Politics and Culture

I was motivated to think about politics, culture and the human condition this morning by two seemingly unrelated news items.

Robert Ballard

Robert Ballard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joplin’s Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School is a small, expensive private el-hi, attended for the most part by the children of Joplin’s affluent. It is successful:  all 18 graduates this year are going on to college, two of them to Yale. Significantly, the speaker at their graduation yesterday was Robert Ballard, the scientist famed for finding the Titanic. But what caught my eye in the Joplin Globe news item was something the class valedictorian said:

Alex Oserowsky, valedictorian, told his classmates that the close-knit environment and heavy workload at Thomas Jefferson prepared them for the challenges they will face in life. He said the school is unique when compared with other institutions. He said,

“I believe this school is an anomaly in regards to the typical American educational institution because, unlike the other schools, attaining a high graduation rate and high standardized test scores are not the ultimate goals of this institution,” Oserowsky said. “Obviously the trend has been that T.J. does have the highest graduation rate, and students from this school have been the most successful on standardized tests and acceptance into institutions of higher learning, but the true objective of this school is to develop individuals.”

“To develop individuals.” Alex gets it. It’s not about grades, it’s about the whole person. It’s about maximizing a person’s full potential, whether that be in math, science, dance, technology, art or archaeology. Alex and his classmates have already learned to think outside the box. The synergy of their class makeup, aided no doubt by a creative faculty, has allowed them to be motivated by the learning itself rather than by mere competition.

The other item that caught my eye was the USA Today headline, “Gallup: Romney tops Obama with veterans”. Why should that be? As Gallup says (emphasis added),

Why veterans are so strong in their preference for the Republican presidential candidate is not clear. Previous Gallup analysis has suggested that two processes may be at work. Men who serve in the military may become socialized into a more conservative orientation to politics as a result of their service. Additionally, men who in the last decades have chosen to enlist in the military may have a more Republican orientation to begin with.

Veterans’ strong preference for Romney in this election occurs even though Romney himself is not a military veteran — though Obama shares this non-veteran status. This will be the first election since World War II in which neither major-party candidate is a veteran.

As the article notes, President Obama has been strongly supportive of the military, both in his policies, statements and in acts of public empathy, but this is not politically persuasive among this significant bloc of men voters. The reason would seem to be

Veterans through the years.

obvious: one’s politics tends to be more cultural than cerebral, and the current crop of veterans, mostly from Korea through Vietnam, are from a cohort which has its cultural roots in the middle class work ethic, one which identifies with independent self-reliance even as it participates enthusiastically in Social Security, Medicare and the V.A. Hospital system, a vast and generally successful matrix of socialist programming.

Is Gallup’s assessment correct that, as the number of veterans in the population declines, the male electorate may grow more progressive in its politics? It seems to me that it should. The 1% of the population currently in the military have every reason to value a liberal government. The armed services, multicultural and non-discriminatory by fiat and self-sacrificing by ethos, exist to protect the greater society, one great tribe. And if public education improves such that more voters might be more inclined to apply reasoning to their politics, won’t that also make them more progressive? If all schools were more like the Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, I think it would.

It seems to me that liberals tend to see the nation (with individual exceptions of course) as one big tribe, and conservatives as an arena for competition (albeit, with infrastructure underwritten by all).  But I am sure of one thing implicit in these two news items: our culture is not static, it is evolving.  How can politics not be affected in the process?

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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5 Responses to Politics and Culture

  1. PiedType says:

    The world needs more young people like Alex. And more schools like Thomas Jefferson. Public schools used to know how to develop individuals and graduate educated, well-rounded, college-ready students. Now they just teach to the test and strive to graduate the number required to do it all over again next year. It’s not about individual students anymore; it’s about the school’s success. NCLB is stealing the future — the students’ and the nation’s. Certainly better educations would make for more enlightened, critically thinking voters. But I think that’s the best we can hope for. I wouldn’t assume that applying more reasoning to one’s politics necessarily means more progressive views. There are plenty of highly educated, critically thinking conservatives.


    • hlgaskins says:

      “The world needs more young people like Alex. And more schools like Thomas Jefferson. Public schools used to know how to develop individuals and graduate educated, well-rounded, college-ready students.”

      Private schools accept only students from those parents who are able to afford them, and who are by and large educated high income professionals. Private schools have smaller class rooms and operate without the behavioral restraints placed on public schools. Educated professionals are far more likely read to their children every night and probably have done so since they were babies. When their children ended their school day and came home with homework they are able to help them with complicated subjects such as science and math, and their homes have quiet study rooms filled with the latest in technology.

      Every economic strata below the upper middle class, annual tuition costs are just too prohibitive for them to even consider a private school. The best that they can hope for is to move to a more upscale neighborhood with more highly funded schools and fewer children from low income families. From there we find most of our children placed in overcrowded under funded schools filled with large populations of children from working class families and single parent homes. Homes with parents who can barely read or write, haven’t a clue what a bedtime story is, and have no chance of helping their children with homework. There are no expectations of homework, no quiet rooms with modern technology, and often no one to tell them what time to come home or go to bed.

      In the state of Florida public school teachers are generally paid more benefits and a higher wage than private school teachers (thanks to a union in a right to work state). So why would a teacher choose to work for fewer benefits and a lower income? Another possibility could be that private school funding in Florida is not tied to State and District benchmarks such as the FCATS. In Florida, an inner city public school receives less money than a public school in situated in an affluent neighborhood based solely on tests scores alone. In the end however public school education is compared as a whole, including those underfunded schools, to their private school counterparts while completely disregarding socioeconomic differences. HLG

      A favorite albeit less than perfect quote from Chris Hedges:

      “We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”


      • ansonburlingame says:


        We have one very good and small private school in Joplin. It provides scholarships to those that you mention above that do not have the means to pay the tuition costs, just for starters.

        I attended public schools long ago and NEVER had all the amenities your mention for “rich” kids. My parents, neither of whom attended college encouraged me to do my best but they could never “help me with homework”. It was too advanced for them. We HAD no TV (mid to late 50’s) so that was not a distraction. “Fun books” to read and a radio were my distractions, after dark as a kid. Yep, my homework habits were lousy then but I quickly learned that I could not do so in college. But I got into and graduated from a great college after graduating with 52 other small town Kentucky kids from high school, mostly good or great kids but NONE of us had any money to speak of.

        I am not worried about the top 25% of most high school graduating classes. But I worry a lot about the “bottom” 75% as well as the masses that drop out and are never counted in class standings. That 25% number is not off the top of my head, either. I got it from my granddaughter that just graduated from Joplin HIgh School. That was HER estimate of the percentage of kids that actually WORKED in high school, not my guess.

        The problem with K12 public schools is that kids, by and large, are not required to WORK to achieve an education. Many of them expect it to be given to them with little effort on their part. THERE is the underlying problem in today’s K12 public schools, kids are not REQUIRED to work, hard for that matter.

        I was a substitute teacher for about 8 years. Sickening what I saw in terms of ATTITUDE on the part of most students. Throw all the money in the world at K12 public education, and until you fix that “give it to me” attitude on the part of most students and public schools will continue to fail, as they do all over the country today.

        And guess what I hear from teachers, the good teachers. They are PISSED that they cannot employ the tools to FORCE a good work ethic on kids. I don’t mean beating them, I mean holding those kids accountable through grades that are failing in every sense of the word, academically or in terms of “citizenship”, meaning behavior in school.

        Our local BOE policy is that “no credit” be given to any kid that misses 9 days in a class during a semester, unless excused for good reasons. I have yet to “go public” but there is some indication that some 100 students received a diploma at our recent graduation (431 graduates) with much more (I could put in a number that might blow you mind but await the outcome) than that BOE requirement. I await the outcome of the “investigation” into that matter.

        Then go check out my blog on unemployment with some staggering numbers right out of the Washington Post. Some 16 MIllion Americans age 25 -54 that are not even LOOKING for work and do not count at all in our “official” unemployment statistics,

        Something really big is going on in American in terms or work ethic and attitude towards supporting one’ self and his/her family.

        Know what I believe our real problem is, in schools with failures/drop outs or industry and government for people that do not perform to reasonable but firm standards? It is “what to do with the failures” and we spend $trillions trying to “care for” the failures.without addressing WHY they failed.

        Teachers say it is bad parents and parents say it is bad teachers and we thus thru government try to throw money at each. Are you kidding me? But how does government through around “tough love” with some real strength and consequences when folks do not respond to reasonable tough love, meaning work or “don’t get any…”



  2. Archon's Den says:

    American political maneuvering interests me, because the *thinking* interests me. Too true, about the school, produce thinkers, not learners. You’ve convinced me. I’ll do a post about my high-school and its teachers. Talk about your restaurant at the end of the universe.


  3. ansonburlingame says:


    First of all you left out the largest segment of veterans today, the veterans from the Cold War. If you read my blog posted on Memorial Day you will note that EVERY ONE of those men, and their wives, were such veterans. It is NOT just the ones that actually engaged in a shooting war that make up that much larger group of veterans today, and those men count, the ones that where not shot at but certainly could have been.

    Men and women that serve, particularly those that serve in a “line” organization, the ones trained, ultimately for combat, learn to fight (whether they do so or not) as a unit. Any ship of the line has a crew of such men and now women, any Marine Battlion, Army line unit, Air Force Squadrons, etc. fall into such a category. They are trained as a unit and have great pride in their unit if the leadership is good.

    To call them “trained killers” is political mispeak, but in fact that is exactly what, as a unit, they are trained to do. Liberals tend to “hate” that kind of training or attitude, the unit and individual willingness to use force to achieve an objective.

    Soiders, sailors, marines and airmen see and hear that “stuff” all the time. Then the younger and more impressionable ones hear the likes of Limbaugh and respond to such aggressive thinking simply as a matter of their training or indoctrination in the military, in my view.

    If our military organizations as units began to think and talk like progressives, questioning the decisions to use military force of any kind, any location or any time, then we will have chaos in the ranks of the military. Just imagine a carrier getting underway for a 9 month deployment and the half the crew asks why and challenges the authority of the skipper to do so, take the ship into harm’s way, in peace or war.



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