Monday, December 14, 2015

Fagots, Faggots, Ted Cruz and a Homeschooling Fool

MOST AMERICANS, liberal and conservative alike, are in strong agreement where religious freedom is concerned. 

If you choose to go to a church, or synagogue or mosque, or sleep in late and ignore the condition of your soul, you have that fundamental right. You can pray in any way you like. You can read the Book of Mormon. Or not. If you are Amish, you can remove your children from school after eighth grade. 

There are limits. You can’t claim to practice the religion of the Aztecs and sacrifice annoying neighbors. 

Human sacrifice is taboo. 

And—here we have more disagreement—you can’t bring the Bible into public schools. The reason is fairly simple. A Catholic teacher may not read from the Latin Vulgate Bible in his or her classroom, may not proselytize, may not jam his or her religious views down the throats of Jewish kids. A Mormon teacher cannot read from the Book of Mormon to Muslim kids and a Muslim teacher cannot read passages of the Qu’ran to Presbyterian kids. Nor may a non-religiously inclined educator mock the views of children of various faiths. That’s pretty much the rule. A public school educator may not say to some gay or lesbian student, “You deserve to burn in hell.”

WHAT BRINGS THIS MATTER to mind is discovery that GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, a stalwart defender of religious liberties, at least in his own mind, attended the National Religious Liberties Conference a few weeks ago. This gathering was organized by Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Reformation Church of Elizabeth, Colorado. And if it is important to know the company candidates keep, we know Pastor Swanson has “called for the punishment of homosexuality by death.” 

Swanson is no savage, of course. He does remind listeners the time for strong action is “not yet.” 

No, no. Stay they hand. 

The gays must be allowed a chance “to repent and convert.”

WELL, WHAT IS IT, EXACTLY, that has Pastor Swanson all fired and brimstoned up? He believes gays and lesbians are taking over the country. Harry Potter is evil! Princess Elsa is part of a nefarious, Walt Disney-driven plot. He has made his fears clear, including during a radio discussion in 2014, when he explained the dangers of watching Elsa in Frozen, to co-host Steve Vaughn: “You know, I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way.”

Oh woe, woe, woe. Even horses and cows will be at risk!!!!

To watch Swanson come unhinged—talking about America being messed up—but not catching the irony of his own statements, follow this link. You almost wish you could imagine Swanson has been taken out of context by liberals involved in some terrible campaign to slander the poor fool. Sadly, it does not appear so. By his words we shall know him, they say, and by these words we must place Pastor Swanson in the same camp as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who once forced gays to wear pink triangles and tried castration and other “cures” on Nazi Germany’s homosexual population.

(Before we give Pastor Swanson any ideas, we should note that even Nazi doctors had to admit that such cures failed miserably.)

For educators, of course, it’s an added “thrill” to learn Swanson is a fervent believer in home schooling. You know: to keep the evils of American culture at bay. 

Harry Potter and all that.

HE EVEN HAS A BOOK for sale, about how to use the Bible to illustrate important lessons in values and character-building.

Lesson 1: Kill the gays!
Lesson 2: Stone adulterers? (Well, that’s in Leviticus, too.)
Lesson 3: Who knows? Maybe, we should start burning witches. After all, the Bible is clear on that matter, as well: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

So grab some fagots. No, not faggots! Fagots: The ones that burn.

Technically, in Pastor Swanson’s warped view of the world, I suppose there’s no difference at all.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Story of Pearl Harbor

“Air Raid, Pearl Harbor...
This is no Drill”

            IT WAS NOT YET EIGHT IN THE MORNING but bright sunlight already sparkled across Pearl Harbor. Slowly, Sunday, December 7, 1941, the United States Pacific Fleet was coming to life. Leslie Short was up early, addressing Christmas cards. Aboard battleship USS Maryland Felder Crawford lay in his bunk reading the funny pages. Joe Whitt, aboard the cruiser San Francisco was sitting down to his first guitar lesson, having paid another sailor $5 to give him lessons. The band on Nevada was gathering to play the national anthem and raise the flag. 

YG-17, a ship that sailors jokingly labeled the “honey barge,” was under way, picking up garbage and waste from the great warships moored [tied up] along “Battleship Row.” 

            Here and there, soldiers with splitting heads awoke, cursing themselves for drinking too much the night before. At her nearby home, Geneva Willey laid in bed with husband Jim, a young Army officer. Neither felt like getting up. So they enjoyed a few quiet moments together. Jerry Morton, 13, and brother Don, 11, were already up and dangling fishing lines in the harbor. Mary Ann Ramsey, 16, finished curling her hair and then headed for church. A pair of Army pilots were “up” early too. Neither George Welch nor Kenneth Taylor had ever gone to bed.

After an all-night poker game they were deciding whether to go for a swim or hit the sack.

            Coming in fast from the north, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida of the Japanese Imperial Navy was focused and alert. At this moment, had any American thought to look, Fuchida’s wave of 183 planes would have been clearly visible as tiny specks on the horizon. 

            Japan was about to strike Pearl Harbor in one of the greatest surprise attacks in history.


            The story of this terrible attack begins in early 1941, when Japanese planners began working out a plan to strike U. S. forces in Hawaii. Many top officers doubted if it could be done. The Hawaiian Islands were far away from Japan. Fueling the attack fleet at sea would be nearly impossible. The waters at Pearl Harbor were shallow and no torpedoes could be used. American forces were certain to be on guard. So the Japanese fleet might sail into a trap, instead of the reverse. A strike at Pearl Harbor, many Japanese officers argued, was madness.

            Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Navy, believed the plan could work. Yamamoto respected Americans. He knew his enemy’s strength. As a young officer he had studied at Harvard. Later he spent time in Washington, D. C., where he read about and came to admire Abraham Lincoln. He also understood that the United States was a sleeping giant. He had traveled across the country and he could do the math.  America had twice Japan’s population. The U. S. had more resources. American industry would be able to produce more tanks, planes, ships and guns than Japan ever possibly could.

            Yamamoto hoped war could be avoided. He also believed it was coming fast. If so, Japan had one chance. If he could throw a sudden knockout punch he might destroy U. S. carrier and battleship forces in the Pacific. With the U. S. Navy crippled Japan might be able to sweep to quick victory, in a short war. “In the first six months,” he explained to his top commanders, “I will run wild and win victory after victory.”  Then he added gloomy warning: “If war continues two or three years...I have no confidence in our ultimate victory.” 

            The Japanese set to work. In the months leading up to the attack every obstacle was met and overcome. Improved bombs were developed to puncture heavy battleship armor. New torpedoes, for use in shallow water, were designed. Bomber crews practiced hard to increase accuracy. Torpedo plane pilots learned to come in low on targets. Often they practiced over Japanese coastal towns, coming in so close they blew laundry off backyard lines. 

To improve chances for surprise, Japanese planners mapped a long route across the empty north Pacific. Meanwhile, not even pilots or sailors knew where the punch they were preparing might land. In the fall of 1941, as final preparations began, the men were issued light summer and heavy winter uniforms. When sailors asked why, officers told them that if war came they might be needed anywhere.

            By November 26, 1941 the most powerful naval strike force ever assembled was ready. Commanded by Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the fleet put to sea and headed north and east. The muscle of this fleet would come mainly from six aircraft carriers and 350 attack planes.

            At last, with ships at sea, sailors were let in on the plan. Excitement swept the fleet like an electric charge. Pilots slapped each other on the back and talked about how lucky they were to be born at the right time in history! One sailor called the coming attack “a dream come true.”  

On the night of December 6, as the fleet moved into attack position, Iyozo Fujita found it impossible to sleep. In the best samurai tradition, he took a bath to cleanse himself. Then he drank a beer, stuck a picture of his parents in his pocket, and went to bed. 

            By dawn on December 7, the fleet was 220 miles north of Pearl Harbor. At 5:50 a.m. the carriers turned into the wind and began launching their aircraft. Twenty-five minutes later the first wave was on its way, including 40 torpedo planes, 49 high-level bombers, 51 dive bombers and covering fighters. Many sailors who watched the attacking force disappear in the early light felt moved enough to offer a prayer for success.


            Even now, with enemy planes streaking their way, it was not too late for Americans to awake. Sadly, bad luck, mistakes, and poor communication allowed the enemy to achieve complete surprise. 

Long before dawn, five Japanese midget submarines made an attempt to sneak into Pearl Harbor. Once inside they were supposed to lay low. They would join the attack once the planes arrived. But at 3:57 a.m., a U. S. mine sweeper spotted a mysterious craft prowling near the harbor mouth. The destroyer Ward came looking, found nothing, and failed to pass on a warning to higher command. Another report did come in from a patrol plane claiming to have attacked and sunk an unidentified sub. This time there was much calling back and forth among American officers and discussion about what it all meant. 

Sadly, no one took the report seriously.

            At 6:40 a.m. Ward was on the move again. Spotting what looked like a conning tower poking from the water, gun crews opened fire. Their second shot drilled the enemy sub and she disappeared from view. At 6:53 Ward reported this strange encounter. The message began working its way up the chain of command. Just after seven, the destroyer picked up another sub, moved in, and dropped depth charges. Lookouts spotted a large oil bubble rising to the surface. Once again Ward radioed report. By 7:40 a.m. U. S. commander Admiral Husband E. Kimmel had been alerted. “I’ll be right down,” he told worried officers, and began dressing for the drive to headquarters.

            Meanwhile, American forces had a second wake-up call. Again they ignored it and went back to “sleep.” This time two young radar operators, George Elliott, Jr. and Joseph Lockard, sounded an alert. Radar was brand new in 1941 and the two operators had risen early to practice with their sets. At 7:02 they began tracking something “completely out of the ordinary.”  A large blip [radar mark], approaching from the north, seemed to indicate at least fifty planes were headed their way. 
Concerned, they telephoned their commander at Fort Shafter. The officer on duty told them not to worry. A flight of U. S. bombers was scheduled from California this morning. Still unsure what it meant, Elliot and Lockard followed the blip until 7:39 a.m., when it disappeared behind nearby hills.

            By 7:53 it no longer mattered. 


            Coming in fast at that moment, Commander Fuchida scanned the harbor for signs the Americans were ready. The blue sky was clear. He could see the battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet riding quietly at anchor. He felt a moment of stinging disappointment. None of the American aircraft carriers were in port. Fuchida, however, quickly shook off his disappointment. Then he radioed back to his waiting commanders the signal: “Tora!  Tora!  Tora!” This was the phrase which would indicate that total surprise had been achieved.

            Even now, those Americans who did see the planes coming assumed it was part of some drill. Frank Handler, standing on the deck of destroyer Helm, watched aircraft roar past. An enemy pilot glanced his way—and waved. Handler merely waved back. Other defenders noticed the red “meatball” symbols painted on plane wings but the truth dawned slowly.  On Ford Island, Commander Logan Ramsey saw a dive bomber coming fast. Thinking it must be a U. S. pilot showing off, he told another officer to get the fool’s number. 

Seconds later the first bombs exploded close by. “Never mind,” Commander Ramsey screamed, “it’s a Jap.”

            The first bomb to hit struck the destroyer Monaghan at 7:55. At 7:56 the cruiser Raleigh was blasted by a torpedo. On Nevada the band was striking up the “Star Spangled Banner” when enemy planes zoomed in for attack. Machinegun fire drowned out their music. But the sailors kept playing even as bullets shredded the flag. When fire from a second plane cut a line of holes in the wood deck the musicians finished up quick and sprinted for cover. On battleship Oklahoma men were called into action by an unusual command over the intercom: “Man your battle stations!” shouted an excited sailor. “This is no s---!”

            All across the island, defenders were caught unprepared. At one hospital Nurse Monica Conter dove for “cover,” holding a garbage can lid over her head. Ensign John Beardall was seen working an anti-aircraft gun in red pajamas. Others fought back with what came to hand. A marine fired a shotgun. Another American dueled enemy planes with a .45 pistol. Thomas Donahue was so angry he hurled wrenches at low-flying Japanese aircraft as they whizzed past. 

            Dozens of enemy planes swarmed the skies, flattening aircraft hangers, blasting vehicles and machine gunning men.  At Hickam Air Field a 500-pound bomb tore through the roof of a dining hall. The explosion killed thirty-five men sitting at breakfast.  Dozens more were injured, including a cook wounded by a flying mayonnaise jar.  Corporal Duane W. Shaw watched a line of parked planes burst into flame and jumped in his fire truck to save them. An enemy fighter roared low and shot out his back tires, putting an end to his run. 

At Bellows Air Field attackers killed a U. S. pilot as he scrambled into his cockpit. Two other planes were knocked down as soon as they left the ground. Sgt. Wilbur Hunt put a machine gun into action, firing from a handy bomb crater. Another blast tore a corner off the guard house. Prisoners came running to help. A third bomb destroyed an ice cream truck. This time soldiers dashed from hiding to pick up free treats. 

            In general, the Americans were almost completely unable to put up an organized defense. “It was,” said one Japanese pilot later, “more like a practice run than actual combat.” 

            Except in practice no one is killed.


            The reality of December 7 was much more terrible. “Battleship Row” was now a scene of horror. R. L. Hooton was lying in his bunk on West Virginia, looking at pictures of his new baby, when the ship rocked from a bomb hit. Ed Jacoby’s battle lasted only a few moments. Then a blast sent a metal locker crashing over on his head, knocking him cold. The ship’s captain was mortally wounded when a shell splinter sliced through his abdomen. 

Dorie Miller, a hard-nosed black mess steward, helped carry him to better cover before he died. The U. S. Navy treated black sailors poorly in 1941. Most found themselves in lowly, unskilled jobs. Now Miller had a chance to do something besides clean dishes and cook and he took it. Without hesitating, he grabbed hold of one of the ship’s anti-aircraft guns and began firing. A white sailor realized it was the first time he had seen Miller smile since he had won the ship’s boxing championship. Despite the crew’s best efforts, however, West Virginia was struck again and again. Wrapped in sheets of burning oil, the mighty battleship sank slowly, settling into the muddy harbor bottom.

            Not far away, Oklahoma was taking an awful beating. Hiejro Abe, a Japanese pilot, let loose his 1,760-pound bomb and saw it tear into the ship. Excitement over-whelmed him and he felt tears come to his eyes. Then four torpedoes slammed into the vessel, ripping open her hull. Oklahoma took on water and began rolling over. Below decks a sailor remembered seeing two men in the pharmacy hit by a cascade of falling medicine bottles. Slipping and sliding, they fell amid the broken glass. Then they jumped up and ran off, hoping to escape. Inside the main gun turrets there were scenes of incredible horror. Huge shells, some weighing more than a ton, broke loose and rolled down the slanting deck, crushing anyone in their path. Other crewmen were more fortunate. A marine managed to walk up the side of the vessel as it rolled over. Then he stepped into a waiting lifeboat, without wetting his feet. Three brothers, Tom, Pat and Terry Armstrong, reached safety without a scratch among them.

            Eight minutes after the first bomb hit Oklahoma rolled over, her hull sticking out of the water like a giant turtle. George DeLong and seven other men found temporary safety from the water by closing off hatches [doors] and plugging leaking air vents with mattresses. Still the sea continued to pour in till it reached their waists. Terrified and unsure what had happened, they began pounding out an “S. O. S.” with a wrench. Splashing down a flooded passage, George Murphy entered a room with a strange tile “ceiling.”  Neither he nor any of the sailors gathered with him could understand what had happened. 

But hundreds of men were trapped inside a topsy-turvy steel prison. 

            For the Japanese, the attack was a dream come true. Lt. Jinichi Goto came in low, released his torpedo, and heard his observer shout, “Atarimashita!” (It hit!) Juzo Mori zoomed down, fifteen feet above the harbor waters. Black puffs of smoke from American guns filled the sky. His torpedo went streaking for the side of California and exploded in a fountain of water and black smoke. As he pulled up, Mori almost rammed another attacking plane. A string of American bullets ripped his craft like angry wasps. Yet his luck held.

            He survived.

            At almost that same moment bombs slammed into the USS Arizona. One ripped through the battleship’s armored deck, touching off a fire near the ammunition room. Suddenly, a million pounds of explosives blew up like a volcano. Fuchida saw the vessel explode beneath him. The blast rocked his plane like a toy and a pillar of dark red smoke rose a thousand feet in the air. Other witnesses watched the ship jump fifteen feet out of the water and then split in two

            Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh and 1,176 members of the crew died almost instantly.


            Shocked, stunned, filled with anger, defenders did whatever they could. One sailor came running from a hanger, firing a BAR [Browning Automatic Rifle] at a low flying Zero. The pilot, Lt. Fusata Iida, returned fire. The American ducked a stream of bullets. Witnesses saw the enemy plane climb and come round again, leaking gas as Iida zoomed in for the kill. Both men fired once more. Then—to the astonishment of all who witnessed the duel—the crippled plane plowed into the ground and disintegrated. 

John Finn grabbed a machine gun from a parked plane, propped it on a pile of lumber, and blazed away. Shrapnel [bomb fragments] tore into his stomach, chest, arms and foot. Ignoring his many wounds, Finn kept firing as long as any attackers were in sight.

            As soon as the first bombs hit, pilots Welch and Taylor forgot their discussion about whether to go for a swim or head for bed. Jumping into their car they raced to a nearby airstrip. Then they roared into the sky. Soon they found themselves engaged in a high-speed battle. One enemy fighter got on Taylor’s tail. Welch shot him loose. Taylor knocked down a Japanese plane and watched it clip the top off a eucalyptus tree before exploding in a ball of flame. Looking for trouble, they found plenty of fresh targets over Ewa Air Field. It was “a picnic,” and they shot down four more Japanese. Taylor was wounded and forced to land. Welch finished the day by downing a seventh Japanese aircraft on his own.


            Even heroic effort could not halt the terrible destruction. A second Japanese wave—this time 168 planes—struck hard at the American fleet, adding to the horrible toll. Nevada was hit hard and avoided sinking only by running aground. Battleship Pennsylvania, in dry-dock, was badly damaged. George Walters, a civilian worker, did his best to protect the ship, running a tall crane back and forth along a rail to block low- flying aircraft. The destroyer Shaw was hit at 9:30 a.m. A huge orange fireball marked the spot where the vessel had been. Bodies, mattresses, and pieces of ship flew high in the air and came crashing back to earth. 

            By 10:00 a.m. the skies had cleared. The last Japanese aircraft vanished to the north. The damage they left was incredible. Eighteen ships had been sunk or reduced to junk, including all of the U. S. Navy’s battleships. A total of 188 American planes were destroyed, another 159 damaged. Most had been caught, by surprise, on the ground.

            Worst of all was the human toll. All day and all that night Nurse Dorothy Young watched trucks deliver bloody cargo to the hospital. Again and again, she gave injured soldiers and marines shots of morphine, marking each man’s forehead with an “M.” Burt Amgwert, a pharmacist’s mate at the Naval Hospital, would never forget the aftermath of battle. That night, in a facility meant to hold 300, he helped care for nearly a thousand men. Meanwhile, bodies piled up in stacks. Young Mary Ann Ramsey volunteered to help. The sight of burned and mangled sailors filled her with horror. But she swallowed her fear and held cigarettes to the lips of those too badly injured to hold them for themselves. 

            The final count at Pearl Harbor showed 2,403 Americans dead. Another 1,178 were wounded.         


            At 3:00 p. m. (Eastern Standard Time) radio stations across the United States broadcast the terrible news. Fans attending pro football games fell silent. Families eating Sunday dinners put down forks and stared at loved ones. Little children at play stopped to wonder what it meant. 

            Tens of millions of adults understood all too well. 

            The U. S. was now a part of what would prove to be the bloodiest war in human history.


JAPANESE LOSSES ON DECEMBER 7 WERE LIGHT. All five midget submarines were sunk, as well as one large sub. Twenty-nine planes were downed and 129 men killed.

Aboard carrier Akagi reports of the damage caused were so good Japanese officers hugged each other and cried. Pilots begged Admiral Nagumo to make a third strike but he refused to take a chance. Commander Fuchida was so angered by this decision he dared not speak to the admiral afterwards. 

In Tokyo excited crowds gathered to applaud the news.


 TRAPPED IN A STEEL PRISON. In the moments before the Japanese struck, Stephen B. Young, a cook on Oklahoma, was cleaning up after breakfast. He and his Hawaiian girlfriend had a picnic planned for that afternoon. A quick glance out a porthole told him weather was perfect.  Young smiled, realizing he had money for a change. A ten dollar bill and a single were tucked safely in his wallet.

            When the ship was hit and turned over, Young and thirty others took shelter in a partly flooded passage. He himself dived underwater and reached another compartment, searching for a way out. Floating bodies and mattresses blocked his way. He saw a fat dead man stuck in a small porthole. Eventually, Young and the other trapped sailors settled down and waited for rescue. Now and then, as the hours passed, one or another would leave to look for an escape route. None returned. The waters rose, inch by inch, round those who remained.

            Young thought about home and family. Even under these awful conditions his memories made him happy. Then he prayed. Someone else joked: “Join the Navy and see the world—from the bottom of Pearl Harbor!” 

            The hours passed. Gradually, men lost hope. Young and a friend made bets how they might die, though both knew they could not live to collect. Then, on December 8, they heard hammering above. Rescue crews cut their way through the steel hull and pulled Young and the rest to safety.


            An even worse fate awaited three sailors aboard West Virginia. As with Oklahoma, when West Virginia went down, many men were trapped below deck. In the days that followed, Marine guards near the wreck could hear a tireless banging coming from deep inside the ship. It was awful to think about the poor sailors’ fate and combat-hardened Marines covered their ears and tried not to hear.

            Among those trapped inside were North Dakota friends, Ronald Endicott, 18; Clifford Olds, 20; and Louis “Buddy” Costin, 21. We know that they sealed off a large storage room, surviving for more than two weeks. Months would pass. The battered battleship would be raised, repaired, and put back into service. When workers opened the room where the three friend’s bodies lay they found sixteen days crossed off a calendar in red pencil. Flashlight batteries and food containers littered the floor. A manhole cover over a passage leading to a supply of fresh water was pushed aside.

            These last three victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor had survived until two days before Christmas.

DEAR TEACHERS: If you like this reading, contact I have many more like this.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

School Reformers Cry “Wolf!”

What’s wrong with America’s educators these days? Why don’t they believe school reformers when they say they have plans to “fix the schools?”

Maybe it’s because real educators want nothing more than to work, unimpeded, with actual children.

Maybe it’s because the reformers have cried, “Wolf!” once too often. Or twenty times too often.

Doubtless, millions of educators across the country could add examples to this kind of story. But I’ll start with Rod Paige, Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush. You may recall that while serving as superintendent of the Houston City Public Schools, Mr. Paige won acclaim for the “Houston Miracle.” On the strength of his walk-on-water powers, he followed Mr. Bush to Washington in 2001, where the Texas duo promised to duplicate miracles on a fifty-state stage.

Simply stated, Mr. Paige claimed to have reduced dropouts in many inner city high schools to zero.

Yep: zero!

It turned out later that the “Houston Miracle” was less miracle and more a matter cooking the books. One Houston high school, for example, managed to classify all 462 dropouts as “transfers.” Unfortunately, by the time everyone realized Mr. Paige couldn’t turn water into wine he was ensconced at the U. S. Department of Education.

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law. Now it was the turn of Congress and the president to shout “Lupus!” Once this blockbuster legislation was implemented, they promised we could erase all racial gaps in academic performance. Follow the rules and regulations and every child in America would be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

So, what really happened? Rules and regulations spread like kudzu. Standardized testing and test prep overwhelmed everything. Time for art, music and physical education were slashed from the curriculum. Data-collection dominated the lives of frontline educators and took time away from doing what they truly needed to do. Days and weeks and in some cases months that should have been devoted to meaningful instruction were wasted. The National Assessment for Educational Progress would report in 2009 that racial gaps in reading and math were not closing. Despite all the time, effort and money poured into testing, scores in reading and math at the fourth and eighth grade levels rose no faster than they had before No Child Left Behind passed, when educators were still free to work with students in their own creative fashion.

Millions of educators on the frontlines of learning knew testing wasn’t working. What they knew didn’t matter. More and more reformers, most of whom had never bothered to teach, added to the cacophony.

“Wolf,” blundering billionaires like Bill Gates shouted, insisting everyone should listen to them because they had so much money. They knew what was “best” for the children and demanded all kinds of new “standards” for public school students. They said teachers had to be “held accountable” for test scores and prodded like dumb cattle to advance in the direction the reformers had charted. But they had no idea what was good for those teachers, and more importantly, no idea what was good for all those public school children. Frankly, they preferred to send their offspring to private school where educators were treated like adults and professionals.

“Wolf,” snarled Michelle Rhee, for a time the nation’s most famous school reformer. Rhee actually taught for three whole years but spent the rest of her time in education clambering to the top of the bureaucratic ladder. In 2008 she took over the Washington, D. C. schools. Appearing on the cover of Time magazine that fall, she promised to raise test scores or raise hell for teachers and administrators. Over the next three years several hundred educators who failed to raise scores were fired.

Others, who did raise scores, received fat bonuses. Then Rhee skipped town just in time to avoid responsibility for a massive cheating scandal. It turned out raising scores was easy if you knew how to ply an eraser.

Across this great nation, bold reformers like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein continued to put forward their new plans. Yes, they promised. They could “fix schools”—in this case, in New York City. So Bloomberg and Klein “graded” schools. And they closed “failing” schools. And they opened up lots of charters.

Sure enough! Graduation rates rose! The racial gaps in performance narrowed! Test scores went up!

At first, there was celebrating in the ranks of the reformers. But it turned out schools under intense pressure to raise graduation rates simply made graduation easier. It didn’t matter that 1-in-5 New York City kids was chronically absent and that this wasn’t actually the fault of educators. Dennis Bunyan, a senior at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem, was typical, admitting he was absent so often from his senior English class that he “basically didn’t attend.” Yet, through a special program of “credit recovery,” he was allowed to do three essays in ten hours and gain a full Language Arts credit. “I’m grateful for it,” he told a reporter, “but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous. There’s no way three essays can cover a semester of work.”

Next, it turned out that the racial gaps in performance hadn’t narrowed at all in New York City.

Frontline educators knew that most “racial” gaps had far more to do with poverty than race or any other factor. Yet, when they tried to point this out reformers shouted, “Wolf!” all the louder.

In any case, when the State of New York phased out tests tied to No Child Left Behind and new tests tied to Common Core were implemented, New York City’s “progress” turned out to be evanescent.

Scores in the city (and across the state) plummeted.

With the election of President Obama and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education new voices joined in all the shouting. Mr. Duncan promised to lead a “Race to the Top” and tame the sharp-toothed beast. The wolf, he assured everyone, wouldn’t stand a chance once he took office.

Something was still wrong, however, and frontline educators knew it. Like Secretary Paige, Secretary Duncan first won acclaim for fixing big city schools, in Mr. Duncan’s case, the Chicago Public Schools. Oddly enough, after he left the Windy City, the schools he “fixed” didn’t stay fixed. Gang violence, to cite just one terrible example, continued to plague the city. School-age kids were cut down by the hundreds  and a focus on testing did nothing to staunch the blood.

After Mr. Duncan moved to Washington, a fresh reformer joined the fray. Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed—what else!—to have a plan to tame the wolf. He turned many schools over to private corporations to run as for-profit charters. He hand-picked a new superintendent. Meanwhile, one Chicago charter chain made headlines by charging misbehaving students $386,000 for discipline packets. The new superintendent decided to hand over $23 million in no-bid Chicago Public School contracts to a former employer. In return, company officials promised a huge signing bonus whenever she left her CPS post and rejoined their operations.

It turned out there were huge profits to be made by those who shouted “wolf” in the most vociferous fashion. In New York City, in 2013, sixteen top executives for sixteen charter chains “earned” more than the chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. Deborah Kenny of Village Academy led the big cash parade with $499,146. In Columbus, Ohio, seventeen charters went out of business in a single year, but not before founders walked away with large stacks of taxpayer dollars. Across the country, 2,500 charter schools closed their doors and went bust, founders often taking everything, including the last rolls of toilet paper with them. K-12 Inc., an online charter operation, to cite one especially egregious example, paid five top executives $34 million in just two years, 2013 and 2014, and devoted $26.5 million, most of it taxpayer cash, to advertising in 2010 alone.

And what about that “Race to the Top,” touted so loudly and so often by Mr. Arne Duncan?

It turned out that real educators and real students were forced to wade through an ever deeper quagmire of rules and regulations and devote days and weeks to test prep and test-taking, for no real purpose.

After listening to reformers shout, “wolf, wolf, wolf,” reading scores for high school seniors were lower in 2013 than twenty years earlier.

Billions had been wasted on tests and test preparation. Math scores for seniors—after a decade of misguided reforms—rose no faster than before all the “school reforming.”

After all the focus on testing the racial gaps—actually, the poverty gaps—still refused to close.

And, even though more students now graduated, ACT scores remained flat from 1990 until now.

And SAT scores in reading, math and writing (that third test added only in 2006) all declined.

It never mattered. The reformers kept up the shouting. The people who actually worked with America’s youth kept doing the best they could. Here in Ohio, lawmakers said we had to prepare students for tests in reading, math, science and social studies. “Wolf,” they cried in 2002. Educators were fooled into believing. But the tests in science and social studies proved expensive to grade. They were poorly designed, too. So the people who cried “wolf” said, “never mind.”

Those two tests were killed in 2009.

In 2010, Ohio lawmakers decided all the tests tied to No Child Left Behind were useless. Educators would have to be on the lookout for a wolf of a different color. Suddenly, legislators in Columbus and more than forty other states cried out in favor of Common Core! This time the tests politicians were demanding and paying fresh billions to have created would fix everything!

Only this wolf, too, was a figment of the imagination. In 2014 lawmakers in Ohio and in many of those same states that voted to implement Common Core rubbed their eyes—and the wolf they feared was no longer there—and they decided Common Core was a terrible idea.

But wait! Was that another fanged monster approaching? The tests used in Ohio in 2014, and tied to Common Core, would be tossed. New tests would be created—at new cost to taxpayers. Teachers and students would again be required to prepare for a battery of tests they had never seen, even though a decade of testing had resulted mainly in damaging the process of learning.

“Wolf!” the reformers cried yet again.

Only now, educators no longer believed them. The educators grumbled and cried and cursed at all they had been put through, at all the time lost when they could have been helping children.

Parents, too, began to understand. The people who kept shouting “wolf” had fooled them far too often.

John J. Viall is the author of Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching, a book about what good teachers can be expected to do, as well as a look at what others must do if students are to achieve a well-rounded education.

The story is based on his 33 years of experience in junior high and middle school classrooms.

Now available

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EpiPens, Peanut Allegries and Big Corporate Education

Why, oh why, am I afraid of corporate education? Do I have some unknown communist gene? Have I failed to grasp reality? What could go wrong if rapacious business types took over every American school?

If you listen to Fox News you know what the “benefits” of this process will supposedly be. The corporations will bring “business efficiency” to schools. The “evil teachers’ unions” will be crushed. Operating costs will plummet. Taxpayers will enjoy huge savings and yet profits will also go up. 

Profits will go up a lot!

Even standardized test scores will soar. (As we shall see in a moment, Volkswagen Group will see to that.)

Why am I so skeptical? 

I’m a retired history teacher. I know what history shows. If you can buy it and sell it, it will be bought and sold, often with little or no attention paid to ethical considerations or societal good. Slave traders, cigarette manufacturers, ivory poachers and international drug cartels all prove that point.

Corporations exist to make a profit. When profits are paramount the safety of workers and the safety of children are secondary considerations.

Or: no consideration at all.

Consider recent stories about EpiPens, used in emergency situations to treat bee stings, food-allergy reactions and diabetic shock. According to FiercePharma, an industry website, the price of these pens has increased dramatically since 2007, which in a corporate world is the best possible news. Eight years ago a company called Mylan bought the rights to the EpiPen. Each pen delivers $1 worth of the hormone epinephrine to counteract the effects of allergic reactions. The pens can save lives. Naturally, the industry website focuses on Mylan’s “marketing savvy,” which has led to a five-fold increase in sales.

Clever advertising, designed to feed into and fuel parental concerns, has convinced many families to buy multiple pens. You need one for mom’s purse. You need another for dad’s car. You need one for grandma’s house, one for school, and one for the coach of your child’s soccer team.

After all, your child’s life could hang in the balance. Or, as a business reporter notes “they [Mylan] really have a captive audience.” In this country, after insurance discounts, a package of two pens currently goes for $415. In 2007, the same pen, with the same $1 worth of hormones, was $57.

An ordinary educator or school nurse or any other decent human being interested in the welfare of children might argue: “Such increases are obscene. There are many families that cannot afford these life-saving pens at these astronomical prices.”

In the corporate world, however, such considerations are irrelevant. Mylan isn’t operating a charitable foundation. Mylan exists to make money.

The more money Mylan makes the better.

So, as you can clearly see (cough, cough), we need corporations just like Mylan to run America’s schools. Just imagine: Mylan High School. Maybe the mascot can be a big green dollar sign with arms and legs.

It’s not just the Mylan example that worries me. We know childhood asthma problems are on the rise all across the United States. But unlike the “efficient” corporate types, ordinary educators weren’t smart enough to see the vast profit-making possibilities. So why not address this issue with the same can-do spirit as the Volkswagen Group? Since air pollution exacerbates asthma, why not make it look like the cars you are selling reduce exhaust emissions? You don’t need to reduce emissions. You only need to create computer software that allows engines to run with power, to emit high levels of pollutants, and simultaneously fake out state and federal emissions inspectors.

Asthma? Smasthma. Our cars don’t cause pollution at all—and we have the test scores to prove it!

You don’t have to look high or low to find all kinds of stories like these. You want “business efficiency” in schools? Then, I am seeing a bright future for the Peanut Corporation of America in providing fine products to school cafeterias across this great land.

Okay, sure, if you want to quibble, it’s true. A handful of people did die after eating peanut butter contaminated with salmonella from a Peanut Corporation factory in Georgia. But only nine! Really, is that so bad? The other 700 victims, who fell ill, almost half of them children, did manage to recover.

Yes, a jury did recently convict Stewart Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, “on dozens of felony counts.” They did sentence him to 28 years in jail. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to save America’s schools. We’ve got to let the giant corporations take charge.

You want business efficiency in schools? Well, kids, enjoy a little salmonella with your peanut butter and jelly. Emails in the Parnell trial showed the company hid the dangers for years. They knew products were contaminated. They didn’t care. Lab results were often falsified. (That’s how efficient corporations raise scores!) On another occasion, when lab results were slow coming in, Mr. Parnell told employees via email: “Shit, just ship it. I cannot afford to loose [sic] another customer.”

(Not counting those who get killed.)

In the end, a brave new world of corporate education lies ahead. And if your child’s asthma kicks up because of all the polluted air, or he or she gets a bit of bad Peanut Corporation product in his or her lunch, don’t worry!

The school clinic at Big Corporate Elementary School will have EpiPens for sale. Two for only $415.

It’s going to be great.


(Think this is exaggerated? For evidence of what to expect, related to for-profit colleges, consider the “success” of Corinthian and the University of Phoenix when it comes to piling up dough.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two Legs Suffice: What My Book is About

In a way, Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching is a book about motivation. 

It’s based in part on my years with the United States Marines (1968-70). I enlisted at the height of the Vietnam War but never saw combat. 

That means I don’t know diddly about combat. So I don’t pretend I do. In the same way most school reformers know nothing about teaching. 

The heart and soul of the book flow from my work with two generations of Loveland, Ohio teens (1975-2008). 
I loved teaching. I did. I worked in a strong community. But teaching is never easy. All real teachers know this is true. None of the school-reformers-who-never-taught have a whiff of a clue. 

Two Legs Suffice includes a pair of chapters about pedaling a bicycle across the United States (2007; 2011), to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Students and staff at my school helped bring in $13,500 for the 2007 ride and I raised almost $11,000 in 2011, as well. 

Both journeys tie into my basic premise. I believe that effort is paramount in education, just as it is while pedaling up and over Tioga Pass.

That goes for everyone on a seat. 

Near the end of my 2011 ride: pedaling up Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park.


Most teachers are good. We aren’t idiots and slackers, as many critics like to contend. We are not the problem. 

Good teachers can do much to help students succeed. Good teachers cannot solve every problem. Good teachers—even excellent ones—need help.

You can’t keep offering up bold plans to “fix the schools,” like the school-reformers-who-never-taught like to do. You don’t fix families by “fixing the homes.” You work with individuals. You help people.

Motivation is key in any classroom. Tips on motivating students feature prominently in my story. 

Standardized testing is doing great harm and little good. True learning has not been fostered. True learning has been stifled.

More importantly, if we want to follow the surest path to improving learning outcomes, then we must clearly keep in mind that two legs suffice.

(That final premise rests on a lesson I used to share with students about Bruce Jennings, a young man who pedaled a bicycle across the United States in 1976, despite the fact he had one leg.)


One motivational tool: STAR Awards for students.
Front cover.
Back cover blurb.