Advocating for Special Needs

Sarah Palin, Jenny McCarthy & Jeni Stepanek  are all mothers advocating for their children.  Yet Sarah Palin has been accused of exploiting her youngest son.  Since when is advocating for your child considered exploitation? 

Please check out the full text of my article on The Americano


Critical Thinkers Must Even Question What They Consider To Be Common Sense

The essence of critical thinking requires questioning.  A critical thinker must question everything he or she is told or believes and this includes even that which the person considers common sense.  This last part is often the most difficult act.  How can you question common sense?  Common sense seems absolutely right after all. 

One of the best examples I’ve found to explain why we need to question even that which we consider to be common sense is the famous case of U.S. Lieutenant Jeffrey N. Zaun. Shot down over the Persian Gulf War on January 18, 1991, Zaun became internationally known as a prisoner of war.  Images of the bruised, bloated and beaten soldier were on every station’s evening news, covers of magazines, front pages of newspapers and virtually every media outlet.  He was captured by Iraqi soldiers after being ejected from his plane. Zaun was then forced by the Iraqis to appear in a video making a statement against the war.  Zaun said, “I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq.”  The words were delivered in a monotone voice and it was clear to all who viewed the footage, those were not Zaun’s. 

It was the image of the fallen soldier that really haunted us.  When you see a beaten up prisoner of war, common sense tells you that those wounds were inflicted by his captors.  Why would anyone question that?  After being released from his six weeks in captivity, Zaun explained some of those wounds we saw were self-inflicted in the hopes that “he would be too ugly” to be filmed again.  He even explained that that was part of his military training. 

Zaun is truly a hero.  He teaches us many things about honor, duty and service. Zaun also taught me to question images in a way I had never considered before. 

With today’s prevalence of media, we often assume what we are seeing, reading and hearing has to be true.  However, the face value of a situation can only be determined by critical thinking and analysis.

Choose Your Words Carefully

We use language as a means to transmit ideas. A person has a thought and needs to figure out how to communicate that to others. If a person uses the wrong words, it doesn’t matter how great the ideas were because no one received them. When we use words that offend, it’s like we hit a wall because our message is blocked. There are words that cause some listeners to tune out and when that happens, we aren’t being heard.

Last month, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel used the word “retarded” in a private meeting. He’s received great criticism for his insensitivity and Sarah Palin even said he should be fired. Palin’s son has Downs Syndrome and is very passionate about the use of this word. She said, “Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the ‘N-word’ or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities — and the people who love them — is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Emanuel has apologized publicly and privately to Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver for using the word “retarded.” This is not the first time the White House has come under fire for offending this group. In March of 2009, Obama himself made a joke about his bowling skills by referring to them as worthy of the Special Olympics on The Tonight Show.

The word “retarded” is offensive. In the past, it was used frequently and is now often used in slang as a form of slur particularly among young people. That doesn’t excuse its use, however. As our society evolves, so does our language. A person who scores below about a 70 on IQ tests is now called a person with an intellectual disability.

While some object to political correctness, our words matter. We would not call a person who has the flu, “a flu,” so we should not call a person who has paralysis of the legs “paralyzed.” We put the person first rather than the condition. He or she is a person with paralysis. This change in phrasing makes a big difference. A medical condition does not define a person or sum up everything he or she is. This is the reason for the change.

Critical thinkers choose their words carefully because they know if they don’t, they won’t be heard.

True Exchange of Ideas Could Lead to Less Partisanship

In  President Obama’s State of the Union address this week he acknowledged  the partisanship that has so frustrated Americans and prevented political action by calling it a “poisoned political era.”

Today he went to a meeting of Republicans.  Obama took questions and defended his positions for more than an hour at the House Republicans Annual Meeting in Baltimore.  It was televised live and that makes it unlike those that former President George W. Bush attended with Democrats during his administration and the one that Obama did last year.  Television provides a transparency that we so desperately need.  After all, seeing is believing and far too often we rely of what others say about an event, speech or document instead of watching, reading and deciding for ourselves. 

During today’s meeting, Republicans voiced anger that their ideas and proposals were ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and said that this culture has pervaded his administration. Republicans handed Obama a book of all their proposals and alternative solutions to current legislative initiatives.  Obama acknowledged fault on both sides, but said he has read Republican suggestions and incorporates the good ones. 

Obama said not having more communication between the legislative leaders of the major parties was “a failure on my part” and that he would try to do more on that issue this year.

Republicans also confronted the president for breaking promises on transparency referring to the many commitments he made during his campaign about televising debates on healthcare.   He defended this by saying most congressional hearings on healthcare were televised on C-SPAN, but did admit it was a legitimate criticism and took responsibility. 

Obama said he was having fun towards the end of the meeting.  You know what?  An intellectual exchange of ideas is fun.  That’s what argument really is.  It’s not name calling and pointing fingers.  We can disagree in the country.  That’s what makes America so great.  In order to be critical thinkers, we must talk and listen to those with different ideas.  Partisanship has prevented this and perhaps today opened the door to a more productive era.

Today’s Supreme Court Ruling is a Victory for Free Speech

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling will not drown out the voice of the individual.  It supports our First Amendment rights.  It is important to remember that this decision  leaves in place a ban which prohibits both corporations and unions from directly contributing to candidates. 

The Supreme Court overturned laws on the books for nearly a century that corporations can spend freely on political campaigns to buy ads.  TV viewers will likely be bombarded by more corporate ads during campaigns and that will most certainly be annoying.  Without this ruling however, Congress could ban corporations from posting their views on You Tube, Facebook or Twitter.  Today’s ruling is a win for the First Amendment.  We all should be able to express our political views.  Without today’s ruling other free speech in the form of movies, books and periodicals could be banned. 

I disagree with the Supreme Court’s four dissenters:  Stephen Breyer,  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens who predicted that corporate money will drown out the voice of the little guy.  I also think President Obama is making a mistake by directing his staff to make changes to the law to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision. 

Constructive public discussion only helps our country.  Critical thinking requires hearing all points of view regardless of who is footing the bill.

Hope That Senator-Elect Scott Brown Ushers a Change for Politics at Large and Republicans Specifically

I hope Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts marks a new beginning for the Republican party and for politics at large.   Republicans and all candidates must stand for something, they simply can’t just tow the party line or oppose those in power. This no longer plays with American voters.  As Brown said this morning on the Today show, “I look at every single issue on its merits whether it’s a good Democrat idea or good Republican idea.”  He calls himself a different kind of Republican who wants to solve problems regardless of partisanship.  This is what we need. 

Voters  refuse to accept that things have always been done one way and therefore, that’s the way they should continue be done.  No seat is owned by any individual, family, corporation or party. As Brown repeatedly said, “This is the people’s seat.” In no way is he diminishing the Kennedy legacy, however. Senator Ted Kennedy was an amazing man who tirelessly worked for change and Republicans and Democrats cannot deny his legacy. 

Critical thinkers question everything they are told, everything thing they believe and even that which they consider to be common sense.  While a policy sounds great in theory, its implications and results must be examined before enacting a law. 

A change is needed and perhaps this forces all politicians to require more of themselves and be better representatives of their constituents. The ways things have always been done is no longer acceptable and simply won’t be tolerated.  Americans are indeed becoming more critical thinkers.  Rather than vote along party lines, research and consideration of the issues as well as possible legislative outcomes must be given thorough reflection before votes are cast. 

And make no mistake about it.  Voters are watching.  In today’s ever-increasing era of transparency when news is received immediately (through Twitter, Facebook, cell phone video footage, etc.) without gatekeepers, we learn about pork barrel spending, failure to live up to campaign promises and ethical infractions faster than ever before.

There is more to Martin Luther King Jr. than his “I Have a Dream” speech

There is more to Martin Luther King, Jr. than his “I Have a Dream” speech. In honor of Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, consider taking a moment to read one of his lesser known works. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is arguably one of the most well crafted persuasive pieces ever written.

In 1963, King was arrested for participating in a march because no parade permit had been issued by city officials. While in jail, he responded to a letter published in a city newspaper from eight clergymen called “A Call for Unity.” King’s response is extremely well crafted especially considering it was written in the jail cell on scraps of paper smuggled in for him.

When this letter was written, King was not the wildly known and respected civil rights leader we know him to be today. In the views of many, he was just a black man in a jail cell up to no good. But King was extremely well educated. He graduated from Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University. His education, passion and control come through eloquently throughout his letter.

The best arguments use a combination of all three appeals—the emotional, logical and ethical to persuade. King uses all three appeals to persuade his readers. It is nearly impossible to determine how readers make their decisions, so strategic arguers use all three methods.

King uses the emotional appeal to attempt to get his readers to feel something and does so quite successfully especially when he draws upon examples any parent can relate to. He says, “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people…”

King uses the logical appeal when he provides facts and evidence in his appeal. At times, he even appears to be educating his readers. He says, “in any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.” The ethical appeal is also evident throughout his letter as he builds his creditability by using fair-minded language, citing experts and explaining his own expertise. King does this very convincingly when he tries to explain the difference between just and unjust laws. He says, “In no sense do I do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” King continues, “ There is nothing new about this type of kind of civil disobedience.” He cites the early Christians, the Boston Tea Party and even the Hungarian freedom fighters confronting Adolph Hitler’s legal actions in Germany as examples.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is worth viewing, but it is by no means his greatest work and it does not adequately reflect the true measure of Martin Luther King Jr. and his vast intellect. If you read “Letter from Birmingham Jail” you will appreciate the holiday whether you are at workin on his federal holiday or not.

Parenting Children With Special Needs

When I first considered this topic for my radio show, I thought about it approaching it from the perspective—What happens when you learn something is wrong with your child?  My initial thought behind that was that this is the way parents first feel when they receive any diagnosis ranging from hearing impairment, cognitive processing difficulties, behavior issues or physical challenges.  The very phrasing is problematic, however.

While most parents first think of their child’s challenge(s) as a wrong, that thinking often shifts into something much more hopeful.  How can you turn a feeling of loss into one of hope that spurs action?

Sue Mayer shared her experiences with me about the challenges and joys associated with raising children who have special needs.  As a mother of three children, two with special needs, Sue says, “I have had the opportunity/privilege to learn/experience with my children how each of them learns differently. My oldest son has introduced me to the joy and challenges of ADHD/Dyslexia/LD in Reading/Writing/Spelling. My daughter allows me to experience a typical child with an exceptional personality. My youngest son has educated me on the many aspects of Down Syndrome/Brain Injury/Apraxia/Dysphagia/Bi-Lateral Conductive Hearing Loss.”

Sue blogs about her experiences.  Her blog is an honest account of both the emotional highs and lows that make up her life. It’s become a fantastic resource for parents of special needs children and those who just want to understand how to help be more empathetic. 

Sue is a woman of action.  Not only does she home school her youngest child, help her oldest son to advocate for himself, encourage her daughter’s natural enthusiasm for nurturing, Sue works hard to better her community as well.  Sue was one of the founders of Possibility Playground. It is a universally accessible playground for children of all physical abilities located in Port Washington, WI. 

One the greatest things about Possibility Playground is that it was not built by any government program. It was built entirely through $450,000 in donations raised by the community. The playground was built in just six days with the help of more than 2,800 volunteers.  That’s right, no government red-tape, no government funding and it’s a fully functioning playground where all children can play together. 

For more information, listen to my interview with Sue Mayer at

The Next Decade Does Require Honest Conversation

This morning on Meet The Press, Newt Gingrich made an excellent point when he said, “The next decade will be a decade of honest conversation.” In order for that conversation to take place, however, we need to find the language to do that.

Words matter. We change the way we speak to indicate a change in the way we think. It works the other way too. Words influence our views. It comes down to a difference between denotation and connotation. A word’s dictionary definition is its denotation. The feeling or image a word evokes is its connotation. The spirit behind political correctness is an admirable one because of this.

The era of political correctness has held us back in some ways because it seems to justify an absence of critical thought. There is a War on Terror even if President Obama refuses to call it that. The events of recent months prove it. Just consider the attack at Fort Hood as well as those recently arrested in Denver, Detroit, New York and Pakistan in connection with potential threats to American’s safety. There are threats, but who or what is the enemy? Why is it politically incorrect to call them Islamic extremists? What unifies these terrorists if not their religious fanaticism? Can you be tolerant of religious differences while still distinguishing when one group hides behind a religion to push forward a criminal agenda? Yes, we must be able to do that in order to have that honest conversation Gingrich so rightly called for.

Let’s start talking.

Public Figures and Their Affairs: It’s All About Credibility

Public figures enjoy tremendous fortune and have high visibility.   It’s in their best interest to safeguard their favorable status with the American public.  Then they are rewarded with celebrity endorsements from companies eager to form a partnership with them.  When that happens, companies hope consumers will associate the goodwill they feel for the celebrity with their product.   

Michael Jordan is a much sought after public figure and enjoys lucrative celebrity endorsement deals with Hanes, Ball Park Franks and many others.  These companies pay Jordan very well for his positive image.

Endorsements like these can also be taken away, however.  If a company no longer deems that celebrity worthy of representing its product, the celebrity loses the endorsement.  This is usually clearly spelled out in morality clauses.  There is a choice.  No one is forcing anyone to accept the contract.

Tiger Woods has been the focus of countless news stories this week as a result of an accident and belated apology for personal indiscretions.   Many women have since come forward claiming they participated in his infidelity.  Woods has asked for privacy and that has engaged a lively debate over whether public figures can have private lives.  Does it go both ways?  Can a public figure ask for privacy when it’s convenient? 

If a celebrity wants the endorsement contracts, he or she must meet expectations.  That means celebrities must not only excel in their professions, but behave without reproach in their private lives as well because everyone is watching and millions of dollars are at stake. 

America loves a comeback story.  With hard work, credibility can be rebuilt.  Just look at Kobe Bryant and Tylenol.  Both the basketball star and the product line faced credibility crises and have not only rebuilt their reputations, but have exponentially surpassed their initial level of success.