Thursday, 13 June 2013 00:00
(Editor’s note: This letter is in response to From The Desk Of Senator Jack Martins’ column titled “Stupid is as Stupid Does” which appeared in the April 26 printed editions within Martins’ district, and online at http://www.antonnews.com/mineolaamerican/opinion/28866-from-the-desk-of-ny-state-senator-jack-martins.html/. )
Recently, New York State Senator Jack Martins (R -7th SD) wrote a newspaper editorial in which he lambasted an Albany high school English teacher for giving students a creative and unconventional essay assignment. Pretend, the teacher asked students, that you were a Nazi in Germany and give reasons why you think the Jews are the bane of Germany’s existence. It’s a challenging assignment, indeed, because it’s difficult to comprehend how a political regime should come to the conclusion that an entire group of people – especially a group of accomplished and educated people who had made great contributions to that society – should be exterminated. Even the brilliantly insightful Sir Winston Churchill struggled with this and when he met a Nazi Party official in a Munich hotel lobby shortly before Hitler came to power and endeavored to arrange a meeting with Der Fuhrer, he asked said official how the Nazis arrived at their conclusions concerning the Jews. The result was that the Hitler/Churchill meeting never occurred.
I’m not shocked, startled, or outraged by this teacher’s attempt to get students to look deeply into the minds of the people who caused one of history’s greatest disasters. I am, however, at Mr. Martins’ reaction and interpret it as yet another official stamp-of-approval affixed to the dumbing-down of education. Of this teacher, Mr. Martins says, “He shouldn’t be teaching our children. And in either case, he shouldn’t be collecting a tax-funded salary.”
Well, who should, Mr. Martins – the tenured “teacher” who reads the newspaper and sips Starbucks whilst his students complete their training as game show contestants checking-off answers on a multiple-guess SAT prep exam? The “educators” who’ve made multicultural awareness seminars, gay sensitivity training, and self-esteem workshops more important than mathematics, chemistry, and physics? Perhaps, Mr. Martins, you ought be everlastingly grateful that this teacher is only in class with his students for 180 days. In China, it’d be about 300 days. (We can thank politicians for the short school year).
Historical events are virtually impossible to understand – and therefore are quickly forgotten- without some comprehension of the mindset of the people who precipitated those events. This teacher’s, albeit over-the-top, assignment was an endeavor to get students to appreciate that fact and it’s pathetic that so many supposedly educated people are too stupid or intellectually dishonest to see what point this teacher was making. Are we to believe, for example, that the Pilgrims came to New England to see the autumn leaves or was there a religious and sociological motivation and wouldn’t it enhance our understanding if we could imagine what it’d be like to be one of those hearty souls on the Mayflower? Are we to believe that the colonists in 1775 took up arms against George III’s soldiers because they didn’t like red uniforms or were there other reasons and wouldn’t it enhance our understanding if we could endeavor, however inexactly, to place our feet into their buckled shoes? Are we to believe, as I was taught as a youth, that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor because that’s what treacherous “dirty Japs” do, or was there – however ill-conceived and catastrophic – a geopolitical and strategic motivation and wouldn’t it enhance our understanding of America’s entry into the Second World War if we could put one’s self in the head of some admiral in the Imperial Navy? And if we could try to imagine what it would be like to be a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp might that not enhance our understanding of the Holocaust as well? (Something brilliantly depicted in the movie The Devil’s Arithmetic wherein a Jewish teenager utterly disinterested in the history of her people goes to sleep and finds herself transported back in time to a concentration camp where she meets her, now elderly, aunt who was a Holocaust survivor). This idea of enhancing our understanding of historical events is something Senator Martins called “stupid”.
Let’s not underestimate the profound state of historical ignorance in America today. I work in history museums and frequently encounter people in their 30s and 40s who know shockingly little about history. And I know a number of history professors who could make you cringe when they describe how little their students know. I’ve met adults who believed Quaker settlers killed-off the Indians and stole their land and people who thought World War II was sometime in the 1920s or 30s. I’ve met people who didn’t know when World War I was fought and who was in it and people who believed Christopher Columbus’ contemporaries thought the world was flat. I fell out of my chair when I heard a popular Irish-American TV journalist state that Oliver Cromwell “conquered Ireland for the English monarchy”.
And the relative of somebody I know who teaches in an inner-city public school, reported to me that the students there know virtually nothing about Martin Luther King, couldn’t care less to know anything about him, and certainly have no idea for whom he was named.
We are being submerged in a vast collective dumbing-down whereupon facts have become “talking points” raw data to be memorized for Friday’s exam and forgotten by the time school lets out in June. We should be grateful that a teacher – and not even a social studies teacher – had made the effort to give students this unconventional Devil’s Advocate/Modest Proposal approach to the tragic events of World War II. The students are not likely to forget this assignment, which means that by 2045 there might be somebody who remembers that the Holocaust actually happened.
Mr. Martins’ op-ed was not simply pandering to politically correct professional complainers and canned outrage. It’s symptomatic of a society that’s given up endeavoring to educate its children.
Look at your own State of New York, Mr. Martins: it’s filled with functionally illiterate adults and people with bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science who wait tables at Applebee’s. Still believe lambasting an English teacher whose trying to get students to think is New York’s highest educational priority?
Paul Manton, Levittown
Saturday, 26 July 2014 00:00
A clown named Renaldo performed magic tricks for an enthusiastic audience as part of the National Circus Project, which visited Levittown Public Library on Wednesday, July 16.
All 150 tickets available for the performance were sold out in this interactive magic show for children. Throughout the entire circus act, children laughed and raised their hands as high as they could to be chosen as one of Renaldo’s helpers.
Raising her hand to participate was three-year-old Kirsten Cantwell from Seaford. “She was upset that she didn’t get picked,” said her mother Melissa Cantwell.
Kirsten Cantwell goes to any activity offered at the library, and is starting to enjoy watching magic shows. According to her mother, she really enjoyed the performance.
In the circus show, National Circus Project performer, Al Calienes, acted as Renaldo the clown.
“The show has different components of acts in the circus,” explained Calienes. “We teach children circus moves.”
With the National Circus Project, children get to see magic tricks performed live. “We infuse enthusiasm by showing them, and they in turn will be able to repeat the process,” said Calienes.
Renaldo performed plate spinning, where he spun a plate on a stick and passed it along to the stick of one of his helpers from the audience, who then passed the plate down a line of three more helpers. This interactive way of teaching the children magic tricks really allows them to absorb what they are learning.
The National Circus Project travels and performs for elementary schools, as well as middle and high schools. When the National Circus Project is not going to schools, they perform at library shows, summer camps, and other types of events.
The performance entertains the adults as well as the children. “We involve everybody,” said Calienes. “Everybody’s engaged on some level or another. “
At every library performance, Calienes donates the children’s book he wrote and illustrated Renaldo Joins the Circus to the library. He feels that he owes a lot to the library system. “Anything that ever meant anything to me I learned in the library,” said Calienes.
Calienes learned how to draw from the library, which is how he became a commercial artist. One of the main characters he would always draw would be Renaldo the clown. “I wanted to make him real so I joined the circus,” he said.
Calienes has been performing with the National Circus Project for seven years and has been in the circus business going on 26 years.
The National Circus Project brings magic to children at any school, camp or library all over Long Island as well as across the country.
Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00
Last June, Nassau County passed legislation that allows for the deployment of a speed enforcement camera system in school zones for each of the 56 public school districts in the county.
The new systems will be implemented throughout the county on July 25, and will be operational on scheduled school days throughout the year.
Thursday, 24 July 2014 00:00
Levittown’s Division Avenue High School varsity baseball team, under the direction of coach Tom Tuttle, won the Class A County Championship, garnering a third-place ranking in New York State. This is the team’s 13th county championship win and the second county championship for the school in the past four years.
In addition, senior Chris Reilly was named Championship MVP for throwing a complete game shutout in game two and going three for four with two RBIs.
Thursday, 24 July 2014 00:00
Taylor Traenkle, a junior at Division Avenue High School recently received the MVP award for the Nassau County Varsity Hockey League Association.
Traenkle, who plays no. 9 for the Levittown Ice Falcons, led the way averaging 2.8 points a game with a total of 25 goals and 23 assists in just 17 games.