My Photo


  • Simon Blackburn: An Unbeautiful Mind
    Polkinghorne holds the belief that unless some things last forever, everything is futile, a "meaningless empire of accident." This would wipe the smile off the face of many scientists. For science is not good about "forever." It paints a different picture of the world in which we find ourselves. Science teaches that the cosmos is some fifteen billion years old, almost unimaginably huge, and governed by natural laws that will compel its extinction in some billions more years, although long before that the Earth and the solar system will have been destroyed by the heat death of the sun. Human beings occupy an infinitesimally small fraction of space and time, on the edge of one galaxy among a hundred thousand million or so galaxies. We evolved only because of a number of cosmic accidents, including the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. Nature shows us no particular favors: we get parasites and diseases and we die, and we are not all that nice to each other. True, we are moderately clever, but our efforts to use our intelligence to make things better for ourselves quite often backfire, and they may do so spectacularly in the near future, from some combination of manmade military, environmental, or genetic disasters.
  • Roger Scruton: The West and the Rest
    "It is thanks to Western prosperity, Western legal systems, Western forms of banking, and Western communications that human initiatives now reach so easily across frontiers to affect the lives and aspirations of people all over the globe. However, Western civilization depends on an idea of citizenship that is not global at all, but rooted in territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. By contrast, Islam, which has been until recently remote from the Western world and without the ability to project its message, is founded on an ideal of godliness which is entirely global in its significance, and which regards territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty as compromises with no intrinsic legitimacy of their own. Although there have been attempts to manufacture nationalisms both appropriate to the Islamic temperament and conducive to a legitimate political order, they have fragmented under the impact of sectarian or tribal allegiances, usually giving way to military dictatorship or one-man, one-family, or one-party tyranny. Islam itself remains, in the hearts of those who live under these tyrannies, a permanent call to a higher life, and a reminder that power and corruption will rule in this world until the reign established by the Prophet is restored."
  • Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations 1776
    The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.
  • Kishore Mahbubani: Freedom
    But freedom does not only solve problems; it can also cause them. The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the U.S. population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent and the percentage of children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospects of this happening on its shores. But instead of traveling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the visible social consequences.
  • Harold Pinter: Nobel Lecture
    There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.
  • Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man
    As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
  • Earnest Becker: The Denial of Death
    We have to go the way of the grasshopper even though it takes longer.
  • Johnson, Samuel: Rambler # 121 May 14, 1751
    "To learn is the proper business of youth; and whether we increase our knowledge by books or by conversation, we are equally indebted to foreign assistance."
  • Murray Rothbard: Education Free and Compulsory
    It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.
  • J. M. Cameron: Review of Becker's Denial of Death
    Life, for Becker, is a desperate business, in which a steady heroism before the terrors of existence is in general the only thing to be commended.
  • Mark Lilla: The Politics of God
    In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen. "Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men. NYTimes Magaziine, 8/19/2007
  • Richard Fields: The Land of Opportunity
    Immigration to the United States is not a problem. It is a phenomenon. The only way the United States can stop this phenomenon is by destroying the capitalist economy that draws immigrants here. We need to move in the direction of more open immigration, not in the direction of militarized borders fit only for a police state. Though it's been obscured by layers of cynical campaign rhetoric, the issue of immigration comes down to whether we want to restrict individual liberty to native-born Americans or offer it to everyone. If freedom works for us — and it does — what possible moral reason do we have to offer it to those born in San Diego, and deny it to those born inches away in Tijuana?
  • Edward O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998
    On the surface it would seem, and was so reported by the media, that the Rwandan catastrophe was ethnic rivalry run amok. That is true only in part. There was a deeper cause, rooted in environment and demography. Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply, more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 the country had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per woman. Parturition began early, and generation times were short. But although total food production increased dramatically during this period, it was soon overbalanced by population growth. The average farm size dwindled as plots were divided from one generation to the next. Per capita grain production fell by half from 1960 to the early 1990s. Water was so overdrawn that hydrologists declared Rwanda one of the world's twenty-seven water-scarce countries. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the population problem in the most direct possible way. Rwanda is a microcosm of the world. War and civil strife have many causes, most not related directly to environmental stress. But in general, overpopulation and the consequent dwindling of available resources are tinder that people pile up around themselves. The mounting anxiety and hardship are translated into enmity, and enmity into moral aggression. Scapegoats are identified, sometimes other political or ethic groups, sometimes neighboring tribes. The tinder continues to grow, awaiting the odd assassination, territorial incursion, atrocity, or other provocative incident to set it off. Rwanda is the most populated country in Africa. Burundi, its war torn neighbor, is second. Haiti and El Salvador, two of the chronically most troubled nations of the Western Hemisphere, are also among the most densely populated, exceeded only by five tiny island countries of the Caribbean. They are also arguable the most environmentally degraded.
  • Murray Rothbard: Rights of Animals
    There is, in fact, rough justice in the common quip that "we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them." The fact that animals can obviously not petition for their "rights" is part of their nature, and part of the reason why they are clearly not equivalent to, and do not possess the rights of, human beings. And if it be protested that babies can't petition either, the reply of course is that babies are future human adults, whereas animals obviously are not.
  • Dr. Kenneth R. Miller:
    When asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” Dr. Miller's answer is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.” Dr. Mller, a Roman Catholic and biologist at Brown University is the author of, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999)
  • Richard Rorty:
    "...if we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming.”
  • Richard J. Herrnstein:
    "It is easy to lie with statistics, but it's a lot easier to lie without them."
  • Michael Slackman: Quiet Revolution in Algeria
    In Algiers there is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.
  • Albert Einstein:
    Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach age 18.
  • Neil Postman:
    "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."


  • Google


« September 2007 | Main | November 2007 »

October 2007

October 30, 2007

Groundhog Day and the Dropout Problem

Most news items, especially local items such as fires, homicides, and the inevitable scandals involving our business, political, and religious leaders, are not really new, or news, but further re-occurrences of myriad and alike past events. As one grows older one realizes this about the news, and in fact, those of us who still read the print publications, prefer the opinion pages where at least someone is trying, although probably in vain, to say something for the first time.

It’s probably no less true that for most of us each new day is not new but a repeat of the day before. This is easily seen when someone asks us to describe a day in our lives. One day we can do, but to describe a second day, that is not just a repeat of the first, is more difficult.

There is a character in the movie Groundhog Day, Meteorologist Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, who alone in the movie realizes that each day is a repeat of the day before. He’s caught but unlike the other characters he knows it, and in order to eventually free himself from the endless, lifeless repetition of his acts, he has to become a different and better person.

Now it seems to me more and more that those who write about the schools are repeating, evidently unknowingly, things that have been said about the schools, probably since their founding in the 19th century, but certainly since the time of Sputnik when the schools suddenly became, wrongly of course, our best hope for our outperforming the Russians (and later the Chinese) in space and elsewhere.

Gerald Bracey made all this clear (for the first time?) in a Commentary article in Ed Week of February, 2005:

Media stories about public schools show the reporters as non-Bill Murray characters in “Groundhog Day.” In the 1993 movie, the same Groundhog Day repeats itself over and over again, but only Murray’s character sees the repetition. About schools, the media report the present with no apparent historical awareness that it’s the same story once again. As a consequence, Americans keep waking up to headlines declaring that, apparently for the first time ever, the public school sky is falling. The public doesn’t seem to notice the recurrences, either.

It seems, however, that the reporters did not read or hear what Bracey was saying. For just today I read two stories by writers for the Associated Press on the dropout problem, two stories that are almost word for word repeats of countless stories I have read during the past 30 years or more.

It’s not that the writers are wrong in what they are saying. It’s that what they are saying is not news but merely a repetition of the old. Also, and more important, what they are describing, the so called dropout problem, may not be the problem at all, but only a symptom of something else, the existence of which these reporters haven't yet registered.

Although at first he didn't know what it could mean Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day did see right away that each new day was exactly the same as the day before. Eventually he was able to move on. Whereas these and many other education writers don’t seem realize that what they are saying, in this instance about the school dropout problem, has been said many, many times before.

Yesterday the two AP writers, Nancy Zuckerbrod and Stephanie Reitz “woke us up” with these headlines respectively, “1 in 10 Schools are “Dropout Factories,” and “Mentoring, Alternative High Schools on Rise to Reduce Dropouts.” If you had never encountered the “dropout problem” you might be impressed by the use of the term “factory” in regard to dropouts, and by the “folk” wisdom of the use of mentoring and alternative high schools as a cure for the same.

The factory school analogy goes back at least to 1900. The first alternative schools, set up to provide a viable alternative education for those not being served well by the mainstream, probably go back just as far. I take from my own files this passage: “In 1987, the Boston Public Schools and the Mayor's Office signed an agreement to fund a network of community-based, alternative education programs to provide options for students who were at risk of dropping out of high school.”

Mentoring on the rise? Maybe, but I don’t think so.  Mentoring is the very first thing that people do for others who need help in making life decisions. The Big Brothers Big Sisters programs are mentoring programs, in many instances with the expressed purpose of keeping at risk kids in school. These programs were founded over 100 years ago. If there is more mentoring it's because there are more kids.

I take the following passages from the two articles mentioned:

“Most [dropout factories] have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones - the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.”

“The fact that kids are entering high schools with such poor literacy skills raises questions about how much catch-up work high schools can be expected to do and whether more pressure should be placed on middle schools and even elementary schools…”

“Many of the state schools with high dropout rates are in lower-income, urban communities, where a teen's academic success can be influenced by poverty or social problems in their families and neighborhoods.”

“Springfield superintendent Burke and several other educators say getting students to feel involved and interested is critical, and that schools should be centers of encouragement and high expectations rather than frustration and anonymity.”

If we had never read about the dropout problem we would be thoroughly persuaded by the truth of these observations. But we’ve heard these things over and over again, “forever” it seems.

I find myself responding to these and other similar articles in some combination of the following. First with boredom, because I’ve heard it all before. Then with tears of discouragement because so many good kids are still being mostly lost. For we are well aware of all the bad things that do happen to many of them following their dropping out of school. Indeed, that’s the source of our constant attempts to keep them in school, our fear for them, of what will happen otherwise.

Finally, I settle back into my long held conviction that the problem is not of the kids doing, but of our doing and of the schools themselves. In years past this realization led many radical reformers to want to abolish the schools entirely. And this may still be the best solution for many of our students at risk of dropping out.

In any case we ought to abandon the all out attempt to keep these kids in school, and rather assume that our schools, especially our middle and high schools, as presently structured are not the best place for them to be. Isn’t that obvious?

Alternative schools by and large have failed miserably, the exceptions to this being when by alternative we mean an alternative, a vocational program for example, to the college preparatory curriculum that is more and more imposed upon all of our young people. Mentoring programs, although positive and beneficial for other reasons, have also failed to keep kids in school.

Kids, probably half of our young people of high school age, are telling us that they don’t want to be in school as it’s presently constituted. Why don’t we listen to them, instead of devising schemes to somehow keep them in and from dropping out?

In the movie Phil Connors got out of the endless repetition of his days by seeing things differently and going on to live differently and better. We need to see school differently. We should be looking not first at the school and what we need to do to keep all of our kids in school, because we can't. We should be looking first at the kids, and at what they need and what we might do to meet them on their own ground.

Many kids have been telling us, in my own experience for some 50 years now, that math, science, history and language classrooms are not what they most want and need. Why do we go on subjecting all of them to this regime that is probably only for some an appropriate use of their time? Well, in regard to school reform, we’re still living the same day over and over again, and, as a result of our not seeing further, nothing much is being changed for the better.

October 17, 2007

Math, English, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language

Republican law makers in Colorado still don't get it. Somehow they still think education will follow from their setting education requirements. I didn't see them make this proposal, but I don't think they were laughing when they did so. I'm pretty sure they didn't consider their proposal a cruel joke (it was).

The lawmakers probably actually believed that by legislating statewide high school graduation requirements of four years of English and Math, three years of Science and Social Studies, and two years of a second language, that kids would learn these subject matters, if for no other reason than in order to graduate. Oh that it were that easy (it's not). And they won't.

How would the assessment of whether of not English, Math, Science, Social Studies and the foreign language had been learned be made? Easy according to the law makers, by a proficiency exam, or by multiple proficiency exams, as I suppose they meant, measuring student achievement.

Haven't the lawmakers been reading the endless numbers of words written about proficiency and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001? Proficiency exams, unless the proficiency bar is set at the skill and knowledge level of the weakest among those taking the exam, will always have outcomes with a normal Bell curve distribution, that is one half above and one half below the average.

That's one serious weakness in their proposal—what they propose is just not possible. But there's another perhaps even greater weakness. The math, English, Social Studies, Science, and foreign language curriculum (actually this has been standard fare at the American high school for generations... it was my fare when I attended public high school in the forties) is a college preparatory curriculum. And so far no one has shown us that all kids are able to do college level work, let alone even want to do that work. (At least if they wanted it then they might have a chance. Most don't, and if forced to go along will eventually drop out, if not in high school in college, probably in the first year.)

The Colorado lawmakers are not at all alone in being fooled. Probably most educators are fooled into believing that college should be for everyone. And if they didn't believe that they would be hard put to defend their position to all those parents, probably the majority, who want and fully expect their son or daughter to attend college.

The result is that the kids are really on their own. Very few of the adults in their lives understand that they want something other than four years of Math etc. Parents and educators want one thing and they want something else. Most of them will rebel, most of these by not doing the work, a good number by dropping out of school, and a select few by doing their own thing, for which this country is grateful, such as  founding a Microsoft, Apple, or Google Inc.

October 16, 2007

A little of what I'm reading in France this month.

I don’t read a lot of books, but I do read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles. Is it because I can finish an article, but can never seem to finish a book? That may be the reason. Some of the books I don’t finish are the same books I’ve been not finishing all my life, Adam Smith’s, the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, John Dewey’s Democracy and Education, and hundreds, no thousands more of similar well established reputation and importance, and for me still unconquered.

These writers ought to have written their books in article length. In my experience it’s a rare book of non-fiction that needs all its pages. In fact the great number of pages in most of these books is the single most important factor in their not being read by more people. The so-named Great Books are probably read by fewer and fewer people, this in spite of the fact that more and more young people are attending liberal arts colleges, the length of these books being the single most important cause of this being so. The length, if not impenetrable prose style, of John Dewey’s book, Democracy and Education, now reverently referred to by his admirers and followers as the philosopher’s definitive work on education, remains an obstacle to the good ideas in that book becoming more widely known and understood.

I stopped reading novels as a young man.  I was then and still am of the opinion that nothing written during the last half century or so compares favorably with the belle epoch of the novel, beginning with Cervantes and ending with Proust, Faulkner, and Joyce. But I do continue to read, as many of my contemporaries, large numbers of thrillers, my favorites being those of John MacDonald, Frederick Forsyth, Lee Child, Robert Parker and the like. Thrillers are not so much novels, or even books, but are more like TV’s Law and Order or the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon film series, having like the tv series and the action movies similarly exciting but ephemeral life spans.

Here in France during the last weeks of September and early October I’ve been reading my usual heavy fare of articles, mostly on the internet (since my retirement my wife and I have decided we can no longer afford to purchase newspapers and magazines, especially given the present euro dollar exchange rate). The articles that I enjoy most, and find particularly significant for whatever reason, I have been foolishly (in that for most of them I have no clear plans to do anything with them and they rapidly become clutter) saving by copying and pasting them into one of the several working journals I keep on my laptop computer.

Probably much more meaningful than the phrase we are what we eat and drink is the phrase we are what we read (and if we don’t read, what we watch and listen to). Perhaps if I analyze my readings say, during these few weeks in France, I may find answers to two interesting questions, what does my reading says about me, much less interesting, and much more interesting what the readings say about the world.

Here the articles taken in the order in which I read and then saved them in one of my laptop journals, not necessarily iin the order in which they were written. For I probably no less than other web devotees am constantly utilizing the greatest advantage of digital as opposed to hard copy, that of being able to easily link up to supporting articles or other relevant materials, either in the past or elsewhere in the present, perhaps even on the other side of the world or in the time of the ancient Sumerians of the now destroyed Iraqi city of Ur.

Books without highlighted links, which by a single mouse click can carry you magically to other places, seem more and more like the horse and buggy, and when was the last time that anyone of you ever moved about in one of those? Actually I never have except vicariously in the Westerns that I still watch and love. So here is a first draft of my list:

Bollinger Defends Columbia’s Treatment of Ahmadinejad
By Colin Moynihan, City Room, in the NYTimes, on 9/26,2007

Picking Up Trash by Hand, and Yearning for Dignity
By AMELIA GENTLEMAN, from her New Delhi Journal, in the Times of 10/27/2007

New Test Asks: What Does ‘American’ Mean?
By JULIA PRESTON in the NYTimes of 10/28/2007

The Entitlement People, an op ed piece by David Brooks in the NYTimes of 9/28/2007

More Deaths in Myanmar, and Defiance
By SETH MYDANS, in NYTimes of 9/28/2007

School district considers banning traditions seen as offensive to Muslims, by Angela Caputa in the Chicago Sun Times, also from 9/28.

Enough Said? Probably Not.
Free-Speech Issues Once Again Testing University President
By Robin Shulman Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007; A06

Jena, O. J. and the Jailing of Black America
By ORLANDO PATTERSON, in the NYTimes of 9/30/2007

In the Heart of Freedom, in Chains
Elite hypocrisy, gangsta culture, and failure in black America
Myron Magnet in City Journal, Summer 2007

also: Compassionate Conservative or Cowboy Capitalist?, and What Use Is Literature?
by Myron Magnet

U.S. leads arms sales to developing countries, by Thom Shanker of the NYTimes of 9/30

Marital Spats, Taken to Heart, by TARA PARKER-POPE in the NYTimes of 10/2/07

Au Coeur de la reaction by Paul Labarique, Voltairenet, 9/15/2004
Why did I go to the Voltairenet to read this? Well because of an argument I had with a young opinionated Frenchman who sent me there to know the truth about the United States (the “Evil Empire”). If you want to know what they’re saying about us go to:

Myron Magnet (one of Voltairenet’s villains) again. I forget how I stumbled onto this, but it’s Magnet’s review of Mickey Kaus’s book, On the End of Equality (one of those books that could have been an article, and probably was).
Magnet’s review is Rethinking liberalism, from Fortune Magazine of 11/2/1992.
I’ve always had a favorable opinion of Kaus, even when I haven’t agreed with him. Is Magnet correct, however, when he says about Kaus, “how can anyone believe that a well-meaning government, by extending its control further into every nook and cranny of social life, could hope to reestablish the civic realm? The question about the correct role of government in our lives is one that I look to much of my reading for clarification and enlightenment.

Another article by Magnet,
America’s Underclass: What to do? from Fortune Magazine of 5/11/1987
Almost all of my adult life I have been trying to understand, come to grips, learn to live with the so named Underclass. I’m convinced there is one, and that its existence accounts for the appalling accounts of our inner city schools and prison population numbers. Has anything been done to stem its growth. Magnet’s “What to do?”  is also my question.

I followed a link from Magnet, then with Fortune Magazine, to Heather MacDonald at the City Journal, and read her:
How to Straighten Out Ex-Cons, in City Journal of Spring, 2003

In the same City Journal there was this article by Sol Stern, ACORN’s Nutty Regime for Cities. ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Sol’s point is that although community organizing has a long and honorable tradition, going back to Jane Addams’ Hull House in late 19th century Chicago, ACORN unlike Hull House does not emphasize self-empowerment, but instead “promotes a 1960s-bred agenda of anti-capitalism, central planning, victimology, and government handouts to the poor.” Here again that theme of what is the correct or proper role of government in alleviating the problems of the underclass. Sometimes it seems that is the main subject of my reading. Whereas I tend to be on the side of the City Journal, emphasizing the primordial role of the individual in bringing about real social change for the better (or reforms in our schools) I’m not yet prepared to say that the government has no role, for it clearly does.

“If you don't go after the network, you're never going to stop these guys. Never.” by Rick Atkinson, in the Washington Post of 10/3/2007. This about IEDs or roadside bombs.

Islam, the Marxism of Our Time, by Theodore Dalrymple in the City Journal, Fall, 2007, Islam, and in particular the Islamist threat to the West, one of the several subjects that I’m mostly reading about, along with the underclass and the liberal conservative argument over the proper role of government in our lives. Again, I’m looking for enlightenment, and without finding a lot of that I am becoming more knowledgeable of the arguments on both sides of the questions. Perhaps, not being one of the true believers that’s the best that we can do.

Shelter and the Storm, by Katherine Boo in the New Yorker of 11/28/2005. What led me to this article by Boo? A link from? I’m going to have to go back reread her article to determine just what that link was.

What’s the best hope for the first child of a poor mother? also by Katherine Boo, from the New Yorker of 2/6/2006. The link here was easy. You like a writer and you look for more of her work.

What Makes Kucinich run? by Joshua Scheer, in the Nation of 12/15/2006. Kucinich is one of those on the side of the government’s role in providing rights to security, clean air, water, shelter, food and clothing. And he’s an articulate and  lone proponent of this side of the equation. Although my natural sympathies tend to be on the other side, with the grass roots solutions to our problems, not the central authority, I find myself drawn to Kucinich for his courageous stand. I don’t remember why on the fourth of October I happened to read this article by Joshua Scheer, other than the fact that the Nation is on my favorites list.

The Republican Collapse, by David Brooks in the NYTimes of 10/5/2007. Of all the op ed writers in the Times I find I’m most in agreement with, or at least share his interests and outlook, it’s David Brooks. He reads Edmund Burke, and if you remember that’s one of the books that I read, or rather am always reading and never finishing. In this op ed piece Brooks reminds us that “the Burkean conservative believes that society is an organism; that custom, tradition and habit are the prime movers of that organism,” and that these conservatives “hold that moral laws emerge through deliberation and practice.” That is, there are no quick fixes by the executive or legislative branches. It takes time to change things for the better, in health care, in the inner city schools, for example, and that throughout one’s reform efforts one cannot disregard the place of custom, tradition and habit in people’s lives.

How Not to Do It
Nothing works in the omnicompetent state by Theodore Dalrymple, in City Journal, Winter 2007

Health Care Needs an Internet Revolution
By BILL GATES, in the WSJ, of 10/5/2007

Still Pinteresque, by Sarah Lyall, of the NYTimes, of 10/7. This was an interview with Harold Pinter, on the occasion of the remake of Sleuth. But a mention in the Times piece that Pinter was still angry made me go back to read about that anger as expressed in his Nobel address of 2005. And it was that Nobel address that I copied and posted into my journal.

A Prayer for Archimedes. A long-lost text by the ancient Greek mathematician shows that he had begun to discover the principles of calculus. From Science News Online, week of 10/6/2007

Russian Paper Publishing New Details of Journalist’s Killing,
by C. J. CHIVERS, in the NYTimes of 10/7/2007.

Rape has morphed from tool of war into societal epidemic in Congo By Jeffrey Gettleman, in the International Herald Tribune of 10/7/2007
Another major theme of  my reading, and major interest of mine is the collapse of civil society in so many regions of our world today. In the Congo Hobbes was right about “the life of man, being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Why Democracy, by Stanley Fish, in the NYTimes of 10/8/2007. I like what Fish writes about. What interests him most often interests me, and we have very different points of view about his subject matters. For example, I wrote the following comments to his Times piece:
Fish’s definition, that “democracy is a form of government that is not attached to any pre-given political or ideological ends, but allows ends to be chosen by the majority vote of free citizens,” doesn’t correspond to my experience with democracy. For it rarely happens that “ends” are chosen in a popular election. Instead democracy allows political candidates, people (not “ends,” except for the relatively rare referendum) to be chosen by majority vote. And the candidates are in themselves many different people (and probably represent many different ends), and too many times we are surprised by the person our vote has helped to elect, and disillusioned we wait for the chance to elect someone else who at least promises to get behind some of our ends. And of course we will again be disillusioned. Democracy may be the best form of government but the best that it brings us is hope that something better is possible.
Also, fish is wrong about chance or contingency ruling the world. Contingency may be the air we breathe but what rules the world, what brings about change and progress, as well as the destruction of civilizations, are the market exchanges between peoples. Take away those exchanges, as in an all out war, and our world would end. But so far this has never happened, except in piecemeal fashion, and human beings continue to multiply and dominate, by means of the exchanges between and among, them all life forms on this earth.

Thousands of walruses flock to Alaska shore, by the Associated Press, in the International Herald Tribune, 10/7

The U.S. is not a 'Christian nation' By Jon Meacham, in the International Herald Tribune, of 10/8

California's Crisis In Prison Systems A Threat to Public
Longer Sentences and Less Emphasis On Rehabilitation Create Problems by John Pomfret in the Washington Post of 6/11/2006.
Correspondence with Ben Thompson of the Boston based organization, STRIVE, led me to this article. Ben and I are both interested in the ex-offender population, and how we might do better by them with our programs to help.

A refugee from Western Europe, By Sam Harris and Salman Rushdie, in the International Herald Tribune of 10/9/2007
Rushdie remains one of the West’s most elegant voices in the defense of our liberties. I try never to miss an op ed or other piece of his (although I don’t read his novels).

Paris Embraces Plan to Become City of Bikes
By John Ward Anderson, in the Washington Post of 3/24/07
A small civilizing force at work. Put this along side what’s happening in the Congo and it doesn’t seem like much.

Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer, by Doris Lessing, a republication (on 10/13/2007) in the NYTimes of an earlier piece of hers on political correctness on the occasion of her winning this year’s Nobel Prize for literature. I’d like to find the time to respond, to this piece and the later piece by Stanley Fish, also on political correctness.

An Anarchist’s Progress, by Robert Jay Nock, originally published in the American mercury in 1927, republished on 10/13/2007, on the Ludwig Von Mises pages on the Web. I see the Mises articles daily in my email, and read as many as I can of them. Mises has taught me that my own political sympathies are in good part libertarian.

Political Correctness on Campus, by Stanley Fish, from the NYTimes of 10/15,2007

The Right Books and Big Ideas by Eric Alterman, from The Nation of 11/4/1999. The link to this article came from the article by Paul Labarique, on Voltairenet. I need to investigate how much Voltairenet, the Nation, as well as the Huffington and MoveOn blogs are of the same mind. I need to investigate why is it that the positions people take are often so far apart. The people themselves are pretty much the same.

In China, a Lake’s Champion Imperils Himself
By JOSEPH KAHN, in the NYTimes of 10/14

Le Mont-Blanc n’a pas fini sa croissance…
C. M. ( avec AFP, le 13 octobre 2007

As I look over my very incomplete list I note that I haven’t even gone to my Evolution, Education, and Political Science journals, where there are additional thousands of articles also saved over the past 10 or15 years on my laptop.
I note that there are perhaps a majority of articles on the above list taken from the NYTimes. And in fact the Times is my start page. But most of the articles I read are from other publications. If the Times is over represented in my journals it is for the good reason that the Times reporters are excellent and write regularly and well about the things that I care most about. Also the Times may come closest to being the newspaper of record for the world. And it is our world that interests me most.

To be continued?

October 02, 2007

The Reality of too many of our Schools

Many of those who write about the schools seem to be totally without a sense of reality as to what the schools are. Especially those who would return the schools to an imaginary time in the past when the schools were going to be the glue that was to hold our country together. The schools are not now, nor have ever been, that glue. What the schools are, and what the schools ought to be, or might have been in the past, are worlds apart and no amount of well intentioned prescriptions are going to close the gap between them.

For an example of the unreality of those who write about the schools, I go to the web site of The Forum for Education and Democracy and read the following:

In pursuing its mission, The Forum uses the following guiding values:

   1. Public education is foremost about enabling each young person to develop his/her strengths; use his/her mind well; and become connected to his/her community.
   2. The work in schools should be intellectually challenging, connected to the skills needed for real world success, and personalized so that students are known to those who teach them.
   3. Public education is fundamental to a democratic, civil, prosperous society.
   4. Public schools are critical institutions for breaking the cycle of poverty and redressing social inequities.
   5. Public engagement, community support, and adequate resources are essential to the success of public education.
   6. Parents and communities should be involved in all attempts to improve public schools.
   7. The work of education for democratic citizenship is not only the responsibility of the public schools, but is shared by other cultural institutions and should be supported by them as well.
   8. Public policy choices effecting public education should always be assessed on the basis of their contribution to equitable educational resources, their impact on local control, and whether or not they support the public education's most central mission - the development of democratic citizens.
   9. Our young can only learn when basic needs, nutrition, health care, and housing, are met. Our commitment to education is also demonstrated by our commitment to provide these basic needs.

Now, there is not a tenet in the above that anyone interested in the best possible education for our youth would disagree with. These purported characteristics, children developing their individual strengths, doing intellectually challenging work, becoming connected to society, are what we would want in the best of all possible worlds for our own children as well as for all children. But what we want is not at all what we have.

I challenge you to visit the schools and look for the presence of even one of the values mentioned above anywhere other than in the school’s mission statement. You won’t find it. Rather, as Steven Wolk has made clear in a recent Phi Delta Kappan article, Why Go To School?, what you would find instead are,  “children primarily filling in blanks on worksheets, regurgitating facts from textbooks, writing formulaic five-paragraph essays, taking multiple-choice tests and making the occasional diorama, that is, a total lack of opportunities of having even one original thought.”

And further Wolk reminds us that a generation ago John Goodlad in his book, A Place Called School, after observing classrooms across the country and more than 27,000 students, wrote, “I wonder about the impact of the flat, neutral emotional ambience of most of the classes we studied. Boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions…. Why are our schools not places of joy?”

Why is this so? Why are the schools so little of what we would have them be? The best answer to this question is that the schools are nearly powerless to undo, let alone overcome, the influence of the environment in which the children are living while attending school. Reread the nine tenets above. How many of them are accurate descriptions of that environment?

For example, Number 7 reads: “The work of education for democratic citizenship is not only the responsibility of the public schools, but is shared by other cultural institutions and should be supported by them as well.” Do you know anyone, other than the writers I refer to, for whom “education for democratic citizenship” is a high priority, let alone his or her responsibility?

The other day I read that, “High numbers of students in Gaza UN-run schools are failing math and Arabic tests.” Now what would be your first response to this headline? That the UN run schools were failures? Of course not. You would be amazed that schooling, any kind, even takes place in that cursed land. In all, about 195,000 children in Gaza, a territory with 1.4 million residents, attend UN schools. You wouldn’t blame the schools but without hesitation you would attribute the poor showing to “violence, overcrowding and poverty.”

The lesson here for us is that we need to cease speaking of the schools we would like to have, and instead see the schools for what they are, probably much more influenced by our own versions of “violence, overcrowding and poverty,” than by our mission statements representing wishful thinking of what the schools should be. In short, the nine admirable guiding values taken from the Forum for Education and Democracy’s mission for the schools are not yet of this world. What is of this world, the actual lives of children, should have all our attention.