Silly Talk

David “stops making sense” today in a post reprising his notions on education.

  • He cites “The parents at one suburban New Jersey raised $187,000 to send their choir to Vienna, Austria for a concert. It is not a failure of commitment that prevents parents in Anacostia from doing the same.” The pedagogical value of sending a chorus to Vienna is of limited use for the school in general, and is not the sort of “commitment” failure (which largely have little to do with funding). Raising this is, what? A straw man argument?  Committement means teaching your kids values, it means making sure they don’t “hang with the wrong crowd”, it means feeding them breakfast, reading to them when they’re young. These aren’t things which cost lots of money. But you have to care. You might have to spend some of your families money on the kids instead of cell phones, widescreen TVs,  and other trappings of modern our intellectual wasteland.
  • One of the expenses that inner city schools face that suburban and rural schools don’t is that the kids aren’t fed breakfast, so the school does. This is a failure of commitment or responsibilities of the parents.
  • He cites commeter PG, who wasn’t making much sense either, when she wrote children are not “property of parents” in this respect — if parents don’t care about education, well, guess what, we still do. Uhm, this seems an erroneous trope borrowed from pro-abortion logic. Children are indeed not property of parents, they are the responsibility of parents.
  • She continues: Since we can’t reform the values of the parents directly, we’re still left in precisely the same position as when we started — looking at alternative mechanisms to reform our educational system so it fairly serves children in inner cities. Well, I the actual solution for what she desires is one nobody wants, can afford, or things is righteous. That is, if you fail as a parent, your children would/should be taken from you. To suceed, kids need a parent. Spending 1/4 of the day in school isn’t gonig to make up for the rest of the day, not counting the days off school. For if the parent is failing, no part time school is going to be able to replace the advocacy, the support, and the benefit provided by a loving committed responsible parent. So “to be fair” to the inner city failing schools seems logically to strip the kids from those “failed parents” and send them into some magical place/system where parents will be provided by, our progressive big brother? Yech.

The main point is, education of a child is the responsibility of the parent not the state. If the kid isn’t getting a good education, it’s not a “failure” of the state, it’s a failure of that parent. The “problem” isn’t that the parent is a single uneducated mom in a urban setting, that’s a symptom. That mom, if responsible, wouldn’t be having sex, not to speak of kids with/by a father who’s going obviously (or likely) to be absent even before the kid is born.

The interest of the state in educating these kids, seems to me two fold (and equality in the absence of responsible parents is clearly impossible).

  • The first thing the state might be interested in is to identify and encourage movement to a better environment those kids displaying true genius. Carl Gauss reportedly “cried” at age three when his father made an error in summing his accounts in his presence. When chastised for misbehaviour in kindergarden he was told to “sum the numbers between 1 and 100” before he could go to recess with the other kids. He immediately got in line, when reminded he had to do the assignment he responded, “The answer is 5050.” Kids like that (and for other less important fields than mathematics) might appear in our inner cities and other disadvantaged environments. Giving those children and their parents the resources to give those children the opportunities to feed and challenge their talent is in the interest of the state.
  • For the rest of the kids, the state’s interest is far less. Ethics education and giving them the moral tools to become themselves responsible parents for the next generation is the most important thing to teach. How to do that is a question, but for now, the goal isn’t even on the table, so musing on method I’d argue is premature.

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  1. The “strawman” is explicitly a metric of “commitment” that I say can’t be used and reject in favor of another one. If you also reject that metric of “commitment”, then we’re in accord on that point, making your entire first paragraph a waste of pixels. Try reading the post next time and get back to me.

    Hint: here’s your definition of commitment:

    Committement means teaching your kids values, it means making sure they don’t “hang with the wrong crowd”, it means feeding them breakfast, reading to them when they’re young. These aren’t things which cost lots of money. But you have to care. You might have to spend some of your families money on the kids instead of cell phones, widescreen TVs, and other trappings of modern our intellectual wasteland.

    And here’s mine:

    If “parental commitment” is to mean anything with a critical bite in the context of reforming urban schools, then, it has to be more abstract: parents who “value” education and learning, who are “committed” to extolling the importance of it. And I do believe that’s what we’re talking about when we say we want parents “committed” to education.

    Not identical, but overlapping in the focus on the need for parents to teach good values (namely, the value of an education). The substantive argument of the post, however, is that there is little proof that poor parents lack such a value-commitment — you assume it without empirical evidence, which is rank stereotyping. Consequently, I argue, my intuition as to why people adopt this particular argument “on faith” (i.e., without empirical backing) is

    because the alternative is that the explanation lies in something we did, in how we organized the system, in the resources we give to ourselves and deny to them. These thoughts are scary, so we push them away….

    The discourse on the need for a hearty breakfast is, frankly, bizarre except interpreted as a manifestation of this. Why exactly do you think poor students get free lunches at school? My intuition would be either a) the parents can’t afford it, which is what happens when you’re dealing with impoverished youth (Kozol’s observation was that students make sure to attend school for meals because its their only guaranteed source of food — to the point of stuffing their pockets with extras on Fridays to get them through the weekend) or b) the parents aren’t there because they’re working a job so their kids won’t starve the rest of the week (which, theoretically, is what conservatives want out of poor parents. Until they go out and do it, which is when what conservatives REALLY fetishize — blaming poor people for their own problems — becomes evident). Your hypothesis — that schools feed children breakfast because…I don’t know, the parents are too stoned on crack to care?, is presented with, again, no empirical warrant and no genuine solvency, making it, again, rank prejudice and unworthy of my, their, or policymakers’ time.

  2. 1) You seem awfully hung up on whose fault it is. The right question is, what can we (government by and of the people being one manifestation of “we”) do to help?

    2) This isn’t some Matt Damon screenplay. It’s not just the Gauss hidden in the rough we care about. (In fact, he’d probably take care of his own education just fine.) Every single child’s life can be improved by education, from the kid with an 80 IQ who’s taught the very basics to the one with a 130 who might become a doctor instead of the most successful drug dealer in the neighborhood.

  3. Mark says:

    Breakfast isn’t expensive! A crucial problem is it isn’t parent(s!) it’s too often parent in the singular, see for example Mr Obama’s recent speech on absentee fathers. I don’t know why the parents aren’t feeding their kids breakfast in the urban settings. They aren’t, so the schools step in. Costing those impoverished schools money and taking time from classwork.

    You like to point out (numerous times) that I don’t point to data. Gosh. Neither do you. That’s odd.

    The substantive argument of the post, however, is that there is little proof that poor parents lack such a value-commitment — you assume it without empirical evidence, which is rank stereotyping.

    The “proof” is that (a) it’s lacking (see breakfast above) and (b) it isn’t lacking on account of monetary costs. So there’s a problem then, no?

    Uhm, I’ve said what we need to do to help, and calls for “equality of education” isn’t it.

    Right. Every child’s life is improved by education. But the question is what education. I’ve suggested that for the genius, special treatment is called for (on account of state interest in fostering the same) and for the rest, moral education is the primary need.

  4. a) You’re not even warranting the breakfast claim (that urban parents are less likely to feed their kids breakfast than similarly situated suburban or rural families). I’m being nice to even engage you on what is at the moment a hypothetical;

    b) When you’re dirt poor, everything is expensive, and if you can get a free breakfast (freeing up cash to pay for such luxuries like dinner) I don’t begrudge families for taking it. Of course, you don’t even examine the other alternative: parents aren’t feeding their kids breakfast because they’re at work. Because that hypothesis would not stroke your “poor people are responsible for their own plight” fetish.

    c) You’re making an assertion that urban parents are qualitatively inferior to other parents — the burden is on you to back it up. If I start calling people awful, atrocious, basically abusive parents, I’ll start providing more data. I am disturbed that when — by your admission — you have no data pointing in any direction, your default assumption is “poor people suck”. I’d call it prejudice. If you want to call me prejudiced in favor of equality, whatevs — I think a starting presumption in favor of equality is a good beginning for moral analysis;

    d) But then, I did, in fact, provide some empirical backing for my claim. The WSJ (hardly gushy liberals) said that willingness to submit to relatively high taxation to fund education is a sign that parents value education. Poor urban school districts tend to tax themselves at higher rates than affluent suburban districts (even though poor families can afford it less). Ergo, under the WSJ’s metric, we can assume the denizens of urban schools are, in fact, quite committed to education.

  5. Mark says:

    Note, this.

    How are absentee fathers “committed” to their child’s education or life? Or, is Obama (for example) making allegations without data to back it up and therefore “prejudiced?” Or are you, in fact ignoring the obvious.

    Yes, a free meal at school is “free”, but it also takes time and money which could be spent on his education. It just depends on your priorities.

    On (d), there’s commitment and there’s commitment. Mr Gore is “committed” to the cause of Global warming, but he wants taxes and regulations to bear the burden and in his personal life is egregiously wasteful (for example his house). Bearing “higher taxes” as commitment to your kids education when you don’t spend time reading to him, feed him breakfast and so on is like being “committed” to helping the poor and saying “you pay taxes, so you’re covered.” It’s called hypocrisy.

  6. On Obama’s speech, Ta-Nehisi Coates response is best. Great speech, but completely identical to the mainstream Black political opinion on the subject — making it bizarre that (in Coates words) folks are acting like “this dude is the only civilized black man in the world.” It was Black folks cheering Obama for this speech, after all.

    Look, again: At the point where you’re making a claim of moral inferiority (no matter how “obvious” is it is to you — who are you, James Eastland?), you have to back it up with something concrete. That (maybe!) some Black parents don’t feed their kids breakfast, which they might or might not be able to afford (you don’t know), and might or not be presentw for on account of work (you don’t know), which might or might not be demonstrative of their commitment to their child’s education (you give no evidence) is insufficient grounds for making the type of claims you making. Give me something firmer than that. You may not like the WSJ’s metric, but at least it tries to substitute fact for assumption. Sniping at metrics which don’t agree with your stereotypes but offering nothing in return is confirmation bias at its worst.

  7. Mark says:

    The post I linked, which seems strangely echoed by your somewhat strained response on your blog, was not that Obama was saying something “not echoed” by the Black community. It was one which, when and if those statements are made by someone not Black, they get tarred and feathered for it.

    Here I am, saying basically the same thing, that there is a failure of commitment to family, children, and their education in the community at large, and you are taking me at task for it.

    Oddly enough, if true that “it’s a thing that’s a mainstream Black political opinion”, you never write about it, hunt for solutions to it. No, you work on other issues and ignore that elephant in the room, because it “might be too conservative” or something like that.

    And yes, I do know they “can afford” breakfast. Perhaps not breakfast at Starbucks, McDonald’s or another fast food outlet, or the latest and greatest (and shockingly expensive) box cereal. But, everyone can afford bulk oatmeal or grits. Breakfast can cost pennies if it’s a priority.

    I did in fact cite a “metric.” to counter, by noting Obama cites a problem of absentee fathers. How can that not imply a failure of commitment by those same fathers?

    And yes, I tend to “snipe” at cricket races, err, opinion polls because they are such a badly flawed methodology. I give other methods more credence.