Monthly Archives: December 2011

Transparency – A Concept Whose Time (May Have) Come

We may be living in the Teachable Moment when open government takes its rightful place as a major player – the bulwark that it must be – in the local/state access arena. Images of a closed Capitol, news reports of sequestered politicos, clandestine sessions and sub-rosa text messages have combined to dawn on us little people that we may be shut out of the process. If we don’t know what’s going, we are silenced in the decision-making process.

At some level there is discussion of the need to take a look at the pillars of open government at the state level. The Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law deserve an airing, if for no other reason than that the issue of open government demands public attention. For me, the details of the law are somewhat less important than the airing itself.

For starts, it’s not the laws and regulations but oversight of those well-wrought documents that cries out for attention. Who is responsible for keeping an eye on school board meetings, backroom gatherings of county commissioners, not to mention legislative cloakroom sessions?

Even more important, what is a citizen to do if a single legislator has the power to dismiss a public employee who allows citizens to sit at the table, as in House Speaker Kurt Zeller’s arbitrary firing of the chair of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources .

And what are information-seeking citizens to do when the press is laid off, bought off or just too stretched to cover the bases? Though there are options, ranging from MinnPost and Twin Cities Daily Planet to independent bloggers, some voices have been stifled– and not every concerned Minnesotan has the time, technology or skill to use the communications and information tools du jour. A quick review of several watchdog sites suggests that they have wilted on the information vine. The mainstream press itself has financial, technological and credibility challenges that limit its influence.

The good news is that it is beginning to dawn of us, the public, that we are out of the loop. We the people want to know more, not less. Contrary to popular belief, we are able to attend to, retain and act on solid information we trust.

Though misinformation and opaque government may have had their moment beyond the reach of the sun., a new dawn breaks. The challenge for the majority who care is to keep an eye on that horizon and to craft innovative strategies that take into account the financial and technological realities of the day.

The challenge demands time on task, collaboration and a clear vision of the meaning and strength of an informed democracy. It is a near certainty that issues of transparency and open government as manifest in the laws and regulations of the State of Minnesota will surface, if quietly, on the legislative agenda in 2012. May the voice of Minnesota citizens be heard in the ensuing discourse.

Addressing Vo-Tech Interests of 21st Century Learners & Employers

An earlier post related the tale of my unlikely appointment to the Minnesota State Board of Education in the late 1970’s. Writing about my experience on the Board agitated a concern that festers every time I hear or think about the state and future of vocational education.

One of my tasks as a member of the Board was to chair the State Board of Vocational Education which in those days was actually a separate board that set policy for the 30-some Area Vocational Technical Institutes.  Liberal arts product that I am, I became an ardent and now unreconstructed advocate for a first-rate publicly funded vocational education system accessible to every Minneseotan.

When the merger of the AVTI’s and the community colleges was more than a gleam in the eye of the administrators I was assigned to study the pros and cons of joining the vocational and community college systems.  Though the results of my labors had no impact on the pre-determined decision to merge, I still remember what I learned.  And it troubles me that the issues that seemed so important then receive scant attention in today’s angst re. the future needs of industry for trained workers.

Needless to say there are for-profit trade schools at the ready to fill the vacuum.  Certainly not all but too many eschew accreditation standards, spew forth content and credit willy-nilly, consider truth-in-advertising a nuisance, welcome all comers as long as they come with cash in hand or state/federal government support, and show scant mercy. My concerns focus on public institutions for which I have hope and in which the public has a say.

With that narrowing of the field, I presume to observe:

1) One size does not fit all:  My first concern is that virtually all of the deliberations on vocational technical education focus on the needs of employers.  These are hard times, I know.  Jobs are preeminent for every decider and most voters, certainly for the unemployed and the under-employed.  Still choice matters to a nineteen year old with a dream and a proclivity for a specific field – or for a mid-career worker who needs a change.

Alex Friedrich, writing for Minnesota Public Radio on ways to revitalize vocational education (May 2011), observes that “we’ve pushed far too many students into getting four-year degrees for which they are unprepared.  Their lack of success put us among the world leaders in drop-out rates, and they go begging for jobs even while our industries have a hard time finding graduates with the skills they need.”  Friedrich suggests that students need to have choices including but not limited to community colleges, apprenticeships, military or community service.

While students seek financial independence, some go to school to learn about things that have little value on the job market but may enrich the learner’s life and the lives of those around him or her.  I know artists who are bakers – or bakers who are artists – IT folks who read Proust and Proust readers who write software.

2) Planning matters:  The cast-in-concrete state plan for vocational and technical education is mandated by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, as amended, directs how Perkins funds are used for secondary, postsecondary, and adult career and technical education.  The frequently revised plan officially documents the path that public vocational education will take.  I’ve filled out enough government forms to know that the questions frame the answers.  Planners are clearly responding to the federal requirements which ultimately provide essential financial support.

Still, an open planning process is not just a federal requirement but a meaningful and essential tool to good planning.  I well recall a time when I presumed to publicize a public hearing on the state plan for vocational;  a high placed administrator challenged me by affirming that the plan had already been written and did not accommodate change – in this case the needs of vocal representatives of the disabilities community.  All of today’s thinking focuses on engaging the business community in planning.  Still, not only employers but prospective and current students, their families, career counselors and, perhaps most of all, the under-served, must to be heard.

3) Learning a skill is a noble pursuit in and of itself.  I recall with a cringe the words of one decider involved in the merger of academic and vocational-technical institutions.  When asked who the change in the governance of vocational education would affect, this haughty businessman responded “No one we know” – and no one challenged him!

Again quoting Friedrich who takes a holistic approach to vocational learning:  “In business, government and education, vocational education needs to be presented as a standard, viable, respected option for students.  Shop classes, for example, might need to return to high schools, and vocational technical education should be discussed in high school career counseling.”

4) Articulation among systems means more to the individual student than it does to the system at large.  It is the learner, not the institution, who moves in and out of a mix of education delivery systems.  Articulation is the process by which one institution matches its courses or requirements to course work completed at another institution.  Students use course articulation to assure that the courses they complete will not have to be repeated as their institution to which they are transferring.  Distinct from transfer of credit, articulation is a powerful tool for facilitate portability and flexibility for students trying to negotiate the post-secondary education labyrinth.

Though today the issue usually comes up as a community college to university issue, when the merger was imposed, articulation between vocational institutes and community and four-year colleges could have solved many problems, had the deciders shed their self interests.

5) Vocational learners and teachers need more than buildings, even more then technology – they need the tools of their chosen trade.  This involves investment in equipment and a different style of collaboration between educational institutions and employers.  Though on the job training by any other name, including apprenticeships, makes sense it does demand an investment of time on the part of all concerned.

My only association with vocational education is that of an individual with some background and a deep concern for the economy and, even more, for every Minnesotan who has the gumption to step to the plate and learn a trade that meets his or her own interests and addresses at the same time the good of the whole.

Timeline Offers an Essential Guide to Laws Affecting Minnesota Women

With legislative politics on the front burner, the time is propitious to write about a public information resource I have long intended highlight:  The Minnesota Women’s Legislative Timeline: Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage is  a joint project of the Office on the Economic Status of Women and the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, funded in part by the Minnesota Historical Society with Legacy funds..

As stated in the introduction, “the objective of the timeline is to have a visual display of the history of significant laws for women, passed by the Minnesota Legislature, since the advent of women’s suffrage.”  The authors add that, though “Minnesota approved the suffrage amendment in 1919…the 19th Amendment wasn’t fully ratified until 1920.”

The resulting timeline is truly revelatory, a legislative take on how change happens.  In 1931 the issue was women jurors, then came changes in protective labor laws (1924), child desertion (1931) and common law marriage (1941).

It is not surprising to note that the 40’s and 50’s saw little legislative action on social issues, including women’s concerns.

By the mid-1960’s the pace had quickened.  In 1967 the Legislature created the Department of Human Rights which included a division to assist women.  That law was amended in 1969 to include protections against discriminatory wage rates based on gender in the workplace. .

Focus moved to changes in workplace-related legislation with passage of parental leave (1989) followed a decade later by laws dealing with pregnant employees and accommodations for nursing mothers in 1998.  21st Century legislation turns to grave concerns related to issues of sex trafficking (2005-2009) and domestic violence (2010).

These are highpoints only.  The timeline is far more comprehensive, meticulously annotated with legal references and links to the law.  For many of the entries the compilers offer a clear and concise explanatory essay.  The timeline also includes biographies of all of Minnesota’s women legislators.

Taken as a whole, the unique resource offers an overview of how change happens in the legislative arena – progress made and next steps.

The Minnesota Women’s Legislative Timeline stands as a tribute to the vision and work of librarians who maintained, organized and probed the legalrecord, the power of collaboration among state agencies, the impact of Legacy funds and the power of digital tools to expand access to essential public information.

 

A Tribute to Gloria Griffin, A Legendary Leader of the Women’s Movement

A pioneer in the women’s movement in Minnesota died last week.  By the time she died, Gloria Griffin was a bit of a woman, severely afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis for most of her life.  Because Gloria hasn’t been around so much in recent times so many younger women may not know her – but everyone knows her legacy, primarily the Minnesota Women’s Consortium and the Women’s Building on Rice Street, just North of the State Capitol.

What is not so evident is the women to whom she gave an opportunity.  I am one of those women and it is Gloria’s talent scouting impact that I experienced personally and that I try to deserve today.

When I first knew of Gloria Griffin, she was a commanding presence, a vocal force with considerable power because of her own political acumen, classy style and her commitment to giving women a chance to prove themselves and to contribute their perspective and their efforts to the common good.  A striking sophisticate Gloria was a business woman and candidate for Congress in 1976 in what was then the 2nd Congressional District, a challenge that would weed out a lesser soul.

Though she didn’t win that election, she caught the attention of then first-termer and visionary Governor Rudy Perpich.  He created the Governor’s Open Appointments Commission, placing Gloria at the head with a mandate to include women and minorities in the pool.

Meanwhile I was a classic nobody, a single mom supporting two little boys on my wages as a temporary librarian at a small private college in Mankato.  My political engagement included a timid toe dipped in the DFL and maybe the Mankato Area League of Women Voters.  For reasons I have never cared to plumb, my name somehow bubbled to the top of what must have been a zillion candidates for gubernatorial appointment.  A call came for an appointment with the Governor’s Commission which was interviewing candidates for the Minnesota State Board of Education.

Having little to lose, I dug out some suitable garb, looked up the authority of the SBE, and headed for the State Capitol which I had probably not visited since Girls State circa 1958.

Gloria and her distinguished bipartisan Commission offered a gracious welcome markedly free of the condescending tone I had anticipated.   I survived and life went on.

Some weeks or months later I was at a work-related meeting at the Minnesota Valley Regional Library when a staffer broke in with a call for me – from the Governor’s office.  Unaccustomed as anyone was for me to get a call of any sort, definitely not from the Governor’s office, I’m sure the assumption was that I was in trouble for something, probably dereliction of duty or possibly child endangerment.

The message was that the Governor had just appointed me to the Minnesota State Board of Education, the Board responsible for K-12 and vocational ( AVTI’s in those days) and libraries.  To say the least, I was willing, if not necessarily ready or able.

Gloria’s long reach and commitment to giving women, even nobodies, a chance, changed my life.

The learning process she jump-started continues to this day, decades later.  I learned about the politics of education, state and local.  I experienced the real if implicit forces that shape and pull on the systems.  In the days of Title IX, displaced homemakers and the outrageous barriers facing women and girls I delighted in systemic de-construction of the system in order to effect change.  I learned about the pressures and the possibilities of politics writ large.

Gloria Griffin never knew me personally – we met but once at that formal interview.  Still, she used her mandate to give women with even a glimmer of potential a chance to grow, to learn and to contribute something, even if it were but the voice of a young mom on a board otherwise dominated by grey haired grandpas with political clout.

My story must be one of hundreds of similar reflections ignited by the news of Gloria’s death.  Others know about and laud her more public contributions.  I can speak only from my small touch with her impact.  I hope I do her proud – and I am both grateful and  strengthened to have felt her impact for these past three decades.

Note:  There have been and will be countless tributes to Gloria Griffin  – those who knew her will remember the stories; others will want to know more.  In his obituary for Gloria Tom Meersman, writing in the Strib, notes that Gloria “poked her nose into politics and helped women organize and improve their status in Minnesota.”  The interview with Gloria published in the collection entitled In the Company of Women: Voice from the Women’s Movement, edited by Bonnie Watkins and Nina Rothchild, offers a brief glimpse into the political awakening of this powerful and gracious woman.

 

Author Martin Kihn featured at Friends of Northeast Library talk

Martin Kihn writes about the world he knows – with a twist.  This includes his recent novel, Bad Dog: A Love Story, a touching tale that marks a true departure in Kihn’s  writing style.  Bad Dog follows the trials and triumphs  of Hola, the “most beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog in the world” who clearly lacks the niceties of training, and her “supposed master” who has some troubles of his own.

Kihn will share his unique take on the world on Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 6:30 p.m. at the Northeast Library, 2200 Central Avenue Northeast.

After twenty years of living and working in fast-paced New York City  Kihn moved from NYC to Northeast Minneapolis in October with his wife singer-songwriter Julia Douglass and, of course, Hola  – When asked why the move, Kihn says that his wife is from this area and Hola is taken with walks along the Mississippi and the Stone Arch Bridge area.

Though he is first-and-foremost a writer, Kihn adds that he is also “a digital marketer, dog lover, balletomane and spiritual athlete.”  Born in Zambia, Kihn grew up in suburban Michigan, earned a BA in Theater Studies from Yale and an MBA from Columbia Business School.  In Minneapolis he pursues his writing profession while managing his business career at Fallon.

A prolific writer, Kihn has published in a host of publications including the New York Times, GQ, Us and others.  He was on the staff of several publications and, in the late 1990’s, was head writer for the MTV show Pop-Up Video for which he was an Emmy nominee.

The self-deprecating Kihn admits that most of his earlier writing “could be called satirical or snarky, meticulously researched and office-based.” One of his early publications, affectionately entitled House of Lies: How management consultants steal your watch and then tell you the time (Grand Central 2005) reflects his three years working for a large consultant agency.  Though praised by the press, the book was not well received by professional colleagues who spammed Amazon.com with one-star reviews intended to sabotage the criticism of their trade.

Kihn moved on to produce his most popular book of that “snarky” period,  a  satirical stunt-memoir the premise of which is that a person who is too nice to get ahead in business decides systematically to turn himself into a jerk and reap the rewards.  It was a rage round the globe.

Bad Dog reflects an entirely different side of the writer.  Bad Dog: A Love Story, is the warm story of a troubled man and his badly behaved mountain dog.  It’s described as a “journey of redemption, as together man and dog reclaim their lives by working toward a common goal.”  Much more about Marty Kihn on his website on which Hola even appears in a new video on Kihn’s website.

Martin Kihn’s talk is presented by Friends of the Northeast Library.  Contact the Friends at northeast@friendsofhclib.org

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Hope Springs with the Winter Solstice!

For some, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year.  For the optimists among us, the great news is that, as of December 22, 2011, the days of winter get longer.  Some of us have been in a decline since June.  We celebrate the Winter Solstice with all the acclaim deserving of the first longer day!  It is no surprise to know that the Winter Solstice echoes with the voices of legendary customs around this small globe where it’s pretty much all about the sun.

In times of great legend I am inclined to turn to the Celts who know how to deck an occasion with all the frills.  Though the lunar does not make the Top Ten Celtic Favorites,  the annual event did produce a prehistoric monument in Ireland, the Newgrange about which I have written and reflected.  Once a year, the tomb at Newgrange fills with light to reveal the Celtic artwork on the stones.  It’s a time when the veils between the worlds come together in wondrous – sometimes awful ways.

The Winter Solstice is a moveable feast.  Though Julius Caesar’s calendar set the date as December 23 times change, though the sun seems steady enough.  Pope Gregory got in the act when he established December 22 (or thereabouts) as the Solstice on the Gregorian calendar.  In astronomical terms the solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of 223.5 degrees, i.e. when the North Pole is tilted at the same spin from the South Pole.  On the Solstice all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north are in darkness, while locations below a latitude of the same level south receive 24 hours of daylight.

Worthy of note is the fact that the earth itself is a bit erratic in that the orb doesn’t move at a constant speed, resulting in the fact that the seasons are not of equal length.  The good news is that for sun-deprived Minnesotans, the spring and summer seasons are longer than autumn and winter.

Legends surrounding the Winter Solstice reflect ancient times and embrace a range of customs and habits, human and otherwise.  Some of the lore is probably based on humankind’s understandable concern about survival itself; months of sowing, reaping, preservation and more had gone into the planning for the winter months.

From this optimist’s perspective the Winter Solstice offers a happy opportunity to celebrate rebirth, the warmth of the sun, and the fact that hope springs eternal in the human breast.

 

 

Legendary Conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski In Minneapolis December 13

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Conductor Laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra is a legend to concert goers and music lovers throughout Minnesota during the 1960’s and 70’s when he was music director of the renowned Orchestra.  His six decade prominence as conductor and composer is the topic of Frederick Harris’ recently-published biography, Seeking the Infinite: The Musical Life of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

 

Skrowaczewski and Harris will both be in Minneapolis for a book signing event to herald publication of the book at the Downtown Barnes & Noble , 801 Nicollet Mall, December 13, 5:00-7:00 p.m.  The American Composers Forum will provide refreshments.  Convenient ramp parking, at after-4 rates, on 8th Street behind Barnes & Noble.

Frederick Harris is an MIT faculty member and conductor of the MIT Wind Ensemble.  Harris spent nine years researching this monumental work which reflects the results of over 200 interviews.  The book also covers a full history of the Minnesota Orchestra, including details of the ways in which Skrowaczewski championed plans for Orchestra Hall.

 

The book signing event is free and open to the public.