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Archive for May, 2014

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Survey Results from the Cambridge Class

As promised, here are the results from the Cambridge classes. The questions were the same.

There was greater diversity of opinion with regard to the Most Important Historical Event. However, 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama were central, with 9/11 playing a more central role with more students. The “All Others” category included the Crimean conflict, Syrian uprising, nuclear Korea/Iran, The Great Recession, the Iraq War and Sandy Hook.

Opinions about the Most Important Historical event were not gendered at all. The only significant demographic variable had to do with the importance placed on the election of President Obama. Few white students suggested this as their top choice.

The Cambridge course only covers US History from the 1840’s to 1941, so differences between AP students and Cambridge are expected. The Cambridge course places especial emphasis on the Progressive Era and the Depression, so it’s not surprising that that these two themes scored among the top. The Civil War is also an important theme. What is surprising is the fact that most students felt that the 1920’s had the greatest impact. The Cambridge course really does not emphasize the 1920’s as much as the other top scorers. Students who were most influenced by the 1920’s mostly explained that it had to do with the contributions to the arts from that time, especially dance. My high school is a center for the arts. This might explain this phenomenon.

There was more diversity of opinion about the most pressing challenges of the next 20-30 years than with the AP class. Cambridge students believed that war and conflict would play a more crucial role in their futures. As with the AP class, the economy was of concern to most students. Yet, as with the AP class, concerns about technology also scored high. What is it about this generation, the most technologically sophisticated and savvy of any previous generation, and their concerns about technology? Do they know something that the rest of us don’t? Or are they echoing the concerns expressed by their parents about the good old days when math was done in your head…la de da de da!?

Exercises like this really help me tune in to the student’s concerns and mindsets for the following year.

The Danger of Nationalism to the Development of a New Humanism

In an increasingly globalized world, the last thing we need is a resurgence of nationalism

Ours is an increasingly globalized world. This is, potentially, a good thing. Increasingly, old prejudices and fears based on which side of an imaginary line one happens to be born on are suspect. Expansion of global communication networks and relatively easy and safe travel all over the world are generating a small world consciousness. Human beings living in one section of the world find that they have a lot more in common with human beings living in another section of the world. Our worldview is becoming more multi-cultural. The strange rituals performed in other lands seem less strange, and our own customs subject to scrutiny. As we increase our contact with other peoples our sense of global community increases and our understanding of what it means to be human becomes more expansive and more inclusive. The development of a global culture could, ultimately, be the greatest gift to humanity and the surest road to world peace.

We see this in the Ukrainian conflict. Obama’s dismissal of Russian seizure of the Crimea as a regional problem holds little sway. After all, at the height of the Nation State Era, a regional conflict in Serbia resulted in the first global war. Now, however, mobilizing armies is considered by most to be unnecessary and ill advised. Our economic interdependence is a far more efficient and effective deterrent. Instead of a devastating war, Putin has, under economic and cultural pressure from the international community, abandoned his expansionist rhetoric and has accepted the election of a pro-western president in Ukraine.

This is especially true in Europe. A hundred years ago, Europe punctuated a forty year period of relative peace and prosperity with what was, up to that point, the most devastating war in the history of the world. This bloody record, however, was outdone just twenty years later. Nationalism was the common thread of two world wars that tarnished the twentieth century as the most bloody in human history. A rather centrist nationalism in the early 20th century created the militarism and patriotic zeal that conned young men into dying in the trenches. A generation later, a more extremist nationalism in the form of Fascism and Nazism thrust Europe into World War II. Since then, however, Europe emerged from a period of ideological, Cold War division relatively unscathed for more than seventy years. Yes, nationalist disruptions have emerged here and there, but with far less destructive consequence.

That’s why yesterday’s European Union elections were not good news for human progress. A retrenchment of nationalism is the last thing we need in the face of the progress that the world, especially Europe, has made in the last few generations. The European Union is not a perfect entity. Indeed, it’s imbued with serious flaws as those who designed it were not ready to let go of their nationalist aspirations. Just like all institutions, however, the EU is a work in progress. Despite this, its accomplishments have been significant. The political and economic norms put into place by the EU constitute the greatest unification of diverse cultures in history. That being said, it’s more than disturbing that those the least invested in a European union should win so big in yesterday’s elections.

There was a time when nationalism served the purpose of liberation for oppressed people. Such opportunities are rare, today. Our world is characterized by globalization of human institutions and interests. A global political economy is well under way. A global culture is almost a certainty. More significantly, the most pressing problems facing humanity today are not confined between national borders. A globalized economy means that disruptions taking place in one country have negative ramifications throughout the world. The quest for human rights and freedom in an age when the corporate elite can assert power from anywhere in the world will require great communication, cultural empathy and understanding and organization among all peoples throughout the world. Unstable governments, reeling from the impact of colonialism and exploitation from generations ago are of human interest and global sympathy. Human travel has always been a vector of disease, requiring greater cooperation among all nations if we are to avoid a future scourge. Most pressing, the specter of global climate change requires a global effort, with each nation doing its part not just for the sake of national interest, but the very preservation of humanity.

All of these human endeavors are threatened by a rising tide of nationalism.

The elections in the European Union are the result of the uncertainties inherent in our current world. In the face of the Great Recession, the mis-steps of the European Central Bank and regressive national fiscal policies through much of Europe played no small part in creating this uncertainty. Migrations of brown skinned people from the south and former colonies into relatively more prosperous regions of the north are another crucial factor. If there is anything that right-wing nationalists know how to do, it’s exploiting a moment of instability by scapegoating outsiders to frame their false narratives and draw a following. Watch for appeals to retrenching national boundaries, persecution of minority groups and patriotic exposition in the very near future.

In the end, the European Union weathered its currency crisis better than expected. I’ll let the economists elaborate on that. Can the EU now weather the cultural crisis wrought by instability. This may be the ultimate test of this grand experiment. Those invested in a future for humanity should shake at the prospects.

Some Interesting Survey Responses from My AP Students

I like to ask some survey questions on the final exam for my history classes. This year I received responses from eleventh grade Advanced Placement US History students and eleventh grade Cambridge US History students.

The questions were:

  1. What has been the most significant historical event to happen in your lifetime?
  2. Of the different historical eras studies this year, which do you feel was the most important and relevant in shaping your life and your future?
  3. What do you feel are the most pressing challenges that your generation will face in the next 20-30 years?

The results are eye-opening.

The election of Barack Obama was important, but 9/11 still looms largest over the lives of our young people by a wide margin.

In this area, there was an interesting breakdown by race. For Hispanics, the election of Barack Obama was foremost on the minds of more students than was 9/11, the only group for which this was so. Few white/other students, mentioned the election of Obama. Only one student mentioned Hillary Clinton running for president. Her response was not in reference to the 2008 election, but rather the 2016 election.

There was great diversity when it came to question two. The top three eras that students considered the most relevant were the Civil Rights Movement, the 1920’s and the Great Depression. Of which, the Civil Rights Movement was the most significant.

Again, there was a clear racial component.

When it came to the most pressing challenges, the economy was clearly the number one concern. The number two concern, however, was very surprising…

By “Technology” students expressed concern that technology would “take over.” Others believed that the ubiquity of technology in our lives would make us more complacent and lazy. Some suggested a fear that this technology could be used against us, or that it would ultimately fail us at some point.

Students were concerned about many other challenges, from health care to fossil fuel consumption to crime. Some students believed that political apathy was something to be concerned about. There were some who expressed their disdain for political corruption. However, none of the other categories stood out as being of significant concern to large numbers of kids. If passing on the national debt to our children is of importance to a significant part of the adult population, the youth are not particularly concerned. Only two students suggested that the debt was a major challenge. Nor were many students particularly concerned about the state of education.

The data above was taken from fifty-four AP students. There was little differentiation with regard to gendered opinions, so that data was not included. It cannot be assumed that the interests of AP students are representative of the school or the community as a whole. Still, I think it’s informative. Many of these students are our future leaders.

Next post will elaborate the data collected from the Cambridge students. The Cambridge curriculum is different from that of AP. It’s important to realize that having gone through these classes may motivate the students’ perceptions. For instance, I may have given greater weight to the Civil Rights Movement in my AP class than I gave to, say the 1920’s or to the Great Depression, hence their responses to question 2. However, the Civil Rights Movement is not covered in the Cambridge curriculum.

Cass Sunstein and Ezra Klein on Conspiracy Theories

Why People Embrace Conspiracy Theories

I’m of the belief that a big part of conspriacy theories is gaps in our information base, be it through secrecy or less devious means. The Kennedy Assassination comes to mind. Clearly, there is information that is missing from the history on that event. Human beings simply must try to make sense of our history, especially the most traumatic of events. When crucial information is missing, we are left to fill in the blanks. Conspiracy Theory allows for an easy way to do so.


Militia Activism vs. Occupy

And: The Rained Out Revolution


I can’t help but ask myself, what if Occupy protestors in 2010 showed up with AR-15s?

On one hand, being armed may have given law enforcement pause before they use paramilitary tactics to take down the Occupy encampments all over the country.

On the other hand, Occupy was protesting economic injustice, a topic of interest to a majority of the population (albeit not really 99%) and a system of injustice in which the current elite have a multi-trillion dollar vested interest in preserving. Contrast this to the Militia/BLM protestors who simply want to steal from and defile the commons…which is really of no interest to the corporate elite (try riding an ATV through one of the Koch Brothers’ estates and see what happens). To protect their interests, would the elite have called in the military and assaulted Occupy with Apache helicopters rather than swinging batons, tear gas and rubber bullets?

This of course leads me to ponder the reaction of the right wing in the face of an armed Occupy Movement. They seethed with anger over so-called “hippies” pitching tents in public spaces. It’s hard to believe the right would have stepped up and defended these hippies’ 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. After all, commies and anarchists don’t have the same rights as good Christian ‘muricans.

I really don’t have an answer to these questions, I’m afraid. I’d like to think the former option would have been the case, but I fear that I’m wrong…and I really shouldn’t fear that I’m wrong.

For my part, I’m glad Occupy was organized as a peaceful protest. The conspicuous presence of guns would have completely discredited the movement.


In related news, did you hear about the right wing revolution that didn’t happen yesterday? Right wing protesters organized a colossal protest against the government. The protest was announced as Operation American Spring, ironically named after the Arab Spring that swept North African and the Middle East. The expected outcomes were to be similar. 10 million-30 million real Americans right wing activists were to descend upon the nation’s capitol, set up camp (occupy) and remain until their demands were met. Their demands included the resignation of President Obama and the Congress.

Well anyway, it turns out that they fell a little short of the ten million person goal. Only a few dozen protestors showed up. Now, to be fair, it was a pretty icky day on Friday so…you know…how do you conduct a revolution in the rain? I mean tyranny must be overthrown, but it’s not worth getting soggy over.

Look, it’s really easy to scoff at these folks, but since the armed standoff in Nevada I’m inclined to take their delusional behavior more seriously. The presence of guns increases the probability that someone is going to get shot.

In earlier pieces I’ve described the right wing as being insulated into closed reference groups. With the existence of conservative radio, television and on-line media there is neither reason nor incentive for those on the right to experience anything but information that reaffirms the truth of their beliefs. Yes, this can also be said of the left, but the messaging of the right is qualitatively different from anything one will experience in left media. Right wing institutions have not only created an insular eco-system, but they’ve also reified an almost co-dependent paradigm that defines the knowledge produced by these organizations as the only source of truth. Only FoxNoise is fair and balanced. Only conservative sources are honest. Anything that contradicts Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity is liberal propaganda not to be trusted. It doesn’t matter the source; ninety-eight percent of climate scientists know that the Earth is warming and that human actions are largely responsible, but that’s a grand conspiracy on the part of enviro-socialists who want to overthrow capitalism.

So these protestors know, they just know, that everyone hates President Obama and the dictatorship he has installed. They know, just know, that they have lost their rights as Americans and they must fight and die (but stay dry doing it) if they are to get their freedoms back. If they just announce the revolution, then millions of people will heed the call to arms and take back our country from this Muslim usurper.

When it doesn’t happen…well…it rained that day. And there’s nothing anyone can say, there is no data that anyone can produce, that will change their minds.

Delusional people who act publicly on their delusions may be funny—and I’ll admit that I had a fair chuckle at the title “Tens of People Descend Upon the Capitol To Drive the Obama Administration Out of Office.” However, delusional people with guns who act on their delusions are potentially dangerous. We really need to keep an eye on this.