What Gene Robinson said last week!


Familiar bold words without meaning: Last week, we reviewed several discussions of the Atlanta public school cheating scandal.

We meant to touch on this column by Gene Robinson. Let’s do so today.

We will start with an assumption. We will assume that Robinson doesn’t really know a whole lot about the way the public schools work. He probably doesn’t know a whole lot about standardized testing.

There’s no reason why he should. No one’s an expert on every issue. And the liberal world to which he belongs devotes little time to these topics.

Robinson wrote about the Atlanta mess all the same.

To us, Robinson seems like a good, decent person, if a bit of a scripted team player. That said, we think the highlighted claim is appalling, although it’s a very familiar statement among fully standardized liberals:
ROBINSON (4/1/13): Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.
Playing the hero, Robinson “totally rejects the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn.”

To state the obvious, no one has ever made such a claim. Why then does he reject it?

Has anybody ever said that “students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn?” Almost surely, the answer is no. In truth, Robinson’s statement is what a liberal says when he doesn’t know squat about low-income schools and still wants to pose as a hero.

No one has ever said that low-income children “can’t learn.” That has never been the question at any point in any part of any public school debate.

When you see liberals making that statement, you ought to feel a bit revulsed. They don’t have anything real to say—and they’re trying to get over.

Robinson totally rejects the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods “can’t learn!” We liberals say that all the time.

In our view, it’s a clueless, who-gives-a-damn statement. It gives the impression that something's been said.

That impression is flagrantly false.


  1. Bull, if you ever escaped your bubble you would hear lots of your fellow countrymen claiming that black students can;t learn. Remember the Bell Curve? Many took that dog whistle to hear,.

    1. Bob's point is that Eugene Robinson lives in a liberal world that devotes little if any time addressing education issues, especially when the issues involve underprivileged students.

    2. No, Bob's point is that "fully standardized liberals" are familiar with the statement that underprivileged students can't learn. They reject this statement only because they want to seem heroic, even though no one has ever propounded that statement.

    3. I think that Bob meant that should you ever hear liberals say that underprivileged students can learn, you should vomit.

    4. Really, people: Bob's obvious point is that even though we liberals always say that we reject the idea that underprivileged students can't learn, we liberals are only pretending to say something and we don't really give a damn about whether underprivileged students learn or not.

    5. Right. And he makes that point by climbing on a single sentence: "I totally reject the notion that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn."

      Wow! What a cad Robinson must be for saying that!

      FYI, for the last several decades at least we have been living in a world in which money spent on inner-city schools is considered to be a waste.

      Now how is that possible if absolutely no one is saying that kids from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn?

    6. I would take it that Robinson was thinking more about the tendency to write-off poor kids because of their poverty, parental dynamics, etc.

  2. It also would have been nice for Somerby to address the thrust of Robinson's column instead of searching for the phrase to beat him about the neck and head.

    To wit: When standardized tests became the absolute measure of teacher, school, and school district performance, don't be too surprised when cheating scandals happen.

    1. Standardized tests aren't a sting operation, you know...

    2. The thrust of Robinson's column could be summed up in two sentences:

      There are pitfalls with making standardized tests the definitive measure of success.

      The Atlanta scandal should not further the tendency to write-off the prospects of students in inner-city schools.

      Those are hardly profound and original offerings on the subject.

      Somerby may not have issued definitive answers on these issues (Who can?), but you've sure as hell gotten better and broader analysis from him, rather than Robinson's offering.

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  4. Somerby has made that point many times before, about other cheating scandals. The more interesting issue with this particularly scandal is that the Atlanta NAEP scores show improvement on a measure that is supposedly immune to the cheating affecting more local testing. It may not be correct to assume that "teaching to the test" interferes with learning.

    When you show no interest in the learning of kids from underprivileges neighborhoods and never discuss it, aren't you implicitly saying that such kids cannot learn -- or only saying that we do not care whether they can learn or not? If everyone agrees that they can learn, why do we accept such little educational progress from them (and their schools)?

    Seems to me, Bush's remark about the soft bigotry of low expectations implies that someone thinks kids from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn, because no one is holding them accountable for their learning.

  5. Anyone who notes the obvious fact that average testing scores for schools and systems are highly correlated with income levels is accused of saying poor children can't learn or making excuses. It's exactly what Bush's "soft bigotry" means. Michelle Rhee has made a lucrative career on that accusation.

    TDH doesn't seem to know the difference between saying something as a weapon or a shield. Clearly for Robinson, it's the latter. He is trying to rebut the accusation he is, with complete justification, anticipating. It has absolutely zero to do with whether or not he cares enough for the education of poor black kids.

  6. In my experience, there ARE those who claim underprivileged children cannot learn. In my experience they are ignorant, immature and uninformed. But there ARE such persons.

  7. Bullshit. People say that all the time. People say that kids growing up in broken, drug-addled families in high-crime ghettos can't learn in school.

  8. Bullshit. People say that all the time. People say that kids growing up in broken, drug-addled families in high-crime ghettos can't learn in school.

  9. "you can never, ever, ever let that [poverty] be an excuse for the kids not achieving at the highest levels."
    -Michelle Rhee

    Another famous "Rhee" who immigrated to the US in the 60s = US-supported Korean strongman Syngman Rhee

    "After Japanese rule ended in Korea, Rhee returned to Seoul before the other independence leaders. Since he was backed by the United Sates, he was appointed head of the Korean government in 1945. With America's tacit consent, Rhee began a campaign to "remove Communism". However it was actually a veiled plan to remove all political opposition....

    In 1960, Rhee assured his fourth term in office as President with a resounding 90% of the vote. The landslide victory came after the main opposition candidate, Cho Byeong-ok, died shortly before the March 15 elections...When police shot demonstrators in Masan, the student-led April 19Movement forced Rhee to resign on April 26.

    On April 28, a DC-4 belonging to the United States Central Intelligence Agency - operated by Civil Air Transport - whisked Rhee out of South Korea as protestors converged on the Blue House.

    Kim Yong Kap, Deputy Minister of Finance accused Rhee of embezzling more than $20 billion in government funds. <6>

    The former president, his Austrian-born wife, Franziska Donner, and adopted son then lived in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii."




    Syngman Rhee abolished the press and liquidated the political opposition with
    brutal violence. In an interview with United Press, on 7th October 1949,
    Syngman Rhee boasted that the South Korean army could take the North
    Korean capital of Pyongyang within three days. On the 1st November, the
    New York Herald Tribune reported that Syn Sung Mo, the South Korean War
    Minister had declared that his army was ready and waiting to push into
    North Korea. There had already been a considerable number of border

    On the 14th March 1950 a correspondent of the New York Times named
    Sullivan reported from Seoul that 13 deputies of the National Assembly
    of South Korea had been sentenced to imprisonment for periods ranging
    from one and a half to ten years for violations of the Security Act.
    Each was found guilty on five charges, of which the fourth was
    "opposing the invasion of North Korea by the South Korean forces."


    1. "Coincidence?"

      Certainly not. We'll just call Eugene Robinson the Manchurian Columnist...

    2. And we'll just call you Eleanor Shaw-Iselin (aka "Queen of Diamonds").

    3. I hope that comes with the wardrobe.

  10. Some people - e.g. Charles Murray - have been saying that kids in inner cities can't learn because their intelligence is lower for genetic reasons. You may claim that this is a fringe view, but it has gotten a lot of publicity. Although Murray claims it applies to white people as well as black, there is a very strong racist element in the acceptance of this idea.

    I will not say that kids in low-income environments can't learn, but I will say that it has not been proven that the disadvantages of such environments can be overcome by any feasible changes or expenditures on schools, let alone by standardized testing and firing teachers when results are not satisfactory (something that was adopted without any evidence that it works). If the disadvantages of these environments are so great, it may be necessary to use other means than trying to engineer schools and teachers to do things they are not called upon to do in more affluent areas.

  11. "It the disadvantages of these environments are so great, it may be necessary to use other means ...."

    What would you suggest? Euthanasia? Charter schools? Child labor?

    And as some sort of authority, Charles Murray - Mr. Bell Curve, Irving Kristol award winner, and American Enterprise Institute shill.


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