Let’s Erase the Bubbles

I remember sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of my second grade classroom when I was first taught how to fill in a bubble on a standardized test. I stared at a chalkboard while my teacher drew bubbles and repeated the same things over and over. 

Number two pencils only. Make sure to fill in the bubble completely. If it’s filled incorrectly, the machine will mark it wrong. Don’t fill the bubble like this, no, not with an X. Make sure to erase the bubble completely if you change your mind or make a mistake.

The importance of these bubbles could not be overstated. 

Standardized testing came as a result of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act which passed through Congress and was made law in 2002 by President George W. Bush. The law “significantly increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students […] States did not have to comply with the new requirements, but if they didn’t, they risked losing federal Title I money” (Klein).

In theory, the NCLB law was a great idea– students should be proficient in certain areas before graduating from high school. Despite the good intentions behind the NCLB law, standardized testing should not be the measure of success for students, teachers, or schools. 

Instead of using testing to ensure that no students are left behind, standardized tests determine almost everything in education now. Most colleges require standardized test scores, elementary school teachers are evaluated based on the scores of their students, and even schools are assessed based on the scores of students and the achievement of “adequate yearly progress” or AYP. 

In The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss discusses several times when standardized testing went too far. In one case, Florida law refused to let students move to fourth grade if they couldn’t pass a third grade language arts test. That’s it. They didn’t care about grades or work ethic or any of the other measures of a good student. They just needed the test score to determine if a student was ready to move to the next grade.

Colleges have relied on test scores in applications to determine a student’s success, too. The SAT was formerly used as a scholarship test in the 1930s, but now it determines how successful a person will be in college. A study by William Hiss found “there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and ‘nonsubmitters’” (Westervelt). A test provides merely a number, but when we reduce people to numbers, we ignore the things which make them great students.

Proponents of standardized testing argue it’s the best way to measure academic preparedness and success. They claim that students should be assessed to make sure they’re proficient. But is a test the best way to measure the intelligence of students? Should it determine whether a student is accepted into college or moves to fourth grade? 

Although standardized testing was never meant to impede students’ learning or act as the measurement for school and teacher success, it’s become a problem. Can filling in bubbles on a piece of paper determine curiosity, grades, or love of learning? 

Instead of worrying about test scores, let’s make sure students love learning. Instead of worrying about filling in bubbles, let’s erase the bubbles entirely

We Should Be Social Media Distancing, Too.

It’s been almost a month since COVID-19 hoisted me from my dorm at Temple University and plopped me back in my parents’ house indefinitely. Days are beginning to run together, I haven’t seen my friends in weeks due to social-distancing rules, and optimism is waning steadily. Like most people, I’ve been spending an embarrassingly large amount of time on my smartphone. I’ve discovered how much people are controlled by social media and the Internet in the last four weeks as a result. We’re drawn to our devices during this pandemic, but it’s probably a better idea to limit screen time. 

Digital detoxes aren’t a revolutionary idea; people have been saying screen time is bad for mental health for years. But in this new dystopian world we’re living in, going online is different. When you unlock your phone, you’re constantly inundated with information about the virus which can cause an incredible amount of anxiety. 

In “Coronavirus News on Social Media Stressing You Out? Here’s How to Handle The Anxiety” in the American Heart Association News, pandemic reporting and mental health are discussed: “The ever-shifting news has some people constantly checking their phones for updates […] ‘It’s really the perfect recipe for anxiety and panic,’ said licensed clinical psychologist Debra Kissen of Chicago.” Kissen continues to argue that uncertainty, especially the uncertainty everyone is feeling now, is the definition of anxiety. 

Influencers and online personalities are another reason to limit screen time during self-isolation. They’ve always promoted unrealistic and stylized lifestyles online, but during a pandemic, it’s even more maddening. In a recent article from Vanity Fair titled “Is This The End of Influencing As We Know It?” Kenzie Bryant says, “It’s hard to kick back and consume a little mindless fare […] whatever inspiration influencers offered will no longer cut it. We’re all a little too spent to aspire to anything except making it through.” In isolation, people aren’t seeking an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram feed; people are seeking hope and authenticity. 

Above everything else, the biggest problem with social media right now is the spread of misinformation. The Internet has always been a place where stupidity can shine, but ignorance is one of our biggest enemies right now. In “How Social Media Is Shaping Our Fears Of– And Response To– The Coronavirus” from Time Magazine Online, Alejandro De La Garza argues, “Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which didn’t exist or barely existed during past major outbreaks, are facilitating important conversations about the virus, while at the same time allowing sensationalism and misinformation to spread.”

Proponents of a digital-heavy diet in isolation will argue that it’s the best way to stay connected to friends, and it provides people with the latest information. I agree we should be staying in touch with family and friends, especially since isolation can be so lonely. However, the fastest information isn’t always the best information, and breaks from the screen are beneficial even if it means a short time without friends.

Ultimately, no one but you is going to police the hours you spend on social media in isolation. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter can be a comfort for people who haven’t been outside in weeks. But honestly, quarantine is creating a questionable internet environment, and maybe we should be social media distancing, too. 

A Fitting Start to the Roaring Twenties

In January, people celebrated the new year in style: hosting themed parties in flapper dresses and talking about 2020 like it was going to be a renaissance of the culture that made the 1920s so roaring. Well, it turns out that 2020 is beginning to look a lot like the 1920s, but not in the way we all imagined. With COVID-19 barreling through the United States and stock markets plunging, Americans are getting much more than they asked for at the beginning of the year. 

Streets have emptied, businesses are closed, and everyone is self-isolating at home with unexpected free time. Like many people stuck at home right now, I turned to Netflix to find a binge-worthy show, and I stumbled upon Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. This documentary miniseries is completely foolish and sickeningly brutal at the same time, and it’s an absolute must-watch. 

For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard about the show, Tiger King follows zoo-owner Joseph Schreibvogel, better known as “Joe Exotic,” and the world of big cats in roadside zoos. The documentary miniseries also shows how Joe Exotic winds up in federal prison with murder-for-hire charges against animal rights activist, Carole Baskin. The show is an amalgamation of murder mystery, animal rights, magic, explosions, and so much more. No written summary of the series can really do it justice. 

The editing and videography are thrilling and seemingly uncensored. I felt as though I was watching a reality show and a murder mystery simultaneously. The show seamlessly pieces together Facebook footage, Joe Exotic TV clips, news reports, and testimonials shot for Netflix. Every episode is completely different from the last, and you never know what will happen next. Seriously. One minute you’re watching baby tigers, then you learn about possible murder involving sardine oil, and then a building with alligators is on FIRE.

The editing was particularly genius because it included flashforwards in every episode to give peeks at Joe Exotic in prison. No one really knows why Joe is in prison until the penultimate episode, but the flashforwards make the series seem like a murder mystery. The final episode even shows that Joe has ended up quite poetically behind bars just like all of the tigers he kept in captivity. 

In “What to Read, Watch and Listen to Now That You’ve Finished Tiger King” in W Magazine, Brooke Marine says the show “is a true crime investigation, subculture deep dive, and ethically contentious production all rolled into one.” Most importantly though, the show is structured and edited in a way that gives the audience no clear answers or truths. Despite the prison sentence at the end of the series, the audience is left unsure about several characters and murders.  

One of the more subtle things I appreciated about the series was its coverage of animal cruelty. By looking at it closely, you notice the series is an allegory about animal mistreatment. It’s caused many viewers to learn more about animal rights, and the series offered a platform for organizations such as PETA and National Geographic to speak up. 

In a recent article titled “Key Facts That ‘Tiger King’ Missed about Captive Tigers” in National Geographic Online, Rachel Bale takes advantage of the series to educate people about tigers in captivity: “Cubs are only economically (and legally) useful for a short time—eight weeks to 12 weeks old. They quickly get too dangerous to interact with visitors. They may become breeders themselves, or go on exhibit. There’s evidence that some are killed.” The show forced people to see how cruelly animals are treated which has produced a new wave of awareness about animal rights. 

In a time of uncertainty and chaos in the world, watching the series puts things into perspective. In a strange way, Tiger King makes people feel better about COVID-19 and quarantining. In an article titled Tiger King is Cruel and Appalling– Why Are We All Watching It?” in Wired, Kate Knibbs insightfully comments about the pandemic and the series.

She says, “As most people experience their first pandemic and its attending grief and misery, comforting sitcom standards or adorable rom-coms seem like they should be attracting audiences. Instead, the buzzy quarantine show is about a man who wildly mistreats majestic animals, appears to prey on vulnerable young men, and at the very least seriously considers straight-up murdering a lady.” Things seem dystopian and strange all around us, but Joe Exotic’s life is even crazier than ours which makes the series so fascinating and comforting. 

Viewers who didn’t like Tiger King will argue it was too crazy, not structured enough, or showcased too much unethical behavior. However, I think the unstructured craziness and unethical behavior are what make the series good. It’s a cautionary tale, a true crime documentary, a look into a world audiences have never seen before. It’s so bad you can’t look away. It has something for everyone.

I encourage anyone to sit down and binge this series, especially if you’re stuck inside because of COVID-19. It’s a show no one has ever seen before, and it’s the show you need right now. Joe Exotic’s eccentric life and love of tigers are truly a fitting start to the roaring twenties.