Sunday round-up: education and the arts edition

Hi, kids–I’m deep into a juicy new book in my field all day today and finishing prep for my seminar tomorrow, but if you’re looking for diversions, I’ve got a few for you:

  • What if Holden Caufield grew up and turned into Howard Zinn?  Hilobrow gives us the hillarious results.  This is the smartest and funniest thing I’ve read all week on the deaths of both historian Zinn and creepy recluse J.D.Salinger on Wednesday.  Via Old is the New New.
  • Dopey Educrat Arne Duncan says about New Orleans:  “we had to destroy the village to save the village.”  Now, all we need are 9,999 more hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes to take out the rest of school districts across the U.S.!  Never mind the loss of life–what about the children?  Hey, “progressives”:  how many of you would be jumping up and down and screaming if Margaret Spellings said “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better,'”  hmmm?  (How long do you think it will be before we start reading the “after a promising fresh start, New Orleans schools have underperformed since being rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina” stories?  Three years?  Five?)
  • Here’s an idea:  how’sabout we find a U.S. Secretary of Education who has spent at least 10 years teaching in an elementary or high school classroom?  Continue reading

From the mailbag: How to assemble a conference panel with complete strangers?

A stranger's just a friend you haven't met!

Because of Homostorian Americanist’s recent correspondence with a silly high-schooler who was fishing for someone to do her homework, reader Nervous Ned writes in to ask, ” What is the appropriate way to contact another professional historian and ask hir to participate in a panel as a chair or commenter?”  This is a great question–it’s something that lots of us are doing these days, because of all of the calls for papers that emphasize transnational this and comparative that.  The odds are that crafting a panel these days will require reaching far beyond one’s sub-field.  Ned explains his problem:

I have been working with a couple of other people to assemble a comparative, modern history panel for the next American Historical Association annual meeting. Myself and another panelist are junior faculty at distinctly un-prestigious state schools. The third panelist is a grad student.  We did not personally know any prominent scholars with a reputation for working on [the nominal topic of the panel], so we decided to e-mail scholars whose work we admired and thought would be able to critique our papers. The Grad Student offered to email a couple people because she had met them tangentially at a conference. These did not pan out, so I emailed a scholar I admired who had written about [this field] in [my area of geographical expertise].  But after reading your post on student XXXX and hir insistent e-mail pestering I realized that we may have acted inappropriately, by emailing senior faculty and associate professors out of the blue.  

Is there a good way to go about talking to scholars you are not acquainted with and asking them to help you out with your panel or work, especially for someone like a grad student or junior faculty member who is not really well connected? More importantly, I have not heard from the person I emailed.  I probably should have worked the grapevine and gotten some sort of introduction, but its a little late now. Should I apologize? 


Nervous Ned 

Dear Ned, 

Apologize???  For doing your job and also helping to mentor a graduate student?  Continue reading

American Literary Fiction: No Girls Allowed!

J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye and a few short stories and novellas, died on Wednesday.  The eulogizing of the author, who was more famous for his Bartleby-like retreat into seclusion and literary non-production in New Hampshire, illustrates a problem that we’ve discussed here before about the gendering of literary fiction. 

Last night, All Things Considered did an extensive two-part obituary for Salinger, in which they interviewed American literature professor Andrew Delbanco to explain Salinger’s importance in American literary history.  Then in a more personal story, “What Salinger Means to Me,” Allan L’Etoile (a teacher at the all-male Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.), and writers Shalom Auslander, Rick Moody, and Adam Gopnik all praised the unique voice of Catcher protagonist Holden Caufield, and place him alongside Huck Finn and Nick Carraway as a memorable voice in the American literary pantheon.  (Are you sensing a theme here?  For example, Eliza Harris and Ellen Olenska aren’t on that list.  Neither are Hester Prynne nor Daisy Miller, although they were imagined by male writers.)

I guess no women writers or scholars have any opinions whatsoever about Salinger’s work worth considering–not even the writer, Joyce Maynard, who was Salinger’s lover when she was eighteen years old and Salinger was in his 50s.  Continue reading

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010


Howard Zinn died yesterday.  I never read much of his work, but I admired his career a great deal–the linked obituary is a nice rundown, but hilariously, it identifies Camelot lapdog Arthur M. “history goes in cycles” Schlesinger Jr. as a “liberal historian.”  Zinn was a “polemicist,” as Schlesinger called him–but then, aren’t we all?  It’s just that some of us are timid polemicists, and some of us are bolder than others, and Zinn was a bold, combative person.  (He was literally combative–the obituary linked above says that he got his head bashed in by police at a Communist rally when he was 17, and he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II.)

I never met Zinn, but curiously, our paths crossed in a distant way in-between my freshman and sophomore year of college.  Here’s the story of my brush with (the correspondence of) greatness:  Continue reading

Mid-week treat: visual madelines for the original Sesame Street generation

This is the Sesame Street short film from back in the day that was immediately called to my mind by Flavia’s recent post on book covers, more specifically, by the book cover she nominates as the freakiest of all time:  “the original cover art for Stanley Fish’s Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (1972),” which she calls “hideous and compelling at the same time.”  (Go over to her place to see it, and the full-size blowup when you click on it.  It is impressively weird.)  Incidentally, “Rolling Ball 1, 2, 3 (rare ending)” is the only one I remember–I never saw the version with the cherry sundae ending until last night.

When I was over at YouTube researching this short film, the film below came up as a related video.  Continue reading

Losing Jon Stewart

I always thought that our first woman president would be a Republican.  I just didn’t anticipate that our first African American president would be a Republican, too.  (At least, not since Colin Powell said nix in ’96.)  Here’s a good roundup explaining the policy and political FAIL:  As Melissa McEwan writes, “[y]ou know, it’s almost like progressives should have had a serious conversation about what kind of president Obama would really make, how he would really govern, when he kept telling us over and over and over that he wasn’t a progressive.  But getting shouted at that I was a stupid, racist, man-hating traitor was fun, too.”

Lyndon Johnson once famously quipped, “if I’ve lost [Walter] Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”  I don’t watch The Daily Show daily, but the last several clips I’ve caught suggest that Obama has lost Jon Stewart. It’s not just that Stewart has been critical of his policy positions (whatever they are today, anyway)–more tellingly, he’s mocking him out for pretty much everything, which suggests that our national Court Jester sees dire political weakness. I refer you to FratGuy in August of 2008: “What we need is another L.B.J., and what we’re getting with this guy is another Jimmy Carter.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Obama Speaks to a Sixth-Grade Classroom
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Oh well– Continue reading

We get letters. . . some we can do without.

I’m sure many of you get random e-mails from students in grades 5-12 asking you to enlighten them about a particular research topic.  These all have appeared to me to be fishing expeditions to see if I’ll do someone’s homework for hir.  (The “pilgrims” of Plymouth Plantation fame are big in the fall with elementary school students, and women’s history projects are popular in the winter and early spring with high school students, in my experience.)  Homostorian Americanist e-mailed me the following exchange from this weekend:

Hello,My name is XXXX XXXXXXX and I am a student at Redacted High School. I am doing a Project on Women’s Right’s / Women’s History, for National History Day. I saw that you teach a lot about Women’s History, and I was wondering if you could tell me anything you know about women in the U.S? How did women’s right’s come about?  Who was involved?  Were there any organizations for and/or against women’s rights? What is you opinion on women in politics today? Do you know anything about women’s rights in [my state]? Anything else would be very helpful.
Thank you for your time.

Either the student wasn’t instructed properly how to ask more specific questions, or ze decided that ze didn’t need to make even a feint at asking for guidance in doing research, rather than filling in the blanks.  Homostorian Americanist and I disagree slightly:  ze thinks that secondary school teachers encourage students randomly to e-mail us, whereas I think that even if that’s the case, they get better coaching than this letter would indicate.  (Googling “expert in women’s rights/women’s history in [my state]” is as much research as this student did, I bet.)  As we all know, our students regularly fail to follow our carefully laid out, patiently and thoroughly explained instructions–we can’t blame the teacher for this.  (Probably.)

So, H.A. replied quite kindly: Continue reading