Thursday, March 25, 2010

Truthiness in broadcasting

Today on the "liberal" MSNBC show Morning Joe viewers were treated to propogandization on a level that is too often the case on nearly all US media. The subject was "school reform" and featured guest after guest, subject after subject - six men including Al Sharpton and Mike Barnicle (!) on the glories of charter schools and the responsibility of teachers for much that ails American primary and secondary education.

The show cherry-picked the schools it chose to highlight - the ones I saw were all successful - when in reality a charter school is twice as likely to be failing than a regular public school. The schools seemed chosen specifically because they were not typical - they are the select high-flying set - somehow meant to be an example to all the other failures.

In her new book Diane Ravitch showed how when you boil down the few success stories that exist there can be no formula derived. She points out how some of the success stories pointed to, specifically in New York, are atypical even in the demographics of the city, coming from affluent White and Asian neighborhoods, whereas the majority of the city's neighborhoods are poor, Black and Hispanic.

The level of mendacity on the show was breathtaking, even given the low standards of cable TV. Perhaps the biggest lie was NY Mayor Bloomberg's assertion that, contrary to logic, studies, and the views of real education scholars the problem of poor schools cause poverty, and not the other way around. In this regard we are to take the word of Sharpton, a Black leader who Joe Conason said rents himself out to "GOP tricksters", and a billionaire mayor, as opposed to peer-reviewed research, 20 years of charter schools and privatization, and the views of real education scholars.

Someone on the Joe panel emphasized the false point that the future of our country's job market was dependent on all schools succeeding. But education is not the ticket to the middle class that it once was. In fact, as Paul Krugman put it, "Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser." Fortune magazine reported that between 2000 and 2004 "real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined."

In other words, the problems so obviously go much deeper than public school teachers, who are nothing but a convenient target. The same forces that are bringing down our economy are bringing down our schools. Impoverishing foreign trade, loss of jobs, the housing meltdown and the steep drop in our economy are hurting American families. In both cases deregulation and privatization in a way that retains the spending and authority of government but transfers the power to private entities is having disastrous results.

Implicit in the Morning Joe argument is a utopian idea that all schools - and their students - can be exceptional. That's a nice romantic notion, and I too wish everybody could be exceptional. But in this world, as the existentialists would say, that is not possible. Existence before essence. With their destructive lies, the school choicers have taken a different path: In pursuit of an unattainable essence, they rejoice in the removal from existence of those merely trying to exist. To get a flavor of this, just look at the reaction to the recent announcement of the closing down of a so-called "poorly performing" school in Rhode Island.

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