BEEN THERE! Because we’ve Been There, we can offer a few real-world suggestions: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2010
Perchance to joke: John McCains recent demurral got so much play that even a high lady heard about it! This morning, Lady Collins muses about a great saints recent flip:
Collins can recall the 2008 campaign, and a book which appeared in 2002. In fact, McCain was first fluffed as a maverick in the New York Times as early as 1996. And this designation lay at the heart of his 2000 White House campaign, as the New York Times Alison Mitchell noted in December 1999:
That straight talk blarney was foolish, even then. (The press corps swallowed it whole, then begged for more.) But in those days, McCain really was a political maverick, and the press corps relentlessly pimped his vast greatness. That said, a tiny question entered our heads, when we saw that his recent demurral has grown so big that even Collins is writing about it. To wit:
Is it possible that McCain was joking, speaking tongue-in-cheek, when he made that statement to Newsweek? In fairness, wed have to say yes.
McCain has been anything but a straight-talker in recent years. But then too, he has always spoken in tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink fashion to legions of fawning reporters. And we think you know how that sorry breed works: When they love you, as they loved Saint McCain, they dote on every whimsical nuance, using your wit to help the public understand your eternal greatness. But when they abandon youand theyve largely dumped McCainthey will often play their small tricks. And one of their tricks is famous: If they no longer like you, they love to report your joking remarks as if they were offered straight.
Was McCain joking? We have no idea. Youd really have to look at the tapeand no tape has been supplied.
That said, we were struck by Digbys recent post about the pimping of Saint Petraeus as a possible White House contender. In this case, Petraeus is being pimped Over There, in the pages of the Telegraph. But in that UK paper, Toby Hamden was praying that Saint Petraeus might run against Fallen Obama. (Speculation about Petraeus in 2012' persists.) We were struck by the way Hamdens piece faithfully recycled the standard dime novel which drove Campaign 2000:
Hamden begs Saint Petraeus to challenge the fallen Obama. (Presumably, this isnt Petraeus doing.) But Hamdens novel is drawn, almost word-for-word, from the novel the press corps endlessly churned in 1998 and 1999, cheering Saints Bradley/McCain against Fallen Clinton and Gore.
According to Hamden, Americans are disgusted with their politicians, including Obama. They long for someone with authenticity, integritysomeone who hasnt spent his whole life chasing political success. This is precisely the silly dime novel which began to appear in 1998, as the press corps scrounged for ways to get rid of Clinton and Gore. Below, check the late Jack Newfield, a certified Bradley hack, in the New York Post, urging Bradley to run against Gore. Every key part of Hamdens piece exists in this earlier novel:
Then as now: In a moment of disgust with sleaze, Bradley was full of integrity, authenticity. He hadnt spent his whole life chasing the golden ring, as Clinton and Gore had done.
For the record, that last claim was just absolute nonsense. Few politicians have ever sought office more aggressively, from an earlier age, than Bill Bradley did. (There was nothing wrong with that.) But Newfield composed a pleasing noveland one year later, in Newsweek, Howard Fineman, a virtual Bradley employee, basically rewrote Newfields work, tossing McCain in as well:
Synopsis: Bradley and McCain are selling this year's hottest commodity: the aura of authenticity that comes from a life that starts outside politics.
Again, a great deal of that is utter bunk, but the novel remained the same. The public was sick of Bill Clintons sleaze. Luckily, Bradley and McCain were full of authenticity, candor. They hadnt lived their whole lives to win this race. They didnt need to win to be complete, the way Vile Gore/Bush did.
(Once Bush beat McCain, this novel was updated. Now, it was Bush who didnt need to win to be complete, although Vile Gore still did. By the way: Pundits often compared Bush to Eisenhower, in favorable ways. This comparison resurfaces in Hamdens retyped novel.)
At any rate, thats the way the press corps dime novels sold Saint Bradley/McCain as opposed to Vile Clinton/Gore. Today, Hamden types the same novel about Petraeus/Obama. Once again, a basic proposition: A great deal of our political journalism is a set of silly, inane romance novels.
Back to McCains ballyhooed demurral: They loved McCain in those days. They loved his playful, tongue-in-cheek, winking comments. Did a former saint wink at Newsweek last week?
Knowing these scribes as we do, we make the odds 30 percent.
PART 4HAVING BEEN THERE (permalink): At the end of last Fridays op-ed column, Diane Ravitch sketched her vision of where we should take things from here. As a full-fledged educational expert, she continued to write in the style perfected by Chance the Gardner (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/6/10):
Lets see if we have this straight. According to Ravitch, we must improve the schools where performance is poor. We should look for long-term solutions.
If were reading her correctly, we shouldnt waste the next several years.
In fairness, we tend to agree with one suggestion, though its hopelessly vaguewe shouldnt build accountability efforts around punishment. On the other hand, if someone could propose a quick fix for our schools, we would be inclined to take it. If not, wed be wasting years.
Does Ravitch know what shes talking about? Weve wasted the last eight years, she saysbut the NAEP data to which she provided a link suggests that American kids have made great strides in math over that period. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/10. Fourth-graders also seem to have advanced in reading.) At the fourth-grade level, black kids gained nineteen points in math on the NAEP from 2000 to 2009; in eighth grade, black kids gained seventeen points. Given the rough rule of thumb which is often applied to scores on this test, those seem to be significant gains. Someday, some major newspaper will get off its *ss and ask real experts to comment.
When it comes to those frequently-cited NAEP data, we will keep begging for actual journalism. But given those apparent gains, does it really seem that recent years have been wasted? What would make an educational expert make such a claim? Were not sure, but as weve long noted, our educational experts rarely seem to know their keisters from the key-holes at their foundations, universities, think-tanks. As a final illustration of this problem, lets review something Ravitch said right in her opening paragraph.
In this passage, Ravitch describes the days when she herself was a leading player in the accountability movement:
Gee! No one could have foreseen the potential problems involved in the drive to mandate super-high-stakes testing! More specifically:
No one could have foreseen the possibility that teachers and principals might start to cheat as increasing pressure was placed on these tests. (Note: Were speaking here about state-run proficiency tests, not about the NAEP, which has never been used for accountability purposesat least, not until recently.) No one could have foreseen the sheer nonsense involved when fifty different sets of tests all claimed to measure proficiency, in the absence of any requirement that states define how proficient a child had to be to pass its math/reading tests. And no one could have imagined that states would start to dumb down their testswould make their tests easier over time, thereby creating artificial gains in proficiency rates. No one could have foreseen such problemsat least, no educational expert, pronouncing loftily from some Washington (or Manhattan) aerie.
(Again: No one has ever suggested that the NAEP, a federal program, has ever been dumbed down.)
In fact, anyone with an ounce of sense could have seen the potential problems involved in the drive to put more pressure on testingor perhaps we should say, anyone who had actually Been There, anyone who had spent real time inside the nations schools. For ourselves, we started teaching in Baltimore in the fall of 1969; by 1971, we were aware of the outright cheating going on in certain schools as part of Baltimores testing program. (Duh. We wrote columns in the Baltimore Sun about these problems before the decade was done.) But educational experts often drifted through life. In Ravitchs case, she threw off one set of prescriptions, failing to foresee the false claims of progress. Now, she does a near-180, throwing off a new set of suggestions derived from the film, Being There.
She tells us the last eight years have been wasted. But has she looked at those NAEP test scores? What do those score gains mean?
Ravitch says the last decade was wastedthe decade her own advice helped create. We would suggest that the very NAEP scores to which she linked suggest a less gloomy picture. That said, we ourselves would be embarrassed to throw off the vague new prescriptions Ravitch advances. We need better teachers, she says. They should teach history! And science!
Inspection teams should go into low-scoring schools! They should come up with plans!
Until experts explain those rising NAEP scores, we would suggest that something seems to be working inside our schools. Beyond that, because weve actually Been There, we would offer two specific suggestions about where we should go from here:
With regard to testing: We will continue to test each year; we cant imagine doing otherwise. But: If were going to build accountability pressures around these annual tests, we have to create security measures to make sure that teachers and principals dont cheat. (For the record, were speaking here about flat-out cheating. We dont mean teaching to the test.) We favor annual testing ourselves. But teachers, principals, and entire school systems began to cheat on their annual tests long ago. Only a full-fledged educational expert could start to notice this now.
With regard to instruction: On last nights NewsHour, New Orleans superintendent Paul Vallas described the challenges his school system faces (click here). The segment was hosted by John Merrow, who has been doing excellent work about public schools on the NewsHour:
Moments later, Merrow played tape of this schools principal, who seemed to be in a bit of denial. She said the school is trying to help students develop a mind-set of...wanting to learn, even though they may be three and four grades below or behind their age level. Are these kids eight to ten years behind, or just three or four? In either case, kids like this need, and deserve, special attention from their very first years in school.
Based on what we saw when we Were There, this is what wed like to see: Wed like to see grade school kids who are several years behind get the chance to be immersed in the world of reading. When theyre taught history, wed like to see them handed readable text booksbut wed also like to see them get the chance to read tons of readable biographies, and lots of readable historical novels, and specialized books about specialized historical topics. Wed like to see them swimming in maps. Every time they take a book from a crowded shelf, wed like to see ten more fall on their heads.
Trust us: Grade school kids who are years behind will immerse themselves in reading, if theyre given the chance. They will sit on little chairs and gravely, politely read to each other, as their middle-class peers did many years before. But the society has to develop reading materials which are appropriate for these delightful, deserving children. Wed like to see these children in classrooms which swim with reading materials like that.
If we could wave a magic wand and make that situation exist, how would that affect future reading scores? We have no idea. But: Having Been There, we can at least make this fairly specific suggestion. By way of contrast, Ravitchs suggestions read like out-take from the film, Being There.
Inspection teams should come up with plans! How does this crap get in print?
We think that column was quite instructive. For our money, it typifies the groaning discussion of public schools in this country. And by the way, where are the liberals? Tomorrow, our musing ends.
Tomorrow: Our tribe quit long ago.