Book Review: Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky

I  recently re-read the book Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky. This book had originally been a spark in my interest in community organizing over five years ago. Alinsky, according to wikipedia, is consider the father of community organizing. He was fairly notorious from the 1930’s to the 1960’s for his organizing of labor and union groups to civil rights involvement. And his book is full of great and creative stories of his organizing days.

The truth is, Alinsky was way more radical then I could ever hope to be. He seemed to be a man of solid convictions, but also steadfastly committed to getting the job done. Here’s a powerful statement:

…in action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual’s
personal salvation. He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of “personal salvation”; he doesn’t care enough for people to be “corrupted” for them. -p. 25

Wow, that is a challenging statement. He basically argues that any means is acceptable if it reaches your end. He uses Gandhi as an example, arguing that Gandhi was only non-violent because that was the best means to reach the end, and that after they won power from the British, Gandhi then was willing to use force (or at least didn’t argue against it) in maintaining that power.

Alinsky’s creative action and threats have included everything from tying up the bathrooms at O’hare to organizing proxies of stockholders to influence huge corporations. He was notorious for being one step ahead, and I hope I can glean some of his wisdom in future organizing.

Here are his rules for Tactics, which is a major component of the book:

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people.
The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

Some obviously need some explaining, but for that you’ll have to pick up the book. Enjoy.

“The fact is that it is not man’s “better nature” but his self-interest that demands that he be his brother’s keeper. We now live in a world where no man can have a loaf of bread while his neighbor has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbor will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper.”

A Rant Against Standardized Testing

My opinion on Standardized testing didn’t come from the Alfie Kohn book I just read, but I think he does an excellent job of addressing many of testings downfalls. Here is a concise list of facts from Standardized Testing and it’s Victims:

  1. Our children are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
  2. Noninstructional factors explain most of the variance among test scores when schools or districts are compared.
  3. Norm-referenced tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching.
  4. Standardized-test scores often measure superficial thinking.
  5. Virtually all specialists condemn the practice of giving standardized tests to children younger than 8 or 9 years old.
  6. Virtually all relevant experts and organizations condemn the practice of basing important decisions, such as graduation or promotion, on the results of a single test.
  7. The time, energy, and money that are being devoted to preparing students for standardized tests have to come from somewhere.
  8. Many educators are leaving the field because of what is being done to schools in the name of “accountability” and “tougher standards.”

Basically the main point being made is that standardized testing is not only useless in it’s intended goal of “keeping schools accountable” it’s actually very detrimental to education as a whole (students, teachers, schools, etc). Kohn goes on to discuss some of the implications of this system, but I think this is enough for a discussion to begin. If you have any questions on the Facts above, read the article, there is a paragraph or so on each one and will give you a better understanding of the point being made.

What are your thoughts on standardized testing?

Should We Stop Saying “Good Job!”?

I read a fascinating book by Alfie Kohn last week, which included an essay titled, Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!” and it definitely made me think critically about how and why we praise kids. I’ll include a brief paragraph and then just the bullet point reasons (with some supporting text), but it would be good for you to read the whole article (it’s not very long).

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a different story entirely. Here’s why.

  1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?
  2. Creating praise junkies. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, “I like the way you….” or “Good ______ing,” the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.
  3. Stealing a child’s pleasure. Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, “Good job!”, though, we’re telling a child how to feel.
  4. Losing interest. “Good painting!” may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, “once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again.” Indeed, an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
  5. Reducing achievement. As if it weren’t bad enough that “Good job!” can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task – and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.

You can read the complete article here.

I find myself agreeing with the majority of his points, though I think he might be taking it to an extreme (my opinion is still definitely out on this one). What are your thoughts?

YouTubesday: Racist, Racism and the 1968 Olympic Salute

How to Tell People They Sound Racist

First, if you haven’t heard of the famous 1968 Olympics Salute you should. Here’s a brief informative video about Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Never heard of Peter Norman? I didn’t even know he had any active involvement in the famous “Salute”, but turns out he agreed to where a Olympians for Human Rights pin. I don’t know if he did anything else, but that simple act got him banned from the Australian Olympic team forever. Here’s a nicely done trailer for a documentary about him:

Hot Button Issue: Education

I’m not quite sure how “hot button” Education actually is in most people’s minds, but it’s an extremely important issue to me and thus one I felt worth to talk about in the political realm. Some of our earlier conversations got us into asking the question of what should be a government run entity. Some would say just military, police, maybe roads and a few other things. Others would say everything from healthcare to the airlines. In a conversation with someone last weekend it was mentioned that some of the skepticism about the benefit or success of government run programs has been what people look at as the “failure or public education.” Whether or not this is true (that it is a failure, or that that is where the skepticism comes from), I think it’s important to talk about as an issue and as it relates to politics.

I believe public education is necessary

The effort to privatize education and to create a voucher system are both things I feel are extremely dangerous for the good of our communities. On the surface they seem like possible solutions, but both in my gut and in the evidence and direction I’ve seen, they appear a dangerous alternative to community based public schools. The capitalist notion of competition can work wonders when your producing a product to sell, but education and a childs learning and developmental growth is not a product to sell or market. Children are our future and it is important that we share the responsibility of providing a solid education for all of them.

I do not believe these initiatives are driven by those valuing the best interest of our students, I think it is driven by corporations and industry greedily interested in expanding their profits. There is plenty of evidence to build conspiracy theories in this direction.

Inequality in public education perpetuates the racial disparities that have existed in our country since slavery

We are barely a generation past the Civil Rights movement that ushered in policy changes like Brown V. Board and the Civil Rights Act. Even with these national changes, inequality in public schools has been slow to change. There is both well documented statistics and reports as well as plenty of anecdotal stories of the poor public school systems in many of the urban communities in our country today.

I feel like the quiet undertone of the education debate is one of race, at least that has been my impression. When people talk about “failing schools” they are primarily pointing to inner city schools full of low-income minority students. And what I hear coming across in their critiques are racial stereotypes, biases and prejudices. Maybe it’s just me but I have a strong feeling it is not.

I just finished a book recently by Alfie Kohn who writes some fascinating insights into the education system. I’m going to quote some of what he’s written and try and create a dialog around in later this week.

Book Review: What Does it Mean to Be Well Educated?

So, one of my current housemates is a third grade teacher who recommended I read What Does it Mean to Be Well Educated? And Other Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies, by Alfie Kohn. I’ve been devouring the book and have found Kohn’s insight fascinating. I’m going to post some quotes in upcoming blogs so I’ll keep this review brief.

I think every educator should read this book, or at least some of Kohn’s work (most probably have). I’m not sure that everyone will agree with his opinions, but I think he has brilliant insight that will help you see a different perspective and consider things from an angle you hadn’t before. Kohn manages to step back from the current debates that are often polarized to two sides and lends a whole new perspective the questions some of the very assumptions we currently take for granted.

The ideas are pretty radical at times, but I find I agree with much of what he says. He’s extremely critical of standardized testing, national standards, business and politicians involved in education decisions, and a huge opponent to grades.

Here are a couple quotes and links to a lot of the complete essays!

From Confusing Hard with Better:

But how many adults could pass these exams? How many high school teachers possess the requisite stock of information outside their own subjects? How many college professors, for that matter, or business executives, or state legislators could confidently write an essay about Mayan agricultural practices or divergent plate boundaries? We would do well to adopt (Deborah) Meier’s Mandate: No student should be expected to meet an academic requirement that a cross section of successful adults in the community cannot.

A list Two Cheers for an End to the SAT on why to ditch the SAT:

  • The SAT is a measure of resources more than of reasoning.
  • Aggregate scores don’t reflect educational achievement.
  • Individual scores don’t reflect a student’s intellectual depth.
  • SAT’s don’t predict the future.
  • SAT’s don’t contribute to diversity.

And finally From Degrading to De-Grading on why to do away with grades:

  1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself.
  2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks.
  3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.
  4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective.
  5. Grades distort the curriculum.
  6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning.
  7. Grades encourage cheating.
  8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students.
  9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other.

Feel free to read the complete essays linked above and let me know your thoughts.

Gay Marriage And A Church PR Campaign, I’m of the opinion that the all-out-battle I see presented by Christians in the political realm against gay marriage terribly misses the mark. It’s as if we think the most appropriate way to love our neighbor is to stand at a distance and vote away their immorality. All that aside, from what I can tell, Christians are fighting a lossing battle. Gay marriage will be recognized by the state eventually, it’s just a matter of time. And then the apocolypse will come, or our society will decline into moral degradation, or maybe we’ll go on just like we have been. Regardless of your opinion, here are a couple suggestions I have on how the church should be addressing this whole Gay Marriage thing. It’s mostly a PR campaign.

The Church should make a clear distinction between Biblical Marriage and State Marriage

Instead of arguing that the whole gay marriage thing is a threat to the institution of marriage we should be letting everyone know there is a clear distinction between what the state recognizes and what the Bible says (though plenty disagree on what it does actually say). This will help us do away with the feeling of being threatened since they are two entirely separate things. Maybe churches should start calling Biblical Marriage something else to help make the distinction. How about Biblicariage?

The Church should apologize for being silent or hostile to the Homosexual Community

I believe that before the church has an opportunity to speak to the Homosexual community it should offer an apology. We need to apologize for standing silent, or picketed, as AIDS took the lives of many. We should ask forgiveness for being alienating and hostile to many who had once called Christianity home but where ostracized because of their lifestyle choices. And we should acknowledge that though the main face of Christianity that has been presented to the homosexual community has been of hostile picketers at parades and funerals, we are also sorry for apathetically standing by.
This message could easily be communicated through a collection of pastors sending open letters to gay media outlets or publishing full page ads in those magazines. If the church should be an example of anything it should be in our willingness to acknowledge our own sin and ask forgiveness.

I figure there will be a lot to talk about around this one as well, so I’ll keep it short.

Hot Button Issue: Gay Marriage

It’s seems when it comes to Christian voting decisions there are two main issues I hear spoken about on the Christian radio and from the pulpits. Gay Marriage is one of those and I’ve had a hard time wrapping my mind around why. As I mentioned earlier, in high school I probably would have agreed to vote Republican and outlaw gay marriage and wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but when I started thinking about it I came to some challenges. Regardless of whether or not you thinking Homosexuality is a sin, I think the points below are still valid, and so, we’ll stipulate for the rest of the post that you the reader, consider it a sin.

Gay Marriage is not Homosexuality

The legal issue of whether or not we recognize a gay couple as married has nothing to do with keeping anyone from sinning. There are many people in active homosexual relationships, a law outlawing them to be recognized as legal married, has nothing to do holding back the tides of immorality.

Marriage recognized by the Government isn’t the same as Christian Marriage

Christians historically made a huge mistake when we started confusing the marriage license you get from the government with the marital union recognized by God. The definition of marriage by the government in no way changes the definition of marriage by God, they are two entirely different things and we do ourselves and society a disservice when we confuse them.

Gay Marriage is an issue of Civil Rights

Whether you agree with this statement or not, that is the motivation and passion behind it. It is not some hidden ‘homosexual agenda’ out to corrupt society and our youth. A married homosexual couple would like to enjoy the same legal benefits as a married heterosexual couple. Benefits like making medical or end-of-life decisions for their partner, being with them in the emergency room, and the hundreds of rights, benefits and protections of marriage.

Gay Marriage is an opportunity to encourage Loving Monogamy

Besides the necessity of marriage being one man and one woman, Christians recognize there are many other values and qualities a spouse needs to bring the a marriage in order for it to thrive. Some of those include: selfless love, putting others before themselves, commitment, and monogamy. These are all values Christian find Biblical basis for and esteem to in their own marriages (though we often fall short). Gay couples desire to be married is an opportunity for the church to esteem those values and commitments in these individuals. This sort of support does not have to ignore or eliminate that the church disagrees with homosexual relations, but it is an opportunity to draw out the Christ-like qualities in people and their relationships. When my wife esteems me for making a delicious omlette I know it doesn’t repeal the fact that I’m a total slob at times.

That’s enough for now, I’ll hit up part two on the topic tomorrow.

Check Out Deep Green Conversations

I’ve had the privilege to start writing occasionally for Creation Care‘s new web initiative, Deep Green Conversations. Josh Brown (from that podcast), has been working really hard on this project and I wanted to be sure to give him a shout out. You should check out the new site, where you might find a familiar article by me about plastic bags.

When our baby was on the way I started searching for Christians who I could look to as examples of living a simple and sacrifical life while raising children. One couple I ran across was Nancy and Matthew Sleeth. They are fascinating people, here’s just a snippet…

When God called me to this creation care ministry, I was a physician—chief of staff and head of the emergency department—at one of the nicest hospitals in America. I enjoyed my job, my colleagues, my expensive home, my fast car, and my big paycheck. I have since given up every one of these things.

We now live in a house the exact size of our old garage. We use less than one-third of the fossil fuels and one-quarter of the electricity we once used. We’ve gone from leaving two barrels of trash by the curb each week to leaving one bag every few weeks. We no longer own a clothes dryer, garbage disposal, dishwasher, or lawn mower. Our “yard” is planted with native wildflowers and a large vegetable garden. Half of our possessions have found new homes. We are a poster family for the downwardly mobile.

What my family and I have gained in exchange is a life richer in meaning than I could have imagined. Because of these changes, we have more time for God. Spiritual concerns have filled the void left by material ones. Owning fewer things has resulted in things no longer owning us. We have put God to the test, and we have found his Word to be true. He has poured blessings and opportunities upon us. When we stopped living a life dedicated to consumerism, our cup began to run over.

Read the rest and more at Deep Green Conversations