A Short Documentary by Mekhali Peyyalamitta & Tim Muliari
By Ryan Tibbens
Not a single word of the following article is intended to be critical of nor offensive to veterans, past or present, living or dead. This article is for civilian citizens who, particularly recently, have engaged in debates about war memorials, about Confederate allegiances, and about respecting our troops. I will play Devil's Advocate several times; I do not agree with every word I've written, but I strongly believe in asking the question.
It's the unofficial first day of summer, the first big barbecue of the year, when pools open and lawn furniture shakes off cobwebs. The only things more common than swarms of motorcycles are American flags and semi-heartfelt social media posts about remembering our fallen troops.
Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, has been celebrated, officially and otherwise, on the last Monday of May (or May 30th) since around 1868, originally commemorating those who died in the Civil War. Decoration Day was a common southern Appalachian tradition that spread across the United States after our nation's darkest years. Many Americans already observed some form of remembrance ceremony for soldiers killed in the Revolutionary War, but the Civil War truly consolidated the holiday and cemented its place in American culture. And it is worth noting that many of the biggest and most serious early celebrations took place in southern states.
Have you ever argued against statues of Confederate soldiers? I have (though usually just for the fun of participating in the debate). Given the history and purpose of the holiday, I am left with a question -- if you oppose memorials for Confederate soldiers, do you also oppose Memorial Day overall? Do you at least oppose the inclusion of men killed in the Mexican-American War or World War I or Vietnam or other wars of US aggression? What is the difference?
In my conversations on the subject, friends and students cite a few common reasons to remove Confederate statues: they represent racism and slavery, they represent unprovoked violence, they represent a losing effort, and they represent treason. In their own way, each of these reasons is fair and functional. However, if a person truly opposes celebrations based on those factors, then many wars -- and many, many soldiers -- should be excluded from Memorial Day.
Unless you are a pure statist whose political feelings are dominated by blind patriotism, you can surely identify problems with at least some US military conflicts. The Gulf of Tonkin. The USS Maine. The Wounded Knee Massacre. The Bush family's business dealings with the Bin Ladens around the time of 9/11. The Sedition Act of 1918. War crimes and pardons. Weapons of mass destruction. We could do this for a while, but you get the point. Problems exist; mistakes were made. And if you acknowledge that mistakes have been made, repeatedly, then surely you will see that many other American soldiers are guilty of sins similar to those of the Confederates. Let's look at each of the reasons.
Racism and slavery. The United States of America is a country with a long history of racism and support for slavery. The Revolutionary War yielded a racist, slave-tolerating nation. The War of 1812 did the same. The Mexican-American War attacked Hispanic Mexicans as "others" while attempting to align with and spare many White Mexicans; it also yielded new slave-holding states and territories. The Civil War was fought over slavery, but slavery was still legal in several northern states, and the Emancipation Proclamation only freed southern slaves. The Spanish-American War was supported by often-racist propaganda. The Indian wars and battles were racist to their cores. Racism has continued its influence in American geopolitics all the way through WWII in the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. If a soldier is unworthy of honor because some part of the cause is racist, then few soldiers remain to memorialize. And what of slavery? In the South just prior to the Civil War, less than 1/3 of the white population owned slaves, and of all who did, most families owned just one slave (no less terrible, though perhaps not the image most people have thanks to Roots and 12 Years a Slave and others). Most of the wealthiest and most powerful slave owners avoided battle through military surrogates and direct legislation. Furthermore, nearly 1/3 of the Confederate army was conscripted -- drafted -- and forced to fight. Slavery was terrible, and its modern repercussions are still awful, but if 1/3 of Confederate soldiers were conscripted and 2/3 owned no slaves, then is that the best reason to avoid memorializing the dead?
Unprovoked Violence. See the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. See many, many other smaller fights along the way as well (and nearly all of US military involvement in Central and South America). If you only celebrate and remember soldiers who died in direct defense of the country, your holiday will be a short one.
Losing Effort. For the pure fun of arguing, this is my favorite reason people use when protesting Confederate statues. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a Confederate-supporter who also supports 'participation trophies.' When these statues are referred to as participation trophies, reactions range from quiet scorn to full rage. Then again, the South lost, so aren't Confederate monuments really just tributes and reminders about losing? That sounds like a participation trophy. Still, as much fun as this argument is, it is flawed. How many people who oppose Confederate memorials on the grounds of 'participation trophies' would make the same argument for removing the Vietnam War Memorial or Korean War Memorial? Not many (hopefully none)...
Treason. This may be the most logical reason to oppose Confederate memorials: they commemorate people who fought against the United States of America. Since the Union won, why should it tolerate celebration of those who fought against it? I don't hear much criticism of the Crazy Horse Memorial or other memorials to American Indian leaders. But that might not be entirely fair either. Is Edward Snowden and hero or traitor? Was John Brown a civil rights champion or anti-American terrorist? Was Muhammad Ali's refusal before the draft board an act of American freedom and independence or willful defiance and treason? (False dichotomies abound.) Many edgy young Americans who oppose Confederate statues claim that those men are heroes. They might also regularly speak out against the President of the United States, the legislature, the Department of Defense, and more. That kind of anti-American speech has actually been prosecutable in the past (Sedition Act of 1918 and others). Is it more important to stand with your government or with your personal obligations? If you said "personal obligations," then consider that treason is never far away. Plus, as historians so often point out, prior to the Civil War, people referred to the United States as "they" rather than "it," meaning that most citizens really saw our nation as a collection of semi-independent states, similar to the modern European Union. As such, most citizens felt a stronger allegiance to their states than their federal government, so most confederate soldiers didn't even consider their behavior truly treasonous. To be clear -- they committed treason. But so did Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Snowden and Brown, and a few dozen more Americans who at least might be heroes despite their questionable loyalties.
If it is possible to hate the sin but not the sinner, then perhaps we can hate the war but not the soldier. If we can agree that enlisted infantrymen are often used as instruments of war, then we should be able to separate degrees of guilt -- the sledge hammer is less guilty of destruction than the man swinging it. In that light, remembering and memorializing Confederate soldiers is not just acceptable, it is right. Celebrating Confederate leadership might be a different story. However, if we believe that all individual humans have the capacity to understand their circumstances, question their governments, and make their own decisions about participation in a fight, then we might be able to remove those monuments ------ but we'd need to remove a lot more than just the Confederates'.
Cognitive dissonance runs deep on Memorial Day because many Americans want to honor our troops, honor those who have sacrificed for us, but we also try not to examine their sacrifices too closely, lest we realize that their sacrifices weren't fully for "us" or that our morals conflict with the causes of some wars. Any person who can condemn Confederate memorials while defending the Vietnam War Memorial is either drowning in cognitive dissonance or knows a much more detailed, more nuanced history than I've learned.
Personally, I have no problems with Confederate monuments on battlegrounds, in museums, and at significant historical sites. Their scattering about southern capital buildings and random parks might be different, and surely the commemoration of Confederate leadership deserves more scrutiny than the simple statues that memorialize everyday Americans, the poor infantrymen that fought for their homes in the same way modern soldiers do today. If we want to have a serious and productive conversation about remembering our fallen soldiers OR about Confederate memorials, we need to more clearly identify the problems and then apply those criteria to all memorials; otherwise, cognitive dissonance wins the day.
The Confederate flag, on the other hand, well, there's no way to defend that anywhere but a battlefield, and if you find someone who does, that person doesn't understand historical context or is racist or both.
Food for thought...
by Christian Solar | An artist and writer out of the DC area
It is disheartening to see so many people look at Joe Biden as America's sweet uncle, when time and time again he has been on the wrong side of history. Let me compare him to Bernie Sanders, his biggest 2020 Democratic rival and the candidate who, I believe, has the most progressive past. Both Biden and Bernie are going to have to fight off being dismissed because they are just ‘old white guys,’ which is the regrettable opinion of some on the left. However, I constantly hear about how Bernie is going to struggle with women and people of color and that Biden can appeal to these people. I do not know how much more wrong you could be. In 1994, Joe Biden supported the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a bill that hit the black community hard. “It doesn’t matter if they were deprived as a youth, it doesn’t matter if they had no background to [...] become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are the victims of society. [...] I don’t want to ask what made them do this. They must be taken off the street,” Biden has stated blatantly multiple times that he does not care what brought people to commit crimes, that he does not care about helping them, about trying to solve any problems.
On the other hand, Bernie Sanders asks, “How do we talk about crime when this congress this year is prepared to spend eleven times more for the military than education? When 21% of our kids dropout of high school. [...] The rate of poverty continues to grow, do you think maybe that has something to do with crime?” Here we can see that Bernie understands that many people have no way to weave themselves into the fabric of society. He understands that they were deprived as youths, and he is actively fighting to stop poverty and oppression. Bernie Sanders understood this back in the 1960s when he was marching with Martin Luther King and leading sit-ins and protests during the civil rights movement.
While Joe Biden would rather sweep these problems under the rug, Bernie Sanders is actively lifting the rug to clean. It seems many Democrats think that black people will vote for Joe Biden because he was the Vice-President to Barrack Obama, which is the political version of “I have a black friend.”
While both men eventually went on to vote for the crime bill, they did so for two very different reasons: Biden to lock up people in need of support, and Bernie to help abused women. Bernie clarified, “I have a number of serious problems with the crime bill, but one part of it that I vigorously support is the violence against women act. We urgently need the 1.8 billion dollars in this bill to combat the epidemic of violence against women on the streets and in the homes of America.” Joe Biden seems to have been aloof to issues regarding women in the 1990s: “Can you tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all of the incidents you have alleged.”
Not traumatizing, not fear-provoking, not even uncomfortable. Joe Biden used the word “embarrassing” when questioning Anita Hill. Joe Biden insinuated that she was just embarrassed by the (alleged) sexual harassment she suffered at the hands Clarence Thomas. Biden clearly underestimated the severity of sexual harassment. This dismissive language is consistent throughout the hearings and the rest of his questions. Whether to cover his tail or out of sheer ignorance, he says, “I do apologize to the women of America if they got the wrong impression about how seriously I take the issue of sexual harassment. I must tell you, I must tell everyone else, I take sexual harassment seriously.”
Flash forward to the beginnings of the 2020 presidential race. What do we see? Bernie is appointing many women to powerful campaign positions to help fight and counteract sexual harassment and assault; this comes in response to cases of sexual harassment coming from his 2016 presidential campaign. Bernie says, “It appears that as part of our campaign, there were some women who were harassed and mistreated — I thank them from the bottom of my heart for speaking out. [...] When we talk about — and I do all the time — ending sexism and all forms of discrimination, those beliefs cannot just be words. They must be based in day-to-day reality and the work we do, and that was clearly not the case in the 2016 campaign.” These are two things that we rarely see from politicians: admitting mistakes and taking substantive action.
When we look to Biden, we see allegations of sexual harassment and generally creepy behavior and not understanding boundaries. While Bernie sounded sincere and heart broken by what happen during his campaign, Biden seemed annoyed to be asked about his own allegations: “The fact of the matter is I made it clear that if I made anyone feel uncomfortable I feel badly about that, it was never my intention.” When directly asked if he was sorry for how he acted, Biden responded, “I’m sorry that I didn’t understand more; I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I am not sorry for anything I have ever done.” His tone and attitude have not changed much from the early 90s, and it certainly does not feel like he is taking people’s concerns seriously.
Outside of Joe Biden’s lack of real support of people of color and women, we can see that Joe Biden did not support LGBT people either. Only recently in 2012 did he announce his support of gay marriage, while in 1996 he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. This is blatant discrimination against gay people, no way around it. This act prevented gay couples from receiving benefits such as favorable protection, estate tax and gift treatment, as well as other protections and services. DOMA was a huge setback in the gay rights movement, preventing gay couples from being seen as couples at all. For example, if a gay man was sick in the hospital, his partner would not be allowed to visit. This is just one example of how this bill continued the pain that was felt by the LGBT community through their fight for equal rights. In 2009, Biden said to the community at an LGBT fundraiser, "I don't blame you for your impatience." The next year, the Obama administration worked to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but Joe Biden’s direct involvement is unclear. Plus, it still took two more years for him to come out in support of gay marriage.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has supported gay rights since as far back as the early 1970s: “Let’s abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people. Let’s abolish all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behavior (adultery, homosexuality, etc.).” Back in 1983, while Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie backed a Gay Pride parade and approved a resolution to make a Gay Pride Day. In 1995, when Rep. Duke Cunningham ranted about a cut of defense spending, he referenced putting “homos in the military.” Bernie proceeded to call him out despite his objection being risky, perhaps even unpopular, at the time. “You have used the word, homos in the military,’ you have insulted thousands,” he said. While he officially stated his support for gay marriage in 2009, Bernie’s status as an Ally was never in doubt.
While I understand that people change and so do their opinions, I take issue with gaslighting, and that is exactly what Joe Biden is doing. “The most progressive record of anybody running” – That title clearly goes to Bernie Sanders.
The Rational National’s video “Biden Vs. Bernie: Who’s On The Correct Side Of History?” was a major inspiration for this article. Consider it required viewing. My thanks to them.
T. (2019, March 18). Biden Vs. Bernie: Who's On The Correct Side Of History? Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeXbIt1x5KU
Bowden, J. (2019, March 16). Biden: 'I have the most progressive record of anybody running ... anybody who would run'. The Hill. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/434416-biden-on-potential-candidacy-i-have-the-most-progressive-record
Ember, S., & Martin, J. (2019, January 10). Bernie Sanders Apologizes Again to Women Who Were Mistreated in 2016 Campaign. The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/us/politics/sanders-sexism-apology.html
T. (2019, April 05). Biden Says He's Sorry, and Not Sorry. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000006447596/biden-apology-controversy.html Published by The New York Times
V. (2018, September 21). Watch The Most Outrageous Questions Senators Asked Anita Hill In 1991. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oPnd911FcM
Jacobs, J. (2018, September 20). Anita Hill’s Testimony and Other Key Moments From the Clarence Thomas Hearings. The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/us/politics/anita-hill-testimony-clarence-thomas.html
Farley, R. (2016, April 12). Bill Clinton and the 1994 Crime Bill. Factcheck.org. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.factcheck.org/2016/04/bill-clinton-and-the-1994-crime-bill/
Lee, C. E. (2016, June 26). Biden reaches out to gay community. Politico.com. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.politico.com/story/2009/06/biden-reaches-out-to-gay-community-024249
R. (2012, May 7). Joe Biden Endorses Gay Marriage. Governing.com. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.governing.com/topics/politics/Joseph-Biden-Endorses-Gay-Marriage.html
Heintz, P. (2015, June 30). 32 Years Before SCOTUS Decision, Sanders Backed Gay Pride March. Sevendaysvt.com. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2015/06/30/32-years-before-scotus-decision-sanders-backed-gay-pride-march
Frizell, S., & Moines, D. (2015, October 28). How Bernie Sanders Evolved on Gay Marriage. Time. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from http://time.com/4089946/bernie-sanders-gay-marriage/
Horowitz, J. (2015, November 27). As Gay Rights Ally, Bernie Sanders Wasn’t Always in Vanguard. The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/28/us/politics/as-gay-rights-ally-bernie-sanders-wasnt-always-in-vanguard.html
By Ryan Tibbens
~~ If you do nothing else with this article, watch the Andrew Yang/Joe Rogan video clip linked below. Automation is going to change the world. ~~
I'll begin by saying that I support the minimum wage as an imperfect though well-intended and mostly functional concept. Some even suggest a currency-adjusted, global minimum wage, which has become a point of contention between some economists. (Now that the less-open-minded libertarians among us have bailed, we can proceed thoughtfully.)
More and more large corporations are announcing their support for a $12 or even $15 minimum wage, and it should come as no surprise. These businesses include Amazon, Disney, Target, Walmart, and now McDonald's. We shouldn't be surprised because big businesses will always do what is best for themselves and their shareholders: crush competition and generate profits. A corporation's sole purpose is to generate profits through channels that mitigate the financial loss and personal liability of shareholders. As such, these modern giants see the benefit of increasing the minimum wage -- they can afford it, and much of their remaining competition can't. Even if a wage hike doesn't make sense in the short term, allowing government to legislate their competition out of business is a winning strategy in the long term. And since each of these companies is intensifying dependence on automation, they will have fewer human employees to pay soon anyway. [Article continues below.]
A Friend recently shared this article about McDonald's abrupt shift to supporting a minimum wage increase. "By sticking together and taking action on the job, courageous workers in the Fight for $15 and a union have forced McDonald's – the second-biggest employer in the world – to drop its relentless opposition to higher pay," SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. "Now, McDonald's needs to use its profits and power to give thousands of cooks and cashiers across the country a real shot at the middle class by raising pay to $15 an hour and respecting its workers' right to a union." My friend went on to point out that McDonald's has cut its workforce by nearly 50%, nearly 210,000 jobs, in the last four years.
Of course, we've all heard horror stories about fast food automation, from robot grill masters that work slower than the stoned 17 year olds they replaced to the poop-smeared touchscreen kiosks (or maybe not). But this is a primary reason McDonald's and other large companies are actually reducing employment. Will increasing the minimum wage really intensify automation? Many people certainly think so, particularly those who oppose the minimum wage in the first place.
So what is going to happen when McDonald's and Amazon and the rest strong-arm the federal government into increasing the minimum wage on their own terms?
1) Big companies can afford the increased wages, at least in the short term, so they gladly pay.
2) Smaller competition goes out of business trying to pay those wages.
3) Big companies receive the surplus business because they've outlasted competition.
4) They use the increased revenue to further invest in automation.
5) Nearly no one is left making $15/hour due to massive layoffs (thanks to automation), so the minimum wage doesn't really matter anymore.
6) We move to some form of universal basic income because, without it, no one will be able to buy food from McDonald's or random crap from Walmart and Amazon.
7) We all admire President Yang's forward thinking -- Andrew Yang for President 2020.
8) Karl Marx replaces Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. (Okay, maybe not this part...)
Seriously, watch the video.
By Ryan Tibbens
What is the measure of a man? Should we judge people based upon their best days? Their worst? Their words? Actions? Those they helped? Hurt? Is it possible to quantify a person's morality or lifelong influence? Is a person's humanity best encapsulated in his worst moment or best, or are we defined by our mean, median, or mode? On this Easter Sunday in particular, we should all be thinking about redemption.
In my late teens, I theorized that a person's value, at least in moral terms, could be determined by the sum of her decisions and actions. Every bit of good was scored +1, every bit of bad -1; we could arithmetize a person's value in the world. Plus or minus one for every instance of helping or hurting. I suggested quantifying based upon the recipients of help/hurt, rather than the simple number of acts. There is an oversimplified truth in the math, and despite its simplicity, it would give a better assessment of a person's moral worth than simply judging based upon a best or worst moment. It would certainly be better than trial by social media, which recently seems to be the most popular test.
Given our recent Outrage Culture or Cancel Culture or whatever you'd like to call it, finding a system of ethical assessment has never been more important. Each day, we use the internet to reclassify historical heroes as demons to forget. We use social media to raise up everyday heroes, only to learn one week later that our angel is utterly human. Our fifteen minutes of fame has never been easier to achieve, but it's also never looked less appealing.
Thanks most recently to social media and smart phones with cameras, then to the internet, to mass media, to the printing press, to the written word, and so on, we can track human behavior to an extent once unimaginable. What's even crazier is that we voluntarily forfeit our privacy and autonomy by sharing every bit of our lives online. George Orwell imagines a world of surveillance and social pressure and paranoia in 1984, and today we live it. However, what Orwell never saw, or at least never explained, was how humanity would ultimately choose to live sans privacy. Dave Eggers re-envisions Orwell's nightmares in the context of 21st century life online and explains the process by which privacy will die -- in The Circle, humanity chooses to share everything all the time. There is no authoritarian takeover, just well-marketed, new technology. Everything is online, rated with a thumbs up or down, a like or an emoji; one can't paddle a kayak or get a handjob without sharing the experience online, cameras are everywhere, and nearly everyone opts in. In Eggers' world, people live in total transparency; everyone knows everyone else's personal and professional activities, opinions, feelings, even their parents' and ancestors' transgressions. In one relevant scene, Annie, a young, fast-rising executive at the social media company, agrees to share her ancestry reports only to learn that her supposed blue-blood family had spent generations buying, selling, and abusing human slaves in Europe and North America; she then learns that her parents engaged in a variety of perverse behaviors and once watched a homeless man die as part of a date. Though Annie is to blame for none of these horrific acts, public opinion turns, her career implodes, and her health falters. Is it right for a person to lose her job, her friends, or her happiness because of indiscretions in the distant past?
Today, outrage rules. Our 24-hour news cycle is hungry for content, so when the president isn't tweeting something stupid, the weather isn't destroying homes, and no new wars are erupting, any scandal will do. To operate a cable news channel, all you really need is a semi-literate anchor and a guest who will express outrage -- people will watch, and advertisers will pay. But what about outrage that is disingenuous or poorly directed? What about doxxing people, even youths, who have committed no offenses? Social media has helped to give people what we unknowingly want -- a world in which everyone is either with or against us, where most people agree with us within our echo chambers, where advertisers pay to learn exactly what we want and sell us exactly that. With our world seemingly in a tailspin, perhaps we should slow down and reconsider our judgments and their repercussions.
Is Bill Cosby a bad guy? Yes. Should we avoid The Cosby Show? Probably not. Is Bill Clinton a bad guy? Probably. Should we disavow everything he did as president? Probably not. Was Martin Luther King Jr. a plagiarist and philanderer? Yes. Should that discredit all his other achievements? No. Was Gandhi a racist? Yes. Should we cast aside his human rights work? No. Did Mother Teresa lose faith in God? Yes. Should the Catholic Church label her as an infidel rather than a saint? No. Was Thomas Jefferson a conflicted, confused racist who loved a black woman? Yes. Was he a rapist? Possibly. Should we tear down his monument, burn Monticello, and erase the Declaration of Independence? No. Was Margaret Sanger a eugenicist? Yes. Should that be grounds for closing Planned Parenthood? No. Human beings are inherently flawed, and if we hold all people to super-human standards of modern, progressive morality, we will have no heroes. Hell, Old Testament Yahweh couldn't hold up to modern scrutiny with all his smiting and young virgin brides and directions for executions and sexism and racism and support for slavery and on and on. When the gods aren't good enough, then perhaps good enough doesn't exist. Choose any significant figure you like, give me ten minutes to research, and I'll cast serious doubt on character or achievements. Should we cancel all our heroes? No, because there is usually a baby in that bathwater, and it is usually possible to appreciate a person's contributions without embracing his sins.
I recently had a discussion with a small group of students in which most of them, one young woman in particular, argued that it is now morally wrong to listen to Michael Jackson or R. Kelly because of their off-stage behaviors. I asked her what they did, and she rattled off a list of abusive, perverse behaviors (only some of which have been proven). All the other students who have access to Hulu and HBO quickly expressed disapproval. I shared her concerns about those behaviors, but I disagreed that I should never dance to "Thriller" or "Remix to Ignition" again without feeling guilty. She said that the creative works represent their creators and that enjoying the works is the same as supporting the creator. But that is insane, right? I can love The Motorcycle Diaries without loving Che's violence and bigotry. I can love Sublime and Janis without loving heroin. Can't I?
Over the last couple of years, our society has polarized in ways that go far beyond left-right politics. Our urban-rural, rich-poor, educated-uneducated gaps have all expanded along with dozens of others. Our seams are ready to burst. The most interesting development though, by far, is how we judge people. Biased thinking is timeless, but I'm not sure if people have ever been so quick to attack or defend a person based upon their prejudices as they are now. Even if that kind of thinking is not new, our ability to research and read should control for hypocrisy, but they do not. Google and Bing and Yahoo and Facebook and Twitter and all the other curators of the internet show us what we want to see, not necessarily what we asked to see. Google knows how I feel about Louis CK long before I search his name, so they show me what I want, not necessarily what is true or current or reasonable.
In a world in which everyone is connected electronically, when we can all share our feelings and judgments instantly, where we spend more time arguing with strangers in comment sections than talking to our next door neighbor, how can we ever have justice? When our neighbors don't know that we exist but acquaintances and strangers watch our every move online, how can we make sense of our world? Priorities are unclear, and morals are contradictory. You can't reasonably say that you want prayer in schools but then criticize schools for allowing Muslims to pray throughout the day. You can't reasonably tell me that you support prisoner rehabilitation and shorter prison sentences for criminals but then ruin a person's career and accept no apology because of politically incorrect language. Our elected officials are not narrowly defined by their greatest accomplishments nor worst transgressions.
Who will be pure enough to be president in 40 years? If advocates for political correctness and social justice warriors have their way, no one. We will have amassed enough status updates, tweets, Snaps, and photos that no one will satisfy the current standard for public service. Well, no one will be pure enough to run as a liberal or progressive, anyway. Conservatives, who have traditionally claimed religious virtue and moral high grounds, seem not to care about these indiscretions. Most of that leniency seems to be about political expediency, but it is possible that a certain degree of Christian forgiveness factors in. Either way, current and recent politicians' concerns are nothing compared to children born today: "hot mic" scenarios have been relatively conspicuous and controllable until recently, but today's infants are growing up with hot mics everywhere. Unless they are a new breed of super-human, none of them will escape the embarrassments of youth or poor judgments of young adulthood that plague us all, so none of them will be pure enough for public service or corporate leadership.
A person's moral value can't be fairly determined based solely upon their bests nor their worsts. An averaging of the two (or a median) might get closer, but arithmetic will rarely yield a solution in ethics. What we need is a little perspective. Jesus once said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone." Youthful mistakes are often just that, and microaggressions are usually more symptomatic of unawareness than anger. We need to remember that all humans are flawed and contain potential for both good and evil. We would be wise to focus on trends and patterns of behavior rather than isolated indiscretions. One man's mistake is another man's hobby. If we have any hope of improving the moral character of mankind, then we must learn to differentiate between sincere and manipulative apologies, between progress and pretense. There must be a way to redeem ourselves after transgressions; otherwise, we've paradoxically found a way for morality to make the world worse. In our ultra-connected, over-stimulated world, we need to understand that good words without good deeds are fool's gold, and also that few deeds are more important than forgiveness.
What does it even mean – “on-time graduation”? It is earning a standard high school diploma in four years; it means graduating by age 18. It assumes a student has advanced through each class, in order, in exactly one school year each, while learning at least 60% of the associated knowledge and skills (or at least doing 60% of the work, but that’s a different issue).
“On-time graduation” means nothing because it disregards learning – real education – and focuses on the amount of time a person spends schooling. If we truly care about the quality of a student’s education, we should consider learning, strong literacy and numeracy skills, and achievement of individual goals long before worrying about the exact timetable. Teachers and administrators love to say that they’re “creating lifelong learners,” but if that’s true, why shouldn’t we offer a little extra support to those who need it? In fact, if we truly care about the quality of education, then shouldn’t we push for “under-time graduation”? That would be respectful of both students’ time and taxpayers’ dollars. What good is “on-time graduation” if a student can honestly and effectively master the content and skills in less than the standard 13 years of public school? And if literacy, numeracy, and some worldly knowledge are actually important, then why should we fire faculty and penalize school divisions if it takes some students longer?
And what about special populations? Graduation timelines have obvious implications for the some in the special education community, which is already granted exceptions in most states, but what about immigrants? I have taught dozens of English language learners (ELL) in my career, and many of them are among the hardest working and most capable students I've known. The only limit on their academic success is the rate of English acquisition. So if Americans are truly supportive of legal immigration, acculturation, and assimilation, shouldn't we be willing spend a few extra bucks to provide the educational services necessary to grant full access to our society's best opportunities? Even some of the wealthiest and most progressive school systems in the country can't seem to answer that question right.
Don’t get me wrong – efficiency is important. I know that “over-time graduation” increases the likelihood of dropping out and decreases the student’s lifetime earnings. And it’s obviously a waste of tax-payer dollars – or is it? As it turns out, there is ample evidence to suggest that “over-time graduation” is actually beneficial to the student and society, as opposed to dropping out or even earning a GED, so maybe an extra year or two of school isn’t the worst outcome for some students. Maybe we should reduce the stigma of a fifth year of high school for students who need it. But if efficiency is important, as “on-time graduation” suggests, then we must consider “under-time graduation” as well.
I truly believe that many students can, and should, graduate early. Until the early 20th century, it was not uncommon for students to matriculate at university between 14 and 18 years old, and sometimes even younger. If the average person today is more intelligent than the average person of a century ago, as testing data and the Flynn Effect suggest, then it stands to reason that many teens today can be fully prepared for university in a fraction of the current “on-time graduation” target. Any person who absolutely opposes “over-time graduation” or “under-time graduation” is either an educational charlatan or a myopic traditionalist. Learning must come before pacing unless learning is not the primary goal.
In reality, the strict school timeline that politicians and administrators love so much has little to do with education and much to do with control. The push for “on-time graduation” is nothing more than a push to control the timeline on which we live. You enter school at age 5. You graduate and receive most rights and privileges at age 18. You retire at 67. There are intermediate markers along the way. This timeline is our feeble attempt to sort and organize chaos. It ignores the fact that people have wide ranges of skills and abilities, that people learn differently, that people have different interests and motivations. It ignores the fact that, although we often judge intellect based on speed, a person’s impact on the world has more to do with persistence.
Those who believe in “on-time graduation” regard high school commencement, whether they realize it or not, as a cultural rite of passage, an entrance into adulthood. They are not wrong. However, graduating students without the skills is akin to granting manhood to a boy who hasn’t made his first kill or womanhood to a girl who hasn’t danced or the privileges of church membership to someone who never experienced the sacraments. The purpose of these rites is that they are earned and that a definable act has occurred signaling a transition. It is a way of sorting the psychological chaos of human maturation. Giving a student a diploma that he can’t read is a kind of cultural degradation that doesn’t just hurt schools; it hurts people.
School should be about education, about gaining knowledge, skills, ethics, and wisdom. It should be about self-improvement. If walking the stage is more important than reading the books, then school is just pageantry, just signaling. If we want to make schools better, then we need to focus on education, not order.
Because no one else