Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Confederate bastion of Fort Bragg insults us all.

I’m probably engaging in hyperbole. 

I have a question.  When you think of Fort Bragg, California, what comes to mind? 

The Mendocino coastline?  Definitely.

Whale watching?  Right there.

Fishing?  How can you not think about fishing?



Gimme dat!

An aristocratic style society with a cotton based economy that desires to break from the United States and continue to institute slavery to maintain social and economic viability? 

Not so much unless you’re a state senator from Orinda, California who got done golfing early the other day and decided to write a bill.

SB – 539

   (a) On and after January 1, 2017, a name associated with the Confederate States of America shall not be used to name state or local property. If a name associated with the Confederate States of America is used to name state or local public property prior to January 1, 2017, the name shall be changed and any sign associated with the name shall be removed.

(b) For the purpose of this section, “name associated with the Confederate States of America” includes, but is not limited to, the name of an elected leader or a senior military officer of the Confederacy.


Apparently the law would impact, on the surface, two elementary schools (in Long Beach and San Deigo) named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and public buildings in the city of Fort Bragg, the city named after Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

For a second let’s throw out the anachronistic assholery of op-eds and look at the situation from a practical point of view.  I’m not pro-Confederacy so you can pause before you sprint to your closet for the cloak of self-righteousness.  Both Lee and Braxton have a history within the United States before the Civil War.  Braxton’s is much more boring and the city of Fort Bragg was actually named when the man was part of the United States military.  Robert E. Lee is one of greatest generals in all of U.S. History, and he didn’t like slavery and only fought for the South because he was from the state of Virginia.  In fact Lee was a strong supporter of the union between the North and the South and found his command regrettable but necessary.  He was treated with incredible respect by the United States after the war, and was actually given back his citizenship by the United States Congress and President For in the late-1970’s.  Robert E. Lee was not Hitler. 

It’s not for me to judge whether or not Long Beach or San Diego want to name elementary schools after Robert E. Lee.  That’s up to citizens of the respective towns.  Nearly every person in U.S. History has skeletons in their closet and if you start looking for angels you’re going to run out of names real quick.  If I had a vote on whether or not Lee’s name on a public school is appropriate in California, I’d question the validity but call it fine.

But the Fort Bragg problem represents how a person that has no working knowledge of history can make life irritating by using political overreach.  I will guarantee that the people of Fort Bragg don’t see themselves as sympathetic to any Confederate narratives, and that visitors don’t make any connection at all between the former Confederacy and Noyo Harbor’s delicious clam chowder.  The State of California already (rightfully) banned the sale of Confederate flags from government offices.  Time for the state to stop being stupid and let local constituents figure things out on their own.       

Monday, July 06, 2015

Young teacher is risky, stupid, gets fired. Hire him back.

I remember back when I was a young and impulsive teacher.  Mid-twenties, full of vim and vigor, willing to try almost anything to get the attention of students.

“(Jordan) Parmenter said the subject of his apology occurred while he was teaching a lesson on freedom of speech during a junior-level English class. Wanting to direct attention to a chart, Parmenter said he made what he now calls the poor decision of using a small U.S. flag in the room as a pointer.

One of the students in this class stated that using the U.S. flag as a pointer is disrespectful, Parmenter said. The teacher said he then made what he says was the rash decision of dropping the flag to the floor and stepping on it to illustrate an example of free speech as part of the lesson that day.”


Since I started teaching a month before the attacks on September 11, 2001, playing around with patriotic symbolism was pretty much the farthest thing from my mind during my impulsive years.  Like everyone else in the U.S. I pretty much wrapped myself in the flag in 2001-2002, and then watched the curious steps leading to the Iraq War later on.  I did things for shock value and attention but the national symbols were off the list as being unnecessarily controversial.   

After his flag-stepping Mr. Parmenter did all the right things; he immediately realized his error (in class he apologized), and went full mea culpa in front of his small town school board. 

“The Martinsville School District board voted 6-0 to fire English teacher Jordan Parmenter.”

That a bummer.  This is a clear case of “hey I might be able to make a strong point but, you know, flags and things.”  The thought passes through your head that you can make a shocking, and pretty much harmless, impression on your students while making a very valid point about something important like the First Amendment of the Constitution.  But at this point you realize that in public schools you don’t always deal with rational people (including school boards) and some of the more shocking lessons can pose risks to your ability to retain a job.  As an adult and a credentialed teacher Parmenter should have known that. 

Still, 6-0 in favor if firing?  There might be something else in play here because a unanimous canning of a new teacher because he goes overboard on a perfectly legal (although unwise) flag stomp doesn’t really warrant automatic dismissal.  Risk and passion are good things when harnessed correctly and cutting this guy loose won’t help him learn how to do that.  Plus the guy instantly realized he had gone too far.  Parmenter wasn’t trying to justify anything after the act; a good sign if you are looking for a teacher that might be able to “get it.”

In the end the whole thing is rather tragic.  It was a poor choice that resulted in an overwhelming use of force by the school board and a rough beginning of a career for a teacher.  Learn, young Padawan.  Learn and move forward. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Lee Siegel is kind of a prick

“….I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.”

Ahhh, from the mouth of babes who really, really want to avoid the cost of doing anything in society.  Real talk from a man who thinks society owes him maximum benefit with minimum cost, with a sugar cookie on top.

Mr. Siegel wrote this op-ed column in the beginning of June and the shockwaves have pretty much reverberated around the country as an example of what not to do.  Let’s see if I can summarize.

-Siegel went to a “private liberal arts college” and was forced to transfer because of tuition costs.

-Siegel then went to a state college in New Jersey and dropped out because he “thought I deserved better.”

-Siegel then went to Columbia where he obtained a Bachelors and two Masters degrees.

-Siegel didn’t want to work in jobs he didn’t like when he was in college because he likes writing.

-Siegel defaulted on his loans because fight-the-power.

The unfortunate thing about this story, aside from the fact that Lee Siegel thinks society owes him three degrees from Columbia and an income, is that it actually resonates with this generation’s college attending crowd.  My Facebook feed is full of my former college bound students all clamoring for the platform of Bernie Sanders; the presidential candidate that has made himself known for the “fuck it, let’s just make college free for all” mentality towards college.  This is the realm where Lee Siegel’s actions are seen as legitimate. 

I’m all for reforming the system regarding student loans and college tuition but let’s deal with two issues that people don’t like to acknowledge.

First, students are part of the tuition increase problem.  Not only is the demand for college increasing at a dramatic rate, the demand for the “college experience” is expanding right along with it.  Students want to go to a colleges with great living conditions, high end food, walks through gardens, superior athletic facilities, phenomenal technological equipment, classes about researching Quidditch and analyzing white privilege in ferrets, and having well-known speakers and professors lecture for about 90 minutes a week.  Students are getting iPads to read with their sushi and gluten-free lunches, then heading off to run on the indoor track before attending the Harvard law class taught by Elizabeth Warren (to which she was paid over $300,000).  The college experience could be made to be cheaper except for the fact that students don’t want it that way.

Second, students have been going into debt for a long time.  I recently finished paying off about twenty thousand in college debts, some of it from my own stupidity.  That’s significantly less than most students seeking a Bachelors Degree will have upon leaving an institution of higher learning, and the odds of that debt becoming a greater standard of living are still much higher than someone without the degree.  And as the New York Times highlights, the number of people that do default on student loans is extremely minimal.

Every statistic out there says that while going into debt sucks, the benefit from receiving the college degree far outweighs the problem of going into debt.  This is not to say that every student is prepared to take on the responsibility of the debt, and part of my job as an Economics teacher is to show students that there are ways to minimize the debt burden by the college-going folk.   However many students have been drilled in the art of going to “the best college” without really researching all potential aspects of the decision, including the state college system.  They see California State University of Disappointment instead of the potential to get the same degree at less than half the financial cost.

Lee Siegel’s column is representative of that attitude.  The feeling that society owes them best of everything if they only “work hard” in their own way, and that society then owes them a sense renewal when they screw up because society is mean and corporations are horrible.  Not to simplify the argument for Siegel but suck it up.