27 October 2010

Thoughts Before Election Day 2010

Perhaps unlike many with whom I share common values – call us Tea Partiers, conservatives, Constitutionalists, whatever – I am hesitant to become too excited about the upcoming election day. I can best express my feelings of the prospects this election day with an analogy to watching Chicago Blackhawks hockey. The analogy isn’t perfect; no analogy is, I suppose. But it will suffice for the time being.

As a life-long Blackhawks fan, I had suffered through what some have called 49 years of futility. Most un-memorable, perhaps, were the teams of the early 2000s. Or rather, they were memorable for what they might have been.

It wasn’t that the Blackhawks did not ice good players during the early 200s. But it seemed that the team either expected too much from players or that certain players didn’t expect enough of themselves. A fan favorite like Kyle Calder eventually left Chicago after the 2005-06 season, bounced around the league, and never again approached the 20-goal mark he twice broke in the Windy City. While in Chicago, Calder was given first line time and put up bigger numbers as his career progressed, though his hard work in the ugly areas of the ice is his forte. The team expected a lot of Calder. Perhaps he did not understand how he would fit in elsewhere, or that his leading role on the Blackhawks was earned and would not transfer to elsewhere. In any case, Calder has not played in the NHL for nearly a year. On the other hand, Tyler Arnason was given every chance to become a star in the league. What’s more, he had the skills to be a star. But as is widely reported, Arnason didn’t have the tenacity to show up for every game and every shift. He would take shifts off regularly. He did not expect enough of himself. And so, Arnason also left the NHL, or rather, the NHL left him behind.

The Republican Party – the only party which has an abundance of candidates and officeholders who are conservative – probably suffers from both of the above symptoms. We, as supporters of the party, cannot ask too much of our elected officials. By that, I mean that we must not throw them under the bus if they are unable to do the vital things we are asking of them. If they plow ahead in a steady manner, if they do not deviate from the course (meaning “compromise” away the legislative exercise of our common goals), then we should allow them the time to continue their work. On the other hand, those who do not have the tenacity for the task at hand – the rebuilding of our government based on a non-living, non-breathing Constitution – must be left behind, and this must be done during the primary process. We must not allow unopposed reelection of all sitting Republicans simply due to their incumbency. Each and every candidate must be accountable for his record during the primary.

The post-lockout defensive re-tooling of the Blackhawks, through the signing of Adrian Aucoin and Jassen Cullimore, was supposed to provide the ‘Hawks with a steady, explosive core from which to build. Unfortunately, management had not factored in rules changes when these players were signed. The ‘Hawks had been rebuilt for a game which had existed before the lockout; the game – and many players on the way to the net – passed the Blackhawks by. It took years to rebound from that mistake. In fact, about four years.

If the “game” passes conservatives by, if it passes Republicans by, we need to keenly take note of that. Once in the majority in either legislative house, Republicans must begin the effort to repeal and replace, to de-develop the federal government. Those who would be passive because, and in truth, such efforts will be vetoed by the sitting President need to be challenged in their next primary race and thereby replaced. The process of replacing these folks whose time has passed will indeed take years, but that rebuilding effort will be well worth it.

Finally, there were many times in the early 2000s when, as a Blackhawk fan, optimism ran high – indeed, too high. Even within individual games, there seemed to (even if only occasionally) be a sort of “high” in every potential win. And yet all too often, the outcome would be negative. One common refrain between my sister and I when watching the ‘Hawks was, “That would have been cool.” This feeling ran so deep – the high expectations followed by dispiriting let down – that when Patrick Kane scored the Stanley Cup winner in overtime, I stood motionless in front of the television. I did not celebrate; I stood silently and waited for the play to be waved off, for the referee to blow the whistle for the next faceoff. I went so far as to, in the most pessimistic part of my mind, concede Game 6, Game 7, and the Cup. It would have been true to form for the ‘Hawks of the early 2000s – not their fault, just destined to happen. Only after Kane’s goal became official did I allow myself to believe.

The same stand true for my expectations for Tuesday night, 2 November 2010. It seems that all of the pundits and true electoral experts (like Barone) are predicting a Republican house and a split Senate. Given the history of the Republican Party, I won’t be all that excited with a win on Tuesday. I’ll be excited if, once in office, Republicans stick to the hard road of de-developing the federal government. Anything short of that will not be cause for celebration.

11 October 2010

A Comment on a Comment on Columbus Day

The night before Columbus Day, I read a comment on a social network that suggested each one of us celebrate the day by walking into someone’s house and declaring it ours, essentially kicking out the owners of the house. This post struck me as harmful for one reason in particular.

The comment reveals a belief that loathing history is more important to some than learning from the past. To think that Columbus – or Westerners for that matter – was unique in that his actions displaced indigenous people is contrary to reality. Indeed, throughout history the expansion of one people or country has come at the cost of another. There is a level of self-loathing, then, coupled with demonizing Columbus, his supposed ill-gotten gains being the beginning steps of the very country which allows folks to make comments on social networks. It is akin to despising the house in which one lives, declaring its builder and financer evil people, and yet refusing to move out of the house. Nevertheless, not a few Americans live within this contradiction. I see this condition as very unhealthy for the country because it seems to constantly point backward with a damning finger instead of seriously considering lessons which ought to be (and in some significant ways, have) learned and proceeding with greater wisdom.

On the other hand, the former is much easier and ideologically safer to do than the latter – which explains much. George Orwell wrote in 1984, “Orthodoxy means not thinking - not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” Thinking is a difficult business; it is human nature to avoid difficult tasks if they can be avoided. Orthodoxy provides the road. But, I think, it is healthier to question ourselves, our pasts, and our values not so that we can look critically backwards but so that we make a habit of carrying valid lessons forward.

02 October 2010

Education as a Privilege

In all of the ballyhoo about education "reform", about the need to transform our system of public education, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding education. This misunderstanding may not exist in the day-to-day attitudes of many students, parents, or teachers, but it is deeply embedded into the maze of laws, regulations, and dictates which flow from the state and, more and more, the federal levels. The misunderstanding regards the acts of educating and learning.

The misunderstanding is that a child has a right to an education. This is a false statement, though it is easy to understand why some may believe it to be true. Saying that a child has a right to an education implies that nothing should get in the way of that education; that somehow, an education should be imputed upon him. This misunderstanding places - at least in theory - all of the responsibility for the outcome of education on forces outside of the student himself. He becomes the passive receiver of education. It disregards the fact that the student is active in his education; it may even attempt to diminish or negate the times when the student actively works against his own education (and the education of others, as well). In the end, it treats the student as a thing instead of a person - with all of the complexities that comes with being a person.

The Latin word for the verb "to learn" is discere. One of the important things about the Latin verb discere is that it has no passive form; it has only active forms. Therefore, one could not say, "I learned the students math today." Learning requires action by the person learning. And yet, because an education has become a right in the eyes of many, there is a corresponding belief in some (or many) that the gaining of an education can be - or should be - largely a passive exercise by the student. And so, laws are created ostensibly to put more and more emphasis on removing all barriers to this kind of passive learning. What laws and regulations of this sort may actually do is kick the can of "hard learning" down the road while simultaneously pushing off difficult learning tasks onto others - or simply neglecting them altogether. Thus, in pursuit of a right to education, many students may well have their education actively blocked by "well intended" laws and regulations.

This must change.

The only thing a student has a right to is an opportunity to gain a basic education - the ability to read, write, and work with numbers. The reason why my statement is limited to the very basics rests in the nature of equality of outcome. If we are to guarantee a right to something - even the guarantee of opportunity - it must always be at a minimal level, at least as these guarantees apply to the nation as a whole. To claim that every student in every corner of this large nation will have the same educational opportunities in total is to promise the impossible. Too much variety of resources, needs, and desires exist - even if one were to only look within a large school district. Thus, the guarantee of opportunity must be limited to the basics, to those things which can in reality be available for all students in all locations: mathematics, literature (fiction and non-fiction), and writing.

Outside of those basics, it should be up to localities to offer educational opportunities based on how they choose to use their time, money, and resources. This will, of course, result in vastly different educational opportunities for children; opportunities will vary based on location and culture, on community and family decisions, and on the relative importance that each individual puts on his education (or how much pressure each parent puts upon his child to gain an education). But this diversity - and I mean diversity in the truest sense of the word - has the potential to birth a creative, responsible, and intellectually curious generation in a way that our current top-down, authoritarian education apparatus may promise but can never fulfill.