Tag Archives: American History

Racism, Racism Everywhere

keep-calm-and-stop-racism-19

This article ably explains why Ron Paul is a disgusting, and dangerous, public figure.

I have written about Ron Paul before (herehere, here, here and here) and received the predictable blowback from his internet minions. The cult of personality that has formed around this man is disturbing. Many young people attach themselves to his banner, despite the fact that he is essentially an evolution-denying, Christian fundamentalist from Texas.

Ron Paul, along with many prominent leaders of the Tea Party, have revived an idea that most people hoped was long dead: nullification. Nullification is the theory that states have the right to disregard federal laws they deem unconstitutional. Its earliest incarnation can perhaps be found in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the presidency of John Adams. Jefferson and Madison believed that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and the states had the duty to nullify such laws.

However, the intellectual father of nullification was a Congressman from South Carolina named John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was considered an expert on the Constitution in his day. He had the reputation as a theorist of sorts who justified the southern way of life. Andrew Jackson tapped him to be his Vice Presidential running mate in 1828. By the end of his first term, Jackson would come to regret this decision.

Besides slavery, another wedge issue between north and south at the time was the tariff. A tariff is a tax on imported goods. Northerners tended to support high tariffs since they protected American industry, which was the backbone of the northern economy. Southerners tended to oppose high tariffs since it raised prices of all goods, especially the low-quality clothing they bought from Britain in which southerners clad their enslaved human beings. Southerners were hopeful that President Jackson would do away with the hated “Tariff of Abominations” put in place by Jackson’s predecessor and American hero, John Quincy Adams. When Jackson did not move fast enough, Calhoun claimed that South Carolina had the right to nullify the tariff. If the federal government insisted that the tariff be paid anyway, then South Carolina had the right to secede, or leave, the union.

Jackson’s response to Calhoun’s challenge is the stuff of legend in American history. At a Washington dinner party, Jackson stood up, looked Calhoun in the eye and gave a toast saying “Our federal union. It must be preserved!” He later threatened to have Calhoun hanged from the highest tree. During this so-called “Nullification Crisis”, Jackson penned an eloquent defense of the American union as a combination of people and not of states. Jackson’s firm response, combined with a compromise that lowered the hated tariffs, served to end the Nullification Crisis. Needless to say, Jackson did not choose Calhoun as his running mate in 1832, opting instead for his closest advisor, and political opportunist, Martin Van Buren.

28 years later, it would be no surprise that the first state to “nullify” the election of Abraham Lincoln was South Carolina. They ended up seceding from the union and bringing many other slave states with them. This was the crisis that led to the firing on Fort Sumter which precipitated the greatest tragedy in American history: the Civil War. President Lincoln, from his first inaugural address all the way to the end of his life, picked up on the old Jacksonian idea that the union was one of people and not states. No state had the right to nullify or secede. The issue was settled in favor of Lincoln on the battlefield. It was at that point that the idea of nullification and secession should have died.

However, throughout the Reconstruction Era, southerners waxed poetic about their “Lost Cause”. Their genteel way of life where blacks lived under the lash of the slave master was gone forever. In its place was northern capitalism with its focus on pecuniary acquisition and industry. Many southerners held on to an idealized version of the Old South that would never totally be shaken. Towards the end of the 1800s, southerners would revive the old mantra of “states’ rights” to disenfranchise black people and reduce them to a status not much better than slavery itself. The Supreme Court supported this practice with Plessy v. Ferguson. It would not be until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s that this system of segregation and disenfranchisement was dealt its death blow, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is the story that American history textbooks tell anyway. While it is tempting to believe this system was overturned in the mid-1960s, the truth is that it has been making a comeback. It has been making a comeback because it is, as usual, clothed in the idea of “states’ rights”. One of the biggest proponents of states’ rights in recent years has been Ron Paul. He has done a great job of masking his ideology as libertarianism. However, as the article cited above states:

“Paul’s agenda has included the rejuvenation of paleoconservatism through his youth outreach and a strong emphasis on his “libertarian” credentials, despite his record as the most conservative legislator in the modern history of the U.S. Congress.25 The libertarian elements of Paul’s political agenda derive primarily from his allegiance to states’ rights, which is often mistaken as support for civil liberties.

Paul is far more transparent about his paleoconservative—rather than libertarian—agenda when he speaks to audiences made up of social conservatives, as when he assured LifeSiteNews that he opposed federal regulatory power and supported state-level banning of abortion, and that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if he were a governor.26

He also told an enthusiastic audience at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 2008 that “you don’t have to wait till the courts are changed” to outlaw abortion, pointing out that his plan for removing jurisdiction from the federal courts would allow South Carolina to enact laws against abortion. And he sponsored the “We the People Act,” which proposed stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases related to religion and privacy, freeing state legislatures to regulate sexual acts, birth control, and religious matters.”

Pure libertarianism is the idea that the state should play as little a role as possible in our lives. However, Ron Paul has successfully confounded the idea of libertarianism with the idea of states’ rights. They are not the same thing. States’ rights holds that the states have the ability to wield all types of power over the lives of the people who live within their borders, which is why Paul can say with a straight face that states have the right to make policies regulating women’s wombs. This is not libertarianism of the anarchy stripe. This is downright autocratic rule.

Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, is another darling of the Tea Party. He made headlines not too long ago for saying he would essentially eviscerate the Civil Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that government had no right to tell private business what it can and cannot do with its property. If the owner of a business wishes to discriminate against an entire race of people, that is perfectly fine by the likes of Rand Paul.

Even more scary perhaps is the recent Supreme Court ruling eviscerating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that it violates the 10th Amendment, which is the amendment most cherished by advocates of states’ rights. Those of us who were taught in high school that the Civil Rights Movement achieved a huge goal with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts have been horrified by the attacks on these laws. We hear these cries for states’ rights when states refuse to participate in the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of the old Calhounian idea of nullification. The Tea Party right has gotten a hold of the Republican Party, making it more reactionary than it has ever been before.

What makes Ron Paul disgusting, and disturbing, is how he has tricked young people into believing his brand of Republicanism or Libertarianism is some sort of independent rogue ideology that cherishes freedom. His words, his deeds and his voting record should give the lie to this idea. His brand of Republicanism is essentially the idea of the Lost Cause of the South dressed up in 21st century garb. It is the South Carolina, Calhounist, slave owner mantra of states’ rights, nullification and secession. It is not just a conservative ideology, but what the article deems a paleoconservative ideology. It is a throwback to an oppressive, white supremacist past, one that is not as dead as some of us would like to think.

What it means for those of us in the education world who are fighting against this so-called wave of reform is that we must be careful about with whom we ally. We might be tempted to make common cause with the Ron and Rand Pauls of the world because it is politically expedient. This should be avoided at all costs. They partake in a brand of dog whistle racism that should be exposed and denounced at every turn.

Yet, at the same time, the rhetoric of the reform movement is also clothed in a type of dog whistle racism. Just recently, Newark schools chancellor and education reform darling, Cami Anderson, demonstrated this when she implied that students in Newark public schools (who are mostly minority) were criminals. She denounced Newark teachers who attended the state union’s conference in Atlantic City by saying that giving the students of the city a day off from school would lead to violence in the streets. This type of language exposes the type of racism implicit in the words, deeds and policies of practically every education reformer.

When reformers say that public schools are failing, they are really saying that “those” children are failing. When they say that public school students need Common Core Standards, they really mean that “those” kids need to finally be held up to standards. This is why Arne Duncan was so quick to call out “suburban white moms“. It gave him cover from the obvious racism implicit in the reforms that he supports. When we look at the most prolific charter schools, like the Success Academies here in New York City, they pride themselves on strict discipline and decor. They pride themselves on getting “those” kids to behave.

And this is also why the attack on “those” children’s schools have been accompanied by attacks on “those” children’s teachers. Many times, “those” children’s teachers come from the same “communities” as “those” children. Even when they do not, teachers of “those” children get an up-close look at the horrid conditions in which “those” children live. They might speak out against these injustices, inciting “class warfare” and “socialism” in the process. Only by silencing them do they keep the issues of poverty and racism out of the mainstream.

Those of us who oppose this “education reform” do so because we understand the paternalism and racism it implies. Unfortunately, we cannot fight against the Race to the Top or the Common Core on the grounds that it violates “states’ rights”, since that just replaces one dog whistle term for another. It also replaces the paternalism of the corporate reformers with the paternalism of state governments, who tend to be the most odious and retrograde entities in the country.

No, opponents of education reform must base their opposition on civil disobedience. This is what the idea of “opting out” is all about. Civil disobedience recognizes that Race to the Top, along with many other reforms, are the laws of the land. It recognizes the supremacy of the federal government over the states. It opposes these reform laws not because they are federal, but because they are unjust.

The idea of opting out, of true civil disobedience, would be tainted if associated with the idea of states’ rights. Opting out is the future. States’ rights is the past. Most importantly, states’ rights brought to its ultimate conclusion would bring us back to the Jim Crow era or worse. We would then have to fight a much more serious battle against a much more dangerous brand of “education reform”.

ONE STUPID HISTORY TEACHER

duh

About one minute ago this comment was left on my most recent post about this past week’s U.S. History Regents:

denton | January 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm | ReplyEdit

The answer for 14 is 3 slaveholders.

Denton is absolutely correct. The question has to do with the Dred Scott decision:

Which group benefited most directly from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford?

(1) abolitionists    (3) slave owners

(2) immigrants     (4) enslaved persons

To which I began my response:

They want answer (4) because Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slavery was legally permitted in all of the territories. He also ruled that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” How can it not be choice (4)?

If you read the rest of my response to the question you can see that I clearly meant to say choice (3), not (4). This was a simple matter of me getting the numbers mixed up.

I will admit, Denton’s simple comment mildly devastated me. Despite the fact that I know the answer to the question and have a strong opinion about why this question is stupid, I myself felt very stupid once Denton made me realize my folly. I am sure that many, if not most, people who read the post picked up on my mistake but did not say anything out of politeness.

The fact that, according to my stats, this is the most-read of my recent posts makes me feel even dumber. Hundreds of people have already read my mistake.

If someone like me who is confident in his understanding of U.S. History to the point of insufferable arrogance can be made to feel stupid for a simple mistake, imagine how a teenager must feel when something similar happens?

How many times have students simply transposed numbers and ended up bubbling in the wrong choice because of it? How many times has a student bubbled in an answer in which they had confidence only to have a machine spit it back at them as “wrong”?

My mistake and Denton’s comment I believe strengthens my point about the folly of standardized testing. As the post clearly demonstrates, even students with a strong understanding of a subject can be screwed over by simple errors, putting their graduation and the careers of their teachers in jeopardy.

For now at least, I am one dumb history teacher.

STUPID QUESTIONS ON LAST WEEK’S U.S. HISTORY REGENTS EXAM

Better fill in the right bubbles  or your teacher gets the axe.

Better fill in the right bubbles or your teacher gets the axe.

EDIT 1/28/13: SEE IF YOU CAN FIND THE STUPID MISTAKE I MADE ON ONE OF THE QUESTIONS DISCUSSED BELOW. TRY NOT TO READ THE COMMENTS UNTIL YOU CATCH MY MISTAKE. CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT THE MISTAKE WAS.

Students across New York State sat down to take Regents exams all last week. The January Regents, for most schools, are make-ups for students who did not pass an exam the first time. For many students, last week’s U.S. History Regents could have been the difference between graduating or not.

Which is why it is upsetting to open up a Regents exam for the first time and come across patently ridiculous questions. Last week’s Global History exam was actually worse in this regard but I don’t have a copy of it on hand. The U.S. History exam was bad enough.

There are many types of bad questions on these history exams. In total they make a great case for why the testing craze sweeping this country is destructive, not to mention why judging students and teachers by the results of these exams are just plain lunacy.

Take Question # 11 from the U.S. History exam:

One result of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory (1803) was that the United States

(1) acquired California from Spain

(2) gained control of the port of New Orleans

(3) ended border conflicts with British Canada

(4) annexed Florida

The answer they are looking for is (2). Of course, as I mentioned in my recent Thomas Jefferson post, the United States had been focused on getting New Orleans for a long time. Merchants and farmers out west were constantly frustrated at not having access to New Orleans which is at the mouth of the Mississippi River and, therefore, a major port of trade. Jefferson was fulfilling a long-time American dream by purchasing it and the rest of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

But there were other “results” of the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition of so much western land focused Americans on westward settlement. It continued an entire western momentum that started with the French and Indian War (1754-1761), which is when American colonists started to penetrate beyond the Appalachians into the Ohio River Valley. With the Louisiana Territory in their possession Americans began to believe that it was their “destiny”, their God-given “Manifest Destiny”, to take control of the entire continent to the Pacific Ocean. 44 years after the Purchase, President James Polk instigated a war with Mexico to fulfill this destiny, gaining California in the process. Therefore, it could be argued that one of the “results” of the Louisiana Purchase was that the U.S. “(1) acquired California from Spain”. While the U.S. never acquired California directly from Spain (as we’ve seen, they got it from Mexico), both California and Mexico were colonies of Spain during the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

As you can see in this map, getting the port of New Orleans was the only result of the Louisiana Purchase.

As you can see in this map, getting the port of New Orleans was the only result of the Louisiana Purchase.

What if a teacher had taught this to their students to give them a more complete picture of the Louisiana Purchase in the context of American History? A student could have filled in choice (1), been at least partially correct and received no credit for it. What if a teacher explained to their students that the Louisiana Purchase put the United States on a collision course with Florida  (which was owned by Spain ), necessitating a series of arguments between the two countries over the borders of East and West Florida (which included the Gulf Coast regions of modern-day Mississippi and Alabama)? What if a teacher taught their students that, after the Purchase, several American generals (including Andrew Jackson) raided Florida in attempts to conquer it? Spain was a decaying empire who did not have the stomach for a trans-Atlantic fight with an aggressive and young United States. This led to the Adams-Onis Treaty (1819 – and negotiated by my favorite American ever, John Quincy Adams) where the United States annexed Florida, which is choice (4).

It is best for a teacher not to teach these things to their students so they will not be confused and fill in the “wrong” bubble on the exam. Of course, the only cost of this is a limited, stunted, incomplete curriculum of United States history, leading to a limited, stunted and incomplete understanding of U.S. history by our students.

But that’s alright. We need to show that we “add value” as teachers which, in this case, means debasing the value of the curriculum.

Three questions later, at question 14, we have another such question:

Which group benefited most directly from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford?

(1) abolitionists    (3) slave owners

(2) immigrants     (4) enslaved persons

They want answer (4) because Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slavery was legally permitted in all of the territories. He also ruled that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” How can it not be choice (4)?

Well, it could be any of these choices. It can also be none of these choices. It is hard to say that anyone directly benefited from Taney’s decision. Even though he ruled that slave owners could bring their human chattel anywhere in the American territories, there is little evidence to suggest they did so. The country was so divided over the slavery issue in 1857 that it would be unlikely that slave owners would dare to bring slaves to any territory whose population was against slavery, lest the slave owners get a visit from John Brown and his family or similar types of crusaders.  Essentially, slave owners could only bring slaves to those territories whose people and climates were conducive to slavery, which is to say the territories in which slavery was already legal. The net direct benefit to slave owners in reality was negligible.

Remember the mass exodus of slave owners into the Oregon Territory?

Remember the mass exodus of slave owners into the Oregon Territory?

On the other hand, Taney’s decision strengthened the perception in the north that the “Slave Power”, as many abolitionists called it, dominated the federal government. It steeled their resolve to oppose slavery which became one of the big factors that pushed the nation into the Civil War. It would be the war that ended up abolishing slavery, in which case choice (1) makes sense. By extension, it also means choice (4) makes sense.

Or if you accept the premise that the Dred Scott case strengthened the institution of slavery, then choice (2) makes sense. Northern immigrants were some of the biggest supporters of slavery and the Democratic Party that defended it (indeed, immigrant support is one of the few things that have remained constant about the Democrats since the Age of Jackson). In their minds, slavery kept potential competition for their jobs chained in bondage far away in the south. One of the worst nightmares of many immigrants was an influx of freed slaves to the north undercutting their wages.

Again, heaven forbid a student has a wide-ranging mind that can take in all of these possibilities or had a teacher that taught this to them. They might fill in the wrong bubble and “prove” that their teacher did not “add value” to their understanding of Dred Scott.

Then, a mere eight questions later, we find this question:

In the early 1900s, the United States proposed the Open Door Policy to

(1) gain new colonies in the Pacific

(2) win support for building the Panama Canal

(3) improve relations with Europe

(4) secure access to markets in China

They obviously want choice (4) here. The United States’ economy exploded after the Civil War, ushering in an era of rapid expansion. The 1890 census showed that the “frontier” out on the western part of the continent was “full”, so Americans cast a covetous glance beyond towards the Pacific. Unfortunately, most of Europe had beaten them to the punch when it came to imperialism. The United States was oftentimes treated as a junior partner by the great powers in the game of geopolitical expansion. In Hawaii, Samoa and many other Pacific Islands, the U.S. asserted its growing influence in an attempt to both gain new markets and gain the respect of the great powers. Therefore, if the U.S. wanted to gain markets in China as choice (4) says, could that not also mean that they wished to “improve relations with Europe”, which is choice (3)?

C'mon Europe, let us get a piece of China. In return, you won't have to respect us or treat us well at all.

C’mon Europe, let us get a piece of China. In return, you won’t have to respect us or treat us well at all.

This, of course, all depends on what you mean by “improve”. As the U.S. expanded its influence the great powers took the growing nation more seriously, causing them to seek alliances, trade agreements and peace with the U.S. Would this not be an “improvement” by most definitions of the word? If the U.S. did not aggressively push its interests like it it did in China and other places, it would have remained a non-entity to the great powers and a country whose shipping was ripe for plunder on the high seas. In the world of geopolitics, might makes right.

An open-minded student could make a good case for choosing (3). Unfortunately, scantron machines do not care about making good cases and critical thought. No value added here Mr./Ms. Open-Minded Student. It is obvious that your teacher did not add any value to you.

A similar thing happens a mere six questions later in question 28:

After World War I, one way in which the Red Scare, the passing of the Quota Acts, and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan were similar is that they all

(1) exploited fears about people who were considered un-American

(2) encourages the assimilation of new immigrants into American society

(3) supported goals of the suffrage movement

(4) exhibited prejudice against African Americans

Granted, the answer that makes the most sense is (1). The question refers to the climate of “nativism” that swept the country after World War I. However, if the country was turning against everything foreign then would it not cause many immigrants to want to assimilate? No immigrant wanted to a visit from the KKK or to be raided by A. Mitchell Palmer in his quest to find communists. One of the best ways to avoid this was to act American, which would be choice (2). Indeed, one of the byproducts of the nativist climate was the drive to assimilate. It was in the 1920s when most children in the United States had been enrolled in public school for the first time. One of the original reasons to have public schools in the first place was to Americanize the children of immigrants. All of the things mentioned in this question certainly helped make up the minds of immigrant parents as to whether or not they wanted to send their children to public schools. Assimilate or suffer could have been a mantra of the Roaring 20s.

What better time to act all "immigranty" than when the Klan is marching on D.C.? To hell with assimilation, bring out the rosary beads and dreidels.

What better time to act all “immigranty” than when the Klan is marching on D.C.? To hell with assimilation, bring out the rosary beads and dreidels.

Too bad for the student who might see things in this way and for the teacher who taught this. There is just no value to be had in an idea that leads to the wrong bubble-in answer.

A mere two questions later it happens again with a very strange question:

As part of the New Deal, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) were created to

(1) allow for a quick recovery of stock prices

(2) provide direct loans to businesses

(3) protect individual investors from stock fraud and bank failure

(4) allow banks and companies to invest in the stock market

Choice (3) makes sense. The SEC attempted to make the stock market transparent so investors would not get fleeced. The FDIC allowed the government to insure bank deposits so that bank runs would not wipe out people’s savings. This is the answer they want.

On the other hand, the transparency that the SEC was designed to bring to the market was also designed to bring back investor confidence, in which case choice (4) makes sense. Now, yes, the FDIC did not affect the stock market but the Glass-Stegall Act, which was the law that created the FDIC, did. Not only did Glass-Stegall create the FDIC, it erected a “firewall” between consumer and investor banks. The former type of bank would only deal with savings and small loans. The latter type of bank would deal with venture capital and stocks. While choice (4) is not technically “correct” it is sort of a gotcha question. A student could read FDIC and think Glass-Stegall and bubble in the wrong choice.

So I suppose it is better for a teacher to avoid mentioning Glass-Stegall altogether. Instead, they should merely focus on the FDIC part of the law and teach it as an isolated event. Clouding a student’s mind with an unnecessarily full view of history will only lead to the wrong bubble getting filled in and a negative “value added” score. I guess the banks should be happy about this. Students would never learn that Glass-Steagall reined in some of the worst abuses of big banks, including using the money of their customers to gamble in the stock market and other risky ventures. Thanks to the Gramm-Leach-Blily Act (1999), the part of Glass-Stegall that prevented banks from doing these things was repealed. Now students will never learn that banks were once regulated in this way and instead assume that the giant casinos the banks have become is the banks’ natural, default way of doing things.

bankers

The banks themselves could not have designed a question better suited to preempt the future generations from understanding how they continue to abuse the economy and put all of us at risk, again.

These are not all of the stupid, vague, incomplete or just plain inane questions that can be found on the January 2013 U.S. History regents. However, this post is already longer than common internet decency will allow.

What these questions show us is that teachers are encouraged to teach a narrow American History curriculum. Any teacher who attempts otherwise runs the risk of “confusing” their students, leading to wrong answers, negative value added and, eventually, a pink slip.

This is the New York State’s version of newspeak. A small curriculum leads to large “value added” for the teacher. A vast curriculum leads to negative “value added”. The freedom students and teachers receive, freedom from being left back or freedom from being fired, is actually slavery in the form of a shallow, ignorant understanding of history.

THE GREAT WAR (DOCUMENTARY)

There are too many World War II documentaries, not enough World War I documentaries. It seems the most popular historical documentaries today are ones filled with colorized footage with very little historical substance.

If the Department of Education did not block Youtube out of fear that children might spend some time doing something other than preparing for a test, I’d be able to bring my laptop in and show clips of classics like this.

I prefer World War I to World War II, thank you very much. No WWI documentary touches this one in my opinion even though it certainly is not perfect. This was pretty much what I watched throughout my Christmas vacation, how cheerful:

PART I – EXPLOSION (Covers the European balance of power system up until the outbreak of general war in the Summer of 1914):

PART II – STALEMATE (Covers the initial enthusiasm of mobilization and its descent into bloody trench warfare.)

PART III – TOTAL WAR (Covers the development of new war technologies and the mobilization of the colonies that made it into a true world war. The Gallipoli Campaign begins in this episode.)

PART IV – SLAUGHTER (Covers some of the major land battles like the Somme and Ypres to illustrate the desperation of trench warfare.)

PART V – MUTINY (Covers the development of shell shock, the first Russian Revolution and the collapse of the Eastern Front.)

PART VI – COLLAPSE (Covers the entrance of the United States into the war and the collapse of the German war effort.)

Part VII – Hatred and Hunger (Covers the Paris Peace Conference, the rise of the Bolsheviks, Russia’s bloody civil war and the collapse of Woodrow Wilson’s hopes for world peace. The videos are broken into smaller episodes.)

PART VIII – WAR WITHOUT END (Covers the aftermath of the war, including the break down of the old European world and the rise of a new, scarier, uncertain and modern world. Shows how the Great War would set the stage for World War II.)

Overall this is a wholly satisfactory series about World War I for beginners and history buffs alike.

My only criticisms are that they did not spend enough time on the Armenian Genocide. They sort of tucked it away in an obscure part of the series and never mentioned it again. The sea war was also only sort of half-covered, merely touching on the Battle of Jutland.

On the other hand, their treatment of trench warfare is stellar. The individual stories were very instructive and there is just a ton of great original footage. Their treatment of the Russian war was also very good. I can’t really fault them for glossing over the Bolshevik Revolution because that wasn’t their focus. There is a very nice section on America’s involvement in Russia’s civil war that sowed the seeds of the Cold War.

Bookmark this page for when you have the time to see this documentary so you don’t have to chase down the Youtube links.

This film is also a great companion to John Keegan’s The First World War. Keegan really highlights the larger war tactics, strategies and aims on both sides that led to some of the great battles of the Great War.

I really miss teaching 10th grade Global Studies because I don’t get to cover World War I. There were so many interesting characters here, so many present and past icons crossing paths and so many institutions that rapidly died without much to replace to it. More than most wars, even World War II, WWI was the crucible where the old world died and the world in which we live today started its long painful birth.

The advent of flight, tanks, poison gas, mechanized war, Hitler’s career, the Soviet Union, America as a world power, modern psychology and much more are discussed in this movie.

At the same time, the death of European dynasties, balance of power politics, Napoleonic warfare and other long-standing institutions are also discussed.

Check out PBS’ The Great War.

Ron Paul: American Hero

Ron Paul defends the Constitution. He is the only politician (aside from maybe his son) who knows what is in the Constitution and knows what the Founding Fathers were thinking when they were writing it. The same goes for his followers. They are the only ones who care about American values and freedom. If you disagree with them, it is because you are stupid and un-American.

Take a look at the father of the Constitution, James Madison. No Founding Father was better prepared for the Constitutional Convention. No Founder contributed more ideas to that illustrious document. Like Ron Paul, James Madison hated imperialist war, military spending and central banks.

That is until the year 1812. You see, Native Americans had the nerve to attack the white people who came to settle on their hunting grounds in the Ohio River Valley. They were aided in this by the British. What did James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, do about it? He went to Congress and received a declaration of war.

It was clear, however, that the militias called for by the Second Amendment made lousy soldiers. They did not respond to discipline and had a habit of running away when British redcoats came into sight. What did President Madison, Father of the Constitution, do about this? He beefed up the professional military. This not only included the army, but the navy as well. Second Amendment be damned, we needed a military.

After 2 years of fighting, we finally convinced the British to evacuate the Ohio River Valley and stop helping the Native Americans. This opened up the west to white migration. Native Americans would now have to fend for themselves against the flood of settlers coming from the east. Yes, James Madison, Father of the Constitution, opposed imperialist war just like Ron Paul.

All of that war sure cost a lot of money. Not to fear, since James Madison, Father of the Constitution, had a trick up his sleeve. It was called a central bank. Yes, he established the Second Bank of the United States to help us pay down our war debts. That was not its only function. Since our population was becoming more far-flung, the bank Madison created helped fund a bunch of infrastructure projects that helped tie the country together.

You see, Ron Paul is the true heir to the Constitution. He opposes imperialist war, military spending, central banking and federal support for infrastructure. James Madison would not have had it any other way.

Let us also not lose sight of the fact that this was all done so that people could eventually get to land that other illustrious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, had purchased from France. You see, Jefferson had this weird dream that he would use government funds (my tax money!) to buy land so that he could then give it out to people who wanted to settle it.

But this would only be after he would use some more of that government money to construct public schools on that land. Jefferson had this illusion that the United States should be a democracy and that publicly funded schools would be a vital part of that democracy. People with equal land and equal educations would be, well, equal.

So, you see, Ron Paul is the only person in touch with the vision of the Founding Fathers. He does not believe in government handouts or public education, just like Thomas Jefferson. That is why he named his son after that great American hero of the Revolutionary Era, Ayn Rand. We all know that Ayn Rand also supported central banking, internal improvement, equal land and public education.

Ron Paul is an American hero. His ideas are clearly inspired by America’s founders: Ayn Rand and August von Mises. Like Madison and Jefferson, he is a Christian fundamentalist from Texas who does not believe in evolution. Like George Washington and Patrick Henry, he worships corporations and believes they should be able to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it.

Welcome to the cult-following world of Ron Paul, where American history and values are so precious that we can’t be bothered to actually read about it for ourselves.

You should also check out American History, According to Ron Paul, Sort Of

John Quincy Adams, American Hero

The first known photograph of a U.S. President depicts the intensity and seriousness of John Quincy Adams. The fact that he was the first photographed president symbolizes his transitional position in history between old and new. What we ended up losing in that transition has led to much of the misery in the United States today.

John Quincy Adams is my favorite American. He represents an honesty, morality and highmindedness rarely seen in American government since, and practically never seen today. Born into privilege as the son of Founding Father and president, John Adams, he did not need to rely on corporate money to keep his power like leaders of today. He was his own man, always choosing to do what was right over what was popular. We do not hear much about Quincy today, not even from the textbooks, mostly because he represents values totally alien to most of us. We cannot understand someone who did not do things for personal gain. John Quincy Adams is the paragon of public service, a hero whose example is vital to those of us fed up with corruption and propaganda.

He was 26 when President Washington summoned him to be minister to the Netherlands. Newly graduated from Harvard, Quincy was looking forward to the quiet life of a bookish intellectual lawyer. He believed his stint in public service would be temporary and he would soon go back to his reading. But Washington thought he was valuable to America’s cause overseas, since we were trying to get the nations of Europe to recognize the legitimacy of our young country. Quincy had no choice. The most respected man in America believed in him and he was not going to break that trust. From that moment to literally the day he died, John Quincy Adams would serve his country not out of opportunity, but out of duty.

After several successful missions to several European nations, President James Monroe appointed Quincy Secretary of State. He negotiated the Treaty of 1818 with England, the first step in a long rapprochement after fighting them in the War of 1812. Acquiescing in General Andrew Jackson’s illegal raids into Spanish Florida (raids of this type were called “filibusters” at the time), he signed the Adam-Onis Treaty with Spain which transferred Florida to the U.S. This had the effect of making even more of a hero out of Andrew Jackson, something that would come back to bite Quincy later. His greatest success as Secretary of State came when Latin America won their American-inspired revolution against Spain. Spain’s allies in Europe threatened to come to the Americas to get the colonies back, at which point Quincy informed them that the Americas were off limits to further colonization. This would go on to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, which remains a hallmark of American foreign policy until this day. In everything Quincy did as Secretary of State, he kept the long term interests of the United States in mind. He demonstrated an eye for the future that betrayed an intimacy of the past. He had a reverence for knowledge that we do not see in Washington anymore, the type of knowledge that informs quality statesmanship.

It was no surprise that Quincy ran for president in 1824, right on the heels of his accomplished stint as Secretary of State. The previous 3 Secretaries of State (Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) all went on to be president. The Democratic-Republicans were the only party in town and the candidates in 1824 divided over regional lines: Quincy (north), Henry Clay (west), William Crawford (south) and Andrew Jackson (who had mass appeal). Jackson won the popular vote and a plurality of the electoral vote, with Quincy in 2nd place in both regards. However, nobody won the majority of the electors and the election was given to the House of Representatives to decide. Henry Clay was out of the running but he was the Speaker of the House and played the king-maker. He always hated Jackson, thinking of him as a dangerous hothead (an image partially owing to his filibusters into Florida.) Clay swung the votes to make Quincy president, at which point Quincy appointed Clay as Secretary of State (hence naming Clay as his successor). Jackson was outraged. He and his supporters accused Quincy and Clay of a “corrupt bargain”. It would be one of the most destructive accusations on one of the most honest and incorruptible men in history.

As president, Quincy operated in a fog due to the corrupt bargain accusation. The divided Congress and the propagandized public did not offer the support Quincy needed to get things done. For his part, Quincy believed in the self-evident merit of his program, so he felt trying to woo his detractors was beneath him. Quincy wanted a high tariff that would protect America’s embryonic industrial revolution. He got one passed towards the end of his term in 1828. Quincy wanted to use that tariff money, as well as funds from the central bank, to build roads, canals and bridges. He envisioned a nation of industry and commerce woven together by infrastructure. Encouraging people to stay put and not move west would provide the necessary factory workers back east, as well as avoid conflicts with Native Americas. For these reasons, he stopped giving out land to people who wanted to settle the Louisiana Purchase. Quincy’s highest goal was to foster public education and culture by supporting a national university, investments in science and government support of the arts. No president has been as qualified by mental aptitude and experience, or been more motivated to provide enlightened government as John Quincy Adams.

Unfortunately, he did not get a 2nd term. He would square off with Jackson again in his 1828 reelection bid and lose. Charges of the corrupt bargain stuck. Like his father, he would be a one-term president. The father and son Adams were the only 2 presidents of the first 7 to not win a 2nd term. They were both high-minded men who did what was good for the country, meaning they eschewed what was popular for what their integrity told them was right. People in his own age ignored Quincy’s values much as we still do today.

Two years later Quincy won a seat in the House of Representatives, the only former president to serve in the House. It is a measure of his utter devotion to public service that Quincy served in a part of government given the least respect for its association with the common people. It is in the House where Quincy had his most dramatic battles and took his most impassioned stands. He was firmly against President Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal, which promised to remove the “Five Civilized Tribes” living in Georgia to a location west of the Mississippi River. Like many northeasterners at the time, Quincy believed the Constitution should be used to protect Native Americans. He opposed Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act but it passed Congress anyway, leading to the Trail of Tears where thousands of Natives died in a forced march westward. Jackson’s actions represented the rise of a white supremacist ideology that played well in the south and defined American politics until the time of Lincoln. Quincy resisted the rise of white supremacy at every turn, including in its other form: slavery.

John Quincy Adams was set against slavery. He often said he wanted to be known as the worst enemy slaveowners ever had. The problem was that the House had a gag rule that prevented it from entertaining any discussion of ending slavery. Quincy tried to get the gag rule repealed. When that did not work, he introduced a petition to Congress that would force the southern states out of the country because they owned slaves. He was calling the bluff of southerners who kept threatening to secede from the union over the slavery issue. Introducing this proposal would lead to a discussion of slavery and circumvent the gag rule. Southerners moved to have him censured, which put him in the public eye and gave him more of a platform. In the end, the southerners backed out of fear of giving him this platform. It is a measure of Quincy’s integrity that he would put his career on the line to battle the power of slave owners. How many presidents today would risk anything by battling the banks?  What is more, how many leaders in our country today would defend a group of black men accused of murder in a court of law free of charge, like Quincy did with the slave rebels of the Spanish ship, Amistad? How many of them would do it out of nothing other than high moral purpose, knowing that most of the country does not tend to sympathize with black men that kill white men? Quincy did all of these things in the early 1800s, making himself the most eloquent and powerful champion of anti-slavery in the United States.

When the United States government inherited the $500,000 (huge money back then) estate of scientist James Smithson in 1835, it was Smithson’s wishes that the government use the money for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” As a member of Congress, Quincy finally saw his opportunity to create an institution to promote the arts and sciences, one of the unfulfilled goals of his presidency. He organized the effort in Congress to make good on Smithson’s wishes, helping to birth what would become the Smithsonian Institution. Until this day, the Smithsonian is America’s unique national treasure. A public institution that represents all the good that enlightened government can do. Quincy also led the fight to build the United States Naval Observatory at the beginning of his presidency, which remains the oldest scientific institution in America. These are physical legacies of John Quincy Adams, much like the Monroe Doctrine is part of his policy legacy. It is tough to imagine any modern political leader driven by a duty to posterity like John Quincy Adams.  His vision went well beyond the next election. It was eternity with which he was concerned.

Like many northerners, Quincy opposed war with Mexico as a southern conspiracy to conquer more land in which to extend slavery. As he was about to speak in the House about why he opposed giving honors to veterans of the Mexican War, he suffered a brain aneurism and collapsed. Two days later he was dead. John Quincy Adams occupies a unique place in American history. He surely knew one-term Congressman Abraham Lincoln, making him probably the only historical figure who knew both the Founders and the Great Emancipator. He was the first president to wear pants instead of breaches and he never wore a wig. The oldest surviving photograph of a president shows Quincy with a dour look on his face, hands folded in front of him resting on legs crossed one over the other. Quincy was a transition from old to new. More than a transition from the Founding generation to the Age of Jackson, he was a transition from a spirit of enlightened leadership to a spiritless age when nothing more than leadership itself became the end of politics. From the end of Quincy’s time on, career politicians worked their way up with an eye on the presidency. President Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, was a political operator and machine boss. His presidency was a failure, as were the 6 presidents who followed him. Through lack of leadership (James Buchanan) or myopic leadership (James Polk), they all contributed to the start of the Civil War. We have, in a sense, never fully recovered from having lost JQA.

In the age of million-dollar political campaigns, with all the legalized corruption and propaganda that entails, it is more important than ever to remember the example of John Quincy Adams. While our leaders today are owned, Quincy owned himself. Leaders today act upon poll numbers, Quincy acted upon conscience. The career politicians who now run the country do not see past the next election, Quincy’s vision was eternal. And after their careers are done, our politicians today go work for the wealthiest corporations, making their political careers exercises in courting the elite. John Quincy Adams never stopped being a leader. There was no corporation for him to go to, no tycoon with the ability to make or break him.  He was a public servant and he served the public. Rather than pleasing the powerful, John Quincy Adams exalted the humble. Whether it was defending fugitive slaves in a court of law, using the Constitution to protect Native Americans or ensuring that succeeding generations would be able to have access to learning, Quincy always spoke for those without a voice. People who could not give him money or votes benefited from his enlightened leadership. Serving the public started with serving those the least able to serve themselves. We are blessed to have John Quincy Adams in our national story. He and his accomplishments still stand today as a testament to what leadership can be when devoted to the common good. The United States needs models like John Quincy Adams now more than ever. In an era when politicians have written off the least fortunate, JQA serves to remind us of our own duty to the common good.

The U.S. History Regents and the REAL Goal of Education Reform

Zachary Taylor's nickname was "Old Rough and Ready"

Years ago I had a coworker who fancied himself a history buff. Not being a history teacher himself, he relished the thought of trying to stump me with a question. One of his favorites, which he asked me pretty much half the time, was “you do know what Zachary Taylor’s nickname was, don’t you?” I never answered the question, preferring to give him his moments to shine where he could puff out his chest and smugly inform me that it was “Old Rough and Ready”. I would nod my head in bland acknowledgment, allowing the conversation to end on a high note for him so I could get back to doing work. Like many self-professed history buffs, what he likes is not so much history as it is trivia. No understanding of history is required to know that Zachary Taylor’s nickname was “Old Rough and Ready”. My coworker would have done better to ask what role Taylor had in defeating Mexico or why he became president. These questions would require some ability to synthesize facts in order to give a sweep of history. It would be more in line with the historian’s craft.

Although the man is no longer my coworker, I am reminded of him every day by the fact that I have to prepare my students for Regents exams. For sure, I have spoken to many people associated with the crafting of the U.S. History Regents and they seem to be fairly competent and knowledgeable. The exams they produce, however, are the paper versions of my annoying coworker. They lie in wait brandishing overly specific questions, many of which they have asked before. A student’s entire worth as an amateur historian will be measured by whether or not they can answer tiny questions plucked from a vast historical universe. Maybe there is a student who knows everything about the Mexican War. They can even draw a map of Taylor’s and Santa Anna’s forces at the Battle of Buena Vista. But if they do not know that Zach Taylor was “Old Rough and Ready”, their knowledge of all early 1800s America is called into question. Essentially, our children are not expected to know much more than trivia when it comes to American history.

To be fair, the Regents usually do not descend to the same level of minutiae as my coworker. But when the format calls for chopping up 500 years of American history into 50 multiple choice questions, obviously some things will get focused on more than others. Take this past June’s Regents. The period from the ratification of the Constitution (roughly 1788) through the Reconstruction era (roughly 1877) was covered in six questions (questions 11-16): 11) Louisiana Purchase, 12) John Marshall, 13) Manifest Destiny, 14) Dred Scott, 15) Radical Reconstruction, 16) literacy exams, poll taxes and grandfather clauses. The message of these multiple choice questions is that it does not really matter if you know about Washington’s Presidency, the XYZ Affair, Lewis and Clark, the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson, Indian Removal, Nat Turner, John Quincy Adams or the creation of the Republican Party. The fact of the matter is that the Regents mostly asks important questions that every American should know. There is nothing wrong with asking about the Louisiana Purchase or John Marshall. The problem lies in the format. The test makers have to work within a framework that forces them to elevate certain topics over others. It is the only way they can get away with not asking a single direct question about the Civil War, the bloodiest event in American history. The grand, sweeping march of history is way too big for a series of isolated questions to contain.

In this we confront the danger of the education reformers. They love standardized exams. Exams are like the goose laying golden eggs of “data” for the reformers to use to give their vacuous ideas an air of scientific respectability. The grades on those exams will determine the fate of both the student and the teacher. That fate will involve a lot of school closings and a lot of money from those closed schools going into the pockets of wealthy charter school operators. As you can see, nowhere in this fate is our citizenry expected to have a true understanding of American history. They just need to be prepared for the dead end questions, many of them asked before, that are thrown at them arbitrarily. One of the original missions, if not the original mission, of public schooling was to help shape our kids to be solid citizens. If we have to give exams, why not give exams that require our kids to acquire, analyze and synthesize information so that they may have the critical thinking skills necessary to participate in American democracy? Why not have teachers create and grade those exams, since they should know better than anyone the themes and ideas to which their students were exposed? They can ask questions that require students to present a critical sweep of history.

We know full well why not. The reformers do not want our schools producing solid citizens. Solid citizens are informed, knowledgeable and expect certain basic things, like human dignity. The fabulous wealth these reformers accumulated in the business world depends upon an apathetic, uninformed citizenry. In short, the reformers want to educate poor children to accept poverty, while turning a blind eye to the obscene wealth of the reformers themselves. Instead of budding historians who would easily see how vast inequalities of wealth pervert democracy, they want a bunch of trivia freaks who can answer simple questions for prize money. Instead of professional teachers who know and love their craft, they want to boil teaching down to memorizing facts. The deskilling of the art of teaching that has taken place under the reformers is only their first step. Their goal is to get rid of teaching altogether. After all, if all kids need to do to graduate is spit back arbitrary facts, what better teacher than a computer? The student can run a computer program of random, disjointed facts from U.S. History played to catchy, repetitive music. After listening to it a few hundred times over the course of a semester, they will have memorized everything. In this way, learning will be no different than when kids listen to the radio and know all the lyrics to every song since the same songs are always being played. Test scores will go up, kids will think learning is cool, Bill Gates will be a triple gadzillionaire and the evil teacher unions will be no more.

It is time that people wake up and recognize that the reformers are genuine radicals who want to totally revolutionize what we are as a country. The rich and the powerful want to control the way every child is educated. They do this to keep themselves rich and powerful. The battle over our school system today will determine whether we can restore some semblance of democracy and goodness to our country, or whether the caste system that has taken hold here over the past three decades is here to stay.