Category: education


Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at www.christianpiatt.com. You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Peace,
Christian Piatt

My feet sweat. A lot. I know, gross, but hey, it’s not like I chose it.

Suffice it to say that where there are sweaty feet, there is Athlete’s foot. For those who have never suffered from this, it is one of the most insanely itchy sensations you can imagine. When I get a bad case of it, the itchiness on top of my toes actually WAKES ME UP in the middle of the night.

Such was the case last night, so as I lay awake for two hours, scratching my toes raw, I wondered:

What possible evolutionary purpose can itchiness serve?

After all, any time we scratch an itch, it only seems to aggravate the problem underneath the itching, right? So in a way, the itching just makes everything worse.

So why have itchiness in the first place? Why hasn’t it been culled out of our sensory skill set over the past several million years.

I found what seems to be a reasonable answer HERE. Basically, the idea is that itchiness is a survival system gone haywire. If we have something like a mosquito or spider crawling on our skin, there’s an advantage to being able to feel it and swat it away.

But apparently itchiness is an aggravation of this highly sensitive system. So in a way, there’s no evolutionary purpose to itchiness itself, but it does point to a system that helps protect us from predators.

And if you’ve read this whole post without scratching yourself even once, you’re a better person than I. I’ve stopped half a dozen times to scratch just while typing it up.

Deconstructing Pueblo’s inferiority complex

By Christian Piatt

(Originally printed in PULP)

If I had but one wish for our community in the new year, it would be to eliminate the qualifier “for Pueblo” from our collective vocabulary.

I went downtown a few weeks ago to hear a screaming jazz ensemble with my friend Barclay Moffitt, that took the group to new melodic heights with his tenor sax. Though still a college student, Barclay has worked on several studio recording sessions with pros, and currently is on a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Back for his winter break, he sat in with a handful of other musical savants and cranked out some of the finest bossa nova, bebop and ballad standards anyone could hear most anywhere, especially on a Tuesday night.

“These guys are really good for Pueblo,” a person nearby said in a tone that clearly was not meant to be secretive. “Where are they from?” When told all of these folks were home-grown talent, they blinked in disbelief, as if such cultural sophistication defied the laws of Pueblo physics.

These guys were good enough for most anywhere, not just Pueblo. So, why say such a thing? And why the surprise? After all, in a country of some 130,000 people, can’t we figure that there will be at least a smattering of folks who are really pretty amazing at most anything we can think of? Or do people believe that Pueblo is an exception to the rule when it comes to quality?

I asked some of our local public leaders their thoughts about this, since I’m sure they bump up against this kind of mentality even more than I do. Angela Giron, our recently elected state senator, offered an interesting anecdote related to this very subject.

“I have a friend, Theresa (she managed my campaign),” says Giron, “who is a community organizer in Pueblo with the Colorado Progressive Coalition.  Following the election, she was diagnosed for the second time in five years with breast cancer.  She is committed to receiving treatment in Pueblo but has received lots of ‘advice’ to leave town to get a second opinion.

“People seem to be genuinely shocked that she is opting to be treated in her home community.  We have had several discussions about this.

“I believe the inferiority complex stems from our identity as a blue-collar steel town.  That class bias, coupled with a geographic identity and culture that seems to find greater affinity with Northern New Mexico than the Northern part of Colorado, has historically left Pueblo (and much of Southern Colorado) on the outs.

“When you come from a community that is working class and 50 percent Latino, it is no surprise, given the history of this country and region, that we have issues with internalized inferiority.”

County Commissioner Jeff Chostner has a different perspective. “I don’t think Pueblo has an inferiority complex,” he says, “but I do think our history has made us look more inward than outward. I believe that is one of our challenges, particularly with regard to economic development, and in other areas as well.

“We are trying to do more outreach with the rest of the Front Range in integrating our economies and cultures.  As more businesses locate in Pueblo and more folks come to Pueblo County, I think you will see us take a more prominent role in Colorado and there will be less introspection.”

So is it a matter of internalized inferiority? Or are we buying the baloney that’s peddled about us up north? Maybe, as Chostner suggests, it’s more a matter of cultural isolation than it is an issue of a “less than” mentality.

Though I’d like to lean more in the commissioner’s direction, my gut tells me Sen. Giron is more on the mark. And based on my discussions with lifelong locals, it doesn’t seem like a state of mind that’s only come along since the steel bust some decades ago. Maybe it starts with what we’re telling our kids, how we help them understand their own worth and, by extension, the value of the community in which they’re raised.

I expect that, as institutions like CSU-Pueblo and international businesses like Vestas broaden the scope of who is drawn to live here, the negative self-doubt ethos will be diluted. That, or it will simply become more concentrated among “lifers” who see themselves as somehow inferior to new imports, simply because of where they come from.

I hope, for the sake of our city and its residents, that we come around to the mindset that it’s the imports who are lucky to have found us, rather than the other way around.

The flaws of biblically-based sex education

(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no shock that teen pregnancy and other related issues are a big problem in this community. It’s been that way for a long time. Various people have offered ideas about why this is and what to do about it, but little ever changes. Children keep having babies, generation after generation raise little ones in poverty, grandparents step in as parents to grandkids and the nuclear family suffers because of it all.

Everyone seems to be on the same page about one thing: Our kids need some kind of education about anatomy, sex and sexuality. But as for when that should happen, how it should be accomplished and what should be included or kept out is incredibly divisive.

One of the biggest problems is the pressure to teach abstinence-only sex education. First off, that’s not sex education. It’s propaganda for a narrow social agenda that is in denial about reality. Generally, this approach goes hand-in-hand with conveying an aura of shame about one’s body and sexual urges, and suggesting that if you act contrary to the “just say no” ethos, you are a failure, and maybe a sinful one to boot.

I agree that it would be just swell if all of our young people waited for that one lifetime monogamous relationship to come along to have sex, but this ignores some basic truths about how our culture treats sex. While a health teacher or pastor is telling you not to do it, the rest of the culture obsesses about how awesome sex is. Somebody’s not being honest here.

Oh, and did I mention that comprehensive scientific studies have shown, with little room for ambiguity, that abstinence-only sex education hasn’t worked and continues not to work?

Many people claim the moral authority of the Bible for the basis of their argument for abstinence-only sex education. But let’s consider this in a little bit of a broader context.

For one, although women of the biblical eras were not allowed to have sex outside of marriage, there were lots of cases in which men had extramarital relations. So is it just girls we’re telling to say no? Do the boys get a free pass?

Also, the whole idea of no sex until marriage presumed a different way of life back when the Scriptures were written. Most young people were married off soon after they reached the age when they could reproduce. So the time between when most folks got the urge to procreate and when they had a chance to within the bond of marriage was not that long.

Nowadays, kids are not only are entering puberty at increasingly younger ages, but we’re also waiting longer and longer to get married, if at all. So whereas a young girl might have been matched up with a suitor within a year or so of being fertile in days of yore, now we often wait 10, 20 or more years to settle down.

So maybe the solution, if we’re so hung up on literal adherence to biblical rule, is to marry all of our kids off at age 13. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that if leaders in faith communities focused much more on the “Greatest Commandment,” not just rhetorically, but also in modeling how to conduct our lives as individuals and as community, we’d be much better off. For those who are unfamiliar, Jesus is asked (in an effort to frame him for blasphemy, mind you) which of the Judaic laws is the most important. His response: love God with all you have and all you are, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

What Jesus lays out in this relatively simple statement is a blueprint for an entire way of living. If we remain focused on love for ourselves and for others, as fellow creatures of God, this daily practice of doing so will inform all of our moral decisions. We don’t have to worry so much about checking off an exhaustive list of rules if we simply treat everyone else as if they were a precious gift from God.

Unfortunately this is not something we can simply drop on kids in a few hours when they hit seventh grade and hope it changes their worldview. They must be taught what it means to love their own bodies, and to love others’ bodies, hearts, minds and spirits, from the time they can speak, let alone have sex. We have to get over the shame and self-loathing for our bodies that many mistakenly seem to think equals piety.

The arguments about how to conduct sex education points to a deeper neurosis we have as a society about our lack of control over our children. Nothing – no matter what the message – can make kids not have sex. Ultimately it’s their bodies and their choices. Focusing on love, and on the responsibility that loving self and others carries with it, puts us at least in a healthier frame of mind for those heavy and important discussions.

Finally, if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that people err. From Genesis on, we’re told one thing and then do another. But God’s response inevitably is to lean in favor of grace over condemnation. We’d be well served to follow such an example.

My Lifelong Attraction to Magnet Schools
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

I grew up in Dallas, where the question, “where did you go to school?” meant something very different than it did in Pueblo. There was a sort of constant jockeying for positions on the status ladder, part of which was identified both by the grade school you attended (hopefully private, of course), and then by the caliber of school you went on to from there.

I was fortunate to have gone to one of the more prestigious schools in town. In addition to academic excellence, the school prepared you for life amid the taste-makers of culture and power in the global community. But despite the fact that there were kids from all nationalities and faith backgrounds there, the socioeconomic sameness of the place was strangely stifling to me.

Halfway through my sophomore year in high school, I auditioned to get in to the arts and music magnet school in downtown Dallas. For those of you who have seen the movie or TV show Fame, yes. It was pretty much like you’d imagine it. Bohemians, gay teens and eccentrics of every stripe roamed the halls, generating an energy I had never known existed in private school.

What had once been an all-black school in the slums of Dallas had been reinvented into a community that developed an appeal and a bond that transcended all other differences: the love of creativity.

From then on I was sold on the idea that a magnet school, done properly, could not only transform students’ lives, but that they also had the potential for reinvigorating an entire community.

So when Fountain Elementary of Pueblo’s east side became a magnet school as part of East High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) system, we jumped at the chance to enroll our son, Mattias. He had gone to two different private schools in town before that, neither of which provided the integrated learning and social experience we desired for him. But our experience at Fountain has been quite the opposite.

Yes, we drive by some dilapidated properties to get to his school, and there have been more than a few shootings nearby. I even once found an unspent bullet on the playground of the school. But once inside, Mattias enters into community with children whom he might never come into contact with, absent of the opportunity the IB magnet affords.

The concept of a magnet school is fairly simple. It’s an entirely public school, run completely by the district, which is usually located in a racially and/or economically segregated part of the community. Aside from academic excellence and a unique curriculum of some kind, a magnet is established to do just what the name suggests; draw in people from other parts of town who would not otherwise be there. The concept first arose as efforts emerged to racially desegregate schools a couple of generations ago, and the model obviously still works today.

Our plan is to have Mattias stay in the magnet system throughout his primary and secondary school years, and for his sister, Zoe, who is almost two, to follow in his path. Every child should have such access to outstanding cultural, academic and social experiences. The good news is that kids in Pueblo do have such a choice.

I’m happy to let you know that both BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS are available for pre-order on Chalice Press’ website. The BIBLE book will be shipped later next month, and the JESUS book in June.

Here’s a link to both books on the Chalice site:
http://www.chalicepress.com/search.aspx?k=banned%20questions

You can also go to www.chalicepress.com and search the keywords “Banned Questions” if the link doesn’t work.

If you order either or both books between now and the end of February, you can get 40% off of the cover price by entering the discount code “Banned QB” when prompted. It’s not until closer to the end of checkout that this pops up, so don’t worry if you don’t see it right away. There is no limit on the number of copies for which this discount applies, and you can share this code with other folks interested in pre-order.

Also, note that you will not be billed for the books until they ship, but you still get the discount for ordering in advance.

Next, I’m excited to let you know that, so far we have endorsements from both A.J. Jacobs and Brian McLaren! Very cool to have bestselling authors behind the project.

And finally, keep an eye out for an upcoming promotion that Chalice may be running to give away a few of these books prior to release date.

Thanks for your interest in, and support of, the BANNED QUESTIONS series. I can’t wait to hear what you all think of the books, and in the meantime, please help spread the word on your Facebook pages, blogs, podcasts, etc about this special promotion.

A surprising contingency of people seems to have their knickers in a knot about the so-called mosque at Ground Zero. What once was a retail clothing store has been sitting abandoned for years prior to these plans being drawn up. And though the common-sense response to rehabilitation of urban blight would be hearty support, it’s become a political and social lightning rod.

As can be the case all too often with emotionally-charged debates, people don’t wait for the facts to get in the way of their already-entrenched opinions. So I’ll beg the indulgence of those who already know the following “fun facts” and go ahead and share what really should be common knowledge.

First off, the “Ground Zero mosque” moniker is misleading. The site is blocks away from the former location of the Twin Towers, with any number of liquor stores, adult video arcades and sex-toy shops between them. Given America’s tendency toward sexually puritanical thought, it’s a wonder that a place of worship raises more ire than a window full of dildos.

Next, there’s much noise about this being a mosque, but in reality, the worship space is but a small portion of what is meant to be the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA. The entire center is budgeted at $100 million, and will include a theater, restaurant, workout facilities and more. Proportionately, the mosque itself is a mere fraction of the larger plan.

The mosque actually has actively been functional since last year. Worshipers meet several times a day amid raw Sheetrock and plastic liners to pray on an unfinished concrete floor. So, while all the objections to the mosque being there seem to focus on future development, it’s really only a matter of sprucing up the joint.

Goes to show that it doesn’t take a fancy sanctuary and minaret to invoke the sacred. You listening, Oral Roberts?

Officials representing the mosque have offered as much assurance as is humanly reasonable that no anti-American or otherwise radical talk or behavior will be tolerated. And don’t you think that if a terrorist’s idea were to carry out a nefarious plan without getting caught, a mosque near the location of the 9/11 attacks, that’s the subject of national scrutiny, might not offer the sort of cover they’re looking for in a hideout?

So where is the fear coming from? Research on this has revealed a less-than-shocking correlation between the number of negative rumors people had heard and believed about the Muslim community center and their propensity for watching Fox News as a primary information resource.

Which brings me to another fun fact. There’s been much speculation that radical Islamic groups from the Middle East must be funding the community center’s construction, but actually the primary funder is an organization called the Kingdom Foundation, whose primary benefactor is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Talal is a billionaire who, though it has been implied that he funds radical Islamists, is the second largest shareholder in a company called News Corp with more than $2 billion in holdings in the company. News Corp is a media juggernaut among whose holdings is – wait for it – Fox News.

Ironic, no?

I’ll admit I get some enjoyment out of the fact that the “news” station noted as the primary source for fear-mongering propaganda about the Islamic community center is owned in large part by the guy funding the center. As the now-obscure Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “America, what a country. I love it!”

My take on the center is not only that it should be allowed and tolerated, it should be encouraged by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some opponents of the center say that until Islamic countries build Christian churches near their holy sites we should not have a mosque near Ground Zero, which some people have since labeled as hallowed.

Seems that, in trying to distinguish ourselves from our so-called enemies, we have become more like them.

Another perspective is that an Islamic center near Ground Zero personifies the American values of plurality and peaceful coexistence. The very fact that Taliban propagandists have celebrated the schisms caused by the conflict around the mosque would suggest, perhaps, that we should be working in the opposite direction.

When mainstream Islamic people and groups are welcomed as an integral part of our culture, the work of the fringes claiming the same faith becomes increasingly impotent. It is in the context of ignorance, fear and division that terrorism makes its most indelible mark. We erase such marks from our psyche one relationship and one act of reconciliation at a time.

Some who wish to see the East-West discord continue would like nothing better than to have the community center banned. Illogical as it may seem to some, the greatest counter-terrorism measure we can take against such ideology requires no weapons or troops, but rather an open heart and mind.

The problem is that we have to stop reacting out of fear of what might be long enough to see the simple truth in front of us. It’s an ideal realized easily enough, though maybe not for the most heavily-armed nation in the history of the world.

Dig the video I created for Phillips Theological Seminary on the seminary experience condensed into less than 4 minutes. Groovy stop-motion and original score.

NewSpin
Noise Pollution, Tax Solutions and a New Infusion

By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

In a knee-jerk decision, Pueblo City Council established a new sound ordinance based on a woman’s complaint about a neighbor’s garage band practicing nearby. The gist of the ordinance is that, if your neighbors can hear you, it’s too loud.

Though the reaction was particular to bands, some folks are hoping that this will create a blanket under which barking dogs and raucous parties will be included too. But why stop there? Consider some other potential noise pollution we could stanch while we’re at it.

More or less every morning, I’m awakened by a muscled-up diesel truck from down the street that leaves for a construction site not long after the sun creeps up. Guess he’ll be walking from now on, as will all the “crotch rocket” offenders who rev their imported motorcycles to eleventy-seven million RPMs. Oh, and of course there are the choppers and hot rods; I don’t want to leave them out.

And talk about noise – the playground right across the street fills the air with squeaks and squeals I can hear in my living room with the doors and windows closed. Sorry kids, but looks like we’ll be shutting you down too.

Apologies in advance to both the Pride City band, which practices down the street in Mineral Palace Park every summer, and to the church across the street whose bells chime three times a day, seeping insidiously into nearby residences. Things just won’t be the same without you, but hey, at least they’ll be quiet.

My point isn’t necessarily that all homeowners just need to buck up and live with any level of noise, but here’s a mind-blower: Consider going over and talking to your neighbor face-to-face instead of complaining to the government to fix your personal problems.

And as for city council, such a narrow-minded and impulsive reaction certainly will have more negative consequences than anyone took the time to consider. What, do they assume, these young people will do with their free time instead of pouring their energy into music? Should they spend more time on the streets, looking for something quiet to do? And how about the impact on the local culture? Sure, the lady next door may not like Sonic Vomit or whatever band the local musicians are into, but without such freedom to explore, a community’s artistic voice becomes homogenized at best, and at worst, it dries up and moves on.

Further, did anyone consider the economic impact of this ordinance? It’s easy enough to look at young musicians as penniless moochers, siphoning off their parents (I was one of them too), but eventually, we fine-tune our skills to the point that some of us start picking up gigs, maybe drop an album or hit the road for a tour. If nothing else, we buy plenty of new musical equipment and recordings when we have those few precious pennies to rub together. If we are allowed to actually use them, that is.

Time and again, communities that have made a concerted effort to create space for art and music to flourish are rewarded by the fruits of such cultural roots. Consider Santa Fe Street in Denver, Deep Ellum in Dallas, and on and on goes the list in hundreds of forward-thinking cities that understand that original art is the heartbeat of a community’s culture.

As for Pueblo, we pour money into maintaining decaying buildings in every part of town, while telling local bands we have no use for them. But hey, at least the woman who complained can watch “Jeopardy” and do her Sudoku in peace.

On a more positive note, kudos to Pueblo City School’s board for its recent selection of a new interim superintendent, Dr. Margarita Lopez, as Kathy West moves over to manage the growing and successful magnet program at Fountain, Corwin, East High and other schools.

Lopez served most recently as assistant superintendent for learning services in Academy School District 20 just to the north.

“For most of us, this was our third search in five years,” says board president Stephanie Garcia. “This search was for an interim and it is our hope that we can take some time to get to know one another and later make a decision about making the position permanent.”

Given our bi-cultural community, it’s a hopeful sign in itself that we now have someone who is bilingual at the helm of the district. “Dr. Lopez … is a native Spanish-speaker and grew up in a bilingual and bicultural world,” says Garcia. “When she arrived in this country there were no English as a Second Language programs. She credits great teachers for helping her to learn English and learn about the American culture. Her educational experiences were the impetus for her success. Her passion for education is inspirational for all.”

To have someone who not only understands the nuances of bicultural education, but who also has the opportunity to serve as a role model for one of our most at-risk groups of kids – Hispanic girls – speaks more to the board’s current vision for the district than even her training and educational experience.

It’s also a relief that we’re looking locally for talent, with significant cost savings at that, rather than assuming our qualified leadership must come from somewhere else. Here’s hoping the “permanent relationship” Garcia and her colleagues seek becomes a reality.

Finally, there’s the matter of some logic-challenged tax cut proposals being put to a public vote during the forthcoming election cycle. Though on the surface, everyone loves the idea of a tax break, Amendments 60, 60 and Proposition 101 would effectively dismantle – I would argue intentionally and with malice of forethought – many services most of us consider essential.

Amendment 60 proposes to halve our already relatively low property tax . The biggest loser in this case would be our public schools. “Pueblo City Schools may be considering school closures if K-12 funding continues to decline,” says Garcia. “Amendment 60 would make this inevitable.”

The more benign-sounding Amendment 61 champions the Tea Party ethos of eliminating government borrowing. But what many don’t consider is that this removes the ability even to issue government bonds. Because public revenue streams don’t make room for things like capital construction and improvements in most cases, we’d be left with the schools and other buildings we have, hoping nothing happens that would precipitate a facility closure.

Finally, Proposition 101 proposes reducing vehicle registration taxes to their lowest level in 90 years, amounting to around $2.5 million more in cuts to Pueblo City Schools.

So, if the goal is to cut taxes to the point that services like public education, transportation, health care, prevention programs and perhaps even law enforcement cave in upon themselves, I suppose these proposals offer one efficient way to do that. Personally, I find the effort to dismantle state and local governments from the inside out by putting forward obtuse, yet seemingly harmless, cost savings for taxpayers to be disingenuous, bordering on insane.

If you value the basic services our communities depend on for a decent quality of life, you’ll do what you can to ensure these initiatives go nowhere.

Here’s a new nonprofit I’m working that endeavors to place AEDs in every public school and other public building nationwide, and also to provide CPR training to help save lives.

http://www.refresheverything.com/theviafoundation

Please take a minute to register your vote and to pass this along to your list of friends. Also, please consider posting this to your facebook page, blog, etc to help spread the word.

Thanks!
Christian

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