Monday, September 03, 2007

Conversation Recap for September 2, 2007

We began this sunny morning Locked Out of the Evergreen building. The Lavolds graciously rescued us by opening their home. Lucky for all of us, they have collected chairs over the years. The temperature was a little over 65f, a slight breeze, the sun poked through light low clouds, a perfect morning for a stroll. The assembled party heartily thanked them. Later in the morning several people agreed that getting locked out was a blessing.

The food was moved here with us, ‘Rosalind’s potato collards surprise,’ which people raved about. Your recorder heard the following: “You should try this,” “mmm this is good,” “I love the spices,” “Oh, that is good,” “want me to get some more?”, “our food is always special.”

Julia passed around an article by Dave Grossman, author of Learning to Kill, in the Summer issue of Greater Good. The article described the widespread reluctance of people to kill others, and the ways we purposely desensitize people to make killing happen. You can see an article about Grossman’s topic: Dan Baum, “The Price Of Valor: We train our soldiers to kill for us. Afterward, they’re on their own,” The New Yorker, Issue of 2004-07-12.

The biggest pow-wow in the area is happening now, near Chief Leschi School, near Puyallup off of River Road, down Pioneer way, past the nursery and turn.

We had two new members this morning, and it made sense to have each person say a couple of sentences about themselves. This was an interesting process, it seems like the norms of the two rooms (Evergreen and here) are quite different. People relax more in a home.

Today we heard Amy’s story. Man, oh, man, a standing ovation. Several people said, You Must Publish This.

Some of the discussion was about connecting with students left behind, as the story included an account of a classroom where the difficult students were put together. The kids knew this was a dumping ground. A central idea here, which the assembled group emphasized in discussion, was that we must refuse to call these kids Bad. Getting to know each student is a big piece of it. There is a story about the dedication needed on the part of teachers. Leaders in education need to know this, and remember it. In the discussion or Lincoln high school, we were all encouraged to go on a tour of the renovated building.

Dexter read a piece called “Education,” focusing on what we expect from teachers—in institutions that mark enduring inequalities, where we see “the valuing of trivialities in a land of value.” Teachers, in spite of all the ways we ask them to do a lot without sending along enough resources, are a sign of our hope. This was directed at Amy’s story.

Following her invitation to visit her classroom at Lincoln, we went around the room and made commitments to visit Amy’s class. One thing going on, described by Cherlyn, was a grant she was able to get to fund a mentor program. Really, folks, she means it. You can do something to help or support what she’s doing. There are opportunities to be mentors, to talk to the class(es), to ask the class to tell you about something. Contact information on that Mentor program: call Kurt Miller, Director of Education Initiatives, at 253-272-0771, ext. 18.

One thing that came up was the “Knowledge is Power” schools, or KIP schools. Look them up. It is possible that Tacoma is a good place for such a school.

Dexter started telling us about the American Leadership Forum (more in coming weeks) where he just spent a week. Weird, us being so busy all of the time, but if we step off the world for a week, it actually keeps on spinning. He also described the upcoming Race & Pedagogy planning summit, just a couple of weeks away, and the speakers and participants who will be there. You can help this initiative by supporting R&P: Help fill the auditorium, for the large evening event (Thursday the 13th), and at the end of the next two days the gathering will produce a document that brings together the ideas that came up at the planning sessions. The Thursday evening large gathering is a message to the University on how much the community supports R&P. Information on how to get the tickets will go out to Conversation members in an email, soon. Students are welcome, so if you know some, clue them in.

Friday, Sept. 7, 2-4, is the next R&P community partners meeting. You can come to this—and, the food is always good, consider yourself invited.

Next, Dexter showed us a slide show of the hurricane that just hit Jamaica. The public account of the hurricane, issued by the government and followed by the media, focuses on the damage to Kingston. But the official report that “we were spared” does not pay attention to places like Dexter’s home town, on the coast, Old Harbour Bay. The pictures showed devastation and poverty. The people who have left, such as Dexter, are all over the world, but have organized to do some relief and development work. The town grows poverty, so the need is great. In a town where pretty much everyone is poor, it is the poorest that are hit the hardest. For example, structures that were not made of bricks and blocks were blown and washed away, particularly down on the salt flats. There are a few thousand people with nowhere to go, whose need for space and a way to make a living draw them to this place, and who can not afford solid materials. One large need is to have a well-built electrical power system. The fishing boats of the town were damaged a great deal and the storm pushed boats through houses.

This was the worst storm the people there had ever seen. One told him this made Ivan look like play.

Dexter asked for support for the group he is a part of, The Yard Project. Last time, after an earlier Hurricane (Ivan), his group raised $125,000 to build the houses he showed us in some of the slides. Some sorting out of the process is still going on, so be prepared to receive an email announcing the details of what and how to give. You can send the email to people you know, and magnify the support.

Some of the ensuing discussion touched on the role of government, and the self-help work that goes on in communities. The dominant public philosophy deemphasizes the importance and legitimacy of government. Government does provide many things for some people—ironically, the elites who trumpet the ‘government is the problem’ message are served best—and the poor do not get the same level of support. We discussed several facets of this. Some of them had to do with the intersections public philosophy and the color line in America. The notion that government is this Other thing, that delivers benefits to particular groups, is not particularly helpful (except, perhaps, as a way to contest elections). Every single business in the country gets subsidies of some kind. And there are thousands of governmental units, it is not one thing—nation, states, counties, school districts, and so on. And there are possibilities to do something positive in the here and now. Conversation members know that the recent Superintendent of Tacoma public schools was dismissed, in large part, because of the efforts of citizens including some members of the Conversation. You can do something.

With the opening lockout, and the extraordinary story, and the look at the hurricane damage, today’s Conversation lasted further into the day. It was 12:30 when Dexter started to wrap things up. It is important to support people who are doing things for change, and let others know you are doing something about justice, fairness, and caring for human life.

Reminder: Wednesday, 6pm, at the Philbrooks, the group that meets to work on change in the Tacoma School Board, will be talking again. The upcoming election is an opportunity to get changes moving.

Also, the So’Just Planning Committee will meet Tuesday, 6:30pm at Noah’s house. 414 S. Division Lane. Go here to see the So’Just mssion.