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New Articles on New Trier’s Experiment

“You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” — O’Brien, 1984 by George Orwell

1984It is with irony that this quote from Orwell’s classic novel comes to mind. I recently wrote for a suburban Chicago publication about what was for me a painful, if mercifully brief, modern education experience during my youth. It was a high school within a high school called the Center for Self-Directed Learning, part of a New Left educational movement that sprouted in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Center, as it was known, occupied New Trier’s room 101.

The former study hall had been converted in 1972 into the place where 600 students, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R, IL) and actress Virginia Madsen, would enter and exit during the course of their high school studies. The Center existed for 10 years without grades, teaching or classes. I recently interviewed the school’s co-founder, Arline Paul (read the interview here), the only New Trier faculty member to serve during the Center’s entire existence. Mrs. Paul, who had taught me political science in the traditional high school, was assigned as my “facilitator”, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview for the local newspaper. I asked tough questions and she answered them. It is interesting to go back and revisit high school as a journalist covering this radical experiment. I also reviewed the book of faculty and student memoirs she co-edited (read the review here). I wanted to provide a clear, factual account of this example of modern education.

My overall experience in government-sponsored education was atrocious. It was so bad that the quote from Orwell’s 1984 – which, ironically, I read while enrolled as a student in the Center – strikes me as an apt prelude for these articles about the Center. I’ve already heard from one reader who defends the whim-based approach to education. I have also heard from another reader. He tells me that he is young and that he, too, experienced the ravages of today’s modern, anti-conceptual education. He wrote to tell me that, after reading what I reported about the widely acclaimed New Trier, he thinks that his experience was worse. This is what I hope to counter. This is why I wrote these pieces, which I intend as an honest report and review of the facts of modern education.

Essay on Los Angeles Riots (1992)

LA Riots book cover

Buy the Book

My 2012 essay, “Remembering the 1992 Los Angeles Riots,” is reprinted with my permission in Cengage Learning’s Greenhaven Press textbook, The 1992 Los Angeles Riots (April 2014). Read the essay, originally published on Capitalism Magazine, here. The book is part of Cengage’s Perspectives on Modern World History educational series.

According to the publisher, each volume in the series opens with background information — including primary source material — covering periods leading up to, during and after the event. Then, each volume offers an in-depth perspective on the controversies surrounding the event and the current implications or long-lasting effects. Each volume concludes with first-person narratives from people who lived through or were directly impacted by the event. Cengage says that essays are compiled from a variety of sources and included to provide context for readers unfamiliar with the historical event. I worked with Cengage and approved the reprinted essay and pull quotes. My thesis is that the riots were fundamentally caused by President George H.W. Bush. A slightly longer version of the essay, which included a personal account of how I escaped an attack by rioters, was posted on my Web site. Cengage says that Perspectives on Modern World History exists to foster critical thinking skills, support student debate assignments, increase global awareness and enhance understanding.

Features of each volume include annotated table of contents, introduction to the topic, a world map, three chapters that contain essays focusing on general background information, multinational perspectives and first-person narratives, full-color photographs, charts, maps and other illustrations, sidebars highlighting related topics, a glossary of key terms, chronology, bibliography of books, periodicals and Web sites and an index. I wrote the essay in conjunction with the riots’ 20th anniversary.

We the Living in 2014

Ayn Rand was asked to adapt her first novel, We the Living, which was published 78 years ago this week and has sold 3 million copies since, for the theatre and I recently learned that two never-before published versions of her stage play will be published this fall.

UncconqueredPalMacmillanAccording to Amazon’s book page for The Unconquered: With Another, Earlier Adaptation of We the Living, the hardcover volume by Rand will feature “the first and last versions (the latter entitled The Unconquered)…[w]ith a preface that places the work in its historical and political context, an essay on the history of the theatrical adaptation … and two alternative endings…” The new work is edited by philosophy professor Robert Mayhew, whom I interviewed five years ago about the novel. He also teaches at OCON.

WetheLivingWe the Living is a bitter tale of a triangle in Soviet Russia and an epic story of ideas, love and life. The 1936 novel, which I wrote about for an article distributed by Scripps Howard and again in a review of the movie adaptation, is haunting, unforgettable and helpful to living everyday life.

Studies in Storytelling

This summer, I studied both Aristotle’s Poetics and short stories by O. Henry at the annual Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Chicago and earlier this week I finished attending the first Story Expo writers’ conference here in Los Angeles, where I had the privilege of studying with film scholars, published authors and agents and managers.

One of them is Cal State Northridge graduate studies screenwriting professor Eric Edson, author of The Story Solution, which he was kind enough to sign for me, who has made unique formulations about cinematic heroism that amazingly do not preclude the hero acting in his own self-interest. Something about him reminded me of Roark’s mentor in The Fountainhead, Henry Cameron.

The Fountainhead brings me to the fact that September 11 has a new, happier meaning for me after learning yesterday that my application for admission to Leonard Peikoff’s new writing course, predicated on an entrance essay assignment on ‘Why I Like The Fountainhead’, was accepted. Class starts this week with a new lecture on writing by Dr. Peikoff, who studied with Ayn Rand for 30 years, is Objectivism’s foremost authority and has written three books.

By now, I know what I know and don’t know about storytelling and, as I finish another manuscript and continue works in progress, I am thrilled to be studying again with a true master of the art of thinking.

the-fountainheadHere’s the entrance essay I wrote for my application.

Why I Like The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead makes me think—about art, work and life. The story of an orange-haired architect named Howard Roark, who builds because he wants to build, is an intense, complex and epic tale about the glory of the rational man’s life. It is the type of life I want to live.

The Fountainhead helps me to live it. That Roark achieves success based on reason, individualism and egoism, against the entire world, including those he loves, makes Ayn Rand’s novel a deeper, more radical work of art, which provides an example of the ideal man.

Though I know it’s a novel, not propaganda, and I’ve noticed that some people try to use The Fountainhead as if it’s the latter, missing Rand’s whole point, I find a wealth of such examples. Even in the smallest characters. In fact, few of the less appealing characters are irredeemable—Katie, Peter and other mixed characters come to mind—which makes it easier to realize that, despite the similarities, I can make better choices in the future and that’s more important than having made mistakes in the past. It helps me realize that perfection is possible.

I like The Fountainhead for its expression of an intransigent mind, an unconquerable hero who makes mistakes, delays short-term gratification, sticks to his principles—and lives happily thereafter. I like The Fountainhead for its contrasts among an intricate cast of characters and for the seriousness of purpose with which it tells Roark’s towering story. And how rare it is to find books about people like me, who struggle, fail and feel pain while trying in a troubled world to accomplish goals and achieve happiness. But the truth is that I love The Fountainhead for giving me, in sum total and to borrow Ayn Rand’s phrase describing what Roark gives to a child who’s seen what he’s made, the courage to face a lifetime.

Chicago in the Summertime

Sitting in the room where I wrote my first stories as a boy, I am looking out at the lush green trees and lawns of Chicago’s north shore suburbs while taking a break from writing an article for a local newspaper, preparing for a course on one of my favorite writers, O. Henry, at Chicago’s first Objectivist Conference (OCON) and looking forward to my first visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesinin Spring Green, Wisconsin.

On the eve of this year’s OCON, I’ve posted an exclusive report about Ayn Rand in Chicago, where the philosopher lived in 1926 when she first came to America from Soviet Russia, returning in 1947 and again in 1963, when Rand faced the threat of an initiation of physical force at McCormick Place, where her scheduled lecture, “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” sold out. I spoke with the event’s organizer, who remembered Leonard Peikoff as “brilliant” in an exclusive interview, and architect Harry Newman, who attended the lecture with his wife Ruby as part of Rand’s entourage, and Ayn Rand biographer Shoshana Milgram (who is also a friend) gave me an enormous amount of useful information. I think the article, intended for print publication and posted on Capitalism Magazine, may be the single most comprehensive article about Ayn Rand in Chicago.

Both Ayn Rand and Chicago represent the spirit of 1776, independence – a virtue in the Objectivist ethics and a crucial characteristic to creating a great industrial city on a great lake – so posting this piece today, on the Fourth of July, when we celebrate America’s independence, makes me happy. Though I fear that the spirit of individualism is diminished across the disintegrating West, by refueling my own spirit and writing these stories during a hometown visit, my goal is to reignite that all-American spirit of ’76.