August 23, 2001
I'm tired of WIRED, my interest in Bust is sagging, and even COLORS fails to colour my world. But there's one magazine that continues to impress. That magazine is Harper's Magazine.
The "Fall 2001" issue is out and its theme on the cover "New Hope for American Education" is just in time for September's first school bell.
But inside the cover, I don't think "New Hope" is the real theme being played out. What I read as the running threat between all the pieces was "the unrealistic expectations of education". For as Lewis H. Lapham states in his editorial Notebook, "we assign the to education the powers that other societies award to religion... for the way out and the ticket home, offered as an answer to every mother's prayer.
Garret Keizer's essay "Why We Hate Teachers" was my favourite essay of the bunch. Not just because I think it's an insightful essay on the nation's mildhate-hate relationships with teachers but because Garret is beautifully honest. I like that he admits that he, a teacher of 15 years, "am rarely able to walk into any school without feeling something of the same duodenal ominousness that haunted my first days as a student."
"English 99" by Frank Gannon was short, funny and sad. Bittersweet funny.
"The Higher Yearning" by Cristina Nehring was strongest when the author is critical of the sexual harassment witch hunts in Academia. But the piece goes a little weird when she advocates that crushes between students and teachers are good because they make one more productive academically.
In "the Tenth Muse", Jacques Barzun tries to pin the critical difference between lowbrow popular culture and proper highbrow culture. Unsuccessfully.
And then there's the fourteen page Forum on education by four stakeholders (god, I hate that word.. and yet I used it... seemingly against my will...) The debate can make make the head spin but there's some good nuggets in there. Of note, one of the speakers is John Taylor Gatto - a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the year who is also author of such books, as Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher's Intimate Investigation into The Problem of Modern Schooling. He gives the impression that the only way to save formal education is to kill it.
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While the articles on education did get me thinking, it was the material in this month's "Readings" that really made my heart sink. The triple-punch of "A History of Bombing", "This is not a test", and the "Sunshine Problem" tells me more about this modern world than a year's worth of newspapers.