“My Grandfather Had a Life”

This essay will turn eight years old next week.  In the age of constant bombardment by media content, we’re lucky to remember anything specific from last week, but I think about this one essay all the time.  It is that important.

My title comes from this quote: “My grandfather was born in 1888 and he didn’t have a lifestyle. He didn’t need one: he had a life.”

Among the many other great parts:

I suspect that my grandfather’s life was real in a sense that my father’s life hasn’t quite been, and my life is not at all.
The crucial difference is my grandfather’s lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is a hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, occasionally aware that the life that exists only to be examined is barely manageable; barely, indeed, a life.

Note that the article ends with some very sane–and therefore radical–truths about adulthood.

Required reading.

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Students as Winners and Losers

I still believe that every student can be a winner.  A winner is someone who shows up every day and works hard, caring about achieving results, even if they don’t often succeed.  You can get Cs and still be a winner.

But too many of you are comfortable being a loser.  Being a loser has nothing to do with talent or even results: it has to do with maturity as evinced by discipline and effort.

Some of you may think it’s rude to label someone as a loser, but I know that honesty can be a higher virtue than immediate kindness.  It’s a sign of a greater caring, a devotion to guiding you to success, even when you don’t care enough to improve.

This truth leads to even more important truths: being a loser is a bad thing.  It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does make you a bad student, and being a bad student isn’t good.  If you have chosen to be a loser, you should feel bad about that.  You should want to change it and be a winner.

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Social and Political QUOTES: January 2014

 

  • “Fatherless families were also at least partly responsible for a national breakdown in authority and rising levels of crime. My view was backed in 1992 when three influential social scientists with impeccable Left-wing pedigrees produced a damning report.  From their research, they concluded that children in fractured families tend to suffer more ill-health, do less well at school, are more likely to be unemployed, more prone to criminal behaviour and to repeat as adults the same cycle of unstable parenting. But instead of welcoming this analysis as identifying a real problem, the Left turned on the authors, branding them as evil Right-wingers for being ‘against single mothers’.”  Melanie Philips, “Why the Left hates families: MELANIE PHIILLIPS reveals how the selfish sneers of Guardianistas made her see how the Left actively fosters – and revels in – family breakdown…

 

  • “I have been told that being hard on you Millennials will turn you against conservatism, that I should offer you a positive, hopeful message that avoids the touchy problem of your manifest stupidity.  No. There’s no sugar-coating it – your votes for Democrats have ensured that you are the first generation in American history that will fail to exceed what their parents attained. Embracing liberalism was a stupid thing to do, done for the stupidest of reasons, and I will now let you subsidize my affluent lifestyle without a shred of guilt.”  Kurt Schlichter, “Maybe Pain Will Teach You Millenials Not To Vote For Your Own Serfdom

“There’s No Such Thing As Normal!”

In my years of teaching, perhaps no pop-culture cliché has annoyed me as much as this.  I’ve heard dozens of earnest, zealous teens announce this one with a look of holy glee on their faces, ecstatic at the chance to show off how well they’ve internalized this bit of media indoctrination.

Whenever this line gets repeated, I, in my role as a teacher of the English language, feel compelled to address the error:

Me: “Yes, there is.  It’s in the dictionary.  Look under ‘N.'”

Teen: “But it doesn’t mean anything.  There’s no such thing as normal!”

Me: “Since you won’t look it up, or consider my point, I’ll walk you through this.   Continue reading

A Plea For Civility About Same-Sex Marriage

The video is a shorter version of this script:

The most common assumption today is that if someone doesn’t agree with changing the definition of marriage to include gay couples, it’s because they’re ignorant and hate gay people.  That’s wrong.  So assuming that someone who disagrees with you must be evil and stupid does not help make the world a better place.  It’s divisive and cruel.  It’s also an ad hominem attack and a straw man argument that should be beneath all of us.  I’m not going to make the case for traditional marriage here.  There’s something basic that needs to be done first.

I want to make five main points today:

First: Society doesn’t work well when we misrepresent people we disagree with.  We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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A Lack of Failure In Schools

Some current received wisdom: failure is good for us because it’s a strong teacher, and American kids today don’t get to experience it enough because they’re bubble-wrapped through life.

Both ideas have a lot of truth to them, but there’s another that needs to get out there, too:

American kids do still experience failure–constantly–but it’s been completely neutered.

Young people don’t fear failure, nor do they learn from it, though many of them will fail test after test, class after class, all the way through their school career.

Why?  Because what happens after those failures?  Increased practice?  Shame?  Loss of privileges?

Nope.  Nothing.  After the vast majority of daily school failures in this country, for the average teenager, life will proceed normally, as if nothing bad had happened at all.

We, as parents and school personnel, not only don’t hold their feet to the fire, we actively intervene to soften the natural consequences of failure.

In a climate like that, how could students possibly be expected to learn anything about academics, much less life?  Where’s the incentive?

If anything, they learn that failure is harmless and that hard work is pointless.  These lessons would prove terrifying in the real world if the real world itself weren’t increasingly so bent on maintaining that status quo…

 

U2’s Best MLK Tribute

With MLK Day a week away, here’s an earlier version of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” than the one most know.  The first half sounds pretty much the same, but in the second half, you’ll notice that the track is extended, and Bono’s voice is even more passionate: he lets loose with an exuberant praise so unrestrained, his voice is audibly shredded raw by the end.

This holiday could use some of that passion.  Due in part to the rise of politicized tribalism, and all the myopia that engenders, Martin Luther King Day has long since become a staid formality.

Its celebration has about as much to do with the life and work of Dr. King as the celebration of Christmas has to do with Jesus Christ–the presence of the true meaning is nominal, at best, replaced by a simplified, commercialized, mainstreamed version, bland enough to suit the times, with just enough empty inspiration in it to give us some cheap, warm fuzzies without actually making us examine ourselves and change anything.

Christmas Without Christ

santa-kneeling-to-JesusChristmas without Christ

is like

vacations without work

or

sex without marriage

or

entertainment without edification

or

dessert without nourishment

or

diplomas without learning

or

citizenship without patriotism

or…

 

Well, you get the idea.  There’s nothing wrong with the first part of each pair, but when taken without the second part, we only get a shallower version of it.  These pairs naturally come together, and when they do, the experience is far deeper and richer than when we try to just have the easy, fun stuff.

The tendency to claim the first part without the second is, ultimately, ignoring of the full value of the first part, rejecting the second part entirely, and a sad commentary on the short-sighted immaturity of the world.

Where Did All Your New Money Come From?

Last year I read this article about the many standard devices that are combined into a smartphone, and I considered getting one.  As I shopped around, though, a scary fact slapped me–while the initial cost of a phone could be reckoned with, the monthly fees would be impossible.

Articles such as here, here, and here tell me that most of you out there with smartphones are dropping about a hundred bucks a month to use those things.

So how is everybody affording this?  Whenever our water or power bills go up five bucks a month, we all complain about it until we’re blue in the face.  Riots practically ensue any time gas prices inch up a penny or two.

And yet, sometime in the last several years, as smartphones have become as common as ripped jeans, Starbucks cups, and lower back tattoos, the average American just happened to find an extra hundred dollars a month to spend, in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years?

Where the heck is all this new money coming from? Where was it before you had a smartphone and you were barely making ends meet?

I want answers on this because, without someone showing me the way that the rest of you are making this work, I have to assume the obvious–that millions of you are ignoring your budgets and sinking yourselves into debt each month so you can have the coolness and convenience of the fancy gadget that all the other kids have.

Irrational Anti-Christian Hatred Is Real

Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay.  Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective.  Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.

But not many of them.  Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies.  One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example.  Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems.  One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”

I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.

But wait, belief systems?  They wrote that they want to ban belief systems?  Yes.  The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them.  By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:

“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him.  Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too.  Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.” 

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I Support the 1%

I am a public school teacher, but I choose not to hate or envy those whose hard work and innovation have brought them greater wealth than I have.  They have taken nothing from me.  My life is the result of my choices.  Each of us is responsible for dealing with and improving our own circumstances.

My house is only worth 1/3 of what I’m paying for it, but I will not scapegoat a small group of people whose work is related to New York’s financial district.  I will not associate the illegal malfeasance of a very few with the wealthy population in general–such prejudiced thinking has always led to atrocities.  Many of our country’s economic problems were caused by the reckless buying and poor preparation among us in the middle class, anyway.  It’s time we grew up and admitted it.

I’ve had difficulty paying bills on time and providing for my family, but I do not feel entitled to demand that wealthier people are obligated to bail me out.  This is a free country, and we believe in private property.

I have had student loans in the five figures.  I paid them off by budgeting and sacrificing.  Nobody forced me to take out those loans, and nobody else was responsible for paying them back.

I pay no income taxes, yet I benefit from public services.  I will not have the gall to impose upon the wealthy a convenient vision of what they “must” provide for others.  There is no such thing as an objective “fair share.”

I am the 99%, but I support the 1%.

Sexy Ribs?

Here is a screen shot from an article posted on the Las Vegas Sun web site on Monday.  It’s a picture of beauty contest winners.  Notice how skinny they are.  These girls aren’t just thin, they’re practically skeletal. 

Picking on the appearance of small women can be just as hurtful as insulting larger women, but I have to wonder if the physiques of the women in this picture are natural.  The one in the middle looks so anorexic that I’m honestly worried about her.  All five of them have their ribs sticking out quite prominently, but this poor lady almost looks like she’s sick. 

They won a beauty contest?  Their faces are all pretty, sure, but I can’t imagine how much punishment they must have put themselves through to emaciate their bodies so much.  Call me crazy, but my vision of female beauty includes curves, substance, and health. 

 

“Come As You Are”

A story at First Thoughts this week about people wearing Hooters t-shirts to mass stirred a debate in the comments section: should or shouldn’t people come to church dressed however they want?  There were some strong words on both sides.

A few miles from my house is one of those huge non-denominational fellowship churches.  It looks like a nice place that does good for people.  They have a big sign outside with a picture of casually dressed people, and it reads, “Come as you are!”  Of course, the models in the picture are dressed in professional-models-at-work casual (polos, solid colored t-shirts, new jeans, etc.), not real life causal (stained wife beaters, torn sweat pants, Hooters t-shirts). 

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The Biggest Way In Which We Fail Students

As an elementary school student, a teacher once told me, very politely and apologetically, that I couldn’t have something reasonable that I wanted in class because that would mean that other students would be entitled to the same thing, which would be bad for the class.  I’ve long since forgotten exactly what the situation was, but I remember the lesson–sometimes, things which might be justified must be denied because of the precedent that would be set. 

In high school, a science teacher once scheduled an activity important to the class at the same time that another important activity was scheduled for a popular student club.  Students couldn’t do both, yet both activities were good and valuable, and many students went into a tizzy, asking the teacher to change the day and time of his activity.  He declined, explaining that the real world does not rearrange itself so that people can get to do every worthwhile thing they want to do–priorities must be set, and sacrifices must be made. 

He was absolutely right.  That was a crucial life lesson. 

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