Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

I’ll Take “Things Bestowed On Goats By Deities” For 500, Alex


First, I am trying not to turn this blog into a Presidential-candidate-critique-of-the-week.

Second, I have already blogged a couple of times about the wisdom of keeping children largely away from the political limelight, especially as regards political campaigning and advertising … so I am trying not to be repetitive in this subject area.

Third, I am trying not to generalize about the personal and professional qualities of the ever-expanding group of robber barons who believe that having run a business (sometimes into the ground) remotely qualifies them to run our federal government.

That said …

Today I go for the trifecta.


From The Guardian newspaper:

Carly Fiorina has been accused of “ambushing” a group of children, after she ushered pre-schoolers, who were on a field trip to a botanical garden, into an anti-abortion rally in Des Moines.

On Wednesday, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive embarked on a day of campaigning across Iowa, in an attempt to boost her ailing presidential campaign.

The alleged ambush occurred when Fiorina hosted a “right to life” forum at the Greater Des Moines botanical garden. Entering the rally, before a crowd of about 60 people, she directed around 15 young children towards a makeshift stage.

The problem, one parent said, was that the children’s parents had not given Fiorina permission to have their children sit with her – in front of a huge banner bearing the image of an unborn foetus – while she talked about harvesting organs from aborted babies.

The kids went there to see the plants,” said Chris Beck, the father of four-year-old Chatham, one of the children Fiorina appeared with. “She ambushed my son’s field trip.”

Beck, who lives in Ankeny, north of Des Moines, said he was not asked if Fiorina could interact with the children, or whether she could take them into her rally. He said the first he knew of it was when his childcare provider told him the children had encountered the candidate at the botanical garden.

Taking them into a pro-life/abortion discussion [was] very poor taste and judgment,” Beck said. “I would not want my four-year-old going to that forum – he can’t fully comprehend that stuff. He likes dinosaurs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers.”

During the rally an anti-abortion activist, carrying a scale model of four-month-old foetus, joined Fiorina at the front of the room.

This is the face of abortion,” the activist told the crowd as Fiorina looked on. The foetus model was sucking its thumb.

In answer to a detailed series of questions from the Guardian, a Fiorina spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “We were happy that these children chose to come to Carly’s event with their adult supervisor.”


Where to begin?

Teachers who lead field trips know that they have to be prepared for lots of eventualities that may not be predictable enough to be included on a permission slip letter to parents. Having a national political figure poach your students? I don’t think that should be one of those eventualities.

So I don’t blame the teachers for losing control of their charges, not one bit. I’d like to think that in their shoes, I’d have squawked pretty loudly before that event really got rolling, and would have demanded to have them back please pronto … I’d like to think this, but I’ve never been in that exact circumstance so I really don’t know how I’d react.

But who are these sociopaths that are running for office, or running their campaigns?

Who is this person who thinks it’s a great idea to grab a group of kids – any ol’ group of kids – hey, maybe that group of kids over there! – in order to make his or her campaign event look nice?


When I was in elementary school, which admittedly was in a much more innocent era, I replied happily to an invitation to come over to a friend’s house for supper one Friday evening. By the time the supper was over, it had turned into a progressive dinner (yep, we all got into cars and vans and went from house to house) which ended up at someone’s church somewhere, and, well, honest to God, we were listening to Scripture and singing hymns.

I did get home safely that night, after all was said and preached and done. I stayed friends with the classmate who had invited me, although I think it may be miraculous that my parents didn’t string up his parents by their thumbs.

But that night, I remember periodically thinking, “I don’t know some of these people, I’m not interested in what that guy’s talking about, I’m not sure what I’m doing here, and I’m not even sure where ‘here’ is.” Maybe I’d misread the invitation.

Couldn’t have been too different from any pre-school-age thoughts that may have been thought by those Iowa children, though.

I do know what I would have said to any available Fiorina campaign staffer afterward, or ideally Fiorina herself, if I were the pre-school teacher whose class was kidnapped in public for the sake of a campaign event about a topic (and featuring a wall-hanging) that was entirely inappropriate for pre-schoolers.

Good God, woman. Have you not even a fraction of the sense God gave a goat?

Or are you so driven by optics and the wishes of rich campaign donors that you will do anything, say anything, use anything to drive your point home?

Or worse, both?

Give me my students back, and do not ever poison my eyesight with your presence again, you pathetic, sociopathic jackwagon.

And oh yes … by the way … my lawyers cannot WAIT to be in touch with your lawyers.

These people.


January 22, 2016 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, news, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have A Care

I just read about a study that Harvard University just released which has addressed a subject that to me is quite frankly all over the news lately, albeit maybe not in very obvious ways.

em•pa•thy [em’-puh-thee] /n/ (1) the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. (2) the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: “By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.”  [Origin: from the Greek: empátheia (affection); present meaning translates German Einfühlung]

Boiled down, the study has suggested that although parents have good intentions about teaching children the value of empathy, the message that ends up getting sent is: American society values achievement and happiness far more. The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Making Caring Common” project surveyed 10,000 secondary-school students and only a fifth of them ranked “caring for others” as their first priority. Empathy lost out to achieving at a high level, or being happy. The researchers noted the difference between which values adults tell children are important, and which they demonstrate as actually being important.

Students were reportedly two times more likely to agree with the statement, “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

In the Atlantic magazine article that highlighted the study, child psychologist and author Michele Borba said:

Studies show that kids’ ability to feel for others affects their health, wealth and authentic happiness as well as their emotional, social, cognitive development and performance. Empathy activates conscience and moral reasoning, improves happiness, curbs bullying and aggression, enhances kindness and peer inclusiveness, reduces prejudice and racism, promotes heroism and moral courage and boosts relationship satisfaction. Empathy is a key ingredient of resilience, the foundation to trust, the benchmark of humanity, and core to everything that makes a society civilized.

The Harvard researchers surveyed educators as well.

[ An aside: Character education has very often been seen as a squishy, bleeding-heart-liberal, unrealistic enterprise. It has the opportunity to be not taught very well. Indeed, some critics might say, isn’t character education more of a Sunday School thing? (The increasing percentage of the American population that is “unchurched”, and what effect that may or may not have on people’s development of a moral and ethical compass, is probably a topic best reserved for a separate moment. It would become a rather staggeringly large tangent here.) ]

The researchers found that “the great majority of teachers, administrators, and school staff did not see parents as prioritizing caring in child-raising. About 80% of school adults viewed parents as prioritizing their children’s achievement above caring and a similar percentage viewed parents as prioritizing happiness over caring.”

I don’t know that this should be seen as an attempt to dump on parents exclusively – although obviously they do bear responsibility. Parents in today’s society face far greater challenges in raising children than did past generations’ parents. One of those challenges is in countering the messages conveyed, overtly or not, by the “outside world” – including the media, popular culture personalities, and political figures. Many of these messages seem not to be supportive of “everything that makes a society civilized”.

Curious: while it’s rarely advisable to wade through the comments section of almost any online article … the very first commenter on the Atlantic article said, as if to simultaneously miss and prove the researchers’ point:

Children should prioritize helping others over their own success and happiness? What exactly would be the societal benefit of raising an entire generation of sacrificial martyrs unable to support themselves? … The most important thing for children to learn is that if they are unable to first support themselves, they won’t be able to make meaningful contributions to society. Ever wonder why any course on rescue teaches people to first ensure their own health and safety before attending to others? There’s an order of operations involved, and people who sacrifice their own well-being for that of others end up in dire straits.

Let’s see that again in slow motion: “people who sacrifice their own well-being for that of others end up in dire straits.” As in, I got mine, because if I don’t, I won’t, and you’ll have gotten in my way.

I recognize that this is pretty much human nature … caveman logic. Survival, and all that. … Have we not gotten a little ways past that, having scraped together the trappings of civilization and all?

Beyond the fact that this paragraph could be seen as a veiled jab at welfare recipients and other people that are labeled in some corners as “takers” … Mitt Romney’s forty-seven percent, you might say … I wonder if that commenter had ever heard of the Golden Rule.

Also, consider this: in her analysis of the study, psychologist Borba said, “The science reveals the irony of the situation: happier and more successful kids care about others, they are able to relate, be concerned, and respect differences, and a lack of empathy makes kids less successful, and less happy.”

Makes one wonder how happy of a person that commenter might be.

It also makes me wonder what all this may suggest about the sources of the following quotes from the news recently? … people who don’t appear to give a wet slap about the actual people at whom they’re aiming their words:

[] An offering from the columnist George Will. Will’s career has been marked by utilization of SAT words seemingly just to prove he’s an above-average writer – to set himself apart from the monosyllabic, grunting world of the New York Post and Page Three or whatever. In this case, those words may attempt to deflect your average reader from noticing (at least right away) a breathtaking lack of empathy:

Colleges and universities … are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.

Cutting to the chase: is this an implication that rape victims somehow enjoy a privileged status that future victims might aspire to? Have I got that wrong? Didn’t Todd Aiken’s “legitimate rape” comments last year clearly mark that particular tract of land so that other people wouldn’t blunder onto it? Tiny question: Mr. Will, have you, or any member of your extended family, or any of your close friends, ever been sexually assaulted? Do you, therefore, have any faint clue what you’re talking about? Is it any wonder that rape victims hesitate to report the crime, if they’re going to be met with responses remotely like yours?

(The St. Louis Dispatch decided to dispatch Mr. Will as a regular op-ed contributor following that column. Would that more newspapers had done so.)

[] After the mass-murder committed in Santa Barbara last month by Elliot Rodger, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (better known as “Joe the Plumber”) addressed the parents of the college kids who were killed:

I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: [a]s harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional [Second Amendment, gun-ownership] rights.

Uh, yeah; harsh begins to cover it, I suppose.  I wonder, would Mr. Plumber have the grit to say that to Richard Martinez’s face?

Throughout his open letter, which is far longer than that opening paragraph, Wurzelbacher reveals that as much as he would like to have you believe he cares about you, he cares far more about himself.

[] After the Santa Barbara shootings, there was this Tweet (which I won’t embed here, but merely quote, because the man doesn’t deserve the click-throughs to his Twitter feed):

No idea how my son will die, but I know it won’t be cowering like a bitch at UC Santa Barbara. Any son of mine would have been shooting back.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the former General Counsel and Executive Director of the South Carolina Republican Party, Todd Kincannon. I wonder if his Tweet would have been different if he had ever found himself staring down the business end of a loaded weapon held by an unhinged person, or in fact any person at all. I never have, so I can’t say for sure what I’d tweet. But his thought just seemed pretty heartless to me.

Now, for contrast:

[] Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said something just in the last few days, about the rapidly-deteriorating situation in Iraq, and what the American military might or might not be preparing to do about it, that struck me as particularly empathetic. Or maybe it just seemed so by contrast to almost everything else I’ve heard lately:

You have to ask yourself, are you willing to send your son, am I willing to send my son to retake back a city, Mosul, that they [the residents of Mosul] weren’t willing to defend themselves? I’m not willing to send my son into that mess.

I had to go back and listen to the video clip containing these words all over again … just to make sure I’d heard him correctly. Writer Charlie Pierce has posited a Ron/Rand Paul Five-Minute Rule, which is, anything they say may well strike you as sensible, but at the five-minute mark of their speech they say something completely off-the-charts absurd. Also, in general, a politician will start to make a statement and I’m reminded of the old joke, “how do you know a politician is lying? You can see his lips move.” Sadly, my immediate assumption is that I’m about to listen to something appalling, corrupt, or otherwise miserable.

It’s one thing to say incendiary things because you feel there’s injustice being done and such comments seem the only way to speak truth to power, as it were. It’s another thing to say inflammatory things just to get attention, to satisfy your own id, to get your name upon people’s lips.

Further, an awful lot of people now feel free to say insensitive things about actual human beings, in order to bolster a political position (and for no other good earthly reason), and trust that they won’t get called on it. When there are this many insensitive louts out there, each individual one begins to be less obvious.

But some of our public discourse now seems genuinely cruel, if less and less unusual.

I don’t honestly know what to do about it, aside from [1] calling it out when it happens, and [2] endeavoring to treat people decently, in person and in print, myself.

Again, it’s a start.

June 26, 2014 Posted by | current events, education, language, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grow Up

So of COURSE I’m going to react badly to an online article about a high school marching band being abused.

This is news?

The reacting-badly part, I mean.

Now is the time for all good marchers to come to the aid of their fellow musicians, blah, blah, blah.” Solidarity forever. Band nerds & geeks unite, and all that.

In addition, let’s be honest, this would not be the first time that a marching band – y’know, the folks who wear chickens on their heads and attempt to play instruments and wave flags and things … while on the move … in searing August heat and bone-chilling November frostiness? Not the first time a band has taken shots, good-natured or otherwise, from somebody somewhere.

Heck, I was in a band that had things thrown at it (and I wasn’t even a tuba player – they carry natural targets for projectiles, complete with built-in backboards). And I directed a band that had to worry about being target practice for our own team’s punter, who liked to warm up for the second half during the band’s halftime show – although that little practice stopped after I had a heated word or two with the athletic director.

Believe me … I know the drill.

This instance seems a little different to me.


The article was written by members of a high school student newspaper, and it might strike you as probably a shred lengthy, even if you’re one of those folks likely to agree with its sentiments. But that’s okay: I think young editorial writers can be forgiven a little youthful exuberance. They’re young. We were all young people, and as such, we all struggled with the balance between adrenalin and good sense. With time comes a certain amount of temperance. Hopefully.

(An aside: in this case, the two editorial writers were in fact members of the embattled high school band – so one could also consider that they may have been a smidge too close to the events for complete journalistic objectivity. Still, it is an opinion piece.)

The longer one continues on in life, though, the more opportunities one finds to develop the ability to temper passion with a sense of proportion and priorities. And here is where the problems began, at the high school represented and reported upon by that newspaper.

If you scan the linked article, you will notice immediately that a high school band in Annandale, Virginia reportedly suffered a completely wretched experience last week, at their last home football game appearance, at the hands of its own school’s alleged fans. The band took the field at halftime; and for a number of people, that was just too much to bear.

During halftime of this home game, at least one football player’s parent shouted “Get the damn band off the field!” … Language, please!

The football coaching staff and some players also shouted at the band director, with similar sentiments – with still more than four minutes left in the allotted halftime. Fans in the stands – presumably fans of the football team and not so much of anyone else there present – reportedly escalated their verbal assault on the band at that point.

After the game, in response to questions about why the band was being pressured to leave the field before its performance was complete, the high school’s principal and its director of student activities explained that the football team would have received an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty if the band had remained on the field. Seems worthwhile to be avoiding that sort of thing. Your New England Chevy Dealers’ Keys To The Game: [1] avoid stupid penalties.

(The editorial writers suppose that for a team that was trailing by more than forty points at halftime, a 15-yard penalty assessed on the opening second-half kickoff might have been, um, the least of that team’s worries. However, I choose to let that slide for the moment. Stranger things than a forty-two-point football comeback have happened before.)


Here’s the moment in this story, though – at least as reported by the Annandale school newspaper’s editorial writers – that really got my attention.

[Annandale head football coach Michael] Scott resorted to his own measures by shaking the podium of junior Assistant Drum Major Douglas Nguyen, and then yelling at the other Assistant Drum Major, senior Noah Wolfenstein, to stop conducting and get off the field.”

Grabbing one of the conductors’ podiums and shaking it?

The equivalent action – the high school band director running onto the field and grabbing the sleeve of the quarterback just as he’s calling a play – would draw a pretty impassioned response, don’t you think? Certainly at least a 15-yard penalty … preceded by a gang-tackle of Biblical proportions … and probably followed by a hearing of some kind the next Monday morning.

Sorry, again, let me see if I got that right. Trying to shake some drum major off his podium?

Okay. Deep breath. Let’s take a step backwards, just for the sake of wide-angle context:

Never mind the parents in the stands; you can’t really legislate away their opportunity to say foolish things. The First Amendment, and that sort of thing. We’ve all read stories about out-of-control sports parents.

Never mind the football players; they’re either caught up in the moment, or, as was reported in the article, some of them may have been a bit embarrassed by the whole incident.

But do pay attention to this: a little research reveals that the football coach is a member of the high school’s faculty.

Hopefully, at some point in his teacher training, this person was made to understand (or maybe not) that a teacher is always on stage? … that a teacher is always in a position to set an example? And at some point, it was made clear to him (or perhaps not) that grown adults, whether they’re in front of children or not, ought to be able to express their frustrations in grown-adult ways?


Open letter to the coach: sir, you are allegedly a leader of student athletes. You are allegedly a role model for them. You are allegedly a member of an organization whose mission is to educate students and to prepare them for the world of the 21st century (whatever the current educational buzzword-generating organizations deem that world to be), and for life as grownups.

And you’re grabbing a band conductor podium and shaking it, to get a band to stop playing, for the reason that … what? You want to avoid a penalty? Or that it’s your team’s field really? Or that your team is getting stomped, so you don’t see why anyone else should have a good time? Or that your team has gotten its collective self beaten every time they’ve taken the field this year but once, and it’s getting on your nerves?  Or that sports naturally trumps music, in all instances?

O… -kay. What’s done is done.


But, friends: it may well be that this high school football team is being coached by a child.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | arts, band, current events, education, football, journalism, marching band, music, news, sports, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment