This past Sunday, Aug 5th, the Mar’s Rover successfully landed after a 36-week flight from Earth to the red planet. Sending HD images back almost immediately after landing, it has begun its two-year mission to study whether Mars has and/or can sustain life. But 3 years before its take off, about 9,000 students entered a Wall-E sponsored NASA contest to name this latest ambassador to the martians, and out of the thousands it was Kansas girl Clara Ma’s essay that was winning pick. The new Mars rover was named Curiosity based on Ma’s beautifully written essay. What’s in a name? Quite a lot, after the jump.
It’s become my life work to help young people express themselves through the written word, giving them a way to share the genius laying nascent in their hearts and minds so that we can all benefit from the wealth of their intelligence and creativity. When I read about Ma and her winning essay naming something as significant as a human-made machine for exploring another planet, I was not only impressed but also very inspired by her ideas, her actions, and her accomplishments.
I’m very much on my own personal crusade as a writing teacher to help students, parents, teachers, and the society at large recognize the importance of writing not as just some test grade or benchmark determined by school districts and governments. Every day I work with a student, talk to a parent, or interact with my colleagues, I make it a point to emphasize the very painfully obvious fact that writing is for communication, not a test score. I know everyone knows this, but with standardized testing always looming over everyone’s heads, it’s so easy to have reality distorted and our priorities perverted by the need to perform and produce the false products of test scores and grades instead of producing the true products of written compositions for the sake of sharing human ideas, feelings, and experiences.
That is why accomplishments like Clara Ma’s naming of the Curiosity are so incredibly important. It highlights the power of real writing making a real difference and impact in the world. And even all those 9,000 kids who tried but didn’t get picked accomplished more in their effort to win than the millions of children whose last composition was a state mandated standardized test that reach only the eyes of a standardized test grader.
Add Ma’s API heritage on top of that, and we have another level of accomplishment by this young lady. When I scored higher on my verbal section than my math on the SAT in high school, my friends said to me, “You’re not Asian!” Examples like this prove that it’s pretty long-standing and clear that there is this stereotype of Asians being only good at math and science. It is a nice plus that Ma is one of many breaking that stereotype and showing people that API heritage kids are not just these parent-oppressed, mindless, and uncreative hive-mind victims of a standardized test driven culture.
Throughout my professional career, I’ve worked with students of all heritages, but because of the neighborhoods I teach in, many of my students are API heritage like Ma and myself. It is a thing of beauty how much my many API heritage students are passionate about writing, about creating stories, composing poems, or expressing their opinions. I’ve worked with so many incredibly talented young API writers and am discovering the amazing abilities of new students every day, the stereotype that API heritage kids are only strong in math and science is so ridiculous and laughable it boggles my mind to even think that people still believe it to be true.
I suppose old cognitive habits die hard, so we’ll just have to chip away at it, one historic Mars rover naming at a time.
[Photo courtesy of here.]