History

Do.Not.Forget.

holocaust-remembrance

#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.

 

Hold your applause: PR stunts for the naive

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I was going to write about this earlier, but the fact is that when it is a hot topic and you have no time, it is hard to get ahead of those who write for a living. So, I’ll just preface a professionally written article with my two cents of analysis.

Public Relations is a hard thing for companies, but when they have the right atmosphere a PR stunt can garner them a lot of positive attention. We witnessed such a perfect PR storm this last week that it can’t be denied for what it really is. Many Americans applauded and ate it up, but my take is that many of those Americans are really naive to think the decisions were made based on some moral guide, superiority, or an actual political stand.

PR stunt Olympics

Companies this last week have been announcing they will no longer sell assault style weapons, raising sales ages to 21, banning bump stocks, etc., etc., etc. They are all basically designed to make it more difficult to legally buy these types of weapons or supplies. On the surface, this is a great PR win for the companies but it is really just a stunt for press attention.

Why do I say these moves are just PR stunts? Let’s be real here. There is no moral fortitude being used when it costs you nothing to make a stand. I don’t have real hard numbers here but I would bet if you looked over these companies financial statements you would find that gun sales are a small, small percentage of their overall sales. By extension, that would mean the sales of the specific weapons they are now demonizing are a fraction of a percent in their overall sales. If your PR stunt involves a small fraction of your overall sales, it doesn’t cost you anything to make a stand. But what it does do is help naive Americans think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

A few examples:

  • Dick’s Sporting Goods/Field & Stream – the first of the big stores to announce the ban and restrictions. Let’s be honest, not the first place most people would think to go to buy a weapon! Dick’s sells more shoes, shorts, baseball gloves, and golf clubs than it sells guns. That’s their bread and butter, so guns sales is an afterthought for them. *Personal note – The firearm section in my local Dick’s is so small and limited that it is a joke to even think of shopping there. Most of the time, I forget they even have them.*
  • Walmart – What are they known for? Everything under the sun (most of the time) at low prices. Yes, they have a small section of firearms but this is not your go to destination for firearms. They even admit they have sold these types of guns, but they just don’t sell. (That would be because people who are serious about anything don’t shop at Walmart, they go to a specialty store.)
  • Kroger/Fred Meyer – Again, what are they known for? Clothes, groceries, and home goods. Firearms is not a major source of revenue for them. *Personal Note – I was actually surprised to see a small firearms section magically appear in our local store a few years back. It seemed totally random and out of the blue.*

Listen, a PR stunt is a PR stunt and there no real stand being taken here.

The fact is, there are laws on the books to keep bad people from getting guns and when they are followed they work a vast majority of the time. Are there ways around them and are they fool-proof? No. Nothing is perfect. I am not that naive. Could we do more? Maybe. But for me it comes down to “just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” These things are a slippery slope and are much like government entitlements (once you give them it becomes difficult to take them away), only in the opposite direction – once you take someone’s right away, it becomes difficult to give it back.

 

Check out the great article below which was published before I could publish my conclusions:

Gun-control proponents shouldn’t be so quick to praise corporations.

Source: Corporations only break with the gun industry when it’s cheap and easy – The Washington Post

Logical trade, illogical politics

A week or so ago I wrote about a logical trade when it came to finding a solution to a budget impasse and solving some immigration issues. It seems no one was paying much attention (of course, my readership isn’t that high so that last statement was tongue and cheek).

We wake up today with a government shutdown and while the political spin machines are working over time to spin it this way and that, there is really only one place that blame can be laid here. I say that because when it comes right down to the crux of the issues, there is only one party in this case that is taking an illogical stance and fighting with illogical politics – the Democrats.

The Democrats are where the blame for this shutdown should be squarely placed. This is the bed they made for so many Americans who may find themselves with no job and no paycheck come Monday morning. Or worse yet, those federal employees (like our men and women in uniform serving all over the world) who will have to work and not get paid.

Why do the Democrats take the sole blame for this one? Well, they are standing on a program that protects illegal immigrants, DACA, and they are keeping the government from being able to protect and enforce it’s own borders, which essentially continues to add to the problem of illegal immigration. So, instead of negotiating with a little give and take, they have decided that this is where they will plant their flag and stand.

Just in some quick looking around, this is what we are talking about, by the numbers:

  • 700,000 (+/-) illegal immigrants who are known as “Dreamers” that the DACA program is protecting and allowing to stay in the US because they were brought here as children.

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  • 13,000,000 (+/-) federal employees who will be affected by the shutdown, in one way or another.

These numbers come from CNN, who we all know is left-leaning and “fake news” according to the president. The point being, these numbers are from a typically Democratic party friendly source so they may be even higher. There were various estimates all over the net.

All that being said, it shows that one party here is not making a logical stand when it comes to negotiations and is putting even more Americans at risk by taking this stance. The spin machines can spin all they want, but there is not getting around the numbers and what the fight is really over. Remember the old adage, “The greatest good for the greatest number’? It seems one party has forgotten it.

Hopefully, come Monday morning there will be an agreement that involves both sides giving something and the prospect of moving forward isn’t just a hope.

We have a broke(n) government – literally and figuratively.

 

 

Seems Like a Logical Trade

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Hey, we need a budget (it would be nice if they could live within their means – but that is for another day) so there seems to be some negotiating going on that supposedly will at least make the unbalanced budget happen…ok, who are we kidding? There isn’t any negotiating going on, just a lot of posturing, finger-pointing, and name calling.

One point of contention is that there are people in our country that shouldn’t be here, 89a8134cd81b7609bec1fc47d6ca-should-illegal-immigrants-be-treated-equallymaking them illegal (why illegal, well because they didn’t follow a legal process – the law – to get here and stay here). This we know for sure and there is no debating it. However, some of those people are here as no fault of their own. They were brought here, illegally, when they were young and, for all intents and purposes, have not known any other home. This too isn’t a point of debate because it is fact.

dacaThose young illegals, were afforded some protection under the DACA policy (seems reasonable given their age and the requirements to stay) and on the surface it would appear to be a rather humane and successful way to deal with the issue. The DACA policy is set to expire in March, however, and some people would really like to keep it. Temporary programs, given that no actual law is created to make it permanent, are meant to end and not go on perpetually. So, a compromise on this point seems achievable.

Another point of contention is that there are lots of people in the US who would like to have a wall on the southern border to keep future illegals from entering the US. This is, after all, the right and privilege of any sovereign nation – to control its borders and limit who can enter the nation (in lots of cases around the world, this is done with a combination of actual, physical barriers and laws). This idea, while completely legit doesUS-MEXICO-RELIGION-BORDER-EASTER-MASS have some drawbacks since there are places where a physical wall is completely impossible. That really isn’t the point though and if there are places there can’t be an actual wall, there can be, in all practicality given technology today, a “virtual wall.” Regardless of how it happens, there does need to be a larger and more daunting barrier to keep people from entering the country illegally (because it is against the law). This too doesn’t sound like a bad idea, regardless of cost, because it is in the nation’s best interest to limit who is capable of arriving at and crossing over our borders. So, again, a compromise seems to be achievable here too.

**Author’s Note: Apparently I am too slow in writing at least part of this, as there now has been some negotiating, and apparently still some name calling – but we just aren’t sure.

Either way, this issue has lots of places there can be bipartisan agreement (or at least there should be) instead of just grand-standing on one political ideology or another. We need a government that works to keep the country safe and a political system that isn’t influenced by money. I know this is a lot to ask, but securing the borders of our country and stopping illegal immigration should be a priority. Again, that isn’t an issue that allows much debate – you either support safety and security or you don’t.

 

 

 

 

Swiss Diplomat Risks All During the Holocaust

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Having been a high school history teacher and also having a particularly strong affinity to things related to the Holocaust, this story highlighted in the link below was of extreme interest to me. I used to use Schindler’s List in class and spend a large amount of time teaching about WWII and the Holocaust in class. Several years ago I found out that I had a familial connection to heroic actions of a distant family member during the Holocaust (a story I hope to tell on here some day), which has heightened my interests in the subject even more.

This story from the BBC is one that many more people should read and know about. I had no previous knowledge of Carl Lutz but his sacrifice and courage while facing his own personal danger is extraordinary.

Please take the time to follow the link and learn about a man who should inspire us all.

The forgotten Swiss diplomat who rescued thousands from the Holocaust

Christmas Stories (and others) Told Well

I admit it, I am a sucker for a good story. That’s probably why I like movies and probably why I enjoy reading books, though I don’t do the latter as much as I probably should.

I have a recommendation for you today, on Christmas Eve 2017. I have been listening to these stories each week for just a little over a year now and if you haven’t already discovered them, or the story teller, then I suggest you give him and them a listen.

You see, back when I was a kid I used to listen to stories while I sat at the lunch table while I was at my grandparents’ house. We visited often and my grandfather would come home from the orchard for lunch each and every day. During that lunch hour, he would turn on the radio and the stories would begin. Paul Harvey, you may have heard of him, would catch us up on the news and tell stories. Paul would end that time by stopping the story before the end…which would cause us to tune in later (late afternoon, before dinner time if I recall correctly) and then Paul would start the second broadcast of the day with, “…and now, the rest of the story.” He would proceed to finish the story he had started earlier.

Those are some great memories and ones I cherish very much.

These days, story tellers are hard to come by. Not many people take the time to tell them, let alone listen to them. But, I believe there is going to be a come back, of sorts, and that might just come from the source I mentioned earlier.

Mike Rowe, at MikeRowe.com, has a podcast called “The Way I Heard It”. Yes, you know this Mike Rowe, I am sure, because you likely have heard his voiceover on Deadliest Catch, or saw him as the host Dirty Jobs. It is the same Mike Rowe with the same awesome, story telling voice. He is nearing 100 podcast episodes now, but there are TWO that I would like you to consider this day – Christmas Eve, 2017.

Two episodes you should give a listen to TODAY (or tomorrow, if you like) are Episode 88: The December Missiles  and Episode 86: Francisco’s Flakes.

They are both Christmas stories, about things that will be familiar. I believe you will enjoy them and, at the very least, will probably even make you smile a little. I have shared them with my family, but why stop there? I think more people need to hear them!

Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog once in a while. I appreciate it.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, to you and yours.

“Never again”…and the world stands by

The news about the Rohingya population in Myanmar (Burma) continues to astound me. As someone who has taught about genocide to high school students, this struggle for life is heartbreaking. I wrote about genocide in the past (Duck, Duck, Genocide) and it would appear that the United States (and the West) is taking the same position is has in recent years, calling genocide “ethnic cleansing” just so it doesn’t have to do anything about it. The United Nations “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”  is pretty clear, but there are too many ways to avoid committing to stopping genocide. This is one area where we seem to pick and choose how we will respond – sometimes we do something, most of the time we do nothing.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, when he said “Never Again” after the Holocaust, continue to ring hollowly in the collective memory of the world. I would venture to say that we have not learned from history and we are doomed to repeat it, at the expense of humanity.

Here are a few articles to get you up to speed if you need to know more about this:

No Such Thing as Rohingya: Myanmar Erases a History

Rohingya Crisis: US calls Myanmar action “ethnic cleansing”

US Denounces Violence Against Rohingya as “Ethnic Cleansing”

When will the world stop sitting back and watching as peoples, and histories, are erased?