Posts Tagged Culture

When violence seems the only answer

Zebadiah Carter describes himself living in “an era when homicide kills more people than cancer and the favorite form of suicide is to take a rifle up some tower and keep shooting until the riot squad settles it.” In 1980, this remark by the main character in a Robert Heinlein novel sounded like the science fiction that it was. Now it echoes like a prophecy.

Random acts of mass violence in the United States still horrify us but no longer shock us. We’ve heard too many stories, seen too many pictures. And too many of them are depressingly the same.

Read the whole article here.

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St. Patrick’s Day Re-Reflections

At first glance, the soggy, green downs of Ulster bear little resemblance to the parched and craggy hills of Israel.  But a gentle tugging at the cultural fabric of either place unravels an unmistakable common thread:  two peoples, impossibly close geographically, impossibly distant ideologically, with more than enough fuel for hatred between them to burn until the coming of the Messiah.  Tromping over hills and through city streets, however, first in one place and then in the other, I discovered a more compelling similarity:  the bitter struggle of humanity in exile.

“Which are the bad parts of town, the ones I should avoid?” I asked the owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I passed my first night in Belfast.

She dutifully pointed out the Shankhill neighborhood on my map, cautioning me to steer clear of it.  I thanked her and, with sophomoric self-confidence, proceeded there directly.

Read the whole article here.

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What teachers really want to tell parents

Published at by Ron Clark, Disney’s Teacher of the Year

This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, “You can’t leave us,” and she quite bluntly replied, “Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can’t deal with parents anymore; they are killing us.”

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list “issues with parents” as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

Read the whole article here.

A few choice quotes:

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.

Trust us… And please don’t ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

If you don’t want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren’t succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

And parents, you know, it’s OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong.

In all honesty, it’s usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal’s office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has “given” your child, you might need to realize your child “earned” those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.

And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, “I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me.” If you aren’t happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don’t respect her, he won’t either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask — and beg of you — to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That’s a teacher’s promise, from me to you.

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The Midpoint of the World

What would you ask of a time traveler from a hundred years ago? And if you traveled a hundred years into the future, what would you want to tell the people you found there? Perhaps it would sound something like this:

What did you do to handle the overpopulations we predicted? How did you protect the seashores? What did you do to keep the ozone layer intact, the energy supplies, the trees? Have you eliminated ignorance, brutality, greed?

There might be no better way to discover unexamined truths about ourselves then by composing a letter to our grandchildren’s grandchildren. This was certainly on the mind of award-winning essayist Roger Rosenblatt a quarter century ago when he penned his deeply thoughtful Letter to 2086.

Read the whole article here.

Hat tip:  David Rich

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It’s (not) my fault!

By Joe Holleman •

The big election is just days away and I’ll be glad when the question of who is more evil, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, can finally be laid to rest — at least until the next time the griping electorate needs to demonize yet another opponent.

Sorry if this seems cynical, but do you blame me? For we have become something worse than a Nation of Greed or a Nation of Hate.

We have become a Nation of Whiners.

Welcome to the land of griping and moaning fault-finders who can identify a hundred reasons why they’ve failed, and not one that begins with them.

I mean it really can’t be our fault that we’re fat, or unhappy, or got a divorce, or can’t hold a job, or drink or smoke too much, or do too many drugs? We’re not to blame for these weaknesses, are we?

Advertising makes us eat too much, our bosses make us drink to excess and our spouses make us cheat. What’s a poor boy to do?

(Note: To those who have pointed out that I have been fat most of my life, let me explain how that unfortunate condition came about: I eat too damn much. You know whose fault that is? Mine.)

And if you sit still and try hard enough, you can feel that vast conspiracy of right-wing wackos, left-wing crazies, racist whites, lazy blacks, communists, capitalists, religious kooks and marrying gays all coming together to pull the invisible strings that yank your lives off track.

And don’t even get me started on those border-violating Mexicans who come up here to work jobs that we’re simply too good or too lazy to accept. The nerve of them.

For if it’s not one of these many reasons for our failures, if we still can’t blame a Kennedy or a George W., then we just might be forced to sit upright in our easy-way-out chairs and at least give a passing nod to the notion that our lives are in the present condition because of what we have done with them.

Oh, relax, I was just kidding. Who needs an honest self-appraisal when we have cadres of counseling shills straight from the excuse factories ready to let us off the hook for all of our faults? Why should we embrace personal responsibility when the messes our lives have become can be laid off on a harping mother, an absent father, a mean nun, godless Democrats and soulless Republicans.

Repeat after me, “It’s not my fault.”

And if you could just indulge self-indulgence a teensy bit longer, we can surely find a support group or psychological study that backs us up.

Better yet, let’s take another ridiculous step further and make heroes out of failures. Give the big headlines to troubled pop singers, actors and athletes than to people who actually do some good. The fact that so many people know so much about Lindsay Lohan should be some sort of crime in itself.

In modern America, it has become the norm to exalt mediocrity and praise good intentions. That way, our self-esteem gets stroked far more when we consistently clear that low bar than it would if we were actually expected to show quality and results.

Clearly, we have sailed past the point of listening to Shakespeare tell us we shouldn’t blame the stars, but ourselves. And maybe the world is now too secular to remind anyone that the L-rd helps those who help themselves.

But let’s hope we’re not too far down that lost highway to ignore Hunter S. Thompson’s note about life. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

In short, quit whining.

(Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 4, 2012)

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Spiritual Impressionism

Exile has defined most of the history of Jewish people, always as a response to our failure to value our relationship with the Almighty. When we turn our backs on Him (or on one another), He responds by allowing us to experience the consequences of separation through the loneliness of exile.

Read the whole article here.


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Mistaking Identity

Consider the Egalia preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, where staff avoid such culturally loaded words as “him” and “her,” addressing the children as “friends” rather than “boys and girls.” According to the AP, “breaking down gender roles is a core mission in [Sweden’s] national curriculum,” and many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to devise strategies for eliminating “stereotypes.”

Could they be right?


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Nothing but the Truth

Reflections about the boy who didn’t cry wolf.


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Live From New York

I am pleased to announce that I will be a featured speaker at the Yeshiva University book sale on the topic:

Why Jews are Liberals
Jewish history and the origins of political ideology

7:30 PM
Wednesday 23 February
2495 Amsterdam Ave
Manhattan (Washington Heights), NY

A book signing will follow for my overview of Jewish history and philosophy, Dawn to Destiny.

For directions and location information, click here.

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Noah Redux

With global warming threatening to submerge the world beneath melting polar ice, could it be time for another ark?

Somebody thinks so.

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