About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Friday, June 17, 2016

Scrutinize Everything

What follows is lighter fare than you'll usually find on this blog, probably a welcome relief. The American Scholar has a regular section in their on-line publication called "Teaching Lessons." [Here] The section offers brief reflections, anecdotes, or lessons learned about teaching. The one below, "Scrutinize Everything," is drawn from my first year in graduate school, and, whew, did I ever get schooled.


“Aristotle is in serious difficulty!” Professor Cohen exclaimed as he leaned forward, gripping the podium with his right hand and pounding on it with his left. I was in my first year of graduate school, taking the eminent literary theorist Ralph Cohen’s course on English Romantic literature, burning every ounce of intellectual oil I had to keep up with his argument dismantling a claim Aristotle makes in his Poetics. Week by week, Cohen mercilessly took down other giants in the Western literary canon, as well.

I was a late bloomer who hadn’t even planned for college until my senior high school English teacher got me fired up about books and ideas. Through four years at a small liberal arts college, I expanded my reading considerably, questioning philosophical claims and literary interpretations while also trying my hand at writing them. Cohen upped the ante, demonstrating that you can go to the very foundation of a system of thought and find it wanting. Even venerable, old Aristotle was in a tight spot.

Anyone and anything are open to scrutiny—I took that lesson with me into my own teaching. One of the first jobs I got after graduate school was in a program to help Vietnam Veterans prepare for college. I built a writing course on the kinds of readings the vets would likely encounter during their freshman year: short stories and poems, sociological observations on American life, passages from science textbooks like a discussion of the Big Bang. We read carefully, closely, and then wrote. Read and wrote. Somewhere in all this, I told them the Ralph Cohen story, both for comic effect and also to push them toward more critical reading. At the end of the semester, my students gave me a leather portfolio. Across the bottom it read in gold script: Aristotle is in serious difficulty.

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