A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

One Racist Remark

The President’s most recent racist outburst expressing his view that we don’t need any more people from what he sees as shithole countries has me thinking about all of the Americans stationed overseas and how their days will now be filled with the need to explain to host country nationals that, unlike their president, they do not believe they are living in a shithole country. His abysmally ignorant comment has taken me back to my Peace Corps days in Ghana when my hosts often called upon me to explain the actions of America.

At twenty-six years old, I found myself called upon to explain the killing of Martin Luther King. The question put to me was, “Why did you kill Martin King?” In the minds of the villagers with whom I lived, I was clearly the spokesperson for the United States. It became my job to explain the inexplicable to people whose very positive image of America had been compromised by the death of an American who had become associated with their struggle for freedom from colonial rule. When, not to long thereafter, I was asked to explain the killing of Robert Kennedy, a symbol to Ghanaians of the best of America, it was harder than betraying family secrets to address the hatred and violence that has stained our history.

Across the world, Americans are working for the benefit of our country and, more often than not, for the people in their host country. In thousands of ways, they create a positive image of America and its people. One stupid, racist remark by the President of the United States has, I’m sure, called that image into question for many. You can be completely sure that unscrupulous people will exploit our leader’s ignorance.

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Cut National Service?

Budgets are about what’s important to the budget makers. The trump budget is not an exception and should be a surprise to only the naive. Its overarching goal is to further the distribution of wealth and income upwards. Screw the poor, because, after all, poverty, our Secretary of Housing and Urban development tells us, is a state of mind. Screw the working class stiffs who voted for trump out of desperation, having seen their wages and working conditions capped or worsened over the past thirty years. Screw the old if they hadn’t the wisdom to save for their retirement. Screw everyone but the economic elite of our country, who no matter what they have always seem to need even more. Anyone with a modicum of political awareness fully expected nothing less from scam-artist Trump. Yet, there is one surprise to me in his budget proposal, his suggestion that we substantially cut support for volunteer, national service programs like Ameri-Corps, Vista and Peace Corps. It feels as though he proposed this one just for me, an old Peace Corps volunteer.

I strongly suspect that if you asked most of the volunteers to our national service programs to evaluate their experience, most would in one way or another say that the experience changed their lives for the better. That’s certainly the way I fell about my experience in Ghana in the 60s. Living for two years in a country where most subsisted on one dollar a day, teaching eight classes of English and biology a day in classrooms open to the air, with the occasional snake barging in gave me a visceral understanding how by the sheer accident of my birth in the U.S. I had a future so much better than the students I taught. I learned too to see my country from afar. It fell to me to explain to the people of the village I lived in the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. How fortunate for me to have had dinner of an evening at the Café Haiphong in Togo, with a group of Brits and French expats who wanted to engage me about the war in Viet Nam. Most of all, the Peace Corps began my experience of service to others. Without question my Peace Corps service made me a more aware, more resourceful, more engaged citizen of our country. Why would anyone want to deprive other young people of similar experiences?

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