Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nice to meet you, Mr. President

One of the perks of attending the Clinton School of Public Service is the chance to meet former President Bill Clinton. That happened this past week. It was definitely exciting to shake the hand of a former president, but even more exciting was the opportunity to hear him speak to our class. He sat in a room with roughly 50 of my classmates and I and answered questions for two-and-a-half hours, then spent another half an hour answering more questions in the foyer of the school.
What an incredibly gifted person he is. I sat there in awe as he spoke in depth about any topic we asked about. Everything from Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize to the war in Afghanistan to the genetic similarities of all humans. I marveled at the sheer amount of information he could recall instantly and then weave coherently into a response. And the stories he told. Almost every response included a story of a personal experience he'd had with someone somewhere in the world. Each story filled with hope, and never superficial. He never sounded like a typical politician. Always genuine.
I'd heard about his gifts with people, but I couldn't believe how true they are. I really wanted to ask him if there were any skills he practiced in order to magnify and develop his natural gifts. Hopefully, I'll get another chance to speak with him again someday. Maybe he'll come visit me if I get the chance to go to Israel this summer to work with HIPPY.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Michelle Rhee, HIPPY

Since my last post several significant things related to trying to Make a Difference have occurred including: talking with and listening to Michelle Rhee, my group's first run in with intergroup conflict, and a meeting with a representative from HIPPY.
The long delay in posting is mostly a result of Michelle Rhee. I've spent more time thinking about her message than anything else in the last two weeks. I should have been posting my thoughts as I had them, but she gave me so much to think about that I still don't feel like I've sifted through it completely. Hopefully, a well-reasoned post will follow sometime soon.
Similarly, I think a post about how my group dealt with some team dynamics issues would be useful for any students who are reading, but I need a little more time than I have right now. {once again, homework gets in the way of learning. :-) }
Most recently, I had a meeting with a representative from HIPPY to talk about potential International Public Service Projects this summer. Several very promising possibilities in Israel, Australia and Canada. I'm looking forward to learning more about each of them. And I'll try to do a better job of keeping you posted.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Cool

I'm really trying to stay focused on the topic of Making a Difference and serving the public in these blog posts and I'm sure I could do that with this most recent experience. But really it's just cool.
Tonight, as part of the Clinton Public Speakers Series, I listened to Taylor Branch speak about his new book "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President". That was cool because the book is about private interviews and conversations between Mr. Branch and President Clinton that no one has record of except, Mr. Branch and President Clinton.
Also in the audience listening was none other than Kevin Johnson (standing to my left), former NBA star and current Mayor of Sacramento. After Mr. Branch's speech I got to meet the guy who I spent hours watching and loving to hate because he was so good at slicing thru the San Antonio Spurs defense. He was cool enough to take a picture with me and my classmates Ivan(ley) and Mahmoud.
Awesome night!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lance Armstrong was lucky

Until I can watch the video of the speech that I had the good fortune to see live a couple of days ago I won't be able to directly quote Doug Ulman, president and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. However, I'm pretty sure at one point in one of the best speeches I've ever heard Mr. Ulman said Lance Armstrong was lucky to get cancer. Ulman went on to say that cancer gave Lance a purpose into which his good intentions could be focused. Lance has used his celebrity to benefit millions through cancer research and awareness.
As powerful as those statements were, the part I really want to listen to again is what came next in the speech. If I remember correctly (which if you know me is a really big IF), he said there are plenty of other celebrities who likewise want to use their status to do good, but don't know which issue to focus on. They have a lot of passion and desire to make a difference, but aren't sure where to start.
That sentiment hit home for me for two reasons:
One, it's true for me. I'm here at the Clinton School trying to decide how to use my gifts and talents for the benefit of all and I have no clear idea how to do that. I, and several of my classmates, are searching aimlessly through thousands of potential NGOs and non-profits as we try to decide where to conduct our International Public Service Projects. Lacking a clear direction, almost all of the organizations look very worthy and somehow not quite right simultaneously.
Two, more significantly, I believe it's true for most, if not all other people. People would use their energy to benefit others if they could just find a starting point they deeply believed in. How to help others find that starting point is a question that continually nags at me.

While I continue to ponder it, I'd strongly recommend we both go back and take a look at the speech will be posted here within a week.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Universal Nudge

Classmate and friend Adam Moreland recently used the term 'universal nudge' during an assignment to describe...I hope I'm representing his concept well when I we end up where we are when we're open to possibility.

This has been a week full of possibility. Or, as one of the Clinton School staff described it, 'opportunity overload'. On Wednesday alone we met Neil Guiliano, politician and gay rights activist, Wenda Weeks Moore, of the Kellog Foundation, and Matt Flannery, co-founder and CEO of Kiva.
The night before meeting all of these people my group and I were in Pine Bluff officially starting our project with them. It's taking my brain a while to sift through all of these experiences to see what gold is left behind.
From all of these experiences, here's what stands out:
1. I loved co-facilitating our conversation with TOPPS staff and board members. I have a clearer understanding of their organization now. I think there's more facilitation in my future.
2. I have a better understanding of politics, but don't really think it's something I'd like to pursue. I'm trying to remain open about the intersection of facilitation and politics.
3. The work of Foundations, like Kellog, is fascinating. I'd like to know more about the details of how Foundations choose who they disperse grants to.
4. Kiva is just plain cool. Despite really enjoying talking with and listening to Matt Flannery and thinking very highly of the organization, I'm not sure I want to pursue working with them for my International Public Service Project. Something about money just bugs me.

Add in to the mix that today I'll be listening to John Read, president and CEO of Outward Bound.

Plenty of possibilities...start nudging, universe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

With a mid-term and a group presentation and the beginning of my group's project and a book review and an all-weekend leadership retreat for the national IMPACT conference all happening within the next 5 days, it's a little difficult to remember how long ago I met Dr. Hanmin Liu of the Wildflowers Institute. He spent the better part of last week in the role of the visiting scholar at the Clinton School. I first met him on Tuesday or Wednesday at a dinner that I considered skipping out on because of the abovementioned workload. I'm glad I didn't.
Unlike the other speakers and scholars who have visited the school, whom I mostly listened to as they spoke, I had the good fortune of listening to and speaking with Dr. Liu multiple times: first at the dinner, then in conversation with our class, then again at his presentation for the Little Rock community. Each time we spoke he caused a shift in how I view communities. His ideas were new enough that I had to give them careful thought to begin to grasp them, but true enough that I intuitively felt like I knew what he was talking about.
Even if my path doesn't cross his again, I'll consider him a mentor. Which makes me think differently both about being mentored and mentoring. It can be done in a long relationship that develops over time, like the type promoted by Big Brothers/Big Sisters or in a few thought-filled conversations.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Early Challenges

I'm still not quite used to the blog format. I realized a few days ago that I was treating the blog like a weekly television show. By that I mean I thought each post should be a self-contained entry in which I presented some aspect of my experience and then gave some pithy lesson I learned as closure to both the experience and the entry. I was, and still am, struggling with the early stages of trying to make a difference and I know now that if I wait until I have closure on those struggles it may be months before I post. So, at the risk of sounding whiny, here's what I've been wrestling with...

A quick recap of the situation: My two teammates and I are working with an afterschool organization called TOPPS in the city of Pine Bluff. Pine Bluff is an hour from Little Rock. Our schedule allows us to travel there one day each week for a maximum of 4-5 hours. All three of us got hooked on TOPPS after our first meeting with them. The small staff is dedicated to doing good works. Like many non-profits, TOPPS is struggling financially. They have both immediate and long-term financial needs. Because they operate primarily on grants, which have many stipulations about how money can be spent, they offer a wide variety of programs which meet the conditions of the grants they've won. Offering so many programs has led to both immediate and long-term focus needs. The staff realizes they're stretched too thin.

Enter three Clinton School students in the early stages of their service-learning education. Full of enthusiasm, but not much expertise. Also full of the philosophy "Help others help themselves." Similar to the "Teach a man to fish" philosophy. Most, if not all, of our early education here at the Clinton School has emphasized the importance of generating solutions to a community's problems by developing the strengths and assets that exist within the community through thoughtful conversation. Actions that result from the conversation should have long-term intentions. We are taught to avoid riding in on our horses, dispensing advice or money, and then riding away. The Clinton School is about sustainable development, not temporary relief. I'm sold on that idea.

Which leads to my frustrations of the past week: I don't know how to have the level of conversation necessary to get the ball rolling when our time at TOPPS is so limited. I don't know how to feel like anything except an outsider to the Pine Bluff and TOPPS community.

Two things have eased, but not alleviated, my frustration recently.
The first is one of my teammates who has a different perspective on the same situation. Latonya's glass is definitely half-full. She sees our relationship with TOPPS as a gift both for us and them and she doesn't mind that it's going to take a while to unwrap the gift. She has faith.

The second is a report written by students from the Clinton School who worked in Pine Bluff two years ago. The report details their 7-month experience working on a similar project in the same city. The early stages of their project were also frustrating for similar reasons and yet, by the end, they'd made significant contributions to the city. Reading about their struggles and strategies for dealing with them gave me hope. And also inspired me to keep posting on this blog despite not having answers. There is value in struggling together.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Quest Begins

Yesterday marked the start of what the Clinton School calls the IPSP, the International Public Service Project. It is exactly what you would expect from the title: each student travels to a country that is not their home country and completes a service project. We first research organizations we might like to be of service towards, establish a relationship with that organization, determine a need that we can fill in the organization and design a project which helps the organization become more sustainable. That last part is particularly important. We are expected to do more than volunteer for the organization. Our project should in some way make a lasting contribution to the organization once we are gone. The common example given is that instead of teaching at a school in a developing part of the world, we might also develop curriculum to be left at the school or create a financial plan for the school that helps it have a long-term plan for remaining open.

Prior to speaking to any of the students or staff about the IPSP I thought I might like to work with Heifer International because of my past experiences traveling to Heifer Ranch with students from the International School of the Americas. I'm not completely dissuaded from that idea, but I am actively looking for other options right now. Heifer is a large, successful organization with a strong vision, a solid infrastructure and many volunteers. In other words, it is very likely that any short-term project I might do with them would not have a large impact. There is a strong possibility that I would have no direct contact with the people I was ultimately trying to benefit: the hungry in developing parts of the world. I would probably learn a great deal about what is like to be a part of a large, philanthropic organization though, which could be useful in the long run.

I'm more interested in grassroots organizations (also known as indigenous philanthropic organizations). As I begin my search for an organization, I'm looking for a small organization that I could have a large impact on in a short time. I shared my interest in conflict mediation with my advisor and he pointed me towards Plowshares. I share that link with you having looked only at the homepage of the website. I don't know much about it yet. If you happen to explore the site and be reminded of a similar organization, please share it with me. Exploring lots of options is the name of the early stage of this game.

Random Side Note: Picture Day!
Yep, even graduate school has picture day. Above is one of my school pictures for this school year. :-) I wonder if we'll get a yearbook too...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

There's Always Somebody Somewhere

There's always somebody somewhere doing something to try to make things better. A lot of the time, there are multiple somebodies close to the same where doing different things to try to make things better. My goal while in Little Rock is to be less of homebody and to participate in as many things as the school has to offer. Today that meant going to the Central High National Historic Site to be prepared to volunteer at the 52nd anniversary Symposium on Social Issues. Today that also meant NOT attending Peanut Butter Plan event to help the homeless happening at the same time. Which takes me to one of the questions I frequently ask myself about community service: What if everybody who wanted to do some good got organized and prioritized? Could we actually knock some of these issues out completely?

Community service sometimes feels like playing whack-a-mole at the carnival. A problem or issue pops up and gets our attention so we focus on solving it, briefly. Then a different problem or issue pops up, so we focus on that one, briefly. And then another pops up, and then the first one we focused on pops back up again, and so on, and so on.

One of the reasons I came to the Clinton School is that I'm hoping to get a better understanding of the underlying sources of all of the problems and issues; I want to understand the machinery of the game. Then I'd like to pull the plug on as many of those moles as possible. Permanently.

For example, what if everyone everywhere who donated any of their time or money to any cause at all decided that, instead of spreading their resources, they would pump all of that money and time into Habitat for Humanity for a period of say, a month. Would all of the needs of Habitat for Humanity be filled by such a massive influx of resources? And then the following month everyone could choose a different organization and do the same thing. If we were actually able to eliminate the needs of some organizations, the next month we'd have a surplus of resources that could either go to solving multiple issues or reduce the time needed to solve the problem of the month.

Not realistic or feasible I know. But it's something I like to daydream about.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Listening to Gravity

The end of the second full week of school seems like as good a time as any to try to summarize the experience so far. Meeting and Reading is the briefest summary I can give. I think it's fair to say that one strategy employed by the Clinton School in preparing its students to do Public Service is to introduce the students to many people currently serving the public. We, the Class of 2011, have met politicians, philanthropists and each other. We've done too much Reading already for me to ignore it in any summary, but it's not nearly as interesting as the Meeting we've done. And Reading doesn't seem to be unique to the Clinton School; it's a staple of most graduate school programs.
The two most daunting aspects of the early stage of my journey are 1) A lack of vision and 2) An overwhelming amount of information.
Like many of my students at the beginning of their Make a Difference projects, I have a great desire to do some good, but no idea where to start. When I was the teacher I tried to give them ideas by having them watch movies, like Emmanuel's Gift and Paper Clips and Invisible Children, and read articles about people like Chad Pregracke. Now that I'm the student I recognize that all of those examples can be very overwhelming.
My current (and only) strategy for dealing with feeling overwhelmed is to listen closely to what I'm drawn most strongly towards. After listening to an ambassador, two congressmen, a political strategist and two philanthropists, I recognize that the philanthropists have had the most impact on me. They were good speakers, but definitely not the most dynamic of the ones we've heard. It was their message and not the delivery that has me most intrigued.
They spoke from the perspective of large grant-giving organizations who see doing good on both large and small scales. They spoke about trying to encourage sustainable community health through supporting indigenous philanthropic groups (small, local organizations).
By recognizing my reaction to their comments I think I may have taken the first steps towards developing a vision.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Public Service. Personal Growth. Elected Office.

Yesterday, as a ripe young 40-year old, I received my first nomination for elected office. Student government office that is.
Let's rewind a bit to my previous incarnations as a student and briefly recap my experiences in student government in elementary, middle, high school and college.


That about sums it up. I've never, that I can recall, been elected to hold office in any sort of student government, or any other government for that matter. There's a pretty strong correlation between the number of elected positions I've held and my desire to participate in government as anything more than a voter. Never held a position. Never wanted to. I loathe bureaucracy. Seriously. I've always viewed most governments as red tape factories, whose primary function was to give people who like to talk something to do while the rest of the people work. And I prefer working.

Back to yesterday...I was minding my own business, goofing off with some classmates, while the rest of the student body of the Clinton School nominated their peers to represent them in various capacities when suddenly, I got nominated (thanks, Ivanley). The process is polite enough to allow a nominee to decline the nomination, which I pondered doing for several long seconds. On the one hand, I was definitely flattered to be nominated, but on the other hand, I have 40 years of the previously described bias against government. The last few weeks have started to chip away at that bias though. In listening to stories about Bill Clinton and speeches by Congressmen Vic Snyder and Mike Ross, I've come to see that some elected officials really want to serve the public. It was that idea that persuaded me to at least accept the nomination.

I accepted the nomination but my aforementioned biases won out when it came to voting. I voted for one of the other nominees. My classmates, however, voted for me. Don't get too excited - I'm not the class president (or as we say, 'representative'). I am, ironically, the elected official in charge of elections. My job will be to ensure a fair and efficient voting process for elections held during my term. In other words, low man on the elected totem pole. But still, I'm on the totem pole. Here's what that means to me. First and most importantly, my classmates, whom I have ENORMOUS amounts of respect for, voted for me. Every day I understand more the value of the respect of good people and these are really, really good people. Second, I will challenge myself to more thoroughly understand the processes of government. Personal growth in an attempt at public service through elected office. I'd think I was taking this way too seriously if I didn't get so giddy at the idea. :-)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I wonder

Below is a comment from a friend of mine and pastor of a church in Idaho.

Marci Glass said...

Thanks for keeping this blog so that the rest of us schlubs can follow along while you are off doing great things for the world!
Very exciting!

That sentiment has been in expressed in a variety of ways by a variety of people over the past few months.

To the right is a picture of another friend of mine in San Antonio. The little boy is a youngster from Haiti she and her family are in the process of adopting.
The adoption process has taken over a year already and many times throughout the experience it looked as if the boy would never join their family.

The little boy arrived in the United States right around the time I arrived at the Clinton School. As I pondered our two arrivals and the things we each could look forward to in the coming years, I found myself wondering if I would be learning anything at the Clinton School that would compare to what had just been done by my friends in San Antonio. In the next two years, I would be spending hours reading, discussing and practicing how to Make a Difference in the world, but would anything I learn be more important than the lesson of opening your heart and home to completely love another human being.
I also wondered about the home I left behind. As a teacher at the International School of the Americas, I had the opportunity to make an impact on many lives every year. After teaching for 17 years, I'd lost focus on how to make the most of that opportunity. In some ways I think I came to the Clinton School to remind me how to fully be where I already was.

So, Marci and other schlubs, no more of that schlub talk. As you pastor your church or love your neighbor or teach your children, remind yourself that you're making a difference wherever you are (and you're not paying tuition to do it). :-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Favorite Class is Lunch

That's probably one of the oldest jokes made by students (newsflash: teachers make it too), but today it wasn't a joke for me. Today's lunch was more than a veggie wrap and some chips. The Clinton School frequently brings in speakers for what they call Public Programs and many of these happen during the lunch hour.
The Clinton School, in cooperation with the Center on Community Philanthropy, brought Kristin Lindsey to speak with the Little Rock community during lunch today and then again to speak with my classmates and I after our Leadership class. Honestly, I didn't expect much. I expected a few interesting anecdotes and some encouragement to continue a life of public service. What I got was 2 solid hours of insight into the current state of philanthropy.
I applied to the Clinton School because I knew I lacked the skills to help my students understand how to Make a Difference in the world. I led them through many community service projects and was proud of what they created, but I knew that if I knew more, they could do more.
I came to the Clinton School hoping to get a better perspective on serving the community. I needed to stand back and take a look at all of the groups and organizations doing their part and understand how they all fit together. I also needed to get immersed in a couple of those organizations to get an insider's understanding.
After listening intently for 2 hours, I can tell you that if I left the Clinton School today, I'd leave feeling like I'd taken a significant step towards achieving my goal of getting a broader perspective.

So what does that mean for you the reader, student or teacher? The person who might be reading this as a how-to guide? As I look back at the events of the first week-and-a-half of school, I suppose it means this: try to find ways to meet and listen to people who are doing what you want to do. For my classmates, it might have been Vic Snyder, or Ginger Beebe, or one of the graduates of the Clinton School who've come to speak with us. Or it might be one of the upcoming speakers. For me, it was Kristin Lindsey's message that really gave me food for thought and the hunger to know even more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Brain is Running

The good news is: I'm learning a lot. The bad news is: I'm learning a lot. It's not so much 'bad' news as it 'overwhelming' news. Seriously. I've now finished my second full day of classes and I don't know where to begin listing the things I'm learning. On one hand, I'm learning to be a student again in the most basic sense of needing binders to get organized and training myself to sit still and focus for classes that are THREE HOURS long. On another hand, I'm learning about a wide range of social issues from brief conversations with my incredible classmates. On yet another hand, I'm learning from the experiences I described in the earlier post.

Those of you counting at home may have noticed that I've already exceeded the number hands assigned to most people at birth. And I haven't even gotten to the official learning, the stuff in the classes. I'm taking classes on Analysis and Decision Making, Communications, Leadership, and Legal and Ethical Issues. They're all focused on how to apply these concepts to Public Service. Already I've had to/gotten to read Antigone (yes, sophomores, the same one you're reading. An aside: Go Creon!) as well as John Dewey and a couple of other folks. Did I mention this is only Day Two?!

Today we started talking about our first meetings with the organizations we'll be working with for our first field service experience. I've facilitated community service projects for 6 years and yet I was sitting there thinking "That's a great idea I'd never thought of before," multiple times throughout the class.

My brain is running full speed in several different directions and it really doesn't feel like it's keeping up in any of them. I suppose the fact that I want it to keep running is a sign that I've chosen the right school.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Rhymes with Orange

Today marked the completion of our week orientation to the Clinton School of Public Service. To commemorate the occasion, to demonstrate class unity and to appreciate Alex Thomas, the Director of Admissions who was instrumental in bringing us together, we all wore orange (his favorite color). Coincidentally, today also marked his one year anniversary of working at the Clinton School. We are all very grateful for the opportunity to work together for the next two years.
Special thanks to Ben Beaumont for taking the picture.

It's A Pleasure to Meet You

It's been a busy first week here at the Clinton School. Early in the week I intended to blog about every single significant event as it happened. By late Wednesday it was clear to me that too many significant things were going to happen this year for that to be possible. Here's an incomplete list of events that were significant to me:
~Met the faculty, staff and incoming class of the Clinton School, as well as several members of former classes
~Met Vic Snyder, Arkansas congressman
~Had front row seats for a spirited Town Hall meeting in which Congressman Snyder addressed the concerns of his constituents related to the proposed Health Care Reform legislation
~"Met" the city of Little Rock (i.e. were given tours to help us get to know the community in which we'd be working)
~Met one of the former mayors of Little Rock, Jim Daley
~Met Ginger Beebe, First Lady of Arkansas
~Began discussing Public Service
~Got assigned teammates and the organization, TOPPS, that I'll be working with throughout the year

One of the lessons that I'm taking from the first week is the importance of understanding the community in which you'll be trying to Make a Difference and developing a network of contacts that will continue to help you understand the community.

Networking has never been one of my favorite activities and is pretty far outside my comfort zone. Frankly, I viewed it as an act of insincere selfishness. It seemed like the purpose was to be nice to someone not because you cared about them but because they could help you get something you wanted. I've developed more of an appreciation for networking this week because the common thread that tied together all of our meet-and-greets was Public Service. Helping others help themselves (to borrow a motto from the PAL program) is one of the goals of all of the people I've come in contact with this week. I'm not sure I'm any more skilled at small talk yet, but at least I dislike it less when it's purpose is to benefit others.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rural Students Reap Academic Gains from Community Service | Edutopia

One of the questions I'll be trying to answer during my time at the Clinton School, and beyond, is How much service-learning, as described in the linked article, is happening around the country and around the world? How much are students given the tools and support, through their school system to do good works in their communities?
My current theory is that it isn't happening as much as it could be and one of the reasons is that teacher training programs don't prepare teachers to be service-learning leaders.

Rural Students Reap Academic Gains from Community Service | Edutopia

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Two Commandments

In some ways the Technology Specialists, at least in schools, have becomes the religious leaders of our time.
My first full day of school was yesterday and my classmates and I got to meet our technology guru. Also, as a result of No Graduate Student Left Behind legislation, we received our very own laptops, which we will be using for the next two years.
Students, I want to reassure you that in the computer lab we are all equal. It's not that you're being treated like children when you're told not to bring drinks into the lab; you're being treated exactly like every other human being, regardless of age, who enters a computer lab. Yesterday, before entering the lab to receive the Two Commandments my classmates and I were told to leave our open containers outside the lab.
Once inside the lab we were shown how to establish our email accounts and passwords, where the school's server is located, how to create electronic business cards and begin to establish our contact lists. And then we were shown it again. And again. Our technology guru could do all of those things in roughly three clicks of the mouse button, which means that it will take a group of people approximately 30 minutes. Invariably someone, and I'm not naming any names here because it might have been me, blinks and misses one of the clicks and has to ask "How did you get to that screen?" Once everyone was caught up our guru delivered the Two Commandments which shall not be broken on penalty of death:

1. Thou Shalt Not Play Games.
2. Thou Shalt Not View Porn.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First Impressions

This afternoon marked the first gathering of all members of the Clinton School class of 2011. I was excited and nervous prior to the event. Now that it's done, I'm awestruck and humbled. For the next 2 years I will be surrounded by 35 extraordinary people. What an incredible gift I've been given.
There are too many thoughts flashing through my brain right now and they are moving too fast for me to catch them and put them on the page. I would like to introduce you to my two teammates. We'll be working together with the TOPPS organization in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I know many of my students had difficulties with their groups, so I figured karma would do its thing and give me a challenging group. I must have had more positive karma stored up than I expected though because I have nothing to complain about. I have a great feeling about working with these two ladies.

Hot Diggity Doo Dah! Dress Code?

Today is the day! It's our first day of school, sort of. Even though it's Sunday, we have a short afternoon schedule that is an orientation to our orientation week. It's a little bit like Hot Diggity Doo Dah at ISA (which is next Saturday by the way), with one great exception: a dress code?!

Ironically, I will be required to dress "nicer" as a student than I did as a professional teacher. Granted I dressed a tad more casually than most teachers on most days (personal motto: Putting the Casual in business casual since 1992). My most common uniform while teaching was cargo pants and a school-related t-shirt. My mandated uniform at the Clinton School will be slacks and a dress shirt and sometimes a (shudder) tie.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they haven't thought the whole dress code issue through. Below is a short explanation which proves why my dress code is superior in every way...

1. Pants with side pockets are more useful. They allow one to carry a wide variety of useful items: cameras, small notebooks, and snacks for example. And they allow one to carry these items unobtrusively and without the need of an extra bag, like a backpack or purse.
Pants without side pockets (might as well call them curtains) require one to buy and carry or wear extra items to act as pockets, like the abovementioned backpack or purse or, worse yet, sport coat. Blech!
When all of the labor and marketing costs of creating those extra items are factored in it's easy to see them for the terrible drain on our world's resources that they really are.

2. T-shirts allow one to support a cause other than the Monetary Distinction Between One's Fellow Humans.
The t-shirt is almost the lowest common denominator. It is the step closest to and moving towards the clothing proposed and modeled by Gandhi. That's right, you wouldn't catch Gandhi wearing a button down and a tie. According to the movie, he made most, if not all, of his own simple clothing from local materials. I recognize that as too radical a step for most folks, so I propose the t-shirt as a happy medium. In addition to being a more simple article of clothing it allows one to support causes. Some of the causes I regularly supported during my free-wheeling, t-shirt wearing, professional days were Heifer International, Invisible Children, PAL, and The Fund.

I could go on and on, but I feel certain you are already convinced and I don't want to delay you any further from going to purchase your very own pair of cargo pants and t-shirt.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New Twist on an Old Thing

One of my favorite things about my new home in Little Rock is its proximity to a place called Rivermarket Books. I didn't realize exactly what it was until I put my $12 book on the counter and they charged me $4 for it. After I got over my shock, they explained that the store is stocked almost exclusively by donated books. Most of the books are used, but there is decent selection of vendor-donated, new books too; therefore, they can charge really low prices.
I was familiar with Half Price Books in San Antonio. I like Half Price Books, but I've always been disappointed by the amount they pay for a used book in comparison to how much they charge for it once it's on the shelves. They pay practically nothing for most books and charge significantly more than Rivermarket books. I'd much rather give my books to Rivermarket Books for nothing and pay less for the books I find in the store. I'm curious about other areas in which this business model might be successful.
I've asked myself the same question about Tom's shoes. Their one-for-one business model in which every pair of shoes bought results in a pair of shoes being donated to someone in need intrigues me. The business seems to be successful and helpful, which makes me wonder if the same model could be applied to other goods: other clothing items, computers, food...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Admitting My Ignorance

This morning I read two articles in the New York Times related to the ongoing Health Care reform debate. A few days ago I watched a talk show which hosted two members of the House or Senate talking about the ongoing Health Care reform debate.

Prior to coming to the Clinton School I would have passed over both of those, but I'm trying to broaden my horizons and take advantage of all the school has to offer. One of those offerings is an upcoming meeting with Congressman Vic Snyder as part of the Clinton School's Distinguished Speaker's series. He'll be talking about...the ongoing Health Care reform debate. I thought it would be a good idea to be prepared for our meeting with him.

After reading two articles and watching one talk show, I still know next to nothing about the ongoing Health Care reform debate. Not only do I not get the issue, I don't get methods used to discuss the issue. No one quotes the actual bill. It seems like a series of claims, such as, "They're creating Death Panels!" followed by a series of denials "No we're not!" followed by a series of back-and-forth versions of "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!". The point seems to be who can come up with the cleverest insult and hope that it becomes a soundbite.

So, if you're out there and reading this and can point to a good reference which represents both points of view and quotes the actual proposed legislation I'd appreciate it if you'd share it with me. Preferably before our meeting with the Congressman on the 18th.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Year One Project

I'm excited because we recently received our project assignments for our Year One project. I'll be working with two of my classmates and the organization described below.


Targeting our People’s Priorities with Services (TOPPS) offers a full range of services to youth in the Pine Bluff Jefferson County Community that include education, recreation, job training, cultural awareness and physical fitness. This project will concentrate on developing an evaluation plan to determine the effectiveness of all of the organization’s programs. The plan will also be implemented on Changing Steps, TOPPS’ girls mentoring program."

I think there are 12 groups of us all working with different organizations in the Arkansas region. I'm really hoping we get to hear about all of the projects in detail because they all seem very interesting.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Little about the Clinton School

My understanding of the Clinton school is as follows: It's a 2-year program focused on the practical application of public service. Rather than just reading about current theories of public service, we will be "in the field" doing service concurrently with our classwork and studies.

Year One: Regular course load plus an assigned project with a small group of fellow students. This project is designed to push us out of our comfort zones and help us to explore aspects of public service we aren't already familiar with.

Students, this is similar to the Storytelling project in that we don't get to pick who we work with and we don't have much control over the project we are given, but we do control our approach to the project.

Summer between Year One and Year Two: International Service Project. This is an individual experience in which we travel abroad to broaden our perspective on public service and focus on an aspect of public service that we hope to pursue in Year Two.

Students, this is a little bit like your experience travelling to Heifer Ranch. :-)

Year Two: The Capstone Project. The Capstone Project is a service project of our choosing. It's an individual project. In other words, it's a personal Make a Difference project. :-)

Click on the links if you'd like to know more about the Clinton School or Heifer Ranch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Finished my Summer Assignment

As karmic payback for giving you summer assignments, or just because it's a really a good idea, I too had a Summer Assignment. My assignment was to read two chapters from the book The New Public Service: serving not steering. (I'm pretty sure you're supposed to underline book titles but I haven't figured out how to do that on this editor.)

I'd like to point out that I finished the reading on Tuesday and my assignment isn't due until Sunday. Three cheers for not procrastinating!
Since I haven't read the whole book, I don't think it would be fair for me to summarize it. Instead I'll share a few key quotes from the sections we were assigned to read:

"More and more, we are forced to recognize that the only authentic communication in which we can fully engage is face-to-face interaction based on our recognition of the other as a self we share."

"The ideal of authentic discourse sees administrators and citizens as engaging fully with one another, not merely as rationally self-interested individuals being brought together to talk, but as participants in a relationship in which they engage with one another as human beings."

"The questions we face are at once both simple and enormously complex: How will we treat our neighbors? Will we take responsibility for our role in democratic governance? Are we willing to listen to and try to understand views that are different from our own? Are we willing to forgo our personal interests for the sake of others? Are we willing to change our minds?"

I wouldn't say anything I read shifted my paradigms, but I enjoyed the reminders to listen to and be considerate of others on a political and personal level. I also enjoyed the examples given in the book of how some city governments are doing just that.

Students, between you and me, I'd have preferred to make a collage. ;-)