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The Fight Over Capitalist Interests in Public Education: Betsy Devos and Donald Trump are not Educators

 

If one were to argue that our most sacred public institution was up for sale after decades of suffering under a merciless political and social attack, most citizens would look around and wonder what sacred public institution was being pillaged. If one were to argue that masses of people had fallen for a false narrative, and had unwittingly aided the enemy, they might look to Russia or Iran to point a finger of blame. These same citizens might innocently be part of the attack because they fail to question the motives of politicians and civic leaders, hedge funds and think tanks. But all around them, in communities of every description, purges and attacks are taking place. Lives are ruined, and community history is drained along with the institution’s funding and brightest minds. And in some urban areas, weeds grow up around abandoned buildings that were once the heart of the neighborhood. What, might you ask, is the cause of this devastating and destructive force? How, you might ask, is it that I have never noticed the purges, the draining off of human capital, and the depletion of monetary funds?

Since the publication of A Nation at Risk, and the filming of Waiting for Superman, other media-related scare tactics have been employed, such as the Rotten Apple article in Times Magazine. The result is that the citizenry has turned against its public schools, the most sacred of institutions. Tenured teachers are described as lazy and shiftless, and a draconian system of deficit learning has replaced critical pedagogy. Standardized test scores have been weaved into funding, making it possible to divide and conquer the neediest of schools. Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), every child is left behind in a maze of numerical comparisons, factored, ranked and sorted, and then compared to children from foreign countries where different values exist and equitable school funding is a reality, places where teachers are still highly regarded and professionalized. Because of profit margins and investment interests, the edreform community pursues harmful privatization policies that interfere with student literacy while passing down punitive mandates that cater to the citizenry’s contempt of public education, deceptively hindering critical pedagogies.

New catch phrases now pattern the educational landscape. Pointing out in his essay, Schooling in Disaster Capitalism, Kenneth Saltman writes, “[n]ebulous terms borrowed from the business world, such as “achievement,” “excellence,” and “best practices” conceal ongoing struggles over competing values, visions, and ideological perspectives” (43). He then activates his own critical perspective by asking, “Achieve what? Excel at what? Best practices for whom? And says who?” And we all can recount other education-based slogans: rigor, no excuses, whatever it takes, 100% college acceptance, school choice, charter and magnet, STEM, STEaM, and the list goes on. As Saltman insists, everything is based on individual achievement, and everyone is competing. And rather than treat them as school children preparing to live ethical lives in a democracy, they are now data, retention rates, and a dollar sign. He goes on to emphasize that prominent writers such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, support a “curriculum conducive to individual upward mobility within the economy and national economic interest as it contributes to a corporately managed model of globalization as perceived from the perspective of business” (43). In such a climate as this, who really has time for a critical pedagogy? If no one has time to teach the importance of questioning society and democratic practices, if nothing is more important than monetary power, then how will future citizens know whether or not they are enslaved to a consumer-based, profit-driven dictatorship?

After Hurricane Katrina, disaster capitalists, organized with the state government, began a systematic takeover of New Orleans Public Schools. Saltman eloquently describes the situation, “the destroyed New Orleans public schools sit slime-coated in mold, debris, and human feces, partially flooded and littered with such detritus as a two-ton air conditioner that had been on the roof and carcasses of dead dogs”, yet, reformers referred to this disaster as a “silver lining” and a “once in the lifetime opportunity”, even though thousands of teachers and students had been displaced, even killed, by the flood (35). The voucher legislation that made the privatization of public schools possible in a disaster (disaster capitalism) became a reality when, “[t]his voucher scheme was surreptitiously inserted into federal legislation by being rolled into a budget bill and it was aggressively supported by one of the richest people on the planet, Wal-mart inheritor John Walton of the Walton Family Foundation” (38). Even more shocking, the Katrina federal vouchers expand beyond the city limits of New Orleans. The entire Gulf-Coast region is included in this disaster-voucher legislation, including the entire state of Texas (40).

Knowledge that “disaster capitalists” are working to privatize the public trust for profits hasn’t slowed down the endless barrage of other ridiculous reforms and snake-oil type remedies concocted by businesses hell-bent on cashing in on the testing gold mine. Everyone in the education world knows about MAP testing, a week-long interruption of instructional time that allegedly measures student growth. Generally, charter schools use MAP so that they can support the profit driven scam supported by tax dollars. But teachers that proctor MAP will tell you that it is a blatant waste of funds and student time because the data is not reliable. Students know that if they miss the first few questions, then the computer-based program makes the remaining questions easier by shuffling the questions into a lower range. They also know the MAP is not used for a grade. Getting students to take the MAP seriously is like getting pre-schoolers to stand at attention during recess, futile. Not only that, the student data is stored—somewhere. Parents, whether they understand it or not, are actually providing student information to a private company.

But none of this would be possible without school principals that are willing to browbeat their teaching staff into submission. Privateers have found a way, through the charter school system, to train future principals into their own way of thinking. Sadly, many of these principals, at least in Texas, attend online classes through accredited universities that prepares them for the rather easy principal certification test. Many charter schools do not even require principals to have minimum credentials. The difference between the regular public school route to certification and the charter school route is quite different. Public school principals, at least in good suburban areas, generally spend years in preparation. First, they teach under a successful principal a minimum of five years. Then they become an assistant principal after completing graduate level course work in school leadership. Many principals work for years as assistants before they are considered for the top job. Some assistants never rise to the top. But at the charter school, and even at low-budget urban public schools, the quality of the principal is often overlooked. For example, some charter schools in Texas do not have a certified principal at the helm. Some struggling urban schools have brand new principals. Many of these principals are very young with no life experience, and very little teaching experience.[1]

A teacher recounts the story of her ambitious principal that had only taught 6th grade math for 3 years before quickly climbing into an assistant principalship. She worked in that position for only a year before being promoted to full principal of an older building. The principal seemed to exhibit the qualities of a decent leader, somewhat fair, not too duplicitous, and energetic. But a new building was built, and the very next year they put her in charge without oversight. Now she finds fault in everyone, rarely listens to her well-educated staff, and uses an authoritarian approach that has built barriers rather than foster collaboration. She constantly darts around looking for reasons to attack various staff members, but if anyone in her administration has a complaint about a teacher, the teacher is immediately investigated or otherwise harassed. Even instructional time is not respected because front office staff has the upper hand and can call students out of classes just on a whim.

Two researchers from Seton University did a study that involved 365 teachers that had received the National Teacher of the Year Award “from their respective state or territory between the years 2006-2012” ( Goodwin, Babo 68 ). The teachers were asked to rate the importance of 21 behavioral traits that one would identify with an effective school leader. One of the most important attributes of a good school leader had to do with setting in place systems that contribute to an orderly, structured atmosphere. But most edreform principals have no training in organizational strategies, so the schools they operate are chaotic. Most of the time last minute policies and disciplinary codes are inconsistent or nonexistent. Student safety is not a priority, and an atmosphere of unfairness and favoritism is typical. It’s not unusual for charter schools and struggling urban schools to have principals that serve more as marketers and financiers rather than adults in charge of children. Because of this, they rarely keep up with valid research and methodologies, therefore they are unable to assist their fledgling, underpaid, and inexperienced teaching staff. The “intellectual stimulation” of teachers and staff scored high on the list of effective leadership behaviors (70). According to the teachers studied, a highly visible principal is important to the campus culture. But many edreform principals are busy attending marketing meetings and conferencing on the latest snake oil-money-making-product available from testing and software retailers.

If the emphasis is on education as a means to simply acquire wealth, then the benefits of a critical pedagogy are intentionally ignored. The harmony of a well-educated, literate society adept at decoding bias and naming itself is unwanted by the power hegemony. Teachers trained in rhetoric and composition are teachers trained to spread logic and reason. Teachers trained ethically with deep subject area knowledge would have the tools to resist market-based approaches to education. These are the teachers the struggling school needs to raise awareness about their plight and assist the fight out of poverty, rejecting the traps of social isolation and marginalization. But the edreform-charter-school-principal is only concerned with the balance sheet and the data. Even if the data is invalid and the variables are beyond measure, the charade continues supported by the engines of profit-based educational resource companies (snake oil remedies designed for passing standardized tests).

James Berlin (Purdue University) accentuates this premise when he asserts, “A literacy that is without this commitment to active participation in decision making in the public sphere, however, cannot possibly serve the interests of egalitarian political arrangements. For democracy to function (as we are now reminded in eastern Europe), citizens must actively engage in public debate, applying reading and writing practices in the service of articulating their positions and their critiques of the positions of others” (Berlin 101). Even though these lines were published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in Berlin’s book, Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures, over thirty-years ago, they are still undoubtedly true. The poor underclass has not achieved higher status nor has it gained civic power. Eastern Europe is still in a chaotic state, so we can still refer to it as an example of what happens when societies are divided. In fact, more recently, the middle class is shrinking and fewer people hold the majority of wealth and power worldwide. Our consumer based society has created unintended consequences for the world at large, and in countries like China more people are working factory jobs and living in urban areas. Overcrowding and pollution is widespread, but just as in education, the power elite largely controls the world’s dialogue and stream of information. The purpose of literacy is different than student objectives found in edreform classroom landscapes. As Berlin states, “rhetoric was invented not because people wanted to express themselves more accurately and clearly, but because they wanted to make their positions prevail in the conflicts of politics” (83). The charter school or poor urban English teacher of today is simply teaching to a test so that meaningless achievement scores can be recorded for the state’s approval. None of the emphasis is on the balance of power, the dialogue of a community, or the participation in politics. Students are mere spectators in the game of life, simply watching the power elite advertise its purported successes and revel in its materialistic rewards.

Because market based education reforms rely on standardized tests, we are beginning to see a rising up against the maltreatment and chaos perpetuated against students and teachers. Terry Eagleton, Marxist scholar, discusses the demise of rhetoric, and how top down education reforms have hampered student literacy. Eagleton argues that students are simply tools of the capitalist machine, not writers or orators seeking power, education, or personal expression via art (Eagleton 549). Eagleton deplores the manner in which capitalism has overtaken aesthetician and depth of meaning. And now we continue to elect or promote those who exhibit very little intellectual or rhetorical skill as demonstrated in our recent election.

If ever an argument could be made for education, our latest election underscores our deficit. After twenty-years of teacher witch hunts, standardized testing, and experimentation, absolutely nothing has changed. Student scores are flat, or in some states declining, and according to the numbers the most undereducated are responsible for electing the most orally gifted presidential candidate in history. While teachers are trudging back and forth to work trying to meet ridiculous mandates passed down by well-meaning, but ignorant, legislators, a new, positive movement engineered the strangest election in history. Well spoken, and intelligent, reality television star, Donald J. Trump the billionaire, graciously debated his way to the White House. His kind comments about blacks, women, Latinos, and disabled people endeared him to the well-educated and the intellectually deprived alike. He even managed to increase his sex appeal when a secret video was released that featured him bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. Nothing that he has said is in anyway rhetorically incorrect, or even illogical. He is the quintessential statesman, a true partner with Russian KGB goon, Vladimir Putin. We can only ponder what profit-based surprises President Trump’s new secretary of education will treat our students to in the near future. Surely, we can just build tunnels straight from our struggling for-profit urban schools into our high-tech for-profit prisons so that not a dollar can be wasted on teaching the humanities or literacy. Torn from the dungeons of a fantasy world from Hell, we can now witness how the lack of a critical pedagogy and the sell-out to profit-driven business has impacted the everyday thinker, a nightmare in real time.

Students and teachers are always at the whim of political winds, and now they have even more to worry about. But even though the focus of this dialogue has been on high school, post-secondary schools are not immune to the commercialization and privatization of education. Big companies are buying or renting property on public campuses, sometimes only signage, and sometimes entire buildings. They are donating huge amounts of money in an effort to influence college student spending habits and subject interests. Only the most ethical of universities is able to place a barrier between the politics of profit and the sanctity of critical pedagogy and the advancement of democratic decency. Henry Giroux, published author and professor, writes about the impact on higher education and the conflict of interest that is taking place between the motivations of profit, and the motivations of a critical pedagogy in his essay, The Attack on Higher Education and the Necessity of a Critical Pedagogy. Giroux insists that the takeover by profiteers of public education is a “backlash against civil rights era programs such as affirmative action and busing” (14). Schooling is now a battleground and conservative right wing groups are determined to “shift away from public considerations to private concerns” (14). He admonishes faculty that “allow themselves to become adjuncts of the corporation, or align themselves with dominant interests that serve largely to consolidate authority rather than to critique its abuses” a manifestation at all levels of education, especially now that positions are threatened with a removal of tenure and teacher unions are collapsing (12). He also points out that many teachers have “lost the language for linking schooling to democracy, convinced that education is now about job training and competitive market advantage,” a manifestation of market-based education reforms. He goes on to say, “Social criticism has to be coupled with a vibrant self-criticism and the willingness to take up critical positions without becoming dogmatic or intractable” (22). Currently our country is dealing with a faction of politicians and citizens that refuse to self-criticize or question their own dogma, and we are now on the slippery slope into a dark abyss which could end the progress we have made in the fight for human rights, climate change, and equitable healthcare. We may have lost our chance to teach our critical pedagogy.

Is it possible that a return to beautiful writing and speaking could perpetuate a return to a more empathetic and democratic time? Before the advent of the crass, poorly spoken electorate, the education reform slogans, testing snake oil, and Donald Trump, Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain labored to write his manual, English Composition and Rhetoric. In his section on persuasion he discusses how poetry can help persuade someone to behave in a moral fashion (174). Considering the state of our society, and the suffering that our students have endured since NCLB and the profit-driven testing frenzy, it seems a return to poetry is long overdue. As English teachers, we all know that the loudest voice is that of the poet. The speech is well enough, if it is done well enough, to sway the politics of a nation, but the poem, if it is done well enough, can sway the heart. I watch my students bent over their exams, and I teach to the test, but at night I go home to my bookshelves, my poems, my pets, and my comfortable life. I once taught in the charter school, and I proctored the MAP, the STAAR, the DA, the CA, and now and then I had time to assign a poem. And when I assigned the poem, my students were mystified by the voice so loud, yet so soft, speaking of something deeper than the test. Sometimes I had time to assign a short story, or I would assign a real essay to my students. And they were mystified by the intelligent voices, so different from the world they are accustomed.

 

Works Cited

Bain, Alexander. English Composition and Rhetoric: A Manual. Elibron Classics replica ed.,           Boston, Elibron Classics. 2005. p. 174

Berlin, James A. Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies. Urbana,      National Council of Teachers of English. 1996. Pp. 83, 101

Eagleton, Terry. “The Death of Rhetoric.” Academic Questions 25.4 (2012): 546-551. ERIC. Web. 15 Feb 2016

Giroux, Henry A. The Attack on Higher Education and the Necessity of a Critical Pedagogy. Sheila L. Macrine Editor: Critical Pedagogy in Uncertain Times: Hope and Possibilities. New York. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. 12, 14, 22

Goodwin, Janet, and Gerard Babo. "What Expert Teachers Think: A Look at Principal Leadership Behaviors That Facilitate Exemplary Classroom Instructional Practice." Education Leadership Review of Doctoral Research 1.2 (2014): 65-84. ERIC. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.

Saltman, Kenneth. Schooling in Disaster Capitalism: How the Political Right is Using Disaster to Privatize Public Schooling. Sheila L. Macrine Editor: Critical Pedagogy in Uncertain Times: Hope and Possibilities. New York. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. 27-48

 

[1] I worked at such a school in Houston, Texas. My principal was 28-years old, and she was hired to run the school after my hiring in 2012. She had taught at a charter school in downtown Houston that was later closed for falsifying student records. Some of these records even included student schedules and semester grades.

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Academic freedom? O, that's so "yesterday!"

My Brother and Vietnam

The Blade

 

My brother’s life had a very tragic ending. He was fifty-three when he died in the veteran’s hospital. I watched him suffer in a life that offered him no relief from the paranoia. He came home from Vietnam with glassy, angry eyes, and a hard bitter mouth. He was too quiet, too observant, and even though we didn’t know at the time, he was suffering from shock. The military sent him back for a second tour. He walked point again with his pistol and a knife. He hid in canals with leeches sucking the blood out of his veins; he cut throats and shot the enemy. When he got home after that tour he rarely put his knife down. He snapped the blade in and out constantly; he threw it long distances hitting targets with amazing accuracy. He could move around the house like a ghost, and hinted he could slip in and out of any building he wanted. I was just a little girl trying to start school and he terrified me. My heart would pound, and I could barely breathe when he came into the room. He never hurt me, but I was afraid he would accidently do something terrible. I loved him desperately, and my heart was broken. The brother I knew was completely gone, and I would have given my life to see him get well. Gradually, we adjusted to the problems he caused us. Slowly, we became a little bit like him so we could comprehend what he was putting us through. Several years later we were forced to remove him from our lives. We drove him out to highway 81, and my mother opened the door for him. An empty feeling crept into my heart that night; it was almost as if she had abandoned me on the side of the road. It was many years before we ever saw him again. The lessons my brother taught me: his view of the government, and the American cover up of the Vietnam catastrophe are components that predetermined my outlook and explain my unwillingness to trust authority, or accept the surface motives of any individual, or organization.

 

He is another dimension of me; the side of me that weeps hysterically. He lived in complete dependence on drugs, alcohol, and street wise wisdom. The tragedy we were learning to accept was that we were losing a man who should have become a great writer or teacher. His IQ was extremely high and he used to love to show off his knowledge and skill. But when he came back from Vietnam his vanity and personal style had disappeared. He taught me to be wary of people who were concerned about the way they looked in the mirror. He hated materialism, advertising, capitalism, and superficiality. He preached his ideas to me, his small captive audience. Too afraid to run from him, I started to listen. He was passionate in his beliefs. He could tell you the names of the arms makers and who the corrupt politicians were. He believed The United States of America was becoming a mutant fascist state. Our president was nothing but a puppet, and the authentic power rested in the hands of an elite secret group. He hated the middle class most of all. Not what we now label as middle class; he meant the nouveau-riche, the greedy, the white trash. I find myself influenced by his ideas even now when I occasionally read about a business person, or politician, that has risen to power barely competent enough to string two words together. I see the person as he does: snot-faced, dirty, greedy, ignorant and toothless with grimy fingers clutching a buck.

 

He also warned me about drugs, forgetting that small children learn by example. I knew all about substance abuse by the time I was ten. It was the early 70’s and we listened to “The Doors,” and “Deep Purple.” His friends carried guns, syringes, and wads of cash rolled up neat in their front pockets. The hopelessness of needle addiction broke my heart. I knew who the junkie was; what they were; and why they were. I witnessed the terrible lie the needle told my brother and his friends. My soul ached with terror and pity; I just knew I would come home from school and find my brother dead in the house. We took a trip to Houston to the methadone clinic. We picked one junkie up, hoping to drop off another. My brother would not get out of the car.

 

 

And now I walk quietly past the corporate world and watch it from the corners of my eyes. Unlike my brother, I really have no aversion to money or material wealth; I just don’t want to acquire anything the way that they do. They are so cold, heartless, and numerical. Their tall buildings jut into the sky like shafts of ice, filled with people involved in mechanical paper sorting activity, looking for ways to compete, profit, and cheat. If he was wrong about anything, it was not about them. I dipped my toe into their glassy, incandescent pool just to see for myself; but the water was too toxic, too chilled, and I walked softly on hoping they never really noticed me. But for a long time after that experience I could hear my brother’s blade snapping, click click, behind me. I ran harder, and harder, until it stopped.

 

 

There were many reasons to respect my brother and his blade was only one of them. People he chose to share his views with had a sense he was possibly correct. His vision was not blurred; he was very intellectual and literate. It seemed as if he was really in on some terrible truth and we all needed to know what it was. My innocence about my country, certain individuals, and authority suffered a shattering blow; but it wasn’t an altering of reality that I regretted. Instead, I felt fortunate, as if I had eaten from the tree of knowledge and hence was safe. I became determined to never sell myself out, or support anyone or anything I perceived to be false. I had my guard up early, and I am thankful to this very day.

 

 

While he served in Vietnam, my brother received a Purple Heart, and it earned him a small article in the local paper. Private Jessica Lynch, of the Iraqi conflict, got captured riding on the lost lunch truck. Special Forces made a rescue at great risk. Yet, Jessica and her comrades were labeled heroes by the national press. She got a movie deal; my brother and his fellow soldiers were villified by the 1960’s public, or they were completely ignored. These attitudes, and injustices, convince me his vision was both accurate and prophetic.

 

 

I deal with the tragedy of my brother in the only ways I can. I remember and honor his military service, and I take pride in his wisdom. He was a daring foot soldier in the Vietnam War. He deserves a movie, a parade, and a chance to relive his life with his family; a chance he will never get. I emulate him when times are harsh, and I persevere as courageously as possible. But most importantly, I keep one precious fact tucked tightly in my heart: we were brother and sister at a terrible time in our nation’s history. It was not that he lacked love for me, or intended to take away my childhood. These problems connected to his experiences in Vietnam made it impossible for my brother to buy me ice cream and walk me to school. Instead he made me tough enough to walk by myself, and made it unlikely I will ever believe their story.


Sunday Blues: And Where Do We Go From Here?

    Much of what has been happening lately is disturbing, and this isn't confined to my personal or work life. To my right, my son is on the couch watching some drama about a man that doesn't even know what grade his daughter is in, and that conjures up depressing memories of my own father. I just finished reading--for the second or third time--a long chapter about the Lacan psychoanalytic approach to literature, and it's even more unhappy than straight old Freudian analysis, the book to my left. Both approaches are heavy on childhood experiences and your place in the family dynamic, so you can imagine how difficult all of that is to plunder through for someone that was a basic throw away child. 

    I spent a long part of my day writing back and forth with a woman that wanted to argue for the School Library Journal, a corporate publication now in the hands of the edreform crowd, when I should have been arranging my annotated bibliography over Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger. The clock is ticking on my life in Katy if I don't secure better employment and cheaper living arrangements, but a part of me is somewhat comfortable with another long distance move; a problem that interrupts me regularly during every hiring season, and quietly worms its way into my thoughts when I'm trying to focus on my writing. 

    The Trump healthcare attack bothered me quite a bit because it was so draconian and uncaring about seniors and women. Now that it's over, I feel rather deflated like a big old balloon. The idea that it is acceptable to make decisions about women's reproductive choices when you aren't a member of the female gender is a source of chronic humiliation for most women that feel no need of a patriarchy. It's almost like these old men are sexual deviants. I am so tired of seeing bug-eyed Mitch McConnell (R KY) lick his nasty old lips and then jump into some tirade about healthcare. Why is a 75 year old man allowed to do this to people? Until he gives up his own state-sponsored benefit package, I don't want to hear anymore of his complaining. I am also just as sickened by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, whom I wish would just sit down and shut up until he has something positive and beneficial to say.

    Let me reiterate, I am not in love with Hillary, but I did vote for her. I voted for her because I knew she could act professionally when called upon to do so. I voted for her because I know what talking heads like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and others have done to the psyche of normal mid-range Americans, the hate they are selling. I know how they have manipulated rhetoric and facts to damage middle class protections and serve their rich sponsors like ALEC, the horrible Koch brothers, and other greedy and racist special interests. I am cognizant of the fact that Hillary was not much of an improvement, but at least she wouldn't have cut vital programs for seniors or the struggling underclass of women in this country.

        It's disheartening to see how powerful and deeply embedded these hateful and bigoted ideas have become, but now they are present and living among us in the highest offices of our land. I guess this means we must acknowledge them, for they are more than just an undercurrent of injustice, they are now in the light of day. I go to my school and I see the world as it should be, the faces of hope from countries around the world. But I also see the anger and the fear that these hateful bigots have visited upon us. I see this in the shadows of my student's faces, and I hear this in their questions. It's been a hard year for so many reasons large and small, but the doubt and the uncertainty, the trajectory our country is taking us, the continuing abuse of our resources, our planet, and the emphasis on capitalism over legitimacy and fair-dealing is disgusting.

    


I Plan On Taking Up Knitting...Rather than Teach or Write

Now that Trump is POTUS, I guess it's time for me to fold as a liberal activist. After all, we are now in the era of fascism and corporate elitism, so I am nothing against all of that. All of this phony, shrieking, frenzied and hypocritical Christianity makes me want to vomit. The most that women like me can hope for is a peaceful ending to a long and exhausting life being left out on the margins, constantly underestimated, and undervalued. You know the situation is truly bad when you look around at the ramblings of your sister women and you see remarks like, "I just don't understand what the marches were for," or even more bizarre, "I am just hoping that Trump will find Jesus." That kind of helpless sounding crap is exactly why we are in this mess looking at a freaked out Barbie standing in front of the White House so messed up she looks like a meth addict that slept in a dumpster. We have a man in the White House that speaks freely and unapologetically about grabbing women by the pussy, and many of my classmates and one-time rebels are not even offended. They act like they accept this nonsense. I ask myself, "What the Hell happened to the fiery and independent girls I grew up with? How in the Hell did they get so brain-washed and comfortable in their phony, stupid, and meaningless lives? Why don't they throw down and refuse to accept this bullshit? What happened to their self-esteem?" 

All of them, and this is no lie, are better people than me. They have to have some dignity, anger, fire, or even outrage left somewhere....but where?

Honestly, and this is no exaggeration, I long for the days when I could count on a bona fide White House reporter telling me we were about to "liberate" Iraq, rather than look at this mess that signifies nothing but total ignorance stretching farther than the Texan yard line. I didn't believe any of the George Bush crap, but at least it was somewhat logical (well, not really). I thought it was a mistake we could maybe someday understand (I still think it was just the murder of 100's of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens). It was a lie that we could maybe someday forgive (uh, no). But now things are getting even more bizarre, and all of my students are upset; I do not know how to comfort them. They are Muslim, Christian, brown, white, black, Jewish, and innocent. But even though they are completely unable to control this decision, I see people making fun of our millennials like they have something to do with the greed and global warming, war and murder. Some of the millennials are in college "cry-ins" because they now have a president that has doomed their world to the dark abyss of corporate profits, slaughtered on the alter of global climate change, and he and his cabinet figuratively and concretely represent the mistakes of our generation, mistakes that will now never be rectified because of corporate, fascist control.

I am sickened by the display of ignorance, especially the ignorance I see from the once forward thinkers I grew up with. We all suffered an uncertain, even rough upbringing, even if our parents had some money. We all learned to cope with an uncertain fossil fuel economy, and we all have our dark and frightening stories about home violence, hunger, or even death. But now, many of my former people, after years of faking it in local churches, want to act self-righteous. They want to forget where they came from. They want to overlook Vietnam and Iraq. They make up red-herrings (Obama is taking our guns; the Mexicans are coming) to distract them from their real problems: the environment, religious fanaticism, corporate greed, cruelty to women and children, genocide, and government surveillance.

I think rather than write, I might just take up knitting those cute, little, pink, kitty, hats. At least then I could be doing something that people understand.


The Ruins of 2016

    Most everyone is in agreement: 2016 will be remembered as one of the most hideous of all years. We lost a long list of talented entertainers; we elected another not-so-talented entertainer to our highest public office; we experienced notable climate change incidents, including a frightening rise of Arctic temperatures; and, on a more personal note, I lost a dear relative.

    As we look back on 2016, we should imagine it as an accumulation of past bad choices. I, for one, decided to throw up my hands in disgust after years of constantly defending myself against the ongoing onslaught of hateful family gossip. When my cousin opined, "What she said meant I never felt the desire to meet you," the motive was clear. Nothing is more devastating than isolation and rejection. But later, after having to hear and see a bit more, I decided that certain ties weren't worth the pain. The constant doubt and the innocent questions had taken a toll. I had already endured a lifetime of negativity and hate, and I was just sick of any reference to this person's comments, opinions, or fanciful stories. In a moment of panic and indecision, I suddenly cut off communications with my well meaning and kind relative. I never meant to keep my severance eternal, but now, because of a December death, I have suffered this crushing loss. The irony of this is beyond description.

    My 2016 derailment was decades in the making, and I think that's true for most of us. But let's just look at the political machine of Hillary Clinton as a strong supporting example. Her rise and fall was due to a combination of bad choices (a server for God's sake) and the false narratives of others (FBI idiot, James Comey). This "witches" brew enabled the largest, self-entitled windbag in the history of America to seize public office, a debacle that is snowballing completely out of control now that he has made several really poor cabinet choices. But let me emphasize the import of all of this; witches brew, windbags, and politics may seem innocuous enough, maybe even a bit benign; however, scholars have proven that slogans, catch-phrases, and nuanced negativity sway public and personal opinions. These cheap tactics are popular because they work. 

    I am still teasing out my own lessons and realizations from the ruins of 2016. I am in a state of reflection. But I am confident that I will no longer allow the chorus from below to dictate the abakwa from above. With this in mind, if you would allow it, I would like to share one piece of soulful advice from this devastating year. I insist that you look to ducks for inspiration. Yes, ducks. 


Thoreau’s Slavery in Massachusetts: Today’s Journalism and Politics

 

            Any true Thoreauvian would already have made note of some of the interesting parallels between today’s social problems, and the contemptuous tone of Slavery. Not only that, any bona fide scholar would probably not even find these parallels noteworthy. But me ensconced in my Thoreauvian passions, busily kissing the cover of Walden and wondering why I never noticed the strange Transcendental past creeping up on the horrifying present, simply can’t repress my excitement and shared anger.

            I just love what he says about the torrid state of journalism and the witless readership, and I couldn’t agree more, especially when I think about a certain, local, education reporter, “And as they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to the worst, and not the better nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit” (188). He is spot-on with this description and its garish imagery, its humorous undertones.

            This is why I abstain from the local rag, but sometimes buy a sweat-covered copy from the homeless man on the corner. My son and I hand over our 4 bucks, throw the mess on the floorboard, and stow it quickly in the recycle bin without ever taking it from the garage to the house. But just like Thoreau, “When I have taken up this paper with my cuffs turned up, I have heard the gurgling of the sewer through every column” (188).

            Finally, just a little bit of shared fear about the upcoming election. Today I saw a cute online post that read “Out of 318million people this is all we could come up with?” Underneath the caption it had a couple of very unflattering pictures of Clinton and Trump. If you read the first full paragraph of page 190 without getting chills, then you are simply not paying attention:

“The amount of it is, if the majority vote the devil to be God, the minority will live and behave accordingly, and obey the successful candidate, trusting that some time or other, by some Speaker’s casting vote, perhaps, they may reinstate God. This is the highest principle I can get out of or invent for my neighbors. These men act as if they believed that they could safely slide down hill a little way—or a good way—and would surely come to a place, by and by, where they could begin to slide up again” (190).

I think it’s safe to say that we are almost at the bottom of the hill, and it is pretty hard to slide back up. This isn’t the right forum for a complete breakdown on how we managed to slide down this far, but every voter is aware of what is happening, at least in some sense.

            This brings me to a slightly mystical, but relevant, and slowly developing, belief about the Transcendentals. We know of the soul/mind connection to the past via language, specifically ancient texts, and how Thoreau believed this was somehow supernatural i.e. God. Now we are doing a close reading of Thoreau, and we are finding ourselves on every page. I think if we possessed the intellect to truly understand this gracious and all-consuming connection between the actual words of the past and the scary present, then we too would be Transcendental. All of these many years later, Thoreau continues to make his point, truly Transcendent.

Thoreau, Henry David, and Lewis Hyde. The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau. New York: North Point, 2002. Print.


CIA Joins Twitter

Maybe it isn't much of a surprise to any of you, but I was stunned to discover the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lurking on Twitter in broad daylight. They fired up their first post with a weird comment in their typical government style, "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet." This happened on June 6th, and since then they have used their Twitter account to connect with an educational blog they have used for years. They post historical trivia, from their own biased perspective, that includes some cool photographs and tabs you can click around on.

They tweeted a link today that features George Washington, and discusses his skills in the black arts. I can remember some history about Washington's fascination with spying and wartime intelligence, and it was nice to take the CIA official refresher course.

I know I don't sound very excited about the CIA Twitter account, and I guess I'm really not. I like these shadowy, controversial organizations to protect their secrecy, not flaunt their weaknesses. Wouldn't they be more intimidating if we never saw them on social media? The rest of us have to use the internet to educate each other about problems like the CIA, FBI, IRS, and all of those other scary acronyms. Finding them on Twitter is a bit surreal.

It makes you wonder who is in charge of posting the actual tweets. What would this person look like? I always imagine the CIA person looking like a dweeb selling shoes, horn rimmed glasses, with a badge on his shirt that says statistical analysis team leader, or something similarly nerdy. I am more interested in who they pick to post this stuff than the post itself.

Go ahead and check out the CIA Twitter account, but it really isn't necessary for you to follow them; they already have almost 700,000 followers, and they know who you are and what you are doing anyway.

@CIA


Republican Party and Healthcare(A Post I wrote about Mitch McConnell and the GOP in 2010, and it's Still TRUE)

Lamar Alexander, and his virtual twin Mitch McConnell, are, as we post this weblog, griping about the new changes signed into law today by our African American president. From my perspective this is nothing less than poetic justice in harmony with God and nature. Lamar and Mitch, virtual twins, have been sitting in government for so long they have forgotten about the struggles faced by everyday normal citizens who fight and wrangle with big insurance on a regular basis. Lamar, Mitch, and all of their colleagues sit in their fancy suits, in nice little Washington offices, on their posh little bottoms, already enjoying tax funded healthcare from little ole me, and little ole you.

Our country has been living with this immoral and inhumane healthcare system that has perpetuated this insensitive, disgusting, holier-than-thou attitude embracing everything from cancer, to obesity, to abortion, and beyond. Income and employment has dictated personal healthcare choices that should ethically have been placed within an outside realm rather than tied to employment and private industry. With other countries as a model, the United States has indeed not taken healthcare reform an inch far enough. There is something innately evil about profiting from human suffering. I do not say that healthcare should be completely socialized, I say let it be regulated to stop abuse. I do not deny doctors, researchers, and healthcare professionals a right to prosper; however, something must be done to stop greed from overtaking good sense, as it has proven itself in recent experience. This new healthcare bill does not really go far enough to protect the American consumer, but it is a great beginning.

Lamar, Mitch, and other people of similar mind, do not really care if you and I enjoy decent healthcare. This attitude has fallen out of style with most Americans, and we are sick of this insensitive nonsense. Having lived with socialized medicine myself, and having many friends who still enjoy that freedom, I say it is time for Americans to become more compassionate rather than less. Being in the position to compare social medicine to our own system, unlike Mitch and Lamar, I can tell you from firsthand experience that what we do is cruel, hinges on insanity, is greedy, and cannot sustain itself. As a society, we are living in immorality when we deny our sick people the power tools (access to health insurance and equality) that will help them achieve wellness. Not covering preventive care sets a low standard and creates failure for patients who, with help, could have lived healthier lives. From my point of view it is shocking, and murderous, that an insurance company would deny an authentically sick patient doctor ordered care. Hell has a special place for people who have done this kind of filthy work.

I do agree with something the republicans have argued. We do have a responsibility to maintain our own health and well-being. That is why, once you are kicked off your parent's plan, you need to go out and purchase your own insurance. You should be mandated to do so because if you are attacked, become sick, or drink yourself into oblivion, then I, and other taxpayers, should not have to pick up the tab. Just like driving, we are all at risk, and we risk everyone else, when we have no insurance. The republican attack on health insurance mandates is hypocritical, illogical, and has no useful purpose whatsoever. This action, undertaken by the attorney general's offices in a dozen states, just proves the leaders in these states have sold out to big insurance. I include my own state of Texas in this list.

Now that the United States is starting to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world, maybe we will look a little more humane, and decent, to countries who are snarling at us now. We can look forward to the day when selfish men like Lamar and Mitch are no longer part of the American landscape. Then we might, once again, achieve respect around the world.