The indefatigable Charles Green delivered a tough critique of Connor Poole’s essay fulfilling the requirement of an assignment asking high school students to emulate the satire in Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” and similarly propose an outrageous solution to a contemporary social problem. There are really two issues here, and Charles only deals with one: I believe Connor’s paper was an excellent attempt at Swiftian satire, especially for a high school student, and this is Charles counterpoint to that position. He does not, as far as I can perceive, try to justify the school, North County High School, turning the essay into a controversy and Connor into a pariah.
Good. That, which is the primary ethics issue, is beyond rational dispute. What the school and community are doing to Connor is the equivalent of ordering a kid to juggle flaming torches, and then attacking him when something gets scorched.
Here is Charles’ Comment of the Day on the post, Update: This Is The Student’s Controversial Essay Emulating The Satire Of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.
I’ll be back at the end.
Here is what I think Poole’s teacher should have written to him in response to his essay:
Connor, I’m giving you a grade of C+ on this paper. Here’s why.
On the plus side, you clearly ‘get’ the core idea of satire – that it should be a combination of ‘over the top’ and ‘tongue in cheek.’ On the minus side, while you get the idea, your execution was flawed. Let me be more specific.
First, as we discussed in class, Swift was Irish, writing satirically about what the condescending English were thinking about the Irish, and exaggerating those thoughts. It makes a huge difference who the author is: if you were to parallel Swift – had he been known as an Englishman critiquing the Irish, he would have received a far more critical reception.
Since you’re [presumably] not black, you had two choices: either choose another part of your own personal identity (e.g. being a teenager, or a male, or a heterosexual) to write about satirically, or make the author a “first person once removed,” i.e. you obviously wrote it, but to make it “as if” a black person were the author.
You of course chose neither, which raises the bar for people to distinguish what you wrote as satire as opposed to over-the-top hate literature.
That raises the second issue: to write effective satire, you have to be so far over the top that people can recognize parody. You HAVE to pull the trigger at the end, go over the edge, be so far out there that there is no doubt. You needed to especially do this, given your author’s persona of a young white person.
How did Swift do it? By suggesting that Irish parents themselves would benefit by selling off their youngsters – tongue firmly in check, he points out the economic benefits of the many from killing off the few.
But in your case, you advocate killing off an entire ‘race,’ save three people. Where’s the parody? Where’s the satire? Who’s left to appreciate the gesture (yes yes three people; not funny). We’ve seen genocide before, and it’s not funny, it’s ugly.
Here’s a quick guide:
SATIRE: you should offer your children to be eaten – you as parents and your whole race will benefit from having them on the menu at fine restaurants.
NOT SATIRE: all y’all should go to Africa, where we’ll nuke y’all. No more race. Problem solved.
Basically, you did not go FAR ENOUGH over the top. We’ve already got a real world presidential candidate talking about whether or not he’d nuke Europe. We’ve already experienced a “final solution” in the real world applied to an entire race. And in the case of black people, your ‘satire’ is far from the first to suggest mass deportation of blacks ‘back to Africa.’ That thinking even came from some blacks, though it’s usually associated with backward racist white people.
Next, “over the top” means considering minute details, richly evoked. You can’t do that in a short piece like you wrote.
I asked you to emulate Swift. His piece was 3300 words; yours was 400. Since you already lost the advantage of identity (Swift as Irish, you as putatively white), and you failed to go over the top nearly as much as Swift did, you left yourself not nearly enough room to be satirical. It is as if you told a joke by including only the opening line and the punch line – and still expect people to laugh.
So the reason I’m giving you a low grade, despite getting the ‘basic’ idea of satire, is because you have yet to learn a critical lesson. The power of satire rests on creating a tension in the reader about the true intent of the narrator.
The reader must start by believing the sincerity of the narrator. Things must progress in the piece, becoming more and more outrageous, until a point is arrived at by the reader (usually the same point, but it might differ across readers) where the reader finally says, in one moment, “Omigod, that is absolutely outrageous!” and in the next moment says, “Oh, jeez, you got me, it’s an April fool’s joke, it’s satire – wow, it’s so close to what some people actually believe, it’s scary”
That second moment never happens in your piece, Connor. You have not managed to distinguish your solution from the rantings of seriously racist people. And that is the biggest lesson of satire you need to learn: what you may think is satirical and funny will not necessarily be seen that way by others.
It’s a tricky line to draw, because satire depends on creating that tension within the reader, and the reader bears some responsibility. But if you don’t make it clear enough that the narrator himself is a wack job, then you as a writer have not lived up to your responsibility.
When it comes to satire, the devil is in the details. You should use the tool of identity in your narrator. You should use enough words to make the case in great detail. And you need to overshoot the mark of absurdity – not just come sort of close to it.
As I said, C- for good intention, but (potentially fatally) flawed execution.
I note at the outset that the teacher assumes “good intention.” Since that was assumed, as it should have been, I see no reason why Charles’ fictional teacher should simultaneously complain that there was doubt whether this is satire. Ethics Alarms has explored this feature in satire many times, in the context of web hoaxes. When a story appears in The Onion, it begins with the assumption that it is satire. If the same story appears, say, in the Boston Globe, readers may get confused. Connor Poole was writing in the context of an assignment asking for satire, and the Charles’s criticism, which is wrong anyway, that it was unclear whether it was satire makes no sense in that context.
Similarly, it made no difference that Swift was Irish and not English, because he was already well-known satirist when “A Modest Proposal” was published. P.G. Wodehouse was captured by the Nazis during WWII and forced to make propaganda broadcasts. Unlike fellow Brit “Lord Haw Haw,” Wodehouse successfully defended himself against accusations that he was a collaborator, saying that as a famous humorist, he knew nobody would take him seriously. Swift had this benefit too, and it had nothing to do with being Irish. As the assignment was to write like a 21st Century Swift, Connor should have been operating under the same assumptions and protection as Swift. Unlike Charles, I see no reason to think that an English-born Swift’s suggestion of child-eating would have been taken as a serious, hateful suggestion. The Irish were and are smarter than that, even if administrators at Connor Poole’s high school are not.
This is, again, the double standard that Charles, I have learned from past discussions, endorses and that I reject. On the school’s Facebook page, one commenter writes that if Chris Rock had delivered Connor’s essay as a routine, it would have been accepted without offense. Exactly. And there is no more reason to assume that a white Maryland high school student–responding appropriately to an assignment– is endorsing anti-black racism than to think that of Chris Rock. This is the presumption of white racial animus underlying so much race-bullying and black activist posturing now, and it is disappointing to see Charles embracing it. I assume that Connor is an ethical and patriotic American who has regard for all fellow citizens regardless of color or creed, and not, as Charles’s false English-Irish comparison unfairly suggests, a presumptive enemy of black Americans.
Charles’s next criticism is that the essay was not sufficiently “over the top that people can recognize parody.” Well, this is satire, not parody, but never mind: I don’t know what more Connor could have done to signal his intent at the outset:
- He used “Negro,” which is now used almost exclusively as an intentionally archaic term signalling someone who is out of touch. Laugh line from Flounder in “Animal House”: “The Negroes took our dates!”
- He referred to the U.S. as an “otherwise utopian society”
- He framed his “proposal” as “a final solution, as you will.” Intentionally invoking the shadow of Nazi genocide as if the writer had never heard of the Holocaust is a deft signal.
That should have been plenty to show where the writer’s tongue was.
Then Charles says,
“Things must progress in the piece, becoming more and more outrageous, until a point is arrived at by the reader (usually the same point, but it might differ across readers) where the reader finally says, in one moment, “Omigod, that is absolutely outrageous!” and in the next moment says, “Oh, jeez, you got me, it’s an April fool’s joke, it’s satire – wow, it’s so close to what some people actually believe, it’s scary.”
Doesn’t this section, right at the end (as Charles proscribes) accomplish exactly that?
The requirements to avoid nuclear destruction become progressively sillier and more obviously derived from popular culture stereotypes: “no pants below the waist, no gold teeth, and no use of ebonics,” capped by the obviously facetious “all three of the Negroes who met the aforementioned criteria will keep each other company.”
My test for whether a satirical rant is well constructed is whether I can picture John Belushi delivering it and hurling himself to the floor at the end, as he implodes in irrational fury, like here. Belushi could have used Connor’s riff, I think.
Charles inexplicably doesn’t find the ending funny, and I must wonder whether his own sensitivity on the issue precludes any hope of Connor’s satire working for him.
Finally, I’m a bit puzzled that Charles’s teacher would penalize Connor for not being able to accomplish in 400 words what it took a famed and master satirist to achieve in over 3000. Well, maybe not puzzled, exactly: I had a few teachers like that. They were known as bad teachers.
68 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Update: This Is The Student’s Controversial Essay Emulating The Satire Of Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal'””
Thanks for the compliment of “comment of the day,” and for your as-always considered thoughts.
Just two bits to add to the conversation.
When you say ” if Chris Rock had delivered Connor’s essay as a routine, it would have been accepted without offense,” aren’t you belying your point that it makes no difference who utters the words? Au contraire, by your own example (which I completely agree with) it makes all the difference. Imagine David Duke saying the same words.
As to not holding high school students to a higher standard, here’s a very thoughtful post from a high school teacher describing exactly how she teaches the “modest proposal.” It gives me optimism about how teachers can teach, and how kids can tackle difficult subjects like this one.
My point is that it makes a difference to many, but shouldn’t.
That’s a completely bullshit distinction. What if David Duke had said it? If David Duke invited you over for dinner, and you took offense (as I would), does that mean no one else can invite you over for dinner? What if David Duke said it? What if Chris Rock said it? What if a space monster from Mars said it? What if instead of being a school assignment, he had read it from a street corner, while standing on his head?
The point is that David Duke didn’t say it so what is the point of even raising that. We can engage in what if’s all day long. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, if grandma had balls, she’d be grandpa.
Interesting choice of metaphors, given some of the other threads on EA these days. What public bathroom should Granny use?
You yourself manage to use the same “bullshit distinction” in your very next sentence.
You say ” If David Duke invited you over for dinner, and you took offense (as I would), does that mean no one else can invite you over for dinner?”
No, of course not. Because IT MATTERS WHO SAYS IT. I too would decline David Duke’s invitation, but if Mick Jagger invited me over, I’d accept. Because IT MATTERS WHO SAYS IT.
If a guy points to a guy next to him and says, “He’s a brother,” the meaning varies with whether the two men are black or white. Because IT MATTERS WHO SAYS IT.
If Ted Cruz utters an expletive off-mic, he’ll lose votes with evangelicals. If Donald Trump uses exactly the same expletive, he’ll keep those exact same voters – context matters. IT MATTERS WHO SAYS IT.
You seem to get the distinction yourself from the David Duke example; so I don’t get why you at the same time call it bullshit? What part of this don’t you get – the statement, or your own example?
One other example: Connor Poole. Most of the commenters on this page – including me – want him to be cut some slack because he is a high school student. IT MATTERS WHO SAYS IT, not to mention understanding the context.
As others have pointed out, the words themselves could appear in a right wing blog. But as Jack has pointed out, the fact that they occurred in the context of a high school class on satire makes it ipso facto have a different meaning.
IT MATTERS WHO SAYS IT, and in what context. How is that a “bullshit distinction?”
Because David Duke didn’t say it. What is the point of saying “what if David Duke said it?”
If Mick Jagger invited you to dinner, would you turn up your nose, and say, “what if David Duke just asked me that question?” Of course not. That’s my point. Why would you say “what if David Duke had said it?” Who cares? David Duke didn’t say it. What if Hitler said to me “have a very pleasant evening sir.”
Not context is another story altogether.
“now” content……my mistake.
“What is the point of saying “what if David Duke said it?””
The point was very clear, EO, and Charles restated it many times.
Then I missed it. Admittedly, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.
It’s interesting. I agree that it matters who says it. But the distinction is only important in this case if you’re a racist.
Stay with me.
What we’re saying is that this essay is partially unacceptable because the author was (presumably, because you’ve admitted that you don’t even know) white (I checked, by the way, you were right), the logical conclusion being if the attempt had come from a black student, it would have been less unacceptable.
While I don’t doubt the veracity of this, I’m forced to ask: Why?
The answer is of course obvious, but I feel it needs articulation: The racial double standard at work here is the result of identity politics. We now view harms coming from within one’s own identification group as less harmful than harms from without, even if, as I think we can all agree in this case, no harm was intended. This theory requires a separation of people into groups based on race, and requires disparate treatment of those groups. It is per se racist.
HT, I think you are very articulate here in raising a core question about identify politics, race, etc. I thank you for your straightforward and forthright statement of the issue.
Not surprisingly, I differ with your view, but again thank you for raising it so cleanly
I think – feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong – the heart of your argument is expressed in your last sentence, “This theory requires a separation of people into groups based on race, and requires disparate treatment of those groups. It is per se racist.”
You are of course not alone in this assessment. No less than John Roberts says much the same when he suggests, “The way to stop racism is to stop being racist.” In other words, certain statements (and certain actions) are, as you put it, per se racist, and no (reasonable) circumstances or conditions can mitigate against that.
There is a lot to be said for this point of view, not the least of which is that it’s simple to articulate (I’m not being sarcastic) and understand. I don’t like arguing complexity, but in this case I think it’s true – the counter-argument is that “it’s just not that simple.”
The “per se racist” argument rests on two implicit assumptions: one is ultimately a Cartesian argument, that reality is consciousness-based. Or more simply, if we are racist, we are consciously racist.
I would argue that we have actually been fairly successful in ridding ourselves of conscious racism in this country. Those who scream the N word, wish to banish black people, or insist on racial inferiority, are now not just in the minority, they are marginalized to the level of cockroaches in the floorboards. And that is a big accomplishment.
However: not all racism is conscious. You can see that from, for one thing, facts on the ground – there still exist statistically observable patterns of housing discrimination, financial discrimination, teachers’ attitudes, employment, and a hundred other facts in daily life. It is not only possible, it is FACT, I would argue, that we’ve got a country that is both full of a) discrimination and b) people who quite validly insist they are not (consciously) racist. And these are not inconsistent.
There are also tests one can take to determine unconscious implicit bias; for example, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
The results typically indicate significant amounts of bias, including among black people (recall Jesse Jacksons’ rueful comment that he was embarrassed that he moved to the other side of the street when he saw a hoodie-wearing young black man approaching).
All of which is a regrettably long-winded way of saying – it’s complicated. Which only makes sense when you think we’ve got 400 years of history with black-white relationships. Why should we be able to instantly undo all that with a thought experiment in “per se” statements?
When it comes to race, redresses and grievances, I would argue that this is why it makes sense that we take into account who says something when we analyze what it is they are saying. It may be regrettable on some level, but that doesn’t make it unreal – it just makes it difficult.
Some statements are true per se. Others are true, or not, contextually. This is one of the latter.
In my humble opinion.
“However: not all racism is conscious. You can see that from, for one thing, facts on the ground – there still exist statistically observable patterns of housing discrimination, financial discrimination, teachers’ attitudes, employment, and a hundred other facts in daily life.”
Ok, sure. What’s your point? I mean, we’ve had this argument before, and I’m loathe to type it out all over again. The answer to racism isn’t racism. I think it’s cripplingly stupid to expect the introspection that would be necessary to address unconscious biases in the face of overt, obvious racism. You cannot overlook or condone these actions from black people while while attempting to play thought police for white people and come off as anything other than a ridiculously hypocritical racist.
“It is not only possible, it is FACT, I would argue, that we’ve got a country that is both full of a) discrimination and b) people who quite validly insist they are not (consciously) racist. And these are not inconsistent.
There are also tests one can take to determine unconscious implicit bias; for example, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html”
Took the test.
“Your results are reported below:
Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between European American and African American. ”
Are you surprised? I’m not, but I also don’t think there was much to it. I also resent that they allowed Canada as the country you live in, but required a numeric postal code.
“All of which is a regrettably long-winded way of saying – it’s complicated. Which only makes sense when you think we’ve got 400 years of history with black-white relationships. Why should we be able to instantly undo all that with a thought experiment in “per se” statements?”
We can’t! But it’s a great first step. But I also think that it’s less complicated than you make out here. See… I’m just going to make an assumption here. I’m going to assume that no one alive now was alive 400 years ago. That no one alive today remembers what it was like to be a slave, that no one alive today remembers what it was to own people.
You know, I had an agruement with a professor once. He had a masters in math, and the way he could make numbers dance on the whiteboard was just… inspiring, but he was socially awkward and flamingly liberal. In Canada, that means that you substitute “black” with “native” for these conversations. I had just finished looking over the bursary and scholarship list and realized as a white male, I was eligible for three. I also realized that if I’d had a vagina, I’d be eligible for about twenty and if I was native, I’d be eligible for about 60. I complained to one of my friends, and my professor decided to wade into politics. I don’t remember the specifics of the argument, but his point amounted to “Canada has provisions that allow you can positively discriminate against disenfranchised minorities.” And I responded with “Sure, you CAN do that, but that doesn’t mean you should. Most of these bursaries are from bands, and so I get they want to keep their money in house, but can you try explaining to me why RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) is offering $5000, whitey needs not apply?” His answer was “WE STOLE THEIR LAND” (I’m not paraphrasing) to which my response was “I FUCKING DIDN’T, DID YOU?” (Not here either).
The reason that minorities will lose in the long run if they resort to 400 year old injustices is because the victims and the violators are long dead, and we as their children do not bear culpability for what they did. What we should do is look at the problems for what they are, and address them, now, outside of this stupid paradigm of racism. No one is racist anymore, you said as much, move on from there.
HT, congratulations on your test results – we need more people like you.
Seriously. Because you are in the minority. Most people, including your black fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell, find the opposite, that they do harbor some unconscious racism.
And if you are not surprised because you know yourself well – well, congratulations again, that is a very good thing.
But if you are not surprised because you think everyone else thinks like you do – think again. You would be wrong, and you would be guilty of what my first year marketing professor taught us as Lesson #1 on the very first day of class – never do market research on yourself.
Now, as to your “nobody is alive today who encountered slaves 400 years ago” argument. Please. If all it took was to eliminate racism was to eliminate slavery, it would have disappeared by 1865.
But it took more. It took the 15th amendment, in about 1870.
And if all it took to eliminate racism was an amendment about voting rights, we wouldn’t have needed Brown v. Board of Ed. in about 1954, if I recall.
But it took more. It took the Voting Rights act of 1970, under Lyndon Johnson, just to secure the 15th amendment from a hundred years prior.
And that wasn’t enough, because racism dies hard. As I said, the trend is positive – the arc of justice and all that.
My ex-father in law is a black man who served in the Korean War. As he vividly remembers, the white soldiers got to sleep on pallets in the rain; the black soldiers goto to sleep in the mud. His daughter vividly remembers, and still burns with shame, as he recites this memory – without resentment, I should add, it’s just a fact to him.
But it’s a present-day fact – to him, his daughter, to me, and to anyone else who talks to him – because he’s a live today. That’s the link to 400 years ago.
You say “no one is racist anymore.” That’s not what I said, and it’s not true. The majority of people in the US, black as well as white, harbor unconscious racism thoughts against black people.
And here’s the kicker. Under Federal law, you’re not allowed to introduce evidence of unconscious racism: I forget the case, Jack knows it, but evidence of massive bias (like 100 cases to 0) in the death penalty in George was ruled not relevant, because no one “intended” to be racist.
Similarly, rules governing police behavior also exclude evidence of unconscious racism – if a copy says he feared for his life but is not a racist and that’s why he shot the man but it had nothing to do with race – then that settles it in the eyes of the law, no matter what the level of statistical evidence of the frequencies being racially-connected. Therefore the law is already pretty clear – your side is winning. Your side, and the Feds, say if I didn’t mean it as a racist, then it wasn’t racist.
Well guess what: who do you know that’s going to confess to being a racist these days? We all know it’s not only wrong, it’s politically incorrect. But that doesn’t change the patterns.
I’m not talking about reparations or whining or playing the victim – I’m talking about facing facts on the ground, the reality of life in the 21st Century in America, anyway.
And again, congrats on your scores. We do indeed need more like you – because you do NOT represent the majority.
1. I had trouble making the test work…after answering a question, it didn’t move on to the next one until I clicked on a second answer.
2. And who can take a test result seriously with such deviously trick questions as “I strongly prefer white people to black people”? Gee, I wonder what that one does to my score?
3. This is a test that plays to the taker’s confirmation biases, and will register what ever he or she wants it to register. If you are a white privilege warrior, you will make sure your results show that yes, even a progressive, virtuous, fair white person like YOU is still steeped in bias.
4. If Humble feels he isn’t biased, of course the test showed that. It would have to, unless he were an idiot, and he’s not.
5. Why would anyone think a self-administered test like this has any probative value at all?
“5. Why would anyone think a self-administered test like this has any probative value at all?”
The IAT’s have been well studied and well-documented. They are not based on what you seem to think they are based on, i.e. straightforward answers to questions. Here’s a quote from one of the many analyses available online by googling their validity:
“Abstract. One of the main advantages of measures of automatic cognition is supposed to be that they are less susceptible to faking than explicit tests. It is an empirical question, however, to what degree these measures can be faked, and the response might well differ for different measures. We tested whether the Implicit Association Test (IAT, Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) cannot be faked as easily as explicit measures of the same constructs. We chose the Big-Five dimensions conscientiousness and extraversion as the constructs of interest. The results show, indeed, that the IAT is much less susceptible to faking than questionnaire measures are, even if no selective faking of single dimensions of the questionnaire occurred. However, given limited experience, scores on the IAT, too, are susceptible to faking.”
When you say ” This is a test that plays to the taker’s confirmation biases, and will register what ever he or she wants it to register” I think you misunderstand how the test is scored. It is scored by measuring the relative time lag between your responses to listings sorted by the four possible groupings of black/white good/bad.
For example, if you score the black/good white/bad correlations MORE SLOWLY than you score the white/good black/bad correlations, then you will show an implicit bias. If the time lag between your scorings is minimal, then you don’t show implicit bias.
So the mechanics are not as susceptible as you seem to think; they’re mostly unconsciously manipulable. They are not based on the open-ended questions you cite (those I think are mostly, like demographic questions, used to indicate consciousness or not). The scores are based on the time-lags between the differing combinations.
Read more about the IAT test approach in a somewhat critical article by the American Psychological Association’s website.
I think the overall critique is spot on.
Otherwise its content sounds like a personal commentary, that does not come across as very satirical. A major shift to move in the right direction would only require his subjects be white —
That would have made the better satire.
I am not a writer, but the problem here seems pretty obvious.
You know, I was just thinking about Charles positions on… well.. just about everything, and maybe the impression of this coming from Mr. Green, the educator, brought this point home in my mind…. But this is how it started.
This is the mindset that was required from educators of an age with Charles that morphed over two generations into trigger-warning culture. We’re experiencing the logical conclusion of Charle’s worldview every time some snowflake melts and throws herself into a thumb sucking, stuffed animal hugging, quivering mass on the floor on a university counselors office every time someone disagrees with her.
Take a fucking bow, Charles.
Go read the link I included from a real high school teacher who really taught this classic. Think about whether it would have been possible for any of her students to have written what Mr Poole wrote.
By the way I completely agree with you about trigger warning culture.
My impression is that, as critical literary analysis, Charles Green went directly to the vital point and elucidated in very clearly. The satire intended failed as satire and encapsulated a view which, in fact, is quite common. That view could not be called satirical but only sardonic. It did not succeeed in satirizing a prevalent view but really only restated it rather crudely.
What I also find curious is that numerous people who post here, who seem to represent themselves as ‘conservative’ and of the Right (whatever the heck this means and it means very little unless one enunciates a platform clearly and lucidly), seem not to understand that this brand of conservatism is really the slightly right of center modern liberalism. It does not seem to be a really structured conservatism or a right-winf position. Yet it turns to mock the left-wing activism. It makes no sense at all to me.
It is Not at all radical to all the liberal assumptions. In this the so-called right has been subsumed into a left-wing dogmatics. I cannot make any sense at all of what the ‘conservative’ position is. It seems to be a sham.
In order to define what I think is ‘true conservatism’, and reactionary right-wing positions, and a critical position generally, would require a deep turn against the basic assumptions of classical liberalism. It would require defining hierarchy and also positions which would be seen as racist and sexist and much else.
Ok, I’ll bite: What part of my comment led to what thought process that produced this?
Why are you even labeling this a left-right issue? The issue is really with increasingly inept teachers, and the only real question is the root of their ineptitude. Let’s say that the teacher had actually planned this assignment out as in Charles’ utopia, and she was still handed this essay. C+, and maybe pointers on how to do better. Sure. What happened instead is the teacher scattered this assignment like ticker tape at a Susan B Anthony parade and made him a pariah. Not because he’s actually a racist, but because he performed his given task poorly. It’s. Fucked. Up.
And it’s not alone. This is like the teacher who replaced a blind student’s cane with a pool noodle, or the teacher(s) that misuse zero-tolerance policies to punish kids who eat their poptarts incorrectly or wrestle knifes from other students attempting suicide. This i the latest in a series of incompetence that borders on child abuse, and it needs to be dealt with.
Did I misunderstand? My impression is that you slotted some aspect of this in the left-progressive camp.
I thought you were mocking Charles Green’s political orientation as a liberal. You refer to his positions on ‘just about everything’. And then you say:
“This is the mindset that was required from educators of an age with Charles that morphed over two generations into trigger-warning culture.”
My understanding is that you imagine that it is the Left-progressive and liberal positions that, after 2 generations, morph into the ‘trigger-warning’ culture.
You said: “We’re experiencing the logical conclusion of Charle’s worldview every time some snowflake melts and throws herself into a thumb sucking, stuffed animal hugging, quivering mass on the floor on a university counselors office every time someone disagrees with her.”
I don’t get many of these references, sorry. A snowflake is a white person. right?
It seems to me that the logical outcome of progressive sensitivity, which arises from a liberal base, would be exactly as we see it today.
So, if you oppose this liberal-progressivism, with what do you oppose it? With a ‘conservative’ attitude? With a reactionary right attitude? What exactly do you blame?
I suggested then that the conservative position, and the right-leaning position is essentially the same as the liberal-progressive position. Close enough to be labeled ‘slightly right of center.’
“A snowflake is a white person. right?”
No, a snowflake is someone who thinks they’re special, that they’re unique, like a snowflake. There’s no one else like them on Earth, and no one can possibly understand them.
“So, if you oppose this liberal-progressivism, with what do you oppose it?”
Not all liberals are progressives, but most progressives are liberals, and I think that’s an important distinction. Back a few generations ago, it was necessary for progressives to be counterculture, because conservative Republicans held Power, These people who wanted change and they found a home beside Liberals because liberals also wanted change, from the R to the D. Now fast forward to today, the progressives have become regressives, and the Democrats are in power, and the differences between the ideologies are fast becoming obvious.
What would I replace progressivism with? Classical Liberalism. The idea that free speech mattered, which was only a Liberal ideology because it was necessary for them to get their message out. Now that the left has turned authoritarian, the classical liberals are calling themselves Libertarians, and finding their home on the right.
But none of that REALLY matters in THIS context. School administration being thoughtless, cruel and petty is not a partisan issue. The reason it seems to be is because educators tend to lean left, and so their petty meanness trends along political lines. The majority of teachers who turn out to be pedophiles trends Democrats too, but that’s not because Democrats tend to be pedophiles, but because up to 90% of educators are Democrats, and how else could those numbers fall? You start to look at Christian Schools, where the people tend to be Consrvative, at the educators and administrators are still petty, mean and cruel, just with a conservative bent. The issue is authoritarianism, regardless of the party of choice, and we really need to stop abusing our children by using them as pawns.
“But none of that REALLY matters in THIS context. School administration being thoughtless, cruel and petty is not a partisan issue. The reason it seems to be is because educators tend to lean left, and so their petty meanness trends along political lines. The majority of teachers who turn out to be pedophiles trends Democrats too, but that’s not because Democrats tend to be pedophiles, but because up to 90% of educators are Democrats, and how else could those numbers fall? You start to look at Christian Schools, where the people tend to be Consrvative, at the educators and administrators are still petty, mean and cruel, just with a conservative bent. The issue is authoritarianism, regardless of the party of choice, and we really need to stop abusing our children by using them as pawns.”
Well, did you see the rally at Connor’s High School today? A group of white students protested against the scolding of Conor, and then Conor himself with his parents on each side spoke and said that he was attempting to write satire for the grade but in fact his own position is an articulated racism. That he had a right to form his own views and ideas, and that all this is protected by the Constitution.
He handed out to the press a little booklet he is publishing out of his parent’s garage called “The Niggerization of America” and 3/4ths of the High School alumna rallied to his defence, knocked over cameras and roughed up the reporters and finally they all marched down to the town hall where they sang old school Republican hymns, and then there was a picnic. Word has it that a local democrat pedophile queer was dragged out of his lair and beaten to a bloody pulp.
I reckon he will not be invited to the White House anytime soon.
Now THAT’S how it’s done.
I have to admit, you had me for the first paragraph. Well done. Do you concede the point made though?
Very kind of you. (My first relative ‘success’ here at EA. I’m hoping for a plack and a gold star.)
Frankly, I do not understand what is happening socially and socially-politically in the schools right now. I have no idea who to blame and who not to blame.
You simply must understand me as a deeply confused person. I have no idea whose side to take.
I think ‘progressivism’ is a stronger position if you are to look at it in strictly ethical terms. If you are not, then you must recur to some other system, and that system will be counter-progressive.
I think that you think that progressivism is an equality movement. And if that’s all there was to it, I might be a progressive. But it isn’t, so I’m not. Progressivism has roots in Marxism, and when seen in the light of a class war, makes much more sense.
“Progressivism has roots in Marxism…”
Can you cite a single example – a historian, a history book, a respected magazine article – to support this claim? I think it is ridiculous on the face of it
While you’re looking, let me suggest you have a look at Wikipedia’s entry for progressivism in the US
It’s a fairly typical Wikipedia entry; lengthy, fairly thorough, not always coherent, but far more right than wrong in the main.
And you won’t find a single citation of Marx in it. (And please don’t tell me that’s because Wikipedia is written by progressives who bleep out the awful Marxist history behind it).
Progressivism was rooted in a group of totally American movements, ranging from black civil rights to anti-monopoly powers to resistance to robber barons to conservationism to the temperance movement. It barely has roots in the 19th century, being heavily early 20th century.
The closest one could get to Marx is the labor movement, but even there, you don’t find the theorists of the progressive movement citing anything resembling Marx, much less quoting or citing him, or even giving any indication that they knew who the guy even was.
So I truly find you not comprehensible on this point – I think you’re just throwing stuff out there to see what sticks. This doesn’t stick.
“Progressivism was rooted in a group of totally American movements, ranging from black civil rights to anti-monopoly powers to resistance to robber barons to conservationism to the temperance movement. It barely has roots in the 19th century, being heavily early 20th century.”
Did you cite this without reading it? I think you did. I bet you did a search for “Marx” and having come up blank, you felt safe in writing that.
Well, actually… from your own citation:
“Historians debate the exact contours, but generally date the “Progressive Era” from the 1890s to either World War I or the onset of the Great Depression, in response to the perceived excesses of the Gilded Age.
Many of the core principles of the Progressive Movement focused on the need for efficiency in all areas of society. Purification to eliminate waste and corruption was a powerful element, as well as the Progressives’ support of worker compensation, improved child labor laws, minimum wage legislation, a support for a maximum hours that workers could work for, graduated income tax and allowed women the right to vote.
According to historian William Leuchtenburg:
The Progressives believed in the Hamiltonian concept of positive government, of a national government directing the destinies of the nation at home and abroad. They had little but contempt for the strict construction of the Constitution by conservative judges, who would restrict the power of the national government to act against social evils and to extend the blessings of democracy to less favored lands. The real enemy was particularism, state rights, limited government.
Purifying the electorate
Progressives repeatedly warned that illegal voting was corrupting the political system. It especially identified big-city bosses, working with saloon keepers and precinct workers, as the culprits in stuffing the ballot box. The solution to purifying the vote included prohibition (designed to close down the saloons), voter registration requirements (designed to end multiple voting), and literacy tests (designed to minimize the number of ignorant voters).
All the Southern states (and Oklahoma) used devices to disfranchise black voters during the Progressive Era. Typically the progressive elements in the states pushed for disfranchisement, often fighting against the conservatism of the Black Belt whites. A major reason given was that whites routinely purchased black votes to control elections, and it was easier to disfranchise blacks than to go after powerful white men.
Progressives fought for women’s suffrage to purify the elections using supposedly purer female voters. Progressives in the South supported the elimination of supposedly corrupt black voters from the election booth. Historian Michael Perman says that in both Texas and Georgia, “disfranchisement was the weapon as well as the rallying cry in the fight for reform”; and in Virginia, “the drive for disfranchisement had been initiated by men who saw themselves as reformers, even progressives.”
but more damning perhaps, is that you focused on AMERICAN progressivism. You have to search distinctly for that. I don’t believe that was your first search. I’d bet a moderate amount of money you searched for “Progressivism” first, and found this:
“From the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution
Immanuel Kant identified progress as being a movement away from barbarism towards civilization. Eighteenth century philosopher and political scientist Marquis de Condorcet predicted that political progress would involve the disappearance of slavery, the rise of literacy, the lessening of inequalities between the sexes, reforms of harsh prisons and the decline of poverty. “Modernity” or “modernization” was a key form of the idea of progress as promoted by classical liberals in the 19th and 20th centuries, who called for the rapid modernization of the economy and society to remove the traditional hindrances to free markets and free movements of people. German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was influential in promoting the Idea of Progress in European philosophy by emphasizing a linear-progressive conception of history and rejecting a cyclical conception of history. Karl Marx applied to his writings the Hegelian conception of linear-progressive history, the modernization of the economy through industrialization, and criticisms of the social class structure of industrial capitalist societies. As industrialization grew, concerns over its effects grew beyond Marxist and other radical critiques and became mainstream.”
Which perhaps isn’t damning, but it didn’t give you the distance you really wanted. Did it?
But why stop there? Let’s search for connections between Marx and Progressivism on Wikipedia!
“The progressive economic philosophy is typically defined in opposition to economic liberalism (known in some countries as economic libertarianism), Laissez-faire economics, and the conclusions of the Austrian School of economics. Many organizations that promote economic progressivism can be characterized as anti-capitalist and include principles and policies based on Keynesianism, Marxism, and other left-wing schools of socio-economic thought.”
Oops? But that’s just economics, right? Except that was fundamentally what Marx was concerned with. Once you build off the block off “Progressivism and Marxism are at least connected at some level” Building an argument that they are fundamentally connected to the point of inseparability becomes easy.
HT that is an amazing amount of citation to produce–practically nothing.
I’m happy to rest my case with what you’ve provided here.
Although militant Marxist ideology might be considered a thing to avoid and control, it is impossible and incorrect to dismiss Marxian analysis of economic relations, and indeed it is useful tool of analysis. In any case, it is here to stay.
Progressivism would SURELY have received idea-currents from European thought generally, and this would certainly have included Hegelian and Marxist thought. And much else.
Marxian analysis is part of the structure of modern thought.
What you object to, it sounds like, is militant activism which 1) disrupts existing economic and social relationships and undermines established hierarchies, and 2) militant Marxian activism that would or might operate against constitutional forms and guarantees. (And that is a real danger insofar as Marxian coups and such are real possibilities).
What is your main concern? That people gain a specific understanding of economic power-relations? That they think in these terms?
Was Woody Guthrie in your view a Marxist activist?
“Can you cite a single example”
Sure, I can cite yours.
Take a bow, Charles. I’m good with you leaving too.
“What is your main concern? That people gain a specific understanding of economic power-relations? That they think in these terms?”
Mostly that they think in those terms. I think that if more people understood how economies work, they would make better choices, and might see their tides rise within the framework of capitalism. The moment you think of it as a class struggle, you’ve lost, because class struggles aren’t ever productive, they invariably are more concerned with tearing down than building up. Marxism hasn’t built anything lasting ever, and very few things period. It is a leech on the left ass cheek of it’s betters.
“Was Woody Guthrie in your view a Marxist activist?”
You know… I don’t know. There are arguments. Probably. The things he became famous for certainly seem to suggest so, but I wasn’t born until damn near twenty years after he died, and I might have last heard “This Land” a decade ago. I’m really hesitant to make a call like that with as little reference as I have.
And to put a finer point on what I’m saying: Charles is a progressive. And the reason safe-space culture is his fault is because even though he disagrees with it, it probably wouldn’t exist without people of a like mind 30 years ago paving the road for it. The road to hell is paved in good intentions, and the bricks and mortar for this was the idea that certain groups are by their nature disenfranchised and that we have a right not to be disenfranchised (which morphed into the right not to be offended, because offense is a form of disenfranchisement).
And prove me wrong Charles: Generations of educators have been almost exclusively progressive, and this problem absolutely started in colleges. Connect the dots for the rest of us, if this isn’t the logical conclusion of progressivism, then what is it?
Frankly HT, you make little sense to me.
As I understand it, the progressivism of Charles (and if he accepts the label) is directly consequential to the fundamental tenets of Americanism. The ‘safe-space culture’ is a direct consequence of the politics of the post-Civil War. All of the tenets of equality, of equal opportunity, and I think it is fair to say nearly all issues which are at the forefront today, derive directly from the politics and the political assumptions that are core to America.
To locate, to define and to defend an American Conservatism in a pre-Civil War sense is to return to principles that have become outmoded and literally inconsiderable. I had been leafing through a book called ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers’ (Brion McClanahan). According to the general view expressed:
“The US is not a democracy and was never intended to be a democracy. The US is a republic, and a great number of the Founding generation, if not the majority, classified themselves as republicans (not to be confused with the Republican Party). Most of the Founding Fathers considered democracy a dangerous extreme to be avoided”.
Similarly, the supporting notion of equality between men was not a general tenet among the Founding Generation, and it is also a fact that slavery was a foundation of this early republic and there was a complete complicity of both the North and the South in this business. The notion of an enlightened North and a racist, regressive South is a false-view as, in fact, the entire country was and possibly still is racist and racialist in its core. The anthropology that functioned among the Founders is clear and direct and non-ambiguous.
If you are going to oppose ‘the present’ and all its operative assumptions, which are the clear tenets of Liberal-Progressivism, on what exactly will you establish your ideological platform? You say ‘free speech’. This is rather meaningless unless you propose it possible for people to say, for example:
Said in a David Dukey sort of white whine: “I am absolutely opposed the presence and the integration of the foreign and African people into the fabric of the republic of the United States. Their presence is destructive and must be limited. And I am a free-speech racist and racialist for these reasons: …”
Additionally, the free-speech to oppose the equality of women, the presence of other cultural minorities such as Muslims or Jews in the US polity, and the freedom to articulate and disseminate these opinions and the ideas that support them without fear of reprisals – this is what you mean by free-speech? And not only the right to free speech but the right to organize themselves politically and to organize their communities according the their values and desires?
The ‘authoritarianism’ you mention and oppose: Do you mean the authority of a Federal government to enforce democratic values (or practices and policies), as well as to protect the rights of minorities, as well as to articulate a general doctrine of equality and protection? To initiate lawsuits and such to bring recalcitrant states and regions up to Federal speed?
The questions could go on and on. In my view then, a ‘true conservative’ platform can only be seen as nearly completely regressive to EVERY articulated position of both he right and the left in the US today. It is not possible to articulate such a doctrine, and were you some sort of public figure, or a business leader, or an entertainer or film star, and were you to articulate such a position, you’d necessarily be destroyed.
And you oppose that Authority?
Sixties radicalism is essentially the doctrines of democracy and egalitarianism and, yes, it did indeed take a position against the structures of power and convention. By its very tenets it establishes itself as militantly active toward seeing liberal and progressive values and policies implemented, and there can be no other term for this but ‘social authoritarianism’ and also ‘will of the people’. Clearly, these enactments are contrary at a Foundational level to the philosophical position of the original US, and clearly then to recover a Founding conservatism one must turn back the tide of progressivism as we see it enforcing itself in our present.
That’s what you mean right?
“Frankly HT, you make little sense to me.”
It’s because I speak the Earther dialect of English. Don’t worry about it too much.
“As I understand it, the progressivism of Charles (and if he accepts the label) is directly consequential to the fundamental tenets of Americanism.”
I’m not sure which tenets you’re referring to? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, perhaps? Which are being withheld? By whom? How are those deprivations being addressed by progressivism? And I’ll happily make arguments that progressivism works at cross purposes to all three.
“The ‘safe-space culture’ is a direct consequence of the politics of the post-Civil War.”
You’re going to have to connect those dots for me, because I don’t see the connection. While you’re making the attempt, please keep in mind that this problem isn’t strictly American, and that Sweden and England in particular started to see safe space culture about a decade before America, although the American youth ran with it. While I think it’s fallacious to attempt to connect any strictly American history piece to this, I’ll listen.
“If you are going to oppose ‘the present’ and all its operative assumptions, which are the clear tenets of Liberal-Progressivism, on what exactly will you establish your ideological platform? You say ‘free speech’.”
Actually, what I said was “Classical Liberalism” which I then said has morphed into Libertarianism, which has found home right of center. Free speech would be necessary, even speech I find distasteful, but pretending that’s all there is to it is beneath you. Individualism and Individual Rights, The Rule of Law, Spontaneous Order, Free Markets, Limited Government, The Virtue of Production, Respect for Property Rights, The Non-Aggression Principle. I read Ayn Rand and found her an amazingly poor fiction writer, but still interesting. If you want to have a discussion on what I actually philosophically believe, I’ll have that conversation, and I won’t have to go back 400 years for my examples either, but maybe it’s irrelevant to this post.
“The questions could go on and on. In my view then, a ‘true conservative’ platform can only be seen as nearly completely regressive to EVERY articulated position of both he right and the left in the US today.”
Sure. In my view, when you look back at some of the most socially-minded governments, you find some of the worst deprivations and corruption in history. Castro, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Hitler. You don’t get to give me grief over my “American Views” and then pretend that history outside of America doesn’t exist, Authoritarianism is not a child of the right, it is a child of extremism. Right now the left is in power, and is pushing for speech control because they’ve gone off the reservation, and right now, the right in the counterculture pushing for free speech. This is a reversal to 50 years ago, and your unwillingness to come to terms with it does not make it untrue.
“And you oppose that Authority?”
Absolutely. Proudly. What people tend to forget, is that rules apply to everyone. This is a lesson regressives are teaching Liberals right now. Think back a couple generations. What if we accepted that unquestionable authority before emancipation, before women’s lib, before gay rights, before these ideas were majority opinions, and were distasteful for the majority. Free speech still allowed these voices to be heard, and those ideas were tested in the free marketplace of ideas and found to be beneficial to society. So what if the odd Duke is heard? What’s his real reach? His ideas are rejected because they’re dumb, and the world moves on. What about Trump, you ask. Well… That’s what happens when you force dumb ideas to simmer quietly without challenge for a generation, and they all come out at once.
“By its very tenets it establishes itself as militantly active toward seeing liberal and progressive values and policies implemented, and there can be no other term for this but ‘social authoritarianism’ and also ‘will of the people’.”
Aye, comrade. Should I march myself to the gulag then?
“By its very tenets it establishes itself as militantly active toward seeing liberal and progressive values and policies implemented, and there can be no other term for this but ‘social authoritarianism’ and also ‘will of the people’.”
I honestly don’t understand how someone can write this 1) with a straight face, 2) without trembling in terror, or 3) without acknowledging that it is about as un-American, anti-democratic and unconstitutional as a statement can be, and obviously so.
It is a continuation of satire.
Though it is satirical it expresses the way that progressive ideals are implemented.
But I toss in a twist and say instead of being ‘anti-American’ it is actually as American as Apple Pie. Or, it is certainly a part of America.
After that, there was:
“Clearly, these enactments are contrary at a Foundational level to the philosophical position of the original US, and clearly then to recover a Founding conservatism one must turn back the tide of progressivism as we see it enforcing itself in our present.
That’s what you mean right?”
She maybe have been writing in the context of that being the reason I oppose progressivism, but as with many things she writes, is so abstract it’s hard to decipher. IF that was actually her point, I find myself in agreement. If not, I heard the gruel is great.
I thought this was clear:
“Sixties radicalism is essentially the doctrines of democracy and egalitarianism and, yes, it did indeed take a position against the structures of power and convention. By its very tenets it establishes itself as militantly active toward seeing liberal and progressive values and policies implemented, and there can be no other term for this but ‘social authoritarianism’ and also ‘will of the people’. Clearly, these enactments are contrary at a Foundational level to the philosophical position of the original US, and clearly then to recover a Founding conservatism one must turn back the tide of progressivism as we see it enforcing itself in our present.”
Sixties progressivism is mostly humanistic personalism, and this personalism is of a non-intellectual variety. It is more natural and intuitive and not so much doctrinaire.
The original impulses that produced Sixties progressivism and radicalism seem to me to have been essentially ‘religious’, and as arising out of the value structure of Americans as church-going people. The American folk song is a good place to notice those sentiments of justice, fairness, and also resentment of wealth, the ‘fat cat’ and all the rest of it. Because it was popular, it was also democratic and populist in its essence, and it seemed to clamor for democracy, equality, rights, fairness, etc.
Progressivism of the American sort is tied in to the value structure of people who desire to change the world for the better and they seem to be American idealist. Again, I have personally come to see this idealist as essentially a religious sort and am reminded of George Brush in “Heaven’s My Destination” (Thornton Wilder).
When I said: “Clearly, these enactments are contrary at a Foundational level to the philosophical position of the original US, and clearly then to recover a Founding conservatism one must turn back the tide of progressivism as we see it enforcing itself in our present”.
I mean that I do not see how the old school Conservatism of the Founders could take form again as anything except a counter-movement to the progressivism which has become so prevalent and relevant in the present (the last 100 years).
I base my ideas about ‘Americanism’ and ‘the American civil religion’ on Robert Bellah’s various books. The tenets are basically religious tenets pushed through a civic mesh.
Take Lincoln’s famous speech, which produces a shiver:
“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” —Abraham Lincoln
It seems to me that once one has couched issues of this sort in this theological way, and when this thrust is associated with government structure as an expression of idealism and Providence (the hand of God), that its inevitable movement will tend in the direction of social movements of Biblical proportion. From Lincoln to King for example. If this sort of mood infects government, it won’t matter what the laws say. The laws will be obstacles to getting God’s will established. (And all this can happen in a post-Christian culture).
It seems to me that one has to pay especial attention to these sort of declarations. I understand that the Founders had all sort of ideas about God and Providence, but I am not sure if they ‘functioned’ in them in quite the same sense I note here with Lincoln.
The ‘tenets’ then are not so much rationally derived ideas (classic liberalism) but something more akin to religious zealotry which injects itself into the political and social spheres. I don’t know if it is appropriate to speak of a ‘mood’ or an ’emotional current’, but when I’ve listened to some of King’s speeches this is most of what I hear in them.
The present ‘safe-space culture’ does seemed linked to post Civil War politics and policies: Conquest of the Southern rebellious states. Implementation of social and political engineering in Reconstruction. And the general movement coming to life again in the civil right era. The location and vilification of an ‘evil segment’. Pious hatred directed against it. In the sixties a moral turn against one’s own culture, one’s parents, their achievements. Am I seeing wrong? True, there are other influences at work to create this strange hyper-sensitive culture, but what is now happening cannot be said not to be connected with the various historical stages.
It has a very definite logic.
HT writes: “Aye, comrade. Should I march myself to the gulag then?”
Wait patiently, the Gulag will come to you …
I have to agree with Charles. While clearly intended as satire, the writing here is indestinguishable from things said on some of the more extreme racist blogs out there. The tone also seems genuinely contemptuous of blacks–in the last sentence especially, the joke is “on” black people for dressing and talking wrong, not on the speaker. There’s no self-deprecation here–nothing to mitigate the idea that it is blacks, not racists, who are the butt of the joke.
This is clearly a smart kid, whose writing is way more advanced than that of most high schoolers. Maybe that’s enough to tell us that this assignment shouldn’t have been given to high school kids–if this kid can’t pull it off, what kid can? Or perhaps the teacher could have made certain subjects, like race, off-limits. That’s obviously not ideal, as satire shouldn’t have limits as far as what subjects to discuss, but in a high school classroom such limits are often necessary to avoid situations like what this one has become.
Of course, the essay never should have prompted national outrage, nor even any notice outside of this one classroom, and those who have made this kid a target bear the most responsibility here. But the teacher also bears some responsibility for not anticipating something like this.
“While clearly intended as satire, the writing here is indestinguishable from things said on some of the more extreme racist blogs out there.”
I agree, and I don’t think that’s poor satirical form at all. The writing on blogs like “Chimpmania” is jaw dropping—it reads like parody. A satire would have to be so ridiculous that it forfeited the discomfort that Swift achieved, which was supposedly the point of the assignment. Sure, he could have written “we should stuff all blacks into barrels filled with fat Lithuanian midgets and drop them in Lake Huron”—my guess even that would get him into trouble in PC Maryland—but that’s not satire, that’s being silly (Woody Allen being silly, actually.)
We’re getting some GREAT Poe’s law examples lately.
We sure are.
There is another alternative too: establishing an intellectual culture where a person can think and write exactly what they think without 1) fear that the thoughtpolice will show up and 2) that thoughtpolice do not arise to edit a given thought before it occurs.
To demand an intellectual culture where all issues, even the most dangerous and contentious, are openly debated and discussed, and not controlled through intervention by authority, is a counter-measure to the way that the present functions.
Instead of limiting what one can think and say about whites, white culture, white ways, white foibles, strengths and weaknesses, and the same for blacks, mexicans, south americans, asians and what-have-you, how about getting out from under a polically correct culture which strictly controls what people think and how they perceive the world?
The essence, and an important one, is right here: This cannot happen, and it will not happen. It is thus better to define a platform that clearly explains WHY this must not be allowed. Elucidating this, you’d begin to define a position much in common with, say, Walter Lippman: our cultures require idea-commisars and idea-editing systems and we must teach our children not to see what they see and think as they think, but very much the opposite: Think as they are regimented to think according to a politically-correct grammar, and mercillesly attack them – destroy them at the spiritual and intellectual core – if they deviate.
That describes ‘actual conditions on the ground’.
Charles is marking down this kid for not doing as well as Swift. Great. I assume the next assignment will be to read “Moby Dick” and write the great American Novel. By Monday. Moronic assignments generate moronic results.
These days, I very often recall Jerry Mulligan’s ire at being told only black guys could play jazz. Maybe it was Marian McPartland who told that story.
“Moronic assignments generate moronic results.”
I suspect that is what happened. The teacher can make a big difference in what results. See the link I separately provided to a successful teacher’s assignment to the same material.
I find it hard to believe that young Comnor would have written the same essay had he been given the assignment the way this teacher laid it out.
Here’s that link:
“I suggest students write their own modest proposal modeled after Swift’s. It’s not the most creative assignment; I did the same assignment myself in high school, so I know I’m not the first person to come up with it. However, it remains my favorite assignment from high school, and I think it gives students free rein to go kind of crazy with their writing and still exercise persuasive writing skills.
We start by generating a list of social issues. Students should think of an outlandish solution to that problem. They should include a paragraph like Swift’s in which they introduce solutions that are actually reasonable and workable only to explain why the reader should not speak to the writer of such untenable solutions. Swift’s essay makes an excellent model for how to proceed. Students may need to do some research about their issue, too. Students usually have a lot of fun with this essay, but it’s also a great assignment for teaching rhetoric and argumentative writing.”
Sorry, I don’t see anything magical or brilliant about anything this woman has to say. I think she’s naive or dopey. As I said previously, giving this assignment was like pouring gasoline on the class room floor and then giving all the kids matches to play with.
You skipped the advance work she does: to quote–
First, I think you need to introduce the concept of satire. I share an article from The Onion without telling students that’s where it’s from. You can take your pick, but one of my history teacher friends gave me this one that she has used for DBQ’s in AP European History: “Industrial Revolution Provides Millions of Out-of-Work Children with Jobs.” The themes of both this article and Swift’s essay are similar—the exploitation of children for the benefit of adults, the loss of childhood innocence, harsh conditions for children.
Read the article and generate discussion. Ask students if they agree with it. They’ll probably say no. Ask why. What’s wrong with it? If they don’t figure out it’s satire, you need to lead them toward that conclusion. Then ask them to generate a definition for satire based on their understanding of what it is. Compare that definition to the one provided by your book or dictionary of literary terms. Ask what is the point of satire? Why not just present the problem and the solution in a realistic way? Why not just directly present an issue? What does satire accomplish? Have them list forms of satire they’re familiar with—mine shared mostly TV, but some of your students will know about The Onion or maybe even M.A.D. Magazine.
Next we look at the argument The Onion article made by analyzing the subject, occasion, audience, purpose, and speaker. I use the acronym SOAPS. Subject: What is this article about? Occasion: Why was it written? What is going on at the time that the author is mocking? Audience: Who is this article aimed at? Purpose: What does the author hope to achieve by writing it? and Speaker: How does the author establish himself/herself as an authority on the subject?
My students told me that the subject was children working in the industrial revolution. The occasion was the current economy and large number of out-of-work adults—they felt perhaps the author was drawing attention to the fact that times have been worse. Audience they felt could be virtually anyone living through our current tough economy. They felt the purpose was to give the reader historical perspective, to think about the difficult lives of children in the past. Finally, they felt using quotes from fake historians and the overall tone of the article established the speaker as someone to listen to. Of course, we talked about the rhetorical triangle in context of this analysis, too.
After we analyze The Onion article, we begin “A Modest Proposal.” I think the vocabulary is fairly difficult, so I read it in class with students. We stop and talk to clarify and define vocabulary. After reading the first few paragraphs, before Swift makes his proposal, I ask students what they think he will suggest. How would they solve poverty and hunger? They offer suggestions, and no one in my class at least thought of cannibalizing babies. After reading and discussing the entire essay and analyzing it as we did The Onion article, discussing the article’s effectiveness in drawing attention to the issue, discussing some of Swift’s better barbs, and in particular, drawing attention to the paragraph in which Swift reveals several reasonable solutions to the problems—taxing absentee landlords, manufacturing luxury goods in Great Britain, etc.—I suggest students write their own modest proposal modeled after Swift’s. It’s not the most creative assignment; I did the same assignment myself in high school, so I know I’m not the first person to come up with it. However, it remains my favorite assignment from high school, and I think it gives students free rein to go kind of crazy with their writing and still exercise persuasive writing skills.
We start by generating a list of social issues. Students should think of an outlandish solution to that problem. They should include a paragraph like Swift’s in which they introduce solutions that are actually reasonable and workable only to explain why the reader should not speak to the writer of such untenable solutions. Swift’s essay makes an excellent model for how to proceed….
In particular, Connor would have been well-advised to copy Swift in the way she points out here:
“They should include a paragraph like Swift’s in which they introduce solutions that are actually reasonable and workable only to explain why the reader should not speak to the writer of such untenable solutions.”
Which is, I agree, beyond the scope of any high school essay, and more challenging that all but the most ambitious term papers. Racism? The problem of the devastated black culture? As I wrote in an earlier post, nobody sees a way out of this destructive morass. Isn’t that like asking for a Miss America answer from a high school student? And isn’t that equally dangerous for such a student in a school like this one? What if he recommends an end to all race-based policies and organizations in schools and elsewhere? Won’t parents get “upset’ about those ideas too?
“beyond the scope of any high school essay, and more challenging that all but the most ambitious term papers.”
Except Connor’s program was an AP Honors program at Glen Burnie. Why should these points be ‘beyond the scope of ANY high school essay’? Obviously Ms Huff is a counter-example – she’s a high school teacher, and teaches it the way she outlined.
Personally, I remember tackling more challenging stuff than this in a straight English program in my public high school in Syracuse, because we had a teacher who cared enough to challenge us.
I realize times have changed, but I think you may be enabling dumbing down here.
Read “A Modest Proposal,” sure. Discuss it, sure. Have students try to imitate it, no.
Isn’t that what all the PC people would say? Shut it down, don’t even try it, don’t even talk about it, because it might offend someone?
How about assign it, teach it right, and expect the students to do it right. What’s wrong with shooting for quality education instead of self-censorship? They’re reading MAD Magazine and The Onion anyway – use those as relatively obvious examples to lead off with, then go to Swift.
“Assign it, teach it right, and expect the students to do it right”
But if the school gets any heat from the assignment after social media gets a hold of it and successful satire is misunderstood or cuts too deeply, apologize and throw the student to the wolves…
I don`t know, Charles. Poe’s Law is a new phenomenon, insomuch as the Internet is new, but I would argue that extremism is a totally different animal today than 250 years ago. Is there really anything he could have suggested that would have been considered as ridiculous as Swift’s, thanks to the Internet?
And apart from the double standard issue that Jack already discussed, Swift’s nationality has almost nothing to do with his essay’s longevity. What percentage of the population who knows of A Modest Proposal and its significance also knows Swift’s nationality? I don’t remember my English class even mentioning it.
“Is there really anything he could have suggested that would have been considered as ridiculous as Swift’s?”
–While it might have risked being unoriginal or plagiarism, he could have suggested dealing with the race problem via selective cannibalism.
–A tad more originally, he might have suggested legalizing slavery – perhaps a slight variation on it, like 20-year indentured servitude. A host of delicious details could be tagged on to that one, like making it a constitutional amendment.
–He could have suggested an all-black military, and invented a host of detailed arguments to support it – how it would beenfit the race by establishing greater discipline (as long as the officer corps remained all white of course).
–He could have suggested a NASA program to colonize Mars by exporting black people to the Red planet. Over-the-top details could include acceptable levels of death-by-exploration rates, and special medal programs for those who volunteer for seriously suicidal missions.
–He could have suggested a national residential education program for which all black kids must register by age 5, with national databases and sophisticated transfers between schools, with concrete suggestions for dealing with the pesky issue of parents.
–He could have suggested a national program to encourage an ideology of incest among blacks, so that the laws of natural selection would kick in and the race would kill itself off through ironic “self-driven acts of love.”
–He could have suggested carving out the state of Utah for blacks (though we came close to doing with Native Americans, so it may not be outrageous enough. Similarly, the suggestion of eugenics is only 70 years removed from actual reality).
So yes, I think we still have the capacity to shock in our day. I wouldn’t let them off the hook for not having enough imagination to shock.
Good ideas, Charles, but I stil think the real problem isn’t his proposal, but his tone. The satire is “punching down” because it makes blacks, not racists, the butt of the joke.
Contrast that with the tone of this Onion article, “Tips for Being an Unarmed Black Teen.” While this article may not be popular here, it is clear that blacks are not the target of the joke, and that the writer does not share the contempt for blacks that he is pretending to. A version of that article more in line with the tone of the student writer would use tips like “pull up your pants,” “don’t wear grills” etc., none of which is new or funny or original, but just contemptuous.
Again I can’t fault the student writer too much, and I’m not saying he’s a racist, but the assignment just wasn’t well done satire. If he keeps working at it he could be very good. Unfortunately our outrage culture has probably discouraged him from developing this craft further.
Forgot the link to the Onion:
I completely agree.
This is A+ material for a high school, hands down. Charles is using criteria for a professional writer submitting his published work to the world. For published work, Charles’ standards would be an appropriate approach; individuals could disagree with the conclusion, but the standards would be fair. Published works stand primarily on their individual merits.
The student’s work is not a published work, however. It is a very different beast. It is part of two way process; it is an assignment meant to instruct the fundamental necessary to even consider producing a published work. Published work of merit is impossible without these skills. It is experimental and in need of critique.
The assignment is part of a dialog in effective communication between student and teacher. The student has produced a high quality contribution to this discussion. This raises the bar for the teacher in what he or she must do to coach the student towards improvement in writing skills. The student’s work pushes both sides to improve. Even published work is critiqued before released into the marketplace of ideas.
As a strategy for a teacher to help the student improve, Charles gets an “C-. Feedback must be offered in an effective manner, and teaching the fundamentals of writing by scolding a student for not having the fundamentals is backwards approach. The essay meets the goal of raising the bar of what skills must be learned to marginally improve the worl. The fact that strangers on the internet find it worthy of comment is a testament to the essay’s value to the educational process!
On this same note, Charles’ comment is very worthy of “Comment of the Day” status. His comment contains quality ideas but a backwards approach to teaching. However, it is delivered effectively, and requires developing a high quality response. It promotes strongly the dialog of critical thinking, evaluation, and other fundamental skills critical towards successful ethical analysis. “A+” work!
In contrast, because instruction is experimental, it must be conducted in a truly safe environment. Punishing a student for contributing strong assignment to the educational process gets the school district a solid “F-“.
Rich, I think you quite rightly put the emphasis on the teacher’s role here. I do think it’s possible to have students understand and achieve the points I was making, but I quite agree with you it requires a sensitive approach by the teacher, and shouldn’t flatly be assumed or asserted.
As a teacher, I wouldn’t grade it yet. I’d explain the tonal problems, the “punching down” problems, and ask the student to revise it to make it clearer that the joke is on racists, not on black people.
I used to do the political cartoons for my high school newspaper. My teacher often guided me toward understanding when I was crossing a line, when I had misjudged my target audience, and when I was likely to give unintentional offense. Good teachers do that, and most kids are receptive to that kind of feedback. This essay should have never been seen by anyone but the teacher and student. How did it get out, anyway?
Re how it got out, not clear. Here’s a link: