Part 2—In the footsteps of Ravitch and Ripley: Joe Nocera’s new column is highly instructive, in that it’s woefully clueless.
Nocera writes about a topic he manifestly knows nothing about: what constitutes good teaching in an “inner-city school?”
What constitutes good teaching in low-income schools? With respect to this very important question, Nocera has watched a documentary. He has also read, or read about, a new report by a national policy group.
On the basis of these inputs, he ends up saying what follows. Within the journalistic context, the highlighted questions are fatuous:
NOCERA (12/17/13): ...the movie is an unwitting primer on how to teach disadvantaged students. There are teachers in the movie who know how to connect with their students, and teachers who don’t. Teachers College at Columbia University liked the film so much that it is creating a companion curriculum, so the film can be used to help train teachers. Until Gunther’s movie came along, Teachers College used to show “The Wire” to give prospective teachers a feel for what it’s like to teach in a disadvantaged community.“What is good teaching? Is teaching different in the Bronx versus the suburbs? How much do you start with where the students are?”
“What is good teaching?” asked Anand Marri, a professor at Teachers College who has championed the film. “Is teaching different in the Bronx versus the suburbs? How much do you start with where the students are?” For the most part, these elemental questions are ones that schools of education don’t ask nearly enough.
Do schools of education “ask those questions nearly enough?” Obviously, Nocera has no idea. He simply repeats the conclusion found in one recent report.
That said, we were struck by the fatuous nature of those questions in the journalistic context. As a piece of journalism, Nocera’s column took us back to the future, to the days when Llewynn Davis kicked around Gotham singing his heartfelt songs.
“How much do you start with where the students are?” From an education professor who gets new students each year, that is a basic, important question.
That said, those students may be twenty years old. Nocera is a grown man, a columnist at our smartest, most famous national newspaper.
In that context, that question is stunningly fatuous. It provides a window into the world of the nation’s education discourse, which is persistently handed to people who don’t know what they’re talking about—clueless, wildly misinformed people like Amanda Ripley, Diane Ravitch and the well-intentioned M. Night Shyamalan.
These people invent ridiculous “facts” or champion others who do so. When you read their lists of “solutions,” an experienced person will suspect that they have never set foot inside low-income classrooms, except for the briefest drive-bys.
This doesn’t make them bad people. It does mean they don’t much know what they’re talking about.
Beyond that, it means that they work inside an intellectual culture which doesn’t give a flying fig about the lives of children in low-income schools. It means that the liberal world quit on black kids long ago—that we liberals are willing to chase around after the latest gurus.
Briefly, let’s return to Nocera’s basic question:
“How much do you start with where the students are?” Good God! Within the national discourse, such questions surfaced in the mid-1960s, when the liberal world discovered an interest in “inner-city schools.”
It was a different time. In 1968, Jonathan Kozol won the National Book Award for his brilliant book about Boston schools, Death at an Early Age. In 1967, Herbert Kohl published his widely-discussed book about New York City schools, 36 Children. Other books which described urban teaching came center stage.
Fifty years later, Nocera praises a film for being a “primer on how to teach disadvantaged students.” In the process, he poses the world’s most fatuous journalistic question:
“How much do you start with where the students are?”
Fifty years later, that question strikes Nocera as interesting, perhaps cutting edge. This speaks to the fatuous nature of the discussion we’ve conducted, or failed to conduct, over those fifty years.
Enter Ravitch and Shyamalan, joining people like Michelle Rhee and the newly-anointed Ripley:
How disgraceful has our discourse been over the past fifty years? How disgraceful has our conduct been in the liberal world?
When Rhee arrived on the national scene in 2006, her resume included ridiculous claims about her stunning success as a teacher. The liberal world and the mainstream press couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see the absurdity of her self-glorying claims.
When Ripley’s ballyhooed book appeared, she joined a decade’s worth of Finland idolators. Displaying her fealty to this cult, she made grossly inaccurate statements about that miraculous land, starting right in on page two.
The mainstream press and the liberal world weren’t able to discern the absurdity of her statements. But then, a steady stream of scripted beings, included Ravitch, had praised the wonders of miraculous Finland over the previous dozen years.
This silly cult was accepted by one and all. Below, you see the way miraculous Finland scored on the 2011 TIMSS.
Unless otherwise noted, all scores are for white students only—for kids from this country’s majority culture. Finland’s student population is almost solely majority culture:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSSHow miraculous does Finland look now? But so what! Eight months after those data appeared, Ripley proceeded with her Finland-worshipping book, for which she was lavishly praised. At the same time, Ravitch published her own book, Reign of Error, in which she showed that she too was part of the Finland cult.
North Carolina: 563
United States: 530
Finland, all students: 514
United States, all students: 509
(For one example of Ravitch’s fawning over Finland, see Chapter 28 of that book. It starts with these absurd and ridiculous comments: “Everyone interested in education knows about Finland. It is the counterexample to our own practices and policies.”)
Our point? Joe Nocera doesn’t know much about public schools. (There’s no reason why he should.) If he knew more—if he had ever been exposed to an ongoing real journalistic discussion—he wouldn’t be offering his miracle ride to 1963, his ride back into the future.
(“How much do you start with where the students are?” Welcome back from our national coma!)
In our view, Ravitch doesn’t seem to know a great deal about public schools either, aside from what you can read in studies by cosseted “experts.” Neither does Shyamalan. (There’s no reason why he should.)
This doesn’t make them bad people. It means that they’re largely clueless people who are moving and shaking within an uncaring intellectual culture—an intellectual culture which despises black kids, doesn’t much care if they rot.
In what other type of culture could the serial idiocy of our elites be hailed as brilliant insight? The brilliant insight of the cult of Finland. The brilliant insight of Ripley, with her many ridiculous statements.
The brilliant insight of Bill Keller, who referred in August to “decades of embarrassing decline in [our] K-12 education.” What type of culture accepts that?
The brilliant insight of Ravitch, whose book is full of peculiar wanderings. The brilliant insight of Shyamalan, who makes ridiculous statements like those which follow, with major journalists rushing to spread his misinformation around:
SHYAMALAN (12/11/13): You know how everyone says America is behind in education, compared to all the countries? Technically, right now, we're a little bit behind Poland and a little bit ahead of Liechtenstein, right? So that's where we land in the list, right? So that's actually not the truth.Are we really unable to see the nature of our gross dysfunction? Unlike Ravitch, Shyamalan has rejected the cult of Finland. But he did so on a statistically bogus basis, which led him to make, and to believe, those ridiculous claims about the way our white students “beat everyone on the planet” “by a lot” on standardized tests.
The truth is actually bizarrely black and white, literally, which is, if you pulled out the inner-city schools—just pull out the inner-city, low-income schools, just pull that group out of the United States, put them to the side—and just took every other public school in the United States, we lead the world in public-school education by a lot.
And what's interesting is, we always think about Finland, right? Well, Finland, obviously, is mainly white kids, right? They teach their white kids really well. But guess what, we teach our white kids even better. We beat everyone. Our white kids are getting taught the best public-school education on the planet. Those are the facts.
Those statements are crazily wrong. Tomorrow, we’ll show you the passage in Shyamalan’s book which explains how he came to believe such things.
Hint—he believes these things because he believed a piece of bullroar Ravitch has peddled over the years—a piece of bullroar she won’t stop peddling even now, when she knows it is wrong. (For some very bad conduct, click here.)
We don’t mean this as a criticism of Shyamalan. He got taken by a claim he didn’t understand. (Even his rejection of Finland is based on bad information.) But in our view, his five key points about public schools also reflect a basic fact:
He has never worked in low-income schools! In part for that reason, he doesn’t really have any idea what he’s talking about. As a general matter, we get the same impression when we read Ravitch’s work, even when we review her eleven solutions.
Ravitch, Rhee, Ripley, Shyamalan, even Nocera? We liberals may draw distinctions between them based on whose team they’re perceived to be on.
To us, they look a great deal alike. They look like the kinds of people who get thrown to the top within an elite intellectual culture which doesn’t give a flying fig about the lives of black kids.
When you simply don’t care about some topic, you’ll accept all manner of bullshit from an array of “intellectual leaders.” Tomorrow, we’ll visit a pitiful point:
How did Shyamalan got tooken?
Tomorrow: The pioneer woman’s (bogus) story
Thursday: Key points and solutions