A Letter to December.

Dear December,

I’m not sure when it started happening, this horror you bring to my life every year. Perhaps it’s always been this way and I’m just now noticing it. That’s entirely possible. So I shouldn’t be quite so angry with you. It’s mostly my fault.

But other months don’t do this to me year after year.

This week alone I was out until 8 or 9 p.m. every night–three nights work-related, one night spent with friends, one night running errands because of the other four nights spoken for and Saturday completely booked.

This morning I was going to wake up early, go to Jazzercise and run more errands before picking up a friend to go see the musical “Waitress” and then attending a church Christmas party that has had my stomach in knots for three weeks.

When I got home last night at 10:15, my whole being chided, “Julie. Tomorrow morning you are going to sleep in. You will eat your favorite yogurt and a bagel for breakfast, while in bed watching something mindless. Spend a little time writing. You’ll eventually get up and get ready for the day, maybe even vacuum, maybe grade a few papers, maybe even get a jump start on holiday baking. You are taking the morning off. It’s the only way you won’t lose your mind.”

The problem with that chastisement is I have goals I set last January, and guess what, December–you make it nearly impossible for a last-minute push to meet any of them. Plus I have a mountain of tasks, all priorities, that need tending to. I feel guilty for taking a morning off.

So I have to make a choice: meet my goals and complete my tasks, or lose my mind. What would you have me do December?

All the things.

That’s what you would have me do, because it’s what you have me do every year. All the things. Which, for a month that is supposed to be about love and joy and peace, seems counter to your alleged theme and purpose.

The only positive thing I can say about you at this point, December, is that this morning is December 16, which means you are half over, and then I don’t have to see you again for another year.

But I am taking this morning off.

Sincerely,

Julie

 

 

Keeping the World Safe for Democracy.

Growing up, I never understood what my dad’s job entailed. His security clearances required he not share a whole lot about the specifics, but he would often tell me his job involved “keeping the world safe for democracy.”

The older I got, I tended to laugh a little when he would say that phrase; it seemed a little tongue-in-cheek, a nod to the fact that he couldn’t tell me just how dangerous his job was. A veteran of the Cold War, his job entailed managing parts of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and being an expert at deterrence theory. He literally kept the world safe.

In my own public service career, I have made similar passing comments about my work, often when talking to my peers. What do I do? I change lives. I’m a champion for children. I’m helping the future. All idealistic catch phrases I’ve said over the past 17 years, sometimes sarcastically, sometimes not.

Ernest Hooper, a columnist with the Tampa Bay Times wrote a piece this week about his experience at the Journalism Education Association’s Fall Convention. It’s fantastic. You should read it.

I’ve taught media literacy in some capacity my entire career, but I’m not sure how I would’ve answered if people asked me on a regular basis why I feel so strongly about teaching media literacy. I’d probably fall back on those catch phrases.

But Hooper’s column gives me the real answer: “Protecting [democracy] begins with educating a new generation that you can’t have freedom without a free press.”

With public education under attack locally through LB 295 and at the national level with the House’s tax reform bill (the Senate’s bill is a bit more supportive of education), I get discouraged about my job and wonder how much longer I’ll be able to do it. Especially since I teach journalism, and if you haven’t heard, the current leader of the free world doesn’t take too kindly to journalists.

My current job feels a bit precarious.

But tonight, I have a renewed sense of purpose, thanks to Hooper. I might be changing lives and teaching the future and whatever teaching cliché you want to throw at me.

But really, I’m keeping the world safe for democracy.

I’m a Rowse. It’s what we do.

 

More Than One Kind of Work Ethic.

Dear Senator Sasse,

I am one of your constituents. I teach in a public high school in Nebraska. Last summer, I attended a town hall you held in Papillion, and I was impressed with your candor and demeanor. Even though I disagree with you politically, I want to hear what you have to say, and I usually keep my mouth shut.

But I take issue with the op-ed you wrote for the New York Times. Next week, I will begin my 17th year of teaching. I’ve taught in Utah, Nebraska, and as a grad assistant in Ohio while earning my master’s degree. I’ve taught a variety of subjects and thousands of students at this point, and here’s one of the many things I’ve learned: there is more than one kind of work ethic.

I’ll concede that I’ve had students who tested my patience because of their lack of will to work–though more often than not, those kids actually worked crazy hard in other classes or at their jobs. I’ve had kids who worked three jobs to help their parents pay the bills. I’ve had kids who took AP classes and did sports and did extracurricular activities and somehow still made time to hold down jobs. I teach mostly juniors and seniors in high school, and nearly every single one of them has a job. They do not lack work ethic.

I’ve been a newspaper adviser for six years now, and every editor-in-chief I’ve had has been a combination of the following: AP student. Honors student. Athlete. Dancer. Club member. Volunteer. And they all have also had jobs.

But I kind of expect that of my EICs. So let me tell you a little about the kids who aren’t the “top-tier” student.

The student who has the emotional work ethic to get out of bed every morning and go to school in a space he feels unsafe because he is Muslim. Because he is liberal. Because he is conservative. Because he is not athletic. Because his grades are failing. Because he is gay.

Or the student who has the emotional work ethic to get out of bed every morning and go to school in a space she feels unsafe because she is Catholic. Because she is overweight. Because she is skinny. Because her grandmother is undocumented. Because she is a woman. Because she is queer.

There is more than one kind of work ethic, and the kind you write about in your op-ed is valuable, to be sure. But to not acknowledge the emotional work ethic placed upon students today is short-sighted and, frankly, insulting.

My students work hard. They might not be working hard in my class on a given day, but in 17 years, I’ve learned to step back and learn about that kid–what else does he have going on in his life? Is he working hard someplace else?

To close, a quick story about two students I taught last year. Senior boys, who took my introductory journalistic writing class. This is a class comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores who want to be on newspaper or yearbook staff. These boys were graduating, and therefore, would not be on staff. I had no idea why they were my students, and initially, I was suspicious of how long those two senior boys would last. Journalistic writing is not for the weak–we write and we talk to people we don’t know, and I make kids draft and draft and draft their stories.

Yet every day, those two boys showed up and learned. They wrote. They revised. They asked questions. They revised again. They had their work critiqued by the entire class.

They did not need my class to graduate, and could have taken a study hall. Their lives outside of school were not easy. But they stayed and successfully completed a class they did not need.

Work ethic? Yeah, they had it in spades.

I implore you, Senator, to spend some time during your recesses and talk to teachers and talk to students about their work. Go visit the good people at Nebraska Loves Public Schools and see how you can help their mission.

The students of Nebraska do have a work ethic. They might not all be detassling corn in the summers, but they are working physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Acknowledge them.

Sincerely,

Julie L. Rowse

Encourage Artists.

I’m finally emerging from the yearly musical-induced hibernation and starting to resume a sense of normal routine, which includes writing here. And the first post back from hiatus is a bit of a rant.

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, you may have seen this 2016 video of University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma talking about body language of athletes. This week, he spoke about the importance of teammates.

Then there’s this video from former Wisconsin’s women’s basketball coach Bobbie Kelsey.

Even Senator Ben Sasse published his thoughts on losing, and the role parents have to play in helping students rise above disappointment.

I love basketball, and I love all of these messages, but I’m also conflicted.

Why is it so easy to like, share, and agree with these words in a sporting context, but we don’t often see the same sentiments expressed about other activities, or even–gasp–education? The skills that Auriemma, Kelsey, and Sasse say are vital for athletes, I say are vital for any artist.

I advise a student newspaper and website, and all of these videos have application to my staffers. They sometimes are so focused on their own work and lives that they sometimes forget that the work they do (or don’t do) reflects on everyone on staff. They sometimes get frustrated with stories not getting published or entered in contests, but they don’t practice their writing. They experience disappointment with editorial decisions, or they don’t place well in contests, and find resilience difficult to come by.

And I’ve seen the same behaviors with nearly every activity my colleagues coach and sponsor, and the same behaviors in classes.

So I’m glad these videos are out there and go viral–I just ask that when we share them, we realize the advice of these coaches can apply to pretty much anything our students engage in.

I tell my writing and photography students every semester that they only way they will improve is to practice. And practice, I tell them, is not always a grade, just like shooting free throws for 10 minutes after practice isn’t winning a game down the stretch. Though I’m quick to add that practice will improve their grades and skills just like shooting free throws after practice will win games down the stretch.

With the arts and humanities increasingly under assault from the highest levels, it’s more important than ever to apply these lessons from athletic leaders to our milieu. Budding writers, musicians, artists, photographers– they all need a sense of what it means to be a teammate, they all need to practice, they all need to spend some time away from their phones, and they all need to learn the resilience lessons that losing and disappointment teach.

The more practice, teamwork, and resilience we can instill in our artists is one way we can ensure the survival of the arts, not only in schools, but also in our communities. Because as much as I love basketball–and I do love it quite a bit–I also love reading and writing and concerts and plays.

Encourage artists the way we already encourage athletes.

Righteous Gentiles.

I wrote a much longer diatribe about today’s events, but really, it all boils down to this:

I am heartbroken over my church’s silence on today’s Executive Order regarding refugees and immigration. I hope they break that silence soon.

I’ve been attending a class on Judaism, and this past Monday’s class we discussed the Holocaust. Our teacher told us about “Righteous Gentiles” who didn’t even think twice about helping Jews. They acted because they had courage and compassion. He told us about the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, and I struggled to hold back tears as he spoke.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to start acting like Righteous Gentiles, and to speak out against the blatant religious discrimination that happened today.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to appeal to the elected Mormons in Congress that this is the kind of battle they should suit up for–more so than any other political issue that might cross their committees.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to start acting like the Christians we claim to be and stop being afraid of refugees who are already put through an arduous vetting process.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to want to be Righteous Gentiles.

I’ve spent most of my life responding to accusations that, as a Mormon, I’m not Christian. I am.

But tonight, and in the days to come, I want to be a Righteous Gentile.

My Judaism teacher gave us this article to read. He said it is one of the best articles he’s come across regarding how to ensure another Holocaust does not happen. Please read and share.