“If you don’t know why, you don’t know”

IMG_0268When we started teaching, we thought our job was to tell students what they needed to know, to “make them learn.” As we gained experience and availed ourselves of the mentorship of veteran teachers, our chairmen and a host of colleagues, we came to the realization that to be a successful teacher is to get the students to “teach themselves”, that is to say to get them to go where you need them to be without them ever knowing they are doing the work to get there.

We learned to challenge students with questions that later became “best practices” for students’ success. One example of this was asking students if the aphorism, “If you don’t know why, you don’t know”, was true or false and have them explain their answer.

Another one was asking them, “What is the most important question to ask in order to be a successful student?” (The answer is the word “why” because you cannot know why the answer is correct without knowing the answer).

Yet another one was asking them why the statement, “What you cannot explain, you do not understand”, was either true or false.

These questions, and others like them, were designed to encourage students to have to examine, analyze, break down into smaller pieces the ideas that were being put before them. This opportunity must made available to all, and those students who chose to accept the challenge and the opportunity will experience learning at its richest level.

Whether in the Bronx or Westchester, we taught students in a way that would guide them in the right direction and lead them to the answer. However, it was they who had to embrace the knowledge, absorb it, take it in, apply it, make it a part of them.

We must encourage the interest, desire, willingness, and curiosity to learn. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” We must engage students in such a way that they want to drink from the trough of education.

Confucius stated, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”

Absent this quality, no matter what reforms are suggested or put forward, or how many technologically enhanced schools are built, or many students are equipped with the latest and greatest technology, I would argue that little, if any, learning will occur.

Students, first and foremost, must be helped to understand and to recognize their role and/or responsibility in the learning process.

In one of Bernie’s favorite stories, “The Convert” by Leone Bennett, Jr., there is a line that states, “…can’t nobody make you a man.” The story tells us that becoming a man is something only the individual can do for himself. The same is true about learning. No one can learn for you. Until students are made aware of their role and/or responsibility in the learning process, and held to that role and responsibility, we’re going to keep coming up short as it pertains to student success.

But it is our job as teachers to help them get to that point. We must find a way to find that hidden student within each of them, to bring back the toddler curiosity that too many have had stolen.

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THE “BETTER ANGELS” OF OUR NATURE

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The odd couple sat on the stage next to the nervous moderator. Ray Warrick,a stocky, white, tough linebacker type from Cincinnati sat on the left. Hawk Newsome, a 6’5 black, tough defensive end type from the Bronx sat in the middle. Neither looked the Kumbaya type.

Ray Warrick, once an ordinary guy who raged against the machine of politicians he could no longer trust, now finds himself the head of the Tea Party in Cincinnati.

Hawk Newsome, who as a youth, dropped out of high school yet pushed forward and earned a GED, Bachelor of Science, and law degree, now is the President of the NYC chapter of Black Lives Matters.

But this was not what you might predict, an “Ebony and Ivory” yellathon. They are both activists unhappy with the status quo.  They are quite angry with government officials and police who forget their responsibility to us, the citizens.  While they both rage against the machine as they each see fit, they do not rage at each other. They are Better Angels.

How many times did you hear, when you were younger and dragged to some holiday gathering, never to discuss money, religion and politicswith other people, then sit at the holiday meal table like a good little boy or girl and watch the adults in the room start to raise their voices, yell, curse, and threaten violence until “Drunk Uncle” said something so outlandish that everyone just stopped and stared at him….and laughed.

Imagine if you will…Twilight Zone theme here… what it’s like for kids today. Their adult “role models” go off the rails reading a newspaper, a screen, a text, an email, or watching TV, then yell at the walls or the nearest target with even a slightly opposite opinion. Stupid !@#$% chair, how could you think that?

Aren’t we all tired of going on Facebook, for example, and feeling our blood boil, not only at the inflammatory third-party posts by so called FB friends, but also by real friends who put up inflammatory memes or posts or articles attacking either side?

Today’s political climate has ramped up this climate so much that people start with vitriol and never back down from there. What do we do not only about the polarization, but about the anger filled tweets, FB comments, and arguments at the dinner table? Often, we too just fume, wondering what the hell is going on. These used to be reasonable people.

As luck would have it, I discovered Better Angels, an organization started after the 2016 elections designed to solve this problem. The name Better Angels comes from the phrase used by Abraham Lincoln in his first inauguration speech, when he referred to the “better angels of our nature” to try to prevent our divided house from falling.

Today “Reds and Blues” are both unhappy with government and media and rage against them. Unfortunately, social media, cable news, lobbyists, and politicians have all found ways to get us to rage at each other, tearing our house apart. Thus, Better Angels was formed.

I signed up for a “Red/Blue” workshop, a highly structured ½ day vehicle that brings Red Trumpsters, AOC loving Sanderites and everybody in between on the political spectrum together to rid ourselves of our assumptions and stereotypes of those “others”. By the end of the session, we went from glares and stares to miles of smiles. I was hooked.

Six months later I was in St Louis for their 2ndannual convention. We came from all over the country: rich, middle class, and poor; urban, suburban and rural; teenagers, octogenarians, boomers and millenials; coastal dwellers and Midwesterners; northerners and southerners; with innumerable occupations. We came to learn about each other, to practice listening to and reasoning with each other, to stop the polarization, yelling, tension, stress and screaming. We came to figure out a way to share our national values as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution and use them to move us past this time of hostile stagnation.

Saturday afternoon I randomly sat next to Carol. We volunteered to do a “1:1” workshop where a Red and a Blue member of BA spent an hour going through a structured conversation to better understand each other. The questions asked why we are participating, about ourselves and our background, where we are politically and how we got there, what’s good about “our” side, and what our reservations are about our side. Then we were to discuss two topics of important to us. The structure provided equal time and stressed listening and not interrupting.

We were quite the pair. Although I have lived in middle class suburban Westchester NY towns for 35 years and was born in LA, I am truly a Bronx tale. I am 6’4 and talk like a “Newyawka”, although I try not to. Carol was more than a foot shorter than me, thin, and looked either my age or a bit older and, according to her name tag, was from a place called Urbandale Iowa, a small midwestern town just outside Des Moines.  What do I know about Iowa? Corn, Primaries, and “Field of Dreams”. She assumed correctly, “You must be a Yankee fan.” So, at first, we talked baseball.

It didn’t take very long for us both to gasp, “We are so alike.” We discovered we were both raised by struggling single moms and had dads who left us while quite young. We grew up day to day, with our tv’s broken more days than working. As young kids we learned to love our neighbors and friends and cared a great deal for them. She became an English teacher and gave back to her rural white kids that way, while I became a Social Studies teacher and gave back to my urban Bronx kids of color. She complained about being a “flyover” that the coastal elites ignored or looked down on, and I explained that my Bronx was a “commute through” place where commuters, driving or riding the rails, scurried through, afraid to be accidently moored there as in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. To them, the Bronx was still burning. We both got it.

We shared the same basic values taught us by our moms, with her church having a great deal more to do with that than my synagogues. We were both there to do our share to heal the wounds of polarization. On the way we discovered her conservative reasoning and my liberal reasoning had the same values as their basis.

When we got to the question about what reservations we had about our sides, she couldn’t hold it in and went first. “TRUMP, she screamed in a loud stage whisper, and all those who have made my party a shambles. They have destroyed the values “for which I stand.” She hated how the extreme version of her party dictated how we saw her and her conservative friends.  My response was virtually the same. Whether I agreed with them or not wasn’t the issue, but I had a big beef with how the more radical squeaky wheels in my party dictated how others saw me and my fellow liberals.

That, in fact became the first topic we discussed. The second came out of that. We were both just as angry at social media, cable news, lobbyists, politicians and their campaigners. We realized, together, that what we are really both pissed at is how they manipulate us through the use of psychometric algorithms that trigger either our fight, flight, or tribal biochemical mechanisms. They know exactly how to press our “battle” button, our “I want no part of this button”, or our “us vs them” button. We looked at each other and then almost said the same thing at the same time. Trump is PT Barnum and naturally does it. I called him an idiot savant. She didn’t disagree.

So here we were, the Bronxite and the Midwesterner, the liberal and conservative, the Jew and the Christian, just like Ray and Hawk the evening before, getting along, talking with each other, agreeing to disagree, marveling at how much we agreed and how much we were alike.

That is the hope of Better Angels. I am sure some will call it naïve, or impossible, but until they have witnessed it, they should avoid passing judgement.

As for you, why not try it? Or do you prefer waiting for Drunk Uncle to say something really stupid?

IT’S ECONOMICS, NOT POLITICS.

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New analyses that examine the political campaign contributions from those most active in “education reform”, find the movement populated by individuals who support Democratic candidates for public office. (Education Reform’s Deep Blue Hue Are school reformers right-wingers or centrists — or neither?(3/11/19 Education Next)

DEMOCRATIC, YES. PROGRESSIVE? NO. 

“True to their findings, the leading participants in the school-reform “wars” are mostly engaged in an intramural brawl, one between union teacher-allied Democrats and a strand of so called“progressive” Democrats more intent on changing school systems through TFA, Charter School, Common Core, and Standardized data driven testing.”See my corrections in bold.

To call that latter group of Democrats progressive is an insult to Progressives who firmly believe in the sanctity of Public Schools and the creative powers of public school teachers, not top down instructional techniques or curricula. It shows the ignorance of these researchers because they looked at political contributions, not education as a core issue.

Why the authors say “school reform is routinely portrayed as a right-wing enterprise” is beyond me.  They say the “education-reform” community defends itself as bipartisan, school reformers are decidedly left-leaning, with 87 percent or more of the political contributions by staff at “school-reform” organizations going to Democratic candidates and causes.

THIS JUST MAKES THEM DEMOCRAT LEANING…NOT PROGRESSIVE.

However, when you begin to throw in the issues surrounding Common Core, the Republican side of these issues comes out loud and clear because of the fear of “liberal brainwashing” through Common Core Curricula. I have been witness to this when I spoke to a group of South Carolina Tea Party parents about why Common Core was bad for us all. Many pulled their kids out of schools to home school.

Trump and DeVos are meaningless to them. The people I spoke with wanted to get rid of Lindsay Graham!

Who says this? Please tell me!

“Close observers of 21st-century education reform know that champions of charter schooling, teacher evaluation, and accountability are routinely characterized as right-wingers bent on undermining public education.”

This has nothing to do with the past 2+ years of Trump and DeVos. This reform has been going on since Reagan, Clinton, and more harshly through both the Bush and Obama years. It has been a truly Bi Partisan effort to destroy Public Education and make teaching less relevant (regardless of TFA Hype).

The authors go on to say, “The most visible symbols of education reform—such as Teach for America and various charter school networks and the foundations that fund them—are characterized as neoliberal, corporatist, conservative, and right-wing.”

Let me set you all straight:“The most visible symbols of education reform—such as Teach for America and various charter school networks and the foundations that fund them—can be liberal or conservative, centrist, or right wing.

The Atlanticattacked the KIPP charter schools for their role “in the project of neoliberalizing public goods.” THIS IS TRUE.

Success Academies founder Eva Moskowitz has been excoriated for promoting a Trojan horse that contains “Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.” THIS IS ONLY SINCE 2017.What about during the Obama-Duncan years?

The Walton Family Foundation has been dismissed as “conservative” or “deeply conservative” by the Huffington Post3 and historian Diane Ravitch. WHO WILL ARGUE THAT…EVER?

NOW THIS IS VERY TRUE: Regarding Teach for America (TFA), Rethinking Schools has published “An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits,” which reads: “Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement; that is the message TFA sells so well. But TFA is not progressive.

The data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education reform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas.”

THE QUOTE SHOULD LEAVE OUT CONSERVATIVE. It is ECONOMICALLY MOTIVATED NEO LIBERALISM!Flow-Chart-Neoliberal-Takeover.Education-Alchemy

“Meanwhile, education-reform advocates like Chiefs for Change describes itself as a “bipartisan network of diverse state and district education Chiefs.” Stand for Children touts its “bold independence” and bills itself as “non-partisan and child-focused.” ALL THAT IS TRUE, IN THEIR OWN MIND.

The question really is how are they tied to corporate interests? Microsoft? Apple? Charters? Data collectors? ED REFORM IS NOT A POLITICAL SCHEME, IT IS ECONOMIC AND WILL USE WHOEVER IS IN CHARGE OF POLICY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Thus, “While it is not practicable to examine the voting habits or partisan affiliations of education reformers, we can identify the candidates and political causes to which they contribute. And the pattern of their political giving suggests that the people who work at the education-reform organizations supported by the biggest and best-known education-reform foundations support almost uniformly left-leaningdemocratic. In other words, education reform turns out to be neither a red nor a purple enterprise—but a deepblue one.” (NOTE MY CORRECTIONS)

“Teach for America chapters, charter school groups, and education-advocacy groups have gone out of their way in recent years to demonstrate their progressive bona fides (and disagreement with Republicans) on issues such as immigration,10 school discipline,11 transgender access,12 and school vouchers. THAT DOESN’T MAKE TEHM PROGESSIVE EDUCATORS!

SO BACK TO THIS: “We find that the movement is populated by individuals who support Democratic candidates for public office.”

DEMOCRATIC, YES. PROGRESSIVE? NO. ECONOMICALLY MOTIVATED? YES.

Music

The Doors. “People Are Strange”.Hearing this on my car’s Air Play, I think back to my youthful songs of choice, and except for the Motown sounds I sang with my buddies in the 171ststreet subway station for the acoustics and harmonies.

Why was it the songs I identify with are songs like those?

I always sang the Melvin Franklin Bass lines, or as a fake Bowser of Sha-Na-Na in a local group. I was never the lead; always a backup singer.

It’s funny how music can represent a life.

People are strange
When you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly
When you’re alone.

When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange.

I was always the outsider, uneasy with new people. I recall singing that to myself at parties or hanging out at Poe Park. Most at ease on the playing field with my teammates and even my opponents, and when an adult among his colleagues at work, I was shy among girls, then as I grew older, women.

Then, as now, I wondered why I felt alone in a room, no matter how many people were there. Growing up poor, as an only child, I knew what being alone meant as I spent countless hours inventing things to do by myself with whatever I had; playing real baseball with baseball cards, diving on the couch to score touchdowns until I heard one too many cracks in the old wood, or as I grew older…playing with myself as opposed to by myself.

He laughed to himself…. “I should make a playlist of those songs. The Animals: We’ve Got to Get Out Of This Place.”

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place

I always felt I had to get out of this place. Where was this place? It was where ever I was.

Another Animal’s song pops into his head…”Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

Sitting alone in his home filled with people at his 65thbirthday party, Paul thought of many other songs. “God Bless The Child’. “Nowhere Man”. “The Stranger”.

“STOP!” I yell at himself. “Shake it off man. You’ve had a pretty good run. Why get so down on yourself?”

Why indeed?

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”

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“Shit.”

 

“Dyavid…Don’t say that word.”  (Mom never quite lost that bit of Russian accent.)

 

“Mom, All I said was shit… (He knew better than to say it correctly.)

 

He was seven.

 

As a kid he had memorized Marx… Groucho, that is. His earliest TV moments were more You Bet Your Lifethan Howdy Doody.  Groucho had a wisecrack about everything…and everyone. How many times did he watch “The Cocoanuts”, “Horse Feathers”, and “Duck Soup”?He loved Groucho. He imitated him. He was him.

 

How many parties had Paul been to where he wished he could have said, half joke—half truth, as Groucho did, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” 

 

How many people did he meet, even as a kid, when the Groucho in his head said, “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”

 

Growing up in the Bronx made one bilingual. You spoke English and Street. Street involved lots of cursing. There were no better words to express certain feelings at the right times and right place. The secret was in knowing those right times and right places. Today sociologists call this code switching. We called it, “Don’t let your dad hear you say that shit or he’ll whip your ass.”

 

Paul’s Black friends all knew how to code switch. The skill went back to slavery.

 

“Yes’m Master.”

 

We watched Jack Benny’s TV butler do it weekly.  Benny: “Ohhhh Rochester?”

 

Rochester: “Yes’m, Mr. Benny.”  While thinkin’… “You white, can’t play no fiddle no how, motherfucker!” 

 

Even us far less cool white guys had to learn to “code switch” when in school, at home (usually) and while doing personal appearances at Aunt Fannie’s house because she’d rip you a new one if you cursed.

His early life wasn’t pretty, and he had to deal with it. He learned to fight, talk, and crack jokes. To survive you needed to be a bit Clark Kent and a bit Superman. Paul know that dual personality far earlier than Jekyll and Hyde. You learned to speak and act as Clark Kent in the adult world, but on the street …you had to get in that phone booth.

 

There, you could be either be Superman with fists or with words. Paul was ok with fists but preferred using words. He became a master of “doin’ the dozens, snappin’, and wisecracking. His Black friends taught him well. He can’t tell you how many times he got out of jams when someone said,

 

“That’s one funny dude. Let him slide.”

 

He learned to “lawyer” his friends out of beefs. He even talked a cop down who was pointed a gun at him and his ladder carrying buddies, two of whom were not white, during the 1965 blackout.

 

“Shit…He thinks we’re 2ndstory guys.”

 

Paul told the cop the truth. Paul knew, even at 15, how perception altered reality.

 

“We’re going down into the subway to get people off a stuck express train.”

 

The cop kept his revolver pointed right at him.

 

“Damn, don’t believe us? Come with us and help.”

 

Nothing defused a fight or a cop better than words.

 

Paul learned that to survive you often had to think one thing and say another. Now this wasn’t the Eddie Haskell kind of fronting. Paul was never that slimy B.S. artist. He hated Haskell types. Still does…

 

WITH… A… PASSION….

 

He adopted a George Carlinesque view of the world. By the way…“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”

 

Is it possible to be an optimistic Hobbesian? Or is it a Hobbesian Optimist? Famous for telling us that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”,Hobbes was the pessimist’s pessimist. Paul, on the other hand still thinks himself a cock-eyed optimist, somehow combining his parent’s optimistic views of life. The problem was that each of their lives were failures.

 

Dad always thought his intelligence and talents, combined with his brilliant schemes would lead him to great successes. NOPE!

 

Mom always trusted everyone and thought people would always watch her back. Her bosses? NOPE. Dad? NOPE.

 

Paul’s life balanced his parent’s naïve optimism and Hobbes’s philosophy.  Paul didn’t want to think that humankind asbasically “selfish, driven by the hope of personal gain, and a constant seeking of power over others”, or that, “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone…”

 

He preferred RalphWaldo Emerson’s, “The purpose of life… is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

 

Paul believed his compassion and work for others as a husband, father, teacher, mentor, and coach would make the world a better place. Paul wanted to believe, like his mom, in the good in people and like his dad, that his intelligence, talents, and abilities would persevere whatever life placed in his path, but his experiences more often negated those lofty thoughts.

 

Too often, he confronted others less honorable, less compassionate, less curious, less giving, and less thoughtful than he optimistically expected. More and more he found stupidity, cowardice, and arrogance… Idiots

 

He always sought Lincoln’s “better angels”among Hobbesian “brutes”but was too often disappointed.He began to think more like many the stand-up comedians who observed life and with a sarcastic, comic, and often snide remark… though rarely did he make these out loud. He knew who he could crack everyone up with those thoughts and with whom he couldn’t.

 

As he grew up, Paul the idealist found escape in skepticism and in sarcastic humor, even if some others sometimes didn’t approve. He knew his audiences. Over time Paul learned how observe very carefully.  He took everything in, things most people never noticed. He had an untrained comedic eye. Long ago he realized, like Carlin,

 

“Some people have no idea what they’re doing, and a lot of them are really good at it.” 

 

As he grew older, he just saw more and more of it and made it a habit to point it out…for the humor in it.  Paul’s sincere, honest to a fault, cordial, and polite, charming Clark Kent often masked the skeptical, sarcastic, ironic, funny, and yes even sometime cynical Superman scenes rolling across his mind’s eye.

 

Paul became the Master of ceremonies at roasts, formal or not… a guy who provided the punch line in every too serious conversation to lighten it up or move boring ones along. He calls himself a counter punch… liner.

 

Like Carlin, he liked to“think off center”,although most people didn’t understand his off centered wit. He questioned everything. He believed as a teacherand as a parent, “Don’t just teach your children to read…Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

 

From his Bronx second grade class on, when he learned about Little Rock, Arkansas, he questioned our society. As a teacher, his kids loved his humorous questioning approach to examining history. He loved making fun of the foolish decisions made by so many. And they loved him for it. History came alive. Barbara Tuchman wrote a famous book, “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam”.  Duh, of course!  Mel Brooks did “History of the World.”Paul used both in classes.

 

He took great pleasure in pointing out absurdities as he saw them. He still wonders why others don’t see those things. He never liked to hide truths or conceal them with pretty words. He loved edgy, probing, prodding, poking humor. Bruce and Saul and Carlin. Not Seinfeld.

 

He thought, like the comedian he often wanted to become, that he had a “duty to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.” Over and over again he saw too much evidence that when you “think of how stupid the average person is” you “realize half of them are stupider than that.”

 

As Foghorn Leghorn always said…. “It’s a joke, son. A joke.” What choice do you have?

THE NEW CIVIL WAR:

My emotional and rational selves have been at odds for 2 years. I am angry yet try to remain calm. I try as much as possible to avoid the bombardment of hatred and outrage. It’s impossible. I skim read articles instead of attacking them. I try to calm people down.

I have joined BETTER ANGELS (www.better-angels.org), a group devoted to bringing “red and Blues together to hear each other, have civil discourse, and hopefully spread that idea to those on their political sides. I think I have lost a similar number of friends on either end of the political spectrum because neither group can deal with rational thought. They respond 100% emotionally. I may lose more by saying that. This is what President Trump has done to us.

Until recently I felt that, “This too will pass”. However recent events have changed me. Twelve bombs mailed to various blue leaders, celebrities and journalists. A Synagogue shot up in Pittsburg. This is serious shit. It is too similar to what happened in Bloody Kansas in the 1850’s…just before the Civil War exploded. We must figure out how to stop this.

Tuesday was election day. I was optimistic about a blue wave, not a tsunami, as some overzealous fellow blues keep saying would happen. Yes, Democrats took the House. But they lost Senate seats as well.

The House may continue to be more representative of those areas while the Senate will continue to unequally represent rural states with entire populations less than 2 million (Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Utah, North and South Dakota, Vermont, Delaware, Nebraska, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Maine). Those 28 senator’s votes far outweigh the 8senators from states with at least 10 times that population (Florida, NY, California and Texas).

Geographic divisions are getting more entrenched. In the 21stcentury the division is between mostly blue urban/ suburban areas and mostly red rural.

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Seventy percent of Americans live in areas of 500, 000 or more. Thirty-one cities have populations greater than the entire state of Wyoming (@573,000). The top ten most populous cites each have greater populations than 7 entire states. This is a big divide. Few issues unite them, especially today.

What will be the result of the now Democratically controlled House and now even more Republican controlled Senate?  A split Congress will perhaps be more active and effective. Or not, in this highly partisan world. They will have a shot at conversation and compromise, but I doubt it. Urban/Suburban vs rural will be the rule of thumb.

Now add the president to this split. Trump may up as bad as James Buchanan, primarily blamed for the Civil War. His continued stoking of the R/US divide what I prefer to now call Red/Blue has already set off a new civility war.

The celebrity apprentice president will keep doing what he is doing. He will enrage and enflame. He will sign executive orders whether or not they can actually do anything. He will mangle the English language, much to the chagrin of most blues and howls of “Yeah Baby” from many reds. He will continue to be Con-man in Chief. He will continue to divide us. That is the reason he is the least presidential president ever in our history. He will be the worst.

There is nothing wrong with a powerful president, even with their faults. We have many examples of strong presidents; Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, even LBJ, who (even with faults) who made us a better nation. That is very different from this president who sees himself as a president of a family business, to be run as he likes, not the United States, to be run as the Constitution demands.

It is not enough to appeal to one’s base. It is not presidential to purposely use language that separates, that ignites, that leads to violent acts. You must lead “the whole people”.

Even John Adams, President during the extremely contentious late 1790s and during election of 1800, the most controversial of them all said, “The people cannot be too careful in the choice of their presidents.”

Harry Truman, who has risen in the presidential ranks to #6 this past February, has said about presidents, “You can’t divide the country up into sections…and you can’t encourage people’s prejudices. You have to appeal to people’s best instincts, not their worst ones.”

Truman also said, “The country has to awaken every now and then to the fact that the people are responsible for the government they get, and when they elect a man to the presidency who doesn’t take care of the job, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.” 

We can only blame ourselves. We were not careful enough in 2018. It will be harder now.

As a former history teacher, I tend to take the long view about our crazy time and look back at what was worse: The Civil War. The Great Depression. World Wars 1 and 2. My long view has said we will bounce back, just as we have done in the past. But even my faith has slipped.

I keep trying to hear Lincoln’s pre-Civil War plea,

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In 1861, that did not happen. It MUST now.

It’s the Id and Ego, Stupid!

What the hell is going on?superego-ego-id

What has happened to civility? Compromise? Common sense, discussion? Listening? I have come to the conclusion that this craziness is not based on policy. Rather it is based on our emotional connections to policies and policy makers. We simply cannot admit we are wrong, we haven’t done our homework, the other side has some valid points, or that we have been conned by one of the most successful celebrity con men in our history.

If we stop to take a breath and look at ourselves in the mirror, what might we find? Our egos will not let us admit the errors of our ways. Ego prevents us from listening. It stokes our anger. It enrages rather than calms. It allows our Id to run amok.

What has happened to our individual and collective Super-ego. It is supposed to internalize cultural rules and organize our thoughts rationally. It works in contradiction to the Id. The Super-ego wants us to act in a socially appropriate manner. The Super-ego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways. That is what we have lost.

According to David Brooks, “The chief struggle of the day is sociological and psychological, not ideological or economic. The substrate layer of American society — the network of relationships and connection and trust that everything else relies upon — is failing. And the results are as bloody as any war. And here’s the hard part of the war: It’s not between one group of good people and another group of bad people. The war runs down the middle of every heart. It is the battle between Id/Ego and Superego. Most of us are part of the problem we complain about.”

Most of us live in insular media and social bubbles that affirm our own moral superiority, thus congratulating our Id. Our Ego is pleased.

The good news is that most of us are part of the solution as well. Most of us can balance the battle between Id and Superego. All we have to do is convince our Ego.

Let your Super-ego determine how you vote November 6thand in 2020.

Let it make you join groups like http://www.better-angels.org

SOCIAL CLASS AND SCHOOLS

What does available evidence tell us about the relationship between social class and schools in The US of A?

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Sean Reardon of Stanford showed a widening class gap in both math and reading test scores. “The achievement gap between children from high and low income families is roughly 30-40 percent larger among students born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.”

 

He also found that schools themselves ARE NOT THE CULPRITS! The opportunity gap is already large by the time they enter kindergarten and does not grow appreciably through school. James Heckman expands that by saying that the gaps in cognitive achievement are most predicted by the level of maternal educationas early at the age of six, and that schooling… as unequal as it is in the US… plays only a minor role in alleviating or crating test score gaps.

 

What’s the real culprit? Residential sorting! Americans are increasing living in separate neighborhoods, unintegrated by class, income, or race, especially over the past 30- 40 years. Regardless of their own family background, kids do better where the other kids come from affluent, educated homes. This is universal, not just in the US.

 

 

DONALD NETANYAHU

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The Donald doesn’t want to be a dictator. He doesn’t want us to become a dictatorship as we know them. He tells us how he adores Kim and Putin, but they are not his real hero. His real love is Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Supported by the Christian right even though he is far from a religious person, The Donald admires Bibi’s power and strength. He and his followers want the US to become a Christian version of Israel.

Take for example the “we are always under attack” and “we must do whatever we can to defend ourselves” philosophies. Don’t trust anyone who isn’t “our kind”? Build a wall? Israel had one first.

We all know Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We support it wholeheartedly, sometimes even when its policies don’t agree with ours. We always have. Now something new has been added: the idea that Israel is a model for a Trumpian version of a “Demotheocracy”.

The Donald admires that although Netanyahu has now been under investigation for more than a year, he seems to be more popular than ever even while running the government with a coalition of parties and not a real majority. He admires the Knesset’s (Israeli Congress) coalition of conservative religious folk who have turned Israel into a Theocratic Democracy devoted to only those who are “chosen”. He admires the power to take a very split populous politically to make the power of the government speak ONLY for approximately half of the population. Israeli political polls show this approximate 40/40/10 split on most issues.

Consider this current situation. In January, Israel blacklisted 20 organizations, including a Jewish group in the US, whose leaders it has barred from entering the country for supporting an economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.The list was drawn up under a nearly year-old law enacted to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“We have shifted from defense to offense,” said Gilad Erdan, the minister of strategic affairs, whose office drew up the list, according to an article in Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. “The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them” and not allow them to “enter its territory to harm its citizens.” “These people are trying to exploit the law and our hospitality to act against Israel and to defame the country,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who is responsible for enforcing the ban.

In March the Knesset passed another law barring entry to foreigners who have publicly supported the boycott Israel movement. The vote came as the Israeli government’s conservative majority been emboldened by President Trump and his love forPrime Minister Netanyahu.

Dov Hanin, who voted against the legislation, said that at a time when boycotts against settlements are being promoted around the world, the law “is really a law to boycott the world.” “A country that boycotts the world is basically isolating and boycotting itself,” he continued.

What can we say about a nation which aims to portray itself to the world as liberal and democratic, blacklists activists dedicated to nonviolent organizing and dissent? Isn’t that what we fear will happen under the Donald?

As RabbiRick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in North America, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem: “It’s going to be a giant sign up by the door of the Jewish state: ‘Don’t come unless you agree with everything we’re doing here.’ I don’t know what kind of democracy makes that statement.” Most US Jews are reform, as am I.

And now this: An American was barred from entering Israel after she was accepted for study for a master’s in human rights law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She landed on the night of Oct. 2 with a one-year student visa issued by the Israeli Consulate in Miami. Why? Because she was one of 19 University of Florida Students to launch a boycott an Israeli brand of hummus.

Does all of this sound familiar? Aren’t these the types of laws limiting freedom of speech we are afraid may be passed here?

Is this The Donald’s and the Conservative Religious Right’s real goal, to model the new US Democracy after Israel’s? We all know how much The Donald and the Bibi love each other.

MIDDAY WITH COFFEE SPOONS:

spoons1What is it that makes me just a little bit queasy?
There’s a breeze that makes my breathing not so easy
I’ve had my lungs checked out with X rays
I’ve smelled the hospital hallways


Maybe if I could do a play-by-playback
I could change the test results that I will get back
I’ve watched the summer evenings pass by
I’ve heard the rattle in my bronchi…


Someday I’ll have a disappearing hairline
Someday I’ll wear pajamas in the daytime…

Afternoons will be measured out
Measured out, measured with
Coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot

Paul loves that Crash Test Dummy’s song.

 

He had no idea that today’s talk would be to a geriatric chorus that would be right at home singing that song. He expected an older group at this “Food for Thought” meeting at a local Temple. After all he knew his book appealed most to old Jews who could identify; he had done two similar talks in the spring, but when the first octogenarian came into the room and asked him how much lunch would be, he had a feeling.

 

About 30 chairs had been set up with tables on the side for the post talk lunch that was to be served. Five minutes before the talk was supposed to begin, eight wheelchairs and walkers outnumbered the six members of the audience. By the time the young Rabbi introduced him the number of wheelchairs and walkers was only 40 % of the audience of 10. He gauged the average age as 85.

 

As he looked out at what could have been an assisted living activity room, he hoped he would not have to use his CPR skills, or that a 911 call would not stop him in his tracks. But he went onward. It didn’t take more than 30 seconds for the first question to be raised.

 

“Is your name really Paul Gordon? I know three other people by that name, including my grandson.” “Thank you, Mam,” Paul replied, “but it was changed to Gordon by my father, from Grodowski, which was my grandfather’s last name.”

 

About three sentences later the oldest appearing person in the room, who introduced himself as, “David, and I am a WW2 veteran”, shouted out “what college” when Paul mentioned the word.

Paul was happy no one feel asleep although he could see one woman was fighting it. Eyes were mostly bright and curious. Heads affirmatively nodded. There was less laughter at what lines he thought would get at least some, but in general they were politely attentive. As Paul predicted to himself, there would be no more questions.  At the talk’s end, there was, instead, a polite thank you from a woman who seemed to be their spokesperson… followed by nodding heads.

 

Only one woman came up to him and purchased two of his books. The Rabbi reappeared and led the group in a rendition of Happy birthday to one of the younger looking women. They then shuffled to the side of the room where the soft, precut, half sandwiches were located, sat down, and ate as if Paul was gone.  He grabbed half a sandwich and chatted at a separate table with the Rabbi.

 

Before he left, Paul went to the birthday girl’s table. He told her she looked no more than 55. She responded that she was actually 99. Paul couldn’t believe it. He thought she was maybe 75 tops. He looked for confirmation and he got it.

 

She was indeed 99. She told a story that a plastic surgeon wanted to have her come see him to put lines ON her face. They all laughed….

 

It was, after all, now …

 

An afternoon being measured out,
Measured out, measured with
Coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot