Back in the MLA

As the humanities decline in the United States, the country is losing the craft of understanding, losing its capacity for citizenship. Even educated people are increasingly unable and unwilling to distinguish between fake and real information, becoming a community that cannot understand itself as anything more than a circulation of figures. Self-righteousness takes the place of substantive discussion. Narcissism and outrage become the dominant techniques of self-definition. And the cure…

The Righteous Mind

I just finished “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” a very accessible mainstream (non-academic) book by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Takeaways: Our rational minds are to our emotional/instinctual selves like riders on an elephant. When the elephant leans even slightly to one side, the riders look in that direction and start coming up with rational arguments about why it’s a good idea to go…

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The Ongoing Obsession with Shakespeare’s True Identity

I’ve never been all too keen on Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories, and I find students often get distracted by their belief that the default way to get the “right answer” about literature is to look for connections between the author’s life and the author’s work. For example, I was disinterested in “Shakespeare in Love” because it depicted Will’s creative genius as if it were held hostage to events in his…

Furious Trump orders officials to boycott correspondents’ dinner

Trump spent the morning insulting the news media on Twitter, calling MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough a “Psycho” and musing about New York Times reporters getting “down on their knees” to apologize to him after his 2020 re-election victory. Around the same time the president was tapping out those tweets, White House Cabinet Secretary Bill McGinley, who oversees the various cabinet agencies, assembled the chiefs of staff of those agencies and issued…

“You can concentrate the history of all mankind into the evolution of flax, cotton, and wool fibers into clothing,” asserted Dewey. He described a class where students handled wool and cotton. As they discovered how hard it was to separate seeds from cotton, they came to understand why their ancestors wore woolen clothing. Working in groups to make models of the spinning jenny and the power loom, they learned cooperation.…

Why Grown-Ups Keep Talking Like Little Kids

Felt writey. Because reasons. The other day I walked through a room full of toddlers who were energetically growling at each other. They were obviously playing together, but there was a passion and an aggressiveness in their voices that made me feel that somehow, they weren’t just growling at each other, they were joining forces to confront the unfairness of a stressful universe. When I noticed my 17yo daughter had…