SCHOOL LIVES MATTER: But war comes first!


Part 5—What Lawrence and Reverend Al said:
We emerged from last week's Scalia Wars with a basic question.

Why is the freshman class at Texas only 4% black? Even with the university trying to increase black enrollment, why is the number that low?

There's a related question concerning Hispanic enrollment, of course. For reasons no one ever explains, this entire discussion is conducted in the context of black enrollment, even though the state of Texas has tons more Hispanic kids.

If we might quote the state itself: "In 2013-14, Hispanic students accounted for the largest percentage of total enrollment in Texas public schools (51.8%), followed by White (29.5%), African American (12.7%) Asian (3.7%), and multiracial (1.9%) students."

Down in the Lone Star state, public school enrollment is majority Hispanic. But then again, whatever! Also, who actually cares?

For the record, black kids in Texas outperform their counterparts around the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, our one apparently reliable testing program. So do the state's Hispanic kids; so do white kids in the state.

That said, substantial "achievement gaps" still obtain; those significant gaps help produce those enrollment figures in Austin. That said, why do those gaps obtain? What happens in the school lives of Texas kids which helps create this phenomenon?

(Also in their family lives, and also in their preschool lives. What happens to hold back our good decent Texas kids?)

To tell the truth, questions like these are rarely asked within our national discourse. To state the world's most obvious fact, no one actually cares about the answers to these questions. To cite an embarrassing set of examples, you'll almost never see such questions examined at our own corporate liberal news orgs.

Rachel Maddow doesn't care about what happens to black kids in Texas. She wasted her first twenty minutes last night with a ludicrous, embarrassing mess which started with a detailed "argument" from the former Rhodes scholar star, in which she showed that George Pataki and Jim Gilmore aren't really trying to get elected.

Maddow pretended to blow a train whistle, helping us stave off boredom. She incessantly drummed on her table, as she now persistently does; she pretended to snore and fall asleep at the mention of Pataki's name. Our analysts writhed like Salem girls as this incessant, months-long gong show and mental breakdown continued. (It dates at least to May 3.) They looked at us with pleading eyes, asking when someone will finally appear on the set and lead this strange person away.

Black kids in Texas barely exist on The One True Liberal Channel. Our corporate stars don't consider their problems. They show very few signs of caring about their lives.

Last week, though, heaven arrived in the form of a comment by Justice Scalia. Our tribal wars could be fought on this turf! The school lives of Texas kids were briefly mentioned, in passing.

Was there something wrong with Scalia's comment, which we'll review below? Maybe yes and maybe no, but there was certainly room for complaint.

At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf complained about Scalia's "lazy characterization" of so-called “mismatch theory.” Friedersdorf continued: "I do not think it overzealous 'political correctness' to expect more carefully drawn words on this subject in a high-profile hearing, given Scalia’s prominence and the ugly, wrongheaded belief in black inferiority that persists in bigoted enclaves. A man of his position and intellect is capable of better."

Friedersdorf knocked Scalia's remarks, but also knocked his critics. In a piece for CNN, John McWhorter voiced a softer view. "I don't usually agree with Justice Scalia's perspectives, but we are doing him wrong on this one," he said at the start of a lengthy piece about "mismatch theory." That said, McWhorter complained that Scalia "didn't express himself as gracefully as he could have."

Elsewhere, we liberals pleasured ourselves in our standard way; we accused Scalia of bigotry. This touched off the latest tribal war, with our team complaining about all the bigotry and their team complaining of all the correctness.

Our view? Along the way, our tribal leaders said many things that were dumber than the things Scalia said, which weren't gigantically dumb at all, depending on how you took them. We chose to take them as acts of war--but this is now the only way we know how to take remarks.
The school lives of Texas kids briefly got mentioned, but only in the context of the latest pleasing war.

How offensive were Scalia's remarks? We'll look at his statement below. But in response, a whole of other people rushed to embarrass themselves in the usual mandated ways.

By the night of last week's hearing, it was clear that tribal war was on. On CNN, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin explained "mismatch" theory to Erin Burnett. Was this really the best he could do?
BURNETT (12/9/15): So let me start with you, Jeff. Is this fair that [Scalia's] receiving all the criticism he is receiving when you read that? What did you hear?

TOOBIN: Well, he is citing a brief that refers to a theory known by the shorthand of "mismatch," that students—African-American students do better, they get better jobs, they graduate more often if they go to lesser schools, say the University of Texas at San Antonio, at Arlington, as opposed to the flagship campus at the University of Texas at Austin.

That is a very controversial theory. A lot of people say not only is there something distasteful about that argument, they say it is simply wrong on the facts. But it is an argument that has been made in the brief.
Was that really the best he could do?

In fact, "mismatch theory" doesn't say that "African-Americans" (full stop) do better at less competitive schools than UT-Austin. Mismatch theory says that some African-American students would do better, perhaps substantially better, at less competitive schools.

According to proponents of mismatch theory, some kids who are being admitted to highly competitive schools through affirmative action formulas are being thrown in over heads. In current circumstances, such kids are black (and also Hispanic, although those kids are never mentioned). But presumably, most white kids might also be over their heads at our most competitive schools.

Duh. Anyone can be thrown in over his head in some academic setting! This possibility isn't restricted to black kids, except when we don't use our words.

As so often occurs, Toobin forgot to say "some." Somehow forgetting to use all his words, he thereby delivered a burlesqued account of so-called "mismatch theory."

At the Atlantic, you can see Friedersdorf assailing Scalia for using the same formulation. "Scalia’s error was to talk carelessly and imprecisely about a predictably fraught subject," Friedersdorf sensibly writes.

For whatever reason, Toobin couldn't rush fast enough to make the same careless mistake on several CNN programs. That said, tribal war feeds on burlesque, although it's good for network ratings and it provides a welcome sense of tribal moral greatness.

Later that evening, Lawrence O'Donnell played a ridiculous series of cards as he discussed Scalia's bigotry on his MSNBC show. Lawrence spoke with Janai Nelson, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Eventually, Lawrence would tell poor Nelson that he was sorry that she had to be exposed to Scalia's untoward behavior. Nelson agreed that it had been "pretty hear a Supreme Court Justice make those types of comments that are just rolled up in assumptions about racial inferiority."

In the end, Lawrence apologized. First, though, he explained how a black kid could do well at his own famous alma mater.

As Lawrence explained, the analysts screamed and howled like a gang of afflicted Salem girls. Had Scalia made remarks that "were just rolled up in assumptions about racial inferiority?" If we wanted to be unkind, we could claim to hear the same assumptions in this great progressive's remarks:
NELSON (12/9/15): It was pretty jarring, I think, for most people in the courtroom to hear a Supreme Court Justice make those types of comments that are just rolled up in assumptions about racial inferiority, just thoughts that you cannot imagine a figure of such stature and in such a respectable position would make.

O'DONNELL: And it is filled with just wild assumptions. The first of all, the notion that you can define this hierarchy of schools, "this school is higher that school" and so forth.
Let me just say confessionally, I went to Harvard College. It is the easiest college in the world if you choose the right courses.

You have 6,000 courses to choose from, and I promise you a thousand of them could not be easier. And, so it is, with schools, you know, all over the country.
You cannot—these are not apples and apples. They are all different.

NELSON: That is right. It depends on your experience with classes you take.

O'DONNELL: Yes. What your major is.

NELSON: What your major is, what activities you are involved in. It is really unfortunate to cast, again, an entire group of people and suggest that they cannot compete at this high level of higher education.
Question: By the time these two progressives got through, who needed alleged bigots like Scalia?

According to Lawrence, black kids could do just fine at Harvard. They just had to be sure to take all the easiest courses! There must be a thousand courses a black kid could choose from, the cable star helpfully said. Also, please choose a soft major!

It sounded like Lawrence was advising the UNC football program, circa 2005. Recovering from her jarring experience, Nelson agreed with his thoughts.

On the bright side, Lawrence had "confessed" to going to Harvard. Less helpfully, he had instantly run to a stereotype—black kids at a school like that will need to take easy courses!

That statement is probably true, of course, for a lot of black kids. But it's true for tons of white kids too! The large majority of high school graduates of all so-called races don't "qualify" for our most competitive schools. They may therefore attend less competitive schools, after which they may proceed to do great things in the world.

By now, the analysts were writhing. Several swore that they had seen Lawrence turn into a fox, or perhaps even a cat. Earlier, though, they had encountered the strangest comment of the night. It had come from Reverend Sharpton, appearing on All In.

We were big fans of Sharpton for years, due to his humor and his intelligence. In our view, his years on cable haven't done much for his game.

At any rate, he was reporting for Hayes this night. At the start of the show, and then again, Hayes teased what was to come:
HAYES (12/9/15): And amazing new polling on where rank and file Republicans stand on Donald Trump's bigotry. Plus outrage over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's remarks about affirmative action.


HAYES: And later, the shocking comments made by Justice Scalia in the affirmative action case. Reverend Al Sharpton is here and joins me to respond.
Tribally, it sounded good. We'd get some "bigotry" from Candidate Trump, along with "outrage" about Scalia's shocking remarks.

How shocking were Scalia's remarks? In our view, they weren't as foolish as this:
HAYES: Joining me now, Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's Politics Nation. And Rev, you were in that room and the Times described that moment when Justice Scalia was talking about a "slower track school" as that comment being met with audible gasps in the chamber.

SHARPTON: That's only because we are not allowed to do anything but gasp...

None of us were prepared to hear what Scalia said, because in essence what he was saying is, "Let's go back to pre-Board of Education, Brown versus Board of Education, 1950s America," where blacks are doing all right going to black schools or schools where blacks go. He said, go to less advanced schools where they do all right. We're going back to separate but equal.

And as I said to the press coming out, this is like the biased, anti-Muslim bias at a Donald Trump rally, but we're hearing this on the bench of the Supreme Court, a Supreme Court justice saying that it's just fine for them to go to less advanced schools, they do fine. This is appalling. I don't care who you are.
Scalia was calling for separate but equal! He wanted to go back to 1950s America! Or at least, so Sharpton said.

For our money, those comments by Sharpton were substantially more foolish than anything Scalia had said. We don't disagree with Friedersdorf when he says that Scalia could, perhaps should, have chosen his words with more care. But for our money, Sharpton's comments were more foolish than that.

On the other hand, they gave us the pleasures of name-calling tribal war.

Poor Sharpton! Later that night, O'Donnell would tell Nelson that he was sorry that she had to be exposed to Scalia's remarks. ("Janai Nelson, I am sorry you had to listen to some of that today.") As he ended his session with Hayes, Sharpton described his own jarring experience.

Earlier, Hayes had said he would try to "bend over backwards" to be fair to Justices Scalia and Thomas. Now, Sharpton said this:
SHARPTON: I think Ms. Ifill of the LDF gave every argument backward and forward that you could want. But for Scalia to say this and not have other justices gasp, Justice Sotomayor was absolutely superb, but to have people sit there and not respond to this was something that I walked down those steps— You think you leaned over backwards? I had to lean forward to even get down the steps after being insulted like that by a Supreme Court justice.
Justice Sotomayor was superb, even though she forgot to gasp. But Sharpton said, and perhaps even felt, that he had been insulted.

Increasingly, the American discourse, especially on cable, is all about judgments like that. On liberal cable, that means that our tribe will be fed, in Hayes' words, "bigotry. Plus outrage." Also, "shocking comments!"

Tomorrow, we'll look at what Scalia and several others actually said that day. Meanwhile, what about the school lives of our many great kids in Texas?

We've never seen the topic discussed on any MSNBC program. The channel exists to keep feeding us porridge. In the world of its millionaire hosts, with their snoring and clowning, do those good decent kids exist?

Tomorrow: Scalia and Alito and Garre oh my! A long string of jarring remarks


  1. "Outrage," from a right-wing perspective, is what has worked very well for Fox News and talk radio, so that's what MSNBC, Salon, et al. are trying to replicate.

    1. yes, maybe. hmm. maybe we could prefer/agitate for a rational outrage rather than follow along with the right's irrational outrage model...

    2. Concern troll JS-1/2 continuing to promote the false equivalency narrative.

  2. The conservative justices on the the Supreme Court showed their ignorance or bias or both on racial matters when they voted effectively to discontinue the strictures of the Voting Rights Act - prejudice no longer is important, they say. Or the federal government has no right to meddle in it if it does. Should we give Scalia the benefit of the doubt on his later remarks? Is he really looking out for the benefit of the black students? Or does he just think they are inferior, or is he just throwing bones to the racist Republican base? On the whole, explanations like the latter two are much more probable.

    Should remarks like that just be allowed to pass, or is there a point to refuting the totally absurd contention of Republicans, including some on the Supreme Court, that racism no longer exists or that "segregation" is harmless? Is it "tribal" to object to racism? I am still waiting for Somerby to explain his strategy for combating racism, if that's what he wants to do.

    1. In typical lib fashion you equate the "existence" of racism, regardless of type, frequency or prevalence, with legitimacy of continuing affirmative action.

    2. "In typical troll fashion in falsely interpreting SH's comment, you feel compelled to throw the "L" bomb."

      FTFY - NFO

  3. The other tribe, or at least 30% of them, support bombing the country of Agrabah. So someone tell me how we engage intelligently with the other tribe?

    1. Anyone who supported OR opposed apparently didn't realize that Agrabah was a fictional country. Adding the figures, 43% of Reps didn't know that Agabah was a fictional countryand 55% of Dems didn't know that Agabah was a fictional country.

    2. The analysts salute you David in Cal.

    3. There is no indication the poll responders know or don't know anything about Agrabah. Those that know it is a fictional country could be inclined to give a tongue in cheek response. That might be 100%, there is no way to know.

  4. According to the LA Times, this is what Scalia said:

    “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to -- to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less -- a slower-track school where they do well,”

    As Bob points out, Scalia should have said that his comment applied to less academically capable black kids who were accepted only because of affirmative action. Or, may even to some of that group.

    I think a fair-minded person would have interpreted Scalia's that way.

    1. I don't think Somerby said that.

      My own guess, he'd say Scalia could have used a "some" in there -- the same as "some" liberals could have used...

    2. "Some" wasn't necessary if one reads the comments properly in the context of an AFFIRMATIVE ACTION program that is seeking to admit LESS QUALIFIED APPLICANTS.

    3. Wingbat David in Cal - that is only part of Scalia's questioning of the UT attorney. No surprise that you are too lazy to read the actual case arguments and that you are too mendacious to provide context.

      @7:21 - Read comp fail.

  5. The Agrabah poll question is exactly the sort of "gotcha" BS that Somerby rightly deplores. It's unfair, because a similar percentage of Democrats likely would answer affirmatively if asked if we should admit refugees from Agrabah. Moreover, it's not productive, because its only point is to generate fodder to ridicule people about.

    There's plenty of room for legitimate criticism of conservative viewpoints; we shouldn't have to fabricate talking points.

    1. "It's unfair, because a similar percentage of Democrats likely would answer affirmatively if asked if we should admit refugees from Agrabah."

      Somerby's analysts might deplore your false equivalence in comparing bombing the imaginary to giving them safe harbor.

    2. See comment @ 8:51 above.

  6. Golly, Bob sure does understand a lot about how black people are supposed to respond to an obviously above board figure like Saclia.

    1. Moreover he shows how much he cares about them in school by only using them as a tool to browbeat liberal media figures.

  7. I think the fact nobody discusses this in the context of Hispanic kids shows your Howler gets results!

    Of course Bob did once mention some really fine deserving Hispanic kids used in the case against teacher tenure in California.

  8. Amazing that BS has the audacity to claim he's a liberal when all he does is attack liberals while ignoring truly outrageous lies said daily on FAUX news and Morning Joe.

    1. His stated reasons for attacking liberals is to keep them from doing the same things they condemn conservatives for. Purity of cause, so to speak. Those polls are meaning less. Like the film where 50 Harvard students sign a petition to repeal the First Amendment in less than an hour. About as insightful as the average video on America's Funniest Videos.

    2. Jim, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. It's a great bargain.
      You're obviously a very gullible person buying into Bob's BS. He not a liberal which is why he spends all his time attacking liberals and defending conservatives.

    3. He spends all his time doing other things in real life, not online. The small amount of time he spends online is devoted to helping people be better at critical thinking. I think that is a politically neutral endeavor. He is speaking to liberals so he uses examples from the liberal world because using conservative examples makes it harder to see the reasoning flaws because they are embedded in different facts and a different worldview. It is easier to see flaws in reasoning when the facts and values are not at issue.

      The large number of conservative trolls in the comments confuse everything and make it hard to discuss Somerby's points because of arguments about the facts and values, and because the trolls mainly just want to attack Somerby. I suspect the trolls are politically neutral too -- mainly sociopaths seeking an unmoderated playground.

      What kind of conservative devotes himself to teaching inner city kids in Baltimore, then spends years in local politics trying to improve education and fighting the school reform movement? Have the people here who say he isn't liberal ever heard his political comedy routines? Do they know who his friends are and what causes he devotes "all his time" to offline? If they did, they would find @1:20's comment ridiculous.

    4. It is good to see someone besides Bob imagining things in his life.

    5. 4:47 you're as delusional as Jim. Interested in buying a bridge. I'll get you a great price.

  9. Sanders admitted that four of his staffers accessed data inappropriately and one was fired from his campaign. That isn't doing nothing.

  10. Bob's obsession with Maddow's pleated

  11. UCLA Professor Richard Sandor, who co-authored a book about the mismatch theory, said in a recent article:

    The mismatch theory is not about race. It is about admissions preferences, full stop. Mismatch can affect students who receive preferential admission based on athletic prowess, low socioeconomic status, or alumni parents. An important finding of mismatch research is that when one controls for the effect of admissions preferences, racial differences in college performance largely disappear. Far from stigmatizing minorities, mismatch places the responsibility for otherwise hard-to-explain racial gaps not on the students, but on the administrators who put them in classrooms above their qualifications.

    The size of the preferential treatment is all-important. Mismatch problems almost always result from very large preferences—ones that give applicants the equivalent of, say, a 200-point SAT boost. Some studies that claim to provide evidence against mismatch turn out to involve small preferences, perhaps the equivalent of a 50-point SAT boost. My own view is that relatively small preferences (based, for example, on socioeconomic disadvantage) are often a good thing. Giving a slight benefit of the doubt to ambitious students trying to rise out of poverty, and placing them with peers who are slightly better prepared, can push them to greater achievement.

    Much of the controversy about mismatch arises because scholars or pundits talk past one another. After sidestepping the noise, there is a surprising level of consensus in the literature. There are now five unrebutted peer-reviewed studies—for instance, one by Frederick Smyth and John McArdle, published in 2004 by Research in Higher Education—concluding that aspiring scientists who receive large admissions preferences drop off the STEM track at up to twice the usual rate. A study by three labor economists, to be published next year in the American Economic Review, finds that large preferences substantially depressed the rate at which minorities achieved science degrees at the University of California before racial preferences were banned in 1996...

    At the University of Texas, the gaps in academic preparation are wide: Among freshman admitted outside the state’s top 10% system in 2009, the mean SAT score for whites was 390 points higher than for blacks.

  12. Poor, poor Judge Scalia, so obviously competent, so fair minded! Bob is really zeroing on a major problem here!


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