More Commentary on the State of American Education

I wish I could take credit for this, but I ripped it from Instagram. It was on the account of @thekangminlee:

“Take your vaccine so mine works better”

This apparently makes sense to 50% of Americans. Leaving aside for the moment that this particular shot would be the first vaccine that ever only works if everyone takes it. Let’s follow this line of thought into other areas of life:

“Take your vitamins so mine work better.”

“You have to exercise to make sure I lose more weight.”

“Wear sunscreen so I’m protected against UV radiation.”

“Stop eating fast food so I won’t gain weight.”

“You shower, so my hair won’t be greasy.”

This is clearly ridiculous and most people would think the person uttering such nonsense is pretty dumb. Apparently, “Take the vaccine so mine works better” does not reveal ignorance, but compassion.

It does, however, speak to the sorry state of American education, and not just recently. This reveals something about the way education has been sliding down hill for at least the past 50 years, if not longer.

Short Story: How Much Land Does a Man Need?

How Much Land Does a Man Need, a short story by Leo Tolstoy, written in1886. You can read it here, for free.

All of our children read this recently, and being somewhat out of the loop, I took a half hour today to read it. I do not regret it. First of all, it’s Tolstoy, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee satisfaction, but it definitely guarantees food for thought. The story is less than 20 pages long, which costs very little of your time. Consequently, I will offer a teaser, but no quotes, leaving you to decide for yourself if you wish to invest the half hour of your life.

Pakhom is peasant man, enjoying a happy and healthy life. One day, he overhears his wife debating with her wealthy sister the advantages and disadvantages of country life versus urbane life. He says to himself, “If only I had more land, I wouldn’t fear the Devil himself.” He has no idea that the Devil is sitting behind the stove, eavesdropping on him as he muses to himself aloud, and things begin to get quite interesting.

We read a hard copy pamphlet of this story which was prefaced by an 8-page foreword by Os Guinness. I decided to read the story before reading the foreward, so as not to be “tainted” by someone else’s analysis of this beloved morality tale. I will however, share a snippet from Guinness’ foreword:

Throughout history, the most universally acknowledged problem with money is that its pursuit is insatiable. As we seek money and possessions, observers note, the pursuit grows into a never-satisfied desire that fuels avarice- described by the Bible as a vain “chasing after the wind,” by Buddhists as “craving,” and by moderns as an “addiction.” The very Hebrew word for money (kesef) comes from a verb meaning “to desire” or “languish after something.” This emphasis is important because avarice is often confused with an Ebeneezer Scrooge- like hoarding. Traditionally, however, it has been better described as a form of spiritual dropsy or an incurable thirst that can never be slaked. The insatiability touches two areas: getting what we do not have and clutching on to what we do.

If you have a spare 30 minutes of reading time and you haven’t read this one (or haven’t read it in a very long time), give it a read. It’ll make you think.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Progressivism

This post is slightly different from my regular Word Nerd Wednesday installments. Rather than offer up a dictionary definition of the world progressivism, I’m going to tell you a story.

Yesterday, one of my history students asked me to explain the meaning of progressivism. Because we had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to cover it, I decided to tell her the hypothetical story that I am about to tell you.

Imagine, Katie”, I told her, “that your great grandmother bequeathes you a two-story 1920s era home with French country decor. Inside the home you found a wide variety of beautiful things. There is gorgeous wood molding, elegant poster beds, and Tiffany lamps. The house is lovely. However in the den is a strange nod to a 1970s style decor that you hate. Overall, you’re really not a fan of the house. Even with all of its acknowledged charm, you have a strong preference for modern architecture and decor. You’ve decided that you’ll probably nevrer live in the house.”

“Having mostly found it useless to you at this stage of your life, you decide to get rid of it. To accomplish this as soon as possible, you go and grab a can of gas, and pour gas on as much of the walls and furniture as you can manage, and toss a match on the whole shabang as you walk out the front door. In your haste to unload the old house and find a new one, you fail to consider the valuable treasures from your grandmother you are leaving behind. Gone is the ugly 70s den and the drafty attic, but also gone are the beautiful Tiffany lamps, highly artistic wood moldings, and pretty poster beds. It’s all reduced to ash, despite the fact that you’re not quite sure exactly what it is you’re looking forward to in your next house. Your entire focus is directed towards leaving the known behind coupled with the unquestioned belief that the next house you find will necessarily be better, simply because it is newer.

That, Katie, is progressivism in a nutshell.

I really wish you could have seen the look on the faces of these teenagers. Some were shocked, and others were clearly processing what I said.

Here;s to hoping they never forget it.

On Mother Tongues and Functional Community

This morning, I contemplated the meanings and usage of language. What is language? What are its purposes, and how do we use it most effectively? The first order of business is to define language. One of the things that any cohesive unit needs to function is a common definition of terms. Without that, things fall apart. But we’ll explore that more in a minute. Merriam-Webster defines language as follows:

“The words, pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.”

Communities, as well as their unique ways of communicating, come in various iterations. A community, for purposes of this exercise, can be as small as a family or as large as a nation. After a brief, humorous exchange with my husband this morning, I had occasion to consider this concept more in-depth. As I was recounting it to someone else, I was instantly aware that to an outsider, my funny story could sound pretty offensive. Our family’s mother tongue, however, is often heavy with sarcastic dialect.

Consider the current state of affairs in what is left of the United States. One of the major culprits in the continuing breakdown of our national unity is the loss of understanding surrounding language. This is true of big idea words such as “justice”, “equality”, and “discrimination”, but it’s even true of rudimentary words such as “woman”, “man”, “mother” and breast”.

Without a common language, values, and understanding of reality, there is no way my children can ever experience any sense of the America that existed when I was a child a few decades ago.

And that is too bad.

Love Quotes from Classic Literature

Consider this a mood post. It is mostly inspired by my noticing that the framed quote on the wall over our king-sized bed was hanging crookedly:

As I reached up to straighten the frame, it occurred to me that this quote, a statement and theme of a life together, came from a children’s book by A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh. I began to do a running list in my head of the literature quotes that I find not only romantic, but a reflection of love as it ripens over time. I will now share them with you.

One of my very favorites is by my favorite Jane Austen hero, Mr. Knightley from Austen’s 1815 novel, Emma :

If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.

From Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights:

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

Another from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh:

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

When I first read A Farewell to Arms in my late teens (or maybe early twenty-somethings), I really loved it. In retrospect, I have reassessed Hemingway’s characters within it as profoundly dysfunctional. Nevertheless, there are some great lines in the novel. For example, this one:

Why darling, I don’t live at all when I’m not with you.

Oscar Wilde was a fairly dysfunctional fellow, but he put his finger on the pulse of something profoundly insightful with this line from A Woman of No Importance:

Who, being loved, is poor?

I’ll round this one out with a very beautiful exposition from Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. It dovetails nicely with the Oscar Wilde quote:

It has made me better, loving you…it has made me wiser, and easier, and brighter. I used to want a great many things before, and to be angry that I did not have them. Theoretically, I was satisfied.I flattered myself that I had limited my wants. But I was subject to irritation; I used to have morbid, sterile hateful fits of hunger, of desire. Now I really am satisfied, because I can’t think of anything better.

I hope you enjoyed my supremely saccharine levels of romantic rambling.

Happy Monday, all!

More Insights from the Mind of Thomas Sowell

In a letter dated January 1969, Sowell offers his thoughts in response to the social and academic upheaval taking place at Cornell University, where he endured a brief stint teaching (or at least attempting to teach) economics. Sowell had a hard time understanding how or why the administration of the university was allowing the students to engage in all manner of disruption to the educational aims of the university under the guise of agitating for social justice:

Many of their adult hangers-on romanticize or condone these things as excusable in the great struggle against The System. In thirty eight years, I have never encountered a single person who believed in everything about the existing society, but the idea that the agonies that have plagued man for thousands of years, in every part of the globe, under all kinds of arrangements, are going to be gotten around by changing something called The System or by being obnoxious to something called The Establishment seems optimistic beyond words. I guess it is the naive optimism of the revolutionaries that is so hard to take, including their naive optimism about themselves in failing to see how much of what they do is part of the general cussedness of man and has no real connection with the ideals they espouse~ p. 73-74

This hardly requires an further commentary from me.

Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday aternoon.

Another Quotable from A Man of Letters

In a letter to a friend dated June 1976, Thomas Sowell offers an update on his professional and academic life before adding this insightful turn:

I am also winding up a relationship with a woman who is both “liberated” and clinging- the world’s worst combination- but is otherwise a fine person. We will both need time to recover.

I have determined that what I am most enjoying from this compilation, A Man of Letters, are the little gems which offer insight into the man many have called the most important social and political intellectual of the past half century. Of course, there are far more who have called him much more unkind things while blocking his work from public view.

Expect many more quotes from A Man of Letters in the coming weeks. I promise you will find them both educational and enjoyable.

Happy Monday!

Quotable Literary Quotes: A Man of Letters

I have moved on from Jason Riley’s biography of Thomas Sowell, and a review is forthcoming. In the meantime, I have segued over to Thomas Sowell’s 2007 memoir, A Man of Letters. This book is a collection of letters, and excerpts of letters, that Sowell wrote to friends and colleagues over a 40 year period beginning in the 1960s.

It is a side of Sowell that I hadn’t yet encountered, but his constitution, stubbornness, keen intellect and empiricism shine through in all of his correspondence. I have decided to devote several posts to quotes from these letters because they once again reveal a social and economic prophet whose work does not receive its due in the mainstream.

This quote from 1962 reveals Sowell’s growing apprehension about the direction of the civil rights movement. His misgivings about the aims of civil rights leaders will grow bolder as the years go by. Sowell was very committed to teaching in black colleges and the education of the next generation of black Americans. He was not apathetic towards ideals of equality. He simply thought that it was important for blacks to actually perform equally rather than just demand equal respect in every area; just because. He writes:

The more I follow the integration struggles in the South, the more I am inclined to be skeptical as to the acctual fruit of it all. It is awkward to stand on the sidelines and criticize people who are suffering for their ideals, and yet the question must be asked, “What is this going to do?” There seem to be so many other things with greater priority than equality-of-public-accommodations that the blind preoccupation with this one thing seems almost pathological. When one considers the apathy in the Negro community towards such things as the hopeless incompetence and irresponsibility of their own colleges and other institutions, the fervor generated in the fight for “integration” in all things at all costs seems more an emotional release than a sensible movement toward something that promises worthwhile benefit. If Howard University would just tell its students about the financial aid that is available, the summer jobs that are open, etc., it would do more than integrating every hamburger joint from here to Biloxi… p.20-21

As we will learn later, Sowell quickly learned that the rot in academia was not solely relegated to historically black colleges and universities. Even as he taught in the Ivy Leagues, he was frequently met with students and faculty who found his high standards unreasonable. He naively believed that he was being hired to truly impart “higher education”.

Quotable Literary Quotes: Sunday Special

A dear friend of mine gave me the book Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell, for my recently celebrated birthday. I am finally getting around to reading it, and as I suspected, Sowell has always been a man outside of his time; a social prophet of sorts. On page 54, Jason Riley recounts an event that led Sowell to write a letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1970:

In 1970 the liberal political scientist Andrew Hacker published a lengthy defense of the Black Power movement in the New York Times, and Sowell responded in a letter to the editor:

“I sometimes wonder if those of us who are black ought not to consider declaring some sort of moral amnesty for guilty whites, just so they won’t keep on saying and doing damn fool things that create additional problems.”

Again, Sowell wrote this in 1970.

Pause and think about that in light of the current moment. Also, don’t be surprised if I post quotes from this book again. It’s that good.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Lewis Carroll Edition

Follow me if you will, as I tumble behind Alice down into a rabbit hole of staggeringly strange terminology.

I wish I could take credit, but I heard this Healthline article referenced while listening to one of my regular podcasts. It’s titled, 46 Terms that Describe Sexual Attraction, Behavior, and Orientation. Yes, dear reader. You read that right. There are 46 terms to describe the different types of sexual orientations. They are categorized alphabetically, which I found ironically hilarious, but there are so many that I can only offer a few here. Feel free to click over and educate yourself, if your brain can withstand it without turning to mush. The article begins by explaining why this really matters:

Sexuality has to do with the way you identify, how you experience sexual and romantic attraction (if you do), and your interest in and preferences around sexual and romantic relationships and behavior.

Who your sexual or romantic partner is at a given moment in time doesn’t necessarily define this part of who you are. Sexuality can be fluid — changing in different situations for some, and over the years for others.

Observing patterns in sexual and romantic attraction, behavior, and preferences over time is one way to better understand your sexual identity or romantic orientation.”

Okay, then! Who’s ready to take a tumble with me? Let’s go!

  • Allosexual: A word and category describing those who experience sexual attraction. Use of this term helps to normalize the experience of being asexual and provides a more specific label to describe those who aren’t part of the asexual community. [In other words, every person who was ever attracted to anyone, ever. Got it.]
  • Allosexism: This refers to norms, stereotypes, and practices in society that operate under the assumption that all human beings experience, or should experience, sexual attraction. Allosexism grants privilege to those who experience attraction and leads to prejudice against and erasure of asexual people. [So: discrimination against asexuals, who immediately become a victim class. Got it.]
  • Asexual: Asexual identity or orientation includes individuals who don’t experience sexual attraction to others of any gender. Also referred to as “aces,” some people who are asexual do experience romantic attraction to people of one or multiple genders. [I’m getting confused because I don’t easily relate to the idea of being romantically but not sexually attracted to someone. That usually means affectionate friendship to me. But I guess that’s just my allosexual privilege talking].
  • Aromantic: A romantic orientation the describes people who experience little or no romantic attraction, regardless of sex or gender. [Sounds like asexual to me, but maybe I need to just keep reading].
  • Autosexual: A person who’s sexually attracted to themselves. Someone’s desire to engage in sexual behavior such as masturbation doesn’t determine whether they’re autosexual. [Okay. Now I’m resisting the urge to laugh out loud, but that would be allosexist of me].
  • Autoromantic: A romantic orientation that describes a person who’s romantically attracted to themselves. Those who identify as autoromatic often report experiencing the relationship they have with themselves as romantic. [You know, on the days when I think I look really cute, I resemble this. I think I’m starting to get it!]

Those are just a selection from the A’s, and there are quite a few here I’ve never heard of, so we’ll move on to other letters of the alphabet now *snickers*. The next category is D-L.

  • Demisexual: On the asexual spectrum, this sexual orientation describes individuals who experience sexual attraction only under specific circumstances, such as after building a romantic or emotional relationship with a person. [Ben Shapiro quipped that this used to be called a woman]
  • Demiromantic: This romantic orientation describes individuals who experience romantic attraction only under specific circumstances, such as after building an emotional relationship with a person. [Is it just me, or does this feel redundant?]
  • Graysexual: Graysexual is a term used to acknowledge the gray area on the sexuality spectrum for people who don’t explicitly and exclusively identify as asexual or aromantic. Many people who identify as graysexual do experience some sexual attraction or desire, but perhaps not at the same level or frequency as those who identify their sexuality as being completely outside of the asexual spectrum. [I admit to being thoroughly lost with this one. Thoroughly.]
  • Grayromantic: A romantic orientation that describes individuals whose romantic attraction exists in the gray area between romantic and aromantic. Many people who identify as grayromantic do experience some romantic attraction, but perhaps not at the same level or frequency as those who identify their sexuality or romantic orientation as something other than asexual. [Hmmm. I’ll leave this for the reader to untangle. I’m finding myself short of pithy retorts.]
  • Gynesexual: A term used to communicate sexual or romantic attraction to women, females, or femininity. [straight men?] This term intentionally includes attraction to those who identify as women, female, or feminine, regardless of biology, anatomy, or the sex assigned at birth. [ Mea Culpa. This bit explicitly excludes straight men]

After this they have heterosexual and homosexual, but they explicitly muddy those waters too. I’ve had enough of D-L. Oh wait! I just saw another one that is worth staying with D-L for one more definition:

  • Libidoist Asexual: A term used to describe an asexual person who experiences sexual feelings that are satisfied through self-stimulation or masturbation. This label acknowledges that, for some people, acting on libido or sexual feelings doesn’t necessarily involve sexual behavior with others. [Is it just me, or does sound really similar to autosexual?]

Okay. Now I’m done with D-L.

You know what, I’m done with all of this. My head hurts.

Have a lovely day, if I haven’t ruined it.