Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Student Over There--Letter 48

Dear Governor Ducey, 

I have a student who got into an excellent master’s program. One of the best in the country. While she and I were exchanging emails back and forth about tuition and cost of living, she told me she’d graduated undergrad with no debt. She also said her parent’s small business could make a small job available to her to help pay cost of living. The master’s program wouldn’t be free with her aid package, but she’d get about half of her tuition covered. It was a steal at any price, I thought, because this master’s program is one of the best and the faculty there are mind-benders. And, half the tuition is manageable, like the tuition at her undergrad.

She doesn’t have any ‘extra’ money. She isn’t a trust fund baby. She worked through school. She double-majored. She has true talent—by which I mean she has great curiosity, mind-bending insight, is willing read every thing she can get her hands on and has designed a strategy for how to make her work meaningful.

I wonder if she would still be able to do it, with this next batch of budget cuts. Could she double major or would she have to get a second job to pay for increased tuition? Would she have sought out grad classes if she could get out of undergrad more quickly? Would she have spent time in her professors’ offices if they were so enbusied with admin work and other classes that they could only give her a half hour of their time? Would she have emailed those profs at 3 a.m.? Would she have received my colleague’s and my guidance if we didn’t have time to check out master’s programs with her? To help her apply?

She’s a star student, an overachiever that has well-achieved and, because she had seen her fellow students receive guidance from their professors, heard of her fellow students taking grad classes, asked us what to read beyond course assignments, seen us in our offices to see if we’d read just one more thing, she knew there was a path to overachiever-hood. But what if there are no fellow students to follow her path, even around long enough to see it, when the budget cuts take full effect. The students work too much. The professors aren’t as available. No one goes to readings anymore, or meets after class because they’re all rushing off to their next class so they can get more done with less so much so that there’s nothing left for the students who would give anything for a little more and who would take that little more to a big program and say to that big program, I got that more, there.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Protest--Letter #47

Dear Governor Ducey, 

I’m reading James Baldwin’s as the protestors demonstrate in Baltimore. Some say the violence sets the cause back. Some say the people of the neighborhoods should police themselves better, then the police won’t get involved. Some say this is just the way things are. Some say this is the way things have always been, we just see it more now because of social media. Some say the media turns a blind eye but the COO of the Orioles doesn’t turn a blind eye. He says, you can’t say what happened in a night means one single thing at all. Look at the past forty years. Jobs sent over seas. Education budgets slashed. Everyone waiting for the trickle to trickle down but the only thing that trickles is rain and bullets from the police. An economic policy, the same one you subscribe to, has destroyed an entire city. Baldwin writes, “One can be—indeed, one must strive to become--tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of war; remember, I said most of mankind, but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” Most of us are authors of some kind of devastation, or have inherited the riches of that made devastation. Devastation. Decimation. Some say the protestors are only hurting themselves, but what is there to decimate when all has been already devastated. When one is devastated. To live in permanent devastation is to live under a heavy blanket, the kind they lay upon you when they take x-rays of your teeth. To take off that blanket and stand up must be a great thing. It’s hard to blame you if, by stretching your arms, when you knock over the dentist’s lights, or the tray of implements, or step on the dentist’s toes.
            Decimation. I’m glad, like any politician or any policy, it’s not permanent. The morning after the protests turned incendiary, a woman with a broom swept up the sidewalk in front of the CVS that was burned.  “It’s not right,” was her remark, meant locally, understood globally. The same people who live in the devastation are the ones who clean it up. Everyone needs a broom. Some of us call it education. Some of us call it a job but the broom is, if nothing else, a vote.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Installation--Letter #46

Dear Governor Ducey,
I almost met you today. You walked right by me. I met your security guards, at least. The sad thing was, after your speech, you had to leave. And I had hoped that you would stay to hear the other speeches about vision for the university and faith in our education system. But you are a busy man and you had to go after your talk. Still, I can send you the poem I hoped you would hear that I wrote for the new university president. Maybe you'll hear it one day.


The Ponderosa Pine is an excellent tree.
It’s a smart one. Patient for rain,
resistant to quiet, low intensity

fire.  It has arranged
to love the snow,
to buffer wind, to make

in its trunk a big home
for a small Abert squirrel
and partner the oak,

so the squirrel will
have something to eat.
We show similar skill.

It was here that the rings
Tom Kolb counted in the tree
showed how Ponderosas dream

of fire. They want space between.
A too near fellow Ponderosa
can mean a devastating rather than a healing

fire. After wildfire, finds Carol Chambers, a
brown bat is necessary to rehabilitate
the place. Bees and Mariposa

can’t do it alone. Bob Neustadt
knows it takes as much Spanish
as English to convince the great

butterfly the border is only a bush,
burning. Nancy Wonders writes
that borders work to establish

authority in weakened states.
Her daughter, Brooke, NAU BA
and MA, onto Chicago PhD, now creates

her own stories about borders and way-
ward boyfriends as a nonfiction writer
and prof at Northern Iowa. We northern A’s

like to stick together. Nancy Johnson finds
how mycorrhizae might tie carbon into their hairs,
sinking it into soil? Maybe. While she aligns

plants with fungus, Rich Hofstetter discovers
a kind of fungus that keeps bark beetles at bay.
From root to canopy, the researchers

weave what they know with what they
need: A way to live better in the middle of a forest
in the middle of a city in the middle of a dry-

ing climate. Some say the idea of the west
is already over.  But I don’t think so.
Here, the students are on a quest

to design a clean burning stove
and an efficient solar powered water heater
and to write philosophies that show

the correlation between clean water
and planet health. And personal health.
And the histories of the Navajo potter

and the future of the Hopi health
care worker and David Williams student’s woodcut
of a healthy forest that shows what real wealth

means. These are just some of the names I know.
Like the trees, we work to resist fire.
We need a little space to grow.

Counting the needles, let alone each cell
would take forever but that’s the so
what of an excellent wood. Each needle,

bark droplet, every mycelia falls and balances, teeters
and supports, bends in the wind but doesn’t
break. At the most triangular top

it looks perfect. A shiny and bright green
arrow to the sun.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Picnic! Letter 45

Dear Governor Ducey, 
Since we were staining the garden box anyway, we decided to stain the picnic table. The picnic table had been here since we moved in, left behind by the previous owners. It sits on our back patio and we don’t even cover it up in the winter. It’s just a picnic table. But, we had a lot of stain and the table was looking gray and the kids go outside and draw on it and we do actually sit on it to eat dinner sometimes in the summer so why not stain it?
Max and Zoe and I did.
It looks beautiful now. It needs two screws in one of the benches but now it shines with like old redwood that has weathered and then stained shines.
I promise to stain it every year, if it will sustain it.

It makes me want to invite you to my class. To see my students. Maybe you could even enroll in a class. There’s something to be said for taking ownership of something. I thought that picnic table was just a cheap leftover, something taking up space. But when I stained it. It became mine and now I wouldn’t give it away for all the money in the world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tonight--Letter 44

Dear Governor Ducey,
I just got back from seeing Drive-by Truckers at the Orpheum. It was excellent. Sometimes, I think you should go out and see a show.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The World’s Most Expensive Tomato, redux or, Yet another Metaphor for Education letter #43

Dear Governor Ducey,

It took me a year to convince him but finally Erik decided it was a good idea to build a garden box. We live in Flagstaff where the dirt is made out of rocks and volcanoes and where the deer, if you manage to get a green plant to grow out of your volcano, eat the fruits of that green plant. So Erik is building a garden box with a mesh fence and a door and it’s very made out of redwood which, though sustainably harvested, probably cuts into the do-goodingness of growing your own vegetables. Plus, I’m still remembering the guy on that Podcast I told you about, the one by Scott Carrier about the end of the world, and how you need an acre to feed a family of four and anyway, as the food supplies run out, you’ll also need a gun, this box is only five feet by ten feet and although I’m not a farmer, I’m pretty sure 50 square feet is not an acre.

Still. The box is very attractive and I have high hopes to plant peas and swiss chard, tomatoes and carrots. Maybe some spinach. Potatoes? I don’t know. It’s Flagstaff and therefore cold at night until May and sometimes it snows in July but with global warming, I think I might be able to pull a tomato out of this imported dirt.

This imported dirt is different dirt than the rock dirt. This dirt we bought from the store. It’s organic and smells like shit, purposefully. It cost $7 for 3 cubic feet of dirt. We need 33 bags of it. The garden box is 2 feet tall (100 cubic feet in the end. We need 33 bags of dirt for a total of $231. The sustainably grown redwood costs $10 a plank. We bought 24 of them. $240. 4 four by fours at $15 each=$60. Wire mesh: $28.47. Hinges: I don’t know. Erik’s still at the store buying those. The box costs about $560 which is more than the swing set we bought which is also made out of sustainably harvested redwood and from which I still have some stain in my hair to match the new stain in my hair from staining the garden box. We haven’t bought the seeds yet although at this rate, we’ll have to buy starter plants since the season is getting late.

Still, it seems worth it, this planting plan. It wasn’t super cheap but it didn’t cost as much as a car or a house and every year we should get some of our money back by not buying all our vegetables at the store. In the cost benefit analysis, putting some money in at the beginning, you reap the benefits for the rest of your days. If I could make explicit the metaphor then: state-supported tomatoes versus unimproved dirt. You cannot eat dirt. You cannot improve an economy without education.