Friday, December 11, 2009

The Odds Facing Our President

By Frank Schaeffer

As I was watching the Nobel acceptance speech delivered by President Obama. Two thoughts crashed into my brain.

First, Obama is a better, smarter and wiser person than me and perhaps than most of us.

Second, he is certainly brighter than all his critics combined.

If you haven’t watched the speech please do! You can find it here:

The Odds Facing Our President

I think of our President as “The Professor.” And you know how our culture rewards its best teachers! I think of Obama as a prophet. And you know what happens to prophets! I think of Obama as a good and righteous person. And you know what the reward for unselfish goodness is!

Obama is a quality individual leading a nation that is wallowing in trash. From the left he faces a barrage of half-baked idealism and smart-ass impatience. From the right he faces outright hate and willful ignorance.

Who Stands Up For Our President?

Who will stand up for this man who is quite obviously the best and most moral leader in politics today – here or anywhere in the world? If not Americans with a sense of proportion and history then who will facilitate the success of the Obama presidency?

Does this mean that I think Obama is perfect or above criticism? No. But look around. He’s the best we have or have had in our lifetimes. And there is a time and place for making a critique. This isn’t the time or place to rearrange the furniture. Our house is on fire.

America is fighting for its life; from the economy to Afghanistan, from a failed educational system to a failed public transport sector, from global warming to a continuing struggle for jobs. There are times when loyalty, trust and faith in our leader actually makes sense. This is that time.

Faith in Obama is not a blind faith. In his first year in office he is starting to stack up real accomplishments against all odds. But there is a long way to go.

My frustration is that I have no idea how to express my support for the President. Maybe there are others who share my strong feeling that the Obama presidency is our last best shot to get it right on so many issues, from justice to education, from spiritual values, to how and where we wage war.

Do Obama’s Critics Ever Stop to Ask Themselves What the Alternative Is?

The glib sound bite culture, the short attention spans, the impatience, the sophomoric immaturity of our nation, which Obama is trying to lead, is so evident in how cavalier Obama’s critics are. If Obama’s critics succeed (knowingly or unknowingly) in contributing to an Obama failure what’s next?

From the right come the false claims that Obama is driving our country to “socialism” or “communism.” And that’s the more “reasonable” of the crazy right’s lies! That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the rube Republican’s lies – that he’s the “Anti-Christ,” “not born in America”, on and on. In a pre-media age, pre-Fox News, pre-Rupert Murdoch age before fools were given megaphones and a national stage the impact of the outright nut cases and their “ideas” would be negligible. No more.

And from the left, what do we get? We get formerly promising websites that were once boldly claiming they’d soon replace traditional newspapers as sources of news now wallowing in tits and ass trash, celebrity gossip and “commentary” by such “thinkers” as critics who can’t get past punch line sneering at the real and complicated world. To such Obama critics, their impatience is the key to their restless lack of steady support for our president. They wanted change and they wanted it -- now! They wanted Obama to be Jesus and “fix” everything -- now! They wanted his presidency to feel like election night euphoria forever. They can’t stand the real sausage-making process of actual governance.

Meanwhile in the real world President Obama is trying to repair the damage done to America (and the planet) by George W. Bush; arguably the worst president in American history. Obama is also trying to lead an American public that has been failed by the right and the left and nowhere more glaringly than in the public’s lack of education. Obama leads a nation that, somewhere along the line, has lost its common sense too.

Which brings up a fatful point: President Obama is smart and a huge chunk of America is woefully (even gleefully!) dumb. Can an extra-bright president lead an essentially uneducated, worse, an anti-education country?

I don’t know.

I do know that the greatest threat to our national security is found in the textbook convergence of all that’s most wrong about the American left and the American right: education.

Saving Education: the Ultimate Presidential Test

On the right... we have Americans who don’t even believe in public schools and who have conducted a war against them, from their home school movement, to the “Christian” school movement, to their de-funding of any program they can de-fund on the weird anti-communitarian "principle" that all government is bad. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the anti-education “values” preached by fundamentalist Christians (Palin’s “Real Americans” who fear learning and sophistication) who are anti-science and anti-art and anti-facts and in favor of an evangelical mythology that ranges from creationism to lies about gays. (One lie: gays are choosing to be gay and are able to be “healed” and or “cured” of gayness if they would only love Jesus enough!)

On the left... we have a movement disgustingly co-opted by and in bed with, the teacher’s union. This union seems to come from some educational hell defined by its defense of -- and commitment to – mind-numbing mediocrity. And we have teacher training colleges that have churned out teachers “trained” in psychobabble yet who can barely speak the English language and are – like many Americans – a bland mix of anti-knowledge mediocrity, wherein everything is reduced to work sheets, books are replaced with computers on every desk (and other distractions welling from the heart of our entertainment-besotted “culture”) distracting students from the real business of education: the molding of human beings into creatures who love learning for its own sake because it’s beautiful.

One of the great things about President Obama is that he is serious about educational reform. But as with the rest of his agenda he seems to me to be more and more like that proverbial Dutch boy in the old story about the boy who stands alone with his finger plugging the leak in the sea wall while protecting a sleeping and blissfully unaware population.

The Question Is: Where are the President’s Reinforcements?

With the left and right united in their sniping at the President – though from differing angles – where is the America that cares about our future enough to speak up for him and thus for ourselves?

Americans that have the sense to understand just what is so great about Obama – say those of us that listened to what he said when accepting the Nobel and “get” it – need to be heard from. Who are we? We’re Americans that believe in maintaining and creating public spaces. We're people not too proud to follow the man we voted for loyally until such time as he's had a chance to give it his best.

We understand the value of community. We understand the unusual moment we’re in, when we are -- at last and maybe for the last time in the foreseeable future – being led by a great man who brings realism and idealism to his task in equal measure in everything from foreign policy to health care reform.

If we blow this chance we have only ourselves to blame for a very bleak future.

* * *

Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism).

His previous articles at The BRAD BLOG can be read here...


Blakesleel said...

As someone who works for the teachers union, I think you have it wrong. I've seen you on Rachael Maddow's show and have always been intrigued by what you have to say.

But in this case I think you need to do more research. Teacher unions are not for mediocrity. When no one else fights for children that the rest of the country ignores, we are lobbying legislators who say they are only doing the best for kids...but fail to fund the very support systems they need. In our state, it was our state association that fought for a better quality licensure program for teachers. We continue to fight to make sure that teaching continues to be a profession and that there are not back door ways to become certified, putting anyone in the classroom. Having knowledge is one doesn't always equate to being able to teach.

Can education be improved, yes. Are teachers the problem...I don't think so. I am always amazed at the work our teachers do...and the real difference they make in the lives of children most people dismiss as "bad seeds," or children "who can't learn."

In our community, the local county executive decided that he should cut his budget in places such as the teen pregnancy program and other programs that support women and children. To think that these types of cuts don't have a direct impact on schools is ridiculous.

Our communities have decided it is easier to complain about taxes and to get on some uneducated soapbox about how poorly schools are doing, when in fact what teachers are doing is amazing work.

What people forget is that teachers don't make the rules. They don't set the budgets. They don't create the policies...these are done by administrators and school boards.

It is easy to pick on the teachers who face unbelievable challenges in the classroom everyday...and to pick on the union who continues to work to improve the working conditions (which are also the students learning conditions) and to improve/maintain salary and benefits so that upcoming bright and talented people don't decide to choose an easier profession that pays more.

David said...

Awesome post. I left the right during the Bush years. Obama speaks to my sense of what is right and reasonable in a chaotic and diverse society which cannot be governed by political or religious extremism.
I attempt at every opportunity to correct people when they say some unfounded obsurd comment about our president.

Charlotte said...

As usual, you basically read my mind.
We don't deserve him. I'm still astounded that we even managed to elect him. Perfect? No. But way better than anyone else around. What's the solution to the vast American ignorance and indifference on issues that really matter? I don't know... but the way I stay (somewhat) sane is to not own a TV, not spend time on celebrity gossip or other non-news, seek to learn new things every day, try to engage in meaningful discussions with reasonable people, and contribute to causes I find worthy.

Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi David and Charlotte, many thanks for the kind words. Hi Blakesleel thank you too. Note that my oldest son is a teacher and a very good one, has been for 11 years teaching high school and loving it.

So to say the least (!) I love one teacher lots and respect teachers. I guess having read in so many places, for instance recently in the New Yorker, about the teacher's union standing in the way of reform I have come to believe it.

Of course there's always another side to things so I'm glad you took the time on my blog to present a good case and am also glad to give you the space here to do that.

Best, Frank

The Elephant's Child said...

I wholeheartedly agree with this. I do what I can do -- speak well of the President, try to persuade people to respect the office even if they dislike the incumbent, and give my $25 periodically, as I'm able.

I only wish the people who want him to succeed were as well-organized as those who want him to fail.

nancy said...

I'm an American expat living in London, and if Europe, Africa and Asia were to vote today, they'd vote Obama. And so would I. I might disagree with him on specific issues, sure, but I respect and support him absolutely. He's the 'governor', as they say here; the business. And he's as smart and complex as the world is.

John said...

I agree that we have an "uneducated, worse, an anti-education country" but I suggest quite a different cause. It's hardly the teachers unions but those whose oppose the notion that the important task of teaching our youth should be a well-paying, respected profession.

Look instead to the "rube" Republican liars who know that an educated electorate does NOT vote Republican.

GK said...

h my God Frank, teachers unions? These are the enemy? Frank why don't you contact me and follow my day in an urban middle school? Let me know after you see and wince at daily life there that people like me don't need a union. Do you know anything about the new urban education "reformers" like Klein, Rhee and Obama's Education Secretary Duncan? How they have broken the backs of the unions where they've been, ruined the careers of decent, hardworking people and turned teaching and learning into a hellish, meaningless search for higher test scores. Do you know about their connections to the new, unionless, charter schools run for profit? Frank, when it comes to education, you have a lot of learning to do. You can start here

John Smith said...

Frank, doesn't the Orthodox Church, of which you claim to be a member, teach that homosexuality is a sinful passion, abomination, evil, and that which Christians should condemn? The Church certainly doesn't teach that God made people gay by birth or otherwise, does it? You said God made them that way in your Huff article of Dec. 9th. Is God the author of sin? And didn't Christ become incarnate in order to cure us, to heal us, of our sinfulness? Would that include the sinful passion of homosexuality that God did not create and hates? Are you denying the work of Christ, thereby denying the Faith? I think Orthodox Christianity teaches that our humanity is in need of curing and healing through a life of repentance. So yes, Orthodox Christians say to the homosexuals: "repent, change, God did not make you that way. You did with your corrupt will inclined towards evil and in conjunction with the demons." It's also funny how you disrespect the Holy Scriptures by saying they have "dumb parts" and "mistakes" as you did in that same article. The Fathers are all in agreement on the LITERAL interpretation of Genesis. Remember the Six Days of Saint Basil the Great? Chrysostom, Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Ambrose of Milan, and Saint Symeon the New Theologian are all in agreement. But you call them stupid and backward as you call the Holy Scriptures stupid and backward. Why do you spit on Holy Tradition and the Saints, thereby betraying the Faith?

john.defelice said...

Christ cures the sinful passions of self-righteousness too. That log in your eye bothering you at all Mr Smith? Or are you just so used to it that's it become invisible? And the Fathers "all in agreement?" Only because they never saw the evidence. The church evolves just as we did. With knowledge comes change. We don't believe in slavery anymore either (or at least the Christians I fellowship with don't. With Dominionists there's a desire to revive the peculiar institution). And the Greek Orthodox church fathers were all in agreement that slavery was a normal part of society and did nothing to end it. They just blindly regulated it. I recall a 5th century slave collar that proclaimed, "I belong to Bishop Felix. If you find me return me." And your pal Ambrose? He excomunicated a Roman emperor for demanding that an angry mob of self righteous Christians that burned down a synogogue be arrested and make restitution! Chrysostom had a few problems as well which you probably know unless you've limited your reading to mere hagiography. And what of the violent, murdering orthodox mob, egged on by their hate-filled bishop, that murder and tore apart Hypatia of Alexandria? Seems we all need grace and forgiveness, Mr. Smith, even you and your church fathers, who were just as ignorant and sinful as the rest of us. So you don't win by name dropping. Spitting? You're the one spitting out accusations of demonic possession on the poor gay folk. Singling out one "sin" while being blind to the many of religious conservatives is the height of blindness. Or just plain hypocrisy. Take your pick. So I say to mean spirited and bigoted members of the religious right that attack Frank as a matter of policy and habit, "repent, change, God did not make you that way. You did with your corrupt will inclined towards evil and in cooperation with the demons." I like that quote. I'll start using it when confronting hate and bigotry in the church. So we'll pray for you Mr. Smith. Someday you may know Christ's endless love!

LAWRENCE of A said...

Dear Frank:
As good a tribute to our potentially "best" president as I have read, and an accurate and chilling description of the problems he faces. I felt his promise during the campaign and was drawn out of my age 73 "slactivist" chair to walk the streets and ring doorbells during bad weather to create voters for him. I think all of us supporters have to get out and campaign again, call senators, talk to people, ring doorbells, educate, educate, educate, argue with doubters, and anti-governmentists, anti-Obamists, arch conservatives, obstructionists, anti-global warmists, anti-health care crusaders, and anyone else who has failed to understand the HUGE PROBLEMS this Earth and country are facing and try before it is really too late get people to unite behind his leadership. If we don't, it will be "our" fault as well as "their" fault.

Thanks for your article, keep up the good words.


John said...

Education's Dismal Cycle (Edited)

Entire article:

Private schools (secular and religious) don’t require a state teaching credential or a bachelor’s degree. Private school teachers earn significantly less money than public school teachers and have nowhere near the fringe benefits.

Yet, despite these obvious handicaps, test scores of private school students tend to be higher than those at many of our public schools.

How do we explain this discrepancy? How do we explain under-qualified teachers producing superior results? If we knew that non-certified doctors were “curing” patients at a higher rate than real doctors, we’d find out why.

But education is different. When it comes to the dynamics of public schools we don’t look too closely at societal influences, at poverty, at crime, or at the role of the parent. We don’t focus on the lack of discipline, disrespect for authority, unstable home environments, language barriers, lack of state money being invested in education, or the administrative merry-go-round passing as “leadership”—all of which contribute mightily to the problem.

The aforementioned factors are too daunting and politically “dangerous” to address head-on, we take a different tack. We look for an easier target, a convenient, high-profile group to ravage. We blame the teachers union.

Today, children in the U.S. are required by law to attend school until age 16 (or in some states, even older).

Compulsory attendance requires every American kid under 16 to be funneled into public school. This includes the goof-offs, the scholars, the shy kids, the loudmouths, the Crips, the Bloods, the nerds, the punks, the emotionally disturbed, the casually neglected, the criminally abused, the pampered, the verbally gifted, the non-English speakers, savvy kids, kids who haven’t got a clue, kids whose parents do science projects with them, and kids whose parents, literally, don’t know what grade they’re in.

Astonishingly, all of these students are required to take identical state-mandated tests, the results of which are the basis for rating a school’s performance.

Unfortunately, just as private schools are comprised of students who want to be there, public schools are jammed with students who don’t want to be there.

Moreover, the cardinal rule still applies today: good schools are generally found in good neighborhoods, and bad schools are found in bad neighborhoods. This fundamental disparity that spawned the “forced busing” movement in the 1970s.

Increasingly, families who place a high premium on education are pulling their kids out of struggling public schools and placing them in charter schools, private schools or more affluent public schools.

The kids who leave these public schools would have raised the schools’ test scores. Indeed, with these good students leaving, test scores are all but guaranteed to remain low; and with test scores remaining low, conscientious parents won’t send their kids to public schools because they believe low scores indicate poor teaching. The parents find alternatives which serve to perpetuate the dismal cycle, continue to make public schools look bad.

So which families are destined to remain at these struggling neighborhood schools? It’s the weak, the lazy, the stupid, the negligent, the over-worked, the self-pitying, the apathetic, the innocent, and the guilty. It includes those who tried to get out but couldn’t, to those who didn’t care enough even to try.

And who gets blamed for the failures of the public school system? The teachers’ union. That’s because holding parents accountable for the bare minimum—for demanding that daily homework be completed, that school work take precedence over watching television or playing grab-ass—is politically risky. After all, many of these parents are voters. Best not to rile them. It’s easier to blame the teachers.

Michael said...

I support Obama because he tries to look past ideology (right or left) and search for pragmatic solutions. On education, I think he's doing that.

Do your detractors think that our nation's public schools don't need an overhaul? DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee is not going after teacher's unions because she's against teachers, but because she's against bad teachers.

I believe teachers need to be judged by their performance just like any other profession. This is not blaming teachers, it's blaming the system. Cutting down on the number of ineffective tenured teachers, and replacing them with effective ones, can only be good for students. Let's get behind Obama and his quest for education reform that doesn't demonize public schools like the right, nor ignores elements of a damaged system like the left.

And yes, parents have their role too. A comprehensive reform is required.

GK said...

Michael, I wonder if you have ever worked a job for twenty or more years where you were "evaluated" by someone who had worked in the same job, perhaps two years or never one day in their lives ? You now have an accurate description of working life under Klein, Rhee, Duncan etc..
Working 25 years in middle schools. I've never been too concerned with "bad" teachers. If you're really that "bad", you will never survive in a classroom. I've seen dozens of teachers come and rightly go when they couldn't do the job. I've also seen the most inept , dishonest, clueless and self-serving people taking control of the working lives of people who should be their masters and are now cowering as their slaves.
Have you ever heard of the workshop model, data driven instruction, and other shallow faddish nonsense rammed down the throats of school children and forced upon experienced, wiser educators? When one of my colleagues saw the new curriculum she had to teach, she immediately pulled both of her kids out of our city's schools and into private ones. She saw the sham being perpetrated as only someone on the inside could.Have you ever met a kid who scored a "3" which means at or above grade level in reading and could barely read at all? I could introduce you to dozens of them . These are the same people our mayor took credit for helping when the test scores rose dramatically recently. Hmmm, I wonder how that happened?
You might know about the effectiveness of "marketing" Michael, because that's what these new educational reformers have done well. They've sold the idea of educational "reform" to members of the public like you. If you have any interest in the truth about what's being done to kids, and people who work in education, get yourself inside a school and experience what's really happening there now.
And by the way Michael, I hope you never have to face someone who suddenly finds that you're not "GOOD".Kind of a vague,subjective, concept isn't it? Especially when applied to human beings. God help all of those less than good people who in their hearts know that maybe they're really not so bad after all.