Sunday, October 21, 2018
Opinion

The Reading File: Excerpts from interesting articles

Education radicalism

In the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead writes about controversial educator Eva Moskowitz and her charter schools, which have a rigorous curriculum based on the experience of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose father started teaching him Greek and Latin and the classics when he was barely past being a toddler, working with the idea that average children have an extraordinary capacity to learn. Read "Success Academy’s Radical Educational Experiment" in full at http://bit.ly/2BItyJI. Here’s an excerpt.

Parents have flocked to Success Academy schools, in part, because Moskowitz has convinced them that their children can tackle more than the local public school demands. But Moskowitz’s book glosses over the fact that James Mill’s experiment on his son was not entirely positive in its impact. At the age of twenty, J.S. Mill sank into what we would now call a severe depression. He ascribed his mental breakdown to his education, which had been entirely directed toward developing his rational and analytic powers; as he later wrote, his curriculum lacked any cultivation of feeling, and any valuation of poetry, "and of Imagination generally, as an element in human nature." He described himself as "stranded at the commencement of my voyage, with a well-equipped ship and a rudder, but no sail." Mill recovered — reading Wordsworth helped — and went on to become one of the leading philosophers and political theorists of the Victorian era. His example is a triumphant one, but it also offers a warning: that grand educational experiments can have unintended consequences.

Coping with pains of war

In the American Scholar, Marine veteran Phil Klay writes about "Tales of War and Redemption" and addresses, among other topics, the old saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole. (There are, it turns out.) Read his essay in full at http://bit.ly/2ABX32t. Here’s an excerpt.

Once, after a lecture I gave, a woman approached and asked me how to talk to her boyfriend. She pointed him out in the back of the crowd — a tall, good-looking guy with military bearing. "He’s an Iraq veteran," she said, "and I know he had a really hard deployment. I know, during his deployment, something really bad happened, but he won’t talk about it. It’s this closed-off part of him. How do I get him to open up?"

I get this sort of question fairly often. For the spouses of men and women with trauma, war-related or not, it can sometimes feel as though there’s some mystery in their partner, some moment, a site of wounding. Maybe this veteran lost a friend, got IEDed, got shot at, experienced mind-breaking terror for months. Maybe it was something worse. There’s this sense that, if only the partner knew what it was, they’d be able to move forward, that somewhere there’s a key to understanding the loved one’s pain.

But it doesn’t work that way. There is no such key, no moment that once unlocked might be easily dispelled. I told her to focus not on the bad things he had been through, if she wanted to have that conversation with him, but on the good. Ask about his best friends in his unit, about the good times they had, about what he liked about the military, why he’d joined in the first place, about the bonds of love between soldiers, the sense of community and purpose. About all the things, in other words, that would give context and meaning to the bad things he’d suffered.

Steroids with scotch chaser

In wake of the latest news about the Russian Olympic doping scandal, Scientific American reprises an article from last year called "The Scientific American Guide to Cheating in the Olympics." Read it in full at http://bit.ly/2AlAUqx. Here’s an excerpt.

The (Russian doping) program involved athletes in sports as different as wrestling to sailing, and for all of them, the staple was the same: a literal "cocktail" of steroids, washed down with Chivas Regal scotch to lessen the chances of detection (vermouth for the women). What was most surprising, to seasoned observers, was their choice of drugs. The key ingredient of the cocktail was something called Oral Turinabol, a potent derivative of testosterone that, as it turns out, already had its own lengthy Olympic pedigree.

Oral Turinabol was the key ingredient in the last known state-sponsored Olympic doping program, which propelled East German athletes to gold medals in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then drug testing in sports has become much more widespread and much more precise, with tests for hundreds of specific compounds. In order to compete, athletes must give up their privacy, notifying officials of their whereabouts every single day of the year, so they can be located for on-the-spot, out-of-competition testing overseen by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA. Something as potent and notorious as Oral Turinabol should have been wiped out long ago. Yet there it was, being swilled down like Red Bull by athletes who went on to win multiple medals at the Sochi Winter Olympics alone. It seems reasonable to ask: Have we made any progress against doping in sports? Well, yes and … not really.

Tax bill retribution

In the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains how "The tax debate offers a clear measure of how deeply insular the GOP has become. It’s now governing solely of, by, and for Red America." Read "The Closing of the Republican Mind" in full at http://theatln.tc/2BVtlnw. Here’s an excerpt.

The GOP not only entirely excluded Democrats from the process of drafting the (tax) bills, but the party punished Democratic constituencies — from residents of high-tax states to graduate students — in the bills’ substance. The tax plans represent a political closed circle: bills written solely by Republicans and passed solely by Republican votes that shower their greatest benefits on Republican constituencies. Meanwhile, the biggest losers in the plans are the constituencies of the Democrats who universally opposed them. It’s not just redistribution: The tax bills are also grounded in retribution.

In that way, the tax debate offers the clearest measure of how powerfully the Republican Party in the Trump era is folding inward. Neither Trump nor GOP congressional leaders are even pretending to represent the entire country — or to consider perspectives beyond those of their core coalition. Instead the party has shown that as long as it can maintain internal unity over its direction, it will ignore objections from virtually any outside source — not just Democrats, but also independent experts, affected interest groups, and traditional allies abroad. In a best-selling book published during the Reagan years, neoconservative cultural critic Allan Bloom lamented The Closing of the American Mind. The Trump era is crystallizing the closing of the Republican mind. In several distinct ways, the party is now governing solely of, by, and for Red America.

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