Friday, September 25, 2015

Letter #61--Julia Child

Dear Governor Ducey,

Julia Child never said ‘no.’ If you called her to ask her for a recipe, she’d recite it for you, clarifying what she meant by medium heat and the size of pinch of salt. If you lived close enough, she might come over to help you make it.  If you asked her if your second cousin could join the dinner party she was hosting, she said yes. If you asked her to appear on your radio show, she said yes. Your TV Show. Blurb your cookbook. Bring the dessert, she said yes, yes, yes.

I admit I was getting a feeling a little overtaxed and begrudging about the conference I’m hosting in October during my sabbatical last semester. I really did not want to send emails about tote bags or find out NAU takes 8% off all funds raised while I was supposed to be researching and writing a new and exciting book. Zoe has a friend whose parents took both their kids to spend their sabbatical year in New Zealand. As I called the conference center to see if I could reserve a projector for a panel, I felt like I had failed sabbatical.

But sabbaticals can’t be failure. So few people get such a thing. I am lucky I even had a sabbatical to call mine. There is no way I could have pulled off the conference with my regular teaching and admin role.
So I decided to be Julia Child. I decided to say yes and to chuckle a big belly Julia Child laugh when I got emails about the budget numbers and how we might not be able to pull off the hosting the event at the conference center. Instead of having a panic attic wondering how I’d remember all these things, if someone wanted a projector, I said ‘Yes’ and put it on a list in Google Drive. If someone wanted to host an offsite event. Yes. If someone wanted an easel or a walking microphone. Yes, happy, yes, if someone wanted to change the time and date of their panel, yes, because no one forced me to host this conference, and really, instead of staring at my email box and getting nothing, now I get emails about how the conference attendees can offer their books at the conference. I found a new bookstore with the coming-guests. Now I have a bookstore owning friend and some friends with books to sell.  It got easier instead of harder. Saying yes, although we are cautioned, as young, female faculty that we will be asked to do too much and that it is in our nature to say yes so we should instead say no, it still got easier. It’s so much more work to say ‘no,’ especially when all you need to say ‘yes’ is to play a short You Tube of Julia Child grinding pepper and access to Google Drive.

Today was a great Julia Child kind of day. I made a list of acknowledgments, which made me feel grateful. I made a spreadsheet on G-drive that volunteers could access and sign up for what events they could cover. That made me feel tech-clever and also grateful to the volunteers. I sent a list of keynote speaker books to order from the bookstore which made me feel in awe of our guests writers and grateful to the bookstore to handle this part for me. I called the hotel to see how many rooms we had left in our block. I emailed the conference center to see where panelists could pick up their box lunches.  I emailed my co-coordinator who emailed me back to say, how else can I help? And, she too, said, “this is going to be fun” and she and I will be glad we said yes together when we do this thing five weeks from yesterday and in five weeks from Sunday when it’s all over. I added up registrants and sponsors. I connected the off-site event organizers with the offsite manager and made a page of offsite events for the program. Onsite events and offsite events. There are 3.5 days of nonstop events. So many people are coming to support us. 400 participants. Grateful? Yes. I emailed presses about the book fair to make sure they were on track. I checked the map my students made (thanks, Sonya Huber!) of Flagstaff which has been, for me, the most fun part of all this yes saying. There’s a lot of stuff to do when you say yes but also a lot of stuff to add to the available universe and there is evidence of all this work on the Google drive if not at the bookstore in book form.

Today, ABOR met to discuss the future. There was much glad-handing and approval. The good university president’s got bonuses. They approved programs and deleted programs. They probably did not proofread programs but I guess they also asked the state to restore university funding which makes me think that yes (and Google Drive) are good things and that I think you would make an excellent Julia Child.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Puente de Hozho Visit--Letter #60

Dear Governor Ducey,

Today you visit my daughter's school. I would like to pretend it is because I am a gadfly in the ointment of your governorship, but I presume it is really because the principal at Puente was invited to the White House to speak about bilingual education. It may also because you made some comments about English as the official language or that bilingual schools are communist plots and now you feel badly and want to made amends. Each of those are nice ideas. I have to admit, I haven't been paying as much as attention to your governorship as I was right after the budget cuts. Maybe because if I stay quiet, you'll restore higher education budgets. Maybe because it was summer and no one was talking about schools. Maybe because one-sided conversations get old.

Either way, today you are big in my mind because you are going to my kids' school today to do your politics. I tried to convince my daughter Zoe, whose fifth grade class you are visiting, to ask you some hard-hitting questions, like why do you hate education, or why do you like prisons more than schools, or why do you hate us, Mr. Ducey? She just laughed at me and said "oh, mommy" like she did when I suggested we walk around the new Sportsman's Warehouse and run into people wearing camouflage and saying, "Oh, sorry. I didn't see you." Zoe's career as a guerrilla* activist/fool is not yet underway.

I wanted to come see you at the school since I haven't seen you since NAU's president installation, but I do not think I was invited. I imagine there will not be a lot of political protesters there. I don't think you'll take a lot of questions. I will have to wait until after band practice to find out how it went.

My hope is that you see what an excellent school this is. My hope is that you notice that the Spanish speaking kids and the English speaking kids and the Navajo kids are learning so fast and so much from each other. My son, Max, is starting Kindergarten. He has homework. Zoe has to read the homework to him because Kindergarten homework is already taxing my and Erik college-level Spanish. They say that bilingual education isn't just good for teaching people to speak many languages. Like learning math and music, it creates pathways in the brain that wouldn't be paved otherwise, leading to innovative thinking and creative problem solving and other business-buzzwords that business-as-best-model people like to use. The thinking is that bilingual students succeed in multiple arenas like math and science because they have already begun to learn to see problems as opportunities of translation and interpretation. Bilingual education has a spill-over effect.

Higher eduction has a spill over effect too. Today, in the New York Times, Adam Davidson write,
Higher education is a fascinating, complex business. Its pricing dynamics ripple throughout the rest of our economy, in effect determining who will thrive and who will fail. What’s more, the product of this particular industry is not just an end in itself. Education can have enormous personal benefits for those who acquire it, but it also has external benefits to the rest of society. Education exerts something of a multiplier effect; it transforms not only the lives of the educated but of those around them as well. Workers with more education are more productive, which makes companies more profitable and the overall economy grow faster. There are also significant noneconomic benefits. Educated populations tend to be healthier, more stable and more engaged in their civic institutions and democratic debate.
As the effects of learning Spanish spill beyond the direct benefit of speaking a second language, the effect on the well-being of the state go beyond the direct benefit of educating an individual. 

The economic thinking behind public-university cuts can be confusing. Studies have shown that cutting support for public education balances budgets only in the short term. In his book ‘‘Higher Learning, Greater Good,’’ Walter W. McMahon, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Illinois, showed that a postsecondary degree has a return on investment of roughly 15 percent a year, meaning that every $100 invested in education brings an additional $15 in income for every year of a person’s working life. This expands a state’s economy and generates enough tax revenue to more than pay back the initial outlay on education. Someone who graduates from a four-year institution earns about $1 million in additional future earnings.
It IS confusing to think that the present-moment education budget numbers do not translate to future beneficial spill over effects to you. You seem to be able to do that kind of math when you consider cutting taxes for business incentives: "If we cut taxes for them now, they will add money into our economy later." Why "if we put money into their education now, that person will repay us in tax revenue later" doesn't register into your calculus makes me question your accounting skills. Maybe if you had had the benefit of a bilingual education, you would be more successful with math.

*Side note--Usefulness of higher ed: Once, I had a student in a composition class write about the Sandanistas. I could tell she didn't do much research. She spelled "guerrilla" "gorilla." I'd like to think I helped make a difference in her life. Or at least her spelling.