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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Monday, June 28, 2021

The Desk: A brief memoir on the power of imagination and language

 

“The Desk” was just published in The Hedgehog Review, a wonderful magazine of culture and politics that comes out of the University of Virginia. The memoir depicts a difficult time in my small family’s newly established life in Los Angeles, and the material and mental resources I brought to bear on what was happening to us. “The Desk” is the story of the protective qualities of a child’s imagination. And it is also a story about the use of language to create and participate in other worlds, finding a refuge in words.


I present the first eight paragraphs of the story below. If you find them interesting, please follow the link to the rest of the story in Hedgehog. And if you like what you read there, would you consider sharing the link with friends?

________

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to the comfort of the small space, the cubby, a nook. And the box, the cardboard box, and, even better, two of them, arranged so that one opens onto the other, so that you can crawl from one through the other.

As a little boy, there was the soft tunnel under blankets. Once I had the bed to myself, I’d burrow under the quilt imagining passageways to safe mystery.

The cardboard box was recently enshrined in the National Toy Hall of Fame. “The empty box,” said the curator, “is full of possibilities that kids can sense.” On a loftier plane, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes at length about the intimacy of drawers and chests, and how each of the nooks and corners of the house we are born in is “a resting place for daydreaming.”           

There were no nooks or resting places in our spare rented house.

* * *

Not long after my parents bought new furniture, two men came and took it back. It was “repossessed” my father said. I didn’t really understand what that meant—I was nine—but I remember standing with him in our bare kitchen, a vague sense of shame and threat in the air.

They left some old stuff in the front room—a faded blue couch, a coffee table—and didn’t take our beds. My mother, father, and I shared the small bedroom. Mom had to get up before dawn to make her shift in a restaurant two long bus rides away, so she slept on a single bed by the door. My father and I shared a double bed close to her.

Down the street from us there was a second-hand furniture store that had a hand-lettered sign in the window. It was a dark, cluttered place; if it held a light piece of furniture—blond wood, shiny brass—I never saw it. My father made a deal with the owner: he’d watch the place for a few hours a day in exchange for a refrigerator, for a table and some chairs.

After we got the basics, my father picked out something for me. It was an odd, old-fashioned thing, a mahogany desk-cabinet sitting on four tall, carved legs. I’ve never seen anything quite like it since. The cabinet was maybe two-and-a-half feet high and two feet wide and pretty deep. Two hinged doors covered it. I would turn a chair from the dinner table and lean into it, imagining it as my room.

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