Highlights of my online reading and viewing so far this year:
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
All-Female Orchestra From Afghanistan Is A Force For Change
I love the clip of them practicing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in that story above; more of it can be heard in this video below:
In the above concert, watch the blistering 2-minute solo from 1:07:05 to 1:09:05
On the epidemic of unprepared college students:
“Our schools create a fog when it comes to academic preparation for college success. Concerned more with inclusiveness, validation, and graduation than with college preparedness, administrators encourage teachers to, for instance, consider pupil effort in their grading, and push students to take advanced courses for which they have the ambition but not the readiness. Those in charge have their reasons, which mostly turn out to safeguard the interests of adults and their institutions, even as they wreak havoc with the next generation. None of this is acknowledged, however, save by a handful of would-be illuminators, for the education system has generally persuaded itself that this fog is better for kids than clarity would be.
“And the colleges themselves are complicit in this fraud, often for similar reasons. They admit students who they know are not adequately prepared to take on credit-bearing courses, and then require them to complete remedial classes to catch up. Most students who are required to take these ‘developmental’ courses never make it to classes that earn credit, and in time they leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion.
The always amazing Anthony Esolen on how politics is ruining literature, education, and culture itself in schools:
If a young person comes to believe that education is to be valued as preparation for political action—if his English teachers choose novels not for their beauty and their insight into the human condition, but for their usefulness in advancing a political cause; if his history teachers encourage not that forbearance that tends to forgive the faults of those who have come before us or who lived under conditions whereof we have no experience, but rather an easy and self-confident judgment of their moral darkness because they were not like us in all things; if his art teachers foster contempt for the patient and heart-breaking quest for precision, and substitute for it indulgence in what is supposedly “edgy” but is merely tiresome and politically tendentious—then I fear that he will be, strictly speaking, ineducable, a monolith of manufactured stolidity….
You are discussing with another student Augustine’s tribute to his mother, Monica. It may be the first literary tribute to an ordinary woman—not a queen, not an object of erotic desire—in the history of the world. The student is upset. She has been taught that the lot of women from time immemorial was simply and unrelievedly oppressive, and she is disappointed to find something that does not fit the political template….
A student tells you that he is weary of learning about American culture in school. You say that you do not actually believe that his teachers have imparted much of that culture to him, or of what used to be a culture. You are thinking of the seaside observations of Winslow Homer and the plaintive love songs of Stephen Foster and the startling progressions of John Coltrane. You are thinking of Pickett and his men making their desperate charge at Gettysburg. You hear the plain and honest blank verse rhythms of Robert Frost: “I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone,” says the farmer of the hired man who has come back like a stray dog and who has, unbeknownst to him, just breathed his last. You are thinking of Protestants singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” in four-part harmony; of John Greenleaf Whittier whistling along a country walk, and George Washington Carver patiently grinding peanut skins in a pestle. Henry Adams, John Ford, Herman Melville, Billy Sunday, Billie Holliday—how much of what is quintessentially American has he really encountered? But before you can ask a question probing more deeply into culture, he rolls his eyes and shuts the conversation down. Such is the certainty that the correct political position confers.
[I’ve had similar Kafka-esque experiences. It’s all too sad. Read the whole thing!]
The necessary remedy for such cant and for the political paradigms and correctness that bolster it is a total rejection of their terms and conditions—a rejection that Esolen boldly models. We must learn anew to read and speak, to sing and work and dance and pray, and to build and cherish beautiful things. If Esolen’s envisaged culture strikes us as quaint, as something only even desirable before the Industrial Revolution or the invention of the television, so much the worse for us.
Yup. This. [source]
Nationwide 8 percent of teachers leave their jobs every year—twice as many as professionals in other fields—and the annual teacher attrition rate is even higher in Michigan at 10 percent, according to a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute titled “A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.”
“Reducing attrition by half could virtually eliminate shortages,” the study’s authors concluded.
Retirements account for less than one-third of teachers who leave the classroom every year, the study noted. Job dissatisfaction was most often cited as a very important or extremely important reason for quitting.
That means serious initiatives to keep educators in the classroom require listening to teachers.
As a first-year high school English teacher in a financially struggling district, “James”—who requested anonymity—would tell policymakers to stop overloading already overworked teachers with mandates to document every action and data point to prove they’re doing their jobs.
Daily lesson plans with written student learning objectives linked to every standard being taught—submitted online. Student data folders containing records of every assignment, assessment, and letter grade for every student—updated weekly. Teacher growth plans with written objectives and strategies for improvement—submitted online. Most never get used or looked at again.
Time spent jumping through “accountability” hoops piles on top of the real work: designing engaging lessons, developing lesson materials, helping students during breaks and after school, and long hours of grading.
Ask a Librarian: What’s the Strangest Thing You’ve Found in a Library Book?
LANGUAGE & LITERATURE
Poem: “Temporarily eternal,” by George David Clark
YES! This is how I see it, too! “In praise of literary conservatives:”
“The world is what it is.” It still sounds like the name of a Bond film but VS Naipaul’s bone-dry start to A Bend in the River eats at Barack Obama. America’s outgoing president told the chief book critic of The New York Times last week that he fights against the bleakness of the sentiment — and often falters.
Conservatism never had a motto, the way some creeds implore workers to unite or rally people to the abstractions of liberté, égalité and the other one. But Naipaul’s six monosyllables, which give way to an even colder shrug at men “who allow themselves to become nothing”, could serve.
A dark view of humans, a certain resignation to the imperfectibility of things, is what marks literature out from the idealistic arts….
For more than a century, anglophone literature has thrown up masters who look slightly askance at the modern world and its sensibilities. It is not a political conservatism, as such. Many of them would not identify with the organised right or vote that way. It is emphatically not a taste for free-markets and the social flux they bring. It is something more like a sceptical habit of mind and a preference for dismal truths over well-meaning lies (which is what political correctness often amounts to). The catalogue ranges from leftish writers who flirt with apostasy (think Ian McEwan, whose protagonist in Saturday at least entertains the case for the Iraq war) to those maestros of reaction, DH Lawrence and TS Eliot.
Why writers, of all artists? Perhaps learning the canon, as most of them do formally or autodidactically, instils a belief in such a thing as a distinct western culture that deserves protection. But there are literature students who fall for fly-by-night ideologies.
Or it might be the work itself. Novels try to capture eternal human truths — to ground them in the specific. Augie March is “Chicago born” but he is also every questing young man from an unpromising background. To do this, a writer must believe that human nature is universal and more or less unchangeable. Most non-conservative schemes — social-democracy, the wilder edges of identity politics — are efforts to refine or deny that nature through bureaucratic tinkering.
Poem: “The Lesser Light,” by Kevin Cutrer
Poem: “Anniversary,” by Marjorie Maddox
Poem: “Stones,” by Rob Griffith
POLITICS AND SOCIETY
The notion that social change is driven by some sort of linear evolution of consciousness, in which people necessarily become “more conscious” (that is to say, conform more closely to the ideology of the contemporary American left) over time, has no room for gay-bashing Progressives and Jacksonian Democrats whose concept of democracy included a strict color bar. The difficulty, of course, is that history is full of Progressives, Jacksonian Democrats, and countless other political movements that can’t be shoehorned into the Procrustean bed of today’s political ideologies.
I could add other examples—how many people remember, for example, that environmental protection was a cause of the far right until the 1960s?—but I think the point has been made. People in the past didn’t divide up the political causes of their time into the same categories left-wing activists like to use today. It’s practically de rigueur for left-wing activists these days to insist that people in the past ought to have seen things in today’s terms rather than the terms of their own time, but that insistence just displays a bad case of chronocentrism.
The natural differences between peoples and cultures are an obvious target for this process; hence the condemnation, sandblasting and dynamiting of “whiteness” that have been a central focus of academia and the media for some time now. Also lined up for the grinding wheel is masculinity — a frightful thing that, it seems, only appears in nature in a highly “toxic” form.
Like entropy, secular Progressivism has no limiting principle; this is because it is built upon a universal skepsis, an axiomatic and radical doubt, that dissolves any foundation it tries to stand on, leaving it in perpetual free-fall. By its very nature it can never come to rest, can never find a solid bottom. If, as it plummets into the abyss, it snags on a branch, it will simply saw it off.
Conservative poetry: an interview and an example — great stuff!
Surprise! Yet another global warming hoax: 100% Of US Warming Is Due To NOAA Data Tampering — no apparent skepticism or reflection from the left
Brilliant! The Great and Spacious Building as modern demography:
There are no good pictures of the Great and Spacious building where you can see the bottom of it. I think nobody knows how to draw a building that has no base. Maybe they should make it look like a population pyramid. A society without kids is pretty much the same as a building without a foundation.
1. Get your act together, get an income.
2. Make a good family.
3. Get your kids to do steps 1-3….
Any institution that isn’t reproducing itself with children is sick.
Any sick institution that is blase about its sickness is dying.
Yes, America is dying.
Reproduction means literally having kids. But not just that. It means raising them to carry on. It means step 3. This is where even some Mormon families fail. They think because they themselves are virtuous, their kids will automatically end up all right.
Some dying institutions die quietly. Other dying institutions are cancers. They try to take their host down with them. I’ve been thinking about vertical transmission of culture versus horizontal transmission of culture. Vertical transmission is having kids and raising them. Horizontal transmission is sharing from one person to another, religious conversion for example–or propaganda from media and academic organs. It seems to me that horizontal transmission is good only if it comes from a healthy core, from a group that is also engaged in vertical transmission. Just as loving others and self-sacrifice is good only if the person loves themself, trying to convert people to your point of view is good only if your point of view isn’t sick. Isn’t a cancer.
Is it a coincidence that the Great and Spacious Building is all about horizontal transmission and has no foundation, whereas Lehi’s first thought after taking the fruit was to get his family to come and share it with him?
(Elder Cook of the 12 had some related thoughts on Facebook)
The genius who runs Slate Star Codex has one of the most depressing essays I’ve read in years, about cost disease:
So, to summarize: in the past fifty years, education costs have doubled, college costs have dectupled, health insurance costs have dectupled, subway costs have at least dectupled, and housing costs have increased by about fifty percent. US health care costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries; US subways cost about eight times as much as equivalent subways in other First World countries.
I worry that people don’t appreciate how weird this is. I didn’t appreciate it for a long time. I guess I just figured that Grandpa used to talk about how back in his day movie tickets only cost a nickel; that was just the way of the world. But all of the numbers above are inflation-adjusted. These things have dectupled in cost even after you adjust for movies costing a nickel in Grandpa’s day. They have really, genuinely dectupled in cost, no economic trickery involved.
Intellectuals for Trump — fascinating if not worrying. Deeply written and respectful, and honest–I love Mark Bauerlein, but winced at his obvious discomfort at the end of this article.
From the enormously wonderful Junior Ganymede blog:
My daughter likes to climb up on our fireplace hearth. We never use the fireplace, and the hearth is only a foot high, but there is a piece of wood trim at the front that she tries to use as a balance beam, and I am constantly scolding her to get off of it. It can support her weight temporarily, but it wasn’t made to support her weight, so it’s starting to loosen.
Our disintegrating norms of politeness and comity are like that wood trim. They look nice, and they can withstand a fair amount of stress without breaking. But they simply were not made to support all the weight we now put on them. When the upper caste seeks to extinguish the religion of the majority, when it seeks to replace the masses with other masses more to its liking, that’s not something we can fix by putting a little love in our hearts. Winsomeness will not save us.
What explains this desperate impulse to deny the self-evident facts of biology, even to the point of ignoring discoveries that our sexual differences extend right down to the cellular level and do not exist merely in our reproductive organs?
McCarthy’s answer is novel and, if it is right, alarming. She points out a sexual body only makes sense in relations of dependence and interaction: mother-father-child and man-woman. We are all children who owe our existence to a man and a woman and our bodies speak the language of dependency and community.
And in the long term, how can democracy as we know it survive? Democracy is more than just the arithmetic of 50%+1. It is a political culture which assumes that people take responsibility for each other, first within families, then within society. A political order based on gender theory which repudiates social bonds, fosters extreme individualism and teaches that the “other is hell” will be a very strange kind of democracy indeed.
Ross Douthat, another new Thoreau: Resist the Internet
Used within reasonable limits, of course, these devices also offer us new graces. But we are not using them within reasonable limits. They are the masters; we are not. They are built to addict us, as the social psychologist Adam Alter’s new book “Irresistible” points out — and to madden us, distract us, arouse us and deceive us. We primp and perform for them as for a lover; we surrender our privacy to their demands; we wait on tenterhooks for every “like.” The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.
When literature does not “penetrate concrete reality” it can’t affect us. Books that cannot penetrate us are kin to those unreadable Novel of the Year contenders. What we should be seeking are novels that can read us, that scandalize us, and cause us to trip, fall, and, thus, learn.…
The majority of Christians in America read many more self-help and Christian living books than literature.
But if we look at the example of the Son of God himself, we don’t see him speaking on how to make friends and influence people or seven methods of effective discipleship. Rather, he made his ministry about telling stories and living as the hero of a true story. Christ is the Word. The Bible is a story. If Christians are not reading stories, they are neglecting one of the charges of the gospel.…
It means we should choose stories that seek to capture the grit and reality of the incarnation and thus demand imitation.
Poem: “The still pilgrim considers a hard teaching,” by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell
Poem: “Augustine Chanting”
I Studied More Than 2,200 Scriptures about the Savior in Six Weeks: Here Is a Little of What I Learned
By President Russell M. Nelson