"Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog."
I was going to choose environmental issues, but that's just too darn easy. Since I've really become impassioned about the environment lately, I thought I'd give you a dose of something new that's equally titillating to me. Because I am an educator I'm always involved in enriching my students' critical thinking skills, and as I age, and as I continue to grow as a critical thinker and chronic questioner, I'm incredibly interested in issues of intellectualism (or anti-intellectualism as you'll see in some of the titles below) and education.
It's been a number of years ago, but as a high school teacher I once had a student say to me,
"Miss Miller, you're smarter than you act." At first I wasn't sure what to make of his comment. Flattered or flustered? I tend to be one of those teachers that does not break into lengthy impassioned speeches with my students. I rarely hop on a soap box. I rarely hit them over the head with my values and ideals. Instead, I like to lead through example, asking open-ended and "devil's advocate" types of questions in an effort to lead my students into some critical thinking of their own and leave them free to express their ideas no matter how different from my own they might be. In short, I try to ask students the questions they've never had to answer. Back then, as a 22-year-old high school teacher, I was not brave as an educator. I was not a creative educator, and I certainly didn't want to make too many waves or come off as pretentious.
That, folks, is the problem. So many times in my own life, and in the lives of my students, we've run into situations where a family member, a loved one, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a stranger with balls the size of basketballs says, "You and that education. You're gettin' above your raisin'!" or "God, you think too much. You make things so much more complicated than they should be."
In other words, many of the folks who get really vocal about education, social issues, etc. are simply labeled pretentious, overthinkers, wave makers. Trouble makers. I've gotten old enough and secure enough to say "damn those people" and go on with my overthinking. To me, these types of attitudes tend toward a sweeping plague of anti-intellectualism in this country, and I'm really interested in reading some books about the topic to explore it further.
Generally, my laid back, "devil's advocate" approach seems to work in my classroom. It's rare that a semester passes without a few students telling me, "Wow, you really made me think. It was hard work, but I learned a lot." And I can only hope that my students will continue to think critically, question those things that are generally considered "givens," and confront the everyday binaries they run into.
With these sentiments in mind, I bring you some titles on intellectualism, anti-intellectualism, and education. I have no idea whether or not I agree with these folks--as I haven't read the books--but they're definitely on my wishlist.
Blurb: Jacoby offers an unsparing indictment of the American addiction to infotainment--from television to the Web--and cites this toxic dependency as the major element distinguishing our current age of unreason from earlier outbreaks of American anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. With reading on the decline and scientific and historical illiteracy on the rise, an increasingly ignorant public square is dominated by debased media-driven language and received opinion.
At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more important than recognizing the "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge" described in this impassioned, tough-minded book, which challenges Americans to face the painful truth about what the flights from reason has cost us as individuals and as a nation.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, by Richard Hofstadter
Blurb: A book which throws light on many features of the American character. Its concern is not merely to portray the scorners of intellect in American life, but to say something about what the intellectual is, and can be, as a force in a democratic society.
The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, by Elvin T. Lim
Blurb: How is it that contemporary presidents talk so much and yet say so little, as H. L. Mencken once described, like "dogs barking idiotically through endless nights?" In The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, Elvin Lim tackles this puzzle and argues forcefully that it is because we have been too preoccupied in our search for a "Great Communicator," and have failed to take presidents to task for what they communicate to us. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, he argues, spoke in a qualitatively different style than Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan and Clinton merely connected with us; the two Roosevelts educated us. To alert us to the gradual rot of presidential rhetoric, Lim examines two centuries of presidential speeches to demonstrate the relentless and ever-increasing simplificaton of presidential rhetoric. If these trends persist, Lim projects that the State of the Union addresses in the next century could actually read at the fifth-grade level.
Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy, by Donald N. Wood
Blurb: Our society's institutional infrastructures — our democratic political system, economic structures, legal practices, and educational establishment — were all created as intellectual outgrowths of the Enlightenment. All our cultural institutions are based on the intellectual idea that an enlightened citizenry could govern its affairs with reason and responsibility. In the late 20th century, however, we are witnessing the disintegration of much of our cultural heritage. Wood argues that this is due to our evolution into a post-intellectual society — a society characterized by a loss of critical thinking, the substitution of information for knowledge, mediated reality, increasing illiteracy, loss of privacy, specialization, psychological isolation, hyper-urbanization, moral anarchy, and political debilitation. These post-intellectual realities are all triggered by three underlying determinants: the failure of linear growth and expansion to sustain our economic system; the runaway information overload; and technological determinism. Wood presents a new and innovative social theory, challenging readers to analyze all our post-intellectual cultural malaise in terms of these three fundamental determinants.
Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, by Rafe Esquith
Blurb: From the man whom The New York Times calls "a genius and a saint" comes a revelatory program for educating today's youth. In Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, Rafe Esquith reveals the techniques that have made him one of the most acclaimed educators of our time. The two mottoes in Esquith's classroom are "Be Nice, Work Hard," and "There Are No Shortcuts." His students voluntarily come to school at 6:30 in the morning and work until 5:00 in the afternoon. They learn to handle money responsibly, tackle algebra, and travel the country to study history. They pair Hamlet with rock and roll, and read the American classics. Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire is a brilliant and inspiring road map for parents, teachers, and anyone who cares about the future success of our nation's children.