2008/08/23

Candidate Forum

Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Hahaione Elementary School
Mayoral and Board of Education
Candidate Forum

QUESTIONS

Mayoral Candidates – 7:15 to 8:15 p.m.
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (Deleted) zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
(I support Panos Prevedouros).

Board of Education Candidates – 8:20 to 9:30 p.m.
(9 of 12 have confirmed attendance)
Opening Statement (up to 2 minutes):
Why are you running for the Board of Education and how are you qualified?
I want to promote parent control and enhanced student motivation.
I attended Hawaii DOE schools, taught in Hawaii DOE schools from 1982 to 1995, and have been an independent tutor since 1995. I have studied the relation between institutional structure and system performance for nearly 20 years.
Questions (1-minute responses)
1. With 60% of Hawaii's public schools not making adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind, what will you do to improve student achievement?
Student motivation is critical. I will support policies which give parents enhanced control in early years and give students real reasons to do what schools require, in intermediate and high school.
2. Do you believe the DOE’s $2.4 billion operating budget is sufficient, and what will you do to ensure that education funds are wisely spent?
Taxpayers currently spend over $12,000 per pupil-year to operate the Hawaii DOE. This is more than enough. The bureaucratic State-wide DOE cannot use its budget efficiently. Real reform is at least twenty years away. Parents should not wait on politicians to dismantle this corrupt system. Homeschool. Nothing in Hawaii Revised Statutes requires that instruction ocur between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
3. Since the Board of Education appoints and reviews the superintendent and state librarian, how will you ensure their top performance?
Put a gold-medal Olympic sailor behind the wheel of a supertanker with blacked-out windows, busted navigation gear, intermittent engine power, and 20 tons of driftnet hanging from the rudder. You will not get gold-medal performance.
4. In light of Hawaii’s teacher shortage, what will you do to attract and retain highly qualified teachers?
The Legislature has taken this issue from the Board's hands. I will lobby the legislature to abolish the Teacher Standards Board and the State-wide single school district. Principals should be authorized determine credential requirements and to hire the staff they prefer. Parents should have the power to take the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to the school they prefer.
5. With technology providing greater access to information, how can the public libraries best relate to and serve the public?
I would support radical decentralization of the library system. I support community control.
Quickies (30-sec. responses, if time permits):
Do you support random drug testing as agreed to in the teachers’ contract?
I hope teachers can now see one of the disadvantages to State-wide collective bargaining. Let's live (for now) with the contract we negotiated.
Do you support replacing the current BOE and DOE with at least seven “local” boards of education and departments of education?
Smaller is better. The job I'm running for should not exist. By some measures, North Dakota generates the highest performance of any US State. The mean school district size in North Dakota is under 500 students.
Was it appropriate for 651 Hawaii educators to attend the “Model Schools Conference” in Orlando in June at an estimated cost to the state of $1.2 million?
Probably not.

2008/08/14

Arguments for School Choice, Condensed Version

Please read this one page Marvin Minsky comment on school.
Please read this article on artificially extended adolescence by Ted Kolderie.
Please read at least the introductory material in E.G. West, "Education Vouchers in Principle and Practice: A Survey", The World Bank Research Observer (Feb., 1997).
Parent Performance Contracting offers to parents a wide range of options while providing to taxpayers financial and performance accountability for their education subsidies.

What's a "Linear Differential Operator" Anyway?

On Tuesday, 12-Aug.-2008 Eugene So presented his Master's thesis, "Linear Differential Operators and the Distribution of Zeros of Polynomials". I didn't understand a word of it. Eugene invited me to attend since I had tutored him years ago, between third and sixth grade.

His parents, Phil and Myung moved to Hawaii from Korea when Eugene was three years old. Myung taught Eugene to add fractions before he entered kindergarten. Eugene attended government schools through third grade, when his G/T teacher recommended to his parents that they consider a more challenging environment. She recommended that they apply to the Center for Talent Youth (CTY) summer program and to private schools. Phil and Myung brought Eugene to the Han Young English Center and my boss, Mr. Han, gave Eugene to me with the instruction that I prepare him for Punahou's 4th grade entrance exam (Math and English).

Eugene already read English fluently and enjoyed science, so I dealt with the Verbal part by giving him a subscription to Science News and passing on my copies of Scientific American. Nothing enhances English fluency like reading science prose. We began our Math instruction with the language of Set Theory and Logic, then worked through basic Algebra. Punahou accepted Eugene and his younger brother Daniel and gave his parents tuition assistance. Punahou tuition would otherwise have been beyond their reach.

My next assignment was to prepare Eugene for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) which CTY uses to determine eligibility. A score of 1200 or better before age 13 qualifies. We continued with Algebra. Eugene qualified and attended CTY camp in Pasadena in the summer between 4th and 5th grades.

Eugene taught himself Trigonometry and in the summer between his sixth and seventh grades a generous instructor (PhD candidate) in the UH Math Department, Monica Vo, allowed him to sit (unregistered) through a Calculus I class at the University of Hawaii. She graded his homework and tests as though he was enrolled. He earned a B. In his seventh grade, Eugene participated in the Math Counts competition and earned the highest score in the Hawaii State-level competion. The Iolani team placed first overall, so the team which Hawaii sent to the national contest consisted of the Iolani team plus Eugene.

Eugene again sat through a class (Calculus II) in the summer between his seventh and eighth grade years. We then appealed to Punahou to configure his class schedule to allow him to attend Math classes at the University during the regular school year. This was not possible due to the rotatinig class schedule which Punahou uses, so his parents decided to homeschool him. In practice, this meant that they went to work and Eugene spent his time in UH Math classes or in Hamilton Library. That year, Eugene participated in the Math Counts competition as a homeschooler, again taking the top place and traveling to the mainland with the Iolani team. Myung graciously listed me as his coach although I had stopped instructing him two years earlier.

Based on faculty recommendations the University of Hawaii finally allowed Eugene to enroll officially, in Math classes only, and Eugene worked through more 200 to 400 level classes than the University requires for a B.S. in Math. He took the GRE (Math specialty) at age 16 and the Math Department accepted him as a graduate student a few weeks before he turned 17. Eugene went straight from intermediate school to grad school, with no high school or undergraduate degree. It took a while, but he finally got his master's degree. The University of Pennsylvania has accepted him into their graduate program, on a full scholarship.

I got a chance to say farewell today (13-Aug.-2008) when I joined Phil, Myung, Eugene, Daniel, and Dr. Marvin Ortel (a key advisor in his carreer) for lunch at Assaggio's. Phil is full-time enlisted in the Army Reserves (he's one of those people who keep Reserve units alive while the units are inactive), so the family will fly MAC to Philadelphia to help Eugene settle in. Daniel will continue at Punahou (he's a junior now). Eugene is not yet 20.

At lunch today Eugene observed that Punahou found ways to accommodate the golfer Michelle Wie's career (she and Eugene were classmates). We had to work to find ways to accommodate Eugene's talents and the path we found may not be easy for others to follow, but I wonder how much talent never finds such opportunities for development. Is it only because we have clear measures of Math ability that the path opened to Eugene? If some auto mechanic or chef were to mentor a mechanical or culinary prodigy, would child labor laws and compulsory attendance laws permit such accommodation as we found for Eugene?

In an earlier version of this post I placed CTY before Eugene's 4th grade year. I corrected the timeline and will ask Myung for confirmation. No big deal, I hope.

2008/08/11

Olelo Presentation

Here's my Olelo "Candidates in Focus" presentation. I had to cut a bit to say this all within the five minute time limit. Links support the points.

Hello. I am Malcolm Kirkpatrick. I am a candidate for the Board of Education, Honolulu District. I graduated from Roosevelt High School, got a BA in Math and a PD in Secondary Math Education from the University of Hawaii, and taught in the Hawaii DOE schools from 1982 to 1995. Currently I tutor.

Albert Einstein opposed compulsory attendance at school. He made the following analogy: Take any healthy animal and identify its favorite food. You can kill that animal's appetite for that food by force feeding. This is compulsory schooling. Gandhi opposed compulsory schooling (The Story of My Experiments with the Truth, Chpt. 59).

What we in the US call "the public school system" consists of students and teachers and much more: tax subsidies to the education industry, compulsory attendance laws, Government-operated schools, and policies which restrict parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' education subsidy to schools operated by government employees. Defenders of this system make their case out of vague generalizations and demonstrable falsehoods. They will say that democracy and a strong economy depend on "public education". The implications, that to maintain democracy and promote economic progress, governments must compel attendance, subsidize schooling, and operate schools, are all demonstrably false.

Education and Democracy

First: most of the delegates to the convention which created the US Constitution did not attend government schools. Most of the British colonies which became the original 13 States did not compel attendance at government-operated schools.
Second: government operation of schools is not necessary to maintain democracy. In Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Hong Kong, most students take tax subsidies to private and parochial schools. Compulsory attendance at government-operated schools is a feature of totalitarian governments, like Cuba, North Korea, and the countries of the pre-1991 Warsaw Pact.

Education and economic growth

Richard Arkwright was homeschooled. James Hargreaves never attended school. Cyrus McCormick was homeschooled. Thomas Edison was homeschooled, and went to work at age 13. Hyram Maxim left school at 13 and apprenticed. The Wright brothers were high school dropouts. Sam Colt went to sea at 16 and carved a wooden model of his idea, the revolver mechanism, between Boston and Bombay (Deleted for brevity).

It does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom.

Defenders of the current system will say that schools provide necessary opportunities for socialization. This socialization argument works against compulsory attendance at a State-monopoly school system (Deleted). School is bad socialization. In Hawaii, juvenile arrests for assault, property crimes, drug possession and drug promotion rise when school is in session. Juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma rise when school is in session.

The education industry does not qualify as a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level the education industry does not exhibit significant economies of scale at the delivery end as it currently operates. "Natural monopoly" and "economies of scale" are two usual welfare-economic arguments for government operation of an industry. Even when an industry qualifies as a natural monopoly or exhibits significant economies of scale, the case for government operation is not decisive, and in any case, the education industry does not qualify as a natural monopoly and it does not exhibit significant economies of scale (deleted for brevity). Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not government operation of an industry.

Defenders of the State school system will say, as though it's a point of pride: "I believe in the public school system". School is a means, not an end in itself. Mark Twain once wrote "I never let schooling interfere with my education". I too believe in the public school system. I also believe in earthquakes, cholera, and crablice and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. The incumbent, Denise Matsumoto, supports this system. She voted to hire Paul Lemahieu. She voted to approve his performance as Superintendent scant weeks before he resigned in disgrace. She testified against the Governor's proposal to decentralize the Hawaii public school system and move control closer to parents.

The US and Hawaii public school systems originated in anti-Catholic bigotry and survive on dedicated lobbying by current recipients of the taxpayers' $2.4 billion+ annual revenue stream. "Public education" has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the HSAT/HGEA/UPW cartel, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected contractors, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. If this is not so, why cannot any student take the GED at any age and apply the taxpayers' education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified private-sector employer?

If recent histroy is any guide, your neighbors will return incumbents to office. These incumbents will protect this wasteful, abusive system. Parents should not rely on politicians to fix this system. Nothing in Hawaii Revised Statutes requires that homeschooling instruction occur between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. It's legal to extend daycare to age 18 and provide instruction in the evening.

My name is Malcolm Kirkpatrick, and I do not support the current State-monopoly school system. I support parent control. Students, parents, real classroom teachers, and taxpayers would benefit from policies which give to individual parents the power to determine which institution shall receive the taxpayers' pre-college education subsidy.

Thank you for your attention.

2008/08/05

Ed in '08: Hawaii Board of Education (2)

At least twenty years must pass before the political system of Hawaii reforms the Hawaii Department of Education. Effective political reform will require:
1) A majority on the Board in favor of policies which give to individual parents the power to determine which institution (if any) shall receive the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy.
2) A majority in the Legislature in favor of parent control.
3) A Hawaii Supreme Court which puts the interests of families and taxpayers, or a normal iterpretation of the law, above the interests of the public-sector unions and other contractors to the current system.

Provision #3, above, will require Governors who appoint judges who do not contort the law in favor of public-sector unions or other contractors to the system, and confirmation by a legislature similarly disposed. This must occur for long enough that the current Hawaii Supreme Court has been replaced by judges more concerned for the law and for children than for contractors' bank balances. This is decades away.

School voucher legislation will require a Constitutional amendment. The Hawaii Constitution, Article X section 1) says:
Section 1. The State shall provide for the establishment, support and control of a statewide system of public schools free from sectarian control, a state university, public libraries and such other educational institutions as may be deemed desirable, including physical facilities therefor. There shall be no discrimination in public educational institutions because of race, religion, sex or ancestry; nor shall public funds be appropriated for the support or benefit of any sectarian or nonsectarian private educational institution, except that proceeds of special purpose revenue bonds authorized or issued under section 12 of Article VII may be appropriated to finance or assist:

1. Not-for-profit corporations that provide early childhood education and care facilities serving the general public; and
2. Not-for-profit private nonsectarian and sectarian elementary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities.
Although Parent Performance Contracting (PPC) would require no new legal authority (the DOE already hires service providers on personal service contracts), the public-sector unions would certainly take PPC to court. If the Board enacts PPC, the current crop of judges would rule that the program needed legislative approval. If the legislature mandates PPC, the court would rule that PPC was properly the Board's responsibility. PPC just might win in court if both the Legislature and the Board endorse it, but even that is uncertain and in any case that will not happen soon.

To design reform policies for a political environment in which system insiders and Hawaii judges support parent control or, at least, do not oppose it, is to design policy for a dreamworld. UPW State Director Gary Rodrigues served three successive terms on the Judicial Selection Commission. The damage which system insiders (politicians, public-sector unions, Professors of Education, and contractors) inflict on children, families, and taxpayers might as well occur on the other side of the Earth for all the impact it has on insiders' comfortable air-conditioned lives. When was the last time you wept for cyclone victims in Bangladesh?

Responsible parents will not rely on politicians to fix this broken system. A loving mother can teach her child to read (decode the phonetic alphabet) before that child can speak. Homeschool. Parents need not sacrifice an income to homeschool, since nothing in Hawaii Revised Statutes requires that instruction occur between 8:00 am. and 2:30 pm. As I read it, parents can legally extend daycare to age 18 and provide instruction in the evening.

[§302A-1132] Attendance compulsory; exceptions. (a) Unless excluded from school or excepted from attendance, all children who will have arrived at the age of at least six years, and who will not have arrived at the age of eighteen years, by January 1 of any school year, shall attend either a public or private school for, and during, the school year, and any parent, guardian, or other person having the responsibility for, or care of, a child whose attendance at school is obligatory shall send the child to either a public or private school. Attendance at a public or private school shall not be compulsory in the following cases:...
...
(4) Where the child has graduated from high school;

(5) Where the child is enrolled in an appropriate alternative educational program as approved by the superintendent or the superintendent's authorized representative in accordance with the plans and policies of the department, or notification of intent to home school has been submitted to the principal of the public school that the child would otherwise be required to attend in accordance with department rules adopted to achieve this result;...
Consider this carefully: "or notification of intent to home school has been submitted to the principal of the public school that the child would otherwise be required to attend in accordance with department rules adopted to achieve this result..." "This result" means "attendance at 'the public school that the child would otherwise be required to atend' ". All that is required is "notification". Nothing in this statute authorizes the DOE to impose on parents a requirement that instruction occur between 8:00 am. and 2:30 pm.

Provision 4, above, offers some children an alternative escape route. Some countries condition high school graduation on an exit exam (e.g., the British A-level exams). Parents could take a vacation to such a country and return to Hawaii with a 14-year-old high school graduate, exempt from compulsory attendance.

Why bother? This is what system insiders and their media shills defend.

Roland Meighan, "Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications", Educational Review, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995.
The issue of social skills. One edition of Home School Researcher, Volume 8, Number 3, contains two research reports on the issue of social skills. The first finding of the study by Larry Shyers (1992) was that home-schooled students received significantly lower problem behavior scores than schooled children. His next finding was that home-schooled children are socially well adjusted, but schooled children are not so well adjusted. Shyers concludes that we are asking the wrong question when we ask about the social adjustment of home-schooled children. The real question is why is the social; adjustment of schooled children of such poor quality?

The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school...
12. So-called 'school phobia' is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependancy is a largely unrecognized mental health problem...
San Francisco Chronicle 2005-Nov.-01
The UC Berkeley-Stanford study found that all children who attended preschool at least 15 hours a week displayed more negative social behaviors such as trouble cooperating or acting up, when compared with their peers. The discrepancies were most pronounced among children from higher-income families...
Children from lower-income families lagged behind their peers who didn't attend preschool an average of 7 percentage points on the measure of social behavioral growth. But children from higher-income families lagged 9 percentage points behind their peers. These wealthier children did even worse when they attended preschool for 30 hours or more: They trailed their peers by 15 percentage points...
"It's not clear why children from higher-income families exhibit more negative behaviors than their stay-at-home peers. Fuller speculated their peers might be in enriching home environments that include things like trips to the library as well as dance and music lessons. Other studies have found childcare centers negatively affect children's social development", said Jay Belsky, director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birkbeck University of London, in an e-mail interview.
"It is time to come to grips with what all too many have denied for all too long, namely, that all disconcerting news about adverse effects cannot be attributed to low-quality care, which has been more or less the mantra of the field of child development and the child-care advocacy community for decades", Belsky said.
Clive Harber, "Schooling as Violence", p. 9, Educatioinal Review V. 54, #1.
Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it...

"...It is almost certainly more damaging for children to be in school than to out of it. Children whose days are spent herding animals rather than sitting in a clasroom at least develop skills of problem solving and independence while the supposedly luckier ones in school are stunted in their mental, physical, and emotional development by being rendered pasive, and by having to spend hours each day in a crowded classroom under the control of an adult who punishes them for any normal level of activity such as moving or speaking."
Kohn, "Constant Frustration and Occasional Violence", American School Board Journal, September 1999.
(Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education, Stanford University): "...(M)any well-known adolescent difficulties are not intrinsic to the teenage years but are related to the mismatch between adolescents' developmental needs and the kinds of experiences most junior high and high schools provide. When students need close affiliation, they experience large depersonalized schools; when they need to develop autonomy, they experience few opportunities for choice and punitive approaches to discipline..."
Karen Brockenbrough, Dewey G. Cornell, Ann B. Loper, "Aggressive Attitudes Among Victims of Violence at School", Education and the Treatment of Children, V. 25, #3, Aug., 2002.
Violence at school is a prevalent problem. According to a national survey of school proncipals (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1998), over 200,000 serious fights or physical attacks occurred in public schools during the 1996-1997 school year. Serious violent crimes occurred in approximately 12% of middle schools and 13% of high schools. Student surveys (Kann et al, 1995) indicate even higher rates of aggressive behavior. Approximately 16.2% of high school students nationwide reported involvement in a physical fight at school during a 30-day period, and 11.8% reported carrying a weapon on school property (Kann et al, 1995).
Research on victims of violence at school suggests that repeated victimization has detrimental effects on a child's emotional and social development.


Please read this one page Marvin Minsky comment on school.
Please read this article on artificially extended adolescence by Ted Kolderie.

Ed in '08: Hawaii Board of Education (1)

Three candidates filed petitions with the State of Hawaii Office of Elections for the Honolulu seat on the State of Hawaii Board of Education. The incumbent, Denise Matsumoto, seeks another 4-year term. Carol Mon Lee and Malcolm Kirkpatrick will compete with Denise Matsumoto for the office. In Hawaii, School Board contests occur at the same time as primary and general elections for other offices. The Hawaii Revised Statutes provides that:...
§13-1 Board members; number.
(a) The board of education shall consist of thirteen members who shall be elected by the registered voters of two at-large school board districts as follows:

First school board district: the island of Oahu, comprised of the 11th through the 48th and a portion of the 49th (that portion found on the island of Oahu) representative districts, and the

Second school board district: the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Kauai, and Niihau, comprised of the 1st through the 10th, a portion of the 49th (that portion found on the island of Kauai), and the 50th and 51st representative districts.

(b) Ten members shall be elected at-large from the first school board district. Of the ten members elected at-large from that district, one shall be a resident of the third departmental school district (Honolulu), one shall be a resident of the fourth departmental school district (Central Oahu), one shall be a resident of the fifth departmental school district (Leeward Oahu), and one shall be a resident of the sixth departmental school district (Windward Oahu).


If you think this is complicated, just browse the rest of the "Education" statutes in Hawaii Revised Statutes.

Anyway, I'm in this contest. I recommend the experience of campaigning for elective office. Once the Office of Elections verifies the signatures on a citizen's petition for a place on the ballot, the volume of mail delivered to that citizen rises dramatically. Printers and others with specialized advertising expertise offer their services. Various charitable organizations solicit donations (wait a minute. I'm the politician. Aren't you supposed to bribe me? Oh, maybe that's after I get elected.). I suppose the idea is that the organization's officers will recommend a vote for the candidate who makes the largest donation. Newspapers and interest groups mail candidate surveys. So far this cycle I have received surveys from The Honolulu Advertiser, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the Family Forum, the Hawaii State Teachers' Association, and the Hawaii Rifle Association. In prior elections, the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered Task Force and the Ka Lahui native Hawaiian organization sent surveys. This is fun. For a $25 filing fee I get to criticize the Hawaii DOE in public and the news media get to ignore the criticism I deliver at public forums.

The Office of Elections provides to candidates a platform for a public profile, and I wrote this...

2008/08/03

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (11-Dec.-1918--3-Aug.-2008), Farewell

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died today, Sunday, 3-August-2008. The most important 20th Century writer in any language, and a great Russian patriot, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn's non-fiction The Gulag Archepelago exposed at length and in harrowing detail the horror of the Soviet labor camps. Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

Solzhenitsyn first came to the world's attention during Chairman Nikita Krushchev's brief post-Stalin thaw, with the publication in Novy Mir of the short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. The thaw did not last but the publication of One Day... prompted many labor camp survivors to write to Solzhenitsyn and supply him with material for his later work. In his autobiographical works Solzhenitsyn expressed his gratitude to the Novy Mir Editor Aleksandr Tvardovsky for his courage in publishing One Day... and most poignantly at Tvardovsky's funeral, where he kissed the forehead of his departed friend.

Solzhenitsyn's literary range includes short fiction (e.g., For the Good of the Cause, Matryona's Home), novels (e.g., The First Circle, The Cancer Ward, August, 1914), historical non-fiction works (The Gulag Archepelago), autobiography (The Oak and the Calf, Invisible Allies), prose poem sketches (The Easter Procession, Freedom to Breathe), plays (Candle in the Wind, The Love-Girl and the Innocent), and polemics (Warning to the West, Harvard Commencement address). His emotional range was as wide, from towering anger through irony, clinical detachment, and gentle humor, on through gratitude, pity, sorrow, and love. The Gulag Archepelago spans all this range. Love radiates from Matryona's Home, for the old woman who provides the narrator a place to live and for the Russian language.

Solzhenitsyn selected his words with care, with attention to their etymology; in the opening passage of Matryona's Home the narrator contrasts the (Soviet) name of the town to which the parole authorities send him ("Torfoprodukt" = "peat produce") with the village where he settles (Talnovo). Two of his novels became movies: The First Circle and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. In an interview, Solzhenitsyn said he liked the adaptation of One Day... but not The First Circle. The movie "One Day..." was filmed in the middle of the Finland winter, for realism.

I have not read the revised version of August, 1914 or the sequels, November, 1916, March, 1917, in this cycle (the entire cycle is called The Red Wheel), his suppressed and disavowed play The Feast of the Victors, or some essays written for periodicals. The recent Solzhenitsyn Reader contains some new material.

Readers new to Solzhenitsyn will develop a taste for his work if they start with the short stories and shorter novels. I am not a fan of plays by any author, so it may reflect that disposition and not Solzhenitsyn's talents that I find his plays the weakest of his works. People who say that they tried to read Solzhenitsyn but gave up usually made the mistake of starting with the Gulag.... I recommend Matryona's Home or One Day in the Life... to start, then The Cancer Ward or August, 1914. Give yourself a chance to develop a taste for his style before you read The First Circle and The Gulag Archepelago.

Before his exile, friends allowed Solzhenitsyn to stay at a country house where he could work in solitude. In one of his autobiographical works, he describes a daily routine of 16-hour days writing. In The First Circle, and The Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn meditates on the responsibilities of individuals relative to institutions. In The Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn addresses the question: When may one individual prescribe for another? Solzhenitsyn answers: Where there is a bond of love between them, and this love cannot be an abstract, self-congratulatory Marxist "love of the people", but must be personal. The dramatic peak moment in the story occurs when the doctor Vera Gangart persuades the exile Oleg Kostoglotov to pour away a folk remedy for his cancer and to put his life in her hands.

Returning to my preoccupation, the application to US education policy should be obvious.

I used to tell my students that there are few good people on this planet. We cannot be good, but we can aspire to be better: a bit better today than we were yesterday and a bit better tomorrow than we were today. Solzhenitsyn was one of those few good people.

Update (5-Aug.-2008): Please read this.
Update (6-Aug.-2008): Please read this. Thanks to Five Feet of Fury for the link.