David Brooks leaves out one group: Intellectually, our culture is broken.
In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks discusses the problems confronting low-income kids as income inequality grows. You’d think that would be a good thing.
That said, we were struck by several parts of this passage:
BROOKS (7/10/12): It’s not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached. Social trust has fallen among all income groups, but, between 1975 and 1995, it plummeted among the poorest third of young Americans and has remained low ever since. As Putnam writes in notes prepared for the Aspen Ideas Festival: “It’s perfectly understandable that kids from working-class backgrounds have become cynical and even paranoid, for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them—family, friends, church, school and community.” As a result, poorer kids are less likely to participate in voluntary service work that might give them a sense of purpose and responsibility. Their test scores are lagging. Their opportunities are more limited.“Putnam” is Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, whose work we wouldn’t rush to trust absent verification. Even worse, Brooks is discussing a presentation Putnam will give at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
It doesn’t get more bougie (or elitist) than that. And yes, that is what they call it! These people deal in ideas!
You can read the full column yourselves. We were struck by that list of the groups which have allegedly let children down—and by that puzzling claim about declining test scores.
Is it true? Are the test scores of poorer kids lagging? The claim fits with ubiquitous claims which have largely been driven by the right.
The claim may even be true, in some limited sense which Brooks didn’t try to define.
But everyone praises the National Assessment of Educational Progress as the gold standard of educational testing. And on the NAEP, test scores of lower-income kids have very much been on the rise.
Consider eighth grade math. (The NAEP tests reading and math in grades 4 and 8.) From 2000 to 2011, the average score of lower-income kids rose by 16 points, from 253 to 269.
To toss in one large state completely at random, the average score of lower-income eighth-graders in Texas rose by 21 points during that period, from 260 to 281. For a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to equal one academic year.
(To access the NAEP Data Explorer, click here. Then, click on MAIN NDE. At that point, you're on your own.)
By lower-income, we mean kids who qualify for the National School Lunch Program for free or reduced-price lunch. That’s the principal measure of income available through the NAEP.
It may be that some other slice of the low-income student population has seen its test scores lag. But Brooks presents his gloomy claim about lagging scores as if it makes perfect sense. As far as we know, it doesn’t.
We agree with Brooks on one key point. Many groups have failed to consider or serve the interests of low-income children. Frankly, some major elites don’t seem to care about such kids all that much.
We'd include major liberal elites. (On Rachel's show, black kids don't exist until they get pregnant. They're noble after that.)
Some groups have failed to serve the interests of low-income kids. In typical fashion, Brooks starts by naming their families and friends.
We would start by naming our journalists, who rarely report the rising test scores of our low-income kids. They have a much better Standard Group Tale, a story they very much like.
Coming next week: Gail Collins messes (up) Texas
They never seem to mention their own: David Brooks named several groups which have allegedly failed low-income kids.
Granted, he’s working from Putnam’s outline. But it doesn’t seem to occur to Brooks to mention the group to which he himself belongs—to mention the ways the mainstream press corps has walked away from the interests of low-income kids.
As we have studied Chris Hayes’ new book, we’ve been struck by a similar pattern. Has anyone ever worked so hard to disappear the epic fail of the thoroughly broken elite to which he himself belongs?
At this point, we're just asking. But good grief! The mainstream press has a very low profile within this elite-bashing book.