Do We Still Want the West? – WSJ

There was a time when the West knew what it was about. It did so because it thought about itself—often in freshman Western Civ classes. It understood that its moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome. It treated with reverence concepts of reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility, whose contradictions it learned to harmonize and harness over time. It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and in the superiority of its political ideals. It was not ashamed of its prosperity. If it was arrogant and sinful, as all civilizations are, it also had a tradition of remorse and doubt to temper its edges and broaden its horizons. It cultivated the virtue of skepticism while avoiding the temptation of cynicism.

Source: Bret Stephens, Do We Still Want the West? – WSJ

What Kids Are Reading, In School And Out : Monkey See : NPR

Last year, for the first time, Renaissance did a separate study to find out what books were being assigned to high school students. “The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read,” Stickney says, “has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.”

Most of the assigned books are novels, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men or Animal Farm. Students even read recent works like The Help and The Notebook. But in 1989, high school students were being assigned works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Bronte and Edith Wharton.Now, with the exception of Shakespeare, most classics have dropped off the list.

Source: Lynn Neary, What Kids Are Reading, In School And Out : Monkey See : NPR

Shakespeare’s Montaigne review – philosophy as the bard read it | Books | The Guardian

“I utterly condemn all manner of violence in the education of a young spirit, brought up to honour and liberty. There is a kind of slavishness in churlish rigour and servility in compulsion, and I hold that that which cannot be compassed by reason, wisdom and discretion, can never be attained by force and constraint … I have seen no other effects in rods but to make children’s minds more remiss or more maliciously headstrong.”

Michel de Montaigne, via Shakespeare’s Montaigne review – philosophy as the bard read it | Books | The Guardian.

Everything you need to know about Common Core — Ravitch

The Common Core standards were written in 2009 under the aegis of several D.C.-based organizations: the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve. The development process was led behind closed doors by a small organization called Student Achievement Partners, headed by David Coleman. The writing group of 27 contained few educators, but a significant number of representatives of the testing industry. From the outset, the Common Core standards were marked by the absence of public participation, transparency, or educator participation. In a democracy, transparency is crucial, because transparency and openness builds trust. Those crucial ingredients were lacking.

via Diane Ravitch,  Everything you need to know about Common Core — Ravitch.

Ave atque vale by Donald Kagan – The New Criterion

Because of the cultural vacuum in their earlier education and because of the informal education they receive from the communications media, which both shape and reflect the larger society, today’s liberal arts students come to college, it seems to me, bearing a sort of relativism verging on nihilism, a kind of individualism that is really isolation from community. The education they receive in college these days, I believe, is more likely to reinforce this condition than to change it. In this way, too, it fails in its liberating function, in its responsibility to shape free men and women. Earlier generations who came to college with traditional beliefs rooted in the past had them challenged by hard questioning and the requirement to consider alternatives and were thereby unnerved, and thereby liberated, by the need to make reasoned choices. The students of today and tomorrow deserve the same opportunity. They, too, must be freed from the tyranny that comes from the accident of being born at a particular time in a particular place, but that liberation can only come from a return to the belief that we may have something to learn from the past. The challenge to the relativism, nihilism, and privatism of the present can best be presented by a careful and respectful examination of earlier ideas, ideas that have not been rejected by the current generation but are simply unknown to them. When they have been allowed to consider the alternatives, they, too, can enjoy the freedom of making an informed and reasoned choice.

via Ave atque vale by Donald Kagan – The New Criterion.

A Day at an Elementary School with a Cognitive Psychologist | Cedar’s Digest

First, I am pretty confident that school has gotten better in the past twenty to thirty years. This is probably not universal, but I would guess that if we were good enough at collecting the data, it would be similar to climate change. The weather in one place may not get hotter year to year, but overall, things are definitely changing, and changing in certain direction. There are certain pedagogical practices and overall principles which have reached consensus now, and are positive improvements. I believe that the way children are taught to read (to decode) and to do mathematics overall has improved. The emphasis placed on literacy and on developing a love of reading very early in school has improved. The way young children are treated has improved. To clarify, I mean this in the value-neutral sense that we understand more about how younger minds work, and how children are motivated, and how this is applied to classroom practice. Although the evidence in limited (unlike the clear man-made influence on climate) and there may be some doubt whether these changes are “school-made” or “home-made,” there are measurements which have documented improvement in overall academic achievement.

via A Day at an Elementary School with a Cognitive Psychologist | Cedar’s Digest.

As for education in the sense of a discipline or a field of research, Barzun remarked in Teacher in America that doctorates in it “cover such a wide range of indefinite subject matter that they have been repeatedly and deservedly ridiculed.” His opinion did not improve over time. The remarkable thing, he goes on to say, is that “in the midst of the vacuum certain fine minds have been able to survive, to think, and to make their mark in a most useful fashion as trainers and inspirers of teachers. Whether they are happy in their invidious and Ovidian exile, I shall not undertake to say.

Scott McLemee, Essay on Jacques Barzun (1907-2012) | Inside Higher Ed