Thursday, March 3

The Banality Of Banality

David Brooks, "The New Normal". February 28
We’re going to be doing a lot of deficit cutting over the next several years.

Who's this We, Kimo Sabe?
The country’s future greatness will be shaped by whether we cut wisely or stupidly.

And by whether we keep listening to the Official Spokesmen for Once and Future Greatness.
So we should probably come up with a few sensible principles to guide us as we cut.

Gee, Dave, you happen to know anyone who has some?
The first one, as I tried to argue last week, is: Make Everybody Hurt. The sacrifice should be spread widely and fairly.

Which is it going to be: Universal, or Fair? Can't be both. Fair is "The top 2%, who gobble up 3/4 of the pie, and who've had their taxes slashed relative to the general population for thirty years now, resulting in the current deficit, but not in that rising tide that was supposed to float everyone's boat, pay for what they've caused, with an assist from all the folks who insist we keep a five-ocean Navy, ground forces sufficient to invade every two-bit dictator we didn't install, and half of those we did, plus sufficient nuclear stockpiles and the underperforming supra-techno bombers to take 'em anywhere our sabers point". Widely, on the other hand, is what you want.
A second austerity principle is this: Trim from the old to invest in the young. We should adjust pension promises and reduce the amount of money spent on health care during the last months of life so we can preserve programs for those who are growing and learning the most.

Republican Death Panels.® The Ones That Make Good Economic Sense.™

(Funny, too, how dependent we become on public education when it's time to use it as an excuse to screw everybody else.)
So far, this principle is being trampled.

So far, you haven't expressed one. Just an excuse to do exponentially more of what you've wanted to do, and tried to do, in good economic times and bad, since that day you touched the hem of Milton Friedman's garment. While preserving income inequality, of course.
Seniors vote. Taxpayers revolt. Public employees occupy capitol buildings to protect their bargaining power for future benefits negotiations. As a result, seniors are being protected while children are getting pummeled.

Says, once again, the party which insists that Money is Speech. And that Money is the perfect arbiter.
If you look across the country, you see education financing getting sliced — often in the most thoughtless and destructive ways. The future has no union.

Teachers do. And it's doing them about as much good as it's doing the future.
In Washington, the Republicans who designed the cuts for this fiscal year seemed to have done no serious policy evaluation. They excused the elderly and directed cuts at anything else they could easily reach. Under their budget, financing for early-childhood programs would fall off a cliff. Tens of thousands of kids, maybe hundreds of thousands, would have their slots eliminated midyear.

Says, once again, the party which has been fighting such programs for forty-five years.
Out in the states, the situation is scarcely better. Many governors of both parties are diverting money from schools in thoughtless and self-destructive ways. Hawaii decided to cut the number of days in the school year. Of all the ways to cut education, why on earth would you reduce student time in the classroom?

Says, once again, the man who urged Mitch Daniels to run for President because he's been so "successful" at Procrustean Budget "Balancing".

As for Hawaii, since you bring it up, there's a couple of interesting points we might make. First, that it's always been an article of faith in the Republican war on public education that schools could do more with less. Is there some reason that shouldn't include "less hours" like it does "less money"? Second, doesn't Hawaii setting its own standards fit right in with the whole anti-regulation/nullification thing? You guys used to want to eliminate the Department of Education; now you want its standards, not local standards enforced? And Hawaii's students are improving, according to their version of High Stakes Testing. Isn't that the one and only criterion?
Texas is taking the meat cleaver approach.

So's Mitch Daniels. I guess a lot depends on whose meat is being cleaved.
Which leads to the third austerity principle: Never cut without an evaluation process. Before legislators and governors chop a section of the budget, they should make a list of all the relevant programs. They should grade each option and then start paying for them from the top down.

Oh, sorry, I guess I didn't realize this was a comedy editorial.

Here's an idea. In fact, you can call it a principle if you like: if you don't want simple-minded, politically expedient, penny-wise and pound-foolish legislation, maybe you should stop championing simple-minded, politically expedient, penny-wise and pound-foolish candidates every goddam election.
In education, many administrators are quick to cut athletics, band, cheerleading, art and music because they have the vague impression that those are luxuries. In fact, they are exactly the programs that keep kids in school and build character.

Look, my Poor Wife's an art teacher, so we're way ahead of you on the value of the non-core curriculum. But eat what your dawg treed, or quit huntin'. You're the ones who want to judge public education on student performance on academic tests (essentially math, science, and language, meaning, of course, English), and to tie teacher salaries, even teacher employment, to those scores. Then you want to complain that administrators slash their Republican-reduced budgets by cutting everything else, after we've spent forty years turning education administrators into the handmaidens of crackpottery (and reality teevee stars)? I guess that's the attraction of libertarianism: the farther you go, the easier it gets.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a superb speech in November called the New Normal. He observed that this era of austerity should be an occasion to increase productivity and cut the things that are ineffective. Duncan is a fountain of ideas to make more with less.

Well, that ought to be reflected in his salary, then.
For example, he says, if we have to increase class sizes, we should put more kids in with the best teachers and then we should pay those teachers more to compensate for the extra load. Most of us parents would rather see our kids in a class of 30 with a great teacher than a class of 25 with an average one.

Sure, because 30 sets of parents will always absolutely agree on who qualifies as a Great Teacher.

Jesus, this is American educational policy over the past fifty years in the proverbially appropriate nutshell. There's the notion that Doing Whatever Fucking Jumps Into Our Heads Is Bound To Accomplish Something, Assuming We Can Make It Sound Like It Will, and Assuming We're Doing It To Public Schools. As well as Flying In The Face Of The Goddam Sense God Gives Most Three Year Olds. Here's an appropriately golden-hued fountain of innovation: let's have Arne Duncan try to teach five classes of thirty high schoolers each. For one week. After which he can resign to become the Secretary of the White Guy Basketball League.

Thin the talent pool! Great idea. I guess you're going to compensate those Great Teachers enough that they won't mind missing all those performance bonuses, huh? The same sort of selflessness that drives American industry.

And look, I was educated in the last century, but I still vaguely remember some of it. I had a different teacher every year, then a different teacher every period, then a different teacher every period and every semester. Some I liked, some I didn't like, a couple completely lost control of things. None of 'em particularly inspired me to do anything. A couple of 'em I remember as really nice people, and a couple as real assholes. It was the subjects which either inspired interest or indifference, though not much of the latter: I didn't like wrestling, or gymnastics, and Health wasted my time; I was put in a Physics class I hadn't had the requisite math for, and just sorta goofed around. I can't imagine anything short of a promise of unlimited indecent liberties with Marsha McDonald which would've changed that. Certainly not some rah-rah teacher with an insurance salesman's spiel and a car dealer's televised disposition. If I'd'a had to listen to some wannabe Life Coach spend the whole of my third grade encouraging the plank-dense Johnny Masters to achieve his times tables I'd have made it a point of order to learn less.

Was it different with you? Is this some libertarian version of Everybody's Special, except it's Everybody's Special if he or she gets to rub up against Howard Rourk? Shit. My parents expected me to get good grades. I liked academics. Had the programs been more advanced I would've learned more. Had the teachers been more interesting I would have learned the same shit from more interesting teachers. Had the administrators been semi-competent I wouldn't have been in that Physics class before I had Calculus.

And there aren't enough Great anything to go around, anyway. If your child's education depends on having a first-rate teacher, go get Aristotle. Otherwise, encourage little Mason or Masonette to learn, and to learn more outside the classroom.

Look, can we at least be realistic somewhere in American political life? Just for fun? Okay, then, the real question about education "reform" is not what we should or should not do with our resources. It's "how long after a complete Republican takeover of the public schools will David Brooks be writing his 'high stakes testing doesn't give an accurate picture of educational performance' and 'it's not the schools, or the teachers, it's the parents' column? Over/under is four months.


Anonymous said...

You should post these takedowns of that beady-eyed, bald headed gnome as comments on the NYT reader's comment page. You'd get high recs and he might actually end up seeing your work.

Keep it up---just discovered you via a mention in some other blog (think it might have been Crooked Timber) and loving your stuff.

R. Porrofatto said...

1. Bless you.
2. The future doesn't need a union. It needs a lobbying firm.
3. He wrote an entire column on cutting the deficit and didn't once use the word "taxes." Obviously, at the NY Times, to paraphrase Brooks, nobody bothers to link pay to performance.

RobertB said...

Bringing it as usual. And reminding me that I need to work the word 'Procrustean' into my next meeting.

murfyn said...

A letter to the editor in the local paper warned readers that (I paraphrase) if the rich are taxed to feed the poor, we run the very real danger of running out of rich people. Aside from the obvious comment of "You say that like it's a bad thing", I wonder if this has ever really happened. Aside from in an Ayn Rand novel.

Jim said...

What exactly is a pension "promise"? Is it like a wage "suggestion"? Or maybe a "if we feel like it" benefit?

Whatever I'll bet it's not at all like a "possible" profit or a "we'll see" tax reduction.

Because those things are just crazy talk.

Kathy said...

"Make Everybody Suffer" is his solution?

Why must anyone suffer? Our country is abundant, overflowing with valuable natural resources and brilliant, hard working people. There is no sane reason that anyone need suffer just because a tiny, tiny minority of people have seized all the wealth and won't let go of even a small amount of it.

The Tyranny of the Wealthy must be destroyed ASAP. It can be done; see Revolutionary USA, France and Russia.

Probably the Kochs, Waltons, Wall Street Banksters would prefer the US Revolution method, but since they're working 24/7 to destroy any comprehension of real Democracy, they're gonna end up with guillotines or firing squads. People have been whipped into a frenzy by the Propaganda of our corporate media, and the monster they've created could easily turn on them.

whetstone said...

The line about Arne Duncan exceeds even your usual high standards. When I've been told to do more with less (only happened twice in 7 years out of college!) the best I can do is a blank expresion. Not sure if it's because I'm dumb or want to avoid misdemeanor charges.

Anonymous said...

Hell yeah to everything you wrote - this farrago of balderdash from Brooks is beyond preposterous - a liar telling lies to other liars, mutually reinforceing each others' lies - yet it's their world. They got on TV, they cash the big checks, they have the gates.
Brooks is your fish, and you've got the best barrel going - but I saw Malcom Gladwell and Wendy Kopp spouting imbecilic, noxious anti-rational claptrap for nearly two hours on C-SPan, and they are every bit the equal of the morons you destroy in here.
Brooks is wrong on everything, but more wrong on one thing: athletics never gets cut. Never. Art or music - well that's basically Communism to 'Mericans.

RobertB said...

I have seen athletics get cut. One of our local school districts killed all the athletic programs a few years back after a levy failed. No extracurricular football, basketball, nothing. The suffering was legendary. The levy that was proposed in the next election was passed, and restored all the programs. I'm not sure if the school board got to keep their jobs or not after that little dealie.