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The American School System is Fucked

The American School System as a whole is teaching it’s constituents that unless they learn the way they are taught they are learning improperly, or if they are unable to learn this way they are somehow at an intellectual loss, or stunted beyond the general public’s level of intelligence and it’s totally fucked. We are teaching our youth that they are stupid by implementing a one-size-fits-all theory of education. The way our current system has been arranged stipulates that there is one correct, effective, and true way of learning while common psychological and psychosocial studies of learning style, preferences, and stipulations say the opposite. 

For example, we know that there are two main personal orientations of learning, ‘social or interpersonal’ and ‘solitary or intrapersonal.’ Everyone on Earth uses one or both of these styles, with most people having a strong preference for one style over the other. Our learning styles may indeed be hierarchically inclusive, meaning we each are capable of every learning style, but we have a preset preference for one above another, so it is as if our learning styles are stacked. The American School System (ASS) forces the idea that social learning is the only correct style of learning, and while it’s important to learn skills of focusing, being quiet and stretching one’s brain in the space of original thoughts, it’s not nearly as important as becoming socialized in a learning environment, learning to work in a group, and accept a higher, unquestionable authority at a young age. The ASS system then teaches by forceable example that learning in a group is the only acceptable, correct style of learning, and if you are of the opposite persuasion, or adhere to the preference of an intrapersonal learning style then you are consistently punished throughout your time in the ASS. 

Punishments for not preferring solitary learning over group learning are seen in docked credit for not speaking up enough in class, refusal to perform public speaking in class, or poor performance at public speaking, low grades on group projects due to doing your part but having less than adequate group-mates, low in-class participation due to learning style, a lack of desire to attend field trips, or extracurricular activities, etc. A more indirect punishment is evidenced in the requirement of in-person class attendance for graduation regardless of work turned in, or actual amount of material learned in the duration of the semester. Also in the fact that online or off-campus education is only offered by a special few institutions, and even when it is offered there is often a requirement to attend in-person classes in order to receive a degree. 

There are five secondary learning styles—

  • ‘Visual’ or spatial, using photos or images

  • ‘Aural’ auditory-musical

  • ‘Verbal’ linguistic, either verbal, or written

  • ‘Physical’ tangible, using body, sense of touch

  • ‘Logical’ using reasoning and systems. 

As it stands the ASS refuses to take these into account, still largely using only the vastly outdated method of lectures, reading, and testing, be it multiple choice, written, or verbal, these methods are unimaginative and punitive to those who aren’t fortunate enough to naturally adhere to these learning styles. 

The ASS employs the ‘Logical’ and ‘Verbal’ learning styles to the detriment of the other three. It is true that teachers often implement the use of powerpoint in their lectures and presentations, often encouraging students to find visual representations of concepts. However, this is insufficient for a visual learner, and once again, falls short. When one has a preference of learning style, it is because their unique brain has grown naturally to take in and reference information in a certain sequence. Each learning style adheres to a specific section of the brain that has been made dominant in learning through genetics. It’s not as simple as learning to activate a different portion of your brain since you are being forced to. Throughout your life your preferred learning styles will stay the same, though it is absolutely possible to strengthen your auxiliary learning styles it is by far preferable, to work within the framework that your brain is requesting. Beyond that, the quality of learning would be vastly superior, being of better quality, more stable, easier, quicker, and more natural to the student being allowed to embrace their procurement preference. 

The ASS has been made aware of these semi-recent advances in psychology of learning styles and in response there have been programs implemented into public schools to show a willingness to accommodate different learning styles. However, individual learning styles are still being treated as the exception, rather than the rule. The programs designed to work within specific learning styles are still geared largely towards a one-size-fits-all goal. Rather than allowing children and young adults to determine and adopt their preferred learning styles throughout the whole of their education the ASS has instead opted to implement programs such as mandatory physical education, again, largely in a group setting, or offering music or art classes in addition to regular programming. Within their regularly scheduled, widely required, mass curriculum students are still subjected to methods of repetition, dull memorization, absurd amounts of reading, biased (as seen from the multiple intelligences point of view) writing assessments, and other forms of verbal and logical learning styles, with the occasional, narrowly specific visual aide.

Learning styles are often entirely ignored in the ASS, this unfortunate fact results in young students who grow up believing that they are intellectually abnormal, slow, or even downright stupid. This dismal and often crippling belief follows the student throughout the course of their education and often into the rest of their lives, as an underlying insecurity or an overt self-fulfilling prophecy. Due to repeatedly low test scores brought about by chronically ignored, or overlooked learning styles in the ASS the student may begin to believe that this is their best work, and as such is all that they are capable of. They may soon learn to expect this of themselves while simultaneously becoming evermore disheartened by redundantly poor marks regardless of effort, until eventually accepting their fate as a dunce. They may go their entire lives without realizing that perhaps they are, in fact, of average or above average intelligence but they are auditory-musical and kinesthetic learners. As such, when they couldn’t perform on a simple memory task no matter how many pneumonic devices the teacher applied, they never thought to consider that if there were a song or dance applied to the same memory task, they would still remember it to this day.


Neurobiology of Psychopaths

Psychopaths, they walk among us and they are more common than you may think, ringing in at just under 1 percent of the population ( Kiehl 35). We have known about and been fascinated by psychopaths since perhaps 287 BCE when Theophrastus gave us a detailed account of them, referring to them as ‘The Unscrupulous Man,’ but Philippe Pinel was the first psychiatrist to write about them (Keihl 36). In our fascination we have finally begun to narrow down exactly what it means to be a psychopath. Last year I read three books by the top three researchers and authorities on the study of Psychopaths, Kent Kiehl, PhD, Robert Hare, PhD, and neurobiologist James Fallon, my particular interest was in whether Psychopathy could be registered on a neurobiological level, whether it was always violent, and whether it could be helped or caused.

Due to misconceptions in the media at large, and a lack of a concrete definition for what it is to be a psychopath, it’s difficult to explain exactly what this disorder entails. There is no actual entry for Psychopathy, or Sociopathy in the DSM-V as it has yet to be recognized as an official disorder, the closest thing to it, for which it is still commonly misdiagnosed is Antisocial Personality Disorder (DeFife; Fallon 10; Hare 24). However, these are quite different disorders, and should not be confused for one another (Kiehl 49). Furthermore, the media is especially guilty when it comes to pushing the notion that psychopaths are psychotic or ‘psycho.’ This could not be farther from the truth, while psychosis signifies a break from reality, psychopaths are actually identified mainly by their capacity to know and understand the full and pertinent impact of their actions and decisions while choosing to engage anyways (Keihl 36). Also, many people tend to use the terms sociopath and psychopath interchangeably, this is controversial as some researchers believe they are separate terms encompassing separate disorders. The best explanation I was able to uncover was that the terms are split by the beliefs of the people who study them, i.e. sociologists who believed that social factors were the cause labeled it sociopathy, and psychologists who believed that the causes were genetic, biological or psychological labeled it psychopathy, but since the actual cause of psychopathy is still unknown the terms actually describe the same thing, and may be used interchangeably (Fallon 19; Hare 23; Kiehl 41). 

Up until the late 90’s and early 2000’s the only method we had of identifying a psychopath was The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) (Hare 32). We have since developed many different self-report and questionnaire type assessments to measure psychopathy levels in individuals which vary in accuracy, usually depending on who administers them (Lilienfeld, S. O., Smith, S. F., Sauvigné, K. C., Patrick, C. J., Drislane, L. E., Latzman, R. D., & Krueger, R. F. ), but the PCL-R is still the most widely used. These assessments can be useful when administered by carefully trained clinicians and psychologists who take into account the entirety of the life of the psychopath, acquiring references and background through friends, family members and, often victims of the potential psychopath, since, as you might imagine, psychopaths have a tendency to lie in order to make themselves look better. In order to score high on the PCL-R one must have consistently exhibited high levels of psychopathic traits throughout their life, often beginning in childhood. 

Now that we understand some of the etiology and confusing misconceptions surrounding psychopathy we can jump right in to neuroscientist James Fallon’s fascinating research detailing the neurobiology of a psychopath’s brain, as well as Dr. Kiehl’s separate, but complimentary research. Fallon found that psychopaths would have deficiencies in a rather large spectrum of the brain, namely the orbital cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, as well as damage to the front of the temporal lobe, and the amygdala. (Fallon 57) Beyond all that he noticed a greater pattern while pouring over scans of known psychopaths brains, “In psychopaths, I saw a loss of activity that extends from the orbital cortex into the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and into a part of the prefrontal cortex called the anterior cingulate. The loss then continues along the cingulate cortex to the back of the brain as a thin strip, then loops down into the lower part of the temporal lobe into the very tip of the temporal lobe and the amygdala.” (Fallon 58) The fascinating thing about this discovery is that all of these areas are a part of the limbic cortex, or the emotional processing center of the brain and while some criminals are sometimes found to have deficits in one or more areas of the limbic cortex only psychopaths have lower activity or damage in all of these areas simultaneously. (Fallon 61).

Meanwhile, Kent Keihl, PhD, who used his research to be able to map the brains of psychopaths through the use of fMRIs, discovered impairments in the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, and the temporal pole (Keihl 166). Combining his research with others in this field of interest Dr. Kiehl began searching for patterns, a neuroscientists dream, and through a somewhat serendipitous way he found an almost unbelievably perfect fit—the Brodmann map of the paralimbic system. This map, designed as an anatomical labeling system for different brain regions, overlapped the regions of the brain now known to signal psychopathy. He was astonished, to say the least, and this led him to develop the paralimbic dysfunction model of psychopathy a fascinating development showing what can happen to people who damage specific paralimbic regions (Kiehl 169-170).

This research is both groundbreaking and paramount in our continued understanding, diagnoses and treatment of psychopaths. We now know that psychopathy is characterized by a deficiency in the emotional centers of the brain, but this does not necessarily translate to dangerous or violent traits, “for [psychopaths] violence is not emotionally different from other forms of behavior.” (Hare 175) Since psychopaths lack the empathy and emotional understanding that the rest of us find ‘normal,’ their violent acts tend to stem from curiosity, or a desire to help oneself over another. (Potter-Effron 151) Violence to them may be seen as an experiment or a necessary road block, but it lacks the emotional ties that the much of the population experiences. On a happy note, Dr. Keihl did not accept ‘no treatment’ for an answer and also directed his attention at finding a way to rehabilitate violent psychopathic offenders, and discovered the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) in Wisconsin, a treatment center that has seen great success in treating and managing “uncontrollable” juvenile delinquents. (Keihl 217-227)

References


DeFife, Jared. DSM-V offers new criteria for personality disorders. Psychology Today. February 10, 2010. Web. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-shrink-tank/201002/dsm-v-offers-new-criteria-personality-disorders


Fallon, James H. The Psychopath inside: a Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. Current, 2014. Print.


Hare, Robert D. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York. The Guilford Press, 1999. Print.


Keihl, Kent A. The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of those without conscience. New York. Broadway Books, 2014. Print.


Lilienfeld, S. O., Smith, S. F., Sauvigné, K. C., Patrick, C. J., Drislane, L. E., Latzman, R. D., & Krueger, R. F. (2015, November 30). Is Boldness Relevant to Psychopathic Personality? MetaAnalytic Relations With Non-Psychopathy Checklist-Based Measures of Psychopathy. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0000244 


Potter-Efron, Ronald. Healing the Angry Brain. New York. MJF Books, 2012. Print.






Sharks

Sharks, the black-eyed monster from the depths, of the superorder Selachimorpha, feared and respected for centuries for their stealthy, silent and rarely fatal attacks. One might assume that these impressive creatures, whose only natural predator is other sharks, are untouchable, but unfortunately over the years, man has become the ocean’s greatest predator. Since the 1970’s one-third of the world’s population of sharks has reached endangerment, with sharks in the north-west Atlantic Ocean death tolls up by 50%, due to overfishing, often to sustain the consumption of shark fin soup, a delicacy in parts of Asia and China. Out of 465 species of sharks, 67 are currently on the endangered list, including the gentle Rhincodon typus, or whale shark, the world’s largest fish, a filter feeder, completely harmless to humans. These shocking rates of endangerment have disastrous potential for marine environments everywhere, which we are already seeing the effects of. It is my intention to bring to light the extent of overfishing for selfish human gain across the globe, and the impact of it on our marine environment, and of course, the species themselves, as well as what has been, can be, and hopefully will be done about it in the near future.

It’s no wonder that these creatures have been known as the ocean’s apex predators for ages, in addition to their powerful, bone crushing jaws, lined with razor sharp teeth, they are tied for first when it comes to the fastest ocean predators. One might assume that these impressive creatures are untouchable, but unfortunately over the years, man has taken the gold as the ocean’s greatest predator. A recent estimate records that one hundred million sharks are killed every year due to overfishing, as bycatch, poor record keeping, and unsubstantial management of fished species. Out of the 67 species of sharks on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 11 are critically endangered, and 15 are endangered. Up until 2016 all shark catches were reported and grouped together, even occasionally grouping ray and shark catches, rather than reporting by species. This has been disastrous to species such as the Carcharhinus hemiodon, or Pondicherry shark, which is thought to be extinct due to unregulated, habitual, overfishing, this shark hasn’t been seen since 1979, and is at the top of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

For all of their tough exterior sharks are twice as likely to become extinct as their bony counterparts, due to the facts that they grow slowly, reproduce late in life and have few pups at a time. This can lead to extremely slow repopulation, as compared to other fish at critical levels. For example, Carcharhinus obscurus, or dusky sharks are estimated to take nearly 400 years to repopulate, since they are known to only begin breeding after they are 20 years old, and have less than one pup per year. But sharks truly are amazing creatures, out of over 500 species of sharks we find sharks as little as the Etmopterus perryi, or Dwarf lantern shark which has a maximum length of 20 centimeters, and as large as the Cetorhinus maximus, or basking shark, and the Rhincodon typus, or whale shark coming in at 20-26 feet and 41.5 feet, respectively. The whale shark is also the largest known extant fish species, and both are filter feeders. Even more amazing is the fact that no matter their size all sharks share a similar anatomy. Most sharks are about 3 feet long, and they come in all different colors, living all over the ocean, and eating diets that range from plankton to fish to squid. Most importantly, they are responsible for balancing the oceanic ecosystems by hunting top predators. Since they are at the top of the food chain, a change in their numbers creates a snowball effect in other species known as ‘trophic cascading.’ For example, sharks are one of the top predators of rays, who prey on crustaceans and mollusks, if shark populations decline in an area, ray populations erupt and in turn, crustaceans suffer, a dire ripple effect. Conservationists, and environmentalists have been noticing these effects for decades, since some populations of sharks, especially shallow water sharks, have dropped by 99% since the 1950’s, which has since set into motion a number of conservation and awareness efforts and tactics. 

Since shark fins are the most valuable part of a shark,  a brutal practice widely known as shark finning began, presumably, in the 50’s. This practice involves bringing a live shark into a boat via spears, gillnets, or longlines and slicing off their fins before discarding the live creature back into the ocean to die a slow and painful death due to bleeding out or suffocation, oftentimes while being eaten alive by crustaceans. This practice has since been recognized by governments around the world as the cruel, unsustainable, and wasteful practice that it is. Many governments have banned the practice as well as outlawing the possession of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the entire carcass aboard a vessel, as well as prohibiting the transfer or trade of fins whilst aboard a vessel. In the United States the Shark Conservation Act was introduced in 2009 and signed by President Obama on January 5, 2011, as an attempt to relegate the loopholes in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 which prevented authorities from enforcing the bill. The Shark Conservation Act details requirements for shark fishing such as strict requirements to report and prove species caught, as well as a total ban on shark finning with one exemption—the Mustelus canis, or the Dusky smooth-hound shark, because a fishery exists for the sharks along the Mid-Atlantic coast, but if the fins are separated before returning to shore the fisherman are solely responsible for proving species to authorities upon arrival.

Additionally, there are organizations and agreements centered around the desire to conserve and protect wildlife and endangered species such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which has been signed by 183 parties and was designed to ensure the safety and survival of wild species which are traded internationally. The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) also partners with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries to ensure sustainable fishing practices are being recognized and upheld. In 2013 CITES made a historic move to add 5 commercially exploited species to it’s list, increasing protection while still allowing sustainable trading practices. This was a major step for conservation. 

The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2017-2018 is currently in Congress anxiously awaiting approval. Passing this bill would mean that the trade of shark fins within U.S. borders would be made illegal, removing the U.S. from this despicable trade. Supporters of the bill reason that the trade of ivory from rhinos and elephants has been outlawed due to the inhumane, and unsustainable methods of acquiring them, so it only follows that continuing to support the trade of shark fins is on the same level, quickly becoming a global problem. Shark finning is the number one threat on global shark populations and if it continues the consequences will be disastrous. 11 countries currently export shark fins into the U.S. and 5 of those have no bans on shark finning, undoubtedly contributing to the worldwide crisis. It is also currently impossible to tell if the fins imported to the U.S. are a product of finning, which means that we could be, and most likely are, supporting this heinous trade through decisive ignorance. However, if there were a federal ban, this would be required knowledge, thereby decreasing demand for finning, and the U.S.’ perceived support of the trade. Such a ban would also communicate the distaste of shark finning to other countries, setting a precedent to make a change. This bill already has many supporters including award-winning actor, Morgan Freeman.

These changes can, and have begun to make a difference in shark populations already. As of this year estimates of shark deaths due to the shark finning trade have dropped from 100,000,000 per year to 70,000,000. The hope is that as global awareness is raised, people will begin to realize how crucial and important sharks are to our oceanic environments, and what a cruel practice shark finning is. Perhaps America will become the global leader in protecting our marine ecosystems through shark conservation by refusing to allow fishing, trading, or selling in our domestic market. The worst case scenario of the U.S. pulling support and federally restricting any further support of this type of trade is that demand for this particularly heartbreaking stock will plummet. When the demand is removed, or at least declined then it is still a step in the right direction. Reports from China have given us an interesting perspective into the status of demand in their country.

This brutal trade can be perceived as cold blooded, however surveys from China in 2006 might suggest otherwise. Shark fin soup was once seen as a status symbol in Chinese culture, served at weddings and banquets, and only to important guests. As the decades wore on and technology and fishing methods became more efficient shark fin soup became something that anyone could have, and the demand skyrocketed. However, most people are unaware of how cruelly sharks have been dealt with in order to procure this delicacy. Reports from these surveys indicate that 75% of Chinese people were unaware that shark fin soup was actually made of shark, because translated literally in Mandarin it means ‘fish wing soup.’ Some people were even under the impression that shark fins grew back, like lizard tales. These surveys indicate that it’s not that people don’t care but that they are largely unaware of the impact this dish is having on our environment, and on global shark populations. Fortunately, since these surveys, awareness and education has become a main priority everywhere. The best way to save our sharks is to educate the public, which will in turn decrease demand, as we simultaneously implement laws to deter and hopefully stop finning altogether. In addition to these tactics many countries have begun to turn our attention towards ecotourism, reporting that a single live shark can bring in nearly $2 million in tourism while a dead shark may only be worth a couple hundred. 

Of course the ban of finning is still a highly controversial and debated topic, even within the scientific community. Some even argue that sharks can be fished sustainably, and have evidence of this already occurring in at least 9% of the fins on the market today. I’m sure this is true that nearly anything can be hunted, fished, or preyed upon sustainably, however this requires a strict adherence to guidelines that could take decades to agree upon, including traceability and a product chain of custody. In the meantime, though it may seem extreme, it is crucial to the survival of a great many shark species, to take a stand and choose an extreme in order to fix an enormous faux pax. Historically, when there is decent money to be gained humans will do unheard of things and act out of the greatest selfishness with no regard for the potential consequences or hazards. In this case we are literally looking at life or death, and not just of a few creatures, but of entire populations of entire species, we are forcing extinctions of a majestic creature who has ruled the oceans for generations, for a bowl of soup. 

While it is heartening to hear that conservation efforts are being made around the world, and awareness is being raised daily by celebrities, social media icons, and activists alike, there is always more to be done. Even though it is a terrible cliche, it’s true that change begins with you. The world changes one person at a time. We all make decisions daily in support or opposition  of the issues our world faces— whether it be passively or actively— our voice matters. We make the difference. As we’ve discussed in this paper an excellent way to help conservation efforts is as simple as talking about it, get the word out. If you want to go a step further, sign petitions, write letters, ask questions. We don’t currently know what will become of the conservation efforts discussed here, and most of them are not far enough along yet to have an accurate prediction of the future. What we do know is that if nothing changes we will continue seeing a sharp, severe, and steady decline towards extinction in many more shark species than we already have.


Works Cited:


Cavanagh, R.D., Kyne, P.M., Fowler, S., Musick, J.A. (Shark Red List Authority) & Pogonoski, J.  iucnredlist.org. April 4, 2003. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Nov. 4, 2017. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39369/0 


Fairclough, Caty. ocean.si.edu. 2016. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Nov. 4, 2017. http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-news/shark-finning-sharks-turned-prey


Jha, Alok. theguardian.com. June 24, 2009 The Guardian. Nov. 4, 2017.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/jun/25/sharks-extinction-iucn-red-list


Kyne, P.M. iucnredlist.org. March 3, 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Nov. 4, 2017. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/19488/0 


Hance, Jeremy. news.mongabay.com. August 12, 2014. Mongabay- News & Inspiration from Nature’s Frontline. Nov. 5, 2017.
https://news.mongabay.com/2014/08/demand-for-shark-fin-plunging/


Levine, Marie. sharks.org. 2017. The Shark Research Institute. Nov. 4, 2017.
https://www.sharks.org/blogs/ocean-log/update-costa-rica


Ogden, Lesley Evans. nature.com. February 9, 2017. Nature- International Weekly Journal of Science. Nov. 4, 2017. https://www.nature.com/news/harvesting-sharks-could-be-key-to-saving-them-1.21463


Shiffman, David. ocean.si.edu. 2016. The Shark Research Institute. Nov. 4, 2017.
http://ocean.si.edu/sharks


Unknown. awionline.org. Animal Welfare Institute. Nov. 4, 2017.
https://awionline.org/content/shark-conservation-act


Unknown. noaa.gov. March 14, 2013. NOAA Fisheries. Nov. 4, 2017.
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ia/slider_stories/2013/02/cites_cop16.html


Unknown. noaa.gov. 2012. NOAA Fisheries. Nov. 4, 2017. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/08/08_13_12new_shark_week_splash_page.html


Unknown. noaa.gov. NOAA Fisheries. Nov. 4, 2017. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ia/agreements/global_agreements/cites_page/cites.html


Unknown. oceana.org. June 23, 2016. Oceana. Nov. 4, 2017.
http://oceana.org/press-center/press-releases/congress-introduces-legislation-ban-trade-shark-fins-us


Unknown. sharktrust.org. 2017. Shark Trust. Nov. 4, 2017.
https://www.sharktrust.org/en/shark_fisheries