Maybe it’s because I am a product of public schools, the father of two public school students (and one public school graduate!), and the son, brother, and ex-husband of public school teachers—two of them with jobs currently insecure because of state budget cuts (while ExxonMobil is reporting record profits)— but I was moved deeply by Garret Keizer’s essay, “Getting Schooled: The re-education of an American teacher” (subs. required) in the September Harper’s. It is, on its surface, an anecdotal memoir of his one-year return to teaching highschool English in the poor, rural, New England school where he had worked many years earlier. An early theme is the challenge of teaching well. He writes, “even under ideal circumstances, public-school teaching is one of the hardest jobs a person can do.” He adds (to my amusement, because I majored in philosophy in college):
“Ludwig Wittgenstein, of modern philosophers perhaps the most sainted, served time as a schoolteacher. I am not surprised. I am also not surprised that he resigned his position after hitting an eleven-year-old boy in the head. I tried to remind myself of that at least once a week throughout this past year, and not so I could fancy myself superior to Wittgenstein. Rather, I wanted to remember that what I had undertaken was by no means as safe or as simple as redirecting the course of Western thought.”
But the deeper message of Keiser’s piece is not about teaching but about the United States. The America he describes in simple, first-person prose is so deeply divided between haves and have-nots, with most of its children among the have-nots, that Keizer begins to speak of us as a country that is “making war on children.” And what struck me as surprising was that, while such hyperbole usually causes me to stop reading and move to something else, in the context of his article, it seemed thoroughly justified.
And, some humor for the week.
Apropos my recommendation last week: Solar panels more efficient when patterned after trees? Sadly, too good to be true.
Apropos of not much, something that may explain something about American attitudes towards weapons: In the 1200’s, England passed a law requiring all able-bodied adult males to be armed and dangerous. From Wikipedia:
During the reign of Henry III the Assize of Arms of 1252 required that all “citizens, burgesses, free tenants, villeins and others from 15 to 60 years of age” should be armed. The poorest of them were expected to have a halberd and a knife, and a bow if they owned land worth more than £2.
Apropos tolling on Washington’s SR-520: postponed again. Now it won’t start until December. Meanwhile, the state’s voters will be deciding this November on a measure to prohibit time-of-day tolling—and if it passes, much of the work on the 520 tolling system would be moot. Clearly, road tolling is shaping up to be a hot button issue.
Quite often, Marohn contends, we maintain our “overbuilt” road network while virtually every other city and state service is being cut. Big dollar sums simply “feed strip development.” And on our superhighways, he argues, “We’ve spent trillions to save seconds in the first and last mile of each trip” — resulting in “the fake prosperity of a land use pattern that is bankrupting us, housing bubble and all.”
Strong stuff, indeed.
The New York Times Magazine says you shouldn’t make any decisions before dinner. Really, a fascinating read about our finite supply of decision-making power.
And if your boss is getting on your case about checking Weekend Reading on the clock, tell him/her to chill. Surfing the web increases productivity.