Part 2—Uncaring and clueless on schools: Yesterday morning, the New York Times editorial board was worried about “the needs of black students” in Missouri’s Ferguson-Florissant School District.
For several reasons, we found the paper’s editorial hard to take. And that wasn’t all! One night before, we’d watched Tavis Smiley pretend to discuss the needs of black students as part of C-Span’s In Depth program.
(For yesterday's post, click here.)
We got the impression that Smiley didn’t know whereof he spoke. It made us think of Dana Goldstein’s portrait of the “achievement gaps” which dog many public schools.
Goldstein (Brown 2006) has emerged in recent years as one of the liberal world’s alleged “educational experts.” That said, how well do our liberal “experts” function in the modern world?
Recently, we ran across Goldstein’s discussion of elementary school “ability grouping” in a piece she wrote for Salon in 2013. We were struck by the picture Goldstein drew of the American public school classroom.
In our view, the following passage is truly amazing. Sadly, it’s also deeply instructive:
GOLDSTEIN (6/10/13): Grouping fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was stigmatized because of its relationship to high school-level “tracking”... [G]rouping remains controversial, in part because it pits two of the education world’s favorite buzzwords against one another: “differentiation” versus “high expectations.”Good lord! Goldstein pictured an elementary school classroom where the different achievement levels came to this:
“Differentiation” calls for a teacher to adjust the delivery and assessment of lessons for each student in her class. All students might hear the same introductory lecture on fractions, for example, but in small groups later on, some students would be expected to complete four numeric problems, while others would tackle those same four problems, plus an additional two word problems. The teacher would move around the room, providing one-on-one help and instruction geared toward each student’s ability level.
“High expectations,” on the other hand, refers to the idea that many children will rise to meet the standards set for them by teachers and parents. This rhetoric dates back to the civil rights era...
Everyone is taught the same math skill. The more advanced kids are then asked to solve six problems. The rest of the class solves four!
An elementary teacher might have a class like that. But that portrait doesn’t begin to capture the different achievement levels which may coexist within a modern American school, school system or classroom.
Reading that passage, we wondered if Goldstein (Brown 2006) has any idea how American schools really work. This past Sunday night, we had the same reaction when we listened to Smiley discuss the needs of the public schools.
Around 1:54 on the C-Span tape, Smiley offers the following oration. Sad to say, this cluelessness may sound good to the modern liberal ear:
SMILEY (1/4/15): I’ve come to put it this way, just to kind of synthesize it:Let’s assume Smiley’s good intentions. In fairness, let’s note that Goldstein is an educational specialist. Smiley is not.
What I want, and what I believe that we need in America, is a constitutional amendment. And I know I just gave somebody a heart attack, because I know how hard it is to get a constitutional amendment in this country.
But I think what we need to wrestle with, and I would like to put this on the table for consideration at least, on education, a constitutional amendment that would guarantee every child in this country access to an equal, high-quality education.
So think of all the constitutional amendments and all the guarantees that we have to free speech and to carry weapons and all the other rights that we have as Americans. Why is it that in this country every child, no matter what state you’re born in, no matter what color you are, what county you live in, why is it that every child in this country is not guaranteed access to an equal, high-quality education?
Now that doesn’t mean that you’re trying to judge outcomes. But why doesn’t each child in this country at least start at the same place?
We’ve got fifty states and fifty different ways of educating children but nobody is guarantee access to an equal, high-quality education.
So the next question is, how do you figure out what that is? The answer is, it doesn’t matter to me. Whatever the best education is in this country that we can agree on; whatever the students in the schools that are regarded as the best, whatever they get, let’s give that to every child in this country.
We can define the standard, what we think “the best” is. And whatever the best students have access to in this country, that’s what every child ought to have access to. And again, I offer for your consideration, what would happen and how education in this country might dramatically change.
Benjamin Franklin—somebody once said one day that if Benjamin Franklin came back, the only thing he’d recognize today is the education system, because it ain’t changed much in all these years.
But I think it’s going to take something radical to change our education system. So again, I ask you to consider what would happen if we had a constitutional amendment that would guarantee every child in this country access to an equal, high-quality education.
Still and all, that recommendation is so daft, so cosmically uncomprehending, that it could only come from a modern liberal “intellectual leader.” Only a group as lazy as we could produce such strange, rank fruit.
Smiley discussed public schools several times during the three-hour C-Span program. Each time, he seemed to have emerged from a time capsule he's been sharing with Austin Powers.
Smiley seemed to have no idea where our “achievement gaps” come from. He didn’t seem to have any idea what “the best students in the country” are “getting” from the first days of life—what it is that sets them apart, in later scholastic achievement, from others who are less educationally fortunate.
His ignorance reflects the massive indifference to the interests of black kids we liberals have displayed down through these many years. That passage from Goldstein boggled our mind. But so did Smiley’s peroration, which apparently seems to make sense when heard by modern liberals.
In yesterday’s editorial, the New York Times hailed the ACLU for bringing a law suit against that Missouri school district—the same school district the late Michael Brown attended.
The Times seems to think that this district’s schools will improve in some major way if the local board has more black members. That too reads like an unknowing (and uncaring) dispatch from 1965.
Tomorrow, we’ll briefly consider the ACLU’s suit. For today, we’ll only say this:
Goldstein and Smiley and Timesmen oh my! We liberals have badly failed the test of the past three or four decades.
At our various emerging liberal sites, we are currently being trained to hate The Others for their vile traits. But in our own sloth and incomprehension, one fact has become apparent:
We liberals are the problem now too! We’re lazy and we aren’t very smart. We exude a moral squalor.
We’re lazy and dumb and our morals are bad. There’s little reason for people to like us. Presumably, nobody does.
Tomorrow: New York Times, thumbs on the scales