It's time for The Bluebirds to go: In this morning's Washington Post, Michael Gerson drops the latest bomb on Donald J. Trump and Trumpism.
In hard-copy, the column appears beneath an aggressive headline. The headline, and the column itself, are easy for our tribe to swallow:
GERSON (8/27/19): The servile defense of Trump's crazy ideasSo it goes as apologists march behind a parade of crazy ideas. Before long, we're planning to nuke the next hurricane—or perhaps the Greenland ice sheet.
It is grotesquely fascinating to see President Trump’s apologists try to explain his most lunatic ideas and claims. It is a bit like watching someone choke down a sheep’s eye on a bet, then declare it fine dining. (Note to animal rights activists: This is a simile, not a recommendation.)
This process has a number of steps—the stages of servility. At first, there is stunned silence. (Did he really propose to buy Greenland?) Then the frantic search for hidden wisdom...
Are we humans really "the rational animal?" So we've persistently said. But according to future anthropologists, the truth is emerging, every day, in the pages of our major newspapers.
According to Gerson, a servile elite is involved in a defense of lunatic claims and crazy ideas. But even as this process unfolds, our press elite insists that we shouldn't discuss the possible source of those crazy ideas!
Yesterday afternoon, we showed you what happened when one member of that elite broke ranks with press corps guild. He tried to stage a discussion of Donald Trump's possible mental condition.
It didn't go especially well. It has been a long time since our journalistic elites were able to stage real discussions.
Gerson's column describes the mental and moral disintegration of one modern elite. For a possible analogue from within our own self-impressed liberal/progressive tribe, we invite you to read Eliza Shapiro's front-page report in today's New York Times.
In her coverage of the New York City Public Schools, Shapiro has been producing some of the worst print journalism we have ever seen. Today, she's simply reporting a major proposal for Gotham's schools from a group she describes as "a high-level panel."
A bit later, Shapiro describes the high-level panel in an even glossier way. With Shapiro leaning on the scales, here's a thumbnail of what the panel has proposed:
SHAPIRO (8/27/19): For years, New York City has essentially maintained two parallel public school systems.On its face, that sounds like an astonishing set of proposals. That said, are the people on this panel really "education experts?" Or are they possibly just liberal/progressive bubble-dwellers, like those in the other tribe?
A group of selective schools and programs geared to students labeled gifted and talented is filled mostly with white and Asian children. The rest of the system is open to all students and is predominantly black and Hispanic.
Now, a high-level panel appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio is recommending that the city do away with most of these selective programs in an effort to desegregate the system, which has 1.1 million students and is by far the largest in the country.
The plan includes all elementary school gifted programs, screened middle schools and some high schools — with the exception of Stuyvesant High School and the city’s seven other elite high schools, whose admission is partially controlled by Albany.
Gifted programs and screened schools have “become proxies for separating students who can and should have opportunities to learn together,” the panel, made up of several dozen education experts, wrote in the report.
The membership of this high-level collection of experts can be perused at this link. At a glance, they don't necessarily look like a group of "education experts" to us.
At a glance, that includes several members of the panel's five-person Executive Committee. This doesn't necessarily mean that the panel's proposals are bad. It tells us something about the way modern "elites" pander to one another.
According to Shapiro's report, this panel has apparently recommended "doing away" with "all elementary school gifted programs."
In fairness, the term "gifted" is overused in much the way "expert" is. But a bit later on, Shapiro extends her account of the panel's proposals:
SHAPIRO: Mr. de Blasio should also place a moratorium on new gifted programs, stop most grouping by academic ability and phase out existing gifted classes by not admitting new students, the panel said. If the recommendations are accepted, New York would shed its current gifted offerings within about five years.Really? The New York City Public Schools should "stop most grouping by academic ability," even as it eliminates "all elementary school gifted programs?" Can that possibly be what these experts have recommended?
We ask the question because we spent a number of years in Baltimore's public school classrooms. During that time, we learned that fifth-graders are not all alike.
A similar story is told by the data produced by New York City's kids as part of the National Assessment of Education Progress (the Naep), the federal program which is universally regarded as the gold standard of domestic educational testing.
Are Gotham's fifth-graders all alike? Should they all be grouped together in their ongoing instruction? Consider the data for Grade 4 math from the most recent Naep testing for what data have been released:
Scores by percentile, Grade 4 mathFor all Naep data, start here. In the most elementary sense, here's what those test scores mean:
New York City Public Schools, 2017 Naep
90th percentile: 269.09
75th percentile: 251.60
50th percentile: 230.43
25th percentile: 207.50
10th percentile: 186.80
Ten percent of Gotham's fourth-graders scored above 269 on the Grade 4 math test that year. On that same test, ten percent of Gotham's fourth-graders scored below 187.
Starting in the fall of 2017, should those kids all have been doing the same "fifth-grade math?" Consider:
According to a very rough but widely-employed rule of thumb, ten points on the Naep scale is roughly equivalent to one academic year.
As a general matter, such rules of thumb start losing their meaning the farther one moves from the median score in some data set. That said, those data suggest that giant "achievement gaps" exist within New York City's public schools by the end of fourth grade.
In the name of "desegregation," should all those kids proceed together in their fifth grade instruction, with education experts happily saying, "Grouping be damned?"
If so, the top ten percent will be bored out of their skulls during math class; the bottom ten percent will still be totally lost. Our society's "education experts" may not always suspect such things, but classroom teachers possibly will.
On their face, it doesn't sound like these proposals necessarily make good sense. It's also true, as Shapiro notes at several points, that adoption of this new regime will likely stimulate a departure of middle-class families from the public schools.
There will be that many fewer "white" kids to produce the "desegregation" these experts seek. By the time the exerts get done, those kids will all be found in one overcrowded Catholic school somewhere on Staten Island.
At present, 15 percent of Gotham's public school kids are "white." It's never clear what "desegregation" might mean with so few "white" kids to go around. But how well will "desegregation" go when that rather modest percentage drops substantially lower?
Traditionally, grade school classrooms were split into three reading groups—The Bluebirds, The Robins and The Buzzards.
Experts say the children weren't fooled by those neutral group names. But will it help if The Bluebirds and The Buzzards are now asked to read the same books and do the same math assignments?
To certain "experts," that idea will make perfect sense. To us, it pretty much doesn't. Assigned books will often be too hard for The Buzzards. Does anyone care about them?
As Gerson notes in this morning's column, Donald J. Trump is enabled by servile defenders of crazy ideas. Our question, and it has anthropological roots:
Does some similar state of affairs occasionally obtain Over Here?
Tomorrow: We resume our postponed search for tomorrow with last Saturday's front-page report
For high achievers only: This is what those scores and those gaps looked like across all the nation's schools:
Scores by percentile, Grade 4 mathWhat can we learn from such basic data? Such data are never reported, let alone discussed, in the New York Times.
U.S. public schools, 2017 Naep
90th percentile: 278.59
75th percentile: 261.28
50th percentile: 240.70
25th percentile: 218.51
10th percentile: 197.27