jasonbwatson

June 16, 2017

Respecting Religion

You have likely heard about, read about, and even watched or read the exchange that took place on June 7 between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, during Vought’s confirmation hearing. There has been much said and written about the ridiculousness of Sanders’ questioning–not to mention the unconstitutionality of it–from all ends of the political spectrum, and I will link a few examples here if you would like to read them for yourself. Aaron Earls blogged about it on The Wardrobe Door, clearly making the point that “all roads lead to exclusion,” and that the opinions of Senator Sanders (and Senator Chris Van Hollen, who expressed an inclusivist view of Christianity during the hearing) are perhaps even more intolerant than Vought’s view that led to the questioning. Others on the conservative end of the political (and religious) spectrum made equally eloquent and passionate arguments against Sanders’ questioning.

Interestingly, those calling out Sanders’ intolerance were not confined to the usual ranks though. Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic, wrote, “It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget.” She went on to state, “It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. … This is the danger of relying on religion as a threshold test for public service, the kind of test America’s founders were guarding against when they drafted Article VI.” She concluded her piece by articulating exactly what so many on the other end of the spectrum have been saying about “tolerance” for years: “As the demands for tolerance in America become greater, the bounds of acceptance can also become tighter. Ironically, that pits acceptance of religious diversity against the freedom of individual conscience.”

Even Camila Domonoske, writing for NPR, addressed Sanders’ line of questioning. She provided a reasonable and balanced look at the issue from both sides, citing spokespeople for Sanders, legal experts, Muslim leaders and Russell Moore , president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. She correctly reported that views on hell differ, even among Christians: “Different Christian sects, and individuals, have varying interpretations of damnation. The traditionalist view is that eternal suffering awaits all who do not accept Christ; on the other end of the spectrum is the universalist belief that everyone will be saved. And then there are disagreements about what hell actually is.” But the very title of Domonoske’s piece asks the question that ultimately needs to be addressed in light of the Sanders-Vought exchange: “Is it hateful to believe in hell?” (And even if one feels that it is, is such a belief a legitimate subject of questioning in a political confirmation hearing and/or a legitimate reason to oppose or restrict someone from political office?)

I have linked only three examples here and there are many, many more, from all sides, so feel free to find and read those to your heart’s content. It will not surprise anyone who has read the blog with any regularity to know that I found Sanders’ questioning to be out of line and unconstitutional. But I actually want to take a different perspective on the entire exchange, looking instead at Vought’s responses to Sanders. I do not want to throw Vought under the proverbial bus, as he was no doubt surprised by the vehemence of Sanders’ questioning, but he seemed to be uncertain in his responses, unwilling to double down on what he had written and take a firm and unequivocal stance on biblical Christianity. In short, he seemed caught off guard, unprepared to give a defense for his faith.

The apostle Peter addresses the importance of enduring suffering for righteousness sake and being prepared to offer a defense for faith in 1 Peter 3:13-17:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Vought was certainly put in a position by Sanders to suffer for righteousness’ sake. He was, quite literally, asked for the reason for the hope that is within him, and he was indeed slandered and reviled during the exchange. Matthew Poole, in his commentary, said of verse 15, “either that hath authority to examine you, and take an account of your religion; or, that asks with modesty, and a desire to be satisfied, and learn of you.” Sanders certainly fell into the first category.

Again, it is impossible for me or anyone else to say what we might have done were we in Vought’s seat, so I do not wish for this to be seen as an attack on him. But I do wish it to be seen as an encouragement for all of us who claim the name of Christ and seek to be faithful to biblical Christianity. Should we ever find ourselves in a similar situation, will we be prepared to respond? Will we have a defense for our faith, for the hope that is within us, when we are literally in the spotlight? Russell Vought had an opportunity that very few people ever have had or will have, I suspect. He was seated before United States senators, with the opportunity to speak God’s Truth into the congressional record, not to mention to the ears of elected officials and to millions of people across the country and around the world.

Using the transcription of the exchange between Sanders and Vought provided by David French of National Review, I want to imagine what Vought’s answers could have looked like. I am giving Sanders’ questions/comments in blue, Vought’s real answers italicized in brackets and what I would like to imagine could have been said instead in more faithful adherence to Peter’s exhortation thereafter in orange.

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

[Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and . . .]

Absolutely not, Senator. Islamophobia is a fear or hatred of Muslims and I neither fear nor hate Muslims. I am a Christian and I believe the Bible–both Old and New Testaments–which clearly states that the only way to know God is through acceptance of His Son Jesus Christ as Savior.

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

[Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College.]

The context of my statement in Resurgent was dealing with the Muslim religion because it dealt with a position taken by a professor at Wheaton College regarding the Muslim religion. But in reality I believe that all people who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, regardless of their religion or their rejection of all religion, stand condemned. I believe that because that is what the Bible says. while there are others, John 3:18 would be perhaps the best example. It says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” So, in keeping with my Christian faith, I believe that many people stand condemned.

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

[Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . .]

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

[Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .]

Yes, Senator, I do believe that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned because that is what the Bible says.

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

[Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.]

I am not sure if that statement is respectful of other religions or not, Senator. To be honest I am not certain it was designed or intended to be respectful of other religions. That statement was made specifically to highlight the very clear, very important differences that exist between biblical Christianity and Islam. The Christian faith is, necessarily, narrow-minded and exclusive. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I was articulating and defending that element of my faith, that portion of what the Bible says.

I think, however, that you are missing an important point, sir. I absolutely respect the right of every person to choose his or religion, or to choose no religion. I believe the Constitution of the United States explicitly grants a freedom of religion to everyone in this country. That means that I accept, respect–and would defend–the right of Muslims or Hindus or Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Catholics or anyone else to believe, or not believe, as they so choose whether or not I agree with their religion. So in that regard I have complete and total respect for other religions.

But if by respecting other religions you mean that I have to agree with what they believe or keep quiet about areas in which my faith differs from theirs then I guess I would have to say no, I do not respect–by that definition–other religions. But given the incredible freedom of religion that we hold so dear in this country, Senator Sanders, I cannot imagine that is possibly what you meant.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

To which I would say, if I might Mr. Chairman, that the freedom to believe as we see fit and to speak as we wish–even about those differing and contradictory beliefs–is precisely what this country is supposed to be about.

 

June 4, 2014

Endangering American Lives

Though it may be hard for some of you to believe I actually do not seek out opportunities to blast President Obama. Regardless of how seldom I may agree with his political agenda I believe that it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ to respect and pray for the president. I also believe, however, that the citizens of the United States have a responsibility to hold our elected officials responsible for their actions and to expect that they follow the law.

Unless you live under a rock you know that the United States recently traded five al-Qaida and Taliban operatives for U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan. This trade is troubling on many levels in my mind and in the minds of many others. Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly commented on the trade by saying, “The five terrorists released were the hardest of the hard-core.”

Other concerns include the fact that Bergdahl allegedly walked away from his unit in Afghanistan and sought out the Taliban, who gladly took him prisoner when their paths crossed. Bergdahl was held captive for five years and I certainly am not going to suggest that that is insignificant or was in any way deserved. However, there are allegations that he taught bomb-making techniques to the Taliban while he was being held. All the way back in 2010 the Daily Mail reported that Bergdahl was ” training Taliban fighters bomb-making and ambush skills” and, according to one of his captors, had converted to Islam and had taken a Muslim name.

Several of Bergdahl’s platoon mates have publicly stated that Bergdahl should absolutely not be called or considered a hero because he voluntarily left his unit and six U.S. soldiers died looking for him. “We all served together and we were all in it together over there and he broke that bond by leaving us,” Army Sgt. Josh Korder said on NBC’s TODAY show. Interestingly, the TODAY web site has a survey allowing readers to vote yes or no as to whether the U.S. trade for Bergdahl was the right thing to do. Fully 85% of the more than 16,000 voters have responded “no.” Not all that long ago the United States Army shot deserters. It still imprisons them. It certainly has not traded high level military prisoners in order to get deserters back.

Ultimately, it is none of the above–troubling though all of that is–that is the biggest problem. The biggest problem, and the one that should alarm every citizen if the United States, is that President Obama broke the law in the Bergdahl swap. U.S. law requires the president to give Congress thirty days notice before releasing any prisoner from Guantanamo Bay, where the five prisoners traded for Bergdahl had been held. President Obama did not do that. Apparently Obama informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but that was all. Neither Speaker of the House John Boehner nor Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein were informed in advance. On Tuesday Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken called Feinstein to apologize, Feinstein told reporters.

According to a report in TIME the swap occurred over the objections of members of the Pentagon and the intelligence community who had serious concerns about the dangers of releasing the five men. The explanation for the swift action in making the trade that was offered by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden is absurd. Frankly, I think Ms. Hayden should have been embarrassed to make the statement. Here’s what she said:

Delaying the transfer in order to provide the 30-day notice would interfere with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. soldiers. Because such interference would significantly alter the balance between Congress and the President, and could even raise constitutional concerns, we believe it is fair to conclude that Congress did not intend that the Administration would be barred from taking the action it did in these circumstances.

Therein lies no small part of the problem with the Obama Administration: it believes that it has the right to “conclude” whatever it wants about what Congress intends and to play fast and loose with the law when following it would get in the way of the president doing what he wants.

It stretches my imagination to contemplate how waiting thirty days for Congress to be notified of the swap in accordance with the law could possibly jeopardize the lives of Americans abroad or U.S. soldiers, particularly given that Bergdahl had already been held for five years. A further concern is that the U.S. did not make this swap with another sovereign nation but with a terrorist group. The reality is that making this trade put the safety of Americans abroad and U.S. soldiers at risk but communicating clearly to the world that the United States is willing to negotiate with terrorists and even to make a five-for-one trade in order to get back a deserter. If we’ll trade five major terrorist prisoners for one deserter what will the asking price be for an actual military hero? Or a diplomat? What about for the families of U.S. officials serving abroad?

At the end of the day, despite the rationalizations and press conferences and defenses of their actions, the Obama administration both violated the letter of the law and the spirit of the Constitution. The president takes an oath to serve, protect and defend the Constitution. No matter how revisionist you may want to be in your reading or interpretation of it, there is no way to make that fit with breaking the law or endangering American lives.

April 30, 2014

Being Stupid Isn’t Against the Law

I suppose I shall weigh in on the Donald Sterling fiasco if for no other reason than that I have been asked by a few people what I think about it.

Honestly, I am not going to say too much because I think this topic is being addressed at length by plenty of other people. I am not a fan of the NBA, by the way, but I do not think that really has any bearing on this issue. What it comes down to ultimately, I believe, is an issue of freedom of speech, freedom of belief and right to property ownership.

I have not read the entirety of what Mr. Sterling said in his recorded conversation with his girlfriend. I have read enough to know that what he said was racist, offensive and indefensible. However, various individuals from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Allen West, have pointed out that (1) Sterling’s views did not just suddenly come to light, and (2) the recording that sparked this firestorm was apparently made illegally.

Abdul-Jabbar states in his opinion column posted on TIME’s web site on April 28 that there has plenty of evidence of Stirling’s racism before this recording emerged. In fact, he suggests that the outrage over these recent comments is absurd given that they do not reveal anything new. “What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism,” he wrote. “I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff…has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?”

Both Abdul-Jabbar and West, in a post on his web site posted today, highlight that the outrage over Sterling’s comments has thus-far vastly outweighed the fact that the recording containing these comments was apparently made illegally. “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way?” asks Abdul-Jabbar. “The national outrage against Mr. Sterling has come from an act that could be illegal and inadmissible in a court of law. Nevertheless, the court of public opinion has tried and convicted Mr. Sterling of being a jerk,” writes West. According to West, “the taping of a conversation without consent of the other party is illegal under California statute.” I do not know if Stirling knew he was being recorded or not, but I highly doubt it.

All of above, however, is not my biggest concern in all of this. If Sterling is a racist and the jerk that he appears to be based on the recording then I find that sad and even reprehensible, but I believe we have the right to think and say what we want in this country. Should people who are offended by it make their voice heard by boycotting Sterling or his team? Sure. That’s another great right we have. Should sponsors pull their support for the Clippers because of Sterling’s comments? Again, entirely within their rights. Should Sterling be banned from the NBA for life, as was announced yesterday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver? I could even support that decision. I have a serious problem, however, with the effort Silver intends to make to force Sterling to sell the team.

According to the AP report issues yesterday, “NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league. … If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Silver’s recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.”

The Declaration of Independence says that there are inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. John Locke, whose writing heavily influenced the Founders, originally wrote of life, liberty and property. There are many legal protections for the right to own property. If Silver and the other NBA owners are successful in their stated aim to force Sterling to sell the team–in essence, taking his property from him by force–I think we have a real problem. There are plenty of ways for Sterling to be influenced and even pressured to sell the team, and if the boycotts and loss of sponsorships and other pressures are used properly he will, if he is a shrewd businessman, recognize the wisdom in selling. But force him to sell? As West asks in his column, “have we come to a point in America where being a jerk is grounds for confiscation of a private property?” If so, I think there are a lot more people in trouble than Donald Sterling…and you or I could be next!

My understanding is that Sterling was at home when he made the comments that have sparked this outrage. My understanding is that he thought he was having a private conversation. If Adam Silver, the other owners of the NBA teams, or any other person or group of persons in the United States can strip any individual of private property because of comments made at home in private–and said comments are not even criminal–then we are in serious trouble. The very rights we hold dear will slip through our fingers like sand. If anyone has a right to free, unfiltered speech anywhere–regardless of how ugly, offensive or stupid it may be–it should be in the privacy of their own home. After all, being stupid still isn’t against the law.

November 15, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 5)

I hate to do this. Really, I do. Quite frankly, I am irritated that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have taken up so much of my time and attention recently–especially when I am not (1) required to follow them at the school where I serve, and (2) even all that interested in defending the standards themselves! What bugs me is the misinformation and the manipulation of the facts that is so prevalent surrounding the CCSS. I wrote at length on these standards last week and then decided after four posts that I was done. I intended to walk away from the issue and leave it alone. Then I got today’s mail…

In today’s mail I received a letter from Concerned Women for America (CWA) which was accompanied by a pamphlet entitled “Stop Common Core ‘State’ Standards.” The pamphlet included a picture of an elementary school child wearing a safety patrol vest, holding a stop sign. At the top of the cover was this statement: “An Unconstitutional Experiment on Our Children.” The lower part of the cover says, “An experiment destined for failure, loss of local control, loss of parental rights, loss of privacy, high costs and more.” Now, I respect CWA and much of what they do. However, I cannot ignore the inaccuracies and spin of their propaganda piece. The only way to have healthy and meaningful debate is to stick to the facts, and conservative organizations need to hold themselves to that standard–particularly organizations that are also Christian.

The inside front page of the pamphlet provides this explanation in response to the headline, “What is the Common Core?”

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of national K-12 standards in math and English language arts currently being implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C. The CCSS were developed behind closed doors by a left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group. Supporters of the CCSS claim that the development of the standards was a “state-led” effort, but that simply is not true. Neither state boards of education, state legislators nor local education officials, school leaders, nor parents were included in the development, evaluation, and adoption of CCSS.

That paragraph includes reference to an end note after the comment about the “left-leaning” non-profit group, and that end note directs readers to a report by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc., entitled “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education.” Interestingly, that report was published in 2008, and the CCSS were not even copyrighted until 2010. The suggestion, though, is that Achieve, Inc. is a “left-leaning” non-profit group responsible for drafting the CCSS. The report in question was outlining the arguments in favor of developing such standards. However, Achieve, Inc. (1) is a bipartisan organization that includes both Republican and Democratic governors on its board of directors, and (2) is not cited at all in the final CCSS.

Furthermore, that CWA paragraph states that there were no state boards of education, elected officials or local education officials involved in the “behind close doors” development of the CCSS. However, the CCSS were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The CCSSO is “a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions.” The CCSSO board of directors has as its president Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. The president-elect is Terry Holliday, the Commissioner of Education for Kentucky. The past president is Thomas Luna, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Idaho. The board includes education heads from six other states. These individuals serve as the executive officers for their state departments of education and, in many states, also serve as secretary or ex-officio members of the state boards of education. It would therefore be difficult to suggest that neither state boards of education nor school leaders were involved in the development of the CCSS. Furthermore, the suggestion that teachers were not involved in the development of the CCSS is not true. There were teachers involved all along the way, and the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) are among the groups that were involved. PolitiFact.com rates the assertion that teachers were not involved in the development of the standards as “false” on their truth-o-meter, and even identifies and quotes teachers who were involved in the CCSS development (see the article here).

The CWA pamphlet also states that many states agreed to adopt the CCSS and the accompanying assessments “sight unseen.” That may be true. Even if it is, though, that is a problem with the elected officials in those states, not with the CCSS. No state could adopt the CCSS without the approval of elected officials. It simply is not possible.

The CWA pamphlet also states that the CCSS violate the Constitution, specifically the Tenth Amendment. I addressed in a previous post the fact that the federal government did not impose the CCSS on the states because it cannot do so. It can incentivize the adoption of the standards, and it did do that, but that is not unconstitutional.

The pamphlet goes on to suggest that there are three federal statutes which “prohibit the federal government from guiding the educational curriculum of the states.” The first of those statutes is the General Education Provisions Act. This act reads as follows:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.

The problem with the CWA assertion, though, is that the individual states that are adopting CCSS have made their own decision to do so. When a state voluntarily adopts the CCSS it is the state, not the federal government, that is subjecting itself to the CCSS guidelines.

The second law referenced is the Department of Education Organization Act. This 1979 law creating the Department of Education contains basically the same language as the law quoted above. Section 103(b) reads…

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.

The reasons why CCSS does not violate this law are already outlined above.

Finally, the CWA pamphlet references the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Now, the full act is some 600 pages. If you want to read it all, help yourself–it is public record and not hard to find. However, this act actually does more to support CCSS than to hinder it. After all, Section 1001 (1) states that the law’s purpose is to “ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education” by “ensuring that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement….” And again, any suggestion that the CCSS violate the law is negated by the fact that the individual states have opted in to CCSS; they have not had it forced upon them.

The CWA pamphlet goes on to state that “local control of education is best, whereby parents, teachers and taxpayers have a voice.” I agree wholeheartedly, and I am on record as advocating the abolition of the Department of Education completely. Again, though, this is a separate issue from the CCSS.

CWA also suggests that the CCSS actually lower education standards. I think this is a real stretch. It would take quite a while to go through and address, standard by standard, why I disagree with this assertion, so I am not going to do it. But I will touch briefly on one specific assertion made by the CWA pamphlet regarding literature. The pamphlet states that the CCSS has a “prominence of nonfiction ‘informational texts’ such as technical manuals, government documents, brochures and menus rather than highly regarded classic literature.” This argument is really a nonstarter for me. First of all, a well-rounded education needs to include “informational texts” as well as classic literature. Informational texts are certainly going to be more practical for most students than classic literature. Second, though, the assertion is inaccurate.

The CCSS text exemplars (and again, these are recommendations– they are not mandated) include a healthy variety of both. Grades 9-10, for example, include recommendations for stories, drama, poetry and informational texts. Homer’s The Odyessey, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Poe’s “The Raven,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73,” and Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” are but some of the recommended reading for high school freshmen and sophomores. (One of the more bizarre rumors surrounding the CCSS, by the way, is that The Grapes of Wrath is recommended for second grade. Not true.)

What are informational texts recommended for grades 9-10? Speeches by Patrick Henry, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan are listed for Language Arts. The History/Social Studies information texts include works on Custer, art, fish, African Americans in the Civil War and great composers. Science, math and technical subject recommendations include Euclid’s Elements as well as works on stars, the circumference of the earth and a government document on recommended levels of insulation. Not only do the fiction recommendations exceed the nonfiction recommendations, there is nothing wrong or detrimental about the nonfiction recommendations!

So, to repeat my mantra yet again, please do not believe everything you hear or read about the CCSS. This topic has become quite the political hot potato and folks on both sides are using half truths and spin to support their arguments. Do the research and find the facts for yourself…and insist on candor and honesty from those who are arguing about these standards.

October 7, 2013

Follow Up to “I Rest My Case”

Two entries ago I said I was beginning a series of posts about education, and it is still my intention to get back to that ASAP. With all of the shenanigans going on with the shutdown of the federal government, though, I had to speak up on that. And even though I said at the end of that post that I was resting my case, I need to add just a few more thoughts.

Numerous examples have emerged over the weekend of additional ridiculous moves by the Obama administration to make the shutdown as public and as painful as necessary. One example is the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona. The Henderson Press reported on the closing, including the fact that in addition to the closing of the “visitor center, campgrounds, marinas, trails and launch ramps” the folks who own property within the park are also being evicted and are barred from entering their personal property only to retrieve belongings. “Those with personal property within the park, such as boats, trailers or cabins, will be allowed access into the park to either remove their vessels or trailers or to remove belongings from their property,” the Henderson Press reported. Las Vegas station KTNV also reported on the Lake Mead closing, specifically spotlighting Ralph and Joyce Spencer. The Spencers, age 80 and 77 respectively, have owned their home since the 1970’s but the home sits on federal land. Thus, “even though the Spencers own their cabin outright, they’re not allowed in until the government reopens.” Now, according to the report, “The Lake Mead properties are considered vacation homes; one of the lease requirements to own a plot is people must have an alternative residence.” Be that as it may, the shutdown of the federal government cannot be used to justify evicting people from their own property.

The Independent Journal Review, the Washington Post and other news sites also reported that the Department of Justice web site that provides information on the AMBER Alerts was shut down, too. Now the alerts themselves were still operation, but the information DOJ web site was shut down. As of this morning that site is fully operational again, leading me to believe that the outcry over shutting down a web site specifically designed to provide information about kidnapped children was effective. Nice to know the elected officials listen once in a while! However, a service designed to assist protect the lives of abducted children should never have been allowed to be used for political purposes.

Interestingly–as pointed our by several other news sites–First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” web site was never shut down. Now the most recent post on the site’s blog was posted on September 30, so perhaps the site is not being updated, but that fact that it has remained up and operational while so many other government web sites have been shut down speaks volumes on its own. At the site is a government site; its address is http://www.letsmove.gov. As the IJ Review story stated, “Apparently, in the mixed up world of Team Obama’s priorities, continuing to tell America’s kids what to eat and how to exercise is ‘essential’ – while helping to locate missing children who may be in grave danger is not. Go figure.”

You may also have seen the wide-spread story over the weekend that the government is shutting down eleven hundred miles of ocean. Yep, you read that right…the government is shutting down the ocean…specifically, Florida Bay. Charter boat captains who make their living taking folks out into the bay to fish or enjoy the water cannot do so until the government reopens, and there are rangers on duty to enforce the ban. As with so many other examples already mentioned, enforcing the shutdown is going to cost more than allowing normal activities to continue would ever have cost!

Now, in the midst of all of this an anonymous employee of the National Park Service has reportedly stated this: “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” Now, I do not know the name of the ranger who purportedly said this, nor can I verify its accuracy. All I know is that it has been widely reported. And if this statement is true–if the NPS has issued such instructions to its personnel, it is violating the law. If President Obama has given that order, or sanctioned it, he should be impeached. And I will not make a long, drawn out explanation as to why. Instead, I will present it very simply, in four easy steps:

One, the Preamble to the United States Constitution reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (The unusual capitalization and spelling of “defense” comes directly from the original text, which you are welcome to read for yourself on the National Archives web site which is, oddly enough, still operating).

Two, the presidential oath of office, according to Article II of the Constitution, is, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (The ending “so help me God” is not in the Constitution, but was added by George Washington and has been added ever since).

Three, Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution reads, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Four, there is simply no way to convincingly argue that shutting down open air monuments, evicting people from their privately-owned homes and other examples outlined above and in the previous post are promoting the general welfare or ensuring domestic tranquility. Since they are not, President Obama is not faithfully executing the duties of his office nor is he preserving, protecting or defending the Constitution. Therefore, per the Constitution, he should be impeached, for there can be no higher crime a president of United States could commit than to knowingly and willingly violate the Constitution.

September 19, 2013

Rewriting the Amendments

John J. Newman and John M. Schmalbach’s United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination is an Amazon.com bestseller. In fact, it is Amazon’s number one bestseller in the History category for Teens and Young Adults. It is also one of the most Wished For books in that same category (users of Amazon.com can create personal “wish lists” of items they would like to have). As a U.S. history teacher and enthusiast, this should be music to my ears, right? Sadly, it is not to be. Just the opposite, in fact. The fact that this book is so widely read scared me. Why? Quite frankly, because the book is not accurate.

The Amazon listing says this of the book: “U.S. History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination presents the history of the United States from pre-Columbian times to the Obama administration. It follows the curriculum put out by the College Board for this course of study. Thirty chapters, each covering a different time period.”

That would be good news, and a book like this–a one-volume overview of U.S. history specifically designed to help students prepare for the Advanced Placement exam and/or to assist the student of U.S. history in understanding the events and people that shaped this nation–would logically be in demand, particularly when modestly priced (as this one is). However, a book like this can also be expected to accurately present the facts of U.S. history, and this one does not.

I have not had the opportunity to review the entire book, so I cannot speak for it en toto. Having reviewed just the books presentation of the Bill of Rights, though, I can say that the book is revisionist history at its best.

It strikes me as odd, quite frankly, that the book feels the need to summarize the Bill of Rights at all. Most history books that I am familiar with simply present the Constitution and its amendments as written. After all, why read a summary when it is easy enough to read the original? Nevertheless, Newman and Schmalbach decide to present a summary. Interestingly, they introduce that summary with a paragraph that includes this statement: “Together they [the Bill of Rights] provided the guarantees that Anti-Federalists wanted against possible abuses of power by the central (or federal) government.” While that is accurate enough in and of itself, the amendment summaries that follow are so twisted that they actually do the exact opposite of what that sentence states; the amendments described in the summary would give far more power to the federal government than even the Federalists wanted, let alone what the Anti-Federalists feared.

For example, the summary of the First Amendment reads, “Congress may make no laws that infringe a citizen’s right to freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Congress may not favor one religion over another (separation of church and state).” The first amendment actually does not say that Congress cannot favor one religion over another, and there is an abundance of historical evidence that in its early years Congress clearly did favor Christianity over other religions. And the First Amendment certainly does not say anything about the separation of church and state. This a phrase that does not exist in any founding documents; it first appears in a private letter written from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, and even Jefferson did not intend it in the way that judicial activist judges have used it in recent decades. What the First Amendment actually says is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Accurate summary: Congress cannot create a state church and cannot pass any laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. (What this amendment clearly does not say, by the way, is that the church must not influence the state, but that is a topic for another day….)

Move on to the Second Amendment. The textbook’s summary reads, “The people have the right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.” What does the Second Amendment actually say? “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Accurate summary? Since the people must have a right to defend themselves in a free state–and to preserve a free state–the government cannot pass any laws prohibiting law abiding citizens from owning firearms. It certainly does not say that only in a state militia can citizens bear arms.

As I said above, this rewriting (or intentional misinterpreting) of the first two amendments clearly gives the federal government far more power than the actual Bill of Rights gives it since this revision would allow the separation of church and state and would allow the restriction of gun ownership to anyone not in a state militia. These are powers that the federal government does not have. There are definitely members of the government, and people in the political realm, who would love to see the federal government have this power, and there are certainly those who will try to convince gullible students and citizens that these are powers the government does indeed have. Let us be ever vigilant in defending our freedoms and opposing wrong teaching in our schools!

June 7, 2012

Violation of an Oath

For those of you who keep current with political news the topic I am about to address, yes, I realize that the topic I am about to address is a few months old. It is not that I am just becoming aware of it. In fact, I was “hot on it’s trail” when it happened…but I decided to put it on the back burner and address it later after I had had some time to “cool down,” so angry did this news make me.

I am well aware of the fact that I tend to pay more attention to politics and care more passionately about it than the average citizen, and so I may get riled up over things that others may not even notice. But if this one goes unnoticed we have a serious problem.

See, in February, U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Egypt, and while she was there she took a swipe at the U.S. Constitution. She said, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” Instead, she suggested that the constitution of South Africa might be a better model, since it “embraced basic human rights [and] had an independent judiciary.” Justice Ginsburg has also been known to express admiration for the Canadian Charter of Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights.

One of the reasons Ginsburg has expressed discontent with the U.S. Constitution is that it originally excluded women, slaves and Native Americans. (Of course, until recently, South Africa excluded blacks, too). I don’t think anyone would argue that the the U.S. Constitution is perfect. It was wrong to tolerate slavery and to exclude the vote from women and other minorities. Those flaws have, thankfully, been corrected. Therein, however, lies part of the beauty of our Constitution; it allows for corrections and amendments.

I do not fault Ginsburg for suggesting the a newly-forming representative democracy look at a field that does not contain the U.S. Constitution exclusively while preparing to draft its own constitution. What I do find egregious is her suggestion that the U.S. Constitution not be looked at at all. Notice she did not say that she would not look exclusively at our Constitution; she said, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution.”

By the way, are Canada and the EU really examples we should encourage other countries to follow? The freedom of speech in Canada is under attack pretty regularly. The Bill of Rights of Kenya–which was drafted by later-Supreme-Court-justice Thurgood Marshall and is based on the European Convention on Human Rights, guarantees rights to health, welfare and work. We have already seen what has happened in other countries (including Canada and the many members of the EU) who have included rights to health and seen it necessary to provide state-run health care systems in order to do so–and we see now what that looks like as Barack Obama tries to institute the same thing here. We have seen the economies of many European nations crumble as their debts have spiraled out of control, due in no small part to the right to work and absurd guarantees for workers. See, here’s the paradox of socialism: when it becomes essentially impossible to fire someone there is no longer any incentive for someone to work. Look at recent strikes in Spain and riots in Greece, among other examples.

How does any of this relate to her oath, by the way? Well, Supreme Court justices have to take two oaths of office, and if you want to read all of the particulars you can do so on the Supreme Court’s web site (supremecourt.gov). Part of the first oath, which is taken by all federal employees, reads, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” When a justice publicly (and in front of international audience, at that) says that she would not refer the U.S. Constitution if she were drafting a constitution today, it stretches the imagination to think how that can be consistent with supporting or defending the Constitution, or bearing allegiance to it.

Am I suggesting that Justice Ginsburg should be impeached? Not necessarily. But I think her comments are troubling, and I think they point to two very important demands that “we the people” must make of our senators: (1) the responsibility of approving nominations to the Supreme Court must be taken seriously, and we must demand that our justices be faithful to the Constitution; and (2) we have to have justices who see the Constitution as a living document, able to be changed when appropriate and within the prescribed channels, but who will interpret the Constitution with faithfulness to the intent of the Founders and the people. It’s time we say “enough” to those who want to remake our Constitution from the bench to have it more closely resemble those of other nations.

Blog at WordPress.com.