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    Several months before 9-11, though we didn’t know it then, Virginia Postrel linked to an education blogger named Joanne Jacobs. “Why, I toil in the vineyards of education myself!” I thought, and clicked through. This was when her site was “readjacobs.com.” Joanne has—excuse the vulgarity—a bullshit detector that’s always switched on. She’s immune to fads and advertising-speak. She’s content to write a five-word sentence when five words alone will convey her meaning (a talent I admire but have never been capable of emulating), which is a real asset when discussing the latest education hoo-hah. Living abroad, I loved visiting her blog and reading whatever she’d posted in her straightforward, no-nonsense voice. This is an American talking to me, I’d think with pleasure. This is someone I can do business with. At that point, Virginia, Joanne, Instapundit, and Andrew Sullivan were the only blogs I read. (I could never get into Kausfiles.)

    I mention 9-11 because I associate two posts of Joanne’s very much with the days that followed. Neither of them, assuming my ability to use Google hasn’t atrophied, is available online anymore. The first was about some miscreant in California who’d, maybe, committed a murder-suicide (?) on 9 September or something. His parting comment was, again IIRC, that he would be the big news story of the week. Joanne’s response several days later: “Tough luck, mister.”

    About 9-11 itself, she had a post that I read many times over. Again, this is from memory—I’ve tried a bunch of phrases from it to see whether there’s a citation to it somewhere, but I can’t locate it, and yet, I’m pretty sure my unassisted memory is mostly accurate. It said, essentially, the following:

    Our culture is global, dynamic, and confident. Their culture is provincial, parochial, and weak. We’re winners. They’re losers, and they resent it.

    US support for Israel is a detail. The United States could align its entire foreign policy with the whims of Yasir Arafat, and we’d still be a target.

    That’s a paraphrase from memory, but as I say, it’s the gist of it. I thought about it many, many times in the years that followed.

    [Added on 24 January: And as it happens, my blog friend Marc at Amritas had the actual citation:

    They hate us because we’re big, powerful and rich, while they’re small, weak and poor. Our culture is dynamic, confident, global and free. Their culture…is rigid, defensive, parochial and tyrannical. We’re winners. They’re losers, and they resent it.

    U.S. support for Israel is a detail. We could let our foreign policy be dictated by Yasir Arafat, and they’d still hate us.

    Thanks to Marc for letting me know.]

    One of the most precious things about America is our belief that thinking and behavior make you one of us, no matter where you started out. I mean, the Japanese certainly believe that there’s a Japanese way of thinking, but according to their conception, being genetically Japanese and living in Japan make you think that way, not the other way around. But the idea that signing on to a country’s belief system makes you part of that country all the way down is really rare in the world. America has it. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have it. (England, the homeland of my beloved late grandfather and the source, of course, of so much of our heritage in the Anglosphere, does not, at least not to the same extent.) Perhaps there are other places I’m not thinking of. But I can say after spending eleven years of my adult life abroad that the idea that what you’re born to determines your lot in life—all of it, unalterably—is the most common single belief I’ve ever encountered among people of all nationalities.

    Joanne plays her political cards pretty close to the chest. But from what I’ve been able to observe on her blog for the last decade, her view of education is one that should resonate with a lot of Americans: Don’t waste money and resources on quixotic projects with little proven value, but show students at all levels of achievement, income, and social class what they need to do to achieve as much as they can. Then let those who want to do it do it. Present information in orderly units, logically broken down, so that students who apply themselves have the highest probability of mastering it even if their education sucked to that point. Offer extra help where needed. Give reasonable support to parents who want to help their children succeed but don’t understand the system. Maintain high standards. Don’t be afraid of testing just because it’s testing. Value teachers but don’t coddle them.

    All of this is to say, Joanne Jacobs celebrated her tenth blog-iversary today, and it’s worth celebrating. Congratulations, and I hope JoanneJacobs.com is around for several decades more.

    5 Responses to “学”

    1. Julie says:

      What a rousing post.

      I was watching Restrepo the other night, and the shuras with the Afghan elders had me thinking somewhat along the same lines. Even though the army is trying to sell the American way to them as enriching their lives, which it almost certainly will, it will also take away a great deal of the power of the elders themselves, and they don’t want that. At least that’s what they seemed to be thinking, and the general thrust of the war in that area, I think, supports that. The elders aren’t going to voluntarily surrender that power even if it would benefit their people and their society at large. I said to my husband at the time that it’s not like we’re fighting a war against a country or people so much as we’re fighting a war against the Dark Ages, and I don’t know that the army has the tools for that. I think it’s telling that I hear envy of America and the open and dynamic society we have even from other “developed” countries, or at least from segments of their population, but when you combine envy without a high level of development of their own and also a fear of losing power, sure, it’s going to breed some ugly shit.

      I like her blog, too, and I found it through yours.

    2. Sean says:

      Julie, I agree, and something that goes with that is that people tend, I think, to cling to the old ways in times of upheaval, even when they’d had a lot of complaints about life before. The familiar feels safe, even when there’s a lot you hate about it. And liberalizing society does mean increasing people’s exposure to unfamiliar things and to change they have no idea how to control. Even the people may feel that sticking with the elders, capricious as they themselves may be, is the more prudent choice. Combating that must be very tricky.

    3. Sarah says:

      One of the most precious things about America is our belief that thinking and behavior make you one of us, no matter where you started out.

      Something for which I am incredibly grateful. Particularly from anyone associated with education.
      Weirdly, I must have been feeling the same sort of underground rumbles myself, before 9/11. As usual nothing I could put into coherent words,at least words that could be pointed at as “This is what I thought” — but it came out as the short story Traveling, Traveling, which was published in Analog shortly after 9/11. It came from this conference panel where we were being told how wonderful modernity was for everyone (and it is) and how grateful the peoples of the world were (and I thought — boy, do you KNOW the peoples of the world?) So, the story was all about resentment of being dragged into a better/easier life … that someone else had made.

    4. Sean says:

      Well, it’s human to take some comfort in thinking the circumstances you don’t like are beyond your control, and individualization lessens your ability to do that. I still think classical liberalism is the best system, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that implementing it can make people feel dislocated and insecure.

    5. Judy says:

      … e io ho comprato il libro di gabriele bonci!!! Ho avuto la bella idea di provare la pizza nella giornata più calda a milano di tutta l&28#17;estate… ma ne è valsa la pena!!!! Ora mi toccherà aspettare le conserve di Panella 😉

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