Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Stupidity has been a pseudo-con value. But lately, it has spread to the left
Daily Howler logo
FROG-MARCHING KARL! Stupidity has been a pseudo-con value. But lately, it has spread to the left: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 11, 2005

SO WRONG THAT YOU JUST HAVE TO READ IT: This morning, the New York Times prints an op-ed piece that’s so wrong that you just have to read it. For the past five years, Michael Petrilli was an official in the Bush Department of Ed. Some suburban school districts are now rebelling against certain provisions of No Child Left Behind—and Petrilli doesn’t like it. He argues that NCLB forces suburban districts to help their minority kids:
PETRILLI (7/11/05): Because suburban schools are the most likely to post high average test scores that mask large gulfs between students of different races or classes, the law's central premise—that schools be held accountable for the success of all students, be they white, black, Hispanic, low-income or with special needs—should have the greatest impact in them. The law made those achievement gaps transparent and put pressure on every school to focus on the children most in need, even if they represented a small part of the student population.
NCLB requires suburban districts to post separate scores for minority kids; these scores may be far below those of white students. But how does this lead to improved instruction? Petrilli has a glib, easy answer. NCLB shames lazy teachers. It makes them help their minority kids:
PETRILLI: [O]ne-third of African-American children and almost half of Hispanic children reside in suburbs, according to the 2000 census. These students, though learning more than their inner-city counterparts, are still performing much worse than their white and Asian peers.

No Child Left Behind was perfectly suited for the situation. Its primary mechanisms are sunshine and shame: gathering statistics and alerting the community when a school is not doing right by all of its students.

How does NCLB help suburban minority students? It “shames” school districts, Petrilli declares, when they aren’t “doing right by” minority students. But how does this lead to improved instruction? The utterly gullible city slicker provides a pleasing example:
PETRILLI: Look at Montgomery County in Maryland, just outside Washington. It has a rapidly growing population of low-income, minority and immigrant students. Diversity is increasingly the norm. Unfortunately, so is a yawning achievement gap, as was made transparent in the first year under No Child Left Behind, when one in five elementary schools in Montgomery County failed to make ''adequate yearly progress.''

So the district intensified programs in which extra money was given to schools with at-risk students; struggling children were given additional help; good teachers were lured to the areas where they were needed most. The result? This year reading scores were up 7.8 percentage points for African-American fourth-graders and 10.7 percentage points for Hispanics.

Sell that man a magic trombone! Petrilli sees minority test score rise—and he simply accepts the explanation he’s handed by the school district, that the jump in test scores was created by all that “additional help” and by all those new “good teachers.” Despite forty years of painful precedent, the notion that Montgomery may have cheated never enters this mark’s empty head.

As we noted last week, we’ve seen this silly (and ugly) transaction enacted since the early 70s (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/8/05). At that time, a well-known columnist in the Baltimore Sun regularly tried to “shame” those lazy, uncaring teachers, just as Terilli wants NCLB to do. It was all their fault, he persistently wrote. In 1971, for example, he wrote this: "When the school staff 'digs in,' the result shows up on the test scores; and when they don't, it also shows up." But alas! Some of the schools he praised for “digging in” were blatantly, baldly, deliberately cheating. Year after year, these teachers were praised for their blatant misconduct, and other teachers—those who weren’t cheating—were told they were lazy, inept, uncaring. Predictably enough, the cheating eventually spread through the system, driven on by the public “shaming”—and by the relative ease with which school staffs can make shaming end.

Yes, it’s easy to dish out the “shame” when you’ve never set foot in an urban (or suburban) classroom. Today, the high-and-mighty Parson Petrilli dishes the shame from a cushy job at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. In all probability, he doesn’t have the slightest idea what went on in those Montgomery schools. But then, typing from his leafy enclosure, he’ll never much have to find out.

This has gone on for the past thirty-five years. And everyone gains—except, perhaps, for the students involved here. Petrilli gains a nice salary and an easy job—and a spot on the Times op-ed page. But did the kids in Montgomery gain? Safe bet: Petrilli can’t say.

AREN’T THEY WONDERFUL? Aren’t they wonderful? God, they’re great! Who but the high, lofty folk at Thomas B. Fordham ever held such lofty views? We quote from their inspiring mission statement:

THOMAS B. FORDHAM FOUNDATION: The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation believes that all children deserve a high quality K-12 education...
Aren’t they great? My God, they’re fine! Who else but the Fordham people ever held such lofty ideals? One problem—the high-and-mighties don’t explain how you achieve that “high quality education.” Readers, we’ve been in those urban schools. We’ll guess these prim parsons have not.

EXTRA CREDIT: For those who want some extra credit, here’s a July 1 New York Times report about a Brooklyn high school principal who found a way to escape all the shame. According to the Times’ David Herszenhorn, “The finding is the latest blow to the state's Regents testing system, which has been plagued by cheating and other problems.” But readers, sshhh! Let’s keep this one quiet! Let’s agree not to tell the lofty folk at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Special report—A virus spreads!

FROG-MARCHING KARL: For roughly the past twenty years, sheer stupidity has been the hallmark of talk show pseudo-conservatism. But the recent battles about Karl Rove have made it clear that the virus is spreading. Indeed, it’s sad to see so many liberals adopting this pseudo-conservative approach to the news. For one example, consider this embarrassing letter in this morning’s Post:

It is obvious that columnist Robert D. Novak knows the names of his two sources referred to in his column "outing" the identity of a CIA covert operative [op-ed, July 14, 2003].

Mr. Novak reportedly testified before a grand jury. There are but two possible results:

One, he revealed the names of his two sources, who should then be investigated and possibly prosecuted for violating U.S. law.

Or, two, he refused to identify his two sources, in which case he should be held in contempt of court and sent to jail until he gives up their names.

Yet it has been New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time correspondent Matthew Cooper who faced imprisonment—and Ms. Miller is now behind bars—while Mr. Novak, who probably has the information sought by the U.S. prosecutor, has faced no such threat.

M— H—

The writer starts by noting the obvious—Novak may have named his sources to the grand jury. But two paragraphs later, he bristles with rage because Judith Miller, who didn’t cooperate, is in jail and Novak isn’t. No, the letter doesn’t make sense. But so what? The outraged writer typed it up—and the Post, for some reason, chose to print it.

But then, the pseudo-con virus—sheer stupidty—is clearly infecting the left. Consider reaction to this week’s Newsweek piece about Rove’s contact with Matt Cooper. Michael Isikoff reports the text of a contemporaneous e-mail in which Cooper described his conversation with Rove. But does the e-mail show that Rove committed a crime? Such talk is widespread on the net. But here’s the key sentence in Isikoff’s report—a sentence which puts that conclusion in doubt:

ISIKOFF (7/18/05): Nothing in the Cooper e-mail suggests that Rove used Plame's name or knew she was a covert operative.
Did Rove know that Plame was “covert?” According to conventional understanding of the legal case, a leaker would have to know this fact to be guilty of criminal conduct. And the Newsweek report explicitly says that Rove may not have known. But so what? All over the web, triumphalist typists tell the world that we how have Rove dead to rights. And tortured reasoning is all around. See, for example, this illogical post, approvingly linked to by Atrios. Or see Josh Marshall’s “careful review,” which shows that Rove “almost certainly” knew. The review may be careful, but it doesn’t show much. For “careful,” we’d substitute “tortured.”

Did King Karl know that Plame was covert? Let’s note one key point for the record: Under terms of the most relevant statute, it isn’t clear that Plame really was such an agent. (Under terms of this statute, a “covert” agent is someone "who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.” It isn’t clear that Plame qualifies.) At any rate, if Rove didn’t know that Plame was covert, it isn’t clear that he committed a crime—and no one has really begun to show that he had such knowledge. But so what? This hasn’t stopped the triumphalist liberal web from aping the pseudo-con world of the 90s. In that decade, everything Clinton did was a crime, and every bit of “evidence” “proved” it. This produced a decade of sheer stupidity—a decade the liberal web starts to match.

Did King Karl Rove commit a crime? We don’t have the slightest idea. But it’s sad to see the liberal web adopting the dumbness of Rush and his cronies. Over the course of the past several decades, sheer stupidity has been a core value of the talk-show pseudo-con right. Excitable people on the left are discovering the age-old appeal of this value—a value which is rapidly spreading into the liberal web.