Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conversation Recap for March 1, 2009

We welcomed two new participants today, and welcomed back some folks we had not seen in a while.

Today we heard a part of Sid’s story.

Part of the story focused on teaching about the current wars, and

Thursday at 10am, at Pierce College’s Puyallup campus, James Yee will speak and show a slide show. He was a captain in the Army, a muslim chaplain who was arrested and harshly treated in response to his criticisms of our handling of prisoners. He was actually charged with sedition and spying. Charges against him were eventually dropped

Cara Bilodeau, Pierce County’s organizer for Stand For Children, visited today. You can check the Tacoma website of Stand For Children.

We talked about education and children’s issues. Some examples of things we are concerned about: Tacoma’s loss of 1,000 students per year, the achievement gap, high dropout rates, the quality of education students are acquiring—and a fairly widespread perception it is declining, unacceptably so. This is connected to accountability standards. Several mentioned concern with the the focus on testing and its effects on what happens in classrooms. Upside down priorities—an emphasis in Tacoma public schools on “the house,” the physical facilities, and too little on what does on in the rooms with students. Not all students are placed on the path to college, and selection criteria are worth a close look. Pressures on budgets seem to lead to fewer programs in art, music, and physical education.

We discussed the March 10 school bond election, and we have an interesting example of one path to accountability. We read in the News Tribune that “The Tacoma Chapter of the NAACP and the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance each voted this week to oppose the measure on the mail-only March 10 ballot.”

Yet this model of accountability is not the same as looking carefully at the purpose for which we run a public education system, and how well we fulfill this purpose.

We approached this from several ways, and came to a single answer: we need to have candidates who will willingly share information about the priorities in education, will be responsive to these education needs, and who will actually lead to fulfill these priorities. This Fall two School Board members’ terms are over. There are opportunities to find a couple of new leaders. Stand For Children will be actively involved in this, and they invite us to be active around this upcoming election.

We discussed the state’s Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance, whose final report you can read here. It was just published in January, 2009, and recommends several reforms in state education policy. One of the more controversial elements is a tougher path to teacher tenure, which would take longer and be more tightly focused on performance of students.

Their proposed new definition of basic education is:

Students must have the opportunity to learn the skills to:

(i) Read with comprehension, write effectively, and communicate successfully in a variety of ways and settings and with a variety of audiences;
(ii) Know and apply the core concepts and principles of mathematics; social, physical, and life sciences; civics and history, including different cultures and participation in representative government; geography; arts; and health and fitness;
(iii) Think analytically, logically, and creatively, and to integrate different experiences and knowledge to form reasoned judgments and solve problems; and
(iv) Understand the importance of work and finance and how performance, effort, and decisions directly affect future career and educational opportunities.

The Full Funding Coalition, (check them out here) made up of the Washington Education Association, the school superintendents’ association, and other professional organizations, published their own report, which you can see here.

The Full Funding Coalition has so far been successful in deflecting the Task Force recommendations. It does not hurt their cause that the estimates of the cost of funding Task Force recommendations are probably about 68% increase in the State funding for basic education—an extra one and a half billion dollars in a year when the state legislature is trying to find eight billion dollars to cut. Their approach is largely to identify possible sources of new funding for education.

At several points we went back to that idea of clarifying the purpose of basic education. Neither the Task Force nor the Full Funding Coalition address the issue squarely. For example, Conversation members might recall the HB2722 advisory committee, and its focus on a plan to address the achievement gap, made some different recommendations about how to handle education. You can read their final report, issued in December 2008, here.

Conversation participants are urged to contact their legislators this week, as the Washington Legislature is deciding over the next week or two what is to be done this year about education.

AND, we celebrated the birthday of our own TacomaLaurie. Happy Birthday, from all of us.

Conversation Recap for February 22, 2009

We welcomed a new participant today. This prompted a brief reprise of Conversation ideas and dreams, such as the need for the News Tribune to have a social justice column. (It doesn’t have one now.)

Today we heard Keith (S.) story. The Mexico chapter was the focus of the last time he was up, and today Alaska figured large.

One fascinating topic that emerged was the little-known consequences of WWII on the native peoples of the Aleutian islands. People interested in this may check out this site. That association helped publish a book on the topic (Kirtland, John C. and David F. Coffin, Jr. The Relocation and Internment of the Aleuts during World War II, Volumes I-IX. Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Anchorage, Alaska. 1981 and Kirtland, John C. A Case in Law and Equity for Compensation. Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Anchorage. 1981.). Also see this site. Strangely enough, the one dead link your notetaker found on that website was the one describing the Attu taken to Japan and made to work in mines.

Charhys led a discussion of domestic violence. Last week we looked at the topic in the home, and today’s focus was on domestic violence among and against teens. Violence is about power and control, and the point is to dominate the victim. Put-downs can qualify, for the persistent criticism works toward the same end.

For those wishing to recall some of the facts she went over, not recorded here, similar information and resources can be found here. Lots of information is available in .pdf form at this page.

We took a quiz that highlighted some facts about teens in relationships, with reference to violence.

As a note, we were given chocolates as a reward for getting quiz questions correct. We didn’t have to give them back if we got one wrong.

Charhys conducted a study of the relation between domestic violence in the home and in relationships, and getting involved in gangs. She found a strong relationship. It was typical for young women involved in gangs to report demands from men that signify a strong set of expectations—about women needing to be domestic, to serve men, to pay money. The also reported a strong set of expectations on the part of the men in their lives to be ‘ladylike’—to not use certain language, to not get too high, to be faithful, to never flirt, and so on. The young women also generally recognized that the attitudes were closely connected to males valuing their status.

Her study also found that young people, especially the women, do not have role models of good relationships and yet live under pervasive expectations to be in a relationship.

We discussed the availability of good data on the details of domestic violence. For those interested, a good starting point for data about domestic violence is the American Bar Associations Commission on Domestic Violence, here. More data on teens is available at this site. The DOJ report from 2006 on domestic violence of all types is here.

Another topic that emerged from the discussion, from participants with experience counseling young people, was that people have very little information about sex and relationships.

Of course, that is the focus of Charhys’ work at YWCA. Young folks simply need more information about relationships, about violence, about sex, and what they can do to respond to situations.

Several participants shared shared accounts of their own experiences, and people they have known, who have been in dangerous relationships.

Hey, PBS’s NOW ran a segment on their last show about sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. See it on their website.

Conversation Recap for February 15, 2009

Today we started with an effort to construct a phone tree, so that we can notify the group. This was an attempt to fine tune the notification process that was tested on the occasion of the cancelled budget meeting at Evergreen last Tuesday evening.

Instead of a story, we tried a device of having everyone write a note to someone else in the Conversation.

Charhys and Mona led a discussion of domestic violence. They brought poster displays as well as handouts. They work in YWCA programs that offer a number of services to victims of domestic violence. Legal advocates help victims navigate the shoals of the system, whether with hospitals, the courts, and so on.

If you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence, give them the phone number of the YWCA Pierce County: 253-272-4181. (more contact info below)

Charhys works on prevention among teens, and focuses in part on talking to teens about qualities of relationships.
The following appears on the YWCA website about domestic violence:

Domestic violence is abusive behavior that can be physical, sexual, psychological or economic. It is intended to establish and maintain control over another person. It affects people of every race, religion, and economic class. Over 80% of victims of domestic violence are women and 80% of perpetrators are men.

Domestic violence is a crime in the state of Washington. Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 26.50.010), domestic violence is defined as: a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault between family or household members; b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or c) stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family or household member by another family or household member. (Further definitions and descriptions can be found in RCW 26.50.010 and RCW 10.99.020.)

Research indicates that half of all women in the United States will experience some form of violence from their partners during their lives, and that more than one-third are battered repeatedly. In 85% of assaults, the crimes are committed by men against women and for that reason it is an area of major interest to the YWCA. While physical indicators are signs of abuse, it can also be less noticeable and much more insidious. Abuse can be any attempt to control, manipulate or demean someone using physical, psychological, sexual, or economic tactics.
15-25% of pregnant women are battered.
80-85% of all documented reports of adult domestic violence are women abused by their male partners.
10-12% of documented adult domestic violence is the physical abuse of men by their female partners
20-39% of documented cases of domestic violence are reported within the gay/bisexual/lesbian/transgender community (accounting for about 3-8% of the total number of documented cases of domestic violence).
50-70% of men who abuse their female partners also physically abuse their children.
Of all female victims of homicide in the U.S., 30% are killed by husbands or boyfriends, a total of almost 1,500 women each year.
28% of teen relationships involve violence.

A detailed discussion of behaviors, responses and resources for help are available at here.

A great deal of material is found at the website of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. From that website you can get to a recent 100-page publication, Now That We Know, that examines many topics, such as disparities in violence across the color line in Washington State. We discussed this particular point at several points—efforts to emphasize such disparities perhaps are unwise outside of a discussion of how to allocate program resources, because it quickly turns to (if it didn’t start out as) a way of disparaging ‘those people’ (which ever group one is referring to) as somehow inherently more violent, thus diminishing the significance of violence against particular people, and deflecting attention from our systems of dealing with domestic violence.

Mona reminded us that President Obama said we have an empathy deficit—and in the case of domestic violence it is part of a generalized effort to hide domestic violence. Efforts to characterize one group or another as more violent is of a piece with claiming domestic violence is someone else’s problem.

The WA state effort hopes to influence the legislature to fill in some of the gaps in the system, of which there are many.

One item our discussion leaders mentioned was the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, which looks at the consequences of living in a violent household. See it here.