"Ask an impertinent question, and you're on your way to a pertinent answer." —Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
As of October 2015, my goal for this blog is to ask 101 impertinent questions.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

8—Question for the New Year

From Deng Ming-Dao's The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons:

Go beyond schools. Follow Nature. But ask: why do all ships carry lifeboats?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

6—When will we realize that our education system is not failing? Yes, it's failing to give our children the education they need and deserve. But the education system itself is the strongest institution in America. And here's why:

Just today, President Obama announced that no more than 2 percent of classroom time should be spent on standardized testing. He and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be meeting with teachers to see how they can cut down on testing time. For the last seven years, Arne Duncan's Race to the Top has taken the failures of testing resulting from No Child Left Behind to new lows. In another decade, we will be reviewing the failures of the Common Core and lamenting the devastation of public education by the charter school movement.

Since the National Defense Education Act of 1958, one ineffectual reform after the other has gone tearing through through the halls of American public education like Mr. Toad on his wild ride.For a brief history of the craziness of education reform going back to the fifties, check out my website. Begin here with current reform, and check out the menu for the history and other observations on reform.

The bottom line regarding all education reform is that it's crafted by think tankers, bureaucrats, and politicians in offices where children rarely go. The policies they write are based more on expediency and academic fad than on the welfare of children. More recently the wealthy such as Eli Broad, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are on the scene. Their efforts are experimental and lacking any sort of plan for comprehensive reform effort that will address the damage done to public education by decades of ineffectual reforms.

Our education system is not failing. Yes, it's failing to give all our children the education they need and deserve. But the education system is the strongest institution in the nation. Why? Because no one has ever been held accountable for turning our public schools into stagnant learning environments where success is defined by mission statements and test scores. And because, year after year, we keep sending our children to these schools that we know are academically inferior but are becoming increasingly dangerous. In short, we're doing exactly what we've been taught to do in school—which is to sit down, keep quiet, and do whatever it takes to get the grade.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

5—Whoever decided that nations or people could own a piece of the Earth that they didn't create and therefore have no right to except through domination by force and the illusion of law?

Check out the website True Activist for a variety of constructive and informative articles about life in our strange times. Take, for example, item that especially caught my eye described how locals are using the US-Mexican border fence as a volleyball net for promoting peace.

Property. Property rights.

From Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land": On the Wikipedia site for Woody is a first draft of the song, originally titled "God Blessed America." But the songwriter changed his mind, and the revision of the fourth verse of his well-known creation says a lot:

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn't say nothing —
God blessed America for me.
[This land was made for you and me.]

In 1949, Aldo Leopold wrote in "The Land Ethic" that while we preach the importance of the Golden Rule, our concept of love and community do not extend to the land. This remains true today, even though schoolchildren are taught about the interdependence of life in the natural world:

"Do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species."

Leopold goes on to say that the conqueror will eventually defeat himself:

"Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves."

By contrast, this Lakota prayer:
"To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.

To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.

To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.

To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.

To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.

To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages. I thank you.

To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.

You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.
Thank you for this Life." 

Monday, October 12, 2015

4—What might we see if animals could hold up a mirror to human behavior as they often experience it?

"Some animals may find this disturbing,"warns Rémi Gaillard's video at the outset. We are then treated to Gaillard's prankster video that shows what kind of foolish and tawdry exploitation might occur if human and animal roles were reversed. The video satire called Human World made me an instant fan of Rémi Gaillard.
From Rémi Gaillard's "Dog"(YouTube)

Reflecting on the lack of respect toward animals so rampant in our culture always brings to mind a little known book called Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress published by Henry Stephens Salt back in 1893. A remarkable man, Salt was a pacifist, humanitarian, vegetarian, social reformer, conservationist, and, though from England, the first biographer of Henry David Thoreau.

For all his convictions, he was not a stuffed shirt as we see in his verse:
A Lover of Animals
Oh, yes! you love them well, I know!
But whisper me—when most?
“In fields, at summer-time.” Not so:
At supper-time—in roast.

Henry Salt (1850-1939)
I learned about Henry Salt from a more recent book by Roderick Frazier Nash called The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics. Salt and other animal rights activists back in the nineteenth center saw their cause as one with the Abolitionists. Later, they linked the rights of animals to the rights of women during the suffragette movement. While Henry Salt's book went out of print long ago, it's available at Amazon through a publishing outfit called Forgotten Books

Salt's insights are simple, yet profound. To the charge that animal rights activists are sentimentalists, he wrote, "the only real safeguard against sentimentality is to take up a consistent position towards the rights of men and of the lower animals alike, and to cultivate a broad sense of human justice (not 'mercy') for all living things. Herein, and herein alone, is to be sought the true sanity of temperament."

Salt goes on to explain why the rights of men and women should not be viewed as any different from the rights of animals: " 'It is only by a wide and disinterested study of both subjects that a solution of either is possible. 'For he who loves all animated nature,' says Porphyry, 'will not hate any one tribe of innocent beings, and by how much greater his love for the whole, by so much more will he cultivate justice towards a part of them, and that part to which he is most allied.' "

Click to learn more Henry Salt's Creed of Kinship and learn more about this fascinating reformer praised by Gandhi.

(Bonus video by Gaillard: "Dog"

Thursday, October 8, 2015

3—Politicians love to tell us America is the standard bearer of freedom and human rights in the world. So why is our entire well being as a people dependent on a financial system in which it is difficult to determine the difference between bad judgment and policies based on ambition and greed?

Yesterday, Ben Bernanke, Chair of the Federal Reserve during the 2008 financial crisis, was talking to Charlie Rose about those dark days when it seemed that our entire financial system might collapse.
Well, actually, he was pushing his new book, The Courage to Act.

Ben told Charlie how he, Hank Paulson, and Timothy Geithner worked to save Wall Street in order to save Main Street. Hank apparently regrets his inability to convey this noble goal more clearly to those of us who remain resentful of the massive bailout that has enabled financial firms to continue their malpractice.

Ben stressed the fact that had the financial system failed, it would have taken the world with it. No doubt.

When Charlie asked Ben about his statement that someone should have gone to jail, the savior of the financial system insisted he never said that. What he did say—he explained in carefully and haltingly chosen words—was that it would have perhaps been a good idea if more investigation had been done to determine if people made bad judgments or behaved with criminal intent. It's a fine line, he said.

Or more specifically, Ben, I thought America is the standard bearer of freedom and human rights in the world. So why is our entire well being as a people dependent on a financial system in which it is difficult to determine the difference between bad judgment and policies based on ambition and greed?

Monday, October 5, 2015

2—Even beyond the epidemic of mass shootings, what is the real danger of guns in our culture?

On Saturday night, I decided on the spur of the moment to drive into town to see The Martian. As I walked into the theater, I thought, well, I hope this movie is good enough to risk getting shot by a mass murderer. After settling into my seat, I wondered how many people in the crowded theater were carrying concealed weapons. The thought of this didn't comfort me as I imagined guns being fired from five or six directions.

Back in my days as a teacher in Las Vegas, life became unsettling with the growing number of guns and the constant threat of gang violence permeated the school. I decided to take up the offer of a local gun shop for free shooting lessons—not because I wanted to own a gun but because I wanted to understand what shooting a gun felt like. Just six years before, I'd gotten to know the students by listening to their music and going to a couple music events. Times had changed. Now their lives were defined increasingly by violence—even the nonviolent. Also at that time, I was writing Home of the Wildcats and had been interviewing many students including one of my eleventh-grade drug dealers on house arrest who described how easy it was to get guns and that if I ever needed one, he could get me a small terrain tank. 

Anyway, the gun shop owner gave me the wrong date when I signed up. So to make up for the inconvenience, his instructor gave me a private lesson in addition to the class. As it turned out, my martial arts training made me remarkably steady and focused and therefore a highly accurate shooter. The teacher would then move a life-sized paper figure up and down the indoor shooting range. As it moved forward, I was supposed to yell the warning, "Stop. I have a gun." If the target retreated, I didn't shoot. If it did, I shot non stop until the paper dude stopped. And as I unloaded the handgun into the paper target, an adrenaline rush flooded away all the words of Gandhi and Thoreau to which I aspired and filled me with the worst version of myself. When it was all over, I'd shot the paper dude 22 times in the heart and 12 times in the head with a scattering of holes through his various body parts. Highly impressed, the instructor gave me the target to take home as a souvenir.

Following the class itself, all five students got certificates and the right to buy a gun. One of my classmates was a little white-haired grandmother in a pink sweatsuit who wanted a gun so she could "shoot snakes in the night" while she and her husband were camping. She also wanted a gun in her car so she could protect herself against "suspicious people." 

More recently, I know of a delightful five-year-old girl who took great interest in keeping a journal about her ladybug farm and asked very philosophical questions about death following the departure of a family friend. She enjoys meeting new people, loves dressing up in outlandish and colorful costumes, cannot get enough of reading, and, emulating the love of her parents, is a thoughtful and caring big sister. Then out of the blue one day, she announced that she wanted to buy a gun.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

1—If we look at our culture of violence, would the reasons for "senseless tragedy" of mass shootings become clearer?

45 school shootings in America thus far in 2015. 
142 since Sandy Hook in December 2012.
It's too easy to say that guns don't kill people; people kill people. Could it be that our culture's obsession with guns and our glorification of violence is killing people? Gun violence is everywhere—movies, TV, the media. Something or someone is getting blown up or away every time you turn around. It's difficult to tell the real from the fictional. 

Politicians allow themselves to be bullied by gun lobbyists—and once in office promote themselves through divisive rhetoric about the need to bear arms. 

Parents who have lost children to gun violence are left standing at the doors of Congress—the voice of the Movie Moses echoing all around them: "From My Cold Dead Hands." Mass killers continue to get days of media coverage. Yet, the media wasn't allowed to show the thousands of flag-draped caskets of soldiers lost to wars waged more on bravado that truth. 

Then there are all those pictures that show hunters smiling over dead animals—celebrating a kill. 

And let's not forget the more subtle kind of violence inflicted on children by continuing to glorify football in the light of all the facts about brain injury. Beating the crap out of your opponent on the football field has become so much a part of our culture that we focus on making helmets better instead of stepping in to protect the future brain health of our children. 

In light of these attitudes, the so-called mass shootings are not "senseless." It makes tragic but perfect sense that a culture such ours sends a very clear message to the fragile and powerless that guns are a handy answer.