4th of July Reflections

Forgive me if I’m a little sentimental today. I always get this way on the 4th of July, as I have ever since my family lived in Berlin. It was in the years just before the Berlin Wall came down – not “fell” as is often said, but was torn down with picks and hammers and bare hands after border crossings were opened on November 9th, 1989.

During the time we were there, there were frequent hints that the way things were would not last forever. My husband and son were at the Brandenburg Gate when President Ronald Reagan said:
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I’ve always wished that I would have been at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987; but as a recent military award recipient, I was one of the lucky few to receive a ticket to the reception for President Reagan at a hangar at Tempelhof Airport, the Air Force base during the Cold War years. So, my family constantly reminds me that the speech they heard made history. The only thing I remember about the Tempelhof reception was a quip that President Reagan made when one of thousands of dropped balloons popped “you missed me that time.” (he had earlier in his term survived an assassination attempt.)

It was in the shadow of the Wall that we lived a pretty normal life, with frequent reminders that we were living the life of the privileged free, while a stone’s throw away, East Germans did not have the same privileges. I was a Cub Scout leader, and took the kids on hikes that followed the walking path at the foot of the Wall around the American sector. Once during a winter walk, a snowball hit the back of my legs, and as I turned around to reprimand my charges, I realized that the kids had entered into a snowball fight with the East German border guards from the watch towers above us. They were giving as good as they got, so we all smiled and waived as I hurried the Cubs on our way. It sure left me with a lump in my throat.

Every 4th of July, the Americans threw a huge celebration, and invited the other Occupation Forces (the Russians, the French, and the Brits) as well as all our German neighbors. We had food, and the Army Band playing all the best patriotic music, and fireworks that shone high above the Wall long into the night. What a rush!

I wrote my mother during that time, “I’m learning two things during this time of my life, how great America is sometimes not, but how great it is to be American.” She saved all my letters, and returned them to me as a chronicle of our family’s life in Berlin. I often resurrect that filter to take a step back and look at news items, as they would appear from afar. I think it enables me to be productively objective. Also, on a daily basis I marvel in the debates and challenges that occur in running America’s public libraries that provide unfettered access to the information that equips citizens and communities to reach their full potential.

Happy July 4th!

A media specialist’s words about what is important

Who would have thought that the word “scrotum” would cause such lively discussion among librarians, media specialists, the media, some parents, and the biblioblogosphere. In case you’ve missed it, the newly named Newbery Award-winning book by Susan Patron, The Higher Power of Lucky, uses the word on the first page when the book’s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum. Thus far, there have been praises and challenges for the book nationwide. Fortunately, in Minnesota, we’ve not heard much, although there has been considerable discussion on E-mail lists. The Star Tribune published an article Wednesday, Newbery flap more a ripple with media specialists in state

Media Specialist Tom Ross, Plymouth Middle School in Robbinsdale, wrote an amazing piece in a letter to the MEMOlist (Minnesota Educational Media Organization) about what is truly important to him (and the other wonderful educators I am blessed to work with). I asked his permission to share the piece with my readers, and he said he’s “honored.” Thank you, Tom for these words:

Higher Power of Lucky.

Come on folks… I am not worried about this word. I am worried about my student who attempted suicide twice. I am worried about my student who is falling through the cracks because everybody wants to discipline him, but I think he is so depressed that he will end up like that first student. Everybody is trying to do the right thing, but we are not perfect people. Sometimes we may not cover every child perfectly and yet our heart is breaking over each one. I am worried about the gangs x-ing out each other, I am worried about my principals giving up because they are being worn down by parents who are demanding perfect people handle their children and there are none to be found. I’m worried about my Goth student that thinks that nobody cares about him as a human being and I wonder if he is cutting again. I’m worried about the little girls that come to school with bruises and bumps and social services is working on the problem… but there are not enough of them to cover everybody fast enough… I’m worried about the teachers that are leaving because they can’t handle the disrespect, intensity and pace of their job…Good people who will be lost forever to one of the most important task society has given them. I’m worried that society is abandoning us because they want to pretend the problem is the language in the book and it’s not the kids who are dying. I’m worried about the kids whose mom has 3 part time jobs and no insurance. I’m worried that if one of my students ends up running away, she may end up a street child who will be abused by some evil man for something as fleeting as money. I’m sorry this is a word that just doesn’t worry me. I want my students to live to the next day… That worries me.

Sorry if I have my values misplaced, my heart is breaking for my kids right now.

Tom Ross
Plymouth Middle School

DOPA Reincarnated

Just when we thought the Deleting Online Predators (DOPA) issue was over at the end of the last Congress, it’s back! Remember last year — the bill, which required any library or school receiving federal $$$ to block access to social networking sites and blogs, flew through the House of Representatives with nary a blink but died when it didn’t receive a final vote in the Senate.

The new version, called the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, was introduced this time first in the Senate by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). The bill is numbered S. 49. — or DOPA Jr., as dubbed by Andy Carvin of PBS Teacher Source learning.now.

While too few took the bill seriously last year, it passed in the House quickly. We need to watch this closely.

Text of S. 49
ClickZ DOPA Rises from the Grave (Maybe)

Veterans Day Salute

Today is Veterans Day. Coming from a heritage that places a high value on commitment to patriotism and many years as a military spouse (career and now retired), I know first-hand the pride, satisfaction, and cost of military service. Few of the Veterans in my family talk much about their time in uniform. In fact most are reluctant to talk about their part in an era of family contributions that span World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and all the years through the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

Veterans Day Salute

Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000. It is a collection of audio- and video-taped oral histories, as well as documents such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, and home movies, of America’s war veterans and those who served in support of them. The collection is maintained through the Library of Congress and is being built by volunteers — including many libraries and history centers.

As a librarian, I also take seriously my professional role in preserving democracy and individual freedoms. We call it intellectual freedom — that assurance that citizens have a right to uncensored access to information. No unit of government should make a policy that supresses anyone’s access to a broad range of ideas. In cultures of oppression, the government doesn’t want people to know or see anything in oposition to the philosophies of the powerful. Education is not nurtured or may even be denied.

Today is a good day to review the Library Bill of Rights: from the ALA website

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

I also can’t help but comment on the salute to Veterans Day posted on Ask.com and the noticable omission of observance by Google.

Ask.com Veterans Day 2006