McLean Teaching

When I started my high school teaching after getting out of the Navy and finishing one graduate degree, the last thing I ever thought of was some kid getting a gun and coming to school to shoot people. One of my history students volunteered to bring his ‘small’ gun collection for his class to see. The narrow parking lot outside my morning classroom at McLean H S allowed him to bring his Civil War cannon and park it outside a window with the business end pointed into the classroom. He brought his collection of pistols and muskets into the classroom and spent the time of my three morning American history classes describing the weapons and their uses. Other teachers had him come to their history classrooms with his armaments and describe them. I think everyone in the school, including custodians and cafeteria workers came to see the cannon. For me, it was a wonderful addition to what was probably an unreal class for many of my students. And, it gave me a view of a young man that had never been revealed in his classwork.

This was an era in which a number of school boys went hunting with their fathers in western Fairfax and Loudoun counties, so gun use was not uncommon. Yet, the real/active type was never brought to school in some kid’s pocket. One of the muskets my young man brought in had been fixed up to work, and (without powder) he demonstrated how it was loaded and described how it kicked his shoulder when fired.

This was only one kid, but he brought to mind how different the atmosphere I taught in was different from that of today. I’m glad I have that memory rather than the one from Florida.

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Seriously Now!

One of the interesting things about human life is how seriously each one of us takes ourselves. My life and that of those close to me, friends and relatives, are the closest things to my heart. We disagree as well as agree. We think we are the most important things in the world. We like each other and get along mostly because we are alike in some way(s).

There are people we don’t care for, individuals as well as groups. As for individuals, we know from direct experience why we don’t like each other. As for groups, we sometimes absorb the attitudes of family and friends (and TV). To me, the whole business of social relationships is a mess we try to intellectually understand and don’t quite make it. Why people who grow up in groups with particular attitudes can’t abide people with different attitudes is something whole university degree programs are built around (to little effect).

In recent years, there has been more public information about the development of the human species. Through finding ancient bones, we know now that the human (as we are) species has come from more
“primitive” bodies and brains to what we are now. We regard this as progress. In a recent New York Times there is an article about an ancient set of bones found in Britain, labeled Cheddar Man. A hole was drilled in its skull, its DNA was examined, identified and tied to a living Englishman, Adrian Targett who is related to Cheddar Man on his mother’s side. How’s that for family history?

What we will never know is whether the attitudes he exhibited toward others of his kind were like ours: “he wants to be our leader but I think he stinks” (metaphorically). Have our political attitudes advanced or would he feel right at home with what we have in Washington?

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Mar Matta



Like most American Christians, I suppose, my knowledge of the start and spread of the belief in Jesus as the Son of God started in Jerusalem after the four disciples wrote the Gospels. The belief in these four documents went from there along the coast up to Constantinople. It was also carried by sea to Rome and from these two centers it spread into western Europe. I was also aware that it moved through the Middle East, but I did not follow this path.

It was with some surprise that I read an article about a group traveling through the mountains of northern Iraq stopping in an ancient and impressively beautiful monastery named the Monastery of St. Matthew. After searching through multiple sources, I found It was established in 363 AD and is sometimes referred to by the name of its founder, the hermit Mar. While it is now not the complete religious institution it has been for most of its 17Cs, it still serves the geographic area north of Mosul. Even after being plundered several times, it remains an impressive building with a significant library and considerable collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts from its centuries of existence. It’s interior is magnificent with it’s chapel, living quarters and other religious areas. Until the war in Iraq, it still served as the religious institution serving Mosul and the valley and mountain area in which it is situated. I hope it will be resuscitated.

I knew little of religion (Islamic) in the East and was dumbfounded to find a Christian institution of this nature in what I took to be a completely Islamic country. It is a reminder that the knowledge stuffed away in my head is insignificant.

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Basketball season, one of my favorite sports to watch, is with us. Unfortunately, what is being revealed at the same time is corruption in sports in some colleges. The size of major university football stadia and basketball courts is an indication of the amount of money coming in through ticket sales and donations. The money brought in to sportswear producers through the sales of uniforms and sportswear equipment has to be enormous. And, beyond these sales are those to fans who turn stadia the color of their school on game days. The coach of one basketball team playing yesterday looked worried, and well he might since the president and director of sports of his university had already resigned over corruption charges.

The smaller colleges that don’t attract TV don’t show up in this business enterprise. Also, most private universities who, through belief system or lack of money, also stick with sports for the students. George Washington University acquired a new president in the 1960’s who came to the faculty with a recommendation that we abandon football. The faculty thought a medium size program was worth keeping and the President conceded. But, the coach changed, the philosophy about where we should be in the conference ratcheted up and the cost went up. The President came back to the faculty and this time they agreed. In this case, including the faculty has made the decision stick.

In primarily rural states, college athletics are unifying activities. Those who haven’t attended college are as caught up in the variety of sports at their universities as are the alumni. So cutting out football and basketball are not an option.

It is understandable that sports directors and coaches get caught up in the “professionalization” of their sports. But, upper level administrators are also attracted by money that is not controlled by state directives and laws. That money provides opportunity to create special programs, hire outstanding (and higher paid faculty) and maybe even provide a little improvement in their own remuneration.

This is why state supported activities need constant supervision.

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What’s Up With The New Feds


The present national administration, unable to get legislation protecting the environment started in Congress, is using other ways of cutting financial support for developing and supporting such activities.

The recent National Wildlife magazine carried an article about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its works. It’s worth our consideration that it is one of the Federal institutions that the Republican government is intent on “downsizing”. The agency was established by Congress in 1970 with the support of President Nixon. Over the next several years Congress passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act all in the early 1970’s. All of these pieces of legislation had the almost unanimous support of both Republicans and Democrats.

These agencies have reduced the production of contaminants throughout our economy. Cars produce 99 percent less nitrogen, children with elevated lead levels up to 88% have declined to less than 3%. The Clean Air Act has reduced the level of carbon monoxide by about 70% through the country. The list of activities goes on. But, so does the list of new contaminants.

Unfortunately, the administration of our present national government is committed to reducing the size and cost of government. But, it is government support for investigation and intervention that has gotten us to where we are living a better  life. Tearing down government support for a good life for all citizens has to be resisted

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Once Again, Ulysses Grant

Before I read this book, I did not know much about General Grant because he was on the wrong side. So was my great grandfather, but his reason was that he was a German immigrant sometime in the later years of the War Between the States. In any event, I finished the book, Grant, by Ron Chernow and found Grant not only to be a great general, but also to be one of our best presidents.

He was elected president in 1868. In the defeated South, the first problem he dealt with was the action of many whites to put freed blacks in their “place”. Grant fought to give the former slave population equal rights in political life, and got three civil rights acts through Congressional action. He got the Ku Klux Klan declared illegal through Congress and used the army and civilian agents to enforce these laws. Unfortunately, discrimination and violence against black Americans continued in the South.

He moved on to get a civil service commission created. No longer would civil service employees have to fork over part of their salary to political parties to get and keep their jobs. While there were other struggles over civil service reform, Congressmen were unwilling to hand over to a civil service commission their ability to make appointments to federal jobs. Grant was the first president to get the federal government involved in putting unusual parts of land under federal control. (Republicans should take notice that their man began the federal park system.)

This is not the extent of his efforts to make the federal government work for the people, but it does demonstrate his belief that he was president of all the people. As industrialization changed, the federal government was required to manage this change in support of all the people. He tackled this problem just as he did when facing the Confederates.

This is but a small portion of the activities facing him as President. But, what I have come to see is Grant leading us to develop interaction between economics (industrialism) and government. I have also come to see him as one of our most powerful and effective national leaders.

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Happy Holidays

We hope you are having a great holiday season and look forward with us to a happy New Year.

We will be back in two weeks.

The Editors

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Ulysses Grant

I have never read a biography of Ulysses Grant, though he appears in every book about the War Between the States. Recently, a new biography appeared that my wife wanted to read, so we purchased a copy. It is long, but her judgment of it was so positive that I have begun to read it.

It was from his attendance at the Military Academy at West Point that he knew many of the generals he served with and against in the Civil
War. Graduating in1843 he served in the Mexican war. He married in 1848, had 4 children, left the army in 1854 to support his family and rejoined the army in 1861 rising to commander and chief. Elected President in 1868, he worked to see that the former slaves were integrated into southern society.

In addition to his determination, he knew many of the Southern generals, which aided his winning strategy. As president, he put a lot of effort into helping former slaves become integral, equal members of southern society. While I have not reached this part of his life yet, my own experience tells me he failed in this task. Having seen a black man hanging from a tree when I was a child, I had no illusions about the relations between blacks and whites in the South. However, the result of the election for senator in Alabama may show that what Grant worked so hard for too little effect may be coming to fruition.

A century and a half after Reconstruction, the recent demonstration of black voters getting out to vote in Alabama gives hope that equality can work out.


What’s Going On?

It’s hard to escape the political news when writing this blog, and escape is what I would really like to do. How can you avoid wondering about the way this president treats governments that most of us think are our allies. Or, has basically withdrawn us from the Unity of European states. North Korea, China and Japan seem to have been given short shrift. And, the embassy to Israel has been moved to Jerusalem-all by itself.

A major question is whether other countries really need us any more. The Europeans have been operating as a union, and now seem to have slipped more into that role. The Japanese and South Koreans seem to be slipping into less dependence on us. Yet, our Pacific fleet can’t keep all of its ships at sea for lack of funding.

For this country, the Republican Congress is on the verge of passing a funding bill that will cut billions from the budget. Our national road system-particularly bridges-is getting shabbier. Congress has passed a bill encouraging coal mining. Yet, in the West Virginia region, coal can no longer be mined for prices that compete with western coal. So, that revision to supporting mining in the east really provides no benefit. What will this country look like in three more years of this “administration”?

As I submit this, there is a light snow falling, a reminder that all life is not going to hell in a handbasket.

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Long Time Gone

The seasons of the year bring such different things to my attention. In Spring, the weather in the East warms up, sometimes slowly and sometimes all at once. The world turns green and gardeners (my wife) are very busy working in the dirt planting the new flowers. Grass needs to be cut and increasingly garden “managers” are hired. By June, students walking past our house have lost their winter trudge and there is a spring in their step. (From my high school teaching days I had a spring in my step too.)

Summer time brings lots of outdoor activities. Swimming pools go great guns. Our son and 5 five of his friends parceled out breakfast among their parents after after early morning swimming practice. We had six famished boys on our deck once a week for most of the summer.

Fall brought school back for the whole family. For the children, growing older brought less enthusiasm with increasing years. Leaves fell off the trees, had to be raked up and disposed of. Days at the swimming pool gradually faded from memory. Halloween with its full bags of candy and other sweets brought queasy stomachs with just one more piece. Thanksgiving brought family and friends to an overloaded table.

Winter began with a month devoted to Christmas. We then trudged along going from house to work or school with little interruption. Many clothes to keep warm and maybe a snow to bring some variation-not all appreciated by working people.

Spring began with different weather from year to year. Sometimes a long spell with mostly cool, pleasant weather. Yet, one year winter temperatures hung on into June.

Time has moved on; we continue to plunder the physical environment. I wonder what this is doing to the earth we live on.

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