Monday, October 25, 2010

Democracy Is Hard

As the midterm elections near and we find ourselves deafened by the noise of unending tea-baggery, it seems to me that a brief dose of Jacques Barzun, by way of a W. H. Auden review, may be salutary.

Democracy Is Hard
Of Human Freedom, by Jacques Barzun
Democracy, to maintain itself, must repeatedly conquer every cell and corner of the nation. How many of our public institutions and private businesses, our schools, hospitals, and domestic hearths are in reality little fascist states where freedom of speech is more rigorously excluded than vermin?

We undervalue the comforts of conscience and the power of ideas, while grossly overvaluing our brute strength. ...

In a democracy the great problem is less to educate everyone beyond his intelligence than to make the intelligent feel socially responsible. To think and act socially is not a form of charity to one's neighbors. It is a form of self-preservation.
I hope these extracts are enough to convey an idea of the grace and common sense of this book. ... I do not think that democracy can be sustained or defended unless one believes that pride, lying, and violence are mortal sins, and that their commission entails one's damnation.
With our current spectacle of Christine O'Donnell, Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and others saturating our national debate with intellectual, moral and linguistic atrocities, it is hard not to see the spread of "little fascist states" and feel the need to "make the intelligent feel socially responsible" once again. Certainly we have seen "mortal sins" aplenty perpetrated against our democracy this election season and I hope a little "self-preservation" may yet emerge.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Strip Mining the Mind

This is a lovely video of a lovely talk. Here's another equally lovely quote from Robinson:

Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Get a Job

via SlateHyper-libertarian Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel's appalling plan to pay students to quit college.

Thiel's latest crusade is his worst yet... The Thiel Fellowship will pay would-be entrepreneurs under 20 $100,000 in cash to drop out of school. In announcing the program, Thiel made clear his contempt for American universities which, like governments, he believes, cost more than they're worth and hinder what really matters in life, namely starting tech companies. His scholarships are meant as an escape hatch from these insufficiently capitalist institutions of higher learning.
I'm simply wondering if professors will be allowed to nominate students for these fellowships.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Money Trick

Somehow, I had never read The Great Money Trick before. A friend uses this as an in-class readers' theater for teaching Marx. I tried it out in my class yesterday as a prelude to reviewing for the midterm, and it worked great! The students enjoyed it, plus I had an excuse to feed them all pumpkin bread. I also learned that my students can't fake a good Cockney accent to save their souls. It was both pitiful and hilarious at the same time.

'As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks…'