Thursday, April 11, 2024

Spilling the Secrets to Early Literacy

For young children, learning to read is a critical step in their educational journeys, as literacy helps build cognitive abilities and language proficiency and has a direct impact on later academic achievement.

While there are no shortcuts to early literacy, there are steps parents can take to promote the development of children’s reading abilities. Dr. Lauren Loquasto, senior vice president and chief academic officer at The Goddard School, and Steve Metzger, award-winning author of more than 70 children’s books, share this guidance for parents.

Get Started Early
It’s never too early to start reading with children. In fact, they respond to being read to prenatally. One of the best ways to encourage early literacy is modeling the act of reading. Young children love to imitate, and if they see their parents reading, they are more likely to want to read themselves. Instead of scrolling on your phone or watching television while your children play, pick up a book or magazine.

Use Conversation to Build Literacy
To help build their vocabularies, consistently engage children in conversation. Literacy is more than reading and writing; it’s also listening and speaking. Children understand words before they can articulate them, so don’t be discouraged if it feels like a one-way conversation.

Expose Children to More Than Books
Make your home environment print-rich, as the more exposure children have to letters and words, the better. For example, keep magnetic letters and words on the fridge, put labels on your toy containers and position books and magazines in different rooms. Also remember reading isn’t limited to books. Words are everywhere, from street signs to restaurant menus. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with your children through words throughout your day.

Let Them Take the Lead
Children engage with books in different, developmentally appropriate ways. Some children quickly flip through pages or only look at pictures while others might make up stories or their own words or songs. Some only want to read the same book over and over and some want to read a new book every time. Embrace and encourage their interest in books, no matter how they choose to use them.

Establish a Routine
Parents of young children often have busy and hectic lives, so it isn’t always easy to find time to read. Consistency is key, so be intentional about setting aside time for reading every day – perhaps it’s after dinner or before bedtime – and stick to it.

Select the Right Books
Helping young children choose books is an important part of their learning-to-read process. Developmental appropriateness is critical. For infants and toddlers, start with nursery rhymes, which are mini-stories that grasp children’s attention through repetition, rhythm and rhyming. Visuals are also important because they aren’t yet pulling words off the page. For emerging readers, choose books that align with their interests. Focus on books that are printed with text that goes from left to right and top to bottom.

Expose children to both fiction and non-fiction books. Non-fiction provides real-world knowledge children crave and helps them make sense of what they read in fictional stories. For example, the learnings about the life cycle of a bat they read in “Bat Loves the Night,” a non-fiction book, can help them better understand what’s happening in “Stellaluna,” a fiction book about a young bat.

If you’re in doubt about book choices, consult with a teacher or librarian, who can make recommendations based on your children’s interests and reading levels.

Foster a Love of Reading
Children’s early exposure to books can set the stage for a lifetime of reading. Make reading a time for discovery. Take children to a library or bookstore and encourage them to explore and find books on their own. Display genuine interest in their selections and use books as a tool for engaging and connecting with them. Don’t pressure children to learn how to read. Accept, validate and encourage them as they progress on their unique literacy journeys.

To watch a webinar recording featuring Loquasto and Metzger providing additional literacy guidance and recommendations, and access a wealth of actionable parenting insights and resources, visit the Parent Resource Center at

The Goddard School

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Why probation and parole don’t work as advertised

The current system of supervised release in lieu of imprisonment may do more harm than good, some experts say. How can society do a better job of rehabilitating law-breakers while keeping them from re-offending?

Marcella Soto had four children by the time she was 22 and was on and off welfare during the years they were growing up. By 2018, she was working a government job in California when she was charged with six counts of welfare fraud. Unable to prove that she had not misreported her income many years earlier, she pleaded guilty to a single felony count.

Soto was sentenced to the maximum probation term — five years — and was required to check in with a supervisor every month. Because of the conviction, she lost her job; because of the conditions of her probation, she was unable to travel to Texas to attend the birth of her first grandchild.

Being sentenced to probation put Soto in the largest group of people in America’s criminal justice system. About 1.9 million US residents are behind bars, and 3.7 million are being monitored while they are on probation in lieu of incarceration or on parole after being let out of lockup.

Probation and parole — collectively known as community supervision — were originally conceived as alternatives to incarceration, allowing convicted criminals to be rehabilitated under supervision. But criminal justice leaders say the practices have strayed from that original mission and become so ineffective that, ironically, they contribute to America’s overcrowded prisons. These critics call for an overhaul of community supervision, including shorter terms and more support for rehabilitation. In some states, new laws are making headway.

“Nearly half of the people going into jails and prisons are coming in from a failed and broken probation and parole system,” says Robert Rooks, chief executive officer of Reform Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group. “So if you want to address mass incarceration in this country, you have to address the phase of probation and parole.”

Changing goals

Parole and probation were originally intended as opportunities to rehabilitate offenders through support, such as help finding jobs or housing. This focus on rehabilitation began to recede in the 1970s when a tough-on-crime public sentiment emerged. Parole and probation morphed instead into systems of surveillance — intense scrutiny over long periods of time — supposedly in support of public safety.

With this shift, critics say, community supervision became a form of “net-widening,” keeping people in the criminal justice system rather than easing them back into society. “In many people’s minds, this is a good thing you get instead of going to prison,” says Vincent Schiraldi, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. “But this is a bad thing. It’s got a lot of bad outcomes for a lot of people.”

For instance, probationers must comply with a growing, often complex list of conditions — which typically number 18 to 20 — that can be difficult to meet, Schiraldi says. Avoiding contact with anyone who has a criminal conviction is hard if an offender’s family or support network includes convicts; returning home by curfew can interfere with keeping a job. In Pennsylvania, where a released prisoner could be on parole for the rest of their life, probationers are prohibited from leaving the state, which means an Uber driver on probation in Philadelphia cannot drive into the suburbs that spill into Delaware.

“That right there shows you that our current policies are arbitrary, unnecessary and hinder people’s ability to do the things they need to do to become stable, get back to work and provide for their families,” Rooks says. “And that’s the opposite of what probation and parole should be doing.”

Indeed, a 1993 survey of people imprisoned in Texas found that 66 percent said they would choose incarceration over a 10-year probation sentence. When Schiraldi was New York City’s probation commissioner in 2010, he saw a woman give up her probation, choosing instead to go to Rikers Island jail, because she was unable to find childcare that she needed for her probation check-ins, where children were not allowed.

All these problems might be acceptable if probation and parole were meeting the goal of reducing incarceration without leading to more crime. Schiraldi and two colleagues examined that proposition in the 2023 Annual Review of Criminology — and concluded that they are not.

Community supervision clearly fails at reducing incarceration. The more people living under probation and parole in one year, the higher the incarceration rate the following year, according to work by Schiraldi and his coauthors. That reflects, in part, the fact that failing to comply with terms of supervision can mean a ticket to jail. In 2017, revocation of parole or probation accounted for 45 percent of prison admissions, and in 20 states, more than half of those revocations were not for new crimes, but for violating the terms of supervision.

The evidence on public safety is more equivocal. If releasing people on parole and probation poses a risk of further crime, then the more people released on supervision in a given year, the higher the crime rate would be in the following year. But that isn’t the case. Overall, a state’s probation, parole and total supervision rate in one year does not predict the state’s rate of index crime — a term that includes violent crime plus several kinds of property crimes — in the following year.

For parole alone, however, the researchers found that the more parolees in a given year, the more violent crime the next year. That implies that parole could be risky.

But looking at the issue in a different way, Urban Institute researchers showed no clear risk, as well as no benefits, from parole. The team reviewed long-term Bureau of Justice Statistics data on 38,624 prisoners from 14 states released from prison in 1994 and found that parole supervision does not substantially affect recidivism or public safety. People simply released from prison without supervision were no more likely to be rearrested than those who were required to complete a term of parole after their sentence, they found — though people paroled before the end of their prison sentences did have lower rearrest rates.

Other evidence also suggests that recidivism may arise early, so long supervision terms may not be helpful in reducing crime. For example, among felony probationers in Oregon who were rearrested within three years of their probation, 69 percent were arrested in the first year, according to data from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. That suggests that the early months of probation and parole may be a critical period for helping offenders change their behavior and connecting them with community services.

In addition, making community supervision less punitive has been shown to work. One in-depth study of 283 offenders in an intensive supervision program in Wyoming compared the effect of rewards, such as praise or removal of electronic monitoring, to punishments, such as reprimands or tightened curfew. The offenders were most likely to complete their supervision successfully if they received at least four times as many rewards as sanctions.

Several studies show that employment for people under supervision helps to reduce recidivism. A transitional job program in New York City for people leaving prison led to a 9 percentage-point reduction in any type of recidivism (arrest, conviction or jail) over the three-year follow-up period compared to results with parolees not in the program. That suggests that supporting employment — rather than making it difficult by travel restrictions — is a good idea.

Evidence like this led Schiraldi and Barbara Broderick, former chief probation officer for Maricopa County in Arizona, to launch Exit, a group made up of current and former community supervision leaders, victims, prosecutors and others who want to see probation and parole downsized and returned to their original purpose of rehabilitation.

Among other aims, they want people on probation to be able to earn time off supervision if they maintain good behavior and achieve milestones like graduating from high school or keeping a job. They want the money saved from reduced supervision to be invested in community-based services that support people on probation or parole. They want incarceration for technical violations to be eliminated in favor of more and better supportive services that help people on parole and probation reintegrate into their communities.

A better way

Some of the greatest progress has been in California, where a series of reform laws since 2007 has transformed the incarceration and community supervision landscape, Rooks says. The reforms reduced prison sentences and supervision periods for many offenses and encouraged the use of evidence-based supervision strategies such as needs assessments, tailoring the intensity of supervision to a probationer’s risk of recidivism, and increased referrals to counseling, substance abuse treatment and employment services.

In many people’s minds, [probation] is a good thing you get instead of going to prison. But this is a bad thing.”


Because of these and other reforms, the number of Californians under community supervision fell from 477,733 in 2006 to 306,500 in 2020, a decrease of 42 percent. Meanwhile, reported crime declined by 7.4 percent during those years — and a study found the reforms had no measurable effect on violent crime, suggesting that less-punitive treatment did not increase crime.

Another California reform, passed in 2020, limits most probation sentences for misdemeanors to one year and most probation sentences for felonies to two. The change is projected to reduce the number of people on probation by a third, avert more than 48,000 prison stays because of technical violations and save the state $2.1 billion over five years, according to calculations by Recidiviz, a nonprofit organization that compiles and analyzes data to support criminal justice reform.

The saved money could be used to address the root causes of criminal behavior. For example, in early 2021 the El Dorado County Probation Department opened a house where probationers experiencing or at risk of homelessness can live and receive support services. “It allows you to free up the resources to give people the help that they need, which is what probation really should be about,” Rooks says.

When Soto learned about California’s new probation term limits in 2021, her probation officer did not support reducing her probation sentence, so Soto went to court. “The judge right away said, ‘You know what? I got her report. She’s never been in trouble and she’s working,’” she recalls. “And they let me off three years early.”

Now living in Oklahoma, where she works as a warehouse manager and lives with her daughter and the grandson whose birth she missed, Soto remembers that day. “I could travel and be free, and I didn’t have to worry about the visitation from the officer,” she said. “I was able to get my life back.”

The Power of Pets

NYC Sightseeing Pass

Love. Community. Belonging. Pets offer people the chance to explore friendships and connections they didn’t always think were possible.

Pets provide companionship and help bring people together. In fact, according to Mars’ “Pets Connect Us” report 73% of pet parents have made connections despite generational, cultural or ethnic differences because of their four-legged pals.

Learn more about the report, which leveraged consumer insights to shed light on the future of pet parenthood in the U.S. and Canada, at

Mars Petcare 


Sunday, March 17, 2024

Caring for a Feathered Flock

An antidote to the stresses of work and the fast pace of modern life may be closer than you realize. Whether on family farms or in urban backyards, chickens have the power to make your corner of the planet better.

Not only does raising chickens provide you with access to eggs for a tasty, nutritious and versatile food source, it also allows your family to be more self-sufficient, reduce your food miles and establish a family hobby that allows you to connect with one another.

“Chickens make wonderful companions and are often an overlooked option when a family is seeking the countless social, cognitive, physical and emotional benefits of pet ownership,” said Dr. Tanya K. Bailey, a pet therapist and creator of Pet Away Worry & Stress, a program that celebrates the healing connection between humans, animals and nature. “The fact is, many backyard chicken owners view their chickens as lovable household pets that contribute to their family’s sense of well-being.”

Before you bring your own flock home, consider these tips for raising chickens successfully:

You may think of chickens as grain-eating vegetarians, but they’re actually omnivores with a diverse diet. Most chickens eat insects, as well as herbs, fruits, vegetables and grains. Experts recommend having enough food available for chickens to graze throughout the day, but a single daily feeding is usually adequate.

A specially designed chicken waterer can help ensure your hens always have a supply of clean water, but some prefer a trough-style waterer instead.

Chickens require room to roam, but they also need protection from predators and the weather. The most common setup for chicken housing involves an enclosed coop and a secure area where they can wander freely. Plan to secure several square feet of space per chicken to avoid crowding.

The coop you need will depend on many factors, but a versatile option like the Eglu Pro chicken coop is suitable for flocks of varying sizes. It provides housing for up to 10 large hens or 15 bantams with a low-maintenance design and hygienic, comfortable habitat. The coop offers a controllable climate with adjustable vents and double-walled insulation and numerous features to protect chickens from predators, including raccoon-proof locks.

“Over many hours, we watched, learned, asked and then invented an enhanced coop that does justice to the brilliance of the humble chicken, a pet that can bring so much joy to family members of all ages,” said Johannes Paul, co-founder of Omlet. “The ingenuity of the Eglu Pro is that it turns the dream of keeping chickens into a reality for everyone. Created not just for the chicken but because of the chicken, this coop helps those who are looking to slow down, destress and take control of their busy lives or crave the need to build a community around them.”

It’s important to keep a close eye on your chickens’ health and safety. Proper housing and routine cleaning are keys to deter predators and prioritize hygiene to help minimize illnesses. Just like other pets, chickens require sufficient exercise and stimulation to maintain good health, which you can provide with foraging activities.

If you’re considering a new pet, chickens make for a lovable, economical option. Find more advice for raising a feathered flock at


Chocolate of the Month Club Club

Psychedelic drugs and the law: What’s next?

The push to legalize magic mushrooms, MDMA, LSD and other hallucinogens is likely to heighten tensions between state and federal law, drug law expert Robert Mikos says

When Oregon’s first psilocybin service center opened in June 2023, allowing those over 21 to take mind-altering mushrooms in a state-licensed facility, the psychedelic revival that had been unfolding over the past two decades entered an important new phase.

Psilocybin is still illegal on the federal level. But now, as researchers explore the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and other psychedelics, including LSD and MDMA (also known as Molly or ecstasy), legal reform efforts are spreading across the country — raising tensions between state and federal laws.

As a class, psychedelic drugs were outlawed in the United States by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The act designated psychedelics as Schedule I drugs — the most restrictive classification, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. That status limits research to federally approved scientific studies and restricts federal funding to research with “significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage.”

Despite these limitations, researchers have demonstrated the potential of psychedelics in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety and addiction. A 2020 systematic review of recent research found that psychedelics can lessen symptoms linked to a variety of mental health conditions. While that review found no serious, long-term adverse physical or psychological effects from ingesting psychedelics, more research is needed on the latter.

Today, decades after research on the effects of hallucinogens on the brain was sidelined by the act, academic and cultural interest in psychedelics is on the rise. More than 60 percent of Americans now support regulated therapeutic use of psychedelics, while nearly half support decriminalization, and nearly 45 percent support spiritual and religious use. An estimated 5.5 million US adults use psychedelics each year.

In opening psilocybin service centers where adults can buy and consume “magic mushrooms” without a doctor’s prescription, Oregon took the biggest step yet toward expanding legal psychedelic access in the United States. In the process, it joined a growing number of states and municipalities that are carving their own paths with drug laws. Colorado legalized the use and possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms and three other psychedelics in 2022 and aims to open licensed use facilities by the end of 2024. And California’s legislature passed a bill in 2023 that would have legalized adult possession of psilocybin, the related psilocin and two other hallucinogens (dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, and mescaline), although Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it in October, asking for legislation that focuses on therapeutic uses.

In all, 20 states introduced psychedelic-related legislation in 2023, ranging from plans to establish research councils and working groups to proposals to legalize use and possession of certain drugs. Meanwhile, cities in California, Michigan and Massachusetts have stopped enforcement or otherwise decriminalized possession of some psychedelics, typically ones that are naturally found in plants and fungi. Washington, DC, the seat of the federal government, has also loosened its psychedelic laws.

Some of these reform efforts aim to revive research that might lead to badly needed mental health treatments; others are pushing back against what many deem unfair criminal punishments stemming from the “war on drugs.” The result is a growing patchwork of state and local laws that stand in conflict with the Controlled Substances Act.

What does the future hold? Robert Mikos, an expert on drug law at Vanderbilt University Law School in Tennessee, says the history of marijuana law reform may offer some indicators.

In 1996, California voters approved the medical use of marijuana, and today 38 states have medical marijuana programs, while 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use. Seventy percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, up from about 25 percent when California first changed its law. And yet marijuana, which is sometimes itself considered a psychedelic, remains a Schedule I substance.

For marijuana, too, public perception underwent dramatic shifts as research demonstrated its relative safety and effectiveness for the treatment of pain and nausea, among other maladies.

Mikos analyzed the implications of marijuana reform history for the legal future of psychedelics in the 2022 Annual Review of Law and Social Science. In an interview with Knowable Magazine, he explored the path toward rescheduling, why different types of psychedelics need to be considered separately, and the interplay between federal and state drug laws.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What have you learned from studying the history of marijuana reform in terms of what’s now happening with psychedelics?

The biggest lesson is that you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket and get the federal government to sign on, which is extremely difficult to do. The states provide an alternate forum for pursuing reforms. We’ve seen some small changes to federal law, but in the last 26 years or so, we’ve seen the states figure out ways around all the obstacles erected by the federal government. There are some compromises and sacrifices that have to be made to work around federal law, but you can pull this off and have meaningful reform without agreement from the federal government — even with some hostility from the federal government.

Do you think the legal journey of marijuana should inform the future for psychedelics?

There are differences here. No one even agrees on what the term psychedelics encompasses. Some people think immediately of plant-based psychedelics like psilocybin. Others would include lab-made drugs like LSD. It’s a much more diverse array of substances than marijuana. If someone wants to legalize psychedelics, they may have to pick one substance and run with it. That is a clearer path to success than saying you’re going to legalize all psychedelics. I don’t think any state would be willing to do that at this point.

Framing its use as medical helps — that was certainly true with marijuana. It’s much easier to sell the public on legalizing something for medical use rather than recreational or spiritual use. Under the Controlled Substances Act, the only lawful use of a controlled substance is medical, so there was a natural inclination to frame marijuana use as medical.

Politically, it would be easier to convince a majority of the public to support a ballot initiative to legalize some psychedelics, like psilocybin, for medical use. It would be a simpler story than saying, “Some people here want to go out and trip.”

In 2023, the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked by the Drug Enforcement Administration with reviewing the medical and scientific evidence for a drug’s scheduling, recommended reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, indicating federal recognition of its accepted medical use. That move would open the door to federal approval of medical marijuana but keep it criminally controlled. Could that be a path for psychedelic reform?

If the Drug Enforcement Administration does reschedule marijuana, it would show that you could get this done at the federal level — but consider that the Controlled Substances Act was passed more than 50 years ago. Marijuana could still end up moving only one rung, to Schedule II, which is very tightly controlled — cocaine is there right now. My takeaway is: Don’t hold your breath waiting for the federal government to change its laws.

And for psychedelics, it’s more complicated. You’d need to make that same demonstration to the Food and Drug Administration — that the drug has medical uses — for each and every drug you were interested in. (The FDA evaluates a drug’s safety and medical efficacy, as well as potential for abuse, among other factors, in its analysis.)

Still, there’s at least a sign, now, that you can convince the federal government to lower the controls on some of these long-forbidden substances. But given how much time it’s taken and how limited that impact would be, it suggests you need to do something else — probably going through the states again and not the federal government.

To what extent is the Controlled Substances Act dictating the trajectory of psychedelic reform?

The Controlled Substances Act privileges medical use, which is going to frame the debate around these substances. But I think people are going to shoehorn in uses that are not genuinely medical uses of the drug.

People are trying to scientifically test these drugs, but ironically, the Controlled Substances Act makes that very difficult. If a drug is on Schedule I, to move it off you need clinical trials demonstrating that it’s effective at treating some medical condition. But conducting those medical trials is really difficult because it’s Schedule I.

The federal government wants to make sure that something someone says is going to be used in a clinical research trial is not sold on the black market. So it imposes special controls, which it could relax to make it easier for universities, hospitals and scientists to test the medical efficacy of different psychedelics.

Even though psychedelics are often discussed as an entire class of drugs, they differ in their chemistry, how they’re created and how they affect individuals who take them. How will that influence the way advocates approach reform?

At the federal level, even if you conduct mountains of research demonstrating that LSD has some accepted medical use, that won’t have any effect on whether to reschedule psilocybin. Politically, it may be difficult to form alliances in that situation between people who believe strongly in legalizing psilocybin versus those who support legalizing a different psychedelic drug.

At the state level, it could get tricky. Will there be enough people out there who are willing to support an initiative targeted at just one of these psychedelics? We don’t have much public opinion research on psychedelics in general, and certainly not on individual psychedelics, which may be the route that reformers need to take.

MDMA was granted “breakthrough therapy” status in order to be studied as part of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the completion of a Phase 3 trial in fall 2023 means it could be approved by the FDA for this use as early as 2024. Would that require the drug to be rescheduled? And how would that change the trajectory for psychedelics overall at the federal level?

It would necessitate rescheduling. You can’t keep a drug on Schedule I if it has accepted medical use. Which other schedule it falls on depends on the relative harms and likelihood of abuse. But I’m not sure there are broader ramifications. The Controlled Substances Act calls for the scheduling of individual substances, rather than classes of substances, so the scheduling of MDMA has no implications for the scheduling of psilocybin.

What does the tension between state and federal psychedelics law look like?

It’s a bit like a chess match. The states can liberalize their laws and allow people to use, manufacture and distribute some psychedelics, such as psilocybin in Oregon, without fear of arrest from the state government.

The federal government could try to counter the states by making it very difficult for the states to regulate psychedelics. This was true in the early days of state marijuana law reforms. The states wanted to create a safe and heavily state-regulated supply system, but the federal government was threatening to crack down on suppliers, so states didn’t try to set up regulated supply systems. In California, for example, people set up enormous collectives that served tens of thousands of patients, but those suppliers weren’t regulated to the same degree they are now.

You saw state regulation take off only around 2009 when the Obama administration announced it would stop raiding medical marijuana distributors. But that was more than 12 years into state marijuana reforms. Prior to that, states said, “We’re going to call your bluff.… We’re not going to arrest patients. Instead, we’re going to tell patients to grow it themselves, get it from a friend or the black market.”

That’s less than ideal. The states didn’t want some 70-year-old terminal cancer patient having to grow their own medicine, but they said that’s better than threatening to arrest that patient. You might see a similar tit-for-tat in the psychedelics realm.

Oregon has tried to jump the gun a little bit with psilocybin. What they’re envisioning is a tightly regulated state supply system. You can’t buy it and use it at home at your leisure — you have to use it at a state-licensed psilocybin service center.

The problem with that is that it’s much easier for the federal government to shut down state-regulated suppliers because you’ve got a list of them, so it puts those suppliers in harm’s way. They can be arrested, prosecuted, thrown in prison for long terms and have their assets seized.

But if the federal government cracks down on those psilocybin service centers, Oregon might just lift its prohibition on making and distributing this drug. And then the federal government might come back to the table, as it eventually did with medical marijuana.

It’s a back-and-forth between the states and the federal government to figure out how much the federal government will tolerate.

What lessons have we learned from the early stages of psychedelic law reform?

Oregon passed Measure 109 back in fall 2020. It took three years for the first psilocybin service center to open. It takes time to figure out how to do this, especially for early adopters. Can we actually have a system where the state is looking over your shoulder while you’re taking this drug? Or is that going to backfire and is the federal government going to use that to crack down on these centers?

As long as the sky doesn’t fall and you don’t see some disasters from these early adopters, I think other states will warm to it. But the first few years are going to be slow going.

Are there indications yet about whether psychedelics will be able to gather the same kind of political backing that helped push marijuana reform?

I am deeply skeptical. If you look at marijuana, we’ve had the majority of Americans support legalization for recreational or adult use for 10 years and we’re just now getting some tepid indications that somewhere down the line the Biden administration might change federal law governing marijuana to allow for medical use.

It’s going to take a while before you get that sort of public support for psychedelics reform, if you ever get it, and you’d need that before whoever is in federal office 10 to 20 years from now actually embraces this.

The forecast at the federal level doesn’t sound favorable for reform advocates, but at the state level, do you think psychedelic reform is inevitable at this point?

Not necessarily. Psychedelics aren’t nearly as popular or familiar to the general public as marijuana is, so advocates of reforms will have a bigger job educating the public and convincing them that legalization is a good idea.

I don’t think we’re going to see a sudden rush to embrace psychedelics. You might see it in a few states like Oregon and California. Other states will wait on the sidelines and see how it works: Did they figure this out? Is it safe? Is it effective? Were they able to control it? Once you see that demonstration you might see some momentum pick up, especially if public support for psychedelics grows.

A decade from now, maybe seven or eight states will have legalized one psychedelic, probably psilocybin, ostensibly for therapeutic use but, in reality, for any use, as Oregon has done. And then maybe the federal government will reschedule one of these psychedelics. But this took 25 years for marijuana. It will probably be similar for psychedelics.

Stop Texting and Emailing and Try Talking for a Change

by Daniel B. Griffith, J.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Illustration of people talking

As a workplace mediator, I am astounded by the many times I've helped employees work through their conflicts simply by having them reassess their methods of communicating. Conflict often escalates because individuals rely on technology -- texts and emails -- to communicate rather than honestly talk face to face. For example:

  • A department chair and office manager rarely meet in person. The chair exercises his faculty privilege to work from home and the manager feels blamed for not addressing student and faculty needs, mostly because she can't get clarity through email from the chair about how to respond.
  • Initial emails in a long email stream between two faculty are seemingly innocuous but escalate over many weeks to barbed comments, sarcasm, innuendo, accusations, half-truths, and SHOUTING. They have never spoken directly with one another about their concerns.
  • Two students pull out their phones and trace the series of text exchanges between them, quickly realizing their frequent use of abbreviations, emojis, and curt replies, and overlooked texts within the stream led to significant misunderstandings and unfounded judgments and assumptions each made of the other.

My job as mediator is to help individuals unpack the causes of their conflict and see for themselves where their differences lie, but it is tempting in cases like these simply to say, "stop it!" The answer seems obvious but is evidently more difficult for many who have come to rely on their devices to communicate to the point they avoid, fear, or forget to communicate in person or have lost or never developed the skills for doing so.

If this is you, or fear it may be, consider these suggestions for evaluating your technology use and extricating yourself from the confusion to improve your relationships and conflict resolution skills:

Get clear on your reasons for relying on e-communication when dealing with conflict. Conflict resolution starts with identifying root causes. With respect to technology misuse, causes for users' misdeeds and misunderstandings that foment conflict include:

  • Cowardice. Hiding behind the keypad to send out missives, barbs, strident comments, and other conflict-enhancing messages due to a lack of courage, fortitude, or integrity to face others in person.
  • Fear. Avoiding face-to-face interaction due to either genuine or unfounded fear of confrontation, thereby finding safety in perpetuating the conflict behind the keypad.
  • Laziness or busyness. While we know we could talk over the cubicle or knock on a colleague's door (or do so virtually through a video meeting), we don't do so, either from inertia or by blaming our busy schedule. It is simply easier to stay behind the keypad.
  • Ignorance. Some individuals lack awareness of how their written exchange may come across as curt, dismissive, unclear, or harsh. Others may simply not know, or were never taught, that in-person exchange is the best option for addressing conflicts and more serious conversations.
  • Lack of skills. Some may recognize the need for face-to-face interaction but feel awkward, tongue-tied, and unskilled, feeling more comfortable behind the keypad. They will continue in this mode if they lack the means to develop skills or to ask for help.
  • Norms. When e-communication is the default within your organization, or among your community, age group, or friends, the thought of a different means for more important conversation never crosses your mind.

Change your mindset and manner of communicating. As conflict escalates, we experience diminishing returns in our ability to meaningfully communicate and resolve issues with colleagues. As this occurs and you get an inkling that your electronic foibles may be a contributing cause, it's time to wake up to the need for a different approach to your communication exchange.

These inklings may arise, among other means, if you sense your common use of abbreviations and emojis are being misinterpreted or causing offense, your written explanations become lengthier in response to a colleague's baseless accusations, you've lost track of the stream and wonder where the misunderstanding first arose, or you discontinue communication altogether -- electronic or otherwise -- because it has become exhausting and demoralizing to attempt further communication.

The first response to this dilemma is simple (physically, if not emotionally): take your fingers off the keypad. The next step is perhaps more challenging, particularly if you are accustomed to hiding behind the keypad: find a way to initiate face-to-face communication to address your conflict. This probably means walking down the hall to talk with your colleague (or to do the virtual equivalent by requesting a video meeting).

If this is too difficult to initiate cold, or your colleague is as or more skilled as you in hiding behind electronic walls, begin with a polite email, such as, "I think it would be best at this point to talk this through than to continue through email. Could we meet soon?" If your colleague continues to attempt electronic "conversation," you may need to be more direct: "I've requested previously that we meet to discuss this. I will not continue to respond to this concern through email. Would Tuesday at 3:00 or Wednesday at 9:00 be a better time to meet?"

The point is to back away from e-communication, minimize or discontinue e-responses until you can meet in person, and transition discussion on issues causing conflict to in-person exchange.

Don't get pulled into others' misuse of technology. Truly recalcitrant colleagues relying on electronic forms may disregard your message and continue their methods. In any conflict, someone must be the first to break the cycle. Don't give in and return to your old ways simply because the other person hasn't responded as requested. To the extent business must continue through electronic means, keep it to business, provide information only as pertinent to move forward with business decisions, and remind the person of your standing request to meet in person on the matter of concern.

While your awkward radio silence may further jeopardize your relationship momentarily, leave an information void, and generate further misunderstandings and frustration (perhaps even escalating the other person's e-responses), realize the cost in time, energy, and loss of goodwill to continue or return to an unhealthy cycle, tempting as it may be to respond in kind.

Establish clear expectations about how you will communicate and the methods you will use. Whether correcting a dysfunctional relationship precipitated by poor e-communication or establishing a new relationship to avoid such problems, establish an understanding of how you will address the natural miscommunications and conflicts that arise and how e- vs. in-person communication will play a role. Consider informal norms or grounds rules covering situations where e-communication is appropriate and when transition to in-person is needed. Hint: e-communication for general business and information exchange; in-person when a deeper conversation is needed, or when matters initiated through e-communication require transition to in-person to ensure clarity. So armed, you now have a basis for disrupting e-communication to transition to in-person without surprising your colleague and begin a fluid, productive process for addressing concerns through face-to-face interaction.


This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. 

How meth became an epidemic in America, and what’s happening now that it’s faded from the headlines

Police detectives sort through evidence after raiding a suspected meth lab. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
William Garriott, Drake University

Rural America has long suffered from an epidemic of methamphetamine use, which accounts for thousands of drug overdoses and deaths every year.

William Garriott, an anthropologist at Drake University, explored meth’s impact on communities and everyday life in the U.S. in his 2011 book “Policing Methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in Rural America.” Since then, the problem has only gotten worse.

The rural news site the Daily Yonder spoke with Garriott about what has been driving the surge in meth use in recent decades and what prompted him to focus on meth in his work. The Conversation has collaborated with The Daily Yonder to share the interview with you.

How’d you get interested in methamphetamine as an academic subject?

When I started my Ph.D in anthropology in 2003, I knew I wanted to focus on the Appalachian region of the United States. At the time, I was curious about religious life in the region and its contribution to the growth of Pentecostalism and evangelicalism around the world.

But I had also just taken a course with medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman. He says that we should seek to understand “what’s at stake” or “what really matters” for people in their everyday lives.

And what really mattered to people in places like eastern Kentucky at the time was drugs. We now know we were at the beginning of the opioid epidemic. OxyContin was already taking a toll on local communities, and there was little national concern because it was seen as an isolated regional problem (the derogatory term “hillbilly heroin” was getting thrown around a lot at the time).

When I started my dissertation research, methamphetamine had become the primary concern, both regionally and nationally. When the Patriot Act was reauthorized in 2005, the only significant addition was anti-meth legislation called the Combat Meth Epidemic Act.

In what sense was the meth surge of the ’90s and early 2000s a rural phenomenon?

Lots of ways. The internet gave people access to meth recipes, and meth cooks tended to be located in rural areas. It was easier to hide and access key ingredients like anhydrous ammonia. In fact, the number of meth labs grew so quickly that huge swaths of the rural U.S. were labeled High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas – something that had only been applied to cities like New York and Los Angeles before.

The rural economy was also changing. Jobs weren’t paying as well or were going away altogether. Meth found a niche as a kind of performance enhancement drug for people working long hours at physically demanding jobs – something I saw in the poultry industry in West Virginia, journalist Nick Reding found in the pork industry in Iowa, and anthropologist Jason Pine found in general in Missouri. Eventually some folks just left these jobs to work in the meth economy full time.

I think it’s also important to mention how meth was being portrayed in national media as the drug of choice for poor white people. From there, it doesn’t take much to connect it to rural communities, given how those communities are often thought of as predominantly white and poor in the public imagination.

Anti-meth programs like the Montana Meth Project and Faces of Meth played a big part in this. They were very visual campaigns that focused on the damage meth does to the body. All of the people they pictured appeared to be white. They had sores, scars and sunken eyes. They also were often missing teeth. All of that invokes a lot of stereotypes. Sociologists Travis Linnemann and Tyler Wall have a great journal article on this.

With all of that said, it is important to keep in mind that meth is just as much an urban and suburban problem as a rural one, particularly now. Sociologist Miriam Boeri has made this point really clearly. Also, something to keep in mind about Faces of Meth: It was created by a jail deputy in Oregon who used mugshots of people booked into the county jail. The jail is in Portland, so the folks featured probably weren’t living in rural communities at the time.

Your book was called “Policing Methamphetamine.” I’m curious – what made you zero in on that element of meth culture, its policing?

When I began my research, I thought my focus would be on the treatment experiences of people who use methamphetamine. But what I quickly found was that those experiences couldn’t be understood outside of the criminal justice system. Many people only got treatment after an arrest, and often as a condition of probation. One officer told me that people came up to him on the street and asked to be taken to jail so they could stop using drugs. Community members also often channeled their concerns into calls for increased enforcement.

In retrospect, none of this should have been surprising. U.S. drug policy has long focused on enforcement. This puts police and the criminal justice system on the front lines whenever and wherever a new drug problem emerges. There is no exception to this dynamic for rural communities. What’s more, the justice system is likely to be the most visible and well-resourced state institution in the community (which is not to say it is sufficiently resourced).

What are the questions you still have about meth in American life?

Today, the most pressing question from my perspective is how meth and opioids are converging. One of the more unfortunate developments is that people have started injecting meth. There is also the broad contamination of the drug supply with fentanyl.

All of this creates additional public health challenges, particularly in rural communities.

Something else I’m thinking about a lot is what happens when drugs like meth stop making headlines and get replaced by the next drug scourge. Today, people are much more likely to talk about fentanyl than meth. This is understandable given the overdose risks, as well as the way news media works. But what are the consequences of this for the communities where meth is still a major concern?

Bigger picture, I’m thinking about meth in the broader context of U.S. drug policy. My next book is about marijuana legalization and justice reform. It’s been interesting because the conversation around cannabis is so different from the conversation around meth. One of the big questions I have is if the kinds of reforms that are following cannabis legalization will do anything to change the conversation around the broader punitive approach to drugs. The debate happening right now in Oregon over Measure 110 is something I’m watching very closely. It’s a major test case for whether or not a different, less punitive approach to drugs is possible.

The Daily Yonder provides news, commentary and analysis about and for rural America. The interview accompanies a five-part series on its Rural Remix podcast.The Conversation

William Garriott, Professor of Law, Politics, and Society, Drake University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Simple Tips for a Better Wedding Registry

For some couples, the idea of registering for wedding gifts is an exciting way to start planning for the home they’ll be sharing as newlyweds. For others, the registry is just one more chore to check off the wedding to-do list.

Regardless of where you fall on the love-it-or-hate-it spectrum, most experts agree a registry is a good idea, especially for couples who will be setting up a home together for the first time. Keep these tips and etiquette guidelines in mind to get the most out of your registry.

Take inventory of what you have and what you need. For couples who’ve lived alone or together, the registry may be a way to fill in gaps for necessities neither of you already have. It’s also a good way to begin upgrading the less expensive kitchen items and furnishings you had as college students or singles. Make a list of your needs and wants so you don’t forget any essentials. If you’re still in doubt, request a checklist from the store where you’ll be registering so you can do some planning.

Register for things at a wide range of price points. The whole purpose of a registry is to make it easy for your guests to get you things you’ll like and need. Part of making it easy is recognizing your guests have diverse financial situations. While it’s customary to gift the bride and groom, not everyone can afford an extravagant gift, especially if they’ve spent money on travel and attire to attend. While it’s a good idea to offer modest options, don’t shy away from bigger ticket items that a small group might chip in on together.

Keep access in mind when you choose where to register. Avoid stores that are local or regional if you have many guests who live out of the area. Also avoid the temptation to choose online only options, as some guests will prefer to see what they’re buying. Aim for a mix of large national stores and online retailers.

Plan to block off at least a few hours for an in-person registry. It will take time to get everything set up. Traveling through the store, debating options and making your selections could take longer than expected. Also be sure to ask how you can add to or edit your registry after your initial visit.

Get your partner involved. There are bound to be some parts of the registry your partner may not care about, but asking for input and making decisions together lets you both share in the excitement. Focus on things you’ll each find useful as you settle into your new home. For example, the person who will be responsible for taking out the trash should get to pick the new kitchen trash can.

Find more inspiration for planning your way to wedded bliss at


Thursday, March 14, 2024

Decorate Your Way to a Festive St. Patrick's Day

4 DIY projects with a touch of Irish flair

(Family Features) Pairing Shepherd’s pie and potato soup with green pints and Irish delights are surefire signs of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Food and drink may be the stars of the show, but a little festive ambiance can transport guests from your dining room table to the streets of Dublin.

A few seasonal touches are all it takes to complement a menu of corned beef and cabbage. Consider these DIY decorations for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day party.

  • Set a St. Paddy’s Mood – Show off your holiday spirit for all to see with a homemade wreath that gives your front door a perfect welcoming touch. Cut shamrock shapes out of green construction paper then glue together, edge to edge, to your desired size. Punch a hole in the top shamrock and run string or ribbon through to hold up your work of art.
  • The Gift of Green – Lend a helping hand to guests who forget their green with shamrock-shaped pins they can attach to shirts or hats. Wooden shamrocks tend to work best with small pins glued to the back. Arrange these easy party favors near the door so your friends and neighbors can grab one as they enter.
  • A Homemade Pot o’ Gold – Send guests chasing the rainbow and reward their adventures with canning jars filled with candies wrapped in gold. Simply spray paint jars green, fill with gold-wrapped candies and place in various gathering areas for easy-to-reach treats.
  • Custom Cups – Upgrade boring drinkware with a leprechaun look. Find green cups (plastic or paper) and wrap with black ribbon using hot glue to secure. For a final touch, add a gold sticker as the belt buckle.

Visit for more at-home decor ideas.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Entertaining on Easter: 5 tips to make holiday hosting simple

Easter signals springtime and provides an opportunity to gather with loved ones to celebrate. However, hosting the get-together – whether brunch, lunch or dinner – requires planning and preparation to ensure the event is enjoyable.

From the guest list and menu to the decor and activities for the kiddos, consider these steps to get ready for Easter hosting duties.

Make a Guest List
When planning your gathering, first think about how many people your space can accommodate. Ensure there’s a place for everyone to sit and eat, even if that means bringing in extra tables and chairs or designating a “kids table” so all the adults can sit together. Once you know how many people you can invite – and have a plan for seating – send out festive invitations or create a group on social media with your preferred guests to gather RSVPs.

Take Inventory of Necessities
Once you have your guest list set, take inventory of serving dishes, utensils, linens and glassware. Depending on the number of guests, you may need to invest in extra supplies or borrow from a friend or relative to ensure you have everything you need. If you don’t have enough of one set of plates and flatware, mixing and matching is a trendy move and can serve as an additional aspect of your decor.

Plan the Menu
When setting your menu, traditional favorites like ham or lamb are almost always a hit but remember to consider any diet accommodations that may need to be made for any vegan or vegetarian guests. Dishes featuring eggs, carrots, ginger and other ingredients that call spring to mind like quiches, soups, galette and more can be a perfect complement to the traditional main course. Serving the meal family-style with platters and bowls for everyone to share or hosting a potluck with guests bringing assigned dishes can help reduce the stress of trying to prepare the entire meal yourself.

Decorate in Advance
From a seasonal wreath on the front door to a well-dressed table complete with place settings and a festive centerpiece, getting your decorating done early can not only reduce stress on the day of your event but also get you into the proper mindset for the celebration. A pastel or light-colored hue can add to the springtime vibes, and flowers, seasonal fruits in bowls and decorated eggs can all add to the tablescape.

Keep the Kids in Mind
While the meal is likely a highlight of the event for many, the younger guests often look forward to the activities, such as decorating eggs or an Easter egg hunt. You can hard-boil eggs in advance and set up a decorating station, complete with dyes, markers, stickers and more. Or while you’re finishing up inside, designate another adult or older children to hide pre-filled plastic eggs around the yard (weather permitting) and manage the hunt.

Find more ideas for hosting Easter festivities at



Saturday, March 9, 2024

What families need to know about how to safely store firearms at home

Guns are the leading cause of death of children in the U.S. Laurent Hamels via Getty Images
Kerri Raissian, University of Connecticut and Jennifer Necci Dineen, University of Connecticut

For the past few years, guns have been identified as the leading cause of death for children in the United States.

There were 2,571 children age 1 to 17 who died in shootings in the U.S. in 2021, 68% more than the 1,531 that occurred in 2000.

To help reduce the number of firearm-related deaths and injuries among children, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in January 2024 called upon school and district administrators to talk with parents and guardians about safe firearm storage practices.

As experts on the safe storage of firearms – and as leaders of the University of Connecticut’s ARMS Center for Gun Injury Prevention – we often get questions about the best ways to keep guns out of the hands of children. We offer the following tips:

1: Safely store all of your firearms

Nearly half of the households in the U.S. have at least one firearm, but only about 40% of firearm owners store all of their guns when not in use, according to data in a survey we recently fielded. Unsecured firearms have been linked to suicides, domestic homicides and accidental shootings. They also heighten the risk of unauthorized use, which includes theft.

2. Don’t assume you can hide your guns

Kids generally know the hiding spots for the things their parents or caretakers do not want them to find, such as holiday gifts or Halloween candy. The same is true with firearms.

In 40% of gun-owning households with children, adults said their children did not know where firearms were stored, a 2017 study found. However, many of the children reported knowing and being able to access the firearms.

Researchers estimate that 75% of children who live in homes with guns know where they are stored.

Adults may think they can instruct children to leave firearms alone, but the 2017 study also found that 22% of parents wrongly believed that their children had never handled their gun.

3. Store ammunition separately

Research shows that locking ammunition separately from firearms further reduces the risk of firearm injuries in homes with children and teenagers.

Bullets are scattered about a table top.
Storing ammunition separately from firearms can help reduce the risk of injury. Olena Domanytska via Getty Images

While storing an unreadied weapon locked away may feel counterintuitive to those who own guns for personal protection, research shows that keeping firearms locked or unloaded, or both, can also reduce risk of injury.

4. Learn to talk about firearm safety

While some families may not have firearms in their home, eventually children go to other homes and, as they get older, go unsupervised.

Keeping children safe from gun violence requires normalizing conversations on firearm storage, even for people in households where no gun is present.

Approximately 45% of all unintentional shooting deaths of children under 17 occurred outside of their own homes. When children visit friends, we believe it’s important for their parents to know if guns are present in the home they are visiting and, if present, whether those firearms are being safely stored.

For more information about how to discuss firearm safety, parents can visit websites such as BeSMART, End Family Fire and Secure Storage of Lethal Means.

5. Know the law

Twenty-seven states have some version of secure storage laws.

Based on our calculations using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states with child access prevention laws – known as CAP laws – have a gun death rate that is 65% lower than states that do not have CAP laws (12.33 vs. 20.38 per 100,000). Of course, states with and without CAP laws have many differences; therefore, the lower rates cannot be attributed to CAP laws alone. However, the presence of CAP laws is protective and reduces gun death.

In the absence of a federal secure storage law, the legal requirements around firearm storage and preventing unauthorized children from accessing weapons vary by state or municipality.

For example, Connecticut requires firearms be in a locked device when not in use.

Iowa prohibits the storing or leaving a loaded firearm around children 14 and younger if it is not secured by a trigger lock or a securely locked container or some other secure location.

Further, while Michigan only recently added a safe storage law, Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of a boy who committed a mass school shooting with his parents’ unsecured firearm, was recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the case. Her husband’s trial in the matter began on March 5, 2024.

6. Invest in a quality safe and/or locking device

There are various levels of locked gun storage, including trigger locks, metal cable locks, locked gun cases and gun safes. While storing a firearm and the ammunition in a locked combination or biometric device is safest, all of these methods can reduce the risk of gun injury and death. These locking devices can be purchased online, through some gun sellers or at sporting goods stores.

A biometric safe for a handgun is about US$65, a gun lock runs $55 to $75 dollars, and combination safes for long guns range widely from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Family-school-community partnerships allow America’s children to grow and thrive. By asking schools to share resources for secure firearm storage and communicate evidence-based safety practices, the Department of Education is helping schools address the leading cause of death among American children.

But families have to do their part, too. It begins by normalizing firearm safety conversations and storing firearms properly to keep children safe.The Conversation

Kerri Raissian, Associate Professor of Public Policy, University of Connecticut and Jennifer Necci Dineen, Associate Director of the ARMS Center for Gun Injury Prevention, University of Connecticut

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Celebrating Women in Academia During Women’s History Month

by Leah Jackson

Female professor teaching class - Yuri A/ Shutterstock

Women's History Month is a time to celebrate the incredible achievements that women all over the world have made (and continue to make).

Particularly in academia, it's a reminder to reflect on the evolution of women's access to (and role in) higher education -- and to initiate conversations about how to maintain progress.

Today, women outnumber men in the U.S. college-educated labor force, according to Pew Research, but this is a product of centuries' worth of work to gain access. Before the 19th century, women were largely deterred from pursuing higher education.

Many early women's colleges started as seminaries for the sole purpose of educating women to become teachers. According to the Women's College Coalition, the earliest women's colleges were founded in the mid-19th century.

Taking it a step further, what about women working in higher education? Cornell professor of German and history Harriette J. Cooke is believed to be the first female professor given pay equal to her male colleagues (in 1871). Today, according to research from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), women maintain a majority presence in administrative positions, but they are over-represented among the lowest-paying and lowest-ranking faculty positions.

While there is still much work to be done, women advocates abound on college campuses across the country and continue to spark important conversations about how to achieve equity. We are proud to continue the conversation here on HigherEdJobs. This Women's History Month, please enjoy this roundup of some of our favorite articles published on HigherEdJobs over the years about women in the workplace and the academy.

Are Women's Colleges Still Important Today?

Empowering Women in Higher Education: Lessons Learned

The Truth about Women's History from a Women's Studies Pioneer

Can You Really Have It All? Women Today Say Yes

Leveling the Playing Field for Women in Negotiations

Five Practices to Support Mothers in the Workplace

Creating Equity in the Workplace


This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. 

Cherry blossoms – celebrated in Japan for centuries and gifted to Americans – are an appreciation of impermanence and spring

Families relax under lush cherry trees in the Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo. shankar s./Flickr, CC BY
Małgorzata (Gosia) K. Citko-DuPlantis, University of Tennessee

Cherry blossoms mark the beginning of spring. Various festivals are regularly organized in California, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., to celebrate the bloom of cherry trees.

The blossoms, however, are short-lived and usually fall within a week. Indeed, “sakura,” as the cherry tree is known in Japanese, is a recognized symbol of impermanence in Japan and beyond.

Every year, many people all around Japan gather under the cherry trees in parks and gardens for a spring picnic to watch the blossoms fall while they chat with their companions over seasonal drinks and snacks. Such gatherings are called “hanami,” literally meaning “viewing the flowers.”

As a scholar of premodern Japanese literature and culture, I was introduced to the custom of viewing cherry blossoms early on in my education. It is an ancient ritual that has been celebrated and written about in Japan for centuries and continues to be an indispensable element of welcoming spring. In the U.S., the tradition of hanami started with the first cherry trees being planted in Washington D.C. in 1912 as a gift of friendship from Japan.

Poetry about nature

The custom of viewing blooming trees in spring arrived in Japan from the Asian continent. Watching blooming plum trees, often by moonlight, as a symbol of strength, vitality and end of winter was practiced in China since antiquity. It was adopted in Japan sometime in the eighth century.

Poetic examples of blooming plums, or “ume” in Japanese, are found in “Man’yōshū,” or a “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves,” the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, which dates to the eighth century.

Scholar of East Asian Literatures Wiebke Denecke explains that classical Japanese poets wrote poetry about plum blossoms when they were in season. Their compositions shaped Japanese court poetry, or “waka” in Japanese, which is rooted in nature and its constant seasonal cycle.

However, it is the sakura, not plum trees, that occupies a special place in Japanese culture. Imperial waka anthologies compiled in Japan between 905 and 1439 C.E. usually contain more spring poems composed about cherry blossoms than plum blossoms.

Central to waka composition

The first cherry blossom viewing was held by Emperor Saga in 812 C.E. and soon became a regular event at the imperial court, often accompanied by music, food and writing poetry.

Cherry blossoms became one of the regular topics of waka composition. In fact, I started studying Japanese poetry thanks to a sakura-themed poem written by a classical female poet, Izumi Shikibu, who is believed to have actively composed waka around 1000 C.E. The poem is prefaced with its author’s memory about her ex-lover wishing to see the cherry blossoms again before they fall.

tō o koyo
saku to miru ma ni
chirinu beshi
tsuyu to hana to no
naka zo yo no naka
Come quickly!
As soon as they start to open
they must fall.
Our world dwells
in dew on top of the cherry blossoms.

The poem is not the most famous example of waka about cherry blossoms in premodern Japanese poetry, but it contains layers of traditional imagery symbolizing impermanence. It emphasizes that once cherry blossoms bloom, they are destined to fall. Witnessing the moment of their fall is the very purpose of hanami.

Dew is usually interpreted as a symbol of tears in waka, but it can be also read more erotically as a reference to other bodily fluids. Such an interpretation reveals the poem to be an allusion to a romantic relationship, which is as fragile as evaporating dew on soon-falling cherry blossoms; it does not last long, so it should be appreciated while it exists.

A blossoming Japanese tree laden with clusters of pink flowers in a garden.
In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize impermanence. Elvin/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The poem can also be interpreted more generally: Dew is a symbol of human life, and the fall of cherry blossoms a metaphor for death.

Militarized by the Empire of Japan

The notion of falling cherry blossoms was used by the Empire of Japan, a historic state that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 until the enactment of the Constitution of Japan in 1947. The empire is known for the colonization of Taiwan and annexation of Korea to expand its territories.

Sasaki Nobutsuna, a scholar of Japanese classics with strong ties to the imperial court, was a supporter of the empire’s nationalistic ideology. In 1894, he composed a lengthy poem, “Shina seibatsu no uta,” or “The Song of the Conquest of the Chinese,” to coincide with the First Sino-Japanese war, which lasted from 1894 to 1895. The poem compares falling cherry blossoms to the sacrifice of Japanese soldiers who fall in battles for their country and emperor.

Commodification of the season

In contemporary Japan, the cherry blossoms are celebrated by many members of society, not only the imperial court. Blooming around the Lunar New Year celebrated in premodern Japan for centuries, they are symbolic of new beginnings in all areas of life.

In the contemporary era, vendors have commodified the cherry blossoms, selling sakura-flavored tea, coffee, ice cream, drinks or cookies, turning the image of blooming sakura into a seasonal brand. Weather forecasts track the cherry trees’ bloom to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate in the ancient ritual of viewing sakura.

The obsession with cherry blossoms may seem trivial, but hanami gathers people during an era when much communication is conducted virtually and remotely, uniting family members, friends, coworkers and sometimes even strangers, as happened to me when I lived in Japan.

Viewing sakura is also evidence of modern Japan’s unique relationship with its own history. At the same time, it is a reminder that impermanence is possibly the only constant in life.

Two rows of tall trees with clusters of pink flowers on either side of a pathway.
Cherry trees, with their lovely blossoms, arrived in Washington D.C. as a gift from Japan. Danny Navarro/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Today, cherry blossoms are celebrated in spring all around the world, encouraging the appreciation of impermanence through observation of nature.The Conversation

Małgorzata (Gosia) K. Citko-DuPlantis, Assistant Professor in Japanese Literature and Culture, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.