Thursday, August 24, 2006


College textbooks cost way too much money.

College is extremely expensive on its own, but it's ridiculous that, each semester, books cost a minimum of hundreds of dollars. Part of the problem is that even used books are very expensive, and sometimes they're not available because teachers switch to a new edition as regularly as they're produced (and, let's face it, most editions do not add that much vital information) or the book comes in a pack with the workbook or other consumable products.

What bothers me is that textbooks or the things they come with aren't even vital for some classes. Some classes require you to buy books and then only test you over the material gone over in lecture. I think I've had one class, yet, where I used the included CD-ROM (but it was not required). Surely the CD-ROMs add quite a bit to the cost.

It also kind of bothers me when teachers write their own textbooks, and then require that you buy them- the newest edition, of course. I understand that it makes sense, in some cases, to have a book specifically tailored to what they want to teach. But it also seems kinda crappy that the teacher is getting paid for teaching you and ALSO gets some money for your buying the textbook (which you didn't have much of a choice in).

I know that the books- especially hardbacks- are somewhat expensive to produce, and many people go into making them. They have to pay for rights to pictures and charts and things. I get that. But really-- the average college student is paying over $600 for books alone- never mind tuition. And if you live away from home... there are many, many more costs. If you're in-state, at a community college, living at home, college is STILL expensive. There's something wrong with that!

Obviously, I value education-- I'm in college, I've done pretty well in school in the past, and I'm going to be a teacher. But I believe that any person should be able to get schooling beyond the high school level. It doesn't have to necessarily be free, but, come on! It has to be reasonable, or how will people ever advance in life? Education has to be POSSIBLE for almost anyone- or else of COURSE our country isn't going to be very smart.

There are lots of reasons education is expensive-- I just think textbooks would be a good place to start. Yes, I'm bitter because I just dished out about $500 for my books, but still. I think it's ridiculous that I have to pay that much money, and then even if I try to sell back a book, I can rarely get anything close to what I paid for it, regardless of the book's condition. It's an added, huge cost, and I wish someone could do something about it. Apparently legislators have tried, but it's not easy. I just think that when America discusses education failing, one thing they should look at are the reasons why education is so expensive. Textbook prices don't just affect college students; if school districts could spend less money on textbooks, they could spend more money on other supplies, school renovations, or teachers. There are lots of other things to look at when trying to figure out how to "fix" America's education system... but book prices would not be a bad place to start!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

millions of peaches

This post is regarding a column I recently read in our local newspaper. It was originally written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and can be read here.

Reading this kind of annoyed me. I understand Ms. Heller's point- the "Gossip Girl" books should never, ever be compared to Jane Austen, kids are reading books far above their age level... but who is she trying to blame here? The Gossip Girls and A-List books (both of which I have read) may not be appropriate for young girls, but, as she said herself in the article, they're supposed to be marketed towards ninth grade and up. Sure, these books will do more for increasing a girl's vocabulary of designer brands than they will for her SAT vocabulary. But who's to say escape literature is entirely wrong?

It bothered me that much of Ms. Heller's argument seemed to center around the fact that girls, in particular, are reading about older girls' lives. "High school students... are reading "The Gossip Girls"/"It Girls"/A-List series or have graduated to grown-up titles entirely." As she admits, "Much of popular culture is like that. Disney's breakaway smash is 'High School Musical,' not 'Fifth Grade Rocks.'" I guess what I wonder is... how is this new? I have always looked up to people older than me. Seeing the priveleges that older kids are given make growing up appealing, and from where I'm sitting, pretty much always have. How many 9-year-olds play with just Skipper barbies? And how many Barbies are given 9-year-old lives? Come on-- in my typical playing, a Barbie would marry a Ken and drive her car to the mall to go shopping. Even before the days of "shop lit," girls read above their age level. I had long since stopped reading the Babysitter's Club books (about high-schoolers) by the time I entered high school. Dreaming about more grown-up life is common.

Even further, dreaming about the impossible or improbable is more common. Why are shows like Cribs, Laguna Beach, Sweet Sixteen and Desperate Housewives so popular? Part of the allure, I'm sure, is that the lives of the people or characters featured are incredible- hard for the normal person to fathom. Part of the allure is in the distance from one's reality. It's almost like a fiction book about a foreign country or even distant world- and it's desirable. Who wouldn't love to escape their boring life once in awhile to vicariously live a more exciting life of a rich, beautiful, and spoiled person? It's the same old "grass is greener on the [older and richer] side."

I see the author's point, that parents need to know what their kids are reading... but I don't see how "shop lit" is so very dangerous. Ms. Heller glosses over the possibly argument that "at least they're reading," but I don't think it's that easy to ignore. With the entertainment she references ("the tube, the screen, the Internet and iTunes"), there are worse things kids could be doing with their time. There are certainly better things kids could be reading, but I think I would rather my kid read the A-List series than hate reading.

I guess part of what annoyed me about this article was the direct impact she assumed for this kind of literature. The moral implications of this type of book, it seems, encourage promiscuous and bad behavior. I'm by no means perfect, but... I've read multiple books from at least two of the series mentioned (Gossip Girl and A-List), and, if anything, these books have taught me that this kind of crazy life is anything but normal. I understand I'm a lot older than some girls that are reading this kind of literature, but... if you're to say that reading about sex or sneaking out or getting away with things teaches bad behavior and shouldn't be read, then many of the classics would be out as well.

I think a lot of the problem is the marketing-- many times the books for high school and older girls are grouped in with those for middle school and a little younger. When series like the "shop lit" ones are popular, they're prominently featured. The titles sound fresh and current; the book covers look new and modern; the girls on them look mature, beautiful, and sophisticated. In comparison, my copy of Sense and Sensibility features lots of serif font, an old and somewhat ugly painting, and a slightly wordy title. Which one looks "cooler" to a young girl?

The thing is, while TV, movies, books, music, and all other parts of culture certainly contribute to kids' perceptions of normalcy, they can't be fully blamed. Parents don't need to prevent their kids from reading certain books; instead, parents just need to parent. So long as the parents instill good moral values in kids, culture alone is not going to sway them. Parents should, as the title in our paper said, "be wary of what their kids read." But instead of wary, I'd say... be aware. There's a slight difference, and I think it's important. Parents should know what their kids are reading, and discuss the reading with them if they feel it's inappropriate. But they shouldn't be afraid of what their kids are reading- even if characters do wrong things, the kids are reading, thinking about the situations before they are thrust into them, in some cases seeing the consequences, and the parents are often given an opportunity to bring up the topic.

I guess I just thought that Ms. Heller was trying to play two roles here- the shocked and overprotective parent who's afraid of her little girl growing up, and the pompous columnist and literary critic who's trying to fight consumerism with vocabulary and references to the classics. Maybe it's my age (19), but her call to arms made me annoyed more than anything else. I've read Jane Austen novels, but I've also read and enjoyed Gossip Girl novels. I have read lots of "shop lit" and seen "Sex and the City" without resorting to even caring about designer labels, much less reckless spending. I've read about or seen in shows people having casual sex as teenagers, and I'm a virgin. I've listened to rap and rock without ever doing any kind of drug, and barely doing any drinking. Sure, these "children's publications" might be doing some harm, but they're not to blame for the problems of society's teenagers.

(I realize this wasn't a very organized or well-written rant, but I don't feel like going back to fix it. So... enjoy. :)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

such fragile lives

I was just over reading LJSecret, a LiveJournal version of the now-famous PostSecret. For anyone who doesn't know, PostSecret was the creation of a man named Frank Warren who handed out blank postcards to random people and asked them to mail in their secrets. He posts some secrets on his blog each week, has published some in a book, and lent some to the All-American Rejects for use in their music video "Dirty Little Secret."

I kind of wonder sometimes what the obsession is with reading others' secrets. Even though a lot of them (especially on LJsecret) are "I love my best friend" or "This lesbian picture is so hot... but I'm a girl"-type secrets, I enjoy reading them too, and I've even sent a few secrets in myself. But here are my theories as to why people have become so addicted to reading and telling their deepest secrets:

1) Sheer morbid curiosity.
As in... there are really people who believe that? Some of the secrets sent in are gross erotic confessions or awful admissions of guilt. Some of them might just be fake- sent in for shock value- but I'm sure some, if not most, of the shocking ones are real. And it's interesting to read just how incredulous they can get.

2) Sympathy.
Finding out that someone shares the same weird secret as you makes you feel a little less alone. And in communities like LJSecret, you can make comments to tell someone else you agree or they're not alone, and when it's your secret and you read that... it makes you feel a lot better about yourself.

3) Feeling better about yourself.
Even better than someone sympathizing with you is to read someone's crazy secret and realize your own aren't so bad. Reading someone's depressing secret about their life could very well make you see the bright side of yours. And while it's kind of a sick way to improve your morale... it works. It also helps when people leave comments- it can make a person who feels alone and ignored feel cared about and listened to.

4) Release.
Admitting a deep-dark secret, even anonymously, can help someone get it off their chest. And we've all had something that we wanted to tell someone but were too ashamed or scared to tell-- so to get it out there, even anonymously, makes people feel a little better about them.

5) Publishing pride.
To be "published," even if it's your secret, makes some people proud. I'm not gonna lie; I got a bit of a thrill seeing my secret posted. It's also, for some people, a way to be creative and, in some cases, get that art noticed. On PostSecret, there's not so much of a way to respond to the secrets... but on LJSecret, people often comment about the artwork- good or bad- of certain secrets. It's fun to play around in PhotoShop, and even more fun when someone compliments your secret later, I'm sure.

So, there you have it. My random and somewhat uninspired speculation about SecretObsessors. Fin!