Jonathan Chait Should Stop Writing About Education Reform

Jonathan ChaitWhenever Jonathan Chait writes about the education reform movement, he should be required to put a statement at the start of it. It should be something like this: “My wife works in the education reform movement.[1] As a result of this, I have absolutely no objectivity. Unlike most of what I write about, I have no sense whatsoever for nuance. I just hate the teachers unions and what little I will say about them will represent the most extreme factions. So it is really for the best if you don’t even read what follows because I have nothing interesting to add to any discussion on the issue of education reform.” But instead, he pretends as though he were objective and interesting. Meanwhile, his readers get intellectual whiplash from one article to the next as he moves from liberal to conservative and back again.

His article today was a particularly egregious example of this, Obamans, Selling Out, and the Proxy Fight for the Democratic Party’s Future. His complaint in the article is that supporters of teachers unions attack Obama surrogates[2] rather than Obama and this is wrong because… Really, I don’t know why. He says that they don’t attack Obama himself because the President is popular inside the unions. So the union leadership is trying to protect its members in the best way that it can. And this is wrong because… Again, I don’t know.

The whole purpose of the article seems to be to allow him to write, “The splits within the Democratic Party over whether public services should be designed for the benefit of providers or consumers tend to come out at the municipal level.” Ouch! In case you missed it, Chait is saying that teachers unions are a constituency just like the the school kids. And who you gonna support, huh?! Those greedy teachers or those poor kids? Except, there’s another constituency that Chait doesn’t mention: the people employed in the education reform movement. He must know about it, because his wife works in it. It’s a constituency too.

But in the Jonathan Chait world of black and white education reform, people working for “reform” are only looking out for the kids—unlike those dirty teachers unions that would reduce the school day to 25 minutes if they could. It’s just ridiculous. My problem with the education reform movement is that it seems focused on one thing: teachers unions. It doesn’t spend its time trying to combat the very worst thing about our educational system: inequality based upon the widespread use of local property taxes to fund public education.

When it comes to the people who are always ranting about the budget deficit, Chait has no problem seeing that they aren’t interested in what they claim to be. He sees clearly that these people have ulterior motivations like cutting aid to the poor. But when it comes to education reform, Chait couldn’t be more naive. It seems to not even occur to him that some, maybe even most (Look at who funds the movement!), are not quite so pure. And that’s why his writing about education reform is useless.

[1] According to her Twitter account she is, “Director of Performance Management and Human Resources, Center City Public Charter Schools.”

[2] One of those surrogates is Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which hardly seems to apply. Would he make the same claim if liberals complained about Obama’s Defense Secretary (which we did)?

Update (22 August 2014 10:06 pm)

I want to make clear that this is not about the education reform movement not adopting my favorite issue. I’ve been attacked on this before. People will say that there is no political will to deal with the issue that I am most concerned about and ask if we shouldn’t at least do whatever it is that we can. There are a couple of issues here. One is that education funding inequality is not just any other issue. It is like taxes in the budget deficit debate. If someone isn’t willing to deal with this issue, it shows that they aren’t serious. At best it shows they only want to nibble around the edges of the problem. Another issue is: why is it politically viable to go after teachers unions and to push testing, testing, and more testing? I think a lot of it is that the people who are willing to give millions of dollars for education reform are mostly interested in something else. I’m all for things that work. But at one time, charter schools were what would save us. In fact, to many people, they still are. But it’s turned out that other than moving a lot of teachers out of unions, the charter schools haven’t done that much good. On average, they are about as good as public schools. I think I have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the motivations of the education reform movement. And so does Jonathan Chait.

Mad More Insightful Than Mainstream Media

Norman Rockwell the Runnaway - Mad Magazine Parody

When I was a kid, I thought Mad Magazine sucked. The humor was too obvious—like it was hitting you over the head. There was no subtlety. It was like a bad joke teller who nudges you, “Get it?! He thought she was making fun of his eye, but she was really just surprised, ‘Would I?’ Get it?!” That was the magazine.

But then yesterday, they came out with, If Norman Rockwell Depicted Today’s America: the Militarization of Officer Joe. And I was blown away! They nailed it. This is good satire. It isn’t even about what’s happened to our policing, because in a fundamental sense, that hasn’t changed so much. What has changed is the way that the mainstream of America sees the police.

When Rockwell created the original in 1958, if he had painted a black boy, the officer would have been saying, “What are you doing on that seat, boy?! Don’t you know this is the white’s section!” So for a great many people in 1958, the parody was accurate at the time—at least in the general sense.

Of course, it isn’t only about the representation of the police. There have been far too many Ferguson-type shootings and many of them have gotten a lot of attention. What’s more, nice white middle class people have found that increasingly their local police forces do more harm than good. Now instead of just fixing problems, police seem focused on getting arrests. As though it makes any sense to arrest a 16-year-old boy for a Facebook posting that he shot his neighbor’s pet dinosaur.

So what I’m thinking is that maybe Mad Magazine is just as stupid as it ever was. It is just that America—and especially American policing—has gotten so stupid that Mad looks good by comparison. In its defense, Mad has never claimed to be anything but stupid. On its website, it offers for readers to, “Get more stupidity delivered right to your mailbox!” But when Mad Magazine is clearly more serious and insightful than the Very Serious Chorus of the likes of David Brooks (much less the right wing loonies), I fear we have past the point from which we can return.

H/T: Democratic National Christian Choice

Chicago Cubs’ Management Both Stupid and Evil

Chicago CubsFor the last few months, Dean Baker has taken to referring to the “skills gap” in a unique way. If you read the Very Serious Commentators, you will doubtless have heard about the supposed skills gap. It is a form of apologia intended to justify high unemployment. The argument goes like this: people aren’t out of work because there is a lack of jobs; rather, they are out of work because they don’t have the skills necessary for the jobs that are available. And to bolster this, the commentator will find some employer who claims that, for example, he just can’t find manufacturing workers who can do trigonometry. What is almost never stated in such articles is that the example employer is only willing to pay slightly more than minimum wage for such skills.

Baker has been saying for a while there is a skills gap: the managers of these companies that can’t find qualified employees to hire don’t know basic economics which would tell them that if they want skilled employees, they need to pay them more money. He’s joking, of course. What’s really going on is that these employers are being disingenuous. Obviously, any employer would be able to sell more stuff if he could undercut the competition by paying less than the going rate for workers. Usually, it turns out that such employers are really just conservative ideologues trying to make a political point.

Today, Baker published a related article, It’s Hard to Find Good Help, Chicago Cubs Edition. It’s the kind of story that makes me boil over with rage, because we are talking about a baseball franchise. Major League Baseball has a Congressionally created monopoly—the only one in existence. And franchises are very profitable. But they still do everything they can to screw the American worker.

According to Talking Points Memo, Cubs Cut Workers’ Hours To Avoid Obamacare Mandate, Then Disaster Struck. The Cubs management didn’t want to have to provide healthcare for their grounds crew, so they cut back their hours to less than 30 per week so they wouldn’t have to. First: the Cubs don’t already provide healthcare for their grounds crew?! Second, that is the most petty thing I’ve heard this week. The disaster was that because the crew was under-staffed, the field got muddy and the Cubs ended getting a winning game overturned. So great! They totally deserve that.

But that’s not the best part of it. The best part of it has to do with the managerial skills gap I talked about at the beginning of this. Here’s Dean Baker:

The problem with this story is that employer sanctions are not in effect for 2014. In other words, the Cubs will not be penalized for not providing their ground crew with insurance this year even if they work more than 30 hours per week. Apparently the Cubs management has not been paying attention to the ACA rules. This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.

This is entirely typical. My experience in the corporate world is that there is basically no correlation between success and competence. And many managers don’t get their information about government programs from objective sources but rather from people like Michael Savage. So it isn’t surprising in the least that the Cubs management got this wrong. They are as competent as they are kind.

Update (23 August 2014 3:45 pm)

Today, Dean Baker is back with another in his series, It’s Hard To Get Good Help: Trucking Industry Edition. He explains:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t publish data directly on truckers’ pay, but if we look at the larger category of transportation and warehousing, the data show the real average hourly wage has risen by 1.7 percent over the last seven years. This is an annual rate of just over 0.2 percent.

This pattern will exist pretty much anywhere people claim that employers can’t find workers. You know when it is for real because wages go up sharply. Something I should have noted above: during the Great Depression, conservatives made exactly the same claims, “Workers didn’t have the right skills!” But then we geared up for World War II and suddenly all those “unemployable” workers found jobs. The skills gap was a myth then and it is a myth now.

Wheaton Hates Women Loves Wars

Wheaton College - For Bigotry and Its Kingdom

I recently found out that one of the neighborhood boys is attending Wheaton College, the Christian school in Illinois. Wheaton has been in the news a lot recently because of their fight against providing birth control in insurance coverage for their employees. They don’t even like the idea that the insurance companies pay for the birth control themselves. This isn’t a problem for the insurance companies because, as we all know, birth control is a whole lot cheaper than pregnancies. But according to Wheaton this is like given women a “permission slip” for contraceptives.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Is that the most paternalist idea ever? Yes. What is clear here is that the folks at Wheaton College are freaking out because the “permission slips” are for sex without consequences. And that just isn’t okay to the followers of the sexually repressed St Paul, the founder of Christianity. As a result, the government is doing back-flips so that Wheaton College (and other similarly backward theists) can tell the government about not wanting to cover birth control and then the government can tell the insurance companies. All to keep the folks at Wheaton feeling godly.

But Wheaton is actually a “liberal” Christian college. The scientists there actually believe in evolution. They apparently are of the Catholic persuasion of thinking natural selection works but God at least created the whole thing and is tinkering behind the scenes. (I don’t have a problem with that. If you are going to be a theist, that’s about the most intellectually coherent way to go.) Of course, the college is not Catholic as is indicated by the firing of Philosophy professor Joshua Hochschild for converting to Catholicism.

In addition to this, the college is also quite aggressive in its hostility to same sex relationships. This caused some alumni in 2011 to start OneWheaton. It was specifically in response to Wheaton’s “Sexuality and Wholeness” series of sermons that taught that following Jesus and being in a same sex relationship were not compatible. Because as you may know, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, but not if they are one of those homos.”

What most strikes me about Wheaton College is that my neighbor is in ROTC there. I understand that the military is an unfortunate necessity. This is because human beings are awful. But Wheaton College is so interested in its status as a Christian college. They’ve decided for reasons I doubt they even understand that the moment a spermatozoa passes across an egg membrane, a soul pops into it. Thomas Aquinas didn’t think that, but who cares what one of the greatest theological thinkers of all time thought? Regardless, the college is apparently more interested in potential human beings than actual ones. Allowing employees to use hormonal birth control is unacceptable! But training students to be killers is just great!

This is one of the big reasons that our 80% Christian nation is so screwed up. Our Christians are more interested in politics than they are theology. They are more interested in apologizes for the power elite and gaining power themselves. And maybe that’s fine, because Jesus already blessed the poor in spirit, the mournful, and the gentle. I guess the Christians like those at Wheaton think they are taken of. They must think that “God helps those who help themselves,” even though it isn’t in the Bible. (It is in the Quran.) But that is as it should be, because for modern American Christianity, the Bible is at best of selective interest.

One Perfect Dorothy Parker

Dorothy ParkerOn this day in 1893, the great writer Dorothy Parker was born. She is best known today for her clever sayings like, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think” and her proposed epitaph, “Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” But she was far more than this. She was quite an accomplished writer of poetry, short stories, screenplays, and nonfiction.

In her mid-20s, she became a replacement theater critic for Vanity Fair where she met people like Robert Benchley and Alexander Woollcott. Their lunches at the Algonquin Hotel became known as Algonquin Round Table. Basically, it was just a meeting place for clever and urbane people. But it was through this group that her work got a wider audience. According to Wikipedia, she published 300 poems during the 1920s. And she was on the board of editors of The New Yorker at its founding in 1925. During this period she also wrote a number of short stories, book reviews, and co-wrote the Broadway play Close Harmony.

In 1934 she went to Hollywood where she did quite well doing what we would now call “punching up” scripts. She did have screenwriting credit, however—most notably on A Star Is Born. In the 1950s, she was blacklisted because of her involvement in left wing politics. The executor of her will, for example, was Lillian Hellman and she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King Jr. So of course she was blacklisted!

What I still find interesting today is that no one went after former or even current fascists. And you can see just how radical Parker was by the fact that nothing she believed in is considered radical today. But the point is that anyone who stands up for the people against the power elite is attacked by whatever media and political organs are controlled by the power elite. And today, that means all of them. Of course, Parker was fine. She had money from all of her writing and was still employable in the magazine industry at places like Esquire.

She drank to excess in later years—especially after the suicide of her second and third husband, Alan Campbell. She died of a heart attack in 1967 at the age of 73. Here she is reading her poem “One Perfect Rose”:

Happy birthday Dorothy Parker!