Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feedback for Asperger syndrome articles

I got some good feedback today about raising awareness of Asperger Syndrome in the articles I've written in the newspaper. Someone whose younger relative had been diagnosed called the paper and she said she appreciated my drawing attention to the condition so parents might recognize similar situations in their children. I'm glad.

Originally posted to DailyStrength.org

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bullying prevention involves an entire school

Local school districts are definitely not created equal when it comes to outlining student rights and responsibilities and getting that information to the public.

Among our four unified districts, Konocti’s policy seems the most in-depth and has a link on the district home page, www.konoctiusd.lake.k12.ca.us/. It has entire sections that address various offenses directed by students toward their peers.

I couldn’t find district policies on Lakeport and Middletown sites and while I found Kelseyville’s district policy, the section that most closely approximated a defense of student welfare consisted of a standard notice that prohibits discrimination.

I could not find references to recourse for victims of bullying or other abuse on the Kelseyville policy Web page. Specified offenses toward students included “profanity” and “threats” but bullying such as teasing or put-downs doesn’t necessarily fall within these categories.

Terrace School in Lakeport hosted assemblies with guest speaker Michael Pritchard on Friday, Jan. 11, to address building a caring and safe school community.

Konocti school assemblies regularly address the problem of bullying and district consultant Monty Roberts is working with Konocti schools to teach that violence is never the answer.

But in their day-to-day reality, how aware are our local students of the avenues that are available to confront a bullying attempt? At Pomo Elementary School, students sign a pledge agreeing to “stamp out bullying.” The school’s principal, April Leiferman, gave me a copy of the pledge, which holds onlookers just as guilty if they fail to report or stop the bullying.

Bullies choose victims for their weakness and inability to defend themselves, which makes it all the more important that entire school communities be willing to address this problem.

Think about it: a victim has already been demoralized by being the victim of a bully who has a network of friends to rely upon while the victim, too often, does not. Does the victim know where to turn to report this
harassment? Will the complaint be taken seriously if he or she (or a third party) comes forward?

Are policies in place to ensure that pursuing a recourse will protect the victim from further abuse or will it merely pile on further social stigma for the victim among his or her peers?

Under no circumstances should bullying escalate until a victim is forced to resort to desperate, inappropriate measures. When a situation has progressed to the point when a victim responds with violence, he or she should face the consequences — but events leading up to that incident should be given due consideration.

In my opinion, under these circumstances, the district bears the greater share of blame for having turned a blind eye and for having withheld interventions that could have resolved the situation earlier

School assemblies should encourage third parties to be involved in bullying prevention.

Our local schools might also consider adopting anti-bullying pledges the way that Pomo Elementary has.
Any adults who are employed by the district and who come into contact with its students should be required by district policy to make referrals for discipline when inappropriate behavior is observed. It should not fall solely upon the victim to defend him- or herself from abuse.

Here’s what Konocti’s policy has to say about recourses against sexual harassment. The procedure also applies toward bullying with the district’s recent adoption of a new policy:
“Any student who feels that he/she is being or has been subjected to sexual harassment shall immediately contact his/her teacher or any other employee. A school employee to whom a complaint is made shall, within 24 hours of receiving the complaint, report it to the principal or designee.
“Any school employee who observes any incident of sexual harassment involving a student shall report this observation to the principal or designee, whether or not the victim files a complaint.”
I hope that the rest of our local districts adopt similar board policies about student rights, responsibilities and available forms of recourse. If they have already done so, I ask that they please make this information available through as widespread means as possible within their school communities.

Published Jan. 16, 2008 in the Clear Lake Observer American

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Miss Elizabeth in ‘Mile-a-Minute’ afghan

The head of a brown-tabby-and-white cat emerges from folds of an afghan crocheted in a loose, open stitch from brown and two-toned greenish-blue yarn.

Elizabeth sinks into the newest afghan, a “mile-a-minute” afghan crocheted on a gigantic hook out of brown and two-toned greenish-blue yarn.

Originally posted to Facebook

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ivins’ book is legacy to Bill of Rights

Book cover: "Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights" by Molly Ivins and Lou DuboseWhat began as a book to honor ordinary Americans who defend our most precious liberties, instead paints a chilling picture of human rights abuses directed against ordinary citizens by the Bush Administration.

In her final book, Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch’s Assault on America’s Fundamental Rights, written with Lou Dubose, Molly Ivins explains that she has spoken for years — at least once a month free of charge — about the Bill of Rights because she promised John Henry Faulk she would “take care of the First Amendment, a fairly ludicrous case of overreach.”

While delivering these talks, Ivins started compiling a book that was intended to honor people who are defending U.S. liberties. “I meant for this to be a hopeful and a gladsome romp through some serious terrain, and I do think the book includes some right joyous tales,” she writes. “But since September 11, 2001, the story of those who stand up for American freedom has gotten darker. The extraordinary heroes are still out there, but now we find more victims of our failure to stand up for our own rights.”

The media routinely report upon encroachments against our liberties that are illegal in the bargain — secret police actions, wiretapping without a permit and indefinite suspension without being informed of the charges — as well as violations of international codes of conduct such as the Geneva Conventions but the Executive Branch’s abuses continue unabated and unchecked.

“As much as those victims kick back when their constitutional rights are trampled by their government, it keeps happening, stranger and stranger, creepier and creepier. But of course,” Ivins wryly observes, “we must not scare Americans with phantoms of lost liberty: that would be helping the terrorists.”

This book illustrates ways in which our federal government limits its citizens’ liberties that were guaranteed by the Bill of Rights — usually in the name of “security.” “Free-speech zones” are routinely imposed anytime the President makes an appearance. Dissenters are prohibited from approaching what are otherwise public events — and if they do show up, they are subject to arrest.

In distant so-called “freespeech zones,” dissenters might as well not exist — since, in the act of covering their messages, journalists will have to relinquish their own access to the president. That’s assuming the dissenters are visible at all.

But Ivins’ book also illustrates ways in which citizens have fought back and won. A caravan of demonstrators driving through Crawford, Texas, on their way to the president’s ranch were stopped by a police blockade — supposedly because the motorists were a “parade” without a permit. During the resulting court case, the chief of police was forced to admit that an annual homecoming drive-through also qualified as a “parade,” even though the chief had no intention of ever arresting those cruisers.

Other heroes include parents and school board members who refused to allow religious extremists to hijack their schools’ science curriculum to teach Biblical creationism in the guise of “intelligent design,” journalists who refused to relinquish notes and video when law enforcement agencies tried to make them de-facto “investigators,” a man in Portland, Ore. whose alleged connection to a suspected terrorist read like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and library officials who fought back when agents demanded access to online computer-use records.

Bill of Wrongs is co-written with Lou Dubose, Ivins’ longtime collaborator. In the book’s afterward, Dubose describes how Ivins stayed fully involved in the projectin the remaining days of her life. “This book was Molly’s project, the Bill of Rights her great love, writing her life’s mission.”

Ivins died Jan. 31, 2007, but her final book creates an enduring legacy for the cause that was nearest to her heart.

Published Jan. 10, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Monday, January 7, 2008

My first Toastmasters meeting

Well, went to my first Toastmasters meeting. It was very rewarding. I will definitely join the group. I think it has a lot to offer. Members take turns each meeting serving in different roles: "ah" counter, timekeeper, evaluator for the speeches.

Last night there were two members who had prepared speeches. As it turned out, they were working on the same project in the same workbook, which was having to give a toast. Each took a very different approach to his toast, which was very interesting.

After the prepared speeches we had "Table Talk," which is where the members are asked questions for which they have to give impromptu answers. It was definitely a good experience. I'm looking forward to joining the group; I'm bringing back my application next week.

Originally posted to DailyStrength.org