Needed: a Revolution in Musical Training

There may have been a time when it made sense to encourage college freshmen to follow their career dreams, no matter what supply and demand suggested. But when the national infrastructure is decaying, the national debt approaching the GDP, and the indebtedness of our college graduates aggregating to more than $1-trillion, that time has clearly passed.

From what I’ve read, we need more general medical practitioners; more nurses; more scientists, engineers, and teachers of those subjects; and more…


Race Matters

It happened again: the single most contentious and edifying day of the semester, which I look forward to year after year. It’s the session in my editing class where we discuss racial and gender bias in language. And it’s the one in which my undergraduates, mostly blacks and Latinos from the Bronx, do the educating.

Do you prefer black or African-American? I ask them. Latino or Hispanic? Why is it wrong to call Hispanics “Spanish”? Why is the courtesy title “Ms.” neutral in a  way “Mis…


Deans Love Books

“Doesn’t Matt care about publishing books anymore?” That’s what an editor of a well-established humanities journal recently asked one of my press colleagues. The editor had just returned from a meeting with me, where she had expressed interest in publishing “curated” collections of articles from back issues of the journal. It struck me as a wonderful idea.

“Why make these print books?” I asked. “What do you mean?” she replied. I explained that the articles already existed in digital form in Proj…


What Data Can’t Convey

Several years ago, when passing the house where my father grew up, I noted an odd distinction. Dad, it seemed, had been more familiar with the families that had lived on his street in Cincinnati than I had grown to be, a generation later, with those who lived near our house outside Buffalo. Friendly neighbors had animated his childhood in ways in which they were entirely absent from mine.

I might have left it at that. In the course of our day-to-day lives, we all have a tendency to note little t…


Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?

I recently received an email from a “consultant” inviting me to help a publisher create an automatic essay-grading technology product for humanities professors to use in introductory-level courses. The consultant claimed that once completed, the program would “accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments – 500 to 900 words.” The program, the email said, “uses specific writing prompts and rubrics to achieve computer grading accuracy.”

And how will these impressive results be achieved, you ask?…


Public Intellectuals? LOL.

It’s not every day that you are carded and then tagged with a neon green bracelet so that you can listen to an eminent scientist explain evolutionary genetics. I took advantage of the fact that Oberon Theater (the second stage of Harvard’s American Repertory Theater) has a bar and ordered myself an Oberon (gin, St. Germain, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice) before taking my seat to watch “You’re the Expert,” a podcast and WBUR radio show recorded in front of a live audience.

When I first heard …


The Nixon Flag in My Office

On the bright morning of August 9, 1974, I stood with my parents and older brother on hot metal bleachers at El Toro Marine base, in Orange County, California. We looked up and squinted to watch Air Force One appear as a tiny speck on the horizon, grow into a full-size 707, and land on the runway in front of us.

Technically, it was no longer Air Force One. Its chief passenger, Richard M. Nixon, had officially ceased being president at noon Eastern Time, just as the plane was flying over my home …


The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher

A week before the first paper was due, a young woman in my class raised her hand and asked where the rubric was.

Shamefaced and stuttering, I had to admit that I had no idea what a rubric was. She helpfully explained that this was a set of guidelines explaining what I expected them to write, how I expected them to write it, and how each aspect of the paper would be evaluated. A set of boxes that students could check off to guarantee that they had met my expectations. For all intents and purposes…


William Deresiewicz’s Weird Anti-Ivy Elitism

“What,” William Deresiewicz asks in an essay in The New Republic, “is college for?” “College,” he writes, “is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years.” Deresiewicz argues that elite colleges, and especially the Ivy League, have duped students into thinking that what they offer is a “life of the mind,” when in fact they offer careerism and the temptations of money. Elite colleges, he argues, don’t do much but measure and perpetuate status and wealth. He urges p…


What We Talk About When We Talk About Sending Our Kids to the Ivies

For those of us who teach, work, and study in universities–especially those who, unlike me, find themselves within Ivy League institutions—no topic has aroused more passion recently than William Deresiewicz’s New Republic article, “Don’t Send Your Kids To the Ivy League.” If one can look past the article’s click-bait headline, one discovers that the substance of the piece deals with a number of weighty issues in American life: the dramatic increase in income inequality; the slow and painful de…