Scavenger Hunt Contest! Author and Friend Trisha Wooldridge’s New Book Cover

thekelpie_front_onlyAuthor and friend Trisha Wooldridge from Massachusetts has a new book coming out before the end of this year and I am privileged to help her reveal pieces of the cover of her book – scavenger hunt style!  The book is a wonderful story of mystery and kids – and wisdom and maturity.  My blog here is but one of the places you need to go to find pieces of the cover, put together the puzzle – a poem – and WIN! Please go to Trish’s blog for details of the contest – more about the story and how to win fun prizes!

This is but one piece of the cover and puzzle – a special piece as you can read below.


The MacArthur Tartan

“Once upon a time…a great-great uncle that we hadn’t known prior […] saw my dad on the show Who Do You Think You Are? where he tried looking into his dad’s line back to the Clan Arthur but only found a dead end. Great-great Uncle William MacArthur sent us family records and the deed to the falling-apart castle just before he died.”

My friend Aimee Weinstein was one of my first beta readers for The Kelpie, and she gave me a lot of great feedback.  We’ve been friends for some years since we shared an online tutoring job, and I adore her blog posts about modern culture and anthropology as she discusses being an American ex-pat over in Tokyo. Because she does so much with culture, I wanted to give her the MacArthur Tartan to display on her blog.

macarthurclantartanAlso, I stole Aimee’s name and spelling for Heather’s mom.

If you look very closely on the cover, you’ll see the strips of this tartan, especially when you see the full wraparound cover. This is my artist, Vic’s, rendition of the MacArthur Tartan (because tartans can be copyrighted.)

I chose Clan Arthur from Scotland because there actually happens to be a lovely hole in the clan history over in Scotland that I could squeeze my family into, giving them a long-forgotten castle with a mysterious past.  The MacArthur Clan also has a lot of American history; I found more on that than about those left in Scotland.  This also fits because Heather’s family is a mix of American and Scottish.

Thank you very much, Aimee, for being part of my Scavenger Hunt and the journey of The Kelpie!

The Key, But Not The Answer

Last week, Trisha Wooldridge and I spent quite a while discussing freedom, safety, education and other assorted issues on our blogs.  Yesterday, she wrote a particularly thought-provoking short essay on questioning as a response to those conversations.  She said that of the ideas that we discussed, that was the one that stood out to her the most.  For me, the idea to which I kept returning was that of personal choice.

Adults – especially American adults – have the freedom of choice for everything in their lives.  They can go to college or not; they can have children or not; they can get a job or not.  So many people feel stuck in their lives.  If only I could save more money, they say.  If only I could go back to school.  If only, if only. I am just cynical enough to believe that people can choose to better their lives.

But that is a double-edged sword, most people would tell me.  The single mother on welfare doesn’t think that she has any choices.  But that’s not what I believe. She could work full time and take online courses toward a degree which would net her a better job. I balance my cynicism with a basic belief in the human spirit.  With hard work, all things are possible.  “Can I be president someday?” my young son asks me.  I assure him that if he works hard enough, it is indeed possible that he could be president.  Stay in school; don’t get pregnant; don’t do drugs.  These are the things I tell my kids.  They have to make smart choices – it is my job as their mother to help them make smart choices.

The problems lie within the education system.  We take education for granted in the U.S. and even here in Japan where the literacy rate is well over 90%.  Not all people have the access to schools the way we do.  There are millions of children across the globe who do not have the opportunity to attend school, whether it’s because they have to work to help the family or it’s to dangerous or even too far to get to a school.  We need to appreciate the gift of education – what education gives us in the long run.  Throwing money at the problem is not going to help.  What is going to help is people choosing to value that education.  Parents have to choose to support the schools not financially, but with volunteer hours and belief in the system.  Tell the kids to behave in school. Model good behavior.  These are choices that parents and children have to make in order to succeed.

As I pointed out in the conversation last week, there are no easy answers to any of these questions.  But it is important to ask the questions, search for the answers and ultimately to make good choices.  Sometimes the right choice isn’t the popular choice, but doing what is right should trump doing what is easy.  And that, my friends, takes hard work.  But that’s a conversation for another day.

Critical Thinking, Freedom, Your Right And Responsibility to Creativity: At What Cost? Part TWO!

Yesterday on Trisha Wooldridge’s blog, she and I began a debate on personal freedom and safety and ways to balance the two in a free society.  We talked a bit about the issues facing the U.S. and Japan (the countries where we live) and began to discuss potential resolutions to the issues involving education and personal responsibility.  Today we continue the debate and discuss more educational issues along with the realities and unrealities of financing real solutions. We also talk seriously about the way people respond to such issues.  Enjoy!

Trisha: I think, the overall problem with education, is that it isn’t supported by the U.S. culture.

Aimee: Whew, and that’s going to be an issue going forward in the world economy!

Trisha: I know – and the extent to which we support “personal liberty” in education is also an extreme.  Everyone is a winner, everyone just does things “differently,” and everyone’s opinion – whether it’s researched or not, regardless of resources – is important and cherished.

Trisha: Personal liberty is feeding into an extremely egotistical culture that is missing the responsibility cost.

Aimee: Everyone is a winner, everyone gets their ego stroked and there is little merit in winning anymore.  In that way you don’t have to take responsibility for anything you do!

Trisha: Exactly – so how do we draw the line to prevent this extreme personal liberty?

Aimee: Make education merit-based again not just a right. There are people who will get into the best schools, get the best grades and those will be the people who work the hardest. That goes for making the team too.  The kid who works out the most and practices the hardest makes the team and those who are lazy don’t make it.

Trisha: But if the local culture of a region or a group puts a child at a disadvantage, and the child doesn’t have the resources, how can s/he have a chance?  For example, you’ve got a lot of poverty-stricken urban and rural areas with out of date books and a lack of computers and classes of 40+ students per teacher.  Even those that work the hardest are stunted.

Aimee: Well I do know that throwing money at the problem isn’t the answer. Washington DC has some of the worst schools in the country and their spending per child is the highest in the nation. (*this was true in 2003, but in 2006, the last time the numbers were calculated, Washington DC ranked third behind New York and New Jersey)

Aimee: This is where the original intent of affirmative action comes in, I think.  It’s just been taken advantage of as a program and is no longer affective. Send the kids to summer school. Or camp. Do year-round schooling. Different programs that are merit-based for the kids.

Trisha: Someone still has to pay for the summer school/camp and schooling. I mean… there is also the appropriation of funds that get “thrown” at the school problem.  Look at the salaries of school superintendants – and the high-ranking government officials overseeing the schools.

Aimee: Yes, but I think a lot of federal funding can be reorganized.

Trisha: Capping the pay infringes on the “capitalist” mentality.

Aimee: Yes. But that’s not what I mean. There’s a lot of wasted funding – programs that don’t work. The system needs an overhaul. I don’t know how to do it, but education needs help in the U.S.

Trisha: And there needs to be a balance of personal liberty for students with meeting certain levels.

Aimee: At a certain point Darwinism takes over. Give the students the choice to enter programs and the ones who want to succeed will. Kids, any more than adults, can’t be forced into education.  They might regret it later, but they can go back to school. I might be overoptimistic or oversimplifying it, but I don’t believe it’s ever too late to learn.

Trisha: But parents aren’t allowing that, currently.  You’ve got so many parents who are suing schools for not passing their “darlings.” And, if not suing, harassing the teachers and staff.

Aimee: Ugh – I’m going to sound like an old lady again – but parents have to be told to trust the schools.  Tort reform – get frivolous law suits thrown out of courts. I’m idealizing.

Trisha: Would LOVE to see that.  But, alas, yes: idealistic. At the same time, I wouldn’t go so far as to “trust” schools.  I don’t know if that’s the right word… I don’t trust schools.  I flubbed my way through most of mine, and I know far too many teachers who do abuse their power and have favorites.

Aimee: I’m not sure what to say!

Trisha: It goes back to responsible parenting… we’re quite cyclical on this topic, aren’t we?  I’m sounding like an old lady, myself, but my parents most certainly knew how I was doing in school and how much effort I was putting in.  (More or less – but definitely more than most parents I see.)

Aimee: If I got in trouble at school my mom and dad would ask me what I did.  Today the parents ask what the teachers did TO the kids.

Trisha: And we’re back to personal responsibility and accountability.  If we can’t force people to be accountable – how do we handle that?

Aimee: That’s their choice. We have to let people fail. We collectively hate to see people fail, but some people are going to fail.

Trisha: People failing’s part is fine with me… but how do we get people to take responsibility for their failure – or, in this case, let their kids take responsibility for their failure?

Aimee: Tort reform! Throw out the parents’ law suits!!! There’s no real answer here, you know.

Trisha: I know… but it’s good to ask the questions.  I don’t know if enough people are asking questions and trying to get to the root of the problem.

Aimee: I agree with you on that.

Trisha: And, with the shakiness of personal responsibility/loss of critical thinking – I don’t know that people realize they should be asking questions.

Aimee: I worry about that actually. I worry that when the public goes to the polls to elect an important official that they don’t know the issues.  They don’t read the paper – or the internet – and understand what the candidates stand for.  My faith in the American public is shaky at best. All because of the lack of critical thinking.

Trisha: And the problem seems to be coming from both extremes: excessive personal liberty = and the loss of personal liberty

Aimee: Well there are similar problems in Japan frankly.

Trisha: The government, as it’s moving with its legislation, from No Child Left Behind to the Patriot Act to the new Health Care, is not supporting personal liberty or personal accountability, and the two really have to go hand in hand.

Aimee: The parents get upset because the kids aren’t pushed enough – they want personalized attention, things like that.  It’s different, but similar.  Too much basis in conformity – but wanting to be ahead of the pack too.  Think of it this way, you wouldn’t give your teenager personal freedoms if he wasn’t responsible enough for them.

Trisha: So… almost the opposite sides of two coins

Aimee: Yes. Until the American public is ready for the freedom – can take personal responsibility, maybe the public they can’t have the freedom.

Trisha: Also, though, with the teenager, you have to start somewhere.  If the teen hasn’t the chance to prove responsibility because he’s so sheltered, where do you go from there?

Aimee: That’s a parent-eyed view and a devil’s advocate stance.

Trisha: That’s a hard one because the people who do have that responsibility are punished.  It’s like the responsible teen who gets grounded and restricted because of the troublesome sibling.

Aimee: You’re right.  I don’t believe in so much legislation anyway.

Trisha: Nor I.  I’m for small government, personally, and LMTFA… (if that’s an appropriate acronym for our professional-ish debate.)

Aimee: We’re back to the same question – how do we convince the public to take personal responsibility for their actions so that they can have all of the personal freedoms they crave?  AND on the other side of the coin, how do we convince the Japanese people that they WANT personal freedoms so their personal responsibility is rewarded and they can think and live creatively and critically?

Trisha: … While allowing them to have their personal liberty of ignorance and wanting to be safe?

Trisha: I think, on the Internet, there are subcultures that are having conversations on this (like you and I are), and that, in and of itself, is a positive movement.

Aimee: It is clear that if something doesn’t happen soon, the U.S. is going to lose its place of prominence on the world stage.  And Japan is not going to be its successor. I agree that there are movements. Grassroots movements.  Who is it that said, “Never stop believing that a small group of like minded people can change the world.  Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  It might have been Margaret Mead.

Trisha: I believe so, yes!  Perhaps a future conversation should be how the Internet is affecting change in global education?

Aimee: Phew, that’s a big one. The bottom line is that until people can take responsibility for their actions, personal liberties will be further and further eroded in society as the governments look to legislate and assign blame. They will do so with good intentions – the intent of protecting the people, but we will end up with a society of robots who cannot think for themselves.

Trisha: Or, a rebellion.  At least in the U.S.  (I don’t know about Japan.)  There are an awful lot of grassroots movements of people willing to fight – quite literally and not just in paper – to maintain their constitutional rights.

Aimee: The thinkers vs. non-thinkers?

Trisha: If we take some positive steps in real education reform that takes into account personal accountability, we could avert those negative outcomes.

Aimee: And that’s why we’re both educators, isn’t it?

Trisha: Not even as black and white as thinkers vs. non-thinkers.

Aimee: Writers and educators and thinkers!

Trisha:   Yes – absolutely.  And, at least for us, being able to write and communicate is the basis for all this.  Good writing embodies critical thinking and looking at the many sides of an issue.

Watch this space and also Trish’s blog! Next week we’re going to post some follow-up, responses and further thoughts on these issues.