Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Riverside: First Group of Fall 2009

It's that time of semester when we are back in Riverside. Today was a beautiful sunny fall day and the first group did their intervention in Riverside. As they usually are, they were a little worried about how it would go; they should not have been, but more on that later.

Today's intervention was about safety: fire, police, and Halloween safety. When to call 911, how to deal with a fire, and how to be safe on Halloween. Our favorite was when one of the social work student's asked, "Why should we know about safety?" and the child said, "Duh, so you can stay alive?"

Here is Firefighter Dr. Suz, ready to rush to the rescue.
Octavia and Susan model some of the masks for the children's Halloween goodie bags.
Policewoman Annie discusses when to call 911.
All in all, a terrific day! We had over 40 children--our largest group ever. Many parents were present today as well as there are new residents in the community. It was great to see the kids and parents with whom we have been working for the past three years, and even greater to meet new parents and new children. Many of the children who know me came to give hugs and say "hello, Dr. Allen, we have missed you." I met the newest police officer who replaced my old friend Greg, whose grandmother is my neighbor. It was wonderful to be able to say we would see them again next Monday, and that we would be back two more times after Monday.

It is impossible for the social work students to know how much of an impact they have on this community as they usually only see it once. But having been there for the last 3 years going on 4, I know what a difference we have made. I believe with all my heart that these kids will remember us and that we cared enough to spend our time with them, teaching, mentoring, tutoring, playing, encouraging, and just being present with them.

As I was leaving today, I met Stacy and her 3 daughters coming home. I stopped and said I was sorry they had missed us, but we would be back Monday. It meant so much to me that the 3 daughters all waved, said hello, and smiled to see me. I feel the same way about them. Stacy has been one of the mothers who has supported us and worked with us since we began. Even though her two older daughters have outgrown us, and her youngest is in an after-school program, Stacy has continued to value the work we do and to encourage us for what it means for the children.

As I usually am, I was impressed with the social work students and the outcome they produced. The program went seamlessly, due to their many hours of planning. They worked together and supported each other. I would declare it a great success for a number of reasons. The children loved it, and kept coming back and going station to station. They hung out to play in the area. More and more children kept coming as the afternoon went on--new families and younger children than we have had before. Most impressive, all the mothers and grandmothers who came out to see what was happening, and help their children complete activities.

I confess, it meant a lot to me to be able to say "We are from social work at Ole Miss, and we have been coming out here several times a semester for 3 years."

So once again, I am gratified at the outcome the students produced. It is hard work, and I was certainly exhausted after the two hours, but once again, proud that these students will soon be my colleagues as social work professionals in Mississippi, committed to making a difference in this state.

Rex enjoyed chewing on Mr. Squirrel after dinner while I relaxed; Randy is safe at his dad's in Texas, and Happy Birthday to Jimmy W from both my classes today. It has been a great day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If it's Tuesday and raining, I must be in Tupelo

It has rained every Tuesday that I have had to travel to Tupelo this semester, so today was no exception. As I headed home this afternoon, I pulled up behind an old lug-wheel tractor. I have no idea how old it really is, except as a child, I remember seeing signs on farm-to-market roads that said "No Lug Wheels."' My grandmother explained about tractors with lug wheels, though I am not sure I totally understood it at the time as I had never seen one. Even then (in the 1950s), my grandparents' tractors all had tires.
It was so dark and foggy that this is what it really looked like before I cleaned up the photo enough to show the lugs. I have actually seen a number of lug wheel tractors in the fields of Mississippi since being here. I do not know if it is because Mississippi has a particular fondness for antique tractors, cannot afford tires, or if possibly all the wet, clay-filled soil is easier traversed with lugs than tires.

I had two students waiting when I arrived at the Tupelo campus this morning, and from 11 until 1, it was non-stop. I have come to admire this group of students and their dedication to mastering the art and science of research writing. The more I teach this class, the more I learn about teaching writing, and the greater my passion becomes to reach a level of proficiency in it that enables me to develop better approaches to teaching it.

My former dean, the late Dr. Lawrence Clayton of Hardin-Simmons University, once said to me of his writing, "I just re-write it until I cannot think of anything else to do to it." Lawrence was the first person I knew who edited and re-edited his work dozens of times before he declared it finished. I learned a lot from him; we worked together on a manuscript a time or two, and often, he would send me a newly re-edited draft before I had even finished reading the last draft he had sent. I think that is where I learned the tremendous amount of patience one must develop in order to be a successful writer. Because Lawrence had many publications--ranging from books to journal articles--to his credit, he was obviously considered a successful writer. When Lawrence was terminally ill and had only a short time left to live, his focus was completing the editing of his last book so that it could be published after his death--"a scholar until the end" as was said at his eulogy.

From Lawrence I learned not only to be critical of the manuscript and to relentlessly seek to improve it, hear criticism of it even when it hurt my pride, and then to work even harder to have it be something worthwhile, I also learned the importance of encouragement and being kind during those struggles. When he helped me to edit a manuscript, he was relentless with his red pen and the need to make a section clearer, better phrased, more accurately cited, or with better grammar and punctuation. (What else would one expect of an English professor?) He never let me slide on my mistakes in writing. But beyond that, Lawrence encouraged me. He praised the things I did well, the words that flowed and suited the purpose. He urged me to keep on, even though it was hard and there were times when I did not want to keep on. Above all, he let me know he believed in me and my ability to master good writing, and that he was there to help me when I faltered.

I have learned something very valuable this semester in regard to not only teaching writing, but the whole idea of mentoring and tutoring, and why it is so important in the development of not only skills, but belief in one's self. In the language of psychosocial theory, it is about the development of competency. Frankly, I am pretty sure at the beginning of this "on-line" class that the majority of the students thought I was a cruel and heartless person. I had tried to clarify and send emails and post new instructions and answer phone calls to respond to questions. Finally, I decided to just travel the hour to Tupelo and meet with students who had questions or concerns. I do not know how much difference that first meeting made, but my intent was to assure them that I knew it was difficult on-line, and that I would work with them to master the material, whatever it took.

I began to return assignments with my notations or comments, and ask them to correct, revise, and resubmit. With some students, it took one revision; with some, it took 3 or 4. What I began to see was that eventually, the student was able to get it: to master the objective. After all, was not that the intention of the class? I had a colleague many years ago who taught a social work class on policy. She once said that she did not allow her students to take the next exam until they had passed the previous exam, no matter how many times it took. Her goal was mastery. When my goal in this class became mastery: re-do it until you get it at least at a minimally acceptable level, i. e., 70 or better, I saw a difference in my attitude as well as that of the students. I told them that if they were willing to continue to revise and resubmit, that I would work with them until they figured it out. They have done that.

Today, I noticed that it is a much different conversation than the ones I had at the beginning of the semester. They can interact in a higher level, make connections at a higher level, and most importantly, seem to understand the connection between writing and thinking like a social worker. They are beginning to connect the dots.

I left Tupelo inspired, full of even more ideas for how I want to teach this class the next time, re-committed to the importance of teaching critical thinking. It has not been without its costs. I have spent far more hours each week on a "1-hour" course than I have on my 3-hour courses. I have traveled to Tupelo and to DeSoto to meet with students face-to-face who are enrolled in an on-line course. Those trips are at my own expense, unreimbursed by the University. It is 2 hours of drive time per trip, not to mention the cost of fuel and food. Because of what I have learned doing them and how I believe it makes me a better instructor for this course, I am not only willing to encumber that time and expense, I am glad I have done so.

Every once in a while, there are just moments when something seems so right, so connected to the purpose of my mission in this world that it makes me inexplicably happy. Today was one of those days.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Memphis Run, Ole Miss runs away with the game, and the China might-be run.

Yesterday was a Memphis dog food run day. It was a beautiful 60+ day with full sunshine as we loaded Kate and headed out at noon. (Yes, we wasted half the morning sleeping late, but it was a rare occasion around here.) Kate, being the Princess as well as the socialized dog, got to go with us. Petco lets you bring your dog in on a leash so it is a fun trip for her.

After Kate and Libby's last run-in, her wounds have begun to heal with white hair instead of black. She now has a very noticeable X on the side of her face.
It was such a beautiful day, we opened the sun-roof, which peaked Kate's curiosity to no end...for all of 2 minutes. Then she moved to the back and laid down on her pillow. We drove through Mickey D's for lunch on the way, and she patiently waited until the end of the meal, knowing her reward for staying out of the food and our face is coming. She daintily ate her chicken nugget and the last bite of Randy's burger, and then curled up for her nap.

It was adoption day at our newest Petco--which is conveniently located right on the edge of town on our road, and now we don't have to go all the way in unless we need something else in that part of town. Dogs and cats were all over the place and Kate gets so excited about meeting new company. A few nose sniffs of dogs (she shows no reaction to cats) and then we did our shopping. At the treat bar, she decided to paws up to the counter and look for her own treat. I made her get down, so the employee there took a cookie out and gave it to her. See why she is so spoiled?

I spied a white kitten with one blue eye and one green eye and fell in love on the spot. I miss my cat since Killer died this summer, and have thought about adopting another one. I forced myself to move on though, as 4 dogs is enough to take care of at the moment. Rex has finally stopped searching for Killer in all her favorite hiding spots when he goes outside now.

We finished up our day with a quick stop at Fresh Market--my favorite organic and natural foods store. I picked up chicken cordon bleu, la venezia, and parmesan for our dinner (we all like different things), a fresh sourdough boule, and some pasta and tomato basil for a quick easy meal when we got home. Fresh Market carries both Patsy's and Rao's, which are two of my favorites. Leaf tea, Heath cookies, and I was ready to roll. My phone went off, and it was Randy from the car saying Kate asked for a bottled water and he would like a diet coke. I splurged the $2.49 for a bottle of Republic of Tea Ginger Peach (it is not sweetened, so it is my favorite) and we loaded up yet more goodies for Kate to leave alone.

One more stop for lottery tickets--my friend had asked me to pick up a couple for her. She said if she won, she was not coming back to work! It has indeed been a tough week with several crises to be dealt with--student melt-downs, placement issues, inappropriate student conduct--all on top of the currently very heavy work load for all of us as we prepare for the next step in accrediting the Masters program and deal with our expanding student enrollment, the next 5 year plan, and all the countless other things that seem to keep adding themselves to our plate. She and I both are teaching overloads this fall. I thought I might as well, so got two tickets for myself as well.

Lots of football traffic on the way home from Memphis as Ole Miss played Arkansas Saturday. Randy taped the game, so we watched it after we returned home. The Rebels routed the hogs to take a win, as Coach Houston Nutt--formerly the Arkansas coach--beat the Razorbacks for the second time since moving from Arkansas to Ole Miss. Four of the students in my classes play so I have to watch for them. The awesome Ole Miss defense is known at the Landshark this year--due to their outstanding performance, and all the defense wear bracelets that say Landshark. Monday, one of the players from my class brought one for me, much to Randy's jealousy as he has wanted one. They are not available for the public, just the team has them, but I told Randy I might let him borrow mine sometime.

It's going to be another beautiful day here, with temps all the way to 72 today, but alas, I must grade papers and prepare for next week since I took off yesterday. On a final note, on Thursday I will get to attend a meeting with our International Institute to meet with people from a Chinese University. They are interested in developing some programs and want to coordinate that with Ole Miss. One of the programs is social work, so if the partnership is agreed upon, I will have the opportunity to travel to China to help set up the curriculum and program and guest teach. Now that will be an experience I will look forward to.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Monday...it's Japanese take out night

Every Monday, I love to watch my favorite comedies: Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and Two and a Half Men. (Yeah, I know, right now Accidentally on Purpose is sandwiched in there, but I predict it will not be for long. As much as I loved Jenna Elfman in Dharma and Greg, I cannot say I am all that impressed with anything she has done since then. Last week's episode had a few funny moments, so perhaps there is hope unless they get cancelled first.)

It is half-baked that in Big Bang Theory, they have a routine for every day--you know, what they eat, where they sit, etc. There is a particular Asian take-out (is it Panda Palace?) that is the every Monday dinner. Just mention something out of the routine and watch Sheldon go ballistic.

I fear I am channeling Sheldon. I have become accustomed to my Monday night routine of sitcoms and JTO. It means I do NOT have to go the the grocery store after a grueling Monday of non-stop 6 am arising until 5:30 getting home--usually with no time for lunch unless it is a quick cup of yogurt or cottage cheese because I have a noon class and a 1 pm class. I know I am sinking into sit-com comfy land when I walked in the door tonight and said to Rand, who was already parked in front of the computer playing games by the time I got home from work--"It's Monday; it must be Japanese take-out night." Worse than that, we (and the dogs) each have our "spots" in the living room. "Why are you in my spot? Kate, move!"

Thank goodness tomorrow is Tuesday...and my routine is sleep til 7:30...on the computer til 9:30....etc. Yep, I have become a creature of habit and it messes with my mind with you mess with my routine. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gallery of Writing - Culture, Place, and Social Justice

I am participating in the National Writing Gallery. If you are interested in submitting a piece for our gallery, please contact me!

Gallery of Writing - Culture, Place, and Social Justice

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bobby Seale: Co-founder of the Black Panther Party

This man could pass for a preacher, or someone's grandfather. Seeing him now, most people would not think they were looking at the "radical" who co-founded the Black Panther Party in the 60s. When I walked into the ballroom at the Inn of Ole Miss tonight at 6 p.m., had I not just looked at his website minutes before, I would not have known him either.

I sat down next to the daughter of my friend and colleague, who was meeting me for the lecture. "Is your mother still coming?" I asked. Yes, she was looking for a parking place. While we waited, Jonlyn asked, "So can I ask you a question?" Jonlyn and her mother are African American. She continued, "Knowing you were living through this when it was happening, what did you think then, and what do you think about this now?"

I shared my story: When I first heard of the Black Panthers I was in high school. Like most whites, I was afraid of them. We were told they would kill us all, and that we were in danger from them. I would know nothing different about them until I began my graduate work on my PhD in 1994. In one of my classes, I had to do some research that led me to one of Manning Marable's books. Marable talked about the inner city programs established by the Black Panther Party--including free breakfast programs, tutoring programs, and community and neighborhood organizing for fair housing, protection from police brutality, and others. It was a story I had never heard, never read, never been told. Curious, I began to do further research about the Black Panther Party and discovered "Gun Barrel Politics" which was a congressional report of the investigation into BPP issues. From the congressional inquiry of our own government, I would learn that the FBI had created a counterintelligence program called Cointelpro, and broken laws and violated civil and legal rights in so doing. It concluded the FBI was in error. That led to more research on my part. How could this be? Didn't the FBI kill "those people" because they were a danger to us?

I read The Cointelpro Papers and was once again astonished. To summarize a long, sordid program in a few words, the FBI used the media to convince the public that the BPP were a danger in order for us to accept and condone their murders at the hands of the FBI, whilst they were "protecting" us from these criminals. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Fast forward to 2009, and a 72 year old Bobby Seale is at the University of Mississippi in a still racist South talking about co-founding the Black Panther Party and his opinion of whether the grassroots organizing style of the 60s is still relevant in today's world.

Mr. Seale was welcomed by Dr. Donald Cole, pictured in the black suit. Dr. Cole, now an assistant vice-president at the university, was a rebel back in the day as well. Dr. Cole was expelled from the university for his organizing for civil rights. Now he is among its top administration--and still a bit of a rebel as far as I can discern. Robert Reece, the young man in the light suit, is president of the UM NAACP and a senior sociology major. Apparently, his efforts to bring Mr. Seale to campus were the brain and muscle behind this happening, though many worked to bring it about.
As Mr. Seale began, he said that there were only 2 states in the Union to which he had not been invited nor spoken: Hawaii and Alaska. He added, until 3 days ago, it had been Mississippi, Alaska, and Hawaii. He must have recognized the significance of being invited not only to Mississippi, but to the University of Mississippi.

Mr. Seale is a dynamic and fascinating speaker. Part preacher, part comic, part historian, part radical, part organizer, he was entertaining, poignant, inspiring, and empowering. He shared his early life experiences that led him to despise bullies and desire equality and fair treatment, from the childhood bully to whom he stood up to his days in the Air Force until discharged for standing up to racism, his education and introduction into the African history that was a part of his history he had not known about, and how that led to his political community organizing. He shared his rage and sadness at the loss of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King. After the death of King, he contacted a colleague--Huey Newton--and said they had to form a new organization. The 10 point platform of the Black Panther Party was the result.

That was not the only thing Mr. Seale did in his life. He had been working in the community for the government, in community programs for inner city youth. He has continued to do that post-BPP. What he did tonight was to help young people understand a little more about the African roots of their own history, and to understand the context in which he and the other members of the BPP organized--in self-defense.
When he ended, Mr. Seale reiterated that the style of organizing of the 60s is not needed today. Technology is the gun barrel of today; he does not advocate for guns, nor see them as appropriate. The video camera, the cell phone, the technology of the Internet is what promotes organizing and education and self-defense today. He is still a devout believer in the importance and necessity of political and community organizing at the grass roots level. In closing, he said that the human genome project indicated there is less than 1% difference among us as to our biological make up. Hair color, eyes, skin color are all the tiny little surface.

But our humanity is what holds the key to bring us together and to change our world into one of fairness. My friend and colleague reached for my hand and I turned to her to see tears in her eyes.

October is the rainiest month, not April

It has been another week of non-stop raining--the pouring, the blinding, the drizzle, the sprinkle, the off-and-on, the light mist, the deluge--you name the type, and we have seen it this week. Some thunderstorms and wind, so limbs are lying all over the place. My yard is the sponge again, but at full absorption, so no more room left to absorb. The water runs out of the hill constantly and I sink about two inches with each step down to fill the bird feeders. It is raining again right now, and I am watching it bounce off the flowers just outside my window.
Earlier in the week, Rex's "there's a deer in the front yard" bark sent me to the window. This is our first glimpse of the little guy who arrived in our woods this past season. The following day, he was out with his mother, snacking on the corn. I feed them, hoping it will keep them from knocking over the feeders to spill the seed. It has had limited success.

Last evening as I sat on the porch for a glass of wine, two deer were arguing over the feed. It was interesting to see them interacting. One was slightly larger and was nibbling on the corn when the second one wandered over They usually share and it is not uncommon to see 3 of them out there. I always put out two piles of food to help accommodate my dinner guests. For some reason, the larger one decided it was all his or hers, and would run the other deer off by charging it when it approached the second pile of food. (Led me to surmise they were both male, though there were no obvious antler buds, like on my little buck who has also been visiting regularly this fall.)

On a related note, apparently the deer population is out of control in the city, and they passed an ordinance to allow people to shoot deer in the city limits. That created quite an uproar (as it should have) as people were visualizing folks roaming around like some kind of deer vigilante committee, shooting deer next to where your children might be playing. What were those folks thinking? The council defended itself by saying it did not intend it to be "open hunting" where anyone could shoot a deer anywhere, but that just wasn't very clear. I should use that as a policy analysis in my Policy class when we discuss "unintended consequences" of policy decisions.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The National Day of Writing Blog-a-thon

I have entered our University's Blog-a-thon. There are 29 of us for the moment. All the entries will be submitted to the National Gallery of Writing. Anyone interested in forming a local gallery and submitting our work?

More information:
Take Part in the National Day on Writing - http://www.ncte.org/forward.aspx?ref=f7f16d9d-d22e-49f3-8fcd-82714a4715b5 <http://www.ncte.org/forward.aspx?ref=f7f16d9d-d22e-49f3-8fcd-82714a4715b5>

The National Day on Writing will take place on October 20, 2009. Be sure to submit your contribution to the National Gallery of Writing!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tea, bagels, rain, and winter's on the way

It is a chilly 57 here this morning, and raining non-stop. I had to put on a robe this morning for the first time since last winter.

I spent yesterday beginning the task of cleaning out family heirlooms I am passing on to my nieces and cousin, and also others of the vintage items I have collected over the years. My son has no interest in them and Randy does not really know what is what. I am getting less inclined over the years to use them--our place is so small that we rarely eat at the table any more, so I don't use the dishes like I used to. We don't entertain here like we did in Texas either, so it just seemed like a good idea as I am trying to continue to simplify my life. One of my nieces already collects vintage dishes, plus is very keen on the family history and keepsakes. It seemed to make sense to let them enjoy them now rather than collect more of the endless dust that is part and parcel of this house.

I cleaned the teapot that my great-grandmother gave to my mother for Christmas the year before my sister was born. It is one of the items I do not plan to pass on just yet as I still make a pot of tea. Grandmother Timmons collected Lipton tea coupons and purchased the tea pot with them. That was 1947. The white collar under the lid is the infuser as leaf tea was the norm. I still make leaf tea unless I want the convenience of making just a single cup. I learned not long ago that the tea bag was originally a muslin bag to hold samples of tea. It was not a far leap before someone dunked it in the hot water bag and all.

There is just something about the ritual of making--and drinking--tea that I cherish. I have a small collection of tea pots, numerous single cups, and several sets of cups and saucers. On weekend days when there is more time, it is peaceful to select a pot and cup, measure out Chinese oolong, Indian darjeeling, Irish breakfast, or Indian assam--some of my favorites--and enter a different world.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

One bird, two bird, three bird and rain is coming

Yesterday was another beautiful, sunny, cool fall day--my very favorite time of year. I have a new feeder inside Libby's kennel. I had missed being able to look out my window and see the birds feeding. It took only a couple of days after hanging it for them to discover it.
"Hey, guys, look what I found!" Word spread quickly...
"I like this new cafe...it's not as crowed as the usual spots."

"Got room for one more?"

Another surprise: last spring I bought daisies and the day after I put them out, we had a major storm that beat all the blossoms completely off the stems. I was surprised to look out yesterday and spot they had rebloomed!

It will be our last day of sunshine for another week though...rain coming tonight and all week next week. :(