Direct from the Cherry-Pick Hall of Fame!


One more example of The Way We Are: Will the Smithsonian ever open a wing called The Cherry-Pick Hall of Fame?

Probably not! But if the museum ever does open that wing, we now have an op-ed piece which could be the featured exhibit.

We refer to this op-ed column in today’s New York Times. Adding to Baltimore’s recent shame, the piece was written by Jal Mehta, a 36-year-old meritocrat who came up right here in this city.

Or rather, a bit outside it.

Mehta is the perfect contemporary meritocrat. Here in Baltimore, he graduated from the Park School, where mother apparently served as Associate Head of the School. From there, it was on to Harvard, first for an undergraduate degree, then for a PhD.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it! Today, Mehta serves as an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Those used to be known as advantages. In Mehta’s case, it all led up to today’s op-ed column, which he starts by cherry-picking information in a way which would have made Professor Harold Hill blush. Completing the circle of devastation, this is the sort of piece the New York Times loves to publish.

The Times is our nation’s paper of record. Its relentless cluelessness keeps defining The Way We Are.

We’ll look at this column starting on Monday. But good lord, what resonant work! In its shameless cherry-picking, the column gives us our latest look at The Way We Actually Are!

Ten thousand men of Harvard: As mother always used to say, “We sent him to Harvard for this?”

Try to believe that Mehta wrote the highlighted statement, and that the New York Times published it. Not that it’s actually “wrong:”
MEHTA (4/13/13): In the nations that lead the international rankings—Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada—teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in the United States. Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than in America. There are also many fewer teacher-training institutions, with much higher standards. (Finland, a perennial leader in the P.I.S.A. rankings, has eight universities that train teachers; the United States has more than 1,200.)
Wow! Finland has only eight universities that train teachers! No wonder its kids are so smart!

Finland also has only 5.4 million people. Ten thousand men of Harvard smell some shaky statistics today!


  1. So the US had 2.4 times the number of institutions training teachers per capita as does Finland.

    1. Exactly. And that doesn't sound quite as alarming as the comparison of 8 to 1200, which I think was the point.

  2. Finland has FREE (meaning that they don't have to pay big tuition fees) university education, universal health care and all its teachers are unionized. So Finnish university students do not graduate from university with huge loan burdens. The Finns do not go bankrupt from medical expenses and they have other social programs that we can only dream of. Teachers aren't demonized, slimed, swift-boated and mocked as they are in this country. Singapore is not some kind of paradise, it's a very authoritarian type of country. Corporal punishment is allowed against male students and corporal punishment is allowed against criminals in general and even for some minor offenses.

    1. Legal, if unregulated, prostitution, and low violent crime rates, though.

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  4. Our national debt is FIFTEEN TRILLION DOLLARS!!!

    Given that Finland has about one-third as many education schools per capita as the U.S., the original (Mehta) plays that shocking-number game a bit less than the attacker (TDH), the master of cherry-picking.

    Mehta should have written that single sentence in a long op-ed better. I'm sure he understands per capita. But do I need to try to believe he said it? Not really. Is it worth apocalyptic declarations about the state of our discourse? Not hardly. There are zillions of better examples, many of which, indeed, have been identified in this blog over the years.

    P.S. For those who think that $15 trillion actually is shocking and something we should scurry around doing something about now, now, now, you should be aware that (1) we have as much as 30 years to pay (in today's dollars) the obligations it represents, during which time the cumulative GDP will be somewhere around $800 trillion,(2) the U.S. government issues the currency in which those obligations will be paid and can create as much currency as it needs at any time, (3) market has absolutely no concern that the U.S. government will not be able to pay its obligations as they come due, as evidenced by below-zero real interest rates (rates, risk, you know?) and the lowest debt servicing cost since World War II.

    1. As of April 11, 2013, our national debt is $16.8 trillion.

  5. Cherry picking is the wrong term for Mehta's highlighted statement. It is a misleading statistic. Someone at Harvard's Graduate School of Education should know how to use data well enough to avoid this sort of mistake. There is no excuse for inclusion of that comparison without adjusting it to a per capita figure -- none whatsoever. It undermines the credibility of everything else said in the article and is unprofessional. Bob's ongoing point is that these so-called elites are not as well-trained as everyone assumes and should not be occupying the highly visible positions on the NY Times op-ed pages (for example) given them on no other basis than their credentials. Such credentials were earned in the past and guaranteed the absence of this kind of very basic error (giving Mehta the benefit of the doubt).

    1. When the stupidity increases the higher you go, it's on purpose.

      In a real profession, mistakes are only perceivable to other professionals. But the media's mistakes would be trivially avoided by your pizza deliverer.

      In a real profession, it's the run-of-the-mill practitioners making the biggest mistakes. But in the media, no local broadcaster is dumber than, say, Chris Matthews or Mark Halperin.

      In a real profession, lack of resources makes the product worse. In the media, huge teams of researchers and interns are persistently unable to uncover more facts than a google search.

  6. Bob properly objects to misleading education-related statistics, pointing out that the absolute figures should be shown as ratios. In this observation, he illustrates Robert Conquest's First Law of Politics, which says:

    Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.

    Bob knows a lot about eduction, but not so much about the science of climate change. So, he has never objected to the commonly-made statement that, "Humans are currently emitting around 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere." This is true, but should be expressed as a ratio to be meaningful. It sounds less frightening if one says that over the last 40 years the portion of the atmosphere made up of CO2 has increased by only 1 part in 10,000.

    1. Yes, that does sound less frightening -- to the uninformed. But how many parts in 10,000 in the chemical composition of our atmosphere make a difference to global temperature?

      And no, David, for god's sake -- I'm not asking *you*!

    2. According to wikipedia

      "Without any feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 (which amounts to a forcing of 3.7 W/m2) would result in 1 °C global warming, which is easy to calculate and is undisputed. The remaining uncertainty is due entirely to feedbacks in the system, namely, the water vapor feedback, the ice-albedo feedback, the cloud feedback, and the lapse rate feedback"

      During the last 40 years, atmospheric CO2 has risen by about 1/3, from .03% to .04%. Estimates are that at our current rate of CO2 produciton, atmospheric CO2 would double by around 2100. Without feedbacks, CO2 alone would warm the the planet a little, but not catastrophically.

      The catastrophic estimates reflect a substantial amount of positive feedback. Skeptics assert that the feedback assumptions are unproved.

    3. So in a blog post about education, David has got to remind us yet one more time that global warming is a hoax, and he's got much more data than the consensus of world scientists that think otherwise.

      I got it, David. You may now stick your head back in the sand.

  7. Of course D in C knows little about climate change himself, so we have no reason to conclude the a 1 part in 10,000 rise in CO2 is insignificant. By the way, I've never heard the "commonly made statement" about 30 billion tonnes (maybe it's common in the UK). Wikipedia doesn't mention it. But then maybe Wikipedia is controlled by a cabal of warmists. Who knows? The statement I've heard "most commonly" is that there has been a 40% increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 ppm to 397 ppm since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

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  9. Is he really comparing us to Finland? Really? Where childhood poverty is practically non-existent? And where unions are strong and teachers are well-paid and respected. The place where teaches have complete autonomy in their classrooms? Give us those things and THEN compare us.

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  11. But the point he makes, which isn't really his point, it's been written before, is that the countries listed do choose teachers from the top 30% of high schools students and in some countries it's the top 5% and not the bottom 60% as so many that go into teaching here found themselves. We can do better.
    It is also true that the training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and and includes mentoring once they begin to teach. Why can't we learn from these models. The fact that the teachers in these countries find their education financed by the government makes sense. Wouldn't that be a better use of our money than Race to the Top?
    The number of schools that Finland has relative to the US is irrelevant. What they have is a system that works as do the other countries listed. Why can't we?
    The size of the country is also irrelevant. Compare each one to one of our cities or a state. Frankly I'm tired of the excuses we make for continuing to allow mediocrity to prevail in our teacher education system. Sure there are great hard working teachers, but we need more. We need to treat teachers and recruit future teachers as if teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible. Isn't it?

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