Monthly Archives: July 2010

Dear Secretary Duncan: Stop the Rape of Social Studies in America

Dear Secretary Duncan:

(We’re not that formal here in the Neighborhood…is Arne okay?)

You may not know us, Arne, but we do know you.

We know how your corporate mentality, go-get’em attitude and boardroom smile have wowed the spastic, slightly deranged menagerie known as the education establishment.

The goofy minions at Teach for America, the boys who started those KIPP academies, the slack-jawed tweed-types at Teachers’ College all fell for your spell. Lucy Calkins must’ve soiled herself at the sight of you.

We know how as Secretary of Education, you’ve basically continued the half-brained policies of a certain Gentlemen’s C student that we need not mention.  Never mind that those policies have little theoretical or analytical basis, are unrealistic and create a permanent underclass—you’ve got to follow through, just like your jump shots in the vaunted Australian basketball league.

We also know that you’ve got a real hard-on for charter schools (I’m sorry, this is an education blog, we mean “erection”).  We don’t blame you—with little oversight, little control over curriculum and pedagogy, no kids with “special needs”  and no pesky unions to push adequate wages and whatnot, it’s practically a CEO job.  Just give “empowering” goals and let the rest run itself.  That certainly has worked in the past, right?

And speaking of goals, we also know how much you love that buzzword of the moment, “accountability.”  In your world, Arne, that means standardized tests and oodles of data.  Charts now show trends for every stage in a child’s development, in any subject, at any time of day.  Have enough kids fart in the wind or give swirlies to a fat kid in the boys’ room, and you better believe there’ll be documentation on it.   Of course, the teacher’s always to blame.

Finally, we know all about the Race to the Top.  We have to admit, it’s one heck of a devious plot there, Arne.  Only the truly misanthropic and soulless would devise a remake of Glengarry Glen Ross (the movie, not the play) where everyone is Levene and Ricky Roma is already on the board of directors.   So who gets the steak knives?  Does Mississippi get fired?

Yes, Arne, we know a whole hell of a lot about you…but we’re not bastards.  We’re willing to forgive.

In fact, we’re willing to turn the other way on a lot of this, and believe me; it’ll take a lot of effort to do so.

Just as long as you can help us with one little problem.

Arne, stop the systematic rape and persecution of social studies in this country.

I’m guessing you’re like so many of the twits of our educational universe that see social studies—history, geography, government, economics—as subjects best left for secondary school, or best, college where kids with “special needs” won’t have to worry about it.

Social studies is usually the first to be cut, the least of resources, the most crunched in terms of time—and most importantly, the least assessed.

Bet that last one got your attention, Arne, didn’t it.

Yes, social studies does not get the rigorous attention the other “better” subjects get when it comes to the old #2 pencil and scan-tron sheet.  In New York, until recently, there’s only been one state test in 5th grade, then one in 8th grade.  Even these can’t adequately prepare students for the exams in high school.

Now, thanks to our unelected New York Board of Regents, we cannot even administer those last two tests, either.

The Board of Regents voted to cancel testing in social studies in grades 5 and 8 as a cost-saving measure.  We won’t go into the details (you’re a busy man, gutting our public schools and whatnot) except that they saw this as the only alternative to saving testing in the “better” subjects.  Similar votes are probably being conducted in other states as well.

Normally, this would be a state problem, and we wouldn’t be bothering you or cutting into your goofy smiling time.  Yet the Board’s recent action doesn’t jive with a certain application for Phase II funds from a certain contest you’re running.

According to page 106 of New York’s RTTT Phase II application submitted earlier this month, it states that

“New York collects yearly test records of individual students under section 1111(b) of the ESEA [20 U.S.C. 6311(b)] program in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as scores obtained on New York’s secondary-level Regents examinations (see Appendix C_1_2).”

How on Earth does this fit into the Board of Regents’ recent actions?  There’s only one response—they lied to you, Arne.  Because of these cuts in testing, New York State is no longer compliant under the ESEA.  We brought this up in an e-mail to your man James Butler, who’s the point person for RTTT, yet it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Here’s where you can help.

New York was recently named a finalist for Race to the Top.  Great.  We know you also have a bit of a stiffie over New York’s largest city, also named New York.  You love our Oompa-Loompa-like mayor that acts without any thought of popular opinion, and our Nosferatu-esque schools chancellor that dutifully administers policy and takes blame for its failures.

You wouldn’t want them to cut “better” subjects to the kiddies due to lack of funds, would you, Arne?

We think you should really look over New York’s application in this final round.  If New York is to be awarded this grant, it should be on the condition that ALL testing in ALL subjects be restored as soon as possible, preferably by the next school year.  Remember, Arne, that New York is not compliant anymore—hold their ass to the fire because of it.

They lied to you, buddy.  Don’t take that crap lying down.

Besides, pushing for more testing is a win-win for everybody.  You get the data you need to show our kids “progressing”, based on whatever formula your cellar-dwellers devise.  Social studies gets a fair share of time and resources once the fear of assessment is brought back.  Students will learn about their country and its great history—even if it kills them.

Finally, Arne, this action will stop the progressive dumbing-down of our students in terms of their own history , geography and government.  Social studies needs a prominent place at the table of education; don’t relegate it to the kiddie table.

We’ll even sweeten the deal for you.  We’ll get you a cup of coffee—whatever size, whatever blend—on us.

But this comes only after you help restore social studies testing.  After all, coffee is for closers.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Mr. D and the rest of the folks at Mr. D’s Neighborhood

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Videos for The Classroom: John Cleese on Soccer vs. Football

I found this on my friend Mark Himmelsbach’s blog–titled, oddly enough, the Himmelsblog.  It shows British comic actor John Cleese from “Monty Python” fame in a clip from the documentary The Art of Football from A to Z.  In this clip, Cleese explains his own theories behind the difference between soccer and football, thus drawing a comparison between British and American culture in general.

This is a great clip to use in high school classrooms, even in upper elementary classes as well.  Some questions for further discussion:

(1) Do you find Cleese comparison of football to “advertising jingles” and soccer to “jazz” accurate?

(2) What is Cleese ultimate assumptions about American culture, based on this clip?

(3) Is he accurate about those assumptions?

(4) What assumptions do we make about British, or even European, society and culture?  Why do we make such assumptions?

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New York in a “Race to the Top”? See for yourself.

Yesterday the Neighborhood expressed its anger at the NY Board of Regents‘ decision to cut social studies testing in 5th and 8th grade this year.  Let’s contrast this measure with the loft goals specified by the board earlier.

In March, the Board of Regents presented its application as a finalist for federal “Race to the Top” funds.  Attached is the presentation along with the Q & A session that followed.  Notice a couple of things: (a) How the lofty and admirable goals expressed by the Regents are contradicted by their actions; and (b) how little social studies is mentioned as an important subject our students need in their futures.

But wait…there’s more.

Since New York was shut out of Phase I of RTTT, the Regents submitted a Phase II application, linked here, as is the subsequent appendices.  Again, the same litany of lofty goals and rigorous standards, this time backed by charts and graphs.  Please notice page 106, in which New York proudly notes its compliance with federal standards about a statewide assessment and data collection system.  This is an NCLB requirement AS WELL AS a criteria for RTTT funding.  Please notice its response to section 6, as New York responds yes to the following:

“New York collects yearly test records of individual students under section 1111(b) of the ESEA [20 U.S.C. 6311(b)] program in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as scores obtained on NewYork’s secondary-level Regents examinations (see Appendix C_1_2).” ~ Race to the Top Application, Phase II, New York State June 1, 2010, page 106.

Guess what…New York State is now out of compliance.  By not collecting said data through the state testing program in elementary and middle schools, the state cannot in good faith stand by this application.

To be blunt, the New York State Board of Regents is now lying to the federal government.  There, I said it.  Unless the Board of Regents sends an amended application that reflects their change in the testing regimen, New York State should not be eligible for any RTTT funds.

To be even more blunt, put the social studies tests back, and you won’t look like liars and hypocrites.

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Jim Crow-ism at the Board of Regents: New York State votes to end Social Studies Tests in 5th and 8th Grade

The “No Child Left Behind” world has made it very clear that social studies is a second-class citizen in the world of education.

Like the Jim Crow South, NCLB has relegated social studies to non-important assessments in odd times of the year—assessments that have no bearing at all on promotion, at least below high school.  It is given the least amount of time in the day, and the worst of materials compared to reading, mathematics and science.  When the crunch to comply with NCLB standards begins in the spring, social studies is the first block of time sacrificed to the gods of standardized assessment.

Most horrific of all, when the other subjects feel the crunch of financial pressure, it is social studies that gets lynched.

A lynching is what it got on June 22, when the New York State Board of Regents, an UN-ELECTED, appointed body that oversees education in New York State, approved a cost-saving measure to cut testing in social studies for grades 5 and 8.   Social studies testing was eating up assessment dollars that the “more important” subjects need.  According to the Regents, this is a crime tantamount to touching a white woman in Mississippi in the 1950s.

In justifying their position, Education Commissioner David Steiner stated that “the Regents today approved responsible and appropriate measures – measures that will permit the core of elements of our testing program to continue, while we increase the rigor of those remaining exams.”

Let’s examine the effects of these “responsible and appropriate” measures.

High school students are not off the hook when it comes to social studies.  Global Studies and US History & Government are no cakewalk exams: they involve a massive basket of content knowledge coupled with complex thinking and analysis skills.  How are students in 10th and 11th grade to be anywhere near prepared if there is no assessments in lower grades to enforce basic content and concepts?

Furthermore, Steiner claims that the Regents are committed to “giving tests that…measure the skills and knowledge necessary for success in school, college and the workplace.”  So we can survive in everyday lives with no knowledge of our own government, our own economy, our own geography or our history?

Let’s be frank.  In the NCLB world, if it isn’t tested, it isn’t important.  Cancelling exams in 5th and 8th grade just sent a signal to elementary and middle school teachers across the state that social studies is expendable.  Social studies teachers will have to shift resources and emphasis, all without the impetus of standardized testing to motivate faculty and administration.  Even worse, social studies as a subject could be wiped out altogether in many schools in New York.

Steiner and his gang did not adopt “responsible” nor “appropriate” measures.  They sent a clear signal to this state—social studies is worthless.  To paraphrase that odious Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney: social studies, according to the Board of Regents, has no rights any teacher, administrator or superintendent are bound to respect.

It’s sicking, and I’ve just about had it.

I’m sick and tired of crying out in the wilderness, screaming at the top of my lungs the importance of knowing our past in helping to determine our future.

I’m sick and tired of stressing the interdisciplinary nature of social studies, a subject that permeates every discipline in our educational core, from reading to science to mathematics and beyond.

I’m sick and tired of creating, writing, searching, sharing, delivering, and showing resources, assessments, books, printouts, and lessons that help teacher enhance a subject that matters little to student promotion.

I’m sick and tired of going to conferences, lectures, workshops, seminars and book signings with my fellow social studies teachers and experts who are as frustrated as I am at our sorry predicament.

In fact, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It is time that we as the guardians of this great subject stand up and tell the Albany Regency that they are shortchanging our children and our democracy.

I’m calling on all of my fellow teachers, of all disciplines, of all states.  If this can happen here, it can happen, and probably has happened, in any other state in the Union.  Below is the contact information for the New York State Board of Regents, as well as those of the Education Committees in the New York State Legislature.

Let them know that the Jim Crow-attitude towards social studies must end if we are to produce well-educated, productive students that can make those great contributions to our country.  We’re always saying how our kids can change the world: it’s damn near impossible to do if they don’t know anything about it.

Let’s make sure social studies gets the respect it deserves…by any means necessary!

NYS BOARD OF REGENTS MEMBERS:

To contact the Regents as a whole, use the following:

New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234
E-mail: RegentsOffice@mail.nysed.gov

The following are the individual Regents and the areas they represent:

2011* Tisch, Merryl H.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Chancellor; At Large
9 East 79th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10075
Phone: (212) 879-9414    Email: RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Cofield, Milton L.; B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor; Judicial District VII – Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates
98 Hickory Ridge Road, Rochester, N.Y. 14625
Phone (585) 200-6284    Email: RegentCofield@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Bennett, Robert M.; B.A., M.S.
Chancellor Emeritus; Judicial District VIII — Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming
201 Millwood Lane, Tonawanda, NY 14150
Phone: (716) 645-1344    Email: RegentBennett@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Cohen, Saul B.; B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
At Large
14 North Chatsworth Avenue, Apt. 3E, Larchmont, NY 10538
Phone: (914) 834-0615     Email: RegentCohen@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Dawson, James C.; A.A, B.A., M.S., Ph.D.
Judicial District IV — Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington
166 U.S. Oval, Plattsburgh, NY 12903
Phone: (518) 324-2401    Email: RegentDawson@mail.nysed.gov

2011* Bottar, Anthony S.; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District V — Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, and Oswego
120 Madison Street, Suite 1600, AXA Tower II, Syracuse, NY 13202
Phone: (315) 422-3466    Email: RegentBottar@mail.nysed.gov

2013* Chapey, Geraldine, D.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Judicial District XI — Queens
107-10 Shore Front Parkway, Apt. 9C, Belle Harbor, NY 11694
Phone: (718) 634-8471    Email: RegentChapey@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Phillips 3rd, Harry; B.A., M.S.F.S.
Judicial District IX — Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester
71 Hawthorne Way, Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 948-2228   Email: RegentPhillips@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Tallon, Jr., James R. ; B.A., M.A.
Judicial District VI – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins
United Hospital Fund, Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10118-0110
Phone (212) 494-0777    Email: RegentTallon@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Tilles, Roger; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District X – Nassau, Suffolk
100 Crossways Park West, Suite 107, Woodbury, N.Y. 11797
Phone (516) 364-2533    Email: RegentTilles@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Brooks Hopkins, Karen; B.A., M.F.A.
Judicial District II – Kings
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 636-4135    Email: RegentHopkins@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Bendit, Charles R.; B.A.
Judicial District I – New York
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1500, New York, N.Y. 10011
Phone (212) 220-9945   Email: RegentBendit@mail.nysed.gov

2013* Rosa, Betty A., B.A., M.S. in Ed., M.S. in Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D.
Judicial District XII – Bronx
Chambreleng Hall, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10458
Phone (718) 817-5053  Email: RegentRosa@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Young, Jr., Lester W., B.S., M.S., Ed.D.
At Large
55 Hanson Place, Suite 400, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 722-2796  Email: RegentYoung@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Cea, Christine D., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Judicial District XIII – Richmond
NYS Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities
1050 Forest Hill Road, Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone (718) 494-5306  Email: RegentCea@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Norwood, Wade S., B.A.
At Large
74 Appleton Street, Rochester, NY 14611
Phone (585) 461-3520  Email: RegentNorwood@mail.nysed.gov

LINK TO EDUCATION COMMITTEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY:

http://assembly.state.ny.us/comm/?sec=mem&id=12

LINK TO EDUCATION COMMITTEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE SENATE:

http://www.nysenate.gov/committee/education

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Summer Reading for Teachers: The Unknown American Revolution

The last thing teachers want to do during the summer is plan for next year. 

Yet if you’re like me, stuck in a massive heat wave with no motivation to brave the rain forest-like conditions, then maybe some planning in the AC could help—especially when you have a resource like today’s selection.

I just got back from a conference at UCLA on the American Revolution.  Yes, I’ve heard all the stories: what does California have to do with the American Revolution?  Well, between UCLA and the Huntington Library, there is a massive concentration of primary source material on the subject. 

Secondly, the main lecturer of the conference helped tie all that material together.  UCLA’s Gary Nash is a true master of the subject, particularly in areas that get little attention.  Professor Nash teaches history at UCLA and is the director of the National Center for History in the Schools, an organization devoted to making meaningful connections between classroom teachers and university academics.  Witty, soft-spoken, and incredibly approachable, Nash makes a wonderful guide through an increasing thorny subject—the “other” stories of the American Revolution that often get buried in textbooks.

Nash’s 2005 work The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America serves as a worthy guidebook through this material.  In it, he details many of the conflicts, struggles, debates and battles that have received little attention, making the Revolution a far more complex subject—and far more real experience—than is often depicted.

According to Professor Nash, the American Revolution is not simply a war of independence between the colonies and Great Britain, but a large, unwieldy, often conflicting web of movements and struggles that affect our national character even today. 

As the battles raged, radicals, conservatives and moderates were jostling to create a new nation and offer voices to new groups of people: immigrants, women, blacks, poor whites, etc.  State constitutions were the first real experiments in representative democracy, scoring victories and defeats in the advancement of freedom and suffrage.  Shortages would see a struggle for economic power as bread riots would rage in northern cities.

The Revolution also set the stage for what Nash argues is the largest black rebellion in American history, as thousands of enslaved Africans made a flight for freedom—mostly heading for the British lines.  The need to control the black population also caused a drain on recruitment in the south, as white landowners worked to keep control of their property.

It would also be a turning point in the Native American struggle to maintain independence and sovereignty in the face of encroaching white development, creating unforeseen tensions, alliances and rivalries.  The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, would split up forever over the Revolution, and tribes in the Ohio valley and the southeast would fight as independent actors in a stage largely seen as two-sided.

Finally, the Revolution really began the era of westward expansion, as the population explosion of the 18th century would force settlers farther into the American hinterland.  Conflicts arise, with native populations, eastern colonial elites, and the British military. 

The need for a “popular history” of the American Revolution is expressed by Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York’s Central Park and quoted by Nash in his introduction:

“Men of literary taste…are always apt to overlook the working classes, and to confine the records they make of their own times, in a great degree to the habits and fortunes of their own associates or to those people of superior rank to themselves. The dumb masses have often been so lost in this shadow of egotism, that, in later days, it has been impossible to discern the very real influence their character and condition has had on the fortune and fate of nations.”

History is about telling the whole story, and according to Olmstead, half the story is usually hidden by those at the top of society.  Their narrative, the one that has prevailed so many centuries, has filled our textbooks and the addled minds of so many schoolchildren—children like mine, who look nothing like the Founding Fathers.

So how can The Unknown American Revolution be used in the classroom?

Obviously, this work is much too complicated for most students, even high schoolers.  We’ve covered popular histories of the Revolution before here in the Neighborhood, and Thomas Fleming’s work Everybody’s Revolution is still a great book for elementary and middle-school children in covering much of Nash’s premise.  Fleming’s book is best for any classroom assignments.

Where Nash’s book really excels is both as a resource for high school students in research and as a reference for student questions.  High schoolers, who so often cut corners in research papers, can use Nash’s book as a valuable tool in rounding out any topic about the Revolution, giving a nuance scarcely found in the shelves of typical high school libraries.

For younger students, The Unknown American Revolution provides some explanation to questions many children have about the time period.  In the South Bronx, few children can feel a tangible connection to the Revolution.  In looking at women, the poor, Africans—people that they can relate to—my students can see the Revolution as an event that affected everyone, and that mattered to everyone.   

Finally, I’ll end with a warning Professor Nash gave all of us at the beginning of our week together.  He told us that the most dangerous word in history is “inevitable.”  In our textbooks, we often think that the events that happen were inevitable and could not be stopped.  In doing so, the actions of human beings are conveniently marginalized. 

I always tell my students that history is the story of how humans solve problems, and the consequences of these solutions.  People, all sorts of people, have an active role in not only creating problems, but also in finding meaningful solutions.  The guys on the money were not perfect; and it’s important that kids understand that sooner rather than later. 

It is up to us as teachers to take the premises presented by professors like Gary Nash and make them real and meaningful to our children.

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The Neighborhood goes West: Mr. D at UCLA this week

In all the World Cup business, I had almost forgot I had a trip coming up.

The Neighborhood will be taking a weeklong break as Mr. D attends a Summer Seminar at UCLA, courtesy of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History.  As exciting as that sounds, chances are that I’ll be locked in the Westwood campus for the whole week for workshops, lectures, research etc.

As such, I may not be finding time to even enjoy California, let alone post to the Neighborhood.  So forgive your host if there’s no activity on here until next week.

Also, if anyone in the Neighborhood is in the Los Angeles area, please let me know.

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Summer Reading for Teachers: Brilliant Orange

Now that we know the two finalists for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, let’s get to know one of them a little better.

Of the two (Spain being the other), the Netherlands is probably less known to many Americans, even though our biggest city claims the Dutch as their colonial forebearers.   So it was a thrill to return to my bookshelf and dust off an old gem from my soccer books.

Soccer literature has really come into its own as of late.  A good shelf should include works by Simon Kuper (Football Against the Enemy, Soccernomics, Ajax, the Dutch, the War), Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, Joe McGinniss’ The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, and of course Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch

For my money, few books discuss Dutch football, nor the Dutch themselves, better than Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.  His 2001 masterpiece about the emergence of Dutch soccer still rings true today, and is required reading for any real fan of the Oranje.

In the postwar period, the Netherlands developed a unique brand of soccer that spread throughout Europe and the world from the 1970s through the 1990s.  Dubbed “Total Football”, Dutch soccer was a strange and exciting blend of crisp teamwork and inventive formations.  It required players to leave their comfort zones and play at positions as the game required: halfbacks shot forward, strikers fell back to defensive play.  It was teamwork and improvisation, stability and movement, stasis and fluidity—depending on the situation.

Total Football was, according to Winner, a window of postwar Dutch society; a society which struggled to maintain its identity in the face of the rapid social changes of the 1960s.  Changing mores and a youth culture aching to shake off the violent past collided with a conservative Dutch base that sought stability—sometimes through nefarious means, as exemplified by Dutch cooperation during the Nazi occupation of the 1940s.

 Yet I would argue that it is more than that.  Total Football is a reflection of the dichotomy that has defined the Dutch character since the founding of the Republic in the late 16th Century.  To many Americans, the Netherlands is windmills, wooden shoes, booze, sex and drugs: a kind of European Tijuana, where anything goes.  In fact, Dutch identity is not defined by freedom, at least not entirely.  Rather, the struggle between freedom and order has permeated throughout Dutch history, as is clearly evidenced through their revolutionary brand of soccer.

Take, for example, the Dutch attitude toward marijuana and prostitution.   If you asked the Dutch government, they’d probably tell you that they wished both these vices would go away.  Yet if they were both criminalized, it would lead to a rapid decline in social stability.  People want their vices, and will go through whatever it takes to get it: you try prying a pothead away from the mouth of a bong.  So the sensible, orderly thing is to not criminalize it, at least not completely.  Both pot and sex are heavily taxed and regulated by the state, so that both vices, rather than being agents of disorder, are in fact folded into the greater tidiness of Dutch society.

The need for a sensible consensus has driven the Netherlands for over four centuries.  It became a beacon of “tolerance” as waves of refugees, religious dissenters, Jews and political dissidents made the Dutch republic a safe haven and strengthened their trade empire of the 1600s (Note I said “tolerance”, not “acceptance.” These people were accepted out of necessity, not entirely out of kindness.)  This also showed up in Holland’s most famous colony, a ramshackle settlement on the Atlantic seaboard that would eventually become New York City.

This same struggle of order and individual expression shined through the 1970s, as Dutch footballers dominated the sport.  For someone like me, who grew up on soccer, Brilliant Orange is a roller-coaster of both legendary and familiar names.  Names my Dad recognized in the 1970s—Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol, Van Hanegem—were joined in the 1980s and 1990s by players all too familiar to me—Gullit, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Bergkamp.

All of these players experienced incredible success: Ajax of Amsterdam won three European Cups in a row (1971, 1972, 1973), and the national team won the 1988 European championship as well as reach three World Cup finals (1974, 1978, 2010).  Yet the same turbulent society that embraced success also had to cope with defeat, often catastrophic defeat.  For all their success, the Dutch could never win the big trophy, which is also displayed in a distinctly Dutch way: a fatalism that hints that at a return to order.

It’s an interesting thought: is it too disorderly, too chaotic, too non-Dutch for the Netherlands to be world champions? 

Today’s Dutch players (Sneijder, Robben, Van Bronckhorst, etc.) as well as fans worldwide will have to contemplate that on Sunday afternoon.  In the meantime, Brilliant Orange offers an incredible glimpse at a unique team, a unique sport, and the bewilderingly unique people that spawned it.

Who am I rooting for?  Let’s just say I’m wearing an orange shirt that day.

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