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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Varsity Academics® in History, Writing, and Beyond

I recently renewed my subscription to The Concord Review, a 20-year-old national journal of high-school history students’ essays.

This journal is part of a larger effort to promote "varsity academics," with academic pursuits and ambition – including the writing of serious high-school term papers – intended to achieve equal status with athletics in U.S. high schools.

Related projects include the National History Club and the National Writing Board.

The originator of these ideas is Will Fitzhugh, who wrote this May 25 article.

For a provocative math- and science-oriented take on U.S. education in global context – especially how high-school students spend their time in different countries – see the documentary "Two Million Minutes."   

10:35 pm edt 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Justin Elicker for Ward 10 Alderman

I attended much of the June 2 event at which Ward 10 aldermanic candidates Allan Brison and Justin Elicker spoke and answered neighbors’ questions.

As a Ward 10 resident, I am supporting Justin Elicker for alderman. 

It’s nothing personal.  Along with David Streever and other neighbors, I urge partisans of one side or the other to keep the tone of this debate as civil and respectful as possible. 

Allan Brison has real virtues, and we should appreciate his service on the Board of Aldermen.  He demonstrates civic spirit, a refreshingly modest ego, and a propensity to ask questions.  He cares and has helped bring disparate blocks of the ward together.

Why, then, support Justin instead?  Here are a few specific reasons – some in response to concerns raised by others in posts on the New Haven Independent website:

*First, I take Justin at his word that he is not merely passing through New Haven but rather intends to make it his home.  Aside from the admirable number of New Haveners who actually were born here, many of us were once new to town.  Imposing an extra-legal, arbitrary residential litmus test (one year? two? five? twenty-five?) for civic participation – especially within the narrow confines of each small ward – would deny us the involvement of many neighbors.

*Second, his being a renter rather than a homeowner is in itself irrelevant.  One could well argue that many New Haven renters have as much at stake as, and less cushion than, homeowners in our community.  (Disclosure: I rented in East Rock until six years ago, when I purchased a condo apartment and – once married and a parent – eventually a house.  So paying rent was my concern before property taxes were.)  Surely many renters are more financially vulnerable than most homeowners. Granted, the most vulnerable are not necessarily grad students in East Rock, some of whom enjoy family financial support.  And homeowners looking to sell at this sluggish moment in the real-estate cycle may feel trapped, with property-tax bills at odds with their ability to pay or to escape the burden through profitable sale of the property.  Still, census-tract data (as in the ROOF analysis described here) would reveal the facts about the ability of renters versus owners, in one neighborhood or another, on average to withstand economic turbulence.  Of course, some portion of landlords’ tax bills are in effect passed on to their tenants, too.

*Third, Justin has impressed with his leadership – along with Betty Thompson – of the Friends of East Rock Park (FERP).  The group’s revival would not have been possible without Betty’s and Justin’s vision and action.  Their good-humored prodding, hard work, and example have boosted FERP and the neighborhood’s already strong sense of community, as well as its connection to larger happenings across the city (biking, clean-ups, etc.).  This bodes well, both Justin’s role in the progress and Betty’s endorsement of his candidacy.

*Fourth, Justin’s concern for promoting economic development – one of New Haven’s greatest needs – helps to distinguish him.  His studies at the School of Management, as well as at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, are no coincidence.  He recognizes the importance of cultivating private-sector growth, including in the area of green jobs, and promises to work with other New Haveners in this regard, as part of a broader effort to strengthen the City’s tax and job base.

*Fifth, while single-party rule has serious limitations – with groupthink and stasis real risks – there is room for creative thought within a caucus.  Justin can be one of these creative thinkers, with both specific plans and a resourcefully cooperative disposition for getting things done in areas including public safety, transportation, and other municipal services.  He is of course still learning, as anyone with a curious mind should be.

Finally, voting isn’t primarily about making a statement of protest; it’s about translating intentions into practice.   I comment as a former door-to-door environmental campaign canvasser (summers 1986 through 1990) for Connecticut PIRG, a Nader-inspired organization.  Like both Justin and Allan, I view the environment as a significant priority.  Some Democrats (and certain Republicans, for that matter) can be as environmentally oriented as Green Partisans.

Emerson said, “Not insulation of place, but independence of spirit is essential.”  Justin would be less likely than Allan to be isolated or insulated within the Board of Aldermen.  Justin would also be independent enough to introduce alternative, effective ideas as he works vigorously to accomplish the work of the ward and of the city.

12:12 am edt 

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