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Daily Howler: As an ice storm bollixed the region, we visited Bill Gates--and Walden
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ALONG THE POTOMAC! As an ice storm bollixed the region, we visited Bill Gates–and Walden: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2009

Ice along the Potomac: We got lucky in these parts today; an ice storm threw itself over the region, burning away most normal experience. We found ourselves in a familiar place at an unfamiliar time, thinking about the part of Walden where Thoreau, as Woody Guthrie would later do, smuggled in a description of ecstatic experience. It’s right at the start of Chapter 5. For the full chapter, click here:

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself...

And not only that: “Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath...”

We also noted this admirable excerpt from Bill Gates, in this morning’s Post. (It’s drawn from Gates’ annual letter about his foundation’s projects.) Gates breaks every rule in the book, deliberately saying (or seeming to say) that most of his public school projects “fell short” in the past nine years. He also cites some schools that did not. But doesn’t he know that you’re always supposed to claim that you’ve found miracle cures? That was the familiar approach found in John McWhorter’s recent TNR piece—a piece we’d planned to look at this week, before all that bull-roar began.

For our money, Gates was admirably frank in that letter. By way of contrast, variants of that TNR piece have been pimped around for the past forty years. We’ll plan to review it next week.

If you want a project today, try this: McWhorter seems to claim that a certain instructional program sends low-income kids into kindergarten reading on second-grade level. He claims we’ve known this for the past forty years. For his principal source, he links to this interesting piece. The piece describes a Baltimore school where this instructional program has been in use with pre-K kids for the past ten years.

Let’s be very clear: We would guess that this is an excellent school, whose kids are lucky to go there. But if you start here, you can click around and see the school’s current test scores, broken down for various groups. (You’ll have to click around a bit.) And if you click around a bit more, you can compare those passing rates to passing rates for various groups in the state of Maryland as a whole. Our question: Do you see any sign in those data that kids have been entering this school’s kindergarten reading on second-grade level for the past ten years? No, you can’t prove such a point from these data. But do you see any indication that any such thing has occurred?

More on this matter next week. But we gave Bill Gates a high grade today, for staying away from the irresponsible pose which has prevailed now for so many years.

The storms weren’t on the ocean: We got lucky in these parts today—but the Walden chap could get lucky too. “Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. In those driving northeast rains which tried the village houses so, when the maids stood ready with mop and pail in front entries to keep the deluge out, I sat behind my door in my little house, which was all entry, and thoroughly enjoyed its protection...”

For the record, feller never claimed his thoughts were great—just that they were his. “Sell your clothes—but keep your thoughts.” That’s what the Walden bloke said.