Cedar Valley Chronicles

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.

  • About Time for "Quiet Time"

    • Posted on Jan 11, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    This morning's Courier column; I do have a personal interest in meditation, since I've been practicing for nearly 40 years--Transcendental Meditation and a hybrid form from Deepak Chopra's workshops, which I attended some years ago.  

    For those who are curious about where to start, there is a lot of material out there--books, YouTube videos and live instruction from real teachers.   Here's  link to the TM site that might be helpful:  http://www.tm.org/#.VLKoCHQF0w4.email

    And here's a book that offers a comprehensive overview:
    THE MEDITATION HANDBOOK (1990) by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  

    I personally really like videos and material from TARA BRACH--YouTube videos and her wonderful book RADICAL ACCEPTANCE.  She includes meditation instruction with every chapter and on her videos.   


    All of these might give you a good start--and a personal teacher is better than books and videos, but will mean more trouble and expense.  It's well worth it, though.   

    In any case, the big deal is what's happening in the San Francisco school system, where meditation seems to be transforming schools in remarkable ways, as I explain below in the Courier column.  

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Nothing succeeds like success, as they say, and I’m here to report two genuine successes.  One is small, the other large, a possible game-changer.  

     The small success involves my own daily meditation practice.  It began over thirty years ago and continues to this day.   

     As a young assistant professor teaching anywhere from 90 to 250 students in three classes, struggling with writing conference papers, grading piles of student essays, meeting with students, attending multiple faculty committees, facing constant pressure to do more and do better, I was stressed.  I mean, stressed out, exhausted, short-tempered, and chronically anxious.   I was staying afloat, but barely.  

     In those days, Cedar Falls had a Transcendental Meditation Center down on third and main, and a couple of friends each recommended I try TM.  

    I did, and it worked.  Within a few days of twice-daily meditation, I began feeling relaxed, then peaceful, then downright blissed out. Well, not quite, but close. 
    And it continued.  No one was more surprised than I.  

     Over the years I’ve attended meditation workshops, modified my practice slightly, and still continue meditating twenty minutes, twice a day. It has made all the difference in my stress level, and I’m still alive, well, and pushing 72.  

     I’m convinced that regular brain-quieting has given me more, and better, years.  That’s what meditation does, by the way:  quiets our always-buzzing brains.   I recommend some form of meditation for anyone who feels overwhelmed with pushes and pulls beyond their control.  If it worked for me, it will work for you. 

     Beyond my own small life, there’s a much larger meditation success story that recently made national news.  

     At Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, they began a program in 2007 of twice-daily “quiet time” breaks for the entire school.  This particular school sits in a rough, even violent, neighborhood.  Attendance, academic scores, and teacher and student retention were dismal. 

     Teachers and students alike hated the chaos of school days.  In other words, the school made no progress toward anything but failure.  

     Now, after over seven years, they can judge Quiet Time’s success. It’s been dramatic, school-wide, and heartening.   This is how David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, describes the results: 

     “In the first year of Quiet Time, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly. About 20 percent of graduates are admitted to Lowell High School – before Quiet Time, getting any students into this elite high school was a rarity. Remarkably, in the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, these middle school youngsters recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco.”

     Amazing but true.  Kirp continues:  

     “On the California Achievement Test, twice as many students in Quiet Time schools have become proficient in English, compared with students in similar schools where the program doesn’t exist, and the gap is even bigger in math. Teachers report they’re less emotionally exhausted and more resilient.”

     Incidentally, students are not forced to practice TM.  They can simply close their eyes, daydream, nap—as long as they’re quiet during those two 15-minute periods. Parents must give permission if they want their child to learn the meditation technique. 

     I can hear objections:  wasting valuable school time, returning to hippie-dom, 
    imposing a religious practice in a state school.  All of these seem to be satisfactorily answered, since the program’s success with the parents’ permission for seven years speaks for itself. 

     Best of all, Quiet Time costs virtually nothing, and it affects whole schools so positively (based on real data) that it’s at least worth a look. 

     My own small success story offers unqualified support.  

     Much more power to them.  






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  • Baby Jesse: A Christmas Fable

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This was first published in the Courier many Christmases ago, and repeated occasionally over the years.    Many readers reacted with positive and thoughtful comments, and a few others with sheer outrage that anyone would tamper with the original story. 

    I thought it was just a variation on a theme--and therefore legitimate and quite supportable.  

    So I offer it again for this Christmas, 2014, thinking that its lesson still holds true.  
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Every December Christians repeat the same story, and even non-Christians have to admit it’s a great plot.

     It pits the meek against the mighty, poor against the rich, the outcasts against the insiders.  It’s complete with a joyous ending, not to mention the founding of a world religion.

     It’s so powerful that no one thinks twice about recycling it every year.  The same ought to go for alternative versions, such as the following recycled Christmas fable, which I wrote years ago, freely adapted from the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

    Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for this which is conceived in her is of the holy spirit.

    She will bear a son or daughter and you shall call his or her name Jesus or Jesse, for he or she will save his or her people from their sins.”

     While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered.  Lo and behold, Mary gave birth to their first-born daughter and wrapped her in swaddling clothes and laid her in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  

    Following the angels’ suggestion, she named her child Jesse.

    Now in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone all about them.  They were sore from riding camels all day but now they were also sore afraid.

    And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Jesse the Queen.

     “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

      When the angels went away from them into heaven the shepherds said to one another, “A little GIRL, our savior?  Can this be true?”

     “A female savior? A lady Lord?  Women can BIRTH saviors, but they cannot BE one.  Everyone knows that!”

    And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph.  They looked with wonder on the babe lying in the manger.  And they made known that which had been told them concerning this child; all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

    But the shepherds were no longer sore afraid.  Now they were just plain  sore. 

     “What happened to the good old days,” they grumbled, “when only BOYS could be saviors?  Has anyone ever heard of a little girl becoming anything but a wife, an old maid, or a witch?”

    The shepherds grew discouraged and went home, thinking the real savior had not yet been born.  “Probably some maverick angels,” one of them said, “Or maybe that frankincense is getting old.”

     Along the way, they met three wise men who had also heard the news.  The shepherds stopped the wise men, saying “Turn back. Save your frankincense and myrrh. Wait until the real savior comes along. This one’s only a baby girl named Jesse.”

    And Mary, mother of Jesse, kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

     “What if little Jesse had been born a boy?” she wondered, after she and Joseph had returned home. Would he have been worshiped as a real savior?”

    Mary prayed nightly that if her daughter Jesse had any special powers she would keep them to herself.  Little boys with special powers, she knew, often became saviors, founders of great religions.  Little girls with special powers were usually burned as witches.

    Baby Jesse grew nto a wonderful woman, a friend to all in need, and wise beyond all men.  Thanks to her mother’s teaching, she never used her miraculous powers, and never married.

    Jesse lived and died in obscurity, beyond of her small circle of friends. Meanwhile, all around the world, wise men kept waiting for the real savior.

    Merry Christmas, everyone.
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