A PAGE ONE VALENTINE Marching, speaking for democracy
I HAPPENED ON SOME REALLY GOOD NEWS where I least expected to find it – on the front page of the New York Times, the Valentine's Day edition. Page One usually isn't where to look if you're trying to cheer up. Real news is mostly awful news. Anything to do with death; engineering mistakes that blow up the space shuttle; big wars; little wars; church-treasurer embezzlements; lockouts; sewage overflows; people chained in cellars; sinkholes; factory closings; head-on collisions on prom night; and on election night, Donald "The Donald." The kind of stomach-churning stories that make you wish you hadn't gotten out of bed and which punish you the rest of the day so you can't sleep at night. So, it was a pleasure to have retrieved the Times on Feb. 14 from its hiding place under the front hedge, and to drag it inside for a quick scan at the breakfast table. There was a piece about the Turkey earthquake, “Collapsed Buildings … sold as safe.” An article about the suspected mastermind behind the Chinese spy balloons. And yet another story scrutinizing the finances of U.S. Rep. George Santos, the nation’s second biggest liar. None of which are the kind of brighten-your-day stories I’m talking about. There actually were just two:
100,00 PROTEST IN ISRAEL TO HALT COURTS OVERHAUL
College Board Is Under Fire For A.P. Class
Why were these uplifting? Because they were about inspired people pushing back against authoritarian and anti-democratic forces that are threatening America as well as countries across the globe. It seems to me that the forces of good, which generally are the ones on the Left, aren't as vigorous as their mean-spirited counterparts on the Right. The Right seems so determined, so unrelenting and so unwilling to take a nap, much less a vacation, as it schemes to make the rest of us miserable. Which is why it’s inspiring when the Left does something more than say “gosh” and “heck.”
LET’S TAKE THE ISRAELI PIECE FIRST:
AS A NON-JEW, I find it uncomfortable to write about Israel. I want to “like” the country, not only as a just antidote to the Holocaust, but as a democracy. It's so much like the U.S., especially because the countries share similar and deep flaws. But for a long while, Israel has been been acting badly in regard to the Palestinians, and it's hardly a fair fight. (Not that the Palestinians would act better were the shoe on the other foot). One thing that troubles me is Israel’s disappearing Left, as the Right gets stronger and stronger, culminating most recently in the election of what news reports say is most Right Wing and extremist government in Israel’s short history. Especially distressing is Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power. Like many casual observers, I thought “Bibi” was done for when he was ousted in the next to last election, and that possibly the country’s longest serving prime minister might end his public service in the public slammer. But suddenly, like a trick ending to a horror movie, Bibi is back, and working on a get-out-of-jail plan. Which mirrors my home-country nightmare, in which Donald “The Donald” reenters the White House and escapes state and federal prisons. One of Bibi’s and his fellow extremists’ major goals is to monkey-wrench Israel’s judicial system, making it easier for the government to override Supreme Court decisions, as well as to control selection of judges – upsetting the balance of power that’s so essential to all democracies. So, I was cheered to read about the huge demonstration the Times reported taking place in Jerusalem. One-hundred-thousand protesters pushing back. Students skipped classes, workers left their jobs. A caravan of protesters stretched two-and-a-half miles. Transportation systems added trains and busses. The Times said: Protesters came by bus from Haifa, train from Tel Aviv and car from the occupied Golan Heights. They carried Israeli flags, megaphones and homemade banners. And they were chanting for democracy, freedom and judicial independence. “You voted Bibi. You got Mussolini,” one protester's sign said. “We aren’t so far from a situation were we wont be allowed to protest,” worried one mother, who attended with her son and a partner. The Times said that polls show 41 percent of Israelis oppose the judicial mischief plan. But 44 percent support it. Sound familiar? A nation divided; democracy at the cliff. But the forces of good are disturbed and on the move.
THE OTHER STORY IS ABOUT FLORIDA AND “EDUCATION.”
THIS ONE was involved the controversy over College Board’s new Advanced Placement course for high schoolers about black history, which the state of Florida so far has disallowed, because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “war on woke.” “As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” education officials said. Among their objections were sections on black homosexuality, black feminism and Black Lives Matter. Imagine: A contemporary black history review without major discussion of Black Lives Matter. The Times’ story on Valentine’s Day dealt with anger among experts in black history to changes that the College Board made in the course, which seemed to be an attempt to appease DeSantis and his acolytes. The College Board has vigorously denied it was swayed by politics. Indeed, the Times story said that some academic experts said they were assured by the College Board that its officials had had “absolutely no communication” with the Florida authorities. Which turned out to be pants-on-fire wrong. The story made clear that the College Board from the outset expected push-back from Florida, because of the state's new and obnoxious anti-woke law that forbids teaching anything in a way that might cause students to feel uncomfortable about learning what their misbehaving ancestors did. So the College Board contacted Florida officials to chat about an early draft of the new course. And, much to the surprise of the College Board folks, the Florida folks turned out to have little interest in a substantive discussion. A College Board official told the Times that Florida's department of education: “acts as a political apparatus.” Duh. Nonetheless, the College Board’s final version of the course seemed to respond to Florida’s public objections. And worse, the College Board added a preface to the course, which seemed to try to reassure DeSantis' worries about "woke's" bad influence on the young, saying that “A.P, opposes indoctrination … A.P. students are not required to feel certain ways about themselves or the course content.” If that’s not appeasement, then Britain’s Neville Chamberlain never tried to make nice with Adolph Hitler at the opening of World War II. What inspired me about this round of the controversy is that the advocates for a full and honest course about black history were pushing back against both DeSantis and the College Board, and willing to have a full-throated, public discussion about it. “There is no way you can properly teach this material under the rubric of what DeSantis et al are demanding. This is a train wreck,” UCLA’s Cheryl Harris told the Times. DeSantis, having tasted blood, decided to drink more deeply. He wondered aloud whether Florida should be allowing any College Board A.P. courses, regardless of the subject, according to the Washington Post. As Chamberlain discovered, appeasement not only doesn't work, it makes things worse.
SO, GOOD FOR THE SCHOLARS for putting the screws to the College Board, and not letting Florida off the hook. Good for Israeli citizens on the march for democracy. No guarantees, of course, as to how things will turn out. But it's the effort that counts. Two Valentines right there on the front page, from those who dare to hope and more: to do something besides wishing things will be okay, by taking to the streets and by speaking up.
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones. Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers. This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon. Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.