Friday, September 12, 2008

Kathleen Lauds Public Servants

I was all set to blog about my first sale today, but after watching bits of the coverage of 9/11 remembrances yesterday followed by pieces of the Columbia University forum on service, I'm otherwise inspired. Stay tuned later in the month for my first sale.

A Class Act was my second book, published in 1985. The hero is a tribal policeman, the heroine a teacher. One of its later reprints featured Rafe in uniform, but this one depicts the Dakota setting beautifully. (Although Carly really needs a jacket. I guess it's Rafe.) These are the kind of everyday heroes I love to write about. Writers--including LaVyrle Spencer, who was honored in several comments yesterday--often find their stories through ordinary people pitched headlong into extraordinary circumstances.

Such was 9/11, and I was impressed and inspired by the juxtaposition of the memorial and the forum on public service. I thought maybe we could share some stories.

I came of age in troubled times. Segregation, civil rights, the "war" on poverty truncated by the Vietnam War. Our parents fought WWII, and they wanted us to take advantage of opportunities they fought for--education, careers like law and medicine, get a house and maybe a second car, raise a family. But we wanted to change the world. Many of us devoted at least some of our youth to that ideal. Hearing both presidential candidates talk about encouraging public service last night warmed the cockles of this Boomer's heart. I hope they're serious.

My daughter is one term away from completing her training to become a police officer. She was very much inspired by the service and sacrifices of the NYPD during 9/11, but she also feels that she has something special to offer as an American Indian. She's passionate about the choice she's made, and I understand that, even though I'll probably worry. A little bit.

One of my sons trained as an EMT and thought he might become a first responder. He shadowed a firefighter. He hasn't pursued either of these callings--partly because he doubts himself in the face of some of the challenges he knows he'd have to face--but he came away with greater understanding and enormous respect.

Meanwhile, in my bailiwick, I created a firefighter. I did some interviews that really gave me pause. Fire really scares me. In order to write Blacktree Moon I had to imagine walking into fire and the kind of courage it would take to do that. The kind I don't have.

I was a teacher. Yep, that's me, fresh out of college and idealistic as all get out. I taught for 17 years on Clyde's reservation, and it was the seminal experience of my life. I'm so tired of what I consider to be a growing lack of support for teachers and for public education. My granddaughter's first grade teacher recently explained to me that "kindergarten is the new first grade." That's terrific. Let's fully fund kindergarten. Let's pay teachers. Let's train them better. Let's get in there and lift these heroes up because, believe me, their job is getting harder all the time. Encouraging good teachers to serve in areas where they're desperately needed by helping them pay off their college debt is a great idea. Back in my day it was called the National Defense Fund. Yep, teachers.

Both candidates mentioned Americorps/VISTA during last night's forum. VISTA was big in the 60's and 70's. For some it was an alternative to the draft. I knew lots of VISTA workers back when, and I think it's a wonderful service. These are current pictures of people of all ages involved in VISTA projects in the U.S.

Community service. I wonder how many people truly understand the work of a community organizer. They teach. They help people figure out how to get a floundering community on its feet. They train community leaders by teaching the ins and outs of democracy and all its institutions, of finance and marketing and education and public services. Peace Corps volunteers (right) do the same kind of work on foreign soil.

I was glad to hear that both presidential candidates understand the importance of public service and pledge to support it. We hear a lot about supporting the troops, and I come from a long line of soldiers, so I certainly agree with that. It's one of many ways people can serve. Veterans' benefits are a major concern for me. I'd love to see more young people get into public service, at least for a time. It's more than just a contribution to country and community--it's enlightening. I knew a couple who got married right after college, trained and served as police officers with every intention of going to law school after they experienced the law enforcement side of the coin. Which they did. They could be heroes in my book.

Tell us some of your everyday heroes. How do you feel about public service?


Debra Dixon said...


My dad was career law enforcement. 30 years in and the last 17 he was the chief of police in a small town. Talk about community service! They do not pay police officers a lot of money in small towns. It's a 24-7 kind of job and his town was a small retirement town except for the summer when it became a boating/vacation tourist town.

My son was required to do community service hours from the 7th grade through 12th grade. The hours went up every year until 12th grade you simply had to begin in January with a plan in order to get all your hours done.

I think it was a fabulous requirement. He was in private school, and I understand they probably can't do this in public school.

He learned so much. And as it turned out he became a staple in the Down's Syndrome community as a sports coach and camp counselor.

Then he went to college and community service was put on the back burner for while.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Kathy.
Love that you followed up on the public service issue as I, too, watched the forum last night and was impressed by both candidates views on volunteerism and public service.
We have teachers in my family too, many friends who are teachers and I have nothing but respect and admiration for their dedication. It's these people who influence so many vital issues in our children's lives (our future) and there's not one thing about what they do that I would ever discount. Average, everyday heroes who tend those important home fires while our other heroes fight and defend against crime, fires and terrorism.
thanks for bringing them all to the forefront

Playground Monitor said...

I began college as an education major but after an opportunity to be in a classroom realized the children of America deserved better and changed my major. The DH majored in business education but never taught for two reasons: (1) back then they tended to funnel the lowest IQ students through the business department - at least in the high school where he did his student teaching and the ones where he interviewed; and (2) he knew he couldn't support a family on a teacher's salary. So he became a federal auditor instead and in the course of his 14-year career as an auditor he saved the taxpayers billions of dollars.

I've volunteered at my boys' schools, with their sports activities and for a while was a HelpLine volunteer. I worked as an unpaid volunteer for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for several years (Duchenne Dystophy runs in my husband's family). And I am involved with my homeowner's association and help with the community watch.

My boys have both done community service. As a matter of fact, a certain number of hours were required before my architect son could start to take his licensing boards.


Playground Monitor said...

Oh, and I'm with you on raising teacher salaries. I always supported my kids' teachers in every way I could because I knew what they were up against. And now, with that ridiculous No Child Left Behind garbage, they have an even worse time of it.

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, I'm with you on the volunteer thing-- it's very important. And it's a lot more widespread at all levels, in all areas of the economy, and in all geographic areas than people are led to believe.

People really do care about others and spend time and energy helping others in their communities. And look at the amounts of money pledged to churches, schools, charities, and unified campaigns like the United Way. Americans give a great deal of themselves and their I don't know any other country that is so giving. (If you have statistics showing other countries as being more open-handed with time talent and treasure, somebody enlighten me!)

And even down here in Florida, many high schools are requiring "service hours" for graduation. We've had a host of kids volunteering at the hospital this summer for that program!

Yea, kids!

Kylie said...

Since I tend to write more law enforcement / forensic type stories, my respect and admiration for those who have chosen law enforcement as a career has grown a great deal over the years.

As Debra has noted, they don't pay law enforcement officers nearly what they should, especially in small towns. But incidents such as domestic violence, which can so often turn deadly for responding officers, happen in every size town. I'm always a proponent for raising the salaries of police officers and firefighters.

I'm a special education teacher as well as a writer, and am regularly amazed at the level of time, commitment and devotion teachers give their students. It's disheartening to see the constant griping in the public about our schools, without equal time given to our successes.

Oh, and I'd be remiss not to mention social workers. The hours are long, the caseloads heavy and the pay is ridiculous. But we depend on them so much to keep our children in unstable families safe.

In our public high school community service isn't a requirement, but kids can graduate with a 'silver cord' recognition for completing community service requirements. I think this is a step in the right direction. Kids need to be taught that we are all part of something larger, and everyone needs to pitch in for the common good.

Playground Monitor said...

We've had two police officers killed in the line of duty in the past 3 years. We'd gone 37 years since the last one. One of the officers was killed in cold blood responding to a domestic violence call. His killer was just tried, found guilty and received the death penalty. The other was killed while responding to a routine traffic accident call. The man accused of the crime used to work in the cubicle right beside my husband. Scary. I'm sure it gives Kathleen real warm fuzzy feelings. I so admire anyone who goes into law enforcement, the fire department or does EMT work. They're walking into danger to help keep the rest of us safe.

lois greiman said...

Sounds corny, I know, but my mother is still my hero. She'll be 90 in October. She was a farmer. Not a farmer's wife. A farmer. Worked like a slave. Planting, harvesting, cattle work. She was the backbone of the ranch. Always up at four in the morning. But she always managed to make us feel like we were the center of the universe. She taught us about sacrifice and loyalty and love. You can't replace that.

Kathleen Eagle said...

That's so cool, Lois. I know you're a hero to your kids, too.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I love the idea of service hours as part of the high school experience. I was a Big Sister when I was in college, and one of my college friends became a national director for that program. She was a social worker first. That was another field that drew many of my contemporaries, and it's a difficult job.

I really do feel that our society is upside down on remuneration. Raking in obscene amounts of money for making obscene profits for corporations just doesn't seem right to me. The chasm between those top earners and the rest of us has become a huge black hole in recent years.

Chelle said...

The DH was livid over the huge golden parachutes the ousted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guys got. He said, "If I screwed up my job that badly do you think they'd give me that much money?" Since when can you make more money by doing a bad job than doing a good one?

My mother is my hero too. She was widowed at a young age and raised us kids by herself.

Playground Monitor said...

OHMYGOSHYES! My mother. She was only 43 when my father died. He had a massive coronary and in a heartbeat our lives completely changed. I was a freshman in college and my sister was a sophomore in high school. Mama worked in the advertising department of one of the local papers, and for years she'd been paid less than the men. The paper's excuse was they were the heads of their households. The day after daddy died, she marched into the boss's office and announced that now she was the head of her household and wanted a raise. It took her several years and a visit from the department of labor to get her raise, but she got not only the raise but back pay. When she retired after 35 years at the paper, she was head of the advertising department, had won all sorts of awards and was the first woman to have her name on the masthead of that newspaper.

And would you believe while I was writing the previous paragraph I got an email from the editor at True Experience and they're going to buy a 500-word piece I did for one of their feature columns on this very topic -- my mom.


Kathleen Eagle said...

Wow, Marilyn, that is so cool about the email. Not to mention eerie.

My father died of a massive coronary at 48, but my sister was the only one left at home. I've come to appreciate Mama's wisdom just her whole generation of women so much more than I did back when I thought I knew it all. They paved the way for us. When they talk about the Greatest Generation, it's all about the men, but the women were right in there quietly carrying their half of the load. They were the bridge we crossed over. Not that we've finished the journey--still big gaps between us and our male counterparts in the workplace--but our mothers are surely heroes.

Estella said...

I spent 23 years as a volunteer firefighter in a very small community. We had to practically get on our knees and beg for volunteers to keep our department up the required number of firefighters. Everyone wanted the protection, but no one wanted to volunteer.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Estella, I've helped out with prairie grass fires. Rural ND depends on volunteers, too. I wasn't an official volunteer ff, but when there was a fire in a neighbor's pasture, you headed out to help. Or gawk. Whatever seemed appropriate.

The fire dept in our suburb is volunteer, too, and this is a big suburb. My son looked into it--takes quite a bit of training. Good on you for your contribution!

Christie Ridgway said...

Cool on the True Experiences article, Marilyn!

Surfer Guy is a high school teacher. Definitely a hero. But not just for the teaching. He coached track, basketball, and volleyball for the high school for a number of years too. =Very= little pay for the time commitment and responsibility to the kids. But also a hero for the number of teams he coached that included our own kids.

Lots of parents treat sports teams like after school babysitting for the younger set. And they were always looking for someone else to be the babysitter. As coach and often the team mom, we were at every game and every practice. Surfer Guy gave rides, encouraged kids who were looking for father figures, discouraged parents from putting too much emphasis on something that should be fun.

He has always been my hero for being such a great role model for childrena and other adults.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, Christie, coaches must be added to the list. I've written two coach heroes--wrestling (I have a nephew who took his Greco Roman teams from Montana to Russia and Japan) and basketball. A high five for Surfer Guy!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Marilyn, as p.s. on the loss of a dad--Social Security is a big help for supporting those kids, isn't it? I cringe whenever anyone suggests privatizing SS, not only for seniors, but for kids who lose a working parent to an early grave. We've seen too many pension programs go belly up lately because the funds disappeared. Can we say Enron?

Playground Monitor said...

Back when my dad died, SS benefits extended to age 22 or college graduation, whichever came first. Now they end at age 18. Without SS, I'd have never been able to go to college. I was really angered with the politicians who changed the policy.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Marilyn, my sister got SS at age 19 when Daddy died. She was in college, too. I didn't know they'd changed that. Another reason to hate Washington.