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Practically Idealistic blog
 
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence, Frederick Douglass, and Struggles for a Freer and More “Informed Republic”

On this morning of Independence Day, my family’s plan for celebration includes not only gathering with a few friends to eat, drink, and watch fireworks but also reflecting on the reason for this holiday. 

We’ll consider the Declaration (a 1776 print of which is on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) and listen to at least a partial rendition of the powerful protest speech of Frederick Douglass from July 1852.  To lighten the mood, we’ll find a broadcast of the holiday special of the Capitol Steps comedy group.

Also available via audio is a discussion of “An Informed Republic,” first mentioned on this blog in July 2012 (July 4) as part of a PRX playlist for the holiday.  This program, produced by David Freudberg for his series Humankind, includes Sandra Day O’Connor and scholars such as Annette Gordon-Reed, Gordon S. Wood, and Richard D. Brown.

Richard Brown (my father) is author most recently of a book that draws its title from the Declaration:

   Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War.  

In the last couple of weeks, he published a related essay on religious liberty – via Aeon and Medium – and was the subject of a UConn feature on “America’s Ongoing Struggle for Equal Rights.”

10:10 am edt 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Advancing Accurate News and Historical Literacy

The daily assault on truth, and on the free press, is extreme but hardly without precedent.  Dismayed by a letter falsely asserting that “Islam was already banned in America” under a 1952 law, I wrote a rejoinder that the New Haven Register published this week.

Linda Qiu of the New York Times listed “12 inaccurate claims” from the U.S. president at a single Iowa rally.

The News Literacy Project is concerned with the kind of issues that the Stanford History Education Group has exposed and likewise aims to address.

Kevin Levin, in the Smithsonian, recognizes the importance of history teachers as “the remedy for the spread of fake news.”  He writes, “There is no denying that access to primary sources from the Library of Congress and other research institutions, along with secondary sources from the scholarly community, has enriched the teaching of history, but their availability means little if they cannot be accessed or distinguished from the vast amount of misinformation that awaits the uneducated user online.... The history classroom is an ideal place in which to teach students how to search and evaluate online information given the emphasis that is already placed on the careful reading and analysis of historical documents. Even the most basic guidelines can steer students away from misinformation.... Healthy and well-deserved skepticism can go a long way.  The ease with which we can access and contribute to the web makes it possible for everyone to be his or her own historian, which is both a blessing and a curse. The internet is both a goldmine of information as well as a minefield of misinformation and distortion. Teaching our students how to discern the difference will not only help them steer clear of fake history and fake news, but reinforce the importance of a responsible and informed citizenry. In doing so, we strengthen the very pillars of democracy.”

Here are three sources of historical context: 

   James W. Cortada, at the Oxford University Press blog;

   Jacob Soll, at Politico Magazine; and

   Richard D. Brown (my father), via the Yale University Press blog.  His previous books include Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865 and The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in America, 1650-1870.  His most recent book is Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War.

12:14 pm edt 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fifty Years After the "Loving" Case

As the June 12 fiftieth anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision approaches, I published a piece at Medium that adapts earlier reflections at This I Believe.

Among the updated observations are references to law professor Sheryll Cashin, who has written a new book called Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy, and to the anthology Mixed, a collection of short stories that Chandra Prasad edited.

8:17 pm edt 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Some Comforting Climate News

Amid concerns about humans’ effect on the global climate – and about the Trump administration’s intention to withdraw from the Paris accord despite many U.S. companies’, states’, and cities’ efforts to the contrary – there is some encouraging news from India.  As China is gradually reducing its reliance on coal (and investing heavily in solar technology in a way that could allow it to outcompete the U.S. for many future jobs), India also is seeing the environmental and economic benefits of renewable sources such as solar; its price has fallen rapidly.

9:22 am edt 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

“Philanthropy, Literacy, and Youth Development Explored”

The New Haven Independent published my account of a recent Literacy Forum.

A version also appears via Medium.

8:47 am edt 

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