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THREATENING CARROLL (PART 1)! When “threats” and “demands” don’t work, what then? Education elites have no answer: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2006

HOW HAVE BIG DEMS GOTTEN SAVAGED (PART 2): As Jonathan Chait points out in his L. A. Times column, Major Dems have been savaged on character issues for the past fifteen years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/06). But people like Chait often seem determined to obscure the way this has actually happened. Members of his high elite class never seem to lay it out clearly. For one prime example, see this classic phony column by the once-brilliant liberal, Michael Kinsley.

At THE HOWLER, we groaned when we read Kinsley’s piece. But uh-oh! Three big liberal bloggers—Marshall, Digby, Alterman—approvingly linked to the column! (Alterman even used the word “genius.”) We think this illustrates a basic point: Often, we liberals seem completely unable to state the basics of our own recent history. Or perhaps we prefer to play kiss-kiss smooch-smooch with a powerful player like Mike.

What was so fake about Kinsley’s column? Correctly, Kinsley says that folks have long trashed Dems with familiar and dim-witted “formulas.” But uh-oh! As he starts his piece, he fails to name the actual people at fault:

KINSLEY (1/29/06): It seems to be time once again to play Kick the Democrats. Everyone can play, including Democrats. The rules are simple. When Republicans lose elections, it is because they didn't get enough votes. When Democrats lose elections, it is because they have lost their principles and lost their way. Or they have kept their principles, which is an even worse mistake.

Democrats represent no one who is not actually waiting in line for a latte at a Starbucks within 150 yards of the east or west coastline. They are mired in trivial lifestyle issues like, oh, abortion and gay rights and Americans killing and dying in Iraq, while the Republicans serve up meat and potatoes for real Americans, like privatizing Social Security and making damned sure the government knows who is Googling whom in this great country. Just repeat these formulas until a Democrat has been sent into frenzies of self-flagellation, or reduced to tears.

In this passage, Kinsley correctly mocks the “formulas” used to ridicule Major Democrats. But just who is “repeating the formulas” which help turn Democrats into a joke? In paragraph 4, we get a name—George Will. Vile Will has been doing the deed, Kinsley says. Moments later, he names a few groups:
KINSLEY: I've been impressed all over again the past couple weeks with the Republicans' skill at political stone soup—making something out of nothing. In this case it's a remark by Hillary Clinton comparing Congress to a plantation. Near as I can tell, the alleged objection to "plantation" is—by analogy to the Holocaust—that any metaphorical use of the word is an insult to the real slaves and their descendants. This particular stone soup would be overheated even if the ingredients were fresh and sincere. But the fuss is obviously cynical, coming as it does from people (talk-radio jockeys, the editors of the Wall Street Journal—you know the type) who usually stalk the microphones in order to denounce excessive sensitivity and its smothering effect on political debate.
Ah yes—Hillary’s Clinton’s “plantation” remark, which produced so much phony outrage! Did Clinton’s remark produce a “fuss” which was “obviously cynical?” You can bet your sweet bippy it did! But according to Kinsley, it was “talk-radio jockeys” and “the editors of the Wall Street Journal ” who were pimping the phony outrage, at the direction of “the Republicans.” In short, Kinsley drags out the usual suspects—and omits his millionaire colleagues and friends, the people who actually changed the world for Dems in the past fifteen years.

Name a couple of famous conservatives—and fail to name the most potent players! This is itself a familiar “formula”—one which members of Kinsley’s high class keep dragging out, year after year.

Was the world awash in phony outrage in the wake of Clinton’s remark? Yes! But it wasn’t the conservative Journal ed board which gave this fake outrage its greatest exposure. It was—who else?—mainstream kingpin Tim Russert, who worried about the remark, at length, on the January 22 Meet the Press—even quoting Laura Bush (a Republican), who had called Clinton’s comment “ridiculous.” And it was—who else?—cable loudmouth Chris Matthews, who flogged the remark at endless length on January 17, 18 and 20. (Matthews has a jones about Clinton that simply won’t let his soul go.) And yes, this was the same Meet the Press where Russert worried, long and hard, about remarks by Harry Belafonte, a man who plays no role in our discourse—except when he’s used to stage formulaic attacks against those feckless Dems.

Kinsley complained about formulaic attacks—but his column itself was a piece of Pure Formula! Tomorrow, we’ll show you how foolish it was to name Will but not Russert—unless you’re part of a millionaire, faux-liberal class which wants to fake some outrage yourself. Predictably, Kinsley names one group of players—but fails to name his own colleagues and friends (and employers). His class has recycled this script for years—and we libs are so dumb we applaud him.

DUMB AND SEEMINGLY DUMBERER: It’s sad to watch the Post and the Times try to explain the basic facts of the Cheney pal-hunting incident. Here’s a minor but comical blunder: When did unharmed pal Katharine Armstrong finally call the Corpus Christi Caller-Times? According to Jim VandeHei in today’s Post, “Armstrong contacted the Corpus Christi Caller-Times around 9 a.m. Central time on Sunday.” But uh-oh! On the very same page, two inches away, a time-line contradicts that statement. “Armstrong call[ed] the newsroom” at 10 a.m., it says—and it says that she got no answer. She finally “connect[ed]” between noon and 1, the Post time-line plainly says. It says this about two inches away from VandeHei’s contradictory statement.

A second question is potentially serious: When was Cheney interviewed by the sheriff’s office? According to VandeHei, it happened on Sunday:

VANDEHEI (2/14/06): Local law enforcement officials did not interview Cheney until Sunday morning, about 14 hours after the shooting, in an agreement worked out between the Secret Service and Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III. Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said at least one deputy was turned away shortly after the shooting because security personnel at the ranch were not aware of the agreement between the sheriff and the Secret Service.
Huh! A deputy sheriff was “turned away” shortly after the shooting. But uh-oh! If you read today’s New York Times, you seem to get a different story. In Ann Kornblut’s report, it sounds like Cheney was interviewed on Saturday, the actual day of the shooting:
KORNBLUT (2/14/06): The local sheriff, Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County, said the Secret Service called him shortly after the shooting occurred.

Sheriff Salinas said he sent his chief deputy, Gilbert Sanmiguel, to the Armstrong Ranch that night. He said Mr. Sanmiguel interviewed Mr. Cheney and reported that the shooting was an accident.

You’re right! Kornblut’s piece doesn’t actually say that the interview took place on Saturday. But you’d surely think that’s what it said. Indeed, reading this morning’s Post and Times made us think of our favorite bromide, “Goldberg’s Law.” Here it is: “The main with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches is never sure.”

Finally, we were surprised by this morning’s Post editorial. According to the Post’s current reporting, Cheney failed to report this incident to the public on Saturday—and he refused to be interviewed by the sheriff. These are two sides of the same coin, but to us, the dissing of the sheriff is potentially more serious. Could Cheney have been all likkered up when he blasted away at his pal? There is no way to find out—the next day. In our view, Cheney’s failure to speak to the sheriff in timely fashion was more serious than his failure to speak to the press. But there was the Post editorial, huffing and puffing about the latter. Meanwhile, just drink in the sheer absurdity of that passage in paragraph 2:

POST EDITORIAL (2/14/06): How is it the vice president of the United States can shoot and wound someone and the American public doesn't learn of it until 18 hours later—and then only because the owner of the location where the event occurred decided the next day to tell a local reporter? The White House has no satisfactory answer; neither does the vice president's office....By every standard and by all accounts, the failure to promptly disclose the accident was wrong.

Of course, the first priority when a person is shot and wounded is to make sure the victim receives the necessary medical care. That apparently was done at the scene by medical attendants accompanying Mr. Cheney. And the Secret Service reportedly notified the local sheriff's office of the incident on Saturday, according to the New York Times. The vice president's staff also regarded the matter as serious enough to alert President Bush on Saturday and to give the White House updates on the condition of Mr. Whittington, who was released from intensive care yesterday afternoon but remains at a Corpus Christi hospital with wounds to his upper body.

Perfect, isn’t it? In today’s paper, The Post reports that Cheney dissed the sheriff on Saturday. So the Post editorial quotes the Times to suggest that nothing was wrong!

Is Cheney a fellow who can’t shoot straight? Perhaps a person can understand why the Post and the Times seem to sympathize.

Special report—Threatening Carroll!

PART 1—THE THREATS HAVEN’T WORKED: Eric Wood, 32 years old, sounds like our kind of principal. This is his first year at Charles Carroll Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a majority-black jurisdiction across the border from Washington, D.C. Carroll Middle School has had low test scores for years—and a history of general disorder. According to Post reporter Nick Anderson, Wood—the young principal—“has goodwill from teachers and parents who want him to succeed.” They remember how their school was last year, before he took over:

ANDERSON (2/12/06): Last school year, teacher Ricardo Navas recalled, "you'd have stampedes, running in the hallway, fights breaking out. Sometimes there'd be waves of stampedes."

Jesse Sharpe, father of an eighth-grader and leader of a parent-teacher organization, said: "We were about to send our daughter somewhere else. But on day one, Principal Wood said, 'Give me a chance.' I can tell you, my daughter feels so much better now coming to this school than last year."

At the very least—the very least—children deserve a school in which there is order, in which they can see that they matter enough for their teachers and principal to provide it. According to Anderson, Wood has turned that problem around. Indeed, in his recent profile of Charles Carroll School, Anderson ran through a list of improvements Wood showed up with this year:
ANDERSON: He has restored hallway order in a school with a history of disciplinary trouble. He believes students should walk to the right, preferably with shirts tucked in. When he arrived at the New Carrollton campus last summer, Wood literally dispelled gloom. He put fluorescent bulbs in corridors where some light fixtures were empty.

Wood also tinkered with the school's name.

On his business cards, on the school Web site and on green and white uniforms that students began wearing in January, Wood inserted a word into the school name that he said signals a commitment. For him and 950 seventh- and eighth-graders, it's now "The New Charles Carroll Middle School.”

No, changing the name of a school won’t transform it. Neither will those green and white uniforms (although they might help), nor will a couple of light bulbs. But children deserve to be free from “stampedes”—and they deserve to see signs that they actually matter. Why that new name? "It's a renewal of the mind and a perception of what you think about Charles Carroll," Wood told the Post. "It's like a covenant. I put it out there. So now you have to back it up.”

Of course, order isn’t a school’s major goal; the ultimate goal is student achievement. And presumably, Wood has his hands full there. According to Anderson, Carroll Middle School has been on Maryland’s list of schools which “need improvement” for the past two years, and was under watch by the state for six years before that. Just consider reading, for example. Last year, the school failed to meet standards on the state reading test among its black, Hispanic, low-income, limited-English and disabled students. How can Carroll improve achievement? In his profile, Anderson describes a few measures which obviously won’t be enough:

ANDERSON: With time short before next month's crucial state achievement tests, the school is cramming in reading and math. Daily loudspeaker announcements segue to funk riffs from a song called "Word Up!" and then to a review of prefixes, suffixes and other vocabulary builders.

"L-E-S-S: less," said an all-school intercom voice one recent morning. "Added to the end of 'home' means what? Without a home." A few students in one classroom listened or took notes. Others laughed or chatted, their attention elsewhere.

Most likely, your attention would be “elsewhere” too. In terms of academics, it’s hard to say what will help Carroll’s kids—but it’s easy to say that this won’t enough. We’ll assume that Wood understands this.

But Wood is under special pressure because of this school’s recent history. As noted, Carroll is on the Maryland “needs improvement” list because of years of low achievement. And this brings up a basic question—how should a state follow through on its threats against such schools? What should the state of Maryland do if Carroll continues to “need improvement?” Right at the start of his profile, Anderson sums the problem up nicely:

ANDERSON: It has been eight years since Maryland told the Prince George's County school to shape up, or else. It has been four years since the federal government raised the pressure with a law meant to force shake-ups through aid and sanctions.

Yet Charles Carroll Middle School has continued to fall short of state standards, even though the county has switched textbooks, changed principals three times and even assigned a "turnaround specialist."

So far, actions and threats have been fruitless. The school, for a second straight year, is at the final stage of a state "needs improvement" list. It will stay there at least one more year. State officials call this stage "the deep end."

“Maryland faces a question posed by the No Child Left Behind law,” Anderson writes. “What happens when a school reaches the end of the line?” In the case of Carroll Middle School, those “threats” from the state just haven’t worked. Eventually, the state will have to act. But what exactly should the state do when it sees that its “threats” have proved fruitless?

Anderson raises a critical question. Indeed, this question shines a bright, cold light on the basic shortcoming of the whole “standards movement.” When “higher standards”—and “threats” and “demands”—don’t work, what exactly do we do then? In truth, education elites have no serious answer—as Anderson’s report makes quite clear.

TOMORROW: Making “threats” and “demands.”

MARCUS IN KENYA: Ruth Marcus discusses The Boys of Baraka in a Post op-ed column, “School Lessons from Kenya.” What lessons did Marcus draw from the film? We’ll briefly discuss that tomorrow.