YEAR IN REVIEW: A memorable text about a group we simply don’t care about!


PART 3—ROTHSTEIN MENTIONS A FACT: To an astounding degree, our public discourse is driven by plutocrat scripts.

These scripts don’t have to be built upon facts. In a recent column, David Brooks sampled one of our most ubiquitous narratives—a narrative which helps advance all sorts of plutocrat preferences:
BROOKS (12/26/11): The United States spends far more on education than any other nation, with paltry results. It spends far more on health care, again, with paltry results. It spends so much on poverty programs that if we just took that money and handed poor people checks, we would virtually eliminate poverty overnight. In the progressive era, the task was to build programs; today the task is to reform existing ones.
Forget the part about education spending. Has the U.S. gotten “paltry results” from its public schools in recent years? As written, the claim was vague—but its general thrust is hugely familiar. Indeed, this is one of the most familiar scripts in the plutocracy’s playbook.

Everyone makes this type of claim, from Barack Obama on down.

This brings us to one of the year’s most memorable texts—a text which passed with little notice. The text was written by Richard Rothstein, in a book review for Slate.

Incredibly, Rothstein included a fact. This sort of thing just isn’t done:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago.
Say what? Here at THE HOWLER, we've written about those NAEP scores for years, urging liberals and mainstream journalists to write about them. We might as well have asked the gods to send ginger ale through our faucets. But even we had never offered the fascinating construct Rothstein presented. Wow! The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests students in the fourth and eighth grades—has done so for forty years. And as of 2009, black fourth-graders were scoring higher in math than their white counterparts from the early 1990s!

If those test scores do reflect real achievement, this is plainly not a “paltry result.” Very substantial score gains also appear in reading. But your public discourse—your political world—is routinely controlled by plutocrat scripts. David Brooks rattled one off this week, as easily as other folk breathe.

(In fairness, we’ll guess that Brooks has never heard about those NAEP scores. How many people have?)

For us, Rothstein’s piece was one of the year’s most memorable texts. But very few folk will remember his text because very few folk ever cited it.

Everyone from Obama on down repeats the claim that David Brooks sampled. Almost no one repeated the fact that Richard Rothstein offered.

We've long proposed an obvious reason for this remarkable silence—no one in the whole U.S. gives a rat’s asp about black kids. (What conclusion could be more obvious?) But to us, Rothstein’s text is memorable for an obvious reason. Plutocrat scripts control our discourse in one major area after another. But where else is a plutocrat script so dramatically contradicted by such simple facts?

Everyone vouches for the NAEP—but no one ever describes its results! But then, you live at the end of a very long hall of mirrors. All along that very long hall, white liberals boast about their vast racial greatness—even as we refuse to cite Rothstein’s memorable text.

Tomorrow: Memorable texts regarding the world's elites


  1. I am surprised, and if I didn't read this blog I would never even have heard about this. Seems like good news for our children.

  2. Using the public school system as a punching bag has always been a favorite of politicians of all political stripes.

    Why? It's easy and one of the few universal experiences that resonates with all voters. Everyone had a terrible teacher who didn't care and who made your life miserable as a kid. Why not tap into that raw nerve for votes?

    The fact is, schools today are charged with herculean tasks: teach a wide variety of students, many of whom do not speak english, teach CPR and sex education because mom and dad won't do it, wrestle with constant bad PR, deal with parents who have three big screen TVs but no books in the house, class sizes that are simply too larger, keep an ignorant and politically motivated school board at bay... it goes on and on.

    Overall our schools are doing a pretty good job. But facts don't matter, especailly in an election year.

  3. I don't know the answers, but this theme fits the Howler's point about 'scripts,' and how they are the bread and butter of all so-called journalism now.

    It's all scripts, scripts, the facts be damned.

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