Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Something to Bore or Amuse

Or, Thoughts on The Hobbit.

Question answered: Although The Hobbit is a novel written to entertain, there is a strong values agenda. What are the serious themes, lessons about human nature, dramatizations of good versus evil that you could lead a child to discover. (This one will be something you’d actually have to figure out if you teach language arts!)

John R. Shirley
21 February 2008

In The Hobbit, everything needed to both entertain and educate a child is part of the language, characterization, and plot. The education in this case is a moral one, to accompany the delightful nonsense and imaginative “fairytale” world Tolkien creates. Perhaps the first lesson or aspiration Tolkien might have wanted to instill in young readers is one of simple contentment in the good things in life. In The Hobbit’s opening chapter, we find that the world of middle earth is filled with magic, but the protagonist (who Tolkien certainly must have wanted readers to sympathize with) only has “the ordinary everyday sort”. There is a “magic” in the simple good things in life, and Tolkien’s hobbit hero enjoys the fruits of his labor in his kitchen and highly polished and neat little hobbit-hole of a house. There are both LARGE and small lessons throughout The Hobbit, and perhaps the first small lesson (for contentment with a reasonable lot is certainly a major lesson) in the book is that good people are innately polite.

Doing the right thing is not always easy, but Bilbo Baggins extends hospitality almost against his will to Gandalf the Wizard and dwarves alike, even with the dwarves’ surprise tea-time to dinner visit and wreckage of his home as they prepare breakfast before leaving the next morning. Evil characters, on the other hand (such as trolls, orcs, spiders, and corrupted dwarves), are invariably rude unless attempting to deceive.

Greed leads to trouble. This is perhaps a different way for Tolkien to drive home the lesson to be content. Whether the travelers get in trouble because they are not content with the simple provisions in their bags, or whether trolls are turned to stone after theft and murder, greed has strongly negative consequences. Even otherwise good characters who let themselves be stricken by the “dragon’s disease” might be led into destructive actions, such as being willing to wage war against natural allies instead of paying them fairly, as Thorin was willing to do against Bard, and the elves and lake men.

Perhaps the single strongest lesson in The Hobbit is about the essence of a hero (which could be also translated into being a worthwhile person). Bilbo Baggins is not as large as anyone else he encounters, making him a worthy model for children. He is not the strongest or wisest of the very many characters encountered in The Hobbit. He is easily frightened, which must seem like a strange thing for a hero, at first glance. Life is full of potentially frightening encounters, and true bravery is not actually the absence of fright. It is reasonable to be afraid when confronting things that can badly hurt or kill, and Bilbo is indeed afraid. What makes his actions heroic, and provides a worthy lesson to young readers, is Bilbo’s persistent choice to help his friends, whether they have been captured by spiders or elves, or are in danger of another sort. Bilbo is even willing to help his friends against their will.

Even good people (or perhaps elves or dwarves) can make mistakes, or be blinded to the negative consequences of their actions. At such times, true friends will choose to act in ways most helpful to their friends, even if those friends do not recognize the act for what it is. Bilbo is willing to take an action he knows will alienate Thorin from him, by giving Bard the Arkenstone to trade for a share of the treasure. By this act, he is showing extreme generosity (another worthwhile trait for children to model) while being willing to accept Thorin’s wrath. It is truly heroic and very, very difficult to do things for which your friends will hate you. Bilbo is attempting to be fair by giving the river men a reasonable share of the treasure for their help, and in recompense for the losses they have suffered from Smaug the dragon. At the same time, Bilbo is also trying to make peace between dwarves, elves, and good men, who should naturally be allies.

Evil has a face, and by showing evil, Tolkien in The Hobbit also shows what children should not be like. Evil is greedy; evil is needlessly violent; evil is deceitful; evil is uncouth; evil has bad manners; evil smells bad. Children are not trolls, orcs, dragons, spiders, wargs, or even mistaken elves or corrupted dwarves. By following the principles that Tolkien suggests in The Hobbit, they will also never become bad men. Many of the characters in Tolkien’s Middle Earth are inherently evil, but some choose or have chosen to become so. In some ways, the most pathetic and sinister figure in The Hobbit is Gollum.

Hobbits are inherently good, just like children, and the faults they have are minor sins. They enjoy eating and other creature comforts immensely, but even these jolly little harmless people can be reduced to a miserable existence of crawling in the dark, misshapen by years of evil and solitude, preying on despicable things eaten raw. Even the best of us can be brought low through our own folly of greed, and this has happened to Gollum. Though perhaps not the most dangerous of foes (that would be the large, powerful and innately evil Smaug) in The Hobbit, Gollum is definitely the creepiest. This evil little figure, with his glowing eyes and fangs, stands in sharp contrast to the tender-hearted and good Bilbo, but Tolkien gives several hints (“riddles….had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes”; “he had lived with his grandmother in a hole in a bank by a river”) that tell that both Bilbo and Gollum were once hobbits, and in fact, are probably related, since the Tooks had lived near The Water.

The depth of the lessons in The Hobbit varies, but Tolkien has provided ones that range from the simplistic to the deeply ponderable. We as humans have great potential for good or evil, based on the choices we make. This is ultimately Tolkien’s greatest lesson, and it is a worthy one for children old enough to read The Hobbit to reflect upon.

For the Record

Yes, it's way past my bedtime, but I'll be quick with this.

If you are around gun circles for a while, you hear a lot of stuff. Some of its good information, but some of it...

One widely circulated bit of "common knowledge" is that revolvers are the bee's knees for newby shooters. They are stronger, simpler to operate, and don't malfunction.

Horse puckey.

Revolvers, due to design, can often handle more powerful cartridges, but that is not the same thing as being "stronger". Let me give you an example.

If you take something like a decent 1911 autoloader, you can fire perhaps TENS OF THOUSANDS of rounds with only simple maintenance like replacing springs, and eventually, your barrel. You may eventually wear out the ole warhorse, but it'll take some doing. There are Glocks out there with excess of 100,000 rounds through them.

Strong? Take a decent autoloader, and slam it sideways up against a wall. As long as you don't hit the barrel, you've probably only scratched/dented the finish and maybe knocked a sight off. You can probably go right back to shooting. If you try this with a revolver, don't shoot it, unless you have a long string, and something to hide behind.

Are revolvers "simpler to operate"? No, I don't think so. Maybe simpler to understand, but that means something different. Let's look at reloading. If you have a spare magazine, you can get pretty much any duty-sized semiautomatic back up and rolling in less than two seconds. Revolvers aren't as fast, and they don't hold as many rounds, so you'll need to reload quicker, anyway.

Revolvers are mechanical devices. As such, they are subject to failure. I have actually had a greater appreciation for revolvers in recent years, but I still have many more rounds through semiautos. And in my drastically fewer revolver rounds, I've had some malfunctions, usually light-strike failures to fire. Worse CAN happen, though.

Buddy Byron fired a Model 57 that was out of time enough to spray fragments from his fired bullet into his face. I wasn't there at the time, but I saw the blackened holes in his cheek. He was certainly glad he had been wearing eye protection!

Revolvers do have a place. They make great close-range hunting or woodswalking pieces, and some folks are able to use them for self-defense. They certainly have a niche, but they are no more magic than any other tools ever made. With the exception of Kim Breed knives.

I Blame Don Gwinn

I seem to have picked up a disproportionate number of very- um, large friends. This is ironic, gentle readers, since I am of that rare breed, the Fighting Southeastern Hobbit. Anyway, one of those friends has added a curmudgeon to his blog links. I wandered that way, and...


Top 10 Myths about Evolution

Courtesy of Joe Powell, we find this link. I don't have time to read them all, but my favorite is "It's just a theory". While this is an accurate description, it is also misleading if one (mis)understands it in the popular context.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Holster Suggestions

I'm looking for carry leather (or even better, plastic) for a 2.5" Taurus 431, and a S&W 4043.

Please don't tell me that "any K or L frame S&W holster" will fit my Taurus. I have an excellent little DeSantis for my model 65, and the 431's trigger guard will not fit it, or the much cheaper K frame holster I have.

I thought I once owned a 4043, but upon reflection, think it was probably actually a 4053. I believe I traded it for an AK, back in 1995.


66 words
At four in the morning, when I should have been asleep hours ago, and I still haven't finished my work. I don't know what's wrong with me today...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


LawDog has a post up on his blog about Tasers. Now, when he and I say Taser, we are speaking of a certain product, not using a generic term for "stun gun". A Taser fires probes a short distance- up to about 15 feet- which then deliver current into the target, incapacitating it.

I personally like Tasers quite a bit, but like every other tool, they have limitations. In the summer of 2005, I went up against a Taser. For, um, science.

From my perception, Tasers are likely to completely stop an assailant at least temporarily, but other options should be ready. In my case, I took the hit while charging, lost motor control, fell down, got back up, and attempted to resume the attack. This experience leads me to conclude that a Taser can be a helpful, but not complete tool for the self-protection toolbox. If you are forced to use one defensively, be prepared to immediately follow up with other options, whether that means running or transitioning to more permanently effective tools.

The after-effects of a sore jaw (from a friend who told me he- for some reason- "aimed at the upper chest") and small scar were not pleasant. The Taser darts are barbed, somewhat like a fish hook, and caution should be exercised with them. I would not suggest deliberately shooting anyone with them for training purposes, unless emergency personnel were standing by, on the off chance of some type of electrically-induced heart problem. In such circumstance, eye protection should be worn.

I'll talk about pepper spray sometime soon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chuck and Larry

A month or so ago, I watched I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry. I have mixed feelings about this. Like Click , this is another Adam Sandler movie that can't decide if it wants to be a dramatic morality play or a comedy.

In Click, the viewer gets very obviously the point that making the most of our time and sharing that time with our families and loved ones is important. Chuck and Larry does the same thing for homophobia.

I like fairness. I've met- indeed, am good friends with some people who have sex with same-sex partners. As long as both partners are of age and the action is consensual, great. I have no problem with it, in fact, I could care less. Not my business. Some part of me is very happy with the message of fairness. Another part of me is annoyed that the message is over-played, killing some of my comedy.

Adam Sandler can be hilarious, and moments of this are seen in Chuck and Larry. The problem is, the movie isn't nearly as funny as it could have been while the extra crispy moral lesson was being served.

Sometimes funny, good overall message. 2.5 stars, even with Jessica Biel.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cupids and Hearts

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. May you give and receive love, and be at peace.

Drifting Further Away

Good friend Tamara (who reminds me of my older sister, only funnier and not as old), has been giving hints for a couple of weeks that she's moving. And she is, far, far, away.


Life is change, though, right?

A Lament/Guest Editorial

Unfortunately, some folks I am fairly close to have skewed ideas about power dynamics. They want equal rights for women and minorities (as do I), but also say they want things like universal health care. The issue is power. These people (let's call them Rainbow Warriors) believe ardently that people should have power and choice. So, the Rainbow Warriors* vote for liberals who claim to be for these things.

Which does not adequately consider that the way to "give" everyone health care is to take money from everyone, thereby reducing free choice and lessening individual power. It seems like a pretty simple concept to me.

Anyway, I have shamelessly lifted this from Philip without even asking:

The political realm is uniquely screwed up. You'd think things would be pretty straight forward, you just want the right politicians in power and things will go well. This doesn't take into account the fact that the government and politicians are inherently screwed up. So, let's say you get a president that you agree with in power. You then get a congress you agree with in power and judges you agree with in power. The problem then becomes that they agree with each other and there is nothing keeping them in check. The government serves us best when it is doing nothing.

So, when I look at presidential possibilities I have to consider their potential pairings in Congress. The pairing of a Democratic President and Congress is enough to make me cringe in fear. It would be a pairing of people I don't agree with, that agree with each other. I've said before that I'm not a fan of Republicans so much as I hate the Democrats. The problem with Democrats is that they seem to think it is their right to tell us how to live our lives. Our money isn't really our money, it's ill gotten goods that they can recover from us at will. Our property isn't really our property, it's just on loan from the government. The Democratic Party’s ideal is essentially socialism or communism. Redistribute as they see fit. They want to tell us what school we can attend, what retirement plan we can choose, what cars we can drive, what food we can eat, what we can own and what health care we can have.

On the latter note, here's what Hillary has in mind for healthcare: "going after people's wages, automatic enrollment": Hillary is the devil
What's that? That's just another example of the utopia that Democrats wish for us. Force us into a health plan of their choosing and just in case we might want freedom or something they will take the money from us lest we choose not to participate. Not only would we be losing our choice, we'd be mandated to pay for the only choice we have left. In other words, healthcare would work just like Social Security.

Who in the hell wants that?

*Sometimes called blissninnies, but I think that's a silly word.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This will be brief.

AVP2: Not as bad as expected. 1/2 star for the following dialog:
"We need guns."
"The national guard will be here soon."
"Not soon enough."
(1/2 star has also been deducted for weird elements that have never been seen before appearing in the fiction. No, I'm not a comic book geek weirdo. How can anyone NOT be enthralled by the basic Alien vs. Predator story?) 3 stars. Especially good to watch while drunk.

Die Hard 31, er, Die Hard With a Vengeance, three stars.

In Hitman, Timothy Olyphant does a workmanlike job, but I believe director Xavier Gens is to blame for the over-dramatism. 2.5 stars, including a .5 star (yes, I know I'm being inconsistent) deduction for one character wielding a belt-fed in each hand with reasonable accuracy.

Alone in the Dark. Obviously NOT a movie I chose. Uwe Boll continues his plodding path as the worst movie director EVER, and we learn Christian Slater and Tara Reid have nowhere down to go, other than porno. 1 of 5 stars.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Says it All

We have no good candidates for Prez. This is sad, but all candidates offer nothing worthwhile, but continual erosion of our liberties and enforced increased taxation. I am glad in principle that a woman or a minority may be elected, but I am not prejudiced enough to think that those factors outweigh being a person of worth.

A Requiem for Mark

Last summer, as my paid leave from the Army was ending, I was told that the floor supervisor position at Fort Classified was open, and applied. After I submitted my application, the manager told me the position had just been offered to someone else, but that he had been really impressed with my resume (especially the letter of rec from my old company commander, who soberly advised that I turned water into wine, healed the sick, and walked on water). The manager asked if I'd be willing to consider taking an hourly position, and beginning to assume supervisor responsibilities on the weekends after I had acclimated to the job, with the possibility to more easily be accepted into a higher position in the future.

The pay I was offered was about the same as I'd make on unemployment, but I'm not comfortable taking money for nothing, so I took the job. The gentleman who had accepted the floor supervisor's name was Mark Wahman. Mark was a kindly gentleman close to my father's age. After he had been here a few weeks, the manager told us that Mark had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but that it had been found in time.

Mark worked on the floor despite having to leave for medical appointments and radiation. He experienced increasingly greater difficulties, with back pains and leg ailments. I was working full time at Fort Classified, so sometimes I would give Mark a ride up to the Kroger pharmacy, and we would talk about our lives.

He began using a cane, and eventually a wheelchair, on the job. I told Mark that I was sorry about all his discomfort and pain, but that I was so happy that his cancer had been found in time (unlike my father's), and that he would be getting better. Mark finally had to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

Our manager was forced to tell Mark that he had to go on medical leave, because he could no longer do his job. I knew that was a difficult thing to have to do, but there is no doubt that supervising the staff here couldn't be making Mark's life easier.

When I showed up for work the next Friday, I was told that not all the cancer had been found. Mark had liver cancer, and was in the hospital, in a coma. I began silently crying.

An hour later, Mark died. I'm sorry, Mark. I thought you were gonna make it.

Mark Edward Wahman, veteran, husband, father, and grandfather, you were a good man, and I'm glad to have known you.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I See...Red

Not really, but I'm pissed.

My bank in Waynesboro called me an hour ago. When I returned their call, I was asked if I had been making a lot of internet purchases at toy and software companies in the last week.

No, and hell, no. I have to drive to Waynesboro Monday, to go over all my recent transactions. Thievin' bastards.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Guest Editorial: The Saga Continues

My SIL is one of my favorite people, sweet and kind, intelligent, and possessed with a wicked wit. It is distressing to me to see this bureaucratic BS happen to someone trying desperately to follow both the letter and spirit of the law.- JRS

Sometimes it is hard not to have positive expectations. If one does what they are supposed to, they tend to expect the same of others. That isn't very realistic, especially when it comes to dealing with pencil pushers on the public dollar. My wife was a productive, integrated member of American society. She was tax paying, English speaking and moving up in her job. The I-751 seemed like it would be a piece of cake. She was obeying the law, aren't there ten million or so people blatantly breaking immigration law? We'd just endured Katrina in Mobile, Al. The hardships boiled down to going without power for one week however wondering if your residence is going to get blown away lessens other concerns.

We filled out the forms, included some additional documents, put the $200 check in and mailed it. Nineteen days letter we received a letter back asking for additional documentation. This distressed us a great deal. We were back to the "what if they say no?" concerns.

Documenting a relationship is difficult. Short of pornographic material or a child it really is hard to prove that there is a valid relationship. They wanted things like mortgages. Being reasonably intelligent individuals with decent math skills we had chosen not to buy something we were ill prepared for (apparently unlike millions of Americans). We searched and found various things, pictures of us at the zoo, on a roller coaster, a laser etched glass depiction of us at a party, etc... when it was all said and done USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, take that NCIS!) was the recipient of about half a tree. They had everything, including multiple to ways of contacting us.

One fact we were unaware of was that our "local" USCIS office was in New Orleans. So, when the letter arrived from USCIS stating we were awaiting a interview date in Atlanta we were put at ease. A interview would be easy, papers can only say so much but my wife and I had been inseparable for the past few years and there was no denying the legitimacy of our relationship in person.

We became a bit worried when our I-751 receipt number did not show up when we went to the Atlanta USCIS site. A few phone calls to customer service informed us that the Atlanta office was busy and it would be up to a year for our interview date. We also learned that they could not provide the interview date over the phone. Expectations, again... we would wait and they would update the site when they set a interview date. It might take a while, but this is the government so that's to be expected. We periodically checked online and kept a eye on the mail awaiting the date.

Almost a week before my birthday a letter arrived from USCIS. I happily ripped it open, expecting to see a interview date. Instead I read this text:
"You were required to appear for processing of the petition...
You did not appear and did not notify the Service of any reason why you were unable to keep the appointment...
This notice further serves to inform you that the permanent resident status previously accorded to you is hereby terminated...
You may request a review of this determination at removal proceedings..."

I responded by punching a hole in the wall. Since we did not go to a interview we were never notified of, my wife was a illegal alien! The only recourse was to request a review during deportation proceedings. These guys have like ten ways of contacting us and didn't manage to succeed. The status was never updated online, even though the hot line instructed us to check it for our status. They can't do something that simple correctly, yet they were essentially sentencing my wife in absentia. Her absence was proof of her "guilt" and no other possibility had been taken into account.

We had to find a way to fix this. Unfortunately it was a Saturday and we can't expect much of the government on a Saturday, or Sunday. We took that time to round up information, discuss the matter on message boards and consult a lawyer. The typical response was that in those types of letters they always tell you how to appeal. In this case they seemed to have skipped that part. The opinions were split between a appointment with USCIS, a appeal or contacting our Congressman. The lawyer recommended a appeal. My wife called in sick on the following Monday and called USCIS. What better way to resolve this than talking to a USCIS employee? They said this was something that should be easily resolved, just schedule a appointment.

To schedule a appointment you give your information then select a time and date out of those available. We came prepared, with a mountain of papers. We had scheduled appointment in Atlanta. You don't do something like that if you are too lazy to show up to a interview. Expecting a person in a room (again), we ended up with a DMV style pick a number system. Why on earth you have to schedule a appointment at a specific time then walk into a big room and pick a number makes no sense to me.

The room was filled with people from all over the world. Russia, India, Africa and so on. They called the numbers out in English and Spanish. I was struck by the bias that showed. Our number was called and we marched up to the window with our papers. I explained the situation and the response was infuriating:
"We can't do that over the counter".
We went all the way to Atlanta because a USCIS employee told us to and once we arrive we were told to go back home. In fact, we were told to MAIL!!! a appeal to the location we were at. Go back and pay $385 and they might accept the appeal. Well, in truth she suggested not including the check because they'll cash it even if they don't accept the appeal (how is that not a crime?) but we were not going to give them reason to screw things up further.

One week after we mailed the appeal, our receipt arrived in the mail. Under time frame they put "other" and the slightly torn envelope had not even been closed. It would appear that with only $385 you can't afford to get a government employee to seal a envelope. We didn't know for sure if the appeal was accepted or what my wife's status was in the mean time. Our understanding was that she was a legal immigrant during the appeal but we had no proof of that or anything specific regarding her working permission. Also, from what we understood if the appeal was not accepted she would continue to be a illegal immigrant. With a green card that had experienced months earlier, my wife's life was put into limbo.

She couldn't leave America lest she be unable to return. She couldn't apply for a job because she had no idea what her working permission was. We were afraid to move because moving might give the government one more chance to screw things up (that required filing a form to. What does that entail if the individual attempting to update their address is considered a illegal alien? Is it even acknowledged?). After two months and no contact from USCIS we contacted them. My wife called the misinformation line and was informed that there was a change in her status. After they took her phone number and email address she was told to expect to be contacted in around a month. A month later my wife called the line again, she was told that they could not view the status of the petition and advised my wife to write a letter to USCIS.

The letter was promptly mailed. After three months of no response my wife called the line again. They repeated that customer service could not view the status of the appeal. After five more months of waiting and no contact of any sort from USCIS we consulted with a lawyer. Their advice was to contact our congressman. We chose to mail Congressman Jo Bonner.

One month later Jo Bonner's office contacted us and included email correspondence with USCIS stating that we could go to Atlanta USCIS for proof of my wife's status. We scheduled our appointment, traveled to Atlanta and were not in the least surprised when we were told they could not give us proof of my wife's status. I became adamant that they should be able to do this and brandished the letter from Jo Bonner. Bureaucrat A discussed things with Bureaucrat B and we overheard them state that the computer said my wife was still waiting for a interview date. Keep in mind that this is a full year after my wife's petition was denied. In fact, had I not been brandishing said denial they might have tried convincing us that she was still waiting for her interview (this scenario does provide a explanation for her not being notified though).

After a while they explained that because our Congressman was involved only one employee of the large Atlanta USCIS office could help us. Of course this individual was not there that day for a unknown reason. They asked us to come back next Monday. I became flustered. Next Monday? We were from Mobile, AL! We'd already been there once on false information, it appeared this was happening again and we were being told to come back again on the off-chance that the person who could help us might be there? After my rant I was informed that I could fill out a form and because Officer Roberts was a nice person we could expect them to contact us within a week (contacting Officer Roberts was strictly forbidden).

We sauntered back to Alabama and waited for a response. A week passed, then a month and after over three months passed we decided to update Jo Bonner. Essentially I tried to find a nice way of saying that we had been lead on a wild goose chase and asked the Congressman to put us in contact with a individual that could help resolve this matter.

Almost immediately we received a letter in response saying they had again contacted USCIS. After six months of no contact from USCIS and no contact from Jo Bonner we mailed again to politely ask Jo Bonner if there was any change and if perhaps we had somehow missed some correspondence. Shortly thereafter the response arrived in the mail. It matched the previous letter from Jo Bonner word for word. We were not surprised.

My wife's green card expired on 11/16/05. It has been twenty two months since my wife's I-751 petition was denied. No one from USCIS has contacted myself or my wife regarding deportation, the I-751, her appeal or her immigration status. My wife's father is in poor health and Thyssenkrupp is opening a multi-billion dollar facility in Mobile. My wife is afraid to leave the country or pursue employment opportunities due to her uncertain status. We wanted to live in America because it offered more freedom. My wife hardly feels free right now. Government has a way of doing that to you.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Racism Revisited

Those of you who really know me understand that treating people fairly is one of my most important goals. I want a free and fair society, and I strongly oppose those who would judge others based on anything other than individual work ethic and achievement. Unfortunately, I am seeing what I call the New Racism. The New Racism delves into racial scapegoating and once again stereotypes what members of any "racial" group are likely to do- all in the name of fighting racism! Bah.

This is long, so I'll understand if not everyone wants to read it. Peace and justice.

"EDTD 6432
John R. Shirley
February 2008

Confronting Disguised Racism and Regressive Multiculturalism

Racism is still a challenging issue in the United States. Various approaches to solving “racially” based prejudicial behavior have been tried. I feel some attitudes and strategies in articles assigned for this class are well intentioned but unfortunately ultimately racist, prejudicial, and counterproductive to a truly healthy and well-integrated society.

The 2005 Teachers College Record article “Struggles of Hope: How White Adult Educators Challenge Racism” is a distressing hodgepodge of racist attitudes, incorrect data and apparently well-meaning but poorly considered opinion. Perhaps starting with the most basic terminology is simplest. Manglitz, Johnson-Bailey, and Cervero use the phrase “antiracist”, which automatically stages the emotional tone for this article. Describing an attitude by what it combats instead of what it supports sets a different expectation entirely. Instead of supporting and encouraging positive elements and actions, the reader is to believe that the subjects of this article attack negative ones- and this is just the expectation derived from the first sentence of the article.

When explaining the background of the study, the authors approach the issue of “whiteness”, by which they mean not only attitudes automatically associated with a Euro-American heritage, but privilege inherent in being white. Manglitz, et al, then deride recent dialog that they claim “seek(s) to preserve White advantages through the denial of racial differences, the rhetoric of color blindness, and the myth of social equality and opportunity” (1). They then tie this contentious statement with “the declining wealth of all but the richest Americans” (2). To address “racial differences”, the American Anthropological Association issued a statement in 1998 decrying a “racial” worldview, explaining that dividing people into “races” with separate and distinct characteristics is scientifically incorrect and inherently racist. Anthropological study exists to find and celebrate cultural differences, but the AAA rejects the notion of race. There are no inherent “racial” differences. “Color blindness” will be addressed later, but the claim that only the wealthiest Americans are prospering is easily disprovable.
In the article “Five Trends for Schools”, readers find “the proportion living below poverty generally has declined for all household types nationally since the 1990s…the period between 1980 and 2004 saw a steady increase in the percentage of children who lived with at least one parent who worked full-time year-round” (Lapkoff & Li, 4). These statistics, derived from multiple government sources, quickly show that “Struggles of Hope” cannot be viewed in factual terms, and highlight poor scholarship in general. The main goal of this article is to draw attention to “whiteness”, its claimed inherent advantages, and reject being “color blind”. The sad truth is that many Americans may genuinely now view people as they should be viewed, judged purely on their personal characteristics and achievements, but these apparently well-meaning authors- each holding doctorates- are deliberately re-injecting racism. If readers accept the premises of Manglitz, et al, we cannot view any “white” individual in any ranking position, including academia, without automatically considering they have reached that position partially because they have been privileged by birth- regardless of the fact that the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that minority college enrollment (32%) almost exactly mirrors the percentage of the U.S. minority population (33%).

Terry, a white woman in her 40s, makes racist assumptions when she says, “White people, we have our set of dysfunctions and People of Color have their set of dysfunctions…internalized racial oppression for People of Color and internalized White supremacy for us” (Manglitz, et al, 5). This assumption of any sort of group mentality instead of individual thought, expression, and personal value is the exact sort of idea that those seeking a truly colorblind society have been combating for many years. The racist assumptions of the article authors are again indicated when they do not challenge this quote. Ironically, Manglitz et al, discuss individual responsibility in the next paragraph after this quote, but since the entire point of this article is that “Whiteness” is inherent and oppressive in organizations and our society in general, the single paragraph about individual responsibility is but token acknowledgement.

White privilege is a concept repeatedly mentioned and assumed in this article. I have not seen white privilege, which I understand differently than racism. It is obvious that Manglitz et al, mean that whites have inherent advantages and must consider these advantages when examining their own successes. While I have seen racism, I have:
Attended a college that was over 90% black;
Been told by a variety of government oriented work and school programs that I could easily gain entrance if I were black or female (but had little chance as a white male);
Worked for years in a position where I, as a white, straight male, was the least represented portion of the work force (the most common coworker was a black female in her 20s).

Furthermore, I grew up in a household in the Deep South (Alabama), where my father worked a state government blue-collar job with at least 50% black coworkers who made similar wages. I have at times been the victim of racism, as I am certain most Americans will be during the course of their lives, and I have seen the power of “having connections”- by which I mean knowing someone who knows a hiring manager- but I have never seen white privilege in my thirty-six years of life. I do not deny that being “white” could possibly serve my advantage if dealing with a potential employer or authority figure who was also white, but this is equally true of Latinos, Asians, blacks, and any other group including the Masons, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the area.

Much of the latter half of “Struggles of Hope” repeatedly talks about the importance of color, about realizing one is white, and about how that whiteness affects our lives deeply. As someone who actually stopped seeing color as significant many years ago, and who indeed supports a society based on individual achievement, the authors’ continual deriding of those who preach a colorblind society is offensive and saddening. The section title on page seven is “Always undoing racism”, but that is not what this article is about. I understand that black people started with a disadvantage in our society, with the U.S. system of slavery based on color as the easiest and quickest method of discrimination. Instead of working to continually make the United States a place where people are judged solely on who they are, Manglitz et al, are creating the New Racism, while claiming to be combating racism. It is difficult to fully express my sadness at this.

After their claims, Manglitz et al, make no significant suggestions for those who wish to actively combat racism. They mention God, and talk a lot about dialog, but the main point they appear to want accepted is just that being white automatically confers privilege, whites should feel guilty because they could not choose their parents, and racism and racist systems should be confronted whenever seen. I agree with confronting racism, which is why I cannot agree with most of this article.

Kathy Hytten writes extensively about multiculturalism in her article “The Promise of Cultural Studies of Education”. Hytten seems to genuinely care about the subject matter, but she makes a variety of incorrect statements while listing some thoughtful points. She says of ‘critical literacy’ “students are taught the relations among literacy, culture and power and shown how culture works to shape individuals’ understanding of knowledge and the world around them”(16). Rendered objectively true, with my additions in italics, the sentence reads “students are taught the teachers’ ideas of relations…and shown how their teachers believe culture works to shape individuals…” Some bias cannot help but be present in any social science. Hytten appears cognizant of inherent bias in the status quo of education when she writes of “the unavoidably political nature of knowledge, schooling” , but seems to believe “social reconstruction” will automatically be positive (16).

Introducing multiculturalism into schools is a worthy goal, but progressive educators seem to hold some contradictory viewpoints. It is impossible to be truly against oppression of any sex, occupation, religion, or culture and yet believe “all peoples’ lives and experiences are validated and legitimated”(Hytten, 17). Should we share the Yanomamo Indians’ viewpoint that ambushing enemies, gang raping their women, and snorting prodigious amounts of jungle drugs are the high points in life? Do we want to “legitimize” mutilation of young girls because a few African societies practice FGM ? Should we validate the racist/classist assumptions held by many societies? It is astounding to me that some U.S. educators are beginning with goals of social justice and equality that they have gained from the best ideals of our culture and yet seek to introduce elements that strongly contradict the ideals they espouse.

There is an American culture. Those of us who are deeply committed to a just society must work to continue to eradicate pointless prejudice while refusing to blindly accept and legitimize immoral viewpoints in the name of multiculturalism. American educators have helped to create possibly the most equal and just society ever to exist, and while we must continually be vigilant to combat assumptions based on color or class, we must not regress our progress towards a society that rewards individual achievement regardless of factors such as religion, sex, age, or the shade of our skin. Carefully examining common assumptions of multiculturalism can help achieve this goal.


Hytten, K. (1999). The Promise of Cultural Studies of Education. In J. Noel (Ed.),
Multicultural Education (2nd ed., pp. 13-18). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lapkoff, S. & Li, R. M. (2007). Five Trends for Schools. Educational Leadership, 64
(6), 2-6.
Manglitz, E., Johnson-Bailey, J. & Cervero, R. (2005). Struggles of Hope: How White
Adult Educators Challenge Racism. Teachers College Record, 107 (6).
Statement on Race (1998). American Anthropological Society. Retrieved 23 January
2008 from http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm
Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities. National Center for
Education Statistics. Retrieved 23 January 2008 from