Or should we just type up a novel?: To what extent were Flint's children harmed by the Flint water crisis, or perhaps by the Flint water problem?
We'd like to see a serious discussion of that important question. But then, there are other discussions we'd like to see. A few would go something like this:
Health care spending: As you may know, we'd like to see a serious discussion of the source of these astounding statistics:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018What explains all the "missing money" within our stumblebum "health care system?" Where does all that extra money go?
United States: $10,586
United Kingdom: $4070
We'd love to see a discussion of that extremely important question, but no such discussion is allowed within our stumblebum "press corps."
Presumably, Ukrainian-style "corruption" is involved in this systemwide code of silence. We hate corruption over there, practice it widely at home.
Generational rise in Naep scores: We'd like to see a serious discussion of the rise in public school test scores over the past fifty years. For today, we'll restrict ourselves to the past few decades and to the performance of black kids on the so-called "Main Naep," as opposed to the Long-Term Trend Assessment:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, NaepAccording to a very rough but widely-used rule of thumb, today's black eighth-graders are outperforming their counterparts from 1993 by roughly two academic years, even after a drop-off of several points from the high point of their performance in 2013.
Black students, U.S. public schools
We'd like to see a serious discussion of this (apparently) very large score gain. That said, by common agreement, the very fact of this score gain is almost never reported in "newspapers" like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Readers aren't told that these gains have occurred, let alone offered a discussion of their possible cause.
Over the bulk of the past twenty years, entities like the Post and the Times have been steeped in an "education reform" fictitions according to which "nothing has worked in our public schools." Possibly for that reason, but also of course because "statistics are boring and hard," readers haven't even been told about these, and other, large gains.
Generational drop in homicide rates: We'd like to see a serious discussion of the large drop, across the nation, in violent crime, including homicides. Sticking with 1993 as an arbitrary point of comparison, the violent crime rate had essentially been cut in half by 2016.
Just a guess: Most people have never seen a report of any such fact, let alone seen a serious discussion of the reasons for this major decline. For data from the leading authority on the subject, you can just click here, scroll to "Crime over time."
Public school achievement gaps: We'd like to see a serious discussion of our (apparently very large) public school "achievement gaps." Below, you see one such set of gaps:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, NaepBased on that very rough rule of thumb which we mentioned above, those are enormous gaps. Based on that rule of thumb, white kids outperformed their black counterparts by something resembling three academic years!
U.S. public schools, 2019
White students: 291.46
Black students: 259.21
Hispanic students: 267.96
Asian-American students: 309.39
We'd like to see a serious discussion of the actual size of those gaps; of the possible causes of those gaps; and of the implications for classroom instruction. Instead, the New York Times hires legacy children to hand you the silly novelized treatments of which Hamptons-based swells are currently very fond.
(The thinking: Mommy was our gender editor. So "Sally"—not real name—surely knows all about schools!)
The data which detail those very large gaps never appear in our major "newspapers." Presumably, the size of the gaps is too embarrassing to permit disclosure or discussion. Instead, we're offered silly, childish attempts to pretend that the gaps are more illusory than real.
Those are just a few of the serious discussions we'd like to see. Unfortunately, as Flint's own Michael Moore once said, "We live in fictitious times."
Our "news reporting" is constantly built around silly, novelized story lines. These story lines satisfy an array of tribal longings and/or industry or interest group imperatives.
All too often, our "news" is fiction all the way down. In his best-selling book, Sapiens, Professor Harari has glumly suggested that this is the best our stumblebum species can sensibly hope to achieve!
It was against this background that we encountered last Thursday's front-page report in the New York Times. It tickled our longing for a serious discussion of the following questions:
To what extent were the children of Flint harmed by the Flint water crisis? Was the typical child actually harmed at all?These questions popped into our head because we'd already spent six years reading Kevin Drum's work on the effects of exposure to lead.
If the typical child in Flint was harmed, was he or she harmed to an extent that anyone would be likely to notice? To what extent have the kids of Flint had their life prospects affected?
Drum's reporting started with this "cover story" in the January 2013 Mother Jones. That detailed cover report preceded the Flint water problem by several years.
As the Flint water crisis went center stage, Drum discussed it again and again at his Mother Jones blog. He offered fascinating data about the levels of exposure to lead which prevailed, across the nation and in Flint, before leaded gasoline was removed from the market.
In yesterday's report, we linked you to the post Drum authored after The New Yorker reported that children in Flint had begun to believe that they'd been deeply, irreparably damaged.
This belief, in itself, was a tragedy, Drum wrote. He offered this general assessment that day, as he had done before:
DRUM (1/26/17): Children in Flint had mildly elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream for about a year or two. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the effects of this are fairly modest. To put it in terms most people will recognize, it means that some children in Flint will lose about one IQ point. Maybe two. That’s a tragedy, but it’s an even bigger tragedy if kids and their parents respond to this by thinking their lives are permanently ruined. The truth is that in nearly all children, the effects will be only barely noticeable.Drum is not the lord god Zeus, nor has he claimed to be. We'd like to see a serious discussion of the various data-driven assessments he has offered over the years, starting with that detailed cover report in January 2013.
Drum is not the oracle at Delphi. As with any writer on any topic, his assessments could be wrong in some manner or to some extent—or not.
That said, he also isn't some local observer being quoted by the New York Times on a subject where she presumably has no expertise at all, with her sweeping statement being culled for use in a damaging front-page headline.
Tomorrow, we'll link you to some of Drum's reports about lead exposure and its historical discontents. This will include his reports about what blood lead levels were like, around the country and in Flint, in the decades before the 2015 crisis.
Why have national crime rates dropped? Why have national test scores risen? The legacy children at the Times won't even report that such things have occurred, but both effects may be connected to lead exposure and lead abatement.
We'd like to see a serious discussion of that possibility. But especially at the New York Times, our national discourse is largely fictitious. Our news is children's fairy tales, pretty much all the way down.
Tomorrow: Links and a scary word—"poisoned"