Letters to the editor for Jan. 10, 2014

Setting an example

To the Editor:

After too much pain and with work still to be done, community members from the Anoka-Hennepin School District can still take pride in setting an example for the rest of the state.

The long and difficult work of changing district policy on bullying has laid the groundwork for much-needed statewide legislation. It’s one of the examples in a new Minnesota 2020 report, “Local Lessons: Five Case Studies in Community-Driven Education Reform.”

After student suicides driven in part by anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) bullying, community members organized to change the climate of the district. The Gay Equity Team, which formed in response to some of the earlier suicides, provided an outlet for action as well as a support network for those hurt by later suicides.

The target was the district’s “neutrality” policy, which many community members felt tied teachers’ and administrators’ hands in responding to anti-LGBT bullying.

In addition to building its own strength, the Gay Equity Team worked with Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota (AHEM, the local teachers’ union) to change not just the district’s mindset about sexual orientation and bullying.

The coalition took work to maintain. Members came from different backgrounds and represented many groups. Despite the challenges, the coalition hung together.

The Gay Equity Team brought passion and new organizing power, while the union brought its own membership and media contacts. Eventually, the coalition won, playing a major role in the district’s replacement for the “neutrality” policy.

As all involved will tell you, there is much more to do. While initial observations suggest that the district is improving, changing the whole climate takes time and sustained attention. The policy change was a beginning, not an end, and local leaders must keep working to ensure students feel safe and can focus on learning.

Still, the success of the community members who organized on behalf of students should be recognized. The state can and should validate this local achievement by incorporating its lessons into statewide policies that help other districts meet all students’ needs.

In doing so, they’ll also be building on the work from another story in the report, the St. Paul teachers’ union’s opposition to the 2012 amendment referenda. That, too, came from a desire to show students that their schools and teachers care about them.

As the Anoka-Hennepin example demonstrates, local successes depend on the full diversity of community voices. A statewide policy based on the Anoka-Hennepin experience is another step toward the schools our students deserve, but each community will need its own leaders to build support in and out of the schools.

These show some of the key lessons identified by the report. Community-driven reform meets local needs, directly affects the school experience, and depends on local diversity.

Statewide issues – including bullying – show up differently in each community. Communities need to encourage a diverse set of partners and leaders to put in the time and effort to ensure schools keep students safe and learning.

On this issue and others, it is important that local leaders invite community organizations into the public sphere, seek a diverse set of partners, and focus on results.

For its part, the state should validate local successes, support many kinds of collaboration, and provide schools with the resources to move from a starvation mentality to an innovation mentality.

For Anoka-Hennepin leaders, focusing on the results of anti-bullying efforts must be a priority. The state should validate this work through statewide anti-bullying reform and supporting communities to get the right results.

To read the full report, including more on this story, visit mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/reports.

Michael Diedrich,
Minnesota 2020 Education Fellow

Climate change

To the Editor:

Much news is continually made about CO2 emissions, which are blamed mostly on our autos and coal-fired power plants. I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist and appreciate the work of conservationist groups within Minnesota plus the international work of Al Gore and his projects.

Saving our planet from the disasters that will likely come from increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is laudatory work, and it is right that we become at least educated, if not alarmed, by the prospects that disasters may come to our progeny, if not to ourselves.

Yet scientists are not universally agreed that our Earth is warming at an alarming rate; in fact, our planet has cooled by 0.70 C in the past 100 years, so the new mantra of “climate change” has replaced “global warming” in the lexicon of serious thinkers and reporters.

But we do see that consequences of climate change are beginning to show – with massive, destructive hurricanes in New Jersey and the Philippines providing undeniable recent evidence. So what are we to make of all this or do about it?

The evil CO2 that we are told we should suppress is that same vital chemical compound that every plant needs to live and grow and use in photosynthesis to produce the O2 for us humans and all animal life to breathe and survive.

We are caught in a “Catch 22” on the subject and we’re good people, so we do what we can. We drive hybrids, bring our cloth grocery bags with us to the store, use only two squares of toilet paper, ride our bicycles instead of driving, sell our gas-guzzling SUVs and replace our 50¢ light bulbs with $10 halogens…all at the same time we enjoy little cutbacks in the conveniences that “ready-kilowatt” electricity provides to make our lives more tolerable on planet earth.

Our coal-fired power plants continue to hum along unabated and no new nuclear plants are under construction. Is any of this worth our daily concerns? Can we, by our actions alone, really make a difference in the long-term scale of greenhouse gas emissions?

When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it spewed out more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire human race had in all its years on earth. The volcano in Iceland that erupted in May 2011 at Grímsvötn, under the Vatnajökull glacier, sent thousands of tons of ash into the sky in a few days, raising concerns of a repeat of the travel chaos seen across northern Europe during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, notable, you’ll remember, because the volcanic ash plume disrupted air travel in northern Europe for several weeks; however this volcano is minor in Icelandic terms, and Iceland alone has 30 such volcanoes.

This 2010 Icelandic eruption in just four days negated every single effort the entire human population made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on earth. And there are about 200 active volcanoes on the planet spewing out this crud at any one time – every day.

This has been occurring for tens of thousands of years, and nothing is going to stop it. The earth is a restless place.  Deal with it!

In addition, the effects of solar and cosmic activity and the well-recognized 800-year global heating and cooling cycle will keep happening despite our completely insignificant efforts to affect climate change.

I wish there was a silver-lining to all this, and I could report that we humans are in complete control of our earth. But we aren’t. Volcanic ash clouds and lightning-induced brush fires across the earth will continue, unabated; and there is nothing any of us can do about them.

You can hug all the trees you want, or impose a governmental law to charge us all a carbon tax which may make us all happy and poorer; but it won’t stop volcanoes from erupting or our western landscape from burning, or the next Hurricane Sandy from attacking our mainland.

Relax: Instead, hug the earth, say a prayer, and enjoy your day!

Roger Johnson
Coon Rapids

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