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A New Great Book in the Battle for Freedom! Review by Oliver DeMille

August 19th, 2015 // 2:36 pm @

 Steps to Freedom

Liberty's SecretsI read another great book today, and it rekindled my sense of hope for the future. If you care about freedom, you’ve got to read it! This new classic is Liberty’s Secrets by Joshua Charles, and it is…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a story here, an important one. And I need to tell it in order to do justice to this book. In a world of brief sound bites and too frequently shallow media and educational conversations, a great book is easily overlooked. Such greats all too often go unnoticed because we live in an era of constant—aggressive—distraction. So to introduce a genuinely great book, we need to get this right. Here goes…

I. The Great Books

I was a young boy when first it happened, old enough to ride my bicycle to the library on hot summer afternoons and find interesting books to read, but young enough that high school sports and summer trainings weren’t yet part of my daily routine. One day under the memorable breeze of the town library’s large swamp cooler I came across a long shelf of books that boldly called themselves “The Great Books”. I stopped and stared. I re-read the title, then pondered.

“These can’t be the only great books,” I reasoned to myself. “There must be others.” Intrigued, I pulled out a volume and perused the title page, then skimmed through several chapters at the beginning of the book. I was impressed by the small print, the columns and footnotes, and the sheer quantity of big, unfamiliar words. They were downright intimidating.

I marveled a bit, rubbing my fingers along the cloth-covered bindings. I knew I would read these books some day. I just knew it.

I remember nothing specific about which volumes I investigated that day, but I skimmed many of them, reading a sentence here and another there. The afternoon passed, and I eventually returned the last volume I’d removed to its place on the shelf and went to the front counter to check out the L’Amour novel I’d selected for the week’s reading.

We lived in the desert, and it was a very hot summer, so during the exertions of my bike ride home I forget about the “Great Books”. But each time I returned to the library, I noticed them again. It seemed like none of them were ever checked out, and I could well believe it. They were truly daunting, with their gold foil lettering, fancy author names, and massive domination of shelf space.

II. Fast Forward

Today I just finished reading a truly great book on freedom, and I smiled widely as I completed the last few lines and closed the book. I removed the dust jacket and ran my fingers over the sleek black hardcover with the red foil print. “I was right, that day,” I thought to myself.

Then I realized I had been right on both counts. I would, in fact, come to read the whole set someday. I couldn’t have known at the time that I would re-read The Great Books many times, teach them extensively in multiple university, high school, and graduate level courses, and spend many hours discussing their content with colleagues, business executives, students, professionals, family members, and friends. The Great Books volumes have become dear friends over the years, and I have returned to them often for heated debates with their authors or to rehash unfinished questions in the “Great Conversation”.

But I was right about the other thing as well: there are great books beyond those in Britannica’s 54 volume set. And when I encounter an additional great book, I always feel a sense of excitement. Great books are great because they are important. That’s the major criterion. They have to be truly significant, to add meaning to our world—to innovate something that wasn’t there before the book brought it to life.

III. What Makes “Great”?

Over the decades I’ve experienced several great books beyond those from the “official list,” and they always leave an impression. Like The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler, or The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen. Such books, like those by Bastiat or Austen, simply must be added to list. Along with Solzhenitsyn’s works.

In recent years I’ve come across several additional great books, like Andy Andrew’s The Final Summit, Chris Brady’s Rascal, Stephen Palmer’s Uncommon Sense, Orrin Woodward’s Resolved, Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence, or Henry Kissinger’s On China. I also studied an old great book I hadn’t ever read before, The Early History of Rome, by Livy, and found greatness in its pages as well. When you read a book that is truly great, it’s a moving experience.

Such books come along rarely, so when they do it is important to pay attention. But what makes a book genuinely great? After all, greatness is a very high standard. It can’t just be good. As Jim Collins reminded us, good is too often the enemy of great.

Nor can it simply be well written. It can’t merely be accurate, detailed, beautiful, or interesting. More is necessary. It can be one, a few, or all of these things, but to be truly great, it must be also be transformational. It must change you, as you read.

IV. A New Great Book!

When I started reading Joshua Charles’ book a few days ago, I didn’t know I was in for such a treat. I had already enjoyed his earlier bestselling work, so I was ready to learn. I got my pen and highlighter out, and opened the cover. But as I read I realized that this book is truly very important. Needed. And profound.

Then, as I kept reading, I noticed that I was feeling something. A change. A different perspective. A re-direction. I was experiencing…the feelings that always accompany greatness.

Charles notes in several places that as a member of the Millennial generation he felt compelled to share this book with the world. Why? Because, in his words: “I wrote this book for one reason, and one reason only: to reintroduce my fellow countrymen to the Founders of our country and the vision of free society they articulated, defended, and constructed, in their own words.”

As a member of Generation X, I was thrilled to see a Millennial take this so seriously—and accomplish it so effectively. Even more importantly, as I read I noticed something very important, subtle but profound. Charles doesn’t make the mistake of so many modern authors who write to the experts and professionals in a field. His scholarship is excellent, and he goes a step further. He has a more important audience than mere political or media professionals. He writes to the people, the citizens, the voters, the butchers and bakers and candlestick makers—the hard-working people who make this nation go, including the artists, scientists, teachers, executives and leaders.

In so doing, he is a natural Jeffersonian, speaking the important principles of freedom, culture, economics, and leadership to a nation of people—not merely to politicos or aristos, but to everyman. To underscore this (and I doubt it was a conscious decision on his part, but rather his core viewpoint), his word choice refers not to “the American voter” but rather to “we the people.” He considers himself not merely the expert, but one of us, one of the people.

I could have hugged him for this, had he been here in person. We have far too few freedom writers today who see themselves truly as part of the citizenry. When they do come along, albeit rarely, I feel a sense of kinship and I know that their hearts are in the right place. Jefferson would be proud. For example, Charles wrote:

“We no longer know where we came from, the grand story we fit into, and the great men and women who inspired the noble vision which birthed the United States of America, the first nation in history to be founded upon the reasoned consent of a people intent on governing themselves….

“Additionally, few of us are well-read enough (a problem our educational system seems blithely unconcerned with) to discuss the lessons of the human experience (often simply called ‘history’)…”

Freedom, the classics, voracious reading, leadership, and the future—all rolled into one. “This is my kind of author,” I realized, once again. “These are the themes I emphasize when I write.” So did Jefferson. And Skousen, and Woodward. No wonder I love this book.

The Current Path

More than profound, Charles’ book is also wise. Belying his Millennial generation youth, he speaks like an orator or sage from Plutarch when he warns:

“Liberty is difficult work. It is fraught with risks, with dangers, with tempests and storms. It is a boisterous endeavor, an effort for the brave and the enterprising…”

These latter words have stayed with me since I read them several days ago. I keep remembering them. Boisterous. Brave. Enterprising.

These are the traits of a free people. In classical Greece, among the ancient Israelites, in the Swiss vales, the Saracen camps, the Anglo-Saxon villages, and the candlelight reading benches of the American founders—wherever freedom flourished. Yet today we train up a nation of youth to be the opposite. To fit in (not boisterous). To avoid risk (not brave). To focus on job security above all else (not enterprising).

If this trajectory continues, our freedoms will continue to decline.

Where and When

Speaking of freedom, Charles calls us to immediate action with his characteristic humility, depth, and conviction: “We either pass it [liberty] on to our posterity as it was passed down to us, or it dies here and now.”

Here and now? Really?

Is it that immediate? Is it truly this urgent? Is it really up to us?

The answer is clear: Yes.

Yet, it is.

“He gets it.” I smile and take a deep breath. Then I whisper to myself: “Another great book!”

I hold the book sideways and look at the many pages where I have turned down the corners. Dozens of them. Just for fun, I open one of them and read:

“…we have every reason to be doubtful of, skeptical about, and disdainful toward the notion that Caesar [government] can solve all our problems.”

I nod. When freedom is under attack, leaders rise up from among the people. This book is part of that battle.

“The Great Books indeed.” I grin as I say the words.

I turn to another page with a dog-eared corner and read Charles’ words:

“‘Society is endangered not by the great corruption of the few, but by the laxity of all,’ Tocqueville had noted, and on this he was in complete agreement with the Founders.”

And now, I note, with at least one Millennial.

I feel a sense of building hope for the future. “The Millennials are beginning to lead,” I say with reverence.

“This is big. And if this book is any indication of what’s to come…

“It’s about time,” I say aloud.

Then, slowly, “Everyone needs to read this book.”

 

*Liberty’s Secret by Joshua Charles is available on Amazon

 

 

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A Proposal on Reforming the Supreme Court

July 28th, 2015 // 8:12 am @

by Oliver DeMille

I don’t mean it. I’m going to propose it, but I don’t really want it. Or think it’s a good idea. This proposal is meant to be ironic. But it still needs to be said, because there is far too much truth to it.

Supreme Parliament of the United States

DogmasIn the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions, it’s clear that the Court doesn’t just try cases. It now writes law. It isn’t only a Supreme Court, it’s the de facto Supreme Parliament of the United States as well.

The Court uses some decisions to simply rewrite the laws of the nation, including the laws of the states. It’s been doing that for some time,[i] of course, but now it’s taking this approach to a whole new level. It has decided that the 9th and 10th Amendments are outdated, and it just ignores them.

For example, the Court labels Obamacare a “tax”, even though the Congress and President who proposed and passed it never called it that, and even though it skirts many state laws. The Court just makes up its own way.

Forget the actual case at hand; the Court is convinced that it has the power to create whatever it chooses out of thin air. Whatever the Court says, goes. Call it a “tax”. And call marriage a Constitutional right, even though the word “marriage” and the concept of marriage are never even mentioned in the Constitution or any of the Founder’s commentaries on the federal Constitution.

The Framers specifically left any and all decisions about marriage to the states. The Court has amended the Constitution without even using an official amendment.[ii] Many times. Just because it wants to.[iii] I’m not saying the Court got any of these recent decisions wrong, or right. That’s not my point. In fact, my point is much more important than any of these cases. I’m saying the Court has no authority in the Constitution to make many of its decisions.[iv]

It gave itself the power to do these things.[v] It just took the power. Such power didn’t come from the people or the Constitution.[vi] Such power isn’t legitimate authority. It is, to use the precise, technical word that the Founding generation used for this exact behavior: “tyranny”.

Whether you love the current Court’s decisions, hate them, or fall somewhere in the middle, the bigger picture is beyond the cases. The Court is now boldly and fully engaged in Judicial Tyranny.[vii]

The new rules of the Court: Just do whatever you want. You’re the Court, after all. Oh, and that pesky reality that the Constitution doesn’t give the Court the authority do more than half of what it now does? No problem. Since you’re the Court, just announce that the Constitution does, in fact, give you such authority. In fact, decree that the Court has the Constitutional authority to do whatever you decide to do.

Jefferson warned that this very thing was the biggest danger to the Constitution and to American freedoms. And his prediction has come true. The Legislative Court has become one of the greatest dangers to our freedoms. Five lawyers literally have the power to do whatever they want.

The Proposed Change!

So here’s the proposal. I heard it on a radio show, and it made me laugh. Then it made think. Then it made me mad. Check this out:

Since the Supreme Court now makes up any law it wants just by writing it up in a majority opinion, without bothering about what the House or Senate does, let’s balance the budget by just disbanding Congress. Why pay Representatives and Senators and their staff when the Court is just going to write up laws on its own anyway?

That’s the proposal. Let’s just get rid of Congress and let the Court keep doing its thing.

Again, I don’t really mean it. But at this rate, the Court is on pace to do this anyway. And in the meantime, it’s already behaving as the Supreme Court and the Supreme Parliament all in one.

One More Thing

By the way, the real solution is for Congress to pass legislation ending the use of precedent in the courts and limiting every Supreme Court decision to the scope of that one case. This will send many in the current generation of lawyers into a tizzy, but it’s the right thing to do. Assuming that we want to remain free. Such a change will immediately return the Court to its Article III powers.

Or, barring this solution, if we’re going to keep with the bad tradition of common law precedent,[viii] amend the Constitution so that 2/3 of the state Supreme Courts can overturn any decision of the Supreme Court. (More on Common Law in footnote “viii”.)

If we don’t do one of these, we literally might as well adopt the proposal above—because the Court is now operating as both the Judicial Branch and a Higher Legislative Branch.

 

NOTES

[i] See, for example: Martin v. Hunter Lessee; Cohen v. Commonwealth of Virginia; McCullough v. Maryland; Gibbons v. Ogden; Missouri v. Holland; New York ex rel. Cohn v. Graves; U.S. v. Butler; U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.; Wood v. Cloyd W. Miller; among others. See also: Bruno Leoni, Freedom and the Law, 3-25, 133-171.

[ii] Compare Article VI of the United States Constitution to Article III.

[iii] Some scholars and jurists will balk at this, arguing instead that the court “finds” or “discovers” the Constitutional meaning in the law. But while the Court may employ technical and/or logical language to support its decisions, it still utilizes its will. It may claim that its decisions are “findings,” and at times they are, but they are still always decisions. (If they were truly “findings,” matters of law without personal choice, all cases would be decided by 9-0 votes. Will is part of each decision.) Moreover, despite what is taught in some law school courses, the Framers clearly understood votes of the Justices to be acts of will, not mechanized requirements demanded by the laws.

[iv] Read Article III word for word. No such powers are granted.

[v] Review the cases listed in footnote “i” above. See also: John E. Nowak, Ronald D. Rotunda (Thompson-West), Constitutional Law, Seventh Edition, pp. 1-16, 138-156, 397-398.

[vi] Article III.

[vii] See how Raoul Berger warned of this a generation ago: Raoul Berger, Government by Judiciary.

[viii] Many in the legal profession argue that the Framers preferred Common Law to the other alternatives. Certainly there are a number of quotes from prominent founding leaders that on face value seem to support this view. In reality, most of the Framers preferred Common Law to Romano-Germanic Codifications. This was the major legal debate of the era, in Europe at least. Thus the Justinian model was soon to be followed by the Napoleonic Code. So when the Framers sided with Common Law over the Romano-Germanic model it was taken as a blanket endorsement of the Common Law. However, some of the top Founding Fathers, including both Jefferson and Madison, preferred a third model, the Anglo-Saxon code and system, over Common Law. For excellent background on these competing systems, see: Rene David and John E. C. Brierley, Major Legal Systems in the World Today; John William Burgess, The Reconciliation of Government with Liberty; Theodore F.T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law. In short, common law builds on precedent; the Constitution the Framers wrote didn’t require the use of precedent by the Judiciary. In the Framer’s model, the Court was “supreme” in deciding any one case. Period. This keeps the Court separated in the judicial realm. It is an independent judiciary, unlike in Britain, because it has sole authority to provide the final determination in any one case. But separation of powers gives it no authority to use dicta or precedent to influence later cases. Any allowance of precedent creates the need to explain a decision, and moves into the realm of legislation. Common Law was not the intent of the Framers. Once the Constitution was ratified, however, the attorneys of the era, trained in the Common Law, simply kept practicing their system without change. The Anglo Saxon code and model was quickly lost, to the detriment of American freedom. Most attorneys are unaware of this. Even a lower percentage of non-attorney citizens understand this. We lose our freedoms in many cases simply because we don’t know better.

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An Obama, Adams, and Jefferson Debate

June 1st, 2015 // 6:15 pm @

(Should Presidents be Treated Like Royalty?)

by Oliver DeMille

News and Fans

Obama_FamilyA strange thing happened recently. President Obama visited my state, just a quick flight and a few meetings. But to watch the state news reports, you would think the most important celebrity in all of history was visiting. The media simply fawned over the president. The news channels broke into all the nightly television programs and gave special reports. Not on some major announcement, but on…wait for it…the President arriving at his hotel.

Reporters were on the scene. Anchors cut back and forth between the reporters and expert guests opining on how long the President’s day flight been and how much longer before he would arrive at the hotel. This went on and on. No news. No policies. No proposals. No events. No actual happenings.

Just a president and his entourage arriving in a plane, being driven to the hotel, and staying overnight. The reporters and other news professionals—on multiple channels—were positively giddy.

I shook my head in amazement. The American founders would have been…well, upset. At least Jefferson would. Adams? That’s a different story altogether. In fact, it got me thinking.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, made a serious mistake during his term in office. He had served for a long time as ambassador to the English crown, and he picked up some bad habits in London. He witnessed the way members of Parliament treated the top ministers in the British Cabinet, and how the ministers themselves fawned over the King.

He had, likewise, watched how the regular people in England bowed and scraped to the aristocracy. Almost everyone in Britain saw every other person as either a superior, an inferior, or, occasionally, an equal. This class system dominated the culture.

And, as an ambassador of the American colonies, Adams had been pretty low on the pecking order in London. He had seen how this aristocratic structure gave increased clout to the King, to Cabinet members, and to the aristocrats. So when he became president, he wanted the U.S. Presidency to have this same sense of authority, power, and awe.

In fairness, reading between the lines, I think president Adams’ heart was in the right place: He thought this would help the new nation gain credibility in the sight of other nations. He wanted the president to be treated like royalty.

But Adams forgot something very important.

Aristos and Servants

Americans weren’t raised in such a class system. They found such bowing-and-scraping to the aristos both offensive and deeply disturbing. For them, this was one of the medieval vestiges of the old world that America (and Americans) had gratefully left behind. The principle behind this was simple: if we treat leaders like aristos and kings, they’ll start acting like aristos and kings, and our freedoms will be in grave danger.

lawyers 1Moreover, Americans felt that such “prostration before their betters” was especially inappropriate where government officials were concerned. “Government leaders work for us,” was the typical American view. And if the citizens start acting like their leaders are aristocrats and royalty, they’ll stop thinking and acting like fiercely independent free citizens.

But still Adams wanted the people to treat the president like royalty. Jefferson was appalled at Adams’ words and behavior in this regard, and his criticisms of President Adams’ on this matter fueled a rift between these two men that lasted almost two decades. At times, the biting rivalry and harsh words bordered on hatred—if not of each other, certainly of the other’s behavior.

Jefferson believed in a democratic culture, where each person would be judged by his choices and character—not by class background. Even more importantly, he believed that, in fact, government officials do work for the people—and the higher the office, the more they are servants of the people.

As president himself, Jefferson went out of his way to avoid and reject any “airs” or special perks of office. He saw himself as simply a man, one of the citizens, who had the responsibility to serve all the other citizens. He wasn’t superior to them—he was the least of them, their servant, their humble servant.

After 8 years as president, Jefferson had established this as the way each president should be viewed: a regular citizen, serving as president while elected, but not treated as inherently royal, superior, or in any way better than anyone else. No perks, no special treatment. Yes, security for the Commander in Chief obviously needed to be different than for the average person. But other than that, no aristocratic fawning was appropriate.

Madison followed the same model, and after him Monroe. So did John Quincy Adams and other presidents through the eras of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR. Truman angrily rejected any attempts to put him on an aristocratic pedestal.

Eisenhower rebuffed aristocratic perks both as a general and later as president, and Kennedy did the same in many ways—leaving his expensive upper-class clothes at home and dressing more like the people he worked with each day while in Washington. Reagan openly pushed against any aristocratic airs; as a movie star he was accustomed to celebrity, but clearly avoided it as president. He wanted to be a man of the people, a servant.

Generational Visions

And even while Adams tried to promote a higher level of fawning over the president, at least the media of his era had the good sense to criticize him for it. To take him to task. To note that such is not the American way.

But something changed, somewhere along the way. Was it because Kennedy was considered American “royalty” even before the presidency, or because Reagan was already a Hollywood celebrity before he occupied the White House? Or did the change come during the Clinton era, or the Bush years? (Ironic that such fawning of the Chief Executive came after Nixon.)

Or was it the way Hollywood portrayed presidents—with actors like Michael Douglas or Martin Sheen glibly spouting a sense of arrogant power and aristocratic entitlement? Did entertainment capture our national imagination?

When did we start seeing the world as classes of royals, aristos, and “regular” people? When did “celebrity” become an accepted reason for special treatment in America?

Should we respect the offices held by our political leaders? Absolutely. Should we honor those who serve? Absolutely. Too often the level of civic discourse today is coarse and angry. More respect is needed. And, just as importantly, less aristocratic fawning is needed.

I once wrote about experiencing this trend firsthand while hosting a visiting dignitary many years ago. After an evening event, we went to a restaurant. The dignitary and I naturally walked to the back of the line, but one of the other hosts hurried to the front of the line and arranged for a “VIP table.” As we walked past the rest of the line, people vocally grumbled. We heard words like: “Hey, don’t cut in line,” and “You can wait your turn, just like the rest of us.”

When the other host responded by telling the people in line the dignitary’s title and name, the frustration grew louder. “We’re Americans too,” one man said. “We don’t worship titles in this country. Wait your turn.” A number of similar words were exchanged. The dignitary demanded that we go back to the end of the line just like everyone else.

Fast forward over two decades later. A similar scene. I walked with a dignitary to the back of a large restaurant line, and someone in our group arranged for us to go straight to our table. As we passed the line, people asked, “Who’s cutting in line?”

But these voices weren’t angry. They were just curious. “It’s a celebrity,” someone said. “Oh, okay,” was the general consensus. “Of course. Let him ahead, then.” Apart from trying to see if they recognized the person, everyone in the line seemed totally content to let a celebrity pass.

The earlier line had been made up mostly of people from the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, while the second line consisted mainly of Gen X and Millennials. The U.S. clearly changed during the two decades between these experiences. But is the change a good one?

It’s an important question: Can we maintain a democratically free society when the broad culture sees people as “superiors,” and “inferiors”? When we as Americans have come to see celebrities as naturally deserving special perks, and government officials as people to be submitted to? Won’t that change how we vote?

Indeed, it already has.

Focus and Fawning

Would John Adams like the way Americans now treat their presidents and other celebrities? What would the British aristos of the American Founding era think of Americans today? Are we just as “domesticated” as the London populace of their time? We don’t exactly “bow” yet, but have we become a nation that “bows and scrapes” before people we see as “our betters?”

And if this applies to “power celebrities,” meaning government leaders, what does that say about the American people as wise stewards and overseers of freedom? Politeness is good, no doubt. But which is classier:

  1. A people who move aside for aristos, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of celebrity and snap a photo on their phones, or,
  2. A people who think everyone is an important leader because we are all citizens of a great, free nation?

John_AdamsWhatever Adams would think of the way many Americans now turn giddy in the presence of political leaders, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and Madison would not like it. Jefferson would certainly call foul. This is not the way to maintain a true democratic republic.

Treat everyone like aristos, or no one. Period. That’s the only way to be equal and fair.

Don’t treat some like aristos and others like commoners. Because if we do, freedom will quickly decline. (It will decline more for the commoners than the aristos, by the way.) Even Adams hated such obsequiousness when he witnessed it in Europe.

Clearly, as mentioned, the security of top leaders is very important. So is the security of everyone else, but it is true that top officials and celebrities often face more frequent threats. Also, more respect in our civil discourse is needed. But the servile toadying to political celebrity by many in our current populace and even media is a disturbing trend.

Again, we should certainly be respectful of important office. But sycophancy isn’t the American way—as Adams learned when the “commoners” refused to give him a second term. In fact, they instead entrusted the presidency of their nation to the leading voice of democracy and equal treatment for all citizens: Thomas Jefferson.

We should be so wise. Give us a president who stands what matters—boldly, openly, and effectively—while simultaneously rejecting the perks and “airs” of aristocracy, or worse, an Americanized royalty.

Give us a president who vocally reminds us that he or she is just one of the citizens. And who openly remembers and operates on the principle that we, the people, are the real leaders of the nation. It’s time for the media servility and simultaneously smug superiority of the White House to be replaced with what our nation actually needs—quality, grown up, leadership by someone who truly understands what makes freedom tick. The people.

As for the media, focus more on policy and principles, less on ratings and the “royals who lead us.” And none at all on what hotel somebody stays in. There are people with real needs in this country, and current policies are hurting millions of American citizens. Let’s fix them. Starting with spending our media airtime on what really matters.

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Will College Get in the Way of Your Kids’ Education?

April 28th, 2015 // 4:05 pm @

by Oliver DeMille

Will College Get in the Way of Your Kids’ Education?

123 edWhat a controversial question!

In fact, it’s downright politically incorrect. For many in the current generation of parents, this is akin to cultural heresy. But let’s think about it. The top colleges depend on the SAT, or in a few cases, the ACT, and later, once students are accepted and enrolled, these schools frequently employ multiple-choice exams of the same ilk.

If such testing is our national educational scoreboard—and it is—we have a problem. As you know if you’ve read my articles on “Homeschooling and Testing: Parts I and Part II” I’m not a real fan of the multiple-choice test as our national standard.

Actually, I readily embrace multiple-choice exams as one part of a student’s learning experience, along with essay exams, papers and projects as exams, oral exams, stand-and-show exams, and other types of testing that allow each student to truly demonstrate what he or she has learned, understands, and can do with the knowledge. But I’m against a one-size-fits all approach to testing (or to education itself, for that matter).

one-size-educationLike Rachel Lynde teaches in Anne of Green Gables, people who have never been parents usually think that there is one good way to parent—but people who have had children know that there is truly a different right way to parent for each child. People truly are different. This lesson is essential, and our modern testing system forgets about it.

That’s bad for our nation and our future.

So, yes, I’m opposed to the way many modern classrooms teach to the standardized multiple-choice tests instead of teaching to the student. Each student’s learning should be individualized, personalized, and guided by one or more caring, committed mentors.

Education Job Training

Ideal? Yes! And that’s what our children deserve. Every single one of them. Why would we settle for anything less than the highest ideals in something as important as the education of our children and grandchildren?

Shame on anyone who suggests anything less than the ideal!

When I see a nation that calls itself a meritocracy but whose highest court, presidency, and a disproportional number of top corporate leaders only come from the Ivy League—at least for the past two decades—and, to get into the League requires high scores on standardized multiple-choice tests, I shake my head. It’s a serious problem.

Why? Because such a system is not a meritocracy at all. There many statistics about making more money in life after graduating from a top school, and about making more if you’ve finished college, but there is one that really stands out. Most people don’t know about it, but it’s true. The statistics are clear: on average, the richer the family of the student who takes the SAT, the better the student scores. (Leon Botstein, TIME, March 24, 2015)

So, of course these students make more money in their life. In fact, the students of the wealthy who don’t complete top colleges also do financially better, on average, than the students of the poor or middle class—including many of those who do graduate from college. Call it elitist, aristocratic, or whatever you want, but this system isn’t a genuine meritocracy.

The common response to such a conversation is that universities need such tests to decide which applicants to accept—since college is all about job training nowadays. Well…I’m going to let that pass without argument, even though I very much disagree that universities should be mainly about career training.

But if schools are going to focus on career prep, then multiple-choice tests as the constant in the system are deeply flawed. As Leon Botstein wrote in TIME magazine: “The SAT is part hoax, part fraud.” The magazine also called it “a scam”. (Ibid., cover, 17) Why? Because, in Botstein’s words:

“[T]he test can’t predict a kid’s future…. As every adult recognizes, knowing something, or knowing how to do something, in real life is never defined by being able to choose a ‘right’ answer from a set of possible options (some of them are intentionally misleading) put forward by nameless test designers.

“No scientist, engineer, writer, psychologist, artist or physician pursues his or her vocation by getting right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity.” (Ibid., emphasis added.)

Quality tests reflect reality, not an imaginary matrix that allows a few experts to determine what they want our whole nation of children to learn (or not learn), and which type of learner they prefer to favor, whom they want to succeed. The key phrase in the whole subject of standardized, national testing such as the ACT and SAT comes from the same TIME article: “nameless test designers.”

A Skewed Approach

This is incredibly important to the future of our society. If the test writers were widely and openly known, by name, with a bio and a video of each of them talking about their core beliefs, political and cultural views, most important aspirations and goals, and perspectives on various important current issues and societal concerns, such tests would almost immediately end.

Seriously.

Parents and educators would watch such video clips (easily posted online with today’s technology), and the tests would immediately lose their credibility. I don’t say this because I know the test designers. I don’t. But I am convinced, based on reading and analyzing many of these exams, that they have an agenda.

How could they not? They are the Choosers in our “meritocracy.” They are the Givers. Their exams determine who will win and who will lose the contest—to get into the top institutions of higher learning. They are much more powerful than the Electoral College or the Senate Judicial Committee. In fact, to a large extent, they unofficially but actually choose who will or won’t be eligible for selection by these very groups in the future.

If they openly told us who they are, why they write the tests the way they do, and what they stand for and against, we could evaluate whether we want our kids and grandkids to have the kind of education that is specifically taught in most schools (for the very purpose of excelling on exams written by, planned, and designed by these people). With such transparency, even if they maintained the support of a few, they would lose the support of many others.

And that would be good for our nation. Other types of testing would arise, and the market would support other competing agendas—by other test designers with competing views and goals—not just the one proscribed by this generally unknown group of “Givers” who select our future national leaders each time they create, approve, and/or reject a test question.

If we’re going to continue to be nation run by the test designers (who parents and teachers unwittingly hold up as the key to each child’s future), we should interview each of them and know that our kids are in good hands. If they aren’t open to such transparency, then why do we give them so much power over our children? And over our nation’s future?

Building a child’s education around meeting the demands and agendas of this group of unseen people—simply because it is “necessary for college,” at least if we teach to the test (and the more people care about the test, the more likely they are to do this)—is a bit strange. It’s akin to living in the 19th Century and using leeches to bleed a sick person because the “experts” assure us it is an excellent practice.

Really? Is that how we want to approach education?

The Way Things Are

I’m all for great education. For rigor and depth and intense study—especially among teens and college-age learners. I think testing is an important part of quality learning.

But the current system has it all wrong.

If your young person gains an education that is defined and driven by the standardized national tests in math, science, social studies, and language arts, then yes, college has very much gotten in the way of his or her education. It has narrowed it, milked out much of the natural passion for learning, and infused it with large doses of rote.

That’s what teaching to the tests usually requires. It has also bent your child’s education in a direction with a specific social/political agenda that many parents don’t support—but don’t know about.

Of course, it’s important to note that for the most part teachers have no control over this. Many teachers manage to do an excellent job of real teaching even though they have this system to overcome. And, as mentioned, few parents realize what is actually going on. They just want their kids to get into a good college.

In truth, I have no problem with young people taking these standardized exams. To get into college, it’s necessary. So take them. Sure.

But the problem arises, 1) in throwing out some of your child’s great educational opportunities to focus on teaching to the tests, and 2) in seeing their test scores and thinking you’ve won, or lost.

And, on the national level, the even worse problem is 3) that we’re no longer much of a meritocracy, because we’ve turned over the determination of “merit” almost exclusively to a group of behind-the-scenes “Givers”.

Far too many parents, educators, and others just go along with all three of these problems because “that’s the way things are.”

But they shouldn’t be this way.

And that’s my point. That’s what the idea of America was once all about—to make things the way they should be, to improve things that aren’t right, to fix the broken, and to choose true principles over bad customs. To put what’s right ahead of mere profit or promotion.

The Important Questions

These are by far the most important lessons in anyone’s education.

By far!

Without these lessons, no education is complete.

We can still teach these things, and parents have a lot of power to do so. But these things aren’t being taught on the SAT or ACT, nor in the teach-to-the-test lessons that precede these exams and dominate many schools. Nor, sadly, are they taught in most of the college classrooms that come after the long-coveted Elite University acceptance letter.

They’re going to have to be taught elsewhere.

Which brings us to this one central, vital, question:

How, where, and from whom are your kids going to learn them?

Seriously: Where?

From whom?

Not most schools. Not most universities. Not TV or the movies. Not surfing the Internet.

If parents don’t teach them, they probably won’t get taught.

And that’s going to drastically influence the future of America.

Which brings us to the final test, the real exam, the essential question every parent needs to answer:

What are you going to do about this in your home?

Here’s what we’re doing about it:

Join us!

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Category : Aristocracy &Community &Culture &Current Events &Education &Generations &History &Leadership &Liberty &Mission

Welcome to the Era of Drones! by Oliver DeMille

March 31st, 2015 // 5:57 am @

(Transportation without Representation)

Question:

Drone w PowerlineIt’s a big thing in the print media, right now. It shows up in article after article. Where do property rights end and airspace rights begin? When the jet planes or smaller Cessna’s were flying above at 21,000 feet or even 900 feet, most people didn’t care if they went directly over one’s property.

But what happens in the coming Drone Era when drones fly 10 or 20 feet above your backyard on their way to deliver a book, a box of peaches, or toilet paper to your neighbors? (Popular Science, January 2015, page 71) Is that a violation of your property? Or your privacy? Certainly, if they run into your tree or hit your power line, you’re going to call it a bit intrusive, but what if they just fly past?

And, as more people are asking, how can you tell if they are simply delivering the morning paper or taking video of your family as they fly by? Or both? And who owns that drone that will be flying past, anyway? Amazon? WalMart? The government? Which government—state, local, federal? Or a private individual, like your teenage daughter’s stalker who is hoping to catch a glimpse of her in a swimsuit?

Sound creepy? A lot of people think so. In fact, Audi has taken advantage of this rising realization that drones are going to be part of our lives and made a commercial—a “horror” commercial, if there is even such a genre. Here’s how it unfolds:

A group of business people are standing in a lobby, waiting to go to the parking lot. A company spokesman tells them to act normal, “don’t run.” We all wonder what he means. Then the crowd leaves the building and we see the menace: a fleet of drones hovering above the parking lot like attackers in Hitchcock’s classic horror film “The Birds.”

“Stay calm,” everyone is told. But, of course, they all run away instead—sprinting for their cars, briefcases and handbags with coattails flapping in the wind as they go. There is screaming, drones dart down at the people like fighters on a sci-fi movie; everyone panics.

Except one guy. He quickly but calmly opens the door to his car, which just happens to be an Audi, and gets in. He tells the car computer to plot him a course to what seems to be his off-the-grid getaway—a cabin by the lake.

As he drives, the car is pursued by attacking drones, targeting it like an army of invading Cylons, or like X-wings racing along the surface of the Death Star. “The force, Luke. The force…”

But the Audi evades them, causing two of them to crash into each other. And “Luke” races off to safety. The voice in the commercial tells us that some technology is very helpful—no need to be afraid. If technology attacks, other, better technology will help us fight back.

It’s funny. It’s catchy. And it hits on a theme that is all too real for many people: Do we really want drones invading our personal airspace, every few minutes, all day long? Is there anything we can do to stop it? Or is it just a fait accompli?

Big Brother is Coming?

For decades, Hollywood has sold the dangers of technology gone wrong. The huge, awkward “communicators” of 1970s Star Trek have become a reality; in fact we now have phones much tinier than those once imagined on screen. On the one hand, technology is fascinating, and interesting to us all. On the other, are there real threats? Could fleets of robots be flying past our homes every day, every hour, without our permission? Answer: “Yes. Absolutely.”

Is this just “A Happy March to the Future” or should we be sounding the alarm, Paul Revere-like: “Big Brother is Coming”? Is it “A Better World!” or are we facing a major case of “Transportation without Representation!”?

Will the government be the problem in the Drone Era (sending its drones to spy on its own citizens), or will it be the solution (protecting us from private drone infringements)? Here are three thoughts on this:

  • 13% of those polled by The Atlantic believe that within ten years 75% or more of Americans will own a personal drone. (The Atlantic, November 2014, page 84)
  • Instead of checking your bags and paying the extra fees, travelers might be able to ship their luggage directly via their personal drone—the bags will be waiting for you at your hotel’s front desk. Nice.
  • From an article in Popular Science: “Humphreys [director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas] thinks regular Joes will want to defend their privacy too [just like governments and corporations do].” Humphreys said: “I have a sense that a shotgun is going to be first thing they’ll grab…” (op cit., Popular Science) Joe Biden will prefer a double-barreled shotgun, no doubt.

But just like in Biden’s neighborhood, in many places shooting within city limits or populated areas is illegal. And shooting the drone itself is illegal as well. (Ibid.)

Behind the Curtain

So, what about your property and privacy rights? There are a lot of questions here. If the government considers a foreign drone flying over U.S. airspace a breach of national security, how can it logically argue that a drone flying over your private property doesn’t reduce your rights—especially if it is taking pictures or shooting video?

But make no mistake, this is exactly what governments are going to argue. If the water and mineral rights for your property are separate from land ownership, for example, why would airspace be any different?

Maybe there will be an airspace market, with special plat maps and zoning commissions, and lots of extra fees paid to attorneys—so that some people can own their own, personal airspace above their yards. Certainly the Clintons and Bushes will want to get in on this, just like they owned their own computer servers.

And, if airspace goes up for sale on the private exchange, maybe some of your neighbors—and various corporations—will want to license or own the airspace just above your yard.

In all of this, one thing seems to stand out: it’s not really the drones that are scary. Audi got it wrong. It’s the people who make the decisions. Heck, now it seems that they even own the air…

Solution:

Checks and balances could help. If only the majority of voters truly believed in them anymore.

Only parents and educators have the real power to resurrect a society that truly believes in checks and balances. This is a generational battle, and if we lose it again in the current generation (like we did in the last 2), it will likely remain lost for a very long time to come.

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Category : Blog &Citizenship &Community &Culture &Current Events &Economics &Featured &Generations &Government &History &Information Age &Liberty &Politics &Science &Technology

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