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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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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Historical Context from UConn

Two University of Connecticut historians this month wrote Hartford Courant articles relating current events to history.

Bruce M. Stave (whose books include a history of UConn among other works such as The Discontented Society, edited with LeRoy Ashby) put the recent occupiers in historical context. 

Bruce Stave, with specialties in urban and oral history, concluded: “The Occupiers' practice of micro-democracy and shared decision-making is not dissimilar to ‘participatory democracy’ favored by the New Left during the 1960s, and to anarchism long before that. The lack of structured leadership and hierarchy in favor of loose organization without a specific program does not have many precedents, but may prove an advantage. It offers a safety valve to ward off failure. If you don't have a program, there is little risk in not having it implemented.  Success for Occupiers is existing as a movement and raising society's consciousness about the inequality that divides America today as rarely before. Success, too, is in the global reach of the movement that spread across the Western world in opposition to imbalanced and inequitable economies.  Whether concrete solutions to the nation's and the world's ills will result from, or be shaped by, the Occupy movement remains to be seen. Whether turmoil will continue for a prolonged period is uncertain. Our society, however, has been discontented before, and the center has held. I fear, unfortunately, that in this age of greatly diminished political compromise and unbridled greed, we may be in a new ballgame in which there are few winners.”

The prior week, Richard D. Brown invoked the Puritans to argue that if the alleged crimes involving Penn State occurred, punishment through the legal system is necessary but insufficient.  He suggested that in addition, “If Penn State is to put this scandal behind it and restore its good name, it might begin by following the Puritan model and thrusting out the offenders. Evidently the trustees have started that process by firing [football coach] Paterno and accepting [university president] Spanier's resignation.”

Together, Richard D. Brown and Irene Q. Brown (my parents) wrote a book, The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler, about an early-19th-century case in which a Massachusetts man was executed after being convicted of rape (and incest).

My father’s current work explores equality and equal rights in the early American republic.  A podcast related to a recent journal article connected history – and possible historical errors – to subsequent policy-making.  In 2010, in a volunteer advisory capacity, he participated in a non-partisan search process to identify a new Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Education Week in New Haven

Stephen Sawchuk’s recent Education Week article on New Haven’s collaborative teacher evaluation system cites teachers including John Laub, who has twice been a Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Fellow.  As a Fellow, he prepared curriculum units such as this one on epidemics and infectious diseases in the 20th century.

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