book reviews, politics, Trump

A review of The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, by Mary Trump

In August 2020, when the world was still in the desperate throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump was still the POTUS, I read and reviewed his niece, Mary Trump’s, book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. I remember feeling vindicated as I read her words about her uncle, Donald Trump, whom I had correctly identified as a malignant narcissist or sociopath. Mary Trump wrote about what it was like to grow up in the Trump family, and how much she suffered, even though she was a member of a very wealthy, powerful, and celebrated clan. Unlike her uncle, Mary Trump is a basically normal person with an excellent intellect and a fully functioning id and superego. Mary’s first book was very interesting, but it was also terrifying. At the time I read it, I was genuinely frightened of what was going to happen if Trump won in 2020. Thankfully, that is not what came to pass, in spite of Trump’s relentless and nonsensical insistence that the presidential election was stolen from him.

I liked Mary Trump’s first book, so when she published her second book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal in August 2021, I was quick to download it. It’s taken me a year to finally read Mary Trump’s book, because it kept getting supplanted by other books. This morning, I finished it; it was a refreshingly short read, long on history and theories as to how the United States finds itself in the horribly polarized, angry, unhinged state it is in right now. Some of The Reckoning was uncomfortable to read, as Mary Trump unflinchingly writes of how Black people were treated before and during the Civil War era, as well as in the decades that followed it. She reminds her readers that slavery officially ended in 1865, but the persecution of Black people has continued since then, and only in very recent years have people of color had a chance to succeed in the country they helped build against their wills.

Mary Trump rightfully points out that American high schoolers are not taught enough about American history. What they are taught is the “white” perspective of American history, and now that people are insisting that more of the whole truth is taught, many white people are fighting to prevent it from happening. Trump explains that every white person is born with inherent privilege, simply for having white skin. However, she also mentions poor white people, who also suffer due to classism that also exists in our society, and the mistaken belief that sharing resources means having less for themselves. And she reminds readers that there are many people who, consciously or unconsciously, are doing all they can to maintain things the way they’ve always been. Her uncle, after all, won the highest election on his platform, “Make America Great Again”, having never before held public office. Lots of people in the United States are terrified of evolving into a nation that plays on more level ground for everyone. Below are a couple of key quotes from Mary Trump’s book that really summed up things nicely, in my view:

I remember when I was an English major at Longwood University (then Longwood College), my advisor gave me a hard time because I didn’t want to take a Shakespeare class. Instead, I was interested in the Women’s Literature and African American Literature courses that were being offered. I thought I would be more interested in the subject matter, having already been exposed to Shakespeare in high school and college. Good ol’ Dr. Stinson, who also used to tease me about all the music classes I insisted on taking for fun, sighed and signed me up for both classes. I took both courses during the same semester, and got a huge dose of studying lesser known books by women and people of color.

I didn’t do particularly well in either of the lit courses; because to be honest, I was kind of a lazy English major. I wanted to write things, not read and analyze literature. But I learned new things in spite of myself. Both courses exposed me to works written by Black authors, Black women’s writings, as well as slave narratives, which were bits of history that had been withheld from me in the years leading up to college. I now believe that high school students should read at least one slave narrative. The subject matter is tough, but it definitely inspires empathy and a broadened perspective from writers who should get a lot more recognition.

I mention my college experience and the attitude surrounding the importance of Shakespeare, because Mary Trump repeatedly explains that most Americans have a poor understanding of history. And today, in high schools across the country, there are legislators, school boards, and parents who are lambasting against “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools, and trying desperately to suppress the truth about America’s past. I never thought I’d see the day when so many school systems were being pressured to ban certain books, and teachers, already overworked and underpaid, were being forced to catalog their libraries and submit them to scrutiny by third parties. I was heartened to see the outraged response to one Tennessee school district’s decision to ban Art Spiegelman’s excellent graphic novel, Maus. I had not read that book myself, before it made the news. But because Maus was in the news, I decided to read the book. It was life changing. I now know that simply by writing a few blog posts about Maus, I helped inspire other people to read the book.

Mary Trump’s comments were unpleasant to read at times. She states outright that it’s “impossible” to be a white person who grew up in the United States and not be racist. She’s probably right, although I hesitate to use words like “all, every, or impossible”, because experience has shown me that there are almost always exceptions to every rule. And given the family that raised her and what her family spawned, I was caught between disbelief that she was making such a statement, and relief that she could acknowledge racism in a way that was surprisingly humble.

I also found this book a little bit depressing and hopeless. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge problems. That’s the first step in correcting them. It’s important to atone for wrongs committed. That’s the best way to promote healing. BUT… she makes the problem seem so entrenched and deep seated that fixing it seems extremely difficult. It won’t happen in my lifetime, although the more optimistic side of me acknowledges that in my 50 years, there’s already been some substantial progress made. I was born in an era when things were a lot more “black and white”, so to speak. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people casually toss around the “n word”, for instance, especially on television. But that progress is hindered, because of Trump’s uprising and the many emboldened racists who are desperately trying to stop progress, and resorting to cheating and violence to get what they want.

Anyway… The Reckoning offers a lot of food for thought. It’s a short book, and easy to read. Mary Trump’s writing is engaging and informative. Maybe some readers will be uncomfortable, or even offended, by her comments. Some people might have trouble believing that someone with her background can have true empathy for the downtrodden; she is a Trump, after all. But in spite of that, I found Mary Trump’s commentary steeped in truth, and eye-opening. I think this is a good book. But don’t come to it looking for dirt on Donald Trump. She wrote about him in her first book, and The Reckoning is about a different topic entirely. The Reckoning isn’t about Trump; it’s about what led us to Trump. And it offers an important warning to us all to open our eyes and our minds and vote accordingly… or else.

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disasters, education, politicians, politics

America’s teachers are under attack by Republican leaders…

Judging by the news I’ve been reading lately, I’m beginning to think that a certain segment of the population is determined to drive people out of the business of educating children. Republican lawmakers and leaders are trying to pass new laws that really make it difficult for teachers in public schools to do their jobs. It’s like conservatives want young people to be dumb. Either that, or they want to control their thinking… as they insist that they are trying to prevent teachers from indoctrinating their children with what they consider wrong-headed, progressive ideas.

For instance, recently, Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, was under fire for announcing a tip line intended to encourage citizens to report teachers who are teaching “critical race theory” in school. Because I am a graduate of Virginia’s historic teacher’s college, Longwood University (which was Longwood College when I was a student), I have a lot of friends who are teachers. I also have friends who didn’t go to Longwood, but teach school. Quite a few of them were absolutely horrified by the prospect of Mr. Youngkin’s “tip line”, meant to identify and sanction teachers who promote ideas that offend Republicans.

Fortunately, a lot of Virginians, even the Republicans, still have a lot of respect for teachers and the very challenging work they do for too little pay. People were being encouraged to contact the tip line, but flood it with compliments instead of complaints. I’m not sure if the tip line has gotten off the ground or has actually received any complaints, but my guess is that this idea has gone over the like proverbial turd in a punch bowl. One of my friends, who is a teacher, and I know votes Republican, recently shared this excellent letter to the editor that appeared in a newspaper near where she lives. I think this sentiment is being echoed by a lot of people.

This gives me some hope for the future.

Mr. Youngkin has only been in office for a few weeks, but he’s already been sued by seven school districts in Virginia for writing an executive order unilaterally lifting the face mask mandate in public schools, and allowing parents to opt out of making their children wear masks. At this writing, a judge has blocked Mr. Youngkin’s executive order, at least for now. The school boards protested the executive order, because they claim it violates the Constitution of Virginia and Senate Bill 1303, which requires all school districts in Virginia to implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies as provided by the CDC. The school boards also claim that Mr. Youngkin’s executive order, which are supposed to be used in case of emergency, undermine their local powers of authority.

As I read about this, I can’t help but be a little surprised by Mr. Youngkin’s decision to act like tyrant, especially since he’s a Republican, and Republicans are supposed to be against government overreach. But he’s pandering to parents, many of whom are not exactly the most educated folks themselves. I think Youngkin must have designs on a much higher echelon of politics, since in Virginia, governors can’t run for consecutive terms in office. So he can’t be immediately re-elected when his term ends in 2026, which makes me think that maybe he’s eyeing a more powerful position someday. Perhaps he wants to be POTUS? Who knows? But, as a governor who can’t be re-elected, there is no incentive for him to try to work for all voters. He has nothing to lose by pulling the shit he’s already pulled, and taking Virginia back to the Dark Ages. Below is a screenshot of a statement his spokesperson provided to News Channel 6, out of Richmond:

Except that history has shown us that parents DON’T always know or care what is best for their children’s health…

Ironically, Mr. Youngkin’s own son attends an out-of-state private boarding school, where face masks are not optional. I wonder if this is the same son who is a minor and illegally tried to vote for his father… twice! As a native Virginian, I am not surprised to see that Glenn Youngkin won the election after Ralph Northam’s term. Although I liked what Governor Northam was doing, I could see that many of my friends and relatives couldn’t stand Northam’s liberal policies. And Youngkin’s opponent was Terry McAuliffe, who was governor before and was, evidently, not very popular. So I knew Youngkin was going to win… but so far, he’s not showing that he cares much about the citizens of Virginia. He’s just pandering to Trump supporters, many of whom, I am so sad to report, are not exactly educated or deep thinkers. Either that, or they like the status quo, which puts white Christian men on top of the power heap.

But it’s not just in Virginia where this attack on teachers is happening. This morning, I read an article about an Oklahoma’s senator’s attack on teachers. Republican Senator Rob Standridge has introduced a new bill that would allow citizens to sue teachers who present opposing views to religious beliefs held by students. I don’t know a thing about Mr. Standridge, but I’ll bet he’s a protestant Christian. I wonder if, when he came up with his Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act, he was thinking about students who aren’t Christians.

It seems to me that this proposed bill could really present issues for teachers, constraining them in ways that would make it difficult or problematic to discuss certain topics in school. If passed, the law would make it so that parents could demand the removal of any book with perceived anti-religious content within it. According to a news article by The Independent:

Teachers could be sued a minimum of $10,000 “per incident, per individual” and the fines would be paid “from personal resources” not from school funds, from other individuals or groups. If the teacher is unable to pay, they would be fired, under the legislation.

$10,000 is a lot of money, especially for teachers, who historically don’t make a lot of money… especially in public schools. But apparently, some lawmakers think it’s really needed, as it’s been referred to as “necessary for the preservation of the public peace”. If the Act is passed, the law would take effect immediately. So that means that teachers in Oklahoma had better get their shit together and get it in their minds to STFU about anything deemed “anti-religious”, or they could be forced to PAY. Also, it sounds an AWFUL lot like the anti-abortion law passed in Texas last year, right down to the amount of money teachers could be forced to pay if they violate the rule. What the fuck is up with these legislators, anyway? I thought Republicans didn’t like frivolous lawsuits and government overreach. I guess they don’t mind legal action when it comes to pushing their own warped interests.

I really think that these actions are a slap in the face to people who have devoted their careers to making sure children are prepared to be responsible and functional adults and who, let’s face it, are taking care of children while the children’s parents are, hopefully, earning a living that supports them. I mean, I don’t have any children myself, but I do know that there were a LOT of parents who struggled when their kids had to be homeschooled because of COVID-19. Parents ought to be so grateful for everything that teachers do. But these right wing lawmakers seem bound and determined to turn parents against the very people who work long hours for little pay and put up with their little darlings and their many issues in schools every day. I tried being a teacher in Armenia. The discipline issues alone were a challenge for me, and there, I didn’t worry about some kid going crazy and shooting up the classroom. My friends who work as teachers have a heavy enough load to bear without lawmakers attacking them with these policies that are intended to restrict them from actually doing their jobs and educating children.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about one of Michigan’s Republican governor hopefuls, Garrett Soldano, who thinks that rape victims should be forced to birth, since their unborn fetus could one day be the President of the United States. In the podcast where he talked about that idea, Mr. Soldano also attacked critical race theory, calling it “absolute hot garbage.” He continued on a lengthy diatribe about how teachers need to stick only to the subjects they teach– English, math, science, and the like– and students should never know what a teacher’s political or religious beliefs are. Just stick to what’s in the approved textbook. Don’t be a human. Don’t share anything personal. Just teach from the book. By that idea, maybe teachers should be robots, completely programmed by whomever is in charge, and promoting things that are approved by the state. Wait… again, I thought Republicans were against government overreach! In his comments, Mr. Soldano sure did talk a lot about God… who, again, shouldn’t be part of a discussion about the government… Separation of church and state, you know… something I learned about in eighth grade civics class, many years ago.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I think the issue is, Republican politicians don’t actually want the rank and file children who attend public schools to be taught how to think for themselves. They are afraid that children in public schools could be introduced to ideas that make them challenge the status quo and knock them out of power. I think that’s the main reason why brilliant books like Maus, which provides a poignant and engaging account of the horrors of The Holocaust, and ideas on how that atrocity began, are being banned from curriculums. I think that white Christians who are running the government are afraid that children could be taught to think in ways that challenge their grips on power. It’s probably TERRIFYING to some of these people that young people’s minds could be opened to something beyond white, Christian, cisgendered MALES running things. And so, they want to offer a lot of negative reinforcement to the bright, sensitive, humanitarians who opt for careers in public education. It’s shameful and embarrassing.

Intelligent southern man named Beau talks about how the people in charge don’t want kids to be taught to think…

Some of you might be thinking that you don’t want teachers “influencing” your kids. To that, I would say you should take your children out of public school and educate them yourselves. And you’d better be prepared to keep your kids away from television, Internet, movies, music, books, museums, and other people who don’t think just like you do. Oh, and you’d better be prepared to live FOREVER. Because sooner or later, your kids WILL be influenced by someone other than you. Unless you intend to be there forever, you’d better resign yourselves to the idea that your kids are going to learn things that you’d rather they didn’t. Personally, I think I’d rather they learn from trained, educated, professional teachers who are prepared to answer their questions than some rando on the street.

And yes, I also realize that not all teachers are “good”. Some teachers do need to be removed from their positions. Certainly, if a parent has a valid complaint about a teacher, he or she should speak up and make their concerns known. I have read a few shocking stories about ill-conceived lessons that some teachers have come up with– things like asking Black children to participate in mock slave auctions. Actually, if you Google “mock slave auctions in schools”, you will find that this is an idea that has been used in a number of different states around the country! Last year, I read about a teacher who got in trouble for a lesson on chivalry that irked some parents. Several years ago, some school officials in Utah were under fire for requiring that girls dance with anyone who asked them at a school dance. Some of the lessons were certainly well-meaning, but parents rightfully pointed out that they could be damaging. I don’t think it’s wrong for parents to object in those situations.

However– I DO think it’s wrong for lawmakers to pass laws that are intended to make teaching harder than it needs to be. Some of these new policies being proposed are making teaching especially onerous for teachers. I know for a fact that teachers go through a lot to be able to legally do what they do every day. It’s not easy to get qualified to teach school. And right now, especially, teaching is difficult. I can remember growing up in the 80s. We never heard anything about issues like autism or attention deficit disorder. Children who weren’t “normal” in all ways, were simply put on the “short bus” and labeled special ed kids. Nowadays, children with special needs can get individualized education plans, which is surely better for the children, but more work for their teachers. In my day, teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment to control children, and I did have a teacher who had a paddle shaped like a whale that he used to paddle kids in front of their peers. Nowadays, doing that would get a teacher put on the news. And, of course, we do have a pandemic going on, which makes teachers have to enforce mask policies and the like, putting themselves at risk of contracting a potentially deadly virus.

I guess it all comes down to people disagreeing as to what society needs kids to know…

Do we really need for lawmakers to pass laws making it even easier for parents to harass teachers? I think not. I think these lawmakers ought to be ashamed of themselves. But most of them are Trump supporters, which only goes to show you that they have no shame… or critical thinking skills. And, once again, as much as I wanted to have children, I’m left feeling glad I don’t have them. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I have a lot of empathy for my friends who do. I think they’re going to need all of the thoughts and prayers they can get, as Republicans desperately try to get back in control of the government and turn the United States into a dystopian theocracy.

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education, poor judgment, Texas

Texas school official says teachers should offer books that have an “opposing view” of the Holocaust…

It’s a rainy morning in Germany, which means that my dogs will be waiting for their walk again. Since there will be a delay, I have time to write another blog post. This one is about the continuing descent of Texas into a straight up dystopian land. It’s not enough that Governor Abbott has signed anti-abortion legislation that deprives women of the right to make personal decisions about their own reproduction. It’s not enough that Texas politicians have called for women who have abortions to be executed, or that hospitals have forced a pregnant woman in a coma to stay on life support, even as she basically decomposes. Now, the dystopia is spreading to the schools.

Yesterday, I read about how a top administrator in the Southlake district had controversial comments about what kinds of books teachers would have in their classroom libraries. Gina Peddy, the Carroll school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, was secretly recorded during a training session last week. According to NBC news:

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the recording, referring to a new Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” Peddy continued, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

WHAT? That was, I think, a brain dead comment if there ever was one. How do you share an opposing view of the Holocaust? I’d like to think Peddy simply misspoke, as we all sometimes do. I would hope she had a brain fart, perhaps brought on by the state of things in Texas today. It was certainly a thoughtless comment, though, and it doesn’t make me think too highly of the quality of education in Texas. Is it any wonder that so many teachers are leaving the profession when they not only have to deal with the whole COVID-19 situation, but they also have to contend with these kinds of intrusions on their teaching methods?

I read that this whole thing began when a fourth grade student brought home a book called “This Book Is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell. The girl’s mother objected to the book’s content and complained to her daughter’s teacher. When the teacher did not respond in a way that satisfied the parent, the battle over what kinds of books are appropriate intensified. Local officials investigated the mother’s complaints about the teacher and declined to intervene, but the Carroll school board overturned the decision and voted 3-2 to formally reprimand the teacher. That decision, of course, made other teachers feel threatened, since they figured the board would side against them if other parents decided to complain about books in their classroom libraries.

Evidently, there’s a huge controversy about what is being taught in Texas schools. Some Southlake parents have been fighting against new inclusion and diversity programs at Carroll for over a year. They are opposed to lessons about racism, history (that paints white people in a negative light), or LGBTQ issues. Some of the parents have incorrectly identified the “progressive” lessons as promoting “critical race theory”. That’s how the new law, Texas House Bill number 3979, came to fruition.

Texas House Bill number 3979 is supposed to encourage teachers to present multiple viewpoints of controversial topics. I’m sure the law was intended to address the concern that some people have that their children will be fed a political agenda that doesn’t align with their preferred views… or that white children will somehow be made to feel guilty for the fact that they’re white. Personally, I can understand why some parents worry about that. I happen to agree that no one should feel ashamed of who they are, particularly when it comes to things they can’t change. That includes so-called “privileged” people.

However… there are some subjects that are sacred. The Holocaust is one of those topics where there is no “other view”. There have been people who have denied that the Holocaust happened, or they try to present it in a way that is sympathetic to the Nazi movement. Make no mistake about it. The Holocaust was absolutely horrifying; it’s real; and it didn’t happen all that long ago. Now, more than ever, we must be aware of the danger that can come from turning a blind eye to what happened in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. It was less than 100 years ago… and frankly, whenever I see Donald Trump rally a crowd, I’m reminded a lot of how Hitler came to power.

When a teacher asked Gina Peddy how one might oppose the Holocaust, Peddy’s response was “Believe me. That’s come up.” Wow… REALLY?

There was a time when I considered becoming a school teacher. I went to a college that is very well known for producing outstanding teachers. Many of my friends are teachers. But honestly, after reading about some of the crazy stuff teachers have to deal with nowadays, I am kind of glad that notion went by the wayside. It seems like back in my day, parents trusted and respected teachers more than they do now. I have seen what goes in to making teachers, and what they have to do to be qualified to teach. They don’t get paid a lot in many places, even though their value is immeasurable and they are vital to human development.

I am pretty appalled that someone in the education system in Texas suggested that teachers should present opposing views to the Holocaust, even if that comment was made due to a massive brain fart. It really is embarrassing. And I can see why teachers are so concerned. One elementary school teacher said:

“Teachers are literally afraid that we’re going to be punished for having books in our classes. There are no children’s books that show the ‘opposing perspective’ of the Holocaust or the ‘opposing perspective’ of slavery. Are we supposed to get rid of all of the books on those subjects?”

Imagine having to grade masses of papers, answer dozens of irate emails and phone calls, AND be concerned that the books you’ve chosen for your classroom library might be deemed controversial, even when the validity of the subject matter is not in dispute. Teachers definitely have a tough job, and this kind of situation only makes it tougher…

And once again, it makes me glad I don’t have to deal with this problem myself. I think if I had children, I would want them to be free to read almost everything. I grew up with parents who mostly let me read what I wanted. All it did was open my mind and make me love reading. I really think this new law is misguided, even if it was well-intentioned. This situation ought to be fixed as soon as possible, before more excellent teachers decide to change careers.

The district did apologize

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