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Archive for the ‘American Values’ Category

Yesterday (7 January 2015), three pathetic cowards who can’t handle criticism of their beliefs attacked the office of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Their cartoons can be seen all over the Internet now, showing that the people working there understood–and will continue to understand and practice–the value of comic criticism in a free society.

Words can’t do justice to the rage that all good people feel toward the oozing piles of dogshit that would kill to censor ideas. The best response is to use something from the culture that the attackers claim to defend, but, in fact, are dishonoring:

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Crossposted at Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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I’ve had plenty of things to say about education on this weblog. Since I’ve spent the last fifteen years teaching, the subject comes naturally to me. And it’s not just out of self-interest that I support universal and public education. But a recent article on The Huffington Post about Common Core standards that are spreading a layer of varnish over our failing schools reminds me of the need to be clear about what exactly we’re trying to do in education in the first place.

1. Critical thinking

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Another way to put this is logic. Knowing how to think correctly and how to spot erroneous thinking–in others and in one’s own thoughts. That is the one essential skill that students and indeed citizens must have. That skill alone, what the ancients would have called philosophy, makes everything else accessible and useful.

2. Other skills

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These certainly include literacy and numeracy, civics, history, and science, among many other things. Students should have opportunities to find careers that suit them and to learn the skills necessary for those fields.

3. Exposure

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Schools should show students things that they might not otherwise encounter. Not everyone gets to see great paintings, listen to music beyond what’s immediately popular, or hear about the many claims of science and religions at home. To make an informed choice, we have to have some notion of the broad world that we have yet to explore personally.

4. Exercise

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My advisor in college told me that I needed to take a P.E. class–to knock a ball around or something similar. I objected until I saw sailing as one of the options. But in the fine tradition of the Greeks, an educated person improved the body as well as the mind, and given our health concerns in the modern age, that old idea remains valid.

What is the purpose of all of this? For one thing, a wealthy nation should have excellent citizens. But a nation in which citizens participate in their own governance requires an educated population to function. Another article on The Huffington Post decries the influence of money in politics, but with educated voters, money becomes irrelevant.

And that is the point. Citizens make a society in their own image, and I want our image to be an educated one.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

My writing for sale.

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The law of unintended consequences says that when we do something, results that were never contemplated often occur. This apparently applies even in Oklahoma. This monument was placed on the capitol grounds of Oklahoma City:

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This is clearly a religious symbol. Does it establish a religion or prevent the free exercise thereof? If no other religion is allowed to put up monuments to their own doctrines or deities, the former looks to be the case. And so, the Satanic Temple has sought permission to add this:

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to the same grounds. And good for them. In fact, a look at their beliefs shows the Satanic Temple to be a lot more rational than some groups I could name. Regardless of the theology, if one religion is allowed on state property, all must be allowed. Otherwise, the favored religion is established as the official belief of that state.

And that’s the point. Here in America, we have religious freedom and a long tradition of refraining from making any one faith the state religion. Perhaps as a result, we have rates of belief that are the highest in the First World. Our religions don’t require the support of government to thrive. But if the government starts picking favorite religions, our freedom to choose what we will believe and practice becomes constrained.

The better thing for the State of Oklahoma would have been to keep the capitol grounds a secular zone. But having decided to allow religious monuments, the state must permit everyone. And so this Satanist image is a welcome corrective.

Crossposted at Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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If you hang out at left-leaning blogs or discussion boards and make comments that aren’t from the approved hymnal, you stand in good chance of being labelled a hillbilly–among many other things. That’s usually meant as an insult, often made by the same people who would get offended at many other ethnic slurs being used, and in fact, such comments miss their intended mark.

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This picture is of the famous Hatfield clan. The label, hillbilly, is of obscure origins, first appearing in print around 1900, as in this quotation from the New York Journal:

A Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him.

The Hatfields live on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky, and I’m from the hills of western North Carolina, but otherwise, that definition about sums us up.

The people of the Appalachians and the Ozarks in the United States in large part come from Scotland originally. In other words, they were already a strong-willed and dour lot. The rulers of Britain wanted to change the demographics of Ireland by shipping in a group of Protestants to Ulster. The Irish being as stubborn and rebellious as the Scots, that plan didn’t work out too well, so many of those people moved on to America, where the land was wide open and the government far away.

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That picture is from the Blue Ridge Parkway, a handful of miles from my childhood home. It’s typical of the kind of land hillbillies occupy: rough, not all that productive in the agricultural sense, and therefore of little interest to those in power.

Given that kind of land, it’s no wonder that we have a reputation for insularity in thought and genes. But living in that territory requires a toughness that doesn’t come from buying food wrapped in plastic at a store. It also makes necessary a strong loyalty to family and a sense of self-reliance.

And it gave these people a distrust of outsiders coming in with citified ideas. One story I recall hearing a while ago is about social workers who decided to introduce the flour biscuit in preference to cornbread, thinking that what got served on the tables of the rich folk was a superior food. The problem is that with regard to calories and nutrients, cornbread is better. And it tastes better, too.

That’s the flaw that many people have when they construct pedestals for themselves. Just because something works for you doesn’t mean that it’s best for everyone. And it’s wrong to say that we hillbillies never open up to the outside world. For example, I’ve been to graduate school and teach school (English composition and literature) and I’ve done a bit of book writing of my own.

For a good overview of this group of people, have a look at the History Channel’s Hillbilly: The Real Story:

You’re welcome to come around for a plate of beans and cornbread–and maybe something a mite stronger, if you don’t tell the revenuers–but if you take a mind to telling us how to live, you’d best be able to run back to town faster than 850 ft/sec.

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Next Tuesday (19 November 2013) will be the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

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The words are well-known, so much, in fact, that it’s become a cliché to point out that Lincoln was wrong when he said his speech wouldn’t be remembered. Many schoolchildren are obliged to memorize the text, guaranteeing that they won’t understand it. Lincoln gave a good encapsulation of a democratic society–government of the people, by the people, for the people. If only such a government existed, what a wonderful world we would have.

But as a son of North Carolina and someone with a contrary streak, there’s a part of me that understands another famous passage, this one written by William Faulkner in Intruder in the Dust:

It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago; or to anyone who ever sailed a skiff under a quilt sail, the moment in 1492 when somebody thought This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world’s roaring rim.

Now before anyone rises up to accuse me of supporting slavery or the like, understand that I abhor that peculiar institution. The driving impulse that led to the Civil War was the wrong cause. But it was also a lost cause, and as Faulkner explained, something in the spirits of those of us born in the South feels a sympathy for lost causes. It may be that many of us are of Scots-Irish ancestry and have a cultural memory of what distant capitals do to common people. It may be the hillbilly sensibility that we’ll welcome you in for a plate of beans and cornbread if you’re hungry, but if you commence to telling us what to do, you’d better be able to run faster than 850 ft/sec down the road back to town.

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But the Union won that fight, and I am glad for it. The rebel in me–the source of my western character, Henry Dowland–hears the trumpet sounding for the charge. As dangerous as it is to follow that call, at times we must. Alas, as we’ve seen in the tales from the Trojan War to the War between the States and beyond, the contest requires two sides at least to be fought out. May the gods grant us the wisdom to choose the side of good.

Crossposted in English 301: Reading and Writing.

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