CRF Blog

10 Educators on Twitter You Need to Follow

by Bill Hayes

EasyBib lists 10 Educators on Twitter You Need to Follow.

Diane Ravitch

@DianeRavitch / 138,000 followers

I could not put together a list about Top Teacher Tweeters without mentioning Diane Ravitch. I included Ravitch for a few reasons. The education climate, specifically concerning public education, that we face today makes it imperative and absolutely necessary that we teachers know policy. Ravitch knows policy and is an unflinching advocate for teachers everywhere. She attended primary and secondary public school and understands the need for improving our Nation’s public education system. Diane Ravitch is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and an educational historian. From 1991to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. She is an agent of change in a world that is ripe with flux. [more]

Why Arendt Matters

by Bill Hayes

In Why Arendt Matters, the Los Angeles Review of Books takes a look at Hannah Arendt’s classic work The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Arendt’s understanding of the origins of totalitarianism begins with her insight that mass movements are founded upon “atomized, isolated individuals.” The lonely people whom Arendt sees as the adherents of movements are not necessarily the poor or the lower classes. They are the “neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.” They are not unintelligent and are rarely motivated by self-interest. Arendt writes that Heinrich Himmler understood these isolated individuals when he “said they were not interested in ‘everyday problems’ but only ‘in ideological questions of importance for decades and centuries, so that the man […] knows he is working for a great task which occurs but once in 2,000 years.’” The adherents of movements are not motivated by material interests; they “are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects.”

Movements thrive on the destruction of reality. Because the real world confronts us with challenges and obstructions, reality is uncertain, messy, and unsettling. Movements work to create alternate realities that offer adherents a stable and empowering place in the world. Amid economic dislocation and the loss of stable identities, the Nazis’ promise of Aryan superiority is stabilizing. Stalin understood that people would easily overlook lies and mass murder if it were in their interest to do so. Above all, movements promise consistency. Movements “conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself.”

Simone Weil wrote that “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” The modern condition of rootlessness is a foundational experience of totalitarianism; totalitarian movements succeed when they offer rootless people what they most crave: an ideologically consistent world aiming at grand narratives that give meaning to their lives. By consistently repeating a few key ideas, a manipulative leader provides a sense of rootedness grounded upon a coherent fiction that is “consistent, comprehensible, and predictable.”

The reason fact-checking is ineffective today — at least in convincing those who are members of movements — is that the mobilized members of a movement are confounded by a world resistant to their wishes and prefer the promise of a consistent alternate world to reality. When Donald Trump says he’s going to build a wall to protect our borders, he is not making a factual statement that an actual wall will actually protect our borders; he is signaling a politically incorrect willingness to put America first. When he says that there was massive voter fraud or boasts about the size of his inauguration crowd, he is not speaking about actual facts, but is insisting that his election was legitimate. “What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.”

Leaders of these mass totalitarian movements do not need to believe in the truth of their lies and ideological clichés. The point of their fabrications is not to establish facts, but to create a coherent fictional reality. What a movement demands of its leaders is the articulation of a consistent narrative combined with the ability to abolish the capacity for distinguishing between truth and falsehood, between reality and fiction. [more]

Jury Secrecy Doesn’t Apply if Bias Taints Deliberations

by Bill Hayes

In Jury Secrecy Doesn’t Apply if Bias Taints Deliberations, the Washington Post reports on the recent Supreme Court decision of Peña Rodriguez v. Colorado.

The Supreme Court ruled … that courts must make an exception to the usual rule that jury deliberations are secret when evidence emerges that those discussions were marred by racial or ethnic bias.

“Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision. [more]

The Academic Home of Trumpism

by Bill Hayes

In The Academic Home of Trumpism for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jon Baskin reports on professor Charles R. Kesler, the Claremont Institute, and the Claremont Review of Books [CRB], which have turned into intellectual backers of the Trump administration.

With about 14,000 subscribers, Kesler’s CRB has long received plaudits from conservative intellectuals like George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and Yuval Levin, and it achieved wider notoriety during the George W. Bush administration, when the editors made a conservative case against the war in Iraq. But until recently, says John B. Kienker, the managing editor, it could still be spoken of as an “underground hit.”

That changed on September 7, 2016, when Rush Limbaugh returned from a commercial break with the words, “I have here a column that I would love to read to you in its entirety and I can’t because it is 10 pages long.” The column was called “The Flight 93 Election,” and it was written under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus. Its muscular opening sentence — “2016 is the Flight 93 election: Charge the cockpit or you die” — gives some sense of why the piece might have appealed to the shock jock, but not of what made it truly scandalous: Here was a conservative intellectual not merely supporting Trump but offering, as Decius put it, “reasons for doing so.”

Now recognized as one of the founding documents of Trumpism, the essay argued that the corruption of our times — “out-of-control government, politically correct McCarthyism,” and “a disastrously awful educational system,” to name a few of the telltales — accounted for both the emergence of Trump and the necessity of electing him; that the conservative establishment was Googling in its think tanks while the Republic burned; and that “America first” represented a sensible call for the country to come to its (common) senses. Limbaugh read nearly half of the essay’s 4,300 words on the air, pausing only to remind his listeners that he’d been telling them all this for years.

The digital stampede quickly crashed the Claremont Institute’s website, registering 255,000 page views in its first week online (at the time, the magazine had been averaging about 40,000 per month). But for those paying attention, the CRB had already distinguished itself by the diversity of its offerings on Trump’s ascendancy. In May 2016, at a time when most conservative elites were still fantasizing about a convention coup, Kesler issued a qualified endorsement of the Republican nominee’s “late-blooming political talents.” John Marini, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada at Reno, praised Trump in July for having grasped that neither political party any longer provided a “meaningful link between the people and the government.” And the senior editor, William Voegeli, explained why he was “anti-anti-Trump.” Two weeks after the publication of “Flight 93,” Voegeli countered Decius’ “heroic” case for Trump with a “merely prudent” one. [more]

20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Earthquakes

by Bill Hayes

Discover magazine looks at 20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Earthquakes.

6. A massive quake near Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755 was felt as far away as Finland. It inspired the first proposal that waves of energy traveled from a single point of origin through rock, much the way sound waves travel through air.

7. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, though, that researchers understood seismic waves, which we now categorize as either body (moving through the planet’s interior) or surface. [more]

Elizabeth Strout’s 6 favorite books

by Bill Hayes

For The Week, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout lists her 6 favorite books.

Another Country by James Baldwin … Many years ago, when I first read Baldwin’s 1962 novel about a doomed Greenwich Village jazz drummer, I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe it. The narrator is so fierce and strong, and the book pulsates with such honesty. The language — !” [more]

Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World

Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World

by Bill Hayes

In Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World for the New York Times, David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World, argues that American students are woefully ignorant of our world and stresses the need to improve American global education.

Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic commissioned a survey to assess the global literacy of American college students. Over 1,200 people participated; less than 30 percent earned a passing grade. Below are six questions they included, each of which a majority of respondents answered incorrectly. See how you, or your students or children, do. (Answers below.)

1. In which of these countries is a majority of the population Muslim?

a) South Africa

b) Armenia

c) India

d) Indonesia [more]

Charlie Rose interviews Steve Balmer

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose interviews Steve Balmer, former Microsoft CEO, who has started a new web site: USAFacts.

The Supreme Court needs an institutional overhaul

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, law professor Jonathan Turley argues that The Supreme Court needs an institutional overhaul.

As an institution, the nation’s highest court is anachronistic, dysfunctional and long-overdue for an overhaul. Real change could be accomplished with just three basic reforms.

First, the court is too small. When the first Supreme Court convened in 1790, at the Royal Exchange Building in New York City, only two of the then six-member court showed up. For many years, the size of the court was set by the number of “circuits” — the regional appellate courts in the country. In 1869, that number was nine. While we currently have 13 such circuits, the court remained frozen at nine justices. [more]

How to Resist Propaganda

by Bill Hayes

In How to Resist Propaganda for Slate, Yascha Mounk recounts his experience appearing on RT, the Russian network.

RT is the propaganda arm of the Russian regime. Financed by the Kremlin, the network acts as Vladimir Putin’s most eager cheerleader, politely declining to cover domestic repression. Its commitment to untruth is so dogged that it has also become an important breeding ground for the kind of cynical propaganda that is increasingly at the center of politics throughout the West. (On its website, RT claims that it reaches 36 million Europeans and 8 million Americans every week.) So when the network asked me to talk about my research, I immediately understood what its angle would be.

As a political scientist, I have argued that liberal democracy in countries such as the United States is much less stable than most people assume. Since the turn of the millennium, we’ve seen stagnating living standards, eroding trust in public institutions, and rising anger at the political system. Even in countries such as Sweden, where politics was once genteel and thoroughly, well, boring, far-right populists are rising rapidly. As I watched these changes over the past few years, I began to ask some unnerving questions: What if we are entering a period of real instability? Could political scientists who assumed that democracy had long since become “the only game in town” turn out to be wrong? [more]

Special Report on the Future of the European Union

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s special report on the Future of the European Union features the following articles:

Creaking at 60 looks at the future of the European Union.

That sinking feeling reports on the euro, the single currency.

Compassion fatigue looks at how most EU countries welcome other Europeans but don’t want other refugees.

Home and abroad explores the importance of a European foreign and security policy.

Democracy and its dilemmas examines how to reform the EU to make it more democratic.

BW: What to Do About the Koreas

by Bill Hayes

In What to Do About the Koreas for Bloomberg Businessweek, Mark Thompson looks at the options for dealing with North Korea.

Today, there’s no good U.S. military option for taking out the North’s nukes and missiles without risk of a wider war. When 75,000 North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950, it began a three-year conflict that left more than 1 million Koreans and 33,000 Americans dead. A new hot war could easily exceed that toll. Pyongyang would likely rain steel on Seoul from the 10,000 artillery tubes it’s stationed along the Demilitarized Zone, a scant 35 miles from greater Seoul, which is home to half the country’s 50 million people — and equal to North Korea’s total population. As many as 500,000 rounds could be fired in the opening hour. Even if roughly 25 percent are duds—experts believe Pyongyang’s technology is uneven — it would allow North Korea to keep its pledge of turning the South into a “sea of fire.” [more]

700 MOOCs Getting Started in May

by Bill Hayes

Open Culture lists 700 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Getting Started in May. You can enroll in them for free. Among the courses listed are:

Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases — University of Pennsylvania on Coursera

Introduction to Philosophy — University of Edinburgh on Coursera

Different Day, Same Old Democratic Crisis

by Bill Hayes

In Different Day, Same Old Democratic Crisis for New America Weekly, Hana Passen argues that active support for civic education, an independent media, a strong judiciary will preserve our democracy “despite fears to the contrary.”

Both Aristotle and Polybius identify three virtuous forms of government — monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy — and their three “perverted” forms — dictatorship, oligarchy, and mob rule – and lay out the ways that each form arises and cycles through the others (Aristotle Politics 3.7, Polybius Histories 6.6–6.9). Both see the cycle of government beginning with a just monarchy, falling into dictatorship, morphing into a virtuous aristocracy, which decays into an oligarchy, before the people rise up and establish a constitutional government — or democracy — which in turn is perverted. Here, Aristotle and Polybius differ. Aristotle sees democracies declining into rule by the masses over the rule of law (Politics 4.4), while Polybius claims that “this is the regular cycle of constitutional revolutions, and the natural order in which constitutions change, are transformed, and return again to their original state (6.9). Both, however, see democracy as a stop on the road before it slides into a perversion of itself. [more]

Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today

by Bill Hayes

In an essay titled Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today for the New Yorker, Louis Menand looks at Marx’s life, his ideas, and his continuing importance as Menand discusses these books: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life by Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Revolutionary and Utopian by Alan Ryan, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin, and Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty.

On or about February 24, 1848, a twenty-three-page pamphlet was published in London. Modern industry, it proclaimed, had revolutionized the world. It surpassed, in its accomplishments, all the great civilizations of the past — the Egyptian pyramids, the Roman aqueducts, the Gothic cathedrals. Its innovations — the railroad, the steamship, the telegraph — had unleashed fantastic productive forces. In the name of free trade, it had knocked down national boundaries, lowered prices, made the planet interdependent and cosmopolitan. Goods and ideas now circulated everywhere.

Just as important, it swept away all the old hierarchies and mystifications. People no longer believed that ancestry or religion determined their status in life. Everyone was the same as everyone else. For the first time in history, men and women could see, without illusions, where they stood in their relations with others.

The new modes of production, communication, and distribution had also created enormous wealth. But there was a problem. The wealth was not equally distributed. Ten per cent of the population possessed virtually all of the property; the other ninety per cent owned nothing. As cities and towns industrialized, as wealth became more concentrated, and as the rich got richer, the middle class began sinking to the level of the working class.

Soon, in fact, there would be just two types of people in the world: the people who owned property and the people who sold their labor to them. As ideologies disappeared which had once made inequality appear natural and ordained, it was inevitable that workers everywhere would see the system for what it was, and would rise up and overthrow it. The writer who made this prediction was, of course, Karl Marx, and the pamphlet was “The Communist Manifesto.” [more]

For a free classroom lesson on Marx, see Karl Marx: A Failed Vision of History from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.