Archive for September, 2015

R E Lee

People who make it into history books generally have a role ascribed to them. For instance, William M. Tweed of New York, a late 19th century New York government official who was called Boss Tweed, was eventually arrested, tried and sent to jail for arranging many ways of stealing public money. In history books he has no other reputation.

Robert E. Lee was certainly known in the South, when I grew up, as a thoughtful, considerate, solicitous man who commanded a southern army in the “War Between the States”. Recently, looking through the Harper’s Weekly for the week of August 24, 1861, I came across a brief biography that I found startling. Harper’s Weekly was published in Boston and was going through biographies of generals in both Confederate and Union armies.

We publish herewith, from a photograph by Brady, a portrait of the rebel General Lee, now one of the “Generals” of the Confederate forces in Virginia. Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia about the year 1808. He entered West Point where he received the usual military education at the cost of the Government of the United States. He graduated honorably in 1829, and received an appointment as Second Lieutenant of Engineers. For eighteen years he served in the army, drawing the usual pay from the Government, and rising to the rank of Major and Lieutenant-Colonel of Cavalry. In the Mexican war he was further honored by a brevet of Colonel, and on the appointment of Albert S. Johnston to the command of the Utah expedition, Lee succeeded him in command of the 2nd Cavalry. After filling this honorable and agreeable post in the military service of his country for several years, he crowned his career by deserting his flag at the moment of his country’s sorest need. When the Richmond politicians passed what they called an Ordinance of Secession, Robert E. Lee threw up his commission and accepted the rank of general in the rebel army.

While this is all factual, I had never thought of him in quite this way. I can only imagine how Abraham Lincoln was faring in the Anderson (SC) Intelligencer at the same time.

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Onward (To Where?)

One of the things that bothers me is the decreasing amount of control people (you & me) have over their own lives.

The steady development of new technology is one of the things that puts us on the sidelines. When new farm equipment came along and got rid of horses and mules, life in rural areas did not just change, it pretty much died. Farms went from small to large and in some areas from large to massive. Large numbers of people no longer lived in rural areas and small towns; they moved to large towns and cities. Then, with the development of electronic machines, there was no longer need for the same numbers of workers with limited education.

Machinery – electronic devices – continues to replace human labor. I continue to wonder where this will take us

Marriage has changed, families have changed, fewer married couples with children, children are placed in organized activities (sports). For what ever reason, fewer work opportunities for kids, fewer American youngsters work at summer jobs. More kids go to college. Colleges have admitted huge numbers of youngsters, employ appropriate huge numbers of people and offer huge numbers of courses

Where is all of this going?

There is nothing new in this set of events.  They are as old as human society.  Depriving people of work through centralization of economic and innovative intellectual activity does, however, require change in the way we look at human life in community.  Timothy Radcliff identifies three new directions that have grown out of the capitalist market economy as justifying our surging movement away from labor as a central element in human community: the cultivation of unlimited desire, the worship of money, and the establishment of private property as the dominating aspect of contemporary human life.

Rome started as we did, settlers as in a republic, running their affairs through an early form of republic and proceeded through absolute autocracy to ultimate collapse. We have hurried through settlement, taking over our own affairs and working up to now with all forms of wealth, property especially being concentrated in few hands. In this country a few have billions in wealth (with their hands on jobs) while millions are struggling for minimum wages.

Current elections in Europe are showing that people are voting on their worries. Old parties are splitting up, a real socialist won the election as leader of the British socialist party, and in the American Democratic party Mrs Clinton is facing a primary challenge from the only socialist in the Senate. Is this political activity in Europe and this country going to give the majority of us more control over our lives? Can we actually control technology?

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School Bashing

Well, September is here, schools have opened and the usual bull sessions are appearing in newspapers and on TV. There are two predominant areas of “discussion”: education of teachers and educating all children.

The education of teachers is taken to be totally in the hands of colleges of teacher education. Putting young people preparing to teach in classrooms to observe depends upon what the school is like for whatever benefit they receive. The less time teachers have to spend on maintaining order and getting youngsters involved in course work, the more time they have to help their college visitors see the practical aspects of teaching and learning in action. Teaching can be observed and judgments made about appropriate or inappropriate activities. Learning, however, is not so easily seen. There are students who seem to easily work their way through lessons and others who have varying degrees of trouble.

Among human beings there are differences in, what for lack of a better term, we can call learning ability. Some of this is physical and some of it is environmental. In my own case, I staggered through math, never being able to use it as a thinking tool. Then there are students being raised in environments that do not encourage participation in the curriculum content and learning activities used in school.

So, in addition to the uneven intellectual abilities and convictions with which teachers enter the classroom, youngsters come each with his/her own character shaped by his living environment. Most schools do their best to support students and teachers work their way through the school year. Unfortunately, there are schools in physical and social environments that overwhelm educational purposes.

Finally, for the purposes of this diatribe, there are school systems that do not hire teachers who do not fit their pattern. A personal example is that of a teacher I have known for almost 15 years who retired this year. He decided, however, to teach a few more years in another system. He and I talked teaching and learning in schools a lot. As a high school English teacher he was constantly reading student papers and having them rework them. Students got irritated at times, but numbers came back after his class to thank him for pushing them to do better. For several years he was chairman of his department. He made his application to a system that has trouble getting secondary teachers and was given three interview appointments. He met with principal and 2 or 3 teachers at each school. He did not get a job in this school system that is desperate for good teachers.

American public schools are a huge enterprise with no central direction. Local governments, state governments, the federal government, innumerable private organizations are involved in dragging schools hither and yon. Private individuals, such as the one who dumped $100,000,000 into a New Jersey school system with no plan and no system wide results, further complicate the schooling of our youngsters. And, there are also local school administrators who don’t want teachers who may think differently.

And, finally for the purpose of this diatribe, there are the corporations that make billions building school buildings, supplying busses to transport children and everything else used in schooling. Public schooling is a major economic activity in this country and the companies involved in it do not want to see the whole process changed.

I have never been able to see a way out of this mess (and still don’t).

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Black Days

I don’t know how many times have I put something away and either forgot I had it, or had it in plain sight but didn’t see it. Recently, I had a blockbuster experience of plain sight but saw something else. In this case it was an 1143 page book with print that I think is smaller than this.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer has been on my bookshelf since it arrived from The Book of the Month Club in 1960. It has a distinctive cover, black swastika in a white circle on a black cover. Sometime, obviously several years, after it arrived I had convinced myself that I had read it. So, it sat there until recently when I thought it would be good to browse through it and refresh my knowledge of that period. So I did, and after several days of browsing finally admitted I had never read it. What I had read was Berlin Diary published in 1941. So, I settled down to read the Rise and Fall.

Shirer was a reporter in Germany both for newspapers and CBS radio from 1934 to 1941 when he was invited to leave, being shown to the Dutch border. In addition to this first hand experience, he was present at a unique event in 1945. American troops discovered most of the confidential archives of the Nazi government in an old mine, including secret papers, private diaries, transcripts of telephone conversations tapped by an operation set up by Herman Goering, number two man in the Nazi hierarchy, and Hitler’s table talk.

Sixty thousand files from 1868 to 1945 from the German Navy, 485 tons of records from the German Foreign Office and the daily reports of the military situation as reported to Hitler are simply some of the records captured by the Allied armies. While Shirer did not use all of these records (how could he) he had access to those he needed to tell his story (in 1143 pages with small print).
In addition, he had the records used by prosecutors, as well as testimony from the Nuremberg trials.

The story he tells is exhausting and ghastly. Like many other people, I think I was overwhelmed by the events of the war and the evil that was the whole Nazi operation did not really sink in during and after the war. Finishing high school in a new environment, going to college, serving in the navy, getting married, beginning teaching all occupied my time and attention. It wasn’t until I sat down with this book that I really began to feel the evil nature of Hitler and his gang.

I read a little in the book and put it down. A week or two later I picked it up and tried to move on. I decided I couldn’t go straight through, so I read parts that would just fill in gaps. I finally admitted that I just couldn’t read any more. I have loaned it to a younger friend who won’t bring all of the baggage to this story that I did.

It has taken me 75 years to realize the awful nature of the events brought to the world by this depraved gang. I wonder how many people today see Germany under Hitler as more than politics and foreign affairs as usual (if indeed it enters their consciousness at all)?

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