Schools and Citizens
Robin West | Boston Review | 13 January 2014
Discussion of Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, about American school reforms over the past 25 years. The advertised goals have been admirable: Higher test scores for all students; closing of gaps between black and white, rich and poor. But reformers are “refashioning education as a private commodity rather than a public good”. Their focus on measurable outcomes prepares pupils “not so much for citizenship, but for labour markets.”          

Walter Benjamin: Jerk reaction
Morgan Meis | Smart Set | 13 January 2014
The elusive writer had plenty to be elusive about, as a new biography makes clear. “Goodbye Walter Benjamin, wounded angel of history. Hello Walter Benjamin, sex-addled abuser of wives and children… Benjamin’s ambiguity as a writer cannot be disentangled from his selfishness and dishonesty as a person. The more he lied to himself − the more he lied to others − the more he created layers of duplicity in his own writing.”          

Beowulf in a hundred tweets
Elaine Treharne | Text Technologies | 9 January 2014
Welsh medievalist retells Beowulf saga in 100 tweets. “It was a worthwhile exercise, forcing me back to the Old English to try and capture, in the shortest possible length, what I thought were the essential components of the poem.” Sample tweet: “In hard hold, Beowulf yanked shredded flesh, sundering arm from shrieking body. Grendel sloped off to die; his arm hung as trophy.”   

Academe quits me
DG Myers | A Commonplace Blog | 8 January 2014
Reflections on getting laid off. “After twenty-four years of patiently acquiring literary knowledge I have been informed that my knowledge is no longer needed. I fill no gap in the department, because there is no shimmering and comprehensive surface of knowledge in which any gaps might appear. Like everyone else in English, I am an extra, and the offloading of an extra is never reported or experienced as a loss.”

A manual of sacred technology
Adam Kirsch | Tablet | 7 January 2014
On the relationship between religious behaviour and religious belief in Judaism. “Jewish observance can be likened to a technology − a series of tools that, if used correctly, will produce the desired result, which is to please God and win his blessing. The Talmud, then, would be a manual of sacred technology, showing how to calibrate every prayer, ritual, and action so that it will be most effective.”   

I could have done that
Julian Baggini | Independent | 7 January 2014
A common criticism of much modern art is that ‘anybody could do that’ − which is increasingly true. Technology has made the resources of professional photographers and composers available to amateurs. Abstract visual art favours painters skilled in relatively simple forms. Conceptual art is often made by other hands. Art still demands a creative imagination: technical skills are no longer such a barrier.

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