How To Promote Harmony Around Your Easter Dinner Table

We’re all familiar with the scene. It’s Easter dinner. Endless foodstuffs. Flowing wine. Echoing laughter. And then, “Did you hear about Glenn Beck’s new book about the latest United Nations Agenda 21 efforts to spread socialism globally? Can you believe they’re getting away with this!?” demands Aunt Edna.

According to conventional wisdom, when a controversial topic like this is introduced, you have a few options: immediately change the topic, feign a lack of interest, simply smile and listen and nod, or, for the bold and even-keeled, ask benign questions. After all, the last thing anyone wants at the dinner table is an argument!

This scenario is not only hilariously illustrated by this Saturday Night Live sketch, but is also straight from Dale Carnegie’s maxims for success in “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: “The only way to win an argument is avoid having one.” Yet is this—shutting down disagreement for fear of offending others—always what true civility dictates? I think not.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd condemned the “pompous and often vapid niceness brigade,” asserting that “all quarrels are not petty. Sometimes quarrels are about big things, and it’s an actual privilege to take a side in them.” She is right. Not all arguments are equal. But neither are all contexts are equal.

There is an inherent tension between avoiding social discomfort and pursuing truth. These considerations will always need to be balanced, and how will differ according to context. A university classroom, which was created specifically to pursue truth and wisdom, will be a more appropriate venue for a rigorous and spirited debate than an Easter dinner table, where the purpose of convening is more about time with loved ones than a quest for axioms.

Dowd continues, “Succumbing to uplift, edification and happy talk is basically saying that there’s something more important than telling the truth: not making enemies, not hurting people’s feelings.”

Dowd is again absolutely correct. But sometimes, people are more important than truth. At the very least, sometimes, truths do not need to be verbalized—think “Honey, does this dress make me look husky?”—if it means preserving a relationship and respecting the other person’s dignity.

A First Amendment right to free speech is not a moral obligation to freely speak every single truth that pops into our head the moment it comes to us. If it were, we would all lead a much lonelier existence.

All contexts are not equal, but what does remain equal is the inherent dignity and worth of the people one engages with. This means that in noenvironment should truth be pursued at literally any cost. It is when we neglect to recognize the humanity and dignity in every person, including those with whom we disagree, that we feel justified in demonizing them, cutting them off, and even hospitalizing them.

Indeed, respect for one another amidst passionate disagreement is a cornerstone of our democratic republic. A pluralistic, egalitarian, increasingly varied democratic republic like ours can survive only when its citizens are willing and able to live along one another amid deep difference.

True civility, or moderating words and actions for the sake of respecting others’ dignity, does not mean completely avoiding discussion on current issues of great importance, whether it is possible violent conflict with North Korea or the recent controversy over Aziz Ansari and the #metoo movement (captured brilliantly by another SNL sketch).

It simply means placing people’s dignity before the prize of winning an argument. Armed with this tactic, we can not only better tolerate the Aunt Ednas in our lives, but perhaps we can even better love them to the end of a more harmonious—and certainly a less aggravating—Easter dinner for all.

Alexandra Hudson is a writer based in Washington DC. She has held posts at the Federalist Society, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and earned an MSc in comparative social policy at the London School of Economics as a Rotary Scholar. Most recently, she was an appointee at the U.S. Department of Education. She is currently working on a book on civility. Follow her on Twitter @LexiOHudson.

Socialist Venezuela Steals Toys To Impose Its Version Of Christmas

You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, let us tell you why: Santa Claus is coming to Caracas, and this year he’ll be bringing toys to all the pro-regime boys and girls—and jailing those who get in his way.

Striking an almost comically Orwellian posture of Saint Nick meets Robin Hood, last week Venezuela’s consumer “protection” agency seized several million toys that will, ostensibly, be redistributed to the poor. The trinkets were confiscated from a toy distributor that had purportedly “committed fraud” against the country by selling the goods at unlawfully high mark-ups. Two of the company’s executives were arrested in the toy-taking. Agency officials say the toys will be sold at below-market prices. They haven’t said who will get to purchase the discounted dolls, but presumably being a supporter of President Maduro’s United Socialist Party won’t hurt one’s chances.

It’s easy to see the folly in this Christmastime collectivism: perhaps, after a portion of the pickings is redirected toward government bureaucrats and influential supporters, some poor Venezuelan children will awake Christmas morning to find these toys wrapped up and placed around their Christmas trees. But every other Venezuelan will now find it even more difficult to buy presents for their children. Companies are, after all, generally loathe to invest in producing or importing toys if they are liable to be dispossessed at a moment’s notice. As toymakers and distributors move or close shop, it will be harder to find toys—and those that are available will be far more expensive.

Venezuela’s policy of plaything plunder will cause some children to go toy-less this Christmas, but similar practices have also caused Venezuelans to go hungry. A project started by the late President Chávez and continued by President Maduro gave the Venezuelan government control over all production, importation, and distribution of food. Over this past summer, this policy resulted in mass food shortages, with supermarket lines often exceeding a thousand people. Protests, looting, and violence also followed the widespread unavailability of food staples and medicine.

Humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations have offered supplies to offset the suffering caused by the food shortages, but the Venezuelan government has refused assistance. Even if it were accepted, foreign aid would bring only limited relief to an enormous problem. The root cause of Venezuelans’ empty stomachs and barren Christmas trees remains collectivist policies that, attempting to apportion goods evenly, distribute only hunger and disappointment.

Kian and Alexandra Hudson live in Washington DC.

The Betsy DeVos Nomination Bodes Well For Parents’ Involvement In Education

School choice increases parental involvement and student achievement. Betsy DeVos could use her bully pulpit as education secretary to drastically deregulate federal education policies.

Jeff Brown, a 23-year-old African-American, lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city deemed among the worst for black Americans to live in. “It feels like I was set up to fail,” Jeff says. He is not alone in this feeling.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Jeff is now an architectural designer at a local firm after recently graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is also an alum of St. Marcus Lutheran School, a grade school in Milwaukee’s voucher program that serves primarily low-income and minority students.

“I owe everything I am to the support of my family and the educators who were constant guides for me inside and outside the classroom. I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Jeff explained. If, as the research indicates, the most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement is parental involvement in his or her education, and school choice—the reason St. Marcus School exists—encourages parental involvement, then perhaps one way to reduce the achievement gap may be by promoting educational choice policies in America.

Maintaining the status quo will ensure Jeff’s story of success remains an outlier. Donald Trump’s electoral victory has generated uncertainty in education reform circles, but his nomination of philanthropist and conservative activist Betsy DeVos, a champion of educational choice and opportunity, offers unprecedented opportunity for meaningful change.

School Choice Strengthens Parent Involvement

There is a great need in America to improve schooling to help remedy the achievement gap that persists along racial lines. Fewer African-American students complete high schoolattend university, or graduate college than do their white counterparts. Moreover, evidence suggests that progressive curriculum changes and drastically increased government education spending have not helped in this regard.

The 1966 “Coleman Report,” commissioned by Lyndon B. Johnson to assess the state of the racial achievement gap, was the first study to find a huge premium on parents’ influence on their kids’ achievement. It found that time in school accounts for only around 10 percent of the variation in student achievement.

As corroborated by later research, the report showed that school input is nowhere near as important as family background because standard American curricula does little to lessen the gap between minority students and their white peers. Although there is research to support the idea that schools cancontribute to closing gaps in achievement that start at home, schools in America too often don’t due to ideological monopolies that oppose effective curricula.

St. Marcus is an example of one school that does improve student achievement. As Brown can testify, hardly a week went by where his teachers did not communicate with his parents. St. Marcus understands that what classrooms instill must be reinforced at home to have a lasting effect, and for this reason it requires that all teachers visit the homes of every student.

The purpose of this is twofold: to meet the family and build a relationship with them, and to understand the student’s home environment. St. Marcus’ teachers also familiarize parents with what the school expects of their children. They make weekly phone calls to parents, and also has them sign a contract to ensure they will do what they can to support their children’s education at home.

“We make parents our partner in their child’s education,” says Morgan Lautz, a sixth-grade math teacher at St. Marcus. “If the students see that their parents and their teachers are on the same page, they feel accountable.” While difficult to legislate, this kind of communication and support between teachers and parents is integral to student achievement.

What Government Can Do to Get Out of Schools’ Way

Public policy can help. America’s new chief executive has stated his goals of, through his School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, expanding school choice and restoring local authority. Both will allow schools like St. Marcus to flourish. Although not a panacea, programs that increase education choice can promote parental involvement: by virtue of having a choice of schools, parents become involved and interested in the process of their child’s education. A randomized control trial by the Brookings Institution and Harvard University found that college enrollment for African-American students who were given vouchers in New York City was 24 percent higher than college enrollment among their counterparts in non-voucher public schools.

Trump’s presidency and DeVos as education secretary can provide an opportunity for federal education policy to catch up with where state policy has been heading for years. The number of states that offer private school choice has grown over the last decade from nine to 43. More than eight new choice programs were added in 2015 alone. Today, more than 22 states plus the District of Columbia have a voucher program, 20 states have a tax-credit-scholarship program, five states offer Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), dozens more support online courses, and Louisiana lets families choose among individual courses with their tax-funded school dollars.

States are leading the way in expanding options for students, but federal flexibility is lagging. Federal funds cannot follow students who take advantage of these state choice opportunities. Making Title I funds for low-income children portable, a feature that the recent No Child Left Behind rewrite lacked, would be a step towards empowering parents to make the best educational choice for their children. Congress can also expand school freedoms by relieving states of many counterproductive federal rules that hamper both public and private schools, and block-granting states their education dollars back without attaching regulations from bureaucrats a thousand miles away.

There is ongoing debate about the extent to which the federal government should be involved in education. Based on the federal government’s abominable track record running all education programs, it’s clear that a federal voucher program could be ineffective and even counterproductive by importing federal regulations that hurt public schools also into private schools. However, current federal policy reinforces the status quo, deprives low-income families of flexible and needed financial assistance, and undermines state authority. So it certainly stands to be improved.

Federal legislation cannot and should not require all schools to look like St. Marcus, nor can education choice alone remedy the many and complex social and public health issues with which many parents struggle. But all schools with disadvantaged students can benefit from increased parental engagement. Educational choice remains one of the best ways to get parents involved in their children’s education. That’s why there is good reason to be optimistic about Trump’s commitment to seeing choice expand and therefore the potential in every student—regardless of race or socioeconomic background—unlocked.
Alexandra Hudson is a writer based in Washington DC. She has held posts at the Federalist Society, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and earned an MSc in comparative social policy at the London School of Economics as a Rotary Scholar. Most recently, she was an appointee at the U.S. Department of Education. She is currently working on a book on civility. Follow her on Twitter @LexiOHudson.

Assyrian Christians Live In War-Torn Limbo, Praying Against Genocide


‘We are not safe in Iraq while Daesh (ISIS) is in control. We have no future, no work, no belongings,’ says an Iraqi genocide survivor.

Amman, Jordan — On June 10, 2014, Batool* was in her classroom in Mosul, Iraq, preparing for the school week when she received word: Bad people—barbarians looking for Christians to kill—were coming. Batool immediately went home to pack up her life. As she prepared to leave her house, her career, and her education—she was midway through a PhD in biology—she knew she was likely saying a permanent farewell to the only home she had ever known.

She is an Assyrian Christian, which means the Islamic State (ISIS) and many other Iraqi Muslims perceived her as a non-believer and an ally of the West. Being Christian in Iraq means being a primary target of ISIS terrorism.

That night, her house was marked with an “N” for “Nazarene” (ن in Arabic), signifying that she follows Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not dissimilar from the Star of David Jews were obligated to wear in 1930s Germany. The next day, ISIS sent Batool’s sister a threatening note telling her convert to Islam, pay the “jizya”—a tax on non-Muslims— or be executed. It was time for them to leave.

Assyrian Christians Flee Their Homes in Droves

Batool’s home city of Mosul stands on the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh. Many will recall the biblical story of Jonah, whom God called to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh. The ancient city was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, one of the great empires of biblical times, alongside the Egyptians and Babylonians. Since Assyria was Christianized in the first century AD, Mosul has been home to thousands of Assyrian Christians.

Assyrian Christians have long endured persecution for both their ethnicity and their faith: the Iraqi Assyrian population, for example, has dropped from 1.5 million in 2003 to approximately 200,000 today. From 1910 to 2016, the proportion of people in the Middle East identifying as Assyrian Christian dropped from 14 percent to 4 percent. Today the Assyrian diaspora exceeds 4 million.

Recent events have exacerbated the persecution, and Assyrian Christians continue to flee the Middle East in droves. ISIS occupied Mosul in June 2014, prompting a mass Assyrian exodus. By July, ISIS declared the city was Christian-free. For the first time in its Christian history, mass would not be celebrated in Mosul.

How should America respond to this humanitarian crisis? Secretary of State John Kerry recently condemned Sunni jihadist groups’ persecution of Christians, as well as the slaughter of Yazidis and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Syria, as genocide. But while this official declaration carried great symbolic significance, few practical changes to U.S. foreign policy have followed.

Even if American foreign policy were to change, it is not clear what its object should be, particularly for Assyrian Christians. Although all Assyrians yearn for a homeland in the Nineveh Plain, many differ in their vision of their families’ and peoples’ future.

Some Assyrians dream to return to the Nineveh Plains and have a restored, unified, and peaceful homeland. “I would love to return to the land of my mother and grandmother. I would love to raise my daughters and granddaughters in the place my people have lived for thousands of years,” muses Janna, a young Assyrian mother to three girls and a refugee living in Jordan.

Others Assyrians, scarred by the betrayal from many of their Muslim neighbors and the trauma of persecution in their homeland, instead hope for safety and security abroad. “I wish to return home, but it is not possible. Please pray for us,” asked Taghee, a woman who barely escaped Mosul the day ISIS attacked. “But also help us. We must leave (Amman, Jordan). Fast. We are not safe in Iraq while Daesh (ISIS) is in control. We have no future, no work, no belongings. Pray for us and help our applications for resettlement.”

Batool and her sister’s hope for the future is less concrete: “I want to live in peace. What we have endured, no one should have to endure.”

Not Everyone Ignores this Humanitarian Disaster

Many Americans are convinced they have a duty to prevent Christianity from being extinguished in the Middle East, the cradle of its conception. Earlier this September, the Washington DC-based nonprofit In Defense of Christians (IDC) hosted its National Leadership Convention to “mobilize America for the Christians in the Middle East.” IDC seeks to preserve Christianity and Christian culture in the Middle East through grassroots mobilization, coalition-building, awareness-raising, and congressional resolutions. Other organizations, such as the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, raise funds to provide emergency humanitarian aid, prayers, and advocacy for Assyrian Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

Other organizations encourage the United States play a more active role in preserving Assyrian Christians. One recent proposal advocates U.S. support for creating a new semi-independent Iraqi province on the Nineveh Plain to protect and resettle Assyrian Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities ISIS has recently displaced. A proposed congressional resolution aims to “support the Republic of Iraq and its people to recognize a province in the Nineveh Plain region, consistent with lawful expressions of self-determination by its indigenous peoples.”

Such efforts encourage Assyrian Christians like Batool. While there are inevitable challenges in helping Christians—and Yazidis and Shiites—who are vulnerable to persecution, these initiatives show that many in the West care about the plight of Batool and her people. Batool, at least, is hopeful: “Some days we are angry. Others we are at peace. Pray for our patience. God is in control.”

*Some names in this piece have been changed for privacy and security.
Alexandra Hudson is a writer based in Washington DC. She has held posts at the Federalist Society, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and earned an MSc in comparative social policy at the London School of Economics as a Rotary Scholar. Most recently, she was an appointee at the U.S. Department of Education. She is currently working on a book on civility. Follow her on Twitter @LexiOHudson.