Category Archives: Education

What happens after we turn 80?

That interests me of course, what happens. Actually what is happening, for I’m already  84. I have called my blog, Dans Mes Quatrevingtans, that is, in my eighties.  In just six years will I call it, if alive, in my nineties? How about In my hundreds. I just read that the “oldest person”  in the world, Emma Morano, an Italian in her 110s, has just died at age 117.

I do want to write about these years at the end of life, perhaps more so than I wanted to write about any earlier period. If you asked me why is that I couldn’t say. For there’s nothing exciting about my life now, although in our favor my wife and I don’t live in a retirement community where things can be dull, but rather in an active, busy residential area, in South Tampa, where there’s  always a lot going on, new home construction, lots of it, and neighbors who could be us 40 or 50 years ago, mostly all young with young children (and a lot of dogs, and that’s where we see them mostly, walking their dogs).

And then right across the street from our front door is a city park, Friendship Center, our “Luco” (as we call it, from the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris), where there are always park visitors, mostly parents and their small children, talking, playing, on the swings and slides, and often celebrating using the park facilities for their get togethers with friends and their birthday parties with family members. The result is that we see a lot of the young people living in booming South Tampa but little or nothing of people our own age whom we might ask about what they’re doing in their eighties. But to hear from them to listen to their voices we would have to go South to Naples or Fort Myers.

So given our separation now in our old age from our peers, not to mention from the few friends remaining, also in their old age, but somewhere else usually far from Florida if they are still alive, our own eighties are to a large extent, unplanned and unwished for solitary femurexperiences. Although no surprise that the young couples we meet don’t want to hear about how well we’re sleeping or whether we’re back to walking again and even riding our bikes, following a bad fall and a broken femur, the latter while walking too fast and not looking, that which we shouldn’t have been doing at all at our age.


Then just earlier today while looking over my notes and collections of my thousands of readings from earlier years, which I’ve never wanted to let go, I stumbled on this article by Lewis H. Lapham from the New York Times Magazine of October 23, 2014, “After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign.”

Lapham was himself 79 when he wrote these brief portraits of men and women in their 80s and 90s, old masters he calls them, all rich in the rewards of substantial and celebrated careers. “Why do they persist,” Lapham asked, ” the old masters, with an unceasing effort to discover or create something new? Why not rest on the laurels and the oars?”

People like Sophocles who in his early 90s wrote “Oedipus at Colonus”  filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, 84,  I. F. Stone who began the study of ancient Greek in his 70s, T. Boone Pickens, 86, chairman of BP Capital Management, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 81, Edward O. Wilson, naturalist and author, 85, Ginette Bedard, long-distance runner at 81, Tony Bennett, singer, 88, Christopher Plummer, actor, 84, Carl Reiner, actor, 92, Senator Dianne Feinstein, 81, and a number of others.

And then there’s Lapham himself who writes at 79 about his own writing career:

When I was 6, I delighted in the act of writing, at 12, in the expecting that by the time I turned 21, I would know how to make of it an art. The birthday came and went, and no dog showed up with the bird in its mouth. Before I was 30, I’d written seven drafts of a first novel mercifully unpublished; I consoled myself with the thought that by the time I was 40, I would know what I was doing. Another dream that didn’t come true, and so when I was 45, I began to explore the uses of the essay, the term from the French essayer (to try, to embark upon, to attempt), the form experimental and provisional, amenable to multiple shifts of perspective and tone, and therefore the best of instruments on which to practice the playing with words. The essay proceeds from the question “What do I know?” and doesn’t stay for an answer until the author finds out what he means to say by setting it up in a sentence, maybe catching it in the net of a metaphor.

On the way through my 50s I could see signs of progress, producing manuscripts that required only extensive rewriting, not the abandonment of the whole sorry mess of a dumb idea. Revisions pursued through six or seven drafts allowed for the chance to find the right word, to control the balance of a subordinate clause, to replace the adjective with a noun. I didn’t enlist the help of a computer because words so quickly dressed up in the costume of print can pretend to a meaning and weight they neither enjoy nor deserve. Writing with a pen on paper, I can feel the shape and sound of the words, and I’m better able to judge how and why one goes with another, and on approaching the age of 70 I toyed with the hope that success was maybe somewhere not far away in a manger or on the near side of a rainbow.

Now I am 79. I’ve written many hundreds of essays, 10 times that number of misbegotten drafts both early and late, and I begin to understand that failure is its own reward. It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame but the escape from the prison of the self.

The men and women Lapham writes about are all my age. But they’ve all been creators, have done something special, extraordinary with their lives. I haven’t. They make me aware of all I haven’t done in the same number of years. Also as Lapham points out, now in their 80s and 90s they haven’t stopped, painting, acting, singing, writing, running….

Now in my 80s this is where in my own small manner I join up with them. And while I have few successes to my name, if any, comparable artistic, intellectual, athletic or other life achievements, I do share very much with them a life when I’m writing during most of time left to me, and trying to write better, to better express my thoughts, and yes, as the philosopher says, trying to better know myself, and as everyone says, trying to go on  with my own lifelong education.

Lately I’ve been reading Ayn Rand, probably because of the followers she has even today among the Republican majorities, first in the Tea Party and now in the House of Representatives, led by a life-long Rand follower, Paul Ryan. I’m not a fervent follower of Ayn Rand myself. For me her views were not complete. Or rather the coin of human nature has two sides and she wrote only about the one of them, individualism but not about collectivism on the other side. They need each other, are both essential for our happiness, and she never seemed to understand that.

But now, in my 80s, I very much agree with many of her ideas, in particular with what she has Kira Argounova say to Comrade Taganov (really Ayn Rand herself) in what I think is Rand’s best book, We The Living.  (In the following text I have considerably edited/altered Rand’s text but I have not altered, I trust, its meaning. To read the original text go to Part1, Chapter Five of We The Living.) or see below Continue Reading.

Kira:  “Haven’t you ever wanted, Comrade, a thing for no reason save one: that you wanted it?…And then when you’ve found it, and when you think you’re right, you do that thing at any cost?

“You have your ideals, Comrade Taganov, and your Party, no matter how much it promises to accomplish, no matter what paradise it plans to bring to mankind… there’s always one false claim that you and your Party make, one that will turn your paradise into the most unspeakable hell. This is your claim that man must live for the state.

“And you ask, than this, what better purpose can man live for?  Don’t you know?”  Here Kira’s voice trembled suddenly in a passionate plea she could not hide. “Don’t you know that there are things in the very best of us, that must not be touched by any collective, by any number of millions? Things sacred because, and only because, one can say of them: ‘These are mine alone.’ Comrade Taganov,” she whispered, “how much you still have to learn!”


The individuals that Lewis Lapham is writing about in their 80s and 90s show us clearly there are things within each one of them that only they can know and touch. They have been living their long lives to pursue what’s deep within them, for that which is theirs by nature, theirs alone. What they have done has not been done for something that is outside of them. And to some degree aren’t their lives telling us that the very best of us live only for ourselves?

In regard to my own life I would say that to the extent that I have lived for others, for family, my students, for organizations where I have worked, I have necessarily neglected myself. This is probably how most of us live, and probably most of us see it as the way to live, no longer for the State perhaps, but for others. Balancing the individual and the collectivity, —the two sides of the coin. Not like the men and woman Lapham writes about, where there was probably little or no balance. To speak in the language of Ayn Rand we are probably not selfish enough. They were.

Continue reading What happens after we turn 80?

Administrative State 1

Forget about the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and yes, the Founding Fathers.  All of these subjects really belong, and that’s where they will usually be found, in the classroom. They have little to say about the United States of 2017. For example we are not now, and most likely never were, a Republic, or state or a country governed by elected representatives including an elected leader (such as a president).

For what we are now, and find as I learn more about our history, that we have always been, is an administrative state, or one where a literally unknown number of Federal Agencies have completely replaced the “separation of powers” model of home rule that was drilled into us in our youth.

Amazing right!? We don’t live in the country so beautifully described by Jay, Jefferson, and Madison in the Federalist when trying to convince a relatively few white land owners of the rightness of their vision for the young country but rather in an administrative state, one that Donald Trump and company would now like to break up, although of course he can’t. For Trump, as well as the rest of us, are just small change within the entire administrative structure that is now our country.


And then I thought of the French 17th. c playwright, Molière, and  compared myself to the main character in his play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Just as Jourdain suddenly learned that he had been speaking prose all his life I suddenly realized that I had been living all my life in an administrative state. Allow me to introduce you to Jourdain as he makes his discovery in scene 4, act 2 of the play.

le B G

I take this brief summary from Wikipedia.:

The play takes place at Mr. Jourdain’s house in Paris. Jourdain is a middle-aged “bourgeois” whose father grew rich as a cloth merchant. The foolish Jourdain now has one aim in life, which is to rise above this middle-class background and be accepted as an aristocrat. To this end, he orders splendid new clothes and is very happy when the tailor’s boy mockingly addresses him as “my Lord”. He applies himself to learning the gentlemanly arts of fencing, dancing, music and philosophy, despite his age; in doing so he continually manages to make a fool of himself, to the disgust of his hired teachers. His philosophy lesson becomes a basic lesson on language in which he is surprised and delighted to learn that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it.

Here is the actual exchange between the Philosophy teacher and M. Jourdain. If you don’t read the French go to  Google Translate.

MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Sans doute. Sont-ce des vers que vous lui voulez écrire ?
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Non, non, point de vers.
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Vous ne voulez que de la prose ?
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Non, je ne veux ni prose, ni vers.
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Il faut bien que ce soit l’un, ou l’autre.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Pourquoi ?
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Par la raison, Monsieur, qu’il n’y a pour s’exprimer, que la prose, ou les vers.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Il n’y a que la prose, ou les vers ?
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Non, Monsieur : tout ce qui n’est point prose, est vers ; et tout ce qui n’est point vers, est prose.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Et comme l’on parle, qu’est-ce que c’est donc que cela ?
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- De la prose.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Quoi, quand je dis : “Nicole, apportez-moi mes pantoufles, et me donnez mon bonnet de nuit [16] “, c’est de la prose ?
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Oui, Monsieur.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Par ma foi, il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose, sans que j’en susse rien ; et je vous suis le plus obligé du monde, de m’avoir appris cela.

M. Jourdain suddenly learns that while he didn’t know what prose was he has been speaking prose all his life, even when, for example, he tells his servant to bring him his slippers and “bonnet de nuit.”

Well just the other day I had my own revelation. While not having read much about the “administrative state,” I quickly came while reading on the subject (in order to better understand Bannon et al.) to the realization that I had been living in an administrative state all my life, even when doing the most mundane things such as going to the corner store to buy bread and milk, not to mention loving my wife and raising my children and starting a school.

I had heard Steve Bannon when he said, on several occasions, but very early on in Trump’s presidency, that one of his own major goals was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the time I didn’t think much about it, not really knowing what he meant, other than somehow undoing our system of taxes, regulations, trade pacts etc. that all together according to Bannon were stymieing economic growth.

My realization only came about later when I began to read about the administrative state online and I read that Jefferson’s Declaration that all men were created equal, as well as the founding fathers’ Constitution, that had created the separation of powers, or a government divided into legislature, executive, and judiciary branches, had all but been replaced by the now indeterminate, vast and mostly misunderstood and frightening administrative state.



Well, right now I have very much the feeling that I’ve just got started with this huge subject, and that I will need to go on, and continue to write, and will do so in a later blog.

For the moment  let me just say that I fully agree with Bowdoin College’s Professor Jean Yarbrough who writes:

We need an updated online primer in American government and political thought. We all learn about the separation of powers and federalism, but don’t understand that these restraints do not operate in the administrative universe. Indeed, the administrative state was designed to overcome these obstacles. Our mission should be to educate Americans on the real effects of this turn toward administrative regulations and rules.


She is correct to say that the separation of powers and all the rest do not operate in the administrative universe, and that the American public very much needs to become aware of what this now means for them.


Taking stock, one more time.

Now in my 85th. year I ask myself what do I know?

In this sense, do I know anything at all that I could in one-to-one, apprentice type situations pass on to someone else? How to play the violin, for example, how to describe the night sky, how to repair an automobile engine, and, particularly relevant to my own life as being a few of my own personal failures, the Russian language, differential equations, and any number of other like fascinating subject matters, including my reading of just this morning, “Is there a gene for Racism?” (No)

Haven’t the greatest among us acquired the requisite skills and knowledge of which I speak? And haven’t they through their works passed on to us at least to some extent their skills and understandings? Reading them and getting to know and to the extent possible understand their work has been the real story of my life.

Just in modern times I think of Shakespeare, Galileo and Newton in the 17th. century, of James Watt, Leonhard Euler, and Adam Smith of the 18th., of Edison, Pasteur, and Darwin in the 19th, and in our own time of of Einstein, Mandela, and Richard Feynman (whose Physics Lectures I’ve been struggling with all my life).

I have somehow lived a life, my life, and as I say above, have learned little or nothing myself, of substance, of real significance, let alone anything at all that I could, with the confidence that I would be heard and understood, pass on to someone else.

And the great irony of this is that, if I have accomplished anything in my 84 years, it’s that I’ve helped to found a school, school being, of course, where skills and knowledge are passed on to others. I have to admit that on my part the skills and knowledge were not there. Not there to start with, although I must have pretended that they were, and  certainly not there now in my 85th year when I’m literally grasping at the straws of knowledge that are still out there, and to me still unknown, and that I still might make, with yet more struggle and hard work, my own.

Furthermore what then might I say now about my own role in an independent middle and high school that I founded and where my wife and I both worked many years? My role couldn’t have been my own ability and readiness to pass on to the young my own skills and knowledge which were minimal or non existent. What then could it have been?

To that question I think I may now know the answer. I seem to have, for most of my adult life, that which began in France the summer of 1951, while accomplishing little or nothing myself, I seem at least to have recognized what many others have accomplished, if only just a few of all those skills and knowledge that man has acquired during the tens of thousands of  years of the common history of us, of humanity, of homo sapiens.

The acquisition of course, is still going on, and it may very well be accelerating. So what was my role in the school I founded with my wife? It does seem to me to be that I have almost always understood what at best school, any school ought to be most about, this being to help the young to come to something like “my own view”  and recognition of what is the true achievement, the true greatness of man. That which is not there to begin with. Is it there, we would ask and hope, at the end of schooling?


Quora Question for Francis Fukuyama

It’s not a threat intrinsically, because I think there are successful Muslim majority countries in the world.

I don’t think there is any cultural obstacle in that regard but the problem is the reaction of the indigenous/ethnic countries in that migration. This a big tragedy of these populist demagogues that were kept under wraps after September 11th. I think George W. Bush, despite his tremendous policy mistake invading Iraq was very good on this front, he said our war is not with Islamic people, it’s with radical, violent people, these are the people we need to focus on.

This has evolved, ISIS replacing Al Qaeda and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away, feeding the narrative on the right that it’s not just a bunch of extremists, it is an entire religion and I think there are enough opportunistic politicians who are going to repeat that and that’s the threat. This is what leads to violation of civil rights, injured communities, distrust and hatred in countries where you have larger minorities of Muslims like France and the Netherlands and they’re going to have very polarized politics for some period of time.

Francis Fukuyama 
And Fukuyama is not alone. We have any number of good and wise men and women in our Universities. Similarly we have such men and women reporting and writing commentary for the Times, the Journal, the Post and the like. Why is it that the Republican representatives in the Congress, and especially those in the House, not to mention the occupants of the Oval Office seem never to be aware of what the good and wise people among us are writing and saying? This is the great tragedy of our time, in particular of Trump Time, characterized by the shocking ignorance of our leaders.

Just the other day, March 28, the Times, as if in answer to my own thinking as well as that of probably many others, put together this piece:

Blog Notes, February 12, 2017

What are the real issues facing our country?

They’re not, I believe, the subject matter of the President’s tweets. They’re not the porous Mexican border to the South. For bad people and drugs are never stopped by border walls. Nor are they the whereabouts of the Islamic terrorists. For how many Americans have ever encountered a member of ISIS, let alone been blown up by one?

These and other non issues that the President would address, first at the loud and raucous rallies during the campaign and now daily in his tweets are red herrings that function to keep his followers if not the whole country away from any real path to any real solution to any real problem.

Does the President even realize just how far from the real needs of the country are his own pieces of fake news, the wall, ISIS, the millions of illegal immigrants? Probably not. In any case his concerns probably stem from no research of his own, which he apparently never does, but come from the same small clique of advisors who got him elected in the first place, from the two Stevens, Bannon and Miller, from the  two former United States Senators, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions, along with their choral director, Kellyanne Conway, and  principal soloist Sean Spicer..

This is not a President who reads. I take the following excerpts from Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article, Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz , Tells All, of July 25 of last year.  “The Art of the Deal,” says Meyer, made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth and [now] regrets it.
Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance…. That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites….I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”   During the eighteen months that Schwartz observed Trump,  he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment.

During 18 months he never saw Trump with a book! Is it safe to assume that this guy does little if any independent reading of his own and in his ignorance may even believe that the porous wall on our Southern border and ISIS together are the biggest threats we face. And he may even believe what he’s always repeating that his first job to assure the nation’s security (by the extreme vetting of refugees??!!).

What terrible things haven’t been done, even in our land of the free and the brave, in the name of national security? Right now, daily, we read how our agents, not my agents, Trump’s and Miller’s and Bannon’s agents? are separating long term illegal residents, who are not criminals, from their own children because they are a threat to our national security?

Trump may be a bit closer to a real problem when he talks about job losses, but he’s completely wrong about their causes and solutions. In fact jobs never stay in one place for long, other than those, say, of being a mother or father. Maybe it was at one time that one could spend a lifetime at the same job, but not any more.

Jobs are always changing and the changes, what some call job losses, result because  we are always finding more profitable ways to do things. Would Trump really want us to go back to burning coal, thereby giving some permanency to miners working under ground in the West Virginia and Kentucky hill country, that life itself being for the miners a kind of living death? Also, would Trump really want to return living people to the factory assembly lines in order to replace the non living robots that had earlier replaced them?

When Trump talks about bringing things back to the way they were, or, as he sees it, making things great again, does he even know what he means by that? When were things ever great, and what would they look like if they were ever great? Does anyone know?

Hasn’t happened. Nor could we know if it did happen. The bottom line is that things are probably greater now than they ever were. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Estate and castle must know this. If nothing else there’s more food on the table, his table for sure and the tables of most of us, enough to feed more people than there ever were.

And furthermore how about the fact that the present unemployment rate of 4.7% is the lowest since the last years of the presidency of George W Bush, and this in spite of the fact that there was nothing done during the eight years of the presidency of Barack Obama to either close our Southern border with Mexico or to prevent our manufacturing plants and jobs from being transferred overseas? Here again Trump seems to completely ignore the facts.

So what’s left to our President in the way of real issues and problems? Is there anything there of substance? Perhaps in regard to health care (or education) But about both of these he has little  of substance to say, other than that Obama Care has been a disaster (as has public school education, as has NAFTA, as has the Iran Nuclear Deal, as has….) He has few ideas of his own about what to do to correct the disasters, be it Obama Care, NAFTA or the Iran Nuclear Deal, or even, as in one of his tweets, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term at Celebrity Apprentice.

China, Russia, Iran, do they represent big trouble needing big attention? In regard to all three no one knows what’s on Trump’s mind, if anything much, other than perhaps lately and little by little coming around to the thinking of his predecessor in the Oval Office, Barack Obama.

There have been other things, problems, trivia? that have got his attention. There was the project to send Hillary to prison but Trump abandoned that effort soon after being elected. (And for this he may have lost a good many of the thousands, if not millions of followers who at his rallies would shout following his lead, “lock her up.”)

Then there are nearly daily in his tweets, what he describes as the “fake news stories,” mostly those made up by the Trump haters, to put him down, and eventually perhaps to bring him down, the Times and the Post being most often the creators of these fake stories, attacking him and his family, as the other day when the Times and the Post handled the fake story of Nordstrom’s dropping Ivanka’s “stuff” from their shelves and displays.

Trump’s multiple daily tweets make it clear what’s important to him. If you read them you will quickly see that the most important thing for Trump is winning, is being always right, is being recognized as being always right. And for him to always be right others have to be wrong. His now hundreds, thousands of tweets are either putting someone (John Lewis, Judge Robart) or something (the NYTimes) down, or putting himself and his family, his followers, the Trump name and the Trump businesses up. There’s nothing in between.

I will need to post something just on Trump’s tweets. For tweets are his most favored manner to communicate with us, with the people. If we would know what he thinks we have to read his tweets. Here’s the link. Otherwise he doesn’t write himself. And as we’ve seen he doesn’t read. And when he speaks it’s most unoriginal, in clichés.

Let me conclude this post with a real issue that confronts us, that confronts our country. I take the chart below from an op ed writer at the Times, Thomas Edsall, who is in just about every respect the opposite of Donald Trump. He reads a lot. He thinks about what he reads, and he learns from his reading as he should, and what he learns he shares with us. His columns usually appear a few times, if not once a week, a month and most often he writes about American politics, inequality, campaign strategy and demographics.


His latest column, Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?, contains the chart that I post below:

achievement-gap


This chart. by itself shows all too clearly why the country is struggling, and its not the Wall nor ISIS that should disturb us. It’s the fact that in this chart the math SAT scores are segregating our highschool seniors by race as much or more than did Jim Crow in the first half of the 20th. century.

In many respects we overcame the unequal world of Jim Crow. We haven’t yet begun to face up to the, in some respects, even more unequal world of the math SATS. (Edsall didn’t give us the results of the literature SATS, but they too were probably segregated by race.) Knowledgeable people have been aware of this situation, in my own experience, forever. Knowledgeable people have never ceased, almost from the first day some 200 years ago, to reform our schools, to make them places where everyone could be successful, but the reformers have never succeeded.

In the language of Trump our country has never been great in respect to utilizing the talents of all our citizens. Somewhere around half of our people have always been left out, have not had the fulfilling lives that a more thoughtful, more sensible, and more sensitive organization of both school (rather than school, places of learning) and society could have provided.

Edsall’s chart shows just how greatly not so much that we have failed, but that we have allowed what are at the moment anyway “natural” differences to get all the attention. And we have neglected, have done little or nothing to foster and develop the more natural ways that young people are all alike if not the same.

We need a world where SATS are not as now the determining factor in a young person’s future. And this, of course, would require much more than a reorganization, one more reform of our schools. We really need to walk away from it all and begin again. (Something that maybe a Trump like person could have done if he himself hadn’t had so many character defects.)

Imagine a learning place or situation when kids, all kids could be a part of whatever was going on, instead of as now when so many, through no fault of their own, are being left out of much of what is going on.


Kids are all different and schools are all the same

Why would anyone want to become a “Secretary” of anything in the government of Donald Trump? For the moment I’ll speak of the Department of Education and Donald Trump’s appointee of Michigan republican Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary. I’ve been listening to her trial by fire at her confirmation hearing (the fire coming without exception from the Democratic Senators).

The Department of Education, established by President Carter in 1979, is one of three youngest of the now 15 positions in the President’s Cabinet (only Veterans’ Affairs and Homeland Security being younger). But look for a moment at the growth of this single cabinet office —

In the 1860s, a budget of $15,000 and four employees handled education. By 1965, then the Office of Education had more than 2,100 employees and a budget of $1.5 billion. As of mid-2010, the Department had some 4,300 employees and a budget of about $60 billion. Now Education, and by far the smallest Cabinet-level department, has about 5,000 employees and an annual budget of $73 billion!

Again, why would anyone want to head this Department? especially on a voluntary basis, which is how DeVos intends to accept the position. On the one hand the Republicans on the Confirmation Committee had only good things to say about her unselfishness, her willingness to volunteer her time and energy to the job. The Democrats, on the other hand, mostly questioned her obvious lack of experience, her lack of preparation for taking on an office of this size and complexity (Did they discourage what was a generous action on her part?)

The Democrats were probably right in their criticisms in their harping rather. DeVos’s experience up until then had not qualified her at all for the job. Her experience, what there was of it, had only been as a long term and very wealthy (Amway monies) and very active proponent of school choice, charter, and voucher programs in her home state of Michigan. But isn’t that, among many characteristics of our form of government, an indication of our greatness, how every four years thousands of mostly amateurs come to Washington to take over the running of the government, thereby “making us great again”? Always instilling thereby into the always rapidly growing bureaucracy a kind of new blood?

These stories about the Betsy DeVos types, about those wanting to give back and wanting nothing for themselves, and there are hundreds, thousands of them, are really just one of the many things that make America exceptional. These stories probably don’t exist among our friends, in France or Britain. And most certainly don’t exist among our rivals for the crown, in China, in Russia, in Iran.


But about this particular cabinet position what I find truly extraordinary is something else entirely. In just 50 years Federal government expenditures on Education have grown from $1 billion to some $50 billion while the numbers of failing public schools may have grown as much if not more, although I don’t have the numbers to show this. But there is no uncertainty about the numbers of school failures today being no less and probably a lot more than they were some 50 years ago.

What might be a candidate Secretary of Education’s answer to this, all the monies spent with so little result? Betsy DeVos does have an answer. In her preliminary talk to the Senators she had this to say:

It’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve. Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child, and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof. Yet, too many parents are denied access to the full range of options… choices that many of us — here in this room — have exercised for our own children. Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children.

I actually believe she’s right about this, that the one size fits all model of learning is long out of date. In fact it should never have been. We, our country, made our biggest mistake right at the start. It was Horace Mann’s mistake because he was, and Helas! still is our spokesperson for the “common school”.

Mann spearheaded the Common School Movement, ensuring that every child could receive a basic education. This commitment sprang from his belief that political stability and social harmony depended on education: meaning a basic level of literacy and the inculcation of common public ideals. He declared, “Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School…may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.” Mann believed that public schooling was central to good citizenship, democratic participation and societal well-being.

Who would find fault with these wise words? And more important who would say that our problems with public education today stem from words such as these? Well they do. We’re still struggling, for example, over the meaning of “basic education.” We don’t know what that means, and we should stop pretending we did. Also we might thank our lucky stars that “political stability and social harmony” don’t depend on education. Any political stability and social harmony we do have is in spite of our educational system, not in any sense because of it.

What Mann is really saying is that virtue can be taught (in the schools). Well we know, and have known for a long time, certainly since the times the Greeks and the Romans, that virtue, good citizenship, democratic participation, societal well-being and all the rest, while highly desirable have shown themselves to be unteachable.

We do go on, don’t we. Well to end it for the moment here’s what I would say about why so many (not all!) of  our schools are failing. Here’s my answer:

The Kids are all Different,
While the Schools are all the Same.

Parents have known this forever, at least until society in the persons of  Horace Mann, and Thomas Jefferson and others told them differently. Until that moment, the moment when they gave up the direction of their own lives and the lives of their children, and listened to the school people, they probably did know that their own children were all different and needed different learning environments. Also they may have known as well that somehow their own children’s education was their own responsibility.

Now I ask you to do just one thing for me, talk to a student, from any school, not any student but one who by all obvious measures is doing well, and then try to find out what the parents are doing to help his or her learning. In other words try to determine the role of the parents in this student’s life. If you speak to enough students I believe you will see that the most successful students will almost always have strong and knowledgeable parents behind them, parents who have accepted in good part their own responsibility for their children’s education.

This is why expensive private schools will have many high achievers. The parents will have made major sacrifices to have their kids there, not to mention all the additional learning experiences they will have provided for their children when not in school.

And this is why free public schools in impoverished rural areas or even more in the inner cities will have many non-achievers. The parents will have made no sacrifices, probably not their fault. In many instances the parents of the low achievers will be the products themselves of failing public schools and will not be able to help their children, will have not an inkling of what to do, certainly not know how to make the right choices.

So whats’ the answer? Well it’s not that of Betsy DeVos who would give to the parents more choices, more schools to choose from for their children. For far too many of the parents she would reach with additional choices probably don’t know themselves how to choose correctly for their children. And it’s not the answer of the public school establishment people either, and has not been for a long time, their answer being always to throw more money into the failing schools.

But the real answer, if we were ever to find it, would probably take a lot more money, money that is probably not available. And it would take more money, meaning more time, because the real answer would mean helping parents to become better parents. And that effort would cost us, and because of that so far we’ve been avoiding doing it.

In other words the real answer to bettering the children’s education is to begin by bettering the education of the parents. For if they would have their kids learn whatever it is, they themselves will need to be helped to learn the whatever it is, be it the meaning of basic education, the meaning of “good citizenship, democratic participation, societal well-being and all the rest.”

Well it is discouraging. I know I’m discouraged. But at least if we could tell it the way it is, which we haven’t done up until now, that might be a good way to get started..


Jared Diamond on Common Sense

About the Edge Foundation, I take this from Wikipedia:

The Foundation is an association of science and technology intellectuals created in 1988 as an outgrowth of The Reality Club, and that currently, its main activity is contributing to the Edge website, edited by  John Brockman, who among other things is the author of The Third Culture, a growing movement towards (re)integration of literary and scientific thinking, a nod toward British scientist C. P. Snow‘s concept of the two cultures, of science and the humanities. On the Edge website scientists and others are invited to contribute their thoughts in a manner readily accessible to non-specialist readers.

In recent years Edge has posed its members an annual question, for example in:

  • 2006: “What is your dangerous idea”? The responses formed the book What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, which was published with an introduction by Steven Pinker and an afterword by Richard Dawkins.
  • 2009: “What Will Change Everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?”
  • 2014: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?”

This year’s Edge Question is:

WHAT SCIENTIFIC TERM OR CONCEPT OUGHT TO BE MORE WIDELY KNOWN?

Edge founder and editor John Brockman himself has this to say about this year’s question:

Of course, not everyone likes the idea of spreading scientific understanding. Remember what the Bishop of Birmingham’s wife is reputed to have said about Darwin’s claim that human beings are descended from monkeys: “My dear, let us hope it is not true, but, if it is true, let us hope it will not become generally known.”

And he continues with his own answer to the question:

Of all the scientific terms or concepts that ought to be more widely known to help to clarify and inspire science-minded thinking in the general culture, none are more important than “science” itself.

Many people, even many scientists, have traditionally had a narrow view of science as controlled, replicated experiments performed in the laboratory—and as consisting quintessentially of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology. The essence of science is conveyed by its Latin etymology: scientia, meaning knowledge….

…. Science is nothing more nor less than the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great figures in history, or the structure of DNA.

It is in this spirit of Scientia that Edge, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, is pleased to present the Edge Annual Question 2017. Happy New Year!

John Brockman, January 1, 2017


You can read all 206 answers to this year’s question on the EDGE website. Below I quote just one of these answers, that of Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “The World Until Yesterday.” I particularly liked what he had to say in his answer that it is “common sense” that ought to be more widely known.


Beware of getting caught up in the details of an argument

You are much more likely to hear common sense invoked as a concept at a cocktail party than at a scientific discussion—but it should play a bigger role in such discussions, where it is sometimes deficient and scorned. This is especially problematic when scientists get caught up in the details of an argument and follow it to an implausible conclusion.

Consider an example from the field of archaeology. Throughout most of human prehistory, human evolution was confined to the Old World, and the Americas were uninhabited. During the last Ice Age, humans finally crossed from Siberia into Alaska over the Bering Strait land bridge. For thousands of years thereafter, they were prevented from spreading further south by the ice sheet that stretched, without interruption, across Canada, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The first well-attested settlement of the Americas south of today’s Canada-U.S. border occurred around 13,000 years ago, as the ice sheets were melting. We see the sudden appearance of stone tools of the Clovis culture, named after the town of Clovis, N.M., where they were first recognized. Clovis tools have now been found all over the lower U.S. and south into Mexico. That sudden appearance of a culture abundantly filling up the entire landscape is what one expects and observes whenever humans first colonize fertile, empty lands.

But any claim by an archaeologist to have discovered “the first X” is taken as a challenge by other archaeologists to discover an earlier X. In this case, archaeologists feel challenged to discover sites with different stone tools that date from before the Clovis culture. Every year now, new claims of pre-Clovis sites in the U.S. and Latin America are advanced and subjected to detailed scrutiny. Most of these claims have eventually been invalidated.

Still, a handful of pre-Clovis claims have not yet been discredited. The most widely discussed are for sites at Monte Verde in Chile, Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania, and one site each in Texas and in Oregon. As a result, most American archaeologists currently support the thesis of pre-Clovis settlement.

But this seems to me an implausible view, defying common sense. It would require that the first human settlers south of the Canada-U.S. border were somehow airlifted by nonstop flights to Chile, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Texas, leaving no unequivocal signs of their presence at intermediate sites. If there really had been pre-Clovis settlement, we would already know it and would no longer be arguing about it. That is because there would be hundreds of undisputed pre-Clovis sites distributed everywhere across the Americas.

Just like everyone else, scientists need common sense.



If you want to know more about the Clovis people, go to

The Clovis Point and the Discovery of America’s First C ulture

to read the article by Charles C. Mann in the Smithsonian Magazine, from November 2013


Thanks to Cathal O’Connell!

I couldn’t resist putting Cathal’s work published in Cosmos Magazine on my own website.

Six physics equations that changed the course of history   


Pivotal points in the past few centuries saw human innovation advance in leaps and bounds, and all thanks to physics. Cathal O’Connell explains the equations and how they transformed history.


As the story goes, English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) contemplates the force of gravity on seeing an apple fall in his orchard, circa 1665. – Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Physics equations are forms of magic. They allow us to explain the past, such as why Halley’s comet visits every 76 years, and predict the future – as far as the ultimate fate of the Universe.

They place limits on the possible, as in the efficiency of an engine, and they reveal possibilities we could never have imagined, such as the energy inside an atom.

Occasionally over the past few centuries, a new equation endowed the next generation with a new magical tool, and so changed the course of history. Here are some of the most pivotal.

1. Newton’s second law of motion (1687)

What does it say?

Force equals mass times acceleration.

In other words …

It’s easier to push an empty shopping cart than a full one.

What did it teach us?

Together with Isaac Newton’s other two laws of motion (the first says you need a force to move something, the third says every action has an equal and opposite reaction), this equation forms the foundation of classical mechanics.

F=ma allowed physicists and engineers to calculate the value of a force. For instance, your weight (measured in newtons) is your mass (in kilograms) multiplied by acceleration due to gravity (on Earth, about 10 metres per second squared).

Saying you “weigh” 60 kilograms is incorrect in physics terms – your actual weight is about 600 newtons. This is the force pushing down on your bathroom scales.

But was it practical?

This equation was crucial to the arrival of the mechanical age. It’s used in almost every calculation which involves using force to cause movement.

It tells you how powerful an engine needs to be to power a car, how much lift an aircraft needs to take-off, how much thrust to lift a rocket, how far a cannonball flies.

2. Newton’s law of universal gravitation (1687)

What does it say?

Any two massive objects pull on one another across space. But the force decreases rapidly the further apart they are.

In other words …

We’re stuck to the Earth’s surface because our planet is comparatively big with lots more mass.

What did it teach us?

For centuries, the Universe had been divided into two realms – the earthly and the celestial. But Newton’s law of gravitation applied to everything. The same tug that causes an apple to fall from a tree keeps the Moon orbiting the Earth. Newton gave us the first direct connection between everyday life and the movement of the heavens.

But was it practical?

For a long time, the equation’s main use was to calculate the orbits of planets. The space-age of the 1950s and 60s saw it used in practice – to send satellites into orbit and astronauts to the Moon.

One failing, which Newton himself admitted, was that he did not know “why” gravity operated. It took nearly 230 years for Albert Einstein to come along and explain gravity as arising from the warping of spacetime by massive objects in his theory of general relativity.

Even so, general relativity is only used in extreme situations, such as when gravity is very strong, or when great precision is required, such as for GPS satellites. In most cases Newton’s 330-year-old equation is still good enough.

3. Second law of thermodynamics (1824)

What does it say?

Entropy (a measure of disorder) always increases.

In other words …

It’s no good crying over spilt milk. Disorder and mess are inevitable in the Universe.

What did it teach us?

While trying to analyse steam engine efficiency in the 19th century, French physicist Sadi Carnot stumbled upon one of the most profound equations in all of science.

It tells us some processes are irreversible, and may even be responsible for the arrow of time. In one of its simplest forms, it says heat always travels from a warm object to a cold one.

It can also be applied to the grandest scales. Some have applied it to describe the ultimate fate of the Universe in the form of “heat death” where all the stars are burnt out and nothing’s left but waste heat.

Others have used it to wind back through time and describe the origin of the Universe in a moment of zero entropy (or perfect order) at the instant of the Big Bang.

But was it practical?

This law was important for developing technologies of the industrial revolution, from steam to internal combustion engines, to refrigerators and chemical engineering.

In real engines, some energy is always wasted – so the law also showed any efforts at perpetual motion were ultimately futile.

4. The Maxwell-Faraday equation (1831 and 1865)

What does it say?

You can create a changing electric field (left side of the equation) from a changing magnetic field (on the right) and vice versa.

In other words …

Electricity and magnetism are related!

What did it teach us?

In 1831, Michael Faraday discovered the connection between two natural forces, electricity and magnetism, when he found a changing magnetic field induced a current in a nearby wire.

Later, James Clark Maxwell generalised Faraday’s observation as one of his four fundamental equations of electromagnetism.

But was it practical?

This is the equation that powers the world. Most electric generators (whether in a wind turbine, coal-fired plant or a hydroelectric dam) work by converting mechanical energy (from steam or water) to rotate a magnet. By running this process in reverse, you get the electric motor.

More generally, Maxwell’s equations are still used in almost every application of electrical engineering, communications technology and optics.

5. Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence (1905)

What does it say?

Energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared.

In other words …

Mass is really just a super-condensed form of energy.

What did it teach us?

Because of the size of the constant in the equation (the speed of light squared, an unimaginably huge number) a colossal amount of energy can be released through converting a tiny amount of mass.

But was it practical?

Einstein’s most famous equation hinted at the potential for the huge amounts of energy released in nuclear fission, when a large unstable nucleus breaks into two smaller ones. This is because the mass of the two smaller nuclei together is always less than the mass of the original big nucleus – and the missing mass is converted into energy.

The “Fat Man” atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki in Japan on 9 August 1945 converted just one gram of mass to energy, but produced an explosion the equivalent around 20,000 tonnes of TNT.

Einstein himself had signed a letter to US president at the time Franklin Roosevelt recommending the atom bomb be developed – a decision he later regarded as the “one great mistake” of his life.

6. The Schrödinger wavefunction (1925)

What does it say?

It describes how the change of a particle’s wavefunction (represented by psi, the candlestick shaped symbol) can be calculated from its kinetic energy (movement) and its potential energy (the interactions on it).

In other words …

It’s the quantum version of F=ma.

What did it teach us?

When Erwin Schrödinger formulated his equation in 1925, it placed the new theory of quantum mechanics on firm footing by allowing physicists to calculate how quantum particles move and interact.

The equation looks a bit weird because it uses the mathematics of waves. (Subatomic particles are “wavy”, so their interaction is described as interference of waves, rather than like billiard balls.)

But was it practical?

In one of its simplest forms, it describes the structure of the atom, such as the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus, and all chemical bonding.

More generally it’s used for many calculations in quantum mechanics and is fundamental to much of modern technology from lasers to transistors, and the future development of quantum computers.

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way’ (Ancient Chinese, Analects)


I don’t know who may have said this first, but someone (and many others since) has said that you can’t write well about something you don’t know well, but you may write well, although this result is never assured, about something you do know well.


Well, when I look at my own writings, at least the more than 1000 Blog posts during the past 15 years or so, I see right away that either I’m more often than not writing about subjects that I know little about, although probably not nothing. Or that I’m simply citing the words of others, much more knowledgeable than I. So writing well? Well, how would I know since there are few or no readers of my blogs who might tell me?

By the way, the only books I myself read from beginning to end are thrillers, such as those of John MacDonald, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, et al. (just finished Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye and gave it a 9 out of a possible 10.)These are not books of ideas, but page turners in which the good hero vanquishes the evil one, and at the end we, the readers, walk away, thoroughly  spent but thoroughly satisfied.

On the other hand, the hundreds of works that I never read from beginning to end are works of non -fiction. Hundreds, now nearly thousands of them fill my iPhone library (probably on the Cloud), or are lined up on the IKEA shelves, now pretty much abandoned but still covering nearly all the walls of our home opposite Freedom Park, here in Tampa, the Park that Josée and I call our own Luxembourg Garden, or Luco.

So my reading realm, where I spend most of my time, reading and writing, is the non-fiction world. More and more (if that’s possible because as one grows older there are fewer hours, not more in the day) that’s where I spend my days. Not since learning how to read in school, but since that time, a bit later when I walked away from the undergraduate and graduate classes that in my life were mainly obstacles, not as they were probably meant to be spurs to my own learning.

While I don’t say that the non-fiction world is where I’m most apt to find the truth, or truths, I do say that it’s where the ideas, some truthful, some not, are found in greatest number and abundance. I would ask the paleontologists who may know such things what were the ideas of the hunter-gatherers during the ten thousands of years that preceded the first farming communities of the Middle East. How old, I would ask them, are the first ideas that man ever had. And then how would we ever know them at all if they were never written down? But of course, there are other ways, nature herself and early men being themselves books, as it were, that can also be read.

So long ago I realized that my life, certainly for the past 60 years or so, has been well steeped in an infinite series of ideas many of which have become a part of me. The interesting thing is that many of these ideas, if not most of them, are still very much alive for me. For ideas while they may be placed aside, forgotten, overlooked, don’t ever die. And the good ideas especially will continue to grow, like gravityevolutionrelativity  and  quantum theory, but also, and I take these good ideas from yes, from the TAO of C.S. Lewisthe power to weep is the best part of us;   unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone;   children, the old, the infirm, the poor should be considered as lords of us all.

Returning again to C.S. Lewis who has been much on my mind lately. Lewis of course was a man of ideas. Of the three kinds of “men” he describes in his book,  Present Concerns, where do I fit in? I don’t think I’m of those who live (only) for their own sake and pleasure, nor do I ever submit myself blindly to some higher claim or authority, such as a God, Kant’s categorical imperative, or even the Second Law that holds us all (not willingly anyway). And I certainly have not turned myself over to Jesus (although of course I love the man).

And I don’t for a moment see myself as in a class by myself. For there are many like me (not enough!) who are no less immersed in the life of ideas. But not a day goes by that I don’t look, if not for new ideas (because of these there are very few and I’m certainly not going to discover them myself), I do look for the endless further varieties of ideas that are already in part anyway in my notes and books.

And so it is that for a long time now I’ve known that ideas are like a food that keeps me alive.  In that regard I turn immediately each day to the opinion pages of the daily news publications I read, plus to a good number of Reviews and Journals, such as the NYR, the Boston R, Harpers, the Atlantic, and 10 or 15 others, including the English publication, super rich in ideas, Prospect Magazine, (at least when I’m able to navigate all the obstacles that their subscription services place in the would be reader’s way).

This habit by the way may unhappily put a little distance between me and my wife, say at breakfast in the morning. Had I forgotten, also from the TAO, ‘that one is to Love thy wife studiously, and gladden her heart all thy life long.’ For I come to my first cup of coffee not with my wife’s heart in mind, but with my iPhone in hand and totally without an open mind. But instead I will be full of the words of one or more of the op ed columnists of the Times, Post, or WSJ that I will have just read and won’t hear what my wife Josée will be trying to say about what she has just read herself in Le Figaro or Le Point, perhaps a commentary by Sophie Coignard on Arnaud Montebourg, the Socialist presidential candidate now going about “gonflé a l’hélium.” Now that’s a kind of idea, I suppose, the Socialist candidate blown up like a helium balloon.

I ask myself why is it that I no longer read novels? I grew up with (well no, I was already into my twenties when I was reading them) the great English, French, and Russian works. Now I’d say even, without at the time knowing it, that these books, read for the most part when I was no longer in school or class were my education. And I still have them on my shelves. Perhaps the answer to my “why” question, why I no longer read novels, is because twentieth and now twentyfirst century novelists are doing nothing better, and nothing as good, as the great novelists of the past, although not having read them I really can’t say this.

But it’s also true that the novels that I’ve always enjoyed the most are those with plenty of ideas, the novels of ideas if you will. If there are few ideas in the modern novels it’s perhaps because the modern novelists are writing about people (and usually people, if I ever do get to know them, the people of John Updike and Philip Roth for example, that I care little about). They rarely write about ideas.

You might question whether the op ed writers that I read ever reach the level of real ideas, for often they do seem to be all opinion and commentary. I’ll have to reserve judgement on that. Do even my own ideas reach that level?

In any case the historian Charles Beard tells us that “the world is largely ruled by ideas, true and false.” Most likely the opinion writers want to be a part of this world of ideas, that is, part of something bigger than themselves. I know I do. As for what Charles Beard has to say I would change only his “true and false” to “good and bad.”

I might explore all this a bit further. And I might stop now. But I also might take the one word, education with all the ideas connected thereto. A topic that I myself have hundreds of ideas about.

My own thinking about education probably began, not when I was a student myself, that time  when the E word had absolutely no meaning for me, but much later when my wife and I started our own school way back there when in the seventies people were doing such things, the free school movement in Berkeley for example of which we were a small part. The immediate need for our starting our own school was that we had the four children of our own and ideas about education, our own and those of others, became all important.

When I’m ready, for regarding any kind of education or learning the readiness is all, I’ll probably have more to say about this subject…

ideas


Re-thinking CS Lewis

Lewis, was a good man, and a wise man,

but wrong, terribly wrong, in regard to the respective places he gave to science and religion. I would say even that Lewis was too much a Christian, at least from the time of his own conversion in 1929, and his being too much a Christian, a believer, led him to see

lewis-picturenot the old world in which he grew up, but rather the new world of modern science which he saw taking shape around him, and in particular the uni/multiverse described by the cosmologists, while spectacular, —as a horribly, terribly empty, boundless space where God’s presence was not to be felt. (see “The Empty Universe” in Lewis’ occasional writings, Present Concerns.)


Had Lewis never had a conversion, had he remained an atheist he might have then “believed” in the new world of science and have seen therein more truth and beauty than was to be found in the old world of his youth, and he might have used his own exceptional rhetorical skills to describe that new world, the world of the founding fathers of science, of Galileo, Newton, and Albert Einstein, the world of many of his own friends probably at Oxford and Cambridge.

For then he might have, much as did Carl Sagan and the countless others, whose works were describing in great, beautiful detail the new, the uni/multiverse out there as well as the  earth’s no less beautiful and extraordinary evolutionary history. The works of these men, scientists, writers, and writer scientists, are the fitting and proper replacements for the beautiful, imaginative but no longer relevant works of the Middle Ages, those no less significant works at the time of which Lewis himself never wanted to let go. Lewis somehow, for whatever reason, remained in the past. This was at once his greatness, but also his great failure, the failure not to see what was coming if religion was not put in its proper place.

But there is much to be said in his favor, for in many regards Lewis was a great man. As has been often said Lewis was the classicists’ classicist. A celebrity in his own right. I, a mostly nobody, really am without a soap box of my own on which to stand and say even a single word about him, let alone a critical word. So allow me here to at least acknowledge Lewis’ many and real accomplishments. I take the following from, The Official Website of C.S.Lewis:

Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.

Lewis wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis’s most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

My own skepticism, my criticism of Lewis and others like him, I would with greater legitimacy direct to the largest group of Christians in America, the Evangelicals, for whom, although I don’t know this, Lewis is probably a hero. It does seem that to some extent the views of the Evangelicals, now some fifty years after the death of Lewis, are changing. Although probably not yet do they recognize, what Lewis himself always refused to admit, or at least acknowledge, the harm that their “mere Christianity” might be doing to the country and the world.

Anyway here’s what they, or at least one of them, is saying: for they do not speak with just one voice.  But not yet are they speaking about the really thrilling discoveries of science, of the size and the origin of the cosmos, of the evolutionary history of birds and mammals, of the origin of us, of all the still great mysteries of science that the men and women of science are bringing to our attention, the quantum theory that no one understands, dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves…

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“evangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.

But my “present concern,” one of them anyway, is something else. It goes back to the words of Jeff Schweitzer in my previous post, “As we witness yet again the brutal and bloody consequences of religious intolerance in the form of ISIS, we have a majority of Republicans pining for a Christian America. Proponents of converting the United States into a theocracy do not see the terrible parallel between religious excess in the Middle East and here at home, but they would not because blindness to reason is the inevitable consequence of religious zealotry.”

Science and religion are not at all the same, and history tells us clearly, although Lewis didn’t see it, nor Billy Graham, nor the millions of evangelical Christians since then and now, that science has better answers than religion to the questions that concern us the most, the three questions of Paul Gauguin, for example, D’ou Venons Nous,  Que Sommes Nous, et Où Allons Nous. And if you put these three together you have much the same question that Art Buchwald, when he was about to die and eating yet another icecream Sunday, asked– “What’s It All About, Alfie?”

I’ve come to my own conclusion that science has more to say about this than religion. While religion has only belief science has the truth to be obtained from careful observation and measurement. What would you rather have, while building a house, or doing anything else? Isn’t the answer obvious? Reason not belief is what we should rely on.

Our greatest problem, right now, today, is that a majority of Americans are still turning to religion, totally unlike the Founding Fathers themselves as Schweitzer makes clear in his article. Our leaders for the most part, rather than turning to science for answers, are still looking for far out answers, in the Bible, the Koran, probably in the sacred books of the Eastern religions as well, not to mention astrology and fortune telling. One result of this being that many of our citizens, many of our people are being condemned because of something that was written thousands of years ago in a now mostly irrelevant and ancient text. Our leaders are not turning to reason, perhaps man’s greatest natural gift, but to feelings, emotions, opinions, and in the worst instances, bigotry and ideology for answers.

The result is that many, not without good reason, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens (the three plus one atheists) see religion, not science, as the greatest existential threat not only to our country, but to the world, to civilization itself. Would that CS Lewis, for all that he did see, that was just and right, had seen this coming. He might have helped to change the way that true believers believed, and thereby grow our hope for the future.