Saturday, January 30, 2010

I'll be away from my blog for a few weeks after this posting, but be patient--I'll be back in mid-February with all new material. --SY

Check out my Peace Journalism site, and my Facebook group on Peace Journalism. (Just go into Facebook, and type peace journalism in the search box)

Proud to be a Park Pirate

From the Parkville Luminary

I am proud to be a part of the Park University family.

I know that sounds corny, cliché, or sycophantic. However, since I am tenured professor, I have no need to kiss up to anyone. (In fact, upon hearing that I got tenure, my brother suggested that I test the boundaries of tenure by barging into the president’s office and launch into an obscenity-laced tirade. This won’t happen, primarily because I actually like the president.)

The fact is, most people associated with Park will tell you the same thing—they’re proud Park Pirates. A glance at recent Park news is really all you need to understand our pride. For example:

• On Martin Luther King Day, Park University students prepared lunch for more than 500 hungry and homeless individuals in Kansas City. Indeed, Park students and faculty are engaged year-round in volunteer and philanthropic activities throughout the community. Another example: As part of a class service-learning project, a Social Psychology class taught by Dennis Kerkman recently completed another round of collecting supplies for a school adjacent to Bagram Air Base in eastern Afghanistan. According to Kerkman, 390 pounds of pencils, paper, notebooks, crayons, rulers and other school supplies were collected for the Afghan children in this effort. Bravo.

• In a new era of openness, Park’s new President, Dr. Michael Droge, held a number of town hall sessions last fall when he visited with faculty, staff, and students about the university. Droge said on the Park website, “The conversations were excellent, and I'm looking forward to future opportunities to connect.” While the town hall concept isn’t revolutionary, Droge’s approach to these meetings is. You see, he actually listens.

• Park’s faculty is one of the best anywhere. Two new Fulbright Scholar applications are in the pipeline, and will most likely be officially awarded to faculty members soon. If both of these come through, this will give us seven Fulbrights since 2001—remarkable for a school our size. Our faculty is also engaged in a number of other ways. For example, Amber Dailey-Hebert, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, was recently selected by the board of the Association of Continuing and Higher Education to chair the organization's Research Committee. Dailey-Hebert will lead collaborations with colleagues across the country. Also, three Park School for Education faculty presented a session at the National Head Start Association's 26th annual Parent Training Conference, Dec. 7 in San Jose, Calif. Jo Agnew-Tally and LaDonna Ebright presented the session at the conference, while Amy Wolf presented via Skype. Their session was called "Engaging Families in Leadership and Advocacy”. Finally, a group of Park University students, along with Professor Tim Westcott, made a number of presentations at the Phi Alpha Theta (history honor society) Biennial Conference Jan. 6-9, in San Diego.

This list of faculty (and student) accomplishments is nearly endless, and is a clear demonstration of the commitment and professionalism of the faculty. I went to KU and am proud of it, but I will quickly point out to anyone who asks that Park’s faculty takes a back seat to no one, and further, that the quality of education our students receive is nothing short of outstanding.

• Our alumni are pretty outstanding themselves. One alumnus, Andre Butler ('95), is Chief Advancement Officer of Heart to Heart International, which is undertaking a major humanitarian response to the earthquake in Haiti. According to Heart to Heart’s website, since joining their staff, Butler “has elevated Heart to Heart’s reputation with the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies and other Fortune 500 companies.” (You can give to Haiti earthquake victims through Olathe-based Heart to Heart at )

• Park University might even host the World Cup…sort of. Kansas City has made the short list of 18 American cities selected to host the 2018 or the 2022 FIFA Soccer World Cup, if America is awarded the event. What’s cool is that Park University was listed in the Kansas City host candidate proposal as a practice site location. Beckham in Parkville? Could be.

If you’re interested in staying updated on everything Park University-related, join the 4,355 folks who have already become Facebook fans of Park. Just go to: .

Staying abreast of all the latest Park news will make it clear to why so many of us are proud to call Park University home.

NOTE--You can learn more at the Park University website.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Misc updates
My Peace Journalism class has officially started. You can follow the class on Facebook (once logged in, just type peace journalism in the search bar, and you'll go right to the group). Or, go to my Peace Journalism site.

Keep your narrow-mindedness to yourself

From the Parkville Luminary

Nothing makes my blood boil faster than self-righteous citizens trying to impose their puritan morality on the rest of us. Although this can manifest itself in many ways, the most insidious imposition is when the zealots attempt to force their narrow views in a public school setting, whether it’s shaping curriculum (evolution, for example), or banning “objectionable” books.

That’s why I’m proud of the North Kansas City school board, which voted 3-2 last month to keep a “controversial” (in the eyes of one parent) book on elementary library shelves.

The book in question, “And Tango Makes Three”, tells the story of two male penguins that raise a penguin chick together. An offended human parent urged the book be banned because it’s age-inappropriate and because “he said he thought the book tried to indoctrinate children about homosexuality.” (KC Star 12/23/09).

The use of the word indoctrinate is revealing. Does this mean that our children shouldn’t learn that, gasp, homosexuality exists? Or, is the objection to the tolerant message presented in the book? Whatever the objection, “And Tango Makes Three” has also been challenged in Virginia, Ohio, and California. (

Indeed, homosexual themes are one of the top reasons that books are challenged or banned in schools nationwide. For example, the award-winning novel “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker was recently challenged in North Carolina because parents were concerned about homosexuality (among other things) portrayed in the book. Those wishing to ban “King & King”, a fairy tale about a gay marriage, used the terms indoctrination and homosexual agenda in trying to get the book banned in Massachusetts. ( ). The mere use of the term “homosexual agenda” should set off alarm bells indicating intolerance, even bigotry. If there were a “homosexual agenda”, it would be no more threatening than demanding the same rights the rest of us have, including fair, non-discriminatory treatment.

Besides homosexuality, other themes embraced by book banners include profanity and sexual content. For example, a California school district recently voted to include “Speak” on its reading list, despite complaints that the book—which deals with a suicidal rape victim—is inappropriate. Kristi Rutz-Robbins, the board member who cast the sole dissenting vote, said, "rape victims, children who are emotionally and developmentally immature and those seriously interested in being prepared for college can stick to classics and other works without graphic rape scenes."
The author, Louise Anderson, shot back, “We don’t protect our teenagers by holding back information.” ( )
Indeed, it is the fear of information about gays, or sex (“Catcher in the Rye”), or about our shameful history of race relations (“Tom Sawyer” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”) that seems to drive the censors.

The Illinois Library Association said it most eloquently. “Frequently, (book) challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children. While the intent is commendable, this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the “evil” against which it is leveled. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson, said, ‘If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’ Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material.” ( )

Rather than banning books, school districts should take the sensible step undertaken in North Kansas City. The school board decided that they elementary library card catalog will be placed online where parents can monitor materials in their child’s library and request any individual restrictions for their child. This way, the zealots can shield their children from reality while the rest of our kids read, and learn, about the real world around them—a world that is sometimes ugly, often vulgar, and always complicated.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

All aboard the Bridal Terror

From the Parkville Luminary

At every wedding I have ever attended, I have secretly been laughing under my breath at the hapless fathers of the bride. These pitiable souls not only have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for the wedding, but also undergo more stress than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

As the parent of only one son, I thought for sure I’d be immune from the world’s most expensive roller coaster ride, The Bridal Terror, we’ll call it. I’ve been told by dads who have ridden the Bridal Terror that the ride is so nausea-inducing and gray hair-producing that the dads even wish, at times, that the Bridal Terror would mercifully careen off the track and into oblivion. At least that way, the pain would be over.

I remember the Bridal Terror from my wedding 21 years ago. My bride to be wasn’t exactly a Bridezilla, but she wasn’t exactly Mary Poppins, either. My poor wife’s dad uncomplainingly clamored aboard the Bridal Terror, knowing full well what to expect, since it was his second ride in about a year. Still, I remember thinking how beaten down the poor guy was by mini-Bridezilla and mom-of-mini-Bridezilla. There were times I wanted to use our honeymoon tickets to take my future father-in-law and I away from the chaos. I decided against this approach, however, since I wanted to live.

Well, now things have come full circle, and I am paying (literally) for the bad karma I generated through my schadenfrude (delighting in the misfortune of others). What goes around has come around. You see, I am the father of the bride.

The bride, in this case, is Ana, one of my Moldovan “daughters”. We are host family to a number of Park University international students, mostly Moldovans and Azerbaijanis. Well, Ana decided to get married, and since her real dad is in Moldova, that means I am more or less the father of the bride. All aboard the Bridal Terror!

My status as a foolish virgin Bridal Terror rider has been confirmed over and over again during the last several weeks. First, I innocently offered my home for the reception, an offer that was snapped up quickly since renting a hall now costs more than the gross domestic products of many small nations. What I didn’t know is that this would involve a complete takeover of my domicile, done Vietcong style, meaning that it began a week before the reception with small incursions, infiltrations, if you will, and ended up with the Ho Chi Minh trail winding through my living room. Incidentally, the trail had three end points—Costco, WalMart, and Gomer’s.

The other night, I cowered in my bedroom as the Vietcong decorated the house. Now, they did make the house look pretty, but this involved the decorators (the bride’s friends and the groom) removing every knick knack and trinket, covering much of our usual décor with white cloth (her color was white), and setting up a sound system loud enough to be heard by passing jetliners at 35,000 feet. They tested this sound system while I huddled in my bedroom, attempting in vain to watch a football game. I wondered if fans could hear annoying techno music emanating from our new sound system at the football game in Los Angeles.

The wedding day, however, nearly made up for my Bridal Terror roller coaster ride. Ana was lovely, and I was very proud of her, just the way the father of the bride is supposed to be. She is a fine young lady. Her groom, Eugene, is a great guy with a big heart—someone who I would select for Ana if I had a vote. (I didn’t). At the reception, we were reminded again and again informally (with hugs and thanks) and publicly (multiple toasts) by Ana and Eugene how wonderful it’s been for them to have a real American family. However, we are really the lucky ones. Our lives are richer, even blessed, by having Ana, Eugene, Valera, Ilie, Simona, Nadia, Aziz, Orkhan, Parvahna, and Leyla as part of our family. Indeed, as I told one party-goer, as host parents, we have received much more than we have ever given.

I will have a chance to build my father of the bride credentials again soon. One of my other Moldovan daughters, Simona, is engaged and planning an early summer wedding. Wish me luck. I know I’ll need it.

--For updates on Peace Journalism, see my PJ Website.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Armed to the teeth

From the Parkville Luminary

A gun in every hand, tucked into every boot and waistband, and hidden in every briefcase and glove compartment—this is the America that I dream of.

Energized by last year’s Supreme Court decision on a DC law and by recent moves to expand gun owner’s rights, I am proud to announce the formation of a new organization: ELF (Everyone needs Loaded Firearms).

With a name like ELF, think of the traction that we can get around the holidays! I can see a “Gun in Every Stocking” Christmas campaign next year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have been inspired and encouraged in forming ELF by the always brilliant members of congress. In their wisdom, they voted late last year to allow Amtrak train passengers to transport guns in checked bags. The policy will go into effect in a year. (Washington Post 12-9-09; KC Star, 11-21-09).

“Amtrak regulations …infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Kansas Senator Sam Brownback told the KC Star.

You are correct, senator. Every right-thinking American knows that the constitution clearly states that gun owners can carry their guns whenever and wherever they want to, and that a fully armed society puts us all at less risk, not more.

Sadly, a house-senate conference committee eliminated a forward thinking component of the original Senate version of the bill. This component would have allowed passengers to take guns with them on board the train at Amtrak stations where checked baggage service is available. That’s about 30 percent of Amtrak 520 stations, including our own KC Union Station. ELF wonders why only 30% of its passengers should be able to take guns with them on board. What about the gun rights of the other 70%? Also, the bill should have allowed semi-automatic weapons, since that would be a deterrent to any terrorist looking to prey on our rail system.

Not only should Amtrak passengers be armed to the teeth, but so should lawmakers. That’s why ELF is so impressed with a law passed in December that allows Raymore, Missouri city councilmen (and women) to carry concealed weapons during meetings.

Hats off to you, Raymore Councilman Jeff Cox, for your innovative thinking. Cox said that part of his motivation for his proposal was the February, 2008 attack at a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri where five people were killed. This is impeccable logic. In fact, apply this principle to anywhere where gun violence has occurred, and it’s clear to see that if everyone was armed, everywhere, all of the time, that no one would ever be shot, because bad guys know that law-abiding citizens (like city councilmen!) are packing heat.

In fact, ELF believes that the Raymore model should be copied through the metro area, and indeed nationwide.

Allowing councilmen to carry weapons is not only consistent with the second amendment; it is a principle that will facilitate better, more efficient government. You see, Missouri law allows members of governing bodies to carry weapons during meetings (if the body approves such a proposal), but it prohibits citizens attending the meeting from carrying weapons. As an alderman or councilman, imagine how tidy public hearings would become if the weapon-less public knew you were packing heat (“You want WHAT KIND of rezoning on that plat?...Do you feel lucky today, developer? Well, do ya’?). Imagine how much more efficient meetings would become, at least the part where governing bodies interact with the public. As for disagreements between council members or aldermen, as long as they’re armed, they might as well settle things the old-fashioned way. This might necessitate the occasional special election to fill unexpired terms, but again, in terms of expedient decision making, it’s a sure winner.

ELF won’t rest until every councilman, train passenger, professional football fan, and kindergartner is taking full advantage of their God and constitution-given right to bear arms.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Wishes and Hopes

from The Parkville Luminary

Since I’ve given up on New Year’s resolutions, let’s focus instead on some wishes (attainable) and dreams (long shots, at best) for 2010.

1. A signed health care reform bill. Sure, the bill that will emerge from conference committee early this year will be far from perfect, but it will extend health coverage to 30 million Americans. Incidentally, I have nearly equal disdain for those on both sides of this controversy. The bill’s “just say no” opponents have heartlessly forgotten the struggles of those who don’t have health insurance. However, the bill’s proponents are delusional if they really believe that this monstrosity will actually lower the deficit. Health care reform is going to cost, and cost a great deal. So, the question is: are you willing to pay more to ensure health coverage for 30 million additional Americans? I am.
2. To finally meet my Ugandan god-daughter. Baby Stephan was born as I was leaving Uganda after teaching there last summer, so I haven’t met her yet. Stephan’s mom is delaying her baptism until my family and I arrive in Kampala next summer. I can’t wait to play with Stephan, and to see the look on her face when I present her with a stuffed animal the size of a Buick.
3. Years of happiness for Ana, my Moldovan “daughter”. Ana, who graduated from Park University in 2009, is getting married to a great guy this month. I wish for her the same happiness that I’ve had in 21 years of marriage. Sadly, Ana and hubby will probably be moving away from Kansas City. Would it be selfish to wish that they could somehow settle here?
4. Republican engagement. Republicans have some good ideas, and represent a legitimate constituency. Rather than isolating themselves, and doing nothing more than opposing Obama just for the sake of opposing Obama, Republicans must re-engage in the process. Start being less obsessed with Obama’s success or failure, and more obsessed with what’s good for the country. (The Democrats were just as bad during W’s tenure, doing little more than opposing W just for the sake of opposing W.)
5. Peace in Uganda. Thanks to a $150,000 U.S. State Department/U.S. Agency for International Development grant, I will be returning to Uganda for six months next year to teach peace journalism, and to lead a multi-pronged effort to discourage violence prior to and after Uganda’s February 2011 presidential election. Preventing violence in that war-torn and strife-ridden part of the world is a tall order indeed. Even if the peace effort goes off perfectly, it may still take some dreaming to realize our ultimate goal: a violence-free election cycle in Uganda.
6. Peace in Parkville. My wish is that the top news stories of next year in Parkville are about an economic boom and record enrollment at Park University, and not about a bunch of downtown hot dogs.
7. Another Jayhawk national championship. Coach Bill Self has all the pieces in place, and KU will be favored to win it all. Still, in the rough and tumble world of college basketball, the cliché rings true—anything really can happen. (Except, of course, Missouri going to a final four).

1. Peace in Afghanistan. I dream of peace and that somehow, some way, things will start to turn around in Afghanistan, though I’m skeptical this is going to happen. I voted for Obama because I trust his intelligence and judgment, so I will support the surge, even though I think it’s a futile gesture.
2. Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and everywhere else in Africa.
3. Peace in the Middle East. Israel must permanently stop building settlements in the West Bank, and must adhere to UN Resolution 242, which calls for Israel to abandon territories acquired in the 1967 war. In my visit to the region earlier this year, the settlement issue was universally stated as the number one obstacle to peace. The U.S. must apply firm pressure to Israel--whatever it takes to get them to understand that stopping the settlements is a prerequisite to peace.

Here’s to a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous 2010 for you and your family. Happy New Year.

Be sure to visit my Peace Journalism website!