Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kids clueless in civics?

The National Center for Education Statistics in Washington DC just issued a periodic progress report on what students know in a variety of subject matters (aka, the Nation's Report Card) and discovered that only 27% of high school seniors were proficient in civics and government. What exactly does that mean? It means that kids about to head off to college can't identify the 3 branches of government. And its not just kids, many adults are equally clueless. In a speech 2 months ago, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota, a possible Republican candidate for president, identified New Hampshire (instead of Massachusetts) as the "state where the shot was heard around the world."

Now maybe this doesn't come as a surprise to you given our nation's dogged focus on reading, science and math for purposes of keeping pace with other western countries. After all, No Child Left Behind was the federal policy implemented to focus on these 3 subjects, largely at the expense of other subjects like history, social studies, civics, art, well, pretty much everything else.

As someone who studied art in college and still dabbles in it to this day, I find our collective lack of focus on the arts to be an incrediblly sad loss for the next generation. But as a voter and an active participant in state government, ignorance of basic democracy is just flat out dangerous. Those under the age of 25 are less likely to vote. They are less increasingly disengaged from civic and political life. And who can blame them? With the polarized antics on talk radio and TV, it looks like a giant joke. But it is precisely that sort of crack in the system that exposes us to being misled as a nation.

Democracy depends on engaged, informed citizens who particpate in the process in an educated, meaningful way. So, what to do? For starters, you want to arm yourself, as a parent, with some lesson plans, web quests, games and discussion forums aimed at educating kids on the Constitution, the 3 branches of government and the rights and responsibiliites of citizenship, visit - a web based educational project developed by retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a long time champion of civic education. It won't solve everything, but it is a start.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


There are still random chunks of snow on the ground and the pond froze back over the other night when temperatures slipped back into the low 20s, but spring is coming.  Or at least, that is what I keep telling myself.  I am gearing up accordingly, my first crop of greens have been planted and have sprouted up nicely.  I have some speckled romaine, lettuce, arugula.  The other day I planted snap peas.  I could have planted them outside, they can withstand the cold, but my garden isn't ready yet.  Good thing too because we are getting hammered with a downpour right now and they would have all washed away.

I love dirt.  I love the possibilities of growth and new life.  I got hooked on gardening when I was around 6, my parents gave me a plastic turtle planter that I kept on the balcony of our flat.  A couple years later, I grew an entire row of tiny little tomatoes that just burst with flavor.  I was so proud of myself. Given a chance, I think a lot of kids are drawn to gardening.  My almost 3 year old son helped me plant the peas and we take a look every morning to see which ones have popped tender little shoots up towards the light.  He randomly sticks more seeds in the dirt and counts the new spouts.  Just looking at all my seed packets is fun.  Fedco seeds reign supreme in these parts.  

I'm not the only one sensing spring around the corner.  Last night my husband found this spotted salamander waiting beside our babysitter's car, gave her a good shock!  But it was sweet, almost smiling.  It's body was so cold but after about 5 minutes hanging out in a warm palm of a hand, he started moving around so back out to the pond he went.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Transit Options for Mainers

Maine is a very rural state, it is part charm here.  Back country roads, winding country roads, coastal routes, dirt roads, pothole filled roads.  Lots and lots of roads.  And it takes lots and lots of disposable income to drive all over those roads.  So I thought it was nothing short of pure genius to support (as in draft, find a co-sponosr and lobby the heck out of) a bill to provide bus service between two of our most populated and economically prosperous cities - Portland and Lewiston-Auburn ("LA"), not to be confused with the Calif LA, haha!  As if.

Anyway, the bill died an early and tragic death.  The reason?  Our transportation committee members felt that there wouldn't be any riders.  Sen. Doug Thomas (R) (did I really need to note the party?) actually suggested removing the shrink wrapped bus ads so everyone could see how empty the buses were.  Yep, that's right, it is a massive liberal conspiracy to wrap buses in paid advertisement from private businesses just to disguise the public transit failure.  Good grief.

Well, I fumed.  I hemmed, I hawed, I have no idea what is involved with those verbs, but I did it.  And finally, while smiling at a poll of 13,000 Mainers seeking to recall Governor LePage in an online petition, it dawned on me - do a poll!  So I am.  It is simple and to the point: do you think there should be transit options between Portland and LA?  Want to take a gander at it?  Here is the link:

Friday, April 1, 2011

A slow start to spring

Spring can be slow to show itself in these parts.  As my bulbs remain buried under a foot of snow, it can be challenging to determine if its December or April.  One of the few signs is a bit more light at the end of the day (a lifesaver with small children who crave being outside).  There are also seasonal rituals to help mark the onset of spring.  Tapping Sugar Maples is one sure sign.  Any drive along a rural road in Maine this time of year will reveal slate gray metal buckets fastened to trees, getting heavy with the slow drip of clear, runny sap.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.  Think about that the next time you balk at real Maple syrup prices.  Trust me, it is worth it.  Besides, once you taste this stuff, you can never go back to "maple flavored" syrup, whatever that is.  

Mainers celebrate this time of year with a state-wide "Maine Maple Sunday" where sugar shacks across the state open their doors to sample a litany of Maple-ly concoctions.  Eating local this time of year is sheer, sugary fun: maple syrup & pancakes with maple sausage, maple ice cream, maple popcorn, maple doughnuts, maple baked beans, maple butter, maple candy, you name it.  My boys ate it.  And after they got all sticky with maple goodness, we tossed them in the car and sang songs all the way home, because they sure weren't going to nap.

Another spring rite of passage is sheep shearing.  We gathered around our neighbor's gentle sheep to watch as their thick, musky fleece got shorn off in one, large mat.  The sheep were surprisingly docile once they were off their feet.  Their mates still garbed in their winter coats would sniff the newly shorn sheep with interest and even tussled a bit, as if the shorn sheep was a completely different animal.  I remember getting my hair cut short once, my husband had much the same reaction.  It's amazing what a haircut can do.  But as I sit here and watch an endless pile of snow drop from the sky, I imagine those sheep are thinking that someone misread the calendar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Oh Egypt...

I'm not sure how I feel about Mubarek.  I'm not from Egypt, but some of my best friends growing up were, I can't reach them right now because of internet blocks by the Egyptian government, but I wonder, what do they want?  What do they consider a successful Egypt?  I applaud the stance for democracy yet worry about the violent outbreaks.  I want my friends to be safe.  I want their children to have a future in a land that has a history of civilization dating back thousands of years.  We are watching you careful.