Friday, August 29, 2008

The Grand Inquisitor

I've read a few graphic novelizations of literary classics -- Kafka's Metamorphosis prominent among them. When I picked up John Zmirak and Carla Millar's The Grand Inquisitor, I expected something similar. That's not what I got. Instead, I got a traditionalist Catholic retelling of Dostoyevsky's tale from The Brothers Karamazov. And what a retelling. Dostoyevsky told the story of a Christ reborn in Spain who is interrogated by a Spanish Inquisitor. The Inquisitor informs Christ that humans cannot ever hope to live up to his ideas so instead, the Church has established a system of fear, punishments, and control to make their journey to heaven easier.

Zmirak and Millar's retelling casts an African priest from Darfur as the Christ-like figure who finds himself in Rome in the midst of a contentious papal election. The Inquisitor is a liberal cardinal who argues that the liberalization of the Church has been done so that people cannot see the difference between sin and salvation. This would make them innocent of sin and allow them entrance into heaven. The cardinal imprisons the African priest in a mental hospital and uses therapeutic techniques to show the priest the error of his ways.

In evaluating this, I'm of two minds here. As a piece of theology, this book is stunning in its audacity. It is unabashedly traditionalist in its Catholicism. As a one-time traditionalist who still has a soft-spot for this sort of thing, I find the piece refreshing. Ten years ago I would have been floored by how amazing this is. And for traditionalists, this undoubtedly will be. Zmirak and Millar are unrepentant papalists and exclusivists -- for them "extra ecclesiam nulla salus". Islam has nothing to offer but oppression and falsity. Liberals are degenerates at worst and misguided paternalists at best. There's little room for subtlety here. As I've matured as a Catholic, I find this world view stunning in its reductionism and intolerance.

But as a piece of art, this book really is an achievement. The illustrations are beautiful and disturbing, reminding me of Bosch and Bruegel's work with wonderfully out of place portraits of Stalin and Malcolm X thrown in. The writing is poetic and truly lyrical. In the end, this is truly a great book in service of a questionable cause.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rethinking the BA

I'm generally not a big fan of Charles Murray (think the whole "Bell Curve" issue), but he has a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that questions our whole system of undergraduate education. Here's a sample:

"Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Losing Control of the News

David Carr has an article in the New York Times outlining the steady loss of control of content by the traditional media. Carr does a great job of providing specific examples -- notably the Beijing Olympics -- of how all of these new fangled we applications are changing who determines what the news is. Essentially, the argument boils down to "content is cheap"; something people like Will Richardson have said on many occasions about education. Are we losing authoritative control over knowledge and if so, what does this changing landscape mean for educators?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

East German Nuclear Bunkers

I visited East Germany in 1988, a few months before the Berlin Wall came down. It was an interesting visit filled with everything you'd imagine -- gun-toting guards, waiting in lines, wandering through WWII-era bombed out buildings, etc. YouTube has an amazing video of an East German nuclear bunker designed to house Erich Honecker and his posse.

Monday, August 25, 2008


The Washinton Post has an article that shows how changing demographics are impacting the school-age population. In several nearby counties, the number of "minority" under-5 children has surpassed the "majority". Our population is changing and I wonder if schools are ready for the increased numbers of different cultures we're about to face in our schools. This trend is about to occur in the overall U.S. population in the next few decades. I look at this as an exciting opportunity for intercultural interactions, but there are bound to be bumps in the road as multiple distinctly different cultures begin to mix. My hope is that schools facilitate this process in a way that respects the differences but also allows for common ground and teaches responsible participation in our democratic system. I guess that sounds vague, but I worry about nativist reactions shutting down this development.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summer Reading/Summer Homework

Another article from the Washington Post, this time on the impact of summer reading/summer homework on kids. The article does a good job looking at the differing opinions. As a parent making sure my kids finish up their assignments, I definitely see both sides of this issue.