EXTRA TOPICAL

What About Obama?  Huh? by Rich Paschall

You may have heard of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, aka the Great Debates of 1858.  Yes, this is history and there may be a quiz at the end so pay attention.

Abraham Lincoln and the incumbent Senator from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas, held a series of debates around the state trying to sway voters on the important issues of the day.  Each hoped their party would control the state legislature, as US Senators were chosen by the legislature, not by popular vote.  Lincoln was well-received at the debates, but Douglas was elected Senator.

We know how it turned out for Lincoln two years later.

Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A . Douglas

Now Lincoln-Douglas debates are mostly a high school competition.  They are “values” debates where students often argue the greater good.

“Solvency” is not an issue.  A debater does not have to know how to implement a solution, just should be better for society.  Of course, he/she will attempt to bring into evidence material from authoritative sources to bolster his/her position.

One of the suggested topics for the coming year is Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.  There is no need to say how this should be applied, but that there are situations when it should or could be.  Historical examples would provide support.  Law and order arguments may be common on the negative.

These debates, like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, are one-on-one.  The first speaker has a set time. The second speaker a slightly longer period, then the first speaker gets a rebuttal interval.  Total speaking times end up the same.  The first speaker may have a plan. The second speaker may have a counter-plan or could argue that no plan is reasonable under the resolution.

Shouting, name calling, unsupported positions all result in a ballot for the opposition by the judge. Contestants must research, write, think, and propose.  Obviously, acting like modern-day politicians would not produce a winner.

So-called debate

Two man team debate, also known as Policy Debate, will propose a resolution where the tactic not only includes interpreting the resolution but also implementing a solution.  Some debaters may have so many points to make that they speak quickly.  The judge will usually take notes to be sure that the speakers arguments flow logically from point-to-point.  Both speakers on each side of the debate topic make a presentation, both are cross-examined.  Then each speaks in rebuttal.  In many leagues, constructives are 8 -minutes, cross-examinations are 3-minutes, and rebuttals are 5-minutes long.

You’d better come prepared!

A topic for next season’s two-man debate will be Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its restrictions on legal immigration to the United States

The topics for the debate season are often timely and include something prominently in the news.

Debaters must research both sides of the issue as they will be called upon to be on the affirmative or negative, depending on the debate or round within a debate.  In mid-summer, debaters are already starting to study the issues and gather evidence pro and con.  There will be no flippant remarks, insults of opponents, or made up evidence.  General and stereotypical comments mean nothing without support.  Judges will dismiss these comments. and opponents are wise to challenge them.

Because there are obvious “stock issues” implied with any current events topic, it is incumbent upon the debaters to deal with these intelligently.  Bombast and supposition will not do.  Instead, they must deal with the significance of the issue, solvency of the plan they present, the harms of the status quo or the affirmative plan, and the advantages of one side along with disadvantages of the other.

A key part of any debate is “Topicality.” With time to fill in rebuttals and possibly cross examinations too, it becomes important to stay on topic.  With an audience of debaters and judges taking notes, you can not stray into areas that are “Extra Topical.”  There are no random viewers waiting for a debater to pull out stock arguments on other topics or to launch into inane attacks on the opponent.  It’s just critical thinkers judging the merits of the debate.

Why do we bring you this small lesson in the fine art of debate? Perhaps you have noticed that debate is a lost art in the political arena, television news shows, and especially social media.  In the last election, you saw one party presenting something other than primary debates.  Even as an entertainment show, it was generally lacking in substance.  The other side had two candidates who actually seemed to study the topics, but they also found time to present “extra-topical” discussion points.

The presidential “debates” that followed frequently strayed off topic.  One candidate spent time talking about other administrations rather than what he would do as president.  The attempt to belittle your opponent through insults to family and associates may influence some viewers, but it would not work well with debate judges.

On my Facebook news feed, I see “discussions” of a social or political nature often degenerate into a series of personal attacks and Extra-Topical points.  One friend often posts news articles on current social issues.  A person I am acquainted with will usually make a comment on sanctuary cities.

If I point out the topic has nothing to do with these cities, he tells me to wake up!  For him, that is the only topic which really matters.

Another friend likes to engage me in a debate.  I try not to fall for it anymore.  If he says something about 45, I might respond (on topic), “As a former military man, how do you feel about Trump sharing military secrets with the North Koreans or Russians?”

The response is likely to be “What about Obama?  Huh?  You never said anything against him when he was president.”

“Yes, I did.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“You weren’t listening.”

“Well, what about Obama? Huh?”

There is no staying on topic sometimes.  It is particularly frustrating if you are a debate coach or judge.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In an effort to improve public education, many mayors, including New York City Mayor Di Blasio, have converted inner-city schools into “community schools.” This is the first time I’ve heard about community schools and now I feel much better about the future of education in the U.S.

A community school, according to an August 7, 2016, NY Times article by David L. Kiro, is, ” … both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intending to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds wide appeal.”

elementary school

In poor neighborhoods, it apparently takes a village to educate a child. It’s almost impossible for kids to learn when they are dealing with health problems, ranging from hunger to vision problems to chronic asthma, learning problems, psychological issues or even major trauma at home. These programs address the needs of the whole child. They create an atmosphere in which kids can learn and mature into responsible adults. To that end, community schools provide breakfast and an in-house clinic to provide medical, dental and psychological services. There is also a staff of social workers to train teachers how to counsel their students and give them the emotional advice and support they need.

The success rates for community schools has been awesome. In one school in New York City, kids entered 9th grade reading at a 3rd-grade level, 25% of the students were classified as special needs and 20% were learning English as a second language. Nevertheless, compared to other demographically similar schools, this school’s rate of absenteeism dropped 15.4% and the graduation rate went up 8% in two years. These rates are now close to the citywide average.

In other states, the statistics are just as impressive. For example, in Massachusetts, one group of community schools managed to erase 2/3 of the math gap and ½ of the English gap between their schools and the statewide average. In addition, their drop-out rate was cut in half.

You might be thinking that these programs must cost a fortune and put a real burden on state and local governments. However, studies show that these programs more than pay for themselves in the long run. The adults they send into the community actually save states and cities a huge amount of money because these students have lower incarceration rates, better health and less reliance on welfare programs. The NY Times article comments that if the community school concept “ … were a company, Warren Buffet would snatch it up.”

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Massive social and personal gains are achieved in the long run with little or no net cost to the government. The problem is that money still has to be allocated today to establish community schools and the benefits can’t be seen for several years. Short-sighted politicians probably don’t want to allocate this money. And there may not be a lot of pressure on them to get behind these programs because so many voters don’t care about the underprivileged.

If it were up to me, all schools in poor areas would be converted into community schools. Maybe if we contact our local and state officials about this issue, we can raise awareness and maybe make a difference. This is a worthwhile cause so I will definitely try.

The Scholar in the Kingdom of the Mouse, II: The Ben Sharpsteen Museum

Interesting in a lot of ways, especially that it was (ironically?) Disney with whom Stewart worked. I remember the television shows very well, especially the movie about the fire which was based on Stewart’s book.

the EARTH ABIDES project

You might think scholarship is boring.  Dull as dirt.  Best reserved for those in the monastery or the ivory tower.

You’d be wrong.

Scholarship is an adventure, a  treasure-hunt.  And the quest brings surprising and unexpected discoveries – which usually lead to new treasure.   Researching the George R. Stewart biography, for example, I discovered that famous writers like Stephen King and Wallace Stegner and William Least Heat Moon, musician and composer Philip Aaberg, scientist Dr. James D. Burke of JPL, and Jimi Hendrix were influenced by Stewart’s works.

Walt Disney was also a great fan of Stewart.  He even hired Stewart to work at the studio as a consultant.  Stewart discussed ideas with various studio personnel; then submitted a report about the potential for American folklore films and educational films.   Stewart’s recommendations went to Ben Sharpsteen, legendary Disney producer and director.

In preparing materials for donation to the

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THE TRUTH OF SCHOOL

I always find myself defending school to kids. They complain it’s dull. That there’s nothing in it that “grabs” or fascinates them — and nothing they will find useful in life.

I find myself trying to explain that school wasn’t fascinating, but that many of the boring stuff you learn in it is indeed going to be useful. Like arithmetic, the ability to add and subtract mentally without a calculator or even a piece of paper and a pencil. The point of school wasn’t only to intrigue or titillate us but to make us ready to face the real world in which we all must live.

High School, really

Some studies were dull, but you needed to know it because while there’s creativity, there is day-to-day life too and unless you are one of the entitled few, you will have to do your share of it.

I was the kid who had a book in my lap so when no one was looking, I would read. Although I love science today, in school, it wasn’t interesting. Maybe it was the teachers who were dull. In high school I had a double period of botany beginning at eight in the morning when I was already half asleep. The class went on for two hours. We had a teacher who knew her stuff, but talked in a monotone. She’d start to talk — and I’d black out. Gone.

I did not do well in that class. A pity because I was interested, but she was better than a sleeping pill. Twice as good, really. Nothing I ever took knocked me out as well as she did.

 

Social studies which would today be … what? Social science? History? Some weird version of both? It consisted of everything that wasn’t English, math, or science. What we called “the rest of the stuff.” I was a passionate, ardent, enthusiastic reader.  I loved history and the world. But social studies? With those stupid work books where you would answer a question and then you had to color the pictures. Seriously? Color the pictures?

I flunked coloring.

English was dull, too. We had to read books that were of no interest to anyone. I suspected the teachers found them dull too, but it was in the curriculum and that’s what they were supposed to teach. They did. We yawned. I drew pictures of horses in my notebooks. Sometimes, when I got tired of horses — I never got the feet right — I moved into castles. I was better at castles.

If they let us write, I was good at that. But being good at it didn’t make it interesting. My summer vacation wasn’t the stuff to brighten my week.

The teachers droned on and on. Those of us who intended to go to college hung in there. It never — not once, not for a split second — crossed my mind that I should drop out and work at an entry-level jobs for the rest of my life because I was bored at school.

 

1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong

For me, going to college was exactly the same as going to heaven. I would go to college because I knew I could learn. I never doubted my ability to think. I was sure if I made it to college, the rest would follow. And so it did.

I learned a lot of things in college. Ultimately, the really interesting parts of my education were learned at work, when math, science, and statistics were relevant and meaningful.

When you are working, the things you learn are in a context. You discover science has a purpose. Numbers are not random shapes which you jiggle around until you get the answer or sit with empty eyes wondering what this is supposed to mean. I did stuff at work I had found impossible in a classroom.

It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They taught the material so poorly no one who didn’t have a special fervor for it figured it out. What a pity for everyone. Worst of all, they meant well. They genuinely did the best they knew how.

College had its share of drones and bores … but there were enough wonderful teachers — maybe a dozen — who were inspirational.
They were was enough.  For each year of school, there was at least one or two teachers who made a difference in my life. Plus, I was in an environment where everyone wanted to learn. We needed to learn.

We chose it.

I have never properly explained the whole school thing to my kid or granddaughter. I told them “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

PS 35, Queens

Except, it really can be that bad. Sometimes, it’s even worse and comes with boring teachers and brutal classmates. That is very bad. Whether they are teasing you because of your color or because you are smart and they aren’t … cruelty is cruelty and kids can be cruel.

The thing is, you don’t stay in school because it’s fun. Or because the quality of education is uplifting. You are there because you know that this is what you must do if you want to have a real life.

If you also get wonderful, inspiring, enlightening teachers, that’s better. But even if they are dull, you still need to be there.

School is the work of childhood. It’s the “why of the how” of growing up.

CORDELL HULL, PEACEMAKER – FROM INSIDE THE MIND OF A HISTORY PROFESSOR

FROM INSIDE THE MIND OF A HISTORY PROFESSOR – 

SBI: A THINNING CROWD


Last year, I was asked to write an article about Cordell Hull for the Tennessee Baptist History Journal. During the process, I did quite a bit of research. However, the best part of the assignment was the day I spent at his birthplace. My parents joined me on the drive through the back roads of Tennessee, and we spent the day looking at the scenery and talking about all kinds of things.

The article was recently published, but I could find no online resource. Instead of sharing a link, I decided to share the article. Oh, if you have never heard of Cordell Hull, then let me introduce you to the man.

In 2013, the State of Tennessee proposed the demolition of the Cordell Hull Building, which has housed government employees since the 1950s. Uproar ensued as preservationists and citizens expressed outrage toward the plan, and, after furious debate, state officials determined that renovation of the Cordell Hull Building was the best option.

Despite the intensity of the argument, few people mentioned the person for whom the building is named. Perhaps that was because Middle Tennessee is dotted with places named in his honor: Cordell Hull Dam, Cordell Hull Lake, Cordell Hull State Park. Perhaps it was because people who argued against the demolition of the building did not realize the important role he played in the history of the United States and the history of the world. As Harold B. Hinton wrote, “There are scores of Tennesseans who have helped mightily in the building of the United States, and Cordell Hull must be numbered among them.”[1]

On October 2, 1871, Cordell Hull was born in a log cabin on a twelve-acre farm rented by his sharecropper father, Billy.[2] In his memoirs, Hull described Olympus, the nearest community, as “the only store in the entire section. This was also the post office.”[3] This was also the rural setting from which he learned the value of hard work and from which his love for learning began.

Hull’s childhood was filled with days working with his siblings in his father’s fields. They cultivated oats, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, corn and made molasses to give all of that a sweeter flavor.[4] When his father bought a larger farm and built a store, Hull continued to assist the family economically. At age eleven, he clerked at the store, and, as Hull wrote, “Sometimes a customer would come in and ask for the man in charge. I would reply proudly, ‘I am the man in charge.’”[5] His father agreed, as he once stated, “Cord was always just like a grown man, from the time he could walk.”[6]

Hull also helped his mother, Elizabeth, with spinning, weaving and milking the cows.[7] However, it was from his mother that he gained his love for learning. Hull wrote:

With all her work, however, she taught us our A B C’s and the first portion of Noah Webster’s old blue-back speller, which was current for generations in all public schools. She required us children to read the Bible as much as possible, and she herself read it constantly.[8]

Obviously, religion played an important role in the daily life of the Hull family, and Cordell Hull looked fondly upon this foundation of his faith. In his memoirs, he recounted:

The people of our section were mostly Primitive Baptists and Methodists…We had to go between one and two miles to the Primitive Baptist church on Wolf River, though sometimes services were held in private homes. The preacher was generally a farmer who tried to make a living on a farm and also undertook to preach. He was known locally as “the preacher.” Members of the church gave a little toward paying the preacher but not much.[9]

Hull continued:

Sometimes they had a preacher come from a distance and then they held splendid meetings. People went to the church from far and near. They walked or rode on horseback or in wagons and carts. There were no buggies in the ridge country at that time. Young men joined up with girl friends and went together to church. The boys wore stiff-standing paper collars, which on hot days were pretty well wilted down by the time they got to church walking or riding. I shall never forget the solemnity and fervor with which those people sand the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.”[10]

He also remembered the important role of faith in local society when he wrote:

If a person was “skeptical,” he was promptly discovered and branded as an infidel, which rendered him somewhat unpopular and at that time deprived him of the right to testify under oath. Such persons were few and far between. The social life in the ridge country revolved largely around the church.[11]

Hull’s work ethic; thirst for knowledge; and strong faith served him well as his world expanded through higher education, but, at a time when rural families often chose one son to pursue a professional career, he first had to convince his father with what Hinton called “the most important speech in his life.”[12] Local parents established a debating society because, as Hull wrote, “they were deadly earnest that their children should get the utmost from their schooling.”[13] In 1885, Hull took his turn at the podium and argued that George Washington was more important to American history than Christopher Columbus. In front of a crowded room, he won the contest, and his father decided that his son “should go away to the best school he could afford,” which was the Montvale Institute in Celina, Tennessee.[14]

From Montvale, Cordell Hull matriculated to a normal school in Bowling Green, Kentucky and, after a few semesters, transferred to the National Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio.[15] Normal schools specialized in training students to become teachers. Despite this training, Hull wanted to study law, and his father rented an office in Celina where his son could begin reading the law.[16]Lawyers had been learning in this fashion for decades, however, in last decades of the 19th Century, the American Bar Association asserted that more rigorous training was needed.[17]

In 1891, Hull enrolled in the law school at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, an institution with the reputation of developing some of the nation’s best legal minds.[18] As Hinton wrote in his biography of Cordell Hull, “Ever since the Civil War many of the greatest figures in Tennessee’s legal and political life have had their principal training at Cumberland.”[19] Hull recalled, “When I went to Congress sixteen years later I found in Washington four or five Senators, one Justice of the Supreme Court and twelve to fifteen Congressmen who were graduates of Cumberland University.”[20]

In addition to his academic growth, Hull gained experience outside the classroom that prepared him for the future. At age fourteen, he attended his first court session and first became interested in law. At age seventeen, he read his first newspaper, the Nashville American and listened to the ideas of men who gathered at the general store. From them he learned that “a person can’t ever amount to something unless he stands for something.”[21]

When Hull traveled to Bowling Green, he rode a train for the first time, and, when he attended school in Lebanon, Ohio, he first experienced life outside of the South.[22] However, his political career began back home when he was asked to speak at a rally. The organizers ran out of speakers but remembered his previous debate performance. At age sixteen, Hull spoke in support of Grover Cleveland for president of the United States. Cleveland lost, but, a few years later, Hull was elected Chairman of the Clay County Democratic Committee.[23]

In 1892, Hull ran for the State Legislature. While not yet old enough to hold office, his birthday would come before the general election. Until that time, he had to face a formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination. Realizing that he could not win in a party convention, Hull maneuvered his opponent into a primary election. He bought and horse; stumped throughout four counties; and carried each one.[24] He also won the general election and served in the State House until 1897.[25]

SEE ORIGINAL ARTICLE INCLUDING REFERENCES: Cordell Hull, Peacemaker – Direct comments to the original author, please!

THE MARK OF OPPRESSION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In 1951, my father, Abram Kardiner, published a book with Lionel Ovesey, called “The Mark Of Oppression.” It tried to do what no one had ever done before using methodology that had never been used before. It examined the psycho-social effects of slavery and segregation on a sample group of 25 African-Americans living in Harlem, New York.

Dad and Ovesey used sophisticated psychological tools to get an accurate picture of the psyches of the subjects. They used therapy sessions, dream interpretation, Rorschach and TATs (Thematic Aptitude Tests). To analyze the family structure and child rearing practices, they used extensive professional interviews with trained professional observers spending extended periods in sample homes.

The book came up with psychological profiles and sociological analyses. It documented the damage that had been done to people who were treated by the rest of society as second-class citizens. The damage was deemed to be substantial. It was particularly critical in terms of the family structures and dynamics that evolved in the Black community. Namely, a predominance of poor, uneducated, single parent households, typically with mother as head-of-household. These less-than-optimal family and child rearing practices insured that the problems would be passed from generation to generation.

The book came out and was immediately politicized. It was a scholarly work, but because of the subject matter, it was picked up by lay people and by the press. The book was well received in the academic community but pilloried by both ends of the political spectrum – right and left.

Cover of paperback edition

The right was upset because the study seemed to prove that slavery and continued segregation did actual harm to actual individuals and communities. This was way before the civil rights act of 1965. So the segregationists still had serious political power. They did not want this sort of thing said out loud.

The more surprising attack came from the left. The liberals of the day were furious that African-Americans were being called ‘damaged’. They also hated that the blacks’ predominantly single parent, matriarchal households were being criticized. I think they were worried that if blacks were considered ‘different’ from whites in any way, that would get translated into ‘inferior’ and would justify politically inequality. The liberals wanted to propagate the myth that the black and white communities were identical in all ways.

My father was not a political animal. He did not do well with controversy, hostility or attacks on his work. He withdrew from the fray. The book didn’t go anywhere.

Jump ahead 65 years. The book just had a revival in, of all places, France. A French translation was just published in 2016 and is being read by French social scientists and psychologists. The book is relevant to the French today because there is a huge immigration problem in France. They are trying to assimilate many different cultures into the French mainstream and issues are arising. Immigrants are facing prejudice, hostility and discrimination from the native French population – very similar to what the blacks in America have experienced.

So Dad’s book finally has a chance to make a mark on the world. It will hopefully increase understanding about the negative effects our policies and social attitudes can have on a personal level. Maybe this will make at least some people more compassionate and accepting of others who are ‘different’. In today’s hate filled world, every little bit helps