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 2015In 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.
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 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?