My Kitchen Appliances Think I’m an Idiot

My kitchen appliances must have a pretty low opinion of us humans. They insist on beeping to telegraph their every action, no matter how mundane. I recently discovered how to silence my microwave. Hold the “2” button down for a few seconds. You’re welcome. Why is this a secret “hack” and not in the manual. I have not found such a solution for my air fryer (which I love and I’m not getting rid of, so don’t mention it). I even replaced a coffee maker that beeped so loud and so many times that it woke up the entire house. That’s a real problem for the one morning person living amongst a family of Saturday morning bedbadgers. It’s also, I realize, a giant red flag for affluenza. To my defense, I bought it used and donated it, so some other poor soul can torment their family with it.

My air fryer beeps when I plug it in. When I set the temperature, when I set the time, when I open the door, when I close the door, and then when it stops it beeps at least 5 long beeps that alert NORAD. And then just to further rub it in, it beeps when I open the door to get the food and when I close the door after I’ve gotten the food. I watched myself do each and every one of these acts. I know I did them. I don’t need to be told I did them.

That is where we are though isn’t it? It’s nearly impossible to hide from one’s opinions, acts, foibles, screw-ups, bigotry, racism, narcissism…

Did you really think this was about kitchen appliances? Maybe it is. I don’t know really.

We see your inane mouth noises spouting nonsense solutions of trip wires, turning schools into fortresses of doom, praying away the gunmen, armed teachers (please God no–there’s my hope and prayer), and whatever other beeps emanate from a minority of our population drowning out the rest of us who just want to go into public places without fear of being mowed down by a semi-automatic weapon housing seemingly endless rounds of ammunition. In Minnesota, if I hunt ducks, I’m limited to shotguns that can only hold three shells at a time. We’re willing to accept limits on our “arms” for killing waterfowl, but not humans I guess. And no one ever hunts with an AR-15.

We see and hear you. Every move you make, everything you say, no matter how inane, is forever immortalized on social media of some kind. Now, can we muster the political force to silence this beeping? We’re not idiots. Or maybe we are, because here we are.

For Walter

I want to tell you a little about one of my heroes, Walter Enloe. I first met Walter when I was one of the founding teachers for a project-based charter school back in 2003. Walter worked with EdVisions which granted startup money for project-based charter schools and was providing some expertise and support. Boy, did we need it.

I was immediately drawn to Walter. He could take over a room, not with exuberance, magnetism, or charisma (though not saying he didn’t have those qualities), but it was empathy and kindness that took over the room when Walter entered. After meeting Walter in that setting, I then had the good fortune to have Walter as one of my professors in the Hamline University doctoral program.

Much of who I am as a teacher is due to Walter’s influence.

From Walter I learned what it truly means to put the student at the center of teaching and learning. Walter treated every student as a colleague in learning and a friend. From his example, I learned the importance of teaching from a place of empathy. I’m forever grateful for that and I can only hope the teachers I’m training learn Walter’s lessons through me, at least as best I can pass them on to the next generation of teachers.

Walter wasn’t just a teacher, but also a writer and an artist. He brought all of that to his teaching. He shared that aspect of himself with his students which created the space for building meaningful relationships with his students, which is foundational to good teaching. By doing this he modeled, and then created space for his students to take risks, explore their world and learn in creative ways.

He said to me once as we were talking about one of our more artistic ventures (something one of us was writing or working on–I don’t recall what), paraphrasing as best I can, “We’re fartists. We’re fucking artists. We fuck around with it. Play with it.” We use a variety of creative means to explore ourselves, our world, and our place in it. Art wasn’t our profession, it is a tool to living, exploring, and teaching. We teach as we live. We live as we teach.

From Walter’s Obituary in the Star Tribune (which I encourage you to read)

When I die I want to have left something to the world even though it may affect only a few people. I want to have made my life useful and helpful to other people and to society. I want to be a good citizen of my community, state, country and world. I want to grow in respect and understanding of all cultures and peoples beginning with my Japanese friends and neighbors in Hiroshima. I want to help preserve peace and goodwill among all peoples through tolerance and respect, treating all peoples with respect and love.

Seeing (or not)

Monday I wrote about disconnection. Since then I’ve been thinking about disconnected and fractured relationships and in particular within families. A prominant cause of such fracturing and disconnection, and then leading to homelessness in youth in the United States is around issues of sexual and gender identity.

In Northfield, the Northfield Union of Youth (also known as The Key) has created the Wallflower Project to provide safe, temporary housing to young adults (16 and up) who find themselves without a safe place to live. There is shockingly little safe harbor for such individuals facing homelessness where I live. Here’s a link to an article with more about this particular project.

I’ve been wrestling this week with walking in the shoes of a young adult feeling marginalized, disconnected, and not validated or even seen by the community in which they live. I do not accept the argument that this is a choice or a fad. Would you choose to marginilize yourself? And I am appalled at vitriol, hate, and scorn that is piled upon individuals who are wrestling with such issues of identity. This leads to “otherizing” and dismissal of an individual’s personhood–their humanity.

We all want to belong. It’s more than acceptance or tolerance. We want to be safe and loved within a community. Just loved.

That brings me to another U2 song. Ordinary Love. This is a song originally written in honor of Nelson Mandela for the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. That’s a very specific purpose/meaning. I find something much broader about connection to others. Just love. Ordinary love.

In the Chorus, Bono sings:

We can’t fall any further if
We can’t feel ordinary love
And we can’t reach any higher,
If we can’t deal with ordinary love

One(ness)

This is the week of the term when my science education students listen to a Radiolab podcast titled “From Tree to Shining Tree.” I tell them it’s utterly fascinating and they always unanimously agree after giving it the hour it takes to listen to it. It’s about how the trees in a forest are interconnected, communicate, and share resources through the “wood-wide web” made up of fungus acting as the conduit between the trees in a forest. Seriously it will blow your mind and get you thinking differently about interconnectedness, not just about trees but other connections. Which leads me to…

I’m thinking about this from the other direction—disconnection. When I am deep in my thinking about this topic from the ecological perspective, I think interconnectedness. When I think about it from the human perspective I think “disconnection.”

We have a need to belong, not only to social groups, spiritual groups, families, partners, but also to our place, our geography. Toko-Pa Turner (2017) eloquently states early in her book Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home with this statement:

To this world we belong. To this moment, in this place where you already stand, something greater has ushered you. To the momentum of a long line of survivors you are bound. From their good deaths, succeeded by new lives, and to the incidents of love that seeded them, your story has been woven. With the wild jubilation of nature, you are in correspondence. By every season’s conditions, and by the invisible holy inclination, your life has been shown. And yet you may feel as so many of us do, the ache of a life orphaned from belonging. (p. 14)

I see our interconnection as rooted in our ecology, not only in the place where we live, but in the place where we (and our “people” however you might define that) comes from. Our place and ecosystems impact our genetics, so yes, it’s deep in our “bones” and part of our biological inheritance. And let’s be honest, most of us are profoundly disconnected from those ecological systems and cycles.

Out of this, then, where does disconnection impact us in our “human” world? Of course, I can see the impact of disconnection in domestic politics, geopolitical events (i.e. Ukraine) and so on. Those things are important and while they may seem distant, do affect us in our daily lives, and it seems the past few years those have had a greater impact then on our daily lives and how we interact and relate with one another on personal levels—at work, with friends and acquaintances, and with family. How are you doing on those fronts?

I freely admit I don’t have an answer for you here, except to say that I think it requires reflection—reflection on our own actions and interactions with those around us, but it also then requires working to have empathy. Imagine how we might approach personal relationships with children if we had better empathy for a child’s struggle with sexual or gender identity. Whether you as a parent “get it” or not is irrelevant if it causes a disconnection with someone who deserves your unconditional love and grace. Imagine how it might help political conversations if you could empathize with the marginalization and disconnection from economic and political power many feel. How about empathy for political refugees simply trying to survive?

What’s your means of reflection and building empathy? No surprise here, for me it’s through writing—both this kind of writing, but also music. So, I read a lot of non-fiction and listen to a lot of music. One (pun intended) of my favorites is U2 because I appreciate the melody writing of the band and the lyric writing of Bono. Arguably their best song is “One.” I was drawn back to this song this week as it’s about disconnection and fractured relationships (I think).

He begins with questions:

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you, now
You got someone to blame?

Do you find yourself doing this? Does it help?

He continues:

You say one love, one life,
When it’s one need in the night.
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it

What relationships have you not cared for of late?

Later in the song, he sings:

We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
One

Who carries you? Who have you carried at times during the past few years?

And then he sings about betrayal and pain:

You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on to what you got
When all you got is hurt

Let’s flip this. Who have you asked to crawl back to you and then only offered hurt, pain, scorn, instead of redemption and grace?

And then he concludes with hope:

One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should
One life with each other
Sisters, brothers
One life, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
One

You didn’t think I’d let you out of here without sharing my humble attempt at this song. Being a baritone, I obviously have to bring it down bring it down almost an entire octave, but generally I think I captured the spirit of the song.

The Truths We Hold

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Do we?

I get why the framers had to include a Creator in the first sentence. “Many philosophers and theologians have accepted a view that construes every statement or belief about objects and events—past, present, and future—as prerecorded in the mind of God. Hence, there are truths independent of the human mind, and people must discover them. When people do discover these truths and can justify their beliefs, the may properly lay claim to knowledge. Knowledge is that subset of truth that has been acquired by human investigators” (Noddings, 2007, p. 113).

This aligns to an essentialist philosophy in education. This philosophy has given us content standards, mandated curriculum, and standardized tests. I’m not really a fan. I accept that there are common cognitive structures we humans (and all mammals) share, so that’s cognitivism, and I accept that there are facts. I’m not an adherent of alternative facts.

What I have come to understand is that it is of more consequence for our daily existence and the actions we take, how one takes in, incorporates, understands, and makes sense of the “truths” or facts that then establishes the knowledge that one possesses. This probably puts me in line with John Dewey and elements of constructivism philosophy. “In [Dewey’s] framework, a statement p may appropriately be called knowledge if it is useful in inquiry. This view, too, fits our commonsense attitudes toward both science and everyday investigations. We are quite sure, for example, that much of what scientists “know” today will some day be overturned, but we still refer to what is currently used as knowledge. The more p has been tested and used successfully, Dewey said, the greater our warrant for asserting it” (Noddings, 2007, p. 118).

Where am I gong with this? I’m not really sure yet, but, something connects here.

Alfie Kohn tweeted this today. “Learning should be seen as qualitative change in a person’s way of seeing, experiencing, understanding, conceptualizing something in the real world – rather than as quantitative change in the amount of knowledge someone possesses.” – Paul Ramsden.

I’m a fan of Kohn’s work, which is why I follow him on Twitter. This tracks in our shift in what we have learned about how the human brain is structured, takes in new sensory information and makes sense of it in the context of pre-existing memories, emotions, and experiences. This is why much of education pedagogy has shifted toward methods of teaching based on research rooted in a mixture of constructivism and cognitivism (with constructivism the label that is more commonly used to describe not only learning theory but also education philosophy and even a whole branch of philosophy).

There are of course observable facts. However, how one makes sense of those facts, incorporates them into their own worldview and schema and then uses those facts to spur on more inquiry and enact their daily lives is dependent on the individual and a result of their construction of knowledge based on those facts. Blue light has a specific wavelength, but how I respond to blue color might be unique based on my experiences.

Yet, our education policy is firmly rooted in essentialism. There is a set base of information all individuals need to be productive in society, though often it seems that only that basic rote-learned information is all we are concerned about. For the most part education policy is determined by lawmakers not educators or education researchers. There’s a reason what we teach is so contentious. And it gets more contentious when those without power begin to push back against the established norms.

Again, from Nel Noddings (2007):
“If we argue that knowledge is both a source and tool of power, it is reasonable to recommend that all students have access to the knowledge once reserved for a few…[I]f the knowledge is associated with privilege is just that—knowledge with an elitists stamp of approval on it—then members of the dominant group are likely to shift the locus of their power to something else…Distributing elite knowledge more justly will not in itself effect the redistribution of a society’s material goods, and the effort may well act against redistribution by causing (1) a redefinition of elite knowledge, (2) deprivation of knowledge that could be  genuinely useful to oppressed groups, and (3) a widespread sense that society has ‘tried’ and that the failure of groups who must do the ill-paid work of society is their own fault” (p. 126).

I think this helps explain the current kerfuffle over critical race theory, which fits under the larger umbrella of critical theory. Any kind of critical theory is an approach critiquing society and culture for the purpose of understanding power structures and endemic qualities of society and culture held in place by those power structures. As researchers view history through the lens and from the perspective of those subject to oppression in a society, society responds as any system disturbed and pushed off balance will respond—it digs in and resists that perturbation.  

So, how does this connect to the Declaration of Independence? If our truths and knowledge are dependent on circumstances and experiences, we don’t hold these truths as self-evident. Some individuals do not have the same rights as I enjoy. Not because of a Creator (or lack of) and not because of choices they’ve made (or not), but simply because of the circumstances of their birth—the country’s borders in which they were born, the parents’ wealth and power to which they were born, the color of their skin which evolved in their ancestors, and then laws and societal norms under which they now live.

We have chosen to make these things the truth that really matters by what we do and what we don’t do.

Interconnectednessness

I added the extra “ness” because understanding the interconnected nature of, well, nature is becoming increasingly crucial. Sort of like our lives depend on it. Because they do. But it isn’t just the interconnected nature of nature that matters. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Try this. Close your eyes. Well, not quite yet. Read this first. When you are stressed, scared, and needing a momentary break and respite, where do you go when you close your eyes and imagine yourself in your “happy place?” Where do you imagine yourself walking, sitting, pausing as life accelerates around you? Okay now, close your eyes and do that for a moment.

For me, I’m in a canoe on north woods lake. Most individuals picture themselves in a serene setting of some kind. So then, why is it that while most of us recognize the absolute necessity of such natural spaces, when it comes to choosing who represents us, policies we support, actions we take, we first choose expansion of gross domestic product, economic expansion, and convenience before we choose preservation of such spaces? Because we’ve been told we have to and we’ve been taught to deny the reality of the interconnectedness.

Actually, it doesn’t matter if you choose such spaces as your preferred place of respite or if you prefer a crowded metropolis where the only other life you readily see is other humans. You are still equally interconnected within the biological and geological systems that support life on the planet. I could write a book describing the depth of those interconnections. In fact, I have, so I’m not going to dig deeper into that here. Most of us know this, even if you don’t know the proper scientific names, theories, and systems, you know it. We just are good at denying it. Because that’s easier.

But, we’re heading in a dangerous direction. And this is getting back to interconnectednessness (connectedness beyond nature). It builds on what I wrote about last week in Now is Not the Time for Safe Mode. There is an intersection between climate change as well as other environmental issues and equity, racism, economics, politics, and education. Every environmental issue that impacts us here in the “developed” world has a greater impact on those in the “developing” or “third” world. Every issue that impacts those in the upper class and caste in this country impacts those in the lower caste and living in poverty first, more so, and for longer in the foreseeable future when and if remedies for such issues are actually implemented. They’re the first harmed and the last helped.

This connects then to education in two direct ways. First, we do not provide equal education throughout this country. Those with more means get an education that is more enriching, is more creative, more interdisciplinary, more authentic, and well more progressive (even if that label isn’t used) and therefore leads to individuals with stronger skills of critical thinking and in understanding interconnectedness. And those that are not so fortunate get back-to-the-basic drill and practice of reading and math.

This has been our mode the last 30 years in attempts to close the achievement gap. Slow down and teach less to those that are already behind. This means that they will never catch up. This is now what we are shifting to more and more to for all of our students, at least those in public education. To make it worse, we now have individuals (most of whom I suspect are the product of elite private education and send their own children to such schools) are attempting to reduce even further from the curriculum any teaching of history, and I am sure science is next, that makes an honest account and critique of our history and attempts to then develop thinkers able to build on and use scientific thinking to address ecological, societal, and political issues.

The danger is that fewer and fewer will have the education, wealth, and access to natural resources, and more and more will be subject to those with power that comes with all that privilege.

Are you familiar with the adage that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it jumps out, but if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly heat it, it will stay in the water even when it gets too hot and so will eventually die? I’ve never tried it, but I doubt it’s actually true. The frog’s lower brain (pretty much all it has) will sense the danger and put it into flight or fight mode. It will flee the pot.

Humans have this same lower brain. In fact, as I wrote last week, this lower brain takes over and interrupts any learning when it detects danger. We’re the frog in the pot. And our lower brain is telling us that we’re in danger and we need to focus on getting to safety first. But in this case, our upper brain is telling us no, to not trust our lower brain. In this metaphor the upper brain is the segment of our population with a vested interest in continuing the status quo, and so invested in their own short-term wealth and power acquisition they are denying the reality of our interconnectednessness.

I want to leave you with a song by Eliza Gilkyson titled Runaway Train. This is a song from 2008. We’ve known for a long time the issues we face. The water is nearing a boil, and we can continue our denial, or we can dig in, face it, which includes beginning early in teaching our children to see connections between systems and not just decode language and do arithmetic.

Runaway Train © 2008 Eliza Gilkyson

Everyone knew she was gonna be fast
Everyone said they could build her to last
10, 000 tons of hurtlin’ steel
Screamin’ round the curves nobody at the wheel

Everyone said don’t pay it any mind
There’s a pot of gold waitin’ at the end of the line
Just move with the eye of the hurricane
You’ll never get off this runaway train

Nobody cared when they piled on board
And the doors snapped shut and the engines roared
They pushed to the front
Some fell to the back
Buyin’ and sellin’ every inch of the track
Deep in the engines fire in the hole
Dark skinned workers shovelin’ coal
All singin’ their sad refrain
We’ll never get off this runaway train

Up in the diner everybody decked out in their finery
Can’t see the wreck comin’ up ahead
With their bellies full of wine
It’s the last thing going through their minds
So proud of the engine proud of the speed
Call for the porter give them everything they need
Stare through the glass feel no pain
Don’t even know they’re on a runaway train

Long after midnight a pitiful few sound the alarm
Don’t know what else to do
Bangin’ on the doors of the cabin and crew
Hey we gotta slow down or we won’t make it through
Sleepy riders don’t want to wake
Or suffer the shock when they put on the brake
Don’t want to question , don’t want to complain
Rather keep ridin’ on this runaway train

Now is Not the Time for Safe Mode

Is it a stretch to say that the pandemic is pushing education to a crisis? There were struggles prior to the pandemic and the pandemic has both put a spotlight on the cracks and weaknesses in the system and exacerbated them. I think it is absolutely crucial we don’t lose sight of those cracks and weaknesses as much of education has shifted into “safe mode.” I get the desire to just get through and therefore just focus on the “essentials,” especially as we approach spring math and reading testing season. But let’s be careful here. Already, in elementary classrooms, science, social studies, and the arts had been relegated to second priority over basic decoding skills of doing math calculations and decoding language. Now, as a response to get caught up, many schools are focused even more on basic reading and math instruction and have pushed the other subjects even further to the side.

Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teaching to the upper reaches of Bloom’s is like pushing a boulder up a hill. The higher you go the harder it gets and if you stop pushing and rest, it just might roll back down and squish you and settle at the bottom. In many cases that’s what has happened as a result of the pandemic.

Humans retain what they are taught when learning about things relevant to them and the world they live in right now, not just practicing skills for future use. Take a look at this graphic of a curriculum continuum.

The more the curriculum we teach would be plotted in the upper right quadrant, the higher up on Bloom’s our students will reach as well. First and foremost, conceptual themes have the possibility of being more authentic, and therefore more engaging and meaningful to students, which according to research on the brain means they will connect what is learned in those lessons to their own emotions, experiences, and prior knowledge and experiences and then retain more of it. Practicing math calculations and decoding written language outside of any context primarily results in short-term knowledge and skill retention. These disconnected lessons and skills, while might be fantastically designed individual lessons, to the student, without that meaningful context, it’s just random crap. I call this random-craptastic. If they are about an interesting thing (thingatic instead of thematic) they might be of more interest to some, but still may not require conceptual thinking and connection of disparate ideas and subjects via critical thinking. This approach hasn’t and won’t close the achievement gap. In fact, I think it might make it worse.

I dare say that we are seeing a crisis in lack of these critical thinking skills in our population. If we respond to the crisis of the pandemic by leaning harder into just teaching these basic decoding skills and less understanding of the world around students (science, social studies, the arts) then this will only be worse with the next generation.

There’s another factor working against educators here. Let’s look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think it’s safe to say that many students (and teachers) are coming to school each day with a deficit in the needs lower on the pyramid.

The brain is designed to prioritize survival first. Therefore, when the needs lower on Maslow’s hierarchy are not met, the brain interrupts any sensory inputs coming in (so any lessons being taught) and focuses just on survival and sends only necessary inputs to the lower brain to decide to fight, flee or freeze. All other inputs are discarded.

Because so many students are stuck right now in safe mode of mere survival (and the lower brain is doing the majority cognition), they are not going to learn what we want—even the basic skills. Even if we adults don’t think the student’s situation or trauma doesn’t warrant fight, flight, or freeze mode, telling them to get through it or toughen up a bit, is irrelevant. I’m not talking about struggling with a difficult concept or achieving difficult goals, which is necessary to learn, I’m talking about the brain perceiving it is in danger. If that’s where they are (whether you think they should be or not), they will most likely not learn from the lesson taught that day. Then, teaching focused more and more on drilling these basic skills without and meaningful context for that learning, results in further disconnection from the learning, leads to further conflict with the teacher and disengagement in school, and pretty soon we’re in a downward spiral with that student.

Therefore, it’s more important now than ever to use curriculum that allows students to authentically explore and understand the world in which they live. This allows them to make connections between subjects, and most importantly apply that to relevant aspects of their life as they are living it right now, not just because they will need it in the future. If you aren’t able to see a future, there’s not meaningful engagement to learn skills and information for that future.

Yes of course we need specific, effective instruction on language decoding skills (math calculation and reading and writing), but why not teach those skills in the context of and as part of exploring the world around students in meaningful ways and requiring higher-order thinking, problem solving, and creation of new ideas. This can be done concurrently. It doesn’t have to be consecutively done. If we continue with that model, especially with students struggling to get out of safe mode, then they never develop the higher order thinking, or even learn about anything (like basic science and civics) because we never get to it. We must as a society address these physiological and safety needs of our students and not do anything to further push them (or the system) into “safe mode.”

Another Reason To Say No To Spotify (and an alternative)

I stopped using Spotify over a year ago. I didn’t do it for political reasons. I did it to support artists. Art is crucial for a society, and I feel our society supports art less and less. So why’d I ditch Spotify? First, I hated it. I didn’t like that it was very difficult to listen to an album. I’m old school in that regard. Musicians create albums. I primarily like to listen to the whole album. Second, they are the worst for paying artists.

Because of how royalty payouts are figured and distributed to artists, it’s a little difficult to get to arrive at a set per/stream payout as I think it’s more complex of an equation than a set price per play. Also figured into the equation is a percentage of subscription price connected to number of streams, but we can at least use these numbers for comparison. Here’s some numbers for some of the more common streaming services from three different sources.

PlatformPay per stream
(headphonesty.com)
Pay per stream
(freeyourmusic.com)
Pay per stream
(soundcharts.com)
Tidal$0.120.012840.00989
Apple Music$0.010.007830.00563
Amazon Music$0.0040.004020.01196
Spotify$0.00330.004370.00318
YouTube Music$0.0020.0020.00164
Pandora$0.00130.001330.00151

Again, I’m pretty sure these numbers aren’t a fixed price per play scenario, but useful for comparison. I chose to use Apple Music. I didn’t want to. I tried Tidal, but I struggled with the user interface and I couldn’t find some artists I wanted to follow on their platform (as of about a year ago anyway).

I still prefer to buy music, as that is what pays musicians the most. Most musicians, except those getting significant radio play (or millions and millions of streams) do not make enough money off of royalties alone, but instead on live shows–which obviously have been greatly reduced for the past two years.

So ideally the way to best support artists, especially if you want to support musicians who don’t have number 1 hits to continue providing royalties, is to purchase their music AND also stream it.

That brings me to another option: Bandcamp. I hate the name, but it is a platform to purchase from (mostly) independent musicians more directly. The artist gets 85% of each sale of digital downloads. Except Fridays. On Fridays, Bandcamp waives their cut and the artist gets 100%.

So here’s a plug. I participate in a Songwriting Facebook group. (I’m not interested in this discussion to debate Facebook. That’s a whole different thing). During two seasons (winter and summer) we get weekly or bi-weekly prompts, all share our song for that prompt and provide feedback to one another. I’ve met some amazing songwriters here. Here’s link to some of them who have music on Bandcamp.

Ted Hajnasiewicz
Sarah Morris
Andy Ulseth
Laurel Hay (Songwriting group “promptster’)
Doyle Turner
Eliza Rush
Christopher David Hanson
Emily Haavik
Matthew French
Pat Egan
Mary Strand
Jason Edward
Riley Skinner
Amanda B. Perry
Dan Tanz
Daniel Stephen Turner
Dave Mehling
And of course I’ve got an Album and EP available on Bandcamp

Living in an Unfinished World

The world is unfinished. With this in mind, as a teacher, as a leader, as a learner, how do you want to be in the world? What is the story that you will enact? To be trite, the only constant is change. Change seems to come faster and faster no doubt, and especially when thinking about new knowledge and technology, including, but not limited to communication and social organization—social media. It seems this change happens faster than we can discern and then predict the impact of that change or innovation.

What are the core questions and concepts to be understood to be able to undertake that discernment? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could communicate openly and freely with one another to build community based on shared experiences? This requires the ability to have empathy and understand when/what it feels like to be disconnected.

I read a piece by Ross Douthat in the New York Times yesterday. I was intrigued by this title: How Being Sick Changed My Health Care Views. Knowing from previous columns he’s a staunch conservative and also knowing that he had a long bout with an undiagnosed tick-borne disease, I was curious. His views shifted a little to the left as he expressed empathy for those without any or with limited health care after his experience of going from specialist to specialist to get a diagnosis and therapy. What struck me however is that it took a personal experience for him to have empathy for others who struggle with no or inadequate health coverage in a time of health crisis—and that during that time, the patient cannot be a dispassionate “consumer” of a service—but is struggling to survive, grasping at anything that will offer relief and doing so at the mercy of a cumbersome networking maze of rules and roadblocks.

What accounts for this lack of empathy? Must many of us have first-hand experience with an issue to empathize? Why can some more readily walk in another’s shoes than others? Is it due to a lack of connection?

Then, how might I foster such connections? Conversely, what might I be doing in personal relationships and professional responsibilities that might inadvertently or (shudder to think) purposefully break or block meaningful connection?

Maybe I should think of it as entering an ongoing conversation with others and the world around me. How do we do this with our peers, family, colleagues, students (as a teacher) so that we can collaboratively explore and write our story while also understanding and helping those around me write theirs? In so doing, might that foster connection and allow for the development of empathy toward one another?

We make our world as we try and make sense of it. We make the road by walking it. This week there’s been a lot of quoting of Martin Luther King. One quote often highlighted is “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” However, we must keep in mind that it doesn’t bend itself.

Here’s ridiculously hopeful song with a simple idea.

Best Practices for Green Business Operations

Today’s blog is a guest blog written by Hazel Bridges. Ms. Bridges is the creator of Aging Wellness, a website that aims to provide health and wellness resources for aging seniors. She’s a breast cancer survivor. She challenges herself to live life to the fullest and inspire others to do so as well.

When you’re gearing up to start a new business, you’re likely evaluating all of your operational functions and marketing needs as well as considering budgetary matters. If you’re also interested in building sustainable practices, it’s much easier to do it pre-launch than after you’re up and running. Here’s how to make better-informed choices when it comes to living and working in a more sustainable fashion.

Is an Eco-Business for You?

There are two different approaches to business and sustainability. There are companies that employ green processes, regardless of the type of product or service they provide. For example, a restaurant that buys local meat and produce, uses recyclable to-go containers, and generates energy by harnessing solar power is utilizing green operational principles. Then there are businesses whose objective is entirely green-focused. An example might be a company that recycles old computer parts or refurbishes discarded furniture using natural products rather than chemicals. In short, you can run any type of business in a sustainable way, or create a business that’s focused on sustainability practices, products, or services.

Basic Business Start-Up

Before launching your company, there are a number of things on your pre-business start-up checklist to attend to. You’ll want to begin by writing a business plan to detail all of the fundamentals of your business, from describing your products and services, your sourcing, your management team, and your strategy to your budgeting, operations, and logistics related to location, hiring, and training. This is the place to lay out all elements of how the business will function. You should also form an LLC or limited liability company. This will give you greater flexibility, reduce paperwork, and protect you against some types of liability. You can do the legwork yourself, hire an attorney, or better yet, use a formation service like ZenBusiness. States have different regulations around LLC formation, so learn yours in advance.

Consider Eco-Impact

There are a variety of different ways that businesses operate that could have an impact on our global ecological systems. For example, manufacturing and waste production, recycling capability, packaging, distribution and transport, travel, and energy conservation. As such, go through your business plan line-by-line and look at ways to make each practice or approach more sustainable. For example, can you do business locally with vendors close by rather than outsourcing across the country and incurring cross-country shipping? Is your packaging as eco-friendly as possible, or can it be reduced or eliminated and replaced with something recyclable? How about an energy audit? Being able to utilize energy-efficient machinery can help reduce energy consumption. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a checklist for how to go about regular energy audits, and also provides a number of other useful tips.

Evaluating Potential Impact

Businesses that shy away from green operations typically do so because they fear the costs of sustainable operations will be too exorbitant. While it’s true that there are some types of green operations that have the potential to be pricier than standard or traditional operations, there’s also an upside. According to Small Business Marketing Tools, when you implement these measures, you’ll be seen as a good corporate steward by being environmentally conscious and operating sustainably. These efforts will eventually pay dividends down the road in terms of things like reduced energy and manufacturing costs. You may also be able to capitalize on your contributions in your marketing and public outreach efforts. Many individuals and companies prefer doing business – and working for – environmentally conscious service providers, so by all means, promote the good work you’re doing.

Marketing Green Practices

The marketing and promotion materials you put in place for your green business should not only focus on your products, services, expertise, and pricing, it should also convey a little bit of information about your corporate philosophy and corporate culture. If you have a commitment to sustainable operations and employees are on board as well, it should be featured on your website, your social media posts, and on all printed and digital marketing materials. Your goal should be to let consumers know that you are committed to creating a healthier, more sustainable living environment for all. Not only can this attract even more customers, when you’re looking at funding needs for expansion or ramping up your green efforts, you may be eligible for sustainability grants or green lending opportunities.

Building on Your Green Platform

“Going green” is not something you just do once – it’s an ongoing evolution. Every day there are new breakthroughs in technology signaling greener solutions for how we live, learn, work, and do business. Stay abreast of changes and look for ways to grow and evolve in your sustainability efforts. Keep in mind, taking your green company to the next level will require professionals educated on best practices in the industry. Many institutes of higher education are also advancing sustainability issues and providing related degree programs. Consider collaborating with a university and supporting their efforts, hosting interns and externships, and drawing from the school to develop your workforce. This can be a powerful way to ensure you are continually front-and-center of where the action is in terms of the advancement of green technology and sustainable business models.  

While it may take a bit of time and effort to delve into the most sustainable practices in your industry and train your employees on the same, it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor. If you’ve ever been concerned about starting up in the current environment, keep in mind that tides are continually changing, but a commitment to sustainability is on the rise. In other words, stop thinking about your business building and just do it.

Photo By Pixabay
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