Monday, May 20, 2013

What One Student Rant by Jeff Bliss Doesn't Tell Us

IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE NEWS REPORT AND VIDEO of Jeff Bliss going off on the teacher in his World History class, you should check out the link.

The “in-depth analysis” by Channel WFAA fills up two minutes and forty-one seconds of valuable air time. More than 3.8 million people have watched it. Thousands have felt a strange urge to comment. The actual rant lasts only ninety seconds. You can see the original on YouTube. It’s listed under the title: “Jeff Bliss Rant against Lazy Teacher.”

And here’s what’s so cool.

All you need to do is invest a snippet of time. Once you finish you know all you need to know about U.S. education. You can be a school critic! That’s what many who enjoy this brief glimpse of life in one Texas classroom decide.

On one of the videos the “top comment” was: “That teacher ought to be fired.” It had 85 “likes” and no “dislikes” at all.

I added the first.

As a former educator, I admit I watched the video and perused comments with a bit of a bias. I noticed, for example, that many newly-minted experts seemed minimally grounded in logic and reality. If anything, I felt bad because maybe schools aren’t doing a good job teaching critical thinking.

When I clicked on the “Lazy Teacher” video, for example, there were already 3,300 comments. Clearly, not all who felt compelled to start typing spent as much time cogitating as they did whacking the keyboard with abandon  (click on the picture below to enlarge):

Don’t you love the internet—a place where ignorant individuals can call other human beings “niggerdumb” and make informed judgments about all the black kids in class “there for the easy ride” and “not learning jack shit.” And you can somehow tell a teacher is a “fucking fat feminist” and not even realize who really, really, sounds dumb?

It’s bad enough you get this kind of thinking from fools who comment via YouTube. But the Bliss clip has been featured on Fox News.

(Motto: We Hate Unionized Teachers—You Should Hate Them, Too!)

Again, we are dealing with ninety seconds of video, in one classroom, an incident involving one teacher and one student. We have not heard the teacher’s explanation and if we rely on Fox News we never will.

Logically, then, we can’t draw broad conclusions. Nevertheless, many of the Fox Faithful do (although not all are sympathetic to Mr. Bliss and his predicament):

Donna Ramsey Bowen: The Unions have ruined our schools....among other things. Unions were great when they were started. Now, they hurt more than they help. Teachers are a good example of that. Teachers do not actually have to "teach" any longer and they cannot be fired because the Unions have all these regulations the school must follow first. Most Unions require someone to get in trouble at least 3 times - and it has to be for the Exact same thing - before they can be fired

Betty Shelton: Teachers have gotten lazy over the last 30 years. That is why kids can't read at grade level. And End of Grade Or End Of Course test are ignored and child is passed to the next grade or gradeuated.

Mary Long: Right ON! This is why we have nothing but Illiteracy in this country...Teachers care about their pay, not the students. Public Education needs to GO AWAY! We have a PATHETIC work force with Teachers and Unions across the board....All about the money....NO QUALITY in Education.

Debi Krupna Mielach: LOVE this kid!!! More passion in that short clip than that teacher probably showed in the entire school year. God bless you, Mr. Bliss. Don't lose your fire!

Here, I am thinking to myself. I am wondering how Debi sees through walls into other rooms and around corners, etc. I am thinking I’d like to be able to ask: “Ms. Mielach, if I have a video of you sitting on the toilet for ninety seconds does that prove you have been seated on the toilet all year?

That’s what, logically, I am thinking. Many other commentators are apparently typing as fast as they can. This is much faster than they can think:

Arlene Parson: This kid has a future as a motivational speaker at a teacher's convention. Keep it up Mr. Bliss.

Josh Stringer: I hope she gets fired. She was only doing the minimum to get a paycheck. Most places I know you would get fired unless you work at mcdonalds.

Sean Denaris: Listen to the teacher sounds so bored. Likely class taught the same way. Wish more people would stand up.

Beth McKenna Wade: Kudos to this kid... Sadly "teachers" like this are common place in alot of our schools these days!!

Jason Robertson: paid leave? for get that you don't work you don't get paid. I can not stand unions they have screwed up my childhood, rrrrrr and who pays to have a teacher that is not working

(Okay, now we know that the Fox Message has been sinking in to plenty of otherwise empty heads. Unions are terrible. Union members are bums.)

I decide if I’m going to comment, I should know more. I watch several interviews. There are plenty. All feature Mr. Bliss. None allow us to hear from the teacher. Her name is Julie Phung.

Jeff Bliss comments on an incident at Duncanville High School in Texas.

Here’s what I notice:

1. During the original rant the rest of the class appears to be working.

2. Say what you want about the young man's message, his rant eats up ninety seconds of education for every other kid in the room.

3. Bliss is far angrier than the teacher—and if her responses seem tepid we cannot know how much she cares about teaching. (If you are a teacher you don’t want to have this sort of situation escalate. You want the student to exit the room quickly and you want the rest of the kids to remain on task.)

4. Most of the Bliss interviews cut off the last part of the rant. If Bliss sounds eloquent in spots he sounds belligerent at the end. Again, we don’t know what sentiments motivate him.

5. What precipitated this incident? At some point Phung told him to “stop bitchin’.” It’s an inelegant choice of words but in a high school not something kids and teachers don’t hear every day.

6. Apparently, Bliss wanted to know why his class hadn’t had more time to prepare for the STAR test, the Texas standardized tests. These are the kinds of tests good teachers hate, the kind most feel are making education worse. Bliss is angry because his instructor keeps handing out packets. All I know is that in my final year in the classroom that’s what we were ordered to do. Keep using those packets, specially prepared by the State of Ohio (in my case), because we must raise test scores!

I HATE TO BREAK IT TO THE CRITICS, to young Bliss, or school reformers, but you don’t measure “inspiration” with standardized testing.

I still have an abiding interest in the future of American education. So I watch several more interviews. Not a peep from Ms. Phung. I only hear what Bliss thinks. I discover that he is an 18-year-old sophomore. By admission, he has failed once, during his freshman year. Based on age, I assume he has been held back twice.

He started ninth grade a second time, lasted a semester, and dropped out.

Was Bliss previously a terrible student? Did he have attendance problems? Were there substance abuse issues? Problems in the home? How is he doing now in other classes? Has he truly turned his life around? Is he working diligently? Or, is he a troublemaker and a loose cannon? From the evidence we possess we don’t know.

We do know Bliss is back in school. That speaks greatly to his credit.

I spend ten minutes watching the “Jeff Bliss’ Interview on Fox4.” I find myself liking some of what he says. His mother sounds nice and doesn’t want the teacher fired. I notice that there is no mention of a father in any story.

I come away from this excursion into the world of YouTube and Facebook commentary still not feeling like I can make any judgments.

Well, except one.

I have noticed in recent years that bashing public school teachers and making wild claims—that America’s public schools are failing—all failing—and all failing because of unions—has now become a right-wing sport.

The only definitive statement I will make is that people who make broad generalizations based on limited evidence are ignorant. It’s like convicting someone of a murder that took place in Dallas because at the time the “suspect” was, in fact, a human being living in Texas.

I’m amazed by how many unenlightened individuals feel they can judge Ms. Phung after ninety seconds. Then:  they compound their error by using one erroneous conclusion as foundation for another.

SOMEONE IN THIS COUNTRY NEEDS TO SPEAK UP for all the good teachers. For all we know, Ms. Phung may even be one.

P. S. Let us wish Mr. Bliss great success in all his future educational endeavors.


IF YOU LIKE THIS you might like my book: Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching, available now on Amazon

Monday, May 6, 2013

Emperor of A, B, C and D.

TO MAKE THE CASE AGAINST STANDARDIZED TESTING let me write as if I were still teaching today.

Imagine that I am in my thirty-third year in the classroom. Lately, all I hear is that my primary purpose is to “teach to the test.”

I am a veteran teacher, however. There is a right way to teach and a wrong way to teach. And I don’t want to be Emperor of A, B, C and D.

I want to teach.

I am a veteran educator. That means I tend to be skeptical because I’ve been around. When I first took a spot at the  front of the classroom there were no standardized tests. Somehow I managed. I set my own very high standards. It was not until the late 80’s that Ohio and other states implemented the first big batteries of these kinds of tests.

State tests produced limited fruit in the 90’s. (Remember: I was there.) In 2002 those tests were replaced with new tests in response to No Child Left Behind. In Ohio one of the tests at the eighth grade level covered social studies, my area of expertise.

My colleagues and I devoted hundreds of hours to preparing to teach to this test. It was phased in slowly and died abruptly. When the social-studies sub-test proved hopelessly flawed the State of Ohio killed off its own child in 2009.

Now, in 2013 (for this example), my principal is harping on the idea that we must focus on a new set of standards tied to the Common Core Curriculum. I am a veteran teacher. I am skeptical. I doubt these “core” standards will make any real difference.


I am also a grumbler, especially when bureaucrats interfere with teachers. I grumble with friends at lunch. “I already know which students are meeting my high standards,” I inform colleagues seated at a table in the lounge.

“You know how I ‘measure?’”

“It’s called ‘grading,’ I think,” replies our resident staff comedian.

We all enjoy a laugh; but inside we are dying. Unfortunately—and I use that word with clear intent—we are dedicated teachers. We want students to learn as much as possible. In an era of standardized learning that can be dangerous to any educator.

I have spent my entire career on the prowl for good material to use in my classes. This is one of my strengths, this willingness to pursue knowledge. I feel it in my bones—that this pursuit never ends—and see it as my primary goal to fire pupils with a love of learning.

My strengths are not standardized.

Twenty-five years ago, at the dawn of The Age of the Testing, I stumbled upon a collection of poems by Langston Hughes. I don’t know if other social studies teachers have read them. I doubt bureaucrats who drew up the new standards bothered.

Yet, I know one poem is especially moving. Each year I use it as part of a unit on the Era of Reconstruction (1865-1877):


Colored child at carnival

Where is the Jim Crow section 
On this merry-go-round, 
Mister, cause I want to ride? 

Down South where I come from
White and colored 
Can’t sit side by side. 

Down South on the train 
There’s a Jim Crow car. 
On the bus we’re put in the back— 

But there ain’t no back 
To a merry-go-round! 

Where’s the horse 
For a kid that’s black? 

The question today is not whether this poem is good nor whether it engages students. The question is:  Will this be on the standardized test?

(It will not.)

I decide to use it anyway. The day we use it I ask 150 teens to answer two questions (see below). I do this because I know my students will fill the classroom with creative comment. I use “Merry-Go-Round” because I know true learning comes in a thousand disguises:

1. Why do you think Hughes chose a child as focus for this poem?

2. What do you think the poet was trying to say about Jim Crow segregation by using a merry-go-round?

EVEN BEFORE WE START THIS NEW UNIT here is something else I know—because I am a veteran teacher—because I have eyes, ears and a nose. I know that adults in this country have no real knowledge of the Reconstruction Era.

To put it plainly, students won’t need to remember much from this era of our nation’s history. If they don’t know why President Andrew Johnson was impeached they’ll survive.

Before we start the unit I study the manual of standards the State of Ohio went to great trouble to develop. For purposes of this example, I refer to the standards from 2008, the year I retired. (Remember, this whole set of standards went into the dumpster.)

First, I know that these standards were drawn up by functionaries in Columbus, Ohio and pushed for by bureaucrats in Washington, D. C.

I know that none of these people have ever tried to engage a room filled with teens. Here is all the guidance they offer:
INDICATOR 11: Analyze the consequences of Reconstruction with emphasis on:

A. President Lincoln’s assassination and the ensuing struggle for control of Reconstruction, including the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.
B. Attempts to protect the rights of and enhance opportunities for the freedmen, including the basic provisions of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution.
C. The Ku Klux Klan and the enactment of the black codes.

That’s it for the vaunted state standards. So, what exactly do I teach? What do the bureaucrats want my students to know?

Here’s the problem. We are expected to teach to a test that includes only fifty questions. (The social studies test used in Ohio from 2003 to 2009 covered three years of material in that many questions.) So, there’s no way a standardized test will include more than two items from the Reconstruction period. There’s a fair chance there will be none.

I don’t want to look for the single question in the academic haystack. I don’t have any desire to be Emperor of A, B, C and D.

I don’t believe learning can be boiled down to a few paltry multiple-choice questions.

Now I know that unless a person is named or a document  mentioned or a term highlighted in the standardized curriculum those names and concepts cannot be turned into questions when it’s time for the test.

I look at the crappy standards provided. Langston Hughes isn’t mentioned.

What about John Wilkes Booth? His name is also missing. So, should I really expect students to know who he was? Every time an assassination occurs in this country it leads to comparisons, and people bring up Booth and Abraham Lincoln (or Lee Harvey Oswald and John F. Kennedy).

I notice that the standards also fail to mention the term “Jim Crow.” This concerns be because I read history for a living and almost no one today mentions “black codes.” Instead, those who wish to discuss race use the term “Jim Crow” segregation or speak of the “Jim Crow” era in sports. For this reason, if I am left to follow own judgment I am going to ask my classes to know this term.

The danger is clear. Do I risk asking students to learn useful material if they won’t be tested? If I teach more than required am I ahead when it comes to standards of learning? Or do we only care about what ends up on the test?

I happen to be a decent writer. So, for years I have created my own materials. I have a reading about “Jim Crow” laws to give to students, one that includes more than seventy examples of unfair laws.

I understand, of course, that none of my teens will ever need to know seventy examples. But the cumulative impact of all the limitations makes a deep impression on my classes.

You can’t measure emotional impact in A’s and B’s and C’s. You can use all the letters in the alphabet. You can’t do it.

The day to begin the unit arrives—and I ask my classes to list five ways blacks and whites were legally separated. This sparks quick interest and just about everyone throws up a hand. I know, from spending years in a classroom, that my kids will almost always end up giving the same handful of examples. These are:


My problem is that I want to go deeper. I want to set high standards. I want my students—almost all of whom happen to be white—to grasp the depth and breadth of the racial divide that once existed in this country.

That’s where my handout enters the picture. The title is taken from an article by I. F. Stone, “A Twilight between Liberty and Freedom.”

The story opens:
The sad era of “Jim Crow” began officially in 1887. Florida started the process by ordering the separation of black and white passengers on railroads. Mississippi copied the idea, adding “Colored” and “White Only” waiting rooms. Other Southern states fell in line. But most made one exception: if a black nursemaid was caring for a white baby. Soon states like Alabama and Georgia had separate homes for the deaf, blind, and mentally ill. The races were divided in prisons and on chain gangs. By 1890 Jackson, Mississippi had instituted “Jim Crow” rules in city cemeteries.

“Think about it,” I say to my classes. “You’re blind! Isn’t everyone black if you’re blind?” I close my eyes and do a pantomime of a sightless person searching for a Negro.

I always put my hands on some student’s head and ask, “Are you black, because if you are, I don’t like you!”

This always gets a laugh.

“What about cemeteries?” I add. “Do any of you think you might care who ends up buried next to you?” The kids laugh again and I know they are laughing at the idea of segregation. I believe they are seeing inequality as a mockery of what we say we stand for in this country.

The reading continues:
After 1915, Oklahoma required “separate phone booths for white and colored patrons [customers].” South Carolina factory workers were paid at different windows, used different stairways and could not use the same “drinking water buckets, cups, dippers or glasses.” In a move of stunning stupidity, Birmingham, Alabama made it “unlawful for a Negro and a white person to play together” at dominoes.

Checkers was also forbidden!

In a police-officer-like voice I shout, “Drop the checkers and come out with your hands up!”

To teens (who tend to be naturally fair-minded) it seems unfathomable anyone ever thought such laws were necessary.

I don’t want to blame the South only. So we turn to examples from the North where my own grandfather insisted on “Jim Crow” seating in his theaters in Akron, Ohio. I take time to relate a story once told me by an elderly black gentleman, about how black folk had to sit in the balcony, and how hard it was to resist the temptation to throw peanuts at the white folks below.

Then we keep reading:
The list of rules was as long as human imagination is twisted…Blood banks kept Negro blood on different shelves. “Public libraries” in the South denied blacks the right to check out books! Southern gas stations had three bathrooms. One was for “WHITE MEN,” one for “WHITE WOMEN.”

A third was marked “COLORED.”

During most of my career, Loveland, where I taught, had a single black teacher. I use him as an example. Both of us were born in 1949, I explain. “If Mr. Battle’s family pulled up to the same gas station as the Viall family, the Battles can’t go at the same time. Members have to take turns.”

“Think of how your mother would feel,” I add. You make it personal and every kid understands.

At this point, there are a hundred directions you can take. All involve learning. In 2013, one of the kids is sure to bring up gays when talk turns to discrimination. So we discuss that as long as it holds kids’ interest. Since the topic is controversial, I let students argue out their own ideas, adding very little input. Eventually, we spend part of a day going over the Hughes’ poem. For homework I ask students to draw a picture to show how “Jim Crow” laws made it hard for blacks to live full lives as citizens. An artistic young man in my fifth bell class draws a checkerboard seen from above. A white hand is holding a red piece, ready to jump. A black hand rests idly at the other side of the board.

Every year we discuss the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments as required. In addition, I ask students to do a reading from Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. I believe his efforts to educate himself and other freed slaves are inspirational, even if you can’t measure inspiration on a test.

(Examples provided in an auxiliary post.)

Normally, I include a few details about discrimination directed towards Japanese-Americans after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. My students love the story of Daniel Inouye, a Japanese-American war hero. So I tell it every year—because it works.

(See auxiliary post.)

TO BE HONEST, I HAVE NO DESIRE to be Emperor of A, B, C and D.

I want to lead students in a thousand directions. So:  we discuss the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia. That’s the 1967 case that put an end to state laws against interracial marriage. You don’t see it in the standards, but I throw out the word “lynching” and expect my kids to know the definition. I show them several harrowing pictures. (See auxiliary post.) One victim is chained to a tree and twisted in death agonies. The poor fellow has been killed when a mob uses a blow torch to heat up the heavy chain. Another victim, neck broken, head twisted sideways, is Leo Frank, a Jew lynched for his “crimes” in Georgia in 1915.

Even in America, students should realize that discrimination based on religion has been common. That means, of course, that the subject of anti-Muslim feelings in the United States after 9/11 may come up if we choose to examine it.

Naturally, we talk about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. And because I once read Crusade for Justice, the autobiography of Ida Wells, I may throw out her story. Wells was tossed from a train in 1883 after adamantly refusing to give up a seat in the “Whites Only” car and retreat to the “Colored” car in timely fashion. She had to be pried out of her place, but put up a hell of a fight before a conductor and two white gentlemen could subdue her. In the end, however, they dragged the African American educator off the car and deposited her by the side of the tracks miles from her destination.

You see. This is how my strengths come into play—through what I bring to the classroom—why  standardized testing is crazy.

In the process of covering this topic I have managed over the years to get hundreds of students to read To Kill a Mockingbird and a significant number to read Native Son by Richard Wright, the story of a confused young black man growing up in 1920s Chicago. I read this last novel in college but I can get some teens to read it in eighth grade.

This is not how one behaves if one is content to be Emperor of A, B, C and D.

According to the State of Ohio I am supposed to focus on the Ku Klux Klan. How, exactly, and how much is the question. I know the Klan was huge, not just down South, but also in Ohio and Indiana. So I throw that out and add details, including the story of the Grand Wizard who lives on a farm not far from Loveland, and his painted barn roof along Interstate 71 (below).

Then I have students complete a reading from The Leopard’s Spots, written in 1902 by Thomas Dixon Jr. The book drips racism from every syllable and shocks modern-day students. In Dixon's world, the KKK are the heroes.

(See auxiliary post.)

Barn visible off Interstate 71, near Morrow, Ohio.
There's also a burned cross visible in the orchard.

My second year in a classroom I had three elderly Loveland women come in as guest speakers and talk about what it was like growing up in the 20s and 30s. One of the trio happened to be black and told us all about a time when she was nine and saw a cross burning high on a hill above her home. She described her terror and explained how her father and friends got shotguns and prepared to defend their families. Her pride in talking about her Dad was obvious. She spoke, too, of the old Loveland school she attended—a separate facility for black students.

You can’t measure the impact of her stories with four letters of the alphabet.

Sometimes my classes might look at the case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young blacks (ages 13-19) who were placed on trial in 1931 after supposedly raping two white Alabama women. Their trial proved to be such a farce that their convictions were appealed all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court and overturned on two separate occasions. I am familiar with this story because I did a paper on the topic in graduate school—proof again that individual teachers add value to any learning process. In fact if I am teaching in 2013, I bring up the case because the State of Alabama admitted its mistakes in the case this past April and pardoned the boys posthumously.

I don’t know.

I might even suggest to interested students that they bring parents along and meet up with me and two or three other teachers at the theater. We could see the movie “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson. It’s not what you do if all you want is to be Emperor of A, B, C and D.

It’s what you would do if you care about learning.

I don't believe in an A, B, C, D education.
I do believe in all kinds of learning.
Standardized testing is a terrible way to try to improve schools.

Emperor of A, B, C, D (Auxiliary Post)

HERE WE HAVE A SELECTION FROM A HANDOUT I WROTE, BASED ON THE BOOK UP FROM SLAVERY. Young Booker T. Washington has just traveled 500 miles to attend school for the first time at Hampton Institute. At this point in his life he is only a few years removed from a childhood spent in slavery:

After reaching school Washington went to work in more ways than one. He rose daily at 4 a.m., cleaning the school buildings to earn room and board. He was poor and remembered:
...for some time, while I was a student at Hampton, I possessed but a single pair of socks, but when I had worn these till they became soiled, I would wash them at night and hang them by the fire to dry, so that I might wear them again the next morning. 

It was at this school that he saw beds with sheets for the first time. With a touch of humor he described his confusion: 
The first night I slept under both of them, and the second night I slept on top of both of them; but by watching the other boys I learned my lesson in this, and have been trying to follow it ever since and to teach it to others. 

After finishing his education Washington began a career in teaching. This led to a job at Tuskeegee, Alabama. One of his first “school buildings” was little better than a leaky shed:
I recall that during the first months of school that I taught in this building it was in such poor repair that, whenever it rained, one of the older students would very kindly leave his lessons to hold an umbrella over me while I heard the recitations [speeches] of the others.

Washington borrowed money to fix up a hen house and other farm buildings to provide for a growing enrollment.[1]

One day an old black woman came to offer the young teacher help.
She hobbled into the room where I was, leaning on a cane. She was clad [dressed] in rags; but they were clean. She said, “Mr. Washin’ton, God knows I spent de bes’ days of my life in slavery. God knows I’s ignorant an’ poor; but,” she added, “I knows what you an’ Miss Davidson [another teacher] is tryin’ to do. I knows you is tryin’ to make better men an’ women for de coloured race. I ain’t got no money, but I wants you to take dese six eggs, what I’s been savin’ up, an’ I wants you to put dese six eggs into the eddication of dese boys an’ gals.” 

From such small beginnings, Washington built his own college, the famous Tuskeegee Institute.

Even after he became famous Mr. Washington had to walk a racial tightrope. By the time Tuskeegee was well established most Southern states had created a system of strict segregation. On a rail trip through Georgia two northern white ladies invited the college president to sit with them and talk.

Said Washington:
These good ladies were perfectly ignorant [unaware], it seems, of the customs of the South and in the goodness of their hearts insisted that I take a seat with them in their section.[2] After some hesitation I consented [agreed]. I had been there but a few minutes when one of them, without my knowledge, ordered supper to be served to the three of us. This embarrassed me still further. The car was full of white southern men most of whom had their eyes on our party. When I found that supper had been ordered, I tried to contrive [invent] some excuse that would permit me to leave the section, but the ladies insisted that I must eat with them. I finally settled back in my seat with a sigh, and said to myself, “I am in for it now, sure.”
...The meal...seemed the longest one I had ever eaten.

[1] About this time Washington remembered talking to an ex-slave, about sixty years old. He asked about his past: “He said that he had been born in Virginia, and sold into Alabama in 1845. I asked him how many were sold at the time. He said, ‘There were five of us; myself and brother and three mules.’”
[2] That is: the “white” section of the passenger car.

SOMETIMES, IN MY CLASS, WE WOULD TALK ABOUT what happened to Japanese-Americans during World War II. After Pearl Harbor was bombed a hundred thousand people were sent to relocation camps. More than 77,000 were U. S. citizens.

I would remind students, “They had the same rights as you and me.”

Given a chance, thousands of young Japanese-American men later fought under the Stars and Stripes, winning praise for their courage. I felt the story of one soldier summed it up:
Daniel Inoyue was fighting in Italy when he and his men received orders to charge a German position. Inoyue led the way forward, was shot in the stomach, and kept going. A grenade almost blew off his right arm (which was later amputated). Inoyue cut down the German who tossed the grenade, by throwing one of his own left-handed! Then a bullet hit him in the right leg. Still, he kept going, personally destroying two enemy machine guns. Twenty-five German soldiers died in the action—and Inoyue received the Distinguished Service Cross for his courage.

On his way home after the war, however, Captain Inoyue was denied a haircut in a San Francisco barbershop. In uniform, with his battle ribbons and medals clearly displayed—and his empty sleeve pinned up—he was told: WE DON’T SERVE JAPS HERE!


Inoyue was no JAP.

Neither were thousands of others imprisoned during World War II. Sadly, they were Americans, even if others refused to treat them as such.

HERE IS A TYPICAL SCENE FROM A READING BASED ON The Leopard's Spots. I used selections from this sickening book to show how prejudiced many Americans once were. Here we have a poor white girl visiting Tim Shelby. (Dixon, the author, calls him “an animal in human disguise.”) We quote from the novel:
Shelby, a former slave, now [in an era of Reconstruction] controls employment in the local schools. The unfortunate young lady desperately needs money. With rising fear she enters Shelby’s office to discuss a teaching position. Finally, she asks: 
“May I have the place [job] then?”

“Well, now, you know it depends really altogether on my fancy [wishes]. [Tim replies] I'll tell you what I'll do. You’re still full of silly prejudices. I can see that. But if you will overcome them enough to do one thing for me as a test...I’ll give you the place...Will you do it?”

“What is it?” the girl asked, with pale, quivering lips.

“Let me kiss you--once!” he whispered.

With a scream, she sprang past him out of the door, ran like a deer across the lawn, and fell sobbing in her mother’s arms when she reached her home.

In Dixon’s story, it is time for the Ku Klux Klan to ride the following night:
At twelve o’clock two hundred white-robed horses assembled around the old home...where Tim was sleeping. The moon was full and flooded the lawn with silver glory. On those horses sat two hundred white-robed silent men whose close-fitting hood disguises looked like the... helmets of ancient knights.

It was the work of a moment to seize [take hold of] Tim and bind him across a horse’s back. Slowly the grim procession moved to the court-house square.

When the sun rose the next morning the lifeless body of Tim Shelby was dangling from a rope tied to the iron rail of the balcony of the courthouse. His neck was broken and his body was hanging low—scarcely three feet from the ground. His thick lips had been split with a sharp knife, and from his teeth hung this placard [sign]:


This execution does not trouble Dixon. Nor does it seem to him extreme. He applauds such action and any steps necessary to guard against “race-mixing.” Any attempt to place blacks and whites on the same level, he once claimed, was “social dynamite.”

It was race suicide.

IF A GOOD TEACHER DESIRED he or she might compare Dixon's ideas with a selection from a reading on Adolf Hitler. To put this together I had to wade through all the sick pages of Hitler's Mein Kampf.

A sample:

The more Adolf studied the problem the worse the “truth” seemed to be. The Jews were more than a religious group: “They are a race, and what a race!” Jews were “the great masters of the lie,” a “spider...slowly beginning to suck the blood out of the [German] people’s pores.”

Hitler came to believe they were at the root of all social problems. “If you cut even cautiously abscess [boil or infection], you found, like a maggot in a rotting body...a kike [Jew].” The Jews were “incurable tumors,” “as dangerous as the Black Death.”

Given the opportunity “repulsive Jew b------s” would mix with pure German women. They would marry, he warned, and destroy “the racial foundations of our [national] existence and...[ruin] our people for all time.” Hitler insisted that the German people must not allow this. By defending their race from the Jews, he argued, the Germans would be “doing the work of the Lord.” 

IF I WANT STUDENTS TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IMPEACHMENT is about I can have them complete a reading on Watergate.

Here's how my story begins:

If you ask people today what they remember about Richard Nixon’s time in office any good he did is forgotten. The Watergate Affair is what we remember. Nixon is the only president ever driven from the White House before his term was over. His downfall began with a botched burglary at “The Watergate” office building in Washington, D. C. It was there, on June 17, 1972 that a night watchman with a flashlight noticed something odd. The locks on several doors leading into the building and into the headquarters of the National Democratic Party were taped open. Police were called to the scene and five burglars were soon rounded up.

Burglary doesn’t usually make national news; but this was no ordinary break-in. First, the suspects were carrying $1,754 in cash, cameras, and film. They also had sophisticated equipment for tapping telephones and recording conversations. One of the five, James McCord, had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, the U. S. spy bureau. Stranger still, police found this notation in McCord’s address book:  “Howard E. Hunt, W. House.”

From the start, police were suspicious. Why would burglars want to break into the office of the Democrat Party? And could McCord’s note mean “the” White House? Could these suspects be spying on Democrats because 1972 was an election year?

Who had hired them and turned them loose?

The next day White House staff members spoke to reporters. No one who worked for the president, they said, knew anything about the Watergate break-in. President Nixon shrugged off the matter as a “third-rate burglary.” Then he assured reporters there was no reason for concern.

Everyone, from the president down, seemed surprised.

Almost all were lying.

FINALLY, IN MY HISTORY CLASS WE HAMMERED on the principles set down in the Declaration of Independence. 

I required all my students to memorize the section below and be able to answer the six questions on the unit test for the American Revolution as well as the final.

(We had to start by defining all the words in bold.)

The Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.

                                                  Thomas Jefferson
                                                  July 4, 1776


1. Government gets its power from ____________.

2. If government does not work we have the right to ____________________________.

3. Governments are set up to ______________________.

4. If government works as it should everyone will be treated __________.

5. Certain basic rights cannot be taken away from you by _____________.

6. Government should leave you alone to enjoy ________________________________.


Teachers:  If you find this post interesting contact the author at vilejjv@yahoocom for much more material like it. See, for example, the story I used with my classes:  Women of the Revolution.

****See original post on the curse of standardized testing:  The Emperor of A, B, C and D.

Lynching in American history.
Students were amazed that no one in this crowd seemed horrified.