Part 2—The liberal world and its values: Are we so-called human beings really “the rational animal?”
No exactly, no. Consider what happened in Atlanta.
As has been widely reported, a major cheating scandal occurred within the Atlanta Public Schools during the past decade. In the current New Yorker, Rachel Aviv offers a harrowing, detailed look at the way this massive fraud went down in Atlanta’s Parks Middle School.
Aviv’s report is detailed, harrowing. That said, you almost have to laugh at the way it starts:
AVIV (7/21/14): One afternoon in the spring of 2006, Damany Lewis, a math teacher at Parks Middle School, in Atlanta, unlocked the room where standardized tests were kept. It was the week before his students took the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, which determined whether schools in Georgia had met federal standards of achievement. The tests were wrapped in cellophane and stacked in cardboard boxes. Lewis, a slim twenty-nine-year-old with dreadlocks, contemplated opening the test with scissors, but he thought his cut marks would be too obvious. Instead, he left the school, walked to the corner store, and bought a razor blade. When he returned, he slit open the cellophane and gently pulled a test book from its wrapping. Then he used a lighter to warm the razor, which he wedged under the adhesive sealing the booklet, and peeled back the tab.After carefully executing a series of fraudulent acts, Lewis “gave the reading and language-arts sections to two teachers he trusted!”
He photocopied the math, reading, and language-arts sections—the subjects that would determine, under the No Child Left Behind guidelines, whether Parks would be classified as a “school in need of improvement” for the sixth year in a row. Unless fifty-eight per cent of students passed the math portion of the test and sixty-seven per cent passed in language arts, the state could shut down the school. Lewis put on gloves, to prevent oil from his hands from leaving a residue on the plastic, and then used his lighter to melt the edges of the cellophane together, so that it appeared as if the package had never been opened. He gave the reading and language-arts sections to two teachers he trusted and took the math section home.
The opening to Aviv’s report doesn’t exactly make sense. As she continues, she seems to be portraying Lewis as a bit of an innocent—as a guy who stole those tests out of curiosity, without nefarious intent.
Within a week, though, Lewis is in the testing office, erasing wrong answers on students’ answer sheets, apparently at the direction of the school’s principal. “I couldn’t believe what we’d been reduced to,” Lewis is quoted saying—one week after he had engaged in the theft of those tests.
Whatever! From there, Aviv describes a Shakespearean progression of increasingly fraudulent conduct. This seems to have started in 2005, when Parks’ new principal—convinced that Parks’ elementary-level feeder schools were cheating on their tests—decided to adopt two procedures he had heard about at those schools.
(Providing test questions to teachers in advance. Changing incorrect answers on students’ answer sheets.)
Over the next few years, Parks Middle began producing marvelous test scores. As if in a tale by Lewis Carroll, Lewis and others were even flown to D.C. at one point to receive an award for greatness from Arne Duncan himself.
Most of this doesn’t mean that Aristotle erred. But we thought of Aristotle’s description when we read this embarrassing passage in Aviv’s report:
AVIV: A 2007 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, titled “Beating the Odds at Atlanta’s Parks Middle School,” attributed its unlikely progress, in part, to its “relentless focus on data.” The report noted that Waller kept an index card in his pocket listing all the school’s achievements, which he read aloud to parents and students. “Even the kids know their data,” Waller said. Kiel, the testing coordinator, told the foundation that data is a “passion, it’s a love, because it tells the truth: it’s not what I think—and what I feel, and what ought to be, and how I perceive it—but how it actually is.”Good God! By the year 2007, possible cheating on standardized tests had been an issue for a very long time. Despite that fact, the “educational experts” at the Casey Foundation were taken in by this con.
It didn’t seem to occur to Casey’s experts that they might be reviewing a fraud. How bad did the cluelessness get? In 2008, Parks Middle’s young principal said he had decided to resign. According to Aviv, the Foundation provided an “incentive award grant” of $15,000 to persuade him to stay on.
We thought of Aristotle’s error when we read Aviv’s report. At some point, the cluelessness of the Casey folk becomes a bit hard to square with Aristotle’s pronouncement—and such cluelessness is on wide display all over the world of education.
That said, the cluelessness of the Casey folk is important for the following reason:
The Casey Foundation is part of the well-intentioned liberal/progressive world. When liberal intellectual leaders are this clueless and this gullible, liberals should be upset and concerned.
This brings us to the screaming headlines we saw in Salon last week. These headlines involved deserving children, as did the events in Atlanta. According to Salon, wing-nuts (plural) had been “spitting at endangered kids:”
FRIDAY, JUL 11, 2014 09:00 AM EDTFor once, Salon had written a headline which understated the claims of the piece in question. Falling onto her fainting couch while speaking for “decent people everywhere,” Digby had started like this:
Wingnuts’ gross war on children: Screaming and spitting at endangered kids
This is what it's come to: As children flee horrifying violence in their home countries, the right assaults them
HEATHER DIGBY PARTON
PARTON (7/11/14): It has to come as a shock to decent people everywhere to see the vitriol and rage written on the faces of anti-immigrant protesters toward the recent wave of unaccompanied Central American children seeking asylum at the United States’ southern border with Mexico.Was that true? Had the protests in Murrieta involved “scores of Americans screaming and spitting at busloads of kids?”
These are kids whose desperate parents are sending them away on their own to escape horrifying violence in their home countries. According to the New York Times these countries have been overrun with gang warfare, with kids as young as 6 and 7 being kidnapped and tortured to death.
And what is the response of the right wing? The protests in Murrieta, California, over the past week show scores of Americans screaming and spitting at busloads of kids and mothers with infants calling them diseased and worse.
If so, Digby has a scoop! After reading her piece, we fired up the Nexis. As best we could tell, no one had reported any such conduct, whether by “wingnuts” or “the right wing” or by anyone else.
There was one widely reported spitting incident in Murrieta. In that incident, a protestor whose identity remains unknown spat in the face of Lupillo Rivera, a singer and pro-immigration activist.
The conduct by this person was widely condemned, even by “the right-wing.” But as Digby fell onto her couch, that incident had somehow been transformed into “scores of Americans...spitting at busloads of kids.”
Do decent people everywhere create such bogus facts? More specifically, do decent people create fake facts which teach us to hate The Others?
We thought of lofty Aristotle and his rather large error.
In this case, Digby’s claim was almost definitively pre-rational. It comes to us straight outta prehistory, where hating and fearing the other tribes was a survival skill.
Salon’s headline was teaching young people to hate. Anthropologically speaking, it captured one of the many ways the “liberal” world is currently surrendering its liberal values.
Digby fell on her fainting couch. She has long mocked this conduct in others.
At Salon, on The One True Channel, we are becoming a great deal like them. More on this problem tomorrow.
Fraud leading on to fraud: Once you start to surrender your values, your descent may be hard to stop. In this passage, Aviv describes the lengths to which Lewis and others went to explain those incredible test scores:
AVIV: Parks attracted so many visitors who were eager to understand the school’s turnaround that teachers had to come up with ways to explain it. At [Principal] Waller’s direction, they began maintaining what they called “standard-based mastery folders,” an index of all the objectives that each student needed to grasp in order to comprehend a given lesson. Lewis, who was taking night classes at the School of Education at Clark Atlanta University, wrote his master’s thesis on the technique. “It was a wonderful system,” he said. “But we only put it in place to hide the fact that we were cheating.”Good God! Did we read that correctly? Lewis wrote his master's thesis on a technique they had put in place to hide their ongoing fraud!