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WHY RUBEN CAN’T READ! Ruben Jimenez wants to cut up a frog–an act which could make him a reader: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 27, 2006

IT NEVER STOPS: We apologize for rehashing last week’s news. But on yesterday’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos drove home a point we made in a few of last week’s posts. Yes, incredibly, he actually said it! He introduced one part of his program like this:
STEPHANOPOULOS (3/26/06): Our voices this week—Harvey Mansfield and Naomi Wolf. As the political world continues to buzz about whether Condi or Hillary will be the first woman president, the Harvard professor and author of the controversial new book "Manliness" squares off with the feminist writer who taught Al Gore about earth tones on the politics of macho.
They never stop reciting their tales! Mansfield? He’s a “Harvard professor and author.” And Wolf? Wolf, a former Rhodes Scholar, has written several best-selling books. Two of them were selected as New York Times “Notable Books of the Year.” But within the celebrity press corps, she can only be described one way. To the tortured mind of this robotic class, Naomi Wolf must always be the person “who taught Gore about earth tones.”

So it goes as the “establishment media” insists on reciting its tales.

Is it actually true, by the way? Did Wolf “teach Al Gore about earth tones?” The story appeared in November 1999. It was based on a single “speculation”—a “speculation” by Dick Morris, reported by—who else?—Ceci Connolly, right on page one of the Washington Post. As far as we’ve ever been able to tell, no one ever presented any evidence that Wolf ever told Al Gore to wear earth tones—and she herself flatly denied it. But so what? By the afternoon that Morris’ “speculation” appeared, CNN was reporting the story as fact, and people like Maureen Dowd and Howell Raines were soon reciting the pleasing claim too, while pretending that Time had reported it. (In this way, Morris, an unreliable source, was deftly erased from the tale. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03.) And yes, this is precisely the way the “establishment media” conducted its twenty-month War Against Gore—and media harlequins insist on reciting these treasured tales to this day. Mansfield is a professor and author—and Wolf taught Gore about earth tones.

Last week, Ezra Klein—“The Answer”—deftly showcased his “Klei Slamma Jamma” moves, finally explaining—in a liberal journal!—how this campaign against Gore really worked (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/06). On Saturday, we wanted to advise you to watch Wolf and Mansfield on This Week; scheduling problems kept us from posting, but we’ve back-posted the item today (just click here). Meanwhile, we strongly recommend our four-part history of this remarkable episode, as we tried to suggest on Saturday. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03, for links to all parts of that series.) But for today, marvel again at the way our celebrity journalists refuse to let their groaners die. For the record, this is why it would be hard for Gore to run again for the White House. It’s amazing when liberals discuss the possibility of such a run without ever saying a single word about this obvious problem.

By the way, how completely clueless was Stephanopoulos? After airing a poorly-edited exchange between Mansfield and Wolf, the affable host said this:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, I'd love to see them in the same room! You can check out more of this debate on our Voices plus feature at thisweek.abcnews.com.
Dude! Last Sunday, C-SPAN broadcast an entire hour of Mansfield and Wolf “in the same room.” (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/21/06. Anyone can “see them” on-line.) Presumably, that’s where someone on Stephanopoulos’ staff got the idea for yesterday’s segment—poorly edited though it was. But uh-oh! Some sad soul just couldn’t resist the urge to type up the “earth tones” again. And the program’s host sat there and read it.

DAVID DUKE SI, HITLER NO: Meanwhile, we couldn’t help chuckling at Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s performance on This Week. Vanden Heuvel had begun her day with a high-minded plea, in the Washington Post, for greater civility in our public discourse. “Here's a modest proposal for improving national political discussion,” the high-minded pundit had modestly written. “Stop equating our opponents with famous dictators, their chief executioners, police apparatus or ideologies.” As a general matter, we think that makes sense—but her examples were quite poorly chosen. In her list, for example, an absurd remark by Rick Santorum got equal billing with a perfectly reasonable statement by Dick Durbin. Can no one ever mention these crucial parts of world history again? We thought her examples were poorly chosen. But manifestly, Vanden Heuvel’s piece was extremely high-minded.

Or so we thought, until This Week. After begging us to stop comparing our political opponents to Stalin and Hitler, there she sat, directly comparing her own opponents to David Duke! People with whom she disagrees are “white supremacists,” she happily said. They’re “xenophobic” and they’re “vigilantes,” she said, stealing a line from George W. Bush. By the way, why does Bush call these people “vigilantes?” Let us offer the progressive perspective; he wants to give his biggest supporters a supply of low-wage help.

Our puzzled young analysts mordantly chuckled as the pundit sketched her high-minded rules. David Duke si—but Hitler no! Surely, we all see the distinction.

By the way: It’s very bad politics when libs tell the world that their opponents just have to be racists. It’s a great way for pseudo-libs to feel good—and a great way to harm liberal interests.

Special report—Why Ruben can’t read!

PART 1—RUBEN JIMENEZ JUST WANTS TO CHOP FROGS: What are the nation’s low-income schools doing to help struggling kids learn to read? Yesterday, the New York Times discussed that question in its lead front-page report. But arrgh! The report—by Times education scribe Sam Dillon—left us frustrated and puzzled.

Will we ever have an intelligent public discussion about the problems of low-income ed? Based on Dillon’s puzzling effort, that day is yet to come.

Dillon begins by describing an instructional strategy—a strategy which seems to make fairly good sense. According to a forthcoming think-tank report, many schools are making their lower-achieving kids spend more time on the basics:

DILLON (3/26/06): Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing—in some cases tripling—the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

Lower-scoring students are spending more time on reading and math. (“The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level,” Dillon writes.) In short, if kids are doing poorly in reading and math, they’re required to spend more time on those subjects. In principle, this could be a very good thing. But then, Dillon fleshed out this approach just a bit. And we were left puzzled and frustrated:
DILLON: The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.
Say what? To help kids focus more on reading, schools are eliminating social studies and science? This statement seems to make no sense. And Dillon doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Why does this statement seem to make little sense? Duh! Because social studies and science are two of the courses in which students theoretically get lots of reading! After all, literate adults don’t simply read novels; they read history, biography and science materials too. (This just in: Such materials are often called “non-fiction.”) If we want kids to have more reading experiences and more reading instruction, social studies and science are two types of classes where they could get such treatment! Traditionally, American students have read a wide range of materials in science and social studies, right from the earliest grades on up. Now we’re told that such course are being dropped—so students can get more reading instruction! This statement makes little apparent sense—and Dillon never seems to take notice.

As he continues, Dillon goes into more detail about the findings of this forthcoming study. “The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of [No Child Left Behind], 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math.” At a low-income Sacramento junior high, Dillon shows us what this means for a particular student:

DILLON: Rubén Jimenez, a seventh grader whose father is a construction laborer, has a schedule typical of many students at the school, with six class periods a day, not counting lunch.

Rubén studies English for the first three periods, and pre-algebra and math during the fourth and fifth. His sixth period is gym. How does he enjoy taking only reading and math, a recent visitor asked.

"I don't like history or science anyway," Rubén said. But a moment later, perhaps recalling something exciting he had heard about lab science, he sounded ambivalent.

"It'd be fun to dissect something," he said.

Ruben’s right—it might be fun to dissect a frog. And guess what? That activity might lead this child to do some reading! It might make him want to read a library book about frogs and other amphibs, for example. And it might lead him into a textbook chapter about related subject matter.

Ruben Jiminez sounds like a good kid—the kind who wants to chop up a frog. This could lead him straight into books—and the Times didn’t quite seem to notice.

TOMORROW—PART 2: History and science are reading! Unless you teach “reading” like this...