Friday, March 10, 2017

After I took the Do You Live In a Bubble Quiz, I reflected on what I learned.  Here's my thoughts:
I'm a farm girl, I know about cows and pigs and pick-up trucks and small town values and I believe there are smart, creative, kind and wise people living everywhere; city, country and everywhere in-between--I know them; I love them. 
I also believe at this time in history when so much information and opportunity are at our fingertips (the kind of access that I dreamed of as an inquisitive child in a country school) that there are people who are being willfully ignorant about the dangers presented by our president and the forces at work to change American society to something darker, less safe, less warm, less caring, less inclusive. 
There is only so much that we can do about where we've come from. My mother was an immigrant, my father, the son of immigrants. Neither had a high school education. We didn't have an indoor toilet until I was 8. The America of the 1950's and '60's gave me an opportunity. I was white--that helped, I was a girl,--that put up roadblocks, but I had a chance. 
Without a good public education, I couldn't have gotten into college; without Social Security (my dad was 70 when I started college), a campus job and a scholarship, I couldn't have paid for it; without a working immigration system, I couldn't have traveled to Australia to teach and eventually make my way around the world, where I saw some Americans behaving badly, but found that most people I met in Asia and Europe liked and admired Americans. (that is changing--there is skepticism where once there was simple acceptance) 
Through the past decades Americans have struggled with their demons--racism, sexism, classism and we have made great strides to live up to the clarion call of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 
Now, I fear, too many Americans, especially those in power, are finding that struggle with demons too taxing; too difficult. They want to put up walls (the infamous literal wall along the border and the figurative one between people of differing ideas) and they want to take away opportunities and restrict access to the American dream. 
They are fearful and the fearful lock doors and build fences, but the fire and the wind and the flood can still reach them. We are safer and we are happier when we recognize our common humanity and reach out our hands to one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In a move that no human resources director anywhere would make, the Senate Republicans selected Betsy DeVos, a distinctly unqualified nominee, to be the new Secretary of Education. It took an historic vote requiring the vice president to cast the tie-breaking vote, the first time ever for a cabinet nomination.

Only two Republicans publicly recognized that DeVos was unfit for the job, despite a bipartisan flood of calls, emails and letters from constituents and an all-night effort by Democratic Senators to clarify their concerns. Every Senator in that chamber should be well aware of DeVos’s shortcomings from the hearings and from the concerns expressed by a broad swath of the American public, and yet they chose party over support for public education.

It is easy to feel frustrated and angry that so many voices were not heeded and evidence was ignored. A cherished American institution may just have been sold to the highest bidder.

Flush from a successful election, the Senators have 2, 4 or 6 years before facing reelection and constituent unhappiness does not affect them at this moment like it will in a year or 18 months. To a certain extent the public can be ignored; they are counting on our short attention spans and the likelihood of a multitude of other outrages to distract us from the relatively minor doings of the Department of Education.

What to do with the anger and frustration? Anger is useful only if it spurs you to action; so here are some actions you can take:

Political Action
Continue to write/call. You can find contact information here.

Thank the Senators who voted against and express displeasure with those who voted for her. Check which class they are in (Class I is up for reelection in 2019, etc.) Let them know you’ll put that date on your calendar. Even if you cannot vote as a nonresident of their state, you can contribute to their opponent and you can urge your friends and family who do live there to vote against them.

Become aware/involved in resistance movements.

Follow the work of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

Local Action
Attend a local school board meeting, meet your school board members, express your hopes, your concerns and your support.

If you are a parent—get your kids to school every day, check their school work, read to them, get to know their teachers, expect the best from them.

Support and campaign for necessary referendums in your school district.

Contribute—financially if you can, to your local school, a public college or university or a student scholarship fund.

Contribute your time on a regular or occasional basis to volunteer in a classroom, tutor or mentor a child, help in the library, participate in fundraising efforts.

Thank the teachers and the staff for their efforts on behalf of kids.

Get to know the kids in your neighborhood, your community and your extended family. Encourage them in their education. 

Personal Action
Educate yourself about education policy and funding. Education is still primarily local, but funding and policy decisions happen at federal, state and school district levels.

Check out website of the Department of Education—, You can subscribe to receive email updates.

Check out the Minnesota Department of Education— or the education department in your state.

Get to know the history and current roles of teachers’ unions. This article would be a good place to start:

Find readable and astute books on the subject: Diane Ravitch; Reign of Error and The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Dona Goldstein, The Teacher Wars, will get you going.  Next steps?  Share titles with your book group or other readers and thinkers you know, in person or online.

Rupert Murdoch pronounced US education “a $500 billion sector…waiting desperately to be transformed.” Learn who the “reformers” are behind their benign names and how privatization will enrich them without improving educational outcomes.

Whatever you choose to do: Be civil, don’t call names, but be smart, be informed, be persistent and check your spelling! Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

That Day

We all have days that we view with trepidation; days that we hope won't come, but we know that someday they must.  When we are young it might be important tests, or moving away from home, or later, having to move back home; there are break-ups and shake-ups and days of sadness and loss.

Of course, most days are not like that.  Several weeks ago was a day that I had truly looked forward to.  A friend from high school days was going to be back in our old home town and many of the group would be able to join him for breakfast and a chance to catch up with each other.  A pall was cast over the gathering because one of our friends could not be there.  Two days before she'd been airlifted to the hospital with a blood clot on the brain.  She was still unconscious and the prognosis wasn't good.

In the days that followed, our old lunch table group kept in touch with each other through email and Facebook posts, sharing our concern and our memories.  Although death had touched all of us in someway through the years, all members of this group were still alive and being together had made the years fall away and images of school days were fresh.

Today that changed.  Carol Lindberg Braaten's time on earth has ended and there is an empty seat at the lunch table.  I wrote this poem several days ago in that state of sadness and impending loss.

That Day

Is he alone who has courage on his right hand and faith on his left hand?
Charles Lindbergh

That day is waiting, 
In the wings,
When the mathematics change—
When a given is taken away.

Perhaps they all wanted a nickname,
a moniker, a distinctive sobriquet,
Those changing, giddy adolescent girls
Who gathered at the lunch table
in that small town high school cafeteria.

She wore hers with a jaunty aspect.
Carol became Charlie,
Charlie Lindberg, 
The flying ace, 
The intrepid adventurer.

Who else would have a skunk named Artemis?
Who else could twirl the perfect DQ cone, 
Or make you laugh just to hear her giggle?
Her face was made for happiness.

But she was more grounded than aloft,
With love of home and church and family; chose to be
Carol again and never fly too far away from roots
Sunk deep in small town soil.

Giddiness fades and high school ends;
Promises of forever are made.
Ties of friendship stretch and fray, 
But do not break.

Busy with jobs and homes and children
Arthritis and gray hair can approach unheeded.
Where, you ask, did fifty years go?

I still dream of missing the bus and
Making the honor roll, and wondering,
Will there be a place for me at the lunch table?
The smell of fish sticks conjures memories.

There is much talk of Heaven
And of hope,
Of faith and coming glory
And God willing, that may be,
No lunch table girl has crossed yet;
Exit stage left.
Second act, perhaps.

That day came too soon.

Jean Doolittle

June, 2016
image: Minnesota Historical Society Photo

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Misinformation is Alive and Well

I haven't posted here in quite a while, but feel the urge!  I love learning new things and sharing information.  As much as I love the sharing, it's obvious at times there is too much sharing going on of misinformation--on blogs, Facebook posts, email forwards and right out of political candidates mouths!

I'm as likely as anyone else to have particular opinions and as reluctant as anyone to give up those opinions when presented with contrary statements.  However, I care about truth (in information, in advertising, in how I live my life) and so I am exploring the issue of misinformation and our surprising attachment to it when it fits in with our beliefs and our previous opinions, even in the face of contradictory evidence.

This phenomenon is readily apparent during this presidential campaign season.  It is easy enough to fact check candidates' statements and see the frequency of stretching the truth, waffling with the truth, or outright lying, but it seems we are willing to overlook, excuse or even accept the most bold-faced untruths from a candidate we support.
This issue is as old as time.  Back in the 16th century,  Francis Bacon, philosopher, statesman, scientist, author, jurist  (1561-1626) said:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate

– Francis Bacon
As a librarian who has assisted many patrons in finding information, it has been all too common for them to reject information that would challenge or refute their ideas and only look for information that would support their ideas, despite the authority or validity of the source.  Contradictory information was deemed inaccurate or false, even when it wasn't.

An excellent article about this cognitive bias can be found here The Backfire Effect on the website,  You Are Not So Smart.

The next question is?  With such a strong human propensity to hold onto our opinions; how can we trust that the truth about important issues (climate change, health care, etc.) can be seen, believed and addressed?  We can have different opinions, but we should at least be dealing with the same facts.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cyberbullying is insidious. It's easy to feel anonymous and powerful in the online world. As teachers we have to do all we can to get the message out. It's painful and life-threatening to be at the receiving end of bullying. Let's do all we can to help the students recognize that they have the power to delete it as well as perpetrate it.