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Frugal Pharisees

By Al Schumann on Friday March 4, 2011 08:57 AM

The NY Times has a cud-chewing piece on the "tide of remedial students" entering the city university system. "Tide"? Their institutional gift for infelicity remains untrammeled by experience or humane considerations. It gets worse from there in the usual style; insinuations and the shallowest prurient interest—both intended to display a decent regard and adult responsibility, both failing completely. They can't bring themselves to say, straight out, that Bloomberg's teacher-baiting and child-grinding initiatives have made things worse.

Nor can they bring themselves to point out the obvious. The other prosperous social democracies get better educational "metrics" for less direct educational money because they offer a comprehensive system of social services and support. It's not hard to understand what's happening in US schools. Children whose parents endure constant stress will be stressed themselves. Children whose parents are subjected to a series of petty and gross humiliations are going to be scared. They're going to have a hard time, and if they're treated like criminals at school they're going to conclude that they're hated.

After all that, some are still going to try to make the best of a bad situation, and will still want a credential that might reduce their exposure to being treated like shit. They're going to need help with that. So, yeah, "remedial" education.

On a positive note, the NY Times recognizes that the students who do get some support are able to pass standardized tests. Thanks!

Comments (19)


Click on name of the author for many good pieces:

I've read the Times over 70 years — worked there for 24 — and never saw a foreign intervention that the Times did not support, never saw a fare increase or a rent increase or a utility rate increase that it did not endorse, never saw it take the side of labor in a strike or lockout, or advocate a raise for underpaid workers. And don't let me get started on universal health care and Social Security. So why do people think the Times is liberal?


Perhaps because to a subset of Americans, "liberal" means "Jew"? It has little political connotation, for them, except to imply "not Christian, and vaguely or specifically Jewish."


sk, Same reason there's this myth out there that the media generally is liberal. Or maybe in a leftist sense it IS liberal, though that's not the sense in which the accusers mean. Short answer: The Times is liberal in the narrowest, between-the-40-yard-lines sense of "Democrat."

Al, the indecency and outright hostility and even hatred that people show for poor kids and their parents, particularly of a darker hue, still never ceases to amaze or disturb. But that this never ceases to amaze probably says more about some vague delusions (or hopes) about this society that I still harbor.

To appropriate the tedious campaign phrase: It's the poverty, stupid. And the discrimination. And the hostility.


Jack, that's skating on thin ice. Maybe you should rephrase it.

The answer to John Hess's question is that the Times provides more information than other papers. Information, rather than opinion, is the holy grail of liberalism. We're just dealing with myth, of course, but conservatives really hate information-- it confuses them and threatens their simplistic world views. On the other hand, liberals love information, because it disguises theirs.


Yeah, what he said!

Perhaps because to a subset of Americans, "liberal" means "Jew"?
Also, yes, the Times tends to avoid openly blaming America's problems on the Negroes (in so many words, although I fear for the subtext) and on a secret cabal of international Jewish bankers and on a lack of visible guns/patriotism (for a definition of "patriotism" that involves, say, flag shirts and images of bald eagles). So, you know, my illiterate teabagging uncle thinks it is "liberal." Because he is a moron. Who doesn't want to pay taxes, but who accepts Medicare and Social Security and doesn't think they go far enough. He also thinks Stalin was a liberal, and Hitler -- but not Rabbi Yeshua. It is a problem of, as Ronald Reagan once called it, his "paradijum." Can't win for losing.

Did you see the article the one sad little NYT dude wrote addressing Matt Taibbi's "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?" piece? Because even I was appalled, and I have the same grasp of financial principles that a duck has of the Magna Carta.


Why would I have to rephrase that?

Have you never had the misfortune to encounter those regions, communities and social circles where "liberal" really just means "Jew"?

If not, you're really missing out.

Perhaps one day you might, and then you may also enjoy the dissonant treat of an impassioned Christozionist defense of Israel in the same rant which includes a condemnation of Jew bankers and Jew Hollywood producers.


That's an exact truth. The negro-blaming language of the times is too parsed and subtle for those who prefer a coarser blaming. Therefore, they miss the subtext and assume an unprovable "liberalism."

But, these are also the same folks who think that GE-Comcast-MSNBC's warhawking, greenwashing, penultimately late capitalist corporate behemoth is "the liberal media," so...

Al Schumann:

Apologies for this digression from the trend of the discussion, I had some afterthoughts on the article that I'm desperate to get into writing.

First, the article primly alludes to teaching students how to learn. The better and best teachers do this, but they're balked by the fatuous testing regimes. I think it's fair to say the intent of the tests is consciously anti-intellectual.

Second is that the proverbial "good education" will flirt with the proper explication of logical fallacies, but will also hammer students into creating slicker fallacies, of the kind Jack and Emma ably described.

Third, there remain students and teachers who attempt what chomskyzinn mentioned in the previous post: subversion into decency. Hence, I believe, the pressure to subject schools to a sadist's understanding of market discipline.


hey Al, great to have you back

"Second is that the proverbial "good education" will flirt with the proper explication of logical fallacies, but will also hammer students into creating slicker fallacies, of the kind Jack and Emma ably described."

I don't have many strongly held views on education, but this is one: logic ought to a full "subject" and taught from fairly early on.

I'm gonna have to resort to personal anecdote here, so bear with me. The best, most valuable course that I have ever taken was one called "Modes of Reasoning". I'd studied logic before, both the old school latin variety (modus ponens and all that), and symbolic logic, but neither were really useful to me, and I'd kind of dismissed the study of logic as a useless overlay of jargon onto something that was naturally self-evident. This course taught logic in the way that it needs to be taught and really changed my mind about that. Part of it was the instructor, who is truly a great teacher:


He's an easy mannered, blue-blood kind of fellow, but really friendly and unpretentious. As the Dean he also made Trinity (an ultra-WASP college that produced Michael Ignatieff) into a refuge for the Marxist and radical left profs.

The course he teaches is on informal logic, which is basically sentential logic but without going all the way into the symbols. The course material was all his own creation, which is why I have to bring up the instructor. There were no textbooks. Instead we just got photocopied packages each week, with a fill-in-the-blanks sheet that had all the lecture information (the blanks were there so you had to pay attention, but not be scribbling the whole time) and selected short readings. The first half of the course was studying basic informal logic, and the second half was applying it to ethical, legal, and political problems (supreme court decisions, Singer articles, op-eds, etc.).

Even though it was great to have him teaching the course, I think that this guy's teaching system and course material could easily be replicated in many elementary, high school and college classrooms. I'm also convinced that almost everyone would enjoy the class immensely, and derive tangible, lifelong benefits from it. As a society, we could probably reduce stupid bullshit by 30 to 40 percent.

Al Schumann:

Thanks, FB. That's a great anecdote. I've come across the view or been told—hundreds maybe thousands of times—that familiarity with logic should indeed be taught, as early as possible in any way students can handle, with the goal of bullshit reduction in mind. Crusty old paleo-conservatives feel it prepares students for citizenship. Reds feel it offers intellectual self-defense. Etc. etc.

The problem is that it would make a lot of students unmanageable, in the corporate sense, which is just fine with me.


The negro-blaming language of the times is too parsed and subtle for those who prefer a coarser blaming. Therefore, they miss the subtext and assume an unprovable "liberalism."

When New Yorkers went into shock over the 41 bullets fired at Amadou Diallo, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert found "comfort" — her word — by recalling the sodomizing of Abner Louima. The business with the broomstick, she explained in the New Yorker (3/29/99), was not what we hire the police to do, whereas we do pay them to accost characters who fit a certain pattern. That fusillade, she said, "may not be racism at all but something new, a form of racial bias that is statistically driven and officially sanctioned."

sIt didenecal:

Jack: why would you refer to a whacko subset of the population as an authority on what the NY Times is called?


Sorry, FB, but logic is not the panacea you think. If it was, we'd be able to resolve our issues here in about five comments, max.

Unfortunately, right after logic comes rhetoric, and rhetoric is really the life blood of blogs, or, to switch a metaphor, the hot air beneath our wings.

Sit didenical,

I don't remember mentioning anything about what the New York Times is called.

I believe I pointed out the for many folks "liberal" stands in for "Jew."

Are they a wacko subset? I don't know. They seem pretty damned obsessed with Hollywood, not for its capitalist success, but for its anti-American culture. I knew what that score was, growing up. I don't know about you, but it was pretty thinly veiled when I was a lot younger. Hell, it still is.

A lot of them have transmogrified "International Jewry" into "International Muslimry" over the last decade, but I doubt they've lost their Jew hatred for all that they need Israel to stand strong right up until the point when Angry Non-Jewish Avenging Christ returns to smash it into shape so he can turn it into his apocalyptic landing strip...



Not sure where I said that it would be a panacea. In all likelihood, any decrease in stupid bullshit is going to be offset by a proportional increase in advanced bullshit. But that's progress, innit?

Speaking of advanced bullshit, I also strongly disagree that logic is somehow nullified by rhetoric. IMO rhetoric is just the practice of exploiting listeners' cognitive biases and the slippages between language and logic in order to cover up and divert attention from logical holes in an argument. If you study logic, you're more likely to cut through the rhetoric and identify the logical weakness of a position.

"If it was, we'd be able to resolve our issues here in about five comments, max."

I'm not sure that I'd hold up our comments here, at least recently, as an example of the failure of logic to sharpen up a debate.

I'm just throwing this out there, but maybe if we took a bit more time to closely read each-others' comments and identify the implied premises that are disagreed upon, we would see a lot less vitriol, ad hominem and scarecrow arguments. More importantly, the debate might actually move on to some new, more interesting topics, instead of going around in circles for hundreds of comments while degenerating into insult slinging.

Al Schumann:

FB, I too would consider advanced bullshit an improvement of a kind. At least there's more of an energy drain on the bullshitter. Defending the sunk costs of an untenable imputation could, conceivably, cause a salutary aversion. It's something to hope for, as is the entirety of your concluding paragraph.


FB: Your manly good sense has convinced me. I was being petty.

JC: I was being over-sensitive about your comment, too. Accustomed to your usual ironic prose style, I thought by "certain subset" you probably meant a pretty large segment.

The question really is this:

from whose perspective is the NYT being judged as "liberal"?

- the self-professed "liberal"? this is where senecal's explanation (it's about information) is correct.

- the haters of "liberalism"? this is where Jack's response (cracker "conservatives" and their code word for "jew") comes into play.

Of course there's another perspective neither senecal, nor Jack, nor Emma discussed, and that would be whatever is my perspective. That's where "liberal" means "corporatist lover of the Donkey Tattoo On One's Metaphoric Heart" and is exemplified by people who worship the NY Times, NPR, PBS for the reasons senecal mentioned: information = enlightenment.

Note the absence of discernment among/within, or processing of, that information. Which gets to what FB said about teaching logic, and Al's response that it would render students uncontrollable for corporate (and other enslavement) interests.


Re the 'information=enlightenment' crowd, Alex Cockburn wrote a fine piece lampooning the 'on the other hand' type of reporting NYT and its ideological kin specialize in:

Years ago, when the nightly program was mandatory viewing in every liberal home from Montauk to Santa Monica, I wrote a parody of the McNeil-Lehrer Show, as it was then called before McNeil hailed down his colors and moved on. The piece ran in Harpers, and though it prompted a good deal of laughter, there were a surprising number of letters from outraged PBS viewers, wailing about my lack of respect. It was as though I had publicly kicked a respected greybeard...Admirers of the 'MacNeil/Lehrer Report' — and there are many of them — often talk about it in terms normally reserved for unpalatable but nutritious breakfast foods: unalluring, perhaps, to the frivolous news consumer, but packed full of fiber.

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