Higher Education Without College Library Is Dreadfully Wrong Move

If you were confronted with a budget shortfall, would it seem logical to cut funding to the foundation of whatever program or institution was in the red? Perhaps it is due to it being Monday morning or that outside my window the snow seems determined to linger on the Adirondack chairs but the illogical and upsetting news story from Vermont just catches me as folly.  To be honest, it could be Friday and balmy and the following news would still be pure folly.

Leaders of Vermont’s public colleges are taking an extraordinary step to save money: getting rid of most of the books in the campus libraries.

Reducing the number of librarians who manage the 300,000 books across four campuses could save the system $500,000 annually, the university system’s leaders say, as part of their effort to close a $25 million structural budget deficit.

The fact that public colleges nationwide are seeking ways to cut corners and still create serious-minded graduates is not news. Rather it was the short-sighted and stunning response to a budget shortfall in such a ludicrous fashion that caught my attention, and more so since this highly troubling move comes from an educated and supposedly reasoned administrator.  

The Boston Globe, which reported the news that landed in my email, surely was not intending for the heavy hand of irony to land so loudly.  But there it was in print from Parwinder Grewal, president of three public colleges that will soon be called Vermont State University.  He argued that getting rid of books in the libraries will be a boon for students on campus as “the planned $500,000 library renovation will replace stacks with study space.”

So, in the midst of a budget deficit that ‘requires’ the removal of the majority of library books, there is now money for a half-million dollar remake so students can study in a place absent of books? 

“This university will look so different and [will be] so relevant to the current needs of the state,” Grewal said.  With only 12% of the books remaining in the stacks, it will absolutely look different, there is no doubt.

Some students and faculty expressed concern that an online library would limit access to books and knowledge in a rural state like Vermont, where many residents still lack Internet service. Others mourned the loss of physical books and worried about how students and faculty will access texts that are not available online. A spokesperson for the state colleges said they are working to provide students with Internet access at home.

“Vermont is not a good place to be a guinea pig for this,” said Charlotte Gerstein, a librarian at Castleton. “There’s not broadband throughout [the state].” And, she added, “a lot of our students with learning disabilities have told us that they need to read in print.”

I guess, perhaps, when many Americans can discount the importance of cursive writing, something this blog bemoans, and others able to remove books from a college library and frame the matter as ‘good for students’ it should not surprise the rest in the nation why educational outcomes are often noted in need of being remedied.

Let me offer an example as to why this story is of concern. Over the decades, I have been drawn to the letters between John and Abigail Adams as they give huge insight into the thinking of the often-dour John, and his marvelously opinionated (for her era) better half, Abigail.  The reason I use them in this post is that any student desiring to grasp an understanding of the past needs to read cursive writing, and then find such books on the shelves of our higher learning institutions. Trust me, the long detailed letters between these two underscore the politics and love shared at the distance they endured for so many years all for the sake of democracy. The wonderful flow of the pen and the glory of putting thoughts to paper is the type of written account that college libraries should have available for students.  The intimacy and poignancy of the letters are still breathtaking. The skill of the pen and the fluid nature of their conversations allows college students to be most aware of the powerful minds and intellects that allowed this nation to be created.  There is no doubt that without a willful woman named Abigail, there could not have been the self-assured and forward-thinking John.  The two were a team. They should be known by these letters.

Such books should always be among those found in college libraries. It would be a real loss if they are not found in the stacks at Vermont colleges.

Congratulations Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya, You Make Wisconsin Proud

Badger State Spelling Bee winner Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya, left, a student at Madison’s Blessed Sacrament School, and runner-up Finn Siegl-Gesin cheer with their trophies after Saturday’s unconventional competition at Madison Youth Arts Center. SAMANTHA MADAR, STATE JOURNAL

There is no more joy that comes from blogging than when able to praise the efforts of smart people, better yet when they are school students who focus and strive for success.  As many are now aware Madison’s top speller for two years running, Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya, emerged as the winner of Saturday’s Badger State Spelling Bee. 

The 12-year-old now proceeds to the National Spelling on the East Coast in late May.  Over the years I have been so proud of his efforts and this year he made for more smiles after he spelled all 10 words correctly in a written test to determine the champion.

It goes without saying there is every reason to also salute this weekend’s runner-up, Finn Siegl-Gesin, a seventh-grader who spelled six of the words correctly.  America will be in very good hands as the decades roll along with the Aidens and Finns of their generation taking the reins of society.  Education matters and it looks especially good with smiles on the faces of students. Congratulations!

WIAA Needs To Sanction Muskego High School For Overt Racism, Beloit Boys Basketball Team Demonstrated Best Among Us

Late Saturday, I was alerted by a friend that WMTV was reporting about a most outlandish and truly sad story concerning how the Beloit High School boys’ basketball team was treated at Muskego. The N-word and swastikas were written and drawn in the dust in the visiting boys’ locker room.  Overt racism extended to a parent in the stands hearing monkey noises and racist words from the student section at the game. Video evidence shows some Muskego students standing to watch the game dressed in black face masks and tank tops, an aim to depict Black people from a racist perspective. 

Ah, yes.  The idea a high school curriculum and sports program should be an elevating experience for students where character enhancement and maturity are shaped and molded by teachers, coaches, and school staff seems to have bypassed many at Muskego High School. While a grasp of civics, geometry, and literature is openly pressed in the classrooms there must also be a quiet continuance of shaping the moral character of students in our taxpayer-funded public schools. We desire those who graduate to have integrity as a foundation so an ethical way of living and behaving in society results throughout life.  We trust that young adults will demonstrate the basics of respect for themselves and others. It does not take long to read and watch, however, about Muskego High school students on Friday night to notice the goals for character development have failed. 

What was striking about the student-athletes from Beloit is how poised and mature they proved to be considering the blatant racism exhibited by Muskego students. When it comes to strong character and how we wish young people to face the world, even when they have every right to be angry and disheartened, the Beloit basketball team demonstrated the best among us. There is no way not to be appalled at the mocking Muskego boys who dressed for a reaction, some wearing black masks.  We are aware of the derision masks created among a certain demographic during the pandemic, and had students been ordered to wear them during the playoff basketball game Muskego parents would have been apoplectic. Is it any wonder many in the state will think, upon seeing the behavior of Muskego students, that their tax dollars are not creating the bang for the buck that is desired when paying the yearly bill.

The backwater mentality of Muskego seems willingly mired to racism since the school team’s name remains the Muskego Warriors with a logo of a spear. One would trust news has traveled to the Waukesha County school district that Native American mascots are no longer acceptable in modern society.  When efforts were made in the state to remove such racist team names some in Muskego spoke out against the move claiming it took away ‘their heritage’. It is almost impossible not to scream aloud over such obliviousness. The demographics of the town speak volumes about why such behavior at the school abounds.  The Bulwark reports that Muskego’s population is 96.6% white, with a mere half a percent being of Asian descent. Those who do not share in the diversity of life or are expected to find empathy with others often lack vital aspects of character development.

It is time for the WIAA to step away from their often timid and reserved nature and level sanctions on the Muskego School sports program.  If players and coaches feel the sting they can then be instruments for good in their school to usher in the needed changes in attitudes, where there must be a complete redress, and then in decorum that our society demands. What took place Friday night is no longer in any way acceptable. There must be consequences. Sports programs, in part, are designed to build character.  The WIAA can provide a beneficent effect with tough sanctions to force some sunshine into a school district that has openly and disgustedly displayed overt racism.

Angry Parents About History Classes Need To Produce Their Syllabus

There are many discussions in school districts around the nation as to what is the proper way to teach history, along with what to teach regarding our nation’s original sin and its consequences.  Instead of allowing historical research to drive teaching and classroom instruction, there are some parents who seem able, in their own minds, to create the class syllabus and reading sources for students.  It goes without saying, as long-time readers of this page well know, I do not cotton to the idea of catering to the manufactured partisan culture war outrage about the teaching of the ugly side of our national story. 

I have listened and read during the past couple of years complaints lodged by some parents around the nation about their children being ‘confused’ and somehow ‘harmed’ as a result of teaching history accurately. I have often desired the chance to converse with those parents about how they might compose classroom teaching.  For example, how might they describe or teach the changes in rhetoric and laws after equality started to be a factor in our nation following white men of all classes having suffrage (roughly 1820)? It is no small topic, to be sure, and has broad offshoots, but since some parents are sure history is not being correctly taught and their children somehow feel ‘bad’ as a result I continue to be seriously curious as to their ideas for a classroom syllabus.

We start to see in essays, newspapers, and political rhetoric at state constitutional conventions, following the time when all white men attained suffrage that the use of language for women, Blacks, and Indians took on a harsher tone.  How might the disturbed parents of the 21st century instruct a classroom about white males’ constructed laws that were aimed to prevent others from achieving the same rights? How does one teach about the argument strongly espoused at the time by white males that nature and God placed limits on political equality?

How, for instance, would parents teach the reason for whites deciding in the first decades of the 1800s to disallow free Blacks from voting.  I noted this week that it was the mid-1830s when both Tennessee and North Carolina deprived the voting right of free Black men.  How might parents place in a classroom discussion Thomas Jefferson’s famed words in the Declaration of Independence with the slaveholding mentality who argued Blacks were created for servitude?

During the pandemic, I heard the term “master race democracy” on PBS’ Amanpour and it resonated with me as it fits as an umbrella over the period leading up to the Civil War. One racial group used the political and social levers to reign over another. I have never let the North off easy in this regard for the actions of pols and citizens alike were far, far less than ideal when dealing with Blacks, Indians, and then Hispanic peoples during the Mexican War period.  How does the story of our history unfold in a classroom without going deep into the historically accurate narrative that shows race and sex were major factors in our nation, with white men doing all they could to create and maintain power over all others? As we look at these questions it needs to be understood that is precisely what these parents are doing now with their local tantrums concerning teachers correctly and fully teaching history in the classrooms.

We must teach history completely to students in our public schools. The good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly. History matters.

One Word Nation Needs To Say To Marjorie Taylor Greene Types

The absurdity of Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk in Congress does not get much attention here at Caffeinated Politics. While in some cases the IQ level of the elected one making a fact-less tweet or bombastic statement is seriously low, it needs noting that in other cases the wild outbursts are purely designed and used as crass cash-grabbing emails and letters so to elicit money from the easily swayed watching Fox ‘News” and other right-wing media. While Greene has mastered being completely amoral, ludicrous, and severely repugnant she is doubtless aware that other conservatives within the Republican Party are vying for her title. When Republican voters across the nation mimic and ape the elected buffoons, and do so in our midst, what might our reaction be to such wretched behavior?

I wrote a note late Tuesday night to a southeastern Wisconsin columnist and actual conservative, echoing his long-running concern that the GOP has lost its moorings.  The acceptance by the current base of the GOP for any conspiracy theory that can be pedaled (by the ones mentioned above suffering from low IQs or just plain base motives) ranging from election fraud to the mental capacity of our president underscores how adrift the party has become.  Fascist now in not only tone but substance, and ever searching for the next ludicrous headline-making statement, they are left at being nothing more than the next joke offered by late-night comics. These conservatives enjoy being at the basement level, but how should the majority of the nation respond to such crazy and unacceptable behavior, being mindful that in our youth when students acted so out of bounds they would have been ushered out of the classroom to sit alone in a separate location?

Sunday a cartoon was published in our local newspaper that dealt with this matter head-on, and after James read it, while we both sat and enjoyed the sun on our coffin porch, he handed it over to me while saying one word.  “Perfect”.  That was the only word needed.  The only way our nation can respond, too.

All-City Spelling Bee Makes Madison Smile, Thanks To Teachers, Parents

I aim to be timely on this blog. But even though a couple days late with this post, as I usually write in advance of the All-City Spelling Bee, I need to cheer on the students and applaud the winner.  One sentence in the Wisconsin State Journal story perfectly sums up the powerhouse performance of the victorious seventh grader. Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya swiftly defended his All-City Spelling Bee title the second time around, pushing past his fellow top-three finishers in less than 10 minutes Saturday. 

I have been following his yearly trek to this outcome over the years. He first landed on CP in 2019 when competing in the bee. As I wrote at the time, while I wished the very best for each and every participant there was just something so perfect about his gleeful expression and winning smile.  That was again evident this year as he held the trophy. Just a perfect example of the all-American kid who makes his school, his parents, and this city cheer.

Photo by Greg Dixon, Wisconsin State Jounral

I also want to call attention to two other fine students, Jay Jadhav and Molly Abel, who also will be advancing to the Badger State Spelling Bee on March 11.   It goes without saying there is genuine pride for each one of the students who stood on the stage and spelled words that most of us would flounder over.  Many of them were words not found in even the Sunday version of the New York Times crossword puzzle. Or are they used and those were the squares I left blank in frustration? (Another reason a pencil is used in this home for such undertakings.) One thing is most clear, however. That being when one has the skills of spelling as demonstrated Saturday by these young people, everyone is a winner in the real sense of the word.

I again give credit where it is due regarding these finely educated students. It is due to teachers who care about their classrooms and the arc of learning, knowing it always needs to keep bending towards educational success.  Additionally,  I say a deep thanks to the parents who obviously have instilled a love of reading in their children along with the desire to learn. Congratulations to all who stood up and made the city proud on the stage this weekend.

Conservatives Come After Black Athlete Books In School Libraries

When discussing public schools and education in our country, nothing other than child safety and better pay for teachers rises higher than my interest in stopping the banning of books from classrooms and libraries. The fever about this issue seems to ebb and flow, depending on the need for book banners to deflect from some other embarrassing issue in their partisan tent, or to create a culture war atmosphere designed to roil the base. Since book banning has always been scorned and ridiculed throughout history, it does beg the question as to why conservatives seem so hell-bent on picking up the torch.

I read what can only be called an alarming story about the 20th largest school district in the nation, that being Duval County Florida.  It was there that three children’s books that narrate the lives of Black sports personalities—heroes, in fact for many–were pulled from the school library shelves.  We know the books tell the stories of these men who fought through racism to reach great heights in their profession. 

The books are:

The entire school system should not be made to suffer the loss of these books because some white parents cannot accept how racism absolutely did pervade almost every aspect of our society. That these three sports figures did find ways to be resolute and determined to rise and stand atop their peers should be applauded.  If it makes some students recalibrate their thinking about history and racism and come to realize their parents might be the ones who need some books to read, all the better.

This absurdity is the result of Potomac Fever that has made Governor Ron DeSantis forget the needs of his constituents as he covets the votes of the harshest conservative elements in early primary states. Creating a battle over censorship of books about racism and LGBTQ issues will only warm him to right-wing activists heading into 2024.  With Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Law” and the flawed history instruction about racism there is no doubt as to the reasons people around the country must be engaged so to stop this activity locally.  (Wherever one might live.)

During the 2022 midterm elections, I became aware of (yet another needlessly contentious) school board election about books and racism. I repeat, in 2022. At the heart of the matter were two books at the Greenville High School in Michigan that some parents found to be ‘beyond the pale’. They were Looking for Alaska and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, books that one might not read in Sunday school, but knowing schools are an arena of education for broadening minds and knowledge allows these critically acclaimed books to be totally appropriate.

Looking for Alaska, published in 2005 by author John Green, is an award-winning young adult novel that focuses on themes of meaning, grief, hope, and youth-adult relationships. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a New York Times bestselling book published in 2012 by author Jesse Andrews, and is described as being about an awkward teen, his friend, and a girl with terminal cancer.  Both books remain on the shelves and that decision then pitted book banners against actual educators in the November election. This blogger was heartened to learn after the balloting that the educators prevailed.

When I write about doggedly fighting at the local level to stop the book banners perhaps no more incentive as to why pushing back against the madness is doable than what occurred in Boise, Idaho. High school student Shiva Rajbhandari was elected to the school board and defeated an incumbent who steadfastly refused to reject an endorsement from a local right-wing extremist group that pushed to censor local libraries. Most times all that is required to stop a book banner is for one person to stand up and clearly state what needs to be heard about the freedom to read a book of one’s choice.

For several years, I worked with the local literacy council.  My student for most of that time was a wonderful woman from Iran who wanted to read with more comprehension and be able to talk about the headlines of the day. I grew up in a home where books were emphasized at every turn and given as gifts at the holidays.  My Dad was from the depression era and only attended school through the 8th grade, but every Friday night drove me to the small local public library for books to last a week.  He knew the power of a book.  We all must feel the same as he did when raising me.

As book-banning stories percolate around the nation, but mostly in red states, I was struck by an antidote to the madness which landed in my email recently.  It makes for a perfect ending to this post.

Congress Must Deal With Marijuana’s Health Concerns, Data Shows Smoking Consequences

It would seem, in 2023, there would not be a reason to alert the public that smoking has a number of negative health consequences.  We readily accept the facts when it comes to the logical reasons to have banned indoor cigarette smoking. No one will ever again hunt through a haze of blue-gray in a diner as they look out to see what pies are in the enclosed glass case. But when it comes to marijuana smoking there has been a higher degree of reluctance to admit that there are health pitfalls associated with this drug. Now, in light of more data to show that smoking pot has perils, is time to ask what Congress might do to address this issue.

Though smoking pot is being put forth as simply a ‘right’ that can not be denied, growing medical evidence underscores why our legislative process must fully understand there is far more smoke than substance to the idea that one should be able to smoke a reefer anytime the mood strikes.  There is a massive difference between polling questions of the general populace, real politics, and then the crafting of thoughtful health policy.

I believe being candid at the start of this post is required, as I oppose the legalization of pot, other than for those who can benefit from it for strictly regulated medical purposes. That places me, obviously, in a minority on this topic. People can make all sorts of arguments about how some places have legalized marijuana and how pot smoking is so widespread there is no more shame about it, or reason not to do it in public.  To counter the argument that we should just open the gates further to pot smoking is growing evidence to support why young minds still forming should not have drugs curtailing a full and normal growing period. There is evidence to show that pot smoking makes users less attentive, slows learning, alters decision-making, and decreases memory.  But we also know that heavy marijuana use in a teenage body or even early adulthood has been associated with poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased welfare dependency, and greater unemployment.

The health consequences of smoking pot are being expressed by a growing number of health professionals. One of those doctors, Andrew Salner, is the medical director of the Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute.

“Smoking marijuana definitely increases the risk of lung disease,” says Dr. Salner. “We know it can cause emphysema and chronic bronchitis.” That’s because when you burn marijuana it creates many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke. Of course, those chemicals can wreak havoc on delicate lung tissue.   

In fact, a 2022 Canadian study showed that smoking marijuana causes similar, if not more, damage to the lungs as smoking conventional cigarettes.

Politico reported this week on both growing health concerns related to pot smoking and the realization from the pro-Cannabis Caucus that congressional action is needed.

The researchers found that from 2011 to 2019, teenagers in states that legalized recreational cannabis saw a “slight” uptick in asthma rates in kids ages 12 to 17 compared with states in which cannabis remained illegal. The team, from the City University of New York, Columbia University, the University of California San Diego and others, also found an increase in asthma among children in some racial and ethnic groups.

Renee Goodwin, an adjunct associate professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, said it could be a sign of the downstream effects of legalization. Parents could be smoking more in the home, exposing kids to second-hand smoke, she said.

Even some of those most supportive of legalization, such as the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), are calling for more regulation and better oversight.

“One of the reasons I have fought so hard to be able to legalize, regulate and tax is because I want to keep this out of the hands of young people. It has proven negative consequences for the developing mind,” said Blumenauer, Capitol Hill’s unofficial cannabis czar.

Last year, he and Joyce teamed on legislation, since enacted, to ease federal restrictions on researching cannabis for medical purposes and on growing marijuana for research. That could significantly improve understanding of the drug. They’re now talking about standards on dosing, mandates for childproof containers for edibles, and advertising restrictions aimed at protecting children. They’re also concerned about high potency cannabis and its effects.

The article connected with something I witness repeatedly, from early spring to late fall, as I drive my little convertible around Madison. The prevalence of smoking pot while driving is simply stunning.  At stop lights, the smell of pot drifting from cars alerts me to how many impaired drivers are on the streets.   

Marijuana legalization also coincides with an increase in driving-while-high.The percentage of driving deaths involving cannabis has more than doubled from 2000 to 2018, according to a 2021 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

I recall the accurate and pithy statement former California Governor Jerry Brown made in 2014 about the rush to allow pot smoking in the nation. His words still echo today. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.” I well understand the societal winds that blow and the ease of being carried along with the prevailing gusts. The growing medical evidence encourages us, however, to hold onto common sense and reason. Congress must heed that evidence.