Category Archives: Background Reading

A roundup, of sorts

As I look toward spring break (oh yes, professors count down, too!), I am cleaning out my ‘blog about this’ folder in my inbox.

And running out of time to write posts about all of them.

So, with only a bit of context and introduction, here are some things I’ve been thinking about and wanted to share. I’d love to hear your feedback, either now or when I get back, ready to finish this spring semester strong, in class and on here.

  • Social Services and Social Change Webinar: Last fall, I had the chance to participate in a webinar for Grassroots Grantmakers with Building Movement Project (so, yes, I was sort of awestruck). I found the PowerPoint and recording for the webinar online and wanted to share it. You can listen to me talk about my work with reStart, Inc., integrating advocacy and social change into their volunteer outreach and orientation efforts. And you can hear Frances and Sean lay out how BMP works to engage social service providers around the country. It’s cool stuff.
  • reStart, Inc.’s move to focus on permanent solutions to homelessness: Related to the above, here’s a blog post from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City about reStart, Inc.’s shift in their services and approach to more intentionally focus on permanent solutions to homelessness, rather than services for those experiencing homelessness. It’s visionary and bold and kind of scary, and I think it’s awesome.
  • ‘Clash’ between immigrant rights groups and DC advocates: He calls them ‘power brokers’, which isn’t necessarily inaccurate but a little pejorative. Still, this used to be my world, so I read with much interest this piece on the growing divide between grassroots immigrant rights groups and those working legislation in the beltway. I believe that there are roles for both in a movement, but also that holding them together–even when their ultimate visions are similar (and, here, in some cases, they are not)–is hard. It’s a fascinating case study, of sorts, and, again, one close to my heart.
  • Social workers are joining the ‘tell our own story’ revolution: This post from Social Work Helper underscores the importance of telling our stories, as social workers (here, child welfare workers). What I like most is the reminder that the narrative goes on, with or without us, so others will tell our stories for us if we don’t tell our own.
  • Getting out of the U.S. echo chamber, for a different perspective on social policy: This piece from David Bacon exposes the extent to which U.S. policy on immigration is out of step with global trends. We have a tendency–maybe most nations do–to think that our ‘consensus’ is more of less in line with where policy is heading. We even seek out media and other affirmations of that belief. But it’s often not true, and, in the case of global policies like immigration, this distinction is important.
  • Storify of my live Twitter chat on nonprofit advocacy, for Social Work Helper: I love how they aggregate this, and I love remembering the great conversations we had about living our values and acting as advocates within social work organizations.
  • Poll shows America is ready for equity: Need some good news? Me too. After posting about inequality a lot lately (and some more coming up, I think, after break), it was encouraging to see this poll about Americans’ support for policies that would move in the direction of greater equity. Some interesting findings: while Americans mostly overestimate the current and future diversity of the U.S. population, they are far from panicked about these changing demographics. More than 70% support increased funding for training and infrastructure and education, all steps that would move in the direction of greater equity.
  • Head Start pushing back against sequestration: Nothing warms my heart–not even Florida sunshine!–like service providers standing up for those they serve. So I love getting emails about the effects of sequestration on Head Start funding, even though I hate what these funding cuts are doing to young children who, after all, will never have another chance to be 3.

What have I missed? What has lingered in your inbox, waiting to be shared?

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Assets, Education, and the American Dream

Earlier this week, I wrote about my work at the Assets and Education Initiative, and what we’re trying to do to sort of upend the conversation about financial aid and higher education and student debt, in pursuit of an education system–and a way of financing it–capable of delivering far more equitable outcomes for those disadvantaged today.

Today, I want to share some of the resources and tools we’ve developed as part of this.

I know that most of my readers are touched in some way by our higher education system–indeed, I would argue that we all are, at least indirectly, given that education is so powerful in shaping economic opportunities and structures–as students or recent graduates, faculty members or advocates.

We are certainly not alone in raising these questions, but I am proud of the role that we’re playing, and I am excited to more explicitly share this work with you, in a sort of ‘full circle’ way.

I would welcome your comments and questions. One of the most fun things about working in an evolving field is the ability to be pretty nimble and responsive, like when a reporter’s question about the level of savings that it would really take for a Children’s Savings Account to make a difference for a student’s likelihood of going to college led to a new line of research that revealed, somewhat startlingly, significant improvements in educational outcomes just from opening a savings account, and sizable differences for those students with about $500 saved.

Your question might just spark the next line of inquiry; regardless, these are conversations we must have.

Our education system isn’t just about who we are today, or what students encounter upon enrollment.

It’s about who we will become and the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible in this country.

It is an honor to be part of that.

Link Love–Happy Valentine’s Day!

So I totally stole the title of this post (the ‘link love’ part), and I can’t even remember from where I stole it, which means that I can’t even give proper credit.

Not very Valentine’s Day-ish of me, hunh?

But there’s a lot to love here, and I want to share it, so the name seems appropriate.

Have a great Valentine’s Day, reading about poverty and policy and technology for social change.

That’s what I’ll be doing. Super romantic, trust me.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers!

Love for everyone!

Why we celebrate Kansas Day

This hangs in our dining room. Really.

This hangs in our dining room. Really.

So that there’s no confusion, Kansas Day is actually next week–January 29th, to be exact.

But I have a full week of posts about inequality scheduled for next week and, besides, Kansas deserves a whole birthday week, right?

I just finished reading For the Common Good (review coming before too long, once I get some other posts cleared out), and there’s a part in the very beginning that made it clear that this isn’t just a book about leadership.

It’s a book about leadership in Kansas, written by Kansans.

Because it’s different.

Those who aren’t from our state (and, I must admit, probably even some who are) are certainly forgiven for not knowing, but Kansas is sort of a big deal.

Historically, unlike Iowa, the Dakotas, Illinois, Indiana, and other states founded based on geography, “Kansas was founded for a cause: freedom” (p. 8). When Congress passed the Kansas and Nebraska Act in 1854, the choice between being a free state or a slave state was left to the residents of those territories. Abolitionists came from the Northeast and elsewhere to flood the Kansas Territory and influence it to enter as a free state. “Their success helped put Kansas on the right side of history.”

And, in my house and among many of my colleagues and friends, we take that very, very seriously.

Several of the proponents of our instate tuition legislation for immigrant youth referenced our anti-slavery background in their floor speeches; to them, standing up for equality now is more than just the right thing to do.

It’s our birthright as Kansans.

It’s who we are as a people, every bit as much as the sunflowers.

American historian Carl Becker described it in the way that my family still sees it, “The origin of Kansas must ever be associated with the struggle against slavery. Of this fact Kansans are well aware…It is a state with a past.” (cited p. 8, For the Common Good)

My oldest son and I spent a day at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence this summer.

When we stop at Civil War cemeteries (which, yes, happens with some regularity around here), one of the boys usually wants to know if “someone made them fight for the confederacy”.

They just can’t contemplate willingly putting your life on the line for something so wrong.

I’m not naive about the state of Kansas politics today, and how far less than noble are many of our aspirations in 2014.

And I’m not even ignoring the injustices perpetrated in the name of ‘freedom’ then.

We were the Brown v. Board of Education state, after all; we certainly have known our share of racial and social injustice.

I don’t try to encourage my son’s animosity toward the University of Missouri; he comes by that all on his own.

But, I do think that keeping alive a sense of where we came from and why it matters is important, not just for a sort of ‘pride of place’, but also because it is the right side of history, and I want my children to know very clearly that there is always–alwaysa choice to stand there.

As one of my Facebook friends said at the time of the Quantrill commemoration, “the massacre of innocent civilians by Quantrill and his rebels, just because they stood for freedom and justice, is nothing that needs to be gotten over anytime soon.”

So we celebrate Kansas Day, and celebrate Kansas.

Ad astra per aspera–to the stars through difficulty–is a reminder of where we have been, and an exhortation about where we must go.

Coming out of our bunkers

Sometimes my students say things in class that just make me love them so much.

I try not to gush, because that’s a little strange; I mean, I cheerlead my own kids A LOT (“It’s a beautiful day to be these kids’ mom”, sung to the tune of the Mr. Rogers theme song, is one of my calling cards), but my students and I have a little different of a relationship.

But when they are so enthusiastic about policy practice, or so angry about an injustice they’ve witnessed at practicum, or just so curious about why things are the way they are, well, I just bubble over with affection for them.

And when they are so earnest and transparent and vulnerable, it touches my heart.

So this post is offered in that spirit, not in condemnation of the student who shared this reaction, nor, indeed, of the many who didn’t voice a similar response even if they feel it.

But in love and shared commitment to find ways to seek solace in coming together, rather than in hiding out.

It happened early in this fall semester, when I asked students to share their experiences trying to navigate information about policies and policy changes affecting their practices and their clients, and one student, somewhat hesitantly at first, shared that she really avoids paying attention to ‘anything political’, not because she doesn’t think it’s important, or doesn’t see the connection, but, really, because it just hurts too much.

She called it ‘self-preservation’ and said that, because she feels so emotionally overextended in her direct service provision, the only way that she can handle the emotional fallout of being a social worker is to focus narrowly on the immediate realm of her ‘control’ (even she acknowledged this control is elusive), closing her eyes to the world beyond her agency.

And, you know, I sort of get that.

My moments of greatest helplessness come when facing questions from my oldest son about why policies are the way they are–Why would Syria’s president hurt his own people and no one stops him? Why do so many states still ban gay marriage? Why would poor children lose preschool when the government shuts down (but Congress still gets paid)? Why is a teen mom separated from her baby so that her foster family can afford to take care of her, with the right level of reimbursement? Why do immigrants have to wait in Mexico for 10 years before they can be reunited with their families? Why?

Sometimes, when my mind is filled with regrets for the way that I spoke to his brother and mental to-do lists for work, I wish that he wouldn’t ask, “What happened in the world today, Mom, while I was at school?” Because it seems easier just to focus on dinner and our day and these four walls.

But his face, and his eagerness, and his whys, are my most poignant reminders of what’s at stake, and why hiding in a bunker isn’t safe for any of us.

Not when the world needs us out there.

So my response to my student was, in many respects, speaking to myself.

We talked about how joining with others to tackle root causes can combat burnout, and about humans’ greater ability to deal with that for which we feel prepared, rather than what blindsides us.

We talked about power, and vacuums, and about our responsibility to be at that metaphorical table when decisions are being made.

And we talked about Sam.

And about how, sometimes, when it seems like too much and I wish for the temporary solace of ignorance, I think about his wonderings.

And I take comfort in, at least, being able to tell him that I was paying attention. And that we tried. Together.

As we greet the new year, here’s to opening the door to the world, pulling the covers down, and facing our battles.

New hopes for the new year

These days, I run on academic time, which means that mid-December is, essentially, the end of the year.

I will have some posts next week before I take a holiday break, until the second week in January, to make cookies and wrap presents and volunteer and read and–I hope–spend some time in front of the fireplace reading juvenile fiction with some very special kiddos.

But, today, a sort-of tradition:

My hopes for the new year.

In the spirit of holiday giving, I hope you’ll share your hopes for the future, too. Good news on your horizon? Cherished dreams you’re clinging to? Promises of good things to come that you’re no longer keeping to yourself?

At the risk of sounding greedy, I want them all!

Here’s to a new year, a few weeks from now.

Together, let’s make it a great one.

What are you hoping for? What will you do to make those dreams come true?

Doing good for a living

MN 1026

Tomorrow is my birthday.

If you’re like me, birthdays mean a lot of self-reflection.

I find myself thinking about where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what’s next.

And I do a lot of pragmatic planning, prompted by the more existential reflections.

It was going through my calendar, for the mundane, that I came across a quote from one of my guest speakers from last spring’s class.

“I realized I could fight the good fight for a living.”

And that’s what I’m thinking about, during this birthday week:

How really, really, really lucky I am to get to make my living doing work that gives meaning to my life. Really, really lucky.

I mean, we all complain, sometimes, about having too much work or feeling under-appreciated. And I think that can be cathartic.

But I know that I never dreamed, when I thought about my career, that I could cobble together work that makes me feel connected and valuable, while still making it possible for me to dabble in lost causes and wrap up my kids in regular hugs.

So, I guess this is more of a birthday ‘cheers’, to those of you who have, similarly, found a way in this broken society to pay your bills while changing the world, and to those who are looking for a path through which to do the same.

They are good fights, and we need them, and you deserve to eat and rest and buy a new sweater or sit on the beach sometimes, while you fight them.

I vow to never stop being grateful that it’s possible.