Blogging On History, Science, and Education
March 8, 2017
A few years ago I visited a superb public elementary school in Ohio. It was innovative, it was teacher and student run. Fifth graders were studying Latin to enhance their English language skills. They were reading about the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were reading Virgil and Ovid (yes, 5th graders, many from lowincome homes. How did that happen? Two teachers got NEH grants that allowed them to attend a university summer school where they studied great literature. They came back energized. A terrific principal backed them up. Contact your congressperson. We need the liberal arts for all children. We need the National Endowment for the Arts, We need the National Endowment for the Humanities.
October 21, 2016
A public notice was defaced at Denver University last week. It was a poster about the national movement, "Black Lives Matter." The university called a general meeting; I attended and heard student response. The theme of that response: ENOUGH. This needs to stop.
As a historian who writes about American history it made me think. We've been teaching an upbeat history to our children, which is age appropriate but often not balanced. I'm doing some thinking. We need to learn more about the less than wonderful parts of our past. I plan to do some revising.
July 13, 2016
Wm Johnson. Do you know him? Well Great Britain might not have won the French and Indian War without him--which means we might all be speaking French now. He was celebrated as a great hero in Europe and knighted by the king. What happened in America? Well, Johnson was married (happily) to a Native American woman who was terrific herself. They controlled the fur trade and became very rich. You'll find him in "From Colonies to Country." Mostly he's been written out of our history because he broke the mores of his time. He judged people by what they were, not by their skin color or ethnicity.
Then there is Robert Carter III. A contemporary of TJ and GW he had more slaves than the two of them combined. He freed them all, for all the right reasons. That action got him dropped from our history. But you can read about him in "The New Nation," and also in the ebook, "Free To Believe, Or Not."
May 23, 2016
"We cannot make life perfect. What I believe we can do instead is make life a little less terrible and a little less unjust in each generation."
Karl Popper, in a speech to the Institut des Arts, Brussels, 1949
May 19, 2016
"When students and school boards ask, 'Why history? What are we supposed to be getting out of this?' The best answer is still that one word: judgment. We demand it of all professionals: doctors, lawyers, chefs, and quarterbacks. And we need it most in the profession of citizen, which, like it or not, exercise it for not, we are all born into."
That quote is from Paul Gagnon, a history professor at UMass (who died in 2005). His words are increasingly relevant, especially in this country, as we become increasingly diverse. Paul and I talked of writing a world history together. I was to do the ancient world, he would begin with the Renaissance. Wish it could have happened. Paul's memory is honored in a history prize given by the NCHE. As for my take on why history? It makes you think and gives you something to think about.
February 29, 2016
John Steinbeck wrote this in 1955, "I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." This quote appeared in a larger article written by J.Wilson McKenny editor of the California Teachers Association Journal. In that article McKenny discussed Steinbeck's life, especially his ideas on education.
February 21, 2016
The Civil War was finally over and the Raleigh, North Carolina Tri-Weekly Standard was now informing its readers about food, instead of war deaths. Here's part of an article from 1867:
"The latest culinary novelty is alphabetical soup. Instead of the usual cylindric and star shaped morsels of macaroni which have hitherto given body to our broth, the letters of the alphabet have been substituted. These letters of paste preserve their forms in passing through the pot."
February 1, 2016
I left high school sure of one thing: I was through with American history. I'd memorized and forgotten the presidents' names more than once. And none of them, except maybe Abe Lincoln, had done anything that I found interesting.
European history wasn't much better, but at least it had princes and princesses and knights in armor, although they seemed irrelevant in the modern world. Given a choice, I made sure my college freshman year was history-free.
And then a friend told me I should take a course given by a professor named David Donald. (more…)
December 30, 2015
"The finest accounts of science feature a vivid authorial presence and the narrative flow of a good mystery. They allow readers an insider's perspective, an over-the-shoulder glimpse of discovery and the heartache of experimental failure." says physics professor Alan Hirshfeld, who happens to be a terrific writer. Of course I agree.
December 29, 2015
Just finished a remarkable book, "In The Light Of What We Know," by Zia Haider Rahman (not to be confused with "The Light We Cannot See," another epic novel). Rahman is from Bangladesh, but educated at Oxford and Yale. He attempts a kind of War and Peace grand sweep novel of ideas. He's not entirely successful, at times the book is dense. He could have used a great editor. But among the ideas: British culture which has dominated the world for centuries is now facing the rest of the world's peoples who are ready to take a place at an expanded world table. There's no way we of the West can stop these emerging peoples. Should we want to? How we handle the next decade will determine a lot about the future.
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