Monday, December 31, 2018

Sustaining Civilization, Our Most Pressing Educational Priority

Here on January 2019 we are 19 percent through the 21st century.  I have had many concerns and interests for the education of our children, but I have not believed until now that I could articulate the most pressing priority for this century.  I think I have it now.  I believe our most pressing educational priority is to sustain our civilization.  This goal might seem trite.  This priority might seem a platitude if you have not noticed our slide towards barbarism.  Irving Kristol said, "every generation faces a barbarian threat in its own children, who need to be civilized." [1]

There are many attributes to our Western civilization.  Here I single out the keystone of our culture:  truth.  Again, you might think this trite, but I assure you that significant elements within our society no longer believe in objective truth.  Look at the book, What's the Use of Truth?, where Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel debate the value of truth [2].  See also how the Der Spiegel reporter Claas Reotius fabricated an anti-Trump story, with Der Spiegel admitting their reporter was a liar [3].  George Lichtheim, the German-born intellectual,  has called truth a naive concept [4].

As counter-point Jeanne M. Heffernan, a partner in the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, has said, "The role of truth in our judicial system is central." [5]  Our perception of truth in the world is projected onto our system of laws through the principal of Natural Law.  The civilization of the United States of America is based on the Rule of Law and guided by the truths perceived as Natural Law.  The American Constitution is the prime example of this manifestation of American civilization.

I have been watching our country slide towards barbarism for decades.  I remember around 1990 reading an article about a high school boy who murdered a girl, a classmate, and how he would take classmates to the woods to show them the dead body.  Many students viewed the body over a number a weeks before one student called authorities.  This is wide spread barbarism because every student who saw and did not call the police was as barbaric as the murderer.  This story was not on national TV and not on page one of the paper.  It was in a small article on the inside pages of the newspaper.

James Bulger
The murder of James Bulger got more attention.  James was an innocent 2 year old boy led away by two 10 year old boys who tortured and beat him to death in England in 1990.  I will always remember this sad end to James Bulger because I remember how sweet my children were at the age of two.  This murder was barbaric.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in 1999 committed the first mass school shooting at Columbine High School.  At this point the slide towards barbarism became more steep, and killing of students by classmates continues to accelerate.

Political Barbarism
There is now a group of political barbarians calling themselves "Antifa."  Their tactics resemble the Nazi Brown Shirts and Mussolini's Fascist Black Shirts.  You might think that political violence is only an anti-Trump phenomenon, but I remind you that in 2014 when Google hired buses to take its employees to work, instead of getting accolades for reducing carbon emissions by having fewer cars on the road, political barbarians attacked the buses and threatened Google employees.  Tom Perkins, the famous entrepreneur and venture capitalist,  on January 24, 2014, wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal editor, "Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?" where he expressed his concern about the violence, reminding us that violence was the method of the Nazis.  Left wing thuggery continues. Very recently, on November 2018, Antifa thugs terrorized the wife of news commentator Tucker Carlson.

Violence Can be Fun
The Burning Man festival is held every year in the Nevada desert.  This event celebrates the abandonment of civilization in what appears to be harmless fun, a harmless pseudo-barbarism.  Violent action contrary to civilized behavior, the standard definition of barbarism , can also be fun for some people.  If you watch the film Battle in Seattle about the riots at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, some of the rioters are depicted as having fun at their riot.  This depiction was based on interviews with the rioters.  One lady protestor, in the segment "Behind the Scenes - The Making of Battle in Seattle," said, "Seattle was fabulous.  It was our Woodstock.  If you weren't there, you pretended you were."  In a New York Times OpEd, Sarah Jaffe said, "the exhilaration of revolt can take many forms, and once learned, it’s hard to forget."[6]  Not only do some people enjoy violence, but they find it addictive.  Civilized people feel a sense of shame or worry after violent behavior.  Barbarians find real violence fun.  They are shameless.

What Can We Do About Barbarism?
Supporters of violent action use twisted logic and out right lies to justify most thuggish political violence.  You will find well educated people articulate a defense of our slide towards barbarism.  We need to see through their web of deceit, and we need to educate our children so they also see through this web of deceit.  Our clear perception means little if our children are misled.

What we should do to sustain our civilization is (1) believe it is worth sustaining, (2) love our civilization, (3) and teach our children that objective truth should be sought, embraced and supported.  The basics of elementary education from the ancients was called the Trivium:  grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  We teach grammar and rhetoric in the public schools, but there is no canonical methodology for teaching logic. We need to correct that.

We need to teach logic and logical thinking to our children as a set of tools to seek truth in order to sustain our civilization.  Is this all that is necessary?  No, there is more to do.  Respect for truth, and the skills to find truth are necessary, but not sufficient.  Respect for truth is necessary to understand right from wrong.  A society that cannot distinguish right from wrong is doomed to heartache.


1.  Irving Kristol quote from Radical Son by David Horowitz, The Free Press, 1997, page 3.
2.  What's the Use of Truth? by Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel, William McCuaig Translator, Columbia University Press, 2007.
3.  Germany’s Der Spiegel Says Reporter Made Up Facts by Bojan Pancevski and Sara Germano, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 20, 2018.
4.  Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study by George Lichtheim, Columbia University Press, 1964.  On page xvii he says, "The naive view that doctrines are either true or false, no other judgement being allowed, takes no account of the practical significance of theory...."
5.  The Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Very Litigious Bikini by Katherine Rosman, New York Times Dec. 20, 2018, pages 1, 8, 9 in the Business section.
6.  The Exhilaration of Revolt by Sarah Jaffe, New York Times December 28, 2018

 Copyright © 2019 Robert Canright, all rights reserved
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Articles About Writing by Canright

Within this blog, Education for the 21st Century, I last wrote about writing in Grammar in the 21st Century (June 24, 2012).  I have been posting my articles about writing in the blog Plano Parents because the parents in Plano, Texas, have strong interest in academics and because there is a greater sense of intimacy when writing to friends and neighbors.

As our lives become increasingly stressful and society becomes increasingly complex, communicating through writing is more important than ever.  In this post I am sharing with you the articles I have written about writing that I have posted in the Plano Parents blog.


Articles about writing from the Plano Parents blog:
More Tips for Writing  June 17, 2017
Helping Your Child with Writing and Grammar  November 20, 2016
Sheridan Baker's Keyhole Diagram for Essays  November 25, 2016
Coaching Writing with Strunk and White  May 21, 2016
Grammar for Your Child  April 3, 2015
The Joy of Letter Writing  September 7, 2015
Skills & Success; Cursive & Math  May 16, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Charter Schools are Here to Stay

The Sunday November 6, 2016 issue of the New York Times had an article about charter schools:  Schools That Work by David Leonhardt.  In 2016 we are 16% of our way through the 21st century and liberals are incredulous that charter schools can work.  The type of schools they say work for underprivileged students are '“high expectations, high support” schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them.'

That an elitist school like M.I.T. and an elitist newspaper like the New York Times are willing to admit that charter schools can work is  quite a breakthrough.

Charter schools are here to stay.  They should have wider application than underprivileged student.  Charter schools have the potential to help all students to excel.


Sunday, August 09, 2015

Poetry for Our Children

Technology empowers us to better introduce our children to poetry.  The internet combined with improved browser technology brings poetry alive.  There is an art to reading poetry aloud.  The Poetry Foundation's website includes many poems accompanied by professional quality readings.  Here are a few examples:

A simple poem for elementary school, The Daffodils by William Wordsworth (listed by its 1st line: I wandered lonely as a cloud)

A poem of medium difficulty, perhaps for middle school, although certainly a poem that speaks to adults:
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A poem more appropriate for high school:  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot

(This website
translates the Italian passage at the beginning of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

A teacher could use the Poetry Foundation's website to provide students with poetry read aloud, but parents can also use the website.  It is our responsibility as parents to overseer our children's education and to reinforce and supplement their education.

Education for the 21st century cannot neglect our cultural history, but can use technology to enliven history.


As a parent, I have tended recently to post articles on education to my Plano Parents blog because it feels more personal. I do not intend to neglect this Education for the 21st Century blog.

Also, in the New York Times Magazine, August 9, 2015, there was a nice essay by a writer who shared his love of this poem.  Google " The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by Mark Levine" to read the essay.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Center for Higher Education

I have found a thoughtful website focused on higher education:  the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. It is located in North Carolina.  I look at their website.  You might like it too:

Here are a couple of snippets from their website:

"All too often, universities allow teaching to become shallow and trendy, failing to challenge students intellectually and disparaging traditional principles of justice, ethics, and liberal education. Students know little about the history of their country or the institutions that led to this nation’s prosperity and liberty."

"To address these and other problems, the Pope Center conducts studies in areas such as governance, curriculum, financing, access, accountability, faculty research, and administrative policies."


Sunday, June 09, 2013

About the Common Core Curriculum

There are a couple of good articles in today's New York Times (Sunday June 9, 2013) about the Common Core curriculum, the new national curriculum.

Who’s Minding the Schools? by ANDREW HACKER and CLAUDIA DREIFUS is on page one of the Sunday Review Section:

This is a quote from the article:
Already, almost one-quarter of young Americans do not finish high school. ... What does the Common Core offer these students?

The answer is simple. “College and career skills are the same,” Ken Wagner, New York State’s associate commissioner of education for curriculum, assessment and educational technology, told us. The presumption is that the kind of “critical thinking” taught in classrooms — and tested by the Common Core — improves job performance, whether it’s driving a bus or performing neurosurgery. But Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, calls the Common Core a “one-size-fits-all pathway governed by abstract academic content.”

In sum, the Common Core takes as its model schools from which most students go on to selective colleges. Is this really a level playing field? Or has the game been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail? 

This is an excellent point.  What worries me is how this national curriculum is pushed down to the states from up high.  It is as though America is ruled by a secret government, and Common Core another decision from the Secret Government that we are expected to accept without question.

Mr. Hacker and Ms Dreifus write, "For all its impact, the Common Core is essentially an invisible empire. It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff. Its Web site lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number."

This reminds me of Kafka's Castle.  It is not good for America to become Kafkaesque.

The second article in today's New York Times is No Learning Without Feeling by CLAIRE NEEDELL HOLLANDER

The article needs editing.  I recommend skipping the first three paragraphs and starting with the thesis statement for the essay (beginning the fourth paragraph):  "Agreement on the skills American schoolchildren need to learn to read and write is much easier to arrive at than agreement on what they should read and write."

The critical point she raises is, "The Common Core remains neutral on the question of whether ... students should read Shakespeare, Salinger or a Ford owner’s manual, so long as the text remains “complex.”"

Her conclusion is, "It is time to align our education system with college demands by opening a real discussion about what teens should read in middle school and high school."

You can skip her closing paragraph.  It is a return to the theme of the first three paragraphs.

Living in Texas, one of the few states to reject the Common Core tests, which lead to the Common Core curriculum, I perk up when I see a liberal paper like the New York Times question the Common Core.

A single national curriculum is what we call in engineering a "single point of failure."  A single national curriculum is a singularly bad idea.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Education Advocacy Groups in Texas

The New York Times ran an article about education advocacy groups in Texas.  It is helpful to have an idea of who is doing what.  The article is Advocacy Group Wields Charter-Policy Power by Morgan Smith, Sunday, May 12, 2013 (pages 23A and 23B in the paper).  The article is about money, people, and politics. I won't summarize the article, but I will list a few facts from the article.

The group "Texans for Education Reform" will spend at least $645,000 in lobbying contracts this year.  Florence Shapiro, the Plano Republican who was once leader of the Senate Education Committee, is a paid consultant to "Texans for Education Reform."

The group "Raise Your Hand" reports spending an estimated minimum of $350,000 on a lobbying team that includes former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.   The  chief executive of "Raise Your Hand" is David Anthony, who joined in 2010 after serving as the superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district for seven years.

I do not know what to make of this, but it is interesting to see the money and the people involved in education. There is no doubt that money is a major factor in 21st century education.


Here is a link to the article: