History

The American Oligarchy

American democracy, as it was designed, is dead. At the very least, it’s on life support and has been for a while. If we aren’t careful, we aren’t going to be able to revive it and the Founding Fathers’ efforts to give it to us will be lost.

As the story goes, Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and was asked by a woman if the new government was a republic or a monarchy. It was reported that without hesitation he responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” So, what exactly did he mean and do we need to heed his warning today?

Today, if you walked down the street of any American city and asked any average citizen what kind of government we have in America today you would likely hear from nine out of ten people, “A democracy.” That answer, to a degree is correct. A democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” (1b) That other person (I am being optimistic here), the one out of ten, would answer “a democratic republic.” This answer would be more correct. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.” (1b.1) America is both a democracy and a republic. Or, at least it was.

I say “it was” because I am beginning to believe that it may no longer be. We the people, I think, like to pretend that we still have a democratic republic but does the “supreme power” really rest in the hands of the people? I would argue that it does not. What do we really have? It is now more of an oligarchy. An oligarchy is “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.” (2)  Thomas Jefferson once said, “Liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it [be]comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of the government by an individual, by a group.” (NOTE: Jefferson was not talking about fascism in the WWII sense that we tend to think of it today. He was talking about it more in the economic sense.)

The key part I want to focus on is that our government is now run by a small group of elites, by a group of people who have tremendous economic wealth and through that wealth “own” the government. Let’s first start with the distribution of wealth in our country. To understand this argument, you have to start here because wealth is the means to power.

Did you get that? The richest 1% of the country has 40% of all the nation’s wealth and they own 50% of all the investments in the stock market. What do they do with all that wealth? Well, they invest it of course because that generates more wealth but they also put it to good use by buying elections. Yep, I said it, they buy elections!

This is where the oligarchy of our government comes in. Our government, Congress and the President, is “owned” by private power, a small percentage of super rich elites, who use their wealth to perpetuate what is best for themselves and their friends. The last presidential election cycle is a good example to show my point. Why? Well because we are seeing it happen before our eyes. One thing that I have become keenly aware of is that in order to run for a political office, you need a pretty substantial stack of cash along with some pretty hefty backers as well. If you don’t have the financial support of a few big donors or the very influential party you choose to side with (who also have their own big donors), you likely can’t win an election in America. Running a campaign has become extremely expensive and it has gotten worse over the years. As a result of the media exposure, costs have gone through the roof. How do you make a win happen? Find and use a money source. Well rather, in many cases, they find you. If you don’t find yourself in the “favor” of those with the wealth, you probably don’t stand much of a chance on winning.

The total cost for the federal election cycle of 2012, Congressional and Presidential, was just under $6.3 BILLION. That’s a big pile of dough! If you click on those links, you can see that being a politician is an expensive venture. So, does all that cash come from their pockets or do they have help? Many of those who ran for office did have their own wealth, and collectively the 535 Congressional members have a net worth of more than $1 million each. The millionaires’ club has now gone over 50%. So, what does all that mean? The group of rich people in Congress, those men and women who make our laws, don’t get much competition when it comes to running for office because the average Joe can’t afford to run. Yes, there is competition and in some cases it was a very fierce competition (just look at the top 11 campaigns for self funding) so money doesn’t always guarantee a win, but it does certainly help in a vast majority of campaign races. And, of course, there is help from many other sources as well, all of whom represent a small percentage of the population but a large percentage of the wealth.

Oligarchy.

Thomas Jefferson spoke of it, and Ben Franklin warned us about losing control of the very government the Constitution set up. We have not heeded the warnings of our Founders. We the people are all created equal but if we don’t keep private power from controlling the government, equality of opportunity isn’t going to survive in the land of the free. Instead, those who have the wealth and the power control opportunity and access will be severely limited to those who can afford it. We already see this in practice as the costs of college have gone up in the last decade. Not just slightly, but by leaps and bounds.

The American government can’t be allowed to continue towards a more powerful oligarchy, but we are well on our way down that road. We have to fight the rise of private power by being educated in our voting and not merely settle for whom has the best commercials or most striking mass mailers. We can’t rely simply on the incumbent, who often becomes entrenched with tenure and power, or vote because it is the only name on the ballot we recognize. We can’t just let those with great personal wealth or with seemingly unlimited backing from a small percentage of the population continue to gain control of our government. For if we do, it will no longer represent us – as many have made the case for already.

Our democratic republic is in danger and our Founder Fathers would be disappointed in us.

Conquered, not stolen

Misappropriation of history.

This has got to be one of the dumbest images I have seen. Not only is it inaccurate about immigration (if you didn’t follow the law, you’re illegal), but also about history and the Native Americans.

The land (and people) was not stolen, it was conquered.

It was conquered. Let’s be clear, it was conquered. The people who lived here before the Europeans arrived were conquered and there is no disputing it. That’s not to say there weren’t ugly periods of time where we, as a (formerly) Christian nation, shouldn’t be upset about the treatment of people. However, war is war. When you are trying to conquer a people, a land, a continent – there is really no fair play. Before you get all up in arms about that statement, remember that even the people who lived here before did exactly the same things now being misrepresented. They fought, the pillaged, they slaughtered, they enslaved, and they assimilated. This it not new history, so the image above is inaccurate at best and a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

If you look at world history, there were only several outcomes possible for a conquered people: total annihilation (as in death of the people, society, and culture), slavery, or assimilation. Name a civilization, or nation, that didn’t do this? The greatest (at least in the classical sense) nations and peoples have always done this. It is human nature. From the smallest tribes and clans in third world countries to the biggest and most powerful empires known to man, the quest for power and more land has been the same. As such, the quest to conquer has been the same.

So, let’s get history straight, shall we?

 

A Liberal Double Standard

**I first published this five, almost six, years ago, while I was teaching senior high school students. I am no longer a teacher, but the subject is still relevant so I am reposting it today.**

Let me first start, right from the top, by saying that this has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with the small erosion of our rights.

Recently in class we have been studying the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791. This is a yearly occurrence in my classroom with seniors and I try to get them to think about their rights in a different ways. I also try to point out areas in our society where the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, makes the news almost on a daily basis. I try to impress upon them that this is still a living and active document. Some days are more successful than others.

The 1st Amendment has five clauses: freedom of religion, press, and speech; the right to assemble and petition the government. We focus on all of these, admittedly some more in-depth than others, but the one that usually makes me ponder more deeply about the state of our society is our “Freedom of Speech.” Because of our discussions in class, I can’t help but notice that our freedom seems to be getting eroded piece by piece, making this natural right harder and harder to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the government is taking away that freedom, we are actually doing it to ourselves.

It is generally believed that the only real limits to our speech are those that pose an imminent danger to society (i.e. shouting fire in a theater), statements of libel, or when there are certain national security interests involved (though there has been a flood of classified info on the government/national security in print lately). With these limitations in mind, why do we censor ourselves and others in society? The discussions with my seniors always make me wonder this. They believe that it is wrong to utter words that hurt someone’s feelings or that offend the sensitivities of others. They have all bought into that old adage that our mothers used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.                     – Voltaire (though attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, his biographer)

Our debate in class usually begins with a discussion about the quote above. Based on the discussion, I can gauge that it appears to make sense to them and yet they still want to qualify it. They get stuck on the idea that something that may be offensive and, yes, even hurt someone’s feelings still shouldn’t be spoken. Have we gotten to be that sensitive, that thin-skinned, that mere words can hurt? What happened to the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” chant we used to hear on the playground? OK, yes, I admit it. Words can hurt. We all know that truth and I am sure we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. However, no matter how much they hurt, or are offensive to someone, don’t we (or they) have a right to say them if we choose to do so?

As of now, many of the words that have been CENSORED from society are still legal to say. We have taken it upon ourselves to declare them socially irresponsible, thus socially “illegal.” (Plug your ears or cover your eyes if you are sensitive because I am about to be socially irresponsible and politically incorrect). “Oh, that’s gay!” and “Man, that is so retarded.” There are other words out there but we don’t need to get into all of them. I think you understand my point. Now, we have seen our society jump all over people in the media or celebrities for using these words and typically there is an apology issued because of the pressure put on them via social media, etc. If directed at an individual and intended as an insult, these statements would obviously hurt an individual’s feelings or offend. If said as a general statement of disgust or disappointment, someone may get offended but in general there was no specific hurt intended or group targeted. This is the where the first part of Voltaire’s statement applies – “I disapprove of what you say, but…” Many people will say things that we don’t like or approve of. Many of us will be hurt by what others say or hurt others by what we say ourselves, but that is the crux of our liberty. We have the right to do so, if we choose, and we shouldn’t be made to censor ourselves because of someone else’s sensitivities.

This is one place where a liberal double standard comes in. In general, liberals are all about being open and permissive. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” “I’ll do what makes me happy.” “Hey, live and let live.” “It’s MY truth.” We can see this attitude in our society as things that once were seen as unacceptable have become, increasingly, more acceptable. The list is long and I won’t even try to make it complete but I offer a few examples: abortion, tattoos, divorce, same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, assisted suicide, casual sex, atheism, nudity and cursing on television. As our society has grown more open and permissive in most areas, we have become more restrictive in others, language being one of them. So how far do we go in accepting these limitations? How much erosion of our freedom of speech can we tolerate? If it hurts someone’s feelings (and we are all a bit too sensitive these days), it is now off limits…I disapprove of what you say, but…

Let me be clear, I am not condoning the use of offensive or hurtful language. No one has a compelling need to use their words in that manner and certainly we should work to hone our own internal filters when it comes to the use of language. However, I am condoning a careful examination of the external censorship we allow others to exert on us. I have a right to say what I please and I have a right to choose not to talk that way. It was bestowed upon me at the foundation of my country. However, others do not have the right to tell me what I can and can’t say. The freedom of speech, as written in the Constitution, wasn’t intended to be abridged. There wasn’t supposed to be a limit on it, ever. Infringing my rights, or the rights of others, lets others censor us in the name of stamping out insensitivity. That sounds callous, I know, but the fact is that even in callousness there is freedom. “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It is better to be angry than to be silenced.”  Megan O

The quote above is from one of my senior students. She reworded and summarized Voltaire’s statement with a rather profound statement of her own. She realizes that being angered by someone’s voice is better than not hearing their voice, no matter how much she may disagree with what she hears. She understands that as soon as she silences the voice of another, her voice could be silenced as well. Her voice, as of now and into the future, isn’t something she is willing to give up.

Baseball and the BFF

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Safeco Field, Home of the Seattle Mariners, Seattle WA

Do you have one of those people in your life that yo just connect with? Someone who knows what you’re thinking without having to voice it? A friend that you can not see for an extended period of time, but when you’re together you pick up right where you left off as though you were never apart? I hope you do! Because IT.IS.AWESOME.

So, one way I like to celebrate is to take in some baseball. I don’t usually get a chance to actually go to a park during the weekend (usually it is on the radio while I work in the yard) so this was a nice change for once. AND, to top it all off, my best friend was there too! So, it was a weekend of record!

First, let me tell you about my best friend, since that is really who this is all about. We have been friends since we were 7 or 8, not really sure but it has been for a long time (considering we are both 46). We love sports, we love food, we love hanging out together and talking about stuff. He is one of those friends that you can tell anything to and not feel judged and he is one of those friends that you can not see for a long time but when you do it feels like you didn’t miss a beat and you pick up right where you left off. He moved across the state when we were in high school but we stayed in touch and now we meet a couple times a year for baseball games in Seattle. We make a weekend of it since travel is easier to do it all at once rather than many little trips. Anyway, he has been a constant in my life and I love him dearly. He is just like a brother, only better! LOL

The first game, Friday night was fun. The Mariners won a one run game and we saw James Paxton pitch (he threw a no hitter in Toronto not too long ago). We spent the evening getting caught back up and enjoying the evening. The second game was more epic than the first.

Game two, Saturday night, started with early entry into Safeco Field. We get tickets from

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(People you can see, L to R: Daniel Vogelbach, Nelson Cruz, Ichiro, Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger

a season ticket holder who splits them out so it was one of those occasions where season ticket holders get to enter the park and hour before the regular gates open. That means there are very few people in the park and it gives the possibility of interacting with the team. So, down to the field we went. We watched the team go through their stretches and warm up. Nearly all the starts were there (except Robinson Cano since he got suspended for PEDs). But otherwise, we were real close to the action.

Then came batting practice. Now, one thing we always try to do is get there early enough to see batting practice and hope to catch a ball hit off the bat of someone. I could be anyone, we don’t care! Mostly because it is just something that doesn’t happen and when you are a baseball fan, it is just something that is fun to participate in. So, our regular seats are a the top of the wall in right field but we decided not to go there and instead try for the first base line, near the foul pole in right field…basically to get balls that guys hit foul but just barely. It really is a guessing game because when you watch there always seems to be a part of the park that the teams hit the ball the most and it always seems to be where we have chosen NOT to stand and watch. It is crazy how it seems to work that way.

IMG_4705Mariners legend, Ichiro (#51) was participating in the full pregame workout, so he was in right field chasing down fly balls, line drives, and foul balls. You know, shagging balls like all the other guys on the team during batting practice. On Saturday, he was running to catch a fly ball and it was straight at me as I stood in the stands above him. As he caught the ball I yelled his name, “ICHIRO!” and held up my open glove (yes, I still take it to the park). He looked up, running at full speed, but not at me. He was looking right at my best friend and I am thinking, He is gonna get this ball from Ichiro! Only, instead of flipping him the ball with an ever so slight underhand toss, he flipped it right to me. That sneaky fellow duped us both! I was so surprised, but it was really cool to have a team legend toss me a ball. (You’re probably thinking what a nerd…but it’s OK, I just love baseball and if you do too, then you understand). And, just for a moment, I was the envy of all the people around me. LOL

Anyway, game two got under way and the teams were battling it out. It was a good game that ended up going into extra innings. The Mariners ended up winning that one also, only in the 12th inning with a walk-off HR by Mike Zunino. It was an epic night!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention dinner! One of the great things about going to the ball park, at least at Safeco, is the ballpark food. You really can be a foodie and get good stuff there (despite the prices being stupidly high). So, of course there is the standard hot dog and a beer. I am not sure when I last had that ol’ favorite. So, I like to try new stuff. This time it was an ice cream sandwich, which we saw on Friday night as we were walking to our seats. We had to try it! So, we found the location in the stadium and built our own. (It is kind of the Coldstone-esque style where you tell them what you want and they build it for you.) So, for mine I had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie, Toffee Coffee Chip ice cream, a chocolate brownie, and then everything dipped in Butterfinger and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy. Let me tell you, it was AWESOME, and it was only $8!! It was, however, more than I could eat so I didn’t finish it.

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All in all, it was a great couple of days. I love spending time with my best friend and it always go by too quickly. But, we always have a good time and we always look forward to the next time we are together.

Oh, one more thing…this weekend was Memorial Weekend, meaning we took time off from work to celebrate and remember the people who have fallen in the line of military service to protect the freedoms we all hold dearly (and probably take advantage of). I hope you took some time this weekend to pause and reflect on the lives that have been lost so that you (and many others around the world) might live free. They gave all and we owe them a debt of gratitude. God Bless America!

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I got nothin’…and maybe that’s somethin’.

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Well, I ain’t got nothin’. I got nothin’ to say this week because I haven’t really had my focus on blogging. Maybe it’s because I am having a hard time motivating myself to write. Maybe its because I have been focused on other things. Maybe its because I haven’t had the time I would like to write. Probably, it is all of those.

The last week, well maybe two, I have been working on getting the new Facebook account for @Stupidboard set up and running. I have placed my first “ads” out there and have been getting some interest, so that is exciting and I will continue to play around with that. I don’t know, its exciting but it has been taking time to feel my way around it.

I have also added two new links to the menu, up at the top of the blog. One is for the website I created for my classroom many years ago, Grenz History. It is the place my students would go to get their assignments, download handout outs, and generally just be my place to to centralize things – especially for students who were absent. It made things easier to keep track of and the students all knew that is where they needed to go. I am having a hard time letting go of it. I don’t have a classroom any longer, but I spend hundreds of hours putting it together and I think I could probably make it useful at some point again, but for now it just sits there. Take a look if you like.

The other new link at the top of the page, in the menu, is for my Teachers Pay Teachers store – Learn ’em Fast History. I no longer have a classroom, but after 15 years of teaching I have a lot of lessons and units and handouts and stuff I think could be useful to others. Now that I am not using it and have a little time, I am adding more and more things to the store. I started the store about four years ago, but there were only a few things out there and so there wasn’t a lot in the way of sales. Over the last year and a half, I have added more and more of my content (and will continue to add more) and sales have started to pick up. This month has been the best month in my store’s history, so that is kind of exciting too! If you are inclined to check it out, or recommend it to a teacher friend, I would be grateful.

So, there you have it! I an’t got nothin’. Or maybe I do…

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Stunning and astounding doubt

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The above comment was left on my blog a couple of weeks ago and I have been struggling on what to do with it. I have my blog set so I can approve the comments and I marked this one as spam, not because I didn’t want a negative comment on my blog but because I didn’t want to give someone who is a Holocaust denier a voice.

The last part of that previous sentence resounds in my head – “…didn’t want to give someone who is a Holocaust denier a voice.” Why does it echo so loudly? Well, because I value the 1st Amendment and the right to free speech. Therein lies the struggle. Do I give this person a voice and try to convince them that they are wrong, or do I just pretend it didn’t happen and move on? My initial reaction was to just pretend it didn’t happen, but it has been nagging at me for the last two weeks for two reasons: 1) it is completely off base and should be countered; 2) by ignoring it and not giving the person a voice, I am going against what I believe is an important part of our society, regardless of whether it is offensive or completely wrong. People should be able to voice what they believe.

So, with it nagging me in the back of my head, I have sat on it and debated with myself about it. I posted it on my Instagram account and asked what they thought I should do. One very succinct response was that it was easy to counter because the claim is so far off base. The best part of the response was “If [he] died tomorrow, there would be less evidence that [he] ever existed than there is to prove the Holocaust was a historical fact. Yet, I doubt he would deny his own existence.”

That leaves me to pose two questions to my readers and fellow bloggers:

  1. What do you do with negative comments to your blog? Do you allow them AND ignore them by not responding OR do you allow them and respond?
  2. What do you think is the right approach for dealing with this particular comment? How would you respond?

I would appreciate your advice. What would you do?

Do.Not.Forget.

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#weremember

Unfortunately, there are a large number of Americans who don’t remember or they have apparently forgotten what they learned in school. What’s worse is some may have never been taught about the subject.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and we must never forget. So, in an effort to remind people of the sobering events of the Holocaust, I will share with you a video I used in my classroom when teaching about the Holocaust. Nothing speaks louder to the horror than primary source footage. Nothing will help remind you like primary source footage. Do. Not. Forget.

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365463766/

The link above is to the PBS Frontline presentation of “Memory of the Camps.” A powerful, primary source documented immediately after the end of the war and liberation of concentration camps.

#walkout vs. #walkup (Part 2)

This is a continuation of #walkout vs. #walkup (Part 1). Please start there and read both posts before leaving a comment at the bottom.

#walkout vs. #walkup

As a history and government teacher (former, but it is still in me), I always encouraged my students to know and exercise their rights. I taught them so that they would be aware of current events and to actively advocate for themselves via their vote, and other means too. That was my job as a teacher. That is my job as a father. And, quite frankly, I wanted my students to be productive and active citizens of their country. That is really important when it comes to the survival of our country.

However, one thing we always talked about and discussed in class was that it was important to be informed before taking action. Allowing emotion and knee-jerk reactions to events could end up causing more confusion (or harm) and being active for the right reason is important. Therein lies the conflict between the two movements that we have seen come out of the most recent school shooting tragedy.

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#walkout – or March for Our Lives – is lending itself to the hysteria, and because it makes for “good” media it got all kinds of coverage. As such, the students who are most vocal are being used to perpetuate a narrative that is misleading and inaccurate. And, unfortunately, the students who are active in the movement are protesting the wrong thing or aren’t being active for the right reasons. As my daughter put it, after I asked her why she participated at her school, “Dad, we’re getting killed out here.” To her credit, she does go to a school in a district that experienced it’s own school shooting tragedy, so the community is a little raw when it comes to these things. But, as we have seen in the statistics (previous post), the data doesn’t support her statement. Her generalization was, at the very least, typical teen drama and over-exaggeration. I didn’t run her down or take her to task for participating though. She is one of the few teens I know who actually pays attention to the news and the world around her, even when she isn’t given a school assignment to do so. She does it on her own, and that is important. Instead, we had a discussion about what the root of school shootings really is, why it is important to be informed, and to keep being involved.

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#walkup – Students are, typically, quick to jump into action but often they ignore the root problem and go after the symptom. It is easy to blame others or point the finger at someone else rather than to deal with the problem you (or your friends) have created themselves. Having been in the classroom as a teacher for 15 years (let alone my own experiences as being a high school student), I can tell you that school shootings stem, in most cases, from students treating their fellow students poorly. When I say “fellow” students, I don’t just mean the students who are the same age. I mean all students who go to a school.

School shootings DON’T take place every day, let alone on a regular basis. What DOES take place every day, without fail, it that students are treating other students in ways they wouldn’t want to be treated themselves. That is a fact and it is at epidemic levels. Whether it gets reported or not – at school, outside of school, online, in social media – it happens. I saw it or heard it every day, to one degree or another. Teasing, laughing, joking, harassing, whispering about, pointing at, turning their backs, ignoring, physically bullying, etc., etc., etc. You name it; it has probably happened. I am sure you all can look back and remember a time when it happened, where it happened, and whether it was done to you or someone else. It doesn’t take much effort to look back in your own life and remember it.

School shootings DO happen because of this. The only people who can really stop it are the students themselves. As adults we can do everything we can and talk about it and discourage it and punish it, but the fact is that it won’t stop until there is a culture change and the students themselves have to make that happen. Look, one student or even a small group of students likely can’t (or more precisely won’t) do it. It puts a target on their backs and we all know students are vulnerable to the opinions of their peers, whether they like to admit it or not. And, not all students are the problem but may passively “support” the behavior because they don’t want to become a target themselves. There are lots of good kids out there, but those good kids tend to ignore the fact that it is taking place in their presence and most often do nothing to stop it.

Let’s not let the generalization get too far away from us. There are good kids. Lots of them! But we need those good kids to stop being bystanders (we talked a lot about this in my history classes in direct relationship to the Holocaust, but it applies in lots of places) and #walkup to step in when they see or hear it happening around them. Then we will see change. Students need to be the change and it can only really come from them. BUT, it has to be done in the right places and at the right times. #walkout or March for Our Lives isn’t the right thing to be protesting when the students themselves are the root of the problem, and the solution to the problem. They need to stop blaming the symptom on others and step up to own the cause.

Victim blaming?

I saw it going around social media. A counter argument to the #walkup movement. Apparently some believe that by asking the students to prevent school shootings by stopping or standing up to the behavior of their classmates is victim blaming. This counter argument is completely off base. First, let’s be sure we understand where the term comes from.

Victim blaming has most often been used to describe what happens to a victim as a result of rape or racism (there are other crimes too, but these are the main ones). There are those with the belief that the victim must have done something to deserve the outcome. The victim was the cause and therefore the crime was appropriate for that cause. Obviously, this is not a way to understand or treat victims. No one deserves to be the victim of a crime. So that is precisely where accusing those who participated in the #walkup movement of victim blaming goes off base. No one actually believes that students deserve to be the victims of school shootings or other crimes.

So, am I victim blaming? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Students are and will be the victims of crime in school. They certainly don’t deserve to be the victims of crime. Unfortunately, in a world that is self-focused and has a lack of empathy, our students aren’t immune to the cause nor the crime. I believe that many of the students/victims of school shootings are likely not even participants in the poor treatment of fellow students. They truly are victims in every sense of the word because the become a convenient target for someone bent on destruction.

The Final Word

Students, if you want to stop school shootings, cure the cause. Befriend the friendless. #walkup instead of standing by. Have empathy for your fellow students and and treat them as though you would want to be treated. Listen to each other. Value each other. Protect each other. Put down the phone (or mirror) and take a look around you. You are not that important to be so self-absorbed. You can make a difference, for yourself and for others. But, you have to choose to do so.

I firmly believe, and in my experience I have seen it, that if students do those things they will lessen the number crimes in their school, they will lessen the number of bullies in their school, and most likely also lessen the number of school shootings dramatically. It won’t stop it completely (because there are people who do bad things), but it would go a long way to making it happen.

#walkout vs. #walkup (Part 1)

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March 14, 2018, will stand out as one of the more memorable student movements in recent history, though I think it will likely be remembered for the wrong reasons. I say wrong because the movement is a bit short sighted in that it is trying to deal with a symptom and not the problem.

When I taught American Government to my seniors (and my juniors, for that matter), I always made great effort to encourage them to be involved –  in their communities, in their state, in politics, in leisure, in things they cared about, and in things that were important to all Americans. So, by discussing this issue I am not discouraging the active participation we saw from our students. We WANT them to be involved and paying attention to what is going on around them. HOWEVER, we also want them to pay attention to the motivations and be good “consumers” of information so they can see through the rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions political parties and the media want them to have. Be informed. Think critically. Make wise choices.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that is happening with the recent protest – the student National Walkout Day and the “March for Our Lives”. This movement, though claimed to be “student led” isn’t. It is hysteria driven. There are may reasons behind the hysteria, but I think it best to say that it essentially stems from a political party bent on limiting the select Constitutional rights of individuals and by a sensationalist, chaos fueled media.

Epidemic vs. tragedy

Some have said that school shootings are at an “epidemic” level, but Merriam-Webster  would disagree, even by a really liberal reading. One source that got almost no play or attention from the national media outlets after the shooting and before the protests, because it goes against the desired narrative, is from an expert on the subject of school shootings. James Alan Fox, a distinguished Biohazardprofessor from Northeastern University, has studied school shootings for decades and he says there are not more shootings, and schools are actually safer than they used to be (watch and read). The national media, celebrities, and those opposed to guns (the 2nd Amendment; in general; or specifically) don’t want to listen to reason or the facts. Instead, we are told that there are more school shootings and favorable statistics used by special interest groups are highlighted to blow the issue out of proportion for a very specific and targeted purpose.

In my experience, and I think I am a fairly typical American, I would have to say that schools shootings (whether there are people injured or killed) are a rather uncommon occurrence and not the experience of a vast majority of Americans. Let me explain.

I grew up in a fairly typical American community and spent my days getting a fairly typical American education. That means I have been in the American education system from kindergarten (pre-school really, but I won’t count that) through the 12th grade. I spent five years in college (that may be unlike most Americans) as I pursued a history degree and a teaching certificate. Finally, unlike most Americans, I also spent 15 years in an American classroom. So, in all how many days have I spent in a classroom? Well, 13×180=2340 days + 5×180=900 days + 15×180=2700 days, for a grand total of 5940 (+/-) days in an American classroom. I do believe that most American’s can’t claim to have that many days in a classroom, except for those teachers or professors who have taught longer than me.

The point of all that math (remember, history teacher, not math – I hate math) is to establish that I am not talking out of my ass here when I say that in my 33 years of being in an American classroom, I never once saw or heard of a gun in the school. Not once. I would venture a guess that most, like 99.9%, can say the same of their educational experience. Did I ever feel unsafe? Sure, but not because of a gun. Did I ever get threatened by a student? Yes, but not with a gun. So, are we really at epidemic proportions when it comes to guns at school, or even gun violence at school? Not even close. Again, if you look at the math – the number of students in the US and the number of schools in the US versus the number of people in the US, it is a rather small percentage of people who have experienced such a threat or event.

What it is, really, is a tragedy. Merriam-Webster, again, serves us well here. I am not trying to minimize the suffering of those wounded or killed in the events and I am not trying to lessen the impact the families of those students have felt either. Nor am I trying to say that students aren’t the victims of crime. But, what I am trying to do is put the matter into perspective. Hysteria tends to drive a tragedy into a rallying point for further hysteria, which ultimately leads to someone’s rights getting trampled or others becoming unintended victims. We aren’t at epidemic levels for school shootings and we shouldn’t let the hysteria of tragedy turn this into a rallying cry for something that really is only a symptom of the problem, not the catalyst.

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 This post continues with #walkout vs. #walkup (Part 2). If you would like to comment, please continue to the next post, read ALL of it, then leave a comment.

Building an empire is tough

Building a social media empire is tough. Really tough.

One thing I am discovering since I have begun to post more frequently, as in “on regular basis,” is that drawing in an audience is tough. Some days are good days and others not so much. Not everyone is going to pay attention to what I am doing, I know that. Nor is everyone going to like, or dislike, what I have to say. However, I guess I haven’t really hit the nerve that will get people talking or get them to really stick around. So, I am going to have to keep working on that.

Another thing that I am discovering is that I need to post more often, in all the places I am trying to grow. There in lies the rub…how do you keep up a constant presence while still being able to maintain a job and family life? There is a balance, I am sure, but what is it?

Empire 1

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There has definitely been some improvement and growth here at the blog Understanding, Optional. Since I have kept a regular posting schedule of once a week – every Tuesday morning – I have seen some more followers and there have even been more “likes” and comments. I feel like that is a great start! But, I want more!!  (Maybe I am a little greedy?) So, I’ll keep working at it and I’ll keep finding things that interest me, and hopefully interests you at the same time.

If I could ask one thing, could you pass me around? OK, well, not me specifically but if you find something of interest and worth sharing, please do!

Empire 2

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If you haven’t already stopped by the link at the top of the page, Stupid Board: Classroom Quotes, you should. There is an explanation as to what exactly I am doing in that other empire.

Over my years of teaching, I was going to write a book but decided to try a social media route instead. The Instagram account has been growing, but it too has been slow. I am sure that if I posted more often than once a week that it would grow faster.

I would also like to start including content from other teachers. We all, including myself, have been on the stupid board, so I am looking for others that are willing to contribute and be featured too. If you want to follow and spread the word, I would appreciate that too. In the meantime, enjoy a little humor!

Thanks for stopping in and taking a look around again. If you have any suggestions on what can keep this empire growing and thriving, I would be grateful.