Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What's Wrong with School English Classes and How to Fix Them

High school English classes suck. High school students, having spent countless hours wading through the drivel and dreck of their English classes enter into college with fewer and fewer skills. Compared with students even ten years ago, those who take my college history classes today are poorer readers and writers. For them, correct spelling is optional. Basic sentence and paragraph structures no longer exist.

There are myriad reasons why high schools fail in teaching students: federal "oversight" and centralized curriculum, the No Child Left Behind Act (otherwise known as No Child Allowed to Excel), socialist-driven Common Core curriculum, idiotic teacher "accountability" standards, standardized testing, replacing teaching with testing, poor texts, poor tests, teachers' unions, general apathy. The list goes on. These all combine into a ghastly leviathan, which swallows the students' will to learn, trapping it in a cavernous gullet, where neither light nor breath of cool air can reach it.

There is, however, one overriding problem which traps and digests high school English students. This is the central failure of Common Core standards. The main problem is a curriculum designed by idiot professors of education. These have spent countless hours inventing "new" methods of torturing students, convinced in their collective minds that the next new theory will show an increase in SAT and ACT scores. They also demand more and more money, leeching it from teachers, to pay for new administrators, "experts" who design curricula, authors who write textbooks, and middle managers to implement "standards."

The problem would be easy to diagnose and treat, if it weren't for the axiomatic idea that power, once given away, is not given back, except by force. Those placed over our schools and educational system, once they were handed a little authority, turned around and unwisely used it to control and recreate schools in their own collectivist and elitist images.

The solution, it seems to me, is fairly simple: return to "traditional" methods of teaching English. These methods included reading good books, writing essays, and memorizing grammar and mechanics.

If I were to fix English classes, I'd start by scrapping all the classes as they are currently taught. Let's face it, what high school youth is going to learn to write if he or she cannot read (or worse, is made to hate to read). How can students seriously come to grips with the elitist literature of Faulkner, or Fitzgerald, or Steinbeck, or Joyce? How can current students come to care for literature when Common Core replaces good books with stodgy "nonfiction." Instead of torturing teens with endless ideas about "notetaking" (as is taught in their current curriculum), about phonetic spelling, about five paragraph essays, about incomprehensible authors, why not get them interested in English by interesting them in good stories?

Here's my plan. Instead of the current curriculum, start students at the earliest ages with several years of reading. Instead of selecting reading that corresponds to socialist ideals, or has some arbitrary designation of "canon" or "high art," reading would cover genres. The elementary school classes would choose from lists of readable books in several categories: biography, classics, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, action, spy, romance, poetry, historical fiction, humor, horror, and so on. (The book lists would be kept age-appropriate of course.) Teachers would be required to read books aloud in class. As students progressed, they could decide which genres interested them the most and read those on their own. This in turn would spark an interest in reading that modern students lack.

Of course, such classes don't readily show student progress, improvement, or accountability, all of which seem to be so important to government teaching standards. These classes would be even more disturbing to elitist English teachers, since the books wouldn't include the appallingly pretentious works that have been the standard in English classes since the dawn of the English Ph.D.

What is my response to this? Students won't appreciate so-called "high art," if they cannot read. Instead of raising a generation of illiterates, at least we'd have a generation of readers. On the way, they'd learn grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and be introduced to ideas. On the way, they might even learn how to think!

For those students who do become interested in English and American literature, I'd offer an elective entitled "Literature for the Pretentious." Here is where English teachers could inflict Faulkner, Steinbeck, Melville, or Salinger on their students. (I'd ensure that some readable authors were included in the mix, such as Ray Bradbury or Harper Lee.) Mind you, even in this class, the focus would be on the text, not on the silly liberal metatext that today's postmodernist deconstructionists love to drill into unsuspecting student brains.

What about "critical" reading? In my opinion, reading is reading. Let's get the children and teens reading first. If they can survive high school without being illiterate, then we can worry if they can read technical texts. In this case, interest will drive ability. For example, I learned to read philosophy, history, sociology, economics, and history of religions, not because my high school teachers taught me how to analyze texts, but because my high school teachers didn't entirely succeed in killing off my desire to read fiction novels.

What about writing? My experience with all ages of students, from grade school through college, clearly indicates that the best writers are those students who also read. I would require a semester of grammar, which included mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. This class would find practical application, since the youth would be reading along with learning grammar. I'd also require one semester of general writing. Part of the semester would be spent writing a standard thesis essay, then editing it. Part of the semester would be spent writing stories and editing them. The editing process is as important as the writing process, and will teach better writing than a myriad theories on the subject.

There you have it - my plan to revolutionize teaching English. Of course it will never pass muster with the intellectual elite, with teachers' unions, with government bureaucrats, or with the current collection of leftist ideologues. We've handed the power over to them to "fix" the broken system that their ideology created. Yet, "power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will" (Frederick Douglass). When individuals and parents start demanding back the power to teach the children, perhaps the power elite will be forced to concede it. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Clinging to the Bankrupt Ideals of Postmodernism

Years ago, I and several of my colleges in graduate school, created a class with one of our favorite professors. In the class, we studied the concepts of postmodernism, structuralism, and deconstructionism. We ironically titled it: "Does This Class Have a Text?" We all took the class, tongue firmly planted in our cheeks, since, at the time, we thought that postmodernism was dead and its precepts given up as defunct.

In a nutshell, postmodernism is a reaction against the modernist period from the turn of the 20th Century. At its core, it takes a skeptical look at modern culture, especially literature. It asks questions about meaning, which often leads to the Prince of Postmodernism, Jacques Derrida's conclusion that there is no such thing as meaning outside of the text.

Postmodernism has led to the philosophy that there are no absolute meanings, nor absolute truths. Meaning does not stem from, for example, the writer, since the reader still must interpret the writer's text. There is no absolute truth, since all truth must be filtered through culture and then interpreted by the individual. Meaning and truth, then, are left up to individual interpretation.

The reason I bring this up is to point out the utter stagnation of education since the halcyon days of the 1960s when postmodernism was at its height. Our school textbooks, which in my day used to reek of Marxist ideology, now reek of old postmodernism. The postmodernism has been packaged and repackaged to keep up with modern technology, much of the time deliberately obscuring real information behind a veneer of busy photographs, mixed typefonts, innumerable sidebars, and bulleted lists.

If you are past high school years and haven't picked up a high school text lately, you may be surprised at the incomprehensibility of modern textbook design.

As I continue to review textbooks for high school teaching, I recently had the displeasure of reviewing a current American Literature text. On the chapter on postmodernism (which, of course, praised the concept ad nauseam), the text strongly argued in favor of Derrida's dictum about text and meaning. The textbook took great lengths to describe, then to inculcate, the ideal that the reader creates meaning.

Anyone with half a brain can see the fallacy of this line of thought: If only the individual reader can get meaning from the text, why do these self-appointed High Priests of Postmodernism write so much about it, trying to convince everyone that they have the "answer" to meaning and interpretation? If writers can't express meaning in their writing, why do they do so darned much of it? The least they could do is to shut up since, according to their own philosophy, anything they say gets reinterpreted through culture and through the individual.

Postmodernism also denies its own roots. No human thought is created out of a vacuum. Yet prevailing postmodern ideals deny the validity of ideas that came before them. It is a philosophy of interpretation that bites the hand that not only feeds it, but gives it life.

Much of the philosophical world has moved beyond postmodernism and its children, deconstructionism, moral relativism, and multiculturalism. Yet the doctrines of postmodernism have ossified into our children's textbooks, mingling with even older, morally bankrupt Marxism.

Unfortunately, such doctrines are now embedded in American thought, personified by such people as Barack Obama. These true believers defend the wasteland created by postmodernism's inconsistencies. From deconstructionism, past moral systems become evil. Anyone who disagrees is labeled, marginalized, or dismissed as old fashioned. From moral relativism, wrong becomes right, dark becomes light, and evil becomes good. Anyone who disagrees is jeered and mocked as a heretic.

Other philosophies stem from the old postmodernists. From postmodernism's love child with socialism - multiculturalism - Western Civilization becomes the Great Satan. All other cultures, no matter how substantively evil, are exonerated. Real evil, then, is blamed on Western oppression, instead of its true sources - evil people seeking power.

We, as a nation, will not overcome the difficulties of the present until we stop clinging to the philosophies of the past and recognize postmodernist offspring as the barrier to real understanding about how the world really works. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is America Morally Bankrupt? Let's Find Out! With Examples!

With ebola raging in West Africa, and ISIS raging in Iraq and Syria, and Obama raging on the golf course, you'd think there would be enough for you and me to worry about. Yet, through all of these external problems, I still have found time to worry about the internal structures holding us together here in the United States. I see those social structures unravelling at a frightening pace. And while war and pestilence bring their own problems, the self-destruction of American society has the singular power to destroy the country.

I've recently written several blogs about same sex marriage and the harms it has brought to our social, political, judicial, and religious institutions. Under the guise of "equality," same sex marriage has the potential to break the weakened back of the very foundations of our society, namely the institutions of marriage and family.

This week, Arizona's marriage laws have been thrown out the window by judicial fiat - meaning that a single federal district court judge overturned Arizona's constitutional definition of marriage, which was passed in 2008 by a large majority of Arizonans.

Many of my friends on Facebook have posted and reposted memes and news stories celebrating this turn to "equality." Anyone who has disagreed has been excoriated and banned (of course, in the name of "equality").

The examples on Facebook alone should tell us something about the "equality" we face under the new morality of homosexual marriage. What it tells me is that, in general, we've lost our moral compass and can no longer distinguish between choosing right over wrong.

As cases in point, I recently came across the following four stories:

Hermaphroditic Snail Becomes Gay Marriage Mascot
Taiwanese scientists have discovered a new hermaphroditic land snail species and have dubbed the gastropod Aegista diversifamilia, "the diverse forms of human families," in honor of the "struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights." (Source)

Yes, we've now been reduced to naming snails with two sex organs as mascots of same sex marriage. Is there no irony in comparing human relationships with a snail? Or in proclaiming a snail with both male and female sex organs as a model for homosexual relationships?

The mind boggles at the implications.

Marriage Rates Hit New Low
Young people are getting married later and later in life, and more people are choosing not to get married at all.

There are many reasons for the decline in marriage in the US, including an anti-marriage culture. The effect of the decline is an general attitude that refuses to acknowledge the importance to care for our young. We, in general, are removing the underpinnings of society best created to take care of the next generation of children, which in turn degrades those structures for generations to come.

In effect, we are breeding generations of social imbeciles, incapable of understanding and maintaining successful marriage and family relationships.

Redefining Marriage Hurts Women
In a heart-breaking article, a women talked about her experience as her husband declared himself gay, then proceeded to place his "gayness" above all other concerns: above duty, above family, above responsibility, and even above love. (Read the Article Here)

What this woman highlighted is the Big Lie of homosexual dogma, which is that being "gay" as a category absolves homosexuals from all other social responsibilities. Sure, there are homosexuals who maintain higher ideals, but this woman's story highlights the hidden, and very dark, side of gay ideology.

In my own experience, I've seen men who choose to follow the gay lifestyle, divide families and hurt the women they were married to. One such individual has attempted to maintain an "I want it all" attitude: staying married, attempting to care for his family, and keeping relationships with his latest boyfriend. The result is a deeply depressed wife and children who are fragmenting away from the family in order to get away from the duplicity of their father's life.

Gaystapo Tactics
Recently, ministers in a town in Idaho(!) were told to perform same sex marriages or face jail time and/or a fine. Apparently, city officials have declared their wedding chapel a public place, and therefore are somehow subject to anti-discrimination statutes.

Even more worrisome, the lesbian mayor of Houston, Texas, Annise Parker, issued subpoenas to five local preachers to submit to the government, "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession." (Source)

In the name of homosexual "rights," the mayor of Houston basically demanded to see all communication about homosexuals from local preachers, in order to censure them. Yes, the mayor's office buckled under public backlash (only to reduce the demands to "speeches" instead of sermons).

Yet, there are those who will still see that Parker's attempt to curb free speech and free expression of religion as a public good. They will see it as a means to bring "equality."

And that, folks, is scarier to me than any threat of ISIS or ebola.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Same Sex Marriage Is Wrong - Part 3

This is a continuation of an essay on why same sex marriage is wrong. Click here for Part 2.

In my last post, I covered some of the problems that same sex marriage creates with regard to identity politics and politics in general. Here, I'll cover two more sets of problems, the legal and the religious. Before that, however, I'll mention another political harm stemming from the law suit against California's Proposition 8, a voter-approved law which amended California's state constitution to define marriage between a man and a woman. (This is the same type of amendment passed by 31 states.)

Since the defense of Proposition 8 has made its way into the Supreme Court, gay activists have turned the issue of same sex marriage from a state matter to a federal one. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling ostensibly turned the decision of same sex marriage back to the states, then gutted DOMA, the federal law that protected marriage. Recently, the Supreme Court refused to take five state suits against same sex marriage, thus establishing  same sex marriage on a federal level, without actually producing a ruling.

The result is that voter approved amendments to state constitutions have been nullified by judicial fiat, and the will and votes of the people have been overturned because the Supreme Court allowed federal circuit and district courts to dictate their will over the states.

Hence, overturning Proposition 8 on the federal level overruled all state marriage laws, much the same way that the Supreme Court overruled state laws with regard to abortion. The aftermath of such a ruling will further divide the people of the US over the matter of more federal control disguised as a social issue.

Contrary to what gay activists and misguided libertarians argue, expanding same sex marriage through judicial fiat does not reduce government control. Now that same sex marriage has been established under federal jurisdiction, all marriage, including same sex marriage, will be regulated by the federal government in some way or another. Same sex marriage will now be mandated and the rights of citizens to define their society has been stripped away. Rather than "getting government out of the marriage business," as some have argued, it has put the federal government directly into the marriage business.

We can understand the legal implications of federal control over same sex marriage by looking at two case studies: prohibition and abortion. Prohibition was a failure for many reasons, not the least of which was that it put the federal government largely in control of what was a state and individual choice to drink alcohol. The people of the United States, not completely stupid at the time, quickly realized that federal control over alcohol was a huge mistake. It took ten more years, however, to repeal Prohibition.

Abortion "rights," on the other hand, has been a spectacular success, if you count the "protection" of women's "choice" through tens of millions of aborted children as a success. In recent years, the pro-life advocates have gained traction, and more people than ever disagree with abortion as a key issue of women's rights.

Both cases, Prohibition and abortion, created, rather than prevented, monumental legal problems at the state and federal levels. Abortion became subsidized by the federal government. Religious freedoms against abortion have been limited at both state and federal levels. 

Gay activists have pushed same sex marriage within the legal arena on the bases of the right to privacy (a court defined and made-up right) and equal protection (a right granted ex-slaves in the 14th Amendment). Both concepts must wrench the US Constitution from its intent in order to pass legislation "protecting" same sex marriage or to have the courts declare marriage laws unconstitutional. My post in Part 2 talked a bit about the damage done to the court systems, as well as the damage done from political refusal to defend marriage laws.

One legal harm from establishing same sex marriage stems from the gay activist argument based on the right to privacy. The Supreme Court decided in 2003 that privacy rights extended to the bedroom.  Once gay activists successfully overturned sodomy laws on the basis of the "right to privacy," these same activists challenged the public institution of marriage into the legislatures and courts, citing rights to privacy, equal protection, and discrimination. Gay activists have jumped from that concept to include marriage as a "right to privacy." Yet, marriage, precisely because it is such a fundamental institution of society, is a public matter. Hence, the argument of a right to privacy now legally impinges on public institutions.

Gay activists also argue on the basis of equal protection. As I've mentioned before, same sex marriage isn't "gay" marriage in the legal sense. Even though gay activists push for "gay marriage," there is simply no legal test of gayness that would establish a legal basis.

Same sex marriage would create "gayness" as a protected class status, much like "blackness" for race or "womanness" for sex. Having no gay identity test, since gayness is not race or sex, poses no end of legal problems now and in the future. While same sex marriage would allow homosexuals to gain some legal advantages given to married couples, it would be used to create a protected class of those who self identify as gay to promote special concessions and more legal protections than other citizens. This creates a legal system, not based on equal protection, but on unequal protection of a gay class of citizens.

Simply put, "gay" is not race. Homosexuals have neither the same economic, nor political disadvantages that Blacks or women held. Same sex couples have the same economic and political disadvantages as any non-married couple. Gays have the same protections against "bullying" as any other citizen in the US, perhaps more because of so-called hate crime laws. (These laws, of course, also ignore the concept of equal protection.)

Another legal issue arises because same sex marriage would neuter marriage, as well as other institutions, establishing a legal basis that denies biology. Legally saying that there is no sexual difference between a man and a woman simply cannot change biological fact. Lost in this legal argument is the original purpose for marriage: the protection of the children.

Lastly, are the harms to religion that same sex marriage poses. It is obvious to anyone who has watched the news over the years that modern liberals have pursued an overall anti-religion ideology. Over the years, we've seen a wider breech between the state and religion. (This is not a separation of church and state, this is an attempt to remove religion from all public institutions.)

President Obama demonstrated the liberal attitude toward religion in his disregard of the Catholic church when he mandated that all insurance carriers must offer birth control. The Catholic Church since has sued Obama over the infringement of religious free expression.

Same sex marriage activists overall seem intent on pressing their definition of marriage over all others, stepping on top of churches and individuals alike. Their argument, that same sex marriage doesn't hurt anyone, simply doesn't hold up to the present attempts to stifle church and religious authority. Gay activists even fund and push legal challenges to marriage, claiming utterly baseless ideals such as "marriage equality," or "fairness," while denying any equality or fairness to religious institutions. 

Same sex marriage will continue to chip away at religious freedom, as well as harm the institution of marriage by contributing to the overall immoral attitude toward sex and procreation.

Same sex marriage also poses the risk of creating state defined morality. The people of the several states have had the law trampled by judicial fiat, and the will of the people has now been altered to become the will of the courts. State defined morality is dangerous for the simple fact that, when the government can define what is and isn't moral, then the government has the power to control all aspects of our public and private lives.

This explains one reason why modern liberalism, and especially the gay rights movement, is anti-religious. These groups of people want more control over our lives, not less.

While same sex attraction may or may not be inborn, the outward expression of sexual preference is a moral question and not a question of innate consequence, nor is it a civil right. The same is true of the outward expression of heterosexuality as well.

Here are some examples to illustrate the differences:
  • Being black is not a moral question. Being a black rioter in St. Louis is.
  • Being a woman is not a moral question. Being a pro-abortion feminist is.
  • Having sexual feelings is not a moral question. The media's hypersexualization of children is.
  • Having same sex attraction is not a moral question. Preaching an ideology based on sexual preference in order to change the definition of marriage is.
Like it or not, homosexual behavior (not just same-sex attraction) crosses the social boundaries of moral custom and moral behavior. To claim homosexual behavior is akin to race or gender is to propose a false analogy. There is no such thing as equality of morality. Yet gay activists will insist that their particular moral ideal must be the only valid moral standard and therefore must be protected by law.

This is not a question of fairness or equality. This is a question of moral dictatorship - the exact same problem gay activists accuse religious conservatives of having. It is a misguided ideal at best and  duplicitous power-mongering at worst.

This is no longer a private matter of same sex attraction and private sexual preference. Gay activists have turned their ideology into a public desire to impose legally their version of morality. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Second After and the Apocalypse

I just finished reading One Second After by William R. Forstchen. I also recently completed reading World War Z by Max Brooks. While not shining examples of literature (they were, after all, "bestsellers") they do pose an interesting question about the trend toward apocalyptic stories. (As a side note, I recommend One Second After, World War Z, not so much.)

Perhaps more common in the science fiction genre, but certainly leaking out into the mainstream with movies such as The Hunger Games, World War Z, or even Noah, today's audiences crave post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories. More and more, we see protagonists of disease, social dysfunction, zombies, space aliens, or government.

The trend toward these types of books and movies stems from a general fear and unease felt towards many situations that seem to be out of our control (wars and disease), as well as a general distrust in our current government. Instead of having well-defined enemies in our stories, today's stories create enemies out of nature, or in the case of zombie tales, out of the unnatural. Even the rash of superhero movies (mostly the Avenger franchise) have an unfocused and shifting threat, and evil powers behind the evil powers.

During the 1950s, with the threat of nuclear annihilation, space invader and monster stories were common. Today's world is even scarier than Cold War times, with threats, not just of nuclear war, but of unseen nuclear devastation (One Second After), disease (World War Z), and the collapse of a benign American government, forming an evil empire (The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent).

Note that many of these stories and movies speak to teen audiences, who currently suffer from a plague of stress-related maladies. Even today's teen romances are overshadowed by great evils that threaten to destroy everything. (Many teen romances center around the thrill and dangers of vampires or werewolves.)

Now let us look at the real world and those forces which have led modern storytellers to focus on bleak and horrifying devastation.

Forstchen published his book, One Second After, in 2009, in response to his own research into the possibility of an EMP strike against the United States. The story and its conclusions are very realistic, that such a strike could destroy the US, not by directly killing its people, but by removing the very things that allow us to live in the modern day: electricity, transportation, medicine.

It is a cautionary tale, given force when we judge its conclusions against the willful disregard of the Obama administration to protect the interests of the United States. By enforcing leftist dogmas and remaking the US after his own image, Obama has opened us up to some truly evil forces that threaten to collapse society, and hence, sacrifice the lives of Americans.

It's not just Mr. Obama, it is the dogmatic lies spread by modern socialists, university professors, anarchists, perverts, and the uninformed that have created such an uncertain world, that the only way some people can escape is through stories of its total destruction.

We now write, read, and watch such stories in the theater, if for no other reason, than to assure ourselves that human will can overcome the evils present in the world today.