Aldon Hynes's blog

Reconnecting Diversity: Cultural Competency in Politics, The Social Contract, The Social Network and The Body of Christ

It is National Public Health Week. On Monday, I went to a ‘Lunch and Learn’ discussion on Cultural Competency in health care. I came away with a lot of great things to think about.

For Christians in the Western tradition, Catholics and Protestants, next week is Holy Week. On Sunday, we will celebrate Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Episcopalians also call this The Sunday of the Passion. Not only do we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but we recall how the jubilant crowd, stirred up by the religious leaders, shout “crucify him” just days later and how this relates to our own lives.

Recently, the CEO of Mozilla stepped down after an online crowd shouted out about his political contribution to a group opposed to same sex marriage. Now, those who oppose same sex marriages are calling this a blow to free speech. Perhaps all of this is connected.

First, let’s talk about freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court considers spending money on political campaigns speech, and believes that billionaires have the right to speak thousands or millions of times more loudly than average citizens. The Koch brothers are taking advantage of this to make sure that their views are widely heard, a privilege the rest of us don’t have. Democrats have responded by highlighting how the Koch brothers make their money and the impact it has had on communities where the Koch brothers are spreading their message. Like with the stepping down of the CEO of Mozilla, conservatives are saying this is an attack on Free Speech.

In other words, they imply that free speech applies to them when they present their viewpoints, but not to others who criticize their viewpoints. It gets to the basic issues of any of our freedoms. Where do our freedoms end and another’s begin? What sort of responsibility comes with our freedoms?

Brendan Eich used his freedom of speech in contributing to a group that opposed same sex marriage. Supporters of same sex marriage used their free speech in highlighting this and calling for Eich to step down. When Eich did step down, opponents of same sex marriage used their free speech to complain about this. It’s all good, right?

We see similar things playing out with Hobby Lobby which is trying to avoid having to provide women coverage for contraception on religious grounds, even though they invest their employees’ retirement funds in companies that make this contraception. Others are encouraging people to avoid shopping at Hobby Lobby.

In fact, whether we think about it or not, we are all engaged in daily interactions around our beliefs, freedoms and wellbeing. It is the social contract. Here, I’m using the idea more broadly than just the Jeffersonian argument that governments derive their power from the people. All institutions do, including corporations and to a certain extent, event religious institutions.

We all make choices based on what we believe is in our best interests, as we cling to our lives and liberties and pursue happiness. This is where cultural competency and connecting diversity comes in. There are some that seek ideological purity, trying to avoid contamination of ideas from the outside. It may be simply living in some sort of religious ghetto as immigrants did when first coming to the United States. It may be religious groups that cut themselves off from the outside world, like the Amish, or like some religious cults. It may be the avoidance of diversity by people with certain political beliefs who distrust immigrants, people of different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. Such beliefs taken to the extreme can result in holocausts or genocides.

The social fabric of our lives are changing and challenge our thoughts about the social contracts we’ve formed. We now join social networks where we can connect with a much more diverse group or people, or build our filter bubble and only befriend those with similar beliefs. We can make our shopping decisions based on whether or not people share these beliefs. We can clamor for the head of an organization to step down or complain about others clamoring that way. Is it all good?

How does this relate to cultural competency and connecting to diversity? How does this relate to Holy Week? In various places in the New Testament, Christians are told they are the body of Christ and reminded to embrace the differences that different members or parts of the body bring.

On The Sunday of The Passion, we remember how the crowds clamored for the destruction of the body of Christ. Perhaps we are doing this still today as we build walls and disconnect from those with different beliefs and backgrounds.

Last Sunday, the lectionary had the lesson about the death of Lazarus. The priest at the church I attend spoke about how ugly death is, about the stench of death. In modern American funeral homes, we’ve hidden that ugliness behind flowers and platitudes. She spoke about how important it is to face the ugliness of death so that we can more fully appreciate the resurrection.

Perhaps there is something similar as we think about our social networks and the larger body of Christ. As we shout “crucify him” about people whose beliefs differ from our own, as we tear apart our social networks, damage our social contracts, and tear apart any sort of body of believers we are part of, let’s look for resurrection and the opportunity to reconnect with diversity.

(Categories: )

Concerning the SBAC Tests

When I ran for State Representative, I often spoke out against standardized testing. For me, and my family, it hasn’t been a big issue. We’ve always done very well on standardized tests. They have not hurt us, in fact, if anything, they’ve most likely helped us, getting us educational opportunities we wouldn’t have gotten if we didn’t test well.

Yet if we’ve been privileged by taking tests designed in a way that benefits us, it begs the question of whether others have been disadvantaged because of the same tests.

Back when it was just the SATs, it was easier to overlook this, and go along with the system. Yet when No Child Left Behind came along and it started affecting school districts, it became harder to gloss over the impact standardized testing was beginning to have.

Now, we are confronting Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC tests. There is a lot of discussion going on about the pros and cons of Common Core and the SBAC tests. Friends are opting out of the tests and so we’ve had some family discussions about this as well.

While I am, at best, ambivalent about the SBAC tests, I always look for the teachable moments. What can my daughter learn by taking the test, even if it is flawed or inconsequential? It is good practice taking tests, in this case, using technology, a skill she is likely to need from time to time in the future.

On the other hand, might there be a more valuable teachable moment, in opting her out of the SBAC test? In search of this moment, I told her that if she wanted to be opted out of the SBAC test she should write a persuasive essay on why she believe she should be opted out. She put a lot of effort into this and with her permission, I’m sharing it on my blog. Based on this, it is our intention to opt our daughter out of the SBAC tests.

However, the teachable moment is not necessarily over. Let’s continue the discussion. What do you think? Should we opt our daughter out of SBAC? What do you think she should be doing while other students are taking SBAC? What other things should we consider?

Why I Shouldn’t Take The S.B.A.C.

I do not believe I should take the S.B.A.C. test because it accounts for nothing. It does not reflect on me or the school. Making my reasons clear in this essay will help teach me to stick up for what I believe is right. S.B.A.C. stands for Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.

The results of this test will not will not reflect on the school or me. We are not going to get our scores back either. The Board of Directors is using students as test subjects to see if they should keep using the test. I believe that there would be better ways to develop a good test than by someone who doesn’t know the students making it up and putting pressure on teachers to make sure students do well.

If I opt out of the test it will help me learn to stand up for what I believe is right. I do not believe that S.B.A.C. is a good thing because it seems to be taking away from school time that would be better if we studied something else. I will be taking the test on the IPads which will be much harder than a computer or a pencil and paper. It will be a much harder test then C.M.T.’s. I have heard that teachers might be fired if students don’t do well on the test, and this isn’t fair.

Yes, it will be good practice for the future, but it is taking away valuable learning time away from us. It is a test that I believe will take four weeks, not to mention all the practices we have to do. Mu teacher has been working on poetry with us, which I am enjoying very much, but because of S.B.A.C. we will not be able to finish our unit. He also turned down a chance for the Lieutenant Governor to come in and talk to us because he is trying to give us more time for digital storytelling before S.B.A.C.. He seems very stressed out about the tests, and has been taking his stress out on us students. It is hard to learn when everyone is so stressed out.

For these reasons I believe that I should not take the S.B.A.C. Tests. They don’t account for anything. It will help me to learn to stand up for what’s right. It takes away precious learning time. That is why I think I should opt out.

(Categories: )

#TEDxVille - Prologue

Still reeling from the death of Bridget and the news that another friend is in the hospital, I got behind the wheel of my rusting 1997 Black Nissan Altima and started my drive up to Somerville to hear my middle daughter, Miranda, speak at TEDxSomerville.

The drive is only a couple hours, much shorter than the trips I used to take when Miranda was in College in Virginia, but to add to my blues was the rain. It seems like every time I drive up to a big event Miranda is involved in, it is raining, sort of like the negative space in a painting.

I’m going through one of those really busy phases at work, and my free time is also at a premium right now. I missed two other important events to go up and hear Miranda. I thought about Bridget. I thought about my friend in the hospital. What is life all about, anyway? I go through the motions every day. I do my tasks at work, hoping to make life better for those around me. On good days, I get a chance to write.

“What I need”, I thought to myself, “is a transcendent moment, a transformational moment, a spark of inspiration.” I go to so many conferences. I gather information. I write about the parts that grab me. This too, has become yet another task, yet another chore, something I do by rote.

I arrived in Somerville, parked in a lot and headed over to the TEDxSomerville venue, Brooklyn Boulders.

Brooklyn Boulders is a climbing community in an old factory. The walls are covered with foothold, handholds and art. It is a great space, but not the sort of space you’d expect to find a TEDx conference. People were climbing as volunteers set out folding chairs and giant beanbag chairs.

I headed towards the Assembly Row blogger lounge. I sat around and talked with other writers, had some amazing champagne raspberry Jello shots, recharged my batteries and got ready for the event.

(Categories: )

And when she wrote about rescuing a dog, she gained enlightenment

It is the last Saturday evening of March and the rain is coming down. Kim is downstairs, watching television, unwinding after more social interaction today than an introvert feels comfortable with. Fiona is on the living room couch, cuddling the cat and watching something on her smartphone. I am writing, trying to make sense of the past few weeks.

I’m not sure if I’d describe part of March as being either lion like or lamb like. If anything, March has been like a senile lion, at times dangerous, at times, somewhat peaceful, but always trying. It has been another month where I haven’t gotten to write as much as I normally would like.

Friday, I watched parts of TEDxPhilly livestreaming on my computer. There were lots of bright people saying inspiring things, but does it matter? My thoughts drifted to Benjamin Bratton’s TEDx talk, New Perspectives - What's Wrong with TED Talks? Are TED (and TEDx) talks really just placebo politics? Are they a distraction from the real hard work of changing the world?

At home, Friday evening, I read various news stories about the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital. This was the hospital closest to the town I grew up in. I’ve slowly been learning the details of what led up to this, but I still have a very incomplete picture and uncertainty about what it means for the people of Northern Berkshire County going forward.

This morning, I headed off to the West Haven Funeral Home for a memorial of Bridget Albert. She was a local reporter and an animal rescuer. As I walked into the funeral home, the old feelings about how contrived funeral homes seem came back to me; the wide halls that you can carry caskets in, the large rooms with enough folding chairs for six dozen people, the front of the room with the casket and fresh flowers, instead of the large screen television that seems to grace most large family rooms. The flowers will soon wilt and be discarded. Those who mourn will slowly pick the pieces and find a new normal.

I’ve been to more than my share of funeral homes over the past decade and I looked around this one. Sure, there were the requisite flowers, but there were pictures of rescued animals as well. I glanced around at the crowd. Instead of the distant relatives standing awkwardly in groups around the room, this crowd was made up of people deeply involved in the local community. There were members of various boards and commissions. There were people from various animal rescue organizations. There were local reporters. Yeah, some of them may have watched TED talks, but often they were too busy making sure that the local community they lived in worked as well as possible.

I feel like I straddle these worlds. I sit on boards and commissions, support animal rescue activities, and write about local events when I get time, but I also have my digital life. I took part in a Thunderclap this morning to encourage people to sign up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Over a hundred people participated and the message went out to over a hundred thousand people. Did it make a difference? We’ll see.

I read through Facebook posts, and final got around to watching Upside: Anything is Possible; an advertisement by Ford appealing to those who try to make the world better, in contrast to the self-absorbed character in the Cadillac ad. Yes, Pashon Murray, like Bridget Albert, is the sort of role model we should be looking for.

Tomorrow, I’ll head up to TEDxSomerville where Miranda will be speaking. Will the people there be promoting role models like Pashon and Bridget? Will they be offering placebo politics? How can we think more deeply about the issues?

A while ago, a friend posted on Facebook wall a link to 20 Crucial Terms Every 21st Century Futurist Should Know. One of the terms that was discussed was ‘Repressive Desublimation’ based on the work of Herbert Marcuse.

pop culture encourages people to desublimate or express their desires, whether those are for sex, drugs or violent video games. At the same time, they're discouraged from questioning corporate and government authorities

Is this another way of talking about the placebo politics that Bratton talked about? I think so.

It is tempting to wander off on thoughts about how this relates to Godel’s second incompleteness theorem or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, systems change, and the possibility of the created understanding the mind of the creator. But these thoughts, as well, may end up distracting us from the daily tasks around us of making the world better.

So, I’ll wrap this up, finish clearing the table, head off to bed, and hope my mind will be clear for tomorrow.

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?
The monk replied, “I have eaten.”
Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.

(Categories: )

I Got My News from Bridget

As part of its eighth anniversary celebration, Twitter came out with a tool to find your first tweet. Mine was, “playing with twitter” back on October 15, 2006. Twitter wasn’t as well-known back then, but it was a great source of news. I’m guessing it was about a year later that my wife made me a shirt which said, “I get my news on Twitter”. It would raise eye-brows when I wore it to conferences on the future of journalism.

At these conferences, people would talk about how Craigslist was stealing all the classified advertising revenue and large corporations were buying up local papers, sucking whatever they could out of the profit, laying off local reporters, and trying to cover every story from headquarters in Chicago or Yardley, PA.

People talked about how the Internet might be used for news in the future but always talked about the importance of the local reporter. Local reporters had the relationships necessary to get the news. They had the background to provide the context and they had the readers that would follow them to whatever platform.

Bridget Albert was a great example of one of these local reporters. She worked for a while for the New Haven Register, one of those legacy news organizations bought up by folks from Yardley, and now working on reinventing itself. She later worked for The Orange Times. She covered me when I ran for State Representative. She covered my daughter’s radio show. I was a source. I was a reader. I was a friend.

It only seems fitting that Friday night, I learned of her passing from a post her partner posted on her Facebook page. “Bridget has passed. She died suddenly in her sleep. Memorial information will be forthcoming.”

As I read through the outpourings of grief, I find may friends and acquaintances from the community, people I’ve worked with in politics and animal rescue. There are numerous offers condolences and help. It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful local reporter. Rest in Peace, Bridget. I got my news from you.

(Categories: )
Syndicate content