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Showing posts from 2016

Truth, Enlightenment, and ... animality

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It's fashionable to say we are post-truth, but falsity and unreason have always lived alongside fact and inquiry -- and not just as their opposites. 
As folks like Nietzsche and Freud have shown, the capacity for truth and reason is often built out of processes of violence, rejection, and resentment. Anyone who has been to school understands this tension. So must anyone who has reckoned with the history of America, beacon both of slavery and of freedom, of both equality and of racism, that most arbitrary and ugly form of inequality.
We are, after all, not minds, but animals. Human animals operate largely outside of processes reason or even self-interest. These are late-arriving achievements, hard won and fragile. 
Yes, we can maintain ourselves in a space of reason; we are capable of operating purely economically, but anyone who has interacted with another human animal intimately knows that all of us also need spaces of irreason and even violence, where we can express our fear, o…

A Letter to a Parent After the Election

I'm publishing this with permission from the parent I sent it to, in the hope it might be helpful to parents and educators in divisive political times.

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Dear XXX,
First off, it's so good to hear from you! I had my eye out for you on Parents' Night as well, and I was sorry I didn't get a chance to at least say hello. I also just want to say that R appears to me to be thriving in all the right ways. We don't connect as often as we did last year, but she's a special one who I keep my eye out for. 
It's exactly students like R who I worry most about -- what will happen to their lovely innocence and naive goodness? An Egyptian friend of mine sent me a note after I sent him a picture of my little one in my arms last night. He said: "It starts from here, and we build outward."
To your email: I think that your instincts are right -- this is a human issue, not a political issue (though of course the two are always deeply connected.) It hits independe…

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Heat

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It's muggy here in Tennessee. You walk across the asphalt, and it shimmers, and you think you need a snorkel to breathe. It was hot in Dallas yesterday, too -- 97 degrees, and it had been that way all week.

Now there are these murders, which we've seen with our own eyes. And now there are these reactions to these murders. It makes me think of cloth, fabric, shrouds.

America right now is a dark, heavy blanket, and we are all crowded underneath, looking anxiously at each other, sweating, just trying to breathe. All this air we are breathing is filled with the breath of other people. It's like we're pulling for oxygen.

We are re-discovering a truth that is never lost completely, but is occasionally widely forgotten. The social cloth, like Penelope's burial shroud, is constantly woven and unwoven. At some moments we find ourselves wrapped too tightly together, and at other moments we grasp and clutch towards each other, coming away only with fists of threads and torn f…

Politics and Schools: on educating in a toxic atmosphere

We talk about the political climate as if it were not the very air of community. As social beings, we have no choice whether or not to participate in politics. In this deep sense, politics is not about voting; it's about the way in which our very presence trails along all sorts of political issues: our whiteness, our gender, our Americanness, our class, etc. Though we are individuals, we also always already (and sometimes unwittingly) represent groups. It is in this sense that politics is necessary. It names the fact that communities of people are forced to interact. This interaction of peoples is the air of community life, and we must breathe it, polluted or not.

The mark of politics today is that it is strangely both all-encompassing and difficult to internalize.  Let me see if I can explain. 
First, politics is everywhere. It's not just that it shows up on our twitter feeds or is constantly blaring on some screen at the peripheries of our vision. It's also that its mine…

More Thoughts on Anxious High School Students

School leaders and teachers across the country are seeing rates of teenage anxiety and depression skyrocket. The school where I work is not immune from these trends, and it's something that faculty and administrators alike are wrestling with -- and honestly without great answers. When we approach these problems, sometimes we forget to ask the question from the other side -- why is it that the very same experiences that used to prepare students for life now seem not to be effective anymore? Maybe it's not that we are creating more miseducational experience for students, but that something has happened that has made great education less effective.
In "Flow" by Csikszentmihalyi, he talks about a strange paradox in which people actually report undergoing more optimal experience at work than in leisure, but still do not like or identify with their work. 
He thinks that this is because of pernicious myths about the relationship between the modern worker and his job that unde…

A Runner's View of the Elliptical

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I haven't really told the story of my running over the last couple of years, and that's because there's no running story to tell. The story is of an achilles tendon on my right heel that over the course of 6 years and 15,000 or so miles of running and racing [and generally feeling FREE] through achilles tendonitis/tendinosis/bursitis/haglunds deformity (it felt alright after it warmed up, for the most part!), the achilles decided really that enough was enough. I couldn't run without limping, and when I ran, I got these sharp pains that felt like the tendon was tearing, one strand at a time. Which, turns out, it was.

I got an MRI. The Dx was rupture/necrosis/general death of achilles tendon over about 1.5 inches or so. Kind of like the achilles tendon equivalent of a frayed rope.

I had surgery. They cut out the necrotic inch-and-a-half and then took my flexor hallus longus (which apparently is not all that useful,  or at least much less useful than an achilles tendon, t…

On Trying to Be a Person: some thoughts after reading Knausgaard

A few quick notes after reading the first two volumes of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. 
Why it works: even though My Struggle is personal and autobiographical, it is not confessional. It's personal narrative without guilt or its close brother: aspiration. The other reason it works is that the writing is full of detail, description, not just of inner life, but also of objects and ideas and landscapes. Knausgaard gives us a full picture of experience. His writing is neither subjective nor objective; or maybe better put, Knausgaard's writing makes that distinction irrelevant. While the content of the book is personal: family life, adolescence, work, play, etc., these things are also universal to human experience. 
More than that, Knausgaard's resurrection of the person is also a crushing criticism of the way in which 21st century life has destroyed the personal as a source of meaning. It's done this in two ways: 1) through the culture of sameness, in which we learn…