Monday, August 11, 2014

Death And Life

Death And Life

Education
Ever since I read and reviewed Reign of Error last December I
have been fascinated by its author, Diane Ravitch, as well as sold on
her theories. In a lot of ways she is an unlikely defender of public
education against the forces of standardized testing and choice. As
she will tell you, she was once a Washington insider. "Having been
immersed in a world of true believers, I was influenced by their
ideas. I became persuaded that the business-minded thinkers were onto
something important. Their proposed reforms were meant to align
public education with the practices of modern, flexible, high
performance orgsnizations and to enable American education to make the
transition from the industrial to the postindustrial age." In other
words, her transformation from her Department of Education days to her
penning of what many of us struggling to save education from the
"reformers" consider almost a Bible is like...the Hamburgler and the
Colonel espousing the virtues of a vegan life style.
Ravitch is a prolific and eloquent writer. I decided to read
one of her older books to get some insight into her journey. Her 2010
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing
and Choice Are Undermining Education (in which I found the quote
above) was just what I was seeking. In fact, for someone not sure
what is going on in education today or where she/he stands on current
issues this book should be read before her more recent volume.
Interestingly, Ravitch undertook the writing of this book as the
fortuitous result of deciding to have her office painted. In order to
do so, she had to relocate all her books and files. She used moving
them back as a time to sort through them and discard what she no
longer needed. She also gained a desire to look further into how her
thinking had evolved in regard to school reform. "Where once I had
been hopeful, even enthusiastic, about the potential benefits of
testing, accountability, choice, and markets, I now found myself
experiencing profound doubts about these same ideas. I was trying to
sort through the evidence about what was working and what was not...I
was trying to see my way through the blinding assumptions of ideology
and politics, including my own."
What she came up with was a real gem: an exquisite welding of
personal experience and research. The reader is invited to think
along with her. In the chapter on NCLB (No Child Left Behind), for
example, we are encouraged to ponder the impossibility of requiring
all children to be truly proficient in reading and math by a certain
year. She goes on to enumerate the consequences when schools face
severe penalties for being unable to achieve the impossible, many of
which are not immediately obvious. In other chapters she holds
concepts like accountability and choice up to similar scrutiny.
In my mind, this book is a must read for anyone concerned about
the future of education in America.
On a personal note, my first thought on hearing about NCLB when it
came into being was, "What the Hell?" I was sure the end result would
be a brain numbing focus on standardized test scores to the brutal
exclusion of anything else. As a school committee member, as every
year my district congratulated ourselves on making AYP (adequate
yearly progress) I would aggravate my peers by reminding them that the
ice berg (excuse overfondness for Titanic allusions) still loomed.
How, I would ask, will we make all our children proficcient by 2014?
To compare our standing with that of other systems and breathe a sigh
of relief rather than attacking the logic of the underlying regime
seemed to me to be merely rearranging deck chairs.
A great big shout out goes out to all who are striving to protect our
children and schools from the "reformers."
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Smilestones 2013

Smilestones 2013

If you are a parent, you probably have fond memories of your
child's first smile. It was breathtaking. And as she/he grew those
smiles so often made you happy to be a mom or dad.
Can you imagine how you would feel if that precious child was
born with a cleft lip and palate and corrective surgery was a
seemingly impossible dream. He/she is scorned and bullied by people
who are horrified by this disfigurement. You fear that she/he will be
doomed to a life of poverty and ostracism.
Then imagine a miracle enters your child's life in the form of
free surgery. Your little one suddenly has a life of hope and
promise. I read a number of these amazing stories in Smilestones
2013, an elaborate album put together by SmileTrain, an organization
that lists its mission as "changing the world one smile at a time."
The pictures and stories of young (and some not so young) people
having their faces and lives transformed are totally heart warming.
Even if you can not locate this particular volume there is
something you can do. What are the things we too often take for
granted that other people lack? In other countries these can be a
seemingly commonplace as clean water, sanitation, vaccinations, and
primary education. Raising awareness and money can do a lot of good.
I plan to celebrate my birthday by raising money for girls' education in
Africa. Here in this country there is need too. In your community
are there children without access to meals when school is out or
isolated senior citizen? There are so many ways we can show gratitude
for our blessings by sharing them with those for whom they would be
amazing grace.
On a personal note, July 29 the hubby and I celebrated out 25th
wedding anniversary. I made his favorite meal and dessert. We
exchanged cards and gifts. I used the money he gave me to buy a
musical snow globe and have our names and those of our children
engraved on it. Now I think that's smile worthy.
A great big shout out goes out to the SmileTrain people doing amazing
work one smile at a time.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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The Worst Princess

The Worst Princess

Picture book
Any little girls (and moms) who are not big fans of beautiful
and docile princesses who are rescued by princes and swept off to
happily ever afters will adore Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie's The Worst
Princess.
Princess Sue is miserably lonely. She's read all the
instruction books and followed their advice and remained stuck in a
tower. When a prince arrives on the scene she is elated...
...until she realizes he's taking her to a tower in his castle.
Her pink bedroom is festooned with girly girl dresses with hoop skirts
and tiny waists, dainty high heel shoes, and other impractical
accessories. A peacock strolling through seems to symbolize what the
prince has in mind when he reminds her that he us to wear the armor
and she is to wear the dresses.
"Just smile a lot and twist your curls.
Dragon-bashing's not for girls."
He may have it wrong though. When Sue spies a fearsome dragon
from her tower she comes up with a most excellent plan for rescue from
the prince she has termed a twit.
On a personal note, I was one of the girls who wanted to be the knight
and leave the being rescued role to other girls. Still do. Always
will.
A great big shout goes out to my sisters of all ages who are
determined that there's a lot more to life than being rescued and
protected.


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Hungry Planet

Hungry Planet

Last Fall I was looking through the library of John and Shelley
Jemison (they of Orono Community Garden fame). One of my more
obnoxious habits is my inability to keep my hands off books. I found
a volume I absolutely HAD TO read. They were gracious enough to lend
it. The only reason it took me awhile to get to is my library borrows
were always coming due. But when I did read it it was even more
amazing than it looked. So of course I have to tell you about it.
I'm sure you've heard at least a gazillion times that a picture
is worth a thousand words. Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio's Hungry
Planet: What The World Eats epitomizes this saying. We know that
millions of people in the world exist at starvation's doorstep while,
at the other extreme, legions hasten their own demises by eating too
much of the wrong stuff. Even if you're a really caring person like
me, the sheer magnitude of the problem can make it hard to
conceptualize. Hungry Planet makes it much more personal and possible
to grasp.
The chapters of Hungry Planet focus on families around the
world. Each starts with a picture of the family with a week's worth
of food. A reader can clearly grasp the contrast, just by studying
the pictures, between denizens of the United States and those of Chad,
where both refugees from Sudan's Civil War and native families exist
in extreme food insecurity. Each family is portrayed beautifully
through words and pictures as an entity unto itself and citizens of a
particular region and nation. Among the very fascinating folks you'll
meet are:
*the Namgay's of Bhutan who are getting access to electricity for the
first time through a government program;
*the Dudos of Sarajevo enjoying relative plenty after a past (for the
parents) of war and famine;
*the single parent headed Aboubskars struggling to survive in a refuge
camp after fleeing the Janjawiid;
*the Chinese three generation Cui family navigating rapidly changing
ways of life and eating;
*the Le Moines of France balancing the hectic schedules of young adult
children and working parents...
Although the families are front and center you learn a lot about
the cultures. Some details are whimsical. Where we tend to take a
car or truck to shop some people use donkeys to carry purchases or
travel on a sled pulled by a dog team. Some are thought provoking.
Contrasts between the experiences of grandparents, parents, and
children give provocative glimpses into how societies are evolving.
And some should make us angry. In India a minority of the population
has access to sanitation. Open defecation not only facilitates the
rapid spread of disease, but puts girls and women in very real danger.
This is a relatively older book that came out in 2005, but well
worth reading. I'd suggest inter library loan or a used book store.
On a personal note, last month I was the paparazzi (dressed as an
enchanted ladybug) for an Orono Public Library Harry Potter children's
party. When I saw my pictures on a computer screen I was astounded to
see how good they were. I have a feel for photography and plan to
take an adult ed class to bring my technical expertise up this fall.
The end game is to wed this skill with my journalism abilities to be
able to create this type of book. The first one on my agenda will
celebrate the beauty and devotion of people who have been married a
long time.
A great big shout out goes out to photojournalists all over the world.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Hope Is A Ferris Wheel

Hope Is A Ferris Wheel

Juvenile fiction
Very few children's authors write books featuring trailer park
kids as protagonists. Refreshingly Robin Herrera did just that. Her
debut novel, Hope Is A Ferris Wheel introduces us to a very unique and
feisty narrator struggling to create herself a chance to belong, to be
accepted under unpromising circumstances.
Star's classmates call her Star Trashie because she lives in a
trailer park next to the dump. Rumor has it only drug addicts or
other losers reside there. Her mother struggles to make ends meet.
Her sister Winter, previously kicked out of high school, is stuck in
an alternate ed program. Her only memory of her father is seeing him
from the top of a ferris wheel. By the time she got back on the
ground he was gone.
Star desperately wants to have friends who won't look down on
her, to fit in, to belong. Maybe starting a club will help her
achieve her goal. But what kind of club will her peers want to join?
Hope Is A Ferris Wheel is a perfect read for any kid or adult
who knows what it's like to struggle against daunting odds to be part
of, rather than set apart from, a community.
On a personal note, weather in Maine right now is perfect with sunny,
breezy days and quite sleepable nights.
A great big shout out goes out to all kids and adults who struggle to
fit in in the face of formidable odds.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Noggin

Noggin

YA fiction
"Listen--I was alive once and then I wasn't. Now I'm alive
again. The in-between part is still a little fuzzy, but I can tell
you that, at some point or another, my head got chopped and shoved
into a freezer in Denver, Colorado."
If someone gave out awards for really captivating book first
paragraphs, John Corey Whaley's Noggin would score a gold. It would
be impossible to put down a novel that starts like that. You need to
at least see why anyone's head would be chopped off and put in a
freezer without a demented killer being involved. Fortunately
Whaley's narrative lives up to the promise of its beginning. Its
gripping plot and believable characters make technology as of now out
of reach and its effect on human life seem totally plausible.
As the story opens, Travis, Whaley's protagonist, is waking up
from what feels to him like a regular sleep. Doctors, nurses, and his
parents are thrilled beyond measure that he can wiggle his fingers and
toes and blink his eyes. You see his head, detached from his cancer-
ridden body has been in cryogenic slumber for five years before being
surgically attached to a donor body. He's only the second person who
has survived the procedure.
To say Travis' life has changed in ways he'd never imagined it
would when he agreed to the experiment is quite the understatement.
While the five years have elapsed in the blink of an eye for him, they
have been long and hard for his family and friends who have had to
adjust to his loss and move on. His girlfriend is engaged to someone
else. While his chums are in college and the work world and his birth
certificate indicate that he's 21, he is stuck repeating his sophomore
year in high school in a class of strangers.
Compounding Travis' plight is that all his adjustments must take
place in the eye of a very fascinated public. On even the most
mundane of errands folks pull out their cameras to take his picture.
Letters from strangers pour in by the boxful. Doctors and politicians
debate the meaning of his continued existence on television. Some see
him as nothing less than a miracle; others discern in him a sign of
the end times.
As well as being a fascinating read,
Noggin couldn't be more timely. These days in the medical field
people are constantly achieving the previously impossible. In most
ways this is a very good thing. Far fewer kids, for example, die from
cancer than in my childhood. However, our grasp of psycholigical,
social, and ethical aspects lags far behind.
On a personal note, I remember when I heard about the first test tube
baby being born. The first thought that went through my mind was, "I
wonder how they're going to tackle that birds and bees talk with her."
A great big shout out goes out to all who struggle with unforseen
consequences in this brave new world we find ourselves in.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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A Time To Dance

A Time To Dance

YA fiction
Imagine you have lived to dance since early childhood. You've
just experienced the euphoria of winning a very important competition
and being adored by the audience--even boys! For once you actually
think you're beautiful. On the way home you are in a traffic
accident. You wake up in the hospital to find out that part of your
right leg has been amputated. That's the plight of Veda, protagonist
of Padma Venkatraman's A Time To Dance.
The kind of dance is probably not one you're familiar with. The
book is set in India. Bhudist Bharatanatyam dance is both an art form
and worship. Just learning about this faith which is both different
from and ethically and similar to Christianity is enthralling.
The human drama, however, is quite compelling. Veda has studied
dance since early childhood, becoming very good and setting her heart
on it as a career. Her mother's determination that she choose
something more useful like medecine or engineering only strengthens
her motivation. After the accident she is not about to give up on her
dream, even if she has to take classes with half her size beginners
and find ways to adjust to her new disability.
This book is full of soul. It was inspired by the lives of real
world dancers who overcame physical disabilities. It gives us a rare
glimpse at the strength and beauty of the human spirit.
On a personal note, oh my gosh, writing about dancing reminds me I
forgot to write about the adult prom. It was a fundraiser for Orono
Library Foundation. A real life fairy godmother scored me a ticket.
It was amazing. Lots of friends were there. Decor was lovely. The
dance music was energizing. The refreshments were classy enough for a
tea party at Buckingham Palace. The punch was in crystal wine
glasses. It was one amazing evening! I went home with orchids and
white roses feeling like Cinderella.
A great big shout out goes out to all who worked behind the scenes to
make that enchanted evening happen.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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