Scott Cawelti

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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  • What Makes a Great Community--Cedar Falls' School Bond Election

    • Posted on Sep 01, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This appeared in yesterday's (8-31) WCF Courier.   Though I don't expect it to change any made-up minds, it might help a few people jump off the fence--in favor, I hope. 

    I REALLY hope it passes on Sept. 9, not only because it's right for CF Public Schools, but because I'm out $365 on Sept. 10 if it fails.   Pretty dumb idea, but I wrote it and meant it.  (See final paragraphs below.) 

    Over the years I’ve called several places home, meaning put down roots for at least a year and stayed.   I remember them all fondly, mostly.   

    Holstein, in western Iowa, wasn’t much fun for a single guy, and I left town as often as possible from 1965-6.  Regensburg, Germany, was remarkable for its long history and river, the Danube, that waltzed through it.   Orebro, Sweden, meant wonderful neighbors, long walks in the Swedish woods, and some of the best pastries on the planet.  

    Charleston, South Carolina, to where we retreat, combines several of these, making it my second favored city. 

    Then there’s my first, Cedar Falls.  It doesn’t have woodsy walks of Orebro, or the history of Europe and Charleston, but it does have strong advantages that attract and keep folks who come for a year and stay for decades.

    More than a few old friends who left have told me that if they ever find suitable work in the Cedar Valley, they’d move back in a heartbeat, winters be damned. 

    So what makes Cedar Falls such an inviting and vibrant community?  UNI, GBPAC, sports venues, bike trails, Hearst and Waterloo Art Centers—yes, yes.    

    And near the top:  Public schools.  It has some of the best-run and best-regarded schools in the state, and good schools attract families more than most other community features.  

    I’ll admit to a slight bias, since I’m a product of CF Public schools, graduating from CF High when it still had that new-school smell, in 1961. 

    Looking back, I received a first-rate education, with a balance of extra-curriculars and academics, memorable events and excellent teachers.    I didn’t think so at the time, but it allowed enough freedom to experiment, yet enough structure to keep me challenged and engaged.

    A great school will do that, and from all I’ve heard, CF schools carry on that tradition, though not without problems.  Our local schools have become overcrowded and just plain outdated.  CF High was built sixty years ago, and has been remodeled, fixed, and refurbished pretty much to the limit.  

    It’s time for an update, and that means replacing.  If this doesn’t happen, one of the prime reasons Cedar Falls becomes a beloved hometown will falter.  

    I’ve only heard two objections:  Cost and the choice of location, off West 27th St.     

    What will it cost the typical Cedar Falls homeowner?  About a dollar a day, say proponents of the upcoming bond referendum.  This is the first school referendum, by the way, since 1976, when voters approved $940,000 for swimming pools at Holmes and Peet Junior Highs. (Google “CF schools bond information.”)

    A buck a day? That’s less than a cup of coffee, and certainly less than the treats we grab for snacks.  Given what a daily dollar buys, it’s the best spent buck in the wallet.  

    Remember too that though CF Schools rank 17th in enrollment in Iowa, they’re 25th in terms of tax levy.  Clearly, an upgrade is in order.  

     As to location, the whole city’s moving west, and proximity to UNI makes sense, given the amount of interaction between UNI and CF High.  Remember this bond issue will also pay for additions to and remodel North Cedar Elementary, add to and remodel Orchard Hill Elementary school, and build a new elementary school in addition to a new high school.   It’s a city-wide shift to a mid-21st century educational system.  

     I believe strongly enough in keeping CF schools alive and growing that if the Sept. 9 referendum fails, I promise to donate $365 anyway—my buck a day for 2014—to the CF School district on Sept. 10. 

     It’s the least I can do, given what our local schools do for all of us. 

    What’s the least you can do?  Vote yes on Sept. 9.



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  • Recreational Marijuana Wanted But Not Needed?

    • Posted on Aug 27, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This appeared in today's (8-3) Waterloo Courier.  It expresses my ambivalence toward all consciousness-altering drugs.  We do want them but don't need them--and if you're tried using them to make you happy, you know what I mean.  They can be a break, an escape, a short good time, but will betray you if you let them take over.   

    So legalization is a mixed bag, though overall it makes sense.   


    “What’s the rush?” PBS Anchor Judy Woodruff asked last Sunday during a “Meet the Press” discussion on legalizing marijuana.  

    Then she realized her pun, guffawing along with panelists.  What she meant:  “Why are we in such a hurry to legalize a potentially addictive and dangerous substance?”

    The other meaning of “rush” caused the laugh, since it refers to the effect of mood-altering substances, along with “high,” and “buzzed."

    Many drugs have this effect, some more immediate and intense than others:  caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and, arguably, sugar among the legal, and marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin among the banned.

    However, marijuana also works as a serious medicinal drug for a host of ailments, high or no high.  Few question its genuine benefits for cancer patients, people in chronic pain, glaucoma sufferers, among others.    In fact, 23 states including Iowa have legalized its active ingredient for medical use.  This should have happened years ago. 

    The marijuana rush, however, creates other issues.  

    Both Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana, and other states are watching, as are the feds.  As last Sunday’s NY Times editorial put it,  “It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.  The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

    So we’re moving toward a whole new attitude toward casual use of marijuana.   

    Is this a good thing? Smart people disagree about this because there’s potential for harm in any drug that alters consciousness. 

    Most of us seek to feel good, and drugs work as a shortcut, since feeling joy (as opposed to a rush) comes from a complex of causes:  Mood, genes, family, friends, engaging work, meanings you seek and values in which you believe.  All chancy and subject to intrusions of bad luck. 

    Drugs bring feel good-ness without discipline and commitment, and actually can provide a higher high than anything “normal” life provides. Pills, potions, and powders are the fool’s gold of happiness, and a certain percentage fall into addiction.

     Addicts tend toward depression long-term, since they don’t grow beyond their need for more highs.  

    So anyone who believes in hard work to reach long-sought goals that bring satisfaction and joy beyond a buzz  is better off without constantly seeking artificial highs.

    The high gets old; joy doesn’t.          

    However, if you want a drug that ruins lives, kills people by the thousands, where overdoses are common in every emergency room, we already have alcohol. 

    Along with tobacco, we struggle with these drugs’ effects constantly. They’re  a scourge, ruining lives with disease and depression.    

    On a scale of harm, marijuana probably ranks down there with sugar, whichcontributes to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay, but it’s only mildly addictive.  We give it by the pound to children, after all. 

    Given how we treat alcohol and tobacco, legalizing recreational marijuana nationally only makes sense, and will certainly lift a burden from courts and prisons.    Granted, not for kids under 21, and not to be treated as completely harmless.   Like alcohol and tobacco, it must be controlled and regulated. 

     Still, I have one reservation:  why waste time with rushes and buzzes when real joy is there for free, with no health issues?   My personal challenge concerns finding a life balance, and consciousness-altering drugs make finding balance between escape and work, joy and rushes, ever more elusive.  Highs are tempting, at times irresistible. 

    Substances that offer highs will be sought after and used, as any trip through a bar Saturday night will reveal.  Yet do we need yet another temptation to get buzzed? 

    Probably not, especially one as “cool” as legal marijuana will become.  Stoner parties will become the rage for awhile.   

    We don’t need it, really. But we sure seem to want it.  





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