Friday, September 30, 2011


Most people are willing to pay more to be amused than to be educated. ~Robert C. Savage, Life Lessons

It isn't so much that hard times are coming; the change observed is mostly soft times going. ~Groucho Marx


What happens when you can no longer pay for your own internet?  What happens when you can't afford to buy books for your children?  What happens when you need help updating your resume?  What happens when budget cuts interfere with your access to information?

Times are tough, and it looks like it might be getting tougher.  There hasn't been a fast fix to our recession woes.  We're a global society used to getting what we want when we want it; and if we don't get it, we throw a fit like a spoiled three-year-old denied a cookie before dinner. 

The Maintanence of Effort was given to us last week.  That's the money that we are required to get for the year, based on funding from previous years.  Once upon a more prosperous time, library budgets were "safe".  They haven't been safe for a while.  We got news that next year our funding is being cut.  AGAIN.  Really?  Our lower income community has a great need for the services we provide.  How many times have we helped patrons find things they need online?  How many resumes have we proof-read and printed out?  How many kids get to read new (to them) books on a regular basis?  How many adults get to read the latest hardcover without shelling out their hard earned cash?  How much money have people saved by checking out a DVD instead of renting one? 

I suppose it's all in your sense of priorities.  I don't care a thing about the NFL, so a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings is not real high on my list of things that I feel need to be funded right now.  I obviously work at a place that recieves government funding, and I'd like that to not go down.  No one really wants to pay for services they aren't using.  I don't have season tickets to the Vikings, you don't have a library card.  Who gets funding, who gets cuts?  Who wins?  I'm not sure there is a winner.  I'm thinking this is a lose/lose situation. 

Sheesh, someone sure got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  I'm probably not the only one though.  Just about everyone is upset over something our government is or isn't doing.  Differences in priorities is the biggest factor in that.  I'm glad I'm not a politician.  They can't win because they've got to say "no" to somebody.  And there goes the tantrum again.

All right, I'm a whiner.  I'm lucky I still have a job.  For now.  The cut we've been given is a bit more than my yearly wages.  I'm glad the library board recognizes and values my role here as a one-day-a-week worker with a love of libraries and literature.  I write the blog, I do story-hour (starts next week!!), and I keep my ear to the ground when it comes to things book and library related.  We've cut where we can over the years, and we still have patrons who appreciate what we are able to provide.  There are ways of making due with what you have.   

Although, it is a lot easier to just throw a tantrum. 

budget cuts

One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it. ~Sidney Howard

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What happened after the After School Special?

If you are dyslexic, your eyes work fine, your brain works fine, but there is a little short circuit in the wire that goes between the eye and the brain. Reading is not a fluid process. --Bruce Jenner

Sculpture at the Dyslexia Discovery Centre

As you all know, I work at a library.  I'm an avid reader.  I LOVE to read, so this job is a perfect fit for me.  Since I figured out how the reading process worked in 1st grade, I've been reading.  I love to help people find books.  I love turning people on to the joys of reading.  I love my role in turning non-readers into readers.

Dyslexia affects 1 in five people.  That's a lot.  I'm not sure why I haven't heard more about it in recent years.  When I was a kid, there was the after school special featuring the Phoenix brothers where one of them struggled with dyslexia and waited for it's diagnosis.  I knew a few kids with dyslexia.  Of course, it's all pretty vague now; but it seems like they got help in school.

I have a friend whose daughter has been diagnosed with dyslexia in the past year.  Marianne is passionate about education.  With a degree in elementary education and a passion for reading you would think her kids would not face any difficulties in school.  Wrong.  Her daughter had struggled for years with undiagnosed dyslexia.  Finally, in 4th grade her teacher felt that there might be a learning disability-- maybe dyslexia. With a little research, Marianne found that Megan had many of the classic symptoms of dyslexia.  And the road to diagnosis began.

As things are now, there really aren't any resources available in the school for dealing with dyslexia.  We all understand the lack of funding available, and it's become much less expensive to get these children onto ADHD medication than to take an actual look at where their problems with learning may be coming from.  It's a shame; and it needs to be brought back to attention.  We had the After School Special about dyslexia, but how much has it been talked about in the past few years?  We all know about ADD/ADHD, but we seem to have forgotten all about dyslexia.  Where's the mass media attention for that?

Here's what I found on the Minnesota Department of Education website:

The symptoms of dyslexia do not occur either from a lack of intelligence or from lack of desire to learn, but researchers have not yet identified the exact causes. As is the case for most disorders, there is a continuum of the effects of the disorder ranging from mild to severe. In order for a child with a diagnosis of dyslexia to be eligible for special education services, a school evaluation team, including the parents, must make a determination that the disability severely impacts school performance, and the student must meet the eligibility criteria found in MN Rule 3525.1341. A child with a diagnosis of dyslexia may, in this case, be eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Acts (IDEA) 1997 and Minnesota Rule 3525.1341.

and a little further on:

Please note: A diagnosis of "dyslexia" does not automatically mean eligibility for special education.  The determination of eligibility for special education is a team process and includes parents (Please refer to the chart entitled, "Special Education Process and Dyslexia").

Wow, hats off to anyone dealing with a learning disability.  There are a lot of hoops to jump through in order to get help in school.  If your child is dyslexic, they have probably come up with some very creative ways to compensate for it.  Even if your child DOES qualify for special education, the teachers are often not trained in the specific type of instruction that the dyslexic student needs. 

If you're in the Grand Rapids, Minnesota area and would like to learn more about dyslexia, there is a FREE dyslexia presentation with Susan Barton on Sunday, September 25th, from 2:00 to 5:00 at the Sawmill Inn.  Susan Barton is trained in seven different Orton-Gillingham based programs and teaches several graduate-level courses through the University of San Diego.  This program is sponsored by Great Minds Tutoring Service of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  Click here to sign up.  I hope that anyone and everyone who works with children or has children in their life will find time to attend this seminar.

"My learning disabilities pushed me to discover talents that I wasn't aware of having.  It has also led me to develop products to help others who struggled through school as I did." ~~ Reyn Geyer, (inventor of Nerf balls & Twister, among other things)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TV will destroy your brain

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.
-Ray Bradbury

Uh oh.  SpongeBob rots your brain.  Every news program I've seen in the past 24 hours has to mention the "SpongeBob study" that shows that 9 minutes of fast-paced television for kids under the age of four leads to problems with self-control and learning.  Of course, Spongebob creators say that the big porous dimwit is not meant for children under the age of six.  I suppose that if any of the other fast-paced shows had been singled out, they'd say the same thing.

Most everyone knows that we need to limit the amount of screen time our children get, and particularly those children under the age of four.  Children under the age of two shouldn't even watch TV.  My oldest child was probably around 7 before she became familiar with SpongeBob.  If my eldest was 7, my middle child was 5, and my youngest has never known a world that didn't include SpongeBob.  She's four.  Guess it's too late for that study to help me change my parenting ways; the damage has already been done.

After hearing about this study, did anyone else recall the Max Headroom episode where people were exploding because of watching fast-paced TV?  Granted, that was 1987--and it wasn't a show that EVERYONE watched.  I was only 14, but that episode apparently made a lasting impression on me.  My guess is that one of the authors of this study also saw that episode.   In the episode, fast-paced commercials caused death.  Twenty-four years later, we find out that fast-paced television causes problems in young children.  Granted, it's just one study of just 60 kids who were just four years old.   

So, I suppose we should all err on the side of caution and pay attention to what our kids are watching.  Just in case there's more to that Max Headroom "Blipverts" episode than we would have imagined. 

So, how do I undo the damage already done on my child?  No TV for the next year.  Lots of flashcards.  We're going to work on her self control.  Okay, I'm not really going to do any of that.  I'll do my best to prevent her from feasting on a steady diet of SpongeBob.  We'll read books.  We'll talk.  We'll continue to do pretty much all of the stuff we're already doing.  Does she have great self control?  NO.  She's four and she's the baby of the family, used to getting her own way.  Does it have anything to do with the fast-paced shows that are on television when her sisters get home from school?  Maybe.  Probably.  Am I going to becoming a strict TV-patrolling parent?  Sorry, but no.   She's often in the same room as her sisters while they're watching TV, but much of the time she's doing other things.  She can be found coloring, looking at books, or playing with one toy or another while they're watching something she doesn't really care about. 

Unfortunately, SpongeBob is hilarious.  He's fast-paced and funny and she already knows and loves him.   I suppose I should bring a couple of SpongeBob books home from the library.  The same lovable character, but put at a slower pace.  Of course, now that I have two kids who will read to the third, I wouldn't even have to read them to her!  Win, win!  She's not rotting her brain, and the other girls improve their reading skills!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We shall not forget, at least not yet.

People may correctly remember the events of twenty years ago (a remarkable feat), but who remembers his fears, his disgusts, his tone of voice? It is like trying to bring back the weather of that time.
-Martha Gellhorn

Hereafter (World Trade Center), NYC [Film Scan]

It's not a date which will live in infamy; that title belongs to December 7th, 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.  September 11th, 2001 is the current generation's date that will live in infamy.  We Will Not Forget is the motto for the attack.  I remember where I was, the sun pouring through the curtains in my bedroom as I lay next to my sweetly sleeping baby.  I remember the news that shattered my peaceful morning.  I remember the person I talked to, and the shocking disbelief that was on every TV channel.  I was fortunate to have that new-mother-fogginess to dull the panic and fear. 

Prior to 9/11 Americans kind of lived like teenagers who have no sense of their own mortality.  It was a shock to find that we were not invincible.  By 2001, the World Wars were but a memory of some chapters in history class.  We hadn't lived it.  The Korean War was something we had experienced on TV with the show M*A*S*H.  The Vietnam war was bit fresher on our minds, but us gen-Xers were babies and many of us weren't born yet when our fathers were shipped off to the other side of the world.  It had been ten years since the Gulf War.  All of these events took place elsewhere.  We hadn't had that kind of in-your-face destruction on our own turf.  Sure, the World Trade Center had been the victim of a car bomb in 1993, and we had lived through the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.  We should have known we weren't invulnerable.  But, like teenagers who have seen their friends succumb to tragedy, we forgot.  Things like that can't happen to us, they happen to other people, not us. 

So, now we're up to the 10 year anniversary of the "day we will never forget".  What exactly are we supposed to remember?  Our panic?  Our fear?  The way we all went down and donated blood for those hoped-for survivors?  The shock that there weren't any?  The suspicion we suddenly felt for anyone from the Middle East?  The anger that something like this had happened in our country?  The call out for revenge? 

We want to remember the people who died: the people working in the buildings that fell and the emergency personnel who were trying to get everyone to safety.  I didn't know any of those people.  What I remember are the memorials scattered around the site when I went there the following June:  the pictures of missing loved ones and the tokens of support sent from around the country all spread out along the fence at St. Paul's Chapel.

NYC - St. Paul's Chapel

And We Shall Not Forget.  At least those of us who lived through it won't forget it.  Not exactly, anyway.  We'll remember some things about it and as we go on with our lives we'll lose a little of it to make room in our brains for other things.  Another ten years down the road, there will be even more people who don't remember it except as a history lesson.  It will just be another thing that they've heard about. 

So how do we "Not Forget"?  I suppose the same way we haven't forgotten about WWII.  Lots of books and movies about the people who lived through it.  To hear someone else's story is to bring a little bit of it into your own consciousness.  There will be all kinds of 9/11 anniversary shows on television over the next week.  But, my brain absorbs the stuff I read better than the stuff I sit back and watch on a screen.  Should my children ask about what happened that day, I will tell them my memories of the day, but they will be very different than a lot of other people's memories.  I was in the new-parent-fog, remember? 

I don't expect my children to forget, I expect them to not remember.  We've been to the site.  We've seen the new construction and the memorials to that day in 2001.  We've been to Battery Park and seen The Sphere that was originally in the courtyard between the two towers.  It doesn't mean much to them right now, but they're all still pretty young.  In the future, it will be a piece of history for them. 

Much as "That date which will live in infamy" is just a piece of history to me.  

The Sphere (NYC, May, 2007)

Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.
-Paul Wilkinson

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance"

"Back to school", those three little words every mother longs to hear in August.

Back to School Card

And mothers across the country give a big sigh of relief.  Or maybe that's just me.  I remember those chilly dew laden mornings of September when I had to wait for the bus to come and take me off to the first day of a new school year.  The squeaky clean school suddenly coming back to life after a rejuvenating summer.  New pencils, new crayons, new notebooks, and the fresh smell of minds ready to learn something new. 

Okay, maybe that is just an idyllic version of my childhood.  The reality was a bit more of pressing the snooze button until you barely had time to dress and eat breakfast before running out the door to catch the bus.  The dread of homework.  Beautiful fall days with your body inside the classroom while your mind wandered around outside.  Day after day of peanut butter or pressed meat sandwiches, with a slightly bruised apple for dessert.  Falling asleep on the bus on the way home from school.  Having to go to bed early so that you could get up early again the next morning and start the cycle yet once more. 

I didn't love school, I didn't hate school.  I was good at some things and bad at others. (Can you say physical education?  I can't even say it without spraining something.)  I had friends, and people I didn't particularly care for.  I was always much happier reading something from the library than anything I was supposed to be reading for school.  Hunh, imagine that.  In high school, I could walk the halls from one class to another while reading.  This sometimes included a set of stairs.  Yep, I think I ended up exactly where I should be.

Everyone has their own memories of school starting.  Good or bad, we've all got them.  I'm glad my kids are so excited to start school.  I don't remember having that same excitement after kindergarten when getting to ride the bus was such a huge event.  I wish all kids could be as excited about school as my kids are.  But, I know many of them aren't.  For many, it's more than just missing out on those sunny September days.  You hear more and more about toxic schools, bullying, lack of funding, teaching to the tests, and mounting pressure to excel: it's a wonder kids can think of school as a happy place with all the bad press out there.   Of course, kids feed off of their parents worries and fears.  Maybe that's why my kids are so excited.  I don't have any worries or fears when it comes to sending them off to school.  I don't expect them to have insurmountable problems, and they don't.  Little problems, yes.  Insurmountable, no.  But we've got time yet, I've got kids in school for the next 14 years. 

So; next Tuesday morning, I'll head out to the bus stop for the first and last time of the school year.  Cup of coffee in one hand, camera in the other.  As the bus pulls away I'll skip back to the house with a big smile on my face and a "Hip, Hip, Hooray, School Begins Today!"

School Buses

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework. ~Lily Tomlin as "Edith Ann"