Author Archives: Ted Rall

About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

Guest Post: The Life of an American Teacher

As always, the opinion of American Teacher are not mine, but are posted to stimulate discussion.

It took me just six months to realize that students have no interest in Sophocles or Beowulf. They don’t know who Epictetus, Montesquieu, and Locke were; and moreover, they do not care.  They are not driven to learn.  Education begins not with teachers, not with schools, but with desire, insatiable desire.  The generation that will replace us lacks desire.  The secret to their hearts is apathy.

This total absence of desire was crystallized one afternoon many years ago when I was helping a student with his paper.  I turned to look at the boy to make sure he understood.  He wasn’t looking at the paper.  He had not been listening.  He had been looking at the back of my head.  I stared at this shining example of apathy.  “Can I go pee?” he finally asked.  I nodded.  The past six months became clear.  I realized then that none of my students were fired up and that it was beyond my capacity, indeed any teacher’s capacity, to fire them up.  Any warm, fuzzy illusions that I still harbored about teaching teenagers were swept away.

That students found no interest in learning did not make me inconsolable.  Students taught me and I learned from them.  I learned to be deeply practical.  I learned to separate my job from my life.  I learned to swallow my saliva and withhold comments.  I learned that rules do not apply.  I learned to shape my own destiny and I came to believe that everyone, including students, shapes their destinies.  How burdened would I be had I not been such a quick learner.

I make a handsome living.  What with health benefits and life insurance, I make well over six figures.  I pay less than $50 a month for health insurance.

By contract, teachers work 185 days a year.  The reality is a lot less.  There are the sick days and personal days.  I take all of them.  Mid-term week and finals week, just sit there.  All the other testing days, whether mandated by the state or given by the teacher.  Field trips.

Movies.  Guest speakers.  Half days.  Snow days.  Delays due to weather.  Evacuations due to threats.  Assemblies.  Goof-off days like the last day of school and the day before Christmas break.  The list seems endless.

I have evolved techniques to get through the rest of the year.  Technology is my friend.  My classes spend Mondays in the computer lab doing “research.”  Some weeks, we need to do more research.

The Scantron machine is also a friend. After collecting the tests, I run them through the machine.  I don’t think that I’ve graded a test in years.  Ditto for papers.  I found a computer program that grades them for me.

I celebrate everyone’s birthday.  Cupcakes are cheap.  And they’re tax deductible.

It’s wonderful to have good friends.  One of my friends is an assistant principal, who makes out my schedule every year.  Every teacher has a duty, such as a study hall.  My duty is to help the assistant principal.  I go out and get coffee, breakfast, whatever she needs.  We sit and eat, gossip while she qvc shops.

I found myself discovering all sorts of little freedoms.  I use my prep period to run errands, go to the bank, pay bills, get some shopping done.  Sometimes, I go home and let the dog out.  Unless it is pouring outside, I take care of me during my prep.

I became sly and wily. I park my car in back of the school behind a dumpster.  Being able to sneak in late and sneak out early is worth the awful smell.  I shirk every responsibility that I possibly can.  Only if it is absolutely necessary and I need a spawn of Satan kicked permanently out of my room do I write a report.

What could be easier than all this?

I do this because it does not matter.  I could stay at school until ten o’clock every night, designing lessons and correcting papers and nothing would change because at some point, at the end of some very long day, it is up to students.  My students were a bad influence on me.  They have dragged me to their depth.  They and the parents, administrators, education professors, and politicians who abet them are the villains of this tragedy.

Listening to their vulgar, slang-filled conversations, I look at my students as a form of entertainment.  I hear about everything in their lives, from acts of physical intimacy to bowel movements.  At sixteen and seventeen-years old, their slates are still blank.  I do not believe that they have been endowed with complex brains.  There are students who sit in class, staring straight ahead, doing absolutely nothing.  I used to think that they were thinking deep thoughts.  Now I realize they think about nothing at all.  They are like old men in wheelchairs that you see in nursing homes.  One day I expect to see someone drool.  Their frontal cortex, that part of the brain which runs short-term memory, motivation, and attention, seems severely stunted.  I am convinced that our closest genetic cousins, the chimpanzees, are more mentally active than these kids.  Sometimes I give them little art projects where they can color.  Based upon my experiences in the classroom, I am no longer sure that I know human beings when I see them.  The ones that I don’t like I largely ignore.

I learned this all in just half a year.  The outrage at student apathy vanished.  I stopped trying to fix people and became happy in my impotence.  I’m just a teacher in a classroom.  If students do not see that education is in some sense a matter of survival, then I cannot make them see it.  It’s not my job to save people’s lives.  I am not a venal person.  I am a realistic one.

All of my teacher friends are like me, but not all teachers are like me.  There’s one teacher who constantly says to her students, “Thank you for the gift of you.”  You’ll never hear me say that.  Another one crouches besides her students as she talks to them. It’s not a pretty sight.  You’ll never see me do that.  Then there was the teacher running after the student who was walking briskly away from her: “Please, let me help you,” she beseeched the girl.  You will never see me plead with a student.  There was also the teacher who said to me, “While we’re here, we’re everyone’s mom and dad.”  I’ve never had a thought remotely like that.

Some teachers get genuinely upset at snow days or two-hour days.  “I have to get through the curriculum,” they gripe.  The only thing that perturbs me is having to make up a day in June.  I love delays.  “Twenty-minute classes are my kind of day,” I think.  We don’t have to make those up.

I recognize that my apathetic students are casualties of failed parenting and pedagogical practices.  When everything is handed to them, from food to study guides, students cannot be induced to work.  The more they are provided for and the more indulged they are, the more lazy they become.  Socialist-inspired handouts have killed desire in students.  Now, they don’t care.  So I don’t care either.  No one can be as invested in his education as the student himself.  My classroom just holds a collection of bodies.  Dedication is unnecessary when you are working with kids who don’t give a damn.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Remember When? The Border Wall Used to be a Left-Wing Thing

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Illegal immigrants, President Trump claims, are pouring over the border from Mexico into the United States. That’s not true now; notwithstanding the ballyhooed caravan of Central American migrants who recently arrived at a California crossing, illegal crossings are hitting historic lows. There’s actually a net outflow. But it was true until the early 2000s — which is when the left was calling for a border wall.

“Legal immigration should become safe, legal and commonplace,” I wrote in 2005 in response to George W. Bush’s call for a guest worker program for illegals. I opposed Bush’s plan because it would hurt American wages and job prospects. “At the same time, no nation worthy of the name can tolerate porous borders. We can and must seal our borders to prevent economic migrants, terrorists and others with unknown motives from entering the United States.”

It seems strange to recall, but support for stronger border controls was a common thread among both the populists of the America-First Pat Buchanan right and the labor-protectionist left that backed Bernie Sanders. Now the right, led by Mr. Trump, monopolizes the cause of economic nationalism — but recent history shows that there’s a even stronger, non-xenophobic for protectionism on the left. The problem is, Trump and Congressional Republicans haven’t been willing to make concessions to get The Wall (or a cheaper high-tech alternative to bricks, mortar and corrugated fencing with negative environmental impacts).

For their part, Dems have adopted a policy stance that thoughtful leftists recognize as nonsensical and ideologically incoherent.

First, mainline Democrats have been arguing, we should look the other way as foreigners enter the country unchecked because we need undocumented workers to take low-wage occupations — picking fruit, plucking chickens, making our hotel beds — that Americans don’t want. But that’s not only is not true, it cannot be true. Without undocumented workers, employers would be forced to offer higher wages for those tasks they couldn’t automate. Inflationary risks and agriculture sector disruption notwithstanding, raising wages for unskilled labor would create upward pressure on wages up the salary chain. Simple supply and demand. The removal of 11 million consumers, however, would depress spending on goods and services as well as sales tax collections.

The other pillar of Democratic immigration policy is so absurd that the party rightly refuses to articulate it: that border controls are inherently racist and xenophobic. No other country thinks so. You can’t sneak into Uruguay or Tanzania or the Seychelles without a visa (much less look for work) and hope for anything other than arrest and deportation. Controlling the flow of human beings into one’s country isn’t bigotry. It’s one of the fundamental characteristics of a modern nation state. One could sooner do without minting one’s own currency or issuing postage stamps.

Yet the status quo, a tacit open door at various crossing points, is all Democrats have to offer: more of the same lunacy.

The only reason the Democrats get away with their sophistry is that Trump’s comments about illegal immigrants during the campaign (Mexican rapists, etc.) were so vicious and toxic. On immigration, he out-crazied the Democrats. In power, the Trump Administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws has come across as gratuitously cruel.

Trump’s ban against visits to the U.S. by citizens of six Muslim nations said to be associated with terrorism was launched so haphazardly that families with visas and/or official refugee status were turned away at JFK airport after boarding planes in their home countries with legitimate documents. Refugees from Syria, where a civil war rages in part because one side was funded and armed by the U.S., have almost all been refused entry although most Syrians fleeing the war zone are doing so precisely because they are enemies of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups out to attack American interests.

News reports have showcased sobbing families watching relatives who came here illegally from Latin America but have lived exemplary, law-abiding (except for their immigration status) lives as entrepreneurs and parents, being sent to countries like Honduras where they fear for their lives. Trump threw the “Dreamers” — kids without criminal records who came to the U.S. essentially as luggage, with their parents — under the bus. Americans support borders, but not these kinds of deportations — and thus not this Wall.

You may have been born here. But there’s a good chance that someone in your family tree arrived at Ellis Island or somewhere else without their paperwork in perfect order.

Like any other country, the United States ought to vet everyone who seeks to enter its territory. We need less illegal immigration and more legal immigration. As we reduce unauthorized land crossings and overstayed visas, we ought to increase opportunities for foreigners to apply for legal visas with a clear path to a green card and citizenship. Unlike undocumented workers preyed upon by rapacious employers because they live in the shadows, legal immigrants can insist upon fair legal wages. Admitting them puts less downward pressure on wages.

We need a realistic approach to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently here. So what if we wind up “rewarding” people who technically broke the law? We left the border open, we hired them, we chose not to enforce our own laws. This is what happens when a rich country leaves open its border with a poor one. Those who committed serious felonies (far fewer than three percent) should be carefully evaluated to see if they are likely to reoffend after serving their prison sentences; those determined not to have been rehabilitated should be deported to their countries of origin.

The others should receive amnesty. Most of the beneficiaries of Ronald Reagan’s 1986 mass amnesty worked out fine.

Immigration hardliners worry that each amnesty is a precedent for the next one, but that will only be true this time if we again fail to secure the border.

If Republicans keep the House next year, Trump will get his wall — or groundbreaking on one before a future Democratic regime halts construction. With that outcome less than certain (to say the least), Trump could secure the assent of the progressive populist base of the Democratic Party if he were to throw in legalization of the straight-and-narrow illegal immigrants who are already here along with an end to his Muslim ban.

Republicans could point to a promise kept on border protection. Democrats could throw a bone to a restive base on economic nationalism without climbing in bed with Trumpian xenophobia.

A win-win. Almost like Washington in the old days.

Never happen.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: America is one of the Few Cultures with Insults for Smart People

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There was controversy about it, but the Inuit famously and really do have at least 50 words for snow. The Scots have 241!

The Sami people of northern Scandinavia and Russia use more than 1000 words for reindeer.

Sanskrit, the language of the Kama Sutra, offers 267 words for love.

Languages tend to evolve to reflect the cultural and practical priorities of the societies that speak them.

This linguistic truism came to mind recently when, as part of research for one of my cartoons, I turned to Google Translate in search of a French translation for the English word “geek.” There wasn’t one. Nor in Spanish. All the Romance languages came up short; Google suggested “disadattato” in Italian, but that’s different — it means “misfit,” or “a person who is poorly adapted to a situation or environment.”

A “geek” — “a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked,” according to Merriam-Webster — is decidedly distinct from a misfit.

You can tell a lot about a culture from its language. I had stumbled across a revealing peculiarity about American English: we insult people for being intelligent.

That’s not true about most of the rest of the world.

At least among Western cultures and compared to many others, we Americans enjoy the dubious distinction of having a high degree of linguistic diversity when it comes to mocking the smart and the educated (who, I can attest as the expellee-cum-graduate of an Ivy League school, are not always the same).

Bookworm. Brain. Brainiac. Dork. Dweeb. Egghead. Freak. Grind. Grub. Longhair. Nerd. Poindexter.Pointy-headed. Smarty-pants. Techie.

            Esoterically, doubledome.

You have to journey far away from the areas dominated by the Indo-European language group in order to find direct equivalents of words like “nerd.” On the other hand, languages like French are extremely rich in insults for stupid people: “bête comme ses pieds,” or “dumb as hell,” literally means “as stupid as his/her feet.” Apparently this derives from the fact that feet are the body part furthest away from your brain. More zoologically, “blaireau” (badger) refers to an idiot.

When you think about it — which, being American, we rarely do — it should come as little surprise to realize that few insults sting the French more effectively than being called stupid. France, after all, is a country with a 385-year-old parliamentary body composed of academics and other notables who rule on the usages, vocabulary and grammar of the national language, the Academie Française, and where one of the most popular television programs in history featured intellectual authors smoking like chimneys as they ruminated over the cultural and political controversies of the day, “Apostrophes.” After food and wine, the French worship the life of the mind.

The United States, on the other hand, elected Donald “Celebrity Apprentice” Trump over Hillary “I Have a 12-Point Plan” Clinton.

Bush over Gore.

Ike over Adlai. Twice.

As CUNY Professor Deborah M. De Simone notes in her essay discussing Richard Hofstadter’s classic Pulitzer-winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life, the 2000 Democratic nominee’s IQ proved divisive: “Al Gore was both mocked and applauded for the depth and manner of his oratory while George W. Bush was both ridiculed and embraced for his unsophisticated vocabulary.” A reporter assigned to cover Gore’s campaign complained about getting stuck with “the government nerd.”

Bush wasn’t really stupid. The point is that he pretended to be, and rather convincingly. After losing an election in Texas, young Dubya had sworn, Scarlett O’Hara-like, never to get outcountrified again. Bush won reelection in 2004, in part because voters infamously told pollsters they’d rather drink a beer with him than with the more intellectual “French-looking” John Kerry.” (Talk about dumb! Bush was a teetotaler.)

Trump won the beer poll question during the 2016 presidential campaign. Like Bush, he doesn’t drink.

Europeans make fun of dumb people.

Americans elect them to high office.

Despite the rise of Silicon Valley and its technoelites, the Revenge of the Nerds in the South Bay has managed to line stock portfolios without moving the needle on America’s cultural values. Jocks still rule high schools that spend millions on new football stadiums while starving the arts. Faced with foreign policy crises, even “liberal” Congressmen reflexively endorse bombing over diplomacy in order to look “tough.” Scientific geniuses like the late Stephen Hawking are framed as cultural curiosities to marvel over rather than heroes to be emulated as are football players, rappers and movie stars (specifically buff men who act in action movies).

One can reasonably argue over which country, the United States or France, is superior in various respects. But how, as we transition to an information-based economy, can we doubt that elevating intelligence as a sociocultural ideal is, well, smarter than elevating buffoons?

Maybe it’s time to take a cue from our proudly pro-intelligence and pro-education cultural cousins across the Atlantic. Point at President Trump and other public figures whenever they say anything that sounds less than intelligent, and laugh at them. Not only for being racist, rude or insensitive — but just for being stupid.

Dumber even than their feet.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Support Your Local Cartoonist

I recently learned that I am about to lose one of my major cartooning clients. I am looking for work and scrambling to replace it. I represent a unique voice in American politics — an unapologetic leftie, totally independent, congenitally unable to sell out. I am loyal to ideas, not parties. I care about people, and how to make their lives better. I have an obligation to keep going.

I know you appreciate what I do or you wouldn’t be here. So I am asking, if you are not already pitching in, to support my work and point-of-view by visiting my Patreon page and committing to a monthly donation. If even 1% of the people who read this site made even a modest donation, I would easily be able to replace the income from my lost gig and focus on my work.

This is the new model of support for political cartooning and writing. Another way to think about it is, if you’re like me, you are only paying a small fraction of what we used to pay for newspaper and magazine subscriptions in the 1990s. So you’re already saving money on news, even if you do help your favorite content providers!

Thank you for reading this…

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ban Drones

Image result for sky full of drones           Ban drones.

Why not?

We have succumbed, in recent years, to technological passivity, the assumption that there’s nothing we can (or should) do about what an older generation used to call “progress.” But that’s not true.

War goes on, yet most of the world’s nations came together to ban landmines. Mines, humanity decided, were a horror we could no longer live with because their murderous potential remained long after the frontlines moved elsewhere, even after hostilities ceased, and mostly hurt civilians. Similarly, chemical weapons were banned after mustard gas scarred the World War I generation.

Here in the United States, societal consensus supports bans of hollow-point bullets that explode inside the body (they’re currently banned by the military), high-capacity magazines for guns, the bump stocks that came to our attention after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, and semi-automatic assault rifles.

Weapons aren’t the only tech to which society simply responds: “Hell no. Just. No.” Human cloning has prompted calls for bans by those who believe we shouldn’t plow ahead without better understanding the potential downsides. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned for children. Lots of drugs are banned. Banning products is a well-established societal and political prerogative.

Drones should be banned too: military drones as well as recreational ones. We already have a substantial body of evidence that they are dangerous. Potential advantages, on the other side, seem relatively modest. They’re cool. I’ve played with them.

No one has sat down to consider, in a careful measured way, the pros and cons of unmanned aerial vehicles. Where, as our skies are about to turn into the Wild West, are the Congressional hearings and expert opinions?

If you stop to think about it, selling drones to any yahoo with $400 is a recipe for chaos. Launched from the roof of a Manhattan apartment building, a pervert’s drone can peep through windows. A terrorist, or merely a doofus, can fly one into the blades of a low-flying helicopter or into the engine or windshield of a plane approaching the airport. And they will. It’s only a matter of time.

The terrorism potential became evident in 2015 when a guy accidentally flew his Phantom drone onto the White House lawn. Loading one with explosives is easy. Or a gun—a father and son affixed a pistol to a drone and fired it remotely in the woods of Connecticut.

I’m even less sanguine about corporate and institutional applications. Whether it’s Uber and NASA’s announcement that they plan to launch flying taxis in Los Angeles or Amazon’s imminent fleet of delivery drones, I’m not sure I want to live long enough to hear buzzing drones where birds are supposed to sing, or see some dude’s dinner pass overhead. Maybe a sane compromise is possible, like limiting the gadgets to flight paths above major roadways. Why can’t we figure that out now, before the inevitable technological growing pains (aka deaths and injuries and overall crapitude)?

While it’s easy to imagine how drones can improve our lives—they have already found missing hikers in the wilderness, for example—it is impossible to overstate how creepy it would be to put them into the hands of law enforcement. Obama attorney general Eric Holder said in 2013, and no legal expert challenged him, that the feds have the right to launch military drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil. California cops used one to track a rogue LAPD officer a few years ago. Local law enforcement drones could catch speeders, scan for expired vehicle registration and inspection stickers (stationary devices already do) and use thermal imaging devices to conduct warrantless searches. And there will come a day, not in the distant future, when the same Cleveland police department that shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death for the crime of playing while black will type commands into an iPad that controls an armed drone that blows up more innocent civilians.

This is serious, major dystopian horror-show crap. Can’t we stop it before it starts?

Overseas, and thus far from the decreasingly vigilant eyes of our increasingly establishmentarian journalists, the Trump Administration is expanding the military drone assassination program Obama expanded after inheriting it from Bush. Formerly focused on killing young men and whoever happens to be nearby in South Asian zones like Pakistan, where studies show that 98% of the thousands of victims were innocent, the drone killers are ramping up in new places like Africa.

“The number of American strikes against Islamist militants last year tripled in Yemen and doubled in Somalia from the figure a year before,” reports The New York Times. “Last month, an armed drone flown from a second base in Niger killed a Qaeda leader in southern Libya for the first time, signaling a possible expansion of strikes there.”

Like the innately disconcerting notion of letting local-yokel cops run wild with facial-recognition-enabled autopiloted self-guided missile drones, it is impossible to overstate how self-defeating America’s drone program has been to U.S. interests. Unlike here, where the nearly daily attacks barely rate a mention in the news, people in other countries and especially in the Muslim world are well aware of the fact that the vast majority of victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children. (Even the “guilty” men who die aren’t threats to the U.S., but rather to the corrupt local governments we supply with arms.) Local populations in cities where drones patrol the skies are jittery and resentful. Many have PTSD.

True, drones eliminate harm to American soldiers. But we operate them in macho cultures that prize honor and courage. Our unwillingness to risk our sons and daughters in ground combat makes us look not just like aggressors, but cowards worthy only of contempt. In a war for hearts and minds, drones are propaganda suicide.
We’ve begun a new arms race. When a foreign country or non-state actor attacks us with drones, who will listen when we complain?

Even in the short run, drone killings don’t work. “Eliminating jihadi military leaders through drone operations could temporarily disorganize insurgent groups,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, deputy director of the International Crisis Group told the Times. “But eventually the void could also lead to the rise of new and younger leaders who are likely to engage into more violent and spectacular operations to assert their leadership.”

A drone ban doesn’t have to be forever. But it should last long enough for us to figure out, as Donald Trump used to say on the campaign trail, what the hell is going on.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Guest Post by an American Teacher: Children From Hell

The following is a Guest Post by an anonymous American Teacher who does not want to be identified. I do not endorse the opinions expressed. I present them in order to stimulate discussion on an issue of interest to readers. Comments are, as always, welcomed. –Ted

I am not the norm.  In the free-for-all of other public school classrooms, there is all manner of dining.  Not in mine.  Food is for lunchtime and in the cafeteria. I do not allow students to munch in my room.  So when Dylan brought in a hoagie from Subway, a truly awful transgression, I told him to go to the cafeteria.  He ignored me, his body hunched in an obstinate fashion.  I told him again.  Students turn nasty when corrected. Dylan put the sandwich in the bag and chucked it at me.  My stomach lurched.  It is unsettling to have something thrown at you.  You can’t suddenly switch to having a civilized class.  And writing reports on students usually causes an uproar with parents. Students always have the last word and the version of the teacher gets scant attention.  With parents backing them, there is no price for students to pay.

I have met students like Dylan not just once or twice, but again and again.  These are the Children from Hell that it is my burden to manage and accommodate.

A false impression, that the Obama administration created the discipline problems in public schools that allowed for the likes of Nikolas Cruz to run amok, reigns among some on the American right.  It is true that Obama signed off on programs such as My Brother’s Keeper and used his power to investigate racial disparities in public school discipline; however, discipline problems were wreaking havoc in America’s schools long before he took office.

Sometime between when I graduated high school and when I began to teach high school, wisdom died.  The problems of the street and home entered the calm and boring classroom; student performance declined; the expectations of teachers were lowered.  The public schools changed direction because the bedrock of society, the family, was crumbling.  The younger generation depends upon the older to do the right thing, but today the moral authority of the parents is nonexistent.  In the absence of a sense of right and wrong, families stopped working with schools towards compatible goals.  They became adversaries.  Nothing is worse than a parent not supporting the school their child attends.

As any administrator will tell you, they can’t control the parents. All that they can do is go after teachers. Go after us they did.  We are saturated with workshops on classroom management and differentiating instruction. It is easy to see through the nonsense.

Mountains of gobbledygook have been produced on the subject of classroom management, the tricks that education consultants swear will get kids to behave.  By its very nature a political term, classroom management dictates the way people speak about student misbehavior in class.  Instead of the onus on the student to behave himself, the onus falls on the teacher to manage the class.  The public is seduced by the shift because it lets parents off the hook for their children’s misbehavior.   Administrators breathe the air of classroom management because they don’t have to discipline students.  They can send the teacher to a reeducation camp.  If the student does something wrong, the teacher is either not engaging enough or is not managing the students properly.  Maybe they are even looking at the student the wrong way and the student is feeling uncomfortable.  The same classroom management strategies are uncritically repeated in education classes and workshops year after year, but the information is of little use.  There are no tricks, just a teacher putting up with increasingly bad behavior.  Nevertheless, the rules of the classroom have been changed. It is no longer possible to say something critical of students. The term classroom management has even ensnared the teacher into believing that disruptions are somehow his fault.

At the time that the moral authority of the family lost its compass, we also began accommodating students, completely accepting their differences, from the socio-economic to the ethnic and cultural to the bad day.  A bad day can be very bad, very bad indeed.  It might simply mean that the student was concussed in a car accident the previous week.  The student may have trouble refraining from cursing out a teacher for the length of the concussion.  Or she may feel anxious about returning to school and need home-tutoring for a month.  Let me tell you, it is not easy being a teacher, having to accommodate all of these misfits…oops, I meant scholars.

When the moral authority of the family collapsed, dysfunction hit the schools. One thing that students never fail at is dysfunction.  Now it is up to the school to fix it. Upon arrival, students get to go to counseling, lounging in peach-painted offices instead of history class, sitting on soft cushions embroidered with flowers rather than upright in a chair in front of a heavy text. They can leave regular class and go to their own sort of personal AA meetings with a school psychologist or social worker.  Giving students this space, to ramble on about the problems in their lives, simply means the problems develop a stranglehold on them and their schoolwork never gets done.  To feel better about yourself you actually have to accomplish things.  Perhaps a little repression is not such a bad thing.  Maybe therapy should be illegal in the public schools.

Classroom management and accommodating students changed the political climate of education.  Expecting the school system to become the parent is an impossibly tall order, but as parents do less and less parenting, they more and more expect the schools to raise their offspring and then they want to dictate to other adults about how to do it. Parents want to be pleased and to please them you have to tell them what they want to hear or they are all over you like a rash.  These parents have broken the teachers’ authority and thrown the whole system of public education into question.

Although difficult to find, there are still mommies and daddies in the same home, but there are also parents who have affairs and leave home.  Others either have criminal records or are in jail.  Too many just want to be their offspring’s friend.  Because telling one’s child ‘no’ is absent from this parenting curriculum, lippy children are never out of print.  Children are not getting nicer and nicer.  It is not wonderful to be with them, particularly when they throw things at you.  The respectable and well-brought up do not come to us.  We are sent Satan’s spawn.

Perhaps it was the way that I looked at him, perhaps it was the tone of my voice, but nevertheless, that Spawn of Satan who chucked his food at me should have been compelled to say aloud, in front of his class, an apology.  Instead he was simply shuffled off to some other class.  No doubt the shuffle has left him with a scar.

Public schools have been manipulated into trying to cure familial problems; however, schools cannot mend the problems of dysfunctional students and their parents.  One institution cannot save the other.  And progress, new-fangled pedagogical and social ideas, is destroying us.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Distractor-in-Chief Trump Is Gaslighting Us Into Forgetting America’s Real Issues

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Eight days before Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath before a crowd whose size the president still insists on fibbing about, I wrote a column titled “Life Under Trump—What Happens Now?”

“In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move. These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan,” I wrote on January 12, 2017. I described how the founding dictator of that post-Soviet authoritarian state was manic, “constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind.”

“Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi,” I wrote back then, “the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi.”

Sadly, my predictions usually come to pass. As I expected, the United States remains a democratic republic but under Trump, everyday life has assumed some of the characteristics of an authoritarian regime, especially our obsession with Trump.

OMG can you believe what he tweeted?

            What the hell is wrong with him?

            How long can this go on?

            Trump’s antics have prompted two strains of pundit reaction. One, represented by the comedian John Oliver, urges us to “keep reminding yourself this is not normal.” Others argue for ignoring the Keeper of the Launch Codes, at least his tweets. Ever the contrarian, I subscribe to None of the Above.

You can’t ignore the President of the United States. He’s too powerful. On the other hand, chasing down and driving rhetorical stakes through a maniac’s barrage of nonsense is exhausting and futile. You feel like a character at dusk in a vampire novel — too many undead, not enough stakes, definitely not enough coffee. The proper tack is insipid: Keep Calm and Carry On.

            Here I offer my apologies.

For 15 months I have, like my competitors in the mainstream media, been reacting to Trump: to his tantrums, to his weirdness, and the incongruous hypocrisy of Democrats who complain about stuff Trump does that is exactly the same as what Obama did (mass deportations, bombing Syria). To paraphrase Walter White in the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” it was fun. I enjoyed it. And frankly, I didn’t think he would last this long. Trump was the Political Satirist Full Employment Act of 2016. I didn’t want to miss out.

But I’ve been remiss. I have always tried to be forward-looking, to change the conversation, to argue for what we Americans ought to be doing and talking about. Reacting to the agenda of our worthless political “leaders” was something I left to the mainstream idiots of the corporate media.

I snapped back to reality a few days ago after reading another piece about the booming economy. Never mind whether Trump is priming the pump before busting the joint or whether the good times are about to end with yet another recession. Things are humming now — so now, while the getting is good, is while Americans ought to be demanding that Trump and his Congress fork over big bucks to fix the country’s long-neglected problems.

Workers ought to be out in the streets agitating for a raise: a $25-an-hour minimum wage is literally asking for nothing, since it’s the same, adjusted for inflation, as it was in the 1960s. I say go for $50. While we’re at it, let’s set a $200,000-a-year maximum wage. No one needs more.

Universal health care: it’s time America joined the rest of the First World (and most of the Third).

Three out of ten American workers are self-employed. They ought to qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose work.

A high-speed national rail system is essential to modernize America’s infrastructure and bring it up to global standards circa 1990. Estimated cost: $500 billion. No big deal: Obama spent $800 billion on his 2009 bank-giveaway stimulus bill.

Then there’s stuff that wouldn’t cost a dime, like doing something about guns and gender inequality and police brutality.

Lack of money isn’t why we’re not addressing these issues. Trump recently gave $1.5 trillion in taxpayer funds to his rich friends (and his family). The problem is a lack of focus — because we’re all too busy focusing on the Lunatic-in-Chief.

It’s time to stop being reactive. This is our country. This is our time. These are our lives. It’s up to us to ignore the twitterstorms and the random rants and demand what is our birthright as Americans: the best possible lives we can afford.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Media Never, Ever Gives Peace a Chance

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At this writing, President Trump is considering “the possibility of retaliation in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack on young children and families in the Syrian city of Douma,” reported CBS News. “If it’s the Russians, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out,” Trump said. “Nothing’s off the table,” including a military attack by the United States.

Whether that possibility involves a cruise missile strike, drone attacks or conventional bombing raids by fighter jets, this is deadly serious business. People, mostly innocent civilians and Syrian grunts who had nothing to do with the “suspected” chemical attack, will die. People will be injured. Survivors will be traumatized. An attack could escalate and expand the current conflict, leading to more death and destruction.

The stakes are high, but U.S. policymakers are as glibly insouciant as if they were choosing between Hulu and Netflix. This is not new or Trumpian. It’s always been like this. American leaders don’t take these life-and-death decisions seriously.

If the United States were a sane country populated by rational, civically-engaged citizens, Americans would pour derision and ridicule on anyone who seriously considered raining bombs over a “suspected” anything. And the skepticism in this case ought to be exponentially greater considering that this is Syria.

We’ve already been down this “Syria’s Assad regime used chemical weapons against their own people so we should bomb his forces” road. It happened under Obama. What is certain here is uncertainty: maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh pointed out in 2014, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed that at least one major faction of the Syrian opposition, the al-Nusra Front, possessed significant manufacturing facilities and stockpiles of sarin nerve agent and other proscribed toxic chemicals.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Since when is “maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t, oh well” sufficient?

American political culture has devolved from the Vietnam era, when pacifists were marginalized, to a kneejerk bellicosity in which they don’t exist as part of the debate.

To its credit, The New York Times — still with blood on its hands from its unwholesome publishing of Judith Miller’s pro-Iraq War screeds — has printed statements by those who oppose rushing into war with Syria. “We would prefer to start with a proper investigation,” the newspaper quoted Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations. It also ran letters to the editor that expressed doubts about Syria’s motivations and Trump’s trustworthiness.

Nowhere to be found was a pacifist: someone who opposes war, all war, no matter what. Nor were there any anti-interventionists: people who say Syria is not our business and should be left to sort out its own affairs.

It’s the same at The Washington Post. Some writers there wonder aloud whether Trump’s sabre-rattling is more “Wag the Dog” than “Doctor Strangelove”: if he bombs Syria, will it be to take our minds off the Russia stuff? Also, weirdly, this headline: “Something for Trump to keep in mind on Syria: His strikes last year were pretty popular.” How does Amber Phillips sleep at night? Again: no pacifists. No anti-interventionists.

It’s not like they’re not out there in Real America. The nativist America Firsters who formed the core of Team Trump in 2016 included a lot of isolationists — and Trump ran on a no-more-nation-building platform. They’re disgusted more by the cost of the bombs we drop on Muslim countries than the lives they destroy; if there’s any nation-building to be done, they ask quite reasonably, why not start with America’s own rusted-out, broken-down infrastructure?

Getting the paper out every day is a miracle. Editors can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting to cover all the bases by offering a wide spectrum of solutions to the problems covered by their news stories and debated in their opinion sections. The same goes for the producers laboring through cable news’ 24-7 news cycle. At a certain point, however, they ought to take a step back and consider the effect of their editorial decisions. They’ve created a relentless culture of ultraviolence, a debate without diversity between those who want bombs and those who want even more wars, to the point that not going to war isn’t even something we get to consider as a legitimate option.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: To Do Next for the #NeverAgain Movement: Settle on a Clear Demand

Image result for march for our lives Notice the signs: where are the exact demands for Congress?

Eight hundred thousand people participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24th, say organizers with the #NeverAgain movement sparked by the Parkland, Florida school massacre. The turnout was impressive — but will it lead to new gun legislation?

History suggests no. But victory is achievable — if rallies are sharpened in focus.

Enthusiasm is necessary to launch a movement. Careful strategizing is required to sustain and grow it. The Million Moms March, also dedicated to curbing gun violence in 2000 drew a similar-sized crowd. Yet the next two decades saw one mass shooting after another, the NRA gaining rather than losing political influence, and a major reversal for the gun-control movement marked by the failure to renew the ban on assault weapons.

Whether it’s the Million Man March to promote unity and family values among African-American men or the 1981 Solidarity Day march to defend unions from Reagan-era attacks against organizations like the air traffic controllers union, there is a century-old tradition of large groups of Americans gathering in Washington, carrying signs, chanting slogans and being ignored by Congress and the president after they go home. To those shattered dreams you can add 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, another leaderless protest that came together and fizzled.

At almost all these events, speakers proclaimed themselves present at the continuation or initiation of a movement. But sustained movements must be organized. These were, like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, political spasms. Perhaps not theater as farce — but theater at most. At best, some presaged something later, bigger and effective.

Weighing in favor of the #NeverAgain movement’s chances of effecting real change is the role of social media, which can bring large groups of people together quickly. But they also need a simple, coherent, bumper-sticker-ready demand message.

Writing in USA Today, Rick Hampson argues that even the go-to granddaddy of all contemporary marches, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was less effective than advertised: “Even the 1963 civil rights march required so much effort, created so many internal divisions and produced so few immediate results (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed only after and because of President Kennedy’s assassination) that its leaders vowed never to attempt another.”

Hampson has a point. The 10 printed demands for the March on Washington remind us of American society’s failure to address the needs of the poor and oppressed since 1963. They wanted a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which is at least $15 today. Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refused to go over $12 in 2016. Still, they had a clear, coherent set of demands, beginning with: “Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.” And the Civil Rights Act did get passed.

The March 24th March for Our Lives opposed gun violence. The problem is, it failed to articulate a precise demand or set of demands.

“School safety is not a political issue,” read the Mission Statement. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”

Sorry, but those are weasel words.

“Address”?

How?

Should we ban large-capacity magazines?

Would restoring the assault-weapons ban be enough?

Should we, as retired Justice John Paul Stevens suggested recently, repeal the Second Amendment entirely and ban all guns?

Asking Congress to simply “address” an issue is an invitation for more endless debate leading nowhere, or to a compromise so watered down that it undermines the cause. (The ACA is an example of the latter.) A movement must settle on an area of clear focus. Unlike Occupy, which was split between reformists and revolutionaries and talked about everything from restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to eliminating homelessness, #NeverAgain has that part down pat.

An effective movement also has to settle on the solution to a problem. Proposing a path forward does not guarantee success: demonstrators had a clear, straightforward demand in 2002-03: do not invade Iraq. The Bush Administration ignored them. On the other hand, it’s now painfully clear which side was right. That will add to the credibility of antiwar marchers the next time a president tries to start a war of choice.

Settling on a clear solution, as opposed to asking the political class to “address” the issue, entails risk. For #NeverAgain, advocating for a comprehensive gun ban will push away allies who prefer a compromise approach. On the other hand, a more moderate approach will generate less excitement among those in favor of a radical solution (and moderation generally elicits less enthusiasm). But to take a page from gun-toting military folks, it’s better to go into battle with half an army than a whole one riddled with confusion and no idea why they’re fighting.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)