We All Need Heroes

As someone who has studied writing for a very long time, I am familiar with the Hero’s Journey. It was first described by mythologist Joseph Campbell as a common story pattern. From ancient myths to today’s blockbusters, people are drawn to the hero.

The hero is “every man” or “every woman.” There is nothing about their birth or upbringing that promises great things from heroes. And in fact, the hero is often found to be missing or lacking in some way. It may be something internal—fear or a lack of confidence—or external, such as lack of opportunities.

No surprise that the word hero comes from the ancient Greek, meaning a “defender” or “protector.” Santa Clara University professor Scott LaBarge writes that the hero did “something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that he left an immortal memory behind him when he died.”

Psychologist and writer Scott T. Allison, Ph.D, who often writes about heroes, explains that heroes elevate us while healing our emotional wounds. They bring us comfort and the belief that everything is going to be all right. Heroes even bond us to a larger community of shared values. People who count Mahatma Gandhi as a hero are different than people who name comics sensation Stan Lee as a hero.

I often write about female heroes. Mary Anning, Bessie Coleman, Sally Ride, Rachel Carson, Jovita Idar—are all examples. Some are well known; others are not. I think it’s important for girls to read about women who have succeeded against the odds. They’re not who you picture when you hear the word hero. But these women fought against prejudice and societal norms to do what was meaningful to them, what was right. This alone makes them heroic.

Hero stories heal and inspire us. They are symbols of what we wish to be. They make us want to be better people. Heroes teach us that we have it within us to transform our lives. We can discover our true purpose in life, and if we are willing to risk change, we can experience our own personal transformation. Then it’s just a small step to improving the lives of others. And this is what heroes are all about.

This is why it’s so important to have heroes in a variety of shapes, sizes, genders, and skin tones. Because if you read about or see a hero who looks something like you, that means you can be a hero too.

Today, I look at older female heroes, like Susan B. Anthony or Maya Angelou. Or even a present day hero like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Because it still means I can be anything I want to be. Even a hero.

Works consulted–
Allison, Scott T. (2014) “5 Surprising Ways That Heroes Improve Our Lives,” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/why-we-need-heroes/201404/5-surprising-ways-heroes-improve-our-lives
LaBarge, Scott (2000) “Why Heroes Are Important,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University, https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/resources/heroism-why-heroes-are-important/
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Women’s Rights Includes ALL Women

As everyone prepares for next year’s 100th anniversary of the women’s vote, we should recognize more than the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. While it’s exciting to read about the women and events that took place, at some point you get the idea that the Women’s Suffrage Movement was made up of privileged white women. And the leaders were largely privileged white women.

Although privileged 100 years ago meant that a few women had the resources that allowed time and energy for the movement instead of working in a factory for less than a living wage. It meant they could read and write, and that there were at least some avenues of education open to them. African American women and immigrant women rarely had these opportunities.

While it’s important to remember and honor women like Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, we should also remember other women who fought for the right to vote. The suffrage movement was largely born out of the abolition movement. Yet for the right to vote, some suffragists were willing to limit voting to white women if it meant gaining support from politicians or women in the South. And in some of the largest Women’s Rights marches, African American women were expected to walk in the back. Yet even with these indignities, women of color lent their voice and support to women’s suffrage. Here are a few of the many:

Sojourner Truth was a powerful voice for women’s suffrage.

Sojourner Truth is credited with being the first African American suffragist. She was a former slave with a gift with words. She captivated audiences with her speeches, most notably the one known as “Ain’t I a Woman?”  at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio. She was a frequent fixture at abolition events and women’s rights conventions, including the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. She spoke of freedom, equality, and the right to vote for all.

Mary Church Terrell was an educator, writer, and activist. Educated at Oberlin College, she taught in Washington, D.C. and later the first African American woman appointed to the school board in the District of Columbia. A member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, she used many of the same strategies when she became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Terrell spoke often to women’s suffrage groups, reminding the white suffragists that exclusion based on race was the same as exclusion based on gender. Terrell was one of the founding members of the NAACP, and later in her life, she successfully fought segregation in public facilities.

Born into slavery, Ida B. Wells later became a powerful voice for the women’s vote and against lynching.

Ida B. Wells was a well-known journalist who also graduated from Oberlin College, mostly likely because it was the first college in America to admit African American students and the first co-educational school to allow women to earn bachelors degrees. She was also a founding member of the NAACP. Wells founded a suffrage group for African American women, the Alpha Suffrage Club, in 1913. Later that year, she participated in the first suffrage parade in Washington, DC. She was told to march in the back with other women of color, so as not to offend women from the South. She refused, marching with other women from her home state of Illinois. Wells encouraged African American women to vote and become involved in politics, long after the 19th amendment became law.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was also a journalist and the first woman of color in North America to establish a newspaper and become its editor. She later decided to study law and was the first woman to attend Howard University Law School, although she had to wait until Washington, D.C. laws changed before she could be admitted to the bar. She spoke at National Woman Suffrage Association conventions, stating that the 14th and 15th Amendment should also apply to women and suggesting that “male” should be removed from the Constitution. In speeches given in both the United States and Canada, she showed how voting rights connected to labor rights.

Learn more about these and other African American women in the suffrage movement at Turning Point Suffragist Memorial.

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Long After Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month officially ends today, but that doesn’t mean you should pack away Native American Heritage until next November. Like other recognition months (Women’s History, Black History, Hispanic Heritage, etc.), the purpose of Native American Heritage Month is to encourage you to pay attention to other cultures, races, or genders. To understand and appreciate the many cultures that make up the United States. And to correct some misconceptions along the way. Perhaps that’s never been as important as it is now.

There are so many misconceptions about Native American people. Where to start?

  • Native Americans are history. Native people live in contemporary society just like everyone else. They live in cities, rural areas, and yes, on reservations. Today’s Native Americans work in government, the arts, STEM fields, and more. If you don’t see many Native Americans, it could be due to hundreds of years of annihilation by Anglos. It could also mean you need to widen your circle of acquaintances.
  • All Native Americans are alike. Seriously? There are 567 federally recognized Indian nations in the United States. That means hundreds of different cultures, histories, ethnicity, and languages. Lakota, Muscogee, Ute, Chumash, Diné. These nations and the people who belong to them should all be treated as distinct cultures and when possible, referred to by tribal affiliation. The only shared aspect is that they are all indigenous to this land.
  • Native Americans get a free ride from the government. Not so. Native Americans pay federal taxes. They have bills to pay. Free health care? Indian Health Services (IHS) is woefully understaffed. It often takes a very long time to receive medical care when IHS is your sole healthcare provider.
  • Native American sports mascots aren’t a big deal. They are a big deal. These caricatures are harmful and limit the way young people see themselves. They are also racist as are terms like “redskins.” The American Psychological Association recommended retiring these racist symbols in 2005.
  • America was discovered by Columbus or if you prefer, Vikings. The definition to “discover” is being the first to find or observe. When the first Europeans arrived in the “New World,” it had already been inhabited for many thousands of years. It was neither a “new world” nor “discovered.”

But let’s end on a positive note. Do you know how many things that we enjoy today were contributed by American Indigenous peoples? Here are just a few:

  • Foods. It’s probably no surprise that jerky – yes, these portable sticks of dried meat—came from nomadic Native hunters. Hundreds of millions of Americans snack on jerky today. Then there’s pumpkins, squash, beans, melons, and more. Avocados were domesticated by indigenous people in the Valley of Mexico more than 4,000 years ago. Guacamole came from the Aztecs about 500 years ago. Another food rightfully credited to Indigenous people is corn. But did you know they also came up with popcorn? And although it may not technically be a food, chewing gum originated from Native people who chewed the milky chicle from the sapodilla tree to freshen breath.
  • Sports. Hockey comes from a game called “shinny,” once played by Sauk, Fox, and Assinboine peoples. A curved stick was used to knock a ball into the other team’s goal. In winter, shinny was played on ice. Lacrosse, now popular in the Ivy League, was first played by Iroquoian nations several hundred years ago. Canoeing, relay races, tug-of-war, tobogganing, and ball games were all played by Indigenous people in the Americas long before the arrival of Europeans.
  • Medicine. Native people knew the importance of protecting the skin. Items like sunflower oil were used as sunscreen and other substances were used as insect repellent. Burns were cared for with help from the aloe plant. Native people used thousands of plants for medicinal uses to combat colds, aid heart ailments, take care of pain, sedate, and to prevent pregnancy. In pre-Columbian times, South American Indigenous used syringes to clean wounds and inject medicine.
  • Oil. Oil from oil pits in the ground was used to caulk and as fuel for fires. Some used it as an effective barrier against insects as well.
  • Bunkbeds. Iroquois built beds on top of one another for use in longhouses.
  • Democracy. The idea for the government of the United States came from the Iroquoian League of Nations or Confederacy. The six member nations practiced a participatory/representative democracy that the founding fathers adopted.

Native American Heritage Month may be over, but Indigenous people and their cultures live on.

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What is Instructional Design

I wear many hats, but out of all of them, the one that seems to cause the most perplexed looks is that of “instructional designer.” Wikipedia defines instructional design as “the practice of systematically designing, developing and delivering instructional products and experiences, both digital and physical, in a consistent and reliable fashion towards an efficient, effective, appealing, engaging and inspiring acquisition of knowledge. The process consists broadly of determining the state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some “intervention” to assist in the transition. The outcome of this instruction may be directly observable and scientifically measured or completely hidden and assumed.”1

Clear as mud, right? On its most basic level, instructional design is about learning. It’s meeting the learning needs of the student and the teaching needs of the educator/trainer (K-12, university, vocational, industry). Anyone who works in education will realize that there are as many ways to meet learning needs as there are instructional designers. Probably more.

For example, in my regular job, I may create crosswalks, align standards, develop and organize online course pages, build curriculum and interactive content to match learning objectives, evaluate whether content meets learning objectives, and assist with instructional technology.

I also do contract or freelance work with education and industry. I have analyzed instructional needs, created crosswalks, developed curriculum content to meet standards, revised existing content to be current and clear, and generated assessments and teacher guides. While I don’t get to do as much with digital curriculum as I would like with contract work, every job or assignment is a new challenge that I enjoy.

Have you heard of any of these terms? Instructional technology. EdTech. Instructional Systems Design. Curriculum design. LX (learning experience) design. According to Instructional Design Central, these terms are often used interchangeably with “instructional design,” supporting my theory that the responsibilities of instructional designers can range far and wide.

Some people question the need for instructional designers. Teachers teach and students learn, right? Technically, that is correct. However, if we’ve learned anything about education in the past hundred years or so, it’s that people learn in different ways. And memorization may get a student through a test, but will he or she retain anything?

We also now live in the digital age. Information is received and processed differently than it was 50 years ago. Even the structure and delivery of the content can be different. This has led to Common Core Standards in education and left industry struggling to find the best ways to train employees.

Whether the learner is a fourth grader, college student, vocational student, employee, or lifelong learner, it’s necessary to pay attention to the design and delivery of learning content so that everyone can benefit. Isn’t that what learning is all about?

1Wikipedia contributors, “Instructional design,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Instructional_design&oldid=868723953 (accessed November 17, 2018).

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Veteran’s Day is approaching. And it’s a special one. World War I ended 100 years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. First celebrated as Armistice Day to recognize the “war to end all wars,” the holiday became known as Veteran’s Day after World War II.

Did you know that Choctaw soldiers played an important part in the end of WWI and therefore Veteran’s Day? Since November is also Native American Heritage Month, it’s a good time to tell this story.

In Forest Ferme, France in October, 1918, Private Mitchell Bobb delivered a message via field telephone to Ben Carterby at battalion headquarters. The Germans were listening. Furthermore, the Americans knew they were listening because the Germans had broken every code the Americans had used so far. This time was different. The Germans were baffled to hear a language they had never heard before. They couldn’t break this code because American soldiers of the Choctaw Nation were transmitting important information in the Choctaw language.

Within 24 hours, the Americans began launching successful surprise attacks. The Germans retreated within 72 hours. Americans won several key battles in the Mousse-Argonne campaign, resulting in the end of war within the month.

The Choctaw people, originally from the southeastern United States, had been forced to relocate to Indian Territory in the 1830s. Indian Territory later became the state of Oklahoma. In World War I, Choctaw soldiers from southeastern Oklahoma were among 12,000 Native American soldiers who wouldn’t even be recognized as U.S. citizens until 1924.

The use of Choctaw marked the first time an American Indian language was used by U.S. armed forces as a code. World War I Choctaw soldiers were the first code talkers.  Ironically, at home the government was trying to destroy the very language that made all this possible.

Indian boarding schools were established soon after the Civil War to assimilate native youth into American (white) culture. Or to paraphrase the founder of the Carlisle School, Brigadier General Richard Pratt, boarding schools would “kill the Indian…save the man.”

Large numbers of Native American children were forcibly removed from their families to attend these schools, where among other things, they were forbidden to speak their native language. Some children returned home not knowing how to communicate with their families. Imagine what might have happened had Ben Carterby, Mitchell Bobb, and the other Choctaw code talkers not been able to speak Choctaw?

The success of the code talkers in World War I led the U.S. military to expand the program in World War II–Choctaw, Comanche, Cherokee, Hopi, and other indigenous languages. The Marines had great success with Diné or Navajo code talkers.

It would take over 50 years after the end of World War II for Native American code talkers to receive recognition and medals of honor from the U.S. government (the first 23 years was because the program was still classified by the military).

This Veteran’s Day, let’s thank ALL veterans for their service, but let’s particularly remember the Choctaw code talkers who a century ago were instrumental in the end of World War I. Yakoke. Thank you.


Native American History for Kids



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