Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Questions my students have

NOTE: This page is a repository for some of the more interesting, insightful, and applaudable comments and questions from my students. It will be updated frequently.

At the end of each class meeting this semester (fall 2017), I’m asking students to reflect on what they learned that day that was important or interesting, then to jot down any questions or curiosities they have. What continues to strike me about this exercise is how insightful, piercing, and straightforward some of these questions are. They suggest that those unfamiliar with the government can be enticed to care, if their curiosities are allowed to marinate.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • I don’t know where the actual power in government comes from.
  • Why was nothing done to Andrew Jackson when he went against the Supreme Court?
  • Why is our government still so spineless and unimpactful about issues that don’t matter to the majority?
  • Not a question, necessarily, but I’m interested in reading the Constitution. What does it say? It seems like something most people should know.
  • How can the Constitution change laws?
  • Why were the Federalist Papers written ONLY to the people of New York?
  • What would be a good way for a president to get Congress to cooperate?
  • Why do people always hate the president?
  • Why are there no term limits with Supreme Court justices?
  • How can the president choose to enforce or not enforce federal laws?

Last updated: Sept. 10, 2017

What my students taught me this week

We the PeopleAt a political science conference last January, another professor and I started talking about civic education and civic engagement among our students. This is something I’ve read about a bit, but it’s not something I’ve honestly made all that much of an effort to incorporate into my classes before.

I’d trace the lack of effort in this regard back to two things: First, political scientists often argue that they are teaching their students the theories of our discipline, which help our students develop critical minds and a reliance on empirical evidence. The prevailing wisdom of our discipline is that teaching students how to become competent citizens isn’t our job. Second, while I certainly make an impassioned plea each semester on the importance of voting, I haven’t before felt the emphatic need to encourage active engagement with government before.

But … well. Things are different in 2017, aren’t they?

So over the summer, I piloted a semester-long project in my online American Government course. (Aside: I’m a fan of a semester-long project; I’ve incorporated one into almost every course I’ve taken, as a way to focus the week-to-week material on a larger theme.) This Civic Engagement Project asks students to (1) identify who represents them in government at the national, state, and local levels, (2) research the broad strokes of each representative’s background, and (3) make an effort to reach out to each representative with a question or statement of policy preference. They then reflect on how this project changed the way they think about government and the strength of citizen voices on what government does.

To be honest, I expected the impact of this project on students to be neutral, at best. It was easy to imagine college students finding this project a hassle, tedious, and uninspiring.

Thankfully, though, the summer students surprised me. In their final reflections, they repeatedly wrote about how the mission of this project became evermore clear to them as they worked through the levels of government. One had coffee with her city council representative. Another decided to intern for her senator in DC next summer. And in perhaps the most fulfilling moment I’d had as a teacher in a long, long time, one wrote in the final reflection paper:

Since the completion of this semester-long project, I have formed a new sense of self in my community. I feel more connected to my country, and I can only imagine how empowered I could feel if I continue to be active. My learning experience was much greater than I expected initially. Not only did I grow as a citizen and learn new information, but I was able to better understand the material I was studying. Having a place for real-world application expanded my knowledge. My attitude towards government has changed, in that I do think some representatives do value my thought and opinions. Despite this change in attitude, I still believe there is an overall political agenda that takes precedence over things citizens are concerned about. I think it takes a loud, persistent voice to head and acknowledge. The best place to start with real change is probably my local community. Without Washington and high politics being involved, I think the chances of change are higher. Even though I believe that I, alone, am not enough to influence a decision or create true change, I still hold value to being an active and informed citizen. I stand a little taller when I am out in public knowing that I have played a small role in keeping my community flowing. I have encouraged my friends to become interested and involved; because if we want a government by the people, we mustn’t forget that WE are the people. I strongly recommend this assignment be kept in the course in the future. It makes the textbook material easier to comprehend and it brings empowerment.

This fall, I’ve kept the same basic structure, with one major change: I’m now also asking students to attend a public meeting or event with one of their elected representatives — be that city council, school board, a town hall meeting, a hearing or session of a legislative body, etc.

I’m very curious to see how students in a regular (fall) semester react to this project, but I can tell you that in the first two weeks of classes, my students have taught me an enormously important lesson: Knowing how to identify your elected officials is hard.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t spent literally hours over the last two weeks explaining the difference between US senators from Tennessee and Tennessee state senators. Or explaining that local governments have both city and county representatives / councils / commissions. Or helping students understand that while Paul Ryan is a member of the national government, he’s not their representative. And so on.

I’ve been politically attentive long enough to find these questions easy to answer. You want me to tell you who represents me? Before Trump was elected president, I could name my national representatives, and I knew one person who represented me locally, but I was completely ignorant of my state legislators. But I at least knew HOW to find out who they were.

My students have taught me that this is a privilege, and it’s not one that many of our peers share.

When my friends lament how politically unaware others are, or how complacent Americans have become, or how ignorant voters in this country are, they are operating from an assumption that Americans know HOW to engage with government and simply choose not to. My students have taught me that we’re all wrong. We know most Americans don’t know who represents them at the various levels of government, but we assume that they could find out. And we’re wrong.

Incredibly, the first part of this semester-long project — namely, identifying the people who represent you … just finding their names! — is the single hardest part of the whole damn project. Let that sink in. Just finding out who is advocating on your behalf is harder than researching their background, contacting them, or going to a meeting at which they preside.

Theories of political science are endlessly fascinating for many of us, no question. But if we want our students to engage in critical thought about how groups of representatives make decisions for the rest of us, we’d better start by ensuring they understand, at a FAR more basic level, how this whole thing works. If we want the American public to trust our institutions, believe that our elected officials work on our behalf, and live a more informed and engaged life, we’d better start by demystifying what feels, to so many of our compatriots, like an impossibly opaque system.

There are those in my discipline who would say that I’m taking a rigorous academic course and making it a civics class, the likes of which they should’ve paid more attention to in eighth grade. Honestly, at this juncture, I’m beyond caring what those critics would say. When learning is centered on making the seemingly opaque more relevant to the life of the learner, long-term impacts are possible. When students understand who is working on their behalf, and start to see those people as … well, people, the salience of everything else we want to teach gets a boost.

I’m eager to see how this semester goes, and be sure that I will let you know. I’m also going back to that political science conference next January to report my findings and hopefully inspire other lofty academics to reshape how they think about what our students do or do not know.

In defense of speech

XKCD cartoon on the First Amendment

www.xkcd.com

Across my Facebook feed came a meme (which I won’t repost here) suggesting that the only reason we haven’t outlawed Nazis and Nazi rhetoric in the United States is because we celebrate their beliefs. This line of thinking really unsettled me. Not because I celebrate Nazis or their ilk. Not because I support white supremacists and their vitriol. Not because I want to live in a world where Nazi sympathizers have power.

No, I’m unsettled by some of what I’m hearing among my kind-hearted and social-justice minded friends. Honestly, I’m as repulsed by this vile message as you are.

But … the First Amendment. Our bedrock values of freedom. It’s still there, and we need to remember that the truest test of our belief in free speech comes when we are asked to defend the right of our brethren to espouse beliefs that we find most repulsive.

There is a fine line between speech that offends and speech that incites violence. Our courts have a difficult time drawing that line, and they don’t always get it right. But we will be judged by how we legislate or enforce the expression of beliefs that we find most reprehensible, and right now, I fear some of us are losing sight of that.

Yet, as the XKCD cartoon above so clearly points out, it is your right as an American citizen to react to speech you find offensive by speaking back. The First Amendment protects against government intervention, not individual reactions. Many states allow employers to fire employees for any reason, including your actions and speech outside of work. That’s OK, unless you work for the government (or use government resources or reputation to express yourself). I can shout back at you. I can counter-protest. I can boycott your business. I cannot pass a law restricting you, though.

I get that the recent surge in white supremacist rhetoric has us all feeling horrified and disgusted. We thought we were beyond this. But we must not conflate disgust with the impulse to restrict what others can say. Period.

I see graphics like this, from the Newseum, and I worry. I worry so much:

Newseum's look at Americans' support for the First Amendment, 2015

Click on this image for the full PDF

What does a full heart make you do?

Confession: I LOVE Jen Louden. She’s a writer, a writing coach, and just a phenomenal woman who does phenomenal work that I wish I had more time to fully embrace. She recently sent out this quick 3-minute video called, “Writing made me do it,” in which she talks about taking a few moments to journal about the things writing made her do. She then suggests doing the same and seeing what it sparks in you …

… and while I’d really love to tell you that my love of writing has made me do so many wonderful things in my life, things big and bold and important like Jen, in truth, writing has just given me a conduit to explore my world with curiosity and openness, the better to write about it. That’s not nothing, but this line of thought has got me thinking on something else entirely.

Let’s back up a second.

A week ago, I was on Amelia Island in Florida, staying at a beautiful, unexpectedly quiet beach condo with four of my dearest friends, soaking up the energy that being with people who know you well uniquely provides. I left that space on Monday with a full heart (and a body that desperately needed sleep, ha!).

In the week since, I have taken decisive action forward on a plan my heart has wanted to pursue for going on a year now, but I just hadn’t found the courage to leap towards.

A full heart made me leap.
A full heart made me trust my instincts.
A full heart made me believe in myself and my vision.
A full heart made me comfortable going outside my comfort zone.
A full heart made me want to be bold.
A full heart made me desire spreading my happiness to others.
A full heart made me feel more comfortable with my body.
A full heart made me less anxious about the judgment of others.
A full heart made me embrace the fact that I don’t have to be 100% unique in order to be impactful.
A full heart made me love more fully and with less hesitation.
A full heart made me giddy with excitement.
A full heart made me grateful to have the friends I do, the sisterhood that knits us together and holds us tight, even when we’re apart.
A full heart made me feel a stillness inside myself that I haven’t ever felt before.
A full heart made me ready to act.
A full heart made me do it.

Liz Norell Yoga

These women and this place fill my heart. Photo credit: Boston Photography

The perils of shallow knowledge

John Nixon’s memoir, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, begins with this explosive paragraph:

The rise of Islamic extremism in Iraq, chiefly under the rubric of ISIS (or Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham), is a catastrophe that the United States needn’t have faced had it been willing to live with an aging and disengaged Saddam Hussein. I do not wish to imply that Saddam was innocent of the charges that were thrown at him over the years. He was a ruthless dictator who, at times, made decisions that plunged his region into chaos and bloodshed. However, in hindsight, the thought of having Saddam Hussein in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the awful events and wasted effort of America’s brave young men and women in uniform, not to mention the $3 trillion and still counting we have spent to build a new Iraq.

Nixon spent more than a decade at the CIA and admits he voted for George W. Bush — the president whose political beliefs pushed an eager-to-please intelligence community into finding weakly- or unfounded justifications for invading Iraq. He also admits to voting for Barack Obama, saying about John McCain: “While he had a lot more foreign policy expertise than Obama did, McCain was another shoot-from-the-hip kind of politician. I thought we’d had enough of that with Bush. As for Sarah Palin, my goodness, where would one begin?” Unfortunately, though, Nixon says Obama was uninterested in Iraq, as he saw the problems there as Bush’s, not his; under Obama, things in Iraq got far worse, mostly due to American inattention.

His fair assessment of politicians across the political spectrum buys him a lot of credibility in my eyes. More importantly, his passionately patriotic insistence on a need for nuanced intelligence completely divorced from political whims is crucial. The great flaw of the Bush 43 administration’s foreign policy was its need — nay, its demand — that the intelligence community be intensely pressured to find evidence that fit with Bush’s black-and-white view of the world. Bush was impatient with complexity and nuance, and his foreign policy showed it. Incidentally, this conclusion is not one I’ve made after reading just a couple of books; it’s echoed again and again in the writings of intelligence officials, political observers, and military men and women themselves. (For more, see the moving and provocative Eugene Jarecki film, Why We Fight (read about the film here; buy it on DVD here; stream it from Amazon here). It will make you mad — but in a very productive manner.

The more I read about the Middle East, the more I’m convinced that it’s an issue too hard for political minds to tackle. Nor do I think that military minds should be in charge. We require thoughtful, considerate leadership well-versed in Middle Eastern relations, history, and culture. We haven’t had that in any of our leaders in a very, very long time. And it shows.

Friends — THIS.

I recently finished Kate Harding‘s and Marianne Kirby‘s phenomenal book, Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body. Not a lot of the information in this book was new to me, but their spunky writing and comprehensive take on the body and the myriad issues that arise in our relationships to our bodies was useful.

Perhaps most useful was a reference to a scholarly article that I will henceforth be sending to my team of doctors (particularly my GP), as well as taking with me to future doctor appointments. It’s not news to those of us living in larger bodies, but it’s certainly not what the mainstream messages of our culture promulgate. Here’s the abstract:

The prevalence of obesity and its associated health problems have increased sharply in the past 2 decades. New revisions to Medicare policy will allow funding for obesity treatments of proven efficacy. The authors review studies of the long-term outcomes of calorie-restricting diets to assess whether dieting is an effective treatment for obesity. These studies show that one third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets, and these studies likely underestimate the extent to which dieting is counterproductive because of several methodological problems, all of which bias the studies toward showing successful weight loss maintenance. In addition, the studies do not provide consistent evidence that dieting results in significant health improvements, regardless of weight change. In sum, there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.

Here’s the article in full text

One of the authors of this paper, Traci Mann, runs a groundbreaking lab at the University of Minnesota (Traci’s lab site is here). She wrote a fantastic book that I listened to on a drive not TOO long ago, Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again.

In short, this woman (Traci Mann) does amazing work that merits more attention. Please check her out … and spread her science far and wide, my friends. So many of our sisters (and brothers) need to hear what Traci’s research has found.

 

I belong at a community college

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've ended up where I needed to be -- Douglas Adams

Whenever I pause to think about how fortunate I am to work at a community college, and then probably feel a little bit guilty that I’ve found a place that so thoroughly makes me feel the good feels that come when you do something you genuinely love … I have to remind myself that sometimes we fall into the right place, and other times, we decide to make the place we are the right place. There’s something powerful that happens when you decide to love where you are for all that it does provide you, even if it’s not where you thought you would be.

I feel that way. I never expected to have a full-time job at a community college, teaching section after section of American Government … but you know what? It’s the PERFECT place for me. I love my job. I love my students. I love my work. I love my coworkers. I feel insanely lucky that I get paid to do things that genuinely fill me up.

Today was one of those days. I had the chance to write a letter in support of a student who I admire tremendously. The students I meet in the community college setting are a diverse mix of dual-enrollment high school students, freshmen who have come straight from high school, and adults who are coming back to school after a few years — or even decades, and everything in between — out in the workforce.

This cauldron of diverse experiences means our conversations in class are richer, with more viewpoints represented, people who can share their lived truths in ways that resonate strongly with important themes in the study of government.

So when one of these students hits a bump along the path, I feel so fortunate to be one of the people there to help them move past it. I’ve written impassioned letters on behalf of many students in the past, and I feel a sense of satisfaction after each one, but there is a special kind of wonderful that happens when you can help someone who you know hasn’t had a lot of help in his or her life.

When I interviewed for my job at my current institution, the committee did not ask me the right question to elicit the answer I wanted to give, so I just demanded they let me give it anyway. It is the story of my single most rewarding moment as a teacher, one that still damn near moves me to tears, roughly 12 years later. I was teaching remedial college writing at a community college in Texas; after taking my class, my students were asked to write a persuasive five-paragraph essay, which a team of us would read (anonymously) to assess whether they were ready for college-level writing courses.

I had a student that semester who made significant improvement in her writing. At the beginning of the semester, I remember so clearly her coming to me after class one day and saying, “I don’t understand. I was a straight-A student in high school. How am I behind in college?” (This was the moment I decided No Child Left Behind was BS.) Once she figured out what we were looking for in an essay, she found a formula that worked for her to present her points clearly, forcefully, and proficiently. She used that same formula on her exit test, and both she and I were confident in her success.

And then … a heartbreaking call. The director of our writing program called to say that her essay and another student’s essay were nearly identical, and because the assessment team couldn’t be sure who was the original author, both students would fail. Adrenaline pumping, I asked him if I could provide him with examples of my student’s writing, as I was confident she had followed her formula on this exit essay. Within minutes, I emailed him a scan of her most recent essay.

A few days later, I was on campus, grading essays from other students, and that director came in with the plagiarized essay and the email I’d sent. The structure of the paragraphs (transition words, etc.) were identical. There was absolutely no question that she was its author. The other student eventually confessed to having found my student’s essay on the computer in the testing room, changing a few words, and submitting it as his or hers. Exoneration! Vindication!

But my sense of triumph turned into something far deeper when my student called me on my cell phone. She said, “I have NEVER had ANYONE fight for me like that. You are the first person who has ever believed in me. Thank you.”

………

I was stunned silent.

Can you imagine reaching the age of 18 (or greater) and having NEVER have someone fight for you? To feel like nobody has ever believed in you before? It breaks my heart. At the same time, being the person who could do that for her? It is a humbling experience, without a doubt.

These are the stakes we work with at a community college. Some of our students come through our door having been told their entire lives that they aren’t smart enough for school. They don’t know whether they will succeed. Some don’t even try, because if they try and fail, that seems like it would be worse than not trying at all.

But if we can inspire trust, and maybe even a spark of hope, and genuinely BELIEVE in the promise of our students? They can do magical things, and we then get to behold their magic. It’s like that old Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.” If we believe in our students, and if we can somehow reach them enough to help them believe in themselves, they will be successful. It might not be the vision of success we had, but they will find their own success, their own path.

I’ve worked at public 4-year universities; I  spent a year teaching at a private, liberal arts college. But despite what I might’ve told you a decade ago, I wouldn’t “trade up” from my job at the community college for anything — prestige, money, or a lower teaching load. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best job in academia, and I’m grateful, daily, to have earned it. To spend time with my students is to spend time being humbled by their work ethic, grit, and hope.

Just Add Magic Lessons

I’m a huge fangirl of Liz Gilbert. You probably know her best from her book Eat Pray Love, which was later made into a movie with Julia Roberts playing the Liz Gilbert role. Liz has an incredible gift for seeing through the complexity of an issue to get to its root — and she does so with tremendous empathy, grace, and humor.

Her podcast, Magic Lessons, continues the work she began exploring in her utterly fantastic bookBig Magic (if you haven’t read this book, you simply must: Amazon.)

The first season of Magic Lessons was remarkable, but her second season (now a year old) appears to raise the stakes quite a bit higher. Last week, I finally listened to the first episode; I have to tell you, there were many moments during the one-hour conversation that necessitated a rewind and re-listen. It’s titled, “You have a screaming, not a calling.” How many of us can relate to this — that something inside of us is screaming to be heard. It’s not just a calling… that’s far too week. It’s a screaming.

This is powerful stuff, y’all.

Such as:

  • This reflection: We often feel like pursuing the work we love is selfish. However, if you think about the people who truly inspire you with their work, you’ll find that they could be accused of that selfishness, too … except, look at what they’ve done for you. When we meet someone whose work has moved us, or inspired us, the first thing we say is an emphatic THANK YOU! Yet, you know, they didn’t do that work for YOU. They did it for themselves. Liz Gilbert gives the example of meeting Toni Morrison, about whom Liz says: “She was doing the work that illuminated her to life, and by doing so, she becomes a torch to the world that lights me. … The ones who follow the most selfish path are the ones who get thanked the most. … It’s a community service!” How powerful is that?!  (find this conversation around the 21 min mark)
  • This homework: Write a list of 10 creative people who followed their dreams and light you up. Then, choose one person and write them a thank-you note, in your own voice, and explain why their work has been so meaningful to you. And send it. Keep a copy of it, and when the voice in your head tells you that you’re a failure, you can remind yourself: People who are doing the work in this world that they’re supposed to do are in service to the world, and you know that, because the work of this person (or persons) has served you. (find this conversation around the 24 min mark)
  • This lesson: The work you do in your life before you find the work that truly illuminates you? It’s not wasted. “Nothing we ever study or care about is wasted, or doesn’t get used.” This helped me reflect on the many things I’ve done in my life that don’t seem to apply directly to my life today… the journalism, the library science degree, the work in web development/writing, the Kaplan Test Prep teaching/tutoring. Those things don’t directly apply to my current life, but that work gets integrated into my life daily. It all gets used, and it’s never wasted. (find this conversation around the 49 min mark)

Liz Gilbert is deep, soulful, must-listen podcasting at its finest. I find I have to pause several times and marinate in what she’s said, then restart when I feel ready. So an hour-long conversation can become a MUCH longer listening experience!

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this podcast, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if and when you dive into her work.

My letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) regarding Betsy DeVos

When Betsy DeVos was initially nominated to serve as Secretary of Education, I sent my Tennessee senators multiple postcards begging them not to confirm her. Lamar Alexander was one of her strongest supporters (in or out of Tennessee), and his letters in response to my pleas consistently emphasized how qualified she is, how much she cares about students, and how wonderful she would be as Secretary of Education. As the news of DeVos’s decisions has piled up in my news feed, I finally reached a breaking point last week and penned a letter to him. What I had to say wouldn’t come close to fitting on a postcard. I’m finally sending it off today, and I thought I’d share with you all, too:

June 29, 2017

Senator Alexander,

Although I have grave concerns about the healthcare bill recently proposed by Senate Republicans, today I’m writing today to detail the many terrible decisions the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has made since assuming office—with, it’s worth pointing out, your vocal, enthusiastic, unqualified support. It seems like I hear almost daily about another decision she has made to weaken our education system, and I want to know specifically whether she still has your support.

Below are just a few reasons that I’m horrified, angered, and deeply concerned about Secretary DeVos’s tenure, albeit brief, at the Department of Education:

  • After taking a brave stance to protect transgender children in schools by allowing them to use the bathroom of their identified gender, she caved to pressure from President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and backtracked, putting lives of our MOST vulnerable students in jeopardy. This happened after she said, in February, “I will not be deterred in my mission of helping kids in this country.” Except, it appears, when political pressure from her allies is too fierce. So much for having a strong spine, eh?
  • Her misstatements regarding Historically Black Colleges & Universities on February 27 was, at best, tone-deaf with respect to the reason our country created HBCUs to begin with. She said about HBCUs, “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and great quality…Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.” It’s not as though students who “chose” to go to HBCUs were doing so because they had viable other options to attend college.
  • Her support of dismantling the public-service loan forgiveness program would directly impact my life in a massive and detrimental way. You see, Senator Alexander, I am one of the people who has dedicated her life to public service. I went to school and achieved a PhD while supporting myself through adjunct teaching (another matter altogether that I could go on for pages about). On average, I made about $1500 per semester-long class. Student loans were the only way I could afford to continue my education to attain my PhD. It took me nine years to finish my degree, all of which I was adjunct teaching, at times as many as TEN CLASSES PER SEMESTER. Think about that, sir. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones; I’ve obtained a full-time, tenure-track teaching job at Chattanooga State Community College, making me eligible for the public service loan forgiveness program after I complete my required years of service. My days are now dedicated to helping our most at-risk students achieve an associate’s degree and a better future for themselves. I know that you understand and value the importance of education for economic improvement. Shouldn’t those who get down in the trenches to enable that economic improvement be rewarded, too? (For context, I left a full-time job in 2005 at which I was making more money (not adjusted—in real dollars) than I now make 12 years later teaching with a PhD and 10+ years of teaching experience.)
  • The proposed reductions to the Education Department’s budget are devastating. I don’t think I need to elaborate further on this.
  • The recent announcement that the Education department will scale back on civil rights investigations is horrifying. At a time when violence against at-risk youth continues to plague public schools, we need leadership that will take every available action to protect students. Period.
  • Another recent announcement from Ms. DeVos’s department plans to roll back protections for students against actions taken by for-profit colleges. This, again, is horrifying. Eight states and the District of Columbia have sued her department to keep the rules in place. Shouldn’t we be protecting our students against the sorts of fraud and broken promises that we saw with our president’s “Trump University” scheme, settled for millions of dollars prior to his taking office? Imagine if those sorts of for-profit “colleges” could fleece unsuspecting Americans without any punishment or recourse?

Senator Alexander, I know you have a genuine passion for education and its promise. Ms. DeVos is taking us backwards, not innovating in ways that improve student excellence and meet the promise of education in this country. We simply must do better.

Will you take a stronger oversight role on the Education department? Will you work to correct these errors? Please speak out, sir. We need your strong leadership here. If Secretary DeVos is indeed someone you know well, respect, and support, my hope is that your wisdom, insight, and direction may help stem the tide of these terribly dangerous moves on her part.

Sincerely,

(Dr.) Liz Norell

 

My new favorite people

As part of my summer job, I’ve been writing profiles of people who come to stay at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly for our weekly newsletter, Mountain Voices. Today, I got to meet two people who charmed me beyond words. Here’s what I wrote about them. Just google Walter Sedelow and Sally Sedelow. They are freaking AMAZING. (And, as you can see in the photo below, adorable to boot.)

Meet Your Neighbors: The Eclectic Academics Next Door

“Before we married,” Sally Sedelow says, “we had one rule: We would never be restricted intellectually or geographically.” To say that Sally and her husband, Walter, have achieved that rule for living is an exercise in gross understatement. Sitting on their screened-in porch to have an afternoon chat with the Sedelows is likely to result in time disappearing as you become absorbed in conversation; these two have led fascinating, important, curious lives that are still every bit as fascinating, important, and curious today as they were when the couple were first married.

Walter and Sally Sedelow sitting on the porch of their favorite MSSA cottage, with fresh-cut roses given by a neighbor.

The Sedelows first came to the Assembly four years ago when they decided to give the Sewanee Summer Music Festival a try. They had previously been going to a music festival in Boston, but that was a three-day drive from their retirement home in Eden Isle, Arkansas. On their first trip to the Mountain, they lodged at the Edgeworth Inn—while they are not ardent sports fans, they recount that they stayed in Bear Bryant’s favorite room. Through an unexpected issue with lodging their second year, they came to the Assembly office one day to ask if there was a cottage available… right then, for nearly the entirety of the season. (Scott Parrish, general manager, says, “We don’t normally get walk-ins!”) The staff was able to accommodate them within a week or so. After a short stay at the Sewanee Inn, then, the Sedelows settled into summer life at the Assembly.

What was the draw to the Assembly? “The people are so wonderful, so welcoming,” they say. In 2016, they extended their stay to seven weeks; this summer, they are here for the entire season.

As seasoned veterans of the New York Chautauqua, they appreciate the variety and manageable nature in the MSSA platform; about New York, they say, “it can almost undo you” trying to balance how much is on the program. Along with the platform lectures and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival musical offerings, the Sedelows are now also taking advantage of the Sewanee Seminar and hope to attend some of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference readings, too. They find the collection of intellectual, musical, and cultural offerings here on the Mountain to be just the right mix.

Perhaps the most charming part of conversations with this dynamic duo is the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience they have collected. It’s not an exaggeration to say that each of them was critically involved in pioneering technologies we take for granted today. Sally—whose academic background is in English—was part of a group of people who made key advances in early attempts at natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Walter, meanwhile, has an academic background in history, but has worked in academic departments of computer science, library and information science, medical studies, and more. After he left the Air Force following the conclusion of the Korean War (he worked in areas related to electronic warfare), he worked with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara regarding what computing technology would mean in 20-30 years to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security more broadly. Walter and Sally were there from the beginning, orbiting within an era of academia where your intellectual interests could lead you to teach courses well outside the field you studied in graduate school. They took advantage, and then some.

Yet despite the impressive resumes and accomplishments of this power couple, they remain among the most down-to-Earth, unassuming, delightful people you’ll meet at the Assembly… or anywhere, frankly. They have a thirst for knowledge impossible to measure. “We love learning,” they say, “and that’s one of the pleasures of being here.” Sally, for example, decided to learn the cello in her mid-80s. And why not?

Scattered in the living room of their rented cottage, Peace & Plenty (#81), are books on topics ranging from black holes and the periodic table to genetics and physics. You know… just a little pleasure reading for their summer months. Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder, rather sheepishly, what you’re doing with your summer.

If you have the chance to share a meal or an afternoon porch conversation with the Sedelows, don’t pass it up. They are a rare treat.

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