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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Power of Moms


by: on May 16th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Once upon a time in America, drunkenness was cute. We smiled at the loveable town drunk. In Mayberry, USA – the fictional town of The Andy Griffith Show – Otis Campbell, the town drunk, would stumble into the jail, voluntarily enter a jail cell, and sleep off his inebriation. There was the period of the Rat Pack cool boozers where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others had a Las Vegas good time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. And then, there was George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman who gave the impression that he had smoked just a little too much marijuana.

All the while in the real world, mothers were losing their children to automobile accidents caused by people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) started to change the culture. When Cindy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver in May of 1980, she decided to channel her grief into activism, and she turned Cari’s bedroom into an office.

Others joined her and the organization is now one of the most successful charities and social change organizations in the country. The history of MADD shows the kind of persistence it takes not only to change laws but to change a culture. Through the years MADD has worked for stronger laws against drunk driving, to raise the legal drinking age to 21, and for a federal .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard. It faced strong opposition from the liquor and hospitality lobbies. The organization was accused of wanting a return to Prohibition. Yet, while MADD continued to work on the legislative front, it also became a support network for families who had lost loved ones to drunk driving. Now, its mission has expanded to stop underage drinking. Its mission statement reads: “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” (http://www.madd.org/)


Instead of “Leadership Development”


by: on April 24th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Ella Baker, community organizer and mother of SNCC

Ms. Juanita teaches three year-olds at the Head Start program downtown. She stays just a few doors down from us in Walltown, but I never see her in the morning. She catches a bus to work long before I come downstairs, put the kettle on for tea, and walk down to the sidewalk to get the newspaper. A room full of three year-olds is no walk in the park. (I know; mine usually wakes up before the tea is done.) But when Ms. Juanita sends the last kid home with her parents at the end of the day, she catches another bus to night school. She’s been keeping this schedule for over three years now.

Most nights after dinner is done and the dishes are washed-about the time we’re getting ready to start the bedtime routine with our kids-Ms. Juanita comes walking down from the bus stop. She’s tired, of course, which she’ll tell you. But she always has time to ask how our kids are doing, to tell a story from her day, to talk about the most recent neighborhood news. For the past couple of years, she and I have coached a 7-8 year-olds basketball team together. One night a week thru the winter, we head off for practice about this time in the evening. I’m always amazed that Ms. Juanita is still standing.

When we moved to Walltown ten years ago, we got to know Ms. Juanita’s kids. They’d come by our house in the afternoons and often stayed for dinner. They were middle school kids with sweet smiles. In their early twenties now, they both still live with mom. One is in school, the other has been in and out of jail for the past two years.


What the Right Understands About Poverty and Dependency


by: on April 16th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

David Azerrad in a recent post at the Heritage Foundation’s site, “What the Left Misunderstands about Poverty and Dependency” offers a long list of right wing assumptions: that housing, food, and medical assistance prevent people from marrying and working, that government assistance “erodes the virtues that allow people to flourish,” and most astonishingly, that “all Americans – conservative and liberal alike – believe in a strong safety net.” I sent him an email with several questions (if he answers, I’ll provide that in an update). Here is the first:

When you mention, “the virtues that allow people to flourish,” which virtues do you mean and what would be “flourishing”?


Seven Habits of Civically Engaged Human Beings


by: Thad Williamson on March 15th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

After graduating college, many students lose sight of civic engagement as they focus on moneymaking.

Many college students today feel themselves to be under immense pressure to secure their own professional futures – to be able to repay loans and to avoid falling on the wrong side of the deepening economic divide. Others want to acquire money and comfort, or power, because this is how a successful life has generally been portrayed to them. But many also have a concern with community and social problems and have experience doing various kinds of volunteer work; others are interested in politics and public service.

However, the ideas that getting serious about social change requires more than just volunteer work, and that democratic action is not simply about campaigns, elections, and the deeds of politicians, remain relatively novel to college students. As a college teacher, it is easy to get frustrated when confronted with students who are clueless, disengaged, or unwilling to see beyond the moneymaking definition of success. But in my experience many students are in fact eager for an alternative definition of a good life, and eager to learn more about social movements and social change. This is true whatever the self-described political leanings (if any) of students.


Last Night, the Second Holocaust Was Averted at Brooklyn College BDS Forum


by: on February 8th, 2013 | 19 Comments »

Last night, Brooklyn College hosted a forum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a non-violent initiative targeting Israel’s suppression of basic political rights for Palestinians, particularly those occupied in the West Bank.

In the weeks preceding the forum, Brooklyn College was under intense pressure to cancel the event, pressure spearheaded by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who curiously chose to argue against the concept of academic freedom by claiming the forum would be a “propaganda hate orgy” and should not be allowed.

New York City Council members soon followed, threatening to cut off funding to the college if the event proceeded, with Assemblyman Alan Maisel stating, “We’re talking about the potential for a Second Holocaust here.

Thankfully, champions of academic freedom stepped in to push back against such bombastic claims, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who bluntly told the City Council:

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”


“Progressive” Congressman Jerry Nadler Tries To Shut Down Free Speech at Brooklyn College


by: on February 3rd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

I have long maintained that when it comes to Israel, the distinction between right and left disappears in this country.

Check out this letter from Congressman Jerry Nadler, a West Side Manhattan Democrat, demanding that Brooklyn College not permit a campus group to discuss strategies for boycotting Israel to meet on campus. Nadler is joined by virtually every major “progressive” New York politician. Nadler and his cohorts make the case that they don’t mind the boycott group meeting but object to the political science department sponsoring an event that presents “only one side.” Of course, anyone who attended college knows that academic departments do that all the time because sponsoring a discussion does not mean the department is endorsing it, only that it favors airing of all sides.


The Invisible Suffering of Children


by: on January 18th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Intense and terrible, I think, must be the loneliness
Of infants…
- Edna St. Vincent Millay (untitled)

…by the time [the infant] is taken to his [sic] mother’s home (surely it cannot be called his) he is well versed in the character of life. On the preconscious level plane that will qualify all his further impressions, as it is qualified by them, he knows life to be unspeakably lonely, unresponsive to his signals, and full of pain.
- Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept

I am not a parent, and I cannot speak with the authority of a parent. I closely followed one child’s upbringing, which has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had, convincing me, despite being a sample of one, of what’s possible. Sadly, I am limited in my ability to talk about the glorious vision of that possibility of parenting without alienating at least some parents. I am quite concerned that this piece, in which I talk about my own pain about how children are raised, can do exactly this instead of inviting reflection, dialogue, and mutual exploration to find ways of supporting both parents and children to find meaning, peace, and joy in their shared lives.

Before completing this piece, I spoke with a few people, including two parents, about this limitation of mine. I deeply long to find full, vibrant compassion for the extraordinary challenges that parents face, especially in today’s world, where the support systems for parents are so limited, where the harshness of the life we have created is reaching intense proportions, where the entire future of our species is uncertain. I hope very much that these conversations helped me move closer to embodying this understanding, and am explicitly inviting you, the readers of this piece, to give me feedback, especially if you disagree with me.


Wonder – A Book That Transforms the World


by: on January 12th, 2013 | Comments Off

WonderWonder – A Book That Transforms the World
Written by R.J. Paclacio
Review by Craig Wiesner / Reach And Teach

It’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite. Hey, the truth is, if a wookie started going to school all of a sudden, I’d be curious, I’d probably stare a bit!

When he walked into the room, I couldn’t help myself. I stared, just for a moment. He looked so different from all the other kids in the auditorium. Then, a few teen girls sitting behind me started whispering to each other. “Oh My God… Look at him!” One of them said.


The Art of Revolution: Spoken Word, Video, and Performance Art to Change The World — Juliane Okot Bitek


by: on January 8th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Juliane Okot Bitek knows the power of narrative. An award winning writer living in Vancouver, Canada, Okot Bitek is also an Acholi woman who calls Gulu in Northern Uganda home. Considering the civil war (1986- 2006) that plagued northern Ugandans, it’s no wonder much of Okot Bitek’s passionate writing focuses on social and political issues. In the last decade, through her poetry, essays, fiction, nonfiction and opinion pieces, Okot Bitek has fought both to make sense of, and to expose the tragedies of her homeland.

Okot Bitek comes to writing through an impressive lineage. Her late father is the famed Ugandan poet, essayist, novelist and academic, Okot p’Bitek, who was, shortly before his death in 1982, appointed as the first professor of Creative Writing at Makerere University in Kampala. Things weren’t always so rosy, however. As a result of her father’s work, Okot Bitek and her family spent the early years of her childhood in exile in Kenya. As a result of this history, Okot Bitek is no stranger to political strife and social unrest. Still, in spite of this, she describes the pleasure of growing up in a house full of books and lively debates between her parents and their literary and artistic friends. Some of Africa’s luminaries were regular houseguests: Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and David Rubadiri were men she called uncle, and on a given day they might be filling the Okot Bitek household with their intellect, their opinions and their friendship.

Growing up in such an environment would make anyone sensitive to the importance of storytelling. As Okot Bitek says, “Stories are everything. Without a story, none of us exists.” But it’s not just the significance of narrative that is so dear to Okot Bitek, she is sensitive to the invisibility and the silence that shrouds those whose stories don’t get heard. This is evident in the work she has recently completed, which is provisionally titled Stories From the Dry Season. Collaborating with Dr. Erin Baines of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia and Grace Acan, a women’s advocate and LRA survivor, Okot Bitek took on this work as a way to tell the stories of women from northern Uganda who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A) and who eventually returned to civilian life after long and terrible years of abuse and assault.


Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice? Indeed it can.


by: on January 5th, 2013 | Comments Off

Andy Grosmaire talks about his daughter, Ann, who was killed by her fiancé, Conor. The Grosmaires asked for a restorative justice process to resolve the case, a highly unusual request from the parents of a murder victim. Credit: Mike Ewen (tallahassee.com).

Don’t miss this major New York Times Sunday magazine article on a significant story we covered first a year ago in Tikkun in The Day the Jail Walls Cracked: A Restorative Plea Deal by Sujatha Baliga. A 19-year-old man shot and killed his girlfriend, and the young woman’s parents forgave him, motivated by a deep Catholic belief in forgiveness, a sense that both their daughter and Jesus wanted them to forgive, and an understanding that the forgiveness would enable them to survive. In a conservative Florida district, the prosecutor had the courage to allow a full restorative circle to take place as part of the plea development process. This new article goes more deeply into the murder and the ways the families sought a different kind of justice.

I hope my comment on the article may bring some more people to read our entire Restorative Justice issue of a year ago, which is — in my humble opinion as the guest editor of that issue — one of the best things available on this growing movement that is pioneering non-punitive ways of responding to harm. I should say “re-pioneering” since many tribal societies have practiced some version of it for aeons before more civilized options became available.

If you don’t have a print or online subscription to Tikkun (it’s 56 cents a week, or $29 a year here and it would be a blessing to the magazine if you did subscribe), and can’t afford one now, there were a number of articles on restorative justice we published then that are free to all. Those articles answer a number of questions the NY Times readers are asking today.

One is by Jerry Elster, a man who also killed at age 19, though in very different circumstances, and spent 26 years in prison for the crime. In that time he himself was transformed: if anyone doubts that a teen killer can become a community leader and elder they should have the privilege of meeting Jerry today. In another free article, Hamish Sinclair writes about Manalive, the peer-led program he founded, which has had significant success in enabling men to unlearn the “male role belief system” with its focus on male authority and honor, and learn how to be vulnerable, intimate and equal partners with women and men. And we also learn that an entire country has been running its youth justice system on restorative principles for over twenty years. In short, violent men can be rehabilitated, and entire systems can be run on principles of restoring rather than punishing.

And nothing is more important than using restorative circles in school. If Conor and Ann had had a teacher like Rita Alfred, or a “fight room” at school like Dominic Barter’s, who knows what might have happened – they might have learned how to welcome their fights as a way of learning what both of them most needed, and how to meet those needs together and with the help of friends and elders.

This is a movement that is building, and this NYT article will help its momentum.