WHAT'S IN A WORD: Segregation and its incomprehensions!


"Almost a Rosetta stone," top future experts have said:
Early this morning, we asked ourselves an unusual question.

We'd just read this news report
in this morning's Washington Post. The question we asked ourselves was this:

Have we ever understood a news report less well?

This morning's news report deals with an important topic—the apparently large "achievement gaps" found in American schools. But what exactly did this news report claim, report or reveal?

What the heck did that news report claim? We'll admit we have no real idea.

The report was written by Laura Meckler, a highly experienced national reporter who, through no fault of her own, doesn't have a background in education.

Starting in 1995,
Meckler worked for the Associated Press, then for the Wall Street Journal. Despite her lack of background in the field, the Post hired her last June and assigned her to cover education.

There's no expertise like the lack of same when it comes to education reporting! Our biggest newspapers very much tend to work this way with respect to the most important topics concerning the nation's schools and the kids who attend them.

At any rate, we were puzzled this morning as we read, and then reread, Meckler's report. It deals with a very important topic. In today's hard-copy Post, the headlines atop it say this:
Study: Poverty is driving racial gap in test scores
Segregation concentrates minorities in less-effective schools, researchers find
The study in question was conducted by Stanford's Sean Reardon, whose work we've frequently cited. That said, we were puzzled by the findings of Reardon's latest study of "segregation" after reading Meckler's account.

Tomorrow, we'll review Meckler's account of what Reardon has said. After that, we'll move on to a puzzling claim on the front page of Saturday's Washington Post—a puzzling claim about the degree of "segregation" in Washington, D.C.'s public schools.

For today, we want to tell you what we've been told by several major top anthropologists—by top future experts who were, as always, quite glum.

These scholars are members of Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves, the despondent academic group which reports to us from the years which lie beyond the global conflagration they shorthand as Mister Trump's War.

(They communicate with us through the highly unusual nocturnal submissions the haters reject as mere "dreams." They decline to explain the future technology which permits them to do this.)

These scholars have been directing large parts of our work for the past several years. According to these future experts, these two reports in the Washington Post carry great anthropological significance:

"They reflect the problems this species always had with conceptual matters," the scholars glumly said, describing humanity in the past tense, as they persistently do.

"This species was able to create reliable technologies," these despairing sachems have frequently noted. "But when it came to conceptual work, clarity would typically, perhaps almost comically, be the first item thrown overboard."

Wittgenstein tried to address this shortcoming, these anthropologists routinely tell us, but he was thrown under the faculty lounge by later human logicians.

"As such, conceptual confusion only grew," these wizened scholars have said.

Thanks to our floundering nation's brutal racial history, "segregation" is a highly fraught term. Liberal groups have tended to put the term to various tribal uses, or so we've been told by these despairing future scholars.

What has Reardon's study found about our nation's achievement gaps? What was being claimed about public school "segregation" in Saturday's front-page report?

"The lack of clarity was everywhere," these glum hidden figures allege.

What has Professor Reardon found about the role of "segregation" is creating our achievement gaps? Also, just how "segregated" are Washington, D.C.'s public schools? And what about Washington's Yu Ying Public Charter, which the Post's Perry Stein described as being "diverse?"

These are important questions—until we liberals start talking about them, or so a wide range of experts have said. We'll explore their claims all week.

"What's in a word?" William Wordsworth first said. If the word in question is "segregation," many things can be found there!

Total confusion, as always, comes first. We'll start down that road tomorrow.

Tomorrow: What Meckler says Reardon has said


  1. Has anyone ever written so many words with so little content?

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  2. Somerby's link leads to a report about PTOs giving parents voices, not to anything about segregated schools or Reardon's report. It is hidden behind a paywall that those who don't want to subscribe cannot breach. If Somerby will not summarize what the report says, those of us who don't want to subscribe will be unable to participate in this discussion. Somerby's tone dismisses an article that doesn't seem to resemble anything he is describing, so I guess there's no way to verify anything -- Meckler's expertise, Reardon's ideas, Somerby's complaints.

    But, does the presence of one "diverse" charter school in the Washington DC district mean that there are no other district schools that are more segregated and display more gaps?

  3. From Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns & Money:

    "This video of Biden captures one aspect of the sheer absurdity of the idea of nominating him to oppose Trump in next year’s election.

    A climate activist is trying to get answers to legitimate questions about why Biden’s climate advisors seem so cozy with the fossil fuel industry, and whether those relationships help explain Biden’s self-described “middle ground” stance on climate change.

    When (not) answering her questions, Biden clasps both of her hands for several seconds, before patting one of them, and sarcastically (?) remarking to her “thank you for admiring me so much” while walking away.

    Some people will semi-rationalize this with a sigh — good ‘ol Grandpa Joe is just a man from the 1950s, and doesn’t understand the world has changed. (Indeed Time editor Anand Giridharadas takes this tack in his tweet circulating the video, although he does say he considers the behavior unacceptable).

    This is far too charitable. Biden isn’t literally demented (yet). He knows this behavior is now considered not OK. He’s been told over and over again that, in recent decades, women have made it clear that don’t like to be treated like children, and that being “handsy” with a women who is not an intimate is at best patronizing, in a way that people perceive to be sexist because it is sexist. (Would Biden touch a male journalist in this way? Almost certainly not). In addition, when a woman is young and conventionally attractive, such deeply inappropriate physical familiarity takes on a creepy psychosexual subtext, as it does here.

    But Biden keeps doing it anyway, because he’s a stubborn old man who doesn’t like to be questioned, especially by his social inferiors.

    This is a creepy dominance ritual by a man who is well aware of what he’s doing. The idea that Democratic voters would choose this man, of all people, to run against Donald Trump is truly one of the bizarre possibilities of this very bizarre time."

    Someone said yesterday that Biden has stopped putting his hands on women. This video shows that he has not. Trump is working hard to disqualify Biden, but Biden is undermining himself with this behavior. In the age of Twitter, you can't get away with stuff like this. Thinking he can makes Biden a terrible candidate, even if he weren't running away from a question about his questionable support for effort to combat climate change.

    1. It's surprising that someone so confident in their perceptions does not to know how to leave a link. Or maybe 10:17 AM does know how to leave a link but just can't be bothered.

    2. Here ya go, CMike:


      @10:17A’s problem has nothing to do with links. I quote:

      Such deeply inappropriate physical familiarity takes on a creepy psychosexual subtext….

      Biden had grasped his questioner’s hands, which @10:17A has redefined as getting “handsy” and “putting his hands on” a woman. Which is both literally true and not what those words mean.

      And it goes on and on: Biden is stubborn, he doesn’t like to be questioned, he considers the woman to be his social inferior, he’s performing a “creepy dominance ritual.”

      It would be almost funny to contrast @10:17A’s bizarre sexualization of the encounter with the judgment that it’s the idea of nominating of Biden that’s bizarre.

      But I’m not laughing. There are two problems here. The first is that Biden really is a terrible candidate, but not because he’s clasped hands with the activist questioning him. In part, it’s because of his environmental policies.

      The second is that @10:17A is living in a world where the President of the United States, using public funds, has tried to extort a foreign government into investigating a political opponent and family. But it’s a Joe Biden’s handshake that’s send @10:17A to the fainting couch.

    3. Thanks for the link deadrat. With nothing more to go on than the name of the blog, the name of the blogger, and a sentence from the specific blog post 10:17 AM referenced, I was never going to find it.

  4. Somerby calls something (who knows what) "almost a Rosetta stone:" The Rosetta stone was important because it contained the same text in several languages, allowing linguists the chance to decode a previously unknown ancient language using one that had been cracked.

    Nothing in today's article has any relevance to the Rosetta stone (and vice versa). It is as if Somerby inserted that reference into his subhead simply because it is something ancient that anthropologists might be concerned with. Beyond that it makes no sense at all.

    This is pathetic and ignorant. It is like the person who throws in big words, regardless of meaning, in order to sound erudite, without understanding what the words mean or their inappropriateness as used.

    On NPR WBUR show "On Point" yesterday, there was a discussion of a new book by Natalie Wexler about educational gaps, suggesting that the lack of communication between cognitive scientists and educators has resulted in ineffective classroom techniques for teaching literacy. This is the 3rd in a four-part series on closing the education gaps. Next week will focus on segregation.




    If Somerby cared about education, he might profitably discuss this series.

    1. The article by Meckler says that we can understand the cause of the achievement gaps if we use the correlation of test scores with poverty rates.

      So, we can now crack a puzzle we’ve been unable to solve (i.e., how to understand and thus possibly fix the gaps) by using a device (i.e, poverty rates) as a guide.

      Is it clear now what the hieroglyphics are and what the Rosetta stone is in the metaphor?

      I’m gonna quote your words back to you:

      Nothing in today's article has any relevance to the Rosetta stone (and vice versa).


      This is pathetic and ignorant. It is like the person who throws in big words, regardless of meaning, in order to sound erudite, without understanding what the words mean or their inappropriateness as used.

      If you’re not embarrassed, you should be.

    2. This is a huge stretch and there is nothing in Somerby's article that says this is what he meant.

      First, the correlation with poverty isn't the point. Test scores have correlated (inversely) with both poverty and race and with segregation. The difference in the study cited is that when you do a regression analysis that controls for poverty, the contribution of race becomes minuscule, which implies that poverty carries the weight of the effect.

      The Rosetta stone has nothing to do with this and is not analogous to Reardon's study. This is a classic third variable problem, with racial segregation being a spurious correlation because it is actually segregation by class that appears causal.

      Somerby should be embarrassed and so should you for defending his incoherence.

    3. This is a huge stretch and there is nothing in Somerby's article that says this is what he meant.

      Of course, the article doesn’t say anything about the Rosetta stone. That’s not the way metaphors work. I hope this literal-mindedness of yours is an isolated occurrence and not a sign of a larger cognitive deficit. You might want to get that checked out.

      [T]he correlation with poverty isn't the point. … [T]he study … implies that poverty carries the weight of the effect [i.e., the differing test scores].

      Yeah, so poverty isn’t the point; it’s just that poverty is exactly the point. I hope you don’t mind — and even if you do — I don’t propose to take seriously any lectures from you on coherence.

      The Rosetta stone has nothing to do with this….

      The Rosetta Stone that sits in the British Museum has nothing to do with this. The metaphorical Rosetta stone that stands for the key to understanding something mysterious does. The key to understanding the gaps in test scores between populations is poverty, not race, not genetics, not availability of test prep.

      Are you going to complain that a key is an inapt usage because keys are metal objects with grooves and teeth?

      Is there something else that animates your tirades? After all, the Rosetta stone isn’t a particularly erudite reference, and if you find its metaphorical usage inexact, that hardly implies that TDH doesn’t understand what words mean.

  5. "What has Professor Reardon found about the role of "segregation" is creating our achievement gaps?"

    What do you mean "what has he found", dear Bob?

    For any liberal it's a simple axiom: "minorities" are unable to learn unless they see a fair number of "majority" faces around them. It's like 2x2=4.

    1. Schools need resources. The resources tend to follow the white faces. Beyond that, how does a minority student develop a sense of comfort around members of the white majority without interacting with them?

      I have seen students who attended largely minority colleges be unable to transition to a white or multicultural job market due to a lack of comfort around those who were different from themselves. That limited the number and kinds of jobs available to them (by self-segregation).

    2. "The resources tend to follow the white faces."

      I know, this is a quote from the zombie bible. I've seen it before. Humans have no choice but to adjust their behavior to the habits and customs of The Resources.

      "how does a minority student develop a sense of comfort around members of the white majority without interacting with them?"

      Lol. Thanks for the laugh. Perhaps you should organize a zoo where your "minority" species could observe the "majority" species. And even, perhaps, feed and pet them. With due precautions, obviously.

    3. Meh.
      Not enough treason for Right-wingers.

  6. ‘"This species was able to create reliable technologies," these despairing sachems have frequently noted. "But when it came to conceptual work, clarity would typically, perhaps almost comically, be the first item thrown overboard."’

    Creating reliable technologies requires conceptual work. Lots of it.

  7. If Bob weren’t required to be a media critic, he could actually investigate educational ideas and solutions. He could ferret out discussions going on *outside* of the Washington Post and the New York Times to examine an entire world that he overlooks. It’s as though it doesn’t count for him if it doesn’t appear in the pages of two elite east coast newspapers. He might also discover that liberals actually have discussions that don’t get published in these two august papers.

    Of course, the only requirement for being a media critic is in his head, and limiting the definition of “media” to two publications is his choice.

    1. Somerby is not a media critic. He is a Trumpard, pretending to criticize the media

  8. Does this mean Stormy Daniels won't be taking down Trump?


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