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Originality does not consist in

saying what no one

has ever said before,

but in saying exactly what

you think yourself.

–James Stephens


To err is human.

To arrr is pirate.


The disposition that moves some to outbursts of non-constructive, sometimes destructive criticism is too often a self-centered one and one that is grounded in fear. Who knows what the right response is in all cases—or whether or not there should always be a response. But it makes sense that a good response should be compassionate and should reflect empathy, in place of vengeance.

Anyone who has declared someone

else to be an idiot, a bad

apple, is

annoyed when it turns

out in the end

that he isn’t.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

On Categorical Cognition

The scholar tends to place things in their separate categories of analysis and attempts to make statements about causality based on those distinctions.

Yet there is something about experiencing an event or events that is lost in the subsequent translation of those events.  More often than not, experience–the ways in which events both process and get processed by experience–goes beyond the rational categories of analysis that are set out for their interpretation by historians, for example.  As experiencers themselves, scholars recognize this.

There is a subjective component to knowing, to expertise, to efficiency of mind.  And the problem for the responsible scholar lies in making sense of the subjective without objectifying that experience as irrational.


I would like to direct readers to a paper I wrote several years ago on the issue of teacher quality.  Here is the link.

Critical Inputs–An Economic and Historical Exploration of Teacher Quality

Also, here is a link to SB-736, the Florida Senate Bill on teacher merit pay and tenure which recently passed in the Florida House and is widely expected to be signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.

The paper includes a section on merit pay for teachers, and it discusses various inputs to teacher quality.  In short, the paper argues that teacher quality cannot be ignored as an economic input for education.

I will not comment any further on this now but may discuss it more later, perhaps in response to discussions or comments it elicits among readers of this site.  At this point, I ask that if you read this paper, you not ascribe a particular opinion or preference to me about the current bill.  The paper was, as its title indicates, an exploration of this topic and not a set of recommendations or definitive, specific conclusions; and, as I said, it was written years ago.  This does not mean that I do not have an opinion on the topic at hand, but that I would like to encourage a substantive, thoughtful, rational, and respectful discussion of this topic, as it is now upon us in a very real–and no longer theoretical–way.



The very possibility of civilized human discourse rests upon the willingness of people to consider that they may be mistaken.

–Richard Hofstadter

Anecdote: The Homeless

Summer, 2009.  Phoenix, AZ

I just returned from a trip to Los Angeles.  There, the fact of life that struck me hardest was not the traffic, though it was mostly horrendous; not the weather, which stood in wonderful contrast to that where I live; not the view of the Pacific Ocean from Santa Monica, which was beautiful; but the stark division between the ways that people live.  In particular, I was struck by the contrast between Mercedes-driving homeowners, who lunched at nice cafes and the homeless, who slept under overpasses and ate whatever handouts they could find or coerce from people who had money.  Of course, homelessness is not unique to Los Angeles, and this was not by any means the first time I had witnessed it in a large city.  In fact, what struck me was the consistency of the experience of division–of difference–across the the United States and in my memory since I was a child.  Another obvious point is that I can only speak for myself and for my own experience of difference regarding this topic.  Yet there is something consistently troubling about the ways in which it is addressed as a phenomenon.  Although there are a few histories of homelessness on record, I know of none that deviate fully from the notion that it is a scourge or social problem that should be solved.  We perceive the homeless as people with mental or physical disabilities, drug addictions, or severe financial difficulties.  Rarely do we acknowledge the burden placed upon people by the western “work ethic,” the consumer culture on which economic stability depends, or a culture that does not tolerate true diversity of opinion:  minds that reject the generally accepted idea of civilization.  Although homelessness is a problem particularly in the modern period, which promises progress and improvement, the phenomenon we call “homelessness” is a symbol of the timeless problem of civlization.  Civilization can tolerate, in other words, only a limited degree of diversity and dissent.  It cannot accommodate both its own rules and that which exists beyond those rules.  It relies, therefore, on a practiced ignorance of the other.  On the fringes, of course, we acknowledge the homeless; we try to help them through charitable means made possible by the rules of civil society.  But there is always the notion that they are beyond help.  As long as people remain outside certain boundaries of social behavior, they are treated as something other than civilized entities.  And I suspect that this has always been part of the definition of civilization, albeit a part that is now customarily ignored.

Yet I believe that homelessness is today not primarily a function of social hierarchy and class but a function of the perception of what is and is not part of the modern ideal of progress.  It defies the notion that democracy works for all people; it accentuates the failures of modernity.  It is part of our definition of humanity that we cannot squarely face because to do so is to question the foundations of modern civil society.  We suspect, after all, that for every homeless person there are several others who abide by the rules of society though they may wish to escape them completely.  They hang on, often in that quiet desperation to which literate people refer but dare not investigate with their whole minds and bodies. The devil we know is preferable to that which we don’t know.  And the ignore-ance of phenomena that define the boundaries of society fractures the mind and inhibits the expression of a secret desperation to know.  If only there were absolute security in knowing, in venturing just beyond the illusory lines of progress, the forward-moving train of being–the prison of time itself–then we might consider taking a peek.


The American Frontier, Empire, and Minding the Future

One of the most important yet least appreciated topics in American history (outside of academia) is that of the “frontier.” Long the purview of historians of the American West, it has reached a level of conversation that no serious historian of American culture and power (i.e., politics) can afford to ignore.  There is a large body of literature on this topic; and in the space that I have, I can only hope to synthesize it in a way that is understandable and, perhaps more importantly, debatable.  It is not my aim to recap the history of this idea.  Rather, what I want to briefly do is discuss the idea of the frontier as a site of identity and change, and as a point at which the conquest of the “foreign” became openly discussed as the embodiment of “progress.”  Although I am limited by space and personal perspective, perhaps there will be enough substance to spark a debate about what we mean when we use words such as “frontier,” “empire,” “nature” (or “wilderness”), and finally, “progress.” (Continued)

Power and History

1.1 It seems that in periods of peril, confusion, and division, the best policy would be clear and direct communication.

1.2 However, modern societies do not explicitly make such accommodations. Indeed, the very idea of modernity is based on linguistic sleights and ironic jabs.

1.3 I can’t think of another period whose scientists, philosophers, and political tacticians were so concerned with their position in time that their very identity became synonymous with the name they gave that period.

1.4 In fact, my reified use of the term “period” gives me away as one of those people.

1.5 When one’s values become the center of the universe, survival dictates that one works against the universe’s collapse upon itself.

1.6 However, the nature of that work, because its object is both historically singular and dependent on its predecessors for its form and purpose, is anything but direct, clear, and widely understood.

1.7  Power is, then, a precious thing, and its survival depends on largely invisible mechanisms.

2 . . . In a good society, the job of the historian, and of others, is to shine a light into dark corners and make reasonable descriptions of what they see.  It is the job of everyone else not to mimic or flatter those descriptions–nor to condemn the messenger–but to test those descriptions with their own reasoning, to have a conversation about their reasoning, and to make that conversation a central part of their education.  For a good society is good only if the many become conscious practitioners of “the social,” as distinguished from unconscious practices that legitimize “the powerful.”

3. I suppose that a very interesting question to ask is whether or not the latter may be used to effect the former.