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.