Genocide is the word…

The details of the history surrounding the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people are not well known to me. I know that every year, around Earth Day, many people can be seen flying a vibrant primary-colored flag from cars, homes and storefront windows. I’ve encountered some lively demonstrations in different sections of Los Angeles over the years, and although I’ve looked on them sympathetically, I’ve never taken up the cause as my own.

Turkish Genocide of Armenian People

Several months ago, my wife and I moved to Glendale, a beautiful city that’s home to a significant portion of the Armenian diaspora (only Moscow’s surpasses Los Angeles’ Armenian community). Since we’ve been here, I’ve made some minor inroads into learning about Armenian people and their culture–and I’m definitely hungry for more.

While I’m not well-versed in the particulars of historical or present-day Armenia and its diaspora, I do know that a spade is a spade. That might seem a trivial point, but things have names for at least a couple of important reasons: to designate that which they are, and to differentiate them from that which they are not.

For deeply cynical political reasons (i.e. wanting to maintain favorable ties with Turkey as a base for U.S. marauding in the Middle East) Obama has again refused to utter the one word millions long–and deserve–to hear: “genocide”. The British ruling class has also taken this brazenly cynical stance (as they’ve also done in unwaveringly supporting U.S. military conquest in the Middle East).

While this is stunning, unfortunately it isn’t surprising. The powers-that-be in the U.S. are well-versed in the meaning–and practice–of genocide. In fact, genocide of the original peoples of this continent was the sine qua non of its invasion and conquest. Professor Ward Churchill, in his book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, delves deftly into the history of genocide globally and its deniers.

Coincidentally, on a recent trip to Sonoma, I serendipitously encountered a very powerful essay precisely on this topic, entitled “National Hypocrisy: Why Do We Dare to Call It Genocide?” by Elbert “Big Man” Howard, one of the founders of the great Black Panther Party. He applies the term “genocide” to a number of historical and present-day realities, including the police killings and mass incarceration of our youth of color here in Uncle Sam’s back yard.

The closing paragraph of his essay is particularly salient in these times of genocide-denial as mass-media spectacle. It resonates deeply, as the need to call things by their true names, and to act based on such an understanding, pervades so many dimensions of our collective (global) her/history and present-day reality.

Big Man concludes:

It is of necessity and urgency, that in order to recognize and understand our present situation and strive for change, we must tie America’s history of genocide and racism to our current history, to our so-called system of democracy, which is fundamentally hypocrisy, and to the lives of our lost youths of color at the hands of this system. It is of dire necessity that we do all we can to enlighten our children, for that is what we owe them, and their futures depend on it.

I couldn’t agree with the Big Man more. Let’s enlighten ourselves and our children so that genocide can be spoken of exclusively in the past tense. Let’s strive for that change.

On Education: A Clarion Call from Howard Gardner


I first read this important article back in October. Since then I’ve been pondering the paradox of how, on the one hand, Gardner’s theory is truly straightforward and graspable, yet on the other hand it’s been widely misinterpreted and misapplied. This is not to say that the ideas are not complex, because they truly are. However, all educators are capable of understanding and creatively implementing them, if given the time, freedom and resources to do so. So, why, then, have these misunderstandings and misapplications emerged? What are the barriers that stand in the way of effectively implementing them?

Certainly a great many of these deviations could be simply owing to the fact that Gardner’s theories are novel ones. As with any new endeavor, early earnest attempts at execution will yield mixed results. However, it seems (as evinced by Gardner’s corrective, now 20 years later) that these misapplications represent a more fundamental disconnect from his insights. So, to me the question becomes, “What are the obstacles in today’s educational models that prevent the application of this crucial understanding?”

To answer this question, it’s important to look at the present state of education and the trajectory it’s currently on. Increasingly, the trend is toward homogenization–and not in any positive sense. This is reflected in the standardized-testing-sickness that afflicts our public schools and stifles educators’ and students’ creativity. It is also seen in the implementation of the Common Core Standards. Veteran educator Marion Brady lays out “Eight problems with Common Core Standards” that should be required reading and a focal point of conversation for everyone interested in education today.

Along with this suffocating homogenization comes degrading monetization, defined by Merriam-Webster as using something of value as a source of profit. The profit sought by the capitalists steering education today is not an exploration and realization of “the potentials of humanness” upheld as a primary goal by Marion Brady, and reflected in the hopes and dreams of most educators. Instead, it’s boiled down to the lowest common denominator of our communities being “best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy” (quoting from the Common Core Mission Statement). In other words, the inherently unequal and inhumane antagonisms of global capitalism are explicitly woven into these fatally flawed standards.

Within this framework, we can see why Gardner’s primary lessons for educators, to simultaneously individualize and pluralize, run into a brick wall. With the first key ingredient–individualization–the need for smaller class sizes becomes crucial. This enables teachers to really get to know and assess their students on a one-to-one basis, and to utilize techniques that make learning accessible to all. Gardner also cites the value of “apps” in this regard, but I’ve yet to engage the relevant research. Nevertheless, we should continue to insist on smaller class sizes, and not accept the lie that the funds aren’t sufficient or available. When the government decided to bail out the banks, no such limits were imposed.

As for the second key ingredient–pluralization–this is directly undermined by standardized testing. Teachers are obligated to “teach to the test”, and increasingly their jobs hang in the balance, depending on how well their students have been trained to regurgitate facts and figures. Little space is left, then, for educators to creatively ply their craft and bring students forward as inquisitive, optimistic human beings. Perhaps the most insidious result of this miseducation is the disillusionment with education itself fostered in students, and even in teachers.

In closing, it’s important that voices of opposition stand up and fight for a far better vision of education than the one that’s being driven by the Gates Foundation and others whose interests are located outside of the classroom. Their goal is to more fully infuse the dog-eat-dog outlook of capitalism into education and convert it into yet another arena for profit-making. We must reject this path and unite with the people of Mexico, Canada, and many other places around the world who are also swimming against the educational tide, as if the future depends on it–because it does. And it must be a grassroots movement, comprised first and foremost of students, teachers, parents and communities. A recent Washington Post article revealed that the leader of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union is joining forces with a former union-busting governor and businessman to promote the Common Core. If we want justice, we need to draw on our greatest strength: just us.