A dangerous attack on efforts to measure learning
Teacher unions are the principal mechanisms that turn normie suburban centists into right wingers. This has been true for a long time, going all the way back to when I was growing up in the 80s and the unions tried to eliminate gifted programs in favor of having the gifted kids do unpaid tutoring to the not-gifted kids as a "humbling learning experience"
I spent my entire 20s and early 30s as a Republican partly because of the nonsense I witnessed in public schools.
If you think teacher unions are good allies of science and reality - note that most of them opposed vaccine requirements, in the same manner that the cop unions did, until they got a ton of pressure upstream from mayors/governors in blue states. They are literally the left wing version of cop unions, who will justify, in bad faith, nearly anything that their worst performing member does.
Throughout the Trump Administration, there was a constant refrain that he was gaslighting us. I think that it was sometimes true, but a lot of times it was clear that he was just bullshitting and didn't care if anyone believed him. This is a bad thing for the President to do, but at the same time, isn't really what the term "gaslighting" means. I always interpreted gaslighting as referring to a circumstance where you try to convince someone that you are more reliable than their own eyes.
Applying this definition, I have rarely felt as gaslit as I have in the context of the "CRT" debate. As pointed out in this article (and in the regular emails I receive from my kid's schools DEI advisor), it is clear that something is going on in the schools. However, the party line seems to basically be "nothing to see here, definitely no CRT, that's just taught in law schools, if you believe that, you must be racist" followed by DeBlasio banning advanced math, and Nicole Hannah Jones tweeting that if you don't feel shame for all of the awful things the US did decades or centuries before you were born, you're an immature asshole.
Ultimately, I think that systemic racism continue to be a problem in the US and schools in particular and its worth looking into ways to fight this problem. I also think that it is important to teach the bad things the US has done, along with the good. However, when people pretend the idea that CRT (or rather some sort of DEI/anti-racism program which most of the country now associates with CRT) is in schools, rather than defend the particular programs on the merits, I find it frustrating and politically suicidal (see e.g. VA).
I always balked at claims of a "liberal media." I think for most of my life these claims really were just GOP objections to reporting on facts which objectively supported liberal positions. However, over the past few years, and the past year or so in particular, between this, denials that "cancel culture" is a thing, and a few other issues, it increasingly seems like more and more media outlets have switched from Julia Galef's scout mindset to her soldier mindset on a lot of issues, and I've really lost faith in a lot of outlets I used to read. I know that I am now way more skeptical of anything I read in Slate, or Vox or hear on NPR than I ever was before. I really hope that this current bubble pops soon.
I'm a parent and, indeed, I'm really angry about school closures and not particularly happy about ongoing measures around this. I supported school closures initially when we didn't know much about this virus, but as we learned more about how it, including how it generally isn't serious for children, I thought continuing to stay closed was crazy.
There's been more a lot of talk in liberal circles about the importance of child care, including Pre-K, in recent years, both for children's development and for mothers' ability to work. But when there was an opportunity for progressives to say, hey, as a society we've made a commitment that kids are in school during the day, instead the DC public school system decides it's perfectly ok for most children to not have in-person school for 18 months. High-profile public officials with kids in private school were another awful part of this. Basically, if cities were trying to find a better way to say "fuck you, parents, we owe you nothing, you can't depend on us", with a side of "those of us making these choices don't personally depend on public institutions", I don't think they could have.
Anyway, I'm fairly annoyed about all of this, and I'm jealous that Virginia has an actual two-party system where they get to punish someone.
The DEI movement seem to be largely in epistemic closure and suffering the same failures of other movements in this situation. Once you start to regularly dismiss people, or even data, that disagree with you as invalid, it's game over. You lose the ability to learn from and adapt to reality. You also become prey for exploitation by grifters and reputation launderers.
It doesn't mean it can't accumulate power, but in terms of delivering positive outcomes, its prospects seem bleak.
Great post. What is particularly worrying is the absolute refusal among progressive elites to even consider the possibility that they need to think about these issues - both about their substantive merits, and about their impact on election outcomes.
An illustration of this mindset was the line: "CRT is a graduate school framework that is not taught in Virginia K-12 schools."
Really? What parent who is upset about the issues that Matt lists will be persuaded by that?
I very much hope there will be a post about what is happening in higher education. There, the DEI push really is very aggressive: strong opposition to the use of standardized tests, demands that admissions/hiring make identity a primary consideration, and dramatic expansion of the DEI administrative apparatus. And on top of that, of course an endless list of signaling issues like renaming buildings, new rules about pronouns, etc.
All this has less of an immediate impact on election outcomes that K-12 education, but the long term effects are highly damaging. These efforts fundamentally seek to undermine the meritocratic system that has made US science and higher education the envy of the world. In terms of politics and culture, they make it absolutely clear to half the population that academics are in a very real way their adversaries. Of course they are going to not trust the pronouncements of the academic elites on climate change, public health, etc. Not to mention the impact on funding for research and higher education.
I have yet to be disappointed by cranking my bullshit meter up to 11 at the first invocation of "equity".
' And valuing “written communication over other forms,” he told me, is “a hallmark of whiteness,” which leads to the denigration of Black children in school. '
"Black people/black cultures are just intrinsically worse at writing" sounds... kinda racist!
As a parent of an 8 year old in a mixed-income neighborhood in the pacific northwest, this column encapsulates my experience so exactly it’s startling. The school closures were terrible (and in retrospect a clear mistake that went on too long); they hurt the literacy progress of my son’s lower SES peers more this his higher SES ones; the district has a variety of equity & DEI initiatives that seem not harmful but just wasteful; and the most politically progressive parents & educators I know are increasingly hostile to banal measurement tests for the kids.
It’s not a catastrophic situation- the school is still good, reasonable people can disagree about the closures & mitigation policies, etc. But the 3 things Matty describes here are a package of trends headed in the wrong direction. Backlash from some swing parents isn’t surprising to me.
Teacher unions have latched on to DEI initiatives as yet another way to avoid accountability.
Can’t wait for Matty to get yelled at by woke white dudes on Twitter
I think this is missing one piece that is especially enraging to parents. The attack on gifted education and tracking, and the rationale that underlies it - that there’s no such thing as intellectual giftedness or some kids who are smarter than others or better at math or reading - is going to be basically a non-starter for white collar parents who are meritocracy high achievers. Especially if they 1. Suffered through a public school experience that ignored their needs as children or 2. Immigrated to this country on the basis of their intellectual achievements.
This article is pretty spot on. I’m going to add several additional points.
1. While kids were at home parents got to see the curriculum a lot closer up then they did while their kids went to school. There are a whole lot of cultural lessons that are integrated with everything from math to science. There is a whole Lotta bullshit work it doesn’t really have any added value to whatever subject is being taught.
2. The gaps in education might even be worse, because the highest performing kids, Were actually able to learn more than they would have in school when their hamper down by learning at a pace of slower kids. I 15-year-old did two years of math in one year because it was self-paced during Covid. She would’ve never been able to do that if she was stuck in a normal math class where everyone had to go at the same pace.
3. The back-and-forth of kids between virtual school and in class school whenever someone is expose store has close contact is very frustrating for parents. One of my daughters got Covid, and we were actually relieved… Because now for a few months she doesn’t have to isolate if one of her friends expose her.
I will content myself with saying that I believe, strongly, that a patriotic history curriculum is useful and important. I am not saying we should not teach the full history of the United States but, as Ross Douthat writes:
"If historical education doesn’t begin with what’s inspiring, a sense of real affection may never take root — risking not just patriotism but a basic interest in the past."
Or, in my view, you can also get an unhealthy attitude where in every case you see all of your country's ills without being able to see your country's successes (the current Progressive sin in my mind).
Progressives may disagree, but I think Americans should want their children to love their country. Progressives seem to want to make people hate their country (in an effort, I think, to raise them to be good Progressive voters who despite the Republican Party) except for a handful of scenarios.
Another thing I love about this Navigating EdEquityVA chart is that it presents five keys to ensuring that equity chiefs succeed, but it presents no metrics by which we could evaluate the work product of those equity chiefs, even qualitatively.
The slacker in me would love a high-level job with no performance metrics!
These debates always seem to be presented as "Democratic Teachers vs Republican Parents". I really wish we had more perspectives from non-white parents on how they understand these issues, and what they think should be prioritized.
The impression I get is that these parents are far less invested in "exposing and dismantling systems of oppression", and far more interested in having their children succeed under the systems as they exist today, and the Discourse papers over this fault line.
My impression is that a lot of progressive opposition to standardized testing is a misapplication of the (I think correct) progressive response to psychometric testing via-a-vis "The Bell Curve'. A lot of progressives know that test composition for things like IQ tests can have distorted results for cultural reasons and combine that with the knowledge that teacher's unions are against standardized tests and conclude that they suffer from the same problems, to the same degree. There is a major difference however, in that a standardized test is there to measure knowledge and skills that that the students are specifically trained for and, as such, rely on less culturally acquired knowledge to perform.
I know it's as huge meme that Conservatives are always saying that the 'real racists' are the activists who want to use policy to preferentially handle people of different races. However absurd that is in general in the case of standardized testing, where you have activists saying that the achievement gap is not a resources problem but is someone inherent to being black in America, and yeah... that sounds exactly what someone running a Jim Crow state would say...