Friday, September 23, 2011

Educating Our Children in Politics

While I type this, I am muttering a mantra of "do not get overly political...". Given the topic, I will find it difficult.

I have felt the need to write this essay for a long time now. While I was still serving, I restrained myself out of fear of crossing a line. That line is no longer drawn in the same place, in my case. Though I still hold to a code of personal ethics that still makes me a bit hesitant to publish this. Well, that is I was hesitant until a recent event tipped me over the edge.

A teacher in San Antonio, Texas brought some of his students on an unauthorized little field trip. The fact that the parents of these kids accompanied the trip only serves to cover him from legal liability. He is a teacher of US Government Studies at the JFK HS in San Antonio. His actions there prove that he doesn't use his classroom to teach political systems and philosophies from an objective standpoint. His actions demonstrate that he uses his classroom to preach his own political ideals to the students. Is he entitled to his political beliefs? Yes. Should he be preaching them to high school students? NO!

I'll bet you are wondering what he did. Here is a link to a political blog covering the event. I will say you need to watch the video and make up your own mind. However, even some of my more left-leaning acquaintances agree that this man's actions were far from acceptable. Chicks On The Right: This Dude Will Probably Get Teacher of the Year. 

Now, this is just my opinion. I have taken many courses in education. I have taken many courses in civics. I am more of a philosopher than a politician. I am not a parent, yet. However, my fiancee loves to test that line on a regular basis, asking my input and advice in the raising of her daughter. I do, never the less, have many children in my life whom look up to me. They see me as an example. They look upon me as a sounding board. Even more unbelievable is that they come to me for nuggets of wisdom they feel they aren't getting from their parents. Of course, that is because I appear more objective and more open to listening. Then again, I won't scream at them, either (usually). These kids range in age from 1 to 18. So, while not a parent, I do have some role I am filling.

If a student is less than voting age, it is unethical, irresponsible, criminal, and immoral, as an educator, to indoctrinate them into anything other than the US Constitution (and whatever State and local constitutions or charters apply). If you are a teacher, your job is to teach and to facilitate learning. It is the parents' jobs to help the kids to formulate their moral and ethical foundations. It is the individual's responsibility to formulate their own opinions based upon facts. Yes, that means it is the kids' right and responsibility to think for themselves.

So, how do we educate our children on politics? What is the best way?

This really needs to start at home. We need to teach our children about responsibility. We need to teach them about making choices and living with the consequences, good or bad, of those choices. We need to teach them to choose, though. I am not advocating any form of extreme punishments or letting our children come to harm over a bad choice. That will happen regardless of what we do. We can and should mitigate that as much as possible.

However, if you give the kid a choice between a banana and a bowl of cherries, sure, it is ok to turn your banana into a banana split after the kid chooses the cherries. It will teach the child to get all of the facts before making a snap decision. If your child decides to behave poorly, you let the child know that continuing to do so is choosing to loose a privilege.

Teaching a child to share is important. However, we need to also teach our children about ownership. Having somebody share something with you is NOT your right. It is the sharing person's decision, kindness, and charity. If another child won't share, it is that kid's right. It is your right to not reciprocate when time comes around (or better yet, choose to be the better person). But there needs to be a lesson there on the difference between "mine", "yours", and "ours".

It is also imperative that we teach our children the system of merit. They need to learn what it means to earn. They need to learn that productivity and progress are rewarded. Let them earn an allowance for duties accomplished. Do not extend credit on promises of "I'll be good if...". Reward them for good grades, doing chores, going above the standard.

Now let me address for formalized education. If this is not being done in your schools, it is on us, the adults, to teach it at home. It is also our responsibility to impress upon our employees (and yes, teachers are OUR employees!) our demands that our children are TAUGHT not INDOCTRINATED.

First of all, the kids have to get a good foundation of history. They need to be taught where the ideas the framers of the US Constitution came from. They need to learn that the Republic of Rome, though based on nobility and aristocracy, lasted longer than the Democracy of Athens. They need to learn how England forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, thus transforming Great Brittan into a Constitutional Monarchy.

The next step is to start introducing them to some political philosophies from an objective standpoint. They need to be given the definitions. They need to be shown examples of these systems when they were employed, how long they lasted, what they accomplished, and how and why they failed. These are historic and pre-1787 examples.

Next you need to teach them about how the US came into being. You need to address the points made in the Declaration of Independence, one at a time. You need  to cover why the Colonials took each of these issues and why each issue is important, even today.

The next step is to cover our first government and why it wasn't working. Then start teaching about the Federalist Papers. These essays became the foundation of the US Constitution.

After covering all of the previous comes the much overlooked and arduous task of teaching the US Constitution AS IT CURRENTLY STANDS. Each article needs to be covered showing what powers and authority WE grant to the federal government, and what each branch is responsible for. Teach them the limits of each branch, according to the US Constitution. Teach them what each is allowed to do. Teach them what each branch is NOT allowed to do. Teach them what, by the US Constitution, WE mandate each to do.

Then cover EACH and EVERY amendment. Don't skip over ones you "feel" are not important. They are ALL important. Each of us may feel some need to prioritize them. However, all are equal and all are imperative to be taught with equal weight.

Next, you cover the polling process. Then the process by which bills and proposals become laws. Teach them the system that exists, not the one you personally wish to be. Keep your opinions out of the classroom.

(For your own kids, yes, do let them know your thoughts. That is a parental right and responsibility).

The next step is to teach them some of the more modern philosophies and systems. Yes, we want to teach them about Marxism, Socialism, and Communism. Give them the facts and let them make up their own minds.

However, when we teach Marxism, we have to teach them about National Socialism. So we have to teach them about Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussayn. (Yep, the Iraqi dude was a member of  the Ba'ath Party. the Ba'ath Party operated on the tenets of National Socialism. The oil fields were all state owned, for one example. And don't correct my spelling of his name. I follow a certain Arabic to English trans-litteration guide that prohibits "C", "P", "O", and "E".)

We also need to teach them about how Lenin brought Marxism to Russia. From there, we need to teach them about how the USSR government worked and how it FAILED after about 70 years.

We need to teach them about Maoism. We need to show them how North Korea is having internal problems due to their political and economic system. On the flip side, we need to show them how China may be Maoist internally, but acts as a capitalist corporation in the international market. However, many of  their people still suffer under their internal government. No, sorry, not every Chinese citizen is getting an equal share.

We need to show them how the Constitutional Monarchy of Great Brittan has evolved. Do the monarchs still hold the powers they used to in the times of King George?

About this time we should also be teaching, objectively, the political philosophies of our various political parties in our country. I would include all the various parties that have existed throughout our history (including the Tories). I would include the US Communist Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Reform Party, and yes, the TEA Party. I would not limit it to just the "big two".

The idea is to educate our children with as many facts as possible. Give them the data that will allow them to think critically and formulate their own assessments, analysis, and opinions based upon ALL the data. Teach them how to research things and find their own data outside of what is spoon-fed  in a classroom. Not only should we be teaching them HOW to think, but teaching them to actually THINK. We should NOT be teaching them WHAT to think. We should only guide them on things to THINK about.

Now, once in High School, sure, it is time for more debate and discussion. Starting in junior year, yes, the students should, if TAUGHT correctly, have enough data and experience to be able to express their views of each of these systems. A good teacher will play devil's advocate in some of these discussions, offering objecting points of view. At no time should the educators actually pick one over the other and espouse a political ideology as "the best one" except if it happens to be OUR system. Why? Well, it is OUR system and WE pay THEM.

When kids get to college, somebody is flipping the bill. With any luck, our kids will be paying for it themselves through some form of earnings or merit (scholarship, military benefit, working their butts off and saving, etc.).  When they hit this level, we should have armed them with the ability to make choices and understand that, then, they are the ones paying their educators and it is their right to demand the education they are paying for.

I have a great story on how things should not be. A friend of mine started as a political science major in college. He had done time in the Navy prior to this. While in his first class, the instructor brought up some of his personal opinions that contradicted my friend's real world experiences. My friend's employee (since he was paying this professor to teach, not to pontificate and indoctrinate) continued, attempting to single my friend out (knowing him to have been military). My friend agreed with the guy. Then he offered additional actions that would have to be taken in the case of what the Comprachico proposed. The answer was truthful and based upon real world experiences and not those in the vacuum of a classroom. The "teacher" did not like a student having such a well-thought-out, honest, and reasonable response. That employee told my friend that if he didn't ascribe to the employee's ideology, my friend would never pass one of his classes. So, there you go... an educator threatening "think how and what I tell you to think, not for yourself".

My friend changed majors. He is now VERY successful in his line of work. So, in effect, he "fired" that "teacher". Our kids need to be taught that, once in college, they do have a right to earn what they have earned; and to get what they paid for:  Nothing less, and nothing more.

Ok, I hope I didn't seem to push any particular political agenda or policy here. I really did my best to keep my actual political philosophy out of this essay. If I failed to do so, tough, It is my essay, my blog, my right.

Feel free to comment. Please, though, keep it to facts and assessments. Do not throw emotion around. I don't debate emotions. I pass out tissues and pacifiers and ignore you until you come back with reason, logic, and data. Vulgarity, inappropriate language, insults, and anything less than adult behavior will be deleted, blocked, reported, and banned.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on Shattered Glass (11-Sep-01)

My battalion was selected to send a company to Veszprem, Hungary to advise and train the Hungarian Army. Hungary was the latest addition to NATO. This opportunity gave us not only a key mission in developing this new alliance, but gave an intelligence geek like me the opportunity to get hands-on experience with Soviet Block weapons and equipment. I was more than excited about this mission.

Per normal protocol, I prepared a threat briefing for those deploying. We were not a nation at war in those days prior to the deployment. However, we would be at the time of our return. However, the biggest threats we faced were foreign intelligence agencies seeking to exploit our soldiers; and a few international terrorist groups that had demonstrated a fondness for attacking US forces who were abroad. Naturally, therefore, the briefing I prepared included the assholes responsible for attacking the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the USS Cole in Yemen:  Al Q'aeda.

Also, per normal protocol, many of the Soldiers zoned out, not thinking this to be overtly important to our mission. A couple of the more senior NCOs, Gulf War vets, paid a bit more attention and asked some questions. The questions led to discussions that spurred the younger Soldiers to become curious. The 45 minute brief ended up lasting over 2 hours. Of course, I was happy to share my knowledge and analysis. However, even as long winded as I can be, at the 70 minute mark, the topic was beginning to bore me. But I trudged on. By the end of the brief and the long Q&A, I had many Soldiers coming up to me to ask questions they were afraid to ask in front of the group. This, of course, is a hallmark of being a good intelligence analyst. Usually, the audience just wants you to shut up. Then again, this particular brief fell into my usually ignored and, at the time, seemingly irrelevant specialty.

It had been a busy year for me. A company from my Battalion had deployed with the rest of the Brigade to Kosovo. It was the company that we left in reserve when the rest of the Battalion spent 7 months in Albania (and Kosovo) during the initial campaign. So, we had just spent six months doing the Brigade's normal missions in garrison, plus supporting those deployed. I have never been one to sit on my hands when things needed to be done. I took up the mission of bolstering the force protection measures of the garrison. I also managed to do a few inspections with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) during those busy months. Then, when the rest of the Brigade returned, I went to Kosovo for my second time, to lend assistance to the hunt for some key bad guys. On that deployment, I was also tapped by another government organization to assist in securing Camp Bondsteel for a very special visitor. Yes, I was attached to the Secret Service for President G W Bush's visit. After that almost 3 month tour, I returned to my unit to be informed we won the Hungary mission. That gave me 5 days to prepare myself and my unit for that deployment.

Ten days later, I had fallen into a routine of doing my daily activities. I checked for things that presented a threat to my guys while deployed. I inspected the arms rooms to make sure all security protocols were adhered to. I socialized with the Hungarian soldiers and officers, sharing what little I could and soaking up every detail like a sponge. I even managed to make "friends" with a Maygar general whose coin I still keep on my mantle.

The capstone event of this mission was a planned demonstration of combined arms firepower between our two countries. We had trained tactics and planning and all the fun stuff. Then we set to rehearse for this demonstration. Many big-wigs from NATO were scheduled to watch the main event, including SECDEF Rumsfeld.

The day prior to the demonstration, we had run two "full-dress" rehearsals. That meant all of the munitions were live and not sub-caliber practice rounds. It meant lots of explosions and carnage brought to bear on the hulls of old, broken tanks and plastic mock-up enemy soldiers on "pop-up" lifters. So, sometime in the early afternoon, I marched up from the rehearsal (I was there to give pointers on how to make those darned plastic bad guys looks like they were using real enemy tactics) to our Operations Center. I had to give a current events brief, to include sports scores, to the Soldiers at 4pm. That briefing very quickly changed tone.

I checked the open-source information sources to prepare my brief. I had to keep at the lowest classification possible, so I used these sources to help do so. An "open source" intelligence source is also known as news-media. The date was 11 September 2001. I do not think I need to tell you what breaking story I found everywhere while I complied my nightly brief.

A former member of our Battalion was in the Pentagon that day. He died in the attack. I had several Soldiers with family members that worked in or near the World Trade Center. One of my best friends had family in the FDNY and NYPD. I had to do one of the hardest things in my life. I had to tell my Soldiers about the attacks. I had to look in their eyes as the images of pure horror filled their brains. No official word had yet been culminated on who was responsible, and no group had yet claimed responsibility. However, the question was asked "Who did this?". I gave the official answer. "Sergeant Mat, you know who did this, don't you? Who?". The words of my best guess came too easily: "That group that attacked the USS Cole, Al Q'aeda".

As soon as I said those words, I knew something in me had changed. I had spent the previous years being more of a vigilant guardian watching for a potential threat to pop its head up and attempt something stupid. Now, that potential threat had reared its head and done something horrific. I was no longer that vigilant guardian. I transformed into a flail of retribution and a sword of wrathful vengeance. I became war.

Coming up in the ranks, one of my mentors was, to use his official pseudonym, J. David Galland, a close associate of COL David Hackworth. Mr. Galland, whom I called "Sergeant Major", once told me that I was a rare retro bit of military equipment. He used to joke that he and I needed to be left alone and put in cases with placards that read "Break Glass Only In Case of War". Usama bin Laden broke that glass. All I can say in response to his little act of war is:  "I'm still alive motherfucker. How many times have you and your assholes tried to kill me? I'm still breathing. Where the fuck are you, huh?"

Still, there are days when it is too quiet and a little non-invasive thing will ping on my memories. I sit with a small regret at not having seen this war through to its necessary conclusion. It is far from over. All it takes is five minutes of complacency, and they will attack us again. They are down, but not defeated. This is an enemy we need to kick while he is down until he is unconscious. Then we need to kick him once more to make sure he isn't playing possum. Then we need to watch him and kick him back to sleep the second he starts to stir. If we don't, he will roll away and come back with friends.

Ten years, four tours to Iraq, and numerous trips to places undisclosed, I sit here. I have been retired from the US Army for 41 days, after 24 years of faithful service. Thoughts of many events still well up feelings of anger, wrath, grief, sadness, guilt, and indignation. Like the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and John Lennon, people will, for decades, still share their memories of where they were when the Towers Fell. I not only remember where I was and what I was doing. I also remember who I was and who I became.