MY Poor Wife and I were watching the local teleprompter readers try, and fail, to read teleprompters yesterday when a teaser for Teachers Learning About Vietnam! (the war, not the country) took us to commercial.
PW: This is just what Sue (her friend in the Humanities Department) has been complaining about. They never get to Vietnam in history classes. It's like that Simpsons thing where school's out for the summer, and the teacher runs out to say, "I forgot to tell you who won World War Two...We did!"
DR: They shouldn't bother.
[My Poor Wife is real, and really a teacher, and just so this doesn't sound like I'm talking to an imaginary cabbie, there was a break in the conversation when the story came on. I'm not supposed to yell at the "News" when education stories are on, and sometimes I even remember. She's remarkably understanding about the rest, or just totally defeated by now; the regular reader may have surmised by this point that I yell at the weather forecast. It was pretty much a nothing story. We resumed:]
DR: You've read Lies My Teacher Told Me. What we do get to in History classes is bunkum. And it's a particular type of bunkum: deflavorized national myths designed not to offend the legions of semi-pro offense takers out there. If they did get to Vietnam, students would barely know more about it than they do in its absence.
Fer chrissakes, there are people on the internets who will blithely announce that the US won World War I, saving the French in the process. It's not even jingoism. They believe it. It's how we teach history.
We've got two Presidential candidates, one on either side [chronologically] of the war, and neither one evinces any knowledge of it, at least publicly. They spew myths. They spew myths about Iraq and Afghanistan, and those are going on now. I can hardly blame teachers for not getting to Vietnam before the clock runs out. What are they supposed to teach? That our soldiers are heroes, that the war was controversial [it's the term the teleprompter readers used--twice--in introducing the story], that hippies spit on returning servicemen?
PW: I'm sorry, were you saying something?
[It's our little joke. Not that she wouldn't have tuned out by now if the volume were lower.]
DR: Shit, you were watching those morning shows with me last week. What do these people want our children to be educated for? To better understand the historical context of the Jonas Brothers' humanitarian concerns? Or the subtleties of Rachael Ray's grilled cheese?
Paging David Brooks.
Why did the United States become the leading economic power of the 20th century? The best short answer is that a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom.
So much for the Socratic method.
Between 1870 and 1950, the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years per decade. In 1890, the average adult had completed about 8 years of schooling. By 1900, the average American had 8.8 years. By 1910, it was 9.6 years, and by 1960, it was nearly 14 years.
Let's go ahead and note here the essential contributions of Child Labor laws, scholarly reform and scientific advancement, and expanded legally mandated attendance. Because we can be pretty sure that Brooks won't.
As Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz describe in their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,”
And once again, I will believe that people such as David Brooks are seriously interested in improving education, as opposed to churning silt in order to muddy the politics of it, when they show some respect for their own. Especially, say, when they stop quoting the latest piece of work that backs up their established position on the subject as though it precluded further debate, and start acknowledging varying points of view.
America’s educational progress was amazingly steady over those decades, and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead.
And this is the point, Mr. Brooks--you've suspected it was coming, haven't you?--when we note that when you say "America" you mean "White America". I know you don't like to hear it; I know you've practiced saying "Liberals are always playing the Race Card at the first opportunity" for twenty-five years now. I don't know if you imagine you're being sly about it, or just don't care, or if you really believe--in that "here's a book that backs up what I think, making it the definitive study" way of yours--that race has no part in this. But you cannot make simple moral tales out of the history of post-Reconstruction education and employment and ignore the ugly immorality that kept 10% of the population from effectively sharing in either. You can not.
Now then, could you explain just what th' fuck "opened up a gigantic global lead" is supposed to mean?
In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school.
Oh, we had a gigantic global lead in "older teens" enrolled as full-time students. I don't suppose it will do any good to ask you why this is the case, since distinctions are to the social moralist what trades unions are to the University of Chicago economist. We--again you can thank, but won't, the sort of meddlesome liberal do-gooder, academic elitist, and tax-and-spend legislator you routinely sneer at--created multifunctional schools. We educated "older teens" who were entering trades, as opposed to making apprentices of 'em at fourteen.
America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. But the happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl.
Gee, could that growth have had anything to do with Europe self-destructing in two World Wars, or the United States' position as the resource-rich breadbasket of the world, separated from the fighting by an ocean or two? The exploitation of cheap immigrant labor? Or how 'bout the establishment of a social safety net, trade and securities regulations, which at least partially protected workers and their families from the vicissitudes of speculator-driven boom and bust cycles? The forty-hour work week (quaint, isn't it?), minimum wage laws, improved public health laws, which made it possible for workers to grow up without rickets and live in cities without contracting typhus? Oooh, oooh, I know! Higher marginal tax rates!
No, my mistake; it must have been education, the decline in which, beginning around 1970, led directly to the Reagan Bust and the Clinton Calamity.
This threatens the country’s long-term prospects. It also widens the gap between rich and poor. Goldin and Katz describe a race between technology and education. The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.
I'm sorry. Goldin and Katz do not send me free books, which means I've begun the argument slightly behind, a situation which is compounded by the fact that this sort of bullshit gives me headaches. I assume--I hope--that Goldin and Katz spin a somewhat more subtle tale in their 496 pages, but suggesting that economic inequality--which expanded explosively throughout the Reagan/Bush I years, then moderated under Clinton, before exploding again with That Current Moron--is a direct function of worker education just buggers belief. It clearly is not the case during the adult lifetime of David Brooks. And that's without mentioning that the rallying cry for all this tax-cutting for the wealthy was the metaphorical effect of a rising tide on all boats. Of course, now that this has turned to shit the motto has turned into It's Your Own Damn Fault You Swamped!
Let's say, again, that we ought to reject the Single Point of View method of solving complex problems; that we should maintain a healthy, educationally-sound skepticism where overly-broad constructions are concerned, that we should double this when they fail to account for readily-obtainable evidence, and especially when this failure tends to excuse or exonerate the actions of the people who are pushing it in the first place. I have no idea whether this would include Goldin and Katz. But it fits David Brooks like a suit of taylor-made data.
1970 is about the time we began taking seriously the moral requirement to give equal access to public education to minority students. And it is right about the time that Mr. Brooks' end of the political spectrum began fighting that tooth, nail, and treatise by free-market economist. If you're serious about improving education, then get serious about providing health care, nutrition, and an enriched environment of language, literature, art and music for the economically disadvantaged. Quit trying to bust teachers' unions and pay off parochial school parents for voting your way, and start showing real interest in young lives. And start demanding that the wealthy pay for it. Knock off the free market pieties, which have turned to cinders in your hands while you were pretending not to notice anyway. In fact, how 'bout admitting you've purposely fucked things up, and vow to shut up while someone else tries to clean up the mess?