Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014 and the Words of a Fallen Soldier

This is a particularly meaningful Memorial Day.  We are entering the fourth and final year of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War and preparing to begin the 100th anniversary of World War I, two extremely bloody wars that provided the foundation for modern warfare, heralding the advance of technology on the battlefield.
As we celebrate this Memorial Day, remembering those who died in war, I find myself recalling the words of a young British poet who died during the final days of the First World War. 
“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”
By Wilfred Owen
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one. 
If Owen were alive today, he would tell us to stop believing the propaganda of the warmongers who shout all those simplistic slogans about  “God and Country” or “Freedom and Democracy.”  He would tell us to look for the real motivations behind war, such as greed, stupidity and arrogance. 
Isn’t it time we devoted more of our resources toward the goal of peace than toward preparing for war?  Shouldn’t we work toward a world where we no longer need to set aside special days for remembering those who died in war?  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a holiday that celebrated a thousand years of peace?
© 2014 by David Lee McMullen, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Education Should Be More Than A Punched Ticket

Here is a recent, and disturbing email exchange with a prospective student.  The student is an education major and apparently approaching graduation, since the course in question is an exit course.  Exit courses are designed to evaluate the student’s critical thinking skills, as well as their oral and written communications skills.  Simply put, these courses seek to evaluate the student readiness to face the world.

The emails are presented exactly as sent, errors and misspellings included, except that I removed the student’s name.  The course is a short summer course, meeting from 1-5 pm, twice a week, for six weeks.

Student:
Hello,
My name is (name of student removed) and I am enrolled in your summer B course. I know this request may be out of the question but thought I would ask. I enrolled in the course prior to my schedule being changed unexpectantly so instead of getting off at 11am, I now get off at 2:30pm. I understand that the present is very important in order to succeed and the overall respect for being a student in this course. But is it any way possible to stay in this class and email classwork or bring classwork to your box?  If so, was the amount of points or highest grade to be expected to receive for the course with this circumstance? The reason inseatd of changing course, is because I think the class in interesting and I heard about previous courses you taught.
Please and Thank you,

My Response:
It appears you will miss half of the class.  I would suggest that you find a course that is a better fit with your work schedule.

Student:
I understand, but hypothetically speaking if I'm not able to find another open course to for the criteria to graduate will I be able to get a C+ or better with all coursework completed with being physically absent from class.

Thank you, 

My Response:
No.

Student:
Thank you

This brief exchange is rather disheartening for a couple of reasons.  First, it highlights two very different perspectives on the purpose of a university education.  Is it for acquiring knowledge and understanding, or is it simply a ticket that needs to be punched so one can move one? Second, this is a future teacher who appears willing to short change her own education simply to graduate.

I look back at my own educational experience and recognize that I started with a clear lack of maturity.  Fortunately, universities are protected environments designed to help students grow at their own pace.  I too worked my way through college and often was faced with the challenge of conflicting schedules.  I made some bad choices and hit some very large pot holes, but as I approached graduation, I began to understand the importance of the learning experience. 

In the years that followed, I earned a master of arts degree while working full time and going to class at night.  Later, I returned to academia full time, earning a doctorate in history.  I often remark that I went back to school, after spending years in the business world,  simply to awaken parts of my brain that had been put to sleep by Corporate America.  More importantly, I learned that education is not a destination, it is a journey – a lifelong journey.  If we stop learning, what is left?


Sadly, there are far too many people who fail to understand that a diploma is only piece of paper and that piece of paper is worthless if it is not built  upon a quality education.  Even sadder, this particular student will probably be a teacher in a year or two, and how can someone who does not savor the acquisition of knowledge plant the seeds of intellectual curiosity in others?

Punched tickets have no value once the destination is reached.

© 2014 by David Lee McMullen, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Who the hell is Charles J. Guiteau?

Cleveland Heights police are searching for a shirtless, chain smoking, whiskey drinking vandal who recently broke into the tomb of President James A. Garfield and stole approximately twenty commemorative spoons of very little value.

That in itself says something about America’s lack of interest in our 20th President, a man who has never been a hot topic at cocktail parties.  This lack of interest is rather sad, because he was a fascinating fellow whose death brought about one of the most important changes in the history of the federal government.

It is said that Garfield was our first left-handed President and the last to be born on the frontier in a log cabin.  An Ohio native, he served in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to major general and fighting at Shiloh and Chickamauga, two of the bloodiest battles of the war.

A Republican, he served in Congress before being elected President in 1880.  Then on July 2, 1881, just 200 days after taking office, Garfield was shot by a disgruntled office seeker. The assassin,  Charles J. Guiteau, had supported Garfield during the campaign and was angry because he was not given a federal appointment.  At the time, all federal employees were political appointees. 

The President did not die immediately.  He lingered for more than two months before he finally died from complications associated with the gunshot wound.

As a result of Garfield’s murder, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, the  law establishing the U.S. Civil Service and requiring that government jobs be awarded on the basis of merit.


Today there are approximately 2 million federal civil service employees, often referred to as the federal bureaucracy.  So if you are one of those people who likes to complain about the federal bureaucracy, don’t blame the current President.  Blame Charles J. Guiteau, he’s the guy that started it all.

© 2014 by David Lee McMullen, All Rights Reserved.