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DOES TOM FRIEDMAN CARE! Tom Friedman types a standard piece. Does Tom Friedman care about black kids? // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 25, 2010

Is Debbie Wasserman Schultz a bigot: The latest bigot has self-identified. She poured her filth into the national discourse on last evening’s Larry King Live.

The bigot in question is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida. After speaking with other panelists, King sought her view about the mosque which pretty much isn’t a mosque:

KING (8/24/10): Congresswoman Schultz, do you think that Muslim situation in New York will be a national issue?

SCHULTZ: I really don't think it will be a national issue. I think what it boils down to is—it is a case of, just because you can doesn't mean you should. I think the leadership of the mosque and that Muslim community in that area of New York City would be well served to sit down with the leadership in New York and in that community, and work together to build some consensus on an alternative site.

Schultz favors an alternate site; Kevin Drum doesn’t. (We’d link you, but Kevin’s August archive doesn’t seem to be working.) For ourselves, we think both views are reasonable—could be advanced by decent people. But in the tribal world of the arch pseudo-liberal, Schultz’s view would make her a bigot, were she part of the other tribe.

Because she’s part of the One True Tribe, this view only makes Schultz a “coward,” according to developing norms.

Should people who favor an alternate site be regarded as bigots? Pam Geller pretty much seems like a textbook bigot; she speaks about Muslims in the familiar old, sweeping, dehumanized ways—which is pretty much the way some liberals speak about white conservatives. But should anyone who favors an alternate site be regarded as a bigot? In today’s New York Times, a letter from two civil liberties honchos raises a similar question. As is often the case with such arguments, the writers are soon describing what millions of other people “must believe” (“consciously or not”). Here’s how the letter starts:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (8/25/10): Many opponents of the proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, including some who demonstrated there on Sunday, insist that they support religious freedom but still believe that it is insensitive to build the center two blocks from ground zero.

At first glance, this view may seem reasonable. It captures the enduring trauma of 9/11 while recognizing a constitutional right to religious freedom. But on closer reflection, this stance rests on a prejudice and intolerance that contradict religious freedom.

Those who call the project insensitive must believe, consciously or not, that the people who would pray at the center are, by virtue of their faith alone, tainted by the terrorists who committed the 9/11 atrocities…

The writers grant themselves two or three large advantages, as the tribal typically do. By the nature of their letter, they seem to suggest that anyone favoring an alternate site must “believe that it is insensitive to build the center two blocks from ground zero.” (Granted, they don’t explicitly say that. They simply fail to present any other account of what “opponents of the center” might think.)

Maybe they just believe this unconsciously, the writers then imply, giving themselves a second or third advantage—an advantage which is very dumb.

Here’s our question: Schultz said she favors an alternate site. By the language of this letter, that makes her an “opponent of the proposed center.” Does that mean that she believes (perhaps unconsciously!) that “the people who would pray at the center are, by virtue of their faith alone, tainted by the terrorists who committed the 9/11 atrocities?” We’d be amazed if Schultz thinks that. Or does she just think it unconsciously?

An instinct plagues the “liberal” world. It’s the instinct to announce what millions of others must be thinking—and to assume that what they’re thinking must be very bad. It’s the instinct to attribute the worst possible outlooks and motives to tens of millions of unknown people—people who aren’t in the tribe.

This is an instinct of small-minded people—one which has plagued all of human history. When this instinct gets carried to an extreme, it constitutes an unholy attitude—bigotry.

Special report: Who cares about black kids?

INTERLUDE—DOES TOM FRIEDMAN CARE (permalink): Tomorrow, we’ll return to the massively underplayed scandal concerning the state of New York’s testing program. In the wake of this underplayed scandal, what is the record of the Bloomberg years in New York City’s public schools? What has happened to student achievement? What has happened to those achievement gaps? (Those are totally different questions.) We’ll take a look at both question tomorrow, using test results which haven’t been thrown down the stairs—results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of American testing.

On Friday, we’ll use the NAEP to ask those same questions about other big urban school systems, and about the nation as a whole. On a national basis, what has happened to achievement in the past decade? What has happened to achievement gaps? Those are vastly different questions, a fact the New York Times grossly obscured in last week’s lengthy report.

We’ll return to Gotham tomorrow. Today, let’s consider today’s column by one of New York City’s alleged finest, asking a very unpleasant question:

Does Tom Friedman care about black kids?

In today’s column, Friedman is waxing eloquent about a topic he seems to know little or nothing about. He recommends a new film we’re eager to see—a new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” about attempts to improve the nation’s low-income schools. But does Friedman know what he’s talking about when he pontificates in this area? Does he care enough about black and Hispanic kids to keep his big pompous trap shut in areas where he just isn’t knowledgeable?

In theory, it’s a good thing when Friedman stoops to discuss the problems of low-income schools. But does he know whereof he speaks? For ourselves, we suspect that he doesn’t.

Below, you see Friedman’s first two paragraphs. We highlight our first point of concern:

FRIEDMAN (8/25/10): While Washington is consumed with whether our president is secretly a Muslim, or born abroad, possibly in outer space, I’d like to talk about some good news. But to see it, you have to stand on your head.

You have to look at America from the bottom up, not from the top (Washington) down. And what you’ll see from down there is that there is a movement stirring in this country around education. From the explosion of new charter schools to the new teachers’ union contract in D.C., which will richly reward public school teachers who get their students to improve faster and weed out those who don’t, Americans are finally taking their education crisis seriously. If you don’t want to stand on your head, then just go to a theater near you after Sept. 24 and watch the new documentary “Waiting for Superman.” You’ll see just what I’m talking about.

Friedman praises the new teacher contract in DC, “which will richly reward public school teachers who get their students to improve faster.” But does Friedman know that a problem lurks there—that teachers may flat-out cheat on future tests to acquire those financial rewards? (Cheat, not “teach to the test.”) Just a guess: This thought has never entered his head. We’ll guess he is completely clueless about this decades-old point of concern.

Does Friedman have any idea what he’s talking about? Our second and third points of concern surfaced in paragraph 4:

FRIEDMAN (continuing directly): Directed by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Waiting for Superman” takes its name from an opening interview with the remarkable Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone. HCZ has used a comprehensive strategy, including a prenatal Baby College, social service programs and longer days at its charter schools to forge a new highway to the future for one of New York’s bleakest neighborhoods.

Canada’s point is that the only way to fix our schools is not with a Superman or a super-theory. No, it’s with supermen and superwomen pushing super-hard to assemble what we know works: better-trained teachers working with the best methods under the best principals supported by more involved parents.

Does Friedman know how stupid it sounds to say we know “the best methods” work best? We will guess that he doesn’t. By the way, assuming that everyone wants to employ “the best teachers,” how do we identify such people? Do you think Friedman have the slightest idea of the technical problems which lurk behind this second familiar bromide?

Do you think Friedman has any idea what he’s talking about?

As Friedman continues, he continues reciting Complete Standard Cant, typing the types of conventional wisdom any true pundit can tick in his sleep. How about this passionate passage, in which he recites conventional wisdom about “schools that work?”

FRIEDMAN: It is intolerable that in America today a bouncing bingo ball should determine a kid’s educational future, especially when there are plenty of schools that work and even more that are getting better. This movie is about the people trying to change that. The film’s core thesis is that for too long our public school system was built to serve adults, not kids. For too long we underpaid and undervalued our teachers and compensated them instead by giving them union perks. Over decades, though, those perks accumulated to prevent reform in too many districts. The best ones are now reforming, and the worst are facing challenges from charters.

Minor gripe: We’re not entirely sure what those “union perks” were, if they didn’t even include adequate pay. But Friedman asserts, with perfect assurance, that there are “plenty of schools that work and even more that are getting better.” He doesn’t name any “schools that work” at this point, but: Is he sure that these schools don’t “work” (in part) because of the “creaming” effect, where charter schools may attract kids who are more skilled or more determined than most? Whose parents are more determined? Does he know that his own newspaper wrote a long report, just last week, which suggested that one of the claims about charter “schools that work” right in New York City took a hit just in the last month when achievement gaps rose again in the wake of the state testing scandal?

Do you think Friedman even knows that a scandal has just taken place in the state? Do you think he has even heard about the blow to the “Scarsdale-Harlem” thesis which was alleged in last week’s report in the Times? Do you think he has heard about this recent matter, let alone puzzled it out?

As he nears completion, Friedman uses the language that is found in almost all such high-minded cookie-cutter pieces—pieces written by pompous bags who are simply reciting the latest views of the “educational experts.” We know what works, this blowhard recites. But does Tom Friedman know anything?

FRIEDMAN: Because we know what works, and it’s not a miracle cure. It is the whatever-it-takes-tenacity of the Geoffrey Canadas; it is the no-excuses-seriousness of the KIPP school (Knowledge is Power Program) founders; it is the lead-follow-or-get-out-of-the-way ferocity of the Washington and New York City school chancellors, Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein.

Do you think Friedman has any idea whether Rhee is producing real long-term gains? As you see him extend the Standard Requisite Praise of Klein, do you think he knows that “outraged” parents drove Klein from a public stage one week ago, chanting slogans about a vast embarrassment to New York City schools?

Do you think Friedman has any idea about any of these serious matters? We doubt it. In fact, he might as well have had this column ghost-written by Nicholas Kristof, who types all this Same Standard Cant on the rare occasions when he deigns to discuss the interests of low-income children.

Does Friedman know what he’s talking about? We doubt it. Indeed, as he typed the stirring passage which follows, it probably didn’t enter his head that he had omitted one major group from his list of those he would challenge:

FRIEDMAN: Although the movie makes the claim that the key to student achievement is putting a great teacher in every classroom, and it is critical of the teachers’ unions and supportive of charters, it challenges all the adults who run our schools—teachers, union leaders, principals, parents, school boards, charter-founders, politicians—with one question: Are you putting kids and their education first?

Like all pompous blowhards of his class, Friedman is eager to challenge every societal group—except his own. He wants teachers to get their asses in gear—and everyone else, including those parents! But how about our ratty pseudo-journalists, Friedman’s own under-performing class? You know? The wind-bags who type this column each year, then disappear into the ether?

A final point: We greatly honor the work of Geoffrey Canada, which doesn’t mean that he will be right on every single question. (Canada thought Superman was a real person until the fifth grade, Friedman ominously says.) Beyond that, we don’t mean anything we’ve written to be construed as criticism of Rhee or Klein. But can we talk? Unlike Canada, Rhee and Klein, mainstream journalists don’t give a rat’s ass about the interests of black and Hispanic kids. For the most part, neither do editors of your “liberal journals,” even as they prance about the land, name-calling tens of millions of bigots and proclaiming their deathless racial perfection, and that of their own lofty tribe.

We’ll return to Gotham tomorrow, hoping to clarify a basic distinction—achievement versus achievement gap. But in our view, Tom Friedman has a hell of a nerve. But then, so do the ratty, self-impressed frauds who run our “liberal” journals.