Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time To Leave


Time to leave teaching. It’s been thirty-six years - two in Lowell, Massachusetts teaching juvenile delinquents and thirty-four in Maine public schools. I’m going to miss it because I love teaching US History and current events to fourteen-year-olds, most days. They can be trying sometimes. When I tell people what age I’ve taught, they often say, “God bless you. I could never do that.”

What I’d come to like about fourteen-year-olds is that they’re capable of learning virtually anything and most of what I teach they’re hearing about for the first time. They don’t have many biases or preconceived ideas about the wider world and they’re very bright. Each year I’ve realized that many are brighter than I am. But I’ve been around longer. I’ve had more time and opportunities to learn, often the hard way. When I teach them classic concepts, they ask extremely perceptive questions I never hear in discussions with jaded adults. Their questions have forced me to consider fresh perspectives on ancient enigmas and those have been my biggest rewards in this work. When I didn’t enjoy teaching, it was often because of some fault of my own - usually my attitude.

Never did expect to be at it so long, but that’s how it unfolded. There were times I wanted to do something else but circumstances prevented career change. Twenty-five years ago, I was diagnosed with a medical condition for which I needed several expensive surgeries, each requiring about six weeks of recovery. With a young family, a mortgage and a pre-existing condition, no other insurance company would take me on. So, for a while, I felt stuck in the job. That wasn’t good for me or for my students until I managed to I change my attitude by counting my blessings - of which there have been many.

For the past few years I’ve met with a retired history teacher to chat about the trade. I asked him how he knew when to give it up. “When the time comes, you just know,” he said, but it didn’t feel right the last time we had lunch. My five-year teaching license was due to expire in July and I went through the process to renew it.

Soon after doing that, however, I went to CPAC - the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, for the fifth time. I renewed contacts and new opportunities opened up. I decided to call the Maine Public Employees Retirement Service and inquire about what my pension would look like if this were my last year.

The numbers didn’t point to a cushy life with medical insurance looming as the biggest expense. The economy doesn’t look promising for the foreseeable future either, but I could be dead by the time that changes. My wife and I are physically in good shape right now and we have no debts. She’s gotten her counseling practice down to a manageable pace, and I’ve been the one who is too busy. I’ve maintained a small property-management business for the past twenty-six years and written a regular weekly column for twenty, and I intend to continue with both. My income will diminish. I won’t be able to travel as often, but I’ll have time to pursue other interests which I expect to enjoy more than teaching.

There’s at least one book in me about what it’s been like as a controversial columnist in the same community where I’ve taught. Early in my career I was a liberal and I annoyed conservatives. Then I morphed into a conservative and annoyed liberals, who have been by far the most intolerant of opposing views. Public education is a very liberal profession which doesn’t abide conservatives well, so it’s been lonely. I started writing the book a few years ago but my life has been just too busy to make any progress. I’ve saved most of the paperwork generated by adversaries - most of it in the form of letters to various principals, superintendents, the school board, the state licensing board, and so forth. There are angry letters to the editor from various newspapers in which my column has appeared, and they number well into the hundreds. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sell the book to a publisher once it’s written, but hey: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.There’s been no shortage of people who have publicly declared me unfit to teach and who have tried to have me dismissed over the years, but I’ve weathered it. I’m leaving now because I want to. I expect I’ll have a few pangs when I see school busses roll by in September and I’m not part of it anymore, but I’ll get over it.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Right To Life


Friday, April 8th I was involved in a debate with Shenna Bellows, executive director of the MCLU (Maine Civil Liberties Union), which is Maine’s chapter of the ACLU. The moderator chose three “set piece” questions for us including this one: “Are reproductive rights guaranteed by the Constitution?” Following are my abbreviated remarks:

The US Constitution is silent on reproductive rights, except for an indirect reference in the Preamble which proclaims that the Constitution is ordained “to secure the blessings of liberty to . . . our posterity.” Until 1973, government involvement with reproduction, as such, was handled at the state level, and that’s where the Constitution meant for it to stay. If there were any doubt lingering about that, I would refer you to the 10th Amendment, which states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The only example I know of when reproductive rights were denied to Americans is when citizens designated “feeble-minded” or “immoral” were - by state government authority - sterilized against their will in states like New Hampshire, Maine, and many others in the early to mid 20th century. One venue for this was about fifty miles west of here at the Laconia State School in New Hampshire. Another was about 25 miles east of here at the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, Maine. It’s estimated that somewhere around 65,000 people were forcibly sterilized around the United States up until 1963.

All this resulted from the Eugenics movement, begun by people who called themselves “Progressives.” They formed groups like the American Eugenics Society and others. Eugenicists were among the first social engineers of the twentieth century, deciding who should reproduce and who should not - and they used the power of state government to enforce those decisions.Progressive eugenicists included Democrats and Republicans such as Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, radical right wingers like the KKK, and radical left-wingers like Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger, who went on to establish Planned Parenthood, leader of the abortion industry in America today - federal funding of which is heatedly debated in Congress right now, not because they disseminate birth control, but because they kill our posterity.

Adolph Hitler admired the American eugenics movement.

Goldman and Sanger pushed dissemination of birth control to women but were thwarted by state laws. It’s ironic that states forcibly sterilized people but disallowed dissemination of temporary birth control methods. It wasn’t until Griswold vs Connecticut was adjudicated by the US Supreme Court in 1965 that a “constitutional right to privacy” was declared which negated state laws outlawing dissemination of birth control. In his minority opinion, Justice Potter Stewart said:

“We are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that I cannot do.” He would let Connecticut citizens persuade their legislature to repeal the law. Griswold vs Connecticut was the basis for Roe vs Wade.

While our constitution is silent on reproductive rights, our Declaration of Independence declares a “right to life,” along with rights to “liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our Constitution designed a government to manifest its principles and here I refer you back to that phrase in the succinct Preamble declaring that one purpose is to “secure the blessings of liberty to . . . our posterity.” Killing our posterity in the womb would obviously go against that, not to mention violating their “right to life” - which is “endowed by our Creator.” Those are four words that stick in President Obama’s throat. He purposely omits them when quoting that section of that famous document. That our rights are “endowed by our Creator” - and not by our government - will remain in the Declaration of Independence until the ACLU sues to have it removed. Would it surprise anyone they did?

Every state had laws against abortion until the 1960s when New York legalized the procedure, followed soon after by other states until the US resembled a patchwork quilt of legality and illegality. Into this waded the US Supreme Court in 1973 with Roe V Wade.

The majority decision in that case which claims a “Constitutional right to abortion” is based on the afore-mentioned Griswold vs Connecticut birth control case. Progressive justices in both cases claimed rights to birth control and abortion under a “right to privacy.” Trouble was, the word “privacy” doesn’t exist in the Constitution, so they claimed that it emanated from the penumbra of an implied right to privacy in the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments - none of which mention the word! To call this an exercise in gymnastic nomenclature is an understatement. They wanted it to be there so they insisted it was there, even though it wasn’t there.

If progressives wanted to establish a constitutional right to privacy or abortion or birth control, there was the Amendment process outlined in Article 5. It’s a cumbersome process and it was purposely designed to be so by the founding fathers because it requires a widespread debate in Congress and in all the states for ratification. Instead, seven progressive Supreme Court justices usurped that process. They usurped powers delegated to the states as well. Seven men produced a right to abortion out of whole cloth.

Said Justice Hugo Black of the process: “I like my privacy as well as the next one, but I am nevertheless compelled to admit that government has a right to invade it unless prohibited by some specific constitutional provision.” [Should the court continue this] “shocking doctrine,” he said, [it will wind up as] “a day-to-day constitutional convention.”

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU deny that a human life - our posterity - which has the right to life endowed by our Creator - is killed in an abortion. That’s why they work so vehemently against state laws requiring mothers to see ultrasound images confirming that what they’re carrying is a human baby before they choose to kill it.

Progressive justices imposed their will. They usurped the amendment process in Article 5. As a result of Roe vs Wade, abortion has been the most divisive issue in America ever since 1973.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Affirmative Action: Euphemism For Discrimination


Last Friday night, I was involved in a debate with Shenna Bellows, executive director of the MCLU (Maine Civil Liberties Union), which is Maine’s chapter of the ACLU. The moderator chose three “set piece” questions for us including this one: “Are Affirmative Action programs constitutional?” What follows are my remarks.

Affirmative Action is a euphemism for government-required policies that discriminate on the basis of race, sex and national origin. The very same discrimination that government legislates against in some areas of public life, it mandates in other areas. It’s a kind of schizophrenia.

From the ACLU web site:

The [ACLU] Racial Justice Program supports affirmative action to secure racial diversity in education settings, workplaces and government contracts to remedy continuing systematic discrimination against people of color, and to help ensure equal opportunities for all people. As part of this commitment, we are working to defend affirmative action in states that are threatened for a civil rights rollback.

Hmm. Systematic discrimination against people of color? Where? It’s been illegal for two generations. The ACLU claims:

Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation’s historic discrimination against people of color and women, and for leveling what has long been an uneven playing field. A centuries-long legacy of racism and sexism has not been eradicated despite the gains made during the civil rights era. Avenues of opportunity for those previously excluded remain far too narrow. We need affirmative action now more than ever.

Hmm. Injustices caused by our nation’s historic discrimination against people of color and women. What injustices? Where? Students at our colleges and universities are 60% female. If there’s any evidence of discrimination, it’s against men, not women.


Professor Russell K. Neili summarized a study by two sociologists at Princeton of the admissions process at ten elite private colleges and universities:

To have the same chance of gaining admission as a black student with a SAT score of 1100, a Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have 1230, a white student a 1410 and an Asian student a 1550.

Is this what the ACLU means when it cites “the gains made by the civil rights era”?

When the ACLU says “we are working to defend affirmative action in states that are threatened for a civil rights rollback, they’re talking about initiatives like those proposed in several states like this one in California called the California Civil Rights Initiative:

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

What the ACLU objects to are the five words “or grant preferential treatment to” of course, because those words shine the light on what affirmative action actually does. By lowering the bar for some groups like the aforementioned “people of color,” they must raise it for other groups with whom the preferred “people of color” are competing for employment, college admissions or contracts. To the ACLU, treating everyone equally regardless of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin is “a civil rights rollback.” That is what you call distorted thinking. Orwell called it “Doublethink.” What the ACLU wants to hide is that affirmative action does not preserve civil rights - it discriminates against whites, males and Asians by its very nature.
If one of my loved ones needed brain surgery and I wanted the best possible surgeon to do it, I’d have to consider what affirmative action has done with our medical schools. I’d have to look around for an Asian neurosurgeon and avoid black ones who could get admitted with the lowest scores. Wouldn’t you? I don’t like it, but this is the legacy of Affirmative Action.

People tolerated it back in 1965 when the Civil Rights Bill passed, but it been almost forty years - two generations. The ACLU insists we need it now more than ever. I don’t think so. Affirmative Action is racist and sexist. It should be abolished immediately in all its forms.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Early Old

Most of you are reading this in a newspaper on Thursday, April 7th which is my 60th birthday. My sister, Jane, sent me a card saying: “We spent our entire youth laughing at old people.” Inside, it said: “We are SO screwed.”It’s actually my 61st birthday if you count the first in 1951 at the end of which I was one day old. A year later, when I was one year old, would have been my second birthday, and so on. Today is the first day of my 61st year. I’m not just 60 - I’m “in my sixties.” I’m beginning my seventh decade. A friend reached this milestone last year and when asked how old he was, he’d say “Fifty-ten."Our newest granddaughter, Lila

The way we measure time is relative and this was best exemplified by a small sign I saw on the outside of a bathroom door once which read: “How long a minute is, is relative to which side of this door you’re on.” When I was about ten, a year seemed a very long time because it was one-tenth of my life. Now it’s only one-sixtieth and goes by quickly. I formulated a scale for age when I was ten: Up to twelve, you’re a kid. Then you’re a teenager until age twenty. After that you’re a young adult from twenty to forty. Forty to sixty you’re middle-aged and from sixty on, you’re old.

I finished “late middle age” yesterday. Today I’m “early old.”

I’m not sure how sixty is supposed to feel, but so far it’s pretty good. I’m in good shape, but I haven’t as much stamina. I can still do everything, but I prefer shorter intervals. I can deal with that, but mentally there are other effects. Sometimes I can’t recall the name of something until ten or twenty minutes after the conversation has ended or shifted to another subject. It’s in my head somewhere, but it’s as if it were on a slip of paper and buried under stacks of other paperwork on the desktop of my mind.

My hair is thinning, but it’s still mostly brown. Students ask me if I dye it and it bothers me that they’d think I would. If it were gray, I definitely wouldn’t dye it. That’s okay for women, but vain for a man. Why? I don’t know. That’s what I feel about it. My wife is a year younger than me and her hair is mostly silver. I’m glad she leaves it that way because it’s attractive. There’s a certain strength I sense in women who take care of themselves and allow their hair to age naturally.

Another thing that makes me feel older is when guys in their thirties call me “Sir.” It’s not when they’re trying to sell me something either. It’s happening when I meet them socially. I’ve never been in the military and to be addressed as “sir” is unfamiliar. Students have been calling me “Mr. McLaughlin” for decades but that’s different. The “Sir” thing is going to take some getting used to.

Softball season starts soon. It’ll be my thirty-fourth year playing Thursday nights at Westways in Lovell. I’m one of the older guys now, but last year there were still some showing up who were older. This year, we’ll see. Some younger than me have stopped playing already and come just to watch and drink beer.For about ten or twelve years now, I haven’t had a strong urge to hunt deer - and it used to be overpowering. I’ve been thinking maybe it’s due to diminished testosterone levels because I’d rather go into the woods and shoot pictures. So, I buy chuck-eye steaks at Hannaford’s Supermarket, which I like better than venison anyway. It might not be testosterone though because I still get the urge to punch some someone in the head once in a while. I haven’t actually done it for about thirty years, but it has crossed my mind, and that’s a testosterone thing too. Maybe the urge will diminish someday or go away entirely, but I don’t think so. There’s no shortage of people around still who desperately need a punch in the head, and they still cross my path.

An old priest once told that “As I get older, I care more and more about less and less.” I took that to mean he didn’t sweat the small stuff anymore. He accepted things he could not change and he tried harder to change the things that mattered most - and upon which he could have some effect. I’m pondering his words more lately and it’s helping me make decisions about what to do with whatever time remains for me on this earth.


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