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, December 20, 2014

“The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century”

I’ve been reading Peter Dreier’s The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.  This 2012 book has enhanced my appreciation of figures from Robert La Follette Sr., Florence Kelley, and Fiorello La Guardia to Ella Baker, Walter Reuther, and David Brower – who may been the most important environmentalist since John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt.

Few of the selections would be controversial in progressive circles, though I disagree with the inclusion of Bob Dylan in particular (despite his artistry).  If one were to add an entertainment luminary to the likes of Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger, a strong candidate would be Paul Newman.  An actor-activist who made Richard Nixon’s enemies list, Paul Newman also lent his name to Newman’s Own, the company that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for charitable causes.

7:31 am est 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

“The Opportunity Equation”

Recently I read a new book by Eric Schwarz, a founder and longtime leader of Citizen Schools, called The Opportunity Equation.  (The Carnegie Corporation of New York and Institute for Advanced Study collaborated on a commission that produced a 2009 report, on STEM education, with a similar title.)  His subtitle: “How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.”

Eric Schwarz, whom I met in summer 2000 and recently saw briefly when he gave a book talk in New Haven, concentrates on the role of volunteer “citizen teachers” that Citizen Schools has deployed for two decades.  His book is an unusual combination: part memoir, part institutional history, part how-to manual, part policy brief, and part call to action.  A former journalist, he narrates effectively – with elements of humor as well as data and well-earned experience.  He is respectful of professional teachers while recognizing their need for greater support.

Large-scale increases in volunteer mentoring and tutoring, and in federal support for the AmeriCorps service program, are among his suggestions.

His own privileged background, far from something he takes for granted, fuels his zeal for expanding learning opportunities and learning time in order to counter inequalities.  He argues (page 195):

“…Some of the achievement gap (20 to 30 percent) is caused by inequality between schools in wealthier and poorer backgrounds. This inequality needs to change. But most of the gap comes from unequal access to learning opportunities offered after school or in the summers, at home or in a growing constellation of tutoring centers, skill-building camps, and paid enrichment and internship programs.  Upper-income kids get many thousands of dollars invested in these types of extra learning opportunities, and as a result they hone their basic academic skills; they build new skills such as the ability to innovate and create and work on teams, and they build increasingly important social networks and social skills.  This inequality needs to change too.”

10:39 am est 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Recognizing Student-Athletes and Basketball, at UConn and Yale

This is Pearl Harbor Day, and there are numerous subjects of global, national, state or local consequence on which one might opine.  But as a father of young children and as a volunteer youth basketball coach, I’m going to address the diversion of sport.

This blog has occasionally treated UConn basketball, as in April 2011 and April 2014 (April 8), after the men’s team won NCAA titles.  In between, a March 2013 (March 10) post considered both UConn and Yale basketball and the “promising seasons” the teams could anticipate in 2013-14, during which senior-led UConn would go on to win the national championship (with superb coaching by Kevin Ollie and his staff) – and Yale to finish second in the Ivy League after an early season loss to UConn.

Friday night, my son and I were in Storrs to see UConn host Yale in a rematch (28 years after Yale last beat UConn).  This season, UConn is a relatively young team and Yale a more veteran squad, albeit without the NCAA tournament experience of the Huskies.

In March 2013, I wrote that on Yale’s senior night, “Sophomores, including two known for their sobriety, helped lead” an Ivy League win.  Now, those sophomores are seniors.  (One would-be senior, Connecticut native and political science major Brandon Sherrod – a founder of “Team Sober” – is taking a year off, having joined the Whiffenpoofs singing group.)  The remaining seniors include his Team Sober cofounder, Javier Duren, an economics major and starting point guard; Armani Cotton, a psychology major and another starter, recognized with a team award for “hard work and dedication”; Greg Kelley, an American studies major who is the captain; and Matt Townsend, a molecular, cellular, and developmental biology major who is a starting forward and now a Rhodes Scholar. 

(UConn’s basketball team also had a Rhodes Scholar finalist this year, Goldwater Scholar Pat Lenehan.) 

Justin Sears, a junior political science major at Yale who volunteered with New Haven public school students and writes occasionally for The Basketball Diary, is the Ivy League preseason player of the year.

In an era when athletes are often disparaged for off-field or off-court behavior and major universities are investigated for academic fraud that includes athletes (and others), members of this Yale team have earned attention not only for academic distinction (one of only two Ivy League teams with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better) but also for community service, including for the cause of literacy.  The players I’ve met have uniformly made a good impression and reflect well on Coach James Jones as a judge and developer of character, not just talent.

(My occasional interactions with UConn players over the years have also been positive; for example, Friday I happened to meet R.J. Evans, who played a postgraduate season at UConn in 2012-13, earned his master’s degree and works in business.  Kevin Ollie and his staff are themselves former UConn players.)

On Friday, Yale dealt UConn a rare home defeat, a dramatic 45-44 upset in the final seconds.

I am a fan of both Yale and UConn basketball and confident the Huskies, momentarily humbled after three straight losses (in which injuries have played a role), will soon be winning again. This season and likely even more so in 2015-16, UConn will perform at a high level.  I’ll be in the stands, or at least watching on TV, whenever possible.

2014-15 could be the first year since 1962 that Yale wins the Ivy League title and makes the NCAA tournament, where the team’s experience, poise, and unity would make it competitive.  New Haveners with any interest in basketball should be encouraged to come out and support this group of young men, too.
9:28 am est 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Race and Violence, Schools and Society

Half a century ago, in May 1964, President Lyndon Johnson envisioned a nation advancing not just toward “the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society” that might “end poverty and racial injustice.”

This lofty rhetoric has not, of course, been fulfilled – even as progress has occurred. 

Travis Bristol – whose work has been mentioned on this blog previously in August 2014 (August 10), September 2013 (September 7), and June 2013 posts – wrote a recent Edutopia piece, “Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject.” 

1:52 pm est 

Archive Newer | Older