Danteblogging Purgatorio VI

Purgatory Canto VI
In the University of California Lectura Dantis, Purgatorio ( a canto-by-canto commentary, and one I should read more thorougly), Maria Picchio Simonelli points out that the 6th canton in all three cantiche is political. Canto VI in the Inferno, the circle of the Gluttons, was mainly about partisan politics, Guelphs and Ghibbelines. This canto is the introduction to the negligent princes, with Sordello as guide.
Before we get in Canto VII to the princes who neglected their souls to be about their business we read here some of Dante’s most famous denunciations of Italy – and he even calls her Italia (VI.76), rather than the land of the Latins (see Inferno XIX) or some such.

Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello
  nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta,
  non donna di provincie, ma bordello!

Ah Italy, you slave, you inn of grief,
  you ship without a pilot in the storm,
  no lady of the shire, you house for whores!
(VI.76-78

Dante plays again and again the contrast between localism and nationalism – the love for non-existant Italy and the love of City. Here in Purgatorio VI, Sordello, a man who lived in France, wrote poetry in Provencal, and retired to the Abruzzi, goes all gushy over his fellow Mantuan, Virgil. Dante is not portraying that as an entirely positive reaction.
Now here’s something about which I’m sure I could find more discussion. Dante and Virgil consider (VI.25-VI.48) the inefficacy of prayer to the Olympian deities (based on a quotation from the Aeneid about the uselessness of praying for Palinurus). Esolen talks about that as a misalignment of ends — the prayer is directed to the wrong deities, but when it seemed to be answered it was because it happened to correspond to God’s will. Virgil evades the question (a little) by saying that Beatrice will clear all this up, and Dante rises to the bait of Beatrice.
Then 100 lines later, in what is at least an ironic usage and at best a weird classicism, Dante prays:

And if you will allow me, highest Jove,
  you who on earth were crucified for us,
  have your just eyes turned elsewhere? Or is this
The preface to some benefit you’ve planned
  in the abyss of providence, cut off
  from our capacity to understand?
(VI.118-123)

Because if those 2 tercets aren’t about the mystery of unanswered prayer and the inscrutability of theodicy I’m not sure what they’re about — and they’re addressed to Giove. Neither Esolen nor Simonelli help at all. Oh – the mystery Dante’s talking about is still why Italy is such a bordello.
So much to learn!
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Hilarious! Secretary of Education instructs employees to attend rally

You know, the counter-rally Al Sharpton held.
That’s right — or left — the Secretary of Education was speaking at the Counter-Glen-Beck rally, so:

“ED staff are invited to join Secretary Arne Duncan, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other leaders on Saturday, Aug. 28, for the ‘Reclaim the Dream’ rally and march,” began an internal e-mail sent to more than 4,000 employees of the Department of Education on Wednesday.
Sharpton created the event after Glenn Beck announced a massive Tea Party “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where King spoke in 1963.
. . .
Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya defended Duncan’s decision. “This was a back-to-school event,” she said.

That’s right — making sure that there’s no separation between a bureaucracy and the partisan appointees who run it! Inappropriate for any administration of any partisan stripe — and pretty tacky to encourage your employees to come swell the crowd listening to you even if it weren’t an obviously politically charged event, even if voluntary and even if on a weekend.
Someone from the Cato Institute interviewed for the story says the email doesn’t violate the Hatch Act, but it’s certainly not far off. I wonder how many DoE folks took their Saturdays to rally with Al and Arne?

No School Left Behind

The dirty dark secret of NCLB is that we may know how to identify the worst performing schools, but no one (yet) knows how to turn them around in any consistent and reliable way. And I mean no one. Not the Gates Foundation to date. Not most charter programs. No one.

That’s from a review of Diane Ravitch’s new book renouncing No Child Left Behind and most of the data-driven approaches that created it. It’s that “consistent and reliable way” that gets me. After all the money flung at the problem where are we? And if all we got from NCLB was a way to identify the worst-performing schools – I’ll bet that a candid interview with the central staff of each school district in America could have done that in a year for a lot less – we’ve always known which were the worst schools in any system. I taught high school Latin part-time in two radically different districts in Georgia – Atlanta City and Cobb County – and there was certainly a clear idea of which middle schools that fed us were the worst.
Joanne Jacobs round up some reactions to the proposed national standards.

It’s always nice to know the British can be ignorant too, despite their nice accents.

In a savage attack, Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), compared the Government’s crackdown on independent schools’ charitable status to Henry VIII’s seizure of land and property in the 1500s.
. . .
He compared the move to Henry VIII’s decision in the 1530s to shut down English monasteries and nunneries, confiscating all land and property for the crown. It was sold to pay for Government expenditure.
Addressing headmasters on Monday, Mr Grant said: “Let’s be clear: the threat that currently underlies the Charity Commission’s guidance is the well-tried mediaeval one of confiscation of land and property and it looks no less crude and ugly under the rose of Labour than it did under the rose of Tudor. Down in St Albans, we’ve been there before, of course, in 1539, when the monastery was dissolved.”

By any stretch of the historiographical imagination, of course, Henry VIII is Renaissance or Early Modern. Keep your objurgations more current, Mr. Grant!
Then there’s this interesting bit of academic class warfare:

The comments came as the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said private schools’ charitable status should be abolished. It claimed the £100m a year saving could pay for 20,000 extra university places.

Historical context? Why bother.

George H.W. Bush addressed students from a classroom. Democrats investigated.

Lost in all the denouncing and investigating was the fact that Bush’s speech itself, like Obama’s today, was entirely unremarkable. “Block out the kids who think it’s not cool to be smart,” the president told students. “If someone goofs off today, are they cool? Are they still cool years from now, when they’re stuck in a dead end job. Don’t let peer pressure stand between you and your dreams.

No one’s interested in education – just in scoring points.

Studies show . . . or maybe not

American college freshmen know fewer facts about science than do their Chinese counterparts, according to a new study, but both groups have a comparably poor ability to reason scientifically.

In other words, the Americans tested were bone ignorant and the Chinese at least knew some facts. A lot of facts, if you trust the test scores. I think I’d rather teach a class of freshmen to reason who knew things than to teach a class who knew nothing both facts and how to reason – but maybe that’s just me. Now this sounds likely:

Lei Bao, the study’s lead author and director of Ohio State University’s Physics Education Research Group, said this runs contrary to the commonly held belief that reasoning skills develop as students are “rigorously taught the facts.”

O.K. – reasoning skills do not come automatically with learning facts. But unless you can show that teaching the Chinese students lots of facts made it harder to later teach them scientific reasoning I’m not sure this study proves that Chinese secondary science education is anything like as bad as that in America, which that first paragraph suggests. Go look at the comparative scores!

Chicago Public School Cappuccino

The Chicago Public Schools, bailiwick of the man soon to be Secretary of Education*, spent $67,000 on Cappuccino machines. Perhaps they were bought to stock kitchens in vocational schools, training future baristas (as we all know there are never trainees at Starbucks, after all).
Well, no.
Go read it all at Joanne Jacobs.
*No, it’s not his direct fault, but he’s certainly fair game for mockery.

The Americans with No Abilities Act in real life

Joanne Jacobs has a great story, LA builds arts palace for the untalented:

Los Angeles Unified’s new arts school will have a very expensive “world-class” building — but the school won’t enroll the most talented students, reports the LA Times. In fact, students with artistic, musical and dramatic talent will be urged to go elsewhere.

You have to read it to believe it. My post title comes from an Onion story someone in the comments remembered – Congress passes Americans With No Abilities Act.

Halloween Idealism from the Philospher-Mom

You know, only an ethicist!

The plastic pumpkin shells we supplied were tossed aside in favor of pillow cases, which were then tossed aside in favor of barrel-sized black drawstring Glad bags. The kids returned, eyes glowing neon with avarice. “Look at how much I got!” was answered by, “Pssh. Wimp. Look at how much I got!” which invariably garnered the whining response, “Hey, they got more than me!” which brought me into the conversation. “I. More than I.”
That’s when the orange lightbulb came on. We could reclaim the Catholicity of Halloween AND AT THE SAME TIME wage a holy war against avarice.
I went to the basement and got an industrial-sized Rubbermaid storage bin, then placed it on the table. Surrounded by eight variously-towering mountains of candy.
“Put it all in.”
The silence was more intense than anything our family had achieved in church.
“Like this — ” I grabbed two fistfuls from random piles. “Put all the candy in the bin. All of it.”

Read it all!!

Language comparison

Speaking of Francophonie and language instruction in schools, Prof. Tom Smith has two sons in high school, one taking Spanish, the other taking Latin. You can guess my preference, but read his examples of textbook translation exercise sentences:

Spanish:
1. Please tell Juan to recycle the plastic.
2. Henry’s mother is going to the political rally.
3. The labor union was organized and everyone was happy.
4. By travelling to South America, Robert broadened his perspective.
5. Let’s foment a violent revolution against the capitalist oppressors.
Latin:
1. The centurion bravely slaughtered the barbarian.
2. The batallion invested the hill fort by digging a trench around it and flinging stones upon the Gauls with their catapaults.
3. The doughty lad caught the wild horse and tamed it.
4. Having burnt the Carthagian ship with Greek Fire, the trireme captured the survivors and enslaved them.
5. The soldier was at peace because he knew his duty.

Heh.

Francophonie retreats – Rwanda officially turns to English

In another blow to the language of love, the Rwandan government has decided to change instruction in schools from French to English.
All government employees are now required to learn English, and everyone here from lawmakers to taxi drivers to students to businesspeople seems to believe that the usefulness of French, introduced by Belgian colonizers, is coming to an end.
“When you look at the French-speaking countries — it’s really just France, and a small part of Belgium and a small part of Switzerland,” Theoneste Mutsindashyaka, Rwanda’s state minister for education, said in English. “Most countries worldwide, they speak English. Even in China, they speak English. Even Belgium, if you go to the Flemish areas, they speak English, not French.”
. . .
As a minor bonus, Mutsindashyaka — who is in charge of rolling out the English-language curriculum for 2.6 million students and 50,000 teachers — said he was happily surprised to find that English textbooks are far cheaper than French ones. A fourth-grade English math book costs 70 cents, for instance, compared with $4 for the French version.

Economies of scale, I guess.
Further: I thought I’d google around on the issue and found this blog: The Worldwide Decline of French, whose tagline describes it thus: “This is the only web log to specialize in the declining use of the French language, both globally and within France itself. We use recent and less recent web articles, blog entries and books written in French, English, German and other languages to document the failure of costly Francophonie policies in- and outside France.”
Here’s the Unfrench Frenchman on Rwanda.

Using Art to talk about elections, or elections to talk about art?

Well, it’s probably fair either way – need a teaching resource for elections? Use a Caleb Bingham 1852 painting, The County Election and the resource guide from the National Endowment for the Humanities called Picturing America to drive the K-12 classroom discussion. The quick introduction points out:
* It depicts an election that took place in 1850, in Saline County, Missouri.
* The artist had, in fact, run for a place in the State Legislature during this election.
* There is one African American present in the scene.
* There is one more African American present in the scene than there is a woman.
* In one canvas, there exists the perfect opportunity to discuss and reflect upon the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Just saying.

I came across this on about.com’s art history page.

What? The Obama Girls go to a Non-Government School?

So it is with huge grief-filled disappointment that I discovered that the Obamas send their children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School (by 5th grade, tuition equals $20,286 a year). The school’s Web site quotes all that ridiculous John Dewey nonsense about developing character while, of course, isolating your children from the poor. A pox on them and, while we’re at it, a pox on John Dewey! I’m sick to death of those inspirational Dewey quotes littering the Web sites of $20,000-plus-a-year private schools, all those gentle duo-tone-photographed murmurings about “building critical thinking and fostering democratic citizenship” in their cherished students, living large on their $20,000-a-year island.

And it’s in the New York Times.