Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Think About Peace

Do you think about what's going on in the world?

Or do you live in a comfortable, safe place--white picket fence, blue sky, sunshine, cheap beer?

I'll be honest with you: I'm guilty--guilty of living in my own little world (and in my own little head). Right now I have so many personal issues to deal with that it's especially hard for me to even remember that there's a larger world that exists outside of myself. It's sad. And I know this. I need to be reminded. Not all of us do, but I do.

I am part of an online community called Twitter (you may have heard of it...? :-D). Today, like every Tuesday, is #AfghanistanTuesday. To me, it's a reminder to get out of my comfortable (or, in my case, uncomfortable) shell and think about what's going on in the rest of the world. What I especially like about Twitter is the connections I've made with people all over the world--I get perspectives from individuals from many other countries and read blogs and articles that my "tweeps" deem important or, at the very least, worthwhile. For me, #AfghanistanTuesday is not just about Afghanistan. It's about peace worldwide. It's about building a community of people from different backgrounds and cultures (albeit virtually) to share thoughts and ideas--to discuss and debate.

I don't understand why--and I'm paraphrasing a bumper sticker I once saw--people kill people to show that killing people is wrong. One of my tweeps remarked that fighting occurs because of greed. Government. Money. Oil. Corporations. Corruption. Greed. War.

I am not agreeing or disagreeing. I have too little knowledge to expand on the reasons for national and international conflict. I speak solely from a humanistic point of view. One of my favorite poems is "Norman Morrison" by Adrian Mitchell (if you go to the link, it's the second poem on the page). It was written in protest of the Vietnam War/Conflict, and it's a hauntingly powerful poem. I first read the poem nearly 18 years ago, and the lines I've never forgotten are "He burned. He suffered. / He died." I'm not making a judgment as to whether Norman Morrison was right or wrong to do what he did, but the poem draws awareness, even decades later, to what was happening in Vietnam--that burning women and children was wrong, that burning anybody is wrong. It seems to me that if we could all adopt a more humanistic approach to the world and those with differences, we could get closer--instead of further--from peace. Obviously that's a little too simplistic, but isn't it a start to acknowledge and value each other as human beings? To value each person's differences? Is it too much to ask?

In high school I had to write an essay with the following theme for a contest: "Peace Is More Than the Absence of War." I don't remember what I wrote (I know I didn't win); but I could add now that, yes, peace is more than the absence of war, but eliminating war would be a good place to start.

Wouldn't it?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Think About Libraries, Part 2

You've probably heard this phrase (or similar wording) before: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

There are a lot of people not paying attention.

In the latest Toledo-Lucas County Public Library e-newsletter, the library director writes that the Toledo [Ohio] Public Library system "continues to see major increases in customer use. Last year, nearly 3 million visitors, more than any other Lucas County institution, visited one or more of our 19 library locations, while checking out over 6.9 million items." Access to books, computers, information in general, is essential to human development. Not all households have computers or internet access. Not all households have books.

Children who do not have early access to books start falling behind in their formal education before they even start school. According to the National Institute for Literacy: The Partnership for Reading, by age three, children should be able to recognize books by their covers, they should pretend to read books, and they should understand how to hold books and how to turn their pages ("print awareness"). They should understand what words are. Even when children are only a few weeks old, they benefit from being read aloud to. Those first few years of a child's life are critical for learning to read. When children are read to often and in a positive environment, reading becomes a pleasant experience. Children learn about print, words, "book language," and the world. It's also important for young children to see others reading--newspapers, magazines, books. It helps them grasp the significance of reading. And reading IS significant.

If parents or guardians do not have access to books or if they cannot read, the children are the ones who suffer. Many libraries offer programs that can help. Or, at the very least, it costs nothing for a parent to take a child to the library. For this reason, libraries are one of the most important public institutions in this country.

But here's the thing: "Although demand and usage is high, unfortunately since 2001 state funding for public libraries has continued to drop, prompting TLCPL [Toledo-Lucas County Public Library] to spend less on materials...."

The TLCPL e-newsletter goes on to tell about the job search and computer skills programs that are available for FREE at the main branch library. This career service is highlighted with one patron's personal story. Read her story, and you'll see that public libraries clearly make a difference.

And if we're not doing something to make a positive difference (directly or indirectly) in someone's life, what are we here for?

Are you outraged yet?

On a semi-related note, I highly recommend the book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. I read it a couple of years ago and consider it one of the most important books I've ever read. Check it out at your local library!