Part 4—MSNBC doesn’t care too: You can’t really blame Gail Collins’ readers if they’re somewhat clueless about the public schools.
They read the New York Times every day. They’ve been told it’s our leading newspaper.
They read Gail Collins twice a week. They've seen her treated like an actual journalist on the Maddow Show.
Such readers may think they’re getting the latest dope from the Times and Collins. It may not occur to them that the Times makes little real effort to report on the state of the schools.
In fairness, you can’t really blame these readers for the things they don’t know. There’s a good chance they have never heard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP). Not having heard of the program itself, they may not realize that the New York Times has never reported its remarkable data, and has never tried to assess what those data mean. They may not have realized that Collins was citing the NAEP when she made a fleeting assessment of the state of the schools last week, before she returned to her trademark blend of joking, deception and snark.
That said, Collins’ commenters were quite clueless as they responded to her column. Most depressingly, long lists of commenters moaned about the way the schools keep getting worse—even after Collins said that basic skills seem to have been getting better for at least several decades.
This is what Collins fleetingly said, although few readers noticed:
COLLINS (5/26/12): If there’s an education crisis, it’s one of at least 50 years duration. By the best national assessment we have available, it appears that the math skills of American fourth- and eighth-graders have been going up slowly but steadily for decades. Reading scores are also a tad better, although pretty flat.In our view, Collins understates the apparent gain. But even after Collins suggested that skills have been improving for decades, a long list of commenters said the opposite, showing no sign of understanding that they were contradicting the 800 words of snark with which they had just been diddled.
Good lord. Repeatedly, these commenters praised their own superior skills as they produced this comical work, contrasting themselves with These Kids Today—the kids whose test scores are better than theirs were. In this way, they let us gaze on the epistemic closure now sweeping our own “liberal” world.
As pseudo-liberals, we like to say that pseudo-conservatives are gripped by this form of closure. That claim is plainly true, but we pseudo-liberals are gaining ground fast. We have our own pseudo-news channel now. We have our own pseudo-liberal sites; we have our own clowns and propagandists. Pseudo-journalists like Collins are prized for the way they hand us the tales we enjoy:
Mitt Romney strapped his dog to the roof of the car, Collins semi-said in this column, for perhaps the fiftieth time. Killing more time, she chuckled about the number of times Romney said “bold” in his education speech (3)—and about the highly comical fact that he used the term “logjam!” In the midst of this requisite clowning and killing of time, Collins slipped in an actual fact about schools:
On our most reliable measure, skills have been improving for decades!
Collins slipped it in, then quickly moved on. But uh-oh! Predictably, Collins’ highly self-impressed readers didn’t seem to notice this statement. One only comment, out of 389, mentioned this thing she had said!
We liberals are building our own closure now, with pseudos like Collins helping us do it. Example: Even as commenters complained about the pitiful dumbness of These Kids Today, two readers pushed a talking-point which is increasingly popular wherever pseudo-liberal epistemic closure is sold.
When it comes to public schools, we’re number one! That’s what this pair of commenters said—or at least, that’s how it sounded:
COMMENTER FROM NEW JERSEY: Our schools are not failing. That's the propaganda. One example: If you exclude low-income minorities from the “calculations,” our schools perform among the best in the world. Private schools know this—that's why the best only admit connected insiders...“If you exclude low-income minorities from the calculations, our schools perform among the best in the world.” Variants of this feel-good claim are increasingly frequent in liberal threads, accompanied by the feel-good claim that the so-called educational “crisis” simply doesn’t exist.
The “crisis” is invented purely so that private investors can “fix” it—with millions in profit for themselves and no risk to their own children.
COMMENTER FROM ATLANTA: We continue to try to fix a clock that's not broken. The "crisis" began when we discovered that our comparable, international test scores ranked the US well below many other nations. We decided to "fix" the ranking problem. What we knew then, and what we know now, is that when one adjusts the scores for poverty via the "Free-Lunch" program, we have the highest performing schools in the world. We also have the highest rate of poverty among first world economies. Instead of fighting poverty, we have decided to "fight" teachers. Obviously, teachers have caused our high rate of poverty!
That first claim is even technically accurate, although it’s grossly misleading. As you can see in this federal report about the 2009 PISA international testing (scroll down to page 15), American schools “with less than 10 percent of free and reduced-price lunch students” did register reading scores at the level achieved by the world’s highest-scoring countries. But in this comparison, we are comparing the performance of schools in our most advantaged communities to the average performance of all schools in these other countries. In short, our toniest public schools can match or exceed the average school in these other lands. Increasingly, this leads us liberals to say that the educational “crisis” is a mere invention.
"Our schools are not failing," we may find ourselves saying. “We continue to try to fix a clock that's not broken.”
It isn’t exactly Collins’ fault that these foolish claims appeared in her comments. But claims like these are spreading today because people like Collins are manifest pseudos. Simply put, Collins and her pseudo-newspaper don’t discuss the public schools. In a dimly rational world, the following fact would be seen as astounding:
The New York Times has never reported those remarkable data from the NAEP! “By the best national assessment we have available,” black fourth-graders are now scoring higher in math than their white counterparts from 1992! And no, there is no sign that cheating has been involved in this process.
Truly, that’s an astonishing fact. And the New York Times has never reported it! Simply put, the New York Times doesn’t care about low-income kids. Rather plainly, neither does the high lady Collins, although she does care about dogs.
You’ll never get us to admit it, but we modern pseudo-liberals are an unimpressive bunch. We’re not very smart—and we’re quite self-impressed. We praise ourselves for our vast racial greatness—and we throw our black kids down a hole.
We read Collins for the jokes and the snark, and for the shit about Mitt Romney’s dog. She serves it to us, week after week. Truly, we’re horrible people.
In fact, by any sensible measure, many parts of our society are involved in an educational “crisis.” But our big newspapers rarely attempt to examine this fact. For ourselves, we don’t think we’ve ever seen a discussion of the themes that still seem most important to us, based upon a dozen years in the Baltimore public schools.
The questions we would ask:
What happens to low-income kids when they arrive in kindergarten? If they’re already several years “behind,” how do our schools adjust? Do they adjust at all?
What happens to low-income kids when they get to the fourth and fifth grades? If they are substantially behind traditional grade level, how are they taught at that point?
Know-nothing “journalists” constantly write about the way the states are “raising standards.” (See this editorial in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun.) Question: For kids who couldn’t meet the old standard, how does raising the standard help?
Quite literally, we have never seen a journalist ask the questions we think are most central, based upon years in the Baltimore schools. On the other hand, we did have the misfortune of watching The One True Liberal Channel pretend to care about public schools last week.
Uh-oh! In a discussion with some Philadelphia teachers on the day of his education speech, Romney said vile things about class size! Collins didn’t mention these remarks, but her commenters went on and on about them.
On MSNBC last Thursday night, four different hosts took up this cudgel, displaying their cluelessness as they did. Sharpton, Schultz, Bashir and Maddow—all pretended to care a great deal about the state of the public schools. (Bashir was sitting in for O’Donnell, who was lounging in Tinseltown or in some finer locale.)
Everyone was furious about the vile things Romney had said! In the process, everyone showcased his or her lack of knowledge, with Sharpton going to special lengths. But let’s focus on Maddow, who wouldn’t discuss the interests of low-income kids if her life depended on it.
Maddow doesn’t care about low-income kids—and on this occasion, it showed. As she started, she feigned solidarity with a Philly pol who had complained about the fact that Romney went to West Philly at all.
This made us pseudo-liberals feel good; we learned to adore Maddow better. But as she continued, she made a mash of the things Romney actually said:
MADDOW (5/26/12): I used to live in West Philadelphia. I know exactly what he’s talking about. Inside that Philly school, Mr. Romney also faced some headwinds from some of the people his campaign set him up to meet with while the cameras were rolling. Watch.In her typical way, Maddow got busy “improving” what Romney had said. Do we really need a former Rhodes Scholar to disinform us like this?
ROMNEY (videotape): A number of folks said, well, we need smaller classroom sizes. That will make the biggest difference. I said, let’s compare the average classroom size from each school district with the performance of our students because we test our kids and we’ll see if there is a relationship. There was not. So just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.
PHILADELPHIA TEACHER: I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching over 10 years—13 years, who would say that they would love—more students would benefit.
ROMNEY: Of course.
PHILADELPHIA TEACHER: I can’t think of a parent that would say, I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher. So I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from.
MADDOW: It is hard to imagine that Mr. Romney is going to run for president on the basis of saying that class size ought to be bigger. If you can put 20 kids in the classroom, why not 30, why not 50? It’s frankly more efficient! It’s marvelous!
I don’t think he’s going to run on that.
The Obama campaign went right after the Romney campaign on this today. As he’s getting face to face confrontation from teachers he’s meeting when he was he’s supposed to be rolling out his big education ideas as the Obama campaign goes after him on this, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Romney campaign sticks with education as something they’re going to run on and sticks especially with his idea that bigger class sizes are cool.
WHAT ROMNEY SAID: Just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.Maddow doesn’t care about low-income kids. But in that translation of Romney’s remarks, you see the clownish turn of mind she routinely brings to her work.
WHAT MADDOW PRETENDED ROMNEY SAID: Class size ought to be bigger. If you can put 20 kids in the classroom, why not not 50? Bigger class sizes are cool!
Who can watch a show like this without feeling insulted by such a translation? Answer: We pseudo-liberals can! Truly, we’re a pitiful group. Like our pseudo-conservative friends, it increasingly seems that we long to be misled by our betters.
And uh-oh! Things got worse for Maddow after she finished her clownish translation. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t know a basic fact, a fact Benjy Sarlin later reported. Uh-oh! She didn’t know that Education Secretary Arne Duncan “has made exactly the same case [about class size] for years, citing studies indicating that larger classes were not inherently detrimental.”
To read Sarlin’s report in TPM, click here. (Headline: “Despite Obama Campaign Attack, Romney And W.H. Have Similar Take On Class Size.”) Then, reread all that know-nothing, pro-Obama snark from our millionaire corporate child.
Can we talk? Romney wasn’t impressive this day—but he seems to know more about this topic than Maddow and her snark-infested staff. In a comment the willful child didn’t air, Romney had also said this:
ROMNEY: A think-tank type group went around the world and looked at schools in Singapore and Finland and South Korea and the United States and looked at the differences, and said, gosh, in the schools that the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same in the United States.Reporters said the report in question came from McKinsey. But the OECD itself has been advancing such a report, saying that some of the highest-performing countries have chosen to “prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes.” This discussion has been ongoing for years, except in precincts like MSNBC, where they pay no attention to low-income schools—except when they get to clown around and misstate what someone has said.
To see an education reporter in Vancouver discuss the OECD study, just click here. But then, this discussion has been widespread in the past few years; many people have argued, as the OECD does, that limited resources may be more wisely spent attracting top teachers as opposed to reducing class size. We have no particular view about this—but because we don’t live on the dark side of Uranus, we did know about this debate, in which the administration has seemed to come down, rightly or wrongly, against the unquestioned importance of class size.
MSNBC had never heard about this discussion, or about the evidence being debated. But that’s because its hosts, like other modern elites, don’t care about low-income kids. They’re stuffing millions of bucks in their pants—and they don’t discuss low-income schools as they offer their comfort food to their uncaring, pseudo-lib viewers.
Collins, Maddow, Bashir, O’Donnell? All in all, these aren't impressive people. But they’re stuffing millions of bucks in their pants. And, in fairness, they do seem to care about certain basic things.
Lady Collins does care about dogs. And they all seem devoted to the closure now gripping our part of the world.