Education
Another Week Ends: Delta Malaise, Self-Deprecating Obituaries, The Hill and Wood, Breaking Bad, Bound Atheists, Fall Conf Schedule and more Dark Knight Rises

Another Week Ends: Delta Malaise, Self-Deprecating Obituaries, The Hill and Wood, Breaking Bad, Bound Atheists, Fall Conf Schedule and more Dark Knight Rises

1. First up, The New York Times published an eye-opening article about sorority rush in US colleges this week that’s been spreading like wildfire. It visits all the usual themes of the Law of group belonging: self-doubt, attempts at identity improvement, the need to belong, and our single-minded attempts to live up to a certain standard – no matter how much or little positive correlation it has with Old Testament/church morality. To illustrate how far the phenomenon of belonging is going:

In the early rounds, [girls] have only minutes to make a positive impression… Many aspiring sisters spend their summer working…

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Another Week Ends: Spoiled Kids, Harvard Perfectionism, KKKlan Grace, Lonergan’s Lament, Negative Thinking, Mormonism, Golf Ethics, Sorkinisms, and Fall Conference Update

Another Week Ends: Spoiled Kids, Harvard Perfectionism, KKKlan Grace, Lonergan’s Lament, Negative Thinking, Mormonism, Golf Ethics, Sorkinisms, and Fall Conference Update

1. Over at The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert surveyed the latest swath of parenting books, asking the question “Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?” Much of the article reiterates what we’ve been hearing with alarming frequency the past couple years, namely that the current “helicopter/snowplow” culture of control is backfiring, royally. It’s an honest if also fairly depressing analysis: the “performancism” epidemic being perpetuated (somewhat out of necessity) by US colleges has filtered down to the preschool level, which, combined with the hangover from the self-esteem movement and incredible advances in technology has created this weird situation where kids grow…

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“What Doesn’t Kill You Almost Kills You” — Conan O’Brien

“What Doesn’t Kill You Almost Kills You” — Conan O’Brien

Today I will graduate from Yale University with a Master’s of Divinity degree. In the spirit of this season of graduations, I share with you this excerpt from Conan O’Brien’s speech at Dartmouth’s commencement last year:

I learned a hard but profound lesson last year and I’d like to share it with you. In 2000, I told graduates ‘Don’t be afraid to fail.’ Well now I’m here to tell you that, though you should not fear failure, you should do your very best to avoid it. Nietzsche famously said ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ But what he failed to…

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Commencement 2012: Graduating to Humility

Commencement 2012: Graduating to Humility

A piece by Charles Wheelan that appeared in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago has been the go-to status update for the collective Class of 2012, many of who find themselves lamenting their impending commencement exercises. With unemployment still above 8 percent and college graduates leaving their alma maters with an average of $25,000 of loans, it seems as though any commencement address has an uphill battle ahead of it. Normally, these 30-minute monologues remind graduates of their duty to make “the world a better place,” or more shamelessly, to remember to give back to the annual…

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Another Week Ends: Inner Machiavellians, Lutheran Insults, Whisky Priests, Monkees, Mets, Parenthood, Veep, Viola Davis and Frankenweenie

Another Week Ends: Inner Machiavellians, Lutheran Insults, Whisky Priests, Monkees, Mets, Parenthood, Veep, Viola Davis and Frankenweenie

1. I’ll admit it: I’ve been trying to lay off the David Brooks, at least in the Weekend columns. As insightful as he frequently is, there are plenty of fish in the digital sea, are there not? Well, to paraphrase a Pacino, every time I think I’m out, he pulls me back in. That is to say, giving anything top billing other than his NY Times column from yesterday, “The Machiavellian Temptation,” would be dishonest. It’s getting to the point where I suspect we’re being punked a la Candid Camera. Anyway, this time around Herr Brooks is contrasting recent breakthroughs…

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Another Week Ends: Joseph Mills, Commitment Devices, Anxiety Rights, Bible Rescue, Imposter Syndrome, Hitch on Chesterton, Elmer Bernstein and Liz Lemon

Another Week Ends: Joseph Mills, Commitment Devices, Anxiety Rights, Bible Rescue, Imposter Syndrome, Hitch on Chesterton, Elmer Bernstein and Liz Lemon

1. One of the many things to adore about David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is the cover (of the US edition). The collage manages to capture the torrential intellect at the heart of that wonderful collection without losing the humor. But it wasn’t until this past week that I knew anything about its designer, photographer/artist/pumpkin farmer Joseph Mills. The Washington City Paper did a feature on him back in 2003 in conjunction with an exhibit at the Corcoran, and Joseph’s words–and personal history with psychosis and depression–pack quite a punch, ht SJ:

When asked about…

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PZ’s Podcast, 80-83: I’ll Catch The Sun, Violette Amoureuse, Speaking in Tongues, and I’m Younger Than That Now

PZ’s Podcast, 80-83: I’ll Catch The Sun, Violette Amoureuse, Speaking in Tongues, and I’m Younger Than That Now

EPISODE 80: I’ll Catch The Sun

This is about sentimentality. I’m not so bearish about sentimentality as I once was. In fact, I’m pretty bullish on it these days.

Yes, I know: “Sentimentality (is supposed to be) long-term cruelty.” And some well-known dictators have been a lot nicer to their pets than to their subjects. In other words, it’s possible to be a sentimentalist and awful at the same time.

But sentimentality has the benefit of being in touch with feeling. And feeling is good. Feeling is deep, instinctive almost, and often allied with love. Don’t we generally wish we had more “heart”…

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I Don’t Teach Poor Kids: Need and Moralistic Stereotyping

I Don’t Teach Poor Kids: Need and Moralistic Stereotyping

The latest installment of the Oxford American is the Education Issue. In it are all sorts of stories about teaching, teachers, bad schools, good schools, back-to-school, the smartest girl in school, schools of hard knocks, the school cafeteria, field trips, college trips, pop quizzes, quiz cheat-sheets.

In a time when nearly every sociopolitical conversation touches on education, there is, thanks to the efforts of numerous reform initiatives in public schools nationwide, a growing and overdue respect for the teaching profession. Having worked as a public school teacher for the last two years, I can testify that much of my conversations with…

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The Mockingbird MFA: “Creative” Writing and Unoriginal Genius

The Mockingbird MFA: “Creative” Writing and Unoriginal Genius

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” –Ecclesiastes 1:9

Mockingbird’s ars poetica is really saying nothing new, but saying the same old thing over and over and over again, and seeing it pop up and sing in the strangest of places. Apparently we’re setting (well, following) trends because, according to The Chronicle Review, this seems to be happening in the creative writing world. It’s called the writing practice of “unoriginal genius” and its modus operandi is eerily…

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Failing at Failure: Performancism in the College Admissions Process

Failing at Failure: Performancism in the College Admissions Process

It’s no stretch to say that our schools serve as microcosms of society, often casting cultural trends and crises into stark relief. Things we can excuse/support when it comes to the free market are a bit harder to endorse when they’re having a direct and detrimental effect on children. As we all know, nowhere is the rubber of American “performancism” hitting the road of human well-being more harshly these days than in our secondary schools, specifically the college admissions process. That is, the emphasis on superhuman achievement may not only be fostering a culture of competition and fear – cynically…

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Bill Watterson on Wandering Minds, Imaginary Ladders and Happy Lives

Bill Watterson on Wandering Minds, Imaginary Ladders and Happy Lives

I was searching for something/anything on Calvin and Hobbes‘ creator Bill Watterson this past weekend and came across the graduation speech he gave in 1990 at – you guessed it – Kenyon College. For those keeping score, this marks the third Kenyon speech we’ve excerpted (is there something in the water in Gambier?). While the piece as a whole is a bit bogged down by the licensing fight Watterson was embroiled in at that very moment with Universal Press Syndicate, there are definitely a few gems worth sharing. The part about playfulness in particular rings a few pneumatological bells, not…

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Angsty (Everyone) and Walker Percy (Part 3 of 3)

Angsty (Everyone) and Walker Percy (Part 3 of 3)

Earlier in the week we explored the loss of sovereignty over one’s experiences that occurs when we make the opinions of “experts” into a sort of Law, such that they have to certify our experiences as genuine. I can watch Midnight in Paris by myself and love it, but on my second showing with the film buff friends I do not enjoy the movie as something for me to watch. Rather, my highest satisfaction would be a positive review by my friend, which would certify my first experience as valid and authentic.

Not only do we surrender our opinions and experiences…

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How to Become an Adult

How to Become an Adult

In an op-ed column directed at recent college graduates, David Brooks doles out some pearls almost on par with David Foster Wallace’s address to Kenyon College some years back. Seeking to combat the idealistic follow-your-heart/you-can-do-it truisms we’ve all grown up with, Brooks says that true adulthood is found by losing yourself rather than seeking to find it. Life isn’t about self-fulfillment – or Incurvatus in Se as Luther would say, but commitments to others and causes greater than the self.

From a Mockingbird perspective, Brooks is really on to something worthwhile. A perpetual adolescent freedom to be led by…

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Testing Two-Year-Olds Before They Go To… Sleep

Testing Two-Year-Olds Before They Go To… Sleep

Holy Smokes! The latest volley – or reality check – in the annals of American achievement addiction arrived this past Sunday in The NY Times, via an article about pre-school tutoring, entitled “Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten?” The piece reports on the work of the Japanese tutoring company Kumon, now in the States and specializing in children 2-3 years old. It’s a laugh-or-you’ll-cry situation, and you can’t help but wonder what the next step will be – or rather, what can it be? That it’s all about the parents here is a foregone conclusion, but the delusion is nevertheless staggering. Meaning, if…

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Another Week Ends: Tiger Fathers and Tiger Kids, Quarter-Life Crises, Mark Ruffalo, Hoarding, Community & Nu Thangs

Another Week Ends: Tiger Fathers and Tiger Kids, Quarter-Life Crises, Mark Ruffalo, Hoarding, Community & Nu Thangs

1. We’ve been following the story of Vicki Abeles’ education documentary Race to Nowhere with great interest this past year, cheering it on as best we can. Slate ran a feature on the ruckus the film is kicking up around the country, rightfully placing it in the context of its doppelganger, “Battle Hymn of the Anti-Tiger Mother.”

Chua’s thesis is that if you let up, your kid will become a coddled American slacker. Abeles offers the antithesis. She argues that part of America’s greatness is born of our misfits and dreamers, that our gift to our children is…

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