FINE LIKE ME! The New York Times prints a simple tale about Princeton Highs achievement gap: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2005
MIDST HIGH EUCALYPTUS: Until next Tuesday, were off to the reunion of Aragon High Schools class of 1965. San Mateo, California, of course.
Future media heavyweights were all around as we went through Aragon. Our own Bob Bazell (Aragon 63) is now NBCs main science reporter. A few miles down the Alameda, at our rival, Hillsdale High, the Posts Jay Mathews (Hillsdale circa 63) was in attendance. And midway between, you could find Serra High. When you think Serra, you think Tom Brady, Barry Bonds and Lynn Swann. But we think Bill Keller (Serra 66), forced to attend an all-male school while the party at Aragon was transpiring.
At that time and place, it was admittedly tough for the youngster who didnt get to go to Aragon. At the Post and Newsweek, Matthews has helped pioneer the surveys which rate the nations high schools and colleges—work which has sometimes stirred controversy. But any Aragon kid of the era can see the Rosebud aspect of Jays work. We understand why a Hillsdale kid would spend later years as Jay has done—engaged in a deeply sublimated search for a better high school.
We found it courageous when Jay admitted, in a 2000 op-ed, that yes, the long-standing rumors were true—that through absolutely no fault of his own, he had attended Hillsdale High during the early to mid-1960s. Note: Jays piece was a profile of Coach Dick Vermeil—a young high school coach who cut and ran when Aragon opened down the street in 1962. After we opened, Coach just knew—if he hoped to win the Big One, it would have to be in the NFL.
FINE LIKE ME: When it comes to the education of minority kids, the pseudo-liberal impulse is unending. In todays New York Times, for example, education writer Samuel Freedman explains the racial achievement gap at upscale Princeton (N.J.) High. According to Freedman, this prosperous, accomplished school district has a dirty little secret, a racial achievement gap that has been observed, acknowledged and left uncorrected for decades. (Luckily, that pattern just may have to change under the pressure of the federal No Child Left Behind law, the gullible Timesperson says.)
There does seem to be an achievement gap at Princeton High, according to the murky, limited data offered in Freedmans article. (He notes that 37 percent of Princetons 11th graders failed to pass last years standardized English test.) But how can Princeton correct that uncorrected gap? And oh yeah—whats the cause of the gap? When he gets around to saying, Freedmans explanation is simply inane:
FREEDMAN (9/28/05): As far back as the 1960's, according to the local historical society, black students suffered from ''low expectations from teachers'' and a high dropout rate. In the early 1990's, an interracial body calling itself the Robeson Group—in homage to Paul Robeson, the most famous product of black Princeton—mobilized to recruit more black teachers and help elect the first black member to the school board.Why has the achievement gap remained? From what does the disparity result? Easy! Theres a tracking system for middle school math, and the high school has such a demand for seats in AP classes that a rigid hierarchy exists in effect. (Presumably, that last murky claim—could Freedman pass an English test?—means that a lower percentage of black students are taking AP classes.) These explanations are utterly daft (see below), but they serve the pseudo-liberal imperative. They imply that a lingering racial bias has animated the school systems decisions. And they imply that theres a simple way to fix the schools uncorrected gap—to correct the disparity which results from these troubling causes.
So there again, you get to see it—the pseudo-liberal impulse in action. As always, theres a simple solution to the achievement gap—and the gap has resulted from uncorrected racial bias. The gap has been left uncorrected, Freedman says. And he suggests that its easy to fix.
But how inane are we willing to be in pursuit of pseudo-liberal fantasies? Freedmans explanations are utterly daft—as explanations tend to be when pseudo-liberals start to type about the lives of black children. Go ahead, readers, try to explain it: How does a tracking system in 8th grade math explain a resulting disparity in 11th grade English? And does Freedman think that every student should be placed in AP classes? In fact, these explanations are simply place-holders in a decades-long pseudo-lib fairy tale. And the fairy tale is always the same. Theres a simple solution to the achievement gap, we always get told. The achievement gap would wither away if school officials in places like Princetons were morally fine—fine like me.
It feels very good to type these stories. Indeed, journalists have felt good typing these stories over the course of the past forty years. But if there is a sizable gap at Princeton High, it doesnt exist because the system has a track system for junior high math—and it doesnt exist because those counselors are typing too many college letters. Just before he gives his absurd explanations for the uncorrected disparity, Freedman rushes past the real cause—a tragic cause that wont be as easy to correct as Freedman wants you to think:
FREEDMAN: So is the problem with the district, or is the problem with the law?Duh! For hundreds of years, by force of law, our benighted ancestors made it illegal to teach black American children to read. (On the streets of our own Baltimore, Frederick Douglass had to teach himself to read—after his owner warned his wife that she must stop giving the brilliant child lessons.) After that, we had a hundred years of separate-but-unequal neglect. The results can be seen all over the country—and, it would seem, at Princeton High. Indeed, Princetons gap seems to obtain between two vastly different populations. The schools deserving white kids are sons and daughters of the upper-middle-class (and of academics). Meanwhile, the schools deserving black kids have a different class background—theyre the deserving sons and daughters of hard-working cooks and maids. Wherever such populations are found, the achievement gap between them doesnt likely result from middle-school tracking—and no, it isnt easy to correct, despite the holier-than-thou proclamations of uncaring fiddlers like Freedman.
Lets recall what that latest new study says about Americas low-income children. ''Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting, it relates—explaining the deficits faced by kids who come from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds. By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students. As Jonathan Kozol notes in detail in his new book, these kids are way behind on the day they start school—and theyre three years behind when they hit the fourth grade! This has absolutely nothing to do with consummate trivia like junior high tracking, although people like Freedman will always say different. They just like a good simple tale—a tale that provides a good cry.
Omigod! It feels so good! The people running the Princeton system arent as morally fine as we are! When will they correct their disparity, Freedman asks—writing tripe from a leafy grove a thousand miles from the action.
OTHER FANTASIES: Other strange fantasies grow on the web regarding that week post-Katrina. Well admit it—we were semi-shocked by this claim by Eric Alterman:
ALTERCATION (9/27/05): The Rovian strategy in a nutshell; let the poor and sick folk drown and die; If they make it, screw them with new bankruptcy laws, here. And heres the media plan: Make the poor people look like raging criminals, here and here.Really? There was a media plan to make the poor people look like raging criminals? We clicked on Erics first link, and we found this Los Angeles Times report, from yesterdays paper, written by Susannah Rosenblatt. Katrina Takes a Toll on Truth, News Accuracy, the headline said. Rumors supplanted accurate information and media magnified the problem.
Did the media bungle Katrina? Rosenblatt starts with a puzzling anecdote—an anecdote that doesnt seem to maker sense:
ROSENBLATT (9/27/05): Maj. Ed Bush recalled how he stood in the bed of a pickup truck in the days after Hurricane Katrina, struggling to help the crowd outside the Louisiana Superdome separate fact from fiction. Armed only with a megaphone and scant information, he might have been shouting into, well, a hurricane.But if Major Bush was working at the Superdome, how did he know what the media were reporting? How would he know if newspapers and television exaggerated criminal behavior in the wake of Katrina? There might be an answer to that question, but by the time Rosenblatt starts naming her media villains, its her own logic that starts going down. If you want to see a weird analysis, just wade through this list:
ROSENBLATT (9/27/05): Hyperbolic reporting spread through much of the media.How much hyperbolic reporting was there? By her fourth example, Rosenblatt is forced to slam a Canadian tabloid. And note the third (apparent) complaint one more time—just drink in this logic:
ROSENBLATT (9/27/05): The New York Times repeated some of the reports of violence and unrest, but the newspaper usually was more careful to note that the information could not be verified.The New York Times reported some of the reports of violence? Rosenblatt doesnt even bother to claim that the Times printed false reports. Instead, she almost seems to imply that it was wrong to print any reports of violence. And this, remember, is number three in her list of media bad guys.
How hard are pseudo-liberals now working to clean up the New Orleans reports? (Because yes, there was some violence in New Orleans.) Lets recall Rosenblatts weird critique of her own paper, the Los Angeles Times:
ROSENBLATT (9/27/05): The Los Angeles Times adopted a breathless tone the next day in its lead news story, reporting that National Guard troops "took positions on rooftops, scanning for snipers and armed mobs as seething crowds of refugees milled below, desperate to flee. Gunfire crackled in the distance."Rosenblatt complains about the tone—but never asserts that the newspapers statements werent true. Indeed, here is the fuller lead of that troubling Times report, penned by Ellen Barry:
BARRY (9/2/05): The rushed mobilization of federal troops to the storm-desolated Gulf Coast was outpaced Thursday by New Orleans' rapid descent into chaos. Sniper fire threatened hospital evacuations and a mass bus caravan to Texas, corpses were found outside the city's decaying convention center and weakened refugees collapsed amid enraged crowds on city streets.What part of that is actually wrong? Which part of that should have been dumped? Rosenblatt doesnt say. For example, was it wrong for Barry to report that sniper fire threatened hospital evacuations? Later in her story she provided more detail, quoting a pair of named sources:
BARRY (9/2/05): In the flood-swept city center, another distant gunman hidden in a high-rise terrorized doctors and patients at Charity Hospital as staff worked feverishly to evacuate critically ill patients.Was it wrong for Barry to report that—to highlight this in paragraph 1? And oh yes—was this factually wrong? Writing from a thousand miles away, Rosenblatt doesnt say. And was it wrong for Barry to report this, just before she discussed the snipers at Charity Hoispital?
BARRY (9/2/05): Louisiana National Guard soldiers chased refugees and stragglers away from the intersection of Loyola Avenue and Girod Street in the heart of New Orleans. An unseen sniper holed up in a nearby building fired sporadically at soldiers and pedestrians.Was it wrong for Barry to report that violence? Is Rosenblatt saying it didnt happen? Remember, Barrys report in number two in Rosenblatts list of major offenders—but what is supposed to be wrong with the story? Rosenblatt complains about the tone—but beyond that, she just doesnt say.
But then, Rosenblatts report is almost wholly absurd—a tribute to the wide revival of the pseudo-liberal impulse. Try to believe the sheer absurdity of this early passage, in which she piggy-backs on that earlier, semi-puzzling report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
ROSENBLATT (9/27/05): The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials."Remember, Alterman (and many others) are treating Rosenblatts report as a slam on the way the media overstated. But what example do we meet here? We see the way a politician, Ray Nagin, described the alleged violence. But how do Mayor Nagins statements implicate the media in misconduct? Was Oprah supposed to do something here? Oprah hadnt been in the Dome—and Nagin had. What was she supposed to say?
To Alterman, from whom we have learned a great deal over the years, this report by Rosenblatt somehow shows that there was a media plan to make the poor people look like raging criminals. In fact, Rosenblatts report provides little evidence of media misconduct, and often seems to make little sense—except as the latest example of the resurgent pesudo-liberal impulse. Pseudo-libs are busy suggesting that nothing much happened in New Orleans. Wed suggest they call the Bergerons and see what they think about that.
What was wrong with the media reports? The two pieces to which Alterman links are rather hazy on this matter. A media plan to trash poor people? Why are we making such claims?
WHY: Why are liberals writing such odd reports? Yesterday, a well-intentioned e-mailer gave us the outline of the answer:
E-MAIL: I believe that you read Digby and I was wondering if you saw his piece on the exaggerated accounts of violence in New Orleans. I believe you wrote a post a while back stating that race was not a proven factor and that the accounts from the mayor and the police chief proved that there was violence. They are now retracting those statements. I know neither the left or right should make up story lines and facts but don't you think that we were right to be skeptical about these stories that fed the myth of the scary black man? Will you write a follow-up piece about what actually happened?We did see the Digby piece—weve been following him closely on the racial aspects of New Orleans—and, although we agree with his sense that race is involved in all our politics, we tend to disagree with his instincts and reactions to that fact. But the e-mailers concern is obvious. She fears that the exaggerated accounts of violence in New Orleans have fed the myth of the scary black man.
Yesterday, Digby went further. To Digby—whose work in this area we follow closely—it still seems to be 1741; he suggests that the collective lizard brain of America reacted irrationally to the reports of the black mob in New Orleans. But he quotes extensively from the Times-Picayune report—a report that is only slightly less irrational than Rosenblatts piece when it comes to media misstatements—and he fails to explain just who it was who should have proceeded more boldly in the face of media reports about violence in New Orleans.
Did Americas lizard brain respond in racist ways to reports of violence? In the last few weeks, Americas lizard brain has showered relief on the deserving flood victims. Its bad on the merits—and amazingly bad politics—when liberals need to keep insisting, in the absence of powerful evidence, that everyone else except them is a racist. Was it irrational for relief workers to proceed with caution? Thats easy to say from half a world away. But we wonder what the Bergerons would say, since they were the ones facing gunfire.
These two reports, in the Times and the Times-Picayune, reason quite poorly about this alleged problem. What was wrong with Barrys report? Rosenblatt doesnt bother to say. But the pseudo-liberal heart seems to be swelling, after a long dormant period—and its providing the kinds of odd reports that will harm progressive interests in the end.
With regret, well be away until Tuesday. These matters deserve full discussion. By the way, we follow Digbys work on race with great interest—and well suggest that you follow it too.
GUPTA STIRRED THE LIZARD BRAIN TOO: CNNs Sanjay Gupta also pretended there was violence in New Orleans. On September 1, he reported on the non-existent violence that wasnt occurring at Charity Hospital:
BLITZER (9/1/05): Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our CNN medical correspondent, is joining us now as well with information about one of the major hospitals in New Orleans and what's going on there. Sanjay, what are you hearing?Blitzer continued. What you're hearing now is that, at Charity Hospital, one of the major medical facilities in New Orleans, that people have been trying to leave, but they have had to stop leaving because of sniper fire. Is that right? Inexcusably, Gupta stirred the lizards again:
GUPTA: That is absolutely correct...This hospital overflowing, as the doctors were describing it to me, under I guess the conditions we have all been hearing about now for a couple of days—lots of water in the hallways, poor electricity, poor resources overall. But now add on this, Wolf, actually taking fire as they're trying to move some of the patients. In this case, they were trying to move them down to Tulane University Hospital. Again, they were able to get this particular group of patients out—all but one of them at least—but are very concerned. And one of the comments made to me was, there was absolutely no protection, except for the armed guards in these amphibious vehicles. There was no military presence at all, as they were trying to evacuate these patients. These doctors called me very concerned about that, Wolf.Should Dr. Bergeron have feared for her life? Not according to the New Liberal Thinking! According to the New Liberal Thinking, she should have simply sucked it up so the lizards wouldnt stir! Its hard to overstate how absurd this is on the merits—and how bad it is, as a matter of politics, when liberals start rewriting three-week-old history so that the lizards wont stir.
Final note: Chris Rocks entire act is based on the premise that people can distinguish between the masses of normal, decent African-Americans and the communitys annoying criminals. But liberals still believe that the people are lizards, and theyre busy rewriting history to make sure that their brains never stir.
GONZO LOGIC: Note the way the Times-Picayune report starts:
THEVENOT: After five days managing near riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.It makes a great story—instead of 200, it was really just six! But what does it mean if a single (unnamed) FEMA doctor had somehow heard a bogus report? Thevenot cant even name the doctor is, let alone find out how he got the (alleged) bad number. Meanwhile, what does this have to do with the media? Apparently nothing, but the big number—200—made this an irresistible anecdote.
Any chance that this is the very kind of exaggerated, unconfirmed story were now pretending to be debunking? Thevenot cant confirm that this actually happened, and its relevance to the media isnt apparent. But so what? He loved the big number involved—and pseudo-libs have rushed to embrace it. Yes, this story is shaky and unconfirmed. But its unconfirmed in a way that we like.