Archive for September, 2014

Second Keynote speaker – Marilyn Carlson Nelson

I had the privilege of hearing Marilyn Carlson Nelson give her keynote address at the AALSH conference last week. She is proud of being from Minnesota where the MN Historical society is so highly regarded, they are one of the leading societies in the nation. When she went to the MNHS in St. Paul, she saw Oven heart pioneers, how they were preserving that info, she saw the early published cartoons of Charles Schultz. There were archival drawers with a pair of overalls from the late 1800s. It was patched together with mismatched cloth but to her there was a sense of eloquence in the simple everyday material. Marilyn had a sense of gratitude looking at this artifact because of her feeling indebted to the hard work of the early immigrants.

Marilyn is an economist and now a leader of a global CEO group, she has had to answer to many people all over the world. She was familiar with the expression “If you can’t ride two horses at once at the same time, get out of the circus.” The MNHS has a 75 year history. She is reminded of what Carl Sandburg, Swedish poet, said, “It cost to build this nation, took men and women to throw in all they had to shape the future to this present time…civilization perishes when they forget where they came from.”

The role of history, she believes there is the “invisible hand” in Sandburg’s poem. She has a visceral feeling of “We must tell the present where we came from.” She experienced the anniversary of Normandy during D-Day invasion celebration recently. She was on Omaha Beach and she was reminded of the vastness of the soldiers’ sacrifice. The repeated words of “Commitment, courage and sacrifice” kept running through her mind. She heard in her mind, “Do not forget the price of your freedom, do we really appreciate our freedoms?” As she was leaving that ceremony, she heard a young soldier playing taps…it was very emotional for her.

The Walker Art Center has on the side of its building “Bits and pieces making a semblance of a whole.” She has a grandson who is going to Harvard and taking a course titled “Tangible Things” where they discuss history through and stuff around you. People make history through what they gather. She has an example of how her grandmother never made bread, she was afraid to use her yeast. The grandfather wanted to change that so he went to a bake shop and got the recipe. Except it was for a day’s worth of bread that they would sell, not just for a small family. So, they set to work and had yeast and dough rising out of every pan they had in the house. Many years later when they were cleaning out the old house, they found a tiny pan on the very top shelf in the back corner with her grandfather’s writing to explain the dried up old bread in the pan, it read, “Nelly’s first bread.”

They had heard in their family’s oral history about this baking episode but it was made real when they saw the handwriting of grandfather and the bread that her grandmother had made. They were entrusted with stewardship, every person is called upon to be a leader. She has written the book “How We Lead Matters.”

Marilyn was asked another question by her 12 year old grandson one day reflecting on their own history. She asked herself, “Do they REALLY know us?” This spurred Marilyn on to pull together little family anecdotes, find great leaders who had inspired her. She put her life lessons together and gave it to a friend to ask if she should publish this for just her family or if the general public should read this. McGraw Hill contacted her shortly afterwards and it became a book of the core lessons she had learned, there were timeless messages that were very personal in this book that was initially meant to answer her 12 year old grandson.

It wasn’t only about looking in the rearview mirror but also into the present. She wrote about her own grandfather who had come as a Swedish immigrant to the new land, holding his father’s hand with their very few belongings. What that small trunk held told the story of what these immigrants treasured most, clothing, Bible, tools. It also told what they chose to leave behind in the Old Country. Marilyn mentioned about Moberg and the book “The Immigrants”, the Neilson family had a “chest of essentials.” The Moberg trail, 1948 started to do research. He wrote about the “four oak walls of the chest” which was meant to protect, the planks and the ancient clothes chest, new name, all other the “American chest”

Tangible item – sadness and hopefulness 1812 – 1842 brought from Norway, America’s chest 1776, brought to St. Paul in 1876. A replica was made of it in 1998. This became a physical reminded to Marilyn where her ancestors had come from. Her grandfather came to MN in 1938 and started a company with a borrowed $50. Packing trunk leave beind past, about diversity of women and minority, in the early 1960s she was studying intl. economics at Smith College Historical context, BEFORE Title 6, 7 and 9 , she was to stay on the job, started as an analyst, she was living history

Tools to innovate in chest, challenges of public dollar and private funding, other people traffic, history about prohibition, music from 1920s
Collaboration: only way to make into the future. U of M Business – Carlson school of Management, business plan went 200%, they wanted customers to come back to same exhibit. They had interest groups in themes of music and arts, saw it with new eyes. Make old fresh and new again, look at the market conditions.

The Carlson credo was “whatever you do, do with integrity, serve with care, whatever happens, never, ever give up!” That was the guiding principle for their employees and then the chaos of 9/11 happened. They had built that credo into everyone and had to trust the decision making that their company would take care of both employees and customers even when there was no communication. The actions of their employees was to build a common culture and make the right choices.

We need to take out of our trunks the old way of thinking, especially the Civil rights. In the 1940s, Hubert Humphrey was the mayor of Mpls. The Twin Cities was considered the anti-semitism capital of the nation. He said, “If we don’t believe that all men are created equal, we should stop saying it.”

Ideals gap and actions, early copy of the Constitution, it was written in the Dakota language, there is the irony. Carlson credo, wary of beliefs, values are more enduring. History tells us, slavery was an ___ exchange, changed laws and customs. Historians helps to discern what is fact and fiction. We have grand opportunities as part of our journey. Individual history – recounted in family stories. All living link from past and future.

One last story, tangible, a piece of fabric is hanging in Marilyn’s closet, it is more precious than her wedding dress or a designer gown. It is a simple pink and white striped Candy Striper outfit for hospital volunteers with the name tag “Juliet Nelson” on the apron. In the pocket of that dress is the senior speech that Juliet gave as an 18 year old, it was something to the effect, “Life is always fragile, what if something happened to you today, unperformed duties, unsaid words, unfulfilled plans…” She had a strong sense of her own journey. A Greek poet, Caketry (sp) once wrote “When you start on your road to Ithica, pray that it is long.” In other words, don’t hurry the journey along.

Three months after that speech was made Marilyn and her husband brought Juliet to her dorm room at Smith College and met her dorm mates, her roommate, etc. Ten days later she was killed in a car crash. Marilyn yearns for her physical presence. She has her Candy Striper uniform still, she is proud of her 18 years, volunteering her time, that uniform is tangible proof that she existed.

Marilyn ended with “May our journeys be made real, Historians make it happen, Journey all is here, each of us is in the making.”

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Back from a GREAT national history conference

I returned from a 3-4 day AALSH conference in St. Paul, Minnesota the other day. Featured as one of the guest speakers was Garrison Keillor. There were 1,035 participants at the conference. Keillor revealed that this is the 40th anniversary of Prairie Home Companion, his famous radio show on NPR radio. Keillor has written 19 books of fiction.

GK started talking about Wabasha, a Sioux chief. He told the Europeans not to cross the Mississippi. Apparently the river was not wide enough, they crossed over. He was promised land and then a large sum of money for that land. There was the 1862 Sioux uprising and to him it was a great travesty. He went to Nebraska and died around the time of Little Big Horn. There is now a street named after him but GK thinks the Indian chief would have preferred the money.

GK said that Minnesotans try to be hospitable but people from St. Paul use a “preemptive sense of superiority” just in case people from else where don’t like them. He was asked by the AALSH to speak and at age 72 he believed he was old enough to be asked by a history conference to speak on history. He claimed that history IS local. He said there were other things going on during the rock and roll era of the 1950s, it was not just Elvis. The 1960s was the age of protests but not everyone was protesting. He said that the 50s and 60s was a large boom for education. It boosted people into the middle class.

GK looked back to the beginning of St. Paul and claimed that Pig’s Eye Lake was a half a mile away from where we sat listening to him. The man Pig’s Eye was really named Pierre Parrant and the French name sounds better but for ten years this area of St. Paul was called Pig’s Eye. He sold whiskey to soldiers at Fort Snelling in 1819. He was actually a French Canadian here before the Anglos came. There were other businessmen and they went up and down the trail in the RRV up to Pembina and back. The soldiers were innocent aliens from back East.

Mendota operated a still but they were kicked out and Fountain Cave was up river which operated a tavern. In 1840 a chapel was built and it was named after Apostle Paul. Then there was Frank B. Kellogg (not the corn flakes guy) who was a self-taught lawyer. He became Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of State and he negotiated the Kellogg-Preon Pact which was signed by 62 countries in 1928 to not go into war again. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in Paris. He lived in a house on Fairmont Ave. People don’t honor Kellogg now, they don’t know about him but they remember Pig’s Eye even though he was a public nuisance with his whiskey. The Kellogg house is on Crocus Hill.

Now there was also the renowned John Dillenger in 1934 who showed up in St. Paul and holed up for safety with his girlfriend Evelyn. He got into a gun fight with the FBI on Lexington Ave. but was here only one month. Of course there was Mark Twain who showed up but he went everywhere. There was also Thoreau who came in 1861 and he took copious notes around the lakes but he only lasted a year, died in 1862 back in Concord.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in st. Paul in 1896 on Laurel Avenue. He was honored at the Fitzgerald Theater Rice Park with a statue and since he was only 5 foot 7 inches tall, he was given five more inches so people could look him in the eye. He was on Summit Avenue at a townhouse in 1911 and left St. Paul when his book was accepted by Scribners. He married Zelda in New York and Scott and Zelda were quite the sensation. He would get $4,000 a story for the Saturday Evening Post. Zelda became a psycho and in the 1930s and 40s ended up in Asheville, NC. Scott wanted to regain his prominence in Hollywood but died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44.

People of St. Paul still remembered the scandalous stories of Scott and Zelda. He came back to St. Paul in 1921 with Zelda pregnant. They rented a place on Goodridge Avenue and he wrote “Winter Dreams” there only in one year. Apparently one Christmas Eve he came to St. John’s cathedral completely drunk and asked where he was during the service. Scandalous! The second hand memories are fading as the story tellers die. Scott was an amazing stylist and authors words live on.

James J. Hill house lived in his house on Summit Ave. for 25 year years, he died in 1916. The headquarters for Great Northern had been St. Paul until it moved to Fort Worth, TX. GK thinks that James J. Hill house is bare and dark. One time GK ran into a Great Northern janitor who showed him the old headquarters on 5th Street and Kellogg Blvd. it had been abandoned and left as is from 1910. The high draftsman tables were still there with stools, it showed the GN RR office for JJHill, a modest place above facing the street. It was a lonely piece of history.

Ernest Hemingway came in 1961 and had electric shock to treat his depression. He died in 1962 in Idaho. There was also Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot. The Houdini came through and Gorgeous George. But Minnesota has its famous native from 1941, Robert Zimmerman who goes by Bob Dillon. In 1960 he left Hibbing, MN and went to NY and told stories of being from a migrant worker background. Actually his father was an appliance store owner.
Actually for GK, history IS local. His ancestor was in Rhode Island is John Crandall and another famous one was Prudence Crandall who was kicked out of some organization in 1833 because she believed in helping the black slaves.

Then GK talked about a book “Discovering Whota Heritage.” A 16 year old heard his mother was on a South Dakota reservation, he had never known his mother knew Lakota. Kids had been sent to mission schools to get education. She left her tribal family and married a Swede. This son had written a book and was giving a talk where GK went to listen, he was sympathetic to authors. During the Q&A time Clyde Bellcourt stood up and thought he was in a powwow, he talked on and on about something that was close to his heart from an Indian perspective. The young man who had written the book about Indians was blonde and white featured, he was not really speaking from an Indian viewpoint though he was empathetic because of his mother’s roots.

Yes, history is local for GK, the loyalists moved north to Canada in 1777 and that is where GK’s ancestors ended up. GK’s grandfather James Keillor went to New Brunswick and in 1880 came to Anoka to help his sister whose husband had died and left her with three small children. He stayed on until they were all grown up and then he married Dora Powell. They had eight children together. That is when GK quoted and sang part of the hymn “And Thou whose presence takes delight…My comfort by day, my salvation” His grandmother was 30 and his grandfather was 65. Their house burned down and the grandfather was raking through the ashes looking for photos. There was a sense of citizenship for GK, “My ancestors had come and stayed. They came in 1880 to Anoka.” He has visited his grandfather’s grave in the Anoka cemetery. He has also gotten a hold of love letters written by his parents. He had always thought of his father as taciturn but after reading these letters he thinks otherwise. There was poetry in them despite the common everyday things he wrote on like manure spreaders and crops on their 160 acre plot of land.

GK spoke about the Diary of Anne Frank when she lived on 6th street in Amsterdam at the age of 14. This is one person’s story over a mass of statistics. A girl’s diary which discussed many things that happened. She wrote about hearing the school bell that rang every day which was 100 yards away. GK said that he would like a biographer to write an emotionally generous piece on him. What he learned from a person who is at the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam that he was a student there while Anne was hiding so close by.

GK has 1970s cassettes of his early shows and he wants them destroyed, so many mistakes. He also has gone through his scrap books to find a very angry LONG letter to the newspaper publisher in St. Paul that made it into print. GK said that if you are going to write an angry letter keep it short, it was embarrassing to him that he wrote so much. He quoted from the hymn “Abide with me fast falls the even tide, the darkness deepens Lord with me abide.” A Friend of his was dying and those were the words he clung to, they had substance such as “change and decay.” That is the human element that is a real life experience. “Abide with me.” Is what we need, words with meat in them.

GK goes to colleges and high schools and the kids these days don’t know the words by heart of songs we take for granted like Battle Hymn of the Republic or Julia Ward’s hymns, “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, they have trampled….” They get their smart phones out and read the text from that. Kids these days do NOT know the words to beautiful poetry.

GK was being honored at his h.s. alma mater in Anoka and he was around 400 kids who were happy and cheering to chants he remembers. They did not know who he was, he liked being anonymous in this crowd. He ended his talk with Robert Frost’s favorite quote about life that can be summed up in three words, “It goes on.”

That was the last of what Garrison Keillor spoke on, that life DOES go on despite whatever we do or say. I have not followed Keillor for years but I actually liked what he had to say, he seemed to be historically accurate. The better keynote speaker was Marilyn Carlson Nelson, I’ll write about her in my next post.

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Finished FULL week of classes

Yesterday marked the end of the third week of teaching composition I classes to my 85 plus students. The two earlier weeks were only four days long because we started on a Tuesday and then we had Labor Day Monday off. So, this was a tolerable week because my last class had about five football players missing (they sit in the front rows) and some of my farmers (they sit towards the back) who are hauling sugar beets. This one class I have at 1:00 p.m. every MWF is a puzzling one. I have 20 students with only four girls and then the athletes and farmers. What a strange mix. They are compliant and dutifully follow my instructions but I have to keep on top of them constantly. It’s the girls that have been the quirky ones lately. The one woman from Somalia or Liberia is probably my best student. Otherwise, all the rest are from here except the football players who are from California, Florida and Texas.

I actually feel sorry for these football players because we have a really bad team competing in Division II, we should be back in Division III because we are just a small university. Don’t know what they were thinking when they moved on up to compete against really tough players from bigger schools that have the backing. Some of my players are quick and good, they get it. Others are here for the full ride scholarship and are NOT academic at all. It was said that once the season is over, they high tale it out of Minnesota and back to the warmth of their former states. We shall see how many last in MY class.

The students are learning about logical fallacies, thesis statements, in-text citations, research databases and a host of other things related to APA formatting style. They have already done one essay for me about their grandparents and I had to ask a second time in their revision paper for FIVE descriptive adjectives about their grandparents. Out of the 85 essays I got with their rough drafts, I only got about 3-4 concrete descriptions. Did they think I was kidding? I had a scoring rubric that read on the top “Follow Instructions Well.” They will know that everything I ask of them, I mean it.

Now I have assigned Paper #2 which is titled “Words Matter” and they have written a persuasive essay on one of the following words like: competition, cooperation, resistance to corruption, patriotism, persistence, trustworthiness, thrift…I can’t remember the other three. These are values we talked about earlier and these were the ones that rose to the top as most important to them out of a list of 40 cultural values. THEN they also have to include in this paper an antonym to the word they choose. So, even though some would like to do “resistance to corruption” it will be difficult to find a journal article that would support corruption. We shall see what they will come up with for essays of 1,000 words.

I was pleased with some of the first essays that I saw with Paper #1. I had started to read one in my first 10:00 a.m. class yesterday and got emotional when I read about a set of grandparents (described very well) who were at the deathbed of the grandpa. They had been married 62 years and the author was able to capture the moment of their loving eyes towards each other during that poignant scene of his departing. She wrote that you could FEEL the love in that hospital room. Oh my, I couldn’t get through it without tearing up and getting emotional. My students looked at me kind of funny but it made my point. I told them, I don’t even KNOW this elderly couple but the power of words is important. Before moving on, I said that an author has the ability of making emotion come alive in others.

Okay, enough written, back to grading papers!

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Too much of too many people

Yesterday I met with five of my six classes. I just have ONE class today and I need to fill one hour and 15 minutes with activities to keep the time moving. Their Tuesday and Thursday schedule covers the same thing I do in my three 50 minutes classes on Mon. Wed. and Friday. Oy, there is much to learn and DO with kids who don’t want to be taking this class in the first place. That is especially true in my Comp LAB class which is a catch-all place for those students who did not do well in their writing classes in high school. The problem is that I have to have new material for them because I have some of my same students in that LAB that I have in my Comp I class. They don’t want to have things repeated but the repetition would do them some good.

I have one small class of eight students at the very end of my Monday and Wednesday classes. That is where I have one student who from Day One made it clear that she thought she was too good for this lab class. Yesterday she made a “suggestion” that I should NOT say my motto of “everyone to class early, we start early and end early.” She had her reasons and then I told her to talk to those few students who always show up right on time to tell them to get to class earlier. She told me that would be like bullying which is a bad thing to do to other students. I told her that there is a nice and polite way to encourage them to be early or at least on time to class. Here this little 18 year old is letting me know what I should or shouldn’t do and letting me know what is wrong with my teaching while at the same time she rolls her eyes about what I teach and does her passive aggressive act.

Well, the way I can fix that is to keep giving her and the rest of this particular class grammar quizzes. I also suspect that she lifted her first paper and she clearly did not follow instructions. So, I will also give this class a quiz on the syllabus that I put together, clearly she and a few others in this small class have not read it. She has also not gone on Moodle for about a week so that means she has either printed out the syllabus or she doesn’t care to know about it.

I figured out that I have been around too many people with Sunday being filled with my standing behind the booth at the museum. That was our Pioneer Day and I was selling my two history books and one booklet. People mostly came to listen to the old time music but I talked to many people then. So the way I figure it, I have seen and talked to too many people. I need to chill out at home and be away from all this. Maybe it is better to write and not make much money than to teach and make a bit more money as an adjunct teacher. I am invisible to most everyone on campus when they make faculty assembly lists anyway. I guess I am getting the catch-all classes that other comp teachers who are permanent don’t want to teach.

Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself right now. I need to read the revisions of my 85 papers and maybe I will feel better, especially if there are some improvements to what they wrote earlier.

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One week down and 15 more to go

I have just finished teaching one week worth of classes to college freshmen. I have six classes and all together almost 90 students. At least they are not the difficult Kazakh names that I had when I was teaching in Almaty and had 100 students and five composition classes. THAT was difficult and I think I mastered their names by the end of the semester, just first names though.

I think I have some good students and because I have so many, I am making sure that they follow instructions right off the bat. Last week, first class I gave them a writing assignment where the Comp Lab students had to submit a 500 word essay to me by Moodle on Friday so that meant I was grading all 45 of them on Saturday. Then I had given an assignment to my three comp I classes of 750 words each to about 50 students so I was reading them all day Monday and today. I have their critique scoring grid filled out and ready to hand back to my five classes tomorrow.

Hopefully I will get some good revisions next Monday and Tuesday. I want them to give more examples about who their grandparent is and the particulars about their lives. They were giving me a narrative about their own experiences and I told the first class today that I want to know more about their grandparents. Perhaps that is odd for young ears to hear that, the students these days think that everything revolves around them. They come from small families and they have doting parents and grandparents. No wonder they think they are so special. Anyway, I hope to see more details about their hardworking grandparents. Some have given me good stories so far, others are full of fluff and vacant cliches.

Well, I accomplished one week so far and have about 15 more weeks to go which means the farther we get into the semester, the more difficult it will get. Well, I hope to make the instructions easy for the students so they know what I expect. Writing in APA style and using a thesis statement is foreign to some of these students. In fact, I have a class with 20 students and four are girls, the rest are football players and farmers. What a combination. That will be my most challenging class I think.

My first post for September 2014. Let’s hope I have more to write this month!

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