“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.”
I read a lot.
I read every day in almost every spare minute throughout the day. Rarely do I read novels. If I am going to spend time on fiction, it has to be of historical or topical significance, it has to challenge or move me, and it can’t be in the least bit predictable. Basically, I want to read what people smarter than me have written. Continue reading “Reading Our Way to Truth”
(Note: The Warroad Pioneer edited out the man’s name when they published this piece, but I see no need to here.)
If you’re not on the various social media platforms, you may not understand how much our national political conversation has devolved. It’s turned into a rotting, stinking cesspool of hate and vitriol, the likes of which I’ve never experienced anywhere else in my 42 years.
Walk into Bear and Bean Coffee Company, Roseau’s cosmopolitan yet decidedly hometown coffee shop, and you might forget for a minute that you’re in Northern Minnesota.
But that’s not exactly what owners and Roseau residents of six years Keith and Tom Pringle are going for. Yes, they’re tapping into the warmth and funk of a trendy spot in St. Paul or Seattle – where Keith hales from, but it’s also an atmosphere that makes you feel right at home in your own north woods. From the man reading his Bible by the fireplace to the insurance agent meeting with an old farmer to the groups of Roseau students and Polaris employees, Bear and Bean makes it clear that everyone is welcome in their living room. Continue reading “Rural America Rising – Roseau’s Bear and Bean might just change the face of rural communities, for the better”
The pelicans are long gone. The caterpillars are crossing the roads, and the snakes, when it’s sunny, are sunning. The Northern flickers are caucusing and the ravens are ever talkative, chortling every chance they get at their fair-weathered friends who fly south for the winter.
Even in these fall winds and crazy rains everything feels, well, right as rain…even as we move the mortally wounded snakes to perish somewhat peacefully in the grass, and shoo the uninitiated babies back to the sidelines of the gravel roads. Nature so gently and unassumingly reminds me that everything is as it should be, always.
Most mornings I wake up feeling pretty darn fortunate. Not all mornings, of course, but more often than not.
I’ve always had shelter, food and clothing. I’ve always been surrounded by people whom I love and who love me. I’ve faced very little adversity, loss or personal tragedy.
I’m a white woman in a democratic country. I’m college-educated. I’ve lived in metropolitan and rural areas, both by choice. I’ve traveled across oceans, tasted cuisines around the world, met people from all walks of life. I’ve danced in the desert beneath a complete lunar eclipse and rode white water that nearly killed me, just for the thrill of it. I’ve had time and resources to Create, in myriad different forms and at all different stages of my life. Continue reading “Lucky”
My guy and I got into an argument at the breakfast table early one morning. I had asked the four-year-old at the table to please use her fork. She scrunched up her nose at me, picked the fork up with her un-practiced left hand and accidentally flipped scrambled eggs everywhere. “Sweetie, try using your other hand,” I suggested.
Since birth, she’s shown predominantly right-handed tendencies. I’m left-handed, and while it would have tickled my lefty-bone for her to have been also, I’m quite happy that she won’t have to deal with being left-handed in a right-handed world.
“Life is just easier if you’re right-handed,” I said nonchalantly while cleaning up scrambled eggs. I honestly believed the entire human species, or at least the people at the breakfast table, would concur disinterestedly.
My normally agreeable, right-handed partner became immediately defensive, and we had a heated volley with a little blonde referee interjecting as she could:
“Mama, don’t be mean to my papa.
“Papa, don’t yell at my mama.
“We’re not supposed to be loud at the dinner table.”
I had to stop and smile at that one; she still messes up the names of meals.
It wasn’t an ugly fight, more of a passionate debate. I was stunned to the point of silence that a right-hander would try to tell me what it was like to be a left-hander. (“Right-splaining?”) He doesn’t believe there’s any real difference or hardships, and as proof, he knows other left-handers who have never complained. In essence, he was calling me a whiner, a pessimist, and overly-dramatic. He assumed it must simply be my negativity and propensity to play the victim while blaming others that made me believe life was so much harder for lefties.
Of course, I hadn’t said that life was “so much harder”, but when I suggested righties might have it easier, that is what he heard.
Right-handed privilege may seem paltry, but it is in fact real. Lefties deal with uncomfortable school desks, unavailable or more expensive sporting equipment, our dominant hands being “unclean” in certain cultures, not to mention the countless everyday items built specifically for right-handers that often cause accidents and even death for lefties attempting to adapt. Lefties don’t live as long for this exact reason. Approximately one in ten people is left-handed; we are not a mass market. But our lives still matter, don’t they?
After the exchange ended, I felt slyly excited about what I had just witnessed. This was a cut and dry case of a societal privilege so ingrained that it had become invisible to someone who benefited from said privilege. And when it was called out, the privileged one basically exploded in defensiveness, blaming the minority who doesn’t benefit from said privilege for any discrimination they might face. My character, my beliefs and whole way of being were called into question simply because I dared to suggest he might have it a little bit easier.
See where I’m going with this?
We’re hearing a lot more about “privilege” these days…male privilege, white privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, cisgender privilege, and so on. None of these ideas are new, of course; it’s just that people of all walks of life are finally finding their voices and a more equitable platform on which to be heard.
But in large part, the comfortable majorities don’t like to talk about these kinds of topics. I get it. Hearing that others think we come from privilege makes us feel uncomfortable. We love our cozy bubbles and if we’re forced to look at those who aren’t so cozy, then darn it, we don’t feel as good about our cozy bubble anymore. We’re quick to pipe up about our tough lives while discounting the hardships of others. We all want the disadvantages we face to be recognized.
In truth, everyone falls somewhere along the broad spectrum of privilege, and frankly, it’s time to listen with compassion to those who don’t benefit where we do. On all fronts.
Acknowledging that I benefit from white privilege makes me feel, well, white. I haven’t had to “feel” my skin color before, and that’s exactly what privilege is. Simply being aware helps me see that there are a million examples throughout daily life where someone with a different skin tone would very much feel “not white”, not to mention be faced with pure discrimination. Especially now in the “get out of my country” Trump-era.
Speaking of male privilege, I am not male. Every single day I feel, in some minor or major way, the disadvantages of being female. This is not self-pity; I absolutely love being a woman. An unbroken woman has the fire and fight of a roaring lioness, beautiful in her power and cunning. Yet, undomesticated women are often vilified in their freedom, in their audacity to lead. They are torn down with a level of hate and vitriol male leaders simply don’t experience. (By the by, did you know that some research shows it is actually the alpha female who is the true leader of wolf packs observed in the wild?)
Women are turned into objects, possessions, and domestic role-fillers. We are diminished, discounted, and passed-over in ways that men will never have to worry about. We are abused, assaulted and killed by those closest to us in numbers men will never match.
The patriarchy is very real and often overwhelming in both its overt and invisible oppressiveness.
If you’re dismissive of this idea right away, slow down and ask yourself why you might be resistant. If it’s true for some, does that make it generally true or generally false? Remember the Women’s March earlier this year? My Facebook feed was full of derogatory comments from both men and women who were mistaking benevolent sexism for gender equality. Putting a positive yet patronizing spin on how women are treated as compared to men still points to privilege.
The idea of Christian privilege is sure to set some of us off like errant bottle rockets in a dry field. Mind you, I’m not saying you don’t have it rough, but faith-based persecution does not disprove Christian privilege. Your religion gets away with making laws out of your beliefs while other religions do not have that luxury. You get your religious holidays off, while Jews, Muslims and basically all other religions don’t. Your places of worship (except black churches) don’t get bombed, set on fire, surrounded by people openly carrying guns, and many other forms of targeted hate. Your religion isn’t seen as radical or inferior by school teachers who often openly normalize and subtly preach their own. You aren’t viewed by the general public as needing to be saved.
Before you fire off another Letter to the Editor cancelling your subscription because some woman dared to have an opinion, please know that I’m not saying it is wrong or bad to have privilege. All I’m saying is that life would be easier if you’re a right-handed straight white male who calls himself a Christian. Wouldn’t we live in a better world if we recognized our privilege and helped make it easier for those who don’t benefit where we do?
Perhaps you could let yourself sit in your discomfort for a little bit. Pray, maybe. At least just feel it. Hopefully own it. The unprivileged have to. Every day of their lives.
Or, you can bash about angrily, displaying your fragility for all to see, railing against the inevitable tides of positive change all these types of conversations point to. We all have a choice.
As for my family and me, we’re uncomfortable a lot. And that’s perfect; we want to grow in love and compassion. Even though it’s still a right-handed house, in doing research for this column, I learned that female cats are largely left-handed and since we have two, lefties are now the majority. Take that.
(Published in the April 2nd issue of the Warroad Pioneer. 120th Year, Issue 34)
On any given weekday throughout our long Minnesota winter, ten young elementary school students ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade take their spelling tests, work on math problems and eat their lunches all while wearing their winter jackets. During power outages, which are regular occurrences in this area of the state, they bring out the blankets and keep on learning.
During the spring rains, the students make a game of filling cups with the water that runs through the window frames and into their classroom. The many mold spots on the ceiling and in the stained fluorescent light fixtures don’t drip water; they pour water like a spigot. Buckets sitting beside desks and a constant mildew smell are barely blinked at.
When the weather is finally warm enough, the boys go to the bathroom outside to save on flushing. When the plumbing isn’t working at all, they use a portable toilet – the kind you might see on a big boat. Their teacher then carts the waste home to empty it into her own septic system.
Yes, over the last many years an unacceptable new normal has taken root at the quaint and often-lauded Angle Inlet School, Minnesota’s last one-room public school house.
Teacher Linda LaMie, who has been devoted to the school for thirty-odd years, and her students, and paraprofessional teacher’s assistant, Mrs. Samantha Shoen, have learned to adapt.
“Living at The Angle is more challenging in a lot of ways than most other places in Minnesota,” said Mrs. LaMie. “We’re not complainers. We’ve adapted and learned to put up with a lot, but now that I see more and more how the building’s condition is impacting the kids’ ability to learn and do what kids need to do every day, well, it’s time to make some noise.”
For Mrs. LaMie, it has become normal to squeeze around the rows of plastic storage bins stacked seven-high beside her desk due to lack of closet space for materials and supplies.
It doesn’t faze anyone except visitors when an errant dodgeball during indoor Phy. Ed. knocks over stacks of books, scatters the in-process art projects or sends the spare boxes of tissues flying. The students adore their time to move and play, as all kids do, and in this small space, they’ve become as nimble as billy goats. No one has crashed into the piano. No one has hit their head on one of the aging desks. No one has been seriously injured tripping over the loose and wrinkled threadbare carpet.
On Monday, April 10, State Representatives Dan Fabian and Matt Grossell made the long trek north to the top of Minnesota’s “chimney” to visit the small school. Co-authors of HF 1089, a bond bill that may finally provide funds for repairs and updates, legislative veteran Fabian and newly elected Grossell crossed the Canadian border and wound along the final 20 miles of bumpy gravel roads, all with the goal of touring the functioning-but-rundown school, meeting the students and talking to the community they’ve vowed to fight for.
Remote and often overlooked, the Northwest Angle is on the map as a fishing destination. According to the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, the area brings in excess of $10M in economic impact to the state. And the community is growing. From 2014 to 2015, lodging expenditures rose 15%. And for the second year in a row, attendance at the small Angle school has measured in the double-digits.
The growth is highly significant in the life of Mrs. LaMie. She teaches all subjects to seven different grade levels, which is over 70 lesson plans each day. Last year, the school district (Warroad 690) brought on a part-time teacher’s assistant to help out with the workload. Mrs. Shoen, who graduated from UND with a double major in English and History is working towards her education degree and was once a student at The Angle School herself. The extra help came none too soon, especially considering that for years Mrs. LaMie’s job has also included responsibilities that teachers in nearby Baudette, Warroad, or Roseau, not to mention in the metropolitan areas south of here, would never be asked to complete.
She shovels snow and throws salt. She pulls weeds and trims the trees. She rolls out the septic blanket in the fall and puts it away in the spring. She maintains the water softener, adding salt and making minor repairs as needed. She functions in an IT roll, trouble-shooting the printer, fax machine, copier and student computers. She is a front desk receptionist, answering the school phone and all the correspondence received by visitors inquiring about the unique history of the area. She is the school nurse, the music instructor, art teacher, Phy. Ed. coach and so much more.
When it comes to building maintenance, often, if she doesn’t do these chores, they simply don’t get done. We all know that teachers across the country use their own resources to ensure their classrooms are fully stocked, which, in its broad acceptability, clearly speaks to the broken education system in our country. But, in Mrs. LaMie’s case at the Angle School, it’s reached an unacceptable standard far beyond what is experienced elsewhere.
Representative Fabian has been visiting The Angle for over thirty years, but this recent trip was the first time he’d been inside the school building. Warroad Public Schools, which encompasses The Angle, fall within his district. Representative Grossell held a campaign goal of visiting The Angle, and after he received letters from each of the students, he set a date. Entering the school together for the first time, both had no difficulty seeing and smelling what all the current concerns stem from. The air exchanger hasn’t worked for years. The roof recently had tarpaulins nailed to it in several places. The bathrooms smell of must and mold. The classroom, while bright and bustling, is cramped and cluttered.
School health is traditionally an indicator of community health but not in this case, and perhaps that’s why the thriving Angle community has begun to stand-up as a group to get their message across. The condition of the building has been steadily deteriorating for years, and with the growth of the student body the extra use adds to the current strain on an already appalling facility.
State representatives have visited in the past, but this is the first time the community jumped into full-fledged action. They organized a full agenda, starting with a traditional Angle shore-lunch. The reps then spent time with the students and Mrs. LaMie, touring the school and noting building conditions. Later in the afternoon, the community gathered in St. Luke’s Church, the only other public building open during ice-out, and heard a brief legislative update from both reps as well participated in a Q&A session about the school and other community concerns.
The goal was to leave a lasting impression with Fabian and Grossell, who returned to their capitol jobs and other more pressing issues the next day. Despite bellies full of fried walleye and wild blueberry dessert, an earful of parent concerns and the sweet and subtle pleas of a humble study body asking for help, if history is any indicator, the reps will make promises onsite, but the dilapidated school and ten determined students will quickly be forgotten.
But the hardworking community doesn’t seem to be willing to stand for that any longer. “We are vote-casting, tax-paying members of 690 and want to see equal representation up here,” Angle resident and parent Lisa Goulet said. “We’re looking forward to seeing real results, not just the proverbial pat on the head that we’ve been getting for so many years.”
Four members of Warroad Public School District 690 were also present on Monday’s meetings with the students and State Representatives. Bearing school supply gifts for the kids, board members Brian Hontvet and Laurie Thompson, Building Facilitator Kelly Klein and Superintendent Paula Foley spent time listening and answering questions as needed.
It was the seventh trip that Foley had made to The Angle in her 1 1/2 years with the district. In the past, concerns have been raised regarding the school district’s financial status, which Foley has been addressing since coming on board in 2015. She also committed to a better accounting in the future of how the Northwest Angle’s levied tax dollars are being spent, and the matter is on the agenda for the Warroad School Board meeting on May 15.
The NW Angle is part of Lake of the Woods County but sends its kids to the Warroad schools due to proximity. Based on NW Angle real estate tax revenue over the last five years, an average of $377,216 has been transferred from Lake of the Woods County to District 690.
“Of these years checked, NWA residents assume 15-17% of the total dollars levied by the Warroad school district each year,” Stacy Novak wrote in answer to an email enquiry. Novak is the Lake of the Woods Property Tax Administrator and Deputy Auditor/Treasurer.
What this all means is that Angle residents’ concerns about adequate tax representation are absolutely valid. The Angle doesn’t make up 15-17% of the Warroad student body, and yet 15-17% of district dollars levied come from The Angle. That said, it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible or even possible to put that much money back into the Angle School each year. The district divides by student and by need not by big houses on expensive shoreline. Also, many of The Angle 7-12 graders are bussed into town and are part of the bigger Warroad School complex and all of its many activities and programs.
Still, The Angle school needs funds now. Quick fixes aren’t working any longer. It would be a boon to the district if the state bond bill would come through, but if it doesn’t, the district needs to step up and reallocate funds to make thorough renovations.
Back to the bond bill, the visiting representatives were genuine in their promises to do all they could to push it forward. Frustration was palpable in many voices during the community meeting, but ultimately the words of Representative Grossell rang loud and clear. “This is an absolute need. I’ve promised to fight for those in need, and this, to me, is a clear one.”
While the community has advocates in Reps Grossell and Fabian, the challenge remains to convince other members of the Capitol Investment and Education & Finance committees. The Speaker of the House needs to hear voices raised in unison. Voting members of the House and Senate who represent districts hours south of here have no concept of the school’s conditions, that the boys each have their own chosen tree to use when the plumbing isn’t working, that the girls sit huddled in snow gear to keep warm, and that the unseen mold may be causing health concerns.
In the past, teacher, students and community have tolerated the deplorable condition of their school because they must, and because they know with all certainty that this unique schooling experience is helping their community churn out a completely different brand of child. There is no sense of entitlement among these kids. Bullying doesn’t exist. Their levels of adaptability, resourcefulness and resolve, as well as negotiation skills, are well above average. Measuring this is, of course, arbitrary, but one conversation with these kids, where first-graders are chiming in right beside sixth-graders, proves the case. Constant interaction with older students builds confidence and self-esteem, while day-to-day exposure to the younger ones grows them into helpful, compassionate individuals who know how to serve.
This community grows kids who are going to be part of a problem-solving shift that desperately needs to take place in our country and beyond. Very big real-world problems stem from an education system in chaos, from under-paid and under-appreciated teachers, from standardized testing that lumps all kids into one category.
And while the Angle Inlet School adheres to all Minnesota public school policy, it is the unique environment that makes up for it. These students foster a decade-long relationship with one teacher. They learn and benefit from the contributions of community members near and far. They turn into teachers themselves, college professors, principals, assistant principals, law assistants, lawyers, physical therapists, graphic designers, nurses, members of the armed forces, fishing guides, stay-at-home moms – the ultimate teacher, and so much more.
During that Monday town hall Q&A with the state reps, “plan B” was brought up quite quickly. Though the words weren’t spoken, Representative Fabian didn’t appear confident that the bond bill would even make it to the floor.
“I’m hopeful that we have a bonding bill this year. I really, really am,” Fabian said, before expounding for several minutes on the merits of a possible philanthropic drive to raise money for the school. “There’s some discussion about whether we will [have a bonding bill] this year or not, but I think that it’s absolutely vital that we do. People like Matt and myself have spoken up a number of times in the caucus meetings about the importance of a bonding bill especially with regards to projects like this.”
If the worst happens and the bill is tabled, it would be the second year in a row that the NW Angle school, which is asking for $700K out of an $800 million bond bill, would get the shaft. The students would suffer in silence for another long winter. The building, under the care of an over-worked, retirement-age school teacher who earns no more than other teachers of her tenure, will continue to fall-apart.
If the worst happens, the students will keep on growing into responsible contributing adults, but it won’t be because our state proved they cared for them by funding an adequate facility. It’ll be because the community then had to resort to a herculean fundraising drive. It’ll be because their teacher never gave up and always went the extra mile. It’ll be because an already -strained school district pulled together and found pennies here and there.
The community cares and is determined to make it work, but more than anything they want their elected government, from school board members up to the state reps and senators, to do this work for them. It’s why the system exists in the first place. No matter what, we fight for our kids because students who are well-provided for become adults who make a difference. And those are the adults who are going to change the world.