Sunday, September 28, 2014

Propaganda disguised as curriculum

The Jeffco Public Schools in Golden, Colorado made national headlines this week when students and teachers staged a protest over proposed curriculum changes in AP American History. It seems that a school board member asked for more instructional material presenting "positive aspects" of U.S. heritage, emphasizing perspectives that "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights." This board member felt that covered material should not "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law." Full text of the proposed changes can be found here Board Committee for Curriculum Review .

The school district's Mission Statement is: To provide a quality education that prepares all children for a successful future. So the question before the school boils down to this - is it a quality education if we emphasize the positives and by default downplay the role of civil disobedience?

Bravo to these students and teachers. We Americans ought to cheer them, and their ultimate right to be able to stage the protest in the first place.I'm a believer in the power of some righteous disobedience. America was founded by rebels and upstarts who wanted to break away from the motherland, and I smile as I write that.
If we take the school board member's proposal for 'positive aspects' to its logical conclusion, the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, and the American Revolution would have to be cut from the curriculum. So too the Constitution and the Bill of Rights because of their unprecedented and inflammatory statements - all men are created equal and other such novel concepts. Likewise, if all history had to be fed through a 'positive aspects' filter it would be impossible to discuss the Wild West, issues of slavery, voting rights, Civil Rights, or American involvement in any war. 

Colorado is not alone. Texas has voted to limit AP US History to its state-approved curriculum, and not use the national curriculum and exam administered by the New Jersey-based College Board.

The College Board, the overseer of Advanced Placement courses which students can take for college credit, has said revisions are planned to its national AP US History curriculum. In the meantime, they have come out in support of the student protests.

A biased approach to historical facts results in a spoon-feeding of a particular viewpoint. That is propaganda. And propaganda is not acceptable in the America that we ought to be.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What would I do?

Our rural, ordinarily quiet region of Pennsylvania suffered the loss of a state trooper and the injury of a second trooper in an ambush at their barracks. As I write this, the gunman with a grudge against law enforcement is still on the loose, reportedly on foot through the woods and back roads of the Pocono Mountains. With troopers closing in on all sides, I pray this will end soon and with no further harm to anyone.

On Thursday, the day of the trooper's funeral, hundreds of troopers from around the country attended.
To say security was tight is an understatement. So when I heard a low-flying helicopter overhead while I was at work, it barely registered. I assumed it was in connection with the funeral. Then I heard another helicopter. And another. The sound of blades became almost constant for about 20 minutes, and yet we were a full 12 miles away from the site of the mass and the burial. My thoughts switched. I began to wonder if the helicopters were searching the woods near my workplace for this madman.

Now I'm a fairly clear-headed person, not prone to panic or worst-case scenarios so I checked out news sources. The helicopters were indeed part of the funeral and the air search remained focused on an area about 30 miles away from me. But it made me wonder - if I had to live with a threat like that, how would I react? What would I do?

Which brings me to the point. In my safe, ordinary life, my behavior may be rational and predictable. If I were confronted with danger, I'd like to think I'd be moral. But I wonder. Would I freeze or act? Would I stay and fight or run? What if that danger surrounded me for days, for weeks or years? Would I hunker down in survival mode, or would I act to fight the danger which was disrupting my life and that of others?

That's where stories come in. Tales of people who behave honorably in horrific times and places continue to amaze me. Just this week I watched The Scarlet and the Black with Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer. It's the true story of an Irish priest who worked at the Vatican during the Nazi occupation of Rome. He behaved honorably and according to his own morals in the face of Nazi aggression and against the orders of his Pope.

His tale gives me hope that, in the face of such evil, I would behave honorably too. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Suddenly Winter, a September 11th essay

As I set up for my day’s work, shafts of early autumn sun poured through the windows. A perfect fall day in Pennsylvania – clear blue sky, a few puffy clouds, the kind of day that sings in delight at its own excellence. 
I looked at my watch - my first appointment was late. Quite unusual. When the mother wheeled her son in well after 9:00, she was breathless and spewing apologies. “Have you heard?” she asked.
“Heard what?”
“Something horrible has happened. Two planes, two separate planes…” she said, collapsing onto my therapy mat in tears.
In minutes, others poked their heads into the room, adding pieces that created a portrait in horror. I shook my head in disbelief.
Shivering and quaking to the core, I glanced out the window. The clear brilliant blueness of the sky was still there. The sun continued to kiss the earth. A small bird lighted on a sunflower, hungrily pecking at its seedy center. All seemed to be at it had been, as it ought to be. But nothing was the same. The inner peace that comes with security had vaporized.
Even though we were hundreds of miles from the terror, I checked on my family. All were blissfully safe – my husband home on sabbatical, my daughter on Misericordia’s campus, my son at Lackawanna Trail High School. I was unable to get in touch with my sister and her family, 50 miles from the heart of the terror. All I could do was pray they were safe at school and not on field trips to popular sites in New York City. I worried about my parents, who had left New York Harbor just 3 days before on a cruise to Nova Scotia. Would their ship on the open water make an easy target for the next hijacked plane?
A short time later when Washington DC was hit, I said a prayer of thanks that my brother-in-law had been transferred out of his Pentagon job. What of my sister-in-law who worked as a nurse at George Washington University Hospital – would she be called upon to care for some of the injured? Prayers for her, too.
I prayed for my wounded hometown, New York City, for the way its proud, outspoken nature and its intolerance for bullshit had woven itself into my persona. I prayed for childhood friends, the Quinns, who were 3rd generation NY cops. I thought of my old Yorkville neighborhood, of my many visits to the now devastated downtown. And oh, the magnificent view from atop those towers. Just a few years before, my children and I had shared that before with a group of Italian exchange students. 
The irony was inescapable – a city and a nation which embraced generations of people from every corner of the world was left vulnerable by that same openness.
Yes, the day looked the same, but I was wounded and betrayed. The clear autumn beauty had forfeited its promise, sold it for a straight shot into the bitter cold of human nature’s winter.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

76 years ago today...

...the huge annual meeting of the Nazi Party known as the Nuremberg Rally was underway in the beautiful medieval city of Nuremberg, Germany.The scale of the undertaking was unbelievable, similar to modern cities hosting Olympic games - building huge stadiums, figuring out logistics of feeding, housing, and moving tens of thousands of people in a short period of time. I've been researching that week-long Rally for the scene I'm writing. Here's just a few things I've learned -

-first and foremost- the entire event was propaganda designed to awe participants. Its massive scale, its high energy, its show of unity and strength gave people the sense that they were witnesses to something grand and glorious. Brainwashing at its finest.

- upwards of a million people descended on the city for part or all of the Rally

- local hotels and pensions (guesthouses) filled up quickly with Nazi Party officials and SS. Many local citizens offered Rally participants a place to sleep in their homes

- barracks-style housing and a 'tent city' were created adjacent to the Rally grounds for about 200,000 SA and Hitler Youth participants and spectators

-the Rally began with a five-hour long parade through the city

-the Rally grounds occupied an 11 square km area. An existing soccer stadium, community hall, and war memorial were re-purposed by the Nazis. Construction of several new stadiums and parade grounds began almost immediately after the Nazis came into power in 1933 and continued until halted by the war.

-one completed structure known as the Zeppelin field had a grandstand that held 50,000 people. The spectator stands and parade grounds below held another 150,000 people.

-a favorite event at the Zeppelin field was the nighttime torchlight parade. Over 100 searchlights at the stadium's perimeter pointed skyward, creating an effect that American journalist William Shirer called 'a cathedral of light.'

-the Great Street was built to act as a central axis to the grounds.This 60 meter wide, 2000 meter long walkway created a parade route between key sites. Photo ops abounded.

Not hard for me to see how my character, a 14-year-old girl, would be caught up.

Read more about the Nuremberg Rallies.
The Third Rech in Ruins
Nuremberg Museum and Documentation Centre
US Memorial Holocaust Museum