Enemies of the People, America First…and Dr. Seuss…

seuss-stampToday I realized that Trump is employing both communist and fascist rhetoric. In essence, he has swung so far right that he is actually left — so that his actual position on the political spectrum is a black hole. Trump is his own category; he has created his own paradigm.

I teach sophomores and seniors world and European history. And each year I use the Congress of Vienna as a jumping off point to discuss the modern political spectrum.

In 1815, the conservative forces were victorious. Napoleon was in the throes of defeat when the 11 months long Congress began. Held in the beautiful Austrian capital, the meetings often took place during fox hunts, elaborate dinners, and dances. Spying was an accepted component of the peace process and all the major powers — Austria, Russia, Prussia, Great Britain, and France were in attendance.

The Congress of Vienna established a balance of conservative power until the outbreak of the first world war and created “relative” peace for 99 years. The biggest hole in the umbrella created by the Congress of Vienna, however, was the power of nationalism. The world wars were, in large part, caused by rampant unchecked nationalism.

Fascism is, of course, extreme nationalism. In Trump’s inauguration speech he stated:

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

Some might argue that he was being isolationist, not fascist. That stance does have merit. However, isolationism has had its own downside. In his political cartoons, Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), often mocked American isolationism during the inter-war period:

Furthermore, Geisel also connected American isolationism as a relative of fascism and communism:

Geisel was commentating on rigid extremes. He was provoking the American public to see the folly of burying their heads in the sand. He was a son of German immigrants. German was spoken in his home. He was obviously sensitive to global impacts. Although Geisel would later state that he was embarrassed by some of his hastily drawn cartoons (especially the outwardly racist Japanese depictions) any reader of Dr. Seuss’ books can recognize Theodor Geisel’s political and social commentaries. These beloved children’s books teach classic life lessons. Many of my students are surprised to learn that Dr. Seuss drew political cartoons about Hitler during the war years. Once their eyes are opened they cannot be shut to the power of political awareness that Theodor Geisel promoted.

On February 17, 2017, when Trump tweeted:

he was using communist rhetoric. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, especially, used the term enemy of the people to describe any person that stood in their way of their vision of creating a communist utopian society. Stalin had enemies liquidated (the kulaks) or sent to forced labor camps in Siberia (gulags). There was absolutely no freedom of the press allowed under Joseph Stalin and even today Russia has a “state-run” media outlet.

One of the biggest similarities between fascism and communism is the creation of an enemy, the glorification of the group over the individual, and the control of an ideal. My students are often very confused when studying both of these ideologies because they both present with totalitarianism.

Trump is using both sides of the political spectrum to mold his vision for making America great again. He is also creating clear enemies, promoting collective securtiy over individual rights, and attempting to control information.

It will be interesting to see what historical hindsight labels our political times.

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My students suck at using technology…

From a 2015 article entitled: “Technology in the Classroom: Don’t Believe the Hype” by Tim Walker. Here is the link to this article.

Teach with technology they say. It will be fun they say. The students will be engaged. You will be teaching 21st Century Skills (whatever that really means).

I have been trying and failing, to teach with technology since 1995. I even failed horribly when I taught at a school that offered laptops to every student.

Because I am persistently dumb, I continue to plan lessons involving technology. When I plan these lessons I feel like the main character, Ralphie, in the movie, A Christmas Story, penning his essay on the joys of owning a BB Gun:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEedFHxSVSI

I plan lessons imagining all of my students will be engaged, happy, and will interact meaningfully with the content. In my mind it looks like this:

However, when I have taught with most technology, my classroom looks like this:

Until last year.

Last year I discovered a software program that is almost tech proof. This company is called Nearpod and I want to marry it. Layman (people not in education or people who are in education but have not taught students for a good long while) think that students pop out of the womb with tech skills. People joke that if an adult doesn’t know how to program a DVD player, they should ask a kid. (Does anyone still use DVD players?) My experience is that my students suck at any technology that makes them be intuitive, take a risk, or God forbid, create a table. I don’t have time to teach 20,000 years of Global History and teach adolescents how to make a table in a Word or a Google document! My observations of student technical expertise have been this: if the tech is not delivered in app form, most students will give up.

Nearpod offers the best of both educational worlds — students need low-tech skills and teachers get to create their own lessons.

I am not getting paid to endorse the Nearpod company. I am simply singing the merits of Nearpod to my fellow teachers.

Here is a list of things I love about Nearpod:

1. Every student works on their own device, while I project off my laptop. I set the pace of the lesson. Students do not stray from the image that I am presenting.

2. I can set up a short or a long lesson (I teach in a block schedule).

3. If a student is absent, I can connect the Nearpod lesson to Google Classroom.

4. Students can answer an open-ended question, draw on maps, engage in a poll, take a quiz, or drag and drop keywords into a fill-in-the-blanks exercise.

5. I can have both direct instruction and student interaction in one neat platform.

6. Nearpod just added a feature called collaborate which allows for class brainstorming — I look forward to checking that out in the near future.

If you have suggestions for other ways to use technology in my classroom, I would welcome learning about any other types of technology that improve my teaching without making me cry.

I am a Feminist, but I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton

There, I admit it. My dirty little secret is out. Go ahead and attack me. Unfriend me. Block me.

I marched in Washington, D.C. in 1992 to voice concerns that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, but in 2016 I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I co-led the group Womyn’s Action Coalition (yes, with a Y) on the SUNY Geneseo campus during the 1990s, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I live in New York State (a blue state), but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I am a proud member of the American Federation of Teachers, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I hold a master’s degree, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I am a white, college-educated, middle-class woman, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I have born witness to serious abuse of my mother and sister by the hands of men, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I was raised by a single mother who did not always get child support, had to resort to food stamps, and often did not have health care, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I love nature and do my part to protect the earth, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I am worried about gun violence, and violence in general, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I want everyone to have affordable, quality healthcare, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I fully agree with and support same-sex marriage and equality for all, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I do not fear Islam or non-Christian faiths, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I would love to see a female president (many female presidents), but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I also did not vote for Donald J. Trump.

I am the moderate voice of America — neither extreme left nor right.

I live in a blue state but in a red county.

I live on 40 acres in small town rural America.

I co-own a small business where I see my husband’s labor taxed at 70% (business and personal tax) so that for every dollar he physically earns he gets to keep thirty cents.

I own guns (lots of guns) and I love how my husband has taught our daughters gun safety and skills.

I live outside of Syracuse, NY which resembles the Allentown, PA that Billy Joel sang about in the eighties.

I love to travel and see prosperity in America, only to return home to witness economic blight.

I don’t have any friends who are extremely racially diverse than me. However, I do have many students who are.

I believe in God, but I don’t find peace and happiness with organized churches.

I would have loved to have marched with my daughters in Seneca Falls, NY on January 21, 2017, so that I could show them the amazing diversity of American voices, but there was a swim meet to attend.

I did not vote for Hillary Clinton because ultimately I did not relate to her. She spoke well, she was more than qualified, but she just wasn’t my candidate. I was tired of the Clinton, Bush, Kennedy dynasties. I was saddened by how the Democrats led Common Core implementation and the Race to the Top educational policy impacts. I was frustrated by Clinton’s role in her husband’s perjury and sexual scandals. I did not agree with her foreign policy. I was worried that she would get nothing accomplished in a republican held congress.

If you relate to only one side, you might not like my message. My moderate ideas are not sexy. Moderation will never make major headlines. No one will tweet about my message. Or, maybe you share my secret? Maybe you have kept silent to avoid tempers rising with angry dialogue across the well prepared Thanksgiving table? Maybe you too want our country to move on from hateful speech, angry posts, and polarization to a more solution oriented consensus-based philosophy of governance? If you do, then please join me to spread a moderate, solution-oriented, inclusive message so that we have a representative democracy that is intent on political discourse not on sensationalism and “alternative facts,” but one that truly demonstrates the power of the people.

If you liked this, please click the ❤ to share. I sure appreciate it. Thanks!

For those of you who have not scrubbed me out of your life, here is my follow-up article: “10 Ways to Practice and Model Civil Discourse (Or, how not to be an a-hole!).”

10 Ways to Practice and Model Civil Discourse (Or, how not to be an A-Hole!)

This is a follow-up to my last (and first ever) post: “I am a Feminist, but I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton” My article ended with this paragraph: “If you relate to only one side, you might not like my message. My moderate ideas are not sexy. Moderation will never make major headlines. No one will tweet about my message. Or, maybe you share my secret? Maybe you have kept silent to avoid tempers rising with angry dialogue across the well prepared Thanksgiving table? Maybe you too want our country to move on from hateful speech, angry posts, and polarization to a more solution oriented consensus-based philosophy of governance? If you do, then please join me to spread a moderate, solution-oriented, inclusive message so that we have a representative democracy that is intent on political discourse not on sensationalism and “alternative facts,” but one that truly demonstrates the power of the people.”

So, how do we practice and model civil discourse? Here are 10 ways that you can foster political discourse:

  1. READ

If you find an issue that fires you up, read every article, opinion, and statistic concerning that topic. Leave your comfort zone of one source shopping — go to Fox News or Huffington Post for the first time, but also go to as many media outlets as possible. (You may find the image on the left helpful.) Read as much as you can. Also, recognize when you need to read more.

2. LISTEN

Listen to people’s views. Try not to convince them of your own views, but do ask questions. Try to find divergent views so that you hear the “other” person. Take into account their story.

3. WEIGH

Weigh the pros and cons of a topic. If you need to, write a list with a line down the middle of it. Deeply analyze the issue.

4. DISCUSS

Share your pros and cons with at least one other person. Have a healthy discussion. Learn their story — recognize what shapes their opinions.

5. REFLECT

Meditate, take a walk, drive your car, take a shower…reflect where ever you do your best reflecting.

6. WRITE

Journal your ideas. Write an article on a site like medium.com. Write to your elected representatives. The website countable.us is very helpful — type in your zip code and you can easily contact your representatives.

7. FIGHT

Take action on your views. March if you need to. Let your voice be heard. This is a useful site: https://www.indivisibleguide.com/web/

8. DISCUSS (AGAIN)

Have lively discussions with more people.

9. FOLLOW-UP

If you have written to a representative, follow-up on your letter. Or, find that politician in a public space that includes cameras and ask questions about your topic.

10. REFLECT (AGAIN)

Continue to think and grow. Maybe also grab a stiff drink — civics is messy, time-consuming, and exhausting! In addition, Mirah Curzer’s article “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind,” might help with handling political fatigue.

I was born on 9/11/2001…

It’s Monday, January 3o, 2017, in America.

I ask the students sitting in front of me if they have any questions about current events. I preface it with my usual ground rules: a) we will be respectful; b) we will try to see many perspectives; c) we do not have to agree with one another, but we do need to speak nicely.

A flurry of hands are raised in this sophomore, accelerated history classroom.

What is an executive order?

Which countries are included in the ban?

How many executive orders can a president use?

Is it a Muslim ban?

What does the actual ban say?

I try to navigate these heavy questions one by one. I give historical perspective. I try to show both sides.

One white male student says: “The ban does not say Muslim.” So we read the full text of the ban. He is correct.

One black female student says: “My parents are from the Caribbean, I only wonder how I would feel if the Dominican Republic was on that list of countries. My family members travel here for holidays and special occasions.”

One female, Muslim student says: “Terrorism is not about one religion.”

Another female, Muslim student raises her hand and with trepidation says:

“I was born on September 11, 2001, in Iraq, at the same time the towers were falling. My parents made sure by birth certificate said September 12. In 2004, we had one day to flee Iraq. We stayed in Syria for two months and then a few months in Jordan — finally settling in Egypt. In Egypt, we fled the violence of the Arab Spring and came to the United States in 2011. My parents have green cards. My mother’s citizenship ceremony is supposed to be next month, but we heard ceremonies are being canceled. My father stood outside our Egyptian apartment complex to protect us in 2011 — now he is telling my brother not to show the Iraqi flag in his car. My mother will not wear her hijab.”

The student is in tears. The room is dead silent.

By the end of the day, I am spent.

I pack up to leave for the day just as a former student enters. He tentatively asks if I have time to chat. Of course, I say yes. He does not know the day I had.

He tells me that he needs to write a letter to President Trump for an assignment.

“What would you like to say?” I ask.

“I am worried about reading my letter aloud to the class. People might call me names,” he replies.

After asking him why he is worried, he confesses that if he was old enough to vote, he would have voted for Trump. He tells me that he has been called a racist, a sexist, and anti-Muslim by his peers. He laments that he feels like he can’t have conversations with most people.

I let him speak his mind to me. I am glad to offer him a safe space. I share with him that I have also been writing — writing about polarization and its impact. I suggest he too writes a letter to President Trump discussing his perceptions.

As I drive home, I marvel at my day. Monday, January 30, 2017, in America.

Teaching Nazis

“As you watch the movie The Twisted Cross, please do not draw swastikas on your desks.”

Every year I have uttered those words in some way. Sometimes the title changes to the NAZI propaganda film The Triumph of the Will. Other times I teach without films, but still, find it necessary to command students to refrain from drawing that symbol. Despite my pleas and regardless of my teaching methods, since 1995 a swastika has been drawn somewhere in my classroom.

Last year a student managed to plant a very poor attempt of a swastika on my wall next to my poster of the presidents of the United States:

I don’t think President Benjamin Harrison was a NAZI!

Why do students draw swastikas? I think they fall into two camps — the curious and the angry.

The Curious

The curious student may simply be a provocative person. He or she might be an adolescent who likes to see how things feel or to push social boundaries. I have had many curious students.

One explanation for the curiosity is the curriculum. Students learn about the holocaust, Hitler, and the world wars many times in their careers, but with very little depth. I remember taking an elective course on World War Two during my junior year of high school and learning names like Himmler and Goering for the first time. I was, of course, intrigued by these new-to-me historical individuals. (The 40-week course has actually proved invaluable to my teaching.) Unfortunately, most courses in the humanities are survey courses. Survey courses are not intended for deep learning about any one topic. So for the most part, adolescents are left with significant holes in their education. They remain curious.

I am not as troubled by the curious. I would like to teach an elective course on the world wars one day, and I am sure that course would also foster clandestine swastikas. I think the power of that symbol will always be enticing.

The Angry

I do not want to profile my students. I am not calling them future fascists. However, I am also a student of human nature. I know that public schools are often microcosms — hatred, intolerance, and ignorance exist in American society and therefore ugliness exists in our schools.

Teaching the Social Studies during the 2016–17 school year has illuminated the ugliness of our society. Our society affects our youth. Their experiences today shape their world view tomorrow.

This year has brought too many subtle examples of intolerance to the surface. I do not want to acknowledge student’s negative comments as normal or acceptable, nor do I want to sensationalize typical developmental issues that arise with teaching adolescents. However, I have witnessed an increase in student appreciation for extreme opinions recently.

For instance, I have been teaching about the world wars this month and I am a bit shocked by a few student’s responses to my lessons. During today’s lesson, I mentioned that the Nazi’s burned the German Reichstag and then blamed the communists. A student yelled out: “There is no proof that the Nazis burned the Reichstag.” I said, yes, in fact there is. (“Historians find ‘proof’ that Nazis burnt Reichstag.”) He could not let it go, he kept saying: “You have no proof.” I tried to explain to him that this was the provocative event that propelled the Nazis, but he seemed to be very bent on proving me wrong. This was the same individual that last week proclaimed that he would have made a good NAZI. (Please see my earlier post: Snowdays are Savage!)

Do I share my evidence? Do I disprove his alternative facts? Do I get in the cage with the angry bear? This student is intelligent and armed with some knowledge — just enough to make him very rigid.

I wonder at how this student has come to his conclusions. Does he read from a variety of sources? Does he watch documentaries? He does not hand in most of his assignments so I can assume he has some time on his hands. What are his conversations like with his family members? Why is he angry? What responsibility do I have in his education?

Ironically I gave my students a reflective assignment today. They need to answer in paragraph form the following questions: Why did Hitler come to power? If you were a German during the interwar period would you have supported him and the NAZI party?

It will be interesting to read my students’ responses. Most of them will be eligible to vote in less than three years.