If, as Michael Bérubé suggested today in his Chronicle of Higher Education article “The Humanities, Unraveled,” the situation in the humanities is “a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels,” then stitching in any one area just may save the garment as a whole.
On Saturday, January 19, 2013, I joined administrators, staff and members of the Penn State Board of Trustees for the Blue and White Vision Council Seminar at the Nittany Lion Inn. The goal of the seminar was to provide the Blue and White Vision Council a broad perspective to develop a strategic direction for teaching and technology at Penn State.
The seminar included two morning lectures, one by Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director of Innosight Institute, the other by Clay Shirky, Partner for Technology and Product Strategy at the Accelerator Group. Horn highlighted a white paper on Disrupting College in which he established an analogy between the demise of the steel industry and the current crisis in Higher Education. Shirky, on the other hand, offered a different analogy, suggesting that MOOCs unbundle courses from curricula in the way Napster and iTunes unbundled songs from albums. The suggestion in both analogies was that Higher Education is an enterprise ripe for disruptive transformation that would likely lead to the demise of many universities unable to respond effectively to the revolution in technology we are experiencing.
The afternoon was focused more on the innovations we at Penn State have already undertaken with the growth and expansion of the World Campus and the integration of strategies of teaching with technology into our residence curriculum.
The day was full and I continue to reflect upon it, but I left with an unsettled feeling that the heart of Penn State was somehow missing from the discussion. That feeling was surely rooted in the absence of the voice of faculty in general, and our research faculty in particular. The seminar focused on teaching and technology, so it would have made sense for our faculty to have been more centrally included. They were, with a few exceptions, largely absent.
This absence signals something of deeper concern, for it suggests that there may be a failure to appreciate the deep connection between scholarly research and teaching.
As I have argued previously, the most effective way for Penn State to defend and strengthen its position in Higher Education is through the research mission that has long sustained and enriched the education we offer students. Only by infusing rigorous academic scholarship into all aspects of the educational endeavor–from general education at the undergraduate level, to our online offerings on the World Campus, to our professional and academic graduate programs–will we be able to offer a more compelling and transformative education than those who seek to deliver courses more efficiently and inexpensively.
To be sure, rigorous scholarship will mean different things in each of these contexts, but the education we deliver in the future will be neither competitive nor compelling unless we empower our research faculty to infuse rigorous scholarship into all levels of the curriculum and to inspire a new generation of students to take up and appreciate the research endeavor in which knowledge is not merely passed down, but discovered.
This is not, of course, to say that we ought not be innovative, or that we ought to reject opportunities to improve efficiencies and cut costs. Nor is it to deny the economic challenges facing our educational enterprise.
But our innovation must be fueled by rigorous academic research, our curriculum made relevant and compelling by engaged and engaging public scholarship, and our attempts to reach out beyond the physical campuses of the university ought to be animated by a vision of education rooted in a commitment to the transformative power of academic research.
If Saturday was designed in part to articulate for the Board a vision of the future of education at Penn State, I fear they may have left without a deep understanding of what ought to drive that future: excellent academic scholarship.
Today is Mack Brady’s birthday; he would have turned 9.
His father has recently written eloquently, even in his grief, about the theological questions the senseless death of a young boy raises. For him, it is not a question of God’s punishing anyone or of some grand divine plan, but of “the broken nature of the world.”
This W. H. Auden poem captures that brokenness; so I offer it here in memory of a birthday that should have been welcomed by the palpable excitement of an energetic little boy ready to enter into his ninth year of life.
W.H. Auden, via http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/auden.stop.html
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
When the Collegian asked me to comment on the scholarship established in honor of Mack Brady for the article they published today, they could not integrate all I had written.
This is what I wrote:
When you look at the striking photographs Chris Brady took of Mack and his entire family, you see a glimpse of the beautiful life that was lost, and of the love that endures.
The entire Penn State community mourns with Chris and Elizabeth and Izzy.
The soccer scholarship they have established will be a tribute to the energy, skill and passionate dreams of a wondrous little boy, and a lasting testimony to the enduring love our community feels for him and the Brady family.
* * *
Tonight marks the one week anniversary of Mack’s death. Here are a few images by which to remember the love that endures:
Even as I press to finish an article on dogs and wolves in Plato’s Republic for a volume entitled “Plato’s Animals” edited by Michael Naas, it is worth returning for a moment to our ongoing discussion of digitally enhanced research.
When I first wrote about my attempts to close the digital research circle in 2010, I had just relinquished EndNote in favor of Zotero for its superior ability to share and organize references. At the time, Zotero was still a plugin for Firefox and lacked a number of features I needed to facilitate my research – features like the digital reading, annotating and organizing pdf files. Those limitations led me to Mendeley, which I still value for collaborative annotations and research.
However, with three developments in Zotero, I have returned to it with renewed commitment. One reason for this commitment has less to do with features and more with the underlying open source philosophy of the product’s development. Zotero was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for New Media, a leader in digital humanities scholarship and a strong advocate for open collaborative research.
Although I am committed to their values of collaboration and openness, without the functionality I need, I would not have been able to return fully to Zotero. Let me mention the three developments that have made Zotero central again to my digital scholarship.
First, no longer simply a plug-in for Firefox, Zotero is a stand alone product that works across browsers. I rely mostly on Chrome these days, and the stand alone version works beautifully with the Chrome extension.
Second, I have adopted Zotfile to facilitate the simple organization of my pdf files. Zotfile effectively turns Zotero into as powerful a pdf file organizer as Mendeley. It enables you to quickly pull references from online databases and across the web directly into your Zotero collections. (Don’t sync using Dropbox; rather use the native Zotero syncing service to avoid generating duplicates.) Zotfile also facilitates the simple renaming of all files based on the metadata in your reference collections. With Zotfile, Zotero pulls articles from library databases even more easily and efficiently than Sente, which excels in that area.
Third, and most importantly from my perspective, is the development of ZotPad, the iPad application for Zotero. Although it still lacks note taking functionality (under development), it brings all your documents from your collections to your iPad and allows you to use your preferred annotating program to edit, annotate and update the pdf files in your Zotero collections. Because it does not download all your files at once, it works much more efficiently than the Mendeley iPad app, which has languished since its early appearance. I use GoodReader for annotating, and love the ability to annotate files, return them to ZotPad and find them updated in my Zotero library when I return to a computer.
These recent developments have brought me much closer to my goal of closing the digital research circle. They have certainly made my digital research much more efficient; allowing me even to take a moment to write a post about it before returning, as now I must, to my work on wolves and dogs in Plato’s Republic.
As the debate over Massively Open Online Courses, also known by their unfortunate acronym: MOOC, rages on, I thought I would begin by curating a few articles here:
The impetus for this little Diigo collection is the recent appearance of two articles, one skeptical of MOOCs, the other more sanguine about their transformative power.
In their December 17, 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “For Whom Is College Being Reinvented?,” Scott Carlson and Goldie Blumenstyk gather the skeptical voices who insist, as Peter Stokes of Northeastern University, puts it:
“The whole MOOC thing is mass psychosis,” a case of people “just throwing spaghetti against the wall” to see what sticks…
Of course, if the MOOC is psychosis, it is born of a deeper pathology; for as Robert Archibald of the College of William and Mary is quoted there as saying:
“At most institutions, students are in mostly large classes, listening to second-rate lecturers, with very little meaningful faculty student interaction. …Students are getting a fairly distant education even in a face-to-face setting.”
It is a response to this deeper pathology of contemporary Higher Education that seems to be at the root of Clay Shirky’s analogy between the MOOC and the MP3 file format.
Shirky’s Higher Education: Our MP3 is the MOOC is the second article to which I’d like to point as a way to begin thinking through the implications of the MOOC for higher education. Shirky’s argument is based on this analogy:
mp3 : album : music industry :: MOOC : curriculum : higher education
Just as the mp3 file format, by making music accessible and sharing simple, unbundled individual songs from albums and transformed the music industry, so too will the MOOC, by making education accessible and massively open, unbundle courses from curricula and transform higher education.
Shirky presses the analogy further: just as the mp3 unbundled individual songs from the albums the record companies forced us to purchase, so too will the MOOC unbundle specific courses from the degrees for which institutions of higher education force students into debt.
Shirky emphasizes that the promise of MOOCs is that “the educational parts of education can be unbundled.”
But that, of course, is a packed suggestion itself not so easily unbundled. For there is a difference between taking a course or series of them and being educated.
Just as one swallow does not make a spring (Aristotle, Nic. Ethics, 1098a19), neither does a course divorced from a course of study make an education. The educational parts of education cannot be unbundled like a single from an album, for the education is both in the curriculum and the manner in which that curriculum is delivered.
The challenge the MOOC posses to institutions of higher education is that they will force us to re-imagine the curriculum into which we have placed our individual courses. And institutions of higher education have not historically been particularly nimble when it comes to creating and implementing innovative curricula responsive to new forms of literacy and public communication.
If our courses are not to be unbundled from the curriculum without perverting the education they together offer, then we in higher education will need to articulate and develop new, more coherent, well crafted, and, yes, even efficient curricula capable of enriching student lives and preparing them in a relevant way for a world in which many will have been taught, but fewer well educated.
Words do things. What they do, depends on the manner in which they are said, written and received.
What they did, and failed to do, last night is something that requires some reflection.
That is the purpose of this post on my visit to the Catholic University of America to deliver a keynote address to the 2012 freshman class.
When I was invited, I was encouraged to do something innovative and unconventional with technology, so I invited students to use twitter to participate in a shared experience designed to perform the central idea for which I advocated in the lecture:
The real value of a liberal arts education is political because it teaches us how to speak, act and respond to one another in ways that enable us, if we are willing and graceful enough, to create enriching public communities that are the conditions under which a fulfilling human life is possible.
The lecture was designed as a performance in which students would be empowered to actively and publicly engage with the question of the liberal arts and politics so that we might directly experience our shared ability (and inability) to create an enriching public space of community and communication.
The lecture was designed on three levels.
First, the written text was rather traditional. It was organized around Athena’s encounter with the Furies in Aeschylus’s Eumenides. I argued that the story illustrated how our ability to imagine our way into the position of others, particularly those with whom we disagree, is the central virtue of a liberal arts education and the key to establishing healthy and flourishing communities.
Second, I used Keynote to create slides with images and quotations that supported and augmented the points the written text made. These slides were not merely designed to reinforce the written text, but were themselves meant to add value to the lecture by exposing students to a rich history of artwork and imagery about Athena, the Furies, and the judgment of Orestes.
Third, through my keynote slides, I was able to live tweet my own lecture: when a slide appeared, I had pre-written a tweet to go with it. These tweets, like the slides themselves, were designed to add another layer of meaning and texture to the lecture.
To give you a sense of how the images and the tweets were designed, I created a specific Storify just with my tweets and some of the artwork included in the lecture.
A Good Plan and a Calculated Audible
Because I had experience using twitter in front of a large audience of first year students at Penn State that deteriorated quickly once students realized they could tweet snarky comments to a screen that everyone would immediately see, I knew I would need a way to moderate the tweets before they appeared on screen. We used the #cuafye hashtag (Catholic University of America, First Year Experience) to curate the tweets, but we needed a way to filter out those that were immature, overly snarky or otherwise impoverishing of the community we wanted to cultivate.
The plan was to have Taylor Fayle use the @MyCUA_FYE twitter account to retweet only those tweets he felt added value to the conversation. The idea was not to censor students–they would still be able to see anything posted to the #cuafye hashtag on their personal devices. Rather, we wanted to add a layer of review to ensure the level of the conversation reinforced the points the lecture articulated.
We thought we had it worked out too, but about 20 minutes before we started, we realized that the way it was set up would not update and scroll quickly enough to accommodate the tweets we were by then already receiving.
So I called an audible and told Todd to allow the raw hashtag feed to run, knowing full well that the dynamics of the entire lecture would thereby be altered.
It was … and not for the better.
And yet, strangely enough, I think the shared experience was educationally richer, if intellectually and emotionally more taxing.
Here is the Storify of the event with tweets from the students to give you a sense of what happened.
But this doesn’t really capture what was happening in the room. That is partly because students went back and deleted some of the more vulgar and disrespectful tweets (about Penn State, Sandusky, and other immature rudeness). But it is also because the twitter feed did not capture the overwhelming sense of respect and maturity I felt from a majority of students in the room itself. That respect and maturity was felt more palpably in the question and answer period, when we had the chance to reflect upon what we had together experienced.
What we experienced, however, was a failure to use words to create an enriching community. The twitter stream deteriorated quickly into immature snark, and students were not able to pull themselves out of that cycle of immaturity, despite some valiant attempts by some to convince their colleagues to imagine their way into another possibility.
Now, for my part, I knew exactly what was happening, though I could not follow all the posts as they were coming so quickly and I was, after all, trying to speak and tweet my lecture. Still, by calming the students down at specific points, speaking extemporaneously to refocus their attention and by emphasizing the things I had written into the text to invite their generosity and grace, we were able to proceed … for a while.
Then someone of the faculty decided the twitter feed needed to be shut down.
When it was, you could feel the frustration of the students, but you could also feel their attention turned more fully to me, and I was able to finish the lecture in a much more traditional way – with more passively receptive students for the words I was articulating. Of course, students still had access to the live stream on their devices, but not having the feed up on the “big screen” robbed them of a shared experience and thus diminished the allure of the snarky tweet.
The most rewarding aspect of the lecture for me was the question and answer period, because we were able to reflect together on the experience we’d just had. A central point of the lecture was that a well cultivated ethical imagination is required if an enriching community is to be created.
What we experienced, among other things, was a collective failure of ethical imagination. But it is not only that the students failed to imagine their way into the position of a visitor who had travelled a distance to speak with them and who had put a lot of thought and energy into the design of an interactive lecture. Rather, more fundamentally, we failed together to imagine another possibility for ourselves as a community.
Perhaps once I called the audible to allow the raw feed to roll, the die was cast and we were destined to descend to the shallowest expressions of ourselves.
But even so, there was something redemptive about that failure and the opportunity we had to reflect upon it together afterwards. During the question and answer period, we tried to come to terms with what we had experienced: was it right to have the feed pulled? Did that go against the very points I was trying not simply to argue, but also to perform? Were the students treated fairly by requiring that they attend a lecture in which they would be expected to participate freely and in good faith?
And what about the content of the lecture itself? There were excellent questions in this regard; questions that demonstrated without a doubt that many students were not too distracted by the experience to understand at a deep level what I was trying to accomplish.
One does not often have the privilege to reflect so candidly and insightfully with one’s audience about the very dynamics that emerged between us during the performance of the lecture itself … perhaps that elusive, more enriching community began to take root during those shared reflections reflections at the end. Perhaps those roots are continuing to grow as faculty teach into the experience in their classes.
Here, in fact, is an example of what can happen when faculty do just that:
As I think further about it, and as I continue to engage in ongoing conversations with students via twitter about what we experienced, I have come to recognize that the performance of the lecture itself had all the beauty, and all the ugliness, all the hopefulness, and all the disappointment, all the complexity and nuance and texture of all our attempts to enter into public communication with one another in order to establish a more fulfilling community together.
Words do things; and what they are capable of doing depends on our capacity to imagine an enriching life for ourselves and our ability to put that shared vision into words.
An education in the liberal arts is schooling in the beautiful life.
As we pulled into our driveway after running errands preparing for her Monster High birthday party, DancinGirl, who was generally excited about the day, announced that she has been thinking a lot, recently, about death.
“I wonder what happens after we die,” she says. “I don’t want to be stuck in the ground in a graveyard the whole time.”
At such moments of truth, I consider very carefully my response – I don’t want my anxieties to eclipse her genuine attempts to come to terms with her own finitude.
Val and I look at one another, we’ve been here before: both ArtGirl and DancinGirl consider the question of death on a regular basis. In fact, just last year, ArtGirl, gave a beautiful account of how difficult it is to live with unanswerable questions.
We offer an agnostic response, affirming how difficult it is to live with the knowledge that we really just don’t know what happens when we die.
DancinGirl knows what she wants though: “I just want to keep on being as I am.”
I want that for her too and for her sister, because there are no two beings more beautiful in their being than these two quickly growing little girls.
So on her seventh birthday, my wish for DancinGirl, and for Val and ArtGirl and myself, is that she keep on being as she is and that she continue sharing her beautiful self with us as long as we are here together.
Happy seventh birthday, DancinGirl.
Today, the girls and I, along with my colleague, Dan Letwin, and his son, Nick, took to the local streets to canvass for Barack Obama as we did four years ago.
A lot has changed in four years, particularly with the kids, as the pictures posted here attest.
Changed too is the sense of possibility we had four years ago when we really didn’t know if it was even reasonable to think that America might elect an African American President.
Even then, however, I was trying to live a kind of critical optimism that would enable us, in what still remains “a dangerously adolescent country (Baldwin),” to cultivate a sense of our own limits and to nurture more just relationships with one another.
Today, I took to the Pennsylvania streets for Barack Obama despite what I believe to be his very significant failures to move our understanding of justice from one based on retribution and violence to one oriented by a deep sense of how our lives are woven intimately into the lives of others and the well-being of the world in which we together live. Retributive justice is, of course, no justice at all; rather, justice is rooted in our abilities to respond to others, however different they may be, in ways that move us toward a mutually more fulfilling life.
The rhetoric of retribution in the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the unrepentant use of drone strikes are two of the ways this administration, like the last, perpetuates a cycle of violence that is destructive of any possibility of peace. Even at this late date in human history, when retribution has proven itself unable to perpetuate anything other than perpetual violence, we humans remain addicted to the short lived satisfaction it offers, no matter how many times we experience the pain it will inevitably return to us.
And yet, despite all of that, I nevertheless took to the streets to canvas for Obama with my kids and my colleague because Barack Obama still articulates a compelling vision of what is possible for America, even if America – and perhaps Obama himself – is not fully prepared to live up to the ideals set forth.
I will settle, for now, for a President who recognizes the need for us to take care of one another, who understands the destructive impact our human economy is having on the earth’s ecology, and who has shown himself capable of moving difficult legislation through a recalcitrant and dysfunctional political system.
So today, just like four years ago, we set out to knock on doors for Obama; and today, as then, I found myself at once saddened and heartened. I was saddened by the man who, learning that we were there for Obama, shut his door in the face of three little kids and their somewhat taken aback fathers. That act of rudeness did not rise to the comic level that my argument with the libertarians did four years ago, but still, it demonstrated a lack of civility that has become all too common a part of our civic culture.
I was heartened, however, as I was four years ago, by the few we seemed to convince, and by the woman who was herself so pleased to welcome the six of us onto her front porch, where she listened to these two middle aged fathers still idealistic enough to believe knocking on a few doors could make a difference, and to their three excited kids willing to believe it would too.
On Thursday, October 25th, at 4:30 PDT, I will read a paper entitled, Plato and the Politics of Reading at the University of San Francisco. One of the main points of the paper is that reading is fundamentally a collaborative endeavor.
Traditionally, when one delivers a paper in the discipline of philosophy, one simply reads, that is, one “lectures” (from the Latin legere, to read). But it would be ironic to read a paper on the collaborative nature of reading without inviting those listening to become actively engaged in the reading.
So, I intend to invite those attending the lecture and anyone following along on twitter, to join in an ongoing discussion of the lecture during the lecture itself.
The idea is not only to talk about collaborative reading, but to perform it as well.
Now, there are certain influential voices in the discipline who say anyone who tweets a lecture on philosophy should be ejected from the lecture post-haste, so I surmise that my attempt to use twitter to enrich and expand the reach of the philosophical ideas I am presenting will meet with more than a little skepticism, if not dismissive derision. There is, however, at the root of this skepticism the valid concern that a technology like twitter is unable to offer anything more than a truncated, impoverished and fragmented account of the lecture’s content.
Given that the skepticism is not unfounded, let me articulate how I intend to use twitter and, through it, other digital technologies to address each concern in turn.
From Truncated to Extended
Anyone who actually uses twitter knows that its 140-character constraint forces each tweet to extend somehow beyond itself. This occurs most effectively by means of shortened links to more substantive resources.
In order to point my listeners to those resources, I have set up the Keynote presentation I will use during the reading of my paper to tweet for me. For those of you interested in how, precisely, one might do that, take a look at this video:
So, during the lecture, I will have populated certain Keynote slides with tweets that will extend the discussion in at least three ways:
- I will post phrases and formulations I think are important for the listeners in the room and beyond to reflect upon and remember. This will allow them to favorite the tweets to return to them later or to retweet them in order extend the discussion to their followers.
- I will link to references to important secondary sources to which I appeal during the lecture so listeners can follow up on specific passages I discuss in more detail.
- I will tweet links to my own published work on the nature of Socratic and Platonic politics, so listeners can deepen their understanding of the wider project into which this lecture fits.
From Impoverished to Enriched
Anyone who actually uses twitter recognizes that its power comes not from what one pushes out, but from what one receives. This is felt most palpably when one invites those with whom one tweets to share the wisdom they bring to the issue under discussion.
To facilitate this sort of sharing, I will explicitly invite those present at the lecture to actively tweet during the lecture itself. The hope is that the questions and suggestions posted will cultivate a vibrant back-channel discussion that will add insight and value to the reading itself. At the end of the lecture, questions and ideas raised on the back-channel can be brought into the discussion and other voices from outside the room can be integrated into the discussion we have there. As an author, I hope to encourage robust and lively engagement with the ideas I present in the lecture so that I too might learn something in the process that I can, in turn, integrate into my ongoing scholarship.
From Fragmented to Integrated
Anyone who actually uses twitter knows that the deployment of hashtags is the best way to mitigate against the fragmentary nature of a conversation on twitter.
In order to curate the tweets related to the lecture, I will append the hashtag #bacpa (one of the sponsors of the talk is the Bay Area Continental Philosophy Association) to my tweets and invite others to use that hashtag as well. To further integrate the tweets related to the lecture, I will curate them using Storify.
This will allow me to add other digital artifacts related to the lecture and to weave a story around the tweets I receive from those participating. This will afford me the opportunity, after the lecture, to consider in a more reflective way the things others have added to the lecture.
The Storify story will be embedded into the blog post on my Digital Vita I will have written outlining the basic argument of the lecture, a post that will, I hope, be a platform for further discussion.
To that end, I would like to invite anyone who has been interested enough in this endeavor to read to this point to join the lecture on twitter (following me @cplong or the #bacpa hashtag) or to come in person on Thursday, October 25th, 2012 at 4:30 PDT in MC 252 on the campus of the University of San Francisco.
Here is the Storify:
Consider this an invitation to continue along a path we have traversed together over the past three years.
This path, which began in the wake of my 2009 Summer Faculty Teaching and Learning with Technology Fellowship, has now, with the completion of a draft manuscript of my book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading, reached a kind of crossroads.
The book itself came to life in dialogue, digital and otherwise, with many of you. It has been enriched by our ongoing conversation about ancient philosophy, Socrates, the writings of Plato, and the transformation of literacy in a digital age.
With the submission of the manuscript, however, we approach a crossroads in which the digital dimension of the dialogue we have been having can either wither away as the book appears in traditional print, or further grow and blossom with the publication of an enhanced digital book that combines the virtues of print and digital scholarship and communication.
Consider this, then, an invitation to continue together along that second path, which, like the path that led us here, cannot be traversed alone.
An outline of the manuscript itself points in the direction of the proposed path. At the center of the manuscript is an analogy between the ways Socrates practices politics with those he encounters in the dialogues and the ways Platonic writing turns us as readers toward ideals of speaking and acting capable of transforming our lives and the community in which we live.
The manuscript argues that Platonic writing itself cultivates in readers specific habits of thinking and creative habits of responding that are able to integrate a concern for the erotic ideals–of justice, beauty and the good–into the relationships we have with one another. Platonic political writing is shown to require a peculiar politics of reading in which the community of readers is called to consider how a commitment to speaking the truth and acting toward justice can, in fact, enrich our lives together.
If, however, the book is not to be a mere abstract academic exercise, it will need to be published in a way that performs and enables the politics of collaborative reading for which it argues.
The manner in which the research for the book was undertaken in dialogue with you here in this public space has already cultivated such a community of readers. The path forward is to create an interactive and evolving ecosystem of print and digital content capable of enlarging and enriching the existing community of scholarly discourse we have cultivated through the Digital Dialogue.
Before we explore what such an ecosystem of scholarly dialogue would involve and how we might together accomplish it, let me chart the itinerary of the manuscript itself.
The Itinerary of Socratic and Platonic Politics
The seeds for the book were planted more than a decade ago in those courses on Ancient Greek Philosophy I taught as a young professor just out of graduate school. In dialogue with students over the course of semesters, the question of the peculiar manner in which Socrates says he practices the true art of politics in the dialogues presented itself with increasing urgency. As we discussed it and focused more attention on the practice of Socratic dialogue, two things became clear: 1) we began to thematize and reflect upon our own dialogical practices and 2) we began to sense that Platonic writing itself was cultivating in us certain practices of engaging one another in dialogue.
The idea for this book, however, began to take determinate shape in the summer of 2009 when, as a Summer Faculty Teaching and Learning with Technology Fellow, I developed the Digital Dialogue, a podcast dedicated to cultivating the excellences of dialogue in a digital age.
The book that emerged from those digital dialogues, augmented and enriched by face to face dialogue at conferences and on campuses here in the US and abroad, is divided into seven chapters:
- Philosophy as Politics introduces the central distinction between the things Socrates says to those characters he encounters in the dialogues and the ways Plato writes to move readers to consider questions of justice, the beautiful and the good. The first I call the “topology of Socratic politics,” because it points to the place (topos) of Socratic political speaking (logos); the second I call the “topography of Platonic politics,” because it points to the place (topos) of Plantonic political writing (graphein). This chapter also indicates the rather peculiar way in which Socrates says he “practices politics,” and illustrates that politics for him and thus for this book means something different from taking power through the political institutions of a city or state.
- Crisis of Community illustrates how Socrates practices politics with Protagoras in the Protagoras, focusing on Socrates’ concern for the soul of Hippocrates, his young associate who comes at the start of the dialogue to ask Socrates if he would accompany him to see the great sophist Protagoras. This is one of the two chapters in the book that have been published elsewhere: Long, C. P. (2011). “Crisis of Community: The Topology of Socratic Politics in the Protagoras.” Epoché: a Journal for the History of Philosophy, 15 (2), 361-377. Digital Dialogue episode 31 with Ryan Drake and episode 32 with Anne Bowery focused on ideas articulated in this chapter.
- Attempting the Political Art is a reading of the Gorgias in which Socrates explicitly claims to be one of the few Athenians to practice the art of politics truly. This chapter illustrates how Socrates speaks differently with different interlocutors depending on their philosophical commitments. The result is an image of philosophy as an activity not opposed to rhetoric, as has been typically argued, but as intimately bound up with a specific kind of rhetoric commited to putting words in the service of the ideal of justice. This is the second of the two chapters that have been published elsewhere: Long, C. P. (2012). “Attempting the Political Art: Socrates, Plato and the Politics of Truth.” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, 271, 153-74. The chapter itself grew out of a presentation and a reading seminar at Boston College in the spring of 2011.
- The Politics of Finitude is the fulcrum of the book. It marks a transition from a focus on the practices of Socratic political speaking to those of Platonic political writing. A reading of the Phaedo, this chapter demonstrates first how Socrates is able to create a powerful community of people committed to speaking truth to and with one another and, second, how Plato writes in ways that encourage his readers to commit themselves to the same. A version of this chapter was presented at the Freiburger Hermeneutisches Kolloquium in June 2011.
- Socratic Disturbances, Platonic Politics considers the Apology of Socrates as both an account of Socrates’ self-defense before the Athenian citizens and a Platonic attempt to defend the life of his teacher in the wake of his death. Here the topography of Platonic politics is brought further into focus by attending to the way Plato has Socrates say provocative things at specific points in order to provoke us as readers to consider the roles speaking the truth and a concern for justice play in our own lives. This chapter was enriched by a seminar on the Apology given in Bogotá, Colombia in February 2011.
- The Politics of Writing traces how the collaborative reading of Lysias Socrates undertakes with Phaedrus in the Phaedrus opens the possibility of developing an understanding of reading itself as a political activity capable of transforming a community of readers by orienting them toward questions of justice and the beautiful.
- Politics as Philosophy further develops the manner in which Platonic writing cultivates in readers specific habits of thinking and creative habits of responding that are able to integrate a concern for the erotic ideals–of justice, beauty and the good–into the life of the community itself. Here Platonic political writing is shown to require a peculiar politics of reading in which the community of readers is called to consider how a commitment to speaking the truth and acting toward justice can, in fact, enrich our lives together.
The book thus argues for a politics of reading and suggests that a reading of Plato offers a unique opportunity to cultivate such a politics. In order to accomplish something of what it argues, the book must be capable of combining the best of print scholarship with the best of digital scholarship. As an enhanced digital book, the text might be able to perform what it argues.
Research by Public Dialogue
In her book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, Kathleen Fitzpatrick articulates the intuition that animated the research and writing of this book. She writes:
If we were to shift our focus in the work we’re doing as authors from the moment of completion, from the self-contained product, to privilege instead the process of writing, discussion, and revision, we’d likely begin to “publish” work–in the sense of making it public in readable form–earlier in its development (at the conference paper stage, for instance) and to remain engaged with those texts much longer after they’ve been released to readers (p. 12, see findings.com).
Although Socratic and Platonic Politics has not been “published” online and publicly peer reviewed, it has been exposed to the wider public from its earliest beginnings. The decision to open it to the public in the form of audio podcasts that attempt to perform the practices of scholarly dialogue in a digital age was intentional, rooted in the recognition that Socrates articulates something of the truth in the Phaedrus when he says:
In a way, Phaedrus, writing has a strange character … if you question [written words] with the intention of learning something about what they are saying, they always just continue saying the same thing” (Phaedrus, 275d3-10).
Podcasting, because it is more dynamic, fluid and less easy to cite, offered the inchoate ideas of the book a space in which to move and grow. They developed, however, not simply in as I engaged primary and secondary texts in the quiet, private spaces of the library and my study — though they developed there too, and importantly so — but also in dialogue with others.
Further, these dialogues were for the most part staged around the scholarly work of those I invited to the Digital Dialogue, as opposed to being centered on the Socratic and Platonic Politics project itself. The podcast thereby exposed the ideas ultimately articulated in the book to a wider range of scholarship by forcing me, in preparing for each episode, to read a wider range of work in a responsible way that would lead to an enlivening and fulfilling public dialogue on the podcast itself.
The public nature of this philosophical research had a powerful motivating effect. In fact, I would not have read nearly as much nor as diverse a collection of scholarship for the book had I not been motivated by the knowledge that my colleagues would be joining me for a public discussion of their work on the podcast.
Cultivating the Politics of Reading
If the book was born in public dialogue, it should continue to live in public dialogue. If the book argues for a politics of collaborative reading, it should be published in a way that embodies the possibilities of precisely such a politics.
To do this I envision a dynamic enhanced digital book that will embed the audio of the eleven podcasts cited in the manuscript into the digital book itself, enabling readers to listen to the podcasts directly as they encounter them in the text. In order to cultivate a community of collaborative reading, the enhanced digital book should also enable the reader to make all highlighting and annotations public if desired.
Those annotations and markings should then themselves generate a feed that interfaces with a blog plug-in like Comment Press or some other form of integration by which the annotations and highlights can appear in public in ways that are open to further response. Although readers might decide to publish the annotations to a preferred social media site, the annotations should also be accessible to a blog managed and moderated by me so that I can respond to and engage with readers as they engage with the book itself.
The publication of this enhanced digital book is designed to facilitate an ongoing dialogue about the book, its ideas and the larger question concerning the politics of reading. As the conversation develops, I envision recording new episodes of the Digital Dialogue podcast with readers who have had particularly insightful annotations or comments. Those podcasts too, if desired, could be made available in the enhanced digital book.
I envision the printed version of the book as another way to give readers access to this enhanced digital version and the community of dialogue to which it is intimately connected. I would like to have QR codes or some other method of moving the reader from the physical book to the online conversation. I would hope that the enhanced digital book would interface with existing systems of curated annotations as those found on the Kindle via Amazon.com and sites like Findings.com and Apple’s iBookstore.
This vision for Socratic and Platonic Politics combines the best elements of print scholarship with the best elements of digital scholarship: by bringing the print culture of rigorous, creative and careful reading, clear and compelling writing, peer review, and detailed and attentive editing together with the digital culture of dynamic interaction, exposure to a widely educated public, and the cultivation of a community of actively engaged and creative readers, the publication of the book would perform the very politics of collaborative reading for which it argues.
An enhanced digital book designed to create an ecosystem of scholarly dialogue is the above mentioned second path I hope to chart; but it is a path that cannot be embarked upon without you.
As spring rolls into summer, it is time for another appraisal of my digital research ecosystem. For a brief history of my reflections on digital scholarly research, I invite you to take a ride on the Long Road way-back machine circa April 15, 2010, when I first wrote about the elusive quest to close the digital research circle.
Funny how, in that initial post, I thought I was “tantalizingly close” to closing what I called the digital research circle: the ability to gather, curate, annotate, synthesize and cite scholarship without paper using a seamless digital process. More than two years later, I am still close, but now what felt tantalizing has tilted toward the torturous.
I will not here rehearse my entire research ecosystem which involves Dropbox, Evernote, Scrivener and even Word, although I invite you to read through and comment on my posts on the issue of digital research. Instead, I want to focus again on what should be the very heart of that ecosystem: the reference manager.
Thinking that I might finally close the digital research circle by taking the advice of @Targuman and @history_geek, I decided to give Sente a try. After a bit of fun with Sente, after two weeks I am back to my combined Mendeley/Zotero model. Here is why:
The great strength of Sente is its capacity to gather, which itself is a vital part of the research process. When I experienced the way Sente integrated with the Penn State Library, felt the ease by which I could pull pdf files directly from our huge collection of databases and have Sente parse them quickly according to their bibliographic information and place them at my disposal on my desktop and in a beautiful iPad app, I thought I had died and gone to research heaven. Soon I realized, however, that although it does have a rich and responsive support forum, Sente is missing what both Zotero and Mendeley offer: a robust capacity to share and collaborate with a research community.
Although I am in a humanities discipline, collaboration is becoming an increasingly important part of my academic research. (OK, that came off as a bit too as too cynical – dial the cynicism back a notch or two, but you get the point.) Here is link to a post about how I work with a research assistant to do collaborative research in philosophy – it includes an embedded Prezi as a bonus.
Despite Sente’s excellence at gathering, its limited social capacities, its outmoded ways of integrating with the word processor (using in-text citation tags and the need to initiate scans of the document – as opposed to using Applescripts), its clunky search features, and its brutal lethargy on the iPad app with certain kinds of pdf files led me back to the Mendeley/Zotero model.
In the meantime, I solved a duplicating problem I was having in Mendeley when I stopped having Mendeley sync to a folder in Dropbox and allowed it to sync to a local drive on my various machines. When it comes to organizing pdfs in a social research context, Mendeley is the best. It even allows you, for example, to embed your profile into your blog posts:
Mendeley’s capacity to facilitate collaborative research led me to adopt it extensively in my graduate seminar on Aristotle’s De Anima over the spring semester. My graduate students and I shared a collection, and thus were able to refer to the shared highlights, annotations and notes of our various texts together in class. (Above is a picture of me teaching with Mendeley, referring to a document a student had annotated.) Mendeley’s capacities for collaboration enriched our collective research and our seminar discussions throughout the semester.
Mendeley falters, however, at the gathering and the citing phases. They still have not fixed an issue with html code coming into footnotes when using the Chicago Manual of Style Full Note with Bibliography style. Further, the bookmarklet they use to gather document information from the web is … weak: it does not identify bibliographic information on the website and import it directly into Mendeley as Zotero does so beautifully.
Thus, I am forced to continue to use Zotero for the gathering and the citing phases of the process. I really do like Zotero, and especially now that they have a version that stands alone outside of Firefox. But, it does not hold a candle to the pdf managing capacities of Sente or Mendeley.
If, as they say, sometimes you need many sharp tools to get a job done well, still I wish I didn’t need quite so many sharp research tools to close the digital research circle.
DancinGirl has fallen in love with words. Actually, she has always loved to play with words, singing, rhyming, mimicking.
But now her love of the verbal has exploded into literacy.
She is reading voraciously; book after little book, she reads, sounding out words she does not recognize, learning the joys of story. There you find her, in a chair in the spare bedroom, on the floor in her own, on a sofa, with a book.
She is always under the caring tutelage of her mother, well versed in the ways of Vygotsky, who makes sure she has a book just challenging enough to push her, but not too challenging to frustrate her.
Tonight, however, the reading inspired writing. She had recently read in school a book by Kevin Tseng entitled Ned’s New Home, and she took to the chalkboard to write. She spent almost an hour writing her story, after which time, she read it to us.
Here is DancinGirl’s version of the Kevin Tseng story with, as she said later, a few words of her own: DancinGirl Reads Her Version of Ned’s New Home
To listen to your daughter discover the beauty of the written word is awesome.
My most recent blog post over on the Wonders and Marvels blog considers what Plutarch has to teach us about teaching and learning in a digital age.
I invite you to visit the post: On Vessels Filled and Fires Kindled.
At the 2012 Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium at Penn State, I had the honor of introducing Jane McGonigal, Creative Director of Social Chocolate, and game designer extraordinaire.
In his book, The Grasshopper, Bernard Suits writes:
“Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
Jane McGonigal quotes this in her own book, the name of which I am omitting for reasons that will become clear presently. She then goes on to say:
“Compared with games, reality is too easy.”
Now, I feel the same way about giving introductions, it is too easy; so I thought we could make a massively multiplayer game of it.
The game has 7 quests and 5 minutes to complete them:
- The title of her New York Times best selling book.
- Three games she has developed to help people tackle real world problems.
- The title of her TED talk. Bonus: How many times has it been viewed?
- What is her current job title?
- Where did she get her PhD?
- Tweet the link to her webpage with her twitter handle, the TLT Symposium hash tag and one of my twitter handles.
- Tell us something we didn’t know, something I would not have come up with in a traditional introduction.
I am very happy to report that we successfully completed this game in 3 minutes and 38 seconds. I brought the introduction as a whole in under 10 minutes, so it all worked out well.
The introduction itself was designed to perform some of the ideas that Jane went on to present in such a compelling way.
LITCHFIELD, SC – Vacation can be a time for moments of insight and tenderness. One such moment came this week for me at a restaurant here in South Carolina called Studio Café. (You can see my Yelp! review here).
The restaurant is also an art studio and the owner, Pat Ghannam, both shows here work there and serves tables when they are short staffed. She was serving us that day and she mentioned that the chef was her husband and a co-owner of the restaurant.
At few minutes later, when other members of the table were engrossed in conversation, ArtGirl (7) came to sit on my lap. She had something she wanted to tell me; it was a revelation she’d had.
This is what she whispered in my ear:
ArtGirl: Daddy, I think when you decide who to marry, you should try to find someone who makes you better.
Me: I think that is a great way to think about it, Sweetheart. But how come you are thinking about that now?
ArtGirl: Well, it’s like the server. She is an artist and a server, but her husband is the chef who makes the food for the restaurant. Neither of them could do it alone, but together they can.
And it’s like Mommy and you. There are some things Mom does to make you better and there are some things that you do to make her better.
Me: You know something, you are a very wise person.
And think about this: when you have that sort of relationship, it can also happen that you might just have a daughter, and maybe even two daughters, like you and [DancinGirl], to make your whole family better.
Then we hugged and went back to lunch.
A number of recent changes to the social media technologies I use daily force me again to reflect on the habits design decisions cultivate in us. The decisions made by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple are, of course, design decisions with a decidedly commercial interest. Even so, their willingness to make substantive changes to the way we interact with one another through their sites is teaching us all something about the habits we need to cultivate in the digital age.
Facebook, of course, just implemented some fairly radical changes to its user interface, adding a twitter like timeline on the right side of the screen, integrating Spotify, adding a timeline, and curating more content from friends it thinks will be of interest to you. They have followed Google in making it easier to direct a specific post to a group of friends right from the status update text box. And they have implemented, among many other things, a subscribe feature that allows anyone to subscribe to your FB page.
Google, for its part, continues to roll out changes to its new Google Plus platform, recently adding the ability to share circles with others. What seems on the surface to be a simple design decision has wide ranging implications for the number of people following you and for your ability to follow new people.
Apple has just rolled out its iCloud service, rendering its previous Mobile Me service obsolete. In so doing, they announced to anyone with content on Mobile Me, that it would no longer be supported after June 2012.
Make no mistake, these changes are designed to increase the revenue each of these companies is able to generate for itself. But what interests me about this in particular is the manner in which these changes are forcing us all to be more flexible, open and, hopefully, inquisitive about the technologies with which we are engaged.
We are not used to having the medium through which we communicate with one another change so radically so frequently.
It is disconcerting.
But perhaps there is something important to learn from that sense of vertigo that comes with such changes. We are required to learn anew the things we thought we knew. We are forced to ask ourselves new questions about how we post and to whom; we are made to think again about what is public and how we want ourselves to be seen and heard online.
These changes, whatever the value or lack thereof they have, force us again and again into a mode of play so that we might learn what we can do with these technologies and what they are doing to us.
If we are to engage one another with a modicum of responsibility in and through these technologies, we will need to cultivate in ourselves the habits of playful exploration and curiosity; we will need to be willing, again and again, to reconsider the things we thought we had finished considering, to rethink those habits of interaction that have become thoughtless and rote.
Whatever the value of the changes these companies have foisted upon us, our ability to navigate in a new, more dynamic digital world, will depend on our ability to cultivate in ourselves, our friends, our students, and our children an openness to change, a willingness to reconsider, an ability to playfully explore and the courage to act with integrity in the flux of things.
On Wednesday, September 28th at 4pm eastern, we in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office will take another step out into the great technological unknown by recording an episode of our Liberal Arts Voices Podcast live on a Google Plus hangout.
I hope that anyone interested in what we are doing in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office will join us. Here is a link to my Google Plus profile where you will find the Hangout when it is available.
The official guests on the episode will be leaders from the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council, a dynamic group of student leaders who have always been willing to engage with new technologies with me in interesting and enriching ways. That they will be with us for this experiment is only proper since they have helped us grow our community through Twitter and Facebook.
The impetus behind this experiment is first to perform what we preach about the importance of practice in learning about new technologies. We will see what Google Plus adds to our discussions on the Liberal Arts Voices podcast, and we will experience directly what it takes away.
The second reason for this use of a Google Plus Hangout is that I think the ease by which this technology makes face to face conversations public is very compelling. It is a simple broadcasting platform that can be used to raise the level of discussion online by adding the ethical dimension of the face. In our attempts to use technology to enrich the undergraduate experience in the College, it seemed timely to try to put Google Plus to work in this way.
Finally, we now have a number of members of our community out in the “real world’ – as if we in Happy Valley don’t live in the real world. But I digress… In any case, these friends who were so engaged when they were physically here as students or staff members remain engaged in various ways. It will be interesting to see if that distance can be traversed by the G+ technology and we will once again be face to face, talking about the importance of the liberal arts.
I am looking forward to what this little experiment will bring.
I have long had the vague idea that newspapers need to recognize that the core of their business is the business of their communities.
Sometimes the experiences of your friends have a way of making vague ideas poignant and concrete.
Such is the case for me with my friend, Cole Camplese, and his experience with the Press Enterprise of Bloomsburg, PA.
The Press Enterprise is the local paper in Bloomsburg, a town that was hit last week with a devastating flood.
Have you read much about it? No? Well, I would point you to the paper so you could learn more about the lives of those impacted by the flood, but if I did that, you would quickly come face to face with this:
No, to learn about the flood from this paper allegedly dedicated to “Serving Bloomsburg,” you would need either to subscribe or visit their Facebook Page, where you would find comments from Facebook users and the occasional link to the Press Enterprise itself; and if you would like to read the articles to which these links point … well, then you would need to subscribe.
Of course, you could also look at the images and stories gathered by individuals like Cole.
These images and stories articulate well the business of Bloomsburg at the moment. And it seems to me that the business of a newspaper designed to serve this community should really revolve around the business of the community itself. While the newspaper did unlock its content during the flood and in its immediate aftermath; it has now closed itself off again from the wider community of communication that is the internet.
But it is the strange tension in the name of the paper that I find rich with ambiguous meaning. At a time when the culture of printing is giving way to a new, more dynamic digital culture the very enterprise of the press has been called into question.
When we speak of the “enterprise” in business terms, we understand, as Dictionary.com says, “a company organized for commercial purposes.” But the most common meaning of the term is “a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy.” I like that one. But it does not seem to be the meaning at play in the Press Enterprise.
Of course, we have been living since the invention of the printing press around 1440 in a print culture that has long been characterized by what might be called a logic of compression, impression and even repression. The printing press itself is an impressive machine designed to press information upon us, imprinting mass culture with the ideas, thoughts and values that have the imprimatur of the those with authority.
The enterprise of pressing has been lucrative indeed.
But what might the press enterprise look like if we took seriously the common meaning of ‘enterprise’ as an important, difficult and bold endeavor?
It would need to become something less depressing than the business of printing. It would need to be more attuned to the business of the community as the community engages in activities that make lives meaningful. It would need to become a curator, a collector, an open space of gathering, sharing, re-mixing and responding.
It would need to relinquish its tendencies to impress, compress and contain. In short, the Press Enterprise needs to become a shared, community enterprise.
And if the newspaper business truly becomes the business of communities, I am confident it will continue to be lucrative as well; for people will come not to be told or imprinted upon, but because they find a place in which they can engage in a common enterprise about the business of their community.
Do you know why I call you DancinGirl when I write about you here?
It is because, from the moment I met you, now almost six years ago, you were dancing. At first, it was with hands and feet wriggling every which way, then it was the inimitable way you crawled – a sight to behold! – and eventually, as you learned to stand and walk and run, you danced and danced and danced.
Always, you danced.
I love the way you dance. There is a spirit in it that is uniquely you.
You have always moved through the world in a way that is all your own. It is one of the things I admire most about you.
As you start Kindergarten, and the long and wonderful journey that is your formal education, my greatest wish is that your creative, dancing spirit is nourished along the way.
There are so many ways that educational institutions and the culture of schooling dull the very spirit of creativity and imagination on which all real education depends. But there are also so many people who can and will help cultivate your dancing spirit.
On this, your first day of Kindergarten, may that dancing spirit be magnetic: may it attract others who recognize the beauty of your dancing and who can dance with you; and may the life of education and learning on which you are about to embark enrich the way you move through the world.
Nicolas Carr’s article in The Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, considers the impact new media technologies are having on human cognition. Although he recognizes the reciprocal nature of the human-technology relationship, he focuses primarily in that article on what technology is doing to our abilities to read, concentrate and comprehend.
But the human relationship with technology is fluid, reciprocal and dynamic, and the boundaries between human-beings and our technologies are porous, as Freud already recognized in speaking about humans as “prothetic gods.”
Technology does things to us as we do things with it, but we also do things to it as it does things with us.
Issues related to the dynamic interaction between us and our technologies have been rendered poignant for me again as I begin to play with Google+. What strikes me most at this point, however, is how the Google culture of engineering has taken a decidedly humanistic turn, and in a potentially powerful way.
The rhetoric Google used to introduce Google+ reflects this humanistic approach. Vic Gundotra, Senior VP of Social at Google, told TechCrunch that Google+ was created to respond to the “basic human need” to connect with other people in a way that is less “awkward.”
There are a number of features and design decisions that recognize that human insight and understanding enrich the technology. Circles, to take the central example, is beautifully designed in a way that makes it fun and aesthetically pleasing to create different audiences of people with whom one might want to communicate. The design, however, is important because it invites us to teach our Google profile about the sorts of communities about which we care. In so doing, our profiles become more flexible in communicating diverse ideas to diverse groups. Facebook groups offers this possibility as well, though in a less compelling and playful way. By making circles central to Google+ and by making it fun, Google has recognized that it will get smarter only if it invites humans to teach it.
This recognition seems also to be at the heart of the +1 button which adds a social component to search in a way that is designed to take your personal views and ideas into consideration. There are, of course, dangers in this insofar as it can serve to reinforce existing prejudices and positions; but used effectively, it can also serve to open new horizons of insight.
The Hangout feature of Google+ is rooted in a metaphor taken from the world of concrete human interactivity. The Hangout is set up like a kind of front porch on which one can sit and wait for others to join. The conversation is inherently dynamic, because the Hangout need not be “about” something specific nor is it even owned by the person who began it: it is simply an invitation to a circle of people saying I am here if you would like to talk and it can continue long after the initiator has left.
It is striking, however, that Bradely Horowitz, Google VP for Product Management, has been using Hangouts to open discussions with anyone following him on Google+ as a way to receive feedback on the product or, presumably, to participate diverse conversations, the direction of which remains open. This in and of itself is testimony to the fact that Google has recognized that the only way it will get smarter is by attending and responding to human insight and experience in a dynamic and reciprocal way.
It happened without warning, without any hint that the end was at hand. Suddenly, there it was: May 27th, the day after the last day of the preschool year, the announcement that St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church would close the Preschool that was born, lived and thrived within and around its walls over the past 40 years.
Death often comes that way, unbidden, suddenly. But we expected more from a church that had until that date, served as a caring site for an educational community that nurtured generations of young State College students.
In their June 9th letter to the Centre Daily Times, Carl and Melissa Anderson captured the sense of anguish and betrayal many of the parents, staff and teachers associated with the preschool felt upon hearing the news.
Both of our daughters began their lives of formal education in the nurturing environment of the St. Andrew’s Preschool. There they first learned to trust adults outside their family; there they were encouraged to express themselves artistically and intellectually; there they found friends and loving teachers and a sense of wonder for all the world has to offer.
The spirit of the place is what drew us to it; for the teachers are dedicated, conscientious and caring; they developed a curriculum that struck just the right balance between guidance and play, structure and exploration. And this spirit has taken root in our daughters as they move out into the world, as it has for generations of students who attended the St. Andrew’s Preschool over the years.
That spirit will set no future generation of thoughtful, caring young people onto the path of lifelong learning.
And what makes it worse, even tragic, is that the church handled the demise of the school without even a modicum of the grace, care and sensitivity the Preschool and its teachers embodied over the course of its 40 year life.
There has been some interesting and moving historical testimony about the Preschool on the St. Andrew’s Preschool Facebook page.
STONE HARBOR, NJ – Just midway through my week vacation, I am beginning to learning the art of relaxation.
STONE HARBOR, NJ – Just midway through my week vacation, I am beginning to learning the art of relaxation.
As a faculty member, when the semester of teaching is over, a span of summer begins in which time takes on a different dimension as research responsibilities press themselves upon you. The result is an expanse of unstructured time that needs to be given structure by disciplined research.
This summer John Dolan, Director of Digital Media and Pedagogy, and I are heading up a summer digital research project in the College of the Liberal Arts.
The iPad project is part of a larger initiative designed to put technologies in the hands of faculty to empower them to do scholarly research. What excites me most about this project specifically and the Digital Research Initiative more generally, is that it is driven by the idea that if we put technologies in the hands of faculty to pursue scholarly research, they will not only produce excellent new scholarship, but also they will learn the affordances and limitations of the technologies as they think about how to integrate them into their teaching.
By inviting faculty to use the technology for research they are already doing and asking them to reflect a bit in writing on a public blog, we hope to cultivate a community of digitally literate scholars who are doing excellent academic work. The measure of success from my perspective as a scholar and an Associate Dean will not be the number of posts we write or the various aspects of the technologies we uncover, but the quality of the research we do, the articles and book chapters written, submitted and published, the manuscript and dissertation reviews we write, and the conference papers we submit.
With that in mind, I have posted a short reflection on using the iPad to review a manuscript without requiring a single piece of paper.
I hope you all will follow the Digital Research in the Liberal Arts blog and contribute when you are so moved.
Aristotle, of course, famously said: “For it is by way of wondering that people both now and at first began to philosophize …” (Metaphysics, I.2, 982b13-4).
Tonight, ArtGirl began to philosophize.
She wondered so eloquently that I had to record it. As we were preparing for bed, she began to consider the beginning of things.
In this short audio clip recorded on the spot, she beautifully articulates a poignant sense of her own finitude, and she does it in a remarkably matter of fact way.
I first met Ruth Canagarajah in an honors course I taught a few years ago. She already struck me then as a thoughtful, engaged and creative student. She wrote an excellent paper for that course on Female Leadership in Sri Lanka.
Since becoming Associate Dean, I have had the privilege to follow the course of her education which, it seems, has led her back to Sri Lanka, the place from which her family comes. The Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office loaned her a Flip Video camera during that trip so she could chronicle the work she is doing. This is the video she produced with the help of Jillian Balay in the LAUS office.
I present it here as powerful testimony to the transformative possibilities of a liberal arts education:
This image captures a poignant moment in the Flash Forum in Response to the Arizona Shootings held by the Center for Democratic Deliberation on January 21 at Penn State. The panelists are listening to a student accuse them of being irrational left wing ideologues who are attempting to blame right wing rhetoric for the shootings.
The image, which I captured with my iPhone, bears reflecting upon because it displays a the range of expressions that suggest something important about the emotional dimension endemic to all political communication. Each member of the panel has a slightly different look that range from skeptical amusement, to inchoate anger, to concerned disbelief.
As a member of the audience, my heart began to beat a bit faster as I listened to the belligerent tenor of the comment. Plato identified the affection of the soul operative in such situations as thumos, or spirited desire, and he intentionally placed Socrates in situations in which he faced and had to respond to such spirited interlocutors–Thrasymachus in the Republic and Callices in the Gorgias to name the two most famous.
From my perspective, the most interesting and important dimension of the exchange was this: whatever validity this student had in accusing the panel of a left leaning bias was lost by the agonistic manner in which he presented his position. His rhetoric was designed to shame and dominate rather than to question and deliberate. The panel did a nice job of undermining this rhetorical strategy. But the performance of a kind of political speech that erodes the possibility of common understanding served as a very powerful object lesson about how we talk to one another politically.
I was left thinking about how we model political communication in our classrooms and in our lives. When we disagree most vehemently, thumos overtakes us and clouds precisely those capacities we most need for deliberation and understanding: generosity, humility and critical reflection – to name just three.
It was heartening, then, to hear a second student take up the right wing perspective later in the conversation in a more respectful and thoughtful mode. He posed some hard questions that invited us to think further about our own ways of framing the issue, and he did it in a conscientious and considerate way. Professor Hawhee rightly paused at the end to positively reinforce the manner in which he formulated his position.
Sometimes deliberation depends less on what we say than it does on how we say it.
In the months since my last posts on using Mendeley, Zotero and the iPad for academic research, my experience has been more fully informed by practice. This fall I was able to research, develop and write an essay on Plato’s Apology for a talk and seminar I will be giving in Bogata, Columbia at the Universidad de los Andes.
The practice of doing research under extreme time constraints as I taught a 400-level course on Critical Theory and served as Associate Dean brought a number of important affordances and limitations of digital research into sharper relief for me.
For those who are uninterested in the details, my general experience is that while the iPad, Mendeley and Zotero continue to evolve in the right direction, there remains as yet no simple solution that will close the research circle of which I spoke last spring. And yet, the evolution of these tools – particularly improvements to the iPad’s ability to handle pdf files stored in Dropbox and Mendeley‘s strong move toward mobile computing – has brought me closer to that vision.
For those of you who would like to hear some of the details about how I am using digital media to do academic research more efficiently and effectively, here they are:
First, sharing reference collections on both Mendeley and Zotero has become integral to my work. My research assistant, Sabrina Aggelton, is able to locate, identify and organize articles and books related to my work into our shared collection where the texts themselves are immediately accessible to me. This allows me to make the most effective use of the often very limited research time I have. When I do have time blocked off, I can focus immediately on the texts most relevant to my project. Because Mendeley organizes pdf files so well into files on Dropbox for me, I have used the shared collections on Mendeley rather than Zotero for this purpose.
Second, integration of pdf files with the iPad is much improved over the past few months. Although Mendeley itself has an iPad/iPhone app, the application remains rather limited with respect to annotation, file transfer and even reading files on the iPad. I prefer to use Mendeley to organize my pdf files onto Dropbox, and then GoodReader with Dropbox integration to annotate and Evernote to take notes on the text. I often find myself reading via GoodReader on the iPad and taking notes on my laptop via Evernote. I have even been known to use Evernote on the iPhone when reading articles on the iPad, if I am on the go. This is not an integrated solution, but I find that having all my notes accessible and searchable in Evernote works fairly well.
Third, Mendeley is unable yet to compete with Zotero in terms of its integration with Word processors for citation styles. Mendeley does not yet support footnote citations in the Chicago Manual Style (my preferred method), so I return to Zotero when writing. This means that I need to continue to make sure that references added to Mendeley are entered in Zotero. Mendeley is able to read Zotero databases and display and organize pdf files from Zotero, but Zotero does not yet play with Mendeley in the opposite direction. Happily, it is extremely easy to add references to Zotero from the web, but still, this is an extra step when entering references.
I would like to consolidate all my references into a single program if possible. A few months ago, I thought that program would be Mendeley, but the announcement of Zotero Everywhere makes me think that Zotero might yet win that battle. Mendeley is ahead of Zotero in iPhone/iPad development and pdf file organization, Zotero ahead in terms of citation integration with Word processing. The future of Zotero depends upon its development of a stand alone desktop app and integration into web browsers beyond Firefox. It will also need to develop a software solution for mobile devices. I am not sure, however, that it sees itself as a pdf organizing program, so in this regard Mendeley may have the advantage.
As I reflect upon the state of my digital research ecosystem, I am encouraged by the increasing ease by which scholarship can be accessed and organized online. Not only do I have access to a huge number of digital resources through Penn State’s excellent library, I also use Google Books and Amazon.com to access and gather references from hundreds of thousands of books. Happily, as I move further into my own administrative work, the resources that facilitate the academic research that remains of central importance to me continue to improve. They have, however, yet to mature to their full potential.
Today I received a box, and in that box were six objects with a certain degree of heft, a solidity I did not quite expect. The objects in question were copies of my new book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth.
It is difficult to articulate how strange it is to hold in one’s hands the concrete manifestation of years of intellectual labor. It feels so … mundane, so … prosaic. It is a book, like the thousands of other books one finds all around one. And when you show it to someone, they celebrate with you a bit, saying how proud you must be, how great it is that this thing here is accomplished.
And of course, this is a book about Aristotle, indeed, about the nature of truth in Aristotle, not exactly the sort of book most people find easily accessible. So the discussion focuses, as it must, on the thing itself – this book here, which is so obviously something real … not like those hours of work and thought in dialogue with commentators both long dead and still living.
But this thing here, this object, has in it those hours of intimate struggle, those moments of self-doubt and exhilarating insight. I can open a page and recall almost palpably where I was sitting when I wrote that, or what was happening in my life when, in the course of its development, that specific part of the book found the words to give it shape.
Strange now, though, that this intimate and very personal struggle is now a concrete something for others to share, if they so choose. And while I hope they do engage it in a substantive way, still, it is likely that the thing itself, this book here, is just a mile marker on a longer road that seeks to put words in the service of relational justice.
Today is DancinGirl’s birthday and it has been a day of well, dancing. And on Saturday, at her princess dance party, we will dance some more.
In case you are not familiar with the sort of dancing this little person does, here is a taste of some of her work a few years back.
Last night when Val was saying goodnight to our four-year-old for the last time, we were a bit wistful. After Val suggested that we might just try to hold onto her being four years old a bit longer, DancinGirl said:
“Only if we take a very long trip to Never Never Land.”
So it is with her and so it has always been: she is who she is, she is where she is and she is fully present to those who encounter her. I admire that, and learn from it each day.
As I watch her grow, I am amazed by the way she inhabits the world. Some people resist the rhythms of the earth, the seasons and the recalcitrant firmness of things. Some of us lack a degree of flexibility and nimbleness in our dealings with one another. But DancinGirl moves fluidly and with a peculiar and endearing grace that is all her own, as she enters into the lives of those she meets. Because of this, people seem to be moved by her and move toward her, for they, like me, feel somehow affirmed simply by being in her presence.
Last year, I did a little interview with DancinGirl to capture something of her four-year-old self. This year again, we took a few moments to consider things as she now turns five:
I wish her a very happy birthday today.
On Sunday, ArtGirl stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. I noticed two things: she seemed bigger to me and she was not holding her favorite stuffed animal, Jelly Dog.
It was then that she told me that she was going to try to stop carrying Jelly Dog with her everywhere.
For almost two years, this little stuffed animal was always with her, tucked into the crook of her elbow and hanging over her forearm like a limp appendage.
Throughout kindergarten, Jelly Dog would travel to school, sleep in her backpack during class, and join her on the playground where, somehow, she learned to do the monkey bars without ever fully extending the arm with which she held Jelly.
To see the two of them at dinner was quite a scene. Every item of food ArtGirl ate was first “tasted” by Jelly. She would first pass each bite by Jelly’s mouth before eating it herself; every drink was “sipped” by Jelly before she drank it herself.
During this time, her deepest existential concerns found expression in relation to Jelly. She would often say:
“I know Jelly is not real, but I think he is real.” Or: “What will happen to Jelly when I die?” Or: “I don’t want Jelly to die.“
So it came as a surprise to hear her announce on Sunday that she was going to let Jelly go. But there it was … and she marched upstairs to put him away in the room where we store a rather large collection of stuffed animals.
She came downstairs in tears. We hugged for a long time.
All day she struggled not to go back and get him, but she missed Jelly.
During this time, she said the most beautiful, poignant, and remarkable things.
She said:”It doesn’t feel right with him, but it doesn’t feel right without him.”
She said: “I want to go and get him, but if I take him back, I will have to go through this sadness again.”
On Sunday night, I brought him back for her so she could sleep. You see, her mother is wise, and she suggested that “going cold turkey” was perhaps not the best option and that we should instead just try to leave him at home when we went out. We agreed, a weaning process would be best.
ArtGirl told me: “Cold turkey is not for me.”
But by Monday night, she had gone most of the day without him. When I asked her if she wanted me to get him for her she said: “I do want you to get him, but I don’t want you to get him.”
I understood perfectly and suggested that perhaps she needed a little back scratching to help her fall asleep tonight. So there we sat, me scratching her back, her missing Jelly, me thinking how I admired her process, and her falling asleep.
We celebrated on Tuesday when she woke up having slept without him.
And now it is Thursday, and we visited her new school as she prepares for first grade.
We talk about Jelly sometimes, but we both agree that Jelly did his job and is enjoying his retirement with his other stuffed friends.
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes:
With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning (43).
The passage touches on something I have been thinking about ever more intensely as I consider how the technology I have integrated so completely into my life has changed the way I interact with the world and those I encounter in it.
To illustrate his point, in this section of Civilization Freud points to the motor, which extends the power of human muscles to move the body, and the telescope, which extends the power to see; and he mentions the camera and the gramaphone as fundamentally designed to amplify the power of recollection and memory.
As I have emphasized in a post entitled Brief Reflection on the Essence of Technology, the dialectical relationship between the technologies we create and our human creative capacities is complex.
Freud articulates something of this complexity when he writes:
Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times (44).
As I think about how I use those technological tools that have become adjunct to my body – my iPhone and increasingly now, my iPad – and I consider the extent to which I rely on an application like Evernote or even Things, my advanced ToDo app, I realize the degree to which these devices and applications allow me to focus on what is important to me because they augment the power of my memory – or should I say they deteriorate the power of my memory by taking over the very task of memorization for me?
The difference seems to be diminishing….
And yet, Freud’s reminder that “present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character” (45) gestures to the core of the issue: what is it for a prothetic god to be happy? This is, of course, the age old question of human happiness in the robust, Greek sense of a life well lived.
How can we use the technologies that use us to live a fulfilling human life? How do prosthetic gods become blessed?
My hope is that posing the question and turning attentively to it is itself the beginning of a way of responding that is able to set us on a path toward a life well lived.
Freud S, Strachey J, Gay P. Civilization and its discontents. W.W. Norton; 1989. Available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=DOGQDHo8ihIC&pgis=1.
My father taught me to appreciate the subtle joys of photography back before everything went digital. In our basement darkroom, we used to develop the black and white photographs we took with his Canon AE-1.
I still love to take pictures and have begun to organize my Flickr page to showcase some of them. My family remains the central focus of my photographic life, although on Flickr I only share those pictures with my friends.
Increasingly, however, I have been trying to take more of what my Dad and I used to call “Artsy-Craftsy” pictures – that is, pictures that are taken exclusively for their artistic value as opposed to those that are taken as mementos of an historical moment. Of course, such historical pictures, if they are good, will have artistic value. Recently, though, I have rekindled my interest in photography as an outlet for whatever modicum of artistic ability I may have.
Here I share a slideshow of some images I took of light in motion over the Fourth of July holidays. For those of you viewing on an iPhone or iPad, I include the link directly to my Light in Motion set on Flickr.
I am happy to report that Mendeley has developed an iPhone app that brings us a step closer to the digital research model I hope to implement in the months to come.
Before I mention a few of the limitations of the application, I want to celebrate its very appearance. This is a huge step forward in mobile bibliographic and reference computing.
About three years ago, I had a phone conversation with a person in the sales department at Thomson Reuters, the company that makes Endnote. The purpose of my call was to see if they were developing a version of Endnote for the recently released iPhone. They told me that they did have plans, once Apple released the Software Development Kit, to develop a mobile version of Endnote. Already at that point, I could see the value of having my references so easily accessible.
Although that application has yet to materialize, I shifted, in the meantime, to Zotero because it facilitated the sort of collaborative research I hoped to put into practice with my students. As I mentioned in my previous posts on digital research more generally and on the way I use of Zotero in particular, a significant limitation to all the bibliographic software was the inability to use anything other than the web browser to interface with my reference libraries when using my iPhone and iPad.
I turned to Mendeley in the hope that I would find an application that would have all the collaborative functionality I required even as it allowed me to organize, read and annotate pdf files in a way that would integrate with my word processing software. I am very happy with Mendeley when I am sitting in front of a desktop computer. However, it is critical to the model of digital research I am trying to establish that all my references be accessible to me on all my devices wherever I am.
This is where the new iPhone application, even if it is tantalizingly labeled ‘Lite’, adds substantive value to my research workflow. The application syncs with my Mendeley libraries beautifully and allows me to read any of the pdf files I have posted to it. In the photo on the right, you can see the collections exactly as they appear in the Mendeley Desktop application and on the web.
If you have pdf files included in those collections, you can access them via the mobile device, assuming you are connected to the internet, by downloading them individually. This allows you to effectively carry your entire reference library in your pocket, putting thousands of pages of scholarship at your fingertips wherever you are.
For all of this, however, the application’s features remain rudimentary. You cannot annotate pdf files via the application nor can you edit any of the tags or bibliographic information associated with the references. The first iteration of the application is clearly designed to establish Mendeley in the mobile space – a place it basically has all to itself at the moment. But is also gives us a taste of possibilities to come.
As for some of those possibilities, I would hope that this is the first stage in a series of upgrades on the road to a single integrated iPhone/iPad application.
Porting such an application to the iPad has enormous potential for scholarship. If it allows for annotation, we will have a powerful new research tool on which to actively read texts related to our scholarly work. Building on solid web and desktop applications, Mendeley for the iPhone and iPad would offer us an integrated way to do serious productive research wherever we find ourselves. This will allow us to move more quickly from the research gathering to the productive writing phase of the process.
In the end, I am very happy to see the first iteration of this mobile reference resource. I look forward to the updates and to the “Pro” version, if indeed, that is the direction toward which the label “Lite” is gesturing.
Despite some reticence at first, the appearance of the iPhone app tips the balance for me and I am now moving all of my references over the Mendeley in anticipation of upgrades to come.
It is widely recognized among educators that student engagement is a key to academic success. Disengaged students erode the social dynamics in the classroom, have a negative impact on their peers and drop out at a high rates. Thus, it is no surprise that the desire to move students from a disengaged attitude to one of engagement has become a major goal of our pedagogical practices.
Of course, student engagement has many meanings. Engagement might be measured by certain behaviors, as when students write effectively and with nuance; it might be felt in certain emotions, as when students express excitement about the ideas they encounter; or it might be understood by way of certain cognitive activities, as when students demonstrate an ability to analyze and synthesize in sophisticated ways. 1
Yet, despite its many dimensions, engagement itself seems too impoverished a pedagogical ideal. We ought to aspire to something more for our students and ourselves.
Let us move from the ideal of engagement toward that of genuine cooperation.
Strange as it sounds, focus on engagement remains too student centered. Its primary emphasis is on changing the habits, behaviors and attitudes of students, and often fails to consider those habits, behaviors and attitudes of faculty that close off the possibility of cooperative education.
Cooperative education takes seriously the social and reciprocal nature of teaching and learning. It recognizes that students, both individually and in the aggregate, have something to teach even as they have much to learn. It empowers teachers to relinquish authoritarian control, and encourages them to weave their expertise into the community of learning that emerges dynamically in the courses they teach.
Cooperative education understands that the teacher-student relationship is reciprocal, even if it is also asymmetrical. It is reciprocal insofar as students teach and teachers learn, but asymmetrical insofar as the teacher retains a certain privilege as one who has learned and thus has earned a certain expertise.
Cooperative education does not seek to elide this asymmetry, but rather, to invite teachers to carefully consider how their authority operates in the delicate ecologies of learning in which they participate. How we as teachers respond to this invitation is critical; for our authority is operative in everything we do. It can be used to close off discussion and shut down debate, or it can open students and, on our better days, ourselves, to new connections, richer and deeper insights and surprising discoveries.
Cooperative education, then, must cultivate certain excellences in those faculty and students committed to it. It will need to teach and learn openness, comfort with ambiguity, generosity and equity. It will need to affirm the value of difference, embrace diversity and seek common ground. It will need to be animated by mutual respect for the experience of students and for the wisdom of teachers. It will need to empower students to take ownership of their education and faculty to move from imposition to collaboration.
Cultivating these excellences is no easy task, but they can be learned, if they are practiced.
The American philosopher (who was also a Dean at Columbia University), Frederick Woodbridge, has articulated the sense of cooperation that informs this vision of education:
“There is cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge, an interchange of discoveries, opinions, and results, a communication which would put agreement in the place of disagreement. We are not left each to his own devices, but employ the aid of others.” 2
For Woodbridge, this sort of cooperation is rooted ultimately in the human ability to work together with Nature in such a way that we are able to respond in meaningful ways to the world we encounter. The pedagogical significance of this robust naturalism is that we humans are deeply cooperative beings who naturally learn by working with one another in order to come to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live, together.
Cole Camplese and I were invited to be part of this year’s Learning Design Summer Camp at Penn State. The presentation topic that was proposed to us was strong in and of itself, but when we got together to really flesh it out we thought we would try something that modeled the ideas we really wanted to cultivate in the PSU learning design community.
It seems that my quest to close the digital research circle has been joined by a few fellow researchers. The idea is compelling and would not only save both time and paper, but would offer new opportunities for collaborative research.
In my post, Closing the Digital Research Circle, I outlined the basic structure by which we could download PDF files into a reference management system that would handle bibliographic data and manage the PDF files themselves.Read More
Last month in a post about closing the digital research circle, I wrote about using the iPad to read, take notes on pdf files and integrate those files into a bibliography program. We are still some distance from the vision of the closed research circle I ultimately envision, however, there are some positive new developments.
Despite the fact that I have never voted for Arlen Specter, I have come to respect some of the values he stood for over his long career in the Senate. As a Republican, he remained an advocate of women’s rights and more recently, as a Democrat, he stood on the right side of the Health Care debate. I had the opportunity to see him work an audience up close late last summer here in State College when he came for a town hall meeting at the Penn Stater.
Today is ArtGirl’s birthday and I am feeling the need to mark the moment with a few reflections about some of the things I admire about my daughter.
She questions with assiduous tenacity and refuses to accept at face value an explanation that does not square with her sense of things. Yet even as she champions what is reasonable, she holds herself always open to the possibility of a bit of magic.
She cares in earnest about others, and with a deep-rooted empathy. Yet her empathy comes at a cost, for she feels for others and is now beginning to learn (in ways I wish I could have her avoid) that others often don’t feel for her. Helping her come to terms with this hard reality without diminishing her own ethical imagination is something her mother and I consider one of our most important responsibilities.
She sees the beauty in things and makes things beautiful.
She laughs with abandon and invites others to abandon themselves to laughter.
Written words are beginning to release their hidden meaning to her. Reading is a joy she is happy to share, but also proud to do alone.
She is becoming a good athlete because she pays attention and works at it.
She is mature and generous in ways that continue to surprise me … and this from when she was very young.
She has always been just who she is. She has a good heart and a deep sense of justice.
So, in the spirit of our nightly ritual in which we say what we are thankful for, I will repeat here the words she articulates almost every night: “I am thankful for the time we have together and all the ways we are blessed in our lives.”
Happiest of Birthdays.
I have been looking for a way to close the circle of my digital academic research. The idea is to do rigorous philosophical research without paper, taking full advantage of cloud computing, the syncing of notes, articles, bibliographic information, and the ultimate production of academic work in a completely digital environment.
It is already clear to me that the iPad does not replicate the experience of the iPhone even though many of the apps serve the same functionality.
It is already clear to me that the iPad does not replicate the experience of the iPhone even though many of the apps serve the same functionality.
The iPad is much less intrusive in collaborative contexts than either a laptop, which tends to come between members of the group, or an iPhone, which isolates individuals, severing each from the dynamics of the whole.
ORLANDO, FL – My first visit to Disney World surprised me. Before I had two girls, I never thought I would be interested in visiting a place that stood, in my mind, for all that was wrong with American culture: traditional gender roles, naive optimism, obsession with spectacle over substance… And yet this, as with so much else for me, changed when DancinGirl and ArtGirl entered my life. Watching the Disney stories through their eyes brought another dimension of Disney into sharp relief: the power of imagination, the importance of narrative and the recognition of the force of the bad in world and the need to combat it with intentional, decisive action.
In the wake of the TLT Symposium at Penn State last weekend, I traveled to Orlando to participate in the National Center for Academic Transformation’s Redesign Alliance conference.
Over the past few days I have been thinking more intensely about the meaning and nature of academic transformation.
In the wake of the TLT Symposium at Penn State last weekend, I traveled to Orlando to participate in the National Center for Academic Transformation’s Redesign Alliance conference.
I have been struck by a contrast that disappoints me from a national perspective even as it encourages me at local level.
Let me mention a two challenges in particular and suggest how three recent trends could in fact help cultivate abilities that help us meet these challenges.
The Rock Ethics Institute has taken a lead in cultivating a real dialogue about the Penn State’s energy future. On November 18, 2009, Nancy Tuana, the Director of the Rock Ethics Institute, moderated a roundtable discussion of Penn State’s energy future with students, faculty and members of the Office of Physical Plant. The Institute has produced and published a number of interviews from those involved on their YouTube site.
After talking to trusted people, thinking things over and otherwise working through the transition I am making to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the College of the Liberal Arts, I have decided to embrace the model that Dean Chris Brady uses over at the Schreyer Honors College at PSU and tweet in two voices. So, you can now find me at: http://twitter.com/LAUSDeanLong And, as always, you can still follow me at: http:/twitter.com/cplong
One of the more important of the many unexpected benefits of
producing the Digital Dialogue is the feedback I have received from
friends who listen. In a strange way, the podcast offers me some
distance on myself such that I am able to hear certain suggestions and
comments about how I “appear” in public in a less defensive way. This
strikes me as an important insight directly related to the question of
the excellences of public dialogue. Appearing in public, appearing to
someone allows you to be reflected back to yourself in ways that are
revealing. If this reflection can be faced, it opens up the
possibility of self-transformation through/with others.
Let me be more concrete: in the course of a discussion about the sound quality of
the podcasts, I have solicited feedback from those I trust. My wife,
Val, of course, is my most trusted advocate, adviser and critic, so it
was important to hear her suggest the difference between my philosophy
persona and my more informal and relaxed persona. We had discussed this
issue before, particularly as she began, early in our relationship, to
come to hear me give papers or lectures. It is not that I am a
different person, but that I have a way of talking when I am in my
teaching or professional mode.
Allan Gyorke has made a similar point to me in email:
When your podcast starts, I’ve seen you take on a very scholarly persona that is very intense and quieter (Dr. Christopher Long) than the person you are when we were brainstorming about your video and playing around (Chris).
It turns out, however, that this issue is becoming more complex for me as I turn my attention to my new role as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. Not only do I need to think about how Chris relates to Dr. Christopher Long, but now too, we have this new fellow, Associate Dean Long. Of course, these three are also related to the person I am as a father and husband.
We have an ongoing discussion of these various identity questions on my little blog about blogging, Mapping the Long Road, and more questions are being raised in my mind than answers…
This Thanksgiving we decided to participate in the spirit of the National Day of Listening. My cousin, Marjorie, and I sat down with our mothers, Janet Filing and Barbara Almstead, to ask them about their experiences growing up.
We came up with a few questions, but it was most interesting to hear where the conversation led Mom and Barb as they remembered their parents, Philip and Sophia Filing.
Although some of the stories we heard, we knew, there were others that were new to us and even to Jan and Barb. In the process, I think we learned a lot not only about the history of our family, but also about the relational dynamics that made our mothers who they are.
Below are pictures of Phil and Soph (left) and Aunt Ro, Phil’s sister, with Phil and Soph (right).
Today is the day we have been talking about since the summer – finally, it’s your birthday!
Today we celebrate you and the way you have celebrated us everyday since you arrived four years ago.
I have always admired the way you inhabit the world. You bring a sense of joy to everything you do and to everyone you meet. You have your own way of moving through the world that makes me smile.
And when you dance, it is something to behold…
The two pictures here mark the day of your birth and the weekend before your fourth birthday.
We all wish you a very happy birthday and look forward to being with you as you grow into your fourth year.
One of the most difficult things for new Graduate Students to manage effectively is their time. This is in large part because graduate study has built into it large segments of unstructured time that can easily be wasted. One of the most important skills graduate students can learn early in their career is how to structure their time effectively.
One of the most difficult things for new Graduate Students to manage effectively is their time. This is in large part because graduate study has built into it large segments of unstructured time that can easily be wasted. One of the most important skills graduate students can learn early in their career is how to structure their time effectively.
I have gathered here some suggestions that might help students take control of their time so that it can be used most productively.
Twenty years ago today, I can remember the buzz that spread among my American student colleagues at the Institute for European Studies in Vienna when we learned that the Berlin Wall had fallen.
Just two weeks before, a group of us had been in Prague where we met a number of students from Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. They told us in no uncertain terms that something momentous was happening. At the time they and we did not know whether this was something to welcome or fear.
Upon our return to Vienna, we discussed the question in our European History course. The professor was a former Ambassador who assured us that whatever changes may or may not be underway, the overarching paradigm that held European powers in the grips of the Cold War would not change in his lifetime. (This marked an early realization of a truth that has borne itself out over the course of the last twenty years: professors don’t always know what they are talking about and the more certain they appear, the less their words should be uncritically accepted.)
In Berlin the excitement those of us gathered at the wall felt that day remains palpable. Borrowing a sledgehammer from a local German, I can still feel the thrill that came as I knocked off the large chunk I still have set upon my bookshelf.
I recall too, a discussion I had with a very thoughtful and earnest young Lutheran pastor from East Germany who watched the scene unfolding before us with trepidation. His hope, as he expressed it to a young American student genuinely concerned to try to put a context to the history that he was witnessing, was that the West would not simply view this development as an opportunity to impose capitalist values and culture on the Eastern bloc. It was, of course, unclear precisely how things would progress, but there remained a sense that a genuine meeting of the best ideas of the East and West might have an opportunity to converge.
But for me, this had less to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, than with the students and teachers I encountered and the experiences I had during my semester abroad in that fall of 1989. To meet students and educators who actively sought to imagine what life was like in another culture, to learn a new language, and to open themselves to the transformative possibilities of education was of decisive importance to me at a formative time in my life.
And although I did not take a philosophy course when I was in Vienna, when I returned, I was convinced that my course would tack toward education and that philosophy was the path it would have to take.
We woke this morning in a cold, dark house as our power had gone out early in the morning. As we made our way downstairs, we began to realize that the power outage was only the first of our morning surprises.
During the night, the heavy snow from the earliest snowfall on record in State College had caused a huge tree in front of our house to fall on the beautiful maple tree that sits in our front yard. The tree that fell was split at its base, having collapsed under the weight of the snow.
In falling, the tree not only crushed the maple, but came within about 10 feet of hitting the roof of the house just above the girls’ bedroom. After taking stock of the damage, the girls and I returned to the house to check on Val who has not been feeling well for the past few days.
School was canceled, because State College Area School District was without power as well. Without heat or power at home, we did our best with breakfast and, making sure Val was tucked warmly in bed, we ventured downtown where I was schedule to receive a flu shot.
By the end of this strange and somehow beautiful day, we found ourselves at the doctor’s office with Val, where we thought we would try to capture something of the day’s events using my iPhone as a voice recorder. Here is the podcast we recorded.
One of the great privileges of my summer faculty fellowship has been the opportunity to work with creative and thoughtful educators and designers who were able to help me think more holistically about my identity on the web.
I have been blogging here on the Long Road since June 10, 2007, attempting to give voice to certain dimensions of my personal, political, academic and teaching life. Over time, however, it has become clear that my attempt to “blog the philosophical life” involves multiple dimensions that are somewhat separate even if fundamentally integrated.
Perhaps this is simply the digital articulation of the deeper, existential question of personal identity.
In any case, the redesign of the website that we have rolled out in the course of the last few weeks grows out of an ongoing dialogue with all the great educational designers and IT managers at Education Technology Services, but in particular with two who deserve special mention and thanks here: Brad Kozlek and George Webster.
George has patiently and expertly worked with me to design the font, colors, look and feel of the site. He was always willing to change things I found problematic and willing too, to change them back when I realized that the way we had it first was best.
The design itself is based on this image of an antique map of the arctic I found online as I was searching for an inspiration for the colors and feel of the site. The map captured the spirit of the central metaphor around which the long road is organized: the attempt to chart in words the course of a life.
The long road is now composed of three blogs feeding a main home page, which serves as a pathway into the larger site. George worked with me to design the icons that go with each dimension of the site.
the long road is the site on which you will find my attempt to put things personal, political, remarkable and mundane into words.
digital vita is the site that gives voice to my academic life, including information and resources related to the various presentations I make.
One of the main purposes of redesigning the site was to host the Digital Dialogue, the podcast I developed during my faculty fellowship. The Digital Dialogue is designed to generate discussion around questions concerning but not limited to the nature of digital dialogue, its political possibilities, the excellences associated with it and the impact it might have on our pedagogical practices.
Brad added the Yahoo! player to the site so that people could easily listen to episodes of the Digital Dialogue right from their browser. Everyone can also subscribe to the podcast through iTunesU by clicking this link which opens iTunes on your local computer.
I hope everyone enjoys the new look of the site and continues to return frequently. You are, as always, warmly invited to comment on anything that appears here should you be so moved.
Many thanks to George and Brad for their great work on the site.
Late in his career, Heidegger affirms the longstanding criticism of his reading of the Greek ‘aletheia‘ as unconcealment. In his 1964 lecture The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking, Heidegger writes:
The natural concept of truth does not mean unconcealment, not in the philosophy of the Greeks either. It is often and justifiably pointed out that the word alethes is already used by Homer only in the verba dicendi, in statement and thus in the sense of correctness and reliability, not in the sense of unconcealment. (See, “The End of Philosophy” in On Time and Being, p. 70).
Although Paul Friedländer had sought in his book entitled simply, Plato, to deny that the alpha in aletheia was to be understood as a privative, it is really Heribert Boeder’s 1959 essay Der frühgriechische Wortgebrauch Von Logos und Aletheia that seems to prompt Heidegger to revise his long standing insistence that aletheia named the originary Greek understanding of being as unconcealment. Boeder argues convincingly in his essay that truth as aletheia in Greek epic poetry was rooted in the world of human communication and grew out of that context.
In my forthcoming book, The Saying of Things: The Truth of Nature and the Nature of Truth in Aristotle, I argue that the question of truth has always been rooted in human being together even as it increasingly came to designate the dynamic relationship between human beings and the things they encounter.
In affirming Boeder, however, Heidegger moves too quickly from the idea that aletheia is in Greek epic always associated with verbs of saying, to the conclusion that this implies that aletheia is understood simply “in the sense of correctness and reliability.” This assumption causes Heidegger to renounce the Greeks in order to insist that aletheia names “the opening of presence concealing itself, the opening of a self-concealing sheltering” (“The End of Philosophy” in On Time and Being, p. 71).
Yet this self-concealing sheltering too gives itself to language and for this reason, aletheia can be heard to name the attempt to articulate things as they show themselves to be. So, even if, as Aaron Krempa suggested in our 9/1 PHIL553 class, Lyotard criticizes Heidegger in “The Differend” for his anthropocentric views, here, it seems that Heidegger has sought to affirm a conception of aletheia that is independent of the human. But aletheia has always involved the human and, more specifically, it does not point the neutral and abstract happening of being; rather, aletheia but to the site of the human encounter with being, that is, to the site of self-concealing appearing.
Today you begin a great and wondrous journey. Today, you begin Kindergarten and with it, the formal education that will open you to a world of ideas and experiences that will shape the person you become.
Your Mom and I have sought over the course of these five years to prepare you well for this adventure. You know your colors, your letters, your numbers; you are empathetic and thoughtful, reflective and open. You make friends easily after you wisely assess them in their relations to you and others. You worry, but not too much. You have a passion for art, for new experiences, for writing, and for sharing your life stories with others. You try new foods with joyful anticipation and are not less willing to taste new things after you have experienced something bitter. You have a wonderful imagination and welcome others, especially your sister Hannah, into the worlds you create. You love easily but not indiscriminately; and you are fiercely loyal to those who have won your affection.
So, you are ready for this journey.
As you begin, know that your Mom and I, your sister and your family, are with you even when we are not physically present. We are there in the classroom when you feel uncertain; on the playground, when you need to stand up for yourself or your friends; in your heart and mind as you are enriched by the educational experiences that will sustain your life.
Yet although we are here to support you, now it is time for you to step into a new phase of the journey and to make a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself.
I am so proud of you and love you more than I can say. I look forward to the adventure to come as I have delighted in your life thus far. You have taught me to see the world anew and the world is made better by your encounters with it.
Go now into this next phase with the joyful integrity that has marked your life from the beginning.
In the wake of the Specter town hall I blogged about here, I have been thinking about the underlying political ideology of those who are so angry about health insurance reform. I would characterize those who I experienced there as staunch libertarians. I wrote a blog post about the main problem with this political philosophy – a negative conception of freedom based on an understanding of the human subject as independent – for my latest contribution to WPSU.org.
To read it, visit the post on their site here.
I recorded the following video at today’s town hall meeting with Senator Specter in State College at the Penn Stater hotel. It captures something of the anger and passion of the event.
It illustrates too an absolute inability to recognize the positive role that government can and does play in people’s lives. It is striking that the lesson this man learned from the way the VA and “the state” supported his wife’s heart transplant is that government is evil and that all we need is prayer to sustain us.
My hope comes in the way the Senator has responded and listened. I remain concerned that he is leaving with the impression that people are strongly against reform.
Specter remains, happily, in favor of keeping a single payer option on the table and is trying to make good decisions.
9:58: A lot of small employers have dropped insurance over the past year. Employers can’t keep up with the cost. How would reform help with this? Specter insists that insurance companies won’t be able to drop coverage and refuse it. The plan will cut costs he says … and I hope it is strong enough to do that.
9:53: Now the question is: if you vote yes to health insurance reform, should you be held criminally culpable? Specter says: no. Simple, elegant.
9:45: On to abortion… Happily, Specter is in favor of both life and the right to choice.
9:38: It seems that to change one’s mind about the single payer option in the face of the attempt to garner support for reform (as Obama seems to have done) is to be a lair. Specter defends the notion that we need to be flexible and make changes to our position in the face of the interests of others.
It is frustrating to hear that the flexibility required to come to agreement is caricatured as duplicity.
9:20: A man tells a compelling story about his wife who needed a heart transplant when they had no money. They prayed on it and God answered: his VA benefits came through and she had the operation and is now healthy.
The lesson he takes from this: government is evil, prayer is the answer.
He is against healthcare reform because he does not want government to decide to kill his wife!??
Specter makes the obvious point that the VA is a government program.
Oh, and by the way, there seems to be an Obama goon squad somewhere around here. People are worried about it, but I only see a bunch of idealistic looking Specter staffers dressed in coat and tie … and I see John Eich.
/span>8:25: Waiting f
9:13: Apparently Specter is trying to kill us when he advocates for exercise, healthy eating, and regular checkups. Not sure how that follows, but there it is…
This civil discourse indeed!
Specter says that he decided not to shave his head and become a sex symbol after his cancer treatment. Good choice.
9:05: There are now a few more pro reform questions being asked thoughtfully. Specter restates that the single payer plan should be on the table. He has retained his sense of humor and recognizes that when he advocates for the rights of states, he gets a lot cheers. He predicts it before he says it.
8:55: Watching this, I am increasingly aware of the anger and fear that is animating some people in the country. These are people who genuinely feel threatened by a changing world. I hear it in the loud opposition to the very idea of global warming and any intervention by the government in the lives of individuals.
8:45: Question about public leader’s arrogance, we are apparently on the road to socialism. The war is allegedly for American freedom. Specter says that we are not moving to socialism, the boisterous people are booing because they don’t believe him.
Specter says he favors a public option. Says he is here to listen, but I wonder what the impression he is getting about the position of the “American people” from this meeting. There are just a lot of angry people in this room.
8:40: Second question is from a young man whose father is a plumber without insurance. Asks what they are going to do to help him. He is clearly in favor of insurance reform. Specter says that they are working for universal health insurance (claps and boos combined) and he speaks of a co-operative program.
Specter is talking about changing parties because the Republicans were not willing to engage in a discussion about the stimulus. He says that when he voted for the stimulus, the Republicans censored him. He is glad to be able to vote his conscience, not on a partisan label.
8:35: Specter says that your right to free speech ends when you interrupt others trying to exercise the right to free speech. The first question is more of a filibuster than question. The questioner wants to know “why aren’t you taking more time?” Specter says that they are taking the time to get it right.
Specter is angry and feisty. There is a strong anger in the hall, but Specter is firm.
/span>8:25: Waiting f
or Specter, here are some pictures of the line outside the hall. It is hard to tell who is for what, but it feels like there are a number of people here early who are against reform. They have signs, which were not permitted into the hall. The first 30 people were given cards to ask questions.
Specter comes enters and is talking about the anger he has seen over the past few days as he goes through PA.
8:15: I am in the hall after waiting in line for about an hour. I had a nice talk with Joyce Luzier (shown here on right) from Phillipsburg who is supporting health insurance reform. We had a nice discussion about the importance of reform and sighed as we saw the bus of anti-reformers arrive.
On Saturday we visited three local farms as part of the 2009 Centre County Farm Tour (for a pdf version of the brochure, click here.) I wrote about our experience on the farm tour in 2007, and this year again, we were amazed by the beauty of the land, the importance of the work and the spirit of the farmers whose work on the land sustains us.
This year we visited Beiler Farm, a beautiful Amish farm in Spring Mills, PA. There a family of 9 runs a dairy farm. We were taken around by one of the middle sons, Ruben, who was an expert tour guide, and his sister, Martha, who was a knowledgeable, caring and thoughtful young woman.
Chloe and Hannah enjoyed, in particular, jumping on the trampoline with Martha, one of her sisters, and two of her brothers. For Val and me, it was an important opportunity to expose the girls to a way of life with which they are not familiar. They had many questions about how the Amish live and we were happy to answer what we knew and research what we didn’t. I remain in awe of the life they lead, recognizing at once its nobility and its difficulty.
We then visited Stone Meadow Farm in Woodward, PA, where Brian Futhey produces raw milk cheese and grass fed beef. He is committed to the sustainable practices of rotational grazing, stream bank fencing and making excellent cheese from the most natural sources.
He spoke to us about the ways he works with the natural rhythms of the animals to produce cheese and beef. I very much admire his commitment to farming in ways that facilitate a symbiotic relationship between the earth, the non-human and we human animals.
Finally, we visited the picturesque Fiedler Farm in Aaronburg, PA, where they have a beautiful summer kitchen and a nice little yurt at the top of the property. Val and Hannah are walking up to the yurt in the picture here.
Fiedler Farm is part of a community of farms participating in the Groundwork Farm Community Supported Agriculture.
On Sunday, we went to Knoebels Amusement Park with my step brother’s family, Tom, Amina, Aaron and Danny. The picture with which this post began was taken there. Increasingly Chloe and Hannah are venturing on to more dynamic and scary rides and I, their father, am compelled to join them. It is a happy compulsion and we had a great time just screaming at the top of our lungs and challenging ourselves to try rides just at the boundary of our comfort level.
It is exhilarating to watch as they grow into the world, learn about the earth that sustains us and risk new endeavors. This fall Chloe will begin Kindergarten and it will be a transition for all of us. Hannah is already expressing a worry about going to pre-school without her big sister. Val and I are already a bit nostalgic that this phase of Chloe’s life is coming to an end, but we are excited that she will soon begin the exciting adventure that is her formal education. As for Chloe herself, she seems for the moment the most at home with the whole idea of beginning school.
These exhilarating weekends are all the more precious in the wake of the recognition that they are fleeting.
With this in mind, I end with this picture, for it seems to capture something of the more nostalgic side of the exhilaration we felt this weekend.
I just completed Life with Chloe and Hannah episode 15, which focuses on the first half of our summer in and around State College, excluding the 2009 Stone Harbor experience, which was captured in LwCH 14.
In it you see footage of Chloe’s birthday, including a visit from cousin Vaughan and the tea party, our visit to Reptiland and the events here in State College around the Fourth of July and Arts Fest. There is much dancing, of course, and great fun all around.
To watch LwCH 15: Summer in PA ’09, click here to go to my MobileMe web gallery. I continue to post movies there because the quality is higher than on YouTube.
I hope you enjoy and I welcome your comments.
Today WPSU.org published a blog post of mine in which I advocate for the passage of a strong, comprehensive healthcare reform bill prior to the August recess.
I outline three basic goals the bill should achieve: to cover all Americans, to reduce costs as it increases the quality of care and to avoid increasing the federal deficit.
Congress should not be allow out for recess without passing a comprehensive healthcare reform bill.
Read the post on WPSU.org here, and feel free to comment there or here.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.
The event itself seems, from this distance, to have marked the end of an era of tumultuous creativity and violence in American culture and politics.
The New York Times has documented the year in pictures, video and audio here. For me this feature offers a glimpse into the powerful forces at work in the world into which I was born that year.
It was a year of hopefulness, as marked by the lunar landing, Woodstock, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in”, the beginning of the US withdrawal from Vietnam, and the premier of Sesame Street.
It was a year of hatefulness, as marked by the Stonewall riots, British troops arriving in Northern Ireland, the secret US bombing of Cambodia, Nixon’s “Silent Majority”, and the Charles Manson killings.
It is unclear to me how much progress we have made in the course of these 40 years to allow our hopeful spirit to eclipse our hateful tendencies. Yet to look at the earth from the moon is to be made aware of how small and tender our little planet is. It is to be reminded that we borrow this beautiful place for but a brief period. From that distance, the sources of hatred appear diminished, the power of hopefulness augmented.
On this 40th anniversary of that image and the perspective it offers, may we be reminded that hatred corrodes our relationships with one another and erodes our planet, while the best stewards are those who cultivate community in a spirit of hope.
The social web is frequently moving, often inane and continuously ongoing. Its voices reflect the beautiful diversity of the human experience.
This week another voice was added to the discussion; it is the voice of my step-father, Ted Loder, long-time senior paster at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) in Philadelphia, writer of many books of prayers, poems and dramas, and dynamic preacher.
I grew up listening to his thoughtful, provocative and poetic sermons, challenged by their demand to attend to the divine at work in everyday doings, humbled by their appeal to a deeper mystery than can be adequately articulated, and inspired by their call for and commitment to social justice.
Although I have never been able to embrace the dogma of Christianity, the roots of my philosophical thinking were nourished by those sermons and my deep commitment to seeking justice in relation was and continues to be cultivated by the dynamic spirituality of Ted’s work and words.
So, I am very happy to announce that Ted has started a blog in which he will continue to put words to the mystery of God’s ways. When you have a moment, click over to his blog to hear what he, in his unique theological voice, is saying.
The social web is enriched by his contributions.
The day began with a wonderful children’s parade of bikes through town to the local Central Parklet, where we ate watermelon, sang songs and danced.
Afterwards, we had a great lunch at Irving’s, where they are very conscientious about buying and supporting local food.
Val’s excellent Finnish Tart was featured on the Huffington Post in the green living section, check it out and vote for it!
After dinner, we headed out to the fantastic fireworks display put on by the all volunteer Central PA 4thFest.
While the 4thFest display was amazing, we were also treated to natural fireworks as the sun set behind Beaver stadium prior to the start of the celebration.
Here is Val with the girls in a picture that captures something of the beauty of that most beautiful day.
In the video you will see much splashing in the pool, reminiscences of last year on the Outer Banks, NC, a few birthday wishes and a photo slideshow of our time in Stone Harbor this year. I think it captures something of the wonderful time we had this year.
Read my latest blog post on the WPSU.org website in which I respond to a letter I received from Representative Thompson. He wrote me a letter after I called his office to encourage him to support a strong public health insurance option. His position is misguided. To read about how, click here.
Yesterday we were all at the State College Summer Music Festival doing some listening and dancing. The Centre Daily Times was there to cover it. Front page, above the fold, pretty impressive:
As his wife, Martha, lay dying at the age of 34, Thomas Jefferson and she took turns copying out by hand this passage from the Laurence Sterne novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman. Martha wrote:
“Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen, the days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return more–everything presses on–
Thomas completed the passage:
“–and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.
* * *
Much of my academic life involves projects that take a long time to complete. Last week I spent an entire day trying to get one short paragraph of an essay to say what I wanted it to say. So, I don’t often have a chance to see a whole project come to a completion in a single stroke.
Although I don’t much like yard work, the one thing I do like about it is that there is a project to be done, you spend a little time doing it and you can see the results immediately. I needed that today.
I mowed the lawn, which was fine. But I also wanted to complete a larger project that had been hanging over my head for a while: the herb garden off our kitchen.
Val has taken her cooking to another level, using mostly local products and being very mindful of where our food comes from and how it to prepare it in the most nourishing way. We are members of the Howard’s End CSA, which has been providing us with excellent local produce and fruit.
So an herb garden was the next logical step. Above is a picture of the garden finally ready for plants. Over the past month or so, with the help of a generous neighbor, Neil, and two excellent diggers (Chloe and Hannah), we cleared out old roots, tree stumps, weeds and moved a few rhododendrons to achieve that herb-ready landscape.
Today we added excellent free local compost from one of the State College Borough parks and headed off to Tait Farm for the herbs.
There we bought Sweet Basil, Oregano, Italian Parsley, Curly Parsley, Sage, Vietnamese Coriander, English Thyme, Chives, Dill. We also have a beautiful Rosemary plant that was given to us by our neighbors, Neil and Julia.
We also planted seeds for some Mesclun Lettuce and Swiss Chard. Finally, we tried to add a little color to the garden with some California Poppies and Cosmos.
My favorite two things about the garden right now is that it is finished and there are no weeds. I hope that we will be able to keep up with it this year as we try to connect in new ways to the earth, the seasons and the place we inhabit.
Today saddens me.
Although it is not clear what the ultimate outcome of the events that have unfolded in Iran over the last week will be, still, today’s violent response by the Iranian government to protesters contesting the election are tragic in the most ancient sense.
The tragedy is rooted in a fundamental blindness to the powerlessness of violence. Humans seem unable to recognize this blindness, despite its absolute obviousness. It is not that violence is not effective in repressing the spirit of a people for a time. It certainly is, and we may be bearing witness yet again today to this effectiveness.
But effective violence is not power; it is mere force. Power comes when communities gather together around a common purpose, for a common good. Power is organic, it grows and can be cultivated. Force is coercive, it destroys and cultivates only despair.
Today as I watched the violence unfold in Iran, I felt at once intimately connected to it and remotely distant from it. The desire to be heard, to press for what one believes, to risk something for justice, this resonates with the human spirit that connects us. Yet the very real horror of looking violence in the face, of having one’s person, one’s very life at stake, that I can barely fathom. All I can do is admire the courage of those who are standing for what they believe is right and the vision of those who refuse to succumb to violence in the process.
True power lies with them, whatever the immediate outcome of today’s events in Iran.
Over the past few days, I have been powerfully moved by the voices from Iranians struggling to be heard that have been delivered to me through Twitter as I monitored the feed from #iranelection.
In one recent post by the Mousavi1388 feed, which is one of the only ways the candidate who seems to have won the most votes in Iran can communicate, it is written:
We have no national press coverage in Iran, everyone should help spread Mousavi’s message. One Person = One Broadcaster. #IranElection
A more poignant articulation of the political power of the social web can hardly be imagined.
I am relieved to see that Twitter itself has recognized the important role their service is playing in Iran. They have accordingly rescheduled a service maintenance that would have brought their servers offline during a 90 minute period at 9:45pm Pacific time, which would have been around 9:15am in Iran. If the plan to have a nationwide strike tomorrow is to succeed, communication via Twitter is critical for its organization. I am impressed by Twitter’s sensitivity to the political significance of what is happening and by its ability to alter what was surely a logistically complex undertaking even in normal circumstances.
I am impressed also by all the people around the world who have published addresses to proxy servers that allow the tweets from Iran to bypass the government filters seeking to suppress grassroots communication.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of this struggle is, and my hopes and thoughts are with those in the streets trying to be heard–may they be untouched by violence, the manner in which this political process has unfolded has transformed my understanding of Iran, of the power of social media and of the possibilities that open when communities of communication emerge committed to a noble purpose.
As mentioned early this week, I have been anticipating the election in Iran to see the extent to which the new possibilities for peace emerge as the structure of global politics shifts in the face of the economic crisis and the election of President Obama.
So, this morning I was disappointed to learn that Ahmadinejad had been declared the winner in a supposed landslide. Since then, I have been following the story in a very interesting way: directly through Twitter and YouTube, I am being exposed to the views and experiences of individuals, unfiltered by the media, either here or in Iran.
Here are some of the links I have been following:
Check out the protests themselves from grassroots video like these:
Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic is doing a very nice job of keeping up on the story with these direct, social web resources:
It is very powerful to be this directly connected to events happening half a world away to people with whom I have no real direct experience. Yet these media offer a more direct glimpse into the event. They cannot replace solid investigative journalism, but in the immediacy of the moment, they can give a real sense of what is happening.
I admire the White House’s strategy to press forward on substantive health care reform now and I hope Washington is able to resist the temptation to water down the public option in such a way that the medical-industrial complex can manipulate it for its own obsession with profits.
I share Robert Reich’s opinion that the public option must be national in scale and able to combine with Medicare so as to be able to force the Pharma, Insurance and medical practitioners to bring costs down.
In his recent New Yorker article, Atul Gawande shows the degree to which the practices of physicians and other medical professionals in certain areas drive the costs of healthcare up by prescribing unnecessary procedures and otherwise over treating patients in order to maximize profits. This report shows the extent to which the medical profession, to say nothing of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, “took profit growth to be a legitimate ethic in the practice of medicine.”
It has become increasingly clear that whatever fears people have about a government run healthcare option, it will at least have the benefit of not being at its very core driven by the ethic of profit maximization. Joe Conason has nicely shown the benefits of a strong publicly funded option, emphasizing the fact that a government program would cut costs right off the top by eliminating price increases associated with maximizing profits for shareholders.
Patients should profit from the healthcare system by receiving better care, not the medical-industrial complex by generating more money. Aside from a strong belief that everyone has the right to basic health care, the main reason I support a strong public option is to undermine the ethic of profit maximization that has perverted the healthcare system in the United States for too long.
I have been asked to continue to blog for WPSU on local politics, so periodically I will be draw your attention here to my posts there.
My latest post concerns the manner in which policy decisions are made in Harrisburg with reference specifically to the question of how to monetize drilling for gas on the Marcellus shale that runs underneath much of the state. In the post I criticized policy makers for focusing exclusively on economic concerns and failing to frame the question of drilling as a broader, ethical decision.
To read the post and comment, see: The Ethics of Drilling on WPSU.org.
Today is the anniversary of the death of Mohammed in 632 CE. The schism that opened in the Muslim world after his death continues to play out in the contemporary political tensions between Sunni Muslims who believe that the first four caliphs where the rightful successors to Mohammed and Shi’ite Muslims who believe that the heirs of the fourth caliph, Mohammed’s cousin, Ali, are the only legitimate successors to Mohammed.
On this anniversary of Mohammed’s death, three stories suggest the shifting ground of global politics in the Middle East and beyond:
- Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group backed by Iran and Syria, lost the election in Lebannon this weekend. This an important defeat because it eases the tensions between Lebannon and Isreal and opens the possibility of talks between the US and Syria, which were put off until after the elections in Lebannon. Some are even crediting an “Obama effect” for the election results.
- Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to make a major policy speech about the principles of peace and security for Israel. It seems that he is feeling the pressure from Obama’s strategy to hold the Israeli government accountable for continuing settlements.
- All over Europe, there seems to be a political shifting to the right in the face of the global economic crisis. This unfortunate development, which could have easily been predicted insofar as tacking rightward is a standard, and disturbing, european response to uncertainty. Happily, the American response to such uncertainties seems, if FDR and Obama are any indication, to be precise opposite.
All of these stories suggest that the ground of global politics is shifting in a remarkable and decisive way, a way that opens new possibilities for peace and, of course, violence. It will be interesting to see how the elections in Iran to take place at the end of the week will turn out. That too could prove decisive for the ultimate success of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives.
Let us hope that on this anniversary of the death of the prophet Mohammed, something of the schism between Sunni and Shi’a, between Israel and Palestine, between West and East, can be healed.
Something more than “mere words” is at stake when the President of the United States, Barack Obama, goes to Cairo, Egypt and makes a speech offering a new beginning to the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world in which he says, among other things, that the responsibility we have to one another as human beings is difficult:
“For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes and yes, religious subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.”
I have written here often of the power of words, and again it must be said that words are themselves actions. When Obama insists upon a stop to Israeli settlements, the words have the power to shift the constellation of forces that have been locked in violent struggle for generations. When Obama says that subjugation in the pursuit of self-interest is self-defeating, that the attempt to elevate one group by repressing another will inevitably fail, he opens up the possibility that another logic might prevail upon the world, one that thinks more responsibly about the responsibilities we have to one another, and to ourselves as interconnected co-habitants of an earth that cannot long sustain our violent ways of relating to one another.
To say that words are actions, of course, is not to say that actions other than illocutionary are superfluous; but those sorts of actions will only be effective if animated by words oriented toward the question of what is just and best for the whole of humanity. Such an orientation has never guided US foreign policy. My hope is that now, with a President with the courage to allow his words to articulate a more global conception of “self-interest,” it might.
I think something like this is heard in the passages from the Koran, the Talmud and the Bible Obama evoked at the end of the speech:
Koran: “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
Talmud: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”
Bible: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
STONE HARBOR, NJ Last night’s violent storms have given way to one of those crisp, clean, beautiful days at the New Jersey shore. Now, however, it is time to sweep the house, pack the swimming suits and the car; it is time to begin the journey back home.
Another long anticipated week at the beach has run its course; but we have renewed connections with one another, with the sand and sun, with the clouds, rain and the energy of the earth. Next year, the we all will be older, different, exposed longer to the love and hate of the world.
For now, the sun shines beautifully as we pack, grateful for another year together.
STONE HARBOR, NJ Today is my 40th birthday: I feel the curvature of the arc of my life, the contour of its trajectory. As it begins, I hope, to press toward its apogee and ultimate return, I sense at once the bodies that influence its course and the direction toward which it tends.
Now more than ever, I am aware of what I can and cannot control. The way I relate to others, but not their responses; the integrity of my decisions, but not their consequences; the living attention I invest in my kids, but not the arc of their lives…
Here is episode 13 of Life with Chloe and Hannah. I have collected the video I took a few months ago at the Tussey Ski Area when they are dancing on the deck.
I admire the way they dance: no self-consciousness, no inhibitions – just dancing.
Although I fancy myself someone who takes advantage of the web, I must admit that I find myself repeatedly going to the same sites all the time: the New York Times, Slate.com, the Centre Daily Times, Google Reader, Truthdig.com, etc.
I mentioned this at dinner the other night and recently minted Dr. Michael Brownstein, suggested that I needed StumbleUpon.com. When I returned home, I checked it out and have found it thus far to be quite refreshing.
I signed up for a free account, was asked about some of my interests and then was able, on a click of a button, to plumb the vast recesses of the internet. StumbleUpon.com serves up websites based on your interests and you can teach it what you like and don’t like, share with friends and email sites you find interesting. There is even a way to limit it to University sites if you want. I uploaded the StumbleUpon Firefox toolbar, and now when I have a moment, I just click the Stumble! button and see what happens.
Here is a link to my public profile on StumbleUpon.com if you want to see the sites I have said I liked. If you join, feel free to make me a friend on it so I can see what you have discovered.
In less than a week, we will be going to the polls again here in Pennsylvania. Although this primary lacks the national interest of last year’s Presidential primary, it remains nevertheless important to local politics.
I thought I would take a moment here to highlight my two small contributions thus far to the local political debate:
- A letter the editor of the Centre Daily Times in support of my friend, neighbor and Penn State colleague, Jim Leous, who is running for a position on the school board for the State College Area School District.
- A blog post on WPSU.org about the importance of investing in education and my concern that a number of the candidates running for school board are running in order to minimize taxes rather than ensuring that we have a state of the arts school district.
The title of this post comes from George Vaillant, the director of one of the longest running longitudinal studies of physical and mental well-being that has ever been undertaken. My attention was drawn to him and his study by Josh Miller after he posted a link on Facebook to this article by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the Atlantic (thanks Josh).
Researchers at Harvard have been following 268 men who entered Harvard in the late 1930’s and who are now in their 80’s. I embed the video of Vaillant talking about the study because it affirms two things I have always tried to embody in my life.
First, in the video, Vaillant says of the study:
“The take home lesson is to always enjoy where you are now.”
A simple lesson, a difficult task. But the study offers a view of each concrete life in one sweep, not as a series of moments, but each as a kind of whole. In this it is akin to great literature. To see the whole of life in this way is to be reminded of its brevity, and of its incalculable depth.
Second, Vaillant says, “Happiness is love, full stop.” Here too is something decisive, for to enjoy where you are now is at its core to respond each moment with living attention to those with whom your life is made meaningful.
Happiness is not an individual achievement, but a cooperative activity rooted in engaged encounters and animated by love.
Yesterday Alan Levine, aka cogdog, gave a presentation on 50+ Ways to Tell a Story using Web 2.0 technologies. The presentation was excellent as it introduced us to a variety of tools available online for telling stories. The power of Levine’s presentation was the way he told and retold the same story about losing and then finding his dog, Dominoe, using the different tools.
Alan himself wonders about what people walk away with after the presentation other than a long list of tools. He emphasizes that it is not about the tools and in the course of the presentation, it became increasingly clear that if you don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the shear number of possibilities out there, something important shows itself as the same story is told and retold: you begin to see that the medium in which a story is told determines the content of the story; the story itself changes by virtue of the form through which it is expressed.
This is a significant and important insight. It not only forces us to attend to the myriad Web 2.0 modes of digital expression that are open to us, but also, and more significantly, to ask how these modes impact the content we create, engage, critique and experience.
I could imagine an assignment for a class that points students to the 50+ Ways wiki and asks them to choose a mode of digital expression that most effectively and powerfully presents their content and then requires them to reflect upon the choices they made. This would encourage a critical engagement of the question concerning how form impacts content and content, form. One would need to emphasize that to divorce the question of form from content is impossible; that the more attentive one is to the intimate, complex and reciprocal relationship between form and content, the more effective, powerful and meaningful one’s expression becomes.
After the presentation, we had a panel discussion (see picture above) that touched only the surface of the issues raised.
Check out Cole Camplese’s post on the event: http://www.colecamplese.com/2009/05/cogdog-visits-psu/
Today on the “tickle bed” Hannah fell into the headboard and we had one of those moments.
Today as Chloe talked to her Nana on the phone, she fell and we had another.
Hannah’s nose was bruised, but it seems OK.
Chloe scraped her thigh, but not too badly.
Yet for me, these two moments were palpable reminders that in a moment everything can change. The fragility of life announces itself to me in the gut as a poignant nausea. It is related to that feeling of vertigo that comes when I focus too intensely on the finitude of my life, of Val’s and especially of Hannah and Chloe’s.
Even so, as I looked at Hannah’s nose, red and flattened, as I held her crying, I was brought back to another moment, to an early moment with her, when her nose seemed strangely similar, when she too was crying … it was shortly after her birth and I was holding her, trying to comfort her as she was being rudely measured and poked by nurses and doctors ensuring that all her parts were in order. I remember feeling that she was so small but so strong, so resilient.
I rely on that resilience; I have faith in it even as that lingering nausea reminds me that there will be things from which I cannot protect them, ultimate things no one can avoid. In the meantime, however, there are the hugs, a bit of ice, a smile through tears, a princess band-aid and the tenacious courage to go on.
Over the last few months, I participated on an Educational Technology Services “hot team” that focused on researching the educational significance of grassroots video. If you don’t know what grassroots video is, check out our white paper, which gives a good summary.
You can also watch the embedded YouTube video below. The grassroots video hot team produced a grassroots video designed to share its findings.
As I grow older, I realize more and more that a life is made up of lives, that an individual life involves phases linked yet distinct.
With the approach of my 40th birthday in May, the submission of my second Aristotle book manuscript to Cambridge University Press, Chloe’s pre-registration for Kindergarten, Hannah’s hard earned successes in moving out of diapers, Val’s exciting new adventures with art, bread making and living locally, it seems that a new phase is upon us.
Often the phases of my life have been marked by a shift in location. This new phase, however, involves a deepening relationship to this place: this house, this town, this state, and indeed, now even, to this country.
Spring is upon us; it is again the time of imagination.
And I imagine my way into this new phase of life, where relationships deepen, research stretches in new directions, new opportunities open.
And again I am aware of how fulfilling it is to be right here, now, with these people: family, friends, colleagues.
First, economic prosperity is dirty. Owens says that “the principle source of [hu]man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity.” The advantage of the current economic downturn is that it has slowed the carbon clock a bit.
Second, new technologies won’t solve our global warming problem. As Owens suggests, getting increased miles to the gallon is no help if it encourages people to drive more; having electric cars will not help if the electricity is produced by fossil fueled power plants and if we continue, as he writes, “sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful.”
Finally, the real solution to the energy and global warming crisis lies in the transformation of human habits. Our habits must change. We must cultivate more sustainable ways of acting and thinking, habits that allow us to live in a more symbiotic way with the planet that sustains us.
To begin, let’s figure out how to live closer to where we work. Let’s ride public transportation when we can, even if it is inconvenient. Let’s convince our political representatives that it is in our best interest to pay for and otherwise support things that cultivate habits that support a more symbiotic way of living in the world.
If economic flourishing is going to promote ecological prosperity, the new, green economy will have to serve a whole new set of human habits oriented toward a mutually sustaining relationship between the world and its human co-habitants.
Today a friend presented me with a little gift of one of Updike’s poems. It reminded me again how important now is. I knew that, of course, but one must always be reminded of it; one counts on one’s friends for that.
So, here is the poem, retyped for the pleasure of it, but available also here:
Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children
They will not be the same next time. The sayings
so cute, just a little off, will be corrected.
Their eyes will be more skeptical, plugged in
the more securely to the worldly buzz
of television, alphabet, and street talk,
culture polluting their gazes’ dawn blue.
It makes you see at last the value of
those boring aunts and neighbors (their smells
of summer sweat and cigarettes, their faces
like shapes of sky between shade-giving leaves)
who knew you from the start, when you were zero,
cooing their nothings before you could be bored
or knew a name, not even your own, or how
this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye.
— John Updike
I have just finished listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on the Lincoln Presidency, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Although the book takes a largely uncritical view of Lincoln‘s political wisdom, it was compellingly told and insightful. What struck me most was the political power of magnanimity. Goodwin does not make this point explicitly, but it seems to me that the central friendship of the book, that between Lincoln and his political rival turned close friend, William Henry Seward, was rooted in the core virtue of magnanimity which both men embodied.
The magnanimity of Lincoln was revealed repeatedly throughout the story as Lincoln confounded rivals who under-estimated his ability to navigate the world of human politics. It was what allowed him to tolerate General McClellan‘s repeated challenges to his judgment and authority during the early stages of the war. It was what enabled him to draw on Salmon P. Chase‘s extraordinary ability to raise money for the war effort as Treasury Secretary even as Chase opposed him for the Republican nomination in the 1864 election. In these and many other cases, Lincoln acted always in a thoughtful, even manner, never allowing his anger to cloud his judgment or his understanding of the forces that animated his opponents.
William Henry Seward’s magnanimity was of a slightly different sort: he seems to have been free of pretty resentfulness and vindictiveness. After losing the 1860 Republican nomination for President, which everyone expected him to win, Seward was able to find it within himself, despite this disappointment, to campaign vigorously on Lincoln’s behalf in 1860. Many credit speeches he gave on Lincoln’s behalf for the ultimate Republican victory that year. He then accepted Lincoln’s nomination of him as Secretary of State (does this story sound familiar?) and became one of Lincoln’s closest friends and most important political advisors.
Perhaps the strong friendship between these two men was rooted in the shard virtue of magnanimity. What strikes me as worth holding always in mind is that magnanimity requires a great deal of ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one’s way in the position of another in order to gain insight into what animates that person. From this perspective, those initial impulses toward anger dissolve and new possibilities open for more productive modes of response. I will recall Seward and Lincoln as I make my way through the politics of the academy and everyday life, remembering not to respond in anger, but with empathy and magnanimity, for it is at once ethically generous and politically, far more effective.
I am beginning to notice something about my course blog for PHIL298H: Patriarchal Force and Political Power. As we discuss the material we have been reading for class and engage with one another online through the blog we are creating a communal document, a digital artifact of our work together this semester. I am struck by this more this semester because of the structure I am using in which we all co-edit one blog rather than each editing a blog of our own.
As students post and comment, as they add links through delicious to articles and online resources, we are developing a community of communication that is at once dynamic and lasting. I find myself responding to the ideas of the students more as I attempt to weave the themes found in the text into our discussion. I realize, however, that the blog format allows them to become partners in thinking and it forces me to respond in multidirectional ways that I find exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
The weekly round-up podcasts adds a completely different dimension to the class that forces us all to think of this as a common endeavor more than as a unidirectional process in which knowledge is transfered from teacher to student. I am not sure where we will find ourselves at the end of the semester, but I am beginning to feel like the journey, although to a large degree directed by me, will take us all into unexpected territory.
It is good to know that wherever it takes us, we will have an eloquent record that maps our progress.
For those of you who have noticed a lack of postings here recently, this is largely because I am doing a lot of blogging with my honors class over at the course blog for an honors course in Philosophy I am teaching on patriarchal politics.
I just wanted to pause to note two small moments that occurred as we watched the inauguration unfold on TV as a family on Tuesday.
As Val and I were focused on the inauguration, Hannah was hard at play with her dolls. As we were waiting for all the dignitaries to be seated, I turned to Hannah and noticed her holding two dolls in her hands; she was making them jump up and down. They were chanting “OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA.”
Then there was Chloe who said as she sat on my lap watching the 21 cannons saluted the new President and the crowd going wild: “Daddy, the whole world is shaking.”
To which I could only reply, “Yes, Sweetheart, it really is.”
This day stands as a rebuke to all who doubt the power of words. And on this defining day, I was struck again by the power of words spoken to inspire, transform, evoke, and celebrate. Here are some I found most poignant:
Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never
diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and
equality like the one that made this day possible.
–From Diane Feinstein’s Welcoming Remarks
Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the
dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the
bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the
glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.
–From Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem, Praise Song for the Day
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time
has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm
our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward
that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to
generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and
all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
–From President Barack Obama’s 1st Inaugural
This particular passage evoked for me the words of James Baldwin who said that to achieve nationhood requires “the growing up of this dangerously adolescent country.” I hear in it the very real possibility of the mature politics of which I wrote here almost a year ago.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine,
drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a
charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame
their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you
on what you can build, not what you destroy.
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a
recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to
ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly
accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is
nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than
giving our all to a difficult task.
–From President Barack Obama’s 1st Inaugural
Let me end this evocation of the words spoken today by gesturing to the way Obama’s suggestion that the ideals of America “still light the world” resonate with these words about love from Alexander’s poem:
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial,
national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need
to preempt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.
And these, from the Reverend Joseph Lowery’s beautiful benediction:
And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make
choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not
exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.
And as we leave this
mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the
oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our
workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques or wherever we seek
I woke, this much anticipated morning, to the news of the death of a colleague. Professor Paul Lyons taught history, social work and holocaust studies for 29 years at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where I began my academic career. He was a man dedicated to social justice and committed to teaching young people to think critically about the world and to orient their lives toward the question of justice.
Paul’s response to the attacks on September 11, 2001 was powerful: he collaborated with his fellow Stockton professor David Emmons to teach a course on the event. The power of this response lies in the thoughtful and expansive influence it has on future generations. In the wake of oversimplified, dogmatic rhetoric, Paul responded with a depth of historical understanding and a passion to engage students directly about an event that changed the course of our lives.
So, this morning, as we our attention to the future with the inauguration of the first black president, I also pause to remember all those teachers, like Paul Lyons, committed to orienting young people toward justice and opening the possibility of this moment.
In a short but powerful speech from the Lincoln Memorial, Barack Obama stood where King had stood and offered a powerful rejoinder to some of those most powerful words King spoke 46 years ago. Where King spoke of a country where his children “will not be not judged by the color of their skin by the content of their character,” Obama spoke of “the true character of our nation” that is “not revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard.”
The shift from the individual to the community is critical and is made, no doubt, in the spirit of King’s belief that we are all bound together into a community in which injustice to one effects justice for all. To summon this spirit of community, on that spot, at this moment is to begin to turn us toward our best selves.
And if you listen, perhaps you can hear King’s rejoinder to Obama’s sober recognition that “There is not doubt our road will be long. That our climb will be steep” — for King said:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low …
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
King was right that he would not get to the mountaintop with us, nor are we there yet, but we are closer and with continuing work and encouraging words, ever higher we will climb.
Just before the new year, we took Chloe and Hannah to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Chloe, who is obsessed with everything that has to do with art, was beside herself with excitement.
Once I told her that artists sometimes bring a sketch book to sketch the works of great art in the museum, she insisted on bringing one.
Below are a few examples of her work in the light of some of the European masters:
Above (left), Chloe takes inspiration from Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers painted in1888 or 1889.
Above (right), Chloe depicts Léon Frédéric’s The Four Seasons (Autumn) from 1894.
Finally, Chloe drew Cézanne’s 1873 Quartier Four, Auvers-sur-Oise (Landscape, Auvers).