FRIDAY, JUNE 18, 2021
Real children are boring and hard: Our elaborate computer systems are behaving very badly today.
For that reason, we're going to type very fast, possibly skipping some links.
We're going to start with Gene Robinson's column in the Washington Post. Starting right in his headline, his column makes a good point:
Holidays are easy. Real progress is hard.
In print editions, that's what his headline says. As you can surely guess, he refers to the naming of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, an action greeted by Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night with one of the stupidest examples of pseudo-progressive tribal loathing we have ever seen.
(Which part of "yes" don't such stars understand? In our view, Maddow has, or is willing to affect, persistently terrible judgment.)
The desire to loathe The Others is one of the strongest of all human instincts. In his column, Robinson refers to another unfortunate instinct:
Her refers to the instinct to substitute apparent progress for the actual thing. So it has gone in recent years as Our Town has increasingly focused on events from the past, even while ignoring and disappearing those who need help in the present.
Here in our own country, vast brutality was visited upon the enslaved in the past. Right through the end of the last century, similar atrocities have happened all over the world.
In a new book, Professor Miles helps us focus on an apparent horrific event from the rather distant American past. As everyone has known since forever, there were millions of such horrific actions and events during the brutal era in question.
Everyone has known that forever. But when the highly-regarded Harvard professor engaged in an interview at Slate, the discussion was framed this way:
We good, moral people here in Our Town should try to perfect our exquisite understanding of the brutalities of the past. We'll never completely "understand," but we should just keep trying to come "closer."
We think that's ugly, uncaring advice. We say that because of the people—the living people—we ignore, disappear and disregard in the process of perfecting our moral pose.
One day before that interview appeared, the New York Times ran a basically pointless front-page report about an unfortunate local dispute in West Point, Mississippi.
Before that dispute broke out, two black girls were named as valedictorian and salutatorian of West Point High School's graduating class. At the start of the news report, this was presented as surprising and thrilling news—as cause for pride and elation.
The news report didn't mention the fact that 81 percent of the students at West Point High are black.
In standard fashion, the Times proceeded to hype the local dispute, which turned on bureaucratic points about who had really had the highest GPAs in this year's senior class.
It was a pleasing "racial" dispute! Left unexplored was an obvious question:
In a school with those student demographics, why would it be surprising to see two very sharp black kids at the top of the senior class?
The New York Times helped us worry about the possibility that those two black kids were maybe not getting their due. The Times didn't spend a minute of time worrying about all the other black kids at West Point High—about all the other good, decent kids who aren't at the top of that class.
"Achievement gaps" in this country seem to be quite large; the New York Times disappears them. Maddow would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before she'd ask you to think about all those good, decent black kids who aren't doing well in school.
Our Town doesn't care about those kids. Nothing could be more obvious.
The day before Slate urged us to refine our precious understanding of the past, the New York Times disappeared that question about all the good, decent kids in favor of the thrill of pointless racial conflict.
One day after that interview appeared in Slate, Slate offered the latest essay alleging unfairness in the way kids get admitted to the nation's most exclusive colleges. Once again, we were asked to worry about the top two percent—about the kids who might get into Yale. All the other loser kids can just go hang in the yard.
Long ago and far away, Jonathan Kozol described an "indescribably mild" little boy who was in his fourth grade class. That boy was having a very hard time. We still don't care about kids like that, and we never will.
In the finer precincts of Our Town, we care about our own refined sensibilities. We care about the precious ways we signal our moral greatness.
Having ignored "racial" issues so long, we're constantly looking for ways to pretend that we deeply care. We offer these performances to separate ourselves from the loathsome Others, but also to convince ourselves of our good intentions.
Many, many people have died in the endless depredations performed by our own human race. One such depredation was this nation's long history with slavery. Other such depredations have happened all over the world:
In the gulags, in the killing fields. In the Balkans, in Rwanda. In the Holocaust.
No, it isn't just us, here in Amerika, where The Others are always at fault. That said, the precious people here in Our Town do like to frame it that way..
It isn't just us in Amerika, and our own lack of caring continues, On cable, we perform our joy about a holiday which has been declared some 156 years later. By that timetable, Our Town will start discussing those achievement gaps about a hundred years from now, dating from the year when Kozol's book appeared.
It isn't just that good, decent kids don't emerge from public schools with full sets of academic skills. When kids do poorly in school, they tend to have bad experiences there. They're robbed of good experiences, including the experience of feeling happy.
In the spring of 1970, we watched a group of fifth-graders respond to the Steinbeck film, The Forgotten Village. What they saw was this:
Children in a rural Mexican village were dying because the water was bad. But the local healer had never heard of germs, and he managed to drive away the one person who vaguely understood the problem.
In that rural village, the children continued to die. Here in Baltimore, a group of fifth-graders were incredulous, also angry, after watching the film. (We especially recall NAME WITHHELD.)
How could anyone have allowed their kids to die like that? Those Baltimore kids were puzzled, incredulous, angry.
In nine years teaching in Baltimore's schools, we never saw a group of kids react so strongly to any TV show, book or film—no, not even to Roots. The way those kids reacted to that film stuck with us a long time.
It wasn't until some years later that a thought occurred to us, perhaps a bit melodramatically. It occurred to us that those good, decent fifth-grade kids were living in a type of forgotten village themselves, and that they may have secretly sensed that.
Nothing in their school really made much sense, and no help was on the way. The Brood X cicadas arrived that year. Three cycles later, this very year, that vast disinterest remains.
Today, the stars of Our Town invite us to demonstrate our moral greatness as we focus on the past. We're told to focus on an old sack as we perfect our pose.
Forgive us if the Harvard professor seems a bit self-involved. Astoundingly, she throws in some pecan recipes as one last insult aimed as the sacred dead of the dishonored past.
We dishonor the sacred dead of the past. We disappear the kids of today, except for the top two percent.
We don't care about those kids. Very few things could be more clear. Whether we understand it or not, it's the way Our Village rolls.