Howler-strewn interview at the Atlantic!


In our view, another fine mess: We’re headed to Durham to get the scoop on life in today’s second grade.

We had planned to leave a short post concerning some aspects of our Kennedy viewing last weekend. Instead, we’ll note one point which kept occurring to us as we watched the many discussion programs on C-Span 3.

As we watched, we kept thinking this: In truth, the American giant of that decade wasn’t President Kennedy.

We were surprised by things several people said concerning President Kennedy’s recklessness with regard to crowd security issues. We don’t think we had ever heard that before. We don’t know if those statements are true.

But visions of Camelot to the side, President Kennedy simply wasn’t that era’s giant. This thought occurred to us time and again as we watched the weekend’s programs.

We had a bit more to offer from our weekend viewing, especially concerning the culture of conspiracy theory. Didn’t our modern culture of say-and-believe-whatever-you-please get a large jump start there?

Then we got hit by the latest education report at the Atlantic.

Yesterday, the piece in question was being featured at the Atlantic’s site. Its headline is a quotation from an interview with a former teacher: “It Feels Like Education Malpractice.”

That interview in the Atlantic felt like malpractice too.

When did journalism completely cease to exist in our floundering nation? The howlers which litter that interview piece are really something to see.

In the course of the interview, all the claims shown below are offered by the former teacher. They were typed and published, without comment or further questioning, by the Atlantic writer:

“There hasn’t been money invested in eradicating poverty since the ’60s, with President Johnson’s Great Society.”

“Almost one out of two kids in public school now is in poverty.”

“In America, the wealthiest school is going to get ten times more funding than the lowest one.”

“For every dollar my [New York City public] school was getting, one in the suburbs was getting ten dollars.”

Those statements are all bizarre, absurd or false. Except at the Atlantic!

Needless to say, the interview included the standard paeans to miraculous Finland, with the mandatory cherry-picked praise for those practices with which the interview subject is inclined to agree. Beyond that, there were several ridiculous claims about various types of educational practice.

(Whatever one thinks of various testing practices, the former teacher didn’t seem to understand the nature of “value-added” evaluation. This is amazingly common.)

Then too, there were the bungled attempts to describe some research-based studies. “Those kids are doing great,” the interview subject exclaims at one point, talking up a favored educational practice.

Predictably: when we checked the proffered link, we found no such assessment.

At another point, a link was offered to an earlier Atlantic piece. When we clicked, we found ourselves reading this puzzling passage about the rising achievement gap between low-income and high-income kids:
GARLAND (8/28/13): [In 1963], black children lagged behind their white peers in school by more than three years. For poor children, the picture was somewhat more encouraging: Those in the 10th percentile of income fell behind the children in the upper echelon of wealth by about a year or so. Poverty was a major obstacle, but not so large that it couldn't be scaled by the brightest and most ambitious.

Fifty years later, social class has become the main gateway—and barrier—to opportunity in America.

The country is far from fulfilling King's dream that race no longer limit children's opportunities, but how much income their parents earn is more and more influential. According to a 2011 research study by Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the test-score gap between the children of the poor (in the 10th percentile of income) and the children of the wealthy (in the 90th percentile) has expanded by as much as 40 percent and is now more than 50 percent larger than the black-white achievement gap—a reversal of the trend 50 years ago. Underprivileged children now languish at achievement levels that are close to four years behind their wealthy peers.
In that piece from August, Sarah Garland said these things:

In 1963, low-income kids trailed high-income kids by about a year. (At what point in their school careers? Don’t ask!) Two paragraphs later, we are told that this test-score gap has expanded by as much as 40 percent, and that low-income kids are now four years behind their high-income peers.

Mathematically, those claims don’t jibe. At the Atlantic, no one has noticed.

The new interview in the Atlantic is a stunning collection of howlers. In our post-journalistic, upper-class world, such work is par for the course.


  1. Lyndon Johnson did not believe in the single bullet theory, but Somerby won't tell you that, because he didn't know that either, until now.

  2. "Our award-winning series, "

    Presented by his mother who allowed bone-gnawer to come to the living room from the basement to accept it.

    1. Anonymous is a commenter whose mood has deteriorated upon learning that George Zimmerman has a great lawyer. That explains his trolling.

    2. Degenerate troll, trolling. Ban this troll, ban this troll.

  3. "A search warrant made public Tuesday by the Seminole County court clerk shows that Zimmerman had a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 assault rifle and three handguns when he was arrested Nov. 18 at his girlfriend's house"

    Bone-gnawer: scum-sucking librulz made him do it.

    1. This post is not about Zimmerman -- it is about education. Go away troll.

    2. Bob, you are allowing an insane troll to destroy the blog. Ban this troll, please, please, please. Have enough self-respect and respect for your readers to ban this troll. You should not sacrifice yourself and us to such a monster.

    3. Not sure if you noticed, but you can comment on this blog anonymously from almost any computer in the world. Banning could only be enforced as a request, at best. Such is the price for true uncensored trading of thoughts.

    4. Precisely how, might I ask, is the presence of one commenter destroying the blog. Is the destruction equivvalent, on the small scale of this blog, to the intellectual paralysis facing us in a post-journalistic world?

    5. Blogs are moderated all the time.

    6. Let the blogger come out like Pat Caddell, Joe Liebermann, Dennis Miller et al. and he would be yet another obscure angry white male in constant white hot rage and would hardly attract any attention.

      To claim to be a liberal and write the things he is writing about commentators he thinks are liberal is basically defecating in public.

    7. It's one thing to "moderate" a blog for offensive language. It is quite another to "moderate" a blog to the point that the only opinions allowed to be expressed are those that agree completely with the blogger's opinion.

    8. I wouldn't call upon bone-gnawer man (woman?) being banned, but I would hope that he/she at some point realizes that being an obnoxious idiot doesn't serve any helpful purpose.

    9. The problem is not that the trolls disagree with anyone. It is how they express themselves.

    10. 'AC / MANovember 28, 2013 at 7:22 AM' :

      Its very simple. Bone-gnawer does see deeper than librulz who or on TV/print. But I am showing folks that one can see deeper than bone-gnawer also and caricaturing how scores gotcha!s on librulz.

      The right is either stupid and sincere (you can go back to the Baby Bush - Gore debates and see Baby Bush smirk joyfully as he mentions his execution of somebody in Texas - and didn't he famously deny the stay of execution of a woman convict who had repented and had become very religious at the end?) or smart and ruthless such as Coulter or Hannity who practically never admit mistakes.

      The problem is that liberals have become terrified after 9/11 (not of the so-called "terrorists" but of being called treasonous by the right - after all Coulter has said they should fear being killed and nobody has called her to account for that - I suppose being female and (bottle) blonde does confer some license on her) and the overwhelming mass of Democrats in public are only moderate Republicans.

      The notion that Gore would have been any less cruel towards Iraq than Baby Bush is false. He is on recorded TV saying that he wanted papa Bush to go all the way to Baghdad.

      Bone-gnawer is only messaging "see how smart I am" with his "War on Gore" - it made no difference to history.

      The country has become overwhelmingly crude and brutal both domestically and internationally and its not clear how bone-gnawer is helping anything.

      I also think bone-gnawer is a seething Angry White Male and he may well have have an episode like comedian Michael Richards. The world has passed his kind by and he is unable to handle it.

    11. Iraq isn't the only issue important to our future. Gore would certainly have made more progress on addressing global warming. That may be a life-or-death issue soon, not just for soldiers but for everyone.

      I don't see how you being crude is going to make the country less crude. Bone-gnawer is an exceptionally crude thing to call another human being. I see no evidence that Somerby is angry. I also don't think Richards is an Angry White Male. I think he was provoked by a heckler and used the kind of unfortunate language men of his age grew up with (sort of like Alec Baldwin last week). It doesn't mean he is perpetually angry or the kind of person who sees the country under siege from immigrants or non-white people. You might watch that documentary "Heckler" and see what standup comedians have to put up with as they expose their creative efforts to drunken idiots night after night on stage. I fully understand why Somerby has learned not to read his own comments section.

    12. AnonymousNovember 28, 2013 at 5:13 PM:

      I guess the blogger's fans disagree with just about anybody else on the web who still takes cognizance of his current incarnation (as an obsessive, logic-chopping liberal-basher).

      I think time will tell - I don't see how he can wallow in this kind of filth post after post without collapsing under the weight of his own utter negativity.

    13. Truth is, I think the liberal world needs far more "bone-gnawers", people who cut right to the chase and and don't let up. Nothing at all wrong with holding those in corporate media accountable.

      As with the troll in question (and I never advocate banning anyone), we have far too many foo foo barking poodles as it is.

    14. AnonymousNovember 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      So neocons were given reign to "transform" the world, America jumped the shark and none of it matters?!? Spoken like a true comfy boutique liberal. Question- if liberals are so terrified, to the point of paralysis by the likes of Ann Coulter, then what the hell are they good for? Why should they be defended? What's left? "Predicting" future racism? That's all that's left.

    15. AnonymousNovember 29, 2013 at 12:47 AM

      It is more than that. The US is now trying to change warfare into a purely one-sided affair - no casualties whatsoever to itself - the entire ear being fought by machines operated from the US which would be protected by an anti-missile shield.

      This is just a continuation of the 240 plus wars conducted on foreign soil with such horrors as killing off 30 pct of the Korean population in the Korean war and almost no building left standing in North Korea.

      If this kind of "power" gives you (as it does rightwing chickenhawks) the warm and fuzzies - great. Practically nobody has said that starving Iraqi Children (Papa Bush and "liberal" Clinton Gore) and killing one million Iraqis in the second war WAS IMMORAL.

      And thats what I mean by liberals are now truly scared - their livelihood may be threatened (like Glen Greenwald) - it hasn't come down to breaking kneecaps yet - but who knows?

      So many "liberals" like Joe Klein supported the Baby Bush genocide out of fear and then issued hypocritical mea culpas after it turned out that it was just a casual exercise in genocide and no WMD were found.

      This blogger strictly stays away from weighty issues ( do we know what his stand was on Baby Bush''es war before it happened) and endlessly hurls faeces on "liberals" for trivialities.

      If his fans think he is doing a great service by doing so - good for them,

    16. Every blog that I know save for this blog has no problem banning trolls and does so. Simple matter, and Bob should do so or there will never be decent discussion in the comments.

      Trolls by the way are terrified of being banned, but they cannot stay sane enough to avoid that and are quickly banned on every other decent blog.

      This blog is important and Bob needs to ban the insane troll or trolls. Likely banning 1 will do.


    17. Anonymous @ 7:29

      You keep saying there will be no decent discussion in the comments until Bob bans trolls. Please, provide us with:

      1) one decent comment you have ever made.

      2) a single post with a reference to a comment of a troll in which the troll's comment prevented people from making a decent comment.

      If not, quit being the troll of trolls.

  4. Note the logical mistake of assuming that correlation = causation, in

    For poor children in 1963,...: Those in the 10th percentile of income fell behind the children in the upper echelon of wealth by about a year or so. Poverty was a major obstacle, but not so large that it couldn't be scaled by the brightest and most ambitious.

    Were the worse educational results caused by poverty? Or, were there cultural and/or genetic factors that caused both poverty and less success at education? This article doesn't even notice that this question exists.

  5. David, this kind of criticism is not useful. Correlational approaches are all that can be used in education studies because it is unethical to experiment on children by assigning them to poor and non-poor homes (to manipulate the variable of poverty) and thus demonstrate causality. When it is impossible to demonstrate causality it doesn't mean you cannot talk about causality ever. You control (statistically, if necessary) for as many of the additional variables as possible and then look at the remaining impact on your measures. In this comment you are sounding a whole lot like Herrnstein and Murray. It might be worthwhile for you to go back and read the wide variety of criticisms of the Bell Curve -- they were collected in a single paperback (The Bell Curve Debate by Jacoby & Glauberman, 1995) and would bring you up to speed on why the cultural/genetic factors that seemed so plausible to Murray and other conservatives are not good explanations.

    1. Anon- 10:45 I may have read this book. I do have a vague memory of reading a collection of pro and con essays about TBC.

      Maybe my point wasn't clear. I think people in poverty on probably have less intelligence on average and/or a less effective cultural background on average. In addition, minorities who also happen to be poor have to cope with racism. I think these factors are all part of the reason why children in poverty do less well in school on average. No doubt, poverty itself also is a factor. I don't claim know what the magnitude of these factors is. But, I think all four play some sort of a role. According to a commenter at Amazon regarding the book you recommend, "Hugh Pearson...aptly argues that the anti-intellectualism embraced by many Afro-American males afraid of being perceived as race traitors, does much to explain the low I.Q. scores of this group." This would be an example of culture playing a role in academic performance.

      My comment was meant to say that it isn't necessarily the case that poverty is the only reason why poor children do less well in school. Are you arguing that poverty is the only reason why poor children do less well in school?

      So I was reading David Leonhardt’s story on elite colleges and low income kids with high test scores—not news, since I’d read Steve Sailer’s post on the study earlier—and was pleased to see that the reporter had at least mentioned race: “Among high-achieving, low-income students, 6 percent were black, 8 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian-American and 69 percent white, the study found.
      Within races, SAT scores rise and fall with income, on average, and since so few blacks and Hispanics make top marks, it’s very unlikely that a noticeable percentage of low income blacks and Hispanics are hitting genuinely competitive scores (and I speak as someone who has coached low income black/Hispanic students in SAT/ACT, and even seen a few 600+ scores). Low income whites outscore high income blacks and tie high income Hispanics on every IQ-proxy test we have, and the SAT and ACT are no exception.

    3. These numbers make good sense when you consider that someone with both race and poverty against them has a double whammy. Add in health issues, beginning with infant or mother malnutrition and you have a triple whammy. Add in poorer schools and these whammy are starting to build up to odds that suggest it is amazing when low income minority children score high on the SAT/ACT (which are achievement tests, not aptitutde tests any more). Poverty disadvantages all kids, but poverty comes with a slew of other risk factors.

      icr, you are merely repeating the "gap" found in the other measures Somerby talks about here all the time. David in Cal wants to attribute all of this gap to genetic racial differences, but he doesn't have the guts to say so. Since you have worked with low income black students with less than 600+ scores, you have no doubt seen the phenomenon I see all the time. Black students with curiosity, strong motivation to learn, initiative and a can-do hands-on attitude in attacking assigned projects, success in doing first-rate work in their classes, and SAT scores of 450. These kids deserve a change at college and grad school because they are demonstrating they can do the work at the same level as most white students who go on in their education.

    4. AnonymousNovember 29, 2013 at 1:03 PM -- You're thinking is too wedded to race and ethnicity. If a family is poor, or if a child is doing poorly in school, that's a problem for specific,individual people. People aren't cells belonging to some larger ethnic cohort. I didn't mention race or ethnic group because that's not what I was talking about. Poor people are poor, regardless of their race or any other group characteristic.

  6. OMB ( Is that Gobblers or Howlers We Hear?)

    So what is worse, the journalism or the ignorance supposedly displayed by someone given the keys to a classroom full of kids for ten years?

    "Mathematically, those claims don’t jibe. At the Atlantic, no one has noticed," writes the oldish blogger. Well, maybe someone at the Atlantic followed the link to the cited study one which those claims were made. Maybe that is where they jibe. BOB of course, doesn't provide that, or the link he references earlier by saying it does not deliver waht he thought it should.


    1. See, this is a personal attack on Bob Somerby, not a statement of opinion about some topic. That's why KZ is a troll and not just another commenter with a differing opinion.

      Just calling someone ignorant and oldish is not expressing an opinion on some topic. There may be some point of disagreement at the link -- KZ implies there is -- but he never states what it is.

    2. KZ,

      If kids in the bottom economic decile were about a year behind in 1963, and that gap has grown by 40% in 2011, that means the equivalent cohort should be behind by about a year and a half. But the article says the gap is about four years. Maybe the study makes sense, but The Atlanitc's summary doesn't.

      Anonymous @11:38A,

      But he's such a cute troll when he's confused.

    3. I have never read a blog with such an awful comment section. The reason is simple, a few trolls took control and post vicious attacks over and over and over and there is no reason for decent people to comment.

      Bob, you are allowing trolls to destroy the comment section and possibly the entire blog which is what the trolls want. It would be far better to have no comments at all than what you have but the trolls can easily be gotten rid of.

    4. Anon. @ 10:48

      I don't know if you are the same Anon. who repeatedly claims trolls are destroying the comment section. I know that prior to the troll complaintys repeatedly offered by someone calling themselves "Anonymous" the comment section consisted of three or four comments, usually two of which were from someone calling themselves Anonymous
      whose comment conisted of one sentence saying how fine the post was. The others came from the one or two regulars. Aftet that the spammers/advertisers appeared praising the writing and posting links to obscure websites.

      The trolls are fine. The worst thing about the comment section are the whiners like you who contribute zero to the discussion.

    5. To my two Thanksgiving day responders, Anon @ 11:38 and deadrat:

      I didn't call BOB ignorant. I called the teacher in the interview ignorant. If you thought it as BOB, that may be because BOB, like the teacher who was interviewed, entered classroom teaching through a non traditional route.
      I did call him oldish since he likes to call writers "youngish."
      If I am a troll for using his adjectives, does that make him a troll too, or just a curmudgeon?

      deadrat, I am not at all confused. I read the original article, which the Atlantic took verbatim from a website affiliated with Columbia University's College of Education and the study upon which the article was based.


  7. Maybe Sommerby would like to visit the squalid charter schools we have here. They are rapidly becoming dumping grounds for poor kids. He could combine his investigations with a Hawaiian holiday.

    1. Much better than going to Finland!

  8. What they talk about at the hated Salon:

    "Noam Chomsky: America hates its poor

    Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky on our country's brutal class warfare -- and why it's ultimately so one-sided"

    This blogger's supreme concern: Liberals have discomfited Zimmerman by spreading inaccuracies about his case.

    1. TDH has never expressed any concern for Zimmerman's state of mind. His focus is on journalistic malpractice, particularly with respect to the reporting on Gore leading up to the 2000 election and reporting on issues of education. But also including the egregiously bad reporting on the Zimmerman trial.

      It's perfectly all right if you think this focus is misplaced, and it's perfectly all right if you'd prefer see reporting on class warfare. But the blog isn't about you, and if you find its subject unworthy, what on earth are you dong here?

    2. Deadrat,

      The blogger has every right to claim that "he was told to stay in his car" was the journalistic crime of the century. I would find that merely ludicrous.

      But to spew hatred for sites like Salon and liberals (and liberals only) based on this kind of hair-splitting seems reprehensible (perhaps pitiable also, since it is driven obviously by a sense of personal failure and envy).

    3. Anon5:39am, well you shouldn't wish to darken the door of such a callow soul.

      Fly like the wind away from such malfeasance.

      Fly away before you are sullied by such reprehensible personality traits.

      Go in peace, bro. Go in peace.

    4. Anonymous @5:39A,

      On such details as the quoted item may hang criminal or civil liability. The item may be small, but the difficulty of getting the fact of it right is commensurate. So why is it so hard? And, to be fair, that's not the only "detail" the press got wrong.

      It cannot have missed your notice that it's not "liberals only." TDH has nothing but contempt for the right-wing noise machine's narratives. But he calls himself a liberal, and argues that his side shouldn't stoop to such levels.

      I don't see how a demand for accuracy is the equivalent of hatred. YMMV and evidently does.

      As a commenter, you have every right to claim that TDH is reprehensible, but it is more than a little ironic, dontcha think?, that with your criticism you spin the very type of narrative that TDH decries. Not only do you claim to be able to read TDH's mind to find a "sense of personal failure" and "envy," but you find these conclusions to be "obvious."