Japan and Italy!

I’m keeping this short today–my two dream trips (if ever I can afford enough leisure) are to Japan and Italy.  I studied Japanese in high school, and as a Great Books scholar Rome is the most fascinating place in all of history (and it’s not particularly close).  So what a perfect weekend!  I am reading You Gotta Have Wa–about the cultural challenges facing Americans playing baseball in Japan–and also The Marble Faun–Hawthorne’s novel set in Rome.

Hope you all enjoy your weekend as much as I do!  Look for the American history volumes of Essays on the Classics! when you seek stimulation 😉

Review of Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education

Authors: Glenn Beck and Kyle Olson

Publisher: Mercury Radio Arts, 2014

Let me start by saying that I felt my money was wasted on Common Sense. I am not an uncritical supporter of right-wing politics, and recognize the difficulty in separating rhetoric from reality in many of the right-wing works of this age.

With that said, I suggest that works like this should be celebrated for exposing the hypocrisy of the educational system as currently constructed. I have been tutoring kids in Los Angeles for the last several years and have found the system so corrupt and so ineffective that it has made me vote with my feet–I am leaving for Arizona. I have seen math teachers who do not know math, English teachers who have no clue how to write, and history teachers who know no history. And rarely have I seen teachers who DO know how to teach, especially in the subjects for which they are employed. I was disgusted with the sales and income tax increases that poured money into the state’s education system–at the time I said they would make things vastly worse, and it turns out that was prophetic.

The book is GREAT for statistics and quotations. I believe that, coming from an outsider, it lacks the ‘I personally saw this man say these things’ that makes the strongest factual base for a book. But there are so many of us who HAVE seen the system in operation that the issue is of minimal importance. The stats and quotations tell the tale.

I will suggest that if you like this book you look carefully at other education books, especially those depicting how education has developed through the 20th Century. Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America, Hutchins’ book by the same name, Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, Caroline Bird’s The Case Against College, Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, and my own book, The Bubble Boys, would be a start. One of my goals is to teach these books to interested parents, so that they themselves know the circumstances and can form their own opinions of their kids’ educations. Depending on the interest level, I’ll do it.

Review of Defending the City of God: A Medieval Queen, the First Crusades, and the Quest for Peace in Jerusalem

Author: Sharan Newman

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

This was an excellent book for me because I know next to nothing about the Crusades and about the Latin States in the Levant in the 12th and 13th Centuries; I was bored to tears by Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered because I had no context. Newman’s writing is clear and unravels a lot of the complex machinations behind conflict in the Near East at the time, and her depictions of the political leaders of the times are compelling, they bring them to life.

My one quibble with it is Newman’s lack of force when describing what she does not know. She could be firmer in making suggestions, but instead whimsically asks what further research can do and doubts her ability to know anything that is not already known. I appreciate it when an author hints towards information without asserting knowledge, and would not have been offended had she done that, but an author who weakly laments a lack of knowledge brings questions of motivation and conviction.