Dixie Darr

Archive for April, 2017|Monthly archive page

Words of Wisdom

In Learning, Learning Tools on April 28, 2017 at 3:32 pm

When I first went to college in 1966, colleges commonly required two years of a foreign language for a bachelor’s degree. By the 80s, however, computer science began to replace that requirement although many competitive colleges require at least two years of a foreign language for admission. Now some colleges are again exploring adding foreign language requirements to the requirements for a bachelor’s degree.

Language learning offers many benefit including a sharper mind, increased career choices, improvement of the first language. I learned more about English from studying American Sign Language than any other class I ever took. Nevertheless, college students are resisting this change, and, in their defense, the classroom is not the best place to learn a language. In fact, it may be the worst.

Google “learn language fast” and you will find many alternative self study methods that promise to give you a working knowledge of virtually any language in just a few months. Brushing up on a language you studied years ago is even faster. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. Some recent studies indicate that it may actually be easier and more rapid for adults than for children. Plus, bilingualism can help stave off dementia.

Learning a language is about learning a culture,” Lisa Frumkes, senior director of content for Rosetta Stone, said. “It can take you in so many directions: literature, travel, learning to understand the news of the day or just being able to be in contact with people in other cultures. Once you think about these things, they change the way you see the world.”


When is an Arapaho not an Arapaho?

In Learning, Learning Tools on April 27, 2017 at 6:53 am

It started when the government established missionary schools, which suppressed the use of Arapaho and spread English.

Television and technology reinforced English as the dominant language, especially in the home, until only a few dozen elderly Arapaho still spoke their native language among 10,000 registered tribal members of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

If you don’t understand the language it’s very difficult to practice our cultural ways, our values, our world views, our political conscience. All derives from the language,” says William C’Hair, chairman of the Arapaho Language and Cultural Commission.

If you’re Arapaho, you should speak the language,” elders told Marlin Spoonhunter who lost his language after decades working as an educator in Montana.

Now, with the help of Andrew Cowell, a linguist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the the Arapaho Language Project the technology that figured in the decline of the language is helping to sustain it. The Project website directly provides resources audience of all ages, including an online (downloadable) dictionary that includes an English-Arapaho translator as well as links to more than 80,000 lines of Arapaho narratives to illustrate how a given word can be used in a sentence. It also has language lessons, curriculum materials, the Lord’s Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and NFL team names in the Arapaho language.

Sometimes technology giveth what technology taketh away.

A Valiant Effort

In Learning on April 26, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Imagine that you are the last person on earth who speaks English. You understand those around you because you can also speak their language, but what would the loss of your language mean to you? Language influences culture, including the way we think, so the loss of a language also means the loss of a culture.

That’s already happening pretty fast. “of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century,” according to an article in the New York Times. Languages are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.

At least one expert predicts that we will lose 90% of earth’s languages in the next 100 years because of globalization.

One First Nation government in the Northwest Territories of Canada has turned to its children, specifically kindergarteners, for help. “In a bid to save their language, and with it, their culture, the Tlicho government has implemented an immersion kindergarten program taught entirely in their native language,Tlicho Yati,” as reported by Smithsonian Magazine.

Wow. The only thing I remember learning in kindergarten was how to do knee circles on the hand rail outside our classroom door.

In the long run, this effort won’t stop the stampede of English and Chinese, but it preserves one language and one culture for a little while longer. And that’s worth a try.

In the Beginning was the Word

In spirituality on April 25, 2017 at 9:39 am

I love words. I love reading, writing, and talking. Ask anyone. During my lifetime, I’ve made a living doing each one of them, and now that I’m no longer working, I do them all for free.

By most estimates, the English language has more than a million words, all made by combining a mere 26 letters. That’s more than any other language because we beg, borrow, steal, adapt, and adopt words with abandon from other languages. We have no shame, although rest assured that thanks to our passionate pilfering proclivities, we have plenty of words that mean “shame.”

Scientists say language is our most human characteristic. We use it to provoke, warn, flatter, explain, calm, think, imagine, blame, argue, prevaricate, and to shine a light of truth on the world.

I’m a United Methodist. You may have seen on the news that our church officially denies LGBTQ people as being compatible with Christian teachings. Bullshit. The people of the South Central Jurisdiction, encompassing Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri, are desperately hanging onto their hate and prejudice and trying to impose those beliefs onto those of us in the West, who elected a lovely and loving woman as our bishop. Our bishop.

Can you tell I’m angry?

My church has a banner that proclaims Love is Love. Isn’t that the ultimate Christian value? Shine the light of truth.

Say the word I’m thinking of.

Have you heard? The word is Love.


Universally (Mis)Understood

In Learning, Learning Tools on April 24, 2017 at 3:55 pm

An Italian pilot flying an Italian airline into an Italian airport speaks English. English is the universal language of air control. It’s the language of more than half the world’s newspapers. The prevalent language for communication on the Internet is English, a language without frontiers.

English is without a doubt the actual universal language,” reports Brazilian writer Carlos Carrion Torres. “It is the world’s second largest native language, the official language in 70 countries, and . . . . can be at least understood almost everywhere among scholars and educated people, as it is the world media language, and the language of cinema, TV, pop music and the computer world. All over the planet people know many English words, their pronunciation and meaning.”

The spread of English began during the 16th century with the British Empire and continues today with USA influence.

That makes it easy for us to move around the world without making any effort to learn other languages, and results in our perception by others as arrogant, lazy, or even stupid.

Nevertheless, the ability for everyone to understand everyone else on the planet seems like a good thing. Beyond that, language influences the way we see the world, even the way we see color or gender. See Keith Chen’s TED talk for more information.

Unfortunately, speaking the same language does not guarantee understanding. For example, tonight I will attend a current events discussion group where some of the people there may be Trump supporters. I can almost assure you that we will not communicate.

Sometimes talking to “them” feels like trying to communicate with another species. Can the value progressives place on diversity expand to include right-wing conservatives?

To quote one of my favorite poems by Carl Sandburg,

How can we be pals

when you speak English

and I speak English

and you never understand me

and I never understand you?”

Stay tuned.

I Am Not A Scientist

In Learning on April 21, 2017 at 10:32 am

Throughout college, I avoided all the natural sciences, choosing instead to focus on social sciences and the arts. Luckily, the University of Colorado accepted some psychology courses to fulfill the science requirement for my bachelor’s degree. I ended up having to take a one-hour nuclear physics course for non-science majors and discovered too late that I probably would have liked physics. Maybe in another lifetime.

So, no, I’m not a scientist, but I’m not stupid either.

Why, in 2017, does my church need to hang a banner proclaiming “Science is Real”?

For the record, “science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” What we have now is an administration, a whole political party, that rejects science because they don’t like the conclusions (knowledge) scientists produce. They seem to think that ignoring it or stopping funding or lying about it will make it go away. Censorship and cutting science off at the knees will not make America great again.

Scientists are by definition seekers of truth.

Tomorrow hundreds of thousands of people all over the world will march to celebrate science and the real role that science plays in each of our lives.

The website for the March for Science states,We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

There is no Planet B.

Join the March For Science if you can. If not, send those cards, letters, and emails, or make a phone call. Fly a banner. Buy a t-shirt. Do what you can because you’re not stupid either.

Science not silence.

Take a Deep Breath

In Denver on April 20, 2017 at 7:20 am

I feel very proud that Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana although I no longer enjoy its pleasures myself. Yes, there was a time I enjoyed it very much –too much if I were telling the absolute truth.

I was 24, divorced, and wanted desperately to stop projecting the image of a shy, conventional young woman. I had tried alcohol and never could develop a taste for it, and everyone I knew was smoking pot. It was the seventies. I decided to give that a try.

Having never smoked cigarettes, I had to practice before I could inhale. I may be the only person around who believed Bill Clinton when he said he didn’t inhale. My friend G tutored me in how to hold the smoke in without coughing my lungs out. After a few tries, I took right to it.

My friends and I would sit around smoking and fantasize about how, when we got old, smoking pot (we never called it weed) would help us survive the tedium of a nursing home.

Today the state’s first drive-thru marijuana store opens in Parachute. Twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana; eight states plus Washington DC have legal recreational marijuana for adults. In Colorado we have more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonald’s locations combined.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal agency that studies drugs from the perspective of abuse and addiction says, “There are no reports of teens or adults fatally overdosing (dying) on marijuana alone.” Even better, researchers are starting to find ways it can really help some people, including those with severe seizures, glaucoma, or PTSD.

In my forties, I came to the realization that I no longer wanted to feel high, and since then I haven’t once been tempted to roll a joint, a skill I never did perfect. Of course, if I ever face that nursing home, I reserve the right to change my mind. That’s legal, too.

P.S. Is this going to damage my church lady persona?

Another Genesis

In Books, Learning on April 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm


Take a human cell, measured in micrometers. To metrically challenged Americans like me, that’s one millionth of a meter, less than one tenth the width of a human hair. Yet, laid end-to-end, if such a thing were possible, the cells of Henrietta Lacks would circle the globe at least three times.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31. Her cells – taken without her knowledge — did what no previous cells had ever done. They continued to live and reproduce outside her body. Nobody knows why, but they became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. They even went up into space, so scientists could see what would happen to cells in zero gravity.

A book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, came out in 2011. I was slow getting to it, because frankly a book about medical research didn’t really appeal to me. It is about medical research, but it is also about a daughter’s search for a mother she never knew and about the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of. A fascinating story.

Now it’s an HBO movie starring the always notable Oprah Winfrey and starting Saturday. You can read about the science in the Smithsonian magazine or listen to a podcast at RadioLab.

It’s a story about the power of microscopic cells but also about the ideas those cells enabled. Here’s the thing about ideas: they’re even smaller than cells, taking up no space at all, and they can conquer the world.

Favorite Fiction Books

In Books, Uncategorized on April 18, 2017 at 10:49 am


In no particular order. There could be dozens more on this list. These are the ones that come to mind and that I return to over and over.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – first read as a high school sophomore. Thank you, Miss Jacobs. Also a great movie, and the audio book read by Sissy Spacek is outstanding.

Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols – full of subtle humor. Also one of my favorite movies.

Violet Clay by Gail Godwin

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – the six-part BBC series with Colin Firth is the definitive film adaptation.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomey

Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

People of the Book by Geraldine BrooksI couldn’t resist a book with this title. Luckily the story lived up to the title.


What’s on your list?

A Work in Progress

In Books, Learning on April 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Since you asked, and even if you didn’t, here’s my list of all-time favorite nonfiction books. Subject to change without notice.
Working by Studs Terkel
A Different Woman by Jane Howard
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
No High Adobe series by Dorothy Pillsbury
Mastery by George Leonard
Home by Witold Rybczynski
Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp