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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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Hope Amid the Ruins

        Along with the violence wrought on so many—including planet Earth—by the Trump Administration, the last four years have brought us one bitter irony after another. A recent one was the giddy celebration over the passing of 2020. Bye bye 2020. Good riddance. See you in the rear-view mirror. The Internet vibrated with farewell memes. Then came the precursor to and aftermath of January 6, 2021. Hello 2021: The death-throes of the Trump administration, and the eruption of a white supremacist insurrection—the ugly, terrifying reality of what many Americans thought was a fringe element, escorted into prime time by an increasingly desperate and deranged president.

        So much has been written about the last four years that there’s not much I can add, except, perhaps, a few observations.

        The insurrection of January 6 has rightly been condemned as an assault on democracy, an appalling event where the Capital was defiled and people lost their lives. But we need to remember that there have been assaults on our democracy from the beginning, racist policies and practices in every sphere of American life, systemic and sanctioned, from housing to healthcare to voting, and these assaults are intimately connected with economic inequality, which has been widening over the last several decades. A whole lot of people in the United States have been living with—and their ancestors have lived with—threats to their dignity and well-being more pernicious and long-lasting than the tumultuous desecration of the Capital, which, shameful as it was, could be cleaned up and at least some of the perpetrators held to account.

        My second observation concerns “the real Donald Trump,” if I can borrow his (former) Twitter handle. As Donald Trump’s behavior became more erratic and bizarre—culminating in his Big Lie about the 2020 election and the inevitable result on January 6, 2021—increasing numbers of commentators, and finally the deplorable Mitch McConnell himself, condemned him and his paranoid fantasies. But every quality Trump displayed through his four years in office was evident during the 2016 campaign: Certainly the racism and xenophobia and sneering disregard for anyone in the path of his ascendence, but, too, the attack on foundational institutions and any means of verification other than his own word. One phrase I’ve heard as Trump has become more delusional is that he lives in an alternate reality (remember Kellyanne Conway’s “alternate facts”?). Why this surprises anyone is a mystery to me, for since his early days he has been fabricating an alternate reality through shady deals, lawsuits, non-disclosure agreements, bankruptcies, and lying, lying, lying. His genius, if I can sully that word for a moment, was realizing the role media could play in the creation of this alternate reality in which he was the starring character, the dazzling centerpiece.

        In an interview a few years ago, legendary editor Tina Brown was reflecting back to her first encounters with a young, brash Donald Trump in the late-1980s. She was at the helm of Vanity Fair and Trump had recently published his ghostwritten The Art of the Deal. Ms. Brown wrote a diary entry noting that Trump had “a crassness I like. There is something authentic about Trump’s bullshit.” Reading The Art of the Deal “you’re nose-to-nose for four hours with an entertaining con man and I suspect the American public will like nothing better.”  Brown would eventually sour on Trump, but with the help of the New York press, he was already in full gear of self-creation.

        It’s chilling to read Ms. Brown’s entry now, for it reflects some of the intersecting obsessions in our popular culture that were hospitable to Trump and his brand of American authoritarianism: Our fascination with celebrity and the grasping for it, with glamour, fading glamour, and bling, and with spectacle—all amped-up and accelerated by the Internet. I tried to get at some of this in earlier posts (“Donald Trump, Celebrity Culture, and the White Working Class” 11/30/16 and “The Tawdry President: Donald Trump, the Public Library, and COVID-19” 4/21/20), the first post written three weeks after the 2016 election, concluding with: “Welcome to electoral politics in the Age of the Kardashians.” We know now that a white supremacist proto-fascism would also be welcome. A thought for the next generation of journalists, editors, and publishers: The next time you encounter someone who reeks of bullshit and clawing desperation, close your laptop and run the other way.




        I’m writing this post on January 22, two days after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as the 46th President and Vice President of the United States. What lies before them is daunting beyond belief. Our country is severely damaged, both by the long-standing violations of human dignity I mentioned earlier and because tens of millions of President Biden’s fellow citizens do not believe he was legitimately elected. I wish I could believe in the healing so many are calling for. Or unity. Or appeals to people’s “better angels.” I can’t. I just don’t see it. But I also want to commit to possibility, to hope, for without it, we descend into a despair that leaves us powerless. So here, for what it’s worth, are some sources of my hope.

        It occasionally happens that history creates the conditions for a person to rise to the moment, to display unexpected character and talent. I hope that this flawed man Joe Biden who has been on the wrong side of consequential issues and events—but on the right side of others—becomes one of those people, that this is his moment, his and Vice President Harris’, and the cadre of competent people they are choosing. The early signs are good: A flurry of executive orders on COVID, climate change and the environment, immigration, the Census, and more—and an ambitious immigration bill sent to Congress. This is hopeful.

        The Republican Party is in the midst of a monumental internal struggle that as elections loom will yield a colossal bloodletting. I hope that in the midst of the melee, GOP leaders see it in their own political best interest (there is no appealing to “better angels” here) to not stonewall the entire Biden/Harris agenda. Again, the historical moment with its COVID misery and catastrophic economic effects might force at least an occasional political alignment. One can hope.

        Hope personified: Amanda Gorman.

        My strongest source of hope is in the extraordinary success at voter registration and follow-up efforts to get out the vote. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would likely not be in office without this work, and certainly Georgia would not have elected two Democratic senators. This is long-haul, slow, grinding, unglamorous, tedious labor. A decade-long campaign in one region, one community is not unusual. Do whatever you can with your time or your money to support these efforts. Street by street, door by door, they create hope.

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