Rosa Parks Sit Down to Stand Up for Freedom Day, December 1: “Why do you push us around?” Rosa Parks asked the cop. (Anyone know the answer?)

December 1, 2016

Mrs. Rosa Parks asked a question of the policeman who arrested her for refusing to move to the back of the bus on December 1, 1955. In 2016, it is again, and still, a chilling question, to which we have no good answer.

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, Library of Congress

Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Rosa Parks: “Why do you push us around?”

Officer: “I don’t know but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

From Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, Quiet Strength
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), page 23.

Photo: Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Today in History at the Library of Congress provides the simple facts:

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Blacks were also required to sit at the back of the bus. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks made a nearly perfect subject for a protest on racism. College-educated, trained in peaceful protest at the famous Highlander Folk School, Parks was known as a peaceful and respected person. The sight of such a proper woman being arrested and jailed would provide a schocking image to most Americans. Americans jolted awake.

Often lost in the retelling of the story are the threads that tie together the events of the civil rights movement through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. As noted, Parks was a trained civil rights activist. Such training in peaceful and nonviolent protest provided a moral power to the movement probably unattainable any other way. Parks’ arrest was not planned, however. Parks wrote that as she sat on the bus, she was thinking of the tragedy of Emmet Till, the young African American man from Chicago, brutally murdered in Mississippi early in 1955. She was thinking that someone had to take a stand for civil rights, at about the time the bus driver told her to move to allow a white man to take her seat. To take a stand, she kept her seat.

African Americans in Montgomery organized a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. This was also not unique, but earlier bus boycotts are unremembered. A bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier in 1955 did not produce nearly the same results.

The boycott organizers needed a place to meet, a large hall. The biggest building in town with such a room was the Dexter Street Baptist Church. At the first meeting on December 5, it made sense to make the pastor of that church the focal point of the boycott organizing, and so the fresh, young pastor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was thrust into civil rights organizing as president, with Ralph Abernathy as program director. They called their group the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). When their organizing stretched beyond the city limits of Montgomery, the group became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Litigation on the boycott went all the way to the Supreme Court (Browder v. Gale). The boycotters won. The 381-day boycott was ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system.

Sources for lesson plans and projects:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Slacktivist, who gave this post a nice plug.

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December 1, 1955: “Why do you push us around?” Rosa Parks asked the cop. (Anyone know the answer?)

December 1, 2014

Mrs. Rosa Parks asked a question of the policeman who arrested her for refusing to move to the back of the bus. In 2014, it’s a chilling question, to which we have no good answer.

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, Library of Congress

Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Rosa Parks: “Why do you push us around?”

Officer: “I don’t know but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

From Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, Quiet Strength
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), page 23.

Photo: Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Today in History at the Library of Congress provides the simple facts:

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Blacks were also required to sit at the back of the bus. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks made a nearly perfect subject for a protest on racism. College-educated, trained in peaceful protest at the famous Highlander Folk School, Parks was known as a peaceful and respected person. The sight of such a proper woman being arrested and jailed would provide a schocking image to most Americans. Americans jolted awake.

Often lost in the retelling of the story are the threads that tie together the events of the civil rights movement through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. As noted, Parks was a trained civil rights activist. Such training in peaceful and nonviolent protest provided a moral power to the movement probably unattainable any other way. Parks’ arrest was not planned, however. Parks wrote that as she sat on the bus, she was thinking of the tragedy of Emmet Till, the young African American man from Chicago, brutally murdered in Mississippi early in 1955. She was thinking that someone had to take a stand for civil rights, at about the time the bus driver told her to move to allow a white man to take her seat. To take a stand, she kept her seat.

African Americans in Montgomery organized a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. This was also not unique, but earlier bus boycotts are unremembered. A bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier in 1955 did not produce nearly the same results.

The boycott organizers needed a place to meet, a large hall. The biggest building in town with such a room was the Dexter Street Baptist Church. At the first meeting on December 5, it made sense to make the pastor of that church the focal point of the boycott organizing, and so the fresh, young pastor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was thrust into civil rights organizing as president, with Ralph Abernathy as program director. They called their group the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). When their organizing stretched beyond the city limits of Montgomery, the group became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Litigation on the boycott went all the way to the Supreme Court (Browder v. Gale). The boycotters won. The 381-day boycott was ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system.

Sources for lesson plans and projects:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 

Tip of the old scrub brush to Slacktivist, who gave this post a nice plug.


Lessons of Vietnam: Honor the people who serve

July 5, 2012

Years ago I feared that many of us learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam, or if we learned the right ones, we weren’t applying what we’d learned.  This was a bit more important in the earlier days of our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.  So I wrote about one of the lessons we needed to improve on:  Honoring the people who serve, regardless our view on the entire engagement.

Someday, perhaps when I’m wiser, I’ll get back to that series on the lessons of Vietnam.

A lot of water flowed under the bridge since then.  A lot of blood flowed, too.

We did better with our two latest engagements, as a nation, in honoring soldiers.  For just one example, DFW Airport set up a special lounge for soldiers returning stateside, and dozens of organizations set up programs to get people out to welcome the soldiers from Iraq with an indoor parade of sorts — Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, groups of retired veterans and other citizens, school social studies classes, and many more.

That still leaves us with the scab of our treatment of veterans from Vietnam.  It’s been good to see cities and organizations make serious efforts to remember them specifically, as well as veterans of Korea-“The-Forgotten-War,” with soldiers and veterans of the modern conflicts.  There is more we need to do, I’m sure.

I ran into this short video from Moments.org.  I don’t know about the rest of that organization’s ministries, but this video got it right:

So, Wes, McClain, Kevin, Ben, Brenda, Steve, Pat, Al, Ken, Ray, David, Jeff and Jon, and all the rest of you who served, especially in or during Vietnam, consider this as one for you.

Tip of the old scrub brush to cmblake6, who probably won’t ever get another one here.  Happily surprised to find something right over there.

More, Resources:


December 1: Remembering when Rosa Parks stood up for freedom, by sitting down

December 1, 2010

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, Library of Congress

Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Rosa Parks: “Why do you push us around?”

Officer: “I don’t know but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

From Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, Quiet Strength
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), page 23.

Photo: Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Today in History at the Library of Congress provides the simple facts:

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Blacks were also required to sit at the back of the bus. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks made a nearly perfect subject for a protest on racism. College-educated, trained in peaceful protest at the famous Highlander Folk School, Parks was known as a peaceful and respected person. The sight of such a proper woman being arrested and jailed would provide a schocking image to most Americans. Americans jolted awake.

Often lost in the retelling of the story are the threads that tie together the events of the civil rights movement through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. As noted, Parks was a trained civil rights activist. Such training in peaceful and nonviolent protest provided a moral power to the movement probably unattainable any other way. Parks’ arrest was not planned, however. Parks wrote that as she sat on the bus, she was thinking of the tragedy of Emmet Till, the young African American man from Chicago, brutally murdered in Mississippi early in 1955. She was thinking that someone had to take a stand for civil rights, at about the time the bus driver told her to move to allow a white man to take her seat. To take a stand, she kept her seat. [More below the fold] Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Valentine: Memorial Day, Part II

June 1, 2010

Memorial Day. Pt. 2.

[See Part I, here]

By Dan Valentine

The greatest anti-war/peace song ever written is “What a Wonderful World.” Just one man’s opinion.

Wikipedia: Clear Channel included it on its list of songs that might be inappropriate for airplay in the period after the September 11 attack.

The Louis Armstrong version was used ironically in “Dr. Strangelove” over a montage of bombings.

Satchmo’s version was again used ironically in “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

It was used again by Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine,” “where it accompanies scenes of violence about U.S. intervention in international affairs.”

It has been used many times since. It’ll be used many times more. The song says it all.

Tho’ many don’t get the gist.

AND SATCHMO SINGS
(c) 2010 Daniel Valentine

VERSE
Stand awhile on hallowed ground
Where heroes sleep and look around.
Here and there a flag adorns a grave,
And there are fresh-cut flowers for the brave.

Walk along the rows and rows
And read what’s there inscribed on those
Graves on which the flowers lie across.
The stones have little room to note the loss.

REFRAIN
Here rests a boy, eighteen-years young.
Forever lost: songs never sung.
His dream was to be a songwriter-singer.
He died when a trigger was squeezed by a finger,
All his hopes dashed while one wisp of rising smoke curled.

Here seated are a dad and mom,
Their son killed by a roadside bomb.
Their dream for their boy was a long and good life,
A career that he loved, lots of kids, a good wife.
Choking back tears, they’re handed a flag smartly furled.

And Taps is played,
Wreaths and flowers are laid,
And down the road by the White House lawn,
A staffer jogs with his headphones on,
AND SATCHMO SINGS,
“What a wonderful world …”

Here rests a woman, thirty-four.
She had a child and dreamed of more.
She grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Her father was killed in far-flung Indochina.
Both of them died while overhead chopper blades twirled.

Here rests one more among the dead,
El Paso, Texas, born and bred.
His dream was to help the children, those dying.
He died kicking down a door, tracer rounds flying–
Boom!–when a bomb exploded and shrapnel was hurled.

And Taps is played,
One or two speeches made,
And driving by in an SUV,
A pundit hums to a worn CD,
AND SATCHMO SINGS,
“What a wonderful world …”

Here comes another clean-cut kid,
A flag draped on his coffin lid.
His dream was to be a major-league catcher.
He died crying out for his mom on a stretcher,
Coughing up blood while all around desert sand swirled.

And Taps is played,
Last respects duly paid,
And fat-cat oil execs, checkbooks drawn,
Turn up the sound when their song comes on,
AND SATCHMO SINGS,
“What a wonderful world …”


Dan Valentine: Memorial Day, Part I

May 31, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Memorial Day.

War is about death. Plain and simple. It’s been said before. In the past. Many times. It will be said again. In the future. Many times.

After 9/11 I wrote a lot of anti-war songs. There wasn’t a market for them then. There isn’t much of a market for them now.

THREE FRIENDS
(c) 2010 Daniel Valentine

THREE FRIENDS on an airplane,
Passing over streets and squares in their hometown …
THREE FRIENDS on an airplane,
Two looking what’s below them just before touching down …

One says, “Look, there’s the shopping mall.”
One points out the new town hall.
One says not a word at all.

Three fam’lies together,
Bonded by a war and intertwining lives …
Three fam’lies together,
Hearts in a near-crazed frenzy till their dear one arrives …

One thanks God for a son’s safe trip.
One’s with child with babe on hip.
One fights tears and bites a lip.

On the jet’s PA
A flight attendant says,
“Please return your tray …
Put all electronic devices away.
We’ll be landing soon.
Hope you have a nice day.”

THREE FRIENDS now deplaning,
Two of whom are cheered, embraced, and kissed heartfelt.
THREE FRIENDS now deplaning,
One in a flag-draped coffin on a conveyor belt …

One’s come home on a two-week leave.
One has got a pinned-up sleeve.
One was killed on Christmas Eve.

THREE FRIENDS on an airplane …

LONELY ROOM
(c) 2010 Daniel Valentine

There’s a LONELY ROOM on the second floor
Where a mother cries when she shuts the door,
Where she dries her eyes and then weeps some more,
Hurting, her heart broke in two.

There’s an empty bed where the mother read
To a little boy, where his prayers were said,
Where she tucked him in and then kissed his head,
Lovingly like mothers do.

There’s a closet where gremlins used to hide.
By a window, there is a tree outside
With a bright yellow ribbon around it tied
With a perfect bow, tho’ the boy he died.

And three Marines,
Standing tall–
One a chaplain–
Grand and all,
Brought the tragic news.

In the LONELY ROOM is an empty chair
Where the boy would chat on his cell and share
Secrets with his girl and at times just stare,
Dreaming of all he would do.

There are bedside books and a glove and ball;
Fam’ly photos, framed; posters on the wall:
One of George and Ringo and John and Paul
And one of Spider Man 2.

All is in its place, all is like it was
When he left to do what a soldier does.
Only now it is lonely and sad because
Wednesday last his mom heard the doorbell buzz.

And three Marines,
Taut and tall–
One a chaplain–
Caught her fall
When she heard the news.

[Memorial Day, Part II, here]

Graves at DFW National Cemetery, photo by Ed Darrell - IMGP4180

Graves at DFW National Cemetery, May 30, 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell (you may use with attribution)


Edith Wharton on Facebook: What a horrible thought!

January 3, 2010

Nancy Sharon Colllins, reporting after her recent work at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, including reading some original letters and other writings of Edith Wharton, wonders what would be the effect on history and literary studies, had Edith Wharton used Facebook instead of keeping her journal and writing copious numbers of letters.

And that got me thinking: What if Edith Wharton had Facebooked? Had she lived in our time and communicated digitally, I wonder what her literature would be like. Looking at five days of cursive writing and personal letters made me realize that her compulsion to jot down her thoughts was no different than ours today when we tweet about what we had for lunch or share some fab link we just discovered. The difference between a letter written longhand and a Facebook post is that one takes a little bit longer (and leaves a more lasting trace), but the purpose is the same. Whether we live on a grand, Whartonian scale or a quieter, more ordinary one, we feel more significant when we share intimacies about ourselves with others.

There’s a good warm-up and/or journaling exercise in there for literature teachers.


“The GOP used to be the party of business”

September 10, 2009

Santayana’s Ghost notes there’s an 1852 Whiggy smell about the Republican Party these days.

Thomas L. Friedman writes at the New York Times:

The G.O.P. used to be the party of business. Well, to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business. No one needs immigration reform — so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions — more than American business. No one needs a push for clean-tech — the world’s next great global manufacturing industry — more than American business. Yet the G.O.P. today resists national health care, immigration reform and wants to just drill, baby, drill.

“Globalization has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalized America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears,” said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer. In principle, they have left the party, leaving behind not a pragmatic coalition but a group of ideological naysayers.”

Drum up some business:

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Robert McNamara, Eagle Scout

July 8, 2009

A few weeks ago I finally got a copy of “Fog of War,” at Half-Price Books.  I’ve watched it three times so far.

DVD box for Fog of War, Errol Morriss Academy Award-winning documentary

DVD box for Fog of War, Errol Morris's Academy Award-winning documentary

For a talking head documentary, it’s compelling, and interesting.  It may be just that I lived through the time, and hearing former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara explain now what was going on at various points . . . “Fog of War” is like a director’s cut DVD of the Vietnam War with Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and Wilder all explaining every facet of what the director was doing.

Errol Morris’s interviews over the past few days are good, too.  Morris is the director of the movie.  He reminds us that he was making the movie before, and then in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Wrong decisions about war were being repeated.

I was looking to find excerpts that might work in world history or U.S. history classes.  I’m not sure there is one, now.  It should be a powerful film for an AP U.S. history class, but probably assigned viewing rather than in-class.

For his part, Robert McNamara was never anything less than brilliant, even when wrong.  We often forget that he rose to his role as Secretary of Defense because of his being right when others were so wrong — at Ford Motor, McNamara was the one who saw the Edsel as a dismal failure and the wrong path, years before the ultimate failure of the marque, the man who saved Lincoln, the man who pushed the small car revolution in the Ford Falcon, the man who pushed safety packages with seatbelts before they were popular, or required. Even at Defense he was more capable that his predecessors, more careful, and more often right.  (Read that Miami Herald piece from Joseph Califano — it reveals the brilliance of Lyndon Johnson, too.)

McNamara’s descriptions of errors in the highest places are also brilliant in their insight.

With the possible exception of Eisenhower’s never-used apology and fault-accepting letter for the failure of D-Day, the Normandy invasion — never used because the invasion worked — have we seen a more forthright mea culpa and warning from any of our warriors about their own mistakes, and how to avoid them?

What drove McNamara to do that?

Learned something else yesterday:  Robert McNamara was an Eagle Scout.

Is that why it seems like he, almost alone among the architects of that horrible conflict, confessed to error in Vietnam? He was a man who could do almost anything, had done much, but at the most important time could not do whatever it was that was required to achieve a just peace, nor even an end to war. We don’t know yet what the right thing to do might have been.

There is much more to know from that chapter, from and about McNamara, than we have learned yet.  Perhaps McNamara’s passing will spur others to find copies of the movie, and study the Eleven Lessons Robert McNamara learned from Vietnam too late; perhaps others can now apply the lessons in time.

Robert McNamara talks about Vietnam to the press - National Archives photo

Robert McNamara talks about Vietnam to the press - National Archives photo

See the Washington Post’s gallery of photos of the life of Robert McNamara.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the discussions at Scouts-L.


CNN Poll: 20% of Americans

December 23, 2008

Either 20% of Americans have never heard of Aaron Burr, or only 20% of Americans are paying attention.  I can’t decide which, but this CNN poll clearly points to one, or the other, depending on your view:

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A new national poll suggests that one of out of five Americans think that Dick Cheney is the worst vice president in American history.

Twenty-three percent of those questioned in a CNN-Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say that Cheney is the country’s worst vice president, when compared to his predecessors. Another 41 percent feel that Cheney is a poor vice president, with 34 percent rating him a good number two.

Only 1 percent of those polled say that Cheney is the best vice president in U.S. history.

Aaron Burr, Library of Congress image

Aaron Burr, Library of Congress image

Vice President Richard Cheney, White House photo

Vice President Richard Cheney, White House photo

Aaron Burr, you recall, is the vice president who, when the electoral college organization goofed and put him into a tie with Thomas Jefferson for president, suddenly thought he was better qualified than Jefferson and tried to take the race from him; the only vice president ever tried for treason; and the fellow whose dueling killed Alexander Hamilton, the financial genius of our nation’s early years.

20% of Americans think Cheney was worse than Aaron Burr?  Wow.  Just wow.

Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, or Dick Cheney hunting doves in Texas?

Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, or Dick Cheney hunting doves in Texas?


‘We don’t got no stinkin’ education. We don’t need no stinkin’ education!’

October 12, 2008

My family’s heritages are migrant and education. By that I mean that moving someplace else for a better life, and getting the kids into better schools, has been a tradition running back at least 6 generations. My paternal grandfather was a seaman in the British merchant marine. He married a woman in Guyana, then moved the family for a job in the stockyards in Kansas City, a better place to raise kids. His children became nurses, politicians, law enforcement officers, successful trucking magnates; his grandchildren are doctors, lawyers, nurses, business executives, and teachers — one Rhodes Scholar. I am second-generation American on my father’s side.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer of great skill. He moved from Provo, Utah, to the frontier town of Manila, Utah, then to Delta, then to Salt Lake City, in a quest for riches from farming. Deciding that wouldn’t work, he took a job with Utah Oil Co., a company that was eventually merged into Standard of Indiana and now, British Petroleum. His children all graduated from high school, except for the daughter lost in infancy. Several went on to college. They became construction company owners, contractors and engineers, railroad engineers, small company entrepreneurs and retailers. His grandchildren are physicians, lawyers, business executives, successful salesman, investors — and a couple of good old boys who scrape by (every family has some). My grandfather was second-generation from pioneers, people who moved their families west in wagons, or if necessary, on foot and pushcart. They were people who fought Indians sometimes, and died in those fights and in the migrations. They left legacies in the towns named after them, and in their records as educators — both my maternal grandparents were schoolteachers early on, many of their cousins were college professors, one a college president.

Education in our family was always viewed as a ladder to personal success, to a good life, if not always a key to economic well-being. Especially in the case of my maternal grandparents, there was great assistance from the Latter-day Saint emphasis on education.

If I had to typify their version of the American dream, certainly a huge part of that dream involved the kids getting educated well beyond their parents, and getting a better life as a result.

Education was a part of the American dream from pre-Revolution days. Foreign visitors often commented that in America the crudest of men read the newspapers and discussed politics with vigor and earnestness absent in other nations. Education was the cornerstone of freedom, in the view of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and as demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington.

Sometime in the 1980s, I think, the tide changed. Certainly the Reagan Revolution had something to do with it. Cuts in Pell Grants, the grants that got thousands of kids into college, were a signal that education was no longer valued as it once was. One by one the federal government stripped away some of the most important building blocks of our modern society, things like the GI Bill, which had provided America with a highly-trained, highly-skilled corps of engineers in the 1950s. Those engineers invented the infrastructure to our nation that now crumbles, and they invented the industrial processes, and sometimes the industries, that we now use daily. Transistors, which make computers possible on the scale we have today, were invented and developed into powerful “cogs” for machines that do what had not even been dreamed of 40 years earlier.

I can’t tell you exactly when the tide turned, but I can tell you when I first realized it had. After staffing the Senate Labor Committee for most of a decade, I escaped to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, a good place for a budding environmental lawyer to work, I thought at the time. The chairman of the commission was Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander (now senator from Tennessee). Lamar had two big projects in Tennessee that he pinned his hopes for the state upon. Both were influenced in no small part by his work trying to recruit auto manufacturers to build production facilities in Tennessee.

Nissan and Toyota had levelled with him: Tennessee looked good, but for two things. First, there were few good ways to get products like automobiles out of the state to markets they needed to be sold in. Second, Tennessee’s education system wasn’t providing the highly-educated workers the car makers needed to run highly-sophisticated machinery in a fast-moving, just-in-time inventory system that produced high quality products at lowest cost.

Alexander responded with one initiative to build good roads out of Tennessee to major markets. He called that initiative “Good Roads.” He responded to the education needs with a program designed to plug money and support into Tennessee schools to improve education, bolstered by the report of the Excellence in Education Committee in 1983. He called that initiative “Good Schools.” In retrospect, those were good places to focus development efforts. Tennessee got at least one Japanese company to locate a plant there, and snagged the much-desired Saturn production plant of General Motors.

The Commission had some hearings in Tennessee. I was along on one of those hearings, and I was with Alexander when he was met by a Tennessee constituent who just wanted to talk to the governor. Alexander, being from Tennessee, hoping to keep his election chances good, and being a good governor, agreed to give the man and his wife a few minutes — I watched. The constituent complained about all the changes coming to Tennessee. He complained about the costs of the roads, and the costs of improving the schools. He worried about taxes, because, he said, he didn’t make a lot of money. Alexander assured him that his taxes would not rise much if any at all, and that especially the education part of the program would benefit all Tennesseans. “Do you have children?” Alexander asked the man.

He responded that he had two kids, both in their early teens. And then he said something that just stunned me: “You know, I’ve gotten by pretty good with my 8th grade education all these years, and I don’t see why my kids need to have any more than that. I’m not sure we need Good Schools.”

To Lamar Alexander’s everlasting credit — or shame, if you’re very cynical — he didn’t strike the man down. Alexander spent a few more minutes explaining the benefits the man’s children would have from better education, and he closed off telling about his meetings with car company executives who made it clear that they wanted to hire only good students who had graduated from good high schools, and maybe who had enough college that they could do the complex mathematics to run big machines. Alexander asked the man for his name and address, said his opinion was very important to him, and promised to get back in touch.

I suspect Alexander did contact the man later. His office tended to work very well on such matters as constituent contacts.

But I’ll wager he didn’t change the man’s opinion about education.

Sometime in the mid-1980s many Americans began to look on education as unnecessary, as expensive, and as “elitist” in a new, derogatory sense. Instead of education being something blue-collar workers hoped their children would earn, it became something blue collar workers felt oppressed by, somehow.

From that commission, I moved to the U.S. Department of Education, in Bill Bennett’s regime. Over the next few months I observed the same anti-education phenomenon playing out in debates about school reform in dozens of states. Then I got out of government and into private business, where education was demanded, and I only occasionally worried about the drama I had seen.

The past few weeks, especially since the nomination of Sarah Palin, have heightened my fears about the loss of the shared dream of better education for our children. It was part of the American psyche, woven into the fabric of our government from the “Old Deluder Satan” law in Massachusetts, which required towns of any size to set up some kind of school, through the Northwest Ordinances, which set aside sections of every township to be used for the benefit of public education, through the settlement of the west where nearly every town with a kid in it built a school — schools were built in Utah before many pioneers had houses to get them through the winter — through the dramatic rise of public education that helped knock out child labor, and that provided us with truly American armies and navies to get us out on top of two world wars.

Now comes conservative columnist David Brooks to explain how this process has been aided and abetted, if not intended, by the Republican Party, “The Class War Before Palin.”

In 1976, in a close election, Gerald Ford won the entire West Coast along with northeastern states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. In 1984, Reagan won every state but Minnesota.

But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

It’s a sobering piece. Please read it.

We remain a nation of migrants, a nation that migrates. We remain a nation that desires economic success and is willing to move to get it. Have we lost the good sense to remember that education improves our chances at success? Does Brooks explain the entire motivation for the War on Education?

What do you think?


September 17, 490 B.C.: Athenians triumph at the Battle of Marathon

September 17, 2008

A smaller, less-highly regarded force of Athenians faced a larger, better trained, more experienced army of Persians.  Sparta’s promised reinforcements had not yet arrived.

And yet the Greeks triumphed over the Persians at Marathon.  How?

Historian Jason K. Fosten described the tactics, and the battle, in the February 2007 issue of Military History:

Two Greek generals followed the dictates of Santayana, whose ghost couldn’t exist because his corporeal existence was nearly 2,500 years in the future — they studied history, and they made plans to avoid the errors others had made in the past.

The two Athenian commanders, Callimachus and Miltiades (the latter having fought in the Persian army himself), used their knowledge of Persian battle tactics to turn the tide further in their favor. As the clatter of spears, swords and shields echoed through the valley, the Greeks had ensured that their best hoplites (heavily armed infantry) were on the flanks and that their ranks were thinned in the center. Persian battle doctrine dictated that their best troops, true Persians, fought in the center, while conscripts, pressed into service from tribute states, fought on the flanks. The Persian elite forces surged into the center of the fray, easily gaining the ascendancy. But this time it was a fatal mistake. The Persian conscripts whom the Hellenic hoplites faced on the flanks quickly broke into flight. The Greeks then made another crucial decision: Instead of pursuing their fleeing foes, they turned inward to aid their countrymen fighting in the center of the battle.

By then, the Persians were in a state of utter confusion. Their tactics had failed, their cavalry was absent and their archers were useless. Their more heavily armed and armored opponents, who could sense that victory was close, were attacking them from three sides and pushing them into the sea. The Persians fled back to their ships. Many of the Athenians, buoyed by their success, dragged several of the Persian vessels to shore, slaughtering those on board.

When the day was over, the Greeks had won one of history’s most famous victories, claiming to have killed about 6,400 Persians for the loss of only 192 Athenians. The Spartans eventually arrived, but only after the battle was long over. To assuage their disbelief in the Athenians’ victory, they toured the battlefield. To their amazement, they found the claim of victory was indeed true. The Athenians had defeated the most powerful empire in the Western world.

It was a great victory.  The Athenians had been so certain of defeat, however, that they had made plans to burn Athens and have Athenians left behind commit suicide rather than be captured by the Persians.  In order to prevent the plans from going through, they needed one more tremendous piece of history, and they called on their runner:

With time of the essence, the Athenians dispatched Pheidippides to inform Athens’ populace of their victory before the troops arrived. The tale goes that after running the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, Pheidippides exclaimed: “Rejoice! We conquer!” then died from exhaustion. Whether true or not, that is the source of the modern-day marathon race; the distance of the modern race reflects the distance Pheidippides ran.

I opened world history this year asking how many had seen the movie “300.”  It produced some excitement, which I was glad to see.  Not enough students knew that it was based on a real battle.  We recounted the story of the victories at Thermopylae and Salamis, and then told the story of the set up for that war, the Greek victory at Marathon.  It was just after the Olympics closed — tying the battles to the last event of the Olympics, in honor of Pheidippides, made for a great class, for me.  For the students?  I hope so.

One of my intended learning points was that history is about the stories, not about memorizing dates and places.  Stories, they like.  Dates and places, not so much.

Another point:  History is all around us, even when we play couch potato and just watch the Olympics.

I knew I’d scored when a student asked me after class whether I knew when this year’s marathon would be rebroadcast, so she could watch it.


Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children

June 23, 2008

This is the device Ohio teacher John Freshwater was using to shock students and brand them with crosses: A BD-10A high-frequency generator tester for leak detection, from Electro-Technic Products, Inc.:

   BD10ASV  OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch

BD-10A high frequency generator tester leak detector, from Electro-Technic Products.  “BD10ASV OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch”

As described at the company’s website:

  • Model BD-10A is the standard tester
  • Model BD-10AS features a momentary ON/OFF switch
  • OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz

The company also offers a line of instruments for teaching science — notably absent from that part of the catalog is this shocking device (literally).

Generally, this tester should not produce serious injury, even when misapplied. Standard middle school lab safety rules would suggest that it should never be used to “test” a human for leaks. Such voltages are designed to produce sparks. Sparks do not always behave as one expects, or hopes. High voltages may make cool looking sparks, but the effects of high voltage jolts differ from person to person. It may be harmful.

“We have instructions to warn people that it’s not a toy,” said Cuzelis, who owns Electro-Technic Products in Chicago. “If this device is directed for seconds (on the skin), that’s a clear misuse of the product.”

Cuzelis said he is not aware of anyone seriously hurt with the device and said that his company has never been sued for injuries.

What sort of lab safety rules did Freshwater have for other experiments?

If you discovered your child’s science teacher had this device, designed to produce high-voltage sparks to highlight holes in rubber and plastic liners of tanks, would you be concerned? If you know what should go on in a science class, you’d know there is probably little use for such a device in a classroom. It’s been described as a Tesla coil.

Tesla coils of extremely small voltages can be safe. They should be safe. But one occasionally finds a safety warning, such as this generalized note at Wikipedia:

Even lower power vacuum tube or solid state Tesla Coils can deliver RF currents that are capable of causing temporary internal tissue, nerve, or joint damage through Joule heating. In addition, an RF arc can carbonize flesh, causing a painful and dangerous bone-deep RF burn that may take months to heal. Because of these risks, knowledgeable experimenters avoid contact with streamers from all but the smallest systems. Professionals usually use other means of protection such as a Faraday cage or a chain mail suit to prevent dangerous currents from entering their body.

Freshwater was using a solid state Tesla coil, if I understand the news articles correctly. Knowing that these sparks can cause deep tissue and bone damage in extreme cases, I suspect that I would not allow students to experience shocks as a normal course of a science classroom, especially from an industrial device not designed with multiple safety escapes built in.

Freshwater had been zapping students for years.

Here is a classic photo of what a Tesla coil does, a much larger coil than that used by John Freshwater, and a photo not from any classroom; from Mega Volt:

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

There is nothing in the Ohio science standards to suggest regular use of a Tesla coil in contact with students performs any educational function.

I offer this background to suggest that the normal classroom procedures designed to ensure the safety of students were not well enforced in Freshwater’s classrooms, nor was there adequate attention paid to the material that should have been taught in the class.

The teacher, John Freshwater, has been dismissed by his local school board. Freshwater supporters argue that this is a case of religious discrimination, because Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk.

Among the complaints are that he burned crosses onto the arms of students with the high-voltage leak detector shown above. This gives an entirely new and ironic meaning to the phrase “cross to bear.”

Cafe Philos wrote the most succinct summary of the case I have found, “The Firing of John Freshwater.” Discussion at that site has been robust. Paul Sunstone included photos of one of the students’ arms showing injuries from the schocks. He also included links to news stories that will bring you up to date.

Amazingly, this misuse of an electrical device may not be the most controversial point. While you and I may think this physical abuse goes beyond the pale, Freshwater has defenders who claim he was just trying to instill Biblical morality in the kids, as if that would excuse any of these actions. Over at Cafe Philos, I’ve been trying to explain just why it is that Freshwater does not have a First Amendment right to teach religion in his science class. There is another commenter with the handle “Atheist” who acts for all the world like a sock puppet for anti-First Amendment forces, i.e., not exactly defending a rational atheist position.

Below the fold I reproduce one of my answers to questions Atheist posed. More resources at the end.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ghost of Joe McCarthy: LGF/Malkin assault on Rachael Ray

May 26, 2008

WARNING: Satirical material ahead.

At long last, Sen. McCarthy Little Green Footballs, have you no decency?

One wonders just how much mob activity these guys can provoke before somebody — perhaps someone at LGF, and Michelle Malkin’s blog — wakes up and stands up to stop the madness.

Rachael Ray wore a black and white patterned scarf at a shoot for a Dunkin’ Donuts ad. As a Blood to a blue bandana or a Crip to a red one, LGF pulled out their rhetorical guns and started firing. ‘Aren’t those the colors of Yassir Arafat’s group, Al Fatah?’ LGF wonders.

You couldn’t make up this kind of craziness if it didn’t exist. Well, almost couldn’t make it up.

I expect that, next, Little Green Footballs will hear that some radio stations are suppressing the news about the invasion of Martians.

Next week: Little Green cake pans filmed flying across LGF’s yard, and LGF leads a new dig at the old quarry in Piltdown. How long before Nebraska Man shows up in the credits to Michelle Malkin’s blog, and they start rooting for the Cardiff Giant during the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown? Is it true that Michelle Malkin has an interview with Judge Crater set up for later this week?

Barnum’s ghost is tired.

What Michelle Malkin and LGF claimed to see:

British woman wearing Palestinian kaffiyah

What everyone else saw:

Rachael Ray advertises for Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts pulled the ad rather than risk offending anyone. The scarf had a paisley design, a company spokesman told LGF — and no one disputes that.

Does anyone else see the irony of Little Green Footballs complaining about this and inciting a mob? What will they do when they realize that green was Mohammed’s favorite color, and is almost an official color of Islam?

And when the truth comes out, will it be that LGF was mainstreaming terrorism to sell Little Green Footballs — like mob action against a donut shop — occasionally outing one of their friends or some innocent person to avoid suspicion themselves?

Santayana was right. What do you know about Herb Philbrick’s dip into communism double agentry, in I Led Three Lives? What do you remember about Robespierre and the Summer of Terror? What do you remember about Stalin’s installation of terror in the Soviet Union?

Why aren’t Malkin and LGF going after Rev. Moon, or some real threat to something — whooping cough, measles, something really dangerous?

Whose side is Little Green Footballs on, anyway?

Islamic religious flag of Turkey

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Other Resources:

Update: Greater, sadder irony: Rachael Ray’s site today featured a nice tribute to our troops, with recipes.


Popular idea: Honor the soldiers, sailors and airmen

May 17, 2008

Interesting. The hottest post on this blog today is the one I wrote about honoring Armed Forces Day — last year! The post for Armed Forces Day this year is up there, too.

One of the lessons of Vietnam is that we need to honor our soldiers who go to defend the nation, even when the wars may be of dubious origin. The dubious origins of war cannot be blamed on the soldiers, sailors and airmen who go to do their duty, and they are the ones who can redeem the nation from a disastrous foreign policy, if anyone can.

Love the serviceman, hate the war. Honor the soldier, work on the politicians to change the policy. It’s a workable arrangement that honors good people for doing noble service.

Remember: Memorial Day honors those who died in service to the country; Veterans Day honors the veterans who came back, having served. Armed Forces Day honors those who serve today.

Fly your flag today.


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