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The Battle of Choice

August 18, 2015

Over a year and a half ago, before this existed, before I was even remotely interested in programming or writing, I had an idea that captured my passion so much that it eventually turned into a string and network of projects that still fill the minutes of my days and keep my to-do list full to this day. At the time, around the first few months of 2014, I became entralled by the idea of improving education, not in the typical beaurocratic top-down way of changing standards and reforming policies, but in the ways in which the idea of education itself could be approached from the bottom up, from the level of the individuals, rather than from the system level.

But first, let me explain. I never really liked to be taught anything. I took music lessons, went to various academies to study math, and tried to hit all the typical specs of an "academic" student, whatever that means. But I never really enjoyed it, and in hindsight, because I don't learn too well from being spoon-fed information, it was probably about as inefficient as it could be. But once I quit taking piano lessons, after a few months of "recovery", I found myself loving piano music and wanting to learn to play it. And fast forward a few years, I'm writing pieces on the piano on the fly. Unsurprisingly, the same goes for some of my other instruments. I absolutely despised English (and Korean, for that matter, my other native language) as a field of study, but I took up writing on my own last year with the blog, and regardless of my objective skill level, I've grown to love getting my ideas and words down on paper on blog posts and articles. I've always, as long as my memories serve, been a self-motivated learner. It's how I learned to speed ahead of the "school science", it's how I taught myself programing and web design, it's how I learned to compose, and do a million other things I probably would have ended up disliking, had I been taught the skill from someone else.

So, as I entered the grueling second semester in early 2014, I was understandably looking for a way to bring the kind of self-motivated learning into prominence, at the time, rather naïvely. Long story short, I set up a project with friends to effectively make a study group for some of our common interests, and the plans didn't fall through -- far from it. It was essentially a failure, in every sense of the word.

It was essentially a failure, in every sense of the word... I'm giving it a second go.

So it failed once. Miserably. What do I do?

Spring of 2016, I'm giving it a second go. Same ideas, different execution. But that's a story for another time.

It's all too common to say it's important to realize which roads to take and which ones to passy by, but it's equally important to stick to the ones we've chosen (img credit: David Meier)

"Teenagers" -- a word applied less and less to an age group and, seemingly, more and more to a culture and mindset -- have a boatload of judgements to battle, by virtue of being included in the particular stereotype. One of them, famously, is the stereotype of a "rebellious teen". Validity of the stereotype aside, it's an image of a "teenager" seemigly going against the general consensus of the culture, "rebelling", bringing out and pushing for new, often irrational, ideas. There's a general tendency around those personalities and mindsets -- the "iconoclasts" or the "contrarians" -- to seemingly have a gripe with almost everything they come across. And to the credit of the rest of us, many of the ideas they push for are usually too unrealistic or just plain nonsensical.

Hence the mantra we hear often: don't pick fights with everyone on the block; choose your battles carefully. And there's of course some element of truth to that, but I want to revise it slightly, because gosh darn it, I'm going to rebel against the mantra telling me not to be a contrarian. There's a corollary I want to add to the sasying. A part two of the complete story.

Choose your battles carefully. And there's of course some element of truth to that, but I want to revise it slightly, because gosh darn it, I'm going to rebel against the mantra telling me not to be a contrarian.

I'm not going to refute that we need to "pick our battles carefully" -- it might as well be a law of nature that perfection is an unreachable ideal, and trying to point out, criticize, and fix everything in our sights is not going to end positively, hence the saying. But once we do pick our battles -- after that deliberate choice on the issues each of us care about passionately, push for it, sacrifice for it, and give it all we have. Become the cause and the evangelist.

Perfection is an unreachable ideal, yes, but it goes without saying that improvements and positive changes can still take place, and should be advocated, passionately, I might add. The so-called "rebellious spirit" is a spectrum, ranging from the I-don't-care-if-the-world-falls-apart conformist to the everything-is-messed-up uber-iconoclast, but to move the world along, it certainly doesn't hurt for the society to err on the side of shooting for the stars rather than comforting ourselves against the reality of imperfection.

There's a saying I always come back to thinking about social change:

Become the change you want to see in the world, and the rest of the world will follow.

And that's the long way of saying, I'm investing myself and a huge chunk of my day-to-day efforts into having a second shot at something that utterly fell apart the last time. My idyllic vision might not come to fruition -- statistically, that's pretty much a guarantee -- but I've deliberated. Education is my battle of choice, the one issue I care most about, and I'm not planning on letting it go anytime soon.

So call me rebellious, call me a dreamer, call me a contrarian. I'll be having fun acting on my decision while you critique from the sidelines.