Tag Archives: The Atlantic

Calibrating the Moral Compass

“Dominos & Compass,” by Kolby via Flickr.

“Dominos & Compass,” by Kolby via Flickr.

Writing in the Atlantic last July, high school teacher Paul Barnwell expressed fears that his students have broken moral compasses. At the same time, he reports, they are enthusiastic in classrooms discussion that address deeper levels of morality. Yet schools frequently steer clear of moral instruction because, Barnwell believes, they are too busy trying to meet narrowly defined federal academic success standards. The result? A crisis in character of the rising generation.

As educators ourselves, we concur with many of Barnwell’s observations. And we know we aren’t alone. Witness the rapidly growing interest in character education among philanthropies, researchers, policy advocates, and public schools. And recent legislation has encouraged a more holistic approach by requiring states to include non-academic factors in their accountability systems.

While we applaud efforts to promote character education, folding it into school accountability schemes is fraught with peril. Some argue that if it’s not measured, it’s not valued. But as psychologist Angela Duckworth notes, current measures for non-cognitive outcomes are limited by self-reporting and reference bias. Adding character to the testing regime at this stage would be premature and counterproductive.

Off-the-shelf character programs may be a tempting fix for schools already juggling multiple demands, but most such programs fall short.  A study conducted by the Institution of Education Sciences concluded that only two out of sixty measured outcomes were statistically significant. In fairness, as Duckworth notes, these kinds of outcomes are extremely difficult to measure well, in part because character formation itself is not easy to do well. Continue reading

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Which Religious-Liberty Protections Mean
Something? A Question for Jonathan Merritt

Protesters at the Moral March on Raleigh (February 13, 2016). Susan Melkisethian via flickr.

Protesters at the Moral March on Raleigh (February 13, 2016). Susan Melkisethian via flickr.

Although I admire Jonathan Merritt’s religion writing a great deal, I was disappointed with his latest Atlantic piece, “Religious-Liberty Laws That Have No Meaning.” Merritt takes conservatives to task for recent state-level legislation that purports to protect either religious liberty or bathroom safety at a cost to sexual minorities. His immediate targets are recent laws in Tennessee (aimed at protecting medical professionals who object to gay marriage and non-marital sex on conscience grounds) and North Carolina (requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to gender given on their birth certificate).

Merritt argues that laws of this nature are driven by conservative “fear” and reflect efforts to “‘solve’ non-existent problems.” Neither law is particularly well-written, and the North Carolina law in particular reflects partisan politics (for example, it also prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s). Nevertheless, I worry that Merritt’s withering critique has perhaps unwittingly contributed to a certain kind of progressive narrative as ungrounded as the conservative one that he critiques.

When it comes to understanding clashes between religious liberty and the rights of sexual minorities, there is no one “conservative narrative” and no one “progressive narrative.” For the purposes of this discussion, however, we can talk about a “fear narrative” pushed by some conservatives and a “bigotry narrative” pushed by some progressives.

The fear narrative rallies its base in much the way that Merritt describes: by promoting anxiety and mistrust in reaction to progressive causes, especially those involving sexual minorities. The bigotry narrative is similarly indiscriminate: It views traditional religious beliefs about sexuality as rooted only in animus.

Merritt does a good job critiquing the fear narrative, including highlighting the misguided legislative effort in Tennessee to declare the Bible the official state book. (That might have been a nice gesture in 1816; it makes no legal or cultural sense in 2016.) I also share Merritt’s views about North Carolina lawmakers’ approach to bathrooms. The sexual predator trope advanced by the fear narrative is as galling as it is ungrounded, and that kind of rhetoric does real harm to real people. Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: April 1, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“A History of Wallpaper’s Deception,” Jude Stewart
“Wallpaper has been guilty of little white lies, like visually altering the proportions of a room or projecting your idle fancies onto the four walls—and also of more outright deception, of social pretension, even the erasure of history.”

“The Declining Taste of the Global Super-Rich,” Amber A’Lee Frost
“This is the state of fine arts under contemporary capitalism. Classics and antiquity have lost cultural cache in the age of disruption, and there is no longer an aristocratic imperative to support noble projects of lofty ambition.”

“A Century of Wild and Utopian Experiments with Self-Sustaining Worlds,” Claire Voon
“Can a house sustain itself by eating its own tail?”

“Inside a Chinese Self-Help Group,” Yuebai Liu
“The desire for self-actualization in a hyper-competitive society like China is strong. It’s also increasingly difficult as inequality continues to rise.”

“Tracing the Steps of Lost Explorers in Miserable, Beautiful Siberia,” Hampton Sides
“Today it’s hard for us to understand how intensely curious people were in the 19th century to learn what was Up There. The polar problem loomed as a public fixation and a planetary enigma. The gallant, fur-cloaked men who ventured into the Arctic had become national idols. People couldn’t get enough of them.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: October 16, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“The New Guilded Age,” Nathan Schneider
“After some years engaged in varied forms of entrepreneurship, they were trying to figure out what forms of organization would best suit their peers’ shifting working conditions. Neither unions nor chambers of commerce seemed suited to a generation that increasingly can’t count on having a fixed place of work. The Reverend Leng Lim, a minister and executive coach who lives across the street from the nuns, suggested that Chavez and his compatriots consider looking into guilds.”

“Raiders of the Lost Web,” Adrienne LaFrance
“You can’t count on the web, okay? It’s unstable. You have to know this.”

“Danny Meyer Is Eliminating All Tipping at His Restaurants,” Ryan Sutton
“In an ideal world, eliminating tipping would be an easy matter of moving money from one bucket to another, with restaurants simply having to raise menu prices by 15 to 20 percent to make up for what patrons would have left as a gratuity.”

“Richard Spruce and the Trials of Victorian Bryology,” Elaine Ayers
“Mosses and hepatics, in the nineteenth century as now, were—perhaps unsurprisingly—relatively unpopular plants.”

“Fashioning Normal,” Esmé Weijun Wang“My talk for the clinic is one that I adjust for a variety of audiences: students, patients, doctors. It begins with this line: ‘It was winter in my sophomore year at a prestigious university.’ That phrase, prestigious university, is there to underscore my kempt hair, the silk dress, my makeup, the dignified shoes.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: September 25, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Down the Rabbit Hole,” Evan Kindley
“What makes a good annotator? It’s some combination, apparently, of excess and restraint: an instinct for when to tell us more than we need to know (or more than we knew there was to know) balanced with a refusal to bore us.”

“This Free Online Encyclopedia Has Achieved What Wikipedia Can Only Dream Of,” Nikhil Sonnad
“The [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] is a highly rare case of knowledge being separated from the trash heap. The question is, can we make more of the internet like this?”

“The Magic of Untidiness,” Laurel Berger
“Renewal is what we do each time we revisit a book. It’s not only the text that holds meaning, but the thing itself and the imprint that time and lived experience have left on it.”

“How Naked People Took Over Reality Television,” James Parker
“The discourse of true love, of finding the right person, etc., winds bizarrely and distractingly through Dating Naked, past the yoga boners and the lewd poolside fondlings.”

“The Pamphleteers,” Scott Porch and Gordon Wood
“The pamphlets are hard to read. There are too many citations to Cicero and Tacitus, and there’s a very limited audience for that. To some extent, that’s true today. People who read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and Atlantic Monthly are the same people.”

“Broken Links,” Alana Massey
“I asked Michael L Nelson, a computer scientist at Old Dominion University in Virginia, how likely it is that someone, or something, could follow my trail back to find the comments and profiles I’d flung across the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: May 1, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish,” Bill Keller
“The mass arrests made clear, we can lock up anybody, we don’t have to figure out who’s committing crimes, we don’t have to investigate anything, we just gather all the bodies—everybody goes to jail.”

“Frontiers of the Stuplime,” Katy Waldman
“There’s something wonderful about this dogged insistence on having nothing whatsoever to show for your time in class, especially given the cultural rage for productivity. And the seminar courts a drifting boredom that is seductive in its challenge to the cult of mindfulness. But: With the approval of the UPenn English Department, Goldsmith’s crafted a creative writing course that fails to generate any writing, one that to some extent paints basic college benefits like insight, growth, and learning as passé fantasies of the old guard.”

“On Intellectual Genealogies,” Matthew Schmitz
“Paul begat Augustine.”

“The Strange Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe’s Hair,” Elon Green
“In the 166 years since his death, locks attributed to Poe have turned up in a number of places and collections, private and public.”

“The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed,” Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer
“In their respective eras, Time, USA Today, and MTV were all revolutionary. Each of those three companies had a different set of innovations, a different rise, a different fall—and each offers a different way of understanding BuzzFeed.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: February 20, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Nice to Meat You,” Adam Kotsko
“A single creepy property, if strongly expressed, can give rise to the entire ensemble.”

“Why ‘The Enlightenment Project’ Is Necessary and Unending,” Todd Gitlin
Those who scorn ‘the Enlightenment project’ fail to realize how heavily they depend on the very reason they scorn or at least the reputation for reason, even as, instead of deep studies, they are encouraged to play games of citational gotcha: Pin the tail on Kant.

“Always Already Alienated,” Jon Baskin
“Lerner is the leading practitioner of the novel of detachment—an ascendant genre in contemporary American letters.”

“Where Van Gogh Learned to Paint,” William Cook
“Van Gogh’s suicide, in 1890, went entirely unreported in the Belgian press, but in the summer of 1914 six of his paintings were exhibited here in Mons, at the handsome Hôtel de Ville. The art critic from Le Hainaut didn’t think that much of them, apart from a ‘violent’ painting of some sunflowers.”

“What ISIS Really Wants,” Graeme Wood
“Our failure to appreciate the split between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions.”

“Dressing Down,” Claude S. Fischer
“Our contemporary informality may depend on much tighter internal control than formality did.”

“What’s Wrong With Public Intellectuals?,” Mark Greif
“When The Chronicle Review invited me, with the spur of Partisan Review’s digital reappearance, to compare it with the ‘state of polemic’ now, in 2015, I confess my heart sank. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and it is so hard to distinguish in your own time what is temporary rubble and what is bedrock once you get the historical jackhammer whirring. Yet I do feel certain that quite common, well-intentioned arguments about ‘public writing’ and polemic now are misguided, and the university-baiting is annoying.”

And for those looking for a little more reading to do:

“Forty for 40: A Literary Reader for Lent,” Nick Ripatrazone
“This reader is intended to be literary, not theological; contemplative rather than devotional. Bookmark this page and come back each day. Save it for upcoming years. The dates will change, but the sequence of readings and reflections will stay the same: a small offering of communion that might transcend our isolation.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: November 21, 2014

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Noteworthy reads from last week:

“A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” Sabrina Rubin Erdely
“… at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.”

“Either One: the Video Game that Tries to Simulate Dementia” Michael Thomsen
“The game casts the player as an employee of a futuristic memory-retrieval company called the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine. Your job is to dive into the mind of Jean Thompson, a sixty-nine-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, and retrieve a series of lost memories.”

“Why It’s So Hard for Millennials to Find a Place to Live and Work” Derek Thompson
“The paradox of the American Dream: The best cities to get ahead are often the most expensive places to live, and the most affordable places to live can be the worst cities to get ahead.”

“Gross Violations” Carol Hay
“Disgust is often used as a tool of persuasion. But are gut feelings ever a reliable guide in questions of right and wrong?”

“What Happened the Last Time Republicans Has a Majority This Huge?” Josh Zeitz
“Since last week, many Republicans have been feeling singularly nostalgic for November 1928, and with good reason. It’s the last time that the party won such commanding majorities in the House of Representatives while also dominating the Senate.”

“The New ‘Normal Barbie’ Comes With an Average Woman’s Proportions—And Cellulite Sticker Accessories” Laura Stampler
“A lot of toys makes kids go into fantasy, but why don’t they show real life is cool?”

“Distribution Isn’t Outdated” James Mumford
“G.K. Chesterton offers a non-statist vision for economic and social change that’s still relevant in the age of the iPhone.”

“Why Independent Bookstores Are More Than Just Places to Buys Books” David Rosenberg
“They’re a meeting place away from the often segregated, homogenous world of social media.”

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