Black History = American History, But For American Stupidity

February 4, 2014

Pythagorean Theorem (except when it comes to Black history and race), February 4, 2014. (http://ncalculators.com/)

Pythagorean Theorem (except when it comes to Black history and race), February 4, 2014. (http://ncalculators.com/)

It’s Black History Month. It’s a month that often feels more like an obligation to honor the Civil Rights Movement than it does a full month to celebrate and appreciate all African American contributions to the development and success of the United States over the previous four centuries. Yet there are many Whites, Blacks and other people of color who refuse to see this at all. Some argue for a White History Month, some argue that Blacks don’t have a culture or history at all — or at least, one worth celebrating. And some argue that the time and need for a Black History Month has passed.

Some of this ridiculousness I parody here:

No argument is more central to the reason why Black History Month needs to continue than the one I’ve heard from conservatives and former students over the years. That because Black history shines a light on America’s racist, economic loading of the dice in favor of White elites and business interests, I’m being “anti-patriotic” when I talk about or teach on this. Then, of course, I get the “love-America-or-leave-it” response.

People who respond this way are such assholes. Some of your ancestors brought my ancestors here in chains, well before most of these alleged patriots’ ancestors even thought about coming here. My ancestors built plantations, chopped down forests, grew the cash crops that made White men rich and provided the money necessary to make America an industrial capitalistic powerhouse, built the White House and the Capitol, and have fought in every war this country’s been a part of. But I’m unpatriotic when through Black history I can point out America’s flaws and great failings?

The less evolved part of me would say, at least in a street argument, “Kiss my Black ass!” But to be honest, I don’t want these folks to touch me, much less kiss my butt. What I want them to do is read, listen, watch and learn, and not just assume everything they’ve heard from FOX News, their parents and in elementary school social studies is the gospel truth. That way, they would then have the choice between understanding that US history and Black history are one and the same and wallowing in their willful stupidity.


Why Students Need Teachers Who Look Like Them

October 24, 2013

Wendy Kopp and Diane Ravitch head-to-head, Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen, CO, June 28, 2011. (http://www.aspenideas.org/).

Wendy Kopp and Diane Ravitch head-to-head, Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen, CO, June 28, 2011. (http://www.aspenideas.org/).

Not exactly the most precise title I’ve ever written. But it does get to a sensitive point for many involved in education and so-called  reform. Between Wendy Kopp and Diane Ravitch — especially since the publication of Ravitch’s latest and most comprehensive salvo Reign of Error a couple of months ago — it’s been hard for anyone to get a word on K-12 education into the national dialogue. Kopp’s running around ringing the educational Armageddon bell, while Ravitch has all but revealed the likes of Kopp, Michelle Rhee and Dr. Steve Perry as money-hungry reformers who wouldn’t know reform if it bit them in their derrieres.

The debate over high-stakes testing and anti-union teacher effectiveness models has put aside so many other conversations on improving K-12 education. So many that the average person may think that test scores and teacher training are the only issues on the table for reform, whether from the perspective of false prophets like Kopp or actual experts like Ravitch. For me, the one effort that has been neglected over the past decade and a half has been one to diversify the teaching profession, on the basis of race, gender and even levels of expertise.

It’s taken my son’s five-plus years of education in Montgomery County Public Schools to fully appreciate how unique my own time in an integrated school setting in Mount Vernon, New York truly was. From first through sixth grade, at Nathan Hale and William H. Holmes Elementary Schools, four of my six teachers were African American. But it wasn’t just that they were Black. The one thing that Ms. Griffin, Mrs. Shannon, Mrs. O’Daniel and Mrs. Bryant all had in common was their high expectations of me and my classmates. They were kind, but also no-nonsense teachers. They gave me a hug when I needed one, and a slap on the butt (in O’Daniel’s case, nearly literally) when I needed it to.  By the way, they frequently made school fun, too.

No reflection of self in the mirror, October 24, 2013. (http://mailfeed.blogspot.com/).

No reflection of self in the mirror, October 24, 2013. (http://mailfeed.blogspot.com/).

They also dared to venture beyond the state-mandated curriculum to infuse it with materials about everything from Black history to the Maya, from reading our standard textbooks to encouraging us to discuss the Camp David accords (Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter) and the Iran hostage crisis. Mostly, I learned more about what I’d face from the world in terms of race, gender and class from these teachers than from all the rest of my teachers combined (other than Harold Meltzer).

I would’ve liked some more male teachers of color, particularly once I became part of Humanities at A.B. Davis Middle School in seventh grade. In fact, between Dr. Larry Spruill and Dr. Hosea Zollicoffer, there were really the only Black male teachers/administrators I had between end of sixth grade and my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, a span of almost nine years. As it was, administrators and teachers like my seventh grade math teacher Ms. Simmons, along with Brenda  Smith, Spruill and thehandful of other I encountered often looked at me as if I was the cursed Son of Ham, or, rather, some weird version of whom they considered Black. At least, respectable and Black. Still, they served as reminders that not all teachers were White and female, if only that. (But, I digress…)

Now, I know what some of you may say. It shouldn’t matter what the race of the teacher or administrator is, as long as they care about the students. That The New Teacher Project (founded by Rhee) and Teach for America (founded by Kopp) provide alternative opportunities for professionals of color to enter the teaching profession. No they don’t. Not really. They provide an elitist version of Peace Corps for impoverished urban and rural school districts for folks who often do not stay in teaching for the long-term (beyond four or five years), to then move on to graduate school, law school or Wall Street.

Reign of Error (2013) by Diane Ravitch, front cover. (http://bn.com).

Reign of Error (2013) by Diane Ravitch, front cover. (http://bn.com).

My teachers to a person remained teachers until they received promotions, retired or passed away. But they could stay teachers (and later become administrators) because they weren’t trying to reform education. They saw themselves as part of a larger community, helping to nurture children, not just educate them. They had the autonomy and parental support necessary to do so. And they didn’t have an atmosphere where they lived in fear of their jobs in case the students’ SRA scores dropped between 1979 and 1980 or between 1980 and 1981.

Despite my experiences and the experiences of my generation of students, the money grubbers of K-12 education reform will continue to insist that public education is at Def Con 1, and that we should launch our proverbial nukes in a pre-emptive strike to reform it. The sad truth is, in places like Texas and Philly and Chicago, their warheads have already gone off, irradiating school districts, poor students and students of color alike. And all without dealing with issues involving poverty and diversity in the process.


Seasons of Flu

February 26, 2013

God Bless You cartoon, January 2013, February 26, 2013. (http://www.cartoonaday.com).

God Bless You cartoon, January 2013, February 26, 2013. (http://www.cartoonaday.com).

I’ve had the flu three times in my life: February ’77, March ’86 and February ’93. I’ve had the stomach flu at least half a dozen times, including the week after I marched for my doctorate in May ’97. But given my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) issues, the stomach flu’s nothing compared to full-on influenza.

I get my flu shots regularly these days, but twenty years ago, I knew nothing about protecting myself from the illness that has caused the deaths of 36,000 people on average every year. So it was during my second year of graduate school at Pitt. It was a particularly bad flu season in Pittsburgh — in fact, in the whole northeastern US — the winter of 1992-93.

What made that winter particularly terrible for me was the fact that I had four discussion sections of US History to 1877 students to teach that semester, 120 students in all. Not to mention the requirement of showing up for every one of Bill Stanton’s lectures, in which more than 200 students attended twice a week. I was in constant contact with students that semester, with office hours, my first letters of recommendation and students needing makeup exams.

Biohazard symbol (orange), May 29, 2009. (Nandhp via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Biohazard symbol (orange), May 29, 2009. (Nandhp via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I risked exposure to these unkempt, hygienically-challenged students at least four days a week from the beginning of January on. By the third week of February, I had a section in which six out of eighteen students had shown up with the flu or flu-like symptoms. They sneezed, coughed and breathed their way through my Friday morning class, leaving their biohazardous tissues on the conference table or in an overflowing garbage can.

My first symptoms showed up by the end of the day that last Monday in February. At first, I thought that I had caught a cold. I kept working full-tilt on my quantitative methods project to fulfill my last non-class-taking requirement before any potential PhD comprehensive exams next year. It was only a potential prospect, as I was also working with Joe Trotter and then graduate advisor John Modell on a deal to transfer my graduate school credits to Carnegie Mellon, in order to finish my history doctorate there.

So I barely noticed that Tuesday and Wednesday that my lymph nodes had swollen, my teeth started to hurt, and my body temperature seemed off. I attributed it to another cold snap, and had the nerve to even play a game of pick-up basketball up on the hill Tuesday afternoon. By the end of the day on Wednesday, though, I felt it all. I was way too hot one minute, cold and shivering the next, sweating all the while. My rose was red and running like a mucus faucet. And every part of me ached, like I was in the midst of going through three years’ worth of puberty, all at once, and all at the age of twenty-three.

I went home, hoping to be better in time for my discussion sections at 2 pm and 3 pm on Thursday. Even though I felt even worse, I went in to teach that next day, barely able to wait ten minutes for the 71B bus outside of my place on Highland Avenue. The two sections that afternoon were a blur, as my mouth was dry and my mind was a swirling mess.

The only medication I had was two packs of two-year-old Theraflu and some Advil. I’d taken one pack of the Theraflu before my sections that morning, which may have been why I felt like my mind was floating and my kidneys were flooding at the same time. My monthly TA paycheck for teaching was due to me via a direct deposit into my PNC Bank account at 12:01 am that Friday. Only then could I go get some more chicken noodle soup and safer Theraflu to take for my flu-ridden body.

Theraflu Maximum Strength, circa 1998, February 26, 2013. (http://drugstore.com).

Theraflu Maximum Strength, circa 1998, February 26, 2013. (http://drugstore.com).

I stood at the PNC Bank ATM at 12:05 am that Friday, February 26 — the one on the corner of Highland and Penn Avenue in East Liberty — shivering and looking from side to side in case some wannabe thug was on the prowl. I managed to get fresh meds and soup at Giant Eagle, and fell asleep at 1 am. Somehow I woke up six hours later, woozy, somewhat refreshed, and hoarse. I still taught my other two sections at 9 and 10 am.  Then I went home to rest, because I was to be part of some PAGPSA gathering  (see my post “James and the PAGPSA” from November ’12 for more) and presentation on campus at 6 pm that evening.

What did I learn from all of this? To stay away from sickly students, for one. To drink and take lots of vitamin C. That I should take the time off when I was really, truly sick. That flu shots were ninety-five percent effective at preventing people from picking up the flu of a given season. Most of all, that I was truly a part of this world, and that flu could kick ass in my super-strong immune system as well.


Remembering Harold Meltzer

January 9, 2013

Harold Meltzer obituary (via Frank Pandolfo), January 9, 2003. (Westchester Journal News).

Harold Meltzer obituary (via Frank Pandolfo), January 9, 2003. (The Journal News).

Harold Meltzer, my favorite and best teacher of all, died on January 2, 2003 at the age of sixty-six, ten years ago last week. He was all too young and all too bitter about his years as a history teacher at Mount Vernon High School. But then, dealing with entitled parents and unrepentant administrators in Mount Vernon, New York for thirty-five years would do that to most people. Despite that, Meltzer was a rock, the first teacher since my elementary school years that I genuinely trusted with my family secrets and my inner self. He was the first and maybe only teacher I had in my six years of Humanities who actually seemed like he wanted to teach us (see my post “No Good Teaching Deed Goes Unpunished” from May ’11).

I met Meltzer on our last day of tenth grade, after three days of finals and Regents exams, on June 21, ’85. He had summoned fourteen of us to “Room 275 of Mount Vernon High School,” as the invitation read. We had all registered to take Meltzer’s AP American History class in eleventh grade, our first opportunity to earn college credit while in high school.

Meltzer started off talking to us about Morison and Commager — who I now know as the great consensus historians of the ’50s, until the social history revolution made their textbooks irrelevant by the ’80s — as we sat in this classroom of old history books and even older dust and chalk. Meltzer himself looked to be in his late-fifties (he was actually a day away from his forty-ninth birthday), tall and lanky except for the protruding pouch in the tummy section. His hair was a mutt-like mixture of silver, white and dull gray, and his beard was a long, tangled mess.

Met Logo and A full house, seen from rear of stage, at the Metropolitan Opera House (former bldg, 39th Street), for a concert by pianist Josef Hofmann, November 28, 1937. (National Archives via Wikimedia). In public domain.

Met Logo and A full house, seen from rear of stage, at the Metropolitan Opera House (former bldg, 39th Street), for a concert by pianist Josef Hofmann, November 28, 1937. (National Archives via Wikimedia). In public domain.

The way he spoke, and the way his eyes looked when he spoke made me see him as a yarmulke-wearing preteen on his way to temple. The force with which his words would leave his mouth hit me immediately. As much as I noticed how frequently spit would spew out of Meltzer’s mouth, the rhythm of his speech was slow and sing-song, like an elder or grandfather taking you on a long, winding, roller-coaster-ride of a story. Most of all, I knew that he cared — about history, about teaching, about us learning, about each of us as people. Maybe, just maybe, for some of us, he cared too much.

But for at least for me, Meltzer’s eccentric space in which he told Metropolitan Opera House stories and talked about egalitarianism extended beyond the historical. He was the first teacher I had since before Humanities who’d ask me if things at home were all right, and knew intuitively that things weren’t. He was the first to ask me about how poor my family was and about hunger. And he was the first teacher ever to ask if I had a girlfriend. Needless to say, these questions were unexpected. Yet through these questions, Meltzer had begun to crack my thin, hard wall of separation between school and family.

Because Meltzer cared deeply about reaching students — about reaching me — our student-teacher relationship because a friendship after high school and a mentoring one as well. I wasn’t looking for a mentor, and Meltzer was only being Meltzer. Still, his stories about his battles with MVHS administrators, Board of Education folk, and with upper-crust parents who believed their kids were entitled to A’s just for showing up, were filled with lessons of perseverance, patience, and looking beyond everyday headaches in order to reach people. While this wasn’t a factor in my going to graduate school and spending a significant part of my life as a history professor and educator, these stories have helped me over the years.

1972 Dodge Dart Dark Green (similar to '74 Dodge Dart Meltzer owned when I was at MVHS), December 25, 2009. (http://www.fotosdecarros.com).

1972 Dodge Dart Dark Green (similar to ’74 Dodge Dart Meltzer owned when I was at MVHS), December 25, 2009. (http://www.fotosdecarros.com).

But unfortunately, it was a factor in why Meltzer became embittered and took early retirement in June ’93. The end of the Humanities Program, the intolerance of some administrators toward Meltzer as a “confirmed bachelor,” the lack of decency — forget about gratitude — from many of his most successful students. Those changes, these things, all would take a toll on any teacher who’d stay after school day after day to run Mock Trial, to facilitate study groups, to work on letters of recommendation for students. But no, most of my former classmates who had Meltzer between ’85 and ’87, all they could say was that “Meltzer was weird” or that “I didn’t understand” his lessons.

I’m thankful that I did have Meltzer as a teacher, friend and mentor between ’85 and ’02. I’m thankful that I had a chance to interview him for what is now my Boy @ The Window manuscript in August and November ’02, just a couple of months before he passed (see my post “Mr. Meltzer” from June ’09). I’m glad that despite his physical and psychological pain, Meltzer welcomed me with open arms and answered my questions about his life and his career. I just wish that my former classmates and some of Meltzer’s more cut-throat colleagues had taken the time to really know the man.


Grading and the 21st Century Professor

September 3, 2012

Between a rock and a hard place, The Simpsons (movie), September 2, 2012. (http://clubsnap.com). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws -  low resolution.

The Chronicle of Higher Education and other prominent periodicals have been talking about the precarious rise of grade inflation for more than two decades now. Article after article and story after story has shown professors at elite and public institutions lowering their standards and bending into advanced yoga positions to give students higher grades than they’ve earned. All to ensure a minimum of contention over grades and maximum scores in student evaluations of their courses.

But what of the many professors who don’t want to lower their standards but so far, who can’t ignore a student’s lack of attendance or participation, their late assignments or attempts at plagiarism? For those college instructors, they can expect more grief and stupid ass excuses from students, not to mention lower evaluation scores.

Sigmund Freud hanging by one hand by David Cerney (1997), Prague, September 2, 2012. (http://swick.co.uk/). Qualifies as fair use – pic has low resolution.

For tenured professors, particularly those at research universities, this doesn’t matter at all. For some tenure-track professors, instructors at teaching-focused liberal arts colleges, and the army of adjuncts that are the majority of instructors at the college level, this could mean the difference between steady employment and homelessness. It’s a sad situation when folks aren’t secure enough in their jobs to actually do the most difficult parts of their jobs, to evaluate a student’s performance accurately and to confront students whenever they violate an academic code of conduct.

It was part of the deal that I made with myself when I began teaching my own sections and then course as a graduate student twenty years ago at the University of Pittsburgh. To be fair and flexible, to be tough when necessary, but to be compassionate when the circumstances called for it. For the vast majority of the 2,000 or so high school, undergraduate and graduate students I’ve taught since ’92, that has been a workable philosophy. It’s even gotten me the occasional praise and recognition for being a very good professor.

Of course, I faced the occasional student who complained to me about their grade. Most of those students were C students looking for a C+ or a B, or a B+/A- student hoping for an A. Really, prior to my current faculty position, I had only had three complaints of any major consequence. One was from a student who managed to never show up for my US History to 1877 sections the spring semester of ’93, who failed the final exam so badly that I let him get away with his attempts at cheating — his cheat notes were that bad!

The other two came from two students in my History of American Education graduate course in the summer of ’98 at Duquesne University. One thought that someone as young (and as Black) as me could give her a grade lower than an A, while another harassed me with emails for a month because her A- in my course ruined her 4.0 average. Though an adjunct, I stood my ground, knowing that I had the support of my department chair.

Since starting my current teaching position in January ’08, I’ve faced a couple of dozen situations in which students have complained about their grades. I think I’ve only taught three courses out of about twenty in the past four years in which I haven’t fielded any complaints from students about their grades.

Most of these complaints have been really ones about me not accepting every cockamamie excuse for a late assignment or plagiarism. Excuses like their Internet or their access to the university’s online classroom platform being down. Or not knowing that cutting and pasting ten pages’ worth of other people’s words for a ten-page history research paper was in fact blatant plagiarism. Or that their jobs, last-minute deployments (which were hardly last-minute), children (who in many cases were teenagers), three car accidents in two weeks or other life challenges managed to get in the way of them submitting multiple assignments on time, even with extensions. But somehow, when I’ve held these students accountable and assigned an appropriate grade, I’m the bad guy.

That the students I teach these days are technically adult learners (I say “technically” because they don’t act like adults when they complain about their grading) actually makes this matter worse. Whether in the military, married with children, or working a full-time job, these students in their twenties, thirties and older tend to complain, beg, threaten me and then beg again. It’s exhausting to constantly have to persuade students to read my syllabus in order to make them understand that the rules and rubrics I’ve laid out are the reasons for their F, D, C or B.

But no matter the vitriol I provoke from assigning a grade, I also have to be careful in my language, emotions and tone. That is the reality that is teaching in many higher education institutions today. It is unfortunate, for there are many students who don’t understand that being a student requires being a responsible and ethical adult. Whether seventeen or seventy, whining, complaining and threatening your professor for a higher grade is completely unacceptable, and deserves at least a little sarcasm in response.


In-Abel-ed

June 10, 2012

“Murder of Cain by Abel,” Ghent Altarpiece painting (1432), Jan van Eyck, January 6, 2007. (Paunaro via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I’ve written about the infamous Estelle Abel in my blog on this date (or at least, this time of year) for each of the previous five years (see “My Last Day,” “The Last Class,” “AP Exam Blues,” “Honors Coronation,” and “Twenty Years in a Week” for the full scoop). She was the chair of Mount Vernon High School’s Science Department while I was a student there, and remain so for years afterward.

As anyone should be able to tell from my previous posts on Abel, I have a bit of an ax to grind. More like a samurai sword, actually. The woman and her ten or fifteen minutes of berating me as both a student and as an un-Black young adult Black male ruined my last day of high school. Forgive me, then, for not being completely objective when it comes to the subject of Estelle Abel and her methods of teaching, motivation, and guidance on issues of academic achievement and race.

Though I’ve also forgiven her, I’m not God, and with my memory, I can hardly forget. But if there had been any chance at forgetting, I lost that opportunity in a conversation I had with my late AP US History teacher Harold Meltzer back in the ’89-’90 school year. Estelle Abel came up as a topic because of something that had occurred with one of his AP students. Apparently, this particular student, a female basketball player, had made the decision to apply to some predominantly White institutions, and had left HBCUs off her application plate. And apparently, Abel had gone after this student for doing so, all but calling her a traitor to her race by taking the route that a majority of traditional African American students have been taking since the ’70s.

Two Oreo Cookies, February 7, 2011. (Evan-Amos via Wikipedia). In public domain.

In all, it took Meltzer about twenty minutes to tell what would’ve been a five or seven-minute-story for the long-winded. That’s how much he could meander in the forests of his stories sometimes. Then I told Meltzer my Estelle Abel story from my last day of school. It sparked a conversation that I wasn’t quite prepared to have. One not only about Estelle Abel, but about the African American faculty at Mount Vernon High School in general.

For most of the rest of the conversation, Meltzer was in full gossip mode, telling me things about individual teachers that I shouldn’t have known, and mostly have forgotten, thankfully. But I did say to him early on in this part of the conversation that I really didn’t know much about the Black teachers at MVHS. The reason was simple. I didn’t have a single Black teacher as my teacher in four years of high school. Humanities classes — particularly the Level 0 and Level 1 classes — had few, if any, Black teachers, much less any teachers of color.

I didn’t say that exactly, but it was the essence of what I said and thought about while Meltzer yammered on about the disunity among MVHS teachers. To think that from Ms. Simmons’ math class in seventh grade at A.B. Davis Middle School until my history and Black Studies classes my junior year at Pitt, I’d gone without a single African American teacher or professor. I knew that some of the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of my guidance counselor Sylvia Fasulo, Humanities coordinators, MVHS’ leadership and the Italian Civic Association.

But how much of this was my fault, being so myopically focused on grades, college and getting away from 616 and Mount Vernon, I didn’t know. After all, I learned in the middle of my senior year that Dr. Spruill taught a Black history class, that there had been efforts to bring in more Black teachers and other teachers of color at Mount Vernon High School dating back at least four years.

Uncle Ruckus screenshot, from Aaron McGruder’s animated TV series The Boondocks, July 4, 2011. (Grapesoda22 via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of picture’s low resolution.

Still, none of that really mattered to me that year. I had already and unsuccessfully attempted to thread the needle between a cushy senior year and a year that prepared me for the rigors of college. Anything else, whether it was Black history, a trip to West Africa or a visit to some HBCU campuses, was hardly on my radar.

Whatever my lack of focus could be construed as in ’86-’87, it wasn’t because I wasn’t Black enough, or ashamed of being Black, as folks like Estelle Abel implied or accused me of in their thoughts and words, and with their eyeballs that year. Sure, I was weird, and readily admit to being weird, aloof, and emotionless in my MVHS days. But given the hell that I lived with at home and in that community in my last years in Mount Vernon, weirdness and a focus on getting out through college should’ve been applauded, or at least tolerated, without teachers like Abel staring at me as if I was demon-possessed.

That it wasn’t tolerated was the real shame. It took me years to get over it, that uncomfortability of being judged by other Blacks as too smart, too weird, too un-Black in their eyes for my own good.


Rate My Students Dot Dot Dot

November 9, 2011

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, April 14, 2010. (http://http://teachingjobsportal.com).

Because there’s a website called RateMyProfessors.com, there also ought to be one called Rate My Students.com. Unfortunately, the only thing we have as faculty that indicates student performance is their grade in a course. But student demeanor, attitudes toward learning and their professors, about their level of commitment to being good students? For that, the only thing we have to go on are our communication exchanges with students and their responses, particularly on an evaluation. Below is one such exchange:

—–Original Message—–
From: Anonymous Student
Sent: Sat 9/10/2011 12:45 AM
Subject: Paper feedback question

I mentioned in my paper that the US feared soviet control of the Middle East and you said that it was never a concern. However, on page 61 of “Present Tense” It mentions the soviets backing a separatist movement in Iran and pressed Turkey to give the Soviet’s joint control over the Dardanelles which make some in the US government nervous that “the soviets would make a sweep across Turkey and Iran, which would give it control over much of the Middle East and its oil reserves.” The book then mentions that Truman sent a Naval task force into the Mediterranean as a warning to the Soviets.

My question is, how was the Soviet presence in the Middle East hardly a concern if it made Truman nervous enough to take military action. Granted it wasn’t a concern for long, and I could have gone more in depth, but I’m still getting conflicting information. Thanks

On Sat, Sep 10, 2011 at 6:28 AM, Donald Collins wrote

Thanks for your email. You didn’t get credit for this point because it was a blanket and general statement, without any detail or nuance. You made it sound as if the Middle East was on the same level of concern as Europe, East Asia and the US itself. Plus, Turkey was and is not considered an oil state, and US concern over Greece and Turkey was much more a European concern than a Middle Eastern one — it helped lead to the first installment of what became the Marshall Plan. Only with Iran do you have a small point, but Iran wasn’t mentioned in your paper. And, more to that point, if the Middle East was such a concern, why didn’t Truman send a naval task force into the Persian Gulf in the late 1940s?

Yes there was fear and concern, but the actual decisions and actions that came out of it were so limited that one cannot simply say that the US feared control of the Middle East because of their tremendous oil reserves — in 1947…

But the real issue here is that you lost sight of the forest on this topic question, concentrating instead on this tree regarding the Middle East. You did not do enough to outline and analyze the factors involved in promoting and escalating the Cold War. You talked about events as examples of the Cold War, with some (like the Middle East) lacking in factual detail or explanation as to what, if any, factor or factors they fit in. Like the Soviet’s desire for a buffer zone in Eastern Europe and with eastern Germany. Or the US policy of aggressive containment of communism, as your example of the Middle East could’ve indicated, if it had been more specific — the Korean War or the Berlin Airlift are much better examples of this factor. Or the nuclear weapons and related systems races, including for long-range bombers, missiles, submarines from 1949 onward — bringing both countries ever closer to a possible hot and nuclear war.

The textbooks are just that, textbooks. They are not the Bible, and they are not even ones that I would choose to use if I could order my own textbooks. They are a guide, but, then again, so are my lecture notes, which would have helped clear up much of your confusion on this issue. I hope that this helps.

Professor Collins

From: Anonymous Student
Sent: Sat 9/10/2011 4:09 PM
Subject: Re: Paper feedback question

I figured the main problem was not going in depth enough, but I was worried about lingering for too long on certain subjects.

Anonymous Student’s response via evaluation (received October 27, 2011):

Donald Collins is very well versed in the events of the civil rights movement and not much else. Several times during the course he marked down assignments that I had completed based on what he incorrectly perceived to be factual errors. The one time I brought this up to him via email he wrote it off as “not important enough in the grand scheme of things” ignoring the fact that he stated that an event had never occurred despite being talked about in more than one of the assigned texts for the class….I still received a low grade on that assignment as well as others because of Collins’ seeming insistence that everything be tied into the civil rights movement regardless of how unrelated what I was writing about may have been to it…

This isn’t the first time I’ve received a racist response from a student for doing my job, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. But if I could, I’d recommend that this person learn how to be a good student first before pushing his deficiencies and bigotry onto me and other faculty.


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