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: tomthemick@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Choice To Do What?

Thirty years ago, my students did a lot of formal debates in class. After brainstorming current events topics, they usually chose abortion. First, we defined terms. I asked each class if someone could define abortion. Fourteen-year-olds have fully developed brains, but lack nuance. I’d call on a student whose hand was up and he/she would say something like: “Abortion is when a woman is pregnant and she kills the baby inside her.”
That plainly worded definition is typical of 14-year-olds. They’re refreshingly direct. Every year, in every class, the first student I called on would define abortion in almost exactly the same way.
“Does everyone agree with that definition?” I’d ask.

There would be nods all around, and I’d write it on the blackboard. Then I’d explain that people who supported abortion called themselves “Pro-choice” and people who were against it called themselves “Pro-life.” Pointing to the definition, I’d circle the words “kill” and “baby,” then tell them that a seasoned “pro-choice” person would never utter those words in a debate. A pro-life person, however, would nearly always use them. “A definition like that,” I’d say, pointing the board again, “indicates a pro-life bias. I can tell what somebody thinks about abortion by the words they use to define it.” At this point I’d look toward the student who gave it. “Is that your opinion? Are you pro-life?” Usually he or she was, but not always.
Then I’d ask how a pro-choice person would define abortion. Students would ponder what I said and offer suggestions like: “It’s when a woman finds out she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be, so she goes to a doctor and he takes it out.”
“Not bad,” I’d say. “A pro-choice person would never say ‘baby’ or ‘kill.’ Instead, he or she would use words like ‘fetus’ for ‘baby,’ and ‘remove,’ or ‘terminate’ for ‘kill.’” Then I’d ask if anyone else could craft a pro-choice definition. Eventually I’d get one that sounded just like something out of NARAL literature, such as: “When a woman terminates her pregnancy,” which I’d also write on the board.
Often a student would ask my opinion on abortion at this point, and I’d say, “I’ll tell you after the debate is over.”
Then students chose which side they wanted to argue. If there were too many on one side or the other, I’d try to even them up by challenging some to argue the opposite of what they believed. Some of the sharpest students would usually offer to do so.
After that, I let them sit in their groups to prepare. My instructions were that they start recording their side’s strongest arguments on one list, then record their opponents’ strongest arguments on another.

“Why do you want us to list our opponents’ arguments?” they’d ask.
“So you can prepare counter-arguments to use during the debate when they bring up those points,” I’d answer. “It’s what opposing lawyers would do in a courtroom. You need to research all sides of any issue. As someone said once: ‘You don’t fully understand your own side unless you understand your opponent’s.’”
Then I’d write the names of organizations championing one side and the other, and instruct students to write to them, telling them they’re debating abortion in class, and could they please send materials. For the pro-choice side, I’d give contact information for Planned Parenthood, NARAL America - then called The National Abortion Rights Action League, and NOW - National Organization for Women, etc. For the pro-life side I’d give contacts for the National Right to Life Association and a local, Maine group called the PLEA - Pro-Life Education Association, which always responded right away.
Of course this was during years before students could download information from the internet. They’d have to write away for it and I’d allow time for that, usually a couple of weeks. The PLEA information always came first, maybe because they were in Maine - and they’d always send pictures of just what resulted from abortions at various stages. When those pictures arrived, they’d be shown around before my classes began. Students would come up to me in the hallway with solemn looks and ask me if I’d ever seen pictures of aborted babies.
“Yes,” I’d say. “Shocking, aren’t they?”

“Can we use these in the debate?”

“I’ll have to think about that,” I’d respond.
The pictures would be seen by some staff as well. Women, usually teacher aides (now called “ed techs”) who worked in my classroom, would approach me with serious looks just as my students had. “Have you seen the abortion pictures floating around?”

“Some, yes.”
“Are you going to allow them in the debate?”

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“Well, it’s hard to argue in favor of abortion after seeing them, and that’s not fair to the pro-choice side.”
Now, thirty years later, that is still the crux of the matter. Who can argue the pro-choice side after looking at exactly what the choice is?

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Culture Change

Mary Bauer Smith
There were no kindergartens in the suburban town of Tewksbury, Massachusetts where I grew up. We went right into first grade when we were six. We rode a bus that picked up kids each morning and dropped them off in the afternoon. Usually there was a mother looking out the window as her child skipped from the bus to the house. I still remember those children and where they lived. One, Mary Bauer Smith, asked to be my “friend” on Facebook recently.
St. William's School

So, I “messaged” her: “Are you the Mary Bauer who lived on Whipple Road and went to St. William’s School?” Our parish opened St. William’s School when we were in second grade and our parents sent us both there.
“Yes,” she wrote back. “I wanted to tell you something. When we were at St. William's one Lent, one of the teachers asked what each of us were doing for Lent. You said that after school your family had crackers and peanut butter for a snack and that you were giving it up for Lent. You were so sweet and probably a little embarrassed to admit that. It moved me very much. Today, as I assembled my Ritz cracker/peanut butter snack I thought again of your Lenten fast, as I have many times over the years.”
“Hmm,” I thought, and remembered eating that snack after school, but not “giving it up,” so to speak, although she clearly did. We exchanged messages for half an hour, and attached to one of hers was a group shot of our third grade class. “I’m in white, long-sleeved shirt,” she wrote. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the cub scout uniform in the back,” I replied. I could remember the faces of all thirty-eight kids in that picture and the names of thirty-three. I was eight years old again — transported right back to that time and place of fifty-six years ago. I recalled the drawing of an ice skater taped to the wall and envying the talent of Gerard Connelly the boy with a bow tie and big ears standing second from the right. Then I felt a connection to the students I’m teaching now.
My homeschool students

Every Tuesday morning for the past twenty-five weeks I’ve been teaching a group of ten home-schooled, high-school-aged boys and girls. Eight are Catholic and two Baptist. Working with them transports me back also because they remind me of the students in the picture. I taught about thirty-five hundred public school kids over thirty-six years but the home school kids I’m teaching now are different. Or, perhaps I should say the thirty-five hundred others I taught are the different ones. They’re different because our culture is different from what it was fifty years ago, and they’re immersed in it while my home-schooled kids are not. I can’t say they’re unaffected, but they’re relatively untarnished by what our culture has become. They still have something we all used to have but is almost lost now — not entirely yet, but if present trends continue it will be.
What is that something? Hard to describe. A sense of inner good perhaps? Confidence that we’re good because God created us that way? It’s also a confidence that there is a general “Good,” which we can all share if we acknowledge it. There was little doubt in our minds back then that Good was a real force, and it would ultimately prevail. Our country was good, and it fought evil. Nearly all our fathers were WWII veterans who watched “World At War” and “Victory At Sea,” on Saturdays — those half-hour, black-and-white episodes depicting real battles between good and evil. Even the old atheist and Chicago lefty Studs Terkel knew that when he wrote: “The Good War.”
“Oh my god!” was the most ubiquitous exclamation for students in public school during my career. But “god” didn’t mean “Supreme Being” to them. They didn’t use the word as the kids in the picture did, as my homeschoolers do, as I do. Our God wasn’t in their thoughts when they invoked His name — not consciously. When my homeschoolers say, “God,” it’s with reverence, and confidence that He exists. Teachers in public school are afraid to say the word today. Students are allowed unless they really mean God the Creator. Invoking Him is actively discouraged unless it’s in the Pledge of Allegiance, and that’s periodically challenged.
Christmas is gone. History texts don’t measure time using BC as in “Before Christ.” That’s out too. Now it’s BCE for “Before Common Era,” but no one can explain what “Common Era” means. Dictionary.com says it means “Christian Era” but you’re not supposed to say that. Christianity is actively discouraged. They never say AD for the Latin “Anno Domini” anymore either because it means “Year of our Lord.” Can’t have that. It’s CE for “Common Era” which nobody understands.
Got it? And so it goes.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Is He Trying To Bring Us Down?


Is he doing it on purpose? As often as the thought entered my mind, I’d push it out. It didn’t seem plausible. If I told people they’d think me crazy, but the thought kept coming back: “Is President Obama trying to destroy the United States?” Is he a kind of Manchurian Candidate? That book’s main character, an American POW, was brainwashed by Chinese communists in Manchuria to reenter the US and assassinate a presidential candidate — thus enabling his running mate to take over as a dictator in the ensuing chaos. It was twice adapted to film and I watched both, but they were too far-fetched.
I’m not alone. In February, former New York City Mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” and set off a prolonged media firestorm. Progressives were outrageously outraged for days, and what Giuliani said was relatively mild compared to what I was thinking. Not loving our country might cause him to be unmotivated, but that’s not as bad as purposely destroying it.
A week later, conservative columnist and New Hampshire resident Mark Steyn wrote:  “If [Obama] were working for the other side, what exactly would he be doing differently?” That’s been resonating in my brain ever since. Obama’s policies, have been ruinous. He’s nearly doubled our national debt to almost $18 trillion, and what do we have to show for it? He was going to rebuild our infrastructure with shovel-ready projects, but where are they? Hoover built a dam that still works. Roosevelt’s CCCs built the road through Evan’s Notch and the Kancamagus Highway here in Maine and New Hampshire, and many similar projects around the country. Yet after spending thousands of times more money than both those presidents put together, what can Obama point to? Nothing, and the economy still hasn’t recovered in the seventh year of his presidency.
He took over our health care system — one-sixth of our economy — and how’s that going? It’s a disaster. He took over the internet without any action by Congress. In violation of the Constitution, he issued executive amnesty to five million illegal aliens who were already bankrupting hospitals, schools, and welfare programs across the country. Now they’re eligible for Social Security — which is going bankrupt already without millions more drawing checks. He’s using the EPA to destroy the coal industry in the name of human-caused “Climate Change” — the biggest pseudo-scientific fraud of the century. Next he’ll take over the entire energy industry if he’s allowed, and our emasculated Republican congressional “leaders” do nothing to stop him.
It’s even worse overseas. Obama’s Middle East and North Africa policies are, in the words of his own former Middle East Ambassador James Jeffrey: “in a g*******d free fall.” Iran, the world’s biggest sponsor of international terrorism, orchestrated a million to chant “Death to America!” in its own capital, then gained control of four other capitals in the region including Sanaa, Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut. Meanwhile, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry is, in the words of our strongest ally in the region: “paving the way for [Iran’s atomic] bomb.” How’s Libya after his “leading from behind”? It’s a basket case. Yemen, which six months ago he called a success story, has collapsed. US forces beat a hasty retreat, leaving weapons and intelligence documents behind. Kerry’s State Department advised US citizens stuck in Yemen to “call India” for help getting out. At a briefing, one reporter asked State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: “…then you alerted them to opportunities to leave the country?” “Correct,” she responded. “What are those opportunities now? Swim?”
Interviewed last week on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, former Vice President Dick Cheney said: “If you had somebody who, as president — who wanted to take America down. Who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world, reduce our capacity to influence events. Turn our back on our allies and encourage our enemies, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama is doing.”
Yeah, okay, but has Obama been brainwashed? Let’s see: His father was a Muslim. His stepfather was a Muslim. He went to a Muslim school. Though much was sanitized and repressed, evidence exists of his mother, grandmother and grandfather at least leaning communist. The mentor his grandfather found for him, Frank Marshal Davis, was a communist. His political mentor in Chicago was Marxist domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. His pastor for twenty years, the Reverend White, chanted: “No-no-no! Not God bless America! God damn America! It’s in the bible!” Obama called himself a “community organizer” — an occupation created by Chicago socialist Saul Alinsky whose playbook to bring down the country Obama is following.
Yes, the thought keeps coming back, but lately I don’t push it out so quickly.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Pro-Choice Teacher


Education has gotten much too complicated. It was my life’s profession and I loved to teach, but I began to resent modern education after about twenty years. I stayed in for another sixteen while my frustration increasingly supplanted my enjoyment until I finally retired four years ago. Lately however, I’m learning how uncomplicated it can be. Since last September I’ve been teaching a US History course to ten home-schooled, high-school-aged kids in Auburn, Maine. I was recruited by one of the parents and it’s a one-year gig. I have nine classes left at this writing.
It’s a long commute — a hundred mile ’round trip every Tuesday morning, but that’s the only downside for me. Early on, we agreed on curriculum, compensation, texts, format, and venue. There are no unnecessary meetings or paperwork. There are no discipline problems. There are no politically correct strictures — not that I ever worried about those, but I don’t have to defend myself if I should be even mildly critical of any secular-sacred taboos. There are no appalled progressives to be outrageously outraged. My students are bright, cheerful, respectful, and they nearly always do their homework. Best of all? Government is not involved, except that students learn about government by studying the Constitution. We discuss how it’s obeyed and disobeyed by our president. We discuss how Congress has so far allowed him to tromp all over it, citing specific sections of Articles I and II.
We’ve been covering World War II lately and last week I gave them a lesson on the Holocaust. We had little time for discussion since I ended the two-hour class with a description of how Nazis progressed from eugenic euthanasia in the thirties, to mass shootings by Einsatzgruppen death squads in Poland, to systematized death camps using cyanide gas “showers” and ovens. They were quite solemn as they filed out and I’m sure they will have discussed the lesson with parents. Next Tuesday I’ll ask for their reflections after it’s had time to ferment in their minds and hearts. They’re all conservative Christians and so are their parents. So am I. We will relate this example of the Nazi culture of death with other manifestations in today’s world, including mass abortions by Planned Parenthood in the United States, and Radical Muslim slaughter of Christians in Africa and the Middle East.
What we enjoy is the ultimate local control of education. Americans formed our first schools that way at every level. Many provided excellent educations, even in humble venues with small budgets. The quality of education is determined not by money spent or fancy buildings, but by the commitment of parents and teachers with high standards working together. The parents I work for hire professionals for subjects they don’t feel qualified to teach themselves. Last year they hired a physics teacher, for example. This year they hired me for US History.
Most Maine towns spend well in excess of $10,000 per child, per year on government schools. If I had my druthers, I’d initiate pro-choice voucher initiatives in every municipality in the country. Parents could send their children to government schools if they chose, or they could send their kids to private schools using $10,000 vouchers. Running this idea past others over the years, people ask: “What about rural areas like ours? There aren’t many private schools within commuting distance to choose from.”
“That’s true,” I say, then point out that there weren’t many daycare centers around here thirty years ago either, but now there are. First came the demand, then came the supply. The same thing would happen with schools, which would be as good as the parents and teachers working together demanded.
“But what about quality control?” people ask. I point out that quality control of our very expensive government schools is sorely lacking now, but they still have plenty of students and plenty of money, only because parents have no choice but to send them. If we had a pro-choice movement in education, government schools would be forced to improve because of the competition vouchers would provide.
With my druthers, I’d abolish the Department of Education in Washington — except for one solitary function: They would exist only to produce and maintain a battery of tests at each grade level to measure minimum competency in reading, math, writing, and history. And notice I said, “maintain.” They would not administer the tests, only maintain them, updated from year to year. The tests would be voluntary. If municipal officials questioned whether their money was being spent properly, they could require students and/or schools they’re funding to take the tests. Further funding for either schools or vouchers could be contingent on the results.
No other government involvement is necessary. There would continue to be good schools and mediocre schools, but they would be a reflection only of parents in local communities who chose to send their children to them.

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