School Shootings; Standards Kill Students and Society

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).  The Whole Child

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Each moment we live never was before and will never be again.

And yet what we teach children in school is 2 + 2 = 4 and Paris is the capital of France.

What we should be teaching them is what they are.

We should be saying: “Do you know what you are?

You are a marvel.

You are unique.

In all the world, there is no other child exactly like you.

In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child exactly like you.

You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.

You have the capacity for anything.  

Yes, you are a marvel.”

~ Pablo Casals [Cello player, Conductor 1876 – 1973]

School shootings are in the news.  Throughout America, adults express concern.  Are the children safe when in a classroom.  Repeated rounds of ammunition affirm, they are not.  Some say times have changed.  There seems to be a consensus; we must secure our campuses,  Solutions are standard.  Society must protect the young.  Few think it possible to prevent another occurrence or attack. Let us examine the whole situation, the whole of our children.  Perchance, the problem is not as it appears.

People presumed all was well or hoped it was.  Individuals were reassured.  It was quiet.  However, the silence was broken thrice in recent days.  Correction; a forth shooter sprang out before people could take a breath.  Three dead in Louisiana campus shooting.  Student Shot During Gym at Tennessee School.  Student Wounded in Southern California Junior High.   Northern Illinois University [NIU] Shootings Stir Sense of Helplessness.  Theories abound.  Why are school shooting so prevalent?

Some say class size is the cause.  As a society, we see the effect of too many students served by too few teachers.  No single educator can connect well with each of the tens or hundreds of student they are expected to serve.  Experts argue, children are healthier when placed in smaller classes.  Judith Kafka, an Assistant Professor of Educational Policy, History, and Leadership at Baruch College, in New York City, writes It’s Guns, Not School Size.  Perchance it is neither, either, each, and much more.  

Americans recognize there is much to consider.  Legislators propose, school employees carry concealed weapons.  Some instructors already do.

High school English teacher Shirley Katz insists she needs to take her pistol with her to work because she fears her ex-husband could show up and try to harm her.  She’s also worried about a Columbine-style attack.

Katz is not alone.  Another instructor chose to protect herself regardless of District policies.  In a Washington Post editorial the statement is made . . . There are no reliable figures, but it’s a safe guess that in many or most of these instances, the guns were owned by the students’ parents.”  This may not always be so.  Other pupils’ Mom’s or Dads may own an arsenal, or a young person may have discovered other connections.  Cyberspace can be good source for guns.  We cannot be certain.  What we do know is, guns kill, and weaponry is easily and infinitely available.

Homicide is the second leading cause of death on the job for workers in the United States after motor vehicle crashes (1). Every week, on average, 20 workers are killed, and 18,000 are assaulted (2). It is only in the last decade, however, that violence against workers has become widely recognized as an occupational health problem.

In a discussion on the topic, of guns in the workplace, Researcher and Co-author of the University of North Carolina Study, Homicide on the Job: Workplace and Community Determinants, Doctor Dana Loomis offered . . .

“[T]here was a nearly seven-fold increase in the risk of a worker being killed in workplaces that allowed guns and other weapons.” . . .

“We don’t know employers’ reasons for allowing workers to have guns on the job, but the belief that firearms offer protection against crime is obviously a possible motive.” . . .

“However, our data suggest that, like residents of households with guns, who are more likely to be victims of homicide, workers in places where the employer allows guns have a greater chance of being killed at work.”

As a nation, it is important to realize we are part of a global community.  Worldwide guns kill one-thousand people each day.  An International Action Network on Small Arms report states, “640 million guns are in circulation across the world and there are enough weapons to equip one in every 10 people.”  So, while we can argue whether students have access or not, perhaps the more important question is why a child might pick up a revolver.  What motivates or frustrates a little one or a young adult to take aim and shoot.

While conjecture continues, authentic answers have been few.  Solutions were tried; none were true.  In classrooms throughout America, teachers remain on guard.  Educators await the moment when a crash will be heard within the classroom.  Instructors trust the sound would be more than a book slammed on a desk.  Instructors know that a bang in the hallways or a blast from the science lab may not be an innocent incident.  Pupils understand this as well.  While all may appear playful, pupils seem to be joyful and learning, the troubled few may actually be the majority of the student population.  It is difficult to discern who might break first, last, or not at all.

Throughout the nation, educators engage each scholar, or attempt to, within the constraints of the curriculum.  Tim, an awkward adolescent, quivered, quaked, grunted, groaned when in the classroom.  This active lad moaned, lashed out, and laughed when he worked with his teachers.  Tim shook with joy, stumbled clumsily, stood straight, and then flopped to the floor.  The strange boy could focus; however, rarely on a prescribed lesson.  Educators labeled Tim a failure.  Even in “special” sessions, this energetic, enthusiastic young man seemed unable to learn.  There was a time when Tim was occupied and eager; however, that passed to quickly.

Elsewhere, an instructor is aware of the student in the front row.  This little lass is painfully shy.  Emma rarely participates in class.  She is plainly submissive.  On reflection, the instructor, friends, and family realized they never considered how distressed the girl was.  No one thought she would cut herself. Now, they wonder why.  

Asa was sometimes rowdy, understandably so.  He was starved for love and attention.  No matter how or what he tried, he did not receive kindness, only admonishments.  Soon Asa settled for scorn.  If people showed contempt for him, well, at least they knew he was alive.  The fourteen-year old just wanted to be acknowledged.  Asa hurt inside.  The pain poured out.  “He did seem angry. He was always angry in the face but he had no reason.”  Finally, the teen could hold his hurt no longer.  He cried out, “I cannot stand to live this way.”  Then, he ended it all.

“I thought they were joking.  I never took it seriously,” she said.  The young lads were fascinated by the infamous.  A massacre might appeal to those that crave retribution, reprisal, punishment, or some sort of popularity.  This form of expression might only be as a shout.  We cannot be certain.  Perchance, we could inquire.  The boys, Bradley, William, and Shawn, might tell us what they feel and why.  However, would busy parents, policy wonks, educators and Administrators all of whom are impressed by numbers, choose to listen if they ever dared to ask?

There are times when the opportunity to speak is gone forever.  A young boy or girl is taken from us too soon.  Countless roam the streets for without a quality education there is little left to do.  A few are institutionalized; others are medicated, imprisoned by the despair that overwhelms their minds.  Some rather die than endure the pain they feel here on Earth.  Sadly, we can no longer invite the girls over for tea.  The time to engage with a lovely lad or two will not come again.  Heads hang low as neighbors contemplate the loss of another young life to drugs, prescribed and preferred,  drink, or death.  

Words of woe pass between the people that knew him or her.  “She was barely a woman.”  “He had not yet reached the age of consent.  “They took their last breath not long after being born.”  “One more suicide in a statistical log.”  “We do not even know her name or his.  All we have is the evidence.”  There are scant clues to inform us; why might a child take their own life?

Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others.  Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide.  Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 82% of the deaths were males and 18% were females.

While the discrepancy seems vast, there is still great cause for alarm.  At one time, girls were more likely to attempt the act.  Now, they frequently succeed.  In September 2007, we learned young women can conceive of, and achieve, what will end a life.

The suicide rate among preteen and young teen girls spiked 76 percent, a disturbing sign that federal health officials say they can’t fully explain . . . The biggest increase – about 76 percent – was in the suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-old girls. There were 94 suicides in that age group in 2004, compared to 56 in 2003. The rate is still low, fewer than one per 100,000 population.

Suicide rates among older teen girls, those aged 15-19 shot up 32 percent; rates for males in that age group rose 9 percent.

Our children are in pain and Americans ponder how can we protect the young [from themselves or from us.]  Each day, parents, and educators look into the face of the future and see what they or we refuse to recognize: anxiety, apprehension, depression, and even a twisted delight for what might be bothersome.  Some teens, and yes, even elementary age children have tendencies that, if consciously noticed, would be reason for concern.  Yet, there was and is no time for such “petty” pondering.  

Moms and Dads are occupied at work.  Instructors prepare to teach to the many tests.  Administrators assess an agenda that will bring more funds to their schools.  Districts implement programs that politicians think wise.  Pedagogy is not the principle concern in America; nor are the pupils.

Grades dominate in the grind known as school.  Class rankings are recorded for posterity.  Test tallies tell the tale of success.  Permanent files are kept.  A little person will be evaluated on their performance in the classroom, in the community.  The good child receives a gold star; the best school is granted gold as well.  Cash fills the coffers of an institution that appears accountable.  The construct that states, as a society adults must teach to the Whole Child is but a blip in a vast universe of significant interests.  Only a few in the field of education follow theories laid out in The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action.

To the doctor, the child is a typhoid patient;

to the playground supervisor, a first baseman;

to the teacher, a learner of arithmetic.

At times, he may be different things to each of these specialists,

but too rarely is he a whole child to any of them.

~ From the 1930 report of the White House Conference on Children and Youth

In our culture, people have priorities.  For each of us our main concern is personal.  Too often, we forget, our children determine the quality of our future.  Parents, Principals, and policy-makers invest in the immediate much to the dismay and degradation of the Seventh Generation and their progeny.

For countless careered Moms, Dads, prominence is far more important than personal passion.  Parents do what they can to ensure their child is enrolled in the best schools.  They drive hither and yon.  After-school lessons are scheduled for every hour of the day.  Families grab some food, fast, then they ready for bed.  Moms and Dads ask, “Is your homework complete?”  Parents do not inquire; “How are you?”  “What do you feel?”  “May I help?”  Mothers and fathers do not ask for the answer does not matter to those who expect children will do as they have always done, grin and bear it.  “Don’t you dare cry or sigh” is the common contention.

Teachers and Playground Supervisors may not wish to surrender a perceived dominance.  Classroom control and an organized playing field are essential if children are to learn or throw a good pitch.  For a Doctor, diagnosis is the challenge.  Few think of the emotional fractures in a child’s life.  The visible is far more viable to those with a job to do.

Besides, it seems that the young are resilient.  Elders believe that tots do not experience lasting pain, and if they do the offspring will not remember, or be harmed, nor act on the duress they encounter.  Children go through phases; nothing is permanent, or so the adults wish to believe.  

The smallest persons in society smile.  They endure; however, many hurt deeply.  Each face tells a unique story.  Rarely do we consider the distinctive existence of individual beings.  We do not ask of an individual child’s experiences, the effects of these, or the emotions each event in a young life evokes.  The current curriculum requires accountability; it demands instructors avoid the nuances.  What makes a child tick is of little consequence.  As long as he or she can perform on a test, that is all that counts.

At times, the system will make allowances for those in need of remedial classes.  A child may be defined as “special.”  Sadly, this determination furthers separates a student from classmates and often from his or her self.  Tim was one of these.

Any individual singled out, accepted as standard, or told he or she is superior will react to the identification.  Each label has its own externally imposed expectation.  Children try to aspire to what they are told they must achieve.  They go along to get along, or they resign themselves to defeat.  Even those thought to be successful by all in their community frequently feel they fail miserably.  

It is no wonder our young people seek solace in drugs, drink, sex, or death.  Our offspring, fighting to survive, to soar, to score on a test, or place well on a High School exit or college entrance exam, frequently feel dead inside.  Occasionally a child will kill others, or them selves.  Most, merely maintain a presence, as did Seung Hui Cho for a time.

Cho graduated from Westfield High School in 2003. But there is no mention of him in that yearbook, not so much as a senior picture.   The high school, which opened in 2000, is stocked with high achievers. Newsweek magazine once ranked it among the 50 best public high schools in America.  

Its football team won the state championship the year Cho graduated. But with 1,600 students then, Cho was the odd boy who never spoke, former classmates recalled. He joined the science club but just sat there.  He carried around an instrument that earned him the name “Trombone Boy.”

School officials went to some lengths to encourage students to interact.  They put round tables in the lunchroom so no one would feel left out.  The “Westfield Welcomers” club formed to help wallflowers and outcasts fit in.  But none of it seemed to work for the lonely, acne-plagued boy in glasses who was so quiet that some wondered whether he could speak at all.

Some sociologist would say Seung Hui Cho fits the profile of a mass murderer.  Were we as a nation prepared to recognize and work with the hurt being in our midst the potential killer, we might have looked at Seung Hui Cho and seen the signs.  However, indications implied after the fact, the act, are less obvious when encountered in a moment.  Indeed, at times, if not always, the invisible inspires an individual to do as he or she does.  

Pain is not painted on a face; nor does a person always scream out when they need help.  Most of us are taught to take care ourselves.  Yet, few of us know how to do this adequately.  Perhaps, those that lash out believe they are doing what they need to do to release the pressure.

In America, little “big boys” learn not to cry.   A sweet lass is told to look pretty.  Tears are unattractive.  In this country, independence is ideal.  Adults teach the children not to be too needy.  “No one wants to hear your troubles.”  When asked ‘How are you,’ answer, ‘I am fine.’  Then, move on, or pretend to.  ‘Do not expect too much.’  ‘Get good grades.’  ‘Make lots of money.’ In a competitive society, that is all that counts.

Some students do as is standard quite well.  Steven Kazmierczak did.  Steven was an outstanding student.  He was engaging, polite, and industrious.  The friendly fellow had a bright future in the field of criminal justice.  Steve, as he preferred to be called, graduated from college in 2007.  The scholar continued his studies in graduate school.  Since early adolescence, the lad was intent on helping society.  Hence, he majored in sociology as an undergraduate.  After he completed his preliminary coursework, Steven went on to pursue a Masters degree in the School of Social Work.  This gracious gent had a girlfriend.  Steve was anything but a loner, haunted with obvious hurts.

On the Northern Illinois University campus, Steven P. Kazmierczak was considered a gentle, hard-working student, who was honored two years ago with a dean’s award for his sociology work.?? Professors who taught him said it was hard to imagine he was the same person authorities identified as the gunman in Thursday’s classroom shootings.

“I knew Steve both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. I have had him in my home. I knew him as a warm, sensitive, very bright student,” said Professor Kristen Myers in an e-mail. “I never would believe that he could do this. I know that when these horrible things happen, everyone searches for roots to explain it. Here, I’m afraid I don’t have any.”

Steven Kazmierczak was an excellent student.  A former classmate called Kazmierczak “probably the best student in the class.”  Another student spoke of how helpful Steven was.  Stephanie Delhotal, 22, a former sociology undergraduate student said Kazmierczak worked as a teaching assistant in her statistics lab only a year prior.?? “I learned most of what I knew from him,” said Delhotal.  Stephanie Delhotal, who is now a professional Social Worker, offered, “He was very nice and very friendly . . . he was so into statistics. I just took him to be a computer nerd.”

Delhotal did not know him before the course, but saw him in the lab as many as three times a week during the semester, she said.?? “I was completely shocked. I just keep thinking back about how easy he was to talk to,” she said. “He had a dry sense of humor.”

However, humor and academic achievement do not necessarily bring joy.  Instruction that focuses on formulas, figures, facts, and scientific findings do little to give rise to a healthy human being, and perhaps that is the problem yet to be broached in the classroom, or even in our homes.  In educational institutions, instructors are required to attend to the parts.  Teachers and Administrators address perceive accountability.  As a nation, we ignore the whole.  Countrywide, we do not ask who a child might be.

Instruction begins when you, the teacher,

learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand

. . .  what he learns and the way he understands it.

~ Soren Kierkegaard

For the most part, curriculums are designed to pour information into a pupil, as though a human being were an empty vessel ready to fill.  If we are to truly educate our progeny, we must redefine instruction.  We need to create a culture that helps children to authentically acquire knowledge, not grades.

Learning is something students do, NOT something done to students.

~ Alfie Kohn [American Lecturer, Author, Educator]

The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action attempts to do this.  

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each graduate is challenged by a well-balanced curriculum and is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment.

This promise is contrary to the current standard initiated with the advent and implementation of No Child Left Behind.  On paper, at first blush, the newer educational program appears sound.  The policy advances practices and philosophies that have existed in society for centuries.  The populace has long endorsed gentle interpretations of “Spare the rod; spoil the child.”  Hence, in schools strategies that are thought to serve accountability were easily adopted.

Transforming the Federal Role in Education So That No Child is Left Behind

The Policy

The Administration’s education reform agenda is comprised of the following key components . . .

Closing the Achievement Gap:
  • Accountability and High Standards.
  • States, school districts, and schools must be accountable for ensuring that all students, including disadvantaged students, meet high academic standards.

    ‘Good, good, that sounds good,’ say parents, Principals, and policy makers.  All are interested in education and each wants to make certain our children receive quality instruction.  High expectations and verification are vital.  Administrators must answer for the programs the public pays for.  No one can blame the student if the school does not do as deemed necessary.  Americans believe we must reward achievement and punish those who fail.  As we age, most of us forget, in order to succeed, we must learn from our errors.  Most adults avoid the subject of task analysis.  In education, many accept the end justifies the means.  Teachers are trained to teach to the test.  Students are tutored in how to best pass an examination.  If perchance, each or either fails, the government mandates, there will be repercussions.  One consequence is so subtle it often goes unnoticed.

    Dropout rates slowly increase.  Low-achievers, in frustration, leave school behind.  Thus, the appearance of rising test scores and of a narrowing of the achievement gap is achieved.  School ratings increase, authentic education decreases.

    A recent

    study of Texas public school accountability system,
    the model for the national No Child Left Behind Act, establishes that, the longer the high stakes testing program are in use, the worse the outcome.  Children already made less important than the curriculum by this mandate are further reduced in significance.  As could have been expected, instructional personnel begin to view students not as children to educate, but as potential liabilities.  A pupil accomplished in test-taking is seen as an asset; high scores raise a school’s performance indicators, advance the careers of educators, and help to grow the funds a school receives.

    The research also indicates that Principals frequently play with pupils’ lives in order to further their professional prominence.  A child will not be allowed to advance a grade if he or she is deemed at-risk.  If a student’s grade on the exam will potentially threaten the schools status, arrangements are made.  Most students retained in this manner give up on themselves and on school.  Just as educators punish a less than perfect child, the system penalizes a struggling school.

    • States must develop a system of sanctions and rewards to hold districts and schools accountable for improving academic achievement. . . .
    • Consequences for Schools that Fail to Educate Disadvantaged Students.  Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for disadvantaged students will first receive assistance, and then come under corrective action if they still fail to make progress.  

      If schools fail to make adequate yearly progress for three consecutive years, disadvantaged students may use Title I funds to transfer to a higher-performing public or private school, or receive supplemental educational services from a provider of choice.

    Therein lies the problem.  When an educational institution or a child does not perform “properly,” they are punished.  Punitive actions so not help better a school or a student.  Studies show punitive practices hurt a society or and the instructional staff.

    Dear reader, you may recall in your own life the times when you acted in a manner that was considered disruptive, destructive, or without regard for others.  If you were confined to your room, restricted from doing what brought you pleasure, ridiculed, or severely reprimanded you may have reacted poorly.  Resentment readies an individual for further rebellion.  Logic tell us, if a child or an adult is to learn or improve, they must be given an opportunity to reflect.  Humans acquire wisdom when others trust the learner can grow.  Reciprocal reverence, empathy is the best educator.  

    However, logic rarely rules when people are reactive.  Parent, Principals, and educators are after all, only human.  When frustrated with what they fear they cannot control, people of any age penalize those who do not perform as desired.  Rebukes realize no rewards.

    Why Punishment Does Not Work

    The research literature gives clear guidelines about the ineffectiveness of punishment as the only correction procedure for children’s misbehavior. Yelling, shaming, scolding, and corporal punishment backfire and create a mind set in the child where he misbehaves more. Some children do worse when words like “never,” “don t,” “should not,” and “It’s not okay” are used during correction. There are many negative side effects associated with being punished:
    • Punishment for aggression may stop the behavior temporarily, but may further stimulate aggressive behavior.
    • The child may stop the punished behavior but may increase another aggressive behavior.
    • Punishment may serve as a model for aggression. Children imitate what they see adults do.
    • The punished behavior may stop only in the presence of the adult and increase in other settings.
    • The child may strike back at the punishing adult or displace his anger at someone else.
    • Frequent punishment may cause some children to withdraw and regress.
    • Angry children who do not fear authority may become more angry and focus on revenge.
    • The child may feel shame and harbor thoughts of lowered self- esteem (I’m a bad person. I’m mean.)
    • Punishment merely suppresses the response but does not teach the child what to do.

    In the short term, punishment may be effective in suppressing negative behavior when the punisher is present, but it does not teach the child positive ways to act. Punishing techniques that make the child feel bad about himself may make him act out more!

    Remember Asa.  This child felt besieged, plagued, punished for being the person he was.  This young man received ample ridicule.  He was constantly punished; his presence alone was enough to bring an onslaught of attacks.  Classmates called him Jack Black.  The label referred to the vociferous, chubby, long-haired actor in the movie “School of Rock.”

    Asa could be shrill.  His appearance alone might have been classified as a cry for attention.  His hair was unkempt.  Histrionic accoutrements graced his neck, his nails, and his abdomen.  Asa adorned his fingernails with black polish.  Around his neck, he wore a dog.  A faded rock concert tee-shirt covered his chest.  A trench coat completed the composition.

    Asa often felt as though he was tormented, teased, taunted, and mocked.  The troubled lad felt victim to frequent slights.  He believed others belittled him, beguiled him.  He was deceived and ill received.  Asa Coon felt misunderstood, and he craved as all creatures do, love, not loathing.  In frustration, Asa Coon characteristically lashed out.  He was not merely a quirky lad; he was quick to anger.

    This was the Asa who always seemed to be in fights at school.  This was the Asa who slapped around his mother. This was the Asa who talked about suicide.

    And it was this Asa, authorities say, who walked into SuccessTech Academy Wednesday with a satchel full of guns and ammunition and opened fire on teachers and students. . .

    What apparently pushed Asa’s troubled young mind over the edge was an argument with classmates about the existence of God.  It happened a few days ago in reading class.

    Asa said he didn’t believe in God and didn’t respect God.

    Another kid disagreed. . . .

    After school, the two kids fought.  Asa took a beating.  Both were suspended.

    “I’m going to get you,” he warned his tormentor.  “I will get you.”

    Indeed, he did.  Asa attempted to take revenge on those he believed wronged him.  A professional, Professor Jack Levin, Northeastern University, Criminology, offered a worthy assessment of the situation.  Perhaps, the lesson Americans need to learn is often lost.  What truly occurs within our offspring is left behind as our children are today.

    There are always missed signals.  The problem is that they only become clear after the fact.  Hindsight is 20/20, and after somebody shoots a number of people, everybody all of a sudden is a psychologist and recognizes all the warning signs.  Now, the problem is that these warning signs beforehand apply to so many youngsters.  Many of these shooters hate school or they like Marilyn Manson or they black — they use Gothic clothing.  They’re rebellious.  The best predictor we have is previous violence, and in this case Asa definitely had that in his background, but my point is this, we ought to be intervening early in the life of a child because he’s troubled, not because he’s troublesome.

    On rare occasions, a child has an opportunity to authentically connect to an adult, a curriculum, life, and lessons that are given and received with love.  After Tim  met Barbara M. Stock, he became one, among the exceptions.  At the time, the two encountered each other, Barbara held a brand new doctorate degree in Psychology and education.  The young scholar was proud the knowledge she accumulated.  Upon reflection, she states, she was “full of” herself.  Shortly after she received her Ph.D., Stock and her husband moved to a small quaint town.  Jobs were few, opportunities fragile.  

    Advised by a receptionist in the Special Education Department of the local school district, Barbara Stock pursued a practical possibility.  Perchance, she could find a job within the BRAT program.  Curious and anxious to impress, Doctor Stock inquired.

    I asked the mothers, “What does BRAT mean?” The mothers gave me how-stupid-are-you looks. “BRAT,” one mother said. ” ‘Brat…’ That’s what the school people call our kids.” It wasn’t an acronym for Behavioral…Remediation …Anything.

    As Stock observed the students, she realized her mission. A lone lad came into view.  Tim was awkward, assertive, and jubilant, all at once.  He was energetic and alien in his approach to life. After a short time, Tim’s mother noticed Doctor Stock and her stare.  The parent introduced herself to the professional person in her presence. “Mom” whispered to Barbara Stock, Tim was eight years of age and had learned nothing in this half-day program. Tim’s mother wanted an afternoon tutor for her son.  She hoped that if someone special would invest in her child, one-on-one, the odd boy would excel.  There might be hope.  Stock pondered the possibility.

    Confident I could perform brilliantly, I agreed to tutor Tim. I saw this as a great opportunity: I could use the newest techniques of behavioral reinforcement and multi-sensory stimulation to teach Tim. Then I would write an article or even a book on my achievement. I’d dreamt of one day having my own school; this would give me the credentials. I’d already accumulated all sorts of learning devices-sandpaper letters, Cuisenaire rods, a balance beam. I arranged a child-size table and two chairs in our finished basement and created an inviting “learning space.” I was ready and willing to begin my major project: The Teaching of Tim.

    Weeks went by; months moved quickly.  Tortured tutor, who loved her young teacher, Tim, Barbara M. Stock, learned what most educators are reluctant to admit.  

    Tim surprised me. He excelled, though not from any lesson I planned.

    Frustrated and bewildered with the accredited approaches that proved futile, Stock embraced what was more real.  She engaged the child in a manner that allowed Tim to be Tim.

    Gradually, I had to let go of my analytical, intellectual approach. I taught Tim best on his terms, seizing the opportunities he enjoyed and encouraging him to be practical, playful, and protective.

    Although I’d wanted to give up on Tim many times out of personal frustration, I felt truly sad when I had to say goodbye to him. I had no data, no article, no book to publish. Tim could pay attention longer, express himself better, and manage his frustration more often.  But his gains were infinitesimal, impossible to measure.  I felt like a total failure.

    Tim’s mother and I became friends and to her I confessed my defeat. She saw the situation differently. “He looks forward to seeing you.  He smiles,” she said.  “With you he’s not a ‘brat.’  These are gifts beyond measure.”

    As we said goodbye, Tim hugged me.  His mother laughed out loud.  “That’s a first, and probably not listed on any test.”

    Tim’s Mom was sensitive to the whole of her child.  She observed his trials and tribulations with great care.  The concerned parent [or teacher] can recognize triumphs.  Tests do not.

    Barbara M. Stock with all her prominence, prestige, and post-graduate expertise was helped to understand what typically remains undetected.  Erudition is not necessarily visible to those who know not what they see.  

    Indeed, the manner in which each of us internalizes instruction differs.  We need only consider Emma, Asa, Bradley, William, Shawn, Tim, or ourselves to realize one size, one test, cannot fit all.  Standardize assessments do not allow for nuance.  Pedagogical practices, no matter how philosophically profound, may not be as effective as “real” life lessons are.  When individuals, teacher and student, parent and pupil, administrators and instructors, interact with authenticity, each senses they are accepted and admired.  People learn when they treasure the tutorial.

    Empathy is the best educator.  Punishment or mechanical methodology, presumed to be a practical, do not reward a spirit starved for insights.  Meaningful and appreciative acknowledgements nurture a mind, heart, body, and soul.  A healthy child is whole.  His or her education is balanced.  When a child is reactive, a distraction, or destructive, elders must acknowledge the little one is pleading for assistance.  ‘Teach me,’ he or she shouts.  If adults are to abet, they must realize penalties alienate.  Praise produces desirable results.

    What Does Work

    The research shows that praise for appropriate behavior, reasoning, giving consequences, withholding privileges, time out and teaching the appropriate social skills do help a frustrated child make better behavioral choices.

    The child who misbehaves constantly needs to hear correction statements phrased in positive language to implant alternative ways of thinking and acting in his developing value system. Telling the child with behavior problems what not to do often guarantees that he will go and do it! Instead, tell him what to do and help him to feel good just thinking about acting in positive ways. Give a choice between two alternatives.

    Teaching social skills gives a process of correcting the inappropriate behavior instead of suppressing it through punishment. Social skills training offers a more humane way of giving children tools to deal with conflict so that they can take care of themselves. Learning social skills helps children reduce aggressive and violent behavior. Teaching the prosocial skills helps all of us. When children learn and use positive reciprocal ways of interacting with each other, this adds to peace in our world.

    Processing Cues To Say After Conflict

    What you say to an aggressive child will determine the likelihood of his decreasing the inappropriate behavior the next time. To break into the child’s negative thinking patterns, process what happened and what could be different next time in a non- threatening way. The research shows that people are most ripe for change after a situation of high emotional arousal. Being corrected is generally a high arousal situation so the child should be ripe for new learning. You have a golden opportunity to help your child make the commitment to change by using this teaching approach.

    If you can get to the child’s vulnerability and sense of fair play after a situation of conflict, you can help him make changes. Show the child the consequences of his actions on others. Whenever possible, give him a choice. Ask him to make a value judgment on what he did. Give him solid information on how he could react in positive ways.  Always leave him feeling good about himself with hope for the future.

    Few of the questions posed on examinations reward a learner.  Results are not immediate.  What a child is asked to assesses is often not real or personally relevant to a young person.  In America today, on tests, in the classroom, and even in some homes, children are not required to think critically.  Nor are they given the opportunity to imagine, innovate, or invent.  Conventional wisdom dominates the curriculum, and students fall further and further behind.  Sadly, we often look at our best students and see automatons.  However, they are more.

    Today we come across an individual who behaves like an automaton,

    who does not know or understand himself,

    and the only  person that he knows is the person he is supposed to be,

    whose meaningless chatter has replaced communicative speech,

    whose synthetic smile has replaced genuine laughter,

    and whose sense of dull despair has taken the place of genuine pain.

    Two statements may be said concerning this individual.

    One is that he suffers from defects of spontaneity and individuality, which may seem to be incurable.

    At the same time it may be said of him,

    he does not differ essentially from the millions of the rest of us who walk upon the earth.

    ~ Erich Fromm [Observer of Humankind, Psychologist and Author]

    Might we begin to embrace our children and their sweet souls.  Let us no longer scold students when they struggle to grasp the essence of a standard test question.  We need not drug those whose attention span is short.  Let us, educators, and parents engage each child individually.  If perchance, we listen to what the children tell us about them selves, if we see each student as a whole child, we might learn how to best teach them.

    The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.

    ~ R. M. Hutchins [American Educator, Author, The University of Utopia and The Learning Society, Board Editor for Encyclopedia Britannica]

    Perhaps adults can take a lesson from life.  Each of the school shooting show us, our offspring are in pain.  Medications will not cure what ails the young.  Restrictions placed on guns, or access to other objects, will not make our schools safer.  More of the same and stricter standards will only serve to deaden minds that wish to soar.  That is the paradox.  Americans send their children to school to learn; then they squelch the possibility.  May we teach the offspring well and allow them to tell us what they need as a whole child.

    “To teach is to learn twice.”

    ~ Joseph Joubert [French Critic]

    In this country today, citizens are reminded that Math, Science, and Reading, the basics are essential.  Students study so that they might pass tests in these subject areas.  Teachers teach techniques that ensure success on examinations.  Facts fill the air in American classrooms.  Some scholars survive , others hope to die.

    In this nation, we forget.  There is so much more to life than Math, and more to Algebra than a correct answer.  As Mister Kupfer, a High School mentor tells his students, a correct solution does not authenticate that a student understands the process.  A problem requires more than a guesstimate, or memorization of a formula.  Mathematician Kupfer states, if a pupil cannot work through a problem, twenty years after he or she saw it in class, then they never truly learned how to solve the equation.

    Science is not as simple as a law declared absolute.  Theories also abound.  Curious souls search beyond what they know to be true and discover what is yet to be part of a standard curriculum.  A student motivated to think, rather than realize a score on a test, might take a quantum leap.  A student, trained to think as a scientist might, will not simply accept a static answer.  Analysis is not wrong; it is just not encouraged when the course of study is guided by multiple choice tests.

    Reading requires more than regurgitation of the words printed in a booklet.  Bubbles darkened in on a page, and preparation for tests do not a satisfy a sincere student.  Our children are asking to learn.  They crave a caring connection.  Let us bring education back into our homes and our schools.  May we teach our offspring well and wholly.  The  youth are our future; may we give them a strong foundation.  Research, Reflection, and reverence, these are the three R’s, the basics.

    Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.  

    ~ Albert Einstein

    Schools, Standards, Sources . . .

    In Country: Spirit, Two

    copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

    Originally penned November 10, 2006

    The mind is a very personal part of each one of us.  We all carry our memories, our personality, and the very heart of our being in our mind.  Wartime touches that special piece of who and what we are in ways that are sometimes difficult to ascertain without the lens of history.  Every war affects those who fight in different ways and yet all share some similarities.  Every individual has a story of their personal stuff.  I have pondered this subject once before here.  This time at the risk of repeating what may have already been said I offer the following story.  Follow up the street, around the corner, and across the field for another rendering from the possum’s personal tales.

    Recently I was reminded of some real differences between those who are involved in the action of war and those who only stand and watch.  In the course of time in Vietnam with an infantry company in the Central Highlands, I experienced so many different times and thoughts.  News reports one morning included pictures of a wounded Marine being aided by his comrades.  Even though wounded, the soldier held his rifle in both hands across his chest as he himself was being dragged across a road and out of further danger.  The attention paid to one’s weapon, no matter whether that item may be a pistol, rifle, or some other is peculiar to soldiers exposed to danger where the weapon may make the difference between life and death for the individual as well as for comrades.  Other soldiers in support positions and not exposed to the daily rigors of combat and civilians often handle weapons with careless regard, leaving hand prints on the exposed surfaces or holding a rifle by its barrel.  Never would a combat infantryman do any such.

    When the company was on the move, we each carried our rifle at the ready.  Most weapons were  loaded with safeties off, but with a round in the chamber.  Only a few carried their weapons without a round already loaded.  Whether we were on the march or on patrol, danger lurked around every bend in the trail.  Every person had different ways of accomplishing the proper posture, but all remained prepared every moment for whatever the next moment had to offer.  The constant state of high alert wears on the mind over the course of time but such is the plight of the infantryman.  We knew we not only had to remain in a posture of readiness, but we had to be truly ready to perform our duties at any given moment.

    All the men in my company were young with very few exceptions.  Even the NCO’s (non-commissioned officers, sergeants) were no more than about 30.  All the rest of us were much younger at the time.  We swaggered and talked bravely, but each of us feared the next moment.  Any given moment could be our last on this earth.  The pressure was ever present even though we were reluctant to make any mention of that fact.

    We lived for the moment, planning only for our last day in country.  Every man knew exactly how many days remained in their tour.  In the final days, most knew the number of hours remaining in their assignment.  In those years, rotations were limited to a finite time, unlike the rotations of today where extensions are so common.  We knew exactly which day we would be headed home.  Not one of us ever admitted openly to any chance of not going home.  Such an admission would have been a psychological blow none of us was prepared to accept.

    The pressures of war come not only danger, but in real boredom.  The bulk of any soldier’s time is spent waiting.  We waited for orders, for transportation, for food, for any news of current events, and mostly we waited for our turn to leave the field or to go home.  Waiting time was often occupied by idle chatter or card games.  The nature of the time spent depended as much on the individuals involved as the surrounding circumstance.  Waiting brought boredom and weighed heavily on every one’s mind.  Any diversion was always welcome relief.  Jokes and stories of life back home were common.  We called one another nicknames to lighten the atmosphere as well as to keep some measure of barrier between ourselves.  We used cigarettes and chewing tobacco as diversions.  

    Very few of my company were destined to remain in the military.  I was unusual in that I had some years of college education prior to joining the Army.  Most members of the unit were draftees with a high school education at most.  We were from all parts of the country with no particular connection one to the other beyond our service of the time.  We came and went at odd intervals without allowance for any real connection in terms of service.  Most of us had only a few short weeks together-too little time for real unit camaraderie such as might have been seen in earlier wars.  Barely knowing each other left us alone in so many ways.  Even though we spent time together, we kept our own counsel in nearly every instance.  In effect, we remained almost as lonely as if we had indeed been all alone.

    The words of Christian Stroud in IRON BRAVO tell it all

    War is a nasty thing.  The people who start them are hardly ever the people who end them, and the people who end them are never what they were at the beginning.  No one gets out without being touched by fire, and that fire changes everything, changes it forever.

    Some men get to enjoy the feelings of battle with a sense that approaches sexual lust.  That feeling was never mine to share.  I came home with a bitter hatred of all the war meant to the men on the ground.  Until this day, I have held those feelings inside.  Today I have returned to the active state of opposition.  If I have any opportunity in this life to keep any more from suffering the trauma of war, I will exercise that chance at any cost to myself.  

    The effect of war on the mind of the troops is sometimes overlooked in our society today.  Soldiers themselves may suppress the memories and civilians are often unprepared for the stories.  Civilian populations not only stand and watch during times of war, but stand in support of the troops who ARE involved.  While each group has different obligations during the time of war, it becomes the duty of each and every one of us, veterans and civilians alike, to remain supportive of the returning troops.  Only by sharing our feelings and experiences on both sides (inside and outside) will any of us find the healing we all need so desperately.  This is one more in a series of my personal sharings.  More will come as time and energy allow.  As one of so many who were actively involved I am responsible for continuing to inform those who by virtue of choice or circumstance only stand and watch.  

    Crossposted at Daily Kos.

    Are African-Americans Black Enough or Anglo Americans Too White?

    copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

    This year, perhaps more than any time in the past, Americans are reminded of race relations each and every day.  On televisions, on the radio, airwaves are filled with talk of the current Presidential campaign.  For the first time in this nation’s history, a viable Presidential hopeful is not a white.  Barack Obama is a Black man; he is profound and has purpose.  Early on, Anglo Americans, and even some people of color, wondered if Obama authentically represented African-Americans.  Countless inquired of Obama’s experience, not in Congress, but in the ghettos of this country.  The prominent periodical, Time Magazine, published a cover story titled, “Is Obama Black Enough?  As Sociologists assess, there is reason to believe another question is apt, “Are Caucasians white enough, or are they too white to understand the Black experience?”  

    The Black experience is as all other occurrences.  Each is unique to the individual.  Nevertheless, in a society where clear delineations are evident, we can observe, life as an African-American is not as easy.  Circumstances common among Blacks are unthinkable to Caucasians.  Anglos rarely appreciate persons of color are not truly different, only the conditions they live under vary.  

    While white Americans are happy to acknowledge that the Black man or woman they work with, as a singular person, is wonderful, Caucasians are quick to avow, that the individual they know is not like the rest of “those” people.  Pinkish people do not understand.  Hence . . .

    Whites Underestimate the Costs of Being Black

    Columbus, Ohio – How much do white Americans think it “costs” to be black in our society, given the problems associated with racial bias and prejudice?

    The answer, it appears, is not much.

    When white Americans were asked to imagine how much they would have to be paid to live the rest of their lives as a black person, most requested relatively low amounts, generally less than $10,000.

    In contrast, study participants said they would have to be paid about $1 million to give up television for the rest of their lives.

    The results suggest most white Americans don’t truly comprehend the persisting racial disparities in our country, said Philip Mazzocco, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

    “The costs of being black in our society are very well documented,” Mazzocco said. “Blacks have significantly lower income and wealth, higher levels of poverty, and even shorter life spans, among many other disparities, compared to whites.”

    For example, white households average about $150,000 more wealth than the typical black family. Overall, total wealth for white families is about five times greater than that of black families, a gap that has persisted for years.

    “When whites say they would need $1 million to give up TV, but less than $10,000 to become black, that suggests they don’t really understand the extent to which African Americans, as a group, are disadvantaged,” Mazzocco said.

    What Anglos do understand are the generalizations they hold dear.  Black persons are different than whites, and they are, in large part because a society that favors people of pinkish paler hues has created a cast system that bars African-Americans from achieving as they might.  

    Incomes are lower, access to adequate educational facilities are few.  Health Care coverage is out of reach for those with limited opportunity and wealth.  Discrimination against those whose color differs from the main is ample.  In the abstract, Anglo Americans grasp that those placed lower on the socio-economic ladder suffer.  White Americans know they would not wish to live as a Black American does.

    [I]n one study, whites were told to imagine that they were about to be born as a random white person in America, but they were being offered a cash gift to be born as a random black person. Once again, white participants requested relatively small sums to make a life-long race-change.  In addition, some were given a list of some of the costs of being black in America, such as the racial wealth disparity.  The result was that whites in this latter scenario requested significantly higher amounts than those in the previous studies – about $500,000.

    Finally, some participants were given a similar scenario except all references to blacks, whites, and America were taken out. They were asked to imagine they were born into the fictional country of Atria, and were born either into the “majority” or “minority” population.  They were given a list of the disadvantages that the minority population faced in Atria (which were identical to the real disadvantages faced by blacks in America).  In this case, white participants in the study said they should be paid an average of $1 million to be born as a minority member in Atria.

    “When you take it out of the black-white context, white Americans seem to fully appreciate the costs associated with the kinds of disparities that African Americans actually face in the United States,” Mazzocco said. “In this case, they asked for a million dollars, similar to what they want for giving up television.”

    Mazzocco said blatant prejudice was not the reason for the findings.  Results showed that whites who scored higher on a measure of racial prejudice did not answer significantly differently than others in the study.

    Often those who are out of touch with what is true for another are not knowingly bigoted.  As children, we learn to believe as we do.  Most Americans are oblivious, no matter how well informed they, we might be.

    However, if we are honest with ourselves, people know what is philosophically true for them personally, may not be valid.  We are each similar, yet, never the same.  A human desire to categorize places us in jeopardy.  When we define others, or ourselves as Black or white we cripple our communities, as evident through statistical data.  The numbers speak volumes, so too do people if we bother to ask them of their values.

    Social Scientists surveyed those of disparate groups, and discovered what we could know intellectually.   Those who physically do and do not resemble us share our values.  Although experiences may be divergent, we need only think of our siblings to realize the adage  “All men are created equal,” does not mean every being is identical in appearance; nevertheless, essentially we are related.  My blue eyed-sister is not as I am.  She sees the world through her own lens.  A brown-eyed brother cannot think, say, do, feel, or be as me.  Still, we are akin.  Biologically persons may be similar.  They are never the same; nor are there stark contrasts.

    Every human values principles that honor all men, women, and children unvaryingly.  Innately, two-legged creatures crave caring connections.  We all want to have the rights reverence affords, just as our brethren do.  Every person is made of blood, sweat, and tears.  Humans have inherent worth.  Shared ignorance does not allow people to act on our deepest beliefs.  the essence of our beauty is not just skin deep.  It is part of our being whether we are Black or white.

    Researchers remind us, in November 2007, it is time to “Redefine What It Means to Be Black in America.” The Social and Demographic division of Pew Research Center, in conjunction with National Public Radio surveyed a large group of Americans, a large portion of those who participated were Black.  This fact alone sets this report apart from earlier examinations which most relied on data from white Americans.  The review titled, Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class, Optimism about Black Progress Declines, we discover the times and trends are changing, or perhaps our awareness of what is has been altered.  Many African-Americans do not identify themselves with the accepted definition of Black.

    A Single Race?

    Another revelatory finding in the Pew poll is that 37 percent of African Americans now agree that it is no longer appropriate to think of black people as a single race.  A little more than half of the black people polled,  53 percent, agreed that it is right to view blacks as a single race.  And the people most likely to say blacks are no longer a single race are young black people, ages 18-29.

    Forty-four percent of those young black people say there is no one black race anymore, as compared to 35 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old black population, and 34 percent of the black people over age 65.

    The split in the black race comes down to a matter of values, according to the poll.  In response to the question, “Have the values of middle-class and poor blacks become more similar or more different?”  61 percent of black Americans said “more different.”  White Americans agreed, with 54 percent saying there is a growing values gap between the black middle class and the black poor; 45 percent of Hispanics agreed, too.

    At the same time, 72 percent of whites, 54 percent of blacks, and 60 percent of Hispanics agree that in the last 10 years, “values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar.”

    While the ethos may appear equivalent, upon closer examination a variance among respondents emerges.  In nationwide telephone interviews, with a representative sample of 3,086 adults, conducted from September 5-October 6, 2007, we learn what an “over-sampled” total of 1007 African Americans, 388 Hispanics, and 1671 Anglos believe.

  • Big gaps in perception between blacks and whites emerge on many topics. For example, blacks believe that anti-black discrimination is still pervasive in everyday life; whites disagree.  And blacks have far less confidence than whites in the basic fairness of the criminal justice system.
  • Over the past two decades, blacks have lost some confidence in the effectiveness of leaders within their community, including national black political figures, the clergy, and the NAACP. A sizable majority of blacks still see all of these groups as either very or somewhat effective, but the number saying “very” effective has declined since 1986.
  • These statements may correlate to what is real for too many African-Americans.  Income Gap Between Blacks, Whites Expands.  The Brookings Institute in cooperation with National Public Radio revealed in a recent report, while Black Americans can no longer be thought of as a distinct group, if they ever were, as a whole, people of color have not benefited from a “free and open” society, as Caucasians have.  Anglos remain oblivious.  Intolerant attitudes inform whites.  The same bigoted perspectives hinder an ability to relate, and recognize how different the Black experience is.

    Again, in November 2007, Americans were given an opportunity to assess the clash bias has created.  In a culture, founded on the principles of equality, Americans prefer to practice prejudiced policies.  In the United States, people whose skin is dark are not afforded the opportunities bestowed upon their counterparts, Caucasian Americans.

    Economic Mobility of Black and White Families

    In brief, trends show that median family incomes have risen for both black and white families, but less so for black families. Moreover, the intergenerational analysis reveals a significant difference in the extent to which parents are able to pass their economic advantages onto their children. Whereas children of white middle-income parents tend to exceed their parents in income, a majority of black children of middle-income parents fall below their parents in income and economic status. These findings are provided in more detail below.

    Median family income for both black and white families has increased over the last 30 years, but income gaps still persist.

    Between 1974 and 2004, white and black men in their 30s experienced a decline in income, with the largest decline among black men. However, median family incomes for both racial groups increased, because of large increases in women’s incomes.  Income growth was particularly high for white women.

    The lack of income growth for black men combined with low marriage rates in the black population has had a negative impact on trends in family income for black families.

    There was no progress in reducing the gap in family income between blacks and whites.  In 2004, median family income of blacks ages 30 to 39 was only 58 percent that of white families in the same age group ($35,000 for blacks compared to $60,000 for whites).

    Black children grow up in families with much lower income than white children.

    White children are more likely to surpass parents’ income than black children at a similar point in the income distribution.

    Overall, approximately two out of three blacks (63 percent) exceed their parents’ income after the data are adjusted for inflation, similar to the percentage for whites.

    However, a majority of blacks born to middle-income parents grow up to have less income than their parents.  Only 31 percent of black children born to parents in the middle of the income distribution have family income greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of white children from the same income bracket. . . .

    White children are more likely to move up the ladder while black children are more likely to fall down.

    Startlingly, almost half (45 percent) of black children whose parents were solidly middle class end up falling to the bottom of the income distribution, compared to only 16 percent of white children.  Achieving middle-income status does not appear to protect black children from future economic adversity the same way it protects white children.

    Black children from poor families have poorer prospects than white children from such families. More than half (54 percent) of black children born to parents in the bottom quintile stay in the bottom, compared to 31 percent of white children.

    Perhaps, the way in which the Black population experiences income inequity and discrimination, accounts for the lack of confidence in African-American leaders among the population, or did until very recently.  In the Fall of 2007, before the first caucus in Iowa or the initial primary ballots in New Hampshire were cast, people of color in the United States expressed a glimmer of hope.  While many people whose skin cast a brownish-purple hue were devoted to the Clinton campaign, they recognized that Barack Obama shed a powerful light on the issue of color.  Again, the Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends division concluded . . .

  • The most newsworthy African American figure in politics today – Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama – draws broadly (though not intensely felt) favorable ratings from both blacks and whites. But blacks are more inclined to say that his race will detract from his chances to be elected president; whites are more inclined to say his relative inexperience will hurt his chances.
  • Three-quarters of blacks (76%) say that Obama is a good influence on the black community. Even greater numbers say this about Oprah Winfrey (87%) and Bill Cosby (85%), who are the most highly regarded by blacks from among 14 black newsmakers tested in this survey. By contrast, just 17% of blacks say that rap artist 50 Cent is a good influence.
  • Months prior to these results a conversation ensued that may have helped to alter a long accepted perception.  The son of a white woman from Kansas, whose father was native to Kenya, Barack Obama was asked, “How important is race in defining yourself?”  Perhaps, esteemed Senator, and Presidential candidate, Obama spoke for many African-Americans, most of whom understand their bloodline may be mixed.  He might have also addressed what  Anglo Americans understand, if not consciously.  No matter the color of our skin, few of us are purebred.  While people may presume to know who we are based on a preconceived notion, we are all more than our appearance. [If only as a society, we acted on this veracity.]

    Obama: I think all of us in America and particularly African-Americans have to think about race at some point in our lives. The way I like to think about it, I am rooted in the African-American community, but I’m not defined by it.  I am comfortable in my racial identity and recognize that I’m part of a very specific set of experiences in this country, but that’s not the core of who I am.  Another way of saying is that’s not all I am . . .

    One of the things that helped me to resolve a lot of these issues is the realization that the African-American community, which I’m now very much feel a part of, is itself a hybrid community. It’s African.  It’s European.  It’s Native American.  So it’s much more difficult to define what the essential African-American experience is, at least more difficult than what popular culture would allow.

    What I also realized is that the American experience is, by definition, a hybrid experience.  I mean, you know one of the strengths of this country is that we have these people coming from, you know, all four corners of the globe converging, and sometimes in conflict, living side by side, and over time coming together to create this tapestry that is incredibly strong.

    And so, in that sense, I feel that my background ironically, because it’s unusual, is quintessentially American.

    Americans of any race know that their ancestry is likely mixed.  Whites are not pedigrees; nor are Blacks.  Yet, pinkish people feel they can or must delineate when they define a dark complexioned person.  Too often, in the United States, an African-American is described by their visible lineage, set apart because of the color of their skin.  Yet, what of whites?  How do we classify a paler person who may be part Irish, Italian, German, or English?

    Apparently, a year ago, in February 2007, 60 Minutes Host Steve Kroft thought he knew what it meant to be Anglo or to be raised among white people.  Mister Kroft made repeated references to the candidate’s Caucasian mother, and Obama’s childhood history.  He said, “You spent most of your life in a white household.”  “I mean, you grew up white.”  “You were raised in a white household?”  These statements were presented as though they were significant.  The presumption was, in a white home people think, say, do, feel, and are different than those in a Black family.  The evidence says this is not so.  Yet, the myth remains firm.  Hence, the journalist offered an observation, odd as it may be to some.

    Kroft: [A]t some point, you decided that you were black?

    The answer might have informed Black and white alike.  The response may have encouraged African-Americans to be more vocal by the time they were surveyed nine months later. Possibly, the response had no influence.  After centuries of racial discrimination, Black person may just be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

    Whatever the reason for the realizations that emerged in the Pew Research report, finally, there is an incentive to believe.  Hope is alive.  A Black American, or many African-Americans, together, can change the persistent culture.  

    Presidential aspirant, Senator Obama spoke a truth that rattled a rigid reality.  Stereotypes are exactly that.  They need not characterize any of us, nor do we, as a nation need to endorse what divides us.  Barack Obama explained . . .

    Well, I’m not sure I decided it. I think if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American.  And when you’re a child, in particular that is how you begin to identify yourself. At least that’s what I felt comfortable identifying myself as . . .

    [T]here is racial prejudice in our society that we do continue to carry the historical legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. We’ve never fully addressed that.  It manifests itself in much higher rates of poverty and violence and lack of educational achievement in minority communities.  But I know in my heart that there is a core decency to the American people, and that decency can be tapped.

    I think America is at the point now where if a white person has the time to get to know who you are, that they are willing on average to look beyond race and judge you as an individual.  That doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped making snap judgments.  It doesn’t mean that before I was Barack Obama, and I was just Barack Obama, that if I got into an elevator, a woman might not clutch her purse a little tighter.  Or if I’m walking down the street, that you might not hear some clicks of doors locking, right. I mean, there’s still a host of stereotypes that I think a lot of people are operating under.  But I think if they have time to get to know you, they will judge you as they would judge anybody else, and I think that’s enormous progress.  

    We’ve made progress.  Yes, things are better.  But better is not good enough. And we’ve still got a long way to go.

    Indeed, America has much to do as a nation if we are to heal what has harmed us as a people.  If this country is to be truly healthy and authentically honorable, we must act as equals.  To allow Black Americans to suffer at the hands of “compassionate” Caucasians, to deny the similarities, and amplify the differences does not bode well.  A man, woman, or child must be judged by the quality of his character, not the color of his skin.  Let us have the courage of our convictions.  It is time to create a culture of community.

    Once you label me, you negate me

    ~ Soren Kierkegaard [Danish Philosopher]

    Sources and Stereotypes . . .

    Black History; The Past is Present

    Joseph McNeil (from left), Franklin in McCain, Billy Smith and Clarence Henderson sit in protest at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth during the second day of peaceful protest,

    February 2, 1960.Corbis

    copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

    French Novelist, Alphonse Karr offered, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  ‘Tis too true.  Beginning in the month of February 1976, Americans were given an opportunity to realize how profound the axiom is.  For four short winter weeks, citizens of this country contemplate what was.  We, as a nation honor Black History.  For a moment, countrymen set aside the preeminent prejudices that govern many practices and policies.  As a nation, we ponder how much African-Americans have contributed to this country.  

    Tales are told; triumphs recounted.  Perhaps one of most significant heartfelt stories shared was aired on February 1, 2008.  All Things Considered producers gave the listeners much to contemplate.  Newscaster, Michele Norris introduced an unassuming activist whose personal anecdote brought tears to the eyes of many in the National Public Radio audience.  The Woolworth Sit-In That Launched a Movement, as narrated by one of the Greensboro Four, Franklin McCain reminds us of how often the past is found in the present.

    Franklin in McCain remembered aloud the day he and his fellow classmates entered a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth Five and Dime Store with intent.  The four students, each from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked into the Drug Store determined to order a meal and dine at the “whites only” lunch counter.

    In 1960, such an act was unthinkable.  Black Americans knew their place, and it was not near pinkish people.  To consider being physically close, or to question the authority of the Anglos in power, was cause for a near certain death sentence.  Nonetheless, after centuries of oppression, the descendants of slaves felt it was time to assert them selves, to peacefully stand strong in support of equal and civil rights.  

    The young men strode into the store, made a few purchases, and then moved toward the stools at the luncheonette.  Each understood that this act was not allowed.  Local laws, regulation imposed by retailers, or societal standards prohibited such an action.

    McCain remembers the anxiety he felt when he went to the store that Monday afternoon, the plan he and his friends had devised to launch their protest and how he felt when he sat down on that stool.

    “Fifteen seconds after … I had the most wonderful feeling.  I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood.  I had a natural high.  And I truly felt almost invincible.  Mind you, [I was] just sitting on a dumb stool and not having asked for service yet,” McCain says.

    “It’s a feeling that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to have again.  It’s the kind of thing that people pray for . . .  and wish for all their lives and never experience it.  And I felt as though I wouldn’t have been cheated out of life had that been the end of my life at that second or that moment.”

    The waitress behind the counter refused to serve the four gentle men any food.  The young chaps informed the woman that they had been waited on only moments earlier.  The fellows, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson had procured wares in the store before they took seats at the food bar.  The students questioned why could they buy goods, and yet not pay for, and then eat the fodder available for sale in the store restaurant.  Befuddled, the server called her supervisor.

    The retail manager approached the students and told them to leave.  He said the young men could have a meal at the stand-up counter in the basement, but not in the more visible “For Whites Only” luncheon area.  The Executive proclaimed corporate headquarters mandated the policy.  [Later, the four scholars would learn this was not true.]

    After a five-minute dialogue, the manager threw his hands up in dismay and walked back into the kitchen.  Moments passed and a police entered the store.  The law-officer paced back and forth, near the four young men.  He glared and stared at the fellows. None of the college men were combative.  They remained calm.  Then, the policeman pulled out his nightstick.  The law-enforcer slapped the stick in the palm of his hand repeatedly.

    The then academic realized the lawman did not know what to do. McCain recalls the zeal he felt.  The deputy did not sense what he could or could not do.  The bureaucrat was befuddled.  The four college men were not disturbing the peace; indeed, the gents were tranquil and composed.

    A older white woman watched the entire incident.  In a southern town such as Greensboro, North Carolina, circa 1960, one could assume the thoughts of a little old lady were not good.  The female, probably a product of the segregated South stared at the lads throughout the affair.  Franklin McCain imagined she was suspicious and distrustful of the four young men.  His thought was the lady was scornful.  He imagined, were she to speak, she would say, “Shame on you” to the Black “boys” at the counter.

    Eventually, she finished her doughnut and coffee. And she walked behind McNeil and McCain – and put her hands on their shoulders.

    “She said in a very calm voice, ‘Boys, I am so proud of you. I only regret that you didn’t do this 10 years ago.'” McCain recalls.

    “What I learned from that little incident was … don’t you ever, ever stereotype anybody in this life until you at least experience them and have the opportunity to talk to them. I’m even more cognizant of that today – situations like that – and I’m always open to people who speak differently, who look differently, and who come from different places,” he says.

    Two score and eight years later, many people believe they are as Franklin McCain now is, free from stereotypes.  Throughout this territory, citizens of the United States claim to be colorblind.  The accepted conviction is, that in America, life has changed.  White Americans like to think racism is a obsession long past.  Historians turn to accounts such as the tale of the Greensboro four and state, the civil rights movement was a success.

    Journalist Michele Norris expressed as many would, “If you stop somewhere today for a cup of coffee and maybe a tuna sandwich, you probably saw other people at that establishment of a different race. Today, ‘No big deal;’ Back in 1960, in the America south, that scene would have been a very big deal.”  In conclusion, the broadcaster stated . . .

    On that first day, Feb. 1, the four men stayed at the lunch counter until closing. The next day, they came back with 15 other students. By the third day, 300 joined in; later, 1,000.

    The sit-ins spread to lunch counters across the country — and changed history.

    However, life for an African-American in 2008 is still riddled with racism.  The difference is the design is more subtle.  We remember Rosa Parks, the woman who stood up for freedom.  This African-American woman was tired of giving up her seat and her rights to racist whites who believed they were better than she.  When asked to stand or move to the back of a bus, Rosa Parks refused.  In a trolley filled with whites, many witnessed what would not occur today.

    Blacks need not forfeit their place on the bus bench to an Anglo.  Perchance, in part, because few whites use public transportation. Anglo Americans own automobiles.  

    African-American and Latino households are much less likely than white families to own a car, leaving us with those indelible images of people of color crying out from the rooftops [in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina.]

    A great deal of attention in the last two decades has been focused on the “digital divide,” the concern that unequal access to new forms of technology such as the Internet are leaving people behind based on their class and race. But Hurricane Katrina exposed the “internal combustion engine” divide, the alarming disparity in car ownership that literally was the difference between life and death for many Gulf Coast residents.

    A recent report on racial disparities in car ownership reveals that one in four Black households (24 percent) and one in six Latino households (17 percent) does not own a car.  This is compared to one in fourteen white households (7 percent) who are car-less. In the eleven coastal counties with the highest incidence and future risk of hurricanes, people without cars are disproportionately people of color.  These include counties in Houston, Providence, New Orleans, Tampa, New York City, and Miami.  In Orleans Parish New Orleans, for example, over 35 percent of African-Americans, 26 percent of Native Americans, and 27 percent of Latinos don’t own a car, compared to 15 percent of whites.

    Persons with pale complexions are not restricted in their travel; nor are they denied entry to a place of business.  Black individuals are.  Light skinned persons are not relegated to the wrong side of the railroad tracks.  White persons do not worry when they wish to move into a neighborhood.  Sundown Towns do exclude Anglos.  A Caucasian can take residence wherever he or she chooses, with few exceptions.  Only poor credit might lessen the opportunities afforded to a white man or woman.  Early in the Twentieth Century, segregation was blatant.

    Whites simply passed ordinances forbidding black people from buying or renting homes and, in some cases, even appearing on the street after sundown. To advertise their actions, the towns sometimes posted sundown signs on the highway or in the railroad station.

    “There was a contagion of ordinances,” says Loewen. “Many small towns expelled the black population or decreed a policy of not allowing any blacks.” . . .

    In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, banning discrimination in housing, and the Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Mayer that housing discrimination was unconstitutional. Since then, Loewen says, “sundown towns have been in retreat.”

    But, he’s quick to add, “there are still hundreds of towns where blacks would risk their mental well-being as well as their physical well-being by living in them.”

    Certainly, Caucasian Americans would like to believe this is not true. Countless offer evidence.  People point to the  Civil Rights Act 1964. White Americans, embarrassed by their history tried to make amends.  An aspect of compensation and atonement was the popular practice of colorblindness.  People who profess not see the color of a persons’ flesh act as though they have great insight.  The bigoted belch, ‘We do not discriminate.’  Then, the tolerant insulate themselves.  

    Prejudiced persons isolate those whose skin is a shade thought less desirable.  Ghettos are hidden from view.  Highway walls seal “us” off from the slums. Americans acknowledge the city streets are not safe.  Thankfully, the suburbs are.  At times, one of “them” slips through the cracks.  Barriers are broken.  These fissures are filled with letters and threats of lynching.

    Bridget Ward, whose recent move to a White neighborhood in Philadelphia was greeted with insults painted on her front door, told reporters outside her home in Bridesburg, “I am going to move. Y’all got your neighborhood. You can have it.”

    The 32-year-old single mother said she will abandon her rented row house in the working-class neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia as soon as she can.

    “The letter is a very serious thing,” said Kevin Vaughan, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “Bridget has two small kids–very, very good kids–and their safety weighed heavily on her mind.”

    The letter said Ms. Ward’s daughters, Jasmine, 3, and Jamilla, 9, would die if the family stayed in the home, according to police. Agent Bob Norton said the FBI had entered the case.

    The author of the death threat also boasted of having used a homemade bomb to drive a Black woman out of another White neighborhood.

    Neither police nor Vaughan would quote directly from the letter except to say it referred to a group called “the posse.”

    This mob of maligners is not unique.  In truth, racism has simply gone underground.  African-Americans are not run out on the rail, as they once were.  Anglo Americans have become more refined.  In 1982, in America the practice of intentional exclusion was ruled legal. Private clubs restrict persons of color and do not limit membership for those whose skin is light.

    More recently, in November 2006,  a Whites Only Scholarship, was offered to students.  The Endowment created outrage; nonetheless, the policy and practice are still thought reasonable enough to initiate.

    Lest we forget the most recent Supreme slight.  Jurists in the highest Court of the land ruled that schools in the “United” States can re-segregate.  In Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District Number 1 Et. Al. . . .

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the plurality opinion that “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

    In essence, the Judiciary Branch of our government concluded, racial balance cannot be achieved by artificial means.  If citizens intentionally integrate then color will remain an issue.  Hence, by law it is decreed, the people in this nation must be colorblind and colormute.  Citizens can only hope that naturally mankind will decide to mix and mingle voluntarily, although rarely have they or will they as long as racism remains intact.

    For African-Americans equality, while granted by the Constitution, is but a dream.  Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior spoke of the shared hope in a speech delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington District of Columbia.  While a large crowd listened to the eloquent speaker and cheered, millions more were not moved or changed.

    Appearances may have been altered; however essentially, racism is alive and well in white America.  For the most part, a pinkish person is honored unless or until that Caucasian gives someone reason to react to his or her presence. If a white man commits murder or a Anglo woman neglects her children, people may gossip or scorn that individual.  Certainly, as a group, Caucasians will not be defined by the indiscretion of one individual.

    In the United States teachers, bank tellers, taxi cab drivers, retailers, and even the most reasonable among us, may look at a Black person, a dark-skinned individual and assume the person is lazy, less than brilliant, lacking in awareness, lower in social status than any other person might be.  Sadly, in the United States, some supposed scholars present pseudo science as reason to support such ghastly and inaccurate stereotypes.

    Sadly, or happily, few Americans experience as Franklin McCain did in the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.  Perhaps, if we each worked against the status quo, sat, or stood for equality, a little old lady, a sage of sorts, would approach us.  With her hands resting gently on our shoulders, this wise woman would say, in the most unexpected manner, “I am so proud of you. I only regret that you didn’t do this 10 years ago.'”

    Americans, we can wait no longer.  Rather than recount the history of Blacks in America, let us all make history.  May we finally begin to act on principles, embrace our brethren each and every day.  Holidays do not heal a heart.  Hurts do not fade with pomp and circumstance.  Change does not come when we deem ourselves different.  If we, as a country are to truly revere our brothers and sisters, be they black, brown, yellow, or pink, we must not rely on words.  Deeds tell the tale that Franklin McCain recalls.

    Resources for Racism . . .

    Fragrances and Food; The Way to a Heart is Through the Stomach and Nose

    copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

    We met in December.  The year was 2007.  He was a friend of my cousin’s.  The two were best of buds; they still are.  Cousin Paul has known James for decades.  Jim moved to my hometown only months earlier.  He felt alone.  James longed for a friend, locally.  Paul introduced us on the Internet.  After my relative played the mediator, the man in the middle, the means for a message, he asked if he might share our electronic mail addresses.  James and I each consented, and from then on, we exchanged epistles directly.  

    In letters, we liked each other.  Admittedly, for us, the electronic medium was limited.  We decided to share a drink together; although I let him know, I only imbibe water.  James said that was not a problem.  We arranged to get together at Starbucks.  The coffee shop was near to his home and mine.  Neither of us wished to share where we lived exactly.  We were hesitant, cautious, or just not willing to chance the unknown.

    Today, speed dates are popular.  For some, a minute or two is more than enough to determine whether he or she is the “one.”  Some believe in love at first sight.  They know immediately when Miss or Mister Right walks through the door.  From across a crowded room eyes meet, sparks fly; for many providence steps in.  Cupid’s arrows are manifest destiny.  

    A gallant gent may meet a genteel girl and the two will gallivant forever.  If a lady were to encounter a extraordinary lad in the last month of the year, by Valentine’s Day, perchance the two would be wed.  That is unless she eats garlic onions, or spicy foods.  

    James enjoyed our first encounter.  He took pleasure in our later luncheon.  My cousin’s best friend looked forward to our every conversation.  The more we chatted the more he longed to converse, connect, and commune in every way possible.  This fine fellow spoke of copulation often.  While he had been with others at the time of our introduction, he did not feel as close to them as he did to me.  James spoke of our shared energy, enthusiasm, interests, and the excitement he felt in my presence.  Nonetheless, one day, as he readied to rally at my home he decided he could not do it.

    The smell of my well-seasoned skin was just too much for this lovable man.  James diet is bland in comparison to mine.  He did not wish to tell me I could not dine as I do.  He did not wish to end our relationship per se; James just needed to create a physical distance.  All the while, he reminded me of how much he loved me and always will.  Certain he did not want to think of a time when we would not be emotionally together, James concluded, at least for a time, he needed to occupy a separate physical space.  Perhaps, we could see each other and just not share a repast.

    In the Twenty-First Century, the dynamics of dating are more complex.  People are sensitive.  The personal preferences of one person may offend another.  Individuals are vocal.

    Sharing meals has always been an important courtship ritual and a metaphor for love.  But in an age when many people define themselves by what they will eat and what they won’t, dietary differences can put a strain on a romantic relationship.  The culinary camps have become so balkanized that some factions consider interdietary dating taboo.

    No-holds-barred carnivores, for example, may share the view of Anthony Bourdain, who wrote in his book “Kitchen Confidential” that “vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”

    Returning the compliment, many vegetarians say they cannot date anyone who eats meat.  Vegans, who avoid eating not just animals but animal-derived products, take it further, shivering at the thought of kissing someone who has even sipped honey-sweetened tea.

    Ben Abdalla, 42, a real estate agent in Boca Raton, Fla., said he preferred to date fellow vegetarians because meat eaters smell bad and have low energy.

    No matter how delightful a mate may be, if she eats meat, or finds a meal of fish repugnant a male suitor may not pursue her.  If a woman thinks a man prefers a menu that is ethically loathsome, she will say so.  Even those trained to understand, may not empathize at all.

    Lisa Romano, 31, a vegan and school psychologist in Belleville, N.Y., said she recently ended a relationship with a man who enjoyed backyard grilling.  He had no problem searing her vegan burgers alongside his beef patties, but she found the practice unenlightened and disturbing.

    Her disapproval “would have become an issue later even if it wasn’t in the beginning,” Ms. Romano said.  “I need someone who is ethically on the same page.”

    While some eaters may elevate morality above hedonism, others are suspicious of anyone who does not give in to the pleasure principle.


    James did not quibble with my decision to avoid caffeine or alcohol.  He did not question my desire to shun sugars.  It made sense to this sweet man that I do not dine on meat, fish, chicken, or potatoes.  James did not find fault with my wish to preclude processed foods from my diet.  I did not consider his choices flawed.  For me, people eat as they do.  I delight in my entrees and worry not of what others consume.  I understand change comes from within.  I have no desire to transform another; nor do I wish to be converted.  

    As with other differences couples face, tolerance and compromise are essential at the dinner table, marital therapists said.  “If you can’t allow your partner to have latitude in what he or she eats, then maybe your problem isn’t about food,” said Susan Jaffe, a psychiatrist in Manhattan.

    Dynise Balcavage, 42, an associate creative director at an advertising agency and vegan who lives in Philadelphia, said she has been happily married to her omnivorous husband, John Gatti, 53, for seven years.

    “We have this little dance we’ve choreographed in the kitchen,” she said.  She prepares vegan meals and averts her eyes when he adds anchovies or cheese.  And she does not show disapproval when he orders meat in a restaurant.

    “I’m not a vegangelical,” she said.  “He’s an adult and I respect his choices just as he respects mine.”

    In a former relationship, Eric and I were as Dynise Balcavage and John Gatti are.  Never once was food an issue.  I cooked meat for Eric with little hesitation.  Admittedly, I would pay more for chicken parts.  I could not bring myself to cut into the flesh and bone of one of G-d’s creatures.  When liver was prepared, I could not season the slices.  In truth, my eyes could not gaze upon the bloody organ.  Eric would place the animal protein in the bag I prepared with flour and spices.  Then, he would lay the organ into the heated pan.  Only after the meat was seared, could I continue to cook the “delicacy.”

    However, while I do not define myself by what I eat, I can no longer look at animal flesh on a plate and feel  the same emotional distance I once did.  While I still do not struggle with what another ingests, I do not believe that I would be so willing to bake, broil, or boil a bird, cook or carve a piece of beef, slice or dice a chop of pork.  Perhaps, I have changed, even if ever so slightly.

    I cannot be certain whether trends transform a person, age alters an individual, or if experience hardens hearts.  Perhaps, ancient hurts hinder us.  In an era where divorce defines the population, people have become more discriminating. James was married twice.  I am the daughter of divorced parents.  In America today, our experiences are common and likely shape us.  The subtle nuances of companionship possibly affect the stomach and the nose..

    Children watch Mom and Dad coo, only to see them separate.  The pain of parents parting can cause a stomachache.  Teens remember when their parents were romantic, rather than full of rage when together.  As an adolescent reflects on unity he or she ponders, ‘This stinks!’  Adults cannot forget the one who broke his or her spirit.  Habits of lover were appreciated.  Slowly, but surely, all that seemed beautiful left a lover nauseous.  The scent of one who was adorned becomes a reminder of all that was lost.  Closeness can be sickening.  Smells and tastes are no longer savored.

    Nonetheless, people wish to believe passion is pure, adoration is in the air, and that special someone is just around the corner.  Hence, we look, and look, and hope to find our Valentine.  Restaurateurs rely on the human desire to love and be loved.

    Valentine’s Day ranks second only to Mother’s Day at restaurants.

    “It’s something that restaurants all over the country . . . look forward to,” said Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

    Thirty-five percent of Americans dine out on Valentine’s Day, close to the 38 percent on Mother’s Day.

    Of those who dine out, 80 percent pay an average bill of $62. The remaining 20 percent spent more than $100 in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to Sherry Gillespie, the association’s marketing manager.

    Those spending $62 are paying $20 or $25 more than usual, Chucri said.

    “I think people go out and spend more because they enjoy the day,” he said. “They might get that bottle of wine instead of a glass of wine. Or they might get an appetizer and a dessert.”

    Pleasure or the want of it can be blissful.  James and I experienced that from the first.  The conversation, started and stayed interesting.  We were authentically animated.  He thinks I am saucy and sweet, but perhaps a bit too spicy.  Like or unlike millions, James does not revel in the smell of natural seasoning.  At one point he explained, “I think you are great.  I enjoy your company. I yearn to be with you and would be if only  you would stop eating garlic, onions, and spicy foods for three days.”  

    While intellectually James does not object to my nutritional regime or my being as I am, his stomach and nose struggle to follow his fondness.  Delicate scents do not disguise the aroma of peppers.  A bouquet of cologne does not cover the odor of onions.  From food to fragrances, friendships are fragile.

    Perfume has long been an aphrodisiac decanted sparingly from an iconic glass bottle.  But for Leslie Ware, a fashion editor at a quarterly magazine in Huntsville, Ala., fragrance has worked its magic in the opposite direction, as a romantic deal breaker.

    Several years ago, Ms. Ware was engaged to a gentleman who did not like Trish McEvoy 9, the fruity vanilla blend she had been wearing for seven years.

    “He thought I smelled like a traveling carnival, the kind where they sell corn dogs, because I guess the smell was reminiscent of cotton candy,” Ms. Ware, 28, said. “This was the demise of Trish No. 9.”

    It was a bad omen.

    Soon after, Ms. Ware said she broke up with the perfume-averse boyfriend. She has not worn fragrance since.

    A more recent boyfriend fared no better after he bought Ms. Ware what she called “an old-lady perfume” against her wishes.

    “It made me mad,” she said. “I told him not to bother buying me fragrance since I am picky, and now I have a $125 bottle of perfume sitting in a closet.”

    Just as stomachs lead many men, and women, noses help navigate these same individuals through the maze of ardor.  When we wish to give to one we love, money is no object.  The cost of the gift does not deter a admirer.  Nor does the price impress the person who receives a present.  There is much to love, and more to learn if we wish to create a bond that lasts.

    This Valentine’s eve women will not douse themselves in fragrances and men will be reminded not to buy perfumes as they did in the past.  Colognes and toilette water are not collected as they were years ago.

    [M]ore women are forgoing scent altogether.  Last year, about 15 percent of women said they did not wear fragrance, up from 13 percent in 2003, according to a survey of 9,800 women conducted by NPD.

    “That may sound like a small number, but nationally that translates into two million more women who are saying ‘I don’t wear fragrance,’ ” said Karen Grant, the senior beauty industry analyst at NPD. “Eighty-five percent of women are still buying fragrance, but an increasing number tell us they are wearing fewer scents, less frequently or not at all.”

    Fragrance fatigue is probably inevitable, with heavily fruited scents wafting out of everything from dishwashing liquids to hotel linens to candle displays at the mall. But perfume aversion seems to be tapping into a larger societal phenomenon that may have its origins in bans on cellphones and cigarettes: the idea that the collective demands of the public space trump one’s personal space.

    “People are shying away from fragrances not for the traditional reasons that you’d expect, that it is too expensive or that they are wearing alternative products like body sprays or lotions,” Ms. Grant said. “Many people said it bothers them that fragrance has an effect on other people, that they are trying to be considerate by not overcoming others with scent.”

    Indeed, Rochelle R. Bloom, the president of the Fragrance Foundation, an industry trade group, said that people who worry that their fragrance may offend others simply may be wearing perfume improperly.

    It is not difficult to hurt the feelings of another. People are sensitive souls.  Stomachs ache.  Noses run.  Hearts hurt.  Cupid’s arrows are curved; however, they can be straightened.

    But sometimes couples can reach olfactory accord.  Last fall, Robert Flood, a retired technology platform tester in Allen, Tex., worried how to tell his wife of 25 years, Amy, that he could not abide her new perfume, Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion.

    “It was very atrocious, at least to me,” Mr. Flood, 52, said in a phone interview last week.

    The couple later worked out a compromise so that he would not be discomfited should her scent again stray into his air space. Henceforth, each will choose a fragrance for the other to wear.

    “On Valentine’s Day, we will go to one of her favorite stores and she will buy me English Leather and I will buy her Jean Naté, which is the fragrance she was wearing when we had just met and she was 17 going on 18,” Mr. Flood said. “We are not smelling the perfume so much as the memories.”

    Indeed, for the Floods, fragrance brings with it the Proustian power of recall. One could argue that those who forgo perfume now may inadvertently diminish at some future date the textural memories of relationships past.

    Perchance, passion is more than a perfume or a pound of flesh.  Spice may not be the cumin poured into the curried dish.  The flavors that create true fondness are not found in the pantry or the powder room.  The zest and zing that brings zeal into a relationship does not originate during a meal.  A scent will not make heartstrings sing.  

    If two are to enjoy as one they must be responsive and receptive to what is not visible to the eye or smelled by the snout. Memories made and remembered satiate more than a stomach and flood more than a muzzle.  This Valentine’s Day may be the time to steam sweet nothings and sniff a bit of fresh air.  Hugs, kisses, and Happy Valentine’s Day.

    Sweetness and Spice Sources . . .  

    Video: Wexler Confronts Condi on Iraq War Lies; Calls for Contempt Vote

    By Wexler For Congress Campaign.  Contact the Congressman at

    Cross posted with Permission from Congressman Wexler.

    Originally posted on Wednesday February 13, 2008 at 05:11:16 PM EST

    Wexler Confronts Condi on Iraq War Lies

    Today, in hearings on Capitol Hill, I confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her role in the lies, exaggerations, and misdirection that led us into the Iraq war.

    During my questioning, Secretary Rice falsely stated that she never saw intelligence casting doubt on the Bush Administration claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.  This unbelievable statement is flatly contradicted by numerous government reports and CIA testimonials.

    Sources such as the 2006 Senate Intelligence Report, a January 2004 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report as well as former CIA agents (including Tyler Drumheller) have disclosed that there was contrary intelligence to the information provided to the Bush Administration in the lead up to the Iraq war.

    Please view the video above.

    Secretary Rice’s responses demonstrate once and for all that we need aggressive oversight over this out of control Administration.  Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has ignored the constitutional right of Congress to provide such oversight.

    It is time Congress took aggressive action to assert our rights on behalf of the American people.

    The House of Representatives must immediately hold former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in contempt of Congress for their failure to respond to congressional subpoenas.  

    I have been aggressively lobbying Members of Congress to support a vote on contempt, and I am thrilled to report that Speaker Pelosi told me directly that she agrees it is well past time to vote on contempt.  I am anticipating that the House will shortly vote on resolutions of both civil and criminal contempt for both Miers and Bolten.

    No one should be immune from accountability and the rule of law.

    Not Harriet Miers or Josh Bolten.

    And especially not Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

    It is time to defend the Constitution and our rights as a co-equal branch of government.  

    I will continue to take on the Bush Administration for their outrageous abuses just as I confronted Condoleezza Rice today and Attorney General Mukasey last week.  (Click here to see my questioning of Mukasey.)

    With your help, we will hold these top Bush officials in contempt and continue our efforts to hold impeachment hearings for Vice President Dick Cheney.

    Thank you, as always, for your great support.

    Yours truly,

    Congressman Robert Wexler

    On Justice, Part 2

    copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.


    the moral principle determining just conduct

    is an elusive part of world philosophy.  What represents justice for one person may be unacceptable to another.  We humans have a marked tendency to disagree among ourselves these days as much as ever before.  Frederick Douglass put the issue into fine perspective for me in his words

    Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

    An earlier diary of mine spoke to justice in the United States today.  This writing continues the line of thinking as my mind continues to ponder and to clarify the ideas.  Follow over the fold for more of the possum’s philosophy of life.

    Douglass’ words tell me justice is all about a level playing field upon which all members of society are treated in a fair and equal manner.  In this circumstance all have an opportunity to earn enough money to support a family.  The living wage proposition is embedded in my interpretation of Douglass’ words.  Then poverty would be eliminated.  There would be no division of peoples into classes according to major discrepancies in income.  There would still be the rich and the poor, but abject poverty that drives people from home and sustenance would be eliminated.

    Douglass also addresses education in a meaningful way.  We as a nation must allow all our children full and equal access to education if we are to survive the trials of the 21st Century.  We must begin to invest money and energy into our educational system.  The infrastructure needs serious attention.  Teachers need support from both the government and from society as a whole.  Every person in the nation has a vested interest in the education of our children for they are the leaders of our future.  Without proper education our future may fall into the purview of ignorance and superstition.  We cannot afford a course of that sort ever if we are to survive as a nation.

    Douglass addresses the idea of a divided society in terms of class.  Some nations around the world have such divisions based on birthright or religion.  No nation can expect to survive forever in such a situation.  All divisions that pit one person against another in class struggles based upon money or privilege need to be put to an end.  We humans are all of one kind.  We must work together in the best ways we are able to find in order to better our tomorrows.

    Justice may best be defined within each person as an individual.  Justice is a comfortable feeling of doing what is right both for one’s self and for others with whom one interacts.  In olden days justice was defined as

    an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

    I propose we leave that definition behind and look more to principles of fairness and equality.

    I am one of the blessed in this nation today.  My life has been successful beyond any dreams that ever came my way.  I have along the way faced our justice system in a legal hearing one time but in no other ways.  I am allowed to live in relative peace without the pressures of poverty or housing restriction.  My family is well fed.  We do not suffer

    food insecurity

    as our administration wishes to frame hunger these days.  Justice in my household is all about treating one another and those around us the way we wish to be treated every minute of every day of our lives.

    Justice should be about seeing to the needs of others.  Justice is reaching out a hand to those in need.  Justice is seeing those people sleeping under a bridge find a warm shelter.  Justice works to see every person in this great nation has shelter at night and those who wish to do so may have a chance to own affordable housing in a safe and comfortable neighborhood.  Justice works to punish those guilty of behaving in ways that damage the rights of others.  Justice is blind to sex or color of skin.  Justice is for one and all human beings without restriction.

    Let us all work today and every day to bring justice to our nation.  Our Founding Fathers saw the light and built a country of the people, by the people, and for the people.  We today have the responsibility of carrying forward that message with liberty and justice for one and all.  We have not one minute to lose.  Only by our actions may we hope to see justice restored and maintained.  Those who fail to work for a just world stand to lose the most precious of all human commodities.

    An extension of the current thinking has to do with proper leadership to accomplish the goal of bringing justice to the world.  That is a more complex subject requiring time and space of its own one day.  Much of justice is all about accountability, another subject deserving a discussion of its own.  There is much in this world today about which to reflect in questioning and in refining one’s thinking.  


    copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

    The current round of trials at Guantanamo Bay are generating a great deal of press coverage.  Some of those proceedings call into question the ideals of justice, truth, and the American way.  The process of military tribunals along with other recent events and readings bring to mind many questions of justice and how we determine the definition and refine the thinking.  Justice has various definitions in the dictionary  including

    the administering of deserved punishment or reward.

    Justice is to be sought under all circumstances, the question becomes how to determine just punishment.  What are the rules?  How does one decide just versus unjust?  Is there a middle ground upon which all may agree as to what is or is not just?

    Horace Walpole said

    Justice is rather the activity of truth, than a virtue in itself. Truth tells us what is due to others, and justice renders that due. Injustice is acting a lie.

    Alexander Solzhenitzyn expounded on his thought of justice saying

    Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.

    Plato went further saying

    Justice means minding one’s own business and not meddling with other men’s concerns.

    An unknown author who may have been Plato said

    Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.

    Michael Foucault, the French Philosopher said

    Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions.

    David Hume continued the thought of morality in justice saying

    Justice is a moral virtue, merely because it has that tendency to the good of mankind, and indeed is nothing but an artificial invention to that purpose. The same may be said of allegiance, of the laws of nations, of modesty, and of good manners. All these are mere human contrivances for the interest of society.

    Elias Canetti put the importance of justice into perspective saying

    Justice begins with the recognition of the necessity of sharing. The oldest law is that which regulates it, and this is still the most important law today and, as such, has remained the basic concern of all movements which have at heart the community of human activities and of human existence in general.

    And last but not least Frederick Douglass put the issue into fine perspective for me in his words

    Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

    What do we gain from the thoughts of these and others too numerous to quote?  For me the basic message is in the thinking of those who relate justice to basic humanity and the needs of society.  If we were to take that thinking to the ultimate levels we would then treat others in the same way we wish to be treated (think the Golden Rule).

    How do we as nation relate justice to the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo?  Our Founding Fathers saw the United States as a nation built on ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Justice in terms of fair treatment of one and all is necessary to insure the fulfillment of those founding principles.  Perhaps if we define justice as the equitable treatment of one and all as human beings first and foremost we would near the basis for progress in humanity.  

    Under a system of fairness in which each person is equal to all others in basic human rights the world would benefit.  In this Utopian paradise men, women, and children of all races and creeds would work together to further society as a whole.  In that same world justice would be a founding principle upon which all else rests in that justice levels the playing field for one and all.  No person would be treated any different than any other in this idealist society.

    May we hope for such a nation in our future?  Surely we must.  Without hope all is lost.  Hopes and dreams and the proper sorts of ambition make life better for all with whom we come in contact.  We must never for a single moment lose sight of a future in which the United States leads the race for justice and peace throughout the world.  

    We face a long and difficult trial, but our great nation has faced these trials in the past.  We will make the grade in the end if we all continue to act for right versus wrong.  We humans may never agree on every measure of any issue including justice, but if we work together and continue to address the issues of the day we have hope at least.

    Obama: Up, up and away?

    To view the original art, please travel to Obama: Up, up and away?

    copyright © 2007.  Andrew Wahl.  Off The Wahl Perspective.

    [Posted 02/12/08]

    Super Tuesday was supposed to be the big one for the Democrats, when one candidate would emerge victorious to lead the party to the Promised Land.  And, in a way, that might have been what happened.  While it appeared Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dueled to a stalemate, the reality seems to be that Super Tuesday was the day Obama finally caught up.  Since then, he’s been leaving Hillary in the dust.

    Louisiana.  Nebraska.  Washington.  Maine.  Maryland.  Virginia.  Washington, D.C. Seven in a row, with the smallest margin of victory being 19 percent.  More importantly, yesterday’s contests saw Obama making inroads with Clinton’s core voters – working class whites, women, senior citizens, even Latinos.  And all of this while Clinton is struggling for cash and replacing her campaign chair.

    Clinton is betting the house on Texas and Ohio on March 4.  But based on the view “One Week After Super Tuesday . . .  ,” Superman could be well on his way to Metropolis by then.

    I Can Admit When I’m Wrong

    copyright © 2008. Forgiven The Disputed Truth

    Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, the MSM, and the talking-heads and pundits, I can admit when I am wrong. I have written and believed that whites when in the solitude of the voting booths would not be able to overcome centuries of racial history in America and actually be able to vote for a black man for President. Despite what the pollsters and campaign spokespersons were saying, the biggest question mark going into the primaries of Super Tuesday and beyond was would whites be willing to support Obama in the numbers that they were polling at? The truth be told no one knew the answer to that question and it created a lot of anxiety in the campaigns and in the rest of America. The answer at least among the Democrats in the primaries is a resounding yes.

    In astounding numbers Obama is receiving the votes and support of both white males and white females in states with little or no black populations. I also questioned Obama’s support among blacks and now they are voting for him in large majorities helping him to carry many southern states and giving him the lead in polls for the border states. I don’t know what happened among blacks since the start of the primary season up until now, but there has been a wholesale shift of support from the Clinton brand to Obama.

    Prior to the primaries, the conventional wisdom was that Hillary and Barack would split the black vote at the worse along a 40-60 split, respectively. Somewhere in this process Obama has secured the black vote and eased the fears and questions many blacks had about him. I don’t know if they were actually questions about Obama or if it was more questions about America’s ability to vote for and support a black candidate. I think that as the electability question of Obama became less of an issue a lot of blacks who were afraid to support Obama began to jump on the bandwagon.

    This is one of the few times in my life when I can honestly say that I am happy to have been wrong, because it means that the state of America is changing. Don’t get me wrong, even if we elect Obama the first black man to be President this will not in and of itself cure the many ills that plague America, but it will be one of those statement moments in history. What are statement moments in history? These are moments in history when the foundations of change are laid, even though the changes may be years or even decades away. These are moments when historians can look back and say this was the beginning of monumental change. The sad thing about change though is that it never works out like we think. Examples of this would be the Emancipation Proclamation, the Voting Rights Act, and Brown vs. Education, though these were foundations that could have ushered in monumental changes they were mitigated by obstacles of intransigence and apathy.

    Regardless of how this election turns out, we are at a watershed moment in America and I am happy to have been here to witness it. I hope Obama goes on to win the nomination for obvious reasons, but also I want to see how the country will react when their next vote will actually put a black man in the White House. What will be the strategy of the Republicans to combat his candidacy? Race, inexperience, drug pushing?

    I just want to take this moment to congratulate those white Americans who were able to overcome the centuries of propaganda and racist history of America and vote for Obama. While many will minimize this moment and say this is the way it is suppose to be, I have never been confused with how things are suppose to be versus how things are. This election is one of the most difficult in American history, because there are two distinct historical narratives that can be written in one election. We can elect either the first woman or the first black man to be President and both have their appeal to various segments of the population.

    I have read that what it will come down to is which is more ingrained in the American psyche gender bias or race bias. I think this is too simplistic an approach and ignores the  many other variables that are at play in this election. While it is certainly an issue worthy of discussion and will play itself out in the minds of many voters, if it comes down to a simple male or female question then chances are you won’t get pass the white male question in the first place.

    So, on the one hand we have made some progress I just hope we do not accept the false narrative that our mission is accomplished and begin to hang up our banners and ignore the rest of the work that needs to be done. We still have too many of our fellow citizens incarcerated and disenfranchised, we still have to many of our fellow citizens accumulating wealth at the expense of the other hard working Americans, and we still have too many lobbyists and corporations dictating national policy.

    There are many more miles to go before we sleep America, so let’s pat our fellow citizens on the back and get back to work and may be some day we can live in the kind of America where electing a woman or black man for President won’t be news. And I won’t have to make these stupid apologies.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

    ~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan