Weekend reading

One thing you should have while in quarantine, is time to do some in-depth, thought provoking reading. During my time as a librarian, one of my greatest laments is that people of all ages have given up reading newspapers and magazines. Unlike televised reports, which rely on sensationalism for attention, highlight information in bullet points for efficacy and tend to focus more on the personalities involved, written articles can be more nuanced and in-depth, giving us a better understanding of the complex issues that dominate our times.

Let’s just take for example the Coronavirus Pandemic that we are all confronting right now. This one news story alone is about a virus, how diseases are transmitted, economics, health care, social infrastructures, government preparedness, international politics, personal isolation, and much more.

Nowadays, most students instantly turn to Google when doing “research”, but this strategy may lead them to online resources that are questionable at best, and/or propaganda at worst. One thing I have adopted over the years is to be sure I name my sources for my students when I am talking about something. This is especially true when I am talking about information I have read in a newspaper or magazine. Many young people today have very little experience with or exposure to print sources, and so they can’t be blamed for not knowing the names of reputable magazines.

You don’t have to be a subscriber to have access to many quality articles from print magazines that offer their content online. Some sites use cookies to limit you to four or five full access articles per month, but many are also available without such restrictions. While you might be tired of hearing about Coronavirus or COVID-19, below I offer a handful of articles that offer a different perspective on what we are dealing with.

Take a moment this weekend to read. And stay inside.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you find something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2020. All rights reserved

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March Quick Hit: Quarantine Edition

Hello Hillie Nation. It has been several months since I last posted. Before the state-mandated shut down, I had been out on sick leave dealing with medical issues, which are now on hold due to the Coronavirus Pandemic that has taken over the planet.

During my time away, (two and a half months, so far) I have basically been in quarantine, since my family lives in another state and my wife and two boys were in school during the day. While some of my energy has been devoted to my physical therapy, I would say much more has been focused on maintaining my mental well-being. This doesn’t make me an expert in dealing with any of this, just an expert on what has been working for me. Here are six things that I have found useful during my time at home:

  1. Keep a schedule; it does not have to be set in stone, but you should try to have some regularity in your day-to-day life. Don’t ignore the power of habits during this time away from your “normal” life. Depending on what you are dealing with, you may already be in your new “normal”. It’s going to feel different, even uncomfortable, but you’re going to have to find a way to build a life around it, so start now.
  2. Keep a journal/ notebook: maybe this is just one of those things I always do anyway, but I find that writing down how I am feeling or what I am doing is really useful for tracking changes, and growth. Especially when day-to-day changes are minor, it is difficult to feel like you are accomplishing anything or advancing in any way. A journal or notebook allows you to pick up on little things that are changing. It also gives you a place to write down your “To Do” lists and keep a track of your routine.
  3. Do for others; the worst part about my own medical hardship is that it limits my ability to help others. As a father, husband and teacher, so much of my identity and feelings of self-worth come from my helping others. While my medical condition has severely limited my mobility, this makes it even more important for me to do the little things I can still do for those I love and care for. It also takes my mind off of my own struggle for the time being.
  4. Accept the bad days; especially during times that are drawn out and painful, it is impossible to remain optimistic and sunny all the time. I don’t care who you are, you are going to feel beat some days. That’s okay. You need to cry and kick and scream. You need to be able to express the grief and anguish that comes with dealing with hardship. It’s why the myth of Sisyphus still resonates with us today.
  5. Reflect on what matters; not to get too philosophical, but sometimes life has a way of interrupting our regularly scheduled programming. It’s a reminder that we are not as in control as we like to believe. It is during these times of crisis that we learn about our own character. Embrace this as an opportunity to realign yourself.
  6. Keep growing intentionally; whatever else may happen, you are going to have to make a life of it. Change is the only constant in life and with it can come growth. But don’t be passive about it, especially now that you are forced to stay at home. No one is going to come and shake you out of your Netflix binge or your video gaming marathons. You are going to have to direct yourself and make sure you are learning, practicing or mastering some useful skills.

During the shutdown, I will continue to post weekly. I have over two hundred past posts with over a thousand links to articles and online resources. I will try and highlight online tools available to students and teachers, as well as updating links to current information regarding the Coronavirus, our response as educators and more.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you stay safe during this crisis.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2020. All rights reserved

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On Thanksgiving and book orders

First of all, let me wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. No matter what the origins of this holiday are, for me it has always been about two of my favorite things; food and family. I hope that whoever and where ever you are, you have plenty of both of these during this holiday.

Whatever else Thanksgiving may mean to you, it is about getting together with family and friends to share a good meal, reflect on what we’re grateful for and perhaps, even get into a discussion about a controversial topic or two. Most heated discussions usually center around politics. Whether or not you agreed with someone’s political views used to be a matter of how you interpreted the facts. That was of course a past when we were all getting our information from the same media outlets.

Nowadays, there are so many places available for us to get information, that we really live in a fractured landscape of disparate facts. According to some experts, social media is at the epicenter of how we get our news nowadays. No longer are television, radio, or newspapers our primary sources for information. And don’t even get me started about books, which seem to have disappeared from the hands of young people everywhere.

This year because our book orders were a little late, they arrived just as we were going for Thanksgiving break. Needless to say, I could not wait to unpack them and begin preparing them for addition into our collection. While checking in the books, I started to notice a trend in some of the nonfiction titles I had ordered. See if you can spot it:

I try to be balanced about controversial issues that may exist. But I don’t pretend to be neutral about anything. I am honest about what my politics are and how they shape my thinking and my worldview. While reviewing the books that I ordered for our collection, I noticed that there were quite a few books that discuss America’s ugly past. It is not because I have some sort of anti-American streak in me. In fact, I ordered these books because I love the United States, but I don’t pretend that we’re awesome and I don’t want people to forget how we got here … or how far we are from getting things right.

The U.S. is no utopia, it never has been, especially for certain segments of her population. In the age of Trump, where a slogan like “Make America Great Again” conjures up some idyllic past in the minds of some people, I feel it is important to shine a bright light on that past, to reveal the details that a nostalgic mind will often forget or intentionally overlook. Worse still than nostalgia is propaganda intended to create friction between factions, and monsters out of men. We are at the mercy of our minds, and media outlets have gotten a hold of the master key. But in order for real growth to happen we must be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest with what we see, who we are. If that makes us uncomfortable, then so be it. Growth demands change, and change is always uncomfortable.

I am thankful that I live in a country where I can still purchase books that try to wrestle honestly with the brutal ugliness of our yesterdays. “What’s past is prologue”. Boy was Billy right.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something worthwhile.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.

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November Quick Hits

  Every once in a while I find a bunch of interesting things that aren’t necessarily related, and I don’t think I can write a whole post about any one of them, so I bunch them together and share them as my “Quick Hits” post.

Kids and “Screen time”

            CNN’s Kristen Rogers’ report, “US teens use screens more than seven hours a day on average”, was an eye-opening review of the 2019 Common Sense Census; a report of 1,600 eight to eighteen year olds and their use of computers in all forms and formats. Anyone can download the full 70-page report for themselves here, which includes the questionnaire used to gather the information. For me, the most salient line in Rogers’ article is,

            “Despite the creative opportunities technology offers, young people devote very little time to creating their own content. No more than 1 in 10 in either age group say they enjoy ‘a lot’ activities like making digital art or graphics, creating digital music, coding or designing or modifying their own video games.

            In my experience, I find this to be true. Even while the number of tools available to students continues to expand, I don’t see many students incorporating them into their school work. Nowadays, a slideshow presentation, for example, could easily include embedded videos, audio, three-D models, a livestream connection, and various other media instead of the static, poorly cropped images students still use.

            I also find that students never pick up a newspaper or magazine even though I have them prominently displayed in our library at the circulation desk. In fact, we get twenty free copies of the Haverhill Gazette daily and the only time any student looks at it, is if they happen to be on a team at the school, and there is a story about them or the team.

National Geographic, WOMEN: A century of change

            When I was a kid, the yellow bordered magazine was always a favorite of mine. Stories are told in long-form narratives, interspersed with pullout maps, and rich, beautiful illustrations that show cutaway and multi-level views of exotic places or ancient civilizations. National Geographic continues to be a visual treasure that often features pictures that become icons in the culture.

            The November 2019 issue is dedicated to chronicling the ongoing story of more than half the people on the planet. Full of both archival and contemporary pictures, the issue is also a patchwork of quotes and profiles of women, young and old, changing the planet.

A little from online, a little from print

            While we are on the subject of magazines specifically, and reading in print in general, one of the tables that caught my eye while I was reading the 2019 Common Sense Report is on page 15. This table breaks down how students read nowadays, whether electronically or otherwise. According to the self-reported data, students claim to spend about an hour and eleven minutes each day reading books in print. From my personal experience, I find this hard to believe, unless students are reporting time in class spent reading from textbooks or handout materials copied from textbooks.

            Having observed students’ reading habits for the last two decades, I can state confidently, that their sense of what constitutes legitimate information has shifted radically online and has all but abandoned what we once considered traditional or mainstream avenues. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of this shift has been print magazines, many of which still offer insightful, intelligent and reliable reports.

            Recently, for example, I overheard a health teacher talking to her class about viruses and the curious position they hold somewhere between complex organic chemistry and living organism. After class, I shared with her a link to Journey to the Microcosmos (even though they don’t have a video about viruses) and PBS EONS’, “Where did viruses come from?”. A few days later, I was flipping through the July/August 2019 DISCOVER magazine, “Everything worth knowing about …” Issue, where they cover a variety of scientific and technological ideas, including a three-page spread on viruses! Of course, I shared this too, with our health teacher, and reflected on how great the information available to students nowadays is.

Edward Snowden on Joe Rogan

            One of my guilty pleasures is the Joe Rogan podcast. For those not familiar with Rogan, he is a standup comedian and was the host of Fear Factor, as well as being an announcer for some MMA events. On the side, Joe Rogan has also become one of the most popular podcasters with guests ranging from his comic friends (Eddie Bravo, Joey Diaz, Bill Burr) to actors (Edward Norton, Dan Ackroyd) and a variety of others (Whiz Khalifa, Alex Jones, Rob Zombie, Mike Tyson, Reggie Watts) including serious scientists and thinkers like Brian Greene, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Dr. Cornel West and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

            Recently, Rogan invited Edward Snowden to his podcast, and he accepted. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or a patriot, he is a thoughtful and insightful individual who knowingly risked his freedom to follow his conscience. The three-hour podcast is mostly Snowden talking about his backstory, relating how he got to be in the position he was in at the NSA and weaving together both personal anecdotes and historic court cases to reveal how the world got to where it’s at. (Not in a good way).

Earth Currents

            Finally, the last thing I will share this week was passed on to me by science teacher, S. Niraula, who in turn got it from science teacher, C. McQuaid. It is another example of what can happen when information gathered by our public science institutions such as NOAA and NASA are turned into tools available for free to the public. Using the tools available, one can monitor and track ocean and air currents, carbon dioxide hotspots, and dust storms. Users can decide what layer of the atmosphere they’d like to see by changing “height” and they can change the “projection” style for the map displayed (Conic equidistant, orthographic, equirectangular, etc.). Click on the map below to go to the link. Worth exploring.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Recommended Readings from Hispanic Heritage Month

(Note: This was supposed to be posted by Oct.15th, but I forgot) 

I’ve discussed my ambivalent and somewhat strained relationship with Columbus Day in the past (October, 2008 & again in October, 2013). Suffice it to say, that this “holiday” more than most others gives me pause to reflect, not just on my personal identity, but on the history of the world during the last half millennia.

Columbus may not have been the first European, or even the first “outsider”, to travel to what would later become the Americas. His voyages, however, were obviously the catalyst for what would become centuries of invasion and plunder, colonialism and expansion, war and conquest. The modern world we live in was born from this clash of civilizations, and it continues to have to look back to try and make sense of it.

Hispanics and Latinos are both groups of people who were birthed from these conflicts and confrontations. I don’t believe that we have a collective identity, because like all Americans (North, Central, and South) it depends on where you start our narrative, and it depends on which branches in our bloodlines you decide to follow. That’s not to say that we don’t share something. We share a language, and at least in my circles, a love of life that is rooted not in the so-called American Dream, but in America itself.

There is something special about this half of the world. The so-called Old World sensed it the moment they stumbled upon it. The great expanses of open land, the pristine nature that invited explorers and pioneers to venture into what they thought was mostly uninhabited space. It seemed like a great place to continue doing what they had been doing for centuries back in Europe, the Mideast, and Asia.

It has been a bloody, violent, hard-fought history that has us where we are in 2019. For better or worse, we have already written two hundred and twenty plus years of our history in the Western Hemisphere, and Hispanics have been here since the beginning. Thus, as we say goodbye to another Hispanic Heritage month, I would like to take some time to recommend some books you can find in our collection. Here then, are ten (click on the link to read the descriptions)

Thank you for reading and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Reflecting on Hispanic Heritage Month

Did you know that September 15th through October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month? Like other “monthly” celebrations, this one first began as a week-long acknowledgment of one group of “Americans” in an attempt to raise everyone’s awareness of their contributions1. Over time, these seven days grew to thirty days, but through the quirkiness of history and legislation, Hispanic Heritage Month began in the middle of one month and ended in the middle of the next.

The terms Hispanic, Latino, Spanish and now, Latinx, all describe a subset of people, and I have heard them used interchangeably, however, they describe different groups, depending on who you ask. There are many articles available2 that explain the difference between these terms, but a short version of the difference is that Latinos come from Latin America (and include Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and all the Caribbean Islands), but not Spain3. Hispanics, on the other hand, all hail from any predominantly Spanish speaking country. Technically speaking, only Spaniards are “Spanish”, though in the US the term is often assigned to those of us who speak the language. Latinx4 is a new term being used here and there in an effort to create a gender-neutral term for the group now called Latinos or Latinas, though not everyone is on board.

While all these terms may be useful for agencies tracking data, they do little to express the diversity of the individual people they are supposed to represent. Take the term “American”, for example, an expression favored by US citizens. Everyone in the Western Hemisphere who hails from one of the Americas (South, Central, North) is an “American”. That means all the people, everyone from the Bering Strait near the northern tip of Alaska to the hellish Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina; they are all “Americans”.

Of course, what I am talking about above is more a question of semantics than identity. But personal identity is created by the culture that surrounds it, and the tools are language, media, and representation. For me, what these kinds of monthly celebrations (Black History, Hispanic Heritage and Women’s History Months) remind me of, is that there has long been a dominant narrative of exclusion. We have been told a story about who we are, where we come from and how we got here, that doesn’t quite include all the actors.

True, some of this has been corrected since the Civil Rights, counterculture and Women’s movements have brought to light the undeniable contributions of previously unacknowledged individuals. But we are still a long way from truly rewriting our collective history as one that includes all our voices. Perhaps this will always remain impossible, since we seem fixated on what makes us different, rather than what binds us in common.

The truth is that each one of us is a complex and dynamic mixture of multiple identities. We spend our lives forming and reforming ourselves, attempting to find some whole costume, some complete self that feels unified and true. We all have racial, regional, religious, national, linguistic, sexual, political selves that help to describe us, but can never fully define us.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a thirty-day period meant to recognize the contributions of the Spanish speaking populations to the history of the United States. It is a long, often contentious history, marked by division and focused on our differences. Especially in the age of Trump, being a Hispanic or Latino in the United States has meant being reminded of our “outsider” status. But we are not outsiders and we are not minorities.  The Spanish speaking people of the Americas have been here just as long as their English, French, Portuguese and Dutch-speaking European counterparts. In fact, the western half of the United States testifies to this with places named Los Angeles (the angels), Nevada (snowy), Colorado (reddish), Montana (mountain), Rio Grande (big river), Palo Alto (high pole) and on and on.

The monthly celebrations started in the 60s and 70s were meant to serve as national reminders that our country had been built by a patchwork of people from all over the world. It was meant to disrupt the narrative that “true Americans” arrived on the Mayflower, had ties to the thirteen colonies and spoke English. There are still more stories that need to be told, more voices that need to be heard, and most of all a message that needs to be spread: The “American Dream” belongs to all of us.

References:

  1. https://history.house.gov/HistoricalHighlight/Detail/15032398402
  2. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/difference-between-hispanic-latino-and-spanish_n_55a7ec20e4b0c5f0322c9e44
  3. https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-hispanic-and-latino
  4. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/latinx-elitist-some-push-back-word-s-growing-use-n957036

Resources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics

https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2012/hispanic_heritage/

Hispanic Heritage Month Website

https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

Events at the Library of Congress

https://www.loc.gov/events/?q=hispanic+heritage+month

Smithsonian Institute

https://www.si.edu/events/heritagemonth

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved

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New to our shelves, October 2019

(Yes, this was posted in September … but I couldn’t wait)

While we are still waiting for our new books to arrive from our orders, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have additions to our shelves. Thanks to our generous teachers, staff, students, and community, we are always getting book donations. Though not all the titles make it to our shelves (some because of their physical conditions, others because of inappropriate content) we do find many gems in the donations.

Below you can find a handful of these “new to our shelves” titles, that I think are noteworthy and deserving of our attention. I also provide a summary, lifted from the publishers’ product description, because I’ve only skimmed through the books.

 

The superhero book: the ultimate encyclopedia of comic-book icons and Hollywood heroes by Gina Misiroglu published 2012.

“Appealing to the casual comic book reader as well as the hardcore graphic novel fan, this ultimate A to Z compendium describes everyone’s favorite participants in the eternal battle between good and evil. With nearly 200 entries examining more than 1,000 heroes, icons and their place in popular culture, it is the first comprehensive profile of superheroes across all media, following their path from comic book stardom to radio, television, movies, and novels.”

 

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us by Daniel H. Pink published 2011.

“Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink. In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life.”

 

It’s good to be Gronk by Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski with Jason Rosenhaus published 2015.

“From hamming it up at Super Bowl Media Day, to spicing up interviews with “Gronk-esque” dance moves, to cuddling with kittens in the pages of ESPN The Magazine, to christening a used party bus his ride of choice, Gronk’s good humor and playful persona make it seem like other players are “living in black and white, and Gronk is in color” (CBS Sports) … Gronk takes fans from the field to the locker room to the VIP room to the talk show green room to his parents’ kitchen table—a full tour of the world according to Gronk.”

 

Neaderthal by John Darton, published 1996.

“When a paleoanthropologist mysteriously disappears in the remote upper regions of the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, two of his former students, once lovers and now competitors, set off in search of him. Along the way, they make an astounding discovery: a remnant band of Neanderthals, the ancient rivals to Homo sapiens, live on. The shocking find sparks a struggle that replays a conflict from thirty thousand years ago and delves into the heart of modern humanity.”

 

Illustrated Classics, Various titles

“Ageless and timeless, the stories in the Great Illustrated Classics have been designed with illustrations on every other page. Our books are used by grade school teachers, school librarians, and parents to encourage skill development in boys and girls at various reading levels. ( On their website, “The reading level and Lexile of each title in the series can be found in the “About This Book” section of each title you click on”.)

I’d like to give a personal endorsement for the Illustrated Classics series, having grown up reading these “graphic novels” before they were called that. As a young, Spanish-speaking boy with limited English, I found the illustrations on every other page of the book a great visual aid to help me understand the context of some of the words I was reading, describing worlds that were really foreign; culturally, and in time. I also found that having read these “classics” as a youngster made them easier to grasp in their unabridged, high school versions because I had already encountered the characters, settings, and most importantly “action” or plot. I highly recommend these books, especially for emerging or reluctant readers.

So there you have just a few of the notable additions to our collection. I hope you found something you might want to check out, and thank you for reading.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved

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