In reality, we don’t: We agree with several key points in Nicholas Kristof’s new column.
Kristof writes about the teachers’ strike in Chicago. We agree with something he says near the end of his column:
“Teaching is so important that it should be like other professions, with high pay and good working conditions but few job protections for bottom performers.”
We need to get rid of those “bottom performers.” More on that point below.
Beyond that, we don’t disagree with what Kristof says right at the start of his piece. But as early as paragraph 4, we’re starting to jump off the cart:
KRISTOF: The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in schools.We don’t disagree with that highlighted passage, although those highly standardized claims may be a bit overwrought. But we don’t like the point we've reached by paragraph 4.
Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s. In the Chicago Public Schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.
Those students often don’t get a solid education, any more than blacks received in their separate schools before Brown v. Board of Education. Chicago’s high school graduation rates have been improving but are still about 60 percent. Just 3 percent of black boys in the ninth grade end up earning a degree from a four-year college, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
America’s education system has become less a ladder of opportunity than a structure to transmit inequity from one generation to the next.
Here we go again! Kristof implies that things are getting worse in the schools—that our educational system has become a structure to transmit inequity. That’s an odd thing to say in paragraph 4 if you’ve just recalled, in paragraph 2, that our educational system once ran on “separate but equal.”
Our test scores say blacks kids are doing much better than they did in those gruesome old days. But people like Kristof won't say that.
Darlings, it simply isn’t allowed! That fact muddies up the party line, the line he will pimp in this column.
We ought to be happy to see someone like Kristof calling for better low-income schools. But as someone who has actually taught in such schools, we’re always annoyed when lords like Kristof toss off bold commments like this:
KRISTOF: In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty. Southern states without strong teachers’ unions have schools at least as lousy as those in union states. The single most important step we could take has nothing to do with unions and everything to do with providing early-childhood education to at-risk kids.How bold, how great Kristof is!
Upper-class hustlers who haven’t taught in low-income schools find it easy to call such schools “lousy.” As they do, they perform the conflation of the unconcerned—they imply that the good schools have the good test scores and the “lousy” schools don’t.
It ain’t necessarily so. In truth, those schools tend to be “lousy” for one major reason—the deserving children who attend them come from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds. They're years “behind” on the day they arrive. When people like Kristof call those schools “lousy,” they’re really referring to those kids—although, of course, they don’t understand that, never having chosen to go there.
When you read such columns by people like Kristof, you are reading scripts. To all appearances, he doesn’t much know what he’s talking about, though he speaks from a lofty perch.
Kristof employs a lot of sleight of hand in this column. Let’s just mention two problems:
First, Kristof is happy, as his class always is, to beat up on striking teachers. We don’t favor teachers’ strikes ourselves. But we have taught in low-income schools. We know how hard and depressing the task can be.
By way of contrast, Kristof’s a brand. He tours the world, tending to tell us about his own moral greatness. He goes to Aspen, where he learns the things his class wants said about schools.
What his class doesn’t want said is this: Those test scores seem to be much better! Until tools of power are willing to say that, we’ll advise you to be very careful about the rest of the crapshit they offer. Even when they cite the studies they may or may not understand!
We agree with Kristof on that one key point: Lousy teachers should be removed from low-income schools. We assume it isn’t all that hard to figure out who they are.
But almost everything else is hard when it comes to low-income schools. Until this brand name is willing to say that—until he’s willing to tell you that test scores have gotten much better—we’ll see him as the latest in a long line who are serving their billionaire leaders.
That’s how it worked when our schools were “separate but equal.” Does Kristof keep old ways alive?