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This is a remarkable, and hopeful children’s book about the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. The book tells the story of two lives, in simple, clear text and powerful illustrations. The first biography is of a young black boy growing up in Atlanta. He is constantly confronted with painful reminders of the injustice and prejudice directed towards the members of his race. The second biography is of a young Jewish boy growing up in Poland. He too is constantly confronted with painful reminders of the injustice and prejudice directed towards the members of his race.

In the 1960s, the young boy from Atlanta had grown up to be a Baptist preacher like his father. He led a movement to end the injustices of racial segregation and prejudice. That story, too, is told in the book. When Martin organized a protest march in Alabama, his followers were confronted by police with dogs and clubs. Martin issued a national call for all God’s children to come to Alabama and join the march.

The Jewish boy from Poland, who had emigrated to America and become an influential rabbi, was among those who answered the call. On March 21, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. prayed together. And then they marched together.

In January of 1968, Martin Luther King spoke at Abraham Heschel’s 61st birthday party. In April of 1968, Abraham Heschel spoke at Martin Luther King’s funeral.

This is a simple, yet powerful book with a message that parents should be encouraged to teach their children. Published in May of 2008, forty years after the death of Martin Luther King.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. In early April of 1968, I turned thirteen years old. In late April, Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was, to say the least, a terrible year. In Atlanta, my family had been proud of Dr. King, and we mourned his death. We were proud that Atlanta had a reputation as “the city too busy to hate.” The ideals of the Declaration and Constitution have taken a long time to be fully realized. Teaching our children about the ideals and the struggle is an important part of their education.

The book is a hardback, 40 pages, full color throughout. The text is written on a 3rd-4th grade reading level, but the book will work very well read out loud to younger children as well. As Good as Anybody is available directly from Greenleaf Press for $16.99.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the latest edition of Imprimis – the newsletter of Hillsdale College. I had caught wind from other blogs that it included a lengthy, original interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It came in the mail yesterday, and the interview did not disappoint.

In the course of the interview, Justice Thomas was asked about the notion that morality is relative. Here is his response:

Have you ever read Modern Times by Paul Johnson? I read it back in the ’80s. It’s long, but it’s really worth the effort. One point it makes clearly is the connection between relativism, nihilism, and Naziism. The common idea that if you can do whatever you want to do, because truth and morality are relative, leads to the idea that if you are powerful enough you can kill people because of their race or faith. So ask your relativist friends sometime: What is to keep me from getting a gang of people together and beating the hell out of you because I think you deserve to be beaten? Too many people think that life and liberty are about their frivolous pleasures. There is more to life. And again, largely what relativism reflects is simply a lack of learning.

Modern TimesModern Times is the final text I use in the four-year high school history sequence that I teach at the Schaeffer Study Center. Its a challenge for my seniors, but richly rewarding. I have been re-reading and teaching it every year for the past five years now. Each time, I see new things, make new connections, as I am reading. One of the promises I made to myself is that I would NOT slip into the habit of teaching from my notes, but that each time I taught a course I would do the reading I had assigned to my students the same week they were doing the reading. Its important. It keeps me interacting with the text, and it keeps my teaching fresh.

But back to Modern Times. The corrosive effect of relativism is a major theme of the book. Paul Johnson sees a direct connection between the rise of moral relativism and the fact that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history.

Here are the final few sentences from the first chapter of Modern Times (the chapter is titled, “A Relativistic World”):

Among the advanced races, the decline and ultimately the collapse of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum. The history of modern times is in great part the history of how that vacuum had been filled. Nietzsche rightly perceived that the most likely candidate would be what he called the “Will to Power,” which offered a far more comprehensive and in the end more plausible explanation of human behaviour than either Marx or Freud. In place of religious belief, there would be secular ideology. Those who had once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become totalitarian politicians. And, above all, the “Will to Power” would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind. The end of the old order, with an unguided world adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster-statesmen to emerge. They were not slow to make their appearance.

The first gangster-statesmen were Lenin and Mussolini. Hitler learned from both.

It is a mystery to me how anyone can examine the record of the 20th century and stil believe in Progress. All change is not for the better. And there is nothing inevitable about Progress. And there is ample evidence that human nature has made ZERO progress in the 3000 years of recorded human history.

The record of the 20th century suggests that we have gone backwards a considerable distance in the last 100 years. What we need is not more Progress (a rejection and sneering dismissal of the past as “primitive”). What we need is a Renaissance – a recovery of the past. What we need is to recognize that perhaps there was wisdom in prior ages which we have forgotten, abandoned, and turned our back on — but that we need to recover.

-Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

TheWallThis is a remarkable book. Just published in August of this year. It is a clear, frank, chilling depiction, – from Sis’s own childhood – of what life in Prague, Czechoslovakia was like. Children see, and notice, and understand the thousand of tiny details that make up daily life. And the tyranny of Communism in Eastern Europe was all about controlling the thousands of tiny details that make up daily life. Sis’s drawings are simple sketches, in drab black & white, punctuated by spots of shocking red that show the ubiquitous, intimidating presence of the oppressive state. Adults who did not personally experience the fear of tyranny (or who have never listened to someone who did) will find this a simple, but powerful introduction to what it really was like behind the Iron Curtain.

Not only does Sis give us sketches of his childhood memories, he also includes diary entries that he wrote as a young adult in reaction to the events of the 1950s and 1960s.

This would make a great book to read with your children as you cover 20th century history for the first time – whether that’s in 6th, 7th, or 12th grade.

Of particular interest to students of the 1960s is the role that popular music and western fashion played in resistance to Communist oppression.

Bits and pieces of news from the West begin to slip through the Iron Curtain.

The Beatles! (which one is which?)

Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Radio Luxembourg . . . We secretly tape songs.

Everything from the West seems colorful and desirable.

Slowly he started to question. He painted what he wanted to – in secret.

Rock music is against the principles of Socialist art.

He joined a rock group and painted music.

I lived in Europe in the 1970s. And I visited Prague, Warsaw, and East Berlin in 1976. It was dreary and depressing. And the state seemed all-powerful and immovable. We saw no possible end in sight, short of an apocalyptic war – which was dreadful to contemplate. When the Wall came down in 1989 it was surprising, shocking, and made me deliriously happy!

I spoke with Christians in East Germany in the 1970s and their plight was horrible. Christians were systematically scorned and sidelined. In East Germany, if a Christian teen-ager chose to be confirmed as an adult member of a church, he was not eligible for membership in the “Free German Youth” – the equivalent of the “Young Pioneers” in the USSR or Czechoslovakia. Choosing to be identified as a Christian meant (with certainty) that one would not be admitted to the university, or ever have the opportunity to be other than a menial laborer. In spite of this, the church did not just survive, it became the focus of resistance to the government.

Here’s the text from the back cover: “He was born in the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth at the start of the Cold War. In his graphic memoir, Peter Sis tells what life was like for a boy who loved to draw and make music, who joined the Young Pioneers, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, passed Louis Armstrong in a snowstorm, longed for blue jeans and Beatles-style boots, let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, listened to jammed radio, and traveled with the Beach Boys when they toured Czechoslovakia. Peter Sis’s story of growing up under a totalitarian regime proves that creativity can be discouraged but not easilty killed and that the desire to be free came naturally to a generation of young people behind the Iron Curtain.”

Buy this book and read it with your children. Because we should never forget how precious freedom is. click here to go to the catalog page at the Greenleaf Press store.

- Rob Shearer,
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center
  Publisher, Greenleaf Press

BeatlesThe Beatles, Beatlemania,
and the Music That Changed the World

by Bob Spitz (published October, 2007)

To understand our current culture, you must go back at least to the 1960’s (much more really, but without going back at least to the 60’s you have no hope of understanding). In order to understand the 1960’s, you must understand the Beatles.

Of course, there were lots of things going on. The demographics were revolutionary and explosive. The baby-boomers were marching en mass through puberty. The politics of the early 1960’s were both both contagious and ominous. The torch passed to a new generation and then dropped, hideously in the mud, as an assassin cut down the glamorous young president.

Into this weird witch’s brew of disillusioned idealism, VietNam, Civil Rights marches, and Johnson vs. Goldwater, exploded British rock ‘ roll – pioneered by the Beatles. Before the Beatles there was Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holley. After the Beatles… Its a bit like talking before and after The Flood.

Their first US tour began with their TV debut and introduction by Ed Sullivan on February 9 of 1964. They came back for a second set of concerts in the US in August of 1964 which were pure pandemonium.

Here is the very first song, from their very first appearance
on the Ed Sullivan Show – February 9, 1964
I Want to Hold Your Hand
 
My GOSH! They look so young! And they were.
John was 23, Paul 21, George 20 (two weeks shy of his 21st birthday), and Ringo 23.

Here is the very first song from the very first US concert:
Two days later, February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum
I Saw Her Standing There

The band had been together for about six years. It had been formed in twelve months between June of 1957 and June of 1958. John Lennon (born 1940, then aged 16) invited Paul McCartney to join his band, the Quarrymen. Paul was 15 (born in 1942). In March of 1958, Paul introduced his guitar wizard friend, George Harrison to John. John was 17 by then and Paul was 16. Because George was only 15 (born in 1943), John thought he was too young to join the band, but after a stunning display of talent on the guitar by George, John reluctantly agreed to let him join. John, Paul, & George were all guitarists. Paul was eventually to take up the bass, but remained comfortable and accomplished on both guitar and keyboards. The band went through a number of drummers before finally settling in with another Liverpool lad named Richard Starkey, aka Ringo (born 1942). They were kids, they were friends, and they were enormously talented.

They were deeply affected by American music which they managed to hear through two channels. The sailors and seaman of Liverpool brought back records from America – which they played over and over again at every neighborhood social gathering. And the kids spent hours in bedrooms and attics listening to the records, memorizing lyrics and trying to work out guitar chords. The second channel was a pirate radio station, breaking through the monopoly of the BBC. A shortwave English-language station known as Radio Luxembourg. 

“Every Saturday and Sunday night in the late 1950’s, three of the boys who would later become the Beatles (George, the youngest was asleep by airtime) sat in their darkened bedrooms, tuning in to the station’s staticy signal as Radio Luxembourg’s deejays introduced the rock n roll records that were climbing the American charts. They were mesmerized by the music’s big aggressive beat and the tidal spill of lyrics. The effect it had on them was awesome. Sometimes the boys would furiously jot down lyrics to the songs; other times overcome by a thrilling piece of music, they would push their tablets away, lean back, close their eyes and let themselves be carried off by the voice and the melodies that would have a lasting influence on their lives.”

The Beatles released their first single (“Love Me Do”) in 1962. They did their last studio work together, seven years later in 1969 and then went their separate ways. But in those seven years, it is not an understatement to say that they changed the world. And not just the world of music.

Consider:

• They are the best-selling musical group of all time
• They had more number one singles than any other musical group (20 in the US)
• During the week of April 4, 1964 The Beatles held the top FIVE positions on the Billboard singles chart. No one had ever done anything like this before, and it is doubtful that anyone or any group will ever do it again. The songs were “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “Please Please Me”.
• The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is the most covered song in history, with over three thousand recorded versions. It is also the most played song in the history of international radio.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney are the most successful song-writing team of all time. They were both smart kids, witty, fond of word-play, and with similar tastes and a consuming commitment to music.

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah – The Beatles, Beatlemania, and the Music That Changed the World” by Bob Spitz is a brilliant introduction to the phenomenon. He has a gift for describing the relationships between the four Beatles – and those around them, especially Brian Epstein (the classical music afficionado and record-store manager who took them under his wing) and George Martin, the record-company owner and studio producer who helped them create their sound.

Spitz’ biography is unvarnished. He deals matter-of-factly with the Beatles sampling of drugs in the late sixties and their 6-month dalliance with trancendental meditation and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967. He neither glorifies nor glamorizes – but objectively reports. I experienced a feeling of sadness that there was no one who could have constructively filled the spiritual void felt by these four young men.

The saddest sections of all in the book are the descriptions of John Lennon’s infatuation with the pop artist Yoko Ono and her insertion of herself into The Beatles’ studio time in 1969 – which led quickly to the break-up of the group.

This is a book that adults who want to understand the 1960s will find informative and thought-provoking. You young folk (grin) who came of age after 1970 may find that it helps you understand a great deal of the modern music scene. The text is pitched for a young adult audience. I expect high school students from fourteen and up would find it an enjoyable read. I’d recommend, if your students are interested in the 60s, that you read it together.

I can’t resist. Here’s another performance for the Ed Sullivan show, later in 1964.

George Martin, head of Parlophone Records (a division of EMI) and the producer for almost all of the Beatles’ recordings, leads off, recalling what he said to the lads when they finished recording this song
Please Please Me

He was right. It went #1 in both the UK and the US (30 weeks at #1 in the US!)

Listen to the harmonies on this!
This Boy
 

And finally, Paul McCartney’s wistful ballad
Yesterday

You can buy Spitz’s book over at the Greenleaf Press website.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center
  Publisher, Greenleaf Press

and that will be the first time this has been true since . . . class? anyone? Bueller?

Try 1952. That’s right, its been 56 years since we held a presidential election in which neither of the nominees for president was an incumbent in the executive branch.

What does that mean? Not sure. The powers of incumbency are formidable. Media attention, staff assistance, executive travel perks, just to name a few. The prestige of being President or Vice-President is intangible, but obviously significant. Only three incumbent presidents lost (Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980, Bush 41 in 1992). Six won. But of the four vice presidents who ran, only one succeeded in being elected president (Bush 41).

Here’s the list (from memory):

1952 Eisenhower vs. Stevenson
1956 Eisenhower (President) vs. Stevenson
1960 Nixon (Vice President) vs. Kennedy
1964 Johnson (President) vs. Goldwater
1968 Humphrey (Vice President) vs. Nixon
1972 Nixon (President) vs. McGovern
1976 Ford (President) vs. Carter
1980 Carter (President) vs. Reagan
1984 Reagan (President) vs. Mondale
1988 Bush 41 (Vice President) vs. Dukakis
1992 Bush 41 (President) vs. Clinton
1996 Clinton (President) vs. Dole
2000 Gore (Vice President) vs. Bush 43
2004 Bush 43 (President) vs. Kerry
2008 Clinton? vs. Thompson?

I can do the list from memory, because, with the exception of the 1952 and 1956 elections, I have memories of all these campaigns. My political memories are sharp and clear. My belief that there are political solutions to our problems is growing increasingly dim.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

VietNam Protest  Iraq Protest

Yesterday’s “Best of the Web” column at OpinionJournal.com had this brilliant insight:

Reader Kim Sommer has an excellent insight prompted by our video yesterday (Hippie History Buffs) on the phony “antiwar” movement:

I have a friend. Several times a year he goes out and dresses in funny clothes and participates with other like-minded people who believe in the the things he believes. And they act on their beliefs. And talk about them. And get younger folks involved, who will carry on their traditions.

They are Civil War re-enactors. These peace protesters are just peace protest re-enactors if you think about it.

I’d carry this analogy further. Not only are the current anti-war protestors re-enacting the peace protests from the 1960s (complete with an attempt to dress in authentic costumes), but the entire Democrat Party is trying to re-enact the 1960s.

Hippie re-enactors. Cute. Amusing. But not to be taken seriously.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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