The analysts cheer their Uncle Drum!


Drum comes fighting back: Thirty minutes ago, spirits picked up among the analysts.

Their spirits brightened after Kevin Drum offered this new post. It concerns M. Night Shyamalan’s rather peculiar recent statements concerning American education and/or test scores.

For our previous post, click this.

Shyamalan’s factual statements are crazily wrong. In his new post, Drum says he agrees, though not completely entirely. Here’s his basic framework:

“Shyamalan is exaggerating, and I sloppily let it pass because I wanted to address what I thought was his primary point,” Drum writes. “So allow me to revise and expand a bit. Not as an excuse for a hurried post, but just to explain how I view this stuff.”

As he continues, Drum makes several points. We offer these reactions:

Concerning the Asian tigers: Drum explains that he basically disregards the high-scoring Asian nations when he thinks about education.

He does this because they achieve their high scores “by making their kids' lives a living hell.” Beyond that, he “very much doubt[s] that it actually produces better-educated adults in the long run.”

Fair enough. But that is no excuse for Shyamalan, or for major journalists like Ali Velshi who simply pass on his ridiculous misstatements. Can’t we ever start a discussion by requiring accurate facts?

Concerning the need for accurate statements: For years, we have been making a basic claim: facts play almost no role in our nation’s intellectual culture.

Drum says we’re “missing the forest for the trees” when we ask Shyamalan to make accurate statements. Wow! Just freaking wow!

Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Also: Regarding the Social Security trust fund, the money isn’t there. We’ve already spent it!

We oppose letting Fox and the Heritage Foundation invent reams of bogus facts. We also oppose letting Diane Ravitch do that.

Tomorrow, we’ll show you where Shyalaman got his absurd ideas about test scores. As his book makes clear, his errors stem from the fact that he got conned by a widespread bogus assertion.

The quality of American education: In this passage, Drum states his general view of American education:
DRUM (12/16/13): American education isn't, either philosophically or foundationally, a disaster area. Nor is it in decline. For most American children, it works fine and it doesn't need radical changes. Rather, there's a small subset of American children who have been badly treated for centuries and continues to suffer from this. We do a lousy job of educating them, but it's not because we don't know how to educate. We've just never been willing to expend the (very substantial) effort it would take to help them catch up.

Anyone who disagrees with this conclusion is welcome to argue about it. But I think it's one of the paramount facts about education in America. If you ignore it, your diagnosis of our educational problems is almost certain to be badly wrong. In the end, the fact that Shyamalan recognizes this so forthrightly strikes me as more important than the fact that he gets a little too far over his skis when he talks about it.
We’ve spent years trying to get journalists to acknowledge that American education isn’t in decline in any measurable way. Does that mean that American education “works fine for most American children?”

We don’t know how to answer that. On balance, we’d be slow to agree with that statement.

That said, Drum makes one statement with which we strongly disagree. Concerning our low-income and minority kids, he says this: “We do a lousy job of educating them, but it's not because we don't know how to educate.”

We strongly disagree with the implication lurking in the second part of that statement.

Later this week, we’ll show you Ravitch stating a familiar slogan: “We know what works.” In our view, Ravitch is free to think and say that because she’s never worked a in a low-income school or classroom.

“We know what works!” It’s very, very easy to say that from various lofty perches. Liberal dogmatists constantly say it. (We don’t refer to Drum.)

“We know what works!” In our view, this claim is lazy, unhelpful, uncaring. And very easy to say.

Final point: In our view, Shyamalan is not “a little too far over his skis” in the matters under discussion. We’ll assume he’s completely well intentioned. He also makes some good points. (He rejects the Finland cult, buys the cult of the PISA.)

But all too often, Shyamalan shows few signs of knowing what he’s talking about. And in the factual matters Drum is discussing, Shyamalan is crazily wrong.

Must every discussion start with people making crazy misstatements?

Why did the analysts brighten today? Because Drum is one of the only front-line liberal writers who cares about these topics. For that reason, the analysts were down in the dumps when he threw off that Friday post.

The liberal world walked away from these topics decades ago. Liberals threw black kids sunder the bus. Few things could be more obvious, except to us liberals, of course, with our high self-regard.

Our tribe's disinterest in these topics is appalling, repulsive, disgraceful. (This is especially true given our addiction to our beloved R-bombs.) We need smart, decent people like Drum to bring these discussions back.

That said, real discussions really can’t start with crazy factual howlers. They need to start in the real world, with a few basic accurate facts.


  1. Just as medicine and clinical psychology have slowly become more evidence-based in evaluating "what works," education is starting to expect empirical investigation of proposed new approaches. Recent advances in neuroscience and cognitive psychology have also started to inform teaching. I am not sure the public is aware of this change.

    The assumption that "what works" for children in general (who are the subjects in studies) can be generalized to children with learning disabilities, children with various special ed needs, children in inner city classrooms, or gifted children, remains to be seen empirically. Further, a great deal of the literature on teaching has focused on motivational aspects of learning, not cognitive ones. I do not know how well these generalize. I do know they have a big impact on whether children benefit from what happens during their time in school.

    1. Actually, there has been a long history of empirical investigation into education approaches. The problem is that the result of these empirical studies have been frequently inconclusive and the implementation of empirically-supported methods has not consistently occurred because of political and administrative pressures.

      For example, there's quite a bit of data which suggests that educating children through the use of punishments and rewards (e.g. gold stars, grading and ranking systems) hurts students natural love of learning and turns education into a chore. This in turn discourages learning and kills intrinsic motivation.

      However, for obvious reasons, it is not really feasible to have a public school system without grades (Parents want them to measure progress and to evaluate teachers, administrators want them to evaluate teachers, colleges want them to evaluate students, employers want them to evaluate potential employees).

      In addition, people recoil at the idea that something as seemingly innocuous as praising their children for good school work could actually hurt their child's subsequent motivation to learn.

  2. What a fucking shithead.


    Since all you know is slinging shit, you can't.

    STFU and give your KoolAId drinkers 100 weeks of "war on Gore" with "war on Zimmerman" mixed in to break the monotony.

    1. The Usual Douchebag Troll CrewDecember 17, 2013 at 2:04 PM

      These conversations where everyone posts as Anonymous can become very difficult to follow, so please Mr. Shyamalan, select an appropriate profile.

  3. I truly love your work, Mr. Somerby, especially on education which is my field. The meticulous analyses are invaluable and I refer to them frequently giving you credit.

    Pay no attention to the criticism.

    1. You need not advise Mr. Somerby in his own comment section, He never reads it. His most faithful commenter, deadrat, says the quality is too low.

      On some blogs he makes comments of his own. Like Drum's.
      He doesn't get called a troll there. He gets ignored.

    2. Most faithful? How did you measure that?

      And I've never commented on the general quality of the comments.

  4. AnonymousDecember 16, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    you must be the blogger's mother.

    Shyamalan claims he came up with 5 recommendations by studying 2 years worth of data as I recall.

    Your hero is focusing on peripheral misstatements Shyamalan might have made. Since all he can EVER do is hurl shitty gotcha!s - take a crack at it yourself. Do even know what Shyamalan's five recommendations are?

    Do any of the shit-slinger's KoolAid drinkers know?

    1. He needs to get his basic facts straight before he fancies himself a self-styled "expert". At least that's what people who give a damn think.

    2. Forget about his "facts"!

      Haven't you heard?

      His "recommendations" are the thing!!

  5. Wow, what is wrong with this cursing guy? Evil, evil.

  6. I notice the profane language and immediately stop reading.

    1. But not commenting. You like being unclean and ashamed amongst your friends.

  7. We were promised two weeks ago this week would be devoted to things we did not hear that week. Instead it is the same old drivel about the monolithic uncaring liberal world which hates black kids.

    Except for Uncle Drum. And Jesus H. Somerby.

  8. Buried in shit-slinger's gotcha!s is

    "He also makes some good points."

    Tell your KoolAid drinkers what they are.

  9. Education is awfully complicated. One particular aspect is how results should be measured. Comparing a US median to other countries' medians on some international test is one way. However, that approach ignores the top and the bottom groups. The median is not affected if, say, the top group sharply improve or the bottom group sharply improve. In other words, here are two important considerations that are not reflected in median PISA scores:

    1. Are our best students reaching a high enough level of excellence so that they'll produce desired improvements in technology, business, the arts, etc.?

    2. Are our worst students learning adequate amounts of reading, mathematics and logical thinking so that they can cope with modern society?

    There have been various programs, e.g., National Science Foundation scholarships, aimed at #1. And, Bush's controversial No Child Left Behind aimed at #2. I'm not arguing for or against these programs. My point is that their success or failure has little impact on median test scores. Some other method needs to be used to evaluate them.

    1. With separate goals for the best and worst, it sounds like you are advocating a two-tiered society in which the haves prosper and the have-nots just cope. An ugly world-view in my opinion.

    2. I wasn't advocating anything, but you are correct that I was describing the kind of 2 tiered society. But, the split wasn't about wealth. If someone is functionally illiterate or can barely do basic arithmetic, they cannot really cope in modern society IMHO. Many of these people are poor, but there are also poor people who are literate and numerate. They're not the ones I was talking about.

      My other group was the smart and capable, not the rich. There are smart, creative people who move science forward, who find cures for disease, who produce the great art, who establish and manage great organizations. These people might be rich or poor.

      Whether you like it or not, there is a 2 tiered society in this respect. Illiterate, innumerate people are not going to find enormous scientific breakthroughs.

  10. The most important point, Bob, is that school "reformers" are using the lower aggregated performance of US kids to claim that public schools in general are failing and that it is necessary to privatize schools to get acceptable performance. It appears to me that you and I and Drum and Shyamalan should be able to agree on this and try get the message across to the general public and at least some of those who make the decisions about how kids should be educated. If the privatizers have their way, the inevitable result will be a split between affluent kids and low-income kids, mostly black and latino but some white. Possibly the white affluent kids will do better but it is not likely the others will.

    What has to be scotched above all is the idea that privatization will magically improve performance in all schools. As far as I know nobody (least of all Shyamalan) has any magical methods, other than possibly increasing the time that low-income kids spend in the learning-friendly environment of school - this seems to work temporarily when pre-school is provided. Anyway what we are really talking about is preventing the dismantling of public schools, not finding magic bullets.

  11. IMHO Bob was too kind, when he accepted Drum's excuse for ignoring Asians: Drum...basically disregards the high-scoring Asian nations...because they achieve their high scores “by making their kids' lives a living hell.” Beyond that, he “very much doubt[s] that it actually produces better-educated adults in the long run.”

    IMHO there are three big problems with Drum's alibi:

    1. Drum guesses that Asian education doesn't produce better educated adults. I'm typing on a Japanese computer, driving a Korean rental car, and watching a Taiwanese TV set. The company my daughters work for, Oracle, has pretty much stopped hiring Americans and focused instead on hiring Indians and Pakistanis. In short, the enormous economic success of various Asian nations gives strong evidence that their education systems do indeed produce better-educated adults.

    2. Asians also outscore whites and blacks in the US. Thus both domestic and foreign results suggests that Asian culture has something to teach the rest of us.

    3. If minority education is as vital as Drum, Somerby and I think it is, then we shouldn't reject out of hand harsh teaching methods. If we could eliminate the underclass, it might be worth putting one generation of minority students through "living hell" -- especially since we don't seem to have confidence in any other method.

    1. The conservative agenda in a nutshell -- let's put the underclass through "living hell." 'Cause agony makes for such good pedagogy. And it builds character. Or something. How about we put all the ignorant through living hell? I guarantee you won't like that one bit.

      But I like the idea of eliminating the underclass!

      Let's eat them.