Archive for April, 2011


Notes From A Master Teacher

In the final Communication 1 class at Penn State Lehigh Valley, my colleague and friend, Mr. Glenn Kranzley, a 42-year journalism veteran, shared the aspects of being a writer that he most enjoys.  I feel really lucky to have been in the class today.

The Best Things About Being a Writer

1.        Write to learn.

He said that when you write you not only use the information to share with your readers, you use it for yourself.  By writing about things you turn yourself into an expert, day after day, topic after topic. Glenn has observed that when journalists appear on Jeopardy! or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire they always do well because their careers enabled them to know and write about so many topics.

2.        Be interested.

To be a good writer you need to be interested in everything and nothing else.  Glenn urged students to keep energized and fresh, something he was reminded of recently as he worked on a history book he is writing.  Avoid the dangerous notion that just because you are experienced there is nothing new you can learn.  He believes that through the writing process he becomes open to new learning and he urged students to open themselves up to new learning throughout their careers.

3.         Be subversive. 

As a writer you have the power to get people to act or respond.  Glenn remembers a gruff newspaper editor he worked for who discovered in the course of reporting on a hospital  that some children admitted to the hospital did not have the most basic of needs such as clothing and other essential supplies.   Because of the reporter’s efforts a fund was established over forty years ago that still exists today.  It provides needy children with the necessities they would otherwise not have.   Writers have the power to be subversive in a positive way.

I know I’m not a student, but I certainly have learned a lot from Glenn Kranzley since he came to teach at Penn State Lehigh Valley.   I appreciate what he has done to make Comm 1, also known as the “State of the Valley” (please “like” us on Facebook)class such a worthwhile experience.  Thanks, Glenn!


Cinderella is Harmless, But Cinderella-in-a-box is Pure Evil

I couldn’t wait to read Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  I’ve long enjoyed Orenstein’s New York Times columns, mostly about girls, and I have sometimes mused of my other big career goal (unfulfilled) to be a Disney World princess.  At this rate I might be able to snag the evil stepmother, but it is definitely the career that got away.  And I’m sure Cinderella ate me, too so I wanted to learn how badly my life had turned out because of it. 

Chrissy, (my best friend as a pre-teen) and I used to raid my mom’s makeup drawer and play Miss America all summer long.   I would win, then she would win,  and we’d each make tearful acceptance speeches thanking our moms and dads while waving into the make-believe TV camera.  (Hey, speech practice is speech practice!)

 Maybe today’s young girls have authentic princess costumes from the Disney store, but Chrissy and I  wore out our mother’s nightgowns and high heels prancing around waiting for Prince Charming to rescue us back in the 1970s.  

But Orenstein warns that all of this prancing is at the peril of true womanhood.

 She describes the moment when  Disney executive Andy Mooney went to see a “Disney on Ice” show and noticed little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were — egads — homemade. The next day he called together his team and they developed the “Princess” line.   26,000 princess products and more than $4 billion in sales are the result of Mooney’s “Disney on Ice” observation.  

The complete Disney princess line post-dates my daughter’s interest in playing make-believe, but there were still plenty of products produced by Disney and other companies to assist her in her quest to dress up and pretend to be royal.  I remember purchasing my daughter Emi (now almost sixteen) plenty American Girl Doll dolls, accessories and clothing so she could dress like one of her dolls.  We even had lunch at the American Girl Place  in New York while  Emi’s doll had her hair styled (it looked really great).   As Orenstein points out, the American Doll phenomenon may look like a more attractive and educational option than the pink infused Disney items, but the trap that  “shopping is the path to intimacy” for mothers and daughters, is the drawback.

  Emi remembers that while I would buy her the princess dress she wanted for Halloween–she was Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, Jessie and Snow White–all from Disney–I  refused to buy the accessories.  She had to “develop” the rest of the look on her own. 

That’s the real part of the princess empire that bothers me.  Ready-made princess get-ups do not usurp our daughter’s feminism, they rob them of imagination.

In her book, Orenstein takes  the reader through her own mental anguish as a mother of a her princess obsessed little girl, Daisy.  She describes a pink revolution of everything under the sun–including a pink Scrabble game with the word FASHION on the cover–to prove that anything that could be “princess-ized” has been. 

Frankly, make-believe Cinderella seemed a lot more fun than Cinderella-in-a-box.  Maybe the real villain isn’t the color pink or the fantasy it represents but the lack of creativity required when you buy a ready-made princess get up or an American girl doll and every possible accessory that could be thought of (and charged for) to go with it.

 Alas, Orensteins book ends without a strong stance or solution.  She’s not really against pink or princesses or princes or even American Girl dolls. No surprise that at the end of the book the reader realizes that it is up to parents to  help children separate truth from lies, good from bad, princesses from real life while still giving them room to develop vivid imaginations.  I didn’t expect Orenstein to have the answer, but I did enjoy her lamentations as a parent. 

 My take-away from the book?

Save your money, parents.   To cultivate our children’s imaginations,  less pay means more play.


Young Voices Learn That Public Forums Are Imperative To Democracy

This may be the age of Facebook and Twitter, and we may think our young people are more apt to text-message than talk, but this week was a full of young people raising their voices.  It was nothing short of thrilling  on April 5th to see more than three hundred Penn Staters–mostly students–flock to the Capitol in Harrisburg to participate in Capital Day. 

 Capital Day is the annual gathering of students, alumni, and Penn State friends in Harrisburg to advocate for state support for the University.  Presented in part by the Penn State Grassroots Network,  this year’s Capital Day was more highly charged than previous years, given the current  budget crisis.   The dramatic event including impassioned alumni and student speeches, including an Aristotle-quoting  Christian Ragland, outgoing president of University Park’s undergraduate students. 

I could lecture until I’m blue in the face that public speaking creates a more democratic society.  Afterall, the United States is based on the belief that to thrive we must value the public forum of ideas. Bringing communication students to Capital Day to experience it first hand is the lesson in action. 

Later that same day, my family attended the budget meeting at our daughter’s school district, Northwestern Lehigh in New Tripoli.  Six hundred residents turned out for a modern, text-message vote-enabled meeting that included a call for audience questions at the end. 

 To my delight, our 15 year old daughter Emi, a sophomore at the high school, stood up and got in the long line to make an impassioned plea to administrators.  She urged decision-makers to keep extracurriculars because, as she said,  they “make the total student” along with math, science, English and social studies.  As class president and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, Tiger Talk, as well as her effort as a varsity cheerleader, Emi knows that her education is not just coming from textbooks.

There are many reasons why the  basic public speech class is a requirement at most universities and colleges throughout the United States.  You probably remember taking it yourself.     As Steven  Brydon and Michael Scott write in their excellent public speaking textbook Between One and Many:  There are personal reasons, professional reasons, and public reasons.  Those reasons were all on display this week. 

Public speaking helps keep our country free. 

So the next time you have a chance to make your case publicly, do it.  It is imperative for all of us to speak up and speak well!


Ellen McCormack Was an Anti-abortion Democrat Who Ran for President in 1976 and 1980


And I never heard of her until I read her obituary in The New York Times on March 30th.

Not that I am keeping track of the name of each woman ever to make a bid (I have read that more than 100 have done so), but she was quite successful and then seemingly slipped out of the public eye. 

This seems to be especially true for women candidates.  They not only receive less press when they run, they are quickly forgotten when they stop running.  That’s why every new book, chapter, article or blog that is written about women presidential candidates in the United States is worth reading.  Jo Freeman noted Ellen McCormack on her Web site.

Maybe we need a study about the “invisible” women presidential candidates like  McCormack, an antiabortion activist who drew attention to her cause and created controversy over campaign finance rules.  McCormack became the first female presidential candidate to qualify for Secret Service protection and federal campaign subsidies.

Before she made her presidential bid she had never held a political office.  She felt passionate about speaking out against a woman’s right to an abortion, cemented with the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade decision.  She is the only Democratic presidential candidate to advocate for a constitutional ban on abortion. 

Her grassroots campaign garnered over 200,000 votes in 18 primaries.   At the convention her name was placed into nomination along with Governor Jerry Brown,   Jimmy Carter and Rep. Morris K. Udall. 

She is survived by four children, including a son just down the way in Yardley, PA.  Tempting research project.

                Maybe we should be keeping a list of each and every woman who made a bid for the presidency. 


April 2011
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