May 11, 2007

Killing Sparrows with Howlitzers: Easily the worst contribution the blogosphere has made to our culture has been its obsessive media bashing. Fact checking and exposing the latent biases of the Beltway Punditocracy is cool and all that, but do we really need essay-length jeremiads about how Thomas Edsall is completely, totally, massively stupid for stating that David Broder is the "Voice of the People.," as if that's what he literally meant. It's fine and dandy to "work the ref" in service of a higher ideological end, but even Bobby Knight does some real coaching on the side.

May 09, 2007

I always thought the "Oil-for-Food Scandal" was one that was hyped by the right wing to provide an ex post facto rationalization for their little adventure in Iraq, but little did I know that the real scandal was "Oil-for-Rice."
The oft-excellent Avedon Carol has a good post tying together Girls Gone Wild, predatory student loan practices, and Justice Kennedy's recent decision on late-term abortions, that's worth reading.

May 08, 2007

Like many other conservatives, Mickey Kaus has made a bugbear out of teachers' unions, without providing much in the way of support for why he feels breaking the union will bring about a paradise on earth for those concerned about education. Matthew Yglesias calls his bluff, and Kaus, rather than putting up, instead refers people to a blog called Eduwonk, which from my brief review seems to blame much of the woes of our educational system on the quality of teachers, but while critical of the unions, doesn't seem to provide much in the way of evidence that the union representing teachers is responsible for the quality shortfall or any other defects in our educational system.

I probably have more close friends who are public school teachers than I have lawyer pals, so what I write is clearly anecdotal, but from what I have seen, they work 24-7 at their jobs. There may have been a time when teachers everywhere earned poverty-level incomes, and the only people who could possible want the jobs were either affluent zealots who felt they had a calling or those who weren't bright enough to get into graduate school, but that isn't really true anymore, in large part thanks to the economic gains the unions have helped teachers make. Insofar as I've seen no evidence that the educational system is better in states where there are no collective bargaining entities negotiating teacher pay and working conditions, I fail to see how "busting" the unions will solve all of the problems.

Moreover, it would seem that the public is somewhat disinclined to blame the teachers for the perceived failings of the educational system. The favorite conservative policy, school vouchers, has been poorly received whenever it's appeared on the ballot, even though there's always some deep pocket ready to finance any initiative that would hurt teachers' unions. It's hard to see how vouchers constitute a "solution," in any event, since the public will inevitably demand that the tax dollars going to private schools be supervised, most likely by the same bureaucrats who run the public schools (it also raises the obvious question that if private or parochial schools are doing so well, why do they need vouchers in the first place?).

This seems to be an old argument, anyway. Was there ever such an Edenic Age when the public didn't think it had a problem with the educational system? You can boil down whatever gripes you might have with public schools, and toss up whatever solutions you might think are workable, and in the end, the only really important factor is whether a student is motivated to learn. That requires good teaching, to be sure, but infinitely more are the values that are stressed at home. A child who is raised to believe that a good education is important and is valued by his parent(s) will be more likely to succeed in school, no matter how rotten his teachers are and no matter how much power the unions have.

May 07, 2007

Who said Free Trade doesn't benefit everyone: