heat wave

heat wave

Bird Egg Feather Nest, Maryjo Koch

Tiny chirps let us know that the eggs in the nest above our light fixture have hatched,
and so this year, having failed yet again to prevent her nesting there,
we re-arrange our tiny porch to better accommodate feeding & flight,
which is to say: poop;
while eagerly awaiting the sight of little heads popping up from her moss wrapped nest.

She comes every year.
Last June Casey saw each one of her chicks take flight.
She’s been my steady companion this cold spring–flying out each time I arrive home or depart,
and then as the weather warmed, flying back and forth to the nest as I watched from the kitchen, fixing meals for my family, while she fed hers.

Last week I introduced her to a friend.
We’re all Mamas after all.

But then a day went by, and I realized I hadn’t seen her, and then another, and I was almost certain I hadn’t, so this morning, I asked Casey to check.

And all the little chicks are dead.

There won’t be poop all over our porch after all.

june 2017, marlboro, vt

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Writing from MacArthur Road

Writing from MacArthur Road

A decade ago, in my early forties, I decided to let myself be. A writer.
I’d already been writing for some time.
Since the age of 18.
To myself.

Alas, I was not one of those girls who always knew that she wanted to be a writer.
(I write memoir.)

Oddly or coincidentally or serendipitously, I am sandwiched between two women who were the kind to always know.
Jodi to my north.
Robin to my south.

Had I known this about them then, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to join them.
But one was disguised as a beloved elementary teacher;
and the other, an award-winning performer.

The three of us live, on the same road, in a row.

Until last winter, when Jodi left the Green Mountains for the coast of Maine.

Robin remains.

“Most everyone does,” she says, about the members of her family.
(There are at least 7 MacArthur households on MacArthur road.)

I come from a big family too. But I left. Which is maybe why I write memoir.
(Safe distance and all.)

Fiction. Memoir. Fiction.
MFA. Not a real writer. MFA.
Published. Unpublished. Published.

This year both Jodi and Robin have books coming out, one after the other.
Jodi in May. Robin in August.
Short story collections.

I pre-ordered Jodi’s book right away.

I’ve never liked short stories.
They leave me longing.
Edgy.

But Friday night, after dark, we made the trek down our hill,
through the valley, and up another mountain, to the village of Putney,
to its newly renovated Next Stage Theater.

There, Robin read from her upcoming short story collection, Half Wild, and afterward performed with her husband, Tyler Gibbons–as the duo Red Heart the Ticker–which followed an interview and Q&A.

We brought my son along. Not the one upon whom a character may or may not be loosely based in one of Jodi’s stories… (sometimes I think we’re all writing memoir. Or fiction.) but the younger one who still lives with us on MacArthur Road.

During the interview, Robin spoke of her family’s history in Vermont, with mention of her father as a baby; and Aidan, 15, turned and whispered:

“I can’t imagine Dan as a baby. Can you? Ask Dad if he can.”

Though they’re not old enough to be our parents, Dan and Gail MacArthur are like the grandparents of MacArthur Road, and actually have the pleasure of all 4 of their grandchildren here, including Robin and Tyler’s two.

Gail drove the school bus and served on the select board and helped shape a number of community initiatives in town; and Dan has the same years of dedication, including the Board of Directors for the elementary school, and raising many of the houses in the area, like ours and Jodi’s–one after the other, about a decade ago.

Gail and Dan also have the sugar shack a 1/4 mile up the road from our place, where my boys make maple syrup each March, and further still–another 1/4 mile up–the farm stand–where we pick our berries each summer and eat scones on Sunday, baked by Robin and Tyler.

“Why didn’t I know that?” whispers Aidan, when the Poet Laureate of Vermont introduces Tyler as “a graduate of Harvard,” who has scored numerous feature films, feature-length documentaries, shorts, art films, and radio and media sites.”

Aidan turns toward me again, this time with a smile, when Robin tells Chard deNiord that she and Ty met at Brattleboro Union High School (where Aidan is a freshman now.)

“We were in an art class together,” Robin says. “He looked at a piece of my work. Said it could be better.”

Red Heart the Ticker, Next StageTyler tells Chard that he wrote Peaches and Plums–the March 2013 edition of Songs in a Lunar Phase (a monthly subscription-based CSA–the A for Arts instead of Agriculture)–after Robin rebuked his earlier attempt to write an upbeat song about March.

I sulked away, he said, but then Peaches and Plums came which is pretty down on Vermont.

“Filled with yearning for spring,” Robin corrects.

Though they haven’t performed together in two years, they played a handful of songs on the stage this evening.

Tyler joked that his goal was to bring as many instruments as songs.

Ty and Robin ended the night with one of my favorites. A soulful tune that she wrote:
One Last Tear.

As Robin sang, “Will you bring your blue dress and your pale blue…”

Aidan turned to me quizzically, but I refused his stare, for fear of laughter; because like him, I thought heard “pale blue ass” instead of “eyes.”

Robin MacArthur, Half Wild, Next StageThe short story Robin selected read like music too.
The words
Flooded toward me.
And then in me.
Like a quickening.
Then they picked up speed and rocked me with the rhythm of labor.
Climaxing in a body of water.
Releasing,
in a field.
Abandoning me.
Empty
and Full.

“The stories take place at the edge of Vermont towns,” Robin says. She admits that Tyler makes plot suggestions. She adds:

“I’m not wild about plot.”

“She’s half-wild,” Aidan whispers.

We both smile when Robin announces the release date for her book–August 2, 2016–Aidan’s 16th birthday.

It was just after his 15th that we visited Jodi and her husband Bob for the first time in their new place in Maine. Aidan never did get to have Jodi as a teacher, but the timing worked out that our oldest had her for four years straight. Under Jodi’s wings, Lloyd became a reader, a writer, a mathematician and a scientist.

The following summer, alongside the MacArthurs, Jodi helped lay the sub-floors that would serve as the foundation of Lloyd’s second-story bedroom. In later years, he stacked her wood and mowed her lawn–a scene which inspired the first story in her collection.


Jodi returns to Vermont from the coast of Maine this spring to read from: They Could Live With Themselves.

The event takes place at the Hooker Dunham theater in Brattleboro just after the book is released.

It’s just like Jodi to have both an auspicious pre-order date and publication date: Brigid’s Day and May Day.

Thirteen years ago, we bought a parcel of land together on MacArthur Road in much the same way. With intention and magic.

I feel poised between these two women.

Perfectly. Imperfectly.

Each writing about Vermont.
While I write about the sea,
and its hold on me.

Hoping that their paired success will serve as a threshold to my own.
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David Holzapfel: Vermont Humanities Educator of the Year

David Holzapfel: Vermont Humanities Educator of the Year

There are those educationalists who believe that if we can just get the curriculum and the testing right, kids will learn.
(David Holzapfel, in remarks to the Vermont Humanities Council)

photo: Francie Marbury
photo: Francie Marbury

David Holzapfel has been a Windham County educator for the past 25 years. This fall his work with students was recognized by the Vermont Humanities Council (VHC) when they awarded him the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award in a ceremony that took place on the campus of the University of Vermont in November.

The annual meeting of the Vermont Humanities Council
The annual meeting of the Vermont Humanities Council

“The Vermont Humanities Council is pleased to honor Vermont teachers in the humanities who challenge and inspire their students, who open up for them the world of ideas, and who help them know the joy of learning,” said VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “In honoring one such teacher each year, we pay tribute to all the fine teachers in Vermont, and we honor the important work they do.”

The award, which comes with $1,000 prize, is given annually to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.

David’s particular brand of teaching excellence was the focus of a recent interview entitled, “Not teaching to the test,” by Sarah Buckingham of

David Holzapfel’s fifth- and sixth-grade classroom feels more like a small liberal arts college than it does a public elementary school.

The multi-age, multi-subject classrooms at Marlboro Elementary School embrace an interdisciplinary and experiential approach to education, influenced by the nearby Marlboro College.

Holzapfel says teachers there are given the freedom to teach the things that excite them: “That’s where learning becomes infectious for kids and that’s really what we want,” he says.

In this way, Holzapfel is being celebrated for doing things differently.

David admitted to Sarah that he didn’t pay attention to things like the Vermont Standards and the Common Core “and all those sorts of things.” In fact, one of his colleagues joked that he was being awarded for “doing what you’re not supposed to be doing.”

In David’s remarks at the annual VHC conference, attended by 300+ educators across the state, he addressed the policy initiatives that interfere with teaching and learning:

There are those educationalists who believe that if we can just get the curriculum and the testing right, kids will learn. Every six to eight years since I began teaching, a new educational initiative has been handed down and touted as the solution: The Public School Approval Standards, The Vermont State Standards, No Child Left Behind, Adequate Yearly Progress, Race to the Top and currently the Common Core Standards.

“The problem is,” says David, “If the curriculum standard in place (eg State Standards, No Child, etc) is so spot-on then why do we continue to change to some other grand scheme every few years?  And then the new plan is touted as being the solution to the problem of why kids aren’t learning. But it’s not the curriculum, it’s not the test that drives kids to learn. It’s meaningful work, challenging work entered into with enthusiasm.”

In a recommendation letter to the Council, Principal Francie Marbury highlighted David’s passion for challenge:

David believes that students need rich content to sink their teeth into. His search for the perfect book and the most engaging activity is relentless. Long before the Common Core, David understood that the literature he chose for his students needs to be complex and challenging and that, with the proper support, they would rise to the challenge.

photo: The Commons
photo: The Commons, Sarah Buckingham

“‘Challenging work’ does not mean that anything goes and that anything a student does is OK,” says David. “The teacher’s job is to instruct and guide individual students to learn to be learners and to be able to communicate their understandings. That means we must study and practice the writing conventions, math facts, critical reading and thinking skills; those tools which will enable us to learn about cellular biology or how an engine works or sustainable farming practices.”

“But teaching isn’t about force-feeding widgets with information which is what the curriculum-testing model promotes,” he says. “Too often I feel that educationalists don’t really trust that kids want to be learners.”

In the article, “Not teaching to the test,” reporter Sarah Buckingham addressed David’s approach:

(It’s) not to say Holzapfel’s curriculum doesn’t meet those standards: he’s just come up with his own way of satisfying them.

Each year his students read the epic poem “The Odyssey” and memorize the first stanza of Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” in the original Middle English.

“Those kinds of things don’t show up on [standardized] tests,” Holzapfel says, “and yet they’re the things kids remember and the things kids value. It becomes a part of them.”

Holzapfel says he takes issue with guidelines and standards that compartmentalize subject matter.

‘”When we’re studying astronomy we’re also reading Ray Bradbury. Everything is related to everything else. And the strictures of, ‘Well we can’t talk about math or we can’t talk about science while we’re looking at art’ is just silly. If you present the same material in as many different ways and through as many different lenses as possible then you just increase the chances of creating understanding.”

Susan Calabria, of the Brattleboro Musuem and Art Center (BMAC), was among those who recommended David to the Vermont Humanities Council for the award. As the Education Curator of BMAC she has worked closely with David and his students over the years. Susan wrote:

My first introduction to David was in my early years at the Museum (c. 2002-2003) when he participated in a VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) symposium at BMAC. His excellent presentation – which I saw him do in his classroom with students in ensuing years – was on extending VTS to support a geometry lesson. He used a projected imagine of an M.C. Esher print as a starting point…

David was one of the first in our area to incorporate the VTS method into math, literacy, history, and science projects.

Susan spoke at length about how David took VTS into field studies with his students, combining art and science. David emphasized the role of field research in his remarks to the Council:

Field research is one of the active muscles of the humanities and is a cornerstone of learning through all the grades at the Marlboro School. Successful field research takes time and dedication, a tremendous amount of planning, support and trust. And did I mention time? The temporal aspects of learning seem rarely considered by policy-makers and yet we all know that those topics to which we dedicate time are the topics we truly know;  this is immersive learning.  But, to quote educator Ron Berger, “Today’s pressure is toward surface coverage of content to prepare for high stakes tests. It’s growing more difficult to give students the opportunities to use their minds well as critical thinkers, to work as historians, scientists, mathematicians and writers.” There is simply not enough time for engaged learning within our curriculum-tweaking standardized test-taking mindset.  Is it any wonder that too many students seem disconnected and are bored in school?

In a press release announcing David as the recipient of the Humanities award, VHC celebrated his work in the field:

The learning journey of Holzapfel’s students goes well beyond the classroom. A major component of his sixth-grade classes is a week-long field research trip to New York City, the cornerstone of a year of study that includes a focus on immigration to America as well as students’ independent study projects. Students visit Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum and take part in other activities that illustrate the immigrant experience. Holzapfel carefully prepares students for their independent studies, which culminate in New York with students interviewing people such as a member of the New York Stock Exchange, Central Park’s landscape designer, a curator at the Museum of Natural History, a stage manager at the New York City Ballet, as well as local pedestrians.

photo: Pam Burke
NYC field research trip; photo: Pam Burke

“The NYC individual field work is demanding,” David admits. “Students and staff work through topic selection, pre-field work research, field work involving interviews of professionals in the study area, investigation of primary resources, collation of field notes and integration of that information with the classroom research, a final report, the generation and performance of a multi-media presentation with no established time-frame and finally, a parent-community presentation of approximately 7 minutes. That’s complex. An inch wide and a mile deep. But it’s worth the effort because when it’s done thoroughly, it engenders a true sense of accomplishment: Kids are proud of the work they’ve done because it was complex, multi-directional, and deep; and teachers are proud because they’ve led students through an authentic experience.”

David noted the challenges and rewards of field work in his remarks to the Council:

Field research is hard work for educators in the current climate. But I believe that for all those involved in direct education, students and teachers alike, nothing builds a positive sense of purpose and confidence better than the accomplishment of a difficult task done well.

"the web of life"  photo: P'tricia Wyse
“the web of life” Woodford State Park
photo: P’tricia Wyse

 

Carol Berner, who serves on the faculty at Smith and Antioch colleges in the education department, recently had the opportunity to work closely with David in her role as Regional Coordinator of River of Words. She joined David and his students at Hogback Mountain:

On this first encounter I was struck by the intensity with which David’s students were immersed in their nature study. They were proud of their plots, skilled at observing, respectful of each other and nature, familiar with the names of particular mosses and trees and welcoming of a newcomer.

Through sustained focus on a particular place, over time, and with expert guidance students discover that learning takes time and happens in community – not only the community of the classroom but also of the forest. These 5th-6th graders entered into a relationship with their study plot that taught them how to observe, imagine and articulate interconnectedness with the world. We all learned how to “think deeper” and “look at things in different ways.” The magic of this kind of learning is captured in one boy’s concluding reflection: “And it was peaceful.”

A sense of belonging lies at the heart of David’s approach to teaching and learning.

In his remarks to the Council, David touched on the importance of place-based education:

In addition to deep, active learning, field work instills in students a sense of place. Meaningful interactions with a location and a subject matter and work within a community engenders in all of us a sense of belonging, of connection.

Local interviews
Local interviews

In her recommendation to the Council, Principal Francie Marbury highlighted David’s community history project, Work in Marlboro:

Over the course of several years David’s students have interviewed Marlborians who live and work in town. These interviews are archived digitally with the Marlboro Historical Society and create a rich record of this eclectic and colorful community. Interviewees have included the road foreman, artists, college professors, builders, bus drivers, and town officers.

“Teachers like Swenson Award Educator David Holzapfel are our civic heroes,” writes VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “The influence of such teachers on their students never ends,”

Principal Francie Marbury echoed this praise in her recommendation with this quintessential anecdote about the lasting effect David has on his students:

Imagine – school is out for the day and all is quiet as a lanky adolescent walks purposefully down the hall and up the stairs to David’s room. He’s come to check in, fill David in on high school life, and reminisce about his 6th grade field research trip to New York City.

David’s high expectations for his students, his wry sense of humor, and his passion for the material he teaches result in his being the teacher students remember long after they leave Marlboro School.

In his remarks to the Council, David credited his Alma Mater, Marlboro College, for teaching him “that sustained focus in an area of study broadens and deepens the pleasures of learning.”

It is this dedication and delight I strive to impart to my students.

David Holzapfel, captured by a student, Cape Cod Field Research trip
David Holzapfel, captured by a student, Cape Cod Field Research trip

(Note: David Holzpfel began teaching a Marlboro Elementary School in 1990. He’ll retire this June after 25 years in the classroom.)

(this article was first published in The Cracker Barrel, Deerfield Valley News Winter/Spring edition, 2015. Thank you to the The Commons, Brattleboro, VT for sharing photo/text.)

Marlboro Vigil for Sandy Hook

Marlboro Vigil for Sandy Hook

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Community members in front of the Marlboro Post Office

We woke to zero and bundled up better than ever to stand in a circle outside the post office where the green banner hung with the sweet faces of those 20 children and the tender adults who cared for them.

There would be no classroom photos of loved ones this year. Noah would not turn a year older. He would not lose his tooth. The candles of the Menorah would be lit without him.

We came for different reasons and for the same reasons, and we came because…

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Marlboro Meetinghouse

they couldn’t;

because children deserve our protection;

because it’s criminal to let this continue;

because without the collective consciousness, we are without a compass…

Despite the bitter cold, we chose not to step inside the Meetinghouse, but we rang its bells, “28 times,” (as decided) including Adam and his mother, among the names we spoke:

of each child,

each teacher,

the Principal,

the aide,

the substitute,

the therapist,

the psychologist.

We were an aging group–the youngest almost 50, and the rest older still. The young people were at home with the children, doing the work of families; while we stood as their representatives, in witness.

There were 10 of us in all, some strangers, some dear friends, sharing hopes and tears, and ending with a long, group hug.

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Susan & Casey sounding the bell… 28 times.

Saturday, December 13, 2013
Marlboro, Vermont

Susan Kundhardt
Joe Mazur
Jennifer Mazur
Beth McDermet
Marge Wright
Jonathan Morse
Ellen McCulloch-Lovell
Chris Lovell
Casey Deane
Kelly Salasin

Disturbing the Peace

Disturbing the Peace

 “My hope is that you will disturb the peace by devoting some or maybe all of your life’s work to protecting and expanding the greatest invention of human kind-the art of self-governance based on social justice.”

Tim Kipp, Department of Social Studies, Brattleboro Union High School

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Disturbing the Peace – an Address to the Class of 2013

(shared with permission from the author)

“Parents, faculty, education officials, guests and the Class of 2013, I am delighted to address you on this exciting occasion. This is a particularly poignant moment for I am graduating as well, albeit it has taken me 39 years.

And as I have had the pleasure of teaching many of you, let me briefly relish the idea that I now may be able to have the last word, something that seldom happened in my classroom.

I will rely on insights from some of my favorite thinkers and take this opportunity to humbly offer some advice and be somewhat indulgent by reflecting on a lifetime of teaching.

I have titled this address “ Disturbing the Peace.”

Over sixty years ago one of my heroes, Ammon Hennacy, was arrested for refusing to pay his taxes because so much of our money was allocated for war and the development of nuclear weapons.

Ammon was one of the most frequently arrested activists in the peace movement in the 1950s and 1960s. At one of his hearings for tax resistance, the judge said, Ammon [they were on a first name basis by then] I am citing you for non -payment of federal taxes and for “DISTURBING THE PEACE.”

With a quizzical look of consternation Ammon protested, “Judge, I am not disturbing the peace! All my efforts over a life-time have been devoted “to disturbing the wars.” The judge was not impressed and sentenced Ammon to 60 days.

Ammon was an activist for peace and social justice with the Catholic Worker Movement. As a radical pacifist who refused to allow the government to define whom his enemies may be, he resisted US foreign policies that became and still are essentially a “permanent war for permanent peace.” [Gore Vidal]

As many of you are well aware [some I suppose painfully so]- my life ’s work as a teacher has been animated by a compulsion to teach you to become activists for social justice, be it local, national or around the world. I have sought to have you see history, political science, and law in the context of the vital struggle to transform our political economy into an authentic democracy.

Howard Zinn, another mentor, taught me to search for a “usable past.”  How can what we learn in the classroom be a model for our future? Sure, “antique history” certainly has intrinsic value but lacks relevance and immediacy. I have always wanted more from the content.

John Dewey, the great progressive philosopher and educator from Vermont believed that the most effective education requires a good dose of empirical or experiential learning- he saw a natural continuum of reading, doing and reflecting.

What an exciting context from which to learn. Sometimes in one of my more ironic moods I feel that the imperfections of our political and economic system were developed so social studies teachers and the general public could hone their skills to be more effective actors in a democratic society. This may cause us to pay attention and enable us to have more relevant lives.

Using Ammon Hennacy’s admonition as a metaphor, my hope is that you will disturb the peace by devoting some or maybe all of your life’s work to protecting and expanding the greatest invention of human kind-the art of self-governance based on social justice.

Compared with you, growing up I had it much easier… I developed my values and ideology in the caldron of the 1960’s with the swirl of movements for civil rights, peace, women’s rights and the environment.

While it is myth that most young people of the 1960’s and 70’s were activists, mainstream media and conventional analysis had it, for better or for worse, that the majority of young people were devoted to some form of change from reform to revolution. Not so.

The publically held perception reinforced the myth of holistic activism and this myth became an ally for us in the movement and helped us attract more foot soldiers for the cause. These were actually times of optimism amid crisis as we truly felt that significant change could be won. Being an activist was “cool” in those distant days.

Your task today is more challenging. The public perception has changed and the corporate-dominated mainstream media has allowed reportage of movement activities to largely recede to the margins of the published and electronic world.

You have grown up in the most conservative times since at least the days of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. The modern conservative movement is more energetic and sophisticated in its drive to protect capital and prerogatives of the “haves.” Remember Romney’s astute 47 percent analysis? In fact he was correct from the far right’s perspective.

Activists today can be vilified, marginalized or satirized by elites in the political and media spheres. This modern era of the conservative is, of course, aided and abetted by a Supreme Court that has elevated property rights over human rights.

Starting with Reagan and extended by Clinton and perfected by Bush II, our national leaders have seen fit to demonize the government’s role in society. The mantra is –the government is the problem, not a partner in the solution. Fortunately, Obama has made some diminutive steps to counter the prevailing ideology.

Your task is much more challenging: not only are the problems more daunting but also we now have a large sector of the political world hostile to government involvement. Diminished for now is the healthy consensus that we are in this together and that government indeed does have an important role to play. The New Deal coalition that emerged from the crisis of the Great Depression and World War 2 has dissipated but it- can- be -rebuilt.

This contemporary phase of conservationism urges us to venerate the individual over the group, to see government virtues as limited.  Aren’t we a country of “rugged individualists,” a bunch of Horatio Algers thriving on competition to make us strong? Isn’t our system essentially a meritocracy where hard work is rewarded?

Sure, we all can value hard work and initiative-nothing wrong with this, but when Ayn Rand libertarianism becomes paramount, the ugly strains of social Darwinism can be manifest. Witness corporate behavior in the financial world- record stock market and banking profits with persistently high unemployment, witness the climate change deniers or listen to those opposed to making health care a universal right and not just a privilege. Think about the 1% vs. the 99% or more to the point the 10% vs. the 90%.

We can view the world and our place in it as an atomized experience that elevates the individual or we can strike a balance that places us in the larger social context that urges us to get involved and to give a damn.  We make these choices. Ammon, in another context, said he wanted to create a world where it was “ easier to do good.”  Think about it.

Noam Chomsky warns us to what any sentient being knows: we are faced with twin existential realities, both anthropogenic…yes… human-made in nature- global climate change and the scourge of war with its antecedents of class and skin color conflicts.

Today there is a galling political paralysis whereby power, party and class trumps citizens’ basic human needs. For those of us who are paying attention, we appear to reside in a Kafkaesque world where our leaders are mind-numbingly complacent or don’t have the political backbone to foster real change to save our planet. “We have carneval barkers masquerading as leaders.” [Frank Bruni]

While we remain the “richest” country in the world, compared to the other advanced democracies, we can lament having the highest rate of childhood poverty, the widest inequality gap, the highest rates of incarceration, the most gun deaths, and being the largest consumer of the world’s resources, including of course, petroleum.

Our idea fix on petroleum has us going to war to protect “our” national security, i.e. access to oil that we will consume at greater rates, which will ultimately threaten the globe.

Our military, larger, by some accounts then all others combined, enables us to be the cops of the world, where we are leaders in the number of countries invaded and the number of governments overthrown. We have substituted drones for diplomats. All of which has made us a prime target for the lunatic fringe of terror.

What an age in which to be cynical, it’s so easy! The challenges before us can indeed leave us cynical and psychically numb simply preferring to collapse on a couch of apathy. Perhaps every age induces cynicism?

Today you can get your news in the form of entertainment devoid of any serious analysis or real perspective. You can watch Stewart and Colbert and see the world as an endless comedic plot line or you can let the likes of Fox [Faux] News and bile-filled talk radio of the right and the left fill you with quarter-truths and hate. Oh, so much freedom of expression and so very little freedom of thought! This is a toxic brew for cynicism and its logical consequences: insularity, resignation and inaction.

As I have often told you: doing nothing is a conscious choice. By doing nothing you will guarantee that the status quo will prevail. Your hypnotic life will enable the “peace” of business as usual to continue. If you are satisfied with how the world is then by all means do nothing and your expectations will be rewarded.

I am confident today that most students of the class of 2013 will not choose the hypnotic path. You are labeled as the Millennial Generation by popular writers of today. As with any of these rather superficial appellations there is always the negative and the positive descriptors. So you are described as a narcissistic bunch barely capable of looking beyond your own personal world.

My work with young people over the past 4 decades both confirms and challenges the narcissistic adjective. I think every generation can be so described. While economics, technology and culture can mediate behavior; I believe most people want to help their neighbors.

I have seen kids commit to changing the world; to seeing well beyond themselves. This class is no exception. There are activists among us whom I will never forget, who will carry on long after BUHS. Interestingly a new study by sociologist, Helen Fox, finds today’s youth are more progressive than we were in the 1960’s. They have a more global and philanthropic outlook than previous generations.

To quote,

This generation is more accepting of full human equality than any other generation in history. Interracial dating, gay rights, gay marriage: all of that seems normal to them.

Remember the crucial role played by young people in the Obama elections? Ask my students who volunteered over 600 hours in the last election.

You tend to be less confrontational then we were but no less ardent in you views. Less confrontational? I am not sure if this is a positive but of course this is coming from someone who still occasionally goes to the barricades after nearly 50 years.

You know knowledge is like manure… it only really works when it is spread around.

So how will you use you current and future knowledge?

Will you listen to the words of Noam Chomsky who tells us “knowledge is not enough”? Will your knowledge turn to action or will it sit in a steaming pile warming one small space on earth?

My teaching will have been in vain if the good people before me remain silent in the face of injustice.

My teaching will have been in vain if you only come away with a deeper critique that leaves you in stasis.

Will you “disturb the peace?”

The great Brazilian activist-educator, Paulo Freire, said the purpose of education is to develop a critical consciousness that will challenge oppression. His was a secular “liberation theology”’ for poor people of Latin America, and the world for that matter.

In Conclusion:

I wonder who you will be in 4 years, in 10 years, and for the rest of your lives. There is greatness here and it will mature into a powerful force if you cultivate it. Will you disturb the peace of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and imperialism?

Will you live a life larger than your own happiness?

May you hold to the world-view of the eminent theologian, Abraham Heschel of being a “pessimist of the intellect and an optimist of the will.”

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin, ill of health, sat and listened and only spoke a couple of times during the debates. As the proceeding concluded he struggled to his feet to address his fellow “disturbers of the peace”:

For months I have spied that sun carved high on the back of General Washington’s chair. I have wondered whether it is a setting or a rising sun and… I now know it is a rising sun.

So disturb some peace for social justice…

have some fun doing it …

and trust in your own fallibility.”

Tim Kipp, Vermont, June 2013

22nd Women’s Film Festival Confessional

22nd Women’s Film Festival Confessional

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I’m proud to say that 2013 marks my 20th year in Vermont, but I’m equally embarrassed to admit that this year also marks my first time attending the renown Women’s Film Festival in Brattleboro.

Why?

I was afraid. I was afraid of caring too much. I was afraid of paying money to watch something that would make me sad. I didn’t understand what it was all about. I hadn’t really thought about it being a fundraiser. And, most revealing, I didn’t see myself as one of “those” women–the ones who I imagined as angry or righteous and needing “all about women” things.

I was in the dark.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen 3 of the 24 films in the 2013 season, and I only want more. Yes, I’ve teared up a bit, but mostly I’ve been enlightened and invigorated and stirred. What’s even more inspiring is the reason behind the festival which is best described in a VPR interview by Vickie Sterling, the co-director of the Women’s Freedom Center which organizes the festival each year:

Film, like all media, is incredibly influential, and our ideas about how we see ourselves and each other and the world are really shaped by the images and stories we see on screen.

But in the US, most of the films made and seen are done so by men.  In fact, 92% of all feature film screen writers are male as are 95% of the directors.

What happens when you have that sort of imbalance is that women’s stories are fairly one-dimensional–we get these characters who are really portrayed as men would like them to be, rather than as they really are; and the message then conveyed is a woman’s value really is in her youth, her beauty and her sexuality.

We think it’s vital for women to tell their own stories.

I hate to admit it, but this sobering truth never occurred to me before. Not in this way. Not with this clarity or weight.

The striking thing is that I’m not new to women’s issues. I’ve long cared about them. I ‘ve spoken up about them. And yet; there is still so much I take for granted or that I swallow without questioning. I can’t afford to do that anymore. The world can’t afford it.

It’s time for privileged women like me to LEAN IN and lead so that other women have a chance too.

Kelly Salasin, March 2013

Why I Vote Blue

Why I Vote Blue

Tell me why you vote Red and I’ll tell you why I vote Blue:

I vote Blue because from the time I was a little girl, my Nixon-voting Nana introduced me to the pleasures of the world outside my own.

I vote Blue because in Sunday School I learned that Jesus cared for the poor and the children.

I vote Blue because I was an Army brat who learned to tolerate, celebrate and respect differences
–in religion, color and rank.

I vote Blue because from a young age, I could see the divine in every human being, including criminals.

I vote Blue because as a physician’s daughter, I grew up with the best health care available to me and I want that to be true for everybody.

I vote Blue because when I chose to become a teacher, I experienced first-hand how hard it can be to make ends meet.

I vote Blue because as a woman I know how fragile voice can be.

I vote Blue because I know that when women are empowered–around the world–that life improves–for everyone.

I vote Blue because my ancestors were immigrants from Ireland and Kiev.

I vote Blue because Vermont isn’t supposed to get washed out by hurricanes.

I vote Blue because food is political too.

I vote Blue because I want my vote to serve everyone, including you.

Kelly Salasin, November 6, 2012