Monday, August 22, 2011

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

If it were possible to be a fan of reviews of things in general, I would say that I am a fan of Emily Hale's reviews of things--books, lectures, battle re-enactments (as the case may be). I usually lack the requisite interest in the particular genre of mid-century women writers who convert to Catholicism to seek out the books she reviews, but in a universe of infinite time, I might read them based on these reviews. But recently, she reviewed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and it was clear from her description--Calvinism! teacher-student relations!--that this was a book I needed to read, pretty much as soon as possible. So I did. And it was, as I expected, completely mesmerizing. You can read Emily Hale's summary of the book so I don't have to repeat it here. "Teacher-student relations" is a politic way of getting at what the book is about, which is something more like the erotic nature of teaching, and its limits in forming people. Everything about this book is, as teh catz would say, relevant to my interests, which are soon to become my dissertation. (After the completion of which, I might have no further interests.)

Emily Hale thinks Miss Brodie's failing "is that she attempts to make her students into her own image." This is true in that she seems to have a narrow sense of what is acceptable for the best women to become--not "team spirited" believers in popular platitudes, not unthinking young wives, not technical experts like the upper school teachers, and so on. Basically, not anyone else they encounter in school except herself. But it's not clear that her criticism of the narrowing tendencies of conventional schooling is entirely misplaced. She tells her girls, "Miss Mackay [the headmistress] retains [a poster of a former Prime Minister] on the wall because she believes in the slogan 'Safety First.' But Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first." Is that not an accurate summation of the imperatives of schooling vs. the imperatives of living? And Miss Brodie is additionally right to resist various efforts to send her to "the more progressive schools," sensing that the education she offers can only be effective against the backdrop of tradition, not in the absence of it. But I think the main problem is not that she wants to make her girls into herself as that she wants to make to make them all Anna Pavlovas (her ideal of passionate dedication) of whatever vocation she discovers in them. But she is first more fallible than she assumes in her ability to identify the girls' vocations. And the Calvinist idea of secular vocation can't bear the weight of her demands (even before she extricates it from its original relation to an omnipotent God). It turns out that "vocation" can't be secularized at all, that in the world it can only lead to disappointment because it's incommensurate with the smallness of human lives, which can rarely be as single-minded and committed as vocation demands.

Miss Brodie wants to instill passion in her girls in order to "lead them out" (her translation of education--"ex duco") so that they may discover themselves in the world, which is to say, so that they may take up their vocations. But vocation demands that individuals become exceptional in some way simply by taking their rightful places in the world, and this doesn't account for our relative smallness and the world's galling bigness. All of Miss Brodie's girls go on to respectable but unremarkable things--one becomes a typist, another a nurse, a third a scientist. Spark tells us all this right away, just as she introduces the girls, so that there is no suspense about what will become of them or what effect the tutelage of Miss Brodie will have. She even emphasizes the smallness of each girl's youthful talents--"what she was famous for," as she describes it. One girl is famous for doing somersaults, another for being desired by boys, a third for having remarkably small eyes, and a fourth for being hapless. These are not auspicious beginnings for identifying vocation, for leading what is already inside the girls out.

And the great gulf between the "potentiality" (a word Spark seems to like) of their childhoods and their adult fates is so blunt as to be shocking--the first outcome we learn about is that of the hapless and stupid girl, Mary, whose hapless and stupid death in a fire is described in maudlin detail. Why does Miss Brodie so to speak "elect" such a pathetic girl to her set? What is the meaning of election if one must live and die like Mary? Did Miss Brodie see some spark or potentiality in her, or think it a challenge suitable to her prime to improve someone as dull as her? But for the reader, the girls are always destined, or predestined for their smallness in the world. Jenny, the prettiest of the Brodie set and thought by Miss Brodie to have much potential until she unaccountably "becomes insipid" sometime in her mid-teens when she discovers acting, and ends up only "an actress of moderate reputation," contentedly married for 16 years when she comes across an Italian stranger with whom she falls in love, but "there was nothing whatever to be done about it." This--both the mediocrity in a life of imitation and the unthinking unwillingness to pursue an illicit love--was not imagined in Miss Brodie's plans for the girls. Only the main girl, Sandy, whom Miss Brodie is always saying will go too far one day, achieves a kind of strange acclaim, a place in the world for a psychology book she writes, but that only after she converts to Catholicism and rejects the world to enter a convent. "What a waste. That's not the sort of dedication I meant," says Miss Brodie when she hears about Sandy's vocation. Ironically, of course, Sandy--the one who is famous for nothing more than her small eyes--turns out to be the only one of the Brodie set to have any capacity for a vocation at all.

One might also ask how well Miss Brodie herself lives up to her vocation, which she declares several times is her students. It is clear that she loves her students and they love her, but she doesn't realize that if it's to be a vocation, this love must be exclusive. When she starts an affair with another teacher, the girls, and Sandy most of all, feel betrayed. The other girls turn their attentions more to the world outside Miss Brodie, while Sandy starts up an imaginary affair with a policewoman, whom she helps to gather evidence of Miss Brodie's crime. This is a great moment in the psychology of modern eros, by the way. In Emile, Rousseau argues that, in order to educate children in a world without any legitimate authority (the fear of punishment being a perversion of authority to which we resort for lack of other means), a teacher must dedicate his whole existence to a single child. Authority can only be established contingently on a child's sense of the adult's perfect benevolence to him, which requires unstinting attention to the child. The impossibility of living up to this demand is in part what makes Emile a Lockean comedy rather than a serious guide to childrearing. But we get an image of Emile gone wrong in Miss Brodie, who sets out to do exactly what Emile's tutor does, but never realizes that the temptations of "her prime" must be seen as mere distractions from her vocation rather than the arbiters of her own happiness. This is of course an impossible demand, but Calvinism makes it.

Also this book is wonderfully written, mimicking the rhythm of children's thoughts with their endless repetitions while the girls are young, and picking up as they grow older. Emily Hale is also right that, despite the sort of whimsical narration and plot, it's ultimately dark. I finished it in a state of low-grade gloom, quite convinced that I ought to lay off the Calvinism for a while.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Urban wildlife

This visitor was spotted in a neighbor's driveway:
I know wild turkeys are common in New England, but I just can't get over the novelty.

And this is an update on my fungi:
Apparently, I can't even keep hardy invasive species alive on my windowsill. The whole indoor herb plan is doomed.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Photographic representations of mid-summer

1. I have been trying for two years with remarkable un-success to grow herbs indoors. Every single thing I've attempted to nurture has died with the sole exception of catnip, which I can't even eat. Given that the cat for whom this nip is intended is a determined destroyer of all my other potted plants, the survival of the catnip is doubly ironic. Anyway, I got a new batch of herbs last April, and the oregano has been looking droopy and brown since June, but then I woke up this morning and found this horrifying development:
WHAT IS THIS??? It's so repulsive that I refuse to touch it with even a stick or a projectile, but I'm afraid that if I don't remove it somehow, I will have a whole pot of them by tomorrow. How can I evict this slime??

2. The best sidewalk stencil I've ever seen, spotted in Watertown en route (or, getting lost en route) to Target:

3. I'm doing research on monarchist and sovereignty theories this summer for a professor. Being paid by the hour to read and digest early modern tracts is kind of an ill-fitting adaptation of the wage labor model for scholarship since, on the one hand, I can't read fast enough to justify my hourly wage, so I am overpaid, but on the other hand, I have to read all the time to produce the quantity of notes that merits my hourly wage. Here, Nigel is helping me with research by making sure that none of extra desk space goes unused:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An open letter to unemployed scholars who know French and Latin

Dear unemployed scholars,

Did you know that Jean Bodin's complete Six Books of the Republic has not been translated into English since 1606? That, as you may have noticed, was a long time ago. English has changed a lot since then. Plz get to work.

Miss Self-Important

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Skokie in the NYT!

Admittedly, a passing mention in an otherwise uninteresting article, but I'll take what I can get:
The Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, president of Loyola University, a Jesuit university in Chicago, said of Mr. Patel’s group: “They don’t have the knowledge base or experience in theology, but they have provided the data on where our kids are. The world we grew up in was all Irish, Italian and German. Now it’s Vietnamese, and Poles and Jewish kids from Skokie. We are not automatically able to reflect on their reality.”

Thursday, June 09, 2011

YA lit: The only genre whose public discourse has not changed in 40 years

Last week, this eminently reasonable op-ed about YA lit appeared in the WSJ:
It is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.
The same op-ed has appeared every few years in various newspapers and magazines since about 1969. It always generates the same outraged response from YA authors, ostensibly in the name of the children.* No one should be surprised that YA lit feeds off of book banning outrage--the genre was born from it. Book censorship had a decent history before YA lit came onto the scene in the late '60s, but no one remembers that history. Public libraries removed Communist and other politically incendiary stuff from the shelves from the '30s through the '50s, and many of these removals were challenged and overturned. Why then does the phrase "book banning" immediately make us think of Judy Blume and The Catcher in the Rye, while memories of those poor leftist tracts have totally faded from our consciousness? Mid-century Communists, whatever their other failings, at least had a political project, a project whose circulation was perhaps slightly diminished by library removal, but which did not exist merely for the sake of library circulation. Anyone can read Marxist ideas and remain unconvinced--a failure for the project. But YA lit of this "realist" strain has no argument except the exposure imperative. Children must be exposed to it or they will remain forever naive. This excuses every excess and failure of style and skill. The writing might be total crap--all the better. That's more real. Real people, after all, are inarticulate, and bad writers. The main thing is to describe in lurid detail ever more exotic forms of misery. (All things I've written about before.) The next step is to wait for adults to object to the lack of moral and aesthetic judgment contained in the work, and then launch the Typical YA Lit defense, which goes like this:
Think of the children! They must learn of the facts of life--the "real things" that happen to "real people" in the "real world"! These include, but are not limited to, the following forms of misery: racism, drug abuse, eating disorders, rape, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, incest, murder (preferably by gangs). These are the constitutive elements of reality (if your life does not feature them, it might not be real), from which you prudish parents have unjustly been shielding your children by such evasions as selectively introducing them to people who don't engage in these behaviors, moving to neighborhoods where these problems are uncommon, and encouraging them to avoid these fates themselves. This kind of "sheltering" is not only foolish, but it is downright negligent. That is why we, YA authors, are here to save your children from your misguided moralizing efforts by exposing them to these realities early without passing judgment. Only sufficient exposure can bring about understanding. And this is what the children themselves want to read. (We know this because they send us fan mail!) Wait, what now? You want to prevent your children from being exposed to our important work? This can only mean that you prefer to abet abuse, disorder, rape, and murder! Censorship! Censorship! We are being muzzled! The very fact that you object demonstrates how very important our work is--you are trying to hide the truth from your children, while we are revealing it! We are heroes!
This rhetoric merged with the supposed illiteracy crisis of the 1970s (it's hard to believe this was a real event) to create an entirely amoral argument for YA lit: kids these days don't read anymore, and non-reading leads to academic failure, school dropout, juvenile delinquency, and death. Therefore, we must encourage kids to read! Reading anything is better than nothing! And this is the key: somehow, the actual benefits of reading literature were never raised in all the sloganeering, and what remained was basically a call to force children to scan words with their eyes. If they pronounced some books "boring" then and refused to lend them their eyes, the solution was to find something more visually captivating that still contained words. YA lit, which made no pretense to be literary at first, was a natural candidate for this exercise. Thus, we get this tale of miraculous literary awakening from a 1972 issue of the Phi Delta Kappan (a journal for teachers and ed school monkeys):
In a local school, a student teacher purchased and took two paperback copies of Paul Zindel's The Pigman into a junior class of "nonreaders," and overnight two students read the novel. Returning the next day, they commented that this was the first book they had ever read and asked where they could find more like it… Their reading began with a few of the now young adult novels but led away and for a few, eventually, included some of the Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Stephen Crane found within the approved school sources.
If you are my age, you will perhaps recall how your teachers pinned similar hopes on such illustrious works as the Goosebumps series: "At least they're reading something! Who knows--maybe RL Stine will nourish a lifelong passion for Shakespeare!" I bet it will.

Which brings us to Alan Jacobs's very good point:
According to these writers, YA fiction has achieved something no other human invention has ever achieved: it is capable of doing extraordinary, glorious good, and cannot do any harm at all...What I’d like to see from these YA writers is less panicky defensiveness and more actual thinking. Admit — please — that some books are bad for some people. Admit that writers can make aesthetic misjudgments, so that certain scenes, or even whole books, can have effects on many readers that they don't intend. And admit that some writers — yes, even YA writers — are nasty people who write nasty books. And then try to think about what distinguishes a book that is likely to help most of its readers from a book that isn’t.
The reason that it is commonly thought that YA saves is because it's widely believed that reading saves. Reading is the opposite of illiteracy. Ergo, even reading the phonebook is a step in the right direction. This view is so entrenched in Jacobs's commenters that they can't even think of a book that could possibly do any harm. Even reading total crap apparently "helped develop my critical facilities." I'm hard-pressed to think of another activity that merits such unstinting praise that we can't even discern failure in it. Imagine if we felt this way about music: Even listening to tomcats howling in an alley helped me by showing me what disharmony sounds like. I now seek out alleycat wailing to experience this pleasure again and again. Jacobs offers a perfect example of harmful teenage reading--Ayn Rand--and even this is rejected because apparently reading Ayn Rand is valuable in helping us to see what is wrong with Ayn Rand.

What seems to be lost here all sense of what it means for a book to be harmful. Jacobs's readers, and YA's defenders generally, are mired in the rhetoric of book banning and seem to think that if they admit that a book is harmful, that means it will either kill you or move you to kill someone else, and it should therefore be burned. But that is of course not what a harmful book is, and no one is proposing a ban on such books. The effect that harmful books have is either that they cement pernicious views of the world that adolescents are already inclined to hold, or simply that they waste time that could be spent on better books or better experiences. This is not world-shattering harm, of course, and perhaps that's why it's hard to notice against the supposedly self-evident good of reading. But growing up is a complex process of perceiving the reality of the adult world, and small things that do no more than draw one's attention away from one emphasis to another still play their part in forming these perceptions. When all the books marketed at adolescent girls are about eating disorders, high school social tyrannies, and sex, these topics form their intellectual horizons. Is being encouraged to inhabit such narrow horizons--to think there is nothing to do or contemplate beyond reputation-honing and calorie-counting and shopping--not a form of harm? It's not clear how spending three hours reading a trashy novel is superior to spending those hours playing video games or watching paint dry, but the act of eyes scanning words on a page has come to be thought a morally upstanding activity.

*Do you want to know how old and tired this rhetoric is? Below the cut is a short history of Judy Blume and her reception in the 1970s from a paper I once wrote on this topic but will not impose on you involuntarily (complete with archival research--thanks grad school!):

Monday, May 02, 2011

The history of political thought: a pictoral tour

My exams--by which I mean generals/comps/quals/whatever they were called in your department--are next Thursday. In preparation, I've been reading and going over my old notes and such things, and it occurred to me that perhaps you too would like to learn about my exam field: political theory--ancient, medieval, and modern. Technically, it only includes one medieval author--Aquinas--and only tiny excerpts of him at that (excerpts of the excerpts!), so I personally am in favor of abolishing the pretense that anyone in my department has actually studied something called "medieval political thought," although I did once pick up a copy of John of Salisbury's Policraticus, but I flipped open to a long discussion of whether witches are real (no) and got bored and put it back down. So much for that. Also, by "modern," we only mean to "up to Nietzsche," since everything after him is called "contemporary" and, in an unusual display of pedagogical reaction on the part of the department, we have not been made responsible for that. Conveniently, my notes contain many useful illustrations of the subject matter we do have to cover, which I will share with you below the fold. As you will see, these illustrations touch on all the main points of these texts.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A modest serious proposal for inter-apartment internet-sharing arrangements

I live in a building with at least 18 units, and each of these seems to have its own wifi network. Most of them have figured out how to secure their networks, but as is always the case with oldsters and large samples, not everyone is so adept. So Seb and I have been mooching off the weak signals of various neighbors for the entire year. This isn't all that convenient, since the connections vary in strength depending on where in the apartment one stands. (The bathroom is a particularly good location, but it's hard to stream Buffy episodes from the bathtub.)

Not that we're averse to paying for internet; we're just averse to paying Comcast $60/mo for internet when there is so much unused bandwidth floating around on all sides. I have proposed to Seb, who is always complaining about the unreliability of our stolen connections, that we send a letter to our next-door neighbor offering to pay half his Comcast bill if he gives us his wifi password. He is old and lives alone, and I doubt he's spending his hours on bandwidth-devouring activities like World of Warcraft (although that would be an amusing revelation). He has plenty of internet to go around.

Seb thinks this is a bad idea, but I think it's eminently rational. I suppose one could worry about personal data theft in such cases, but I for one don't have the skillz to steal anyone's data even when it's naked, and financial sites are encrypted, so I would have to possess the additional skillz of decrypting the stolen data. Using a university network on any given day is much more dangerous than sharing your wifi with Miss Self-Important. Maybe I will add this point to the letter.

In any case, this is my proposal. I think it could be implemented in many multi-unit buildings, and if bandwidth use were a threat to the environment like every other human activity seems to be, I could even make my neighbors feel guilty/virtuous for declining/participating in it. Has anyone tried this? Or, more importantly, would you try it if you received a note under your door from me asking you to?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Big and small potatoes

My high school district recently decided that private schools have no right to hog all the alumni love and dollars in America, and began soliciting donations and sending out an occasional alumni newsletter with updates on the lives of some tiny proportion of its graduates. If nothing else, this newsletter demonstrates just why it is that these kinds of materials should be limited to private schools, particularly those where competition and self-promotion are more thoroughly ingrained. The newsletter informs me that someone from the class of 2005 won a local mural contest and someone from the class of 1987 self-published his self-help book. Someone from the class of 1992 works at a pizza restaurant and someone else works in the district administration. And several people from various classes are dead--announcements which are indelicately interspersed among the sunnier news.

By contrast, the much glossier UChicago alumni magazine offers a picture of lives lived and promoted on a larger scale (as well as a segregated morgue). Research scientists and international journalists and...the Oregon State varsity basketball coach? The back matter feature book publications, promotions to law firm partnerships, world travels culminating in gallery openings, and so on. (The older alumni make a point of emphasizing their world travels, as if to dispel any suspicion that their age has slowed them down. I suppose this is what instills jealousy among the 60+ crowd the way that making partner is the 35 year-old's way of grinning smugly in 20 words?)

But. District 219 reminds us that it has one alumnus of note who will put all of UChicago's feverishly competitive strivers to shame. He is featured in every issue of the alumni newsletter, and his success is apparently not intended to diminish the rest of us toiling away at our pizza restaurants and writing our self-help books, but rather to lift us up with him. His triumph gives us all a name. And who is this great-souled being? As it turns out, the guy who founded is a Niles West alum. But that's not all. Not only did he found, but he has also recently launched a new Verily, through him, we touch eternity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Undergrad marginalia call-and-response

Notes in part II of Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality from my first (enthusiastic) and second (tempered) reading:

Spring break plans for extraordinary goal accomplishment (paper! article! presentation! generals reading!) totally ruined by onset of the flu.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I need a new category for Styles Style

We've discussed Styles Style here before--that brilliant NYT approach to simultaneously glorifying and demeaning the city's wealthiest residents. You may scoff at this clever innovation on society pages, but I happen to know that there are only so many new spellings of Qaddafi/Khadafy/Ghadhafi/etc. that you can absorb before you find yourself clicking through to personal interest articles like this about the travails of young New York socialites struggling to reconcile arbitrary exclusivity with their thoroughgoing bourgie-ness. Now, this article isn't even personally interesting to an audience wider than five people, and yet, thanks to the gem about slow-minded middle America that the writer has managed to get out of one of his subjects, it has something even for me. The NY-specific class resentment of journalists joins forces with America's generalized aversion to snobbery to produce #1 most emailed articles on topics relevant to no one in America except the person interviewed for the article. Consider this brilliant quote:
To Anne de la Mothe Karoubi, 24, who went to the Marymount School, it’s an intellectual precociousness. “When you grow up in New York City, our minds develop faster,” she said. “You’re not from Wisconsin, you’re not from the middle of America. We’re international, we’re focused, we’re driven.”
The craft involved in this! A reporter got this presumably educated, culturally-aware woman to utter these words on the record to an NYT reporter!

And notice the elegant pairing of the subjects' illustrious prep schools with their humdrum colleges: Dalton, Trinity, Browning (which I'd never heard of before--new knowledge!) goes to Lafayette, GWU, Trinity in Hartford and studies that greatest of all thoroughly middle-brow vocational majors in the world--marketing. I mean, you may as well get an AA in dental hygiene. The reporter delights in all this obviously--he probably went to Brown or Cornell or someplace with an acceptably selective admissions policy and thinks, my SATs were double yours, you airheaded clown in a checked Burberry suit. And just to prove it, he demonstrates that he too knows about "sipp[ing] Côtes du Rhône at sidewalk cafes" and which are the most exclusive enclaves in the Hamptons, so there.

The great tragedy of this article is that the reporter never vindicates the characters in Metropolitan, who are infinitely more interesting than these people, and he doesn't follow the potentially promising line of questioning that may begin by asking exactly what a 23-year-old "art dealer and consultant" actually does, or what is entailed in being a "stylist and fashion designer" at 22. But we'll cut him slack for that if it bought him that Wisconsin quote.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The closest to a podcast that this blog will ever come

Miss Self-Important on the radio (very briefly). And yes, after hearing "Our baby is Hartford," I'm done with this topic, for now.

Friday, February 25, 2011


The entire month of February has gone by, and all I've done is study Greek so that someday soon I might be able to produce better translations than this. Did you know that if you learn a new Greek verb form every day for an entire month, you still won't know them all by the end of that month? You will, however, develop a kind of low-level, permanent exhaustion from waking up at 7 AM every day to try.

This leads me to wonder:
1. Is any currently-spoken language as inflected as Greek, and how did anyone in the 5th century speak it correctly?
2. A friend points out that grammars seem to simplify over time--Attic Greek to Koine, for example, or classical Latin to modern Latin--but why would that happen? Shouldn't they become more elaborate instead? Or does the proliferation of vocabulary serve the elaborating function?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Aggressive undergrad marginalia

A note found in my copy of The Prince, next to the part of ch. 3 about the Roman conquest of Philip and Antiochus:
Pre-emption: take the war to the terrorists before they bring the war here
Grrr! What must we have been discussing in first quarter sosc?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Greatest hits of the '60s, '70s, and now the '80s"

This is the new tagline of the Boston oldies station, at least since the new year. There are two problems with this change. First, I happen to like the greatest hits of the '50s and want them back. Second, I was alive in the '80s. Oldies have always been an expressly historical genre, representing pop music that happened before I existed and thus was of interest to me for purely antiquarian reasons. (I mean, it's hard to explain how I was an antiquarian at age six, when I first started listening to the radio, but suffice it to say, I was.) Now, oldies and I have apparently converged. History has fused with the present! What outrage is next? My present will be the present's past? Oldies will represent my personal nostalgia instead of the nostalgia of old people? I WILL BE OLD???


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Speaking of gym class

In a serendipitous moment, just as Alpheus tries to candy-coat the futility and cruelty of gym class, my own high school district finally relaxes the class's iron grip on students.
The plan as voted on will reduce staff in the physical wellness department by incorporating health–now a one-semester stand-alone class–into sophomore physical education classes, cut drivers education, and schedule junior and senior electives more efficiently...

After listening to teachers talk about the importance of physical activity and drivers education, Superintendent Nanciann Gatta pointed out that while physical activity is important, the district now requires eight semesters of physical education and one of health–and only six of math and four of science.
I suppose I should not get worked up over the fact that these requirements have been in place--in that ratio--for at least a decade. One semester of gym class for every semester of high school enrollment--and no exceptions for such irrelevant substitutes as varsity sports participation. (Although that last rule may have changed since my tenure.)

Sure, I would've preferred to have a lunch period my senior year instead of standing out on a softball diamond in shorts and a t-shirt in November for 40 minutes a day. I probably could've found something better to do with my time instead of a summer school health class I was forced to take because it too was required for graduation on top of all that gym time, during which I spent eight weeks watching powerpoint presentations depicting the symptoms of chlamydia that the instructor had outsourced to the students so that he could get paid to surf internet sports sites. (He also told us he invented the cheese hat that Green Bay Packers fans wear and became a millionaire from it.) One day, when we look back on the successes and shortcomings of NCLB, the elimination of the colossal waste of time that was health class at Niles West will rank among its triumphs.

It's true that things worked out ok for me in the end. Now, maybe they will also work out better for other people. After much searching, I finally found the actual restructuring plan. (Notably, the revamped school "newspaper" has opted to forgo coverage of teacher firings and curriculum changes in order to whinge more extensively about how unfair the school ban on Facebook is.) While I am deeply dismayed to see such illustrious traditions as "Fashion Workshop," "Sports and Entertainment Marketing," and "Interior Design 1 and 2" (we had this???) bite the dust, I find it difficult to be upset about increased emphasis on real subjects at the expense of such otherwise edifying and important instruction as "Chlamydia 101, or How I Became Rich By Selling Cheese Hats."