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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Classic for the Ages???? Kronman's Education's End

A classic for the ages????

Perhaps you have heard of or read Education’s End by Kronman a Yale law school professor.

I just saw Charles Murray on booknotes interviewing him and found it interesting and worthwhile. However, I was taken aback when Murray said that THIS book EDUCATION’S END was the greatest book on higher education written in the last 100 years!

Perhaps, I am wrong but though I liked the book (I read it last summer) and thought it was good and valuable and worth reading and studying I did not catch fire with enthusiasm when I read the book.

It is a book that I will refer to in the future but not a book I will re-read and STUDY THE REST OF MY life. Kronman’s analysis of the "modern research ideal" is, I think correct. But the first half of the book in particular is wordy and repetitive and not particularly well-written, in my humble opinion.

This is a good book but not in the first rank. I would give it a B or B+ at the most.

Mind you I read it with eagerness and will re-read it again this weekend, especially the final chapter which is the best part of the book.

I am aware –and I thought of this as I read it- that I have a prejudice against him because he was a noble Big Liberal of the 60’s who no longer is as much to the Left as he was . He is right that Globalization IS WESTERNIZATION and I agree with him on the Western Origins of human rights, democracy and the Great Conversation.

But other say it better than he.

The best part of the book is the insight it gives to me –as an outsider- what the Liberal Yale elite thinks is great –he pats himself and Yale on the back constantly. I agree with him that there is an educational crisis in higher education. I know this from first hand.

But it is enough for me to know that there is a crisis in American education.

The other was my quixotic attacks on the ENTIRE TEACHING ESTABLISHMENT during prop 227 leading to my debating Krashen the Great teacher of English and Languages (he has almost zero knowledge of any foreign language). My biggest problem with all of them is that they were teaching PROPAGANDA and INDOCTRINATION –orthodox bilingual education- not truly educating the teachers. And they obfuscated what they really were pushing for –Late Exit “Native Language Instruction” k-12 ! , Spanish language and Chinese language testing and alternative NON-ENGLISH NATIVE LANGUAGE INSTRUCITON across the core curriculum.

It was amazing to me that to this day not a SINGLE PROFESSOR OF TEACHER ED and NOT A SINGLE SUPERINTENDANT NOT A SINGLE MAJOR ELECTED OFFICIAL not one –not the Republicans and not the Democrats even said PEEP about what was going on.

It took people like me, Lenin Lopez of the 9th street School, Gloria Matta (like me a classroom teacher) and Ron Unz (the son of a teacher) and Jaime Escalante (though he took no part in the campaign except to lend his name to it whether this was for health reasons or political reasons I don’t know but at least he had to guts to give his name to 227 though he made no recordings.

To some people I was a hero (maybe to you perhaps and to my wife and to some of my students) and I am lucky to be in the Kern HS District where what I did and what I stand for is esteemed and remembered (that’s why I have my job at West High it is not a mistake that the Principal and VP had ties to the old Arvin establishment prior to B E and knew EXACTLY what I did and what I stood for.

Ideologically we believe in the importance of English Medium education. And of course the CAHSEE has made it all moot. Those stuck in Bilingual Ed are doomed. English Immersion is the modus operandi now. Rosalie Porter did that. GLorai Matta did that. Lenin Lopez did that. I did that. We all did it. And we were so few and as I said basically it was parents and students and classroom teachers against the whole educational establishment.

LEFT BACK is a superior book BECAUSE IT IS MUCH BETTER WRITTEN, EDITED AND RESEARCHED. I am sorry to say Professor Kronman is clever and learned but I got the impression he just tossed this book off. I know what good writing is and ‘he who writes a living line must sweat.’ I did not see that kind of effort NOR did I see a really rich array of quotations and allusions that I see in your books, Barzun’s books, Highet’s books, Hirsch’s books or Bloom’s books. I don’t know that much about Professor Kronman’s background but it is obvious to me that he doesn’t read any language other than English. I don’t think there was a single foreign language quote or translation made by him. From what I read Kronman’s background was obviously philosophy, liberal Democrat politics and the law but that’s it.

He praised the Great Books program at Columbia and Yale but it seems to me that St. Thomas Aquinas or St. John’s College in Santa Fe or Hillsdale College are vastly superior to the somewhat thinned out “Great Books” programs at Columbia and Yale. I like the Yale list BUT I thought there were major omissions. Yes there is the City of God by Augustine but no CONFESSIONS. This is not only a great book historically but it is a great autobiography. I think there is only one reasons it was left out and you know that reason. History and politics to read Polybius and leave out Plutarch, Xenophon and Caesar. Polybius is an interesting source and has an interesting view point BUT to have him on the list and skip over Cicero (the greatest prose writer of Rome and essential for philosophy, politics, literature and history plus the others is I think a week choice. Also there is no question in my mind that St. Patrick’s letter to Coroticus is vital in the HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS -it is one of he earliest and most complete natural rights attack on the immorality of SLAVERY. Not to mention it is ignorant or merely prejudiced. There can be only one reason it is not listed. But other than that his Philosophy section was strong the best of Plato, and Aristotle plus Aquinas and Augustine’s On Free Choice of the will.

Literature has Shakespeare’s Sonnets (selections), King Lear, Cervante’s Don Quixote, Milton’s Paradise lost, some poets Blake, Wordsworth, Goethe, Eliot (the Wasteland) Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamanzov.

Of the Russians I would have picked Tolstoy and not to pick Calderon de la Barca is a mistake. I suppose they presume Yalies have read Romeo and Juliet and MacBeth and Hamlet and perhaps Julius Caesar. For myself I would follow my father’s advice :DO NOT READ KING LEAR (except excerpts) until you have read or watched the Shakespeare Core: Othello,Henry V, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming o the Shrew, Twelfth Night and the plays I have mentioned. King Lear like Moby Dick is a classic but is best appreciated by someone 40 or 50 years old who has a great knowledge of life and literature and Shakespeare.

History and Politics Burke, Machiavelli, The Federalist Papers Locke, Hobbles, Luther, Tocqueville, Mill, Emerson, yes but no Thomas Moore, No Lincoln Douglas debates (instead they have SEVERAL WORKS by Marx, Nietzche, and Hannarh Arendt (the last one is OK) but no Lord Action? No Thomas Jefferson? Of course I think no course would be complete without Adam Smith and Adam Fergusson but perhaps I am prejudiced myself here. More philosophy again and these are the best selections though I have little stomach for Hume, Nietzsche.and Wittgenstein.

But over all I think it is top heavy on philosophy as opposed to poetry –very weak in drama and very weak in Spanish, French and Italian literature. No Tartuffe by Moliere? Almost no Dante? Not a single Spanish poet or dramatist? And of course not a single Irish, Scottish or Welsh author! Once again I may be prejudiced in this matter. Perhaps there is no Scottish novelist close to Cervantes or even Dostoevsky but the list of Irish novelists and writers of fiction is so long and so outstanding that this total omission is to me incredible. Johnathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce , C.S. Lewis, Samuel Beckett, -and I am leaving out personal favorites who are not really in the first rank but who are charming such as Padric Colum, Peig Sayers.

Welsh writer Ken Follett is known mostly for his thrillers (which are splendid) but PILLARS OF THE EARTH and WORLD WITHOUT END are, in my opinion, among the greatest historical novels ever written. They are on par with the best of Walter Scott or Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. They are that good.

Then there are many Scottish novelists I like but would not rate in the first rank but of whom I am fond – Helen MacInnes( Highet’s wife), Compton MacKenzie, Conan Doyle, George MacDonald, Neil Munro, FIonn MacColla, Iain Crichton Smith, John Buchan (39 Steps), A J Cronin, Allan Massie, ) Perhaps you want to leave out Walter Scott but then I have at least four who rank very high indeed: 1)Robert Louis Stevenson both as a poet and novelist. Borges considered him as great as any Spanish poet or novelists with the exception of Cervantes. Nabokov –that great author in his own right and critic of Cervantes felt the same way. So did Kipling. So did Ernest Hemingway. I found it shocking when I was in college that Stevenson was entirely excluded from the Norton Anthology (and Burns almost totally excluded). I think he is a peer to Joseph Conrad and Kipling (both not even mentioned on the Yale list!!!!) Stevenson’s prose and poetry are among the highest in quality. If nothing survived but Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plus a dozen of his poems he still would be ranked among the greatest literary genius of all time . Kidnapped is not a child’s book; it is one of the wisest books I have ever read about the doomed 1745 uprising and the virtues and character and tragic failings of Highland Scots. Even more than Scott , Stevenson knew both Highlands and Lowlands, the old and the new.

2)Tobias Smollet Humphrey Clinker

3)Muriel Spark (who was part Scottish Jewish by the way ) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

4) James Kennaway died far too young and was a great talent but his book TUNES OF GLORY is really as good or better than any fiction Orwell wrote with the exceptions of Animal Farm and 1984. It is THAT good.

VIDEO CLIP FROM THE MOVIE….which is probably the greatest film every made of its kind about post war peacetime military and post traumatic stress syndrome besides being a unique look into what it was like to belong to an ancient Scottish Highland Regiment. The film is very close to the book and many of the scenes are line for line the same as Kennaway’s book. Kennaway was an Argyll by the way but that doesn’t prejudice me in any way.

I think I have given plenty of evidence that Kronman’s curriculum is not the be all and the end all. Actually, in my opinion, EXCEPT for the philosophical works it is quite mediocre and nothing special..

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