On Teaching Well

I noticed that one of my older posts was linked to at another blog, U.S. History Ideas for Teachers. The author is Lauren Schreiber Brown and her piece was both detailed and thoughtful. The link in question is the second in this paragraph (from The 7 Things All Good Lessons Have in Common):

And realistically, that’s what a lot of us do. We know what we did last year, and yesterday, and so what comes next is comparing the North and South. But we should–every year–ask ourselves why do students need to know about the similarities and differences between the North and South? What is the point? How does this understanding help us better comprehend both the onset of the Civil War as well as its outcome? Do any of these differences still exist? In what way(s) does studying this topic improve the quality of our students’ lives?

I wanted to respond. But my response was too long for the character count at that blog. Plus, even the shorter comment I left there was never approved or else disappeared into the internet purgatory. So, I’ll make it a post, as I think it’s a worthy topic.

* * * *

I’m not a teacher, but I found this post interesting. I like how much thought you are putting into this. Education is important and teaching is a tough job. I’m glad to know teachers like you are out there are considering these kinds of issues and questions.

I noticed you linked to my blog, the post comparing the North and South. I spent my own grade school education initially in the Midwest and later in the Deep South. I never liked history, I must admit. I can’t say I had bad teachers, but they never quite found a way to make history seem to matter in my experience. In particular, I didn’t learn anything about the differences between the North and South.

I don’t even remember what I was taught in any history class. None of it ever stuck. I didn’t even know I enjoyed learning about history until I was well into adulthood. In recent years, I’ve taken history more seriously and have become fascinated about it, and not just about American history either.

I’m constantly coming across new data. It amazes me all the things I didn’t learn in school. History, if taught well, should be one of the most engaging topics for students. Yet so many people similar to me were bored silly by history classes. Why is that?

Early America was an interesting place. But before I started studying on my own, I didn’t realize that was the case. Most Americans, for example, are unaware that several colonies had non-British majorities. I was reminded again of this diversity recently:

“…from every part of Europe.”

At that post, I share a passage from The World in 1776 by Marshall B. Davidson. The part that most stood out to me is where he points out that, “One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants.” I never knew that.

That multicultural reality was a central point that Thomas Paine made in arguing for independence. He wrote that, “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

I realize that is just info. But a good teacher should be able to make it relevant by connecting the diversity of the past to the diversity of the present. It’s not as if America only became an immigrant country in the 20th century. We are living in a continuity of what came before. An effective teacher would bring history alive and get students excited through the teacher’s own engagement with the subject matter.

I know one thing that helped for me was doing genealogical research. That made it personally real. But that goes off into a different kind of learning experience.

Contrast that to how I was taught history when I was younger. I remember in one class that I took 20 pages of notes for a single test. The teacher wasn’t horrible and he did try to get us to think about what we were learning, but I remember just feeling swamped by endless factoids. I wasn’t able to assimilate the info and no one taught me how to do so. That is the biggest failure of school in my experience, the lack of teaching students how to learn which goes hand in hand with teaching the love of learning.

I was a fairly smart kid. I had a learning disability and that made it difficult, but I was able to learn when I felt engaged enough. Still, the way I was so often taught made me hate school. It felt like a pointless struggle. In a sink or swim education system, I usually found myself sinking.

I had to learn how to learn mostly on my own and mostly as an adult. And I doubt I’m alone in that experience. That is a problem for the education system, and it isn’t a problem that can easily be dealt with by individual teachers. I imagine teachers are too busy just trying to teach to the test that anything more involved than the basics is asking for the near impossible.

It makes me sad that teachers get blamed. Teachers don’t have the time and resources to be effective. To focus on one thing means to sacrifice everything else. I couldn’t imagine the amount of planning it takes to try to make it all work.

Your emphasis on a conclusion probably is important. More than trying to shove info into students’ heads, a teacher should help them to understand the significance, ideally both in terms of personal relevance and real world application. A conclusion should drive home some central point or issue. What is learned needs to be connected and framed for otherwise it will quickly be forgotten.

* * * *

I should point out that some of my favorite classes were also my most demanding.

I had an awesome art teacher. He was a professional artist and taught me some serious skills. But his teaching went way beyond that. He is the only teacher I ever had who taught me how to think on my own.

Of course, art is far different from history. Maybe more similar to history is a topic like English, which was one of my other favorite classes. I had an English teacher who was English and he focused on the classics. He didn’t shy away from teaching difficult works. I suppose it was in 11th grade when I took his class and one book we read was Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, a daunting piece of writing even for an adult. He simply taught me the love of engagement with a text, as it was clear how much he enjoyed what he taught.

It’s hard to know what is the difference that makes a difference. I’m sure there were students who were bored and disengaged even in those classes that I loved so much. Not everything is going to work well for all students. That is the greatest challenge, especially the more students there are in a single class. It’s easy for students to get lost in a teacher’s focus on the entire class.

In the end, I think the most important thing a teacher does is to model a particular attitude and sets of behaviors. Students won’t likely care about what a teacher doesn’t care about. On the other hand, a love of learning can be contagious, even for a subject matter a student normally dislikes. I ultimately think there is no such thing as boring material, even if some subjects are harder to teach than others.

* * * *

By the way, I thought I’d share with you some cool facts. Combined, they are an example of how cool facts can help make larger points and show greater connections.

William Penn died in 1718. That was the year Benjamin Franklin was indentured as a printer’s apprentice. Some years later as an older teenager, Franklin made his way to Philadelphia where he began to do his own printing. Pennsylvania was one of those colonies that had a non-British majority, as Penn had traveled in Germany and intentionally invited Germans among others to settle in his colony (it’s interesting to note that more Americans today have German ancestry than any other, especially in the Northern states). Franklin complained about all the Germans for fear they wouldn’t assimilate (sounds familiar?). But as a businessman he was quick to take advantage by printing the first German language newspaper there.

When Franklin was in London, he met Thomas Paine, both having in common their being autodidacts. It was also in London where Paine first saw major political and labor union organizing, along with regular food riots. I might note that it was in London that the Palatine Germans (in the early 1700s) first immigrated before many headed to the American colonies, although these aren’t the same Germans that mostly populated Pennsylvania. This particular influx of Germans did happen in Franklin’s childhood and so it was a major social issue at the time. Anyway, by way of Franklin, Paine made his way to the American colonies and he ended up in Philadelphia, which is the location of Germantown where among the Germans the abolition movement began, and also where Paine helped found the first American abolition society. It was in Philadelphia that Paine first experienced the diversity of the American colonies and so was inspired to see them as something more than a mere extension of England.

It is interesting that the British used so many Hessian soldiers. This was related to Great Britain having alliances with German states. King George III being the Elector of Hanover (ethnically German and the first in his line to speak English as his first language). In the American Revolution, there were Germans fighting on both sides. Many of the descendants of those Germans would also fight each other in the world wars, although then with Americans and the Britains as allies.

Thomas Paine died in 1809. That was the year Abraham Lincolon was born. Lincoln, of course, was famous for ending slavery (after Lincoln’s winning the presidency with the support of German-Americans, the Civil War was partly won because of the mass immigrations to the North, including the often idealistic and socially liberal German Forty-Eighters, refugees of a failed revolution). Less well known is that Lincoln was influenced by Paine’s writings and, like Paine, wrote a deist tract (the only copy of which was burned up by a friend who thought it threatened LIncoln’s political career).

About a half century later, Theodore Roosevelt would call Paine “that dirty little atheist.” That is interesting when one considers that Roosevelt, like Lincoln before him, helped to promote Paine’s progressive vision of America. Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would push that progressivism to yet another level. Although in a different party from Lincoln, FDR also was heavily inspired by Paine. As a side note, the Roosevelt family’s ancestry goes back to the Dutch settlers of the Dutch colony that would become New York, yet another part of early American diversity, and also the place where young Franklin first ran away to and where Paine would spend his last years.

Let me shift back to Lincoln’s lifetime. Karl Marx, who was born in Germany and saw firsthand the social unrest that led to the revolutions of 1848, was forced to flee to England. From there, he later wrote a letter to Lincoln to show his support for the Union’s cause in fighting slave power. Marx probably felt an affinity because Lincoln, early on as president, openly argued that “Labor is the superior of capital.” Charles Dana was a socialist Republican who, before becoming Lincoln’s Undersecretary of War, was the managing editor of the New York Tribune where he published Marx’s writings. Lincoln regularly read that newspaper and Dana had introduced him Marx’s ideas on a labour theory of value.

Marx’s ideas would then be a major inspiration for the ideological conflict that erupted into the Cold War. There was always an ethnic element to this as well, whether the enemy was Germans or Russians, but Germans unlike Russians were always seen as a greater threat since that ancestry was so large in America. German-Americans were always mistrusted, from the colonial era to the world wars. Early twentieth century saw the cultural genocide and forced assimilation of German-Americans, which saw many being sent to internment camps. Until that time, German-Americans had continually maintained their own culture with newspapers written and even public schools taught in the German language. German-American culture was wiped from the collective memory and this heritage was lost for so many.

All of that then leads up to where we are now. The world wars sent even more Germans to the US. Waves of German immigrants have regularly occurred throughout American history. That is why there are today so many Americans of German ancestry, including many students who are not being taught this history about their own ancestors. Sadly, most Americans have forgotten or else never learned about both the early diversity of America and the early radicalism of the likes of Paine.

There ya go. From colonial era to revolution to civil war to the present. That is how one makes history interesting and it was accomplished in only about a page of text. But why this can never be taught is because it is neither politically correct nor ideologically neutral, even though it is all entirely true.

* * * *

I had some thoughts about the example of cool facts that I offered.

There are several reasons why it demonstrates effective communication of history. Besides offering cool facts, multiple connections are offered, a larger framing is made to give context, the development of issues and ideas is shown over time, and a conclusion is offered that explains the relevance. All of that is accomplished in a few paragraphs.

My brain works that way. I make connections and I look for the big picture. That is part of my “learning disability.” What doesn’t work for me is factoid rote learning. Then again, that is true for most people, even if more extremely true for my weirdly operating brain.

So, why don’t teachers teach this way? Because the education system isn’t set for it.

In those paragraphs, I covered material involving multiple countries, multiple centuries, multiple individuals, multiple conflicts, and multiple issues. That doesn’t conform to how students are tested and so the system disincentivizes teaching in a way that would be the most effective. No standardized test will ever have a question that covers such a large territory of knowledge, even though that is precisely what makes interesting history, how it all fits together.

Still, a great teacher would find a way to bring in that style of teaching, if only in those rare moments when time allows.

28 thoughts on “On Teaching Well

    • I’ve read a little bit about Finland. It has come to my attention every so often. This post was about teachers, but I don’t think the success or failure of an education system is primarily because of teachers. Like any system, it creates the limit and possibilities for what individuals can do within it.

    • It’s already been proven to be highly successful where it’s been tried. Take the Canadian experiment. Plus, the reason even many libertarians support it is because it would be cheaper and less bureaucratic. Now it’s simply matter of choosing the moral courage to do the right thing. I’d love to see Finland lead the way.

  1. you write, “I never liked history, I must admit. I can’t say I had bad teachers, but they never quite found a way to make history seem to matter …” James Loewen says it’s not an accident. My comment is, Bad systems can definitely and consistently override good teachers & good intentions. from Wikipedia–

    Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong is a 1995 book by sociologist James W. Loewen. It critically examines twelve American history textbooks and concludes that textbook authors propagate factually false, Eurocentric, and mythologized views of history. In addition to critiquing the dominant historical themes presented in textbooks, Loewen presents a number of his own historical themes that he says are ignored by traditional history textbooks. A newly revised and updated hardcover edition was released on April 1, 2008. The New Press lists Lies My Teacher Told Me as its top all-time bestseller.

    From: Marmalade Sent: Monday, December 7, 2015 8:48 PM Subject: [New post] On Teaching Well #yiv7188318289 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7188318289 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7188318289 a.yiv7188318289primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7188318289 a.yiv7188318289primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7188318289 a.yiv7188318289primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7188318289 a.yiv7188318289primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7188318289 WordPress.com | Benjamin David Steele posted: “I noticed that one of my older posts was linked to at another blog, U.S. History Ideas for Teachers. The author is Lauren Schreiber Brown and her piece was both detailed and thoughtful. The link in question is the second in this paragraph (from The 7 Thin” | |

  2. The funny thing is that productivity might actually rise faster with a guaranteed UBI.

    That might actually help sustain capitalism rather than hurt it. Workers are consumers after all and that money will simply be recycled right back into the economy.

    • That has always been a complaint of anti-capitalist left-wingers. They despise those kinds of liberal reforms because it allows capitalism to continue.

      Capitalism would have collapsed long ago if not for liberalism constantly propping it up with government interventions. Then again, capitalism as we know it wouldn’t have been possible without big gov in the first place.

      I guess I don’t particularly care one way or another. I’m just tired of all the problems, corruption, etc. I’d like to be a good liberal and believe that reforms will save us, but I have my doubts.

  3. I think that things will get ugly.

    The sad thing is that the political right will use whatever they can to enforce the status quo. Remember that the true purpose of political conservativism is to create an aristocracy.

    That is totally incompatible with civilization.

  4. The other is that the political right will take whatever technologies that can be used to continue the system.

    Anything else though will be suppressed.

    • The problem we have is this. Those with access to the resources and opportunities don’t have the motivation to innovate to solve the problems. And those with the motivation to innovate to solve the problems don’t have access to the resources and opportunities. That is the clear downside to high inequality.

  5. To give examples, look at the intellectual property laws. They clearly favor the biggest corporations at the expense of innovation.

    Another example is the right-wing ideologues who insist on denying global warming.

    • Studies have shown that societies with lower economic inequality have higher rates of innovation. This probably relates to more equal societies also having higher rates of IQ, education, etc. There is relationship between inequality and poverty. Poor countries tend to have high inequality and more equal societies tend to have less poverty. Reagan had the basic idea right in floating all boats, even if his ideology was utter bullshit and his policies detrimental to society.

    • I’m no more obsessed with my German ancestry than I am with my Scottish and English ancestry. Ultimately, I’m just obsessed with knowledge.

      What are you obsessed with—ignorance? And if you aren’t an ignorant hypocrite, you would have to argue that everyone besides Native Americans who are interested in their ancestry should leave the US and move back to their ancestral homelands. When some of the ancestrally English founding fathers argued for their rights as Englishmen or later Americans defended their WASP culture, should they have moved back to England? But you wouldn’t make that argument because even you would realize how stupid such an argument is.

      Anyway, my family has been in America for centuries. There is and never has been anything contradictory between ethnic culture and American society. This wouldn’t be the country it is without the mix of ethnic cultures.

      The Midwest that I know and love is largely built on Northern European cultures, traditions, and religion. Even Standard American English was heavily shaped by German-immigrants. Besides English itself is a Germanic language (all of English culture is primarily of German and Scandinavian origins). If you hate Germans and the Midwest has the highest concentration of German-Americans in the country, should the entire Midwest go back to Germany (along with Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia, etc)?

      There would be no Midwest without centuries of German immigrants. Even the farming practices of the Midwest were largely of German origin and it was agriculture, most especially Midwestern agriculture, upon which this country was built. Even early American ideals of freedom, abolition, and so on were directly influenced by Germans. To hate Germans is to hate America and everything it stands for.

      • Yeah, I just think your obsessive over it. You even talked about many of these things a couple post back. Fuck off with your over the top german pride, bitch.

        And if you ever start a page that the midwest should go back to germany, then me and my friends will make you and your families life a living hell mother fucker. And if you think I ‘m joking, then try me. I know who your mother is from facebook, brother nate and who you are. And I know where you live. Want to try me and turn this ugly? fuck off and get over your german nationalism.

      • Why should I care that you know who my family is? Why should I care that you know where I live? I’d invite you over for a cup of coffee. I’ll even personally introduce you to my family. I don’t feel any need to hide, as if I were ashamed of who I am and what I stand for.

        I’m not a German nationalist. Even most of my German ancestry is so old that whatever influence it has had is only through regional culture. My Scottish ancestry has been in America even longer. As for my English ancestry, I’m less clear about when that line came to America. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not a nationalist of any kind, not of Germany or Scotland or of England. I’m just a plain American mutt, a mix breed and proud of it.

        In your threatening me, I assume you must feel your own identity is threatened. Why is that? Why does my identity matter to yours? America has always been a mix of identities. Most of the present United States used to be part of the Spanish and French empires.

        Where I live in Iowa, many of the towns have French names. Some of my ‘German’ ancestors (from the Upper South) actually were Palatines, the border region that shifted between controlled by the two countries. Even the English and Scottish are of mixed ancestries, when you look at the various groups that settled those parts of Britain. Take the Ulster-Scots who included a large number of French Huguenots, and by the way Scotland along with England had ancient cultural and political connections to France.

        There is no reason to get angry. It’s just history. It doesn’t change anything. All of the various ancestries have been part of America for longer than this country has existed. Back when I was young and ignorant, none of this mattered to me. In a fundamental sense, it still doesn’t. It’s just the background of our shared existence. It’s nothing to get all excited about.

        I honestly doubt you are upset by my blogging interest in German ancestry and history. It’s not as if I’m arguing for Germany to take over the US or as if I’m marching in the streets for German pride. My interest is mostly an intellectual curiosity. So, what is bothering you so much? I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I can’t imagine that my life in any way has an effect on your life. There are more important things in life to worry about.

        I’m one of the first people to admit that life sucks. Obviously, you aren’t a happy person, considering how upset you are about this. I understand that. I’m not a particularly happy person and all the time I find myself getting upset about pointless things. Life is too short to waste it like this.

        I have nothing against you personally. I wish you no ill will. I’ll argue with you. But I’ll argue with anyone, including my family and friends. But I won’t threaten you. In the end, I recognize you are just another person, as I am, trying to get by in life. We all have our own struggles.

        I hope you find what you want in life and that you’ll find something worthy to fight for. You obviously have a sense of passion and you should direct that toward something that would give your life a sense of meaning and purpose. And never let life keep you down. The world is a fascinating place.

      • “Yeah, I just think your obsessive over it. You even talked about many of these things a couple post back. Fuck off with your over the top german pride, bitch.”

        I just wanted to add that you are welcome to discuss any of this. But I would clarify a few things.

        I don’t obsess over it. The vast majority of my blog posts have nothing to do with anything about Germany and German-Americans. It’s only an occasional focus and only became a focus at all because a few years back I started to doing genealogical research.

        I’m generally interested in ancestry, specifically in terms of the US. I’ve written quite a bit of ancestries that have nothing to do with my own. I think it is important or at least interesting, beyond mere personal identity. I actually don’t care too much about it on the level of identity, as I see identity as a complex issue. I’ve never felt much pride in any aspect of my identity. I’ve never been inclined toward that kind of ethnic/nationalist pride. It simply makes no sense to me and doesn’t appeal to me.

        My interest in ancestry is really part of a broader interest. I’m curious about human origins. My most recent studies have involved looking at ancient societies. I want to know what has made the world the way it is. Germans have had a major impact on European, British, and American societies. But there are many influences on the world. That is just one among many. I was reading about Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc… and it doesn’t matter whether I have any ancestry from those places.

        I’m curious about all kinds of things. If I could accomplish one thing, it would be to get other people curious about the world around them. It’s fine if ancestry isn’t your thing. Find something else. The world is full of endless knowledge to learn and mysteries to be wondered about.

        One of the greatest parts about this is debating. I’ve learned a lot by debating people. If you place knowledge above pride, you can learn a lot from debate even when or especially when you turn out to be wrong. Because then you adjust your views and your understanding of the world increases. Learning is an endless process.

        So, you are welcome to comment on my blog, to criticize and debate. It’s all good.

      • I’m going to take you at face value. It seems to be safe to assume you are a US citizen. And you present yourself as beng concerned about authoritarian government.

        On that level, we have much in common. We are Americans who care about our country and the people who are our fellow citizens. That is something that for centuries has united Americans. That goes back to colonial times and during the Revolution.

        American Patriots and Founders were a diverse lot—some native born and some immigrants, a mix of ancestries, cultures, languages, and religions. But what united them was a vision greater than those differences. Without that greater vision, the Revolution would have been lost and we’d still be ruled by the British or else have become the Southern region of Canada.

        About obsessions, I’m simply being typically American in putting great value in ancestry. There is nothing more American than that. My pride in being a mutt is also typically American, along with my love of region as a sense of home and identity.

        What biases I have, they are as American as they come. I probably share many bises with you.

        Consider what you don’t complain about. I write more about English and British topics than German topics, but it never occurred to you to call that an obsession. The reason is because, like me, you’ve internalized the mainstream bias toward such things, which is of course typically American. Even most Americans not of English ancestry have this bias, as this bias is all around us in our schools and media and politics. We don’t see it as an obsession for we take it for granted as part of our social reality.

        Doesn’t that seem strange when you give it some thought?

        In pointing to other aspects of American society, my main purpose is to correct for this bias both in society and within my own mind. When I learn about some aspect of ignored or forgotten history, my instinct is to want to share it. I’m constantly amazed at how ignorant I’ve been for most of my life.

        I’m sure your experience as an American has been similar to my on on this issue. Doesn’t that bother you, that you were taught so little about your own country? When there are people in power who want to keep you ignorant, doesn’t that make you want to educate yourself as an act of rebellious patriotism?

        To end on a humorous note, this Onion article amused me:


        • German is the most commonly noted ancestry of Americans. In fact, prior to WWI, German was the first language, even in public schools, in any number of places, especially the upper Midwest. Only eight states claim English. A Google will reveal a map showing the primary ancestry claimed by each states residents. Such knowledge helps explain some of the cultural differences in different parts of our country.

          • Yep. You are correct. That goes all the way back to the colonial era. The reason the Midwest has so much German ancestry today is related to Pennsylvania having been German majority several centuries ago. Franklin complained about it. A Paine saw this multiculturalism as justification for independence from British rule, arguing that America’s ancestral parent was mainland Europe more than it was Britain.

    • I just turned 40 the other day. I’m officially an old man. Here is the sum of wisdom that I’ve so far accumulated.

      First, we are all born ignorant and will die only slightly less ignorant, hopefully. That is why knowledge is so precious. And why honestty is so important, both to others and ourselves. So, I appreciate people who are straight with me and I’ll return the favor.

      That brings me to the second thing. We’re all assholes sometimes. Lord knows that is true for me. I can be rude and aggressive when you catch me in a bad mood, which happens more than I’d like. Still, I’d rather be an honest asshole than dishonest fool. I’d rather apologize for being an asshle than apologize for being dishonest. There are worse things in life than disagreement, even when it leads to heated argument and conflict

      With me, you see what ou get and you get what you see. You’ll always know where I stand. I don’t go out of my way to antagonize people, but I can have that effect. I speak my mind and wear my heart on my sleeve. I let it all hang out. I’ve made a conscious decision to not hide or put up a front. If someone wants to know who I am and where I live, I want them to know. Here I am.

      For that reason, if the hardcore authoritarians ever fully take over the government, I’m sure I’ll be on their list of subversive intellectuals, political dissidents and enemies of the state to be rounded up and dispatched. So be it. I’ll accept my fate when it comes, but until then I’ll fight the good fight. I’ll die one way or another and the world will go on without me. I’m no one special, just another malcontent full of opinions.

      I try not to worry about the future. I worry anyway, but I try to keep it to a minimum. I’m sure if you tried hard enough you could turn this ugly and make my life a living hell. I’m not sure why you’d want to waste our time, though. I’m no one that partcularly matters.

      Ya see, I’ve been at this game of life for a while now. Most of that time has been spent with severe depression. Often over the years I’ve thought life is a living hell just as it is. I’ve contemplated suicide many times and have even attempted it. When I say that I know life sucks, I mean that with all sincerity.

      Even so, I find small things that make life worth living. My blogging is one of those things. I enjoy reading, learning, and writing. It’s what I do and it is who I am. I don’t force anything onto anyone. If you are reading my blog and commenting, you are doing so of your own free will. And if it doesn’t make you happy, why are you wasting your time?

      We live and then we die. We might as well use wisely what limited time we each have, right?

    • I’m a student of human nature. This leads me to want to understand society. But more fundamentally it makes me try to figure out what makes people tick.

      I know I’m a weirdo. Everyone is weird in their own way. The beauty and wonder of the internet is that all of the diversity of weirdness is on display. It’s the raw and messy stuff of our shared humanity. It’s like visiting a zoo.

      From that perspective, I’m always interested to watch how people relate and respond. Take for example the word ‘ignorant’. It’s politically incorrect to call someone that, but despite my being a namby pamby liberal it is one of my favorite words. I like that it cuts through the rhetorical and emotional bullshit, and of course it usually gets a response. Sadly, I can’t use that word in Amazon comments because it is on their naughty word list and automatically gets a comment deleted.

      Like most people, you didn’t appreciate my implying that you might be ignorant. I had good reason to use that word, though. You were complaining that I was too obsessed with something that was true. It seemed to me that you were more bothered by it being an uncomfortable truth than any perceived obsession about it. As I pointed out with my even greater ‘obsession’ with all things English/British, that is perfectly acceptable to you. So, as far as I could tell, my supposed ‘obsession’ wasn’t politically correct according to your preferred ethno-nationalistic ideology.

      It really doesn’t matter if I was right. Maybe I have you pegged all wrong. What interests me is your strong response. If you thought I was wrong and had maligned your good name, you could have simply said so. Instead you lashed out as if it were a fight to prove your manhood. That seems a strange response to my mind, but I’m used to it after more than a decade on the internet. We humans are strange creatures.

      The only thing that makes me different is that I’ve embraced being a weirdo. It simplifies life when you do that. I just don’t see the point in getting overly excited by the small things in life. Everyday life irritates me enough. I don’t need to go looking for reasons to be irritated. I’ve learned to let most things roll off of me like water on a duck’s back.

      That includes a word like ignorant. It’s just a word. If you think I’m ignorant about something, then say so. Be straight with me and don’t mince words. You don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings. An old boss of mine used to say, give me a 2X4 and I’ll hurt your feelings.

      It’s surprising how unwilling people are to be honest with each other. It can feel like people are always on their guard, especially on the internet. I’m not sure what people are so afraid of. The internet is just filled with people (not monsters, demons, and tigers) and most people mean well, even when they are acting defensive or aggressive. We all need to cut each other some slack.

      My philosophy of life is to just go with the flow. That is how I’ve lasted this long in this crazy (and often depressing) world. There are far worse philosophies to base one’s life on.

  6. Benjamin David Steele is a Nazi. He’s a ethnic german nationalist that think the midwest should go back to germany. Anyone that is reading this, he must be reorted to the proper authorities before he promotes something that could lead the loss of lives of many innocent people being killed. What he is promoting is the domination of ethnic german nationalism and to hell with all the other people that live in the midwest. He wants his people to rise up and conquer all and dominte. Our lives are at risk. Our childrens lives are at risk. Please report Benjamin David Steele to the proper authorities immediately. He must be stopped before he becomes anymore dangerous. He’s a nazi.

    • I thought of not approving this comment. But your hyperbole amused me.

      I’m about as anti-Nazi as you’re going to find. On many occasions, I’ve written about the problems of Nazism and how it relates to other problems in the world. I’ve even pointed out the relation of Germanic culture to Nazism.

      That seems like an obvious connection to make. But consider this. What were the first two countries to develop the ideas of eugenics? Britain and the US. It actually developed in England first and Americans took it to another level, and then the Germans were inspired by American eugenicists. What do Britain and the US have in common? They were both experienced mass immigration of Germans in their histories and both were influenced by German culture, including German language and social/political traditions.

      That is something to keep in mind. Those who worry that fascism could come to America have good reason to worry. But beyond that it is also just plain fascinating. Another influence from Germany was idealism, including abolitionism. It’s quite likely that slavery could have lasted much longer without that influence.

      If you’re concerned about ethnic oppression, there is an obvious target for your fears. As we have this nice little chat, Trump is pushing political ideas that have their origins in the same milieu that brought the world fascism. Indeed, for those ideas to come to power would be a risk to the lives of many.

      What motivates your hyperbole should be taken seriously. There are real problems in the world that both you and I should be concerned about. But German nationalism at this point is unlikely to be a real threat in America. German-American culture was mostly destroyed during the world war era and that population was assimilated.

      That is actually what interests me. German-Americans used to have a separate culture. It is sad that it was destroyed, as it is sad when anything is destroyed. But in its destruction German-American culture in its force of size became a defining feature of mainstream American culture. To some extent, we have all inherited some of that influence.

      As an interesting side note, it turns out that Trump’s ancestry is German:


      “His dad’s dad Fred Trump – who was originally called Friedrich Drumpf and was born in Kallstadt, Germany in 1869 – came to America at the age of 16 with empty pockets.”

      On his mother’s side, he is of Scottish ancestry. So, like me, Trump is a mix of German and Scottish ancestry. That is intriguing. Trump is part of the same cultural mix. That is true of many Americans, mostly some combination of British and Northern European ancestries. I think that is fascinating. It shapes who we are as individuals and as a society.

    • More importantly, the US education results are relatively bad compared to the kind of results we should be getting. We have more advantages, resources, and wealth than many countries that have better education systems.

      Most Americans don’t blink an eye when trillions of dollars are wasted on war and the military-industrial complex. Yet those trillions of dollars could fund the best education system in the world for every American for generations into the future.

      The American population is highly manipulated. The mainstream media too often acts as the the propaganda wing of the government, the media-industrial complex that works in tandem with the military-industrial complex. We are a country ruled by big biz and then we expect big biz media to tell us the truth.

      Any American teacher that asked their students tough questions and told them politically incorrect info would probably be quickly fired. Could you imagine an American high school teacher having a serious class discussion about the military-industrial complex, state terrorism, war crimes, illegal wars of aggression, torture, extreme rendition, corporatism, crony capitalism, regulatory capture, indirect bribes, revolving door between big biz and big gov, banana republics, the propaganda model of media, etc?

      Now, that would be an education every American student needs, but will never get. Instead, they get fear-mongering at school, on the media, and from political leaders. Endless emotional manipulation and distraction. I suspect most Americans live in a constant state of low grade anxiety occasionally disrupted by moments of anger, hatred, and terror.

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