A Fool in the Forest

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7

L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”

Saturday, November 15, 2003
Home School Hysteria Watch: New York Times Weighs In, Contradicts Self

An editorial in today's New York Times, under the title "Make Home Schooling Safe for Children" sets itself solidly on the same path as last month's much-criticized CBS News "exposé" on the subject.  As did CBS, the Times finds a single case of authentically ghastly mistreatment of children -- here, four young boys being more or less starved to death by their adoptive parents -- and extrapolates it to support its chosen to the question of "how could this have happened?"
Part of the answer was that they had been home-schooled, and New Jersey is one of a number of states that provide no supervision over parents who decide to keep their offspring out of the public and private school systems.
"Most teachers," the Times adds in a marvel of straight-faced understatement, "would immediately have sounded the alarm" upon noticing the excruciating emaciation of these children.  (Query whether the Times would care to identify the teachers who apparently wouldn't have sounded that alarm . . . .)  A history lesson follows, as do some remarkable and unsupported innuendos and the Times' view of the relative merits of individual citizens and the State as guardians of those citizens' children:
New Jersey is not alone.  Nine states allow parents to remove children from school without reporting that they are doing so.  An additional 14 states require home-schoolers to report that they are keeping their children at home, but require very little else.  These lax regulations stem in some instances from the old patterns of American farming communities [!], where parents needed to keep their children around to help with the crops. In some states, the rules remain unchanged because the groups that hold home schooling sacred [?!] have political muscle.  In others, the desire to save money and avoid responsibility [!?!] obviously comes into play.

While parents have a right to decide how their children will be educated, the state most certainly has an obligation to ensure that every American child is learning basic skills.  The [home] schooling laws fly in the face of compulsory education statutes that have been on the books throughout this country since the early 20th century, not to mention the new national push to raise standards and improve student achievement.
Diligent readers will have noted by now that whoever wrote the title for this editorial can't have bothered to read it first: our anonymous editorialist is clearly not interested in "making home schooling safe," except perhaps by eliminating it or intruding the monitoring powers of the state on a regular basis.

How soon they forget: can this be the same New York Times that only five days ago was praising the merits of the uniquely home-school-based experience of "conjugat[ing] French verbs while cuddling a kitten"?  Meow, sez we.  And harrumph.

Update: Joanne Jacobs has more, including the fact that the New Jersey children in question were visited by social workers some 38 times without any protective measures being taken. Further comment from Daryl Cobranchi can be found here.

Further Update (with extra sarcasm content): And what about those French-conjugating kittens, eh?  Shouldn't PETA or some such be lobbying to require pet owners to deliver their animal companions to the shelter on a regular basis, so that the quality of their health and safety can be assessed by a duly qualified, publicly employed professional? Just asking.
Friday, November 14, 2003
The Rich Get Richards, or, Further Adventures of the Sussex Vampire

Jesse Walker of Hit & Run links to a report in the Spectator revealing the Shocking Truth that the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, about to turn 60, is actually . . . a rather conservative sort of a bloke.
Even at his leaden nadir as a smack addict, Keith was unabashedly proud of a past that would be branded imperialist in today’s Britain.  His all-time hero was the second world war fighter ace Douglas Bader.  He once named his two favourite films as Reach for the Sky and The Man Who Would Be King.  Richards’s long-time former minder and friend Tom Keylock calls him a ‘very homegrown sort of rebel’.  At no time in his rarefied Sixties existence did Keith ever lose touch with his mum, or with the simple pleasures of sitting in the back room of a pub playing dominoes.  Much of his life was spent at Redlands, his thatched retreat in West Wittering, where he still likes nothing more than wolfing a large plate of shepherd’s pie with HP sauce.
Perhaps most shocking of all to Keith's many non-conservative fans will be the revelation that he "is also chummy with John Major."  [Gasp!]

Some days back, I made some listening recommendations on the occasion of Joni Mitchell's 60th.  I'll do the same for Keith Richards: if you don't know it, and if you have any liking for his work at all, you should most assuredly give a listen to his first solo album, 1988's Talk Is Cheap.  In addition to "You Don't Move Me" -- a sort of "How Do You Sleep" with Mick Jagger playing McCartney to Richards' Lennon -- the album features "Make No Mistake," a creamy soulful duet that may be the best song about temptation since, oh, Squeeze's "Tempted."  Keith doesn't need the money, but you know you could use additional good music in your life, so have a go.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The ever-eclectic American Digest kindly satisfies your daily minimum requirement for Theodore Roethke, who himself was having a bad day 68 years ago today.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Dr. Williams, We Presume

Ron Silliman has posted a long and interesting run through some 1941 lecture notes of William Carlos Williams on the subject of poetic form.

As is often the case -- and this is meant merely as description, not to detract -- Ron's commentary assumes on the part of the reader a fair level of prior knowledge of the various poets, philosophers and other figures whose names are invoked and his discussion almost inevitably works its way round to the ongoing "School of Quietude" vs. "Post-Avant" argument, with no particular doubts left concerning his views on which side has the better of it.  His commenters, also true to usual practice, are not entirely in agreement with his assessment, and are articulate in support of their own.  My own biases, as usual, are running counter to those of Mr. Silliman, but there's plenty of material here with which to be testing and tuning those biases.

I have two types of reader: those who care when we veer into questions of poetics and those who would prefer that we didn't. You know which you are and, based on that self-knowledge, you'll know what to do with the link above.
For Veteran's Day

A Box Comes Home

I remember the Unied States of America
As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it
And six marines to bear it on their shoulders.

I wonder how someone once came to remember
The Empire of the East and the Empire of the West.
As an urn maybe delivered by chariot.

You could bring Germany back on a shield once
And France in a plume.  England, I suppose,
Kept coming back a long time as a letter.

Once I saw Arthur dressed as the United States
Of America.  Now I see the United States
Of America as Arthur in a flag-sealed domino.

And I would pray more good of Arthur
Than I can wholly believe.  I would pray
An agreement with the United States of America

To equal Arthur's living as it equals his dying
At the red-taped grave in Woodmere
By the rain and oak leaves on the domino.

--John Ciardi
(From Poets of World War II.)
Monday, November 10, 2003
Homeschooling: It's Not Just for Ideologues Anymore [Updated 11/11]

If it's in the New York Times, it must be true, eh?  The popular conception of homeschoolers as ardent religionists or countercultural dropouts is put to the test and found to be . . . a gross over-simplification.  Seems an increasing number of homeschool families really are pursuing it For The Children and in pursuit of Quality of Life.  Thus saith the Times:
Newcomers to home schooling resist easy classification as part of the religious right or freewheeling left, who dominated the movement for decades, according to those who study the practice.

They come to home schooling fed up with the shortcomings of public education and the cost of private schools. Add to that the new nationwide standards — uniform curriculum and more testing — which some educators say penalize children with special needs, whether they are gifted, learning disabled or merely eccentric.

'It's a profound irony that the standards movement wound up alienating more parents and fueling the growth of home schooling,' said Mitchell L. Stevens, an educational psychologist at New York University and author of 'Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement' (Princeton University Press, 2001).

'The presumption of home schooling is that children's distinctive needs come before the managerial needs of the schools,' he said. 'And, it's easier to do than it was 10 years ago, because the ideologues were so successful in making it legal and creating curriculum tools and organizational support.'
Thank you, ideologues!

[Link via Joanne Jacobs.]

Update: Jesse Walker at Reason magazine's Hit & Run has picked up on this story as well. Plenty of interesting comments attached, not all of which I would endorse but nearly all of which are worth reading.
We're the Government, We're Here to Help . . . Convince You to Home School

I haven't weighed in on homeschooling on these pages recently, but Professor Glenn Reynolds is thinking about it, inspired by a display of Zero Tolerance in Goose Creek, South Carolina:
Sadly, this sort of behavior is far from uncommon in government-run schools. But more and more parents are looking at private schools, vouchers, charter schools, and home schooling as alternatives. To a lot who haven’t made up their minds, I think that Principal McCrackin’s behavior may provide an incentive to move their kids out of public schools that are looking increasingly like prisons, and into more congenial environments. And the ranks of public-school educators who are unhappy about such a development will have only themselves — and McCrackin — to blame.

Pure Piffle for Now People

Speaking of those Fabulous 60's . . . .   This Fool found himself altogether too amused over the weekend by Down With Love, director Peyton Reed's pitch perfect rendering of what would once have been a Doris Day/Rock Hudson comic romance.  It's arch, it's hip, it's been drinking a lot of coffee and very good martinis, it thinks that human folly is just the most amusing thing and that love will find a way, and it carries not a shred of irony about its person.  Sophisticates will scoff, but I'm still grinning just thinking about it.  A guilty pleasure with extra gilt, if that's what you're in the mood for.
The Work vs. The Reputation

Rick at Futurballa, who knows more about these things than I, spent his weekend reassessing the work of Diane Arbus, "the Sylvia Plath of photography." His verdict is not unmixed, but basically favorable.

I wonder whether this might lead to a retrospective of the work of her husband, who gave her her start in the photography game.
Poetry Corner: Different Fools in Another Part of the Forest

Although I have been reading, reading about and commenting on poetry here, it has been some years since I last tried my hand at it myself. Recently, through a longtime friend, I came back into possession of a collection of verse that I wrote in the mid- to late 1970s. (My own copy has gone missing for a decade or so.) My reaction to rereading my delinquent juvenilia has been a mixed one, to say the least, and it may or may not eventually be gone into in more detail on these pages.

Over this weekend, the combination of that old material and Mike Snider's ongoing sonnet project drove me to revisit a sonnet of my own, extemporized about ten years ago. I set about revising it, which is always harder than producing a first draft. Looking back over it, I thought that eight lines -- the first two quatrains in the original, rearranged somewhat here -- more or less held up, but that the remainder descended quickly into treacly greetingcardism. It still needs work -- I’m particularly dissatisfied with the closing couplet, which is only a mild improvement on its bathetic precursor -- but I’ve decided to post it in any case.

To paraphrase Neil Innes: I’ve suffered for my verse. Now it’s your turn . . .

When Bottom bore the donkey’s head and brayed,
Titania wreathed his upstart ears with flowers
‘Til -- disenchanted, open-eyed, dismayed --
She cast him from the comforts of her bowers.

Botanical elixirs were the tools
With which the weaver and his fellow rude
Mechanicals, with other mortal fools,
Were fuddled, led astray and misconstrued.

Old Athens’ misty woods and fogbound lovers,
Her naiads, pixies, fairies, sprites and elves
Are gone; but surely Puck still grins and hovers
As modern men make asses of themselves.

No spell but self delusion clouds their sight,
And leaves them pathless in the summer night.