Quick Take

As I was getting ready to round up items for “Quick Takes” today, a friend sent me a link to something Charles Pierce wrote today. In a sense, he ruined my search. After reading the Pierce article, I found that everything else I might have considered sounded like noise. And so for today, I’ll simply share one “Quick Take.” Because I hope that everyone will go read: When We Forget.

Pierce begins with a quote from Czech author Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest. We have forgotten McCarthy and Nixon. We have forgotten how easily we can be lied to. We have forgotten the U-2 incident and the Bay of Pigs and the sale of missiles to the mullahs. And along comes someone like Trump, and he tells us that forgetting is our actual power and that memory is the enemy…

I watch the presidential campaign this year, and I watch how the country has abandoned self-government and the idea of a political commonwealth, and I see a country that is voluntarily taking upon itself my father’s disease [Alzheimers]. A vagabond country, making itself a stranger to itself, a permanent refugee country, unmoored from its history.

A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump.

What’s Going On?

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Some Thoughts on Cynicism

Today Kevin Drum wrote about why he never “felt the bern.” I’m going to let you read his thoughts on that because I want to zero in on this:

But there’s a decent chance that Bernie’s failure will result in a net increase of cynicism about politics, and that’s the last thing we need.

Over the last few years I have been especially interested in the role of cynicism/optimism (or hope) in our politics. Back in 2008, Barack Obama made hope the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. In response, the Republican strategy of total obstruction was designed to dampen all that with cynicism about the political process. In the lead-up to the 2014 election, Obama once again talked about cynicism and hope. Specifically, he said that whether we embrace one or the other is a choice.

With all of that in mind as we head into another election, I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting discussions about cynicism that I have come across with all of you. Here is some of what Rebecca Solnit has to say in the current edition of Harper’s Magazine in an article titled: The Habits of Highly Cynical People.

Cynicism is first of all a style of presenting oneself, and it takes pride more than anything in not being fooled and not being foolish. But in the forms in which I encounter it, cynicism is frequently both these things. That the attitude that prides itself on world-weary experience is often so naive says much about the triumph of style over substance, attitude over analysis.

Maybe it also says something about the tendency to oversimplify. If simplification means reducing things to their essentials, oversimplification tosses aside the essential as well. It is a relentless pursuit of certainty and clarity in a world that generally offers neither, a desire to shove nuances and complexities into clear-cut binaries. Naive cynicism concerns me because it flattens out the past and the future, and because it reduces the motivation to participate in public life, public discourse, and even intelligent conversation that distinguishes shades of gray, ambiguities and ambivalences, uncertainties, unknowns, and opportunities. Instead, we conduct our conversations like wars, and the heavy artillery of grim confidence is the weapon many reach for.

Naive cynics shoot down possibilities, including the possibility of exploring the full complexity of any situation. They take aim at the less cynical, so that cynicism becomes a defensive posture and an avoidance of dissent. They recruit through brutality. If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. But expecting perfection is naive; failing to perceive value by using an impossible standard of measure is even more so. Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised — but also because the openness of hope is dangerous, and in war, self-defense comes first. Naive cynicism is absolutist; its practitioners assume that anything you don’t deplore you wholeheartedly endorse. But denouncing anything less than perfection as morally compromising means pursuing aggrandizement of the self, not engagement with a place or system or community, as the highest priority.

Here is something written by Clay Claiborne back in 2012 specifically about the left and cynicism.

For someone sitting on the very edge of survival, hope is extremely important. Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day…Cynicism is deadly for someone on the edge of survival. Even in the darkest night, he cannot afford to be cynical. That cynicism just might push him over the edge.

Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. In fact, one of the main objects of this practice of cynicism is to make the cynic more comfortable. He may not, as yet, be wanting for much personally, but he can see the growing misery all around him so he has to think or do something. The cynic solves this dilemma by thinking that nothing can be done!…

Since the cynic is not looking for ways to attack the problem but for reasons to carry on as usual, it suits this scenario to make the New World Order, the Illuminati, or whoever, virtually all-powerful and quite capable of tricks we aren’t even aware of.

The people, on the other hand, are sheep.

Cynicism springs eternal, so the cynic carries on. He goes to anti-war rallies, he recycles, he does whatever he thinks is the right thing to do, and since he expects things to stay the same or get worst, he doesn’t question whether it is the most effective thing to do.

Finally, back in 2005, then-Senator Obama wrote something about cynicism that I found very intriguing.

Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Are these writers being overly harsh on the cynics? Are there places where you agree/disagree with them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

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New Depths of Unpopularity

A new Morning Consult poll finds that Bernie Sanders is the most popular senator in the country and that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the least popular. This comes at the same time that Donald Trump’s newest caddie, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, has reached new lows in popularity in the Garden State. I suppose Ted Cruz can comfort himself that the public has some Republicans that they hate with more white hot furor than himself, but this won’t last if he keeps up his shenanigans.

His newest stunt, coming on the heels of naming Carly Fiorina as his running mate, is a result of looking at some polling data that shows him losing in Indiana and some other other polling data that shows that Hoosier conservatives hate transgender people.

“As Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seeks every possible edge to stop Donald Trump, he has seized on a once-obscure issue with a proven power to inflame conservatives: letting transgender women use women’s bathrooms,” the New York Times reports.

“With polls showing a narrower lead for Mr. Trump in Indiana than in the five Eastern states that he swept on Tuesday, the Cruz campaign’s private polling indicates that the bathroom issue has the power to help close the gap. Moreover, it is fresh in Indiana voters’ minds because of high-profile battles in the state in recent years over gay rights.”

Yes, it’s fresh in the minds of Indianans that Gov. Mike Pence signed an anti-gay “Religious Freedom Bill” and caused an immediate business boycott of their state. Meanwhile, Gov. Pence obviously can’t read a poll because despite the fact that Ted Cruz is about to get shellacked in his state’s primary, Pence will endorse his transgender-hating ass.

Meanwhile, Pew Research finds the Republican Party less popular than anytime since 1992, and Trump has a net unfavorable number of thirty-seven percent. His 28% approval number mimics George W. Bush’s numbers at the nadir of his presidency, and also barely tops the 27% who voted for Alan Keyes over a young state Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

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Race, Family Income, and Test Scores: A New Study

The New York Times features a new study of the intersection of race, family income, and test scores by Sean Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides, and Kenneth Shores.

 

It shows beyond doubt that family income and test scores are tightly correlated. A chart of educational attainment in school districts, arrayed by family income, shows that: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.”

 

That is a huge test score gap.

 

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

 

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

 

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

 

Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill. The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools….

 

 

Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data. Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math theorems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.

 

“Our high-end students who are coming in are scoring off the charts,” said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

 

The school system is near the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and 30 percent of students in the schools qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, below the national average.

 

The wealthier students tend to come from families where, “let’s face it, both the parents are Ph.D.s, and that kid, no matter what happens in the school, is pressured from kindergarten to succeed,” Mr. Nash said. “So even though our minority students are outscoring minority students in other districts near us, there is still a bigger gap here because of that.”

 

By contrast, the communities with narrow achievement gaps tend to be those in which there are very few black or Hispanic children, or places like Detroit or Buffalo, where all students are so poor that minorities and whites perform equally badly on standardized tests….

 

What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

 

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

 

One school district stood out as a district that beat the odds: Union City, New Jersey.

 

David Kirp wrote a book about Union City, called Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.  

 

What did they do in Union City? Time to read Kirp’s book and start implementing real education reform.

 

Or read an article by Kirp about what he discovered. No charter schools. No Teach for America. Steady work, careful planning, collaboration, no heroics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Phelps: The Education Writers Association is Biased re Common Core

Richard Phelps is a testing expert who is skeptical about the Common Core standards. He thinks that policymakers swallowed the sales pitch without asking for evidence. As he explains in this article, what rankles him is that the Education Writers Association has become part of the campaign to promote the Common Core. Instead of providing unbiased information, the EWA offers a platform for CC advocates, many of them paid to be advocates.

 

EWA will meet in Boston this weekend. The keynote speaker is Secretary of Education John King, a strong supporter of CC. As usual, the panels will consist of CC advocates, with very few critics.

 

Phelps writes:

 

“Too many of our country’s most influential journalists accept and repeat verbatim the advertising slogans and talking points of Common Core promoters. Too many of their stories source information from only one side of the issue. Most annoying, for those of us eager for some journalistic balance, has been some journalists’ tendency to rely on Common Core promoters to identify the characteristics and explain the motives of Common Core opponents.

 

“An organization claiming to represent and support all US education journalists sets up shop in Boston next week for its annual “National Seminar”. The Education Writers Association’s (EWA’s) national seminars introduce thousands of journalists to sources of information and expertise. Many sessions feature journalists talking with other journalists. Some sessions host teachers, students, or administrators in “reports from the front lines” type panel discussions. But, the remaining and most ballyhooed sessions feature non-journalist experts on education policy fronting panels with, typically, a journalist or two hosting. Allegedly, these sessions interpret “all the research”, and deliver truth, from the smartest, most enlightened on earth.

 

“Given its central role, and the profession it represents, one would expect diligence from EWA in representing all sides and evidence. Indeed, EWA claims a central purpose “to help journalists get the story right.”

 

“Rummaging around EWA’s web site can be revealing. I located the website material classified under their “Common Core” heading: 192 entries overall, including 6 EWA Radio broadcast transcripts, links to 19 research or policy reports, 69 posts in the “Educated Reporter” Blog, 1 “Story Lab”, 8 descriptions of and links to organizations useful for reporters to know, 5 seminar and 3 webinar agendas, 11 links to reporters’ stories, and 42 links to relevant multimedia presentations.

 

“I was interested to learn the who, what, where, and how of EWA sourcing of education research and policy expertise. In reviewing the mass of material the EWA classifies under Common Core, then, I removed that which was provided by reporters and ignored that which was obviously purely informational, provided it was unbiased (e.g., non-interpretive reporting of poll results, thorough listing of relevant legislative actions). What remains is a formidable mass of material—in the form of reports, testimonies, interviews, essays, seminar and webinar transcripts, and so on.

 

“So, whom does the EWA rely on for education policy expertise “to help journalists get the story right”? Which experts do they invite to their seminars and webinars? Whose reports and essays do they link to? Whose interviews do they link to or post? Remember, journalists are trained to represent all sides to each story, to summarize all the evidence available to the public.

 

“That’s not how it works at the Education Writers Association, however. Over the past several years, EWA has provided speaking and writing platforms for 102 avowed Common Core advocates, 7 avowed Common Core opponents, 12 who are mostly in favor, and one who is mostly opposed.[i] Randomly select an EWA Common Core “expert” from the EWA website, and the odds exceed ten to one the person will be an advocate and, more than likely, a paid promoter.

 

“Included among the 102 Common Core advocates for whom the EWA provided a platform to speak or write, are officials from the “core” Common Core organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governors Association (NGA), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Also included are representatives from research and advocacy organizations paid by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other funding sources to promote the Common Core Standards and tests: the Thomas P. Fordham Institute, the New America Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the Center on Education Policy, and the Business Roundtable. Moreover, one finds ample representation in EWA venues of organizations directly profiting from PARCC and SBAC test development activity, such as the Center for Assessment, WestEd, the Rand Corporation, and professors from the Universities of North Carolina and Illinois, Harvard and Stanford Universities, UCLA, Michigan State, and Southern Cal (USC).

 

“Most of the small contingent of Common Core opponents does not oppose the Common Core initiative, standards, or tests per se but rather tests in general, or the current quantity of tests. Among the seven attributions to avowed opponents, three are to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (a.k.a., FairTest), an organization that opposes all meaningful standards and assessments, not just Common Core.

 

“The seven opponents comprise one extreme advocacy group, a lieutenant governor, one local education administrator, an education graduate student, and another advocacy group called Defending the Early years, which argues that the grades K–2 Common Core Standards are age-inappropriate (i.e., too difficult). No think tank analysts. No professors. No celebrities.

 

“Presumably, this configuration of evidence and points of view represents reality as the leaders of EWA see it (or choose to see it):

 

“102 in favor and 7 opposed; several dozen PhDs from the nation’s most prestigious universities and think tanks in favor and 7 fringe elements opposed. Accept this as reality and pro-CCI propaganda characterizations of their opponents might seem reasonable. Those in favor of CCI are prestigious, knowledgeable, trustworthy authorities. Those opposed are narrow minded, self-interested, uninformed, inexpert, or afraid of “higher, deeper, tougher, more rigorous” standards and tests. Those in favor of CCI want progress; those opposed do not.

 

“In a dedicated website section, EWA describes and links to eight organizations purported to be good sources for stories on the Common Core. Among them are the core CCI organizations Achieve, CCSSO, NGA, PARCC, and SBAC; and the paid CC promoters, the Fordham Institute. The only opposing organization suggested? — FairTest.

 

“There remain two of the EWA’s favorite information sources, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) that I have categorized as mostly pro-CCI. Both received funding from the Gates Foundation early on to promote the Initiative. When the tide of public opinion began to turn against the Common Core, however, both organizations began shuffling their stance and straddling their initial positions. Each has since adopted the “Common Core is a great idea, but it has been poorly implemented” theme.

 

“So, what of the great multitude who desire genuinely higher standards and consequential tests and recognize that CCI brings neither? …who believe Common Core was never a good idea, never made any sense, and should be completely dismantled? Across several years, categories and types of EWA coverage, one finds barely a trace of representation.

 

“The representation of research and policy expertise at EWA national seminars reflects that at its website. Keynote speakers include major CCI advocates College Board President David Coleman (twice), US Education Secretary Arne Duncan (twice), Secretary John King, Governor Bill Haslam, and “mostly pro” AFT President Randi Weingarten, along with the unsure Governor Charlie Baker. No CCI opponents.

 

“Among other speakers presented as experts in CCI related sessions at the Nashville Seminar two years ago were 14 avowed CCI advocates[ii], one of the “mostly pro” variety, and one critic, local education administrator Carol Burris. At least ten of the 14 pro-CCI experts have worked directly in CCI-funded endeavors. Last year’s Chicago Seminar featured nine CCI advocates[iii] and one opponent, Robert Schaeffer of FairTest. Five of the nine advocates have worked directly in CCI-funded endeavors.

 

“In addition to Secretary John King’s keynote, this year’s Boston Seminar features a whopping 16 avowed CCI proponents, two of the “mostly pro” persuasion, and one opponent, Linda Hanson, a local area educator and union rep. At least ten of the 16 proponents have worked in CCI-funded activities.”

 

 

 

 

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Trump Makes Neoconservatives Look Good

Donald Trump’s foreign policy was poorly received by neoconservatives, as is obvious if you look at the reaction at the Washington Post. Pro-Iraq War editorial board chief Fred Hiatt said that Trump’s vision was incoherent, inconsistent, and incomprehensible. Columnist Charles Krauthammer described the speech as incoherent, inconsistent, and jumbled. While the Post’s resident columnist/blogger Jennifer Rubin expressed concern that, based on Trump’s language, he might be a malleable mouthpiece of anti-Semites.

If neoconservatives come pretty close to being always wrong, the Post’s reaction might be considered the highest form of praise. Unfortunately, most of their criticisms are accurate. This is particularly true when they go after Trump for his looseness with the facts, his contradictory and mutually exclusive messages, and his praise of unpredictability.

For example, Fred Hiatt nailed Trump for insisting that we “abandon defense commitments to allies because of the allegedly weakened state of the U.S. economy” at the same time that he criticizes President Obama for not being a steadfast friend to our allies. Krauthammer wondered how Trump could criticize Obama for letting Iran become a regional power and promise to bring stability to the Middle East without having any commitment to keep a presence there or to take any risks or to make any expenditures.

If there is any remaining doubt about how neoconservatives view Trump’s foreign policy ideas, Sen. Lindsey Graham removed them:

Sen. Lindsey Graham tore into Donald Trump’s speech on foreign policy, calling it “unnerving,” “pathetic” and “scary.”

The South Carolina Republican former presidential candidate told WABC Radio on Wednesday that the speech was “nonsensical” and showed that Trump “has no understanding of the world and the role we play.”

“This speech was unnerving. It was pathetic in its content, and it was scary in terms of its construct. If you had any doubt that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief, this speech should’ve removed it,” Graham said. “It took every problem and fear I have with Donald Trump and put in on steroids.”

He added: “It was like a guy from New York reading a speech that somebody wrote for him that he edited that makes no sense.” And: “It was not a conservative speech. This was a blend of random thoughts built around Rand Paul’s view of the world.”

It’s true that Graham’s response there is a substance-free ad hominem attack, but he did get around to making specific critiques. In particular, he noted that Trump can’t keep his promises to both minimize our presence in the Middle East and destroy ISIS in short order without significant alliances with the regimes in the Middle East. But he won’t be improving our alliances by talking negatively about Islam as a religion and banning Muslims from entering the United States. Graham said that the problem with Obama is that he isn’t seen as a reliable ally by these despots, but that Trump “is worse than Obama…the entire world is going to look at Donald Trump as a guy who doesn’t understand the role of America, that doesn’t understand the benefit of these alliances.”

Graham also blasted Trump’s position on NATO and said that “the idea of dismembering NATO would be the best thing possible for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

It’s not that Graham properly understands “the role of America” or that he gets the downsides of our alliances with foreign dictatorial regimes. But he understands that you can’t win a war against radicals in the Arab world by making enemies of every Arab (and Muslim) in the world. Graham understands that you can’t criticize the president for being a lousy friend and then rip up longstanding and uncontroversial agreements with those friends while demanding both more money and more deference.

A full treatment of Trump’s speech and foreign policy ideas is beyond the scope of this blog piece, but he’s about to become the leader of a party that is filled with neoconservatives.

They aren’t going to pretend that the emperor has clothes on.

And, for once in their lives, they’re largely right.

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Nikhil Goyal Interviews Jane Sanders about Education Issues

Nikhil Goyal is a precocious college student at Goddard College who wrote a book about education (“One Size Does Not Fit All”) while he was in a public high school on Long Island. He understood at an early age that standardized testing was ruining his education. His second book “Schools on Trial” was recently published by Doubleday.

 

In this article, he interviews Jane Sanders, wife and advisor to Bernie Sanders. He asks her about her views, and Bernie’s too, on the education issues of the day. It is clear that she is a progressive educator, that she values experiential learning, and she knows that NCLB was a disaster.

 

A typical comment:

 

“SANDERS: We don’t really believe in standardized testing. I think our purpose would be, schooling is meant to help people be creative, to have their curiosity stimulated, and have them be actively thinking whatever they’re thinking about—whether it’s the stars, the universe, climate change, anything. Having them be able to feel they can explore anything, learn anything.”””

 

She he seems to be completely in the dark about the corporates education reform movement. When asked about Gates, Broad, and Walton, she responds that she is sure that the Gateses have pure motives. There motives don’t matter; their actions do.

 

 

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