The Sunday Post for February 3, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

How a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Smashed the Gender Divide in American High Schools

At thirteen, Alice de Rivera decided that the right school for her was not the local public — weak in STEM, weak in support from teachers —  but Stuyvesant High, an all-boys school celebrated for its math and science classes. With consent from, but not driven by, her parents, she found a lawyer willing to push the case and was admitted after a media circus that today would surely have brought Twitter to its knees. Although de Rivera never attended Stuyvesant (her parents shuffled her out of the public eye, after her very public win), she was the tip of the wedge that pried Stuyvesant open for other young women. Laurie Gwen Shapiro visited Alice to hear the story firsthand.

De Rivera lives in a farmstead that was built in the eighteen-twenties, far outside of town, and hidden among the trees. My Uber driver went back and forth several times before de Rivera, a trim sixty-three-year-old in a plaid flannel shirt, walked down the snowy road to find me. She was instantly recognizable from her old, teen-age press photos. She brought me inside, and we sat at her kitchen table near an old Jøtul wood stove that was heating the room. De Rivera is a physician, and she lives with her husband, David Haines, a retired math professor at Bates College. (She now goes by Alice Chartrand Haines, which includes her first husband’s last name.) After her courtroom victory, she had become a footnote in history, and hadn’t spoken to the press since 1969. When I saw her, I told her that some New York City girls wonder whether she was a myth.

“Oh, I’m real,” she said, possibly blushing. “Just very private.”

Academic Freedom

The tags on this one tell the story: "free speech," "homophobia," "Oxford." Sophie Smith considers the case against John Finnis, whose position on homosexuality has been challenged by a petition to remove him from his post at the august British institution, and reminds us that few ideas are free of hidden motivations, and free speech may in fact be very costly.

In 2017, Finnis was called on to respond to claims that his former student Neil Gorsuch, then a nominee for the US Supreme Court, had plagiarised other scholars in a book. Finnis defended Gorsuch on the grounds that his ‘writing and citing was easily and well within the proper and accepted standards of scholarly research and writing in the field of study in which he and I work’. But as Finnis’s colleague Les Green pointed out at the time, ‘if by “the field of study in which [Gorsuch] and I work” Professor Finnis means university research in law or legal philosophy, then his claim is unfounded.’

We should be mindful of the way the current narrative is playing out: the gentle, humble scholar defending himself against the witch-hunt of the student mob. The Gorsuch episode suggests that, like the students who would see him dethroned, Finnis is engaged in politics, and wants to create a world more congenial to his views. And sometimes his side wins: Gorsuch, until he retires or dies, will sit on the US Supreme Court.

What Driving Can Teach Us About Living

A lovely, long piece by novelist Rachel Cusk on driving. Cusk considers time, death, morality, and freedom, all through the windshield — the perfect reading for a road trip, or for recognizing the largeness that exists in everyday actions.

It is often regretted that children can no longer play or move freely outside because of the dangers of traffic; inevitably, many of the people who voice these regrets are also the drivers of cars, as those same restricted children will come to be in their time. What is being mourned, it seems, is not so much the decline of an old world of freedom as the existence of comforts and conveniences the individual feels powerless to resist, and which in any case he or she could not truthfully say they wished would be abolished. There is a feeling, nonetheless, of loss, and it may be that the increasing luxury of the world inside the car is a kind of consolation for the degradation of the world outside it.