Friday, November 12, 1999
Respect is a Two-way Street
At the latest conservation commission meeting, held Thursday evening, November 4, when for the second week in a row the commission addressed the issuing of a Certificate of Compliance for the completion of a dam at the end of Baldwin Road, I couldn't help but recall the words of Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of Respect. I had driven into Concord one evening, just a week earlier, to hear the author speak and read from her newly published book as part of the Concord Festival of Authors series. In her book, Lightfoot's focus is on respectful relationshipschild with parent, child with teacher, and peers among peers. She emphasizes relationships that are contrasts in power and shows how respect is generated among individuals.
The commission's charge to protect the wetlands of this community is serious business and I commend them for the job they do, and the long hours that they, as volunteers, spend doing it. I applaud their recent firm stand with a developer who tried to present a plan which would put a house partially in the buffer zone of the new Buttrick Woods development on Concord Street. But when a private homeowner of this community comes before the board and admits he and his contractor have made unintentional mistakes by not informing the commission when making additional repairs to his dam, then takes complete responsibility for his actions, I believe he should be treated with respect and civility. This did not happen at the meeting I attended last Thursday, nor did it happen the week before, from what I could glean from people who were present.
Does using a confrontational approach, without crediting the applicant's intentions or motives, best accomplish the goals of this commission? During the more than two-hour-long meeting on November 4, the discussion sometimes reached the level of badgering.
Yes, there were mistakes made, but those who interact with elected town officials or go before appointed town boards, be they developer or homeowner, should at least expect to be treated with dignity and civility. Those individuals coming before the same town boards and dealing with town officials should be held to the same set of standards as wellit's a two-way street.
If we are to resolve our differences, there has to be open discussion and communication, and respect for one another. Discussions of the Conant Land and its use for affordable housing at the recent Town Meeting was a good example of how people could treat each other with dignity and respect while expressing opposing positions.
It is important to uphold the rules and regulations of the Wetland Protection Act, yes, but looking for solutions rather than placing blame is a much more productive way to achieve these goals.
Harry Potter's Grand Adventures
When I was in school, I hated writing book reports more than anything, even arithmetic. So I was astounded at the wonderful reviews of Harry Potter covering two pages of the October 29 Mosquito. They weren't dull little reports like, "Little Red Riding Hood is about a girl who goes to visit her grandmother." These reviews had teeth and insight and guts. Kind of like J. K. Rowling's books.
I hear that the books have received the greatest accolade in all literature: being banned. Any book worth its salt has been banned by some self-righteous library or school board, bent on protecting children from anything stronger than the mental version of Cream of Wheat. They join works by Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Judy Blume, Maurice Sendakjust about any book you really enjoyed as a kid (or adult). The October 29 reviews carry hints of why Rowling's Harry Potter books merit that high honor.
Let's start with, "Well, first of all, the plot of the book is actually interesting!" (Diane Lee). This is not trivial. A lot of books for children have plots as compelling as Dick and Jane, with vocabularies to match. Harry Potter expands the reader's world; he doesn't put a fence around it, limiting readers to a perennial third grade.
How about "20 Reasons For Why I Love Harry Potter Books" (Katherine Price): "They have a lot of imagination in them. They are long. They are different from other books. They are interesting. You can't stop reading them." Long? Different? Imaginative? Interesting? I saw a book featured at a Concord Bookshop event that described the "adventure" of a young boy. He was allowed to take care of the class bunny rabbit. It ran away. He chased it. He caught it. He was a hero. Short, predictable and boring. Harry Potter blows in like a brisk sea breeze, clearing out the smog of insipid stories.
"Another reason I like Harry Potter books is that they are very descriptive. I have a total picture in my mind of what is going on. I sometimes feel like I am right there at Hogwarts" (Emily Arnow). Well, guess what? These kids have discovered the joy of reading. Real books (not most children's books) transport the reader into other worlds, and make them feel like they are there. No amount of reading the bland "early reader" books can convey the joy of reading like Harry Potter (or The Hobbit, or Narnia, or quite a few other books, all banned somewhere). I read an (adult) critique of children's literature over the past 100 years, titled "Don't Tell the Grownups." The author, Alison Lurie, believes that the best children's literature is "subversive." Children crave being in control of a life, an adventure, out of the reach of parents. Good books challenge the tidy image of childhood held by most adults. Have we forgotten those years when real life took place away from adultsin the woods, in playhouses, in the back of a closet? J. K. Rowling hasn't. There are plenty of good, gutsy, adventure stories in the children's section of the library and bookstore. I hope Harry Potter opens the door to their magic, too.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito