By Ken Krayeske • 11:45 AM EST
This photo in honor of trees great and small comes from the library of Lonely Planet photog Mike Taylor, SU Alum, and American ex-pat living in Oz-tray-lee-yah. The digital file is labeled "Elim Dune," but I tend to think that this is a tree of life in an African savannah, as opposed to desert in Botswana.
Before I ramble, Ron Pitz over at the Knox Parks Foundation just sent me an e-mail entitled "Elm Trees." It's worth printing:
"By any chance have you had the misfortune to go by the old Mass Mutual building in Asylum Hill lately? Those 'caretakers' have destroyed most of the trees on that property which were some of the largest and healthiest trees in Hartford.
"That corner used to be the oasis in the urban desert for us. I would go out of my way to drive by that spot and show the inner city young adults in my program those specimen trees. This gave them an opportunity to see what kind of a legacy they are leaving by planting trees and what the small trees they are planting would look like at maturity.
"Just imagine the carbon that those giants sequestered and the oxygen that they produced. This is another huge loss for Asylum Hill and the city as a whole....."
Ron, I bicycled by there recently, and failed to see it partly because my indignation at that part of Asylum Hill is reserved for the demolition of the last of the old row house buildings on Fraser Place. That's what Ron meant by "another huge loss." Hey, why leave anything standing?
I also probably missed the trees because I bicycle at night - it is law school exam time, and you need a break when you need a break.
Law school exams represent the worst of the educational process. The system demands that you condense 120 hours worth of learning into a three-hour essay.
It's roughly 120 hours because the semester is 15 weeks of classes. Each class represents about three hours weekly of actual instructional time, bolstered by a minimum of five hours preparation (often more) for each class.
Compression is somewhat beneficial for real life, but it seems arbitrary. For my last exam this semester, I was allowed one – yes, exactly one – sheet of paper, for the most complicated class I have taken yet. At least we're not killing trees.
So I welcome any and all diversion during study time. One diversion I granted myself happened Tuesday, December 16. Claude Morest teaches social studies at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering, a new high school in Stamford, CT.
He sent an email to a UConn law professor seeking an ace on college admissions law to spend an hour or so with high school students. I volunteered.
Mr. Morest sent me an email about the Franklin Forum, a discussion and debating forum that "places people in the arena of public debate; allowing them to test their opinions, hear opposing views, and debate current issues, all in a setting with a free and open exchange of ideas."
I rolled into AITE Tuesday afternoon, after a good morning of studying, and prepared to do intellectual battle over affirmative action in college admissions programs. I stand firmly with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on this one.
"We are not far distant from an overtly discriminatory past, and the effects of centuries of law-sanctioned inequality remain painfully evident in our communities and schools," Ginsburg dissented in Gratz v. Bollinger.
Gratz in 2003 outlawed a general affirmative action admissions program for undergrads at the University of Michigan. It was decided the same day as Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Supreme Court approved an individualized affirmative action program at the Michigan Law School.
Ginsburg stood with the majority in Grutter. Comprehending the dual decisions is puzzling. I hoped the Franklin Forum would make progress towards it.
About 15 students showed up for the Forum, a monthly after-school event at AITE. Stephen Bowling, a Stamford entrepreneur, moderated. How excellent that a person from the community comes into school, and gives his time to generate democratic debate!
Students sit in a semi circle, with name cards in front of them on the desk. The Forum maintains everyone in the room is equal, and allows no introductions. I didn’t like not having an identity, as it denied students the opportunity to grasp some reason for my point of view.
And I think it was important, because I sat in shock listening to how most of the students expressed that affirmative action is unnecessary because race doesn’t matter.
Except, of course, to the young minorities in the room. Even though we have a black president-elect, we do not live in a post-racial society. Discrimination exists, and one piece of evidence exists in the number of blacks and Latinos we send to prison.
Bowling steered the discussion around the hypothetical minority student who gets Bs and Cs but is catapulted over a white student who gets As and Bs. Anyone armed with a few facts and a limited worldview will argue that underachievers who are dumb as a stump, as Bowling put it, should not be promoted above others.
Then Bowling asked what if the undeserving black person is promoted above you at work? And why doesn’t the NBA demand more whites onto the basketball floor?
Those questions skirt the heart of affirmative action. Sitting alongside the students, waiting to be called on by the moderator, I tried to explain that I would gladly give up affirmative action for full pre-natal health care, for fully funded pre-kindergarten, smaller class sizes, universal literacy, and free college tuition. That might level the playing field.
After the Forum ended, Bowling, a student and I lingered, hashing about the now-famous and likely tortured shoe throwing Iraqi journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi. If it wasn't clear earlier, I saw now Bowling and I stood ideologically opposed.
Where I wanted President Bush to explain due process to the Iraqi guards beating Al Zaidi, Bowling said it is Iraq, we have no right to tell them what to do. Where I maintained an illegal American occupation of a sovereign nation, Bowling saw liberation and the Iraqis in charge.
Driving home to Hartford, the land without trees, I felt frustrated at the lack of communication with Bowling. I wasn’t expecting to change his mind, but when you don't agree with someone, how do you find common ground? Around debate itself?
I was hoping that Obama's new administration might provide leadership for the country in bridging partisan gaps like we experienced. But after reading a story in the New York Times December 13 about his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his inner circle under President Clinton "learned the imperatives of moving quickly, closing ranks, controlling information and never conceding an inch when the president faces a threat," I don't see much change.
And while I'd like to think I gave an inch with Bowling, and showed that I realized how hatred drove some Middle East policy, I didn't feel any mutuality. I suppose that's the first step – acknowledging the validity of your adversary's point of view.
So why not in this debate with Mass Mutual, I'll ask for an insurance behemoth to understand the tree-hugging, preservation mindset and stop destroying Asylum Hill's antique assets.