The Death of Men’s Jackets

The other day I found myself perusing the new Lands End catalog.  In a wonderful stroke of luck, I happen to receive a new version of this publication approximately every third or fourth day, all year long, so I was not particularly in the dark about current offerings.  But something did catch my eye, something on the suits page.  It was this: you could not order a men’s suit jacket.  Only suit pants.

This brought back a frustration I have had ever since I entered male adulthood: What a shame it is that men don’t get to wear jackets anymore.

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Critical . . . of What?

One question that has been percolating in my brain for a few years — and which yesterday’s blog post brought back to me — is a basic question:  What’s the difference between critical thinking and critical theory?

As I wrote yesterday, I believe that understanding critical theory is starting to seem incredibly important to understanding many of the forces at work in our culture, at least on the left.  This seems to me particularly important for those of us in education, where these same forces also seem to be at work, defining much of the forward-looking work in our field.

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Radical Pluralism

Last week’s New York Times had a fascinating profile of Robin DiAngelo.  Now that her work is so ubiquitous, it’s interesting to see some reviewers and readers giving her work much closer scrutiny. When I read her book “White Fragility” last year, I had not read many books in the critical theory tradition, so I was quite taken aback by some of the claims she made and new definitions she proposed. I thought some of her ideas were extremely promising and some deeply questionable. Yet it was difficult to find much substantive discussion of it online or in the press.

But just a year later, DiAngelo is in the news so much, we’re starting to see people writing about her and discussing her work more carefully.  This NYT profile was a good example: it’s pretty balanced, and a few times the author, Daniel Bergner, probes deeper to get at some of the more latent issues.  I thought there were some really interesting things to think about — particularly for those of us who work in schools.

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A Flat Profession

Here’s an interesting idea that was once sort of popular, but seems to have disappeared.  The way to pay teachers more is to break the teaching profession into different “levels.” I came across this idea just recently in John Goodlad’s 1984 classic, “A Place Called School.” Goodlad’s idea is to make teaching less of a “flat” profession — one in which a beginning teacher and an experienced one are roughly given the same responsibilities, and an enterprising teacher has no real prospects for professional advancement or real salary increase beyond leaving teaching and entering administration. 

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This winter, as I began reading more about the history of progressive education in the US, it seemed to me that some of the most interesting critics were the ones the textbook I was reading called “The Romantic Critics” (Herbert Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, et al.) because of their indebtedness to Romantic forefather Jean Jacques Rousseau.  I told myself then that I had to go back and revisit Rousseau’s seminal work on education, Emile.  When I saw this book on a list of the thirty best ed books, coming from a blogger and author whose opinion I respect, I ordered the book.

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The Criticisms of Free Speech

This has been an incredible time for free speech debate in the United States.  Like all true free speech advocates, I love it when people air divergent views — even about the importance of free speech itself.  I say this because, deep down, I continue to feel optimistic about our ability to arrive at truth through reason and argumentation.  I really do believe in the notion that through a clash of viewpoints in the marketplace of ideas comes the closest thing we can get to truth and consensus.

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The last month has seen unprecedented social activism and debate that cuts to the very core of who we are as a country.  While much of the advocacy has focused on police reform or political reform, some, inevitably, has focused on educational reform.  

In fact — a fun side note — the NBA is allowing its players to choose various social justice slogans to put on their jerseys this year.  Examples include, Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; or Freedom.

One of the choices is “Education Reform.” 

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New Pens

The other day, I bought my first pen.  I have purchased pens plenty of times, but never bought a specific pen as a deliberate act.  I have always chosen my pens rather thoughtlessly — taken whatever was cheap and generic, or accepted whatever was handed to me by the woman who handles the supply closet where I work.

I did, back in 2015, start asking for green instead of red pens.  As an English teacher marking up student essays, I worried that red was too harsh. Green was more forgiving, more humane.  Did it change the way I graded?  Did I become more “green” than “red,” more compassionate, less inclined to slash or stab at tangles of verbiage, leaving a trail of blood?  Perhaps I did.  Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

It’s always a self-fulfilling prophesy, right?

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Are Teachers “Experts”?

Since the COVID-19 school dismissal, or really going back through this spring, I’ve been on an ed reading tear.  Since I no longer have access to the library (or, even worse, my university library), my newest pleasure has been ordering old or obscure ed books for increasingly low and improbable sums of money.  Robert Welker’s book, The Teacher as Expert: A Theoretical and Historical Examination, I think I picked up for something like $2.58.

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