Tuesday, September 27, 2022


 To the People of the State of New York:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers,
October 27, 1787, Number One (p. 1). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, September 22, 2022


I decided to tell the school board about my treatment at the hands of teachers and school officials. I was nervous but I made my case. The response, to my shock, was a standing ovation. [Sahar Tartak is a freshman at Yale.]

Wall Street Journal

My High School’s ‘Antiracist’ Agitprop

Teachers tried to bully me into signing a $375 student government check for a group promoting critical race theory. I refused.

By Sahar Tartak
September15, 2022

I was educated in the school district ranked by Niche.com as America’s third-best. Immigrants from around the world come to Great Neck, N.Y., to raise their children. My best friend’s father was at the Tiananmen Square massacre. My classmates left behind their families in El Salvador. My mother escaped revolutionary Iran, and my grandfather escaped the Nazis. 

Lately, though, the area’s diverse and liberal-minded residents may have reason to think their local school officials aren’t as open-minded as they thought. In 2021 Great Neck North High School directed the student government to give $375 of student funds to a “racial equity” group to speak to the student body about “systemic racism.” I was the student government’s treasurer, and I felt we didn’t know enough about the organization and its mission to disburse the funds. So I refused to sign the check. 

In response, the teachers who advise the student government berated, bullied and insulted me at our next meeting, which took place over Zoom for my parents to overhear. They began by announcing that my social studies teacher would be present. Together, the three adults told me that the principal himself found my stance “appalling.” I had made them and the school “look bad,” they told me. One teacher said the situation gave her “hives.” 

When I suggested that students might not need or want a lecture on systemic racism, my social-studies teacher asked whether I’d also oppose a Holocaust survivor’s presentation. 

I objected to that comparison, but she cut me off: “If you’re not on board with systemic racism, I have trouble with that, girlfriend.”

When I didn’t back down, she made a bizarre accusation: “The fact that you think slavery is debatable . . .”

I logged off Zoom and started crying. My parents comforted me, and I decided I wasn’t going to sign that check.

That’s when I noticed how illiberal my liberal high school had become. I once expressed disagreement with the narrative of the “1619 Project,” and that same social-studies teacher snapped that I was opposed to hearing other perspectives. I had signed up for her class because it was described as “discussion-based,” but certain discussion seemed forbidden. 

Later, a friend showed me a lesson from his English class—a Google Slides presentation urging that students pledge to work “relentlessly” in the “lifelong process” of “antiracism.” According to these slides, America is a place where racism is “no better today than it was 200 years ago.” I disagreed but didn’t mind the debate. Yet this wasn’t about debate: Immigrant children were being told to “pledge” to defend a view many of them don’t hold.

I doubt students could have comfortably objected in class. The lesson pre-empted criticism by imputing to them “white fragility,” which means they “close off self-reflection,” “trivialize the reality of racism,” and “protect a limited worldview.” The adult presenting this accusatory material was a teacher who had the power to grade them and affect their prospects of getting into college.

When parents caught wind of this presentation, their group chats exploded: “I feel like I live under a rock.” “I did not realize the extent of this at all.” “If you too are troubled by this, join us at the upcoming school board meeting.”

I decided to tell the school board about my treatment at the hands of teachers and school officials. I was nervous but I made my case. The response, to my shock, was a standing ovation. I also received many expressions of support from fed-up parents, from teachers who silently abhorred their one-sided “professional development” courses, and from students who had been punished by administrators for questioning the orthodoxy of systemic racism. (One of those students had been sent to the principal’s office for refusing to sign an “antihate” pledge.) 

That experience prompted me and a few like-minded others to look into our school’s curriculums. What we found was an arsenal of lopsidedly race-obsessed lesson plans. One was about the American Psychological Association’s “Apology to People of Color” for its role in “Promoting, Perpetuating, and Failing to Challenge Racism.” Another was titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” My favorite: “A Critical Race Theory Approach to The Great Gatsby.”

The schools in our district had always followed the guidelines of New York state’s comprehensive social-studies curriculum, which included teaching about the pervasiveness and evils of slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, discrimination against Chinese immigrants and so on. What we discovered was something else—partisanship and race essentialism, mixed in with administrative intimidation and bullying that our officials refused to address.

District officials responded in the way school officials often do when criticized. They ignored us for as long as possible, then delayed taking action for as long as possible, clearly hoping everybody would forget the controversy and move on. They didn’t respond to my father’s freedom-of-information request until the day before a contentious school-board election. The board then promised to further investigate the curriculums, but we never heard anything after that. My school brought in a member of the state Education Department’s Board of Regents, to discuss curriculums, but that resulted in nothing. 

I graduated last spring, but no one has moved on. Students and parents across the country are finally asking tough questions about anti-American curriculums. Immigrants like my mother and grandfather found refuge in America because for all its problems, it’s a wonderful place full of generous and open-minded people. The nation’s schools have a duty to teach students that basic truth. 

[Sahar Tartak was a Valedictorian, and is a freshman at Yale and a fellow at the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


     ....The morale of the staff had never been higher. Truman spoke of them proudly and affectionately as his “team.” They were devoted to him, and increasingly as time went on, the better they knew him, quite as much as those who had served with him in the Army. They liked him as a man, greatly respected him as a leader, admiring his courage, decisiveness, and fundamental honesty. The President they worked for, the Harry Truman they saw day to day, bore almost no resemblance to the stereotype Harry Truman, the cocky, profane, “feisty little guy.” Rather it was a quiet-spoken, even-tempered and uncommonly kind-hearted person, whose respect for the office he held enlarged their appreciation not only of him but of their own responsibilities. “He was, as I’m sure you know, an extremely thoughtful , courteous, considerate man,” George Elsey would tell an interviewer years later. “He was a pleasure to work for . . . very kindly . . . never too busy to think about members of his staff. . . . He had a tremendous veneration and respect for the institution of the Presidency. He demanded at all times respect for the President of the United States. . . .” William J. Hopkins, an executive clerk who would serve nearly forty years in the White House , said later of Truman that no President in his experience had “set a comparable tone.” Truman, Hopkins emphasized, “liked people, he trusted people, and in turn he engendered a feeling of unqualified loyalty and devotion among his staff.” A measure of the Truman manner and outlook was the way he conducted his regular morning meeting with the staff, one of the most important events of their day, for the information and sense of direction provided, but also for its overall atmosphere.

    The staff numbered thirteen, two more than in Roosevelt’s time, and Truman was his own chief of staff. The meetings were informal, yet orderly and businesslike. Truman would open the door of his office on the dot of nine o’clock and one by one they would file in and take their seats. He was seated at his desk . . . the staff assembled in a semi-circle around his desk, and much of the day’s business was gone over [remembered Hopkins ]. He usually started with Matt Connelly, who would bring up matters relating to presidential appointments, what was on the agenda for the day and upcoming appointments. He would also bring to the President’s attention requests for speeches throughout the country, getting the President’s reactions and (in some cases) commitments. The President would then turn to Charlie Ross and see what problems might arise during the day in his relations with the press. Many matters were discussed in terms of how to answer press questions and deal with certain problems. Dr. Steelman, of course, was there, and Clark Clifford . . . and they brought up matters in their areas of responsibility. It was an opportunity to listen to the President’s philosophy and get his directions for the day.

    President Truman was a prodigious reader, and each night he would carry home a portfolio , often six or eight inches thick. The next morning, he would have gone through all that material and taken such action as was needed. He had a desk folder labeled for each of his staff members, and at this staff meeting, he would pass out to them documents in their area of responsibility, or on which he wished their advice or recommendations, or on matters he wanted raised with the various departments and agencies. In this way each staff member knew basically what the others were doing, knew to whom the President had given which responsibility—whether it was to respond to a certain request, or to follow through on the preparation of an Executive Order or a speech, or things of that nature. Truman was as tidy about his desk as he was about his clothes. The “flow of paper was probably the best I have experienced,” remembered Hopkins, whose job, as executive clerk, was to bring to the President and keep track of the immense range of documents requiring his attention or signature— enrolled bills, executive orders, proclamations, executive clemency cases, treaties , departmental directives, nominations for federal office, commissions, messages to Congress—in addition to “gleanings” from the incoming mail, which were routinely delivered to Truman’s desk twice a day, in the morning and again after lunch.

    Hopkins, who was himself extremely punctual, also noted admiringly of Truman, “When he went to lunch, if he left word that he would return at 2: 00 P.M., he was back without fail, not at 2: 05, not at 1: 15, but at 2: 00 P.M.” The longer he was in office, the more conscious Truman seemed of time. On his desk now he had a total of four clocks, as well as two others elsewhere in the room and his own wristwatch. Ross, Clifford, Elsey, could each tell his own stories of Truman’s exceptional diligence, the long hours he kept, working as hard or harder than any of them. “Lots of times I would be down there [at the White House] in the evening,” Clifford would remember, “and he’d be sitting upstairs, in the Oval Room upstairs, with an old-fashioned green eye shade on, like bookkeepers wear, and he’d be sitting there reading all this material . . . and we would talk together, and he took it very, very seriously. And the strain of the job was enormous.” “He spent virtually every waking moment working at being president,” said Charles Murphy, a new man on the staff in 1947, who was Clifford’s assistant. To convey the kind of sustained effort the presidency demanded, Murphy would compare it to cramming for and taking an examination every day, year after year, with never a letup. Murphy particularly admired Truman’s gift for simplification. “Not only could he simplify complex matters, he could also keep simple matters simple.”

    The staff was continuously amazed by the President’s knowledge of the country, acquired from years of travel by automobile and from the territory covered at the time of the Truman Committee investigations. Charlie Ross claimed that Truman could look out of his plane at almost any point and name the exact region he was flying over. They liked his sense of humor. “An economist,” he told them , “is a man who wears a watch chain with a Phi Beta Kappa key at one end and no watch at the other.” And all of them, it seems, admired his sense of history, which they saw as one of his greatest strengths. “If a man is acquainted with what other people have experienced at this desk,” Truman would say sitting in the Oval Office, “it will be easier for him to go through a similar experience. It is ignorance that causes most mistakes. The man who sits here ought to know his American history, at least.” When Truman talked of presidents past—Jackson, Polk, Lincoln—it was as if he had known them personally. If ever there was a “clean break from all that had gone before,” he would say, the result would be chaos. Once, that spring, at lunch on the Williamsburg, during a brief cruise down the Potomac, Truman and Bill Hassett, the correspondence secretary, began talking about the Civil War. As the others at the table listened, the conversation ranged over several battles and the abilities and flaws of various Union and Confederate generals, Truman, as often before, impressing everyone with how much he had read and remembered. He would like to have been a history teacher, Truman said. “Rather teach it than make it?” Clifford asked. “Yes, I think so,” Truman replied. “It would be not nearly so much trouble.”

    Clifford had become particularly important to Truman, in much the way Harry Hopkins had been to Roosevelt, and it was vital, they both knew, that Clifford understand Truman and what he was trying to accomplish in the long run. He did not want an administration like Roosevelt’s, Truman said. Too many of those around Roosevelt had been “crackpots,” he thought. “I want to keep my feet on the ground, don’t feel comfortable unless I know where I’m going. I don’t want any experiments. The American people have been through a lot of experiments and they want a rest from experiments.” He disliked the terms “progressive” and “liberal.” What he wanted was a “forward-looking program.” That was it, a “forward-looking program.” Perhaps more than Truman knew, they all appreciated the respect he showed them....

Charles Murphy, a shy man who spoke only when spoken to, would later remark, “In many ways President Truman really was as tough as a boot, but with his personal staff he was extremely gentle . . . and his staff returned his kindness with an extraordinary amount of hard work, voluntary overtime, and wholehearted, single-minded devotion.” By later presidential standards the staff was small and unlike the White House staffs of some later presidencies, those serving Truman made no policy decisions. As George Elsey would remember, no one on Truman’s staff would have dreamed of making policy or making decisions on fundamental economic or political issues, “or any other kind of issue.” It just has to be said over and over again [Elsey would comment in an interview years later]. There was no vast foreign policy machinery at the White House. There was no vast machinery on any subject at the White House. . . . [And no one trying to] make their reputations by undercutting . . . by slitting the throat of a Secretary of State . . . by proving to the President, by trying to prove to the President, that they’re smarter and more brilliant and their ideas are better [than the Secretary of State] . . . . None of that existed. Had anybody at the White House tried to behave that way, he would have been out of there in thirty seconds flat. The loyalty of those around Truman was total and would never falter. In years to come not one member of the Truman White House would ever speak or write scathingly of him or belittle him in any fashion. There would be no vindictive “inside” books or articles written about this President by those who worked closest to him. They all thought the world of Harry Truman then and for the rest of their lives, and would welcome the chance to say so.

McCullough, David (2003-08-20). Truman
(Kindle Locations 10773-10850). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, September 15, 2022


The new Fourth Sea Lord was an officer of singular firmness of character. He possessed a unique experience of naval war. Since Nelson himself, no British naval officer had been so long at sea in time of war on a ship of war without setting foot on land. 

Captain Pakenham had been fourteen months afloat in the battleship Asahi during the war between Russia and Japan. Although this vessel was frequently in harbour, he would not leave it for fear she might sail without him; and there alone, the sole European in a great ship’s company of valiant, reticent, inscrutable Japanese, he had gone through the long vigil outside Port Arthur, with its repeated episodes of minefields and bombardments, till the final battle in the Sea of Japan. Always faultlessly attired, he matched the Japanese with a punctilio and reserve the equal of their own, and finally captivated their martial spirit and won their unstinted and outspoken admiration. Admiral Togo has related how the English officer, as the Asahi was going into action at the last great battle, when the heavy shells had already begun to strike the ship, remained impassive alone on the open after-bridge making his notes and taking his observations of the developing action for the reports which he was to send to his Government; and acclaiming him, with Japanese chivalry, recommended him to the Emperor for the highest honour this war-like and knightly people could bestow. 

The unique sea-going record in time of war on a ship of war which Captain Pakenham brought to the Admiralty has been maintained by him to this day, and to fourteen months of sea-going service with the Japanese Fleet, he may now add fifty-two months constant service with the Battle-Cruisers, during which time it is credibly reported that he never on any occasion at sea lay down to rest otherwise than fully dressed, collared and booted, ready at any moment of the night or day.

Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill's World Crisis Collection) (Kindle Locations 1376-1390). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


There was a great Marxist called Lenin,
Who did two or three million men in;
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
The grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

        Robert Conquest


Here is the second sentence of Robert Conquest’s The
Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivism and the Terror-Famine

    “We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present
    case by saying that in the actions here recorded about
    twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but
    every letter, in this book.”

That sentence represents 3,040 lives. The book is 411
pages long.

        Koba the Dread, by Martin Amis
        New York: Vintage, 2002, 3

Wednesday, September 7, 2022



‘Presentism’ May Be Stoking Doubts About Schools’ Ability to Teach History:
Jumping straight to judgment on historical figures can spur backlash--and it’s not good history.

Natalie Wexler

Americans are losing faith in the ability of public schools to teach controversial issues. One factor could be the way colleges train prospective teachers to approach history.

Only 28% of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in public schools, according to a recent Gallup poll. When it comes to Republicans, almost half have very little or no confidence. Other polls have found similar doubts and similar polarization.

Survey respondents are particularly dubious about schools’ ability to handle topics relating to race. One poll found that only 55% of parents and 44% of adults in general had faith in their community’s teachers to “appropriately handle” the topic of “how the history of racism affects America today.”

There’s more comfort with teaching about racism in the context of history, but laws enacted in many conservative states have made teachers wary of broaching historical content. According to PEN America, at least 18 states have restricted teaching on race and other controversial topics, and proposals for such laws have increased 250% this year as compared to 2021. Proponents of the laws say they want to allow for education, even about controversial issues, but prevent indoctrination. The problem is that what looks like education to one person can look like indoctrination to another.

What to do? Some, like North Carolina Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, propose a seemingly simple solution: just stick to the basics. In a new memoir, Robinson is reported to advocate eliminating history and science from the elementary curriculum and focusing instead on reading, writing, and math.
The problem there is that it’s impossible to teach reading and writing—beyond deciphering words and forming letters of the alphabet—without also teaching content. If students acquire little or no knowledge of the world in elementary school, they won’t be able to understand what they’re expected to read at upper grade levels, or write about it. We have ample proof of that: for many students, it’s the current situation.

Secondary social studies teachers do at least try to teach history, although only about 40% have majored in the subject. For those who have taken college-level history courses, their approach is likely to be strongly influenced by their professors.

A recent flap among academic historians has shed some light on what that influence might be. The president of the American Historical Association, James Sweet, recently penned a column criticizing the decades-old “tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present,” an approach known as “presentism.” That orientation, he argued, “often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times … neutralizing the expertise that separates historians from those in other disciplines.”

The column prompted outrage on Twitter and elsewhere, followed by an abject apology from Sweet. His critics had several objections, but a fundamental one was that history is inherently political. Historians inevitably select certain facts to include in their narrative, they argue, and traditional history—done by white male historians like Sweet—has favored white males while marginalizing other groups.
One historian also rejected what he saw as Sweet’s opposition to passing judgment on historical figures. “If objectivity means that I treat evil ideas the same as I treat just ones, I have no time for it,” he wrote.

While these critiques make some valid points, I’d say they misunderstand Sweet’s basic argument. And to the extent that his critics’ perspectives are reflected in K-12 teaching, they may be contributing to backlash from conservatives.

I don’t have reliable data on how history is actually being taught in this country—no one does—but I was struck by a comment from an eighth-grade history teacher that was reported in Ed Week some months ago. Teachers weren’t trying to make white male students feel guilty about the past, she said, but she needed to teach “that the laws and systems of our country were purposefully developed to elevate white, cis males.” She added, “That is the truth.”

Actually, it’s not. As someone who spent a decade as a professional historian studying the United States in the late 18th century, I can say with some confidence that the men who drafted the Constitution were not “purposefully” trying to advantage people like themselves. That was part of what resulted from their actions, to be sure, but they saw themselves as expanding human rights, not restricting them. And they were right about that, even if they didn’t expand them as much as we think they should have.

At some point it’s appropriate to bring in the complexity and politics of history, but kids who don’t know the basics—which describes many if not most K-12 students—first need to understand the fundamental reasons we study certain events and individuals. Like: The founders of this country fought for independence from Great Britain, a monarchy, and set up a democratic republic. Once students have the essential story straight, they can be introduced to additional relevant information. Like: The signers of the Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal, but most of them enslaved people.

Then students should be guided to analyze what the individuals involved in a historic event were thinking. (I’m borrowing here from the Four Question Method, a brilliant framework for approaching any historical topic. I serve on the organization’s board of advisors.) This was Sweet’s point, and it’s a vital one. Putting yourself in the shoes of others is important not only for understanding the past but also for coping with disagreements in the present. You may well not end up agreeing with those others, but it makes it harder to demonize or simply dismiss them.
Some have scoffed, for instance, at the suggestion that students should learn “both sides” of the Holocaust. The formulation is clumsy, but if it means understanding the reasons Germans embraced Nazism, it’s a crucial inquiry that could help prevent the rise of such movements in the future.

It’s perfectly appropriate for students to pass judgment on the actions of individuals in the past and to ask what the standard narrative has left out, as Sweet’s critics advocate. But they can do those things intelligently only after they understand what happened, based on generally agreed-upon facts, and what it looked and felt like to those involved. And in most cases, teachers should enable students to consider multiple perspectives and decide for themselves which one to embrace rather than presenting a single one as “the truth.” (Obviously, there are some exceptions—like the Holocaust.)

Perhaps many teachers are already approaching history this way—and it can and should be done at all grade levels. One promising development is the rise of elementary curricula that cover historical topics in engaging and age-appropriate ways, equipping kids to delve into them more deeply at higher grade levels. But educators who, with the best of intentions, are guiding students straight to judgment on individuals and events in the past, using 21st-century standards, may be contributing to the public distrust that is making it so difficult to teach history at all.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Thursday, September 1, 2022



Two HS Seniors:
22 August 2022

East Coast:

        …Even though I am very grateful for the boarding high school education I received, I have to admit that there are some problems with the teaching of English at [Prep School]. The most serious of these is the development of so-called “scar literature.” At our school, there was an unwritten rule: if your essay was about a flaw/regret/tragedy in your life, you were more likely to get recognition. A narrative essay about experiencing social injustice might score half a letter grade more than an essay chronicling a meaningful outing with your parents—even if they’re on par in terms of writing skills. Teachers may legitimize the lower score by saying “the storyline is not exciting enough,” but that still doesn’t change the fact that there are story themes that have a natural advantage in inspiring empathy in readers—though the whole point about writing class is far from “who has the saddest story.” As a result, students spend all their writing assignments trying to traumatize their experiences, and little time improving their actual skills. And when it comes to college and narrative [personal] writing is no longer as important, many students are overwhelmed.

    Regarding what you pointed out correctly in your article, Mr. Fitzhugh, it is common in private high schools to also assign shorter academic papers. Although each of our history classes has only twelve students, having to correct three essays/papers per trimester per student can be quite challenging for teachers who teach multiple classes at the same time. As a result, teachers often choose the alternative of primary source analysis, requiring students to write a three-pager or less, using only the documents covered in class. Obviously, this is a far cry from a paper that meets the requirements of The Concord Review. Therefore, it was difficult for students to practice the ability to construct arguments in-length and to gather information independently from outside sources. In the last trimester of eleventh grade, the final project for the required U.S. History course is a twenty-page paper on the topic of a student’s choice—but the lack of proper writing training from English classes or history classes is a huge struggle for many of my peers. So even though private high schools like [Prep School] place more emphasis on academic papers than public high schools, there is indeed still a long way to go in terms of college preparation…

West Coast:

        …Secondly, although I am not an international student, in some ways our educational experiences mirror each other. I attended private school for primary school and public school for high school. I am familiar with the Chinese college entrance exam but do not have first-hand experience with it. However, I have lots of first-hand experience with the “scar literature” you mentioned in your letter. Personal narrative writing is emphasized in America, to the detriment of academic writing. Instead of classes focused on the college entrance exam as in China, English in American public high schools is focused on the college essay. Teachers encourage students to be more personal in their writing, emphasizing their “trauma,” their identity, or oppression (whether real or perceived). In one English class, we were given the assignment to write about “a time we felt oppressed as a result of a facet of our identity.” Predictably, students with identities and experiences that lent themselves to that type of narrative received high marks, while the admittedly, more privileged students’ grades suffered. As a result of this focus on personal narrative writing and the emphasis on trauma, public school students do not know how to write academically at all—I learned this first hand when I taught a course at my high school which emphasized academic writing…