Our tribe responds to the Florida law...

FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2022

...and tackles Gifted and Talented: We'll recommend two fascinating articles about two public school issues. 

In this morning's New York Times, a news report describes Mayor Adams' "plan to expand [New York City's] gifted and talented classes for elementary students." 

Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Kate Cohen presents an opinion column in which she reacts to the state of Florida's now-famous "Don't Say Gay" law.

Anthropologists are telling us this:

These articles help display the limits to human reason. The world-class experts to whom we refer break it down like this:

Our species is rather good at developing reliable technologies, these scholars tell us. (Examples: We can travel from New York to Los Angeles in roughly five hours. Also, every time you hit the switch, the lights in your house come on.)

We've done sound work in the general area of construction and technology. But according to these unnamed scholars, things go sideways rather fast when it comes to everything else.  

Let's take a look at the record! The news report about Gotham's gifted and talented classes appears beneath this headline:

New York City to Expand Gifted and Talented Program but Scrap Test

That said, the "expansion" in question is remarkably slight. Also, the logical howler which dogs these efforts remains unaddressed in the mayor's plan.

That logical howler is this:

If lots more kids could benefit from the GATE program, why not admit all such kids to such classes? Why does the mayor plan to assemble a list of names and then conduct a lottery, with a limited number of qualified kids admitted to these classes?

This logical groaner just never quits, nor does the Times ever notice. We just don't reason especially well, disconsolate scholars insist.

With respect to Cohen's column, experts say it shows what happens when tribal division and partisan anger grow.

The state of Florida has come up with a rather fuzzy law, one which has a strong performative cast. It feels like the sort of thing politicians sometimes do to give constituents the impression that their concerns are being addressed.

Cohen doesn't like the law; she especially doesn't like Others. She raises absurd objections to the law. She never gets around to addressing the basic question:

What can we the (various) people do, as a nation or as a state, to address the concerns which seem to animate this fuzzy new law? 

Cohen acts like the apparent concerns are silly, foolish, stupid, absurd.  We're willing to guess that this just isn't so, and that we can demonstrate some such fact.

But Cohen goes straight to the kind of tribal derision which only drives nations apart. She's convinced that her reactions are right, and she's willing to cede no ground.

We may discuss Cohen's column next week. Experts say it's an excellent example of the wrong way to tackle such matters.

Our species is good at building tall buildings. According to frustrated major experts, things tend to go downhill from there.


  1. "What can we the (various) people do, as a nation or as a state, to address the concerns which seem to animate this fuzzy new law? "

    Please, dear Bob, the answer is perfectly obvious: same as what other, less liberal-totalitarian nations do. See the relevant Russian federal law, and the recent Hungarian one:

  2. The Republican philosophy of sex is that everyone is born heterosexual and only can be corrupted, like Tolkien's race of orcs, into dating their own sex. This fuzzy law is certainly about wasting everyone's time, but it is not grounded in reality.

    1. A few years back the Florida State Legislature invited a speaker to address them for the fee of 60 thousand dollars of taxpayer money. They were fretting about the possibility that a gay couple could enter into adoption. The speaker had written on the subject of homosexuality in the press and in book form and how with the appropriate amount of counseling and willpower this whole gay thing could be abandoned by an individual with some effort. He had apparently not taken heed of his own writing. Months later he was photographed in the Miami International Airport by the gay press arriving from Europe with a much younger homosexual travel companion in tow. When confronted about this, he explained that he had a bad back and needed the assistance of his young friend with his baggage. So what else is new?

    2. My favorite example of the far right making allies with closeted people is the conspiracy theorist and serial fabricator who told everyone Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama are gay, and we should imagine who is on top and who is on bottom. He's only imagining this for journalism you see. You could say the subject aroused his interest.

  3. "If lots more kids could benefit from the GATE program, why not admit all such kids to such classes?"

    Resources may not exist in the district budget. GATE teachers require special training, so they may not be plentiful either. Science labs require equipment and safety precautions.

    Giftedness is by definition limited to a percentage of students. In the research literature, it is defined as two standard deviations above the mean on an IQ test, for identification purposes. That is not the same as the "test" they were using to select students for their science classes.

    The article says they will screen all students while increasing the number of seats in the science program. The statistics of defining cutoffs that are 2 standard deviations above the mean limits the number of students to approximately 2 percent of the students. The problem is figuring out which 2 percent they are, since minority students may not be performing up to their potential whereas upper middle class kids who are not particularly gifted by have been coached by parents or lived in an enriched environment may be mistakenly identified. It takes training to identify the kids who belong but are non-obvious and to screen out the ones who look bright achievement-wise but lack the ability to keep up with a fast-paced classroom. This is more complicated than Somerby admits.

    There are tensions and resentments among teachers over who teachers the GATE students and what they do with their kids. Many teachers feel that GATE is just an excuse to give better teaching and materials and experiences to upper middle class kids. They are unfmiliar with the literature on what happens to gifted kids when placed in a mainstream classroom, especially at the highest IQ levels. To them it just looks like privilege. Proper GATE classes should meet the distinct needs of kids who do not benefit from the regular classroom, not provide enrichment that any child would appreciate. It should mean more difficult work involving academic challenge, so that they have to develop study skills that they will need in difficult fields at the graduate level. Developing such a curriculum is not easy, so too many schools default to enrichment, which means non-curricular activities that would be interesting and fun to most kids, including non-gifted ones. That is where misunderstandings happen. I suspect that Somerby doesn't know very much about working with gifted kids. He comes perilously close to suggesting that gifted kids should receive no interventions because they will be fine without them, whereas all the school attention should go to the lower end of the scale. A more egalitarian approach is to provide for all kids according to their needs, which differ and dictate different schooling, not a one-size-fits-all approach. The lower end of the scale has always been delegated to Special Ed. Somerby has yet to tell us why that doesn't work for black kids.

    1. Not all bright kids want to go into science.

    2. The daily Howler is in its element here, he is a retired school teacher. He probably knows a little bit about what he's talking about.

      From what I can gather, that's what your wall of text seems to accuse him of.

    3. Somerby barely graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in philosophy, he then taught for a few years to avoid the draft; Somerby's wheelhouse is repeating Republican/right wing talking points while oddly sneering at those to the left of him.

      There is no evidence gifted and talented programs benefit society. I was in such a program throughout middle school, none of my classmates wound up doing anything extraordinary with their lives. I tend to agree that these types of programs likely contribute to the oppression of people of color, so I applaud efforts to integrate people of color into these programs, which, to be frank, are not accomplishing anything positive for society.

    4. So Bob wants integration of everyone, and you agree you want integration too. But somehow Bob didn't say it in the right way because he's a Republican spy.

    5. @10:58– Somerby does not say that he wants “integration of everyone.” If you think he does, please quote something from today’s post.

    6. His 12th paragraph starts: "If lots more kids could benefit from the GATE program, why not admit all such kids to such classes? "

      Here's the definition of a common stalling tactic in debate called "sea lioning"

      Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment that consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretense of civility and sincerity. It may take the form of "incessant, bad-faith invitations to engage in debate".

    7. The key word there is "such". Somerby is just saying that he thinks all of the kids who can benefit from GATE should be included. That is inherent in the promise to screen all kids and eliminate the special "test". It doesn't say that all kids should be enrolled in GATE and thus doesn't entail integrating everyone at all.

      mh doesn't engage in sea-lioning. This is his/her civil way of saying that the contention that Somerby supports integration is off base. Somerby is generally here arguing against the mayor's integration efforts and similar efforts in other parts of the country.

    8. Why did Bob ask the question in the first place?

    9. This is a new policy for Bob to comment on so I don't know whether we can read so much into it. I can see both interpretations actually.

      As far as I can remember Bob's real axe to grind is against the narrative of the failing schools. He states occasionally that this benefits charters and privatization but not as often as I would. He sticks with the narratives and data and what politics he expresses somewhat generally and rhetorically about the rich, tribes etc.

      I think he's actually quite smack in the center of a kind of liberalism that looks at both narratives and power. His sense of fatalism I suppose is what it is. I wouldn't take him to dinner but I like his knowledge.

    10. The narrative of the declining test scores is political. It helped weaponize what Bush did. So that puts The daily Howler at least in policy against the Republican neoliberal model, opposing power. In other areas he defended power, in violence, incidentally, he uses the same style, contesting narratives.

    11. 1. Somerby has been commenting on the NYC public schools gifted science program since DiBlasio was in office. He is against adding more black kids to that program because it would disadvantage Asian kids.
      2. Somerby has not talked about the narrative of failing schools in several years now. His most frequent essay is about how no one cares about black kids because there is still a racial gap in NAEP scores. I never hear him argue against anything Republican. I do not see him as in the center of any liberalism at all. I also never hear him say anything about the rich, pro or con. That happens sometimes in comments, but he hasn't said anything himself.

      I do see Somerby say negative things about liberals, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, and various liberal cable news hosts. Lately, I have seen him praise Tucker Carlson. And he frequently advances conservative "narratives" (I prefer the term talking points).

      You are presenting what I consider to be a distorted picture of Somerby, his attitudes (as expressed here) and his concerns about education.

      In terms of integration, Somerby frequently proposes that true integration is impossible because there are not enough minority kids living in white districts and vice versa, so it is useless for school administrators and critics of majority-minority schools to expect any progress -- even though integration is one of the way of improving scores for black kids. At the same time, he never discusses redlining and residential segregation and poverty issues that create white suburban districts and minority urban districts. He mostly criticizes what others call for and shrugs his shoulders at the uselessness of it all. Which is how Republicans have subverted Brown v Board of Education and other civil rights issues since Reagan's era. So when Somerby pretends to "support" Jackson (while criticizing her), his dedication to achieving civil rights is suspect.

    12. @3:35 I will note that asking a question is not the same as clearly stating an affirmative opinion. I believe, based on my reading of Somerby over many years, that he asks questions in order to shame liberals, not to advocate for any policy that might help black or low-income kids. Why would any reasonably intelligent person think that a lottery to put students in a gifted program is a “logical howler”, when limited resources clearly dictate the number of available seats? Every school district in the nation pretty much has a lottery to apportion seats in whatever school choice is offered. This is Somerby’s way of criticizing liberals for neglecting students. It is similar in my view to the criticism that because liberals don’t provide perfect solutions, they must be attacked as hypocritical failures. It shows their “virtue signaling”, doncha know.

    13. I've just read a few of his posts and, I think I could walk back some of my defense of Bob. He uses a technique to state his beliefs in the form of a question but it's possible to take a general sense of his interest. To a degree, I think he flails around.

      What Bob wants to discuss is how to bring up test scores in Junior high so that race and class don't filter into the school system when they're used to track students. I am not sure he really understands what a success detracking is in the places it's been tried. He seems to cover people calling for desegregation instead of the studies themselves.

      Bob also cites class differences between the parents who oppose simply opening the high school doors to most of the low scoring students, they look down on the poor.

      I think he's too fixated on this disparity in middle school since a few school systems have already dropped the large tests and only segregate by basic literacy when they get to high school. How common this is in America I don't know.

      But he also imagines a fully funded system, that serves everyone. from the daily Howler last June:

      "Why kick all those Asian kids out of Stuyvesant High? Why not create a Stuyvesant II, doubling the number of seats at the high-powered school? Here in Our Town, we're so dumb that we pretty much never ask. It's all about our desire to show which "racial" groups we favor!)"

  4. "Cohen acts like the apparent concerns are silly, foolish, stupid, absurd. We're willing to guess that this just isn't so, and that we can demonstrate some such fact."

    And yet Somerby has not bothered to put forth such facts. The burden is on him, since he is the one criticizing Cohen's work.

    He doesn't tell us what her ideas were, and her article is behind a paywall. It is hard to have a discussion without some idea of what is being debated. Somerby, once again, thinks it is enough to shit on someone else's writing, without having to put forward any evidence of arguments of his own.

    I won't take Somerby's word about Cohen. I believe he is unfairly characterizing her attitude and unless I hear anything from Somerby about the valid concerns the law was meant to address, I will consider that is more Republican idiots behaving in an idiotic manner for political advantage. Because, in my experience, that is what Florida Republicans do.

    Somerby expectation that his opinion will be accepted without support suggests he is not here to discuss anything but rather to propagandize. I was going to chalk up the lack of effect as laziness, but I think he has changed his view of what he is doing here -- now he is preaching a prescribed talking point, not discussing anything in good faith. And it is pretty obvious he is not liberal, when he defends Florida lawmakers who seek to stigmatize gays.

  5. Today is Jackie Robinson day in baseball. Was he twice as good as the average player? You bet he was!

  6. Somerby ignores the problems posed by this Florida law:

    "Right-wing figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have spent the last month boosting the conspiracy theory that anyone opposed to anti-LGBTQ legislation is a “groomer” or a “pedophile.” This has already led to real-life protests, but on far-right forums like Patriots.win and Gab, there’s been a significant spike in ultra-violent rhetoric, with users posting threats against specific teachers, Disney employees, and lawmakers, according to a new report from public-interest research group Advance Democracy, Inc. which shared its findings exclusively with VICE News.

    And now, these extremists are taking things a step further: They’re doxxing school officials and calling for their execution. "


    When right-wingers are talking about hanging school officials over false news reports, this is no longer a matter of parental rights (as Somerby frames it). The problem is not the way "our tribe" responds to Florida laws, but the way the right is permittings its own extremists to indulge violent fantasies and threats, that emerge as real life violence when the wrong people are incited to extreme acts.

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