Lies My Teacher Told Me

In 1974 I decided I wanted to be a teacher.  I loved school, learning, I even loved the smell of school supplies.  Autumn was my favorite season.  The classroom seemed like a place of endless possibilities, limitless potential, THE place to be.  A place to discover The Truth.  My favorite subjects were English and History and my future was obvious.  I was either going to be a History teacher or an English teacher.  Or maybe a social worker… I hadn’t quite made up my mind.

3.Watergate800x600My father’s first career was in the Air Force.  Eventually he retired as a Colonel, but in 1974 he must have been a Captain.  He had already traveled the world.  He had a Job of Importance.  He Knew Things.  When the Watergate scandal first broke my father famously told my mother “Don’t be silly.  You don’t get to be President of the United States by lying!  They’re simply trying to tear him down.”  It’s possible my father will never forgive Tricky Dick.  Not necessarily for Watergate itself, but for betraying his trust and fouling the office of the President.  In other words, I was raised to have faith in authority.  Nixon was an aberration.

Littleton Remembers Columbine Tragedy On 5th AnniversarySurprise!  My first job was at the library at Columbine High School.  Back then we didn’t have a local library.  The school library doubled as the public library.  For a while I considered majoring in library science until I discovered that quite possibly the only person in the world treated with less respect than a high school teacher is a librarian.  I jumped into pop culture at the local cinema for my second job – the third job was at a book store.  Yes – it was a life long trend.  But a strange thing happened on the way to the book store.  Even as I started college, intent on earning a degree that would lead me straight back into the classroom, I started to notice something distressing.  Something… didn’t add up.

41xtLuzhOQLIt started as a nagging worry.  In high school I was a liberal arts rock star (at least until a nasty wave of Bipolar Depression hit, but that’s another story).  I got into both AP English and History with no problem.  I studied “advanced” texts about our part in WWII, for example (spoiler alert – we were the good guys.  The Germans sucked.)  And yet when I took a class on WWII in college I read a German textbook on the same topic.  While the conclusion was more or less the same, the path through the war from the German perspective was a real eye-opener.  Maybe… all Germans… don’t suck?  Hum.  A piece of the puzzle was missing.

713Ey6jaRZLThat was just about the time I discovered the world’s most dangerous phrase.  “Well, wait a moment… that doesn’t make sense because…”  In other words, despite the best efforts of the public education system I had somehow developed critical thinking skills.*  Even so, I was deeply suspicious of anyone who sported a “Question Authority” sticker.  In 1995 one of the new bestsellers went by the obnoxious title of “Lies My Teacher Told Me“.  I resented the hell out of that book even as that little nagging worry grew larger, (especially when I learned about incidents like the Gulf of Tonkin).  I wanted to be a teacher my whole life.  Teachers do NOT lie to their students.  Just the opposite.  Public school teachers are engaged in the business of truth.  Right?  Right.  … right?   

Um… sort of right?  I mean, they don’t deliberately lie.  Right?  They just teach from the books that are approved, so they can’t… help it?  If the books are wrong?  Um… wait a moment…

How could I reconcile my desire to teach history with my growing obsession with the truth?  Actually, I couldn’t.  At least, not in public school – especially after we started teaching to the test.  The more I learned, the more I came to realize that the modern classroom and truth have very little to do with each other.  I eventually got out of the classroom for good.

MSDMOON EC011Which leads me to the point I’m trying to make.  I was listening to the news this morning, which offered yet another glowing report about the latest jobs report.  As I listened I was suddenly reminded of one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite films,  Moscow on the Hudson .  Robin Williams takes a surprising turn for the dramatic as Russian musician Vladimir Ivanoff.  While the majority of the film takes place in New York City, the scene I keep going back to is an almost throw-away moment in Moscow.  Vladimir is watching television with his grandfather.  The story on the news is a glowing report of the increase in boot production.  His grandfather accurately predicts the increase then blows a raspberry at the screen, dismissing it for the propaganda it is.  Had this man been in the room listening to the jobs report this morning, he would have had the same reaction.

The lies we live under don’t start or stop with what our teachers told us.  They’re everywhere.  They’re everything.  The older I get the more clearly I see the tissue of lies we’re wrapped in.   And yet I have no idea what to do with this information.  Those who are open to this idea already know.  Those who are not open to it will fight tooth and nail to keep from finding out.  Just like my initial distrust in the idea of questioning authority, the majority of the modern population will double-down on the lies they’ve been taught.  The alternative is to admit they’ve been lied to.  Worse yet, confess that they bought the lie.  This is so far beyond most people’s comfort zone they’ll never consider the idea.   But the dissonance between the truth and their dedication to the lie grows more and more… the anger caused by the dissonance builds.  Double-down becomes digging in.  And where do we end up?

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This has got to stop.

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*  When I first encountered the phrase “critical thinking”, especially if someone said it in relation to questions I was asking, I’d always deny it.  My mother was raised in the South.  She took great pains to teach me how to be a “lady” (even if I didn’t follow it overmuch).  As a result, if someone said I was engaging in critical thinking it sounded like a criticism itself.  I didn’t want to sound “critical” ( = grumpy / wrong / bad).  I just wanted things to add up – I wanted to know the truth.  Sort of the same thing happened  when I went to the doctor.  They always wanted me to list my “complaint”.  I kept trying to explain that  I wasn’t complaining!  I was just sick… Um, I’m sorry to bother you?  Ha!  Strange what goes through the mind of a kid.

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Q & A: In what ways are many liberals out of touch with the real world?

I’ll tell you one big way (speaking as a radical leftist) – I was under the delusion that the overwhelming majority of Americans were kind, non-judgmental, and fairly smart, and there were just a few very loud White Supremists and other bigots making a lot of racket… I thought working-class white Americans were upset because the economic system was going less and less in their favor, and although some folks blamed those worse off than themselves for this, they would support legislators and programs that helped everyone – including themselves.

Turns out there are apparently a LOT of Americans – perhaps a majority – who are consumed with hatred towards those unlike them, whether those people are brown, non-Christian, non-hetero-normative, not American citizens, whatever. There are a LOT of Americans – perhaps a majority – who would support policies that hurt them personally, as long as those unlike them are hurt worse.

This is not a reality that it has been pleasant to face. Thanks for asking.

REALLY well said, Sadie! <applause> I’ve been saying much the same, always in a bit of a daze. I thought those you speak of, the ones consumed with hatred to the point of madness, were part of the “lunatic fringe”. I knew they were there, but such a minority that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I was so… so wrong. What an unpleasant lesson to learn. At the (very) least, know you’re not alone.

That’s interesting Paul. There’s no need to project. I’m happy to tell you what I thought. 😉

I’m southern. My entire family is southern. My grandfather was one of the most racist individuals I’ve ever known. He refused to eat food prepared by African Americans. He saw one spit in a white person’s food once – that was enough for him.

My mother was his only child. She rejected everything he taught her about racism. She married a military officer, traveled the world, learned all she could about living a life based on the idea that everyone brings something amazing to the table. This is what she taught her children.

Which brings us to me. When I lived in New Orleans I had a great deal of hate directed at me for the color of my skin. After Katrina, when Mayor Nagin assured the world that “We as black people, it’s time, it’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. And I don’t care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day” I was the least surprised person in the world. Ok, I was a little surprised that a politician said the soft part loud, but that’s it.

It made sense to me that a minority population would want to claim a city where they could live as the majority. But even then, trying hard to listen, to see what it was like, I was still outside the experience. I still thought that the hate, the prejudice, the discrimination was directed by a very vocal, extremely active minority. Surely humans as a whole were better than that. Which isn’t to say that African Americans don’t experience discrimination. Not at all. But the majority of people do not default to hate. African Americans, like all others who experience discrimination, were actively targeted by humans on the verge of madness. A vocal minority. The lunatic fringe.

That was my mistake. My partner teaches Cultural Diversity classes. I help grade the papers. I’ve read the stories for over a decade, each one describing what it’s like to live under the thumb of prejudice based on stereotype. I vowed that I would not behave in that fashion. I would not tolerate the presence of anyone who did. I taught others not to act on hate. When Obama was elected I took it as proof that these efforts were working. That hate was still present, but not dominant.

I was wrong.

I didn’t understand how comforting hate and anger is to so many. I didn’t understand that some humans truly believe they can hate in the name of love. I have a very difficult time comprehending how someone can hate in the name of Christianity. I didn’t think hate was winning.

I was wrong.

Chocolate City speech – Wikipedia

Q & A: How does a 14 year old save up money to leave home?

Unfortunately, the legal system is already against you. You aren’t old enough to sign a legal contract. Which means you won’t be able to find a place to live or to hold a job until you’re either legally emancipated either by age or court order.

If you start your own business your parents will have to start a bank account for you, as well as fill out the legal paperwork. If you go into child acting or modeling, same deal.

So, without having to deal with contracts I’d default to the old standbys. Recycle. Pick up every piece of trash that has value. Babysit. If that isn’t your thing, petsit. Go door-to-door asking if your neighbors need help with anything – yardwork is just getting going at this time of year. Offer to wash cars after a storm. If you’re getting good grades or have a special skill you could tutor.

If you’re still able to talk to your parents at all, ask them to set up a bank account for you. There’s no need to tell them why. Tell them you want to learn about money management or anything else that floats your boat. If you can do that, and you’re crafty, you can try selling things on Etsy or Ebay.

I was scrolling around and found this and this. Word to the wise – proceed with caution. There’s lots of opportunities out there. There’s also lots of people trying to take advantage of someone with less experience. Check things out ahead of time if you can, make sure it’s legit. I wish you the best.

Q & A: Who was the most ignorant American you have ever met?

CaptureMy partner teaches Cultural Diversity to college freshmen. Over the last 10 years she’s run into African American students who’d never even heard of American slavery. Other students in the same class assured her that Africans were happy to be transported (for free!) to the greatest country in the world, so they could work happily alongside all their friends. It wasn’t slavery, it was a lifestyle upgrade! (where to begin??)

Most of her students have never heard of the Japanese American internment camps of WWII, about 1/3 thought American Indians are extinct (some thought they were invented only for the movies) and nearly all of them KNOW for a fact that Arabs and Muslims mean the same thing – the two words can be used interchangeably. (where to begin??)

Let’s see. There were those who just assume that Civil War and Civil Rights are the same thing, and that slaves could escape their cruel southern masters by hopping a bus (they’d have to sit in the back of course) before joining MLK to protest – right after Rosa Parks was shot. (No, really)  My favorite student essay might be the slaves who escaped from England. Longing to see the Statue of Liberty they steamed into San Francisco Bay, after visiting Hawaii. (no really)

27_stegosaurus_tom_millerBut I didn’t meet any of these nice people.  For one I’ve actually met you have to go to the DMV.  My partner and I were waiting to get an updated ID.  What was typically a long wait was made even longer because the computers had gone down statewide.  So we waited, and waited….  Eventually the fellow sitting next to me struck up a conversation.  They had rotating trivia questions about the state posted on a screen, so he and I started a fun little competition (this is how I learned that the Stegosaurus is the state dinosaur of Colorado).

But that could only amuse for so long.  The nice fellow next to me started muttering about how inefficient the DMV was, and the government in general.  I had to agree, there’s a lot of room for improvement.  Encouraged (my bad!), he started to explain his opinion of Socialism, and why it is the basis of all evil.  Not wanting to antagonize the guy I was going to sit next to for the next few hours, I cautiously agreed that any system of government, taken to the extreme, was a bad thing.  Encouraged (my bad!), he warmed to his topic and started describing in detail all his perceived ills of “The Man”.  But the more he carried on, the more it became obvious that he had no idea what any form of socialism actually consisted of (imagine if he knew there was more than one!).  In fact, he was actually describing a pretty accurate description of Fascism.

If you’ve read my blogs for any length of time, you know by now that my partner is a college professor.  She is a much nicer person than I am, on the whole.  But she can only handle so much egregious ignorance in one sitting.  So she looked around me, smiled sweetly, and said “You realize you’re talking about fascism, right?”  The look on his face was so comical I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing.  Then, indignant as all hell, he decided to explain that she had NO idea what she was talking about.  Oh dear.  She listened for a few seconds, then nodded and said “That’s not socialism at all.  It’s Fascism.  And you’re right, it’s pretty much the definition of evil.”

By now my new friend was so indignant he was almost babbling.  I gave up trying to smooth his feathers.  Instead, I tried a different tactic.  “I’m not quite sure what Socialism is…. “, I began.  Huffing a bit, he agreed this was certainly true.  “… so I was wondering if you could explain it to me.  What is the definition of Socialism?”

I almost felt sorry for him.  On the one hand he was happy and flattered that I had handed the conversation back to him, and that I asked him to explain things.  On the other hand, there was no possible way he could define the term.  But he was mollified to the point where he admitted that he didn’t know the precise definition, even while he certainly knew what he was talking about (unlike my partner…)

“Oh, I can help there!”  I whipped out my handy cellphone and called up the definition. “so·cial·ism – noun: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. ”

“That’s how the United States creates and maintains schools.”  My partner was not being subtle.  “And roads,” I included.  “And the police,” she added.  “And firefighters, and the military, and …”

45046-anger-verses.800w.tnThe look he gave us might have frozen a campfire.  “I’ll thank you to read to yourself!”  Then, as much as it was possible seeing as how we were seated next to each other, he turned his back on the pair of us, reached into the backpack at his feet, and pulled out a Bible.  He opened it to Leviticus (of course he did!) and kept his eyes firmly fixed on the page for the rest of our time there.  Interestingly, he never turned the page, he just stared at it, as though the very act of opening the Bible rendered any other argument invalid.  I thought about sharing my favorite passage from James with him, but I decided he’d had enough for one encounter.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the dangers inherent in taking Socialism to extremes.  Any form of government can be bent and twisted into something horrible.  But this guy so clearly had no idea what he was talking about, I thought it was my civic duty to insert a few facts into his skewed worldview.  This was several years ago, before he no doubt voted for Trump with glee.  But I do wonder if he still remembers his encounter in the DMV.  I suspect not.

Edit: BTW, the first photo depicting “happy slaves” isn’t a political cartoon.  It’s actually from a children’s book published by Scholastic – “A Birthday Cake for George Washington”.  The book tells the tale of all the happy slaves who work for our nation’s first President and why they were delighted to bake for him, especially on his birthday.  Just… where to begin?

Q & A: My 16-year-old daughter came out to me as bisexual. I want her to have a traditional life with a husband and kids. What should I do?

Well…

You may wish to consider apologizing. Because “I want her to have a xxx life” doesn’t really factor into anyone’s life but your own. SHE is quite old enough to make her own decisions regarding her sexuality. Tell her you’ve thought it over, that you overreacted, and apologize. Let her know that though you’re surprised by this, you love her very much and support her. As an added touch to show that you mean it, and to illustrate how classy people behave, you may wish to invite your daughter’s girlfriend over for dinner. Get to know this person who is such an important figure in your daughter’s life.

You can do this. FWIW, it caught my parents by surprise too. But they eventually understood and supported us. Her parents do not. In fact, they refuse to acknowledge I exist. Guess where we live? A few minutes from MY parents. Her parents are 2,000 miles away and see their daughter at Christmas. That’s it. Don’t be them.

Q & A: What’s the most unprofessional thing a doctor has said to you?

006.gifOne for me, one for my mother. I arrived for my annual physical a little early to fill out any needed paperwork. While I was bent over my clipboard, my doctor’s nurse approached the woman behind the desk. She leaned over and said quietly “What’s that?” nodding in my direction. “That’s a physical” was the reply. Then they both groaned softly.

It’s common practice for patients to be objectified by their condition, especially if it’s chronic. But that was the first time I’d witnessed it, let alone experienced it. I immediately switched to a different practice.

My mother cut her hand badly enough to need stitches. I’d taken her to the nearest ER, which was a small, local offshoot of one of the area’s largest hospitals. She was eventually seen by two EMTs who happened to be there. They were clearly friends and gossiped as they stitched her up. One was complaining about how quiet mountain towns are, and how happy he was that he’d transferred to the big city. The other one, the one working on my mom, agreed. “Yeah,” he replied. “Denver’s got all the good trauma.”

simpsons_doctor.gifMy mother tensed, but didn’t say anything. I was horrified. I believe I said something like “Did you just say that?” My mother, ever the peacemaker, tried to laugh it off. The two mental giants didn’t even understand why we were upset at first. “The GOOD trauma??” I prompted. Finally it clicked. They started stammering that if you’re someone who has dedicated their life as a first responder, it’s best to go where the action is. Their talents are wasted in a quiet little mountain town. Finally they just sputtered to a stop and slunk out the door. I’m sure they thought that we, as civilians, would never “get it”. Oh no. We “got it” just fine. No matter how good you are, sweetheart, your best day is someone else’s worst day. Celebrating that day is obscene.