Writing can be a type of self discovery, as you start writing your thoughts into a visible medium, and your flow of consciousness becomes apparent and can be reflected upon and also added to with new thoughts. It is a sort of learning process: you figure out how your brain organizes thoughts, and you try to decipher them into plain English so that you can share these ideas with others without having a physical presence in order to verbally explain it to someone. After researching about topics that have controversy in the world, I have realized the importance of this form of communication, as it is not everyday that we will have the chance to run into someone who has dedicated a generous amount of time researching a topic that they are passionate about. As a busy college student, I can agree that I would not put in hours of my own time to thoroughly research a topic- unless, of course, it were assigned through my Critical Thinking and Writing (CTW) course.
When I first came to Santa Clara University in September, I went through the usual freshmen routine: introduce yourself to anyone and everyone, hopefully trying to make a connection. Saying that I was from Hawai’i usually peaked people’s interest, which relieved me since I didn’t have to try very hard to engage in a conversation with someone. The conversations usually went something like: “You’re from Hawai’i? Wow, you’re so lucky. Are you from O’ahu?”
I always made sure to make it clear that I was from Maui. No, Honolulu is not an island. No, I’m not from Punahou or Iolani either (Punahou and Iolani High School are the biggest feeder schools from Hawai’i for SCU). Back home, every resident takes pride in where they live, whether it be the town they reside in or what island they are from. Despite coming from a tiny town that no one has heard of, the community that I was raised in has introduced me to understanding the importance of understanding an individual story.
Why did I want to leave a small island that has such natural beauty and great weather all year round? Many people are unaware of the issues Hawai’i faces as such a small isolated state, despite its vacation paradise. This lack of knowledge and awareness can lead to misunderstandings and a narrow minded approach to conflicts. My ideology of leaving my home state and unique culture was to learn as much as I could and not let the physical boundaries of an island become an obstacle to my education. Coming to SCU, I had to be ok with not speaking pidgin (hawaiian slang) all the time and being able to go to the beach with my friends on a whim. It was time for me to leave the easygoing, nonchalant lifestyle and simple ideologies behind and embark on the beginning of my future: no big deal, right?
But by going to college away from home, was I taking a leap of faith and being courageous, or was I actually just following the standard steps to being successful later in life? In both my CTW1 and CTW2 classes, we explored the idea of conformity that is exemplified through a highly systematic system through the topics of factory farming and the reasons behind the Columbine school shooting. To me, I find it confusing to try and fully convince someone that conformity is bad, because without laws or punishments, society in general would not be orderly and ruling systems would be corrupt. Yet, there are certain situations in which sticking to a system makes sense, while in others, trying to force a system upon someone will only push them to the point of no return: in the perspective of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, that meant violence.
In my second essay for my CTW1 class, I decided to write about how Monsanto’s presence on Maui has a negative impact on the community because it interferes with the pre-existing agriculture system. If you are not aware of what Monsanto is, it is a GMO manufacturing company that is typically criticized in the GMO debate (as exemplified in the food documentaries, Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives). Monsanto uses its Maui site to experiment with seeds, because the isolated location ensures a decreased chance of unusual cross breeding between plants.
Monsanto’s seed testing has affected Hawaiian crops in the past, such as the papaya. The GMO papaya was introduced in order be ringspot virus-free. Unfortunately, this backfired on the community because not only did it put local papaya farmers out of business due to the low cost of these GMO papayas, but the GMO seeds also cross contaminated with the organic, non-GMO seeds. Farms of non-GMO seeds were tested by Hawai’i SEED, a nonprofit organization and coalition of grassroots groups, farmers activists and community working to educate the public about the risks posed by GMOs and the results showed that these non-GMO farms became cross contaminated, despite being miles away from the GMO farm sites (Papaya). Monsanto’s GMO seeds spread to other local papaya plants, interfering with the plants of local farmers who thought they were growing natural papayas the entire time.
The islands of Hawai’i were naturally formed, so many people of Maui believe that the agriculture of the island should coincide with the creation of the island as well. With such a rich cultural background, the preservation of the land is extremely important to Hawaiians because of the symbolism which the land holds in the culture. ‘Aina, the Hawaiian word for land, also means to eat, signifying the physical relationship between the people and the land they tend to; Hawaiians continue to see a “dynamic, intimate relationship in the reciprocal nature of caring for the land, as it cares for the people, much like a family bond” (Kana’iaupuni). This intimate relationship with the land was not only a Native Hawaiian ideology: in the second episode of season 2 of “Mind of a Chef”, Glenn Roberts, the owner and operator of Anson Mills, talks about his family “seed-saving”; they saved seeds from the crops on the family farm so that they would never completely lose their original crops (Bourdain).
This was important to Roberts because of he believed in the restoration and history of the plant; if the seeds were not kept pure and managed properly, the future life of the plant in 20 years would be uncertain (Bourdain). In the context of agriculture, many believe that sticking to the natural and usual way of growing plants is ideal.
In the context of education, rather than supporting students, conformity can alienate students who are not the “ideal” student to begin with. Most of the American education system now depends on numbers to scale how well a student is learning: grade point averages, SAT scores, ACT scores, etc. The ideal of group accountability over the individual is evident in the school environment by the enactment of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which sets a national proficiency standard for all students (GreatSchools). By setting a group standard and distinguishing schools based on the amount of students passing with proficient scores, school administrators tend to disregard a student’s individual achievement and rather focus on the group’s achievement. This is problematic due to the individual needs of every student, as demonstrated by Eric’s craving for attention and Dylan’s feelings of being alone. If the students are restricted to classes that do not interest them and are pressured to pass these classes, students may feel constrained when it comes to their educational outlets.
In the specific case of Dylan, he expressed his inner ideas through a creative essay. The essay was about a killer coming into the town and murdering all of the popular kids. His teacher, Judy Kelly, became alarmed by the content of the essay, and contacted the police department as well as his parents (Cullen 307-08). Dylan put off the essay as just another story.
Yet, his essay seemed to be a hopeful, unconscious way for him to reach out for mental help. Although Kelly did make an effort to look into the situation, it wasn’t enough to help Dylan with his depression and what would turn out to be a personality which would succumb to that of Eric’s action demanding persona. The creative essay was a hint to what was going on in his thoughts, but was not taken seriously by his parents or his guidance counselor (Cullen 308). The acceptance that the essay was “just a story”, as described by Dylan himself, shows the ignorance of his parents and the school counselor, the people who are supposed to be his main support system. Were the counselor to have had a preexisting trusting relationship with Dylan, what could have been a chance to intervene and support a depressed student turned out to be a missed opportunity.
This idea that what we perceive as our own decisions is actually part of a designed system is quite a lot to consider. The conformity in the education system is intriguing to me because I am currently a tiny piece of the system: I’m just another college student working towards a degree in order to obtain a stable job in life and have a sense of financial security. Classes like this CTW class have allowed me to take a step back and question what I am surrounded by and how I fit into the system. If we allow ourselves to go along in life without questioning the system we are living in, our society will become a dystopian novel brought to life. I, personally, get lost in my thoughts when thinking about these big ideas about society and in no way would ever be a great philosopher. But by taking what I learned and researched about in this class, like the harmful aspects of factory farming, and applying it to something familiar, such as where I grew up, I am able to reflect and appreciate my past experiences and how they have come to shape the way I think about these big ideas that have no definite answer.
Bourdain, Anthony, prod. Mind of A Chef: Seeds. PBS. N.d. Web.
Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.
GreatSchools Staff. “What the No Child Left Behind Law Means for Your Child.” GreatSchools. GreatSchools.org, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.<http://www.greatschools.org/improvement/quality-teaching/61-no-child-left-behind.gs?page=all>.
Kana’iaupuni, S.M. and N. Malone (forthcoming). This land is my land: The role of place in Native Hawaiian Identity. In Race, Ethnicity, and place in a changing America, ed. J. Frazier and E. Tetty-Fio, 291-305. New York: Global Press.
“Papaya.” Hawaii SEED. Hawaii SEED, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.