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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.
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love (Not Just Sex) Across Cultures

The New York Times reported this week on a new study in Science that describes an emerging "genetic atlas" of “human mixing events.”  These events include trade, war, empire-building, and slavery.  Sometimes, of course, these developments involved not only sex but also love.

Amid Valentine’s Day, NPR’s Code Switch explored cross-culture love, including "the widening aisle of interracial marriages" – no longer the rarity they were when Barack Obama’s parents married more than fifty years ago, or when the Loving v. Virginia case was decided by the Supreme Court in 1967.

For some related musings, see a September 2011 (September 11) post, among others.

2:44 pm est 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Education and Redirecting the Cultural “Primacy” of Sports

Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World compares the U.S. education system with those of Finland, Poland, and South Korea.  One of her observations concerns the relative attention devoted to sports (and other extracurricular activities) in the U.S., versus in the other countries.  She writes:

“Most successful or improving countries seemed to fit into three basic categories: 1) the utopia model of Finland, a system built on trust in which kids achieved higher-order thinking without excessive competition or parental meddling; 2) the pressure-cooker model of South Korea, where kids studied so compulsively that the government had to institute a study curfew; and 3) the metamorphosis model of Poland, a country on the ascent, with about as much child poverty as the United States, but recent and dramatic gains in what kids knew.” (p. 24)

She continues: “Sports were central to American students’ lives and school cultures in a way in which they were not in most education superpowers.  Exchange students agreed almost universally on this point…. sports brought many benefits, including lessons in leadership and persistence, not to mention exercise.  In most U.S. high schools, however, only a minority of students actually played sports.  So they weren't getting the exercise, and the U.S. obesity rates reflected as much.  And those valuable life lessons, the ones about leadership and persistence, could be taught through rigorous academic work, too, in ways that were more applicable to the real world.  In many U.S. schools, sports instilled leadership and persistence in one group of kids, while draining focus and resources from academics for everyone…. Wealth had made rigor unnecessary in the United States, historically speaking.  Kids didn't need to master complex material to succeed in life — not until recently, anyway.  Other things crowded in, including sports…. the glorification of sports chipped away at the academic drive among U.S. kids.  The primacy of sports sent a message that what mattered — what really led to greatness — had little to do with what happened in the classroom.  That lack of drive made teachers’ jobs harder, undercutting the entire equation.” (p. 118-119)

While Amanda Ripley may exaggerate “the primacy of sports” in the U.S., she does raise important issues (e.g., “higher rates of child poverty” here than in many other countries).  Academic rigor is often diluted by excessive attention to non-academic matters, including sports.  In some schools and colleges, “student athlete” is a term with contradictions.  As the Concord Review proposes, “varsity academics” should be championed. 

Sometimes, the balance between sports and other priorities seems right. 

For example, current Yale basketball players have been recognized not only for their play on the court, but also for their scholarship, leadership, and community service.

One student athlete, elected to Phi Beta Kappa earlier in his junior year, recently earned further academic recognition while continuing to play on a Yale team that won at Harvard last night and is contending for an Ivy League title.

A former player, Earl Martin Phalen, received national acclaim from the NCAA on this 25th anniversary of his graduation from Yale.  Congratulations to Earl, who was featured in a New York Times article as early as 1995 for founding this organization.

Some young New Haveners have been playing basketball this winter in a City league on Saturdays at John Martinez School.  I am a volunteer co-coach of a group of kids (my son among them) ages six to eight
.  The boys are getting some exercise and developing skills (including resilience and teamwork as playing time must be shared among 11 players) in a setting characterized by positive coaching – discussed in a December 2011 (December 24) post.

9:28 am est 

“Hospitalizations Due to Firearm Injuries in Children and Adolescents”

A new article in the journal Pediatrics, “Hospitalizations Due to Firearm Injuries in Children and Adolescents,” documents more than 7000 firearm-related hospitalizations of young people ages 19 and under in 2009 – some 20 per day.  In children under age 10, three-quarters of hospitalizations were due to unintentional injuries.

Article co-author John M. Leventhal, M.D., was cited on this blog in an October 2011 (October 15) post, and is among the "men who give" to counter domestic violence.

In December 2013, an American Psychological Association report addressed “Gun Violence: Prevention, Prediction, and Policy” — with an emphasis on measures such as “behavioral threat assessments.”

A January 2013 op-ed addressed “guns and security” from a parent’s perspective.

11:19 pm est 

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