My White Privilege

“Walt, I think you missed our turn.  Weren’t we supposed to turn left back there?”

“Shoot, you’re right. I’ll find a place to turn around”

“Well, there’s no traffic. Just make a quick U-turn, and we won’t be late.”

“I’ll find a good place to turn around, up ahead.”

“Walt, there’s no traffic. It’s safe to do a U-turn here.”

“I’ve got this, John.”

I remember being frustrated by Walt’s response.  Why drive on?  Why not just make a U-turn?  Had I been behind the wheel, I would have slowed down, pulled way over to the right, and then swung the car around for a U-turn.  Maybe it would have required another stop-and-start, but the road was clear, so who cared about making an illegal U-turn?

As I remember, Walt drove on for another half-mile or so until we came to an intersection, where he turned his car around and headed back to our destination, a restaurant.

Some background: It was 1969.  Walt and his wife, Lillian, were our backyard neighbors on the campus of Virginia State College, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University).  Walt was head football coach and a Professor in the Department of Physical Education, and I was an English Instructor.  Our wives bonded first, sharing the highs and lows of new babies, both about 18 months old. And, conveniently, one of their other children was old enough to babysit, meaning we could have a night off.  

Oh, and Walt and Lillian were/are African Americans, we were/are White.

I’m pretty sure it was rare for a White couple and an African American couple to socialize in public in Southside Virginia back then, but I don’t recall being uncomfortable, probably because I had spent my entire life–29 years–swimming in a sea of whiteness and was–to put it kindly–blissfully unaware.

In fact, I might never have given that driving incident another thought if I hadn’t missed a turn seven or eight years later, the way Walt did that night in 1969.  I was with National Public Radio at the time, driving to interview teachers and students at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.  When I realized my mistake, I did what I had wanted Walt to do: I checked to make sure the road was clear, slowed down, pulled way over to the right, and swung the car around for a U-turn.  

No big deal, right?  But then I heard a siren and saw flashing lights.  A cop pulled me over.  

But still no big deal, because I assumed the cop would understand and cut me some slack.  And so when he approached my window, I smiled and explained why I had made that turn, something about being late for interviews with Navajo teachers and students.  I figured he would appreciate my dilemma and let me off with a warning. However, he didn’t smile back, just said, “You’re on our land, White man, and you have to follow our rules.” And he wrote me a ticket.

This may be hard for you to believe, but my mind immediately flashed back to that evening in Virginia, and I suddenly understood why Walt, a Black American, had refused to make an illegal U-turn. For the first time in my life I had a glimmer of understanding what life must be like for non-White Americans.  True, I had spent two years as a minority on a Black campus, but that experience hadn’t punctured my ingrained sense of White privilege. 

Because of my own illegal U-turn and the subsequent traffic ticket, I thought that I had put two and two together. For years I believed that Walt hadn’t made that illegal U-turn because he was afraid of getting a traffic ticket.

Then a White cop in Minneapolis casually murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020.  On video.  Knowing he was being videotaped, the murderer displayed indifference, even contempt, for more than 9 minutes while Mr. Floyd struggled to breathe and eventually died.  And his fellow cops stood by and did nothing.

Only then did I grasp the awful truth that, if Walt had been pulled over for making an illegal U-turn back in 1969, the consequences could have been far worse than a traffic ticket.  

I am not clueless; I know about–and am outraged by–the idea that “Driving While Black” is justification for police intervention, but knowing something intellectually and even emotionally is vastly different from actually feeling it in your bones.  

For many White theater-goers, Christopher Demos-Brown’s powerful 2018 play “American Son” made real the awful terror that ensues when skin color determines treatment.  The entire play takes place in a police station, where an African American mother is trying to get the police to help her find her teenage son.  He was driving the family car, on which he had put–in an act of youthful defiance–a bumper sticker that proclaimed “SHOOT THE POLICE” with a (small) image of a camera, not a gun.  It’s gut-wrenching because at that moment we know that the young man will be shot and killed by a policeman.  

“American Son” is not about White privilege. Its subject is being Black in an America where the inescapable companions of White privilege are hostility or indifference to those who aren’t White.  

I am not claiming to have been ‘transformed’ by my insight. I remain the product of all of my experiences, not just those two U-turns, one taken and one not taken.  However, I do understand that White privilege is pernicious, and, while it’s not the equivalent of White racism or White supremacy, it’s in that neighborhood.  

Unfortunately, White privilege isn’t disappearing. In fact, in our current political climate, it seems that a growing number of White Americans are openly embracing not just White privilege but White supremacy.  Former President Donald Trump has brought out the worst in many of his followers by making it acceptable to ‘say the quiet part out loud.’ Trump and his enablers have endorsed and even celebrated being openly vulgar, selfish, clannish, parochial, violent, and racist.  

We seem to be getting further and further away from Dr. King’s dream that someday we will be judged by the content of our character, and not by the color of our skin.  

We are a divided country, a long way from being the best we can be.  Can we reverse directions and treat others–whatever they may look like and whatever they happen to believe–as we wish to be treated?  Generosity toward all begins with listening to those around us, especially those we disagree with.  

Do We Really Need a Department of Education?

“Don’t you agree that it’s time to get rid of the Department of Education?”  My good friend Joe asked me that question at the end of an evening recently. Before I could answer, he added, “The Department has been around for about 45 years, and public schools have just gotten worse and worse.”

I should mention that Joe is a hard-core Republican, deeply conservative but not a Trumpian. We argue politics from time to time, and I figured he was just jerking my chain, giving me something to stew about until we saw each other again.

His strategy worked.  I did spend some time thinking about how I would convince my friend that the Department was essential.  This turned out to be far more difficult than I expected.

Some background information may be helpful.  Because ‘education’ is not mentioned in our Constitution, it is therefore the responsibility of the sovereign states, according to the Tenth Amendment, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” 

That has not kept Washington from getting involved in higher education, however.  For example, during our Civil War, the Morrill Act of 1862 created the Land Grant Colleges and Universities, and the second Morrill Act (1890) essentially guaranteed the survival of HBCUs, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, by prohibiting discrimination. The GI Bill enabled millions of veterans to get an education, creating our middle class. Later, Pell Grants opened up colleges to millions of low income students. 

But K-12 education has been a different kettle of fish, a hands-off situation for the federal government.  However, after the Russians launched Sputnik, the first space satellite, in October, 1957,  President Eisenhower and the Congress felt they had to improve American public education. The result was NDEA, and the D is noteworthy. It stands for DEFENSE, which is to say that, in 1958, the only way President Eisenhower could persuade Congress to pass the National Defense Education Act was to maintain that improving education would defend us against godless Communism!

Now the door was ajar, and Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, pushed it open–but only in support of specific groups of children: either the poor or the disadvantaged.  His ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, is with us today (although its name has been changed several times).

1975 saw the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, another federal law targeting a specific category of children.  This law is, I believe, the only federal legislation whose signing was not photographed!  That’s right. President Gerald Ford, a Republican, was so opposed to the law that he flat out refused to allow photographers to record his signing the bill (which had passed with veto-proof majorities in both Houses of Congress). The new law, known as PL 94-142, required schools to educate all disabled children in the ‘least restrictive environment’ but provided less than 40% of the money. This created an ‘unfunded mandate,’ which President Ford correctly predicted would unbalance local school budgets, make states resent ‘federal interference,’ and create tensions between groups.  

Jimmy Carter ran (against Ford) on a pledge to teachers and their unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, to put Education into the Presidential Cabinet, and he delivered on that promise.  The Department of Education was created in 1979, and President Carter persuaded a Federal District Court judge, Shirley Hufstedler, to leave the court and become its first Secretary.  

The Department’s own website adds this interesting tidbit: “Although the Department is a relative newcomer among Cabinet-level agencies, its origins goes back to 1867, when President Andrew Johnson signed legislation creating the first Department of Education. Its main purpose was to collect information and statistics about the nation’s schools. However, due to concern that the Department would exercise too much control over local schools, the new Department was demoted to an Office of Education in 1868.”  

Just as a Democrat created the federal Department, Democrats generally spearheaded efforts to get involved in public education, but they were not making rules for all schools or all children.  Republicans did that!  

While Democrats got their noses well into the tent, a Republican President pushed over the tent completely– albeit with the help of liberal Democrats.  George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law mandated that all schools and all identifiable subgroups of students had to make ‘Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)’ or face severe sanctions, which included firing all the teachers and closing schools.  Under this sweeping law, every school district that accepted any federal education money (and all did) was accountable to Washington.

For eight years schools struggled to adapt.  Because AYP was determined by how many kids got over the test score bar in English and Math, testing and test prep became the order of the day.  Most public schools cut art, music, and other ‘non-essential’ classes. They eliminated programs for gifted children, because they got over the bar easily; at the same time schools paid minimal attention to kids who were really struggling, reasoning that no amount of help would get them over the bar–so why bother at all!  Some schools eliminated physical education and recess.  

And because of the pressure to raise test scores, quite a few schools and teachers cheated, big time, with Atlanta and Washington, DC under Michelle Rhee being the poster children!  

For many, the lesson of NCLB was clear: Washington couldn’t and shouldn’t run public education! But, unfortunately, the incoming Obama Administration came to the opposite conclusion. It doubled down by creating what Education Secretary Arne Duncan called “The Race to the Top.”  

Moreover, because of ‘The Great Recession’ and the subsequent Congressional bailout, Secretary Duncan found himself with a huge pot of money, $100 billion, with virtually no strings attached. The 9th U.S. Secretary of Education had far more ‘free money’ than his eight predecessors combined!

Desperate for money, all 50 states and 14,000 school districts were willing to do whatever Secretary Duncan wanted.  He had a tabula rasa. He might have decided to reward those who embraced more art, music, and science; or  project-based and inquiry-based learning, or career and vocational education.  Because his mother was a prominent early childhood educator and because he himself worked in her center, reasonable people expected him to reward districts and states that embraced early learning and all-day kindergarten.

He did none of these things.  He established what he called “Four Pillars,” two of which led to more testing and the evaluation of teachers based almost entirely on student test scores.  Another “Pillar” led directly to the expansion of the Charter School movement, despite a paucity of evidence that Charter Schools produced better results than traditional public schools. 

(One “Pillar”–the demand for coherent data systems–made sense to most observers, because states and districts used wildly different ways of counting graduation rates, dropout rates and just about everything else, making comparisons almost impossible.)

Perhaps because Secretary Duncan was an outstanding college basketball player, he made “Race to the Top”  an open competition.  Whoever wanted the money had to compete for it: write an elaborate proposal and then come to Washington to defend it. Money would be parceled out in competitive rounds, with lots of fanfare.  In an interview for The NewsHour, he told me that whoever wanted the money had to do what he said.

Duncan ruled for nearly eight years (giving way to John King in the waning months of the Obama Administration), but the backlash in Congress was severe.  “Who does Duncan think he is? “The Nation’s School Superintendent?” And so when it was time to reauthorize the original ESEA, now known as No Child Left Behind, Congress clamped down on Duncan and his successors. The Every Child Succeeds Act specifically restricts the authority of the Secretary over public schools.

But for all his misguided priorities, Arne Duncan was a believer in, and supporter of, public schools.  What would happen if someone who was downright hostile to schools became Secretary of Education?

Enter Betsy DeVos, a born-again Christian with an unmatched zeal for private religious education.  The 11th U.S. Secretary of Education went about dismantling the Department, rescinding Obama-era orders and declining to enforce rules protecting disadvantaged students, those who were being discriminated against, and victims of sexual assault. With student debt ballooning, particularly among students at for-profit colleges, the Secretary opted to put the proverbial fox in the henhouse: She chose a top executive from a for-profit chain to run that division. On her way out, DeVos urged her Department’s career staff how to approach the incoming Biden Administration, “Be the resistance.”

DeVos is gone, replaced by a 46-year-old career educator with deep roots in public schools, Dr.Miguel Cardona.  

So do we need a United States Department of Education?  And if we do, what should its mission be?  And what should it NOT be doing?

If it were up to me, I would get the Department out of the business of evaluating schools and school districts.  No Child Left Behind and its successors have been a disaster. Evaluation of students should be up to school districts, and judgements about school districts should be left to their states. None of that is Washington’s business…and it’s certainly not Washington’s area of expertise.

We have a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The so-called “Nation’s Report Card” samples judiciously and reports the results by grade levels and in subject areas….and that’s enough.

However, we do need a strong Department of Education to protect the civil rights of students, with particular focus on those who have historically been shortchanged.  The Department should be in the business of leveling the playing field with dollars, persuasion, and litigation when necessary. And it should also return to its oldest federal function–good statistics–because there is a dearth of basic information. It should also assume a modern function–reliable professional research. Research matters because state and local education authorities do very little, and private research funding is limited and often strongly politicized.  (The latter suggestion comes from the invaluable Gary Orfield.)

Finally, the Secretary of Education must use his or her Bully Pulpit to remind Americans that a strong public education system and a well-educated citizenry are essential to our nation’s survival.

I believe that President Eisenhower got it right: Education is National Defense. And President Carter also got it right: Education deserves a seat at the table.

What do you think?

COVID FATIGUE & OUTRAGE FATIGUE

Recently my neighbor Barry asked me how I was doing. Sighing, I responded, “I think I have Covid Fatigue. The months and months of confinement, uncertainty, bad news, and fear have worn me down, and I don’t have much energy or enthusiasm,” I told him. 

“It might not be Covid,” Barry said.  “Maybe you’re like me and have Outrage Fatigue.”  Because so many bad things are happening every day, he said, he and his wife were shutting out the news as much as they could, to keep from shutting down completely.

Barry is not a doctor, but I think he diagnosed my problem perfectly: I have both Covid Fatigue AND Outrage Fatigue.  And perhaps some of you suffer from this dual affliction as well.

Covid Fatigue is easy to define and understand, because we have been locked down for nearly 20 months.  Ennui is the most common sign.

As for Outrage Fatigue, I suspect that it is confined to active Democrats, Independents, and old style (I.E., Pre-Trump) Republicans.  To figure out if you are suffering from it, just ask yourself how you respond to any of these news stories:

The rising death toll among the vaccinated; 

Covid’s disparate impact on the poor and minorities; 

Republican-led efforts to restrict the votes of people of color;

Anti-vaxxers;

The media’s distorted coverage of anti-vaxxers;

Governor Ron DeSantis’ insistence on keeping Florida ‘open;’ 

The Texas abortion law; 

South Dakota Governor Kristi Hoem’s sending her state’s National Guard to monitor the Texas/Mexico border; 

Florida Senator Mario Rubio’s daily Biblical platitudes; 

Maine Senator Susan Collins’ regular expressions of ‘concern;’ 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to negotiate with Democrats on anything; 

The GOP’s refusal to condemn the January 6th insurrection; 

Or anything coming from Trump or his sons.  

If your internal temperature rises and your dander is up and you have to force yourself to calm down, you already have Outrage Fatigue, or soon will.

The outrageous ones have a distinct advantage, because they are focused on making us angry and impotent. They know how to push our buttons. They have been doing it long enough to put us on the sidelines. Because these are largely single-issue folks, they don’t get tired. They wake up every day pumped to defend the January 6th insurrectionists, or to protest mask mandates, or to work to suppress Democratic votes, or whatever their cause happens to be.

Unfortunately, most of us care about ALL of these issues.  And because most of us have a limited capacity for outrage, that’s putting our country at risk, as I see it. We care, and right now it hurts to care–but if we shut down and let the outrage triumph, we stand to lose our country to these quasi- or neo- or actual fascists.

Turning off the news may work for my neighbor, but if we all were to adopt that strategy, the bad guys would win.  I think we have to pick our issues, focus on two or three, and trust that others on our side will take care of the rest.

I hope some of you will decide to focus on what’s happening in public education, because public schools are in the eye of this hurricane we are experiencing and their survival is threatened.  Radical conservatives have always hated the notion of public education, and COVID-19 has offered them numerous opportunities to undercut the enterprise.

For example, Republican legislators in most states have introduced some form of voucher/tax credit, ostensibly to give public dollars to parents to spend on education as they see fit.  Of course, the amount isn’t enough to cover private school tuition, so the benefit would go to families whose children are already in private school and to families who can almost afford it already. Left behind would be the poor and those with disabling conditions, IE, the children who are most expensive to educate.  Many scholars and observers have raised concerns over the equity impacts of pandemic-era private schooling trends, with the situation in San Francisco providing a stark example: A year after schools first closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the one-third of students in the city enrolled in private school—disproportionately high-income or white, or both—by and large have the option to attend school in-person full-time. Meanwhile, public school students—disproportionately low-income or students of color, or both—remain in full-time online instruction.”

Organized rabble-rousers are focusing on School Boards that are considering mask mandates, often attending and disrupting meetings and threatening violence. Here’s one example from California.   US school board meetings have become battlegrounds for culture wars this year as schools debated how to resume in-person classes amid the pandemic. Parents have disrupted meetings, refused to wear masks and threatened school board members. A school board in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that was considering a temporary mask mandate cancelled its meeting last week after a crowd of 200 protesters surrounded the building, banged on doors and shouted at police.” 

Here’s another example from North Carolina.  Here’s another, from Florida.  

This situation has gotten so bad that the National School Boards Association has asked President Biden to intervene“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” reads the letter signed by NSBA President Viola M. Garcia and NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven. “The National School Boards Association respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”

Teachers are horribly stressed, as are parents.  Kids need to be with each other–that’s a critical part of growing up–but they need to feel and be safe.

So, if you want to control your own Outrage Fatigue and at the same time be a force for good, please support your local public school system.  A national organization that is trying to coordinate supporters is the Network for Public Education, a non-profit entity. 

Thanks, and stay safe…but also stay active!

My Advice to Angry Trump Supporters

Danger is all around you from Democrats, but you can prevent disaster, both personal and national, by taking four simple steps.  Prevention is the best measure in these dangerous times, and these four steps will insulate your mind and heart from dangerous ideas and values and keep your body free from dangerous air.

  1. Prevent mind pollution.  Watch only Fox, OAN, and NewsMax television and listen only to Rush Limbaugh’s old radio programs.  Most of you do this already, but this one step is not sufficient.  You must follow the other three steps to save yourself and our country.
  1. Prevent lung pollution: Because there are more of ‘them’ than there are of you, it is literally impossible to avoid breathing the air that they breathe, except in the sanctity of your own home.  So in order to prevent your lungs from being polluted, always wear a mask whenever you venture outside.  (Some of you, no doubt, wear hoods on special evenings when your secret society meets, but occasional hood wear is not sufficient protection).
  1. Prevent  heart and soul pollution:  Join the right kind of Christian Church.  While some Christian Churches open their doors to immigrants and people with conflicting values, you can avoid them by doing a little bit of research.  Being among real Christians will keep your heart pure.
  1. Prevent body pollution:  This may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to keep your vital bodily fluids from being corrupted by the China virus that Democrats call COVID-19, you must get vaccinated.  

These four simple steps will protect your heart, your soul, your lungs, your vital bodily fluids, and your mind from Democrats, liberals, progressives, and others who don’t understand what it means to be a real American.

God Bless You All….

“Tucker Carlson Has Blood On His Hands”

Some people–quite a few, actually–are saying that Tucker Carlson has blood on his hands because his words have led directly to COVID-19 deaths. Well, I am here to vigorously defend the Fox News personality against that accusation.  How on earth could anyone prove that Mr. Carlson’s words, however inflammatory and false they might be, could have led directly to deaths from COVID-19?  That’s tantamount to calling Mr. Carlson a murderer!

In defending Mr. Carlson against accusation of manslaughter/murder, let me first stipulate five facts that I believe we can all agree on: 

1) Mr. Carlson is a vainglorious twit;  

2) He is a self-centered manipulator with a near-total disregard for the truth;

3) He knowingly broadcasts misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19;

4) He regularly provides a platform for charlatans peddling false and sometimes dangerous ‘cures’ for the disease; and

5)  He is a spoiled rich kid who has never worked at a real job for a single day but who is, no doubt, “laughing all the way to the bank” with the money he rakes in.

Nonetheless, none of this makes him a murderer.  To prove that assertion, you would have to find someone who died from COVID and convincingly link his or  her behavior to Mr. Carlson’s statements.  

I have been examining death reports and looking for links to Mr. Carlson, seeking to determine whether his fans are dying of COVID at a greater rate than among the general population. Are his fans less likely to be vaccinated, and can that be attributed to Mr. Carlson?

Take, for example, Leonard Vole of Laughton, Tennessee, who almost literally worshipped the ground Mr. Carlson walks on.  He watched the show religiously, taping every segment so he could watch them again during the day.  He steadfastly refused to get vaccinated, citing ‘evidence’ provided by Mr. Carlson and some of his guests.  And he also bought every book mentioned by Mr. Carlson, especially those written by the TV personality.  

Mr. Vole died of COVID-19 last month, but is that enough to bring charges against Mr. Carlson…and convict him?

Not even close.  Mr. Vole’s wife will testify that, while her husband bought the books, he could not read them because he was illiterate.  And Mr. Vole’s friends at Charlie’s Bar in downtown Laughton will swear that Lennie told them that he relied on other sources, including Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and former President Trump as support for his decision not to get vaccinated.

It should be obvious by now that Mr. Carlson need not fear indictment for murder or even manslaughter simply for spreading lies, distortions, and misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic,, and so he is free to keep lying, night after night, to the American public, because that’s just talk….

Now as for Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, that’s a different kettle of fish….

ANOTHER NATIONAL EMERGENCY: NOT ENOUGH BIKE HELMETS

Is your home town or city suffering from a critical shortage of bike helmets, a situation that is nothing short of life-threatening. We live on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and we are desperately in need of bike helmets.  According to my own painstaking research, approximately 47.6% of on-island bike riders have not been able to buy, rent, or otherwise obtain bike helmets  and thus are forced to ride with their heads unprotected.  

In hard numbers, Martha’s Vineyard needs as many as 5,000 bike helmets for adults and children because that’s how many bikers are riding around with their heads unprotected. If–as I suspect–there’s a national shortage of these life-saving devices, then the US could possibly have as many helmetless riders as we do unvaccinated citizens.  That would be 93,000,000 people….and perhaps there’s a significant overlap among the two groups.  

How can I be sure that people riding without a helmet here on the Vineyard aren’t just being cavalier?  Well, for one thing, no one willingly rides without a helmet, because that’s risking a serious and possibly life-altering brain injury. Riding without wearing a bike helmet is something only willfully ignorant or desperately poor people do, and because Martha’s Vineyard attracts well-educated, financially secure people, we can reasonably assume that everyone would be wearing helmets if only they were available.

It’s heart-wrenching to see entire families riding around the Vineyard without helmets.  Sure, they are smiling bravely, putting on a good show of enjoying themselves, but it’s clear to me that they know they’re risking serious head injuries.  I am pretty sure that I’ve seen helmetless riders cycling with their fingers crossed, and I can easily imagine the adults lying awake at night worrying about the next day’s bike ride.

It’s particularly poignant to see cycling families where the children are wearing helmets while the parents are not. How Mom and Dad must have anguished about that decision.  Imagine their conversation after the children have gone to sleep:

DAD “Dear, we can afford only two helmets.  If the kids wear them and we have an accident, who will take care of them while we recover from our brain injuries–if in fact we recover at all?”  

MOM: “But if we wear helmets and the kids get badly injured, we’ll never forgive ourselves.”

DAD: “We can’t cancel biking because we promised the kids.”

MOM: “We have to protect our children.  So let’s give them the helmets. We must just smile and pretend nothing is wrong.’

This desperate crisis can can be solved here on the Vineyard (and perhaps in your community) in three ways: 

1) Cooperative helmet-sharing in which the ‘haves’ willingly loan their helmets to the helmet-poor on alternating days of the week.  We can create a Facebook page, and those who have helmets to share can list their names and town of residence.  And shame on any helmet-rich individuals who refuse to share!

2) A Steamship Authority surcharge of at least $5 per bike on all bikes arriving on ferries, even those on bike racks; and 

3) An EZ Pass toll system for those using our bike paths.  Toll booths can be set up at popular bike path junctions and on the roads to charge $10 for a day of biking. The booths can be manned by summer workers, and Dukes County can issue the EZ passes.

Steps 2 and 3 should raise enough money to have helmets shipped from helmet-rich countries like Portugal and Ecuador, while helmet-sharing, if we all pitch in, should see us through the crisis. 

One piece of contradictory evidence is troubling me: All the bike shops on the Vineyard say they have plenty of bike helmets in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and that suggests that perhaps the riders who are going helmetless are not desperate. Perhaps they are either willfully ignorant or desperately poor.

And they all seem to be pretty well-dressed.  Hmmmm…..

Thank You, Tucker Carlson

I am coming out of retirement to help Tucker Carlson save American public education, our children, and, by extension, our way of life.  But this is not about me; it’s about the brilliant campaign created by America’s premier ‘uber journalist,’ Tucker Carlson of Fox.  (I put ‘journalist’ in quotes not to disparage Mr. Carlson but to indicate that he stands head and shoulders above his pedestrian counterparts.)

Mr. Carlson has recognized that the greatest threat to America’s future is NOT climate change, the rich-poor wealth gap, Russian cyber warfare, or China. No, the greatest danger to our way of life is Critical Race Theory, which simply cannot be allowed to be taught in our schools.

Mr. Carlson’s solution is nothing short of brilliant: Cameras in every public school classroom so that teachers who try to subvert our youth by filling their heads with dangerous ideas can be identified, publicly shamed, and fired.

There are nay-sayers, of course: Short-sighted critics who maintain that cameras are an invasion of privacy. And some studies indicate that academic achievement suffers when everyone is under surveillance, but Mr. Carlson is not swayed; he keeps his eye on the prize: protecting young minds from getting in the habit of asking questions or even expressing doubts.

Putting cameras (and microphones) in every classroom will be expensive.  The U.S. has about 100,000 public schools, and, while some have only 10-15 classrooms, most of our 25,000 high schools probably have 100 or more classrooms. My best guess is that we have, in total, about 3,000,000 classrooms.

Because the typical American public school is at least 50 years old, wiring them will add to the cost.  For example, my old high school, P.D. Schreiber HS in Port Washington, NY, has 99 classrooms, including the gym spaces. When I taught there in the mid-60’s, the school was already 10 years old.  Face it, wiring a school that was built in 1953 for cameras and sound might require some serious (and expensive) work, just to get it ready for the high-tech equipment.

It will cost somewhere between $1,000 and $3,500 to install one camera in a classroom; microphones will be extra, of course, and full surveillance will probably require at least two cameras per classroom.  With discount pricing for large purchases, we should be able to bring the full price of fully equipping one classroom down to $4,000, for a grand total of more than $12,000,000,000.

Every school will also need a large room full of monitors and DVR’s, to watch and record all the goings-on.  Let’s say it’s about $100 for an adequate monitor and $200 for a DVR that can record 10 classrooms at once. Again factoring in discount pricing, that will cost somewhere between $160,000,000 and $200,000,000.

One minor downside: We will probably have to buy the cameras, microphones, and DVRs from Chinese, Tiawanese, or Swiss companies, because American companies missed the boat when it came to creating effective security systems.

But even if more than $13 billion leaves our shores without benefiting the American economy, Mr. Carlson’s plan will still create prosperity because it’s going to create several million jobs–the men and women who will spend their days watching our teachers, taking careful notes, and, inevitably, bearing witness against those teachers who are polluting the minds of our children.

I hope Mr. Carlson will support giving employment preference to devoted viewers of the Fox channel, because their antennae will be sensitive to what matters.  They will be able to spot “Critical Race Theory” easily, because Mr. Carlson and his colleagues have educated them.

We will need to hire at least a million of these “Watchers” at a cost of roughly $40,000 per year, for a total of $4,000,000,000.  This will be an annual expense

Let me be blunt about what’s at stake: If you are not willing to spend more than $17,000,000,000 to save our nation from subversion, I think you should leave the country now.

Because I believe I can help Mr. Carlson save America, I am coming out of retirement.  I have created an on-line training program for “Watchers,” which provides basic training in recognizing the educational subversion known as Critical Race Theory.

Those who enroll will learn in a few short lessons how to spot the seven signs of probable CRT.  Just to tease you (and hopefully persuade you to sign on), one CRT-associated behavior to be on the lookout for is Enthusiasm--Students raising their hands, talking excitedly, and even expressing happiness.  That alone isn’t definitive proof of CRT, but it constitutes ‘probable cause,’ in my experience.

I am calling the program, which costs only $100 per adult learner, the “Critical Race Aggressive Pedagogy Trap,” or “CRAP TRAP.”  You can sign up here, or you can meet me on the corner of Morse and Fuller Streets and hand me the cash.

One unexpected benefit of Mr. Carlson’s inspired campaign to save America will be a surge in  popularity for Mr. Carlson himself.  He needs the boost because he has been losing viewers recently to COVID.  These unfortunate now-dead viewers, known colloquially as “Tucker’s Suckers,” refused to get vaccinated, contracted COVID, and died. 

Apparently all those who died had received bad advice about vaccination from unidentified trusted sources.  

Journalistic Integrity, Thy Name is FOX!

The George Foster Peabody Award is broadcasting’s highest honor, and so, when the Peabody Committee announced the creation of a Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity, I naturally assumed that it would go to either Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, or Laura Ingraham, the shining lights of the Fox Television empire.  The only challenge for the Peabody Judges would be to choose among the three. 

I suspect that most of you had the same thoughts.

After all, integrity is a straightforward concept. The dictionary defines it as “The quality or state of being complete or undivided.”  I ask you, who better fills that bill than Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham?   To say that the trio may not technically be ‘journalists’ is nit-picking of the worst order.  After all, millions of Americans turn to them for advice on what to believe.  And they deliver a world-view that is also a rallying cry that tells them they are not alone.  

Again, integrity means structural consistency that can be relied on.  Imagine, if you will, a building that lacks structural integrity. Parts of it could collapse at any time.  Most of us want the same in our journalists, and the Fox trio provides exactly that: no ambiguity, no gray areas, and no contradictions.  Like their spiritual father Rush Limbaugh, they help their loyal viewers navigate a complex world by bringing clarity and eliminating nuance.  That’s award-winning journalism!!

Integrity also means incorruptibility, and any objective observer of the Fox trio must acknowledge that their presentations are never corrupted or even influenced by anything outside their own reality.  Or by facts.

For example, Tucker Carlson is unwavering in his assertions that immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement pose a threat to America. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, Carlson has maintained his integrity.  

Sean Hannity is also a pillar of integrity and consistency, telling his devoted followers that the January 6th insurrection was staged by anti-fascists with the covert assistance of the FBI, even though there’s no evidence to support him.

And Laura Ingraham is their match for incorruptibility.  She asserts with unwavering certainty and near monotonous regularity that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen from Donald J. Trump, ignoring the 60+ lawsuits that went against Trump and strong evidence that the election was the most secure in our nation’s history. 

That is integrity, structural consistency, and incorruptibility.  No silly arguments, no wishy-washy “On the one hand/on the other hand”’ garbage, and no confusing back-and-forth debating with people who might disagree with them.  

I can only assume that the Peabody judges could not bear to choose among Ingraham, Carlson, and Hannity and opted for a compromise.  As you probably know, they gave the coveted Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity to Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour.

Frankly, I don’t get it.  Woodruff is anything but unwavering. If anything, I would say that she is consistently wobbly.  For example, she regularly gives air-time to people with opposing viewpoints and lets them argue, and she never steps in to tell us who is right. In fact, that seems to be a fetish of hers.   

Worse yet–unlike Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham–Woodruff never tells us how she feels about the issues.  I have been watching the PBS NewsHour for decades and still have no idea of her politics.  

What kind of journalism is that?  How on earth are we to proceed without direction?  

80 Years, 83 Miles!

The good news: Yesterday I managed to bike 83 miles, the day before I turned 80.

The less good news: This morning I am an aching 80-year-old.

So my trivial pursuit is over, and we can now focus all our energy on saving our democratic republic from the wanna-be fascists who don’t want certain types of citizens to vote and who don’t want unimaginably rich Americans to pay their fair share in taxes.

Last week I asked everyone to consider donating to The Island Housing Trust here on Martha’s Vineyard, the Network for Public Education, the Education Writers Association, the Hechinger Report, and Chalkbeat.  Many of you have done that, for which I thank you.  All of these invaluable organizations are making a huge difference and need public support to keep on doing their important work. 

Shout outs to my good friend and neighbor Joe Frelinghuysen, who biked 27 miles with me, and to my wife, Joan, who joined me for 11 miles AND brought a delicious lunch.

(Incidentally, June 14th is also the birthday of the US Army (founded on this day in 1775), my former NPR colleague Jay Kernis, my former PBS colleague Glenn Marcus, and Che Guevara…..but no one else worth mentioning as far as I know.)

Onward!!!

CYCLING FOR CASH, BIKING FOR BUCKS

Lord willing, I will celebrate my 80th birthday in a few days, and on that day I will once again attempt to bike my age.  I began this admittedly trivial pursuit in 2011, the year I turned 70, and have managed to do it successfully for 10 consecutive years. However, the challenge is becoming tougher as my body ages and the distance increases. 

An athletic nephew has suggested that I switch to kilometers, and that day may be fast approaching….but not this year.  

Because 80 seems like an important milestone and in an effort to make this more than just a personal challenge, I am biking for dollars. Let’s call it “My sore butt for your big bucks!”  

Here’s my pitch:  If I do make it to the finish line, I hope that many of you will open your wallets and contribute $80, $800, or some other multiple of 80 to a significant charity.

At a minimum, I’m trying to divert your attention, for a while anyway, away from all the crises and challenges facing our nation. 

As for what organizations you might consider donating to, I have some suggestions: If you believe that quality reporting about education is important, please consider a tax-deductible gift to the Education Writers Association, the Hechinger Report, or Chalkbeat.  

If you value public education, please consider donating to the Network for Public Education.  

Your local food bank would appreciate a donation, but if you want to help the island that Joan and I live on, please donate to the Island Housing Trust, which is building affordable housing for the island’s teachers, firefighters, and others who keep things running.

And if your donation is going to a familiar group, I hope you will bump up your gift by at least $80. 

Some of you may remember that last year I got tricked into thinking that my ride would be televised on ESPN, under the auspices of a Swedish-based sporting group called ABBA.   Eventually I figured out that ABBA is a singing group and there would be no television.   

Then, because of a technological difficulty that called into question whether my original measurement was accurate, I ended up doing the 79-mile ride twice, three days apart.  Unfortunately, the international rules governing these events do not allow stockpiling of miles. If they did, I could and would sleep in on June 14th!

So, what are the odds that I can bike 80 miles on my 80th birthday?  

BAD: My longest training ride this year is only 36 miles.

GOOD: I will be cycling on a mostly flat course.  

BAD: I’m 10 pounds heavier than I had hoped to weigh on the big day. 

GOOD:I will have company for part of the ride.

BAD: This island is windy

GOOD: I’m stubborn…  

In a few days, we’ll find out what that adds up to. 

But as I write this, I’m feeling confident.  So here’s my pitch: If you will post your pledge on the blog for all to see AND if I don’t make it, I will personally make good on your pledge.