Zombie X Rises Again: Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, An Interview Part 2

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ZombieX-150x150Greetings zombie fans! Sorry for taking so long to finish this blog post. For the past couple months, I have been called back to the zombie factory (a.k.a. school) where I receive an average of three to four hours of homework every day that has been squeezing the creativity out of me. This includes mostly busy work such as worksheets and other work practically out of the textbook. My math teacher assigns the most mindless busy work. I think he was trained in the Arne Duncan School of Bureaucratic Education. Unfortunately, I haven’t received any stimulating work such as document based assignments like in Rob Gaudette’s, which was mentioned in my first blog. Homework based on worksheets is what’s killing my generation. I am afraid that there will never be another Steve Jobs as long as teachers keep assigning us mindless crap.

Although most students never get current events in class, several national events worth knowing about are happening since my last blog entry. One of the major events is the “Occupy Wall Street” movement where the “99%” of Americans are rising up against the extremely wealthy “1%”. Over the last almost 30 years, the incomes of the top 1% of Americans grew by an average of 275% or $700,000. During the same time period, for the bottom 90%, income has actually decreased by $900. Let’s see, if we continue that trend, my generation will probably move to Canada-but they will likely build a wall to keep us out. Last month, my dad and I went to Los Angeles to visit the occupiers and we were impressed with their numbers and perseverance.

Over the summer on Kelly Gallagher’s advice, I finished the classic novel, 1984 by George Orwell which talks about a futuristic dystopian world. Within the novel, Orwell uses a term called “doublespeak” meaning to have several meanings which can be used to manipulate others. According to Wikipedia, “Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., ‘downsizing’ for layoffs), making the truth less unpleasant, without denying its nature.” Unfortunately, Doublespeak is alive and well today. For example, I just heard the Congress, in an attempt to block Obama’s healthy school lunch initiative, has declared in a bill that pizza is a vegetable. Come on! I think they are doing that because junk food companies are probably making a ton of money from the schools. Next thing you know, they’ll be saying pepper spray is a vegetable. But what do I know? I am just a kid-and a zombie at that. Another example that really gets me angry is use of the term “Department of Defense.” Don’t we mean Department of War? War — you know, when we go into another country like Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. and kill a lot of civilians, children, and elderly people, all to protect our “democratic way of life.”

So now that we’re caught up with my life, I want to finish my series on great teachers. Last June, I interviewed Kelly Gallagher, an award winning teacher from Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California. Kelly is the author of several books including Readicide, which is about how schools are killing the love of reading because of all the testing. When I last left off, Kelly was telling me about the value of literature and writing and how I can learn about the world and myself through some of the greatest works of literature. “Great books have two purposes; they can be windows and they can be mirrors. Windows allow us to go anywhere and meet anybody in the world from Jesus to Adolf Hitler while mirrors let us look into ourselves to find out where we stand in the human chain.” It allows us to see how human we are. Zombies can’t do that.

In 6th grade, I read a book (on my own) called, The Hunger Games.  It has a lot of windows. I saw a horrible, evil, greedy world where the wealthy and extremely powerful took advantage of all the people for their own amusement and benefit. This is a window of what our world may become unless we do something about it.

Kelly Gallagher also said that, “We are preparing you (students) for a multiple choice test in an essay-based world.” I think that means that when the system constantly tests us through a multiple choice format (or infecting us with Solanum which is a zombie-creating virus), we are being taught that the real world is nothing but a multiple choice test. My principal unfortunately would probably agree. Remember, he was the one who gave us advice, “When in doubt, choose the letter C.” When I asked Kelly about his views towards the standardized tests he said that the test doesn’t value rich thinking, mainly in the form of writing. What he means by “thinking” is our ability to generate new ideas and solve situations.

Kelly told me that the California High School Exit Exam or CAHSEE has a written essay portion. However, you can totally bomb the essay piece and still pass the entire exam. Just goes to show how much the state values writing.

“The foundation of my class is writing . . . If I want to know what you are thinking, I have you write about it because you can’t fake writing. My kids also have to speak a lot in the class about what they read, which is also hard to fake. Every day they are writing and speaking about what they’re learning and how they’re learning it…Our deepest level of thinking comes from when we write.” He said that two things occur when you write; number one, you write about things you know and number two, you write about stuff you didn’t even know and it can lead you to new ideas.

“I believe that a teacher should be more than an information dispenser. If I want my kids to read then I should read. If I want my kids to write then I should write.” We need these skills to survive in the outside world. Specifically with our jobs, relationships, and families. Think about it, if we are transformed into mindless zombies who can’t perform many of life’s tasks then there isn’t a good future for America.

Kelly mentioned an important quote by Kenneth Burke who coined the term, “imaginative rehearsals” which are basically lessons or universal truths that can be salvaged from all works of literature. For example, in “1984,” the use of doublespeak by the government is an imaginative rehearsal that can help the reader be more aware of language manipulation and allow them to see the true intention behind it. This is just a single example but there are still many imaginative rehearsals within 1984 as with all works of literature. Imagine all the knowledge, wisdom, and yes, happiness us students could get if only we had more reading and writing but less multiple choice tests in school. If this can be achieved, there would be no zombies, no boredom in school, and more people like Steve Jobs who could find their creative energies.  Wouldn’t a world like that be great?

This is Zombie X signing off!

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