Imploding culture watch: Kristof passes it on!


Narrative never sleeps: Do you believe in magic?

We were especially struck by the following part of Nicholas Kristof’s new column. Kristof is writing about a school for deeply impoverished children in Kenya:
KRISTOF (9/29/11): The school looks like a good American school, and classes are taught in English. Even though English is a second or third language for these children, 82 percent perform at American grade level—and these kids are ravenous to learn.

“Some of the first and second graders are reading at seventh-grade level,” Jessica said proudly.
Do you believe the highlighted statements? For example, do you believe that some of the first graders are reading at seventh-grade level?

Everything is possible. But we were struck by the ease with which Kristof passed this claim on. Nothing stops the modern post-journalist from presenting such pleasing claims. Familiar narrative is all within a post-factual culture.

In the past year, our society has been soaked with reminders about the possible problems surrounding such claims. But nothing slows post-journalist man as he hands you your favorite stories.


  1. I've given up on reading nearly all the NY Times columnists except for Krugman and Egan, who really gets no play, but he's often quite good. The right-leaning ones (Brooks, Douthat, the thankfully dismissed and execrable Kristol) rarely have anything salient to say that isn't infected with a conservative-filtered, post-modernist style denial of reality, while the "liberal" ones seem eager either to beguile with their thin wit or return to their same, tiresome hobbyhorses (for Friedman it's his faulty theories and his Grand Bargain; for Kristof it's saving someone in some other part of the world while acting like everything's fine in the US; with Blow it's magnifying, often in error, some tiny issue, into an entire pointless column; with Nocera, it seems, it's trying to find spurious equivalences or making points after the fact; with Bruni, oh who knows; and with Cohen, it usually has something to do with his background, or Europe, etc.). The daily issues perhaps the majority of middle-class and working-class readers of the NY Times may be facing never registers on these folks' radars. I suppose there are readers who feast on this stuff, but life's too short. Meanwhile, other than Krugman and Egan, you can't get a single one of these people to discuss basic things like, oh, health care cost discrepancies between the US and other Western countries; what would have happened if the debt limit ceiling hadn't been raised; what would occur if we allowed the Clinton-era tax rates to reset and how that would affect the country's finances; the current president's failure to gain Congressional approval for sending troops to Libya or anywhere, and what that does to our Constitutional system; the general obstinacy of the contemporary Republican Party to yield on its ideology and principles, and the effects this is having on how Congress operates; the warping role of big money in politics, many professions; the devastation of long-term joblessness and the housing crisis on the lives of millions of Americans; and so on. Nope, it's hobbyhorses, pop psychologizing, one fantasy or another, saving children elsewhere, and whatever passes through the dim channels of these folks' minds. These very wealthy liberal folks' minds. And let's not even mention the recent articles/posts/nonsense by Bill Keller! Lord help us!

  2. Don't know about Kenya, but I visited a school in a very poor township in Zimbabwe last year. It was about 30 miles outside Victoria Falls.

    In terms of facilities, they had almost nothing. However, students are taught in two languages -- the local language and English. Based on the lesson plans on the blackboard, their first grade curriculum compares favorably with ours.

  3. Bob,

    There is a way to explain the nonsense about reading at 7th grade level. In many standardized tests (my daughter's, for example), they offer a statistic called 'grade equivalent'. The proper definition of GE is as follows:

    The score achieved by your child at grade 2 is the score achieved by the *average* 7th grader if they took that exact test.

    This is very often misinterpreted by stat-challenged folks as 'my child is reading at the 7th grade level'. No, your child is reading at a level that an average 7th grader would have no difficulty reading. That doesn't mean your child can read what that 7th grader is reading.