HomeAboutProfessionalVolunteerOpinion ArticlesInspirationContact
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.
Archive Newer | Older

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Remembering My Grandmother

My grandmother died a year ago today, as remembered here the next day.

7:30 am est 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seminars for 2011

Yesterday the New Haven Independent posted an account of a January 11 Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute event and preview of this partnership’s New Haven seminars for 2011.

Historian John Lewis Gaddis will be leading his first Institute seminar.  English professors Janice Carlisle and Langdon Hammer led prior New Haven seminars in 2009 (Writing, Knowing, Seeing) and 2007 (American Voices: Listening to Fiction, Poetry, and Prose), respectively; L. Hammer also led Yale National Initiative seminars in 2008, 2009, and 2010.  John Wargo, whose field is environmental risk analysis and policy, led four New Haven seminars between 1997 and 2003, as well as more recent national seminars on Energy, Climate, Environment and Urban Environmental Quality and Human Health: Conceiving a Sustainable Future.

5:37 am est 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Drama and Escape of Sport

Having tonight watched a troubling Frontline episode – about the "terrorism-industrial complex," suspect aircraft maintenance, and Afghanistan – I am escaping to recall the frivolous drama of sport.

Yesterday, I was at the University of Connecticut for the men's basketball team's last-seconds victory over highly ranked Villanova.  This blog has included previous posts about basketball:  January 26, 2009 ("Basketball, Politics, and Purpose") and January 24, 2010 ("Basketball and 'Irrational Exuberance'" – days after which the New Yorker happened to publish Carlo Rotella’s observations "On the Basketball Court with Arne Duncan"), as well as June 5, 2010  ("John Wooden, Sport, and Society"). 

In October 2008, "Domestic Violence No Game" argued “our state university should win the right way” and connected sports and violence, as did posts on May 14, 2010 and October 16, 2010

There is an irrationality to my more than three decades-long attachment to UConn basketball.  (This personal Huskymania began just a few years after my initiation to UConn as a preschooler in its child labs in the early 1970s – one of several disparate affiliations with the university that briefly included a part-time job as an academic tutor for one of the mainstays on Geno Auriemma's first final four team.Yet sometimes the fanaticism of a fan is fulfilled.  I don't watch the Oscars or even the Super Bowl (unless the Patriots are playing); the UConn Huskies provide my winter recreation, occasionally stirringly so.

Such recreation obviously cannot compare to the gravity and moral power of something like the March on Washington, which the nation remembered yesterday on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (and to which my January 15 post below refers). Yet some cultural observers cite parallels between luminous religious experience and the dimmer passion of athletic competition and fandom.  

David Brooks recently wrote a column on "The Arena Culture" – drawing on All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean D. Kelly, who has a related blog.

Wesleyan University's president, Michael Roth, in a New York Times book review of the Dreyfus and Kelly book, maintains its authors “awkwardly depart from their poems, novels and plays to cite feelings of oneness in a crowd watching Roger Federer play tennis! Can privileged, happy spectators really stand as an antidote for the general affliction of modernity? Is ‘whooshing’ along with a crowd the philosophers’ cure for nihilism or just its expression? …. Despite its shortcomings, All Things Shining repays attention and reflection. It is a fascinating read and deserves an audience far beyond the borders of academia. Even if you don’t agree that we are caught in an age of nihilistic indecision, if you attune yourself to the authors’ energetic intelligence and deep engagement with key texts in the West, you will have much to be grateful for.”

I haven’t read the book, and it’s been two decades since I encountered some of those classic texts in a Directed Studies program.  I can attest to the secular fanaticism of arena crowds at yesterday's UConn-Villanova game and last year's UConn-Texas game. 

While the fan fervor was less sustained and intense than at last year's Texas game (when the Longhorns entered with the nation’s top ranking and the desperate Huskies played superbly in the second half), yesterday’s still considerable excitement was fueled by the brilliance of UConn’s Kemba Walker, who earlier this month helped defeat Texas for a second straight year.  Playing only so-so by his high standards most of yesterday, Kemba Walker  redeemed himself by creating and sinking the winning hoop with remarkable poise.  As he did so and Villanova’s counter fell short, the UConn faithful erupted yesterday with a frenzy that rivaled the ecstatic conclusion to the Texas game I wrote about on January 24, 2010.

10:01 pm est 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Trying to Teach History to a Five-Year-Old

On this day when Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 82 years old, I attempted for the first time – with only mixed success – to introduce him and his significance to my five-year-old daughter.  From the New Haven Public Library, my wife obtained I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins; and a book on King – illustrated with photographs – that is part of a (Rourke) series on “Equal Rights Leaders” that also includes Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

My daughter was most interested to learn that her Grandpa (my father, who was a volunteer for the Congress of Racial Equality in Boston in the early 1960s) was among the crowd of thousands at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.  Together, we found grainy footage on Youtube of that vast crowd and listened to a portion of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Next year on his birthday, I’ll try again to draw some lessons for her from the MLK story.  She will increasingly learn about the Civil Rights movement in her New Haven public school (and from the historical storytelling of at least one Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Fellow at another school who has developed related curricular resources).  Perhaps eventually my daughter will be able to help inform her little brother of a few strands of history, while inspiring him to learn more. 

6:06 pm est 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Concord Review in the NYT

This week Sam Dillon of the New York Times profiled Will Fitzhugh and the Concord Review journal, which this blog has discussed on December 3, 2009, among other occasions. 

Dillon writes, “Researching a history paper, [Fitzhugh] said, is not just about accumulating facts, but about developing a sense of historical context, synthesizing findings into new ideas, and wrestling with how to communicate them clearly...”

10:49 pm est 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mentoring Month Begins

This is National Mentoring Month.

6:15 pm est 

Archive Newer | Older