Justin Xavier — Writing Portfolio

Introduction

My name is Justin Xavier, and as you now know, I am a freelance writer. I’ve written articles and social media content for various websites and online channels, research articles about scientific topics like the nutritional value of meat and what science has to say about the existence of an afterlife, and copy to explain the hidden value of the company I was writing about. The topics I write about are broad, and the style of writing varies day to day.

My passion has always been learning. My mother once told me that it was the one thing she noticed that set me apart from my brothers and sisters: I wanted to know all of the answers to everything. When I am assigned a topic I don’t know anything about, I do the work seeking out every report, study, and opinion on the subject so that I can better formulate the best way to organize and structure the information. From there, I fill in the gaps with the meat of the story and lay it out in simple, easy-to-understand language. When assigned a topic I do know something about, I still put in the effort to see if there’s anything I don’t know.

My first published short story was in 2011, my first payed writing job was in 2012, shortly after graduating from Miami University, and I’ve built up a steady resumé in the time since. On a separate but still-writing related note, one of my feature-length screenplays, “Sick For Toys,” was purchased and produced in 2016, and the completed film went to Cannes in 2018.

 

What you will find below is a collection of articles and pieces I have written over the 6 years I’ve been a freelancer. Included:

I. “Math is Just Another Word for Curiosity” — Mathnasium.com [2016]

II. “Is Meat Bad For Me?” — Video Script, Valnet.com [2018]

III. “About Me” — Amber-Tiana.com [2018]

IV. “The Divorce” — Short Story published in Inklings Magazine [2011]

V. “The Top 6 Reasons Math is Hard to Learn” — Mathnasium.com [2017]

VI. “Personal Essay” — Disney’s Emerging Writers Program [2017]

 

I. “Math is Just Another Word for Curiosity” — Mathnasium.com

When humans are born, we think exactly the same way as mathematicians. We’re curious, we’re overwhelmed, and we seek to understand. Life is just a process of discovery as we try to explore the world we find ourselves in and make sense of this overload of information. The toys we play with are experiments. This shape of block fits into this shape of hole. This toy spins, but this one doesn’t. What makes something spin? This is a button. Buttons can be pressed. What happens when these different buttons are pressed?

We don’t think of these explorations as math, but they are. We have a question, and then we seek to find an answer or an explanation. Before we even speak words, we speak the language of math. We figure out the concepts of “more” and “less,” we gain a general understanding of gravity and physics, we observe shapes and witness mysteries. Mathematicians often operate similarly. They seek out patterns in the world and then look for explanations. They try to find rules, or formulas and equations, to explain the way the world around us actually works. They crunch numbers and utilize massive amounts of data to calculate patterns about people and the way that we live our lives.

Somewhere throughout the process of learning, we lose our curiosity. And around the same time, most people lose interest in math. Schools tell us everything we’re “supposed” to know, and we stop thinking for ourselves about what else there might be to learn. Part of this is because most kids don’t like school. It isn’t always fun. There’s work to do, there’s homework, social stressors, concepts that advance and seem endless in their depth, and more subjects than any one person could be interested in. The more information school throws at us, the less likely we are to go home and continue asking questions. “I’ve already learned for 8 hours today, I’m not ready to learn anything more!” You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t feel that way. As a kid, I always enjoyed school, but I definitely didn’t want to keep learning when I got home. I wanted to play with my friends and watch movies. I learned everything I needed to on a given day, and that’s when I’d call it quits.

Math teaches people to remain curious. Math does what no other subject can completely do: It provides the answers. There are rules in math that always work. They will always be true. It doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, the math stays the same. How do we know it works everywhere? Because mathematicians are inherently curious people. When a new rule is introduced, they challenge it. They wrack their brains searching for counter-examples and ways to “break” the rule. They invent new types of Geometry for worlds that aren’t 3-dimensional, just to see if the rule would hold true in an alternate reality. And then, they seek to prove the math. When they’ve failed to disprove a rule, they seek out an entirely new process and attempt to show that their rule or mathematical law is always true, without fail. These proofs then become readily available online and in textbooks.

If they can’t do it… they seek more answers. Math is about looking at the world and asking, “why?” Why does adding a negative number to a positive number make the positive number smaller? Shouldn’t adding always make things larger? Or, why do different-shaped objects fall to the earth at the same speed? When there are exceptions, like feathers, why do they not follow the same rules as bowling balls and dolls? The only reason we know the answers to these questions is because someone, hundreds or even thousands of years ago, had the same questions. And they put in research and work and figured out the answers. Most of those questions have evolved into modern mathematics and science.

There are still a lot of things we don’t know. Mathematicians have fiercely heated debates today about different forms of geometry, or what the definition of an infinite set should be, and why. They seek to find ways to make the world make sense. And that’s why we need more people to be interested in learning and doing math. Because it isn’t only true in the field of mathematics, it’s true everywhere. There is so much that we don’t know about the world, and about each other, and about the universe itself. Math alone doesn’t have all of the answers, but without math, we wouldn’t have any answers at all.

When kids write off math as being “too hard” or “not interesting,” they’re limiting their potential. They unknowingly close their minds to new patterns of thinking, new abilities to solve problems, and infinite curiosities. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it until it becomes an immutable truth: Everyone is capable of learning and understanding math. I’ve never met a person who couldn’t explain to me what “half” means. That’s math. It may be a beginning stage, but it opens the door to so much more. Once you understand that one piece of chocolate can be broken into two equal parts, you also realize it could be broken into more than two equal parts. Or into 2 unequal parts. The process of learning one mathematical concept opens the floodgates to more. The same is true of life.

When we learn math, we become more curious. When we remain curious, we enter the world with a desire and ability to learn. When we enter the world with a desire to learn, we ask questions, and then we gain understanding. Math is truly the first building block on the road to a lifetime of learning and understanding, growth and change, and ultimately, happiness and fulfillment.

 

II. “Is Meat Bad For Me?” — Video Script, Valnet.com

You’ve no doubt heard the rumors: eating meat is actually bad for you, and should be avoided at all costs! But… is that true? With so many conflicting reports, scientists and doctors who claim to be certain as to whether or not meat is healthy, and vegetarianism and veganism on the rise, it’s time to take a good, hard look at the evidence we have available and finally answer the question as to whether or not meat is a part of a nutritious, balanced diet, or is actually slowly killing you from the inside-out.

Before we dive deep into the truth about meat in the modern world, make sure to like this video and subscribe to TheRichest. If you want to be the first to know whenever we post new videos, hit that notification bell too. Now, is meat bad for you? Let’s find out.

First, let’s take a look at historical evidence of meat in the diets of early humans and the species that we evolved from.

Some scientists believe that eating meat was vital to the evolution of humanity’s larger brains, which happened approximately two million years ago. Because meat and bone marrow contains more calories than plants, the species Homo erectus was able to get enough extra energy at every meal to develop and fuel a larger brain. Because meat is so dense, it took up less room in stomachs, allowing stomachs to shrink, meaning that even more of the eaten meat calories could be redirected to brain-functionality instead of just digestion. To showcase the difference, a modern human’s brain uses up 20% of a human’s energy while at rest, whereas an ape’s brain uses only 8% of the animal’s energy. Scientists theorize that in order for this evolutionary change to occur, Homo erectus must have had a diet that contained more meat than plants. Does that mean that a diet of mostly meat makes us more intelligent? It is noteworthy that a larger brain does not always imply greater intelligence, or whales would have already taken over the planet.

Some people today argue that, because our ancestors ate meat, we should eat meat as well. It’s a logical argument, but it’s also an argument that discounts the idea of further evolution. Yes, early humans ate meat, but something happened approximately 100,000 years ago that changed our diets, and a different diet meant that a different type of body, or a different type of human was better able to survive.

Before we get there, we have to talk about the next dietary change that allowed for humans to develop larger brains: cooking our food. Cooked food is “predigested,” meaning that it takes less energy for our stomachs to break down into energy, leaving more for our brains. Cooking makes food soft, easier to chew, and rich in energy. Studies have found that it takes between 39 and 46% less force to chew and swallow cooked or processed meat than other forms of food, saving our ancestors both time and energy. Thus, it is argued that our ancestors couldn’t have survived on raw food alone, or at least couldn’t have evolved to become the dominant species on the planet.

So now we fast forward through a few more stages of evolution to 100,000 years ago, when humans invented agriculture. Thanks to being able to grow their own crops, humans were able to reliably stay in one place, allowing them to have more children. In a relatively short period of time, farmers far outnumbered hunter-gatherers. This massive change in diet from a variety of plants and animals to a more consistent but limited diet of mostly grains spurred the next phase in human evolution.

That being said, scientists also argue that meat was never that big a percentage of human diets, instead saying that meat, even at its most readily available, was never as accessible as walking out into the savannah and finding an animal to eat. It’s not like they could politely ask a gazelle to surrender its body, and other species also evolved defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the likes of humans. Many days, humans would return home from the hunt without meat, and on those days, people would rely more on the ‘gathering’ side of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, aka plants. This implies that the leap from hunting and gathering to farming wasn’t as difficult as some have theorized.

Now that we’ve taken the time to understand where we came from, it’s time to take a look at where we are now.

Modern diets vary wildly from place to place, culture to culture, and even person to person within the same culture. The vegetarian and vegan crowd argues that meat is always bad for us, and shouldn’t be consumed for any reason. Their arguments range from, “it’s cruel to kill animals” to “our bodies evolved to live off plants so it’s better for us not to eat meat.” Whatever the reason, a growing percentage of the population is swearing off meat permanently, meaning that scientists are better able to study whether a meat-free diet is more or less healthy.

The “Paleo” diet, however, insists that our bodies have not evolved from our pre-agriculture Homo erectus days, and that we should be eating lots of lean meats and some raw plants that were available to us at the time, avoiding instead the processed plants and grains that came about when we started farming 100,000 years ago.

So… who’s right? Modern dieticians are divided, but new studies on meat have added some much-needed clarity to the conversation. First, let’s take a look at all of the arguments against meat, so that we know where this anti-meat rhetoric is coming from.

A study done by the World Health Organization has labeled processed meats as a Group 1 Carcinogen, meaning that they definitely cause cancer over time. Processed meats include salami, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and other similar foods. The longer you eat any of these meats, the higher and higher your likelihood of developing cancer becomes.

Red meats, such as Pork, Beef, and Lamb, have been labeled, in the same study, as Group 2A carcinogens, meaning that they ‘probably’ cause cancer.

If cancer doesn’t scare you, eating processed meats has also been linked to developing heart disease and diabetes. These foods have increasingly been linked to deteriorating health and lower life expectancies amongst those people who partake. The problem is that meat, dairy, and eggs contain cholesterol and saturated fats, which contribute heavily to some of the biggest killers in the United States: heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, people who eat diets with high amounts of animal proteins are 22% more likely to develop diabetes. Add to that the fact that saturated fat is liked to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline, and it’s not looking so good for the meat-eating crowd.

Modern diet studies have shown that eating meat tends to lead to a higher Body-Mass Index, or BMI, than diets with less meat. In fact, the less meat a diet contains, and the leaner the meat within the diet, the lower the average BMI of the participants in the study. In order from highest average BMI to lowest, the diets were: Nonvegetarian, semi-vegetarian, Pescetarian, Lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and Vegan.

Meat has also been linked to a variety of other health problems, such as erectile dysfunction, antibiotic resistance, food poisoning, and a lower life expectancy. Some of this is because almost all modern meat is filled with hormones. In order to produce enough food for a planet with an ever-increasing human population, farmers and livestock producers have taken to injecting their animals with unnatural growth hormones so that the animals grow to be larger, meatier, and juicier than they otherwise would, meaning the animals are available to sell earlier, and usually for more money. On top of the growth hormones, animals are injected with chemicals to keep insects and pests away, and in theory, reduce their prone-ness to disease. The problem is, we don’t always know which chemicals our food has been injected with. Imagine grabbing a handful of pills from a vat, and then eating all of them at once. Even if all of the pills by themselves are perfectly safe and healthy, we don’t know how they’re going to interact with one another or what side effects they may have.

The arguments presented so far only touch on human health, and don’t even begin to talk about how the evolution of meat production and consumption has affected the environment or the planet itself. Early on in human evolution, there were significantly fewer humans, and significantly fewer animals on farms. The methods of importing, exporting, and mass-distributing meat were much slower, meaning that meat would go bad before it got to its destination. Nowadays, we can add preservatives to our meat, and ship it in refrigerated containers, meaning that it lasts longer and is easier to transport around the world.

This ease of production means that we’ve been producing more meat than ever, and the meat that doesn’t sell is discarded. Essentially, we’re creating waste, and we have no plan on how to deal with the ever-increasing amount of animal waste that we’ve been producing worldwide.

That’s not even the worst of it. The human population has exploded in recent decades, to the point where there are currently over 7 billion people living on the planet, and it is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be nine billion people living on Earth. With all those new mouths to feed, we’ll have to step up our game on producing food, but we’re running out of room to store the animals, and we’re running out of food to feed them. In order to feed the animals that we use as livestock, we also need to grow more plants, but we’re very quickly heading for a crisis of space and energy.

Add to this the fact that agriculture is a heavy contributor to global warming, contributing an estimated 14% of the planet’s total greenhouse gas output, and we’re looking at an impending disaster. A significant portion of these greenhouse gasses is methane, or, more simply: farts. Animals fart. Cows fart a lot. The planet is filling up with cow farts, and it’s wreaking havoc on our global ecosystems.

Really, you ask? Cow farts? YES. Okay, cows do emit more methane through burping than farting, but that honestly scares me more. Whether from burps or farts, methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming, and the planet’s 1.5 billion cows emit a lot of methane. Even conservative estimates say that a single cow creates as much damage to our planet as a car does on any given day.

“Wait… I thought this video was about whether or not meat is bad for me!” You’re right. But if meat is bad for the environment of the planet that you live on, then meat is bad for you. If the planet dies, we all die.

We’ve talked a lot about the negative side of meat and the meat industry, but what about the positives?

While considered to be a dying breed, there are still hunter-gatherer societies in the world today. Many indigenous populations continue to hunt and gather, and their diets do contain meat. Amongst these populations, the risk factors of heart disease and cancer seem not to be a factor, although it is theorized that this is only because of how little meat their diets contain.

The other thing is–the world is a big, big place. Over the course of human evolution, different societies evolved differently, and their diets accordingly. There are still sections of the world, typically in snow-and ice covered lands like the northernmost parts of places like Alaska, Russia, and Canada, where diets consist almost entirely of meat. The people who live in these regions evolved differently, and their bodies are better suited to handle an all-meat diet.

Everyone’s body is unique, and the perfect diet for you may not be the perfect diet for me, or even someone closely related to you. When indigenous populations with restrictive diets become exposed to Western diets that are rich with sugar and processed food, those populations begin to develop diabetes and cancer that was otherwise unknown to them.

It seems clear that in almost all humans, a diet with low amounts of meat-intake is the healthiest type of diet, leading to fewer health complications and longer lifespans. Whether or not you should give up meat entirely depends on who you are, and more specifically, where your ancestors are from. If you’re evolved from European farmers, you can probably survive and thrive on a completely meat-free diet. If you’re closely related to an African tribe of hunter-gatherers, you may actually need some meat for your body and brain to function.

The fact is, there are no easy answers. It all depends on what type of meat, how often you eat it, and who your ancestors are. All that being said, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the industry of meat we’ve created is bad for the planet, and is ultimately unsustainable as we increase our population worldwide.

That’s all we have today for the debate as to whether meat is bad for us! Make sure you weigh in in the comments section below, and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe!

 

III. “About Me” — Amber-Tiana.com

Amber-Tiana is a living, breathing, 24 hour one-woman show. Immersed in the entertainment industry essentially since birth, she has no comprehension of life without art or performance and constantly seeks to conquer the next stage, platform or medium. Her contagious positive energy and enthusiasm infect her audience and take them on creative, magical journeys through both the digital and physical worlds. All she needs is a microphone, and she’ll keep an audience entertained all night long. She’s a producer, writer, editor, actor, singer, host and live broadcaster. Her greatest pleasures in life come from seeing a project grow from idea to execution and witnessing first-hand the experiences of every person involved, from collaborators, cast and crew, all the way to the audience enjoying the product. The Amber-Tiana brand is built on seeking truth and spreading love, peace, and happiness, and any of her fans would tell you the same.

 

IV. “The Divorce” — Short Story published in Inklings Magazine

This was the dinner he finally realized he wanted a divorce. She hadn’t done anything any differently, but that was exactly the problem. But maybe he should have tried something; maybe it was his fault.

It was the little things that annoyed him. The way she separated her bites by size so that she could eat the smallest ones last. The way she sniffed every drink before bringing it to her lips like it were wine, even if it was water. It was as if she mistrusted everyone, as if she thought someone was trying to poison her.

It was the way she offered to pay for the meal after the server had already taken his card. The way she got up from the table to use the bathroom without telling him where she was going, just assuming he would figure it out when he saw which direction she went. He sometimes secretly wished she wouldn’t come back.

But she had come back. Like she always did.

He turned the car onto the highway toward home. She sat silently in the passenger seat watching the wiper blades clear the slight drizzle from the windshield. She was always useless in the rain, completely distracted by the sight and the sound. She could sit, mesmerized, for hours at a time. He understood up to a point, but eventually he would get bored. He would try to talk to her, or to kiss her, but she would remain in a sort of trance, unresponsive and motionless.

“Sarah, put your seat belt on,” he told her when he noticed the red light on the dashboard. As he expected, she ignored him. Why couldn’t she just listen this once, when it was actually important to him?

Frustrated, he began to merge onto the highway. He hadn’t, however, noticed the semi truck coming from behind him. As soon as he merged, the truck hit the back of his car. The back end swung out, gliding across the damp pavement. The front of his car skidded to the right and the rest of the car followed. Still moving forward, the vehicle tumbled off the road. It crashed into a ditch and came to a crushing halt.

He took a moment to realize what had happened; to examine himself to see if he was okay. He couldn’t find any serious injuries; he just seemed a little shaken up. He turned to look at his wife.

She hadn’t been so lucky. She was bleeding, knocked out on the dashboard. There was a crack in the windshield where her head had struck, and an open wound on her scalp.

He didn’t think about the divorce again until they got to the hospital. He was sitting in an uncomfortable blue chair when the doctor came to tell him how she was.

“Are you Henry Salinger?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Is your wife Sarah Salinger?”

“Yes, that’s my wife,” Henry said.

The question had immediately reminded Henry of Sarah’s initial complaint that her last name would begin with the same letter as her first. He should have known then.

The doctor’s next statement snapped Henry back to the present. His wife had been paralyzed from the neck down. She would remain this way for the rest of her life.

Henry was numb. He couldn’t tell her about the divorce now, it wouldn’t be fair. To leave her at the worst possible moment—how could he explain that to people? His parents, his friends, their friends… It would seem like he was only leaving because of the accident. There was no way he could possibly make them understand.

When they finally let him see her, she was crying. Henry sat at her bedside and held her hand, but he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like she could feel it. Henry acknowledged that that was a strange thought to have. The gesture seemed right, though, and he didn’t know what else he could do.

She looked out the window in her room. It was still raining. He thought that meant the conversation would be over, as she would go into another one of her trances, but instead she turned back to him. There were tears in her eyes, but she wasn’t making a sound.

“If you want to leave, I understand,” she said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

And he didn’t. He stayed in the hospital with her all weekend. When he was sure she was okay, he went back to work, but still returned to the hospital every night to be with her. He slept there most nights.

He began to bring in her favorite things from their house, her favorite blankets, her favorite pillow, the giant stuffed bear he had won her at the state fair the year before.

Her parents came to visit. At first they weren’t sure what to say, but Sarah assured them that Henry had been driving safely and had told her to put on her seatbelt, she had just failed to comply.

They told Henry that he was wonderful, great, amazing. They said he was the best person they had ever known, that their daughter was lucky to have a man as great as him in her life.

“She really needs you right now,” Sarah’s mother had told him. “We’re so glad you’re here.”

Henry had simply said thank you, it wasn’t anything, he loved her.

That seemed to appease her parents, and the other visitors. Henry became popular amongst the hospital staff. The nurses all adored him, said he was the best possible husband. If they were ever in an accident, they could only hope they had somebody as wonderful as Henry Salinger.

Henry couldn’t take any more of their talk. He began to close the door to Sarah’s room when he came to visit. That way it was just the two of them, and he didn’t have anybody else to fool.

When they were together, she didn’t talk a lot. Henry would tell her about work, and she would listen and laugh or cry, depending on the story. Then he would kiss her and tell her he loved her.

He noticed that the nurses didn’t feed her correctly. They just put any bit of food in her mouth, regardless of size. He began to relieve them of their duties so that he could do it the way she liked. He organized each bite in order and gave them to her how she wanted.

He allowed her to take a sniff of any liquid beverage before pouring it into her mouth, trying everything to make her feel like her old self, trying to get her to show any reason to make him leave.

And she began, slowly, to act like her old self. After a year had passed, she was talking again like she had before the accident. She would laugh joyously, tell stories about people she knew at the hospital. And Henry would listen.

And then it would rain. Sarah would stare out the window, quietly taking in the beauty of the storm. She would observe each drop of rain against the window, and each flash of lightning would illuminate her smile, or her tears.

When these times came, Henry would lie on the bed next to her and take her hand in his. They sat like this for hours, never saying a word.

 

V. “The Top 6 Reasons Math is Hard to Learn” — Mathnasium.com

  1. You’re either right or you’re wrong.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of math for many young minds. When it comes to most things in life, there’s some gray area. People aren’t “good” or “bad.” Rules can often bend. Bedtime can be negotiated. But in math, that’s almost never true. 1+1 will always equal 2. The square root of pi will never change. And sometimes, it may feel overwhelming. It may feel like you need to have everything memorized, the way you would in a history class. But that isn’t how math works. Understanding math isn’t about memorization, but about learning the rules, and then making sure to follow them.

  1. Even when you’re doing it right, you might still be wrong.

I see this all the time. A student has worked out a long word problem, gotten all of the numbers correct, and then written the wrong answer in the provided “blank space.” Or, a student is working on an algebra problem and has done every step correctly, but misplaced a negative during step 7. At the end of the problem, the answer is wrong. And as an instructor, I have to tell the student that he or she is incorrect. It can feel frustrating to have done so much work, only to find out that it has all been for naught. It’s difficult to verbalize to a student that they’ve actually done everything correctly, but are wrong nonetheless. Of the 25 steps in the problem, there was only one mistake. And it wasn’t a “bad at math” mistake, but a reading mistake. Often, a student will come away from a situation like this and tell him or herself, “I am bad at math,” instead of being proud of the work that was done correctly.

  1. Math builds on itself.

You can’t move to the next phase of math until you understand the level you’re on. If you’re constructing a building, you have to lay the foundation before you can build the walls. In math, every new lesson is a brand new foundation. It’s a structure with new rules piling up on top of each other forever. If any one of those foundations is weak, there’s no moving on. The reason so many students fall behind is not because they are incapable of learning, but because they are missing one key ingredient from a prior lesson that makes it impossible to progress. If you haven’t yet grasped the idea of a fraction, it’s not going to be any easier once a variable is attached to that fraction. If a student has fallen behind, it may become increasingly difficult to speak up about their confusion. They begin to tell themselves that math is impossible, instead of finding a way to put the missing piece in place.

  1. Understanding the method but not the reason leads to forgetting.

Getting an “A” on a test does not mean that you understand the material. It means you studied, and perhaps remember, at least for now, the method on how to solve a particular type of problem. If you understand that 4+6=10, but not why those two numbers can combine to make 10, you may not learn as quickly that 40+60=100. Or that 104+6=110. When it comes to the more difficult concepts, especially once algebra is involved, it’s very easy to learn how to solve a problem but not why the solution works, making it impossible to move on to the next concept. If you’ve learned the formula for “area” but not what “area” actually means, when they give you the area and ask you to solve the problem backwards, you may be completely at a loss. If, instead, you understand “area” to be “the space on the inside of the shape,” then you may be able to piece together yourself how to solve the problem backwards.

  1. A “C” is not a passing grade in math.

In many classes in school, and in many households across the country, a “C” in a class means, “you understand the material pretty well, and you’re on par with the rest of the students.” In math, this isn’t the case. If you get a “C” on a math test, it means that you don’t understand the material. If you have a “C” in a math class, it means there are fundamental building blocks of your math education that are missing. Because math is cumulative and builds on itself, a “C” means that the next class is going to be even harder, and even if you’ve memorized most of the formulas, there will be problems that are nearly impossible to solve until you’ve gone back to learn what is missing. Understanding the material “kind of” is what leads to problems.

  1. Teachers don’t have enough time.

Acknowledging that the above problems are true, there is no feasible way for a math teacher to make sure that all 30 to 100 of their students across multiple class periods fully understands all of the material. Time is a very limited resource for teachers. They use it to teach, plan a syllabus, grade papers, teach extracurricular activies, and tend to their own personal lives. There isn’t enough time in a week, or a month, to spend one-on-one time with each student to ensure that they are up to speed. If a teacher gets a student who is already months or years behind, there is nothing they can do for him or her without disrupting class time and slowing the learning of the other students. At a certain point, it’s time to go back and relearn the concepts, or get a tutor to help with the basics. It may feel insulting or diminishing, but if the problem isn’t solved right away, it will only persist and grow stronger as the concepts in math get more complicated.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  1. Identify where the mathematical “knowledge gaps” are. Take a test online or go to a center and find out what information or concepts aren’t fully understood so that your child doesn’t fall any further behind.
  2. Practice concepts. This can be done at home. If there is a concept that you understand, you can help run drills to enforce and strengthen understanding. If you don’t have time, there are games designed to help practice math concepts where your child may not even realize he or she is learning.
  3. Hire a tutor. A private tutor or a tutor at a learning center can help give your child the one-on-one attention he or she needs to learn and understand concepts that may have been tricky or confusing before.
  4. Use math at home! Try to use terminology like “half,” “less than,” “more than,” or counting when doing everyday activities with young children. With older children, see if they can calculate the tip at a restaurant, or calculate the number of “kilometers per hour” the car is moving while on the highway. Make it fun, have kids race each other for the answer, or reward them for correct answers. Any opportunity can be a learning opportunity.

 

VI. “Personal Essay” — Disney’s Emerging Writers Program

I am a heterosexual, cisgendered Caucasian male from a Midwestern Catholic household. From the outside, I’m about the farthest thing from a diversity hire as you could think of—but if you assumed there was nothing unique about my experience, you’d be wrong.

When I was five years old, my parents adopted two children. I went from being the youngest child to one of the middle children. My adopted sister had Reactive Attachment Disorder and sought to gain dominance over my family, in order to feel safety and security in her life. It was difficult to understand why she did the things she did, why should would threaten and abuse my parents, my siblings, our dog… but understanding the reasons behind the actions, the fear of being alone, the lack of security, the overwhelming sense of unworthiness—it helped. I began to empathize. Not to accept it, but to learn about human behavior and why people do bad things.

Early on in life, I heard from a kid at school that Santa wasn’t real, that our parents were the ones giving us the presents. Upon asking around, I found major discrepancies in the amount and also types of gifts that different people received. When I confronted my mother, she admitted that, yes, Santa was fake. I immediately took this information to mean, “everyone lies.” I could no longer trust my parents, my teachers, our world leaders. Everything someone said was debatable, until I personally uncovered the reality. I devoted myself, on that day, to finding the truth about topics before ever speaking on them.

My family moved a lot. My dad was climbing the corporate ladder at various companies, and that meant that I went to 5 different schools in 10 years. It forced me to learn to fend for myself, to adapt quickly to new environments, and to make friends. It also exposed me to different types of people in different parts of the country. The differences between Kentucky and Wisconsin were great. I realized that people are merely a product of their upbringings, and not predestined to believe what they believe.

I always wanted to be a writer. When I was barely able to read, I began stapling paper together and writing my own books. I set personal goals to make sure every book was longer than the one before it. In third grade, when that wasn’t enough, I began taking narrative risks like killing off the first-person narrator of a story halfway through. The next chapter would begin, again in first person, from a different character’s vantage point, reacting to their friend’s death. My main goal was to constantly push boundaries and try things that I’d never seen before. This opened me up in to taking risks and trying new things in my personal life as well.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I accidentally joined a cult. It seemed welcoming and exciting at first, with a group of talented, positive people working together to accomplish career goals. When the cult leader came onto me sexually, and said that it was necessary to remain a part of his “family,” I found myself the victim of sexual abuse. After exiting the cult and admitting to myself what had happened, people assumed that I would hate the man for what he had done to me. Instead, I felt sorry for him. I understood the pain he felt inside and the reason he felt the need to lure young men into his life and molest them the way he did. It never made it okay, but it got me through. I vowed then to do whatever I could to understand the root cause of issues like this and try to make sure that what happened to me wouldn’t happen to anyone else.

The first acting role that I accepted in Los Angeles was as a nudist in a gay romantic comedy, which required me to be nude for the entirety of the film. I accepted the role because it would be a challenge for me, but also because I recognized the importance of positive depictions in media of the normal, everyday lives of gay men.

I strive to create a world of acceptance and understanding—the opposite of the environment in which I was raised. I know the importance of thinking for oneself. If I can, through storytelling, teach people to discard their preconceived notions and learn to understand and respect one another—I will have succeeded in life.

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