Saturday, October 13, 2018

Stand Together for What We Stand For

Michael Gerson argues in his recent editorial that Democrats cannot abandon civility (as well?) and expect to defeat Trumpism. He believes that the incivility of “Democratic tactics…are allowing Trump to audition for the role of Richard M. Nixon [running] as a symbol of social stability and order.”

I often disagree with Gerson, a conservative commentator at the Washington Post. But he is smart and has been fairly consistent in opposing the Trumpian take-over of his Party.
Further, I generally agree with the idea that standing in opposition to Trumpism requires us to ‘be the change,’ to ensure our means match our ends, to enact respect for the rule of law, tolerance, and democratic decision making even as we fight ferociously to defend what we stand for against authoritarianism.
But in this piece Gerson treats Trumpian incivility as a neutral backdrop, when he has an obligation—as a moderate Republican critic of Trumpism—to tilt more heavily toward giving strategic advice to his own side…even more so when the advice he seeks to share is to reign it in and fight more cautiously (even if, implicitly, this increases one’s risk of losing).
It takes no integrity or courage to announce loudly that your opponents need to be more civil. It is no break with incivility to frame the conflict in terms that suggest your opponent's incivility is the problem.

If Gerson really does care about the existential threat facing our Republic—and I believe he does—his patriotic responsibility is to face his own demons, focus his energies on calling out those on his team driving the threat…in order to make it easier or his opponents to defeat those on his team threatening the Republic (if his team continues not only to fail to defeat them internally, but to enable and amplify the threat).
Not only does Gerson’s piece fail, for this reason, to help us come together around the shared goal of saving our Republic, it encourages his opponents to focus their fight against each other, making it less likely that this threat will be contained or defeated.
As someone who, like Gerson, is deeply concerned about current threats to our Republic and to American democracy I think we—all those opposed to Trumpism—need to unite around winning in the midterms. I worry that some on my team are deploying tactics that might do more to mobilize their voters than our own—but my energy and anger is not directed toward them. I encourage them to stay energized and try to be as strategic as possible, but they are not my enemy. I share my tactical concerns internally.
But the threat we all face right now must unite a team that accept all comers and directs all our energy toward winning the midterms. Yes, it is possible that some on our side will say or do things that make others on our team cringe. We will debate, internally, the relative value of this or that basket of tactics. But we must retain our singular focus on unity against the most dangerous threat to our Republic in our lifetimes. 
So, in the end, Gerson's framing here is distracting and dividing us here. We do stand for civility, the rule of law, tolerance and democracy--and civil disobedience, creative forms of non-violent protest, remain central to standing for what we stand for. 
Gerson is critical of HRC for saying “you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” But he is conveniently overlooking the fact that arguments like his, advanced by moderate Republicans like him, fit perfectly into the Trumpian (and Rovian) playbook. Gerson is calling out his opponents for precisely the crime his team is the most prominent perpetrator of. In earlier editorials he, himself, has said as much—which is why his commentary today, using his political capital as a moderate Republican critical of Trump, is such a betrayal of his own stated goal of thwarting the Trumpian threat.
I do not think Gerson is dishonest, but in the end his argument here strikes me as a dangerous form of anti-democratic gaslighting. If civility refers to the behaviors and norms and attitudes that make democracy both possible and desirable, his argument is also--in the current context, because context matters--deeply uncivil.
Yes, opposition should be civil. We should focus on the midterms and tactics that will mobilize our voters without mobilizing their voters. At the same time, we need to humbly recognize that none of us has the answer key for which tactics are most likely to work. We need to enact ‘what we stand for’ in our tolerance for tactical diversity demonstrated by a commitment to discussions about tactics with all those standing together against the primary threat...and discussions that do not demonize our own teammates and, to the best of our ability, unite us to win the midterms and beyond.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Conservatives’ Trump-Induced Candor
My friends often criticize me when I approvingly post columns by conservatives. I do this for two reasons. We all need to do more to better understand the perspectives and arguments of other Americans who disagree with us. There are many very good thinkers on the other side who help me more deeply understand the challenges and trade-offs we need to wrestle with together. 

Today I was shocked to read conservative columnist Steve Chapman (entire editorial pasted below) advance the following assertions:

Conservative columnist Chapman says (most directly in the paragraphs in red below) that conservatives support Trump, support racial injustice, support anti-gay discrimination, support gender inequality, and support a Muslim travel ban.

This is a shocking degree of candor. I wonder if I am misreading something here? Because he writes this as if it were uncontroversial. It is just the preface to his central argument about Nike. He write this to just set the stage, but this is the most dramatic performance in his piece.

The second most dramatic and important (also not his argument about Nike, sorry Steve) is his opening assertion (in blue below). This might just be red meat (and I am then just taking his bait), but ‘the allegedly socialist’ comment to describe one of our most moderate presidents since WWII is an irresponsible kowtowing to the crazy town echo chamber.

And pretending there is no well-known lag time between policy and economic outcomes is just about as irresponsible because it suggests that the leader of crazy town is somehow responsible for what he inherited (which is remarkably similar to all of his claims to success over his entire lifetime).

In this case, I am not posting Chapman to encourage others to read it. This one is not an illustration of good thinking on the other side or one that helps us understand competing perspectives. Instead I am blogging on it. Since only my mother reads my blog this means my friends can breathe a sigh of relief: there is no risk of me spreading conservative talking points this time!

Kaepernick, Nike and Capitalism
Steve Chapman, The Chicago Tribune

In many ways, the 2016 election was a victory for capitalism, with an allegedly socialist intellectual president giving way to a real estate mogul whose understanding of business would unleash prosperity. The economy and the stock market are indeed doing well. But although Donald Trump’s administration may be good for capitalists, capitalists are not necessarily good for him.
Many a conservative has been inspired by the hero of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” a brilliant businessman and a model of what she called “the man of violent energy and passionate ambition, the man of achievement, lighted by the flame of his success.” House Speaker Paul Ryan professed to regularly giving the book as a Christmas present and making his interns read it to learn the “morality of capitalism.”
What is easy for those on either end of the political spectrum to forget is that free-market commerce is not always — or usually — a force for conservative values. It is often just the opposite, as Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick confirms.
The Republican Party has a large complement of corporate titans in its camp. But conservatives are reminded every day that some of the most successful and innovative companies are led and staffed by people whose worldview is deeply at odds with conservative ideology.
There is Amazon, whose founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post, a frequent target of Trump’s animosity. There is Apple, where CEO Tim Cook has been a vocal critic of racial injustice and anti-gay discrimination. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has written, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”
Starbucks responded to Trump’s travel ban by pledging to hire 10,000 refugees. After the Parkland school massacre, Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling military-style firearms. Google, under pressure from employees opposed to creating “warfare technology,” withdrew from a Pentagon project on artificial intelligence.
But at the moment, the most visible face of corporate liberalism is Nike, whose new ad campaign features Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback known for kneeling during the pregame national anthem to protest police abuses and racism. The campaign decision provoked a tweet from the president, who asserted, “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.”
The company, which sells 120 million pairs of shoes a year, is not likely to take marketing advice from a serial bankrupt. It has a long history of association with black athletes, a group that includes few Trump supporters. It already offers a line of shoes named for LeBron James, who has publicly denounced Trump.
Nike did take a business risk with Kaepernick, and its stock dipped Tuesday. But the company seems to think it will gain more than it will lose from the controversy, and it seems prepared to accept whatever negative consequences ensue.
They are likely to be minor or nonexistent. The right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research claimed, “Nike is appealing to a small, radicalized market that supports Black Lives Matter and apparently hates the police.” But a large minority of the public sides with the kneeling players, and most people think the protests should be allowed regardless. If the Kaepernick ads alienate some conservative customers, they will attract some liberals.
Free markets have a way of dissolving ancient prejudices and rigid customs. Politicians in red states may try to legislate against accommodations for transgender people, but businesses have been among the most active opponents of such measures. Many big companies provided benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of employees before the Supreme Court ruled for gay marriage.
Conservatives are often inflamed by the refusal of corporations to take their side. After Delta Air Lines cut ties with the National Rifle Association, Georgia legislators exacted revenge by repealing a tax exemption on jet fuel — even though the airline is one of the state’s largest private employers. Delta CEO Ed Bastian replied: “Our values are not for sale.”
What many big companies have figured out is that Trumpism is in conflict with the behavior and attitudes they foster in their employees — and with the beliefs of most consumers. In the current polarized political climate, the striking fact is not how many corporations have challenged Trump. It’s how few have defended him.
The sentiment among many conservatives is that the country is changing in a variety of ways that threaten their values. They’re right, and the companies at the center of modern American capitalism are fine with that.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Self Pocket Picking
Charles Blow in the New York Times helps us again as we try to make sense of the mess we have gotten ourselves into….

Describing a recently televised one-hour policy meeting on immigration where the president demonstrated his lack of skill, Blow concludes that the meeting paints a picture of…

“a man who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about; a man who says things that are 180 degrees from the things he has said before; a man who has no clear line of reasoning; a man who is clearly out of his depth and willing to do and say anything to please the people in front of him.

He demonstrated once again that he is a man without principle, interested only in how good he can make himself look and how much money he can make.”

Blow notes that (to the degree possible) if we guess at what policy might emerge from the meeting and the president does what he seemed to say he would do, the president would betray his base yet again. He will demonstrate that he is willing to say “anything to keep them angry,” including lying to his base, and “once again, they won’t care.”

“That is because…Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man."

Blow reminds us that this is not new, quoting President Johnson to describe what has been called the ‘Southern Strategy’ of pitting white workers against black workers so their division and distraction frees up non-workers to take advantage of both, riding a wave of white working class support to electoral victory.

“As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: ‘If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.’”

Anger does seem to be a common denominator among Trump supporters. A deep seated anger easily redirected into hatred and violence, but an anger also based on this pocket-picking that has steadily diminished their quality of life. Rather than see the plutocrat pocket pickers as the enemy, however, this anger is satisfied with racial self-righteousness.

“…Donald Trump represents white people’s right to be wrong and still be right.

Frustration as declining control over our own lives fuels an expressive response designed by pocket pickers to empower pocket pickers, instead of fueling an effective counter-mobilization (by design). And we all suffer as a result, though some of us suffer a lot more.

“For white supremacy to be made perfect, the lowest white man must be exalted above those who are black.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.”

In this sense, every Trump lie is heard by his base as vindication, experienced as a joyful celebration of a pocket picker masquerading as someone finally standing up for them.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Atlantic on a topic close to my heart. My comments at the end.

Don't Give Up on the Lecture
Teachers who stand in front of their classes and deliver instruction are not "out-of-touch experts"—they're role models.


Students in a lecture class can give the impression of lethargy: Maybe a student sleeps in the back of the classroom, maybe others fidget and doodle. The students who are paying attention may be too focused on their notebooks to flash a look of understanding and inspiration.

Perhaps because of this negative initial impression, lectures are under attack these days. The Common Core standards place far greater value on small-group discussion and student-led work than on any teacher-led instruction. The term “lecture” is entirely out of fashion, as is the unqualified word “lesson.” On recent planning templates released by New York’s Department of Education, only the term “mini-lesson” is used. The term gets its diminutive status because of the fact that only 10 to 15 minutes on the hour are allotted for teacher-disseminated information, while the rest of the class period is focused on student-centered practice in groups or project based learning. But the mini lesson is not even accepted as the most progressive way of teaching. Champions of the "flipped classroom" relegate lectures to YouTube channels. In a recent interview here at The Atlantic, futurist David Thornburg declared that lectures created a depressing experience for him in school.

The tendency to see lecture-based instruction as alienating and stifling to student creativity is not altogether new. In Paulo Friere’s 1970 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the lecturing teacher was cast as an arrogant imperialist. Alison King coined the flip expression “sage on the stage” in a 1997 article and, although more than half of King’s article consists of ideas for working small group approaches into otherwise lecture-centric courses, demonstrating that she was in no way looking to eliminate the lecture entirely, everyone from Common Core advocates to edtech disrupters has co-opted “sage on the stage” as license to heckle the “out-of-touch expert.” Nevertheless, there is immense value in lecture, and it must not be written off as boring and ineffective teaching.

In the 2010 study from Harvard’s Kennedy School “Is traditional teaching really all that bad?,” Guido Scwerdt and Amelie Wupperman tried to quantify the “sage-on-the-stage” model of education as compared to its counterpart, “guide-on-the-side,” in which a teacher designs an activity or learning experience for students and steps back from direct instruction. According to the data, students exposed to lecture more than other classroom activities showed more significant learning gains than their peers. The authors were careful to point out that this data need not be proscriptive. One of the study’s faults is that there is no way to account for the teachers who gravitate more towards lecturing because they excel at it, and those who encourage group work because they are comfortable managing such dynamics. If the community of educators has agreed to value student learning styles, why not allow adults the freedom to play to their own strengths as well? I certainly know that while I am articulate in facilitating student discussion, my communication breaks down and I am a weaker teacher in a noisy room. For my high-school students, I know there is great value in teaching them how to use their notebooks to respond as I talk—it gives many of them lead time in developing questions and comments that they can be proud of contributing to discussion later in the class. It is for these reasons I feel that lecturing can create a more democratic experience for students than a lesson that is entirely student-focused.

Mary Burgan, in her article for the Carnegie Foundation’s Change, has defended lectures writing that “that teachers are irreplaceable as models of knowledgeable adults grappling with first principles in order to open their students' understanding,” but also that a “passionate display of erudition [is] valuable in itself—regardless of the rewards of approval or popularity.” Richard Gunderman argues that the craft of the lecture is key to its value, maintaining that “Good lecturing is an art, and like other arts such as painting, musicianship, and writing, it takes real dedication and many hours of practice to excel at.”
For those who argue that such expertise is daunting to student confidence and the uniform pace diminishes student attention, Burgan points out that “being clueless in a discussion class is much more embarrassing and destructive of a student’s self confidence than struggling to understand in the anonymity of a lecture.” As a college student, I was often advised by well-meaning adults to sign-up for seminars rather than lectures in order to get “face time.” To be perfectly honest, though, the lecture format, far more than the noisy seminar, enabled me to think deeply about a topic rather than being distracted by poorly planned and redundant comments from peers (often aggravated by a teacher who is reluctant, for fear of being too top-down in terms of pedagogy, to deflect them). Besides frustration with the dominant participants in many a seminar class, I have also wasted time distracted by the anxiety that I had to race others to an appropriate comment in order to accumulate those necessary class participation points.

There is a reason TED talks are popular with students and adults alike. They are delivered on engaging topics, by engaging people, and they offer time for reflection by the audience. Ever since Susan Cain delivered her 2012 TED talk“The Power of Introverts,” the relative personality types introvert and extrovert have been all over the Internet as though the terms were just discovered. Especially since there is so much buzz around special merits of the undersung introvert, it is still surprising that the lecture format of learning is so commonly dismissed, and even disparaged. Is the teacher devoted to conveying serious concepts the best manager of a noisy, interactive classroom? Does it make sense to assume that a quiet student is always a disengaged student? There is no one method of education that fails across the board, only the occasional rigid ideology that criticizes “one-size-fits-all education” while discontinuing a few of the less popular sizes.
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ABIGAIL WALTHAUSEN is a writer and high-school English teacher. She writes about technology and teaching the humanities at Edtech Pentameter.

This is a very thoughtful and concise piece. I will only add these thoughts…

“Nevertheless, there is immense value in lecture, and it must not be written off as boring and ineffective teaching.” The Atlantic piece does not miss this point, but I want to re-emphasize it: lectures can be boring and ineffective. The point is that they also cannot be dismissed pre-emptively as inescapably boring and ineffective.

Like many things, it depends. In this case it depends on what an instructor is good at, how a particular topic is best explained, how a particular group of students is best met where they are. It also depends on the degree to which any one mode of delivery is either a constant-default-mode (increasing the chance that it becomes boring and ineffective) or just one of many modes designed to communicate specific ideas to specific audiences.

Mini-Lesson is disparaged here, but it should not be. Since the point I take away from this piece is that there is no one universally effective mode, this idea should be presented more open-mindedly. The existence of mini-lessons is (1) evidence that lecturing is still valued even by those who claim otherwise and (2) an interesting hybridization mode. Here an instructor may speak for 10-15 minutes to set up a serious conversation and then repeat this again after the conversation. This mini-lecture mode is not a universally effective mode, but it does work well when well-crafted for the circumstances.

Modelling the value of wrestling with complex questions. A powerful lecture does this. A well-constructed small group exercise, application, or facilitated class discussion can also do this. It is possible that lecture and mini-lectures do this more reliably than other modes, but that might be my own bias.

“There is a reason TED talks are popular with students and adults alike. They are delivered on engaging topics, by engaging people, and they offer time for reflection by the audience.” Like mini-lectures, TED talks demonstrate the ongoing value of the lecture as one mode of delivery—and do so in exciting fashion.

“There is no one method of education that fails across the board, only the occasional rigid ideology that criticizes ‘one-size-fits-all education’ while discontinuing a few of the less popular sizes.” Agreed. We should continue to add to our tool box as we learn more about teaching and learning, rather than leaping on the most recent ‘squirrel!’ as the magic solution.