Expresses new top concern: Here at THE HOWLER, we rarely find ourselves inclined to dislike individuals.
How ecumenical is our spirit? Last week, we even acknowledged that Joan Walsh may have been a good person once too! If that doesn’t prove that God is love, we don’t know what does.
We can’t help it! That generosity of spirit just seems to be the way we are! That’s why we were surprised last week when we watched Amanda Ripley with a CNN panel.
Last Wednesday night, Anderson Cooper dragged Ripley out to discuss a new OECD study. In Tuesday morning’s New York Times, Richard Perez-Pena had explained what was under review.
In 23 different countries, the study assessed literacy and basic math skills among the adult population—among people aged 16 to 65. As the segment started, Cooper and a panel of pundits pretended to discuss the results.
None of the panelists knew anything much about this topic. But so what? By the rules of Hard Pundit Law, the walking dead have to pretend:
COOPER (10/9/13): American adults scored below average in math, reading and problem solving using technology, according to a new study. Researchers tested about 166,000 people in more than 20 countries in a study called the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies.According to Cooper, the United States scored sixteenth in literacy, “among more than twenty countries.”
Back with some of the most competent adults I know, Christiane Amanpour, Jeff Toobin, Ana Navarro and Frank Bruni.
What do you make of this? How distressing is this? Because we were 16th—16th in literacy for adults. We were 20th in math for adults.
Cooper’s highly competent adult panelists quickly began making noises. Soon, Ana Navarro, a new member of the pundit elite, made a completely inane remark, in effect confirming the drift of the study:
NAVARRO: Let me tell you something so we don't all get depressed about the future of this country. As you know, I'm at Harvard this semester as a fellow. And I have met a number of kids there who are just the most spectacular kids. At Harvard there's a very generous policy—Good God! Why in the world is Navarro “at Harvard this semester as a fellow?” The sheer inanity of her remark was quickly noted by Bruni.
BRUNI: A little bit—a little bit of culling has gone on here. We're talking about Harvard. I mean, you know.
Result? Navarro offered a second remark. It was just as inane:
NAVARRO (continuing directly): These are— There's a lot of kids at Harvard whose parents make under $50,000. I have met kids whose parents are janitors, whose parents are gardeners, who maybe had a second-grade education or sixth-grade education and are at Harvard. They're having great socioeconomic shock, making the transition into a place where the brick walls are covered by ivy and where there's all those resources. But there are still some incredible, spectacular, amazing, smart, engaged students in America.Given the nature of the study, Navarro’s remarks were inane. But so what? As our intellectual systems break down, this is the norm in elite pundit circles.
As the discussion continued, the pundits pretended to discuss the findings of the study. Expressing shock, Christiane Amanpour pretended to discuss the reasons for the poor U.S. performance:
AMANPOUR (continuing directly): Of course there are. And Frank is right. I didn't mean to say it's not surprising. It should be surprising, given the amount of money—Mercifully, Cooper stopped the discussion here.
BRUNI: It's scandalous is what it is.
AMANPOUR: It's scandalous. And it is jaw-dropping, and it's not right. And it means America is less competitive overseas. And there are many reasons for it. There's the incredibly high tuition. It's gone up five times the rate of inflation. Incredibly high student debt in university. A lot of burdens.
TOOBIN: —college educated. I mean, the kind of things they're testing—the kind of things they're testing are basic reading skills. Now, it is true that many states are now adopting something called the Common Core which should, at least in theory, focus people on learning just these sorts of things. But—
For unknown reasons, Amanpour thought it was “surprising, jaw-dropping” that American adults didn’t score well on these measures. The first explanation that popped in her head was the high cost of college tuition.
Toobin seemed to see that this didn’t necessarily make sense, given the nature of the study. That said, we can’t find tape of this part of the discussion. For that reason, we can’t amplify CNN’s truncated transcript.
Whatever! None of these pundits have expertise in this particular area. To provide that expertise, Cooper introduced Ripley, whose new book, The Smartest Kids in the World, is being ballyhooed as The Official New Thing.
We were a bit surprised by Ripley. Here at THE HOWLER, we rarely find ourselves inclined to dislike individuals. On this evening, we found ourselves ever so slightly inclined to slightly dislike her.
We found ourselves inclined to dislike her air of certainty and high expertise. We found ourselves inclined to dislike her authoritative tone. (To watch her segment, click this.)
We’re sure that Ripley is a nice person among family and friends, not to mention among benefactors and funders. But we found ourselves inclined to think that this privileged tribune of centrist elites carried a minor air of entitlement as she rattled her views and reactions.
Mainly, we were surprised by the point she made at the end of her segment. Navarro asked an obvious question: what’s the main thing we should do to address this shocking shortfall?
Given those jaw-dropping results, what would Ripley’s “first priority” be? Here’s what Ripley said:
NAVARRO: If you were going to prioritize where most improvement needs to happen—grade school, high school, college, universities—where would you put it? What would you make the first priority?Rambling on past her first remark, Ripley got herself back on message—we need higher quality teachers! But what did she say was her first priority?
RIPLEY: That's a great question. I would put it in early education. So there's a certain irony here. If you were an alien and you just parachuted onto earth and you read the newspaper about these study results in one column, and then you read about how, due to sequestration and the government shutdown, we're pulling low-income kids out of preschool, you would see that as a sort of bizarre contradiction.
So we know that, you know, quality matters more than quantity, that we have a lot of testing and a lot of homework in the United States. We spend a lot of money, as—as you've noted. But we don't have a lot of quality. We don't have very smart tests; we don't have very smart homework. And I think that really starts, but doesn't end, with the quality and selectivity of the teaching—teacher training program.
As her first priority, Ripley said we need to attend to early education—to preschool for low-income kids! We found that statement rather surprising, because she almost completely ignores such concerns in her ballyhooed book.
We’re going to spend more time this week looking at Ripley’s book. It’s one of the most fascinating texts we’ve encountered in fifteen years at this site.
But how weird! There was Ripley on CNN—and she seemed to have a new attitude! In her book, she almost wholly ignores the special circumstances and needs of the nation’s many low-income kids. She barely mentions early education. She doesn’t explain that miraculous Finland pays much more attention to the preschool years than we do in the U.S.
Suddenly, preschool was her first priority! We can’t say we disagree with that priority, although we’d make it one of several. But that priority is notable by its absence from Ripley’s book.
No one on Cooper’s panel knows much about this topic. They haven’t read Ripley’s book. They don’t really know what she has said. They certainly didn’t know about her book’s startling embellishments.
They do know that Ripley is now a “made man” within The Official Pundit Elite. For that reason, they knew that attention must be paid.
Continuing directly, here’s what the walking dead said:
TOOBIN (continuing directly): How come it's so much better to talk to you than to talk to any member of Congress?Cooper was moving to videotape of “true crime” after this fleeting discussion.
RIPLEY: It's a low bar, isn’t it?
COOPER: Amanda, great to have you on. Amanda Ripley. Appreciate it. Thank you so much.
RIPLEY: Thank you.
COOPER: Up next for the panel, it's a disturbing story in so many ways. The attack on an SUV driver by a group of bikers. We have the latest bombshell...
Can we talk? Almost surely, Toobin didn’t know whether Ripley had really made much sense. But Cooper’s panelists are all “made men” within a failing journalistic world. They know that Ripley has now been “made” within that failing world too.
Cable punditry is one of our many failing intellectual systems. Routinely, its participants don’t know what they’re talking about. Their number-one skill is abundantly clear:
Numbered among the walking dead, our pundits know how to pretend.
Tomorrow: Finland in ’64