Saturday, August 28, 2010


George Perkins Marsh is an essential figure in the conservation movement. His address to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County on September 30, 1847 was a catalyst for commencing discussion regarding the preservation of lands, especially forests, and the effects of agriculture on the greater environment. Why did I read this address on a Sunday morning? Good question, and must be answered in two parts. First of all, I'm a nerd. Secondly, by examining the origins of an idea or a movement, we can better understand and appreciate that movement (but seeing as I'm a believer in conservationism, it's probably a greater dose of the former rather than the latter) Anyway, I highly recommend the address:

In reading the address, I was again reminded of the former power of American political speech. Speech used to stretch the mind, argue elegantly for new ideas, and inculcate passion. Let's do a little comparison. G.P.M. "So far then as telluric influences are concerned, it be may assumed, that the results of agricultural labors are in the main subject to calculation, and depend entirely upon the intelligence and industry of the husbandman." Compared with G.W.B. "Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?" Granted this is somewhat of a cheap shot, so let's just look at Marsh. First of all, the language is far from the middle school level to which too many speeches and newspapers have dropped their standards. We will not improve our lexicon without necessity, and so it is the responsibility of our leaders (and leading publications) to drive us to the higher standard. (By the way, telluric means 'of or pertaining to the earth, terrestrial') Secondly, I love the image he paints with this phrase. On the surface, agricultural productivity is dependent on smart choices coupled with hard work, but by including the phrase husbandman, he deepens the connection between the farm and the farmer. Not only is the farmer to work the land to the best of his ability, but he is also to serve the land as a husband would to his wife; talk about imagery!

Apologies for a post centered on enhancing your useless knowledge, but Sundays are usually slow and today is even slower because there's no futsal this week since we were unable to get enough guys to commit. Oh, a fun piece of news, my cell phone bill from my entire time in Indonesia thus far has been $5.50. Arguably this is considerably better than my previous relationship with Verizon :)

World Vision "Concert"

Due to our participation in the 30 hour famine over the past few years and the relationship Mentari has had with World Vision, we were invited to perform for an hour at eX (a mall near Grand Indonesia). Today was the performance and despite technical difficulties (one of the cables provided by eX kept going in and out causing one of the guitars to not be amplified, unfortunately it was the guitar of a soloist...) they did an amazing job and I'm really proud of my kids! I'm continually reminded of the importance of interacting with them outside of an academic setting, and some of them were overly surprised to see that I occasionally wear jeans! :) Furthermore, being a part of the supporting cast helped me connect in a much more meaningful way with many of my students, creating a bond in which I now they feel like my "kids" just like Zewei, Imran, and Qingmei will always be "my kids"

Lastly, on the way home, I was able to sustain a 10 minute conversation with the cab driver! He is originally from East Java, currently lives in East Jakarta, has two children - one in grade four and one in grade seven, and I was able to answer many of his questions and tell him a little about New York! I enjoy putting myself in situations where I'm forced to use Bhasa because it greatly increases my understanding of the structure of the language, improves my vocabulary, and eases insecurity. For the rest of my Saturday evening I'm looking to go for a longer run and finish my third version of my personal statement, clearly I'm living an exceedingly exciting life :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Open House

Today, the students left after "religious activity" time, which has become a school-wide break from instruction on Friday for the time period that the boys head to the mosque - an action that levels the playing field and provides consistency and parameters for this time period. Each week I've helped out with the Christian meeting, looking to support the leaders and listen to the students. It's interesting that when they want to know what denomination you are, they ask if you're "Christian or Catholic" as though those are mutually exclusive.

Anyway, the students left early so that their parents could come for the school Open House. Essentially it was a curriculum night, but it took place during the day. There were about 30-35 parents present and it was great to be able to interact with students' parents. Additionally, I heard from parents in attendance as well as leaders of the Yayasan (the "governing" body for Mentari) that parents were pleased with what they were hearing about what was taking place in my classroom. I guess it's good to know that I learned a thing or two over my TFA experience :) However, when talking with Ibu Elena and Matt about class trips, Ibu Risa (one of the five heads of the Yayasan) came in and mentioned she heard good things and was hoping that I would be able to stay for at least a second year, if not more. I deflected giving a specific answer by saying that things were up in the air, that I was pleased with how the year had been starting off, and then changing the subject. We'll see how this works in the long-run :)

Interesting tid-bit from the day: Kirk Herbstreit picked Stanford to win the Pac-10. (I'm very excited for College Football starting in less than a week!) I hope everyone is well!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Champions League and Will Forte

They recently announced the groups for the Champions League this year. The Champions League is a privatized version of the World Cup and it's too bad the United States doesn't have something that can even come close to the excitement, magnitude and quality of play. It's as if Canada and Mexico had both an American and National Leagues that were up to par with the AL and NL in MLB, and then 3 or 4 of the best teams from each league were grouped off to play each other in a play-off. The Champions League inspires nationalism (an Arsenal fan will feverishly support their team, but if they get knocked out, a fellow EPL team could become the standard bearer) and internationalism (the connectivity and international make-up of all of these teams exemplify globalism, and it helps sew ties between nations as teams from throughout Europe compete against one another - from England to Serbia).

Additionally, I'm sad to hear that Will Forte will be leaving Saturday Night Live. The MacGruber sketches and Jon Bovi opposite tribute band will be missed.

Lastly, this coming Saturday, a group from Mentari will be performing at one of the malls in Jakarta. We were invited by World Vision (thanks to our annual participation in the 30 hour famine and dedication to Community and Service as being one of the Areas of Interaction for IB schools) and will be performing various songs and dances from 4 to 5. Yesterday, I helped supervise the practice session and was blown away with how musical some of my students are. I love interacting with my students outside of the classroom because it gives me a better picture of who they are, and it also lets them see that their teachers are people too :) While things are still rather rough, I'm confident with another 3.5 hours of practice today the students will be prepared for Saturday!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Times

In the 21st century, things like e-mail, blogs, and face-space enable the 10,000 miles between us to not seem so far. Furthermore, The New York Times online and IndoCafe have enabled breakfast to be a time of both relaxation, education and connection to my home, despite taking place before 6 am :). Recently, I've been intrigued by three stories in particular: "What is it About 20-Somethings?" (including later in the day having it independently sent between multiple friends and commonly posted by other friends online), "For New York, $700 million in School Aid" (oh Race to the Top...), and "A Fight on New York's Skyline."

"What is it About 20-Somethings?":
As of late, I've been fascinated with all things dealing with psychology, and the early reference to Teach For America (and other programs my close friends have participated in, like City Year and Fulbright) sought to specifically assign the period of "emerging adulthood" to me and my peers. Within my own close group of friends, there are certainly those who will easily clear the five hurdles before reaching 30 (leaving home, completing one's education - I think that's a bogus phrase since I intend to be continually educated throughout my lifetime, but that's a whole different issue, financial independence, marriage, and having a child), but I've started to seriously question whether or not I will be married, let alone have a child, before 30 (of course assuming the other three will be completed, but at my rate of postponement of law school, that may even be in question :) lol)

However, "emerging adulthood" deals with so many factors outside of the five milestones. First of all, NPR (thanks for the article Greg!) has an article citing continued brain development well into one's 20s. Second of all, thanks to the way in which my generation was told we can achieve anything, there's much greater hesitation to "settle" before at least attempting to give our dreams a try. Finally, I am convinced that my time in TFA was vital for my personal growth and that spending time in Indonesia will make me more well rounded and increase my perspective. Furthermore, not only are these experiences benefiting me, but due to an increased exposure to other professions, ways of life, and cultures, all future interactions will be impacted in a positive way. Thus, while me, and many of my peers, may be "emerging" into adulthood, there could be many worse ways to emerge than Teach For America, City Year, or Fulbright :)


"For New York, $700 Million in School Aid"
It's encouraging that New York was able to place in the top ten of the second round of Race to the Top, but it sounds like a large factor was Arne Duncan's relationship with Joel Klein. Granted, New York has made a number of important steps in education reform, most importantly that the status quo is crippling to the long-term health of the state and our country. However, and this is for Joe C, I don't think the fact that New York has increased the number of potential charter schools is necessarily going to lead to a turn-around in results. While New York is blessed to have some of the best charter schools in the country (thank you Harlem, KIPP, Uncommon, and Achievement First), it is important to note that a school is not inherently better simply because it is a charter school. I think it is much easier for a charter school to achieve greatness, but that's already been discussed.

Additionally, assessing teachers based on student performance is a needed change. While there are many issues regarding the practical application of this (ie, what to do with subjects without state-wide standardized tests, how to measure students growth, etc), the simple fact that teachers need to be accountable for their pupils learning material seems to be a work-place fundamental.

Furthermore, re-working the curriculum is drastically needed in New York, but I don't know if they're taking a step in the right direction by making it more standards-based, especially in the "common core" subjects of English and Math. The article, and the state, acknowledge the assessment for these subjects is inappropriate, but I think we need to focus more on the teaching (ie the proliferation of "master teachers" or other specialists who can provide meaningful PD throughout teachers' careers) than on the assessing.

Finally, Klein is right that a key element to education reform in New York is the elimination of "Last In, First Out." Yes, I'm biased due to my Teach For America experience, but it doesn't make logical sense that a highly effective (by any measure) teacher must go first if they were the last one hired.


"A Fight on New York's Skyline"
This article is interesting simply because of the focus it puts upon how we deal with change. A development group has gotten plans for a structure nearly as tall as the Empire State Building to be built only two avenues away from the iconic landmark. The development group is following the wishes of the city and planning major office space near transit hubs (the proposed skyscraper would literally be across the street from Penn Station), however, the owners of the Empire State Building and other purists of tradition are claiming the new office tower would be a monstrosity that would destroy the city skyline. While I completely agree with the city that high-rise office space should be built as close as possible to major transit hubs, I have some issues with 15 Penn Plaza. First of all, they don't have any major tenants planned. It seems that with the new World Trade Center Tower (which will over-take the Empire State Building as the tallest structure in NYC) being built downtown, one should line up a few tenants before dropping $100 million to help ease traffic in Penn Station, to say nothing of the cost of building the actual structure. Furthermore, regarding its affect on the skyline, I don't so much have issues with another tall structure close to the Empire State Building, but I do have issues with structures that lack inspired design. 15 Penn Plaza is nothing special and there is one rendering that makes the building appear to be a simple block of steel erected in Midtown. If you're going to make a substantial change on the skyline of New York, do so in a classy and inspired way :)


Lastly, this is just funny: I was confused as to why they would've needed to use a stun gun until, "Thomas refused and dropped into a three-point stance like a football player and lunged at the officers..." Way to keep in classy in Corvallis...

Monday, August 23, 2010


Every day as I travel between home and work, I pass the following scene on Kemang Utara.
At first, I was taken aback by the amount of graffiti and general disarray of the lot (especially since it is right behind a nice apartment building with high quality shops and restaurants on the ground level) However, throughout the past couple months, I've seen local teenagers use the lot behind the concrete wall as a space to play futball, people have used the front area to gather, and the graffiti isn't as malicious as tasteful and artistic. Consequently, on Sunday, I decided to bring my camera and get a closer look. Below is my attempt at a relatively artsy-type shot of some of the graffiti on the lot:

Overall, it's been fascinating to me that as I've become more and more familiar with the neighborhood, this lot has transformed from being a blight into an area of local self expression, independence, and intrinsic beauty. I'm not saying all abandoned lots should be used in this way (and this one could use a major clean-up to remove the debris and whatnot), but I think this lot is a microcosm of developed/developing mentality. The developed world comes in with their notions of how something should be without taking the time to see the beauty of what the developing world has.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

IB Training and Buka Puasa

As of yesterday morning, I officially completed the introductory training with the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. Throughout the training, I kept thinking back to the Professional Development I received over the past few years and how the IB way of thinking compared with that of TFA and the NYC DOE. TFA wouldn't like the MYP because of a lack of standardization or norm-referencing exams. The NYC DOE would find the MYP to be too difficult to implement in such a large system because of the holistic change in teacher training required. However, both of these things caused me to question the way in which we approach education as Americans. While the MYP is far from perfect, yet the importance it gives to things such as community service and independent research helps us acknowledge we can't educate the mind without also educating the person. Being supportive of education is good rhetoric, but the wise wife of President John Adams is as true today as she was in the 18th century, "we have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them."

Additionally, last night Ab and I were honored to sharing buka puasa, or a breaking of the fast, with the Fathony family. In a spirit of transparency, I had not been fasting yesterday as having to wake up early to get to the IB training was making me cranky (like that's hard to believe, right? :) lol), but it has been an outstanding comfort to be welcomed as family so far from home. Actually, funny story; the Fathony's don't live very far from MPR (the People's Consultative Assembly) which is a prominent government building in central Jakarta. However, upon getting into a cab in Kemang, the cab driver had no idea what we were talking about (in fact, suggesting MPR was in a southern suburb of the city, which is kind of like being in DC and having the cabbie try to take you to Silver Spring, MD) Fortunately, after a conference of cabbies on a side street, a phone conversation between Sabina and the driver, and consultation of a map, we were able to find our way :) Not exactly the fun I was planning on having during a Saturday evening...but you know, gotta stay alive on your feet!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Global Jaya

Today was the first day of three days of International Baccalaureate training at Global Jaya. One of the guys who plays futsal on Sundays is a principal at Global Jaya, not to be confused with the principal because the place is huge! It's literally a campus with four or five buildings, tennis courts, and multiple fields! Needless to say, compared with Mentari, which has been forced to build up due to a lack of acreage, Global Jaya is a suburb unto itself. Additionally, I ran into Kevin (futsal buddy) during the morning coffee break and we were able to catch up and chat a but, but unfortunately he thinks he has Dengue Fever. He's going to the doctor tomorrow, so hopefully that yields positive results, but is definitely sobering.

This past week, I viewed an e-mail chain passed between a number of friends regarding privatization of social security and I thought it over for a while, since I had a good amount of time to think on the bus to and from Global Jaya today :). The phrasing alone "privatization of social security" sounds scary. It elicits images of the government abandoning its duty to protect and serve its senior citizens by handing over social security to the highest bidder. Honestly, given the way in which Russia was "privatized," this image has relevance, power, and is a major cause for concern - just ask any Russian who lived through the 90s how privatization "helped" them out. However, this is not what it means to privatize social security. In reality, you would have a better understanding of what has been saved for you because you'd be able to see the total figure in an account rather than rely upon some formula concocted by Congress. Granted, that formula hasn't changed much, but that's the problem. 'Defined-benefit' packages are unsustainable and as the bulk of the baby boomers retire, they will suck up the reserves built up for social security and become a major liability for current tax-payers unless the formula for paying out social security is changed, which would be an actual hit to the security of the elderly in America, thus should be avoided if at all possible.

Furthermore, the psychology of Social Security is twisted. Social Security is the "net" for your retirement that continually pays out, but as my brother likes to say, he's a fan of smokers because they're saving Social Security for him. The reality is, if you die for whatever reasons shortly after you retire, you won't have collected anywhere close to the amount of Social Security that you contributed over time. Some may say this doesn't matter because, well, you're dead, but if you happen to have a family, it might make a great deal of difference. Overall, Social Security simply becomes a nebulous security blanket of payments you can assume to collect in your old age. Furthermore, since this security net exists, it creates disincentive to save enough money on your own. Figuring out how much you need to live on during retirement is extremely complex (ie, will you be maintaining your standard of living, thus need to be accustomed to revenues similar to what you had during your working years, or will you be taking advantage of every senior citizens discount and thus rely on less money, or will you use this time to travel and do things you never had time for during your working years in which case you'll probably need more money) The natural reaction to this matrix of choices is to throw up your hands, say "I don't know," save what you can (as long as it doesn't spoil too much of your fun right now) but know you have some unknown quantity of money (S.S.) to fall back on. Instead, by privatizing Social Security, you are giving the people the knowledge of exactly how much they have in retirement and also makes for an easy forum in which to inform people a loose range of how much money they will need depending on the age in which they plan to retire (taking into account all three scenarios described above).

The main issue arises with how to go about privatization, and thanks to Sweden, we can learn a lot of lessons. First of all, and this isn't limited to Sweden, but is something that must permeate the public sector, and that is to simplify economic public policy issues. By convoluting the language, people are confused and they make the wrong choices. This brings me to my first point, and that is for effective privatization of Social Security, people need a wise 'default' option. This is, in fact, what Sweden did. The default was carefully chosen to have an appropriate asset allocation for long-term growth between equities, bonds, and other financial instruments, however, in the spirit of self-determination, the Swedes wanted their citizens to make their own choice of funds. This brings us to mistake number one. At the out-set, there were 456 different funds for the Swedes to choose to put their retirement savings into. 456. Clearly, this is far too many funds from which to appropriately differentiate anything beyond rates of return (which at that time were wildly in favor of technology stocks, since Sweden privatized around the height of the tech boom and consequently too many citizens invested in tech heavy funds) Lesson 1, limit the number of funds and clearly demonstrate the differences in their asset allocation. Second mistake, the Swedes actively advertised for choosing a fund other than the default and allowed the funds unlimited ability to advertise in favor of their own fund. Consequently, most Swedes abandoned the carefully chosen default fund in favor of whatever was made to sound best to them. Lesson Two, dealing with money is complicated enough for most people and if you've assembled a broad team of experts who have diligently done their best to choose a secure long-term fund, don't advertise against it. Rather, change the branding to say that the default has been chosen carefully by experts in the field, but that you are welcome to change your fund to one of a limited number of clear alternative funds.

By learning from the Swedes, we can help make peoples retirement savings more transparent and potentially more secure than by staying with our current 'defined-benefit' system. The danger of the defined-benefit system is that if we run out of money, we either will be forced to change the formula or make up the difference through increased tax revenues (and we all know how much people love to see their real income decrease...) By transitioning to a 'defined-contribution' system, more specifically, your current contribution to Social Security but set aside solely for you, that money can't be taken away from you by an act of Congress. Yes, it would mean your retirement is subject to market vulnerability, but let's discuss where the market was in 1960: around 600, 1970: around 800, 1980: around 850, 1990: around 2500, 2000: around 10000, and today: around 10000 - after the "Great Recession" nonetheless. But for those of you who don't feel confident in the market, you could choose a different fund than the default, likely one that invested in T-bills, which are safer than Social Security would ever be.

One of the more difficult questions is how to transition the country to a privatized system that doesn't hold the government to any 'defined-benefits,' just continued 'defined-contributions' from your paycheck. This will most likely use up our entire savings of over $1 trillion for Social Security, but in the long-run, that will be a drop in the bucket and well worth the start-up cost.

Last thing, this morning I got a fee waiver from UVA, kind of freaked out and hadn't recovered before meeting up with my ojek driver this morning. I don't think he really understood, I honestly don't think I do yet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Flag Raising

Today was the first flag raising ceremony at Mentari. Apparently this is a weekly event at National Schools, but we only do it once every couple of months or so. While the whole affair is in Bhasa, Matt described the general idea; having 9th and 10th grade school leaders act as a color guard, sing the national anthem, read the constitution, salute a lot. In general, he described it as a militaristic brainwashing of the youth of Indonesia. While I would not go that far (Matt is clearly laissez faire lol), it did get me thinking about the purpose of such institutions coupled with the ways in which countries, specifically Indonesia and the United States, inculcate national identity into their youth. Clearly weekly flag raisings are more overt ways to incorporate the youth into the national identity, but subtle things such as the pledge of allegiance, implementation of social studies curricula, or the education system as a whole function to season citizenship. While I'm not passing judgement one way or another, these are nudges that must be examined carefully as they will have an enormous impact on the future of a nation.

Additionally, tomorrow is the first day of a three-day IB training. I'm looking forward to this professional development as I know it will stretch me to continue to examine the ways in which I push my students academically. One of the most exciting aspects for me will be examining pragmatic ways in which IB recommends integrating curricula. The power of integrated curriculum was first ingrained while at MS 88, but it's true potential was never fully realized for a number of reasons, and I've had an urge to see how I can further this concept throughout the year.

"Unfortunately we do not subject our own perceptions to such rigorous alternative testing." Thaler and Sunstein

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Indonesian Independence Day

We had the day off from school today because it's Indonesian Independence Day. It was the first day I really let myself sleep in and try to make up some of the debt :) However, plans to go out were pretty much spoiled by the torrential downpour throughout the day. Consequently I was able to make significant progress on some books and watch a couple of movies (Rain Man was solid, kind of surprising I hadn't seen it before really, but King of New York was awful...) I was also able to plan for the coming week and respond to Joe's persistent prosecution of charter schools. I guess I've become the "champion" of charters in his eyes because of my employment with one and defense of the good work some of them are doing (emphasis on some not meaning all, by definition means at least one, and I can speak to the one charter where I worked :-p) I hope things are drier over in 'merica! Pax vobiscum and ipsa scientia potestas est.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

School Party at Elena's

Last night, Ibu Elena and Pak Albert (the husband and wife duo who are principals at the two main Mentari schools) held a party for the teachers and staff at their home. Initially it was a little weird being with 75 people I didn't exactly know, but sharing a meal and then sharing some ridiculous game time together enabled me to feel like a much closer part of the Mentari family. Having a deliberate time with planned activities (and copious amounts of delicious food!) was a great morale event, especially when I got to teach some of the Filipinos some different card games!

Additionally, today during futsal I noticed that all of my extracurricular running coupled with having played for four Sundays has markedly improved my fitness level on the pitch. Normally, I feel totally gased at the end of the session, but today I felt pretty good at the end!

Also, I've officially decided my course of action for law school: I'm only going to apply to schools where I'd be over-joyed to attend. It is doubtful that I'll only be applying to reach school (because I'll probably still send out six or seven apps), but I don't want to have any regrets about the process and ultimately where I go to law school. If I get rejected by all of the schools, then I'll take a more conservative approach next fall and maybe apply early somewhere.

"I don't have any children but if I were going to, I'd buy a baby book. Or I would invite someone over who had a cast on. I'm not good at golf, I never got good. I never got a hole in one, but I did hit a guy. And that's way more satisfying. You're supposed to yell 'Fore,' but I was too busy mumbling 'There ain't no way that's going to hit him.' I went to the park and saw this kid flying a kite. The kid was really excited, but I don't know why. That's what they're supposed to do. Now if he had a chair on the other end of the string, I would have been impressed."

Finally as I walked home from getting ice cream, today I observed a slight, but important distinction. There is a big difference between peeing in the water supply and peeing into the water supply. Perception, perception, perception.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kemang Food Fest

After school today, I walked to downtown Kemang to get a cup of coffee and finish up the first draft of my personal statement. Initially I wanted to go to a privately owned business to support the local economy rather than a chain:), but every place inside of the Kemang Food Fest was closed due to the fast. Consequently, I went across the street to a very nice Indonesian strip mall. Promptly at 6pm, the mosques rang out declaring that the fast could be broken and in a matter of minutes, the Food Fest (kind of an open air plaza with about 15 store-front restaurants with a common seating area in the middle) went from deserted and closed to loud and bustling. It was great to see the unity with the sacrifice coupled with making the breaking of the fast a social event.

Regarding my reading list, this week I've started "Out of Africa," which started out dry but has been a pretty gripping read, as well as, the "Life of Pi." I've heard a lot about "Pi" over the years, but it was one of those books I never exactly got around to reading, however, Meg decided it seemed like a good one and so I've officially started my first international "book club." :) I realize this makes me quite a nerd, but I hope you will all forgive me :)

"I use the word 'totally' too much. I need to change it up and use a word that is different but has the same meaning. Mitch, do you like submarine-sandwiches? All-emcompassingly... I was walking down the street with my friend and he said, 'I hear music,' as though there's another way to take it in. 'You're not special, that's how I receive it too...I tried taste, but it did not work.' Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only disease you can get yelled at for. Darn it Otto, you're an alcoholic. Darn it Otto, you have Lupis... one of those two doesn't sound right."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Fast

In the spirit of solidarity, I didn't eat today at school. Apparently you also aren't suppose to drink water or let anything pass your lips (so for those who smoke, they're supposed to lay off that as well), but given that I'm a bule in the tropics, I figured it was best that I continue to drink my copious amount of water. Additionally, tonight I ran a route that is "less public" by Jakarta standards so as to avoid being the guy overtly burning calories during the fasting month. Things have been busy at work, and that's about it :)

"I wish I could play little league now. I'd be way better than before. I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it. The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I'll never be as good as a wall."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Begins

Today is the beginning of Ramadan, and consequently is the first day off from school. Mid-week holidays like this seem to make the weeks go by so much faster (well obviously Jon, they decrease your workload by 20%!) and last night, as I was getting approval from Ibu Elena to starting SAT tutoring, I realized next week is going to be full of time when I'll be out of school. Next Tuesday is Independence Day (day off), Thursday and Friday I'll be at IB training, and either Monday or Wednesday I'll be going to Singapore (or at least, this is the latest lol) Consequently, I've been working on a packet of work for next week that will involve me teaching 1 lesson and providing 4 lessons worth of substitute work...

Back to the SAT tutoring, one of my students' older sister is currently a junior at the high school associated with Mentari, and she isn't feeling comfortable in math class. Her father went to college in the US and she is looking to do the same, but is not feeling prepared for the math section of the SAT. Being fresh off LSAT preparation, I'm in complete attack mode when it comes to standardized tests, and so I'm excited to start helping high schoolers dominate the standardized exam for their next step in life!

Lastly, for those following Ramadan, you fast during the day. I realized today how brazen that makes me appear to the surrounding population to be on a run (in the tropics nonetheless) while everyone is fasting. Consequently, out of respect for those observing Ramadan, I am going to limit my runs during this month until after the fast has been broken and for solidarity, some days may join my students and friends out here in their fast.

"I once saw a forklift life a crate of forks; it was way too literal for me. I recently took up ice sculpting. Last night I made an ice cube. This morning I made 12, I was prolific! I wanted to buy a candle holder, but the store didn't have one, so I bought a cake."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Officially an Alum

As of last night, I officially became an alumnus of Teach For America as I video-chatted my final meeting with my Program Director. My literal and figurative distance from 88 enabled me to provide Tony with better feedback and it struck me how, despite our best intentions, emotions cloud of better judgement, whether that be in regard to one's work or one's relationships. Despite my abilities to, in all things, be an Econ (how Thaler and Sunstein describe people who can be solely analytical and continually make cost-optimizing decisions), apparently I too am a Human (or someone who's emotions play an aspect in his decision-making, once again as described in "Nudge") It is really interesting to think about life after the corps, and as I've transitioned to life as an alum, I've been continually struck by how holistically transformative the past two years of my life have been. Teach For America does an excellent job focusing on the qualities that make effective corps members, but things like "taking no excuses," making positive assumptions about others and communities, being oriented around explicit goals, et cetera are attributes that are embodied by good people. At the end of the day, no offense to William and Mary, but I think I will look back on these past two years as my most extensive educational period because of the personal and academic rigors of not only surviving, but thriving, in the corps.

Today is Merah Putih (Red and White Day), one of the school spirit days (and by spirit day, the students aren't required to wear the uniform, big stuff!) Additionally, tomorrow is the first day of Ramadan so there is no school, consequently, today had a rather festive atmosphere as tomorrow signals the first break in the school year! I did my part by wearing Red and not assigning homework (hey, it's about as festive as I get :) lol) During my day off tomorrow, I am intending on doing the next few weeks of planning, finishing the working copy of my personal statement, and enjoying sleeping in :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ojek, Misterrr??

Due to the extreme heat and humidity, as well as opportunity to bronze a bit, I've been going running without a shirt and so all the natives witness a bule running by in running shoes and shorts. However, on my run today, I was asked, not once, not twice, but three times if I needed an ojek ride! I always smiled and shook my head no, but I've been thinking to myself that I'm quite evidently running (usually not at a trivial pace), I'm not in normal clothes, and it doesn't even look like I would be carrying money with which to pay for the ojek ride. I recognize that it is counter cultural to run for fun, but I feel like my thought experiment came up with three reasons for people not to inquire about an ojek ride.

Anyway, today I also continued with Adam Hamilton's series on Forgiveness. Last week I watched "As far as the east is from the west" (yes I also realize the double meaning in that given my current situation) and this week I watched the second sermon in the series, "Forgiveness and Marriage." While I am clearly not married, or even in a relationship, I appreciated the perspective Pastor Hamilton brought to the subject. One of my favorite lines was one he uses with his wife, "Honey, help me not to be such a dope." I feel like this will be one for my arsenal lol. Additional, it's important to change our inter-relational accounting regarding small things and not focus on the debits, but only remember the credits. It's too easy to cling to the little things that annoy us, but that will just perpetuate dissatisfaction.

"An escalator can never brake: it can only become stairs. You should never see an 'Escalator Temporarily Out of Order' sign, just an 'Escalator Temporarily Stairs' sign. Sorry for the convenience. Every book is a children's book if the kid can read. Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults. I can whistle with my fingers, especially if I'm holding a whistle."

Friday, August 6, 2010

School Picnic at ISCI

Today was the school picnic. It was great to interact with the kids in a third space, but in a way that was more structured and more meaningful than "field day." First of all, the kids from both schools were split into four different teams (red, blue, yellow, and green) a week ahead of time and yesterday we had an assembly for 15 minutes prior to lunch for the teams to get to know one another and sign up for the different events throughout the day. It was really fun to watch students in charge of organizing themselves and observing leadership among peers.

Today, the morning started with traditional Indonesian games (like sack races, longest line, eating a cracker tied to a stick, etc) and then afterwards,we split the field in half and Yusaf refereed one soccer game while I refereed the other while the rest were able to sit on the bleachers and support their teams. The quality of soccer was pretty good, but the limiting factor was definitely the climate. After soccer, the kids split up to go play badminton, participate in a swimming competition, or stay on the field to play ultimate frisbee. Ultimate is definitely foreign to them, and so I transitioned from soccer referee to ultimate referee to ultimate coach to both teams :) At the end of the game, both teams were starting to understand the strategy a little better, but throwing and catching wasn't always consistent... :)

After a morning full of sports, the gentlemen left for Friday prayer and then we all had lunch. Since I wanted to avoid getting sunburned or have too much exposure, I stayed down around the pool area in the shade and played cards with the 9th, 10th and 11th graders. It's great how self-sufficient high schoolers can be :)

Tonight I was supposed to have my end of year conversation with TFA, but that fell through, so after clearing Friday explicitly for this, I have more time for reading and planning for the coming week. Honestly between the TFA stuff from this summer and some of the details about being over in Indo, I've come to expect failure by those around me...kind of frustrating, but I know that my argument loses all power as soon as I drop my end, so I'll just keep on trucking :)

Closing thoughts, as much as I wanted to dislike "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz, it really is catchy...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yusaf's Art Opening

Yusaf, a teacher at Mentari and who introduced me to Sunday futsal, is apparently a freelance photographer. Tonight he is showing 59 of his prints at Eastern Promises and a good number of staff and students are staying a little late at school to walk over to the show together. This is his third show and the prints will be up in the establishment throughout August and September (unless they're sold!) I'm sure it should be quite interesting due to the natural beauty at his finger tips (apparently the collection contains prints from Bali, Gili, and South African safaris - he went to South Africa for the World Cup and had to go on a few when the games weren't going on lol) I've been continually surprised and impressed by my co-workers and other ex-pats that I've met since coming out to Jakarta. It's most likely not their accomplishments per se, but more their world and life experiences that are so outside of my norms. Additionally, the copier broke today, so glad to see that you may change the school, but you still have the same issues :)

"He planted the idea for 'Inception' in Christopher Nolan's mind while he was dreaming. When he goes for a swim he doesn't get wet, the water gets him. His photographic memory is in HD. He is a master chef, when he dices onions, they cry. His blood type is A plus. He has been asked by the IRS to audit them. If Michael Bolton were on his iPod, he'd be world famous again. He is the most interesting man in the world."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First Gamelan Sighting!

I've been in Indonesia for over a month, but until today, I had yet to see any gamelan! Some randos outside of Blok M saved the day, however, as they were banging away (it didn't really sound like 'sluku sluku' otherwise I would've joined in lol) Gamelan clearly isn't as pervasive as it is in Ubud, but is another reason to venture out and explore the country!

Wednesdays are pretty awesome because I only teach four periods that consist of only two eighth grade classes, so I have a lot of time for planning and grading throughout the day. Consequently, I was able to leave today at 4pm and it would've been considerably earlier if not for the staff meeting at 3. These have been pretty cool because they involve the entire staff, food is provided, and they help democratize school decisions. Today's meeting went a little long because we had to discuss the plans for Friday's school-wide picnic to ISCI (International Sports Center of Indonesia). My role for Friday will be to help facilitate soccer and I'm doing it with the guy from school who introduced me to the futsal league. I think we're rather qualified and should have a good time :)

"Dogs are forever in the push-up position. I was watching late-night TV, and there was an ad that told me to forget everything I knew about slip covers, and it was a load off my mind. And then they tried to sell me slip covers, but I didn't know what they were!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The human capacity for perspective is amazing. We can generate opinions on nearly anything and do a great job at convincing ourselves of the ideal qualities of our reality compared with all others. I appreciate friends who challenge my own perspectives and also encourage me to take a step back and disengage from my outlook to enable a better analysis. This is one of the reasons I've appreciated my new friendship with Mike out here. Mike, like Ab, was a part of the Fulbright program last year, but he is far from your "typical" Fulbrighter. Mike wasn't a tradition college student (he worked for a few years prior to attending full time) and has taken time to literally travel the world. It's funny to be in conversation and for him to insouciantly mention an anecdote about Thailand, Taiwan, or Turkey. Needless to say, his life experiences have created a unique perspective very distinctive from my Type-A, defined-path lifestyle :) Anyway, I bring up Mike to introduce a way in which I'm currently being "nudged."

Obviously, based on both the title of this post and my usage in the first paragraph, I have been thoroughly enjoying reading "Nudge" by Thaler and Sunstein. Thaler is an economics and business professor at UChicago and Sunstein is a Harvard Law professor, and their approach to this book has validated my faith in economics as a discipline. At the end of my undergraduate studies, I became disenchanted because of my macroeconomic focus (specifically in growth economics) and the conspicuous failure, or even disservice, of macroeconomists over time. It is not that I believe macroeconomists are overtly malicious, it's just that the basis for most of their studies are inherently flawed; extrapolating past performance. An overly simplistic example of this is that when a pitcher throws a perfect game, one cannot expect he will repeat this performance in his next outing. (As an aside for all non-baseball fans, no major league pitcher has ever thrown two consecutive perfect games) Anyway, the focus of this book is how "choice architecture" can be manipulated to align intentions with outcomes on a microeconomic level. I've been reading a number of books of late that address the connection between economics and psychology ("How We Decide" by Lehrer, "More Sex is Safer Sex" - essentially a "Freakonomics"-type book - by Landsburg, and "Nudge") and believe that psychoeconomics should be a foundation of microeconomic study because of some essential truths between our brains and the subsequent choices we make and choices are inherently a part of making business decisions, ergo fundamental to any discipline dealing with business.

Ultimately, why and how we decide things is extremely powerful, and greater cognizance of these forces can help us realize a greater potential in transforming our intentions into actions. For example, economic factors like loss aversion stem from the neurological responses to losing something. It is much more painful for our brain to lose something than to gain something (a fact that has been quantified to the uncanny result of our brain views a $5,000 loss to our portfolio equally with a $10,000 gain - or that, in general, we need to gain back twice as much as we lost to reestablish our "mental equilibrium.") The focus of "Nudge" is upon iNcentives, Understanding mappings, setting helpful Defaults, Giving feedback, Expecting error, and Structuring complex choices. In reading this book, I've found it interesting to examine the ways I already "nudge" myself; organizing a consistent ojek driver for the mornings (setting a helpful default time to arrive at school and actively combating expected error of sleeping in too late), taking public bus home (tricking myself with the incentive of it costing 1/3 of other modes of transportation, while simultaneously providing a default period of time to read), and so on.

The book has a section on money that breaks apart the important ways in which scary, confusing, and important things could be unbiasedly (or as unbiased as possible) nudged. For example, the savings rate in America is abysmal, with enormous repercussions on the vast majority of Americans as they edge towards retirement. The idea, and importance, of saving is nearly universally accepted, however, due to loss aversion (we all hate to see our paychecks go down!), people tend not to optimize their potential pre-tax savings opportunities. Thaler and Sunstein promote the use of better defaults, simplifying overly complex financial information, and an interesting concept, Save More Tomorrow, to help combat this issue. The Save More Tomorrow idea is that if you realize your savings rate is too low, you can opt to have your savings rate increased whenever you get a raise (the majority of the raise going to increasing your savings rate so that your paycheck doesn't ever decrease, just increases at a slower rate with raises) until you're maximizing your employer opt-in contribution match. Elegant solutions such as this are where economists should spend more energies: matching our natural psychological tendencies with beneficial economic results.

On the Indonesian front, I worry about the savings rate in this country, but I also wonder with the overall rate of growth and tendency of cohabitation among the nuclear family will cause this to be as big of a concern. Additionally, tonight I successfully made nasi goreng with my rice cooker! It wasn't quite like the beef ribs from the Ibu's restaurant last night, but I feel accomplished and that I'm more actively embracing the culture!

"He once challenged his reflection to a staring contest. On the fourth day, he won. He has won a lifetime achievement award...twice. He has found Waldo several times, but released him because he likes the hunt. He is the only person Chuck Norris has ever apologized to."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dinner and a Visa

After school today, one of the Ibus who originally had taken Ab, Mike and me out to dinner stopped by my classroom after school offering to send us beef ribs for dinner sometime this week. This week turned into tonight and so Ab and I got to share a pretty awesome dinner together, while he got to share how he was pitched a pyramid scheme over brunch on Sunday (and I thought I was having a good time playing futsal and whatnot!)

Additionally, I was told (again) today that I'll be leaving sometime in the next week to go to Singapore for my visa. We'll see if this actually pans out, I really hope so :) Other than that, life keeps on going, another pretty good Monday!

"I like rice. I think it's great for when you're hungry, and want 2,000 of something. I was walking by a dry cleaner at 3 am and it had a sign that said 'Sorry, we're closed.' You don't need to be sorry, it's 3 am and you're a dry cleaner. It would be ridiculous for me to expect you to be open. I'm not going to walk in at 10 am and demand an apology."