Thursday, January 18, 2018

Someone I love and honor posted a meme.  It is not significant what the meme said.  What is significant is the fact that the meme was completely false and generated by someone knowingly creating it with the intent of promulgating misinformation on social media.

This meme has been picked up and published and re-published across the internet adding to the culture of those who say, "you have your sources and I have mine"  The internet has been a force for good in many instances, but fearfully it has also allowed the promulgation of malicious misinformation.

I responded to the meme by asking, "If you knew that this were false, would you publish it anyway."  The response I got was not a thoughtful one. "We are not to comment on each other's posts. I have honored that."  So we are to live in silos of belief.  If I believe the earth is flat --- so be it.  Do not engage me with information to the contrary.   This is a huge problem for someone who grew up, completely enamored of Jefferson's words, 

"For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."                                                                                                                     - Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820

But what if reason is not left free to combat error?  What then?  Jefferson never expected a world in which a lie could simply be repeated enough to win the day.  How did we arrive at this point?  I remember studying history and being fascinated by the role of propaganda in the rise of Nazism across Europe.  I remember thinking in a sort of naive "American Exceptionalism" way -- That would never happen here because the press would expose such a lie early and often.

Now a year into Trump's presidency I am disabused of such a notion.  The president simply says whatever is expedient at the moment and changes his statements depending on current perceptions of his base.   Our press has done a good job of exposing these lies, but the president has marginalized that with has his own network (Fox)  and his constant  tweets obfuscating and producing a confusing string of words.  We are called on to simply believe the most recent tweet.  We are not to look into the past tweets to compare.

Early in the campaign, I noticed these memes and tried to track them down to confirm their veracity.  I couldn't find their source.  It was so hidden that one could not find the original writer.  Some of these were particularly egregious, like the one about the Pizzeria in D.C. where Hillary was supporting child trafficking. Another report which had an "FBI agent suspected in Hillary email links found dead"  This one turned out to trace to  the Denver Guardian.  In checking on the Denver Guardian I discovered that it wasn't a real site at all. The Denver Guardian was nothing more than a web site with links that did not work, with no way to learn who was responsible for it.  It even had a fake street address.  So the information was created for the sole purpose of misleading and getting people to click on other fake news stories.

How do we fight this kind of thing in a world where my dear friend says he doesn't want to hear anything that might contradict what he believes?  Perhaps you are saying that I do the same.  I assure you that is not true.  For example when I see a meme or post that I really want to be true, my go to thought today is to check it out before I repost it or forward.  I acknowledge my bias to be sure, but I want to know the truth beyond that bias!

Monday, September 04, 2017


What does repairing a Reynolds Aluminum Box have to do with the School Garden or sustainability?
This question which is often accompanied by a quizzical look.  One of the biggest problems with making our world more sustainable is that our entire society is based around two things; consumption and convenience. 

I was cleaning the pantry because we had a wee mousie in the housie!  I picked up the box of aluminum foil (which I try to use sparingly and recycle when it gets used). The roll of aluminum immediately fell out of the box exposing that both ends of the box were broken.  I remember this moment of frustration from many previous encounters with this box.  I am at a turning point.  Either I am going to ditch this nearly full roll and go out to buy a completely new one (which has the potential of being equally quickly broken)  or I am going to have to repair the box making it possible to use up the remaining foil. 

I immediately started weighing the value of my time versus just getting a new box.  By now you are probably rolling your eyes and maybe even you have stopped reading.  But let me encourage you to assess things in your own life in this same intentional way.  If I throw this box away I will at least put the aluminum to be recycled.  That recycling will cost effort, time, and money.  I do not have the sophistication to determine exactly the cost comparison, but between my time/recycling foil/getting a whole new box. What I do know is that if things are going to be sustained we need to add INTENTIONALITY and REPAIR TO THE repertoire of things we just take for granted.  We cannot continue to live for personal convenience and gain alone.

This weekend I was dying for a coffee.  It was pouring rain (the remants of Harvey), I had gotten wet and for the first time since last June, I felt chilled.  I pulled into Dunkin' Donuts.  I was ordering my coffee, when I realized that they put their hot coffee in Styrofoam.  OOOpps!  I quickly changed the order to iced coffee....not what I had envisioned and explained to the clerk WHY I had changed my order.  When she tried to hand me a straw with my iced coffee I pulled out my stainless steel straw and explained how bad straws are in our environment.  Then when I came home I contacted the website and suggested that they switch to paper cups for the coffee, and use paper straws....Again, it is a small thing, but the beaches are made of small bits of sand (and now thanks to us - PLASTIC!  

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Retiring at 40!?

As we meet week to week to think about how our lives will change as educators and neighbors of Westmeade Elementary when we become the first environmentally sustainable school in Tennessee,  it is interesting to think first about how our lives need to change to make our planet sustainable and its people healthier.  Living simply has implications beyond just the junk that fills up our lives.  Our NWEI course book talks about the complex nature of our interaction with “busyness” work  and leisure.  

“Even as neuroscience is beginning to show that at our most idle, our brains are most open to inspiration and creativity – and history proves that great works of art, philosophy and invention were created during leisure time – we resist taking time off.  Psychologists treat burned-out clients who can’t shake the notion that the busier you are the faster you work, the more you multitask, the more competent, smart, and successful you are.”  

Our discussion seemed to center on how we might slow down, and a resounding agreement that multi-tasking is myth.  Since many of us are teachers, it was clear that we use the summer to decompress from the unhealthy kinds of busyness that the book talked about.  We were all surprised to learn that people in the mid-20th century thought life in the 21st century would be less hectic.  This fact brought some laughter.  After WWII, productivity, along with rising incomes and standards of living, led other economists to predict that by 1990, Americans would work 22 hours-a-week, six months a year, and retire before the age of 40.  

While accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower envisioned a world where “leisure…will be abundant, so that all can develop the life of the spirit, of reflection, of religion, of the arts, of the full realization of the good things of the world.”

We realize that these predictions were based a world which was quickly disappearing.  Following WWII the U.S. was uniquely positioned to sell its goods across the world.   As we helped war-torn countries re-establish their own industries.  As unions that had won high wages and benefits for workers were attacked and lost their power those who control corporate power were emboldened to require greater productivity with less reward.  The increase hours at work, fewer holidays, and significantly increased loads of work stripped leisure out of the equation.  In fact in 1975 50% of the GDP was wages, by 2012 they were 43.5

While we agreed that getting to this point was a complex and lengthy trip, so unwinding our consumerism and overwhelming dedication to acquisition over well-being  will  be complex and lengthy.  We took first steps last night.  We choose very small pieces that will make the whole.  Little things like always having the reusable shopping bags handy, to using stainless steel straws when only plastic are available are small things but if everyone does small things GREAT THINGS will be accomplished. Several of us decided to attempt some of the mindfulness exercises as well.  And I am thinking that it couldn't hurt to teach some of these concepts to young children. hmmmmm.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

FAKE NEWS intentionally misleads

One of the sad things about this horrific political season is the spread of "fake news" cites.  These sites have taken in my friends of multiple political persuasions.  The really frustrating thing is that these fake news sites reinforce what we already WANT to believe.  Here is an example of what I mean.

Over the course of this distressing political seaon I have posted about my personal walk through the land mined terrain. I have not posted unless I fact checked, I have posted when I thought the post might be helpful for thoughtful consideration and discussion. One of the most disconcertaing things about this election has been the amount of "fake news sites" that have promulgated false information with the intent of stirring the pot of hatred and fear. My friends on the right and my friends on the left have been prey to these sites. If you would like to see more click here to read my blog with memes and videos and citations. 

To my friend who sent this awful video suggesting that Obama is trying to create a WORLD ORDER that would supercede the United States I wrote the following, "You are absolutely right -- he said these words. just not in this order or context I am posting a link to the Washington Post's article about this speech which has the full transcript. it is what he actually said ...not an edited version lifting words in a way that makes them say exactly the opposite of what he meant --- please read the speech so you can see just how people for whatever purpose can take a video and use it to make someone say something they never said."  There is also a link to the real un-edited footage of the 35 minutes speech in this article.

From the other side....
This website suggests that Pence said Michelle Obama is the most VULGAR 1st lady we have ever had.  He didn't!  Always fact check.  Try to look at things from both sides.Whenever possible use primary sources and ignore the rest!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

An open letter to Paul Ryan and conservatives who think that feeding children for free at school is wrong.

Paul Ryan, a young leader, who holds family values dear spoke at the CPAC convention this year and attacked the government's feeding programs at schools.  My district last year offered free breakfast to ALL students (one way to keep the stigma of being a free and reduced lunch program kid).  Here is what he said.

He repeated a story Eloise Anderson, who serves in the cabinet for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, had related.  She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
He went on to say that “the Left” doesn’t understand this desire for dignity, not just comfort.
He went on to say that “the Left” doesn’t understand this desire for dignity, not just comfort.

 Dear Mr. Ryan;
I don't like labels, but I confess, that you would label me as a liberal because I believe that working together (my civic understanding of government is just that) we can provide what a child needs which includes a full stomach.  I have worked with children all of my adult life, and I know that without a full stomach a child will have an empty brain. I acknowledge the idea that is expressed above, knowing all too well that a child desperately needs to feel that s/he is important to another living soul.  Mr. Ryan, stop suggesting that people who YOU label liberal do not understand dignity.  That statement only drives us further into camps that attack one another.  Teachers spend a lot of time focusing on a child's dignity whether they vote Republican or Democratic. The food is not intended to fill up the child's soul.  It is meant only to make the child comfortable enough to learn and find the support and friendship that is available in the school to fill his soul.

You see, Mr. Ryan, school is filled with people who's souls are overflowing. The child has to be open to receive that overflow.  Teachers, counselors, librarians, and others there have chosen a life of service to children.  They are conservatives, liberals, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and yes, even Atheists who know the value of love and offer opportunities to their young charges to grow in love and caring.  Children have a natural desire to help one another.  I have watched as they accommodate a child in the classroom who is homeless and acting out in destructive ways.  I have seen teachers and parents who bring clothing and caring to the school to support these children.

Mr. Ryan you are quite right.  A full stomach doesn't fill the soul.   That job happens after the child has a full stomach.  It happens when teachers, parents and children come together to provide the love that is missing in a young life.  NONE OF THAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE CHILD IS HUNGRY!  If we (the government-- we the people) feed hungry children it is not an evil, soul destroying event!  It is not a panacea for a societal problem.  It is an opportunity to intervene and offer hope.

Monday, May 30, 2016

An ear for truth, George Washington was the 8th president of the United States?

One of the joys of being an elementary librarian is awakening and nurturing the questioning skills that kids need to be good thinkers and good citizens. The  dark side of questioning is answering.  How can students obtain ACCURATE and UNBIASED information in today's technological information silos? 

This was the question when  my morning news team presented their Interesting Fact on the last day of school.  Neal  proudly announced that George Washington was not the first President, but rather the 8th. Usually, I see their script the day before broadcast, but in the chaos of the last days, I had not seen it until 5 minutes before air time.

I knew that Neal found this fact on the internet, (that is where all digital natives go) and so we looked together to check for veracity by googling his statement.  I did not believe it to be accurate.  I explained to him that during the time between the revolutionary war and the ratification of the constitution  (March 1, 1781, and April 30, 1789) we had the ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION which meant that the 13 colonies in most ways operated idependently. I was not sure that the position of "president" even existed.  But cetainly, the leader during this time would have had very limited powers.

As so often is the case, digging into history is complicated and a simple answer does not exist. The google search brought up ten articles which all concurred with Neal.  Beginning with Wikipedia. So we went to air with his "fact."   It was only later when I had time to do MY 'due diligence" that the truth was clear.  This illustrates why teaching about research and sources is crucial!   We need to discuss the value of crowd sourced reserch like Wikipedia (I am a proponent and editor).  But we also need to acknowledge its limitations. Let me describe how I approached this question. 

As a librarian I eliminated any of the articles that were ".coms" from initial consideration.  There are perfectly good dot coms but I wanted scholarly, refereed sources as well as the actual document itself.  That left just two of the ten sources to be viewed.  One was the Constitution Society.  Before I read their article I nosed around to see if I could find out if they had a bias.  This usually means checking a statement about who the organization is, its purpose, and goals, and determining where their funding comes from.  This group's self-description included the fact that it educates, and also litigates.  For me, that elliminated them from my initial run through (I already knew that they concurred with Neal) so I moved on. 

What propelled me to continue searching something that seemed overwhelmingly correct was the simple question, "Why would all our history books list George Washington, as our first President if this weren't true?"  That is a question I am sure the conspiracy theorists have an arcane answer for.

A really good article from the Department of State outlines some of the debate surrounding the articles themselves.  It turns out that John Hanson, was President of the Continental Congress in 1781.  In this position he was not The President for his powers were so limited he could not even appoint the secretary of state.  At least I knew now where the term "President" had come from.  But I needed more.  Did the people of his time consider him the president of the United States?

The definitive article on this issue came from Digital History, a University of Houston website with valuable primary sourced information and commentary by scholars.  It clearly illustrates the difference between the kind of research real historians engage in and what I was doing.  (They go to  primary sources, discuss among colleagues the opinions they are forming about their meaning, and rigorously vet their information prior to publication).  Here is a part of the article:

"It The Articles of Confederation created a national government composed of a Congress, which had the power to declare war, appoint military officers, sign treaties, make alliances, appoint foreign ambassadors, and manage relations with Indians. All states were represented equally in Congress, and nine of the 13 states had to approve a bill before it became law."   

The Articles created an alliance of thirteen independent and sovereign states who agreed to "enter into a firm league of friendship with each other" This sounds more like NATO than the United States!  In fact, in the Articles,  at the beginning of almost all the statements issuing power to do anything come the words, "No State, without the Consent of the united States, in congress assembled..."   So it was not surprising to find that John Hanson held the office known officially as "President of the United States in Congress Assembled" In other words he was the president of the Congress or its presiding oficer.  He had none of the powers we associate with our president.

 The University of Houston article continues, "Under the Articles, the states, not Congress, had the power to tax. Congress could raise money only by asking the states for funds, borrowing from foreign governments, or selling western lands. In addition, Congress could not draft soldiers or regulate trade. There was no provision for national courts.  The Articles of Confederation did not include a president. The states feared another George III might threaten their liberties. The new framework of government also barred delegates from serving more than three years in any six year period."

Indeed, going between the original Articles and then reading scholarly analysis helped me understand where all the 10 articles that Neal found went awry.  With today's internet being a place where anyone can publish information and look official, we must be more vigilant. I was confident I had solved the question at hand.  I could say that George Washington was in fact the 1st president of the United States, and that John Hanson held the office  known officially as "President of the United States in Congress Assembled"    I then felt free to explore the internet to see what I could learn.

Googling the phrase "John Hanson president," I discovered one site that confused John Hanson with the African American and asserted that Barack Obama was not the first African American President!Upon googling "John Hanson, first black president" 830,000 articles appeared!  Some of these eve had photographs of John Hanson!  (Photographs only go back to about 1840)  I did not go too deeply into this absurdity --- because it was clearly in the realm of conspiracy theory, but it illustrates again the difficulty in getting good sources for our students.  The idea that whatever we perceive as truth is truth is a dangerous one and we need to help our students learn to ferret out facts while they are young, so that when it is time for them to vote they will have an ear for truth, but as we have an ear for good grammar.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Commodifying Public Education: How did this happen?

Learn more about this here

A shout of jubilation went up as teachers heard the announcement that we would not administer the final part of the TN Ready test this year.  I did not join in the celebration. I will not celebrate until we defeat this culture that relentlessly continues the march toward the destruction of public education. 

Over the past 30 years I have watched as people use the words, of our founding documents (words that I believe in) to destroy the very things the documents set forth.  We could start with their edited version of the preamble ---they would turn that paragraph into two simple phrases: We the People of the United States in order to insure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense do ordain and establish this constitution of the United States. In their understanding this is the only purpose for government.   For a history of how this happened read this fine article by a Canadian, Dan Laitsch "Smacked by the invisible hand: the wrong debate, at the wrong time with the wrong people." 

While it focuses on education it exposes the subtle way in which words were manipulated by a group with an agenda.  Among the discarded ideals is that which states that everyone benefits from the success and education of all.  The idea which replaces it is that everyone must be accountable and responsible for themselves.  If they fail to get rich or get a good education or have access to healthcare or other services it is their fault because they made bad choices.  TRANSLATE everything that has happened in their lives is their fault.  I'm on board the personal responsibility train!  I spend a lot of my time as an educator helping kids become more responsible.  The problem comes for me when the interpretation is unrelenting and unforgiving.

This "neo-liberal economic philosophy" sees "Government" as an evil that should be limited whenever and wherever possible.  Government regulation is always bad because it decreases PROFIT. What would our world look like without government regulation and oversight?  Wealthy people whose money works to increase their wealth would fare well.  They would have access to everything they need in their gated communities.

For the rest of us, who "labor" for a salary or an hourly wage - not so much. HERE IS WHAT WE WOULD HAVE 

Food industry --- FOR PROFIT means --  no control over what is in the can you buy including pesticides and contaminants such as the little snake head in a recently opened can of green beans. 
Healthcare industry FOR PROFIT means -- continuing HMO-type care where you have less contact with a personal physician (who is limited to 15 minutes with you) and you are just a cog, a part, in a profit oriented system.
Insurance industry FOR PROFIT means -- they take your money BUT it is not pooled for your benefit, they will use it to hire people to deny your claims and keep you from getting money from the coverage for which you paid. This will increase their profit and pay their investors!
Education -- continued expenditures for publicly funded private schools - (charter schools) thousands of programs and software options over actual education expenditures.My school alone spends more than $12,000 a year on I-ready a software subscription which steals good education time and uses games to try to "improve" student performance on the test.  Thousands of tech companies eager to sell districts the latest and greatest gadgets (we have vendor fairs all the time so we can be exposed to the latest sales pitch)  Estimates of companies being able to garner billions in educational funds while my library languishes without proper space, furniture or computers for research is obscene!  Teachers should be replaced with programs which students can use to educate themselves -- gone is the common ground of what we as American's believe.....If you want to teach that the dinosaurs were put in the fossil record by Satan to confuse Christians --- you can do that in your private school -- but I resent my tax dollars going to that "education!"

Let's also think about some other areas where we traditionally share costs for mutual benefits -- Transportation - Museums---Parks and other public places are all headed for privatization with one goal in mind --  to make money --- We can stand by and watch the Disney-fication of our culture or we can elect people who are thinkers and who ferret out the truth rather than accept what the think tanks (propaganda mills) tell them!

If you want to understand how we got here and who has been driving the bus since the 1970's  read the article, It is long (25 pages) -- but some things cannot be said in 140 characters!