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Print view: Samuelson lied about black kids. Chait had no idea
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CHAIT SPEECH! Samuelson lied about black kids. Chait had no idea: // link // print // previous // next //

Imam Rauf stays on the lawn: Chris Matthews, a nasty corporate hack, was stupidly playing his race cards last night. As usual, he didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what he was talking about. But as always, he did know his scripts! And despite years of service to GE’s Jack Welch, his cluelessness and his ugly soul have now been purchased by the “liberal” team.

Matthews was expressing his vast joy about that new web site, the one which hunts down all the racists, including the occasional stray (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/7/10). He played tape of several people at the recent Glenn Beck event; these people said they had never heard Beck call President Obama a racist. Then, this utterly stupid, soul-less man performed his typical function—the type of function he performed, under different corporate ownership, to send George Bush to the White House.

After playing his tape of the Beck admirers, Matthews spoke with Ari Rabin-Havt of Media Matters. Alas! Rabin-Havt’s comments were massively dumber than those of the Beck fans:

MATTHEWS (9/7/10): Wow! You saw them, some Tea Partiers, denying that Glenn Beck ever called the president a racist! Here’s the evidence:

BECK (videotape): This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is. This guy is, I believe, a racist.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, what is it about cognitive dissonance, we used to call it, when you don’t hear something because you don’t want to hear it, because it doesn’t fit? Are those people BS-ing, saying they don’t know he talks like that?

RABIN-HAVT: I mean, they clearly don’t know, don’t watch Glenn Beck if they are saying that, because a week before he called Barack Obama racist, he said Barack Obama’s entire agenda was based on one word: reparations. How can you claim that someone’s entire agenda is based on reparations, a word that I don’t think Barack Obama has ever uttered, and not be a racist?

“They clearly don’t watch Glenn Beck if they are saying that,” Rabin-Havt said. The liberal world is in deep hurt when we “reason” like this. Oligarchic Power is assured of a very long run when we function like this.

What was wrong with the logic of Matthews and Rabin-Havt? For one thing, Matthews was playing a piece of tape that was fourteen months old; it showed an utterly stupid comment Beck made in July 2009. (Beyond that, the statement was made on a morning show, not on Beck’s own program.) This brings us to the day’s key question: Why was Matthews playing such an old piece of tape? The answer to that is blindingly obvious, of course: “Liberals” keep playing that 14-month-old tape because Beck doesn’t call Obama a “racist” on his TV show! You can watch Beck’s program every day, as those rally-attenders may do. You’ll never see him call Obama a racist—just as those people said.

Might we state the basic point? People like Matthews keep playing that 14-month-old tape because it is the only time Beck made this stupid remark.

“I never heard him say he [Obama] was a racist,” one rally-goer said on the earlier tape Matthews played. “I never heard Glenn say that,” a second man quickly chimed in. These people may not be politically sophisticated. But even if they watch Beck’s program every day, it’s true—they’ve never heard him say that! The tape of that remark gets played on liberal shows, designed to send thrills up our legs.

They’ve heard Beck say a whole lot of ludicrous things. But no, he doesn’t say that.

Beyond that, they’ve seen Beck praise Dr. King, over and over again, all through the last year. Liberals don’t hear about that at Media Matters—or on hack programs like Hardball. But almost surely, those rally-attenders knew that, even if we liberals don’t. But so it goes in a tribal society. “They” don’t know that Beck called Obama a racist. “We” don’t know that he has endlessly spoken in praise of Dr. King.

We’ll guess that Matthews doesn’t really know why his producer keeps playing that year-old tape. Often the years, he rarely seems to know what he’s talking about. He does know the prevailing narratives which have been approved by his corporate owners—by the people who pay him $5 million to peddle BS to us rubes.

Matthews and Schultz were serving race-in-the-raw on their loathsome programs last night. (Schultz even went back to 2006 to play the “macaca” tape!) In this way, liberal brains get turned to dust—and Oligarchic Power gets assured a long reign in this country.

This brings us around to Imam Rauf’s guest column in this morning’s New York Times. “Park51” seems to be “Cordoba House” again—and the project will be going forward at the proposed location, Rauf says in his piece.

We assume the good intentions of Imam Rauf and his associates. In this part of his column, he describes a set of thrilling goals, goals we strongly commend:

RAUF (9/8/10): Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.

Our broader mission—to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology—lies not in skirting the margins of issues that have polarized relations within the Muslim world and between non-Muslims and Muslims. It lies in confronting them as a joint multifaith, multinational effort.

From the political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians to the building of a community center in Lower Manhattan, Muslims and members of all faiths must work together if we are ever going to succeed in fostering understanding and peace.


Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.

Careful, Imam! If you go too far with that “love the Lord our creator” stuff, defeat-loving liberals may lump you in as part of “the God Machine.” (Presumably, along with Dr. King. We liberals adore defeat.)

We think the Imam’s vision is thrilling, although we’d dump a few phrases. But did it have to be brought to life at this particular site? On the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, Laurie Goodstein described some fall-out from the flap about the proposed location. We thought her report was profoundly sad. She started like this:

GOODSTEIN (9/7/10): For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.

Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. The knifing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City has also alarmed many American Muslims.

“We worry: Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?” said Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls. “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”

People who want to build a better world have to make important strategic decisions, reached from a reservoir of wisdom. (Obama wouldn’t speak to the “wisdom” of the site.) Often, we in our bold new “liberal” world show little awareness of this.

We liberals! We slept in the woods in the Clinton-Gore years; we only re-emerged after Bush started a disastrous war. And when we sleepily crawled from the woods, some of us re-emerged on the scene with withered moral instincts. Dr. King was vast and great in his painful moral assessments, in which he often deferred, as a matter of strategy, to those who were massively wrong. By way of contrast, we modern liberals are often inclined to types of decisions which will likely serve to entrench our society’s growing Oligarchic Power.

We’ll call them bigots—and they’ll call us godless! In the process, Oligarchic Power will dig its roots deeper into the soil. It’s happening now, as we type. Just look around! In part thanks to decades of liberal slumber, we’re well past “No Return.”

Who knows? Imam Rauf’s decision may work out in the end. But Dr. Asghar lives in the real world—in Cincinnati, no less! He may find himself thinking that the great good the imam envisions could have happened just as well in a different location.

Our side hasn’t much thought about that. But then, we aren’t the ones on the line.

Special report: Who cares about black kids!

PART 9—CHAIT SPEECH (permalink): Does Robert Samuelson hate black kids? It’s possible that he doesn’t. That said, he might as well treat himself, given the punishing disinformation he spewed in Monday’s Washington Post.

In a remarkably misleading column, Samuelson, a morbid conservative, wiped away decades of academic progress by America’s black and Hispanic students. Of course, this is the same kind of disinformation spewed to readers of the Nation when the progressive journal presented its June 14 “education issue” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/31/10). This returns us to a basic question: Do liberals care about black kids?

Do liberals care about black kids? Because sure enough—it has happened again, in the wake of Samuelson’s column! Jonathan Chait is a smart, policy-centered liberal writer, a pillar of the world of the Washington “liberal journal.” But when Chait responded to Samuelson’s column, he didn’t have the slightest idea where the conservative columnist had gone wrong. Chait didn’t know that Samuelson had withheld the most basic facts about the progress made by black students.

Does anybody care about black kids? Routinely, the answer seems clear.

What is wrong with Samuelson’s column—a column which is deeply deceptive? As he started, the gloomy dissembler rolled his eyes at the massive failures of school “reform” over the past forty years. “Few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty…than ‘school reform,’ ” he gloomily said. After that, he engaged in an orgy of intellectual dishonesty of his own.

What follows are Samuelson’s nugget paragraphs. In this passage, Samuelson refers to the “long-term trend” study of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the highly regarded study which can be accessed here. He uses that study to paint an especially gloomy picture of the progress made by the nation’s 17-year-old students, especially blacks and Hispanics. It’s rare to see a major writer so baldly disguise the most basic facts about the subject he is discussing. For Samuelson’s column, just click here. What you are viewing is disinformation, though it’s the same type of disinformation spewed by the Nation in June:

SAMUELSON (9/6/10): Since the 1960s, waves of "reform" haven't produced meaningful achievement gains. The most reliable tests are given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The reading and math tests, graded on a 0-500 scale, measure 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds. In 1971, the initial year for the reading test, the average score for 17-year-olds was 285; in 2008, the average score was 286. The math test started in 1973, when 17-year-olds averaged 304; in 2008, the average was 306.

To be sure, some improvements have occurred in elementary schools. But what good are they if they're erased by high school? There has also been a modest narrowing in the high school achievement gaps among whites, blacks and Hispanics; unfortunately, the narrowing generally stopped in the late 1980s. (Average test scores have remained stable because, although the scores of blacks and Hispanics have risen slightly, the size of these minority groups also expanded. This means that their still-low scores exert a bigger drag on the average. The two factors offset each other.)

Standard theories don't explain this meager progress. Too few teachers? Not really. From 1970 to 2008, the student population increased 8 percent and the number of teachers rose 61 percent. The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply, from 27-to-1 in 1955 to 15-to-1 in 2007. Are teachers paid too little? Perhaps, but that's not obvious. In 2008, the average teacher earned $53,230; two full-time teachers married to each other and making average pay would belong in the richest 20 percent of households (2008 qualifying income: $100,240). Maybe more preschool would help. Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008.

On Friday, in our conclusion to this series, we will try to explain why so many people seem to love trashing “reform.”

Poor Samuelson! His basic point is abundantly clear: From the 1970s to the present, 17-year-olds have made no progress on the National Assessment of Education Progress (the NAEP), the nation’s most reliable testing program! In reading, the gain has been one meager point—from an average score of 285 all the way to 286! Sure, there have been “some improvements” in elementary grades, the great man concedes—but those modest improvements have been erased by a backslide in high school. “The scores of blacks and Hispanics have risen slightly” among 17-year-olds, Samuelson generously says, without discussing the scores of whites—but he quickly wipes those slight gains away with a rather confusing point about the changing “size of these minority groups.” (More on that point below.)

Even worse, our “standard theories” can’t explain “this meager progress,” he says. He plainly refers to the “standard theories” offered by liberals who favor “reform.”

In the rest of his column, Samuelson goes on to paint a gloomy picture of worthless, lazy American students. “The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” he says, using an educational f-word.

Bottom line: The profile of the past forty years is a profile of educational “failure.” In reading, 17-year-old students have only gained one point—just one point, in all that time!

Does Robert Samuelson hate black kids? It’s always possible he doesn’t—but he certainly seems to enjoy misstating their academic gains. What are the actual facts about progress on the NAEP among 17-year-old black students—the progress he describes as a “failure?” Let’s take a look at the data—the data this influential writer withheld, in ways which seem deliberate, again and again.

First, a quick bit of background: In fact, 9-year-old black kids and 13-year-old black kids have made large score gains on the NAEP during the period in question. (Example: 9-year-old black kids have gained 39 points, not just one point, on the NAEP reading test. To review those large score gains, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/1/10.) Samuelson skipped those younger kids to denigrate the gains of 17-year-old students. But what are the actual facts about 17-year-old black students? (For the record, the NAEP only tests students in this study. It doesn’t include 17-year-olds who have dropped out of school.)

In fact, the average score of 17-year-old black students rose by a rather large 29 points from 1971 to 2008, a fact no reader could ever imagine from reading this grossly misleading column. Surely, Samuelson knows this fact; the fact is plainly displayed, again and again, in the official NAEP data, the data from which he is working. (Click here, scroll down to page 14, Figure 4. Be sure to make apples-to-apples comparisons regarding “accommodations”—although the score gain remains 27 points if you fumble this point.)

Let’s repeat: Among 17-year-olds, black students gained 29 points in reading during the period in question. This is massively larger than the one-point gain Samuelson chose to highlight, referring to the score gain recorded by 17-year-olds as a whole. And according to a rough rule of thumb which is rather widely applied, ten points on the NAEP scale is roughly equal to one academic year. If we apply this rough rule of thumb to those reading scores, the average black 17-year-old in 2008 was three years ahead of his peers from 1971! And by the way: These gains were recorded even as drop-out rates declined, a fact which Samuelson understands, as can be seen from a passage he includes later in his column (text below). In other words, black students recorded this large score gain even as a larger percentage of the 17-year-old population was being tested, a change which would be expected to lower the average score. (As drop-out rates decline, this would typically mean that more kids were being tested from the lower end of the scale.)

In math, a similar score gain was recorded, another fact Samuelson refused to report. In this case, our measurement starts in 1978, the first point at which the NAEP is using no “extrapolated data.” (NAEP: “Because of the need to extrapolate the average scale scores, caution should be used in interpreting the pattern of trends” from 1973 to 1978.) Result? From 1978 to 2008, black 17-year-old students gained 20 points on the NAEP scale, even as a larger percentage of the population was being tested. To observe this elementary fact for yourself, click here, then scroll down to page 35, Figure 10. Adjust for “accommodations” starting in 2004.

Let’s review: At the older age Samuelson chose to stress, black students have gained 29 points in reading, 20 points in math (from 1978). Go ahead and compare those facts to the gloom—and the disinformation—pimped in Samuelson’s piece. Reading Samuelson’s gloomy piece, you see gloomy discussions of meager score gains—score gains of one point in reading, two points in math. The real score gains are massively larger in the case of black students, even among the older students Samuelson chose to stress.

Having said this, let’s repeat an important part of Samuelson’s piece, then briefly explain it:

SAMUELSON: Since the 1960s, waves of "reform" haven't produced meaningful achievement gains. The most reliable tests are given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress...In 1971, the initial year for the reading test, the average score for 17-year-olds was 285; in 2008, the average score was 286.

An obvious question arises here: If black students gained 29 points in reading during that period, how could the overall gain in reading be only one point? There are two reasons for this state of affairs, each of which Samuelson seems to understand:

First, the gain by white 17-year-old students was relatively small during that 37-year period; their average score went up only eight points, as opposed to 29 points for their black peers. The second point is much more important. The balance of the demographic groups in the student population changed a great deal during that period; Samuelson explains how this factor works in the passage we’ve quoted. Samuelson: “Average test scores have remained stable because, although the scores of blacks and Hispanics have risen slightly, the size of these minority groups also expanded (our emphasis). This means that their still-low scores exert a bigger drag on the average.” That statement is completely accurate, except for the deeply misleading claim that the scores of black students rose only “slightly.” Alas! Black and Hispanic students still score significantly lower than white students, despite their larger score gains during this period. Because they now comprise a larger percentage of the student population than they did in 1971, the average score overall has changed little in that time, even though the average score of all three major demographic groups has advanced. This is counterintuitive, but it’s a well-known statistical artifact—and it’s clear that Samuelson understands it.

But again, let’s state the central fact: In fact, black 17-year-old students gained 29 points in reading from 1971 to 2008, not the one point Samuelson chose to stress. Given the focus of his column, it’s a journalistic scandal that Samuelson chose to withhold that fact.

The Washington Post should publish a retraction/clarification of Samuelson’s bald-faced disinformation. We’ll offer more on that matter tomorrow, along with a look at the score gains by 17-year-old Hispanic students. But first, let’s look at Chait’s reaction to this column—a column which should be withdrawn by the Washington Post.

Jonathan Chait is smart and experienced. He has been a fixture at the New Republic since the mid-1990s. He tends to focuses on policy matters; he favors the types of educational reforms Samuelson trashed in his piece. And yet, when Chait rose up to challenge Samuelson’s column (click here), he didn’t betray the slightest awareness that Samuelson had failed to state the most basic relevant facts. He accepted the premise of Samuelson’s piece—the notion that there has been little progress. (From 285 to 286!) Having accepted this bogus premise, Chait argued that this is no reason to dump liberal reforms. To Chait, this educational failure simply shows how badly we need such reforms! To Chait, these reforms haven’t yet been given a full chance to flower!

Can we talk? Chait doesn’t have the first idea what he’s talking about. To all appearances, he has no idea that Samuelson’s column grossly misrepresents the types of gains which have been recorded on the NAEP. Here at THE HOWLER, we can’t really tell you why 17-year-old black students have gained 29 points on the NAEP reading test. But Chait doesn’t know that this gain has occurred! As typically happens in matters like this, he doesn’t have the slightest idea what he is talking about.

Does anybody care about black kids? More precisely, do liberals care about black kids? Samuelson dissembled baldly in a profoundly misleading column—but Chait betrayed no earthly sign of knowing this had occurred. (Go ahead. Just read what he wrote.) But then, it’s just as we have told you: Liberals quit on black kids in the 1970s. Today, even the brightest, policy-centered liberals know next to nothing about these topics. Chait has lived his entire adult life inside a liberal culture which doesn’t know about black kids—and just flat-out doesn’t care.

Our liberal editors pose as Wiesenthals, heroically parading about the land, naming all the racists and bigots and inviting us to admire their own moral greatness. At the same time, they have created a black kid-hating culture—a culture in which our smartest players don’t have the first clue about the lives of these kids.

Chait tried to rebut the Samuelson piece, but he didn’t know where to begin. Does anyone care about black kids? Do you think modern liberals care?

Tomorrow: A note to the Washington Post—and the score gains recorded by 17-year-old Hispanics

Friday: Our conclusion. Could this be the year? And we ask a further question: Does Joan Walsh really care?

About those drop-out rates: Drop-out rates are notoriously hard to measure. But Samuelson understands that drop-out rates have been coming down, and that inclusion rates on the NAEP have therefore been coming up. In this passage, he mentions this fact, as he trashes Americans kids—the kids who made those tiny gains on the NAEP reading test:

SAMUELSON: Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a "good" college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out, compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.

The Washington Post should retract this column. For ourselves, we tend to avoid the NAEP data about 17-year-olds, in part because it’s hard to measure the actual rate of inclusion.