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Pat’s Chat - 03.26.15

The Gilmer Free Press

I told you last week about Brushy Fork Christian School planning to change our school from K – 8 to K -2, specializing in early childhood education.  If you are interested in enrolling your child(ren) or have questions, please call 304.472.0962.  We will need to have at least 10 students in order to open for the 2015-2016 school year.  Call 304.472.0962 and if no one answer, please leave a message.  Someone will get back to you.

Hope Through Prophecy seminar has just ended the third weekend out of four.  These messages are very exciting.  We have one more weekend, and the topic for the final night is “The Mark of the Beast.”  (I thought that was to be the subject tonight, but I was wrong.)  The message tonight proved from the Bible that Hell is real but that those who resist the love of Christ and the wooing of God’s Spirit will “perish” and become ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi 4) and will be as though they had not been (Obadiah 16).  Although the result of Hellfire is eternal, there is no one suffering now nor will there be anyone suffering eternally from it.  It is ONLY the result of the punishment that is eternal.  The Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is” not eternal life in hellfire, but “death” which is the opposite of the life that is promised in the same verse, Romans 6:23.  (www.helltruth.com is a site that will help you understand all of this and show you how “forever” is used in scripture.)  Come join us for the final three meetings, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings (March 27, 28 and 29 at 7:00 PM.  These truths from tonight’s meeting can bring such peace to your heart.

I don’t know if you know it or not, but The Record Delta is great newspaper.  I really liked many of the articles last week, especially Brian Bergstrom’s editorial about 1935.  I wanted to post it on Facebook but didn’t know how.  There is an E-edition available if you would like subscribe to it and to read it.  Just go to www.TheRecordDelta.com.

On Facebook I was challenged to post a favorite Bible verse everyday for seven days.  My verse for the fifth day today is: Psalm 119:105 (KJV) “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.“

I have studied Psalm 119 for two days. In the Hebrew this psalm is an acrostic poem. Each of the eight verses in each section begins with the same letter. The twenty-four sections represent the twenty-four letters in the Hebrew alphabet. I have highlighted words in each sentence that refer to the written word in some way: law, testimonies, statutes, words, judgments, commandments, precepts, ways. It came in my devotional book and I am quoting this story from my devotional book:

“When the crew of the Bounty mutinied and landed on lonely Pitcairn Island, they burned the ship to hide all trace of their existence. There were nine white sailors and seventeen Polynesians - six men and eleven women. One of the sailors discovered a method of making alcohol, and the island was soon debauched with drunkenness, vice, and bloodshed. Finally only one of the sailors survived, Alexander Smith, surrounded by the women and children. In one of the chests taken from the Bounty, he found a Bible and began to teach its principles to the people on the island, with the result that his own life was changed, and at last the life of the whole colony.

The Gilmer Free Press


“In 1808, nearly twenty years after the mutineers with their followers had landed on Pitcairn Island, the S.S. Topaz put a boat ashore there and found a prosperous community without drunkenness, without crime, without a jail, and with no insanity. The Bible had changed the life of that island, and it has remained a monument of God’s grace to this day.

“So it is in every age - the Holy Scriptures make things safe. They change things, they illuminate the dark places of the earth, as it is written in Psalm 119:130: ‘The entrance of thy words giveth light.’”

Maranatha!

Millions of Americans Are Embarrassingly Ill-Informed – And They Do Not Care

There must be terrible consequences when ignorance reaches a certain level.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.“ —Thomas Jefferson

Just how stupid are we? Pretty stupid, it would seem, when we come across headlines like this: “Homer Simpson, Yes—1st Amendment ‘Doh,‘ Survey Finds” (Associated Press 03.01.06).

The Gilmer Free Press

  “About 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional cartoon family, according to a survey.

  “The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22% of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.“

But what does it mean exactly to say that American voters are stupid? About this there is unfortunately no consensus. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who confessed not knowing how to define pornography, we are apt simply to throw up our hands in frustration and say: We know it when we see it. But unless we attempt a definition of some sort, we risk incoherence, dooming our investigation of stupidity from the outset. Stupidity cannot mean, as Humpty Dumpty would have it, whatever we say it means.

Five defining characteristics of stupidity, it seems to me, are readily apparent. First, is sheer ignorance: Ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, and ignorance of how our government functions and who’s in charge. Second, is negligence: The disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Third, is wooden-headedness, as the historian Barbara Tuchman defined it: The inclination to believe what we want to believe regardless of the facts. Fourth, is shortsightedness: The support of public policies that are mutually contradictory, or contrary to the country’s long-term interests. Fifth, and finally, is a broad category I call bone-headedness, for want of a better name: The susceptibility to meaningless phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases, and simplistic diagnoses and solutions that play on our hopes and fears.

American Ignorance

Taking up the first of our definitions of stupidity, how ignorant are we? Ask the political scientists and you will be told that there is damning, hard evidence pointing incontrovertibly to the conclusion that millions are embarrassingly ill-informed and that they do not care that they are. There is enough evidence that one could almost conclude—though admittedly this is a stretch—that we are living in an Age of Ignorance.

Surprised? My guess is most people would be. The general impression seems to be that we are living in an age in which people are particularly knowledgeable. Many students tell me that they are the most well-informed generation in history.

Why are we so deluded? The error can be traced to our mistaking unprecedented access to information with the actual consumption of it. Our access is indeed phenomenal. George Washington had to wait two weeks to discover that he had been elected president of the United States. That’s how long it took for the news to travel from New York, where the Electoral College votes were counted, to reach him at home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Americans living in the interior regions had to wait even longer, some up to two months. Now we can watch developments as they occur halfway around the world in real time. It is little wonder then that students boast of their knowledge. Unlike their parents, who were forced to rely mainly on newspapers and the network news shows to find out what was happening in the world, they can flip on CNN and Fox or consult the Internet.

But in fact only a small percentage of people take advantage of the great new resources at hand. In 2005, the Pew Research Center surveyed the news habits of some 3,000 Americans age 18 and older. The researchers found that 59% on a regular basis get at least some news from local TV, 47% from national TV news shows, and just 23% from the Internet.

Anecdotal evidence suggested for years that Americans were not particularly well-informed. As foreign visitors long ago observed, Americans are vastly inferior in their knowledge of world geography compared with Europeans. (The old joke is that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.“) But it was never clear until the postwar period how ignorant Americans are. For it was only then that social scientists began measuring in a systematic manner what Americans actually know. The results were devastating.

The most comprehensive surveys, the National Election Studies (NES), were carried out by the University of Michigan beginning in the late 1940s. What these studies showed was that Americans fall into three categories with regard to their political knowledge. A tiny percentage know a lot about politics, up to 50%-60% know enough to answer very simple questions, and the rest know next to nothing.

Contrary to expectations, by many measures the surveys showed the level of ignorance remaining constant over time. In the 1990s, political scientists Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter concluded that there was statistically little difference between the knowledge of the parents of the Silent Generation of the 1950s, the parents of the Baby Boomers of the 1960s, and American parents today. (By some measures, Americans are dumber today than their parents of a generation ago.)

Some of the numbers are hard to fathom in a country in which for at least a century all children have been required by law to attend grade school or be home-schooled. Even if people do not closely follow the news, one would expect them to be able to answer basic civics questions, but only a small minority can.

In 1986, only 30% knew that Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that ruled abortion legal more than a decade earlier. In 1991, Americans were asked how long the term of a United States senator is. Just 25% correctly answered six years. How many senators are there? A poll a few years ago found that only 20% know that there are 100 senators, though the number has remained constant for the last half century (and is easy to remember). Encouragingly, today the number of Americans who can correctly identify and name the three branches of government is up to 40%.

Polls over the past three decades measuring Americans’ knowledge of history show similarly dismal results. What happened in 1066? Just 10% know it is the date of the Norman Conquest. Who said the “world must be made safe for democracy”? Just 14% know it was Woodrow Wilson. Which country dropped the nuclear bomb? Only 49% know it was their own country. Who was America’s greatest president? According to a Gallup poll in 2005, a majority answer that it was a president from the last half century: 20% said Reagan, 15% Bill Clinton, 12% John Kennedy, 5% George W. Bush. Only 14% picked Lincoln and only 5%, Washington.

And the worst president? For years Americans would include in the list Herbert Hoover. But no more. Most today do not know who Herbert Hoover was, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004. Just 43% could correctly identify him.

The only history questions a majority of Americans can answer correctly are the most basic ones. What happened at Pearl Harbor? A great majority know: 84%. What was the Holocaust? Nearly 70% know. (Thirty percent don’t?) But it comes as something of a shock that, in 1983, just 81% knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was and that, in 1985, only 81% could identify Martin Luther King, Jr.

What Voters Don’t Know

Who these poor souls were who didn’t know who Martin Luther King was we cannot be sure. Research suggests that they were probably impoverished (the poor tend to know less on the whole about politics and history than others) or simply unschooled, categories which usually overlap. But even Americans in the middle class who attend college exhibit profound ignorance. A report in 2007 published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that on average 14,000 randomly selected college students at 50 schools around the country scored under 55 (out of 100) on a test that measured their knowledge of basic American civics. Less than half knew that Yorktown was the last battle of the American Revolution. Surprisingly, seniors often tested lower than freshmen. (The explanation was apparently that many students by their senior year had forgotten what they learned in high school.)

The optimists point to surveys indicating that about half the country can describe some differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties. But if they do not know the difference between liberals and conservatives, as surveys indicate, how can they possibly say in any meaningful way how the parties differ? And if they do not know this, what else do they not know?

Plenty, it turns out. Even though they are awash in news, Americans generally do not seem to absorb what it is that they are reading and hearing and watching. Americans cannot even name the leaders of their own government. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Fewer than half of Americans could tell you her name during the length of her entire tenure. William Rehnquist was chief justice of the Supreme Court. Just 40% of Americans ever knew his name (and only 30% could tell you that he was a conservative). Going into the First Gulf War, just 15% could identify Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense. In 2007, in the fifth year of the Iraq War, only 21% could name the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Most Americans cannot name their own member of Congress or their senators.

If the problem were simply that Americans are bad at names, one would not have to worry too much. But they do not understand the mechanics of government either. Only 34% know that it is the Congress that declares war (which may explain why they are not alarmed when presidents take us into wars without explicit declarations of war from the legislature). Only 35% know that Congress can override a presidential veto. Some 49% think the president can suspend the Constitution. Some 60% believe that he can appoint judges to the federal courts without the approval of the Senate. Some 45% believe that revolutionary speech is punishable under the Constitution.

On the basis of their comprehensive approach, Delli Carpini and Keeter concluded that only 5% of Americans could correctly answer three-fourths of the questions asked about economics, only 11% of the questions about domestic issues, 14% of the questions about foreign affairs, and 10% of the questions about geography. The highest score? More Americans knew the correct answers to history questions than any other (which will come as a surprise to many history teachers). Still, only 25% knew the correct answers to three-quarters of the history questions, which were rudimentary.

In 2003, the Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad investigated Americans’ knowledge of world affairs. The task force concluded: “America’s ignorance of the outside world” is so great as to constitute a threat to national security.

Young and Ignorant—and Voting

At least, you may think to yourself, we are not getting any dumber. But by some measures we are. Young people by many measures know less today than young people forty years ago. And their news habits are worse. Newspaper reading went out in the sixties along with the Hula Hoop. Just 20% of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 read a daily paper. And that isn’t saying much. There’s no way of knowing what part of the paper they’re reading. It is likelier to encompass the comics and a quick glance at the front page than dense stories about Somalia or the budget.

They aren’t watching the cable news shows either. The average age of CNN’s audience is sixty. And they surely are not watching the network news shows, which attract mainly the Depends generation. Nor are they using the Internet in large numbers to surf for news. Only 11% say that they regularly click on news web pages. (Yes, many young people watch Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. A survey in 2007 by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of the viewers of The Daily Show score in the “high knowledge” news category—about the same as the viewers of the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News.)

Compared with Americans generally—and this isn’t saying much, given their low level of interest in the news—young people are the least informed of any age cohort save possibly for those confined to nursing homes. In fact, the young are so indifferent to newspapers that they single-handedly are responsible for the dismally low newspaper readership rates that are bandied about.

In earlier generations—in the 1950s, for example—young people read newspapers and digested the news at rates similar to those of the general population. Nothing indicates that the current generation of young people will suddenly begin following the news when they turn 35 or 40. Indeed, half a century of studies suggest that most people who do not pick up the news habit in their twenties probably never will.

Young people today find the news irrelevant. Bored by politics, students shun the rituals of civic life, voting in lower numbers than other Americans (though a small up-tick in civic participation showed up in recent surveys). U.S. Census data indicate that voters aged 18 to 24 turn out in low numbers. In 1972, when 18 year olds got the vote, 52% cast a ballot. In subsequent years, far fewer voted: in 1988, 40%; in 1992, 50%; in 1996, 35%; in 2000, 36%. In 2004, despite the most intense get-out-the-vote effort ever focused on young people, just 47% took the time to cast a ballot.

Since young people on the whole scarcely follow politics, one may want to consider whether we even want them to vote. Asked in 2000 to identify the presidential candidate who was the chief sponsor of Campaign Finance Reform—Sen. John McCain—just 4% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 could do so. As the primary season began in February, fewer than half in the same age group knew that George W. Bush was even a candidate. Only 12% knew that McCain was also a candidate even though he was said to be especially appealing to young people.

One news subject in recent history, 9/11, did attract the interest of the young. A poll by Pew at the end of 2001 found that 61% of adult Americans under age 30 said that they were following the story closely. But few found any other subjects in the news that year compelling. Anthrax attacks? Just 32% indicated it was important enough to follow. The economy? Again, just 32%. The capture of Kabul? Just 20%.

It would appear that young people today are doing very little reading of any kind. In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts, consulting a vast array of surveys, including the United States Census, found that just 43% of young people ages 18 to 24 read literature. In 1982, the number was 60%. A majority do not read either newspapers, fiction, poetry, or drama. Save for the possibility that they are reading the Bible or works of non-fiction, for which solid statistics are unavailable, it would appear that this generation is less well read than any other since statistics began to be kept.

The studies demonstrating that young people know less today than young people a generation ago do not get much publicity. What one hears about are the pioneer steps the young are taking politically. Headlines from the 2004 presidential election featured numerous stories about young people who were following the campaign on blogs, then a new phenomenon. Other stories focused on the help young Deaniacs gave Howard Dean by arranging to raise funds through innovative Internet appeals. Still other stories reported that the Deaniacs were networking all over the country through the Internet website meetup.com. One did not hear that we have raised another Silent Generation. But have we not? The statistics about young people today are fairly clear: As a group they do not vote in large numbers, most do not read newspapers, and most do not follow the news. (Barack Obama has recently inspired greater participation, but at this stage it is too early to tell if the effect will be lasting.)

The Issues? Who knows?

Millions every year are now spent on the effort to answer the question: What do the voters want? The honest answer would be that often they themselves do not really know because they do not know enough to say. Few, however, admit this.

In the election of 2004, one of the hot issues was gay marriage. But gauging public opinion on the subject was difficult. Asked in one national poll whether they supported a constitutional amendment allowing only marriages between a man and a woman, a majority said yes. But three questions later a majority also agreed that “defining marriage was not an important enough issue to be worth changing the Constitution.“ The New York Times wryly summed up the results: Americans clearly favor amending the Constitution but not changing it.

Does it matter if people are ignorant? There are many subjects about which the ordinary voter need know nothing. The conscientious citizen has no obligation to plow through the federal budget, for example. One suspects there are not many politicians themselves who have bothered to do so. Nor do voters have an obligation to read the laws passed in their name. We do expect members of Congress to read the bills they are asked to vote on, but we know from experience that often they do not, having failed either to take the time to do so or having been denied the opportunity to do so by their leaders, who for one reason or another often rush bills through.

Reading the text of laws in any case is often unhelpful. The chairpersons in charge of drafting them often include provisions only a detective could untangle. The tax code is rife with clauses like this: The Congress hereby appropriates X dollars for the purchase of 500 widgets that measure 3 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches from any company incorporated on October 20, 1965 in Any City USA situated in block 10 of district 3.

Of course, only one company fits the description. Upon investigation it turns out to be owned by the chairperson’s biggest contributor. That is more than any citizens acting on their own could possibly divine. It is not essential that the voter know every which way in which the tax code is manipulated to benefit special interests. All that is required is that the voter know that rigging of the tax code in favor of certain interests is probably common. The media are perfectly capable of communicating this message. Voters are perfectly capable of absorbing it. Armed with this knowledge, the voter knows to be wary of claims that the tax code treats one and all alike with fairness.

There are however innumerable subjects about which a general knowledge is insufficient. In these cases ignorance of the details is more than a minor problem. An appalling ignorance of Social Security, to take one example, has left Americans unable to see how their money has been spent, whether the system is viable, and what measures are needed to shore it up.

How many know that the system is running a surplus? And that this surplus—some $150 billion a year—is actually quite substantial, even by Washington standards? And how many know that the system has been in surplus since 1983?

Few, of course. Ignorance of the facts has led to a fundamentally dishonest debate about Social Security.

During all the years the surpluses were building, the Democrats in Congress pretended the money was theirs to be spent, as if it were the same as all the other tax dollars collected by the government. And spend it they did, whenever they had the chance, with no hint that they were perhaps disbursing funds that actually should be held in reserve for later use. (Social Security taxes had been expressly raised in 1983 in order to build up the system’s funds when bankruptcy had loomed.) Not until the rest of the budget was in surplus (in 1999) did it suddenly occur to them that the money should be saved. And it appears that the only reason they felt compelled at this point to acknowledge that the money was needed for Social Security was because they wanted to blunt the Republicans’ call for tax cuts. The Social Security surplus could not both be used to pay for the large tax cuts Republicans wanted and for the future retirement benefits of aging Boomers.

The Republicans have been equally unctuous. While they have claimed that they are terribly worried about Social Security, they have been busy irresponsibly spending the system’s surplus on tax cuts, one cut after another. First Reagan used the surplus to hide the impact of his tax cuts and then George W. Bush used it to hide the impact of his cuts. Neither ever acknowledged that it was only the surplus in Social Security’s accounts that made it even plausible for them to cut taxes.

Take those Bush tax cuts. Bush claimed the cuts were made possible by several years of past surpluses and the prospect of even more years of surpluses. But subtracting from the federal budget the overflow funds generated by Social Security, the government ran a surplus in just two years during the period the national debt was declining, 1999 and 2000.

In the other years when the government ran a surplus, 1998 and 2001, it was because of Social Security and only because of Social Security. That is, the putative surpluses of 1998 and 2001, which President Bush cited in defense of his tax cuts, were in reality pure fiction. Without Social Security the government would have been in debt those two years. And yet in 2001 President Bush told the country tax cuts were not only needed, they were affordable because of our splendid surplus.

Today, conservatives argue that the Social Security Trust Fund is a fiction. They are correct. The money was spent. They helped spend it.

To this debate about Social Security—which, once one understands what has been happening, is actually quite absorbing—the public has largely been an indifferent spectator. A surprising 2001 Pew study found that just 19% of Americans understand that the United States ever ran a surplus at all, however defined, in the 1990s or 2000’s. And only 50% of Americans, according to an Annenberg study in 2004, understand that President Bush favors privatizing Social Security. Polls indicate that people are scared that the system is going bust, no doubt thanks in part to Bush’s gloom-and-doom prognostications. But they haven’t the faintest idea what going bust means. And in fact, the system can be kept going without fundamental change simply by raising the cap on taxed income and pushing back the retirement age a few years.

How much ignorance can a country stand? There have to be terrible consequences when it reaches a certain level. But what level? And with what consequences, exactly? The answers to these questions are unknowable. But can we doubt that if we persist on the path we are on that we shall, one day, perhaps not too far into the distant future, find out the answers?

~~  Excerpted from Just How Stupid Are We?, by Rick Shenkman, by arrangement with Basic Books ~~

So Many Members of Our Community Languish In Prison without the Chance for Intellectual Development

I teach philosophy at Columbia. But some of my best students are inmates

The Gilmer Free Press

On a recent Friday night, a student and I were playing dead on the cold linoleum floor of a prison. The woman standing over us was proudly proclaiming the coldblooded murder of her no-good husband and his unwilling mistress. As professor at Columbia University, I’ve asked lots of students to act out this 2,500 year-old scene from Aeschylus’ “Oresteia.” That night, surrounded by women who have spent years in prison, the power of those words increased ten-fold.

My incarcerated students differ radically from the ones at Columbia. When I walk into a tidy, well-equipped classroom on Morningside campus, I know my undergrads have spent years preparing for academic achievement, supported by family and teachers. Trained to ask hard questions, they consider diverse perspectives and then expect to get to the bottom of things.

When a correctional officer escorts me into a prison room equipped with rickety tables, tangled Venetian blinds, and no chalk, I know my incarcerated students have been locked away for years – sometimes for decades — with virtually no opportunity for intellectual stimulation. The culture they inhabit punishes people for asking questions. Solitary confinement is often the reward for any form of precocity. As one woman explained, “If you ask too many questions in here, you’ll be punished for having the wrong attitude.” The lesson is to keep your head down.

My main goal as a teacher in prison has been to create a space comfortable enough for exploration and insight. The circumstance does not make that easy. With a heating system so loud we can barely hear ourselves think and a correctional officer randomly peering through a window in the classroom wall, it’s easy to be distracted. A quick trip to the bathroom is overseen, and class ends not at the scheduled time, but when it suits the schedule of others. Although every aspect of my students’ lives is controlled, down to the details of their drab green uniforms, our class begins at the whim of the correctional officer on duty. “Welcome to our world,” mumbled one student.

At the conclusion of Clytemnestra’s speech that Friday night, a thrilled listener showed us her goose bumps before offering a cuttingly smart evaluation of the queen’s motivations for the murders. Another student who had seemed trapped in her own uncertainties about the play’s violence, announced her admiration for Clytemnestra’s self-satisfied confession. The classroom seemed to glow with excitement.

Things didn’t work out so well for Clytemnestra. After dying at the hands of her irresolute son, she returns as a ghost to argue unsuccessfully for revenge. The “Oresteia” ends with an insecure compromise between forms of justice. Although my Columbia undergrads find this conclusion unsettling, the play’s ambiguity seems just right to my incarcerated students, all of whom have intensely experienced life’s vagaries and horrors. As one woman said, to unanimous approval, “People expect things in life to be clear, but they’re not. That’s the point.” These women’s intellectual courage and uncanny insight have created a magical space of moral and literary exploration. Despite the oppressive confines of the prison itself, they flourish before my eyes.

There are roughly 2.2 million people in a correctional facility in the United States, which incarcerates more individuals than any other country in the world. According to a 2012 study, 58.5% of incarcerated people are black or Latino. According to the Sentencing Project, one in three black men will be incarcerated.

Although more than 50% have high school diplomas or a GED, most prisons offer little if any post-secondary education.

Things have not always been this bad. In the 1980’s, when the prison population sat below 400,000, our incarcerated citizens were educated through state and federal funding. But the 1990’s brought an abrupt end to government support. When President Clinton signed into law the Crime Bill in 1994, he eliminated incarcerated people’s eligibility for federal Pell grants and sentenced a generation of incarcerated Americans to educational deprivation. Nationwide, over 350 college programs in prisons were shut down that year. Many states jumped on the tough-on-crime bandwagon and slashed state funded prison educational programs. In New York State, for example, no state funds can be used to support secondary-education in prison. Before 1994, there were 70 publicly funded post-secondary prison programs in the state. Now there are none. In many states across the country, college instruction has fallen primarily to volunteers.

The need to volunteer has become increasingly clear to a growing number of professors. If our job as educators is to nurture intellectual growth and contribute to a thoughtful future for our country, what could be more obvious than to help those who are educationally under-served?

I am the first professor at Columbia to volunteer in a brand new initiative sponsored by Columbia’s Center for Justice. The main goal of the Justice-in-Education Initiative is to provide education to presently and formerly incarcerated people. Collaborating extensively with community partners, my colleagues’ commitment is to develop programs that support faculty and students in providing educational opportunities to this underserved population. The success of my experience is just the beginning.

There are hundreds of thousands of students just like mine scattered across the country eager to be educated and keen to join the ranks of active participants in our democracy.

As a society, we owe them (and ourselves) that chance. A National Institute of Justice study has found that 76.6% of formerly incarcerated people return to prison within five years of release.

According to research by the Rand Institute, recidivism goes down by 43% when people are offered education.

Those who leave prison with a college degree are much more likely to gain employment, be role models for their own children (50% of incarcerated adults have children), and become active members of their communities. Some of my students are quite clear about the desire to motivate their children: “the conversation changes when you’re educating yourself.”

The pleasures I’ve found teaching in prison are among the richest I’ve ever had. But the pleasure I find in this pedagogical delight is matched by the pain of recognition that their intellectual exploration will cease without volunteers like me. We must not allow so many members of our community to languish in prison without the chance for intellectual development. We must find it in ourselves to educate all Americans.

~~  Christia Mercer - The Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University ~~

The Only Truly Compliant, Submissive Citizen in a Police State Is a Dead One

The Gilmer Free Press

“Do exactly what I say, and we’ll get along fine. Do not question me or talk back in any way. You do not have the right to object to anything I may say or ask you to do, or ask for clarification if my demands are unclear or contradictory. You must obey me under all circumstances without hesitation, no matter how arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or blatantly racist my commands may be. Anything other than immediate perfect servile compliance will be labeled as resisting arrest, and expose you to the possibility of a violent reaction from me. That reaction could cause you severe injury or even death. And I will suffer no consequences. It’s your choice: Comply, or die.”— “‘Comply or Die’ policing must stop,” Daily KOS

Americans as young as 4 years old are being leg shackled, handcuffed, tasered and held at gun point for not being quiet, not being orderly and just being childlike—i.e., not being compliant enough.

Americans as old as 95 are being beaten, shot and killed for questioning an order, hesitating in the face of a directive, and mistaking a policeman crashing through their door for a criminal breaking into their home—i.e., not being submissive enough.

And Americans of every age and skin color are being taught the painful lesson that the only truly compliant, submissive and obedient citizen in a police state is a dead one.

It doesn’t matter where you live—big city or small town—it’s the same scenario being played out over and over again in which government agents, hyped up on their own authority and the power of their uniform, ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry. In turn, Americans are being brainwashed into believing that anyone who wears a government uniform—soldier, police officer, prison guard—must be obeyed without question.

Franklin Graham, the heir to Billy Graham’s evangelical empire, offered up this “simple” piece of advice for “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” hoping to survive an encounter with the police:

Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY.

Clearly, Graham’s message resonated with a core group of Americans: almost 200,000 individuals “liked” the message on Facebook, with an astounding 83,000 fans sharing his words of advice with their own friends, none of whom seem to recall that Jesus Christ, whom they claim to follow and model their lives after, not only stood up to the police state of his day but was put to death for it.

It’s not just mainstream evangelicals who have been brainwashed into believing that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state. In the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer responsible for the choking death of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, declared:

“We have to teach our children, our sons and our daughters, no matter what they look like, to respect New York City police officers, teach them to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.”

Similarly, Officer Sunil Dutta of the Los Angeles Police Department advises:

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right, it doesn’t matter if a cop is in the wrong, it doesn’t matter if you’re being treated with less than the respect you deserve. If you want to emerge from a police encounter with your life and body intact, then you’d better comply, submit, obey orders, respect authority and generally do whatever a cop tells you to do.

In this way, the old police motto to “protect and serve” has become “comply or die.” As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State and in my forthcoming book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is the unfortunate, misguided, perverse message being beaten, shot, tasered and slammed into our collective consciousness, and it is regrettably starting to take root.

Despite the growing number of criminal charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers that be, the problems we’re experiencing in terms of police shootings have little to do with rebellion or belligerence or resistance.

Rather, the problem arises when compliance doesn’t happen fast enough to suit the police.

For instance, 15-year-old Jamar Nicholson was shot in the back by police after they spotted him standing next to a friend holding a toy gun. “Officers ordered the boy to drop the weapon multiple times,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “When he didn’t comply, one of the officers opened fire.”

Martese Johnson, a 20-year-old college student, unarmed and in the process of walking away from a bar where he’d just been denied entry for being underage, was tackled by police and had his head slammed to the ground and bloodied, allegedly for being intoxicated, belligerent and using a fake ID. Johnson, who it turns out was polite, had a legal ID and was not drunk, survived the encounter after 10 stitches to his head.

And then there was Christopher Lollie, who was tasered, arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of the legal process for refusing to identify himself to police while waiting to pick his children up from their daycare. Footage of the encounter shows Lollie asking, “Why do I have to let you know who I am? I don’t have to let you know who I am if I haven’t broken any laws.” The charges against Lollie were eventually dropped.

Nicholson, Johnson and Lollie aren’t the only Americans being taught a hard lesson about compliance at the end of a government-issued gun.

World War II veteran John Wrana, 95 years old, dependent on a walker to get around, and a resident of an assisted living center, was rushed by five police officers—one with a Taser and riot shield, others with handguns and a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun—after refusing treatment for a urinary tract infection and brandishing a shoehorn. One of the officers, allegedly fearing for his safety, fired multiple beanbag rounds at Wrana at close range, who bled to death from internal injuries.

James Howard Allen, 74 years old and recovering at home from a surgery, was shot and killed by police who were asked by family members to do a welfare check on him. When police crashed through the man’s back door, they found Allen, perhaps having just awoken and fearing a burglary, armed with a gun.

These shootings and deaths, and many more like them, constitute a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to police killing unarmed American citizens, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find exact numbers for how many unarmed citizens are killed by police every year. Indeed, while police go to great lengths to document how many police are killed in the line of duty, police agencies aren’t actually required to report the number of times police officers engage in homicide. Suffice it to say, however, that the numbers are significantly underreported.

One website estimates that police kill on average three citizens a day in the United States. In 2014, 1100 individuals were killed by police in the U.S. That’s 70 times more than other first-world nations, and almost 20 times more than the number of U.S. troops killed in the same year in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rarely are these officers given more than a slap on the wrist. More often than not, they operate with impunity, are shielded from justice by the governmental bureaucracy, and are granted qualified immunity by the courts.

A recent report by the Justice Department on police shootings in Philadelphia, which boasts the fourth largest police department in the country, found that half of the unarmed people shot by police over a seven-year span were “shot because the officer saw something (like a cellphone) or some action (like a person pulling at the waist of their pants) and misidentified it as a threat.”

Now it’s one thing for those who back the police—no matter what the circumstance—to insist that if you just obey a police officer, you’ll be safe. But what happens when compliance isn’t enough?

What happens if you play it safe, comply and do whatever a police officer tells you to do, don’t talk back, don’t threaten, and don’t walk away—in other words, don’t do anything that even hints at resistance—and still, you find yourself staring down the wrong end of a government agent’s gun? After all, the news is riddled with reports of individuals who didn’t resist when confronted by police and still got tasered, tackled or shot simply because they looked at police in a threatening manner or moved in a way that made an officer “fear” for his safety.

For instance, Levar Jones, pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, was shot after complying with a police officer’s order to retrieve his license. The trooper justified his shooting of the unarmed man by insisting that Jones reached for his license “aggressively.”

What more could Jones or anyone have done to protect himself in that situation? How does a citizen protect himself against a police officer’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, oftentimes based only on their highly subjective “feeling” of being threatened?

The short answer is you can’t.

The assurance of safety in exchange for compliance is a false, misguided doctrine that has us headed towards a totalitarian regime the likes of which the world has seen before.

Rest assured, if we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we’ll find ourselves repeating history. However, history also shows us a different path, one that involves standing up and speaking truth to power. Jesus Christ walked that road. So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

Indeed, had Christ merely complied with the Roman police state, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christian religion. Had Gandhi meekly fallen in line with the British Empire’s dictates, the Indian people would never have won their independence. Had Martin Luther King Jr. obeyed the laws of his day, there would have been no civil rights movement. And if the founding fathers had marched in lockstep with royal decrees, there would have been no American Revolution.

The long answer, therefore, is that we must adopt a different mindset and follow a different path if we are to alter the outcome of these interactions with police.

No matter what path you follow, it will be fraught with peril. America is in the midst of a nervous breakdown, brought about by prolonged exposure to the American police state, and there are few places that are safe anymore.

A good test is this: if you live in a community that has welcomed the trappings of the police state with open arms (surveillance cameras, forced DNA extractions, Stingray devices, red light cameras, private prisons, etc.), all the while allowing its police forces to militarize, weaponize and operate beyond the reach of the Constitution, then you don’t live in a democratic republic—you live in a microcosm of the American police state.

If you have no real say in how your local law enforcement operates, if the only oversight of police actions is carried out by fellow officers, if any attempt to criticize the police is edited out or not covered by your local newspaper or TV station, drowned out by your fellow citizens, or intimidated into silence by your local police, then you have no recourse when it comes to police abuses.

Finally, if, despite having done nothing wrong, you feel nervous during a police encounter, you fear doing or saying the wrong thing in front of an officer will get you shot, and your local police dress and act like extensions of the military and treat you like a suspect, then it’s safe to say that you are not the one holding the upper hand in the master-servant relationship anymore.

This is the death rattle of the American dream, which was built on the idea that no one is above the law, that our rights are inalienable and cannot be taken away, and that our government and its appointed agents exist to serve us.

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

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