ARISTOTLE’S ERROR: To the couch!

TUESDAY, JULY 15, 2014

Part 1—Digby in pearls: Anthropologically speaking, are we so-called human beings really “the rational animal?”

Pretty much no, we are not. In yesterday’s prelude to this series, we discussed the American public’s extremely low level of political information. At the most, only forty percent of American adults actually know the answers to these basic questions:
Which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?
Which political party has a majority in the U.S. Senate?
Something less than forty percent actually know who holds those majorities! On balance, we the people are deeply uninformed about our political system.

That said, when we look at the way our press corps functions, we can’t really blame the public for turning away from our discourse.

Consider this report by Reid Wilson. It appeared in the high-profile Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post.

Wilson’s piece ran beneath this headline: “Best state: Massachusetts, for its schools”

Within his piece, Wilson presented a chart which bore this title: “Top 10 states for education.” (The chart doesn’t appear on-line.)

Wilson listed the following states. To support his claim that they're the top ten, he included proficiency rates achieved by students in these states on two of last year’s NAEP tests:
Top 10 states for education
1. Massachusetts
2. New Jersey
3. New Hampshire
4. Connecticut
5. Minnesota
6. North Dakota
7. Vermont
8. Maryland
9. Virginia
10. Iowa
Are those the top ten states for education, judging from NAEP scores?

Groaningly, no. No, they pretty much aren’t.

Can we talk? Several states appear on that list for a blindingly obvious reason—their student populations are very heavily white. But uh-oh! When you look at the performance of white students in those states, you see very ordinary achievement on the NAEP—ordinary at best.

Is North Dakota our sixth top state? This is where North Dakota’s white students ranked among the 50 states on the 2013 NAEP:
Ranking among the fifty states
North Dakota, white students, 2013 NAEP

Grade 4 reading: 34th out of 50 states
Grade 4 math: 24th
Grade 8 reading: 42nd
Grade 8 math: 18th
Does North Dakota look like our sixth top state? Meanwhile, these are the rankings achieved by white students in Iowa:
Ranking among the fifty states
Iowa, white students, 2013 NAEP
Grade 4 reading: 35th out of 50 states
Grade 4 math: 27th
Grade 8 reading: 37th
Grade 8 math: 39th
Does Iowa look like one of our top ten states?

It has now been fifty years since mainstream news organs began debating how we might improve the outcomes in our “inner-city schools.” It’s stunning to think that, fifty years later, the Washington Post is still producing work of this type—work which shouts its journalistic incompetence to the skies.

In fairness, Wilson isn’t an education reporter. But the Post employs education reporters; presumably, it still employs some editors. But so what? Fifty years later, this helpless, pitiful “journalistic” giant seems to lack the most basic skills when it comes to discussing our schools.

It’s hard to know how a major newspaper could be so profoundly incompetent. We’ll ponder that question all week, looking at work which is being performed by Slate, by Salon, by MSNBC.

That said, this type of work is very much par for the course at the Post. By the way—near the end of his piece, Wilson sniffs about the nation’s various regions:
WILSON: Eastern Seaboard states perform best in the Education Week rankings. New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland and Virginia join Massachusetts in the top 10, along with Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa. Three of the bottom five states—Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada—are in the Southwest.
By any measure, states like Massachusetts and New Jersey seem to be running our most successful public schools. (Maryland may have pulled a bit of a scam on the 2013 NAEP.) It’s also true that those southwestern states tend to perform rather poorly.

Still, everyone knows why those states might end up in the bottom five—their student populations are heavily Hispanic. As you can see in the data below, Arizona’s white kids outranked their counterparts in Iowa on all four NAEP measures last year. They outranked their peers in North Dakota on three of the four measures:
Ranking among the fifty states
Arizona, white students, 2013 NAEP

Grade 4 reading: 28th out of 50 states
Grade 4 math: 17th
Grade 8 reading: 35th
Grade 8 math: 20th
Compare those rankings to those achieved by white students in Iowa. And yet, according to Wilson, Iowa is one of the top ten states. Pitiful Arizona, down in the Southwest, is in the bottom five.

Do the gods on Olympus still keep track of our human folly? We’ll take a guess—by now, even they are averting their gaze from the type of work which is being done all over this nation’s “press corps.”

Wilson seems completely clueless about education statistics. No editor at the mighty Post saved him from this mess.

But all around the national press, work like this is constantly spewed, concerning a wise array of topics. And then, we have the intellectual disintegration of the nation’s “liberals.”

Last week, Heather Parton, clutching her pearls, fell back on her fainting couch. In our view, some of what she wrote in this piece is heinous, almost obscene.

We'll suggest you start with the headline. But this sort of thing is par for the course at the revised Salon.

Is there any possible way this sort of thing can lead to good societal outcomes? Plainly, Aristotle made a very large error all those years ago.

Tomorrow: Straight out of the pre-rational

To review all state rankings: Through use of this marvelous data tool, you can quickly review all state rankings for the 2013 NAEP. You can disaggregate the scores for the states. If you simple click on “Scale Score,” it quickly lists the state scores in order from best to worst.

The National Center for Education Statistics present a remarkable wealth of data. Anthropologically speaking, they have never figured out how to make “journalists” use them.


  1. OMB (Shuffling the Deck of Stats with the OTB)

    Since Bob penned and posted a rather lengthy, winding explanation of why school segregation is both obvious and intractable, it is logical then that, when assessing school rankings, we segregate the results.

    That way we can say to boastful Iowans, "your schoolkids don't know squat for a bunch of white folks."

    And Arizonan's can pride themselves on their "Paper's Please" policies, noting that "Heck, if we wasn't wasting so much money on those wets in our school, our kiddos might be in the middle of the pack."

    There are, Bob, both benefits and detriments to viewing the world through perpetually disaggregated lenses.

    By the way, which states are tops in the Asian test results? That tells
    your smart real estate investors where they ought to be putting their money.


    1. I suppose you missed the part of Somerby's explanation where he also pointed out that (1) Tuscaloosa schools were not all segregated, (2) explained the difference between legal and de facto segregation, (3) and complained that black flight from inner city schools was not examined along with white flight. You make it sound like Somerby was calling for segregation itself instead of a more nuanced investigation of its impact on education.

      It is absurd to attribute racist motives to Somerby simply because he says the numbers change when you look at stratified instead of aggregated data.

      Another ugly attack on this blogger accompanied by a gross twisting of anything he has said here. Please stop this garbage.

    2. 11:12 you are a sad little critter.

    3. We missed nary a word of the Tale of Two Tuscaloosas, Anon. @ 11:12. Our rapacious gaping maw gurgles down BOBisms like they were the last drop at the last oasis in the Gobi and we still had miles to trek.

      We wouldn't miss a moment of fun in what BOB himself just yesterday described as his Chucklehouse. Or was it House of Chuckles? You know, the Sprawling Campus.

      And rest assured we do not find you at all critter like. We are at a loss, however, how to rank you since we do not know your race or ethnicity. Will your lunch today be free or reduced price?


    4. Hut. It was Chuckle Hut you imbecile.

    5. It has no doubt escaped you that Somerby is commenting on a ranking of states, not people.

      KZ, please go back on your meds. You have been especially ugly in your comments this morning and we are all worried about you. Your current themes suggests you are having troubles in real life. Perhaps you should go attend to them instead of taking it out on people here.

    6. Yes, of course. People didn't take those tests. States did.

    7. Anon. @ 11:51, please, in order to improve we need a comparision of what we said today which is especially ugly compared to something we previously said which was more run-of-the-mill ugly in your well ordered mind.

      We will note, for the record, that it may have escaped you that Somerby is talking about rankings and subrankings of states. It is, of course, the wee people in those states that the big people test in order to come up with those rankings. That may not have escaped you, It is, after all, people who are black, white, Hispanic, and Tigers.

      Do you share BOB's seeming view that, if we had articles in which the fifty states were subranked by multiple categories of wee people test scores, that the tide of turning away from our discourse could be stemmed, if not reversed. We must find a way to turn the people toward, rather than away, from out discourse. Regardless of which state they turn in.


    8. I share Somerby's view that if the author of an article (which he is criticizing not praising) decides to rank states by educational achievement, they should do it fairly and accurately.

      Your ugliness is in attributing to Somerby the same traits he is criticizing in others, something that is specious but effective because it discredits both the complaint and the complainer. THIS tactic is right out of the right wing playbook, by the way.

      Your particular ugliness today is your continuation of the subhuman riff, the attribution of racism to Somerby, the nasty tone of your equating of subhuman with the atrocities of other times and places with the innocuous content of this blog. Somerby is not the racist jerk -- you are because that is where your mind goes with so very little encouragement.

      We all are aware that you also post under Anonymous in unattributed comments, both praising and admiring your own work (lol, haha, good one KZ) and making some of your nastier comments about others. Like the sad critter one below (mild compared to some things you have said). The "cuteness" of your statements is a linguistic giveaway.

      Deadrat may think it is amusing to encourage you, but you are a major nuisance to many of the others here. Stop this and either post substantive comments on topic (not more attacks on Somerby as a person) or seek help from your preferred provider.

    9. Well we certainly unleashed a flood from you. It would take a response equal to the Tale of Two Tuscaloosas to fully respond.

      We made no mention of subhumans.

      We did not call BOB a racist or attribute it to him. We did imply disaggregation allows racists to gloat, examples of which these comment boxes were full of throughout his gap series.

      As to another major complaint, are you the person who some time back wrote that we were repsonsible for 75% of the comments? Or are you somebody who believes any old negative comment made on a blog?


    10. Anonymous at 1:07 - Thanks for saying this. I've commented before at the odd nature of so many of the comments on this site. I read a lot of blogs, and I don't think that I've seen one where the trolls have so completely taken over.
      I won't address the trolls because that's pointless, but my question to you is: WTF? What do you suppose is going on? I really can't figure out why so many people who clearly hate this blog are compelled to read it and comment about it.

    11. Anonymous @11:51A,

      May I suggest that it's a fool's errand imploring a denizen of the Galaxy Schizophrenia to resume his medication? Contrary to your claim, not all of us are worried about KZ. I can tell you how to join those ranks if you wish.

    12. @ 11:12: "(1) Tuscaloosa schools were not all segregated, (2) explained the difference between legal and de facto segregation, (3) and complained that black flight from inner city schools was not examined along with white flight."

      Hannah-Jones wrote that Central High had gone from integrated to nearly all-black. Somerby's brilliant response was: "Well, other Tuscaloosa schools are integrated."

      I am certain you appreciated the explanation of the difference between de jure and de facto segregation. I already knew it.

      And among the many side trips we took on this rambling series of series, the most entertaining one to me was the trip to Paris, where he found a five-year-old who wants to learn Croatian.

    13. TDH's response was that the change in the demographics of Tuscaloosa's public schools was not your grandpa's segregation, making unavailable the legal tools to change them, at least in the short term. Probably best to concentrate on better educating the students in the schools as they are instead of wringing our hands.

      As you're already so clever, knowing the difference between de jure and de facto, perhaps you'd care to dispute TDH's argument instead of whatever it is you think you read.

    14. Earl Warren pretty much destroyed the "we can be separate, but equal" argument 60 years ago.

      This was pointed out throughout the various series of Tuscaloosa series as we reached the stunning conclusion that parents need to talk to their babies more.

      You ignored it then. You ignore it now. After all Bob is brilliant. Bob is always right. A little segregation never really hurts anyone.

    15. The best thing to do with a red herring is ignore it.

    16. No, the best thing you can do with a red herring is to point out its color.

      Anonymous @8:12A, another child left behind. No, Earl Warren didn't "pretty much destroy the 'separate but equal' argument." That question didn't come before his Court, which dealt with whether the government could legally define its institutions as separate.

      It may well be the case that a little segregation is a harmful thing, but the courts do not require desegregated neighborhoods, and as TDH pointed out in many urban school districts, there aren't enough white students to achieve your dream demographics. So we can sit around and misstate Supreme Court precedent or we can consider what it takes to educate students properly. I see you've made your choice.

      Do parents need to talk to their babies more? I have no idea. TDH claims that some children are already behind in verbal skills when they first get to school. If that's so, is it hard to believe that the difference is made by the verbal world of their first few years?

      I hate to break it to you, but it's not my job to call attention to TDH. I'm the troll whisperer. TDH isn't always brilliant, and he isn't always right, but he's got a few steps on trolls like you.

  2. Oh dear. Digby is getting awards and now appearing in Salon. A sure sign liberals are taking us all straight to hell.

    1. Digby, like Maddow, seems to be sacrosanct in Liberal world.

      Her column in Salon is less temperate and reasoned than what normally appears on her blog. Does writing for Salon require hyperbole? Her article is a catchall of familiar liberal memes about the awfulness of the right, people who will kick babies and laugh about it (from Digby's tone). If she is going to write to Salon's specifications, she is going to attract criticism. We all know she is capable of doing better. Perhaps Somerby can keep her from going the way of Maddow.

    2. Going the way of Maddow? You mean becoming rich?
      Or becoming influential? Or buying Color TV's while intoxicated?

    3. Becoming a shill for whoever pays her. Keeping silent about things the plutocrats don't want mentioned. Like she did in the 2008 primaries.

    4. I was weaned in the Blogosphere by Digby, Firedoglake, TPM, and, of course The Daily Howler. I'll keep an open mind about Digby. But note she is using her real name now and writing for a mainstream Salonista crowd. If she appears on MSNBC we will know they have shod her in clown shoes and she will be lost to us forever.

    5. What was it Digby was silent about in the 2008 primaries at the behest of the plutocrats?

    6. Yes, by all means, if what better evidence could we have of the utter worthlessness of Digby than advancing and succeeding in her chosen career, and perhaps even accomplishing something with her life?

      After all, as all fans of the One True Somerby knows, the only possible way to do that is to sell your soul.

      Nope, Bob has stayed pure -- and quite unsuccessful as he one-man blogs like it's 1999.

      It's all those whippersnappers like Marshall, Kos, and now even Drum and Digby who we can't trust. Corporate shills, all of them. And damned kids who keep walking across his lawn.

    7. If an admired author such as Pearl Buck (who won a nobel prize) were to write an article for the National Enquirer about Bill Clinton marrying a martian, would that make the article great literature, simply because it is written by an author who has demonstrated the capacity to write well? If it were written to appeal to the Enquirer audience, in that style and with that content, it wouldn't matter that Pearl Buck were a great writer -- he article would still be crap. That is Digby's situation. If she transcends Salon's standards she will be less likely to continue that gig because she will not appeal to their audience or be perceived to be doing a good job. So, there will be subtle (or unstuble) pressures on her to write Salon-type stuff in Salon's way. To the extent that whatever she is paid and whatever fame she attracts that way changes her lifestyle, she will be trapped in the way that Maddow now is.

      We can say we knew her when, but not pretend she is still Digby of old. I was very disappointed that Digby did not defend Clinton from attacks from the left or speak out about the injustices during the 2008 primaries. For example, she knows that neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton are racists, she knows that Geraldine Ferraro is not a racist. She could have commented on the sexism Clinton attracted from the media. She could have talked about the infractions of rules during the caucuses, especially in Texas and NV where lawsuits were filed. She could have talked about the sellout by Ted Kennedy. She decided to remain "neutral." We all saw what result that produced. By doing so, she demonstrated her capacity for compromise when it suits her interests. I assume we are seeing that compromise again, evidenced in the language of the article Somerby links to today.

      @12:52 -- you are mixing your metaphors. You cannot call Somerby a jealous financial failure and also a retired codger. Digby is not now and never has been any sort of competitor to Somerby. By referring to his "staying pure" you implicitly acknowledge that Digby has sold out. It is the perennial problem of the left. One must sell out important values to become mainstream. This suggests there is a bit of boomer in your voice, too.

    8. I would say the possibility of an article by Pearl Buck about Clinton marrying a Martian would be about as remote as Somerby actually practicing what he preaches.

      Especially considering that Pearl Buck has been dead for 41 years.

      How about trying an analogy rooted in reality next time?

      FYI, nobody called Somerby a "retired codger." I think he might have been called a cranky old fart who has chosen to spend his golden years screaming about all those damned kids, however.

    9. Who the f#$k admires Pearl B#$k?

    10. @ 12:10/1:22

      "I was very disappointed that Digby did not defend Clinton."

      That was really all you needed to say to answer half my question posed @ 12:45.

      The other half was which plutocrat's bidding was her silence
      at the behest of.

    11. I see. The plutocrats shovel money at Hillary. This raises the eyebrows of the journalists who do the plutocrats' bidding.


    12. Poor 2:01. Still crying big tears that Digby did not defend Clinton six years ago, at least to your standards. Oh woe is us!

      That's obviously what turned the tide,

    13. "She could have talked about the sellout by Ted Kennedy."

      Sell out. Hmmmm? Let me see.

      In 1980, who did the Clinton's back for President?

    14. A lot of years between 1980 and 2008. Do you know what happened during them?

    15. Ted Kennedy sold out.

    16. Yes, it is absolutely out of the realm of all possibility that Kennedy thought long and hard and made a decision he thought was best.

      Why do we know this? Because you didn't like his decision. Ergo, he "sold out."

    17. And that's why Obama tried to shove Caroline Kennedy down the throats of voters who didn't want her?

    18. 9:09 suffers from Obama Derangement Syndrome.

      She not only invents a role for Obama, but chooses the favorite right wing line to describe his actions.

      Oh, and the voters of New York obviously didn't want Bobby Kennedy from Hyannis, Pat Moynihan from Nixonville, or Hillary the Hillbilly either.

  3. Expanding on KZ's comment, simple disaggregation by black and white races isn't really sufficient, either.
    1. It doesn't separate groups that have traditionally excelled in schools, such as Asians, Jews, and Mormons.
    2. It doesn't separate by income and socio-economic group.
    3. It doesn't separate by students raised in non-English-speaking homes.
    4. It doesn't separate out students who attend ordinary public school, vs charter schools, private schools, parochial schools, etc.

    1. If Mormons are wonderful, why isn't Utah at the top of the list? It is nearly all white and nearly all Mormon.

      When Somerby refers to Hispanic kids, he IS talking about students raised in non-English speaking homes. Do you think their academic performance arises from having brown skin?

      The NAEP scores are available for public schools distinct from charter and private schools and for different SES groups. You can go look this up yourself.

      Do you imagine the point of his essay is to provide these breakdowns? It is to point out that (1) the Washington Post is not using reporters with sufficient expertise in education to write important education-related stories, (2) the public doesn't know enough to understand when the statistics presented are misleading, (3) because of this, people can be sold stories that are manipulative and/or that fit preferred narratives.

      Why do you think Digby's name was thrown into the article at the end? What is her crime in the article Somerby has linked to? It has nothing to do with education statistics, so why is it there?

    2. "When Somerby refers to Hispanic kids, he IS talking about students raised in non-English speaking homes."

      If he IS he is as misinformed about Hispanics as are you.

      My guess is he is probably not. In either case.

    3. I am hispanic, but I suppose anyone can be misinformed.

    4. @ 12:56. Are you also @ 11:18?

    5. I don't know for sure how schools count Hispanics. I believe one common approach is Spanish surname. My friend Mary, a Caucasian from Pennsylvania married a well-educated Argentinian. Jose had an MBA from Harvard and was an international consultant with Stanford Research Institute. Nevertheless, their children were counted as "Spanish surname." In fact, I recall Mary once mentioning that she herself might be counted that way.

    6. I know many Hispanic speakers who resent being labelled anything other than Amercian because they are 100% and they speak it too.

      Still I cannot understand what 12:56 thinks he is if he supposes he could be misinformed about being hispanic.

      Could he be Italian? They are the latins who found and named America after all even if it wasn't with their own people's money and italy never made a dime off the place.

  4. How very Mark Twainish of the Howler -- perhaps even Menckenesque -- to deny that man is a reasoning animal. I'm sure Aristotle, wrong about many things, never meant to imply his species were perfect reasoning machines when evidence to the contrary is so prima facie (or the Greek equivalent).

    We are also bipeds, yet we're forever stumbling.

    I have friends who are golfing animals who rarely break par.

    Just because you suck at it doesn't mean you're not doing it.

    1. It is hard to know how ancient Greeks thought because their world view was so different from ours, but I think Aristotle did think of humans as potentially capable of perfect reason, if not always engaged in it. It was the goal to be strived for.

      In the late 20th century, psychologists still thought people reasoned according to rules of formal logic. They still considered reason the best humans were capable of, the thing setting people above animals, for example. It was only the series of experiments showing that people regularly commit logical fallacies, and that this is normal for even mathematically trained humans, that changed the view of rationality as a human trait. The way people actually reason is very different from the kind of reasoning Aristotle and subsequent philosophers valued.

      We take for granted now that people are irrational, but that is because of the contributions of cognitive psychologists who created a considerable uproar when they first presented their findings about normal human reasoning. That we now accept this as the shared view of humanity is their achievement, not Aristotle's.

    2. The Cognitive Psych major returns.

    3. Ain't it awful when people are educated.

    4. Did anyone complain when the history major started expounding about Lincoln in yesterday's comments?

    5. You are right 11:47. It is hard to know what the ancient Greeks thought.

    6. Just because you suck at it doesn't mean you're not doing it.

      Family motto, Jeeves?

    7. Did the Lincoln comment expound on the contributions of the historical discipline?

  5. I came for the Mansion tour and all I get is warmed over school stats?

    1. OK. Do I get a refund or is there a rain check? I really want to take the tour.

    2. You are not funny. Go away

    3. Yet another example of Somerby having another brilliant thought, then forgetting what it was.

    4. Oh, c'mon. It was kinda funny.

      If you missed the tour, @11:45A, you get back twice what you paid. The best day is Friday, when you get to watch TDH strangle a subhuman as his fans illiterately yell "Alright!"

    5. Sounds good. Any idea whose house we will be in when it happens?

  6. What in the world is anyone talking about here? Bob claims to be breaking down data in some useful way, but does he? I don't get the point or the process. The adverb/particle "groaningly" does not let him off the hook.

    Tonight, after (another) weirdly early and inadequate dinner (in the midst of summer's plenty!), all in the service of our local MA school (which is a pretty extraordinary school: eat shit, Bob, though I doubt not the extraordinariness of endless schools elsewhere, whatever sacred NAEP may say).... I dunno. I am sort of dumbfounded by the lack of grounding in this and bob's other education posts, for all their claims to said grounding.

    1. I am sort of dumbfounded ....

      Half right but not just "sort of."

  7. I completely agree with you. I really like this article. It contains a lot of useful information. I can set up my new idea from this post. It gives in depth information

  8. That is so cute, I would of never thought of that. I am definitely making me one or maybe a few! Lol


  9. Some States and some cities have always been more successful that others however I also know that there are better and worse school everywhere. I have met lots of talented and enthusiastic teachers in the states which are not in the top. We have to remember that it is also parent`s duty to motivate and control their kids. They really need our help (you can apply for assistance with homework for school students if are not confident) and then you will see that the state doesn`t matter so much.