GAIL COLLINS CARES: About closure!

FRIDAY, JUNE 1, 2012

Part 4—MSNBC doesn’t care too: You can’t really blame Gail Collins’ readers if they’re somewhat clueless about the public schools.

They read the New York Times every day. They’ve been told it’s our leading newspaper.

They read Gail Collins twice a week. They've seen her treated like an actual journalist on the Maddow Show.

Such readers may think they’re getting the latest dope from the Times and Collins. It may not occur to them that the Times makes little real effort to report on the state of the schools.

In fairness, you can’t really blame these readers for the things they don’t know. There’s a good chance they have never heard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP). Not having heard of the program itself, they may not realize that the New York Times has never reported its remarkable data, and has never tried to assess what those data mean. They may not have realized that Collins was citing the NAEP when she made a fleeting assessment of the state of the schools last week, before she returned to her trademark blend of joking, deception and snark.

That said, Collins’ commenters were quite clueless as they responded to her column. Most depressingly, long lists of commenters moaned about the way the schools keep getting worse—even after Collins said that basic skills seem to have been getting better for at least several decades.

This is what Collins fleetingly said, although few readers noticed:
COLLINS (5/26/12): If there’s an education crisis, it’s one of at least 50 years duration. By the best national assessment we have available, it appears that the math skills of American fourth- and eighth-graders have been going up slowly but steadily for decades. Reading scores are also a tad better, although pretty flat.
In our view, Collins understates the apparent gain. But even after Collins suggested that skills have been improving for decades, a long list of commenters said the opposite, showing no sign of understanding that they were contradicting the 800 words of snark with which they had just been diddled.

Good lord. Repeatedly, these commenters praised their own superior skills as they produced this comical work, contrasting themselves with These Kids Today—the kids whose test scores are better than theirs were. In this way, they let us gaze on the epistemic closure now sweeping our own “liberal” world.

As pseudo-liberals, we like to say that pseudo-conservatives are gripped by this form of closure. That claim is plainly true, but we pseudo-liberals are gaining ground fast. We have our own pseudo-news channel now. We have our own pseudo-liberal sites; we have our own clowns and propagandists. Pseudo-journalists like Collins are prized for the way they hand us the tales we enjoy:

Mitt Romney strapped his dog to the roof of the car, Collins semi-said in this column, for perhaps the fiftieth time. Killing more time, she chuckled about the number of times Romney said “bold” in his education speech (3)—and about the highly comical fact that he used the term “logjam!” In the midst of this requisite clowning and killing of time, Collins slipped in an actual fact about schools:

On our most reliable measure, skills have been improving for decades!

Collins slipped it in, then quickly moved on. But uh-oh! Predictably, Collins’ highly self-impressed readers didn’t seem to notice this statement. One only comment, out of 389, mentioned this thing she had said!

We liberals are building our own closure now, with pseudos like Collins helping us do it. Example: Even as commenters complained about the pitiful dumbness of These Kids Today, two readers pushed a talking-point which is increasingly popular wherever pseudo-liberal epistemic closure is sold.

When it comes to public schools, we’re number one! That’s what this pair of commenters said—or at least, that’s how it sounded:
COMMENTER FROM NEW JERSEY: Our schools are not failing. That's the propaganda. One example: If you exclude low-income minorities from the “calculations,” our schools perform among the best in the world. Private schools know this—that's why the best only admit connected insiders...

The “crisis” is invented purely so that private investors can “fix” it—with millions in profit for themselves and no risk to their own children.

COMMENTER FROM ATLANTA: We continue to try to fix a clock that's not broken. The "crisis" began when we discovered that our comparable, international test scores ranked the US well below many other nations. We decided to "fix" the ranking problem. What we knew then, and what we know now, is that when one adjusts the scores for poverty via the "Free-Lunch" program, we have the highest performing schools in the world. We also have the highest rate of poverty among first world economies. Instead of fighting poverty, we have decided to "fight" teachers. Obviously, teachers have caused our high rate of poverty!
“If you exclude low-income minorities from the calculations, our schools perform among the best in the world.” Variants of this feel-good claim are increasingly frequent in liberal threads, accompanied by the feel-good claim that the so-called educational “crisis” simply doesn’t exist.

That first claim is even technically accurate, although it’s grossly misleading. As you can see in this federal report about the 2009 PISA international testing (scroll down to page 15), American schools “with less than 10 percent of free and reduced-price lunch students” did register reading scores at the level achieved by the world’s highest-scoring countries. But in this comparison, we are comparing the performance of schools in our most advantaged communities to the average performance of all schools in these other countries. In short, our toniest public schools can match or exceed the average school in these other lands. Increasingly, this leads us liberals to say that the educational “crisis” is a mere invention.

"Our schools are not failing," we may find ourselves saying. “We continue to try to fix a clock that's not broken.”

It isn’t exactly Collins’ fault that these foolish claims appeared in her comments. But claims like these are spreading today because people like Collins are manifest pseudos. Simply put, Collins and her pseudo-newspaper don’t discuss the public schools. In a dimly rational world, the following fact would be seen as astounding:

The New York Times has never reported those remarkable data from the NAEP! “By the best national assessment we have available,” black fourth-graders are now scoring higher in math than their white counterparts from 1992! And no, there is no sign that cheating has been involved in this process.

Truly, that’s an astonishing fact. And the New York Times has never reported it! Simply put, the New York Times doesn’t care about low-income kids. Rather plainly, neither does the high lady Collins, although she does care about dogs.

You’ll never get us to admit it, but we modern pseudo-liberals are an unimpressive bunch. We’re not very smart—and we’re quite self-impressed. We praise ourselves for our vast racial greatness—and we throw our black kids down a hole.

We read Collins for the jokes and the snark, and for the shit about Mitt Romney’s dog. She serves it to us, week after week. Truly, we’re horrible people.

In fact, by any sensible measure, many parts of our society are involved in an educational “crisis.” But our big newspapers rarely attempt to examine this fact. For ourselves, we don’t think we’ve ever seen a discussion of the themes that still seem most important to us, based upon a dozen years in the Baltimore public schools.

The questions we would ask:

What happens to low-income kids when they arrive in kindergarten? If they’re already several years “behind,” how do our schools adjust? Do they adjust at all?

What happens to low-income kids when they get to the fourth and fifth grades? If they are substantially behind traditional grade level, how are they taught at that point?

Know-nothing “journalists” constantly write about the way the states are “raising standards.” (See this editorial in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun.) Question: For kids who couldn’t meet the old standard, how does raising the standard help?

Quite literally, we have never seen a journalist ask the questions we think are most central, based upon years in the Baltimore schools. On the other hand, we did have the misfortune of watching The One True Liberal Channel pretend to care about public schools last week.

Uh-oh! In a discussion with some Philadelphia teachers on the day of his education speech, Romney said vile things about class size! Collins didn’t mention these remarks, but her commenters went on and on about them.

On MSNBC last Thursday night, four different hosts took up this cudgel, displaying their cluelessness as they did. Sharpton, Schultz, Bashir and Maddow—all pretended to care a great deal about the state of the public schools. (Bashir was sitting in for O’Donnell, who was lounging in Tinseltown or in some finer locale.)

Everyone was furious about the vile things Romney had said! In the process, everyone showcased his or her lack of knowledge, with Sharpton going to special lengths. But let’s focus on Maddow, who wouldn’t discuss the interests of low-income kids if her life depended on it.

Maddow doesn’t care about low-income kids—and on this occasion, it showed. As she started, she feigned solidarity with a Philly pol who had complained about the fact that Romney went to West Philly at all.

This made us pseudo-liberals feel good; we learned to adore Maddow better. But as she continued, she made a mash of the things Romney actually said:
MADDOW (5/26/12): I used to live in West Philadelphia. I know exactly what he’s talking about. Inside that Philly school, Mr. Romney also faced some headwinds from some of the people his campaign set him up to meet with while the cameras were rolling. Watch.

ROMNEY (videotape): A number of folks said, well, we need smaller classroom sizes. That will make the biggest difference. I said, let’s compare the average classroom size from each school district with the performance of our students because we test our kids and we’ll see if there is a relationship. There was not. So just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.

PHILADELPHIA TEACHER: I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching over 10 years—13 years, who would say that they would love—more students would benefit.

ROMNEY: Of course.

PHILADELPHIA TEACHER: I can’t think of a parent that would say, I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher. So I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from.

MADDOW: It is hard to imagine that Mr. Romney is going to run for president on the basis of saying that class size ought to be bigger. If you can put 20 kids in the classroom, why not 30, why not 50? It’s frankly more efficient! It’s marvelous!

I don’t think he’s going to run on that.

The Obama campaign went right after the Romney campaign on this today. As he’s getting face to face confrontation from teachers he’s meeting when he was he’s supposed to be rolling out his big education ideas as the Obama campaign goes after him on this, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Romney campaign sticks with education as something they’re going to run on and sticks especially with his idea that bigger class sizes are cool.
In her typical way, Maddow got busy “improving” what Romney had said. Do we really need a former Rhodes Scholar to disinform us like this?
WHAT ROMNEY SAID: Just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.

WHAT MADDOW PRETENDED ROMNEY SAID: Class size ought to be bigger. If you can put 20 kids in the classroom, why not not 50? Bigger class sizes are cool!
Maddow doesn’t care about low-income kids. But in that translation of Romney’s remarks, you see the clownish turn of mind she routinely brings to her work.

Who can watch a show like this without feeling insulted by such a translation? Answer: We pseudo-liberals can! Truly, we’re a pitiful group. Like our pseudo-conservative friends, it increasingly seems that we long to be misled by our betters.

And uh-oh! Things got worse for Maddow after she finished her clownish translation. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t know a basic fact, a fact Benjy Sarlin later reported. Uh-oh! She didn’t know that Education Secretary Arne Duncan “has made exactly the same case [about class size] for years, citing studies indicating that larger classes were not inherently detrimental.”

To read Sarlin’s report in TPM, click here. (Headline: “Despite Obama Campaign Attack, Romney And W.H. Have Similar Take On Class Size.”) Then, reread all that know-nothing, pro-Obama snark from our millionaire corporate child.

Can we talk? Romney wasn’t impressive this day—but he seems to know more about this topic than Maddow and her snark-infested staff. In a comment the willful child didn’t air, Romney had also said this:
ROMNEY: A think-tank type group went around the world and looked at schools in Singapore and Finland and South Korea and the United States and looked at the differences, and said, gosh, in the schools that the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same in the United States.
Reporters said the report in question came from McKinsey. But the OECD itself has been advancing such a report, saying that some of the highest-performing countries have chosen to “prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes.” This discussion has been ongoing for years, except in precincts like MSNBC, where they pay no attention to low-income schools—except when they get to clown around and misstate what someone has said.

To see an education reporter in Vancouver discuss the OECD study, just click here. But then, this discussion has been widespread in the past few years; many people have argued, as the OECD does, that limited resources may be more wisely spent attracting top teachers as opposed to reducing class size. We have no particular view about this—but because we don’t live on the dark side of Uranus, we did know about this debate, in which the administration has seemed to come down, rightly or wrongly, against the unquestioned importance of class size.

MSNBC had never heard about this discussion, or about the evidence being debated. But that’s because its hosts, like other modern elites, don’t care about low-income kids. They’re stuffing millions of bucks in their pants—and they don’t discuss low-income schools as they offer their comfort food to their uncaring, pseudo-lib viewers.

Collins, Maddow, Bashir, O’Donnell? All in all, these aren't impressive people. But they’re stuffing millions of bucks in their pants. And, in fairness, they do seem to care about certain basic things.

Lady Collins does care about dogs. And they all seem devoted to the closure now gripping our part of the world.


  1. Do you know anyone who reads the New York Times? I certainly don't. Probably hardly anyone really does.

    Same thing with MSNBC!

    Also, even if a couple of people do, what are you implying Bob? -- That they can't think for themselves? That they need you to correct their thinking? What an ego!

    The Anonymous Idiot

  2. The Real Anonymous (Idiot)June 1, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    No, no, no.

    You think you can parody us Anonymous Idiots, Anonymous?

    Well the point isn't that no one's paying attention to Collins and MSNBC (although we often imply that it *is* the point)...

    No, the point is that those people aren't "liberals."

    They're just people who want to laugh, to be entertained.

    No one really believes Collins is a journalist. Well, at least no one *I* know!

    So let us enjoy our fun. Nobody is really being misled by this stuff.

    We can think for ourselves, you know!

    The Real Anonymous Idiot

  3. Nobody reads Bob's education posts.

  4. Bottom line, Bob: Mitt Romney, the candidate of his party for President of the United States, is unaware of decades worth of study that shows a strong, undeniable corelation between class sizes, lower student/teacher ratios and student performance.

    It is not a quantum leap in logic to go from there to Romney thinking that bigger classes and larger student/teacher ratios might not be a bad thing. But of course, since Romney didn't say EXACTLY that, in those words, both the Philadelphia teacher and especially the mean, vile Rachel Maddow were utterly wrong in taking his remarks to there very logical conclusion.

    But once again, the bottom line, Bob: Mitt Romney is IGNORANT of any studies on the effect of smaller class sizes and lower teacher/student ratios on the performance
    of students.

    A person who actually cares about education and claims to be so expert about it should find that alone to be SHOCKING!

    But nope. Here comes Bob Somerby, once again racing to the rescue of poor, beset-upon Mitt Romney from the mean things that "liberals" are saying about him.

    1. I see you did not cite one of those studies. After a life time in education I have seen very few.

  5. Anonymous 12:59,

    There is no "undeniable correlation between class sizes, lower student/teacher ratios and student performance." There has been only one serious study of the issue and the results are ambiguous. It's probably not too far off the mark to say, as Romney did, that "just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key." To imply that this is a self-evidently ridiculous position, as Maddow did, is stupid. I'm a teacher, and my gut feeling is that smaller classes are better, but don't pretend that the research is undeniably on my side.

    Here's a good overview of the research:

    1. Wow! This so called "good overview" starts out by saying that the STAR project is the only study ever done on class size! And it's results were "inconclusive."

      Tell you what, cacambo. I say the earth is round. Your turn to come up with yet another Web site that says the shape of the earth has only been studied once, and the results were inconclusive.

      And just to give you some help here, try googling up "small class size" again, and not cherry-picking the one thing that seems to say what you want it to say.

      You'll come up with thousands of hits to thousands of studies.

    2. Just followed your advice and guess what I found... More ambiguity! Certainly not "undeniable correlation."

    3. Oh and one other thing: Neither I nor the article I linked to said the issue of class size has only been studied once. (But you knew that). I said only one "serious" study had been done, which I admit was a poor choice of words--"methodologically rigorous" would have been better.

      But let's get back to the matter at hand. Romney made a statement that was pretty accurate, or at least defensible, and Maddow clowned like it was something from beyond the pale. This is the classic example of weak sh!t that Somerby rightly criticizes: don't bother to actually argue on the merits, just dismiss your opponents as hopelessly ignorant and not worth bothering your superior head about.

    4. Then once again, you found only what you are looking for. How odd.

      Now google "climate change." You'll find the same "ambiguity" including several claims that the effect of man-made greenhouse gases hasn't really been studied in a "methodologically rigorous" way yet.

      You see, for certain folks on an agenda, no amount of research and empirical evidence is going to be enough, so you simply claim that the research and evidence that is out there wasn't done quite correctly, is "ambiguous" and doesn't state what it clearly states, simply doesn't exits, and/or all of the above.

  6. I read his education posts, and I admit that much goes pass me due to my comparative lack of knowledge on the subject in general. More distressing in "the bad new DH" as opposed to the "good old DH" is Somerby's obnoxious and smug insistence that he knows what people care about, i.e., he judges their souls with casual abandoned. This is the opposite of the dispassionate take on the available record that used to set TDH apart. Remember "why are they doing this? we have no idea..." But now Bob knows exactly who cares and doesn't care about the evils of society, and guess what? It's mostly him.

    1. The "why are they doing this we have no idea" was irrelevant. What mattered then and what mattered now was the extraordinarily bad behavior that Bob documented. And anyway, he was always pretty harsh in his judgments about some people--my guess is that people are upset that more of his criticism is directed at liberals who settle for third rate "reporting" and "commentary".

      As for smug and obnoxious, I'm a lot more bothered by the obnoxious and smug Rachel Maddow. We've got a weekday evening lineup of people who claim to be liberals on MSNBC and they do an awful job, night after night. But they're paid very well. In sharp contrast, Chris Hayes runs a pretty decent show where people actually try to have intelligent discussions for two hours straight. So it can be done--it's just that MSNBC or the people they've hired have for whatever reason decided they're not going to host intelligent shows Perhaps they feel there's no market for several hours of serious political discussion each weekday night. Maybe they're right. Or maybe there's some other reason. But they certainly don't seem to care.

      If we simply write off MSNBC, though, we're still left with the mystery of why the more serious journalistic outlets do such a bad job on so many issues. You don't need Bob to tell you that--Krugman, to name one example, has been complaining about the horrific level of discussion on economic and political issues for years. I think the explanation is more or less what Bob thinks--we've got a decadent elite who are too comfortable to care. It's a simple explanation, it agrees with what we know about human nature, and it fits the facts.

      Or maybe they all have beautiful souls. I don't actually care. It's their actions that matter.

    2. Well, what seems to "matter now" to Somerby is his daily defense of Mitt Romney and whatever latest dumb thing he says against all those mean, vile MSNBC hosts who call him out on it.

    3. I think I will respectfully disagree on this one. Assigning evil motives to even very suspect behavior was part of the Press's novel writing. It's a big part of where news stops and novels begin.

    4. Uh, no, it wasn't. The press's novel writing consisted of making up things that didn't happen, and of ignoring things that did happen and doing it all in the service of some rather obvious narrative. Imagine trying to tell the story of the 2000 campaign (as Bob is doing) without getting into the motives of the reporters and pundits involved. It wouldn't make any sense. Why would hardworking reporters and honest pundits doing their best to get the story right spread so many falsehoods? You talk as though there was some deep mindreading involved here, but there isn't. If people repeatedly churn out crap and are well paid for doing it, there aren't very many choices available to explain it--they are either stupid or have bad motives.

    5. And to the 5:41 anonymous--yeah, sure, Bob is a Romney defender. That's why he keeps saying that competent reporters would investigate the charge that Bain Capital made its profits to some degree by looting pensions.

      Bob is one of those liberals who thinks that the facts, if honestly and competently reported, will support the liberal cause. Unfortunately a lot of liberals think they will have more success making fun of Romney about some incident involving his dog.

    6. No, Bob is actually a fairly lazy "thinker" who believes that others should do the heavy lifting, and certainly not his preferred candidate.

      Example: After the first Gore-Bush debate, they had a pretty good dust-up over their tax plans. And yet, the Rovian machine was easily able to turn attention away from that into Gore's "sighs" and the girl who stood up in a Florida classroom.

      Why on earth didn't Gore throw up a comparison of the Bush and Gore income tax plans on his own Web site, then hammered the point home in every stump speech for the next two weeks at least?

      Nope, on the planet Somerby lives, it was all the fault of the "press" for not doing Gore's homework for him?

      Now once again with Bain, as was pointed out, the evil, vile Rachel Maddow did hammer on Bain's looting of the KC steel mill. But apparently she either didn't do it exactly the way Bob wanted, or she couldn't possibly do it well because Bob says she's evil and vile, as well a stupid and lazy.

      So that gets ignored.

      And the trouble is, when you go down the path of Bain, for every KC plant that you point out, Romney will point to four that Bain saved. Is that a briar patch you want to venture into?

      Now as far as "Bob is a Romney defender" exactly what as Bob NOT defended Romney on, except the Bain briar patch where Romney would love Obama to go for the reasons cited above.

      Bob's record speaks for itself, and it speaks quite loudly over the last couple of months.

    7. This is ridiculous. First of all, this was the year 2000. Many voters weren't on the internet hardly at all. Who has the potential to be convinced by what Gore put on his website? Tech-savvy/and/or/young people who are interested in voting for him. That's about it. The Rove machine could not have been anywhere near as successful as it was without the help from the mainstream media. They were just too lazy, and having too much fun to really push back on the stupid bullshit Rove and co. turned out. It flat-out didn't matter what Gore said at stump speeches, because the likes of Ceci Connoly spent their ink on detailing how high his pants were cuffed, and describing his boots.

      It's just bizarre that you're irritated over the fact that a blog that does press criticism mainly criticizes the press.

  7. These attacks on Somerby are tiresome. Can't we have comments that discuss education, like Gail Collins does?

  8. When it comes to facts about education, Bob Somerby is indeed a voice howling in the wilderness.

    My wife is a retired K-8 teacher, and we socialize with working teachers, so I have opportunities to compare what Somerby says with the rank and file.
    He is mostly right, according to grade school teacher's real life experiences.

    This bull roar about class sizes does in no way "prove" that size doesn't matter.

    What it proves is that the so-called incompetent, money-grubbing union members that teach our kids step up to every challenge thrown at them by penny-pinching lawmakers, and billionaires that seek to make education in America a for-profit corporate enterprise.

    They sustain Herculean efforts so that, in spite of budget cuts, staff cuts, maintenance cuts, supply cuts, etc., their kids still get a decent education.

    The class size argument is the old straw breaking the camel's back test, and we are letting local government add straw after straw while we whip the camels harder and harder.

    If, by stumbling upon the Daily Howler, a few more people get wise to the propaganda war being waged on them, I say, let Bob be repetitious and tedious to his regular readers. He offers fresh insight and new information to new readers.

    After all, we superbrains that log on every day were not always so goddamned smart ourselves.

    1. Gravy, look again at this post and see who Somerby calls the money-grubbing elitists who care nothing about low-income children as they stuff millions into their pockets.

      Is it Mitt Romney, who suggested larger class sizes might be a good thing?

      Nope, it was the "MSNBC hosts" for calling BS on that idea.

    2. By the way, look at the example of a comment Romney made that Somerby thinks proves how much more he knows about education than Rachel Maddow:

      ROMNEY: A think-tank type group went around the world and looked at schools in Singapore and Finland and South Korea and the United States and looked at the differences, and said, gosh, in the schools that the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same in the United States.


      Amazing! That stands in sharp contrast to Somerby's earlier, more thoughtful work on education in which he rightfully pointed out that you can not compare public education that is open to all in the heterogenous United States culture, to public education in a much more homogenous culture that also tends to weed out early the kids who are more difficult to educate.

    3. Yep, when Romney mentions class size, the talking heads on MSNBC recoil in shock and horror.
      Otherwise, mum's the word.

  9. As usual I have considerable trouble deciphering what Somerby really thinks should be done, or even what he thinks we should do to find out what should be done. Several people he quotes point out that poor academic performance is correlated with poverty - this seems to be the empirical fact. Now the question is, how can the academic performance of poor kids be improved; by on the one hand raising their economic status, or on the other by changes in schools, whether it be cracking the whip over teachers and administrators with testing or by more and better pre-school or reducing class sizes or even, God forbid, paying teachers more to attract those super teachers who can succeed where ordinary people fail.

    Can anybody cite some real empirical evidence that any approach to solving this problem by "improving" schools has actually succeeded (with feasible public expenditure)?

  10. Sorry, but I find nothing objectionable in Rachel Maddow's inference. If, in fact, class size makes no difference, then it would be stupid not to increase class size, more bang for the buck and all, that that's clearly the policy direction such a statement leads to.