Saturday, June 16, 2007

Miniature Goat Hoax

Mrs. G. and I recently celebrated our silver anniversary. I thought of two perfect presents, and on that rare occasion when a husband (this husband, anyway) thinks of a perfect present, he better get 'em. The first was the sign over our front door, which made her laugh to falling over.

The second one would require getting. The best place to get it was in Pennsylvania. I knew we would be there for my college reunion. So I told my wife that on our last day at Swarthmore, I would rise early, take one of the kids, and come back for breakfast with Something. She didn't know what it was, but she knew it could fit in the back of the minivan.

My sister recently acquired a pair of Nubian miniature goats. They are very cute. My sister lives on a farmlette and has lots of animals, so the goats were an appropriate addition for them. We, on the other hand, live in a very bourgeois house on a very bourgeois street, and can't manage any animal that needs more maintenance than a cat. So goats would be wildly inappropriate as an anniversary present.

Therefore, I kept dropping hints that I was getting a miniature goat. The kids were in on it, and played along. At the reunion, all of our friends were brought in on it as well, and began making up horror stories of goats eating houses, cars, children, etc. I pointed out to the Mrs. that she is short, so would soon get the hang of milking a miniature goat.

Last Sunday, Boybot and I got up at 5:30, drove out to the lovely spring countryside, and brought back The Gift. We joined the family at breakfast. Our friends joined in the crescendo of goat humor. She still had no idea (though she was pretty sure it wasn't a goat).

Finally, we got to the van with our suitcases. I asked her is she were ready for "the reveal," as we have learned to say from the house makeover shows. Tah da!

A lovely three-foot-tall copper beech, our favorite tree.

It is now planted in our front yard.

She was delighted.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What American Families Do -- Then and Now

Continuing with Kay Hymowitz in Marriage and Caste in America, she writes about "What American Marriage Does."

Hymowitz rightly rehearses the argument established in the early days of the republic that democracies depend on parents to raise children to be strong, self-reliant citizens. In fact, today, unlike 1776, most governments around the world are republics, or pretend to be. Now more than ever the nation -- the world -- needs parents who make raising good strong children the top priority of their marriage.

To this familiar republican argument Hymowitz adds a new theme: in a knowledge-based economy, children need their parents to really focus on their kids' emotional, social, and especially their cognitive development. The gap between have and have-not families depends more on how parents try to raise their kids -- or don't try -- than it does on sheer money. Annette Lareau, whose work Hymnowitz cites, calls this the difference between the "natural growth" that poor and working class parents leave their kids to, and the "concerted cultivation" practiced by middle class parents.

Any family could practice concerted cultivation. But middle class families, and especially upper middle class families like Hymowitz's (and mine), are much more likely to. The more money a family has, the better they can cultivate their kids, but many poor families find the resources of schools, libraries, community organizations, and religious institutions to make a good effort at concerted cultivation -- if they want to.

And how is this a function of marriage? Hymowitz makes the more evident point that married couples can get more resources for their kids and, especially, divide their labor to better cultivate their kids. Beyond the argument Hymowitz makes, I have been convinced that fathers and mothers tend to cultivate different skills and strengths in kids. Kids benefit greatly from having both fathers and mothers working hard to raise them.

So what American families did -- raise good citizens -- is as politically important as it ever was. What American families do now -- cultivate their kids' knowledge and skills -- is now economically vital, as well. And married families tend to do both jobs better.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Marriage and Caste: The Book

Kay Hymowitz has just come out with Marriage and Caste in America. Earlier, I blogged about her article of the same name, which is the lead essay in the book. I will blog about the book over the next few days. Today I wanted to take just one striking statistic from the title essay.

Of all American mothers with a college education, only 10% do not live with their husbands.

Of all American mothers with less than bachelor's degree, 36% do not live with their husbands.

This is the foundation of the growing gap between the haves and have nots in this country.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Antioch College, R.I.P.

Antioch College, once a leader in liberal education, has finally been done in by decades of unrelenting leftism. The college is supposed to reorganize and re-open in a few years. Nonetheless, if it is not dead, it is likely to remain a shadow of itself, short of a wholesale housecleaning. In its glory days of civil rights liberalism, when Coretta Scott King and Eleanor Holmes Norton were students, Antioch supported equal access to a high standard of education, combining liberal arts with a well-establish co-op work program. Antioch's contributions to academic life include Stephen Jay Gould, Clifford Geertz, and David Apter, while the college's pop culture creators include John Flansburgh (half of They Might Be Giants) and Rod Serling, who made "The Twilight Zone".

In recent decades, though, Antioch entered its own twilight zone. The looney left took over, promoting egalitarianism, and then just sheer radical chic, at the expense of the academic program. They dropped grades, discouraged disciplinary majors, and had celebrity murderers as commencement speakers. The college also grossly over-extended its resources to try to create a far-flung adult education empire as Antioch University. Lately, the school has become a laughingstock for its "may I please do this, may I please do that" sexual conduct policy for students.

Antioch was a great school in its day. I wish its academic remnant well in their attempts to rebuild from the rubble.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is Habermas' Final Unanimity Possible?

My major project for the summer is to work systematically through the works of sociologist J├╝rgen Habermas. This will eventually lead me to an empirical study of the family culture of the knowledge class vs. the corporate class.

Today I want to start with a vision that he presents in his earliest major work, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962). He argues that the "public sphere" was born in the English coffeehouses of the mid-1600s. In our day, however, the spinmeisters have turned public opinion into manipulated propaganda. (Ok, he doesn't really say spinmeisters, but that is what he means.) In a truly rational society, though, he thinks that the public sphere should produce

the final unanimity wrought by a time-consuming process of mutual enlightenment, for the "general interest" on the basis of which alone a rational agreement between publicly competing opinions could freely be reached.

Can society have a "final unanimity?" Can there be a rational agreement between publicly competing opinions? Habermas is Marxist enough to assume the possibility of an objective conflict of interests among social classes. Yet he is liberal enough to believe that these interests and the broader difference of opinions that lie beyond interest can be reconciled with enough conversation.

What Habermas does not assume is a Calvinist expectation that our pride, fallenness, and sin will always prevent unanimity, this side of the Second Coming. He does see that different people have different interests. He does not see, though, that people sometimes perversely pursue opinions and desires that are objectively against their own interest.

I can't tell whether his argument is with a specifically Christian understanding that sin distorts our understanding of what is good, or with the larger foundation of Western philosophy that we really do have a good. More reports as I work through his body of work.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Swarthmore - 25th Reunion

We have just returned from my college reunion at Swarthmore. The whole weekend was so jam-packed with people to catch up with that there was not a sensible moment to blog.

I loved Swarthmore when I was a student, an affection that has not diminished with the years. One of our many treasured memories occurred one night when my now-wife and I were walking by the library, and some guys in letter jackets, in a moment of high spirits, leaned out of a passing car to yell "Hey, its Mr. and Mrs. Swarthmore." The college shaped my character and understanding more than anything except my flesh-and-blood family. To be sure, much of my flesh-and-blood family were and are shaped by Swarthmore, as well. My parents met at a freshmen mixer dance. My aunt was there this weekend, celebrating her 50th. My eldest is a student there now. And, of course, Mrs. G. is alma mater's greatest gift to me.

I treasure the friends I made there, some of whom I saw for the first time in 25 years this weekend. My quad, the guys who are my primary reference group, reunited for the first time in a dozen years. So many people have had parallel lives to mine, especially those who married and had kids. We have similar tales of investing in our communities, returning to religious life, trying to build up the world. The panel discussion by four of our classmates centered on the question "did we change the world?" The main speaker at the all-alumni collection was a fellow who had created a successful mutual fund that has a mission to fight genocide. A popular tee-shirt of my day was "Swarthmore College: Guilt Without Sex." The guilt was over not doing enough to change the world. This is a good kind of prod of conscience to have.

Still, it was in the formal education -- what I learned in class, what I read and discussed, the informal study groups with professors, the conversations on street corners, and the long bull sessions about how the things we studied related to the world -- that shaped me the most.

Swarthmore is "mother of professors," and many of my classmates were teaching, including quite a few who had practiced law, medicine, or another profession for a time. Teaching is a way of giving back (as well as a lifestyle better suited to family life than most). I heard and had many conversations about teaching. I have to say, though, that as I passed one conversational group and another, the default topic seemed to be "software."

I hope that everyone reading this can love your alma mater as I do mine.