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World Trade Center and Pentagon Terrorist Attacks, 2009 Update

Last year we were winning 7-0; now it’s 8-0.

I show no mercy – none – to the folks in education who say that NCLB, various teaching/administrative/reform initiatives, etc. inspire “terror” in children or that their practitioners are “terrorists.” On this point, I am almost entirely alone in terms of vocal, specific criticism.

Watch the video embedded in my re-post below – you’ll see why I never, ever let it slide.

[Originally posted in September, 2008]

We’re winning 7-0, and I’d like to go for the shutout.

I don’t really use the phrases “9/11″ or “September 11.” Instead, I refer to the events 7 years ago today as what they were – a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the United States. I understand that “9/11″ and the like are shorthand; it’s a convenient way to refer to a complex event. But I don’t bother with the day for the same reason I don’t say “December 25″ when I really mean Christmas.

Mark Steyn has reprinted his September 12, 2001 column called “A War for Civilization” and added a bit of perspective – it demands a careful read, and should be read annually.

For those of you who don’t yet read Evan Coyne Maloney’s Brain Terminal, start with his brilliant, harrowing ‘Hell on Earth’ essay. Then watch the video memorial Crystal Morning, edited from David Vogler’s footage:

I got a package in the mail from my brother about two days after the attacks [it was beef jerky and apple cider]. It included this note:

world trade center attack note

Storming the CASTLE in the War on Christmas

CASTLE is stealing Christmas

‘Tis the season, folks. For family, friends and joy, some say.

Others seize the opportunity to hoist the banner of the Establishment Clause to persecute those who dare to recognize any bit of Christmas in public schools.

Over at Dangerously Irrelevant, Dr. Scott McLeod, Director of the Center of Advanced Study of Leadership in Education [CASTLE], announced a game called “Spot That Holiday Violation!” The contest, judged by McLeod, Jon Becker and Justin Bathon, is meant to highlight egregious violations of that delicate religion/public institution balance.

Here’s their pitch and explanation of the rules:


Here are the rules:

  1. Only American public schools are eligible. [sorry, international readers]
  2. Identify a possible violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution in your local school system. The Establishment Clause requires that schools not favor a) one religion (e.g., Christianity) over another religion, or b) religion over no religion. Government-sponsored religious displays or activities are pretty much always unconstitutional.
  3. Leave your description of the possible violation in the comments section of this post. If you’re not sure if it’s a violation or not, leave it anyway and we’ll chime in as needed. Possible violations may include teacher- or school-sponsored activities, displays, or other actions.
  4. The most egregious violation [as judged by myself, Justin Bathon (at CASTLE’s brother blog, EdJurist), and Jon Becker (of Educational Insanity)] wins a yet-to-be-determined prize!
  5. Deadline for entries is December 23, 2008.

Violations of the Establishment Clause are not to be taken lightly. We’ve got a unique setup here in the United States – though founded clearly on Judeo-Christian/Western principles, we aren’t a thuggish, iron-fisted theocracy that forces the minority to join the mission of the majority.

Some, however – and this includes the CASTLErs with this initiative – interpret the Establishment Clause as it relates to public schools to mean that the ‘freedom from’ is near absolute.

I described this particular contest as “glib, ideologically-driven tripe” – and at least one good soul in the blogosphere appreciated that. If you read the comments, you’ll see why the “Spot That Holiday Violation!” contest exhibits twice the zealotry they’re working so hard to point out.

And, to co-opt a fashionable education term, this contest facilitates that anti-Christmas zealotry.

One of the first gripes details public school religion horrors that include Christmas trees, reindeer on the walls [that "suggests that one religion's folklore is more accepted than any other"] and – brace yourselves, folks, this is the worst:

We even have a Christmas tree in our commons area with Christmas wishes for needy families written on angels that hang on the tree for people to take and grant (Nothing for our needy families that don’t celebrate Christmas).”

It’s sad that one approaches the world in this way – that the holiday season is such an offensive encroachment on liberty as to become mean-spirited and exclusionary. I replied:

Well done spotting the subtle suggestion that these Christian zealots want to spend December 25th beating needy pagans into a bloody pulp with their well-thumped Bibles – while passing on good tidings only to fellow believers, that is.”

That well-wishing for the needy was directed only to the Christian needy is about as plausible as “don we now our gay apparel” actually referring to a costume appropriate for the Folsom Street Fair. But this is the reality of how progressive educators and their torch-bearers view the intersection of religion, Western culture and our schools.

Not a terribly constructive tone, I’ll admit, but at the time I posted that comment, I didn’t think anyone would take the initiative seriously.

Here’s another protest from a teacher forced to endure a faculty talent show at which performers sang some Christmas-themed songs:

“Yesterday, our faculty was forced to sit through a 2-hour luncheon, during which our administration hosted an open-mic talent session. 7 different faculty members sang religious Christmas songs (and not all of them very well.) During the singing, the cafeteria frequently broke out with “Amens” and “Tell it brother/sister.” It was really painful;; I felt like I was at church. My snarky colleagues and I joked about volunteering to sing the Dradle song.”

How she managed to survive is beyond me. I replied to “ms”:

“The setting she describes is an open event – presumably any show of ‘talent’ would have been acceptable. The free responses were not coerced and were of the audience’s own volition.

ms jokes that she could have given a rendition of “I Have a Little Dreidel” – a song which I learned as a child in my rural, public school, and a song which I otherwise would not have encountered. She could have performed it but she chose not to. Instead, she joked with colleagues and then, as we can see above, posted about it on the CASTLE blog. That she was held against her will without any chance to opt out could have been challenged – and likely upheld.

There are egregious examples of political and religious coercion that exist in public schools. We’ve got urban legends, trusted testimonials and, in some cases, video evidence. No one denies that.

But the examples cited above – including CASTLE’s bizarre, intellectually/socially misguided mission here – fail to recognize the difference between the indoctrination of values and common cultural literacy.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that spending time on songs of the American Civil Rights movement and its social protest is a violation of the Establishment Clause even when those songs are heavily religious [and Christian, no less!]. Take, for example, “We Shall Overcome,” a staple of that era. Our jurists here fail to protest that such demonstrations of our culture are really religious evangelism. In that example they recognize a difference between culture and indoctrination – and they’ve reached the proper conclusion. Even so, there’s no reason to pretend that their selective discrimination is not based on their political and social preferences.

They are, in a phrase, intellectually dishonest. If they were truly committed to tying these commonplace celebrations of Christmas to that list of Establishment Clause violations, they’d plop Joel Osteen and Rosa Parks in the same category.

Mr. Anderson and the CASTLErs – as well as future commenters, surely – seem to suggest that celebrating, or even recognizing, these cultural elements constitutes a rejection of all others. This simply isn’t true. That suggestion isn’t any more valid than if one attempted to make the case that our celebration of American Independence Day every July 4th carried with it a contemptuous attitude toward countries with different histories or forms of government.

There’s a reason that most calendars include the Commonwealth countries’ Boxing Day, and it isn’t because we’re filled with hate toward celebrations that aren’t our own.”

That’s the beauty of holiday celebrations – and all celebrations, really. Talk show host and religious scholar Dennis Prager likens it to a goodwill celebration of another’s birthday. It isn’t our own day, we really have no stake in it. We celebrate with him, nonetheless, because we share that joy. It’s common decency, it’s common culture. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in another country [or even in a different part of the United States] has likely had great fun – and increased their appreciation of that culture – by sharing in celebrations that weren’t their own.

One issue was troubling to a CASTLE judge – “messiah” being the ‘word of the day’ in a school district:

“A public school here has a word of the day, which is a definition of a particular, pre-chosen word. Well, a couple weeks ago the word was “Messiah.” The definition for Messiah was something to the effect of “in the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ, who is their savior and redeemer. Who came to Earth and was born in a manger and Christmas, and died to save the world’s sins.” No mention of other messiahs, no mention of other religions. It was a pretty clear intentional crossing of the line in this otherwise innocuous word of the day. My question was, Messiah is fine with me to define, but why not just use an actual dictionary definition instead of making one up that turned into a definition of why you should worship Jesus Christ? Anyway, I know that is not going to qualify as the “most egregious,” but nevertheless I thought it was a cute violation.”

On Twitter and other media, I’ve been candid about the CASTLE attitude toward Establishment Clause violations screaming of ignorance. I said, in a tongue-in-cheek Tweet, that “3 JDs < 1 BA” with an implied reference to our three judges. Here was my response to Mr. Bathon regarding “messiah”:


I’m going to parse your comment to make it a little easier.

“The definition for Messiah was something to the effect of “in the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ, who is their savior and redeemer. Who came to Earth and was born in a manger and Christmas, and died to save the world’s sins.”

The Messiah is primarily a Christian/Hebrew concept as the term originates in the Old Testament. What was given was a very specific definition – if you want to take issue with that, go ahead. My guess is that it was presented this way because of time/medium constraints. How would you define “Messiah” in a 140 character tweet?

“No mention of other messiahs, no mention of other religions”

Perhaps that’s because there aren’t as many as you might think. The Jews have yet to get theirs. The Christians recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah. It would have been valuable – and an inch closer to that special goal of all-things-diversity, yes? – to mention that the Koran/Islam recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, too.

Put simply, going on about the Rastafari Messiah et al. would have covered all the bases – at the expense of time and practical concerns.

“It was a pretty clear intentional crossing of the line in this otherwise innocuous word of the day”

You have failed to make a case that there was an “intentional crossing of the line” in this example. I’ve just shown you why your argument is folly.

“Messiah is fine with me to define, but why not just use an actual dictionary definition instead of making one up that turned into a definition of why you should worship Jesus Christ?”

First, peep that definition. You’ll find that what you heard – and complained about here – isn’t different than what’s found in a dictionary.

Second, that you saw it as a “definition of why you should worship Jesus Christ” is a deliberate misinterpretation. This time it’s a mix of dishonesty and abysmal comprehension. Unless there’s more to the situation than what you described, no sensible person would hear that and think it was evangelism. Highly-specific description that fails to take into account other relevant facets of the definition, such as the Jews waiting on their Messiah? Yes. Christian evalngelism? No.

You folks should have spent less time in inadequate Constitutional Law courses and more time in core Western Civilization classes. It would’ve saved all of us a lot of time.”

I didn’t touch on his use of messiah vs. Messiah, but I should have.

These, folks, are the education leaders’n'lawyers who are determining what you can and can’t do in public schools. Unfortunately, they know precious little about religion, Western culture and tradition. In a response to my comment, Mr. Bathon continues:

Let’s get some more … this is fun (and educational for me too).”

It isn’t fun for me.

It’s depressing to see such deliberate misinterpretation and misapplication of Constitutional principles with regard to public schools. It’s even worse to see it injected into one of the happier times of the year – especially for kids. It’s zealotry mixed with fearmongering, and at the foundation is a profound ignorance of Western culture.

A commenter suggested in a not-so-subtle way that this was a personal issue for me. It isn’t. One of the few things my local school does right, assuming it hasn’t changed much, is the holidays – that’s why I’ve got a neat dreidel story.

I’d like every kid to share in the joy of the holiday season even if the celebrations aren’t his own. It’s far healthier than a deranged protest that one be entitled to a freedom from all things that aren’t dear to him.

One approach is selfish, arrogant, and narcissistic. The other rests on tolerance, shared joy, diversity and community. You decide which is better.

So, in that way, I suppose it is a personal issue for me. Healthy kids and healthy, diverse communities that recognize and share one another’s traditions are the communities we need.

And though I consider threats to that climate largely irrelevant, I do consider them dangerous.

UPDATE at 3.26pm, 12.22.08:

An astute commenter suggested privately that the CASTLErs heed Matthew 7:3:

“”Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?”

A good, applicable question.

UPDATE at 4.17pm, 12.22.08:

Dr. Becker has given me some heat on Twitter because of my following tweet:

@[name removed] also, i’ll be damned if i’m going to let some dolt who has to look up the word “messiah” profess to me on “ceremonial deism”

Yes, Dr. Bathon, I called you a dolt because you had the gall to dictate what does and does not pass for overt religious displays when you showed ignorance of Christianity and Western tradition – and then giggled like a schoolboy at the fun of the debate.

Here’s the rest of the exchange:

jonbecker @matthewktabor Sir, I wll NOT stand for you referring to my friends/colleagues as “dolts.” That’s absolutely offensive and wrong!!!
matthewktabor @jonbecker jeering those who celebrate Christmas in schools is fine, calling someone a dolt is horriffic? i guess i see it differently
jonbecker @matthewktabor YES, calling someone a “dolt”, especially in a space where they can’t reply, is horrific.
@jonbecker you’re welcome to forward the message to him – actually, hold, i’ll update my blog, he can respond there
… and here we are, folks.

Bob Lettis’ Tales of Cooperstown: Influential People, Teachers

I wanted to highlight a neat article by Bob Lettis that appeared this week in a Cooperstown paper. He reminisces about some of the great Cooperstown teachers of his day – Red Bursey, Nick Sterling, etc.

Perhaps one day I’ll write my own version of this article. Tom Good, Ted Kantorowski, Dave Fundis and another Mr. Tabor populate a very short list of Cooperstown teachers of my era who possessed uncommon teaching ability. Cooperstown Central School has a laughable “Greatness by 2010″ plan – lipservice to improvement, really – as they move further away from these masters of development.

But enough of that – here’s Bob Lettis’ take on the great Cooperstown educators of his day, courtesy of The Freeman’s Journal.

Apologies for the wonky formatting, it’s part of the e-original.


Red Bursey Never Mentioned That Cigaret


Cooperstown was a wonderful village for a boy to grow up in. Being somewhat handicapped, the village was especially protective of me. It was a great place for all its children, but I seemed to get more attention than most.
Many special people guided me as I grew up. I cannot mention all those that were helpful, but I will try to pick out those that I felt were the most important and influential. All, I think, are dead now, but regardless of their circumstances, all will have a special place in my heart reserved for exceptional friends.
Lester Bursey was my gym teacher, coach and friend. He made sure that my polio affliction never stood in the way of an opportunity to participate in games and sports. From the time I went to the summer playground as a young child until I graduated from high school, having played varsity sports in football and baseball, Lester “Red” Bursey was my mentor.
When I was a 120- pound sophomore, trying to make the varsity football team, he wrote
in the local paper: “Bob Lettis can lick his weight in wildcats.”
I made the varsity that season, and Red encouraged me all the way. I was his varsity catcher on the baseball team, batting fourth in the batting order, which is the spot for the best hitter on the team. His advice and inspiration allowed me the chance to play sports at a very high level. Without his confidence in me, I might never have been given the chance to even try out, let alone play, baseball (and certainly not football).
As wonderful as he was to me, I’m afraid I let him down very badly.
He was always encouraging his athletes to maintain a healthy life style while participating in high school sports. When I was 16, I started smoking. I felt, as most smart-ass teenagers do, that I could smoke and play sports without any adverse effects.
One day I passed him on the street with a cigarette in my hand. He never said a word, either then or later, but I knew that he saw what I had done.
I’m very ashamed of that violation of his trust. I now know that it made a difference. Perhaps not physically, but psychologically it made me ashamed of having let down such a dedicated and warm human being. He had given me the opportunity to become a good athlete, despite my handicap, and I felt that I had been a disappointment.

While Red was very influential helping me with sports, there were others who had an intereste in my artistic development. I had several wonderful art teachers when I was growing up.
At an early age in elementary school I had Miss Bea Prine. Alongside several other talented students, she saw potential. She proceeded to nourish this talent by giving us special attention and encouragement. Our work was always well displayed and we were continually talked to about going on to art school to develop our skills and talent.
When Miss Prine retired, she was replaced by a beautiful young woman, Marcia Matoon. Miss Matoon had graduated from Syracuse University, where I eventually obtained my undergraduate art training. She continued the encouragement begun by Miss Prine years before. She entered my work in national poster contests, in scholastic art competitions and I won several awards.
She wrote a letter of recommendation that went into my school records, and, when I attended Syracuse University, it became part of my entrance credentials. After graduation from high school, I went into the army and Miss Matoon wrote to me several times while I was in training and serving overseas.
However, the most influential art teacher that I had was Helga Edge. I not only learned a great deal from this wonderful, dedicated woman and professional artist, but was also encouraged by her to pursue art as my life’s work. She was British, though had come to the United States just prior to our country entering World War II and stayed here for the rest of her life.
I took private art lessons from her for several years, paid for by my patron, Grandma Hail. After high school and my stint in the army, I attended Syracuse University because Miss Edge thought that it was the best art college in our area. After graduation, she was instrumental in my getting my first teaching position, at Worcester Central School.
During my years as an art teacher in Worcester and Cooperstown, I maintained close contact with her. We worked together in her studio in Toddsville and my son, Daniel, took art lessons from her at that time. Upon her death in 1980, she willed her entire professional art library and her small etching press to me.

During the years I attended elementary and high school, many teachers took a special interest in my life. I’ve already mentioned Miss Prine and Miss Matoon. Mabel Wagner, a drama and English teacher was also one of them. She came to our village as a beautiful young woman who immediately gained the attention of all the single men in the community. We as high school boys thought she was pretty terrific as well.
At that time, I had a slight speech impediment that she helped by giving me lessons in oration and allowing me to compete in several speaking contests. She cast me in several plays and encouraged me to enter an essay and speaking contest. Miss Wagner was the kind of a teacher that every one of her students could fall in love with.
Alas, Robert Atwell, a young and upcoming civic leader, won her hand and her heart, for they were married a few years after she came to our village. They had two beautiful children, Bobby and Neil, both of whom were students of mine when I came to teach here.
Nick Sterling, another teacher, was a special person in my life. He became principal and superintendent of our high school when I was a sophomore. While I never took a class from him, he always treated me with kindness and respect. I was on the ski team at the time and Mr. Sterling became our coach.
When I was teaching art in Worcester and Schenevus, I chaperoned a group of students to a basketball game in Cooperstown. I met Nick again for the first time since I was in the service. He had become superintendent of Cooperstown’s schools by then. After asking me how my teaching was going in Worcester, he said that he was looking for a high school art teacher and asked if i might be interested.
After talking it over at home, I decided to accept his offer. And so for the next eight years I taught at my old alma mater. Besides teaching, I coached junior high baseball, was adviser to the Student Council, taught ski lessons at Mount Otsego and collaborated with Bob Squires, another teacher, on high school theatre productions. I did sets, lighting and costumes while Bob directed and took care of the drama end.
As well as working on high school theatrics, Bob and I were instrumental in starting a community theatre group called “The Back Stagers.’’ Both in high school and the community we managed, in just six or seven years, to stage many productions ranging from musical theatre to Shakespeare. (Nick Sterling gave us a free hand to do all these things.)
I need to say at this point, Nick Sterllng was the finest educator and energetic community leader that Cooperstown has ever had.

I’ve mentioned these people because they stand out in my mind. There were others, as well, who were not quite as central, but nevertheless played a role in my life within this village.
To name a few: Greeny (I do not know his real name), Smith Tolmie, Harold Wall, Bob Wright, Jake Schaffer, Ellamae Hanson, Mrs. Denton Stillwell, Angelo Pugalese, etc. Not all were teachers. All helped me through my difficult years as a polio kid. After my mother and father separated, all acted as friends and mentors.
The cliché, “It takes a village to raise a child,” was certainly true in my case, at least.

Great Links Curriculum for Tuesday, November 18

If you aren’t already following me on Twitter, you ought to start. I link to and comment on education stories ’round the clock.

And if you’re new to Twitter or aren’t sure how to get started, check out TwiTip’s 10 Easy Steps for Twitter Beginners. Give it a whirl!

Now for the Great Links… and some real stinkers that also deserve attention.

Via EIA, Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Rheetwo peas in a pod? Believe it or not, yes. I suppose even Sullivan gets to be sensible every once in a while. Blind squirrel, broken clock, etc. etc.

There aren’t too many men teaching K-12, reports Eduflack. In MA, fewer than 25% of K-12 teachers are men. And it’s everywhere, too – in April 2007 I wrote a post about male elementary teachers in NY dropping to 9%, a 40-year low. Some folks like MenTeach have been trying to raise awareness for a while now. Check them out and subscribe.

Ted Tedesco of Woodbury, Vermont is a hero. He’s worked to restore the Pledge of Allegiance in that small school district. The admins’ solution to his request is ridiculous, but at least everyone sees it. That, and a generation of kids in Woodbury knows how important it is to defend their country and their culture. As I wrote in the comments of the Core Knowledge post:

“A few months ago I attended a reunion banquet for a tiny, rural high school that closed shop during the consolidation efforts of the 1950s. Their meeting included the Pledge of Allegiance. When the Pledge came up in the agenda, all of the ~100 in attendance rose – and some with great difficulty, as they were in their 80s and 90s – to recite it.”

You know where I stand on this issue, and there’s a reason why I call the Green Mountain State “The People’s Republic of Vermont.” [Sorry, Jessie.]

Across the pond, here’s why I like the Tories. They’ve got a plan to re-introduce a bit of rigor to GCSEs and A-levels. The GCSEs in particular have been gutted – remember this physics teacher begging the government via petition to return mathematical rigor to secondary physics?

“Hot Boys”? I’d prefer that EdSector’s Quick and the Ed bloggers had a bit more self-respect. I already have trouble taking them seriously – these post titles don’t help.

Schools suing bloggers? You betcha. PRO on HCPS links to a libel case against an unhappy parent. Well, if “libel” means “a school district seething when held accountable by the public.” Guess who won? [UPDATE: PRO on HCPS gives us a better link for schools suing bloggers.]

Litigation is expensive when you’re trying to fire a teacher, administrator or school employee. In nearby Utica, NY, Craig Fehlhaber’s hearings have cost the Utica City Schools $250,000 – and counting. If Fehlhaber wins, the district will likely have to reimburse his attorney’s fees as well. We went through the same process in Cooperstown several years ago. If you ever wondered why schools tend not to dismiss bad employees, now you’ve got one reason.

Dave at ‘Friends of Dave’ – a very sharp blog, subscribe with all deliberate speed – highlights some recent irony in California. The California Association of School Business Officers have a conference at which they’ll discuss our tough economic times and how their districts can cope. And that conference is at a hotel/spa/golf course in Newport Beach. Dave has a sensible take on it all, but c’mon, CASBO. He says, “It is a bit ironic that the people who are typically the ones telling their co-workers that they can’t have an extra ream of paper are the ones having a really nice time at a Hotel and Spa on the beach.” Agreed.

Victory in Iraq Day – November 22, 2008. ZombieTime has declared 11/22/08 VI Day and I’m with him 100%. Read his post to see why it’s appropriate to declare VI Day and you’ll see why I support it, too.

“Building a GREAT teaching workforce,” described by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence’s Dave Saba. Saba/ABCTE sing the praises – rightly – of a new report on the effectiveness of alternative certification programs.

“There’s Always One Place Where You’ll Be Welcomed With Open Arms: Academia.”

Indoctrinate U

Click to skip right to Indoctrinate U’s deleted scene.

Indoctrinate U is a wonderful documentary film about the injection of politics into higher education. If you haven’t seen it, pop over to their site and grab a copy.

All this talk about Ayers The Scholar brought up memories of a scene in I-U that didn’t survive edits – and that scene is about “Terrorist Professors”:

A man named Bill Ayers has been in the news lately as Senator Barack Obama’s connections to the 1960s-era domestic terrorist have become an issue in the presidential campaign. It reminded us of a segment cut from an earlier edit of Indoctrinate U.

In this deleted scene, we told the story of how 1960s campus radicals morphed into today’s academics. Three of those radicals were Ayers, his now-wife Bernardine Dohrn, and Mark Rudd. Together, they led the Weather Underground, a group committed to the violent overthrow the U.S. Government.

To bring about their hoped-for communist utopia, the Weathermen bombed dozens of targets around the country including the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and military recruiting stations. In executing their various attacks, the Weathermen killed a few of their own and also murdered a security guard while robbing an armored car. They targeted the families of judges, celebrated the Manson murders, and through legal technicalities, most of them avoided jail.

Decades later, they’re still unapologetic. In an interview published on September 11th, 2001, Ayers told The New York Times, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.”

What does all of this have to do with higher education? Watch the video to find out.

If you’d rather read than watch, you can peep these other posts:

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