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, 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.
Saturday, June 7, 2014
8:24 am edt
Sunday, June 1, 2014
The Concord Review
9:18 am edt
The Concord Review – which promotes “varsity academics” – has published the latest issue of its journal of high-school
history students’ essays.
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Elections, “Indians and the American Story”
12:46 am edt
With the Indian national elections (in which some 550 million individuals voted, a record turnout of two-thirds of the more than 800 million who were eligible)
concluding weeks after my family’s recent trip to India, I wrote a brief article.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Making Bets on the Planet, Climate
7:49 am edt
The sobering National
Climate Assessment includes “resources for educators” to promote “climate literacy.”
As the Climate Assessment was released, this week I finished reading Paul Sabin’s book The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future.
as a point of departure a 1980 bet that Ehrlich and Simon made about the 1990 price of five metals (chromium, copper, nickel,
tin, and tungsten), Paul Sabin elucidates the history of the global population and natural resource debates of recent decades
– in the context of earlier figures such as Thomas Malthus. Sabin identifies the virtues and the
limitations of both Ehrlich’s and Simon’s arguments, suggesting how these rivals and their supporters contributed
to controversies over such matters as abortion, immigration, and externality costs as well as climate change.
Blending economics, politics, and environmental science, the book is engrossing and enlightening – countering
the oversimplification that often plagues portrayals of related subjects.
Paul Sabin (a New Haven neighbor) writes of Ehrlich and Simon: “Their
bitter clash … shows how intelligent people are drawn to vilify their opponents and to reduce the issues that they
care about to stark and divisive terms. The conflict that their bet represents has ensnared the national political debate
and helped to make environmental problems, especially climate change, among the most polarizing and divisive political questions….
One problem with Ehrlich’s style of argument is that environmental pessimism often far exceeds reasonable predictions
for how markets function and scarcity develops…. But by focusing solely and relentlessly on positive trends, Julian
Simon made it more difficult to solve environmental problems.” (p. 217-222)