Video: What You Ought To Think When You See a Person Wearing a Surgical Mask

In this post, I share a video I made about putting a stop to micro-aggressions against people - especially Asians - who wear surgical masks in public.

Four-picture collage of a diverse group of people wearing a surgical mask.
A mask is not an invitation to hate. A mask protects. So should you. 
The Recent Human Coronavirus Outbreak

I teach Mandarin-speaking high school students. Conversation about the recent spread of the human coronavirus has sparked meaningful conversation in class. One question that keeps popping up is “Why are folks hating on Asians”? While understanding that any virus’s outbreak is a source of concern, we ought to learn from history that fear of illness is often used to cover up deep-seated xenophobia and fear of others (especially when the “other” does not think, talk, look, or act like “me”.

Latitude for Micro-Aggression? Maybe. And in many cases. Yes.
My friends, one co-worker, and an acquaintance have reported to me micro-aggressions levied against them for wearing a face mask in public. Some people might see a mask and think fear. Wanna know what I think? I made the following video as my answer.

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On What College-Bound Kids Should Do In High School

After a student asked me one day what he should be doing to "get into a good college" I gave him a few of my suggestions.

Getting Into a Good College  My Students Are Worried
     Let’s first say that getting into a good college, paying for it, and ending up as a successful individual is equal parts chance, and equal parts merit, with a dash of injustice and absurdity to throw the entire process off-kilter. I use the word "injustice" on purpose. Not everyone who gets into a good school deserves it  a few high-powered celebrities have tried to secure a spot for their children by paying third parties to do the work for them. And I use the word absurdity on purpose as well. It's absurd to think one's future can be set by a standardized test score or to become frazzled by one's prospect to get into school based on the fact that you made a B+ in AP Calculus.
French Class in High School
I took this photograph on the last day of high school in Madame Dietrich’s French class.
     But let’s say for the sake of argument you’re a kid in a high school in the United States and you want to get into a good school. Let’s say for the sake of argument you’re in a relatively good school  namely, you’re learning something and your parents and teachers are more or less good role models. You were read to as a child and you’ve frequented a library, a museum, an after school program or something of that kind. You’re already two or more steps in the door. Parents who introduce their children to reading at an early age typically have kids who are more likely to do well in school. 

How Much Does Environment Play Into Future Success
     Environment plays a defining role in determining your chances of becoming a successful, let’s say happy, adult. Sans being an athlete - that’s one way into college - or acquiring some kind of skill as leverage - getting into the school of your choice is a crapshoot. Just the other day (I’m a high school English teacher) one of my students asked me if he took an online course on Coursera or Edx - would that improve his chances of getting into a good school. I said, “yes, of course.” But then I thought about it. Yes  taking a course on computer programming from Harvard is not a bad idea - but you must be a person who is committed to learning programming. Adding extras solely for the sake of extras can have the opposite effect. Schools want candidates who are excited about learning and have shown proof that they have put themselves out there and taken on challenges. Make your passions come through in your college application and any thing you do outside of school can complement the person you are (and the person you want to be).

Has Applying to College Changed A lot Since the 1990s?
     A lot has changed since I applied to college. I went to a public high school in South Louisiana where most of my classmates graduated and went to the State University - or the military - or they stayed in my hometown. I applied to two schools - Saint Joseph Seminary College and Centenary College - both small schools in Louisiana - one Methodist and the other a Catholic seminary. My mother wanted me to go to the Methodist school 
 and we drove up there to speak to the head of the philosophy department. That's what I wanted to study. I ended up going to the seminary college.
     I took the ACT (and I made a mediocre score). I also took the ASVAB. It’s the military job placement exam. Both my brothers joined the army after high school (I’m the only one who didn’t). Taking the ASVAB is how I learned the difference between a Phillips and a normal screwdriver. Our high school had college counselors - but no one ever visited their office  it was on the edge of campus next to the shop building. I think their main job was to organize random statewide testing which was administered during the year. In Louisiana, to graduate from high school one had to pass the LEAP test. Rumors spread about the few who didn't pass and had to repeat twelfth grade. 
     There was something alien to me about taking a  standardized test  as if my answers were being sent into a ceaseless void every time I bubbled in an answer. Even today  more than twenty years after graduating from high school I still don't trust tests. I like tests as a procedure  an activity for the general assessment but not for understanding a kid through and through.

Shifting Focus From Where I Want to Go to What Skills I Want to Master
     Most high school students don’t really know what they want to do anyway. At least it’s not quite solidified yet. I think the most effective task any high school student should accomplish is to progressively improve their ability to get things done. Show up to class. Learn new skills. Perhaps you’ll never use the quadratic equation ever again in your life. But if you shrug it off as unimportant you’re missing out on a skill - how to solve a problem given limited information. I was a humanities geek in school (and truth be told I took very few hard science and math classes in college) but I learned how to follow through on a problem. Solving a quadratic equation requires following directions, staying on task and not making tiny mistakes  and you can use it to chart the trajectory of a moving object (and check out how a mathematician rediscovered an ancient Babylonian method used for solving quadratics).
     I still have a papier-mâché vase I made in art class. I’ve never made a vase like that since  but my mom has the vase in her living room. Did making this vase help me get into college? No. But it was something I did that pulled me out from what I was used to. We don’t know what skills we’ll need to know in the future. Technology is rapidly changing - but we do need people who can adapt and apply themselves in novel ways.

One More Question:
     What are some things high school students can do to improve their chances of getting into a good college? Let us know in the comments (see below this post).