Kwanzaa #3: Collective Work & Responsibility—Smith County 2015 Education Report & Kwanzaafest of Dallas are Examples, by J.D. Meyer

Welcome to Principle #3 Night: Collective Work & Responsibility. According to Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, Collective Work & Responsibility is “to maintain and build our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our own and solve them together.” http://www.officialkwanzaasite.com

The Public Intellectual

I believe that Kwanzaa is the effort to serve as a public intellectual. Dr. Ali Mazrui of the Institute of Global Studies in New York defined the intellectual as “a person who has the capacity to be fascinated by ideas and has acquired the skill to handle some of these ideas effectively.” Dr. Mazrui continues that a public intellectual “communicates and influences debate outside of one’s own field.” http://binghamton.edu/igcs/docs/Newsletter30.pdf He was a Top 100 Thinker, according to ForeignPolicy.com in 2005.

My former teaching colleague, Ibiyinka Solarin, offers a description of the public intellectual and how Wole Soyinka of Nigeria fits that model. Mr. Soyinka was the first African Nobel Prize in Literature. Dr. Solarin notes that the the real intellectual is engaged with society and contributes in his/her own way to impart knowledge and lower ignorance. The intellectual has varied reading , exposure to other cultures, and shows courage versus the establishment. http://www.gamji.com/article3000/NEWS3736.htm

Smith County 2015 Education Report & Claritas/PRIZM Zip Code Clusters

We saw a great example of the Third Principle of Kwanzaa at the Rose Garden, October 20th. The Tyler Area for Partnership in Education http://www.tylerareapartnership4education.org/ launched the Smith County 2015 Education Report—an unprecedented collaboration between education groups, city leaders, and non-profit agencies. http://www.tylerareapartnership4education.org/#!community-report-card/ax6nf

They discovered that only 20% of Smith County students earn a post-secondary credential, a figure that sinks to just under 10% among economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students are defined as those who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch. Not only is this a slump from the 35% figure for adults with a post-secondary credential, but 65% of jobs will require such education nationally by 2020.

Tyler (71.8%) and Chapel Hill (71.3%) have the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the eight-city Smith County—well over the 60.2% for Texas. Meanwhile, Bullard (34.8%) and Lindale (45.9%) have the fewest poor kids.

However, Tyler has a solid average income of of $47.4K per year. How can both figures be possible? Could that mean we have a tiny middle-class here? Let’s look at Claritas/PRIZM zip code clusters for zip codes 75701, 75702, and 75703. https://www.claritas.com/MyBestSegments/Default.jsp?ID=20&pageName=ZIP%2BCode%2BLookup&menuOption=ziplookup# Out of 66 clusters, only #53 Mobility Blues is present in all three Tyler zip codes in the Top Five. Furthermore, 75702 ranks in the top 1/5th nationally for #62 Hometown Retired. Only 3-15 clusters rank in the top half while two barely miss the top half at #34 and #35.

The Three Focus Areas for Education

There are three focus areas: (1) Kindergarten Readiness, (2) Middle School to High School Transition, and (3) Post-Secondary Readiness, Access, and Success. One statistic really jumped out at me: the discrepancy between high school graduation rate and college readiness. Virtually all graduate from high school: 94% in Smith County and 88% nationally. However, only 56% of both groups are college ready, and just 58% in Smith County and 54% nationally even enroll in education after high school. Students could take the traditional four-year bachelors degree or two-year associates degree routes, but there also shorter certificate and apprenticeship routes.

The answer for lacking readiness beyond an apprenticeship is developmental, or remedial, education. There are three subjects: (1) Developmental English/Writing, (2) Developmental Reading, and (3) Developmental Math.

Post-Secondary Readiness: Developmental English/Writing Study Guide for the Exit Exam

I taught Developmental English/Writing for ten years: five as an adjunct in Mountain View Community College in North Oak Cliff and five full-time at Texas College, the HBCU in North Tyler. By the way, this course is called Developmental Writing in junior colleges and Developmental English in four-year colleges. The Smith County Education Report called for a “restructuring of Developmental Education,” a common suggestion. I wrote an article that I called “Follow-Up to the Smith County 2015 Education Report.” It’s 6 1/3 pages with ten sections and a staggering 21 references. I published four of these articles. https://www.academia.edu/19181221/Follow-Up_to_2015_Smith_County_Education_Report I concluded the article by asking if the over-emphasis on literature in high school at the expense of grammar after middle school could be a major cause for a lack of readiness for College Composition, the first official college English course. The final link goes to my study guide for the Developmental English/Writing exam. It’s based on the official practice exam and includes that link. My analysis reviews the test maker’s categories and my impressions, along with questions and answers.https://www.academia.edu/18726274/THEA_Study_Guide_for_Developmental_English_Writing_Exit_Exam

Middle School to High School Transition: Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary (BALAV)–A Focus on Cognates

Let’s backtrack to the Middle School to High School Focus Area. I’ve published material on Bilingual Academic All-Level Vocabulary (BALAV)–A Focus on Cognates. https://www.academia.edu/1744169/Bilingual_All-Level_Academic_Vocabulary While informal English has most of its roots in German, technical English has most of its roots in Latin, and French is the main source for formal English. Spanish and French are Romance languages, meaning they’re descended from Latin. Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian are the other Romance languages. For example, “inundacion,” is the Spanish word for “flood.” If  I were to say that the Bangladesh prime minister is a leader in climate change because her country is frequently inundated, that’s using sophisticated English.

The Hispanic population in Smith County is rising, especially among the young. Meanwhile, the African-American population is remaining steady and the White population is falling. Tyler ISD’s largest ethnic group has been Hispanics for several years, and many are in the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) group—those who need ESOL or Bilingual Elementary education. Most secondary education textbooks actually have glossaries in both English and Spanish. I like the glossaries that alternate back and forth between languages for each term, rather than first all the heavy words in one language followed by the other.

I can attest to figuring out a new language through an incredibly great lesson in ESOL class. Our instructor divided us into groups, and we deciphered an essay in Portuguese based on our knowledge of Spanish. I love reading public signs written in Spanish and English to keep my skills solid. At Church’s Chicken the other day, I found out the Spanish word for “simmer;” “biscuit” is exactly the same in both languages. There’s a weird myth that Mexicans and others from Spanish-speaking countries move to the USA with little kids only, so they don’t need Spanish subtitles after fifth grade. Maybe their teachers can get away with grunting to them about the glossaries. I’ve seen LEP newcomers in high school simply copying their English textbook into their notebooks since they didn’t know what was going on in class.

Eds & Meds” and the Local Home Construction Boom: Help the Home Health Care Aides & Start More Construction Apprenticeships.

The main approach I took in follow-up article was to analyze the dominant occupations in Tyler, especially Colleges and Hospitals, affectionately nicknamed “Eds & Meds.” More descriptive than prescriptive, I cited the pros and cons listed by experts on urban planning, such as Dr. Richard Florida. Many of the success stories are in large cities, such as Houston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Later, I found a list of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the USA. Home health aide is by far the largest nationally, and it’s a low-paying job that doesn’t require a high school diploma. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.t05.htm What if there were grants, scholarships, and maybe communes available for star home health aides so they could pursue a certificate or associates in fields like surgical technology and physical therapy assistant at Tyler Junior College?

A sound man/boat house builder friend told me about the home construction business boom. http://www.kltv.com/story/28527392/home-construction-booming-in-e-texas Then a star local construction business owner (home and business) liked my article, as well as the idea of apprenticeships. My Twitter M.D. friend voiced her support for apprenticeships as a way to move up without debt. Think about it; if post-secondary credentials are rare among the poor, have quick programs.

Kwanzaa Today: Kwanzaafest of Dallas and More

Now that we have shown how a major city project fits in with a Kwanzaa principle, how is Kwanzaa doing these days? It’s spreading around the world from the USA. Education World reported in 2014 that Kwanzaa is “the world’s fastest growing holiday.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson039.shtml I noticed celebrations in South Africa last year, England this year. Older folks born between 1948-1964 are more likely to celebrate Kwanzaa in this country http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2011/12/who_celebrates_kwanzaa_the_holiday_in_statistics.html , but there are more Black Studies programs in colleges than there used to be.

Kwanzaa spin-offs have had major success, notably Kwanzaafest of Dallas–held on the second Saturday weekend of December. This festival had its 25th anniversary this year, selling 60K tickets. http://www.johnwileyprice.com/kwanzaa-main.php Kwanzaafest has health screenings, recycling, high school debate, an obesity 5K walk/run, and more. John Wiley Price, long-time councilman, is the master-mind of this project.  Amherst University Black Student Union presents awards to students exhibiting the best of the seven principles in early December http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2015/12/08/unpacking-kwanzaa-critical-reflection-cultural-holiday.

Conclusion

Once again, the seven principles of Kwanzaa–Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work & Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith–are principles universal to all humanity.The “made-up” accusation carries little weight in the light of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the other folks’ religions or holidays. But Kwanzaa endeavors to improve the community and to offer activists a chance to serve as a public intellectual.

SOL 15: Two Funny Ways to Teach Beginning Grammar, 3-26-15

How about hearing a couple of funny ways I taught beginning English grammar? The vast majority of our L-Squared audience isn’t retired, so I’m going to share some memories this morning.

A great man once wrote that if the students can identify prepositional phrases, then they’re more likely to find the subject and not make subject-verb agreement errors. I bet it was John Langan. The typical basic sentence structure in English is Subject-Verb-Object.

Prepositions are usually about space. Here’s a way to illustrate the relationship, “The teacher threw the eraser over the students’ heads.” Yes, I really threw it! Moreover, most prepositions start with the letters “a,” “b,” “o,” “u,” or “t.” I pointed out that feature on my handout or in the textbook too. It’s good to do something funny in the first week of the semester to build the teacher-student relationship.

Here’s another funny antic. Fragments are incomplete statements while a sentence has a subject, verb, and expresses a complete thought. However, “I type,” is a sentence, for it expresses a complete thought and an object isn’t required. “Drives to the basket after a fake in the opposite direction,” is a fragment because there’s no subject. One could change “drives” to “drive” and have an imperative order-giving (coaching?) statement because “you understood” would be the subject. Certainly adding a subject pronoun (he/she) or someone’s name to the start of the sentence would make a good sentence as well. Yes, I actually demonstrated  that favorite basketball move!

Furthermore, teachers who move around the classroom have better class control. Appearing stuck behind the desk may make one look stiff or scared.  Obviously walking up  to a loud student’s desk is a far more common tactic. Normally this is an issue for younger grades, but a remedial English class isn’t exempt from junior high style disruption by the students. By the way, I also substitute taught in all grades: PK through 12 as well as teaching college level Developmental English and Adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

I hope the Slice of Life audience found these two stunts amusing and will consider doing them some day. Maybe you could do them for review because we’ve passed the mid-point of the semester!

Sustainability in Composition: The Qualities of Critics, According to Marcus Berger & Textbook Engagement and Humor

Sustainability in composition answers the six qualities of critics, according to Crisis in Criticism by Marcus Berger; (1) curiosity, (2) attentiveness, (3) concern, (4) vision, (5) art and language, and (6) debate a critic makes available. The last quality caught my attention first, for sustainability in composition allows a student to report on his/her neighborhood without fear of attack for being too regional, multicultural, or liking contemporary music too much. An instructor should model curiosity, attentiveness, and concern—the first three qualities of Berger’s good critic—by allowing a wide range of model essays. Before long, our instructor’s edited student essays will be able to complement his/her own model essays and inspire the students. Finally, art and language (#5) can happen in an essay when students get to write about topics, such as their favorite music genre or art form.

Now let’s examine textbook engagement as another issue of sustainability in composition. Earlier this year at a local downtown arts event, I read a selection of largely amusing model sentences from my Developmental English/Writing textbook, together with their particular category.

Let’s look at three examples. Here’s a way to joke about the generation gap while providing instruction in commonly confused words, “I can’t understand why so many young people wear (lose/loose) jeans and why flared jeans and bell-bottoms haven’t made a comeback.” Early in the semester, I demonstrate how prepositions are often about space and begin with the letters, “a,b,o,u, or t” (another preposition)with this sentence, “The teacher threw an eraser over the students’ heads.” This is an account of rare physical humor in a classroom. I illustrated the use of a dash to prevent an added-detail fragment while saluting Whitney Houston and admitting to hording cats with the following statement, ” He has found the greatest joy of all–to have a pack of red cats.”

Later I realized that such model sentences add to textbook engagement for students, and that can be another aspect of sustainability in composition. According to Berger’s Six Qualities of Critics, I believe it shows #2 attentiveness, #3 concern, and #5 art and language. Textbooks have been criticized largely for their rocketing expense and frequently trivial revisions, but lack of engagement is a problem too. Who wants to read an expensive, boring textbook if you can get away with it? Hopefully, these practices show #4 vision, but I would be afraid to claim that for myself.

This addendum will be linked to my http://independent.academia.edu/JDMeyer article, “College Composition Topics: Give Regional a Chance.”

Disputing Suicide Advocacy for the Sickly: A Model Essay in Developmental English Textbooks, by JD Meyer

“The Right to Die,” by Norman Cousins: Published by Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Cengage

Originally published by Joffre (JD) Meyer, Yahoo Contributor Network Nov 7, 2011. Voices.yahoo will end tomorrow; a footnote was added.

Wordsmith-a Developmental English/Writing textbook by Pamela Arlov at Pearson Higher Education-includes “The Right to Die,” by Norman Cousins as one of its model essays in the Argument (Persuasive)/Social Issues categories. This essay is about the suicide of Dr. Henry Van Dusen and his wife, Elizabeth. They had become increasingly feeble over the years and felt that their lives were being prolonged artificially beyond human dignity. Importantly, Dr. Van Dusen had been the president of Union Theological Seminary; he was a famous voice in American Protestant ethics for over a quarter century-hardly your typical case for suicide advocacy. The caption under the article’s title states, “Suicide is traditionally considered a tragedy, even a sin. Under certain circumstances, can it be considered a triumph over a slow and painful death?”

An Internet search shows how popular this article has become. McGraw-Hill offers the essay through Primis On-Line and Cornerstones. The Familiar Essay, by Mark R. Christensen includes “The Right to Die also through Cengage. Cyberessays reports that the states of Washington and Montana passed a Right to Die law in 2009.

Dr. Van Dusen left behind a brief note asking if the individual has the obligation to go on living when all beauty, meaning, and power of life are gone. Isn’t it a misuse of medical technology to keep the terminally ill alive when there are so many hungry mouths to feed? What if there’s nothing left to give or receive from life? Why should an unnatural form of living be considered better than an unnatural way of dying?

Exercising free will can mean suicide, according to Dr. Van Dusen. A call for the exercise of free will is quite common in philosophical and theological literature, and Dr. Van Dusen wrote on free will extensively during his career. Despair and pain weren’t given as reasons for The Van Dusens’ justifying of suicide.

Importantly, Norman Cousins admits that suicide is alien to the theological tradition of the Van Dusens, as it is in most cultures. However, no comment was made in this article about the kamikaze phase in World War II Japan or the current Islamic extremists. The Van Dusens regretted that their children and grandchildren may be saddened and not accept their decision. Yet Dr. Van Dusen believed that theologians and all of us should debate his case for suicide for the terminally sickly.

In concluding, Cousins asserts, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. The unbearable tragedy is to live without dignity or sensitivity.”

My initial reaction to this essay was shock that assisted suicide for the sickly would be a topic in a Developmental English or College Composition course, as opposed to maybe an advanced medical ethics or philosophy course. I wouldn’t risk the appearance of trying to euthanize the grandparents of remedial students. Having a disability for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) myself makes me a bit squeamish when I hear a call for suicide of the chronically ill.

Once suicide is approved under these circumstances, the cases for acceptable suicide could become extended. What if one felt he or she was too poor to have a dignified existence? The extremely poor can earn as much as $1000/month. Maybe the chronically unemployed or those with a flawed background check could make a case for their own death too. An elderly neighbor feels that there are two unforgivable sins: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and suicide. Fortunately, the former seems like the most unlikely and esoteric possible form of swearing. My neighbor’s views are probably considerably more common than advocacy for suicide of the sickly.

On another note, adding mullein leaves (gordolobo) to my coffee pot this morning has helped my breathing far more than traditional medicine over the past week–including albuterol for my nebulizer, generic Mucinex, and prednisone. There were also some eucalyptus leaves and whole garlic pieces in that odd drip coffee bin, which had been ineffectual without the gordolobo. At least in Texas, you can buy a package of gordolobo or eucalyptus leaves for $1 each in the Mexican spice and herb section of the grocery store.

Later I stumbled upon a story about the later life of Norman Cousins (1915-1990) at http://www.happinessandlaughter.com/ Norman Cousins was the longtime editor of the Saturday Review and had received hundreds of wards, including the United Nations Peace Medal and nearly fifty honorary doctorate degrees. But in 1965, Cousins became very ill with ankylosing spondylitis, “a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen.” It was believed that the writer would die within a few months, and he was almost completely paralyzed. But Cousins found a way to cure himself, not kill himself; he checked out of the hospital and started taking massive amounts of Vitamin C and watching funny movies! Cousins regained the use of his limbs and he returned to his full-time job at the Saturday Review. Cousins later wrote a book on his ordeal, Anatomy of an Illness in 1979. Thus Cousins chose life over suicide unlike Dr. Van Dusen. I’m glad that Earvin “Magic” Johnson chose life, as today is the twentieth anniversary of his announcement of retiring from pro basketball due to contracting the HIV virus.

Footnote: Originally, I wrote this article for Voices.yahoo, which is discontinuing its services as a citizen journalism website on July 31, 2014. At final count, my 38 articles gained 23,869 reads in roughly six years. This article represents revenge for being told never to disagree with anything in the textbook by a couple of short-lived bosses, as well as not to teach subject-verb agreement for indefinite plural pronouns (others, both, many, few, several) because Wordsmith omitted them. However, a few months before writing this article in early November 2011, I had sent an op-ed to a news station called, “Could Assisted Suicide Lower the Unemployment Rate?”
Fortunately, I changed my mind and have since gotten on Medicare & Medicaid–together with receiving housing assistance. Lately, I go to food banks instead of receiving Meals-on-Wheels. My Subject-Verb Agreement chapter section has received well over 9000 reads through Connexions of Rice University and my Academia.edu website. I’m a Twitter fanatic @bohemiotx with over 1400 followers and a member of two community organizations: East TX Human Needs Network (ETHNN)and the Community Health Worker (CHW) coalition…and hoping for a second career. I’ve never had more wonderful friends, and most of us see each other at Stanley’s Famous Bar-B-Q of Tyler–a regionally known place just two doors down from my apartment in the Hospital District, also known as Midtown.

College Composition Topics–Give Regional a Chance, an Issue of Sustainability–You Matter

Sustainability in composition marks the biggest paradigm shift in curriculum and instruction for composition since the multicultural revolution. Yet rather than supplant multiculturalism, sustainability links it to other movements, such as environmentalism–but with a broader meaning than is traditional. This op-ed will look at sustainability as concern for the students’ immediate environment. This means students and book authors can write about what matters to them in their environment; the “too regional” critique would no longer have merit. Note the subtitle, “Give Regional a Chance.” Yes, that’s a take-off of John Lennon’s famous song, “Give Peace a Chance.” Edited student essays can catch the public’s eye by expanding the range of model essays that answer the instructor/author’s prompts. I can personally attest to the new worlds that my students opened for me.

Derek Owens on Sustainability

Derek Owens (2001) expanded the definition of sustainability in his book, Composition and Sustainability–published by the Refiguring English Studies of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). Check out the blog The Bookfish by Steve Mentz to read Owens’s book online. http://www.stevementz.com/blog/?p=355 Furthermore, ERIC provides a fine abstract for Composition and Sustainability too.

The Refiguring English Series “examines the role English should play in larger society and public policy.” https://secure.ncte.org/store/books/series/refiguring Sustainability has an inherent interdisciplinary style, such as public policy and sociology or marketing and philosophy. Among other things, it should expand the already wide range in human interest stories while maintaining relevance.

In the “Chameleon Vision” chapter, Owens defines sustainability as “meeting today’s needs without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations.” We collaborate with our environment and depend upon it. Therefore, sustainability includes simply allowing students to write about their environment–whether it’s that barbecue restaurant on the next block, their favorite rap or duranguense band, a hope for a gospel concert to come to town, or their favorite job as a tank driver. As you can see, the political connotations could be liberal,conservative, centrist or none at all. Owens asserts to let students think about stories that belong to them and want to preserve. Could he be asking our faculty, students, and textbook authors to think like anthropologists?

Here’s a chance to bring real students’ interests to the desk through fairness in topic choice. Check this website for a wide range of exciting essay prompts http://www.goodessaytopics.com/ This can mean no less than the difference between passing and failing in developmental courses. A boring or irrelevant cluster of composition prompts can alienate students–especially the marginal ones. English faculty function as “gatekeepers and catalysts,” according to Owens. Owens proclaims it’s time to get away from anthologies that remind one of a “greenhouse or wax museum for the same small number of species…Move outside the safety zone and bring in the outsider.” The freedom inherent in composition topic choice could lead to provocative inquiry and inspiration.

Maybe the composition or developmental English instructor would feel free to share their pop culture interests in such a liberated environment. In my case, I might start with the many careers of Bruce Dickinson, the Iron Maiden singer who flies commercial jets for a British airline, the Iron Maiden jet. He has written novels, hosted a BBC radio talk show, and did a documentary on tanks. Dickinson is a top fencer who has a line of fencing equipment. Most recently, Dickinson started his own brand of mail-order beer called “The Trooper” after the famous song. Lately, I’ve noticed that many of my model sentences are amusing–a factor that can increase textbook engagement.

On Branding

The state of brands and how they affect well-being was measured by media consultancy Havas Media. The study examined how people interact with businesses in a world full of crumbling institutions; a brand will stand apart from the crowd if it makes people’s lives better and more meaningful. Branding research has insights relevant to the sustainability in composition topic movement.

“What’s the trick to making a brand meaningful? Focus on outcomes, not outputs. The criteria, says Haque, are simple: “Did this brand make you fitter, wiser, smarter, closer? Did it improve your personal outcomes? Did it improve your community outcomes? Did it pollute the environment? We’re trying to get beyond “did this company make a slightly better product” to the more resonant, meaningful question: Did this brand actually impact your life in a tangible, lasting, and positive way?” http://www.fastcoexist.com/1678768/the-brands-that-survive-will-be-the-brands-that-make-life-better?partner=best_of_newsletter

#You Matter

Finally, Angela Maiers is a leader among educators on Twitter, and we have been mutual followers of each other for some time. Ms. Maiers of Iowa has introduced the hashtag #YouMatter to dialogue on education. What could show a student or an aspiring author that they matter more than allowing flexibility on topic choice? Plenty of essay prompts and the ensuing essays have the chance of making someone angry, whether teacher, student, or administrator. It could be due to political views, love or disdain for contemporary culture, appreciation or distaste for multicultural or regional topics, and “too controversial” to name a few. It’s really important for an instructor to provide a choice of essay prompts for the student. She is also a member of General Leadership, an e-journal founded by General John Michel–another Twitter associate.

Summary

To conclude, Owens notes the unique position of the composition instructor because of the freedom to explore. According to John Langan, the dean of Developmental English and Reading instructors, the purpose of writing is to inform, persuade, and entertain.The vast majority of courses have a set body of knowledge that the instructor must cover. Let’s allow our Composition and Developmental English/Writing students to report their world to their instructor and college itself. Branding research confirms the common sense observation that people want a meaningful product. Angela Maiers has developed #YouMatter into a philosophy of education through the primacy of acceptance–a close relative of sustainability. The arguments against regional topics appear more like censorship than a quest for a generic national prompt list.