In defense of outlines

I. Introduction

A. Anecdote

B. Not taught in elementary and middle schools

D. Benefits of outlining

E. Call to action

III. Why not taught

A. Scare students

B. What teachers do instead

1. similar to outlining but without the Roman Numerals

2. ex. “mental map”

3. [note: research and give examples]

4. My opinion: this mystifies the writing process

II.  Benefits of outlining

A. Makes the writing process easier – manageable chunks

B. Helps with anxiety

1. There is something on the page

2. Numbers and letters make you feel like accomplishing something

3. Psych yourself into thinking you are not writing

C. Benefits for procrastinators

1. [Anecdote]

2. Can leave writing until the last minute

D. An aid to research

1. Lets you know ahead of time what research may be necessary

2. Lets you know what the gaps are in your research

3. Can take notes and cut and paste right into outline

4. Big screens are a plus. Do not attempt on a cell phone.

5. Old fashioned paper works too.

E. Organization is flexible

1. Often your first idea for organizing doesn’t work out

2. Easy to move around, add new categories

3. Word processors often have tools that make it even easier

F. The more complex the writing assignment, the more helpful

1. [Anecdote]

III. Call to action

A. Bring back outlining!

B. Not for everyone, indispensable for some

C. Yes, I am a geek for writing an entire essay in outline form and posting it to my blog. (What can I say? Organization pleases me.) If you read this whole thing, maybe you are too.

IV. Bibliography

A. [Find sources on any studies re: outlining]

B. [Find sources for any examples of mental maps, etc.]

Teaching anti-fascism to kids

All my life I’ve heard “Never forget!” when it comes to the Holocaust. But clearly, something has gone awry. Maybe the meme was too weak. Maybe we needed “Pass it on to the children!” instead. Because there’s a big difference between remembering as an individual and keeping the memory alive in a culture that spans generations.

As a child I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Chocolate War, and I watched Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. These had a big impact on me. But what are my children reading and watching? My assumption was that since I knew the material, my children would know it too. Of course that’s false.

So I was searching for something unrelated (anti-fascism in Europe) and randomly came across a post too awesome not to share. It’s about a workshop done by a multi-ethnic youth arts and education organization in Bosnia. The facilitator reported back on what they did and for which age group, and it sounds like they had a blast!

“Anti-Fascism Day 2016”

And here’s an adorable graphic that had been up on Indymedia Scotland but was made as part of a poster for an anti-fascist meeting in Athens. Modern-day Athena?

girl-smashing-nazi-symbol

– Kristin

Multiply like a Roman

The Romans used weird, weird math. To multiply two terms, they repeatedly doubled one of them in one column while halving the other term in another column, throwing away any remainders that came up, crossed off half the numbers in the first column, added up what remained, and — voila! — got the right answer.

How on earth did they come up with it? And why on earth does it work?

Here’s what it looks like. If you’re not a mathy person, don’t worry, I’m not asking you to do any calculations–just to enjoy the strangeness.

1. Start with two numbers

536 * 42

= (500 + 30 + 5 + 1) * (40 + 2)

= DXXXVI * XXXXII

2. Multiply the first column and halve the second

Multiply these Divide these
DXXXVI XXXXII
MLXXII XXI
MMCXXXXIIII X
MMMMCCLXXXVIII V
(8M)DLXXVI II
(17M)CLII 1

3. If a number in the second column is even, cross it off in the first column.

XXXXII
MLXXII XXI
X
MMMMCCLXXXVIII V
II
(17M)CLII I

4. Add up all the remaining numbers in the first column.

(22M)CCCLLLXXXXXVIIIIIII

= (22M)DXII
= 22,000 + 500 + 10 + 2

5. And here’s the answer!

= 22,512

That’s all I have. If you want to know why it works, one of these links should satisfy.

A Different Kind of Multiplication

Roman Arithmetic

Or, if this is too much math for you, just be glad I didn’t tell you about multiplying infinity.

2000px-nc3bameros_romanos-svg

wikimedia commons

 

Do we value democracy?

A recent Guardian article got me thinking about how much people value democracy and what we expect out of it. The article, “Burst your bubble: five conservative articles for liberals to read as protests stymie Trump”, quoted a neoreactionary thinker who may have influenced Steve Bannon’s thinking. The quote, from “How I stopped believing in democracy,” is:

And, if our goal is really just the faithful execution of a trust, why assume that electoral suffrage of any sort is the most effective way to constitute it? . . . How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections? And which trust would you guess is more effectively exercised?

Yes, folks, in addition to the voter suppression we saw in the last election, there is a serious effort underway to eliminate voting altogether. The current president, cabinet, and Congress do, collectively, have the ability to seriously erode suffrage.

There is one and only barrier standing in their way: public opinion.

If we have a populace ready to take to the streets in support of universal suffrage–to copy the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement — then our right to vote cannot be taken away no matter what the federal government tries to do. This is the lesson history gives us.

Unfortunately, we don’t. The twenty-first century has seen a significant crisis of faith not only in our political leaders but also in the American people, according to a recent Gallup poll.

gallup-poll-faith-in-voting

From Gallup article “American’s Trust in Political Leaders, Public at New Lows,” September 21, 2016.

A study by the Pew Research center from November 2016 is even less optimistic, with only 34% of the public trusting the collective political wisdom of the American people.

Well, it’s easier to take away universal suffrage from people who don’t believe in it, and that’s why it’s under attack now.

What is to be done? I have three outrageous proposals. Think ’em over.

1. Push for universal suffrage

Our laws exclude plenty of people from voting: undocumented immigrants, felons, ex-convicts, people with the same names as felons and ex-convicts, people who live in areas with limited polling stations, and people who physically can’t leave their house to vote. Is that reasonable? If not, what can be done to change it?

You might be thinking I’m going too far. But consider. Aren’t ex-convicts supposed to have “paid their debt” to society? And don’t undocumented immigrants pay local taxes such as sales tax? And wasn’t the rallying cry of the American Revolution “No taxation without representation“?

Right now, when our system is broken, is the time to question everything.

2. Use democracy everywhere

By this I mean family meetings, book groups, PTA meetings. Be a democracy nerd. Anytime you’re in a group and an unofficial leader says, “Well, it looks like we have consensus. . .” just pipe up and say, “Why don’t we vote on this?” The main objection I see raised is “Oh, we don’t need all that fancy structure” and “It will take too much time.”

Actually, democracy, even in small groups, takes very little time and is efficient. A person starts off by saying, “I move that. . . .” This clarifies the proposal in everybody’s heads. Someone else says, “I second that.” If nobody seconds it, then obviously nobody else thinks it’s a good idea, and it will obviously fail a vote, so the group can drop it and move on.  Then somebody says, “All in favor . . . all against . . . all abstaining.” Count the results, and presto! You know what the group wants to do.

Actually it’s not quite like that. There’s room for discussion after the second and before the vote. That can take time, but chances are it will be quicker than its alternative. And if the discussion drags on past the point of usefulness, somebody can always say, “Call the question!” That means “Shut up and vote already!”

(Geeky interlude here. Technically, if you’re following the official Roberts Rules of Order, you have to vote on whether or not to call the question. In practice, I’ve found this makes people very confused, especially the ones that were still talking. Are we voting on whether to vote, or are we voting on the motion? Then the facilitator explains, but the people who just started talking after the question was asked are confused all over again. A trained facilitator will know when the room is ready to call for a vote, or another method can be used, like a thumbs-up/thumbs-down “temperature check.”)

3. Use democracy in the private sector

This is the most outrageous proposal at all. It brings us full circle to the quote from “How I stopped believing in democracy.” The author asked, “How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections?”

Well, why don’t workers have the right to vote at Google, or any other company?

If you’re looking at this question squinty-eyed and thinking “What in the heck is she on about?” then this is the time to notice that you’ve internalized a belief that the private sector–even nonprofits–should not be held accountable to the public interest. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true, but most people have not even thought about it.

The thing is, when we work eight or more hours a day and every meeting we attend has a boss managing the discussion and making all the decisions, we come to expect that even in meetings we hold outside of work. (This goes back to my outrageous proposal #2.) We expect to be powerless everywhere. But what if it was the other way around? What if the public was powerful everywhere instead?

 

#

Democracy. Use it or lose it. Our choice.

voting-is-people-power

– Kristin

Election fraud

There’s a debate within the U.S. about whether or not “voter fraud” happened. Did millions of people vote illegally, or is that just another lie? This is the wrong question to ask. It’s taking a big-picture problem and framing one small issue, in order to divide and mislead voters.

It also hides the fact that voters broadly agree on one thing: we want fair elections. The president is calling for a massive investigation of elections but such an investigation will likely exclude:

  • voter suppression — denying eligible citizens the right to vote
  • gerrymandering — dividing up districts in ways favorable to incumbents, and
  • election machines that can be hacked

There’s a lot at stake here. People are pinning their hopes on the 2018 midterm elections, but if we don’t keep a close eye on these three issues, those midterm elections won’t be free or fair. In fact, at the same time as Tromp is stealing center stage on the news, a House committee voted to eliminate the independent election commission because it is “fluff.” (Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian about it.)

So what do we do?

Step one: Pay close attention to language used by the media. If our news sources are talking about “voter fraud,” call them on it. Use a different term, like “election fraud” — one that won’t narrow the issue.

Step two: Get informed and talk to our friends and neighbors. And by the way, if we’re sharing news, let’s look for the most neutral sources possible. A conservative neighbor is no more likely to believe The Nation, for example, than I am to believe Breitbart.

Step three: pick our news sources deliberately rather than waiting to see what new and sensational terror comes through our social media. We should control our viewing of news, not the other way around.

Further Reading

Here are a few quick sources for further reading about ways elections can be compromised:

A Bloomburg Businessweek article on voter suppression, published before the election. These are the words of a senior official in the Tromp campaign:

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

A New York Times article that discusses the background of partisan gerrymandering:

A panel of three federal judges said on Monday that the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts to favor Republicans was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the first such ruling in three decades of pitched legal battles over the issue.

Federal courts have struck down gerrymanders on racial grounds, but not on grounds that they unfairly give advantage to a political party — the more common form of gerrymandering. The case could now go directly to the Supreme Court, where its fate may rest with a single justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, who has expressed a willingness to strike down partisan gerrymanders but has yet to accept a rationale for it.

That particular case focused on gerrymandering that unfairly favored Republicans, but the article asks us to rethink whether it’s a good idea to let incumbents of either party should have control of redistricting.

CBS article on whether election machines can be hacked:

Roughly 70 percent of states in the U.S. use some form of electronic voting. Hackers told CBS News that problems with electronic voting machines have been around for years. The machines and the software are old and antiquated. But now with millions heading to the polls in three months, security experts are sounding the alarm, reports CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal.

As a counterpoint, the federal Election Assistance Commission says it certifies voting systems:

The Election Assistance Commission told CBS News that it ensures all voting systems are vigorously tested against security standards and that systems certified by the EAC are not connected to the Internet.

But guess what? That’s the exact same Election Assistance Commission the House Republicans committee just voted to eliminate.

No voter, from either side of the aisle, should support that!

cats voting

 

– Kristin

My path to getting woke, part two

At the end of Monday’s post on getting woke, I promised to write about Professor Colleen McElroy and what she taught me while I was in the creative writing graduate program at the University of Washington. I regret to say I am skipping over my entire undergraduate education, largely for lack of time.

She was an amazing professor with a vast quantity of fascinating stories, which she always told with a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye. For a small taste of her life and her personality, here is an article by Bethany Reid on HistoryLink and an interview by Elizabeth Hoover in the magazine Sampsonia Way. I enjoyed her classes a lot but was fairly silent in her classes, partly because I was shy then and partly because of the awkwardness that comes from systemic racism. Now if you’re a person of color reading what I’m about to say, you might be surprised, and if you’re white you might think, “Oh yes, I know what you mean,” but anyhow, for the longest time, for many years, or rather several decades, I had the mistaken assumption that the internalized racial prejudice that I held — that everyone holds, to one extent or another — would be revealed to all the world if I spoke up and said the wrong thing. This has stopped me from speaking up about race, many times, when I should have.

Where I was most mistaken was in thinking that my internal racial prejudice was unique to me, or that most other white people would care about it one way or another. But even more so was my naive assumption that because the civil rights movement had happened, segregation theoretically ended, and so forth, that if a person held back from making some racist comment it was because they were ashamed of it, like I was. It’s clear now, from the enormous backlash against “political correctness,” that a whole lot of white people were silent only because of social conventions.

In other words, I cared a lot more about racism than a lot of other white people, but I was less likely to speak up. I’m still in recovery on that one. I find it much easier to write about racism than to speak about it, even with close friends.

Colleen McElroy exposed me to a wide swath of voices I would never have heard otherwise. To name a few: bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Isabel Allende, and Carolyn Forché. These voices framed my understanding of concepts such as the politics of art, race, and immigration; and they also provided a launching off point for learning more and more and more.

One of the books she taught was:

Points of Departure: International Writers on Writing & Politics, David Montenegro, University of Michigan Press, 1991

points-of-departure-book

From the cover blurb:

In these times of political transformation and turmoil around the globe, Points of Departure offers incisive and passionate reflections on literature and politics by ten of the world’s leading writers. David Montenegro’s interviews with these novelists and poets, some living in exile, focus on the relationship of the writer’s work to political violence and oppression and examine the troubling tensions between art and social responsibility.

There’s an ongoing debate about “whether or not art should be political” and I have to say, after reading this book, I look at people who believe you can separate the two and wonder: What world are you living in?

The texts here put me on the path to getting “woke” not exclusively about racism but also about the lived experiences of people who have endured imperialism, colonialism, and so forth. And the understanding that many terrible realities have been too often whitewashed in our history and our news. This is of course still going on.

Below are quotations from two texts that provided a-ha moments for me, one by Isabel Allende and one by Carolyn Forché. I will leave them as is without discussion or interpretation.

From David Montenegro’s interview of Isabel Allende about the day of the military coup in Chile, in which her uncle, Senator Allende, was deposed and killed, here are some snippets.

 

Well, I was a journalist at that time, and that day I got up very early in the morning, as I usually do. I prepared my children for school, like any day, and went to my office. I didn’t realize there was a coup. . . .

By two o’clock, more or less, I learned that Allende was dead and that many of my friends were in hiding; others were killed; others were in prison. But at that moment it was very difficult to realize exactly what was happening. It was a time of great confusion. And rumors. On television we only had military marches and Walt Disney movies. It was so surrealistic, so strange. . . .

[T]he very day of the coup, soldiers would cut the pants of women in the streets with scissors because they wanted ladies to wear skirts, which was proper. . . .

(pp 110-115)

And here is a bit from Carolyn Forché prose poem “The Colonel,” which details a poet’s interview with a colonel. It begins in mundane domesticity, with the wife bringing coffee and sugar and the daughter filing her nails. Midway through the interview:

The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. . . .

(pp 75-76)

So then.

Opening my eyes to the world in this way was not the most pleasant gift I have ever received, but is certainly one of the most important. Thank you, Professor Colleen McElroy.

colleenjmcelroy3

image from awritersalchemy. wordpress.com

– Kristin

My path to getting woke

In Seattle, people of color – in particular, indigenous people – LED the march. That’s the way to do it. One of my eye-openers was the bell hooks book From Margin to Center which laid out very clearly and practically why folks on the margins understand the world in ways folks in the center don’t. It’s a matter not only of justice but of practicality that we center the voices of women and color right now.

I posted that comment on a friend’s facebook page and followed it up with another post to mine:

Only a fraction of the people who attended Seattle’s Womxn’s March yesterday would have heard this–the mike only carried so far–but in the opening remarks the speaker gave respect for Judkins Park being on Coast Salish land, and that indigenous people would be leading the march. A HUGE cheer went up at this news. Later, two bald eagles graced the march. I take all this as a sign that the new womxns movement is heading in the right direction.

Until recently, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that putting women of color first in a march might be a good idea, or that anybody would even understand if I said it. That’s the ignorance of white privilege. But to my surprise and pleasure, a huge number of friends clicked “like.” So I think I am along the path to getting woke, and doing so in community.

I expect some of you readers are looking at me right now like I’m a weirdo.  But if you have some patience, feel free to follow along and see how I got to where I am.

What does “getting woke” mean? Roughly, becoming aware of racial justice issues. There’s an article about it on dailykos, just as a starting point. If you haven’t heard the concept, take a minute to read that before reading the rest of this post.

Okay, done?

So. My steps toward getting woke. Some of it’s reading books, talking to people, listening to speakers, and some of it’s from making mistakes. Altogether it’s a long and ongoing process but I have gratitude to everyone along the way.

The first people who helped me “get woke” were my liberal parents, the conversations we had, the book they got me. And then middle school: the substitute teacher who told us stories of times there were two water fountains, one for “white” and one for “colored” and since he was biracial, he never knew which to use. I remember his kindness to us and the frustration he felt as he spoke, because of the difficulty in communicating what those times were truly like.

There was a sharp division in middle school, which took me a long time to understand. I attended Washington Middle School in Seattle, an almost entirely black school that had implemented busing for desegregation, by which I mean they bused white kids from the north end from the advanced learning program, meaning that the district was less segregated, but the school was more.

By high school my family was living in Salt Lake City, and there was my high school teacher who said Martin Luther King was a “troublemaker.” This woke me to understand not everybody was like my liberal parents, and that history didn’t proceed from race hatred to everybody singing kumbaya.

One time for journalism I distributed a survey asking people two questions: did they think white and black people were equal, and is mixed marriage okay. If I recall correctly, everybody who responded believed in equality, but only half in mixed marriage.

Then there was the time my mom dated a black man, and we lived in a house where the front door was stuck so we only ever used the back door, and my mom’s date explaining to me that he was always afraid a cop would see him sneaking in our back door and arrest him.

That gets me through high school, in bits and pieces. I had no black friends in high school. In fact, my entire high school had no black kids. That’s how it was.  I’ll just go ahead and skip undergraduate school, although some learning took place there, and move forward to graduate school. Because there’s a professor I need to express gratitude to, and that’s Colleen McElroy, who exposed me to some amazing poets and writers of color. I’ll talk about her in my next post.