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.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Thanksgiving: At Age 40, A Change of Life’s Seasons
12:20 am est
November 24, the New Haven Register published a piece to which I had given the title, "At Age 40, a Change of Life's Seasons" (it ran in slightly
abridged form). Below is the
essay in its entirety.
This year, one
of my children entered kindergarten, the other preschool. My wife returned to work full-time. My last grandparent
died. My parents entered their seventies. I turned forty.
Poet Donald Justice writes, "Men at
forty...are more fathers than sons themselves now." For many, that's true.
This balance varies within
families and may shift back-and-forth, as for other relatives. Everyone has multiple identities in a family, not to
mention a workplace or community. Each challenges us to continue learning.
The reputed narcissism
of baby-boomers and their progeny is a cliche, despite fitful evidence of social concern among "Gen X," "Millennials,"
etc. Generalizing about generations can be facile. Differences within cohorts -- views on politics, religion,
values -- may be greater than differences between cohorts.
By age 40, what psychologist Jeffrey Arnett
calls "emerging adulthood" has passed. One is completing Erik Erikson's "young" adulthood stage
and approaching the "middle," when continued growth and fulfillment is the hope -- stagnation the risk.
Mid-life and even "quarter-life" crises afflict some. The "Midlife Club" claims: "Starting
around 35 or 40, the reality of time running out can start both men and women on a frenetic journey of self-discovery and
re-evaluation of their...goals." (http://midlifeclub.com/)
However exaggerated, this evokes a cultural perception and elements of truth. Glimpses
of mortality may appear. Life trajectories get established; we typically make adjustments, not sharp corrections.
Entering middle age seems a time both to focus on others and not to abandon the possibility of change
in oneself. Whether parents or not, we can assume more responsibility, help raise those younger and help care for those
older than we are.
According to Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be: "Perhaps
nothing tests adults and shapes adult development more than the experience of parenting." Patience, discipline,
managing anger, displaying respect, kindness and generosity -- these can be struggles.
A sense of
humor and of proportion are useful. Seinfeld once had Jerry ask a woman whether she dated "immature men"
-- to which she replied yes, "almost exclusively." In my forties and beyond, I hope to remain in some ways
immature, a vigorously playful, inquisitive dad and husband albeit responsible.
As my parents age, the
next phase -- supportive, if necessary caretaker son -- awaits.
The simultaneous health and happiness of generations
of loved ones is fleeting if not rare. My wife and I realize our family is at a precarious equilibrium, with two children
and our parents still young enough to be active grandparents as they begin to reduce other commitments. We cherish blessings
while preparing for difficulties.
Confucius emphasized the reverence one should show parents. Confucian
standards of filial piety are imposing. Yet most of us are grateful for parental love and reciprocate that support when
necessary; one report suggests a quarter of Americans are caring for elders.*
Interdependence across generations can evolve
differently. Some young adults move back in with parents; between 2000 and 2008, before the recession’s full effects, the share of those ages 25-39 back home increased 32 percent.**
Still, my generation -- individually and through strengthening such mechanisms as Medicare and Social Security –
must strive to be stewards for our seniors, without sacrificing our children's cohort. Swelling budget deficits reflect
this dual challenge and its strains. There will be trade-offs, as a bipartisan national fiscal commission will soon report
to the President.
While the poor and the sick are most vulnerable, no family is immune to dilemmas of aging,
loss, and mutuality. Barack Obama, days before his election, made a final visit to his dying grandmother. His
widowed mother-in-law moved to the White House to help care for the First Daughters.
For my wife and me,
mornings are a hectic rush as we get our kids to school and ourselves to work. We are doing what millions of families
do. Evenings may bring the reward of an enthusiastic child’s greeting and a run into my arms, before bath and
storytime. Forty can be a wonderful age.
Benjamin Franklin urged, "Do not squander time, for
that is the stuff life is made of.”
Life’s seasons change; generations sustain one another.
Let’s not squander time together, or fail to prepare for the future.
* http :// www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/01/pdf/threefaces.pdf
See Report Note 22
National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP, Family Caregiving in the US, Findings from a National
Survey (1997) (one out of four); Katherine Mack, Lee Thompson & Robert Friedland, The Center on an Aging Society, Georgetown
University, Data Profiles, Family Caregivers of Older Persons: Adult Children 2 (May 2001) (more every year).
** New York Times article by Sam Roberts, published March 21, 2010, using analysis of census data
and citing also Pew Research Center surveys.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
PIRG, Toy Safety and More
1:09 am est
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Rap, Poetry, and History
7:00 am est
NPR's November 7 segment on The Anthology of Rap brought to mind Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap, a 2007 book by Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar of the UConn history faculty.
The story also evoked a 1993 curriculum unit by the late Henry A. Rhodes on “The Evolution of Rap Music in the United States.” He developed
that unit in a Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminar led by Bryan Wolf (then of the Yale faculty, now at Stanford) on
The Minority Artist in America. Henry Rhodes had been a Fellow (writing a unit on the Harlem Renaissance) as
early as 1978 in an Institute seminar -- led by the late Yale faculty member Charles T. Davis, on 20th Century Afro-American Culture.
Mindi Englart was a Fellow in a 2003 Teachers Institute poetry seminar that Paul
Fry of the Yale English faculty led. Her unit was on "Rap as a Modern Poetic Form"; she continues to teach creative writing at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities H.S.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Delaware Teachers Institute
4:59 pm edt