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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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Politics, Disillusionment, and Despair

This blog will not make me many friends. It is addressed to those who are so disillusioned by the 2020 election—perhaps intensified by the first Trump-Biden debate—that they might sit out this November or not cast a vote for president. And this blog is addressed to those who see no purpose whatsoever in electoral politics, for they witness no change in their lives or in their neighbors’ lives, regardless of what politician or political party is in power.

It’s not my intention here to debate these positions. I simply want to make an observation that many others have made but that is worth repeating now in a time of profound disillusionment when so much is at stake, from health care to the health of the planet.

Disillusionment and despair and all their first cousins — cynicism, ­­­disengagement, withdrawal — might be seen as a rejection of politics but in fact are freighted with political significance and are used by those in power as much as raw force to keep people subjugated and to block social change.

Fostering disillusionment with the political process has been a key strategy in Mitch McConnell’s nihilistic playbook for some time — at least since 2010 when he stated his paramount goal to make Barack Obama a one-term president. The result has been a level of legislative stonewalling and gridlock that yields an 80% disapproval rating of Congress. People throw up their hands in disgust and condemn all politicians as culpable and ineffectual. It is on this rubble of governance that McConnell and Company exercise their power, destroying the chamber they live in to control it, passing tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and loading the courts with strongly conservative judges. The stage bereft of hope and principle is set for a demagogic anti-politician.

 Enter the tawdry, braying Donald Trump who greatly outdoes McConnell in raw spectacle as we recently saw during the debate, sabotaging the event and sullying both his opponent and the moderator. Over the past four years, Trump in totalitarian master-strokes has delegitimized not only Congress, but also the press, regulatory agencies like The Food and Drug Administration, scientific bodies like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the courts, the post office, even voting itself. God knows, these institutions have over their history violated their very purpose and principles. But they also have a history of visionaries working within them to make them more humane and truly democratic. We just lost two such people in Justice Ginsburg and Congressman Lewis. 

Social change from within institutions or outside of them does not emerge from disillusionment or despair, but from directed anger at injustice, from a sense that change is possible even against great odds, from hope. “Hope… is not calm or static,” writes essayist Erin Aubry Kaplan. “Hope is vigilance. It is also fury.” Hope is the organized fury of the march and demonstration and the quiet fury of the ballot. 

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