A Couple of Curiosities

Peter Wood

Soothing Thoughts

                PBS affiliates will air a two-hour program on September 15 that presents “a frank evaluation of our educational system's strengths and weaknesses.” 

                Hosted by Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the documentary will visit schools throughout Ohio, an important swing state that represents a range of socioeconomic and geographic school districts. The program will feature schools in urban Cincinnati, suburban Columbus, and rural Belpre.

                Learn more here. Or click here for the “Highlight Reel” complete with gospel rendition of Jessica Andres’ sappy song, “Who I Am,” extolling the virtue of unambitious mediocrity: 

If I live to be a hundred and never see the seven wonders ...
That will be all right ...
If I don't make it to the big leagues...
If I never win a Grammy I 'm gonna be just fine...
Because I know exactly who I am. 

                Probably not what the inscription, γν?θι σεαυτ?ν, on the temple to Apollo at Delphi really meant. 

                A dozen video segments from the “Teaching & Learning Celebration 2008” are also posted, and though the tone is relentlessly saccharine, the speakers are also generally worried that American education at all levels is slipping badly in comparison with other countries. The preferred solution: cheerfulness and pats on the back for our excellent teachers. Remember, “There is nothing more important than our teachers and our children,” and, “What I’m saying here is that we’re all connected.”  


It’s Catching

                First Stanley Fish, now the vice chancellor of Cambridge. What’s the world coming to? 

                The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Vice Chancellor Alison Richard addressed the Universities UK Annual Conference” on September 10 with something more bracing than bromides about the importance of teaching. Essentially she told the British bureaucrats to bugger off and leave Cambridge to manage its own affairs. Well, she said it more politely:

                The high quality of our individual universities depends today and in the future on two deep, shared characteristics of the university system here: first, the institutional independence and freedom that help make us creative and daring communities, attractive places for talented people deciding where they want to work and live; and second, a modicum of resources, without which autonomy, let alone competitiveness, has little real meaning.

                But the Chronicle got the spirit of it in its headline, “U. of Cambridge Chief Says Universities Don't Exist to Promote Social Justice.” Richard’s key sentence: “As institutions charged with education, research and training, our purpose is not to be construed as that of handmaidens of industry, implementers of the skills agenda, or indeed engines for promoting social justice.” Read it all, here.

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