Not the autobiography, mind you

Growing up, I had learned a little bit about Benjamin Franklin. I had heard of the Silence Dogood letters, his kite-flying experiment, his work as a printer, and the fact that he was one of the few people to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I learned about him peripherally when reading Alexander Hamilton’s biography several years ago. But these few, isolated facts left me with a shallow picture of this influential man.

Inspired by some daydreams I’ve had lately about melding a political career with technical/scientific exploits, I decided to finally pick up Walter Isaacson’s 2003…

Several years ago, I had a revealing conversation with my younger brother. I confessed that I was feeling some existential angst and wasn’t sure what path I should take to have the most fulfilling and impactful life and career. “Well,” he said, “what kind of work makes you feel the most fulfilled?” I heard myself answering this simple question almost immediately: “Writing.”

That night, I set a reminder on my phone to “Write 200 words” at 9:00 PM every day. “Just write a little bit, anything,” my brother said. “Get in the habit.” He was right. …

A review of “The Knowledge Gap” by Natalie Wexler

I knelt next to [the girl] and asked, “What are you drawing?”

“Clowns,” she answered confidently.

“Why are you drawing clowns?”

“Because it says right here, ‘Draw clowns,’ ” she explained.

Running down the left side of the worksheet was a list of reading-comprehension skills: finding the main idea, making inferences, making predictions. The girl was pointing to the phrase draw conclusions.

-Excerpt from The Knowledge Gap (emphasis added)

Flickr/Alban Gonzalez

Natalie Wexler’s new book, released just last month, pulls no punches. It wades boldly and fearlessly into the endless wars surrounding education reform, tackling controversial topics from reading instruction to…

Originally written and published on my blog in November 2014. Updated significantly in 2019.

I started learning HTML in 1999, when I was in 5th grade. I built countless websites on Geocities (with the requisite flashing GIFs everywhere), using the site for fun, for multiple web-based comic strips I made with friends, and even for school assignments. I built a website for the non-profit my grandmother ran. And I loved all of it.

A year later, I bought a copy of a book called Javascript Goodies and taught myself Javascript. A year after that, it was Java. Then Teach Yourself…

Scenery from the high-speed train outside Anshun, Guizhou province

If you’re planning a trip to China and intend to visit more than one city, you’ll probably end up taking a train. The Chinese government has invested an incredible amount of money into building high-speed rail lines that now crisscross the entire country, forming the largest high-speed train network in the world. Utilizing this network as a foreign traveler is pretty easy, but it’s helpful to know what to expect.

1. Buying tickets

First, you need your tickets. These are surprisingly easy to book online. You can purchase both high-speed and regular train tickets on This is important to book ahead of…

This summer, my wife and I took our first trip to Asia, visiting China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. We definitely overprepared a little bit, bringing things like mosquito nets that we didn’t need, and too many clothes. However, there were a few items we brought and a few things we set up before we left that we were very glad about.

The LifeStraw water bottle

1. The LifeStraw water bottle

This thing was seriously a life saver. Since you can’t drink the tap water in any of these places, that means you have to get bottled water pretty much everywhere you go. However, if you’re desperate for water somewhere (for…

Or, how to cover 13.5 billion years of history in 464 pages

The Pioneer plaque

Many reviews of this bestselling book, first published in English in 2014, have already been written. Yet I thought there would be some value in sharing the particular points that stuck with me the most.

One writer described reading this book as “an experience,” and I would have to agree. How else could you describe its mesmerizing opening lines (with my emphasis):

About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.

About 300,000 years after their…

Flickr / xiquinhosilva

These two short books on the Holocaust, Night by Elie Wiesel and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, have been on my radar for many years. In my senior year of high school, my world history teacher gave me the copy of Night that I still have, a dozen years later. I have been vaguely aware of the premise of both books since that time, but until now I had never taken the time to actually read them myself.

It is an understatement to call these stories incredibly powerful. I have seen my fair share of Holocaust films and…

Languages, Jewish identity, the past, and the future

Flickr / slgckgc

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved foreign languages. I started learning Hebrew as a kindergartener and was soon eager to go beyond the few basic words we were being taught. In 1st grade, I absorbed as much as I could of my first Spanish class, though it was only one hour per week. Around this time, my father gave me his copy of a book called The Dictionary of 26 Languages, which captivated me with its vocabulary list in such a huge number of tongues. And from there, the floodgates were opened.

In middle school, I…

Originally written in 2013

Flickr / Best Buddies Delaware

Middle school isn’t easy for anyone. Students in this age group struggle through substantial physical and emotional change while simultaneously enduring some of the harshest social pressures of their entire childhood. Despite good intentions, American educators have tended to overcompensate for these challenges, focusing heavily on monitoring students’ self-esteem and well-being at the expense of academic achievement. The result, declaims Cheri Yecke, Virginia’s former secretary of education, is that American middle schools are “where academic achievement goes to die.”

Jonathan Gelbart

Former Director of Educational Initiatives and Innovation for the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute. Engineer. AZ native. Articles represent my personal views only.

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