Archives for category: Art

We have seen plenty of movies about life in a dictatorship, but this video shows you the real thing. A well-known Russian pianist, Alexei Lubimov, announced a concert a few months ago. He planned to play a work by a famous Ukrainian composer, Valentin Silvestrov, and another by Schubert.

As he was playing, with great brilliance, the police arrived to stop the concert. The pianist insisted on finishing the piece he was playing. As the two policemen stood there, the audience applauded vigorously. Then the police told him they had reports of a bomb on the premises, and they had to stop the performance until bomb-sniffing dogs arrived. The dogs arrived two hours later.

The concert was stopped.

We saw an off-Broadway show that we highly recommend. It’s a four-night only show. We saw the first. The others are May 19 and 25 at 7 pm. May 21 @2 pm.

“Margo & Juliette: A Dance on the Volcano in Weimar Berlin”

A two-woman cabaret of songs from the Weimar period. It’s risqué but no nudity.

It was wonderful!

The parallels to today are powerful, sometimes frightening.

It was akin to going to a cabaret during Weimar. Songs in English and in German. A simple production. Two beautiful singers and a piano.

In the end, very moving.

Only three more performances at the Triad Theatre on West 72 and Amsterdam in Manhattan.

Our friend Bob Shepherd shared this wonderful video of a musical group whose instruments (at least the strings) were made from garbage collected at a landfill in Paraguay. And the group is called the LandFillHarmonic.

Here is another.

Be sure to watch!

Jack Hassard taught science teachers for many years at the Georgia State University. He now blogs frequently at The Art of Teaching Science. This post contains a fascinating perspective on teaching science. Hassard reviews a new book by a fellow science educator.

He writes:

The author of the book is Charles R. “Kip” Ault, Jr. Kip and I have collaborated over the Internet for several decades without actually meeting each other.  Like many of you, the digital world of email and social media is the mode of communication that brings us together in personal and productive ways.  Kip and I know each other from the science education research and writing we’ve done over the last 30 years.  I’ve discovered that our career paths have crossed in several ways.  We both taught high school and university courses in geology and the earth sciences, and designed science teacher education programs.  Kip was professor of science education at Lewis and Clark University for 24 years. There he developed and directed the science teacher education program. 

As Hassard explains, Ault wrote a book in 2015 criticizing the value of the national science standards.

In 2015, Kip published the book, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were developed in 1999, were uncritically endorsed and granted outright compliance by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), even though there has been a groundswell of teachers questioning these standards. And, very little criticism has been written from major research publications, until Kip Ault’s book Challenging Science Standards. If you haven’t read this book, you can use the link above to review it or read my review on my blog. 

Kip’s New Book

So, now, in 2021, Dr. Ault has published a new bookgiving us an inside view of science teaching and learning. Instead of being about science teaching, this is a book for science teaching. If you are in a student in a science teacher education program, a practicing science teacher, or professor of science education, I think Kip’s book will augment your deep feelings about how students learn and why science teaching should be in the service of student’s lived experiences. 

If you are science education researcher, this book will provide the theoretical rationale to design studies cutting across the spectrum of learning for all students. Kip’s four themes, Play, Art, Coherence, Community are big ideas from which studies can emerge. 

If you are a classroom science teacher, I encourage you to apply any or all of Kip’s “stories” that form the substance of his book. He’s cast the stories into four themes: Play, Art, Coherence, and Community. You’ll find specific ideas that you can apply to your own classroom that I think you will find enthralling.

Hassard wrote the introduction to Ault’s new book. He wrote:

Kip’s book is a creative path to a new paradigm of science teaching and learning.  His book is an amazing journey of stories and experiences in classrooms that will be familiar to you.  The international science education community has embraced the importance of qualitative research.  Descriptions of people, events and situations are hallmarks of qualitative methods.  Kip has filled his book with playful, aesthetic, meaningful, and compelling stories about learning in which context and the needs of students reigns.   Kip’s book is a qualitative treasure chest of new paradigm learning examples.  His book is also fun to read. He names some of his stories Wavy Elephants, Binary Banjos, Skull Sockets and Crowned Molars, Hells Pig, Vivid Canyons, Flashy Plumage, Wicked Extinctions, and Caring Communities.

Ault connects his science thinking to that of Leonardo da Vinci:

When you read this book you are going to be immersed into the mind of a science education writer who’s thinking is drawn from the science of Leonardo da Vinci. Kip has created a new paradigm that is rooted in Leonardo’s mind. I wrote this in my forward about why I think there is a link between Leonardo and Kip Ault. I wrote:

On Beyond Science Standards describes a world view that is holistic and ecological which is, according to Fritjof Capra[1], not unlike Leonardo’s.  Leonardo had developed a solid body of science.  But his science could not be understood without his art, nor his art without science. Walter Isaacson[2] and Fritjof Capra wrote separate biographies of Leonardo.  In their biographies, they explain that Leonardo’s scientific explorations informed his art.  Capra says that for Leonardo “painting is both an art and a science—a science of natural forms, of qualities, quite different from the mechanistic science that would emerge two hundred years later.” For Kip Ault, paleontology cannot exist without illustration, and he shows how art can be the center of methodology. Art can be the center of learning science. And it doesn’t have to be only paleontology. 

When I took science courses in high school and college, most of our time was spent memorizing facts about science. i didn’t get the point.

But Ault has a different vision of science:

Kip Ault believes that the purpose of education is to:

prepare citizens for lives of social responsibility in a democratically governed polity.  Kip reaches out to the science education community to claim that our present practices of teaching and routines of selecting what to teach will not help our students achieve that end. He concludes that immersing students in “scientific diversity” can be a journey uncovering aspects of ourselves and the universe promising immense pleasure and joy.  Kip Ault has written the book that I’ve been waiting for.


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration devised highly successful programs to create jobs and at the same time, perform useful public works, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put young men to work, with a salary, food, and shelter while they performed manual labor related to the conservation of natural resources in rural lands owned by governments. Another worthy New Deal initiative was the Federal Writers’ Project, which hired writers to document their time and place.

Scott Borchert wrote a history of the Federal Writers’ Project. He recently wrote an opinion piece about proposed legislation to revive a new Federal Writers’ Project for our time.

Nearly eight decades ago, the Federal Writers’ Project — the literary division of the New Deal’s vast jobs creation program — met an untimely demise at the hands of its enemies in Congress. Now it seems that Congress may invite its resurrection.

In May, Representatives Ted Lieu and Teresa Leger Fernández introduced legislation to create a 21st Century Federal Writers’ Project. Inspired by the New Deal arts initiatives — which produced government-sponsored guidebooks, murals, plays and more — their bill is a response to the havoc unleashed by the pandemic on cultural workers in all fields.

Here’s how a revived F.W.P., as currently envisioned, would work. Instead of hiring impoverished writers directly — as the Depression-era F.W.P. did — the new program would empower the Department of Labor to disburse $60 million in grants to an array of recipients, from academic institutions to nonprofit literary organizations, newsrooms, libraries, and communications unions and guilds.

These grantees would then hire a new corps of unemployed and underemployed writers who, like their New Deal forebears, would fan out into our towns, cities, and countryside to observe the shape of American life. They’d assemble, at the grass-roots level, a collective, national self-portrait, with an emphasis on the impact of the pandemic. The material they gathered would then be housed in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The new F.W.P., in other words, would revitalize and repurpose portions of our existing cultural infrastructure. The plan is drawing support from the Authors Guild, PEN America and the Modern Language Association, as well as from labor unions. Never in the almost 80 years since the dissolution of the original F.W.P. has there been such a unified and resonant call for its return.

Then again, this is the first time in generations that writers have faced the kind of sustained economic hardships the F.W.P. was designed to address in the first place.

The best reason to support a new F.W.P. is also the most obvious. Like its predecessor, the project would be an economic rescue plan for writers, broadly defined: workers who have been grappling with a slowly unfolding crisis in their industry for at least a decade. Even before the pandemic, the combined stresses of the digital revolution, the so-called gig economy, severe cutbacks to local journalism outfits, and other related developments made writing a precarious business.

Then came 2020 and an economic shutdown that exacerbated all these trends. Not every writer felt the worst of it. Book sales went up and the most successful authors, journalists and editors continued to work relatively unimpeded. But less secure writers — and many millions of white-collar workers in writing-adjacent fields — were not so lucky.

A new F.W.P. would deliver a much-needed economic boost, especially if we follow the original project’s example and define “writers” as broadly as possible. That means throwing open the doors to librarians, publicists, fact-checkers and office assistants, as well as beat reporters, aspiring novelists and junior editors. The original F.W.P. considered all such people “writers” as long as they needed jobs and could successfully carry out the tasks of the project.

But writers aren’t the only ones who would gain from a new F.W.P. The project’s documentary work would make an invaluable contribution to the nation’s understanding of itself. Think of the vast treasury that would accrue in the Library of Congress, forming an indelible record of how ordinary Americans live: not only how we’ve weathered the ordeal of the pandemic and mourned the dead, but also how we work and relax, how we think about the burdens and triumphs of our pasts, how we envision the future.

There is tremendous potential in this undertaking. Clint Smith, writing in March in The Atlantic, argued for a revived F.W.P. that would collect the stories of Black Americans who survived Jim Crow, joined the Great Migration, and fueled the civil rights movement — a contemporary echo of the original F.W.P.’s work collecting narratives from formerly enslaved people in the 1930s.

This is right, I think, and crucial. A new project should also grapple with all the major forces that have shaped our moment, from the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and the collapse of organized labor, to the rise of the women’s movement and gay liberation, to the impact of species extinction and climate change.

The critic and educator David Kipen, a driving force behind the legislation, believes a new F.W.P. would carry out “domestic cultural diplomacy” — the project, as he put it, “might just begin to unify our astonishing, divided, crazy-quilt country.” Today, as we face increasing alienation, division and political tribalism, this quest for national understanding is more urgent than ever.

Recreating the original F.W.P.’s geographical capaciousness would be a key to this effort. In the 1930s, the project had offices in every state; for a time, federal writers were on the ground in every county. This forced the project to include communities far removed from the levers of power — and from one another. A new F.W.P. would also need to cover the nation from coast to coast and border to border. And today’s federal writers would need to be as diverse as the populations they documented.

The original F.W.P. remains a source of inspiration, and rightly so: Its American Guide series is still read and admired, and the reams of material it gathered — including life histories, folklore, recipes and much else — have fascinated countless scholars and curious citizens alike. But its story contains warnings we ought to heed. The project faced opposition from the start. Some critics mocked the F.W.P. boondoggle and jeered at the “pencil-leaners” who staffed it. Others fixated on the presence of radicals, real and imagined, and even accused the F.W.P. of creating a “Red Baedeker.” (Unremarkably for the Depression era, Communists and other radicals did work for the project, as was their explicit legal right; the claim that they controlled it was, and remains, absurd.)

The F.W.P. and the other arts projects, especially the Federal Theater Project, drew such scorn in part because they were perceived to be the New Deal’s soft cultural underbelly: easy targets for critics who sought to undermine the Roosevelt administration’s robust (if also limited) government activism on behalf of the poor and the working class.

The situation today would most likely be worse. Opponents will complain about excessive spending or subversive elements in the F.W.P.’s ranks. But this is no reason to hold back. In the 1930s, the project’s staunchest enemies — nativists and white supremacists among them — denounced the F.W.P. as the worst kind of left-wing folly. But the project found supporters in chambers of commerce, travel associations, and, especially, the commercial publishing houses that released most of the F.W.P.’s books. In fact, 44 of those publishers issued an open letter in defense, arguing that no single private house could have accomplished what the F.W.P. did in a few short years, under conditions of enormous strain, and that curtailing the project would be “a severe deprivation to the reading public and to the enrichment of our national literature.”

They recognized what the nation stood to lose when the F.W.P. was destroyed, and they were right. Now, generations later, we have a chance to bring the project back. Let’s take it.

David Kipen, the “driving force” behind the proposal, wrote about it in the Nation.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares ideas about teaching in difficult times.


My high school and GED students always loved wrestling with the ideas presented by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bruce Springsteen. I’m sure they would now agree that America needs both – Coates’ Between the World and Me, centered around Coates’ letter to 15-year-old son, and the 71-year-old Springsteen’s Letter to You. Actually we need both masterpieces and Kamilah Forbes’ HBO adaptation of Coates’ advice on how to “become conscious citizens of this beautiful and terrible world.”

Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles “the question of my life,” which is “how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream.” It focuses on the fatal police shooting of his fellow Howard University student, Prince Jones. It illustrates how “the plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

But as Michiko Kakutani observed in her New York Times review, such assertions “skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made,” but Coates occasionally acknowledges there have been improvements. Kakutani writes, “His book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.” And, seeming to concur with that interpretation when discussing the HBO presentation, Coates says it is evidence that “the story America tells about itself and how it tells it is a statement on how much things have changed.”

In the wake of the string of murders by police of unarmed black Americans that are now videotaped, the brilliant 80-minute program prioritizes the police shooting of Prince Jones in Prince Georges County. The location is important because Between the World and Me described the county as a “great enclave of black people who seemed, as much as anyone, to have seized control of their bodies.” But even there, “Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all of the fears that marked it from birth.”

It takes a full book, however, to recount the story of Coates who was raised in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam veteran, who was a Black Panther and a librarian. As a student, Coates missed the wider historical context of racism. But the Howard faculty did “their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history.” He reached a balance, however, and as an Atlantic Magazine reporter he drove a revision of the history of the New Deal, the post-WWII Fair Deal and the GI Bill. Despite the good they did for white people, Coates documents the lies perpetuated by these chapters of the “American Dream.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, that leads to another set of truths found in Springsteen’s lyrics, as well as his autobiography, exploring the “Pax Americana” of his youth. He explains how working class kids or, at least, white youth during “the American Century,” were “destined to live the decent hardworking lives of their parents … if they could scoot through these years of wild pounding hormones without getting hurt or hurting someone else.” Bruce was acculturated into a value system where you “remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and sisters and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all of the rest came tumbling down.”

As told in “My Hometown,” when Springsteen was 8-years-old, he would sit on the lap of “my old man,” a troubled World War II veteran who was the beneficiary of the GI Bill, and see its bounty, riding “in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town.” Springsteen’s dad would “tousle my hair and say son take a good look around, this is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.”

But even this dream for white industrial workers was foreclosed. Deindustrialization led to racial violence and with the shotgun blast which signaled, “Troubled times they had come to my hometown.”

It is no criticism of Coates’ wisdom to say it should be complemented by Springsteen’s story of economic injustice done to “black and white” which derailed the progress that was once real. “The Boss” sings of the tragedy which undermined much of the best of the “American Dream:”  “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.

Your hometown. Your hometown Your hometown.”

Three decades later, Springsteen’s “American Skin” also supplements an understanding of the mindsets which have murdered so many black bodies. He begins the story of the “41 shots,” in Harlem, which kill Amadou Diallo as he tried to give his wallet to the police, through the cops’ eyes as “as they cross the bloody river to the other side.” Springsteen then sings about a black mother giving “the talk” to her son:

If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”

He concludes:

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

During this era of “Deaths by Despair,” which took off in the white working class America that helped boost Trumpism, Springsteen is the “last man standing,” the only survivor of his original band. He also uses multimedia poetry to make sense of America’s “dark evening stars. And the morning sky of blue…”

He has:

Got down on my knees
Grabbed my pen and bowed my head
Tried to summon all that my heart finds true
And send it in my letter to you

The CD doesn’t include the word “Trump.” I only saw what I believe is one clear reference to  him in “The Rainmaker.” It begins with “Parched crops dying ‘neath a dead sun. We’ve been praying but no good comes.” As they face, “The dog’s howling, homes stripped bare,” they admit, “We’ve been worried but now we’re scared.”

This fear opens the door to “the Rainmaker, a little faith for hire.” And the Rainmaker says that “white’s black and black’s white.” 

Getting back to the essential contribution of HBO’s Between the World and Me, Bruce Springsteen is my favorite poet/musical artist, but Kamilah Forbes draws on an all-star cast who place Coates’ “tactile, visceral” account of the “central truth” about the “domination of black bodies” in a profound context.  I’d say the amazing power of the images of the “entire diaspora” successfully allow Coates to speak the hardest truths without becoming excessively morbid. To really grasp Coates’ contribution, his indictments of America must be read along with the celebration of the multicultural, multigenerational expressions of black families, music, dance, art being sketched on the screen, and indomitable energy that Forbes brings together.

(I must also add that those touching scenes remind me of Springsteen’s videos of family, friends, and fellow musicians.)

The film version of Between the World and Mecombines historic and contemporary images family photos and videos, such as a baby boy feeding a candy bar to his dad, as well as historic battles, and the joyous dancing of children who would be killed, unarmed, by the police. Coates’ descriptions of Howard University as his “Mecca” juxtaposes the exuberant expressions of college students’ performances with that of tailgate parties of alumni reliving their Howard energies. Coates concludes this compilation of photos and films by saying they hold “power more gorgeous than any voting rights act.” 

Coates’ book – as opposed to a television special – had the space to acknowledge that white Americans also are a “new people.” They are “like us, a modern invention.” Coates concludes, and the awesome cast of the video also demonstrates how, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

I expect Coates would agree that both the indictments and the glories of American culture can be best understood when his books’ horrific truths are juxtaposed with both – the multiple genres of the HBO presentation and Bruce Springsteen’s versions of history which are also presented in multiple genres of lyrics, music, autobiography, and film.    

Just watch, listen and enjoy!

In my endless search for ways to lighten and brighten your days (and mine), I found this wonderful comedy trapeze act.

Enjoy!

This is a beautiful https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/swans-for-relief-raises-money-for-dancers-amid-covid-19-47449883?fbclid=IwAR0VmXIqHyeeNP0X7SGh9mR-YShob4sj9yXYToYexWwlzJ1Bg02pGMgEp6Y of 32 talented dancers from around the world performing “Swan Lake.”

They are raising money for dancers whose income has been cut off.

Each dancer is alone, in isolation caused by the pandemic

They give a different meaning to the word “discipline,” which is often associated with punishment. These dancers are models of exquisite self-discipline.

The performances are beautiful and sad, when you consider that these young women practiced and worked for years to reach the peak of their profession and now have no audiences.

Certainly there are more tragic stories today, about lives and livings lost.

But pause for a few moments of beauty.

The media has been churning out stories about the exodus of people from cities, to escape crowding and coronavirus. People, they say, are rushing to the suburbs.

New Yorker Peter Goodman dissents. He believes that city life will bounce back in time. New York City already is healthier than most other parts of the nation, though mass transit has not yet recovered from the pandemic. Everything ground to a halt in mid-March, and city life is only now beginning to resume, but with masks and social distancing.

Goodman argues that “Cities are the Engines of Democracy, Innovation, and Growth and Schools Play a Major Role.”

As cultural life revives, so will cities.

Ambitious young people flock to them for exposure to museums, dance, concerts, theater, and civic life and diversity of people and experiences.

An interesting article on a real estate website called Curbed.com says that the “urban exodus” story is mostly a myth. True, there has been flight from two of the most expensive places in the U.S—San Francisco and Manhattan (but not Brooklyn!)—but the flow out of cities has not accelerated.

But a nationwide, pandemic- or protest-induced urban-to-suburban migration taking place on a scale that impacts both urban and suburban housing markets in a measurable way? There is zero empirical evidence to support such a trend. None. Nothing. Zero.

Earlier this month, real-estate-listings giant Zillow published an exhaustive study examining every conceivable housing-market data point related to cities and suburbia to see if there are major divergences that suggest an urban-to-suburban migration trend.

Are pending home sales between urban and suburban areas different now than they were before the pandemic? They aren’t!

Are suburban homes selling more quickly than homes in urban areas? Nope!

Are suburban homes selling above their list price at a higher rate than urban homes? Not at all!

Are urban homes seeing price cuts at a higher rate than suburban homes? If anything, the opposite!

Are home valuations accelerating faster in suburban areas than in urban areas? Urban zip codes have a slight edge!

Are suburban home listings getting a larger share of search traffic relative to urban areas now than they were last year? The suburban share is actually down 0.2 percentage points!

There is a German saying: Stadtluft macht frei (“urban air makes you free”). It has been true for centuries. It will be true again.