ACTUALLY, DAVID, I was quite polite. considering the circumstances, i.e., your publishing an attack on me without having the common courtesy of, at least, sending me a copy of your article. But never mind.
What should be pointed out immediately is that you did not even attempt to answer the question I put to my students, namely, tell me one moment in time when there was liberty and justice for all the people in this country, or any practical proof that such was ever the intention.
Surely, with your own background in history, which you would acknowledge is considerably greater than that of my students, you could come up with such a moment that I may have overlooked, and some practical evidence, besides cheap rhetoric, that liberty and justice for all was ever the intention of our "founding fathers" and those who succeeded them.
Take our Constitution, for example, which ignored the people whose land we stole and who were dismissed as "savages," which considered women for census purposes only, but which accorded them no rights, or those taken in bondage from Africa and considered, again only for census purposes, three-fifths of a person. Don't you find that somewhat contradictory to the claim in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal?" That same declaration. much of which I respect, but which blames England for holding the settlers back from attacking the "savages?"
And yes, I do, appreciate what I have and have been given, but I would be less than honest if I did not admit that it came at others’ expense.
The United States has, I point out to my students, has been specially blessed (if I may use that word). Here we took over a land, with a minimum of interference from other colonial powers, that was extraordinarily rich in its mineral wealth and in its abundance of arable land. Yet it was never enough. Our greed, or those who came before us, was insatiable. We had this thing challenging us called "manifest destiny," to spread our borders "from sea to shining sea," and it was just too bad for anyone or any country that stood in our way. That insatiability, and what we declared was our God-given right, has led US presidents to dispatch American soldiers to intervene or invade foreign soil close to 200 times in our first 200 years -- exclusive of the World Wars -- a record unmatched in ancient or modern times.
Take, for example, the Marine Corps hymn which I used to sing as a child,
"From the halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli." The first reference, of course, is to our unprovoked invasion of Mexico in 1846, which resulted in the theft of close to a million square miles of land, when we include Texas. I am not aware of anything historically comparable, at least not in modern times, but perhaps you can correct me if I am in error.
The reference to the "shores of Tripoli" is, of course, to what we called "the Barbary pirates," who wanted the US to pay tribute for doing business in its waters, and what was our response? "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute," which certainly indicates how early our weapons industry was ready to fleece the public. Whether or not the folks in Tripoli were "pirates" is beside the point. Do you think the US would have allowed foreign ships to poach in US waters without payment?
You say, “Everybody in America is free to leave. Few do. If America's borders were opened tomorrow there would be a flood of brown and black of immigrants to these shores.”
It takes some money in one's pocket to leave, but some do. US expatriates can be found living all over Europe and there are several colonies of Yanks who for quite some time have lived in Mexico. Ireland has many Irish who, once they have earned their social security, head back home to Ireland, and I am sure that many Brits do the same as well. As for alternative destinations, Canada has taken in many immigrants, and refugees from the civil war in Guatemala have crossed the border into Mexico. But all this is beside the point. The reason that black and brown people in America are relatively richer, in terms of money, than those in other lands can largely be traced to the pervasiveness of Western colonialism and neo-colonialism, almost exclusively European in Africa and over the last 150 years, almost exclusively American in the Western Hemisphere, with the US and Europe sharing the plunder of Asia. (It was interesting to learn from that subversive publication, American Heritage, that the Roosevelt family fortune originated from the opium trade in China, protected by the British during one of the uglier of the many ugly periods in that nation's history.)
You say "The fact that America is a land whose citizens pledge their allegiance to a country which seeks to provide its citizens with liberty and justice for all is something to be proud of and to teach our children to be proud of."
The fact? You offer no proof of that. On the other hand, we have locked up more than 2,000,000 people in our prisons, a figure that represents one-quarter of the world's prisoners. Most of them are black and brown and most are locked up for non-violent offenses, usually drug related. Now while they go to prison in record numbers, for the same crimes in which, according to recently released statistics, whites are not sentenced, most white drug users in the upper echelons of the economy can indulge their individual needs for that tempting white powder with impunity.
I should also add that the students do not stand for the pledge because I have subverted any loyalty they might have to the country or to the flag. They have already had that loyalty subverted by the time they get to high school, and usually not by any teacher, but rather by their local police force which sees them as a threat to the social order that they are paid to protect, a social order that is dominated principally by rich, white men, that is, the kind of folks that you pal around with, like Richard Mellon Scaife, who gives you the money to maintain your gilded cesspool. There are teachers who actually do help the cops in their work, and they, too, are invariably white. Their crime is letting their black and brown students know from the first day in class that they expects very little from them, and it is generally acknowledged that a student's sense of self-worth is an important factor in obtaining an education and learning to respect the society that offers it.
You say, “Your minority students can be forgiven for not understanding how privileged they are… “
What an elitist statement! They "can be forgiven." What racist arrogance! I would have liked you to come to one of my classes and run that line to my students. They would run you right out of the classroom.
They learn not from what they are told but by how they are treated. And don't think students in that school, where 40% of the families are so poor that their children are eligible for free lunches will be impressed to know how wonderful this economy has been for others. And it is not just this school. Close to 20% of our children live in families that are under the poverty line, a figure that is far greater than one finds in any developed country. And when it comes to health care, we remain the only developed country where it is not considered a right.
Your statement that the students "have the illusion that people (and therefore societies) can be remade for the better if only they are given the right ideas," I find mystifying and contradictory to your belief that they should be indoctrinated into believing in the American way of life. Surely, that doesn't mean accepting the status quo.
Or do you think we have come as far as we can go, and America is already perfect. Don't you believe a teacher should challenge her or his students to, as the expression goes, leave the word a better place than they found it? If not, you are the subversive, David, but then I knew that all along. .
You say, “You, however, cannot be forgiven for having failed to learn the obvious in the decades you have had to think about all this since the 60s. To go on attacking this system and working to alienate young people from it (thus denying them opportunities they would have if they embraced it), all the while pretending that there is some other system that can produce the ideal justice of your fantasies is simply destructive and, in the end, pathetic. It’s time to give it up.”
The young people are already alienated from the system by the time they get to high school. What my goal has been is to help them comprehend the historical reasons for their alienation and find ways to channel their understandable resentments against society into positive channels.
As for searching for justice, you may have sold what few principles you had -- obviously, never dearly held -- and become the epitome of what you once railed against, but as for expecting me to give up and surrender the field to the likes of you, not a chance.
By the way, David, my offer to debate you is still open. How about on your TV show? And, one more thing, I am sure you won't mind if I use our exchange as a lesson plan and share it with other teachers. I know the students will appreciate it. It is always good to know what the enemy is thinking.