War and profit: Deciphering what it means to be in the U.S. military

March Forward! Against War and Racism

© copyright 2009 Michael Prysner.  Party for Socialism and Liberation

From the newsletter of March Forward!

We join the military for many different reasons. Some of us want to have access to a college education. Some of us want job training and a steady paycheck. Some of us join to get U.S. citizenship. Some of us need to get out of debt or need to get off a destructive path. Some of us join out of pride, patriotism and a genuine desire to be a part of some greater, collective good. Many of us made the decision early-while still in high school, enticed by recruiters’ promises of cash bonuses, adventure and opportunity-while some of us joined after years as a worker, drawn by the military’s full health care and housing benefits.

Whatever the reason, we all found ourselves wearing the uniform of the U.S. military. What did we actually join? What is the role of the U.S. military in the world? What does it mean to be a soldier following the dictates of U.S. foreign policy? When we sign ourselves away to the military, what are we being used to do?

In recent years, many of us ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. We are told that as a soldier in the U.S. military we are defending the interests of the United States. This does have an ounce of truth-but only an ounce. We are defending the interests of a particular class in the United States. It is only a wealthy minority whose interests are being defended in Iraq, Afghanistan and the more than 130 countries where U.S. troops are stationed.

In whose interests do we serve?

I was sent to Iraq believing we would be helping the Iraqi people. Once the illusions of pride and patriotism crumbled, I realized I was never sent to help anyone. I kicked down their doors and dragged them from their homes. I robbed them of their humanity in interrogation cells. I watched the life ripped out of them. I saw children torn to shreds. I witnessed my friends disabled by physical and/or psychological trauma. All this suffering and destruction for “Iraqi Freedom,” which really means the freedom of a new U.S.-installed government to hand over control of its natural resources to U.S. corporations.

It wasn’t much different for those soldiers sent to Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Panama or other countries that have been targets of U.S. intervention over the past half-century and more.

We are taught the United States stands for freedom and democracy, and that military force is used to defend or further those ideals. This is echoed constantly throughout our lives, in school and in the media. It is woven into the fabric of our national identity, making it possible for people to accept the deaths of U.S. soldiers in foreign lands, as long as they are assured they died in the interests of democracy.

History of U.S. conflicts

However, reviewing the history of conflicts in which the U.S. military has been involved tells a completely different story. The U.S. government does not have a history of supporting democratic movements, but rather a history of overthrowing them. Among those countries whose popularly elected governments have been crushed by the U.S. military and replaced by authoritarian and non-elected dictators are the Congo, Grenada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, Iran, Haiti-and the list goes on. Quite simply, this government – whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House-has no problem installing and backing oppressive dictatorships.

Understanding U.S. foreign policy becomes much easier if we stop looking at it in terms of “defending democracy,” and start looking at it in terms of economic interests. It is not the form of a foreign government that determines whether it ends up in the crosshairs of the U.S. government, but whether or not that government will give U.S. businesses access to its markets, labor force and natural resources. This explains why the United States supports governments with some of the worst human rights records, like Colombia, or Saudi Arabia, which has never had an election in its history! U.S. corporations reap billions of dollars in profits from these countries.

U.S. foreign policy really boils down to ensuring the extraction of wealth from the developing world by U.S. corporations. In the words of two-time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler: “I spent 33 years in the Marines. Most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

Claims that the Pentagon only works to defend the United States and spread democracy fall apart when you look at the current use of the military. It is now obvious that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, nor did the U.S. government care about the well-being of the Iraqi people. A quarter of Iraq’s population of 26 million people has been killed, wounded or displaced since the illegal U.S. invasion on March 19, 2003. Iraq sits atop a massive supply of petroleum, all of which was nationalized and closed to U.S. corporations’ control under Saddam Hussein.

The role of banks and big business

The banks and Wall Street exert dominating influence over U.S. foreign policy. Our “democracy” is reserved for those who have millions of dollars to run for office, and who are funded by (and ultimately beholden to) corporate interests. Our “free press” is owned by only five mega-corporations who directly profit from the military-industrial complex and distort reality to shape public opinion accordingly.

The ruling class of Wall Street CEOs, bankers and their loyal politicians has the power to annihilate an entire country for profit-but they never fight in these wars themselves. So they have to find a way to convince the average worker that these wars are worth fighting. They must find a way to convince working-class people that we should kill and die to make the rich ruling class even richer.

Our enemy is not on the other side of the world; that enemy is in the corporate boardrooms and the Pentagon Brass. Defeating that enemy means refusing to take part in their imperialist plans and organizing together to demand real justice.

Make History; Vote Early

VoteForChange.com: Make History

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

In this election year, America has made history.  Throughout the country, people are able to vote early.  Millions have decided to take advantage of what never was this easy to do, contribute to the greater community.  The question is will the once apathetic, those who felt powerless, or the people who were willing to be labeled as lazy participate.  

Might any of these individuals be deterred by the rumors.  Absentee ballots and tallies transmitted before the official election date will not count.  Ballots are altered by machines or perhaps, inept poll workers.  Proper attire must be worn or a constituent will be refused a place at the polls.  Could citizens consider the lines are long as an excuse to wait or a reason to forfeit the role they may play in the future of this nation.  There is much to ponder.  

Perhaps the reason people do not partake is the survey is too long.  Initiatives, Judges, Representatives, and the Presidential race; some might say there is just too much to research.  However, in America today, wherever a person may go there is talk of tomorrow, a hope for change, fear of what could be, and most importantly a sense that anything is possible.  After all, if citizens can choose early, and the hours to vote are more extensive, perchance, for the first time ever, more, if not every eligible American will have a say.  Apparently, the novel arrangement known as “early voting” appears to be a triumphant.

We may not yet know which candidates will win.  Nevertheless, it seems the people are a bit more victorious.  Countless pound the pavement.  The electorate runs, walks, bikes, and drives to the polls in numbers never seen before.  People hope to make history, to bring about change, to secure a sense of commitment to country such that America has never known.  An expanded opportunity to contribute to the choice of President has an effect on the possible outcome of this election.  The chance to speak through a ballot, coupled with what some express as, a greater need to voice personal preferences, the public heads for the poll en masse.

The Success of Early Voting

The New York Times

October 30, 2008

A lot is going wrong in this election, from malfunctioning electronic voting machines to voters being purged mistakenly from the rolls.  But one thing is going very right: early voting.  In the more than 30 states that allow early or no-excuse absentee voting, voters have been casting ballots in record numbers.  Early voting has many advantages.  The main one is that it makes it likely that more eligible voters will participate in democracy.

Election Day has traditionally been held on a single day – a Tuesday.  Congress scheduled federal elections on Tuesdays because they worked well for farmers and Sabbath observers.  But in the 21st century, having one day to vote is an antiquated relic.  Voters have to fit in a visit to the polls with their work, family and other responsibilities.  Many cannot find the time, particularly when lines are as long as they have been in recent times.

The answer, as many states have discovered, is to move away from a single day of voting and allow voters to cast ballots over a period of days or weeks. . .

Some people are wary of early voting.  As Susan Saulny reported in The Times on Wednesday, there are rumors in the African-American community in Jacksonville, Fla., that early voting is a scam and that the votes cast early would be discarded.  Given Florida’s history with electoral mischief, some skepticism about election procedures is not only understandable, but necessary.

But the truth is that early voting actually makes it harder for the forces of disenfranchisement to stop eligible voters from casting ballots.  If election officials try to require voters to present ID when it is not required by law, early voting gives voters a chance to simply return the next day.  Dirty tricks are also harder to pull off.  If political operatives want to jam get-out-the-vote telephone lines, as they did on Election Day in New Hampshire in 2002, it would be harder to do if people voted over two weeks.

Tittle-tattle, tales of what will go wrong, or has, may be unfounded, or at least far less dire than reported.  While problems still exist, purged ballots, misplaced tickets, and other antics are less likely when the time to vote is spread over days, and even weeks.  Challenges can be corrected.  Dilemmas dealt with.  Quandaries quickly resolved.  Hence, eligible voters enjoy.  

Chat with those in your community while you wait to cast a ballot for your county and for the children who cannot yet legally speak for the concerns that will transform life for them.  Take comfort in the knowledge that time will pass and you can be a part of what will be better for the Seventh Generation.  Settle in as you sit with your absentee form and do the research.  Remember, the young, the old, those soon-to-be born, the ill, the impoverished, even the affluent will be affected by your decision.  Be part of the choice this country makes.  Feel empowered.  Make history.  Vote early.

Reference: for a newer reality . . .


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

Ambition is a passion, at once strong and insidious, and is very apt to cheet (sic) a man out of his happiness and his true respectability of character.~ Edward Bates

Bates who went on to become Abraham Lincoln’s attorney general was speaking of his personal perspective at a time when he and others including Lincoln were being considered for nomination to the Presidency.  We all today might find a measure of wisdom in the thought.

Ambition is

an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power

We see increasing amounts of this apparent desire among so many in the political ranks today.  There is much to be said for having ambition if one is able to direct that feeling to productive efforts.  Lacking the drive to be successful in any endeavor will often lead to failure and collapse of the effort instead of success.

Ambition is like unto a team of horses pulling a fine carriage in my mind.  The team needs a firm hand on the reins.  A good driver knows each member of the team and recognizes their strong points as well as their weaknesses.  With a firm idea of the trip ahead a driver can make the trek so much better for all concerned.  Letting go of the reins or letting that team take more control may lead to one bumpy ride for the passengers and the driver, too.

In the world of American politics today there are many driving forces with which to be reckoned.  Money is always an issue.  No campaign ever has too much money.  Trust me on that one.  And people are another big concern.  No politician wishing to be successful ever turned away the people who volunteer time and energy to be helpful.  Experience in the community and in the ranks of the local political establishment is also helpful to the success of a campaign.

For many today the final piece of qualification for political campaigning is that personal ambition that drives a person to strive for new heights of public recognition.  In too many instances the individual then finds him/herself losing whatever measure of personal integrity may have been in place at the onset of the political process.  Too many find themselves in the position of bending principles in order to placate one group or another and therefore gain support.  In the end one is in danger of losing personal integrity altogether if the hand on the reins is not firm and steady.

How can one guard against ambition that drives the wrong ways?  Can one do so at all?  I suggest that all of us have measures of ambition that keep us moving toward our goals in life.  How do we assure ourselves that we are making a positive difference in the world and not moving toward personal reward that helps no one but ourselves?

We can start by examining our motives.  We can move to a hard look at the reality of our life as it stands today.  For myself there are a few questions I find helpful.  Is my goal going to further life for any other person?  Is my success going to mean any person outside my immediate family finds their life improved in some way?  Or is the entire issue about me and personal rewards that benefit no one else?  If I can answer the questions in a manner that means society benefits and be honest in my thinking I know the process is a good one and is outside personal ambition.  Then the process of keeping to the straight and narrow must begin.

Ambition is not only a powerful driving force, but as Judge Bates suggested the effect can be insidious.  A person may not recognize the losses in one’s self until too late unless the safeguards are set in place early on in life.  One needs trustworthy and reliable friends who are willing to point out any deviation from the established course.  With enough careful attention paid to the entire process ambition can be the driving force that puts real fire in the belly of any course in life.  Ambition drives each of us to heights in life which may otherwise not be attained.  The trick for every one is to keep that ambition under control and directed to the overall good of society.  

Together we can stand for a new tomorrow.  If we all direct our personal ambition toward the good of society in general a tidal wave of glorious redirection may result.  If we continue to allow personal ambition to drive toward goals of any individual we are bound to continue our downward trend of the past several years.

How many politicians today do we see progress through the ranks of local and state government to end in Congress or some other high ranking political position?  Did any one of the begin the process by thinking only of themselves?  I believe most people who enter the political arena today do so with good intentions.  It is the ambition that sneaks in and takes over for far too many.

And what are we the voters to do about all this?  Can we effect a change in the system to insure we have the best candidates with our interests in mind in office?  Or is the process too heavy with its own inertia to provide the opportunity for people with new ideas to be successful?  Or is the system already populated with people whose ambition is for the good of the people so no change is really needed in the first place?

This Is How The War On Christmas Started

© copyright 2007 Storm Bear Town Called Dobson

To view the original, travel to a Town Called Dobson.

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient Pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life.  In actuality, when the Roman Empire was converted en masse to Christianity, many cultures did not give up their Pagan ideals and traditions and so they were incorporated into the Christmas tradition.

Many of the symbols associated with the modern holiday of Christmas such as the burning of the Yule log, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoe, etc. are apparently derived from traditional northern European Yule celebrations.  When the first missionaries began converting the Germanic peoples to Christianity, they found it convenient to provide a Christian reinterpretation for popular feasts such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, versus trying to confront and suppress them.  The Scandinavian tradition of slaughtering a pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham), and not in the autumn, is probably the most salient evidence for this.  The tradition derives from the sacrifice to the god Freyr at the Yule celebrations.  Halloween and Easter are likewise assimilated from northern European Pagan festivals.

History Happens; Ebbs And Flows. Emotions Are Entrenched

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

On any given day, in any given way we create a foundation for our lives.  What we think, say, do, or feel will be with us throughout our existence.  Even if we believe, we are no longer where we were, we evolved, [and we all do] the effects of our actions, our reactions, do not change unless we work extremely hard to transform them.  Indeed, no matter how diligently we are in our  pursuit, attempting to erase the effects of our deeds, our failure to function, or our rejoinders, these will linger in the hearts and minds of those we associate with.

People presume to know who we are, and what we meant way-back-when.  Today they are more certain than ever.  Emotions are easily entrenched.

Only a day ago I was endeavoring to say, just this.  Two prominent persons were in the news.  Numerous articles were written discussing their doings.  Television broadcasts assessing their situations filled the airwaves.  Throughout the day, each time I heard or read of one report, the other followed immediately.  There were no transitions between these news items.  The tales were presented as interesting, somewhat ironic anecdotes,  In my mind, the inference was ever-present; the past is evident in today’s occurrences. 

As I evaluated these narratives I thought of nothing more, than how “funny” life is.  Try as we might, we cannot escape what we said or did long ago.  It was and is almost humorous to me.  When we consider the twists and turns of events, no one could imagine what will come. 

It seems to me, those most wanting to forget what occurred “when we were . . .” are the ones more deeply immersed in their history.  I penned prose discussing what for me is somewhat laughable.  In our effort not to repeat history, we often do as we did long ago, or we create a chaos that pales by comparison.

How often have we purposely pursued a prospect different than those we embarked on before only to discover the similarities?  If we are able to strike a chord that relieves us of former follies, it seems many of us give birth to bigger and better traumas.  While reviewing the day’s events, I marveled.

In my mind, these two persons were notably not repentant for their earlier conduct.  They each often seem embroiled in incidents that relate back to their past.

In my missive, I spoke of the wonder woman of note, an esteemed and articulate aspirant.  Some say she is a “polarizing” figure; yet, her prestige is unquestionable.  I imagined that she might have been more cautious, or may have attended to what could have been easily misconstrued prior to this late date. 

I theorized that perhaps, not wishing to be vulnerable, open, willing to apologize for what others felt and thought hurtful caused a reluctance to change that did not serve this renowned person well.  I pondered; perchance, if this exceptional individual had done other than take a defensive stance, the coverage of her deeds would not have been so great.

I also offered the other tale musing how harsh life can be when we work to justify our history.  I spoke of a person some think is a criminal.  [Who am I to presume.]  The man discussed in my now deleted missive fell so far from favor that the mere mention of his name causes people to cringe. 

The only correlations stated in my essay were the two had each been the focus in the day’s news, and each does what many or most of us have done.  They have not actively attended to their history. 

If any of us has not enthusiastically worked through what was, we might relate. 

If those around us refuse to lovingly labor with us in hopes of resolving past understandings, well, the predicaments may be similar.  Oh, those well-established emotional reactions can be our undoing.

In my own life, my personal history haunts me often.  I cannot imagine that I am alone in this experience. 

I might cite the conversation I had two years ago in September.  An estranged  family member and I spoke for the first time in a long while.  I tried, as I had done many times over the years, to discuss a trauma I never understood.  To this day, I am unsure what happened or exactly when.  I only know that until we, authentically chat about what this individual is feeling and why, we will never move forward.  Indeed, our relationship will continue to regress. 

Avoidance of the topic has caused great harm.  Ignoring has lead to shared ignorance.  Pretending nothing is wrong reaps greater problems.
The best way out is always through.
~ Robert Frost [Poet]

In this more recent discussion, I shared all my sorrows.  I suggested every possibility for why we might be where we are, or were on that autumn day when we spoke at length.  I offered my sincerest apologies for every word, and any action.  I explained where I might have been years ago and accepted there was so much I did not know then and desired to understand now. 

These words came back to me, “It is all in the past.”  I stated, ‘It is not.  What was effects what is.  Our history is our foundation.  It is evident in the present and will create the future, if we do nothing to correct our differing impressions.’

Two months ago, another individual mentioned an event that occurred more than twenty years ago.  I recall the incident well, and the ensuing misunderstanding.  Money exchanged hands, was re-paid, however, inadequately according to this other person.  I remember the same, and for a score I was certain I had made amends.  Apparently, in the mind and memory of this individual I had not.  However, nothing was said to me for all this time.  Decades came and went and not a word.

Once I fortuitously learned of this lingering lament, much made sense.  There had long been an unexplained distance between this party and me.  Might this unpaid debt, the one I thought was fully settled be the cause for such a divide.  I strongly suspect it was.

Again, I was told, now by a second person “It is in the past.”  However, once more, it was not.  I shared with this love as I had with the other.  “Times gone by shade our present and will be prominent in our future.”  We must be willing to approach the untouchable topics and decide that we will work to change what was.  If we do not we will be forever haunted by our history.

Granted, if the persons we intermingle with are unwilling to alter their initial impression of what we may think are false claims and judgments, our interactions with these individuals will forever reflect their perception of the days gone by.  Their understanding of us, interpretations of our message will be their staunchly defended truth. 

Not one of us can escape the fact that we have not always been or done as we later realize was best.  Some never think, or state, they have ever done wrong.  That conclusion might harm these persons more severely than admitting, ‘Perhaps, I was at fault.’  They envision stating they were in error as a weakness.  For these saintly souls, vulnerability is not the strength I perceive it to be.

For me, knowing I am another flawed human being is a reality.  Those that read a recent treatise of mine might tell you that.  Many did tell me this.

I am being “constructively criticized,” rebuked and reprimanded for supposedly expressing a thought I did not state or even think to consider.  I suspect all of us might be able to relate to this. 

Interestingly, much of impetus for this inaccurate interpretation was evoked not by my words, but because of an image presented as an introduction to the publication.  In my mind, I was stating that two people had a history that was affecting their lives in the present.  Each wrote of their past, and details of their doings were discussed in the mainstream media on the same day.  Both stories I thought somewhat bizarre.  For me, that was the authentic connection, the only combining of the two I saw. 

However, numerous persons viewed my symbolic message differently.  It seems, once the portraits were perceived as one, they were forever linked in the minds and hearts of others.  The visual took on a life all its own.  Many readers were not able to separate their first impression, or expectation of what was to come, from what preceeded. 

Ah, the human heart and the effect it has on a rational mind.  We are all escorted by to our emotions although few wish to admit this.  Perchance that is why our history haunts us.  We protect and defend our beliefs as fact.  Our failure to recognize that what is real for us is not valid for another harms our relationships and ourselves.  I long ago learned, what is “right” for me is the relationship, not my need to prove someone else in error.

Often when we word our condemnation of an act, we present a punitive stance that defines the essence of the wrongdoer as erroneous.  We use expressions that do not open hearts.  Instead, humans turn a phrase that is punitive and demeaning to the other.  We place the onus on them, the person that disturbed our sensibility.  Had they not said, done, thought, or been as they were [or more truthfully, as we believe them to be] then we would not be in distress. 

Words such as “I am disappointed in you” [your essential being] pass for constructive criticism.  “Tsk, tsk” [How could you be so corrupt, cunning, dishonest, deceitful, and devious] are considered caring, statements of concern.  “This is beneath you” is posited as an acknowledgement of your extraordinary quality.  Supposedly, the speaker is intending to state their love and admiration.  However, were these words said to you, you likely would not feel as though they were fond of you. 

Might the articulation actually be more about the speakers’ apprehension, their anxiety over what they believe you or I have become or possibly always were. 

With thanks to a man I did not fully understand for years, for he was not like anyone I ever experienced, I learned much.  Our perceptions are our reality.  Only empathy can educate us.  Nonetheless . . .

Most people that presume to know us best, those that claim to have deep knowledge of our intentions, rarely do.  Others believe they recognize whom we are within.  Frequently, they refuse to.  Any attempt at sharing our authentic motivation for whatever might have moved us, is defined as “a veiled pretense,” a “patronizing remark,” or “beneath us.”

In my endeavor to share a thought that I have honored for years, ‘Fact is far stranger, and infinitely more humorous than fiction,’ I was slammed, damned, criticized, and condemned.

If others never speak aloud in a truly caring manner when they have concerns, nothing will change.  If they are busy placing the onus on us and are unwilling to believe that what they perceive as our intentions are not, there will be no growth, no understanding, and definitely no shared wisdom.

In elementary school, we learn the term ‘constructive criticism.’  We think that our expressed concerns are these.  Seldom do we imagine how our disparagement might be heard.  I wonder if this construct, caring censure might be an oxymoron.  Can a person be critical without being cruel.  I think there are ways to productively pronounce a genuine concern without using words that define another as fatally flawed.  However, these require an open heart and mind. 

Criticism is a misconception: we must read not to understand others but to understand ourselves.
~ Emile M. Cioran [French Philosopher. 1911 – 1995]

Demeaning another will never serve to secure a reciprocal reverence.  Shaming a spirit cannot create a beautiful bond.  Defensiveness does nothing to further discussion or understanding.  Change will not come if we are entrenched in our emotional evaluations.  Calm is not created when we chose words that cut like a knife. 

In a debate, there are winners and losers.  Disputes do not reap reflective rewards.  In my mind, these forums offer no resolution.

When someone defines what is above or beneath us, based on his or her unfaltering belief that they know our intention better than we, they place the blame solely on us.  When an individual decides that a person is suggesting more than what they state on the surface, then that person is reading between the lines and envisioning their own message. 

For those who think, life is a comedy.
For those who feel, life is a tragedy.

~ Horace Walpole [Father of Gothic Novel, Earl of Orford]

I was told what I really think and who I truly am.  Those that have never meet me, cannot, or will not dialogue with me as a caring, communicative person might, concluded that my message was what I had never thought it to be.

While as a human, I could rationalize and argue the point they presumed I was making.  I could also make a case for the contrary were I to try.  However, I had no desire to debase the subjects of my missive beyond what I thought interesting

Possibly, my essay was incomplete.  I was not endeavoring to go deep.  I genuinely was just jotting down a moment of surprise that two such stories, examples of how our past never dies were broadcast back-to-back during the evening news.

If, as in my situation, a visual is offered revealing that two people have a history that is invasive, and each was being discussed publicly on a single day, is interpreted as meaning more than it was meant to imply, then the messenger will be killed.  I am slain and in the minds of many, I was totally to blame.

I submit, perhaps the image was powerful and communicated what was not meant to be.  I might have included a third frame.  The visual within that box could have been your face or mine.  However, if the text of the treatise is read as it was presented, or at least as it was intended to be, the reader might understand my message.

I will try to state it simply.  Anyone of us that does not work through their past and chooses not to help others to understand who we truly are is doomed.  We are fated to realize that people will forever recall our history.  The fiction others create will appear as facts, in part, because we do not correct it. 

At times, we may not know that someone is feeling as they do.  However, when we are a public figure, as the two I referred to are, it is difficult to avoid ample angst.  I thought it fascinating that these two individuals were being publicly reminded of their past on the same day, nothing more. 

I think, possibly, we all are forced to face what was; yet, our reminders of the past are not printed in the papers; nor do the accounts of many appear on the same day.  Rarely do we need to address our errors or what others perceive as our mistakes in an open assembly.

However, on those occasions, when we do endeavor to correct a misimpression, as I have repeatedly tried to do today, our words fall often on deaf ears.  Thus, the thought submitted earlier in the now defunct treatise illustrates my initial and intentional claims.  Facts, or what passes for these, are funnier than fiction.  Historically, the past does not fade from minds.  Sadly, for some, what “may” have never been will always be when humans are involved.

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.
James A. Baldwin [Author]

Policymakers Applaud Marginal Gains on History Test

Sec. Spellings admits lacks of educational credentials. YouTube.com.

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Quick, answer these questions.  You are being timed.  However, do not feel pressured.  Do the best that you can.  Our school literally depends on you.  Your performance on these examinations will determine  whether our district or this facility receives Federal funding.  Do not open your test booklet until I tell you to do so.  When you are finished, close the pamphlet, put your pencil down, and sit quietly.  You may begin.The voyages of Columbus changed life in Europe by  . . .
A) introducing new foods and spices to Europe
B) showing Europeans a shorter route to Asia
C) introducing the horse to Spain
D) proving that the Earth was flat

In what year did Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin?  More importantly, What was a major effect of the introduction of the cotton gin?  Name the first permanent English settlement in North America.  What was the main issue in the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858?  Stop!  Close your booklet.  Place your future in my hands for now.  I will pass your answers on to the authorities.  Notes and Scantrons will be evaluated.  Ultimately, a big bureaucrat will decide.  Did you learn your lessons well?  Was my teaching to the test effective?  Might we all be rewarded for the rote recall that now defines education?  Well, that depends on how the government spins the story.  By the way, the answer to the first question is “A.”  The journeys made by Christopher Columbus introduced new foods and spices to European citizens.

You, dear reader, recall the drill.  We have all experienced the trauma, drama, and thrill of standardized testing.  In recent years, the excitement is expanding.  Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, our children take standardized tests more regularly.  The rewards for doing well are ample.  The punishment for doing poorly is, some say, excessive.  Nevertheless, students must be “accountable.”  Scores are scrutinized.  The New York Times states, Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History; nevertheless, as a whole, the pupils in this nation improved. 

At least, that is the opinion of officials in the Federal government.

Federal officials said they considered the results encouraging because at each level tested, student performance had improved since the last time the exam was administered, in 2002.

“In U.S. history there were higher scores in 2006 for all three grades,” said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, at a Boston news conference that the Education Department carried by Webcast.

The government is proclaiming the educational system in America is  better than it was and the progress will continue.  According, to the Washington Post Department of Education personnel state . . . .

The nation’s fourth-graders have shown significant gains in U.S. history and civics test scores, federal researchers reported yesterday, a development that — coupled with similar recent advances in reading, math and science — experts attribute in large part to an intense national focus on reading in early grades.

Educators said they were also heartened by significant improvement in 12th-grade U.S. history scores, the first national gain in any high school subject in eight years.  The rise in elementary social studies scores, once considered in the doldrums, drew the most attention.

Such accolades, welcome progress and yet, there seems to be little concern for what is not working well.

[M]ore than half of high school seniors still showed poor command of basic facts like the effect of the cotton gin on the slave economy or the causes of the Korean War.

Excuses can be made.  Indeed, Federal spokespersons are offering explanations that seem feasible.  These High School seniors were educated under the older more lax system.  Now, since No Child Left Behind was initiated, schools are moving back to basics.  Today, students are succeeding in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  Better reading skills help pupils to extrapolate.  The failings will never occur again, for learners that perform poorly will not be allowed to advance to the next grade or graduate with their classmates. 

Department administrators prefer to highlight the successes.  These are evident for the most part, only in the lower fourth grade results.

Since 2002, beginning in Head Start programs, and continuing into the twelfth grade, pupils are required to pass rigid and rote examinations.  Students of all sizes, shapes, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences must meet specific minimal standards.  Each scholar is assessed as his or her peers are, even if their background and aptitude vary.  Every educator must be “accountable.”  There are no allowances or expectations.  All are judged equally. 

Educators argue against this unyielding system.  Parents complain as imaginative programs are cut.  Pupils are bored; however, these individuals are powerless against the Bush Administration.  Over the years, some schools have chosen to be different and suffer the consequences.

Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test
By Marc Fisher 
Washington Post
Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01

Teachers grumble and moan about how politicians’ love affair with tests has turned education into a grim mission to teach creative young minds how to darken the ovals completely and neatly.

Parents complain about the lost arts and athletics, the exciting labs and imaginative lessons that schools cut out to make way for classes on the art and science of taking standardized tests.

But rarely do public schools take a stand on behalf of the children left behind by the very law that promises to carry them forward.

This summer, Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Falls Church put down a marker.  A letter sent to every parent said teachers are being forced to spend “valuable instructional time preparing students to take the Standards of Learning tests, to the exclusion of activities that extend and deepen student learning, integrate the arts with content, and allow students to develop and pursue their own questions.”

The letter said Bailey’s, which as Fairfax County’s first magnet elementary school attracts immigrant families from its Culmore neighborhood and more affluent families from across the county, will still teach children how to think like scientists and historians, even though “this is not what standardized tests measure or encourage.”

The letter was more than an ideological tract.  It was a warning to parents that in the next few weeks, they may find their school declared failing under the federal government’s No Child Left Behind protocols.

The problem is that about 77 percent of Bailey’s students are immigrants, many of whom come to school knowing little or no English.  The law requires the school to bring an ever-higher percentage of those students up to grade level each year.  Bailey’s, like most schools with large populations of poor or non-English-speaking students, isn’t hitting its numbers.

“It’s an ax hanging over our heads,” says Jean Frey, the principal, who has to explain to parents that if Bailey’s is declared failing, the county could fire its teachers, and families would have the right to transfer to another school.

“I have no problem with being accountable,” Frey says.  “As a citizen, I want these kids to grow up to be literate problem-solvers.”  But she will not shutter her science lab, pull the plug on theatrical productions, or tell teachers to scrap a literature discussion to drill kids on test facts.

“The testing itself is enormously time-consuming,” Frey says.  “We give up over two weeks in May to the tests.  So, the rest of the year, we try very hard not to do ‘SOL Prep Time,’ like many schools do.  How important is it to know how to fill in ABCD?  I don’t do that very often as an adult.”

The elders at Bailey’s Elementary school believe what we do in our careers and with our lives rarely relates to the mechanical “facts” we learn in school.  These educators acknowledge as many a scientist might “facts are fluid.”  They often change over time.  Only this week we learned that Darwin did not discover what he expected to find.  The scientist wrote . . .

At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.

Yet, the current educational system acts as though they are.  Individuals are thought to be standard or subordinate.  Information is considered a constant.  Data is indisputable.  Events must be interpreted as reported in a particular historical text, and problems have one absolute answer.  The correct response is the one dictated by National Assessment of Educational Progress. 

When we as a society believe or accept that conclusions are unchallengeable, we no longer strive to challenge the minds of our children.  We state No Child will be Left Behind; yet most are when American students learn to improve their memories while forfeiting their mental capacity. 

The technique that interprets scores as success or failure is often referred to as “teaching to the test.”  This method is frequently questioned.  The Bailey’s School was not the first or only institution to reject the practice.  This instructional method has its supporters and its detractors.  Each argument may be apt and well stated.  However, I believe the question is of greater concern than the answers might be.  I think what is most important is that we “teach to the individual.”  As we evaluate further, we might better understand why the rise in scores is of little consequence in the real world.

Educational experts understand that students are well served if instructors are sensitive to the needs of their pupils as the unique persons they are.  Learning modalities must be addressed.  Relevancy needs to be realized if a student is to authentically acquire knowledge. 

Giving grades, assessing moments, and memories does not establish or ensure that what was “learned” will last for a lifetime.  Yet, under the current system grades not depth are crucial.

The ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create is no longer as important as the details are.  Critical thinking skills, those that develop through discussion take time and discipline.  Teachers no longer have the minutes or hours needed for genuine instruction.  They can only assist students in understanding the process of elimination in the event that the “fact” escapes you. 

Let us truly assess what occurs when we do not teach critical thinking skills. The recent History and civic scores are revealing.

A sampling of what eighth-graders know about U.S. history:

  • 64 percent identified an impact of the cotton gin
  • 43 percent explained goals of the Martin Luther King Jr. march
  • 1 percent explained how the fall of the Berlin Wall affected foreign policy

    A sampling of what eighth-graders know about civics:

  • 80 percent identified a notice for jury duty
  • 63 percent determined an instance of abuse of power
  • 28 percent explained the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence

    Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress reports

  • You might notice from the results the depth of knowledge is limited.  Obviously, children are being left behind.  Schools inevitably fall below minimum standards.  Requirements are not met.  In accordance with the law, educational facilities will not receive funding or they will be taken over if they do not perform as prescribed.  The Administration declares, research has proven punitive measures work to motivate minds, or so we are told.

    It seems the incentive to succeed on strict and binding evaluations left educators with few choices.  Courses were cut.  Curriculums adjusted, and schedules were changed.

    A number of studies have shown that because No Child Left Behind requires states to administer annual tests in math and reading, and punishes schools where scores in those subjects fail to rise, many schools have reduced time spent on other subjects, including history.  In a recent study, Martin West, an education professor at Brown, used federal data to show that during 2003-4, first- and sixth-grade teachers spent 23 fewer minutes a week on history than during 1999-2000.

    However, the government counters, fourth graders scored higher in their history examinations.

    The best results in the history test were also in fourth grade, where 70 percent of students attained the basic level of achievement or better.

    Imagine, only seventy percent understood the most basic concepts.  This result is thought to be excellent by Federal spokespersons.  Twelfth graders are said to be the exception.  The Administration laments, these young persons fell so far behind due to less stringent earlier instruction and evaluations.  No Child Left Behind laws are challenging adolescents to achieve after years of neglect.  Federal officials say, prior to the preferred rigidity of No Child Left Behind, standards were lax.  It is for this reason the results are less than stellar.

    The tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, divide achievement levels into basic, proficient and advanced.  The 2006 history assessment had the highest percentage of 12th-grade students scoring below basic of any subject tested in 2005 and 2006.

    However, there are concerns beyond  the scores of High School seniors.

    [O]nly 1 percent of students at any grade level scored at the advanced level.

    The history test was given to a national sample of 29,200 fourth, 8th- and 12th-grade students.  Among the results were these:

    ¶Some 47 percent of the 12th graders performed at the basic level or above.  In 2001, 43 percent were at or above basic.

    ¶Sixty-five percent of eighth graders achieved the basic level or better, up from 62 percent six years ago.

    ¶Seventy percent of fourth graders attained or exceeded the basic level, compared with 66 percent in 2001.  Even this result, however, left 30 percent who, for instance, lacked an ability to identify even the most familiar historic figures or explain the reasons for celebrating national holidays.

    While the Federal bureaucrats, those who dole out the dough believe the gains demonstrate progress, educators and experts do not think the statistics give reason for celebration.  They are concerned; Americans scholars rank far below those in other nations.  The advent of the newer tests and standards are lessening the quality and time allotted to genuine instruction.  Rote is promulgated and critical thinking is rarely part of the current curriculum.  There just is not enough time, particularly when punitive measures for not achieving as the Administration thinks best are but a step away.  Professional educators say this report does not inspire hope.

    “It’s heartwarming that the test organizers have found positive things to say, but this report is not anything to break out the Champagne over,” said Theodore K. Rabb, a professor of history at Princeton who advocates devoting more classroom time to the subject.

    The civics exam was given to a national sample of 25,300 4th, 8th, and 12th graders.  Seventy-three percent of fourth-grade pupils performed at the basic level or better, up from 69 percent in 1998, the last time the civics exam was administered.  The scores of 8th and 12th graders showed no change.

    “What is most discouraging is that as students grow older and progress through the grades towards adulthood and eligibility to vote, their civic knowledge and dispositions seems to grow weaker,” said David W. Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County School District in California, who is a member of the board that sets policies for the test.

    By contrast, the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings thought the scores superb.  For Secretary Spellings, the result reiterated the Administration’s claims, schools are now showing themselves accountable.  They are offering a foundation for all knowledge.  The Secretary, in a retort to detractors stated . . .

    “When students know how to read and comprehend,” Ms. Spellings said, “they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics.”

    It seems the solution amongst instructors and  historians is we must examine a student’s knowledge of history more frequently.  Apparently, in the original No Child Left Behind law, learners were given Reading and Math test every other year.  History evaluations were scheduled every five to seven years.  Thus . . .

    In Washington, Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, reintroduced a bill on Wednesday based on the premise that the National Assessment gave history short shrift, testing it every five to seven years instead of every other year as with reading and math. Their legislation would require national history tests every four years, with more students tested.

    David McCullough, John Hope Franklin, Douglas Brinkley and dozens of other prominent historians have sent Congress a petition urging the bill’s passage.

    It seems today, teachers are told to teach only lessons that correlate to tests.  Evaluations no longer assess authentic knowledge.  Tests are designed  to pay the bills.  I think we must ask ourselves, what are we teaching.  Why do we instruct as we do, and are we doing a disservice to our children and society?  I believe the answers to these questions might help, if or when we ever choose to evaluate ourselves.

    References, Resources.  Read Carefully.  There may be a test . . .

  • Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. May 17, 2007
  • pdf Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. May 17, 2007
  • Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; A09
  • pdf Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews.
    Washington Post.
    Thursday, May 17, 2007; A09

  • Tests show students learn basics in history, civics. Cable News Network. May 17, 2007
  • Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test. By Marc Fisher. Washington Post. Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01
  • pdf Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test. By Marc Fisher. Washington Post. Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01
  • Word For Word, My Dear Fellow Species, By Mary Jo Murphy.  The New York Times. May 20, 2007
  • pdf Word For Word, My Dear Fellow Species, By Mary Jo Murphy.  The New York Times. May 20, 2007
  • Let’s Teach to the Test, By Jay Mathews.  Washington Post. Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf Let’s Teach to the Test, By Jay Mathews.  Washington Post. Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
  • ‘Teach to the Test’? What Test? By Colman McCarthy.  Washington Post. Saturday, March 18, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf ‘Teach to the Test’? What Test? By Colman McCarthy.  Washington Post. Saturday, March 18, 2006; Page A21
  • Tests show students learn basics in history, civics.  Cable News Network.  May 17, 2007
  • Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; Page A09
  • pdf Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; Page A09
  • Rob Newman. The History of Oil and War

    You may enjoy this rumination.  The presentation is lengthy, though perhaps enlightening, entertaining, and enjoyable.  My own attention span for viewing video can be short.  Comedy is not my style.  However, there are historical references within this program.  Thus, may I present . . .

    Robert Newman gets to grips with the wars and politics of the last hundred years – but rather than adhering to the history we were fed at … school, the places oil centre stage as the cause of all commotion. 

    This innovative history programme is based around Robert Newman’s stand-up act and supported by resourceful archive sequences and stills with satirical impersonations of historical figures from Mayan priests to Archduke Ferdinand. 

    Quirky details such as a bicycle powered street lamp on the stage brings home the pertinent question of just how we are going to survive when the world’s oil supplies are finally exhausted.

    Please feel free to share your assessment.  Your thoughts may ignite our own.  We know petroleum is flammable.  Look at the fires raging over Iraq, the Middle East, and all that oil.

    Thanksgiving. Will Our Past, Our Present Be Prologue? ©

    As the celebration continues and the cynicism mounts, a delivery was made to me.  I thank William S. Burroughs for his Thanksgiving Prayer.  I am grateful to bzbb of My Left Wing fame.  S/he shared the text and resource with me. 

    After reading my Thanksgiving story of genocide, some decided that they knew I loathe the holiday; I do not.  I do have disdain for humans that knowingly hurt other humans.  I am disquieted when I realize that man, woman, or child intentionally commits crimes against nature.

    When people speak against “evil” and then act in ways that I think they might deem “sinful” I am confused.  While, I personally do not believe in either concept, I wonder why those that do think these constructs are valid behave in ways that could be defined as wicked.

    As I listen to William Burroughs and read the text of his musings, I am miffed.  What are we giving thanks for on this the fourth Thursday in November?  What do we welcome in the days that follow?  I offer the Burroughs prayer so that we all might ponder.

    Thanksgiving Prayer
    By William S Burroughs [1914 to 1997]
    American Novelist, Essayist, and Social Critic

    Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons,
    Destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.
    Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.
    Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
    Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.
    Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
    Thanks for the American dream,?
    To vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.
    Thanks for the KKK.
    For n****r-killin’ lawmen feelin’ their notches.
    For decent church-goin’ women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
    Thanks for “Kill a Queer for  Christ” stickers.
    Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
    Thanks for Prohibition and the  war against drugs.
    Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind the own business.
    Thanks for a nation of finks.
    Yes, thanks for all the memories– all right let’s see your arms!
    You always were a headache and you always were a bore.
    Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

    I cannot thank William Seward Burroughs II enough.  My mind would never travel in the places his did.  However, perchance, you dear reader might relate.

    If nothing else, I think this performance might provoke a deeper pondering.  I invite each of us to reflect, to meditate, and contemplate, what does Thanksgiving Day mean to us.  What does the holiday season connote?

    How might our past relate to our present and what will our future be.

    “Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.”
    ~ George Santanya

    “What’s past is prologue.”
    ~ William Shakespeare

    Consider Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Korea.  Is there talk of occupation or might we overthrow regime after regime? 

    Contemplate racial profiling.  Does the Patriot Act make this legal. 

    Look within your local cities.  Are there slums, ghettos, gangs, and girls walking the streets to make a decent wage?  Perhaps, workingwomen are not the only ones looking for work.  There are those that lost their employ so long ago they are no longer counted by government tallies.  They dropped off the rolls, and have since dropped out of sight.  In actuality, these persons are still visible; look out your window.  There they are, on the avenue. 

    Are Blacks treated as whites; are the rich revered, are the poor?

    What of women; what of immigrants?

    Might we recall the Native Americans and the wilderness that welcomed our forefathers?  What became of these?

    What occurs in your home or that of your neighbors?  Is communication prevalent in your abode, or in that of those living adjacent to you?  Is care evident and flourishing or is this concept one you and others crave, but only dream of.  I wonder. 

    What did you give thanks for yesterday and what will you be grateful for tomorrow?

    Thanksgiving.  The Past, Present, and Pondering

  • Burroughs. By bzbb. My Left Wing. Friday, November 24, 2006
  • William S. Burroughs – Thanksgiving Prayer. YouTube.com
  • Practice to Deceive Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks’ nightmare scenario–it’s their plan. By Joshua Micah Marshall. Washington Monthly. April 2003
  • US Patriot Act. American Civil Liberties Union. November 14, 2003
  • Streetgangs. Streetgangs.com
  • Ghettos: The Changing Consequences of Ethnic Isolation, By Ed Glaeser.  Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Spring 1997
  • Living Wage, Facts at a Glance. The Economic Policy Institute. 2006
  • Jobs Picture, November 2006. The Economic Policy Institute. 2006
  • The Two Nations of Black America. Frontline. Public Broadcasting Services
  • The Rich Get Richer. The Washington Post. Tuesday, April 12, 2005
  • Income Inequity. The Real Reason the Rich Get Richer. ©  By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
  • Women’s History in America.?Presented By Women’s International Center
  • Poverty in America, One Nation Pulling Apart. Poverty in America Project
  • The World Confronts Its E-waste Nightmare. By Tam Harbert.  Natural Resources Defense Council Fall 2006
  • Talking Turkey, Eating Shit and Taking the Heat, By starkravinglunaticradical.  Booman Tribune. November 24, 2005
  • Immigrants’ Rights. American Civil Liberties Union
  • The Natural History of Neighborhood Violence, By Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University and Garth Davies, Simon Fraser University.  Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, SAGE Publications Vol. 20, No. 2, 127-147.  2004
  • Communication. By Stefanie Cox, Larry Graber, Gregory Olson, Peacemakers. Better Endings, New Beginnings
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.  By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler.  McGraw-Hill Trade. June 2002
  • Give Thanks for Genocide. Thanksgiving, National Day of Mourning © By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org