The sun sets on 2020, and in the past I made a list of "best things" about the year. This year, my list is shorter. No travel, but lots of learning. This will not be in chronological order, or in order of importance. Except for the first one, the things will be posted as they come to my mind as I relax with this adult beverage.
If I had to choose a word to describe how I feel about 2020, I would say fortunate. Though I am sad to have lost loved ones I will never see again (two cousins, a beloved husband of a good friend), for the most part, I have been fortunate. Instead of feeling restless and frustrated, I feel gratitude. Grateful that I have a place to live, an income (pension, investments, social security), a family, friends, health, a sense of purpose.
Reflection one year after a psychedelic women’s retreat
Many of you who know me might be shocked to know that the women’s retreat I went to last year was a psilocybin (aka “magic mushrooms”) retreat, so this is a “coming out” of sorts. I had been meaning to write about my experience at this Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) women’s retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico ever since I returned a year ago. But it is better that I waited a year; I can now write about how it affected me.
My psilocybin journey connected the dots for me in many ways and I am convinced this particular gift from nature has much to offer the world. I wrote a detailed account which I will publish in total at some point. In this essay, I skip the activities and descriptive details and instead share how it helped me to break through spiritual, creative, and psychological blocks.
The Dec. 1 Bloomberg Opinion piece on education policy reminded me of the bad old days of former presidents George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top, with its anti-union undertones and that trigger word — “accountability.”
It paints unions as protecting members, devoid of accountability. No one goes into teaching because it’s easy, or because they can do whatever and be protected by a union. If you ask educators why they went into the profession, their answers will most likely be altruistic. Teachers want to be successful in their jobs, but most know that success measured by test scores is shallow and demoralizing. Encouraging positive relationships, assigning meaningful long-term projects, promoting collaboration with others, fostering creativity, reading to pursue their own interests, applying critical thinking are goals that don’t get measured but contribute to measures of success for most teachers.
The Bloomberg piece encourages Biden to expand charter schools. We do have successful ones in West Hawaii, but expansion means the opposite for traditional schools — reduction. Again, the Bloomberg piece demonizes unions, saying they have “waged war” against charter schools. In Hawaii, charter schools are represented by the same union as traditional public schools, so there isn’t the same antagonism that other places may have. However, there is some resentment between the two types of schools, having to do with funding.
In the Biden-Harris administration, I am hoping for a new era of respect for public education. Opportunities that we provide can be monitored and elevated. Besides securing the basics, we can note if students are getting the counseling they need and the arts that would enhance their learning; if their physical environments are conducive to learning; if they are safe; if they have nutritious meals; if they are learning how to get along with each other; if they are connecting to their communities and the world; if critical thinking is valued and implemented.
Test scores are only one piece of information about student development, but if it’s the major thing you consider, everything else will take a back seat.
Diane Aoki is a resident of Kealakekua
Another of my letters to my local paper.
Democracy or republic? Electoral College or not?
I agree with Patricia Knox’s letter on Nov. 24 that civics education needs to be mandatory. Just as important is thinking skills, which can be taught all across the curriculum through all grades. This includes the ability to process complex issues, such as whether the United States is a democracy or republic, or the merits of the Electoral College. Ms. Knox claims that we are not a democracy. A democracy is a government by the people either directly OR by their elected representatives. In a republic, laws are made by elected representatives and governed by a constitution protecting its citizens’ rights. So, we are both.
The Electoral College was a cunning deal, with the slave-owning states gaining the upper hand. Counting their slaves as 3/5ths of a person, gave them more representatives and electors, which served them well. Now that we have Constitutional voting rights protections, does the Electoral College still serve to perpetuate racism, as it did at its onset?
One thing to consider: A vote in California, which has a very diverse population, carries less weight than a voter in Wyoming, a very white state, when translating the numbers into the Electoral College. A vote in states with large urban areas, which are racially diverse, have less weight than states that are largely rural, which are mostly white.
The times demand of us to be critical thinkers. Civics education must include the history and impact of this racism.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.