Add This

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A father shares his grief this Memorial Day

I first heard of Andrew J. Bacevich on NPR last week. It is heart-wrenching to listen to the pain in this father's voice as he tries to make sense of his role in his son's death earlier this month in Iraq. He was an outspoken critic of the war, but did not try to talk his own son out of serving. His son died on Mother's Day in a suicide bomb attack outside of Baghdad.

Today there's his op-ed in the Washington Post. He asks many questions of our nation and yet believes that as citizens in a democracy, our voices are no longer heard.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I pray for nothing short of peace, the conviction to speak truth to power, no matter how many times it takes, and the hope that parents, such as Andrew Bacevich, and the families and friends of those serving no longer have to suffer.

Celebrating Rachel Carson's "Sense of Wonder"

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
— Rachel Carson, "The Sense of Wonder"

Many are remembering Rachel Carson on this 100th anniversary of her birth for the groundbreaking "Silent Spring." I also remember her for the gift of this beautiful book sharing the simple joys of nature.

Her message is even more poignant today.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The secret joys of freelancing

You'd be hard-pressed to convince those in need of job security that there is real joy in working without a safety net. Even for those of us who know this is the way forward, it's easy to fall into the habit of worrying — about assignments, about getting assignments, about getting paid for assignments. But there are joys to be found in the freelance life.

Here's a perfect illustration: I had tears in my eyes as I read Patti McCracken's essay in the Christian Science Monitor.

In "A life out of the newsroom – and into the news: Sipping tea with babushkas ... and other scenes from a freelancer's life," she writes how she "walked out of the newsroom and into the news," leaving behind an editing job in Chicago (along with a boyfriend, apartment, friends, car, etc.) to travel the globe helping journalists in developing regions do journalism.
"I am sometimes afraid, overwhelmed, overtired, thrilled, lonely, amazed, inspired, and sometimes a very long way from the familiar. But my days are no longer instantly filed and stored into memory, sorted by years and milestones. Instead, the events in my life are worn like a cloak wrapped around me, the deepening layers swaying with me as I move."

The quest for experiences to share, stories to tell in pursuit of some larger truth are what keep me going. I envy her freedom to explore globally, but also see ways in which I can do that in my own limited space. She writes:
"I have shared an overnight train compartment with a Bosnian soccer team and held my hands over my ears as drunken, lederhosened Germans crooned their way through three countries.

I have had my heart shredded into little pieces by orphaned babies in the Republic of Georgia, and that same heart healed by a hero who doggedly, obsessively, champions their cause.

In Vietnam, I have learned that a man really can transport a six-foot bookcase on the back of a motorbike, that a photo of Ho Chi Minh on the desk never hurts in Hanoi, and that the kindness and warmth of the Vietnamese does a heart good.

And I have learned to take toilet paper with me wherever I go."

And yet in the sharing of stories, words can have limitations.
"I have learned, I hope, that words are sometimes no more than weighted obstacles, and that an unspoken language of shared feelings and experiences is as close as I'll ever come to truth.

Ambling along in a train bound for I don't care where, I still feel the same sense of liberation that I get when I have fallen in love. Holding hands and who knows where it will all go. But isn't it lovely? And please don't let it stop. Propel me onward."

Here's to following your heart.

Another sign that high school is near

It's become increasingly apparent that I'm going to have to set up a separate gmail account to manage my sons' athletic lives. That's not a bad thing -- I prefer over-communication to under-communication. Just need to shift it away from my work stuff.

Added to the usual summer rec teams for the younger two are e-mails from the high school coaches (notably basketball and lacrosse) welcoming us and informing us of summer programs for each sport.

Ryan's summer schedule goes something like this — football speed and agility training twice a week, lifting three times a week (camp begins mid-July with two-a-days starting Aug. 2), summer hoops league in the afternoons, freshmen hoops league on Saturdays and lacrosse on Sundays and Mondays.

Latest UB story on outstanding grad

Friday's edition of the Catholic Universe Bulletin contains a profile of Anne Davis, a senior at Regina High School honored as an outstanding graduate in the diocese. It's not available online, so I've printed the story below. Anne also happens to be the oldest daughter of The Plain Dealer's Dave Davis. Congratulations, Dave!

Next up for UB, a profile of Father Darrell Rupiper, who is at St. Anthony of Padua in Fairport Harbor conducting at Eco-Mission. Story will run in the June 1 edition.

Mission trip opens the world of diplomacy to Regina senior
By Wendy A. Hoke

SOUTH EUCLID — Anne Davis flies a little under the school popularity radar.

The Regina High School senior may not be the class president, but she's an obvious leader and her service to school and community hardly goes unnoticed.

She was nominated for a Northcoast Conflict Solutions Peacemaker Award for promoting peace and justice in her community. Faculty at Regina nominated her for the Julie Award, which honors an outstanding senior for academic excellence and service to the school and community. Her fellow classmates vote later this month on the nomination.

"She's an all-around kid," said Rosemary Lips, her guidance counselor at Regina. "But she's very humble," added Ellen Mathews, director of admissions.

The oldest of three children, Davis has spent the last few summers on mission trips to rural Ohio with her youth group at Church of the Savior in Cleveland Heights and during the school year with Nehemiah Missions in the inner city. She's handy with a circular saw and nailing gun and two years ago even hung drywall.

Her parents, however, have helped to shape her view of the world and how she can make a difference.

"My dad is a journalist and my mom teaches international relations at Walsh University," she said. "My dad (an editor at The Plain Dealer always focused on stories about people who needed help. He helped me to develop an awareness of others who have greater needs."

It was her mother, Koop Berry, who sparked an interest in the larger world.

A life-changing mission trip to Romania in 2005 helped to solidify her desire to pursue diplomacy as a career.

"It was the first time I saw poverty outside of the United States," she explained of her work with gypsy communities. "Even though these people and their children had so little, they were so happy. That's something we don't have here.

"After an experience like that, how do you go back to you life and be the same person?"

The trip confirmed her desire to work internationally and sparked an interest in human rights issues.

A member of the National Honor Society, Davis also is involved in the school's Debate Club, sings in a choir at her church and enjoys ballroom dancing.

She admits that her service opportunities have been more random than calculated. But her future plans are definite. She'll attend University of Pittsburgh in the fall, majoring in political science and Spanish with a minor in economics.

"I want to serve in the Peace Corps before I enter the foreign service," she said. "Being a diplomat combines what I've gotten from both my mom and my dad."

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PD hires first female editor

On Sunday morning while my hubby and I were perusing The Plain Dealer I was lamenting that what the paper really needs is an editor from these parts -- someone who feels the Midwest psyche.

I am surprised to see that not only has it hired a person with Midwest roots, the paper actually hired a woman! Susan Goldberg comes to the Northcoast from the San Jose Mercury News, a solid paper that has navigated the murky waters of new ownership. Here's the PD's story from page one.

Since I'm a news junkie and I really want to be pleasantly surprised instead of routinely disappointed by my paper, here's my mini wish list for its improvement:

1) Never, ever, ever put Paris Hilton on page 1 again. In fact, I don't care if I ever see a Paris Hilton story again. And PLEASE leave it off the editorial page. Can we please rise above the temptation to resort to the lowest common denominator?

2) Use half the number of wire stories in business section and write more compelling pieces about business in Northeast Ohio. Let's see more about small business and people making a difference and less about stock scandals, unless they involve Clevelanders. That's why we read the business press. Let's take an investigative look at the sub-prime lending scandal, which has had HUGE impact for consumers here.

3) Revamp the editorial board and get some fresh voices involved in editorial writing. It's become, sadly, all too predictable.

4) Use less of the syndicated op-ed available to anyone online or in other subscriptions and dedicate that valuable space to more local voices. Dick Feagler speaks to a limited demographic. Do your research to find and nurture someone who can take his place as a provocative, modern "Cleveland" columnist. I've lived here all my life and I feel as if I know Feagler's stories by heart.

5) Puh-lease, give us something to read in the Metro section other than a collection of news briefs and obituaries.

6) Encourage reporters to write more creatively. Everybody's doing it and unfortunately it's so rare in the PD. And editors, please support more nontraditional writing. It's all too easy to tune out early in a story because it follows the same tired inverted pyramid formula.

7) Can the celebrity gossip column. That info can be had a million other places. It has NO bearing on Northeast Ohio readers. Chuck Yarborough clearly has a sense of humor that is better put to use in his "dirty jobs" feature. Keep Sarah Crump and give that real estate to some quality feature stories or essays, like some of the recent examples by Andrea Simakis, Karen Sandstrom, Karen Long and Yarborough.

8) What is the fascination with American Idol coverage? It's a freaking television show! Someone over there can't seem to disengage from their personal obsession with this show. I don't really care who the audience voted for and if I did, I'd watch the show. Again, this is valuable newsprint space being used for something that has little news value to Northeast Ohio. It's about news value and priorities.

9) Whenever possible, focus on the local. The ramifications of Ford closing are far more interesting than Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. If I want to read about his bid for Dow Jones, I can find that online or on the newsstand. Similarly, I'm less interested in the comings and goings of celebrity chefs and more interested in local farmers or restaurateurs. Ditto for the fashion section. Some of the most interesting features there involve profiles of the little off-beat boutiques around town, or the piece on getting spa/salon services on the cheap. Awesome!

10) The PD does not get religion coverage. Religion isn't something Northeast Ohioans do, it's something they live. This has been one big disappointment after another -- and I say this as a person who routinely writes about religion. It's not cerebral, its an organic experience and there are many, many stories that get missed.

What I think works well and could even be expanded:

1) Phillip Morris has been a strong early voice on the Metro page. After a bungling of the changeover of Metro columnists in the industry press, I am watching and reading his column with interest.

2) Regina Brett has also been writing strong columns this year.

3) Karen Long's book pages are never disappointing. She offers readers a smart, engaging, intelligent mix of reviews, books and voices that is one of the highlights of Sunday's paper. With any luck, she'll be able to expand some of that to include more articles about local writers throughout the week.

4) There are many pleasant surprises found in the sports pages. Jodie Valade's profile of Cavs player Larry Hughes was very touching and thoughtfully written. The Locker Room section is a first-read every Thursday morning with my teenage boys. They especially like to read about how high school athletes prepare and condition for sports. Fresh opinion voices would be a welcome change to the sports section.

5) I like what Susan Glaser has done so far with Travel. The Carolinas package was a great idea and well executed. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone from these parts who hasn't made the Carolina (North or South) trek. Greg Russell, that Harbortown crooner in Hilton Head, even remarked on the number of people there from Ohio (and that we all drove minivans). The important element will be to stay mindful of the mix between affordable travel and the more dreamy opportunities.

And now for my ultimate—though unlikely—wish list:

Bring back the PD Sunday Magazine -- even if it's only once a month. I know it wasn't profitable, but it was one of the great sources of long-form journalism in this town.

Scale back usage of wire stories and invest that money in good local freelance writing. I realize, of course, this is a selfish request, but at one time I had a good gig writing regularly for the PD. I'd welcome the chance to do so again. But it's not just about me. There are many (including a lot of us that are now ASJA members) who have turned away from the local scene because of dried up budgets and limited opportunities to either explore subjects in depth or get paid fairly. Instead, our Cleveland stories are being written for larger outlets.

Change the title of the Reader Representative or change the job description. His columns do not represent the reader viewpoint, but serve instead as defenders of the newsroom. That's a waste of valuable space on Sunday and could better be used for an editor's column or something that tells us a little about what the staff has been working on. Could be short, kinda like in a magazine, just a coupla hundred words to tell us how the news coverage is coming together that week.

Do a better job of forging relationships with readers. The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala., holds a banquet every year for its most prolific or provocative writers of letters to the editor. I attended this year's in March and it was a celebration of diverse voices, democracy, free press, free speech and engaged citizenry.

Find a better way of mixing up content both online and in print. Write the short version online, but reference a longer piece available in the newspaper. Or allow straight stories to appear in print with analysis and expanded multimedia available online. But let readers in both places know where to find this info.

Redesign so it looks like a Northeast Ohio product and not a cookie-cutter template that makes it hard to distinguish whether or not you're reading The Plain Dealer, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, or The New Jersey Star-Ledger.

We don't have a choice of papers in this town. Expectations are high and grudges deep. Here's hoping the new editor can energize the newsroom and raise all of our expectations enough for us to say, "Hey, thanks for watching our backs."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Progress=demolition? I hope not

Whenever my family moved as I was growing up, which was often, I felt physical pain at leaving a home, as if somehow we were abandoning it to an unknown fate, to people who wouldn't care for it and love it and live in it the way we did. When the movers were gone and the rooms were empty, I would walk through each room imagining that there were tiny traces of us left throughout the house.

I've always believed that a home has a soul. Actually, it's more something I feel. Most of my middle school and high school years were spent in an old 1920s home with all the wonderful hardwood floors, built-in cabinets and lead-glass windows that come with a home that age.

We were only the second owners and the original owner, a widow who had recently passed away, hadn't redecorated since the 1950s. We had a vintage 1950s GE kitchen, complete with lights inside the metal cabinets. The dining room wallpaper had been ordered from New York. And the wool carpet was worn thread-bare over the decades.

My parents were in their 30s when they bought the house and they poured their own blood, sweat and tears into renovating it from top to bottom, inside and out. We rewired, installed new cherry kitchen cabinets and ripped out carpeting and steamed off wallpaper. We hunted down chunks of Berea sandstone to make a patio. There wasn't a section of the house that didn't receive some tender loving care.

I was in college and had been gone for a few years when my parents left that house. As I was packing up to head back to OU for my junior year, we were also packing up the house to move to a new adventure in Columbus. I can still see the late afternoon sun as it shown on the hardwood floors of our living room -- floors that my entire family helped to sand, buff and wax to their current gleam.

I mention all of this because today the soul of a home was harshly exposed and then destroyed. The Christopher Saddler House in Bay Village was built in 1838. Here is its brief origins, according to the Bay Village Historical Society
Christopher Saddler, born in Germany, came to Dover Township with his wife and oldest son, William, from New York in 1814 and built a log cabin on Lake Road. In 1815, William brought his young wife Elizabeth and their daughter to Bay Village. He brought them to a cabin that he had built for them, replacing it a few years later with a large frame house.

William spoke English, German and Native American Indian and was, for many years, an interpreter for the Indians and the many German farmers who settled in Dover. He and his wife donated the land and the lumber to build the first church in Bay Village, the Methodist Church, on land near the corner of Lake and Bassett Roads.

Saddler's home is being demolished today, probably to be replaced with a large modern monstrosity, given its prime location just across from Lake Erie. I've always admired the little home on my runs and found it a charming feature amid Lake Road's otherwise exploding real estate.

The demolition is in progress today. Soon enough the debris will be cleared and the land regraded and construction crews will arrive.

Propped against a tree, as if waiting for someone to claim it, lies the front door and sidelights to the home. Maybe the new owners will incorporate the detail into their new home. I imagine the Christopher Saddler would like that a piece of his family's history would remain. But I'm doubtful.

Because when this demolition is complete, there's another historic Bay Village home just west of Huntington Beach awaiting the wrecking crew.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day from my baby boy

My mom is the best mom in the world! While our family vacationed in Florida, mom and I walked along the beach and collected shells. We like to go on bike rides to Bay Pool. I love when mom tucks me in bed each night and reads me a story. In the summertime, mom and I play tennis at Bradley Park. That's why I love mom so much!
— Michael Hoke, age 8

Thinking small

Separate incidents with my two main work gigs this week have led me to conclude that my major stumbling block with pitching articles is that I think too big picture. No wonder I can't get my head around a neat and tidy pitch.

This revelation occurred during workshop for KnowledgeWorks Foundation. My challenge is to try to tell the story of big positive change through the eyes of one individual who may not be the dynamic symbol of that change. It's tough and I was very frustrated after the workshop. But a structure is beginning to take form in my head, which is a good thing considering the 3,000-word final draft is due May 30.

My one year anniversary as membership manager for SPJ has just passed and I'll have a review when I'm in Indianapolis next Friday. But I was asked to fill out a self-evaluation in advance of that review. This was a tough assignment for me because I've felt very ineffective in this job. I am one person (at only 20 hours per week), trying to mobilize a membership base of 9,500 (including 230 chapters and leaders). I feel as if I'm pushing a boulder uphill in high heels. And once again I think my problem is that I think too big.

The challenge this summer is to think smaller and believe me this is a challenge because I'm a change-the-world kind of person. I have to be satisfied with smaller accomplishments. For example, I've been working on a big story about treatment of Muslim-Americans at U.S. borders. The story of one woman here in Cleveland was my hook.

While in the shower this morning, it dawned on me how I could sell a smaller, tighter version of this story. I still think the larger issue is hugely important (and apparently so does the New York Times, Washington Post and Progressive magazine), but I'm going to work on nibbles instead of chunks.

Although I'm not writing about my life, I've turned once again for inspiration to William Zinsser's "Writing About Your Life." I have been trying to read Jon Franklin's "Writing for Story" and it's doing nothing for me. His approach seems so rigid and formulaic that it takes all the spontaneity out of writing. He's done some amazing work and has two Pulitzer Prizes for feature writing to show for it, but he's not the natural teacher that Zinsser is.

Amazing how quickly I forget his mantra to "select, focus, reduce." While skimming through my marked up copy, I found a few other gems to light my fire this Friday morning.

Write about small, self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you remember them it's because they contain a larger truth that your readers will recognize in their own lives.

Although Zinsser is talking about memoir, this also could apply to narrative nonfiction. I recently read an article on mediabistro about how journalists manage gobs of materials when writing long-form narrative. One writer said his first step was to write from memory, because he believes that's where the most important stuff comes from. He later fills in with details from notes and tapes.

...reduce to human scale the big events.

Travel writing … depends on the gathering of dozens of small details … Mere observing and reporting isn't enough. You must make a personal connection with the place you're writing about.

…relentlessly distill and condense.

All writing is talking to someone else on paper. Talk like yourself.

I think of intention as the writer's soul.

…universal themes often come cloaked in unlikely garb.

Be ready to be surprised by grace. And be wary of security as a goal.

It's a privilege to write for one other person. Do it with gratitude and with pleasure.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Two stories in May Quill

The May issue of SPJ's Quill magazine is available in digital format. I've got two stories in this issue.

Here's a piece on using audio to help tell stories.

And here's a Top 10 Ten roundup compiled from interviews with journalists over the past 16 months.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Countdown to 40: Part 1

If I'm having trouble believing that my 40th birthday is a mere five months away then I need only look at today's mail. The letter from Bay High School was addressed to "Parents of incoming freshmen."

Eek! A freshman in high school. I know for a fact I'm not old enough to have a child in high school. I couldn't be. Certainly I don't feel as if I'm turning 40 (she says carefully inspecting her neck for early signs of sagging skin).

So far, I'm cool with this age thing. Of course that could all change as September approaches. They say (though I'm not sure who "they" is) that with age comes wisdom. I'm counting on it, baby! That, and self-confidence and courage and all those other qualities in which I seem be deficient.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Review: "A Church in Search of Itself"

Catholics worldwide are looking for hope. While their belief in their faith remains strong, it's that human institution known as "the church" run by fallible human beings that remains the source of contradiction and contention.

A slave to times past, the church is in a constant one-step-forward-two-steps-back mode of operating that at best is inefficient and unresponsive and at worst is driving away the faithful.

The church nearly drove me away. But I rediscovered my faith through an immersion in its history, theology, practices and art. I am a motivated Catholic. Plenty wouldn't have bothered. As devoted as I am to my faith, I have to remind myself that my expectations for its responses and behaviors may not be met. Instead, I'm making my own way.

In a nutshell, that's what Robert Blair Kaiser, author of A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future, originally published in hardcover last March by Alfred A. Knopf and now out in paperback by Vintage Books (both divisions of Random House Inc.) is saying.

Kaiser has a dualistic view of the church that somewhat weakens his arguments. The Vatican and its cardinals are divided into those who believe the church must change and those who believe it must remain true to its tradition. I suspect, like the practices and beliefs of individual Catholics, there are scores of nuance missed in that Augustinian characterization.

There's a jarring juxtaposition between the faith of the people and the politicking of its leaders. That cardinals are political animals is abundantly made clear as the stage is set for the conclave of 2005. Some, in particular Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger now Benedict XVI, have been politicking for the job for years in ways both subtle and not so subtle and with ramifications that reverberate in this country.

Kaiser traces the modern church's collective tin ear to Vatican II and the failure to uphold the spirit and letter of Vatican II. When the institutional church fails, people walk. They don't stop to ask why, they simply walk out of the church and don't return.

What does all this politicking and positioning mean for everyday Catholics? In reality, not much. Catholics don't have the sense the pope is running our lives, says Kaiser. Pope Benedict XVI doesn't seem to mind if people walk. He's positioned himself as God's defender and if that means a smaller church (after all it's not a democracy) then he's willing to pay that price.

The Catholic church's core theological beliefs were set—and closed—in 325 C.E. at the Council of Nicea. How the church governs itself has changed because the church is run by humans. As such, it will always be in need of reform.

How much will the Vatican be willing to reform to modern times? Can it balance a love of power with Christ's message of love?

Through the stories of six individuals—representing the Catholic church in America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia—Kaiser tells of the journey for the modern Catholic church. Where his sourcing seems vague in the beginning of the book, his individual stories are ripe with detail that only comes from confidence and access gained over time.

In between those chapters are theological discussions and synopses of major events surrounding the conclave. We learn about liberation theology, syncretism and enculturation. But we also see how the Vatican bristles at those words and hastens to silence those who dare to voice such concepts.

We learn just how complicated it would be to reform the priesthood. When John Paul II was asked whether he would think seriously about it, he said it reminded him of a song: "It's a long way to Tipperary," Kaiser writes.

"To map out the future of the priesthood, one first had to deal with its long, twisted past, a past that was immensely complicated by a clerical misogyny … that goes back to the fourth century," writes Kaiser.

Yes, well, we can't go there. So instead we take women out of the equation by making priests celibate and this way the church retains all property instead of it being passed on to families. Perhaps there would be value in "the wisdom of the crowds" approach to church reform. Instead the refusal to look at the situation at all results in a dying or at least decaying priesthood.

Sociologist Dean Hoge of the Catholic University of America told a Boston College conference on priesthood in 2005 that making celibacy optional would raise seminary enrollments 400 percent, says Kaiser.

But the church equates holiness with sexlessness, thanks in large part to St. Augustine's equation: sex=pleasure=women=evil. If celibacy becomes optional, "every pillar of Catholic teaching could be called into question."

Rather than hit the hard stuff head on, the Vatican uses one of the most effective weapons in its arsenal—silence. Its refusal to address the issues of voluntary celibacy, married priests or female priests speaks volumes.

Aloysius Pieris is Asia's leading liberation theologian and though he has been called before the Vatican on many occasions, he does not worry about the inquiries. "We have a great advantage here in Asia, because we work in languages that the men in the Holy Office do not understand."

We could all learn something from Pieris. Meaningful reform in the Catholic Church will not happen unless a groundswell of individual Catholics asks for change. We are not a group willing to question the authority of the church. While many of us have advanced degrees and knowledge is many subjects, we retain a second-grade education in our faith. We lack the maturity of faith and the basic education of the history of the church to understand that WE can ask for change.

Maybe that's a language the Vatican doesn't understand. But we have to start somewhere. Read through this book and then work on your own education. If you don't think it's important then I leave you with this excerpt from Kaiser's Epilogue:
"Since 2000, six American bishops have resigned, five of them for aberrations of a sexual nature that became public and one after he was charged (and later convicted) with leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run auto incident, a felony. In none of these cases did the pope intervene. He didn't have to. Local public opinion told the misbehaving bishops what to do.

A bishop who behaves himself, however, and remembers to pay a visit to Rome every five years with an envelope of cash for the pope can exercise a rule that is close to absolute, hardly diminished by his diocesan finance council, whose members he appoints and whose advice he need not follow, or by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization he supports with annual contributions but whose resolutions he can, according to canon law, safely ignore.

If any wonder why the American Church is in such a parlous condition, they must, therefore, lay the blame on the bishops who have enjoyed such extraordinary control—and the pastors who support them. Some bishops say canon law blocks various initiatives recommended by the forces of reform, which quiets some reformers but should not, since canon law itself says a bishop need not follow those rules that in his judgment are overridden by his people's needs. If he insists on following the letter of Church law, one can only conclude that he is using it as an excuse to stave off cries for reform out of a simple, perverse desire to maintain his absolute power."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Heights High transformation subject of Cleveland Mag article

Here's a Cleveland Magazine article on the small schools transformation at Cleveland Heights High. I spend a good portion of my week in that school (and have for the past two years) writing about the transformation. Here's a link to excerpts from last year's story.

Writer Anne Trubek does a decent job of explaining what small schools is and how it is structured at Heights, but it's difficult to show how it works. (Wonder if it's editorial policy for Cleveland Magazine not to include writer bylines on its Web site? If so, it's a crappy policy.) That's my charge—and my challenge—in writing for this year's publication (a draft for workshop is due Friday).

I was criticized last year by district officials for talking about race. Since my piece of the story was to address community involvement, I felt I couldn't skirt around the issue, rather I should address it head on. My goal wasn't to be sensational or play into stereotypes. It was to talk about and dispel the many misconceptions held by the community.

Trubek's story features students talking about how race breaks down in the five small schools. Actually, she writes about the stereotypes. Problem with that is that stereotypes are more perception than reality.

Throughout this school year I've been following a high-achieving black student in PRIDE (which she quotes one student as calling the "black ghetto" school) and an average white kid in Renaissance, "the smart kids" school).

But I'm glad to see her mention that there are no metal detectors or drug-sniffing dogs at Heights. There's a strong security presence, but for the most part the students are given respect not always found at other urban high schools.

She also mentioned the small victories. I wonder: Is it small to a student who earns a 0.33 GPA one year to be honored for earning a 2.33 GPA the next? Not to that student, not to his parents and NOT to the teachers and educators who helped him get there.

Readers should remember that the complexity of school reform prohibits us from writing a comprehensive picture of change. What we grasp for are meaningful snapshots of that change.

It's happening every day at Cleveland Heights High School in ways both large and small.

Maternally Challenged says it best

By now you're probably familiar with all the hullabaloo over Leslie Bennetts' book "The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?" and Rebecca Mead's New Yorker review. If not, I've linked in order to fill you in.

Hat tip to Jill for recommending Tracy Thompson's blog Maternally Challenged. In her post April 16 post, "Now I Get It! We Did It To Ourselves!" Thompson speaks for many, including me.

Check it out!