PART 2—WHEN LIBERALS WRITE ABOUT SCHOOLS: When liberals write about public schools, bad things tend to happen.
Consider the terrible, horrible piece in yesterday’s New York Times. We read the piece in stupefaction as we rolled southbound on Amtrak.
A Duke professor and a former Times editor conspired in the long, rolling mess. For one small taste of their tolerance for illogic and error, consider this puzzling morsel:
LADD AND FISKE (12/12/11): Since they can’t take on poverty itself, education policy makers should try to provide poor students with the social support and experiences that middle-class students enjoy as a matter of course.Rapping the loathed No Child Left Behind, the writers praised those marvelous schools in Finland, which “provide food for students.” But good lord! In the same day’s New York Times, Michael Winerip noted a rather well-known fact: 46 percent of American students receive free or reduced-price lunch! Free or reduced-price breakfast is also served at wide swaths of American schools. (For one small suburban example, click here.) Indeed: Last year in Chicago, a flap blew up about all the instructional time being lost as the schools fed breakfast to students!
Other countries already pursue such strategies. In Finland, with its famously high-performing schools, schools provide food and free health care for students. Developmental needs are addressed early. Counseling services are abundant.
But in the United States over the past decade, it became fashionable among supporters of the “no excuses” approach to school improvement to accuse anyone raising the poverty issue of letting schools off the hook—or what Mr. Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
The foolishness was much more extensive in yesterday’s blowhard column. (We felt sorry for the parents who pay the tuition at Duke.) But Ladd and Fiske extended one key trope—a standard script which virtually defines modern writing about public schools.
This standard script comes in two lazy pieces:
First, Ladd and Fiske cited data from the so-called gold standard of American education testing. “Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates,” the writers thoughtfully wrote. Given the phrase “across states,” we'll guess that passage means something like this: Students in Massachusetts score better in math than students in Mississippi—and 46 percent of the difference “is associated with” the larger amount of poverty in the Magnolia State.
Whatever! As all such experts always do, the writers cited the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the NAEP—as the place to go for educational data. And then, without even batting an eye, they filled their horrible, no-good piece with silly-shit zingers like this:
LADD AND FISKE: But in the United States over the past decade, it became fashionable among supporters of the “no excuses” approach to school improvement to accuse anyone raising the poverty issue of letting schools off the hook—or what Mr. Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”Has No Child Left Behind “worked” in some way? We have no idea; such things are very hard to measure, and no one much seems to be trying. But after citing the NAEP when it served their ends, the propagandists failed to tell us that NAEP scores by low-income children have risen substantially during the term of that much-maligned program. It may be that Ladd and Fiske are so clueless that they themselves don’t know this fact, a fact we’ll explore at the end of the week. (Did we mention the pity we feel for those misused Duke parents?) But then, Matt Yglesias didn’t observe this pattern in the new NAEP data to which he last week! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/12/11.) Those new data include new break-outs for children who receive free lunch—and separately, for those who receive reduced-price lunch. Yglesias wasted his time on relatively petty concerns, failing to mention those new data—data which show our low-income students making substantial gains!
Such accusations may afford the illusion of a moral high ground, but they stand in the way of serious efforts to improve education and, for that matter, go a long way toward explaining why No Child Left Behind has not worked.
It is now the reliable norm when pseudo-liberals write about public schools. Data from the NAEP will be cited—but only when it lets us promote the gloomy tales we prefer, gloomy tales in which Bush has failed and nothing is right with the schools. On balance, of course, this promotes many corporatist tales: Those “government schools” can’t do anything right! Those lazy teachers should all be fired! They should all be replaced with those great Princeton kids! Why isn't Michelle Rhee in charge? But so what? For whatever reason, we the people never get told about the substantial rise in those NAEP scores. We never hear about the rise in test scores by black kids; the rise in test scores by Hispanic kids; the rise in test scores by kids who get free and/or reduced-price lunch.
Pseudo-liberals like Ladd and Fiske provide the low-IQ thunder and the New York Times gobbles it up. In the process, the country gets disinformed!
Ain’t idiocracy grand?
That’s what happens when pseudo-liberals write about public schools. This of course includes the schools which serve “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods.” But then, we liberals churned a similar bit of idiocracy concerning Newt Gingrich’s recent statements about those children—about the really poor children we liberals so widely ignore.
For the most part, we liberals said nothing at all when those new NAEP data emerged last week—new NAEP data concerning our nation’s urban schools. But lord god of hosts, how we thundered and roared when Gingrich dared to make remarks about some of the children attending such schools! For the most part, Newt’s remarks were really quite standard; tomorrow, we’ll show you some of the honored figures who have said similar things about “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods.”
Is Professor Gates a racist? Prepare to defnd your remarks.
For now, let’s focus on the silly-bill blather we in the liberal world churned about Newt, even as we ignored the NAEP, which we seem to find boring. Crackers! If there’s one thing we liberals know how to do, we know how to sing pleasing songs! Ladd and Fiske sang that No Child has failed—even as they ignored the way those NAEP test scores have soared. Similarly, everyone knew what to say about Newt! One description of his remarks was especially pleasing:
Trip Gabriel, New York Times, November 19: Mr. Gingrich, who back in 1994 proposed bringing back orphanages for children on welfare, was quickly labeled "Dickensian" by people commenting on Twitter.
Joan Walsh, The Ed Show, November 21: With Christmas coming, this guy is so Dickensian. He roots for Scrooge. He`s not going to wear well on the rest of the country.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Twitter, November 23: Anyone seen Gingrich's Dickensian/cruel education idea: Fire school janitors & have kids do the work. Guess he wants return 2 child labor
John Nicholls, The Nation, December 2: Newt Gingrich is possessed of a Dickensian name, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that he seeks the presidency on a platform that seems to have been written by the unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge.
Charles Blow, New York Times, December 3: [Gingrich] comes across as a callous Dickensian character in his attitude toward America's most vulnerable—our poor children.
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, December 4: [Gingrich] expanded on Dickensian remarks he'd made recently at Harvard...
Michael Eric Dyson, The Ed Show, December 7: As president, Newt Gingrich says he’d lift those pesky child labor laws. Hey, let’s return to the time when Dickens was at his height!
Jim Hightower, syndicated column, December 9: The Newt recently called America's child labor laws "truly stupid," adding with Dickensian glee that he would fire school janitors and have low-income 9-year-olds do that work.
Gene Robinson, Washington Post, December 9: Do you imagine [Trump] wil read Gingrich his Dickensian quotes about child labor laws and ask him to explain which jobs are suitable for urchins and which are not?
Jimi Izrael, NPR, December 9: [Gingrich] has kind of gotten a lot of heat for his kind of Dickensian ideas about putting kids to work.
Clarence Page, syndicated column, December 11: The hit against child labor laws is novel even for Naughty Newt, although not his first display of a fascination with the child and family politics of the Charles Dickens era.
Jesse Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times, December 13: When critics said he would send America back to the age depicted by Dickens, Gingrich defended himself by sustaining the slander of the poor.
We liberals and pseudos are seldom at a loss for well-scripted words! Meanwhile, riddle us this:
Which of those people has ever told the public about those rising NAEP scores? Has Professor Dyson, for all his greatness, ever stooped to such a task? For all his thunder, do you think he knows? How about well-scripted Joan? Indeed, has any one of those fiery figures cared enough about “really poor children” to examine those gold standard data—the data our educational experts swear by, as long as the data can be used to tell us a gloomy tale?
Can we talk for a moment? We liberals are horrible people. We’re programmed within an inch of our lives. We have a tremendous tolerance for error, as long as the errors in question advance our tribe’s favored tales. Examples:
In response to Gingrich’s recent comments, we claimed he said that 9-year-olds could work as janitors. It felt very good when we made this claim. In truth, he didn’t say it.
Rachel said that Newt would take poor children out of class to do this work. Truth to tell, he didn’t say that either. (After that, the willful child turned to her feces and urine.)
Dyson and Schultz said that Newt would make these children work for free. Quite explicitly, Gingrich had said the opposite.
Does our side ever tell the truth? Even when we pretend to talk about the interests of really poor children? In fact, nothing stops the reigns of error our liberal leaders trail through the land. But then, these are horrible, terrible people. They don’t give a fig about really poor children. Few things could be more clear.
Last week, we liberals roared about Newt—and ignored the NAEP. In the process, we showed few signs of caring about really poor children. Tomorrow, we’ll show you a long list of honored figures who have said things remarkably similar to the things the awful Dickensian said.
Is Professor Gates a racist? Prepare to defend your remarks.
Tomorrow: What Professor Gates said
Coming Friday: What do these new NAEP scores show?