I’m the Boss (and So Is Bernie)

I want to start by saying something that should be obvious to everyone:  I’m the boss of this blog.

Oddly enough, even though I’m the owner and CEO of Thinker Boy, Inc., it wasn’t entirely obvious to me, though.  My most recent posts, all of them personal reflections on my profession—I’m a teacher—had started to feel stale and I was growing bored while writing them.  Still, I hadn’t turned away from the topic because I had promised to complete the project.  Guess what?  I’m going back on my word.  I’m discontinuing the series of blogs I’d been calling “The Accidental Teacher.”

I blog a lot like I travel.  When I go somewhere as a tourist, I never make a plan before arriving at my destination, nor do I carry a guidebook.  I like to arrive in a state of naiveté, which assures that I’m going to be surprised as I roam around.  When traveling like this, I wander upon an interesting spot, one I’d never expected to find in the first place, and stop to look for a while.  When the time feels right, I turn my back and walk away.

I’m using this analogy to tell you that I’ve been looking at the topics of “education” and “my life as an educator” long enough.  I’m now ready to stroll away from them and make new discoveries.  I guess I could be a more focused writer if I were a more focused person.  Part of the reason I’m unfocused is that I have so many interests.  I’m all over the place and so is my blog.

One of my interests is American politics.  Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  (FYI:  The Republicans only interest me to the extent that their current crop of candidates are capable of disturbing my sleep by giving me nightmares.  One of them in particular—I think you know which one I’m talking about—seems hellbent on causing the whole sane world to have really bad dreams.)

I’m a Sanders guy and I FEEL THE BERN every day of my life.  If you want to follow my thoughts on the contest, go to my Twitter page and have a look.

My Egyptian wife and I live in San Antonio, Texas, and we are very active people.  While moving around and through Texas’ second largest city, we see many streets with houses that have Bernie Sanders signs in their front yards.  To date, I have not seen a single Hillary Clinton sign even though she won the Texas primary a while back.  Who are these Clinton supporters and where are they?  They sure seem like a shy bunch, at least in these parts.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of what motivates HRC supporters, Camille Paglia has written an interesting piece with a very provocative title—“Enough with the Hillary Cult:  Her admirers Ignore Reality, Dream of Worshiping a Queen.”  I wholeheartedly recommend that you read it.

Sanders is constantly calling for a revolution in America.  By this, he means we need to revolutionize our thinking.  Sanders, of course, would never ask others to do something that he hasn’t already done himself.  If you want to see what he means by this sort of thinking, watch the video below—it’s the speech he gave at the Vatican—and you will certainly see a politician who has embraced the sort of progressive ideas that many would find revolutionary.

When was the last time you heard a candidate for president talk about the weak and downtrodden and argue that America’s profits-before-people economic system is “immoral” and even “unsustainable?”  If you can’t hear the voice of saint—or a jewel of a politician—when Sanders speaks, you need to get your ears checked.  You might want to check your ticker too—to make sure you haven’t become heartless.

We in the 99% are those who Sanders is looking out for and talked about in Rome.  By running for president, he’s throwing us a lifeline and we need to be smart enough to grab it.  If we don’t, we may find ourselves sinking to the bottom of the deep, blue sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Teacher: An Essay and Memoir (Part 4)

Before I tell you the full story of how I had my mind blown at college, I want to let you know that I’ll be voting for Bernie Sanders for president this year. Yes, I am truly and wonderfully feeling the Bern—as are tens of millions of other citizens!

What does this political confession have to do with this essay and memoir? Aren’t I in danger of losing my focus by veering off like this?

Not in the least! I’m at least partly a Sanders supporter because he seems to understand what many other candidates do not—that the President of the United States has to be the nation’s educator-in-chief.

We take for granted that all American presidents have an important military job to play when we refer to them as the commander-in-chief. We also understand that they have a vital role in keeping America’s economy humming along. It certainly goes without saying that the head of the executive branch of government has a myriad of other duties to play.

What we often don’t realize is that perhaps his most important job of all is to help the populace better understand the world in which they live. This makes him or her—I hope we have a woman president very soon, but just not during this election cycle—the teacher of greatest importance and outreach in this large and complex nation-state.

It is perfectly clear that Sanders understands all this. That’s why he expends so much energy telling the electorate things that make so many so uncomfortable. That’s why he speaks about how out of balance America has become and about how the super-rich have rigged the political and economic game so that the remaining 99 percent of us have found ourselves incredibly marginalized.

In a sense, Sanders is not saying anything that many of us don’t already viscerally understand to be true. But to watch someone running for president break such a taboo—to suggest that America has a variety of fundamental shortcomings—is downright cathartic. Most politicians talk about the country in syrupy, self-congratulatory ways that some interpret as “patriotism,” but Sanders shows us that all is not well in paradise. In fact, his critique raises questions about the very notion that America is an “exceptional” country.

To see so many responding to Sanders so positively suggests that the nation is ready for such an explainer-in-chief. Sanders happened along at a moment in American history when a large segment of the population was feeling self-reflective and ready to accept uncomfortable truths. Learning is often a painful process whereby the learner has to give up old habits and beliefs in exchange for growth. The nation appears ready to make this tradeoff, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The Resolve to Evolve

I am a learner. And a teacher. This video reminded me of these facts about my life. It also reminded me what learning is all about and how important it is—or how important it should be—to each one of us, individually, and to the nation, as a collective.

I grew up in small towns in Texas. My upbringing was “typical,” meaning that my family, those people who got first shot at shaping me, were fairly conventional in their thinking and behavior. When I got old enough, I was sent to public schools and had an early education that was structured around official state curricula. I did well, made top grades, and was recognized as a young person with potential. This recognition meant nothing more than I had successfully acquired the knowledge and skills the authorities had wanted me to acquire.

I graduated and went off to a little school called Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. I enrolled in the normal courses students are supposed to take. Then, in my second year, I did something that would change my life forever. I had a chance to choose an elective, so I registered for a class called Introduction to Philosophy.

Taking that first philosophy course was the beginning of the end of my childhood. Up until that moment, my intellect had been carefully managed by all sorts of authority figures, none of whom were interested in exposing me to anything more than mainstream thinking, which is another way of saying “conventional wisdom.” As a child, I had been led to believe that the world of ideas was only so big, when, in fact, it was actually infinitely large. It’s like I had spent my entire lifetime locked in a little room and had been led to believe that that there was nothing more than this tiny space. Philosophy showed me the door leading out of that room. Once I opened it, I could see how imprisoned I had been.

America, in its political thinking, is a bit like I was before I was exposed to philosophy. Too many of its citizens believe that the way things have always been done is the only way things can be done. These worshippers at the altar of the status quo are holding the nation back.

In the upcoming election, Bernie Sanders is playing the role my first philosophy teacher played. He is exposing the nation to ideas and truths that are certain to make some people uncomfortable. But America needs someone to drag it into the twenty-first century. The nation needs to grow and expand its thinking in many areas. Bernie Sanders appears to be the person with enough insight, courage, and conviction to accomplish this noble task.

Thom Hartmann used the term “revolution” in the introduction to the clip I’ve included, but I think “evolution” is the more appropriate word. Sanders is trying to help the nation evolve in its thinking. Of course, once this evolution occurs, a revolution is bound to follow.

It’s Time

Listen up. Bernie Sanders has a good chance of becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party even though many see the favorite—Hillary Clinton—as a shoo-in.

Even some mainstream pundits—a group often seemingly blinkered by conventional wisdom—are beginning to figure out that Sanders has a better-than-average shot. Those making such an argument are, of course, right for a number of reasons. I’ll lay them out.

Reason 1

President Obama changed everything. He’s often been a disappointment for progressives like me, but he has benefitted the nation in at least one very important way. His winning the election (twice) opened the door for other “unconventional” candidates to walk through. Who’s going to be next to step across that threshold? A woman? A true progressive of Sanders’ ilk? Anything seems possible now. “Democratic Socialists”—Sanders calls himself one—certainly benefit from Obama successfully smashing through all sorts of barriers.

Reason 2

People are angry. I’m an American who lives in the Middle East and can testify to the fact that many folks, here and elsewhere, including those in the US, are simply fed up and not going to take it anymore. Noteworthy examples of this exasperation would include recent protests against abusive police practices in the US. Another would be the “Occupy Wall Street” protests of 2011 and 2012. When the OWS movement fizzled, lots of analysts attributed the fact to a lack of leadership. If Sanders can step into that role and re-energize those in the 99 percent, his popularity could snowball because he’s the right guy for this moment in history.

Reason 3

Honesty and passion will resonate. Most Americans value authenticity in politicians. What we often get is pre-packaged candidates who are taught not to turn people off. They don’t say anything terribly controversial because they want to appear to be all things to all people. Their strategy is to win elections by not losing them. Sanders is certainly not pulling any of his punches so far, and I don’t think he’s going to change his tact no matter what happens. That’s not Bernie Sanders. He tells it like it is and lets the chips fall where they may. His honesty and energy are going to inspire millions of voters. Whenever he encounters opponents of the sort I described earlier, he’s going to appear genuinely principled in contrast. Americans have been dreaming of a guy like Sanders for a very long time.

Reason 4

Sanders has put his finger on the problem—inequality of wealth distribution in America. He realizes that many of society’s ills are caused by wealth hoarding by a tiny fraction of the citizens. This is a simple message that most people viscerally understand to be true. Sanders is going to hammer it home time and time again. His opponents are going to argue that he’s a radical for saying this. But he’s not and most will know his message isn’t either. I’ve heard ordinary Americans say what Sanders is saying all my life. And they know, again very viscerally, that the super wealthy own the political system. He’s going to play up the unfairness of all this and win many converts. Americans, of all political stripes, are united in the belief that fair play is what matters.

I’m going to finish with a video I want everyone to watch, especially since it was filmed in Austin, Texas, a place near and dear to my heart. If you do, you’ll see the Bernie Sanders I’ve written about in this blog.

YES!

I want to start with an apology. I’ve been incredibly busy lately and thus unable to spend much time writing.

A couple of days ago, I managed to find a free moment, so I started a new blog, just about finished it, and then ran into a really cool article that inspired me. So I set the piece I was working on aside and will come back to it in a few days, after I’m done with this one.

If you haven’t already done so, look back at my last blog—“Speaking of Politics…”—an article on why I’ll be supporting Bernie Sanders in the upcoming presidential plebiscite. Some of what I write here will relate to some of the things Sanders says in the video I embedded in that previous entry.

If you click on the above link, you’ll be transported to a piece in The Atlantic about a fellow named Scott Santens who is described as “a leader” in the “Basic Income Movement,” which calls for government to provide enough money to every citizen so that their basic needs will be met without having to work. By the way, movements of this sort are gaining momentum in many countries of the world as this video, produced in Switzerland, makes clear.

The article and video got me thinking about how my life would be different if some entity—the government, let’s say—guaranteed me enough money each month so I could be jobless if I wished. Would such a program turn me into a lazy slob?

Absolutely not. I feel completely confident saying that I’d spend a lot more time doing creative things, like writing and publishing, if I had fewer employment worries and commitments. I’d spend more quality time with my wife and family and would become a better husband, son, brother, and so on, in the process. There are causes I care a lot about, so I’d definitely give some volunteer hours, each week, to help those in need. Actually, I’d probably be more active than I currently am because I wouldn’t be so tired and stressed out all the time.

I think, in my case, society would probably get a pretty good return on its investment. I’d certainly continue to “work” but at things I had true passion for and was talented in doing. Contributions, toward the greater good, would come from this and I’d be more likely to feel something akin to self-actualization, in the sense that Abraham Maslow intended. As a result, I’d be happier and more prosperous. A country full of such individuals would certainly have a lot more stability than more hardscrabble places. And in a world full of nations filled with disgruntled citizens, that’s worth a whole lot.

Speaking of Politics…

Many of us had high hopes when Barack Obama was first elected. We thought he would be different. In a few small ways, I suppose he was. His name, after all, sounded unusual. And, of course, his skin pigmentation was not what we were used to in our presidents. There were plenty of signs he wasn’t your average WASP.

Right from the beginning, conservatives worked themselves into a lather. They argued—most of the time with a straight face—that Obama was the anti-Christ. He was on a secret mission to destroy the nation from within and was allied with Muslims and/or Communists in carrying out his evil plan. Now, nearly eight years later, we find that he didn’t actually take America’s guns away. He didn’t create a One-World Government and invite in the “Black Helicopter” bunch. Nor did he introduce Sharia law. I wonder what happened.

Now that the Obama lease is about to expire, we find ourselves in the beginning phases of finding a new tenant for the White House. As we go forward, I have one wish for the nation: That we continue to expand our thinking about what makes a good American president.

Open-mindedness and innovative thinking should come natural for a country as large and diverse as the United States. Even the nation’s symbols suggest a need for this. The American flag, after all, has fifty stars, suggesting multiplicity. It’s downright un-American to engage in groupthink or to close the door on certain ideas or to certain types of presidential candidates.

All this brings me to Bernie Sanders, a fellow hailing from a small state but who thinks really BIG. I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you he’s the guy I’ll be voting for. Actually, I’ll go even further than that. He’s the guy I’m going to tell others about.

I don’t normally watch shows like “Face the Nation” because they mostly invite very mainstream, unimaginative guests who offer us the same old tried (and failed) solutions to the nation’s problems. Still, having said that, I’ve included a clip because it features Sanders.

We all know that Bernie’s opponents are going to try to discredit him. They’ll call him “weird,” “effete,” and probably “soft”—on all sorts of things. They’ll call him “liberal” and very “European.” The list of terms they’ll use to describe him will undoubtedly be a very long one. On top of all that, they’ll even try convince people that he’s “scary.” But, honestly, were you frightened by anything you just heard?

Here’s what you should be scared of, especially if you belong to America’s middle and working classes. You should be terrified by the status quo—more “trickle down.” That’s been tried again and again. And we know how it turns out. The roots get starved and the whole plant withers.