Sunday, March 31, 2013

Six Bach Dances: Part II: The B Minor Mass

And so flung wide are the doors of heaven.

IV. Gloria: Cum Sancto Spiritu

This festive trumpets-and-drums finale closes the ring of the Gloria which kicked off with another dancing D major fanfare. We begin vivace in 3/4 time with one of Bach's most rhythmically potent figures in the first of three sections of free declamatory material which sandwich the two fugues.

In the free sections dancing figures in the accompaniment leap and bound over sustained notes on patris  or ride virtuosic waves of ecstatic thirty-second notes on gloria, producing contrasts of texture and symbolism.

The two fugues utilize a variant of the opening figure for a theme against which he throws, "an animated countersubject, a weaving, conjunct idea on the word 'Amen,' which acts as a perfect foil for the leap filled main subject." [Stauffer, 93-94] The fervor and flurry of second fugue is charged by doubling instruments and false fugal entries, producing a feeling of spontaneous exuberance and, as Stauffer wisely observes, liberation.

It is one of soul's purest pleasures to be carried off in the glory of the Cum sancto stretti as they overflow into the rivers of amens and one grand affirmation: In gloria Dei Patris.

V. Credo: Et Resurrexit

Where the Cum Sancto Spiritu flowed easily and graciously from the noble bass aria Quoniam tu solus Dominus, the trumpets-and-drums Et Resurrexit is an epoch-making break from "the crown of thorns" that was the dissonant Crucifixus.

If the swelling elan of this movement, with rising figures every which way and a positively irresistible downbeat, don't quicken your pulse, check it. Bach has here combined the dignity of regal galanterie and the verve of spontaneous festal feast into a hymn of purest praise.

VI. Credo: Et Expecto

Like the Cum Sancto the Et Expecto flows without delay from the previous movement and like the Et Resurrexit this follows one of great gravity. Bach links the movements with an adagio bridge where a simple and declaratory anapestic figure on A in the first soprano which no sooner begins to fall through the voices than it falls into tempo Vivace e Allegro against a rising fanfare as the movement proper begins. 

After the orchestral ritornello of the fanfare figure the voices rejoin for a short fugato and every factor conspires to paint a clear sense of gesture, space, and scale. First, the leap of a fifth in the figure itself suggest the raising of one's senses to the celestial and divine. Second the rising entrances from the tenor to the second soprano draws the scale and gives a sense of graded escalation while the leap from the bass to first soprano suggests a spiritual vaulting to the heavens. 

The final fugal section achieves a similar sense of space and scale but here a contrast in both sustained and melismatic lines on saeculi, suggesting both the roll of ages and the constancy of the eternal firmament, all complemented by the heraldry of the paired fanfares in the trumpets above.


Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor: The Great Catholic Mass. Yale University Press. 2003.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Six Bach Dances: Part I: Passion Sarabandes

The rhythms of dance are at once wax earthly and celestial, calling the listener to join his corporeal form to a timeless continuance. No dance wants to end and no composer understood this innate property better than Bach, whose dances not only in suites but also sacred choral works remain sculptures of rhythmic perpetuity as they within hold the most expressive harmonies. 

Here on this Good Friday I would take a look at three movements from Bach's two surviving Passions. All three are built on sarabande rhythms in 3/4 time and make use of the room within the sarabande for both gentility and passion.

I. St. John Passion, BWV.245: Tenor Aria, Ach mein Sinn

Score & Text @ Bach Cantatas Site

The St. John Passion's counterpart to Matthew's more famous Erbarme dich, the tenor aria Ach mein Sinn is Peter's turmoil after his threefold denial of Jesus. Yet where the Erbarme dich is a haunting, twining torment in the memory, Ach mein Sinn is an extroverted display of furious self abasement. Where the twists and turns in the Erbarme dich seem as Peter's sin again and again trickling into his mind, they here seem daggers amidst the din of dissonance, halting dotted rhythms, and rising and falling phrases. 

II. St. John Passion, BWV.245: Chorus: Ruht wohl

Score & Text @ Bach Cantatas Site

The stately sarabandes which close both of Bach's surviving passions have been variously referred to as  lullaby-like. This is somewhat appropriate, given the gentle flute and oboe parts above and the falling figures, suggestive of laying-down, which both pieces also share. Rising-and-falling figures, the lullaby-rocking, if you will, also contribute to the soporific mood, but the grieving leaps in the chorus and descending chromatic bass are bitter contrast to the sweet gentility of the rhythm.

III. St. Matthew Passion, BWV.244: Chorus: Wir setzen uns

Score & Text @ Bach Cantatas Site

Here the more regular sarabande rhythm creates a more persistent, sepulchral tone while the sudden shifts into dissonance draw an expressive interiority within the scene-painting of Christ's burial. The contrasting emotions of grandeur in the sarabande rhythm and tenderness in the falling figures, of personal grieving in leaps and communal grieving in vertical dissonance, and the death of Jesus the Man and Christ the Lord coalesce into one unfolding both immanent and transcendent.


Little, Meridith & Jenne, Natalie. Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach. Indiana University Press. 1991, 2001.

Stapert, Calvin R. My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Co. 2000.

Steinberg, Michael. Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide. Oxford University Press. 2005.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Changing Your Avatar, Political Edition

So when I got home from work yesterday I noticed on the social media that many folks had changed their Facebook and Twitter avatars to a pretty red equal sign, evidently in support of something. I found this reaction incredible and impossible to take serious for a few reasons.

The first is the unrestricted nature of the claim. Outside of a philosophical context, Christian or humanist or legalistic, this is simply a platitude. Yet instead of "equal because of Christ's suffering" or "equal because of equal nature" or "equal under the law," we're all just "equal."

The second is the lockstep into which these folks have fallen with the news cycle, persuaded that Tuesday was some landmark moment. There's little more pitiful to a conservative than someone who lives so much in the moment, let alone one so fraudulent and patently manufactured.

Thirdly, it's embarrassing after umpteen administrations, supreme courts, and congresses usurping and riding roughshod over liberties, to snuggle up to these monopolists whenever they look willing to throw you a bone. Tuesday's effusions demonstrate not spontaneous solidarity on the battlement but hopeless sycophancy to power and indifference to all but the matter of the moment.

Lastly, it's hard to accept the furious and exclusively political bent of some people. Many people seem to think that because much activity occurs in some political context, i.e. in society, that the nature of such activity is chiefly political. Even when persecuted, you can be principled without having a cause, and vice versa.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On Dressing Down

It is no revelation to observe that a man reveals himself in what excites him, yet one instance of this banal principle reveals. Why oh why do people get so excited when they're allowed to "dress down?" Now I'm not talking about the habitually disheveled or congenitally unkempt, but those who would seem to pride themselves on a tidy and appropriate appearance. Nor do I refer to some mild excitement: these people are ecstatic as if some Sisyphean vestmental duty has been lifted from their shoulders. What gives?

Is dressing well such a burden? Are a collared shirt, tie, and pressed pants really so hard to put on? Perhaps it is the upkeep, although as far as I know the washing machines do all the work these days, and dry cleaning is affordable. Perhaps business and light formal attire is thought expensive. Of course it can be, but so is the fashionable grunge-wear hocked by Ambercrombie et al. And what of the dress shoe's recent demotion? Sneakers are for sporting, boat shoes for boating, sandals for the beach, and boots for messy business. The humble dress shoe is king.

Aside from practical concerns, though, is dressing well such a penance? Can this finery, and finery it is although many today can afford it, truly displease us? It's not as if we're talking about 18th century galanterie formalwear stiff enough set you upright all by itself. Today's materials are soft, flexible, and resilient. And is dressing up not fun? A crisp collar, the delicate dress socks and laces, the supple leather of the shoes and that moment when the trousers fall on them at just the right place. And I should be grateful for the right to slide on a pair of shorts or aptly dubbed dungarees?

It's not as if in ditching proper attire we're removing layers of Baroque frippery to unveil some buried Vitruvian perfection, rather we replace the dignified and complementary with the shabby. Doing such doesn't mean we've embraced austerity or simplicity or comfort, but rather that we've lost the ability to take pleasure in the exquisite.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Aesthetics of Scale

After today's early tea, I came across an illuminating comparison of the two largest ocean liners of their ages, the infamous HMS Titanic and her modern counterpart, the Allure of the Seas. The image, alas for me, says most if not all: standards for size have changed. This at first might seem like progress. Surely Allure achieves commendable economies of scale which allow travelers of modest means to book passage. Too, today's sea queen boasts finer amenities and luxuries for all on board than the most posh of Titanic's rooms and decks. Look at the picture to the right, though. Isn't something amiss?

I think so: beauty. Allure of the Seas is a massive, ungainly vessel. Look how she seems to overflow from her prow and how the decks look slapped and storied atop one another. Look, below, at the carnival of bulbous, glassed-in theaters that festoon the top deck.

In contrast, observe the relative austerity of Titanic, how the top decks, protruding forward slightly, seem to cap off the prow. What dignified simplicity in the contrast of colors. Each ship is massive, but Allure looks overgrown, whereas Titanic looks consistent with itself: harmonized. Titanic impresses where Allure imposes.

What irony in the names, then. Titanic is a frank attempt to denote gravity and immensity, yet her design reflects an aesthetic. The name Allure is supposed to entice us, to charm us by natural appeal, and yet beauty here has been overlooked, or worse, disregarded.

Maybe the difference is of purpose. Titanic had just one, to carry passengers in luxury, whereas Allure is a floating amusement park attempting to be everything to everyone. Where Titanic achieved a noble simplicity of purpose and elegance of execution, Allure is a meretricious cash cow. Perhaps that's why, for all of their engineering feats and affordable accommodations, we take today's luxury liners for granted. They don't allure, they don't capture the imagination. They simply roll on, servicing the bourgeois as hi tech testaments to the tawdry and tasteless.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gratitude and. . . Capitalism?

Few words these days come with as much baggage as the dreaded moniker capitalist. Synonymous for many with greedy bastard, most defenses of the free market begin with some attempt to reclaim the title. My association with the appellation is perhaps the least expected: gratitude. How can this be? Well, the answer is pretty simple.

I'm not a world-class chef, nor am I a barber. I also can't make furniture, or microprocessors. Nor can I repair arteries, engines, or bridges. Moreover, my mortal self will never live so long as to learn, let alone perfect, those crafts. Setting skills aside, then, I don't even own the materials to make any of the aforementioned. Not copper or lumber or oil or silicon or wool. Moreover, I don't even have the property on which to store or from which to extract the materials. As you might imagine, then, I'm pretty grateful to sit in a house, at a desk, typing at a computer.

"That's all well and good," you might say, "but what does that have to do with money? People could make those things anyway." True, true. Imagine this for me, though.

I ask my neighbor, a master woodworker, to make me a desk. I tell him that I want it quite large and ornately adorned. He agrees, but quotes me no price and goes ahead to make the desk. I come back a few weeks later to pick up my desk and learn he has spent the whole month working solely on my desk. How honored I am, and what a desk!  So honored that I offer him $100, all I can afford for it. What can he do? I have no more money, although he can refuse to sell it to me. Either way, he's lost not only the resources, but the opportunity to have covered costs and made a profit. Now here's my particular point here: he needs the profit to buy food and gas and pay his mortgage and so forth, and he needs to buy those things because he can't make them, and he can't make them because he's a carpenter. He's a carpenter because he's good at it, so he takes the risk of refining his skill in the hope that people prefer his expertise to their own, or to not having crafted wood products at all.

Yes, at all. Well who else is going to make the desks? The dentist, the lawyer, the cook, the classicist? Of course not, the carpenter does, in the hope that he can make enough money to buy the things he can't make for himself. I say hope because he might not be able to do anything else.

Now without setting a price for his material and labor, how will he know how to use his limited time and limited resources to make enough money to afford what he needs. The fancy desk which takes a month to make and earns him $100 doesn't buy him what he needs so that plan won't work, but maybe if he can make a simpler desk in three days and sell it for $150, it profits him. That equilibrium is his to find, his equation to balance.  It is his burden to figure out how to serve as many patrons as he can with his limited skills so that he can support himself. No one can force him to make a certain price, but no one can give him the formula for success either. So how does gratitude fit into all of this?

I'm grateful that so many people can balance that equation not only well enough to support themselves, but with such ferocious ingenuity that I can afford such a fine desk and dual-core marvel of a computer, amidst other wonders. The next time you bemoan the stupidity of mankind, and we all do in our haughty, self-satisfied moments, look around at the thousands of people doing things you can't do. Look at the curves of the keys on your keyboard or the stitching on your shirt. It's actually pretty humbling, especially when you consider the alternative: everyone doing everything ourselves, most of it badly. Out the window goes excellence because no one can specialize and get good at anything because we're busy doing a little of everything. So no more phones, cars, or computers. "Fine," say the aesthetes who reject such pedestrian concerns, and whom I ask: would you prefer that Mozart, DaVinci, and Shakespeare have spent more time farming?

That's not all the gratitude, though, because I'm also grateful whenever people want my own services. First, I'm grateful they've chosen me over other people offering the same work. Second, I'm honored they're bringing something I make or do into their lives. In fact, I'm no less honored that a man lets me teach him Latin than I would be if he hung a portrait I painted in his living room. Customers have taken a part of their lives, the time they spent working for the money they paid me, and trusted me to fill it. Wow. Lastly, I'm grateful they're supporting me. Without them, I'd be out of luck, and money. They are my patrons.

All of this gratitude also engenders two other emotions. The first is the humility which comes when you realize you cannot, in fact, do everyone else's job, and that even if you could, you could never do all of them at the same time. Even if you can do the job of the bag boy or cashier, you have your own job to do, remember? So out the window goes the contempt for so-called "menial" jobs.

The second feeling is respect, both for the people whose money you have taken, your patrons, and for those you patronize. The former support you with money and the later support you with goods. Remember the money is useless unless you exchange it for something you want for its own sake. So it's all support, then, and that realization is what makes some libertarians, in my experience, such jolly and gracious people. They don't feel entitled to certain profits or see exploitation around every corner, but rather they see the serendipitous confluence of interests in the free exchanges of free people. Now that's something to be grateful for, and something beautiful too.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On Re-Forming

Reform. The innocent word pops up at every changing-of-the-guard, the most recent of which being the election of Pope Francis. Will he reform the church? Ought he? Amidst the endless blabber and inane speculation, I ask, what does it mean to reform? We're rather liberal in our use of this little word, most often meaning simply to improve. This is of course not quite right and even progressives and reformers will admit that not all change is for the good. So perhaps we mean just, to change.

Yet many degrees of change present are possible. I may change my shirt, or my hairstyle, or where I live. I may also, though, change my philosophy of life. My mood changes as well. Can my character? Ought it? Curious that we don't use reform with reference to ourselves anymore. We used to. "He's reformed," they would say of a man after he served his jail sentence. There was in that use a sense of the gravity of the change. He's re-formed. He's a different man. They acknowledged the change as significant and, in this case, desirable.

Today, reform is used almost exclusively to refer to institutions and societies, not men. Society, we readily say, is a wreck. It's the politicians, the bankers, the immigrants. It's unions, it's the Tea Party, it's this or that president. Something's wrong with themSociety needs reform, that is, change by law, by fiat. We, however, are ourselves perfected, or perfect in imperfection. Never simply imperfect, though. Do we no longer think of changing ourselves? That we can, or ought to? Or do we simply glory in our noble, raw forms?  We educate minds, we rehabilitate physical health, but we don't reform. Maybe we don't re-form because we don't form, but how can we reform society if not ourselves?

So we'll reform society. We'll to reform "healthcare." We'll reform "education." We want the pope to reform the church. The president wants to "fundamentally transform" the nation. We have great expectations yet we casually speak of reform as if we're remodeling a living room or patching a few roofing shingles, hammering out a few kinks. Individuals who would not tinker with their stoves and who refuse to change themselves champion reform of nearly everything else.

Now reform might technically be the proper word, but what I think we mean is reconstitute, that is, to change the rules, to change the agreement and the system. We want to shuffle the deck for a new deal. We want to constituere, to set up, to decide anew. Re-form indeed. And we say this casually. It'll take just a few more laws, a little managerial tinkering, a little more authority in the right hands, and, naturally, more funding.

So near, so simple. Only it's not, of course, because we're still talking about changing people.

Sometimes reform is needed, but it's a grave thing, best started at home, and wherever, best without the conceit that one can both reform and conserve.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dear Lazy People

We've found you. Yes, at long last we know exactly who you are. It's taken us a while but we've done it. So how did we finally track you down?

Well, it wasn't easy. Everyone has bad days, right? So it wasn't so much your unkempt attire, your frequent complaints, or your lateness that gave you away. Nor was it your recycled work or the fact that you never have the correct or enough materials.  It wasn't the soggy fries you served or the parallel fifths in your song or the stretched out, pixelated images on your cover. It wasn't that you complain when there's a lot of work. It wasn't even that whenever the topic of laziness comes up, you admit to being lazy. Do you know what gave you away? 

Incidentally, yes. Yes, we see all of those little shortcuts, the reheating, the copying-and-pasting, the surface-cleaning, crib-noting shortcuts you think are so neatly concealed.

Anyway, what gave you up was how, after you admit to being lazy, or after someone criticizes your work or corrects you, you laugh. We all fall short here and there, but you laugh at the thought. We don't know why you laugh, whether you're amused at yourself or you're suppressing something, but you laugh. And so we're onto you. 

We haven't decided what we're going to do with you yet, right now we have Gordon Ramsay out there yelling at some of you, but we're onto you. In place of a verdict on your fate, please accept this meme.


People Who Care
People Who Value Excellence
People Who Make Things Work
People Who Make Things Look Good
People Who Don't Insult Others By Giving Them Junk
and Perfectionists

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another Kind of Cliff

We've all been there. You're talking to an acquaintance, maybe even a friend of some degree. The conversation hums along from the weather, that inevitable point of departure, to the ills and maybe even delights of the day. Then it happens: he says something not foolish or wrong, per se, but unintelligible. Of course what you'd really like at that point is to stop and think, only he's still babbling and so you're still following, hoping everything will click. Only it doesn't.

Eventually he solicits your opinion and you take a mulligan: "That was interesting. What was it you said about the foot of the bullfrog?" This buys you a few more minutes and now you listen ever more finely, all of your intellectual gears and cogs whirring to process every permutation of the variables. You exhaust yourself with periphrastic gymnastics in the hope of finding some golden angle at which the thoughts make sense, but no, none exists. His thought is an impermeable, inscrutable monad, a frabjous ode to absurdity.

We can only learn to love such thoughts and the minds that make them. We can't examine them too closely lest like Wile E. we plummet from the mesa. I find the key to escape lies in elevation and escalation: elevate their question to an imponderable and make an equally incomprehensible statement with which to leave. For example, "You know there was a good article in The Times about that a few weeks ago. They did a study at Columbia, I think. Big scandal. Anyway, I'm going to have a postprandial nip and then try to pick up a cape before the haberdasher closes." It's a fun opportunity to get creative. 

Remember, the fool jokes to amuse others, the wise man jokes to amuse himself. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Five Lines of Cicero

In discharge of my pedagogical duties I've been this week teaching a selection of Cicero's Catilinarian Orations. Given our Presidential Rhetoric series, as well as recent praise of Rand Paul's filibustering and the usual boilerplate about President Obama's rhetorical prowess, it seemed prudent to share some thoughts on a choice passage of Cicero. Not that we need any pretense to talk Cicero, of course.

Without further delay, Cicero against Catiline. Fasten your seat belts.

Though we are looking only at a section of the speech, it is clearly of the deliberative type. Cicero stands before the senators to:
  1. Urge a course of action: the exile of Catiline. 
  2. Demonstrate a concern over Rome's future.
  3. Establish the expediency of punishing Catiline.
Given Catiline's crimes, though, this speech undoubtedly shares in the elements of a forensic speech with its invective and catalogues of Catiline's deeds.

Let's now look at a section, which I reproduce courtesy The Latin Library.
V. Quae cum ita sint, Catilina, perge, quo coepisti, egredere aliquando ex urbe; patent portae; proficiscere. Nimium diu te imperatorem tua illa Manliana castra desiderant. Educ tecum etiam omnes tuos, si minus, quam plurimos; purga urbem. Magno me metu liberabis, dum modo inter me atque te murus intersit. Nobiscum versari iam diutius non potes; non feram, non patiar, non sinam
The opening cum clause swiftly combines the previous thoughts and emphasizes one thing: that they happened. Cicero continues in apostrophe, addressing Catiline directly with a series of imperatives: perge, egredere, proficiscere, educ, purga. The effects are many. First, as a list, Cicero provides a catalogue of what Catiline intended to do. Second, Cicero is being ironic, suggesting that Catiline leave not to come back and challenge Rome, but as an exile. Third, the imperatives taunt Catiline, challenging him to do what he wanted to do. Fourth, Cicero mocks Catiline, emphasizing both Catiline's desire to do those things as well as his weakness and exposure. Lastly, the imperatives, as commands, emphasize Cicero's consular authority.

Note also the personification with castra desiderant: "The camp has been missing you, its general." Here Cicero at once 1) mocks Catiline, calling him "general," imperatorem, 2) reminds the audience of Catiline's martial intentions, 3) reminds the audience about the army which was at that very moment waiting to attack Rome, and 4) distances Catiline from the senators, as if Cicero said, "Go back to your camp, with your people, where you belong." This is masterful economy.

Cicero continues to taunt Catiline, telling him to leave and take his friends with him. Again, a few brilliant touches here.

First, si minus, quam plurimos, "if [you take] less than all [your allies], [take] as many as possible" suggests, correctly or not, that there are so many conspirators that Catiline might not be able to take everyone with him. Also, there is a pleasing parallelism and contrast of if less, then many. The omission of the verb, such as to lead, and the substantive tuos give this statement a curt, off-the-cuff ring, as if Cicero is so fed up he blurts out, "Go, fine if you can't take them all, but just go!" Second, purga carries the sense of empty as well as meaning of clean here, suggesting in departing Catiline will be cleansing the city, an image Cicero will pick up again later.

Cicero finishes this thought with a simple conditional, stating that if Catiline goes, he'll "free" (liberabis) Cicero from a great fear, as long as a wall, that is the wall around Rome, separates them. It's easy to overlook the effects of this simple statement.

First, Cicero is being ironic in using liberabis, as if the criminal Catiline could do anything such as free someone. Second, Cicero emphasizes his dominance by painting a scene in which Catiline has obeyed him. Third, he describes that Catiline was a danger with magno metu, but indirectly, connecting by metonymy Cicero's fear with Catiline's plans which caused the fear. Lastly, the invokation of Rome's walls reminds the audience of Rome's power and, again, the fact that Catiline belongs outside them.

Cicero concludes the section with a series of short, staccato phrases. Of devices we have alliteration and  anaphora with non, as wells as asyndeton with the final three verbs. versari, meaning to stay but also be situated among again drives home the point that Catiline does not belong. Also, the word order here and person of the verbs here are effective:

With us to stay longer you are not able; 
I will not bear it; I will not endure it; I will not allow it. 

Cicero places Catiline's inability, potes, right next to Cicero's own authority, non feram.

Too the shift from the previous imperatives, taunting Catiline, to the second person, "you will free" and "you are not able," mocking and diminish him, to Cicero's conclusions with "I, I, I" are pleasing contrast, climax, and a reminder of who is in charge.

Not bad for five sentences.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Baffling TFA Critique

N.B. I have no love for TFA. This article is not a defense of anything.

It's a pity how an article so far above Slate's pay grade with respect to style can be so wholly appropriate to it with respect to reasoning. In fact, its jaundiced look at education may exceed Slate's characteristic myopic take on matters loosely important when it comes to bulldozing the way to a foregone conclusion.

I would make two observations of this journalistic and intellectual sham. First, the author's purpose is not to vindicate any pedagogical philosophy, no such philosophy is so much as hinted at, rather this article is a squeaky broadside against Teach For America (TFA.)

Second, the author doesn't care about the academic implications of TFA on students, indeed this is not discussed, only its self-declared apolitical position, its alleged anti-union ideology, and its alleged negative effects on non TFA teachers. Take respectively:
TFA exists for nothing if not for adjusting poor children to the regime otherwise known as the American meritocracy.
In contrast to such “success,” the TFA insurgency has failed to dent educational inequality. This comes as no surprise to anyone with the faintest grasp of the tight correlation between economic and educational inequality...
Rather, crushing teacher’s unions—the real meaning behind Kopp’s “flexibility” euphemism—has become the ultimate end of the education reform movement.
The more exclusive TFA becomes, the more ordinary regular teachers seem.
Nowhere are such bald assertions as the first two substantiated, and such claims are not minor: the author is alleging a first principle. Also, always beware someone who tells you the way things "really" are. Here we learn about what TFA is "really" doing and later we hear about "real" (read non-TFA teachers.) If Slate doesn't pick up Mr. Hartman for his writerly stylings then they should for his oracular clairvoyance.

The article is a skillful ploy, though.
Reformers believe that if teachers are subjected to “market forces,” such as merit pay and job insecurity, they will work harder to improve the education they provide for their students.
The need to incentivize the teaching profession is the most popular argument against teacher’s unions, since unions supposedly protect bad teachers.
First, you have to adore the quotes around market forces. If Mr. Hartman "really" (really really) thinks merit pay and job insecurity, the politicized pejorative bromides slapped on to reality by defenders of the academic status quo, are endemic to free markets, then he doesn't need the air quotes. Market forces are either real or they're not. Choose, O Delphic one.

Second, since unions only "supposedly" protect bad teachers, is the author alleging they don't? You have either to allege unions don't protect bad teachers or not claim that they help all teachers, the implication of his critique of TFA's allegedly anti-union purpose.


In contrast to such “success,” the TFA insurgency has failed to dent educational inequality. This comes as no surprise to anyone with the faintest grasp of the tight correlation between economic and educational inequality: TFA does nothing to address the former while spinning its wheels on the latter. In her writings, nowhere does Kopp reflect upon the patent ridiculousness of her expectation that loads of cash donated by corporations that exploit inequalities across the world—such as Union Carbide and Mobil, two of TFA’s earliest contributors will help her solve some of the gravest injustices endemic to American society.
So because the money comes from certain sources who allegedly exploit people, that money can't be used to achieve certain ends?

Let's look now at some of the descriptions of TFA from the article.
In Atlanta, a TFA hotbed, former superintendent and education reform darling Beverly Hall is implicated in a cheating scandal of unparalleled proportions, involving dozens of Atlanta principals and hundreds of teachers, including TFA corps members.
Rhee’s D.C. “miracle” has also been clouded by suspicion
has been called into question by investigative reports that suggest fraud.
A hotbed? Including TFA members? Clouded by suspicion? Called into question? Suggest fraud? These specious statements betoken a shysterish reporting I can't even draw an analogy to. It's shocking really.

Worse still:
Rhee is also disliked by a large percentage of black D.C. citizens, who voted out former Mayor Adrian Fenty in part because of his unqualified support for Rhee’s actions. This included firing four percent of district teachers, mostly black, and replacing them largely with TFA-style teachers, mostly white, whom one astute black Washingtonian labeled “cultural tourists.”
Lack of citations aside, what's being alleged here? Look at the facts described. DC citizens voted out Fenty, who supported Rhee because Rhee fired a quantity of teachers which was mostly black and replaced them with a body of teachers who were mostly white. So the author is implying that the people of D.C. might have ousted Fenty because Rhee might have. . . been racist? Where are we and can I get a taxi back to the education article?

Yet beyond the article's outrageous prejudices it is the lack of sound criticism which leaves it limp. There isn't a single attempt at arguing that TFA doesn't help children learn. That's the implication, but it's never said or argued. Clever, really. We hear about laws and society and testing and politics and elites and cheating and every topic imaginable ad nauseam except the most important. The closest we get is a vague criticism of the charter lotteries, which I guess is supposed to imply that TFA and charter schools are bad because they haven't yet educated the whole nation. Baffling.

The author concludes with this effusion of hyperbolic lachrymosity:
In working to perfect their approach to education, TFA insurgents miss the forest for the trees. They fail to ask big-picture questions. Will their pedagogy of surveillance make for a more humane society? Having spent their formative years in a classroom learning test-taking skills, will their students become good people? Will they know more history? Will they be more empathetic? Will they be better citizens? Will they be more inclined to challenge the meritocracy? Or, as its newest converts, will they be its most fervent disciples? What does it mean that for children born in the Bronx to go to college they must give up their childhoods, however bleak?
This is basically a string of accusations, although one line cuts to the quick.
Will they be more inclined to challenge the meritocracy? Or, as its newest converts, will they be its most fervent disciples?
This is an old school liberal who doesn't like the new liberal orthodoxy stealing his thunder and his following. He doesn't like the new elite of TFA and you can feel the envy when he reports how many Harvard and Yale graduates apply to TFA. The TFA teachers are "insurgents" from the old order. Old Marxists vs new Marxists. I tell you the old Leopard is long gone and now the jackals are turning on one another.

And here we thought this was about education.

Presidential Rhetoric IV: James Madison

Welcome to Part IV of our series on the rhetoric of American presidential inaugural addresses. Feel free to take a peek at the previous entries in the series:
  1. Worthy of Marble?
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
We continue with our present look at the rhetoric of James Madison's inaugural address, delivered Saturday, March 4, 1809. As with Adams and Jefferson, the Fourth President's education in and knowledge of the Classics is well known. Let us see what traces remain in his own writing.

UNWILLING to depart from examples of the most revered authority, I avail myself of the occasion now presented to express the profound impression made on me by the call of my country to the station to the duties of which I am about to pledge myself by the most solemn of sanctions. So distinguished a mark of confidence, proceeding from the deliberate and tranquil suffrage of a free and virtuous nation, would under any circumstances have commanded my gratitude and devotion, as well as filled me with an awful sense of the trust to be assumed. Under the various circumstances which give peculiar solemnity to the existing period, I feel that both the honor and the responsibility allotted to me are inexpressibly enhanced.

With "unwilling" Madison begins on a personal note of humility and continues in a participial/adjectival preface to speak of "revered authority," presenting himself as having inherited and as continuing a sacred tradition. This clause also delays his entry, further diminishing him and continuing the thread of humility. Madison pulls this thread farther, "avail"-ing himself of the inaugural's occasion, and to express what but the impact on him of the call to duty. Madison also continues the thread of holiness with "solemn of sanctions." We have grown accustomed to using sanction as a synonym for penalize , but the meaning here is clearly that of sanctifying, that is, sacred and authoritative approval. Sanction here has also a twofold force, the first denoting a divinely-observed oath. The second is set and picked up by the second sentence, praising the virtuous people. Thus with sanction Madison also expresses the  present election to the presidency, his, as the manifestation of a sacred and natural, that is, God-given, individual sovereignty of the people. Finishing this thought, in saying that his election has left a "distinguished mark of confidence," he expresses con-fidence in both divine law and the sovereignty of free, good men. Virtuous ought not be overlooked here.

Madison then contrasts the previous confidence with his own humility in the face of the "trust to be assumed." In the final introductory sentence he amplifies the aforementioned by ending with "inexpressibly enhanced." The rhythm here is quite clear: beginning each sentence with a prefatory/participial phrase and using the  main clause as the consequent. The themes are equally clear: he begins with humility, moves to confidence, returns to humility, and unites the two with the pair of "honor and responsibility," which he augments with the final words "inexpressibly enhanced." A unified, balanced, and climactic opening.