All posts by history

Quote from Obama Interview

Is there a marker you would lay down at the end of your first term where you say, “If this has happened or not happened, I would consider it a negative mark on my governance”?

If I haven’t gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then we’ve missed the boat. Those are three big jobs, so it’s going to require a lot of attention and imagination, and it’s going to require the American people feeling inspired enough that they’re prepared to take on these big challenges.

Full interview here.

Naming rights?

The best academic lecturer I encountered (in a course setting) — Bruce Kuklick — weighs in on a non-controversy at Penn about naming rights:

“This is the University of Pennsylvania — what do you expect?” Bruce Kuklick, a history professor, said of the name change. “This is a school founded by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was the arch modernizing pragmatist of the American founding, a guy who always had his eye on the main chance.”

“It would be surprising,” he said, “if they didn’t rename Logan Hall to a high bidder.”

Talent will out

From Stephen King’s essay from earlier this year:

We could argue all day about the reasons for fiction’s out-migration from the eye-level shelves — people have. We could marvel over the fact that Britney Spears is available at every checkout, while an American talent like William Gay or Randy DeVita or Eileen Pollack or Aryn Kyle (all of whom were among my final picks) labors in relative obscurity. We could, but let’s not. It’s almost beside the point, and besides — it hurts.

Instead, let us consider what the bottom shelf does to writers who still care, sometimes passionately, about the short story. What happens when he or she realizes that his or her audience is shrinking almost daily? Well, if the writer is worth his or her salt, he or she continues on nevertheless, because it’s what God or genetics (possibly they are the same) has decreed, or out of sheer stubbornness, or maybe because it’s such a kick to spin tales. Possibly a combination. And all that’s good.

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.

Clean definition of neoliberalism

“Theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepeneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”

David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (2005).

(I encounter this term a lot, particularly in recent writing about education, but I rarely see a comprehensive definition.)

Research is…research ain’t

Liked this piece at inside higher ed describing an attempt to move students beyond google as their primary form of research.

I wonder, though, how this story plays out where there isn’t an exceptional library. I find that many of my students — both at a high school and a university level — are just as frustrated with internet search engines but have nowhere else to turn.


One of the cool things about working with pre-service teachers across multiple disciplines is that I have an open window into what we expect of our high-school students. Even as we’re bombarded with the message that our secondary schools are failing to prepare students for the future, complaints about low expectations are unfair and unfounded. The massive amount of material teachers are supposed to cover, whether from the amorphous state standards or the large textbook packages they’re given, all but guarantees a feeling of helplessness.

And without a strong disciplinary background, there’s little likelihood that students will have the time or the energy to ensure that it all can be linked together.

Sciences vs. Arts

Teaching about adolescent literacy, I often encounter students who will cheerfully declare that they hate math or science. Occasionally, though, I get a student who will shamefully declare how little they like reading.

This sort of split extends all sorts of places and certainly the gap between the humanities and the natural sciences seems to be growing. I like this idea, though, as a way of giving students a chance to genuinely connect across disciplines.

No right to school

This story in yesterday’s Times reveals the frustrations parents increasingly face in upscale urban neighborhoods: you’ve paid, maybe overpaid, for a house in a neighborhood that features a great public school. But…you’re not alone and all of a sudden there’s not room in the building.

You’re out of luck.

And…upper middle-class parents are coming to realize what many parents in struggling neighborhoods have long known, that you have no right to a school. A school district, so long as they violate no laws or so long as a lawyer can’t prove that the district is purposely discriminating against a certain group, can assign students anyway they like.

Teaching Revision

How do you teach revision when revision, for most students, is about the grade? What happens when students re-work a paper, not because they’re engaged or even care about the topic or the craft of writing, but because they want a better grade?

I have allowed students to re-write papers since I began teaching and I’ve usually graded the paper afresh and taken the highest grade.

But I’m finding that students are using the re-write process as a way to avoid completing drafts. I’m also finding that it’s seen as a right rather than a responsibility; students feel that they deserve to submit as many drafts as they want. That’s my fault for opening that door.

I think next semester I’ll demand drafts and engage in the peer-editing process while making it abundantly clear that the final draft is indeed the final draft. And I’ll make the students paste the rubric into the paper so that the expectations are even clearer.

Finish a teacher education program with what?

I wonder what experienced teachers would say when asked what they want students to come out of teacher certification programs with, particularly if they were limited to things that can be taught. In other words, the traits I’d identify as necessary to succeed in a classroom — humility, intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, compassion — are very difficult to teach.

What kinds of things, then, can be taught?

My first thoughts:

1. the ability to look at a state standard and immediately have several ideas as to how to shape a classroom so that students could attain it.
2. the ability to look at a topic and see multiple approaches to teaching it.

More to come.