Category Archives: Books

Block quotes from The Return

Perhaps memorials and all the sacred and secular rituals of morning across our human history are but failed gestures.The dead live with us. Grief is not a whodunit story, or a puzzle to solve, but an active and vibrant enterprise. It is hard, honest work. It can break your back. It is part of one’s initiation into death — I don’t know why, I have no way of justifying it — it is a hopeful part at that. What is extraordinary is that, given everything that happened, the natural alignment of the heart remains towards the light.

Matar, Hisham. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Lands in Between. New York: Random House, 2016.

Quote from Julian Barnes

Quote from the weekend:

Was there a greater portrayal of the shattering of human illusions than King Lear? No, that was not quite right: not shattering, because that implied a single great crisis. Rather, what happened to human illusions was that they crumbled, they withered away. It was a long wearisome process, like a toothache reaching far into the soul. But you can pull out a tooth and it will be gone. Illusions, however, even when dead, continue to rot and stink within us. We cannot escape their taste and smell. We carry them around with us all the time. He did.

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?

Barnes, Julian. The Noise of Time. New York: Albert A. Knopf, 2016.

Matt Desmond talk

Monday night I got to hear Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius Matt Desmond present the 33rd Annual Urban Studies lecture.


Two questions I would have asked:

1. This research reveals a key source of the mobility that teachers in city schools have always felt. I’d always assumed that this was about poverty, crappy housing stock, and slumlords, but this book makes clear that the weight of the state stands behind the craplords and, as Desmond said so eloquently, “eviction is a cause, not a condition, of poverty.” I wondered what policies the school district as well as the massive network of charter schools in Milwaukee had adopted to deal with this situation or whether it was another thing teachers would have to deal with. Desmond notes the enormous cost kids pay when the “rent eats first” but I hope an ethnographer on his team is studying the overlap between the affordable housing crisis and challenges in urban education. (For example, I would guess that kids who have more stable housing situations are more likely to be involved in charter schools where managing the admission process requires a kind of stability; similarly, entering (and staying) at at a magnet school would be difficult amidst constant housing change.

When he announced that he was hiring lots of research assistants, I got that crazy project-based teacher feeling and wondered if we could design a project for our students in West Philadelphia to try and take on some piece of this. They could write and conduct their own mini-survey, graph their experiences, and do some interviewing about this issue. Especially if we could use Desmond’s notion that eviction is an issue of “inevitability not personal responsibility” as a way of making clear this is a big issue, not one to feel shame about.

2. I appreciated that Desmond spent so much time with Milwaukee’s landlords and tried to get their side of the story. I got to thinking about my block, where there are 46 structures but only 11 (or so) are owner occupied and only about half are still single family homes, even if they’re rented as group homes. The rest are apartment buildings.

Over the past twenty-two years I see the same story repeated again and again: folks in their late 20s or early 30s, having purchased their own home then use the equity to purchase a second or third rental building. These mini-real estate empire builders cross all racial and ethnic lines but they follow a similar pattern:

* they use craptastic contractors who do quick and dirty work or they do the work themselves,
* they do not pull permits for the work.
* they purchase the home and we see them regularly for the first year or so, then not so much.

There’s all sorts of tax incentives and financial incentives to keep apartments just nice enough to stay full and barely legal. There’s no incentive to contribute to the community of the block especially as it seems as though rent keeps going up.

If we just embrace housing vouchers, don’t we miss the other structures that allow landlords (and slumlords) to keep on keepin’ on? What other ideas might we pursue? I’ve always wanted a tax break for individuals who convert shitty apartments into single family homes, which would work for my block, but might also fuel gentrification.

W.E.B. DuBois Quote

“We must insist upon this to give our children the fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can have a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be. —W.E.B. DuBois”

Darling-Hammond, Linda. The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. New York: Teachers College Press, 2010.

Making Learning Whole

Liking this book…Perkins is not overclaiming, not trying to kill you with the scholarship, and carefully offers some things to consider in framing a teaching practice.

Four things:
1. The question I’ve been churning on is “what makes something hard ?” He frames this out to help separate normal stuff that all humans contend with (I’d rather eat cookies than steamed broccoli) so that you can consider when and where your students will stumble. It was helpful for me to think about academic/intellectual stumbles and trying to identify the exact spots where they’ll need help.

2. In this section, he references an article I need to track down, where the authors discuss what can go wrong when kids don’t have enough structure or scaffolding in doing project based learning/problem based learning/inquiry learning.

Kichscner, PA, J Sweller, and R.E. Clark. “Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem Based, Experiential and Inquiry-Based Teaching.” Educational Psychologist 41, no. 2 (2006): 75–86.

3. There’s no reference to Grant Wiggins here. I like his books and thought Perkins travels many of the same roads; I might replace Educative Assessment with this book if I ever do teacher ed again. Just interesting that scholars can have similar conclusions and work in such similar areas yet you’d not know it.

4.Perkins uses foreground as a verb. A lot. Nothing new there. Got me thinking…what words/expressions do I use, knowing that I once I made my list, I was going to visual thesaurus.

puts forward

VT jpg:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.13.06 AM

Perkins, David N. Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

New Reading List

Sorry for the big block quote. I just finished The Last Bookaneer, which made me think about Kidnapped and reading it thirty-five years ago. I was skimming Browsings last night and found these two the description of these two courses, the very thought of which makes me want to be an undergraduate English major.

Michael Dirda writing at The American Scholar

Last year, for instance, I taught a course at the University of Maryland entitled “The Classic Adventure Novel: 1885-1915,” covering 10 books. Given those dates, you can probably guess half the titles on the reading list: H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines; Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped; H. G. Wells, The Time Machine; Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel; E. Nesbit, The Story of the Amulet; G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday; Rudyard Kipling, Kim; A. Conan Doyle, The Lost World; Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes; and John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

If one were to characterize all these disparate works, one might settle for the phrase “comfort books.” Other descriptive clichés come to mind: ripping yarns, action-packed swashbucklers, escapist fantasies, boys’ books. All accurate designations, but I will make the case that such stories are as important to our imaginations as the more canonical classics.

To my delight, the class proved immensely popular. Students said that it reminded them of why they had majored in English: not because they could hardly wait to read the latest in literary theory, but because they loved stories. This spring the Maryland English Department invited me back to teach again. Did they want me to take over a graduate seminar devoted to Lydgate’s Fall of Princes? Lead a class through the complete critical works of Gayatri Spivak? Teach Provençal poetry? Not a bit. Instead of these worthy projects, I’m back discussing “The Modern Adventure Novel: 1917-1973.” Our reading list picks up where the previous one left off and includes: Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars; Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood; Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades; Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest; H .P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness; Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios; Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination; Chester Himes, The Real Cool Killers; Charles Portis, True Grit; and William Goldman, The Princess Bride.