Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Someone's Hungry Tonight

I’ve always been a little skeptical of charity as a model for solving social problems, because donations to community organizations, even those that do incredibly good, important work, treat the effects of social problems but not the causes.

But I think about hunger a little differently. True, hunger is the effect of a more difficult and more significant social problem: poverty. And I do sometimes worry that if we treat hunger but ignore the poverty that causes it, we won’t make a long-term difference. And yet, hunger is such an immediate, basic issue that I can’t turn away from it. I’ve been volunteering at food banks like Second Harvest on and off for more than 20 years, and I donate every year to programs that feed the hungry. I hope you’ll join me in that. You can donate food to any of the dozens of food drives going on in the Mahoning Valley this winter, or donate money by visiting the Second Harvest website. You can also volunteer to help at the warehouse.

Donations matter, but I was also struck by Michael Iberis’s answer to my question about how we might address the causes of hunger. As he suggested, one of the reasons why working people have difficulty feeding their families is that so many of us have not learned how to select and prepare food efficiently. In an age of processed convenience foods, we’ve forgotten the “stone soup” strategies of our grandmothers. Better use of the food we have won’t erase hunger, but I like the idea of a practical, hands-on approach that can at least help. I’m looking forward to seeing what Mike cooks up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Alternative Transportation: It's All About Your Wallet

Perhaps, like me, you expected a conversation about alternative transportation to focus on why we should all reduce our carbon footprints and improve our health by walking and biking more?  While Paul Kobulnicky, chair of YSU’s Alternative Transportation Advisory Committee acknowledges that there are environmental and health concerns, he’s a practical guy.  As he makes clear in our conversation, the number one reason to consider alternative transportation is cost.  Convenience also matters, but it’s the wallet that provides the real motivation. 

And when people are ready to change their habits, what they need most is information.  If you want to cut your costs, or if looking for a parking space is taking up too much of your time, check out the committee’s website. You’ll find a bike map suggesting the best routes for two-wheel transportation around town, as well as ideas about how YSU could make it easier for people to choose alternatives. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Defending Teacher's Unions

I should admit my bias on teachers’ unions and education from the beginning.  I’m a member of the National Education Association, and – as you can tell from my conversation with Will Bagnola, president of the Youngstown Education Association (representing Youngstown City Schools teachers) – I generally respect teachers and unions alike.  Yes, I know that in enacting their responsibility to protect members, unions (of all kinds) can sometimes find themselves in the position of defending bad behavior.  And there’s no doubt that, as in any workplace, those who manage the operation always want to control how workers do their jobs and more labor for less reward.  Those problems are in the nature of the workplace; they are not caused by unions. 

Beyond my understanding of the nature of unions, I believe – as a teacher – that teachers understand education and should play more central roles in planning and implementing educational reforms.  Over the last few decades, with the growing influence of standardized tests as a measure of performance (of both students and teachers) and the increasing tendency to standardize both what is taught and how it is taught, we have fundamentally changed the nature of teaching.  K-12 teachers are no longer seen as responsible professionals worthy of public respect, and that shift occurred long before the latest wave of public policies and documentaries blaming teachers for America’s educational problems.  Indeed, I think many of the problems we’re facing now exist in part because we have deprofessionalized teaching, making it a less interesting, less rewarding, less creative job. 

I’ve heard good things about Dr. Connie Hathorn, the incoming superintendent of the local schools, including that he believes in treating teachers with respect.  With Will Bagnola, I hope that will help us create a more learning-centered atmosphere in the local schools.