Arthur Schlesinger

March 1, 2007

History is a bit more poorly told, the world is a bit less knowledgeable today. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., died last night. He was 89.

Details at the New York Times.

Schlesinger was a model historian in some ways. He wrote well, earning two Pulitzer Prizes. He picked important, salient subjects — The Imperial Presidency, for example, came in the Nixon years, in time to analyze Nixon’s own actions and help make the case for his impeachment.

Also important, Schlesinger was no library recluse. He spent time as an advisor to President Kennedy in the best tradition of a practical, professional historian — trying to help Kennedy avoid the mistakes of the past.

A man who wrote history worth the reading, AND who made history worth the writing. Perhaps no one else other than Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt could be described so, in the 20th century.

I hope you teachers will mention Schlesinger’s passing to your classes, and offer him as an example of the effect a student of history might have.

Arthur M. Schlesinger in 2004, WNYC photo

Arthur M. Schlesinger in 1994; photo courtesy of WNYC FM. 

Ninth Festival of the Trees

March 1, 2007

You are a social scientist?  You do not pay adequate attention to trees, in my view (with a few exceptions).  History is not only made with treaties signed under great trees, but history is made when forests move (ask Macbeth), or when orchards and forests are planted.  Economics would be nowhere without a building to do the economics in, and that building most likely owes much of its structure to trees — as does our entire economy (checked lumber prices lately?).  Don’t get me started on agriculture.

And then there are those trees that inspire (Isaac Newton, Joyce Kilmer), and those that simply give us beauty.

You have many good reasons to check out this compilation of posts, a web carnival, all about trees:  Festival of the Trees #9.  If you check carefully, you’ll even find some history involving Thomas Jefferson there.

Teaching critical thinking, “further reading”

March 1, 2007

Once upon a time I was a graduate student in a rhetoric program. At the same time I was the graduate assistant for the intercollegiate debate program at the University of Arizona, which at the time had an outstanding, nationally-competitive team and a lot of up-and-comers on the squad. From there I moved almost immediately to a political campaign, a sure-loser that we won, and from there to Congressional staffing, writing speeches, editorials, press releases and a few legislative dabbles. Then law school, etc., etc.

Some of the fights I’ve been involved in include air pollution and the laws controlling it, land use in statewide plans, tobacco health warnings, compensation for victims of fallout from atomic bomb tests, food safety, food recall standards, education testing standards, measurement of management effectiveness, noise control around airports, social studies textbooks and biology textbooks, and a few others. Most political issues are marked by people who really don’t understand the information available to them, and many issues are pushed by people who have no ability or desire to understand the issues in any depth.

And so, having survived a few rounds in the crucibles of serious debate with real stakes, I am often amused and frustrated by state education standards that demand teachers teach “critical thinking,” often as not grounded in something that looks like hooey to me.

In one of my internet rambles I came across a site with modest ambitions of continuing discussion of critical thinking. Rationale Thoughts comes out of Australia. The view is a little different, but not too much so (hey, it’s in English, which is a bonus for me).

If you’re looking for sources to seriously understand what critical thinking is, this is one place you would be well-advised to check. You might find especially useful this list for “further reading” in the topic.

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