To All My New Conservative Friends on Facebook

government-out-of-medicare-signDearest New Friends, When I was invited to join your protest against the Affordable Care Act, I clicked on the “Decline” button. Facebook, mistaking your brave online protest for a party, asked me to fill in a textbox explaining why I wouldn’t be attending. Due to a lack of willpower, I filled in that box. As soon as I hit “Post,” I instantly regretted the decision, but now I see that it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. By engaging with all of you, my new friends, I have realized the error of my ways and have completely come over to your side. I think everyone should have a chance to learn all about your brilliant rhetorical techniques so that they can also see how well you defend your (well, I guess now it’s our) position on US domestic policy.

Kathryn Mullins, I apologize for not being convinced by your initial foray. Unfortunately, unlike those who would come to your aid later in the thread, you tried to use numbers and facts. In between, you threw in lots of multiple exclamation points. These really should have convinced me that I was wrong all by themselves. I’m embarrassed to say that your use of caps-lock didn’t convince me, either. Luckily, you ended by shouting, “YOU CAN'T FIX STUPID!!” and that really got me thinking about how correct you must be, despite the historical and factual inaccuracies in your post.

John Graham, it’s a good thing you hopped in to help Kathryn out. By letting me know that my opinion is a “b.o. talking point,” you showed me that there was no need for you to even address the facts of the case, and that really made me reconsider. You only used caps-lock a little bit, though. Maybe that’s why I still needed some persuading.

Jason Freeman Jones, you really upped everyone’s game by jumping in to repeat the same sentence four times. Sure, the sentence was factually wrong, but because you wrote it four times and then followed it up with, “Get it?” that basically obviated the need for truth of any kind. You could learn a thing or two about the use of exclamation points from Kathryn, though.

James LeBeau, thanks for pointing out that there’s really no point in anyone having any kind of insurance of any kind since it might end up being money wasted on a need that never materializes. I can’t believe I was one of those dupes who thought risk could be managed by insurance. What a fool I’ve been! I also appreciate your point about how we made it 137 years without any taxes in this country. Sure, that’s not even remotely true, but who cares! Truth is as dumb as insurance! Calling me a moron helped me understand that. Thanks, James!

Link*, you really need some help from these folks. You tried to post articles, establish facts, and demand specificity. You didn’t even bother to call me a “lib-tard” or tell me I was “drunk on FOOL-AID!!” Good thing Kathryn was there to help you out.

Luckily, a bunch of you showed up to make the discussion far more persuasive. John Graham, thanks for bringing up the New World Order conspiracy theory. Christina McDermott, thanks for criticizing liberals by sharing the lyrics from a song from 1993 that made fun of George H. W. Bush. I’m still not sure how that related, but you shared it as though it did, so it must have. Hai Vuong, thank you for kicking things up a notch with your creative idea to file a lawsuit on about the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. (I don’t think that’s quite how the court system works, but…)

Mark W. Mumma, I’m sorry I pushed back on your statement that you “prefer the government stay the hell out of our lives.” You were right to be offended when I pointed out that the government is made up of public servants like firefighters and police officers. Of course one can hate the government but like public servants. There is no disconnect there at all. I see that now. I suppose you’re correct that I was using liberal “all-or-nothing reasoning.” Now I see that “We prefer the government stay the hell out of our lives,” is a nuanced view, as is your claim that “There's two kinds of people in this country.” Now that you all have brought me over to your way of thinking, I will strive for this kind of complexity.

Things seemed to be cooling off, and there was a real danger that I wouldn’t be persuaded when Christina was just calling me an idiot. Luckily, Derek Lozoski showed up and posted, “Benjamin G = Fucktard!” I think the power of the statement comes from its brevity. Suddenly, I was really wavering again. Thanks, Derek! And then when Mark quipped that Derek had just insulted fucktards everywhere, I realized that they must be right!

But now that I’d seen the light, what kind of conservative or libertarian should I become? Surely all these people couldn’t be completely in lock-step with only a few of us libtards on the outside, right?

Just then Joe Fisher showed up to inform us all that “i want my plan, not a niger scam artist plan.”

Rick Morgan called Joe on both his racism and spelling ability, but I’m guessing that Rick isn’t the kind of conservative/libertarian the others want me to be, because he wasn’t participating in convincing me that I was a fucktard, and none of the conservatives liked his comment while they were falling all over each other to like the unified theory of liberalism. Heck, even Joe Fischer got a “Like.” And Christina McDermott came to Joe’s defense, explaining that Joe wasn’t a racist because black people use the n-word.

At this point, I made what I now see was clearly a big mistake. I pointed out that I’d gone all that time without personally insulting any of you. Thank you all for really piling on at that point to teach me that name-calling is the best way to persuade people. Sure, “Dumb-ass” wasn’t that strong. “Silly Boy,” and “Drama queen,” didn’t really push me over the edge. The way many of you used words like “liberal” and “socialist” as insults was actually a bit more persuasive, and made me rethink my political leanings. Insults like “doggie” and “sheep” were a bit weird but appreciated. However, it was when you told me that I was both impotent and receiving oral sex from the President that I really was forced to conclude that you folks are on to something.  Suddenly the fact that you mix up communism and fascism, or confuse the progressive Republicans of Lincoln with the modern Republican Party, seems perfectly acceptable! Who needs facts when we have multiple exclamation points AND CAPS LOCK?!!!

And why should America need civil public discourse when we have such brave and persuasive defenders of liberty?

Again, thank you all for telling me who I suck and who sucks me. This has logically convinced me that the Affordable Care Act is a bad idea.

Because merica thats whyNow you have someone you all consider to be an illiterate communist fucktard firmly on your side.

We’re all winners!!!





*Upon request, I removed Link's last name. I'd only included him to give him credit for being civil, but I understand why he doesn't want to be associated with the conversation. If the other people who said horrible, obscene things would like to have their last names removed, they can send a request to notachance@snowballschancein.hell

Why I Was Accused of Teacher Malpractice

I had a very jarring experience this week. After a lesson in my creative writing class on Wednesday that was not significantly different from one I've given dozens of times before, two students confronted me after class and accused me of a professional ethics violation, specifically of using my position as a teacher to share my political views. When pressed, they conceded that the views were not actually necessarily mine, and may have been balanced, but that the lesson involved politics and was therefore inappropriate. That's simply a misunderstanding of the nature of the violation they'd originally accused me of, but that didn't stop me from freaking out. I could imagine angry parents confronting me, or worse, going over my head and blind-siding my principal or superintendent with allegations of professional misconduct which could have severe repercussions. Outside of my classroom and the contract day I am quite politically active (as anyone who has read this blog before can infer), so I could imagine that someone, not knowing the lengths I go to in order to keep my views out of the classroom, might believe that I crossed that barrier I work so hard to maintain. I immediately shot off an email to my principal, both to document the incident and to warn her in case she was confronted by parents. Then I spent the evening allowing myself to get more and more worried about the situation. By midnight, it seemed sleep would be impossible, so I came downstairs and drafted a letter to my students explaining the situation. I still couldn't fall asleep until after 3:00 am. The next day, Thursday, I brought the letter to my principal and spoke with her about the situation. She was very supportive and encouraging, which made me feel a lot better. She read the letter, encouraged me to tone it down a notch, and advised me to send a kind of permission slip about the lesson home to parents next year in advance (good advice which I will follow). I read an abbreviated version of the letter to the students, and it seems the incident has blown over, though I can't be sure it won't explode at some point in the future. I wanted to share the letter here so other teachers, parents, friends, etc., could understand both my rebuttal and why I was so panicked. I apologize in advance for the length, but, as you can imagine, I had a lot to get off my chest.

"Well, my dear creative writing students, it’s 12:17 in the morning and I can’t sleep. Today (technically yesterday) I made an error in judgment and I want to apologize and explain something. So (cue trumpets), with much fanfare, please accept…

An Apology and Explanation

Yesterday, before beginning the reading of the 3rd chapter of the novel I’m writing, I meant to remember to say, albeit briefly, that there would be some references to things that are political in the text, but that the character’s views were not my own, and that if the prospect of hearing about anything political made anyone uncomfortable, they could be excused from the assignment. Once I’d passed out the copies I simply forgot.

After class, some of your classmates came to me, concerned that I was trying to share my own political beliefs. I must immediately say that I firmly prohibit any kind of witch-hunt to try to figure out who these students were. I appreciated their honesty and I think their concern is valid. Please allow me to try to explain why I also believe it is misplaced in this instance.

First of all, there’s a general misconception that teachers can’t talk about anything political. This is, on its face, not only incorrect but impossible. We couldn’t do our jobs if we avoided any topic which relates to politics. Every novel we teach is political. All the history we teach inevitably has political bias. In fact, in recent history even science has been politicized. One could argue that everything you read in school is biased toward English-speakers by virtue of being written in English, or biased toward Americans because of the way words like “color” and “theater” are spelled. The complete absence of bias is a myth, and fleeing from politics is not our job. However, we have an ethical obligation to avoid using our positions as your teachers to try to inculcate you into our own political beliefs. I take this very seriously. I do not tell students how I vote or how they should feel about specific issues, and I encourage all of you to let me know if you believe I’ve been intentionally or accidentally biased in my presentation of any information.

That being said, the explanation given by the novel’s character for the fall of our civilization could be easily misconstrued to reflect my beliefs. I can only ask you to trust me when I say his politics do not mirror my own. I understand that skeptical students would wonder why they should believe that and not feel they were being doubly deceived. If you’ll allow me, let me provide one uncontroversial piece of evidence. The character in the story expresses a fatalism about the fall of our civilization. Of course, he is speaking from a different, fictional setting in which this has already occurred. I think I can safely share that I do not believe this to be any kind of inevitability, or that the fictional story is some kind of prophecy. I am a teacher. This is an inherently hopeful profession. I would not do this job if I believed that we are all doomed. If you can accept that I differ from the character in this way, I hope you will also believe me when I say that we differ in other beliefs as well. I cannot, however, itemize all the ways I agree and disagree with the character because, to do so, I would have to expound on my own politics, which would be inappropriate.

So why, you might ask, if the assignment creates a situation wherein students can only trust that their teacher isn’t preaching his own politics, would I continue to offer up the assignment? I believe its value exceeds the risk. As developing writers, there is a value to the practice of editing and revision that can only come with repetition. You will be editing and revising one another’s work. I feel it’s important to lay the groundwork for that by modeling the proper way to receive feedback. On a deeper level, I think it’s essential for students to see that I, too, am involved in the practice of writing. Across this country there are hosts of English teachers asking students to write while not participating in the endeavor themselves. Maybe it’s not a hobby they enjoy. Maybe their work demands so much time they simply cannot fit it into their schedules. I shouldn’t judge them. But I know that, as a student, I would question the authority of any writing instructor who didn’t write, just as I would question a literature instructor who didn’t read literature or a P.E. teacher who refused to exercise.

But, you might ask, couldn’t I have chosen to tell a story that was clearly apolitical? I would argue, quite simply, no, I couldn’t. I could have told a story set in a fantasy world completely dissimilar to our own with characters barely resembling human beings, or perhaps with anthropomorphized animals, and the politics within the story might have been a lot more subtle. That subtlety might have protected me from any accusations of impropriety. But I would argue that is actually a far more dangerous situation. As with advertising or any other form of manipulation, it’s when we are least suspecting of bias or ulterior motive that we are most susceptible. For the reasons mentioned above, I chose to share the book I really am writing. But I also went out of my way to try to make sure that the politics were as even-handed as I could make them and still explain the extreme setting of the story. Hence the explanation that both sides’ worst fear came true simultaneously. Frankly, if this book were ever to be published with my name on it, I might edit that portion to more accurately reflect my politics, but I felt that would be inappropriate for a classroom. It’s true that balance isn’t the same thing as a lack of bias, but I’d again ask you to believe me when I say I chose balance to try to present a believable dystopia without injecting the class with my own politics.

So, if I made any of you uncomfortable yesterday, I apologize for not giving you an out in advance. That was my oversight. And now for the announcement part (trumpets again, please): In our following unit we were going to begin a careful examination of some literature written by some writers who are far more talented than I could ever hope to be (well, I can hope, I guess. Teacher, remember). We’re now going to move that assignment up. This will not mean any extra work for anyone. It just shifts our schedule around a bit. The reason I’m doing this is that I plan on continuing to share from the novel I’m writing, as long as the majority of you are still interested in reading it. Those of you who are not comfortable reading my writing may choose to do the same assignment, providing detailed feedback chapter by chapter, to the works of established authors from the books I’ve chosen. If you want to escape all writers’ politics, I’m afraid you’re out of luck in a creative writing class. If you don’t feel comfortable hearing a story from your teacher because of his immediate presence in the room and necessarily conflicting roles as writer and teacher, I can only hope that I am modeling accepting that feedback by not demanding that you continue to read my work, and by modeling not being offended by that choice in the slightest.

One last note: The reason it is unethical for public school teachers to share their personal political views is not because we are paid with taxpayer money. If any of you attend a public university next year you will hear lectures from professors who are also paid with public funds and who do not shy away from sharing their personal views. The reason it is unethical for teacher like me to do that is because young minds are more malleable and more likely to be swayed by authority figures. So let me say something that I don’t believe is controversial at all: You cannot hide from politics any more than you can hide from questions of religion or identity or tastes in food or people’s opinions about next week’s weather. Your best and only defense is in greeting all opinions with a healthy dose of skepticism. Whether those opinions come from your teachers or your friends or your television, I encourage you to listen or read very carefully the opinions of anyone, alive or dead, authority figure or peer, and then decide for yourselves. I admit that the notion that you should think for yourselves is my personal political belief, but I refuse to accept that this belief is too controversial, because if it is, then I’m afraid all education is impossible.

Okay, now it’s 1:31 in the morning and I will be seeing you all painfully soon. Please accept my apology for the oversight and let me know privately if you would prefer the alternate assignment."

I hope this will put an end to the whole affair. Ultimately (and ironically), I expect that will be determined by workplace, local, family, and parental politics.