Tag Archives: Newsweek

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.

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).

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.

Invading the Final Moments of Life

When I saw the picture in the July 13 issue of Newsweek of Neda Soltani, the 16-year-old Iranian girl who was killed by a sniper in Tehran, I was going to write an article about how the media devotes so much more time to people considered “beautiful.” While I still believe that is true and fodder for a future article, I cannot write it now.

I cannot write it because now I have seen the video of her death. The video changes everything.

A video was shot of this young girl dying in the street, blood cascading out of her eyes and mouth. The images were so graphic, so devastating, so incredibly and deeply tragic. The father’s cries of anguish were traumatic and gut-wrenching. Chills coursed through my spine.

Yet, who am I to watch this macabre scene? Who I am to witness such a private and deeply personal moment? Who am I to see a video that never should have been shot and definitely should not have been plastered all over YouTube and Facebook for the entire world to see?

We are invading people’s lives. Cameras are so ubiquitous that we consider it normal now to see every moment of people’s lives, including their moment of death. Who are we to see these things? Why should we?

According to an article in the June 22 issue of the New York Daily News, the video was posted to Facebook by an Iranian living in Holland. He said he had received the video from a doctor in Tehran who had tried to help the girl. (1)

Did Neda’s family have any say in this? Did they want their daughter to become the face of a cause? Did they want their daughter’s final moments displayed on computer screens all over the world?

And, what is up with this alleged doctor? How was it possible for him to continue filming the video while “helping” her? What kind of help did he provide exactly as she took her last few breaths?

In just a matter of hours after the video was posted, Neda became a martyr to millions throughout the world. People rallied in major American and Iranian cities, crying out for justice. The world should condemn this atrocity, but the world did not have to see it so callously and graphically displayed. The world should not have seen the video of Neda’s death without the permission of her family.

As I read the article about Neda, I could not help but think of an article I read in the April 25 issue of Newsweek about Nikki Catsouras, an 18-year-old Orange County, Calif., girl, who was killed in a catastrophic car accident on Halloween, 2006. Her parents have been fighting a losing battle ever since the accident to have nine graphic photographs of their daughter’s dead body removed from the Internet. (2)

The photographs were taken by two highway patrolmen at the scene. These personal, graphic and grizzly pictures should never have made it on the web.

I’ll never forget a story my colleague, Gene Morris, told me when we used to work together at The Miami County Republic. I mentioned how all these gawkers were at the scene of a serious car accident, getting in the way of the emergency crews.

He said he was at the scene of a fatal crash and he watched a father walk his young son (Gene guessed he was six or seven) up as close as he could to see. When an emergency crew person told the man to get back, Gene heard him reply, “I just wanted my son to see what death looks like.” How disturbing is that?

When we see these graphic images of dead and dying people, we are being just like that father. We are invading someone else’s life. We become like viewers of the freak show of death.

I understand the urge to slow down at an accident. I understand the urge to want to see. Believe me, I do. I was reporter, so I understand the urge intensely. I want to know. I also understand the feeling of “there, but for the grace of God, go I” that we all get when we see a fatal event.

But, I also will never shake the memory of the first fatal accident I covered years ago. I will never forget it. I took the pictures of the twisted hunk of metal that used to be a car, thinking there was no one in it. It was so mangled, you could not tell. I went and stood by the car and lit a cigarette, a habit I had at the time.

It is only then, as I lit my cigarette, that I noticed the dress hanging out of the bottom of the driver’s door. My stomach heaved and bile surged into my throat. I saw the baby seats in the back of the car. I saw the videos and books for little children and I knew. I knew this was their mother right there. I knew her lifeless body was just three feet away from me.

I turned and rushed away. I never looked back. I never want to again.


(1) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2009/06/21/2009-06-21_neda_young_girl_killed_in_iran.html (this is the news article…I advise against watching the video).

(2) http://www.newsweek.com/id/195073

Soldier Crosses the Line

When those in authority let the rush of power overtake them, it is time for them to be relieved of duty. Whether they are a soldier in Iraq, a policeman or a politician, they still have to obey the law and respect others’ rights. Those that disregard these rules cause more harm than good.

I firmly support American troops. I have always been a staunch ally of the police. I actually do still believe that most politicians want to serve the public well. In every profession, there are the few miscreants who drag everyone else down into the muck with them. No matter how much we believe in a cause, these individuals cannot be overlooked or simply swept away. They must be called to account for their words and deeds.

That is what I am going to do right now. In the June 15 issue of Newsweek, there was an article titled, “Love is a Battlefield: For Some Soldiers, There’s No Place Like Combat.” From its title, it is clear this article discussed the gung-ho nature of some soldiers — the ones we need fighting for us on the front lines; the ones who enjoy the fight and want to be there.

My issue is not with them. My issue is with one in particular and his misguided, and I believe, certifiable statements. His name is Staff Sgt. Shaun McBride and he needs help.

Discussing his love of being in a warzone, McBride, a street-racing enthusiast, said he even liked driving more in Iraq. “(There, you) do whatever you want on the road. You own the road…You can go into people’s houses without being invited in. It’s like you own the house.”

I was floored by that statement and by the reporter’s cavalier attitude to what this lunatic just told him. The reporter states in the next sentence that McBride is a “soldier’s soldier.” I do not agree with that at all. That is merely a continuation of the age-old “boys will be boys” attitude, with a shake of the head and a smile as one child beats another one down.

Now, I readily admit I am no expert. I have never served in the military. I have only on a few occasions been faced with the threat of possible death. Perhaps if I had more of these experiences, my perspective would be altered. I am a just a citizen like the more than 95 percent of us who are not active in the military.

Usually, I am all for the military. I believe they have one of the toughest jobs there is and they do it well. I appreciate their efforts to protect my freedom and allow me to continue to write articles such as this one. But, I also believe that when someone crosses a line, they should be put back in their place.

When someone begins to feel and act like they own your house, where does that end exactly? Do they own your wife, too? Do they own your daughter? Do they own you?

McBride can own the road all he wants, but he is not the boss in my home. I don’t care how big his rifle is. This is my house. This is my wife. These are my children. You mess with them and we are going to have an issue. The consequences to myself will be the least of my concerns.

The military is trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the people of Iraq. I do not see soldiers such as McBride as being an asset in that cause. His comments certainly are detrimental to it.

Some people may wonder why the Iraqis turned on us. We were, after all, their liberators from a repressive regime. I loved that we toppled Saddam. He deserved it. But, immediately after the victory and even now, soldiers like McBride caused, and continue to cause, harm — not only to the people of Iraq, but to all of us.

I cannot believe there is anyone who can honestly say if a man with a large rifle came into their  house, acting like he owned the place, they would be okay with that and not want him out. Not just out of your house, but out of your country. People would rise up and fight — thus, an insurgency is born.

If people believe you are acting in their best interests, they will respond with undertanding and respect. If people believe you are out to cause them harm, they will respond with fear and violence. Coming in to a country, or a house, as the case may be, to clean it up is one thing — coming in to clean it out is an entirely new deal.

Edited by Bre Bivens and Rikki Miller — Thank you for your help!