I started a second blog for my narrative nonfiction stories, but then I got invited to join Medium, so I’m going to move my narrative stuff over there. You can head over to Medium to check out my stories “Once Brewed”, about my visit to Hadrian’s Wall, and “Lettuce and Golf”, about my unexpected friendship with an elderly man named Joe.
I’m obviously really new to Medium, but I think it’s a promising idea. It’s like a large blogging network where everything is put into thematic collections designed for browsing. I’ve put my stories into “Nostalgia Tales.”
This week, Libby Anne asks: What is the purpose of public education?
An inscription on the Boston Public Library reads:
The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.
The social contract can’t function without a baseline of education. An educated society is a just and productive society. Public education, in theory, provides equal access for everyone. Of course, public education in the United States is actually very unequal. The quality of school districts vary substantially, mostly because wealthy districts have better-funded schools. However, I don’t look at the problems with our public schools and think the concept of public education has failed; I think the proper response is to reinvest and make the system better.
Public education has a twofold purpose: for the individual, it provides the foundation for a productive life; for society, it produces informed citizens. I want to live in a society where everyone has access to a good education, and can benefit from it, regardless of socioeconomic status. I want this because I think education is a human right, but also because I want to live in a republic with an educated populace, for the safeguard of order and liberty.
So, we’ve got our first glimpse of Reign, the CW show about Mary, Queen of Scots.
The young man appears to be Francis, Dauphin of France, giving Mary a remarkably casual welcome to France. Mary comments on how tall Francis is, which is hilarious, because in real life Mary was 5’11″ and Francis was short and sickly. Mary’s mother, Marie de Guise, was also quite tall; when Henry VIII tried to woo her, he wrote that he was a man who needed a big woman, to which Marie quipped: “I may be a big woman, but I have a little neck.” She married James V of Scotland, whose mother was Margaret Tudor, Henry’s sister. Margaret reported to her brother that her new daughter-in-law was quite gracious and charming. Sorry, Henry.
Mary became queen upon the death of her father when she was six days old. The French and Scots, eager to preserve their alliance and make gains on England, betrothed Mary and Francis when they were young children. Mary was sent to live in the French court at the age of six, while her mother and other regents ruled Scotland in her stead. Mary and Francis were married when they were teenagers. Although they reportedly always got along quite well, it’s unknown whether they ever consummated their marriage. There was real concern that their union would never produce children–Francis had undescended testicles–and Mary signed a secret agreement that if she died without children, France would inherit Scotland. In the end, Francis died at the age of 16, one year after becoming king, and Mary went back to rule Scotland.
In the clip, a man ominously prophesies that Mary will cause Francis’ downfall. I guess the CW couldn’t resist sneaking in some magic. I can’t really blame them; Francis’ real-life death from an ear infection is pretty prosaic.
They did get the four girls accompanying Mary right, though. Or, at least, sort of right. In actuality, every one of them was named Mary, and I can see how that would get a bit confusing.
Also, what are these people wearing? They look like they’re in an Anthropologie catalog.
Apparently some Danish researchers found a correlation between bicep size in wealthy men and support for self-interested, conservative economic policies. They concluded that this was because of evolution.
In the days of our early ancestors, [Aarhus researchers] say, decisions about the distribution of resources weren’t made in courthouses or legislative offices, but through shows of strength. With this in mind, the scholars hypothesized that upper-body strength — a proxy for the ability to physically defend or acquire resources — would predict men’s opinions about economic redistribution.
I’m always a bit flummoxed when evolutionary psychologists construct hypothetical scenarios instead of looking at actual human history.
Do you really think that our hominid ancestors settled things by arm wrestling? In my first post about Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History, I talked about the primacy of reciprocity and cooperation in early societies, and in modern-day hunter-gatherer societies. Physical strength is certainly useful, but it’s not the end-all and be-all of survival. No one person could survive on his or her own, and everyone shared resources. People were highly interdependent, and not all valuable skills depended on great physical strength. As previously discussed, women in most hunter-gatherer societies bring in the majority of the food through foraging. Toolmaking doesn’t necessarily require great strength, but is an incredibly important task. Basing arguments about human evolution off the primacy of physical strength is frequently misplaced.
The researchers seem to be making their argument based on the premise that human societies have always been political, which I hope is stunningly obvious to people, because humans are social animals. There was no “pre-civilization” era when humans weren’t engaged in politics. But their understanding of politics contradicts political theory and history, which is odd, because the lead researcher is from a political science department. I’m not really sure what to make of that. Read more →
Oh, the Victorians. I’m not going to go through the remainder of Stephanie Coontz’s book, although I definitely recommend reading it. But I did want to talk about Victorian ideas of marriage and gender, because we still base many of our assumptions about marriage and gender on Victorian ideas. They’ve proved to be very tractable.
Remember in my first post, when we talked about the development of marriage in prehistory, and debunked the idea that the nuclear family structure of a male breadwinner and female homemaker is an eternally “natural” arrangement? Then we talked about how marriage in ancient and medieval Europe was predicated on economic relationships in which the labor of husband and wife were equally crucial?
Well, now we’re going to talk about how post-industrial, middle class white people decided that the nuclear, male breadwinner/female homemaker family was not only ideal, but everything that God and Nature had always intended.
The Industrial Revolution changed the economic structure of society and wrought massive changes to family life. Husbands and wives had worked together, but now a family could be well-supported on the salary of a middle class professional man. I’m going to focus on the middle class, not because their experience was universal–it wasn’t–but because they formulated the cultural ideals of marriage and gender that continue to impact us today. Read more →
This is part of my discussion of Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History. You can read Part I, Part II, and Part III.
Okay, I think I’m going to have to discuss the rest of this book at a sprint. It’s very interesting, but it’s just too much to talk about.
After discussing the power struggles of the medieval elite, Coontz turns to the lives of ordinary folk. For them, marriage was structured around patterns of work. Many European peasants were legally bound as serfs. Although “the right of the first night” is a myth, lords did have a financial investment in their serfs’ marriages, as their serfs owed them a percentage of their crop yield. A single person was an unproductive person. Husbands and wives performed specialized roles in running their farms: men plowed and worked the fields, women took care of the animals, made butter and cheese, prepared wool and flax, took goods to market, and ground the grain. Both helped with the harvest. Because marriages were so important to the economic survival of an entire village, potential couples were subject to substantial pressure from their families and neighbors to make a good match. Read more →
This is the third installment of my discussion of Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History. You can start with Part I and Part II.
Early Christianity was deeply ambivalent about marriage. Celibacy was preferable to marriage, but marriage was preferable to living in sin. Extra-marital sex made someone worthy of hell, but carnal pleasure sanctioned by marriage was still unholy and problematic. Christians were called to place devotion to God above family, but divorce was completely unacceptable–in theory, if not always in practice.
Christianity gradually meshed into the power structure of the Roman Empire. When the empire collapsed, the Church was one of the few institutions left standing that could command real temporal authority. Rulers who rose to fill the power vacuum found they needed the pope’s approval and backing. The Church evolved from a subversive minority religion to an international power broker. Unsurprisingly, this had an effect on marriage. Read more →
This is a continuation of my review of Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History. You can read my first installment here.
So, agriculture had a huge effect on human society. It allowed people to hoard surpluses, and the wide-reaching reciprocity arrangements of hunter-gatherer societies eroded in favor of power consolidation among kinship groups. Society became more hierarchical, as some families raised themselves above others. Marriage became a method of strengthening a family’s position in the social hierarchy. The behavior of both men and women came under greater control from their parents and elders, but women’s reproduction became strictly controlled in the interests of producing heirs to inherit all that hoarded wealth. Women became the property of their fathers and husbands, and penalties for pre-marital or extra-marital sex featured mutilation and death. This is a severely simplified rundown of huge societal changes, but that’s the general outline, anyway. Read more →
Well, it only took me a ridiculously long time, but I finally finished Tamora Pierce’s Mastiff, the last book in her Beka Cooper series. For background, you can read my reviews of Terrier and Bloodhound. Mild spoilers.
The story opens three years after the end of Bloodhound, with the funeral of Beka’s fiance. He’s not a character we’re meant to care about, since we’re only introduced to him in death. Beka deals with the sympathy from her colleagues and grief from his family as she secretly feels simultaneously guilty and relieved, as she’d been about to break off the engagement. It wasn’t a good relationship.
Predictably, Beka doesn’t get much time alone with her feelings. The 4-year-old crown prince has been kidnapped, and Beka, Tunstall, Sabine, and a Dog’s mage named Farmer are set on the trail. Beka’s scent hound Achoo leads the way, and Pounce is back, thank goodness. I missed Goodwin, though. Read more →
I’ve had some nonfiction short stories sitting around for awhile, and I finally decided to do something with them. Well, I submitted one to a story contest once, but I didn’t win anything, and entry fees rack up really quickly. So I decided that I may as well put them out in the world, and created a second blog for my narrative nonfiction.
I realize that I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about people doing terrible things, and it can definitely get a little wearing. I was somewhat bemused to discover that these stories, which I wrote months ago and then let sit in favor of developing this blog, feature strangers being exceptionally pleasant and helpful. So if you want a change of pace, you might read my first story, Once Brewed, which is about my trip to see Hadrian’s Wall.
Regrettably, I can’t guarantee that all future stories will be as cheerful.