Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

Trump Administration’s 1776 Commission Issues “History” Report on MLK Holiday that Shamelessly Celebrates Racism, Xenophobia, and Patriotism

January 20, 2021 Leave a comment

President Donald Trump was obsessively concerned with the NYTimes celebrated, widely publicized (but not widely used) 1619 Project, that offered a historic perspective on the United States that he (and perhaps not coincidentally Fox News and conservative radio commentators) deemed offensive. In response to the project, which conservative media outlets (without evidence) insisted was replacing the traditional history lessons in schools across the nation, President Trump created the 1776 Commission which was charged with developing a recommended curriculum for all schools to follow in the future. The Commission’s findings, which Common Dreams writer Andrea Germanos described as “not only a scholarly failure but a reflection of the racism espoused by the outgoing administration“, was written by a panel of conservative operatives that had no historians. 

Sadly, Ms. Germanos’ article, which could have been substantive and meaty, consisted mostly of tweets written by bona fide progressive scholars who descried the findings in 280 characters or less. After reading the article, there are several conclusions I drew: 

  • Mr. Trump’s obsession with the 1619 Report probably extended the “legs” of the story and certainly broadened its reach among social studies teachers across the country.
  • The resulting reactions to HIS response made it clear that the version of history offered in public schools is one of many versions of history that could be offered. This is good thing because it helps students understand that ALL history has SOME point of view and the narratives about the past can be skewed to reinforce current perspectives and forecasts for the future.
  • It is impossible to rewrite history in a Democracy… and the widely public pushback and mainstream revulsion to this effort to do so by the Trump administration underscores the fact that we are living in a Democracy.  
  • Mr. Trump’s defeat is a major victory for truth. Had he prevailed in November it would not be surprising to have Betsy DeVos mandating a form of this curriculum in 2021-22 and devising some kind of standardized test based on it as a graduation requirement. 
  • The Biden administration might consider creating a Commission charged with establishing a national standard for history instruction… one that would be based on the premise that ALL history has SOME point of view and the narratives about the past can be skewed to reinforce current perspectives and forecasts for the future. The conservative counter-argument about the relativistic nature of the Commission’s findings would prove the point. 




What Does it Mean to “Be a Man” Today? Is it Any Different Than in 1856?

January 17, 2021 Leave a comment

Livia Gershon, a regular contributor to JSTOR, posted a short essay reminding readers that debates among Congress members have not always been high-minded or non-violent. In “Political Divisions Led to Violence in the U.S. Senate in 1856, Ms. Gershon describes a physical beating by South Carolina Senator Preston Smith Brooks on his colleague Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator who fervently opposed slavery. Here’s Ms. Gershon’s description: 

As we prepare for a new term of government in the wake of the recent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we might wonder just how contentious federal politics can get. But let’s not forget that time when South Carolina congressman Preston Smith Brooks assaulted Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner with a cane in the Senate chamber, beating him so badly that his skull was exposed and he lost consciousness, was covered in blood, and nearly died.As historian Manisha Sinha writes, this 1856 attack highlighted and magnified the divisions that would cause the country to come apart less than five years later.

The description of the incident was appalling, but the ultimate question that Ms. Gershon raised was not a political one: it was a cultural one. What is the definition of “manhood”. When Senator Sumner was attacked by Senator Brooks, instead of fighting back he took a defensive posture trying to protect himself from the beating. Ms. Gershon writes: 

The attack on Sumner also highlighted divisions in the nation when it came to ideas of masculinity. Some in the South reviled Sumner’s “unmanly submission.” This was in line with pro-slavery rhetoric that tied abolitionism to feminism and accused white male abolitionists of effeminate “sickly sentimentality.” Northerners, on the other hand, were more likely to embrace a bourgeois idea of masculinity rooted in self-control and to view Brooks’s attack on an unarmed man as cowardly.

This description of divisions over masculinity resonated with me. The “real men” who appeared at the Capitol on January 6 are culture warriors. After witnessing the misogyny of many in the MAGA movement in terms of the epithets ruled at Hillary Clinton, the willingness of MAGA supporters to overlook President Trump’s explicit advice to Billy Bush in the Access Hollywood tapes, and the MAGA movement’s pushback against the LGBT-Q agenda it is evident that there is a divide in our country when it comes to the ideas of masculinity. And, at its root, abortion can be viewed through the lens of a divide in the definition of masculinity since it affords women a choice that would otherwise be unavailable to them. The dog whistles offering different definitions of masculinity in our culture go back to Spiro Agnew’s decrying of “effete snobs” who protested the War in Viet Nam. No “real man” wanted to be called out as “effete”. 

I will leave it to readers to offer their own examples of how masculinity is defined within different “tribes” and how those different definitions impact political discourse. But gender clearly played a role in 2020: President-elect Biden won 57 percent of women, compared to 45 percent of men while President Trump won 42 percent of women’s votes and 53 percent of men’s votes. 

And what role does this play in schools? In formulating strategies for dealing with violence in schools when we choose to provide armed guards over counselors we are buying into the power dynamic that underlies the MAGA definition of “manhood”. When political leaders deride efforts to diminish bullying or provide counseling to troubled students instead of buying equipment to “harden” schools we are adopting the MAGA mindset of masculinity. When brute force is favored over reasoned discourse, we are endorsing the MAGA definition of masculinity. If we want to bridge divides we might need to examine our definitions of “manhood”. 


Biden Proposing $130,000,000,000 Infusion to Help Open K-8 Schools in 100 Days… a Re-opening Decision that is Supported by Science

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

President Elect Joe Biden put forth a $1,900,000,000,000 plan to keep the economy afloat through the pandemic, with $130,000,000,000 earmarked to as majority of K-8 schools within 100 days. This plan, characterized by NYTimes reporter Jeanne Smialek as “…a wish list of spending measures meant to help both people and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic” includes money to reopen schools, as reported in this section of the article: 

The administration says it wants to make “the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority” of kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools within Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Administration officials are suggesting $170 billion for schools, supplemented by additional state and local funds. About $130 billion of that would go toward reopening, while much of the rest of the money would go to help colleges dealing with the shift to distance learning and other pandemic-tied problems.

Almost as important to schools is the fact that states and local government are slated to get funds as well: 

Mr. Biden’s plan would provide $440 billion in help to communities, according to the administration, in addition to the funds for school reopening. The relief plan would entail billions in grants and loan programs for small businesses (how those would work is not entirely clear), and $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments.

State and local governments have had revenues decline less as a whole than once anticipated, but have taken an uneven financial hit from the pandemic. They have significantly reduced payrolls, which is concerning because they employ about 13 percent of America’s workers.

This is important because without these funds local and state governments might supplant the funds they typically provide to schools with the federal funds coming as part of the pandemic relief. 

Will Congress support this proposal? it is evident that the House would do so, despite the fact that some of the progressives are carping that the $1400/person Biden is proposing is less than the $2,000 they hoped to provide on top of the $600 just distributed. The Senate is more problematic. Presumably the pro-Trump GOP members would be hard pressed to oppose the $1400/person measure because that is what their POTUS was looking for. But, in all probability, the party as a whole will oppose it for two reasons: it gives money to State and local governments with no strings and it gives money to public government schools.

An important footnote to the President-elect’s decision to promote the re-opening of K-8 schools. As noted in another NYTimes article by Apoorva Mandavilli this past week, research is showing that the COVID infection rates among K-8 children is half that of older children and much less than adults. In an interview with NYTimes Amelia Nierenberg Ms. Mandavilli offered this: 

“We already know how to make schools relatively safe,” Apoorva said.

A mask mandate is a must, she said, as is physical distancing. Good ventilation matters — open windows will get air circulating and even an inexpensive air filter can make a big difference. Extensive testing and contact tracing is key. The new variant will result in more infections in children unless schools shore up their precautions, experts told Apoorva.

And, despite reports to the contrary, the unions are willing to re-open provided the precautions Ms. Mandavilli heard from the experts are heeded:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the need for mitigation (with masks, distancing, ventilation and cleaning), testing and appropriate quarantines. She also prioritized reasonable accommodations between teachers’ unions and districts, as well as vaccinating adults who work in school buildings.

“It requires people to actually act in the way that safety, not expediency, is foremost in their minds,” Weingarten said. “The mitigation strategies have to be embedded and have to be enforced. Not just on a piece of paper, but in reality in schools.”

After reading these two articles I am hopeful that we will have a POTUS who understands the need for public schools and State and local governments to get the financial help they need in this crisis and a willingness to heed the advice of scientists in making decisions about opening schools.