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WHO IS SEYWARD DARBY! The world is crawling with New Elites, even if Benen won’t say so: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2010

Notes from the barrel’s bottom: Before we visit the barrel’s bottom, let’s chuckle briefly at the way our “intellectual leaders” now reason. Here’s a bit of comic relief:

Jonathan Chait is peeved by the way Meet the Press keeps booking Harold Ford. There’s nothing wrong with his minor pique—but in Monday’s post, he found a slightly odd way to state his complaint:

CHAIT (10/25/10): Harold Ford was a guest on Meet the Press this weekend, marking the sixth time the former Tennessee representative has been on the show this year. That’s more appearances than anyone else (besides the pundit superteam of David Brooks and E. J. Dionne), including more than any other NBC political contributor, and more than any current officeholder.

If you read that post with care, you may realize that Ford has been the third most frequent guest on the program this year. Chait expressed this fact in a way we sometimes see in fanciful sports discussions. Shorter Chait: Ford has been the most frequent guest—if you don’t count the other guests who have appeared more often.

Steve Benen may not have read with care. Linking to Chait, he posted that same paragraph, but not before offering the highlighted comment:

BENEN (10/26/10): When it came to the 2009 calendar year, "Meet the Press" had one guest on more than any other: disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich…

How about this year? There are still more than two months left in the 2010 calendar year, but Jon Chait notes this year's MTP frontrunner.

In fact, Chait never said who the front-runner is, though Benen seemed to suggest it was Ford. That said, the real front-runner turns out to be Brooks. Here are the current numbers:

Most pundit appearances on Meet the Press, 2010 to date:
David Brooks 11
E. J. Dionne 9
Harold Ford 6
Katty Kay 5
Doris Kearns Goodwin 4
Peggy Noonan 4
Chuck Todd 4

That’s still a lot of air-time for Ford. But Benen couldn’t seem to resist the pleasure of his trademark embellishing. “Jon's not only right,” he disgustedly typed. “I'd add that no one else is especially close to Ford's six (and counting) appearances.”

Apparently, Kay’s five appearances don’t come “especially close” to six. Rubes, you’ve been run! Again!

In such ways, we liberals now pretend to reason as we feed readers the pleasure of fury. But let’s brush this comic relief to the side as we visit the barrel’s bottom.

The barrel’s bottom was published yesterday by Salon; the piece concerns Christine O’Donnell. We’ll suggest you read the piece, while planning to shower soon after.

Read the comments, in which some readers criticize the smutty hypocrisy which now seems to drive so much work at Salon. At the same time, marvel at the number of readers who weren’t struck by this gong-show-grade problem.

Comments: For years, we liberals kept insisting that we were smarter and finer than all the rest. One example, widely offered for years: We liberals can’t succeed at talk radio because we so love nuance so much!

By now, the big liberal sites have all dumbed it way down, giving the lie to this long-treasured notion. Just as Sean Hannity keeps making it plain that he thinks his viewers have low IQs, Salon lets us know what it thinks of its readers when it keeps diving down toward the sewer.

There’s nothing “wrong” with these smutty pleasures, of course. But given the obvious tabloidization found all over the liberal world, could we finally drop the pretense? Could we stop pretending we’re better and finer? Stop pretending we’re smart?

By the way, please note where this sort of thing leads. When Kid Pareene played his silly-boy race card again, commenters were soon offering comments about gays and Jews. In the comments to yesterday’s piece, readers are quickly sharing their thoughts about the likely smell of O’Donnell’s private parts. (These comments remain on-line today.) Isn’t it great when a big liberal site is run by a liberal woman? So uplifting!

One final point: When average people see work of this type, it teaches them to despise the “values” of “liberals.” This is one of the many ways pseudo-liberals practice to lose. We hope the ad revenue to Salon—and the chance to mock the much-despised Othermakes defeat worthwhile.

Special report: From the annals of elite epistemic closure!

PART 4—WHO IS SEYWARD DARBY (permalink): Is Brent Staples part of a New Elite? We wondered when we read his “Editorial Observer” piece in Monday’s New York Times.

Staples is a member of the New York Times editorial board. (To borrow Salon’s current language, he’s an “old black guy”—he’s 59—with a doctorate from the University of Chicago.) On Monday, he wrote about Governor Christie’s ongoing battles with New Jersey’s public school teachers and their infernal unions.

As usual, Staples’ piece was worth reading. That said, we thought we may have detected a hint of a New Elite as he neared his conclusion. At the start of this excerpt, the scribe is discussing “the style for which the Christie administration is well known:”

STAPLES (10/25/10): [This style] was painfully evident earlier this spring in the administration’s response to what should have been seen as wonderful news for New Jersey’s schools.

The state had just finished near the top nationally in math and reading as measured by the rigorous, federally backed test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Christie Education Department dismissed the results as “irrelevant” and described public education generally as “wretched.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Christie accused teachers of “using students like drug mules” with the intent of subverting the political views of their families. During the campaign, he referred to the state’s nationally admired preschool program as baby-sitting.

Mr. Christie raises the right subjects—merit pay, tenure, evaluation—but nearly always in an inflammatory fashion.

We’ll have to admit it. As Staples defined what “the right subjects” are, we wondered if we were reading work which may have emerged from a New Elite. Are “merit pay, tenure, evaluation” really “the right subjects” to raise in debates about public schools? Possibly, but there are many other such subjects—except when we read the work of our reigning journalistic elites, who tend to paint from a very limited palette. In New York, those elites have largely spent the last decade fawning to a billionaire “education mayor”—and to his public schools chief, a former lawyer; and to Wendy Kopp, a Princeton graduate who never worked in a school; and to Michelle Rhee, the darling of the New Elite set, who did manage to spend three years teaching in Baltimore’s schools.

In Gotham, Bloomberg, Klein, Kopp and Rhee have been the decade’s darlings. Among them, they spent three years teaching in public schools. Question: How often do members of Gotham’s journalistic elite rub shoulder with the less-exalted people who work within New York City’s schools? We have no idea. But when we see a sharply limited set of perspectives emerge again and again from these writers, we recall Charles Murray’s much-ridiculed thesis, in which our society’s “New Elite” may be somewhat limited in its experience of the real world.

In Washington, the world of the journalistic elite spins around the Washington Post, a newspaper which actually makes its money from Kaplan, Inc., a publisher of educational tests (click here). Unworried by this apparent conflict (a conflict which never gets discussed by journalistic elites), the Post pushes hard for the relatively narrow educational agenda built around standards and testing—and “merit pay, tenure, evaluation.” We strongly favor annual testing ourselves, but the Post’s monomaniacal focus is rather hard to miss (along with the way it keeps failing to spot our various testing scandals and scams). Meanwhile, Melinda Gates sits on the paper’s board, helping direct its focus to the topics favored by the Gates Foundation—an entity run by the world’s richest man.

We’re not suggesting there’s anything “wrong” with Staples’ palette of issues. We’re not suggesting there’s anything “wrong” with the Gates Foundation’s focus. But is there any chance that our journalistic elite have a somewhat limited focus when it comes to the public schools? Is it possible that some of our most famous pundits speak to Melinda Gates more often than to actual teachers? Is it possible that they hear a very limited set of ideas from within a very limited world—a world which may begin forming in college? That is precisely the type of picture Murray drew in Sunday’s Post—in a piece which was quickly ridiculed by the nation’s pseudo-liberals.

These children quickly began insisting that they aren’t part of a blinkered elite. Despite their heartfelt protests, we thought Murray’s piece raised serious questions which every progressive ought to consider. Forget about Staples for a moment; is Seyward Darby part of a New Elite? Consider what happened when we googled Darby, just yesterday.

In 2008, Darby appeared on the scene at the New Republic, often writing about public schools. We were struck by her True Belief—by the confident way she divided the educational world into the good guys (the “educational reformers”) and the bad guys (those who stood in the schoolhouse door, barring much-needed reform). In one such piece, Darby wrung her hands when President-elect Obama named one of them union-lovers to head the search for his Education Secretary. Darby knew who the good guys were. We’ll include the headlines, which focused on one union-lover:

DARBY (12/24/08): Old School/Obama's union-loving education guru

In November, Barack Obama bewildered education reformers by tapping Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor who had advised his campaign, to oversee the transition's education policy team. Their verdict was swift and harsh. "Worst case scenario," wrote Mike Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, the day after The Wall Street Journal leaked the news. "This is a sign that the president-elect isn't a bona fide reformer," he later told me. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, confirmed, "The reform community is scared to death.”

The "reform community" is an aggressive group of education advocates who argue that the certification programs which produce teachers, and the unions that represent them once they're in the classroom, have had too tight a grip on progressive priorities in the field for too long. Instead, they want to shake up the system through programs that bring in new blood and hold teachers accountable. They place their hopes in nervy, pioneering leaders like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, the chancellors of the D.C. and New York City public schools, respectively. In Darling-Hammond—an academic, union favorite, and vocal critic of Teach for America and No Child Left Behind—they see the opposite: an ideological enemy representative of a sluggish status quo.

Reformers are right to be nervous.

There’s an unkind word for such work—“simple-minded.” Darby’s subsequent work about public schools has often struck us the same way. Her technical competence has never seemed vast—and she has often seemed eager to accept a rather limited set of perspectives about the public schools. But then, these same perspectives have been pushed by journalistic elites in both Washington and New York over the past dozen years.

(NBC News used these concepts to stage an orgy last month, when a “manipulative, simplistic” film, Waiting for Superman, arrived in the nation’s theaters. The simplistic film had been assembled by a member of a Hollywood New Elite.)

In the two years since that piece appeared, we have occasionally wondered who Seyward Darby is. Yesterday, we googled. What follows is part of a bio from the Office of News and Communication at Duke, the university from which she graduated—in June 2007:

OFFICE OF NEWS AND COMMUNICATION (11/27/06): Seyward Darby is a senior and a full-time student again, after three years of devoting herself to The Chronicle, the independent student daily newspaper produced by Duke students.

[…]

As a sophomore, Darby was university editor and writing a lot. A year later, she was editor-in-chief when the lacrosse story and resulting media storm broke. “That’s when your cell phone is on 24-hours-a-day,” she recalls. In addition to heading up The Chronicle’s coverage, she was interviewed by numerous news organizations and programs, including NPR and CNN’s Larry King Live.

Now, she is “just” the editorial page managing editor, which leaves lots of time for studying the “healing power of poetry,” her thesis topic, and thinking about next steps—maybe graduate study in political science or development. Her thesis adviser is English professor George Gopen, whom she describes as a wonderful poet himself.

Darby says her ideal job would be to do international journalism as practiced by Thomas Friedman, the award-winning author and New York Times columnist. Friedman figured in her “all-time favorite week at Duke,” she says. “That was when Friedman, my favorite columnist, spoke at Duke; Pat Conroy, my favorite author, spoke at UNC; and REM, my favorite band, played at Walnut Creek in Raleigh. I love college!”

She’s headed for a Peace Corps assignment next fall, probably in Eastern Europe, and is going through the paperwork and medical preparation stages. The Peace Corps idea stems from teaching fifth graders for several weeks in Thailand last summer. Her Benjamin Duke Scholarship—an undergraduate merit award at Duke that covers full tuition—requires service abroad and in North Carolina. She previously worked in a community development center at Winston-Salem State University, a historically black institution.

Darby did go to the Czech Republic, though it doesn’t sound like she went there as part of the Peace Corps (click here). At any rate, she graduated from Duke in 2007, having spent as many as several weeks teaching fifth graders—in Thailand, of course. The next year, she was at the New Republic, confidently writing about the wonders of education reform; confidently helping us know who the good guys were; insisting that Rhee and Klein were the “progressives” in this debate; and writing pieces which came with headlines about them union-lovers.

We’re always amazed when people so young and so inexperienced write with such massive confidence.

Question: Did Darby know what she was talking about when she wrote that piece, and the many that followed? Or was it her membership in a New Elite which was doing the talking? These days, the finer youngsters start forming their views while they’re still at the finer schools—much as Murray described in his piece. One such idea is sometimes the following:

Teach for America recruits the finer children—children exactly like us. Surely, its work must be admirable! Surely, those who criticize its work are opposed to “reform.” Some may be “union favorites!”

Silly children like Steve Benen gamboled and played about Murray’s piece, offering silly, childish complaints about a string of details. But then, Benen doesn’t seem to give a fig about the lives of black kids either; his posts concern The Only True Topic, the tribal battle of Us against Them, in which Our Tribe is good and smart in all things and Their Tribe is dumb and demonic.

We’re sure that Darby is well-intentioned; we can no longer make ourselves say the same about Steve. But is our world perhaps full of New Elites, who may paint from sharply limited pallets? In our view, progressives should welcome the chance to discuss this very important question. Instead, members of those New Elites have mocked the notion all week.

That’s the way elites behave, of course. We’d have to say it’s also the way progressive interests fail.

Monday—part 5: Sharron and the Jets