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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 24, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Small signs of progress in the climate fight

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Progress can be hard to find in stories that are frustratingly cyclical (Israelis vs. Palestinians) or relentlessly incremental (the response to global climate change).

New developments suggest some movement on climate, though, at a time when evidence of the need for action appears as stark as ever – with climate-related disasters, for example, now producing more internally displaced people than wars do. 

New modeling by the International Energy Agency shows a “narrow but still achievable” path to global emissions goals by 2050. Global renewable energy capacity grew last year at its fastest rate since 1999.

The work of generating cleaner power remains halting in the United States. The first big offshore wind farm in federal waters was approved this month off Massachusetts. (It got some NIMBY pushback even in that progressive state.)

Can private businesses be the catalysts for deepening climate action? Besides being called “quick” by a delighted President Joe Biden last week, Ford’s new all-electric pickup truck can power a house for days (Texans, take note). A South Korean firm you’ve never heard of now uses autonomous drones to inspect wind turbines off Taiwan.

Practical innovation fosters trust. Yes, some corporations may take arguably unconscionable tacks in pursuing profits, but a new 14-country Edelman Trust Barometer puts businesses ahead of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and media. (Speedy vaccine development helped a lot.) That’s a thought shift, and maybe a nudge.

“People now expect corporations and CEOs to keep focusing on big social and political issues,” reports Axios, “even after the pandemic.”

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As Gaza cease-fire holds, a resurgent Palestinian youth movement emerges

A young generation of Palestinian activists sees social media platforms as game changers for a renewed struggle against Israel. But their frustration is also directed at their own political leaders.  

Mahmoud Illean/AP
Israeli border police scuffle with protesters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where several Palestinian families are under imminent threat of forcible eviction from their homes, May 15, 2021.

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Palestinians are making their voices heard in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and across the world, using tech platforms to both amplify their political cause and connect communities fragmented by partition and occupation. They say their struggle for rights is starting to gain momentum and that they aren’t willing to wait for the international community to act.  

In Gaza, Friday’s cease-fire between Hamas and Israel appears to be holding. But Israeli-Palestinian tensions in Jerusalem continued, including violence and arrests Sunday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. These incidents, and disputes over the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, are all being documented by tech-savvy activists. They draw parallels between their struggle and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Now we have more tools to make people engaged with what is going on, on the ground. When we take the story from the street directly to the world, it encourages people to take part in this movement because it is happening live. This is huge,” says Nijmeh Ali, a Palestinian academic and activist.  

However, activists are avoiding a deeper discussion of politics, focusing instead on the shared struggle for civil rights. “It is a long march and we are in the early days,” says one millennial.

As Gaza cease-fire holds, a resurgent Palestinian youth movement emerges

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Two months ago, Majd, like many young Palestinians, was dreaming of emigrating: a “one-way ticket” out of the occupied territories to the United Kingdom.

Now he wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world.

“Today, all we want is to be here and be part of this movement,” the 26-year-old graduate student said as he marched in the streets of Ramallah last week.

Samer Sharif, a Jerusalem activist protesting the displacement of 28 Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, one of the flashpoints that led up to the latest 11-day Gaza war, says “something new” is in the air.

“We are no longer afraid; the more the Israeli authorities try to suppress us, the more it backfires,” Mr. Sharif says. “Simply, for us there is nothing to lose.”

Bolder, louder, viral: Palestinians making their voices heard in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and across the world say their struggle for rights and freedoms is starting to gain momentum, fueled by a young generation unwilling to censor itself or await effective Palestinian leadership.

Leaderless, and without a common ideology or political affiliation, these young activists are also reuniting fragmented Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank, and across Israel in their push for basic rights and freedoms.

They vow their “TikTok uprising” has only just begun, as Friday’s cease-fire between Hamas and Israel appears to be holding, amid continued Israeli-Palestinian tensions in Jerusalem. This includes violence and arrests on Sunday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, one of Islam’s three holiest sites, built on grounds revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

“Enough is enough”

The media, diplomats, and analysts have speculated about what lay behind the sudden resurgence of a Palestinian civil rights movement after years of near-dormancy.

In recent weeks, Palestinians across the occupied territories and Israel have joined protests, strikes, boycotts, and civil action in Israeli-ruled East Jerusalem, as violence and Israeli police raids at Al-Aqsa intensified in the final days of Ramadan. Hamas, which rules Gaza, then fired rockets at Israel in retaliation, triggering an onslaught of Israeli airstrikes.

Fatima Abdulkarim
Activist Muna Al-Kurd stands by a mural drawn at the wall of her family home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 20, 2021. The mural reads "here to stay."

So why now? The answer for Muna Al-Kurd, a Sheikh Jarrah resident, is simple.

“I’m no longer willing to take this,” Ms. Al-Kurd says of Israeli rights violations. “The true power of our generation and this uprising is bringing all Palestinians together to say ‘enough is enough.’”

Dubbed the “TikTok generation,” Palestinians born after the 1990s Oslo Accord are tech-savvy and harbor pent-up frustrations over a life of Israeli-imposed restrictions, checkpoints, and closed borders, along with what they see as a failed Palestinian leadership and a toothless international community.

This defiance has taken different forms: Young Palestinians pose and smile as they are arrested by Israeli police; impromptu concerts are held near Israeli security patrols and checkpoints.

Palestinians agree that the resurgence couldn’t have been possible without the sharing of easily digestible video clips via TikTok and livestreams, technologies they call a “game changer.”

Take the video of the 23-year-old Ms. Al-Kurd pleading in English with an Israeli settler that had taken over her family home in Sheikh Jarrah. It went viral in April, the first of hundreds of such videos highlighting Palestinians’ struggle for equal rights that have been shared on social media platforms in several languages.

These videos are allowing Palestinians to counter narratives by the Israeli government, its supporters, and even Western media that they claim have mischaracterized their struggle and sidelined their voices.  

“When I use my phone to document what is happening in my life, in my home, on the street where I live, I’m showing people around the world news that they don’t see on TV networks,” says Ms. Al-Kurd. She has continued to document Israeli restrictions, Palestinian protests, and showdowns with Israeli police in her East Jerusalem neighborhood.

Nijmeh Ali, a Palestinian academic and activist, points out that similar protests in Sheikh Jarrah in 2009, when few had smartphones or ways to share media, failed to gain traction.

“Now we have more tools to make people engaged with what is going on, on the ground. When we take the story from the street directly to the world, it encourages people to take part in this movement because it is happening live. This is huge,” Dr. Ali says.

Virtual connections, physical barriers

Observers say the social media-fueled uprising is also reuniting Palestinians fragmented for the past 20 years by a separation barrier, checkpoints, a blockade, movement restrictions, and Israeli settlements.

Their virtual connections are linking their separate causes and framing their challenges as one shared struggle. Their message: There cannot be calm in one area, until there is justice and equal rights for all.

At the beginning of the uprising, Amany Akasha, a 25-year-old translator in Gaza, worked with activists in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem to produce social media content, and now streams videos in English to raise awareness of “Palestine from a Palestinian perspective.”

“Thanks to social media, we now know exactly what the people in Jerusalem and the West Bank are going through, and they are aware of what we face in Gaza,” Ms. Akasha says.

Hind Al-Wahidi, a 16-year-old Gazan who is translating videos for Ms. Akasha into English and French, says interaction with other activists helped her learn about parts of the occupied territories she has never been allowed to enter.

“It makes me feel useful to tweet and share videos and factual content on the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which I have never been to in my life,” Ms. Al-Wahidi says.

Palestinians from towns across Israel have flooded into Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem in support of families facing displacement, many for the first time.

When Palestinian Israelis held a general strike last week to protest against discrimination and the failure of Israeli police to protect them from far-right mobs, Palestinians in the West Bank joined them, the first comprehensive Palestinian strike held in decades.

Fatima Abdulkarim
Protesters put up posters on the streets of Ramallah, West Bank, during a general strike on May 18, 2021.

From Jerusalem to Ferguson

With the change in guard has come a change in language for Palestinians.

While previous generations referred to the Israeli “occupation,” young Palestinians are using terms such as “apartheid,” “Palestinian Lives Matter,” and “ethnic cleansing” to draw parallels to other international social justice causes that resonate with people outside the Middle East.

Palestinian activists say the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired them to share videos and photos of Israeli police placing Palestinians in knee-to-neck holds, echoing the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. They are also linking with progressives in the U.S. Democratic Party to build momentum to pressure Israel’s biggest security and political ally.

“They are using words that link to social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, and issues such as racial discrimination and dispossession that resonate for communities in Western states to maximum effect,” says Tahani Mustafa, West Bank analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Still, Palestinians are grappling with one core question: What is the way forward for this young, leaderless movement that has no overarching political agenda?

Activists say they are focused on holding protests and documenting incidents on the streets; Israeli forces continued Monday to make arrests after a weekend when 2,000 mostly Israeli Palestinian protesters were detained.

But activists say they are deliberately avoiding a deeper discussion of a political program or taking stances on proposals for one-state vs. two-state solution, or Palestinian political representation. These thorny issues, they say, have divided and distracted Palestinians from the larger, shared struggle for civil rights.

“We don’t want to say ‘tomorrow we will liberate Palestine.’ No one is even saying the words ‘political program,” says LN, a millennial activist, who preferred not to use her full name due to security concerns.

“It is a long march and we are in the early days. We want to unite the street, not focus on the political speed bumps our parties failed to overcome.”

Changes on the ground

Dr. Mustafa warns that unless activists develop an internal structure and specific political demands, the movement may eventually “implode from within, give up, or face repression” from Israeli and Palestinian security services.

“In terms of a moral and PR exercise, it has been a success for Palestinians and a complete disaster for Israel and its Western supporters,” Dr. Mustafa says of the movement, “but those moral victories will not count for much if nothing really changes on the ground.”

But young, newly empowered Palestinians say change has already arrived.

“We know we cannot stop tying our national struggle to the struggle for social justice,” says Ahed Tamimi, who came to prominence as a teenage activist and was jailed in 2017 for slapping an Israeli soldier.

“Because the day after our liberation, we want to live in a Palestine that respects diversity, civil rights for all and where justice prevails.”

A deeper look

After racial unrest, Kenosha treads a hard road forward

The unrest that began a year ago this week in Minneapolis with the killing of George Floyd spilled into Kenosha, Wisconsin, last August with the shooting of Jacob Blake. Our writer found Kenosha today deep into introspection, and working to address root causes.

Richard Mertens
Tavern on Sixth, which recently opened in Kenosha's downtown. The owner, Kyle Kavalauskas, is setting out tables on a recent Saturday for the 11 a.m. opening. It's one of several new businesses that have opened in the downtown, where many businesses were damaged in unrest after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

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Ruth Serrato remembers the night her shop burned. Protests over the police shooting of a Black resident, Jacob Blake, on Aug. 23 had given way to confrontation and violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin. When rioters attacked the little business district where Ms. Serrato’s father had opened an ice cream shop, she watched from home through security cameras as the smoke and flames destroyed it.

“I only cried,” says Ms. Serrato. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Today the shop – called El Buen Gusto, or The Good Taste – has reopened in a new location, thanks to help from community organizations. 

The unrest revealed for many in Kenosha the need to address long-standing concerns about racism and inequality – seen perhaps most visibly in policing and justice. By one recent report, Black men in Kenosha and surrounding counties were 50% more likely than white men to go to prison for similar crimes. 

Some activists question whether much is changing. But others see signs of hope. “That’s the optimistic part of this,” says Adelene Greene, a founding member of the Kenosha Coalition for Dismantling Racism. “The younger generation gets this more than the older generation. I was amazed at the number of white people who stood side by side with protesters.”

After racial unrest, Kenosha treads a hard road forward

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Ruth Serrato remembers the night her shop burned. Protests over the police shooting of a Black resident, Jacob Blake, on Aug. 23 had given way to confrontation and violence. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters, and rioters attacked the little business district where Ms. Serrato’s father, an immigrant from Mexico, had opened an ice cream shop 16 years before. She watched from home through security cameras as the smoke and flames destroyed it.

“I only cried,” says Ms. Serrato. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Today the shop – called El Buen Gusto, or The Good Taste – is back, and Ms. Serrato is smiling again. With help from community organizations and a GoFundMe page, the shop has reopened in a little shopping mall a few blocks from the old location. New equipment shipped from Mexico is again producing ice cream, fruit smoothies, and what one reviewer called “the best tacos in Kenosha.” When the doors opened in February, Ms. Serrato says, “it felt that my dad’s dream was going again.”

The reopening of El Buen Gusto and other businesses marks a step forward for a city that last summer was in shock. Protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis had come to Kenosha, as in many cities across the country. But the shooting of Mr. Blake brought home the issues of inequality and policing as never before. 

And yet as the plywood comes down and new glass goes up, residents are facing a much bigger challenge than repairing damaged buildings: how to mend their fractured community and confront the legacy of distrust and racial inequality that many say was behind last year’s unrest. 

“I think what happened is that people came to a rude awakening here about the racism that exists in this community,” says Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha, a group devoted to racial justice. “We became pretty comfortable and complacent in our community, thinking that nothing like that would ever happen here, nothing like what happened to Jacob Blake could happen here. When it happened, all of a sudden the underpinnings of racism came out in the open.”

Richard Mertens
Ruth Serrato in her ice cream shop, El Buen Gusto, which relocated and reopened in February. The original shop in Uptown was destroyed, along with all its equipment, during the unrest last August.

It’s not just activists who think this way. “It did open up more eyes,” says Lou Molitor, president of the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce, of last August’s unrest. “We still have problems. But more people are working on solving our problems.”

A newly engaged community

Indeed, the events of last year have inspired both an upsurge of activism and a burst of civic introspection in Kenosha, with new organizations and new initiatives aimed at addressing systemic racial and ethnic inequality. Protests and rallies have ebbed, but in ways large and small many residents are trying to reach out to each other, take stock of the city’s shortcomings, and turn the energy and passions of last year’s protests into change.

Elizabeth Webb is one of them. She lives in a wood frame house in Uptown, not far from where El Buen Gusto burned. Since that night she’s taken part in protests and rallies, but she’s also thrown herself into a range of other activities, organizing toy and coat drives, handing out masks at rallies, and founding an organization called My Sister’s House that helps families in need. She and another activist started Kenosha Talks – a program of online conversations about topics on people’s minds, including last year’s unrest and the relationship between business owners and residents. Recently she has been helping other activists organize neighborhood cleanups.

“I’m just a mother, just a working mom,” says Ms. Webb. “I struggle just like other people here, go through the things that other people go through. When I started speaking out and reaching out to other people, I found that people were listening. They wanted to hear. They wanted to know what they could do to help.”

Kenosha is one of many small industrial cities strung like Christmas tree lights around the Great Lakes and struggling to reinvent themselves as big manufacturing disappears. At the same time, they are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, creating still new challenges. A third of Kenosha’s residents are nonwhite, most of them Black or Hispanic. 

For many of these residents, last summer’s events have forced a reckoning that was long overdue. They say the angry reaction to the shooting of Mr. Blake – he was shot seven times in the back, leaving him partially paralyzed – sprang in part from long-standing grievances among Black residents. Those include a history of mistreatment by the Kenosha police as well as poor educational outcomes for children, a lack of economic opportunity, a shortage of affordable housing and mental health services, and a lack of diversity in city government.

An independent investigation into the Blake shooting concluded that the officer who shot Mr. Blake in the back was justified by the danger he posed to the public and to a child in particular. Mr. Blake was seeking to flee police and had a knife.

Many residents were outraged not just by the shooting but by the apparent welcome the police gave to armed right-wing militiamen who arrived in the city afterward. One of them, Kyle Rittenhouse, faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of two protesters. More recently, a court-sponsored study released in February found that Black men in Kenosha and surrounding counties are 50% more likely than white men to go to prison for similar crimes.

Richard Mertens
Elizabeth Webb and her daughter Makayla Daniels, two activists in Uptown, the area hardest hit by rioting last year. Ms. Daniels took part in protests for many days after the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, 2020. Ms. Webb is involved in several community organizations, including Kenosha Talks, an effort to promote community conversations in the city.

Can talk lead to action?

So far, as the city struggles to regroup, some activists complain that too much of the response has been mere discussion. 

“Some of them have gotten discouraged and disgruntled with the progress,” says Adelene Greene, a founding member of the Kenosha Coalition for Dismantling Racism. “‘When are we going to stop talking? When are we going to see action?’”

But community leaders argue that conversation is laying the groundwork for change: listening, sharing experiences, changing minds. “We have to lead with our ears,” insists the Rev. Roy Peeples, the pastor of an Uptown church who was part of a series of public meetings after the unrest last fall. 

Another local pastor, the Rev. Lawrence Kirby, has been visiting local churches to speak to congregations and church staffs about the Black experience, including the history of slavery, race, and caste. He says last year’s unrest has “forced a lot of people to have conversations that were not happening.”

Steps of change

Meanwhile, local judges have participated in training on racial bias. Mr. Molitor says many businesses are considering how to increase the diversity of their workforces. At the University of Wisconsin–Parkside campus in Kenosha, historian Edward Schmitt taught a course this spring on the history of Black people in the city, a subject he says he initially knew little about and that he hopes to share with the wider community.

“It’s an article of faith I have as an historian,” he says. “If we all have an understanding of everyone’s history, where they come from, their experience and common humanity, you have a better conversation. That’s really my hope.” 

Will all this translate into political and institutional change? 

Ms. Greene says she’s been trying to encourage people to get more involved in the political process. “There’s been more of a presence at public meetings,” she says. “That’s a plus.” 

Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking in Kenosha emerged from last September’s community meetings. They led to a citywide task force involving city officials, civic leaders, and activists to examine inequalities and propose reforms across a broad range of city services and institutions. Called Kenosha Commit to Action Roadmap, it’s starting with the police department – its policies and procedures, training and recruiting, and relations with the community.

“There are more people that want to make this work than not,” says Mr. Peeples, a co-chairman of the group.

Activists say they are determined that it produce results. And yet the obstacles to reform are formidable. The Black community in Kenosha is small – only about 11% of a population of 100,000. And the city and surrounding area are sharply divided. Much of Kenosha County is deeply conservative; the county went heavily for Donald Trump in the last election. And some activists worry that the fight has gone out of people. 

 “We are not doing a half of what we could be doing,” says Makayla Daniels, Ms. Webb’s daughter, who took part in protests after the Blake shooting. “I feel they’re not taking this seriously enough, a lot of our elders.”

On the surface, it may seem that little has changed. The police chief at the time (he has since retired) made no apology for his department’s actions, such as for what seemed to many a heavy-handed reaction to the protests – and the welcome that officers seemed to give to militia members.

Still, activists and community leaders are confident they enjoy support well beyond the Black community. “There are many white allies, and young white allies,” says Ms. Greene. “That’s the optimistic part of this. The younger generation gets this more than the older generation. I was amazed at the number of white people who stood side by side with protesters.” 

Rebuilding – the right way?

The rebuilding is still unfinished. A local business group estimated total damages at $50 million, with 100 businesses damaged or destroyed. Most have been repaired and reopened, but some have not; others, like El Buen Gusto, have relocated. The costs of rebuilding have been borne mainly by private insurance, but businesses have also benefited from state grants and loans, tax abatements, and grants from community organizations. A downtown business group gave out more than $360,000.

Meanwhile, the city is already looking well beyond the repair of last year’s damage. It is pushing ahead with two big redevelopment plans that had already been in the works, a $400 million project to convert eight downtown blocks into new city offices, luxury apartments, and a performing arts center; and a $1 billion “Innovation Neighborhood” that, as envisioned, will offer opportunities for education, job training, and entrepreneurial businesses on 107 empty acres that once held a Chrysler engine plant. 

Kenosha’s mayor, John Antaramian, says these projects “will bring a sense of revitalization to parts of our city that have suffered.” And yet last year’s events have put them in a new light for many people. Kenosha County Supervisor Jerry Gulley says that “recovering and rebuilding ... cannot be done on a foundation that does not include equality and inclusion.” 

Richard Mertens
Krista Maurer at her shop, Bellissima’s Boutique, on Sixth Avenue in Kenosha’s downtown. Ms. Maurer, who is a community activist as well as a business owner, says, “We’ve come together as a community to reopen and move forward,” but she adds, “There’s still healing to be done within our Black and brown populations. Everyone has a responsibility to do that.”

“We’ve come together as a community to reopen and move forward,” says Krista Maurer, who opened her shop, Bellissima’s Boutique, in October, one of several new businesses that have relocated to the downtown. “But there’s still healing to be done within our Black and brown populations. Everyone has a responsibility to do that. It’s a long time coming.”

Recently, a group of activists gathered on a sunny cool Saturday morning at an auto repair shop for their first neighborhood cleanup. They were starting in Uptown, the center of last year’s unrest. 

“The job is to build community,” says Brandon Morris, a local basketball coach and one of the organizers. “It’s not the big things. It’s the small things. What’s something simple I can do that will have a positive impact in my neighborhood?”

Volunteers arrived singly and in groups, grabbed coffee and doughnuts, then set off down the street trailing black plastic garbage bags. On 22nd Street, two volunteers picked up litter outside a Family Dollar Store a few doors down from the boarded-up building where El Buen Gusto burned.

“It was scary to see it happen in our town, kind of shocking,” says one of them, a man who gives his name as Zach. His companion, Lynne Sparks, plucks a discarded cup from the gutter. “I do think it’s brought us together as a community,” she says.

At El Buen Gusta, Ms. Serrato says she’s angry that her shop was destroyed. “But I think the people are angry, too,” she says. She’s sympathetic to the calls for change. 

“We want justice,” Ms. Serrato says. “We want the same rights for everyone.”

#TeamUp

Teacher appreciation: Our role in encouraging excellence

U.S. schools are letting out and teachers are harvesting deserved gratitude. Our columnist reflects, through collected stories, on how that can run deeper than restaurant discounts and potted plants. 

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Great teachers have a passion for their subject matter, and communicating that passion stays with students for decades.

My friend Marco’s high school forensics teacher is a good example. He emailed: “Bonnie Miller pushed us out of our comfort zones, inspired us to think creatively, write fast and fearlessly, and speak extemporaneously in events ranging from SPAR [spontaneous argumentation] to impromptu speaking – five minutes to prepare a five-minute talk on a random topic that we picked from a hat.”

That kind of greatness has measurable effects.

In a 2014 study measuring teachers’ impact, Harvard University economics professor Raj Chetty and his co-authors found that students with “high value-added” teachers are “more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, and are less likely to have children as teenagers.” 

Wow! The impact of great teachers can indeed be profound. 

Yet, when I asked former early childhood educator Roslyn Adams (no relation) what would motivate high performance from her, the answers were uncomplicated and free of academic jargon. Her first suggestion for motivating great teachers was appreciation. 

Perhaps the lesson is that something as simple as a thank-you note or call to our favorite teachers has an important role to play in celebrating – and creating more – great teachers.

Teacher appreciation: Our role in encouraging excellence

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Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer/AP/File
Students of St. Michael's Catholic School in Brattleboro, Vermont, drive by the school to share messages of missing their teachers, who were waiting outside for them during Teacher Appreciation Week on May 8, 2020.

A few months ago, I discovered that National Teacher Appreciation Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week take place in early May. How wonderful, I thought, that the conversation about schools and teaching could, however briefly, shift away from the pandemic-influenced topics of the past 15 months. It would be a sign of progress, of healing, I hoped, if educators, students, and politicians could take a break from debates over in-person versus distance learning, the need to redesign HVAC and airflow systems in classrooms, and whether vaccinations would make classrooms safer. 

How striking, I mused, that there is a formal mechanism for thanking great teachers and perhaps encouraging the creation of new ones.

And yet, as I watched teacher appreciation efforts play out, I was underwhelmed. Politicians offered congratulations on Twitter, and stores and restaurants offered discounts. While I’m sure teachers appreciated the cost savings, the effort seemed more like a marketing ploy than anything else. How motivating can a free taco be if we want to inspire more great teachers?

Whenever it’s controversial to discuss politics or religion in social settings with friends or relatives, I have discovered that education can be a safe and life-affirming topic. Just about everyone has attended school, and almost everyone has had a favorite teacher, a great teacher. So I often ask about people’s most memorable teachers, using an exercise I participated in when I served on the board of directors of the KIPP Charter Schools in New York. Try it: Close your eyes and think about the great teachers with whom you have studied. What characteristics made them great? Now, imagine how our education system would benefit if every teacher was a great teacher!

Laura Seitz/The Deseret News/AP
Eighth grader Rosa Sanchez receives applause from first lady Jill Biden as she walks to the podium to speak at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City on May 5, 2021. Ms. Biden visited the school to thank teachers for their diligence and hard work during the pandemic.

Recalling great teachers

From the responses I’ve collected over the years, a common theme has emerged: Great teachers have a passion for their subject matter, and communicating that passion stays with students for decades. Two recent responses make the point:

  • For my friend Marco, a successful author and public relations executive, his Beverly Hills High School forensics (public speaking and debate) teacher was his favorite. In an email, he wrote: “Bonnie Miller pushed us out of our comfort zones, inspired us to think creatively, write fast and fearlessly, and speak extemporaneously in events ranging from SPAR [spontaneous argumentation] to impromptu speaking – five minutes to prepare a five-minute talk on a random topic that we picked from a hat.” Marco also noted that he has hung on to several of his high school debate trophies for almost 40 years. Ms. Miller was a great teacher!
  • My friend Kathyrn’s favorite teacher was Mother Mary Noel. “I’m sure her strictness and rigid standards were terrible for some students,” Kathryn said when we chatted and emailed. “But if you loved learning, she loved teaching. I can see Mother Mary Noel with her black sleeves rolled up, her veil, and the Rosary beads tied at her waist, flapping, as we collected plants in the nearby park for the terrariums she had us assembling in class. She taught us how to memorize a poem each week, working on it until we were word perfect on Fridays. To this day, I can recite whole anthologies. I have no fear of having nothing to read [if I’m] cast away on a desert island.”

That same strictness mixed with love marked my favorite teacher, who taught ninth grade world history and 10th grade English. Whenever the class was stumped by a question, Miss Glebow would point to me and happily, mysteriously, I always had the answer!  She affirmed my belief in my intellectual prowess. When we read “Cyrano de Bergerac,” I hated the heroine, Roxane, and said so in a paper. I found her shallow and immature to be so easily swayed by someone’s looks. I recall writing how unimpressed I was that Roxane couldn’t appreciate Cyrano’s intellectual gifts.

My passion must have amused Miss Glebow. She said that my views were interesting, but wrong. And she winked at me when she nonetheless gave me a good grade, reinforcing my instinct to think for myself rather than hew to a prevailing view. Miss Glebow was a great teacher.

Supporting and appreciating great teachers

What is the payoff from great teachers? The benefits can be hard to quantify precisely, but everyone who has experienced a great or a favorite teacher can explain why that teacher’s great. My young friend Zaza reminisced about his college economics classes in which he learned about a number of research projects aimed at quantifying the real-world impact of teachers. He recalled that some examined the role of parents versus teachers. Others examined the role of cash bonuses for teachers. Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Harvard University, was the lead author on a 2014 study published in the American Economic Review that quantified teachers’ impact according to their “value added,” measured by improved test scores. Dr. Chetty and his co-authors found that “students assigned to high-VA teachers are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, and are less likely to have children as teenagers.” 

Wow! The impact of great teachers can indeed be profound. 

Yet, when I asked former early childhood educator Roslyn Adams (no relation) what would motivate high performance from her, the answers were uncomplicated and free of academic jargon. Mrs. Adams spent decades ensuring that her students from every socioeconomic background could read before entering first grade at the Madrona Elementary School in Seattle. Her three suggestions for motivating great teachers were appreciation, better compensation, and more paraprofessionals and education assistants. She added: “I always felt I got my greatest appreciation from my students – just knowing that they were learning and getting a lot of great experiences in school that they could use in life.” 

Perhaps the lesson is to stay in touch with our great teachers, to let them know in distinctly personal terms how important they have been and are. Perhaps something as simple as a thank-you note or call to our favorite teachers has an important role to play in celebrating next year’s National Teacher Appreciation Day and Week – and in creating more great teachers.

The Respect Project

Bridging the conflicts that divide us

What to read when you disagree: Books about respect

Seeking common ground with people who don’t think the way you do – and not just through superficial discourse – is a mark of respect. Our reviewers picked six books that help show the way. 

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“Two truths are all too often overshadowed in today’s political discourse: Public service is a most honorable pursuit, and so is bipartisanship,” wrote former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine. The American experiment in democracy requires informed citizens talking with one another and, yes, arguing – passionately, convincingly, and deliberately. But in these often heated times, how do people turn down the temperature and make an effort to see others fully and to understand their views? Six books offer perspectives on discourse and dialogue.

What to read when you disagree: Books about respect

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Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House
"High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out" by Amanda Ripley, Simon & Schuster, 368 pp.; and "The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t" by Julia Galef, Portfolio, 288 pp.

Shelves of books have been written about communicating respectfully with people who hold opposing views. Among all the titles, these are a few that Monitor writers and editors found useful. We’d love to hear your suggestions. Email books@csmonitor.com.

Against Civility: The Hidden Racism in Our Obsession With Civility 

By Alex Zamalin

From a perspective he labels “civic radicalism,” Alex Zamalin builds a historical case against recurring calls for “civility.” Even before the Civil War, politicians invoked “civility” to champion social stability and condemn those fighting slavery and racism. Zamalin describes what has been a discourse of civility that has ignored the idea of mutual respect and concern for the well-being of others. Describing the project of civic radicalism, he articulates a moral justification for taking disruptive action. “Shocking and provoking people – no matter how impolite the words or actions might seem – is necessary to wake the majority of people from their moral slumber.”

– Harry Bruinius / Staff writer

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out  

By Amanda Ripley

It starts with a man on the run from the police, who are chasing him with dogs. The fugitive, a British environmentalist who destroys genetically modified crops, hides in a field and wonders how he turned from a mild-mannered man into a saboteur. Amanda Ripley, a journalist for The Atlantic, explores why it’s easy to become consumed by hate for those on the other side of political and personal divides. Ripley’s engrossing book focuses on solutions. By profiling individuals who’ve extricated themselves from gang warfare in Chicago and the civil war in Colombia, the author reveals how a shift in thought can snap the mesmeric pull of high conflict.

– Stephen Humphries / Staff writer

Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation

By David French 

“Divided We Fall” often reads like a political thriller. David French, a “Never Trump” conservative, devotes several chapters to playing out fictitious scenarios of how and why Texas or California might secede from the United States. It’s fairly believable. French hopes the union doesn’t lose any stars from its flag. He argues that embracing a tolerance for the differences of others will minimize the stress points in our polity. To get there, the author emphasizes three qualities Americans must inculcate: justice, mercy, and humility. “A healthy society urges people to reject unhealthy temptations to generalize, and instead urges that we treat our fellow citizens with a degree of grace,” writes French. 

– Stephen Humphries / Staff writer 

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t

By Julia Galef

Julia Galef encourages readers of her book “The Scout Mindset” to adopt the kind of thinking devoid of self-deception or confirmation bias – like a scout charting a map who simply needs to know if the passage ahead is obstructed or not. Too many of us operate with a “soldier mindset,” she argues, leading to tribalism and overconfidence that has tainted so much of our public debate. When it comes to fostering respect, the book guides readers out of their “echo chambers” with practical advice. She says in dealing with disagreement, don’t lean on the person with the most extreme view of the issue but the moderate voice – in an effort to find common ground and make smarter decisions.

– Sara Miller Llana / Staff writer

Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide: Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work 

By Tania Israel

Tania Israel takes a practical approach to interpersonal dialogue in “Beyond Your Bubble.” She aims the book at individuals who want to heal specific rifts in their families, or to understand more generally what motivates others to hold the views they do. The goal is better listening, not persuading the other person. She writes that true dialogue allows people to be seen in all their humanity and complexity. Israel, a psychologist, has led communication workshops, and she speaks with authority but also humility. Even casual readers will find insights on how to improve communication with family, co-workers, neighbors, and others with whom they disagree. 

– April Austin / Staff writer

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption 

By Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson unfolds his personal narrative of being a young Black lawyer in America’s deep South along with heartbreaking stories of people unjustly condemned to death row. His humanity, and his superhuman patience with legal processes, is a current running through the book. Stevenson is not only fighting to exonerate his clients, who are largely Black and impoverished, but he’s also shining a light on unequal treatment under the law. He argues that the legal system trips up poor people, and once caught in the snare, they are far less likely to receive a fair trial than wealthier (usually white) people. He argues that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice. (Recommended by Monitor correspondent Dina Kraft)

– April Austin / Staff writer  

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Biden’s focus on climate migration

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In early June, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Guatemala on a new assignment to help Central America reduce the flow of migrants to the United States. A prime focus of the visit will be helping the region adapt to what she calls “extreme climate incidents,” such as back-to-back hurricanes last year that affected nearly 9 million people. On that score, her work is part of a global trend.

A new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center finds the world has seen “significant advances” in countries taking steps to reduce the risk of displacement from weather-related hazards, such as floods, storms, and wildfires. From the data compiled by IDMC, storms and floods last year caused three times the displacement than did violent conflicts.

Reducing the risk of climate change, the IDMC report says, will counter the notion that such disasters are “natural.” If successful, the Harris mission in Central America could mark a shift in global thinking on climate change.

Biden’s focus on climate migration

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On a video link, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei about solutions to a migrant crisis at the U.S. border, April 26.

In early June, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Guatemala on a new assignment to help Central America reduce the flow of migrants to the United States. A prime focus of the visit will be helping the region adapt to what she calls “extreme climate incidents,” such as back-to-back hurricanes last year that affected nearly 9 million people. On that score, her work is part of a global trend.

A new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) finds the world has seen “significant advances” in countries taking steps to reduce the risk of displacement from weather-related hazards, such as floods, storms, and wildfires. Much of the progress has occurred since 2010 when a U.N. Climate Change Conference formally recognized a link between climate change and migration for the first time.

The report calls on nations to provide better data whenever weather events drive people to move. The reason is to stir solutions. “Rather than buy into sensational headlines about ‘mass climate migration,’ we must provide robust information on the scale, patterns and impacts of the human mobility involved,” it stated.

From the data compiled by IDMC, storms and floods last year caused three times the displacement than did violent conflicts. Of the more than 40 million people newly displaced within their countries by either conflicts or weather, 30 million were a result of weather and other disasters – the highest number on record.

The Harris trip to Guatemala is a foretaste of what the world may be doing more often. In April, the Biden White House requested $861 million from Congress for the three countries – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – that are a major source of cross-border migration into the U.S. Current aid to the region, says Peter Natiello of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has already begun to strengthen economic opportunities, security, and governance, and to build “resilience to climate change.”

In areas hit hardest by weather extremes, such aid has provided drip irrigation, introduced agroforestry, and helped farmers diversify their crops. “Those are increasing incomes, and those people say that they are less inclined to migrate than the national average,” said Mr. Natiello. President Biden’s plans for the region includ​e​ making a transition to clean energy, such as solar microgrids for rural areas.

Reducing the risk of climate change, the IDMC report says, will counter the notion that such disasters are “natural.” If successful, the Harris mission in Central America could mark a shift in global thinking on climate change.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Love beats fatigue

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If we feel as though we don’t have the energy to do what we’re called upon to do, a heartfelt desire to let God’s love shine through us is a rejuvenating place to start.

Love beats fatigue

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Sometimes it can feel as if we’re in “Go, Go, Go” mode until we burn the candle at too many ends and don’t have any energy left. When this happens, it can seem there’s just not enough time in the day to get done what we need to do, or enough hours at night to get the sleep we need to refresh ourselves.

One night, while working at a summer camp in my capacity as a Christian Science practitioner supporting campers and staff, I experienced a solution to this. I’d had many long days in a row, and several very short or interrupted nights, and I was very tired. That night, all seemed quiet and I planned to go to bed a bit early to get some much-needed rest.

However, shortly after falling asleep I got a call that a camper wasn’t feeling well and would be coming to see me. In that moment, my first thought was that I simply had no energy left to keep going.

But then I thought about a statement attributed to Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science: “Keep awake by loving more” (“We Knew Mary Baker Eddy,” Expanded Edition, Vol. 2, p. 117). I decided it was time to put that statement into practice.

This didn’t mean I had to conjure up feelings of love to outweigh my desire to rest in that moment. My role was simply to express God’s love to all, which really is effortless, since God is the source of all love – God is Love itself, as the Bible states. So rather than trying to will myself into feeling energetic, I thought about just living love and embracing this camper in that love of God.

Well, she sure made it easy! She was the sweetest, most earnest girl. We shared some ideas about how God, Love, is right here with us no matter where we are, and that when we are open to it, we can tangibly feel the healing power of God’s love. As I tucked her into bed, she commented that she felt so at home and loved, and she fell right to sleep.

I, however, was so full of energy I felt I could have gone out for a run! I joyfully stayed awake for a while, praying for this dear one and all the camp. It was so quiet and still, except for all the beautiful night sounds of crickets and frogs surrounding the cabin. As I prayed to know that everyone could feel the deep peace and love God imparts to all, I felt completely enveloped in that peace and love as well.

I eventually tucked in for the night, and I woke up the next morning feeling completely rested, refreshed, and ready for the day – even more so than if I had slept for as long as I’d initially planned. And the camper woke up completely well and ready to get back to her daily camp activities, too.

This experience made real for me the energizing power of love inspired by divine Love itself. I’ve applied this numerous times since then when working late at night. God’s goodness provides so much for which we can be so grateful. Mrs. Eddy explains in her primary text, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Mind-science teaches that mortals need ‘not be weary in well doing.’ It dissipates fatigue in doing good. Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us” (p. 79).

So whether you are working late on a project, up in the night nursing a newborn, or studying for an exam, these spiritual facts can and do apply. God’s love is all-powerful and ever present, and is right there to meet our every need. We can all find freedom from fatigue at any moment when we focus on letting Love shine through us more.

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Happy birthday, Venice

Tagliapietra/Masini/LaPresse/AP
A crew, backdropped by the bell tower of St. Mark's, takes part in the Vogalonga, a traditional noncompetitive rowing event, in Venice on May 23, 2021. This edition was dedicated to the 1,600th anniversary of the birth of Venice.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Thanks for starting the week with us, and please come back tomorrow. After more than a year of cocooning, Americans are ready to travel. We’ll take a look at who’s visiting Washington, D.C., as that destination city emerges from the Jan. 6 riots and pandemic restrictions.

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