Looking for hive mind help on a course

Download PDF

Actually, on two courses.  The school I’m at (Newark Academy) ends the year with a nine-day “June Term”, wherein students take one class for six hours a day.  June Term classes are supposed to be experiential and rigorous, and maybe a bit weird.  All teachers are supposed to suggest courses; I made three idea proposals and the committee liked two of them.

Now I have to formalize my thinking and write an actual proposal for each.  I’m still (as of 2017 July) in the spitballing stage and thought I could benefit from some outside input.  If you have the time and interest, please follow this link to a Google doc where you can share your thoughts.  (NB: It’s an open edit document so please be civil to one another!)  I am particularly interested in ideas for field trips and for how to organize six-hour days when it can’t be lecture-and-response.

The two courses, by the way, are The End of the World as We Know It: A scientific approach to catastrophe and Seven Days Plus Two: The Art and Science of World Building in Fiction.  The first will be a modified form of a course I ran at Hun, but I think it will need a fair bit of work.

Regarding >> “America has a simple ideology”: how one of Russia’s top US experts tries to explain America – Vox

Download PDF

A couple of observations:

  1. What might underlie this Russian perception — which I think is over the top — is something far more threatening to the Russian psyche than the idea that America is scheming and plotting to topple them.  Far worse indeed is the truth, which is that since the end of the Cold War we’ve more or less ignored them.  A lot of what Putin has done, seems to me, to be the geopolitical equivalent of a moody tweener screaming for attention from the once-idolized cool kid who nows ignores them.  Going from being one of two superpowers, where every time the Kremlin caught a cold, Washington sneezed, to a perceived backwater minor power, is bruising.
  2. Having said that, from one point of view, they’re not entirely crazy.  While I think they overestimate the coherence of any “American worldview”, there is a certain evangelizing tendency in American politics.  We’ve solved it, many Americans think, and of course everyone else should reap the benefit of our leadership.  It’s cloying and positive but threatening in its own way.  And the ongoing cultural ascendancy of American media — where our action films and pop fashions rule the world — can’t help anyone feel secure.
  3. It’s hard to see what to do about this.  You can’t convince someone you’re on their side by simply repeatedly telling them that.   And our actual attitude — dismissive neglect — is unlikely to generate either the evidence of a benign attitude or reciprocal respect.  The nigh-complete breakdown of the American political machine implies more neglect and drift, with sporadic and counterproductive engagement mixed with saber-rattling for domestic benefit.  It’s a bind.

Regarding: “America has a simple ideology”: how one of Russia’s top US experts tries to explain America – Vox

Josh Marshall, spot-on as always

Download PDF

From Talking Points Memo:

Yes, George W. Really Should Remain Silent

For all my many criticisms of him during his presidency, I have come to respect President Bush’s post-presidency. He’s kept out of the toxic political battles that came after he left office. He’s had the confidence or perhaps simply the realism and detachment to leave it to posterity to judge his presidency and not try to duke it out in the 24/7 press cycle like his toxic second Dick Cheney. And there are moments of grace like the recent 50th anniversary commemoration of the the March on Selma. DC’s Republican leadership stayed away. But Bush was there. One might argue that there was little to be gained by Republicans attending since, in the nature of things, it was not going to be a receptive audience and they would be upstaged infinitely by the iconic symbolism of an African-American President. But the same applies to Bush. And he was there.

Full article: Yes, George W. Really Should Remain Silent

One sentence can pull you out of an entirely fine essay

Download PDF

By Godot13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I actually agree with most of what Fareed Zakaria writes in his Washington Post op-ed “Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous“.  We need balanced, robust, well-rounded education, not narrow business-driven training.  It will take many different vantages points to see solutions to the problems we face in this hardest century of human history.  Students of mine often express shock (and perhaps a little betrayal) when they complain about, say, their history teacher and ask me “Don’t you think it’s just a waste of time?” only for me to reply that it is one of my favorite subjects.  As a physics guy, I obviously think we need more and better science teaching, but I also think we need more and better teaching in the humanities and the arts.

Having said that… boy, does this one sentence put me in a slow burn:

No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write.

It angers me that Farakaria, with a vast platform, falls into the stereotypical thinking that these skills — learning, writing, thinking — are somehow not part of the math/science pool.  In actuality, of course, scientists, engineers, and coders practice those skills constantly.  While there are surely scientists who cannot write, there are English majors with the same problem.  STEM thinking isn’t the only kind of thinking we need, but it is thinking.  It is both disingenuous and insulting for him to imply otherwise.

I know it’s a small piece of a larger argument, but it still rankled me.

College Admissions Hunger Games

Download PDF

Today the NY Times published an Upshot op-ed called “For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t as Hard as It Seems“.  It’s one of those article that seems to say more than it does.  It doesn’t actually support the conclusion it asserts.  Saying that roughly the same percentage of “top students” still get admission to elite schools is almost self-evidently circular, and does nothing to dispute the notion that “college admissions has become a Hunger Games-like tournament”.  In the Hunger Games, the same number of winners happened each year — but the competition wasn’t always the same.  And what constitutes a “top student” could (and does!) vary from year to year without creating more of them.

Continue reading “College Admissions Hunger Games”

The persistence of “factory”-style schools

Download PDF

Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute asksWhy Do ‘Anti-Corporatists’ Defend Factory-Style Leadership?”  There’s a lot in there I’d like to respond to; here’s my first swing at it.

It’s easy to blame hidebound educators for educational malaise, and some of the blame lands justly. But you cannot begin to understand the problem until you realize how strenuously parents resist any change that means their kids aren’t learning it the way they did. If education “looks different”, it is distrusted and undervalued. (Witness the growing backlash over Common Core.)

Continue reading “The persistence of “factory”-style schools”