Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Defining Communism in Class

“What is communism?” I asked the class after writing the word on the board. “I’d like to find an unbiased definition.

One girl was looking in the glossary of her textbook for a definition. “I have one,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, nodding to her.

“‘Communism: economic system in which all property is owned by the community,’” she recited.

I thanked her, then asked the class: “Does that definition make communism sound good, bad, or neutral?”

“It makes communism sound good,” said a boy, “as if everything was equal.”

“Makes communism sound good,” I repeated. “‘An economic system in which all property is owned by the community.’ Who agrees that the textbook’s definition is biased by making communism sound good?”

About three quarters raised their hands.

“Anybody disagree?”

No hands.

“How about we try to come up with a definition with as little bias as possible?”

“Just use a dictionary,” said another girl. “They’re not biased.”

“Oh no?” I said. “Let’s check them out. Take out your laptops. Go to or whatever site you like to use.”

They pulled computers out of cases, opened their lids, and soon there were hands in the air. “‘a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state,’” said a boy.

“Okay,” I said. “Does that definition have any bias for or against communism?”

“Doesn’t sound like it to me,” said a girl. “That sounds neutral.”

“Who agrees?” I asked the whole class.

About half raised their hands.

“What about the rest of you?” I asked. My sense was they were tentative and not confident enough to offer an opinion one way or another, so I moved on. Another girl said, “a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.”

“Well?” I said expectantly. “Any bias?” I wondered if she knew what “totalitarian” and “self-perpetuating” meant.

“I’m not sure, but it doesn’t sound good,” she said.

“Totalitarian government is one that has total control over people’s lives,” I said. “A self-perpetuating political party is one that does whatever is necessary to stay in power, in control.”

I waited a few seconds in case there were questions. “What do you think now? Does that definition sound biased?”

“Yup,” she said. “It doesn’t make communism sound good at all - kind of like it was shown in ‘Dr. Zhivago.” We had watched that movie in class for its depiction of World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and communism’s effects on the central character’s family.

“So, communism is: ‘a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party,’” I repeated. “Do you all agree that definition makes communism sound bad?”

“Definitely,” said a boy.

“Yes,” said the girl who first read the definition and wasn’t sure.

“Are any of you surprised that dictionaries can be biased when defining certain words?”

Several students nodded. “I just never thought of dictionaries that way,” said a girl.

“Well,” I said. “Communism is controversial. People to the right of center on the political spectrum tend to be hostile toward communism and socialism, but people on the left tend to think they could be good systems if applied well.” We had studied a political spectrum earlier in the year. “The people who wrote your book are like that, for example. They’re left of center.”

“Most words aren’t controversial, however. They may have different shades of meaning, but there’s little disagreement or bias when defining them.”

“So, do you think we could come up with an unbiased definition?” I asked the whole class.

Lots of blank stares and wide eyes, but no one volunteered to craft a definition.

“Awe, come on,” I said. “Nobody?”

Some scrunched their shoulders, but no one volunteered.

“Okay, how about this one,” I wrote on the board as I recited: “‘Communism - an economic system in which there is no private property and government decides who makes what and who gets what.’”

Then I turned around and asked, “What do you think? Any bias?”

“I think it’s biased against communism,” said a boy.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“It makes it seem like government is all-powerful.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Anybody else?”

“I don’t think it’s biased. That’s the way communism is,” said another boy. “Government, or ‘the party’ decides everything.”
“Okay,” I said. “Who thinks my definition is biased against communism?”

Only three hands went up.

“Who thinks it isn’t?”

Three more hands. The rest refrained from expressing an opinion.

“Well,” I said. “I am biased against communism, but I was trying to be neutral. We’re almost out of time, so we’ll let that definition stand for now.”


Hank Crawford said...

When you say that an communism is an "economic system in which there is no private property and government decides who makes what and who gets what" I believe you are biased, because that is NOT what pure communism is. You make it sound like the government is meant to decide for everybody whether they like it or not, with no input from the people. While that may be what happens under some communist regimes, it is a perverted form of communism. It would be like calling Capitalism "an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for a private profit in which the richest members of society manipulate the system to their benefit at the expense of lower classes.

Pure communism refers to a classless, stateless society, one where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made in the best interests of the collective society with the interests of every member of society given equal weight in the practical decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life.

Neither capitalism nor Communism is practiced anywhere in the world under ideal conditions. There is corruption that runs rampant under both.

Anonymous said...

Life must be good in Tom's class if everyone has a laptop.

Anonymous said...

Does the communist school provide laptops for everybody for equality sake?

Tom McLaughlin said...

This government school provided laptops to every 7th and 8th grade student in Maine public schools because former independent governor Angus King had a surplus in the budget about 8 or 10 years ago Imagine that. He set up a $10 million fund to purchase Macintosh laptops for the above-mentioned groups. The program continues because, I think, the fund is still there.

Nice, huh?

Eric said...

My daughter asked me the other day what the difference was between conservatives and liberals. I told her it basically boils down to conservatives having the mindset of "ME, ME, ME" while liberals tended to also consider fairness and the effect on others.

I said that someone on the far right is like the owners of coal mining operations...they see their opportunity to make huge bucks and don't worry about the thousands of lives they ruin and the disastrous effects on the environment that occurs with their destruction of mountains.

She then asked about communism and asked if I thought it was fair. I said perhaps it could be fair in a dream world but it doesn't seem to hold up to reality. She asked if capitalism is fair. I explained the "snowball" effect of the rich and getting richer and how much easier it is to be "succesful" when you are born into wealth, and whole groups of people turn into Paris Hiltons and Bushes and Kennedys, etc that can just coast along in the system. I left it to her to decide if that was fair.

Anonymous said...

Here is an unbiased definition:

"socialism that abolishes private ownership and seeks to create a classless society."

Les Gay said...

That's not a definition. It's not even a sentence. You must be one of Tom's students.

Anonymous said...

The "Party" or the "Government" owns and controls everything. But who controls the Party or the Government? That's why Communism cannot ever work. Human nature being what it is, you will always end up with a Dictatorship jockeying to consolidate Power.

Paul, Lovell

Lee Roberts said...

What Hank Crawford said.

Mr. McLaughlin, your lesson utterly failed to assist your students in abstract and critical thinking. Instead, it smacked of ideology. It reminded me of a Sunday School lesson.

Love to see the next lesson. Assume you'll be tackling socialism next. Wonder if you'll encourage students to analyze the living standards, policies and economies of Scandinavian countries alongside our own. Thinking, not so much.

Anonymous said...

"That's not a definition. It's not even a sentence. You must be one of Tom's students."

Nobody claimed it was a sentence. It was a defintion. For example when you look up "Nitpick" it says:

be overly critical; criticize minor details

Not a complete sentence, but a definition.

Anonymous said...

I see the S.D.S tom mclaughlin seminar posters are back at it again.

Mackenzie Andersen said...

The only way to keep everyone equal is to decrease or repress exceptionally talented people.

I am not sure what an "equal" society does with people that are considered below average for some reason or other- but in historical practice the solution has been to kill them off- (not productive members of society) but it seems that all instances of communism in practice are perversions of the "real" communism, which exists only in theory.

This is a major difference between the way our founding fathers approached constructing a constitution as is evident in The Federalist Papers. "Publius" took the entire spectrum of human character into consideration and created a system of checks and balances against the possibility of one faction having totalitarian control over others.

I would hate to live in an "equal" society. I suppose one would have to either become part of an under ground resistance movement or spend one days twidling one's thumbs if not performing what ever labor is assigned to one by an elite bureaucracy that has the special privilege of making all the decisions for the "dicatorship of the proletariate"

In practice this means a class of government workers that enjoys a higher standard of living than the proles.

Ironically the way "communism" is being described above is also the definition of a pure democracy, which Publius sought to avoid, knowing that such systems had always failed. No one had ever conceived of a Republic that encompassed the territory so large as the Thirteen Colonies and few expected it to last.

The definition given by Tom is not biased because it is true. I suggest introducing your students to The Federalist Papers. These days more college students know about Marx than know about The Federalist Papers, even law students are no longer required to study the Federalist Papers.

Ana said...

Hey Mr.McLaughlin, I loved that specific class it was interesting and informing. We had some interesting conversation's. I learned the right biased definition of communism, and how people try to make communism look good. I was really listening when you were talking about communism last week!

Mackenzie Andersen said...

How about if you have the kids read the Comminist Manifesto and ask them if it portrays private capitalism with bias. Then have them read the Declaration of Independence and ask them if that shows bias.

Anonymous said...

"I learned the right biased definition of communism, and how people try to make communism look good".

What's "the right biased definition of communism?" and please give a specific example of how people try to make communism look "good". Sounds like you are just parroting
Tom who is parroting Beck who is parroting the voices in his head. You haven't learned squat.

Anonymous said...

Hey SMA, you wrote on AMG:

A couple of years ago it was called extremist to suggest that Obama is a socialist- and now- on Mr Mclaughlin's blog, some are openly advocating for communism.

Huh? Show me where you see this or go back to school and take a class on reading comprehension.

Eric said...

"I learned the right biased definition of communism..."

Wow, is that telling. Tom is teaching his students not to find and accept unbiased definitions, but instead steers them to the "right" BIASED opinion. Isn't that the kind of schooling they get in China? Who needs free thinkers when you can turn your students into sheep?

As far as SMA, he claims Tom's definition is unbiased because it is true. So he must also agree that capitalism is Capitalism "an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for a private profit in which the richest members of society manipulate the system to their benefit at the expense of lower classes" because that is also true.

Brian said...

"I see the S.D.S tom mclaughlin seminar posters are back at it again."

I see Tom's anonymous ditto heads are back again.

Anonymous said...

...and since Tom is already a ditto head to Rush and Faux News, what we are seeing is ditto ditto heads!

Anonymous said...

My memories of Mr. McLaughlin's class are full of him telling me and my classmates that his opinion was fact and our opinions, if they differed from his own, were crazy and not worth consideration. I spent many hours writing sentences because stating my opinion was considered "disrupting class".

I am not surprised you get lots of kids not standing up with an opinion, you ask who thinks this and who thinks that and the ones who don't' say a word you think are too chicken to have an opinion-yet you are the reason they are chicken. You make a kid with an opinion different from your own feel stupid and that is the WORST quality in any teacher. Opinions are not facts- and it took me a while to realize that just because you and I didn't agree didn't mean I was stupid or my thoughts were worthless as you tried so hard to convince me.

At least these kids have a chance knowing that they only have to get through one year with such a narrow minded teacher- hold on kids just make it to FA and things will get better.

Anonymous said...

To the previous anon - I have a daughter that will be entering Tom's school in 2 years and it has me concerned. History is such an important subject and with the right teacher can be a very enjoyable and productive course. Having an extreme right-winger trying to drill their opinions into my child's head as facts is a horrible thought. Tom convincing young minds that they have learned the "right biased opinion" is a nightmare. I would feel the same way if an extreme leftist tried the same thing. My daughter is extremely bright and intelligent and will be able to see through his BS, but I hate the thought of her getting badgered if they disagree on things.

Tom, you sound old and cranky...thinking of retiring this year or next?

Please tell me you won't be around to try and convince my daughter that if she believes in equal right for women that she is a "fat feminist".

Tom McLaughlin said...

Anonymous student:
That's baloney.

Anonymous parent:
A few years ago, our school board directed the superintendent to investigate charges like yours that I teach only my opinions. He did, and his report was filed with the board. I suggest you ask for a copy.

Many "tolerant" liberals like yourself have been appalled that an out-of-the-closet conservative like me is teaching history in the public school system, and have tried to get me fired. I'm still here.

I'm not going to retire until I feel like it. When I do, I'll write a book about how it is to be a conservative teacher in a liberal state. Right now, I still like my job.

I have noticed how many members of the National Organization of Women are horizontally challenged and I believe I've been accurate by referring to them as "fat feminists." Does that offend you?

How about "fluffy feminists" then?

Tom McLaughlin said...

Wait. Let me guess. You're a feminist, right?

You think feminists should be immune from criticism? You think you have the right not to be offended, right?

You think it should be illegal for anybody to say things that might hurt your feelings, right?

I suggest you find another blog to read.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't think being an ignorant, bigoted creep should be illegal. I just think it is a very bad quality for a teacher (or anybody) to have.

Tell me, Tom, do you, as a conservative, have no qualms about being called a racist? I seem to recall you complaining about that in posts past. What is the difference between that blanket statement and yours?

Anonymous said...

Wow, you prove more and more with every post that you should be kept away from anybody trying to learn.

Yes, my daughter is aware that people who resort to name-calling against entire groups of people, with nasty blanket statements, are referred to as "creeps" .

She understands this, and is also aware of the difference in calling ONE conservative a creep and calling ALL conservatives creeps.

" If you don't like other people's opinions, just call them names? "

You mean like "fat feminists"? Or one of the many other insults I see you constantly making about those who differ with your opinions?

You take hypocrisy to amazing levels. Have you NO shame?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and you "forgot" to answer my question about being called a racist.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Being called a racist doesn't bother me. It's what liberals do when they don't have any arguments to make. Been hearing it for years.

The self-identified feminists I saw were fat. I acknowledge there may be some feminists out there who are not fat, but these most definitely were. That's reality. Try to deal with it.

Anonymous said...

"...have tried to get me fired. I'm still here."

Union or not it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher with tenure for being a horrible teacher. Nowadays a teacher needs to do something drastic or inappropriate with a student in order to get fired. The only thing worse than this system is having horrible teachers brag about it.

It is no surprise at all that you are not bothered with being called a racist.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I happen to be a very good teacher. When the superintendent interviewed fifteen former students in the course of his investigation, many proclaimed me to be their favorite teacher and several had liberal parents like you. As I said above, you could look it up.

And, by the way: I don't belong to the union. They'd just take my dues and give it to liberal causes you would support.

I understand that liberals like you consider yourselves more enlightened and morally superior to the rest of us and can't understand why I don't cringe at your baseless accusations. You see, I used to be a misguided liberal before I grew up. I take charges of racism, homophobia, misogyny, bigotry, etc. from whence they come: a liberal who has no intelligent points to make.

I'm all done jousting with you now. I have another column to finish and I'm sure you won't like that one either.

Anonymous said...

"...liberals like you consider yourselves more enlightened and morally superior to the rest of us"

That notion is not coming from liberals, it is coming from your own insecurities.

I used to be a mis-guided, selfish neocon before I matured and understood the error of my ways. I understand your comfort with the term racist...if the shoe fits.

Being proclaimed a "favorite" teacher by a student has nothing to do with being a GOOD teacher.

I look forward to your next column. I enjoy them all for the feedback that results. Your letters constantly getting exposed for the mis-leading fluff that they are, week after week in the Daily Sun and on this site is a great service to the community.

DAWN said...

My two sons and now daughter-in-law were in Tom's class years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his class saying that he presented both sides of the issues in a fair and consistent manner.

To the anon who mentioned about going to FA b/c it's much better...of course you'd say that. Most of the teachers there are exactly opposite of Tom and very forceful of their liberal opinions. Hmmmm but you're not going to mention that? That's ok, right? Because it mimics yours?

One of my sons was openly mocked by his teacher for being a Christian as in "how ignorant you must be" attitude. The only reason she even knew, most likely, was because she saw my letters to the editor in the local paper and figured out his religious affiliation through me. Everyone knew in her class you kept your Christian belief to yourself. She was hostile to that belief. He got his lowest grade in her class which turned out to be his major in college. Hmmmm coincidence? I don't think so. We never said a word because we knew it would go nowhere.

BTW..being a good teacher is not mutually exclusive to being a favorite teacher either. My favorite teachers then, and still now, as I'm constantly learning are good teachers.

Anonymous said...

for whomever's information Mr. Mclaughlin repeatedly tell us, "That's my opinion. you may agree or disagree it's your choice." And he is also my favorite teacher.

Anonymous said...

Oh ya, whomever you are who was "jousting" with mr. mclaughlin, if you don't like him so much then WHY, may i ask, do you READ his columns and bother to go onto his blog? You could simply ignore him and go along your merry way.

Ralph said...

To my conservative friends, including Tom:

Don't be too harsh with our little liberal friends. They live in excruciatingly painful times, as their messiah turns out to be just another clueless turncoat moron. That's gotta hurt their little feelings a LOT.

They aren't really mean. They just wanna play ...

Poor creatures, really.

Anonymous said...

r"You could simply ignore him and go along your merry way."

That seems to be the way many people go through life....see a problem, ignore it.

Racism, bigotry...turn your head and ignore and it won't exist.

Climate change...ignore.


Anonymous said...

To the cons, including Ralph:

Sorry for upsetting you. I realize you are quite delicate and do not respond well to those that disagree with you. You would much rather have us go "merrily on our way" rather than discuss topics.

Although times are rough for some (but not for the elitist fat cats that cons live to serve and enrich)
at least we have a very good president with whom without god only knows how bad things would be.

I know you aren't really mean either, just ignorant.

Pathetic beings, really.

Best of grandparents were republicans until their late 60's....there is still hope.

Anonymous said...

I'm not ignorant, I just haven't had the same education of politics as I suspect the "attackers" of my comment are... I'm 13. I guess I see the world and political issues through adolescent eyes.

I'm flattered at the thought that you thought that I was WAY older than I actually am, so thanks.

Anonymous said...

For your information the definition of ignorant is: lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular

so yes you are ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Ralph is 13?!?

THAT explains it!


Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to think that Tom is getting 13 year olds to write his entire columns as homework assignments. Now that would really explain the juvenile and sophmoric writing!