Weekly Review: December 4th to December 10th

by Matthew Koslowski on December 11, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

This has been the first week that I’ve managed to keep to a form my dedication, made some weeks back, and worked on my Weekly Review several nights rather than just one. I am still overwhelmed by the streams of information that I am trying to swim in. I am learning to manage, though, and I think the quality of the Weekly Reviews is only going to increase in 2010.

These Things Caught My Eye

Food and Thought

We have all heard the adage, “You are what you eat.” But it turns out that is true not only in terms of body composition, but of mental and emotional composition as well.

What you eat impacts your mood. And while those cupcakes I had a lunch yesterday may have made me feel better then, if I continue to eat fatty foods, new research suggests that I’ll be much less happy than if I eat a healthier diet. And my brain will function better if I cut the fat.

In order to learn, our children need to eat. In order to learn well, our children need to eat well. I know that some mornings at work I am so hungry that I cannot do much other than think about food. And I remember that I really enjoyed the opportunity to get breakfast before class. Rather than banning children from eating at the beginning of a class, we should encourage them.

As if I needed another social justice cause, I think healthy school breakfasts and lunches just got added to the list.

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Of Great Interest

I had never encountered the poem “Evening Without Angels” by Wallace Stevens before reading the post above in The Happiness Project. Gretchen looked for the poem because she remembered the lines of the epigraph by Mario Rossi, that she had attributed to Stevens and his poem. While the poem is intriguing, I am more interested in the quote by Mario Rossi:

“…the great interests of man: air and light, the joy of having a body, the voluptuousness of looking.”

Great literature reminds us of “the joy of having a body”; great art reminds us of “the voluptuousness of looking”; and great music reminds us of “air and light.”

Great literature reminds us of “the joy of having a body” because poetry is a sensual experience for me. Poetry and great novels look to take experiences and ideals and make them tactile, make them real. Great literature gives us access to the interiority of another person, real or imagined, and lets us see the world from their eyes, if only for a minute. You could tell someone that having great riches will not, of itself, make him or her happy, or you could hand him or her a copy of “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

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Whose Great Books?

Once I picked up Harold Bloom’s book, The Western Canon, from the library. I didn’t read more than the first few pages of it and thumb through the list of great works in the appendix. At some point, I am sure that I will read his essays and consider in greater depth his lists.

That seems like a smart thing for a high school English teacher to do, right?

What I liked about Cynthia Crossen’s article was that she was humble. Whereas Harold Bloom wants to create the definitive list for all time, a very quaint and antiquated ideal, one that inspired the first encyclopedias but seems silly now, Cynthia Crossen wants us to read both good and bad books. She quotes Jane Smiley and I think it bears repeating here, as well:

…in order to understand the nature of the novel [as an artform], sometimes the reader has to read novels that don’t work for her and think about why they don’t work.

I do not think the writers that Harold Bloom canonizes are the exclusive holders of culture and excellence in the history of the world. I think about Chimamanda Adiche’s lecture, “The Danger of a Single Story” — which, if you haven’t watched, I encourage you to watch immediately — and how her first stories were about British and American characters because that is all she knew.

We need to include writers from many, if not all, cultures in our school curricula. We cannot use literature to learn about others if we do not read about others.

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Sticks and Stones

Greg Mortenson is not a man paying lipservice to the power of education. He is on the ground in dangerous parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan building schools. Tom Ashbrook interviews him and discusses his new book, Stones into Schools.

I have only just learned of Greg Mortenson and I am very interested in reading both of his books, Three Cups of Tea and his new one Stones into Schools. I like the summary of his work that I found in the New York Times review:

His great conviction, expressed to irresistibly inspiring effect in both books, is that the right kind of educational effort can bridge enormous gaps. Although he reiterates this point without describing exactly what the children in Central Asia Institute schools are taught, he is convinced that encouraging literacy is a way to promote trust and understanding.
–Janet Maslin

Right now, until I get into classrooms, I know that I believe in the power of education in an abstract way. I like to think that reading Mike Rose’s book Why School? and Jonathan Kozol’s books such as Letters to a Young Teacher bring me closer to that reality. Now, I’d like to see Greg Mortenson’s reality.

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“Innovative” Education

The title of Bob Herbert’s article, “In Search of Education Leaders” intrigued me. But the actual content of the article disappointed me.

Because Americans are falling behind in global standardized test scores, Harvard has decided to innovate in the field of education. For the first time in 75 years, Harvard University is going to offer a new degree: the Education Leadership Doctorate, or Ed.L.D. The stated hope is that students come out of this program ready to reform and reinvigorate the school systems.

Perhaps I am thoroughly jaded, but this sounds like a program that will churn out education consultants. The economic crisis happened because a large number of consultants were designing new financial instruments for the sake of being innovative. I am afraid that we are looking at a crisis in education.

The reform that we need is simple. We need to have small classrooms staffed by competent professionals. We need stable homes for students so that they have a place to study and work.

Simple is never easy.

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What is that beautiful building?

Since the middle of November, I’ve seen several stories about the Boston Athenaeum. I had not previously known that Boston had a somewhat secretive, private library in the heart of Beacon Hill. I imagine that I walked past it, not knowing what it was, when walking around Beacon Hill this summer at Community Boating.

The place sounds amazing. Yet another cultural institution that I want to join. Though, I think if I joined the Athenaeum, I might never be seen again. Heard from, yes, because they have WiFi, but only because of that.

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4 Responses to “Weekly Review: December 4th to December 10th”
  1. John Spencer says:

    I cringe when I read about innovation in education. It often means new policies and programs and companies with people who believe it will be their job to tell me how to teach. Meanwhile, real innovation happens at the classroom level and no one knows about it if the teacher doesn’t have great PR.

    Matthew Koslowski Reply:

    And, John, how can you be expected to innovate and target your teaching when you’ve got 30 or 40 students in your classroom? Do we really need these innovations? I read a great article on the Digital Divide, the growing space between our students who have computers and those who don’t, about which I’m going to write tomorrow’s blog post. Perhaps we need a new Plessy vs. Ferguson, focused on the idea that a new kind of digital “separate but equal” is not equitable. As I said in my review, the reform we need is smaller classrooms.

  2. Hi Matthew- I saw the nice mention of my blog, The Happiness Project, here. I very much appreciate those kind words and you shining a spotlight on my blog. Thanks and best wishes, Gretchen

  3. Matthew,

    Thanks for the mention on your blog — and we would love to welcome you as a member! Just give Karen Beach (beach@bostonathenaeum.org, 617-720-7641) a shout and she’ll get you set up.

    Cheers –

    Janice C. Thompson
    Director of Institutional Advancement