Radio Interview: Inside Education with Sid Glassner

If you missed my radio interview on Inside Education with Sid Glassner, here is the link:

Inside Education: Author Introduces the “Uncommon Core”


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Friday Writing Challenge: A Favorite Movie

Inside OutInside Out

I know. This is a Wednesday, but when I started writing about Inside Out last Friday, I realized this movie was a post I needed to write about, not for writing practice, but to explore why it impacted me so profoundly.

When I taught American Literature, I told my students that we study history to know the facts of a time period, and we study literature to know how people felt about those facts. That’s one of the reasons I love this movie. Inside Out goes beyond entertainment; it is film as literature. It’s a film that illustrates how we feel about the increase in childhood depression and parental over-involvement, and how we feel about creativity and imagination being replaced with rigid curriculum.

On the surface, Inside Out is a brilliant illustration of the way our emotions work to protect and guide us on our journey.

The story revolves around Riley, a young girl, and the emotions that work the control panel in her head. The first emotion we encounter is Joy with Riley’s first coo, which is immediately followed by Sadness with Riley’s first newborn cry. Next, we meet Fear; he keeps Riley safe. Disgust keeps Riley from being “poisoned, physically and socially.” Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair.” The personification of emotions lends itself to comedic situations.

The deeper level, however, illuminates two very real problems in our society today: depression and helicopter parenting.

Right from the beginning of the movie, we see that the battle between Joy and Sadness will determine what kind of life Riley has. What we discover by the end is that the key to a healthy, well-balanced life is to accept the importance of all emotions in our lives, and that Joy and Sadness complement each other, rather than cancel each other out. The other commentary is on helicopter parenting: Joy, as wonderful as she is, starts off bragging about Riley’s “mostly happy memories.” She wrongfully takes credit for Riley being happy, which gives her the false notion that she has to control everything in Riley’s life.

The movie takes us on Riley’s physical journey as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, as well as Riley’s emotional journey because of that move. With each disappointment Riley faces at her new home, we see that Joy pushes the other emotions out of Riley’s life. At first, it looks like Joy is right–always looking on the bright side of things is the best way to get through these problems.

It isn’t until Riley’s dad is angry on the phone and has to leave that we see Joy’s need to control Riley’s mood might become an issue. Riley is fearful and sad, but Joy won’t let Sadness take over. She insists on Riley being happy.

When Riley is remembering a funny moment from their travels, Sadness touches a gold memory orb, and it turns blue. Joy can’t turn it back, and she doesn’t understand why. Sadness needs to touch the happy memories, but because of Joy’s pride over her role in Riley’s life, Joy begins to make a series of bad choices that affect all of Riley’s emotions.

While talking to Sadness, Joy says, “Well…you know what? You can’t focus on what’s going wrong. There’s always a way to turn things around, to find the fun!” At first, it sounds like solid advice, but this might not be the healthiest way to deal with difficult and painful situations. Avoiding sadness implies that there is something wrong with that emotion.

Joy then wants the emotions to make a list of everything Riley should be happy about. At one point, Anger says, “No, Joy. There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now. Let us handle this.” If Riley would’ve expressed her anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, she could have gotten the help she needed from her parents. But when Riley pretends that she is okay, it leads to more suppression of emotions.

Riley’s mom says something to Riley that seems innocent and appropriate: “Your dad’s under a lot of pressure. But if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help.” Asking Riley to be their “happy girl” and to be responsible for her dad’s feelings are requests we should never make of our children.

After this interaction, Riley falls asleep and Joy controls Riley’s dreams– Joy doesn’t think the dream is appropriate for Riley. This is such a powerful statement on helicopter parenting. I’ve seen too many parents do this to their children–from sports to careers–parents are choosing what they think is appropriate, regardless of what the child wants, loves, or excels at.

Here is what I have learned as a mom, teacher, and child advocate: Parents need to love their child as he or she is, not as the parents want him or her to be. I get it. Parents have dreams as well–dreams about their children living a happy, fulfilling life. Who better to help their child navigate through that life than the parents who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses? However, once they start this process, parents rationalize the control over every decision and direction.

But the reality is everyone is on his or her own path–our children included. We really don’t know what another person needs in order to learn and grow. I know that the control comes from a loving place: Parents are trying to spare a child from feelings of heartbreak and disappointment. But when parents jump in and try to manage their child’s path, feelings, or experiences, they rob the child of a lesson he or she needed in order to learn and grow. If parents don’t let a child have the experiences of heartbreak, disappointment, and failure, the child will never develop the ability to figure out how to do it differently next time.

A great illustration of this is when Joy plays the accordion loud and fast the day after the first major crisis. Joy says, “I don’t think of it as playing so much as hugging.” Joy is trying to distract Riley and the other emotions from dealing with the real issues. If everyone does what Joy deems as the correct path, everyone will forget how horrible life is in that moment.

Throughout, Joy also tries to control Sadness. Joy’s goal is to help Riley have a “good day… good week…good year, which turns into a good life!” But whose definition of “good” is Joy using? She is using her own, and she thinks she knows Riley better than anyone. Instead of being one emotion in Riley’s life, Joy is trying to become the only emotion in Riley’s life.

When Riley starts crying on her first day of school, she starts a negative spiral, not because crying/sadness was bad, but because Riley feared the judgment. Then, because Joy couldn’t accept that Riley was sad, Joy tries to control the core memories, which leads to something in Riley breaking. If Joy would have allowed Riley to feel the sadness and fear, it might have led down a healthy path. Instead, Joy’s controlling behavior led to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control room. Riley is then left with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust to control her emotions–definitely a recipe for disaster.

Riley now has to navigate her life without Joy and Sadness. Disgust helps Riley give an attitude to her parents in the form of sarcasm. Anger leads Riley to tell her parents to “Just shut up!” emotionally pushing them away while simultaneously invoking Dad’s Anger.

Dad adds to the problems by not having an honest conversation with Riley. He says, “Things just got out of hand,” and “Where’s my happy girl?” These are distractions and avoidance rather than helpful when Riley can’t communicate her pain. After this interaction is when “Goofball Island” crumbles. Then Anger destroys Friendship Island. Riley’s three remaining emotions fight with each other and can’t access the necessary emotions to open up and release the pain. The beauty of this interaction, as difficult as it may be to watch, is that it shows how Anger, Disgust, and Fear push people away. Sadness, however, draws people in. We just have to be willing and vulnerable enough to let people see our sadness.

The crumbling Islands of Personality is an incredible visual for what happens inside of a person experiencing depression. I can only speak from my own experiences with depression, but it does feel like something is breaking inside. It’s hard to access the good memories. Anger and fear control my thoughts and actions, which then pushes away the people who love me the most. If I can’t have a good cry about it and share my pain with someone who lets me feel my pain without judgment or trying to fix me, the depression will last longer.

Halfway through the movie, Bing Bong, Riley’s silly, long-forgotten imaginary friend, shows up. He helps and hinders the progress, but in the end, it is this imaginary figure that becomes the catalyst to Riley’s healing. He also adds humorous scenes. I love Imaginationland, where Bing Bong is “practically the mayor,” for all the beauty and creativity Riley, at one time, accessed daily. It is Imaginationland that saves her in the end. Again, Inside Out subtly points to the importance of creativity and imagination. We should be nurturing that in our children, not taking it out of schools and forcing children to grow up too quickly.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust try to help Riley with her hockey tryouts, but, seriously, how can anything go well when Anger, Fear, and Disgust have the reigns? As Riley is struggling even to skate well, Disgust says a funny but poignant line: “It’s like we don’t learn anything.” Learning cannot take place if the main operating strategies of a child are embroiled in anger, fear, and disgust.

This interaction results in Hockey Island crumbling. As Riley’s Islands of Personality crumble, her dream worlds in Imaginationland are also being crushed. It is here that we see what Riley’s dad should have done when Riley was angry earlier.

Bing Bong is upset that his rocket was tossed into the dump. Joy tries to make silly faces, just like Dad tried to do with Riley, but that’s not the appropriate response to anger, fear, or pain. What is the right response? Giving the person permission to be sad, sitting next to the person and listening, holding his or her hand, and understanding the pain. Sadness sits next to Bing Bong and says: “I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone forever (Joy hates this and thinks Sadness is making the situation worse). . . . I bet you and Riley had great adventures. . . . Yeah. It’s sad.” Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness’ shoulder and cries. Sadness puts an arm around Bing Bong until he’s done crying. After Bing Bong feels heard, understood, and has cried, he can move forward.

Even though Joy has seen how Sadness helps in many situations, she pushes Sadness away when they try to get back to Riley through the memory recall tube. This interaction delays their return to the control room. As Family Island falls apart, it cracks the recall tube and sends Joy and Bing Bong to the abyss of lost memories.

This leads to the most important, poignant, and heartbreaking scene in the movie. Joy tries to get out of the abyss, but it’s useless. Bing Bong states: “Don’t you get it, Joy? We’re stuck down here. We’re forgotten.” Joy falls to her knees when she sees the blue core memory of Riley crying in class. As Joy watches other sweet memories fade into ash, she cries, “I just wanted Riley to be happy. And now…” Joy finally cries a long, painful cry–Joy finally feels sadness. She wipes a tear away from a gold memory, which rewinds the memory orb to show that the joy Riley felt with her teammates actually started with sadness. It was Sadness that brought Joy–that brought her parents to her side, that brought her teammates to encourage Riley. Joy finally understands the necessity of Sadness. She also understands that Riley’s path is not Joy’s to control. With renewed determination, she has a plan to get back to Riley: Bing Bong’s Rocket. Bing Bong helps Joy get out of the abyss, but he sacrifices himself out of love for Riley. Another beautiful illustration of love.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust have realized their mistake and try to change Riley’s plan, but it’s too late. The console has turned almost black, and Fear states: “Guys. We can’t make Riley feel anything.” My heart aches here, not just for Riley, but for every student I have worked with who had that empty stare. For those beautiful lives that had stopped feeling well before they got to me. I was able to help some, but too many of them were too far into their depression to hear my pleas, to see me sitting next to them offering my shoulder.

Through a series of incredible steps and feats, Joy and Sadness get to the control room, but it’s Sadness that has the power to remove the Idea Bulb and change Riley’s path. Sadness touches all the core memories, turning them blue so that Riley can finally speak her pain to her parents. It’s important to note that Riley’s parents speak their own sadness–they are honest with Riley; they don’t try to cover it up or sugar coat it. It is at this point that the three of them are in an embrace, crying and comforting each other so that Riley can finally smile again. Sadness brought Joy.

The rest of the movie is filled with much needed comic relief moments. We laugh through our own tears and, hopefully, accept the necessity of sadness in our lives.

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: January


What lessons can teachers offer to designers of software for the classroom?

Software designers need to know these eight things if they are going to create a program for the classroom:

  1. Teachers and students must be able to access the program within the school, so designers need to understand the various filters and how they operate. If students can’t access the program in school, it’s unlikely that they will use it at home, which means teachers won’t invest their time or the school’s money in it. An added bonus will be if the program has a way to keep the learning environment safe for students–with or without the filter.
  2. The program needs to be simple and use similar key strokes as other programs. There’s definitely a place for creativity, but creative commands and key strokes in a program that’s supposed to simplify a process or improve education just creates frustration.
  3. The program needs to be compatible with other programs. Remember when Apple first came out with their innovative computers and programs? None of us could use them because everything in our school was PC. If my students had a Mac, they couldn’t submit their essays electronically because our school’s program was not compatible with the Mac. Thankfully, both systems are more compatible with each other now, but designers should learn from that debacle. Unless the designer is another Steve Jobs (or has a boss like Steve Jobs), it is unlikely that the computer world will change everything for the new program. Besides, an educational tool needs to be tried and true before it gets to the classroom. The proper venue for true innovation is not the school system.
  4. Students are savvier than most teachers are, so the program should be easy to start and teach, but it should have depth so that students can explore the program and stay engaged with it. Also, if the program isn’t fluid enough to allow students to express their own creativity, they will get bored with it.
  5. Students are not impressed with cheesy gimmicks or things that try to imitate what they like but in an “educational” way. They are sophisticated consumers and should be treated as such (especially high school students).
  6. If the program is confusing, doesn’t work most of the time (or has too many glitches), and students can’t use other established programs with it, teachers and the school will stop using it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a great educational tool.
  7. Programs need to make use of the internet, music, videos, and pictures. Students want to show their teachers and classmates who they are with their projects and presentations. If students can only use inferior simulations of their favorite music, videos, and pictures, they will hate it instantly.
  8. Students learn at different rates, so a program that adjusts to different levels easily is helpful. My son used a math program that increased the complexity of the math problems as he improved. Until he showed mastery of addition, he didn’t move on to subtraction or multiplication. The program created an individual learning plan (ILP) for every student. Now that’s a program that’s worth investing in.

More educational discussions…

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Friday Writing Challenge: Memories

Five childhood memories.Memories

  1. 1968-ish: When I was about three or four (it was when we lived in our first house off Genesee Street), I remember playing with a little girl about my age at her house. I don’t remember her name or much about the house itself, but I do remember coloring with her. After we finished coloring in the book, I thought it would be fun to use the crayons as lipstick. We giggled until my friend’s mom came out of the kitchen. She had on a dress with an apron over it. I remember her wiping her hands on the apron, while looking at me with her lips pressed tightly together. When she finally spoke, her voice was shaking. She told me I had to leave and that I wasn’t welcome in her home anymore.
  2. 1969: When I was about five (we had just moved to our new house), I remember riding my training-wheeled bike by myself down the street. I thought I was making left turns to get around the block, but I ended up completely lost. I sat on my bike and cried. Three kids playing outside ran up to me and asked me what was wrong. It turned out that they were siblings and the youngest one was my age. There were six or seven of them all together, and two of the older siblings joined the three younger ones to help me find my way home. They knew exactly where I lived because they were friends with the kids who used to live in our house. When I walked into the house to tell my mom that I was lost, she asked, “How could you have been lost? You were only gone five minutes.”
  3. 1974: When I was about ten, I remember a boy named Tim “asking me out,” which was weird because he and my friend Beth were always sweet on each other. I actually liked another boy, but we never spoke. Tim and Beth continued to talk to each other, but they constantly looked over at me and then at the boy I liked. By the end of the day, Tim and Beth came over to me to explain that he didn’t really like me; he was just trying to get the other boy jealous for me. It didn’t work.
  4. 1976-80: Whenever I think of my childhood, Kathy pops up with the entire highlight reel of our friendship. I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom, painting our nails and listening to music. I remember hanging out of my upstairs bedroom window, trying to catch a note Kathy was throwing at me. I was grounded and couldn’t talk to her, so this was the only way we could communicate. One grounding I also tried to escape out my bedroom window. Kathy was coaching me as I maneuvered my escape. I made it out onto the little roof, but I was too scared to jump down. Her father’s sweet smile pops up in the montage whenever I think about Kathy’s house. For her 16th birthday, she had a garage band play in her basement. We sat on her couch and fell in love with those boys. Most of my memories though consist of us walking everywhere and talking about everything.
  5. 1977: When I was 13, I remember a young couple from NYC coming to our house. They were Macedonians and my dad knew the girl’s parents. I remember my shock and confusion when I found out she was 16, pregnant, and engaged to the 20-something year old guy next to her. I didn’t understand how she could be pregnant without being married; I thought she was so lucky that this much older guy loved her and wanted to marry her. I couldn’t understand why her parents were so upset about their engagement. Wasn’t that the goal of all parents–to marry off their daughters? I also remember my confusion over how upset my mom was with me for being excited for them.

Next week’s prompt: A favorite movie and why.

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Kaplan’s “Path to Recess”

Excellent post about what is truly important for success. The “soft skills” Kaplan refers to are the 25 things I wrote about in my book, Uncommon Core.

“Reflecting on my experiences teaching both at this school and at more traditional public schools, I find myself wondering if the methodology that enables young children to achieve so much so early actually hinders their long-term prospects. What if the struggles of graduates of “no excuses” schools reveal deficits that are not academic, but rather socio-emotional? What would happen if, instead of spending nine hours a day engaged in academic tasks determined by a teacher, children were to spend a large portion of their day developing “soft skills” that would enable them to overcome the hurdles they will encounter when they’re older? What if, like their suburban counterparts, they spent large portions of their day in rigorous, developmentally appropriate activities: learning to make friends, make art, and make believe, exploring and creating their interests and their identities?” Emily Kaplan

Read the rest here

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

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Friday Writing Challenge: Tattoos

Writing Prompt #2: What tattoos do you have, or what tattoos would you get, and why?

My one and onlyJuly 31, 2013: I’m sitting on a table watching Bryan artistically carve my children’s names into my ankle. The pain is so intense that I’m screaming out obscenities–words that explode out of my mouth even as my clenched teeth try to hold them in. A few times Bryan looks at Carol Linn, wondering if he should stop.

I’m sure Bryan is not used to seeing people like me in his studio. At 48, I was getting my first tattoo–reluctantly. I had always wanted to get a tattoo but was too afraid of the pain to actually do it. As the years passed, I not only refused to get one, but I became opposed to people marking up their bodies with ink. I didn’t mind the small, meaningful tattoos, but large, body-covering tattoos seemed to be a sickness–those people proved that tattoos were addicting; they couldn’t stop even if they wanted to. Yet, there I was, in pain, getting my first tattoo, clutching the table even though my mind was telling me to run away from the pain.

Why, then, would I agree to this?

Carol Linn is my middle child, the child most like me–the girl in the middle, the one who wanted to stand out yet wanted to belong. Like me, she fought for independence through her pre-teen and teen years in a family who confused control with parenting. Like me, she struggled with identifying with her place in this world.

When I looked at her, I saw my perfect little girl, lost and confused. I thought my job as her mother was to make her see herself the way I saw her–or, more accurately, the way I wanted her to be. I thought my words and actions could influence her decisions.

For her 16th birthday, she got her first tattoo. Her dad went with her to sign the permission sheet, while I stayed home and cried. It was painful thinking about her intentionally scarring her beautiful skin–the skin I created. Her body began in my body: I carried her for nine months; I went through intense pain to give her life–and now, the perfection, the miracle would be forever scarred. I couldn’t look at her tattoo when she got home. She was beaming with joy; my heart ached. With every tattoo, my reaction was the same: I cried and ached and refused to look at her intentional scars.

What I didn’t know was that my attitude was creating different types of scars–scars within Carol Linn and scars between us.

She finally told me one day: “Mom, it hurts me that you don’t support something I love and that has become a part of me.” After that, I tried to support her decisions for her life–even the scarring ones. We seemed to be on the road to healing; however, it wasn’t until I confided in her that I had always wanted a tattoo that our paths merged. Carol Linn’s eyes lit up: “It would mean so much to me if you got a tattoo with my tattoo artist.”

So, I found myself clutching that table. While I screamed out F-bombs, Carol Linn rubbed my shoulder, telling me to breathe through the pain. She held my hand and told me to squeeze it hard. She cried and smiled as she watched the swirls and hearts form on my ankle, birthing a new bond with my intentional scar.



Writing is my exhale. I’ve realized I’ve been holding my breath for far too long. At least once a week I will exhale, which I hope leads to a healthier breathing pattern. I encourage you to join me by either sharing your writing on my blog in the comments or posting a link to your own platform. Here’s to breathing!

Next Friday’s Writing Challenge: Five of your earliest memories.


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Friday Writing Challenge: Five Problems with Social Media

typing-on-keyboardWriting is my exhale. I’ve realized I’ve been holding my breath for far too long. At least once a week I will exhale, which I hope leads to a healthier breathing pattern. I encourage you to join me, either share your writing on my blog through the comments or in your own forum, whatever that may be. I’ll post the prompt first and then add my response later in the day. Here’s to breathing!

Writing Prompt # 1: Five Problems with Social Media

Did anyone else accept the challenge? Feel free to comment or post links to your forums. Here is my response:

Like all things in life, social media has its positive and negative uses. Only the user can determine which side he or she will fall on.

  1. Immediate access: One of the biggest problems with social media is that people have immediate and constant access to others, giving abusers anonymity and protection from retaliation because they can hide behind a computer screen. We know the nightmare stories about children being tormented by other children. Not only do the tormentors feel protected, but they also don’t have the “benefit” of seeing how their words hurt another person. For most people, seeing the pain we have caused someone is enough to make us think before we torment again. However, that doesn’t happen with social media. If each of us could imagine what our comments may do to the person they are aimed at, we may choose our words more carefully. And for those who are not naturally empathetic, they should think how they would feel if someone made those very comments to them. On the other side of this issue, immediate access to all kinds of people around the world is exactly what has given people the ability to grow their businesses or get acknowledged for their creativity and talent. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging are the main forums I work with, and they have given me access to the world: I have dialogued with people in Australia and China; people in the UK and Hawaii have purchased my book. The key with immediate access is to use it for good not evil.
  2. Sharing opinions: Social media has brought out the inner critic in everyone. Some opinions are so brutal that they go well beyond freedom of speech rights, but it happens so frequently that not much can be done about it. It’s also difficult to defend yourself against someone’s opinion; he or she has a right to have that opinion no matter how wrong or brutal that opinion is. (By the way, it’s easy to spot the people who are just using hate speech or covering up an uneducated opinion because their comments are filled with logical fallacies.) The best solution is to get tougher skin and let it go or to establish boundaries with people that don’t know they’ve crossed them. I’ve had to set people straight a number of times (and they don’t like it much), but I’ve also realized that someone else’s opinion of me doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what I think about myself. Those thoughts have shaped me into the woman I am. Additionally, my opinions are a reflection of the woman I am. That’s why I try not to share my opinions in negative ways–I don’t want to be a negative person. I refrain from giving an opinion on a subject I know little about–I may have an opinion, but it won’t be an educated one. Being able to share my opinion is also a beautiful thing because it encourages me to become more knowledgeable. My eyes have been opened to some truths in the world because I have dared to look at and investigate an opposite opinion. I don’t agree with every opinion I read, but I’m also not threatened by people who don’t see the world the same way I do. I just look at those comments as a way to strengthen my own convictions.
  3. Getting noticed: Social media has brought some unlikely people into the spotlight, which is a blessing and a curse for anyone who has experienced it. I was able to get a book contract because of the media attention I received after my resignation letter went viral. I knowingly posted my letter to my blog, but I had no idea how big it would get. I wasn’t ready for that kind of media attention or the horrible things some people said to me and about me on the various internet websites. The other unfortunate consequence of getting noticed is that some people will do anything for attention, including lying about who they are and what they’ve done. That’s why it’s so important to be truthful on social media. The only thing worse than getting thrown into the spotlight without any prior training is to get that attention for being a liar or manipulator.
  4. Wasting time: Social media can destroy productivity. Constantly checking statuses, likes, and comments can eat away an hour (or two) without even trying. Staying connected with family and friends in different parts of the globe is a blessing, but looking for acceptance and validation of worth through these connections is not. The key to this is balance and moderation.
  5. Finding out what’s wrong with our society: The horrible crimes we are privy to because of social media has been blamed for our society’s helicopter parenting phenomenon. We read on a daily basis about missing or abused children, bullying, drug abuse, shootings, etc., forcing parents to become overprotective of their children. It’s difficult to raise independent and successful children when parents feel they have to micromanage every detail of their children’s lives in order to protect them from the “dangers” in the world. I’m not saying the dangers aren’t real, but they aren’t new either, and many times these events are sensationalized in order to generate traffic to those sites. I won’t read those articles. It’s not that I want to remain ignorant, but I don’t want to fill my mind with horrifying images. I can’t stay hopeful if I’m constantly afraid. I can’t raise a healthy son if I pass on those fears to him. The other side of this issue, though, is that we have our finger on the pulse of what’s wrong with this world. We have to know what’s broken in order to fix it. For those who care to make a positive impact in our world, all we have to do is read the headlines to know where we are needed most.


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