The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist”
in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson,
in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it academically.
. . . Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.
Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and practical.” Mahatma
Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant. Al Gore invoked it in a
1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a
search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Recognizing Student-Athletes and Basketball, at UConn and Yale
9:28 am est
This is Pearl Harbor Day,
and there are numerous subjects of global, national, state or local consequence on which one might opine. But
as a father of young children and as a volunteer youth basketball coach, I’m going to address the diversion of sport.
This blog has occasionally treated UConn basketball, as in April 2011 and April 2014 (April 8), after the men’s team won NCAA titles. In between, a March 2013 (March 10) post considered both UConn and Yale basketball and the “promising seasons” the teams could anticipate
in 2013-14, during which senior-led UConn would go on to win the national championship (with superb coaching by Kevin Ollie
and his staff) – and Yale to finish second in the Ivy League after an early season loss to UConn.
Friday night, my son and I were in Storrs to see UConn host Yale in a rematch
(28 years after Yale last beat UConn). This season, UConn is a relatively young team and Yale a more
veteran squad, albeit without the NCAA tournament experience of the Huskies.
In March 2013, I wrote that on Yale’s senior night, “Sophomores, including two known for their sobriety, helped lead” an Ivy League win. Now,
those sophomores are seniors. (One would-be senior, Connecticut native and political science major
Brandon Sherrod – a founder of “Team Sober” – is taking a year off, having joined the Whiffenpoofs singing group.) The remaining seniors
include his Team Sober cofounder, Javier Duren, an economics major and starting point guard; Armani Cotton, a psychology major and another starter, recognized with a team
award for “hard work and dedication”; Greg Kelley, an American studies major who is the captain; and Matt Townsend, a molecular, cellular, and developmental biology major who is
a starting forward and now a Rhodes Scholar.
(UConn’s basketball team also had a Rhodes Scholar finalist this year, Goldwater Scholar Pat Lenehan.)
Justin Sears, a junior political science major at Yale who volunteered with New Haven public school students and writes occasionally for The Basketball Diary, is the Ivy League preseason player of the year.
In an era when athletes are often disparaged for off-field or off-court behavior and major universities
are investigated for academic fraud that includes athletes (and others), members of this Yale team have earned attention not
only for academic distinction (one of only two Ivy League teams with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better) but also for community service, including for the cause of literacy. The players I’ve met have uniformly made a good impression and reflect well on Coach James
Jones as a judge and developer of character, not just talent.
(My occasional interactions with UConn players over the
years have also been positive; for example, Friday I happened to meet R.J. Evans, who played a postgraduate season at UConn
in 2012-13, earned his master’s degree and works in business. Kevin Ollie and his staff are themselves
former UConn players.)
On Friday, Yale dealt UConn a rare home defeat, a dramatic 45-44 upset in the final seconds.
I am a fan of both Yale
and UConn basketball and confident the Huskies, momentarily humbled after three straight losses (in which injuries have played
a role), will soon be winning again. This season and likely even more so in 2015-16, UConn will perform at a high level.
I’ll be in the stands, or at least watching on TV, whenever possible. 2014-15 could be the first year since 1962 that Yale wins the Ivy League title and makes the NCAA tournament,
where the team’s experience, poise, and unity would make it competitive. New Haveners with any interest
in basketball should be encouraged to come out and support this group of young men, too.
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Race and Violence, Schools and Society
1:52 pm est
Half a century ago, in May 1964, President Lyndon Johnson envisioned a nation advancing not just toward “the rich
society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society” that might “end poverty and racial injustice.”
This lofty rhetoric has not,
of course, been fulfilled – even as progress has occurred.
Travis Bristol – whose work has been mentioned on this blog previously
in August 2014 (August 10), September 2013 (September 7), and June 2013 posts – wrote a recent Edutopia piece, “Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject.”
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Literacy Forum: "Libraries in the 21st Century"
7:01 am est
The New Haven Independent published my account of a recent Literacy Forum on “Libraries in the 21st Century.”
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Yale National Initiative and STEM Education in New Haven
6:15 am est
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Resources for Teaching and Learning
8:47 am edt
Sunday, October 5, 2014
5:40 pm edt
Saturday, October 4, 2014
“Dark Is Beautiful”: Film and Social Activism
8:40 am edt
my wife and I attended a screening of “Firaaq,” a powerful film that Nandita Das – director and actor as well as social activist – made about the 2002 “carnage” (as she characterized
it) in the Indian state of Gujarat, where Muslims were massacred after a sectarian dispute and controversial train fire. The
Gujarat government at the time was headed by Narendra Modi, now the Indian prime minister, who was in the U.S. this past week
to speak at the UN and meet with President Barack Obama.
Nandita Das, a 2014 Yale World Fellow, will be speaking in New Haven (6 p.m., Luce Hall) the evening of October 10 about a campaign to counter skin color bias, in India and beyond. The effort, “Dark Is Beautiful,” has received attention in the U.S. as well as India and elsewhere.
For a preview, see this video.
Racism and skin tone bias are all too common across cultures and continents. Personally,
in the case of India, my wife’s mother has spoken of ugly comments she received from a young age about her skin tone. Let
us hope that messages such as “dark is beautiful” will help advance progress.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Men, Domestic Violence, and Sexual Assault
6:56 am edt
Amid news of campus sexual assault and various NFL players’ abuse of women and children, President Obama announced “It’s On Us” – a campaign emphasizing men’s responsibility to address such problems on
campus and beyond.
Twenty years after the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became law in 1994,
let’s hope that a belated movement of men to seize this responsibility is finally underway. There
have been stirrings for decades, including undergraduates (mostly women, but some men, too) marching to “Take Back the
Night” from sexual violence, and efforts to inspire the majority of men actively to oppose such violence, rather than
to be mere bystanders as a small minority of men become serial abusers.
On campus, I recall “Take
Back the Night” rallies from 2004 and earlier years.
Regarding abuse by athletes among others,
“Domestic Violence No Game” was an October 2008 piece that discussed such organizations as the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, Men Can Stop Rape, and Men Stopping Violence. There and elsewhere – such as in May 2013 (May 4) and August 2014 (August 2) posts – I’ve written of the “Coaching Boys into Men” initiative and “A Call
We must insist that violence toward women and children (and men) be recognized
as a public issue to be confronted through law and prevention, not viewed as a private matter subject to shame and the whims of discretion. Confidentiality
is often important to victims and should be maintained where possible, to the fullest extent of the law. But
cover-ups and complacency must stop. It is on us.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
9:30 am edt
Today marks 200 years since Francis Scott Key wrote
“The Star-Spangled Banner,” tomorrow 51 years since four Birmingham girls were killed in a horrific church fire-bombing. Constitution Day is approaching September 17. The latest documentary film series by Ken Burns, on the Roosevelts, begins tonight.
The New York
Times Magazine has a front-page article on Bill Gates and his enthusiasm for “Big History” (which evokes a Yale course, taught by geophysicist David
Bercovici, on the “Origins of Everything”).
month in the Times, James Grossman of the American Historical Association wrote about the importance of historical study, with minimal interference from politics.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences publishes Humanities Indicators.I wrote a piece on history, civics, and balancing “STEM” with “STEAM.”
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Defending the Public Library
8:22 am edt
After a critic used a single event to question the merits of funding the New Haven
Public Library, I wrote a brief response.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Literacy Coalition Board, Blog
8:27 am edt
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Free Speech on Campus
8:55 am edt
In his recent address to freshmen, Yale President Peter Salovey focused on campus free expression. He recalled the report of a committee that the late historian C. Vann Woodward chaired four decades ago – a
report that became influential nationally.
Woodward and colleagues were appointed to that committee by the late Yale President Kingman Brewster.
The Woodward committee (along with an earlier committee, chaired by the late political scientist Robert Dahl, that addressed
coeducation among other issues) was a subject of a 2013 senior essay by Nathaniel Zelinsky: “Who Governed Yale? Kingman Brewster
and Higher Education in the 1970s.”
An aide to Kingman Brewster, Jonathan
Fanton, later went on to become president of the New School – where for several years I worked for him.
Amid controversies in California
(at Berkeley) and New York (at the New School), a 1996 Wall Street Journal op-ed treated campus free speech.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Humanities, Arts, and Sciences
1:45 pm edt
In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof invoked philosophers Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, and Peter Singer to argue the importance of the humanities,
as well as the sciences.
Focusing on history and civics (and "STEAM" vs. "STEM"),
a November 2013 piece addressed similar themes.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Blood Demand, Supply
9:53 am edt
Blood is always needed. Unfortunately, an April trip to malaria-prone India precludes me, under Red Cross protocol, from giving blood for a year. In the meantime, let me encourage other blood donors. An estimated 8 percent of potentially eligible U.S. donors give blood each year; we can do better.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Teachers in Boston Public Schools, and Beyond
7:55 am edt
whose work was mentioned in September 2013 (September 7) and June 2013 posts, was featured – along with teacher Hayden Frederick-Clarke – in a recent public radio discussion: “How to increase the number of black male teachers in Boston public schools.”
Sunday, August 3, 2014
“My Brother’s Keeper” and Literacy
8:58 am edt
The LiteracyEveryday site includes a new blog post about President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative and boys’ reading skills.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
Domestic Violence Problems, Policy, Awareness
7:52 am edt
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr, Religion and Culture
7:27 pm edt
Sunday, July 6, 2014
American Revolution, American Aristocracy?
9:02 pm edt
this July 4th weekend, a Los Angeles Times opinion piece invoked Thomas Jefferson’s call to counter “aristocracy” and instead create “a foundation ... for a government
coauthors are Bruce H. Mann and Richard D. Brown (my father, now at work on “The Challenge of Equal Rights in the Early Republic”).
Separately, Brown and another coauthor, Doron S. Ben-Atar, were recently interviewed
about their 2014 book, for the site New Books in Law.
Friday, July 4, 2014
Summer Learning, Literacy
5:53 pm edt
The 4th of July is an occasion to foster historical and civic literacy, along with festivities among family and friends.
This holiday also offers an opportunity to highlight summer learning more broadly. Happy Independence Day…
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Interfaith Efforts, Global and Local
10:06 pm edt
Anticipating today’s Vatican prayer meeting among the pope and the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, I wrote a related op-ed last week.