Thursday, May 22, 2014

Friday Fragments

The Girl won the town-wide fourth grade spelling bee!  

It came down to a two-girl battle, with TG and her opponent slugging it out for what seemed like forever.  But TG was the last one standing.  She won on “emergency.”

I go to softball games, baseball games, basketball games, and lacrosse matches, but spelling bees are way more intense.  And much more satisfying to win.  

As a family, we may be mostly mediocre athletes, but do NOT mess with our words.


In yesterday’s post, I asked if there had ever been an actual, empirical study of which kinds of on-campus budget cuts did the least harm.

Apparently, the answer was ‘no.’

Alright, Education graduate programs.  Your move.  


There’s something redemptive about attending scholarship award ceremonies.   Seeing students in their thirties, with young children, receive recognition for academic excellence while supporting their families -- with their kids cheering for them in the audience -- is cleansing.  And a little humbling.  


The New Yorker had a worthwhile piece last week on the fate of school reform in Newark, New Jersey.  Newark is a difficult case from any angle.  Its per-student funding is among the highest in the country, yet its results are generally abysmal.  

Depending on your politics, you can read it any number of ways.  But the line that jumped out at me came from the failed quasi-Progressive superintendent, Cami Anderson.  She was quoted as saying that school reform is sixteen dimensional chess.  She followed that by saying that she had developed a master plan to win that chess match, but that the plan had to be adopted wholesale if it would be expected to work.  Make piecemeal compromises, and the whole thing would fall apart.

But chess isn’t a one-person game.

I couldn’t get through the piece without thinking of the Progressive Era.  Many of the reforms the Progressives enacted were good and right, substantively.  But they were rooted in a semi-conscious classism that left a bitter aftertaste.  And a subsequent century of history has shown pretty clearly that elites may be experts at certain things, but they are never neutral.

Politics isn’t like solving math problems.  In politics, the variables have independent will.  If your solutions can’t handle that, they aren’t solutions.


Much the same could be said about Tim Geithner, if Heidi Moore is correct.  Moore’s piece in the Guardian about Tim Geithner is careful, observant, and quietly devastating.

I’ll admit that I was disappointed when Moore left Marketplace, because she has one of the best radio voices I’ve ever heard.  But if articles like this are the fruit of her move, I withdraw my objection.  

Even more than Cami Anderson, the portrayal of Geithner suggests a conception of power that mostly ignores politics.  She paints a Geithner who’s far too deferential to powerful bankers and almost entirely indifferent to everybody else; the description rings true, because it explains how he can admit that his policies were incredibly one-sided, and yet not see why so many people object.  

The Progressive temptation is real.  It’s easy to divide the world into Those Who Get It and everybody else, and to write off the protests of the latter as ignorant, provincial, or corrupt.  And sometimes they are.  But those who are written off tend to push back, and even people who get important things wrong can still sometimes see things that Those Who Get It miss.  

Process matters.  Reforms are easy to present in PowerPoints, especially among the like-minded.  But actually getting stuff done requires letting people draw on the slides.