The Public Humanist has a new home

Cutting to the chase: The Public Humanist’s current and archived posts can now be found here:http://masshumanities.org/the-public-humanist/And now to back up a little. Many of you will have gleaned that The Public Humanist is the one blog on the Valley Advocate site that is sponsored by another Northampton organization: Mass Humanities. Since May 2007 the Advocate has hosted our blog written by multiple contributors, most of them MA...

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Let’s Show ‘Em What a Liberal Arts Education is Good For

I will always love Ralph Nader for publicly validating English majors. I joined the Green party soon after his speech at the First Churches in Northampton in the summer before the fateful 2000 presidential election. He said a lot of things that were sensible, clear, and truthful to me, but he really got me on my feet when he invited all the English majors in the room to stand up. He said, “When I speak to young college graduates...

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Putting “Humanities Capital” to Work: The Public Role of Humanities and Humanities Scholars

In the very full arena of public policy discourse, what do humanities scholars have to add to the conversation? On some level, as non-policy experts, the answer would seem to be a simple “nothing” (or, if one is being more generous, “fairly little”). But I would like to propose what might seem a radical idea: that it is impossible to have public policy discussions at all without the use or invocation of some of...

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In Search of the Common Good

American society today suffers from two fundamental anxieties. One is economic and has many sources, including the accelerating pace of technological change, the impact of our economy and ways of life on the environment, the globalization of both labor and capital, and worrisome demographic trends. Our other anxiety is moral. Its causes are varied as well, but chief among them is increasing social fragmentation resulting in a loss of...

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The Limits of Reflection

By Joe Cruz In the wake of half chagrined confessions that I am a philosophy professor, not infrequently — and positively reliably on cramped airplanes — I’m asked what my personal philosophy is. It’s not an entirely unreasonable question. Philosophers are expected to have developed, or at least be on the way to developing, an articulate view of the world, of right conduct, and of the good life. Moreover, having...

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A Philosopher's Calling Card

Every profession gets a standard response. You know, the response you get when you mention your work. Lawyers get the eye-roll. Doctors get the question about sore elbows and the like. Teachers get the nod of approval, then expressions of regret at how they’re not valued. I’m a philosophy professor. The response to me? "What do you DO with philosophy, anyway?" I’ve heard it so many times. "Well,"...

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Education, Prisons, and Battling Misperceptions

In Massachusetts and across the nation the formerly incarcerated are faced with often-insurmountable obstacles in finding jobs, rebuilding relationships and rejoining communities. The surest way to improve their chances for success is indisputably providing opportunities to pursue a college degree. A college education provides not only skills and credentials, but more importantly, it helps to repair the psychic damage caused by social...

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Educating ?Us and Them?: Breaking Stereotypes and Moving Towards a More Effective Correctional System

I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague, Kristen Bumiller, who argues that increasing access to higher education for people caught up in the criminal justice system could make a world of difference for individuals, their families, and the communities they reside in. Multiple studies have concluded that education is instrumental in reducing recidivism rates by increasing earning potential, and improving self-esteem and decision-making...

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Countering the Orchestra of Orthodoxies: A UMass Amherst Fulbright Scholar Returns from Qatar

How has the US-led overthrow of Iraq’s former government and ongoing military presence changed American and Middle Eastern societies? Several broad answers are obvious. The 2003 war led Iraqis to more personal and political freedoms. Yet this came alongside widespread death, violence, and insecurity, bringing back the relevance of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, who prioritize the need for political order over rights and...

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The Law of Unintended Consequences: A Tale of Two Afghanistans

2003. Into the Post-Taliban Void One never knows what to expect when flying into Kabul International Airport and making one’s way into the bustling capital of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. On my first trip to Afghanistan in 2003 I found the city streets filled with bandolier swathed Northern Alliance fighters, the lamp posts decorated with the ribbons of cassette and video tapes that had been symbolically...

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Mammy, Jezebel, and the Neighborhood Drug Dealer

In Search of the Common Good by fellow Public Humanist David Tebaldi talks about America suffering from two anxieties, one of them economic and the other moral. I found this conversation very interesting in light of the work I do as an independent film and theater producer and the president of a nonprofit the Color of Film Collaborative, Inc., a nonprofit that supports independent filmmakers creating more diverse images of people of...

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The History of Moving Images

Lisa Simmons’ assertion that Hollywood films by and large continue to feature damaging stereotypes of African Americans strikes me as true. But Ms. Simmons’ urging that independent thinkers create images which challenge these stereotypes makes me wonder about the origin and nature of moving images and just what it is that makes them so influential. The history of moving images is remarkably short compared to that of...

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Addressing Race in School: Thoughts on the Evolution of the Black and White Discussion in the American Classroom

In June of 1990, five hundred recent college graduates convened at the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to participate in Teach For America’s inaugural Summer Teaching Institute. Over the next ten weeks, these idealistic and energetic young people participated in education classes and workshops taught by an all-star roster of instructors from around the country and worked as teacher’s...

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Teaching about Race

Mervan Osborne’s recent post made a great deal of sense to me. As a former high school history and humanities teacher (independent and public schools) and a member of the Education Department at Tufts, I found that race was a topic that, in some way, shape, manner, or form I had to address with my students every day. The term, as we all know, is loaded. It carries with it a great deal of baggage. Our students have generally...

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A Black Woman?s Musings on Gender Studies

In my undergraduate studies I always took RACE classes, and by RACE I mean any course that involved the history, situation(s), actions to and by, black folk. That was my thing. At New York University, I pursued the ways in which our fabulous leading entertainment industry and ensuing culture (aka Hollywood) began and remains inextricably linked to another powerful and permeating instrument – race. In the Gallatin School of...

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Teaching and Learning the F Word

"I’m not a feminist." In classes I teach, a female student invariably tosses this one into conversation, using the phrase to make sure that, despite what she is about to say, no one should think badly of her. And I have taught many different kinds of students, from a variety of backgrounds in a variety of settings. Still the same sentence: "I am not a feminist." The statement is always striking– not...

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Global warming IS a moral issue

In March 2007, leaders of several conservative Christian groups sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals complaining that the organization’s focus on global warming is diverting attention from “the great moral issues of our time,” namely abortion and sexual morality. There is reason to suspect that the letter writers’ motivation was more political than moral, but the point needs to be made that...

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Green on Our Minds

I have no quarrel with David Tebaldi calling global warming a moral issue, and certainly share his dismay at the notion that for Christians to be concerned about it takes attention away from the real moral issues – “abortion and sexual morality.”But even as he writes, this group of reactionary Christian politicians is already being marginalized by a groundswell of support for action on global warming. Partly in...

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Change Comes From the Bottom Up

During the July 23 CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton was asked if she would describe herself as a liberal. A serious enough question you might say, but the audience laughed. Why? Mainly, I think, because “liberal” has long been such an effective political pejorative we can hardly imagine a major presidential contender embracing the label. The laughter anticipated an almost certain evasion. How...

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Two cheers for liberalism

So what is American liberalism, and how (if at all) has it changed since the 60’s? Is it truly as irrelevant to our times as the "re-branding" of Senator Clinton and others would seem to indicate? In its broadest meaning, the classical political liberalism that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries – based upon constitutional government and individual rights – is an intellectual heritage shared by liberals...

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The Uses of Second Wave Feminism: Lessons from the Takeover at 888 Memorial Drive

A recent post by Marisa Parham about students’ hesitation to use the “f” word (feminism) struck a chord with me. I have heard this for a decade from students as well as from my peer group (folks in their mid 30s). Since this disavowal of “feminism” seems so severe and pervasive I’ve tried to sort out its genesis. My thoughts go something like this: In an age when film stars and politicians speak...

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Class in the Classroom: An Indicator for Teachers about Academic Needs?

In today’s drive to measure and assess all facets of education, magazines rank schools (on the national and local level) by test scores, money spent per student, and other superficial factors. As the school year begins and teachers race to learn lists of students’ names, figure out who needs to sit in the front, and who will need that extra bit of attention, how are these calculations made? Since categorizing by race...

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Humanities and the Pleasure Principle

Sometimes I feel like a hedonist. No doubt my wife — cosigner of our mortgage, mother to my two young children, and the woman who gave me my most prized possession (a push mower) — is curious to know when these times are. Well, they happen when talking about the Humanities. For a number of years I have been working in the Clemente Course, a program to bring a free college level humanities course to an underprivileged...

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Comparative Reflections on Affirmative Action

When I agreed to write about affirmative action for The Public Humanist, I realized quickly that the big challenge was to present this hot issue in a humanistic way. What does it mean to write about a political controversy as a humanist? Karl Marx said that the point is not to interpret the world but to change it (Theses on Feuerbach, no. 11). I don’t agree with that. The important thing is to better one’s understanding....

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Evaluating the Ephemeral

Cultural organizations in general and state humanities councils in particular have long struggled with the question of how to evaluate what they do. Is a good head-count at an event sufficient? Is a high level of engagement during a post-performance talk-back adequate proof that there’s thinking going on? How can certain program concepts be packaged for funders so that they will be perceived as compelling and important?...

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The Rest of the World

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Ireland, one of the foreign ambassadors posted there (who I suspect would prefer to be left unnamed) told a story at a dinner party. It went like this. The United Nations recently sponsored an international survey, asking the populations of 90 different nations to “offer their personal opinions on the relationship between prosperity and want in the rest of the world.” The results were...

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Cooperative Models of Foreign Policy

I recently heard from an alumnus who was being sent back to Iraq for his second tour of duty there. This news elicited all sorts of emotions, sadness and anger in particular.The sadness stems from concerns about the fundamental wrongheadedness of unilateral US foreign policy. (I know about the coalition forces, but don’t be fooled by that. This policy was conceived and initiated by one nation.) I am also sad because...

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When a bedskirt is more than just a bedskirt: Thoughts on class, marital discord, and the fear of falling

For the last six months or so my wife and I have been having a low-level argument about whether or not we should put a bedskirt on the bed in our guest room (pictured above). My wife’s argument can be summarized thusly: The metal bed frame is cheap, and the box spring is pretty tattered looking, and if you don’t mask the cheapness and tattered-ness of the frame and box spring with a skirt, then we look cheap and...

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To Hell with Allies and World Opinion? An Essay in Support of John Hill

In 2001 I traveled across the war-blackened villages of Kosovo and saw first hand the evidence of Serbian atrocities carried out against the region’s indigenous Kosovar Albanian population. All of these horrors had been carried out in blatant disregard for established norms that the US and all civilized countries officially abided by. The world understood that the Serbs were beyond the pale of civilization and NATO forcefully...

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Philosophy in Pop

There is this thing about lefty theory and activism that has always bothered me: implicit, even explicit, contempt for the very people with whom those theorists and activists consider themselves in solidarity. I would say the same, if not more, about academics. Don’t get me wrong. I love my people. But I’ve always been confused by the simultaneous claim to be working toward knowledge of the world, understanding it in all...

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The Possibilities of Global Studies

A great deal of discussion about casinos in Massachusetts has been in the news lately, but one brief comment by Governor Patrick really caught the attention of many educators. "Global education" and the subsequent "competitiveness" of Mass students were listed as reasons for needing the funds that casinos could bring in. On a related but unreported note, Massachusetts won the 2007 Goldman Sachs Foundations Prize...

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On Beating Bill Bennett, the Academic Study of Pop Culture, and the Soul of Man Under Late-stage Capitalism

Of the many arguments I’ve fantasized about having, one of them, oddly enough, is on the topic of the academic study of pop culture. It takes place on the Charlie Rose Show, and I’m facing off against Bill Bennett, perhaps the grossest of the professional fuddy duddies—the fusty old white men and women who get paid to wear bow ties and pearls and write tsk-tsk articles about the sabotage of western civilization by...

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Teaching World Cultures

Writing after Rachel is fun. Her story about reading Hersey’s Hiroshima with that third-period class brings the reality of teaching to the surface. That seems to me to be very rarely done when curricular mandates are launched. It is, I think, all well and good to ask our teachers to help our students understand “world cultures.” But what does that really mean? “Culture,” is, by itself, a loaded word. In...

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Religion and Democracy: The Muslim Veil Controversy

Every summer, the police in Iran crack down on “bad hijab”—flimsy veils and skimpy headscarves. All women are required by law to cover their heads and to wear a coat that conceals their bodily form.This is a blatant violation of freedom—freedom of expression (to choose your clothing) and freedom of religion (to define for yourself how God wants you to behave). But consider the fact that in some democratic...

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A Black guy and a Jewish guy walk into a bar … or, Reflections on masculinity in a multicultural society

Not too long ago, at my other blog, I wrote a short post about the rapper DMX. Some of my fascination with DMX, I suggested, had to do with his talent, and with the contrast between his feral aspect, the unchecked masculine aggression, and the unusual vulnerability he allows himself as an artist.I also slipped in that another reason I liked him so much was probably “the typical white liberal Jewish psychosexual fascination with...

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