Part 1—The press corps tackles three questions:
Every year at this time, the mainstream press corps attempts, pretends or seems to discuss some basic back-to-school issues.

At best, these efforts are half-hearted. It is usually fairly clear that no one actually cares about these topics, except to the extent that they can be used to restate dominant narratives—narratives such as these:

Nothing is working in our schools! The Southern states are full of bigots! “Education reform” can produce amazing results!

Each year, we're given our standard dosage of cant. At that point, the press corps moves on.

Something else is often clear in these half-hearted efforts. Our nation’s intellectual capital is severely limited. In our view, this deficit has been especially clear in the back-to-school piddle this year.

Don’t get us wrong! As a society, we have sufficient intellectual capital to maintain a stable technology.

We can always imagine a more advanced technology, of course—but the technology we have actually works. When you hit the light switch last night, we’re guessing that your lights came on. Your quart of milk is still cold in your fridge. The balconies on your motel rooms have never fallen off.

By way of contrast:

In the old Soviet Union,
exploding TV sets were a leading cause of house fires. We’re going to guess that your TV set hasn’t exploded all year.

Our engineers, technicians and builders give us a stable technology. Beyond that, our store of intellectual capital is amazingly low, a fact which is usually clear when our “education experts,” professors and journalists pretend, attempt or seem to discuss our nation’s public schools and the lives of the children within them.

When those discussions get going, good God! And this year has been no exception.

In the past two weeks, we’ve identified three questions which have appeared this year’s back-to-school reporting or pseudo-reporting. In theory, each of these questions is very important. In practice, it’s fairly clear that nobody cares about these topics, not even the fiery corporate stars at The One True Liberal Channel.

The kids are all back in school by now. As they’ve returned to their desks, the press corps has toyed with these questions:
Back-to-school questions, September 2015
Question 1: Have high school seniors been doing less well in reading and math in recent years?
Question 2: Are black kids suspended from school in the South more often than in other parts of the country?
Question 3: In the ten years since Katrina, what sort of progress has occurred in the New Orleans schools?
In theory, those are all extremely important questions. In practice, it’s fairly clear that no one cares about these topics—or that we possess success intellectual capital to examine such questions.

In fairness, no narrative has been left behind as these discussions have unfolded. Also, no bogus conclusion! And no faulty comparison!

For the rest of this week, we’re going to look at the way those questions have been examined in recent weeks. But we start our assessment today with a word of warning:

It isn’t just the journalists!

Fear not! We’re going to show you some you miserable journalism in the next four days. Consider one example:

At the National Journal, one journalist reported that the South Side School District in Bee Branch, Arkansas “suspends black students at the highest rate in the nation.”

Is that actually true? Does that actually make any sense?

Uh-oh! In the school year in question, the South Side School District in Bee Branch, Arkansas enrolled a total of 528 students, only six of whom were black. The journalist had no way of knowing how many of those kids got suspended that year, though it had to be at least one.

For the record, the absurdity of this journalist’s assessment was matched by her howling statistical and geographical errors. And this chaos occurred at the National Journal, not at the Bee Branch Times.

(To bone up on Bee Branch, just click here. Bee Branch is part of rural Van Buren County, whose population is 0.31 percent black.)

Fear not! We’re going to show you reams of bungled journalism—the kind that helps us see that our nation suffers a serious deficit in intellectual capital. And we won’t be restricting ourselves to errors at the National Journal.

We’ll also see journalists get conned, in various ways, at PBS and at NPR—and at Slate, The Atlantic and The Christian Science Monitor. We’ll see Education Week go down for the count—and we’ll see the way the intellectual sloth of the New York Times tends to trigger these gong-shows.

In fairness, though, it isn’t just the journalists whose conduct we’ll be exploring. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what a leading “educational expert” had to say about Question 1 after he was quoted on the front page of the Washington Post. And on Wednesday, we’ll return to the work of those two professors at Penn, an Ivy League institution.

Penn should be ashamed of itself for publishing the professors’ study. On the other hand, the professors’ horrifically bungled study reinforced a thrilling old narrative, a story the press corps loves.

What’s happening to kids in American schools? How can we help low-income kids feel happier in school—and succeed?

To all appearances, our nation lacks the intellectual capital to tackle such questions. Beyond that, nobody cares!

No fact could be more clear. Our journalists piddle around and pretend, but it starts with professors and experts.

Tomorrow: What’s happening with the nation’s high school seniors?


  1. Miska Mooska MaddowsketovSeptember 14, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    We do not appreciate Comrade Bob reminding us of old days. Trolls laugh but Bob has good sources which is why he know Stalinist at Salon when he sees.

    Trolls not know good medias source like Ed Anger.


    2. So what if Somerby still lets his Cold War Boomer upbringing show itself with creepy anti-communist screeds?

      The Soviet exploding TV story isn't nearly as bad as Rachel Maddow lying about watching black and white TV when nobody had one and the denying she had a TV then admitting she had one and watches her own reruns but then tells tall tales about what time her reruns are on.

    3. You are missing the point @12:27. Rachel Maddow is a journalist -- someone who is supposed to communicate information clearly and accurately. If she cannot even get the facts of her own life straight, how can you trust anything she says on any other topic?

    4. I don't understand @ 12:34. What makes you think I missed any point about Maddow's fake stories about television? Or her Olympic career for that matter.

    5. You sounded sarcastic.

    6. Try adjusting the audio @ 1:21

    7. @ 12:27, Bob's Boomer bred exceptionalism causes him to make a lacerated American ass of himself sometimes:

  2. Don’t get us wrong! In practice, it’s fairly clear that nobody cares about these topics. In fairness, For the rest of this week, we’re going to look at the way those questions have been examined in recent weeks. And we won’t be restricting ourselves.

    Fear not! We’re going to show you reams. In fairness, though, to all appearances, our nation lacks the intellectual capital to tackle such questions. Beyond that, nobody cares!

    1. James mack and SERENA WILLAMS care.

    2. You trolls clearly don't care but many of us who read this blog daily do care.

      It saddens me that some teacher worked his or her heart out trying to make you into a decent human being and this is the result.

    3. @ 12:02 why do you always doubt Somerby. He says nobody cares. So nobody cares. End of discussion.

      And don't blame teachers.

    4. ". . . many of us who read this blog . .."

      Allow me to play Somerby here. How many is "many"?

    5. 12:20 I find that hard to believe. If you think the person is a troll, why would you blame him for your contradiction of Bob Somerby?

    6. Take your toys to a different playground, please.

    7. As a new reader, commenter, and mother, I find this exchange frightening. I think I will home school my son and blog elsewhere.

    8. Fortunately there is you, S.N Sobob who certainly doesn't care but provides a valuable service, giving up his presumably precious time, day in and day out, even inventing amusing sobriquets for himself, to alert us that we don't care. Is it simply altruism, that leads him to follow this site when it is clear it covers topics he doesn't care about and no one else does either? or is it just so much fun to share his witty prespective on the site's ever-failing output?

    9. AC/MA shame on you.

      Not a single sobriquest in my abbreviated "Essence of Bob"
      comment was invented. Every word was taken, in order, from the posted word of Somerby in the post above.

  3. It bothers me that education is becoming synonymous with training in technology. We have less expertise and focus on improving our schools precisely because we do not value teacher training and the field of education sufficiently to invest resources into them the way we do into STEM disciplines. The students are not dumb -- they go into the areas that are valued and better paid, the areas that are higher status because of the attention paid to them. Bashing the people who do choose education as a discipline is not going to encourage anyone to care or to choose that as a career.

    The only time our society has cared about education is when the field was targeted as a market for high tech products -- then IBM and Microsoft and Apple all decided to "improve" education by developing and selling products to schools. Before that, education was considered unnecessary (because real job training happens on the job or in apprenticeships) and something women did as an extension of their child care function, while waiting for a husband to come along.

    The best way to improve teaching is to pay teachers at a rate commensurate with equivalent degrees in engineering or science. That will attract better prepared students to the career path and those intelligent, competent new teachers will devote their energies to solving school problems. Today, the people who become teachers are those who care about children, but it takes more than caring to be an effective teacher. You need to understand how children learn and how to manage a classroom and effectively teach a variety of kids with different needs. People who both care and can acquire the needed skills are more scarce than those who only care but cannot teach well.

    See the recent film "Teacher of the Year".

    1. I get the impression that to achieve better results we need to return agency, authority and the ability to discipline back to teachers and administration and that just isn't going to happen in our litigious world. Presumably less professionalized and educated school marms were doing as good a job educating students 30 to 50 years ago with less infrastructure and considerably less cost per pupil.

      If the problems reside with the student body (demographics) that is a wholly separate problem that has been ignored for just as long and is a long due "Told You So" moment from nationalists.

    2. The feminist movement has deprived us of our qualified teacher pool and robbed us of our birthright to a birthrate necessary to keep this the kind of nation Jesus Christ envisioned at its founding.

    3. Classroom management isn't about "ability to discipline." It is about creating structure and organization, motivating students, setting up rewards systems, communicating expectations, reasonable class size, aides, and an appropriate range of abilities in a single class.

      One-room school teachers taught by rote memorization using ridicule and physical punishment to ensure effort. Parents punished kids at home who were disciplined at school. Kids only learned to read, do handwriting and do arithmetic and then left school for farm or factory. Older kids supervised/helped younger ones in class. Kids learn much more now because life requires more literacy, math and general knowledge than previously.

      One important early purpose of schools was to socialize immigrants into the national culture through language learning, history and citizenship (civics). Demographics have always been part of the challenge faced by public schools. Private schools were a way to escape diversity, then and now.

    4. Many immigrants lent slightly used farm equipment to one room school teachers which had proven useful with their own or neighborhing farm children. Many teachers were treated as guests in student homes particularly those homes with older male siblings for whom matchmaking had been unsuccessful.

    5. This is why we can't have nice things.

    6. Did everyone click on Atrios' "is our children learning" LINK?

    7. The point of middle school used to be to learn how to choose electives. In addition to math, English, history and homeroom, we had shop (wood, metal, auto), home economics (sewing, child care, cooking), plus languages and a variety of art and music classes (orchestra, choir, music appreciation). Also, business, typing, service classes (student government, honor guard). This was in a public school in a highly diverse, mixed income area in the center of Hollywood (CA). That was back when CA was still funding its public schools.

    8. "Classroom management isn't about "ability to discipline." It is about creating structure and organization, motivating students, setting up rewards systems, communicating expectations, reasonable class size, aides, and an appropriate range of abilities in a single class."

      : control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior
      : a way of behaving that shows a willingness to obey rules or orders
      : behavior that is judged by how well it follows a set of rules or orders

      Half of your list is basically the definition of discipline. "It is about creating structure and organization, motivating students, setting up rewards systems, communicating expectations" The rest can be dealt with assuming the teachers have the authority and agency to deal with students. With regard to class sizes, it is common for Freshman weedout classes in university to be large lecture halls of hundreds of students, while a year before they were HS seniors in presumably much smaller classes. Did summer break prepare these students for a completely different and less hands on environment? Whats the difference?

      "One-room school teachers taught by rote memorization using ridicule and physical punishment to ensure effort. Parents punished kids at home who were disciplined at school. Kids only learned to read, do handwriting and do arithmetic and then left school for farm or factory. Older kids supervised/helped younger ones in class. Kids learn much more now because life requires more literacy, math and general knowledge than previously. "

      Apparently they aren't very good at learning all this extra stuff, and it seems to not only cost significantly more but also at the expense of the basic literacy that had been taught before at much lower cost. If more money isn't the answer, what is? Perhaps an examination of what had worked in the past would provide some guidance. If what had worked before is not acceptable in this day and age, let us ask why this is.

  4. Texas has decriminalized school truancy. Watch test scores, particularly among seniors, soar as a result.

    1. Criminalizing truancy seems like another link in that school to prison pipeline. Why might kids not attend school? Does imposing penalties change any of those reasons?

      For example, sometimes an older child must stay home from high school in order to care for younger kids in the family who are sick or have a school holiday, because parents work and there is no money for child care. Does criminalizing truancy change the financial circumstances of that family?

      Sometimes high school age kids skip school because they are needed to work in a family business. Their labor contributes to the financial success of the family. Does imposing a criminal penalty change anything about that, except by making their life more difficult?

      Sometimes kids skip school because they cannot succeed and it is painful for them to be ridiculed by other kids and to face their own failure daily. They don't know what's wrong and why they are not learning, nor do their parents. It could be a learning disability or something like an undiagnosed vision or hearing problem, or even physical illness (asthma, allergies, nutritional deficits or chronic illness). Does criminalizing truancy help such kids get their educational needs met?

    2. Nine of the Top Ten worst school districts in the article Bob linked to were from Texas. Only the Bee Branch school In Van Buren, Arkansas and some place In Louisiana were also ranked.

    3. Van Buren County's Hispanic population mushrooms during the shitake harvesting season.,_Arkansas#Demographics

  5. Friday: "Coming next week or even tomorrow: Petrilli and Drum and Slate oh my!"

    Monday: "Tomorrow: What’s happening with the nation’s high school seniors?"

  6. Those obnoxious overstated teasers have been making me ill for some time.

  7. Solyndra must have used the C.C.C.P. production line as their business model.


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