The New York Times has published, remarkably, an essential resource for every American, young and old. The brainchild of the brilliant Nikole Hannah-Jones, the 1619 Project tells the national story from the moment the first enslaved Africans were kidnapped and brought to these shores, 400 years ago this month, and illuminates key issues the country faces today—the state of electoral politics, democracy, criminal justice, housing, wealth disparity, education and health-care, and on and on—with the benefit of an honest and accurate reading of our collective history. Erasures are restored, distortions corrected, and the genesis of all we see and experience around us is brought into clearer focus. Search out the 1619 Project, read it, distribute copies to colleagues and family and friends. If you need further incentive, here is a review by “history professor” and “intellectual heavy-weight” of the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich: “The NY Times 1619 Project should make its slogan ‘All the Propaganda we want to brainwash you with.’” Gingrich’s comment affirms the words of the great Frederick Douglass in his famous July 4, 1852 speech: “For revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”
A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
by Patrick Radden Keefe
Say Nothing provides a riveting narrative of the abduction and disappearance of a thirty-eight year old mother of ten during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1972. Patrick Keefe’s great strength as a writer is to focus unblinkingly on each tiny detail—to sketch breath-taking scenes and graphic characters—and to create a spiraling momentum with new discoveries and surprises around every corner. It’s an intensely intimate account that must necessarily open to concentric circles of context—political setting, economic condition, historical flow, cultural significance. And here’s where Keefe’s problems begin.
Some nonfiction writers insert themselves into their stories, revealing standpoint, perspective, and personal point-of-view, striving for both transparency and transformation. Others work hard to stand above or outside the action, aspiring to objectivity and offering, then, a god’s-eye view. Patrick Keefe is in the second camp.
This means that he never adequately examines his own assumptions about the tangled realities on the ground in Northern Ireland, his own received wisdom about Great Britain and its place in the world. These don’t require serious exploration or reflection because they’re simply common sense, the things that all intelligent and right-thinking people understand. The problem, of course, is that there’s nothing more insistent and dogmatic than common sense. And that leads to assured moral judgments without either serious self-reflection or accountability.
His curiosity and empathy—the foundation of understanding, let alone discovering any tentative “truth”—extend to the victims of the Provisional Irish Republican Army campaigns (including disillusioned soldiers like Dolours Price) but not to the Provos themselves. Brendan Hughes is a three-dimensional character; Gerry Adams is a cartoon (at one point Keefe nods approvingly as Adams is compared to Charles Manson).
Certain Provos are referred to as “terrorists” so often that the designation becomes practically a first name; the British at their most brutal are “troops” or “the Brigadier” or “the Prime Minister.” Patrick Keefe might have asked: What motivates the Provos? Describe. What do they think they’re up to? What allows them to inflict (and suffer) such pain? What is terrorism? What are the limits of political action?
Further: What is Falls Road? Describe. What is ethnic cleansing? What is a “minority”?
Interestingly Patrick Keefe opens with a marvelous epigram from Viet Thanh Nguyen, but he never grasps the hallmark of Nguyen’s work: the willingness to dive into rather than flee from contradiction. Keefe fails again and again to explore the contradictions that loom up right in front of him: What does it mean to commit oneself to a cause (or a nation or a religion) while retaining a mind of one’s own? In a landscape so twisted by violence, oppression, and exploitation, how does one live a life that doesn’t make a mockery of one’s values? How does one see a violent uprising in light of the conditions that ignited it? He doesn’t explore the deepest questions—What does it mean to regard one another deeply and hopefully? What are the consequences of our failure to do so?—because his curiosity and empathy have exhausted themselves running along a single track.
But as the friend who gave me the book pointed out, if I wanted a book to tell the story of Ireland from the 50s to the present from a progressive point of view, this isn’t it. And it really can’t be. Keefe told the story he wanted to tell, and he acknowledges that he spent less time on British atrocities than on the Provos—his book is about only one terrible tragedy among thousands—but in a way that’s a cop-out.
The title of Keefe’s book is taken from a poem about the Troubles by the great Seamus Heany: Whatever You Say, Say Nothing. It refers to the code of silence adopted by the revolutionaries. Patrick Keefe has said something (he’s a solid reporter), but not nearly enough. Fascinating book, skewed perspective.
|A Dystopian Vision Of American Education
Posted: 06 Aug 2019 12:31 PM PDT
In the wake of the latest wave of politically-driven, mostly white, male supremacist terrorism that left at least 31 dead in El Paso and Dayton, Trump and the Republicans are scrambling to create a narrative that acquits them and their leadership of culpability and collusion in the bloody affair.
In the past few days, the GOP line has shifted blame away from Trump’s demagogic violent appeals to his racist supporters, on to the mentally ill, video games, and “fake news”.
That was exactly the imagery laid out in the El Paso shooter’s “manifesto”.
Their narrative portrays America as a holy battlefield in a war in defense of white, christian values and a future of Republican political power.
It now includes a dystopian vision of schools as armed camps with gun-toting teachers, cops and militia surrounding school buildings and waiting for the invading enemy of infidels to make their next move.
This represents a giant-step past their previous neoliberal vision of school “choice”.
Their current line was best articulated by Trump adviser Sean Hannity yesterday. The Fox News host is calling for a volunteer army of armed ex-cops and soldiers that would be “everywhere.”
There are close to 100,000 public and 35,000 private K-12 schools in the United States so a force large enough to “surround the perimeter” and be on each floor would require several hundred thousand people, if not more. — Huffington Post
Aside from the fascist, police state implications, school safety and curricular issues involved in all this, Hannity’s plan leaves me wondering how it matches up with veteran cops’ view of their own retirement.
I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine that hundreds of thousands of veteran 1st-responders are dreaming about spending their golden years guarding the perimeters of schools and shopping malls for no pay, instead of fishing or hanging out with the grand kids.
Deplorables are jumping for joy at the reports that the Dayton shooter wasn’t a Trump-supporting white supremacist. But I don’t see why they’re so happy. Here’s an early report on what motivated this 2nd-Amendment gun freak.
Arm this guy with a military-style assault weapon? Great say Republicans.
Vivian Gussin Paley was an inspiring teacher, a brilliant colleague, and a generous friend. Her foreword to my first book, The Good Preschool Teacher, is a small masterpiece. She died at age 90 on July 26, and my brother Rick Ayers, another inspiring teacher and teacher educator, wrote this to his students: “Vivian Paley was a great teacher-writer whose books made the thoughts and lives of young children visible. Let’s hope a new generation of teachers will follow her example and stay in the classroom and write, write, write. All teachers of students of all ages should read her great manifesto against exclusion, “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play,” and her subtle exploration of race in “The Girl With the Brown Crayon.” In “White Teacher” she was quite early in looking at the way white teachers are reluctant/awkward to talk about race. “Molly is Three” is an exploration of the vivid and fantastic logic in the mind of a three-year-old. Her motto, “What we value we talk about,” is one of the most provocative and valuable pieces of advice for apprentice teachers.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/01/education/vivian-paley-dead.html