FFRF Letter to Macon County Schools
john.deville At macon.k12.nc.us
DICKERSON: "....I want to ask you about the journey you took in making this. Did you go in thinking, oh, it is this way, and come out thinking, no, it is really this way?
KEN BURNS, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: I think every film that we tackle is like that, where you have that conventional wisdom, the superficial sense of what took place.
You know, you say the 1920s, you think flappers or gangsters, and if you go into it, it is a little bit more complicated than that.
For those of us who worked on this project, and particularly Lynn Novick, who is the co-director with me, we go in confident that we know something. And I think the 10 years that we spent working on it is almost daily humiliation of what we didn't know, John.
And that's a good thing, because then you free yourself from the tyranny of that conventional wisdom, the tyranny of the kind of binary yes and no that besets our current media culture and our larger computer world, that we think it is all black, all right or all wrong.
And what you find out in war is that it is possible for a thing and the opposite of that thing to be true at the same time. And it is not saying that the dates of the Battle of Gettysburg change from July 1, 2, and 3. It just means, if you have the passage of time, you have perspective.
And with perspective and new scholarship, you can gain new insight. And if we think, as I believe we do, that a good deal of the divisions we experience today in our country were born, the seeds were planted, the virus started in Vietnam, then it may be possible, if we can get off that binary sort of position that we are all in, to be able to kind of unpack and then relearn the war, we might be able to address some of the things that beset us today, this lack of civility in civil discourse, the things that threaten us perhaps greater than any enemy."
Trying to avoid repeating bad things we did in the past is a good idea, historians say.
WASHINGTON—With the United States facing a daunting array of problems at home and abroad, leading historians courteously reminded the nation Thursday that when making tough choices, it never hurts to stop a moment, take a look at similar situations from the past, and then think about whether the decisions people made back then were good or bad.
According to the historians, by looking at things that have already happened, Americans can learn a lot about which actions made things better versus which actions made things worse, and can then plan their own actions accordingly.
"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."
"It's actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen," Collins continued. "Did the thing we're thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it."
In addition, Collins carefully explained that if a past decision proved to be favorable—if, for example, it led to increased employment, caused fewer deaths, or made lots of people feel good inside— then the nation should consider following through with the same decision now.
While the new strategy, known as "Look Back Before You Act," has raised concerns among people worried they will have to remember lots of events from long ago, the historians have assured Americans they won't be required to read all the way through thick books or memorize anything.
Instead, citizens have been told they can just find a large-print, illustrated timeline of historical events, place their finger on an
important moment, and then look to the right of that point to see what
happened afterward, paying especially close attention to whether things got worse or better.
"You know how the economy is not doing so well right now?" Professor Elizabeth Schuller of the University of North Carolina said. "Well, in the 1930s, financial markets—no, wait, I'm sorry. Here: A long, long time ago, way far in the past, certain things happened that were a lot like things now, and they made people hungry and sad."
"How do you feel when you're hungry? Doesn't feel good, does it?" Schuller added. "So, maybe we should avoid doing those things that caused people to feel that way, don't you think?"
Concluding their address, the panel of scholars provided a number of guidelines to help implement the strategy, reminding the nation that the biggest decisions required the most looking back, and stressing the importance of checking the past before one makes a decision, not afterward, when the decision has already been made.
While many citizens have expressed skepticism of the historians' assertions, the majority of Americans have reportedly grasped the concept of noticing bad things from earlier times and trying not to repeat them.
"I get it. If we do something bad that happened before, then the same bad thing could happen again," said Barb Ennis, 48, of Pawtucket, RI. "We don't want history to happen again, unless the thing that happened was good."
"When you think about it, a lot of things have happened already," Ennis added. "That's what history is."
In Washington, several elected officials praised the looking-back-first strategy as a helpful, practical tool with the potential to revolutionize government.
"The things the historians were saying seemed complicated at first, but now it makes sense to me," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who reversed his opposition to oil-drilling safety regulations after checking past events and finding a number of "very, very sad things [he] didn't like." "I just wished they'd told us about this trick before."
"Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.
The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work that way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Renee Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with. So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news”, while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news. And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new. But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.
Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem."
"You know, the hardest part of having a conversation surrounding police shootings in America, it always feels like in America, it's like if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else," Noah said during his broadcast, which was taped before the events in Dallas.
"But with police shootings, it shouldn't have to work that way. For instance, if you're pro-Black Lives Matter, you're assumed to be anti-police, and if you're pro-police, then you surely hate black people. When in reality, you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be."
Improving Your Grades
Other Social Studies Websites by John deVille
Western North Carolina Collision of Cultures (lesson plans and resources covering the Cherokee Removal, Great Wagon Road/Scots-Irish, lynching, use of Library of Congress sources)
Digital Antebellum Quilt (lesson plans and resources covering the period 1820 - 1859. Developed as part of Adventure of the American Mind fellowship ) mirror site
Macon County Academic Foundation
(provides mini-grants to Macon County Teachers)
Macon County Association of Educators
North Carolina Citizens for Democratic Schools
(a long-retired blog from 2001-2002 with a focus on limiting use and impact of standardized tests in NC)
About me...more....where I teach
Contact me (students & parents) (everyone else)
Supreme Court Nomination Fight (Merrick Garland)
Appointments Clause in the US Constitution
Articles on nomination fight
History of SCOTUS nominations in presidential election year (1)
History of SCOTUS nomination in presidential election year (2)
Age, length of service, & appointing President of current SC Justices
Moral Monday Speeches
Open Letter to Representative Kevin Corbin June 1, 2017 ("Give us the damn tools")
Resolution presented to Macon County Commissioners June 14, 2016
Message to Macon County Commissioners June 14, 2016
Above presentation delivered at Cuts Hurt rally at Western Carolina University spring 2012
As learning science has discovered, if you're not signaling that the material is important to your brain, it will discard the lecture from memory for the sake of efficiency.
But if you are taking notes by hand, you won't be able to write down every word the speaker says. Instead, you'll have to look for representative quotes, summarize concepts, and ask questions about what you don't understand.
This requires more effort than just typing every word out — and the effort is what helps cement the material in your memory. The more effort you put into understanding something, the stronger signal you're giving your brain that it's worth remembering.
Mueller and Oppenheimer conclude that for students, "transcrib[ing] lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning."
The benefits of handwriting — though it's a disappearing skill — have been documented by lots of educational psychologists, who have found that handwriting engages parts of the brain that typing neglects, especially areas associated with memory formation. For these reasons, the arguments go, kids come up with more ideas when they're writing in cursive versus typing.
"The heart of our modern idolatry is quantification -- the world reduced to quantities and the relationships between them, the belief that the quantitative description of things is paramount and even complete in itself. Physical science persuades us to disregard, devalue, and even deny what we cannot measure, to act as though such things as love, life, optimism, wonder, and beauty do not matter much in an objective description of reality. I do not dispute that the wealth of knowledge science gives us adds to our wonder and experience. I may even appreciate rubies all the more by knowing something of their chemistry and geology. But I rebel at the dominance of quantitative description in our scientized lives which sustains the idol of objectivity and keeps us from an intimate participation in our world."
--Roger Jones, Physics As Metaphor
--Roger Jones, Physics As Metaphor