Jeff Irwin on renewed movement in the Michigan House to kill Snyder’s Emergency Manager law, Ethan Lowenstein on the value of place-based education, and the witchy music of Spelling… on episode 38 of the Saturday Six Pack


I know that all anyone wants to talk about these days is our story about the elaborate “fuck Flint I want to go shopping”-themed cake Governor Snyder had made for his wife’s birthday, which has now spread to the likes of Gawker and Wonkette, but, for my own sanity, I’ve got to move on. So, here’s something completely different… my notes on episode 38 of the Saturday Six Pack.

We started the episode, which you can hear below in its entirety, with Ethan Lowenstein, the director of the Eastern Michigan University-based Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS Coalition). Lowenstein and I not only discussed the general state of education in Michigan and beyond, but got into quite a bit of detail concerning his organization’s work to better connect young learners with their communities, and the natural world, by facilitating ambitious place-based educational initiatives.

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in either education theory, or just the state of our world, to listen to our entire conversation. With that said, though, here are the two big takeaways I left our incredibly thought-provoking conversation wth…

First, we’re living at a critical point in history, and it’s absolutely imperative that our young people not only feel connected to the places in which they live, but also feel empowered to contribute in significant ways. If we can’t do this, there’s little hoe for society… For generations, Americans have been retreating into the suburbs, and walling themselves off from one another, and we desperately need to change that paradigm if we want to address the very significant issues facing our society. We need to increase participation in the democratic process, and we need to give people the tools they need, and the confidence they require, to take ownership of their communities and make them better. And this is what the SEMIS Coalition is attempting to do on a daily basis by working with young students and helping them develop programs tailored to their surroundings… programs which put them in their communities, learning about things like water quality and pollution, and creating grass-roots initiatives that bring people together to create results-oriented action plans.

Second, we’d likely be better off as a society if, instead of just looking at test results, we looked at other metrics. Lowenstein suggested, for instance, that we track to what extent people have “a deep sense of belonging,” and whether or not they’re “happy.” If we can get our students to a place where they see themselves as important to our society, Lowenstein says, academic success, and everything else, will follow.


[above: Some of the students involved in a recent SEMIS Coalition project.]

Lowenstein and I discussed the current state of education in Michigan, and how it seems as though this is where the battle over the future of education is being fought. On one hand, we have the work that he and others are doing to think more creatively about education, and empower children to be active participants in their communities, tailoring programs to specific situational needs, and pushing for increased democratization. And, on the other, we have entities like the Governor’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA), which seem to be dedicated to replacing public education with a for-profit system in which public education is no more than the rote memorization of facts overseen by relatively untrained adults reading approved scripts from curriculum binders. Here’s Lowenstein discussing the fluidity of the education landscape today, wherein nothing, in his opinion, is really working… “There is no pure space right now,” he says.


At some point during this segment, we received a call from one of Lowenstein’s former students, Johnny Lupinacci. [As you might recall, I interviewed Lupinacci just as he was leaving Ypsilanti a few years ago as part of our Ypsi Arbor Exit Interview series.] Lupinacci not only shared his thoughts about place-based education, and told us how he was now making use of some of the same principles in his work, but also talked about how programs such as these are good for teachers, who want to help kids reach their fullest potential as contributing members of society, and not just teach to the test.

During our discussion, Lowenstein shared a number of different projects that were currently being facilitated by his organization, and we discussed the possibility that he might one day he return to the Saturday Six Pack with a group of students, who could tell us firsthand how their relationship with their community, and the natural world, changed as a result of having participated in a SEMIS Coalition project… Here’s one more photo from the SEMIS archive, to give you a sense as to the work they do.


As to the question of whether or not we have enough time to reimagine education in America, and help our children become both better environmental stewards and members of society before it’s too late, Lowenstein was optimistic. People, he said, know the current models aren’t working. “The veil is coming off,” he said. And people are ready for something else. Furthermore, he said that, when you’re organizing around things like the stewardship of the Great Lakes, as he is, there are opportunities to find common cause with people of differing political persuasions. He also said that he thinks the stories they’re collecting from the kids that they work with will be a powerful tool. People, he said, won’t be able to dismiss these young people once they know them.

[If you would like to listen to episode thirty-eight of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

And, at the 45-minute mark, just after listening to a song written earlier that same morning in Kenya by Dr. Peter Larson titled Nairobi Half Life, we jumped right into things with State Representative Jeff Irwin. Ostensibly Irwin was in the studio to discuss a new push in the Michigan House to roll back Rick Snyder’s illegal Emergency Manager law, but we also got to a lot of other stuff, like what’s being done to keep the Gelman dioxane plume from reaching Ann Arbor’s drinking water supply.

For the most part, tough, we did talk about the pubic health disaster in Flint, where a good number of citizens have been exposed to toxic drinking water, and how it likely would not have happened if not for Michigan’s illegal Emergency Manager system of governance, under which local people have no power or recourse. In illustration of this fact, Irwin reminded us that Flint City Council voted to return to Detroit water relatively early on in the process, only to have their wishes ignored by the Emergency Manager… Emergency Management, said Irwin, is at the heart of what happened in Flint.

Irwin said that this started in earnest in 2011, when the Republicans, having won big across the state, began “wagging their fingers” at largely minority cities in Michigan, like Detroit and Flint, saying that, because they’d been run poorly, they’d to be taken over. As Irwin points out, they didn’t take into consideration that there weren’t easy fixes for the problems these communities were facing, which had been caused by decades of globalization, disinvestment, racism, and white flight, leaving those remaining inhabitants to pick up the bill for debts that had been incurred in the past, like the pensions of public workers… But that didn’t stop Snyder and company from believing that, with a few consultants, they couldn’t cut budgets to the bone and set things right. And now we’re seeing how that worked out. This, according to Irwin, is what happens when you remove all the checks and balances put in place over generations, leaving just the State Treasurer and Governor to sign off on items of such immense importance.

Irwin, for what it’s worth, like many of us, believes that Snyder is still lying about what really happened in Flint, and his role. “Incompetence is one thing,” said Irwin, “but he’s deliberately misleading.” [Speaking of which, did you see today that even the conservative Detroit News is now suggesting that Snyder is being untruthful? “Clearly, there are things the governor isn’t telling Michigan residents,” they said in an editorial today.]

And we haven’t yet seen the worst of it, according to Irwin, who believe’s it’s likely that that hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed to fix Flint’s infrastructure will come not from a new tax, but from further cuts to both education and Medicare.

There was a lot more, including our conversation about the Gelman plume in Ann Arbor, which appears to be moving toward Superior Township, but I’ll leave you to listen to that yourselves… Oh, and did you know that it’s apparently OK for a corporation to kill people as long as they limit the death toll to 1 in 100,0000?


[This was Irwin’s second visit to the Saturday Six Pack. If you’re curious, his first visit, where we discussed open carry in our schools and the conditions of Michigan’s roads, among other things, can be heard here.]

And, at the 1:31-mark, we invited Victoria Weeber and Craig Johnson into the studio with their shruti box to play a few songs and tell us about their band, Spelling, which apparently isn’t named after television producer Aaron Spelling, as many of us had been led to believe. Here they are, playing one of their four songs. I don’t think you can see it here, but they recited all of their lyrics out of a large, flesh-bound book.


We talked about factory work, how they met one another, the people they’d stolen their instruments from, Juggalo tattoos, their fondness for all things witchy, and why, despite their inner darkness, they dress almost exclusively in vibrant pastels and neon. It was a fascinating conversation, and, for me, a much needed reprieve from the seriousness of the previous 90 minutes… Here, if you’ve never seen a stolen shruti box, is what one looks like.


Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

[Episode 38 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on January 30, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]

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  1. KKT
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I know you said you didn’t want to talk any more about he Snyder cake, but Jesus fuck that story blew up.

  2. A
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    How is “place based” learning any different then plain old co-ops, internships, exterships or OJT?

  3. Mr. X
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    In the interview, Ethan talks about the process. They work with groups to go through their community, look for places where they can contribute, and then construct plans together. So it’s different in that way, but there’s also a different intention behind it. It’s about creating a sense of community, and helping students feel connected to the area in which they live. Internships, while putting young people in their communities, have different goals.

  4. Posted February 9, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    In addition to what was just said, Place-based Education is a way of using the local community as a space for learning the subject matter. So the idea here is to make the classroom curriculum meaningful to students. What questions do they have? What concerns them? I have been in so many classrooms where the students are disengaged and don’t see how the curriculum relates to them. In Place-based Education, the teacher is more of a guide and the teacher and students develop together as they investigate powerful questions. You might want to check out our website There’s a 6-minute documentary on the front page that will give you a sense of what we mean. Thanks for the great question!!!!

  5. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Your discussion with Spelling about witch hats got me wondering where they come from. Does anyone know why, when we think of witches, we thing of those pointy black hats?

  6. Katherine
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    My favorite part was when Jeff said that the Gelman plume many not be an issue because instead of heading toward Ann Arbor it seemed to be headed toward Ypsilanti.

  7. Victoria Weeber
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for having us, Mark. Mostly thanks for giving me an excuse to talk about Juggalos.

  8. Posted February 9, 2016 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    We need to devote more time to Juggalos. Maybe we could have someone come in with one, like when Jack Hanna used to go on the Letterman Show with exotic animals. Or maybe we could set a trap with Faygo outside the studio and see if we can catch one. Lots of potential… And thank you for coming on. I enjoyed your set.

  9. Posted February 9, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    And, for what it’s worth, I don’t think what Jeff said about the Gelman plume moving toward Superior Township was a bad as I made it sound on the show. We were talking about the possibility of it approaching Barton Pond, where most of Ann Arbor’s drinking water comes from, and he said that, thankfully, it was not. He didn’t say, “I’m happy to report that it’s heading away from Ann Arbor and toward Ypsi.” He just said that it didn’t look as though it was going to effect anyone’s drinking water. And that’s really the big issue. We want to keep it out of the drinking water.

  10. Posted February 9, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    And I don’t know how it was determined what the dress code for witches would be. I wish I did, but I don’t.

  11. Posted February 9, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    And do listen to this episode if you get a chance. It was a good one.

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