Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Trump Attacks Warriors’ Curry. LeBron James’s Retort: ‘U Bum.’”

Washington Post: Poll: “Far more trust generals than Trump on N. Korea, while two-thirds oppose preemptive strike”

Wall Street Journal: “Tensions Rise After U.S. Planes Skirt North Korea”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Penn State vs. Iowa: Recap”

BBC: “Sport stars round on Trump over comments”

CNN: “Trump just made his race problem so much worse”

FOX: “Trump says North Korean leaders ‘won’t be around much longer’ if they strike US”

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “McCain Rejects G.O.P. Health Bill, Likely Dooming It”

Washington Post: “Latest effort to repeal Obamacare on brink of failure after GOP defections”

Wall Street Journal: “GOP Health Push in Jeopardy as McCain Withholds Support”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Man shot twice in 7 hours, doesn’t give police info”

BBC: “Iran tests missiles in defiance of Trump”

CNN: “From dotard to Goliath, world reacts to Trump”

FOX: “Trump campaigns in last-ditch effort for Senate candidate Luther Strange”

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

  1. The New Fundamentalism
  2. The State of the Evangelical Mind Conference
  3. Reviews of Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War”
  4. Quote of the Day
  5. A Metric to Help Us Decide if a Monument Should Stay or Go
  6. Did These Headlines Come from Breitbart or a 1920s KKK Newspaper?
  7. When It Comes to Historical Thinking, the “Nation’s Report Card” is “Fool’s Gold”
  8. I Can’t Stop Watching!
  9. Was John Adams a Christian?
  10. Here Comes Mike Huckabee

“The State of the Evangelical Mind” Conference is Underway


Eric Miller, Jay Green, and yours truly were part of the opening panel of the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference (Photo credit: Matt Lakemacher)

It is unusual for The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog to go silent for a full day. I spent most of Thursday traveling to Indianapolis for the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference.  Today will be another busy day.  Unfortunately, the conference format is not very conducive to live tweeting.  I have, however, been taking good notes and hope to do multiple posts on the conference over the course of the next week.  Stay tuned!

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Facebook to Turn Over Russia-Linked Ads to Congress”

Washington Post: “Kim reacts to Trump, says he will ‘tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire’”

Wall Street Journal: “North Korea Ramps Up Rancor With Its H-Bomb Threat”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “High school football: Ranking central Pa.’s top teams”

BBC: “Trump and Kim call each other mad”

CNN: “Trump calls Kim a madman”

FOX: “North Korean threat to test hydrogen bomb in Pacific draws warning from White House”

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Mueller Seeks Documents of Trump Actions in White House”

Washington Post: “Manafort offered ‘private briefings’ on 2016 race to Putin ally”

Wall Street Journal: “SEC Says Corporate Filing System Was Hacked in 2016”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “What does a credit downgrade to state government mean?”

BBC: “Race to reach Mexico quake survivors”

CNN: “Maria regains strength as it ravages Caribbean”

FOX: “Maria leaves Puerto Rico in rubble as storm heads for Dominican Republic”

Stuff Sitting On (and around) My Desk That I Still Hope to Read


This picture of the messy side of my office was taken from the clean side of my office

My office at Messiah College is both a work zone and an inviting (I hope) space to meet with prospective students and their families.  The work zone half of the office is a mess, but I try to keep the hospitality side of the office relatively clean and clutter-free.

Speaking of clutter, the books, papers, magazines, and other assorted hard copy items are starting to pile-up on and around my office desk.   A lot of the clutter is paperwork related to teaching or my role as chair of the Messiah College History Department, but some of it is just stuff I want to read in the near future.  Today I was trying to bring some order to the clutter and thought I would jot down a few things I found that fall into the latter category.  I hope to get to them soon, but I am not optimistic about it.

Camille Paglia on “Presentism”


Check out Mark Bauerlein’s piece on cultural critic and public intellectual Camille Paglia.

Here is a taste:

…there is one profound traditionalist point that [Paglia] maintains repeatedly, and it is one of the first truths of the conservative disposition.

She announced it a few months back in an interview with the New York Observer. The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

This is a point that deserves repeated amplification. It explains, for instance, much of the indignation we see and hear on college campuses, wherein twenty-year-olds decry twenty-first-century American racism and sexism. The first response to their charges should not be to debate present conditions. It should be to ask them about actual conditions of the past—Jim Crow, the franchise for women and blacks, poverty rates and public health in former times . . . The answers will demonstrate that the only way to believe that America 2017 is a particularly vicious time for certain identities is to know nothing about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And we know, of course, how little history young Americans actually possess.

Read the entire post here.

I think Bauerlein, writing at the conservative journal First Things, over-politicizes Paglia approach to history.  I would argue that this is not a conservative disposition.  Instead, it is a disposition that is required of all historians, regardless of ideological or political commitments.

When it Comes to Measuring Historical Thinking, the “Nation’s Report Card” is “Fool’s Gold”


First, here is some background on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report.  It is often described as “the nation’s report card.”

And here is a taste of critique of the NAEP by Sam Wineburg, Mark Smith, and Joel Breakstone:

Students have never fared well on NAEP’s tests in these subjects. The first history test in 1987 found that half of the students couldn’t place the Civil War in the right half-century. Some 15 years later, following a decade of new standards, The Washington Post wrote that students on the 2001 exam “lack even a basic knowledge of American history.” In 2014, the last time history was tested, the New York Times fished into the recycling bin for this headline: “Most Eighth-Graders Score Low on History, Civics.”

But what would happen if instead of grading the kids, we graded the test makers? How? By evaluating the claims they make about what their tests actually measure.

For example, in history, NAEP claims to test not only names and dates, but critical thinking — what it calls “Historical Analysis and Interpretation.” Such questions require students to “explain points of view,” “weigh and judge different views of the past,” and “develop sound generalizations and defend these generalizations with persuasive arguments.” In college, students demonstrate these skills by writing analytical essays in which they have to put facts into context. NAEP, however, claims it can measure such skills using traditional multiple-choice questions.

We wanted to test this claim. We administered a set of Historical Analysis and Interpretation questions from NAEP’s 2010 12th-grade exam to high school students who had passed the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in U.S. History (with a score of 3 or above). We tracked students’ thinking by having them verbalize their thoughts as they solved the questions.

What we learned shocked us.

In a study that appears in the forthcoming American Educational Research Journal, we show that in 108 cases (27 students answering four different items), there was not a single instance in which students’ thinking resembled anything close to “Historical Analysis and Interpretation.” Instead, drawing on canny test-taking strategies, students typically did an end run around historical content to arrive at their answers.

Read the entire piece here.  I need to share this piece with my “Teaching History” class. We are in the midst of reading Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Mexico Quake Kills Hundreds, Trapping Others Under Rubble”

Washington Post: “New health-care plan stumbles under opposition from governors”

Wall Street Journal: “Fed Poised to Set Portfolio Reduction Plan in Motion”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Best colleges and universities in U.S.: New rankings and starting salaries”

BBC: “More than 200 die in huge Mexico quake”

CNN: “Hurricane Maria packs 155 mph winds as it roars into Puerto Rico, the strongest storm to hit the island since 1932”

FOX: “Mexican rescuers desperately sift through quake-ravaged school as death toll tops 200”

Reviews of Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War”


I am not an expert on the Vietnam War.  I have not taught this subject in nearly sixteen years.  As a result, I am no position to offer a critique or review of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s PBS documentary, The Vietnam War.  I have now watched the first two episodes and about half of the third episode.  I am enjoying it immensely and learning a lot of new information.

I have also been reading reviews to get a sense of what historians of the era and other commentators have to say. Here are a few that caught my eye:

L.D. Burnett likes it.

Andrew Bacevich says that the series “doesn’t answer the questions about the Vietnam War that many are seeking.”

James Fallows at The Atlantic

Jeremy Kuzmarov says the documentary is “misleading

George Will thinks it is a masterpiece

Jerry Lembcke also thinks it is “flawed

Tim Lacy thinks Burns and Novick do a nice job covering the Diem regime

“Consuming Religion”

LoftonThis is the title of Religious Studies scholar Kathryn Lofton‘s new book.  Over at Religion Dispatches, she answers a ten questions about it.  Here is a taste:

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

First, nobody evades being organized by something; second, if you’re being organized by something, it is worth learning the terms for that organization; third, if you learn one and two, you will be a part of the study of religion.

Every Goldman Sachs employee with whom I met was absolutely comfortable with the word religion applied to their community. Indeed, when I pressed them, saying how many scholars of religion found the term problematic for the following x or y reason, they got it, but they still didn’t care. They didn’t mind the word because they liked how it demonstrated the seriousness, the proud intensity, of their collectivity.

And this is what I want to emphasize in my study of consumer culture and religion: religion is a word for how people consciously organize themselves in the world and unconsciously are organized by the world. Insofar as ours is a world built by material and immaterial networks and grids, I think we’re missing out if we think of those networks and grids as secular or irreligious.

We are missing out insofar as we are missing what I have found as the archival intention of designers. Namely, to organize themselves (and us) into a world they get thereby to organize. The problem of collectivity is the danger of assimilating into any grid. The possibility of collectivity is the strength we have to rewrite our frames, together, to design different societies.

Read the entire interview here.

The Meaning of Trump’s “Winter White House” in the Wake of Irma


Rollins College historian Julian Chambliss puts Mar-a-Lago in some historical context.  He argues that the winter White House is part of a “Florida dream” that is unsustainable.

Here is a taste of Chambliss piece at Boston Review:

Donald Trump calls his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, his “winter White House.” This proclamation has been met with derision as well as outrage about the security costs and conflict of interest. But the sheer hucksterism that has defined Trump’s ownership—buying the once federally owned estate, overcoming local objections by turning it into an exclusive club, and finally using it, in name only, as a public institution—should also interest us. Often casting himself as an aggrieved party fighting entrenched interests in Palm Beach, Trump’s battles there offer a funhouse-mirror version of the common man’s struggle against elites. Presented in the rarified air of Palm Beach, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago travails foreshadowed his current political narrative.

Moreover, Trump’s relationship to Mar-a-Lago and his pursuit of victory there at all costs reveal a regressive vision of community, one that resonates deeply with Florida’s history. For almost 150 years, wealthy outsiders have fought an anemic state over who gets to enjoy paradise. Aggressive development opened up Florida for millions of ordinary Americans, but in the absence of an effective state, wealthy interests have hollowed out prospects for working people, degraded the environment, and made the consumption of Florida a rich man’s game. Mar-a-Lago reflects the legacy of Florida’s past. Given the newly established winter White House, this legacy now belongs to all of us.

Now, with Hurricane Irma’s aftermath certain to shape the state for years to come, the reality of policy inaction and the cost to individuals and communities is clear. Even as Republicans at the national and state level are quick to promise relief, they are equally committed to not talking about the excesses that cause it. As one scientist explained to the New York Times, “We know that as humans, we are all too good at pretending like a risk, even one we know is real, doesn’t matter to us.” In Florida, that natural human tendency has been enhanced by Republican governors who so persistently avoid mentioning the words “climate change” that scientists even “self-censor” their work. Yet, Florida is testament to a reality that cannot be ignored. Even as the state pulls itself together, the uncertain future must contend with a pattern of denial and a history of consumption that many are eager to maintain. Mar-a-Lago reflects this legacy of Florida’s past. Indeed, while the newly established “Southern White House” will no doubt be fine this time, we should care about what Florida’s legacies mean for all of us.

Read the rest here.

Advice on Asking Good Questions


Karen Kelsky, author of the Chronicle of Higher Education advice column “The Professor Is In,” answers a question from a new professor who wants to impress his/her colleagues by asking good questions in departmental seminars and meetings.

Here is the question:

Do you have any tips on how to ask great questions in a departmental seminar? I’m a new hire in a prestigious department, and this is the first way my colleagues size me up. The thing is: I’m not great at formulating articulate, pointed comments. Even with a precirculated paper, my comments often end up being … circuitous. I am trying to work on this skill and have always admired those who — in a few words — manage to distill a paper to its essence.

Here is a taste of Kelsky’s response:

…engaging questions can fit into the following genres. Think of them as templates of sorts and teach yourself to look for places in a talk or a paper where one of these will organically make sense.

  • Clarifying questions: “On page 13, you say X implies Y. Can you say more about how one follows the other?
  • Challenging questions (but be nice about how you ask): “Isn’t it possible that that passage/quote/dataset can be also interpreted in ABC way, which would imply XYZ about the larger argument?”
  • Suggestions disguised as questions: “Do you happen to know the work of this obscure and/or brand-new scholar? They look at XYZ in a way that resonates with your approach. You may find it of interest.”
  • Process questions (which people like because they like talking about their research):“Can you say a little bit about how you chose this particular example/case study/methodology?” (This is really a reliable fallback.)
  • Intellectual-team questions: As long as you are clear on the contribution of the work to a body of theory, you can ask something like, “So, obviously your work speaks to issues in the Big Polarizing Theory Debate. How do you see your research situated in relation to XYZ aspect of this scholarly conversation?

Read the entire piece here.

Historian Richard White on “Home”


Yesterday we posted a link to a History News Network interview with Stanford historian Richard White.

Today, White is back with a piece at on the idea of “home” in America’s Gilded Age.

Here is a taste:

When reduced to the “Home Sweet Home” of Currier and Ives lithographs, the idea of “home” can seem sentimental. Handle it, and you discover its edges. Those who grasped “home” as a weapon caused blood, quite literally, to flow. And if you take the ubiquity of “home” seriously, much of what we presume about 19th-century America moves from the center to the margins. Some core “truths” of what American has traditionally meant become less certain.

It’s a cliché, for example, that 19th-century Americans were individualists who believed in inalienable rights. Individualism is not a fiction, but Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie no more encapsulated the dominant social view of the first Gilded Age than Ayn Rand does our second one. In fact, the basic unit of the republic was not the individual but the home, not so much isolated rights-bearing-citizen as collectives—families, churches, communities, and volunteer organizations. These collectives forged American identities in the late-19th century, and all of them orbited the home. The United States was a collection of homes.

Evidence of the power of the home lurks in places rarely visited anymore. Mugbooks, the illustrated county histories sold door to door by subscription agents, constituted one of the most popular literary genres of the late-19th century. The books became monuments to the home. If you subscribed for a volume, you would be included in it. Subscribers summarized the trajectories of their lives, illustrated on the page. The stories of these American lives told of progress from small beginnings—symbolized by a log cabin—to a prosperous home.

Read the entire piece here.

The Jonathan Edwards Center Adds to its Collection


In case you have not heard, Andover Newton Theological School (Newton, Massachusetts) is now affiliated with Yale Divinity School. According to this piece in the New Haven Register, the merger will bring additional Jonathan Edwards material to the the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.

Here is a taste:

When Andover Newton Theological School announced it would be moving to New Haven and affiliating with Yale Divinity School, Stephen Crocco and Ken Minkema took a special interest.

It meant that a lot of overdue books borrowed from in the seminary’s Jonathan Edwards collection would be returned after about 150 years.

Crocco is the seminary’s librarian and Minkema is executive director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at the divinity school, the premier research institution devoted to one of America’s greatest theologians.

“As Edwards’ editor, it brings great relief, I sleep better at night knowing these things are all reunited again,” said Minkema, who is executive editor of the 26 volumes of “The Works of Jonathan Edwards,” published by Yale University Press.

Andover Newton, the nation’s oldest graduate seminary, announced in 2015 that it would move to New Haven and in July the two schools’ officials signed a formal affiliation agreement. There’s a lot of overlap in the 100,000 volumes being shipped from Newton, Massachusetts, but about a dozen boxes contain the Edwards material.

Read the rest here.