The Electoral College

I have mentioned a number of times that our Constitution is in need of revision — or at least a number of amendments — to remedy the oversights of the Founders of this nation. They could not possibly see such things as the monumental growth of the corporations or the expanding wealth and power of a few individuals who would take the reins of power away from the people who were supposed to be the backbone of this Republic. Well, “backbone” may be too strong a word, because the Founders didn’t really trust the people altogether.

This can be seen by a cursory glance at the Constitution in which the Senate — selected by the legislators of the various states — is given the greatest power (a fact that disturbed Henry Adams no end) and the House of Representatives — which was the only body voted in by the people — was severely limited in its powers. And the President, of course, was to be elected by the “Electors.” The role of the Electors is discussed in Article II of the Constitution and it states that:

“Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress…”

Note that the Electors are “appointed” not elected. A lengthy paragraph follows in which it is shown how the Electors would choose a President and a Vice President — a paragraph that was altered by the Twelfth Amendment, passed in 1804, which expanded on the manner in which the President and Vice President were to be chosen, but kept the notion of the Electors intact.

In both cases, as in the case of the selection of the Senate, it was very clear that those who authored and approved the Constitution did not trust the people to do much in the way of choosing their government as they managed it so there would be buffers between the people and those chosen to govern them. It was simply assumed that the House of Representatives would be made up of people chosen directly by the citizens, but limited to a two-year term. Why would one want to state in office for longer since there were more important things to do at home?

The notion that those elected would be voted out of office if they were incompetent was clear from nearly every page of the Federalist Papers that were written to persuade the voters of New York state to ratify the Constitution. Those authors also made it clear, as I have noted before, that the voters themselves would exhibit “civic virtue,” that is, a love of country and willingness to put the needs of the country before their own. These notions now seem to have been idealistic if not naive.

But to focus attention the Electoral College, we might note that it was designed to guarantee that the very “best” people would be chosen for the highest office in the land. It was a check against the rude passions of the “rustics” who might want to elect a man (not a woman, of course) who would be unqualified for the job. There is simply no evidence whatever that those who wanted this Constitution really wanted to provide the people themselves with much power; it was to be housed among those who were best qualified — that is, the wealthier and better informed members of the thirteen states. The Founders, remember, were themselves educated, many of them quite wealthy, and most of them had been British citizens long enough to hang on to a deep prejudice against extending “suffrage” and a reluctant desire, perhaps, to mimic the better elements of the English system of government. The Senate, after all, appears to have been their version of the House of Lords — without any mention of Landed Gentry, of course.

It is ironic, then, that this document which is filled with checks and balances — and masterful in its way — placed so much power in the Electoral College to guard against the whims of the citizens who were not to be trusted with great responsibility. This College in our day has become an anachronism and was actually responsible for the recent election of the very sort of man the Founders were seeking to guard against — a man totally unqualified for office who could in a moment of anger or rage bring down then entire edifice around our ears.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that Hillary Clinton won the popular election by nearly three million votes. The Electoral College put her opponent in office. It would appear the people had more wisdom and common sense than the Founders thought they could exhibit. And the end result of the election was the very thing they sought to avoid.

I say again: perhaps it is time to address some of the oversights of the Founders who wrote this truly remarkable, but antiquated, document.

Suckahs!

These are the folks who reach for their phones half-way through the Infomercial to order crap from the TV (with free shipping (plus $8.50 in “handling ” charges)); they are the ones who can be fooled all the time; who are born every minute; who wouldn’t know a half-truth from an outright lie; who buy the “previously owned” car from the crooked salesman; who worry about what will happen to the hero on their favorite daytime soap opera, because they cannot differentiate reality from make-believe. They are, as Strother Martin would have it, “morons on our team.” They are bona fide U. S. citizens who have decided that the man standing before them with strange hair and small hands selling his own peculiar brand of snake oil will take them to the promised land. He is their deliverer! They don’t care that he is a chronic liar and filled with hate. They will not be confused by the facts because their tiny minds are made up. They are suckahs!

Clearly, there’s no point in trying to reach such people, and especially in this format — a blog post with a couple of dozen readers (on a good day). But one always hopes that somehow those still sitting on the fence will get the idea and wake up. We really need to continue to nudge them.

The University of Virginia recently had a poll and predicted that Hillary Clinton will win the election. They have never been wrong — they even predicted that Sanders would not get the nomination. Clearly these people are astute political animals who are able to read the tea leaves and see the future. I worry only that many people will take them seriously and think it’s “in the bag.” However, it’s not over, as they say, until the fat lady sings. And she won’t have sung until we all get out and vote for the one person in this strange, even ugly, political race who has the experience and know-how to run this country.

It’s hard not to get worked up about this race. Neither candidate will ever earn a popularity contest; they are both flawed in their way. But only one of them has made it absolutely clear that he doesn’t have the knowledge or experience — or even the concern — to be president of these United States. Only one has made it clear that he doesn’t understand the risks of a nuclear war. Only one has made it crystal clear that he is blinded by his own ambition and his hatred for those who are different from him and his determination to bring down those who oppose him. Only one has shown a complete lack of awareness of the role this country must play on the international stage.

To be sure, I am biased. But this bias is based on considerable reading and listening to what is being said. I do wonder why others are not doing the same. I would love to see a president who embodies all the principles I regard as essential to running this country and getting it back on the straight and narrow; somewhere along the line it fell off and desperately needs straightening out. But no one person can do this and we must choose the one out of these two (who are the only serious candidates) who can work with a crippled system and who has the political savvy to make the best of a bad situation. Until real change comes about this country will continue to be run by the special interests and money will be the determinant of political policy. In the meantime, we must vote for the only sane candidate out there — the other one is only for suckahs.

Education as Fraud

The eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno punishes those guilty or malice and fraud. One of the reviewers of my book on education some years back said that my “journey through the halls of the. . . university [were] reminiscent of Dante’s journey through Hell” — specifically the Malebolges of the eighth circle. When I read that I wasn’t sure what the reviewer meant. I now think I have figured it out.  All of us who attempted to educate the young people who came to us with high hopes coupled with no idea of what education is all about perpetrated a fraud. We promised them an education and we failed to deliver the goods.  To be sure, a few slipped through the cracks but they received an education in spite of the system in place, not because of it. A large part of the problem was that when the students revolted in the 60s and asked why they had to take courses in, say, history, the faculties didn’t know the answer. Another part of the problem was that by that time professional faculty had become immersed in their areas of specialization and knew little about anything else. The faculty the students looked to for guidance had no idea what education was all about or what it is supposed to do. That hasn’t changed.

“Education” is a word we use far too loosely. We use it when we mean “inform,” as in “he needs to be educated about the advantages of good health.” Education is a great deal more than information, though an educated person must be well informed. But an educated person must be able to assimilate and process that information and make intelligent choices. That is, an education must free the young person’s mind from stupidity, prejudice, and narrowness of vision — from the snares of “thugs who would teach them what to think and not how to think,” as Mark Van Doren once said. However, we are surrounded by such thugs and, sad to say, they abound in colleges and universities as well. Instead of putting young people in control of their own minds, setting them free, those who would engage their students’ minds tighten the chains of prejudice and stupidity. Educators  continue to insist that education is all about jobs, or we hand our students ready-made formulas for detecting the injustices we have determined surround us on all sides. The notion that we send young people to school and allow them to run up huge debts in the form of student loans in order to give them “know-how” is completely wrong-headed, as is the notion that the job of educators is to turn out hand-puppets who know only what they have been told by well-meaning instructors who hold over their heads the threat of low grades.

I cannot speak knowingly about the early grades, having only one year of experience teaching the lower grades, but I know that young people come to college ill-prepared to do the academic work and leave only slightly better off. I suspect, having paid close attention for years, that there the three reasons, at least, for this lack of preparedness for college: (1) the meaningless “certification requirements” that replace substantive courses in our teachers’ colleges and discourage many bright students from becoming teachers, (2) the lack of attention and preparation for school in the home before the child ever enters kindergarten, and (3) the mountains of paper-work required of teachers in the lower grades by administrators and boards of education that have nothing whatever to do with teaching the young. In any event, upon graduation from college they cannot read a difficult text or figure the tip in a restaurant. Their vocabulary has shrunk over the years and now consists of a few hundred words and gestures pathetically replacing complete sentences and full paragraphs. As though things weren’t bad enough, texting has now become all the rage, with its sentence fragments and bits and pieces of words. And yet we know that humans think in words and sentences, and we can predict that our college graduates, with rare exceptions, will be unable to think, speak, or figure beyond a primitive level. The reviewer was right: we are guilty of perpetrating a fraud and the students are paying for it through the nose and running up huge debts in the process.

Education as Fraud

The eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno punishes those guilty or malice and fraud. One of the reviewers of my book on education some years back said that my “journey through the halls of the. . . university [were] reminiscent of Dante’s journey through Hell” — specifically the Malebolges of the eighth circle. When I read that I wasn’t sure what the reviewer meant. I now think I have figured it out.  All of us who attempted to educate the young people who came to us with high hopes coupled with no idea of what education is all about perpetrated a fraud. We promised them an education and we failed to deliver the goods.  A large part of the problem was that when the students revolted in the 60s and asked why they had to take courses in, say, history, we didn’t know the answer. The faculty they looked to for guidance were so mired in their area of specialization they had no idea what education was all about or what it is supposed to do. That hasn’t changed.

“Education” is a word we use far too loosely. We use it when we mean “inform,” as in “he needs to be educated about the advantages of good health.” Education is a great deal more than information, though an educated person must be well informed. But an educated person must be able to assimilate and process that information and make intelligent choices. That is, an education must free the young person’s mind from stupidity, prejudice, and narrowness of vision — from the snares of “thugs who would teach them what to think and not how to think,” as Mark Van Doren once said. We are surrounded by such thugs and, sad to say, they abound in colleges and universities as well. Instead of putting young people in control of their own minds, setting them free, we tighten the chains of prejudice and stupidity. Educators  continue to insist that education is all about jobs, or we hand our students ready-made formulas for detecting the injustices we have determined surround us on all sides. The notion that we send young people to school and allow them to run up huge debts in the form of student loans in order to give them “know-how” is completely wrong-headed, as is the notion that the job of educators is to turn out hand-puppets who know only what they have been told by well-meaning instructors who hold over their heads the threat of low grades.

I cannot speak knowingly about the early grades, having only one year of experience teaching the lower grades, but I know that the young people come to college ill-prepared to do the work and leave only slightly better off. I suspect, having paid close attention for years, that there the three reasons, at least, for this lack of preparedness for college: (1) the meaningless “certification requirements” that replace substantive courses in our teachers’ colleges, (2) the lack of attention and preparation for school in the home before the child ever enters kindergarten, and (3) the mountains of paper-work required of teachers in the lower grades by boards of education that have nothing whatever to do with teaching the young. In any event, upon graduation from college they cannot read a difficult text or figure the tip in a restaurant. Their vocabulary has shrunk over the years and now consists of a few hundred words and gestures pathetically replacing complete sentences and full paragraphs. As though things weren’t bad enough, texting has now become all the rage, with its sentence fragments and bits and pieces of words. And yet we know that humans think in words and sentences, and we can predict that our college graduates, with rare exceptions, will be unable to think, speak, or figure beyond a primitive level. The reviewer was right.