New Yorker article with lots to chew on

Read this yesterday. Thought I might use it later in the year as a way of helping kids think about how a writer identifies a key question — are things getting better — and then brings a series of close readings to bear upon it. Different disciplinary lenses — psychological, historical, sociological — provide the author with the glue to hold his essay together, although its his skillful writing that provides the connections.

Several quotes to consider:

Was the past good or bad? Are we on the right track or the wrong one? Is life getting better or worse? These questions are easy to ask—pollsters and politicians love asking them—but surprisingly hard to answer. Most historical and statistical evidence shows that life used to be shorter, sicker, poorer, more dangerous, and less free. Yet many people, like Milanovi?, have fond memories of bygone years, and wonder if reports of their awfulness have been exaggerated. Others concede that life used to be worse in some ways, but wonder if it wasn’t also better in others—simpler, more predictable, more spiritual.

The power of bad news is magnified, Pinker writes, by a mental habit that psychologists call the “availability heuristic”: because people tend to estimate the probability of an event by means of “the ease with which instances come to mind,” they get the impression that mass shootings are more common than medical breakthroughs. We’re also guilty of “the sin of ingratitude.” We like to complain, and we don’t know much about the heroic problem-solvers of the past. “How much thought have you given lately to Karl Landsteiner?” Pinker asks. “Karl who? He only saved a billion lives by his discovery of blood groups.”

Later in the year, when we get to writing/reviewing books, I hope I can use this piece as a model.

Rothman, Joshua. “Are Things Getting Better or Worse?” The New Yorker, July 16, 2018.

Reading: Why the novel matters…

This is a terrific Sunday morning read. There are some terrific lines and I’ll track down the podcast to use in the classroom.

It’s not unknown for people of no remarkable genius to come away from reading, say, Anna Karenina, fancying that if only Tolstoy hadn’t done it, they could. I’d go so far as to say that it’s peculiar to the novel to empower readers in this way, stirring in them intimations of creative energy. The better a novel is, the more we feel it’s been found among the ruins of the language we share. Whatever is made of words belongs to us too.

Novels cannot by nature fail to be dialogic.

But I think something of value happens when we read, say The Ambassadors – of value as an affective stimulus, I mean – that doesn’t when we watch, say, The Sopranos. Don’t tell me The Sopranos is more fun. That might only mean that Tony Soprano is more engaging than Lambert Strether. He’s certainly got a more engaging name. There is, though, more than one kind of fun. And to say that reading more closely resembles study is not to be a killjoy: concentration and enjoyment are not opposites. Strange that when everyone’s running marathons and otherwise raising sweat for the hell of it, working hard at a novel is thought to take the fun away.

Maybe, just maybe, I could use this at the beginning of the year to set up the “why we read” conversation.

Senior Legacy Projects

QG: I feel like My 9th and 10th grade years were times where I was trying to find myself the most because I acted as if I didn’t know how to act… but I quickly turned it around in the next year.

DS: I leave behind the work I did on 52nd street. To show what the workshop school can do and the beauty we can bring to the community.

KS: I quoted myself to say… Remember me from the projects I did and from my ambition. (MC impression — you had so much to choose from. That’s cool.)

MW: (How will they know I was here)
From the connections I brung to the school…the first student with a culinary internship. I want to become a hood chef…I want to own a restaurant in the hood and hire teenagers who are serious about becoming future chefs.

KY: I’m a peaceful warrior. My advice is show up on time, get the work done early, two weeks ahead…do not wait.

GN: The real world is scary… The workshop school is here to help you develop certain skills so when you encounter a rough situation you won’t freeze up.

The reminder we all need about what we see versus what the students see…

Atul Gawande speech

Terrific, thoughtful speech. Two passages that spoke directly to teaching:

One, the section about hospitals as truly mixed spaces could be said about many schools as well. This “vantage point” not only fosters empathy but also democratic possibilities; it is within these spaces that we can see and feel difference and commonalities. Schools ought to be capitalizing on this (the best ones do) especially in the world of non-trusting bubbles he describes in the next paragraph.

Two, the section about curiosity leading to empathy made me sit up in my chair. I’ve long maintained that teachers need two things — curiosity and humility — but Gawande underscores the necessity of curiosity for empathy. You can’t empathize with anyone if you don’t care about them and aren’t thinking about their view of things. And you can’t develop empathy if you’re not at least somewhat curious about why people do what they do.