Tag Archives: America

Bunch of Bridge Jumpers — The Dumbing Down of American Discourse

As a teacher of mass media and journalism, my classroom is filled with various magazines, ranging from Popular Science and Mental Floss to Upfront and Popular Photography. There is one magazine that will no longer be featured in my room. Newsweek has been banned.

In what can only be surmised as an effort to appear edgy, relevant or modern, Newsweek’s editorial board under the direction of Tina Brown allows the gratuitous use of profanity, with a great emphasis placed on the utilization of the “f word.” It is a sad day when a national newsmagazine has to be banned from the classroom of a fierce advocate of free speech, but I teach 12 to 14-year-olds, and free speech takes a backseat to their needs.

I am not going to be a hypocrite and say that I have never uttered a swear word. I have stubbed my toe. I have been cut off in traffic. Just like most people, profane words have escaped my mouth during incidents such as these. If your leg gets blown off by a landmine, a lot of cussing is expected.

My concern is that we are on a downward spiral, losing the ability to debate challenging topics, interact and simply communicate in an intelligent, meaningful way. The use of foul language in a national newsmagazine is just one more symptom of the “dumbing-down disease” plaguing America. While it takes time, effort and respect to build a sound argument for or against something, it is so much easier to just result to profanity or insults. Too often, we choose the latter.

A case in point is the recent hubbub over Emma Sullivan’s infamous tweet about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. The high school senior posted that she told Brownback in person that he sucks (a blatant lie) and she also said “he blows a lot.” When asked by her school principal to apologize, all these alleged “free-speech advocates” rallied to Sullivan’s defense, claiming she had no reason to apologize because she was just exercising her First Amendment rights.

The problem is we take the First Amendment too far in justifying all our inanity. It guarantees freedom of speech, even the freedom of “stupid speech,” but that does not make it right. People also have the freedom to call you to account for what you say.

I teach my students that if they are going to come at me with a complaint, they better have reasons to justify the complaint and a plan of action to solve the problem. This leads to quality discussion and, if warranted, needed change. Just saying something is “stupid” does not cut it. Telling the governor he “sucks” does not cut it. You can disagree with him all you want, but criticism should be constructive. Why do you disagree and what do you propose to change? These are the questions we should be asking.

Really, though, my problem is not with Sullivan, but with the adults who went to the school board demanding answers. As I watched the news, I could not help but cringe when some woman got up and said “she (Sullivan) was just talking the way young people do today.” This is the crux of the problem, the reason we are in this dumbing-down spiral. Instead of trying to raise people up, instead of trying to educate, refine and enlighten people, we are busy making excuses for their bad behavior and choices.

My parents always said to me, “If everyone is jumping off a bridge, are you going to jump off too?” To the detriment of our society, there are an awful lot of bridge jumpers.

National Anthem is About the Nation, Not the Singer

They sing the wrong words. They sing the wrong notes. Sometimes, it is as if they are singing the wrong anthem.

I am tired of listening to singers butcher the national anthem. The “Star-Spangled Banner” is a gorgeous, moving, challenging song. Lately, the mashed, twisted, rearranged versions I am hearing make my ears ring; not from the bombs bursting in air, but the notes twinging, twanging and trilling without ever finding a home.

Listening to Christina Aguilera’s version of the national anthem during the Superbowl on Sunday was so horrific to me that I did not even notice she had messed up the words. Her notes were so wrong, so off, that I completely missed the fact that there were no ramparts anymore. Honestly, all the trilling really is just a sign that she cannot hit and/or sustain a note.

When I was a younger man, people sang the national anthem the way it was written. And, you know what happened, everyone sang along.

That is what I want. I would die and go to heaven if I could perform the national anthem at Arrowhead with all 73,000 people belting it out with me.

Now, that would be powerful. That would be awe-inspiring. That is the way it used to be.

Sadly, singers think it is all about them now. That is the problem; our selfish, hey-look-at-me culture. They want to be applauded for how great they sang the anthem and how they “made it their own.”

It does not belong to them. It belongs to the nation. It is not about them. It is about our nation.

That is what we have forgotten. It is time for us to take it back. Let’s put the “nation” back in our national anthem.

When Anything Goes, Everything Goes

Weed, grass, pot…let ’em smoke it. Gay, homosexual, partners…let ’em put a ring on it. Inconvenient, unintended, accident…let ’em kill it. Decent, moral, compassionate…let ’em all just forget it.

When I read an article by Jacob Weisberg in a recent issue of Newsweek, that is exactly the message I took away from it. Weisberg seems to think if enough people want to do something, every one else should just get out of the way and let them do it. My problem with this short-sightedness is that when anything goes, everything goes.

“Our forms of prohibition are more sins of omission than commission,” Weisberg writes in the article, titled, “Gay Marriage & Marijuana: You can’t stop either. Why that’s good.”* “Rather than trying to take away long-standing rights, they’re instances of conservative laws failing to keep pace with a liberalizing society.”

While I do think too many in the media would love it if Americans could just lounge around all day massaging their same-sex spouses, inhaling cannabis, eating Doritos and shooting babies with BB guns, I do think a majority of Americans still disagree. Certain elements of society — namely, the media — are “liberalizing,” but many Americans such as myself feel like a lot of this is being shoved down our throats. We are starting to choke.

Weisberg quotes the president, Barack Obama, saying, “‘I inhaled — that was the point.'”*  That is just one more reason I am glad I did not vote for the man. Seriously, even when he admits he consumed illegal drugs, Obama does it in a condescending way.

Pointing out that the bastion of conservative ideology, The New York Times, (can you hear my sarcasm?) has recognized gay unions on its wedding pages for the past seven years, Weisberg says this reflects “evolving social norms.”* I say this is just another example of a media outlet foisting its views on us.

Weisberg writes, “What’s advancing the decriminalization of marijuana is not just the demand for pot as medicine but the number of adults — more than 23 million in the past year…who use it and don’t believe they should face legal jeopardy.”*

Wow, I am amazed the “but Mom, everybody else is doing it” excuse can be used at any age now. Weisberg calls this the “evolving definition of the pursuit of happiness.”* I call this another example of our declining civilization.

Rome crumbled once the societal elites turned to hedonism. Is that the path we wish to travel? Should we let just anything go?

Discussing the relaxing of marijuana laws, Weisberg reports, “In L.A., you need only tell an on-site doctor at a walk-in pot emporium that you feel anxious to walk out with a legal bag of Captain Kush.”* Well, I have to stay up late to get this article done. How long before I can step into a walk-in methamphetamine boutique to pick up some Captain Keep-Me-Awake?

This is exactly my point. Where do we draw the line? When does it stop? Who is going to stand up and yell, “Enough!”? When are we going to realize what I said before — when anything goes, everything goes?

I do not think the problem is that society is becoming more liberal. I think the problem is that we are becoming weak and spineless.

We are too afraid of appearing judgmental. We are too afraid of being deemed politically incorrect. We are too afraid of causing offense.

I say the whole thing about not judging others is a load of crap. We judge others all the time. It is in our nature to do so. If I hurt your feelings and you think I am politically incorrect, go cry to your mama. If I offend, maybe you should be offended. Perhaps that is exactly what you need.

* Quotes from the article, “Gay Marriage & Marijuana: You can’t stop either. Why that’s good.” Newsweek. Nov. 9, 2009. (24).

The Omnipresent President: T.V. Star or President?

It seems I cannot turn my television on nowadays without the President interrupting my delightful escapist programming with his mind-boggling version of reality and what is best for the country. I cannot even escape him when I go to school.

This guy is everywhere, talking about every thing and yet nothing is getting done. He came on like the second coming itself (and does actually believe he is our “savior,” albeit not a “Christian” one, God forbid), yet he has nothing to show for it.

Maybe, if he would get off my television for a bit, he could get some things accomplished. On second thought, maybe television is right where he should be to keep us all safe from his plans. I can change the channel much easier than I can find $900 billion.

Tonight he was on television again telling us what a great health-care reform plan he has. His plan will not only drive our country further down the path to bankruptcy, but it will allow employers an easy out of paying for their workers’ insurance.

All the stress from our country being in debt, higher taxes, trying to figure out how to participate in the “public” option because our employer dropped our nice, “private” one, is going to kill us all. It will not matter if we have health insurance or not.

We will be dead just from thinking about it. Dead or broke. We will be starving to death, but finally we will all have health insurance, dang it! Ridiculous. This is a crazy joke.

If I am an employer, and suddenly this “public” option is available, why would I continue to pay for my workers’ insurance? I would not. In his effort to insure those who are not currently insured, Obama is going to take away the insurance millions of people have now. The old switcheroo…hope you are paying attention.

Earlier this week, I had to watch him yet again, but this time it was right in the middle of my school day. He did not say any thing new. He did not say any thing controversial. He actually just said what we, as teachers, already say every day. Yet, he somehow believes he just thought of it.

I have to give him credit, though. I have to say he is one shrewd politician. What better way to ensure your reelection in four years?

His main strength was among younger voters. Who better to appeal to then current 14- to 18-year-olds, the very demographic that will be voting for the first time in the next election? This is a brilliant strategy to ensure the young will vote for him. He is indoctrinating them into the cult of Obama.

Good job, Obama. Way to continue to sell yourself; way to continue jamming up the air waves with your omnipresent smirk; way to continue making me find the darn remote. But, I have to say I am sorry, because a long time ago I swore I would not join a cult.

Swine Flu: True Stats or Just Plain Slop?

Frightening words and scary numbers are being bandied about when it comes to the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as the “Swine Flu.” Words such as “pandemic,” “epidemic,” “surge” and “die.” The numbers range from 30 percent of the U.S. population to 50 percent, with up to 90,000 dead.

All these frightening words, all these scary numbers; yet, little evidence to back them up. More people will wind up dying out of sheer terror thinking about the swine flu than actually from the illness itself.

Tonight, the Channel 9 (ABC-Kansas City) news caught my attention with their report on the swine flu. The report said that some so-called “experts” were saying up to half of the U.S. population could be infected by the H1N1 virus this year and up to 90,000 people could die.

I then read an article by Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press that reported the findings of a “White House expert panel” that said anywhere from 30 percent to half of Americans could be infected “during the course of this pandemic and that from 30,000 to 90,000 could die.” (1)

To that I say, prove it. To that I say, I will believe it when I see it. To that I say, stop trying to scare us to death and start governing the way you should.

We are being toyed with by this sorry excuse for a government. This is the classic trick of the illusionist, being executed on a grand scale. The trick is distraction and, sorry to say, for many it is working.

When the threat becomes one against life itself, all other threats rapidly recede into the background. Front and center is swine flu and its voracious appetite for destruction.

Economic woes are forgotton; the rising cost of energy is forgotton; the attacks on the very foundations of our society are forgotton. We are too busy sanitizing our lives, hiding behind useless masks with big deer-in-the-headlight eyes to see all that is being taken from us.

It is unbelievable to me that in the very same AP article, just a little more than a paragraph under the claim that “30,000 to 90,000” people might die, Stobbe writes, “No cause for panic. So far, swine flu isn’t much more threatening than regular seasonal flu.”

What? Are you serious? Who is sending out the misinformation here? The White House and its “experts”? The optimists at the AP? Who are we supposed to believe?

Here’s what I believe — don’t buy into the hype, don’t believe what you hear. Use common sense and don’t allow these “experts” to frighten you to death. Let’s not repeat the big Y2K scam (invest in a generator company, anyone?)  and make the elderly rush out to purchase bubbles in which to live (if I knew what company made those bubbles, I would definitely invest!).

Since the threat of terrorism has diminished, the government needs some other way to distract us while our rights, freedoms and ethics continue to erode. This White House has found just such a threat and have given it a name.

Its name is the “Swine Flu.” I think it is just a bunch of slop.

(1) http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090901/ap_on_he_me/us_med_swine_flu10_things

Economic Stimulus not very Stimulating

I have pored through countless articles. I have listened to numerous discussions by alleged experts. Politicians have filled my airwaves with their prattle. They say they are stimulating the economy by injecting billions of dollars into it. I have yet to feel a thing.

It is true, big business most assuredly is reaping the rewards. After talking to many ordinary people like myself, I am not alone in believing that this “economic stimulus” package has not been very stimulating for the rest of us.

Who exactly has benefitted from the $11.4 billion the government has doled out since Barack Obama became president? I do not know of any one personally who has. I have, however, been dismayed to hear it reported how these corporate louses are still making out. The thieves. How is it possible that the ones who lost all the money in the first place (and got paid to do it!) are getting giant paydays again? It totally astounds me.

These corporate yahoos continue to rake in all the dough, while I lose neighbors? Houses continue to go vacant around me and no one does a thing. What’s so stimulating about that?

My wife and I had a great neighbor, Julie, living directly behind us. We got along, we talked. On a couple of occasions, we even had dinner together. Now, she and her children are gone. She is a single mother and she could not afford to make her house payments anymore. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

Julie said she was only struggling with three of her 12 house payments in the year. She worked full time, but with the expenses of two growing children coupled with rising food and energy costs, she could not keep up.

I asked Julie what it would take to make it so she could stay in her house. She just wished there was a way to lower her interest rate without having to refinance, thus avoiding the addition of more closing costs on top of an over-extended loan.

Why could this not have been part of the stimulus package? Why should homeowners not be able to get lower interest rates? Perhaps, some nice neighbors would not be lost because they would be able to keep their homes. Imagine that one.

“If I was a first-time homebuyer, there would be all kinds of help for me,” Julie said. “For people who don’t have a home, the stimulus package is great to help them get one. But, I have a home I am trying to make payments on, and there is no help for me.”

My neighbor has taken her two children and moved in with her mother. Her home now sits empty behind mine. She is trying to sell it, but will probably have to take a loss. Another house right next door to me also is empty now. It is so depressing to see these empty houses. I am so sad when I think of what great neighbors lived in those two houses and I wish there was a way they could come back.

On a trip this summer, I saw signs in several states that said certain road projects were funded by the economic stimulus package. I never once saw a sign stating, “The economic stimulus plan will help you keep your home.” Now, that would be quite the concept. Keep the people who already own homes in them!

They need to call this plan what it is. It is not economic stimulus — it is corporate welfare. Economic stimulus would keep people in their homes. Economic stimulus would help my wife and I raise our children without constantly stressing about money, despite our two good jobs. Economic stimulus should make me tingle with sheer excitement and joy — economic stimulus should be stimulating.  

Instead, I shake my head in dismay and irritation as another corporate honcho who got us into this fiasco receives a multimillion dollar bonus. If only I could mess up so bad.

Death of American Education Greatly Exaggerated

welcomeback sign

It was so wonderful to see all of my new and returning students today. Like many other schools throughout the country, the one where I teach started back this week. Despite all the dismal talk about the state of American education, it is going to be another splendid year.

I hear so much negativity in the media about the educational system in our country. The media feeds off the politicians, who spout inanities based on statistics they just made up to pass a new piece of useless legislation. Everyone makes up a bunch of junk to seem relevant and keep their jobs. What they forget, or simply choose to ignore, is what matters — the children.

The children are what it is all about. They are the ones that matter. They are not just cogs in the machine; they are not just a bunch of statistics in a ledger. They are real, tangible, creative human beings with much to contribute — most of which can never be measured by a test.

This is my eighth year of teaching. I absolutely love it. I see these students and I know the future of America is bright, no matter the bleak prognostications of the doomsayers.  I know that if we just can forget all this nonsense dubbed “reform” and get back to what we do well, we will be all right.

There are many aspects to American education with which no other country can compete. We are losing sight of that and, ultimately, that will lead us into trouble. Last I checked there were quite a few countries in Asia. I don’t know why we want to be just like those countries.

I do not want our educational system to be like those of Asia or Europe. I want more than that. I want our educational system to be the best. I believe it is.

American education teaches students to use their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to come up with new approaches and solutions. We teach students to be creative, which leads to innovation and progress. Our students might not perform as well on standardized tests as students from other countries, but if I am trapped in a well and need a special machine rapidly designed to get me out, I will count on my students to do it, and they will do so in the most creative and effective way.

As Fareed Zakaria, the author and international editor for Newsweek who attended elementary and secondary school in India, states in his book, The Post-American World:

“I recall memorizing vast quantities of material, regurgitating it for exams, and then promptly forgetting it. When I went to college in the United States, I encountered a different world. While the American system is too lax on rigor and memorization — whether in math or poetry — it is much better at developing the critical faculties of the mind, which is what you need to succeed in life.”

This is what I have been saying for a long time, even back in my days as a reporter prior to becoming a teacher. The American system of education is not tragically flawed; it is not diseased and dying. It is different than the systems of other countries, but in those differences resides our strength.

We might not manufacture the latest gizmos and gadgets, but we are the ones who invent them. We might not churn out factory workers who can ace bubble tests, but we inspire students to create the inventions those factory workers assemble.

This is what makes America great. This is what makes us strong. If we continue to listen to those who say otherwise, we will head down the wrong path.

In his book, Zakaria says, “Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think.” I could not agree more, and that is why the American system is the one in which I am so proud to play a part.