Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Walking to work

I usually begin my school day, the moment I step out of the car after my daily driving commute down I-24, with a stroll around campus. Like D.B. Johnson's Henry, I prefer walking to work.


Unlike Henry, I'm not usually hyper-observant of detail during my morning ramble. I tend to be focused on whatever subject awaits classroom discussion, or unfocused and wool-gathering.

But yesterday, for whatever reason (or none), I found myself attending closely to the words at my feet in front of the Student Union. Decade by decade, they record chiseled highlights of the history of our university. I didn't slow long enough to take them all in, but I've decided from now on I'll register a bit more of them each day. Eventually I'll ingest it all, and I'll be just a bit smarter about the institution that butters my bread.

You never step in the same river twice, and there's no reason why you have to cross the same campus twice either. Attention is its own reward: behold, our esteemed president's John Hancock etched in stone. "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" And smile, Ozymandias.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

This I Believe


I'm a big fan of This I Believe, in all its incarnations going back to Edward R. Murrow in '51 and up to its most recent run on NPR. Jay Allison, the radio journalist who brought it to NPR as host, curator, and book editor, is this afternoon's convocation speaker at my school. Incoming freshmen were to read the first of Allison's book installments gathering some of those short broadcast essays through the years, from the famous and the obscure alike.

A colleague announced yesterday, during our perspirant cross-campus stroll to theannual Fall Faculty gathering in Tucker Auditorium, that he despises the franchise, and turns off the radio whenever TIB comes on. Same for Story Corps, which I also adore.

I was initially shocked, but on reflection not so surprised. Our sensibilities are radically different. I go for earnest expressions of secular spirituality and humanity. Suffice to say, he doesn't. "This I Believe invites citizens to share beliefs." Maybe he thinks we get more than enough of that in our classrooms. I think we need to work harder at understanding the minds and hearts of our classmates and neighbors and especially our antagonists.
"As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world," says Allison about life today. "We are not listening well, not understanding each other -- we are simply disagreeing, or worse. Working in broadcast communication, there's a responsibility to change that, to cross borders, to encourage some empathy. That possibility is what inspires me about this series."
In reviving This I Believe, Allison and [his TIB partner Dan] Gediman say their goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, they hope to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.
For my part, it's not "respect for beliefs" so much as respect for other persons and recognition of the humanity of those who hold beliefs different from my own, that makes TIB so valuable.

I've believed many things at different times, and have even posted some of them for the TIB archive. I believe the exercise of summarizing and sharing core convictions is a life-affirming act.

One more thing: I believe my colleague should submit a TIB essay explaining why he dislikes TIB. Then he should turn his radio back on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

James, Wells, and pragmatic seduction

William James scandalized his brother Henry during a visit with the latter in England, by mounting  a ladder and peering into the garden next door in hopes of spotting G.K. Chesterton. The story is well-known among Jamesians, but David Lodge's fictionalized version in A Man of Parts adds a delightful layer of (presumably) invented but entirely plausible detail, bringing H.G. Wells and his young mistress (whose favorite philosopher was F.C.S. Schiller) into the scene.



A few pages earlier we're treated to Wells' seductive explication of Pragmatism.



I've related roughly the same account many times, to many young people, but without Wells' results.  Or intentions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To live or die with dignity

I have always tried to make sense of things. There must be some reason I am as I am...  I am no longer immortal. I am growing old, and my body is deteriorating, and, like all of you, it will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could've lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man... than live for all eternity as a machine. [I want] to be acknowledged... for who and what I am- no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval. The simple truth of that recognition- this has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die... with dignity. Bicentennial Man... EmzaO On Robin Williams
"Will every human being that I care for just... leave?"

"That won't do."  

No, it won't.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What College Can’t Do

It can't fix "modernity," it can't give you a soul. But (I say) it can make you more spiritual and soulful (depending on what you mean by that, of course; I mean more alive, more sensitive to the natural conditions and possibilities and preciousness of life) and it can make you smarter about things you never would have considered. That goes for the Ivy League, for Tiny Liberal Arts College, and for Enormous State University alike.

But it's true: you've got to do the reading.
"Part of the value of a humanistic education has to do with a consciousness of, and a familiarity with, the limits that you’ll spend the rest of your life talking about and pushing against. So it’s probably natural for college students to be a little ironic, a little unsettled. It’s time, meanwhile, to admit that the college years aren’t for figuring out some improvised “sense of purpose.” They’re more like a period of acclimatization—a time when realizations can dawn. If you’re feeling uneasy about life, then you’re doing the reading."
What College Can’t Do - The New Yorker

What's college for? "Thinking your way toward your own definition of success." via

There are powerful forces in our society actively hostile to the college ideal, that distrust critical thinking

Pretty good sheep: It's Fall Faculty Meeting day at my school this morning, the annual inaugural summons to co...

'The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.' – John Dewey

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reading the book

I read my phone, my fire, my paperwhite, and my books. The more platforms the better, right? But there really is no substitute for a good old-fashioned bound and printed book.
...while digital devices may be fine for reading that we don’t intend to muse over or reread, text that requires what’s been called "deep reading" is nearly always better done in print... Digital reading also encourages distraction and invites multitasking. Among American and Japanese subjects, 92 percent reported it was easiest to concentrate when reading in hard copy. (The figure for Germany was 98 percent.) In this country, 26 percent indicated they were likely to multitask while reading in print, compared with 85 percent when reading on-screen. Imagine wrestling with Finnegan’s Wake while simultaneously juggling Facebook and booking a vacation flight. You get the point...
But will you get and read the book?

How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities - Commentary - The Chronicle of Higher Education


A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Roger Ebert, philosopher

“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.” 

“We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds.” 

“Socrates told us, "the unexamined life is not worth living." I think he's calling for curiosity, more than knowledge. In every human society at all times and at all levels, the curious are at the leading edge.” 

“What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable.” 

“An honest bookstore would post the following sign above its 'self-help' section: 'For true self-help, please visit our philosophy, literature, history and science sections, find yourself a good book, read it, and think about it.”  I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie

“Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”  Life Itself

“All I require of a religion is that it be tolerant of those who do not agree with it.” 

“Because we are human, because we are bound by gravity and the limitations of our bodies, because we live in a world where the news is often bad and the prospects disturbing, there is a need for another world somewhere, a world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers live.”  The Great Movies III

“Life always has an unhappy ending, but you can have a lot of fun along the way, and everything doesn't have to be dripping in deep significance.” 

“There are no guarantees. But there is also nothing to fear. We come from oblivion when we are born. We return to oblivion when we die. The astonishing thing is this period of in-between.” 

Goodreads

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Land of the free

To get into the 9/11 Memorial Museum, you have to pass through a world-class security arrangement—a conveyor belt for shoes, belt buckles, cell phones; a three-second hands-above-your-head body scan—overseen by a notably grim private-security corps. “Stand there!” uniformed guards shout at those in line moseying ahead. “Don’t advance.” A terrorist planning to commit an atrocity at a museum devoted to the horrors of terrorist atrocities might seem unduly biddable to his enemy’s purpose, but then perhaps the security apparatus is itself a museum installation. At the other end, as you exit, toward West Street, another uniformed man is obliged to spend his day telling kids not to stand on the benches in the memorial park. “You, there! Down.” It doesn’t occur to the kids that standing on the granite plinths could be an offense, and they wonder at first whom the guard could be addressing. They look bewildered—you mean us?—and then descend. The idea that we celebrate the renewal of our freedom by deploying uniformed guards to prevent children from playing in an outdoor park is not just bizarre in itself but participates in a culture of fear that the rest of the city, having tested, long ago discarded...
...The "last night" letter of the terrorists is posted on a wall, but without any English translation. And so the deeper truth that religious fanaticism was the whole of their horrible cause--that, in the last-night letter God is cited a hundred and twenty-one times--is elided... They did not hate us for our freedom, they hated us for our lack of [their form of] faith... Their godliness does not exhaust the meanings of religion, any more than Pol Pot's atheism exhausts the meanings of doubt. But is is a central fact of the occasion, not illuminated by being ignored.
 Adam Gopnik: Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum : The New Yorker

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Miseducation of America

"The truth is, there are powerful forces at work in our society that are actively hostile to the college ideal. That distrust critical thinking and deny the proposition that democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. That have no use for larger social purposes. That decline to recognize the worth of that which can’t be bought or sold. Above all, that reject the view that higher education is a basic human right."

The Miseducation of America - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Happiness

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