Category Archives: Education

Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

Well, they hired Caslen today, and I’m kind of surprised…

I’m surprised that the trustees went ahead and hired Gen. Caslen today. Some of you will protest that it was obvious that they would, and yes, in a conventional political strategy sense, you don’t precipitate something like this unless you’re sure you’ve got the votes.

You’re right. That’s conventional wisdom, on one level. But I didn’t think they would do it, at least not today, for two reasons:

  • I can’t think of the last time I saw the USC Board of Trustees step out and do something this risky, this controversial. Especially after they backed down so quickly before in response to protests, even though this was the guy they wanted — kind of absurdly quickly, it seemed at the time. It was like, We don’t want ANY trouble… That convinced me that they were super risk-averse on this. Yeah, I know that among the more emotional protesters there’s a belief that “The Man” always does mean, oppressive, insensitive stuff (which is the way they interpret this), but no — not this “Man.” Not normally. Not in my experience.
  • The Faculty Senate vote the other day. Everything else, I could see them brushing aside if this was really what they wanted to do — the student protests, even Darla Moore’s objections. And if it had just been a mild or even moderate expression of concern from the faculty, that too seemed surmountable. But a unanimous vote of no confidence in Caslen? Wow. I thought that was kind of extreme — like really, not ONE member of the body thought he might be OK? But it was unanimous, and now this guy’s starting a job with the entire faculty against him (assuming, of course, that the senate is truly representative). That would give me pause no matter how much I wanted to hire somebody.

But they did it, and I’m surprised. And at the same time, kind of… impressed… after the way they rolled so easily the first time.Caslen mug

What stiffened their spines?

To be clear, I’ve never had a problem with Caslen. I thought the excuse students gave for objecting to him originally was silly, and from what I could tell he was at least as qualified as the other finalists, and probably more so.

And my old boss James likes him, and I trust James’ instincts on this. Molly Spearman was impressed with him, too. And those are two thoughtful, reasonable people. And I tend to give more weight to reasonable people saying reasonable things despite an emotionally fraught situation than I do to a crowd shouting “Shame!” repeatedly.

But I’m still kind of bewildered at what just happened. I’m still mystified at what caused Henry to take the sudden, unprecedented step he took last week. And I’m puzzled that the trustees went along with him.

Maybe they’ve all been saying to each other in private for the last couple of months that they wished they hadn’t given up so easily before. Maybe they’ve been steeling themselves to do this for some time.

But I’m still surprised.

Well, he’s going to be president of our flagship university now, and I wish him all the luck in the world. He’s gonna need it. That, and some stupendous leadership skills….

USC mess: My question is, what’s Henry’s motivation?

Wherever possible, folks stood in the shade....

Wherever possible, folks stood in the shade….

I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of heat stroke.

I’m talking about this one, over at USC:

Jennifer was ONE of the speakers, along with Steve Benjamin, Bakari Sellers, and students and faculty members I didn’t know. I’m not sure who all ended up speaking, but this was the official roster in advance:

  • Todd Shaw – Associate Professor of Political Science
  • Zechariah Willoughby – Student
  • Christian Anderson – Associate Professor of Education
  • Steve Benjamin – Former UofSC Student Body President & Mayor of Columbia
  • Jennifer Clyburn Reed – Alumna & Center Director, College of Education
  • Elizabeth Regan – Department Chair, Integrated Information Technology
  • Bakari Sellers – Law School Alumnus & Former SC State Representative
  • Lyric Swinton – Student

And all through it, I kept wondering what I’ve been wondering from the start about all this: What’s Henry McMaster’s motivation? Why stir this pot?

The thing is, what he’s done is get a lot of folks who didn’t care one way or the other about this Caslen guy to get all mad because of the ham-handed way he’s gone about it.

What will happen on Friday? What’s happening behind the scenes between now and Friday? Is all this worth it? And if so, to whom?

Some of the speakers, awaiting their turns...

Some of the speakers, awaiting their turns…

Yeah, that was kind of what I was on about…

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968. Imagine a giant pencil instead.

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968: It really DOES look like a giant pencil, doesn’t it? A freshly sharpened one….

Just noticed that a piece in the Charleston paper over the weekend made reference to something I wrote last week.

The Post and Courier piece was headlined “Where does South Carolina’s teacher labor movement go after 10,000 person march?” (They left the hyphen out of “10,000-person,” not I. Y’all know I love hyphens. And commas.)

“May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square?” opined Brad Warthen, a former editor at The State who worked as a spokesman for Democrat James Smith’s failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

As for the choice of date for the first protest action, Walker said her group chose it to stand in solidarity with North Carolina teachers, who were marching on their Statehouse the same day. She said she hadn’t heard of May Day or its socialist connotations before critics brought it up online…

Yeah, exactly. They chose it “to stand in solidarity” with workers elsewhere. Kind of what I was on about.

Before someone gets worked up: No, I don’t think the teachers are commies. Apparently, this one doesn’t even know about commies.

I’m all for the teachers. I’m all for public education. Always have been, the record will show.

I’m just saying what I said: That this is not a way to win friends and influence people — at least, not the people who make policy in this GOP-dominated state. While few enough among them remember the Cold War, one assumes it lurks somewhere in their collective unconscious (as much as they might deny, upon questioning, possessing a collective anything).

And especially not when the Republican speaker of the House has stuck his neck out trying to accomplish some of the things you say you want.

That’s all I have to say… except that I wish they’d quoted the part about the giant pencils. That was the good bit. The part they quoted was just the setup for the good bit. Ask Norm. He appreciated it, even within the context of taking me to task

That was a big crowd. Not the biggest, but pretty big…

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

Apparently, some people weren’t paying attention to what I told them yesterday. Tsk, tsk…

But seriously, folks… I want to thank Norm, and Phillip, and everyone else who cared enough about our schools to turn out for the demonstration today… even though I doubt it will help, and it could even hurt. My view of all this is that what’s going to happen on education is going to happen regardless of demonstrations.

The good news is that lawmakers this year have made more of a good-faith effort to help public schools than I’ve seen in 20 years.

The bad news is that they didn’t get it done this year. Which worries me, because there was so much momentum for it — even Henry, of all people, got on board — and I worry whether the mo will still be there in January.

We’ll see.

But hey, it was a big crowd today. Of course, we all try to mentally compare that to THE big crowd, King Day at the Dome in 2000. And I went hunting for that image, and found it. So here you go…

King Day 2000

Should teachers walk out tomorrow? (No, they should not.)

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed...

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed…

I’m inclined not to offer any arguments on this point and let Cindi do my talking:

Yup. The more of them who show up at the State House when they should be working, the less favorably lawmakers will view their wishes.

Walking out is a bad idea to begin with. Making the State House the end point of your walk is even less wise.

There are all sorts of reasons. Here are two or three:

  • We don’t have public employee unions in South Carolina. Never mind whether you or I think that’s a good thing; the point is that our Legislature thinks it is a good thing. So probably the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to get something out of the Legislature, is to act like a union, with a walkout.
  • As the editorial Cindi links to asserts, the assertion that teacher “grievances” have “fallen on deaf ears” rings extremely hollow when the lawmakers you are griping about are about to give you all a 4 percent raise.
  • May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square? Will Scud missiles (or perhaps giant pencils) roll down Gervais Street on trailers?

Is that all that should happen? No. This was supposedly the year for education reform, and thanks to the Senate being the Senate, that didn’t happen. The House did its job, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas and the good-faith work of a consensus of the body, ranging from my old boss Mandy Powers Norrell to my own rep, Micah Caskey.

But I can’t imagine how a mass abandonment of duty on the part of teachers helps us get to where we need to be.

It will be interesting to see who walks out, and who doesn’t. This walkout is the work of the upstart SC for Ed organization, which has been trying to take the role of representing teachers away from the more established groups, such as the S.C. Education Association. SCEA president has expressed some doubts about the event.

But whoever they are, I don’t see the event furthering stated goals…

The new Henry McMaster (we can only hope)

henry

I’ve been meaning to write about this, but when it was timely — on Inauguration Day, and when we had the State of the State — I was too busy to blog, and let it slide.

But now I’m thinking about it again, so…

A number of times lately, I’ve thought, Hey, at least one voter out there was listening to us during the campaign: Henry McMaster.

At least it seems that way. Everywhere we went, James and Mandy touted their plan to raise teacher pay and take other measures to make all our schools places where kids were well educated and teachers loved their jobs and didn’t want to quit. And James had a crowd-pleasing line he used with regard to his opponent that went kind of like this: The only thing Henry McMaster has offered our schools is to arm teachers with guns. I want to arm them with better pay, and with the tools they need to be effective.

The line worked, because Henry offered nothing to counter it. He didn’t talk about schools. Any reasonable person could be forgiven for assuming that he didn’t give a flying flip about schools.

Now, he’s all on fire for education reform. Which is why, after the State of the State, Mandy Powers Norrell tweeted this:

It’s great. It’s gratifying. But don’t think I think we deserve the credit (and I don’t think Mandy does, either). I don’t flatter myself that Henry is taking his cues from the Smith campaign. I do think he’s taking them from House Speaker Jay Lucas. And that’s a good thing.

(Oops, I forgot to use The State newspaper’s recent style. On first reference, and sometimes even in headlines, it’s always “powerful House Speaker Jay Lucas.” It’s become such a part of his title, I expect them to start capitalizing the “P” next. Back in the old mainframe days when we were on Atex terminals, we would have said, “they’ve got it on a SAVE/GET key…”)

Lucas has been wanting to get serious on helping our schools for several years now. Even though the Supreme Court has backed off on forcing the Legislature to provide all the state’s students with a better-than-minimally adequate education, Lucas really wants to do something about it.

And he’s willing to let Henry get in front of the parade and take credit for it.

And to his credit, Henry for once is acting like a leader and stepping out to do something, to lead, to be a governor.

His first two years in office, we saw no sign of that. In fact, when Lucas and others in the State House tried to lead, Henry lay down in front of their efforts. He only cared about the upcoming election. It was painfully evident that, on a twist of another of James’ campaign lines, Henry would rather keep the job than do the job.

The way he tried to block leadership on the roads bill was the perfect example. Rather than support the lawmakers in the risk they were taking, he vetoed the bill, and neither tried to offer a viable argument why nor made any effort to get lawmakers to sustain the veto. He knew they would override him. He just wanted zero responsibility for what happened. (Which reminds me of a postwar German phrase: Ohne mich. They could do what they liked, but without him.)

Now that he’s been elected governor for the first time, he seems to have decided he’s going to act like one. For a change.

I worked so hard to get James Smith elected mostly because of my tremendous respect for him, personally. I’d have been for James even if Henry had been a fairly decent governor. But I worked even harder for him because Henry gave no sign of being any kind of governor at all, decent or otherwise. It was an extra spur to my efforts.

And when we lost, we had little reason to hope for anything better going forward.

Which is why it’s so encouraging to see Henry accepting the mantle of leadership that the Speaker has offered him. It’s not as good as having James as governor, not by a long shot, but it’s something.

I applaud this unexpected development. And I’m daring to hope that something good will come out of it. After all, Dum Spiro Spero

Sheheen takes step in right direction on higher ed

When I read this yesterday morning…

A South Carolina lawmaker has a plan to stop college tuition from going up — just don’t expect it to get passed this year.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, will file a bill to fix what he sees as the four biggest issues in higher education: tuition increasing at “an astronomical, unsustainable rate,” colleges recruiting out-of-state students to balance their budgets, fixing campus buildings that have fallen into disrepair and “streamlining a bureaucratic mess.”

Sheheen will unveil the proposal — and detail the plan’s specifics — Tuesday at an 11 a.m. news conference on the first floor of the State House….

… I resolved to drop by the State House to hear the proposal. I did so, however, knowing what I’ve known for years: If lawmakers want to stop the rise in tuition, the solution is obvious. You have to start funding higher education again.Sheheen mug

Back when I was in school and tuition was dirt-cheap, the state actually funded “state-funded” colleges and universities. Now, the state’s taxpayers are minor contributors, providing a percentage of operating costs that long ago dropped into single digits. University presidents spend the lion’s share of their time trying to scrape up funds from other sources — and yeah, tuition is one of those other sources.

So there’s always been a great deal of phoniness in many legislators’ hand-wringing over rising tuition — unless they’re willing to address the actual problem. It’s always been completely within the power of lawmakers — as a body — to do this.

But I expected that Vincent Sheheen knows this, probably better than I do, so I went over expecting to hear something real. And I did. Or rather, since I arrived just as the presser was breaking up, I read something real on this handout before briefly interviewing Vincent and others present, such as USC President Harris Pastides:

sheheen doc

It’s not much — it probably won’t even pull state funding back out of the single digits (a Senate Finance Committee staffer is running down the numbers on that for me, but I don’t have them yet).

But yeah, providing more funding from the state is the one thing that’s needed for keeping down tuition. So, while this will do little more than slow the rise, it’s something. And it’s honest.

And note that it even meets Doug’s test: If you want more money for something, findi it somewhere in the budget that exists, rather than raising taxes.

So, you know… something for everybody…

Help the children of Dominica learn to dance again

dancers

Still from a video of one of Becca’s classes.

Y’all know that my youngest daughter did a two-year Peace Corps tour of duty in Thailand awhile back, because we went to visit her and I posted about it. There, she did the usual kind of Peace Corps work, like something out of the movie “Volunteers,” only Tom Hanks and John Candy weren’t there to help her. She was way out in the countryside on her own, teaching such things as English and basic life skills in the local schools. She was the only farang for many miles around. When someone had an event and wanted to draw a crowd, they invited her to present the award or cut the ribbon or lead the parade, and people were sure to turn out, just to see the blonde foreign girl.

You may not know that before she was in the Peace Corps, she was a classical ballet dancer. She had spent her last year of high school in Pennsylvania training intensely at a respected school there, stayed another year after graduation, then came down to USC to study in its dance program. But some of her teachers persuaded her to leave school and turn pro. So she did, dancing with companies in both North Carolina and Columbia before having to “retire” because of injuries. She went back to school, to get her degree from College of Charleston, then joined the Peace Corps.

She had no way of knowing those two paths would combine in a unique opportunity.

After she had been back from Thailand a short while — she worked for a dance company in New York during the interval — she saw an ad for a position in the Peace Corps Response program. The island nation of Dominica in the Caribbean, a place with few economic advantages, wanted someone to teach its children to dance. With Peace Corps and professional dance experience, Becca — being uniquely qualified — got the job, and started in January 2017.

The wrecked arts center.

The wrecked arts center.

Everything went fine (here’s a piece Becca wrote about her work a year ago) until Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria in September. There was no chance to evacuate ahead of time. As it bore down on the island, the storm started the day as a Category 1, and by landfall was a Category 5. Everyone knows what Maria did to Puerto Rico. But Dominica, a former French and then British colony before gaining independence in 1978, doesn’t get as much press. And Dominica was hit first — and harder.

Dominica was devastated. The island, which is rocky and mountainous and lacks the attractive beaches of some of its neighbors, had been building a bit of an ecotourism industry, but its forests were torn up by the roots, the trees littering the island. Agriculture was completely destroyed, plantations losing 100 percent of their crops. And practically no one had a roof that hadn’t been ripped open to the sky.

The almost 20 Peace Corps volunteers on the island had been summoned together to ride out the storm in a hotel in the city of Roseau. It was a harrowing experience. For days after, their only water was what had collected on the roof. Eventually, the Peace Corps hired some fishing boats to take them off and transport them to St. Lucia, from whence my daughter came home to stay with us a few weeks.

And then she went back. She was one of only five Peace Corps folks to return, and she did so at the particular request of local officials, who still wanted their children to have a chance at cultural enrichment.

Becca’s efforts have drawn some attention recently. Buzzfeed did a feature on her and seven other Peace Corps volunteers who were “Using Sports To Strengthen Communities Abroad.” Never mind that ballet isn’t exactly a sport, they had nice things to say anyway (mainly derived from the piece she wrote last year):

For Rebecca Warthen, ballet is everything that makes life worth living: beauty, romance, music, joy, passion, and physicality. So when she saw a Peace Corps Response opening for a ballet instructor and teacher trainer on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, she applied immediately, hoping to change lives with the art form that changed her own.

Warthen said one of the best things about dance is that you don’t need expensive equipment. “All you really need is your body, space, and the desire to learn, and your future is yours to determine… More importantly, they’re learning something new from a culture different than theirs, from a person with a different skin tone and different background, and through that they will become more accepting, open-minded people, which is what this is all about, isn’t it?”

No, you don’t need much special equipment to dance, but you do need a place to do it. And the one dance studio in the country — the Dominica Institute for the Arts — had been destroyed in the storm.

Since her return, Becca has been teaching in the schools — those that remain — and other spaces as available. But she’s determined to restore the island’s one studio, a beautiful facility that had been donated by a Dominican who had had success in the wider world and wanted to give back.

Here’s a story on the Peace Corps website about her effort. It will cost a little more than $28,000. The people of Dominica, who don’t have much to give, have come up with $20,000 of it themselves. Becca is trying to raise the rest.

If you can, please help. You can give at the Peace Corps site. The people of Dominica, who want broader horizons for their children, will appreciate it. So will I.

Becca and some of her students.

Becca and some of her students.

Hey, alla you kids get offa my campus!

Horseshoe

The Horseshoe.

Part of my daily routine of getting in at least 10,000 steps (and preferably 15) is to take an afternoon walk around downtown, usually through the USC campus and around the State House before heading back to ADCO.

This has been particularly peaceful this week, with the kids gone for spring break — even though it’s not, you know, technically spring.

I suppose I’ll be tripping over them again next week. But it was nice to have it mostly to myself for awhile…

The Russell House -- a student center with no students.

The Russell House — a student center with no students.

Thomas Cooper Library.

Thomas Cooper Library.

It was great to see Valerie and the gang at USC tonight

DXKqNm8XkAEKh2R

Valerie Bauerlein was back in town this evening, which became the occasion for the biggest gathering of former denizens of The State I’ve attended since we lost Lee Bandy.

Valerie, now of The Wall Street Journal, was here to deliver the Baldwin Lecture at the J-school at USC.

Her topic was “Retail Meltdown: How Online Shopping is Changing our Communities.” She did a  great job, as she does with everything she undertakes. To give you a sense of the lecture, here’s part of a Q&A with her from the USC website:

Last year I went to Elmira, New York, and Wausau, Wisconsin, to report on the ripple effects of the collapse of retail. What I saw there is not so different than what is happening at shopping centers in Columbia and in lots of other places.

Elmira used to make everything from typewriters to TV tubes. As manufacturing went away, the mall out by the interstate became a bigger and bigger driver of the local economy, drawing people from miles away and employing hundreds of people. The local governments became dependent on sales tax to offset property tax and other revenue as manufacturing declined. So when the mall started to fail, people lost their jobs and became more dependent on public aid. And the city had become so reliant on sales tax to make its budget, it had to make deep cuts, even in its police force. There are lots of communities like this, who are dealing with the death of a big mall or outlet center that has been an anchor for the economy.

Wausau, on the other hand, is a prosperous place, by some measures the most middle-class community in America. The mall is failing there, too, in spite of being the only one in a 70-mile radius. In Wausau, the city didn’t need sales tax to make its budget and the local governments could absorb the decline in property taxes from the mall and other shopping centers. The big worry there was the death of what had been a community gathering place, and how to get new life into a building that was in the center of town. The other issue was how to support small shops in the downtown, so the people would want to live and work there.

So there are fiscal and civic ripple effects to our communities from the collapse in retail that are fascinating and often overlooked….

I was a bit late for her talk, but she let me know that I was quoted in her introduction, delivered by Tom Reichert, the new dean of the College of Information and Communications. He used this from a 2009 post on this blog:

She’s one of the nicest, most pleasant, kindest, most considerate people I ever worked with, to the extent that you wonder how she ended up in the trade. Not that news people are universally unpleasant or anything; it’s just that she was SO nice. And very good at her job, to boot.

Yep, that sounds like something I’d say about Valerie — and mean it. Here’s how nice Valerie is — she gave a plug to my recent blog post related to her topic (the one on deserted malls).

Afterward, we went to Hunter-Gatherer for a pint. Which is where the picture above is from. That’s Valerie with the big smile in the foreground at right. You can also see Sammy Fretwell, Megan Sexton, Bob Gillespie, Paul Osmundson, Carolyn Click, Grant Jackson and various other present and former denizens of The State — plus such fellow travelers as ex-dean Charles Bierbauer, media lawyer Jay Bender, former Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer and other friends.

It was good to see all the folks again…

Racist signs at USC: Was it a Bernie Bro?

Racist signs found at USC.

Racist signs found at USC./Photo from Twitter feed of @KingShady__.

Students returned to USC for the spring semester today to find racist messages taped up in several university buildings, including one on a display case outside the African-American Studies department in Gambrell Hall.

The precise nature of the messages was interesting. As the Charleston paper quoted:

“We’ve endured a YEAR of Blumpf instead of enjoying one of Bernie because your DUMB BLACK A**** just pull the lever for whomever the party (illegible),” one sign says in Williams’ photo.

“All this bull**** about a ‘King’ when you (illegible) simpletons can’t even pick a candidate properly,” a second sign says. “You stupid monkeys handed Trump the White House the minute you handed Hillary the nomination!”

So… is this the work of a Bernie Bro? Or someone trying to deflect blame and pin it on a Sanders enthusiast?

Whoever did it, it’s pretty disgusting.

(I got the image above from this Tweet.)

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

You say we NEED the slaves to work the fields? So much for philosophy…

The capacity of the human mind for rationalization is an amazing thing. The things we can talk ourselves into without breaking a sweat…

Seeing this sentence this morning in a story about honoring the slaves who built USC sent me off on a tangent: “Sancho and his wife Lucy became the property of Thomas Cooper, president from 1821 to 1833 of what was then South Carolina College, with Sancho becoming a well-known figure on campus.”

Thomas Cooper

Thomas Cooper

My wife’s mother was a Cooper. All the Coopers in living memory lived in West Tennessee, but I knew that if you followed the line back to the mid-19th century, some of the Coopers lived here in Richland County, SC. And a number of Coopers were named Thomas.

So I had often wondered whether there was a connection to the famous Thomas Cooper of USC, and this morning I decided to read up on him.

Apparently, there’s no connection, since the academic Cooper was originally from England — whereas my wife’s Cooper ancestors had been in America a couple of generations ahead of him. With such common first and last names, that’s hardly surprising.

But I found reading about the USC Cooper interesting. He was apparently quite the philosopher, friend to Thomas Jefferson and other leading lights of the time. But this bit from Wikipedia sort of blew me away:

He supported the institution of slavery, although he had strenuously opposed the slave trade. In the mid to late 1780s Cooper fought passionately against “that infamous and impolitic traffic”. He wrote that “negroes are men; susceptible of the same cultivation with ourselves”, claimed that “as Englishmen, the blood of the murdered African is upon us, and upon our children, and in some day of retribution he will feel it, who will not assist to wash off the stain”. But in America Cooper accepted slavery itself, as he doubted that “in South Carolina or Georgia…the rich lands could be cultivated without slave labour”….

Let me make sure I’m following you, Tom: The slave trade is “infamous.” People of African descent are just as human as whites and just as worthy, and all of us who fail to do something to remedy this injustice are deserving of “retribution.”

But hey, we need them to work the plantations, so never mind! That cotton’s not going to pick itself!

Wow. He was celebrated for his great intellect, and this is how he used it…

The politics of the court’s abandonment of Abbeville case

sc supreme court

I had thought Cindi Scoppe was out of the country — Wales, I think — but then she had a good column over the weekend explaining why the S.C. Supreme Court had dropped the 24-year-old Abbeville case that sought equity for those who attend some of our state’s poorest schools.

Not in terms of fine points of the law. Not in terms of the merits of the case. In terms of politics.

It was headlined “Why the SC Supreme Court washed its hands of poor students.” Here’s an excerpt:

Contrary to House Speaker Jay Lucas’ declaration that the order showed the court “is satisfied by the House’s transformative efforts to improve South Carolina’s education system,” the majority actually had nothing to say about how satisfied it was or was not with the Legislature’s efforts.

Contrary to House Speaker Jay Lucas’ declaration that the order showed the court “is satisfied by the House’s transformative efforts to improve South Carolina’s education system,” the majority actually had nothing to say about how satisfied it was or was not with the Legislature’s efforts….

Basically, lawmakers let their intentions be known in the way they screened prospective justices to replace Jean Toal and Costa Pleicones:

When legislators grilled would-be justices leading up to the retirement of Justices Toal and Pliecones, they made sure the candidates understood that the court is not in fact the co-equal branch of government that the constitution claims. So for the past two years, the school districts’ Abbeville victory has existed on paper but not in reality, reduced from a mandate to act to a requirement to file annual progress reports…

Mind you, Cindi’s not at all sure that there exists a constitutional mandate that the state ensure a good education to every student. Like me, she believes that as a matter of public policy, it’s insane (and yes, immoral, for those who think I’m ignoring that) not to:

The many South Carolinians who recognize that our state cannot progress as long as we leave behind so many children are understandably upset by the court’s ruling. But we never should have needed to rely on the court to tell the Legislature to do what anyone who cares about the future of our state would do. And ultimately, it is up to all of us to demand and insist and never stop demanding and insisting that our legislators make the changes to the laws and the enforcement of those laws and, yes, the funding that are necessary to ensure that all children in this state have the decent education that we all need them to have.

Note that last part: “that we all need them to have.” It’s fine if we want to provide equality of opportunity to poor kids, if that makes us feel good about ourselves. But our collective self-interest comes into play here.

We need an educated population. All of us need that. We cannot afford to have these broad swathes of our state where people simply lack the skills to hold down a good job and contribute to the state’s prosperity and general well-being. We need capable doctors and nurses and lawyers and paralegals and air-conditioning repair people and cooks and clerks and cops and factory workers and builders and thousands of other kinds of workers. We can’t afford to live in a place where there are large bunches of people without skills.

Universal education is not so much a kindness to individuals as a pragmatic goal for the whole community.

It’s a wonderful thing to live in a country of laws. But one less-wonderful side effect of that is people sometimes think there needs to be a law that makes people do the right thing. To some extent, the Abbeville case was predicated on that.

But forget about whether the state constitution mandates a “minimally adequate education” or a “super-duper education.”

It’s just smart policy to do all we can to provide everyone with the chance to get educated. It’s that, and of course, it’s the right thing to do…

‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien…’

Dr. Heyer during her lecture.

Dr. Heyer during her lecture.

This past Sunday, I did the first reading at the Spanish Mass, the first time I’d done so in awhile.

It was from Exodus Chapter 22. Here’s how it began:

Esto dice el Señor a su pueblo: “No hagas sufrir ni oprimas al extranjero, porque ustedes fueron extranjeros en Egipto. No explotes a las viudas ni a los huérfanos, porque si los explotas y ellos claman a mí, ciertamente oiré yo su clamor; mi ira se encenderá, te mataré a espada, tus mujeres quedarán viudas y tus hijos, huérfanos….

For you gringos, it goes like this:

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans….

Because I had just read that Sunday (after a lot of practice that morning, which I have to do with Spanish these days), I was struck to hear the same message again last night, when I attended this year’s Cardinal Bernardin lecture at USC.

Our speaker was Kristin Heyer from Boston College, and the rather involved title of her lecture was “Immigration Ethics in a New Era: Embracing Cardinal Bernardin’s challenge to be both ‘prophetic and public’ amid the contemporary political climate with respect to migration.”(Headline writing isn’t a core strength of academics, I find.)

I won’t go into the whole thing, except to say that the message was not, shall we say, Trumpian.

But I was struck at the serendipity of her slide citing numerous biblical injunctions to be good to the alien. The first one she cited was from the chapter after the one I had read from in Exodus, and it’s a stripped-down, to-the-point version of what I had read:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt…

That was Exodus 23:9. Think maybe somebody’s trying to tell me something this week?

IMG_2933

KKK questions in the 5th grade, and the ‘virtues of slavery’

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids...

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids…

Well, we’re in The New York Times again. This time it’s for asking a bit much of 5th-graders in Irmo:

“You are a member of the K.K.K.,” the fifth-grade homework assignment read. “Why do you think your treatment of African-Americans is justified?”

The work sheet, given on Thursday as part of a lesson on the Reconstruction period, caused an outcry after one student’s uncle, Tremain Cooper, posted a photo of the assignment on Facebook.

“This is my little 10-year-old nephew’s homework assignment today,” he wrote. “He’s home crying right now.”

Mr. Cooper identified the teacher as Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., a suburb of Columbia, and added, “How can she ask a 5th grader to justify the actions of the KKK???”

Reached by phone, Ms. Roberts’s husband said she was unavailable and was “not going to comment on anything.”…

Hoo, boy.

Of course, that’s a perfectly fine question to ask, to get the ol’ gray matter working — in a graduate poli sci course. I think it’s a shame that Ms. Roberts — who is on suspension pending investigation of the incident — isn’t commenting, because I would dearly love to know the thinking behind asking 5th-graders to tackle it.

Had she even looked at the lesson before she passed it out? Or was this enterprise on her part? Had she decided to go for a real challenge, asking her students to reach for understanding beyond their years?

One thing I’ll say in defense of this: It’s a more reasonable question than this one asked in California:

In February, second graders at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles were asked to solve a word problem: “The master needed 192 slaves to work on plantation in the cotton fields. The fields could fill 75 bags of cotton. Only 96 slaves were able to pick cotton for that day. The missus needed them in the Big House to prepare for the Annual Picnic. How many more slaves are needed in the cotton fields?”

Correct answer: “That’s a trick question! Masters don’t have to do math!”

Of course, we have at least one person here in South Carolina who might love to be asked such a question. His letter to the editor appeared in The State today:

Teach truth about the virtues of slavery

The recent controversy about Confederate monuments and flags ultimately revolves around one man and one question. The man is John C. Calhoun, the great philosopher and statesman from South Carolina, and the spiritual founding father of the Confederacy. The question is: Was Calhoun right or wrong when he argued, from the 1830s until his death in 1850, that the South’s Christian slavery was “a positive good” and “a great good” for both whites and blacks?

If Calhoun was wrong, then there may be grounds for removing monuments and flags.

But if Calhoun was right, the monuments and flags should stay and be multiplied, blacks should be freed from oppressive racial integration so they can show the world how much they can do without white folk, the Southern states should seize their freedom and independence, and the North should beg the South’s pardon for the war.

Calhoun’s views are unpopular today because, since 1865, the Yankee-imposed education system has taught all Americans that the South’s Christian slavery was evil and that everyone is equal. But unpopularity cannot make a truth untrue, and popularity cannot make error truth.

WINSTON MCCUEN
AIKEN

“If Calhoun was right….”

Excuse me while I sit here and try to come up with a justification of Mr. McCuen’s point of view. It might be on the six-weeks test…

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

Hey! Alla you kids, get offa my Blossom Street!

This was on Friday, as I sat through several light cycles waiting to turn onto Pickens.

This was on Friday, as I sat through several light cycles waiting to turn onto Pickens.

Have you made the mistake of trying to get anywhere on Blossom Street — say, between Five Points and the Congaree River bridge — since the kids came back to campus?

If so, you know why I say “mistake.”

The worst point is at the intersection of Blossom and PIckens, which I at least attempt to traverse several times a week.

It has never been this bad, or even close. This no doubt has something to do with the record freshman class, but it seems like there must be three or four times as many students in the past.

And all, of course, driving cars.

On Friday, stuck through about four full cycles of the traffic light trying to turn left onto Pickens from Blossom, I glanced over at the sidewalk on the north side of Blossom, and suddenly flashed on a memory: It was me as a freshman, that one semester I went to USC, walking with groceries back from the Winn-Dixie in Five Points (where the Walgreens is now) to my room in the Honeycombs.

Which reminded me that I only knew of one guy on the floor of my dorm who had a car. I once got a ride from him to the K-Mart in Cayce on the way to the airport to pick up something that my uncle in Bennettsville needed, and which he could only get from K-Mart, to his knowledge. (It was vacuum cleaner bags. Remember, there was no Amazon.)

Not one other time, that whole semester, did I need to go anywhere in Columbia that I couldn’t easily walk.

So… I’m going to shock everyone by making a commonsense suggestion: Why can’t USC at least bar resident freshmen from having cars on campus?

If we can’t do that, then USC and the city need to get together and figure out something to do about the daily problem on Blossom…

This was a few days earlier than that...

This was a few days earlier than that…

Can this takeover of Allendale schools make the difference?

Allendale County schools are known for a number of things, none of which is excellence.

SC Supt. Molly Spearman

SC Supt. Molly Spearman

The dysfunction starts at the top. Back in the ’90s, a school board member was accused of pulling a knife on the board chairman during a budget discussion. He was later, it should be said, acquitted.

A while later, then-Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum took over the district for a time, and for a time, things got better. But what gains there were were lost in the decade since local folks resumed control.

Now, Molly Spearman is trying again. And she’s laying the blame for the schools’ failure squarely upon the local officials:

“Management decisions that put self-interests ahead of our students’ achievement are unacceptable, and I will not stand by while students get left behind because of decisions the adults are making,” she said.

She declined to give specifics, other than to say whenever a new principal or superintendent attempted to make changes, Allendale County’s board intervened, and that nepotism can be a problem in the county of fewer than 10,000 people. Officials should make decisions based on “what’s best for students, not their relatives,” Spearman said….

She’s not being specific, but what she’s implying sounds pretty disgusting. Nevertheless, the local officials seem unashamed of themselves, since they’re suing to stop the takeover.

It will be interesting to see on what grounds local officials argue they should maintain control, given their record.

Locally-run schools are a great thing, when a community has the capacity, commitment and integrity to run them. Apparently, Allendale has again shown that it does not. Under the principle of subsidiarity, things should be run by the smallest and most local entity with the competence to run them. In Allendale County, that would appear to be the state.

Here’s hoping that this time, progress sticks. But I wonder whether that’s even possible unless the state keeps control indefinitely.