The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist”
in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson,
in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it academically.
. . . Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.
Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and practical.” John
Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant. Al Gore
invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed
by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
Sunday, December 22, 2019
Progress for CASA of Southern Connecticut: Nonprofit Status, Volunteers, Website, Ways to Help
8:52 am est
Some seven months into starting up CASA of Southern Connecticut, here are highlights of the organization’s
progress since May. Before Giving Tuesday on December 3, we launched our website (https://casasouthct.org/)—with information about the CASA role in advancing child welfare in Connecticut; how to volunteer; the Advisory Council; the inaugural Ambassadors raising awareness about CASA in our region; and how to donate to support our work.
As an op-ed summarizes on the occasion of Adoption Month, CASA of Southern Connecticut is dedicated to recruiting, training,
and supporting volunteers to help determine and defend the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
These volunteers meet with children at least monthly, getting to know them and their circumstances—including teachers
and social workers, foster parents and families. Carefully screened and trained through a systematic curriculum
and part of a national network recognized for improving outcomes for kids, CASAs make evidence-based recommendations to judges. At the center:
these caring, consistent volunteers’ relationships with the children themselves—with whom these adults can make a lifelong difference through one-on-one interactions at a difficult time.
The CASA network is expanding in Connecticut as a result of a 2016 state law. Until now, only 1 percent of Connecticut’s children
in foster care had CASAs, reflecting an unmet need and an enormous opportunity for volunteers to get involved. In 2019,
CASA of Southern Connecticut started up, received 501(c)(3) status, opened an office, spoke with colleagues at the State Judicial
Branch and Department of Children and Families (DCF), and began welcoming applications from prospective volunteers and interviewing
them. The first cohort just completed training and will begin volunteer advocacy in juvenile courts early in the new
year. Engaging as a CASA is one proven way to help change a child’s story. Ultimately the goal is to identify a safe, permanent home
where the child can thrive.
Readers in Connecticut: Please spread the word about
the opportunity to volunteer. If readers anywhere
wish to donate, we would be grateful for that, too.
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Campus Protests, Endangered Free Expression in India
10:23 pm est
My wife, Sahar Usmani-Brown, and
her parents--Qamar and Tasneem Usmani--have deep personal experience with Jamia Millia Islamia University, at the center of protests in India against a new citizenship law (and of the police backlash). The law favors migrants of several faiths other than Islam; Muslims from neighboring
countries are not eligible, sparking an uproar in a country that--notwithstanding its Hindu majority--has until recently been
inclined to cultural pluralism instead of Hindu nationalism. Sahar
has both a bachelor's and master's degree from that university, and her father--Qamar--taught there for years. They
lived on the Jamia campus, which I visited on two (2005 and 2014) of my four trips to Delhi over the years, most recently
in 2016, months after Sahar herself became a U.S citizen. Qamar and Tasneem--who now have permanent residency in the U.S.--have many friends and family
still in Delhi and indeed on the Jamia campus and were communicating in real time during the recent protests. Police
entered the campus library, mosque, and women's dormitory. Peaceful student protesters, not to mention quiet observers/bystanders,
were alarmed by the police overreaction and internet shutdowns. As the New York Times notes, the U.S. State Department has been much quieter about India's anti-Muslim moves than about developments in China (affecting
Uighurs) or Myanmar (the Rohingya).