Live and Die To Make Men Free

There are multiple versions of the Civil War marching song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The original words to the song include this line:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free. 

It’s easy to see why this would be inspiring to the Union soldiers singing it to build morale.  They were imitating the example of their Lord, who gave His life to free humanity from the bonds of sin and death.  This same Lord said, memorably, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  The North must have been encouraged by seeing themselves in the role of temporal saviors, risking and often giving their lives to free black Southerners from the bonds of slavery.  (The famous “grapes of wrath” from the first verse refers to God’s righteous indignation at the evil of the slaveholders, which was in immediate need of retribution, through the instrument of the Northern army.) 

Such an analogy was uplifting and appropriate for the soldiers of the time (and, indeed, for soldiers of any time).  However, as much as I like the injunction in the hymn to “die to make men free,” I also like the way those words are modified in the hymn book of my church, the LDS Church.  In our hymnal, that line reads:

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.

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Teach Me About Citizenship

I haven’t blogged about the Man Scout Project in forever, because it’s been so slow–last year, I only made time to work on it in the Spring and Summer.  Without going over all the activities I’ve done, right now I’ve done everything for tenderfoot and second class, and I’m finishing up first class. 

One of the requirements I still have for that is #5:

Visit and discuss with a selected individual approved by your leader (elected official, judge, attorney, civil servant, principal, teacher) your constitutional rights and obligations as a U.S. citizen.

So, I’m appealing to the online community for help with this one.  What are your thoughts about our rights and responsibilities as citizens?  I’m happy to hear all ideas here, including those that might be based on political values different from my own: I won’t be criticizing them here, just thanking you for your help.  If you think you have any special background or experience to support your comments, please explain. 

The forum is now open.

Display an American Flag on Cinco de Mayo

On May 5, 2010, in California, four high school students were disciplined by their assistant principal.  What did they do wrong?  They wore American flag apparel on Cinco de Mayo.  Some other students were offended and complained, and the young men were told to change their shirts so that racial tensions wouln’t turn violent, the administrator said. 

In interviews with reporters about the incident, at least two students at the school said that they were offended by the shirts because they felt it disrespected their Mexican heritage.  They said Cinco de Mayo was “their” holiday, and that they wouldn’t wear Mexican flags on the Fourth of July.  

Videos of students announcing that American flags are not appropriate in America on Cinco de Mayo are at 1:20 to 1:27 here and 0:55 to 1:10 here

Clearly, their language suggests that these students identify themselves as Mexicans first, and as Americans second, if at all.  That is wrong. Societies have a right to expect loyalty from those living within their nation’s borders.

Therefore, I’m calling on all of us to display the American flag this year on Cinco de Mayo: Thursday, May 5, 2011.

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What This Professor Professes

A few weeks ago, a former student groused about college tuition on Facebook, to which I cheekily replied with a favorite quote from Good Will Hunting: “You paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the exact same education you could have got for a buck fifty in late charges at the library.” 

Another commenter admitted that, but asked, “Who recognizes a library education?” 

That’s a revealing question.  It’s meant to say, obviously, that no potential employer will credit what you know based on your own reading alone.  What the world wants to see is degrees and credentials. *

But here’s where the commenter’s challenging query falls short: I’ve never said that the purpose of education is to get a good job. 

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How Do You Choose For Whom To Vote?

With the election now over, I’m still thinking about something that has long fascinated and confused me: how exactly do we decide which people we support?  In my own experience, I’ve chosen people based on party affiliation, ideological similarity, and various kinds of advertising.  Still, I’m curious what people in general care about.  I don’t know that there is any research out there about this; at least, none of which I’m aware. 

So, here’s a start.  You can choose up to two options: what are the most significant factors that influence you in choosing which candidates will get your votes?

Worst. Cheater. Ever.

Here’s one to add to my collection of cheating stories.  Yesterday, I passed some papers out that had been turned in for homework to another class.  We would review it as we went over the answers and they graded the papers.  As I started going over it, one girl, sitting right in the front of the room–right in front of me, in fact–pulled out her blank paper and started writing down the answers as I gave them out.  I stood there–right there–looking at this and wondering if she’d really have the gall to try to turn this in.

Sure enough, after I finished the review and the papers had been graded and were getting passed back up, she hurriedly stuck her paper in the stack.  I pulled it out and showed it to her, trying not to laugh, and said, “Kid, I have to be honest.  In ten years of teaching, this is the single worst attempt at cheating that I’ve ever seen.”  I pointed out that, for one thing, the papers that had been graded weren’t even those of the current class, but from a period earlier in the day, so that her one paper from this last class of the day would kind of stick out.  She didn’t even try to fake the “graded by” signature that teachers expect.   

At first she didn’t have anything to say, then tried to play it off by laughing and saying, “I didn’t know that was cheating.”  Of course, if she didn’t know it was cheating, then she wouldn’t have tried shoving her paper into the stack when she thought I wasn’t looking (even though, again, I was standing right by her desk), and she wouldn’t have marked two of her answers wrong just to make it look more authentic.  (Actually, I have to give her some credit for that.  Most cheaters just turn in perfect papers and think it doesn’t look suspicious.) 

Well, we’ll see if the dean can get some sense into her.  For my part, this is just another sign of a post-ethical generation sleazing its way into the world.  *sigh*

On the Permanent Value of Books

An excerpt from one of the best essays I’ve read in a long time, “Where’s the Bailout for Publishing?” by Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter:

A book matches perfectly the ideal of reflection.The tougher the text, the more reflective we must be in absorbing it. This suggests the importance of reading books that are difficult. Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle. The hard work of serious reading mirrors the hard work of serious governing—and, in a democracy, governing is a responsibility all citizens share. And if we are willing to work our way through difficult texts, we are far more likely to be willing to work our way through our opponents’ difficult ideas. An important lesson of serious reading is that ideas need not be correct to be important.


The online text, by contrast, proposes to the reader that ideas are little more than the stuff that dreams are made on. As Miller notes, if you dislike any aspect of the text—the font style or size, say, or the columnar arrangement—you are free to alter it to your liking. The text loses its fixed-ness. It ceases to represent anything permanent or unchanging.


Democracy is not alone in its need for the book. It is no accident that the great Western religions rely heavily on sacred texts—texts, moreover, that believers are able to touch and feel and carry about. The weight and heft of a Bible, its solidity, itself implies eternity. Matthew Brown of the University of Iowa, in his pathbreaking study of early American devotional texts, has pointed out how their form— “short and tubby, as thick as a brick” —formed a part of the aesthetic experience of the reader. One did not only read God’s word; one touched it. Many of us are old enough to remember when families routinely kissed the Bible. It is difficult to imagine lavishing the same loving attention on the computer screen.


I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Amen and amen.