- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unfamiliar education

“We have asked incoming first-year students to read two texts in the summer before they arrive at Bard - Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ and the fourth chapter of Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species,’ ‘Natural Selection.’ On some level, students will find something familiar about these summer readings as well as something counterintuitive and obscure. A simplified version of what takes place in Kafka’s short story has some presence in popular culture, and at a minimum, most students will have heard someone use the word ‘Kafkaesque.’ …

“The disjunction between image and reality could not be more pronounced than in the case of Charles Darwin. The claims of no other thinker or scientist, with the possible exception of Einstein, have been so mangled and distorted in the popular imagination. Somehow every citizen thinks he or she knows what Darwin thought without actually having read his writings. Direct engagement with Darwin’s work not only makes the character and significance of modern biology more apparent, exciting, and vital, but the brilliance and subtlety of Darwin’s thought quickly dispel the distortions that dominate scientific journalism in the popular media.”

- Leon Botstein, writing on “Message to Freshmen: Let’s Start With Kafka and Darwin” on June 10 at Minding the Campus

Familiar education

“America’s public schools have served their purpose. Free and compulsory education was good for a somewhat unpromising young nation. The country was half turnip-head hillbilly and half slum trash from foreign refuse heaps. Public schools were supposed to take this mob of no-account pea pickers and bumbling greaseballs and turn them into a half-bright national citizenry. It worked, causing six or eight generations of public school kids to rush home to their shanties or tenements shouting, ‘Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City!’ or ‘Mom, Dad, this is America, quit boiling cabbage!’

“Public schools helped create the idea of America and inculcate Americans with a few rudiments of knowledge. To judge by that very American item, the Internet, a few rudiments is all anyone cares to have. As for the idea of America, everybody’s got it now, all over the world. I’ve had a cab driver in New York who got the idea of America in a country so remote that not only had I never heard of it, neither had he. I don’t know if this cab driver’s reading level was at or above proficient, but his math skills were well-displayed on the taxi meter after he took me from JFK to Manhattan by way of the Brooklyn Belt Parkway. I’ll bet he sends his kids to private school.”

- P.J. O’Rourke, writing on “End Them, Don’t Mend Them” in the June 21 issue of the Weekly Standard

Unfamiliar sports

“I detect a lot of culture-warrior rejectivism going on among progressives, here, actively championing soccer not just because they simply like soccer better, but because they actively and affirmatively reject the culture they grew up with and seek, as they often do, an alternative that is both foreign and therefore ‘better,’ and which also, quite consciously, places them in position outside the American cultural mainstream.

“And from that position, they are better able to do what they always wind up doing anyway - mocking American traditional culture and positing that every other culture, no matter how stupid, primitive, or barbaric, needs be necessarily better than American culture simply because it’s not American.

“As progressives say, you shouldn’t dismiss or demean a person or culture just because they represent ‘The Other.’ You know what you also shouldn’t do? Pick your enthusiasms of the week simply because they represent ‘The Other,’ either.”

- Blogger Ace of Spades, writing on “The Real Reason the Right Doesn’t Like Soccer” on June 14 at his self-titled site

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