UW School of Education Dean Diana Hess told Rotarians on September 7th that political education teaches students how to present their arguments and engage with people who have views different from their own. It helps students assess the difference between propaganda and the truth. It teaches them how to select strong leaders and develop opinions on issues. It also builds a healthy democracy and helps create meaningful solutions to today’s issues.
But because it’s not required, 30% of Wisconsin school districts don’t teach civics. Instead of engaging their kids in thoughtful analyses of multiple competing views, many parents want the curriculum to mirror their views. And many schools shy away from controversy, which is the lifeblood of democracy.
Hess believes we should double down on political education rather than quieting down. At a time when our democracy is at risk, our schools should be a building block of diverse thinking and not a mirror that reflects a community’s dominant political views.
She recommends teachers “Teach like democracy depends on it. Because it does!”
Our thanks to WisEye for videotaping our meeting this week. You can watch it here: WisEYE Sept 14
Our speaker on August 31 was Chief of the Madison Fire Department Chris Carbon. (His grandfather, Max Carbon, was, for many years, a member of our club.) He offered a general overview of the Department, noting that there are 35,000 requests for service every year; the vast majority of which are not to put out fires. The department has many special-service teams to handle the different kinds of service people require. He emphasized two. The Community Paramedic Program aims to identify peoples’ needs and to build relationships with the public. There is a partnership with UW Health and Meriter. One of the primary goals is to reduce return visits to the ER and enable greater independence of patients.
The CARE program is a collaboration with the police to deal with mental-health crises. In non-violent situations, mental health professionals and paramedics try to resolve the situation. Calls for this service have increased since its inception; there have been 900 calls so far. An analysis is going on to determine how well the program is working.
This fall, the department will begin a recruitment process. One hope is to improve the diversity of the department: the goal is to recruit people who are compassionate and understand the complexity of the Madison community. In response to a question about how to inspire Latinx and other minority people to become fire fighters, Chief Carbon said that the recruiting team will seek to establish partnerships with community groups to help in the effort, and he invited the questioner to meet with him to talk further.
The Chief had to leave at 12:45pm, and Assistant Chief Ché Stedman continued answering questions. He said that response teams of health professionals and paramedics were key to dealing with people suffering from dementia; to resolve a critical situation; and to know how to find additional help. The most challenging calls were those involving children in distress. He explained that fire fighters work two consecutive twenty-four-hour shifts per week, which leaves time for family and also for socializing with the families of their colleagues. He explained that when a crisis involves an armed person, that becomes a matter for the police to handle. But of the 900 calls for the CARE program, only two percent of the cases required police action.
This was a terrifically informative and encouraging program. Not only did the Chiefs explain the department, but they also gave evidence that they and their colleagues were public servants truly dedicated to serving the people of Madison.
NOTE: This week’s Rotary meeting was not videotaped.
It’s hard to imagine how you might feel if someone you’ve never met drew a beautiful likeness of your face based only from a photo. It’s a special gift from a high school art student from across the world.
Art can be a connector of kindness throughout the world even during times of extraordinary stress. That’s one of the main takeaways from Ben Schumaker’s memorable program.
In 2003, as a graduate student at UW-Madison, Ben traveled to Guatemala as a volunteer to work in an orphanage. When he returned to Madison the seed of an excellent globally beneficial idea was formed.
Schumaker thought if young artists could draw a child in a disenfranchised country and give them a portrait of their face it could foster kindness, joy and hope throughout the world.
“It’s just that simple,” said Schumaker. “Many of the portrait recipients have never seen a photo of themselves much less have someone take the time to draw their portrait.”
The results of that simple idea are staggering. Since the Memory Project was born 18 years ago, it has connected 300,000 people in 56 countries. Even the State Department in Washington D.C. recognized the value of the project via a portrait presentation.
The Project connects high school artists in the U.S. with youth living in challenging situations. High school art departments receive photos of young people in other countries that have been collected by the Memory Project. On the back of the portrait the art student draws one of their own hands. It’s another connector when the recipient puts their hand on top of the artist.
For 12 years the program focused on connecting with orphanages, but in 2017, it began including refugee camps.
Shumaker shared a personal story of getting to know a widow in Kabul, Afghanistan, with three children. “This is one of the hardest countries in the world to just be a girl,” Schumaker said. After the Taliban took control last August his heart sank knowing the two young girls in this family would not get be able to go to back to school.
The family asked if he could help them in their dangerous attempt to flee to Pakistan. “I told them I didn’t know what I could do but I’d try,” he said. He connected with a contact in Pakistan who helped them out but they arrived with no documents. Basically, they were stuck.
“But then, you won’t believe who got involved,” he said. A photo of the Malala Fund was shown on screen; the international, non-profit organization, co-founded by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.
The family eventually reached Canada where Schumaker met up with them. “They all gave me a hug,” he said. “Women in their faith and culture can only hug men who are family members. “Without question, this meant a lot to me,” he said.
Jennifer Javornik, Vice-President of Partnerships & Business Development with Filament Games, an educational games developer in Madison, said her program was interactive, just like play is an interactive experience.
“Games allow you to learn by doing; they give you confidence, help you hone skills, fail in a safe place. These playful experiences help improve people’s lives,” she said.
Filament Games has partnered with numerous companies to showcase topics in a fun, meaningful way. For example, they partnered with PBS Kids on the program “Hero Elementary” which features fundamentals of recycling.
In developing games she said you have to decide who the player (you) are going to be—like in Pac-Man where the player becomes Pac-Man.
After a brief background on how ideas for digital games are developed, she threw a challenge to the audience to become a game developer for the day. Each table was asked to describe a game around the survival of three animals– a gibbon, elephant and turtle. Each animal has unique characteristics like a trunk, long tail or hard shell that have helped them evolve
Javornik suggested young people in the Rotary audience might have good ideas.
She was right. One girl suggested animals could ‘shape-shift’ to change their identifies against predators.
Another child suggested a simple, effective idea. “When objects or predators block the animals, you could have buttons on screen help save them, but you have to hit the right button based on what you know about the animal.”
With a collective, ‘Ohhh” from the audience, it would seem these types of educational games already have interested fans.
James Skibo, PhD. Wisconsin State Archaeologist at the Wisconsin Historical Society, easily mesmerized Rotarians at the August 3 meeting. He described the amazing find in Madison’s Lake Mendota waters, the now world-famous “Mendota Dugout Canoe” discovered underwater last year.
The canoe has been selected as one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in the world in 2021. The largest and oldest boat ever sailed in Wisconsin waters attracted media attention from around the world.
The canoe was found buried in a slope in 27 feet of water about 200 yards offshore near Shorewood Hills.
Tammy Thomson, marine archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society who dives year-round, found the canoe during a pleasure dive. She first thought the 15-foot long dugout canoe looked like a buried stick. During Skibo’s program he showed an underwater photo of Thomson recording the find on her underwater notebook.
The 15 foot-long canoe probably carried two people along with a catch of fish, Fishing artifacts –‘net sinkers’ were found in the boat. Skibo said it likely took hundreds of hours to carve the canoe from the hard wood of a white oak tree. After discovery, the team had only about six weeks before winter set in to figure out to carefully extract the canoe from its resting place. Members of local tribes including the Ho-Chunk Nation, were among those consulted.
On a cold day last November, it took about four hours to bring the intact canoe to shore.
“There were about 100 people on shore clapping and cheering,” said Skibo.”It was a humbling, thrilling experience.”
The canoe will be undergoing preservation efforts in the next two years before eventually going on display.