A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dad's letter to Peggy Noonan

As I worked to finish entering my grades just now - they were due on Friday - physically, spiritually, and mentally drained, in my inbox I found a reminder of my dad's larger vision of the world, which seems lacking from political "leaders" in general. Despite the all-nighters, the after school sessions, daily lunches with students, the leaving of nearly everything in my personal life on the back burner during the school year, as a teacher, thanks to this little reminder I found in my inbox, I think I will be able to soldier on and draw whatever water remains left in this bag of minerals, and complete my dreaded, highly fictionalized "value added chart," a tool I was supposed to be using the entire year, but cast aside as non-essential because every moment was about survival, and I simply did not have the time to do it when I was supposed to be doing it.

My dad often reminds me that certain problems cannot be solved at the ground level, that it is not totally my fault that 50% of my students did not pass their state test. 83% had not passed their 5th grade state math test. Talking with dad yesterday helped me accept the reality that what I did does in fact represent value added. Still neither Ali's 200 point gain from 282 to 482 in math, nor my overall median gain of 44.6 points, nor even Ali's growth in reading level from pre-primer to 5th grade, nor his pass advance on his alternative assessment binder, nor the overall 88% pass rate for my other prep, US History, has managed to sooth my searing frustration with the overall outcomes, and the sad reality that I was not able to get more of my students to care about themselves, invest in their own future, and "lift their own weight." I remain highly disappointed by the results.

When a rising 6th grader does not know his 2's, 5's, and 10's facts, still has no concept of what a fraction means, is uncertain when to push the division button when a problem directly calls for division, consistently sequences number lines in descending order from the origin, and drool literally seems to drip from his mouth as he inanely smirks crying out, "Cease!" because it draws negative attention, and totally shuts down any learning on a daily basis, it's difficult to assign blame for all the teachers before who passed this impoverished, feeble minded child forward. Moreover, I do not feel terribly responsible for continuing the trend, when anybody could see the poor child all along should have been in a "basic skills class." Whenever I "grade" Peter's work, my connective brain pulls out a description of grading in Five Rings, written in his old age by Miyamoto Mushashi, Japan's greatest samuri. Musashi explained that fencing grade material should be use for fencing, and cabinet grade hardwoods such as cherry or maple should be worked by only the finest craftsmen. Peter, honestly, is fit to be working with firewood, not with ratios and equations that remain well beyond what Vygotsky calls "the zone of proximal development," or in other words the sweet spot for learning. At the left side of the bell curve, it's hard to conclude that the curriculum for these "broken" children is not developmentally appropriate, that trying to teach with rigor, even in a self-contained class, only leads to frustration, wasted resources, and pulls the learning down of those with learning disabilities who can feasibly be saved.

Whenever we discuss matters of education, which is whenever we speak, which is every weekend because my folks are always worried about me and I refuse to have these conversations over the phone, dad reminds me, "it's the system." Dad sees the world through a set of social lenses and invisible structures he developed while studying at the University of Chicago Law School immediately after leaving the Air Force in the 1950's. In 1984, frustrated with conclusions I had drawn about American racism after spending my entire holiday break at the Library of Congress poring over newspapers from the early 1900's, riveted by what I had discovered about the general acceptance of Eugenics, while completing a late paper about the build up to 1941 for Dorothy Brown's U.S. in the 20th Century, it dawned on me how great it would be to do as Boswell did for Samuel Johnson and write a story with a happier ending, so I began started thinking about writing what would be what eventually became yet another late paper later that Spring, and questions that have haunted me for my entire life.

30 years later, I am still consistently late with my paperwork, not a great attribute for a teacher. Fortunately, others have always noticed that I have other qualities, which is why I have empathy for my students with Learning Disabilities. 30 years later, I remain in the habit of always searching for solutions, and now, even at the 11th hour with my outcome still in doubt, lacking sleep, running out of time, what I found in my inbox has caused me to pause from my deeply habituated necessity thinking, and the consider some possibility thinking.

Yesterday. dad mentioned he would be writing Peggy Noonan. I was blown away with his argument, which I am taking the liberty of posting here:


Your article in today's Wall Street Journal correctly pointed out the growing disconnect between the American people and today's leadership of both major parties, as well as all our third parties.

Attached are two papers describing two initiatives. The first one is what I sent to President Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq. The second is the Platform of the recently formed Unite America Party, that offers a peaceful "Second American Revolution" based on a Just Third Way version of our founding principles. When brought to the attention and adopted by grassroots America for America, these principles will, in the words of Victor Hugo be "more powerful than all the armies of the world."  (Part IV of the Platform deals with global and national security affairs in ways consistent with the first attachment that could still apply to today's mess in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan and the Holy Land. I apologize in advance for sending you so much to scan and then think about, but I'm aware of your background and cannot think of any thinker and writer in America who could better appreciate these ideas.

Ronald Reagan was one of the twentieth century’s preeminent grand strategists.  He laid out his grand strategy in his first major foreign-policy pronouncement on February 22nd, 1983, celebrating George Washington’s birthday.  He emphasized “our responsibility to work for constructive change, not simply to preserve the status quo.” “History,” he declared, “is not a darkening path twisting inevitably toward tyranny. … It is the growing determination of men and women of all races and conditions to gain control of their own destinies.”

President Reagan, who started his career as a labor leader combating the threat of Communist infiltration into the movie industry, called on all American policy-makers, both Republican and Democrat, to recognize, as he put it, “the central focus of politics – the minds, hearts, sympathies, fears, hopes, and aspirations not of governments, but of people – the global electorate.” He concluded, “The American dream lives – not only in the hearts and minds of our own countrymen, but in the hearts and minds of millions of the world’s peoples in both free and oppressed societies who look to us for leadership.  As long as that dream lives, as long as we continue to defend it, America has a future – and all mankind has reason to hope.”

President Reagan was the last president to recognize justice, especially economic justice, as the key to America’s mission in the world, just as George Washington was the first.  He recognized the economic justice of broadening ownership of all forms of productive capital, just as Abraham Lincoln recognized through the Homestead Act the importance of broadening ownership of land, which in 1862 was the major source of wealth.  Above all, Ronald Reagan recognized economic justice as a universal human right, essential to political freedom. 

In 1985, Senators Richard Lugar, Chris Dodd, Russell Long, Paul Laxalt and Steve Symms and Representatives Phil Crane and Michael Barnes co-sponsored the formation of a bipartisan Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice to advance “capital homesteading for every citizen” as a regional strategy for countering Marxist advances in Central America and the Caribbean.  Ambassador William Middendorf chaired the task force and I was appointed deputy chair. On August 3, 1987, President Reagan welcomed the task force’s final report, High Road to Economic Justice, by declaring that, “Economic and political freedom are inseparably linked. … What better weapon against Communism than millions of working men and women owning the enterprises in which they work and reaping the rewards of technological advancement.” (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06vP84SqnS4)

The threat today is not Communism imposed from the top, but something even worse.  This is the chaos deliberately engendered by religious fanatics who believe that no force on earth can stop them, least of all the American military.  They are right in assessing the limits of the military, but they are 100% wrong in assuming that they are the only source of power on earth and heaven.  They are wrong because chaos can trigger paradigmatic revolution, the revolution envisaged by Ronald Reagan and encapsulated in the slogan, “Close the Wealth Gap: Own, or Be Owned.”

Norman G. Kurland, J.D. President
Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ)
P.O. Box 40711, Washington, DC 20016
(O) 703-243-5155, (F) 703-243-5935 (E) thirdway@cesj.org
(Web) http://www.cesj.org