See the New Mad Sociologist at

Archive for May, 2013

Never Forget

It’s not just soldiers who die for our freedom


Below you will find a small sample of those who gave their lives for freedom and justice despite not being in uniform. Democracy is something that we must all work and fight for, not just our soldiers. Indeed, I would argue that democracy cannot survive if we expect the military to defend it.

Again, this is just a small sample. Many Americans, from Shays Rebellion through the Occupy Movement have put their lives on the line to fight for freedom and justice. There should be a Memorial Day for them as well.

In 1964, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwermer were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi for helping to register African Americans to vote.

At the height of civil rights tensions these four little girls, Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), Carole Robertson (aged 14) and Denise McNair (aged 11) were killed. They were on their way to see a sermon in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Like the three civil rights workers above, they were killed by the KKK.

Reverend James Reeb was killed after the infamous attack on civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as Bloody Sunday. The next day, Rev. Reeb was beaten and refused admission to the public hospital in Selma. The delay in his treatment may have been just as responsible for death as was the beatings.

In 1877, railroad workers throughout the country went on strike to protest low pay and unfair and unsafe working conditions. Their strike crippled the nation and was violently suppressed by local police and militia and finally the National Guard under the orders of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Over a hundred people were killed in what became known as the Uprising of 1877. This event is rarely ever taught in American History classes.

In Colorado, 1914, miners working for J. D. Rockefeller went on strike. They had had enough of the low pay, horrible conditions and continued harassment and violence against their union leaders, culminating in the death of a union organizer. Ultimately, Rockefeller and his political connections conspired to put the strike down. Strikers fought back but were no match for the National Guard. Most infamous was the night attack on a tent city in Ludlow in which eleven people, mostly women and children were burned to death after their tent city was set on fire.

You can see more martyrs to freedom at the Southern Poverty Law Center Memorial.

What to Remember on Memorial Day

It’s not just about soldiers. It’s about principles that they should represent


These soldiers may have prayed at different altars, but their differences weren’t as great as their common bond. The greatness of America lies in the ideal of inclusion; that all men and women share a common and unifying drive for freedom and justice.

Students are Continuing to Speek Out

In fact, they’re getting mad!

By now, just about everyone who cares has seen the video of the young man castigating his history teacher for what I call “packet self teaching.”

I think the video largely speaks for itself and reflects ideas that I have written on this blog many times and have spoken on in both college and high school classrooms. I would like to add a couple of observations, however.

This video is just one more piece of evidence to support my hypothesis that if the catastrophe that we call education policy in this country is going to improve, then change must be driven by the students. Our politicians are all bought and paid for by the textbook publishers, private educational corporations and “market solution” ideologues. Since the 1980’s these market solutions have been implemented to virtually no effect. Despite this, all proposed reforms are based on the same failed premises of competition, assessment, fear accountability. So government at all levels, local, state and federal, are invested in perpetuating the very problems that Mr. Bliss pointed out. In other words, they are useless.

Educaiton results

Parents are starting to wake up to the balderdash that passes for education. They see the endless regimen of meaningless homework, the anxiety inherent in high stakes tests, the disconnect between education and learning that exists in the classroom. The problem is that they don’t have much in the way of options. Few can home-school, and even fewer can afford to send their students to private schools that actually provide the education that they want for their children–the kind of critical education that the wealthy demand for their own children–and almost all public schools are following the same nihilistic course.

And teachers? Just about every teacher hates what is becoming of our educational system. We all want to teach, but find that actually teaching the way Mr. Bliss, and everyone who knows anything about education, knows we should is, in fact, subversive.

I really can’t speak on the qualities of this particular teacher. I’ve not heard her side of the story and it is important to keep in mind that the video released only captures a small part of the interaction. What Mr. Bliss says during this time is spot on, but there might be an unknown context to the event that we just don’t have. During the video, however, Bliss mentions a comment that we must infer was previously made by the teacher: “You make a statement about, ‘Oh, this is my paycheck…'” Well, yes, that paycheck is pretty important. It’s how the teacher pays her mortgage and supports her own children, and in today’s economy, paychecks are harder to come by.

Teachers are under a great deal of pressure to conform. They are blackmailed. In many states, like Florida, teachers know that it’s not just a paycheck, but now that tenure has been taken away, it could be their jobs on the line if they don’t get those test scores up. We hate the system, but we hate being homeless more. So many of us conform.

Yes, it’s very possible that his history teacher was lacking passion for her job. It’s hard to be passionate about something over which you are being blackmailed. It’s very likely that the “packets” that Mr. Bliss decries are aligned with some mandatory state exam. Any passion that the teacher might bring to class only takes time away from teaching all important “test-taking skills.”

So I would like to ask for a certain amount of sympathy for the teacher.

With politicians in the pockets of those who have every intention of doing away with public education, parents who are out of options and teachers who have been collectively cowed by bad policy, that leaves students. Students must take the lead in pushing for reforms. They know they are being scammed. They know there’s a better way. They have to take the lead, or there will never be change.

To do this, students will have to be disobedient…and organized. I thought it was telling that the position of the school as stated in the news is that Jeff Bliss should have expressed himself “appropriately.” Balderdash. Had Bliss done the “appropriate” thing and gone to his administrator and explained politely how he was disappointed by the quality of teaching…he would have been ignored. He would have been just one more kid with a complaint. He certainly would not have become the focus of a national debate. We all know this. The last thing students need to be at this point is appropriate.

The policies that are destroying the minds of generations of Americans are not “appropriate.” They are crippling. They are a form of abuse directed at students and at their future prospects as fulfilled and well rounded human beings. We wouldn’t expect the victim of a crime or of a life threatening attack to be polite in response. Well our current education policy is an attack, an assault against students. They know it. Don’t expect them to be appropriate when the tether finally snaps…and I really believe that metaphorical tether is unraveling.

Finally, I’d like to send a request to students. Taking action does not have to be entirely confrontational. In our anger, no matter how justified, we often forget that we have allies. Thousands of teachers in every district refuse to be cowed by this ridiculous approach to deform reform. Many of us do provide the kind of education that Bliss so passionately demands. Such teaching requires courage in the face of tremendous pressure to conform. It’s very difficult to maintain our passion in the face of such absurdity. Fortunately, there is one tried and true means of reinforcing that passion. If you have such a teacher, tell them “thank you.” That’s all it takes. Most teachers are not motivated by “bonus checks” or other carrot approaches. When our students appreciate us and what we are trying to do, that’s what drives us.

Yes, by all means, confront those policies and the devotees of these policies, but don’t forget the subversives. It’s important to cultivate your alliances.


Students are Speeking Out!

And it’s about time. Students are not stupid. They know they are being had. They know they are dedicating their time to meaningless balderdash, and they are starting to resent it. And they should. The truth is, that students have the power to change this insane policy if they work together to do so. Communicating that anger and frustration is the first step. Expect more of this.

On the other hand, I disagree with the opening premise of this video that knowledge like “pythagorean theorem” are useless because they are never used. I caution students that in learning these skills they are doing more than just adding to their mental utility. True, they can use things like formulas in the off chance that they need them, but what is being taught is not a formula, or a process, but a way of thinking. We teach this stuff not because we believe that our students are going to grow up to be, in my case, historians. We teach them to strengthen their minds and open doors for future learning. But overall, the message in this video is apt.