For the last 50 years, reformers have wanted to teach kids to reason mathematically, to think nimbly about topics like quadratic equations that otherwise come off flat. Instead, in programs that employed the New Math, students often ended up playing logic games. [...]
It’s not surprising that ambitious changes like these would be hard to implement. After all, teaching kids to adopt a scientific mindset is a subtler and more complex task than having them memorize the parts of a cell. For one thing, it requires teachers who inhabit that mindset themselves, and they’re harder to find. For another, it takes a more patient perspective than the prevailing one in public education, which expects teachers to post a learning objective on the board before each class and end every unit with a multiple-choice test.
Ambition. The word itself makes me want to run and hide. It’s got some inexorable pejorative stench to it. Why is that? I’ve been avoiding this essay like the plague. I’d so much rather be writing my novel, my silly secret sacred new novel, which will take a while, during which time I will not garner new followers nor see my name in the paper nor seek an advance from the publisher nor receive the hearts and likes and dings and dongs that are supposed to keep my carnivorous cancerous ego afloat. I will simply do my work. Hole up with family and friends, live in the world as best I can, and do my work.
The work: this is what I would like to talk about. The work, not the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. And maybe I can float the possibility that the work is best when it’s done nowhere near the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. Maybe I can suggest that there is plenty of time for hearts and likes and dings and dongs once the work is done, and done well. Maybe I can ever so gently point out that a lot of people seem rather addicted to the hearts and likes and dings and dongs, and seem to talk about and around writing a hell of a lot more than they actually do it. Maybe we can even talk about how some self-promote so extensively and shamelessly and heedlessly and artlessly that their very names become shorthand for how not to be.
Willis — famous for her ability to combine sci-fi and humor — looks around at the modern world, with its phones constantly ringing and social media constantly socializing, and she wants to lock the door, pull up the drawbridge, and hang a do-not-disturb sign on the moat. The result is a true oddity; a romance in which greater intimacy is not a dream but a paranoid nightmare.
A walk through a forest might never be the same again after reading this elucidating book, which makes a case for trees as social beings that communicate, feel and help each other. “The Hidden Life of Trees” explains that trees use scent to talk, “agree” to bloom together and take communal action against pests. Bizarre as this might sound, the author Peter Wohlleben is not a New Age disciple who conjured up some crazy esoteric visions but a forester in Germany who underpins (most) of his ideas with hard scientific data.
Louise Doughty’s excellent new novel is a character study, a glimpse at midcentury American civil rights, a thriller, a meditation on the effects of foreign policy on individuals, a modern love story and a portrait of Indonesian unrest in the 20th century. And throughout it’s an attempt to explain in dramatic terms how someone lacking the zeal of patriotism might choose a life in the detached, pitiless and barely understood profession we call intelligence. If that sounds like a handful, it is. But Doughty has found an ideal vehicle for her wide-ranging interests: a laconic, aging man, born Nicolaas Den Herder but known to colleagues and strangers alike as John Harper.