Monday, November 28, 2016

Heroes Who Never Fight: U. S. Secretaries of Education (Betsy DeVos Edition)

Back in 2011, when I first started on this blog, I complained about school reformers who talked and talked about leading a battle to fix the nation’s schools but didn’t ever seem to do the actual fighting.

Now, with Betsy DeVos the latest choice to lead the U. S. Department of Education I can almost recycle the whole article. 

(I have also blogged about bicycling across the United States to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)


It's a beautiful country. Get out there and see it.
(Grand Teton National Park.)



Anyway, here’s what I said five years ago. Almost every syllable still applies:

I TAUGHT FOR 33 YEARS, SO I INTEND TO USE MY BLOG to defend good public school teachers whenever possible. 

Still, you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know there are bad teachers. We used to joke of a colleague at my school that you could replace him with a cardboard cutout and students wouldn’t notice a difference. 

So, yeah, we need to do more to weed the dandelions in the classroom. 

When I started researching for a book about education, however, I was stunned to find how little time our nation’s “leading” reformers have devoted to the classroom. On November 30, 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Shirley Hufstedler first United States Secretary of Education. It was start of a bizarre trend.  

Hufstedler was charged with saving U. S. education. But in 1979, starting my fifth year in a classroom, I had more teaching experience than the Secretary of Education. In fact, I had her beat by four years, two months. Hufstedler never taught a minute. She probably knew as much about teaching as I did about driving a car at the Indianapolis Speedway or playing concert piano with the London Symphony. 

Mr. Carter plucked her from the federal bench. 

Terrel Bell, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, came next. Bell was actually tasked with dismantling the Department of Education, an idea most teachers might now support. Bell, at least, had tried his hand at teaching and had been a principal and superintendent in the Idaho public schools. 

William Bennett, Reagan’s second appointee and third to hold the position of Education Czar was another teaching virgin. Big Bill didn’t come out of any classroom. He came striding out of a think tank and immediately started lecturing teachers about their failings. Later he wrote a thick book about “virtue” for adults.

Then he wrote a thinner volume: The Children’s Book of Virtues.  

Later still, he admitted a serious gambling addiction and blowing eight million dollars in Las Vegas. 

Lauro Cavazos Jr. was fourth in line, coming to the Department of Education straight from the university level, having never spent a day in his life working with K-12 level students. He didn’t last long either. Cavazos was forced to resign after an investigation into misuse of frequent flier miles. 

Lamar Alexander was fifth. His first taste of Washington, D. C. life had not come working in a public school—of course not—but as legislative assistant to Senator Howard Baker. Alexander did meet his wife during a softball game for Senate staffers. So that was kind of cool. Later, as governor of Tennessee, he won fame and got his face on a Time magazine cover for “reforming” his state’s schools.

Naturally, none of the reforming was done by his hand. Lamar was just another virgin. Based on “his” success in Tennessee, however, Alexander was elevated to the cabinet post by President George H. W. Bush.  

President Clinton had the next crack at the problem and reached deep down into the classroom …no, no, no, we’re joking! He chose Governor Richard Riley of South Carolina as his U. S. Secretary of Education. Riley’s time in a classroom: 0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes. 

0.

George W. Bush had two chances to get it right and blew them both, turning first to Rod Paige and later Margaret Spellings. Paige, at least, taught and coached at the college level; but his real claim to fame was the “Houston Miracle” which supposedly occurred while he was in charge of that city’s public schools...In no time at all, Paige had inner-city high schools whipped into shape and principals were reporting zero dropouts. Clearly, Mr. Paige was a genius and President Bush tapped him to be Secretary of Education. 

Unfortunately, real teachers know that in real classrooms miracles are in short supply; and the “Houston Miracle” turned out to be completely bogus. Reporters discovered that one Houston high school had reduced dropouts to zero simply by classifying all 462 students who left school during the year as “transfers.” 

Where they might have “transferred” to, whether another high school, or a nunnery, or even another planet, was a mystery. 

Meanwhile, Secretary Paige huffed and puffed and couldn’t make No Child Left Behind work. True: states initially reported stunning test-score gains. On closer examination almost all the gains proved to have been achieved through sleight of hand. Most states simply made their standardized tests easier—to insure higher passing rates and avoid penalties under new federal regulations. 

Paige eventually gave way to Margaret Spellings, who came to understand the processes of education not by working in a classroom but by serving on an education reform commission down in Texas. 

Spellings did her fighting for children from the safe distance of the rear. She fought for kids in spirit, you might say. 

By 2009, if you were a real teacher—and by that, I mean a good one—it seemed hard to imagine education policy could get worse. When President Obama took office you could only hope wisdom might prevail. 

Instead, we found ourselves saddled with Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan was the hero who “reformed” the Chicago Public Schools, a man who once taught...no, ha, ha, just joking again…who got his start in education in administration and kept clambering up the bureaucratic ladder.

So you figure he learned everything there was to know about the challenges faced by real teachers.

Back in 2011, I made fun of several other “leaders” in the field of school reform. 
I will skip that part.

This will bring us up to date:


President Obama had a second chance to get it right, selecting John B. King Jr. to serve as tenth Secretary of Education. Mr. King did teach three years, two in a charter school, and did serve as charter school administrator for five more years. So he wasn’t devoid of firsthand knowledge. Sadly, as New York State Education Commissioner he pushed several misguided policies and was politely asked to leave. King wanted to link teacher pay to standardized test scores—ironically, on tests that soon proved so badly flawed they were discontinued—and pushed hard for Common Core despite the fact New York parents by tens of thousands started opting out of testing.

In the meantime, Congress was supposed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but failed to do so for eight long years and failed to remedy flaws in the legislation. Secretary Duncan pushed a Race to the Top  initiative, but his plan seemed to lead the children nowhere. Front line educators rightly came to suspect that  neither Mr. Duncan nor their representatives in Congress knew what they were doing.

Congress, for various reasons, saw its approval rating fall below 30% in August 2009 and stay there. 

Congress dropped below the 20% mark in December 2011 and remains there to this day. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

Eventually, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act, which, for all we know, may be replaced by the Make Every Child Great Again Act under President Donald J. Trump.

If Betsy DeVos passes Senate muster, we will be adding a woman with zero teaching experience—with zero experience as a school administrator—who never went to public schools—who never sent her children to public schools—appointed by a man who went to private schools—a man who sent his children to private schools—and Mrs. DeVos will “lead” us all to battle. I suspect she knows about what most men and women who have held the post of U. S. Secretary of Education have known about working with America’s children. 

Next to nothing.

What she does understand perfectly is how to collect great wads of cash and then donate same to wily politicians. DeVos knows how to block laws she and her husband don’t want passed by skillful lobbying. She’s rich because her father-in-law founded Amway and her husband runs the company. 

In other words, everything in education is going to be great!! 


And, if the next set of “school reforms” proves as misguided as the last, or the last before that, or before that, or even before that, maybe this time schools can at least stock up on Amway soaps and cleaning products.


Because DeVos might not know kids; but she really, really knows her Amway.

Heroes Who Don't Fight: America's School Reformers (Betsy DeVos Edition)

Back in 2011, when I first started on this blog, I complained about school reformers who talked and talked about leading a battle to fix the nation’s schools but didn’t ever seem to do the actual fighting.

Now, with Betsy DeVos the latest choice to lead the U. S. Department of Education I can almost recycle the whole article. 

(I have also blogged about bicycling across the United States to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)

This is a beautiful country; get out there and see it.


Anyway, here’s what I said five years ago. Almost every syllable still applies:

I TAUGHT FOR 33 YEARS, SO I INTEND TO USE MY BLOG to defend good public school teachers whenever possible. 

Still, you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know there are bad teachers. We used to joke of a colleague at my school that you could replace him with a cardboard cutout and students wouldn’t notice a difference. 

So, yeah, we need to do more to weed the dandelions in the classroom. 

When I started researching for a book about education, however, I was stunned to find how little time our nation’s “leading” reformers have devoted to the classroom. On November 30, 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Shirley Hufstedler first United States Secretary of Education. It was start of a bizarre trend.  

Hufstedler was charged with saving U. S. education. But in 1979, starting my fifth year in a classroom, I had more teaching experience than the Secretary of Education. In fact, I had her beat by four years, two months. Hufstedler never taught a minute. She probably knew as much about teaching as I did about driving a car at the Indianapolis Speedway or playing concert piano with the London Symphony. 

Mr. Carter plucked her from the federal bench. 

Terrel Bell, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, came next. Bell was actually tasked with dismantling the Department of Education, an idea most teachers might now support. Bell, at least, had tried his hand at teaching and had been a principal and superintendent in the Idaho public schools. 

William Bennett, Reagan’s second appointee and third to hold the position of Education Czar was another teaching virgin. Big Bill didn’t come out of any classroom. He came striding out of a think tank and immediately started lecturing teachers about their failings. Later he wrote a thick book about “virtue” for adults.

Then he wrote a thinner volume: The Children’s Book of Virtues.  

Later still, he admitted a serious gambling addiction and blowing eight million dollars in Las Vegas. 

Lauro Cavazos Jr. was fourth in line, coming to the Department of Education straight from the university level, having never spent a day in his life working with K-12 level students. He didn’t last long either. Cavazos was forced to resign after an investigation into misuse of frequent flier miles. 

Lamar Alexander was fifth. His first taste of Washington, D. C. life had not come working in a public school—of course not—but as legislative assistant to Senator Howard Baker. Alexander did meet his wife during a softball game for Senate staffers. So that was kind of cool. Later, as governor of Tennessee, he won fame and got his face on a Time magazine cover for “reforming” his state’s schools.

Naturally, none of the reforming was done by his hand. Lamar was just another virgin. Based on “his” success in Tennessee, however, Alexander was elevated to the cabinet post by President George H. W. Bush.  

President Clinton had the next crack at the problem and reached deep down into the classroom …no, no, no, we’re joking! He chose Governor Richard Riley of South Carolina as his U. S. Secretary of Education. Riley’s time in a classroom: 0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes. 

0.

George W. Bush had two chances to get it right and blew them both, turning first to Rod Paige and later Margaret Spellings. Paige, at least, taught and coached at the college level; but his real claim to fame was the “Houston Miracle” which supposedly occurred while he was in charge of that city’s public schools...In no time at all, Paige had inner-city high schools whipped into shape and principals were reporting zero dropouts. Clearly, Mr. Paige was a genius and President Bush tapped him to be Secretary of Education. 

Unfortunately, real teachers know that in real classrooms miracles are in short supply; and the “Houston Miracle” turned out to be completely bogus. Reporters discovered that one Houston high school had reduced dropouts to zero simply by classifying all 462 students who left school during the year as “transfers.” 

Where they might have “transferred” to, whether another high school, or a nunnery, or even another planet, was a mystery. 

Meanwhile, Secretary Paige huffed and puffed and couldn’t make No Child Left Behind work. True: states initially reported stunning test-score gains. On closer examination almost all the gains proved to have been achieved through sleight of hand. Most states simply made their standardized tests easier—to insure higher passing rates and avoid penalties under new federal regulations. 

Paige eventually gave way to Margaret Spellings, who came to understand the processes of education not by working in a classroom but by serving on an education reform commission down in Texas. 

Spellings did her fighting for children from the safe distance of the rear. She fought for kids in spirit, you might say. 

By 2009, if you were a real teacher—and by that, I mean a good one—it seemed hard to imagine education policy could get worse. When President Obama took office you could only hope wisdom might prevail. 

Instead, we found ourselves saddled with Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan was the hero who “reformed” the Chicago Public Schools, a man who once taught...no, ha, ha, just joking again…who got his start in education in administration and kept clambering up the bureaucratic ladder.

So you figure he learned everything there was to know about the challenges faced by real teachers.

Back in 2011, I made fun of several other “leaders” in the field of school reform. 
I will skip that part.

This will bring us up to date:


President Obama had a second chance to get it right, selecting John B. King Jr. to serve as tenth Secretary of Education. Mr. King did teach three years, two in a charter school, and did serve as charter school administrator for five more years. So he wasn’t devoid of firsthand knowledge. Sadly, as New York State Education Commissioner he pushed several misguided policies and was politely asked to leave. King wanted to link teacher pay to standardized test scores—ironically, on tests that soon proved so badly flawed they were discontinued—and pushed hard for Common Core despite the fact New York parents by tens of thousands started opting out of testing.

In the meantime, Congress was supposed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but failed to do so for eight long years and failed to remedy flaws in the legislation. Secretary Duncan pushed a Race to the Top  initiative, but his plan seemed to lead the children nowhere. Front line educators rightly came to suspect that  neither Mr. Duncan nor their representatives in Congress knew what they were doing.

Congress, for various reasons, saw its approval rating fall below 30% in August 2009 and stay there. 

Congress dropped below the 20% mark in December 2011 and remains there to this day. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

Eventually, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act, which, for all we know, may be replaced by the Make Every Child Great Again Act under President Donald J. Trump.

If Betsy DeVos passes Senate muster, we will be adding a woman with zero teaching experience—with zero experience as a school administrator—who never went to public schools—who never sent her children to public schools—appointed by a man who went to private schools—a man who sent his children to private schools—and Mrs. DeVos will “lead” us all to battle. I suspect she knows about what most men and women who have held the post of U. S. Secretary of Education have known about working with America’s children. 

Next to nothing.

What she does understand perfectly is how to collect great wads of cash and then donate same to wily politicians. DeVos knows how to block laws she and her husband don’t want passed by skillful lobbying. She’s rich because her father-in-law founded Amway and her husband runs the company. 

In other words, everything in education is going to be great!! 


And, if the next set of “school reforms” proves as misguided as the last, or the last before that, or before that, or even before that, maybe this time schools can at least stock up on Amway soaps and cleaning products.

Because DeVos might not know kids; but she really, really knows her Amway.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Betsy DeVos: The Amway Secretary of Education

I’m a lifelong liberal and a classroom teacher. But I’m beginning to agree when conservatives insist it’s time to do blow up, metaphorically, the U. S. Department of Education. At least then real educators wouldn’t have to take orders from clueless out-of-touch, arrogant school reformers.

Beginning in January the battle to improve the nation’s public schools will be led by Betsy DeVos, wife of a billionaire, a woman who attended private schools when young, who kept tradition alive by sending her children to private schools, who never taught a day in her life, who never spent an hour as a school administrator, who never served a season on a local school board, either. DeVos made a name by touting school vouchers and—more importantly—raising stacks of cash for politicians.

In 2014, for example, DeVos and her husband Dick donated $1.45 million to Michigan lawmakers to defeat a bill that would have increased scrutiny of publicly-funded, for-profit charter schools.

Stephen Henderson, writing for the Detroit Free Press lat June, minced no words in his response. This was nothing less than an effort by a fabulously rich, politically connected family to buy the votes of legislators, regardless of damage that might be done to children. “We really ought to round up the lawmakers who took money to protect and perpetuate the failing charter-school experiment in Detroit,” he fumed, “sew them into burlap sacks with rabid animals, and toss them into the Straits of Mackinac.”

Sarcastic, yes—but an idea not devoid of merit.

As Forbes magazine made clear in an article five years ago, the dangers of the for-profit education model are already plain to see. The shady dealings of big for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix fill the headlines and clog the internet. Many for-profits are actually “diploma mills” (one website warns students to steer clear of 300 fake online colleges) offering courses of little merit.[1] Their only goal is keeping students on the books till their last dime and dollar are exhausted. For-profits tricked students into signing high-interest loans, inflated claims of job placement success and preyed on veterans.

And yet, Forbes explained, at the K-12 level: “Four out of five charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit corporations. Let that sink in a minute. This should be deeply, deeply troubling for anyone thinking about their child’s future education, or the future of this country.”

The question then is why? Why would Mr. and Mrs. DeVos spend a million plus to defeat a bill favored—until the cash explosion—even by most Republican lawmakers?

Faith in unfettered free enterprise, I suppose. Get ready for the Amway model, writ large in education!

(We’re all going to be rich!)

For those who know nothing about Mrs. DeVos, a dose of helpful background. Richard DeVos, her father-in-law, helped found Amway in 1959, a direct sales operation originally specializing in home cleaning products. The company thrived and spread like kudzu. By 2014 Forbes could list Richard as the 83rd richest individual in the world, worth $6 billion. His son, Betsy’s husband, went to work for Amway in 1974, rose steadily through the ranks, and helped spread the brand to fifty countries. In 1993 he was chosen president of the company. Seven years later he led a corporate restructuring that created a new parent company, Alticor.

Now: To be fair, the family has done some excellent charitable work, often going through Christian groups to help the homeless, even providing grants to aid the Grand Rapids Public Schools in cutting student absenteeism. 

Unfortunately, the family has also spent lavishly to buy up politicians.

As an added bonus, in 2004, Besty DeVos insisted that her home state of Michigan was losing jobs because wages were too high. This kind of conservative thinking can be boiled down to two steps, equally harmful to ordinary Americans. 

First, workers in Michigan demand high pay and companies move to low-wage states like Texas. Boo, says Betsy!

Second, workers in Texas demand high pay and companies move to low-wage countries like China. 

Oops, says Betsy!

Even worse, if you keep searching, are the countless stories that cast a pall over the entire Amway model. In my case, years ago, my wife and I were approached by friends who urged us to join them in the “Amway family.” We would get rich together they assured us. But listening to their pitch, it sounded like a pyramid scheme. My wife and I would set ourselves up as independent business owners (IBO’s). We would make money selling products directly. And we would make even more, heaping piles of dough, by enlisting family, friends and others to sell more Amway products, earning a percentage of their sales—and a percentage of the sales of those they recruited, and so on to infinity. This is called a multi-level-marketing approach (MLM).

Well, what has happened since that fateful day when my wife and passed on a chance to start stacking up the dollars?

Amway has been forced repeatedly to beat back legal challenges. On narrow grounds the company has stayed alive, and prospered, often with the timely aid of powerful politicians who have been granted fat campaign contributions. But in fundamental ways Amway has been losing all along. In legal actions filed by the State of Wisconsin in 1982, a report by Dr. Jon M. Taylor, an economist, found: “MLM as a business model—with its endless chain of recruitment of participants as primary customers—is flawed, unfair, and deceptive.” Taylor summarized: “less than 1% of MLM participants profit. MLM makes even gambling look like a safe bet in comparison.”

Yet, every year, tens of thousands of fresh recruits fell for the Amway pitch—kept dreaming—kept losing.

All the while, Betsy DeVos continued to raise money for the politicians. Even President George W. Bush noticed. In 2001 he appointed a former Amway lawyer, Timothy Muris, to head the Federal Trade Commission. Eight years later Muris, having returned to private practice, helped convince the FTC not to impose strict disclosure rules on MLM marketers—like Herbalife—and Amway.[2]

Three years passed. NBC aired an undercover expose (by 2004 Amway was operating under the name of Quixtar). A recruiter told an NBC producer, posing as someone interested in becoming an IBO: “If you’re somewhat serious, all I mean by somewhat serious —if you invest maybe, say, 10 to 15 hours a week in your business. This is your own business—you could generate in the next 12 to 18 months, an extra quarter of a million.”

The prospective “IBO” expressed surprise.

True, the recruiter admitted, there were motivational books to buy in order to learn to banish negativity and sell, sell, sell—oh, $60 monthly. And there were seminars to attend—um, maybe $50 monthly. And no new IBO would dare miss the “Spring Leadership Weekend” down in Florida. That would mean several hundred dollars more invested. Eventually, reporters found themselves surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of 15,000 attendees at the gathering, each and every one ready to spend 10 or 15 hours weekly in pursuit of his or her extra quarter million dollars.

How many made that kind of money?

NBC found plenty who didn’t. One said he worked day and night to make a success of the Quixtar/Amway model. In his best year he earned $34,000. Even that didn’t last. He ended up “destitute.” Reporters heard the same tale “again and again.” Vicky and Lindy Mack didn’t make an extra quarter million. They lost $35,000. Bo Short did make serious money, recruiting friends and family to join the company, coaxing them to recruit others, selling tapes and motivational books and conference packages. But he quit eventually when “he began to realize he was part of a mass deception.”

How much did the average Quixtar distributor make? It was right there in the fine print. 

Approximately $1,400 annually.

So the years rolled by, and new recruits signed up and mostly ended up disappointed. The company changed its name. There was growth around the world. In 2007 Britain shut down Amway, calling it an illegal pyramid scheme, after a judge found 99.7% of 33,000 IBO’s in that country lost money. The company agreed to drastic changes and barely managed to stay legal in Britain.

In 2010, in response to fresh court challenges, Amway admitted 54% of IBO’s who had ever signed up were currently inactive. Gross income for the rest averaged a paltry $202 monthly. One expert estimated that the average IBO lost $1,176 annually. In light of such statistics, the company settled a class action lawsuit, returned $55 million to former distributors and made changes in practices that cost another $100 million.

At the top of the Amway food chain, however, the DeVos family continued to pile up the billions. In 2012, this allowed Mr. DeVos to donate heavily to and lead a successful push to make Michigan a right-to-work state. “Freedom-to-work is pro-workers and pro-Michigan,” he proclaimed. Union leaders were thugs with “an almost pathological obsession with power.”

Besides, wages were too high anyway.

On to Texas!

Then China!

In fact, if you kept digging you turned up shady operators on both sides of Betsy DeVos’ holiday table. Her father, Edgar Prince, co-founded the Family Research Council, an organization opposed to gay rights. That organization, which supports gay-conversion therapy, suffered a serious black eye in 2011 when George Alan Rekers, another co-founder, was shown to have traveled to Europe with a male escort contacted through a website, Rentboy.com. Rekers was a story by himself, with a Ph. D. in psychology, and a creepy interest in spanking children to get the gay out.

Betsy’s brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater, the security firm which operated as a paramilitary force during some of the deadliest days in the wake of 9/11. Four Blackwater guards were eventually convicted in the murder of seventeen Iraqi civilians. The company has also been accused of defrauding the U. S. government, creating false billings, even passing off the cost of keeping a prostitute on the payroll in Afghanistan.

So, you might be wondering, what’s the final moral of the story?

We all know Mr. Trump has promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington. What few of his supporters could have dreamed was how many crocodiles he planned to hire to do the exciting job of draining. 

According to Open Secrets, Amway has made $21.3 million in political donations since 1990, and since 1998, spent just short of $5 million more on lobbying. The DeVos family in all its permutations has donated tens of millions more to right-wing causes.

And so you see.

These are exactly the kind of leaders we need to stand up in the name of millions and millions of America’s children.

Amway, baby!

Billionaires will save the children!
P. S. Remember Trump University!!


John J. Viall is also the author of the critically acclaimed:


Front cover.

Available on Amazon.com

Back cover.




[1] Corinthian College, to cite one of the worst examples, was ordered by the federal courts to pay off $530 million in student loans fraudulently arranged. The fly in the legal ointment is clear. Corinthian has since gone bankrupt. Taxpayers are likely to foot the bill for Corinthian College’s business sins.
[2] In a court settlement in July, Herbalife agreed to restructure its marketing and pay a fine of $200 million.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Electoral College and the Right to Own Pets!

In the wake of the contentious presidential election of 2016, many experts and most Americans probably agree, at least on this. Our great nation is deeply divided. 

Trump supporters feel liberals—sometimes referred to as “libtards” in their Facebook posts or in memes—want to take away their guns and burn their Bibles for fun. 


Trump foes (I happen to be one) wonder if he’ll hold the Second Amendment sacred while trashing the rest. Too many on us (but not me) believe all Trump supporters are racists, or as one Facebook post I saw put it recently: ignorant “knuckle draggers.”

As a liberal and one who taught American history for years, I hope both sides in the current debates are wrong. But I do believe we need to have a solid grasp on our history to make wise judgments in turbulent times. For starters, we need to be realistic about who the Founding Fathers were and clear-eyed in assessing what they did. And a huge percentage of what they did was wonderfully right. Their distrust of concentrated power in any guise, from democratic to oligarchic, led them to strive for a careful balance of power in three equal branches, legislative, judicial and executive.

Speaking of branches, according to a 2014 article in the Washington Post, did you realize only 36% of Americans can name those three branches.

In any case, if you support Mr. Trump and hate the liberal media, and you believe the Post leans in the direction of Stalin, you might prefer a story from the Washington Times, a paper Sean Hannity might safely read while seated on the can. In 2015 the Times reported that 12% of Americans believed the Bill of Rights guaranteed the right to own pets. Reporters also noted that 32% of Americans could not name any of the branches of government.

Not one. 

Ordinary citizen giving it his or her best try: “The three branches? Uh…chocolate, vanilla and Beyonce?”

Luckily, we’re all safe because of the Founding Fathers. Or so the simplistic argument goes. Conservatives, in particular, make it sound as if the Founders got every comma and clause in the U.S. Constitution just right. And that means any change since 1787 brings us one giant leap nearer tyranny.

Right-wing love for those who wrote the U. S. Constitution has risen to fresh heights again, now that it appears Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote in 2016. Well, not to worry, because if Clinton does it won't matter at all. The Founding Fathers made sure the Electoral College would be there to save us all.

Also our pets!

I can say much for certain. I know some of what I say is only my opinion. On Facebook, however, several conservative friends sent me the same link to a video about how the Electoral College works. I guess they thought I needed to know or it might make me feel somehow better.

Well: I already knew. 

It is true that the Founding Fathers had a healthy distrust for democracy. During the Constitutional Convention, Elbridge Gerry put the problems a new nation faced bluntly: “The ills we experience flow from an excess of democracy. The people do not want [lack] virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.” 


Edmund Randolph agreed, noting, “that in tracing these evils to their origin every man [here] had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” 

So we need an Electoral College. Right?

Let’s stop and think a moment. Let’s look at what the Founding Fathers knew and a bit of what they didn’t. We know they never imagined women voting. According to the latest figures, Mrs. Clinton took the women’s vote by 12%. Trump took the men’s vote by a similar margin. In other words, if we had only listened to the Founding Fathers in every respect, women could spend the next four years blaming husbands and brothers and male in-laws for all the problems that occur.

Of course the Founding Fathers didn’t allow African-Americans to vote. (They were more likely to own them.) You may recall, if you had an excellent history teacher, that they agreed to count five African-Americans as three white persons in dividing up seats in the brand new House of Representatives.

Admit it, now. Think how interesting this would have made watching Fox News this past Election Night. Can’t you see Megyn Kelly explaining: “Well, in Florida, Hillary Clinton has a lead among African-American voters of 500,000, but in counting, these equal only 300,000 white votes.”

Don't forget the Founders thought it was a good idea to keep poor white men from voting, as well.

I’m getting to the Electoral College; but first, a little more background. And for this, I do not consult some lame internet source, but turn to Notes on Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 by James Madison, himself.

The Founding Fathers—at least Madison and a handful of others—first met in convention on May 14, 1787. There weren’t enough delegates to open for business. So they voted to delay. No representatives from Rhode Island ever showed up.

Once debate began, the Founding Fathers quickly agreed, “We really, really need  an Electoral College!”

Ha, ha. 

Not a chance.

Instead, Roger Sherman, representing Connecticut, wanted an “executive” (that’s the president for those who can’t tell) “to be appointed by and accountable to the Legislature only, which was the depository of the supreme will of Society.”

Randolph, speaking for Virginia, was clear. He didn’t want one executive. He said we should elect three.

James Wilson, from Pennsylvania, noted correctly (and keep this in mind for today) that in all the states executives were elected by the people—and he supported that plan in choosing a national executive. In his opinion, the president should be elected every three years and be eligible to run again.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, from South Carolina, insisted that the office of president should be filled every seven years. Naturally, he added, a president should not be allowed to stand for reelection.

So it was, on June 1, 1787, that the Founding Fathers, voting by states, approved a seven-year presidential term, with no chance of reelection, by a 5-4-1 vote. (Massachusetts delegates were divided.)

The following day, they agreed again on a method for choosing the executive. Gerry expressed doubts about allowing the legislative branch of any new government to choose the president. Then again, “He was not clear that the people ought to act directly...being too little informed of personal characters in large districts, and liable to deceptions.” It was time for the Founding Fathers to do some founding!

Wilson’s idea, to let the people elect the president directly, was put to a vote. By an 8-2 margin, that idea went down.

Madison’s notes continue: “On the question for electing the Executive by the national Legislature for the term of seven years it was agreed to Massts ay. Cont ay. N. Y. ay. Pena no. Del ay. Maryd no. Va ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo ay.” 

Huh? 

At first, there was no idea for an Electoral College at all.

This idea, pedaled so furiously now that somehow we must cling to this outdated mechanism, this Electoral College, because the Founding Fathers said so, that we won’t be safe if we don’t, is pure political nonsense. 

Oh, democracy is terrible! The people will be duped.


Was this true in 1980 or 1984 when Ronald Reagan was elected and reelected by large popular majorities?


Did we need an Electoral College in 1984, when President Reagan turned back a challenge by Walter Mondale, winning 58.8% of the popular vote? (Reagan won 525 electoral votes; poor Mondale 13).



On the Republican side, George W. Bush won the popular vote in 2004. And all was well. Nixon won twice, clobbering George McGovern, 61-38% in 1972. Eisenhower won twice. Hoover won and Coolidge and Harding. 

Abraham Lincoln did too.

Ah, but conservatives quickly insist (whenever their side doesn’t win, as in 2000, or now, in all likelihood, in 2016), “Oh, thank god for the Founding Fathers, who, in their wisdom, created an Electoral College!”

You can buy that stupid argument if you like; but it doesn’t make it any less stupid to claim that the Founding Fathers always got everything right, or that what made sense to them more than 200 years ago has to make sense now. In any case, I’ve had my say for today and I feel a little better. 

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to exercise my constitutional rights and take my dog for a nice walk.