Digitalizing the State Exams

This is a thought piece discussing what I think would be the advantages of switching state exams to a fully online system.

Content warnings: Discussion of exams and terrible understanding of how anything works (yet I’m trying anyways).

I hate standardized tests but I gotta say it would make a lot more sense to have students take digital exams than paper ones.

I mean, at least with multiple choice portions. With all the information and scores archived digitally there’s little room for error in grading and calculating. The curve would be fairly reliable since the database would be able to compare a current years curve to the previous years with little effort.

Plus it could track across grade levels as well. Let’s say someone is in 9th grade and their year has a grade average of… 85%. When they take the 10th grade exams next year it could be reliably guesses that they will average a grade of 80-90% based on the previous years performance.

Then that could be compared to the 10th graders from the previous year (when this class was 9th grade).

So our new 10th graders averaged 75% on their, let’s say more specifically, Math exam. This turns out to be better than last years 10th grade kids, who averages 70%, bWut it was worse then their average as 9th graders which was 85%.

So the people in charge decide maybe they should tweak the exam. A chronic problem with the Regents exam (and I think it applies to others too) is that the people who design the tests do so very poorly. There’s been numerous examples of questions that cause grades to tank dramatically because almost everybody gets them wrong.

I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to think there could be a program that automatically generate Regents exams based on previous exams and exam scores. A new Regents exam could be generated using past ones where people had decent scores. If necessary a team of humans could double check the work done by the machine.

Though it would take some trial and error finding the “perfect” state exam. If one uses the highest average years it’s likely the machine will continuously formulate easier and easier exams. But obviously taking the years that had the lowest scores would produce harder and harder exams.

I’m not entirely sure how it would all work frankly. But my instinct tells me it’s a decent enough idea. Certainly better than the mess we have now.

Of course what I’d really like to see is getting rid of state exams all together, because honestly, eff them.

Digitalizing the State Exams

Cynicism and Alternative Child Culture

This is a both a thought and personal post. So I won’t be making a third one this week since this covers both. It talks about emo kid culture and how I see most young adults (people around 19-23 in this case) treat it, with personal experiences on my part. Content warnings include references to self-harm, bullying/abuse and descriptions of mental illnesses like depression.

One thing that has always troubled me on some level but never really spoke about is how mocked emo culture is. It seems like a logical thing to do, silly kids wanting to act all emotional and angsty when clearly nothing is wrong in their lives. I’ll admit firsthand that yes, some of them do come across very superficial in a lot of ways. But I think there’s more underneath there than most people want to take in at first glance.

Growing up emo culture was my first step into alternative lifestyles and cultures. My emo phase as it were didn’t last very long and I quickly transitioned into gothic culture. There was still very many aspect of emo culture present (and I’ll get to why in a moment) but at that age I actively strove for and succeeded in replicating more mature presentations. Goth can be considered the adult version of emo, depending on what faction of goth one is looking at.

But that’s straying from the topic a little bit. One of the main concerns with the mocking of emo culture that I have first and foremost is the dismissal of how these kids really feel. Teenagers, especially those who are from 12-16 or so, are probably the most vulnerable to adult criticism. Not that it’s entirely unjustified to be unhappy and uncomfortable with a teens tendency to be impulsive. But there’s a very easy pitfall that pretty much every adult (myself included) tend to fall into, which is when one completely dismisses a kids emotions.

Why exactly is it okay as an adult to shut down and dismiss a teenagers feelings? Yes, they tend to be over dramatic and irrational. Yes, someone should probably try to put things into some kind of perspective. But that doesn’t make how that person feels any less real. I honestly think a big reason a kid acts out is because people don’t take their feelings seriously, especially girls, and especially kids who are emo.

But the mockery of emo culture by adults is somehow even deeper than just the normal dismissal of emotions. Many people I know have gone through an emo phase, they usually remain to this day drawn to alternative cultures and pretty much everybody has significant mental illnesses. As in, this affects their day to day life.

Let me return to my childhood from a second. I am Autistic, and it should have been obvious as early as 5th grade that I had a lot of trouble navigating socially. But I didn’t have stereotypical Autism. That is, my symptoms emerged form being too friendly and sociable. Of course as a kid nobody was concerned with how in-your-face friendly I was because that was considered desirable behaviour.

That changed radically in the face of hefty bullying during my early school years. I couldn’t handle the shock that people would want to shun and even hurt me. I had multiple and continuous meltdowns in all my classes, a fairly common reaction from kids with Autism. I developed an anxiety disorder that troubles me to this day. It was a nightmare for me until I was moved into special education.

In the wake of that experience going into puberty I started to be drawn to alternative cultures. My first favorite band, independant of my dad, was Green Day. The second one after that was Linkin Park. I reveled in angsty emotions, I became fascinated with mental illness and the idea of going “crazy”. The first time I ever cut myself I was 11 and wanted to see what it was like, I didn’t enjoy it.

Now as a young adult I have gone through abuse at the hands of both my uncle and father in my later teen years. I got to add major depressive disorder to the little list entitled “Shit Wrong With My Brain”. I don’t shave not because I like having a bunch of body hair but because of a cutting habit I developed, I don’t trust myself with razors anymore.

So what does this mean? I feel like a lot of emo kids feel drawn to this because of issues below the surface. Possible mental illness outcomes that their surrounding environment can either make or break. That’s why not all emo kids remain in alternate cultures or even wind up mentally ill. In that time frame, there was something there, something confusing and new. Something they wanted to figure out and that was how they chose to do it.

I think that’s why I’m so troubled when adults who were emo and even now have developed mental illnesses mock emo kids. We all know the tones and the things they tend to do. Emo kids bolster themselves on being “random”, they pride themselves in being unique in their eyes and tend to be attracted to hyperactive characters.

Emo culture itself is not on the surface one that is about suffering. It almost looks like the romanticize of suffering and mental illness, one that is brought about by that obsession with being different and unique. While simultaneously many emo kids are attracted to comedic hyperactivity and happiness, characters like Gir from Invader ZIM.

That’s exactly why I say that they’re all trying to figure something out. I mean yes, all teenagers are trying to figure out a bunch of new things. But emo in particular are trying to puzzle out things like severe depression, self-harm, anxiety, etc. Many of them are often either too young, or come from backgrounds too stable, to fully understand what those emotions are. Note I say understand and not experience, depression can strike at almost any age. Usually in kids its driven by something visceral like abuse, bullying or gender dysphoria. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as brain chemistry does have a role in all of this.

Basically what I’m getting at is that I think at least a good chunk of emo kids are experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety and often don’t know what to think of them. Emo is their way of exploring those emotions and trying to process them. I don’t think that’s something we should simply dismiss, let alone mock.

It might be easy for us as adults to forget how confusing and weird it was as a teenager, and it might be easy on a level of cynicism as many young adults are facing monumental pressures and responsibilities we didn’t have when we were younger. But it doesn’t make it good or even right.

Just let teens be teens in this aspect. So what if they bitch unjustly about their parents? As long as they’re not directly hurting themselves or others (as in, actually participating in self-harm or actively being aggressive towards their parents beyond typical arguments) there’s no reason to be so crass towards them.

They’ll figure things out eventually, and mocking them most certainly won’t help.

Cynicism and Alternative Child Culture

Wasteland

I can’t believe I’m actually writing a post that isn’t on a Saturday night! This is a creative piece, based in the Minecraft universe, specifically a modpack called Regrowth. Loosely based on my experiences with a friend playing on a server.

—-

I jump at the sound of the door swinging open before my rational mind reminds me the only thing that could possibly be was my friend, returning from a long day of gardening.  Their voice came shorty after their arrival “How are things coming along?”.

Despite the gentleness of their voice I felt a twinge of annoyance. I had recently lost all of my belongings in a freak accident while traveling to another dimension. I was armed and prepared, having researched it extensively beforehand. My friend, on the other hand, was unsure if we were ready and opted to stay behind. Falling goodness knows how many feet into an ocean of lava I couldn’t help but feel they had the right idea. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so eager… No, it was no use dwelling on what has already happened.

“Well I’m slowly getting my iron back, making the other stuff was simple enough. I think for now I’m going to focus more on the simpler quests” I answered, unconsciously gripping my satchel closer to me as I spoke.

My satchel contained the Quest Book. A powerful magical artifact that could grant items in return for the completion of tasks or a quota of sacrifices. The world around us may have been a hot and dangerous wasteland but the magic here was still as strong as ever.

I hear footsteps approaching from behind me and turn to properly greet my friend. Their clothing and skin were smeared with soil and they had the satisfied look of a days good work. I smiled at them but my attention was diverted by the sight of a vivid orange sunset through the windows. Another day wasted and gone.

“Are you okay?” the question made me snap my attention back to them. Caught off guard by the question I simply stared at them for a few seconds before finding the voice to respond.

“Oh, uh, yeah, I’m alright…” I started, I looked back at the crafting bench I was standing at. “It’s just weird. I’m so used to being able to reclaim my stuff, I feel like it’s such a huge waste of time you know? I could be doing something interesting and productive.”

My friends expression was sympathetic. “I’m sorry” they said, and just like always I knew they meant it. That was enough to make me feel slightly better. “Do you want any help? I’m not entirely sure what I could do but…”.

I waved my hand “No it’s fine. Thank you” I dismissed the offer with a grateful smile.

BANG!

I nearly shot out of my skin at the sound of the door being pounded on. My eyes widened, and my friend was equally startled, neither of us had heard it coming!

My friend was quick to pull out their weapon, an elegantly crafted flint sword. They ran to the door with a quick glance back at me. I swiftly pulled a matching sword out and ran to the door as well, arranging myself so that we could strike from two sides.

The pounding continued as the zombie outside emitted wet snarls and growls. My friend glances at me and I nod, ready to battle. My heart is pounding and I hoped I didn’t look as pale and scared as I felt. Despite thrusting myself into battles and taking numerous risks I always felt very insecure when I was the one being attacked.

There wasn’t much time to ruminate in my emotions as my friend darted out and flung the door open, allowing the humanoid monster to enter.

A part of me shriveled up and recoiled at the smell, sweet and pungent. I struck out with my sword as the zombie advanced on my friend who was also striking out against it. As scary as it was I knew in the back of my mind that the zombie stood no chance against our simultaneous attack.

Wounds quickly opened up all over it’s body and the being began to shiver and shake. I was lost in the whirlwind of battle. My only objective was to kill the beast and I was going to complete it.

With a strangled cry the monster seemed to freeze in place before vanishing in a puff of thick and putrid smoke. I scrambled backwards covering my mouth with a free hand. The magic that created this being had let it be destroyed.

When it cleared our rewards rested on the ground. One zombie brain and one thick slice of rotted flesh. I looked at my friend who was nursing a minor wound. They seemed pretty green around the edges but after fighting a zombie who wouldn’t be?

I moved closer to them with concern. Wounds weren’t always what they appeared to be and while I only see one that could be bothersome I knew I couldn’t know for sure how they were feeling.

“Hey, are you alright? Do you need some food or something?” I felt a twinge of frustration that I was unable to keep the shake out of my voice. They looked up at me and shook their head. “No… I’m fine” they answered. Their voice strangely small sounding. I noticed with relief their wounds were starting to close up.

There was stillness in their air as we stood there, zombie flesh and brains between us. I listened in the night and I heard the unmistakable clinking of bones. I also heard the skittering of insect legs. But both seemed far away…

Yet… Wait…. Did I hear footsteps?

My companion let out a yelp of alarm just as a hissing noise sprung up to my side.

I whipped around, the world slowed down as my eyes took in the green monstrosity that had entered our home.

The last thing I thought before it exploded in a furious cloud of gunpowder and guts was:

Fuck, we left the door open.

Wasteland

Satisfied

Final blog post until after Sunday, the creative one, about finally being able to write something entirely unprompted by anybody else, all on my own. No content warning I can think of but let me know if there should be one!

A young man stares impatiently at the blinking cursor on his screen. Once upon a time the little line beckoned to him. It called him to come and make it fly. Skittering across the page at reckless speeds it  would leave a brilliant contrail of words behind.

But tonight, as it has been for years, the cursor simply sat there. The feeling felt stagnant and old in the man’s stomach. The helplessness of a child far too overwhelmed by the mess he made. He battled it every day, fighting to keep the floor just clear enough for him to breathe.

His slender fingers moved lightly among the keys, they did not press anything, he had nothing to speak of. He looked inside himself for those precious gemstones of creativity. Brilliant little bits of light that were the fuel of stories and poetry, of art and music. But the mess crowded around him so much that he could not detect even the slightest bit of light among the gray.

He was on the verge of giving up when it happened. A sudden blinding light and the flurry of his fingers moving to drum out it’s rhythm. It was imperfect as it was shocking. A dancer who has spent too long without music. But the more he wrote the more he was able to see the colors of what he was creating. The words and imagery he saw and thus wanted others to see.

Cautiously he stumbled and tripped his way over the steps. Taking the time to correct and recollect himself as he went on. Artistic pursuits are often the testament of ones patience as much as ones ability after all.

With a final flourish he completes his piece. A little unsure and unsteady but quivering with the excitement that he had done that which he had gone so long without. He sits back and feels, for the first time in quite awhile, satisfied.

Satisfied

YouTube: A Personal Connection

This is a thought post, no content warnings necessary, though if you feel I should add one let me know!

So my first ever post was about myself as a potential YouTube star. Now I want to talk about YouTube stars (and YouTube) in general.

If I were to ever conduct some kind of anthropological study I would probably see if I could get away with studying YouTube.

YouTube and it’s community is utterly fascinating to think about. Here we have hundreds of thousands of people posting content every day and millions of viewers watching said content. We have vloggers, make-up artists, musicians, craftsfolk, comedians, let’s players and so forth. But I think what strikes YouTube as unique in humanity’s history of media consumption is how it operates and who operates within it.

I believe the main reason why it’s striking is because many of us are quick to compare it to the other big form of motion picture media, television. But television has what I’m going to call a top down social approach. People are chosen to be put on TV, and depending on the circumstances, getting the attention required to be on television is extremely hard.

But YouTube? YouTube is generally more of a bottom up approach. You post content online and if you happen to become popular enough you can get attention from people higher up on the social/corporate ladder (YouTube/Google), further bolstering your opportunities in the world and giving you reasonable income from making videos. Obviously YouTube is not completely bottom up (I don’t think such things exist honestly). If you’re a big musician or comedian already you’re essentially guaranteed exposure on the website and your original content will be the first to show up on searches (as opposed to uploads of said content, or related to the content). If you’re popular you’re also guaranteed good search slots, pushing down lesser known folk and making it harder for them to become well known. Something many people, including some of the YouTube stars themselves, have pointed out and critiqued.

But there’s more to YouTube than just worth and profit. As someone who frequently watches YouTube videos I can see there’s a very unique social interaction between people who are bottom up independents and their subscribers.

Let’s take the let’s play channel Jacksepticeye. Jack (or Sean) is a charismatic Irishman. He’s close with several other big let’s players on YouTube such as Markiplier and PewDiePie (who both bolster subscriber numbers far above his own). Which is already something interesting and unique to think about. YouTube being able to connect users with similar content, enabling collaborations and friendships alike between people who would’ve never otherwise crossed paths.

Anyways, Jack doesn’t just sit and make let’s play videos. He does vlogs as well, and he talks a lot about how he feels about his fanbase. Jack often thanks his subscribers, speaks about how much he feels his fans give to him. Jack looks directly at the camera a lot and as a seasoned let’s player has mastered the art of treating the camera (and thus the viewer) like a good friend.

Jack isn’t alone, many people who are bottom ups do the same thing. There’s a layer of interaction and connection that is extremely unique and strangely personal. A kind of connection that is very, very different from television. One that not only very pointedly acknowledges the audience, but also engages them. Jack has a series where he just reads and responds to actual comments. He frequently addresses concerns and rumors in the fanbase. The fanbase actively gives to him, and he actively gives back.

You wanna know my honest thoughts here? I think that connection is one of the big keys to becoming a well known YouTuber. The ability to treat your audience as friends, to make the audience feel safe, welcome, and good. Taking the time to address them directly by reading their comments or talking about what they’ve been talking about. That is what makes a YouTube star stand out, plus their talents of course.

On a final somewhat random note I do want to say I think if YouTube should be compared to any media form it would be radio. Why? Well, radio is less bottom up than YouTube, but it’s certainly more-so than television. With the right equipment and money one could easily get on the air. Depending on the kind of show and personality many people managed to foster more personal feeling connections through radio. The most well known example I can think of is Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. Where the president of the time sat down and made an address to Americans across the nation, and many said it made them feel very safe and conned to their president. But perhaps folks can think of better, more modern examples.

YouTube: A Personal Connection

I Wanna Be A YouTube Star

Hello! This is my first blog post, so as such I will throw down how this will work.
Once a week (as in some point between Sunday-Saturday) I will post three blog posts. One creatively focused, one thought/academically focused, and one personally focused.
I will begin by introducing what post it is, then I’ll cover any potentially unsettling content, and then get to the post itself. These blog posts will be read only once or twice over so expect mistakes.

Let’s get started! This post is the personal one, it will contain in depth descriptions of vocal dysphoria and mild descriptions of anxiety, and depression.

Ever since discovering the YouTube personality PewDiePie in late High School I’ve wanted to become a let’s player. I like to play video games and I like to make people happy, so it seemed perfect to me. I was inspired and began making let’s play videos with friends.

It didn’t take long to run into a variety of road blocks. Firstly, I can tell you that making let’s plays that are good quality is hard. Especially with an older system such as mine. Without good editing and recording software producing videos can be a nightmare. I managed to do it a few times as I do like the process, but that’s where another roadblock came in.

Even in the beginning stages of my let’s play “career” (I use that term super loosely). I had a lot of trouble sitting through my videos for editing. I’ve struggled with anxiety since Elementary School, and varying degrees of depression since High School (maybe even Middle School). Since I began in later High School my depression was starting to get worse and I had pretty awful self-esteem. Coupled with the fact I was a fledgling to producing let’s plays watching my own content made me uncomfortable and made the editing process a nightmare for me. If I couldn’t re-watch what I did then I couldn’t edit properly, simple as that. If I couldn’t edit properly I wasn’t comfortable putting it out. I have hours upon hours of unused and unedited footage. I feel guilty because a lot of it involves my friends, who were excited to be on YouTube.

This only got worse as my depression did. When I came out as transgender during freshman year of college there was a small window where I felt better and more confident. I toyed with the idea of retooling my channel to be trans centric, maybe inviting other transgender people to post videos as well. But I couldn’t manage a project on that scale with what was going on mentally (and I still can’t). My depression and anxiety became chains that held me back from let’s plays, writing, and drawing. But most of all my dysphoria started to affect this too.

One of my most visceral feelings of dysphoria comes from listening to my voice. I never like listening to it in general, and I have the fun experience of random intense spikes of dysphoria when I’m speaking. Those spikes are hard to put into words. Essentially there is at times a feeling of extreme dissociation and shock. This is one of the biggest reasons I don’t do let’s plays anymore, the last let’s play I produced was early 2015 and I don’t think I published it. My last published one is most likely from late 2014. My voice makes me too uncomfortable. People have told me to artificially deepen it but pitch changes often sound artificial and tinny. The most natural sounding change is when one changes the speed, but if I slow down my vocal track I need to slow the video as well and I have a feeling that might turn out awkward. Plus I didn’t know what I would do once I was properly on hormonal replacement therapy and my voice deepened naturally. Also ripping and editing the audio separate from the video, then putting the audio back is a process and a half. My computer doesn’t have the power to just record another audio only track with the video.

Now, as I mentioned a part of the reason I cringed early on was because of how new I was to it. I was new to the genre in general and only watched one person. I didn’t know what to do and my let’s plays were riddled with really awkward comments and long silences. Now I’ve watched several different people for quite some time, jacksepticeye being my favorite, followed very closely by Markiplier and PopularMMOs/GamingWithJen (a married couple who do Minecraft videos together), and I watch Cry* every now and then. All of whom bring unique personalities and styles to the genre of let’s play. I’ve practiced with my own videos and often find myself doing commentary in my head while I play. I feel a lot more comfortable with my technique, so at this point, it’s mostly my dysphoria that holds me back.

I’ll admit, I have popular content on my channel. My Rainbow Dash** plays videos do get quite a bit of attention, and I have a decent amount of subscriptions. But it’s no longer what I want to do anymore (plus my Rainbow Dash impressions are absolutely horrible).

But there is a light in the distance, a goal I’ve set for myself. I have begun HRT, and my voice will be getting deeper. Once I feel relatively comfortable I have promised myself to start making YouTube videos. I think I have it in me, I might not ever get popular but its kind of fun to talk while playing games. It’s something I really want to do, despite how much criticism I may get. I understand that this is something that will require some amount of dedication, as I covered producing those videos can be pretty tough. I feel like once I’m comfortable with my own voice I will be able to endure the process a lot better. I’ll carve a niche out for myself and hopefully have a little fun too!

*Cry is short for Cryaotic, it should be noticed that due to some legal concerns he has removed a lot of his content.
**Rainbow Dash is one of the main characters from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

I Wanna Be A YouTube Star