Where do narratives come from: Finally, in this morning’s Times, we learn the difference between Paul Krugman and David Brooks when it comes to the nation’s economy.
The explanation comes from Brooks himself. Here it is:
Krugman is a “cyclicalist”—but Brooks is practicing “structuralism!” That said, these aren’t two equal schools of thought, as we learn from Brooks’ boxed sub-headline:
“True reform versus cyclical patchwork”
Brooks is seeking true reform. Krugman traffics in patchwork.
Read the column for full details. For ourselves, we were struck by Brooks’ list of the three major structural elements screwing up the economy. This is his second key element:
BROOKS (5/8/12): Then there are the structural issues surrounding the decline in human capital. The United States, once the world’s educational leader, is falling back in the pack. Unemployment is high, but companies still have trouble finding skilled workers.Where do narratives come from? They come from repeated throw-away comments like the one we highlight.
Was the United States “once the world’s educational leader?” That claim may be true in some respect, though Brooks doesn’t explain what he means. But this claim gets tossed off very easily in our current political discourse. Not knowing what such claims are intended to mean, people may find themselves imagining all sorts of past glories.
Two thoughts came to mind when we read that claim this morning. We thought of some comments to Gail Collins’ recent know-nothing education column—comments in which her readers insisted that our schools were once just superb.
We also thought of a news report by Rehema Ellis. NBC was staging its annual, highly propagandistic “Education Nation” week. Reporting on NBC Nightly News, Ellis had a dream:
ELLIS (9/26/10): Good evening, Lester. It was an exciting event. For two hours today the teachers who joined us were inspiring, some even emotional about the job that many say is stressful and extremely demanding.“Forty years ago, American students were first!” Like Brooks, Ellis didn’t explain what she meant. But as far as we know, American students never scored first in the world on any international assessments of reading and math.
Right now, the teacher's job is under critical review because of what is and what is not happening in the classroom. America's public school students are in trouble. On nearly every major ranking, the results are disappointing.
Forty years ago, American students were first. Now, among 30 developed nations, our students rank 24th in math, 17th in science and 10th in reading. Sixty-eight percent of American eighth graders cannot read at grade level. Nationwide nearly 70 percent of our students graduate from high school, but among African-American, Latino and low-income students, just over 50 percent graduate each year.
Here at THE HOWLER, we helped you recall what some schools were like in the glory days Ellis recalled. Jonathan Kozol was teaching in Boston, a well-known city, during the era Ellis recalled. We quote from his book, Death at an Early Age, which won the National Book Award and helped attract us to Baltimore:
KOZOL (page 9): Many people in Boston are surprised, even to this day, to be told that children are beaten with thin bamboo whips within the cellars of our public schools and that they are whipped at times for no greater offence than for failing to show respect to the very same teachers who have been describing them as niggers.For more from Kozol’s brilliant book, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/10. It’s easy to recall glory days, sometimes perhaps incorrectly.