Is Reading Homework for You?

When I was in elementary school, I read after school every day. There were days when I would come home and read for hours straight; there were days when I started a book in the morning and finished it that night. And it was awesome.

Then, sadly, high school hit, and my reading habits slacked off. Actually having homework definitely put a damper on my afternoon reading sessions. (Also the discovery of Netflix, not gonna lie.)

The thing is, I really care about school. I have good grades, and I’m proud of them, and I am constantly working to make sure that I am the dedicated student that I want to be. Sacrificing reading time to study for a test or get ahead on homework is something that I’m willing to do.

Why am I telling you this?

Recently, I’ve been in a massive reading slump. Or, not a slump, because I want to read, but I just…haven’t. I haven’t had time. AP Tests (massive exams for college-level classes you can take in high school) are coming up at the beginning of May, so it’s studying crunch time for me.

The point is, I have been reading the same book for nearly three weeks now. It’s a great book, and I know that I am hurting my enjoyment by stretching it out so much. But the problem is that I usually only read during class or on weekends, and recently, I haven’t had time in class or on weekends. Reading isn’t something I have to do anymore, it’s something I do when I have free time forced upon me.

Which brings me—finally—to my point:

Do you guys read after school? Do you treat it as homework, i.e. something that you have to do on your off time?

I don’t, and I haven’t for a while now. But this recent slump has got me thinking that maybe I should start to expect myself to read on school days. Maybe reading a few chapters every few days should be on my To Do List, alongside math homework and refilling my mini stapler.

I have started to think of reading as something that I do only when I clearly have time, which I’ve lost recently. Without that obvious time to read, I’ve basically stopped reading…and it sucks.

What do you think? Is reading something you do after school, or is it only a weekend thing for you? How do you balance being a student and a reader?

Poetry: Stolen Fire

I used to have a raging fire—

Crackling, dancing, bursting, writhing

Wouldn’t sit still, wouldn’t calm down

It devoured and it lived


But I ran out of logs

But at least I still had kindling—

But I ran out of that as well

But at least I still had embers—

To hold back the looming darkness

But the wind carried each off

One by one…

Silent theif.


Where did that spark go?

I wonder

Fumbling in the dark

Who stole my matches?

Do they want me to freeze tonight?

When did the night

Grow so dark

And cold?

How will I get my fire back

When it never occurred to me to wonder

How the first one started?


How did I never notice

The importance of my fire

To beat back the night inside of me?

Poetry: The Secret of Perpetual Motion

I’ve no desire

To search for perpetual motion

No need—

I’ve already found it in a place called

High school


Day one, period one

Lecture, homework written down,

Passing period and now it’s period two

Lecture, some classwork, more homework to do

And now it’s period three

Discussion, some classwork, test tomorrow, need to study

You get the drift


Day two like day one

Three like two, and four like three

Day n+1 just the same as day n and day n-1


Stop thinking about today or tomorrow or goals or dreams

Just do the next thing in the pattern


That is the secret of perpetual motion

Poetry: Racing to Our Futures

It’s back

The racing

The running

The stumbling

The can I do this

The will I make it

The one more mile

Counting down the days

Until a break



Breathe in.

Breathe out.








Faster now

More obstacles to dodge

(Will you make it?)

How fast are your reflexes?

How strong are your muscles?

Can you do this?

Push yourself harder

Less sleep

More running

I. Can. Do. This.

(Where am I even going?)


All the while

Screamed at by sideline coaches

And jeered at by crowds

Telling you Run Faster

Dig Deeper

(Don’t they see there’s nothing left?)


And runners sprint past you

While others collapse

Suddenly still in a flood of movement

The winners and the losers

In front and behind


And there’s nothing left to do

But keep running

Because this is a race

Even if you didn’t know that

When you started

Book Rant: The Western Heritage

In honor of the AP European History exam I took last week, I thought I’d take a moment to review the textbook that taught me the material.

And by “review” I mean “scream in rage about” and by “taught me the material” I mean “sucked at teaching me the material.”

If you’ve ever had a horrible textbook, this will speak to your soul.

I read the Eighth Edition of The Western Heritage by Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank M. Turner, chapters 10-31, which encompass European history from 1300 to present day.

cover western heritage

First and foremost, this book has an identity crisis. Half of the time, it acts as a textbook, explaining the who/what/where/when/how of European history to those who have essentially no background knowledge. The other half of the time, it seems to be making a point of being as mean to students as possible: leaving out sentences that could have clarified motivations, referring to things by names that they had never been called before (or were when they were originally explained), and acting like it was talking to an old friend who had already studied the history for years on end. It is clear that the book had different authors, and that these authors wrote different chapters, because things would be referred to by different names and titles between chapters. Sometimes, this was a slight annoyance (such as when they alternated between writing ‘Hapsburg’ or ‘Habsburg’), but other times, it was seriously confusing (such as using about ten different words to refer to the Netherlands, and never clarifying the nuances between the terms–if there were actually any). These problems should have been fixed by some sort of editor, but it seems as if no one cared enough to read the book start to finish and realize that continuity had been sacrificed to the deity of giving students headaches.

The images and “extras” included in each chapter only made this problem worse. The Western Heritage includes lots of maps, which at first sounds like a blessing for students. That is, until the text mentions a city or region that IS NOT INCLUDED ON THE MAP. More often than not, the cities on the map were never mentioned in the text, and any geographical markers the text included were no included on the maps. Essentially, the maps served no purpose besides taking up space–a trend continued by the countless “extras” included in each chapter. The textbook includes anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen “Documents” scattered throughout a chapter. In these boxes–which take up around a half a page–quotations from people or documents being discussed are included and then discussed. I never read any of these, mainly because they didn’t add anything meaningful to the text. There were also “Art and The West” pages included between chapters, discussing specific pieces of art, and “Encountering the Past” full-page explanations of cultural phemonima (such as Dueling in Germany or Table Manners).

All of these features were just space-fillers, making sure that the textbook–that students often carry around–was twice as heavy as necessary. I wouldn’t have minded if these “extras” actually helped me understand the text, but they were distracting more than anything.

The book also features basic images–portraits of important people, pictures of posters, sketches of inventions. These images were actually useful and well-chosen; however, their placement was a joke. Honestly, pictures were sometimes included in the text a page (or more) after the person/thing had been talked about. I would be reading about something, then turn the page and start reading about a different section. Then, when I glanced at the caption for the image included on the page I was currently reading, it would be referring to the person I read about on the previous spread, sending my brain back to that section and confusing me once I refocused on the text.

In all honesty, the textbook is fairly well-written. It features complex diction and sentence structure, making it enjoyable to read on a linguistic level. Sometimes, the sentence structure made things more confusing than they had to be, but as this was my first textbook that did not feel like it was written at an elementary school level, I did honestly respect that the writers had erred on the side of complexity.

I feel like most of the problems of this textbook could have been solved if it had been read by a copy editor and an average high school student before being published. The editor could have fixed continuity issues, and the student could have pointed out the things that made the book needlessly confusing.

Of course, these problems are not contained only to this textbook. They are issues that most textbooks probably have, encouraged by a textbook industry that thinks changing the colors in a diagram warrants a new edition of their book and that focuses more on “extras” than the actual text students try to learn from. However, this is the first textbook I’ve ever actually read all the way through (usually I just read the select parts of chapters that the teacher assigns), so this is the first time these issues have really hit me in the face.

Did I learn about European history this year? Yes, more than I had ever imagined. But that was from the help of numerous review books and another textbook (shoutout to the wonderful being that is History of the Modern World), as well as The Western Heritage. I’m glad that AP Euro was hard–I wanted it to be a hard class–but I don’t see why overcoming the nonsensical nature of this textbook had to be one of my trials.

Poetry: A Tired Ballet

Our lives are a tired ballet

Ducking around social stigmas

Folding ourselves into delicate poses

Of model citizens

Faces schooled to hide the pain

Of holding unnatural positions

So much weight—

Expectations are not light

Like dreams, you know—

Balanced on tiny, struggling bones


Hair pinned back, stiff skirts, shoes laced tight—just so

Only numbered positions allowed

Smile—look graceful!

Be a swan, as if you cannot feel the chains

Coiled around your ankles


You have to learn when you’re young,

They say,

And even your bones

Subjugate themselves to the will of the dance

Just try to survive

As you twirl from responsibility to responsibility

Dizzy with stress but you’ve got to

Stay on your feet

200th Post (Rant #4): A To Do List for the Public School System

Every 50 posts, I take some time to focus on my personal life. I’ve talked about the absurdity of reading levels being assigned to books based on vocabulary, the stereotypes surrounding teenagers, and the assumption by some of peers that A’s are average.

Today I’m going through a list of complaints (ranging from minor to major) about hoops that students have to jump through in the current academic climate. Not all students face all these problems. There is no one person responsible for the problem; there might be no person who can solve some of the issues. But I think it is important to understand the things students face in their day-to-day lives–especially because a lot of them actually have solutions.

(By the way, I don’t hate teachers, or school counselors, or administrators, and I understand that they have hard jobs made nearly impossible by lack of funding and red tape. They are literally saints for showing up every day. I’m just frustrated, is all.)

  1. Please, for the love of God, get working Internet. This one is aimed at the district. I can’t tell you how many times the Internet crashes when a teacher wants to play a Youtube video or look at their ONLINE–district mandated–gradebook. Such a waste of time and something we really should be past by now.slow internet
  2. Please don’t mistake time management for being stupid. A lot of teachers get offended/annoyed when students admit that they put off a project/homework assignment until the last minute (be that last minute 2 am the night the homework was assigned or the night before an essay you had a month to work on is due). Procrastination is never good, but students have a lot on their plates and sometimes one assignment gets pushed into what some people call “the last minute” for the express reason of maintaining sanity. When the distinction between blatant procrastination and real time management is not made, it is super frustrating.procrastinate
  3. Chromebooks/iPads are not the answer. See the “Internet DOES NOT RUN” portion–adding more technology to this mix is doomed. Spend money on good textbooks, Elmo projectors, and better teachers–not iPads. (Look up LAUSD’s fiasco if you aren’t convinced.)
  4. I’d like a grade sheet. A lot of teachers seem to think that by not posting grades or providing grade sheets to students, they are keeping their students from stressing about school. For me (and a lot of the people I talk to) this is only more stressful. (Fear of the unknown and all.)
  5. “Will this be on the test?” is an honest question. Again, time management has to happen. Students can’t learn everything for every test, so knowing what information won’t be on the test is an honest attempt by students to prioritize. (For some–sometimes we just don’t want to study complicated material, sure, but there are honest motives as well.)
    on the test
  6. Grading is a two-way street. My mom is a teacher and I understand that grading is probably the worst and most time-consuming (and unpaid) part of a teacher’s job. But seriously–I wrote an essay, I’d like it to be graded at some point in the next month.
  7. There really is a difference between learning and getting good grades–and a lot of us will skip the former if we can keep the latter. Don’t let us. 
  8. Bonus for my peers: Stop cheating. I hate you. 

February Wrap-Up!

february wrap up

February was a great–if stressful–month.

In My Personal Life

I went to a massive Speech and Debate competition at Stanford University. My sister and (we’re debate partners) did really well, and I had a fantastic time. (Except for the rain; the rain sucked.) I took the CAHSEE and assuming I passed it, I can now exit high school (kind of, I still have credit requirements and other stuff to get done). The second half of the month cooled down a bit and gave me a chance to breathe, read, and write. School was still hectic but my grades and I survived it. I signed up for next year’s classes–which was crazy. There were a lot of decisions to make, but I’m happy with the ones I finally made. All in all, life is going pretty well.

My hamster Butterscotch (Scotch for short) died. It sucked, but he was really old so we knew it was coming. We got a new hamster (named Macaroon because he has a white strip in the middle of his brown belly) and he is the most energetic hamster we’ve ever had. He’s adorable and I’m trying not to fangirl…

On this blog I had 18 posts, with at least four a week. Considering how much I had on my plate this month, I’m super happy with those numbers, and I hope I can keep them up as the year continues.

In books

I read six books this month: Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander, Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig, Slash by Evan Kingston, and the His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin LaFevers (Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, and Mortal Heart). I also DNFed Spintered by AG Howard. (If a book’s title is a link, it leads to my review of it.)

I started a new feature on this blog called Reread Reviews with Grave Mercy, which I hope you guys liked. I still need to review Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart, but I’ll say right here that I LOVED both of them. That trilogy is amazing.

In school, we finished the Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles. I doubt I’ll actually review it, so I’ll just say here that I was “meh” for Oedipus Rex, I appreciated the symbolic value of Oedipus at Colonus, and I loved the girl power of Antigone (though the plot was still kind of annoying).

In Writing

I added 12,993 to my WIP Devil May Care. I had some crises of confidence over plot and characterization (I might make a separate post about that actually) but I kept puttering along and, looking back at what I wrote, I’m proud of it. That’s pretty much all I ask of myself at this point.

On this blog, I published a short story (Entropy, Human Style) and three individual poems (To Show You Why, My Pet Hamster, and Standardized Life), as well as a collection of humorous poems I wrote after I took the CAHSEE.

Hope you all had a fabulous February and here’s to a great March!


Poetry: Standardized Life


Standardized tests

Desks in straight rows

Backpacks at the front of the room

No food or drink


Teachers turned into flight attendants

With carefully worded,

God-awful repetitive scripts:

You may not talk while test materials are distributed

And unauthorized electronic devices are prohibited during the testing session


You’ve got your Test Booklet and your Answer Document

And two hours to fill

Mind-numbing right when you need your brain alert

That song you heard on the radio driving to school

Stuck in your head

Number two pencils vie for the title of dullest

With “read this passage and answer questions 7 through 12”


Learned the procedure

(And the answers)

In elementary school

The bar set so low some people trip.

So used to running hurdles

That they forgot how they learned to walk.


Once again:

Unauthorized electronic devices are prohibited during the testing session


It’s hard to believe them

When they tell us to be more than our grades

To look at the world beyond AP textbooks and SAT prepbooks

When our ticket out of high school

Is a scantron and a two and a half page essay


This is not the place for personality

Or excess knowledge

Artistic ability or stylistic writing

Please just put your periods at the end of your sentences.

And commas in the usual places,

No surprises, thanks.


Now is not the time to show us how you shine

Please just bubble here

Print legibly

Fit yourself into this box

Do not concern yourself with outside of it

Jump through hoops here


And here.


And remember

Unauthorized electronic devices are prohibited during the testing session.

Author’s note: I took the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam, phonetically KAY-SEE) this week. Four hours of boring, easy questions that determine whether I get to graduate high school. And yes, I’m only a sophomore (you have five more times to try the test if you fail the first time). We weren’t allowed to do anything (even read a book or drink water) until EVERYONE in our room was done testing. The inspiration for this poem came while I was bored, tired, and really frustrated at The System, waiting for the test to be over.

150th Post: Time for a Rant (Let’s Take a Moment to Remember the Bell Curve)

This is tradition at this point. Every 50 posts, I decide to rant about something. I’ve ranted about assigning books “reading/age levels” in schools and about the misconceptions many adults have about teenagers today. I’m not trying to be ridiculously negative or anything; these posts are some of the rare moments I blog about my day-to-day life, specifically issues that I feel affect not just me, but a larger population. I’m trying to be as PC as possible, but I also want to get my point across as honestly and powerfully as I can. 

Remember the bell curve?

It looks like this:

bell curve 1

Basically, it means that if you take a sample of a population, your results will generally look like this:

bell curve 2

It can get crazy scientific:

bell curve 4

Like, what even is this?

bell curve 3

Don’t worry–this isn’t a scientific post.

Anyway–the bell curve. Some genetic traits (eg height) work out like this.

It also works with grades (in a large class).

I’m not talking about when teachers “curve” a test to force grades to fit into a bell curve (that seems barbaric, actually). I’m just saying that, statistically, a class’s overall grades will probably fall loosely onto a bell curve-esque thing. It’s the reason that the literal definition of earning a “C” is average–it’s the middle of the bell curve.

In school, we are told to shoot for A’s. This is not an inherently bad or evil goal (as some people seem to think). Getting an A is (should be) an indication that you are above average–it’s an accomplishment, and it should be strived for and rewarded.

A fundamental part of the idea of an ‘A’ letter grade is the inclusion of B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s to fill out the rest of the spectrum. You need an average so that someone can be above it.

Recently, in my classes, I’ve been noticing that this is not how people think anymore. There seems to be a rising feeling that students are entitled to A’s–that getting an A should require nothing more than showing up and doing the minimum amount of work. In essence, being average.

*Disclaimer so that I can say this once instead of putting it in every other sentence: I’m not saying this is everyone. I’m just saying that a large majority of students I share classes with seem to have this attitude, and it offends me.*

I’m am a straight-A student in difficult classes. I’m in Honors English, Honors pre-calc, and AP European History. It is by no means the hardest course load of any of my peers, but it is enough to keep me very busy, and to truly test my abilities as a critically thinking student. I personally feel that I work harder than most of my peers and that I deserve the A’s I get.

So it pisses me off when kids routinely admit that they don’t do the work, don’t study, or procrastinate majorly on homework/studying and end up doing a half-assed job on it–and then they get annoyed when they don’t have an A in the class. They have this attitude of “I showed up to class. I put in the barest minimum of work. What more do you want from me?”

If you think I’m exaggerating this, I promise you I’m not.

*Disclaimer #2: I have attended high-ranked California public school  in a good neighborhood for my entire life. Generalizations I make are based on my experiences, as well as those of students at other schools that I talk to.*

I believe there are many reasons that this mentality has appeared.

  1. Increased pressure from parents/society to get good grades to get into good colleges. Anything less than an ‘A’ is viewed as failure by a majority of the parents of the students I have classes with, and by extension my peers. This kind of thinking has led to a shift away from the bell curve, where a C is average, to a new model where an ‘A’ encompasses any type of success with the class and any grade lower is a punishment.
  2. Low standards in elementary and middle schools. I don’t want to insult elementary or middle school teachers out there. However, there is a dramatic difference between the amount of work that is expected of students at the elementary and middle school level compared to the high school level. Essentially, the amount of work that earned an A in middle school is often much lower than that that is required to get an A in high school (even in regular classes). If people don’t realize the shift, they are left floundering in the B/C grade range, wondering why they aren’t getting A’s anymore.
  3. Tutors and after-school programs. I’ll touch more on this later, but there is a general feeling that you can quantify what amount of studying deserves what grade. People who attend tutors and afterschool programs (especially those who have attended them their whole lives as a day-care sort of thing instead of a specific effort to improve a class’s grade) tend to believe that they are superior to the class and deserve a higher grade simply because they put in more time with a “professional.” (Unfortunately, the converse is often true, as I’ve seen many instances of after-schools doing the work for the student, preventing the student from ever actually succeeding in the class. Awkward.)

Whatever the reason, this mentality needs to be squashed. Yes–we all wish we could be straight-A students. But if everyone actually was one, then the title would no longer mean anything.

A would mean average. And while that would be linguistically convenient, it remains impractical in reality.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say,

I studied for this test for five hours! I deserve an A!

That’s not how the real world works.

I could study molecular biology for hours–weeks, months, years–and I would never gain more than a memorization-level understanding of it. I have resigned myself to this fact, and science is the one subject I don’t take advanced classes in, for this reason.

My school has a large population of students for whom English is a second language. Most of them have a good understanding of the language, but still struggle with high level reading, vocabulary, and essay writing. This is completely understandable. However, I really wish that some of the students who struggle to make out the dialect in The Grapes of Wrath (let alone the Old English in Shakespeare) would realize that English Honors is not the class for them.

I respect students who take an advanced class to challenge themselves. Unfortunately, most of my classes today are dominated by people taking the class because of parental or collegiate pressure, rather than any passion or skill with the subject matter. I respect you if you take an advanced class, knowing it will be a struggle but committing yourself to the workload and accepting that a B is a serious accomplishment (which is also “above average” for heaven’s sake!).

But if you take an advanced class because you want colleges to like you, and then you disrespect the class by doing the barest minimum of the work, and then you act like you should be awarded the highest grade possiblle–well, I don’t respect you at all.

The bell curve isn’t a bad thing. It’s literally natural. We need to remind ourselves that being average is not a crime and that an ‘A’ should be reserved for people who not only worked for it but succeeded at it. There is no “x hours of studying = this grade on the test” formula. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, good weeks and bad weeks. We as a society need to embrace this fact and shift our expectations away from a nation made only of straight-A students. Support students for their personal triumphs–maybe they occur in sports or art or drama instead of the classroom. A ‘B’ is not failure, neither is a ‘C’–if you want to be technical about it, a ‘D’ isn’t either. We shouldn’t give up on being as good as we can be, but we need to remember that “our best” differs for every person, and we need to put a premium on hard work rather than a final grade.

If people realize that it is okay not to have perfect grades, then hopefully this culture of entitlement will end to make way for one of respect for individual talent and commitment.