuring the state government and eliminate the root causes of our yearly budget debacles. We can revise or repeal many of the worst offenders, Prop. 13, Three Strikes, the 2/3 majority, and other initiative-passed ‘reforms’. We can start seeing the consequences of combinations of initiatives that mandate we spend beyond our means. For that to happen, we, John Q. Public, have to get smart and grow up. December 2009

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ACADEMIC PRESSURE AT GUNN

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WHEN YOU FEEL ACADEMICALLY PRESSURED, WHO DO YOU FIRST TALK TO? Total (84)

Brittany Cheng Graphics/Layout

Results from Academic Pressure Survey on inClass

(Number in parenthesis equals number of students who answered the question)

Teacher 2%

COURSE LOAD

Rate your course load on a scale from 1 - 10, with 5 being a typical Gunn student’s course load and 1 being the heaviest course load. Grade 9 4.09 Grade 10 4.70 Grade 11 4.53 Grade 12 3.78

Counselor 1% Siblings 1%

FACTORS OF ACADEMIC PRESSURE Ranked in order of influence Grade 9 (18) 1. Parents & Cultural Pressure 2. Teachers & Course Load 3. Peers/CollegeBoard Stress 4. College Admissions

Grade 11 (23) 1. Peers/College Board Stress 2. Teachers & Course Load 3. College Admissions 4. Parents & Cultural Pressure

Grade 10 (7) 1. Teachers & Course Load 2. Peers/CollegeBoard Stress 3. College Admissions 4. Parents & Cultural Pressure

Grade 12 (28) 1. College Admissions 2. Peers/CollegeBoard Stress 3. Parents & Cultural Pressure 4. Teachers & Courseload

No One 23%

OVERALL (76) 1. Parents & Cultural Pressure 2. Teachers & Courseload 3. Peers/College Board Stress 4. College Admissions

Peers 55% Parents 18%

10 WAYS TO ALLEVIATE LONG-TERM ACADEMIC PRESSURE

Ranked in order of effectiveness, results from all grades (49) 7. Educating parents about Gunn’s course load 1. Shifting emphasis from grades to learning 8. Limiting the number of advanced courses a 2. Reducing the importance of tests on grades student can take per year 3. Lightening the nightly homework load 9. More open discussion of grades with peers 4. Reducing test difficulty 5. More frequent individual meetings with teach- 10. Teachers keeping grades completely confidential (not putting them on the wall) ers and students 6. More frequent meetings with counselors to discuss academic workload

FOR THE MAJORITY OF STUDENTS, IS THE ACADEMIC PRESSURE AT GUNN “WORTH IT” WITH REGARDS TO SUCCESS LATER IN LIFE? Total (64)

YOUR ACADEMIC PRESSURE COMPARED TO A TYPICAL GUNN STUDENT

Ranked on a scale of 1-10, 1: most pressured, 10: least pressured Typical Gunn student’s academic pressure Your academic pressure Grade 9 (21) 3.57 Grade 9 (21) 4.52 Grade 10 (8) 3.34 Grade 10 (8) 4.25 Grade 11 (26) 3.86 Grade 11 (26) 4.40 Grade 12 (30) 3.23 Grade 12 (30) 3.93 Total (85) 3.52 Total (85) 4.25 8

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Unsure 34% Yes 56% No 10%

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THE INS AND OUTS OF EDUCATION The Chariot

Survey Results Demystified Miyabi Ishihara & Yichen Yang Discovery Through Statistics Club The impact of academic pressure, inevitable in a highly competitive school like Gunn, varies from person to person. Through an InClass academic-pressure survey, 100 Gunn students participated by ranking their pressure level, cause of pressure, and ways to alleviate it. Over half of the Gunn students think that academic pressure at Gunn is “worth it” with regards to success later in life, about 30% are unsure, and about 10% disagree. Level of Academic Pressure Students rated their academic pressure on a scale from 1-10, in which 1 represents most pressure, 5 represents average pressure for U.S. high schoolers, and 10 represents least pressure. About 80% of Gunn students think that they are more academically pressured than average U.S. high schoolers. Interestingly, most people think other Gunn students feel more academically pressured than themselves (students rated themselves as having academic pressure of level 4.25 and others as having 3.52). However, more than half of the students rated their course load as heavier than average Gunn students’. Seniors (3.76), in the November college admission frenzy, have the heaviest course load. Interestingly, freshmen (4.09) have the second heaviest course load, which may reflect the difficulty of transition from middle school. 10

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Factors of academic pressures in order Though there is no significant difference among the pressure levels of the four grade levels, students in each grade have surprisingly different factors of academic pressure. Parents and cultural pressure were freshman’s greatest sources, while teachers and course load were those for sophomores, peers and College Board stress for juniors, and college admissions for seniors. Overall, parents and cultural pressure cause most Gunn students to feel pressured. When you feel academically pressured, who do you first talk to? There was not any significant trend difference between each grade level. It is important to note that almost one in four students do not talk to anyone about their academic pressure. Also, students demonstrate a surprisingly low level (2%) of initial communication with their teachers. 10 Possible Ways to Alleviate LongTerm Academic Pressure - Ranking Students in all grade ranked these in a very similar order. Notice that the top four solutions pertain to changes in the current grading system. Instead of establishing more friendly interaction with teachers, counselors, and peers, most students want their work load to get lighter. Many think that keeping confidential grades, having open discussion of grades with peers, and limiting the number of advanced courses are low priorities.

We’re Not Over-Pressured Kevin Zhang Contributing Writer Throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, California and the entire nation, Gunn High School is viewed as a distinguished institution, one of the premier high schools in the United States. Gunn has proven its excellence and has consistently produced high academic results on test scores across the board. It also boasts exemplary extracurricular programs and tremendously successful athletics, with the most individual female titles in the Central Coast Section. However, with these high achievements come high expectations, leading to stress and the inevitable debate over whether or not Gunn students are overpressured. Pressure at Gunn is ubiquitous. Most students agree that it can be overwhelming at times. However, we students are not overpressured for several reasons. First of all, this pressure is justified and will be beneficial in our futures. Many students at Gunn strive to one day become leaders or successful members of society–doctors, lawyers, professors, entrepreneurs, politicians and the like. These professions demand an inordinate amount of dedication, skill and pressure to deliver. Here at Gunn, we are trained to deliver results promptly and successfully, a skill necessary if we are to achieve the professions of our dreams. Gunn’s training consists of numerous assignments, projects and exams that, while causing uncomfortable stress, also make us better prepared for our future jobs where we will be re-


quired to perform at a high level consistently–the same standard set by Gunn exams. Therefore, this stress is justified and will make us better prepared for the future. Secondly, the rigorous academic courses can be avoided at our own discretion. Advanced Placement and Honors courses, often the biggest stressors at Gunn, are chosen by students and not required by the school. While certain courses are necessary for graduation and college, these courses are only required because educators believe that they are necessary to develop adolescents into successful and morally sound citizens. In contrast, the advanced courses are often taken by students due to what they cite as peer and adult pressure. But if we feel like we are overpressured by advanced classes, then it is our duty to rise above the pressure and to pick and choose only the advanced classes that appeal to our thirst for knowledge and love for learning. We cannot just sit back, feel overwhelmed and blame the school for overpressuring us. If we feel overloaded, then it is our job to do what we feel is best and ignore what others around us are doing or pushing us to do. In summary, we must strive to look at Gunn’s admittedly stressful situation in a more positive light. We must treat education as a golden opportunity to learn and develop our skills. The “pressure” that we feel should not be viewed as an overwhelming and disturbing force, but rather as a way to refine and establish our skills necessary for our futures. If we feel like we are overpressured, we must communicate with our peers, parents and teachers in order to alleviate our stress. We must continue to believe in our school, our program and our futures. We must have faith that the pressure will pass and that it will ultimately be a good thing.

The big three

High Pressure Problems Ian Wilkes Contributing Writer As the school year advances, students, primarily those in the 11th and 12th grades, become more and more concerned about their achievements and intelligence. Many of these fears are due to the impending college application process, the results of which will eventually determine one’s choices for higher education. Here at Gunn, students are expected to meet excessive standards set by educators, parents, and themselves. From the beginning of high school we are encouraged to set ourselves on a course to be as appealing to colleges as possible, and in many cases, this means taking an unrealistic number of honors or advanced placement classes. For example, many juniors are expected to take AP US History, AP Biology, and also Analysis, for the sole reasons that they are high level classes, and will cause people to stand out come time for colleges to look at them. Many of these students are wasting both their time, and the time of their teachers, for if they are not genuinely interested in the subject, they are making it harder for the teachers—teachers who are required to deal with students who are attempting to achieve a certain grade as opposed to those who are trying to learn and understand a subject. While students have an obligation to take only the classes which they are interested in, the culture and competitiveness of Gunn cause people to either be peerpressured into taking classes they are not interested in, or believe that they need to take difficult classes in order to get into college. In order to be a successful student, you must be interested in the subjects you are taking to fully take in the knowledge. Unfortunately, there is a perceived expectation that you must get an A in all of your classes and maintain a 4.0 GPA, which causes many students to become stressed out over small parts of classes, when they should really be focusing on the big picture. After high school, once in col-

The Chariot

lege, whether you had a B or an A makes very little difference. The important part of school is learning and experiencing new things, not the grades earned in class. As well as strenuous classes, the Gunn environment makes students feel as if they must score extremely highly on their standardized tests such as APs or SATs. Regularly there are reminders from the college and career center that we should be taking a practice or mock SAT almost once a month, in addition to SAT preparation classes, an unrealistic demand on our time, which in many cases causes us to become nervous as opposed to being prepared. The competitive environment around Gunn not only affects the academics of Gunn’s students, it also causes us to become involved in many extracurricular activities. While it is good that the administration encourages activities other than schoolwork, people become involved in many activities for the sole purpose of putting them on their transcript. This pressures many students into activities against their interests, which can cause the amount of work expected of a student, and therefore the stress level of the student to be greatly increased. This attitude also discourages students from finding the activities which fit them best because they feel obligated to do activities most recognized by colleges. In many cases, the Gunn student body is seen as a group of geniuses, all of whom take numerous AP and honors classes and only get A’s. This stereotype is one of the many reasons why many Gunn students feel that they are inadequate, for almost nobody fits the perfect example which has somehow circulated as the base standard of a Gunn student. While the vast majority of Gunn students are hardworking and intelligent people, not everyone is a genius and those who feel like they are underachieving based on this stereotype feel as if they are letting down the reputation of Gunn and their own expectations of themselves. Many students become distraught that they are not part of top percentages of Gunn, but they fail to realize that the bottom 25% of Gunn students is still above 75% of the nation as a whole. Simply beDecember 2009

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ing a Gunn student sets one above the American average. Just the other day, I heard one of my fellow students say, “If I get a C, I won’t get into college.” This misconception is caused by the abnormal distribution of grades at Gunn. In most schools there is a normal bell pattern for grades, with the majority of students getting C’s, equal numbers of B’s and Ds, and then again equal F’s and A’s. At Gunn, this curve has shifted over, and many more students get A’s in their classes, and those who don’t see themselves as a minority, and as less intelligent people, which causes depression and stress. The drive to take difficult classes, do many extracurricular activities, and score well on standardized tests causes Gunn students to be under extreme pressure and have high workloads, one of the negative effects of which is that Gunn students get less sleep than what is recommended for high school students. Developing adolescents are supposed to have at minimum 8 hours of sleep each night, preferably 10 hours. Most students I asked slept between 6 and 7 hours per night, far below the amount advised by doctors. Research conducted by the WinstonSalem State University has shown that children and adolescents who do not sleep enough are more likely to develop behavioral problems and become overweight. Growth hormone is only secreted during our sleep, so those who sleep less are prone to develop weaker bones and take longer to build muscle mass and heal after being injured. Also, sleep is the time when the body stores the information it has learned in the past day, and organizes memories for long term storage. While sleeping, stress in the body is relieved, so by getting less sleep, students have higher anxiety, which causes them to be less successful. Gunn creates an environment of impossible expectations, and one which causes students to be under a high amount of pressure to achieve. Many of Gunn’s students become stressed and are pressured into attempting to be something other than what they are, and as a result are anxious, forced to try to achieve high 12

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test scores which two years later will mean nothing. This atmosphere of peer, administrative, and parent pressure causes students to take classes they do not enjoy, and forces teachers to attempt to teach students not interested in the classes they are taking, which results in a worse quality of education of those students who truly enjoy being in those classes. Because the apparent level of education at Gunn is extremely high, individuals suffer because their classes are unorganized and do not reflect their wishes for the future.

All for this?

The Missing Fix Robert Chen Co Editor-in-Chief America’s education system is broken and in need of repair. In the past decades, we’ve seen ourselves fall behind in the common educational indicators, from math to reading to science. According to eighth grade math scores from 2007, we rank ninth in the world behind Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary, England and Russia. We rank 9th in the world in, behind Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary, England, and Russia according to eighth grade math scores from 2007. It’s the same deal with science, where

amongst eighth graders in 2007, we rank eleventh behind Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, England, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hong Kong and Russia. We’re doing even worse with reading. Based on the 2006 data on fourth grade reading literacy scores, we rank a dismal fifteenth. We’re behind Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Latvia. Money is not the problem here. In fact, the United States spends a ridiculous amount of money per secondary school student, only ahead of Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway according to the 2005 statistics. The 10,390 dollars per student we spend is well ahead of Japan’s 7,908 dollars, South Korea’s 6,645 dollars, Sweden’s 8,198 dollars, England’s 7,167 dollars and Denmark’s 9,407 dollars, yet we’re performing worse than they. Once the pinnacle of education greatness, our system has fallen into disrepair. We’ve simply thrown more money at the problem, but that clearly hasn’t helped. Why? Our old system hasn’t adapted to the challenges of the 21st century. The world is flattening and becoming more fluid. Companies work globally, communicating across time zones and language barriers. They can pick and choose from the best candidates across the globe, which levels the playing field. In order to compete, today’s working adult not only needs better skills, but more of them. More skills come from longer schooling, and better skills come from improved schooling. We need to look again at what the 21st century employer needs in an educated adult, teach these vital skills in a more fluid education system and cement those improvements by changing the culture of education in America. Re-evaluate 21st century needs What skills do today’s global worker need? Instead of the theoretical and abstract, which generally only the academia deals with, we need more practical skills


The Chariot

and experience. Workers’ knowledge goes to waste if they do not know how to apply the material to the projects at hand or to even work with others on them. “Soft skills” are lumped together into a single set of important skills. These soft skills, which are most needed in the workplace today, include communication, critical thinking, writing, teamwork and organization. In today’s global economy, being able to communicate ideas and collaborate with other human beings is paramount. Other necessary abilities deal with personal control and management, such as organization, diligence and determination. Like the soft skills, these are important in every career and beyond the workplace. By developing these skills in addition to the normal curriculum, schools can prepare students for the real world, not just the theoretical. In addition, by building these, schools teach how to react to any situation and how to think. Many companies and universities recognize the need for experience and offer both paid and unpaid internships. However, the most valuable positions are only so limited because they take away from positions to fully qualified adults. To expand the available options, schools need to offer more hands-on classes such as Biotechnology, Auto Technology, Engineering Technology (Gunn Robotics Team), Advanced Journalism (Oracle) and Graphic Publication (Olympian) here at Gunn as well as encourage students to take them. The commonality amongst these classes is that students work together to create a physical product, seldom the case in other courses. It’s not the final product that matters, but the teamwork involved and application of learned material that make these courses so valuable. After having experience, students can better determine their career interests. They can figure out what they enjoy doing, what they dislike and what they have a knack for. It gives students a head-start on working and holding a job. Because of the collaboration involved, these classes not only build the practical skills that are directly used in the work-

place, but also soft and personal control skills. By using these courses as a segue to develop these skills, schools can maximize the effect of education. Building the soft skills takes practice in situations where they are used, for example, in group collaborations, presentations and applied projects. In many schools, the classes are too focused on the tangible— the test results, the grades and the percentiles—to care about developing the soft skills. Here at Gunn, more classes, most importantly the required courses such as World History, Contemporary World, US Government, Biology, Chemistry and the various English classes should work towards emphasizing collaboration, applying concepts and presenting thoughts in addition to the testing that is already done. In doing so, Gunn will encourage development of these traits. The personal control skills are built up over time not just in school, but also in extracurricular activities. When we are held accountable over our own coursework, projects, grades, and life, we are forced to develop control over ourselves. If parents hand-hold their children or teachers don’t trust students, the students lose the opportunity to expand these skills. It’s a shame that in today’s world, this is becoming all too common.

Make education more fluid Schools need to loosen graduation requirements, allowing students to choose for themselves. Who should decide what courses are necessary for “success” after high school? Picking on the UC requirements, I would argue that instead of four years of English and social studies, we need four years of science and math because of the increasing importance of technology. Others may say that we should take four years of arts in order to graduate because of how far today’s world has strayed from aesthetics. In addition, many schools have strict lanes determining a student’s progression in a subject. Not only does this take away from students’ choice in their own education, but sometimes the set tracks don’t work for certain students. For example, some students may learn better taking physics as freshmen, biology as sophomores, then chemistry as juniors. Others may learn best taking US history as freshmen and expanding outwards to US government and then world history. The current requirements and restrictions are arbitrary and determined based on what some people (the UC system and State of California) say they should be, not on real-world evidence. By lightening the per-subject requirements and instead only requiring a certain number of semester credits total to graduate, schools allow students to adapt their classes to their own needs. In making the system as flexible as possible, schools cover as many students’ needs as possible while not degrading teaching quality. Additionally, schools would also encourage students to delve into what courses interest them instead of what others tell them to take. Not only will this increase interest in the courses taken and retention of knowledge, but it will prevent students from being pressured into taking courses beyond their ability. As reflected by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act that was enacted in 2002, our system is becoming more rigid. We’re administered barrages of standardized tests, off of which the schools are December 2009

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allocated money depending on students’ proficiency. The problems with this are numerous. Firstly, the tests do not and cannot check the soft and personal control skills mentioned earlier. By not testing for the most important skills, it encourages teachers to just teach for the test, skimping on untested skills. The standardized testing narrows the curriculum, preventing students from exploring alternative subjects of interest. Secondly, in attempting to standardize students, NCLB stifles the overachievers. Because the act only measures improvement, schools’ best course of action is to set expectations lower. Because schools only have to ensure that all students meet the minimum, they do not have reasons to spend money on programs for the high performers. Thirdly, it shortchanges those who learn differently. Because of the standardized testing, NCLB forces all children to fit the mold of the high-achieving testtaker. However, not every student is like that, and NCLB fails to account for it. This one-size-fits-all model distracts schools from reforms to improve education for those different learners because they have no incentive to invest money in the improvements needed. Finally, it harms schools that are already in need. By labeling schools as “failing,” NCLB places stigmas that keep highly qualified teachers away. Since NCLB cuts funds to the schools that are deemed “failing,” it makes it even harder for those schools to return to high standards. No Child Left Behind has clear disadvantages, but the basic idea of reward based on improvement is sound. By reworking NCLB to be more flexible, many of these problems can be circumvented. By increasing the variety and material tested as well as the types of tests administered, NCLB can be formatted to keep school curricula from narrowing and instead assess soft and personal control skills. Schools should be recognized for their gifted and talented to encourage funding for programs for them. NCLB should provide schools incentives to invest 14

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in improving education for the students who learn differently. Also, it should work directly with the “failing” schools to fix the downward spiral before it even begins.

Yeah, right Emphasize education culturally We students dislike school; it’s that simple and bleak. According to data from 2000, 35 percent of school-going children dislike school and 61 percent find school boring here in the United States. An indicator of this is our low graduation rate: 2007 Graduation Rates Denmark Japan Poland Germany Finland Switzerland Czech Republic France Belgium Ireland Slovakia United States Sweden Iceland

96% 93% 92% 92% 91% 88% 85% 85% 79% 76% 73% 72% 71% 70%

We students have gotten so accustomed to our excellent education that we take it for granted. Instead of learning because of our own interests, we learn for the grades, tests and because it is expected of us. To change this requires a shift in cultural emphasis on education, which takes effort from everyone: students, parents and teachers. We students need to learn to seize our education and learn because we want to. For example, at the high school level, we should take only classes of personal inter-

est, not what peers are taking. We need to connect and relate to the curriculum, exploring what it means to us. Parents should encourage their children to learn what they want to and to carry their interests beyond the classroom. They should give their children more choice in academic and extracurricular pursuits to delve into the subjects that interest them. Teachers should emphasize learning and comprehension in addition to grades. This can be done in several ways, from creating an environment that encourages participation and interaction or by explicitly connecting the curriculum to each student. By relating every concept to the big picture, teachers can keep students’ interest high and the material applicable. Not only should secondary education be emphasized, but tertiary (community college, vocation school, two and four-year college) should be as well. Students need to understand the importance of continuing education past high school; there are clear wage benefits and security advantages to learning more:

In addition, the government needs to extend financial aid to accommodate more students desirous of higher education. Who qualifies and how much they can receive should be made clearer. Students in low-income and poverty-stricken areas should be rewarded for continuing their education past high school. In summary To improve America’s schools, we need to focus on the skills needed in today’s world. Nowadays, we students need experience, soft skills and personal control. To promote these abilities, schools need to offer more hands-on courses and encour-


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age students to take them, increase projects and collaboration in all courses, and increase responsibility placed on students. In addition, the entire education system needs to become more fluid to allow for more individual choice in the process. This can be done by relaxing graduation requirements and reworking the No Child Left Behind Act, both of which contribute to this rigid structure. By giving students more control over their education, schools encourage them to learn because they want to and not because someone told them to. Students, parents and teachers all need to contribute to make education more meaningful. In addition, the government needs to step in by increasing the financial availability of higher education.

specifically require SAT scores for an applicant to be seriously considered for admission. Thus, there is no choice for college-bound students but to take the SAT to compete for admission to certain colleges. In forcing students to take the SAT, the College Board has orchestrated an inescapable system that extorts money from college-bound students. There is a myriad of College Board exams and related services for which the average student can incur expenses. The SAT reasoning test, the subject tests, AP tests, late registration fees, college grade reports–the list goes on and on.

Seize Your Life Mr. Casey O’Connell Guest Writer

American education needs immediate improvement. Although you can’t change the situation directly, you can convince those who can to. Spread the word, take a stand and talk about it. We’ll need all the help we can get.

College Board Sarah Zubair Senior Editor The College Board: the very name inspires a tumult of sentiments in students. It is a safe generalization to make that few of those feelings are positive ones. Anxiety, resentment and outright dislike are just a few, and for good reason: if someone were to believe that her life was ruled by a multi-million dollar organization, she probably would not be very kindly disposed toward that corporate entity. And that is just what the College Board does. The College Board takes advantage of students’ desire to attain a higher education, wringing as much monetary profit out of them as possible in the process. The College Board practically runs a monopoly over college admissions. Most colleges require some form of standardized test for a student to apply. Although the ACT is another option, many colleges

Board made $582.9 million and spent only $527.8 million, making a profit of $55.1 million. A non-profit organization making a profit; this oxymoron would be amusing were the situation less grave. When a multi-million dollar organization dominates students’ pursuit of a higher education, it is obvious that people have lost sight of what is really important. The College Board’s stranglehold over higher education must be broken to give equal opportunities to all students based on academic merit.

The industry standard Perhaps the largest expense–for SAT tutoring and classes–stems from the students’ own desire to succeed on the standardized tests. These classes, which can cost thousands of dollars, drain from students’ financial resources which should be used to save up for college. The College Board has turned access to higher education into a multi-million dollar industry. The College Board advertizes itself as a non-profit organization, so one assumes that all money entering the corporation exits in a manner that goes to benefit high school students. But according to the consumer rights organization Americans for Educational Testing Reform, many of its executives’ salaries are over $300,000 per year. Additionally, in 2006 the College

The Class of 2010 has made its mark. You have spent your formative years shattering expectations, setting and resetting the bar, and inspiring your parents and teachers along the way with your brilliance, optimism, and tireless dedication. Your accomplishments are unprecedented and overwhelming. They are being poured out into essays and application forms and sent off to colleges and universities, where they will efficiently be pre-screened. Some applications will be eliminated with little or no scrutiny. Many of your beautiful, soulbaring essays will never get read. In this swift and non-deliberative fashion, most of you will be rejected by your top choice institutions. It is a mathematical certainty. Let this sink in. Thus transpires a seemingly arbitrary game of digits and demographics. It plays out in a tawdry tango between your wishes and their needs, your beliefs and their convenient assumptions. When the smoke clears, your gender will have mattered as much as your GPA. Your SAT scores will have been taken into as much consideration as your hometown. A gifted athlete will probably have stood a greater chance than a gifted student. One subject strength will have mattered at some schools more than another. A unique personality trait may have struck your interviewer either as disturbing or amazing. Some of you have December 2009

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already been eliminated or solidified as a choice, and you don’t even know it. Almost none of your current application anxiety will influence this outcome. Luck, chance and circumstance will ultimately govern whether or not your three and a half years of character growth and personal evolution gets considered. It is splayed out distortedly on paper like an impressionist painting just begging to be misinterpreted, for better or for worse, through the lens of complete strangers who will never fully know your passion and promise. Like you, they are human. The only difference is that they have made more mistakes. The ideal balance between excellence and imperfection eludes anyone who ever drew a breath. One year from now, most of you will be thriving at a school – big or small, expensive or affordable – that would have accepted you even with unpolished essays and fewer AP classes. At exactly the same time, an institution elsewhere will be a lesser place because they rejected you and accepted somebody else. How could this ever truly be foreseen? It is improbable. Impersonal. Imperfect to the core. Today’s blurry snapshot of your life will have evolved into something completely different. All judgments and verdicts soon to come are therefore as potentially inconsequential as they are blind. It all depends on your perspective. You are left with some important choices. Take the outcome to heart or carry on gracefully as you always have. Define success or let others define it for you. Love yourself or love what you wish you were. Let rejection hurt you, or embrace it as a necessary rite of passage. Be brave or be fearful of change. Decide to be happy, or let the circumstances decide for you. With the right attitude and a lot of courage, you can distill happiness from just about anything. What is happiness anyway? I dare you to contemplate this as you mail off five, six, or perhaps twelve applications. I dare you to stand up to the scary misperception that a handful of universities own a patent on churning out greatness. I dare you to take charge of who you become, no matter what happens to you. I dare you. 16

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Paranormal Activity Ryan Lee Contributing Writer

Photo: Aki Kobashi

Class of 2007

Photo: Tammy Hsu

Class of 2008

?

Photo: Hadas Moalem

Class of 2009

Class of 2010?

There is a time-honored tradition of “things that go bump in the night” movies. Paranormal Activity, directed by Oren Peli and armed with a budget under $15,000, scares us in the same ways that we have been scared for 50 years: flickering lights, slamming doors, ominous footsteps, and haunted Ouija boards. The plot is basic, which allows for simple scares that would be stock and cliché in a more commercial film. The young couple, Katie and Micah, lives in an apartment in San Diego. Katie has been spooked night after night by strange noises, so Micah buys a camera to record anything that happens during the night. The movie progresses as you might expect: cutting between the nights, when thumps, footsteps, and slamming doors are common, and the day scenes, when the characters analyze the footage, talk to psychics, and worry. The script is non-existent. Director Peli had most of the film improvised using basic guidelines, leading to a bland and mostly uninteresting dialogue. Yet the film works because of the high-tension night scenes, which instill fear in the audience by fading to the dark “night vision” shots. Although the first hour is not jumpout-of-your-seat scary, the slow, near Hitchcockian suspense is when the film shines. The slow buildup is nowhere near the scare the ads have promised (you have to wait until the last 5 minutes for that). My personal viewing experience may have made the movie even scarier: a late-night showing in a completely empty theatre. Regardless of how you watch it, Paranormal Activity is a very scary film. Director Peli stripped away all of the style, good dialogue, acting, and even good directing and brought the horror film down to its bare minimum: scary happenings in the middle of the night.


December 2009