Teaching Our Kids … WHAT??????

I have written more than once about my disgust at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others whitewashing the teaching of history.  I think it is criminal to hide from our young people the past that had such a significant effect on who and what we are today.  Failure to teach the true history and the lessons learned from our past mistakes can only lead to making the same mistakes again at some point in the future.  But last night I read something that made my jaw drop even more, and I think you will agree that this is even more damning than the whitewashing of history – the teaching of false history!

At Mount Eden High School in the San Francisco bay area, English teacher Henry Bens has basically been teaching a class in anti-Semitism.  Worse yet, students have been complaining to school officials for two months and nothing has been done until this week!  Even now, Mr. Bens is on leave for two weeks while school officials ‘investigate’ the allegations against him.

Students in his class said that Mr. Bens frequently uses the Nazi salute while chanting “Heil Hitler” in class, but that is only the beginning.  Part of the curriculum for the tenth grade English class is Elie Wiesel’s holocaust memoir Night.  Mr. Bens apparently felt that somehow the Holocaust had two sides, and thus he also handed out a pamphlet, The Hidden Tyranny, which details wild conspiracy theories about Jewish world domination.  Teresa Drenick of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calls it one of the “most virulently antisemitic texts in existence.”  The pamphlet falsely claims that Jewish people secretly control a “brainwashing” media monopoly as well as the economy and U.S. government.  Sound familiar?  Rather like a certain former guy saying, after a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 that “there are good people on both sides.”

Bens has told his students that “Hitler was not a bad person” and that they (the students) have been indoctrinated to believe only one side of the story of the Holocaust.  He told them that everything they knew was a lie and that he would “remove the blindfold.”  A senior student at Mount Eden said that “The administration was made aware on Dec. 13th, and they have not yet intervened by stepping into the classroom to help students.”

One student recorded Bens in the classroom, and Bens can be heard telling the class, “If I was alive during Hitler’s time, I would have an interview with him. I would let him share his views.”

Numerous students have complained on more than one occasion, but for whatever reason, the school administration has done nothing until this week.  But not all students are complaining, and notably some are buying into his hate-filled rhetoric.  Some even told school staff that they believe the information and agree with what Bens said.

Annie Mladinich, chair of the school’s history department, said she and her colleagues are very concerned about this and they plan to create a lesson plan on antisemitism, to present to all classes on a chosen day in the coming weeks.

“As a department, we’re very upset. There’s no two sides to the Holocaust or to Hitler.”

Another student, currently a senior, said he’d seen the same kind of behavior two years ago when he took the same class.

“I ignored what he said then. I’m not going to ignore it [when he’s] saying the same anti-Jewish hateful conspiracies I heard from him then.”

Mr. Bens is also, believe it or not, the pastor of a local church.  He frequently posts anti-semitic posts on Facebook, but when I sought them last night, they had either been removed or made ‘private’, but in one news story I read that he praised Kanye West’s support of Hitler and also taken potshots at the LGBTQ community.

I will be keeping an eye on the continuing developments of this story.  I find it unconscionable that school officials did nothing for two months but at the very least I expect him to lose his job and his teaching certificate!  I’ll keep you posted.  Oh, and you might be surprised to see Mr. Bens …

Context and perspective – a reprise that still applies

Our friend Keith is always a fountain of wise words, but his post of yesterday went above and beyond. It is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I urge you to read it, ponder for a bit on the price to be paid for the whitewashing of history, for our failure to teach the next generation the reality and consequences of our past. Thank you, Keith.


A few years ago, I felt a great need to write this post with the continuation of white washing of history and gaslighting others to believe a certain narrative. In spite of the ongoing efforts by certain governors in Florida, Texas and elsewhere, true history is not getting discussed and taught like it needs to be. Bad things were done by so-called leaders based on inflamed fears. Fear has been a selling tool as long as people have been in power to get the masses to do what they want.We must know this and learn lessons to avoid it in the future.

I learned yesterday, a former colleague passed away. She was an interesting person whose history was a lesson in and of itself. Her mother escaped Nazi occupied Poland with her on her mother’s back as a toddler, running across a field with machine gun fire over their…

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Netanyahu Returns

In June 2021, just 18 months ago, I wrote

“Israel’s Prime Minister for the past 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu, is officially out of power.  In his place is Naftali Bennett who was sworn in as Israel’s new prime minister on Sunday, after winning a confidence vote with the narrowest of margins, just 60 votes to 59.

What this will mean remains to be seen.  Over the past 12 years, Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics. He’s not only successfully implemented a series of right-wing policies, such as entrenching Israel’s presence in the West Bank, but also consolidated a dangerous amount of power in his own hands. He is currently on trial for corruption charges stemming from, among other things, his attempt to buy off media outlets.”

Given the amount of turmoil and political chaos here in the U.S. over the past several years, it’s no surprise that I have not kept up as much as I would like with events ‘round the globe, so imagine my shock when I read last month that Netanyahu will be returning to power.  According to an article on November 3rd in Al Jazeera …

A coalition led by the right-wing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a majority of seats in the 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, allowing the controversial figure to return to power.

Final election results announced on Thursday show that Netanyahu and his ultranationalist allies – many of whom were considered beyond the pale in Israeli politics only a few years ago – won 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament, with 32 of those seats going to Netanyahu’s party, Likud.

As prime minister-delegate, Netanyahu is in the process of forming Israel’s most extreme right-wing government to date.  Two groups of people stand to lose the most in the immediate future:  Palestinians and the LGBTQ community.  A moving article by a Palestinian lawyer, Diana Buttu, helps us understand some of the trepidation by Palestinians living in the West Bank, saying that, “The atmosphere of racism is so acute that I hesitate to speak or read Arabic on public transportation. Palestinian rights have been pushed to the back burner.”

I find it amazing that a nation populated by the descendants of the most persecuted people ever in history can be so bigoted against another group of people.  Did the Jewish people learn nothing from the fact that another racist, Adolf Hitler, was directly responsible for murdering some six million of their grandparent’s generation, for trying to eradicate their entire populace?  I’ve said before that Netanyahu is a bigot, and that so many were willing to vote his party back into power, knowing he would be once again elevated to Prime Minister, makes me wonder what the people of Israel are thinking … or are they even thinking?  Are they like some portion of people in this country who don’t think about who would be the best leader, but rather who puts on the best show?

Already Netanyahu’s new coalition allies are pondering laws against the LGBTQ community.  Netanyahu is set to form the most ultranationalist and religious government in Israel’s history between his Likud movement and several openly anti-LGBTQ parties. This has raised fears among Israel’s LGBTQ community that the new government, expected to take office in the coming week, will roll back gains made for LGBTQ rights in Israel in recent years.  Netanyahu insists that there will be no harm to LGBTQ rights in his upcoming government, but already several of his coalition partners are planning to curtail the rights of the LGBTQ community.

One member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has posited that hospitals should be allowed to refuse to serve LGBTQ people.  Another said that private business owners, such as hotel operators, should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ “if it harms their religious feelings.”  Harms their religious feelings???  WTF???

Again, I shake my head at the bigotry coming out of a country peopled by those who suffered the most from the same sort of bigotry 70 years ago.  I see no good to come out of Netanyahu’s return to power and I find it highly puzzling.  Netanyahu is set to be sworn in on Thursday, although I understand there are still some hurdles to be scaled before that can happen.  On an international level, I see this as yet one more right-wing authoritarian regime being added and I find it deeply concerning.

Weighing In On Whoopi’s Oopsie

I’ll probably regret this, but I’m going to weigh in on the Whoopi Goldberg controversy.  For those who may be unaware, here are the facts of the matter at hand:

On Monday, during a discussion on The View about a Tennessee school board’s decision to ban the Pulitzer prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel Maus, Whoopi Goldberg made this comment …

“Let’s be truthful, the Holocaust isn’t about race, it’s not. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man, that’s what it’s about. These are two groups of white people. You’re missing the point … let’s talk about it for what it really is. It’s about how people treat each other. It’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Jews … everybody eats each other.”

And thus began the uproar with many calling her remarks anti-Semitic and calling for her head on a platter.  Now, before I tackle this, let me just note that I was born into a household with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and was raised in both religions in my early years (quite possibly this explains why I am a non-believer now).  Many of my most beloved relatives were Jewish and although I believe in no religion and do not consider myself Jewish, I am definitely not anti-Semitic.  That said, I am a realist and I thrive on facts.

If one looks at the facts of what Whoopi said, she is correct.  Judaism is not a race, it is an ethnicity, it is a religion.  Condemnation of Jews, attacks on Jews, are a form of ethnic hatred and religious bigotry, but are not racism!  What Whoopi said may not have been the most sensitive or politically correct thing to say, I’ll give you that, but technically she was correct … every form of bigotry is about “man’s inhumanity to man”, but not every form of bigotry is racism.

Kim Godwin, president of ABC News, immediately suspended Whoopi for a period of two weeks, even though she apologized both online and during Tuesday morning’s episode of The View.  I see nothing … absolutely nothing … that is anti-Semitic in Ms. Goldberg’s remark.  Insensitive?  Probably.  Anti-Semitic?  Hardly.

Race is defined as “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.”  You recognize a Black person you see on the streets by the colour of his skin and sometimes other physical traits, but one cannot point to a person and say he/she is Jewish, for there are no physically defining characteristics.  That is why the Nazis forced Jews to always wear a gold Star of David on their clothing, so they could recognize them as being Jews.  By definition, Judaism is a religion, a set of beliefs and people can either choose to believe or not.  Think about that for a minute.  If you are Black or Asian, you cannot simply decide not to be Black or Asian anymore.  However, you can and many, like myself, do decide not to be Jewish or Catholic or Protestant or Buddhist.

Whoopi Goldberg might have done herself a favour if she had thought before she spoke, however she is not an anti-Semite and is not, as far as I can tell, a bigot in any way, shape or form.  She apologized and I’m guessing it is a topic she will broach much more cautiously in the future.  Just something to think about, because with so many forms of bigotry becoming more prevalent in this, the 21st century, it can be mind-boggling.

As I’m sure this is a topic that may drive some degree of discussion and disagreement, I considered closing comments.  Instead, since I do encourage a healthy sharing of various viewpoints, note that I am leaving comments open, but will promptly remove any comment that is disrespectful of anyone or any group.  Got that?

I Think …

I quite often say that we seem not to learn from the lessons of history.  Oh sure, we remember for a while – a generation or two – but then the memories dim as the people who lived through that history die off and there is nobody to tell the stories with passion, with first-hand experience.  The immediacy fades and we return to the old ways or settle into new ones. One example is Hitler and the Holocaust.  My grandparents and parents well remembered those lessons, for they lived through them.  I have, perhaps a slightly dimmed sense of it, for I was not yet born, but still a heightened awareness from a childhood spent hearing the stories from one set of grandparents, my mother, and my father who fought in WWII.  And I passed many of those stories to my own children and granddaughter, but by this time they are 3rd and 4th hand stories and are losing some of their authenticity.  Another generation and the stories likely will not be told at all.

Surely there are history books from which we can learn, but again, with few exceptions, written words on a page often fail to bring the story to life, fail to inspire or excite.  And so, we may know the facts, while at the same time forgetting the lessons.  Arrogantly, we believe that those things could never happen in today’s world, never to our generation. Two comments I read yesterday gave rise to this post and an attempt, probably feeble, to find something in the past on which to judge the political and social turmoil the U.S. is experiencing today and find solutions to keep us all from killing one another.

The first comment was by USFMAN, commenting on my post Be Better:

“You cannot outshout a demagogue like Trump so look for similar situations from history that might offer solutions. Gandhi’s idea of mass passive resistance and Martin Luther King’s Freedom Riders come to mind.”

The second was by our friend Roger (Woebegone but Hopeful) commenting on Keith’s post That Jesus Saying:

“The danger lies in the separation of the nation into quarrelling tribes who never listen to each other. This is not good. Does no one look back to the histories of the 1840s to 1860s? Does it take another ‘Bloody Kansas’ for folk to sit up and think, ‘there is something wrong here’”

Interestingly, Roger lives in the UK, Wales to be specific, and yet most often has a better grasp of the history of this nation than we who have lived here all our lives.  And he, as well as many other friends from across the pond, see our situation with clearer eyes than we do.  Perhaps there is something to be said of that expression “can’t see the forest for the trees”?

Anyway, these comments started me thinking.  A very brief bit of historical context for those who may not remember the details.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 gave the territories of Kansas and Nebraska the right to choose, by popular vote, whether to become a slave state or a free state.  Slavery being the most contentious issue of the day, tensions ran high, to say the least, and a lot of dirty politics ensued.  So dirty, in fact, that when a congressional committee investigated a year or so later, they found that 1,729 fraudulent votes had been cast as compared to 1,114 legitimate ones!  Needless to say, violence ensued:  a hotel and two newspaper offices were burned, homes and stores ransacked, and murder & mayhem became the order of the day.

Long story short, a divisive political issue nearly destroyed a society, causing death and destruction.  Now granted,  that was in the days of the ‘Olde West’, and we are more … civilized today.  Or are we?  We have white police officers killing unarmed blacks.  We have white supremacist groups creating chaos on city streets and university campuses.  We have people refusing to serve other people in their place of business because of politics.  We have a ‘president’ who incites violence, encouraging people to hurt others.  Are we more civilized that Kansans in the mid-nineteenth century?  Don’t be too sure.  It would seem that we really haven’t come very far at all.

Which brings me to USFMAN’s comments …

How many times in the last year or two have I said that I wish we had another Martin Luther King?  Too many.  Martin Luther King was only one of the Civil Rights leaders some 50-60 years ago who worked tirelessly to bring about change, but what was unique about him was two things:  his charisma that gave him the ability to lead, and his philosophy of non-violence.  Martin, you may remember, had a dream.  He knew what he wanted to accomplish.  As I read the text of his speech for probably the 100th time, I realize that Martin Luther King’s dream in 1963 was not much different than our own dream today.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

We have many burning issues today, concerning relationships with our allies, health care, education,  poverty, immigration, guns, environment, abortion, and more.  Most of these issues were  not born under the regime of Trump, but he has fanned the flames of discord and disharmony in every single event. But at the crux of most of it is bigotry, intolerance and discrimination of one group or another.  Discrimination against not only African-Americans, but Muslims, Latinos, LGBT people, non-Christians, the poor and even women.  Rather than being able to say we overcame the discrimination that Martin Luther King was fighting, we have expanded it to include other groups – almost anyone who is not white, Christian, and preferably male.

Now that I have offered my rambling thoughts, you probably wonder where I am going with this, if I have a point.  I do.  It seems to me that, in the absence of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King in our midst to lead the way in peaceful protest, then we must each become those leaders, using our voices to promote ideas of equality, to insist our voices be heard, and to do so without violence.  Colin Kaepernick was one such leader last year.  MLK would have been proud of Mr. Kaepernick, for never was there a more peaceful way of protesting, yet he made his point.  This is the way to win equality … the only way, I think.