Sunday, January 31, 2016

“Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education”

Ken Robinson’s TED Talk in 2006, on “How Schools Kill Creativity,” has been viewed more than thirty-three million times. The most persistent question he’s received since then has been: What can be done? Though he’s explored creativity in subsequent writing, his new book presents his most comprehensive answer.

“Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education,” by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica ($27.95 in hardcover from Viking; also for Amazon Kindle; Robinson himself narrates the audio version) is really about farming. “In organic farming,” he writes, “the focus is not only on output, it is on the vitality of the soil and the quality of the environment on which natural, sustainable growth depends. In education, natural, sustainable learning depends on the culture of the school and the quality of the learning environment.”

Through dozens of illustrations, mostly focusing on grade schools, it’s clear that “revolution” is really about incremental change from within--along with changing certain policies from without.

Those policies that he deems most harmful have instituted a culture of standardized testing which, he says, is a holdover from the industrial revolution. “The upshot is that our school systems are now a matrix of organizational rituals and intellectual habits that do not adequately reflect the great variety of talents of the students who attend them.”

But this doesn’t mean doing away with standards. “Creative work in any domain,” he writes, “involves increasing control of the knowledge, concepts, and practices that have shaped that domain and a deepening understanding of the traditions and achievements in which it is based.” What’s missing is personalization.

Schools can maintain high standards but also enable students to bring their diverse talents to what they are passionate about. By the end of the book, it really does seem possible.

Sir Ken Robinson (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2003) will be speaking at Chico State University’s Laxson Auditorium on Tuesday, February 9 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the university’s Presidential Lecture Series. Tickets are available through Chico Performances, online at or by phone at (530) 898-6333. They’re $25 for adults, $23 for Seniors, and $10 for youth and Chico State students.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

“48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong: Finding Love In The Land Of Shakira, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fernando Botero And Sofia Vergara”

As he tells it, former Chicoan Brian Ward was a single man in search of love. So why not find it in Bogotá, Colombia? His life there is, as he puts it, “the true adventure story about a 37-year-old socially-awkward man who decided that the best way he could deal with a life sentence of microwavable burritos and 10-hour Facebook marathons was to look online for a girlfriend in Colombia and then to hop on a flight to Colombia’s capital in pursuit of a woman he has never met.”

He chronicled those experiences in his blog ( which has become the basis of his new book, “48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong: Finding Love In The Land Of Shakira, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fernando Botero And Sofia Vergara” ($9.99 in paperback, self-published, available through Amazon).

Before he went to Colombia, he decided to use an online dating site to line up some prospects there. “Once I got registered, a standard question I was asked by the female members on was, ‘What is your job?’ I always made a point of answering this question the following way, ‘I paint fences for a living.’ No matter what your employment status is, the best strategy is to never to make yourself sound rich or important. This is a highly effective way to reduce the number women emailing you who are just looking for a sugar daddy.”

One of those contacts became his girlfriend in Bogotá, and that’s just the start of the story. Along the way the author finds lodging at a hostel in the La Candelaria section of the capital, where “walking the streets of Bogotá at night is hazardous, mainly because of the enormous amount of potholes, uneven sidewalks and missing manhole covers.”

He earns some money by being an extra in TV shows and movies, getting fifty dollars for a 3-second walk-on as a cop. “It is a job,” he says, “that is easily done (and probably preferably done) while drunk.”

He not only finds a gig teaching English, and writing for a newspaper--but marriage as well.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

“In DeLorean’s Shadow”

Paradise author Stephen Arrington is, at this writing, “on the short list for a presidential pardon.” Just how that came to be is told in Arrington’s new memoir, “In DeLorean’s Shadow: The Drug Trial Of The Century By The Sole Surviving Defendant” (in Amazon Kindle ebook from Drugs Bite Publishing,

When automaker John Z. DeLorean, whose DMC-12 was featured in the movie Back To The Future, was arrested, he “was charged,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “with conspiring to distribute $24 million in cocaine in 1982 in an attempt to salvage his flailing company.”

There were two codefendants. Morgan Hetrick, writes Arrington, “was an aviation-engineering genius. … Seven years before the troubles, I taught him to SCUBA dive. Originally, Morgan was like a father figure, but then he turned into a mentor gone bad. He claimed to be the #1 cocaine smuggler on the West Coast.”

And Arrington: “A Vietnam vet, Navy bomb disposal frogman proudly serving his country until an addiction to marijuana in Hawaii flushed my naval career and life down a toilet.”

DeLorean was eventually acquitted, but Arrington, Hetrick’s unfortunate sidekick, was sent to Terminal Island Federal prison for half a decade. He refused to be a snitch. In the book he explains why DeLorean was not guilty.

His good behavior and extraordinary skills (from diving to firefighting to nurturing a small patch of green grass in the prison yard), and his appearance in the Doonesbury comic strip, opened opportunities both inside the wall and out. He saved a man’s life; he became a chief diver for the Cousteau Society; and he married Cindy (proposing in a parking garage standing in a puddle of oil).

Becoming a Christian in prison began to reorient his life and produced a growing conviction “to talk with youth about hope,” “the kind of hope that changes lives,” coupled with the development of “discipline, commitment, fitness, a desire and intent to succeed, pursuit of adventure.” The story he tells is very human, inviting, invigorating and most assuredly hopeful.  

Arrington is a scheduled interview guest on Nancy’s Bookshelf, hosted by Nancy Wiegman, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio (91.7 FM, KCHO;

Sunday, January 10, 2016

“Fracking Justice”

“My usual mode of fiction writing,” notes Michael J. Fitzgerald on his blog (, “is to start a story and run with it--just as fast as I can think and type. There are no long hiatuses or thumb sucking. I just keep the story moving.”

The result is a series of suspense novels (starting with “The Fracking War”) which draw on his journalism background to probe what Big Energy is doing to local communities in extracting natural gas from “hydraulic fracturing.” Fitzgerald’s alter ego in “Fracking Justice” ($16.95 in paperback from Mill City Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is Jack Stafford, editor of the Horseheads Clarion, a small town newspaper in New York near the Pennsylvania border.

In one of his weekly editorials Stafford writes: “This newspaper has chronicled the power and influence of the energy lobby and energy companies for years, pointing out how that power and influence got energy companies exemptions from federal clean water and clean air acts. Those exemptions opened the door to hydrofracking for oil and natural gas, arguably the greatest manmade threat to our environment we have ever faced.”

Fitzgerald, who worked briefly at the E-R decades ago, now lives with his journalist wife Sylvia Fox in Mexico, the Finger Lakes area of Central New York, and California.

The focus of the newspaper investigation is Rockwell Valley, just across the New York border in Pennsylvania, where Grand Energy Services (GES) is building “a salt cavern storage of propane and natural gas.” GES is bringing jobs to the community but it’s also buying up local officials (the mayor is a GES employee).

At the same time Stafford is reeling over the loss of his wife in a boating accident, caring for his young son Noah who seems to have lost his hearing, and wondering what will become of his relationship with Cass, one of his wife’s sisters, who has come to New York to care for Noah.

There’s also the story of the Rockwell Valley Sheriff, Melvin “Bobo” Caprino, who must choose between loyalty to GES and loyalty to his conscience. The action never stops, and the explosive ending will have readers pondering the “ripped from the headlines” consequences.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

“The Lassen Peak Eruptions & Their Lingering Legacy”

“People had believed that Lassen Peak, a 10,457-foot high mountain, was an extinct volcano…. Then on May 19, 1915, a great eruption with lava caused a massive mudflow down the northeastern slope of the peak, unleashing damage and destruction onto Hat Creek Valley below.”

Lassen had “reawakened” earlier, on May 30, 1914, when it began to emit steam and black smoke. Elmer Sorahan, riding toward Susanville, looked up “and was moved to casually comment to his riding companion, ‘Looks like Mt. Lassen’s erupting.’”

Alan Willendrup of Roseville interviewed eyewitnesses for research on Lassen Peak forty years ago. Now, thanks to the Association for Northern California Historical Research, based at Chico State University, Willendrup’s work has been reissued and enhanced. “The Lassen Peak Eruptions & Their Lingering Legacy” ($19.95 in paperback from ANCHR, covers geology; the “First and Second Americans”; the eruptions and their aftermath. (Copies are available at The Bookstore in Chico, Discount Books in Oroville, and My Girlfriend’s Closet in Paradise.)

It’s a beautifully-written narrative, told with the human touch and a keen eye to set the record straight in the wake of wildly exaggerated newspaper stories.

No one died as a direct result of the eruptions, but there were some close calls and life in the areas below the peak would never be the same. The Shasta County Fair in 1915 featured “the only real live volcano in the United States”; and Charles E. Kunkle of Chico blamed Lassen for causing heavy spring rains that year.

It's clear from his laconic observation that “Sorahan knew nothing of the significance that this initial eruption would later have on his life. In less than a year, he would literally be running for his life from a fast advancing mudflow roaring down from the slopes of Lassen Peak on a path of destruction toward his small homestead in the Hat Creek Valley. But having no crystal ball, Sorahan and his companion were content to maintain their leisurely trot back to Susanville.”

Today? “One hundred years later, as the descendants of these incredibly resilient people live out their lives at the foot of Lassen Peak, the mountain sleeps—for now.”