Readings & Reactions: To Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody – Really?

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Photo: Marc S. Tucker   Photo: Anthony Cody

By Marc Tucker @ EdWeek’s Top Performers blog

This recent blogpost where Marc Tucker rebuts Anthony Cody’s previous criticisms of education’s impact on the economy is a fascinating window into two very different points of view that more likely talking past one another rather than to one another.

While I certainly cannot speak for Mr. Cody, I would point to a small but significant distinction between the point I think he was making and the point that Tucker is countering.

It seems to me that in Tucker’s rebuttal is making education and schooling synonymous, which is common. However, as one part of a wider discussion, which seems to be Mr. Cody’s major endeavor both in his former EdWeek column and beyond, is that education and schooling are not necessarily as synonymous as sometimes believed.

Of course, it is foolish to argue against many of the facts that Tucker offers about income rates generally being higher for those that complete more schooling, but a much stronger argument could be made that the individuals that complete the various scholastic benchmarks cited begin with an array of advantages that might otherwise enhance their income. This point gets no mention in the column.

I would also add that “higher levels of knowledge, skills and technology,” may be a product of higher levels of education, but is not a guarantee. Ideally, this is true. Yet again, education and schooling are not necessarily the same. The educational system, made up of schools, is not the only source of education, nor should it ever be. Employee training programs can also be a form of education that can enhance income considerably, when done well, and that is only one additional source.

However, many companies cut training and development opportunities to increase their bottom line and satisfy shareholders, while blaming the decline of the educational system for its inability to produce qualified workers.

This raises the spectre of another wider debate about the purpose of an education, and how much of that purpose be strictly vocational, but that easily exceeds the boundaries of one column. Still, education may be the result of schooling, training, apprenticeship, and far more opportunities and alternatives that exist beyond what is considered the traditional educational system.

To suggest that there are not places where the existing educational system can be improved is folly, but admitting that also does not require the admission that the system is failing. Plus, comparing our students to other nations’ students is also not without serious flaws, again far more than would fit in a single column.

It seems to me that Mr. Tucker and Mr. Cody might very well be writing past one another, using common vocabulary but meaning very different things.

Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, is perhaps unlike any book I have read. Part novel, part picture book, aimed at young audiences highlighting a peculiar figure in cinematic history. To start, there is something beautiful about this book but I find it more difficult to articulate.

Many of the illustrations are exquisite. For me the best images were the ones that had the greatest scope, either interior or exterior. The more going on in the frame, the better the illustrations. Plus, there is a definite cinematic attempt being made that gives many illustrations a storyboard-like quality. Generally, this is remarkably successful. Yet, I felt the young characters, Hugo and Isabelle, looked terribly similar.

The prose narrative of the story is also clever. While the premise of a boy living alone in a Paris train station seems a slight stretch, the evolving relationships that Hugo develops with the other characters are built with care. The fact that Papa Georges is revealed to be the pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès was not something that I was necessarily expecting, but made the story all the more enjoyable. Being familiar with Méliès’ work and importance in cinematic history but not the man made me wonder how much of the story was true, if any. Even more surprising is how the fictional account mirrors the filmmaker’s life, giving the whole story greater appeal for me.

Even the themes of the automaton and magic was all enjoyable. These elements combined to make Hugo more interesting and well-rounded, more than a stock scamp of an abandoned kid. Plus, the weaving of cinema’s magician with a young would-be magician eased the tension between the two and made their relationship that much more authentic and interesting. Add the mysterious automaton from Méliès’ past and it is no wonder why the old man remained intrigued but the boy, even if at an arm’s length.

In spite of all of these things, something tells me that this book will be more important as a forerunner to other textual experiments of similar combinations of illustrated prose narratives. I am not sure that the two worked as seamlessly as I might have liked, but I admire the attempt immensely. Considering how much I enjoyed it and how distinctly different the reading experience was, I would like to see more efforts like this by Selznick or others. There is a lot of room for it to evolve as a kind of genre all its own, somewhere between traditional novel and the graphic counterpart.

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Review: The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone knows the the name, but how well-known is the story? Above all, The Notorious Benedict Arnold is an excellently crafted and remarkably compelling story of one man’s hubris.

Reading Steve Sheinkin’s historical non-fiction volume uncovers Arnold as an undeniable hero of the American Revolution. His audacity, skill, and considerable luck all converge to make him an extraordinary military force in the early days of America’s revolt. His initial mission to Fort Ticonderoga alone is an adventure story worthy of its own treatment. Yet that is only the beginning of the dramatic wake that cast by Arnold’s meteoric rise and ignominious fall.

While considered a young adult title, this book transcends that label on a number of levels. It reads like a novel, includes first-person accounts, and is well resourced. Perhaps Sheinkin’s greatest feat is his successful portrayal of Arnold as a sympathetic, albeit severely flawed individual. No doubt, Arnold was not always recognized or treated fairly in a highly politically charged climate. What’s more it was his capacity to hold grudges and feel scorned that led to his undoing. Still, Sheinkin certainly makes the case for his being the subject of a great story and an even greater fall.

While Arnold invited a lot of his own trouble, that only serves to make him even more interesting and compelling. To say Arnold lived a full life is understatement. Even the melodrama of his ultimate unraveling, missing his most ardent supporter, George Washington, by mere minutes makes for a fantastic story alone, and Sheinkin relates it with relish. Even the aftermath of Arnold’s betrayal draws a degree of sympathy, making him all the more powerful as a cautionary tale.

Although I typically like historical non-fiction generally, as well as biographies, I enjoyed this book even more than I expected. It was a fascinating view into a historical figure that everyone knows but doesn’t know much about. Ultimately, Sheinkin squeezes out the formalities and dogma of historical writing in favor of action, adventure, and ripping good yarn, a major factor in it being considered a young adult title, but it makes it all the more readable and enjoyable.

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