From: J. J. []
Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2004 4:10 PM
Subject: just curious...

Hola Mr. Geib,

J. here just wanting to ask you a personal question:

Being as political as I am, I am always curious to find where my teachers stand and the political spectrum. I never think differently of a teacher with differing viewpoints than mine; they are my educators and deserve respect regardless of political affiliation.

The bottom line is: Where do you stand politically, who do you support in this election, and what values or issues do you like represented in your government?

If you believe this to be too personal, you can just disregard it. No hard feelings whatsoever.

If this is the case, then I have an alternate question: Do you love your nation, and why?

Thanks a lot Mr. Geib, hope to receive a response (any kind will do). I'm nervous but certainly excited to be in the AmEx class of 04'-05'!

With utmost sincerity,
J. J.

Dear J.,

I usually make a firm policy of not discussing my personal political beliefs with students, and I would definitely not do it in front of an entire class. The reason? Students who share your political views tend to think too favorably of you as their teacher, and students who don't think too unfavorably of you. They prejudge you. Passion gets in the way of intellect. They suspect the fairness of the teacher's instruction. Will both sides get equal time?

That is a fair question.

My role in teaching American history and literature is not to talk about myself but to get students to talk and think about themselves and their place in the world and in their country; the focus I try to put on students, not the teacher. I have personally had a few teachers who went on and on about what they thought and believed in front of a hostage audience, and I thought it was an abuse of their power. About how we students should "open our hearts to God's word as given through His only son..." Or about how we should "really get together and oppose this insane and unjust policy of the current administration..." If a teacher wants to proselytize, the classroom is not the place. The instructor's podium is not the preacher's pulpit.

That being said, I will answer your question.

In brief, I most likely will vote for George Bush in the next election. He has disappointed me in many ways as a president, after I voted for him in 2000; and he worries me in his absolutely tone-deaf approach to politics: he lacks the magic of a Clinton or a Reagan when it comes to explaining himself and the policies he crafts for our country. George Bush, as a born again Christian, shows exemplary moral courage and will do what he sees necessary for our nation. That is good. But I worry about his lack of nuance and subtlety: he is all blunderbuss, no rapier. That is bad: the latter is as important as the former. Sometimes letting a problem rot on the vine and die in its own good time is as smart as attacking (or invading) it. The Romans ran their Empire for a thousand years because they were as wise as they were powerful, at least a good part of the time. In particular, in war you kill people to effect a positive social good - insofar as that does not happen, you are simply wasting lives and money. I have grave doubts about Iraq, but only time will really tell. As usual, the present is cloudy and ascertaining the truth is exceedingly difficult through the clash and chaos of conflict.

On the other hand, I can hardly think of military action more appropriate and justified than our country taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan, after the September 11th terror attacks in New York and Washington D.C. In retrospect, we should have done it years earlier.

Yet I will not rest easy, I fear, until our military profile in the Middle East is back to the relatively low level it was back in 1989. No good will come from that part of the world, I fear, and I would love to keep the Arab world and its violence at arm's distance. I fear that will not happen for much time. Religion, fanaticism, tribalism, rage, and authoritarianism. I sympathize for the good people of that region, but I suspect there are not enough of them willing to stand up and fight to bring peace, democracy, stability, and prosperity to their lands. There are too many Muslim militants, and too many angry young people praising suicide bombers and hostage takers in the Arab world; and there are too few engineers, too few moderates, too few thinkers, too few cosmopolitans - and too much passion, and entirely too much religion. There are too many willing to die for their religion and cause, and not enough willing to live quietly and build patiently a better tomorrow. We shall see what happens, but I am not optimistic.

And so I fear how George Bush has made trying to build democracy in the Middle East a goal worth shedding American blood and spending American treasure over. What is good in theory must be tempered by what is practical in reality. The Arabs are divided and confused in their feelings of impotence and rage. Democracy will not rise from that phoenix. Arguments to the contrary I suspect are wishful thinking.

Democracy will only come to the Arab countries when the people are ready and worthy of it. Is the average Iraqi thus right now? Or is it as Edmund Burke once claimed: "Kings will be tyrants from policy, when subjects are rebels from principle." Can any authority in Iraq be less than a Saddam Hussein, an absolute and cruel despot, without anarchy breaking out? Where are the democrats? Are there any moderates anymore on the streets of Arab capitals? At the grass roots level? Or is it Gresham's Law in the Arab body politic, where the bad gradually drives out the good in a certain dynamic? Do moderates in Iraq get ignored - or killed? Can a measured, reasonable newspaper editorial in Iraq carry any weight? Or does one need a gun and an army to get anyone's attention?

Is there anyone who knows how to lead in Iraq? Is there any such person who wants a modern and democratic Iraq? Is there anyone with the skill and power to bring it about?

Where is the middle? One sees plenty of poor and desperate young men in rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia forces with ragged tennis shoes and a rifle willing to fight against modern tanks and helicopters and probably get killed. One sees Baath Party members fighting to bring back the good ol' days of tyranny, corruption, and power. One sees Islamic extremists wearing black hoods and slitting unarmed hostage's throats for the Al-jazeera TV cameras. But where are the Iraqis who are willing to fight for an Iraq that is a normal, modern country? Where are the engineers? Where are the college graduates? Where are the builders? Where is the middle? Is there a middle?

I see Baath Party loyalists, Shia extremists, Sunni extremists, Shia moderates, Kurd nationalists, American soldiers, dust-covered journalists, and plenty of scared and confused common Iraqi folk. From this brew will come something good? I don't see it, even as I would like to. I see Iraqi policemen and Iraqi government soldiers who took the job because they were desperate to make a living, not because they serve a government they believe in. Can such a force bring order and stability? Or will there finally emerge a savior on a white horse, a strongman brutal enough to crush the anarchy and impose order? Would that, in the end, be best for a suffering Iraq and a suffering Iraqi people? I don't know.

I remember reading once that Saddam Hussein supposedly said that if he left power, there would be needed nine other dictators to keep similar order in a country like Iraq. Is this true? Does the man not know his nation? Or is he mistaken? I don't know.

Yet now fate and George W. Bush, to an increasing extent, have tied our fortunes to the fortunes of the Arab world. Bad idea, in my opinion. It is not a winning proposition. "Common sense," as I see it. "Limit our exposure and lower our profile," I say. "Yet kill al-Qaeda members when and where we find them," I firmly believe. But you don't need the 1st Armored Division to do that.

So what am I? I am a California Republican, which means I am a social moderate, a fiscal moderate, and a foreign policy realist. I don't care what two homosexuals do in their bedroom on a Saturday afternoon in San Francisco; I think I do believe abortion should be a legal right for a woman. Prayer in the schools interests me not at all as a public issue. I dislike multiculturalism and dislike affirmative action; I would make the government almost 100% color blind. My blood pressure goes up every time some form asks me my race, and more and more I refuse to answer that question, thinking it is nobody's business. Take me for who I am as a person, not for the accident of my birth in terms of race. I think rap music is execrable and about as nefarious an influence as I can think on young people - especially those in communities besieged by poverty and violence. Thusly, I am a "conservative."

But I think government should tax and spend more on certain key non-defense related fields. The government should do a much better job of upkeeping the infrastructure (roads, sewers, Internet, power grid, etc.) of this country, and I think government should ensure a quality education at state universities at high rates of subsidization. I went to UCLA for $500 per quarter, and now it is exponentially more expensive; private schools can cost some $35,00 per year. I think it a shame that talented young people nowadays have to go into so much debt just to get a college education! Society owes its most ambitious young people better; we can afford to pay for what we used to have in our UC system, for example. Raise taxes to do it, if necessary. It is fully worth it. Thusly, I can be "liberal."

I am not ideologically against government spending all the time. President Bush cutting taxes (often on the wealthy) with yawning budget deficits and a war to wage seems utterly unwise to me. My conservative Republican father, a wealthy man who personally benefits from these changes, agrees completely with me on this.

But if I have my doubts about George W. Bush, I don't think I would ever be able to vote for a Massachusetts liberal Democrat like John Kerry. Unhappily, I think I will be happier to see the Ralph Nader liberals go nuts when Bush gets re-elected than I will to see Bush get re-elected. I have lived long years of my life in Los Angeles and in the education profession where I am almost the only Republican for miles around, and I have learned to dislike liberals more than to like conservatives. This troubles me. It is not my best foot forward.

Of course, it is too easy to bandy around these terms simplistic "liberal" and "conservative" labels. I can agree and find common ground with a moderate Democrat much easier than I can with someone like Rush Limbaugh. I voted for Bill Clinton twice, with no apologies; I will vote for a moderate Democrat in a New York second, if I like the candidate. I am not terribly partisan. My Republican friends harshly berate me for my lack of loyalty to the Party, but I like anyone who speaks common sense in a well thought out, nuanced, and sophisticated argument; I detest ideologues and bomb throwers who see the world in "us vs. them" terms. I cannot stand Rush Limbaugh; I detest Michael Moore. This poem may say it all recently; or, if you would like to hear it more in depth:

although I have not touched that page for some five years...

And, yes, of course, I love my country - and, indeed, I see my teaching this course as a productive civic action, among many other things. If one of my students was inspired by my class to become the next flaming liberal Democratic candidate for president, I would be pleased; last year one student e-mailed me after our final class session about my obviously "liberal" personal beliefs, and I was happy to have been mistaken thusly. I want my class to show the entire spectrum of American beliefs, and if I think a voice is missing I will do my best to be a ventriloquist for it. I can do a wicked accurate populist impression, preaching fire and brimstone in favor of disenfranchised and the downtrodden against the unearned wealth of Wall Street and tyrannical multinational businesses that hire immigrants to clean offices for $8 per hour and no benefits. I can do this although I don't believe this myself.

J., I too have spent time abroad, although not to the extent you have. Especially in Latin America, I have occasionally come across the occasional inveterate anti-American type and I don't put up with any BS. I can discuss literature with them in their own language; I am just about as educated as almost any American-hater I might run across; and, if pushed, I will explain just why and where I think the United States is the country in the world responsible for the general security and lack of war today. The world is less than ideal, by a long shot; but compare today with 1937, and one gets the idea that we live in a happy era when wars are limited and most live in peace. This is because of the United States, from the WWII through the Cold War to now.

Terrorism is a curse and a global disease, but we are far less at risk from terrorists than we were from Soviet Russia, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany in the "locus years" of the 1930s. The world is, by and large, a stable place.

Or you will find the America hater who rants against McDonald's, blue jeans, "consumer culture," the vulgar bourgeoisie, blockbuster films, "cultural imperialism," genetically modified foods, etc, etc. ad nauseaum. This is never what America has been about to me, and I hope to be able to communicate some of this to you in our class together. Perhaps this goes closer to the heart of the question I think you want me to answer:

America is about the Puritans and their bizarre idealism and desire never to be satisfied with the same old musty cheese they inherited, the independent thinker who refuses to go with the conventional herd-think of the group; the America of Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson - and Lincoln. America is about Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman and originality, Transcendentalism, and the idea that the average man can be both poetic and inspiring every day. It is about Theodore Roosevelt and his nephew Franklin Delano, and adapting democracy to changing times and conditions: you get a fair hearing and a fair shake. (In how many places around the world do you get that?) It is about intelligence, rationality, and reaching consensus, if possible, rather than using a bomb to get one's point across. It is about the middle class and middle America and having good common sense combined with a strong formal education, neither one overpowering the other. It is about showing up to jury duty when called, and testifying in court when you witness a crime. You pay your taxes, you pull your weight, and you teach your students.

It is hard to explain this to a foreigner who thinks they know something about the United States because they have seen many American movies and listened to American popular music since their earliest days. If many foreigners criticize Americans for their lack of languages or lack of experience or knowledge of other countries, perhaps that is better than foreigners who think they know something about America from what they see on the movie screen and hear over the radio.

My grandfather served during WWI, my father fought in Vietnam; and my family has always had the tradition of honor, duty, country. This is much of why I became a teacher. For if a country's education is horrible, like that in Mexico, so too the country will go horribly. As John Kennedy claimed "how ideally politics filled the Greek definition of happiness - 'a full use of your powers along lines of excellence in a life-affording scope.'" Teaching is thus to me, and rarely a day goes by when I do not see the hand of God in my job.

So I hope to help my country remain strong through my teaching, but in helping students to find their own path in the American story - be it liberal or conservative, or whatever. Many are the teachers, in American public schools, who see their job as a liberal mission to "change the world" towards the liberal view. For example, they want to work through their teaching towards "social justice" of the liberal flavor; the entire curriculum is presented in such a way as to ensure a liberal conclusion. Many of these intellectuals honestly can't understand how someone who thoroughly studied the issues could still be a conservative: to be intelligent and sensitive is to naturally become a liberal, or so they think. "Be the change you want to see in the world," hangs the quote in their room from Mahatma Gandhi - but of course the change is a liberal one, and is always good. "Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has," quotes Margaret Meade, hanging over the teacher's desk, failing to acknowledge that many changes brought about my small groups of the "committed" in recent history have been uniformly bad - such as Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Hitler and his Nazi Party, Castro and Che Guevara, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, etc. Mohammad Atta, for example, flying a hijacked American Airlines Boeing 737 airliner into one of the Twin Towers, was a member of a very small group of "thoughtful, committed people" devoted to changing the world - and he did. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were an ideologically-driven group committed to change (and they had their teachers, too - French left-bank intellectuals and Marxists). In America, those committed to such extreme change often seek to effect radical social change through the schools. In places like Peru or Pakistan, such a person heads for the hills with a rifle in hand. In America, they go into teacher education colleges and become "radical educators." Their instruction is a form of brainwashing, in my opinion.

I see the job of teacher differently. I see my job as to present key ideas and dialectics, both liberal and conservative, and then to let students make up their own minds. A discussion, not shouting past one another. Clearly reasoned argumentation, not shouting through a bullhorn at a street protest. (Did you notice how on the day when I read to the class your essay in favor of George W. Bush I preceded it with one by another student attacking him?) That is what I love about America, and sadly see less and less. There is too much shouting and too much noise, not enough silence and not enough thought. Why must there be piped in music in every public place? Why are there TV screens in restaurants and in the back seats of SUVs? Can anyone hear the music of their own thoughts in such a din? Is there any room for ambivalence and nuance when politics is polarized and warlike? Is everyone so sure they are right?

Perhaps you yourself will already have observed much ambivalence and ambiguity in my aforementioned views, belying any strict claim to pretending to be a "liberal" or a "conservative," or even "right" or "wrong." That would be revealing.

But now I am ranting, and you have an entire three day weekend to enjoy. I will stop.

I look forward to learning from you, J., as well as getting to hear more about what you have experienced in your life and what you think. Ms. Eulau, your teacher last year, put a small note next to your name on my class roster, explaining about you: "Rich, you will really enjoy this one!"

I do not doubt she is completely correct.

I will see you Tuesday morning.

Very Truly Yours,
Mr. Geib

J. J. []
Sent: Saturday, September 11, 2004 2:17 AM
Subject: Thank you Mr. Geib...

Dear Mr. Geib,

I read your response with great care. First, I would like to say that you have greatly honored me by even responding. You wrote with great passion and conviction, and I admire your courage for even opening your personal beliefs to a student seemingly unworthy of such a response.

You spoke (or wrote) with an elegance I have never before witnessed. As I read your post, my jaw hung motionless, not necessarily in shock, but in awe of you. I began to ask myself, "why does this man bother with a seemingly doomed generation of ignorants whose greatest contribution to society is that degenerative 'rap'?" I then read your post again, then a third time and now I understand (or at least think I do). I now saw a man whose love for his country and his students was so great, that he is willing
to sacrifice his time to fulfill his passion for the education of my generation. As you said, you see this as your, "civic duty." I hope I got this one right.

I found myself welling up at points in your posting, smiling at some (like your delightful commentary of your fondness for "rap music" <-- which I believe to be an oxymoron). As a conservative, I am happy that you will probably vote for Bush in the next election, though very critical of the administration. Was it a typo? I don't believe so. Though I cannot be disappointed at your criticism. I have seen these faults as well (though we may disagree on the war) but I believe Bush to be a stalwart and convicted leader, unflinching in his sacred presidential duty. That is my worry of John Kerry though. I see him as a timid Jimmy Carter, though that might be unfair to Carter. I do not see the strength or conviction in Kerry as I do Bush, yet legally, I have no voice in this election, and must timorously watch from the bench.

I wholeheartedly agree about your views on this skewed, radical faith of Muslims. Where are the moderates in the Middle East? I have found myself asking such questions many times recently. I also think they have done a disservice to their rich and ancient culture by bastardizing a seemingly peaceful religion into degenerate faith for the suicidal. History has shown this to be true for all of the major religions, but Islam is a more recent and current example. As a Christian, I have gotten a bad rap from a very liberal 90's culture saying that I've been brainwashed and only wish to force my beliefs on others. I've been labeled as backward, ignorant, intolerant, foolish, immature, racist, and bigoted all for standing strong in my faiths and beliefs. As you can see, there is great irony and hypocrisy in those labels.

Again, I share your views when it comes to political extremism. Though I too am conservative, I don't respect Rush, and very obviously, despise that Michael Moore. I would hate to disappoint you with my bomb throwing, Michael Moore has done so much harm to this country. He just nearly cut this nation in half with his half truths and whole lies. Sorry if I'm a bit on the extreme here, but my young conservative fury needed to be unleashed, though from what I've read, I think you might agree with the statement (but
probably won't condone the extremism in which it was stated).

I too love this country, with a nationalist spirit. For as you know, I was not raised in America yet was born within it's borders. It has only been my 6th year in this country, and I like to believe that I see it from an
immigrant's view. I still hold dear the "American Dream". I still hold dear the "Pledge of Allegiance". I cry during the National Anthem and am filled with pride when I look upon our currency and see, "E Pluribus Unum" and even more so when I look upon those proud letters, "In God We Trust." I hold highly the traits of duty, honor, and loyalty and still believe in my service to "God and Country." My roots have been traced to this nation as far back to the Revolutionary War, in which two of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence and more so fighting in the Continental Marines. I also have a family history of Marine Non-Comms in just about every major US conflict including the first and second World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Currently I have family over in Iraq and fortunately they are safe. In the case Lebanese ancestry (that's where the name "Jepeway" originates FYI), my Great Grandfather Adid Muhammad can over during the Christian Wars in Lebanon, seeking freedom and opportunity. The rest of my european heritage came over for the same reasons.

Mr. Geib I love my country so. So much that I believe these special interest groups, affirmative action, and the always fascist ACLU, are driving this country down. I too have experienced outrage when asked my
ethnicity when it shouldn't even matter. People say skin tone shouldn't matter, yet they seem to have the need to discern it whenever possible. Such hypocrisy. Skin tone shouldn't define a person or give them any special perk(s). What ever happened to judging a man based on merit?. I don't know who said it, but it is a phrase that spoke to me. It reads, "Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction."

As a Christian conservative, I do not condone homosexuality, but believe they have a right to do whatever with their life. Abortion I am against, unless the birth of the child will kill the mother (when the egg grows in the fallopian tube), but we can agree to disagree on this one :) .

I also knows what it feels like to be the only Republican for miles. It feels like that here, but I am comforted knowing that there are people like you in this state (although very very few). It seems as though we are a
dying breed. I do not think it is loyalty that you lack. I believe you are more loyal to your country than a political party. Though I already like your friends because they are conservative (hehe) I do wish that they could dig their heals behind their nation rather than their party. I like to believe that I hold my nation above my party.

There is so much more I would like to commentate on, but alas, it is 1:50am on Friday (or I should say Saturday) and I need to prepare for tomorrow.

Once again, you are a man of great conviction and passion. Something I hold in high esteem as evidenced by my "I believe..." essay. To go off on a tangent real briefly, you mentioned that you read my essay, essentially praising Bush, after one which did not. As soon as I read this, I had a fear that that was the only reason you read mine. Not because I wrote with a passion, but just for the sake of having a balanced classroom. I soon felt like a fool for even thinking it. From what I've read, you would never dare
go to such a shallow level and I apologize for even contemplating such a skewed thought.

I actually printed out your post, folded it, and stuck it in my Bible. Why? The way I see it, it is two manuscripts for which to live your life in order to serve, "God and Country." To practice my faith with conviction, humiliation, forgiveness, charity, fear and reverence would be serving my God, and a response that so clearly gives all Americans an example to follow; serving my country.

I do not wish you to think my response mere flattery or as "sweet nothings". I truly am being genuine with my compliments, and mean them with utmost sincerity. Already you have honored me by pouring out your inner character, and mentioning the note you say Mrs. Eulau gave you. I'll do my best not to let you down this year Mr. Geib. I want to prove Mrs. Eulau's comment. I am very fortunate to have an Educator the likes of you. I truly am privileged.

Thank you for everything thus far Mr. Geib, and don't worry, I'll be sure to keep this discussion strictly between us. With that said, I would like to know what you thought of my comments, but asking for another
response would be asking way too much. You have already given me a lot within this last month, but still it doesn't hurt to ask. :)

With genuine sincerity,