Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Culture Change

Mary Bauer Smith
There were no kindergartens in the suburban town of Tewksbury, Massachusetts where I grew up. We went right into first grade when we were six. We rode a bus that picked up kids each morning and dropped them off in the afternoon. Usually there was a mother looking out the window as her child skipped from the bus to the house. I still remember those children and where they lived. One, Mary Bauer Smith, asked to be my “friend” on Facebook recently.
St. William's School

So, I “messaged” her: “Are you the Mary Bauer who lived on Whipple Road and went to St. William’s School?” Our parish opened St. William’s School when we were in second grade and our parents sent us both there.
“Yes,” she wrote back. “I wanted to tell you something. When we were at St. William's one Lent, one of the teachers asked what each of us were doing for Lent. You said that after school your family had crackers and peanut butter for a snack and that you were giving it up for Lent. You were so sweet and probably a little embarrassed to admit that. It moved me very much. Today, as I assembled my Ritz cracker/peanut butter snack I thought again of your Lenten fast, as I have many times over the years.”
“Hmm,” I thought, and remembered eating that snack after school, but not “giving it up,” so to speak, although she clearly did. We exchanged messages for half an hour, and attached to one of hers was a group shot of our third grade class. “I’m in white, long-sleeved shirt,” she wrote. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the cub scout uniform in the back,” I replied. I could remember the faces of all thirty-eight kids in that picture and the names of thirty-three. I was eight years old again — transported right back to that time and place of fifty-six years ago. I recalled the drawing of an ice skater taped to the wall and envying the talent of Gerard Connelly the boy with a bow tie and big ears standing second from the right. Then I felt a connection to the students I’m teaching now.
My homeschool students

Every Tuesday morning for the past twenty-five weeks I’ve been teaching a group of ten home-schooled, high-school-aged boys and girls. Eight are Catholic and two Baptist. Working with them transports me back also because they remind me of the students in the picture. I taught about thirty-five hundred public school kids over thirty-six years but the home school kids I’m teaching now are different. Or, perhaps I should say the thirty-five hundred others I taught are the different ones. They’re different because our culture is different from what it was fifty years ago, and they’re immersed in it while my home-schooled kids are not. I can’t say they’re unaffected, but they’re relatively untarnished by what our culture has become. They still have something we all used to have but is almost lost now — not entirely yet, but if present trends continue it will be.
What is that something? Hard to describe. A sense of inner good perhaps? Confidence that we’re good because God created us that way? It’s also a confidence that there is a general “Good,” which we can all share if we acknowledge it. There was little doubt in our minds back then that Good was a real force, and it would ultimately prevail. Our country was good, and it fought evil. Nearly all our fathers were WWII veterans who watched “World At War” and “Victory At Sea,” on Saturdays — those half-hour, black-and-white episodes depicting real battles between good and evil. Even the old atheist and Chicago lefty Studs Terkel knew that when he wrote: “The Good War.”
“Oh my god!” was the most ubiquitous exclamation for students in public school during my career. But “god” didn’t mean “Supreme Being” to them. They didn’t use the word as the kids in the picture did, as my homeschoolers do, as I do. Our God wasn’t in their thoughts when they invoked His name — not consciously. When my homeschoolers say, “God,” it’s with reverence, and confidence that He exists. Teachers in public school are afraid to say the word today. Students are allowed unless they really mean God the Creator. Invoking Him is actively discouraged unless it’s in the Pledge of Allegiance, and that’s periodically challenged.
Christmas is gone. History texts don’t measure time using BC as in “Before Christ.” That’s out too. Now it’s BCE for “Before Common Era,” but no one can explain what “Common Era” means. says it means “Christian Era” but you’re not supposed to say that. Christianity is actively discouraged. They never say AD for the Latin “Anno Domini” anymore either because it means “Year of our Lord.” Can’t have that. It’s CE for “Common Era” which nobody understands.
Got it? And so it goes.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Is He Trying To Bring Us Down?

Is he doing it on purpose? As often as the thought entered my mind, I’d push it out. It didn’t seem plausible. If I told people they’d think me crazy, but the thought kept coming back: “Is President Obama trying to destroy the United States?” Is he a kind of Manchurian Candidate? That book’s main character, an American POW, was brainwashed by Chinese communists in Manchuria to reenter the US and assassinate a presidential candidate — thus enabling his running mate to take over as a dictator in the ensuing chaos. It was twice adapted to film and I watched both, but they were too far-fetched.
I’m not alone. In February, former New York City Mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” and set off a prolonged media firestorm. Progressives were outrageously outraged for days, and what Giuliani said was relatively mild compared to what I was thinking. Not loving our country might cause him to be unmotivated, but that’s not as bad as purposely destroying it.
A week later, conservative columnist and New Hampshire resident Mark Steyn wrote:  “If [Obama] were working for the other side, what exactly would he be doing differently?” That’s been resonating in my brain ever since. Obama’s policies, have been ruinous. He’s nearly doubled our national debt to almost $18 trillion, and what do we have to show for it? He was going to rebuild our infrastructure with shovel-ready projects, but where are they? Hoover built a dam that still works. Roosevelt’s CCCs built the road through Evan’s Notch and the Kancamagus Highway here in Maine and New Hampshire, and many similar projects around the country. Yet after spending thousands of times more money than both those presidents put together, what can Obama point to? Nothing, and the economy still hasn’t recovered in the seventh year of his presidency.
He took over our health care system — one-sixth of our economy — and how’s that going? It’s a disaster. He took over the internet without any action by Congress. In violation of the Constitution, he issued executive amnesty to five million illegal aliens who were already bankrupting hospitals, schools, and welfare programs across the country. Now they’re eligible for Social Security — which is going bankrupt already without millions more drawing checks. He’s using the EPA to destroy the coal industry in the name of human-caused “Climate Change” — the biggest pseudo-scientific fraud of the century. Next he’ll take over the entire energy industry if he’s allowed, and our emasculated Republican congressional “leaders” do nothing to stop him.
It’s even worse overseas. Obama’s Middle East and North Africa policies are, in the words of his own former Middle East Ambassador James Jeffrey: “in a g*******d free fall.” Iran, the world’s biggest sponsor of international terrorism, orchestrated a million to chant “Death to America!” in its own capital, then gained control of four other capitals in the region including Sanaa, Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut. Meanwhile, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry is, in the words of our strongest ally in the region: “paving the way for [Iran’s atomic] bomb.” How’s Libya after his “leading from behind”? It’s a basket case. Yemen, which six months ago he called a success story, has collapsed. US forces beat a hasty retreat, leaving weapons and intelligence documents behind. Kerry’s State Department advised US citizens stuck in Yemen to “call India” for help getting out. At a briefing, one reporter asked State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: “…then you alerted them to opportunities to leave the country?” “Correct,” she responded. “What are those opportunities now? Swim?”
Interviewed last week on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, former Vice President Dick Cheney said: “If you had somebody who, as president — who wanted to take America down. Who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world, reduce our capacity to influence events. Turn our back on our allies and encourage our enemies, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama is doing.”
Yeah, okay, but has Obama been brainwashed? Let’s see: His father was a Muslim. His stepfather was a Muslim. He went to a Muslim school. Though much was sanitized and repressed, evidence exists of his mother, grandmother and grandfather at least leaning communist. The mentor his grandfather found for him, Frank Marshal Davis, was a communist. His political mentor in Chicago was Marxist domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. His pastor for twenty years, the Reverend White, chanted: “No-no-no! Not God bless America! God damn America! It’s in the bible!” Obama called himself a “community organizer” — an occupation created by Chicago socialist Saul Alinsky whose playbook to bring down the country Obama is following.
Yes, the thought keeps coming back, but lately I don’t push it out so quickly.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Pro-Choice Teacher

Education has gotten much too complicated. It was my life’s profession and I loved to teach, but I began to resent modern education after about twenty years. I stayed in for another sixteen while my frustration increasingly supplanted my enjoyment until I finally retired four years ago. Lately however, I’m learning how uncomplicated it can be. Since last September I’ve been teaching a US History course to ten home-schooled, high-school-aged kids in Auburn, Maine. I was recruited by one of the parents and it’s a one-year gig. I have nine classes left at this writing.
It’s a long commute — a hundred mile ’round trip every Tuesday morning, but that’s the only downside for me. Early on, we agreed on curriculum, compensation, texts, format, and venue. There are no unnecessary meetings or paperwork. There are no discipline problems. There are no politically correct strictures — not that I ever worried about those, but I don’t have to defend myself if I should be even mildly critical of any secular-sacred taboos. There are no appalled progressives to be outrageously outraged. My students are bright, cheerful, respectful, and they nearly always do their homework. Best of all? Government is not involved, except that students learn about government by studying the Constitution. We discuss how it’s obeyed and disobeyed by our president. We discuss how Congress has so far allowed him to tromp all over it, citing specific sections of Articles I and II.
We’ve been covering World War II lately and last week I gave them a lesson on the Holocaust. We had little time for discussion since I ended the two-hour class with a description of how Nazis progressed from eugenic euthanasia in the thirties, to mass shootings by Einsatzgruppen death squads in Poland, to systematized death camps using cyanide gas “showers” and ovens. They were quite solemn as they filed out and I’m sure they will have discussed the lesson with parents. Next Tuesday I’ll ask for their reflections after it’s had time to ferment in their minds and hearts. They’re all conservative Christians and so are their parents. So am I. We will relate this example of the Nazi culture of death with other manifestations in today’s world, including mass abortions by Planned Parenthood in the United States, and Radical Muslim slaughter of Christians in Africa and the Middle East.
What we enjoy is the ultimate local control of education. Americans formed our first schools that way at every level. Many provided excellent educations, even in humble venues with small budgets. The quality of education is determined not by money spent or fancy buildings, but by the commitment of parents and teachers with high standards working together. The parents I work for hire professionals for subjects they don’t feel qualified to teach themselves. Last year they hired a physics teacher, for example. This year they hired me for US History.
Most Maine towns spend well in excess of $10,000 per child, per year on government schools. If I had my druthers, I’d initiate pro-choice voucher initiatives in every municipality in the country. Parents could send their children to government schools if they chose, or they could send their kids to private schools using $10,000 vouchers. Running this idea past others over the years, people ask: “What about rural areas like ours? There aren’t many private schools within commuting distance to choose from.”
“That’s true,” I say, then point out that there weren’t many daycare centers around here thirty years ago either, but now there are. First came the demand, then came the supply. The same thing would happen with schools, which would be as good as the parents and teachers working together demanded.
“But what about quality control?” people ask. I point out that quality control of our very expensive government schools is sorely lacking now, but they still have plenty of students and plenty of money, only because parents have no choice but to send them. If we had a pro-choice movement in education, government schools would be forced to improve because of the competition vouchers would provide.
With my druthers, I’d abolish the Department of Education in Washington — except for one solitary function: They would exist only to produce and maintain a battery of tests at each grade level to measure minimum competency in reading, math, writing, and history. And notice I said, “maintain.” They would not administer the tests, only maintain them, updated from year to year. The tests would be voluntary. If municipal officials questioned whether their money was being spent properly, they could require students and/or schools they’re funding to take the tests. Further funding for either schools or vouchers could be contingent on the results.
No other government involvement is necessary. There would continue to be good schools and mediocre schools, but they would be a reflection only of parents in local communities who chose to send their children to them.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Progressive Fruits

“Death to America! Death to America!” shouted a million Iranians in the capital square. Every year they would gather to chant, and every year I would show film clips to my students. It was always instigated by Iran’s government in a country that calls itself “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” which, I’m sure, President Obama would insist has nothing to do with Islam as he negotiates with the ayatollahs.
My teaching ran directly counter to what was being taught in the vast majority of American public school classrooms. Most American students hear that Islam is a religion of peace. A majority of the world’s muslims are peaceful, most teachers claim. About the latter, they are correct. About the former? Fourteen hundred years of history gives lie to any assertion that Islam is a religion of peace. Yes, it was relatively peaceful between the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 to the Iranian revolution in 1979, but in virtually every other period since about 600 AD, Islam has been anything but.
But I was an anachronism. Those calling themselves Progressives have been in charge of education in America at all levels for almost two generations and the results are coming in. During the span of just two days I read about the following:
Students at the University of California at Irvine voted to ban the American flag in a portion of campus because they want to be “inclusive.” I figured: Oh well, that’s California — the left coast — the land of fruits and nuts — run yet again by Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown. No big deal. Par for the course.
Then a dean at Cornell University was asked by an undercover conservative posing as a Moroccan student if he would welcome ISIS on campus. “Sure,” he said. Then he was asked if the “student” could invite “a freedom fighter [from ISIS] to come and do like a training camp for students.” And the response? “You would be allowed to do something like that. It’s just like bringing in a coach, to do a training, a sports trainer or something,” said the dean. Perhaps the dean doesn’t know that ISIS is at war with western civilization - which isn’t a required course anymore at Cornell, or at 86% of all other American universities either. Students at Cornell are instead required to take a course in a non-western culture.
Then Meredith Shiner, a reporter at Yahoo News, commented on Senator Ted Cruz’s announcement that he was running for president, by tweeting: “Bizarre [for you, Senator Cruz] to talk about how rights are God-made and not man-made in your speech announcing a POTUS bid? When Constitution was man-made?”
Hmm. Shiner graduated from Duke University, worked at Roll Call and Politico before Yahoo News, yet she’s a progressive who clearly doesn’t know much. She doesn’t know, for instance, that the concept of God-given rights isn’t in our Constitution. It comes from our Declaration of Independence, which was written shortly after the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts. But things have changed even there. After students at Lexington High School voted a theme of  “American Pride” for a school dance, their progressive school administrators cancelled it because it excluded other nationalities. “People consider America to be a melting pot, so the fact that it was even considered offensive is what people are a little surprised about,” said student Sneha Rao. I’m not surprised. That’s progressive education in action.
This was a little closer to home. I grew up less than twenty miles from Lexington. Yes, I know it’s in Massachusetts, sometimes referred to as “The People’s Republic of Massachusetts” and it’s a famously progressive state like California, but still. American pride is offensive? In America? What have we become?
Fryeburg Academy

Even closer to home, I read that a lacrosse coach at Fryeburg Academy was encouraged to resign because he posted a letter on his Facebook page. This guy coached some of my former students. The Conway Daily Sun reported: “The letter, written by ‘An American Citizen’ was about Obama’s speech given in Cairo in 2009 [in which he] said that Islam has long been a part of American history.” The letter goes on to criticize Islam, saying Muslims are still the largest traffickers in human slavery, which the US State Department reported in 2009. It claims Muslims were allied with Hitler in World War II, which they certainly were. Hitler’s Mein Kampf remains a best seller in Turkey and across the Middle East. In Arabic, it’s called “My Jihad.” My former students know all this.
The letter claims Muslims were either silent on or pleased with the September 11th attacks. That’s dismaying, but also absolutely true. For years I showed students video of Muslims dancing in the streets of East Jerusalem, which progressive mainstream media outlets quickly squashed. Visiting there in 2005, I was advised by my Palestinian guide not to leave the hotel by myself — because it wasn’t safe for Americans.
The Sun reported that although Coach Lees was to meet with top administrators about the letter, “athletic director Sue Thurston told him a decision to fire him had already been made,” so he resigned. Unless there was something more damning in “the letter” than the Sun reported, it looks like Fryeburg Academy officials should bone up on the history of Islam.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't Fight Without It

President Truman was right to demand unconditional surrender from Japan. After we destroyed their navy and were bombing them daily, they sought negotiations. Truman refused, and warned them he had a fearsome new weapon he would use against them if they didn’t surrender unconditionally. Teaching US History again to a group of ten high-school aged home schoolers, I’m showing them “Hiroshima.” It’s a wonderfully produced historical film depicting events, both in Japan and in the United States from FDR’s death in April, 1945 to the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.

Unconditional surrender is what the United States should demand whenever we go to war with anyone. Soldiers we send to fight and die deserve nothing less. We do them a disservice if we send them without a clear sense that it’s absolutely right to declare war, and with the commitment to see that war through to a victorious end. Otherwise, we shouldn’t go to war at all.

We shouldn’t fight without a declaration by congress either. The last time that happened was 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. We’ve fought in dozens of places and circumstances since - large and small, short and long - and how has it worked out? Korea is still divided; North Korea is still hostile, threatening the US with nuclear weapons they developed while we were “negotiating” with them. Vietnam is reunited, but under communist rule. That development went against the Truman Doctrine of containing communism rather than defeating it outright as General George Patton wanted to do after the Nazis surrendered in May, 1945. President Obama claimed to end the war in Iraq, but did he? Looks like it’s still raging, and we’re going back in.
We went into Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks to get Osama Bin Laden, who planned the attacks from there. Americans supported that effort wholeheartedly, but Bin Laden escaped across the border into Pakistan. President Bush decided not to pursue him there. Big mistake. Bush should have said to Pakistan: “Give him over or we’re coming in after him,” but he didn’t.
Instead, we continued the “war” in Afghanistan that was really nation-building. Could we realistically expect to build a democratic nation in a region ruled for millennia by tribal warlords? Could we expect to even hold Afghanistan after the British experience there? The Russian experience? Another big mistake. We were after Bin Laden and we took our eye off the ball. War is war. It’s what we do when negotiations fail. It’s brutal. People get killed and things get wrecked. Often, it’s innocent civilians who are killed. War is hell, as General Sherman observed and that’s no less true today than it was when he said it. That’s why we shouldn’t conduct it unless congress declares it. When we do go to war, we should go all-out until it’s over — and it’s only over when the other side gives up unconditionally. Absent that, it’s just going to flare up again like a smoldering ember.
We’re not capable of nation-building anywhere else but right here. Only the people who live in a place are capable of creating a nation there. That’s how ours was built. Have we forgotten that? I think we have. We should have searched out al Qaida and destroyed it — wherever it went to hide. If things got wrecked and people were killed? Well, that’s war. Don’t start if it you’re not willing to finish it. It’s not our obligation to clean up afterward either. It’s the job of the people who live there. They’ll be more careful of who they let in next time.
Teaching again, I’m reminded of how idealistic young people are. As we study each of America’s wars, I say: “Now that you understand what caused the war, how it was fought, and how it turned out, imagine you were an 18-year-old male when it started. Would you volunteer to fight?” The only way to decide is to ask themselves if they were willing to risk their lives in pursuit of whatever the goal was. If it was ill-defined, the answer was usually no. Defining the goal is the job of our elder statesmen and women. If they can’t do it in simple terms, it’s not worth dying for.
Surviving relatives should be able to say something more than “He was killed in WWII.” Rather, they can say: “He died to defeat Nazism.” Veterans can say: “I lost my leg fighting the Japanese who attacked us.” What can the last soldier maimed by an IED just before the scheduled Obama pullout from Afghanistan say? Our soldiers shouldn’t have to think more than a second about why they’re fighting, but today our president refuses to even mention our enemy by name.
Harry S. Truman was an ordinary American thrust by circumstances into a position where he had to make a momentous decision in only a few weeks: whether to use an awesome new weapon on our declared enemy — and thereby bring the most destructive war in history to an end, decisively, with no smoldering embers. Truman said he never lost a minute’s sleep after making it, and today, Japan is one of our closest allies.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Two More Years. Will We Make It?

The private school where I started my career was boot camp for teachers. We got high school aged students from public school on the way to lockup or coming from lockup back to public school. Some were bigger than me. If I could carry out a lesson plan with them, I could do it anywhere. The first thing I learned was that no matter how good my lesson plan was, it wouldn’t work unless I had control of the classroom. If I couldn’t wield authority effectively, there were students ready to take over. When I felt control slipping, I had to be conscious of one important dynamic and ask myself: “Who is responding to whom?” It was my job to enforce the rules consistently. Never bluff, never yell. Warn once in an even tone, then lower the boom. If the hooligans I taught sensed weakness, they exploited it. I could lighten up only after earning their respect. There was no other way.
After that, I taught fourteen-year-olds in a regular, public school classroom, twenty or thirty at a time for decades. It was a breeze, but they, too, were masters at sizing up adults. Many probed to see how far they could push before feeling an uncomfortable consequence. Working as a mentor with teacher interns who were weak classroom managers, I’d emphasize that the he or she had to establish clear boundaries early and administer a consequence if any were crossed. “Don’t blink,” I’d say. There were students in every class who would sense weakness and push further and further until hell broke loose. Once a teacher-intern lost control, it was almost impossible to get it back. Someone else had to step in and restore order.
A teacher must be the leader in a classroom and the President of the United States must be the leader of the free world. The dynamics are similar. There will always be malignant actors ready to take advantage of a president they perceive as weak. Unless it was clear to students who the adult was in the room, nothing else mattered. Just as a good set of lesson plans weren’t going to work unless the teacher could handle a class. A thoughtful foreign policy won’t work either unless the president has earned respect. If our community organizer president tried to work with juvenile delinquents by “leading from behind” or with his latest policy of “strategic patience,” he wouldn’t last a week. They’d eat him up.
Our president has the US military behind him. I had the backing of the owner and director of our school, Dr. Ernest L. Herrman, who had been a running back at Kansas State. If I sent a student to his office and he closed the door, people nearby might hear sounds of bodies hitting walls after which the student would emerge with a different attitude. Students had to know I would send them for therapy with Dr. Herrman after only one warning — and drag them down to his office if I had to. If malignant actors in today’s world actually believed the president would use American military force, it wouldn’t likely be necessary to do so.
The trouble is, they don’t. They sensed weakness early on and have been exploiting it ever since. If a student crosses boundaries and the teacher responds with idle threats, the student will continue pushing until the trigger is pulled. A teacher must assess the situation early, warn only once, and do something when a boundary is crossed. Our president blustered about red lines, but backed down while sketchy strongmen all around the world were watching. His attempts at tough talk ever since are seen as so much bluff and bluster.
As Iran keeps building the nuclear weapons our president said were unacceptable, who is responding to whom? As Vladimir Putin takes over parts of the Ukraine and Europe wonders where he’ll go next, who is responding to whom? Where will the next red line be drawn and erased?
Some teacher interns didn’t have to be coached. They had a clear sense of right and wrong ingrained in their personhood. They knew instinctively when a behavior was purposely disruptive and were ready to handle it. My only assistance was to walk them through the administrative paperwork and parent notification procedures for whatever action they took. Other interns lacked a strong inner core. I sensed it, and knew students would too. When those interns had to take over alone for a few weeks, I knew they’d be eaten up. I’d have to hover nearby so I could take over periodically and restore order.
Nobody is hovering outside the White House and the community organizer has to pretend he’s leading for almost two more years. The only ones who seem weaker than him are Republican leaders in the House and Senate whose job it is to keep him in line. It’s not a good situation for the United States, or the rest of the free world either.

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