Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists

by John Shelby Spong, Retired American Bishop of the Episcopal Church, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/13/2011

Excerpt

The contrast between the way the Bible is understood in the academic world and the way it is viewed in our churches is striking…issues and insights, commonplace among the scholars, are viewed as highly controversial and even as “heresy” in the churches. The result has been that the majority of people who have remained in the church have become more and more rigid and fundamentalist, while those who have left have become more and more dismissive of everything, good or bad, about Christianity… there are other ways to view Christianity.

In the world of Christian scholarship, for example, to read the Bible literally is regarded as absurd. To call the words of the Bible “the Word of God” is more than naïve…There are some biblical facts that cannot and should not be ignored, if Christians really value truth… Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue. I am tired of seeing the Bible being used, as it has been throughout history, to legitimize slavery and segregation, to subdue women, to punish homosexuals, to justify war and to oppose family planning and birth control. That is a travesty which must be challenged and changed…

Full text

The contrast between the way the Bible is understood in the academic world and the way it is viewed in our churches is striking. I know because in my life as a priest and a bishop I have both served typical congregations and been privileged to study and to teach in some of the best known Christian academic centers in the world. In academia I discovered that issues and insights, commonplace among the scholars, are viewed as highly controversial and even as “heresy” in the churches. The result has been that the majority of people who have remained in the church have become more and more rigid and fundamentalist, while those who have left have become more and more dismissive of everything, good or bad, about Christianity. We also now have a crop of writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchen, who have totally demolished the fundamentalist approach to God with their clever and penetrating books, yet they are seemingly unaware that there are other ways to view Christianity.

In the world of Christian scholarship, for example, to read the Bible literally is regarded as absurd. To call the words of the Bible “the Word of God” is more than naïve. No modern person can still believe that a star can wander through the sky so slowly that wise men can keep up with it, that God actually dictated the Ten Commandments — all three versions, no less — or that a multitude can be fed with five loaves and two fish. No modern person understanding genetics and reproduction can believe that virgins conceive, nor can those who understand what death does to the human body in a matter of just minutes still view the resurrection as the resuscitation of a deceased body after three days. Biblical scholars know that the accounts of the crucifixion read in Christian churches on Good Friday are not eye witness reports, but developed interpretations of Jesus’ death based on a series of Old Testament texts selected to convince fellow Jews that Jesus “fulfilled the scriptures” and thus really was the “messiah.” These issues and many others are assumed in the world of biblical scholars, but are viewed by many church-goers, together with the vast majority of television evangelists and radio preachers, as attacks on divine revelation that must be resisted in order to save Christianity. They thus, knowingly or unknowingly, join in a conspiracy of silence, ignoring truth when they feel they can and viewing biblical scholars, strangely enough, as the church’s ultimate enemy. At the same time secular critics attack what Christian scholars know is nonsensical about both the Bible and Christianity and act as if they have discovered something new.

There are some biblical facts that cannot and should not be ignored, if Christians really value truth. For example, the time separating when Moses lived (ca. 1250 BCE) from when the stories of Moses were written in the Bible (ca. 950 BCE) is about 300 years, representing 15 generations of oral transmission. Can anyone knowing this continue to be a literal believer? The gospels were written 40 -70 years after the crucifixion, which means that most of what we read about Jesus in the Bible was handed down orally for two to three generations before one word of it achieved written form. The gospels were also first written in Greek, a language which neither Jesus nor his disciples spoke or wrote! How can anyone claim “inerrancy” for such material? Other facts well-known in the academy, but seemingly unknown outside by either believers or critics, are that scholars can find no evidence that miracles were associated with the memory of Jesus before the 8th decade of the Christian era, that there is no mention of the virgin birth anywhere before the 9th decade and that the narratives of the ascension and Pentecost did not appear until the 10th decade. The New Testament does not agree on such basic issues as the identity of the twelve disciples or the details of Easter. Why has none of this been made available in churches or been discovered by those who pose as the church’s secular critics?

The New Testament also introduces us to a group of characters who are far more likely to be literary creations than they are to be literal. Was Judas Iscariot a figure of history? I do not think so. There is no mention of him in any source before the 8th decade. Paul, writing between 51 and 64 CE, appears never to have heard of the tradition that one of the twelve was a traitor. In addition to that, every detail of the New Testament portrait of Judas can be located in other traitor stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. If a major figure like Judas is not real then what about such lesser characters as Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman by the well, Lazarus, miraculously raised from the dead four days after being buried, or even the “Beloved Disciple?” All of them, I now believe, were created to illustrate a theme.

It was fascinating for me in writing this book to explore the scriptures from these perspectives by journeying through the entire biblical landscape from Genesis to Revelation. That enabled me with both integrity and conviction to challenge the literal assumptions of the past and to open the biblical story to new levels of understanding that I believe are profoundly real. Who would have thought, for instance, that Hosea’s domestic life would illumine his understanding of the love of God; or that Amos, a keeper of sycamore trees in the village of Tekoa, would be the one to redefine God as justice? The book of Jonah is seen as a readable mythological tale, deliberately designed to hook its audience emotionally in order to break them out of the bondage of prejudice. The book of Job explores the universal theme of why innocent people suffer. There is great stuff in the Bible that needs to be opened in new ways.

Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue. I am tired of seeing the Bible being used, as it has been throughout history, to legitimize slavery and segregation, to subdue women, to punish homosexuals, to justify war and to oppose family planning and birth control. That is a travesty which must be challenged and changed.

I wrote “Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World” to do precisely that.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shelby-spong/why-i-wrote-re-claiming-t_b_1007399.html

Humanities

American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power

Who’s Afraid of Zinn’s Radical History? by Sonia Murrow and Robert Cohen, The Nation, August 7, 2013, posted on CommonDreams.org

Report Argues U.S. Is Neglecting, Undervaluing Education in the Humanities - CONVERSATION — PBS News Hour, June 19, 2013 Excerpt A new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences panel warns that the U.S. could lose its competitive edge in the liberal arts and social sciences… languages, history, philosophy and … Continue reading →

The humanities are just as important as STEM classes By Danielle Allen, Washington Post, February 14, 2013 …we don’t need to become a nation of technocrats. Let’s not forget that you can’t do well in math and engineering if you can’t read proficiently, and that reading is the province of courses in literature, language and writing. Nor can you do well in science and technology if you can’t interpret images and develop effective visualizations — skills that are strengthened by courses in art and art history. You also can’t excel at citizenship if you can’t read, write or speak well, or understand the complexity of the world and think historically. History helps us understand the features of our worlds that are changeable and that require either reform, because they are damaging, or protection, because they are valuable but vulnerable…The Common Core standards recognize that literacy, the humanities and history are as important as math, science and technical subjects in preparing students for jobs and college. They will also improve our ability to prepare students for citizenship. They should, in other words, help us achieve not only college and work readiness but also participatory readiness. Continue reading →
Conservatives’ Reality Problem by Timothy B. Lee, Contributor, Forbes, November 9, 2012…two decades ago, conservatives liked to argue that the ivory tower had put academics out of touch with reality, and that conservatism had reason and science on its side. The recent collapse of communism seemed to confirm this view. Today the tables have turned. While academia certainly still has pockets of out-of-touch leftists, there has been a much more dramatic decline in intellectual standards on the political right…years of conservatives demonizing pointy-headed academics, including scientists. On subjects like evolution, global warming, the biology of human conception, and even macroeconomics, conservatives have been increasingly bold about rejecting the consensus of scientific experts in favor of ideologically self-serving pronouncements.…George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a good example of the kind of damage that can be done when elected officials choose ideology over expertise. Bush didn’t just ignore the many experts who warned that invading Iraq was a bad idea. The ideologues were so convinced the war would go well that they massively underestimated the amount of preparation that would be required for the occupation to go reasonably smoothly. As a result, the aftermath of the war was much more chaotic than it would have been if experienced experts had been more involved in the planning process. Many more people died and much more property was destroyed than would have occurred with proper planning.

I think global warming is a more complex issue than some people on the left acknowledge. But rather than accepting the basic scientific reality of climate change and making the case that the costs of action outweigh the benefits, many conservatives have taken the cruder tack of simply attacking the entire enterprise of mainstream climate science as a hoax.

.…Economists across the political spectrum agree that the government ought to take action counteract major aggregate demand shortfalls…But rather than engaging this debate, a growing number of conservatives have rejected the mainstream economic framework altogether…

The world is messy and complicated, and understanding it often requires years of study and a willingness to consider evidence objectively regardless of where it comes from. Yet the conservative movement has increasingly become a hostile place for people who think for themselves, no matter how deeply they understand their subjects.

While many aspects of public policy are the subject of genuine ideological disagreements, there are also many issues where experts really do know things the rest of the public does not. A party that systematically favors ideologically convenient arguments and marginalizes dissenting voices will inevitably make costly mistakes…We should all hope the conservative movement develops a greater respect for expertise in the meantime. Continue reading →

The Perversion of Scholarship by Chris Hedges, TruthDig, posted on Common Dreams.org, July 30, 2012…Scholarship, inquiry, self-criticism, moral autonomy and a search for artistic and esoteric forms of expression—in short, the world of ethics, creativity and ideas—“Knowledge,” as C. Wright Mills wrote in “The Power Elite,” “is no longer widely felt as an ideal; it is seen as an instrument. In a society of power and wealth, knowledge is valued as an instrument of power and wealth, and also, of course, as an ornament in conversation.”…Corporate culture, which now dominates higher education, shares the predatory culture of the military. These cultures are about subsuming the self into the herd. They are about the acquiring of technical, vocational skills to serve the system. And with the increasing budget cuts, and more craven obsequiousness to corporate donors, it will only get worse. These forces of conformity are hostile to the humanities that teach students to question assumptions and structures that prod them to seek a life of meaning and an ethical code that challenges the blind, utilitarian obedience to power and profit that corporations and the military instill.Continue reading →
Tentacles of rage: the Republican propaganda mill, a brief history by Lewis H. Lapham, Harpers Magazine v.309, n.1852, September 1, 2004…1964…[when] the Republican Party [nominated] Senator Barry Goldwater as its candidate in that year’s presidential election…The “basic American consensus” at the time was firmly liberal in character and feeling, assured of a clear majority in both chambers of Congress as well as a sympathetic audience in the print and broadcast press. Even the National Association of Manufacturers was still aligned with the generous impulse of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, accepting of the proposition, as were the churches and the universities, that government must do for people what people cannot do for themselves

And yet, seemingly out of nowhere and suddenly at the rostrum of the San Francisco Cow Palace in a roar of triumphant applause, here was a cowboy-hatted herald of enlightened selfishness threatening to sack the federal city of good intentions, declaring the American government the enemy of the American people.…

The star-spangled oratory didn’t draw much of a crowd on the autumn campaign trail. The electorate in 1964 wasn’t interested in the threat of an apocalyptic future or the comforts of an imaginary past, and Goldwater’s reactionary vision in the desert faded into the sunset of the November election won by Lyndon Johnson with 61 percent of the popular vote.…the basic American consensus has shifted over the last thirty years from a liberal to a conservative biasplaced Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980 and provides the current Bush Administration with the platform…affirmed the great truths now routinely preached from the pulpits of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal–government the problem, not the solution; the social contract a dead letter; the free market the answerHow did a set of ideas both archaic and bizarre make its way into the center ring of the American political circus?

…the numbing of America’s political senses didn’t happen by mistake…the re-education program undertaken in the early 1970s by a cadre of ultraconservative and self-mythologizing millionaires bent on rescuing the country from the hideous grasp of Satanic liberalism. To a small group of Democratic activists meeting in New York City in late February, Stein had brought thirty-eight charts diagramming the organizational structure of the Republican “Message Machine,” an octopus-like network of open and hidden microphones that he described as “perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system.”…-fifty funding agencies of different dimensions and varying degrees of ideological fervor, nominally philanthropic but zealous in their common hatred of the liberal enemy, disbursing the collective sum of roughly $3 billion over a period of thirty years for the fabrication of “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”…Continue reading →

Turning a Blind Eye by Chris Hedges Truthdig | Op-Ed, July 9, 2012 -Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets. They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. They force us to confront unexamined assumptions, ones that, if not challenged, lead to destruction. They expose the ruling elites as hollow and corrupt. They articulate the senselessness of a system built on the ideology of endless growth, ceaseless exploitation and constant expansion. They warn us about the poison of careerism and the futility of the search for happiness in the accumulation of wealth. They make us face ourselves, from the bitter reality of slavery and Jim Crow to the genocidal slaughter of Native Americans to the repression of working-class movements to the atrocities carried out in imperial wars to the assault on the ecosystem. They make us unsure of our virtue. They challenge the easy clichés we use to describe the nation—the land of the free, the greatest country on earth, the beacon of liberty—to expose our darkness, crimes and ignorance. They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.

Human societies see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy. They ignore unpleasant facts that intrude on self-glorification.

It leaves us blind. And this is what has occurred. We are lost at sea in a great tempest. We do not know where we are. We do not know where we are going. And we do not know what is about to happen to us.

The psychoanalyst John Steiner calls this phenomenon “turning a blind eye.” He notes that often we have access to adequate knowledge but because it is unpleasant and disconcerting we choose unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, to ignore it.…We too, Steiner wrote, turn a blind eye to the dangers that confront us, despite the plethora of evidence that if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships to each other and the natural world, catastrophe is assured…

“It is only our absurd ‘scientific’ prejudice that reality must be physical and rational that blinds us to the truth,” Goddard warned. There are, as Shakespeare wrote, “things invisible to mortal sight.” But these things are not vocational or factual or empirical. They are not found in national myths of glory and power. They are not attained by force. They do not come through cognition or logical reasoning. They are intangible. They are the realities of beauty, grief, love, the search for meaning, the struggle to face our own mortality and the ability to face truth. And cultures that disregard these forces of imagination commit suicide. They cannot see…

Students who are denied the wisdom of the great oracles of human civilization—visionaries who urge us not to worship ourselves, not to kneel before the base human emotion of greed—cannot be educated. They cannot think…

The vital importance of thought, Arendt wrote, is apparent only “in times of transition when men no longer rely on the stability of the world and their role in it, and when the question concerning the general conditions of human life, which as such are properly coeval with the appearance of man on earth, gain an uncommon poignancy.” We never need our thinkers and artists more than in times of crisis, as Arendt reminds us, for they provide the subversive narratives that allow us to chart a new course, one that can assure our survival…

And here is the dilemma we face as a civilization. We march collectively toward self-annihilation. Corporate capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill us. Yet we refuse, because we cannot think and no longer listen to those who do think, to see what is about to happen to us. We have created entertaining mechanisms to obscure and silence the harsh truths, from climate change to the collapse of globalization to our enslavement to corporate power, that will mean our self-destruction. If we can do nothing else we must, even as individuals, nurture the private dialogue and the solitude that make thought possible. It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind. Continue reading →

 

Report Argues U.S. Is Neglecting, Undervaluing Education in the Humanities

CONVERSATION – PBS News Hour, June 19, 2013

Excerpt

A new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences panel warns that the U.S. could lose its competitive edge in the liberal arts and social sciences… languages, history, philosophy and more, a call for new commitments to the humanities in higher education…much focus has been on the need for the U.S. to nurture more graduates who specialize in science, technology, math, and engineering. It also comes amid lower funding for research in the humanities and a drop in interest in civics courses…by focusing on one part of the problem, we have forgotten that actually the problem requires a balanced solution

JOHN LITHGOW (actor):  “I have always felt that studying the humanities and the arts at the college level just put me into the habit of learning that’s really defined my life in all sorts of ways. And it’s extremely difficult to quantify exactly what the humanities does for you…The study of humanities is not being attacked. It’s not a terrible political football, which is always a great danger, because people have different belief systems. But it is being simply neglected. There is an imbalance. And my feeling has always been that these two sides of the brain have to work together.

RICHARD BRODHEAD (president of Duke University): Well, I actually think the burden really falls on educators to educate people about the meaning and value of education..when people end up being able to lead successful and creative lives, it is typically because they had a very broad range of skills that they were able to use in versatile and opportunistic ways as life unfolded. So you shouldn’t prepare yourself too narrowly. You think you’re being prudent, but it’s like penny-wise and pound-foolish. Better to develop more parts of yourself, more different skills and abilities, to be prepared for the chances of life… The first thing we need is for people who know and care about the value of literacy, the value of understanding foreign countries, the value of leading the kind of rich spiritual life you can get through the acquaintance with philosophy and literature and things of that sort, we need people to remind the public of the value of those things. I don’t find this a hard case to make when you speak to people…it’s been a while since anybody has tried to wake people up to how much they already do know and care about these things…”

Full text

SUMMARY

A new report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences panel warns that the U.S. could lose its competitive edge in the liberal arts and social sciences. Jeffrey Brown talks with two members of the panel: actor and writer John Lithgow and Richard Brodhead, co-chair of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Transcript

JEFFREY BROWN: Now: languages, history, philosophy and more, a call for new commitments to the humanities in higher education.

A report to that effect was issued today by a congressionally-mandated panel of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It comes at a time when much focus has been on the need for the U.S. to nurture more graduates who specialize in science, technology, math, and engineering. It also comes amid lower funding for research in the humanities and a drop in interest in civics courses.

Two members of the panel join us now, co-chair Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University, and actor and writer John Lithgow.

Thank you and welcome to both of you.

JOHN LITHGOW, Actor: Nice to be here.

RICHARD BRODHEAD, President, Duke University: My pleasure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Richard Brodhead, is there a critique here, implicit or not, at least, that we as a country have gone too far in the direction of the so-called STEM?

RICHARD BRODHEAD: I don’t think it’s so much that we have gone too far, because many could argue we still haven’t gone far enough. The performance of students in our school systems in STEM subjects is not yet the wonder of the world.

It’s that, by focusing on one part of the problem, we have forgotten that actually the problem requires a balanced solution. We have great scientists. We have — the National Academy of Engineering is on our commission. The person who authored the report that the whole concept of STEM came out of, Norm Augustine, was on our commission.

And they say it was never their view that STEM alone made for an educated person, let alone even an educated scientist.

JEFFREY BROWN: One thing I want to — how do you define or measure the problem? Do you put in the personal terms for you?

JOHN LITHGOW: Well, very much so in my case.

I studied humanities all the way through college. At a certain point, I made a misstep and became an actor, although I was never cut out to be an academic. But I have always felt that studying the humanities and the arts at the college level just put me into the habit of learning that’s really defined my life in all sorts of ways.

And it’s extremely difficult to quantify exactly what the humanities does for you.

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s one of the problems here, right?

JOHN LITHGOW: It’s certainly problem. And it tends to be neglected.

The study of humanities is not being attacked. It’s not a terrible political football, which is always a great danger, because people have different belief systems. But it is being simply neglected. There is an imbalance. And my feeling has always been that these two sides of the brain have to work together.

JEFFREY BROWN: But I have the experience — and I know you do everyday, and I will bet you do, too — of talking to college students at campus.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you’re — and I also happen to be a parent myself, so I know …

RICHARD BRODHEAD: I’m one, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: … the huge costs of college …

RICHARD BRODHEAD: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: … the dim job prospects in this economy, which we report on all the time.

How do you look parents and teachers in the eye and say, you must have someplace for the humanities as well, while there’s a focus on jobs, practical matters?

RICHARD BRODHEAD: Well, I actually think the burden really falls on educators to educate people about the meaning and value of education.

I’m not sure we have done a good enough job making that case as well as we could.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re blaming yourself and others in the …

RICHARD BRODHEAD: I think educators to some extent play a role in it.

We need to remind the world that what makes a person successful are not the things that get you a job the day you graduate. I know almost no one at 40 or 50 who is doing the thing they did the day after they got out of college.

And when people end up being able to lead successful and creative lives, it is typically because they had a very broad range of skills that they were able to use in versatile and opportunistic ways as life unfolded. So you shouldn’t prepare yourself too narrowly. You think you’re being prudent, but it’s like penny-wise and pound-foolish. Better to develop more parts of yourself, more different skills and abilities, to be prepared for the chances of life.

JEFFREY BROWN: But that’s still a hard case to make for many people.

JOHN LITHGOW: Yes, especially in a time of economic hardship.

JEFFREY BROWN: Huge debt that people come out of college with.

JOHN LITHGOW: Yes. Yes.

All of these things are addressed, incidentally, in the report itself. Sort of super-pragmatism kicks in, and you — it’s easy to lose track of the value of this. And by the same token, people who do study humanities, they need a balanced education, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: When — you use the word invest a number of times in this report.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: But invest what? Because you don’t put — I don’t think you put dollar amounts on all this. Invest time? Invest money, fiscal …

RICHARD BRODHEAD: Care.

JEFFREY BROWN: Care.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: Love. Love. I think love is a good investment.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Why not pull dollar amounts on it?

RICHARD BRODHEAD: Oh, there will need to be dollars to accomplish some of what we talk about.

But, first of all, work in the humanities is much more inexpensive than work in many other disciplines, especially scientific research. And, second of all, I don’t think money is the first thing we need. The first thing we need is for people who know and care about the value of literacy, the value of understanding foreign countries, the value of leading the kind of rich spiritual life you can get through the acquaintance with philosophy and literature and things of that sort, we need people to remind the public of the value of those things.

I don’t find this a hard case to make when you speak to people. They just — there – it’s been a while since anybody has tried to wake people up to how much they already do know and care about these things.

JEFFREY BROWN: But when you try to make it concrete — you’re coming to this process from the outside. Is there a specific example that you have found from your talks or that came up in the report that you would say, here’s something we could do specifically to help this?

JOHN LITHGOW: Well, Karl Eikenberry is a member of our commission, former ambassador of Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: And general.

JOHN LITHGOW: And one of the final segments of the report is all about this global world we live in and how essential it is for us to have a good sense of other cultures, foreign languages. The study of foreign languages has diminished in importance.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: That’s right.

JOHN LITHGOW: People simply making the assumption, well, English is a more — is the common denominator language of the world, so why bother? This is very wrong headed.

This is very wrong-headed.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: Our group has been amazing. We all do different things for a living, and we have all taught each other how we understand this issue and we have all learned from each other how they see it.

But the day Karl Eikenberry looked at us and said, if you have been a general, you know that weapons are the least effective weapon in your security arsenal. If you don’t know anything about cultures, if you don’t know anything about histories, foreign languages, you’re going to find yourself in places where all the weapons in the world can’t solve the problems you went there to solve. And that just seems to me a plea for the humanities.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your final takeaway from this process, having been part of it?

JOHN LITHGOW: Well, it’s been fascinating for me.

I’m certainly not an academic. I’m a member of a small contingent of this 50-plus commission who are in the performing arts, Yo-Yo Ma, Emmylou Harris, George Lucas, who’s done stuff for us. It’s — I sort of contribute my own experience from the creative side and how my own history of the humanities — I mean, I’m one of those odd actors who studied the humanities straight through before making the decision to become an actor, but how completely it’s just sort of informed the rest of my life.

Acting is a very curious profession. But there are an awful lot of people on the commission who are not humanists, but who were when they went to school.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: All right.

It’s a point I make to parents, which is, I can rattle off a list of people who were English majors you didn’t know were English majors, Mitt Romney, Hank Paulson. The world is full of people whose original training was not in what they go on to do later on.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, you know what? We are going to continue that part of the discussion online about your own personal experiences.

JOHN LITHGOW: Great.

But, for now, Richard Brodhead and John Lithgow, thank you very much.

JOHN LITHGOW: Great to be here, Jeff.

RICHARD BRODHEAD: Thanks.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, also online, you can weigh in. Has a humanities education been useful in your life? Tell us on our NewsHour Facebook page.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june13/humanities_06-19.html

Video – https://www.myworldnews.com/Channel/680-pbs-newshour/Story/95449-john-lithgow-on-the-importance-of-a-humanities-education

Get Apocalyptic – The Case for the New Radical

YES! Magazine / By Robert Jensen, Alternet.org, May 28, 2013  |

Excerpt

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living worldA deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work…The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end… to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values…we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability…If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with…Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous…To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm lifeBy avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

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Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world. We are intensifying an assault on the ecosystems in which we live, undermining the ability of that living world to sustain a large-scale human presence into the future. When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality.

In these circumstances, anxiety is rational and anguish is healthy, signs not of weakness but of courage. A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work.

Perhaps that sounds odd, since we are routinely advised to overcome our fears and not give in to despair. Endorsing apocalypticism seems even stranger, given associations with “end-timer” religious reactionaries and “doomer” secular survivalists. People with critical sensibilities, those concerned about justice and sustainability, think of ourselves as realistic and less likely to fall for either theological or science-fiction fantasies.

Many associate “apocalypse” with the rapture-ranting that grows out of some interpretations of the Christian Book of Revelation (aka, the Apocalypse of John), but it’s helpful to remember that the word’s original meaning is not “end of the world.” “Revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden, a coming to clarity. Speaking apocalyptically, in this sense, can deepen our understanding of the crises and help us see through the many illusions that powerful people and institutions create.

But there is an ending we have to confront. Once we’ve honestly faced the crises, then we can deal with what is ending—not all the world, but the systems that currently structure our lives. Life as we know it is, indeed, coming to an end.

Let’s start with the illusions: Some stories we have told ourselves—claims by white people, men, or U.S. citizens that domination is natural and appropriate—are relatively easy to debunk (though many cling to them). Other delusional assertions—such as the claim that capitalism is compatible with basic moral principles, meaningful democracy, and ecological sustainability—require more effort to take apart (perhaps because there seems to be no alternative).

But toughest to dislodge may be the central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy: that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?

Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using ever more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction).

Oh, did I forget to mention the undeniable trajectory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption?

Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson has written, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem—for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning.

We do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world—the planet will carry on with or without us—but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life. “Apocalypse” need not involve heavenly rescue fantasies or tough-guy survival talk; to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values.

First, we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society. We take on projects that we know may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.

Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.”

There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.

Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.

Here’s another cliché to jettison: Necessity is the mother of invention. During the industrial era, humans exploiting new supplies of concentrated energy have generated unprecedented technological innovation in a brief time. But there is no guarantee that there are technological fixes to all our problems; we live in a system that has physical limits, and the evidence suggests we are close to those limits. Technological fundamentalism—the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always appropriate, and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences can be remedied by more technology—is as empty a promise as other fundamentalisms.

If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.

It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice.

Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.

Adopting this apocalyptic framework doesn’t mean separating from mainstream society or giving up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination.

I am apocalyptic, but I’m not interested in empty rhetoric drawn from past revolutionary moments. Yes, we need a revolution—many revolutions—but a strategy is not yet clear. So, as we work patiently on reformist projects, we can continue to offer a radical analysis and experiment with new ways of working together. While engaged in education and community organizing with modest immediate goals, we can contribute to the strengthening of networks and institutions that can be the base for the more radical change we need. In these spaces today we can articulate, and live, the values of solidarity and equity that are always essential.

To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life. As James Baldwin put it decades ago, we must remember “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.” By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

As Baldwin put it so poignantly in that same 1962 essay, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It’s time to get apocalyptic, or get out of the way.

See more stories tagged with:

apocalypse [3],

radical [4],

crisis [5],

us [6],

alarm [7],

activism [8],

catastrophe [9]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/get-apocalyptic-case-new-radical

Links:
[1] http://www.yesmagazine.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-jensen
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apocalypse
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radical
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/crisis
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/us-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/alarm
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/activism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/catastrophe
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Move Over, Koch Brothers: A Bigger, Darker Rightwing Funder Is Out to Destroy Public Education

by Ruth Conniff, May 3, 2013 by The Progressive

It’s “the most powerful organization in America that no one seems to know about.”

That’s how Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive think tank One Wisconsin Institute, describes the Bradley Foundation.

The Bradley Foundation, headed by Governor Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair Michael Grebe, has underwritten a massive, pro-privatization propaganda campaign, including “a systematic and relentless campaign to turn public opinion against the public school system.”

Unlike David Koch of the Koch Brothers, whose cover was blown when a gonzo blogger named Ian Murphy (editor of the Buffalo Beast and a frequent contributor to The Progressive), impersonated him in a prank call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation operates off the mainstream media radar. Yet the group has made more than $530 million in grants and awards since 1985, making it a much, much bigger giver to rightwing causes than the Koch brothers. With more than $290 million in assets, Bradley is one of the biggest foundations in the United States.

A new report by Ross’s group One Wisconsin Now reveals the Bradley Foundation’s particular focus on privatizing the public schools.

Among the report’s findings:

–The Bradley Foundation, headed by Governor Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair Michael Grebe, has underwritten a massive, pro-privatization propaganda campaign, including “a systematic and relentless campaign to turn public opinion against the public school system.”

–Bradley has spent more than $31 million since 2001 supporting organizations promoting education privatization, academics providing favorable pro-privatization pseudo-science, media personalities promoting the privatization agenda, and lobbying organizations advocating for privatization legislation.

–The Bradley-financed campaign has manufactured an education “crisis,” proposed a “solution,” attacked and undermined the ability of potential opponents to block their agenda, and funded aggressive pro-privatization media and lobbying efforts.

–The Bradley-financed Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has manipulated research and pressured a University of Wisconsin professor to downplay results that show school vouchers in a negative light, while highlighting scientifically dubious favorable results.

Way back in 1990, Bradley backed the first private-school voucher program in the nation, right in Milwaukee.

This year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker plans to expand the voucher program to nine new counties, despite test results that show voucher students underperform compared with their public school peers.

The free-market mission of the Bradley Foundation fits in nicely with a national rightwing pro-privatization agenda.

Across the country, Bradley has given money to groups like Americans for Prosperity to tout school vouchers and other privatization efforts as an answer to “failing” public schools.

“Their financing is the cornerstone for the privatization of public schools not just in Wisconsin, but across America,” Ross explains.

Ross calls the interlocking efforts of Bradley and other groups “a tax-deductible SuperPAC.” The groups that have received funds from Bradley include the MacIver Institute, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the Manhattan Institute, and rightwing pundits including George Will, a member of the Bradley Foundation board of directors and recipient of a $250,000 Bradley “outstanding achievement” cash prize.

The free-market mission of the Bradley Foundation fits in nicely with a national rightwing pro-privatization agenda.

“We’ve seen this influx of out-of-state corporate money into Wisconsin,” says Ross, who was active in the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. “Here we have this homegrown foundation pouring more money into the rightwing foundation network than probably any other entity in America.”

Those close ties between the Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation and the national rightwing network have had a helped turn Wisconsin, despite its progressive history, into an incubator for rightwing politics nationally.

Bradley CEO Michael Grebe was not only Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair, Ross points out, “he’s the person Paul Ryan calls his ‘political godfather,‘ and the guy who sent the letter to the Republican Party saying Reince Priebus should be the next RNC chair.”

Can a Scott Walker Presidential campaign be far behind?

Many bad rightwing ideas can be traced back to Bradley.

In a previous report, One Wisconsin Now found that Bradley financed voter suppression efforts back in 2010, including billboards in Wisconsin warning people of criminal penalties for voters who turned out to be ineligible to cast ballots.

School privatization is, arguably, the biggest, baddest rightwing idea sweeping the nation at the moment.

In Wisconsin, which has historically boasted excellent public schools, Walker’s current budget calls for a huge funding increase to expand the private school voucher program and independent charter schools free from school-board oversight.

“To understand the scope of the raid on public education,” the One Wisconsin Now report points out, “consider that the total funding for private school vouchers, charter and virtual schools will have increased over $150 million” between the introduction of Walker’s first budget two years ago and the current one.

“Meanwhile, over the same two budgets, total state and local revenue available to fund public K-12 schools will have been reduced by well over $1 billion.”

All across the country, similar legislative efforts to transfer tax money from public to private schools threaten the very idea of public education.

The more the public understands this coordinated, ideologically driven attack, the better armed they are to defend their local public schools.

© 2013 The Progressive

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs. Conniff was a regular on CNN’s Sunday Capital Gang and is now a regular on PBS’s To the Contrary. She also has appeared frequently on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and on NPR and Pacifica.

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/05/03-7

In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, New York Times, April 6, 2013

Excerpt

…a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy…courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself …The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid. The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity….

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “…The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system…

Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. CapitalismPrinceton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere…While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors..The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery…

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A specter is haunting university history departments: the specter of capitalism.

After decades of “history from below,” focusing on women, minorities and other marginalized people seizing their destiny, a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.

Even before the financial crisis, courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself — began proliferating on campuses, along with dissertations on once deeply unsexy topics like insurance, banking and regulation. The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid.

The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity. Columbia University Press recently introduced a new “Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism” book series (“This is not your father’s business history,” the proposal promised), and other top university presses have been snapping up dissertations on 19th-century insurance and early-20th-century stock speculation, with trade publishers and op-ed editors following close behind.

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “And to understand capitalism,” said Jonathan Levy, an assistant professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America,” “you’ve got to understand capitalists.”

That doesn’t mean just looking in the executive suite and ledger books, scholars are quick to emphasize. The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system.

“I like to call it ‘history from below, all the way to the top,’ ” said Louis Hyman, an assistant professor of labor relations, law and history at Cornell and the author of “Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink.”

The new history of capitalism is less a movement than what proponents call a “cohort”: a loosely linked group of scholars who came of age after the end of the cold war cleared some ideological ground, inspired by work that came before but unbeholden to the questions — like, why didn’t socialism take root in America? — that animated previous generations of labor historians.

Instead of searching for working-class radicalism, they looked at office clerks and entrepreneurs.

“Earlier, a lot of these topics would’ve been greeted with a yawn,” said Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author of “A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States.”But then the crisis hit, and people started asking, ‘Oh my God, what has Wall Street been doing for the last 100 years?’ ”

In 1996, when the Harvard historian Sven Beckert proposed an undergraduate seminar called the History of American Capitalism — the first of its kind, he believes — colleagues were skeptical. “They thought no one would be interested,” he said.

But the seminar drew nearly 100 applicants for 15 spots and grew into one of the biggest lecture courses at Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. Capitalism. That initiative led to similar ones on other campuses, as courses and programs at Princeton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere also began drawing crowds — sometimes with the help of canny brand management.

After Seth Rockman, an associate professor of history at Brown, changed the name of his course from Capitalism, Slavery and the Economy of Early America to simply Capitalism, students concentrating in economics and international relations started showing up alongside the student labor activists and development studies people.

“It’s become a space where you can bring together segments of the university that are not always in conversation,” Dr. Rockman said. (Next fall the course will become Brown’s introductory American history survey.)

While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors.

Markets and financial institutions “were created by people making particular choices at particular historical moments,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor in the history of capitalism at the New School (the first person, several scholars said, to be hired under such a title).

To dramatize that point, Dr. Ott has students in her course Whose Street? Wall Street! dress up in 19th-century costume and re-enact a primal scene in financial history: the early days of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Some of her colleagues take a similarly playful approach. To promote a two-week history of capitalism “boot camp” to be inaugurated this summer at Cornell, Dr. Hyman (a former consultant at McKinsey & Company) designed “history of capitalism” T-shirts.

The camp, he explained, is aimed at getting relatively innumerate historians up to speed on the kinds of financial data and documents found in business archives. Understanding capitalism, Dr. Hyman said, requires “both Foucault and regressions.”

It also, scholars insist, requires keeping race and gender in the picture.

As examples, they point to books like Nathan Connolly’s “World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida,” coming next year, and Bethany Moreton’s “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (Harvard, 2009), winner of multiple prizes, which examines the role of evangelical Christian values in mobilizing the company’s largely female work force.

The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery, with scholars increasingly arguing that Northern factories and Southern plantations were not opposing economic systems, as the old narrative has it, but deeply entwined.

And that entwining, some argue, involved people far beyond the plantations and factories themselves, thanks to financial shenanigans that resonate in our own time.

In a paper called “Toxic Debt, Liar Loans and Securitized Human Beings: The Panic of 1837 and the Fate of Slavery,” Edward Baptist, a historian at Cornell, looked at the way small investors across America and Europe snapped up exotic financial instruments based on slave holdings, much as people over the past decade went wild for mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations — with a similarly disastrous outcome.

Other scholars track companies and commodities across national borders. Dr. Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton,” to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, traces the rise of global capitalism over the past 350 years through one crop. Nan Enstad’s book in progress, “The Jim Crow Cigarette: Following Tobacco Road From North Carolina to China and Back,” examines how Southern tobacco workers, and Southern racial ideology, helped build the Chinese cigarette industry in the early 20th century.

Whether scrutiny of the history of capitalism represents a genuine paradigm shift or a case of scholarly tulip mania, one thing is clear.

“The worse things are for the economy,” Dr. Beckert said wryly, “the better they are for the discipline.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/education/in-history-departments-its-up-with-capitalism.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130407

Upworthy says we’ve been doing viral all wrong: serious stuff is more shareable than LOL cats

By Hamish McKenzie, pandodaily.com, April 3, 2013

Excerpt

Upworthy will mark its first birthday… founders, Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley…prides itself on helping videos and infographics about important social issues reach huge audiences through social media…Upworthy – essentially a curator, re-packager, and re-distributor of other people’s content – one of the fastest-growing media businesses of the millennium. What’s more, the 20-person company has achieved that fast growth based on a belief that until recently might otherwise have been dismissed as naive: That serious news and socially conscious commentary can be as widely shared as listicles about pop singers pulling strange faces. In fact, Pariser and Koechley now believe that serious news might even be more shareable than..cute, silly, wacky, or surprising, but actually we’re better than that.

“People also share because they’re moved to real emotion, because they’re passionate about an issue and want to get the ideas heard more widely,” he says. “People want to share the aspirational, better-angel side of themselves. They want to show off the fact that they actually do care about social issues, that they are smart and keeping up with the news.”… The company is also hyper-focused on distribution…Upworthy employs several people to concentrate specifically on “audience development,” which means paying close attention to how to present content across various channels – the most important of which is Facebook – and how to keep people engaged in those places…Upworthy’s long-term monetization plans seem to revolve around the idea of building a large community of people who care about stuff that matters…email list that is almost 2 million names strong. Pariser and Koechley are confident they can eventually grow that network to tens of millions of people…

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Tonight, Upworthy will mark its first birthday with a party hosted at the New York residence of Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder and now owner of the New Republic, who is one of the media startup’s investors. The founders, Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley, will have much to celebrate. Since launching on March 26, 2012, Upworthy, which prides itself on helping videos and infographics about important social issues reach huge audiences through social media, has accumulated 1.2 million fans on Facebook, 2 million registered members, and $4 million in venture backing in a round led by NEA. In March, its 12th month of existence, its website passed 11 million unique visits, dwarfing the efforts of the Huffington Post and Business Insider, who had about 1 million uniques each at the same points in their lifespans.

That makes Upworthy – essentially a curator, re-packager, and re-distributor of other people’s content – one of the fastest-growing media businesses of the millennium. What’s more, the 20-person company has achieved that fast growth based on a belief that until recently might otherwise have been dismissed as naive: That serious news and socially conscious commentary can be as widely shared as listicles about pop singers pulling strange faces. In fact, Pariser and Koechley now believe that serious news might even be more shareable than photos of ill-tempered cats and ironic songs about moneyed neighbourhoods in Seoul, South Korea.

Koechley, who in a previous life was managing editor at The Onion, says that people have misunderstood viral media. Many media companies think we share because something is cute, silly, wacky, or surprising, but actually we’re better than that.

 “People also share because they’re moved to real emotion, because they’re passionate about an issue and want to get the ideas heard more widely,” he says. “People want to share the aspirational, better-angel side of themselves. They want to show off the fact that they actually do care about social issues, that they are smart and keeping up with the news.”

The founders weren’t completely confident that deep, serious content would succeed. Koechley says when they launched the company, they worried that fluffier, superficial stuff would be the content that gets shared the most. But that wasn’t entirely the case. “We’ve found that when we look back over the year, some of our top 10, top 20 most popular things have also been some of the top 10 or 20 most meaty and substantive things,” he says, including a 13-minute video about New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy that has now been viewed more than 800,000 times, and a video of a preacher who attacks gay marriage and then changes his mind on the spot, which has garnered more than 3 million views.

Still, it’s possibly over-optimistic to say that “important” news content could become more widely shared than fun and frivolous material. As our own David Holmes pointed out last year, the 13 most-viewed BuzzFeed posts ever demonstrate a strong bias towards oddities, jokes, animals, and pop culture instead of serious reporting. However, Koechley suggests that BuzzFeed’s serious reporting is often packaged in a very different way to its light-hearted listicles.

Along with BuzzFeed, Upworthy has been credited with mastering the art of sticking compelling headlines on videos and graphics that might otherwise seem a bit dry, and its curators certainly put a lot of effort into that task, writing as many as 25 different headlines for every piece of content before ultimately deciding on a winner. Three examples from the site today:

However, Upworthy’s initial success is about more than just clever headlines. The company is also hyper-focused on distribution, says Pariser, who co-founded Upworthy after leaving a role as executive director of progressive policy advocacy group MoveOn. “If you put together the most perfect editorial gem in the world but there’s no one to look at it, it really doesn’t matter,” Pariser says.

Upworthy employs several people to concentrate specifically on “audience development,” which means paying close attention to how to present content across various channels – the most important of which is Facebook – and how to keep people engaged in those places. That entails a lot of digging through the analytics and A/B testing to see what works, and why, in certain situations. It also involves working hard to get content pushed out by influential people. For instance, former “Star Trek” star George Takei, who has 3.8 million fans on Facebook, drives more than 20,000 people to Upworthy at any one time for hours on end whenever he posts something from the site, says Pariser. “We put the energy into pitching him that other folks would put into pitching a big magazine or a big newspaper.”

It has paid off. Edward Kim, CEO of social analytics firm SimpleReach, tracks 5,000 publishers and found that 20 percent of the social actions it records on a daily basis come from Upworthy – significantly more than any other single site. As well, notes Kim, 70 percent of Upworthy’s traffic is social, which is the best by far of any of the mediums or large-sized publishers that SimpleReach tracks.

“This isn’t a case of seemingly grey-hat practices taking advantage of a temporary loophole like Socialcam or Viddy,” Kim says, pointing out that all of Upworthy’s social numbers are completely organic. “It’s all transparently user-driven, and it really speaks to Upworthy’s editorial voice and curatorial skills as a company.”

The challenge now for Upworthy will be to translate its early momentum into serious cash. It has to pay back that venture money somehow. Currently, the company makes money from referral fees by driving people to donate to causes such as Oxfam and the Sierra Club. Pariser describes that as a “perfectly good revenue stream,” but Upworthy’s long-term monetization plans seem to revolve around the idea of building a large community of people who care about stuff that matters – which explains why every visitor to its site is assaulted with a “Do you care about this issue?” pop-up, with an accompanying email sign-up box.

The company has used that pushy tactic to build an email list that is almost 2 million names strong. Pariser and Koechley are confident they can eventually grow that network to tens of millions of people, who could then be monetized in various ways, of which the founders are only willing to speak in very vague terms. One of their ideas is to help Upworthy members build their own social audiences and let them pay to promote anything important they have to say.

For now, however, Upworthy’s attention is firmly on the share buttons. Seriously.

http://pandodaily.com/2013/04/03/upworthy-says-weve-been-doing-viral-all-wrong-serious-stuff-is-more-shareable-than-lol-cats/

The Secrets of Princeton

by Ross Douthat, New York Times, April 6, 2013

Excerpt

…a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class…

The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one…What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”?…The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite… The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise that “merit” correlates with talents and deserts. That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones…

Full text

SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.

Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

Every elite seeks its own perpetuation, of course, but that project is uniquely difficult in a society that’s formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind. And it’s even more difficult for an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding.

Thus the importance, in the modern meritocratic culture, of the unacknowledged mechanisms that preserve privilege, reward the inside game, and ensure that the advantages enjoyed in one generation can be passed safely onward to the next.

The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one. The outraged reaction to her comments notwithstanding, Patton wasn’t telling Princetonians anything they didn’t already understand. Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”?

That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!

Why, it would be like telling elite collegians that they should all move to similar cities and neighborhoods, surround themselves with their kinds of people and gradually price everybody else out of the places where social capital is built, influence exerted and great careers made. No need — that’s what we’re already doing! (What Richard Florida called “the mass relocation of highly skilled, highly educated and highly paid Americans to a relatively small number of metropolitan regions, and a corresponding exodus of the traditional lower and middle classes from these same places” is one of the striking social facts of the modern meritocratic era.) We don’t need well-meaning parents lecturing us about the advantages of elite self-segregation, and giving the game away to everybody else. …

Or it would be like telling admissions offices at elite schools that they should seek a form of student-body “diversity” that’s mostly cosmetic, designed to flatter multicultural sensibilities without threatening existing hierarchies all that much. They don’t need to be told — that’s how the system already works! The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite.

But don’t come out and say it! Next people will start wondering why the names in the U.S. News rankings change so little from decade to decade. Or why the American population gets bigger and bigger, but our richest universities admit the same size classes every year, Or why in a country of 300 million people and countless universities, we can’t seem to elect a president or nominate a Supreme Court justice who doesn’t have a Harvard or Yale degree.

No, it’s better for everyone when these questions aren’t asked too loudly. The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise that “merit” correlates with talents and deserts.

That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones.

But really, Susan Patton, do we have to talk about it?

I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-secrets-of-princeton.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y&_r=0

The Decline of Critical Thinking

The Problem of Ignorance by LAWRENCE DAVIDSON, CounterPunch Weekend Edition April 5-7, 2013

Excerpt

…most Americans were…readily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic solutions, irrational fears, and public relations babble…the majority of any population will pay little or no attention to news stories or government actions that do not appear to impact their lives or the lives of close associates. If something non-local happens that is brought to their attention by the media, they will passively accept government explanations and simplistic solutions.

The primary issue is “does it impact my life?” If it does, people will pay attention.  If it appears not to, they won’t pay attention…The strong adherence to ideology and work within a bureaucratic setting can also greatly narrow one’s worldview and cripple one’s critical abilities…

They might very well rationalize away countervailing facts if they happen to come across them. And, by doing so, keep everything comfortably simple, which counts for more than the messy, often complicated truth…

the habit of asking critical questions can be taught. However, if you do not have a knowledge base from which to consider a situation, it is hard think critically about it.  So ignorance often precludes effective critical thinking even if the technique is acquired… loyalty comes from myth-making and emotional bonds. In both cases, really effective critical thinking might well be incompatible with the desired end…The truth is that people who are consistently active as critical thinkers are not going to be popular, either with the government or their neighbors….

Full text

In 2008 Rick Shenkman, the Editor-in-Chief of the History News Network, published a book entitled Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (Basic Books). In it he demonstrated, among other things, that most Americans were: (1) ignorant about major international events, (2) knew little about how their own government runs and who runs it, (3) were nonetheless willing to accept government positions and policies even though a moderate amount of critical thought suggested they were bad for the country, and (4) were readily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic solutions, irrational fears, and public relations babble.

Shenkman spent 256 pages documenting these claims, using a great number of polls and surveys from very reputable sources. Indeed, in the end it is hard to argue with his data. So, what can we say about this? One thing that can be said is that this is not an abnormal state of affairs. As has been suggested in prior analyses, ignorance of non-local affairs (often leading to inaccurate assumptions, passive acceptance of authority, and illogical actions) is, in fact, a default position for any population.

To put it another way, the majority of any population will pay little or no attention to news stories or government actions that do not appear to impact their lives or the lives of close associates. If something non-local happens that is brought to their attention by the media, they will passively accept government explanations and simplistic solutions.

The primary issue is “does it impact my life?” If it does, people will pay attention.  If it appears not to, they won’t pay attention. For instance, in Shenkman’s book unfavorable comparisons are sometimes made between Americans and Europeans. Americans often are said to be much more ignorant about world geography than are Europeans. This might be, but it is, ironically, due to an accident of geography. Americans occupy a large subcontinent isolated by two oceans. Europeans are crowded into small contiguous countries that, until recently, repeatedly invaded each other as well as possessed overseas colonies. Under these circumstances, a knowledge of geography, as well as paying attention to what is happening on the other side of the border, has more immediate relevance to the lives of those in Toulouse or Amsterdam than is the case for someone in Pittsburgh or Topeka.  If conditions were reversed, Europeans would know less geography and Americans more.

Ideology and Bureaucracy

The localism referenced above is not the only reason for widespread ignorance. The strong adherence to ideology and work within a bureaucratic setting can also greatly narrow one’s worldview and cripple one’s critical abilities.

In effect, a closely adhered to ideology becomes a mental locality with limits and borders just as real as those of geography. In fact, if we consider nationalism a pervasive modern ideology, there is a direct connection between the boundaries induced in the mind and those on the ground. Furthermore, it does not matter if the ideology is politically left or right, or for that matter, whether it is secular or religious. One’s critical abilities will be suppressed in favor of standardized, formulaic answers provided by the ideology.

Just so work done within a bureaucratic setting. Bureaucracies position the worker within closely supervised departments where success equates with doing a specific job according to specific rules. Within this limited world one learns not to think outside the box, and so, except as applied to one’s task, critical thinking is discouraged and one’s worldview comes to conform to that of the bureaucracy. That is why bureaucrats are so often referred to as cogs in a machine.

Moments of Embarrassment 

That American ignorance is explainable does not make it any less distressing. At the very least it often leads to embarrassment for the minority who are not ignorant. Take for example the facts that polls show over half of American adults don’t know which country dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or that 30% don’t know what the Holocaust was. We might explain this as the result of faulty education; however, there are other, just as embarrassing, moments involving the well educated. Take, for instance, the employees of Fox News. Lou Dobbs (who graduated from Harvard University) is host of the Fox Business Network talk show Lou Dobbs Tonight.  Speaking on 23 March 2013 about gun control, he and Fox political analyst Angela McGlowan (a graduate of the University of Mississippi) had the following exchange:

McGlowan: “What scares the hell out of me is that we have a president . . . that wants to take our guns, but yet he wants to attack Iran and Syria. So if they come and attack us here, we don’t have the right to bear arms under this Obama administration.”

Dobbs: “We’re told by Homeland Security that there are already agents of Al Qaeda here working in this country. Why in the world would you not want to make certain that all American citizens were armed and prepared?”

Despite education, ignorance plus ideology leading to stupidity doesn’t come in any starker form than this. Suffice it to say that nothing the president has proposed in the way of gun control takes away the vast majority of weapons owned by Americans, that the president’s actions point to the fact that he does not want to attack Syria or Iran, and that neither country has the capacity to “come and attack us here.” Finally, while there may be a handful of Americans who sympathize with Al Qaeda, they cannot accurately be described as “agents” of some central organization that dictates their actions.

Did the fact that Dobbs and McGlowan were speaking nonsense make any difference to the majority of those listening to them? Probably not. Their regular listeners may well be too ignorant to know that this surreal episode has no basis in reality. Their ignorance will cause them not to fact-check Dobbs’s and McGlowan’s remarks. They might very well rationalize away countervailing facts if they happen to come across them. And, by doing so, keep everything comfortably simple, which counts for more than the messy, often complicated truth.

Unfortunately, one can multiply this scenario many times. There are millions of Americans, most of whom are quite literate, who believe the United Nations is an evil organization bent on destroying U.S. sovereignty. Indeed, in 2005 George W. Bush actually appointed one of them, John Bolton (a graduate of Yale University), as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Likewise, so paranoid are gun enthusiasts (whose level of education varies widely) that any really effective government supervision of the U.S. gun trade would be seen as a giant step toward dictatorship. Therefore, the National Rifle Association, working its influence on Congress, has for years successfully restricted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from using computers to create a central database of gun transactions. And, last but certainly not least, there is the unending war against teaching evolution in U.S. schools. This Christian fundamentalist effort often enjoys temporary success in large sections of the country and is ultimately held at bay only by court decisions reflecting (to date) a solid sense of reality on this subject. By the way, evolution is a scientific theory that has as much evidence to back it up as does gravity.

Teaching Critical Thinking?

As troubling as this apparently perennial problem of ignorance is, it is equally frustrating to listen to repeated schemes to teach critical thinking through the public schools. Of course, the habit of asking critical questions can be taught. However, if you do not have a knowledge base from which to consider a situation, it is hard think critically about it.  So ignorance often precludes effective critical thinking even if the technique is acquired. In any case, public school systems have always had two primary purposes and critical thinking is not one of them. The schools are designed to prepare students for the marketplace and to make them loyal citizens. The marketplace is most often a top-down, authoritarian world and loyalty comes from myth-making and emotional bonds. In both cases, really effective critical thinking might well be incompatible with the desired end.

Recently, a suggestion has been made to forget about the schools as a place to learn critical thinking. According to Dennis Bartels’s article “Critical Thinking Is Best Taught Outside the Classroom” appearing in Scientific American online, schools can’t teach critical thinking because they are too busy teaching to standardized tests. Of course, there was a time when schools were not so strongly mandated to teach this way and there is no evidence that at that time they taught critical thinking. In any case, Bartels believes that people learn critical thinking in informal settings such as museums and by watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He concludes that “people must acquire this skill somewhere. Our society depends on them being able to make critical decisions.” If that were only true it would make this an easier problem to solve.

It may very well be that (consciously or unconsciously) societies organize themselves to hold critical thinking to a minimum. That means to tolerate it to the point needed to get through day-to-day existence and to tackle those aspects of one’s profession that might require narrowly focused critical thought. But beyond that, we get into dangerous, de-stabilizing waters. Societies, be they democratic or not, are not going to encourage critical thinking about prevailing ideologies or government policies. And, if it is the case that most people don’t think of anything critically unless it falls into that local arena in which their lives are lived out, all the better. Under such conditions people can be relied upon to stay passive about events outside their local venue until the government decides it is time to rouse them up in some propagandistic manner.

The truth is that people who are consistently active as critical thinkers are not going to be popular, either with the government or their neighbors. They are called gadflies. You know, people like Socrates, who is probably the best-known critical thinker in Western history. And, at least the well-educated among us know what happened to him.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/05/the-decline-of-critical-thinking/print

11 Most Absurd Lies Conservatives Are Using to Brainwash America’s School Kids

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, March 11, 2013

Excerpt

If recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that young Americans have taken a decided turn to the left. Young voters delivered Obama the election: the under-44 set voted Obama and the over-45 set broke for Romney. The youngest voters, age 18-29, gave Obama a whopping 60% of their vote.

Now Republicans have a plan to try to recapture the youngest voters out there: Take over the curriculum in public schools, replace education with a bunch of conservative propaganda, and reap the benefits of having a new generation that can’t tell reality from right-wing fantasy.

How well this plan will work is debatable, but in the meantime, these shenanigans present the very real possibility that public school students will graduate without a proper education. To make it worse, many of these attempts to rewrite school curriculum are happening in Texas, which can set the textbook standards for the entire country [3] by simply wielding its power as one of the biggest school textbook markets there is. With that in mind, here’s a list of 11 lies your kid may be in danger of learning in school.

Lie #1: Racism has barely been an issue in U.S. history and slavery wasn’t that big a deal.

Lie #2: Joe McCarthy was right.

Lie #3: Climate change is a massive hoax scientists have perpetuated on the public.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) [5] has been hard at work pushing for laws requiring that climate change denialism be taught in schools as a legitimate scientific theory...The reality is that climate change is a fact that has overwhelming scientific consensus…To claim that climate change is a “controversy” requires one to believe that there’s a massive conspiracy involving nearly all the scientists in the world…

Lie #4: The Bible is a history textbook and a scientific document.T

Lie #5: Black people are the descendents of Ham and therefore cursed by God.

Lie #6: Evolution is a massive hoaxscientistshave perpetuated on the public.

Lie #7: Sex is awful and filthy, and you should save it for someone you love.

Lie #8: Dragons actually once existed.

Lie #9: Gay people do not actually exist.

Lie #10: Hippies were dirty, immoral Satan-worshippers.

Lie #11: Ayn Rand’s books have literary value.

Full text

If recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that young Americans have taken a decided turn to the left. Young voters delivered Obama the election: the under-44 set voted Obama and the over-45 set broke for Romney. The youngest voters, age 18-29, gave Obama a whopping 60% of their vote.

Now Republicans have a plan to try to recapture the youngest voters out there: Take over the curriculum in public schools, replace education with a bunch of conservative propaganda, and reap the benefits of having a new generation that can’t tell reality from right-wing fantasy.

How well this plan will work is debatable, but in the meantime, these shenanigans present the very real possibility that public school students will graduate without a proper education. To make it worse, many of these attempts to rewrite school curriculum are happening in Texas, which can set the textbook standards for the entire country [3] by simply wielding its power as one of the biggest school textbook markets there is. With that in mind, here’s a list of 11 lies your kid may be in danger of learning in school.

Lie #1: Racism has barely been an issue in U.S. history and slavery wasn’t that big a deal.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute reviewed [4] the new social studies standards laid down by the rightwing-dominated Texas State School Board and found them to be a deplorable example of conservative wishful thinking replacing fact. At the top of list? Downplaying the role that slavery had in starting the Civil War, and instead focusing on “sectionalism” and “states rights,” even though the sectionalism and states rights arguments directly stemmed from Southern states wanting to keep slavery. There’s also a chance your kid might be misled to think post-Civil War racism was no big deal, as the standards excise any mention of the KKK, the phrase “Jim Crow” or the Black Codes. Mention is made of the Southern Democratic opposition to civil rights, but mysteriously, the mass defection of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party to punish the rest of the Democrats for supporting civil rights goes unmentioned.

Lie #2: Joe McCarthy was right.

The red-baiting of the mid-20th century has gone down in history, correctly, as a witch hunt that stemmed from irrational paranoia that gripped the U.S. after WWII. But now, according to the Thomas B. Fordham report, your kid might learn that the red baiters had a point: “It is disingenuously suggested that the House Un-American Activities Committee—and, by extension, McCarthyism—have been vindicated by the Venona decrypts of Soviet espionage activities (which had, in reality, no link to McCarthy’s targets).” Critical lessons about being skeptical of those who attack fellow Americans while wrapping themselves in the flag will be lost for students whose textbooks adhere to these standards.

Lie #3: Climate change is a massive hoaxscientistshave perpetuated on the public.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) [5] has been hard at work pushing for laws requiring that climate change denialism be taught in schools as a legitimate scientific theory. Unfortunately, as Neela Banerjee [6] of the L.A. Times reports, they’ve already had some serious success: “Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change.” Other states are taking the “teach the controversy” strategy that helped get creationism into biology classrooms, asking teachers to treat climate change like it’s a matter of political debate instead of a scientifically established fact.

The reality is that climate change is a fact that has overwhelming scientific consensus. In 2004, Science reviewed the 928 relevant studies [7] on climate change published between 1993 and 2003 and found that exactly zero of them denied that climate change was a reality, and most found it had manmade causes. To claim that climate change is a “controversy” requires one to believe that there’s a massive conspiracy involving nearly all the scientists in the world. So, your kids are not only not learning the realities of climate change, they are also learning, if indirectly, to give credence to conspiracy theory paranoia.

Lie #4: The Bible is a history textbook and a scientific document.

Texas passed a law in 2007 pushing schools to teach the Bible as history and literature in schools. Since that was already being done in most schools, the law was clearly just a backdoor way to sneak religious instruction into schools, and a report by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) demonstrates [8] that many of them have taken full advantage. One district treats the Bible stories like history by “listing biblical events side by side with historical developments from around the globe.” Many other schools are teaching that the Bible “proves” that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. The Earth is actually over 4 billion years old.

Lie #5: Black people are the descendents of Ham and therefore cursed by God.

Among the courses justified by the 2007 Bible law, TFN found two school districts teaching that the various races are descended from the sons of Noah. All the Bible really says about the sons of Noah is that Ham was cursed by his father so that his descendents would be slaves, but American slave owners used this passage to claim that Africans must be the descendents of Ham and therefore their slave-owning was okay by God. Make no mistake. The only reason this legend has persisted and is popping up in 21st-century classrooms is that conservative Christians are still trying to justify the enslavement of African Americans over a century ago.

Lie #6: Evolution is a massive hoaxscientistshave perpetuated on the public.

Creationists have an endless store of creative ways to get around the Constitution and the courts when it comes to replacing legitimate biology education with fundamentalist Christian dogma. Various states have employed an extensive school voucher system that has allowed creationist dogma to flourish. College-age activist Zack Kopplin has been chronicling the problem, and has found various schools nationwide using taxpayer dollars to teach that evolution is a “mistaken belief” and that the Bible “refutes the man-made idea of evolution.” Why do these school administrators believe that scientists are hoaxing the public by making up evolution? Kopplin found a Louisiana school principal who claimed it’s because scientists are “sinful men” seeking to justify their own immorality, and another Florida school teaching that evolutionary theory is “the way of the heathen.”

Lie #7: Sex is awful and filthy, and you should save it for someone you love.

While things are improving, even in notoriously fact-phobic states like Mississippi and Texas, “abstinence-only” education continues to persist in school districts across the nation. TFN found that nearly three-quarters of Texas high schools are still teaching abstinence-only [9], which is based on the fundamental and easily disproved lie that premarital sex is inherently dangerous to a person’s mental and physical health. On top of this, TFN found that many schools are still passing on inaccurate information on condoms and STI transmission, usually exaggerating the dangers in a futile bid to keep kids from having sex. Unfortunately, even Texas school districts that use curriculum that educates correctly on contraception use are still trying to spin abstinence-until-marriage as a desirable option for all students, even though premarital sex is near-universal in the real world [10].  Abstinence-only may be discredited with the voters, but sadly it’s still very normal in Texas, other red states, and even across the nation [11].

Lie #8: Dragons actually once existed. 

As much as “Game of Thrones” fans might wish otherwise, dragons are not real and have never existed. But as reported by Mother Jones [12], Louisiana’s notorious voucher school system has let some crazy nonsense fly in the classroom, including the claim that dragons used to roam the planet. A book being used in Louisiana classrooms titled Life Science and published by Bob Jones University Press claims that “scientists” found “dinosaur skulls” that the book suggests are actually dragons. “The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke,” the book claims.

Lie #9: Gay people do not actually exist.

After being beat back by gay rights and sexual health advocates, Republicans in the Tennessee legislature are once again trying to bring back the “don’t say gay bill.” The law would ban a teacher from admitting the existence of homosexuality [13] to students prior to the 8th grade, even if the students ask them about it. Instead, the bill would require turning a student who confesses to being gay over to his parents, with the legislators clearly hoping that punishment will somehow make the kid not-gay. The entire bill rests on and promotes the premise that homosexuality isn’t a real sexual orientation, but just the result of mental illness or confusion, and if it’s enforced, that message will come across to the students.

Lie #10: Hippies were dirty, immoral Satan-worshippers.

In the 1960s, it was common for conservatives to try to discredit the left by stoking paranoia about hippie culture and denouncing the supposed evils of rock ‘n’ roll. Forty years have passed, but in Louisiana, some school administrators are apparently still afraid that possessing a Beatles record means a young person is on the verge of quitting bathing and taking up a lifestyle of taking LSD and worshipping Satan at psychedelic orgies.

A history textbook snagged from a Louisiana school [14] funded by the voucher program tells students: “Many young people turned to drugs and immoral lifestyles and these youths became known as hippies. They went without bathing, wore dirty, ragged, unconventional clothing, and deliberately broke all codes of politeness or manners. Rock music played an important part in the hippie movement and had great influence over the hippies. Many of the rock musicians they followed belonged to Eastern religious cults or practiced Satan worship.” It’s unclear if the book also teaches that if you play a Queen record backward, you can hear Satan telling you to smoke pot, but that kind of critical information could also be conveyed during the teacher’s lectures on the subject.

Lie #11: Ayn Rand’s books have literary value.

Idaho state senator John Goedde [15], chairman of the state’s Senate Education Committee has introduced a bill that would require students not only to read Rand’s ponderous novel Atlas Shrugged, but also to pass a test on it in order to graduate. Goedde claims to mostly not be serious about this bill, but instead is using it as a childish attempt to piss off the liberals, but it’s still the sort of item parents need to watch out for.

After all, Texas textbook standards require that an obsession with the gold standard [16] be taught as a legitimate economic theory instead of the mad ravings of cranks that it is. We live in an era where no amount of right-wing lunacy is considered too much to be pushed on innocent children like it’s fact. Anyone who doubts that should just remember one word: Dragons.

See more stories tagged with:

texas [17],

textbooks [18],

racism [19],

joe mccarthy [20],

climate change [21],

amanda marcotte [22]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/education/11-most-absurd-lies-conservatives-are-using-brainwash-americas-school-kids

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte-0
[3] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/21/how-texas-inflicts-bad-textbooks-on-us/?pagination=false
[4] http://www.edexcellencemedia.net/publications/2011/20110216_SOSHS/SOSS_USHistory_Texas.pdf
[5] http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/01/alec-bill-in-three-states-to-require-climate-change-denial-in-schools/
[6] http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/16/nation/la-na-climate-change-school-20120116
[7] https://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full
[8] http://tfninsider.org/2013/01/16/new-tfnef-report-texas-public-school-bible-classes-teach-races-come-from-noahs-sons-biblical-literalism-6000-year-old-earth/
[9] http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/Report_final_web.pdf?docID=2941
[10] http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2006/12/19/index.html
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/10/10/987411/federal-funds-abstinence-only-programs/
[12] http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars
[13] http://www.advocate.com/politics/2013/01/30/tenns-dont-say-gay-bill-back-and-it-could-out-students-their-parents
[14] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/03/11/1697601/textbook-for-louisianas-voucher-schools-teaches-hippies-are-dirty-rock-musicians-worship-satan/
[15] http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2013/feb/05/bill-requires-all-idaho-kids-read-atlas-shrugged/
[16] http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/03/conservative_bloc_dominates_latest_texas_textbooks.php
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/texas
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/textbooks-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/racism-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/joe-mccarthy
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/amanda-marcotte-0
[23] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B