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.

 

 

 

I Can Write: A Letter to My Elected Officials, #1.

I’ve reflected a lot the past three months about what I could possibly do to ease my worried mind. Emily Ellsworth and Ana Navarro have reminded me that I don’t have to just sit back and worry. I can do something. And then today, Mette Ivie Harrison reminded me that of the small things I can do, writing is a place to start.

So I wrote something, and sent it to my senators and congressman. I plan to make this a habit. When I write to them, I will post those letters here, because as Harrison wrote, maybe I can “give people courage and the promise that the future they hope for will come if they work for it.” Ellsworth’s advice for writing elected officials suggested making it personal, to not use form letters. So I made it personal.

Dear Senator [—-],

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

When I was 19, I became engaged to and moved in with a man who hit me often, and verbally degraded me daily. The black eyes and bruises healed, but even now, 23 years later, his words at times bubble up and make me question my value.

At the time, I had social privilege—friends who sheltered me when I found courage to leave, and a family who took me back with not judgment.

My family had economic privilege—my family lived in Nebraska, but I was an 18-hour drive away. My dad’s job in the Air Force was such that he could take three days to come get me. His career was such that he had enough money to rent a U-Haul, pay for hotel rooms on the trip, pay for gas money, and buy meals as he rescued me. And when we returned to Nebraska, he and my mom had a house big enough to fit me back in.

My family had insurance privilege—when I was ready to admit I needed professional help to heal from the abuse, they found me a program that offered individual and group therapy. Without that advantage, I’m certain I would not be the successful teacher, writer, and musician that I am today.

As I established my own career, I enjoy those same privileges—social, economic, insurance—and when the words of my abuser crash into me at inopportune times, I can call friends or family for support, and I have on occasion gone back into therapy for “tune-ups” to make sure I don’t allow the abuse of the past dictate my present or future.

The rumored cuts to the Violence Against Women Act from President Trump’s team trouble me. I did not need those resources because I had privilege. Other women do not. I  can imagine the helplessness that women in abusive situations feel. All I had to do to get help was swallow my pride and ask my family. Other women don’t have that luxury, and it should be our societal duty to help them escape and then heal from abuse.

I plead with you to seriously consider the effects of cutting the programs suggested by President Trump. Talk to women and children who have left abusers in the past. Please put a face on these programs at risk of elimination, and then please, find a way to keep them.

If we as a country stand by and allow resources such as these to be cut, I fear we have lost sight of the most basic truths from our constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Women in abusive relationships have none of these advantages. Please make sure they will in the future.

Thank you for your time.

What Would You Do?

This morning as I walked into school, exhausted from a week of not sleeping well, my mind drifted to what I would do if I witnessed a person of color being harassed by a white man or woman. Which led my mind to a story from a church gathering from my youth.

Olympic gold-medal gymnast Peter Vidmar visited wherever we were living at the time (Alabama? Nebraska? It blurs together.) and at a gathering for LDS members–mostly youth–he told us that the easiest way to take action in life is to decide before the decision has to be made. He told us that in his early teens, he decided he would never drink alcohol. This could have been problematic as he started competing on the world stage and was often at meals where alcohol was served, and those around him were drinking.

But he made the decision before the decision had to be made–he would not drink–so when those situations occurred, there was no hand-wringing, no pro/con list. He didn’t drink. He told people he didn’t drink. The world did not end, and he won a gold medal in the Olympic Games.

Getting back to my hypothetical this morning: I have to make the decision now about what I would do if–no, when–I see a person of color being harassed. And as I go through the pros and cons of various actions I could take, I think about my Mormon great-great-grandparents getting kicked out of Denmark for their religious beliefs, and my Jewish great-grandparents getting kicked out of Russia for their religious beliefs, and the pro/con list disappears.

It’s not a choice. It’s an obligation. It’s the least I could do, as my immigrant forebears took risks, crossed an ocean and then a country to find some semblance of peace in the face of being different.

My choice is this: I’m a human shield. When I see harassment, I will step in front of it. I will correct hate speech. I will do for my fellow citizens what the Danes and Russians failed to do for my ancestors.

The decision is made.