An Educator’s Lessons for the New Year

I am not going to start with any platitudes.  Instead, I am going to start with what I have learned as an educator and a person in the 2016.

Lesson 1:   People are often not  who you think they are.

I belong to a fraternal organization that was founded with the ideal of bringing people together.  I will not name the order, but it was founded in the 19th century and was chartered by an Act of Congress to heal the wounds of the Civil War.   It has a non-sectarian history, although it did discriminate racially up to the mid 20th century  and it is supposed to be dedicated to benevolence, friendship and charity.  I was given the honor of a high position in this organization last year.  However, this year I discovered that the supposed friends I had in my lodge were no friends when someone revealed to them my very public personal and political beliefs.  These people ended up saying horrible things about me and my family because one, I am critical of the future president, two, I believe in protest and civil disobedience and three, my son is a married gay man with a family.  When I was supposed to be honored for the work I was doing for the organization, many members of my own lodge planned to boycott me.   They demanded that I apologize for something I wrote on Facebook.  I basically wrote that if the government passes an unconstitutional or unjust law, people have the right to protest that law and engage in civil disobedience.  At first, I have to admit, I succumbed to their act of bullying based on the advice of some good friends who wanted peace. Without really apologizing, as several brothers really wanted me to do, I clarified certain ideas to make my statements more palpable to my supposed brothers.    Then I thought about it. At first, I thought about leaving my lodge, but then changed my mind.  Why should the victim leave? Instead, I became angry that I betrayed my ideals because of threats and bullying.  As an educator, I have been trained to teach students how to deal with bullying effectively and I didn’t.    As a Doctor Who fan, I always think of this quote, “Never give up, never give in.”  Therefore, after my lodge had a holiday party in which several brothers chose to be disrespectful by trying to ostracize and ignore me, I decided to write them a letter telling them I will not stand for bullying.  In addition, I told them who I was, what I believed in, and that I expected a private apology before I would make a motion for a public apology at the next meeting I planned to attend.   The perpetrators have so far ignored what I wrote.  But why should I be surprised.  They voted for their role model.  

Lesson 2:  Only people who truly love you are your real friends.  

On Facebook, I had 25 people who unfriended me because of my beliefs and opinions.  One was even a cousin.   When someone denounces me completely out of ignorance, I will call him or her out.   Here are some things said.  “The fact you support Bernie Sanders proves you are a godless communist and hell fire awaits.”   When I tried to explain the difference between totalitarian communism and democratic socialism as well as certain religious perspectives on my part, such as the fact that in the name of religion countless millions have died, I was blocked.  I also was blocked when I stated, “Any law passed banning people from burning the flag is unconstitutional”    I was told I should be shot for treason and that I am wrong, it is illegal to burn the flag.  When I told one person to look up the Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. Texas in which none other than Antonin Scalia stated that burning the flag is symbolic speech and has to be protected by the first amendment, I was cursed, denounced and blocked.  Again, what should one expect when people mimic their new role model who will occupy the White House on January 20.  And this leads to . . .

Lesson 3: Many believe in free speech only for themselves.

Many who are angry that I will not support the new president have called me a hypocritical liberal.   They claimed that liberalism supposedly allows free speech for everyone to air their ideas equally.  Therefore, why do we constantly denounce the words of Trump and his supporters.   I love it when they set up straw men and state what liberalism supposedly believes in.  Guess what?  Free speech is not absolute.  Micheal Shermer and Alex Grobman in their writings about issues surrounding Holocaust deniers discuss extensively free speech issues surrounding people and institutions who claim that the murder of 6 million Jews did not happen.  Because the background and motivation of many Holocaust deniers are often anti-Semitic and can be labeled hate speech, the purpose of their proven lies are meant to cause harm and should not be completely protected once their ideas lead to criminal action.  The same can be said of the words of the future president.  His words have lead to the criminal endangerment of many people in American society.   Therefore,  there is nothing wrong in prescribing his words within the confines of a free press. What I mean by this is that he should be allowed to say what he wants, but there should be equal time given to the public refutation of his ideas. This is where the mainstream press has failed if you apply Shermer and Grobman’s concept of free speech to the president-elect.   With every word he said, there should have been given equal time to those who would use reason to refute his ideas with facts.  Our present concept of free speech comes from the Enlightenment, and according to many enlightenment philosophers, rational reasoning “trumps” the idea of free speech.   Our supposed mainstream free press really did not give equal time to a public refuting to the ideas expressed by Trump and his cohorts using reasoning and evidence in the last year.  I did not see any front page articles or 10 minutes of airtime on CNN showing that  statistics disprove that most illegal aliens were rapists and murderers.   I did not see mainstream articles describing that if he appoints to the Supreme Court several people who plan to overturn marriage equality, it will be overturned no matter what Trump says.  And this leads to . . .

Lesson 4:  Freedom does not mean freedom to express hate within the greater society.

Many Trump supporters talked to me about hating political correctness and felt proud in making myriads of racist comments against Obama.  Interestingly, if they really believed that people were punished for not being politically correct, how come they were able to curse Obama without consequence?     And yet, a  person screamed at me how Obama forced people to serve and bake cakes for gay weddings against their religion while musical entertainers are refusing to play at the inaugural without consequence.   First off, Obama cannot force anyone to do anything, but the laws of the United States does. These people do not understand that a business is only allowed to exist through state incorporation laws and once incorporated, the business becomes a public accommodation and thus cannot discriminate.  On the other hand, an entertainer is a private citizen and is an individual who has a right to entertain or not entertain whenever or whoever they want.  In terms of your own domicile or house, one is free not to allow someone who is black, blue, gay, green, or Klingon inside.   Inside your house, with people of like mind, you can scream every racial epitaph you want.  If you have a totally private school and take zero money from the government, unless a state prescribes some minimum curriculum requirements, you can teach that Fred Flintstone and Dino really existed or that the Jewish people whose calendar states it is the 5777 existed before some supreme entity created the world 5500 years ago according to someone on Trump’s transition team. A totally private school even has the right to ban a male student who wears a yellow poker dotted shirt if it wants.  But once you take a penny of my money, I, through my government, have the right to call you out. And if we reach the point where the government refuses to obey its own laws, people have the right to go to the court and get what is called a Writ of Mandamus, which is an order forcing the government to do what it is supposed to do.      What does this all mean?  You do not have the freedom to publicly hate or discriminate because of anti-discrimination laws and the fact that hate almost always lead to violence. And present hate crime statistics against Muslims proves this out.  On the other hand, I have the freedom to call out your hate and use whatever legal constitutional measures to stop you.  As the 18th century Enlightenment philosophers basically said, your liberty cannot infringe on my liberty.  Therefore, government exists, through both our consent,  to be a mediator so that we can reach some type of accommodation so that we can both exist peacefully within a given society.    


My one true wish is for the New Year is this.  These lessons should be understood and respected by those who have different ideas.   Why?  Simple.  Millions of Americans live our daily lives by lessons such as these.   And to disregard these lessons, puts this approximately 240 year experiment in freedom and justice in grave danger in the year to come.  I hope you are listening Mr. Trump.  


The Balkanization of American Education and the Election of Donald Trump

The charter movement may have had one great success and that is the election of Donald Trump.   His election is probably due to the balkanization of American culture through the charterization and privatization of a great chunk of our educational system over the last twenty years. The result has been the dilution of common values and beliefs that public education imbued in most Americans. Our common culture has been fragmented to the point that large groups of Americans no longer have common values—socially, economically and politically.

It is my contention that it was not only the educational level, but also the type of education people had played a large part in this election.  In an analysis of several polls, the average Trump voter has an income of about $70,000.  So there goes the idea that it was the alienated working class that put Trump into office because of their loss of good factory jobs.  Instead, there were two other key factors.  First, the lack of diversity within the community that voted for him, i.e., mostly white and second, the education level of the Trump voter.   It is my opinion, there must be an analysis of the type of education many of the Trump voters either have or support.   This goes way beyond whether key voting blocks were college educated or not. It is my feeling that the type of education one acquired played a critical role in the vote.   If you look at the mostly white communities that voted for Trump in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I would bet there is a large presence of Charter or nonpublic religious schools.

In March 2013, in this blog, I wrote in this blog an article “Education and Class Warfare.”   Little did I realize that I was predicting what was to come.  I wrote, “Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others had a very simple view of public education.  To these men, public education in America would be the great equalizer.  It would create a common American culture and an educated citizenry that would make decisions that would benefit the whole nation.”  With an educated citizenry and common political culture, it was felt people would make informed decisions as to whom to elect.  People would learn to differentiate between emotional rhetoric and sound policy decisions.

Unfortunately, the charter and voucher movements over these years have created schools where there is a lack of oversight as to what is being taught.   One cannot create a common culture when one is isolated and does not interact with others who are different.   How many charters and fundamentalist religious schools in rural areas of Michigan teach about the diversity of different people that make up this nation? How many have anti-bullying programs or teach tolerance toward students who are LBGQT?  Instead, we have not only charters, but also sectarian schools run by people with certain religious notions teaching that the earth is 6000 years old, that it does not matter that we will deplete the environment because none of this will matter when the rapture comes, and that a good portion of the population is hell-bent because of their lifestyles. Even if one does not teach such religious notions, the segregated nature of many of these schools, in the end, lead to the same result—intolerance toward others.

In addition, many charters focus so much on the core skills that social studies and civics barely exist.   When your focus is on passing an ELA test, one does not learn how to interpret and analyze critically different types of writing.  One should be taught to differentiate between propaganda and objectively-based arguments.   In addition, when these schools teach social studies, there is no standard curriculum that makes sure students learn to analyze both sides of an argument.  For example, we all know that the Koch brothers are trying to create schools that teach a one sided, free market, but really crony capitalistic, economic view of the world. The good teaching of social studies involves students learning both sides of a historical issue and then debate as well as discuss the different points of view. I remember one of my social studies teachers, Mr. Lepler out of John Bowne High School.   During each lesson he gave us a handout describing both sides of every issue and we debated the pros and cons of each argument. He would never tell us his opinion and we could not get him to tell us about his politics.  Years later, when I became a teacher, I met him at a conference in my old high school.  I asked him whether he was a liberal or conservative.  His answer was that he was neither—he was a pragmatist.  He based all political decisions on two factors—ethics and reason, not emotion.

The plan of future Education Secretary DeVos is to institutionalize nationally a fragmented educational system where millions will lack an enriched education in unregulated charter schools and private religious schools paid for through vouchers.  She surely is not basing her decisions are any type of reason.  If you described to her every study in the last few years showing that overall, charters are no better than public schools and those that lack regulation are often worse, she is one who would disregard all this research because her plans are ideologically based. She sees nothing wrong with teaching religious concepts in publicly funded charters and holds that public schools are nothing less than a dead end.   I do feel she does understand one thing.  It is that history shows that when one controls the education of a society, one ends up controlling that society.  The people now coming into power want charters to create a less educated citizenry.   They want to defund public education so that fewer schools will be able to teach the type of skills where diversity is accepted and people learn to think for themselves.  Instead, DeVos and her supporters want schools that will teach students to be docile, submissive and accept the whatever the government says.  All of this is the hall mark of an authoritarian society.  The people who will now run the Department of Education may talk about school choice, but they want anything but.  It is no choice when one takes away limited resources public education and give it to unregulated private entities. It is not choice when the government favors a private system over a pubic system while, at the same time, enact policies meant to destroy the nation’s community-based schools that are truly accountable to the people through democratic processes.

I went to public school in the mid-1960s just as the civil rights movement was just reaching a crescendo.  Thus, I remember “brotherhood week” where we learned to understand others no matter their race, color, or creed.  I remember making friends with an Italian classmate and ending up at his confirmation and he at my Bar Mitzvah.   I made friends with an Afro-American peer who played classical, jazz and gospel music on a piano and who taught me more about our musical heritage than any appreciation class could every teach.  However, now I fear that America in now headed in a completely opposite direction.   Will there even be an Afro-American History Month or a Woman’s History Month in the schools?  Will there be anti-bullying programs in the schools?   I don’t know.   Without a common culture that teaches the acceptance of diversity not only of people, but ideas, I fear for the future of this nation.  There may not be choice for my 10 month grandchildren when they enter school when the only choices that exist will be mostly segregated or online schools teaching test prep or fundamentalist ideas.  It has been America’s public education that has been the fabric that has held together this nation based on law, justice and respect. Without such a system, how can our national identity survive?