Monday, June 06, 2011

Disparate tools for teaching

There are currently two persons smack dab in the headlights of the mainstream media. One has long been the direct target of many powerful news media teams, and manages to, occasionally, get clipped as they madly careen in pursuit. The other was doing everything possible to bury all traces of attention-worthy activities, and, somehow, ended up this week with his nether parts exposed.

At first glance, Sarah Palin and Anthony Weiner have little -- if anything -- in common. Palin is a supremely telegenic conservative mother from mid-American roots, educated far from the elite academies (U of Idaho, to be precise), an only child, a business owner, openly Christian, a rugged outdoorswoman, and, by many accounts, not often accustomed to flash and often embarrassed by fuss. Weiner is a geeky metrosexual liberal raised with two brothers in Brooklyn, a graduate of SUNY, direct from college into the world of politics with no business experience, with no real sense of faith, and an apparent need to brag about his sexual prowess to young women he has never met.

And, yet, they both have something in common: teachers. His mother, her father were teachers in the public school system. And, from them both, we also have a teaching tool or two.

Beginning with the more immediate news, Anthony David Weiner may soon be under official Congressional Ethics Committee investigation for his part in a scandal of his own making. And, it seems, the lesson we are to learn from him, via the media, is that, if you lie to them, at least be polite about it (it also helps immensely if you are a prominent member of the Democratic party). So long as they like you, they will help you with your cover-up. Lies are good, if you're on the correct side of the aisle.

Or, if Andrew Breitbart gets accused of propagating fictions about you, make sure he never shows up at your own press conference. These lessons would seem to be fairly easy to live by, but, somehow, Weiner has found this as challenging putting a cat into a wet suit.

Anthony Weiner is a teaching tool of the worst sort. Anthony Weiner is a case study in what is wrong with the presumption of anonymity on the internet, and what is wrong with a class which believes it lives by a set of rules quite separate from the rest of us. He and his media accomplices had willingly seen a man falsely accused of a federal crime (hacking into a congressman's e-mail account has huge ramifications, were it true) simply so that they could continue their tawdry relationship. One might learn from him, at the very least, not to insult the media when they're trying very hard to be on your side. If one were a inclined to go deeper, one might also consider that trying to put oneself above the people to whom you are ultimately answerable, and/or above the law, is usually not a terribly wise option.

Anthony Weiner just saw the end of his latest ego trip.

On the other hand, Sarah Palin is on a plain old bus trip. She holds no office, has not announced any intention of running for one, and, without requesting their company has a bigger press entourage, possibly, than the President of the United States. If she allowed it, they would crowd her out of every place she wants to visit. She visits. After riding in the Rolling Thunder rally in D.C., she has toured Mount Vernon, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and many other historic locales. She discussed their relevance to today with her children. And she, when tired and accosted by another reporter, made a vague reference to Paul Revere's warning to the British army that they would be in trouble...

Egad, but the press and the left-leaning bloggers leapt upon that! You'd have thought she had just given a toast to the Queen of England during the playing of their national anthem, or some pax equally faux. It was all over the world what a doofus the woman was, for not knowing that Paul Revere rode from Lexington to Concord shouting "The British are coming! the British are coming!" Never mind that the good people of Lexington, Concord, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and other points colonial were, at that time, all British, so that warning would have meant nothing. Never mind that Revere himself wrote that he had, indeed, warned the British soldiers -- who stopped him on the road and prevented him from completing his ride -- that they would be met with resistance. What was important to them was that she didn't tell the story as they knew it, so she was, therefore, obviously unqualified to be in front of their cameras, and they'd tell her so every time they took another picture of her.

But the funny thing is, her apparent error forced people who held no animus toward her to come to her defense. People who really hadn't cared a whit about the woman suddenly found themselves researching and posting the results which supported her statements. Even the ├╝ber-left Los Angeles Times ran a piece online covering her six.

What's great about this is not that there are converts to some political side or other, though. What's cool is, suddenly you have all sorts of people actually checking historical facts, just because some want to play "gotcha" with a woman who doesn't -- and won't -- play by their rules. It doesn't matter who she is, really. It doesn't even matter what she is, except in that whatever it is, it incites a percentage of the population to a frenzy that would put a school of barracudas to shame. And that frenzy leads others to fact-check.

In other words, they read. They research. They revisit history texts and letters and notions that had been out of favor or merely tucked away for a generation or more. So, they do precisely what it is that Sarah Palin says was the purpose of her bus tour: to reinvigorate the discussion of America's beginnings, and of what it means to be an American patriot; to educate her children, and anybody else who wants to learn.

Sarah Palin is what every good history teacher hopes for. Even if she were dead wrong in any and every statement, Sarah Palin is a catalyst for study, a teaching tool of the best sort. American historians should thank her.

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