DONT REEZUN REEL GUUD! If we require it, they will succeed, the New York Times eds still insist: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2010
How to lose a debate: Your press corps skills are not vast.
Last night, Anderson Cooper interviewed Leo Berman, a Texas state legislator who has said that we have a president who the American people don't know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place. In a lengthy session, Cooper tried to challenge Bermans birtherism. In our view, he tried and he failed.
Alas! Despite good intentions, Cooper kept letting Berman change the subject as the interview proceeded. Early on, for example, Cooper asked the following question. It was a very good questiona rather obvious question:
That is just a fact! Was Governor Lingle lying when she affirmed Obamas place of birth? Is she deranged? Has she been deceived? Given what this Republican governor has said, these are fairly obvious questions. But Berman never had to answer such questions. Instead, he scrambled out of the pocket in the manner which followsand Cooper let him go:
Just like that, Berman changed the subjectand Cooper allowed him to scramble away. Instead of sticking to his question about Governor Lingle, Cooper chased Berman down the field, willingly switching to the unconnected matter of Obamas college transcripts.
This is how crackpots and demagogues escape defeatwith the help of players like Cooper.
Can Berman actually go and see the original birth certificate? We have no idea. But if you read last nights transcript (which is lengthy), youll see the work of a very unskilled player (click here). Cooper kept letting Berman scramble away, chasing him as he switched and shifted among a wide array of topics. This is the simplest way a demagogue can escape getting sacked. Cooper showed no sign of knowing.
Why did Governor Lingle say what she said? Berman never answered! Instead, Cooper chased Berman all over the field, discussing an ever-shifting array of unconnected topics. The analysts were crying by the time this was done. Coopers skill set isnt vastand he sits at the top of our press corps.
PART 2DONT REEZUN REEL GUUD (permalink): Only in America?
On Sunday, the ombudsman of the Washington Post had some advice for his current employerand no, the gentleman wasnt kidding, or speaking tongue-in-cheek. The Post should consider providing remedial math training to its journalists, Andrew Alexander advised (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/10). Beyond that, Alexander had some advice of his own for those high-ranking journalists:
Post journalists should double-check every percentage, Alexander advised. He sounded as if he might be addressing a group of sixth-graders on the day before they take the annual math exam. This helpful advice came after Alexander quoted some experts explaining where our modern-day journalists tend to go wrong with their math:
Welcome to bedlam! To our ear, Alexander described this peculiar scene as if it were the most normal thing in the world. At one of our most influential newspapers, reporters should get some remedial math, he said. Above all, they should remember to double-check the numbers theyre handed by various interest groups!
In what kind of world do major journalists function in the hapless ways Alexander described? In our view, Alexander describes a world which is run by a floundering, D-plus elite. Of course, math panic isnt the corps only problem! Simply put, our mainstream journalists dont reezun reel guud, a problem the New York Times puts on display in an editorial this very morning.
In this editorial, the editors discuss what New York Citys schools should do now that Mayor Bloomberg will get his new chancellor. The change of leadership could not have come at a more sensitive time for the nations largest public school system, the editors say. As the editors explain what they mean, they make a type of suggestion which people of their ilk have been making for decades:
If we require it, they will succeed! Following the peculiar logic which has been the norm for decades (see below), the editors describe what fourth-graders will now be required to dowithout explaining why they think such requirements make earthly sense.
Truly, it would be pretty if New York Citys high school seniors could solve complex problems through research and display skills that we now associate with the first year of college. (Why not the second or third year of college?) It would also be nice if the citys fourth-graders could write well-organized essays in which they introduce and defend opinions, using facts and details. (In that case, the citys fourth-graders could go straight to work, writing the Times editorials.)
Why cant a woman be more like a man? It would surely be pretty if Gothams seniors performed more like freshmen in college! But in this passage, the editors revert to a type of logic which has pervaded education debates over the past several decades. In these debates, authority figures simply require teachers and students to achieve certain things by a certain time. Little attention is ever paid to the plausibility of these demandsor to how we expect to achieve them. In her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch accurately recalls the way the first President Bush began his term in the White House:
American students will be the first in the world? Why not first in the whole solar system? These pledges were foolish in 1989, as we incomparably wrote at the time. But by the time of No Child Left Behind, we had moved from goals and pledges to requirements, a silly practice the editors continue today.
How do we plan to achieve our requirements? Routinely, such questions get lost.
Can we require Gothams seniors to perform in the manner described? Just a guess: Many seniors in New York City currently read at traditional fourth-grade level. Should they be required to solve complex problems through research and to display skills that we now associate with the first year of college? If so, what new modes of instruction will help New York Citys students transform themselves in such cosmic ways? According to the editors, some sort of writing-intensive approach is allegedly going to help these students develop reasoning skills far earlier than is customary. (Far earlier! Go aheadlaugh out loud.) But is there any rational reason to think that such an approach will succeed? It would be pretty to think soand hapless, upper-class buffoons have been doing so for the past twenty years.
Among those detached, upper-class buffoons is the Times editorial boarddetached folk who sit at the tippity top of the nations mainstream press corps.
What kinds of people reason this way? What kinds of people persist in pretending that if we simply require an outcome, that outcome will somehow occur? At the upper end of our mainstream press corps, such pseudo-thinking remains in vogue, enjoyed by people who think pretty thoughts but never step into an actual school to dirty their hands with reality. For people who spend their time dreaming such dreams, its easy to conjure pretty thoughts in which their citys deserving fourth graders are transformed into scholastic giants. But such pretty thoughts are the mark of an upper-class, D-plus elite.
If we require it, they will succeed! Field of Dreams was a fantasy film; did these oafs understand that point as they watched? Whatever the answer, todays editorial takes us beyond the simple need for remedial math. For our upper-end press corps, math is still hard! But that is the least of theirand ourproblems.
Tomorrowpart 3: Protecting the guild