Svetlana Alexievich,
2015 Nobelist in literature

Belarusian journalist SvetlanaAlexievich. Photo: European Pressphot Agency

Old-fashioned ideas are back in style: the Great Empire, the “iron hand,” the “special Russian path.” They brought back the Soviet national anthem . . . there’s a ruling party, and it runs the country by the Communist Party playbook; the Russian president is just as powerful as the general secretary used to be, which is to say he has absolute power.

On the eve of the 1917 Revolution, Alexander Grin wrote, “And the future seems to have stopped standing in its proper place.” Now, a hundred years later, the future is, once again, not where it ought to be. Our time comes to us secondhand.

Taken from Alexievich’s new book “Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets”




Where the traditional view had been that ‘nature’ spelt destiny, and ‘nurture’ freedom, now the roles appeared to be reversed…. We could more readily control the former the [i.e., genes], than the latter [i.e., the environment] —not simply as a longterm goal but as an immediate prospect.”
Taken from Mukherjee’s recent book, “The Gene, An Intmate History”


 The writer if not the originator of many of the ideas in the following passages is Danielle Allen, Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Professor of Government and Education, and coauthor of From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age. The ideas here are from Ms. Allen’s opening statement in a Boston Review Forum, What is Education For. I was particularly interested in what she had to say about a student’s “right to civic education.” I would ask is there such a right? What could it possibly mean?

In 2006, the highest court in New York affirmed that students in the state have a right to civic education. It was a decision thirteen years in the making, and it spoke to a fundamental question: What is an education for?The state, in the position of defendant, did not disagree with the need for civic education. But it argued that once students had completed eighth grade, the public schools had met their responsibility to enable children “to eventually function productively as civic participants.”

Lamoine Schoolhouse, Eastern Washington. Photograph: Tom Overlin

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity or CFE which had brought the suit against the state of New York, disagreed, arguing that the standard should be set higher. “Capable civic participation,” Judge Leland DeGrasse ruled, “includes such as the ability to make sense of complex ballot propositions and follow argumentation about DNA evidence at trial. Meaningful civic participation and prospects for competitive employment, not simply minimum-wage employment, demanded a twelfth-grade level of verbal and math skills and similarly advanced competence in social studies and economics.”

Schoolhouse in Princeton, Kansas. Photograph: Jonathan Moreau

But the state and city have failed to deliver, and citizenship remains effectively absent from discussions of education policy in New York as well as most probably throughout the country. And instead of citizenship education’s dominant policy paradigm is vocational, its goal being to ensure that young people can compete in a global economy. The result has been massively increased investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education—STEM—and correspondingly substantially reduced outlays for the humanities.

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