Friday, August 30, 2013

Article Note: On Consumers Information Seeking at the Supermarket

This is the kind of article I like to read that combines something interesting or curious I did not consider before with a small history lesson. In addition, my interest was further piqued given that I recently read the book Breakfast: A History (link to my review).

The authors begin by outlining some common themes in supermarkets: the use of labels on products, government standards being imposed on food production, processes, and marketing, and the role of advertising to convey information and shape consumer behavior. The article looks at the information-seeking behaviors of supermarket shoppers within stores, but it may mention government actions and/or other consumer behaviors outside of the stores as necessary. The article is organized into three parts: a historical overview, a discussion of information-seeking behaviors and theories (think of this a bit as a primer as well as a demonstration of applicability to supermarket shoppers. This is the "meat" of the article.), and the conclusion.

Some notes from the article I would like to remember:

  • On women in the 1900s U.S.: "At that time, women were primarily responsible for their families' baking and felt that buying baked bread would reflect poorly on their reputations as industrious homemakers" (179). Clearly women have come quite a ways when it comes to using sliced bread. On a more serious note, the reason this caught my attention is because it is also mentioned in the Breakfast book.
  • That thing about learning which days to shop for what deals? It goes back to at least the 1930s: "Common newspaper advertisements during the 1930s featured select items for sale at reduced prices on specific days of the week. Informed customers were able to plan which days they would shop in order to save money" (182-183). Keep in mind, this was during the Great Depression, and stores were responding to the times, as well as maintaining their customers.
  • A little trivia: "Between 1954 and 1964 the number of supermarkets in America rose from 11,140 to 16,000" (185). Other stuff that happened in the meantime and earlier: 
  • Advertisements now, when it comes to supermarkets, focus mostly on low prices and getting you the better deal. It was not always the case. For example: "Advertisements in the early 1940s and 1950s tended to focus on the experience of shopping and highlighted customer service and personal attention instead of promoting products or prices" (185). This was the era when amenities like a butcher clerk (someone to handle questions about meat while the other butchers focused on their work) were added in stores. 
  • The rise of coupons, which today have pretty much declined somewhat due to supermarket loyalty cards: "The economic crisis of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States reflected in rising grocery prices. Coupons became popular in this era of inflation" (186). 
  • Later we go shelf labeling and barcodes, which for a time were resisted by consumers fearful they could not see a price on a can or product. 
  • In 1990, we got the National Labeling and Education Act (Wikipedia link).
  • Now we have supermarkets using websites along with loyalty cards to convey information and move consumer behavior. 
  • The Thomas D. Wilson model of information seeking involves an active demand for information and exchange of information between people. "Thus, information seeking involves deliberate inquiry, whether satisfied or not, and subsequently results in the using, exchanging, or both of learned knowledge" (190). See Journal of Documentation, vol. 55, 1999.
  • Diane H. Sonnenwald, described information horizons. "Information sources 'may include social networks, documents, information retrieval tools, and experimentation and observation in the world'. Individuals construct their own unique information horizons, yet individuals' horizons may intersect and share any number of commonalities" (190). See New Review of Information Behavior Research, vol. 2, 2001. The information horizon of a grocery shopper can include any number of sources: family and relatives, trusted store clerks, product labels, and advertisements.
  • More on the information horizon: "While an individual builds an information horizon with sources found within his or her own circles of influence, communities can develop information horizons as multiple people become connected through shared information resources. When the information found within these shared sources is displeasing to the population affected, social change soon occurs" (191-192). The skeptic or cynic in me thinks this may be ideal condition. What happens when the community shares bad information (c'mon, would you really trust a bunch of Fox News viewers, for example?). 
  • "Finally, the rise of technology in the 1990s and early twenty-first century provided new resources in information horizons. Websites and applications on mobile smartphones put the world of information into the hands of consumers" (192). We need to add the usual caveat most librarians and infotech enthusiasts tend to conveniently forget: as long as the consumers could afford the technology and the internet connection. 
  • The idea of "warm experts," usually friends and acquaintances you seek out for knowledge and assistance. These can often be more effective than print or media. To an extent, your local librarian could fill this role for people. "Additionally, the term 'warm' impliles that the source being questioned is known, familiar, and trusted" (193). 
  • On information gathering: "For grocery shoppers, information was often transmitted from food manufacturers, the supermarket industry, the media, or the government. The information was typically impersonal or may have even been biased toward the transmitter's interests; however, the shopper was able to make each piece of information personally meaningful by gathering from various sources and adding to the base of orienting information" (195). Interesting to note now that with things like loyalty cards, which track people's actual purchases and then (depending on the program) may generate coupons or offers "relevant" to the consumer, that there is some illusion of being more "personal."
  • On Marcia Bates idea of "berrypicking." The authors argue that grocery shoppers "regularly employed the berrypicking search method to satisfy some information needs during the shopping experience" (196). Consumers modified their strategies and techniques as the supermarket landscape changed. 
  • See Catherine Ross article in Information Processing and Management vol. 35, 1999 on information seeking and reading for pleasure for idea of behind-the-eyes knowledge. According to the authors', Ross' model applies to grocery shoppers as they do price comparison shopping. According to the authors, "shoppers' memories were not like infallible databases that allowed them to accurately recall the price of any items and compare it to the one at hand. Instead, they relied on a wealth of relative information they had gathered over the years" (198). Additionally, note that Ms. Ross is author of Reading Matters, a book that I read (link to my review).
  • On information acquisition: "...information acquisition is potentially unending; a user may encounter information anywhere at any time. Second, acquired information may satisfy past or current queries or may be stored for use in undefined future queries" (198). Further on, "if information can be infinitely acquired and applied at any time to an infinite number of potential queries, the challenge for the information user is in filtering the cloud of information to identify the useful nuggets" (199). 

Note: Book cited in the article I may want to look up later: Aspray and Hayes, Everyday Information: the Evolution of Information Seeking in America.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Tour Day 1

I continue the blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on my journey in the Berea College Civil Rights Seminar and Tour 2013. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others.Today I am covering the third day of the seminar and tour, which is the first actual touring day. This took place on August 3, 2013.

Reminder that, as I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

# # # 

Tour Day One Notes: August 3, 2013

  • As we leave from Boone Tavern, Dr. Turley reminds us to consider that the journey we are staring now, traveling together blacks and whites, would have been illegal back in the 1960s. With Reverend Bowman's prayer and blessing, we depart. (And I have so much to think and ponder.)

  • On the way to Haley Farm, our first stop on the journey, we watch the video Once Upon a Vision, which is a history of Berea College. 
    • The college was founded during the time of slavery, where custom, law, society, and religion all supported slavery. What Reverend Fee and Cassius M. Clay did was a revolutionary social experiment in hostile territory, the land that would become the town of Berea. Clay and Fee did have their differences (something I did not realize since often it seems that since Clay invited Fee that they would get along fine). Fee advocated for civil disobedience. Clay did not, and he withdrew his support of Fee and Fee's work. 
    • Fee then called on other abolitionists. Many came from Oberlin College in Ohio. Fee's vision was for a school for blacks and whites, and the poor, who could not afford an education. Opponents described Fee's work as nefarious in 1854. For a while, Fee and his people were exiled, but they kept coming back. With the Civil War, once the confederates invaded Kentucky, Fee and the others had to stay out. However, Fee went on to volunteer at Camp Nelson (I have to add this to my list of places I would like to see) where the Union Army in Kentucky recruited black soldiers; he served as a missionary and teacher.
    • When the war ended, Fee returned to his mission at Berea. By setting policies of buying land, which he then sold to blacks and whites allied to the cause, he helped create a racial buffer in Berea. Things were not easy, but the door was left open to all. The school did grow and succeed, and it drew support from reformers. 
    • Berea College's third president, William Goodell Frost (link to essay about Frost from our Special Collections and Archives), brought the mountain people vision to the college. He also did reverse previous college policies that allowed for interracial dating. Black enrollment reduced as Frost worked to bring in more whites. Was Frost racist or misguided? (or something else. What I have learned so far is that Frost's vision is still debated today. In part, what he did was to be able to keep attracting supporters and donors to the college. Frost also had to deal with the effects of the Day Law, which forced segregation). Yet, without blacks, there would be no Berea College per se. Frost did raise overall recruitment and the financial worth of the college. Fee, who was very aged by now, urged Frost and the college not to get away from the original mission of remaining open to all regardless of color. (I have observed it is a very delicate balance here to maintain the interracial mission as well as serve the youth of Appalachia. The fact we manage to keep those two missions, part of the Great Commitments, does speak highly of this college. It is not perfect; there could be some better balance in terms of diversity, but from what I see people here overall do care about the college being open to all)
    • By 1903, the college had about 800 whites and 100 blacks (serious imbalance here). Social segregation came, and by now, Plessy v. Ferguson was in place. The college remained open to both races until the Day Law was passed. Berea College fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court of the U.S., but it lost the case in 1908. To get around the Day Law, the college divided itself into Berea College and the Lincoln Institute, a vocational school for blacks in Louisville.
    • Yet, in spite of the obstacles, Berea's black graduates have gone on to great works and achievements. 

  • Clinton, Tennessee: Alex Haley Farm (Home of the Children's Defense Fund training facility). 
    • Ms. Theresa Venable was our hostess here, member of CDF. 
    • The farm, bought by CDF from the family of Alex Haley, serves as a training facility for CDF leadership and activist development. 
    • The hope today is for the facility to become an incubator to other activists to help end child poverty and violence against children. They also hope to bring in scholars to teach graduate courses in nonviolence and peace. 
    • We must note that we had 3 Berea College students participating in training programs here recently. Part of the Y.A.L.T. program.  The center is also working on a relationship with Berea College's Carter G. Woodson Center. 
    • We took a walk around the farm. The main building, as well as other building porches, have rocking chairs in them; sitting on the porch was a Haley family tradition that lives on today. Note that many of the rocking chairs do have small plaques commemorating various important figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers.
    • (I took various photos at the farm, along with various photos throughout the journey I will try to share online later)
    • The farm's chapel was designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. A concrete part, a shed next to the chapel, is part of the building. It represents a dock to repair a ship or boat. The chapel itself has the shape of a boat. The structure of the boat signifies carrying children to safety. Inside, it is a beautiful open space, with a high ceiling, as if reaching to heaven. It's a relatively secular space (to my heathen view) with no decorations other than some portraits of people instrumental to the Civil Rights Movement on the side walls; these portraits were done by Elizabeth Scism. The chapel is used for worship as well as meeting space.
    • We also visited their library. The library contains the following types of materials: 
      • Books by black authors. 
      • Books on the black experience. 
      • Books on the Civil Rights Movement. 
      • Books and materials on the African-American culture, tradition, and heritage. 
      • Books from the Freedom School.
      • Children's books are also collected.
      • The archives and documents of the CDF as well as relevant government and NGO documents and reports. 
      • Yes, they have a card catalog (it's empty since the records are electronic). 
    • After the tour of the farm, we break bread with a nice simple lunch back at the main building. And after that, we are off on the road once more. 

  •  Chattanooga, Tennessee: Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
    • The museum is self-guided. It documents the work of Bessie Smith as well as the African American history of Chattanooga. The city was a major Civil War site as well for blacks. The area is also part of Appalachia. For both reasons, it is part of Berea's commitment to the region. We had a Berea grad as a local speaker. The city, much like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was known for its "industrial slavery." 
  • We are back on the road.
    • Small moment of humor. On the road lessons in African-American culture: Luther Vandross (official site link) music is good baby making music. Aretha Franklin (link to official site) music not so much. It's not impossible, just not as likely. 
    •  On the road, we watched chapter from Eyes on the Prize. The segment No Easy Walk. We are on our way to Birmingham, Alabama.
  • End of the road for the first day. We arrive in Birmingham, Alabama. 
    • Mr. Carl Thoma, alumnus of the college and Birmingham resident, arranged for us to tour parts of the city, showing us various key sites as we arrived. He then arranged for us to have dinner at his church. 
    • Dinner and learning at Trinity AME Zion Church. Our bodies were fed by some very generous people, but so were our minds. We met ten Berea College alumni, successful men and women who have returned to work in their communities. For us faculty and staff, this is the fruit of our work. For me, and I am sure others, meeting and listening to them was a moving and inspiring moment. This is what we are here for. My mission becomes clear. We also had a live performer being to life a colored woman of the 1960s telling us her story (and we will meet her later in the journey again). This added context and helped bring the history to life. 

  • End of the road reflection for this day. I admit that writing these notes, often here and there, on the run when I can get a moment feels a bit like a journalist writing on the run. I try to imagine what it would be like covering events in a place like Birmingham at the time, being a witness for the world to see but not really being able to take part. I think of the contrast to that with today's journalists and bloggers who may well be in the middle of the action and even actively involved as they document it.  I don't know if I could have just stood still while watching with a camera or a notebook. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Seminar Day Two

I continue the blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on my journey in the Berea College Civil Rights Seminar and Tour 2013. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others. Today I am covering the second seminar day.

Reminder that, as I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

# # # # # 

Day Two Seminar Notes: August 2, 2013:

  • (We open with introductions; we kind of forgot to do this on the first day. Indeed we have a very diverse group of people from those who lived it themselves as adults or children to those, like me, not alive then, seeking to learn more. Some want to learn more given stories they heard from locals or their parents. We are coming together as community for this journey. At least, in one case, one man is going because his father would not want him to go. He tells us that his father, who lived during those times, was very angry with white people in that era. I think for us, in common, the Great Commitments bring us together. I feel so fortunate to be in such great company of learners and those who have walked in history.)

  • For the morning meditation, we listened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Address at the End of the Selma to Montgomery March" (link to text of the speech. Option to listen to the speech available as well). The speech was given on March 16, 1965. 
    • "Our feet are tired, but our souls are rested." 
    • (On hearing this speech, I see how much we still have to go, how some things have not changed. We need to stay on the move. We need to march on.)
    • (Dr. King was a master of the parallel structure, good for teaching and preaching, keeping a strong rhythm of march.)
    • "It is normalcy all over the country which leaves the negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity." 
    • "The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all God's children" (we still have a ton of work to get anywhere close to this). 

  • Panel. We have two Berea alumni who were civil rights activist and marchers with us this morning. Ms. Ann Grundy, '68 and Mr. George Giffin, '66. Ms. Grundy "was an organizer and participant in the travel from Berea College to Montgomery, AL to participate in the final days of the Selma to Montgomery March." Mr. Giffin "was a lead organizer of the group that traveled to Montgomery, AL to participate in the final days of the Selma to Montgomery March with Dr. King." 
    • Mr. Giffin: 
      • Discusses the path of white supremacy and apartheid. This was often supported by non-authentic Christians who forgot Jesus was among the first to refute scripture. 
      • Speaking about Bloody Sunday.  They headed down to Alabama, not even packing a few things for the journey and very mindful as they crossed the state line into Alabama. They got there after Bloody Sunday, but they decided to stay. After seeing a state trooper, who he knew wanted to beat him to death, he lost his fear of death. The following Tuesday known as Turnaround Tuesday, which was a wise move for Dr. King as it avoided violence and help would arrive later. 
      • Berea College administration officially opposed students going to marches, but the students and (some) faculty raised funds and went to marches anyhow. President Hutchins did quietly offer his car to the marchers. 58 Bereans marched in Montgomery for civil rights. 
    • Ms. Grundy:  
      • Tells us stories, how Selma to Montgomery happened to her. 
      • African Americans have suffered from integration.  At Berea, we need more faculty to speak to what students see and know; diversity. 
      • We need to remember history and use it. 
      • Who you are and where you are makes a difference when you are wounded and who is there for you. That is race. 
      • Growing up in an era where what her parents and others did had an impact on their black children. 
      • The black teachers in Birmingham, AL were often overqualified to teach in public schools given their great credentials, but they were often left underemployed or unemployed. On the other hand, white teachers were barely qualified by comparison assuming they even had a bachelor's degree. 
      • We need to ask some serious questions about Christianity. Fine Christian schools, when desegregation came, preferred to close down. White parents preferred then to take their kids to private schools and abandon the black kids behind rather than integrate. (We probably should be asking some of those serious questions and more to Christians and Christianity today as well.)
      • Music had a role in the movement as well. Blacks made songs and spirituals, and we need to keep singing them lest we forget. 
      • Often, it seems only blacks truly believe in democracy. When the time came at Berea, she knew that she had to march and go, even if the college administration objected. 
      • How can a school [referring to Berea College] that started as interracial, in essence an "HBCU," before it became an Appalachian school, have a predominantly white faculty and staff? There is much white privilege still in 2013. What are we fighting for now? What are we not doing as descendants of those black and white folk? We need to change the structure. 
      • They may have been isolated at Berea College, but they had connections to a critical thinking world. 
      • Need to check out the scholarly work of Frances Cress Welsing, African-American psychiatrist.  She asked questions on black men being lynched and castrated by white people; white behavior setting the stage for the rest of the insanity. 
      • Examining spirituals helps us examine U.S. history. When Grundy was a student, black music, including spirituals, was not really respected. See work of John Wesley Work III.
    • Question from the audience to panelists: they marched 48 years ago. Was it worth it? Has our generation today failed, dropped the ball?
      • Mr. Giffin: We have to go through hell. There was progress, but we've had setbacks as well. There is still a long way to go. It is a shame that many folks have lost their focus and energy. 
    • Question from the audience, to Ms. Grundy: On the lack of balance in diversity. 
      • Ms. Grundy: Malcolm X may have an answer: "just because a cat has biscuits in the oven does not make them biscuits." Be happy with the position you have now and what you have accomplished. In Grundy's day, only two black men on campus: a cook and a janitor, and black students turned to them. 
      • The word "comfortable" is loaded and coded. Black, and other minorities, are hired to do a job but also to not make whites "uncomfortable." Plus, black and other minorities (often) can't express their diversity and have to "act white." 
      • Idea proposed: For Berea College to partner with some HBCU's, to track students interested in higher education, bring some good graduates then to work here. 
      • We all need to network, share information with each other. 
    • Question from the audience to Mr. Giffin: on being a white male who "took the flag."
      • He also spoke against the war in Vietnam, so this got others, mostly whites, to peg him as a radical. 
      • In terms of issues, he sees a serious lack of willpower. We can at least do what we can in our communities, not give up. 
      • Today, he continues his activism back in Dearborn, MI (his current residence) with Arab Americans. 
      • There are times he bites his tongue, but there are also times he speaks out. A sample snappy comeback to whites on the topic of immigration: if you do not speak a First Nations language, then you are a descendant of illegal immigrants. 
    •  Further remarks from Ms. Grundy: 
      • We don't really know what enslavement did to black psychologically; neither do we know what it did to whites psychologically. In essence, the racist system was go get blacks to hate themselves. See the work of Na'im Akbar in Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery to learn more. Slavery does continue to have an influence on the psychology of African Americans. Also of interest, see article of Akbar in Grist: Journal of African American Studies 31.2 (Fall 2012).
      • Grundy observes that black women are the most unpartnered women, yet they have sustained the black community so much.
      • Grundy also remarks that the Trayvon Martin case sends a clear message that blacks are not wanted, except for entertainment. 
      • We need to remember: Blacks were the only "immigrants" forced to come to the Americas. All others chose to come here. (that is one big difference)
      • In America (i.e. the United States), we have not reconciled the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 
      • We need to tell the truth upfront, admit it. We then need to talk and reconcile.
    • Mr. Giffin adds:  America is in such deep denial of its history it does not know itself. 
      • White supremacy is a white problem. Much work is to be done on what whites have done and perpetrated. We can't reconcile and heal until we acknowledge and do the work. 
    • Dr. Turley adds: Immigrants to the U.S. of all colors are told they need to "be white." But not all can "be white." There is always going to be a color line; race is a fluid and dynamic concept. 

(Overall, the discussion and question/answer session was very spirited and moving at times)

  •  For the lunch period, we watched a segment from Eyes on the Prize, the episode on "Bridge to Freedom (March 1965)."
    • Martin Luther King wins the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, showing the success of nonviolence. But in America, other young militants challenged this path or tried to maintain it. Some also challenged based on the idea and presence of local movements versus just relying on a national charismatic leader. 
    • (On a retrospective observation, we did not speak as much about some of the other movements or challenges to the nonviolent path, say Malcolm X for instance. Not sure if this was due to a choice of emphasis, just that nonviolence falls more in place with our college, the geography of the area-- some other movements that were more radical in their outlook were based in the East or out West, so on. At any rate, for me at least, it is something I may want to read further about later on. We did get some pretty good perspective on the role and importance of local movements, but there is still much more to learn. Overall, I think we knew were only seeing a part, albeit a big part, of the movement as a whole. And that was good.)
    • Note how whites wanted to keep their racism and oppression, yet they feared to be seen as oppressive racists by the press and the world. (Even back then, racists oppressors were not big fans of transparency)
    • In his 1965 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for voting rights legislation, even as members of his own party were doubtful. 
    • The movement meant intolerance against evil and oppression. 
    • Members of the press covering the marches were often harassed, ordered not to film, so on. They often were beaten up as well by local police and thugs (who were often one and the same). 
    • Dr. King points out the contrast and hypocrisy of the American government: it can afford to send millions of dollars and soldiers to Vietnam, but it cannot "afford" to protect American citizens seeking their right to vote on American soil. (Again, how little things have changed given recent setbacks to voting rights. Then again, we can also point out the hypocrisy and contrast of the American government today affording to send millions of dollars and soldiers around the world to "protect democracy" while not being able to "afford" taking care of problems at home such as poverty, education, infrastructure, etc. Makes one think)
  • Post-film Q&A: 
    • The 1965 Voting Rights Act came out of the Selma to Montgomery March. Today, in 2013, the VRA has been attacked and gutted (link to New York Times article). The work is far from over. 
    • There was a side note on the "Mountain Youth" sign at the entrance to the college (near the Boone Tavern and across the street from Fairchild Hall. I had no idea there was an issue, but that is just evidence of my lack of knowledge as a newcomer). The sign used to say, "for Negroes and Poor Mountain Whites." There is a desire to change it back to something like what it used to say. At least, our current college president is willing to discuss this we are told. On an update note, the sign will be remove, and a committee is working on revising it to put a new one in place. 
  • A note on the trip: there is a going to be a group journal book kept throughout the trip, and we all will take turns writing on it throughout the trip. (I was assigned to write on the fourth day of the journey). The journal will then be placed in the library of the Carter G. Woodson Center. 
  •  Finally for this day, Reverend Bowman prays and gives us the group commission: May we join the tour as an act of faith. We seek to understand each other, to bring the best of us. We commit ourselves to the tour. (I think even I, as a heathen, can get behind that sentiment)

Friday, August 09, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Seminar Day One

For the first time, Berea College, through the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, provided the opportunity for faculty and staff to participate in a Civil Rights Seminar and Tour program. The event was directed by Dr. Alicestyne Turley, Director of the Woodson Center. I had the opportunity to participate as one of the first group to go on this important and moving journey. Over the next two weeks or so, I will have a blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on the journey. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others. When the call out for participants went out, I knew that I had to take the journey. For one, it would give me a deeper sense and appreciation of the history and mission of my new workplace (as of this writing, I have almost completed my first year here). Two, it was a good chance to get to know some of my colleagues and other people better. Little did I know how touching and moving this journey would be, nor did I know how fortunate I would be to have people who lived through the Movement tell their stories. But we will get to that.

At any rate, as my four readers know, I try to keep any blogging directly related to work to a minimum (there are reasons for that), but this is too important not to share. As I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

Before we go on with my notes, in order to set up some context, allow me to quote Dr. Turley's words from her introduction in the seminar's guide. She writes:

"This tour is significant for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that African Americans did not gain their civil rights as something natural, due and owning at birth, rather through countless legal, political and physical struggles, victories and defeats. This Sankofa journey of recovery, remembrance, and reconciliation is meant to give each of us an opportunity to reflect upon these many struggles and victories, as well as the application of social and political policies resulting from our shared history. It is also hoped production of this event will present an opportunity for each of us to engage in discussion on personal and professional levels regarding the mission of interracial education at Berea College and the enduring goals of equality pursued during the Civil Rights Movement which, as a society, we have not  yet achieved."
I should add the definition of "sankofa." As follows:

"Sankofa: An Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to 'reach back and get it' (san-to return; ko- to go; fa- to look, to seek and take) or the Asante Adinkra symbols of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back. It is often associated with the proverb, 'Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi' which translates "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten'"

-- W. Bruce Willis, Pyramid Complex (1998). 

Our journey was truly a journey of recovery, the recovery of a past that some have forgotten and that many others need to learn. For me, while I have read a bit on this history, the journey brought it to life. Recovery, remembrance, and reconciliation were themes during this journey, and they will come up as I keep on blogging my notes. 

The seminar and tour ran from Thursday, August 1, 2013 to Wednesday August 7th, 2013.

# # # # # 

Day One Seminar Notes: Thursday August 1, 2013:

  • Berea College is the "holiest of holies" of education for African-Americans.  

  • Dr. Chad Berry, Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty, delivered some opening remarks: 
    • This tour is a follow-up of the college's Appalachian Tour (this is another program the college offers for faculty and staff. I hope to attend it next summer. The idea now for the college is to do these two tours on alternating years. Thus, 2015 should be the next date for the Civil Rights Tour to take place). This tour draws upon our interracial education commitment. (The college lives and abides by The Great Commitments, which are basically the principles we stand for. Dr. Berry is mainly referring here to the fifth commitment on the list I am linking.).
    • The tour is made possible by funding from a charitable foundation (which by the way is generous enough that we could bring our spouses along as well, whether they work for the college or not. Some folks did take advantage of this. Only reason the Better Half was not able to make this time is because she could not get time off. Having your spouse along, in addition to having that person be a participant, is that you both then go through the experience. It is not too easy coming back from something as immersive and intense as this and then talk about it at home if your spouse has no point of reference).
    • We must be mindful as we visit these places. 
    • We'll be making community on the journey. We might even sing. 

  •  Dr. Turley speaks to us briefly: 
    • She asks us to think about humanity. 
    • We must keep in mind that this trip would have been impossible and even illegal in the 1960s. We would not have been able to travel together. 

  • The program then begins with a meditation on words. For this meditation, we listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Acceptance Address for the Nobel Peace Prize." The speech took place December 10, 1964.  (The Nobel Prize site provides links to both a video and a transcript).
    • Dr. King asks why the movement received a prize for it is a movement that has not won peace yet. 
    • The prize recognizes that nonviolence is an answer. Nonviolence is not passivity; it is a moral force. 
    • Refuse to accept despair. Refuse to accept the cynical notion that nations have to sink into war and nuclear annihilation. 
    • What self-centered men have torn down, centered men will build up. 

(Dr. Gerald Smith, the first presenter, arrived late, so the presentations of the day were done in different order. My notes reflect the order in which they actually took place)

  • Dr. Dwayne Mack, Associate Professor of History at Berea College and Carter G. Woodson Chair in African American History presented on "Berea College and the Civil Rights Movement."  (By the way, Dr. Mack can be found on Twitter. His handle there is @MFCBook).  He gives some preliminary observations and then moves into the topic.
    • He reminds us and himself that he is a man, a son. (This is referential too to the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee; link goes to King Papers project out of Stanford. More on this later as Memphis is a stop on this tour. Additional link to a photo of the strike. Additionally, this online exhibit on the strike may be of interest as well, out of Wayne State).
    • He speaks about the search of identity and overcoming obstacles as a faculty member of color. 
    •  Building relationships is important. As a young man, Dr. Mack socialized with black and brown people. Then, he went to Pullman, Washington for graduate school. "Talk about being the only black person." It was a growth experience. Coming to Berea was and is a time of growth and adjustment. Faculty of color don't network as other white people do; it is often informal networking. 
    • So why does a guy from New York City projects stay in a place like Berea, Kentucky? He is growing as a human being. You take each person individually for any person can become your brother or sister. You develop relationships with people. (For me, as, most likely, the only Puerto Rican in our faculty, this is a valuable lesson and reminder as well. I also continue to grow as a human being in my professional and personal journey). 
    • Dr. Mack has faith that we can all grow and learn from each other. If we learn more about history, how people came together to overcome injustice and oppression, then we can grow together. 
    • Building relationships sustains. 
    • He invites us to ask ourselves why are taking this trip? It is important not just to engage the past to also engage with those who went with us and were engaged then. 
    • Note that the Civil Rights Movement was full of black women. In fact, it was often led by brave black women. 
    • Berea College was on the wrong side of history when it did not go to the South in 1964. The college has been in the right and wrong side of history, but concern and support for the Civil Rights Movement would grow as student activists would organize to go to the South anyhow. This was triggered by events like Bloody Sunday.  Students and faculty did go to Alabama anyhow, even if the administration officially opposed their going. 
    • To be connected, you need to engage with people not like you. You can't grow otherwise. We need to think for ourselves, embrace history, and do our own research as faculty and staff. 
    • The singing of freedom songs energized the activists. 
    • In March of 2005, Berea College celebrated the 40th anniversary of its students' participation in the Civil Rights March for Voting Rights from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL. 

  •  Dr. Gerald Smith, of the University of Kentucky, presented an "Overview of the American Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985." 
    • See the book I Shared the Dream: the Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky by Georgia Davis Powers. (Hutchins Library does have this book.)
    • See the book The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry. (We also have this book in Hutchins Library.)
    • The period of 1954 to 1968 has pretty much been the master narrative when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Black Freedom Movement. Around the 1970s, scholars debated this and no longer see that period as a master narrative.These scholars pushed the dates back, and we now see a "Long Movement" from the late 1940s to the 1970s. However, some have said the movement never really died. The arguments now consider whether the movement really ended or not. Also, in addition to the national scope, the scholarship now looks at the many local movements. 
    • A question to ask: "When I think of Civil Rights Movement, I think of _____ ."
      • What? 
      • Where? 
      • Who? 
      • Why? 
    • We have memories of the movement even if we were not born in it or lived through it. Memories are shaped by what we have seen and heard. That then, as we share, becomes part of our collective memory. 
    • Every site we will visit is based on a design. There is a collective memory on those sites. As visitors, we then interpret that memory. Think how the site was constructed based on the memories of the designer and others. 
    • Initially scholars kept a national focus. From the 1980s onward, they started looking more at local movements and grassroots efforts. These are the folks who never made the front pages but were important to the movement as well (in other words, my kind of people). 
    • Kentucky did have a history of segregation and violence against blacks. 
      • 1896: Plessy v. Ferguson decision (Separate but equal doctrine. Some information with a small video about it at PBS here. The text of the case out of Cornell's Legal Information Institute over here). This then led to local segregation laws like Kentucky's Day Law of 1904 (which by the way Berea College fought).
      • Racial violence. In Kentucky, 61 blacks were lynched between 1900-1940. 
    • Memphis, TN; Birmingham, AL, and other cities and towns were violent places for blacks. Blacks were constantly dehumanized, and white children were socialized to accept this and carry it on. (I don't think has changed much in some areas of the United States). 
    • Cemeteries teach about the past. See the tombstones of slaves and servants set by the masters (when they bothered to do so) designating them as "loyal servants," so on. 
    •  African-American response to Jim Crow: 
    •  See the book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire. Among other topics, it does discuss black women being raped by white men, then those rapists being declared not guilty. (As of this post, we do not have the book in Hutchins Library, a deficit I plan to remedy soon). 
    • Some NAACP early legal victories: 
    • See also: Smith, Gerald, "Direct-Action Protests in the Upper South: Kentucky Chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 109.3/4 (Summer/Autumn 2011): 351-393.  (We have this volume in print at Hutchins Library, in the Mountain Collection, which is part of Special Collections and Archives. I have photocopied the article to read, and I will likely feature it in a future "Article Note" post here on the blog).

  • During our lunch, we would watch a chapter from the PBS American Experience series Eyes on the Prize.  We watched the chapter "Mississippi: Is this America? (1962-1964)." 
    • Noted in our seminar book, themes to consider here: black duality; white liberal charity versus human respect; federal versus states' rights; institutional racism. 
    • Other themes: 
      • White resistance: society, police, political parties. 
      • Black duality of participants versus those who chose not to participate or could not participate. Note: Blacks were taught survival skills for an all-white world, so many of those blacks would tell the civil rights workers just what they wanted to hear to get the workers to go away. In their classrooms today, faculty (and this can certainly include me as librarian), may see this as well, so building trust is important. 
      • For whites in the struggle, their skin color was not going to save them in Mississippi. 
      • Note the role of black women as activists and leaders. Also note the regular people, the field workers, and others not getting on the press. 
      • Politicians often sidestepping not to take a stand. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Booknote: Confessions of a Bad Teacher

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian)

John Owens, Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2013. ISBN: 9781402281006.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Memoir, Education reform.

I enjoyed this book very much, and I found myself nodding a lot as I read it. I am a former school teacher, and I can relate to a lot of what Owens went through. From the inane pre-semester new teacher training to tyrannical principals, I've experienced much of what he describes as well. I was also labeled as bad teacher for wanting to actually teach and having high expectations of my students. I was young back then, and I have learned a lot and grown as a teacher since then. So many memories and thoughts ran through my mind as I read it. This book spoke to me without the "wonder teacher" syndrome or excessive sentimentality that so many teacher memoirs have. Once I started it, I was not able to put it down.

Public school teachers should find something to relate to in this book. In some cases, it may hit very close to home, especially for good teachers who care and work hard for their students for this is not a book about a "bad" teacher. It is a book about a teacher caught in a very bad system. A lot of parents and community members have no idea what really goes on in public schools; they often fall for the brainwashing scam that school teachers are to blame for every poor school and for every child's ills in schools. That is simply not the case, and John Owens shows why in this book.

The book is organized into fourteen chapters where Owens takes us through his school year at Latinate Institute.Then, like a good teacher, he ends the book with a summary of lessons learned from the classroom experience.  He also adds some strong suggestions on what can be done. Additionally, the book includes footnotes here and there that serve to bolster his arguments or to illustrate his points. Plus, there are some segments selected by Owens where other teachers speak on their experiences. Given the culture of retaliation that exists in the education establishment, some of those teachers remain pseudonymous. Owens does note that names have been changed to protect others as needed.

In this book, not many people come out looking good, deservedly so. Ms. P, the principal, is in essence a tyrant more worried about the school as a pageant than in actually educating kids let alone giving teachers the resources and support they need. Owens' teacher colleagues vary: one or two were brave warriors trying to educate in impossible conditions; others were nothing more than dead weight protected by tenure and/or sycophants of Ms. P. That latter group are the truly bad teachers, the ones we should get rid but fail to do so. As for the students, we get a broad range of issues and experiences. They are challenged by issues such as poverty, living conditions, parents with various degrees of neglect and self-entitlement, lack of institutional support, and in the case of special education students, lack of legally mandated classroom assistance and support. To a large extent, it is no wonder there are so many discipline problems. However, in the ultimate insult, teachers are made powerless to deal with disciplinary problems in any efficient way. As for Ms. P, she pretty much washed her hands when it came to student discipline. She left it up to the teachers but then in essence ordered them not to discipline. The way Ms. P managed Latinate evokes Dilbert's pointy-haired boss. Yet Dilbert is a funny comic strip (even though for many workers it does hit close to home). The situation at Latinate Institute is a farce and a tragedy. It is a tragedy that happens in schools across the United States.

Parents do have to shoulder some blame here. Owens at times may go a bit easy on them due to their often bad conditions. But there are moments when parents simply have to take responsibility and discipline their kids, and they often simply flat out refuse to deal with their kids. That is neglect and irresponsible parenting, and it needs to be denounced as such.  Then again, between neglectful parents and lack of consequence for bad behavior in the school, is it any wonder the kids lie, cheat, and steal as well as act up? The adults, as Owens shows, have abdicated their responsibilities. It's easier for them to label all teachers as "bad" teachers than to actually look in the mirror, accept responsibility, and do what must be done. Now, there are some bad teachers out there, and they need to be removed from classrooms. But most teachers are decent, hardworking, knowledgeable and dedicated educators that get labeled with the "bad" teacher mark for no other reason than it is easier to do so. As for parents, it seems one or two are the good ones, the exception rather than the rule. That has to change.

I don't really care for teacher memoirs as they often turn into miracle worker narratives that don't really say anything other than "we done good." However, Owens' book truly exposes what goes on in classrooms across the United States, a view from the trenches. This is a book that parents and policy makers need to read, and then they need to start some long and hard conversations to fix the educational system over time. It can be done, but it won't happen overnight.  And while there are truly bad teachers out there, the majority of teachers are good, and they care for your children and wish to educate them well. But they need your support, and this means more than just platitudes, some kind words on some "Teacher Appreciation Day" or yet another mug. They need serious help support, and resources. It's time to change the narrative of blaming and labeling all teachers as bad teachers. Read this book, learn more, and take some action.

If you ask me, this one gets a 5 out of 5 stars.

Librarian note. Books with similar appeal that I have read:
  • Samuel G. Freedman, Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and Their High School. I read this when I was getting ready to do my student teaching. The book came to mind in reading Owens' work. If anything, I think things have gotten worse since Freedman's book was before NCLB, and NCLB basically launched the "test everything and teach to the test" mentality running rampant now at the expense of actual education. 
  • The works of Jonathan Kozol related to public schools such as Savage Inequalities.

Note to appease The Man: I read Owens' book as an electronic galley provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. The book is scheduled for release in August 2013.