April 23, 2014

Now Playing

Le Week-End
(Reviewed April 11, 2014)

An unfunny comedy whose reason for being appears to be a celebration of the extravagant self-pity of its central character

(Reviewed April 8, 2014)

More evidence, if evidence were needed, that the movies are not very good at re-imagining the myths and legends of the past, especially not Biblical ones

The Past (Le Passé)
(Reviewed March 27, 2014)

Another example of old-fashioned, plot-driven movie-making for grown-ups from the director of A Separation

Grand Budapest Hotel
(Reviewed March 18, 2014)

Impossible to be taken seriously, the movie is nevertheless quite a lot of fun, mostly because of its star.

ENTRY from April 18, 2014

In the current issue of The New Criterion I write en passant about the "Common Core" curriculum in history which the educational establishment has been so terrifyingly successful in imposing on America’s school-children. Remarkably, there is no body of knowledge attached to the history standards. History, along with "social studies," is itself tellingly subsumed under "English language arts" and is to the authors entirely a matter of analyzing and interpreting "texts." The reason is of course that history is no longer to be regarded as transparent — stories, facts and dates to be learned like the multiplication table or spelling rules. The facts are now thought to be subsidiary to the true story, knowledge of which requires a certain interpretive subtlety on the part of the student. "History" now consists, according to the Common Core, of the skills necessary for the extraction of this hidden truth from the welter of mere facts.

I don’t suppose I need to explain the political import of this hidden truth, but a recent story on NPR’s "Morning Edition" will explain it better than I could anyway. In order to illustrate the Common Core in action, the reporter, Charlotte Albright, took us into a class of 8th graders from Vermont who were being drilled in what she laughably called "close reading" of two texts — one about German science under the Nazis and the other the fable of the blind man and the elephant. From these, the children were expected to draw the simple conclusion that Nazis were Social Darwinists who had misread Darwin. The children were much too young to understand the gross oversimplification of that equation or, indeed, anything but a caricature version of either Social Darwinism or Naziism, but they were all bright enough to see that this newly minted historical fact was the right answer to their teacher’s questions, which they then imagined they had discovered for themselves with the help of her two "texts."

As it happened, a few days later I heard a reporter on another show on my local NPR station solemnly inform his audience that, "In the Victorian period, Social Darwinism reigned supreme." Some children in Vermont, pleased with their new historical knowledge, must have thus discovered that the Victorians were Nazis. They had no way of knowing that the reporter himself knew nothing whatsoever about the Victorian period. Less than nothing, indeed, since the one thing he did know, or thought he knew, was wrong. Yet he, one supposes, is the ideal product of the politicized historical education proposed for all children who fall into the Common Core’s sausage machine. Already, for lots of people, the only thing worth knowing about the Victorians is how they can be slotted into the progressive fable of a centuries’ long process of gradual enlightenment culminating in those master-works of history, Barack Obama and Harry Reid. That’s what history is for, and anything which does not fit — like the rich history of Victorian social and political thought — becomes suddenly unhistorical and irrelevant.
  Full Entry

Media MadnessMy book Media Madness, is available for order from Encounter Books. Less a polemic than an attempt to understand the origins of the mass media’s folie de grandeur, the book is a warning even to those who are deserting the big networks, newsweeklies and large-circulation dailies not to carry with them into the more attractive world of niche media the undisciplined habits of thought that the old media culture has given rise to. To order this book, click here.

Honor, A HistoryAlso available, now in paperback, is Honor, A History, which was first published in 2006. A study of Western cultural artifacts, from the epics of Homer to the movies and TV shows of today, it is focused on explaining why Western ideas of honor developed so differently from those elsewhere — and especially from the savage honor cultures of the Islamic world. The book then goes on to trace the collapse and ultimate rejection of the old Western honor culture from World War I until the present day and to suggest the conditions that would have to prevail for its revival.

Recent Articles

Enviable positions March 31, 2014.
When politics is all a matter of good guys and bad guys, it’s only a matter of time until the bad guys become Nazis — From The New Criterion of March, 2014 ... Full Article

The Naked and the Dead March 31, 2014.
Some entertainers who dare to take on, or at least to ignore, political correctness — From The American Spectator of March, 2014 ... Full Article

Unhappy Anniversary February 28, 2014.
Wars in history and history wars in Britain and the U.S. — From The New Criterion of February, 2014 ... Full Article

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