Taking the High Road
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Taking the High Road
HIGH SCHOOL was a lost cause for Priscilla Rivera, a child of the downcast mill city of Holyoke, Mass. “I went to school with the attitude, ‘Oh, this is hard, and I’m not going to do it,’ ” Ms. Rivera said recently. “After a while, the teachers gave up on me. They were like, ‘If you don’t want to do your work, just put your head down.’ ”
She dropped out after the ninth grade, had a baby a year later and went on welfare. Two years ago, the state referred her to the Care Center, a nonprofit alternative education program where young mothers work toward their G.E.D.’s, and can get parenting instruction, college-transition support and other services.
For much of last year, Ms. Rivera, now 21, also studied philosophy, art, literature and history, just as students do at Smith, Amherst and the cluster of other elite colleges in this region of western Massachusetts. She was one of several young mothers enrolled in the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a program for the poor offered by the Care Center and about 15 other organizations across the country. The course aims to provide what Earl Shorris, who started it at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York City in 1995, called “an avenue to reflection.” Such avenues are hard to come by in Holyoke, which has among the highest dropout and teenage pregnancy rates in the state.
Mr. Shorris, who died in May, rejected the notion that the poor should focus on learning practical skills to prepare for mostly low-paying jobs. He believed that studying the humanities would teach them how to reflect on the world, putting them on more equal footing with the privileged class.
The course is taught by local college professors at the Care Center, which provides transportation and child care. It is held two days a week and is open to low-income women of all ages as well as Care Center regulars like Ms. Rivera. Those who complete the course will earn six credits from Bard College, which oversees the program nationally. This year’s students, from age 18 to 58, included homeless women, victims of domestic violence, recovering addicts and others for whom day-to-day existence is often excruciating.
“There’s a way in which the course asks people to examine their life and what they are seeing around them more deeply,” said Anne Teschner, the Care Center’s executive director. “Living in poverty can be very constricting, so to bring those more expansive ideas into the world of people struggling economically is really empowering.”
One day in March, Ms. Rivera and her classmates sat in a basement classroom discussing the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The students questioned why it was necessary. One asked, “Why isn’t the list of grievances enough?” Jeffrey Singleton, who teaches the course’s history segment, explained how the document had been read aloud throughout the colonies, making the case for revolution.
After class, Ms. Rivera said she was savoring the history lessons. Before, she said, “I had no clue about anything that went on. I always wondered, why do we have the Fourth of July? Why do we have presidents? I remember a little from high school, but it just went through one ear and out the other.”
Tiffany Jones said she preferred the literature segment because the teacher would “make an assignment about what we read, but it was also about us.” Now 21, she had left high school after her sophomore year, had two babies and has bounced around homeless shelters. “We wrote more about ourselves,” she offered. “True life stories.”
Kritzia Garcia, a 22-year-old mother of a 4-year-old girl, was excited about the philosophy segment, during which the class read Plato and Aristotle and discussed the importance of philosophical inquiry. On the first day, she told the class about how she had been kicked out of a Pentecostal Bible school as a child for questioning the existence of God. “I’ve been trying to figure life out forever,” she said. “I want answers.”
Art history proved less popular with all three young women, who were not happy that so many of the paintings they studied were religious.
“I don’t think it’s fair for a teacher to bring religion into it because some people ain’t brought up like that,” Ms. Jones said. “We’ve got these older ladies in the class that make me feel uncomfortable because they’re all church people. They know everything about the Bible, and I’m sitting there like, ‘O.K.’ So it’s hard.”
Ms. Rivera was frustrated to the point of sobbing about having to write about her reaction to a painting of the crucifixion. “I said, ‘You want to know what I feel about this picture?’ Nothing. Because I’m not a religious person. My mom never forced me to go to church, because her mom forced her.” Ezra Parzybok, who tutors the Clemente students, helped Ms. Rivera pick up a pen and start writing. “Ezra’s there hugging me — ‘Come on, you can do it,’ ” she said, smiling at the memory. “But before he pushed me, I was this close to giving up.”
By late May, the class had turned to moral philosophy. One rainy afternoon, they discussed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Ms. Rivera and Ms. Jones sat quietly while older students debated whether nonviolent protest was the surest way to effect change. As it turned out, they were anxious and distracted: the two young women were retaking the math portion of the G.E.D. exam the next day. They had passed four parts of the test — language arts, social studies, science and reading — but had failed the math.
“I declare and demand that I’m going to pass that test,” Ms. Rivera said.
She did not. But she would try again soon, in hopes of enrolling at Holyoke Community College this fall and eventually transferring to Smith. Ms. Jones, who failed the math section for the third time in May, said she hoped to work for a while before trying again (the center encourages its students to focus full time on education).
Both women graduated from the Clemente course in late June, though. “I had never really had anything good in my life,” Ms. Jones said. “I don’t have nobody, so for me to do it by myself and not have anybody telling me to do it, it shows I’m really trying.”
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Friday, July 6, 2012
|Click image to go to video|
Leo Jones video of top view of his fantastic mirliton micro-farm in Harvey, Louisiana--the largest in the New Orleans area. These are mostly first year plants except for the plant in the foreground which is a third-year plant. These are all the Mister Rock variety. These is a good example of the productivity you can get using our recommended overhead trellis system, large hill-planting methods with past draining soil, and cylinder trellis's to connect plants to overhead trellis. I am coming to the conclusion that this trellis method reduces anthracnose by positioning plants in the middle of the trellis so that the dense canopy prevents leaf growth on the base stem (a ladder for fungus to climb to the top) and reduces splash-up from the soil to the vine which spreads the soil-borne fungus that causes anthracnose. Beyond growing techniques, the success of this impressive micro-farm is solely the outcome of Leo's knowledge, hard work and determination, and his daily attention to his plants.