Weekly Review: October 30th to November 5th

by Matthew Koslowski on November 6, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

The Weekly Reviews are a lot of fun to write. I enjoy scouring the web for interesting articles and blog posts. But, all the same, the project had begun to become a unmanageable. There are so many websites and blogs to check out everyday. I had been afraid that I was going to miss something.

What I repeatedly missed was my own deadline. You may have noticed that the past two weeks I had postponed my Weekly Review until Saturday.

I have been working hard but I haven’t been working very smart. Then I remembered a quote from one of my favorite writers:

Novels are written in the same way that farms are made productive, or houses are kept clean, or baseball penant races are won: with steady work each day.
–Andre Dubus

Substitute “Weekly Reviews” for “Novels” and you get the same concept. Rather than gathering up work throughout the week and then trying to throw something together slapdash on Thursday night, starting this week I will be working on the Weekly Review throughout the week.

Thursday afternoon I spent some time setting up a feed reader through Google. Though I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet — unlike Gmail, the posts disappear after you’ve read them unless you ask them to stay — but I am glad to consolidate many of my different websites into one place.

In addition to that, I’ve also setup Literature&Literacy on Feedburner.com. You can now subscribe to Literature&Literacy through an RSS Reader or through email.

These Things Caught My Eye

Fixing Education

There has been a lot about this since Arne Duncan came out and said that he wants to improve teacher training programs. Newly minted teachers come out of these programs and feel overwhelmed by having to manage a classroom.

Most actual training for particular jobs happens on the job. I have read that it takes a year to just begin to feel comfortable at your job. When I first began my job at the bank, I remember feeling overwhelmed. I know that many of my other friends felt the same.

It is quite easy to take potshots at educators:

  • They work in a rarefied realm where they are not held accountable for their results.
  • They don’t work very hard because they cannot be fired.
  • They work only half a year! Every time you turn around they have another vacation! They get summers off!

People pay lip service to the idea that educators play a vital role in our nation. But I do not believe they actually believe that. Teachers are paid very poorly for the work that they do, especially as class sizes grow and resources are reduced. If people truly believed that teachers and educators were vital to our economy, they would pay teachers more.

There is no end to commentators and news writers who are willing to offer advice on how to improve our education system. Everyone has an opinion on this matter.

One idea that is being passed around is the idea of merit pay for teachers. I believe in what Alfie Kohn writes in Punished By Rewards that you can get diminishing results when you attempt to tie rewards to performance. And there are economists and business theorists who believe that as well. I remember seeing articles arguing that Golden Parachutes are necessary because CEOs who are not allowed to pursue ideas that may fail will not innovate and will not advance the economy.

I also fear that you will get unethical behavior. I have met salesmen and saleswomen who will do whatever they can to get a sale, tell customers whatever they want to hear. Do we want teachers and principals who are fighting to get rewards rather than educate our children?

We need to go back to basics. We need to have a national conversation about the why of school, its purpose.

If we decide public education is vital to the lives of our children and our success as a nation, we need to align our teachers paychecks with that belief. People choose careers in college based in part on what they expect to get paid after leaving school. There are some people who want to be teachers and would be excellent educators, but instead become engineers or computer scientists for fear that they will be unable to support their future families on a teacher’s salary.

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Fighting What You Believe

Get Rich Slowly was one of the very first blogs that I started reading. Practical, down to earth financial advice for people who understand that there is more to life than earning money.

Much like Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Get Rich Slowly has a broad definition of rich. Rather than limiting richness to wealth, these blogs talk about living a rich life.

Granted they take it as a starting point that you cannot live richly if you are living in debt with no financial plans.

April Dykman is a new staff writer at Get Rich Slowly. And she never thought she would be able to make a living as a freelance writer. She had had this belief before she entered college. One of her professors reinforced that belief.

And for years she clung to that belief.

That belief became part of her personal narrative. Each of us keeps this personal narrative of who we are and what we can and cannot do. Many of these beliefs are locked away in our minds, invisible chains that restrict our realities.

Read through April’s article and ask yourself, what narratives are you carrying with you that are holding you back?

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I found a fortune cookie fortune in the pocket of a pair of trousers the other day as I was cleaning:

The two hardest things to handle in life are failure and success.

And then I saw this article through boston.com. I think that it is timely, especially with all the talk of fixing education swirling around. But I also thought this so important that it deserved its own discussion.

I fear that my generation has been too mollycoddled. We grew up during the age of self-esteem and the idea that hurt feelings were too much to bear. Self-esteem means nothing. Self-respect means everything and the only way to gain self-respect is to earn it.

Throughout my life I have been told that I am a gifted mind, that I can do whatever I set my mind to, and a lot of other things that I believe are platitudes. These were fed to me to encourage me. I don’t know whether they served their purpose.

When I was in college, I shared some of my poems with a professor I admired. He thought my works were utter drivel and told me so. Afterward I discussed the conversation with my adviser, thinking he would keep the conversation to himself, and let vent to my feelings.

I had been hurt and because I was not used to being told that I couldn’t do something. I gave up. My adviser tried to encourage me to think of this time as an apprenticeship.

But I had never been given the tools to handle failure.

So rather than think of this failure as a temporary setback, as an assessment of where I was on that day, I became a failed poet. There is a world of difference between being a beginner with a handful of failed poems and being a failed poet.

And perhaps if I had had experiences with failing prior to that, I would have been able to see the difference. Perhaps I could have picked myself up and begun to work again.

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The Humbling of Philip Roth

  • Darkness visible by Richard Eder, The Boston Globe via boston.com
  • Roth on Roth by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, The Wall Street Journal via online.wsj.com

As with John Irving, I am not familiar with the work of Philip Roth. And, again as with John Irving, after reading these two book reviews though I want to read Philip Roth as well.

The Humbling follows a down and out actor. The theme is the end of inspiration and the end of creativity. I don’t know Richard Eder’s taste in books but I can tell that The Humbling is not his cup of tea.

A great actor is suddenly unable to act; the misery and the humiliations to which this leads bring him to the verge of suicide. It is not the business of a review to be telling what happens. It is telling, though, that the reader rather wants him to go ahead with it.
–Richard Eder on The Humbling

Yet even that dismissive review entices me on. Philip Roth is considered one of our times’ greatest writers. I want to read the book for myself and see if I can detect Roth trying to convey the struggles of creativity after a life time.


5 Responses to “Weekly Review: October 30th to November 5th”
  1. Jessica says:

    Just a heads, the link at the top of the page to the subsection on The Humbling is broken.

    Matthew Koslowski Reply:

    Thank you very much for pointing out that the links were broken. I fixed them now.

  2. Jessica says:

    It’s never too late to start again and move from failed poet back to a beginning poet has failed but will learn from that and try again.

    Matthew Koslowski Reply:

    You’re right, Jessica. It is possible to dust myself off and begin again writing poems. Perhaps this is a self-defeating attitude but I do fear that at this point my poetry will never reach the pinnacles it may have reached if I had not stopped.

    Or, perhaps I could turn to Rilke, and think that I have been gathering sweetness that I may not have otherwise gathered if I had been focused on producing poems. I should go back and read an excerpt included in Stephen Mitchell’s volume of Rilke called Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke. Thank you.