THE CALIBER OF OUR OWN PROFESSORS: Harvard professor flies to Finland!


Part 2—Enabled by writer at Vox:
All too often, our high-ranking liberal professors say the darnedest things.

So it was when Professor Guinier discussed the public schools.

Professor Guinier was laboring through a three-hour stint on the C-Span program, In Depth. Midway through the marathon, a gloomy caller lamented the way we are “destroying another generation of African-American students.”

The caller sought the professor’s views on two proposals: 1) the use of vouchers to enable public school kids to attend private schools, and 2) relaxed licensing procedures for teachers, designed to let more capable people replace existing staff.

Vouchers can be great for the kids who get them. The reflexive denigration of our public school teachers is one of the great propaganda plays of modern times.

It’s a propaganda play from the corporate right. We liberals love to enable it.

Based upon her comments this day, Professor Guinier doesn’t seem to know a great deal about our public schools. For starters, she doesn’t seem to know that black kids in our public schools have been scoring much higher, in reading and math, over the past several decades.

In a rational world, that’s extremely hopeful news. Thanks to slackers like Guinier, the public never hears this fact!

Our view? If Austin Powers makes a new film, Professor Guinier could be cast as his sidekick. Her basic frameworks about our schools seem to come straight outta the 1960s.

As she started her response to the caller, she offered rambling thoughts about the need for kids to go to the library more. For the text of those initial remarks, see yesterday’s report.

Kids need to go to the library more! Plus, we need more teachers!

Those were among the professor’s first thoughts. At that point, she continued her ramble—and the analysts started to scream.

Even before her F-bomb was dropped, the analysts could see it coming. This is the way our ranking professor continued her discussion:
GUINIER (3/1/15): You go to a place, to other countries—

Go to Finland, and the children there score so much better on some of these tests than in the United States. And it’s cold in Finland, right? But they manage to, to ensure that all of the children get a good education.

What I think is a big problem in the United States is that we basically have decided that the people who can afford to pay a lot more for education are the people who deserve to run the country and ultimately I think that then leads to lots of problems that are complicating the lives of many people. That is, you have mass incarceration, you have people who are trying to make a living selling illegal drugs, are all kinds of—many things are happening that wouldn’t happen if we would just invest more time, more energy and more money in the education of all of our children, not just those who are the children of middle and upper-middle class families.
Good God! In all honesty, Professor Guinier seems to know virtually nothing about our public schools. For additional evidence of this fact, see her responses to the last several questions in this recent interview at Salon.

Professor Guinier doesn’t seem to know much about the public schools. That’s what makes this next fact so sad:

Even she has memorized the standard script about Finland!

Do kids in Finland “score so much better on some of these tests than in the United States?” It all depends!

On the most recent TIMSS math tests, American kids matched Finland’s scores at both grade levels, Grade 4 and Grade 8. White kids in American schools blew Finland’s scores out the door.

For this reason, skillfully scripted American pundits almost never discuss the TIMSS/PIRLS, one of the two major international testing programs in which most developed nations take part. They only talk about the PISA, on which American kids tend to score less well.

Beyond that, they tend to avoid the obvious facts which make comparisons with Finland rather shaky. To wit:

Finland is a very small, middle-class, single-culture nation. It’s the Lake Wobegon of the western world. The country has very few immigrant kids. It has very little child poverty.

And not only that! To its credit, Finland didn’t spend several centuries trying to eliminate literacy from one whole segment of its population, the way our benighted ancestors did.

Our schools struggle with the aftermath of that brutal racial history. Finland’s schools do not.

To state the obvious, these aren’t criticisms of Finland. But they do represent major differences between the two countries in question.

Finland’s schools serve a population of middle-class, majority-culture kids. Our schools serve a vastly more complex student population.

For all these reasons, it makes little sense to compare Finnish and American test scores as a measure of the quality of the two nations’ schools. But our journalists have been doing just that for the past dozen years.

By now, even one of our ranking professors has memorized this script—a script which is grossly misleading.

Professor Guinier took the trip to Finland this day. When she did, the analysts screamed and writhed.

We understood their pain. Just two weeks before, they had encountered the same tired script in the pages of Vox, our self-admittedly extra-smart liberal news organization.

Ezra Klein created the site, saying it would be smarter than the rest. On February 18, liberal readers clicked to Vox and encountered this headline:

“9 reasons Finland's schools are so much better than America’s”

Good God! We even read that scripted twaddle at our own liberal sites!

That piece was written by Libby Nelson, a young education reporter. In fairness to Nelson, that headline slightly misrepresents the actual thrust of her report.

A careful reader will see that Nelson is actually listing nine possible reasons why Finland scores well on international tests.

Technically speaking, she doesn’t claim that those scores mean that Finland’s schools are “better.” Indeed, in several points on her list, she is suggesting that Finland’s schools score better because they’re full of middle-class kids.

Technically speaking, Nelson doesn’t explicitly say that Finland’s schools are “better.” Still, that’s what everyone will think she has written, from her headline writer on down.

How bad was Nelson’s work at our smartest new site? Gack! In a typical manifestation, she’s only discussing scores on the PISA, the international test on which Finland tends to do better. (You can see that from the dates she cites.) She is simply ignoring the TIMSS/PIRLS, the international test on which Finland does less well.

Even at our smart liberal orgs, our analyses start in this astonishing way, with journalists throwing away half the international data! The remaining data are used to drive a favored plutocrat theme:

Our public schools are no damn good! Our public school teachers are awful!

Might we share a secret? Based on international test scores, we see no obvious sign that Finland’s schools are “better” than American schools, let alone “so much better.”

We’ve presented the breakdowns a million times; those analyses sit in our archives. But nothing will stop our journalists from typing the Finland script—a script which is typically used to create derogatory, false impressions about our schools.

In even a slightly rational world, you would expect our ranking professors to challenge this sort of thing. Stumbling and flailing, Professor Guinier has helped us see the actual state of our world.

Are we destroying another generation of African-American students? Black kids have been scoring much better in reading and math over the past several decades. That’s an important fact which the public never hears.

Are schools in Finland “so much better?” American kids score amazingly well as compared to Finland’s middle-class student population.

Professor Guinier doesn’t know these things. But even she has learned the script about those great Finnish schools!

In our view, Guinier’s performance this day was the latest scripted groaner. Once again, one of our own high-ranking liberals failed to let the public know about the rising performance of black kids. She failed to speak in defense of American public school teachers.

The plutocrats were cheering wildly as the professor stumbled forward with her weirdly halting discussion. Luckily, we liberals have made it abundantly clear that we don’t care about any of this.

We don’t seem to care about black kids. We plainly don’t care about public schools.

We love the smell of script in the morning—tired old misleading script, drawn from a corporatist source.

Tomorrow: Professor Harris-Perry honors Dr. King

This afternoon: What we saw a few weeks back at the low-income school


  1. If "Vampira", Maila Syrjäniemi, were alive she would say Guinier needs a transfusion..

    1. Why do some men believe that women were put on this earth so that they could comment on their appearance?

    2. Because they think with an organ other than their brain and when it comes to thought, size really, really, really does matter.

  2. Warning to casual readers of this blog: These comments are unmoderated. They are infested by one or more trolls who routinely attack the blog author in a variety of ways, rarely substantive. Such attacks are not an indicator of the level of interest of other readers, the validity of the content posted nor of the esteem in which the blog author is held by others.

  3. Good God! We continue to read scripted twaddle at our own liberal self-hatred site! But we keep coming back because we love it when BOB visits Finland.

    This piece was written by BOB Somerby, an old blogger who claims to have taught school over a third of a century ago.

    In fairness to BOB, his claims to be a liberal slightly misstate the actual thrust of his website.

    A careful reader will see that BOB actually makes things up, distorts, and disappears facts when it comes to education.

    Technically speaking, BOB doesn’t deny that Finland student's scores higher than US students on international tests. He just routinely ignores an often cited cause, that Finland's teachers may be better qualified than those in the U.S.

    Technically speaking, BOB doesn't blame America's test scores on poor minority test performance. He blames it on lingering effects of slavery and limited verbal interaction with mother's who have small vocabularies. Still, that’s what his new, right wing fans think he has written, as evidenced by a robust new group of commenters.

    Technically speaking BOB does blame those he calls "pseudo-liberals"
    for ignoring some test scores of black and Hispanic kids in the US that allow him to make distorted claims about their progress. This allows him to throw out those kids' test scores when he compares American schools to Finland and pronounce proudly..."On the most recent TIMSS math tests, American kids matched Finland’s scores at both grade levels, Grade 4 and Grade 8. White kids in American schools blew Finland’s scores out the door." In fact Finland's scores were higher at both grade levels, and American white kids comprise only half its student body.

    All too often, our self-hating blogger says the same darnned things.

    We have noticed one thing new. BOB doesn't mention Poland much any more. Your Zarkon gets results?!?

    1. Dear K[ra]Z,

      "...American white kids comprise only half its student body." Thanks for stating the obvious. You are so enlightening. I'm so glad you comment here in order to spread your vitriol and share your wisdom.

    2. That KZ. Spreading vitriol. By copying Somerby's own words.

    3. Trollsplaining (aka garbage not worth reading)

    4. Trollcalling (aka stuff we dismiss because its over our head but tribal reaction is expected).

    5. KZ is wrong. He isn't deep, he is fixated on trivialities that neglect the point being made while portraying Somerby as venal. This is a reflection of his disordered thinking. He routinely mistakes a feature for a bug -- perhaps because he cannot follow a train of thought to a conclusion. KZ is too pathetic to be on either tribe's side.

    6. Name one thing he said which was wrong @ 8:27.

    7. KZ is wrong and trivial. And you notice he didn't comment once during the important posts, like Brian Williams crazy stories about Vienna sausages.

  4. Lani Guinir is a political scientist, not an expert in k-12 education. Presumably, she reads the same education journalism that we all read. The journalism that describes failing American schools and successful Finnish schools. It''s bizarre, that you expect her to know the non-scripted facts about k-12 schools.
    Bob, almost no one knows the non-scripted facts about k-12 schools and your expectation that she'd know differently is bizarre. I also find it sadly amusing that you'd go after Dr. Guinier, one of the first targets of The Right in the first Clinton Administration. It seems that your compassion and your charity only embraces Bill and Al.


    1. Academics are taught not to offer authoritative comments on topics outside their field of expertise. She made herself a target by speaking without knowing what she was talking about. Somerby's complaint is that too many of our professors do this kind of thing. I agree. When someone is a professor, they have an extra responsibility not to spread misinformation because it is their job to be an expert. If she didn't know she should have talked about the political aspects of education or said that she wasn't current in her knowledge about public schools. She shouldn't just make stuff up.

    2. "Somerby's complaint is that too many of our professors do this kind of thing." Since Somerby has absolutely no academic expertise in anything he bears no responsibility to avoid misinformation.

      Are you really as stupid as you write?

    3. It isn't clear whether you are suggesting Somerby has no responsibility or claiming that I did -- I didn't. Either way, it is faulty logic:

      If P then Q
      Not P
      Conclude Not Q

      You have committed the fallacy called denying the antecedent or inverse fallacy. It is mistaken reasoning because it leads to a possibly untrue conclusion.

      I think we all bear responsibility for not spreading misinformation but academics are trained not to. The same is not true for Somerby. If you think he is wrong about something feel free to point out what it is, instead of just carping in odd ways.

    4. Disclaimer and DirectionsMarch 10, 2015 at 3:20 PM

      Warning to casual readers of this blog: These comments are infested by one or more trolls who routinely attack the blog author. While these comments are unmoderated, they are monitored by writhing, screaming imaginary friends of the author who can see Finland coming before you can say "Lake Woebegon." Combine equal parts gorilla dust and Powdermilk biscuit mix, bake in cracked pot, and wait until test scores rise.

    5. Excuse me @ 2:11/2:55.

      You just wrote two things that arouse my curiosity:

      1) "When someone is a professor, they have an extra responsibility not to spread misinformation... . She shouldn't just make stuff up."

      2) "I think we all bear responsibility for not spreading misinformation"

      What misinformation did Guinier spread? What stuff did she
      just make up?

    6. 2:55 stated:
      "If P then Q
      Not P
      Conclude Not Q"

      Your logic is flawed.

      "If P then Q", does not always mean "Not P then Not Q"

      Example. If Pregnant then Sexually Active. Does not always mean If not Pregnant then not Sexually Active.

      Carry on.

    7. 2:15/ 2:55

      Pregnant with pausing. Fallow with answers. Perhaps lacking self-expertise wishes to avoid further responsibility.

    8. @3:59 You have repeated exactly what I said @2:55. Then you say my logic is flawed. I'm not sure what your point is.

    9. Well, since 2:15/2:55 is still pondering, allow us to quote from Ms. Guinier's interview with Salon, as linked by Somerby:

      Answer to second question:

      "I don’t claim to be an expert on all of education in the United States."

    10. Well I was typing when @ 2:15/2:55 reappeared to defend
      fuzzy comment. Nothing on the trained academic Guinier's misinformation though.

    11. She isn't an expert on any of education in the US. Including the word "all" implies she knows something, but apparently not much. She should have redirected the question to something she was more familiar with.

      Somerby documents her misinformation. If you disagree with him, explain your beef instead of posting obscure remarks about other commenters.

    12. Let's repeat what I asked @ 8:21 back when he/she was saying things @ 2:11/2:55:
      @ 3:33

      You just wrote two things that arouse my curiosity:

      1) "When someone is a professor, they have an extra responsibility not to spread misinformation... . She shouldn't just make stuff up."

      2) "I think we all bear responsibility for not spreading misinformation"

      What misinformation did Guinier spread? What stuff did she just make up?

      Five hours, and at least one comment in between later, the best @ 8:21 can come up with is:

      "Somerby documents her misinformation." Sorry, no. You said she spreads misinformation.

      You said we all bear responsibility. You are responsible for your accusations. You made them.

      Somerby documents it? Pray tell us what misinformation does he document, since in five hours you could come up with nothing to justify the statement you made on your own.

      Still stumped?

      Academicians are trained, you say? Somerby's grandpa's monkey's were trained too, we are told.

      You have committed the fallacy of showing you are an empty headed follower spreading misinformation your trainer planted in your head.

  5. "Finland is... the Lake Wobegon of the western world."

    Deep thought emerging from a mind populated with constantly crying, screaming, and writhing companions.

  6. Bob mentions child poverty as a factor that makes our educational results worse than Finland's. But, does poverty cause children to perform worse in school? If so, by what mechanism?

    That might be the case if poverty meant that the child was starving or had no place to live or lacked other necessities. But, we don't define "poverty" in terms of lacking essentials. Instead, it's defined as a percentage of how wealthy other people are.

    Thanks to various government programs and thanks to decades of rising prosperity, most American children "living in poverty" have adequate food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc. They have access to medical care. They "typically have cell phones (as well as landline phones), computers, televisions, video recorders, air conditioning, refrigerators, gas or electric stoves, and washers and dryers and microwaves", according to a report from the Census Bureau. In absolute terms, today's typical impoverished American child is considerably wealthier than I was when I attended elementary school.

    Of course, poor children are indeed worse students on average. However, correlation isn't necessarily causation. I think the reasons for this correlation are not simply that poverty makes children into worse students.

    1. You, sir (I assume), are truly an unadulterated moron.

    2. Excellent points D in C.

    3. DiC,

      Rising prosperity has been the luck of the 10%. For the rest of us, it's been stagnant incomes for the last 30 years. Thank Regan, he ushered in the dissolution of the middle class.


  7. Excellent points indeed DinC. and 7:05. And let's be clear. While there are many liberals promoting victimology among blacks and Hispanics, leading some of them to think they can steal and punch cops, clearly the former are better off than they would be in Africa which is why the latter are climbing fences to get here.

    Right? Which is why I hope Somerby covers the foolish attention being paid to this fraternity business in Oklahoma instead of important issues like Guinier and other race baiters.

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