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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  • Bread Bags Not a Rebuttal

    • Posted on Feb 08, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here is last Sunday's Courier column on Joni Ernst's "rebuttal" speech to the State of the Union address.  Working now on an essay on the "No Labels" group that hopes to get Congress working again, with Republican Joy Corning and Democrat Jeff Danielson leading the Iowa group.     Joni Ernst is part of that group, so if she's able to live up to the goals of No Labels, she might contribute to some actual positive change. 

    Her "bread bags" speech, however, doesn't make me optimistic.  


    Opening her response to the State of the Union address on Jan. 20, Iowa’s new Senator Joni Ernst added another image to her folksy appeal:  bread bags over shoes for poor Iowa kids.   

     Word for word:  

     “You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed, because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.”   

     So millions of Americans were treated to an image of Iowa that represents—well, what? The ingenuity of Iowa parents? The durability of bread bags? How many poor kids lived in Iowa?  

     Whatever it means, it provokes an image of the American dream-- “look how lowly I began, and how far I’ve come.” 

     But how does her living the American dream connect to a state of the union rebuttal? 

     It does not.   When you don’t have a good response, change the subject, which is what Ernst did, and what Republicans do constantly these days.  

     What a shame. What an embarrassment.   Ernst blew a real opportunity to (1) present images of growing up in Iowa beyond that dirt-poor stereotype, and (2) actually refute some of the President’s points.  

     Here’s what I remember growing up in Iowa, two decades before Ernst:   

    • Delivering the Courier in Cedar Falls by dragging a wagonload of papers down the alley before sunrise in below zero cold.  The only sounds arose from my banging and slamming wagon down the bumpy alley in the dark.   I learned about chilblains, daily and Sunday. The work ethic was alive and well in Iowa paperboys and girls. 

    • Terrifying thunderstorms where the sky opened up and rain cascaded like vertical rivers, accompanied by howling winds, lightning, and thunder that shook foundations. We knew people whose homes had been severely damaged by those lightning storms, and tornadoes always loomed.  We survived, but learned to respect nature’s power.   
    Either of those would have been true, and might have conveyed an Iowa childhood that made us tough and resilient. 

    After the bread bags? Republican talking points—dump Obamacare, pass the “Keystone Jobs Bill,” and the standard anti-abortion line about protecting innocent life.    

     In fact, if anything, she sounded conciliatory:  “Even if we may not always agree, it's important to hear different points of view in this great country. We appreciate the president sharing his.” 

    Never mind that the President was doing his constitutionally mandated duty, as every President must every January.  She appreciated him sharing anyway.  

    Her response included truisms no one could disagree with:  the need to close tax loopholes, lower trade barriers, fight the growing threat of terrorism.  Yes, yes, of course, we all say.    

    Most unsettling is how often she ignored or reversed what’s actually happening out there.   The Affordable Care Act seems to be lowering costs, and insuring millions of the formerly uninsured.   No credit given there, and no alternative but “No,” as usual.  

    She asserted, “We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they'll be able to leave to their children.”

     The President’s plan for subsidizing two-year college tuition, the Affordable Care Act’s allowing parents to keep their children insured for years more, and a robust economy is what’s actually happening.   Oh yes, and much lower fuel prices that are putting money in all our pockets. 

    If Ernst’s GOP had accomplished even a portion that, they’d be dancing in the streets and looking forward to winning another election. 

    Instead, it’s non-responsive responses and false American Dreams. 

    Deliver us.   

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  • 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:

    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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    Posted in
    • Education
    • Health
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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