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  •  Ken, this is more than an ideological question (18+ / 0-)

    that I'm going to ask, because I guess it's also a pedagogical one for you a teacher teacherken.

    How do you teach kids about things like this without turning it into the worst kind of smirking liberal cynicism?  I ask that not because you or I smirk, but because I feel like I've seen this too often, where somebody wants to inform kids about fucked up things that have happened in this country and instead fosters a dispassionate sense that none of it really matters because it's always been Hell and always will be.

    I'm not asking you how to "inspire" to care, because I suppose I assume that most kids are already predisposed to care a little bit and have a sense of their generation's responsibility.  I'm asking, how do you teach them about things like this without TOTALLY KILLING that spark of decent civic responsibility because the America sucks, always has, always will.

    I've talked to some people about this before and been told, "But it's the truth, everything this country was built on is a lie," etc., etc.  That's less of a historical argument than a metaphysical one when things are reduced to that level.  If all you can tell kids is that things have been evil, still are evil, evil things continue to happen, then it seems perfectly natural for them to just say, "Well, that's the way the world is!  There's no point in my worrying about it!  I might as well get what I can while I can!  And meanwhile feel sorry for all the dumbshits that don't know how bad things really are!"

    That's an extreme point of view and part of its appeal is that it's so simple and relieves one of enormous burdens.  It also makes you superior to people who want to do things to bring about change because they're too dumb to know how pointless it is.  

    I've encountered this frequently, both here on DailyKos and elsewhere, with conservatives, when talking about Bush's torture programs.  People on both the right and the left were EAGER to dismiss the importance of it by pointing to isolated past instances of torture, for instance during the FDR administration with the captured Nazi saboteurs.  As if bringing this up means that there was no big deal, nothing new to worry about, when Bush instituted a codified government program of torture.  That was a position I heard on both the right and the left.

    Likewise, with the NSA domestic spying issue that's hot right now.  Many were quick to try to "inform" us that there has always been some level of government misdeeds and spying on the public and so what is the big deal everybody's making of it now?  That may seem to be a launching point for a historical debate, but it's really a metaphysical debate over how irretrievably evil our country is -- a position that appeals most to people who would just rather not have to worry about it or feel the need to activate.

    •  you deserve a thoughtful answer (8+ / 0-)

      to which I will probably not be able to respond until much later today.  Our freshman are arriving and as of 15 minutes from now I have to be on duty and I am still making copies, setting things up and trying to finish my morning coffee.  Later, I promise.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 03:52:33 AM PDT

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      •  How can we as citizens support a government (10+ / 0-)

        we can neither trust nor honor? What do we do as human beings to live with love among and for ourselves?

        The whole farce of Obama and Cameron invoking chemical weapons as a rationale to attack a country with which we have no direct conflict is so baldly riffed off of Dubya and Blair as to be ridiculous if it were so maddeningly arrogant and stupid.

        "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both." - James Madison, 1822

        by Superskepticalman on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 04:25:22 AM PDT

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        •  The apparent consensus that US should get involved (7+ / 0-)

          shows how extreme the hubris has gotten.  Back in the distant mists of 2008, I thought I saw a consensus starting to develop that there needed to be a major rethinking of the application of force abroad.  Like so many things from that time, those hopes of mine proved to be ill-founded.

          The MIC hasn't missed a step in the past 4+ years, and the Security Industrial Complex has, if anything, grown more powerful in that period.  Those sad facts raise serious questions about the reformability of our system.

          Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

          by RFK Lives on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 06:48:48 AM PDT

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        •  The owner of the cruise missile factory (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marina, Dumbo

          has been wanting to buy a new yacht.  He promised to get an extra one to leave hanging around for the intelligence crews to go deep sea fishing on, and yet another one for a few crucial "trusted political advisers" to use for outings with their families.

          If only  his orders could increase above "peace time levels" he could take easily care of everyone.

          ^ Totally fabricated ^, but easily believable.

          Our decision-making has less to do with ... real foreign policy, ideals, standards, or whatever, than it does with profits and venture capitalists concerns. Those are always paramount.

          Our "moral authority" to act on anything, let alone bombing another nation which is zero threat to us is ... well, let's say "lacking."

          "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

          by YucatanMan on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 08:43:08 AM PDT

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      •  My son's 10th grade AP World History teacher (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        happymisanthropy, marina, Dumbo

        Told his class that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. She also told them to listen to Lars Larsen.

        "Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.” --Lord Vetinari

        by voracious on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 08:06:30 AM PDT

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    •  If you heard it on both the right and the left, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      how is is LIBERAL cynicism?

      ...although I have to admit how fed up I am with the endless parade of "America is, and always has been, Satan's throne" articles appearing on this blog. One won't find anything like that on the Right (except when politically expedient, tee hee.)

      •  I know that if I were truly cynical, I would not (7+ / 0-)

        be bothered.

        I am outraged because I care.

        Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

        by GreenMother on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 04:30:52 AM PDT

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      •  I'll tell you how it's "liberal" cynicism. (0+ / 0-)

        Bill O'Reilly did a segment (later debunked, but that's not even relevant here) about how the US had mass-tortured Germany prisoners in World War II at a certain battlefield.

        (For another POV on how America treated its German Nazi POWs, read my 2007 diary, My Mother Baked Biscuits for Nazis.)

        Bill O'Reilly's point wasn't that torture was BAD, though.  Bill O'Reilly's point was basically:  "Torture?  SO WHAT?  That cow's been out of the barn for 60 years!  Why complain about it now?  Why act as if it's a big deal when it's just business as usual?"  It's cynicism as an attempt to JUSTIFY continued actions without addressing the morality of it at all.

        The difference when liberals make this argument is that they're saying this: "Torture?  SO WHAT?  Sure, it's awful, awful, but I saw a History Channel thing about it, and it just confirms we're the suckiest country in the history of the world, so what do you expect?  I can't believe you're just learning about this now!  You sound so naive!  We should be worrying about more real world things, like the Obama Rodeo Clown!"

        That's a totally different argument.  It acknowledges the immorality of the action while snidely insinuating that being distressed about it is a sign of not knowing the evil nature of the world.  It doesn't justify more torture.  It just yawns and feigns an air of superiority.

    •  Excellent question, Dumbo ... (6+ / 0-)

      and I look forward to Teacherken's reply. I also had a difficult moment typing "Dumbo" just now because clearly you are not!

      My personal response to fend off that creeping cynicism continues to be focusing on what I can do locally. The larger issues feel like a thundercloud looming on the distant horizon. It may produce a tornado that takes out my neighborhood but it could dissipate before it gets here, so I'll continue to tend my own garden.

      Is that cynical? Probably. But it's about the best I can do.

      "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

      by annan on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 05:22:15 AM PDT

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    •  I would simply counter every instance of (4+ / 0-)

      American imperialism with the ideals outlined and suggested at in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

      Let the kids see the difference between how government is supposed work and what it's supposed to look like and what it looks like when the powerful and greedy run amok and sail the nation into the rocks, so to speak.

      I would try and instill in them a sense of American idealism but not exceptionalism.

      "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis Brandies

      by Pescadero Bill on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 07:23:25 AM PDT

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      •  We are humans trying to do better (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pescadero Bill, annan

        Great thought, bill. I might even couch it as an example of nastiness for every example of obtaining our ideals.   We have ideals we try to meet, but a country of hundreds of millions of people isn't going to get it right always.  We may aspire, but I think the message is that progress isn't always easy but it is things like this that makes that effort so important.  The bad things are why he efforts is necessary

      •  Actually, I kind of LIKE the idea (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        YucatanMan, annan

        of exceptionalism.  We shouldn't have special rights and duties to the rest of the world -- not that part of it -- but I do like the idea that the US should TRY to be special and better than the other countries.  Despite all the crap we can serve up on slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, MK Ultra, Iraq, Vietnam, enhanced interrogation, Japanese Internment, all that -- we're still a pretty good country in that we usually make a good faith effort to learn from our errors after things cool down, and we do it from a communal sense that it's the right thing to do, that there IS a "right thing" to do.  

    •  I'll take a shot at that... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, Pescadero Bill, annan, saluda
      How do you teach kids about things like this without turning it into the worst kind of smirking liberal cynicism?  I ask that not because you or I smirk, but because I feel like I've seen this too often, where somebody wants to inform kids about fucked up things that have happened in this country and instead fosters a dispassionate sense that none of it really matters because it's always been Hell and always will be.
      Three of my four kids completed AP World History and AP US History and Government during their recent high school years; those three are now at university, but my fourth child is enrolled in AP US History this year.  As you might imagine, I've been doing deep dives into this stuff for the last several years.  **grin**

      Basically, I've approached most questions of this sort as marriages of convenience.  They had already learned about tribes, empires and nations being united through marriage, so it wasn't a new concept to them; it also ties into cultural references to "marrying into a nice family."  (Insert pop culture reference here - Legally Blonde?  Van Wilder?) There's also a tie-in with proxy wars (from privateers in the sailing days to Cold War conflicts between the US and USSR/China), and one is almost required to bring in some mention of chess and sacrificing pieces with an eye toward the endgame.

      The key point is to help them understand that no government operates from a fixed set of goals.  Every government is in a state of flux, to some degree, thanks to the shifting nature of military power, population changes, natural resources, economic development, and a host of other factors.  This constant change leads to "friend today/foe tomorrow" relationships; Iraq's Hussein was hardly the first example of such a relationship.

      I completely agree that there's a real risk of engendering the cynicism you describe.  I found these quotes useful in sparking discussion along those lines:

      De Gaulle: "Men can have friends, statesmen cannot."
      De Gaulle: "France has no friends, only interests."
      Kissinger: "America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests."
      Kissinger: "A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security."
      Another means of dampening cynicism is to discuss the counterexamples--the exceptions that prove the rule, if you will.  Consider the "special relationship" between the US and UK; even when it leads both nations down a bad path (e.g. Iraq), we basically have each other's back despite the armed rebellion against the Crown that won our independence.  One might also discussion our relationship with Japan; despite the fact that we waged total (and atomic) war against that nation, today they are a strong ally and an economic near-equal of the US.  The Marshall Plan also provides a point of discussion here, in that rebuilding Europe after WWII was most definitely a long-term, eye-toward-the-endgame action on the part of the US government.

      Learning defeats cynicism.

      The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

      by wesmorgan1 on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 08:09:54 AM PDT

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      •  Those quotes conveniently serve the agenda of (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the 1%.

        When a country's foreign policy is reduced to little more than serving its "interests", it's just pursuing imperialism by another name. Imperialism, that is, for the sake of the ruling class of the day.

        You can almost always reduce the arguments someone like Kissinger makes to that of serving and trying to expand the powers and wealth of the ruling class. Power and domination are all his kind know.

        The motivations behind such quotes are critical to any discussion on them IMHO.

        "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis Brandies

        by Pescadero Bill on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 08:47:32 AM PDT

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        •  Everything doesn't come down to 1%/99%... (0+ / 0-)

          I completely agree that those quotes should lead directly to discussion and analysis of the specific interests of the nation under discussion, but there's no way that every national interest is an agenda item of the 1%, particularly where domestic policies are concerned.

          Consider that the most developed nations consider it in their national interest to provide universal health care.  Do you consider that a 1%/99% issue for them?

          Consider that the US considers it in their national interest to fund and provide K-12 public education to all citizens.  At its core, is that a 1%/99% issue?  We'd have a much different discussion on the question of a national interest in providing free collegiate education to all citizens, would we not?

          When it comes to foreign policy, there's a thin line between self-protection and imperialism; there's also a huge "eye of the beholder" aspect to the question. For instance, there are MANY folks who considered our military actions against Afghanistan "self-protection", but condemned our military actions against Iraq "imperialism."

          If we broaden our discussion of foreign policy to economic and trade issues, your 1%/99% scenario DOES become an important part of the discussion, to be sure, but even there I don't think we can just make a universal argument that it's ALL 1%/99%.

          The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

          by wesmorgan1 on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 09:26:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That view can readily be challenged. They, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the 1%, not the Teabagger bozos, do want healthcare, because the lack, in the end, costs them and costs them plenty. Thye do want public education because they need a moderately educated sworkforce.

            There is no thin line between protection and imperialism, not since WWII. We have been at war, overtly or covertly, my entire life, but almost never with any justification or provocation. Most of the provocations have been responses to our misbehavior to boot.

            That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

            by enhydra lutris on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 11:00:46 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  By that standard... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              enhydra lutris, Dumbo

              you can argue that any national interest of any nation benefits its 1%.  I'll give you an extreme top-of-my-head example:

              Swiss neutraility is obviously part of that nation's "agenda of the 1%"; they haven't had to rebuild their infrastructure (or their financial markets) for generations, and that has only helped the 1% to maintain their preeminence in Swiss society and government..

              I could argue that the isolationist US policies of the early 20th century were tools of the "1% agenda", could I not?  They knew that war would cut into their profits and plans for expansion, so they pressured the government to stay out of both World Wars...right?

              If all you look for is "the 1% agenda", that's all you'll ever see.

              The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

              by wesmorgan1 on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 11:28:01 AM PDT

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              •  Quite true, but the push for publilc education (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Pescadero Bill

                in this country was two pronged, so that everybody could read the bible, and to provided an educated workforce, it is in the historical record.

                Obama's push for "healthcare reform" acknowledged the benefit to businesses and wall street, for example. The stats about down time, lost person hours, productivity losses have been talked up for some time now. Curing them is not pushedas a boon to the workerment, but management and owners.

                That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

                by enhydra lutris on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 12:43:04 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sometimes, on occasion, the needs of the (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  enhydra lutris

                  1% and the 99% coincide for different reasons.  That's a good thing, in my view.  We ought to exploit those opportunities more often.

                  I've stated before that if I had a business again, I'd be jumping for joy at the idea of SINGLE PAYER, not the ACA as it finally came out.  Why?  Because it's a pain in the ass when you're a small business trying to choose and administer a health plan for your employees and listen to them complain about their plan or their doctors.  It's not what you go into business to do.  So that's a place where the needs of the 1% and the 99% could intersect, except for the insurance industry which would try to sabotage it.  Still, that's just one industry.

          •  but if it didn't benefit the 1% (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Pescadero Bill

            it wouldn't happen.

            Reasonable suspicion? How can being wrong 98.6% of the time ever be reasonable?

            by happymisanthropy on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 11:54:47 AM PDT

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    •  There's also a history of fighting evil. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sillia, teacherken, annan

      If somebody points out that the latest examples of wrong doing are part of a long and horrific pattern, that doesn't mean they're saying that the recent examples are no big deal, or that it's useless to try to do something about them.  Over the centuries there have been many groups and individuals that have looked for better ways and tried to bring about change.  The problem has always been that they have been fighting against money and power, as well as ingrained prejudices, and so they lost a lot of battles.  But they did finally end slavery and eventually legal segregation.  And women did get rights they had never enjoyed before.  

      I spent years teaching writing at the college level, unfortunately as adjunct faculty, and the courses included a lot of work on critical thinking and making ethical decisions.  We discussed the students' work in class, especially in the online courses I taught, and many of the essays they wrote were political arguments.  If somebody wrote that it was useless to try to change things that had always been bad, others would have been very likely to counter that with examples of causes that had been won in spite of looking hopeless.  

      In the online courses, many, if not most, of my students were conservative, and a lot of them were in the military, including some in Iraq.  They didn't have much experience in trying to view an argument from the perspective of the opposition or in trying to back up their own views with documented facts that would convince somebody skeptical.  Since I alway discussed drafts individually with students, I was able to see students change their own minds as they struggled with the requirement to address objections people might have to their arguments.  This is why I believe that at least in a classroom situation people can see that even if they personally do not want to fight for a cause, or can't, especially a very difficult or dangerous one, there are many examples out there of succeeding in seemingly hopeless struggles. That's something people want to believe anyway.

    •  The ideals this country stands for (0+ / 0-)

      in theory, as articulated by Jefferson, Franklin, Payne, Lincoln, JFK, MLK and many others are worth teaching. AND at the same time teaching skepticism wrt history and current events. Students can develop a 'tool box' of skeptical questions to ask, when given a "story". Learn how to investigate, learn how to question. That does not have to be specifically "liberal" although of course we all know that reality has a liberal bias...

      Years ago there was  an educational program developed to help teach kids to be skeptical of TV advertising. (For all I know, it may be still around.) One of the exercises was to give each group of students an absurd product to hype, and have them write ads for it themselves, then present their product to the group. Having written false words for an "ad" makes it easier for kids to see through the hype they are barraged with all day. It gives them a set of questions to ask, before believing what they hear. Like, who stands to gain? Where is the evidence? What is not said? etc.

      If you can teach kids to be skeptical of advertising, you can teach them to ask questions about "news" and current events as well.

      Where in the Constitution does it say: "...on behalf of corporate interests" ???

      by sillia on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 10:47:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  okay, I will try something of an answer (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annan, Dumbo

      I try to ensure my students here the points of view of the various sides as best as they can be expressed, and ask them what they think and why.  Whatever they think, I will challenge them to think further.  Often I have enough disagreement among the students that we can get some interesting discussions going without my having to play a major role.

      I come with a certain amount of credibility.  I did serve in the Marines during the Vietnam era, although I would not make that choice now.  I have chosen to remain involved in the political process.  And now I have returned to teaching, believing that despite the problems of how education is being almost crushed, I can make a difference.

      I am clearly passionate.  That is part of my defense against cynicism.

      For those who begin to despair I might point at historic examples, for example, Athanasius, force into exile several times.  At one point it seemed as if the entire might of the Empire was opposed to him, and he was described as Athanosios contra Mundum - Athanasius against the world.  And yet his understanding of the nature of the trinity is what eventually prevailed in the Church.

      Abraham Lincoln served only briefly in the House, and lost his Senate race to Douglas.

      Thomas Edison failed with many many attempts at a filament for the light bulb.

      Fred Smith was told in his business class that his idea for what became Fed Ex was ridiculous and would never work.

      Add examples of your own.

      I also express it as a moral matter, of not giving up hope and giving up on making a difference.

      I acknowledge that there will be those of opposing viewpoints who also feel it is a moral matter - this is part of the difficulty of some issues, such as abortion.  so in order to survive in civil society we have to find ways of working out ways to live together, to recognize that no matter how strongly we feel on a issue, morally or religiously, at least in our system that is insufficient grounds - the oaths of office one takes are to the Constitution, which is why who gets to interpret it is so crucial.  

      I don't have a hard and fast answer.

      There are lines I am unwilling to cross, even at the expense of my vocation (teaching is truly a calling for me) or of my life.

      At this point I will not use violence to save my own life.  But I will not hesitate to kill to protect the children entrusted to my care.  Those I have taught in the past know that.

      Since there are no final answers, it is a process, one that requires engagement.

      That is part of why, and what, I teach.

      It is a major reason for why I write.

      It is why I am still alive, because it gives my life purpose, meaning.

      Don't know if that answers your question, but it is the best I can do at this point.


      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 01:42:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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