Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Send A Message

[Ed. Note: I published this on my Facebook page tonight. I’ve heard too many cable-TV-news pundits gleefully point to polls which suggest that only a small percentage of young Americans will actually vote in the midterm elections tomorrow. I’d like to hope – after Parkland, after Kavanaugh, after children in cages, after a host of awful current events that seemed to awaken a great many American high-school and college students, over the last two years – that there are indeed a great wave of new voters who will end-run the corporate media’s bleatings and the various pollsters that only contact landline-based Americans, and give American representative government a well-deserved kick in the rear. May it be so.

[So here’s that Facebook piece, which I wrote while thinking of all the fine folks who have been students at the public schools and colleges and drum major clinics where I’ve taught, all of whom I’ve been able to watch, via social media, turn into people whom I’d trust to run this country.]


All right, my fine FB younger friends — a legion of wonderful people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a music classroom, or a rehearsal stage, or a high school or college football field, or a DMA parking lot: pull up a chair while I do my Wise Old Sage Of The Desert act.

I beg you. I mean it: I beg you — prove the pundits wrong tomorrow. There are people who go on the TV and pontificate because they’re paid to convince you that they know something about the world, who say that only a handful of young voters will actually engage in the political process. MAKE THEM EAT THEIR WORDS.

Forgive me, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that tomorrow’s election — at the all levels, federal, state and local — boils down to a very simple idea:

Empathy vs. selfishness.

Regarding virtually every important issue facing our country right now — climate change, health care, gun violence, public education, women’s health and rights, rights of people of color, LGBTQ and transgender rights, freedom of (or from) religion, immigration (CHILDREN ARE STILL IN CAGES), the Supreme Court, simple human decency, and oh by the way Congressional oversight of this corrupt bunch of pirates masquerading as an executive branch …

… the current Congressional majority and many Republican-held state legislatures have consistently and repeatedly demonstrated BY THEIR ACTIONS an utter lack of human decency and empathy.

So vote them out tomorrow (if you haven’t early-voted already). Vote in such overwhelming numbers that Russian meddlers won’t matter, that voter-suppression schemes won’t matter, that the corporate media’s obsession with pretending that “both sides are equally horrible” … JUST WON’T MATTER.

And at this moment in history, I’m sorry, but it’s more important to vote within the context of the political system as it is, rather than as we wish it were. Which means, I’m sorry again, that independent candidates can’t help us in this election. Down the road, perhaps; but not tomorrow.

Mark Twain once said, not without cause, “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

BUT … this time around, Democratic Party majorities in the US House and Senate are the only way to throw the brakes on this miserable Republican-Party-led executive branch (yeah, That Guy). The current Republican Party majorities in the House and Senate have, through their actions, proven themselves willfully incompetent at governmental oversight, and indeed at representative government at all.

So go to the polls. Stand in the lines when you have to. Send a message … to our elected officials, and to the rest of the world (most of which has quite honestly been watching us for the last two years with horror) — that we’re not going to just sit here and take it. That we’re not going to let selfishness win out over empathy.

If you ask me: vote blue. Vote Democratic. But in any case: vote.

My young friends, all of whom I’ve held in very high regard whenever I’ve had the privilege of enjoying your company … this is your golden opportunity, TOMORROW: to take this country back from the (mostly) rich old white guys who have used their control of the government to gather all the riches to themselves, right now — AND to work diligently to make life harder for everybody but themselves, both now and into the future.

Make the Women’s March and the Science March and the March For Our Lives and the Families Belong Together March seem like mere whispering tiny preludes.


November 5, 2018 Posted by | civil rights, current events, Facebook, government, news, politics, social media, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On This, All Depends

What’s tomorrow mean?

It means we have to vote.

We have to encourage everyone around us to vote.

Doesn’t matter whether they’re passionate or not.

Doesn’t matter whether they’re holding their noses.

It means we have to get people out to vote, because the more people vote, the better life is.

It means we have to make sure that the Short-Fingered Vulgarian doesn’t get elected.

It means we have to vote properly in the down-ticket elections — for the US Congress, for state legislatures, for state governors, for local dog-catcher.

But it means we have to vote properly for President, because SUPREME COURT.

There’s already one open seat in the row of nine Supreme Court justice chairs. And there will likely be one, two, or possibly three more.

It means we have to vote for a President who will have a remote prayer of appointing one or more justices who will rule in cases on the side of the common guy and not on the side of the corporations.

(As regards the down-ticket races … it means we have to vote properly so as to turn the US Senate blue so the President has a faint prayer of confirming any Justices.)

It means we have to ensure that the Court will vote to overturn Citizens United, which is only a first step toward getting dark money out of politics, but ya gotta start somewhere.

It means that once Citizens United is overturned, billionaires and corporations (who don’t even “live” in the US) will have less opportunity to affect elections, which will mean less influence on one particular issue: education; specifically public education.

It means that once billionaires and corporations don’t have such a chokehold on elections and on influencing education policy, we can get to work rebuilding education (and the morale of educators).

It means that once education is influenced chiefly by people who have experience in it and genuine care for it, we’ll begin to rebuild an educated population.

Because the uneducated (and economically unable-to-commit-time-to-learning-about-important-issues-through-no-fault-of-their-own) population currently is not equipped to cast educated votes.

It means that once Citizens United is overturned, we have a prayer of loosening the death grip with which the National Rifle Association currently holds so many of our elected officials, which will mean less influence on one particular issue: gun control … so that gun control legislation has a prayer of passing.

It means that perhaps we may be able to finally apply ourselves to the horror of military-grade weapons in the hands of any civilian anywhere for any or no very damn good reason.

So it means that this is a Cliffs Notes, quick-hit, flash-learning educational opportunity.

It’s an opportunity for me to suggest to you that if you [a] can’t conceive of voting for the Orange-Hair Jackwagon; or [b] wish you could have voted for Sen. Sanders but can’t and are really disappointed and are just not sure about Secretary Clinton; or [c] are thrilled to vote for Secretary Clinton,…

…it is vitally important that you vote for Secretary Clinton.

I cannot afford to sugarcoat this. And I cannot word this strongly enough.

Be it resolved: that a vote for Secretary Clinton is (but is not exclusively) a vote against the Vulgar Talking Yam, and that’s good for the health of the Republic and likely the survival of the three branches of government, not to mention our country’s reputation around the world.

Be it resolved: that a vote for Secretary Clinton is (but is not exclusively) a vote for the first female President in our history; and while that ought not be the only reason she gets a vote, that’s still good since it catches us up to a number of other major countries (England, Germany, India, …) … finally.

Be it resolved: that a vote for Secretary Clinton is (but is not exclusively) a vote for someone whose stated policies have been pushed rather distinctly toward the left by her strongest competitor, which honors him and bodes well (or better) for little things like civil rights and such.

What’s all this mean?

It means that voting for Secretary Clinton may work out to be one last opportunity to remain a viable democratic republic.

That is not remotely close to hyperbole.

Vote. Vote vote vote.

Vote IN the best person to responsibly lead this country in this or any time. Vote OUT the people who offer “thoughts and prayers” but no constructive solutions. In fact vote OUT the people who joined government for the expressed purpose of de-funding, dismantling, and de-legitimizing government.

On this, all depends.”

Heaven help us, either way.

November 7, 2016 Posted by | civil rights, current events, education, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Drones or Questioning Citizens?

Below is a column, posted online last week, by a blogger who calls himself “The Rude Pundit”. He commonly visits spicy nooks and crannies of the English language which I tend not to visit, myself. So while I would like to quote the piece verbatim here, it includes strong language that I generally avoid in this space, and in my personal and professional life. So I shall quote it after applying a gentle editing pen to it – at the risk of overly watering down what probably a more effective rant when it does include the F-bombs and such. I’m not sure whether I’d want my own stuff edited for content by someone else, so this may be presumptuous of me. Literary and artistic integrity is important. If you want to read the column in the Original Vernacular, and I recommend it (people who know me will be startled to discover that I can approve of the occasional appropriately-flung profanity), do wander over and scroll downward and find it and read it, as well as almost anything else he writes. His blog is basically a series of aggrieved rants that mostly feature a lot of common sense.

The Rude Pundit’s main thrust here is the subject of standardized testing at the college level. I’m a teacher who has experienced the exquisite joy of standardized testing in public secondary education. In Massachusetts, No Child Left Behind and our own state version of education reform has yielded MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment something-or-other, in which our students get to kill three or four weeks of valuable educational time taking pencil-and-paper tests that will, by the 11th grade, serve as the sole arbiters of “…well? Can s/he graduate or not?” By extension, that will determine how well the schools are doing, which is to say, how well the teachers are doing, so the sword of Damocles hangs over everyone’s head – including (to an extent) administrators, whose jobs occasionally are on the line according to test results, and who pass that stress on to the teaching faculty. The MCAS subjects don’t include music, so at the moment I’m not directly in the crosshairs of the testing push – I have on occasion half-joked that if ever there’s a music MCAS, I’m going into insurance. (If there’s ever a music MCAS, let’s face it, I’ll know I’ve fallen into an alternate universe.)

Another subject of the Pundit’s ire is the array of assessment organizations that swoop in and regularly coerce school administration officials into providing Tasks for its faculty (in addition to, you know, teaching), which usually involve extra time spent on committees and department task forces. Those Tasks include rewriting or re-organizing or re-formatting or just plain re-copying their curriculum materials, and to create exciting new “goals”, and other items that often feel like busy-work. I’ve been mixed up in this process more than once in my teaching career. At those times, I have taken deep breaths, squared my shoulders, and half-convinced myself that it was worthwhile to codify my lesson plans, techniques and tactics. Next to no one, even the administrators who have pointed us toward these tasks, has ever looked to me like they really enjoyed using their time to accomplish these things. But someone, somewhere, out there in the shadowy world of education policymaking, has declared that it has been a Good Idea, so as to Prepare Our Students for the Twenty-First Century and get them Ready to be part of the Workforce.

(As a teacher of the fine arts, I’m usually a little disappointed that we’re not nearly so concerned about Preparing Our Students to have a clue about things like culture and other things that make humans more than just future Twenty-First Century Economic Engine Parts. If they don’t recognize the names Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong, or Mort Sahl, then we got ourselves a problem. But that’s a subject for another time, and another hijacked column.)

So here’s the column, which makes a number of suppositions about the genesis of these Assessments and Tasks that make a certain amount of sense to me [particularly the end of the absurdly long paragraph in the middle of the column]. Although I do post this with apologies to my friends who attended Ivy League schools … whom I know do not fall into the slightly whitewashed category into which the Rude Pundit sees fit to place them all [remember also, one of my favorite phrases, which I may have made up: “People Who Generalize Suck”] …

See what you think.


David Brooks Understands [Everything] About Colleges

The Rude Pundit doesn’t spend a lot of time writing about his profession because, frankly, he just doesn’t think a lot of what we do is very interesting to most everyone everywhere. But New York Times writer David Brooks decided to s*** where the Rude Pundit sleeps, and, between that and an enraging sliming in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago [a column by a former university chancellor called ‘Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?’], a response is more than justified.

“Today, in his ‘column’ (if by ‘column,’ you mean, ‘the pathetic pleadings of an elitist prig begging to demonstrate his regular dude street cred’), Brooks cites a few studies and books that say that students simply aren’t learning very much in their college experience in the last couple of decades. You can tell where he’s coming from by this line: ‘At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.’

“Let’s unpack that for just a moment: he’s obviously talking about rich students at elite institutions, where ‘parents’ can obviously afford $40,000 a year. Because that ain’t about kids who have to pile up student loans and get government assistance. And it ain’t about the vast majority of schools in the nation which cost far, far less. Oh, and one thing. Let’s not be naive. Of course, those parents are buying a fancy car-window sticker. And the schools know that. Grade inflation has been a far greater problem at Ivy League institutions than elsewhere. Why? Because Harvard and Columbia and Yale need to keep those cash teats good and ready for suckling.

“’One part of the solution is found in three little words,’ Brooks says, and if you know anything about a conservative approach to education, you know what he’s gonna say. ‘Value-added assessments. Colleges have to test more to find out how they’re doing.’ Yes, yes, yes, let’s test more because it’s done so very much to improve public schools in America.

“Let’s get this straight, David Brooks and every other stupid [person] on the right who wants to solve the ‘problem’ of college education (or any education) in America, and this comes from someone who has been at this job for over twenty [expletive deleted] years: You [screwed] it up. Back in the 1980s, you got [scared] when multiculturalism and ethnic/gender/queer/whatever studies began to take hold in academia. You published idiot books that said that what educators wanted to do about education was wrong and that people outside of academia should actually be involved in setting standards. And then you went further. Colleges, you decided, needed to be run like businesses, blaming colleges for the ever-rising tuition rates when, in reality, the problem was worthless tax cuts, going back to Sainted Reagan, that did [nothing] to help the economy but forced states to gut funding to universities, but, no, no, it really was that schools needed to be run efficiently, like businesses, and if a college is now a business, with the bottom line being the only line, and not a place where people get, you know, educated, then you have a [expletive deleted] responsibility to your customers, in this case, the students, to make them happy with the business where they are spending their money. The Rude Pundit’s own institution is now in the midst of ‘streamlining’ the general education requirements so that students can graduate more easily. It’s under the guise of ‘making transfer easier’ or some such [nonsense], but it’s really about getting the kids through to get more money. And let’s not even get into the evisceration of public education at the primary and secondary levels so that the students that are coming to college are starting at a point where freshman composition is now ‘How you write a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation because your high school teachers were forced to transform their classrooms into test prep labs so that the place where they work won’t be shut down.’ And let’s not get into the over-reliance on criminally overworked and underpaid adjunct faculty to teach the vast majority of college classes, people who often work at several institutions in order to cobble together a liveable wage. And let’s not even get into an economy that has transformed technologically and socially without any concomitant investment in those things that might actually allow people to be ready for the jobs that are out there. And let’s not get into the devaluing of a broad, liberal arts education that creates thinkers and doesn’t just train people to work. [Expletive deleted], what’s better to those in power? Good drones or questioning citizens?

“And you know who caused all these [expletive deleted] problems? The [people] who went to the $160,000 schools who figured out a way to scam and scare everyone into ‘value-added assessments’ as some kind of Holy Grail of education.

“Every couple of years, every department in the Rude Pundit’s college has to deal with some ‘assessment’ organization coming in and forcing them to justify everything they do. One of the last groups made the departments create rubrics of goals and lists of assessment tools to reach those goals. It was pencil-pushing, ego-soothing nonsense. It was overlaying a factory model onto the role of colleges. But you can be sure as [hell] that someone made money on the whole nonsensical exercise in futility.

“But, no, really, David Brooks, by all means, let’s waste another s***load of everyone’s time and money on more worthless testing. It’s far better than just letting professors do their [expletive deleted] jobs.”

April 27, 2012 Posted by | blogging, education, teachers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment