Clay Risen

  • What You Are Missing

    There are more than four thousand charter schools in the United States, but there’s only one that tries to mimic a video game. At Quest to Learn, which serves sixth through twelfth graders in New York City, students get little of traditional homework, lectures, studying, or even grades. Instead, they engage in goal-oriented “missions,” supposedly accumulating knowledge and skills across disciplines while, say, pretending to be an adviser to the Spartan government during the Peloponnesian War. As in a video game, they progress at more or less their own pace, and there’s never anything as definitive

  • Sunday Driving

    NASCAR, the nation’s premier stock-car racing circuit, draws an average of seventy-five million TV viewers a year, a third of the US adult population and second among sports only to professional football. Though its roots lie in the Piedmont South, today it draws fans from across the country, and its demographics match up closely with the population at large—middle-class, educated, and surprisingly racially diverse. NASCAR the corporation, owned and operated by the heirs of its founder, William “Big Bill” France, is a slick and efficient multinational operation, generating billions of dollars

  • The Black Power Puzzle

    It’s one of the most famous photos from 1968, a year full of them: two African-American athletes on the medal podium at the Mexico City Olympics, their heads bowed, their fists gloved and raised in the Black Power salute. The International Olympic Committee called it “a deliberate and violent breach” of the games’ spirit, but the athletes, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, remained unflappable. They did it out of respect, they said, for the memory of Malcolm X—and of Martin Luther King Jr.

    Really? King and Malcolm are supposed to represent the polar opposites of black activism. What did King have

  • Preservation Act

    New York City’s Two Columbus Circle is a sprightly forty-five years old, but it has already had quite a career. The ten-story tower opened in 1964 as the Gallery of Modern Art, endowed by supermarket magnate Huntington Hartford and designed by proto-pomo architect Edward Durell Stone. The gallery, a reflection of Hartford’s recherché, antimodernist tastes, bombed, and in 1969 he palmed the building off on Fairleigh Dickinson University, which used it as an academic pied-à-terre. That was short-lived as well, and the city took it over as office space. In 1998, the municipal bureaucracy departed,