The Asthmatic Boy who Became the Unstoppable Man Part 3

I am a part of everything that I have read.
-Theodore Roosevelt

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I finally finished Edmund Morris’ three part biography of Theodore Roosevelt! Last week was a tribute to Teddy’s many accomplishments throughout his life and I have written two previous posts about his early life (Part 1) and his presidency (Part 2). The last book in Morris’ series is called Colonel Roosevelt and it profiles Roosevelt’s post presidency life until his death. Reading about Teddy in his later life made me both happy and sad because he tried to do great things but were often stopped by forces beyond his control. After his grand tour of Africa and Europe, Roosevelt came back to America with intentions of writing and staying out of politics. These plans were quickly abandoned because the sitting president, William Howard Taft, was doing little to push Roosevelt’s square deal (conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, consumer protection) and prevent political corruption. The people wanted Roosevelt to run for president in 1912 but the party wanted Taft. Roosevelt fought for primaries that were decided by the popular vote (how modern day nominations work) instead of selection of candidates by party leaders. Roosevelt and Taft were essentially tied for the nomination at the Republican National Convention but the old Republican guard disliked his progressive policies. Taft received the nomination but Roosevelt decided to form the Progressive Party and run against Taft (Republican), Woodrow Wilson (Democrat), and Eugene Debs (Socialist).

The Progressive Party ran on a platform that most of us would think were commonsense policies, but at the time they were extremely radical. Roosevelt toured the country speaking to over a million Americans about the tenets of his newly formed party:

-Complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs
-Laws prohibiting the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes
-Executives and board members of corporations should be held responsible for wrongdoings
-Promote conservation of natural resources
-Promote national security
-Graduated Income Tax
-Inheritance Taxes on big fortunes
-A judiciary accountable to changing social and economic conditions
-Comprehensive workmen’s compensation acts
-National laws to regulate the labor of children and women
-Higher safety and sanitary standards in the workplace
-Public scrutiny of all political campaign spending

Unfortunately, Roosevelt lost to Woodrow Wilson but he did beat Taft in electoral and popular votes. Roosevelt’s campaign did however alter the progressive policies of the two major parties-many of which would be enacted 25 years later by his fifth-cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the election, Roosevelt became a little disillusioned by politics and began to write for magazines and conduct speaking events. In 1914, WWI broke out and Roosevelt soon put his heart into convincing Americans that they must arm themselves for national protection. After the Lusitania sunk, Roosevelt was furious that Wilson refused to enter the war and defend the Americans who were being mercilessly killed by the German U-Boats. Eventually, Wilson would be forced to enter the war and Roosevelt essentially begged the President to allow him to lead men into battle. The administration rejected this plea, and Roosevelt was forced to write about the war while his 4 sons went off to fight. At this point in his life, Roosevelt began to lose most of his health due to all his previous injuries: rheumatism and crippling asthma as a child, leg injury from a collision with a trolley car, a gun shot wound to the chest, malaria from the Spanish-American War, a near-death injury during a river expedition in the jungles of Brazil, and countless falls off his horse list a few. He became overweight from inactivity and depressed because he couldn’t fight physically or politically. His depression worsened when he heard that his son Quentin was shot down in France; this loss was the hardest in his life-even more than when he lost his mother and first wife on the same day at the age of 26. He would never fully recover from this and soon fell ill with rheumatism and a pulmonary embolism. As he lay dying, he was unaware that the Republican Party was excitedly planning his nomination for president in 1920.

In 2016, many of the principles Teddy fought for are still with us. We are a better country because of his progressive policies which fought for the collective good of the people instead of the collective good of the elite. Unfortunately, just like the election of 1912, we are fighting corruption in politics, corporations, and the values of equality. Remembering what Teddy fought for makes me appreciate how far America has come and how much more we need to improve.

The Khan of Education

Let me preface this post with the fact that I hated every single year of my schooling. I was a fat frick who felt homework was pointless, teachers were lazy, and getting laughs in class was more important than paying attention to boring lectures. The best part of my school day was when I got to eat lunch or when a girl walked past me who was not adhering to the dress code. Fast forward to my 24 year old self who reads and writes for fun-just finishing The One World School House: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan. Salman Khan is the founder of Khan Academy, a free educational-video resource that is revolutionizing the way people learn. Basically, he creates 10-15 minute long videos that cover a subject with test questions which are answered until complete comprehension is reached. Simple idea, but it has blown up the educational world and is now used by millions of people of all ages. Khan is all about revolutionizing our current archaic system of education which originated in eighteen-century Prussia (think Germany but bigger). Prussia designed the K-12 system with the goal of indoctrinating children and inhibiting independent thinking to produce average-laborers for advancement of the empire. Dividing schools into subjects, grades, units, and periods was all done to mitigate deep thinking, big-picture connections, and abstract thought. The class period itself, was designed to prevent self motivated learning by implementing ceaseless interruptions of bells ringing. Breaking up thought and conversation was an important tool of control and stifling creativity. What the Frick! Today’s schools are structured in the same way and although they may not have the goals of Prussians they still result in the same type of educational dystopia. 

Learning in schools is not based on the variable of mastery, but the variable of time. The teacher must get through a certain number of units so that the students are prepared to take a standardized test. This focus on time, and not mastery, creates the problem of kids having limited comprehension that compounds as subjects get more and more advanced. This causes some kids to be tracked into advanced classes, mediocre classes, or special needs classes. In the end, this tracking limits a child’s potential and pigeonholes their entire future self image (I am smart or I am stupid so this is the best career for me). Schools are not designed to create the smartest student but the most tractable and average student possible. What is truly abhorrent about the whole system is that on average, each classroom receives 250,000-300,000 dollars of funding each school year (10,000 per student). Come on schools! Teachers get paid crap so where is this money going? To pompous administrators that spend most their days eating donuts at board meetings? Or to the brand new football stadium where kids can get concussions and decrease their IQ even more? We need to radically change the system so learning is self-motivated, fluid, and not a boring lecture. 

Khan is a smart dude and has several thoughts on how children should be taught. First off, no more units, subjects, or time based curriculum. Each student is in charge of their own learning pace through video lessons on the computer. Some kids will breeze through a subject and others will advance to new topics. Kids will not be divided by age but placed in a classroom with 75-100 students of similar comprehension levels-three to four teachers would provide guidance and help. 20% of the students can work on video lessons while other students work on stimulating projects like robotics, strategy games, literary conversation, etc. Khan does not want kids to stare at a computer screen all day but only posits that short videos can replace boring lectures and leave more time for stimulating real-world learning. This would mean far less homework, kids who are confident in connecting subject materials, and a sense of educational exploration that is currently discouraged in our Prussian school structure. In the current system, why would a kid advance in a subject when it won’t be covered on the next test? We need to partially remove ourselves from the almighty test because it is only are a snapshot of what was learned and it says nothing of the potential of a student to learn. In today’s increasingly creative world, GPA and standardized test scores are poor at predicting a successful employee. Projects, internships, personal references, and social competences are becoming more and more important in the workforce. I am such a strong supporter of self motivated learning because I am its poster child. As soon as I was able to control what I wanted to learn I became the most motivated student ever. The current system is broken and hopefully Khan’s ideas will change the world we live in. I think, Pink Floyd said it best, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.”