textbooks and their impact on our ideologies

Sunday 14 March 2010

Ah yes, school textbooks.  Where would any of us be without hours and hours of reading and learning from these wonderful books.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of textbooks was covering them with brown paper bags and drawing mazes on them (and now they have pre-made plastic or even “mesh” covers — the shame).  I even remember keeping my desk so full and organized in 3rd grade that I had no room for some of my textbooks and had to sit on them!

Perhaps the fact that my memories of textbooks are not of their contents is a good thing after reading this article, Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards, though sometimes the more harmful items of learning is actually the indoctrination that you DON’T remember.

Basically, the article talks about how the Texas Board of Education recently voted to approve the state curriculum for the coming decade.  A panel of teachers had proposed curricula in each subject, and then the TX Board of Ed. offered their own amendments to deal with the “liberal bias” they said they found in the curricula of certain subjects, such as history and economics.

This is an interesting subject to me because what it really comes down to is the question, “Who should decide what our children learn in school?”

We all know children are impressionable, and people of different ideologies, be they economic or religious or political or sociological, of course what children to grow up to believe the same things they believe and thus propagate the ideology further.

Two amendments noted in the article that the Tex. BOE made stuck out to me:

“Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach.”
“… an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

(My note: if you follow the link, you’ll see that 10 times as many Japanese Americans — about 110,000 — were interned than whites, and an act of congress in 1988, signed by Reagan, mentioned “race prejudice” as one of the reason for internment of Japanese Americans.)

I’ll simply leave those for you to ponder as well.

The reason Texas’s decisions matter is because their have stringent textbook rules which ultimately dictate what is printed in textbooks that are then used in schools across the country.  I’ve heard of high school history teachers supplementing textbooks with Howard Zinn‘s (RIP) book, “A People’s History of the United States,” looking at events from another point of view that surely would not go over well with the conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

I’m all for people getting all the information possible, but we all understand that there is limited amount of time in a school year, so someone has to decide.  Who and how is obviously not an exact science, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For me, it just further affirms the need for continuous education as we get older and a never ending quest for the truth, obtaining all the information we can get our hands on — whether it’s in a textbook or not.

Updated: you can check out The Colbert Report’s take on this subject, as well — looks like I broke this one people!
Update 2: Oh, and apparently Jon Stewart on The Daily Show got wind of this, too.

(Another much longer article on Texas’s textbook-making process was in the NY Times last month, too — How Christian Were the Founders? — if this subject particularly interests you?”)

Michigan Peace Team co-founder gains worldwide recognition

Monday 19 October 2009


Rev. C. Peter Dougherty



Lansing, Michigan; October 16, 2009: The Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation of Mumbai, India has announced that the 2009 recipient of its international award recognizing contributions to Gandhian values outside of India has been awarded to Michigan Peace Team’s Rev. C. Peter Dougherty. The prestigious award will be formally presented at a special function on Friday, November 6th in Mumbai.

The International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India was instituted by the Foundation in 1988 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jamnalal Bajaj. Jamnalal Bajaj was a devout follower of Gandhi.  He was also an industrialist, a philanthropist, and Indian independence fighter.  Gandhi adopted Bajaj as his fifth son.

“I’m honored and humbled”, said Dougherty, co-founder of Michigan Peace Team.  “This is an incredible privilege; and that it comes from such an honorable organization, with such an honorable history, means all that much more”.

This venerated award carries a citation, a beautiful trophy and a cash prize of 500,000 rupees [approximately $10,000 USD]. It is given every year to a non-Indian citizen for their contribution in promoting Gandhian values outside India by:

  • Promoting peace and harmony among people and friendliness among nations through application of Gandhian philosophy of truth and non-violence.
  • Ending exploitation in any form and seeking solution of social, cultural, economic and political problems through Gandhian principles and constructive programs.
  • Demonstrating innovative work in social organizations with a view to promoting Gandhian values of purity of means and ends by awakening moral conscience, fostering community, self-reliance and bringing about harmony of human life with nature.

Previous recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Dr. Daisaku Ikeda of Japan.

Dougherty will depart for India at the end of the month and, after receiving the award, plans to meet with Gandhian and other peace activists in Mumbai, Delhi, Wardha, Calcutta, and villages in Bengal, sharing information about peacemaking efforts in the United States and India, and doing nonviolent skills sharing (including demonstrations of the skills taught in Michigan Peace Team’s curriculum).  He will also spend time at the ashrams of Mahatma Gandhi and his disciple Vinoba Bave – – ashrams that played an integral part in the development of Gandhi’s life and mission.

Michigan Peace Team was founded in 1993 to provide training in active nonviolence, and deploys peace teams into places of conflict (both domestically and internationally) to reduce violence.  MPT convenes, supports, and participates with local peace action groups and gatherings, and mentors individuals seeking experience with international tams in places of conflict.  It also educates the public to the vision and practice of active nonviolence.

International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India

International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India

Established in 1977 in the memory of Jamnalal Bajaj, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, the Foundation strives to serve the ideals to which Jamnalal Bajaj had dedicated his life and promotes the kind of Gandhian constructive activities in which he himself was deeply involved during his life-time.

For more info, Contact: Mary L. Hanna, MPT Operations Manager

Ph: 517-484-3178; Email: michiganpeaceteam@gmail.com or maryhanna.mpt@gmail.com

‘unconditional support’ for Israel questioned (damn straight!)

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Though it has similar thoughts to my previous post, you can read my letter to the editor for the Crescent-News (Defiance, OH) here or below.  I’m excited that more people will be hearing these truths (especially in such a part of Ohio as this!).

Many one-sided pieces regarding the current Gaza/Israel conflict have graced these editorial pages in the past weeks, and I wanted to interject some thoughts that don’t come out much in the US press which give reason to question the seemingly unconditional support given to Israel by so many.

First, I want to say that I in no way condone violence, no matter who is perpetrating it; I support neither the rockets being launched by Hamas nor Israel’s military violence made in the name of retaliation.

In the US, Israel is portrayed in politics and the press as a peace-seeking democracy, and many cite Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 as a good-faith act toward peace in the region. However, this was done without consultation of Palestinians, and many agree this simply has allowed Israel to focus its efforts on the occupation of the West Bank, where Palestinians continue to suffer daily (something I experienced firsthand this past Spring).

In fact, while Israel has not had anyone stationed in Gaza since the 2005 withdrawal, they have continued to control its borders, sea coast, and air space. In recent years they have created a blockade around Gaza that completely restricts or extremely limits the movement of much needed food, medical supplies, fuel, and electricity. A recent statement from the Vatican went as far as to compare Gaza to a “concentration camp.” Israel continues to ignore international law in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires an occupying power to provide for the welfare of the civilians it occupies (which should be applied to Gaza and certainly to the West Bank).

Most Palestinians did not choose to live in Gaza but are refugees, driven from their homes by the Israeli army at the creation of Israel in 1948. These Palestinians have never been compensated for their previous lands and homes, similar to the way Native Americans were treated in respect to the lands of this country.

Also, while Hamas is considered a terrorist entity by the US and others, it is also a political party that won Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. The legality of this election is not in question. This was in large part a response to the corruption in the Palestinian government previously, not a sign that the people as a whole seek the elimination of Israel, even though this is stated in the Hamas party charters. Israel, the US, and many others continue to ignore Hamas’ right to rule based on these legitimate democratic elections.

Finally, much has been made about Israel’s “right to defend itself,” including recent resolutions passed in Congress stating just that. However, no one cares to describe the oppressive circumstances Israel has continued to place upon Gaza (and the West Bank). So while I do not agree with Hamas’ violent resistance tactics nor Israel’s retaliation, I ask: Should not Hamas have the same “right to defend itself” from an oppressive situation imposed by Israel, a right that so many give to Israel itself?

Also, check out this great piece by Rashid Khalidi last week in the NY Times with some similar sentiments.

breaking the silence

Thursday 8 January 2009

You only need to look at the size of the words “peace” and “Palestine” in the tags section on the right side of my weblog to realize that these two topics are very important to me.  However, you’ll also recognize that since Israeli bombing attacks on Gaza began on the morning of 27 December, and even when the ground attacks of Gaza began on 3 January, I haven’t written about the issue.  It’s not that I don’t care, as I surely do, but when there are no easy answers or quick sound bites to capture my feelings of support or disgust, it’s hard to really know what to write or share, what stories to underline and which to gloss over.

When there is nothing but gray, no good side to get behind, what do you do?  I am always on the side of peace, nonaggression, and nonviolence, and from the looks of it, neither Hamas (currently in charge of the Gazan Palestinians) nor the Israeli government are a good fit for someone like myself to get behind and support.  Even the UN is lacking in this conflict.  So what do you do?  Do you say nothing?  That’s what I’ve resigned to do so far, and it’s allowed me time to think things over a bit and decide what I want and need to say.

When you get down to it, it’s a bit of a “which came first” scenario, in my mind, and a recognition that violence comes in many forms.  However, the “which came first” scenario is a way in which people seek to place blame, and really, there is plenty of blame to go around.  I’ve heard, in various ways, “Can you blame the Israelis for fighting back when a group is launching rockets into its communities?”  I guess I can understand their reasoning, but can’t I still “blame” them?  In either case, it’s not something I believe in.

And, unfortunately, I think that the questions Israel (and it’s supporters) are asking overshadow some of the other questions that need to be thought about, too:
“If your country/area were blockaded, walled and fenced in like a jail, unable to receive necessary supplies of food and medicine, wouldn’t you seek some kind of way to gain attention to change that?” (A question from the Hamas point of view)
“If you saw another country being oppressed in the ways of the previous question, would you look the other way and do nothing, and (in some cases) maybe even continue to support the oppressor(s)?  Or would you take substantial steps to deal with the oppressor, maybe by either setting up sanctions or withdrawing the support that allows for such oppression in the first place?”  (Questions the U.S. and other countries, and their citizens, need to be asking)

It’s hard to be in a position where you can’t really support a tangible entity in a situation, which is kind of what I feel in this current Gaza/Israel conflict.  There are certainly those now calling for a cease fire, which is great in the short term, but we need much more than that.  How does one really support peace and reconciliation when no one involved (at least the large entities that seem to hold the power to truly make a difference) appears to truly want it themselves?  I guess that’s the question I, and many like myself, continue to ask ourselves.

keeping up the energy

Wednesday 30 April 2008

Sometimes it’s hard to find the energy to wake up each morning and fight against injustice, and after the events of a day like today, it would be easy to give up and say, “to hell with the world.”  I won’t recount to you my entire day (at least not in this post), but I will share with you one of the unfortunate events of the day: learning that the orphanage sewing workshop, whose story I had been following closely, was last night invaded by soldierswho stole all the materials and equipment, a workshop that was used to earn money for the girls orphanage (read the story tagged above and previous stories).

In a conversation today, the enormity of the horrors of this world were all too clear, and the ease at which one might give up on a positive future were very much apparent.   But near the end of the conversation, I recalled to the group the sixth of Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s Six Principles of Nonviolence: “Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.”  Or to phrase it another why I heard, “the arch of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I certainly feel that I couldn’t be working toward a world full of love, justice, and peace if I didn’t feel that — some day in the future — it was possibility to accomplish these things.  Many might categorize me as naive or unrealistic to think some “utopia” of a world is possible, but I say, “why not?”  There may be some kind of evil or badness is us, but I also know that there is a whole lot of love and humanity in every person out there, and we as a species need to cultivate that love and humanity in those around us.

In a world with so much out there to depress and frustrate us, we are called to avoid apathy and ignorance and to build relationships and work toward peace and justice.  It is our duty to love and to seek out ways that all around us might find that love.  We must work to break down the barriers that separate us and blind us to our commonalities and work to truly find what unites us as a common humanity.