Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Now what?

The following was originally published as a Facebook post by Timothy Snyder, the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

My Friend Josh Mason Barkin tweeted the link to Quartz, a blog that ran the piece. It ran there under the title "A Yale history professor’s powerful, 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency." I have re-titled it in the interest of not using a headline to pour gasoline on a fire. I do believe he is right on all of these items. (#21 might be to maintain a valid passport for every member of your family.) I also believe we have to be very timely in declaring that the sky is falling. To soon, and we are chicken little. Too late and we can only hope to be survivors.

The video at the top of the page is a lecture by Professor Snyder called "What Can European History Teach Us About Trump’s America?" It was delivered at Yale on December 5, 2016.

A Yale history professor’s powerful,
20-point guide to defending democracy

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today:

1. Do not obey in advance.

Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution.

Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics.
When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.

Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language.

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out.

Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth.
To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate.

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk.
This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state.

The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.

Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life.
Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries.
Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed.
If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can.
If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot.
The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Teaching in the time of Trump

One of my favorite subscription e-mails is from HistoryTech.  It is written by educator, consultant and tech guy Glenn Wiebe. He is definitely my kind of educator. His blog consists not only of his own thoughts about the use of technology in teaching history, but also those of others he learns from. And it is about good teaching, not just good use of technology. Each posting has links to web sites or apps that educators might find useful usually around a common theme or idea. Very accessible. 
History Tech
History, technology, and
probably some other stuff

Today he relies on his own wisdom as well as that of others to give some insight on how to approach one of the most troubling phenomena we have faced in some time in the American classroom - Donald Trump. It is a big issue for more than the Donald being Donald. In our classrooms - both secular and religious there is requirement of political neutrality on the part of the teacher and the school. But this is not a topic that can or should be ignored. So here is Glenn's post, which can also be found at

Teaching in the time of Trump

Several days ago, I wrote a quick post highlighting seven ways to survive a divisive election while making your students smarter. That post generated an interesting conversation – many teachers began asking similar kinds of questions. Specifically . . . how can we teach diversity and tolerance when much of the campaign rhetoric directly challenges these very American values while at the same time maintaining a neutral political stance?

A recent article in the National Council for the Social Studies journal Social Education can help us address this concern. Titled Teaching in the Time of Trump by Benjamin Justice and Jason Stanley, the NCSS article provides context, rationale, and specific suggestions for focusing on American democratic values and process.
The article is an incredibly useful teaching tool but it also provides a powerful reminder of our fundamental task. Head over to get the full text but I’ve pasted some snippets below to provide some flavor of what Justice and Stanley have to say.
Teaching in the time of Trump raises a fundamental pedagogical question: is it permissible for a teacher to adopt a non-neutral political stance in the classroom, either through explicitly addressing the problems with Trump’s rhetoric or, conversely, by remaining silent in the face of it? How can teachers balance the much cherished value of political impartiality (protecting the students’ freedom of expression and autonomous political development) against the much cherished American values threatened by Trumpish demagoguery?
Why should we even worry about this?
Democracy has two chief values, liberty and equality. In most conceptions of liberty, demagoguery is allowed in a democracy. Controversial speech is still free speech. The problem of demagoguery lies not in its conflict with freedom, but with the democratic value of equality. Demagoguery causes problems in the absence of equal respect; it feeds off of and strengthens divisions in society.

Public school classrooms are training grounds for liberal democracy, where students learn democratic skills and knowledge.

Students must learn the bounds of reasonableness by interacting with apparently fixed knowledge – such as that in their textbooks – and also by applying knowledge to their engagement with other students in the process of analysis of public issues. In that process, teaching for democracy is not the same as giving free rein to all perspectives so that all are treated as equally reasonable. Rather, teachers lead conversations and set reasonable parameters so that all students can safely participate and learn what is reasonable and what is not reasonable. This is the fundamental political purpose of a public education.

Democratic principles and ideals are not themselves neutral. Neither is teaching students to become citizens in a society that aspires to these ideals. Because of the value of liberty, one should not suppress the speech of those who argue that one religion should have a preference over others, for example. But it is reasonable for a teacher to observe that Trump’s rhetoric is a contemporary example of a violation of the democratic ideal of equal rights for all religions.

Teachers also cannot be neutral about the misrepresentation of facts or the violation of norms of truth in public speech. They should emphasize to students the importance of evaluating the accuracy of statements made by candidates. Some examples of websites that check these are FactCheck, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and PolitiFact.
Why worry about facts?
Trump’s rhetoric exhibits several characteristics of demagogic speech. If political speech ought to be guided, in liberal democracy, not just by reasonableness but also by truth, then Trump’s seeming willful disregard of it is also illiberal, whether it was his efforts as a “birther” to discredit President Obama by demanding his birth certificate or his recent claims about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the World Trade Center attacks.

In another example, Trump tweeted an inaccurate graphic claiming that 81% of whites who were murdered were killed by blacks; the real number in 2014 was 14%. Such disregard for truth is a mark of the rise of history’s worst tyrants. Hannah Arendt in her book Origins of Totalitarianism grimly observed this axiom in action: “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such . . .”
Justice and Stanley suggest three strategies for teaching in the time of Trump:
  • One approach would examine the material conditions leading to a situation in which voters are attracted by undemocratic rhetoric. Perhaps the institutions of democracy have failed them. A state that promised its citizens a raft of goods, but in fact never delivered them, would in so doing lay the groundwork for a protest candidate who proved his or her credentials by violating its norms of respectability.

  • A second approach involves a comparison of the current material conditions to those present at other times in U.S. history at which demagogues achieved some measure of success through the politics of division and exclusion based on religion, race, and political belief. In short, one could compare the political environment that gave rise to Trump to the ones that gave rise to Father Coughlin in the 1930s and George Wallace in the 1960s, by examining similarities or differences in the state of the economy, social tensions, and disagreements over controversial government policies. Several of my Twitter PLN suggested a similar approach by asking students to look at other places around the world and in different time periods. Compare current US events to leaders and events in the past and discuss implications and consequences of those actions.

  • A third approach would track the genesis of Trumpism to the shift in rhetoric brought into public debate by partisan news media and social media. This would involve a historical project comparing previous media norms to the ones at work in contemporary partisan media. Students might examine the impact of the growth of stridently conservative radio and TV programs and electronic media during the last 25 years, and consider whether they prepared the way for the political rise of Donald Trump.
What’s our obligation? Our job?
Silence is not an acceptable strategy. As teachers, we should advocate no particular political party, candidate, or public policy. But we are all obligated, deeply, to hew to the basic principles of democratic life in order to help our students discern what is reasonable. Public school teaching is not neutral and has never been intended or understood as such.

Public schools are places where reason and reasonableness must be cultivated in the best traditions of liberals and conservatives alike, striking the balance between the principles of equality and freedom, preparing students for the maelstrom that awaits them.
It’s not necessarily an easy job. But it’s one that we cannot ignore.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Torah and all Judaism are being an 8 year old girl.

The Continuing Haredization of Israel

“We have to act now before Beit Shemesh becomes the next Iran.” (from JPost ).
Israel’s Channel 2 documentary on intimidation of schoolgirls in Beit Shemesh is causing a media fury in Israel, and from what we hear in the U.S. too.

Last night, thousands attended a rally to protest the actions of this vocal minority and to force the authorities to act.

Following, is a speech delivered last night by Hadassa Margolese, the mother of 7 year old Naama Margolese, portrayed in the above video.