MONDAY, JUNE 21, 2021
How should our schools teach math?: We're finally prepared to make a reluctant announcement:
On balance, we aren't big fans of Michele Norris' current work in the Washington Post.
With great reluctance, we'd even describe her ongoing work as part of "The Dumbnification of Everything." This highly familiar dumbnification project is a major element of modern upper-class, upper-end journalism.
This dumbnification can be brought to bear on any conceivable topic. Right at the start of yesterday's column, Norris brought this dumbnification to bear on the matter of Juneteenth.
Also involved in yesterday's column was the dumbnification-related practice, "No Complaint Left Behind." "It's Always The Others" was also involved. That said, the column started like this:
NORRIS (6/20/21): It is only a matter of time before a flood of Juneteenth trinkets, tchotchkes, doodads and gewgaws shows up on store shelves.
But let’s remember this: The enslaved people at the core of this new holiday were merchandise themselves before slavery finally came to an end. As Juneteenth becomes a holiday that offers another excuse for parties, parades and prodigious capitalism, I am betting that a lot of Americans will fail to see that irony.
Part of No Complaint Left Behind is the contemporary practice of refusing to take yes for an answer.
Confronted with the commissioning of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Norris complains that "a lot Amerikans"—wink wink, meaning The Others—will fail to see a certain irony, one she has just defined. This becomes part of a double complaint as Juneteenth achieve federal status:
First, merchandisers are going to start creating trinkets to commemorate the new federal holiday. Also, a lot of Amerikans—that is, The Others—will fail to see the irony involved in that practice:
What will The Others fail to see? When they see Juneteenth trinkets in some store, it won't occur to them that enslaved people were merchandise too!
In fact, the absurdly argumentative point will occur to almost no one at all, a fact Norris fails to acknowledge. Its inclusion in this high-profile piece is just the latest brick in the sprawling edifice known as No Complaint Left Behind.
Norris goes on to offer a litany of hackneyed complaints about the way other holidays are observed in this country. She ends up making highly standardized observations about the way history should be taught in the public schools.
Briefly, let's look on the bright side! For some of us here in Our Town, such work may teach an important lesson: journalists you think of as "black" may, in the end, turn out to be just as hackneyed and unhelpful as the ones you think of as "white."
Dumbnification is no respecter of "race!" Also, columnists of whatever "race" will routinely be happy only when they're saying the exact same thing the last twenty people have said.
Indeed, in yesterday's New York Times, poor abused Kaitlyn Greenidge advanced the same complaint about Juneteenth merchandise. She managed to come up with an even more absurd complaint besides.
Poor Greenidge! Headline included, her effort started like this:
GREENIDGE (6/20/21): What Walmart Doesn’t Get About Juneteenth
It was with dismay that I realized, a few weekends ago, that Walmart is now selling Juneteenth T-shirts. I live in an extremely white Massachusetts county, one where it feels like a lifeline whenever I see another Black person I am not related to. I greeted the news of the T-shirts with an eye roll and a sour chuckle.
Poor Greenidge! Not only has she discovered that Walmart is selling Juneteenth t-shirts. Beyond that, she has been forced to live in "an extremely white Massachusetts county." As a result of this exile, she sees an insufficient number of black people, family members excluded.
Who has forced Greenidge to inhabit such an oppressive region? Who frog-marched her into the countryside, where such conditions obtain?
Greenidge is too forgiving, too self-effacing, to name the malefactor. That said, a recent profile in the New York Times provides some background information:
"Since the start of the pandemic, she has been quarantining with her mother and sisters in a woodsy suburb in central Massachusetts," the Times reported. In Sunday's essay, Greenidge expects subscribers to lament the indignities involved in this state of affairs.
In fairness, Greenidge has never had it easy. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a social worker. She was thus condemned to "growing up in mostly white, wealthy suburbs around Boston," the same kind of under-resourced location about which she now complains.
At present, Greenidge is being forced to live where it's "extremely white." As part of the "foolishness culture" widely observed in Our Town, subscribers swallow such undisguised guff from the pampered, super-privileged malcontents who get published by our upper-class newspapers.
In that way, subscribers join contributors in expanding the dumbnification. Anthropologists say this dumbnification is part of our human inheritance.
For the record, who is Kaitlyn Greenidge? According to yesterday's identity line, she's "a contributing Opinion writer [for the Times]...,and the features director at Harper’s Bazaar."
For our money, that doesn't exactly place her on the ramparts. "Sophisticated, elegant, and provocative, Harper’s BAZAAR is your resource for fashion, beauty and skincare, culture, and more," the fatuous magazine claims in its self-description. From its ranks, upper-class newspapers like the Times choose their frequently useless "contributors."
Let's return to first causes! Norris and Greenidge, reciting nicely, have been forced to contemplate the sale of Juneteenth t-shirts at Walmart. Greenidge has even been forced to live in a woodsy suburb.
As part of their dumbnification projects, newspapers like the Post and the Times rush such drivel into print. Yesterday, the dumbnification was especially strong on the front page of the Post's Outlook section. We'll offer two examples this afternoon.
Tomorrow, we'll start exploring a more substantive question. How should our public schools teach math?
We'll work from this overview report by Laura Meckler in Saturday's Washington Post. Meckler's lengthy report appeared on line all the way back on June 4. On Saturday, it finally made it to print.
Can public schools achieve better results by teaching everyone the same math, a process known as "de-tracking?" Should everyone, even the highest-achieving kids, be forced to wait until ninth grade to take Algebra 1? Would such an approach be best?
We don't know how to answer those questions. That said, the Post should be congratulated for finally discussing an actual point of genuine public concern.
This point of concern even affects those kids who aren't in the academic top two percent, kids who won't be going to Yale! Here in Our Town, such kids are brushed aside with astonishing frequency when we discuss public schools.
Tomorrow, we'll begin a search for South Side High, one focus of Meckler's report. Before the week is done, we'll also visit the Chicago Public Schools, which received for some possibly puzzling high praise in Jay Mathews' column this morning.
Juneteenth t-shirts offer a way for papers like the Post and the Times to dumb the world way down. It's their way of Keeping It Simple, in service to the reliably self-impressed denizens of Our Town.
Elsewhere, the good decent children born today will face a challenging world. What sorts of practices should they find when they arrive in their public schools?
How can those good decent kids best be served? All week long, we'll show you how hard it is, in our remarkably dumbnified culture, to assess such important questions on the extremely rare occasions when such questions are asked.
Tomorrow: Who is South Side High School?