Saturday, September 12, 2015

How an Expatriate American Family in Paris Battled the Nazis

In a thrilling history by Alex Kershaw, an American family in German-occupied Paris smuggled Jews and spied for the Resistance right under the noses of the Gestapo.
Ben Cosgrove
September 7, 2015

Over the past decade, British-born Alex Kershaw has emerged as one of the most reliably engaging writers on key battles and, even more notably, on long-unsung heroes of World War II.
In The Bedford BoysThe LiberatorThe Longest Winter, and other titles, Kershaw’s capacity for synthesizing immense amounts of research has been matched—and often surpassed—by his strengths as a storyteller. World War II, after all, might well be the most thoroughly documented conflict in human history. For an author to find new stories to tell from such a thoroughly picked-over era—and to make those stories feel at once dramatic and, somehow, new—is no mean feat.
Kershaw’s latest, Avenue of Spies, is as strong as any of his other books, with the added benefit that it follows a cast of characters so complex and so varied—from the almost impossibly brave and selfless to the most bestial, sadistic, and psychotic—that any self-respecting novelist would sell his or her soul for the chance to tell their tale.
That said, the book’s subtitle, “A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris,” reminds us that the protagonists and antagonists here were not creatures of a fevered artistic imagination, but men, women, and even children caught in the jaws of history. How they behaved—the side they chose, the fight they embraced, the actions they took—forever defined them. In an elemental way, a central theme of Kershaw’s book is how acts of courage and acts of depravity echo through time, and it’s impossible to read Avenue of Spies and not have a nagging, unsettling question always at the back of one’s mind.
What would I have done?
At the heart of Avenue of Spies is an American doctor in Paris, Sumner Jackson; his wife, Toquette; and their young son, Phillip. In the ’30s, the Jacksons lived on Paris’s upscale, tree-lined Avenue Foch—named, of course, for the French World War I hero Marshal Foch, who famously and prophetically excoriated the postwar Treaty of Versailles (which he felt was too lenient on Germany) as not a peace “but an armistice for 20 years.” Sumner Jackson had served in that same “war to end all wars,” operating on traumatized, mutilated young men not far from the Somme battlefield for the last two years of the conflict.
After the war, Jackson stayed on in France, eventually rising to chief surgeon at the American Hospital of Paris. Born in Maine, and possessed of a bone-deep New England modesty and stoicism, Jackson was nevertheless comfortable in the cosmopolitan City of Light, and remained there largely because his Swiss-born wife could not imagine living anywhere else. They witnessed the increasingly violent rise of Fascism in Europe throughout the ’30s; they lived through the shock and despair attending the swift fall of Paris in the spring of 1940; and they, along with countless other Parisians who had not fled at the Nazi advance, saw the conquering Germans occupy their beloved city.
Incredibly, many members of the German brass, including some of the Gestapo’s most notorious and deranged thugs, eventually set up house literally a few doors down from the Jacksons, on Avenue Foch. Over the course of the war, Jackson, Toquette, and even Phillip assumed more and more active—and increasingly perilous—roles in combating the Germans. At first, Jackson played an astonishingly gutsy shell game at the hospital, finding ways to treat and transport wounded Allied troops and French Resistance fighters right under the Germans’ noses. Later, after Toquette was recruited by the Resistance, the Jacksons’ home—a stone’s throw from where Gestapo thugs interrogated and tortured men and women of the Resistance—was employed as a drop-off spot for photographs, documents, and other critical espionage collateral, much of which made its way to Allied leaders and strategists in England and beyond.
While Kershaw deftly interweaves the stories of Resistance heroes and heroines, SS and Gestapo degenerates, Vichy weasels, and the movements and machinations of major players like Churchill, Hitler, and Roosevelt, it’s hardly a spoiler to mention here that the tale does not end especially happy for Sumner, Toquette, or Phillip. Arrest, imprisonment, starvation, disease—the Jacksons and countless Resistance compatriots endured the degradations and much of the violence visited upon millions at the hands of often well-spoken, well-dressed, “civilized” Nazi goons. Many died from torture, from typhus, by firing squad, or by a bullet to the back of the head. As Kershaw reminds us, with a quote from Jacques Delarue’s history of the Gestapo that leads off the book: “The Nazi world was an empire of total force, with no restraints.”
Another theme that runs throughout the book is that Hitler’s Germany was also a twisted, bureaucracy-mad empire in which laws were duly enacted not to protect the weak and the innocent but to brutalize and enslave them. The casual, codified violence directed against the lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens of various countries under Nazi rule in the ’30s and ’40s is, in its own way, as chillingly characteristic of the Reich’s methodology as the Blitzkrieg.
On October 18 [1940], Jews were banned from owning or directing any business, much to the delight of many envious French. So began the process of Aryanization, in other words state-sanctioned theft, by which Jewish concerns were taken over by gentiles … Jewish businessman Pierre Wertheimer, had long since fled, moving to the United States, but he had arranged for an associate to take over his stake in Chanel Perfumes to keep it out of Nazi hands. The designer Coco Chanel wrote to the German authorities demanding that she, not the associate, receive Wert­heimer’s share. “Parfums Chanel is still the property of Jews,” she complained. “Your mission is to make these Jews cede their property to Aryans.”
With hard reporting, deep compassion, and an attention to plot, personality, and (critically) pacing that any writer of fictional thrillers might envy, Kershaw again deftly illuminates an epoch that we thought we already knew. And at the end, to the author’s credit, that stark, nagging question not only remains, but somehow feels more pressing than ever. What would I have done?


If experience is the teacher of fools, class is still in session.

September 11, 2015

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 should have been a rude awakening from the dogmatic slumbers of the previous decade. Instead, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the West went on a vacation from history. The seeming triumph of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism convinced many that all we had left to do was to oversee the inevitable triumph of the Western paradigm throughout the world. Unfortunately, the “world,” especially the Islamic ummah, had other plans, ones that our own bad ideas and cultural dogmas have advanced.
Most broadly, the centuries-long belief that all peoples everywhere are embryonic Westerners should have been shattered by the slaughter in Manhattan and at the Pentagon. The attacks were a horrifically graphic reminder that our core ideals––human rights, sex equality, tolerance of difference, peaceful coexistence, personal and political freedom, material prosperity, the separation of church and state, free speech, and consensual government founded on law––were historical anomalies rather than the destiny of all humanity.
The 19 murderers were acting on a radically different set of ideals and principles––the doctrines of Islam that had destroyed the mighty Byzantine and Persian Empires, and that had invaded, plundered, and occupied southern Europe for 1000 years. We should have learned that nearly a quarter of the world’s people still take seriously what we have reduced to a life-style choice––faith in a transcendent power for whose commands the believer will kill and die, and whose spiritual imperatives trump freedom, human rights, and all the other goods we desire.
At the same time we indulged this universalism, we incoherently endorsed multiculturalism, a doctrine of cultural relativism­­––the idea that all cultures and their differences are equally good and admirable, that no basis exists for judging a culture or saying one is better than another, and that to say one is better is insensitive ethnocentrism or even racism. September 11 should have exposed this superstition as a dangerous lie, and reminded us that all cultures and social practices are not equal. Islamic sharia law, which codifies beliefs founded on fossilized tradition, intolerance, sex apartheid, and justified violence against infidels, are not just “different,” but inferior, for they limit human potential and flourishing by restricting individual freedom.
The next lesson of September 11 should have been the dangerous consequences of the anti-Americanism rife not just in the Middle East and Third World, but among many Europeans and Americans themselves. In the months after the attack numerous American and European intellectuals opined that America had in one way or another “deserved” the attacks. As Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright put it, the attacks were “chickens coming home to roost,” and America was paying for its numerous imperialist and racist crimes. This fashionable superstition, whose ultimate origins lie in communist propaganda, had hardened into stale clich├ęs and an unthinking reflex triggered by international envy and resentment of America’s success, and by self-loathing and guilt on the part of Americans who enjoy biting the hand that fattens them.
In fact, there has never been a great power with the cultural, economic, and military resources of America that has been as restrained in using that power. Muslims in particular have benefited from America’s dominance, which saved hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the Balkans and Iraq, and even after 9/11, liberated millions more from the psychopathic Saddam Hussein and the vicious Taliban. Contrary to anti-American propaganda, the U.S. wasn’t targeted by al Qaeda for its alleged “crimes” against Islam, a specious pretext bin Laden cooked up to appeal to self-hating Westerners and rally disaffected Muslims, but for being the world hegemon that wields the power and influence the faithful believe Allah has destined for his believers. We should have learned on 9/11 that as a great power, we will be hated, envied, and resented merely for our existence, and that there is no number of good deeds we can perform to make like us those whose culture and traditions teach that they must hate us.
We also should have learned that our abysmal ignorance of history lies behind the demonization of the United States and our blindness to the reality of Islam. Too many of us endorse the lie that the U.S. has been a racist colonial and imperial power, oppressing and exploiting people across the globe, even as we gush over myths about Islamic “tolerance” and cultural achievements, and ignore the 1000-year record of Imperial Islam’s invasion, conquest, colonization, slaving, slaughter, raiding, and plundering of Christian lands. No better example of this ignorance has been the President, who has decried the Crusades––an attempt to liberate lands that had been Christian for over six centuries from their Muslim conquerors and overlords––and the Spanish Inquisition, whose toll of dead in its whole existence is about the same as the 5000 Jews slaughtered over a few days in Muslim Granada in 1066. Without history to provide the context for evaluating human behavior, we are vulnerable to the propaganda and duplicitous pretexts of the jihadists.
Finally, we should have connected the ignorance of history to the delusional utopianism that infects the West. The carnage on 9/11 should have restored the tragic vision of human existence, the recognition that humans flawed by destructive passions in a brutal indifferent world of chance, change, and death will never create heaven on earth. We should have relearned what our fathers and grandfather knew in World War II: that good men sometimes have to do things they’d rather not in order to keep bad men from prevailing; that the question is not whether people live or die, but whether some people die today so more people don’t die later; that hard, brutal choices have to be made in order to protect our civilization and its cherished goods like freedom and human rights. The simple fact is, if we had fought World War II the way we are fighting the war against jihadists and the states that nourish them, we would have lost.
The last decade and a half, especially the presidency of Barack Obama, has confirmed that many Americans, most on the left, did not learn those lessons. They still think the Middle East can be fixed by more democracy or economic development, since those peoples just want what we want, freedom, peace, and prosperity. Perhaps some do, but millions want more to live in obedience to Allah and restore the dominance Muslims enjoyed for 1000 years.
These Americans still practice a morally idiotic multiculturalism that idealizes the enemy, rationalizes or ignores Islam’s illiberal beliefs and sanctified violence, and proscribes as “hate speech” anybody who speaks the truth about Islam based on its 14 centuries of doctrine and practice. Even the terms “Islamic” and “jihadist” have been erased from our government’s discourse, and jihadist attacks described as “workplace violence” or their perpetrators called vague “extremists.”
These willfully ignorant Americans still indulge a self-loathing that reflexively blames America for all the world’s ills, and as such emboldens our enemies to persevere in the face of our civilizational failure of nerve. They still know nothing of history, refusing to put America’s actions in the context of what other great powers have done, and remaining oblivious to the bloodstained history of Islamic aggression. There is no better example of this cultural neurosis than Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, in which he apologized for “colonialism” and flattered the mythic achievements of Muslim Cordoba for the benefit of the jihadist Muslim Brothers sitting in the front row.
Finally, the unschooled pursue utopian ideals that claim civilizational order and peace can be maintained without brutal violence, that wars can be fought without all the permanent horrible consequences of mass violence, that conflict with inveterate enemies can be resolved with talk or material rewards, and that economic development and esteem-boosting flattery of an illiberal religion and culture can transform the faith-based identity of the jihadist into something more like us––all delusions evident in Obama’s disastrous deal with Iran.
Three thousand dead and a multi-billion dollar hit to our economy on 9/11 were not enough to school those still clinging to their delusions. But as the Romans said, experience is the teacher of fools. The implosion of the Middle East and the probability of a nuclear-armed Iran suggest that class is still in session, and more hard lessons are on the way.

Friday, September 11, 2015

UNC’s ‘Literature of 9/11′ Course Indoctrinates Students to Love Jihad Terror, Hate America

UNC spokesman claims they "challenge students," and don't "advocate one viewpoint over another." So, will they accept my offer to come debate any professor on the topic, free of charge?

by Robert Spencer
September 10, 2015

Alec Dent, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, broke the story in The College Fix:
An English class offered at UNC Chapel Hill this fall called “Literature of 9/11″ explores the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from the perspective of radical Islamists and those who view America as an imperialist nation.
The course represents virtually everything wrong with American academia today.

The reading list consists entirely of writings by Leftists who view the War on Terror as a massive exercise in American racism and imperialism. Most of the other writings are by Muslims who … view the War on Terror as a massive exercise in American racism and imperialism.
As the incomparable Daniel Greenfield puts it: ”#OnlyTerroristLivesMatter.”
The course’s professor, Neel Ahuja, is identified in the College Fix article as “an associate professor of English, comparative literature, and geography at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.” However, UNC’s website lists him more specifically as “associate professor of postcolonial studies in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC.”
“Postcolonial studies”: that’s as likely to present a positive or even fair view of the United States of America as the Department of “Queer Theory” is to present a course titled “The Wisdom of Pat Robertson.”
Writes Dent:
According to Ahuja’s Blinkness rating page – which is similar to Rate My Professors but specific to Chapel Hill — he seems to be popular with his students, and received generally positive reviews. However,several students also warned not to disagree with Ahuja, especially in a graded assignment.
Of the dismal and one-sided offerings in this propaganda session masquerading as a college class, the only one I have read is Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Speaking of regrets, I was sorry I had wasted my time. The book was an extended exercise in grievance-mongering, intending to show how U.S. policies were driving thoughtful, reasonable people to become jihad terrorists.
Despite the word “fundamentalist” in the title, there was little in the book about Islamic texts and teachings, and what effects they could have upon a devout believer.
No, it was all the fault of the big bad United States.
UNC, like virtually all major universities today, is not a center of higher learning, but a center of far-Left indoctrination, and woe unto you if you dare walk out of step. UNC is a particularly ugly and virulent center of this indoctrination: they employ the likes of Carl Ernst, who has won an award from the genocidally anti-Semitic Islamic Republic of Iran for his work on whitewashing Islamic jihad; and Omid Safi, the desperately dishonest Islamic supremacist who has since moved on to even greener dawah opportunities at nearby Duke.
I myself am a UNC graduate, and I’m sure that UNC’s embarrassment at having me as an alumnus is outstripped only by my disgust at having gone there.
But this course, and the situation it reflects — is it taught significantly different elsewhere?
Neither Neel Ahuja nor UNC is some egregious anomaly. Most college and university students are learning this today, all over the country. How will that work out in twenty or thirty years, unless there is some massive change? With a country voluntarily surrendered to and subjugated by its enemies, delivered over to them by leaders who didn’t think America and Judeo-Christian civilization was anything worth defending.
When the furor over this course broke nationwide, UNC tried to save face: Jim Gregory is the director of media relations there, but if that gig doesn’t work out, he really ought to try standup comedy. In defending the university and this nakedly propagandistic course, Gregory says:
Carolina offers academic courses to challenge students — not to advocate one viewpoint over another.
Then where is the counterpart course to this one, in which students read accounts by 9/11 victims and the relatives of those who were killed?
What courses does UNC offer about the Islamic doctrine of jihad, and the contemporary global jihad?
What courses does UNC offer about Sharia and dhimmitude, in which students read the works of Bat Ye’or?
What courses does UNC offer about the early origins of Islam, in which students read Alphonse Mingana and Christoph Luxenberg?
The reality is that UNC, like most other universities today, does nothing but advocate one viewpoint over another. Dissenting voices are not welcome.
Here’s a chance for Jim Gregory to back up the his claim: I will come to Chapel Hill at my own expense to address either the 9/11 class or any other class, about the jihad threat. I will debate Carl Ernst or any other professor.
How about it, Mr. Gregory? It would show you’re really on the level about allowing dissenting viewpoints. You can reach me at director[at] But knowing what UNC and all universities are like today, let’s just say I won’t be waiting for that email to come in.

The Iran charade on Capitol Hill

By Charles Krauthammer
September 10, 2015

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva, January 14, 2015. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)
Congress is finally having its say on the Iran deal. It will be an elaborate charade, however, because, having first gone to the United Nations, President Obama has largely drained congressional action of relevance. At the Security Council, he pushed through a resolution ratifying the deal, thus officially committing the United States as a nation to its implementation — in advance of any congressional action.
The resolution abolishes the entire legal framework, built over a decade, underlying the international sanctions against Iran. A few months from now, they will be gone.
The script is already written: The International Atomic Energy Agency, relying on Iran’s self-inspection (!) of its most sensitive nuclear facility, will declare Iran in compliance. The agreement then goes into effect and Iran’s nuclear program is officially deemed peaceful.
Sanctions are lifted. The mullahs receive $100 billion of frozen assets as a signing bonus. Iran begins reaping the economic bonanza, tripling its oil exports and welcoming a stampede of foreign companies back into the country.
It is all precooked. Last month, Britain’s foreign secretary traveled to Tehran with an impressive delegation of British companies ready to deal. He was late, however. The Italian and French foreign ministers had already been there, accompanied by their own hungry businessmen and oil companies. Iran is back in business.
As a matter of constitutional decency, the president should have submitted the deal to Congress first. And submitted it as a treaty. Which it obviously is. No international agreement in a generation matches this one in strategic significance and geopolitical gravity.
Obama did not submit it as a treaty because he knew he could never get the constitutionally required votes for ratification. He’s not close to getting two-thirds of the Senate. He’s not close to getting a simple majority. No wonder: In the latest Pew Research Center poll, the American people oppose the deal by a staggering 28-point margin.
To get around the Constitution, Obama negotiated a swindle that requires him to garner a mere one-third of one house of Congress. Indeed, on Thursday, with just 42 Senate supporters — remember, a treaty requires 67 — the Democrats filibustered and prevented, at least for now, the Senate from voting on the deal at all.
But Obama two months ago enshrined the deal as international law at the U.N. Why should we care about the congressional vote? In order to highlight the illegitimacy of Obama’s constitutional runaround and thus make it easier for a future president to overturn the deal, especially if Iran is found to be cheating.
As of now, however, it is done. Iran will be both unleashed — sanctions lifted, economy booming, with no treaty provisions regarding its growing regional aggression and support for terrorists — and welcomed as a good international citizen possessing a peaceful nuclear program. An astonishing trick.
Iran’s legitimation will not have to wait a decade, after which, as the Iranian foreign minister boasts, the U.N. file on the Iranian nuclear program will be closed, all restrictions will be dropped and, as Obama himself has admitted, the breakout time to an Iranian bomb will become essentially zero. On the contrary. The legitimation happens now. Early next year, Iran will be officially recognized as a peaceful nuclear nation.
This is a revolution in Iran’s international standing, yet its consequences have been largely overlooked. The deal goes beyond merely leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact. Because the deal legitimizes that nuclear program as peaceful (unless proven otherwise — don’t hold your breath), it is entitled to international assistance. Hence the astonishing provision buried in Annex III, Section 10, committing Western experts to offering the Iranian program our nuclear expertise.
Specifically “training courses and workshops.” On what? Among other things, on how to protect against “sabotage.”
Imagine: We are now to protect Iran against, say, the very Stuxnet virus, developed by the NSA and Israel’s Unit 8200, that for years disrupted and delayed an Iranian bomb.
Secretary of State John Kerry has darkly warned Israel to not even think about a military strike on the nuclear facilities of a regime whose leader said just Wednesday that Israel will be wiped out within 25 years. The Israelis are now being told additionally — Annex III, Section 10 — that if they attempt just a defensive, nonmilitary cyberattack (a Stuxnet II), the West will help Iran foil it.
Ask those 42 senators if they even know about this provision. And how they can sign on to such a deal without shame and revulsion.


What could possibly go wrong?

September 11, 2015

The Reuters headline was “Obama wants U.S. to prepare for 10,000 Syrian refugees next year: White House.”
Prepare? How can we prepare? Bomb shelters? Underground bunkers? Metal detectors at shopping malls? Funeral arrangements? Exactly what preparations does the President expect us to make?
I know what you’re thinking: there you go again, Spencer, you racist, bigoted Islamophobe. Here is Barack Obama magnanimously opening America’s doors to a desperate population in crisis, and you’re demanding that our nation’s hospitality not be tendered to these poor people – and why not? Just because they are “brown”?
Nope. That’s not the problem at all, although as always, charges of “racism” will be used to drown out any dissenting voices. The real problem is that last February, the Islamic State promised to flood Europe in the near future with as many as 500,000 refugees. That future is upon us, and it is important to note that the Islamic State was not simply talking about engulfing the continent in a humanitarian crisis that would strain its resources to the breaking point. The jihadis were also planning to cross into Europe among those refugees, and now they’re boasting that they have done so.
An Islamic State operative boasted last week that among the flood of refugees, 4,000 Islamic State jihadis had entered Europe. “They are going like refugees,” he said, but they were going with the plan of sowing blood and mayhem on European streets. As he told this to journalists, he smiled and said, “Just wait.” He explained: “It’s our dream that there should be a caliphate not only in Syria but in all the world, and we will have it soon, inshallah.”
And now Barack Obama is bringing 10,000 of these refugees to the United States. How many Islamic State jihadis will be among them? No one can say, but what jihadi would pass up a chance to go to the Great Satan itself, and win his share of virgins by destroying an American landmark or mass murdering American infidels wholesale?
Such talk is, of course, “hateful” and “Islamophobic,” besides the evergreen “racist.” Now we see the cost of this manipulative sloganeering: an untold number of Americans is virtually certain to die at the hands of jihadis hidden among these refugees, and the public square is so corrupt and compromised that it isn’t even possible to have a mature and thoughtful public debate about the Islamic concept of emigration and the role it may be playing in this refugee crisis.
So here is one way that lovers of freedom can prepare, as Obama wants us to, for this “refugee” influx: call upon your elected officials to oppose this, and endeavor in every possible way to inform them about the Islamic State’s statements and the facts that the overwhelming majority of these refugees are male, Muslims, and able-bodied. Where are the women who have been displaced? Where are the elderly or chronically ill people? Where are the non-Muslims, even as tens of thousands of Christians have been driven out of their ancestral homelands?
The Qur’an says: “And whoever emigrates for the cause of Allah will find on the earth many locations and abundance. And whoever leaves his home as an emigrant to Allah and His Messenger and then death overtakes him, his reward has already become incumbent upon Allah. And Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.” (4:100) To emigrate for the cause of Allah is to come to a non-Muslim land with the goal of subverting its existing order and Islamizing it, as Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, did when he moved from Mecca to Medina – a move so significant that it, not Muhammad’s birth or death or becoming a prophet, stands as the Year One of the Islamic calendar. Are we to believe that absolutely none of the refugees in Europe now and on their way to the United States have the hijrah in mind? Are we really supposed to accept that none of the Muslim refugees thinks this refugee crisis is a golden opportunity to bring Islam to Europe and the United States?
That thought has certainly crossed the mind of Islamic State operatives. But why should Barack Obama be expected to take seriously the boasts and threats of the “JV team” that is so weak and powerless that it only controls an area the size of Great Britain and wealth beyond that of many established nations?
These 10,000 refugees will almost certainly not be the last to come to America. They and their fellow refugees will likely transform America forever, as Obama promised to do when he first ran for President. Meanwhile, several Muslim countries have declined to take any refugees from Syria, citing the terror risk. Those racist Islamophobes! If, in a few years, the Statue of Liberty is a smoking ruin and Obama’s successor is living in hiding while the White House is repaired from a jihad terror attack, courtesy some of these “refugees,” American policymakers may wish they had worked more forcefully to make sure that the U.S. followed the example of those Muslim countries. But at the moment, the political cost is just too high for anyone who opposes this refugee influx – even though the societal cost of ignoring the threat is likely to be astronomical.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

In The Common Core Era, Families Flock To Its Opposite

Classical education has been growing inside the United States for several decades. Common Core’s entrance into public and private education has only accelerated the trend.

September 8, 2015

School of Athens - Raphael

“When applied to education, [progressivism] dictates that students are no longer to be taught to know permanently true, good, and beautiful things because such things do not exist (at worst) or are simply unknowable (at best). Instead, the children are taught to adopt to their environment…
If the truth cannot be known and does not govern human societies, then there is nothing to restrain the rulers. If rights are not derived from truth, then they are granted by the ever-changing state. Liberty and knowable truth are interdependent.” — Gene Edward Veith and Andrew Kern, “Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America”
As you enter Ridgeview Classical Schools’ newest building, built to help relieve its perennially full wait list of some 900 students, a marble inscription thunders at you, and the whole world, through the full-glass entrance: “What will justify your life?” Just inside, a former Louisiana State University professor is overseeing study hall. Between sharp rebuffs when students titter, Robert McMahon explains he’s come cross-country to teach high-school literature because the former professor “got sick of the hatred for undergrad teaching.”
Teaching is what McMahon loves. The PhD is the author of four books, one on teaching high-school literature, and he’s won a bevy of teaching awards. That’s somewhat surprising at first glance, considering his sharp and exacting manner towards the 14-year-olds reading around a set of tables arranged in a square.
But talk to him a bit, and you’ll find that this bespectacled man who has never owned a television and disdains modern teaching methods—“Advanced Placement teachers don’t assign whole books. It’s a preparation with no intellectual integrity whatsoever”—can pierce your soul in just a few minutes of quiet conversation.
“The discipline I teach is reading carefully and understanding what you read,” he says. “You can either understand what the words mean and map it onto the bigger issues in the work, or you can’t.”
A central problem with much instruction now is the demand that students apply it to “the real world” before they have fully digested it, he says. Students never learn the art of full and sustained attention, which dilutes their character as much as it does their intellect.
“The capacity to pay attention to someone is directly proportional to your capacity to love,” he says, which lands right between my ribs as I consider what this means about fiddling with my smartphone when my husband is trying to talk.
Statements like this, which alone form a full meal for mind and soul, abound on Ridgeview’s K-12, 780-student campus in Fort Collins, Colorado. Try this one on for size, from Principal Derek Anderson: “We’re not training [students] for a job, but for life. Your life is divided into thirds: sleep, work, leisure. Sometimes your work does define you. But so does your leisure, and if you don’t use that well, a third of your life will be destitute…Americans fill leisure with escapism or more work because they don’t know what to fill it with.”

The Arts Befitting Free Men

Ridgeview is a classical school, where children learn phonics, traditional math and science, Latin, and the Western and American heritage. They study the great books and receive explicit instruction in art and music. In other words, they study the real liberal arts: what centuries of Western leaders, including America’s founders, have considered necessary instruction for free men who govern themselves.
Because it’s a public charter school started and managed by a board of local parents, students attend for free—if they can get in. U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks Ridgeview’s high school among the best in the state and nation, based on test scores faculty consider a joke because the tests measure disjointed collections of factoids.
“We went the charter route [instead of starting a private school] because we believed everybody should have access to a good public education, and is capable of it,” said Peggy Schunk, a mother who helped found the school and who now runs the school’s admissions and human resources.
As the true liberal arts evaporate from college campuses, they are blooming within younger soil. Terrence Moore, Ridgeview’s founding principal, now travels the nation starting other schools modeled after Ridgeview for an initiative spearheaded by Hillsdale College (my alma mater). The newly released third edition of “Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America” succinctly details classical education and its recent boom, which includes the Hillsdale-supported charters and others, as well as a spike in classical private and home schools.
In the Common Core era, many parents have taken to classical education for respite, opening new schools public and private and flocking to homeschooling organizations such as Classical Conversations (disclosure: my son attends a CC co-op, and my husband ran one for two years). Catholics, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelicals have in recent years started and expanded societies for classical learning that offer teacher training, curriculum, publications, and seminars. “Classical Education,” the book, succinctly details its subject’s prominent expressions.
“Classical education is always inclined, by nature, toward decentralization, toward localism, towards connecting authority with responsibility,” said the book’s coauthor, Andrew Kern, the founder of the CiRCE Institute, which publishes curriculum and holds seminars for classical educators. It, too, is growing. “You’re not self-governing if you can’t rule yourself. Classical education is the means to freedom, the sine qua non of a free people, because it trains people in self-governance, in perceiving and living with the truth.”

Nothing Like Common Core

Classical education leaders like Kern, Anderson, and Moore draw sharp divisions between them and progressive education, the kind that has ruled U.S. schools since the 1900s and manifests itself today most prominently in Common Core. Common Core aims entirely at job preparation—see its motto, “college- and career-readiness,” which Congress has even endorsed by making it the defining characteristic of federally acceptable state K-12 goals in pending bills to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.
Like America’s founders, classical enthusiasts hope their students achieve far more than entry-level job skills. They intend for their students to also exhibit the public and private virtues necessary to cultivate and preserve America’s unique form of constitutional, limited government.
“We don’t know what [students] are going to be—lawyer, garbage man,” Anderson says, with a characteristically direct look. “But you will be an American, and can determine our fate through voting. They will all be humans. Se we want them to be good at it.”
Consciously educating for liberty in the tradition that began with Moses and Plato and persisted in the Western world until just a hundred years ago, however, is antithetical both to progressive government and education. That means conflict between classical and now-conventional education.
“We have a governing structure, really from the cities to the federal now, but especially at the federal level, by people who will never have to live with a single consequence of the decisions they make,” Kern says. “In fact, they ensure that they will benefit from the decision. They go to Washington and break Nevada, and they come out with millions and millions of dollars. So it is impossible for [most public] schools to succeed, because the people making the decisions don’t have to live with the consequences of them.”
Ridgeview’s board was one of the first to publicly oppose Common Core in Colorado, releasing a resolution in 2013 that provides two major objections. First, charter schools’ authorizing state law specifically provides that they offer innovative alternatives to general public education in the state, not required to follow the same academic program. Second: “the Common Core State Standards, while potentially exceeding previous state standards in certain respects, do not accurately assess the rich curriculum that has been conveyed to Ridgeview’s students, nor does it value any of the intangibles that make up much of a liberal arts curriculum.”
Judging Ridgeview according to Common Core metrics, Anderson says, puts the school at an unfair disadvantage, because its education model is so deliberately and decisively different.
“It’s like asking ‘How orange does your apple taste?’” he said. “Not very…Common Core is an existential threat” because doing what Common Core demands means betraying Ridgeview’s academic philosophy. Take a look at some more of that philosophy in action.

What Caesar Says about Ross Perot

In unobtrusive corners of every Ridgeview classroom sit two or three bright blue padded, stackable chairs. Those are for visitors, who range from parents checking out Ridgeview for their kids to school headmasters hoping to bring home good ideas.
As I entered Tim Smith’s Western civ classroom, a freshman named Grace with blonde hair and swoopy bangs walked over to me, handing me her study questions and a copy of the book under discussion—Plutarch’s biography of Julius Caesar. Students repeated this gesture of hospitality in about half the eight or so classrooms I entered, automatically and without disrupting class.
The class of 16 students and Smith were discussing the freshman thesis paper due soon, as it was spring: “Write so your parents who have not read the book can understand,” Smith told the youngsters. A few students took two minutes to summarize the assigned reading, then dove into a discussion of Caesar’s marriages, which created savvy political alliances.
“Caesar is genius at doing what piety demands and getting popularity for it,” Smith tells the class. In this context, piety means not just meeting religious but also civic expectations. Smith, the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ 2013 teacher of the year, compares Caesar getting his father-in-law elected consul to presidents hurrying through a series of executive orders just before they leave office.
Later, Smith compares an ancient Greek election to how Ross Perot split the vote in 1992. A young man lights up, noting the similarity to Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election, where he became president despite receiving 40 percent of the popular vote. Students call out comments and rejoinders energetically, with Smith calling occasionally on quieter folks. They all have arguments about what Caesar is doing, why, and how. “He is slippery,” one comments, after another marvels at Caesar’s political genius.
After class, Smith stands beside one of his bookshelves, which feature early English poet Chaucer, ancient Roman poets Horace and Catullus, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, binders about madrigals, and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Smith has translated from Latin Virgil’s “Aeneid,” whose nearly 10,000 lines of dactylic hexameter took him a decade to work through.
“If we want to save or prolong human lives, to what end?” he asks, explaining why studying ancient history is important. “What kind of world have we saved them for? I’m introducing [young people] to their heritage and asking, ‘So, how are you going to contribute?’…We study great men to analyze their character and form our own, and inspire similar acts.”
The wall features a framed quote from Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher: “Character is destiny.”

Second Graders Write Full Paragraphs

Downstairs, second graders are working on their science writing with an energetic young male teacher, who sports a scruffy beard, black-rimmed glasses, khakis, and a navy school t-shirt.
“We need a topic sentence for our paragraph,” Kyle Luttman says, pointing to a whiteboard diagram. “A butterfly life cycle is a…” A little boy pipes up: “A complete metamorphosis.”
“Next sentence? Jeremiah?” Luttman asks. Jeremiah spits out a tumble of words. “You’ve got a good idea, but try rephrasing it.” Little Jeremiah thinks for a moment. “A complete metamorphosis is when an invertebrate goes through a complete life cycle,” he says, finally.
Remember, these kids are seven years old. But they do have help. Earlier in the class, they had mapped what their paragraph would say. Luttman calls it a “web of thoughts.” The children use it as a reference while Luttman guides them verbally through each sentence of an example paragraph, reminding them that lists require commas after every item.
Then he sets the children free to write their own paragraphs, giving them approximately 10 minutes before dismissing them to math class. Ridgeview uses no bells to mark the end of periods—it’s too disruptive, Schunk says. Instead, every classroom has an atomic clock and teachers dismiss students at the appropriate times.
The children then walk themselves to different math classes, because each child attends math at his ability level, rather than with his age mates.

From Latin to Early America

Down a hall that smells of hairspray, which is filled with young people switching classes and girls talking about prom, seventh-grade students file into Latin class with Kurt Mueller. They take turns putting Latin sentences on the whiteboard, which the student on tap corrects as the class parses what is grammatically happening in each sentence.
They use words like “pluperfect,” “subjunctive,” and “declension” with ease, but wrestle with putting the sentences entirely right. Mueller also ties the grammar into geography and history, telling students, “You need to know the location of Rome like you know puella means ‘girl.’ Rome is where more things happen than anywhere else.”
Downstairs again, several classes of elementary students have gotten together for a Colonial Day party, the boys sporting black tricorn hats and the girls beribboned mob caps. They’re snacking on popcorn and clutching corn husk dolls they’ve made.
Ridgeview, like most charter schools, gets less tax money per pupil than traditional district schools. In 2014, the average Colorado charter school received about $7,300 per student, approximately $3,000 less than district schools. So Ridgeview has larger class sizes than its leaders would prefer—usually in the mid-20s—and only recently has been able to afford “luxuries” such as teacher’s aides, Schunk says. Parent volunteers run the morning reading groups, where children read books at their level out loud for about 20 minutes in small groups, and the school does not offer lunch or busing.

‘I Didn’t Realize How Easy Other Schools Are’

Given limited parking space, student pick-up and drop-off is a highly choreographed event, with the youngest students let out earliest and the oldest latest. This warm spring day, a silver Mercedes sits behind a battered light blue Saturn Relay minivan in the parent pick-up line. Audrey, a ninth grader in a magenta polo shirt and khakis (of course, Ridgeview has a uniform) with long, black hair, stands outside in the sunshine, humming “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair,” the song she’s learning in choir.
Audrey has been a Ridgeview student since second grade. Last semester, she tried out another high school to “see what it was like,” and quickly decided to come back. At Ridgeview, teachers “don’t just throw facts at you,” she said. “They give you the tools and let you figure it out.”
“It’s very challenging,” she says. “I didn’t realize how easy other schools are. Here, it’s more like a conversation, like we’re learning with teachers.”
Families who come to Ridgeview and leave often complain the curriculum is too demanding, Schunk said over dinner at a classy downtown Fort Collins restaurant the evening before my visit.
“We’re not here to babysit,” she says, with a little shake of her sandy long bob. “We’re here to educate.”
For five years, Moore recruited Anderson to teach at Ridgeview, until he finally agreed, Anderson said, chuckling: “What sold me was the students. Our students are not robots. They take seriously ideas, virtue, and struggling with these serious things.” For him, “Ridgeview is being able to continue the graduate school experience.”
Faculty hold book clubs among themselves and with parents and students. Ridgeview also holds a weekly colloquy, meaning an academic talk given by a teacher or student. Every spring, each graduating senior writes and presents a thesis encapsulating his or her vision of the good life, then defends it before the school community.
“Children always choose the path of least resistance, but that’s not life,” said Kristina Menon, the president of Ridgeview’s five-member board. “When they persevere and push through, the confidence it builds—they’re proud.”
Joy Pullmann is managing editor of The Federalist and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute.