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      Many supporters of Sanders or Warren have become rather vicious to each other. The claim from the Warren supporters is that their candidate is the candidate of ideas, having put out tons of policy proposals. (Sanders has 25 last time I looked, so he’s not shy on this.) She’s younger, and it’s important to some […]
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Friday Fast: Give a kid a backpack

Back in 2008, we featured a Friday post to raise funds for our favorite candidates or their causes.  But with this Mother of All Recessions, the funds might be better spent on something a little more tangible and close to home. So, I am reviving the Friday Fast.

Here’s how it goes:  Give up a meal today and send the money you might have spent on it to the Friday Fast recipients.  It might not seem like a lot of money but when you pool your six bucks with a bunch of other people, the money adds up quickly.  And you can make some people happy and make a real difference in their lives.

Today’s Friday Fast recipients are kids.  It’s back to school season and children everywhere are getting lists of school supplies from their teachers.  When I was a child (cue the creaky old voice), school supplies were provided by the school for the most part.  Our teachers passed out paste and paper and funky yellow pens and #2 pencils.  The list of supplies we had to buy was relatively short.  Now, parents can easily spend well over $100 for items on the list.  And teachers can be weirdly specific. A couple of years ago, one of the items requested was a notebook “without the metal spiral (for safety reasons)”.  Hokay, maybe we can send that one over to Freerangekids for analysis.

In this economy, spending that kind of money on school supplies can be next to impossible for many families.  In my family, we are recycling more and more of last year’s supplies but we’ll still have to replenish and it’s not cheap.  Imagine what it’s like for kids whose parents have just lost their jobs or their houses.  It’s hard enough to think when your family is under stress.  What must it be like if you have to go to school without a new backpack or pencils or notebooks?  Coming to school unprepared makes the school day a lot harder for kids and teachers.  And peer group interactions are so important to a kid in elementary school.  It’s one thing to be poor, quite another to feel the bite of poverty when you can’t afford a glue stick or pencils.

You can’t eliminate all sadness and evil from the world.  It’s not possible for one person alone to save it.  But you can do *something*, one opportunity at a time, to strengthen the bonds between people, to lessen the tendency of the world towards disorder and to increase stability.  It takes only a little bit of work, a little bit of mindfulness, a little bit of money.

Give up your lunch today and give a kid a backpack.

Here are some suggestions for your donations.  If you are aware of others, list them in the comments.

K.I.D.S for Kids in Distressed Situations

Give a kid a backpack

ILoveSchools (teachers also spend money on supplies.  Give them a hand.)

Donorschoose

United Way Stuff the Bus

Staples Give Back-Pack

DoSomething101

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It’s Time to Downsize the US

Alexander_cuts_the_Gordian_KnotIn difficult circumstances, such as the current economic crisis, it’s normal to work out how one got there as a means to avoid repeating the process. In the current situation, the discussion seems to range between those who feel that the situation is already working itself out, to those who feel that structural dangers remain and proper regulation is required, to those who feel that the problems were the result of regulation and government programs in the first place.

Count me somewhat on the side of the last group. I say somewhat because I think that the problem has to with the inappropriateness of the regulations that were employed, but unlike them I do not think that the problem is humans using morals and reason to regulate the marketplace. In other, more localized, words, I reject the notion that the Tenth Amendment prohibits spending programs and regulations.

My sense is that the regulations that were deployed to prevent economic disaster were structurally and functionally inadequate because they half-heartedly represented the Great American Project as manifest in the Constitution of the United States. The problem with the regulations wasn’t that they were half-hearted. That half-heartedness is symptom of the larger problem. They were structurally and functionally inadequate because the US can no longer afford to provide its citizens the rights and freedoms guaranteed in its Constitution. The regulations failed because they had a relationship to expectations that are suited to an America that does not exist, in an economic sense. The problems with the public education system, illegal immigration, crime and punishment, and social security, to name a few, are all relatively easy to solve, once the very costly, burdensomeness of the Constitution is overcome. It’s time for America to wake up and downsize its’ dream, the dreams of its citizens, and smell the aroma of the box store, bulk size, generic coffee reality that its best and its brightest have packaged for Uncle Sam’s future.

Downsizing America

Given the economic realities of the new US of A, what aspects of the American vision should no longer be seen as part of the covenant between the citizens and their government? A quick look at some fundamentals of democracy should provide some context about what avenues should be open to being cut. Then the process of contracting out the bureaucratics to the private sector can begin. This said, these are preliminary thoughts, so all that I will provide is a rough and general sketch.

Democracy is expensive and inefficient, even when it’s practised by politicians who are not neo-conservative Republicans. This is unsurprising by design. After all, it’s said that, in an ideal democracy, the populace is educated, they have access to all of the information they need to make a good decision, and they are free to make that decision. How does this ideal fare when it faces the real world?

Immediately, one is struck by the gross redundancy in the ideal system. Providing that much information to so many amounts to an excessive effort for minuscule return. The set of possible decisions for any question is extremely limited, given the options for action, and polling research has already proven that we only need small sample populations to get the gist of what people want. In fact, given the history of their wants, and given the nature of the question, there is probably no need to poll them further because it should be derivable from past decisions. The cost savings to be gained by dismantling the information network should be substantial. Mainstream media can remain as is.

The efficacy of sampling also suggests a direction for schooling provision. Once again, the system is entirely redundant. Imagine, though it’s a laughable thought, that a university degree was all the education one needed to be capable of making good decisions. What do you think it would cost to bring the 71% of Americans who do not have a degree, into the range of democratic competence? How could it possibly be worth the cost? In fact, apart from the decreasing number of specialty jobs that actually require a well-schooled employee, there is no good reason to maintain anything, but a shell of the existing system, apart from creating athletes for the circus part of social diversion. This is because we can use the same polling methodology and randomly choose children from the masses to receive schooling similar to the one that is provided today, and then poll them to find what the rest would have wanted, if they had the schooling.

Given the earlier recommendation of using past polling to extrapolate their wants, this process is admittedly redundant, but it does double duty in terms of providing training for the small percentage of jobs that actually require advanced schooling. Then again, perhaps it is wasteful to randomly select children, as this disregards the advantages of choosing children who are more likely to do well at university, based on their family background. Given past polling, it’s probably best to err on the side of efficiency. The point to take here is that there is no value in giving people more schooling than they need to do the small range of relatively unskilled jobs that await them. Furthermore, think of the dissatisfaction that is avoided when people don’t have enough education to be hired below their level of training.

If the vast majority of people are no longer making decisions, then there’s no reason to prop up the facade that they actually are involved in decision-making. If voter turnout is any indication, many will appreciate avoiding the exercise. To be fair, eternal vigilance is an unwieldy burden to bear, if the only benefits people accrue is to not have decisions made for them by their betters.

In fact, if they are not needed for decision-making, their representatives are redundant for the same structural reasons. The cash to be gained, by trading in the clunker of a public decision-making structure, should be sigificant.

All of these actions would save the economy trillions and once again put America front and center as an economic powerhouse, through the tax dollars it would free up and save. At the same time, it would give Americans a leg up on the rest of the developed/undeveloping world, by readying its citizens for a life of diminished possibilities long before the others face the challenge, should they.

The Constitution is in the way of progress in the US, to the extent it promotes the values of the ideal democracy. Perhaps it was prescient to send home Churchhill’s bust because his notion that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”, seems to have gone bust for America.

chrwsbwp

This is “a frayed thread” in honor of GW’s administration crying wolf at election time.

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Charter schools, Standardized Tests and the Tianamen Square Effect

Parent facing down the Educational Establishment

Parent facing down the Educational Establishment

Vastleft’s post on the NEA’s response to Obama’s education plans reminded me of piece I had seen in the NYTimes last week just before I went on vacation.  In Dangling Money, Obama Pushes Education Shift, the Obama agenda on education starts to crystallize as an increase in charter schools and an emphasis on standardized tests.

Now, before I get into this further I want to make three things absolutely clear: 1.) I’m no Obama fan because he doesn’t make policy based on principle so what is he up to?  2.) I am a strong supporter of teacher’s *labor* unions.  3.) I don’t like No Child Left Behind for many reasons, the main one being that it seems to be designed to make public education unpalatable so that many of us don’t want to support it anymore.  That being said, Obama’s plans are pretty reasonable as long as they don’t undermine the strength of the teacher’s labor unions and I’ll tell you why.  But first, an antecdote.

During my brief tenure as a school board member (I only ran for one term), my personal mission was to change the curriculum of our school district.  My district is about 10 miles from Princeton but it definitely couldn’t compete with Princeton or the school district I had recently left, West Windsor-Plainsboro, which is where many Princeton people live.  Central Jersey is chock full of high tech, pharmaceutical and academic types.  But what is really interesting is what you will find in graduate level classes at universities like Princeton and Rutgers, especially in the hard sciences.  Almost everyone is asian.  This is not a biased remark.  It is simply reality.  In fact, my brainiac #2 child took a 5 week algebra course at Rutgers Prep this summer and was the only caucasian in the class.

We noticed it at work as well.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, labs across the state got an influx of Chinese scientists.  I called it the Tianamen Square Effect.  Many of these Chinese students came after the failed uprising.  The lucky ones got out and came to the states to study.  They told us stories about what education is like in China.  It’s grueling.  There are standardized tests, high stakes standardized tests, constantly.  Those tests determine whether you will be able to go to a good school and study or whether you will end up making widgets in a factory somewhere.  It is really important to do well and parents push their children hard.

So, back in my days on the school board, I brought this up to the curriculum supervisors and asked why we weren’t performing at least at the same level as Princeton and West Windsor-Plainsboro where there was much more rigor and a more challenging curriculum in math and science?  The attitude I was met with might be described as, “So what?  They just do “drill and kill”.  Chinese students aren’t creative.  They just imitate everything we do.  We Americans have nothing to worry about.”  (Education propaganda is about as difficult to kill as the stuff that emanates from Rush Limbaugh.)  Educators seem all too willing to believe what other educators tell them but easily dismiss what people who work in the real world tell them.

I’ll tell you why we have to worry.  While their billions of children were clawing their way up the academic ladder, ours were coddled to the point of being completely useless to anyone but the finance industry.  Oh sure, we educate a lot of future accountants and teachers but future researchers of America who can use the scientific method or think rationally?  Not so much.  It is the sheer numbers of well educated Chinese and Indians that should be alarming to us.  Their populations are much bigger than ours, therefore the number of hard science graduates they have is also much bigger.  And those so-called imitative automatons are beating the pants off us in the world of outsourcing.  Why should American companies hire expensive American scientists when Indian PhDs are a dime a dozen in Hyderabad?  And yes, these same American companies don’t think twice about giving those PhD’s the boring, tedious work that *used* to be done by scientists with four year degrees.  So, if the US wants to re-establish its innovative bona fides, we have got to get crackin’ or send our kids to China for 12 years so they’re ready to compete when they get to college. It won’t be long before those Chinese and Indian scientists are inventing the next internet.

So, I was pained to see the NEA come out against charter schools.  I understand it but it still shows that they just don’t get it.  Or they get it but they’re in denial.  There is a HUGE problem with the US education establishment that will become a serious obstacle to any change in policy.  It is not unionization.  It is preparation.  Our teachers are simply not equipped to teach world class math and science.  I think this is part of the resistance to standardized testing.  It is very hard to teach standards which you do not understand.  Most teachers can handle the early grades fairly well.  It’s when children hit the intermediate grades that we have problems.  Here’s how the problem plays out in NJ:

Every child in our school district takes a statewide stadardized test called the NJASK.  A child is ranked partially proficient, proficient and advanced proficient based on the NJASK and is *supposed* to put into a class based on their score.  So, partially proficient kids should get extra help, proficient kids are the vast majority of students.  But what about the advanced proficient kids?  As I said before, in the early grades, teachers can differentiate their curriculum a bit.  But once they hit middle school, the advanced proficients meet the K-8 teacher certification limit.  At this point, teachers aren’t required to teach anything more than algebra I and most aren’t required to do that anyway with the vast majority of students taking pre-algebra.  So, if a kid scores at the top of the advanced proficiency range, there may not be enough room for him/her in the single class of 21 kids that gets the benefit of the single teacher in the school that is qualified to teach them advanced algebra I and geometry.  This is what happened to Brook last year.  She’s at the top of the advanced proficiency range and does very well on her math tests.  But she refused to do her homework. So she ended up repeating pre-algebra. (For some reason, teachers are convinced that every child has to do the same homework, whether they’ve mastered the material or not.  I’d give them homework on stuff they don’t already know but that requires a different curriculum and it’s so much easier to blame the kid and reinforce bad study habits.  Ok, the kid has an attitude problem too but I digress…)

What we do with these advanced proficients who don’t show zealous attention to their homework is we hold them back in 7th and 8th grade.  We slow them down so they don’t peak in algebra too soon, leaving them nothing to do for 2 years.  In the meantime, these kids start hating the subject matter.  It’s goes too slowly and it’s too easy.  They develop poor study habits.  We level them off to the same proficiency as their peers.  Wonderful. But it doesn’t stress the teachers and that seems to be the point.  We can reward teachers for taking continuing education credits and getting masters degrees but these classes seem limited to learning new pedagogy, not content.  And some curriculum supervisors admit that their teachers are afraid of science and math, especially in the lower grades.  They want pre-digested lesson plans and packets that can you can just add water and serve.  Nothing too stressful.

It’s not that these teachers are incapable of learning math and science to world class standards.  It’s just that we don’t make them do it.  We fall victim to the “guide on the side, not sage on the stage”, “drill and kill” and “we shouldn’t be teaching to the test” propaganda, but these memes are just smokescreens.  Take the last one for example.  We are talking about *standardized* tests.  That means that standards were to be taught.  If a teacher’s class hasn’t been learning the standards all year that are expected by local, state, and the national authorities, what the f^*) has the class been learning?  NO teacher should be cramming in the weeks leading up to a test.  The standards are there to be used as guidelines as to what is expected to be learned.  If teachers do not like the standards or are incapable of teaching them, they can always go into finance.  I personally don’t like New Jersey’s standards because they are fuzzy and indistinct, but by golly, the NJASK is a hard test so somebody better know how to teach this stuff.

What frosts my crockies is that many parents like myself and my internationally trained colleagues can’t afford to live in Princeton.  So, we’re stuck in these suburban school districts were “all of the children above average”.  And that’s it.  There is no pushing limits.  Teachers act as gatekeepers to the tiny number of slots in the enriched classes and the selection process appears to be subjective.  Many of my colleagues resort to sending their kids to Saturday Chinese schools or summer programs at local prep schools.  The local schools simply refuse to accommodate accelerated math and science programs for their middle schoolers.  If that’s the case, why shouldn’t we, the taxpayers, choose to allocate some of our hard earned money to a charter school, staffed by union teachers but teaching curriculum at a world class level?  What exactly is the problem?  That diverting some of the money from the general population would be a detriment to the students?  When we expect our children to perform at the level of our Asian counterparts, maybe they will have made a case.  But right now, we ask far too little in order to compete at an international level.  It’s time we asked more of our teachers.  For starters, let’s ask them to stop holding back our best students.

Teachers, educate yourselves.

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By request: Unemployment Chronicles

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(Photo source, Darth Dragon on Flickr)

When I wrote that I was laid off for the second time in 3 months here, Laurie recommended the following:

Laurie, on January 24th, 2009 at 4:30 am Said:

SM plz keep us posted. If you can, do an unemployed diary. You know, where you have to go, what forms you have to fill in, how long you have to wait to get food stamps. What food stamps look like, what kind of food you get for them-can you get organic? How long the line is etc etc

I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to write about this.  Being unemployed and having to ask for help to feed your family because you can’t find a job is demoralizing and embarrassing.  I’ve worked my ass off all my life, from working as a cafeteria clerk serving food at a hospital, cleaning offices, to paying my dues in the marketing advertising world, then becoming the first female and Latina COO of a small marketing firm, to then quitting because I was overworked (12-14 hour days, 6, sometimes 7 days a week) and not get overtime (and figured I could make the same amount of money and try to at least participate more in my daughter’s life) to then enjoying the luxury of freelancing – and then as of two years ago… SPLAT…  living off the nest egg, working whatever project came ever other month, to then working minimum wage PT jobs while the next big project comes, to being laid off completely with no new project in sight.  And no nest egg.  It royally sucks.

I know I could’ve done it better.  I coulda would shoulda… but I believed in that American dream of entrepenurialship and ultimately got f__cked while getting there.  I’m not a homeowner.  I’m a single mom and  I don’t live excessively out of my means.  I learned to live modestly according to my income to cover the bills & make sure no matter what the fridge has food, rent was paid on time, utilities were paid for the month.  All I wanted was a chance to spend more time with PUMA cub while working – and found that opportunity by freelancing.  I did it successfully for almost 6 yrs.

The only reason why I’m doing it is because this experience is now a nationwide crisis.

Some Conflucians are going through the same thing I am.  Others are lucky enough to miss a layoff wave at their jobs- at least this week.  Some are lucky enough to have that nest egg still there.  What we can’t ignore is that we are living in very precarious times – and I can bet that employer abuse will continue and will rise.  This is why I wasn’t celebrating the Ledbetter Act, because without the PayCheck Fairness Act, women are still vulnerable.

But I digress…as usual.  Let’s get to topic.

To answer Laurie’s first query, the state of Florida cut funding for the Dept of Children and Families (which is where Floridians apply for Medicaid, Food Stamps, Cash assistance for Rent & expenses, etc.)  Everything is done online here.  If you go to an office to apply, what you’ll find are computers and phones where you can call someone on the other side of a wall.  You do not speak to anyone face to face.  Only in rare cases, such as child and elderly abuse investigations, you’ll see a social worker’s face.

If you are a person with zero computer skills, you’re SOL.   They have to find someone to help them fill out the application online.  There is a phone number that you call, but this is the ONLY phone number that is available for the entire state of Florida which is the 4th most populous state in the nation.  It’s a 1-866 number, and it’s always busy.

If you get through the application, you’ll either get a phone call or a notification in the mail requesting proof of loss of income, any financial help you may have received from friends, proof of child support payments, etc.  Sometimes they won’t ask for anything at all, it just depends on what category the computer classifies you as.  Yes, a computer determines whether you are eligible or not.

I just got my letter today asking me to provide loss of income and proof of child support to receive Medicaid.  The income limit in Florida to receive assistance is roughly $1,500 per month.  I laughed when I read this, because this past year, I’ve made much less than $1,500 per month & didn’t think I would be able to qualify.   So far in Florida, you may qualify for MedicAid and Food Stamps even if you have up to $5000 in the bank, own your own home and own your own car.   Your actual present income is the determining factor, then minus your living expenses.  I think this all changed because of the foreclosure crisis and out of control inflation costs, rising cost of oil & bubbled property values.  Before, it wasn’t like that.  The income index levels for qualification were much lower than this.  So some of you out there reading this, you may qualify right now in your state and not even know it.

Food stamps aren’t actually “stamps.”  They are now in Debit Card form which every month, your approved amount is electronically transferred.  You can only use this for “food”, and thanks to supermarket UPC scanning, you can’t sneak a pack of cigarettes, wine or Bounty paper towel roll and charge it against your Food Stamp EBT card.  And you can’t exchange it for cash either.   Back when I was in college in the late 80s-early 90s (aka Bush 1.0 years), I used to PT as a clerk at my cousin’s bodega.  Food Stamps were actually coupons you tore off of a book.  The policy was to accept them for any item that was the equal value – no exception.  So the EBT card does work to prevent misuse of Food Stamp Funds, which is great.

I don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because I filled out W-9 forms – which means that taxes are the employee’s responsibility.  When I was making bucks, I had to submit my earnings every quarter to the IRS, pay my taxes -and then wait to get all my 1099s for the year to file for the year.  This year, I made enough money to exempt me from filing taxes.  Can you believe that shit?  For the first time in my adult life – I am actually exempt because I was under the tax index level.  I know owe the IRS about $1800 from 2 years ago and I haven’t been able to pay that (hello, survival mode here!) and they told me, just pay 25 dollars a month if you can.  So I have.  But the IRS knows what I’m making (or not making).  They know I can’t afford to pay them now – so they leave me alone until I can.

Here’s the Unemployment Insurance qualifications depending on the state you live/work from a link at the US Dept of Labor which explains more:

Eligibility

1. You must meet the State requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a “base period”. (In most States, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the time that your claim is filed.)

2. You must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of your own (determined under State law), and meet other eligibility requirements of State law.

I don’t qualify under these perimeters because I am considered a “contract” employee.  But let’s say that I was pre-eligible.  I would have to file an unemployment claim, then based on the reason why I no longer am working, Unemployment will determine whether or not I could receive unemployment benefits.

Here’s more from the US Dept of Labor:

Benefits

  • In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual’s earnings over a recent 52-week period – up to a State maximum amount.
  • Benefits can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks in most States.
  • Additional weeks of benefits may be available during times of high unemployment (see Extended Benefits). Some States provide additional benefits for specific purposes.
  • Benefits are subject to Federal income taxes and must be reported on your Federal income tax return. You may elect to have the tax withheld by the State Unemployment Insurance agency.

With regards to this, some of the work I did part time was helping seniors and disabled people on Medicare – and people on Unemployment Insurance –  apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid.    All the people I helped were mostly working class people who couldn’t afford to pay the 20% that Medicare doesn’t cover, or were people who were referred to the office because they didn’t have computer skills to apply online.

Some of them were earning 800-1000 a month from their Social Security pension and had to pay 200-300 dollars a month for medicines, doctor co-pays, lab exams, etc.

But there were many people that were the in-betweeners, the 45-60 something yr old laid off workers from blue collar jobs.  The only income they had was unemployment insurance.

I remember a Cuban gentleman who was 61, got laid off from his job in a food processing plant and has diabetes.  He spent 300 dollars a month buying insulin and other diabetic supplies, but unemployment only paid him 160 dollars a week.  His wife (57 yrs old) came down with MS shortly after he got laid off.  She stopped working and is in the process of getting disability from Social Security.  They spent all their savings (about 10,000) on medical expenses after COBRA ran out.

When I asked him to show me all his documentation to fill out the application for Medicaid/Food Stamps, he started to cry.  This is a macho Cubano man  crying.  In front of a much younger woman.  This is a sin in my culture.  But he couldn’t take it anymore.  He told me the story of how he immigrated to FL after Fidel took over, he came first, then years later was able to bring his wife & young daughter over to the US.  He lived in Miami, then moved to Tampa after Hurricane Andrew.  He found a job at a food processing plant outside of Tampa and then – the entire company closed down last year.  He said that he never imagined that he had to live this way.  His daughter works at a day care center and moved in with them to help pay bills.  But everyone’s strapped.  His daughter makes 10.00 an hr.  Thank God, he says, his mortgage was paid off 5 yrs. ago, but how can he pay property taxes, house insurance, food & utility expenses, help his wife who was diagnosed with MS with her health needs, plus get his diabetes under control.  He told me he can’t die now, but if he didn’t get help from somewhere, he very well could be.  He sold his car to pay for the bills, so they rely on public transportation (which royally sucks in FL, how about waiting 2 hrs for a bus?)  He put his house on sale with hopes that someone will buy it, but there are no buyers.

About  week before I got laid off, the same man comes back with a box of candies for me.  He and his wife were approved for Medicaid and Food Stamps and he wanted to thank me for helping him (food stamps covers chocolates!)

I think about him & his wife, and the people I can no longer help because I’m laid off.  I think about the people who do not have a friend with a computer that can help them.  I think about the overwhelming and increasing cases of unemployment that have to depend on a now fragile and overextended system.  This is not the 70s-80s.  We have over 300 million people in this country – and shit ain’t getting better.

This is a song for the Cuban gentleman I mentioned and his wife, for all of us trying to survive.  This is the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz’ version of Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive.  The melody’s the same, but the translation in Spanish refers to a survival of spirit, of outliving bad times and facing the future with strength.

Para Don Avelino y Doña Carmen, and for everyone:

Three Cups of Tea, The Confluence Book Club Selection

This is my first experience at hosting The Confluence Book Club.  And I feel a little awkward suggesting a book I haven’t read yet. I keep thinking what if I hate it?  What if they hate it?  But, isn’t that part of the give and take in a vibrant book club?  So here it goes:

Taking our inspiration from Riverdaughter’s post Saturday morning (Saturday: A little thing for the girls), the next selection for The Confluence Book Club (the week of February 23-28) is Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen:

From my own observations, and remembering a childhood proverb from Africa, there is a saying that “if you educate a boy—you educated an individual, because he often leaves the community to find work, and may never return or send back money, but if you educate a girl—you educate a community, because when the girl becomes a mother, she will remain in the community and instill that value in her community. – Greg Mortensen

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Mortenson advocates girls’ education as the top priority to promote economic development, peace and prosperity, and says, “you can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads, or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated a society won’t change”.

Mortenson wasn’t looking for a mission.  He thought he was just going to climb a mountain:

On July 24th, 1992, Mortenson’s younger sister, Christa, died from a massive seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy on the eve of a trip to visit Dysersville, Iowa, where the baseball movie, ‘Field of Dreams’, was filmed in a cornfield.

In 1993, to honor his sister’s memory, Mortenson climbed Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram range.

After K2, while recovering in a local village called Korphe, Mortenson met a group of children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand, and made a promise to help them build a school.

From that rash promise, grew a remarkable humanitarian campaign, in which Mortenson has dedicated his life to promote education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

. . .

The book traces how Mortenson kept this promise (and many more) in the high country of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson was up against considerable odds. Not only is the region remote and dangerous, it is also a notorious breeding ground for Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists. In the course of his work, Mortenson was kidnapped and threatened with death; he endured local rivalries, deep misunderstandings, jealousy, and corruption, not to mention treacherous roads and epic weather. What kept him going was his passionate belief that balanced, non-extremist education, for boys and girls alike, is the most effective way to combat the violent intolerance that breeds terrorism. To date, Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute has constructed fifty-five schools, and the work goes on.

The Three Cups of Tea website has an abundance of information that includes a readers guide and an extended author interview.

Reviews of the book mention concerns with the awkwardness of the writing.  But, Greg Mortenson’s story is so compelling that when the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library scheduled Mortenson to speak tickets ran out months before the event.  And fans flew in from all over the country.  The library hosts author events all the time but we  had never seen such an enthusiastic response from the public.

So there is some indication that this is a book people like to talk about. . . . (I’m nervous, OK? — I still haven’t read it myself!)

To give everyone time to buy or borrow Three Cups of Tea and read the book, I’m setting a general date of February 23-28 for our discussion.  And I hope we’ll have a rousing-good discussion!