Getting my Bearings 

A moment of quiet on the University of Chicago quad.

There is little that is more wonderful than fall on a college campus, especially when you no longer need to worry about grades, tuition, or a hangover.

I am going back to school, this time around for aught more than to learn for the joy of learning.


Patch of the Month: National HQ

One of our few “fun” stops on our recent trek to Dallas was a stop at the National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America, which has been in Texas since moving from New Jersey in 1979. The building is massive but utilitarian, reflecting the approach of an organization that is increasingly focused on economy.

Sadly, this is the headquarters of a shrinking organization. We’re down to about 2 million registered scouts, a not-insubstantial number to be sure, but a far cry from the numbers in the past. While the program has done a truly unbelievable job of remaining up-to-date and relevant (far more than it was in my day, to be sure, when the organization had become hidebound), some organizational issues (now addressed) and the battle for the time and attention of young people have combined to take its toll on the organization.

I fear that in order to survive, Scouting in the USA will need to cut back on the number of organizations, and move toward a unification of Boy and Girl Scouting.

In the meantime, though, I will dedicate my spare time to supporting the organization, its units, and the youth who make up the organization. I can think of no worthier cause, political correctness be damned.

The Return of the Canon

The library at Melk Abbey

I think elites abandoned the Western Canon in part because Mortimer Adler et. al. made it “middlebrow” during the mid-20th Century via the Great Books series.

That’s rather ironic, given that there is nothing middlebrow about Heroditus or Henry James.

I think now we’re coming full-circle, returning to the Canon, albeit with some interesting additions – more women, more “people of color.” I expect the Canon will grow, and that the intellectual fights going forward will be about what to add, not what to eliminate.

Coffee Mug of the Month: Easing Back into the Classroom

Returning higher education after an absence of nearly three decades – and while working a big job, being an engaged dad, a supportive husband, and an committed scouter – demands a VERY gradual approach.

Fortunately, the classroom is no longer the sole locus of education, and I can get some “enrichment” style learning under my belt as I build school back into my schedule. I’ve gone through four of The Great Courses (which are truly excellent, BTW) and have a dozen more ahead. By the time I hit my Fourth Age, I will be ready for the lecture hall, if not the Blue Book.

Triton, Always

It was a joy being at UCSD again, if only for a few hours. That the place had changed radically – particularly the physical plant – over the 32 years since I left was hardly a surprise. The campus was barely older than I was when I arrived as an eighteen year old freshman in the fall of 1982. We were still using temporary buildings and remnants of USMC Camp Matthews for everything from administrators offices to the registrar, the bookstore, and the tree-girt home of the UCSD Guardian. A clutch of modern buildings notwithstanding, it still felt like we were an ersatz campus.

The addition of scores of new buildings, legions of additional students, and a brace of new graduate and professional schools in the decades since has not stomped out the fundamental culture. Rejecting many of the traditional core social activities of American university life (big sports, big greeks, ROTC, etc) has made activities much more student-focused and student-serving and thus more diverse and intimate. The Oxbridge-inspired system of colleges that make up the university – now six – have kept the small-school feeling on a campus that now educates 35,000 students.

Walking the pathways brought back a flood of memories, one of which was that in my heart of hearts, I had not really wanted to leave. I went, finally, because I wanted to major in international relations, follow a girl, and find a place with a somewhat more traditional college feel. The day I crammed my possessions into my hatchback and headed north, I refused to look back for a last glimpse. By the time I passed San Elijo Lagoon, I was weeping.

I have not regretted since then my transfer to UC Davis: it was evident within days of my arrival that Davis was a much better fit for me, and evidence has and continues to mount that I made the perfect move, regardless of my motives and feelings at the time.

But a walk through the eucalyptus groves on a La Jolla bluff above the Pacific closed and open loop in my heart. I am also an alumnus, and UCSD will always be a part of me, one of a small but going coterie of “kind mothers.”

Boy. Cheder. Snow.



Ganeinu School
Kangyingcun Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
February 2006

Aaron and schoolmates at the Ganeinu school frolicking in the snow. He doesn’t look much like a four-year old, but he was.

The times at Ganeinu were happy for Aaron and happy for us. Morah Dini and all of her morayim made Aaron’s pre-school and kindergarten a magnificent mix of Judaism, Hebrew, Chinese, and secular learning.