Join the Movement

Go outside! It’s spring, and Iowa is joining a broad based movement to renew a close, personal relationship with the out of doors.

Work for Equal Pay

On January 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed his first bill into law–The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. It extends the rights of women and other minority groups, to sue for equal pay for equal work.

Lilly Ledbetter was paid less than her male co-workers for almost two decades, but she didn’t realize it until it became too late to bring it to court. The bill is a response to a controversial 2007 Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted the statute of limitations on equal pay litigation. The original Court ruling gave a plaintiffs only 180 days within the initial incident of discrimination to file a complaint. Pretty ridiculous when it’s not always easy to find out what all your co-workers are paid!  The new bill extends the statute of limitations for 180 days after the last discriminatory pay check.

When the President signed the bill, he talked about the impact of unequal pay on employees, families and communities. As Steve Hilderbrand wrote in the Huffington Post:

“If anyone ever asks you, ‘Does it make a difference which political party controls Congress,’ I hope this is one clear and important example of what a difference it will make in the lives of millions of Americans who have suffered from discrimination in the workplace, that under Democratic control, equal pay for equal work will now be the law of the land.”

Learn through Service

Service learning is more than picking up litter and cutting down trees. Kids and adults can have fun and learn a lot from doing such activities together. But to have a bigger impact, service learning must be well planned and provide opportunities for reflection and feedback.

Experiences with the best outcomes include youth voice and choice, varied processing opportunities and reflection that informs future planning. Here are some resources to help you get started.

Do you have a group of youth that might be interested in creating social change, but isn’t sure?

Well, that’s a start. It doesn’t take much surfing to find lots of inspiration and help for  getting involved in service learning; check it out!

See the iJAG Survey

I am working with iJAG (Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates) to assess longterm outcomes for graduates of the program. iJAG is working hard to increase the high school graduation rate in Iowa and have staff and programs in high schools from Sioux City to Keokuk and Dubuque to Council Bluffs. This survey is designed to get an idea of how graduates are doing on continuing their education, finding quality jobs and careers.

Here is a link to survey, and to the results.

Discover a World of Difference

Sometimes people are amazed at the places I’ve been–Oaxaca, Zambia, Greece, Istanbul, Poland, Czech Republic, Budapest. Paris, Lille and London last spring were amazing, but not as exotic as the earlier destinations. Sometimes even I am surprised that I never even had a passport until 2004! But there are ways to experience the world  without leaving your home town.

One organization that is committed to creating such experiences is World of Difference. This organization, established in 2005, facilitates experiences for youth to develop skill, readiness and grace in intercultural relations. Their Cultural Ambassadors from more than 30 countries gently guide students through new concepts and thought processes. They address topics ranging from math ratios (African Drumming); to water ecology (Japanese Fish Printing); and government structures (Escaping Sudan).

These hands-on immersion workshops motivate students to explore more about the world, their classmates, and themselves. The workshops offer what text books and research projects cannot: interaction with challenging situations in which students examine their assumptions, beliefs, desires and strengths. After working the chores, playing the instruments, dancing to the music, speaking the language, hearing the accents, tasting the food and creating the art, World of Difference students are proud to proclaim, “I know about that!” Such experiences develop in students mental and emotional agility, preparing them for success in an ever-changing, uncertain global economy.

For more information or to schedule a program, contact Sherry Gupta, Executive Director, or Stacie Palmer at 515-273-8569.

Programs include–

World of Difference Girls

World of Difference Girls

  • Culture in the Classroom: 30- to 60-minute workshops
  • Photo Ethnography: 5 day program using photography to explore local culture
  • Look at the Workshops link especially for “Girls in the Middle East” for girls in 5th through 12th grades

Excel at Math and Science

Girl on a motorcycle in Bangalore, IndiaPeople used to believe that girls weren’t good at science and math; my high school physics teacher thought it was just luck when I got the high score on our weekly quiz. Until I aced statistics in graduate school, I thought I couldn’t do math. When my nephew was checking out the College of Engineering at Iowa State University 3 years ago, I went with him and my brother (his dad) to an engineering day. I can honestly say that until that day, I thought engineering might be one of the most boring fields he could go into. But the Engineering Leadership Program changed that perception; the students had us design a solution for an African village without clean water. Since I’d experienced just such a village in Zambia, the experience showed me the key role that engineers play in solving the world’s problems.

Mosi oa Tunya Protest

Mosi oa Tunya Protes

We need more women to pursue careers in engineering; women bring a unique perspective to communication, problem solving and relationship skills and orientation. Women with engineering and other science and math degrees will find a much friendlier job market when they graduate! Here are some resources for exploring engineering and related careers–

  • CanTEEN is an award winning Web site designed to “engage, educate and embrace girls as architects of change.” There are resources on their site for girls 11-17 years old, their parents, teachers and youth workers.
  • A couple years ago they sponsored a contest to find out “what’s in your makeup;” here you’ll find resources for decision making, activism and the contest winners.
  • This link will take you to fun stuff to do to feed your brain.
  • Check out some women engineers here.

Learn by Doing

Only as an adult have I settled into my preferred learning style. A counselor once listened to me describe a daydream of swimming and labeled me a kinesthetic learner. I’ve embraced that definition and learned to facilitate experiential education through my career at ISU Extension. Did you know that the 4-H motto is learning by doing?

This workshop presented by the Adventure Learning Center and Training Wheels will challenge you to think outside traditional teaching methods and use more experiential methods. Impact Teaching is one Training Wheels’ most popular and requested workshops. I plan to attend the training; I’ve learned lots from Michelle Cummings and I think you’ll have a great time learning there too!

Take Charge!

The subject of feminism continues to trouble people a lot smarter than me. I did, however, live at a critical time of “Women’s Lib” as my mom called it. She sent me off to a small midwestern college in 1968, thinking I would be safe there from the ferment on college campuses. I had other ideas though; I immediately got involved in the peace movement and later, the women’s movement.

I woke up a college graduate with no MRS degree in sight and started the somewhat baffling task of supporting myself. Through a career of nearly 40 years in education, justice and finally business, I’ve developed a theory that  women will never be treated equally until we carry our own stuff.

However, in my travels to Mexico, Zambia and eastern Europe, I’ve see women carrying huge loads and still being beaten down. We’re very lucky here in the US, though we seem to be stalled and perhaps even losing ground. Every war begins with our own small battles, though, and there are certainly some we can fight on the home front–

And finally, listen to Sister Joan Chittester on “On Being” talk about how she “backed into feminism.” She shares the following quatrain in answer to the question–

“Mama what’s a feminist?

A feminist my daughter

Is anyone who thinks or dares

To take in charge her own affairs

When men don’t say they oughter.”

Alice Duer Miller, 1928

Tear Down the Walls

My brother and I agree that our trip to central Europe last May made the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall more meaningful than I remember it being even when it happened. One Prague memory I keep going back to as I listen to reports of the celebration is the sculpture Quo Vadis, by the edgy Czech artist, David Cerny.

We visited about a dozen of the famous Cerny sculptures, but the most difficult to find was in the back garden of the German Embassy. As we made our way along a deserted, wooded dirt road, a German woman had followed us and stopped to stare into the lush gardens. As she overheard our conversation and realized how little we knew about the sculpture’s significance, she asked if we knew what it was about. At our vague, “sort of,” she told us the story; the emotion in her voice riveted our eyes to the empty garden beyond the iron fence.

Her words painted a picture of a different time when a huge crowd, 4,000 people who had climbed this wall between Soviet-ruled Czechoslovakia and the free land of the West German Embassy.

In September 1989, many East Germans were able to travel legally behind the Iron Curtain when East Germany closed the border again. They did not want to return to East Germany where they had been isolated since the end of World War II. Beginning with just one person, 4,000 East Germans climbed the wall and camped out in the garden of the Embassy. East Germany wanted them deported, but West Germany knew such action would soil the country’s reputation. It was a time of high tension and fear, and contributed to what Gorbachev called the “German Problem.”

Quo Vadis, German Embassy, Prague
Quo Vadis, German Embassy, Prague

How much courage such an act would require I can only guess. My brother says the woman’s story is one of his fondest memories of traveling. She felt left out of history as she was studying in England while the face of Europe was changed profoundly.

We gazed at Cerny’s sculpture of an East German Trabant; many such cars were abandoned on Prague streets late in 1989. Instead of resting on wheels, the car has four human legs, representing the 4,000 East Germans who scaled the Embassy wall and helped bring about the Velvet Revolution and toppled the Berlin Wall.

Remembering Prague is humbling on this 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. I’m grateful to have heard history from Czech, Greek, Zambian and Turkish viewpoints. I am awed by the  courage and power of people passionate about their causes.

I’ve often quoted Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The story we heard leaning against the back wall of the German Embassy’s garden is a perfect illustration of Mead’s meaning.

Children Play in Wroclaw, Poland

Children Play in Wroclaw, Poland

The global problems we faces are daunting; but if each of us can find a fraction of the courage of those 4,000 East Germans, I’m sure we can tear down the walls and–

On this November 9, 2009, I plan to find the courage to do my small part in changing the world, one step at a time. Will you help me tear down the walls and change the world?