Steve Eggleston Writes

Education

When the junior class at Riverton High School in Riverton, Utah, crowned their queen at the junior class prom, they thought the 2014 prom queen was in the school’s record books for good.

Little did they know that just three days later they would have a new prom queen after the classmate they elected made a selfless act.

On Wednesday, Kendra Muller, 16, the junior girl who was named prom queen on Saturday, entered a classroom and handed her sash, tiara and title to Amanda Belnap, a special needs student who had been voted “first attendant,” or first runner-up.

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First Lady Michelle Obama is in China this week to focus on education and culture.

Students at Beijing Normal School eagerly greeted First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday. Many children here dream of attending universities abroad, and one of the school’s aims is to help them achieve that dream. Obama’s focus on education for this trip is an example of soft diplomacy – attracting Chinese interest in one of the United States’ greatest assets.

“They recognize the sort of innovative vitality of the U.S. educational system,” said Elizabeth Economy, Asia director for the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s a very creative system, and one that has produced legions of very successful entrepreneurs and thinkers.”
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Spreading the Magic of Positive Psychology

Imagine participating in a learning experience with every meeting filled with music, movement, experiential learning, and rich academic content. Imagine feeling supported by instructors and peers alike. Imagine an experience that’s as enjoyable as it is rigorous. Imagine a curriculum that benefits your life as much as it does your work.

Graduates of Masters of Applied Positive Psychology programs found experience was so fulfilling that many of us wondered how we could bottle the magic. In my eyes, MAPP was truly matchless. Or so I thought until recently.
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Anti-carbon divestment campaign targets £5bn of British funds

An international campaign to urge large institutions to dump fossil fuel investments reaches the UK this week, following rapid success in the US.

The year-old divestment campaign, Fossil Free, has grown even faster than similar efforts that once targeted apartheid, tobacco and arms manufacturers. It now aims to focus attention on the £5bn invested in coal, oil and gas by the endowment funds of UK universities. The move comes as financial giants such as HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs are starting to take seriously the prospect that global action to reduce carbon emissions could leave two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves unburnable and worthless.

“The divestment campaign will start politically to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry and throw into stronger relief that it is a rogue industry, committed to burning more carbon than any government on Earth thinks it would be safe to burn,” said Bill McKibben, a prominent US climate campaigner and figurehead of the Fossil Free campaign. “One reason we are losing the battle against climate change – the most important challenge humans have faced – is the power of the fossil fuel industry to block change,” he told the Observer. “It is the richest industry in the history of human enterprise.”

The US campaign has already led to more than 40 institutions, including the city of Seattle, universities and churches, pulling out of fossil fuel investments. Addressing the political debate in the UK over rising energy bills, McKibben said: “England has been burning fossil fuels since James Watt: there is no way you get to transition [to low-carbon energy] for free. But as economist Lord Nicholas Stern has said over and over again, the cost of not doing it is orders of magnitude higher than doing it.”

Student divestment campaigns have sprung up at 20 UK universities, including the three with the largest investments: Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh. UK universities have more than £5bn – £2,000 per student – invested in fossil fuels, according to student group People & Planet and the 350.org campaign, which McKibben co-founded.

“Investing in fossil fuel companies, which harm communities and destroy the climate, is not OK,” said Miriam Dobson, from People & Planet at Edinburgh University, where the campaign tour begins on Wednesday before visiting Birmingham and London.

British campaigners claimed a first victory last week, with the University of Surrey shifting funds from two unnamed fossil fuel companies into a renewable-energy-focused company.

The report also lists the research funding that companies, including Shell and BP, give universities, including £6m to Oxford and £17m to Imperial College London. “UK universities have become victims of corporate capture,” said Kevin Smith from oil and gas watchdog Platform. “We are allowing public infrastructure to be used to subsidise a dangerous, outdated energy model.”

A separate report found that the fossil fuel divestment campaign is growing faster than any previous one. “Stigmatisation poses a far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies,” said Ben Caldecott, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, and an author of the report. “In every case we reviewed, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation.”

The divestment campaign argues that there is also a financial reason for getting rid of fossil fuel investments, because increasing policies to cut carbon will eventually impact on the stocks’ value. The landmark climate change report in September, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that agreement by the world’s governments to restrict global warming to less than 2C meant keeping total future carbon emissions under 500 gigatonnes. Analysis by the International Energy Agency and the Carbon Tracker thinktank has shown this would mean that about two-thirds of the coal, oil and gas on the books of fossil fuel companies would have to remain unburned.

Carbon capture and storage technology would, if developed successfully, bury emissions equivalent to just 4% of total global reserves, according to Carbon Tracker.

With the 200 biggest fossil fuel companies spending $674bn in 2012 on finding new reserves (compared to $281bn renewable energy investment), the risk of inflating a stock market “carbon bubble” to the tune of trillions of dollars is “very big indeed”, according to Stern. “The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed,” he said in April.

See the full story on The Guardian’s website here

Crowdfunding is a popular way these days to, for instance, make your new album, launch a new tech product or develop a hoodie that lasts for 10 years. Now, one new group is using it to finance something else entirely –- gun buybacks.

Gun by Gun launched its first crowdfunding campaign in July and held its first gun buyback in San Francisco in August. At that time, it bought 86 guns. In December, it will buy another 100 plus guns with the remaining money from its first crowdfunding campaign. (The amount paid for a gun in a gun buyback varies from city to city, but in San Francisco it was $100; in New York City it is commonly $200.) Gun by Gun is also planning to launch crowdfunding campaigns for buybacks in San Jose and Oakland in November, with the buybacks themselves to happen in December.

“The reason I chose this model is that it is so hard to gain traction on the issue nationally,” says Gun by Gun cofounder Ian Johnstone. “I’ve been around the issue since the early ’90s, and the last major piece of legislation passed in 1995. There are more laws coming off the books related to gun violence than being put on the books. Through crowdfunding gun buybacks, we can start addressing the guns out there. It’s a way of creating an opportunity so individuals can do something about the issue without waiting for Congress to act.”

But with about 300 million guns in circulation now and 87 gun deaths a day, can buybacks truly be an effective gun-control technique?

While Gun by Gun recognizes it is not a replacement for gun legislation, Johnstone says it is an important complement, since any legislative changes would only address future gun sales. Additionally, current buybacks are held on an ad hoc basis, with no single source of funding. In fact, he says most gun buybacks run out of money to buy all the guns offered.

Johnstone, who lost his father to gun violence in the early 1990s, says buybacks are an effective way of reducing rates of homicides, suicides and accidental gun deaths.

For instance, one study found that for every one percent increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increases 0.9 percent. Low-end estimates assert that 230,000 guns stolen from homes each year enter the pool of guns used by criminals. In fact, Johnstone’s father was killed by a gun stolen two weeks before his death. Johnstone also says statistics show a correlation between suicide rates and gun ownership; public health professionals cite gun ownership as an official suicide risk factor. And a recent New York Times investigation revealed that accidental gun deaths, especially of children, are grossly underreported, occurring about twice as often as official records show.

Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, says, “Gun buybacks are important and have a role, but it’s a somewhat of a limited role in trying to address gun violence. But gun buybacks themselves can mobilize the community, and I think that’s one of the best things you can get from this.” Having held three successful gun buybacks herself that involved anonymous and corporate donors (they gave out gift cards to groceries and Best Buy instead of cash) and took in double the number of guns she had hoped for, she says that buybacks motivate people to not only do something about the issue but also invest in it.

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