Monday, August 30, 2010

Was I This Insightful in High School?

In high school, I worked my ass off all four school years to get into a good college. But that meant I rewarded myself by doing jack shit over the summer. My summer vacations usually consisted of sleeping, video games, sports, and during my junior and senior years, jamming with my band.
Yo Mista! Trivia: Can you guess what I played in my band? Hint: I sucked.
Anyway, I didn't read books during the summer nor did I engage in thoughtful debate during sleepovers. Who does that kind of shit anyway? I'd rather be shotgunning covenant soldiers in the face to show off how manly I am (not that I need to).  

A few days ago, two of my former Algebra students, Kareem and Havana, began e-mailing each other (and CC'ed me) in what it appeared to be a debate about religion and the existence of God.
FYI, it is still summer vacation for high schools in New York City. Therefore, my logic dictates these kids are either completely insane or incredibly intelligent. Thoughts?
For background purposes: Kareem is actually very clever and even more curious. Havana is also intelligent with incredible writing talent. Over the past year, they became friends and often discussed various issues. Obviously, for the sake of this blog, their names have been changed to protect their identities.
Note: In case the real Kareem and Havana should read this, please don't let the compliments above get to your head. Shouldn't you both be working on your damn college apps anyway? Stop updating your Facebook profiles about how crazy your night was and get some shit done for fuck's sake. God damn.
I'm not going to include all of what Kareem and Havana said, but I will include some snippets. Kareem started the online debate so I will begin first with a paraphrased quote from his e-mail to Havana:
Kareem: "I understand... I've been through the same personal dilemma; science vs. God, but I chose the complete opposite direction. Instead of not believing in God, I used to deny the facts of science. In 9th grade, there were times when I didn't wanna sit in my Living Environment class when they would talk about the Big Bang. It conflicted with my beliefs, and my beliefs were strong."
Kareem has an interesting story. Born and raised a Christian, he converted to Islam upon reading a translation of the Qur'an. He continues with the following:
Kareem: "I began reading the biology book I didn't give back in 9th grade and I gotta say, science is amazing. It explains so much... our knowledge comes from what we learn, and we learn a lot through science... So one day, I'm reading my Qur'an, a new one I bought with easier vocab... It said God doesn't speak to human beings directly, He uses allegory... I guess God didn't literally take things to make them, he used science. That let me safely learn science while still believing in what I believe in."
Wow, I really don't remember doing this kind of thinking on my own in high school with issues regarding my own personal beliefs. I mean, sure there was always the classroom debate, but who was I kidding: I was debating for the grade, who cares about what my beliefs are! Here, Kareem is voluntarily talking to Havana to figure out who he is and what he believes in. He concludes:
Kareem: "So after reading that, I had to stop taking religion up the ass. I can't live every second thinking God is going to send me to hell for X, Y and Z. And I can't sit here with a deaf ear to facts, facts that can be proven regardless of how I feel about God. God put us here to learn."
Well done, I would have to say. Now Havana's response:
Havana: "First of all, I love this essay. The contrast and comparison of science and religion combine beautifully for me. I wish that you would have sent this to me years ago when I threw God away into the "fiction" file...
When I was six, I first learned about God. When I was seven we moved abroad and I grew more religious there. I would pray to God everyday and thank him for everything. When I was 12, I learned about human evolution and that changed everything... It contradicted everything I knew. I began to think God left out details in the Bible.
Then I made friends with a Muslim and a Hindu, both of their religions made sense too. So at 13, I became an Athiest. I learned about it all: Big Bang, Crunch, Multiverse, etc..." 
Okay, when I read Havana's response thus far, I thought, this is turning out to be more interesting than I thought... and these guys are into it! I mean, I had to remind myself these kiddos are high schoolers. And yet, their passion and openness to talk about something so significant, personal and emotional seemed very collegiate to me. I continued to read her response, proud that they're both my students:
Havana: "...Then one day I stumbled into something new: determinism. I came across it when I was depressed, and I looked to the great minds of the past to see what they believed. From Galileo and Newton (physicist from mad long ago). But it wasn't till I learned about Einstein that I got new ideas.
Einstein was a theoretical physicist. Basically, they believe that everything in life could be explained through math. Mathematicians don't believe in coincidence. And nether did he. That's sort of what Determinism is about. It makes sense to me kind of...
...Everything has a source. That's true. But its hard for me to believe God has a personality of its own. If there is something bigger than me, then I don't think it is anything like me at all. All I know is that everything has an order. Everything happens for a reason. 
[Ultimately] my conclusion is that life is here for us to learn, and we each have a purpose. A story. I don't know if God is there, I suspect that there is something big. Whether it is Allah, Christ or nature. I am happy knowing that we have a purpose. Part of my conclusion is that I SIMPLY DON'T KNOW [everything] and after all the research and my tormenting curiosity, I am happy not knowing. I render myself clueless, but observant."
In the end, both Kareem and Havana made their points and will probably continue discussing this topic among many others in the upcoming school year.

As entertaining and enlightening as this discussion was, it also served as a helpful reminder that I have some very insightful and keen students, who somehow got sidetracked along the traditional path to graduation, but still have the capacity to make it through. Obviously, they've had some problems in the past with school, which is here: a transfer high school for over-age kids. This is their last shot, and they better make the most of it because it's quite clear these students would truly benefit from a rigorous curriculum in a liberal, open-minded setting. I don't want them to think "Shit, what if?" ten years later.

As a side note, I know I'm going to come back to this page in the upcoming year when I'm feeling overworked, fed up and completely worn out. Thanks in advance, Kareem and Havana.


Alpha Za said...

Damn man, those are some fairly exceptional rugrats. I'm sure we did talk about random crap, but I doubt it was that far reaching.

Yo Mista said...

@Alpha Za:
Agreed dude.

I mean, I definitely talked a lot of shit in high school. In fact, I used to be a peer leader in high school, which meant a lot of kids would make appointments with me to talk about their problems (academic and personal). But all their shit was the same: too much stress, Anthony called me fat, why can't I marry Justin Timberlake, I'm addicted to booze, etc.

None of my conversations ever required me to tap into a higher order of thinking. Maybe sometimes senior year, but that might've been an accident, hahaha.

Given Kareem and Havana's conversation, it's more important than ever that these kids put up or shut up when it comes to school now. Otherwise, they will deeply regret not putting in the grunt work now and getting stuck in a minimum wage gig for the next two decades.

Havanna? said...

Woah you wrote a blog about us! lol Anyways, yeah Mista, I've never been one to turn down a nice conversation, and plus Kareem did an excellent job writing.

And yes I know what you were thinking, "Dont they have lives?". Yes we do, we just thought it would be nice to exercise our minds a little, right? lol

P.S thanks for calling us smart :) I'm looking into the college applications soon.

naqiya said...

dude!! he isnt saying you dont have a life. he's saying (as am i!) that if you guys dont work super hard and get into fantastic schools we will both be super pissed! because clearly you both are smart enough to make it very very far. we believe in you! now start studying for those SATs asap!

Havana said...

@Naqiya Thank you :) I really, really appreciate it. And yes! I am seriously going to put all my effort into it (As will Kareem, Im sure.)
I think that after everything (doing bad before and coming to this transfer school) we realized that we still have something good ahead if we only reach for it. So thanks Naqiya and Mista for the encouragement :)

Mr. T said...

Yo Mista!
As reflective and insightful as this conversation may be, I don't think it is indicative of a higher, certainly not exceptional, intelligence. Maybe we have been overly sensitized by a bombardment of moronic dialogue between our students (and certainly peers), that upon exposure to any decent human thought we attribute higher order intelligence as cause.
I think these two are doing exactly what they should be doing; it isn't weird that they are talking about this now, or ever, this is the process of decent human interaction, one denoting intelligence - absolutely, perhaps even exemplary in their behavior, but we risk lowering the bar of intelligence itself if we begin to be amazed by what should be.
So I say to thee "Kareem", and I say unto thee "Havana", keep it up! Worlds and lives have changed by conversations such as these!