Author: Katie Haggstrom

New indigenous peoples day challenges the status quo

Last month, a vote passed through the Minneapolis City Council asking for the recognition of Indigenous People’s Day on what is popularly known as Christopher Columbus Day. While Indigenous People’s Day is not a legal holiday, it will be officially recognized by the city and share the spotlight with Columbus Day.

In case you don’t remember from high school history class, Christopher Columbus was a highly-esteemed Italian explorer, the so-called discoverer of the New World and the first man to set foot on American soil. He initialized European colonization of the Americas, eventually resulting in the arrival of the first American settlers.

In 1934, the United States government declared Christopher Columbus Day a federal holiday in honor of his establishment of the Americas. Columbus officially landed on October 12, 1492, but Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October, when the government closes and students have a day off from school.

But what about the natives whom Columbus and the first colonists encountered in America? For generations before Columbus’ arrival, “Indians” thrived on “American” soil. But their memory and history were brushed aside as colonists arrived in the New World, an unsettled land full of opportunity for Europeans.

Today, Christopher Columbus’s discovery is taught in schools in the first chapter of American history textbooks. Columbus is painted as someone who brought life to America, initiating many new explorations to previously unknown lands. But the Native Americans knew the land. It was their home.

Native American history takes up a small portion of the history taught in schools, if it appears at all. As a result, American Indian children receive little schooling about their own heritage. Each year, Thanksgiving dominates the November – and even October – curriculum. It symbolizes the unification of the early American colonists and the Indians, which is typically portrayed as a moment of peace and harmony between the two groups. But the Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 are brushed over quickly and the oppression of the Native culture is downplayed.

According to the Star Tribune, two percent of residents in Minneapolis are American Indian, descending from pre-colonial tribes. On the 2010 census, 1.3 percent of the population in Minnesota was American Indian or Alaska Native, slightly lower from the proportion in Minneapolis.

Data from the State of Minnesota website shows that there are still eleven Native American Reservations in Minnesota. Seven belong to the Anishinaabe Chippewa, Ojibwe tribe, while four belong to the Dakota Sioux peoples, the two predominant tribes still residing in Minnesota.

Members from these tribes came together in Minneapolis for the vote in support of Indigenous People’s Day. But this win was over a 50-year battle and they still haven’t won – not completely.

The American Indian culture has been repressed since America’s origins. They were torn from the land that was theirs for centuries and forced to live on Indian Reservations. As the demand rose from white settlers, pieces of that land were taken away until the enactment of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

The citywide recognition of Indigenous People’s Day represents solid progress for Native Americans. But it’s still not a legal holiday, as it remains outshined by Columbus Day. Minneapolis is not the first city to recognize the holiday, but it’s only among a handful of other cities.

Minneapolis’s vote raised awareness around the nation, sparking debate and bringing this conversation to the forefront of people’s minds. The history of Native American oppression is not something to be forgotten. The Native Americans have a rich culture that should be celebrated. Hopefully other cities will soon follow Minneapolis’s lead. However, there must be change at the federal level as well. A holiday like Indigenous People’s Day should not be overshadowed by Columbus Day; it should be nationally recognized. Native American history is a significant part of American history, something that all citizens should learn about, understand and respect.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 haggstro@stolaf.edu is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English with an Africa and the Americas concentration.

Graphic Credit: CAROLINE WOOD/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Standardized test results fail to measure overall ability

The success of education in the U.S. is measured by the outcomes of standardized tests given to students – just little grey bubbles colored in with Number 2 pencils. These tests claim to assess students’ academic abilities. There’s the ACT and SAT, taken for college admissions. For education beyond college, there’s the MCAT, LSAT and GRE. Like it or not, the results of these test may decide your future.

According to an article on ProCon.org, each state spent over $1 billion. on standardized testing in schools in 2008. Since the No Child Left Behind mandate in 2002 required all students to take standardized tests in schools, U.S. math ranking has slipped from 18 to 31 in the world. With these realities in mind, are standardized tests effective?

Some students perform exceptionally well on tests, but other students feel the intense pressure and freeze up during testing, performing far below their actual ability level. Standardized tests don’t evaluate the critical thinking or creative abilities of students because some people don’t process information as quickly as others.

After the 2002 implementation of nationwide testing, schools’ yearly curriculum shifted toward preparing students for the tests. In some schools, more than a quarter of the school year is devoted to test preparation. The government sees the test results as a reflection of teachers’ instruction.

My senior year of high school revolved around ACT and SAT prep. In English classes, we reviewed vocabulary, practiced skimming tests and relearned basic grammar rules. In math classes, we rapidly reviewed older concepts and various shortcuts for answering questions: If you’re solving for x, just plug each answer into the equation instead of wasting time solving the equation.

Teachers provided many tricks and tools for “beating” the tests. On the ACT, answer all of the questions. On the SAT, leave them blank if you are unsure about the answer. ACT: Don’t read the science section, just read the questions and skim for the answers. Do the same with the reading portion. However, because some students take longer than others to read or skim, the time restraints prevent some testers from achieving their full potential.

Some students in my high school weren’t going to college, but their last year in school was still dominated by preparations for standardized tests they weren’t taking. They lost interest in the coursework because it wasn’t applicable. These tests don’t prepare students for the real world. Without the incentive of college acceptance, they are useless. In fact, there are many things standardized tests don’t evaluate: critical thinking, emotional intelligence, life skills and leadership qualities. All of these traits require much more than memorizing facts.

Some people argue that students should have the ability to opt out of standardized testing. However, this is a challenging topic. There does need to be some way to test students’ progress in school and to evaluate students in relation to each other. There will never be an even playing field, but standardized tests come as close as possible to creating one. While these tests reflect poorly on some people, they still have value. The tests highlight certain subjects students should focus on: math, reading, writing and science. Multiple-choice tests eliminate the human error and bias that go along with day-to-day grading: There’s a right and a wrong answer.

The main problem here lies in the interpretation of test results. Some students are pushed aside after they perform poorly on their tests. Other factors should be considered just as heavily as test scores.

At St Olaf, A’s aren’t taken for granted. To get an A in a class, you have to work for it. But in college, having the best grades doesn’t necessarily make you the best student. Extracurricular activities and club involvement also reflect strengths outside the world of academia.

It seems as though standardized tests are here to stay, but hopefully the numbers from these tests will bear less weight in the future.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 haggstro@stolaf.edu is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.

Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Live performance is changing, but not dying

Live theater dates back thousands of years, all the way to the ancient Greeks. Going to the theater is a form of entertainment that transcends time. In Shakespeare’s London, people piled into the Globe Theatre to see his plays. Today, large theater organizations like Broadway and West End bring theatrical hits to the stage.

However, today’s society is also overwhelmed with many new forms of entertainment such as music, television shows and movies. So where does live theater fit into this world?

Successful shows like Saturday Night Live SNL try to bridge the gap between live acting and scripted dramas. SNL is filmed “live” in front of a studio audience. It gives that feeling of seeing actors perform on stage, but in viewers’ homes. Other television shows are prerecorded in front of a large audience as well. The humor of “The Big Bang Theory” revolves around the laugh track, giving viewers the feeling that they are watching the show with other people and making the jokes even funnier.

These television shows can’t replace the feeling of a live performance: The excitement of getting dressed up, going out to dinner with family and friends, sitting through the show and watching actors up close are all necessary parts of the experience.

Unfortunately, non-profit and small theaters are falling behind. Shows that make it to Broadway and West End are successful because they’re the leaders in the theater world. But those small, hidden gems are financially collapsing. Non-profit theaters aim to provide performances to their communities through donations, but their donors are gradually disappearing.

To renew interest in the theater, some productions try to replicate the successes of certain shows or movies from Hollywood. When “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark” opened in 2011, it received many negative reviews despite being a Broadway show. Broadway took an action-packed hit movie and turned it into an on-stage musical. However, the action created by special effects in a movie cannot be replicated on stage. The caliber of stunts on stage was dangerous for the actors trying to perform these maneuvers and resulted in many accidents. One actor fell 300 feet during an aerial stunt. “Spiderman” drew from pop culture, but that didn’t guarantee its success on stage.

Recreating popular movies and television shows doesn’t always work within the limitations of the stage and actors. So what can theater companies do to maintain interest in the arts?

Immersive theater recently gained a lot of interest in the theater community, beginning with the Punchdrunk theatre company in London. Immersive theater turns the audience into part of the cast. During the show, audience members are required to wear masks the entire time and are not permitted to speak.

The audience literally steps into the world of the show. They have free-reign to wander around the sets and chase the actors, trying to figure out the plot and what’s happening in the show. They can also find vacant rooms and dig through the drawers of desks, searching for any information they can find. Immersive theaters add an interactive element to live performance.

Certain actors move between playing roles in movies and acting on stage. For example, well-known actors Rupert Grint of “Harry Potter” and Jude Law of “Sherlock Holmes” took to the stage in large productions in London. Idina Menzel regularly switches between appearances on the big screen and the stage. The fluidity of these popular actors renews interest in theater as movie-lovers flock to the theater to see their favorite actors on stage.

At St. Olaf, the theater performances on campus are well loved. This fall “In The Heights” was a giant success. Tickets for “In Black” sold out in minutes, the line weaving through Buntrock Crossroads.

So is theater a dying art form? No. But it’s changing, evolving to accommodate the interests and desires of today’s audience.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 haggstro@stolaf.edu is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.

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Powering down? Unplug, restart, recharge

As a new digital generation emerges, we find that our lives are completely integrated with technology. New versions of smartphones, tablets, laptops and MP3 devices keep us connected to each other and to the world. We thrive on a constant relationship with the media.

Recently, the Huffington Post promoted a day dedicated to discovering the importance of disengaging from technology and reconnecting with community. The National Day of Unplugging, from sundown on March 7 to sundown on March 8, encouraged a complete withdrawal from technology. Huffington Post called it a “Digital Detox.” One day. No computers. No phones. No television.

This disconnection provided participants with the opportunity to go outside, cherish the fresh air and have face-to-face interactions with other people. Without the distractions of technology, there is more time for contemplation, or even reading and studying.

Although many of us might find giving up technology for a day rather annoying, committing to just one day is relatively easy. When that 24 hours ends, though, it is tempting to completely reintegrate into the world of technology. Given that it is such a short window of time, does a National Day of Unplugging make any difference?

In 2009, eight Carleton students worked together to create a documentary called “Disconnected.” Three students willingly unplugged their computers for three weeks.

For students, giving up technology for one day is merely an inconvenience, but any longer becomes almost unreasonable. College classes demand constant connectivity with the world. These three Carls learned how to work a typewriter, reverting to writing their papers by hand and carefully typing up the final version. Without computer access, research for papers became more time consuming. Many libraries only have online card catalogs, so they found new ways to acquire research.

Perhaps the largest disconnection came from the loss of email. St Olaf students understand the necessity of email. The college assumes we constantly refresh it, notifying the student body of important information solely through email. Professors announce assignments or cancellations through email. Peers become worried when another student stops responding to emails, and they immediately assume something must be wrong. Three weeks without email would leave our inboxes bursting with messages.

To take the study further, one Carleton student stopped texting. He used the traditional method of phone calls and voicemails to reach people. Unsurprisingly, waiting for returned phone calls proved inconvenient. In a culture in which quick communication is facilitated by texts and social media messages, it became frustrating for the student to reach others.

These Carls survived three weeks without technology. Without computers, they had more time to focus on their classes. On the other hand, they missed certain peer interactions and were horrifically behind on their emails. While we might not enjoy how connected we’ve become, it is challenging to live without constant access to technology.

In some cases, benefits emerge from social and societal disconnection. St Olaf’s study abroad programs create a sense of disconnection and integration with different cultures.

Over Interim 2013, I took a study abroad course in Tanzania. During the trip, my cell phone became merely an alarm clock and a flashlight. The only Internet access I could find was the occasional Internet cafe. But during my time of exploration abroad, walking along the dirt roads in small towns, the desire for connection was nonexistent.

Then in January 2014, I took the Theater in London course in which St Olaf tested an iPad pilot program. The school issued everyone in my class their own personal iPad. For that month, the entire class posted theater reviews to a class website. The need for physical books disappeared, all replaced by

e-versions. Constant access to Facebook meant that even though we had left the subarctic temperatures of Minnesota behind, we were still connected to life back on the Hill. We uploaded pictures to Facebook daily to keep others in touch with our experiences.

Did we lose something by having our iPads? Yes. During my month in Tanzania, there was always the yearning to explore more, to sit outside late at night talking. But in London, we sought out Internet cafes for online connection. We made plans with one another through emails. At night we laid on our beds, lost in our own digital worlds.

Contrary to what we may believe, certain moments of disconnection provide opportunities for new experiences and broaden our worldviews. But we still panic when our phones break. We fear that disconnection.

Unplugging from society feels like isolation from the rest of our generation. Disconnection is not a viable option for everyone, but we can be careful not to let technology destroy other experiences.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 haggstro@stolaf.edu is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.

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Self-actualization proves most noble quest

What does it mean to be perfect? Deep down, we all strive for perfection. But our obsession with perfectionism holds us back. A recent Huffington Post article honed in on the negative aspects of perfectionism, delving into the many consequences of striving for this ideal.

Every day, advertisements and media bombard us with images that alter our way of thinking. They shift our attention towards the perfection of celebrities, the flawless skin of models, the perfect auto-tuned voices of singers and the success of businessmen who run multi-million dollar corporations.

These themes of perfection infiltrate into homes and schools. Young children are told by their parents and teachers that they can be whoever they want to be. But they have to work hard, be the smartest, the strongest, the tallest, the cleverest or have the most money. They need perfection.

But is perfection worth it? Perfection even plays a large role in the lives of Oles around campus. What does the perfect Ole look like? Are they a double major with a concentration, all in unrelated fields of coursework? Are they involved in a sport, some musical ensemble or both? Should they be a member of at least four organizations, volunteer regularly and work a part-time job on the side? The perceived notion is that the perfect Ole will do all this while maintaining over a 3.5 G.P.A. Perfection.

Oles work hard because we are motivated to make the most of our education. In order to be successful and get a job after graduation, we need to stand out from others and show that we worked the hardest. In the business world, it’s all about who you know and how you use those connections. The Piper Center even has the Connections Program, designed to provide Oles with connections across the nation for after graduation.

The author of the article in the Huffington Post argues that perfection doesn’t make you perfect. Everyone should establish a line of how far is too far. What price are you willing to pay for success? Perfectionists are consumed by the fear of failure and often have distorted self-images. And the images the media portray do nothing to reduce those fears; they only reinforce them. Perfectionists can become hypercritical of others, comparing their actions to the standards of society. Sometimes it’s easier to tear down someone else for doing something wrong.

Many perfectionists pretend to be strong, even if they aren’t. They put up barriers against their friends and direct their attention towards other things, like classes or clubs. This unfortunately means that perfectionists are at higher risks of developing mental illnesses, such as an eating disorder or depression. The daily demands can slowly take their toll on anyone. Is this idea of perfection really worth risking your mental health?

This doesn’t mean to stop trying. But perfection is the unattainable ideal. There’s always something more to do, something that could be fixed. It’s a never-ending cyclical effect of failure and disappointment.

Instead, set aside perfection and stop competing with society. Life becomes less stressful. Without those high expectations, there’s less chance of being disappointed if something doesn’t work out. Try the hardest you can, and that’s enough.

The Dalai Lama preaches compassion and kindness towards one another. But perfection? The Dalai Lama explains: “By this vain striving for perfection in a world where everything is relative, they wander even farther away from inward peace and happiness of mind.” Perfection doesn’t bring you happiness.

As Oles, we should try our hardest but recognize our individual limits. Perfection is something that can never be reached. That’s why it’s perfect. In fact, the only thing perfectionists fight against is themselves.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 haggstro@stolaf.edu is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.

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