THREATENING CARROLL (PART 1)! When threats and demands dont work, what then? Education elites have no answer: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2006
HOW HAVE BIG DEMS GOTTEN SAVAGED (PART 2): As Jonathan Chait points out in his L. A. Times column, Major Dems have been savaged on character issues for the past fifteen years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/06). But people like Chait often seem determined to obscure the way this has actually happened. Members of his high elite class never seem to lay it out clearly. For one prime example, see this classic phony column by the once-brilliant liberal, Michael Kinsley.
At THE HOWLER, we groaned when we read Kinsleys piece. But uh-oh! Three big liberal bloggers—Marshall, Digby, Alterman—approvingly linked to the column! (Alterman even used the word genius.) We think this illustrates a basic point: Often, we liberals seem completely unable to state the basics of our own recent history. Or perhaps we prefer to play kiss-kiss smooch-smooch with a powerful player like Mike.
What was so fake about Kinsleys column? Correctly, Kinsley says that folks have long trashed Dems with familiar and dim-witted formulas. But uh-oh! As he starts his piece, he fails to name the actual people at fault:
KINSLEY (1/29/06): It seems to be time once again to play Kick the Democrats. Everyone can play, including Democrats. The rules are simple. When Republicans lose elections, it is because they didn't get enough votes. When Democrats lose elections, it is because they have lost their principles and lost their way. Or they have kept their principles, which is an even worse mistake.In this passage, Kinsley correctly mocks the formulas used to ridicule Major Democrats. But just who is repeating the formulas which help turn Democrats into a joke? In paragraph 4, we get a name—George Will. Vile Will has been doing the deed, Kinsley says. Moments later, he names a few groups:
KINSLEY: I've been impressed all over again the past couple weeks with the Republicans' skill at political stone soup—making something out of nothing. In this case it's a remark by Hillary Clinton comparing Congress to a plantation. Near as I can tell, the alleged objection to "plantation" is—by analogy to the Holocaust—that any metaphorical use of the word is an insult to the real slaves and their descendants. This particular stone soup would be overheated even if the ingredients were fresh and sincere. But the fuss is obviously cynical, coming as it does from people (talk-radio jockeys, the editors of the Wall Street Journalyou know the type) who usually stalk the microphones in order to denounce excessive sensitivity and its smothering effect on political debate.Ah yes—Hillarys Clintons plantation remark, which produced so much phony outrage! Did Clintons remark produce a fuss which was obviously cynical? You can bet your sweet bippy it did! But according to Kinsley, it was talk-radio jockeys and the editors of the Wall Street Journal who were pimping the phony outrage, at the direction of the Republicans. In short, Kinsley drags out the usual suspects—and omits his millionaire colleagues and friends, the people who actually changed the world for Dems in the past fifteen years.
Name a couple of famous conservatives—and fail to name the most potent players! This is itself a familiar formula—one which members of Kinsleys high class keep dragging out, year after year.
Was the world awash in phony outrage in the wake of Clintons remark? Yes! But it wasnt the conservative Journal ed board which gave this fake outrage its greatest exposure. It was—who else?—mainstream kingpin Tim Russert, who worried about the remark, at length, on the January 22 Meet the Press—even quoting Laura Bush (a Republican), who had called Clintons comment ridiculous. And it was—who else?—cable loudmouth Chris Matthews, who flogged the remark at endless length on January 17, 18 and 20. (Matthews has a jones about Clinton that simply wont let his soul go.) And yes, this was the same Meet the Press where Russert worried, long and hard, about remarks by Harry Belafonte, a man who plays no role in our discourse—except when hes used to stage formulaic attacks against those feckless Dems.
Kinsley complained about formulaic attacks—but his column itself was a piece of Pure Formula! Tomorrow, well show you how foolish it was to name Will but not Russert—unless youre part of a millionaire, faux-liberal class which wants to fake some outrage yourself. Predictably, Kinsley names one group of players—but fails to name his own colleagues and friends (and employers). His class has recycled this script for years—and we libs are so dumb we applaud him.
DUMB AND SEEMINGLY DUMBERER: Its sad to watch the Post and the Times try to explain the basic facts of the Cheney pal-hunting incident. Heres a minor but comical blunder: When did unharmed pal Katharine Armstrong finally call the Corpus Christi Caller-Times? According to Jim VandeHei in todays Post, Armstrong contacted the Corpus Christi Caller-Times around 9 a.m. Central time on Sunday. But uh-oh! On the very same page, two inches away, a time-line contradicts that statement. Armstrong call[ed] the newsroom at 10 a.m., it says—and it says that she got no answer. She finally connect[ed] between noon and 1, the Post time-line plainly says. It says this about two inches away from VandeHeis contradictory statement.
A second question is potentially serious: When was Cheney interviewed by the sheriffs office? According to VandeHei, it happened on Sunday:
VANDEHEI (2/14/06): Local law enforcement officials did not interview Cheney until Sunday morning, about 14 hours after the shooting, in an agreement worked out between the Secret Service and Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III. Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said at least one deputy was turned away shortly after the shooting because security personnel at the ranch were not aware of the agreement between the sheriff and the Secret Service.Huh! A deputy sheriff was turned away shortly after the shooting. But uh-oh! If you read todays New York Times, you seem to get a different story. In Ann Kornbluts report, it sounds like Cheney was interviewed on Saturday, the actual day of the shooting:
KORNBLUT (2/14/06): The local sheriff, Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County, said the Secret Service called him shortly after the shooting occurred.Youre right! Kornbluts piece doesnt actually say that the interview took place on Saturday. But youd surely think thats what it said. Indeed, reading this mornings Post and Times made us think of our favorite bromide, Goldbergs Law. Here it is: The main with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches is never sure.
Finally, we were surprised by this mornings Post editorial. According to the Posts current reporting, Cheney failed to report this incident to the public on Saturday—and he refused to be interviewed by the sheriff. These are two sides of the same coin, but to us, the dissing of the sheriff is potentially more serious. Could Cheney have been all likkered up when he blasted away at his pal? There is no way to find out—the next day. In our view, Cheneys failure to speak to the sheriff in timely fashion was more serious than his failure to speak to the press. But there was the Post editorial, huffing and puffing about the latter. Meanwhile, just drink in the sheer absurdity of that passage in paragraph 2:
POST EDITORIAL (2/14/06): How is it the vice president of the United States can shoot and wound someone and the American public doesn't learn of it until 18 hours later—and then only because the owner of the location where the event occurred decided the next day to tell a local reporter? The White House has no satisfactory answer; neither does the vice president's office....By every standard and by all accounts, the failure to promptly disclose the accident was wrong.Perfect, isnt it? In todays paper, The Post reports that Cheney dissed the sheriff on Saturday. So the Post editorial quotes the Times to suggest that nothing was wrong!
Is Cheney a fellow who cant shoot straight? Perhaps a person can understand why the Post and the Times seem to sympathize.
PART 1—THE THREATS HAVENT WORKED: Eric Wood, 32 years old, sounds like our kind of principal. This is his first year at Charles Carroll Middle School in Prince Georges County, Maryland, a majority-black jurisdiction across the border from Washington, D.C. Carroll Middle School has had low test scores for years—and a history of general disorder. According to Post reporter Nick Anderson, Wood—the young principal—has goodwill from teachers and parents who want him to succeed. They remember how their school was last year, before he took over:
ANDERSON (2/12/06): Last school year, teacher Ricardo Navas recalled, "you'd have stampedes, running in the hallway, fights breaking out. Sometimes there'd be waves of stampedes."At the very least—the very least—children deserve a school in which there is order, in which they can see that they matter enough for their teachers and principal to provide it. According to Anderson, Wood has turned that problem around. Indeed, in his recent profile of Charles Carroll School, Anderson ran through a list of improvements Wood showed up with this year:
ANDERSON: He has restored hallway order in a school with a history of disciplinary trouble. He believes students should walk to the right, preferably with shirts tucked in. When he arrived at the New Carrollton campus last summer, Wood literally dispelled gloom. He put fluorescent bulbs in corridors where some light fixtures were empty.No, changing the name of a school wont transform it. Neither will those green and white uniforms (although they might help), nor will a couple of light bulbs. But children deserve to be free from stampedes—and they deserve to see signs that they actually matter. Why that new name? "It's a renewal of the mind and a perception of what you think about Charles Carroll," Wood told the Post. "It's like a covenant. I put it out there. So now you have to back it up.
Of course, order isnt a schools major goal; the ultimate goal is student achievement. And presumably, Wood has his hands full there. According to Anderson, Carroll Middle School has been on Marylands list of schools which need improvement for the past two years, and was under watch by the state for six years before that. Just consider reading, for example. Last year, the school failed to meet standards on the state reading test among its black, Hispanic, low-income, limited-English and disabled students. How can Carroll improve achievement? In his profile, Anderson describes a few measures which obviously wont be enough:
ANDERSON: With time short before next month's crucial state achievement tests, the school is cramming in reading and math. Daily loudspeaker announcements segue to funk riffs from a song called "Word Up!" and then to a review of prefixes, suffixes and other vocabulary builders.Most likely, your attention would be elsewhere too. In terms of academics, its hard to say what will help Carrolls kids—but its easy to say that this wont enough. Well assume that Wood understands this.
But Wood is under special pressure because of this schools recent history. As noted, Carroll is on the Maryland needs improvement list because of years of low achievement. And this brings up a basic question—how should a state follow through on its threats against such schools? What should the state of Maryland do if Carroll continues to need improvement? Right at the start of his profile, Anderson sums the problem up nicely:
ANDERSON: It has been eight years since Maryland told the Prince George's County school to shape up, or else. It has been four years since the federal government raised the pressure with a law meant to force shake-ups through aid and sanctions.Maryland faces a question posed by the No Child Left Behind law, Anderson writes. What happens when a school reaches the end of the line? In the case of Carroll Middle School, those threats from the state just havent worked. Eventually, the state will have to act. But what exactly should the state do when it sees that its threats have proved fruitless?
Anderson raises a critical question. Indeed, this question shines a bright, cold light on the basic shortcoming of the whole standards movement. When higher standards—and threats and demands—dont work, what exactly do we do then? In truth, education elites have no serious answer—as Andersons report makes quite clear.
TOMORROW: Making threats and demands.
MARCUS IN KENYA: Ruth Marcus discusses The Boys of Baraka in a Post op-ed column, School Lessons from Kenya. What lessons did Marcus draw from the film? Well briefly discuss that tomorrow.