The current freakout on the Betsy De Vos appointment to Secretary of Education hides the central questions that actually need to be addressed: how do we improve the educational outcomes in our society, and in particular for those in poverty? The headwind is strong, what do we do?
The Fordham Institute has some ideas. They pose some interesting questions that may help us assess not only De Vos, but guide us going forward. Wise readers will see several possible connecting points for those on the left: as a start, we may want to start with the career education question and the vital role of our community colleges.
Far from the blowhard, Donald Trump represents something of a throwback to older, Protestant ideas. At least so says Carmen Fowler DeFarge. She’s no conservative but she’s on to something here. Trump’s appeal lies somewhere other than in the ideological, it’s more American — it’s the gospel of positive thinking that has been knitted into our cultural fabric, from the Transcendentalists forward.
Still, DeFarge notes, Evangelicals don’t seem to care.
Trump’s “Evangelical” supporters are the Christmas-church-going, Protestant work-ethic, Manifest Destiny believing, can-do capitalists. They are in every denomination and none. They think of themselves as Christians but they see no real need to have every aspect of their lives aligned with an arcane morality. Trump is tapping into the spirit and power of positive thinking that pervades the teachings of modern cultural evangelists like Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen.
Matthew Loftus brought up this article on the suburbs (The Conservative Case Against Suburbs, a reaction to an earlier Joel Kotkin piece). It’s a form of the conservative critique that sees the suburbs or suburban sprawl as the enemy of the local, the agriculture. I can get behind that to a certain extent, but still.
Of course, it’s always fun to bash Joel Kotkin. Nevertheless there is a lack of subtlety regarding suburbs, not least how we want to describe them. In larger metro areas, there are all sorts of neighborhoods that once were properly suburban but now with leafy streets and the like.
I probably would not think of the suburb as “centralized” although that fits certain conservative memes. The heart of the suburb is its decentralized quality, its “nowhereness,” part aesthetic, and part philosophic. The suburban organization is less centralized, than one of nodes and interstate ganglia. At its core, a decentralized place makes it more difficult to live a public life, to participate in public narratives be it the library. the school, the local symphony.
In further criticism of the piece, the question of race is inescapable. The federal policies that promoted home ownership did so at the cost of opportunity for African Americans. The policies (redlining) gave institutional and geographic warrant for racism — see the work of Thomas Sugrue. An urban philosophy that does not wrestle with the questions of race and economics would appear to be at best, effete, the stuff of More Brooklyn sentimentality.
Fact is, we will need to deal with our suburbs — they won’t get bulldozed. We will need to think carefully how we create robust spaces within this suburban matrix where individuals can thrive, and more importantly, where we can live out full (and public) lives.