Doing the Right Thing Because It Is Right, Not Expedient

07/30/2010
Remembering 9/11/01
Image by Raúl! via Flickr

I usually write about education but this post will not be about that.

It will be about courage, morality, fear and self-interest.

I was born in New York City.

For most of my life I have lived in New York City and I work there now.

No matter where I go or where I live, New York City is home.

I don’t know about people in the rest of the country or the rest of the world, but every single New Yorker knows precisely what he or she was doing when airplanes flew into the towers of the World Trade Center.

And every single New Yorker knows what he or she was doing when the towers fell.

And every single New Yorker is grateful beyond measure that there are people in this city who daily put their lives at risk protecting us.

Thousands were killed on September 11, 2001, but they were not the only victims.

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...
Image via Wikipedia

Among the thousands of dead were fearless men and women of the fire department and police departments who we had relied on to protect us.

Despite the courage they showed, they could not protect us from those planes and the results of their criminal impact though they gave their lives trying to.

It was a horrible crime and watching the towers fall was a horrible and sickening sight.

WORLD TRADE CENTER ATTACK
Image by Coast Guard News via Flickr

Fear is a debilitating thing. More on that in a moment.

After the towers fell hundreds, perhaps thousands of men and women: police officers, fire fighters, ambulance workers, sanitation workers, and construction workers from the city and many elsewheres near and far worked long hours searching for possible survivors.

When it was clear that there were no survivors left they searched for remains so that they could later be identified and buried.

Raising A Truck: Early Stages of Clean Up at G...
Image by Viewmaker via Flickr

They moved tons of rubble, breathed tons of what turned out to be highly toxic dust that hung in the air for weeks.

These men and women showed courage, too. Disaster sites are dangerous in ways those of us who have not worked in them cannot fully grasp.

These men and women worked for weeks, breathing that toxic air daily.

Now, nearly ten years after that date that will echo for decades, these men and women are getting sick.

They are suffering unusual rates and forms of lung disease, heart disease and nerve damage that did not show up immediately.

There is little doubt that these diseases are the result of their work at what quickly became known as Ground Zero.

Survivors of those who died in the attack have received monetary compensation for their losses of income, companionship and parenting from those who died in the immediacy of the attack.

Those people who rushed in afterward to search for survivors, remains or relics of the lives that were have losses, too. They have lost their health. Many have been told their lives will be truncated by the diseases they now have.

Morality demands that the rest of us take care of those who take care of us.

That same morality demands that we take care of the health needs of those who searched through the destruction at Ground Zero.

This does not seem to be a difficult concept to understand yet Congress doesn’t seem to get it.

Morality demands that one do the right thing even when it is not convenient or easy.

ESPECIALLY when it is not convenient or easy.

NYC - Ground Zero Cross
Image by wallyg via Flickr

Congress has put politics ahead of morality, ahead of doing the right thing for those men and women who sacrificed so much so willingly.

Congress has refused to pass the bill that, if enacted, would pay the health care costs of those men and women.

We are not talking really big numbers here. The costs of this health care would not approach the billions of dollars given to banks or the billions of dollars given to automobile manufacturers.

But it should not matter if it would be that expensive. Taking care of these people is merely the right thing to do.

Congress should be ashamed but they are not.

Congress does not have morals. Congress members operate on the basis of self-interest and on their fears of not being re-elected.

If you are a teacher, teach your Congress member how to recognize moral obligation and what to do about it.

If you are not a teacher write a letter or make a phone call.

Write lots of letters.

Make lots of phone calls.

Get Congress to act now.

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The Importance of Problem-Solving Skills

07/24/2010
Santa Fe, approximately 60 miles North-Northea...
Image via Wikipedia

I saw a very odd thing today.

I am on vacation in Santa Fe, NM and my wife Jill and I were walking back to our hotel from an event on Saturday morning when we saw it.

Someone had abandoned a Range Rover automobile in the traffic lane at an intersection.

Cars were pulling up behind this one at red lights and, because they could not see through the heavily tinted rear window, honking when the light turned green as if there were an inattentive driver behind the wheel.

Jill and I steered a couple of cars around the very expensive abandoned one before I looked in through the car’s open window and saw the key in the ignition.

I called the police and waited for the officer to arrive.

When he got there he ran the license plate and looked around the inside of the car. There was a wallet in the little storage box next to the driver’s seat.

A second officer arrived.

As the two officers were discussing what to do next a young woman wearing a nice dress ran up to the car.

She told the officers that it was her boyfriend’s car but she had been driving it.

Range Rover Supercharged
Image via Wikipedia

According to her, the car stalled in the intersection and as it was near her boyfriend’s residence, she had gone to get him.

The police officers were very polite and clearly skeptical.

The woman repeated her story and looked down the street waiting for her boyfriend to arrive.

I wanted to hang around to see how it all played out but the skies were threatening (this is the aptly named rainy season in the high desert) and I’d already gotten drenched once on this trip.

As we walked back to our hotel I wondered how this woman had done in school.

The thought is not as strange as it may seem.

As the police had told the woman, she should have stayed with the car and asked someone who had a cell phone (on the odd chance she didn’t have one) to call her boyfriend.

Doing as the police suggested required what I consider the bare minimum of problem-solving skills.

Apparently this young woman did not even possess that level of ability.

For that matter, neither did the somewhat older driver who sat behind the abandoned car for two light cycles before finally driving around it.

I am so glad that schools are increasingly using project-based learning that helps students develop problem-solving skills.

That is more and more how I teach.

None of my students will ever abandon their cars, even cheap ones, in traffic lanes.

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The Lessons of Independence

07/03/2010
National Bureau of Standards preserving the Un...
Image via Wikipedia

Independence Day always brings out the history teacher in me.

Don’t worry; it’s safe.

Schools are closed so I can do the pure stuff instead of social studies

Not that there’s anything wrong with social studies,

Today I heard the Declaration of Independence read on the radio.

I’ve read the Declaration of Independence many times and I will read it many more times, but there is something special about hearing it read.

Back in the day, hearing the Declaration read is how most people learned of its content.

Most of the time, when people read it to themselves, they rarely get deep into the meat of it.

For example, when was the last time you read beyond “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Heady stuff, that, but not the meat and potatoes.

Not like:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Many think that the next sentence has particular meaning these contentious days.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Detail of King George III (in coronation robes).

Image via Wikipediahe forms to which they are accustomed.”

The next 18 paragraphs all start with the word “he”.

Pop Quiz (my students hate when I do this): who is this ‘he’?

Okay, there were plenty of complaints and they’re all laid out. Now what?

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” [Italics added]

Free and Independent States.

That means a nation called Delaware and one called Georgia.

Another nation calling itself South Carolina and it borders on the nation of North Carolina.

There were to also be Independent States, aka sovereign nations, called New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

I know. It is hard to think of tiny Rhode Island as a sovereign nation, but Monaco, Tuvalu and Nauru all seem to do okay even if no one can find them on a map or recognize their flag.

And we’re not even going to mention that other tiny powerhouse, Vatican City.

When you think about those 13 colonies these days we hardly ever realize that in 1776 almost no one was thinking, much less talking, about anything called the United States.

The only reference to anything of the sort, “…the Representatives of the united States of America…” is not the same as ‘…Representatives of the United States of America….’

The lower case ‘u’ was not a typo, it was a deliberate reference to 13 separate colony/countries that just happened to be working together for this one task: taking on the most powerful nation in the world at that time.

That we are a country today and celebrating the 234th anniversary of that treasonous declaration is a doubly unlikely.

That the rebellious colonialists were successful against the forces of the King was unexpected even by them.

But the bigger victory is that despite sharp disagreements about philosophy, despite competing economic interests and despite religious differences, those 13 now independent sovereign states were able to come together.

Philadelphia - Old City: Independence Hall - T...
Image by wallyg via Flickr

They argued long and hard, but in the end they figured out how to compromise and come together as United States for the greater good of all the citizens they represented.

That, not the pursuit of happiness, is the lesson we need to focus on today and in the future.

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