With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

View of SOTU from right field

My friend called me yesterday. She sounded irate. "Do you read the Tribune?" she asks. I try not to but can't avoid it sometimes, I respond. "Did you read that column Sunday by Steve Chapman?" No I didn't but I guess I will have to now, I answer. "He's actually calling on kids to drop out of school. If you don't write something about this I will," she threatens. Kind of an odd threat, but it works.

I hate the Trib which is owned and editorially controlled but the worst bunch of greedy, conservative Republican bastards ever. I don't even know why they still are allowed to put the word Chicago on their masthead, since their readership is mainly suburban and they basically ignore everything that happens within the city. I'd much rather  read the Occupy Chicago Tribune -- but I digress.

So I dutifully read the Chapman piece. He's a horrible, reactionary writer -- one of those anti-union hacks who's paper-thin opinions usually find their way to the T-Party hate sheets, like Phillip Anschutz' Weekly Standard or the National Review. I guess his Tribune patrons felt a need to drag him out of his hole to rail against Obama's SOTU speech. (I know, I know. Why don't I stop holding back and say what I really feel?)

Chapman was smart enough to pick on the weakest part of Obama's  speech -- the very few sentences the president devoted to education. Remember? He started out telling teachers to stop teaching to the test, even though his Race To the Top initiative punishes and rewards schools and teachers almost entirely on the basis of standardized test scores. Obama then calls on the states to do something to keep kids from dropping out before the age of 18 and that was enough to set Chapman's tongue (pen) wagging.
We know, said Obama, "that when students aren't allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18."
Those of us in the field of education know full well the problems with top-down reform. Telling the states to mandate that all kids stay in school until 18 and graduate sounds a lot like George Bush's NCLB mandate that all kids be proficient in reading and math by the year 2014. Without massive resources directed at the conditions poverty that force so many kids to leave school at an early age, and rethinking the purposes and processes of schooling itself, such mandates ring hollow.

But that's not Chapman's argument. My friend was right, he actually DOES want more kids to drop out -- at least those kids. Chapman argues that there are children who "are headed in the wrong direction" (if this sounds like racial code-wording, you're perceptive) who should drop out of school. "The problem is," he claims, "that the youngsters who are most likely to drop out are the ones who are least likely to learn if they stay."

If all this nonsense sounds familiar, it's because it echoes many of the racist theories put forth a generation ago in Herrnstein and Murray's infamous book, The Bell Curve. These two Harvard profs argued basically that higher education was a waste of time and resources for black and Latino youngsters.

Chapman goes on to equate school with prison "where they are forced to endure oppressive rules, bad food and unpleasant company." As for Obama, he's portrayed as the warden, making their sentence even longer, with "no parole."

Chapman then dutifully implies that the call to keep kids in school longer may be simply a plot by the teachers unions.
Why Obama floated the idea, with minimal explanation, is an open question. But the National Education Association, the country's biggest teachers union, has been pushing it. If you were cynical, you might think the union likes the proposal because it would mean more kids in school, which would mean more jobs for teachers, and that Obama likes it because the NEA endorsed him.
For many newspapers and legit media, this stuff would be an embarrassment. But not the Trib. 

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I disagree with the premise that we should keep every kid, though this Chapman fellow does sound ridiculous. I think the system could have addition through subtraction. If the system doesn’t won’t to spend the resources to help them if a kid is going to hijack classrooms or act like a thug we need to cut our losses and concentrate on the other kids.

    How much are we losing by not helping the average kid reach their potential or by not pushing the brilliant kid to achieve more because we’re spending the bulk of our time on a few who are for more interested in disrupting class than learning.


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