BROKEN CHARIOT WHEELS OF THE GODS! Teachers knew that something was wrong. Great gods like Joel Klein didnt: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2010
An unfair fight: We dont agree with Kevin Drum this time. But we strongly recommend this post, in which he ponders an obvious problem: Conservatives have a strong, branded message, he says. Progressives and liberals just dont.
(Kevins rumination is drawn Sara Robinsons New Republic piece, Building the Progressive Brand. To read her piece, click this.)
According to Kevin, our brand is never going to be as strong as theirs; its in the nature of liberalism. We strongly disagree with that view. But we were struck by the way Kevins commenters floundered about, looking for simple ways to explain the progressive mission.
For ourselves, we think its very easy: The people, not the powerful! You have to explain where things go from there, of course. But thats the essence of the progressive challengeand its easy to state in a bumper sticker, despite the ballyhooed complexity of our wondrous liberal minds.
Without being checked, the powerful will eat you alive! Doesnt everyone pretty much know that? But go aheadread the comments, as Kevins readers flounder and flail, trying to explain the nature of the progressive mission.
Kevin is certainly right on one score. Everyone can explain the conservative mission. Why is it so hard to explain ours? We think thats fairly easy too. Lets talk about liberal leadership:
Uh-oh! Sadly, the vast bulk of our liberal leaders come from the same high classes as the conservative elite. They earn big money; they eat in good restaurants. They gained from Bushs tax cuts.
They may prefer that liberal policies win, but they dont have huge incentives to fight. By way of contrast, the people who fuel the conservative world stand to gain millionssometimes, billionswhen conservative policies prevail. They fight very hard, and theyve messaged for decades, often dishonestly. They have a great deal at stake.
Why are your leaders so feckless, so slow to anger? Why have they failed to produce real messaging? Why have they generally failed to fight back against decades of disinformation and propaganda?
Isnt it fairly obvious? They too live on high plateaus. When the other side wages its war on Social Security (let us say), they themselves have almost nothing at stake. In their lazy reactions, this shows.
Last week, in a bit of comical timing, a liberal began to fight back against a decades-long disinformation campaign (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/7/10). Question: Why havent liberal leaders fought back before this?
Liberals, please! Isnt it blindingly obvious?
The soul of a liberal leader: We dont think much of Lawrence ODonnell, but hes a classic liberal leader. Hes from Hollywood; he has a movie star wife. When his liberal TV show started last month, his first big get was Levi Johnston. Last night, acting like a child who pulls wings off flies, he interviewed Alvin Greene. ODonnell is a classic embarrassment:
Their side has messaged hard for decades. Your side has Lawrence ODonnell, who recites the other sides talking points regarding Social Security (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/10) and engages in this kind of conduct.
Gaze on the soul of your liberal leadership. How hard is this pattern to grasp?
INTERLUDEBROKEN CHARIOT WHEELS OF THE GODS (permalink): We the people are easily scripted, even about important matters. Consider an early comment to Ross Douthats pitiful column about public school reform.
Douthats know-nothing column appeared in yesterdays New York Times.
Douthat is a callow lad, and he doesnt know squat about public schools. He opened his piece with a tangy critique. Davis Guggenheims new film, Waiting for Superman, is manipulative, simplistic, he said.
Then, Douthat offered a manipulative, simplistic account of what this must-see film is about. Privileged childrenand the godswill often behave in this manner:
Its easy for the callow young children of Harvard to trash a nation of teachers that way. In this case, Douthat seems eager to show us that he too has become one of the godsone of the unfeeling children of Zeus, who toss their thunderbolts from the skies even when they have no idea what they are talking about.
Douthats column is utterly clueless, profoundly inane. (For a soul-draining excerpt, see below.) Its sad to see the work of such children, even as they ask why younger children cant read, write or reason real well.
To all appearances, Douthat doesnt know his asp from his A-Rod when it comes to the public schools. But lord god of hosts, how easy it is for the gods to script us, the people! In this, the sixth comment to Douthats column, a Minnesotan offers a fond recollection of a brighter day:
For unknown reasons, this reader thinks there was a day when American education was cooking, and we had the best system in the world. He even thinks he knows the secret of that lost success. Back in this age, public schools were adequately funded, and all Americans perceived the need to have all our children educated.
We dont have the slightest idea what era this reader describes. Is he recalling the golden age when Jonathan Kozols fourth graders were whipped in the basement of their Boston schoolwhipped at times for no greater offence than for failing to show respect to the very same teachers who have been describing them as niggers? Does this reader know how much higher black kids are scoring today, as opposed to that golden age, when everyone perceived the need to have all our children educated?
In his own state, test scores for black kids are much improved over the past dozen years on the NAEP, our most reliable testing program. Do you think Douthats reader knows that?
We have no idea what this reader could mean. But he nicely echoes the propaganda which rained down from the corporate hacks at NBC News in recent weeks. Forty years ago, American students were first, Rehema Ellis vaguely and stupidly claimed, speaking on the September 26 NBC Nightly News. Two weeks later, Mr. Tom was reciting the same perfect pap, having read an insultingly simplistic column written by a manipulative child who seems to have no earthly idea what hes talking about.
So it goes as Americas gods set out to reorder the schools.
Its always stunning to see how far the Douthats will goboldly proclaiming on serious topics about which they seem to know nothing. But then, this problem afflicts finer people than Douthat; it also drives big, powerful players at the very top of our world. When we see such cavalier conduct, we must ask: Are these life-forms real human beings, or are we dealing here with the gods? Have they arrived on spaceshipson chariots from Mars? Do they just toy with our planet?
This brings us to Jennifer Medinas lengthy, brutal news report on the front page of yesterdays Times.
Forget Douthat and his clueless reader. Medina wrote a long, embarrassing piece about a pair of truly powerful players: Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, long-time lords of the New York City schools. Her piece concerns the recent admission by the state of New York that statewide testing has been a fraudthat the program has generated inflated test scores for an undisclosed number of years. The Douthats will trash the teachers well, skillfully kicking down at their lessers. But in these, her opening paragraphs, Medina starts to describe the malfeasance of gods like Bloomberg and Klein, who kept boasting about rising test scores long after they should have known that something was wrong with the program:
In our view, Medina is much too kind in her treatment of the billionaire mayor and his inexperienced hireling. But as Medina reports, red flags had been waving for years about apparent problems with New Yorks statewide testing. And as you will see if you read Medina: It was often teachers, and former teachers, who had the smarts to see that something seemed to be wrong.
Journalistic godspeople like Douthatwere, as usual, clueless
Who waved the red flags to which Medina refers? Complaints came from peons like Betty Rosa, in 2009. Bloomberg and Klein still didnt knowor were still choosing not to say:
A former teacherfrom the Bronx!understood the facts and the ethics. By way of contrast, Bloomberg, the billionaire lord god of mayors, just kept tooting the horn of the spaceship on which hed descended to earth.
That passage records events from 2009, but some teachers had sounded the warning years earlier. Way back in 2005, teachers and principals were telling reporters that the statewide tests had gotten easierthat this might explain the jump in New York Citys test scores. (For one of our own reports on this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/05. Note the year2005!) But the mayor and his chancellor just kept praising their own vast greatness, even as Douthats worthless teachers correctly saw what was wrong. And sure enough! Gail Collins, head of the Times editorial board, was utterly clueless about these eventsand condescending to those who were right! Earlier that year, the high lady had published an editorial. She lavished praised on her godly mayor and rolled her eyes at the worthless proles, who of course were right:
Clueless againand condescending toward those who did understand. The high lady rolled her eyes at the skeptics (including those teachers). She heaped praise on her sovereign liegeher billionaire mayor, who was wrong.
Here at THE HOWLER, we taught in Baltimores schools for about a dozen years. Based in part on that experience, we will only tell you this: For many people, its hard to grasp how utterly clueless our rulers are when it comes to the public schools. This includes our billionaire mayors and our empty-brained upper-end journalists; it even includes our educational experts, who endlessly play the Potemkin role as scams unfold all around. Let us say it again: For most people, its hard to grasp how clueless they are, given the high positions from which they toss their bolts. Young Douthat doesnt know reform from his own rear end, as you can see from the excerpt below. But then again, neither did the high lady Collins. Neither did the clueless mayor or his tough-talking chancellor. (Unless Bloomberg and Klein were simply dissemblinglying.)
Some teachers knew what was going on; we were talking about it here. But having descended from flaming chariots, the gods plowed dumbly forward.
This morning, Douthat pimps an educational expert, making a truly clownish prescription for the public schools (see below). So it goes when puzzling life forms seize control of the public discussion. That said:
Yesterday, we asked an obvious question: Is Matt Miller right off the (space)ship? Would a human reason the way he did, discussing the schools in Sundays Post? Tomorrow, well return to Millers piece. But today, we deferred to two larger gods. Their glittering names are Bloomberg and Klein. Question: Are they truly human?
Go ahead! Read Medinas piece, complete with many embarrassing quotations from this billionaire mayor. You will see an unfortunate fact: Our leaders are often utterly cluelessbut theyre prepared to proceed.
In our view, Medina was much too kind to Bloomberg and Klein. (More on her report in the future.) But good lord, how lovely the timing was! One day before Medinas report, the clueless Klein loaned his name to a fiery manifesto; it accompanied Millers piece in Sundays Washington Post. In his manifesto, Klein demanded more from our teachers. Lady Rhee was co-author, of course.
(Between the two of them, Klein and Rhee have spent all of three years teaching in the public schools. Wendy Kopp, another great god, never spent a day in the schools.)
Tomorrow, well return to Miller, asking if he just got off the ship. Your rulers love to declaim about schools. But when they reason as Miller did, an obvious question comes to mind:
They arrive in flaming ships. But are these life-forms human?
You really cant get weirder: You cant get weirderor dumberthan Douthat got in yesterdays clueless column. Our Harvard boy was very impressed with something he had read in a journal. Our question: How does a youngster even get into college when hes willing to reason like this? Full speed ahead with reform, our boy saideven though these reforms dont work
No reallythats what he wrote! According to Douthat, the various reforms he comes to praise produce a wide range of benefits; they just dont consistently raise academic performance! For every school where scores go up, theres one where scores are worse!
On balance, children cant read or do math betterbut that doesnt mean that reform has failed! Money is saved along the way! Parents express satisfaction!
(Douthat showed no sign of knowing that test scores are substantially improved, among all major groups, in the past dozen years on the NAEP. But then, he seems to know nothing about public schools expect what he stumbled upon in this study.)
According to Douthat, his preferred reforms dont exactly improve reading and mathbut we should pursue them, very hard, all the same! Yes, thats what this youngster wrote.
Question: Is such writing human?