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How Norway Taught Me to Balance My Hyphenated-Americanness

By | November 20, 2017

During the year I spent studying at the university in Trondheim, Norway, I sometimes learned more about my own country than Norway. One day, in my immigration studies class, my professor David Mauk, who hailed from Ohio, asked, “What does it mean to be American?”
I braced myself to hear the usual stereotypes from the news from the Norwegian students in my class. Then the …

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Want to Take My Civics Class? Get Ready to Squirm

By | November 17, 2017

In many conversations, the topic of civics education comes with its own halo. The conventional wisdom is that it’s good, clean medicine, and if our children just get enough of its inoculation, the American body politic will be healthy enough to survive another generation.
But after nearly two decades as a middle-school and high-school history teacher, I’ve come to understand through teaching civics—and studying how it’s …

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Can a Corrupt Politician Become a Good President?

By | November 16, 2017

“Who you are, what you are, it doesn’t change after you occupy the Oval Office,” President Barack Obama said during the 2016 election campaign. “It magnifies who you are. It shines a spotlight on who you are.”
But at least one man was transformed by the presidency: Chester Alan Arthur. Arthur’s redemption is all the more remarkable because it was spurred, at least in part, …

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Surviving Managua’s Government Crackdowns and Torrential Rains

By | November 15, 2017

On an overcast afternoon, Julio Baldelomar carries his metal ring of bagged chips past a new tourist attraction called Paseo Xolotlán, named for the nearly Los Angeles-sized lake on Managua, Nicaragua’s north side. Families flock to the high-walled complex to see a miniature replica of old Managua and walk on the waterfront promenade. But 31-year-old Julio is not allowed to enter while he’s hawking the …

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American Populism Shouldn’t Have to Embrace Ignorance

By | November 14, 2017

Public ignorance is an inherent threat to democracy. It breeds superstition, prejudice, and error; and it prevents both a clear-eyed understanding of the world and the formulation of wise policies to adapt to that world.
Plato believed it was more than a threat: He thought it characterized democracies, and would lead them inevitably into anarchy and ultimately tyranny. But the liberal democracies of the modern …

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The Southern Writers Who Defined America

By | November 13, 2017

Tell about the South. What’s it like there? What do they do there? Why do they live there? Why do they live at all?
           —Shreve McCannon, to Quentin Compson
Struggling in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! to field these questions, flung at him by his Harvard roommate on a snowy evening in 1910, the young Mississippian Quentin Compson plunges into the history of …

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We Shouldn’t Rely on Politicians to Memorialize Our Fallen Soldiers

By | November 10, 2017

Five U.S. infantry soldiers died on June 21, 2007, when their 30-ton Bradley tracked vehicle hit a deep-buried bomb in Adhamiyah, Iraq.
I was embedded as a reporter with their unit when they died, and I watched as the men who served with them rallied.
They reached out to the mothers and fathers and wives, offering and seeking comfort, but also saying what they believed needed to …

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The “Crying Indian” Ad That Fooled the Environmental Movement

By | November 9, 2017

It’s probably the most famous tear in American history: Iron Eyes Cody, an actor in Native American garb, paddles a birch bark canoe on water that seems, at first, tranquil and pristine, but that becomes increasingly polluted along his journey. He pulls his boat ashore and walks toward a bustling freeway. As the lone Indian ponders the polluted landscape, a passenger hurls a paper bag …

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The Origins of Burma’s Old and Dangerous Hatred

By | November 8, 2017

In a recent interview with a Guardian journalist, the Burmese monk U Rarzar expressed his country’s rationale for fearing and repressing its Muslim minority. “[The] Ma Ba Tha is protecting people from terrorists like ISIS,” U Rarzar told the British newspaper. “Muslims always start the problems, such as rape and violence.” While U Rarzar’s comments might seem shocking, they repeat a script that Burmese Buddhists …

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How Fishing Created Civilization

By | November 7, 2017

Of the three ancient ways of obtaining food—hunting, plant foraging, and fishing—only the last remained important after the development of agriculture and livestock raising in Southwest Asia some 12,000 years ago.
Yet ancient fisher folk and their communities have almost entirely escaped scholarly study. Why? Such communities held their knowledge close to their chests and seldom gave birth to powerful monarchs or divine rulers. And …

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