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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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Friday, May 28, 2010

Terrorism, Flying, and Preschooler Pat-Downs

A Virgin Atlantic flight scheduled to take former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf from Newark to London was delayed this week "after a passenger of Middle Eastern descent bought a one-way ticket with cash," according to a Trentonian report the New Haven Register carried.

My family flew Virgin Atlantic between Newark and London in December, including immediately after the Christmas flight bombing attempt. A January 2 post to this blog noted “Preschooler Pat-Downs” – when “Our children, ages 4 and 2, were patted down twice each as they went through security checks at Heathrow, in addition to having their shoes removed.  The next day, back home in New Haven, the kids had incorporated these security precautions into their play.  Brother and sister spontaneously were patting each other down, blissfully unaware of the real dangers behind the arguably absurd examination to which they had been subjected.”

Since then, U.S. policy on flight security seems improved, according to an April 2 New York Times report:

“Before Dec. 25, airlines were given the no-fly list of people to be barred from flights altogether and a second ‘selectee’ list of passengers to be subjected to more thorough screening. Those lists have been expanded considerably this year and now contain about 6,000 and 20,000 names respectively, officials said. The new system will send the airlines additional names of passengers not on either the no-fly or selectee list but identified as possible security risks because of intelligence about threats. Only the names of the passengers selected for extra screening, not the underlying intelligence, will be shared with airlines and foreign security personnel, officials said. . . . [According to one expert,] ‘I do think it makes sense to look at people and not nationalities.’  He said he also thought the new plan promised to do a better job of applying fresh intelligence to preflight screening. ‘It’s an experiment, and we’ll have to see how it works.’”

Alas, a BBC report today brings news that “More than 100 people are now known to have been killed in a train crash in eastern India. At least 145 people were injured – many critically – when two trains collided overnight in West Bengal. Police said Maoist rebels sabotaged the track causing the Calcutta-Mumbai passenger train to derail, throwing five of its carriages into the path of an oncoming goods train. But a spokesman for the Maoist rebels called the BBC to deny any involvement. . . . In April, 76 paramilitary troops were killed in an ambush – the single biggest attack on the Indian security forces by the rebels. Maoist rebels have in recent months stepped up attacks in response to a government security push to flush them out of their jungle bases. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the insurgency as India's biggest internal security challenge.”

6:47 am edt 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

India, China, and Education

U.S. media including the New York Times and NPR have featured developments in India, including related to education, in recent weeks.  Selected coverage by the Times included Lydia Polgreen’s May 14 article, In India, Hitching Hopes on a Subway : “The Delhi Metro offers new hope that the nation's decrepit urban infrastructure can be dragged into the 21st century.”  This was a more favorable account than Vikas Bajaj’s March 23 article, India's Woes Reflected in Bid to Restart Old Plant , which maintained “For all the progress India has made in information technology and service-sector jobs, the country is still unable to provide reliable power, water, roads and other basic infrastructure to most of its 1.2 billion people.”   Another economics story, reported by the BBC, was the visit to India of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in early April, following a New York Times preview  that noted “Bilateral trade has tripled in the last 10 years, to $37.6 billion. American private investment in India is worth $16.1 billion, about 10 times what it was in the late 1990s.”  But as a Times graphic shows, that $37.6 billion figure, for 2009, ranked just 14th  among U.S. trading partners, immediately behind Singapore and ahead of Venezuela – and about one tenth of the trade with China (which ranked number two, just behind Canada and ahead of Mexico).

Weeks earlier, the metropolitan Delhi city of Noida was featured in a March 19 Times article by Jim Yardley, For India's Newly Rich Farmers, Limos Won't Do : “Land acquisition has created pockets of instant wealth and a new economic caste in India: nouveau riche farmers.”

Yardley’s March 24 article, Indian Students Wield Tests for College Spots , asserted:  “As India's middle class has steadily grown, so has the intensity of the competition for entrance into the country's universities. . . . The mania over testing underscores a fundamental disconnect in Indian education: Even as elite Indian students have achieved remarkable success studying overseas, the Indian educational system is widely considered to be failing both the tens of millions of students at the bottom, who drop out before high school, and the smaller pool at the top, who are competing for entrance into universities that are too few and too underfinanced. Education presents such a stubborn problem, especially access to quality education, that experts warn that the future advantages of India’s youthful population could become a disadvantage if the government cannot improve the system rapidly enough to provide more students a chance at college. Of the 186 million students in India, only 12.4 percent are enrolled in higher education, one of the lowest ratios in the world.”

The Times reported this month on a teacher from China working in Oklahoma who observed cultural differences between education in China and the U.S.: “My life in high school was torture, just studying, nothing else,” said Ms. Zheng. . . . “Here students lead more interesting lives,” partly because they are more involved in athletics, choir and other activities. “They party, they drink, they date,” she added. “In China, we study and study and study.” . . . Ms. Zheng said she believed that teachers got little respect in America. “This country doesn’t value teachers, and that upsets me,” she said. “Teachers don’t earn much, and this country worships making money. In China, teachers don’t earn a lot either, but it’s a very honorable career.”

. . .

On April 1 a new education law (enacted in 2009 after a 2002 constitutional amendment) took effect, providing for a free and compulsory education for all Indians ages 6 to 14.  The Voice of America and the Times of India provide information almost entirely absent from major U.S. media.  Implementation of the new law is uncertain with the extreme range of quality among Indian schools, in particular the corruption that infects many government schools.

NPR’s reporting from along the Grand Trunk Road asked, "In India, Can Schools Offer Path Out of Poverty?"  A city in which my wife lived for several years as a child was examined; the story was evocative for her in its statement that “Muslim girls almost never stay [in school] beyond the onset of puberty.” 

My wife’s family is Muslim, and her impoverished great-grandmother departed from this common pattern when she (herself with little schooling) insisted that her daughter – my wife’s grandmother – pursue education.  The daughter went on to become a school principal, and her daughter (my mother-in-law) and granddaughters adopted academic careers.  The rarity of that in India’s Muslim community is suggested by my wife’s recollection that in the early 1990s, she was one of only two Muslims in her high-school cohort of fifty – substantial underrepresentation given a Muslim minority population in India (some 13 percent) so large that only Indonesia has a greater number of Muslims.

This blog’s early January 2010 and late December 2009 posts addressed aspects of India (including the Delhi Metro and a Noida mall), during and after a recent trip there, as did a September 2009 post.  

Experiences with education in India and in China  can be glimpsed in a film – on how academically oriented high-school students often spend their time in those countries versus most of their counterparts in the U.S. – mentioned in a June 2009 post and again in a December 3 post: "Two Million Minutes."

11:47 pm edt 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Violence from Virginia to Connecticut

A May 6 New York Times article noted At Virginia, a Vigil and the First Attempts at Healing:
UVA President John Casteen said he hoped Yeardley Love’s  death at the hands of George Huguely “inspires an anger and a sense of outrage” about violence.  “If your relationship is toxic, seek help,” Casteen said. . . . “Don't hear a scream, don't watch abuse, don't hear stories of abuse.   Speak out.”

In Connecticut, Amanda Falcone’s May 6 Hartford Courant account notes the State Senate’s passage of three domestic violence bills and their provisions.

New Haven’s Clifford Beers Clinic since held a May 12 event that considered the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study of trauma’s long-term effects.

A May 1 blog post below discussed related developments, including the "Stay at Home" Fundraiser of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven.

7:55 am edt 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Mother's Day, a Father-Daughter Moment

Tonight, my daughter and I enjoyed a moment that evoked a March 21 New York Times article by Michael Winerip, " Generation B:  A Father-Daughter Bond, Page by Page ."

In our family, as Mother’s Day turned to night, my wife and I were dividing pleasant responsibilities; she put our son to bed, while I read to our daughter.

We’ve been reading E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan after having finished Stuart Little.  These were two of my favorites as a kid, as was Charlotte’s Web, which we will turn to next.  Re-reading these books to my nearly five-year-old has been a treat, especially the sharing of a story and intermittent conversation with her but also the rediscovery of White’s writing.  In addition, my daughter and I recently have been enjoying several of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books together.  For his earlier children’s classics, White won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1970, the year The Trumpet of the Swan was published.

My daughter has gradually been gaining confidence and facility in letter recognition, but not until tonight had she read, or at least successfully guessed, a phrase.  That first happened when we came to an illustration of Louis the (mute but accomplished) swan holding a slate around his neck, with the following words proclaimed in chalk to his intended sweetheart swan, Serena: “I LOVE YOU.”  Without prompting, my daughter said what those letters meant.  What more could a smitten dad ask than to have his little girl – entirely unscripted – make those words the first she had ever read?!

Thanks to the New Haven Public Library for its role in what promises to have been a memorable family experience, assisted by this blog as a recording device. . . .

A Family Literacy Forum was held in Fair Haven earlier in the spring.

9:03 pm edt 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Charlotte and New Haven

According to a May 3 New York Times Editorial:  The New Haven Model  "A new teacher training and evaluation system in New Haven shows what can go right when school districts and unions work together."  The editorial notes, "The city of New Haven and the American Federation of Teachers deserve high praise for the new teacher training and evaluation system they unveiled."

An April 26 Times Editorial:  When the System Works  contends "The Education Department has vowed to fix failing schools. It will need comprehensive, district-wide programs, like an innovative one that is working in North Carolina." 

That April 26 editorial urges paying "close attention to what is happening in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.  Two years ago, district administrators adopted an innovative staffing system intended to put the best principals in the most troubled schools ­ and give them the autonomy they need to succeed. While Charlotte was already one of the highest-performing urban systems in the country, it has made progress since then. Under the Strategic Staffing Initiative, principals who have improved student performance at their current school are given bonuses and allowed to recruit new leadership teams in exchange for moving to chronically low-performing schools."
. . .

In 2009, the Charlotte Teachers Institute was launched, joining the school district in a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Davidson College.

Teachers from Charlotte, among other districts including New Haven, will be on the Yale campus as National Fellows this week  for a session beginning this year's national seminars, led by six Yale faculty members.
7:18 am edt 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Teacher Appreciation Week 7:36 am edt 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Domestic Violence: A Public Challenge

The New Haven Register published an April 22 opinion article, "Domestic Violence Is a Public Challenge" -- days before the Connecticut House approved related legislation following recommendations of a task force.  Now the Senate has through May 5 to pass the three bills this session.  An earlier report concerned a West Haven police effort to counter the problem.  Beyond Connecticut, revelations that he had discouraged accountability for an abusive aide contributed to New York Gov. David Paterson's decision not to run for re-election.

This blog has addressed domestic violence periodically, such as on January 20 of this year and in an October 2008 opinion piece, "Domestic Violence No Game" - which touched on athletes and the more positive role sports could play in this area. 

Readers may wish to support the "Stay at Home" Fundraiser of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven.

7:52 am edt 

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