The future: Promise, or threat?

January 30, 2011

Rather sweeping changes coming in Advanced Placement courses — World History, German and French for the coming year, Spanish and Latin for 2012-13, and probably Biology.  Changes for U.S. History (APUSH) got delayed however.

At AP’s website where teachers can look at the proposed changes, three quotes alternate on the first page, including one from our resident ghost, George Santayana:

We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past.

Promise?  Threat?  Meant to cheer, or strike fear and doubt?

Or is it  just a good line from Santayana in an ambiguous situation?

(You’ll find the quote here:  The Philosophy of George Santayana, Northwestern University Press, 1940, p. 560)


Impeachment trial TODAY! More background . . .

September 15, 2010

Government teachers especially, take note.

Remember last summer I told you about the impeachment of New Orleans federal Judge Thomas Porteus?

The trial started yesterday in the U.S. Senate.

I gather that George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley joined the defense of Judge Porteus.  Turley is very much the patron saint-attorney for almost-lost legal causes.  His always-interesting blog has links to some of the papers filed to dismiss Article II of the impeachment, and other documents.  That may be a very good site from which to observe the proceedings, especially for government and AP government and politics classes.

Turley’s motion for dismissal goes to the heart of what kinds of conduct may be impeachable, and when the jurisdiction of the impeachment clauses apply — maybe subtle, maybe somewhat obscure, but still delicious constitutional issues.  I can imagine a government class reading the motion as a group and discussing it, in a more perfect world.

Is your government class watching this trial at all?

More:


Compare and Contrast assignment: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Glenn Beck

August 29, 2010

From The Other 98%:

MLK's and Glenn Beck's achievements compared - from The Other 98%

Which one would you choose to follow? Which one would you choose to emulate?

Teachers, don’t you wish a student would turn in something like this from time to time?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Earthaid3.


Typewriter of the moment: Alistair Cooke for the BBC

June 19, 2009

Alistair Cookes typewriter, displayed at BBC headquarters, Bush House, in London - Photo by Jeff Zycinski

Alistair Cooke's typewriter, displayed at BBC headquarters, Bush House, in London - Photo by Jeff Zycinski

Alas, our students now are too young to remember Alistair Cooke’s hosting of “Masterpiece Theater” on PBS, and of course, back then the BBC America service — if it existed — was available only to shortwave fanatics or people  who traveled a lot to the British Isles.

Perhaps more than anyone else other than Winston Churchill, and maybe the Beatles, Alistair Cooke tied England and America together tightly in the 20th century.  BBC’s other writers are good to brilliant, but even their obituary for Cooke (March 30, 2004) doesn’t quite do him justice:

For more than half a century, Alistair Cooke’s weekly broadcasts of Letter from America for BBC radio monitored the pulse of life in the United States and relayed its strengths and weaknesses to 50 countries.

His retirement from the show earlier this month after 58 years, due to ill health, brought a flood of tributes for his huge contributing to broadcasting.

Perhaps for Cooke, from Cooke’s broadcasts, we could develop a new variation of the Advanced Placement document-based question:  Broadcast-based questions. Heaven knows his Letter From America provided profound material on American history:

BBCs famous broadcaster Alistair Cooke, painted by June Mendoza (copyright Mendoza - www.junemendoza.co.uk)

BBC's famous broadcaster Alistair Cooke, painted by June Mendoza (copyright Mendoza - http://www.junemendoza.co.uk)


1943 – What the First Amendment means when saluting the flag conflicts with religion

June 14, 2009

Historic irony: On Flag Day in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of West Virginia vs. Barnette.

Billy Gobitis explained why he would not salute the U.S. flag, November 5, 1935 - Library of Congress collection

Image 1 - Billy Gobitas explained why he would not salute the U.S. flag, November 5, 1935 - Library of Congress collection

The case started earlier, in 1935, when a 10-year-old student in West Virginia, sticking to his Jehovah’s Witness principles, refused to salute the U.S. flag in a state-required pledge of allegiance.  From the Library of Congress:

“I do not salute the flag because I have promised to do the will of God,” wrote ten-year-old Billy Gobitas (1925-1989) to the Minersville, Pennsylvania, school board in 1935. His refusal, and that of his sister Lillian (age twelve), touched off one of several constitutional legal cases delineating the tension between the state’s authority to require respect for national symbols and an individual’s right to freedom of speech and religion.

The Gobitas children attended a public school which, as did most public schools at that time, required all students to salute and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States. The Gobitas children were members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a church that in 1935 believed that the ceremonial saluting of a national flag was a form of idolatry, a violation of the commandment in Exodus 20:4-6 that “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor bow down to them. . . .” and forbidden as well by John 5:21 and Matthew 22:21. On 22 October 1935, Billy Gobitas acted on this belief and refused to participate in the daily flag and pledge ceremony. The next day Lillian Gobitas did the same. In this letter Billy Gobitas in his own hand explained his reasons to the school board, but on 6 November 1935, the directors of the Minersville School District voted to expel the two children for insubordination.

The Watch Tower Society of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sued on behalf of the children. The decisions of both the United States district court and court of appeals was in favor of the right of the children to refuse to salute. But in 1940 the United States Supreme Court by an eight-to-one vote reversed these lower court decisions and ruled that the government had the authority to compel respect for the flag as a key symbol of national unity. Minersville v. Gobitis [a printer’s error has enshrined a misspelling of the Gobitas name in legal records] was not, however, the last legal word on the subject. In 1943 the Supreme Court by a six-to-three vote in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, another case involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reconsidered its decision in Gobitis and held that the right of free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution denies the government the authority to compel the saluting of the American flag or the recitation of the pledge of allegiance.

There had been strong public reaction against the Gobitis decision, which had been written by Justice Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965). In the court term immediately following the decision, Frankfurter noted in his scrapbook that Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) told him that Justice Hugo LaFayette Black (1886-1971) had changed his mind about the Gobitis case. Frankfurter asked, “Has Hugo been re-reading the Constitution during the summer?” Douglas replied, “No–he has been reading the papers.”1 The Library’s William Gobitas Papers showcase the perspective of a litigant, whereas the abstract legal considerations raised by Gobitis and other cases are represented in the papers of numerous Supreme Court justices held by the Manuscript Division.

1. Quoted in H. N. Hirsch, The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 152.

John E. Haynes and David Wigdor, Manuscript Division

Second page, Billy Gobitiss explanation of why he will not salute the U.S. flag - Library of Congress

Second page, Billy Gobitas's explanation of why he will not salute the U.S. flag: "I do not salute the flag not because I do not love my country but I love my country and I love God more and I must obey His commandments." - Library of Congress

Supreme Court justices do not often get a chance to reconsider their decisions.  For example, overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson from 1896 took until 1954 in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. In the flag salute/pledge of allegiance cases Justice Hugo Black had a change of mind, and when a similar case from West Virginia fell on the Court’s doorstep in 1943, the earlier Gobitis decision was reversed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Robert H. Jackson said:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all other Americans, thereby have the right to refuse to say what they and their faith consider to be a vain oath.

And that, boys and girls, is what the First Amendment means.

Resources:


Reagan years: A contrarian’s view

June 4, 2009

California abandoned the memory of the guy who worked tirelessly to keep California in the Union during the Civil War, Unitarian Universalist preacher Starr King, replacing his statue in the U.S. Capitol’s pantheon of state heroes (two to a state) with a statue of Ronald Reagan.  June 4 marks the fifth anniversary of Reagan’s passing.

Statute of Thomas Starr King of California, then in National Statuary Hall (U.S. Capitol)

Statute of Thomas Starr King of California, then in National Statuary Hall (U.S. Capitol)

Older son Kenny sent a note today, saying he now understands why I was so troubled by the Reagan years.  Some guy at The Free Speech Zone added it up — it has what AP history classes call a “point of view,” but calculate the serious factual error to fact ratio:

1) Treason: As a private citizen, and BEFORE the election, in contravention of both law and tradition, Reagan’s minions and handlers illegally negotiated with the Iranians to induce them hold the American Embassy hostages until after the elections,to embarrass President Carer and to prevent his successful negotiation of an “October Surprise.” Sent future VP George Bush, Sr., and future CIA chief William Casey to Paris to negotiate the deal.

2) Sent arms, including chemical weapons, to both Iraq and Iran during the decade-long Iran-Iraq war, making those two countries the two biggest US arms trading partners at precisely the time when it was illegal to trade with either due to both US and UN laws.

3) Iran/Contra: Used drug traffickers to transport illegal arms to Nicaragua, ignoring the contraband which was brought back on the return trip, creating  a massive and immediate increase in cocaine trade in urban California. Illegally used the CIA to mine harbors and ferry Contra troops in Nicaragua. Eventually, several administration staffers were convicted of crimes ranging from lying to Congress to conspiracy  to defraud the U.S. The scandal involved the administration selling arms  to  Iran and using proceeds from the sales to fund a guerrilla insurgent group in Nicaragua

4) Created alQaeda in Afghanistan to oppose the Soviet puppet/occupation there

5) Sponsored right-wing, State terrorism in El Salvador,  Honduras, Haiti, and Guatemala against indigenous insurgents who were fighting the dictatorial, hereditary regimes there. Illegally invaded  and occupied Grenada, overthrowing the democratically elected President

6) Lied about ALL of this activity before Congress, and suborned his Secretary of Defense to perjury, as well.

7) Rescinded Carter policy that all US international financial support be based upon valid human rights records.

8) Took the world to the brink of nuclear war, putting nuclear weapons into Europe, violating the very provision that was the settlement to the Cuban missile crisis.

9) Instituted the so-called “Mexico City” doctrine, effectively barring recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting abortion as a  method of family planning.

10) Instigated trickle-down/voodoo economics, which was the beginning of what has recently culminated in the crash of the bubbles. Here is a subset of his regime’s economic sins:

a) Within the first year of the policy, we were in a depression caused in large measure by the policy. The “historic” 27% tax-cut was skewed two to one in favor of those making over $200,000 per year, in percentages, and far more in real dollars. By the end of the second year, increases in state and local taxes more than replaced the cuts for the middle class. b) Wages throughout Reagan/Bush remained stagnant in real dollars for the next 12 years, the longest and worst growth performance in middle class wages in US history. Average national growth was the lowest since the early 30s.

c) Conspired with corpoRat and congressional allies to sustain spending by loosening credit, to replace the wages they were  not going to increase.

d) Named Ayn Rand acolyte and free-market apostle Alan Greenspan as Chief of the Federal Reserve.

11) The HUD/DoI Scandals: Samuel Pierce and his associates were found to have rewarded wealthy  contributors to the administration’s campaign with funding for low  income housing development without the customary background checks, and lobbyists, such as former Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt, were rewarded with huge lobbying  fees for assisting campaign contributors with receiving government loans and  guarantees. Sixteen  convictions were eventually handed down, including several members of the Reagan  administration.

12) Appointed some of the “worst” Federalist Society/strict constructionists to the federal bench, including Scalia, Kennedy, and O’Connor, ALL of whose votes were crucial in (illegally) installing GW Bush in the presidency in 2000, and named Rehnquist Chief Justice.

13) Ordered the revocation of the FCC regulation called “the Fairness Doctrine,” and opened up the Press to the rash of consolidations which has led, now, to a compromised, toothless, stenographic, lap-dog “Fourth Estate.”

14) Initiated the attack on labor unions by attacking PATCO, the Air Traffic Controllers union, creating a crisis in airport control towers nation-wide, and importantly, started the slow erosion of US worker wages and benefits.

15) Through the appointment of James Watt, who claimed that the environment was “expendable” since the “second coming of Christ was at hand,”, Reagan reduced clean water and air standards, reduced labor, mine, and industrial safety standards,and cut funding to supervisory and regulatory agencies charged with monitoring those industries.

16) Increased the defense budget to 240% previous levels.

17)  Systematically ignored the beginning of the AIDS/HIV epidemic, blaming the victims publically.

18)The S&L collapse: Reagan’s “elimination of loopholes” in the tax code included the elimination of  the “passive loss” provisions that subsidized rental housing. Because this was  removed retroactively, it bankrupted many real estate developments made with  this tax break as a premise. This with some other “deregulation” policies  ultimately led to the largest political and financial scandal in U.S. history:  The  Savings and Loan crisis. The ultimate cost of the crisis is estimated to have totaled around USD $150 billion, about $125 billion of which was consequently and directly subsidized by the U.S.  government, which contributed to the large  budget deficits of the  early 1990s.

19) Called ketchup a vegetable for the purposes of school-lunch funding and reduced early education and head-start funding.

20) Symbolically ripped the solar panels, installed by Pres. Carter, from the White House,and blamed trees for causing air pollution.

I had thought the savings and loan crisis more the result of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Jake Garn’s doing, but the dates are right.  Nobel Economics Memorial Prize winner Paul Krugman offered some insight there, don’t miss Krugman’s column on our current economic woes.

He didn’t mention the killing of the program to wipe out measles, in the 1981 Budget Reconciliation.  Paltry program cost $3 million a year, should have been done by 1985.  Savings of about $12 million.  Without the program, measles roared back.  I could come up with a half dozen similar stories.

History teachers, got enough for a POV question on Reagan?

Scared yet?


Should the best high school students read Rachel Carson?

May 31, 2009

On the AP World History list-serv, a discussion on good books for a canon on 20th century stuff turned into a discussion on Rachel Carson, DDT and malaria.  That’s not the purpose of the list.

So, I offer this thread as a forum for that discussion, hoping some of the AP history teachers might participate.

Welcome, teachers!  Comments are open.


%d bloggers like this: