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TOO FAT POLKA (She’s Too Fat for Me) Print E-mail
by James Reza    Wed, Oct 26, 2011, 11:44 AM

When I was a youngster, my school chums always tormented me.   They’d sing me these lyrics of a then popular song (Too Fat Polka), “I don’t want her you can have her she’s too fat for me, she’s too fat for me.”  Though I was a boy, the kids made fun of me because I was, well, a fat kid, as were several other kids who attended my school.  Two fat boys, Ralph Salinas, was tagged El Tripon (Big Gut) and Billy Anguiano was called La Vaca (The Cow).  As I grew into a teen I eventually lost my supposed baby fat. However, Ralph and Billy remained fat well into their adult lives and sadly both died rather young of diabetes due to their obesity.

Just recently I read an article by Jeannie Kever of the Houston Chronicle titled, Hispanic kids impoverished more than others.  In her piece she quotes Luis Salinas, a sociologist at the University of Houston, who states that a report released recently by The Pew Hispanic Center that if 6 million Hispanic kids are being brought up in poverty, that doesn’t give them much hope for the future.  They are likely to end up in poverty for the rest of their lives, and many do not have adequate nutrition.  Folks, that has to be the biggest piece of horse manure I’ve read in a long time.

Follow me on this folks, what have we constantly been told by the news media and the Obama Administration about the harmful effects of obesity.  Haven’t they been telling parents not to take their kids to fast food restaurants because they contribute to the children’s obesity?  In Los Angeles City Council members are going to ban fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a minority community whose residents are mostly African-American and Hispanic.  Blacks and Hispanics are responding that they feel they aren’t the only fat people in our country by a long shot.  Blacks and Hispanics in South LA now want to know if white people in white neighborhoods are going to be told no more Big Macs, no more chicken nuggets.  Or, is the situation in Los Angeles simply stating that white neighborhoods have Big Macs and chicken nuggets in moderation and therefore their fast-food joints can stay.  Evidently there is an opposite problem in Atlanta.  Minority young men there are so skinny their pants are falling off, so the city is going to ban sagging pants in all the schools.  Maybe the skinny people in Atlanta with the sagging pants should move to L.A., and the fat people in L.A can move to Atlanta and get skinny.

In my opening paragraph I talked about my obesity and that of my school chums.  I might add here that most of my Hispanic school chums came from poor households similar to mine.  I recall that most of the homes in my neighborhood of El Norte (The North Side) didn’t have hot running water, refrigerators, ac/heating units, washers/dryers, a telephone, and some didn’t have inside bathrooms.  I remember mom and other ladies of El Norte washed clothes outside in huge black pots heated with firewood.  After mom soaked the clothes in hot soapy water she would get a scrub board and scrub the clothes in a No. 8 washtub.  Then, she’d hang them in several clotheslines in the backyard.

Though most Hispanics in my neighborhood were poor, I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone dying of hunger.  Most of us have seen those poor black kids in Africa with their bloated bellies and flies all over their faces.  Folks, I never saw any of that in my poor Hispanic barrio.  I take that back, Hispanic kids did have bloated bellies, but that was due to their bellies being full of beans and tortillas!  I recall my dad telling mom when we went to the store, Anna, nomas papas y frijoles!” (Anna, just potatoes and beans!).  Mom ignored dad and though she did buy rice, potatoes and beans, she also bought cheap meat products: boloney, wieners, chicken and cheap beef cuts.  Out of those inexpensive food products mom cooked delicious tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, refried beans and potato with wiener burritos.  I remember telling mom, “Mom, I don’t want to take burritos to school, please pack me a ham sandwich like the white kids.” Today I entertain at several Mexican restaurants and guess who usually is eating those poor food dishes mom used to cook?  You guessed it, the white folks!

If Luis Salinas, the sociologist at the University of Houston, states that Hispanic kids who are being brought up in poverty, don’t have much hope for the future, how does he account that we poor Hispanics in the 30s, 40s and 50s who had less than these poor Hispanic kids of today and who are not discriminated like we were, have done just fine?  My poor chubby friend Ralph Salinas grew up to be a chef at a hotel, my other fat friend, Billy Anguiano, owned and operated his own business, a flower shop, for many years. Other poor Hispanic friends who came from large families did exceptionally well.  One school chum was Stanley Flores, who came from a family of 8 kids.  Stanley, worked his way through college at Texas A&M and earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering.  Art Lazo, another school friend who also came from a family of 8 kids went to Texas University and became a Mechanical Engineer.  I could write a book about all the achievements of my poor Hispanic friends but I think I’ve given enough examples of how we did well despite our poor upbringing.

Why did we do so well despite being poor and being discriminated some might ask?  Speaking for myself and my school chums, I can only attribute it to the great education in English I might add, the nuns gave us at our poor Catholic school of San Jose and the fine education we got in high school which is totally lagging today.  Aside from that, most of my poor Hispanic friends like myself came from strong close-knit families.  Coming from a broken home when I was a kid was almost unheard of in my poor Hispanic neighborhood.  Today, divorce runs rampant and many Hispanic kids don’t get the guidance they need from loving parents or any encouragement to stay in school.  Thus, many join gangs and end up on the wrong side of the track and eventually poor as Professor Salinas so states.


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Are Texas Turkish Charter Schools Really Public Schools? Print E-mail
by MerryLynn Gerstenschlager    Mon, Oct 24, 2011, 08:07 AM

Had anyone told me that I would end up spending the bulk of my time during the most recent Texas Legislative Session and Special Session lobbying on Turkish charter schools, technically known as Harmony charter schools, I would have laughed at them.

However, this turned out to be no laughing matter and by the end of the Special Session, the legislature had called for an investigation of all charter schools by the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee.

The forthcoming investigation was precipitated by Texas Eagle Forum’s and Peyton Wolcott’s (Publisher – Public Ed Commentary) unsuccessful efforts to amend legislation that will now allow certain charter schools to use the $25 billion dollar Permanent School Fund (PSF) to guarantee new construction bonds. Public schools already enjoy this privilege. The PSF is also known as the Children’s Textbook Fund.

Peyton Wolcott’s research provided outstanding information throughout session. Upon learning that there are 36 Harmony charter campuses in Texas and that their operators are mostly Turkish men who have been educated and previously employed in Turkey, we dubbed the Harmony charter schools “Turkish charter schools.” We began to scrutinize them in the context of this legislation. Harmony is overseen by the Cosmos Foundation, a non-profit organization that has received a quarter of a billion dollars in Texas taxpayer dollars in the past three years. Note that there are 156 Harmony-related charter schools in the U.S.

Harmony refers to their schools as “charter” as well as “public” schools. On February 1, 2011, “Harmony Public Schools” organized the “Bond Financing for Charter Schools” luncheon at the Austin Omni Hotel. Among the speakers was former Counselor to President George W. Bush, Karen Hughes, who welcomed guests “on behalf of Harmony Public Schools” to talk “about innovative ways to finance school facilities.” Harmony had hired Hughes through Burson-Marsteller, the prestigious marketing firm, to kick off Harmony’s efforts to pass this legislation.

Harmony was scheduled to open a new School of Political Science in Austin in August of 2011. Because Harmony schools emphasize Turkish culture and also take Texas elected officials on free trips to Turkey, we contemplated how American government and the U.S. Constitution might be taught in this school. And with so many Texas teachers looking for work, we wondered why Cosmos has brought 1,300 teachers here from Turkey on H1-B visas?

We were concerned that five members of the Senate Education Committee had accepted a collective total of $15,000, and that seven members of the House Public Education Committee had accepted a collective total of $11,500 in campaign funds from the Texas Charter School Association (TCSA). The TCSA had hired 11 lobbyists to push for this legislation. Among these lobbyists were former State Representative Diane Delisi and former State Senator Kyle Janek. One of the PSF charter school guarantee bills had to pass out of these committees to take on a life in the House and Senate.

The focus on Turkish influence in Texas schools was emphasized when the Senate passed Senate Resolution 85 honoring the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen. Gulen was given asylum in Pennsylvania in 1997 when he was driven out of Turkey by his own government for trying to reinstate a caliphate in this secular nation. Since then, Gulen lives here in self-imposed exile, even though he has been exonerated in Turkey.

In order to protect the $25 billion Children’s Textbook Fund, Texas Eagle Forum and Peyton Wolcott began to lobby that the following fiduciary duty-of-care amendments be placed in the legislation:

1. Proof of U.S. citizenship for all charter school operator board members and top five highest paid administrators (public ISD trustees must be U.S. citizens). 2. Names, titles, and biographies posted online for all charter operator board members and top five highest paid administrators. 3. Check registers posted online (over 70% of local ISD dollars are online).

We advocated for these safeguards because the bills lacked a requirement for accountability and transparency. We had learned that at least two members of the Cosmos Foundation’s current leadership had not paid their franchise taxes, determining them “Not in Good Standing” with the State Comptroller’s Office. As Peyton Wolcott asked: If leadership does not show fiscal responsibility in their personal business, what guarantee did we have that they will show fiscal responsibility while handing public monies?

Another push for the legislation came from Representative Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) who authorized a flyer from the Harmony schools to be placed in all House members’ mailboxes. The Harmony flyer asked House members to vote against our three fiduciary duty-of-care amendments.

The bills to tap into the PSF died during the Regular Session, but were resurrected during the Special Session in June. During that time the New York Times published an article about how the Texas Turkish charter schools spend public monies and highlighted how their construction contracts have been awarded to Turkish owned contractors, even though they had been underbid by other companies. The Times also connected Harmony schools to the followers of Fethullah Gulen.

By the next to the last day of the Special Session, the charter school PSF school bond guarantee legislation had been amended into a critical budget bill that had to pass to meet constitutional requirements. Ultimately, the budget bill passed, but without our three fiduciary duty-of-care amendments.

Yes, the bill passed, but apparently, some legislators were catching on to the idea that the Turkish charter schools should come under more scrutiny than they had in the past. Some House members concerned about rural schools and charter schools would not give the critical budget bill their approval until it had been established that charter schools will be investigated during the Interim by the General Investigating and Ethics Committee, chaired by Rep. Chuck Hopson (R-Jacksonville).

Once the investigation begins, I hope that Chairman Hopson will also look into the contrast portrayed in the accompanying photo of two schools in Ft Worth, Texas. The first photo was taken from the campus of Westcreek Elementary School, looking directly across the street to the campus of the Harmony Science Academy. Note how there is no fence around the Westcreek Elementary campus, but an iron fence surrounds the Harmony Science Academy campus.

In the second picture, note Harmony’s signs that say “NO TRESPASSING, NO LOITERING, [and] NO SOLICITING.” Since Harmony charter schools are paid for by taxpayer dollars and are called “Harmony Public Schools,” why do they have a “No Trespassing” sign at the entrance to their schools? And why do they not want to require that their board members seeking the PSF school construction bond guarantee be American citizens just like local school board trustees? Are they genuinely “public” schools?

This brings up another point…the Harmony schools are Texas Education Agency schools, run with taxpayer dollars, that are not controlled by local parents in the form of elected school board trustees. Put another way, these are schools of the state education agency, rather than schools that are accountable to local taxpayers and parents. The accountability is to the state, rather than to local parents. Local control is non-existent, as contrasted to the Westcreek Elementary School across the street that is in the Fort Worth ISD where there is an elected, local school board that is accountable to parents and taxpayers.

I look forward to the upcoming investigation of charter schools. While they have every legal right to experiment with alternative ways of educating students, there can never be a compromise on accountability and transparency in education.


Originally appeared in the Texas Eagle Forum, October/November 2011 – Vol. 24, No. 7.


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And You Thought You Had It Rough At Work Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 17, 2011, 09:07 AM

Most of us spend a significant portion of our daily lives at work.  And whether you’re on a busy assembly line or passing hours in a cubicle, you generally try to make the day go as quickly as possible, putting up with certain workplace trials and tribulations in exchange for a paycheck, health insurance, and a certain measure of self-worth and accomplishment.  For some workers, though, it’s become a case of one too many indignities, until they reached the point of humming right along with Johnny Paycheck’s working man’s anthem “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”


Take Roy Lester, for example.  The 61 year-old from Long Island worked part time as a lifeguard at New York’s Jones Beach State Park for four decades until 2007.  He claims he was forced out of that job because of a state park regulation requiring lifeguards to take the annual 100 yard swim qualification test wearing either brief Speedos or loose-fitting boxer or board shorts.  Lester, who prefers tight-fitting swim “jammers” that reach to the knee, refused to wear the board shorts (he says they slow him down) or the Speedos.  “I wore a Speedo when I was in my 20s,” he says.  “But come on.  There should be a law prohibiting anyone over the age of 50 from wearing a Speedo.”


Lester believes the Speedo regulation is a thinly-veiled way of weeding out older lifeguards (he estimates that over 80% of the Jones Beach lifeguards are over 40) and, in 2009, the part-time lifeguard and full-time bankruptcy lawyer filed an age discrimination lawsuit.  An appeals court recently rejected New York’s attempt to dispose of the claim, and trial is expected to go forward late this year or early in 2012.


Speaking of trials, most employers recognize the importance of civic duty like jury service.  A number of states, including Texas, provide an added layer of protection for employees by requiring that employers give time off for workers summoned for jury service.  And of all the employers you would expect to be sensitive to the importance of jury duty, law firms would be at the top of the list—right?  Apparently, not at a certain Detroit-area law firm.  When Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Mary Chrzanowski was preparing to swear in a jury in a September 2011 murder trial, one of the jurors surprised her by asking to be excused.  The female juror submitted a letter from her law firm employer indicating that if she didn’t return to work the firm would replace her.  Judge Chrzanowski considered it “unbelievable” that the firm would have “the audacity to do this.”  The judge wouldn’t name the firm or detail how she handled it, but the juror was kept on the jury.


From the hot air of lawyers to, well, another form of hot air, how would you like your employer to discipline you over passing gas?  Clarksville, Tennessee paramedic Rita Cain filed a lawsuit claiming that her employer, Montgomery County Emergency Medical Services, illegally punished her for flatulence.  Cain has worked there since 1992 and rose to the rank of lieutenant.  But on a March 2011 call, Cain was on the phone with a 911 operator when she passed gas.  The operator heard the flatulent noise and made an internal complaint.  Within days, Cain says she was demoted and received a written warning (1 step short of termination) for the flatulence episode.  Cain’s lawsuit maintains that she’s being discriminated against because of her gender, saying that male employees haven’t been disciplined the same for identical “or worse conduct.”


While it remains to be seen (or heard) how a federal judge feels about Rita Cain’s lawsuit, at least one other court has held that flatulence itself doesn’t constitute harassment.  In the 1999 case of Klein v. McGowan, a Minnesota judge held that the “expelling of flatulence, while offensive, rude, and vulgar to people of either sex, is not tantamount to actionable harassment.”  Cain is seeking at least $300,000 in damages in her lawsuit.  That could buy a lot of Beano, or perhaps jackets for all of her fellow paramedics—I hear windbreakers are making a comeback.


Most employers would prefer not to have employees with drinking problems.  That concern becomes even more understandable for employers like the interstate trucking company Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., which doesn’t want drivers with a history of alcoholism behind the wheel.  While this might make sense to you and me, the federal government—in the form of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—considers it to be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since that statute recognizes alcoholism as a disability.  So the EEOC has sued Old Dominion for a policy that makes perfect sense and has probably avoided any number of catastrophic highway accidents.  Psst—EEOC—I hear that they won’t let blind people drive either.  Good luck with that lawsuit!


How about insensitive employers?  Cecelia Ingraham, a longtime employee of Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Company in New Jersey, lost her teenage daughter Tatiana in 2005 to leukemia.  Ingraham’s grief was deep, and in her cubicle at work she displayed reminders of her daughter like photos and Tatiana’s ballet slippers.  After over a year, Ingraham says her boss ordered her to take the mementos down and to stop talking about Tatiana’s death because it made co-workers “uncomfortable.”  Ingraham resigned shortly thereafter and sued her employer for discrimination and for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  A trial court rejected her claims, and a New Jersey appeals court recently upheld the dismissal.  It said that while Ingraham’s boss might have been “insensitive” to the plaintiff’s “continuing bereavement,” the employer’s conduct wasn’t so “atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community” as to justify a recovery.


Whether he’s just another insensitive employer or “the boss from hell” as some of his employees have described him, William Ernst of Bettendorf, Iowa has earned a spot in this rogue’s gallery of employers.  Ernst, the owner of a chain of convenience stores called QC Mart, sent all of his workers a memo in March, 2011.  The memo announced a new contest—“Guess the Next Cashier to be Fired!!!”  Employees were encouraged to write down the name of the next cashier to be fired (for a variety of sundry offenses, such as wearing a hat or talking on a cell phone), seal it in an envelope, and give it to a manager.  The winner would get “$10 CASH”—only one winner per firing.  The memo went on to jovially admonish “[N]o fair picking Mike Miller (from the Rockingham Road store).  He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on is cell phone.  Good luck!!!!”


At least two QC Mart employees sent letters to company managers complaining about the contest, with one stating that it had “created an atmosphere or distrust, intimidation and paranoia.”  Cashier Misty Shelsky, her store manager, and several other employees quit over the contest, saying Ernst had cultivated a hostile work environment.  When Shelsky filed a claim for unemployment benefits, Ernst contested the claim.  Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman sided with the cashier and her fellow workers, calling the QC Mart work environment “intolerable and detrimental,” and castigating Ernst for suggesting that employees “turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize.”


Finally, if you’ve ever waited tables in a greasy spoon, a fast food place, or even the finest restaurants, you know that there can be a seamy underbelly to the food business.  But how would you like it if the restaurant where you worked was listed in the phone book under “Animal Carcass Removal?”  That’s the case for the Bar3 Bar-B-Q restaurants in Bozeman and Belgrade, Montana, and the telephone book’s printing mistake was immortalized in a Jay Leno monologue on the Tonight Show.  But for restaurant owner Hunter Lacey, it’s no laughing matter.  He’s filed a lawsuit against Dex Media, Inc., claiming that his brand and business reputation have suffered because of the restaurants’ listing in the “Animal Carcass Removal” section.  The mistake was in both online and printed directories, and has lived on via the Internet, forwarded emails, and even customer reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page.  Lacey’s lawsuit accuses Dex Media of not only negligence and defamation, but also of deliberately publishing the harmful listing because Lacey refused to purchase an advertisement.  Dex Media “regrets” the publication and says that an employee who altered the restaurant listing to appear under “Animal Carcass Removal” was acting outside his duties.  That’s not enough for Hunter Lacey, who says his hard-won branding efforts have been “wiped out.”


From being fired for not wearing Speedos or being a grieving mother to working in environments known for flatulence or “Animal Carcass Removal,” the workplace can be stranger than any “Dilbert” cartoon.  Our legal system proves it.

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More Low Moments in Lawyer Advertising Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 10, 2011, 08:57 AM

 It’s no secret that in this depressed economy many lines of work have taken a beating.  The legal profession is certainly one of them.  Recent law school graduates are having a tougher time than ever finding jobs in their chosen field.  In June 2011 alone, the legal sector had lost 2,600 jobs.  Because of this, competition for legal work is becoming more and more intense, leading many lawyers to explore even more creative ways to market themselves.

 Of course, there’s “creative,” and then there’s unusual and sometimes downright tacky.  In the United Kingdom, the matrimonial lawyers at Follett Stock Solicitors have drawn the ire of local religious leaders for advertising (for a limited time only) free divorces.  The offer, made via the firm’s website, Twitter, and in a flyer, doesn’t include court costs or extras like tracking down an estranged spouse.  Clergymen maintain that the free offer encourages couples to make a hasty decision about splitting; the law firm counters that it’s just good advertising and a public service for those who want to divorce but can’t afford the legal fees.  Over here in the U.S., Portland, Oregon personal injury firm Berkshire Ginsberg has nothing to hide—literally.  In June, the firm sponsored the popular annual World Naked Bike Ride event, which was expected to draw as many as 20,000 au naturel cyclists.  Firm partner Mark Ginsberg is an avid cyclist, and he saw sponsorship as a way to promote his firm’s representation of the vulnerable.  The tagline associated with the lawyers’ support of the ride read “When you’re naked, we’ve got you covered.”

 For a lot of lawyers, hitting the books in school meant entry into a world where they wouldn’t have to do jobs like deliver pizza.  Now a new company founded by non-lawyer Chris Miles promises legal help as quickly as—well, a pizza.  LawyerUp, which operates in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, offers subscribers (who pay $4.95 a month) access to a lawyer within 15 minutes of a legal emergency.  LawyerUp gets paid $100 for the first call (for nonsubscribers), and the attorneys earn up to $250 for the first hour of work (they have to be agreeable to taking late night calls).  Chris Miles rationalizes the service by saying “If I want a pizza, I can get a pizza in 15 minutes. . . . Why can’t I get a lawyer?”  Connecticut Bar Association President Ralph Monaco called the company’s name “so tasteless.”

 For other lawyers, it’s all about the ads themselves.  Ontario trial lawyers at Sanders, Lyn & Ragonetti advertise their divorce practice with a photo of a sports car bearing the license plate “WAS HIS” (I guess they represented the wife).  Philadelphia lawyer Larry Leftkowitz seeks to associate himself with trustworthiness with an ad in which his head is Photoshopped onto Abraham Lincoln’s body.  Maybe he specializes in rail-splitting, or emancipations.  Meanwhile, Tulsa trial lawyer Bryce A. Hill has his firm’s ad prominently featured on a race car for NASCAR fans everywhere.  Yes, nothing says “classy” quite like having a law firm name and “” right above the Confederate flag and a Jack Daniels logo.

 Some law firms go with a musical approach.  New York personal injury firm Greenstein & Milbauer opted for a rap song; some of the lyrics include “Have a neck broke/from an accident

you didn’t provoke?”  The Los Angeles-based entertainment law firm of White O’Connor, on the other hand, uploaded a YouTube video with a lawyer in a suit singing a reggae song about their practice.

 Other attorneys take a more personal approach.  Peruse the website of the law firm of Mahoney Anderson LLC in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and you find out more than you cared to know about attorney David M. Anderson.  For example, Anderson boasts that before marrying a “former International Fashion Model and Miss Minnesota World,” he “dated women who went on to positions on the Federal Bench and National Anchor spots on FOX News.”  Seriously?  This guy thinks who he’s dated should somehow make a prospective client want to hire him?  If this isn’t enough to make you think Anderson is a colossal tool, then consider his online business card, which notes that “Tri-lingual and an accomplished Jazz Pianist and 3-time Marathon Finisher, David continues to wonder in awe at his endowment of excessive gifts and talents, when so many others have been apparently deprived of any.”  Hopefully, he meant this to be taken tongue in cheek, or else make sure there’s enough room in his conference room for you, Anderson, and Anderson’s ego.

 Maybe Anderson was inspired by Baltimore, Maryland attorney Barry Glazer, whose Facebook page boasts “Every once in a while, a man emerges to lead the masses to greatness.  With his cunning intelligence, impressively dyed blonde hair, and great catchphrases, Barry Glazer has become not only a law hero in Baltimore, but also an Icon throughout Maryland.”  Really?  Maybe the “great catchphrases” aspect is true; Glazer is known for his commercials, a number of which can be found on YouTube, and many of which have something to do with urine.  In one ad, he refers to himself as “Legal advocate for the injured, disabled, and urinated upon;” in another, he admonishes insurance companies to not “urinate on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”  He even comments on the BP oil spill with the tagline “BP’eed on lately” and his website features a “Don’t Pee on Me” tab.

 I guess there’s a reason why, when you think of “classy,” lawyer ads don’t exactly spring to mind.


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Enlightenment and Great Awakening Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Mon, Oct 10, 2011, 08:40 AM

Two broad sets of ideas largely determined worldview in 18th century America prior to the American Revolution.  While it is true that the Enlightenment more thoroughly influenced the Colonial elite, and the Great Awakening was most influential amongst common people, both found their nexus in America.  Both influenced the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Early Republican period.  The phenomenon was not inevitable, since the two sets of ideas were often antagonistic in Europe—particularly during the French Revolution.  In America, piety and political philosophy mixed, Reason and Revelation married. 

The Enlightenment was centered in Europe but came to the Colonies in books and from the travel of wealthy and influential citizens.  It began in the 1690s but had its heyday between 1720 and 1780.  Locke, Newton and Blackstone figured prominently in England; Hume and Adam Smith in Scotland; Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, Descartes in France; and Kant in Germany.  Clearly all these folks in the same room would not produce agreement on much.  Nevertheless, the Enlightenment held to a central tenet: the power of human reason to understand laws of nature, society, government, etc., and to direct progress in those areas.  New assumptions dawned upon man’s consciousness: that man had the ability to control his environment; that man possessed immense rational faculty or cognitive ability; that objective Truth existed and that man could approach, if not actually know it completely.  The Enlightenment naturally propelled men towards invention and the scientific method.  Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were leading proponents of Enlightenment ideas and lifestyle in the Colonies and after Independence. 

The Great Awakening was centered in America.  Indeed, except for the involvement by British evangels in the Colonies, the Great Awakening was an American phenomenon—arguably the first to provide some common experience amongst all Colonies.  It began in the 1720s and peaked between 1740 and 1775.  The Great Awakening affected most church denominations and helped knit the Eastern seaboard together socially.  It witnessed the resurgence of old school Calvinism, so it had doctrinal affinity to earlier Puritanism.  But what distinguished the Great Awakening were its new technique of revivalism, and its emphasis on itinerant preaching to backcountry areas and slave communities.  This is what brought Christianity to the slaves and to backwoods pioneers.  This is what challenged the staid Anglicanism of Virginia and gave rise to the Baptists.  Indeed, the challenge posed to established churches by new preachers had the positive effect of reinvigorating faith in old churches too.

When preachers like George Whitefield or Jonathan Edwards came to town or to the countryside, a 20-mile radius might be cleared completely of people.  By word of mouth, the news spread and farmers dropped their implements and packed their families into wagons to go hear the Gospel!  Thousands heard the Word for the first time; or else, they let it penetrate their hearts fully.  America steeled its character, a character of righteousness for the Revolution to come.  Although Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale had been founded by Congregationalists before the Great Awakening, Old and “New Lights” of New England, as well as Old and “New Sides” of the Middle Colonies, proceeded to found Princeton (1746), Columbia (1754), Brown (1764), Rutgers (1766), and Dartmouth (1769).  They did it to produce clergy, as well as learned men of faith and faithful men of learning. 

The Enlightenment and Great Awakening reinforced each other in America.  The cooperation between them produced some of America’s greatest institutions of higher learning.  That’s why it is so unfortunate that many universities today incline towards a studied hostility to religion and to the religious impulse.  In our Founders’ day, we were likely to conclude that man’s ability to control his environment (and to properly steward it) depended on his ability to discover and to understand God’s laws—His laws of physics and math and history, as much as His law of Love.  Truth and the Laws of Nature and God’s Law all came together.  Men might well reason, and reason well.  But God sets the standards we seek and defines Reason “out of the amplitude of His pure affection.”


Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford.  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC).  This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium  available on-line at and from fine bookstores everywhere.  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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