...are mentioned in graf 32: The New York Times' self-ballyhooed, new "major initiative" is deeply involved with the past.
If we might coin an original phrase, it seems that the past isn't simply un-dead. It isn't even past!
The traffic jam you sat in today may have been the result of American slavery! According to leading top-rated experts, such approaches to history are sometimes called "uber-reductive."
That doesn't mean that the work the Times will publish as part of The 1619 Project may not be informative and constructive. Presumably, some of the work will be superb. Some of it probably won't be.
That said, who but the self-impressed New York Times would undertake such a project? Within our modern political history, the Times is best known for such journalistic achievements as these:
Through a set of bungled front-page reports, the Times invented the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, which lent its name to a crackpot political era.
Katherine Boo warned the world about the dangers of "Creeping Dowdism" when Maureen Dowd was still just a front-page reporter. In 1995, the Times made Dowd a columnist anyway.
Thirteen years later, a Times public editor finally savaged Dowd for the relentless misogyny she'd brought to her treatment of Candidate Hillary Clinton. She'd slimed many others before that, not excluding the balding Al Gore, and including the stunning insults she'd directed at Howard Dean's hopelessly under-styled wife.
Most recently, the brilliant newspaper decided to stage an anguished staff meeting because editors had managed to bungle a single front-page headline. Now, this puzzling collection of Hamptons four-day weekend types have announced that they plan to "reframe th[is] country’s history," skillfully reconfiguring "the story we tell ourselves."
That traffic jam is Atlanta today is part of that reframed history. And who knows? The Times may even get around to re-explaining the crazy decision the newspaper made to retell the ridiculous, hopelessly bungled story of Uranium One during the Trump-Clinton campaign!
They told that hopelessly bungled story at a length of 4400 words, teaming with a right-wing crackpot to do so. Today, they plan to retell the whole of American story, starting with the tragic events of the year 1619.
Almost surely, some of that work will be instructive and useful. On balance, though, this project's work may not be helpful at all. For an example of the newspaper's frequently cockeyed, quasi-ideological focus, consider last Saturday's front-page report on Richard Carranza's first year as head of New York City's schools.
Carranza was named chancellor of the New York City Public Schools in April 2018. He was serving as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District at that time. We assume he's a good, decent person.
Last Saturday, the Times' kid reporter, Eliza Shapiro, wrote a lengthy assessment of Carranza's first year in New York. Her lengthy report appeared on the Times' front page.
All in all, Shapiro's profile of Carranza's first year may not have seemed all that flattering. Needless to say, Carranza had accepted a deeply challenging job when he came to New York. In the baldest formulation, he'd accepted the task of directing a giant school system with such achievement gaps as these:
Average scores, Grade 8 mathFor all Naep data, start here. But the gaps are extremely large in Gotham, as they are across the nation.
New York City Public Schools, Naep 2017
White kids: 290.71
Black kids: 259.60
Hispanic kids: 263.56
Asian-American kids: 306.03
U.S. public schools, all students: 281.96
U.S. public schools, white kids only: 292.16
Based on a very rough rule of thumb, the average white kid in New York City's public schools is three years ahead of his black counterpart in math by the end of eighth grade.
The average white kid nationwide scored a bit better than that. Asian kids in New York City left everyone else in the dust.
No one could expect Carranza, or anyone else, to transform this state of affairs in his first year on the job, presumably by improving the performance of the black and Hispanic kids. Still and all, Shapiro made it sound like Carranza had possibly earned an F for effort in his inaugural year:
SHAPIRO (8/24/19): [S]ome educators say that Mr. Carranza also urgently needs to address the uneven performance of schools across the system.We'll discuss one key word in that passage—"also"—in tomorrow's report. That said, this account makes Carranza's first year sound a bit underwhelming.
[Mayor] de Blasio canceled a $773 million school improvement program, known as Renewal, after it was unable to turn around many long-struggling schools, and Mr. Carranza has not created an alternative initiative for the dozens of lowest-performing schools.
David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College, said Mr. Carranza’s “impact on the classroom at this point seems insignificant.”
As she continued, Shapiro let the chancellor defend himself. Here's what Shapiro reported:
SHAPIRO (continuing directly): Looking back on his first year, the chancellor said in an interview that he had made significant strides in improving education for students learning English, and in reorganizing the Department of Education’s vast bureaucracy. He said he had put in a new discipline code that was intended to limit in-school arrests for students of color, who he said were disproportionate targets of policing in schools.Did Carranza somehow "ma[k]e significant strides in improving education for students learning English?" We have no way of knowing, and the New York Times will never examine such a boring and tedious topic.
This week, the city announced that student test scores rose modestly during the chancellor’s first year on the job.
“There’s a lot of work that’s happening that I’m very proud of,” Mr. Carranza said.
Beyond that, Carranza was quoted saying that he'd reorganized the system's bureaucracy and had tried "to limit in-school arrests for students of color."
One paragraph later, he said his attempts at improvement "will not stick if the city does not address a more basic set of problems." Some of those problems were named:
SHAPIRO: The city’s school bus system, for example, suffered a major crisis last year when drivers could not complete new routes, leaving thousands of students stranded. This week, Mr. Carranza announced GPS tracking on city buses. And the city’s strained special education system appears to be reaching a breaking point; tens of thousands of students with disabilities are not receiving the services they need.Something went wrong with the city's bus system. Also, the city's special education system was described as an ongoing mess, an ongoing mess which Carranza himself apparently hasn't addressed.
As this discussion unfolded, nothing was said about those giant, punishing achievement gaps, or about the types of classroom instruction which might imaginably start to address them.
The bus system failed, and special ed stinks. But what about standard classroom instruction? What can be brought to bear upon those large, punishing gaps?
As quoted, Carranza didn't address such points, not did Shapiro seem to have raised them. In truth, no one within our major news orgs seems to care about such matters, or about the kids on the short end of those punishing gaps. Again and again, these facts are made abundantly clear by Rachel Maddow's topic selection, but also by the New York Times' "education reporting."
Shapiro's account of Carranza's first year didn't sound all that inspiring. The chancellor's "impact on the classroom at this point seems insignificant,” or so said the one education expert she quoted on this subject.
Shapiro's account seemed unflattering. But there's something about the profile we've quoted which is even more striking than the apparent lack of big ideas brought to the city's classrooms:
The account we've posted didn't begin until paragraph 32 of Shapiro's lengthy front-page report!
Carranza took control of a giant school system with giant achievement gaps. One year later, his "impact on the classroom" was said to be insignificant.
You'd almost think that this might be the focus of Shapiro's report. But Shapiro's focus on the public schools also ties her to the past, in a way which is reminiscent of the possible reductive overreach of The 1619 Project.
At this site, we'll recommend that decent people conduct a search for tomorrow concerning our public schools. You could call it The 2024 Project. It would be a search for ways to improve the lives of the children who will be born today, the children who will enter Gotham's kindergartens in that onrushing year.
We'd recommend a search for tomorrow and a focus on those gurgling, squirming children. That said, Shapiro's reporting on public schools caries an unmistakable 1619 air. And no, her obsessive focus on past offenses is neither well-reported nor helpful.
What was Shapiro doing for 31 paragraphs before she offered the analysis we've quoted? She was musing about the brutal past, while once again helping us see the New York Times' moral grandeur.
This paper has bungled again and again as our political culture had slid toward the sea. Tomorrow, we'll suggest that a vast indifference, and an unhelpful self-regard, informed the puzzling 31 paragraphs which started last weekend's report.
Tomorrow: Just repeat the magic word and you'll win a hundred dollars!