When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View”

A history teacher at the Great Hearts Monte Vista Charter School (in San Antonio, Texas) distributed an assignment consisting of a worksheet titled “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View”  to eighth graders. The idea was for student to list the positive and negative aspects of slavery.  After parent Roberto Livar posted to social media the worksheet his son Manu brought home to complete, the teacher was placed on leave and the school said it would audit the textbook associated with the lesson.  Aaron Kindel, the superintendent of Great Hearts Texas, which operates 28 public charter schools in that state and Arizona, said in a statement posted on the Great Hearts Facebook page, “To be clear, there is no debate about slavery. It is immoral and a crime against humanity.”   He said the school’s headmaster plans will explain the mistake to the history class.

I can’t wait to hear what that explanation is. How does any American living in the 21st Century not flinch at a title like “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View”? It sounds like a joke, in fact: there is a whole genre of galley slave cartoons that rely on the idea that there is anything positive about being a slave is inherently ridiculous. (“It’s not a paid position but I’m gaining invaluable experience in the rowing sector!”). Yes, this teacher is incompetent, and leave is too good for him (or her). If you can’t trust a teacher not to hand out something that stupid, what else might be handed out? Hand grenades? “What Happened”?

Sadly, Mr. Livar couldn’t maintain the high ground, and had to say this:

“We are fully aware that there is a concerted effort by the far-right nationally to reframe slavery as being ‘not that bad’ and trying to revise the Civil War as being about ‘states rights’ and not about slavery. We were concerned that this assignment fell in line with that ideology and were naturally concerned, as well as other parents. These issues are not isolated to one school or one book. These issues are systemic and continue up the chain all the way to the Texas School Board of Education.”

He also said this likely happened because the school is short on diversity.

No, it happened because someone mistakenly hired an idiot as a teacher. Continue reading

From “The Ethics Incompleteness Principle” Files: Memphis, Tennessee’s Confederate Statues

A better application of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle would be difficult to find than the decision by Memphis, Tennessee to remove a huge monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an even larger heroic equestrian statue (above) of Nathan Bedford Forrest, swashbuckling Confederate general and (allegedly) the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,  from two public parks.

As we have discussed here in great detail, I am unalterably opposed to the current mania among our Left-leaning friends and neighbors  of tearing down statues, monuments and memorials honoring  past historical figures because their lives, beliefs and character do not comport with current day standards or political norms.  This primitive exercise in historical censorship has been especially focused on famous and notable figures from the Confederacy, although recent efforts have targeted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and even Theodore Roosevelt. Of the attacks on memorials to Confederate figures, I wrote,

[ Union veterans]  didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule.  After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.

Yet now,  self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing views, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.

Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record.

I feel strongly about this, as the tone of that post, far from my first on the subject, shows.

But… Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Yes, Virginia, There Is A White Supremacist Teacher Principle”

It is seductively easy to be certain about one’s analysis of controversial issues if you simplify them to the point of distortion. This is what politicians do, and it is often impossible to tell whether they are trying to deceive,  just don’t understand the issue at hand, or are deliberately ignoring inconvenient facts to advance an agenda. Sometimes it is all three. The Civil War, as the recent debate over Confederate statues again illustrates, is a classic example of this phenomenon, and has been since the war itself began. Southerners saw their cause as just, because they were fighting for the right to determine the shape of their own culture, a right they felt was embodied in the Constitution itself. Since that culture included slavery, to assert that the South had a measure of law and ethics on its side has routinely dismissed as, and simplifies as, sympathizing with slaveholders. (As an aside, I wonder if the censorious Left will redouble its efforts to get “Gone With The Wind” exiled from television permanently. I’m betting yes.)

Arguments about what the Civil War was fought over have been taking on the tenor of the old Miller Beer commercials: “Less filling!” “More taste,” or perhaps the Certs ads: “Certs is a breath mint!” “Certs is a candy mint!” “STOP you’re both right!” To his great credit, texagg04 accepted the challenge of trying to clarify the complexities of the “root causes of the Civil War” confusion in a concise comment (the topic has filled long scholarly books). He did an excellent job, and as he wrote as he began his explanation, the complexities matter. They usually do.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post,Yes, Virginia, There Is A White Supremicist Teacher Principle:

…The South seceded to defend against what it believed would be the Republican plan to eradicate slavery via the National level of government.

Slavery is why the South seceded – Slavery could be said to be a type of Final Cause of secession.

But that said, slavery was merely the topic of the question, “Who has final authority to make significant economic decisions within the individual states: The States or the National level of government?” State powers — those not delegated to the Union — was the issue to be answered as it pertained to slavery. So “States Rights” could be said to be a type of Formal Cause of secession.

There was NO war at that point, because secession, prior to the Civil War, was widely regarded as a perfectly legal course for States *voluntarily* part of a Union to do.

Stopping secession, that is preserving the Union status quo, is *why* hostilities began. Continue reading

Accumulated Ethics Notes On The Charlottesville Riots, The Statue-Toppling Orgy and The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, Part One

As an introduction, I have to say that this episode, which has quickly turned into an ethics train wreck of sweeping and perhaps catastrophic proportions, frightens me as few issues do. It has become a danger to free speech, to cultural diversity, to liberty, education, historical fairness, cultural cohesion and  common sense. It appears to be the metastasis of all the demonizing rhetoric, self-righteous pandering and virtue-signaling, and totalitarian-minded efforts to remold the past in order to control the future. The level of contempt, hate and intimidation being focused on those who—like me—are attempting to keep the issues in perspective by analyzing complex and emotional ethical components in context is causing the fervor involved to approach  that of unthinking mobs. The damage done by the worst mobs of the past, however, were mostly confined to a restricted region, or, like The Terror in France or the Red Scare here, were immediately repudiated one the fever broke. I’m not sure that this fever will break, at least not before it breaks us. It is the perfect storm of self-righteous fanaticism, as the anti-Trump hysteria collides with Obama era race-baiting and victim-mongering, both of which have run head on into the mania for air-brushing history to remove any mention of events, movements, attitudes or human beings that “trigger” the perpetually outraged of today.

Social media has magnified the intensity of this already deadly storm, by allowing once intelligent people to throttle their brains and judgment into mush by confining their consideration of the issues to partisan echo chambers. Daily, I am embarrassed and horrified by what I read on Facebook by people who I know—I KNOW—are capable of competent critical thought but who have completely abandoned it to be on the “right” side, where facile, half-truths and lazy conclusions are greeted by a myriad “thumbs up” and “hearts.”

And I am angry–contrary to popular opinion, I’m not usually emotionally involved in the issues I write about; like Jessica Rabbit, who isn’t really bad (she’s just drawn that way), I’m not usually as intense as I seem. I just write that way—that I am so tangential and impotent that what see so clearly has little persuasive power at all, because I’ve frittered away my opportunities to be influential in a thousand ways.

I have never allowed futility to stop me, though, because I have spent a lifetime banging my head against walls.

Here are the ethics observations I’ve been accumulating since the first torches were lit in Charlotte:

  • Please watch this video, from Ken Burn’s “The Civil War”:

I was moved when I first saw this, which was in the documentary’s final chapter, and I am moved still. The old Union soldiers moaned when they saw the men who had tried to kill them, and who had killed their friends and comrades, re-enacting their desperate open field march into deadly artillery. Then they dropped their arms and met their former foes, and embraced them.

These men didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule.  After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.

Yet now,  self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing vews, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.

Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record. Continue reading

Explain The Reasoning Process Of This School System, Please…

Hate speech. Sorry. The lesson has to be "Some states fought the Union over something or other, waiving a flag that we can't show you because it's dangerous." Quiz tomorrow.

Hate speech. Sorry. The lesson has to be “Some states fought the Union over something or other, waiving a flag that we can’t show you because it’s dangerous.” Quiz tomorrow.

President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is facing the closest Senate vote on any cabinet member ever, in part because two Republican Senators (what the Democrats say doesn’t matter, since they have decided not to cooperate in the governing process) question whether Betsy DeVos “understands the public schools.” In her defense, I don’t see how anyone could understand public schools, especially when they behave like this one…

In Folsom, California, the family of an African American 8th grader  filed a complaint against  Sutter Middle School history teacher Woody Hart.  Tyrie McIntyre’s son had asked Hart for a definition of equality during a discussion of the U.S. Constitution. The teacher  allegedly told his eighth-grade class, “When you hang one black person, you have to hang them all.  That is equality.” At least that is what Tyler McIntyre, 13, thought Hart said. Tyler, one of only a handful of black students in the class and school, felt embarrassed.

Hart, 70, didn’t deny his student’s account, but explained in an interview that he made the comparison because he was trying to make the discussion “interesting” and “express something that would catch students’ attention.”

“Here’s what I said: ‘If you hang black people in the South, that means that you hang any black person who comes from outside the state. ”

Hart also said that he has spent much of the year teaching his students about racial equality. If that’s the clarity, logic and accuracy with which he taught it, a remedial course, indeed several, may be required.

After the complaint, Principal Keri Phillips interviewed six students chosen at random, all of whom heard Hart give “hanging all blacks” as an example of how states treated individuals under the Constitution. She said that Hart has been told to henceforward  use examples “at a level that eighth graders can understand,” avoid stereotypes or culturally insensitive language, and must rely on “very simple analogies that do not focus on the controversy” during lessons involving challenging material.

McIntyre said that this doesn’t address his concerns. “My issue wasn’t the context,” he said. “It was the content. There was no way to justify the statement that he made.”

That’s exactly right, because the statement that “If you hang black people in the South, that means that you hang any black person who comes from outside the state” isn’t insensitive or “too complex” for an 8th grader.  It’s stone-cold stupid, bad logic, bad history, and bad teaching. An example that is “at a level that an 8th grader can’t understand”? I’m worried about anyone who thinks he does understand Hart’s example. That the teacher thinks it makes sense tells me that it is an unacceptable risk to allow Hart to teach any subject to anyone.

Nonetheless, Woody Hart was allowed to keep teaching, because public schools. Ah, but last month, he really crossed the line, or whatever it is that causes schools to ding teachers. Teaching the students about the Civil Way, Hart showed them…

A CONFEDERATE FLAG!!!

Continue reading

Introducing A Third Niggardly Principle, And A Dilemma: Does It Apply To The Confederate Flag?

Scarolina flag

Before unveiling the new Third Niggardly Principle, indulge me some observation  on the emergence of a renewed controversy over the Confederate flag as a response to the Charleston, South Carolina shooting of nine black churchgoers last week:

1. The Confederate battle flag did not cause Dylann Roof to start shooting. If  all the Confederate flag had been retired to museums 100 years ago, it would not have turned him into a civil rights advocate.

2. The effort of anti-flag advocates, who are frequently advocates of censorship and restrictions on free speech as well, to exploit this tragedy to advance their pet grievance is transparent and obnoxious, and is even more attenuated than the furious efforts of anti-gun zealots to do the same thing.

3. The flag, like many symbols, represents different things to different people. Racial hate and bigotry is only one of them. The flag legitimately represents pride in a family legacy (“My great grandfather died bravely in Pickett’s Charge”), the historical record, opposition to federal government overreach,  aesthetic appeal, or defiance of authority generally (“I’m a rebel”). Old Glory also represents different things to different people, and we do not ban it because what it symbolizes to some people is unpleasant for them. (Yes, I know some schools have done exactly that. One hopes they are outliers)

4. Mitt Romney’s much praised tweet—“Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.” —is simple-minded and irresponsible. (See the previous post.) Is Mitt arguing that any speech, symbol or expression that “many” find offensive should be suppressed? It sounds like it to me. Since Roof’s act had nothing to do with the flag, nor was it related to slavery or the Confederacy, how does taking the flag down “honor” his victims? Sure: Roof liked the flag, because of what it symbolized to him. He also liked Gold’s Gym:

dylann-roof1

Would closing down all the Gold Gyms in South Carolina honor his victims? The fact that the attack was racially motivated and that racists often display Confederate flags does not make a state flying the flag complicit in the shootings. Stop using Twitter to discuss complex issues, Mitt! Continue reading

President Lincoln’s Misunderstood Ethics Crisis: The Great Sioux Uprising

Dakota hanging

As part my so-far futile efforts to leave Ferguson in the rear view mirror, let’s revisit one of the Abraham Lincoln’s great ethical dilemmas during the Civil War, in which today’s date, December 1, was pivotal.

Minnesota’s Great Sioux Uprising, now usually called the Dakota-U.S. Conflict, was among the bloodiest Indian wars in the West, with hundreds of Native Americans, settlers and military casualties. The Sioux were defeated soundly, and the U.S. Army tried 303 Native Americans by military commission, finding them guilty of war crimes and sentencing them to death by hanging. Federal law required Presidential approval of the death sentences, and this was a problem Abraham Lincoln, the President at the time, did not need.

For it was 1862, and the Civil War was raging. This was a year full of Union defeats, indeed, disasters, like Fredericksburg, and both the war and Lincoln’s ability to lead it were in peril. Lincoln was also calculating all the political angles before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. On top of the burdens of war and politics, he was coping with personal tragedy: his young son Willy had died nine months earlier, and Mary Todd Lincoln was teetering on emotional collapse from grief.
Now he had to decide whether to allow the execution of more than 300 Indians convicted in trials that were no better than kangaroo courts. Few Americans were concerned about the fate of the Native Americans, but Lincoln, with all of his other worries, took on the task of reviewing the trial records. What he found was manifest injustice.  Continue reading