Narrative all the way down: No, it doesn't "matter" that Candidate Sanders said it.
Depending on how you want to score it, it isn't even clear that what he said was "wrong."
Still, we were struck by something Sanders said last night about Sweden and Denmark's great public schools.
His statement isn't necessarily "wrong." It does help display a basic point—quite routinely, our pitiful, broken public discourse is narrative all the way down:
SANDERS (2/18/16): When I talk about "democratic socialist," you know what I'm talking about?Do Denmark and Sweden "have public educational systems which are extremely strong?" It all depends on how you score it! But decades of conservative agitprop are reinforced by such remarks. Truly, in our broken discourse, it's narrative all the way down.
Social Security, one of the most popular and important programs in this country, developed by FDR to give dignity and security to seniors. And it has been enormously successful at reducing poverty among seniors.
When I talk about democratic socialist, I am talking about Medicare, a single-payer health care system for the elderly. And in my view, we should expand that concept to all people.
I believe that everybody in this country should be entitled to health care as a right. And the most effective way to do it is through a "Medicare for all," single-payer program.
When I talk about democratic socialist, I'm not looking at Venezuela. I'm not looking at Cuba.
I'm looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden. And you know what goes on in those countries? All of the kids who have the ability and desire go to college.
And you know how much it costs? It is free. They have child care systems which are outstanding. They have public educational systems which are extremely strong.
How good are the schools in Sweden and Denmark? Let's take a look at the record!
Over the past twenty years, the world's developed nations have taken part in three international testing programs—the PISA, the TIMSS and the PIRLS.
By conventional reckoning, the PISA focuses on "creative thinking;" the TIMSS focuses on knowledge of basic curriculum. That said, the developed nations, Sweden and Denmark included, participate in both testing programs.
So does the United States. Given the claims you constantly hear, let's take a look at the record:
The PISA tests 15-year-old students in reading literacy, math literacy and science literacy. If you go here and start clicking around, you can learn these things about the most recent PISA results:
In reading, the United States outscored Denmark by an insignificant two points. The United States outscored Sweden by a substantial margin.
In science, the United States scored one point behind Denmark, outscored Sweden by a substantial amount.
In math, Demark outscored the United States by a substantial amount. The United States outscored Sweden by a small amount.
That's the PISA. The United States tends to score better on the TIMSS, which tests fourth-graders and eighth-graders in math and science.
If you go here and proceed to click, you can learn these things about the most recent TIMSS results:
In Grade 4 math, the United States outscored Denmark by a small amount, Sweden by a substantial margin. In Grade 8 math, the United States outscored Sweden by a large margin. Denmark didn't take part.
In Grade 4 science, the United States outscored Sweden and Denmark by fairly substantial margins. In Grade 8 science, the United States outscored Sweden by a substantial amount. Denmark didn't take part.
That leaves only the PIRLS, which tests fourth-graders in reading. In the most recent testing, the United States outscored Denmark by a trivial margin, Sweden by a substantial amount.
Presumably, everyone knows how it sounds when someone gets up in public and says that countries like Sweden and Denmark "have public educational systems which are extremely strong."
Everyone knows what the public hears when it hears statements like that. The public hears the anti-teacher, anti-union agitprop which has been shouted, peddled, sold and yelled for a good many years.
The public hears that our public schools are no good. Out there in TV land, many people thought they heard Candidate Sanders say that last night.
It doesn't seem to be true. Indeed, our schools are much more diverse than the schools in those two utopian lands. Beyond that, we spent several centuries trying to eliminate literacy from one whole part of our population, a legacy which still afflicts us today.
To their credit, Sweden and Denmark have never done something like that. But so what? We tend to outscore them.
Despite our various challenges, the United States tends to outscore Sweden and Denmark on international tests. But you will never hear that said in public, not even by Candidate Sanders.
Our discourse is narrative all the way down. Simply put, we the people aren't up to the task of conducting a public discussion.
Have you ever seen a liberal state these very basic points about our teachers, our children and our schools on the TV machine? How about in an op-ed column? (No, Kevin Drum doesn't count!)
Most often, we're too busy telling the public, but mostly ourselves, how dumb The Others are! Again and again with our own sorry tribe, it's vanity all the way down.