Archives for category: Citizenship

Arthur Camins, retired science and technology educator, knows that Democrats must do a better job of reaching out and persuading nearly half of voters that we all have a stake in a better, fairer society.

He writes:

Celebrate! Breathe a very, very big sigh of relief. Among the record number of Americans who went to the polls and mailed in their ballots, over half voted for Joe Biden to reject and decisively defeat Donald Trump!! At least five million more. I wish it was a landslide, but still, big, big whew!

However, don’t stop worrying. Be vigilant. Organize.

Roughly 47% of voting Americans, (including 58% of exit-polled whites) were willing to accept an openly racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, corrupt, wealth-protecting tax cheat, as well as his many elected Republican sycophantic supporters. The causes go way back and continue to this day. We ignore that history and current precipitants at our grave peril.  The depth of racism, appeal of authoritarianism, and continued of be-out-for-yourself cynicism will not fade away soon.  The danger of armed right-wing violence is ever-present.

This deep polarization is unacceptable, he writes. We must find a way forward that changes the mindset of those who fail to see that our society rises or falls together. He has some suggestions.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the original cast of “Hamilton” (not all, but many) have made an excellent video to appeal to young people with this simple message: REGISTER AND VOTE.

The best way to vote is IN PERSON, so your vote is certain to be counted.

If you can’t get to the polling place in person, vote by mail but vote EARLY.

You are probably not in the habit of reading court decisions. They tend to be dense and filled with citations that slow down the reader.

But you must read the decision issued on October 13 by Judge William Smith of the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island. It is brilliant, fascinating, informative. It is a lesson in civics for all of us.

Students in Rhode Island sued the state of Rhode Island and its governor Gina Raimondo because they did not receive education in civics, which (they said) deprived them of the knowledge and skills they needed to participate in our democracy.

Judge Smith reluctantly dismissed their appeal because no federal court (except for one in Michigan) had ruled that Americans have a “right” to education. He laments that this is the case, and he explains in crisp detail why democracy is in danger in the absence of civic education. He clearly wanted to rule in favor of the students. They will appeal but are likely to run into more roadblocks.

Judge Smith notes that the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 ruled that education was fundamental to citizenship, but the Nixon Court in 1973 ruled that education was not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Judge Smith laments that fact but can’t overrule it.

Here is the announcement of the decision from the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College. Michael A. Rebell of the Center is lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

Judge William Smith of the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, issued his long-awaited decision in Cook v. Raimondo on on October 13,2020. This case was filed by a group of Rhode Island public school students and families who seek to establish a right under the U.S. Constitution to an education adequate to prepare them to participate effectively in their constitutional rights to “voting, serving on a jury, understanding economic, social, and political systems sufficiently to make informed choices, and to participate effectively in civic activities.”

Judge Smith granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, but did so in a manner that eloquently set forth the critical importance of the issues the plaintiffs raised:

This is what it all comes down to: we may choose to survive as a country by respecting our Constitution, the laws and norms of political and civic behavior, and by educating our children on civics, the rule of law, and what it really means to be an American, and what America means. Or, we may ignore these things at our and their peril. Unfortunately, this Court cannot, for the reasons explained below, deliver or dictate the solution — but, in denying that relief, I hope I can at least call out the need for it.

The judge added:

This case does not represent a wild-eyed effort to expand the reach of substantive due process, but rather a cry for help from a generation of young people who are destined to inherit a country which we — the generation currently in charge — are not stewarding well. What these young people seem to recognize is that American democracy is in peril. Its survival, and their ability to reap the benefit of living in a country with robust freedoms and rights, a strong economy, and a moral center protected by the rule of law is something that citizens must cherish, protect, and constantly work for. We would do well to pay attention to their plea.

Plaintiffs in Cook v. Raimondo argue that the U.S. Constitution entitles all students to an education that prepares them to participate fully in a democracy. It alleges that the state of Rhode Island is failing to provide tens of thousands of students throughout the state with the necessary basic education and civic-participation skills. The plaintiffs are 14 high school, middle school, elementary school, and preschool students (or parents on behalf of their children) attending public schools in a variety of school districts throughout the state. An ultimate decision on behalf of plaintiffs in this case would establish a constitutional right to education for students throughout the United States.

Judge Smith rejected the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, writing that, although the U.S. Supreme Court “left the door open just a crack” for reconsideration of its 1973 decision in San Antonio Ind’t Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez that education is not a right the U.S. Constitution,  he interpreted that “crack” to allow the courts to consider only a case that alleges that students are receiving no education  whatsoever or an education that is “totally inadequate.”  He also rejected plaintiffs’ “substantive due process” claim that a right to education for citizenship is “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions” because “[p]recedent clearly dictates that, while education as a civic ideal is no doubt deeply rooted in our country’s history, there is no right to civics education in the Constitution.”

Judge Smith’s opinion squarely recognized the federal court’s authority to review the students’ claim on the merits, namely whether a constitutional right to civics education represented the “quantum of education” that might be necessary for students to be prepared for the “meaningful exercise” of their constitutional rights. While Judge Smith found, to his regret, that he was unable to connect the legal dots to support this claim, his opinion articulates what is at stake for our country and our Constitution, leaving the plaintiffs a road map to present their appeal to the First Circuit. 

Plaintiffs have stated that they will appeal this decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Michael A. Rebell, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said:

Judge Smith has written the most eloquent and forceful justification I’ve ever read for why America may not “survive as a county” if our students don’t obtain a civic education adequate to allow them to meet the challenges jeopardizing our democracy. The final paragraph to his opinion reads:

Plaintiffs should be commended for bringing this case. It highlights a deep flaw in our national education priorities and policies. The Court cannot provide the remedy Plaintiffs seek, but in denying that relief, the Court adds its voice to Plaintiffs’ in calling attention to their plea. Hopefully, others who have the power to address this need will respond appropriately.

Rebell, and the students and families he represents, believe a strong stance by the court will be necessary to ensure the policymakers and school leaders who have the power to address these issues actually do so. Rebell said, “Judge Smith acknowledged that the U.S.  Supreme Court in Rodriguez left the door open “a crack” for reconsideration aspects of that decision; we hope to convince the Court of Appeals that this open door does, in fact, permit the courts to rule on the critical issues raised by our case.”

Judge Smith’s full decision is linked here.

I urge you to read the decision.

The only sure way to guarantee that your vote is counted is to stand in line and vote in person.

Put on your face mask, practice social distancing, and wait your turn.

Trump is trying to discredit mail-in ballots and absentee ballots.

He hopes to throw the election into the courts, where he expects to fare better than with the electorate.

Trump and his hand-picked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are doing their best to mess up postal service. If you are in a battleground state, bags of mail from certain districts might get “lost.”

Don’t take that chance!

Block that coup!

Show up. Cast your ballot. Vote to save our democracy.

Every vote counts.

Arthur Camins, lifelong educators, knows that teachers can’t change what happens in the next few months, other than by casting their votes. But they can rebuild the foundation of our society by teaching these three things: empathy, ethics, and evidence.

He writes:

My driving force has always been a core assumption: What happens in classrooms has a significant influence on how students think and behave when they emerge into adulthood, and hence when they vote and interact with one another.

I hope students grow up to treat everyone with dignity and respect. I hope they develop the tools to make sense of the natural and social environments in which they live. I hope they develop confidence and passion to act to influence the personal, social, political circumstances around them based on human values.

I know I am not alone in these hopes. I know that most educators are trying. I know most Americans share these hopes. I know that many of us are frustrated and angry that our common dreams for students’ futures are being thwarted. School systems are being diverted from what matters most by persistent inequity and racism, high-stakes testing, efforts to privatize and monetize education, and most recently by pandemic disruption of in-person learning.

I know this: Despite and in response to the challenges, all of us– not just educators and parents– must demand that teaching should focus on what matters most: empathy, ethics, and evidence. Those essential foci cut across all subject areas, all grades, and whether students are engaged at home or in school. Students may lose facts, concepts may fade, and skills may wither but they, like the rest of us, remember how we were treated. In the short term, that influences how, whether, and what students learn. More important, it influences how they will see one another and act as humans for a lifetime.

If you are looking for a book that explains why public schools are foundational to democracy, Jan Resseger writes, read Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy.

Resseger writes:

On Monday, this blog examined Derek Black’s important new book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy. Black, a professor of constitutional law at the University of South Carolina, threads together the history of an idea first articulated in the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, threatened again and again throughout our nation’s history, but persistently revived: that our system of public schools, where all children are welcome and where their fundamental right to education is protected by law, is the one institution most essential for preserving our democratic society…

Derek Black names several problems at the heart of today’s threat to public education: the expansion of school privatization via charters and vouchers, massive fortunes invested by far-right libertarians to attack so-called ‘government schools,’ attacks on school teachers and their unions, and persistent tax cutting by state legislatures and the consequent ratcheting down of state funding for public education: “Before the recession of 2008, the trend in public school funding remained generally positive… Then the recession hit. Nearly every state in the country made large cuts to public education. Annual cuts of more than $1,000 per student were routine.” But the recession wasn’t the only cause of money troubles for public schools: “(I)n retrospect…. the recession offered a convenient excuse for states to redefine their commitment to public education… By 2012, state revenues rebounded to pre-recession levels, and a few years later, the economy was in the midst of its longest winning streak in history. Yet during this period of rising wealth, states refused to give back what they took from education. In 2014, for instance, more than thirty states still funded education at a lower level than they did before the recession—some funded education 20 percent to 30 percent below pre-recession levels.” (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 31-33) Black cites research demonstrating that states have reneged on their public education promise particularly in areas where the public schools serve poor children: “(W)hen it comes to districts serving primarily middle-income students, most states provide those districts with the resources they need to achieve average outcomes… But only a couple states provide districts serving predominantly poor students what they need. The average state provides districts serving predominantly poor students $6,239 less per pupil than they need.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 241)..

All during the recent decade, the federal government’s education policy has also promoted school privatization. During the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos’s efforts to promote vouchers, her lifelong cause, have been well known. But the effort has been bipartisan: “Obama… tapped Arne Duncan… someone whose track record in Chicago involved substantially expanding charters… For the next several years, the federal government promoted and sometimes forced charter school expansion… The Obama administration basically condoned everything states were doing with school funding and made it a little worse. Federal funding for public schools remained flat while the federal budget for charter schools increased by nearly 20 percent between 2008 and 2013. President Obama called for another 50 percent increase for charters on top of that in 2016 (though he didn’t get it). The real surprise, though, is how much Duncan managed to accomplish through administrative action… His biggest coup was the process he set up for doling out innovation funds during the recession. As part of the economic recovery legislation, Congress had set aside a substantial chunk of money for education innovation but didn’t specify exactly what schools could spend it on. Duncan, however, told states that if they wanted access to the money, charter schools had to be part of the mix. States that ‘put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools,’ he said, ‘will jeopardize their grant applications.’… The overall result of these state and federal actions was stark—nearly 40 percent growth in the number of charter schools and 200 percent growth in their enrollment.” (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 36-37)

Black reminds us that an attack on public schools is an attack on democracy.

Frank G. Splitt is author of the book An Odyssey of Reform Initiatives: 1986-2015 and its sequel Reflections: 2016-2019. He is a former McCormick Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and a Vice President Emeritus of Nortel Networks. He is the recipient of The Drake Group’s 2006 Robert Maynard Hutchin’s Award and an International Society for Optics and Photonics Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020. His books and other writings can be accessed at
FutureVectors Inc. Mount Prospect, IL

Trumpism and Its Factions

Existential Threats to America’s Democracy

The experience is shattering. How much stupidity! What delusion among such cultured and
actually clever people! Just unconditional belief in the Führer, delight that ‘finally our weapons speak’.
——Erich Ebermayer, September 3, 1939 (1)

ABSTRACT — This commentary deals with factions that are now dividing America just as was feared by our founding fathers. Here the focus is on Trumpism and its related factions, composed of a number of elements foremost of which is the Trump loyalist faction. It argues that it is the combination of President Trump’s polarizing rhetoric and the Trumpist faction that divides America, a serious threat to America’s democracy. It concludes by saying moderates from both political parties must work to find common ground to reunite America. A divided America cannot stand.

BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION – In a previous paper, I discussed factional forces that could lead to a political crackup in America. (2) As if on cue, a related column (3) by Ms. Ayaan Hersi Ali focused on two ideological factions with a view towards illuminating what these quite different factions have in common.

The factions considered by Ali in her analysis were rooted in the ideologies of Islamism and Wokeism, a term she coined to include things like cancel culture, social justice, critical race theory, and intersectionality that were considered in the previous paper.

IDEOLOGICAL FACTIONS – Ali found that both ideologies “aim to tear down the existing system and replace it with utopias that always turn out to be hellish anarchies” and that both “are collectivist: Group identity trumps the individual. Both tolerate—and often glorify—violence carried out by zealots.” She also found that members of these factions share the following salient attributes:

1) Relentless pursuit of ideological purity

2) Certainty in the belief of the absolute rightfulness of their cause

In view of the above, it was of interest to inquire as to the existence of what might be called the opposite of Wokeism—an overarching set of right-wing ideological factions that matches these attributes. There is no need to look any further than Trumpism for the answer.

TRUMPISM – For the record, Trumpism, as defined in Wikipedia, “is a political ideology and style of government which was specifically developed by President Donald Trump. It resembles the philosophy of recent right-wing conservative – neonationalist or national-populist movements in western democracies.”(4)

However, a more reality-based definition was given by Ron Christie, a Republican analyst, who worked in the White House of President George W. Bush. Christie said Trumpism is “what the president believes on any particular moment on any particular day about any particular subject.”(5) By virtue of this definition, Trumpism will necessarily include a wide variety of divisive elemental factions—often with overlapping grievances and objectives. Taken together, these elemental factions form the so-called Trump base of mostly working-class white voters.

THE TRUMP LOYALISTS – Foremost among these elemental factions are the Trump-loyalists. Members of this faction have cult-like, unconditional belief in Trump, their leader. For insight to the phenomenon of unconditional belief, see the epigraph and Note 1. For example, this would include belief in his only partially true claim that “Unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises.”(6)

Trump loyalists are chagrined by the fact that President Trump has likely had more invective and hatred strewn on him by the FBI, the Justice Department, the media, the Democrats, the never-Trump Republicans, trusted aides, federal district-court judges and ex-military brass than any president in modern history. His loyal followers cannot accept the countering fact that the president’s well publicized erratic, wrathful, and shameful personal behavior, before and after his election, has consequences such as evoking “the invective and hatred strewn upon him.” These Trump loyalists are precisely the people he must have had in mind when he claimed that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.”

Trump’s polarizing, anything-goes style of leadership, no matter how bizarre or unbecoming of the presidency, is accepted by his loyal followers as is his deviation from presidential norms and traditions. So too is lying, denying, and blaming others to avoid taking responsibility for his action or inaction. This can only happen if otherwise intelligent people willfully suspend any moral judgement and succumb to their self-interests. Some loyalists rationalize this behavior by focusing on what they call substance rather than style and character—separating his policies that are to their liking from his personality traits that they may detest as bad and deplorable.

Mental separation leaves Trump loyalists free to vote against the opposition that their leader paints as radical-left, anti-police, socialist baby-killers. Some loyalists claim that they are not really voting for Trump but rather for other things. In an email message I received from a Trump supporter titled “I’m not voting for Trump,” these other things were: the Second Amendment, the next Supreme Court Justice, secure borders, every unborn soul, the Electoral College, the police, law and order, freedom of speech and religion, the American flag, the American Dream, good and against evil, the future of my country.

THE TRUMPIST FACTION – In light of the above, members of the Trump-loyalist faction can be found in one or more of other elemental Trumpist factions in the following representative listing:

*Law-and-order – Members believe America is in dire peril—plagued by lawlessness, poverty, and violence, constantly under threat, and at great risk of being driven into Socialism by the radical left.

*Anti-Immigration – Members advocate for Trump’s border wall with some even opposing legal immigration.

*Anti-Public School – Members are pro-choice, advocate for charter schools, and bash teachers unions.

*Anti-globalism – Members believe America is suffering from economic angst. Americanism, not globalism, is their credo.

*Pro-gun – Members fiercely defend 2nd Amendment rights.

Anti-abortion – Members are primarily composed of Evangelical Christians and far-right, anti-Pope Francis Catholics who claim godless Dems will go to hell. (7)

*Climate-denier – Members reject the proposition that climate change is occurring and is a global threat caused by human activity. They believe it’s a hoax.

*Racist – Members reject the idea that systemic racism exists in America. They include open and closeted white supremacists.

*Monetary – Members believe Trump will do everything he can to increase their wealth including the elimination of as many as possible of existing rules and regulations.

*Pro-Israel – Members are single-issue Trump voters.

*Judicial – Members advocate for conservative judges.

*Health-care – Members aim to repeal, defund, or weaken the Affordable Care Act.

*Hoax & Conspirator – Members believe something is a hoax, fake news, and/or a conspiracy if Trump says it is, no matter how many times he has been proven wrong.

*Tax – Members believe they and/or their businesses are over taxed.

There is only one thing in the lives of men, nations and countries that is without price. That thing is honor.—Józef Beck, Polish foreign minister, 1939

A DEVELOPING THREAT – Noteworthy is the fact that there are no things in the above listing that are related to national honor. Driven by President Trump and Trumpist factions, the Republican Party appears to be in the process of transforming itself into an authoritarian institution, an existential threat to America’s democracy. This transformative process is aided and abetted by Trump’s powerful allies: Attorney General William Barr in the U.S. Department of Justice and Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Senate.

Barr, a far-right Catholic and proponent of the theory of the unitary executive, not only believes the president has the power to control the entire executive branch of the U.S. government, but is also using the Department of Justice to support his 2020 Reelection Campaign’s “law-and-order” strategic initiative. McConnell, on the other hand was a harsh critic of Trump prior to his 2016 election. After the election, Trump promptly appointed McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, as U.S. Secretary of Transportation. It should come as no surprise that McConnell is now an all-in Trump loyalist who provides unwavering support for the president’s agenda, particularly with regard to appointments to the federal judiciary.

Apparently, the Trump Republican Party seeks not to preserve American democracy but to undermine it, if not destroy it, by such tactics as spreading disinformation, gerrymandering congressional districts, and hindering the voting process by crippling the operation of the U.S. Postal Service.

OBSERVATIONS – The president’s polarizing political rhetoric draws both Wokeist and Trumpist extremists stimulating protests and creating disturbing headlines for the media. Wokeist motivations and grievances are ideological, not merely economic. Therefore, they won’t be satisfied with more entitlements. The Trumpist faction will only be satisfied with gaining and maintaining more power via the president’s reelection.
President Trump, a faithful student of Roy Cohn, his disgraced attorney and teacher, will likely continue to employ Cohn’s modus operandi of lying, denying, and blaming that has proven to be so successful during his first term.

He has recently praised Marjorie Taylor Green, the Republican candidate nominated for Georgia’s 14th congressional district and promoter of QAnon, a right-wing domestic terror group. Trump has also named politically conservative senators and judges as potential appointees to the Supreme Court and will certainly amplify his anti-abortion rhetoric so as to keep evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics in his fold.
Trump’s enthusiastic loyalist supporters will likely continue to ignore the following facts: the U.S. is currently the world leader in COVID-19 disease deaths that can be attributed to the administration’s bungled response—the president’s lack of leadership and politicalized obsessive focus on his reelection; a large number of true American patriots resigned or were fired; promised manufacturing jobs in the Midwest decreased rather than increased; tax cuts benefited the wealthy and corporations; climate change is not a hoax, nevertheless the administration continues to roll back more than 90 EPA rules and regulations to favor industry at the expense of human health and the environment; and America is more deeply polarized than it was before the 2016 presidential election.

It would seem that it matters not a whit to Trump’s loyal supporters that America has not only lost its
position as the world leader, but has also lost its national honor. To explore what America has already 89
lost, and what it still may lose, see The American Crisis (8) and Creating Our Common Future. (9)

CONCLUDING REMARKS – Reflection on all of above, leads to the following question: Has Trumpism made America great again or has it made it less so? The question should be answered by each and every voting American come November 3, 2020. Thus, the American electorate finds itself at a defining, if not perilous, moment in our nation’s history.

Like Ayaan Hersi Ali, I cling to the hope that most Americans are still willing as a nation to fight and, if necessary, to die to preserve our freedoms, our rights, our customs, and our history as imperfect as it happens to be.

Hope for a viable future of America’s democracy will depend on the outcome of the 2020 election that will, in turn, rely on a well-informed electorate that can help place experienced as well as competent and trustworthy men and women at all levels of government no matter their political affiliation.

Trumpism and its related factions have deepened the divide in America. Moderates from both political parties must work to find common ground to reunite America. A divided America cannot stand.


1. Ebermayer, a German liberal intellectual, made these remarks after an encounter with aristocratic neighbors who, as Hitler-loyalists, expressed boundless uncritical faith in their leader. The encounter was on the day Britain and France went to war with Germany after it invaded Poland. See pages 368-69 of Frederick Taylor’s book 1939: A People’s History of the Coming of the Second World War (Norton, 2020).
2. Splitt, Frank G., “Factions Are Dividing America: A Divided America Cannot Stand,” FutureVectors, August 17, 2020,
This essay was based on a previous commentary “A Divided America Cannot Stand” that was published by the Daily Herald on August 24, 2020 with the headline “The lessons of the past need remembering today,” and posted online at
3 Ali, Ayaan Hersi, “What Islamists and ‘Wokeists’ Have in Common,” The Wall Street Journal, Opinion, September 11, 2020, page A17.
6. Kristof, Nicholas, “‘I Keep My Promises,’ Trump Said, Let’s Check,” The New York Times, Sept.6, 2020,
7. Smietana, Bob, “Video from priest says Catholics who vote for Democrats will go to hell. One bishop approves this message,” Religious News Service, Sept.6, 2020, warns-bishop-stirckland/
8. Goldberg, Jeffrey, Applebaum, Anne, et al, The American Crisis, Simon & Schuster, 2020. 9. Splitt, Frank G., Creating Our Common Future, THE BENT of Tau Beta Pi, Spring 1993,

Mike Rose blogs once every few weeks. One day I will copy his excellent model. But this season it is hard to cut back, in view of the pandemic, the uncertainty about keeping our students and staff safe, and the most consequential national election of many, many years. Those who know Mike Rose’s work usually become Mike Rose Fan Boys or Fan Girls 

I am grateful that he shared his latest post, in which he offers advice to Joe Biden and Kemala Harris. 

In this post, Mike captures the anxiety that so many of us feel about the polls. Biden is leading in all of them but we remember what happened in 2016. Trump is like a monster who lurks behind every door and in every dark alley, ready to spring at a moment’s notice to swallow our democracy.

Rose is worried about the so-called “enthusiasm gap.” Trump supporters remain fervently loyal. Biden-Harris voters express a commitment that is rational but not as intense. Will that matter on November 3?

Rose offers advice:

Be more than “not-Trump.”

Educate the public, starting with what Trump wants to do to health care. He is a consummate liar and many of his own followers have no understanding of his malign plans for the future.

Get out and meet with large crowds, safely.

When you visit towns and cities, highlight the good work happening in those places.

He adds:

You are both skilled retail politicians, a talent constrained by COVID, because, unlike Trump, you believe in the basics of public health. There is a great challenge before you, and I hope all the bright campaign people around you are focused on it: How to integrate the potency of human encounters on the campaign trail with the communication possibilities of virtual technology. Unfortunately, you have to solve this problem while the campaign is in high gear, steer the boat while building it. But if you can do it, you will make history – and reclaim what remains of our democracy.


Melanie Sirof is a teacher in the Bellmore-Merrick School District on Long Island innNew York.

“Let’s start rowing in the same direction”.

“Posting this now, before I walk into the first day of meetings that signal the start of school. I’m sure by three o’clock I will feel overwhelmed & frustrated, so I write this now, while I am still clear-eyed:

Know this, parents, we teachers are going to make the most of this lemon of a situation. We want your students to have a great year & not just “a great year, all things considered.” We are aware of our place in the story of your child’s life, understand that they only get one “senior English teacher” (or Math, or Chem, or Gov), one sixth grade experience. So we are going to do our best to live up to that mythology. We want your children to discover things about the world & themselves they had not known before our time together & our time starts now.

Can you help? Can you stop talking about what a disaster this is going to be? (Perhaps it will be, but let’s not lose the game before we get on the court.) Can you help your kids to respectfully reach out to us when they are struggling? Can you set them up for success with a mindset that says “yeah, this is the hand we were dealt, & look how everyone is doing the best they can with it.” Can you give them some agency in this, help them understand the buy-in? Can you stop calling out teachers you feel did your students wrong on social media? Give them the benefit of the doubt (a rough day, an honest but not malicious mistake) or the professional courtesy of handling the issue privately?

This will not be a lost year, it will not be a year of treading water, this will be a year in the story of your child’s life & you & I & they have the power to create some true greatness here. That is how we would like to be remembered when they come together in 10 and 20 years for reunions, when their own children (should they choose that path) start school & they are sitting around the dinner table swapping stories. We want your kid to say “Oh yeah, I remember my __th grade teacher…” & then start to tell funny stories about class or remember something they learned that year & never forgot, a new way to look at the world, a new part of themselves.

It’s a big ask, to want be remembered that way, maybe selfish and a bit self-aggrandizing to want to seize the opportunity given every teacher every September. But so many of us are in front of the classroom for exactly that reason, we had teachers we still talk about, people we met at 15 who continue to influence us at 45.

Let us do that -in person, or remotely, or some combination of both- we want the best for your children. Yes, we are all in the same boat, let’s start rowing in the same direction.”

Melanie Sirof
English Teacher
Mepham High School

Arthur Camins, retired science educator, warns that the coronavirus pandemic is rivaled by an equally harmful pandemic of selfishness.

He begins:

Deadly as it is, the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in the United States is but a part of a broader, more devastating phenomenon: the be-out-for-yourself-pandemic. The readily available antidote is organizing for mutual benefit, but that medicine has been intentionally kept off the public market. Now, people are marching for it in the streets.

The virus lurked in our culture in partial dormancy at least since defeat of resistance to New Deal legislation. It reemerged in plain sight with the election of Ronald Reagan, the rise of ultra-conservative think tanks and foundations, and Republican dominance in local and state government. Be-out-for-yourselfism reached pandemic proportions with Trump’s victory. It has perniciously infected much of our daily lives, reeking death and destruction in its path. We are suffering from rampant selfishness sepsis. The pathogen spreads by promulgation of a three-pronged anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation ideology. Racism is its nourishment.

He goes on to explain why this ideology undermines our ability to react wisely to the coronavirus, which requires cooperation and common purpose.