|April 11, 2013||Ideological Discrimination in Academia||10 comments|
|February 18, 2013||Eau de Canine: A Dog in England||6 comments|
|February 15, 2013||Warm Bodies: A Zombie Version of Romeo and Juliet||1 comments|
|January 07, 2013||The Difficulties of Downsizing: Reflections of an Empty Nester||4 comments|
|September 10, 2012||The Proper Care of Children: The Hard Work of Raising Kids||3 comments|
|June 08, 2012||Ray Bradbury: Rest in Peace||1 comments|
|April 30, 2012||Bravo Gates Millennium Scholars in Cobb||no comments|
|March 05, 2012||The Politics of Dr. Seuss||2 comments|
|February 20, 2012||Early Childhood Education: Parents Can Close the Achievement Gap||3 comments|
|December 09, 2011||Infamous: An American Life Recalled||1 comments|
Every professor under whom I’ve studied in graduate school has been positioned on the left side of the political/religious spectrum. I am acutely aware of this because I am positioned on the right.
I do not say this to condemn my professors. I have learned a great deal from many smart and gifted scholars who have given me the opportunity to examine important perspectives that are different from my own.
However, when every book on every syllabus in every class makes baseline assumptions of ideological truths that run counter to core conservative principles, students on the right are marginalized.
Additionally, when a left-leaning bias turns into outright workplace discrimination, I must believe even my most liberal professors would join me in saying there is a problem.
Along that line Kennesaw State University hosted a small panel discussion April 1 exploring the experiences of conservative academics in Georgia.
Bringing to mind Teresa Wagner, who recently sued the University of Iowa for passing her over for a promotion because of her conservative worldview, Dr. Mary Grabar, Dr. Timothy Furnish and Dr. Melvin Fein spent two hours describing their experiences as part of an ideological minority within academia.
Dr. Grabar is an adjunct professor who founded the website Dissident Prof to examine the impact of academia’s ideological gatekeepers on the quality of American free thought. She opined that critical theory has politicized the humanities and undermined the Western canon. (Writing about dead white men is simply not in vogue unless one is disparaging dead white men.) She is right.
Cherokee's Dr. Furnish, a former assistant professor at Georgia Perimeter and guest lecturer at the Joint Special Operations University who works now as a geopolitical analyst of Islam, recalled his amazement when a hiring committee felt comfortable enough with ideological discrimination to tell him outright that he was simply “too conservative” to join a faculty despite the merits of his work. He then decried the very serious impact of the tunnel vision that is created by any politically correct approach to scholarship, which no longer analyzes action but apologizes for it. (Jihad isn’t jihad because liberals say it isn’t jihad?) He is right, too.
Adding much needed levity to the evening, Furnish cracked the audience up with quips like, “The national debt makes me want to buy a hemlock latte.”
Dr. Fein, a tenured Sociology professor at Kennesaw State who organized the panel, discussed how his Jewish heritage had — ironically — protected his tenure from being derailed by “tolerant” colleagues who didn’t like his politics. (In academia, those openly on the right are socially ostracized and professionally blackballed.) This is not OK.
However, when Dave Gethings, a young doctoral student, challenged the panel with instances in which they had framed the left in an overtly dismissive and antagonistic way, he highlighted how the evening’s format had fostered the deployment of reductionist rhetoric that did not invite open dialogue.
Unfortunately, he had a point.
For example, when Dr. Grabar called lyrics written by Tupac Shakur mere “scribblings” unworthy of being studied on college campuses, I suspect the young audience stopped hearing what she was saying because she suddenly sounded too abrasive and narrow-minded.
That is a shame because such tone deafness occasionally undermined the panel’s message, which was a good one that needs to be spoken loudly and often.
When only one political orientation is deemed “acceptable” on university campuses, spirited debate and intellectual inquiry are stifled. That is a major detriment to a society that depends upon the free exchange of ideas to function.
Furthermore, when universities feel it is OK to discriminate against job candidates based purely on mainstream ideological outlooks, the concept of diversity, which liberals say they value, is completely undermined.
The truth is there are no fair-minded intellectuals I know who think ideological homogenization in institutes of higher learning is a good idea. Therefore, it is doubly important to have more serious discussions about why liberal tilt exists in universities and what — if anything — should be done to restore a sense of balance.
When this happens, everyone who cares about education will be better served.
"So, here we are," I said, wilting into the familiar dark of isolation. "In this house. On this island. Far away from everyone. You and me. Alone. In England."
He yawned and sniffed his butt.
Now, some might think this action rude, but I knew it was dog speak for, "Suck it up, Buttercup. If you don't like it, do something different."
He lifted his ears when I stood, and we raced together to my glorified golf cart of a Smart Car . He was always willing to accompany me on an adventure.
The route to Wells turned out to be all winding country roads, little lanes blocked on either side by building-high hedges, streets with pinch points so narrow that even my tiny car couldn't share the space with so much as a bicycle.
But I had learned to zoom right by the sheep and the cows and the red Royal mail trucks that looked close enough to brush with my fingertips without so much as wincing. I had recently shrunk into a smaller person, my sense of space no longer American, my sense of self no longer certain.
Of course, my partner-in-crime, the dog, in the passenger’s seat had no such identity problems. He looked like Gene Simmons with his five-foot-long tongue hanging out his black-lipped mouth, which was hanging out the open window.
I put the heat on full blast because I was nursing a cold but let the dog continue to lap up the smells of the English countryside. I whistled along with the theme song to “The Archers” on BBC radio. Alex barked into the wind, quite pleased with the good time we were having.
We cruised under the endless canopies of Somerset trees, dazzled by the orange and red leaves: the soft golden hues of autumn. I shifted gears and climbed a steep hill to break through the forest, to see green fields stretching for miles. They were dotted with livestock grazing, rock fences, tractors at rest. Looming in the distance was the Glastonbury Tor, a tower built by monks long before the United States existed.
Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, I reached over and stroked the dog’s fur, feeling at peace again, grateful for opportunities to see the world with a friend. Life was glorious.
After finally parking in a space the size of a postage stamp, Alex and I walked around the tiny town of Wells. People said hello to us, and since I was normally invisible, I knew this was because I had the dog with me. There is not an English man or woman alive who doesn’t love a canine, and no one on either side of the pond could ever resist Alex’s magnetism.
In truth, it was magic to watch the effect he had on these people... how those stiff upper lips went all wobbly at one little doggy whine, even if it was given in an American accent... how those normally straight-through-you stares fired with warmth at the mere sight of him.
He looked shaggier than normal, his hair puffed out from the ride, his fluffy tail perched as high on his butt as a cat's tail when he strutted proudly down the pavement. I held firm on his leash, going where he led me, like a good girl.
I thought God bless that creature! I wanted to feed him hamburger for the priviliege of his companionship. I wanted to make him steak for dinner because my sorcerer dog had the power to stop me from feeling like a stranger in Britain.
Together, we strolled by the old beggar's porch, peeked down the Vicar's Close, walked around the moat that circles the Bishop of Bath's palace, and finally went up onto a public footpath, a dirt road that cut through trees and made me forget there was a town anywhere near us.
There I unhooked the leash and let the dog run as free as God had made him. He was already an old mutt with grey in his beard, but he ran like a puppy, chasing up goodness knows what in the grass, jumping like a rabbit in a field, acting like joy itself, grinning in the sunshine.
Finally, we needed to get going. There were groceries to buy, clothes to wash, a boy to meet at the bus-stop.
I opened the passenger's door to my car, and the dog hopped inside. He settled behind the steering wheel as if he was going to drive until I pushed him over. He had left several brown paw prints where my bottom would need to go, but I was not annoyed in the slightest. Because he’d been there to ride beside me, to give me courage to explore, I had ignored the sniffles in my nose, the tightness in my chest, the darkness that had so often dampened my spirits with wasteful homesickness.
I reached down to brush the dirt away from the upholstry, but my fingertips felt wet.
I lifted my hand under my nose and sniffed.
The dog grinned widely, his tongue lolling out of his mouth again, his warm brown eyes radiating that pure love that only a dog can give as my face contorted into a grimace.
“Ewwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeee,” I whined. “It’s sheep poop.”
No steak would be served to Alex that night!
I didn't care if the British treated me more like a person when he was with me. As I reached in the glove box for napkins, it was easy to forget the laughter that had filled my heart when I had watched him running.
Next time I ventured out, I wasn’t takin’ the stinkin’ dog!!!
Except... well... Of course I always did.
He was often the reason I went in the first place.
Rest in peace good and faithful friend.
Alex Lane – 1997-2013
As sequester looms with the promise of weakening the United States and making the world a much less safe place, I turned to another kind of apocalypse with hopes it would distract me from the burning hole that keeps growing in my stomach every time I think about the dangerous consequences of corrosive partisan politics.
Plus my university-aged son was home for the weekend and willing to go to the movies with me as I long as I was paying for the popcorn.
Other than knowing it was a zombie flick, I had read nothing about “Warm Bodies.” Hoping it would be more “Shaun of the Dead” than “Night of the Living Dead,” I was pleasantly surprised to find it was mostly an original spin on “Romeo and Juliet.”
Noting the feeling of disconnection that is metastasizing in American society—the backlash of technology that has the power to isolate individuals rather than engage them in real contact—breathing corpses simply bumble through their days, slowly and steadily losing all touch with their own humanity.
However, when the zombie who only remembers his first name used to start with the letter “R” gives into his hunger and kills the beautiful Julie’s boyfriend (by eating his brain, no less), the movie grows ripe with allusion to the work of the Bard.
Seeing Julie through the memories of Perry—a Hollywood embodiment of the estimable Paris who once wooed a young Capulet—the cordial R’s heart begins to beat in a way it never has before.
Despite the fact that humans and zombies are not meant to comingle, a courtship begins, and the story becomes both comic and endearing.
As we sat in the audience, my son and I poked each other with our cherry red Twizzlers—also paid for by Mom, of course—each time a new parallel to the original script was presented.
“Look! Look! Marcus is like an undead Mercutio! Get it? Get it?”
Perhaps we were feeling cleverer than a recreated balcony scene replete with the interruptions of Julie’s friend who aspires to be a nurse (wink, wink) would warrant, but we had a really fantastic time making the connections from where we were at first sitting in the dark on the film’s purpose.
I, of course, couldn’t help but think about the students to whom I’ve taught Shakespeare. I wondered if they would see as clearly as we did the extra layer of the zombie script that lent a bit of wit to “Warm Bodies.”
Regardless, I left the movie full of popcorn, candy and Coke, chattering away with my kid about what we thought of the premise.
And how nice was that?
The tickets set me back twenty bucks. Then there were all the snacks that further emptied my wallet. Yet—as I’m sure the producers would agree—there really is something priceless about anything that prompts engaging human discourse after the movie is over.
And, you know, a real romantic at heart, it seems Shakespeare would have been pleased with the idea that star-crossed lovers could maybe find happier endings in the dawning of a new age.
Perhaps from under the ground in Stratford-upon-Avon—if he could somehow envision this Hollywood rendition of his work—his mouldy corpse would even give this particular take on his classic play two thumbs up.
At least that’s how I’m imagining it.
Whoever would have thought zombies would turn out so smart?
I have happily raised a son in the suburbs of Cobb County, but now it’s time to downsize an empty nest. While I am excited to swap one lifestyle for another, I would be lying if I said moving isn’t hard.
After all, while the fingerprints have already been painted away as we get the house ready for realtors, there are memories soaked into our home’s walls that will never be erased. We have been here for a very long time, more than a decade.
In fact, when I look out the kitchen window at a modest pond, which is our backyard, I can still see a troop of young Boy Scouts lined up on the dam with fishing poles in hand way back when George W. Bush was still president. With a black dog trailing close behind him, my freckle-faced son passed out root beers and bait. My husband helped all cast their lines, proudly reel in their catches, those twisting silver fish, flopping hard when thrown in the grass, catching the attention of the canine. In addition, there have been many birthday cakes served on our back deck, tie-dye parties, fireworks, glasses of wine, lazy days in hammocks, plates full of hamburgers and hot dogs straight from the grill.
Once when sipping a cup of coffee, reading a book in the afternoon, I spied a teenager’s moon bottom as he took up a dare to skinny dip, little thought to the dangly things that might attract snapping turtles. I had fun making his face turn as red as the sun when calling out to warn him of his audience.
There have many other nights when the Jon boat has slid across those black waters, Georgia stars twinkling above our neighborhood, with boys and girls paddling to the middle of what is in the grand scheme of bodies of water just a manmade puddle to sit and talk away the hours in those early years of adolescence before drivers’ licenses were earned and cars brought the freedom of wider travel.
Then there was the great freeze of one winter when chunks of ice floated in the water. My son and his friend--the one who insisted shorts were plenty warm in January--found great sport in maneuvering around the ice—my kid perched on the bow like George Washington crossing the Delaware as he barked out orders to his blue-skinned paddler.
But I will not just miss the memories of people, the many special events marked with friends and family in this special place.
I have also watched all manners of creatures visiting our tiny tract of wild including white tailed deer in the wee morning hours. There is a crane with almost blue feathers who is a frequent visitor to our pond. I have long called him Ichabod, and I am always excited to see him.
Just the other day he stood like an aristocrat holding court at the edge of the water, not even flinching when a flock of honking Canadian geese splashed down for a rest from their long journey to Florida.
The squirrel with a nest in the scraggly oak is Andy. All the rabbits are either Clementine or Winston. Harriet is our hawk. (She is the reason the rabbits’ names are recycled, and the scampering chipmunks are never given monikers.)
I have watched blue birds and cardinals and wrens eating birdseed off the deck’s railings. (Andy, too, which is why he is fat.) I have listened to the music of frogs and crickets in the spring, marveled at the magic of fireflies lighting the back woods at dusk, twinkling like so many strings of light, as if it was always Christmas in my corner of Georgia.
Just before New Year’s Eve, my college freshman had his last basement party ever in this house. A familiar parade of boys shot pool into the wee hours before the carpet cleaners came to wash away all the grime of such gatherings, and I was reminded for a final time how lovely it is to have been in a place long enough to truly get to know many of your child’s friends well.
As always, I asked them about their schoolwork, their jobs, love lives, and families. They know if they are going to be raiding my refrigerator, they will have to engage in a conversation. But none of them ever seem to mind. Some of them touch base even when my son isn’t home, and I am so grateful that I have had the great privilege of watching so many children grow up to be such fine, young men.
Yes. Moving is hard because it means moving forward.
Fortunately, the things that really enrich our lives are never really downsized. Time Time marches onward, but relationships and love can never be packed up in a box.
When I was a young child visiting my grandparents for summers in Charleston, I would often help my grandmother hang laundry on a line strung between metal poles in her back yard. It was my job to hand her wooden pins with which she secured the sheets that billowed like ship sails in the wind. I would rarely notice the chafed skin on my grandmother’s hands, the knuckles twisted with arthritis. I only knew the linens at her house were scented with sunshine, and while I was with her, Mother Mac took care of me with love.
Now that I am all grown up, I have a home of my own, and amidst myriad other duties, I am also in charge of laundry. Even when I find this work tedious, I often look at the labels in clothes—wash on gentle cycle, shape flat to dry—and I think about how much easier this chore must be for me than it was for my grandmother since I have the luxury of top-of-the-line appliances.
Of course, when trying to raise whole and happy families, how one handles dirty clothes is the least of one’s concerns.
In this matter—the proper care of children—Mother Mac had also been an expert. Unlike me, she never seemed to be at a loss for how to handle child-rearing obligations. She seemed to intuitively understand how to apply special care with those careworn hands to the special needs of four daughters and countless grandchildren.
So I started thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if parenting had evolved with appliances, and our kids now came with convenient tags sewn onto the backs of their necks, like the tags I find inside their outfits? After all, I know I’ve accumulated a laundry list of parenting mistakes over the years, and there have been moments when I just had no idea what I was doing. In such situation, it would have been so nice to remove the guesswork with a short set of easy-to-reference instructions.
For example, I recall teaching a creative writing workshop for primary school students in Kennesaw some years ago. My young son was in attendance. For my closing activity, I handed out brightly colored beads for students to put on strings to illustrate how writing a sentence can be like making a necklace; each word is as carefully considered as the gems one might thread onto a chain. Apparently unimpressed by my brilliant metaphor, my freckle-nosed offspring twirled a haphazardly created bracelet around one finger and shot it like a rubber band across the room.
Gritting my teeth, I picked the bracelet up and stuffed it into my pocket, only to be met a minute later by my red-faced child demanding I give it back to him. With a word of icy admonishment, I banished him to an isolated seat in the corner.
Moments later, adults arrived to pick up their children. A mother paused to ask me a question about her daughter’s writing. Just then a seed pearl bounced off my forehead and fell with a rat-tat-tat across the tiled floor. With heat in my cheeks, I glared over at my own flesh-and-blood miscreant who was defiantly pelting me with unused craft beads.
I think if you could find a label on my neck in that moment, it would have read 100% Failed Parent. I knew there wasn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach for every disciplinary situation, but right then—my ego shrinking--I had no idea how to react to my son without embarrassing the both of us.
Perhaps if my grandmother had been around to advise me with her homespun wisdom, she would have told me in her sweet, calm way that it would have been okay to hang my kid out to dry in front of others when his behavior so clearly needed straightening. She might have reminded me to swallow my anger, but she would have said to apply firm discipline immediately regardless of what others thought of me. It’s remiss to let the stain of disrespect set simply because it’s not convenient to remove it.
Truthfully, I can’t remember exactly what I did back on that workshop day when my son behaved so badly. But over the tangle of years, even if my response was wrong then, it all came out in the wash because a lot of what I would do turned out right. Most important, I learned to give myself a break because, whether talking about mothers or sons, there’s no human blend called “perfect.” Yet the kid proved to be made of durable enough stuff to not be ruined by my occasional mishandling, and he’s grown up now to become a fine, young man.
On this I like to think Mother Mac would also not have been surprised.
She knew years before I did that no matter what their specific needs in a fleeting moment, kids of all stripes, cut from all kinds of cloth, turn out okay if parents aren’t afraid to put in the hard work, if they are willing to apply love in abundance.
So she would have smiled at my fancy washer and dryer designed to make doing laundry easier, but she would have known in her bones that no matter what the generation, no matter what the situation, there will never really be any shortcuts in the proper care of children.
Of course, the things we do that actually matter were never meant to be as easy as something so perfunctory like washing clothes.
I have been in love with the English language for as long as I can remember. I am a lifelong reader, and I am passionate about teaching the value of literature to high school students.
After all, there is a reason that we continue to study Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, and Austen. We do not just read their work. We engage with the authors.
In fact, I believe it is essential for the intellectual well being of our society in this age of Twitter and truncated texting for new generations to understand how masters of letters have truly lain the foundations of our civilization with carefully crafted words, beautifully expressed ideas.
That said, I am not part of that new movement in academia that attempts to undermine the classics with the cloying compromises new age critics make in the name of multiculturalism.
In my opinion, a work must stand or fall on its own merit, whatever the background of an author. Formulaic fiction that panders to political correctness is easily forgotten. Real masterpieces endure, influence, and deserve to be read regardless of who wrote them.
A giant of American literature who would strongly agree with me on this point was Ray Bradbury. Known for exploring the destructive qualities of all that is PC in the arts through books like his seminal Fahrenheit 451, this beloved icon has sadly passed away this week. He will be greatly missed, as he has long been part of that pantheon of greats who have taken centuries to create the Western canon.
While I will always marvel at the keen societal insights and raw imagination on display in the dystopia he created for fireman Guy Montag, the first thing I ever remember reading by Ray Bradbury was “All Summer in a Day.”
I do not know exactly how old I was when the pale “other” as explored in that short story first penetrated my mind, but for more than thirty years, a young girl’s pain as she is locked in a closet on the planet of Venus has been imprinted inside of me.
For this reason, I know Ray Bradbury is truly a master.
In my estimation, classic works of literature must always accomplish three things. First, they must entertain. Second, they must make one think. Third, they must move the reader’s heart closer to understanding those special qualities that are universally human.
Ray Bradbury’s best work does all of these things. It is multilayered, like the onion that is his most famous character, Clarisse. It is fun to read, yet challenging and full of emotion. It is life on paper.
As he goes forth to a new plane of existence, perhaps to reunite with his beloved wife in the grey beyond, I am grateful Ray Bradbury took the time to hone his craft. I have enjoyed the many private, internal conversations I’ve have had with his ideas. I’ve reveled in introducing his creations to new generations. I am so glad he leaves so much behind for all to still consider for years to come.
Rest in peace, great American writer. You’ve earned your place amongst the stars.
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program is a wonderful example of philanthropy in our society that recognizes need but rewards merit. Putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to the issue of improving the lives of others through the pursuit of education, Bill and Melinda Gates initially funded the program with a private investment through their foundation of one billion dollars. Since that time in 1999, this money has been used to pay for university through the terminal degree for one thousand students annually. The idea is to make certain that our country develops its most valuable resource: talented, young men and women who will provide intellectual leadership in their chosen fields far into the future.
After all, Bill and Melinda Gates certainly recognize it is the ingenuity and drive of individual Americans that has made the United States a global market leader. It is the ability of each citizen to capitalize upon his or her talents that has allowed for the creation of American corporations like Microsoft that, through innovation, literally change the course of human events.
However, most exciting in 2012, I must say, is the fact that so many students who have received this highly competitive scholarship are from Cobb County. Amazingly, three will graduate from South Cobb High School, which is located in Austell. Miss Amber Hubert, Miss Uduak Obot, and Mr. Chinoso Ogojiaku have all been a part of South Cobb's prestigious magnet school program for science throughout their entire high school careers. Their accomplishments are surely a testament to the rigor of the secondary education they have received at South Cobb, but I'm also certain their teachers would say their success should be mostly attributed to their individual dedication and drive.
Other Cobb scholarship winners are Tayo Akigbogun and Summer Ford from Campbell High School, Murillo Rodrigo from Pope, and Dorothy Stearns from Kennesaw Mountain.
Congratulations should go to each Gates Millennium Scholar for a job well done.
May each take full advantage of this opportunity as they move confidently beyond their high school years into the futures they have earned, into the dreams they will turn into realities.
Regardless of where they attend school--places as far afield as Ohio State and Johns Hopkins--it seems certain they will continue to make their families, themselves, and Cobb County proud.
Like most American children, I grew up reading books by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax was my favorite. I’m an unapologetic capitalist, you see, but I feel my inner conservationist pumping her fist in the air in anger whenever I revisit that animated tale about the ecological consequences of production practices so shoddy and shortsighted, even BP executives might blush if they were caught committing them.
Oh, sure, we know the oil spill in the summer of 2010 dirtied the waters in the Gulf, killed scores of birds and dolphins, and mucked up Louisiana’s fragile marshlands, but in a series of greedy decisions, the Once-ler from The Lorax glumps up the Humming-Fish pond, gives the brown Bar-ba-loots “crummies in tummies”, and hacks down the last Truffula tree without so much as a thought to cleanup.
But even the Once-ler eventually grows a conscience. Long after his factories are closed and the world has gone brown, he invites the next generation to do better than he has.
Perhaps with his sad words of caution ringing in my ears when I was young, I have never had a problem caring “a whole awful lot” about how we steward the earth while also supporting an American free market system. Because of this, I was as horrified as any hemp-clad, Pelosi-supporting Californian with whom I rarely have something in common a couple of years ago when I was watching weeks and weeks of black goo gush into blue water.
I know a good businessman has a moral responsibility to consider the impact of enterprise on the environment and to use natural resources wisely from the beginning.
This is the message I took from The Lorax as a child, and I think Dr. Seuss would be well pleased by my interpretation.
After all, despite the political controversy stirred by the publication of this 1971 picture book--those on the right who screamed Dr. Seuss had become a rolling-eyed tree hugger indoctrinating children, and those on the left who screamed Dr. Seuss had written a green manifesto to prove loggers were evil--the man Theodore Seuss Geisel was never quite that dogmatic.
Rather, he seemed most interested in making people think about the consequences of their actions. In fact, while he later used The Butter Battle Book to criticize the arms race, which I happen to believe helped win the Cold War, I have nothing but love for Dr. Seuss’s story about Yooks and Zooks fighting it out over how to butter morning toast.
Anyway, the author had a point when he wrote that book. The need to promote assured mutual destruction is an absurd idea. Does that necessarily mean American nuclear armament in the face of despotic communism didn’t serve as a deterrent for violent engagement? Whether or not an admirer of Reagan and Thatcher, who can really argue that the human reality of geopolitics isn’t ridiculous?
Regardless, Dr. Seuss was never a crazed ideologue or an irrational pacifist. In fact, while many people may have forgotten--or may have never known--long before I was born, long before The Cat in the Hat made his first appearance in 1957, Mr. Geissel earned incredible respect from me when he got out his mightier-than-a-sword pen and went to war voluntarily a couple of years before he became a commissioned officer in the Army.
He once explained, “I got irritated into becoming a political cartoonist by one of our nation’s most irritating heroes, the late Col. Charles Augustus Lindbergh. In 1940 when Adolf Hitler was putting out the lights and bestowing terror on the people of Europe, Colonel Lindbergh was bestowing defeatism and appeasement on the people of the USA.”
Enlisting an army of whaz-its and whoze-its and a giant American eagle in a top hat, Dr. Seuss did his best to fight fascism, bigotry, and Hitler long before it was fashionable to do so. Clearly ignoring the polls in which the vast majority of voters wanted to stay out of the war raging across the pond, he asked Americans to reconsider their core values and stand up against evil even when that evil lurked outside their borders.
For example, picture in your mind an October 1, 1941, Dr. Seuss cartoon, which appeared in the daily newspaper PM. There is a granny in her glasses and button boots with “America First” written across her sweater. She is reading Adolf the Wolf to the horrified and perplexed looking brother and sister we all know as the famous playmates of Thing One and Thing Two in The Cat in the Hat. With a fatuous smile on her face, the granny concludes, “…and the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones… But those were Foreign Children, and it didn’t really matter.”
One might recall “America First” was a non-interventionist pressure group that used the famous aviator and internationally acclaimed celebrity Charles Lindbergh as a primary spokesman. The main thrust of its message was that America should avoid war at all costs, even if the cost was a whole continent swallowed by darkness. It put forth the idea that Europe was a quagmire of unending, entangled conflicts from which America might never emerge if we got involved as well. Let the Brits deal with the Germans! It wasn’t our responsibility! It wasn’t our neighborhood! In the midst of a crushing depression, we had our own problems.
Perhaps that cartoon still resonates today, hmmm????
Consider Charles Lindbergh saying on September 11, 1941, “We are on the verge of a war for which we are still unprepared, and for which no one has offered a feasible plan for victory--a war which cannot be won without sending our soldiers across the ocean to force a landing on a hostile coast against armies stronger than our own.”
Remember a different quote that expresses a similar sentiment, “In the end, no amount of American forces can solve the political differences that lie at the heart of someone else’s civil war.” (Senator Barack Obama on a proposed surge in Iraq, January 18, 2007)
But I am not writing this article to discuss the ills of defeatism and appeasement, the bounds of American foreign involvement, or even the parallels of Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan with the history of World War II.
Rather, I am simply paying homage to a man I’ve come to greatly admire quite apart from his contributions to children’s literature.
I know that once Dr. Seuss left the neutral ad business to venture into the most contentious political debates of his day, he showed the courage of his convictions--he chose the right side of history--and that is worthy of respect.
In truth, even though we might very well have argued about some of the political issues that rage in Washington today--the appropriate use of public funds, the role of government in a person’s life and other such what-not--I think of Dr. Seuss as a socially conscious, fair minded, and passionate patriot who served his country well. I do not think of him as either a Democrat or a Republican.
In fact, at different times throughout his career, one could argue Geisel shared positions with the left and the right, but he was mostly a free thinker who loved his country more than he loved any one political party.
For instance, while he voted for FDR and steadfastly supported Roosevelt’s foreign policy during World War II, he had no problem lampooning that administration’s fondness for high taxes and profligate spending when he thought they were detrimental to the American people.
Shortly before his death in 1991, a biographer asked Dr. Seuss if there was anything else he wanted to say to his country.
“The best slogan I can think of to leave with the USA would be we can… and we’ve got to… do better than this.”
Yep. That still applies, too.
I sure do wish I could take that man out to exchange ideas over a nice plate of green eggs and ham.
I’d like to tell him just how much I wish there were more men like him engaging in debate in our present-day public forum… men who stand for principle first, party second.
After all, there seems to be a great unrest, a corroding uncertainty, and a sense of crippling defeatism in the American air again for a whole host of reasons. We shall have to resign ourselves to these without the one word point Dr. Seuss asks us to ponder most in The Lorax: unless.
I recently attended the eleventh annual ESOL Conference held at Kennesaw State University. Presentations were mainly focused on good teaching practices that can be applied in classrooms that contain English language learners. The truth of the matter is, most classrooms in Georgia contain at least a couple of students who are not yet fluent in America’s mother tongue, so all educators can benefit from knowing about such practices.
However, the presentation that struck the greatest chord with me had a much broader focus than those that were exclusive to teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages.
Dr. Debbie Zacarian, the keynote speaker on multiple days of the conference, hails from Massachusetts where she is the director of a center dedicated to English language education and student achievement. The thrust of her speech was that parents lay the most essential groundwork for their children to be academically successful, not teachers.
Of course, dear reader, this probably strikes you as common sense, but it was refreshing to hear a seasoned educator talk about how important the role of parents really is when it comes to how well a child will perform in school.
Dr. Zacarian’s speech was intriguing because her data went beyond the ideas that most of us have about how “good education parents” help with homework, are involved in the classroom, and enforce social boundaries that stop a child from sabotaging his or her performance in school.
Of utmost importance, whether a child comes from the United States, Mexico or Timbuktu, is the literacy framework that a child’s parents put in place before the child has even started formal education.
In fact, this literacy framework is a giant indicator of whether or not that child will ever be successful because it determines where his or her starting block is set in the metaphorical racetrack to achievement. If that starting block is too far behind the starting blocks of peers, it is very difficult for that child to ever catch up.
So what is a literacy framework?
Parents who value education begin working with their children to develop vocabulary and higher-level thinking skills long before those children ever reach the classroom. They intrinsically foster an environment that is geared toward learning, and they act as personal coaches who exercise intellectual development when they read, write and speak with their kids.
As a consequence, when those children do go to school, they carry with them academic language and skills that put them miles ahead of their peers. They have a sound literacy framework—like a well-exercised body--upon which a teacher can build new skills.
The power of this framework should not be underestimated and can be translated into a long-term predictor for future socioeconomic success.
Research shows that the average toddler with professional parents has a vocabulary of as many as forty five thousand words. The average toddler who has working class parents brings to his pre-school a vocabulary of around twenty six thousand words. An average toddler with parents on public assistance has only thirteen thousand words to carry into her first classroom.
Who do you think is better positioned to do well?
It is no accident when parents who have graduated from university have children who will attend university, and it is fascinating to see that the biggest advantages don’t cost anything to give and are given when the kid is still in pull-ups.
However, a parent from a lower socioeconomic class can be literacy oriented if he or she puts an emphasis on developing a child’s intrinsic ability to learn.
For example, Dr. Zacarian told an anecdote about how she saw a woman with a preschooler at a museum. The mother was asking the child about the colors in the painting and why the child thought the artist had chosen to draw some of the objects differently from some of the other paintings on display. Did the child like the colors? Did they make her feel happy? Sad? Like a summer’s day?
Dr. Zacarian knew even though the preschooler was not capable of giving a high level critique of an Impressionist’s technique, the mother was fostering an ability to compare and contrast, generalize, and engage in abstract thinking.
But does a parent need to take a child to an art museum to engage in this type of teaching when time and money are short?
I think about how my son and I used to have picnics in a field in front of an apartment complex in which we lived with a very tight budget a thousand years ago. He would spin himself silly and collapse beside me on a blanket to eat his PB and J while gazing up at the endless canvass of blue above us.
We would look for art in the clouds. We would make up stories about the alligator cloud that looked like it was about to eat the princess cloud. We’d find a plot together, step-by- step, creating logical sequences. We’d talk about the differences between alligators and crocodiles. We’d use all the words we needed, new words when necessary, to give our monarch a reason to be in that horrible predicament.
Then we’d play chase again, the Mommy turning into an alligator, looking for the little boy that might taste like peanut butter.
Oh, it was fun! He had no idea he was learning! And I had no idea I was building a literacy framework, but that is exactly what was happening.
Of course, when he got to school, my son would still sometimes stumble on the education track. His race was nowhere near over, and good teachers needed to join his coaching staff.
However, research tells me kids like mine always have starting blocks well ahead of many of the children we say today are “falling behind” in education because of the thinking games we used to play at picnics.
The thing is, those “falling behind” kids were behind from the POP of the starting gun, and parents who want them to win the race of life need to consider how they can move that starting block to give that kid a fair shot.
In truth, this is why Georgia has a Pre-K program… to help those children who are not building a literacy framework at home.
Still, the fact is parents must step up and become more engaged in that early education process or we will always have children who find the achievement gap too insurmountable to close.
Parents are the most important “coaches” when it comes to their children not starting from behind, much less being left there.
In the course of human events, few men are remembered for their deeds, good or ill, but some men are reduced to single actions so heinous, so hard, so evil, they become a stain on humanity. Men like Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, and other mass murderers deserve such scorn.
Yet we also remember men like Benedict Arnold, that traitorous scoundrel who became entangled with the affairs of spies and lost his country, despite having once served as a patriot for the Revolutionary Cause.
Arnold’s crime was one born in anger and resentment. After feeling slighted and underappreciated by the Continental Congress, he offered West Point to the British for money. His plot was foiled, causing his defection to the Red Coats. With his family, he eventually left American soil on December 8, 1781, and sailed straight into the collective consciousness as a Yankee Doodle Judas.
While none of us wish to die in anonymity, I ask who would want Arnold’s fate of being remembered solely for his worst decision? His contributions to the American cause have been virtually wiped from historical memory as if there were no reason to have ever admired one of George Washington’s most beloved generals. In death, his torment continues through perpetuity. His reputation remains a hollow shell of his true self as the worms gnaw on his rotting bones. His name has become little more than an idiom for treason.
Oh, the horror of this fate! The lashes of infamy!
As for me, I’d prefer to lie forgotten in a quiet meadow, my soul in tact, my name chiseled whole above me on a modest piece of marble, a marker that exists only a while before fading away with dignity.