[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly June/July 2022:Education, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on an image may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]
[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for photos. My edits/summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]
My best friend said that the solution to this or that problem, large or small, was EDUCATION! Do you agree?
The issue concludes with several ‘full length’ contemporary essays.
Michael D. Hattem expounds on the trends in American education through our history since the American Revolution, from private schools for the wealthy elite men, to public schools systems, from conservatism to social progressivism, from patriotism to improving on the past.
“The dynamic between conservatives’ celebratory patriotism and liberal progressives’ activist criticism helped lay a foundation for the many conflicts over education, history, and patriotism that followed.” (P. 185)
Did patriotism overshadow the facts?
“Worshipping at the altar of the founding fathers, near-mythological heroes of a previous age, suited religious sensibilities and amplified the power of that history. To challenge that history, then, was to challenge many people’s sense of civic meaning and national purpose.” (P. 186)
“Since the early twentieth century, conservative celebratory patriotism has been defined by a triumphal understanding of history. That triumphalism helped give rise to and reinforce post–World War II notions of American exceptionalism, and the Cold War helped push patriotism in the United States closer to chauvinistic nationalism. Embedded in that understanding of patriotism is a sense that the past is unchanging and primarily a source of positive lessons to be learned.”
“Liberal critical patriotism holds that contingency should be seized as an opportunity for change, and the past is something that the present can improve upon. It rejects any type of overarching triumphalism. In a sense, it understands the past as a call to action. The practice of academic history implicitly treated history as constantly subject to revision. It created a fissure in American culture over the proper relationships between past and present, between the nation and its history, and between those committed to the practice of history as an ongoing excavation of the past and those determined to use history in explicitly patriotic education.” (P. 187)
Me-thinks the essay author doth think, and protest, too much, but what should and should not be taught reflects the polarization of attitudes today. It seems to be an ongoing controversy in schools and not likely to resolve soon. Critical Race Theory, ‘woke ideology’. SHAME on Columbus for discovering the New World. If he hadn’t done it, Fred Smith, or someone else, would have. Their conduct back then, alien to us now, we can only view with hindsight, but we can’t deny it happened. It’s unfortunate that, in today’s ultra-modern/scientific/technological world, we can’t seem to agree on the facts.
The essay SCHOOLBOY, WHERE ARE YOU GOING? by Moudhy Al-Rashid is a light, non-political, fascinating dive into clay tablet education with cuneiform in Nippur, Mesopotamia, some 4,000 years ago. You might enjoy this when L.Q. finally publishes this issue and makes the essay available free online.
Students of the time copied text onto soft clay tablets, which could be dampened and smeared clean for reuse, the original Etch-A-Sketch perhaps. Sometimes fingerprints, and even a bite mark, from a frustrated student maybe, were left behind. The clay eventually hardened and was well-preserved until discovered in archeological sites, providing a treasure trove of writing. Of course this sent me off on another Wikipedia jaunt to cuneiform, Nippur, Sumerian, Akkadian, and more. Very ancient history.
“Clay tablets from ancient Babylonian schools immortalize more than what students had to learn and how they learned it. They leave behind traces of the students themselves, including sometimes even their names, as in the case of the female scribe Belti-reminni, and hint at what their lives at school might have looked like. The texts that students copied at school were not meant for posterity, even though they have survived in such quantities and detail that it sometimes feels as though they were deliberately left behind for future students seeking to piece together the stories of their ancient counterparts.” (P. 193)
Ahh, in A Speculative Endeavor by Eleni Schirmer, a”research associate at UCLA’s Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and an organizer with the Debt Collective” (?!?!), she absolutely nails just what our education system is hugely obsessed with:
“Higher education in the United States is a speculative endeavor. It offers a means of inching toward something that does not quite exist but that we very badly want to realize— enlightenment, higher wages, national security. For individuals, it provides the lure of upward mobility, an illusion of escape from the lowest rungs of the labor market. For the federal government, it has charted a kind of statecraft, outlining its core commitments to military strength and economic growth, all the while absolving the state of the responsibility for ensuring that all its subjects have dignified means to live. We are told the path to decent wages and social respect must route through college.
The metric of higher education is credit; it runs on the belief of future value amid present uncertainty. This has readily lent to the industry’s financialization, the elaborate ways of using money to make more money rather than to produce goods and services. (P. 194-195)
“Rising tuition and reduced public investment have created an ever-worsening student-debt crisis in the United States today, but students and families have struggled to pay for college since the nation’s founding.” (P. 195)
The bulk of Ms. Schirmer’s essay addresses education debt, both student and institutional. It’s no secret that it’s massive. Should we have, or have had, subsidy of tuition instead of subsidy of debt. She expounds thoroughly.
Of course, we MUST have a college education to ‘succeed’. I repeat John Ruskin from my Pt. 1:
“I am always struck by the precedence which the idea of a “position in life” takes above all other thoughts in the parents’—more especially in the mothers’—minds. “The education befitting such and such a station in life”—this is the phrase, this the object, always. They never seek, as far as I can make out, an education good in itself; even the conception of abstract rightness in training rarely seems reached by the writers. But an education “which shall keep a good coat on my son’s back;—which shall enable him to ring with confidence the visitors’ bell at double-belled doors; which shall result ultimately in establishment of a double-belled door to his own house;—in a word, which shall lead to ‘advancement in life’;—this we pray for on bent knees—and this is all we pray for.” It never seems to occur to the parents that there may be an education which, in itself, is advancement in life…” (From Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin.)
Contrary to Norman Douglas’ blueprint for education in Pt. 3 (‘…two years in a commercial house, two years in some wilder part of the world, two years should be spent in the great towns of Europe, then to university…’), we push our children through ‘college prep’ in high school and then ship them off to college. Thus we see tens of thousands screaming young intellectuals expressing learned ideas at the top of their lungs at school football games, or chugging beer on the beach at spring break. I know, they’re essentially just children and ‘entitled’ to let off a little steam. But I digress. Of course ‘I’ was not like that. I didn’t care for football that much.
Misdirectives, by Ian Altman, is a frank look at undocumented children in school, and their difficulties in pursuing an education as a result. He segues into a discussion about learning ‘instructions’ versus learning to ‘think’, and Core Standards dictated from above. This, too, is a worthwhile essay when they become available free online.
“It should not be surprising that students often view school with wariness. We don’t give them enough credit: they know something is missing even if they can’t fully articulate it. They need a reason to learn that is not extrinsic, not merely tied to employability and being a productive citizen and reliable consumer. Most of them suspect that those qualities are not enough to make them good people. So I return to the Enlightenment principle that it is always better to know than not to know, tempered by the Socratic wisdom of being self-aware enough to know of our own ignorance.” (P. 209)
This issue concludes with Conversations, Miscellany, and Glossary. There is a very brief speech exert from billionaire-family and former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who to her credit resigned the day after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol with the statement, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation.”.
“At the end of the day, we want parents to have the freedom, the choices, and the funds to make the best decisions for their children.” (P. 210)
Will this issue be printed, and the next issue, reportedly to be about FREEDOM? Will Lapham’s Quarterly fold into the archives and dust bin of history? We shall see.
You have been kind to read this. Thank you.
The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.