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The Virtues of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide










by Beverly Eakman

November 5, 2008

When I was teaching middle school at the Westminster School District in Orange County, California, back in 1968-1974 (and high-school pupils at the Clear Creek School District in suburban Houston, 1979-1981), I did something that virtually no public school teacher was doing. I assigned multi-page essays (not mere paragraphs or class discussions) on timeless topics taken from famous speeches and writings. One involved a choice of four sentences taken from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Open Letter to America’s Students,” published by The Readers Digest in October 1948, exactly 60 years ago. The four choices are worthy reflections for today’s schoolchildren, given the pivotal 2008 election. But few, if any — including college students — will ever read, much less contemplate, them:

1 - Never let yourself be persuaded that any one leader is necessary to save America.
2 - It’s dangerous to assume that our country’s welfare belongs alone to “the government.”
3 - To develop fully your own character you must know your country’s character.
4 - We have the world’s best machines, because we ourselves are not machines….

Of course, an entire context surrounded Eisenhower’s statements, and that was to be taken into account by the student in writing the essay. Whether a pupil decided to agree with the statement was the student’s choice, as long as the writing itself was convincing and acknowledged both Eisenhower’s context and intent.

I recall another such assignment I gave: an article entitled “Don’t Take America for Granted!” reprinted February 1, 1948, in Vogue Magazine (of all places!), as an editorial. Among the essay choices was the comment: “It was not to give us ice cream and television that…half a million men lay in their blood on foreign soil.”

I personally rather agreed with the remark, but one eighth-grader took exception and wrote that it was precisely to give us things like ice cream and television that such men died. The pupil acknowledged that modern “luxuries-become-necessities” too often clouded the importance of personal sacrifice in service to our country, but nevertheless, in the end, a better life for future generations was what the men and women in question had fought for.

I gave the kid an A+. That was the kind of incisiveness I wanted.

Most teachers (and even the principal), upon hearing about my essay projects, looked at me as though I’d suddenly sprouted three heads. They were awash in social-adjustment games; popular teen magazines (just to get students to read something — anything); and games like Scrabble to encourage spelling. Upon learning that I actually placed old-fashioned gold stars on the winning essays, followed by red, blue, and green stars for second, third, and fourth-place finishers, and that I read aloud all winning essays to reinforce the kind of deep thinking I was looking for — well, that was simply over-the-top. The principal assured me that no one would turn anything in after the first couple of weeks and my teacher colleagues said “modern” students were “immune to cerebral endeavors.”

I proved them all dead wrong.

But that was then and this is now — some 35-40 years later. Pupils who rise to excellence today do so in spite of the system, not because of it. The devolution of education into fluff, outright nonsense, political correctness and sports-obsession has continued for so long that standardized tests (what few exist for rigorous academics) are dumbed-down every few years so that students can pass them.

Remedial classes in the basics are ubiquitous at America’s colleges and universities.

The 2008 election year has provided Americans an up-close-and-personal look at the fruits intellectual neglect. The 40-year-long emphasis on teamwork, sex, mental health, anti-gang and drug abuse programs in our nation’s classrooms, combined with a smattering of junk science, fuzzy math, “transformational grammar” and “whole language” has ensured that today’s younger voters (below age 30) are unable to see past campaign slogans and rumor-mills. One would think that the Internet would be empowering a computer-savvy generation to compare the various pronouncements made by candidates. But today’s technologically comfortable young adults are neither knowledgeable about, nor interested in, research. They are sitting ducks for the lip-syncing and sloganism that passes for real debate.

Generations X, Y and their progeny have no grasp of history; no understanding of rhetoric; no stomach for philosophic deliberations, such as those that went into framing our Constitution; and no idea what constitutes a fallacy (such as “straw-man argument”). They couldn’t care less about a candidate’s past writings or some pal from college or early career. They are clueless as to the motives of professional “handlers,” who work tirelessly to script a candidate’s every move, down to “dressing the part,” as in the case of Sarah Palin’s infamous $150,000 wardrobe renovation under the direction of the Republican National Committee. Most handlers rely heavily on market research, much of it erroneous. At least Mrs. Palin had the sense to reject (belatedly) her handlers’ expensive “advice” and did her own shopping.

This sort of thing is not new, of course, but people outside the Washington, DC Beltway are not aware of the extent to which handlers go to “market” a candidate. Those few who may have happened upon, for example, an image of former President Bill Clinton and his wife in the 1970s — well, you can bet they both got extreme makeovers, all expenses paid.


The point is, today’s presidential and congressional campaigns are mostly theater. They are reminiscent of Britney Spears’ and Ashlee Simpson’s lip-syncing debacles, talent-challenged exhibitions that lacked even a complex musical score or dance-training requisites.

Like Britney and Ashlee, the candidates lip-sync and prance around the issues of the day, mouthing sound bites about the “middle-class,” “universal health coverage,” and “government-created jobs and wealth.” Barack Obama obviously has had more speaker’s training than John McCain, but if one listens closely, one can’t miss the lack of any connected train of logic, the failure to stay on topic, and repetitive use of catch-phrases.

Truth be told, most of the promises candidates make either are not part of their job, or they have no idea how to handle the enormous problems facing the nation. Little is mentioned about illegal immigration, domestic crime (which, by the way, costs middle-class families thousands of dollars annually in prevention costs), or vanishing property rights. Self-determination; national sovereignty; freedom of thought and conscience (not just for the media, but in the schools and workplaces); security from unreasonable searches and seizures, including those accomplished via computer — these and other critical issues remain taboo, while candidates for national office lip-sync platitudes about patriotism, climate change, taxes and racial tolerance. Americans get mixed messages about a woebegone “war on terror” that fails to explain why upstanding Americans seem to be the only ones harassed; unscientific alarmism about global-warming (a.k.a. “climate change”) that neglects to mention why a similar phenomenon exists on Mars and Venus, from which SUVs are noticeably absent; and hackneyed diatribes about race and taxes that serve to distract and confuse.

When Eisenhower wrote that it was dangerous to assume that a nation’s welfare belongs to “the government,” he noted that “[w]e cannot afford to allow or force government to take over a question that properly belongs to us” because “[e]very time we do so we surrender some of our individual responsibility and with it some of our individual freedom.”

I’d like to think that a few of the now-grown students who selected this topic, or the one before it — “Never let yourself be persuaded that any one leader is necessary to save America” — as their essay theme will remember it on Election Day in 2008. For me, the passages hit home in Col. Oliver North’s October 23 column. The previous day, an Obama campaign convoy was zooming along the freeway, and hundreds of drivers, Col. North included, were directed by police to the shoulder of the roadway to allow the procession to pass. A mass exodus ensued from the pulled-over vehicles, folks with cameras and video-cell-phones. According to Col. North, the assembled masses “began chanting: ‘The Messiah! He's coming! Obama is coming!’ The shouting only intensified as the candidate and his entourage — motorcycles, police cars, black Secret Service Suburbans and busses — roared past ….”

Joe the Plumber (a.k.a. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher), the now-celebrated plumber from Holland, Ohio — he gets it. “Joe” took to the podium in nearby Columbus, without benefit of handlers or notes, and said: “I hope [America] remains a democracy, not a socialist society. …If you look at ‘spreading the wealth’, that’s honestly right out of Karl Marx’s mouth.”

Ignoring for a moment that America is a republic, not just “a democracy” (Mr. Wurzelbacher can be forgiven, considering the lopsided history — excuse me: “social studies” — he probably learned in school), he is stumping for the only viable political choice in this election, Sen. John McCain, who may not appreciate the difference between a democracy and a republic, either. No president is likely at this juncture to fend off America’s slide into socialism, given the population’s general indifference to government-buyouts of bad mortgages, government takeovers of the medical system and the schools, failure to require either English or an understanding of our Constitution from immigrants who would call the USA home, and favored-nation status bestowed upon hostile countries.

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For all the evidence in plain sight concerning the candidates’ past associations, interviews and writings, “redistributive change” and radicalism are probably the waves of the future as the U.S. echoes the mantras of European socialism.

� 2008 - Beverly Eakman - All Rights Reserved

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Beverly K. Eakman is a former teacher and retired federal employee who served as speechwriter for the heads of three government agencies. Today, she is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer, the author of five books, and a frequent keynote speaker on the lecture circuit. Her newest book, Walking Targets: How Our Psychologized Classrooms Are Producing a Nation of Sitting Ducks (Midnight Whistler Publishers) was published in December 2007.

She can be reached through her website:










The 2008 election year has provided Americans an up-close-and-personal look at the fruits intellectual neglect. The 40-year-long emphasis on teamwork, sex, mental health, anti-gang and drug abuse programs in our nation’s classrooms, combined with a smattering of junk science, fuzzy math, “transformational grammar” and “whole language” has ensured that today’s younger voters (below age 30) are unable to see past campaign slogans and rumor-mills.