Monthly Archives: September 2014

Aristotle was a Greek Dude who Thought About Stuff…

The statement above was a snippet of a conversation I heard between two college students as I passed them in a hallway. One was asking the other about a question on an upcoming exam. I presume the question was something like “who was Aristotle?”. I have to wonder if the student gave the answer above, and the grade he received for it.


I teach at a community college. I’ve been teaching for eighteen years. Some of the things that students say or write will stop you in your tracks. Much of would be truly funny if it came from a small child. Hearing or reading it from a college student is a different matter.

I don’t enjoy throwing rocks at our nations public education system, but the current definition of a “quality” public education seems to have slipped a few notches in recent decades. Actually it has slipped alot. The freshmen I see every September are only three months out of high school. Their knowedge, or actually their lack of knowledge is truly stunning.

Sometimes their spelling and use of the English language is creative to say the least. One student wrote about receiving passed down clothing as “hammydowns”. Another wrote about crime in her area and about all the “roofless criminals”.  Other students have written about being “lact toast and tolerant”, and described a verb as “past tents”.

It’s funny, but it’s not. We used to expect a certain level of knowledge from a high school graduate; today, not so much.

I wish it were simply the misuse of words; it’s not. These students seem to be missing any number of fundementals. At random in class one day I asked “how many pints in a quart?”. No one knew. “Okay,” I said, “try this: How many quarts in a gallon?”  One student — ONE student, knew the answer.

One student accused me of being “old school” expecting them to know these answers, to have them memorized. After all, couldn’t they just simply consult their smart phone if they needed to know? Why burden the brain carrying around that useless information?

Young people today are addicted to their smart phones. A few years ago when I walked down a hallway between classes, it was filled with the noise of students talking to each other. Today, the hallways are nearly silent, even when filled with students. Each one seems to be entraced by their phone, sending or receiving some mysterious message that renders them oblivious to everyone around them. Student used to get to know one another. Today it seems they are too busy with their electronics to be bothered.

The phones are their crutch. Without them, who knows what might happen? This seems like an exaggeration until you hear a story like this:

A student told me that he and his mother went to a local mall, less than ten miles from his home. When they came out, his mother’s phone was dead because she had forgotten to charge it. His phone did not have a GPS function. They did not know how to get home. They had to sit and wait while his mother charged her phone enough to restore the GPS. Ten miles from home, and they were lost.  I learned that many of my students rely on their GPS devices to get them virtually anywhere away from their immediate surroundings.  Without the technology, they are lost — literally. How is it even possible that we are a nation where families crossed the entire continent in covered wagons and a college student today gets lost ten miles from home?

I sometimes feel like I am belaboring this, but I see this sort of thing in my classrooms constantly. If recent high school graduates cannot do simple math without a calculator, and can’t find their way home from the mall, what the hell is going on? I find it enormously frustrating that aside from an occasional article I run across on this subject, most of us seem unconcerned. If our children are learning less and less in school, and are becoming addicted to electronic devices, shouldn’t we all be waving red flags? Apparently not.

Here’s what I know from observation: The majority of the students I see having the following difficulties:

1. They cannot do any sort of “difficult” math in their heads. This includes basic multiplication (9×12) or division (72/8). Simple addition (12+16+90) causes them to stumble. Most basic math requires they reach for a calculator.

2. Simple English; spelling, homonyms, defintions are difficult for them.

3. They have no inkling how government works. They cannot name the branches of government, how a bill becomes a law, or virtually any current elected officials outside of the President and Vice President.

4. Geography eludes them. States and capitols, forget it. Foreign countries, no clue. Even directions and distances befuddle them.

I could go on and on. They have virtually no knowledge of history; hardly a smattering of science, and most of them never read a book.

This is a generation who can send hundreds of text messages and “selfies” every day, but know almost nothing about the world around them.

So who is responsible for this mess, and why does no one seem to care?

The students would tell you they were not “taught” most of these things in twelve years of education. The teachers would say of course they were taught these things. The parents who tell you they don’t know or care. The teacher unions would tell you that kids today are getting the best education ever, they just need more money. The politicians would tell you all is well; just pass more legislation regulating the classroom and import more foreign workers to do the jobs Americans won’t (or can’t) do.

So who’s to blame? No one. Everyone. I just know these kids today know far less coming out of high school than I did coming out of eighth grade.

Bringing this back full circle, maybe Aristotle was just a Greek “dude” who thought about “stuff”.  Maybe that “stuff” isn’t important to learn anymore.  Maybe I’m just old and cranky.  But when I see these kids every week and speculate on their futures, I don’t feel angry, I just feel sad.


Here We Go Again

One thing I’ve learned about writing a blog; it’s difficult for me to stay quiet on controversial issues. I originally wanted to just write about things that interest me; that hasn’t completely worked out.

I’m writing this on September 11, thirteen years after the infamous event.


Last night, on the eve of 9/11, the President announced we are going up against our latest terrorist foe, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Of course, we’re going to “manage” this situation, attacking these terrorists strictly from the air, thus completely avoiding any American “boots on the ground”. It will take time, it will be difficult, but we’ll get this “problem” under control.

That is a lie.

We’ve been at “war” with Muslims for thirteen years. Be it Al Queda, Taliban, ISIS, or a dozen others wack-job groups, we’ve been killing them and they’ve been trying to kill us. Our Administration feverishly tries in their poltically-correct-always way to insure us that this is not a religious war. Well, it actually is. Even if we insist it is not a religious war to us, it’s certainly a religious war to them.  The President likes to tell us that the “moderate Muslims” are not like that, but it seems they are an awful quiet group. Whether it is from fear or because they agree, they are not prone to speak out against the so-called “radicals”. Makes one think there’s not much difference between “moderate” and “radical”

I don’t claim to understand Islam, any more than I understand Buddhism or Hindu. That being said, I do not recall any other religious people trying to kill us in the name of their god. Most religions seem to tacitly get along, or at least tolerate each other for the most part. Not the Muslims.

When the British left India, Muslims and Hindus murderously clashed, and this ultimately gave us Pakistan, separating the warring factions who still hate each other.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, one of their early acts was to blow up the ancient  Bamiyan Buddhist statues created in the 6th century. In the Balkins, Christians and Muslims killed each other in neighbor versus neighbor slaughters.

It could not be overstated how much Muslims hate the Jews. Muslims hate the Sikhs. Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslms even hate each other, and kill each other off by the boatload.

Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Christians. And always: Muslims. See the picture here? Of course I’ve only named a few of the planet’s many religions. I don’t know how well Muslims would get along with Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, but I suspect it wouldn’t be cordial.

Technically, the Muslims are supposed to like Christians, since we were considered to be dhimmi, people of the Book,  peeps with similar background beliefs. For instance, Muslims supposedly think Jesus is okay; not as cool as Mohammed, but basically okay. For that, they were willing to let us live among them, provided we pay a tax known as a jizyah, and followed all their rules. In other words they would tolerate us Christians under certain restricted circumstances, but we must acknowlege and accept that they are in charge. Cool, huh?

These days, however, it seems that even the dhimmi deal is off the table. They don’t want us to live side by side with them. They don’t want us to live at all. We’re the kafir (infidels), and they want us dead. Beheading, shooting, or blowing us up, they don’t seem to care; just dead. 


In and of itself, that’s nothing knew. Throughout our history other groups have wanted us pretty much dead. The Germans, the Japanese, the Viet Cong, to name a few.  We’ve be involved in a fair share of wars in our relatively brief history. These wars were based on any number of things besides religion: territory, ideology, power, etc.  We have no esperience fighting a religious war, which is why this is so dangerous.

No one in Washington wants to call our Mid-East conflicts religious, but what else could they be? The ISIS clowns have made it clear they want to establish an Islamic Caliphate, control of the entire Middle East.  If we left them alone and let it be Muslim versus Muslim slugging it out for power, would that be the end of it? Hardly. These crazies want their caliphate to rule the entire world, us included. The die has been cast on this one.

So are we just fighting the crazy Muslims? Which ones are they?  How do we tell? Do we just wait until the “moderate” Muslims start taking heads here? Apparently we do. The Fort Hood shooting for instance: Major Hasan was a “moderate” Muslim until he started shooting his fellow soldiers. The Boston Marathon bombers were just “moderate” Muslim students until they planted the bomb. Hell, even the 1993 World Trade Center bombers were just happy “moderate” Muslims living here until they planted the explosives.

Today I read a report that alleges three college-age girls (American citizens) from Minnesota have flown off to Syria to join the ISIS. Their parents reported this to the FBI, who is investigiating. In the same report, a twenty-something woman from Colorado was apprehended before she could do the same thing. Jihadis are no longer just Arabs.  They live among us.


I guess my point is this: we’re involved in a religious war whether we think we are or not. Radical or moderate, everyone we’re fighting is a muslim. They may come from Syria, Iraq, or Iran. They may be home grown from Texas or New Jersey; but they’re all Muslims.

Our politically-correct society has tried very hard to pretend that this is not about religion, and the more they play fantasy denial games the more it becomes evident that this is exactly about religion.

I do know this: we’re not going to “manage” this ISIS crew or any other gang that crops up by bombing them.  We’re not prepared to do Dresden-style firebombing of cities anymore, and frankly our “surgical” strikes aren’t so surgical. Besides, the crazies will just hide in among the civilians, and we won’t bomb them.  Eventually we’ll send in troops once again and this madness will continue.

But it’s not going to get better. This will be a long bitter fight, and nothing about it will be good. It seems we might be a little better off if we stopped pretending and realize the kind of war we are really in.

9-11 2

Richard Dreyfuss

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Statesof America.

I’ve always enjoyed Richard Dreyfuss as an actor:

I’ve enjoyed Dreyfuss as an actor, but now he’s doing something more important, perhaps the most important thing he’s ever done.

Last summer I went to a talk by  Richard Dreyfuss at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. His talk was about The Dreyfuss Initiative, a program to encourage the teaching of civics in American schools. He makes a compelling case for why such education is needed more than ever today:

I know from first hand experience that Richard Dreyfuss is correct. I teach college freshmen, and their lack of understanding of almost any aspect of civics is stunning. I’m not talking about students being able to recite chapter and verse from the Constitution; I’m talking about students not having the foggiest notion how their government functions. Most cannot name the branches of government, have no idea how laws are created, and cannot name virtually any of the government officials who have such an impact on their lives.

I grew up in a political family. My father was a borough councilman, my mother a county committeewoman. I had family members active in politics and government from local to the state level. I saw the process in action almost every day of my life.  Later, when involved in veteran’s affairs, I lobbied state legislators, roamed Congressional office buildings in Washington DC, and even testified at Congressional hearings.

Civics and government to me was not a school subject, it was a way of life. But even then I knew many of my fellow students turned off when in civics classes. Back then it seemed to matter little. Today it matters a lot.

We live in a world of political clamor, especially online. Pundits and bloggers rant incessantly. Reader comments are filled with anger and rage over one political figure or another. Every government action or inaction raises the decible level. We yell, we scream, we raise our blood pressure, but we don’t get involved. Everyone screams from the sidelines about our horrible politicians, but no one wants to be one.

For years I was a reporter covering local governments. I attended countless borough council meetings when I was the only one in the audience. Local officials made decisions that impacted their citizens, but no one cared enough to show up.

I suppose what I was observing then was the slow descent into political ignorance.  If the people do not care about their government, why should they care if schools stop teaching it? It was boring anyway.

The less we know about civics, the less we hold together as a society. Our system was designed to put the people in charge, but if they do not understand that, a civilized society can turn into anarchy. If we do not teach our children, how can they posssibly ever know how to govern?

The Dreyfuss Initiative is an effort to restore civics education in schools. It is an attempt to re-capture what we once knew and took for granted, but  are on the verge of losing.

I don’t know anything about Richard Dreyfuss’ politics, nor do I care. This is not a partisan issue. He has stepped out of his actor role and stepped up as an American. That’s all I care about. His initiative deserves our support. Visit his website: