Dear President Obama: Please indoctrinate my child.

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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133 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    Someday, I will really get the hang of embedding videos and links. Really. I swear.


  2. I think you’ll find it’s “Ehrenreich”.

    Read “Blindsided”.Report

  3. I think it’s a somewhat absurd line of argument through and through. And a red herring of sorts. Those who would complain about the book do so because Ehrenreich is a liberal and they don’t like liberals. Full stop. If my school assigned me something by, say, Walter Russell Mead, I would complain, too; but I wouldn’t bother going so far as to call it propaganda and imply it was dishonest or discreditable work.Report

  4. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Similarly, I don’t really think Tom wants anything with a political point of view to be banned from high schools – rather, I suspect he just wants the selection limited to tomes that reflect his politics.

    This is not a fair restatement of my position, Tod.

    Eisenreich’s book lacks any scholarly standard as sociology. If polemics are to be studied, then Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass” is just as qualified and likely more helpful.

    I do not think such ideas from the right are being shtupped on our students as are Eisenreich’s. By contrast, Eisenreich’s is just the sort of polemic that feeds the hopelessness that indeed creates The Worldview that Makes the Underclass, that sincere effort is largely unrewarded, and that the solution to this “problem” is more government intervention in society.

    As for a remark by Elias about Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, I hope his life, work and philosophy were not being dismissed as merely a conservative “work harder.” Washington’s vision was that if the black man made himself able, and a vital part of the economy, essential equality would arrive much quicker than via politics or appealing to white folks’ sense of decency.

    This proposition still seems a viable alternative to Eisenreich’s.

    And so, if we are to teach advocacy texts [as Eisenreich’s is, it is not peer-reviewed fact or science], I agree with your “teach it all” Rx—Bjorn Lomborg AND Al Gore’s scientifically flawed movie, which has been extravagantly well-shtupped upon our children. Dalrymple. Wm. F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, one of the first tomes to pull the covers off what’s happening in the academic establishment.Report

    • 1. It’s Ehrenreich.

      2. I’ve never said a word about Booker T Washington’s book.Report

      • You should have, Elias, since it was offered as a balance to Ehrenreich. If you had, perhaps Tod would have framed my point more truly. I guess we’re all in agreement afterall, that if amateur sociology such as Ehrenreich’s is to be foisted on our kids, then Booker T. or Theodore Dalrymple should have their place, too.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Don’t leave out Orwell’s ‘ Down and Out in London and Paris.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          I think you may be missing *my* point, Tom. I’m not actually arguing that every single point of view be represented. (Though I’m certainly on the bandwagon for as many as can fit being presented.)

          I’m against the whole – Hey, I don’t like the view point of that book, so you can’t teach it unless you have a book that acts as an ideological counterweight – thing. Your kid gets assigned Nickel and Dimed but not BT Washington? Let it go, and talk to them about why you think Ehrenreich got it wrong. They’ll be better off for the whole experience.Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Nobody wants to defend the fact that Ehrenreich’s is advocacy journalism without scholarly rigor. But sure, teach it anyway.

            It’s indoctrination, no more or less. And that video with the kids in Obama uniforms is creepy.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              “Nobody wants to defend the fact that Ehrenreich’s is advocacy journalism without scholarly rigor.”

              I’m not defending it, but I’m not sure defense is warranted.

              Would you disallow Native Son for the same reason? Or any of Orwell’s writings? What about Hemingway’s nonfiction, or for that matter Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I read Jonathan Edwards in high school, and that is about as purely unscholarly hard-core advocacy as you can get. Should we remove him as well? (I should note that we read Edwards in lit, not in history.)

              Having kids read nothing but peer-reviewed scholarly works from academic journals (which I think is your rub against Nickel and Dimed) strikes me as an argument for the sake of the argument, and not something that one would advocate elsewhere.Report

              • kenB in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I read Jonathan Edwards in high school, and that is about as purely unscholarly hard-core advocacy as you can get.

                I bet when you read this in school, there was some discussion about the author’s background, rhetorical strategies, social context, etc., rather than “hey, here’s a great sermon to read, take it to heart!”. Pretty much any work can justifiably be taught if it’s being read critically. The question is really about polemical works that are read uncritically. If Nickled and Dimed is being taught without any discussion of Ehrenreich’s POV, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be unhappy about that.Report

            • Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Tom, I can’t defend the book because I haven’t read it. Neither have you. Seemingly, Elias is the only one here who’s done so. The problem I have with your argument that the book lacks scholarly rigor is that, if she had jumped through all the hoops that, to a company man like myself, would indicate a sufficient level of scholarly rigor, you’d still reject the book because you believe the academic community works to reinforce its left-wing biases through those hoops. So it’s a catch 22- she isn’t scholarly enough to be read and those of us who are scholarly are apparatchiks. Is it possible to write a left-leaning book that is worthy of resepectful disagreement?Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Rufus F. says:

                A shorter more direct argument might be this: If CC had posted about Booker T Washington and someone said they loved reading his biography in school, would you honestly have had the same reaction that you did with N&D, and insist that they should only be allowed to assign Booker T if they also assigned Ehrenreich? I am doubtful this would be the case. If it is, let me know and I will update the post to say I totally misunderstood where you are coming from – as I should.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Rufus, I’ve read plenty of one-trick pony Ehrenreich’s essays here & there to have and give a fair assessment of her argument. The Have You Read the Book argument does not address the true question, whether I’m characterizing her work fairly.

                My primary objection is formal: that it is not scholarship. It is not science; it may not even be factually accurate. Neither has anyone offered why it’s anything less than opinion, and highly ideological opinion at that.

                What is the purpose of teaching these things when so many of our kids don’t know how many branches of government we have?

                I will address the “balance” question elsewhere. I am not in principle opposed to teaching Ehrenreich if the kids are made aware of the “other side” of her narrative.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                My point about reading the book was just that neither of us have so when you ask these substantive questions about the contents of the book, I can’t address them any more than I could tell you what happened in the third Harry Potter book. You keep asking for someone to make a substantive defense of the book, but it seems like Elias is the only one who’s read it. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable addressing the merits of a book I haven’t read and am only vaguely familiar with.

                But, that’s not my main question here. It has to do with this point: “My primary objection is formal: that it is not scholarship. It is not science; it may not even be factually accurate.” But you’ve already expressed the opinion that what most academics are doing now isn’t scholarship either. What I’m asking is, could there be a book making the same arguments she’s making, but with a fuller scholarly apparatus, peer review, extensive footnotes, etc. that you would consider to be scholarship? Or would it just be better footnoted propaganda in your opinion?

                The question about teaching opinion or even highly ideological opinion is one that hasn’t an easy answer. The main jist of this post, which nobody seems to be addressing is that everything is politicized in American life, so trying to avoid teaching students anything that they might find controversial is likely impossible, and more likely to result in a bland, watered-down, stultifying mush of a curriculum.

                My feeling about teaching highly ideological works is that there’s two benefits: the first is that you can help the students to recognize bias in them and come to their own conclusions about it, and secondly (probably more importantly) they’re much more interested in discussing them than the most neutral stuff, and especially if they disagree with the book. I suppose the stuff I assign is probably more noncontroversially “scholarly”- university students should be getting the hard stuff as it were- and tends to be “balanced” by opposing viewpoints, but the real reason for that is that I’d rather they believe that there are raging controversies about Napoleon or the Enlightenment (which, of course, there are) than think there was some bland settled “answer” on the topic. Overall, students would be shocked to know how hard we try not to bore them to death!Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Rufus, I freely acknowledge Dalrymple and Sowell are “of the right.” That professional educators of the leftish persuasion cannot similarly acknowledge their own, like an Ehrenreich—and accordingly seek some sort of balance—is an argument for why curricula should not be left up to “the professionals.”Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Then please do correct the OP, Mr. Kelly. I am not opposed to teaching highly partisan opinion if there is an awareness that there is disagreement with it in other quarters.

                The problem is often not just that the “other side” isn’t taught, but that one even exists!

                Your factual premise was a tu quoque, but this implies an equivalency of some sort that does not exist. The odds of a kid being exposed to the thought of an Ehrenreich or Zinn or Al Gore’s climate movie approach one; the odds of being exposed to a Dalrymple, a Sowell, a Buckley approach zero.

                True, in some places, there is some use of “conservative” sources like the sub-scholarly David Barton, to which I formally object as well for reasons given. However, I’m also an advocate of local control, and your first example, of parents objecting to a “pro-war” indoctrination, didn’t trouble me on either a formal or principles level. [I find their particular stance unwise, but well within their rights and prerogatives.]Report

        • Not really interested in talking about Booker T so much as I’d like not to have my name attributed to things I’ve never said — especially when you can’t bother to know the name of the person you’re criticizing.Report

          • Elias, you made a driveby crack that the conservative message is “work harder.” If you were misunderstood, it was because you refused to engage any further, and indeed I gave you the benefit of the doubt [“I hope his life, work and message aren’t being dismissed…”]. My point about Booker T. Washington is that there’s much more to the “conservative” message than that.

            Jim Eisenreich played on my pennant-winning 1993 Phillies. Trying to take rhetorical advantage of my mental typo is unfair, and indeed the same typo appeared in the OP. You’re not playing straight here. Engage or kindly disengage.Report

            • Once again you attribute something Jesse wrote to me; you can’t even make the minimal effort to go back and check the thread to see if you were right or wrong. I can understand why you may not want to return to that thread and relive your behavior in it, but there’s no excuse for repeated fabrications.Report

              • Elias, I apologize profusely for misattributing a quote from Mr. Ewiak to you. Profusely and sincerely.

                While I have you here, I would be interested if you were “indoctrinated” in high school with anything similar to Ehrenreich from the right. But I understand if you take a pass. Again, I’m sorry.Report

    • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      But Tom, if someone has credentials, and it is peer reviewed, you will tell us that the “academy” has a liberal bias. So, we can’t include it if it’s just anecdotes without any rigorous scholarship, and we can’t include it if it has rigorous scholarship and empirical research, because it’s from the biased academy. That is, we can’t include it unless it agrees with you, in which case, it must be true because it transcended the bias.Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Chris says:

        Chris, my formal argument about scholarly rigor should not be mushed together with the problem of leftist hegemony over the academy.

        Further, my objection here is about public high schools, not the university. I’m resigned to the fact that an Ehrenreich is more likely to be taught than a Sowell. I’ll complain about it, but not to the level of what goes on in our public schools.

        And my real complaint about the academy is more about its bias in the social sciences, the findings of which are taken to the public square and used as conclusive authority for how we should order our politics and society. A rather separate argument. I’m no David Horowitz. I’m content to note these biases and suggest they consider hiring more people who are able to present “conservative” arguments clearly and cleanly, but I am not an advocate of overt intervention.

        The public schools are another matter entirely, and I defend the right of parents [and taxpayers] to have some say-so in what happens in them.Report

        • Christopher Carr in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          I agree with that, TVD. Every school should offer every parent an opportunity to come in and contribute to a more-cooperative public school system. Perhaps in a class of twenty-five students, each parent could opt to teach one hour a month: I may think the students are hopelessly ignorant of Japanese geography and spend an hour providing them with that necessary information; my wife could have the students read a short story and analyze its characters; my child’s friend’s dad could teach about electric circuits; and his wife could teach the children how to develop photographs. If you think Booker T. Washington is being underserved, you can spend your hour talking about Booker T. Washington. Everybody gets a chance to correct whatever they see as a problem in the curriculum.Report

          • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Christopher Carr says:

            Is there where I point out cynically what would actually happen? A total of seven out of 44 possible parents would actually show up, the rest either saying they’re too busy at work, need to go to thing x, etc. The, a dozen parents would immediately call the principal about at least four of the parent’s presentations because of reason x, y, or z.Report

          • My kids elementary school had (has, probably) just this thing. Every week for one hour three volunteer parents with special interests come in to each class and work with the kids on that interest.

            When my oldest was in the 1st grade my wife and I went in together to do a 3 week section on the Solar System. I came away wondering how a professional teacher does it all day, day after day. It was a total reenactment of Lord of the Flies.

            Interesting side note: The school also had “mandatory” volunteer hours that each family had to commit to providing – though it was a pretty soft requirement. No one ever really checked, and if you were a family short on time the requirement was waived altogether. Still, it was abandoned a few years ago when a suit came saying the process was discriminatory against poorer working families.Report

            • Christopher Carr in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              “Still, it was abandoned a few years ago when a suit came saying the process was discriminatory against poorer working families.”

              Abandoning the program would not have been my solution.Report

              • “Abandoning the program would not have been my solution.”

                Tell me about it. To make it worse, the school did so well that it got to be contentious each spring about what families throughout the city were let in and which were not. The school board came close to shutting it down.

                Why they didn’t just use it as a model and have another similar magnate school is beyond me.Report

          • You had me going there, Mr. Carr, that your reply was going to be sincere.

            I imagine there is some sincerity to it, but the problem is that the teachers have betrayed our trust. Teaching Ehrenreich or showing Al Gore’s movie is bald-faced indoctrination, deny it if you will.

            We have a division of labor in our system. The taxpayer works his ass off, pays the teachers to do the right thing, and gets rightfully pissed off when they put their own interests and ideology above their duty.

            [Japanese geography is fine, but first I prefer the kids to learn how to find their ass with either hand.]Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              “teachers have betrayed our trust”

              Tom, can I ask you to flesh this out a bit? I’m trying to think of what any of our kids teachers has ever done that counts as “betrayal,” and I’m at a loss for where you’re going.

              My kids have each had their share of poor teachers, but I can’t think of any instance where they have betrayed me or my children.

              I’m also curious if you guys have kids, and if so what grades? (That may be too personal for this site; if so apologies.)Report

            • Christopher Carr in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              I’m quite serious. And if you fail to use your hour, you waive your right to complain about the curriculum.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    So long as the kids can read, “we” can win them back.

    I wouldn’t worry about them reading nothing but Gummint Propaganda. I’d worry about them not reading.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      Third. Also: how are kids supposed to learn to spot and dismantle unrigorous sociological cant if they don’t read some of it? School is about reading lots of stuff and learning to analyze arguments. Are we under the impression that every time something is assigned, it receives the imprimatur of Truth from the assigning teacher; that todays teachers just don’t care about teaching critical engagement with texts?Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Well, yeah.

        I think I read “Harrison Bergeron” in three different English classes. And it wasn’t until after I graduated College that I realized that it wasn’t lousy dystopian Sci/Fi, but rather a parody of lousy dystopian Sci/Fi.

        The teachers just “taught” it because it was one of the things they were supposed to teach. They themselves didn’t engage enough to be able to teach the thing critically.Report

  6. Will Truman says:

    When I was substitute teaching, the thing that jumped out at me the most was that most of what I would consider slanted material was not in social studies. Or in history. It was in reading and English. The idea seemed to be “Well, they need to be reading stuff anyway, so we might as well use this opportunity to introduce them to this tribute to Jesse Jackson, testimonial after testimonial from some group or another that the United States has wronged, and essays by Helen Thomas on the Middle East.”

    Whether the history stuff had a slant at all depends largely on your point of view. But I did get the sense that it was at least trying to be fair. I know that when I was going through, I came out of it accepting a number of slanted (and outright) wrong things as fact, and almost all of them tilted in the leftward direction. You take out the wrong stuff, but it’s hard to take out the slant. History is perspective.

    In some ways, college worked out better for me. The biases were there to observe. Sometimes even conservative biases! Although it’s worth noting that there, too, a lot of the most ideological stuff was not in social studies, but rather humanities. The history and government classes included (by recollection) four left-of-centers and two right-of-centers. Humanities weren’t that balanced.

    (For context, the schools I substituted at were in a blue pocket of a red state. I was raised in a red part of a red state.)Report

    • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

      I wonder, what left-slanted misconceptions did you have coming out of school?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        Liberals and progressives were pretty much right about everything, American History is best defined as a series of things that we did wrong to the lesser among us, and the Cold War was a product of hysteria and little else.Report

        • There was a pretty strong counterexample, though: State’s rights was one of the major components of the Civil War.Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

          And your rebuttal is? And before you do so, be sure to step beside the corpses of millions of dead American Indians, slaves, and rightless women.Report

          • I’m not going to have a thorough debate of American history with you, Jesse. Needless to say, I do not believe that any cultural history is defined by its moral failures. I believe that it is bad for a society to believe this about itself (just as it is bad for a society to believe it has never done anything wrong).

            As I said, history is perspective. I don’t know how you come up with an unslanted version of it.Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

              Sure, but continuing to teach American exceptionalism is far worse. We’ve gotten to the top of the food chain on this planet the same way every other nation has. Through warring, bloodshed, and some luck. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to admit this, then say, we’ve gotten better as a nation since then, but still have a ways to go.Report

              • To quote myself: (just as it is bad for a society to believe it has never done anything wrong)

                In truth, though, there is no perfect balance. Which is what makes it all so difficult and in the end either some will be at least dissatisfied or at most irate.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

                Got ya.

                Personally, I think the truth is, a lot of people either get a sanitized version of American history in high school or don’t really pay attention, so when they get to college and they do get a professor who does actually point out, ‘we did some crappy stuff’, it immediately becomes, “oh, my professor was a crazy liberal who only talked about how America did nothing but kill Indians and ensalve black people.”

                After all, I was a good leftist who already knew America did crappy stuff during a lot of it’s existence by time I finished high school, so when college professors mentioned it in the context of something during a history class, this wasn’t a shock to me.

                To make an analogy that’s a little tortured. What if, along with someone telling you the story of your uncle’s life, they also threw in, “oh, and he also killed seven people for these reasons.” You’d likely ignore the rest of the story you ‘knew’ and focus on the killing people part. On the other hand, if you knew about the killing part, you can actually focus on the rest of the story. 🙂Report

              • Jesse, we are all taught America’s original sins against the black man and the red man. Rightfully.

                I don’t think there’s any lacunae in documenting America’s shames. We picked a fight in the Mexican War, and esp Spanish-American War, yellow journalism and all that. [Although there is little good to be said about Spanish rule.]

                But as Mr. Truman stopped by to add, that’s not all of American history. It was we who led the world out of political, philosophical and existential darkness. Even religious-sectarian darkness, the only other light being our mother country, tiny Britain, which has now given up due to fatigue.

                Yes, we enslaved, but it was Britain who planted it here. And we—Mr. Lincoln—spent a quarter-million Union lives if not to end it, to keep it steadily on the road to extinction.

                We are well aware of our national demons, Jesse, but we must also teach about our better angels, or else all is lost.

                Call me an American exceptionalist, then. I believe in America because we are all the nations and peoples of the earth, united not by blood, but only by our ideals. Per Mr. Lincoln, we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.Report

              • Christopher Carr in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                If I ever run for political office, will you be my speech-writer?Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I think that Tom Van Dyke and BlaiseP are the same person.Report

              • CC, I’d be honored to be your speech-writer. Even if you didn’t a believe a word of it, I’d hope to touch you somehow along with your victims.


                Seriously, if I hold on to shreds of idealism or even myth, it’s my view we have no choice. The alternative isn’t “realism,” it’s the abyss.

                Mr. Duck, I’m not sure you’re reading me or our late great BlaiseP closely enough, or else you wouldn’t conflate us. BlaiseP is a solipsist [word of the day]—if it didn’t happen to him, it didn’t happen. Except for his botching [or creative memory] of historical facts, a too often and too often-busted occurrence. He reminds me most of the professional foreign journalism corps and shares their consensus truisms and fatigue at the ways of the world.

                [This is not to say their weary cynicism is misplaced, and according to BlaiseP, he’s active in ameliorating suffering in the world, particularly the refugee world. On this, I shall choose to believe him, and tip my hat where I would not for the pro journo crew.]

                I do like the man, but another difference is the length and bulk of sharing autobiographical details. I could learn from him, I guess, in that people seem more swayed by anecdote and narrative than by brute argument.

                But I don’t frequent this League to sway, or to win debates, only to test the soundness of my own arguments and propositions [and test the soundness of the prevailing memes that find their way here]. Hence, my arguments do often seem a bit brusque and brutish in their force. But I’m not running for anything, certainly not Prom King at the LOOG.

                I’d come in last, absent you and a few others.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tom: I know – I mean I really know – that you didn’t mean for this sentence to come out sounding the way it did:

                “I’d hope to touch you somehow along with your victims.”Report

            • David Cheatham in reply to Will Truman says:

              History, in grade school, is taught as a sequence of events. In practice, this means government and social events. Textbooks are hardly going to talk about the longest pass in professional football, or the biggest ball of twine ever constructed. And government actions are pretty cut and dry: We declared war, we elected so-and-so, we bought Alaska, whatever. There’s really not much of a political slant there, despite the fact you’ll run across an odd book idolizing JFK or Reagan.

              With social changes, you can go one of two ways: You can teach that things got better, or that things got worse. But then you’re in a paradox on the slantedness. If you teach that things ‘got better’, you’re implying that before then, they were wrong. If you teach that they got worse, you’re implying they’re bad now.

              So the only changes that get taught are ones that everyone agrees on the direction of the change. Mostly good, but with some bad. (Like the racism and Jim Crow laws that built up after the civil war, for an example of bad.)

              Likewise, you’ll find that women gained a lot of rights during the 60s and 70s…but, strange, abortion does not seem to be listed there. You might, possibly, find a mention of it…but it will be minimized. Because they don’t want to take a position on it. (In fact, they tend to paint an almost surreally distorted view of the social changes in that time period. I’ve even read a textbook which seemed unaware the Vietnam war and the draft played any part in the social unrest!)

              But then you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Almost all societal changes, in recent American history, that people agree on the direction of, are liberal changes. And if you limit yourself to only good changes, well, now you’ve created a universe where everything good has been done by liberals.Report

              • I think that this does go a long way towards explaining the slantedness. Liberalism’s accomplishments are public, and a lot of its failures (directions progressives may have wanted us to go, but we thankfully didn’t) more private. Even so, I think that you can indeed tell the same story, and come up with pointedly different narratives. To use the Civil War example, you can focus on how the North was “mistreating” the South, and how the North was no paragon of racial harmony, or how the South was, well, initiating a war to preserve a disgraceful institution. You can present the Transcontinental Railroad as a wondrous achievement of American will, or as a disgraceful abuse of labor. And so on.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

                Why can’t you do both, with either example?Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                You can. There are certain facts you have to mention either way. But, to do so in a neutral was is more difficult. Because who decides what is neutral? Who decides where the proper emphasis is? If history is narrative, and I believe it is, there is a narrator, even if they are saying things that are entirely true.

                That’s what makes teaching history so difficult (and why I am more generous with any slants that occur there than with Jesse Jackson tributes in English class). It’s also one of the things that makes any sort of fair or objective journalism hard.

                Which is not to say that I don’t think efforts should be made, but that it’s impossible to satisfy everybody. And not even desirable, when one of the major viewpoints is really a whitewashing of history. Insofar as their was rampant discrimination in the north, should it really be compared to the institution of slavery? Is devoting time and space to it adding perspective, or is it an attempt at equivocation?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

                As an aside, there’s a lovely little moment in the movie “Prince of Egypt” where Moses and the Pharaoh are both looking out of the alcove. Moses sees all of the people carrying bricks and stones and being yelled at by taskmasters. Pharaoh sees the monuments.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ah, from the mouths of multinational multi-media conglomerates that market to babes…Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to Will Truman says:

                I’m actually of the opinion that there are a few issues that shouldn’t be intermingled with normal history class, and the treatment of minorities and women are one of them. Why? Because history get taught in order, and mostly out of context.

                People _do_ need to know the actual treatment of blacks, in the North, before, during, and after the civil war. Not to make the South ‘better’, but because without the context, no one really understands anything.

                But when exactly do you mention that? During the founding of the country? During the civil war? During the civil rights chapter?

                There needs to be a class that says ‘In England, here’s how slavery started’, and moves forward from there, tracing _just_ that one thing. Then rewinds and does women, and then rewinds and does Native Americans, and then rewinds and does the Chinese, and, heck, rewinds and does the Irish.

                Or it could do them in linear order, but _just_ focusing on people, not other history.

                I think if we taught American history that way, it would be much more obvious what should be included and what wouldn’t. You wouldn’t have ‘Oh, everyone wasn’t nice to black people, but the south enslaved them’ randomly popping up during the civil war. You’d start with the beginning, and by the time the civil war was reached, everyone’s already supposed to know how different places treated black people at that point.

                The problem is, of course, a class like this just _begs_ to be called ‘liberal indoctrination’. It’s hard to even think of a name of it that people wouldn’t object to.Report

              • There’s no danger of schoolchildren being unaware why America sucks.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Actually, if taught _contextually_, I think the sane conclusion would be ‘American used to suck’. The problem is that, just like no one bothers to explain the background status quo, like ‘Being black in 1930 was no bed of roses, even for black people in New York.’ Or ‘For most of American history, Native Americans, even ones born in the boundaries of the US, were not citizens’. (Believe it or not, many people do not know that.)

                So we end up as with history as a bunch of disjointed nonsense where people rose up to gross injustice…and it’s hard not to come away with the impression that ‘gross injustice’ is the status quo. Which even if it was, it’s not anymore. No, not even of gay people. Some injustice, sure, but not ‘gross’ injustice. Let’s just say that the police are not randomly beating them anymore.

                Of course, you can get an equally nonsensical concept that everything started being perfect in 1968 or whatever, ignoring the fact it basically took 10 years past then to even make open racism unacceptable.

                Teaching random information, with the sole criteria that it was some big memorable thing, is a great way to get random ideas of the truth. No, teach actual history, in order. People will realize things got better.

                And when you get to the present day, you can talk about the income gap between black and white people, and present a few theories about it, some of which don’t reflect too badly on America (Perhaps people are a lot less economically mobile than we like to think, and black people have just not caught up to white people), and some of which do reflect badly.

                But at that point, you’re teaching actual truth, in context, and even if they take the worse possible interpretation, they know what it was like for black people 20 years ago, and 50 years ago, and 100 years ago, and 180 years ago, and can say ‘I hope it continues to get better’, instead of saying ‘America sucks’.Report

  7. Robert Cheeks says:

    I gotta be honest, I’d really like to light up a Cohiba.
    With that said, RTod, can we teach the little darlings the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And, should we do it as a really great example of literature or as the “..symbolization of a divine movement that went through the person of Jesus into society and history?”
    I mean we have an opportunity here to address the deculturation of the West, to rebuild the rubble that is the broken image of God in society, to renew the obligations we have as human beings to engaging in the arduous work of recapturing truth, reality, and order.

    And, who’s sh*tting who, when these kids have those commie/demonic, hand-held, electronic games they’re not interested in reading!Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Robert Cheeks says:


      “Historical Religious Literature” – The Tanakh, The Bible (which one, Bob?), The Qur’an, The Rig Vida, The Book of Mormon.

      Does The Kojiki count? How about The Analects of Confucius?

      I’d have no problem whatsoever with a comparative religion class in public education. Heck, the module on creation myths would be interesting.

      Might get some people in a tizzy if their particular holy book is included in a lesson plan on creation *myths*, of course.Report

    • Bob-

      “With that said, RTod, can we teach the little darlings the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”

      Yes. With it’s undeniable and unparalleled influence over our history and culture, I think it’s a shame that neither Testaments are read in school.

      “And, should we do it as a really great example of literature or as the “..symbolization of a divine movement that went through the person of Jesus into society and history?””

      I am not entirely sure what you mean here. If you are asking if I am OK with the way it was seen and interpreted throughout the ages – very different than reading it as simply literature – than of course. If you mean teach kids in public schools that Christ is the one true God, and the Jewish kids in the class will be going to hell – I don’t think that’s comparable to a kid reading Nickel and Dimed.

      “And, who’s sh*tting who, when these kids have those commie/demonic, hand-held, electronic games they’re not interested in reading!”

      Forgive me, but this seems similar to the rants that guy at the end of the bar gives about how dunking ruined basketball. Kids still read, but mostly they find other things more interesting than their school work. Same as always. Those kids that choose not to read 18th century philosophers in their spare time today? They weren’t going to read them in 1911 either.Report

      • Yes. With it’s undeniable and unparalleled influence over our history and culture, I think it’s a shame that neither Testaments are read in school.

        Is it true that neither Testament is read in school? I’m not at all sure that it is. At the very least, I recall that in my public high school in the early to mid-90s in the bastion of the Bible Belt that is New Jersey, we spent at least a week or two, maybe more, studying the Bible in sophomore English/Literature class. To be fair, we also (more briefly) studied Greek mythology around the same time, but IIRC, that was about it – there was little, if any, study of works from other religions. I recall at the time that the occasional activist in me was outraged, OUTRAGED, by this when the unit began, as I made clear in a diatribe I wrote.

        But in reality, because the material really was taught as a work of literature, it turned out that the unit was a highly useful exercise in critical thinking and the liberal arts. Years later, in college, I found myself surrounded by ultraliberal professors utilizing works that either fell outside the standard left-right dichotomy or were also pretty clearly left of center. This period coincided with me entering a lengthy phase as a diehard conservative, so it can’t be said that the effect of reading all of this was to move to the left. Nor can it be said that I felt like they were trying to indoctrinate me – I had matured enough by that point to recognize that instead of taking offense, I should be engaging the material and making arguments against it. The result was that with one exception, the professors with whom I best got along were the professors with whom I was able to disagree most vocally.

        I think this is what tends to get lost in these discussions, and why I think this post makes an important point.

        It’s one thing if you’re studying a work in school with the point of learning the work’s claims and viewpoint as rote fact. That, in my mind, should be solely the purview of mathematics and the mathematical sciences; that we teach history in this way past about the fourth or fifth grade is actually kind of appalling to me. But if the student is being asked to identify what the work claims and then evaluate or critique those claims, you are mostly just teaching critical thinking skills and engagement with argument.

        I don’t see any reason to strive for a left-right balance here. In fact, I think doing so would do quite a lot of harm, in effect spoonfeeding students opposing arguments rather than encouraging them to think about the studied arguments critically and independently. In effect, making a conscious effort to strive for right-left balance tells students “here are the arguments, choose the argument that you like the best and regurgitate it.”

        That’s not to say that it’s inherently good for there to be a clear inbalance on aggregate, just that balance is not something for which it is appropriate for teachers to consciously strive if we’re within the realm of the liberal arts.Report

        • Yes, Mr. Thompson, my starting premise is that there’s “a clear imbalance on aggregate.” I’m less interested in telling the “other side” than in acknowledging that X is on one side and another side indeed exists.

          Hence, Ehrenreich’s, being an unscholarly work, cannot be offered as knowledge, only opinion, and all coins have two sides, nickels and dimes, as it were.Report

          • Is it being offered as knowledge or is it being offered as opinion? As I understand it, it is offered as the latter.

            A good chunk of the point here is that on any given issue there’s not only more than one side, there are in fact usually an almost infinite number of sides. Being asked to read Ehrenreich (and FWIW, I have never read her, so I can’t speak to the quality or lack of quality of her work) or really any piece of social commentary without being asked to read a contrary view does not equate to a refusal to acknowledge the existence of another side. To my knowledge, exams and discussion in the subjects where such works would be assigned do not ask questions along the lines of “what is the cause of the world’s problems,” with answers being graded based on ability to regurgitate said work; instead, the questions and discussion about the works tend to be along the lines “what does [author] think about [x], and why? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?”Report

            • I’d agree, MT, but I don’t know how juniors in high school are in a position to evaluate the truth or wisdom of Ehrenreich’s work one way or the other. It isn’t scholarship, it is not knowledge, but I don’t see how it can be taken as anything else by the unknowledgable and not-yet-wise.

              What can a high school junior think of raising the minimum wage? Do we expect 16-yr-olds to spontaneously re-create the libertarian arguments against? [Do we expect a member of the teacher’s union to nudge them toward them? Heh heh, a different but pertinent question.]

              As for many or most of the other tomes mentioned in this discussion, they all have historical impact, and that can be studied as fact above and beyond today’s partisan politics. Uncle Tom’s Cabin needs no balancing. As part of history, neither does Upton Sinclair.

              Works like Ehrenreich’s are of a different stripe and kind, and I’d include Dalrymple under this umbrella. If all that was taught in schools was Rothbard and Buckley and Sowell, I wouldn’t have a problem admitting Ehrenreich fans might have a point.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                And 100 years ago, conservatives would have said Upton Sinclar was leftist propaganda with no place in the schools and 170 years ago, conservatives would have said Uncle Tom’s Cabin was abolitionist propaganda with no place in the schools.Report

              • C’mon, Jesse, I used Harriet Beecher Stowe and Upton Sinclair purposefully, conscientiously and relevantly to the particulars of the discussion as important “leftist prophets.” It makes me wonder whether my interlocutors—critics—are ever going to be willing or able to meet me halfway.

                But for every Stowe or Sinclair, there are thousands of progressive [or conservative] tracts that are rightfully forgotten. Ehrenreich’s has not stood the test of time; it hasn’t withstood a rigorous examination of its asserted facts or its value as literature, except as an example of polemics, which are as numerous as fleas.

                Better they study polemicist extraordinaire Ann Coulter’s, which are funnier and far more factual. Footnotes and everything.


              • Alan Scott in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Surely you’re not suggesting that Uncle Tom’s Cabin withstands a rigorous examination of asserted facts. For all of being on the right side of history and bringing light to a great injustice, the thing was pretty much made up whole cloth by someone with little actual knowledge of slavery.Report

              • No, I’m not suggesting that, Mr. Scott, and don’t call me Shirley. But it did help move a nation, and that’s historical fact and worth studying. Barbara Ehrenreich, not so much.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Don’t conservatives still say that about Upton Sinclair? If that’s the case, I am happily surprised. I’d have thought the pure pro-labor message would cause a knee jerk dismissal, for of like how the environmental message in Thoreau makes him conservative verboten.

                (I’m not happily surprised cause I love Sinclair; I may be the only guy since 1950 that got through college without reading Th Jungle. It’s just that a political group seeing past the obvious knee jerk requirements makes me happy and gives me hope.)Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I’m not a political group, Tod, I’m a person, and an ally of all honest men. You can count on us.


              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                No, I was certainly not referring to you, my friend. You I think of as your own true person.

                (Speaking of which, when the sub blog is up and running will you take requests? I am dying to find out about your astounding game show experience. I find it astounding.)Report

              • Tod, management sent word my first “guest post” was quoted by the estimable Excitable Andy Sullivan, even.


                I do not know their plans for me. I was told a sub-blog is in the works. I actually thought of you as a co-blogger before your elevation to the grownup table; I admire and seek out principled disagreement and respect you accordingly.

                I’m quite the contrarian meself: I was hustled out of the late great right-wing Southern Appeal blog because I called for an end to showing the Rebel battle flag.

                [Although some good persons like our own Mr. Cheeks see something to admire in the Confederacy, the Rebel battle flag says nothing but slavery and racism to our black fellow Americans. I respect their feelings more than I respect the nuances of the Confederate cause.]

                I tried to behave myself like a good little David Brooks on the mainpage with my Rick Perry post as I would not betray management’s trust, but I would like a free hand to say what I think, even if it’s down at the kiddie tables.

                I appreciate yr asking, Tod.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Dude, the Sullivan nod is awesome. I know he is pretty much looked down upon around here, but I like him a lot.

                And I’m both surprised and flattered that you thought of me as a co-subber! I think that would work well. Hell, we could get high commenting totals simply by hashing things out the two of us.Report

            • Is it being offered as knowledge or is it being offered as opinion? As I understand it, it is offered as the latter

              The most obvious solution is to offer opinions from different perspectives. Was there a similar text that conservatives would embrace and liberals would cock an eyebrow at? If not, why not?Report

  8. Anderson says:

    “Nickel and Dimed” was required summer reading before my junior year of high school, along with Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Our discussions didn’t revolve at all around the terrors of capitalism and how we should we feel bad for poor people (though I did go to a pretty wealthy school, so some of Ehrenreich’s tales were eye-opening to more than a few kids), but, rather, about her use of journalistic voice and how she framed her individual stories to lead to a larger point. Often, we compared the way Ehrenreich put herself squarely as the first person narrator, whereas Capote made himself an “invisible narrator.” When the discussion did veer out of the literary and into the political, there were, as you can imagine, some who thought it was total garbage and others who tossed out phrases like “wealthy white privelage” with glee. Well-educated students don’t take something as gospel because you make them read it; it’s just a starting point. [Although, as a side note, “Nickel and Dimed” has been replaced in recent years with Alexandria Robbins’ “The Overachievers”, not sure why.]Report

  9. Tod Kelly says:

    UPDATE: Tom objected to my characterization of his quotes, and insists that all he seeks is right and left balance. Which is to say, if he learned that someone had read Booker T Washington in high school he would have been equally upset, and would insist on Ehrenreich being taught side by side. I want to therefore correct this on the main post, since I did indeed quote him while misunderstanding him.

    That being said, I don’t like the idea of forced “balance” either. Partly for all of the same reasons I mentioned above in the OP, partially because of the reasons Rufus talks about below in the threads, but mostly because I don’t buy this common assumption that all thought, art and creativity in this world exists along a bi-chromatic spectrum. You teach critical thought; you do not strive for equal time from the GOP and DNC. Or at least so say I.Report

  10. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Mr. Kelly, I’m crestfallen you should mischaracterize me again with your “UPDATE.” WEB DuBois should be taught in contradistinction to Booker T. Washington; Dalrymple to Ehrenreich. It’s difficult enough to get a fair hearing without having to wade through unfair paraphrasings.

    As to your formal argument, which I’d appreciate an UPDATE for, in my own words, not a recasting: If I were assigning Dalrymple or Sowell and received a principled objection for balance, especially if the Dalrymples and Sowells were the lion’s share of what was taught, I certainly would add an Ehrenreich.

    I’m not sure you realize that your examples of “conservative” thought included Jerry Falwell and Adolf Hitler; your examples from the left far more, um, respectable. I’m afraid I’m not sanguine with your conception of balance, hence that somehow it all comes out in the wash.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Tom, I understand every word in every sentence here, but I literally have no idea what you’re talking about.

      Regarding my UPDATE, I gave you a scenario I was sure you would disagree with, based on the way I read the previous thread. I said if I was wrong, and you did agree I would UPDATE to correct – which seems only fair. You told me you did agree, and that I should correct, so I did. I am taken aback that this wounds, and so I will go back and remove it.

      To the right vs. left thing I thought I had made it very clear that I wasn’t looking to balance anything, and that I don’t tend to look at art, literature, science or really anything as Right vs. Left politics, except of course Right vs. Left politics – which you should know by now I find silly. And, as a matter of objective taste, regarding: “your examples from the left far more, um, respectable” I totally disagree, thinking Orwell is far more awesome than anyone else I mentioned.

      Most confusing of all to me is why you think I am claiming Jerry Falwell or – I can’t believe I’m even having to discuss this – *Hitler* should be taught as an example of “conservative thought.” Where in God’s green Earth did you pull that out of?Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I said objective taste about Orwell. Freudian slip. Obviously I meant to say subjective taste.

        Even though he rocks so hard.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Thank you for the corrections, Tod. I understand your point that we should not be concerned with weighing every object of study on the left-right scale. In a more balanced world and academy, I would agree.

          But what I have found in discussing worldviews with many recent products of our academy here and elsewhere, is that they seem genuinely unknowledgeable of the “conservative” worldview—which includes both religion and classical philosophy—beyond facile caricature. Ehrenreich is the tip of the iceberg.

          The fact is that she is thoroughly and explicitly partisan; to ignore that fact and study her as “literature” [as that sneaky class that Will referred to did] is simply disingenuous.

          And I bet few, even here in this hotbed of erudition, actually knew Booker T. Washington’s thesis; far fewer at least than know Ehrenreich’s.

          So, I cannot endorse just rolling the dice on education, leaving it up to “the professionals.” They have loaded the dice.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Okay, so if you don’t think we can leave it up to the teachers, who should decide what books they assign?Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

              Rufus, what is the state’s compelling interest in education in the first place? I’m talking about public schools here only. Then we might get to how teaching Ehrenreich [or God forbid, Dalrymple] advances that purpose. Someday.

              Were the academy made up of more people like you, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Maybe those to the right of me would, but I can only speak for myself. If such a temperate and fair-minded fellow like myself is disconcerted, perhaps there’s a genuine problem here.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      There is nothing tainted about Jerry Falwell’s thinking. It is just that the man was a builder of institutions, not someone much given to involved discourse on social questions.Report

  11. Art Deco says:

    It would be agreeable if the young had a secure foundation in the fundamentals of American history, geography, and civics before having them read third-rate polemics on topical questions. That Ehrenreich is required reading indicates the school system in question has cockeyed priorities.Report

  12. Brandon Berg says:

    The obvious counterpoint to Ehrenreich is Scratch Beginnings.

    Conceptually, this project strikes me as a lot more credible than Ehrenreich’s. Ehrenreich basically set out to prove that a person in a certain situation can’t succeed. She had an incentive to make a hash of it, and unsurprisingly, she did.

    It’s easy to fail when you could have succeeded, but, tautologically, it’s impossible to succeed when it’s impossible to succeed. Shepard proved that a poor person can get ahead; all Ehrenreich proved is that Ehrenreich didn’t.Report

    • Awesome, Mr. Berg: “[I]ncensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s famous work Nickel and Dimed—a book that gave him a feeling of hopelessness about the working class in America, [Adam Shepard graduated from college feeling disillusioned by the apathy around him]. He set out to disprove Ehrenreich’s theory—the notion that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom—by making something out of nothing to achieve the American Dream.

      Shepard’s plan was simple. With a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in cash, and restricted from using his contacts or college education, he headed out for Charleston, South Carolina, a randomly selected city with one objective: to work his way out of homelessness and into a life that would give him the opportunity for success. His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.

      “Scratch Beginnings” is the earnest and passionate account of Shepard’s struggle to overcome the pressures placed on the homeless. His story will not only inspire readers but will also remind them that success can come to anyone who is willing to work hard—and that America is still one of the most hopeful countries in the world.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Oh, please. Yes, I’m sure this guy was able to succeed. He probably had a stable home life, a four-year college degree, and most likely, a decent credit score.

      Now, get back to me when the guy succeeds again by not using any skills or intelligence he gained in college, gets abused for a few years by a parent, maybe has a drug habit, a child at nineteen, and oh yeah, goes to a crappy inner city school with leaky roofs and peeling paint. Oh, and throw in a mental health problem that needs prescriptions he can’t afford because he can’t afford health insurance.

      Then I’ll be impressed. Instead, wow, a smart person basically went ‘urban camping’ for a while and managed to somehow still be successful. Yay for him!Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        Actually, I think there is something to this, Jesse. I think that knowing how to succeed is in fact a life skill. I’m not sure how you pick it up if you’ve grown up in an environment where you it’s not prevalent.

        (btw, as an employer I’d note that there are a whole lot of middle class people who lack this skill as well. It’s just harder to work your way up to middle class than it is to tread water without this skill.)Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Yes, obviously, life skills matter. I don’t doubt that. Which is why I think there should be a basic life skills class (budgeting, grocery shopping, how to access various government services, etc.) in public schools.

          But, to put forth the idea that anybody can get out of poverty if they just work hard enough is Horatio Alger BS. Of course this guy was going to end up fine. He was a good-looking young white man with no drug addictions, no abuse in his family, and a good education, if he doesn’t use contacts. I’d also note, that unless Wikipedia is lying, he also used food stamps. Which basically means the taxpayers of South Carolina helped him out too. 🙂Report

          • Jesse, the Horatio Alger myth helped build this country. The Ehrenreichs contribute nothing but despair. The UK is in the throes of despair, and anger. Greece. Look around, man.

            Shepard used Food Stamps to get off them. That’s the point. Nobody in this country begrudges giving a man a leg up. We built this country on the willingness to do that.

            But the rest is up to the man, not society.Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              No. It’s always been a myth. I mean, as myths go, it’s a nice one, but it’s no more true than the one about some Greek god giving us fire. Massive immigration, geographic luck, and the massive debt of Spain leading to Louisiana Purchase built this country.

              The truth is, most of the success stories in America in modern times when you really look into the weeds are for three reasons. Luck, family connections, and occasionally, true brilliance. Bill Gates Senior was a corporate lawyer who got to send his kid to one of the best schools in the country, Fred Trump gave his son a hell of a head start by giving him some property, and so on and so forth.

              But, please. Tell me how a single mother with two kids, a high school education from an underfunded crappy school, and living in an urban area with massive unemployment is supposed to better herself without substantial help from the government?Report

              • We try to discourage making more “victims,” Jesse. We do not ratify horrendous choices.

                Myths are true, on some level. Otherwise they do not sustain. It is no myth that if you drop out of high school, bear two children with no father in sight—no husband—your choices have been horrendous, and it’s your children more than you who will pay the price.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                …and in your mind, the choices of a child should doom a couple of generations. That makes a perfect sense. Because the other choice is the government might grow to 30% of GDP instead of 25%.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Eh…you’re kind of equivocating here. When you say “success stories,” you’re talking about extraordinary success. I don’t think many people would disagree that extraordinary success requires extraordinary ability and/or extraordinary luck.

                But when the criterion for success is just not to be poor, it doesn’t take either of those things. All you really have do to not be poor in America is demonstrate a modicum of responsibility. Graduate from high school, get a job, show up consistently, don’t use drugs, and don’t get pregnant. More than 85% of Americans manage to be not-poor every day.

                Tell me how a single mother with two kids…

                Let’s be honest: That’s the problem right there. The number one cause of poverty in America is having children you can’t afford. What do you want me to say? She had an opportunity to be not-poor, and she blew it. That doesn’t negate the fact that she had that opportunity.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I think this is quite true. While Shepherd didn’t use his degree and such, he still came up in an environment with a lot of valuable life skills. That’s hard for a government to produce (Jesse’s suggestion about a life skills class, which I would also support, notwithstanding).Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

            It seems to me that that’s the point. The lesson Ehrenreich wanted us to learn, I gather, was that there are real material barriers to escaping poverty—that the poor are just like you and me, except that for whatever reason no one will pay them more than minimum wage.

            Shepard’s point, I think, was that the reason the (non-immigrant) poor are poor is that they lack basic life skills—that the barriers to escaping poverty are cultural, not material. And really, isn’t “life skills” just a euphemism for not being a total screw-up? It’s not like the poor are poor because they haven’t learned how to do calculus or write a term paper.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              “The lesson Ehrenreich wanted us to learn, I gather,”

              I wonder how often discussions are held here about books that basically no one – not even the original poster – has ever read.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                To add to Mr. Berg’s and Shepard’s point—per Thomas Sowell—Caribbean and African black immigrants to America have quantifiably good and better outcomes.

                Ms. Eisenreich’s thesis rather, um, pales…

                If we’re talking about Have You Read Her Book. Me, I’ve read at least a half-dozen of her op-eds saying pretty much the same thing over & over. I get it, I get it.

                You don’t get it.Report

      • Christopher Carr in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:


      • While you are 100% correct that he did not face all of the things your typical 18 year old homeless person might, it is worth noting that he wasn’t exactly using Daddy’s credit card, either, nor family contacts, nor the degree (though obviously, he couldn’t unknow what he learned in college). He started with a blank slate. You can be condescending and contemptuous all you want, but that’s certainly more than I ever did.Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

          Sure. I congratulate him for basically completing something that’d be an interesting reality show. But, to compare it to the challenges the working classes and poor actually face it in this country is an insult to them.Report

          • Be that as it may, you made some false assumptions about what he did. Assuming, because you don’t like him (or don’t believe what he did was possible without it), that he cheated with Daddy’s connections, his degree, and a credit card.

            We’re in at least partial agreement on the limitations of Shepherd’s narrative as it pertains to actual poor people. But rather than dismiss it (in part by assuming things that aren’t true), there’s cause to question what it might teach us, in addition to what it might not.Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman says:

              I never said he cheated. I said, he still had the knowledge from his four year degree. He still had (his likely decent or good) credit score unless he used a fake name. He still had a stable upbringing.

              I never said he used his degree to get a job, used a credit card, or any other thing. Maybe you misread me or I misstated something.

              I’m dismissive of it because it doesn’t correspond at all to 95% of the experiences of actual poor and working people. Yes, if someone with a four-year college degree, decent to good credit score, reasonable intelligence, and no vices somehow ends up on the street, I don’t doubt they could pull themself up in a short period of time. Great. Now, how about the rest of the working poor and homeless?Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        Yes, I’m sure this guy was able to succeed. He probably had a stable home life, a four-year college degree, and most likely, a decent credit score.

        But wasn’t Ehrenreich’s claim precisely that even a person with these qualifications couldn’t succeed under similar circumstances?

        And why do you keep speculating about his credit score if you acknowledge that he didn’t actually use credit?Report

        • And why do you keep speculating about his credit score if you acknowledge that he didn’t actually use credit?

          I think that part tripped me up, too. I think it’s a reference to the fact that credit scores can be used for when you’re renting an apartment or, in some cases, applying for a job.

          {Insert self-indulgent murmuring about how my auto insurance rates went up 33% due to some alleged problem on my nigh-impeccable credit history.}Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      What I find interesting in this Ehrenreich/Shepard thread is the side choosing it seems to be engendering.

      From what I know of both poverty and getting out of it, it seems to me that even if they disagree, both works can speak some form of the truth, and that each is good for young adults to consider.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        This is sort of my thought as well. Mark Thompson wrote, in defense of using Ehrenreich:

        To my knowledge, exams and discussion in the subjects where such works would be assigned do not ask questions along the lines of “what is the cause of the world’s problems,” with answers being graded based on ability to regurgitate said work; instead, the questions and discussion about the works tend to be along the lines “what does [author] think about [x], and why? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?”

        This strikes me as a particularly fair way to approach both of these dueling messages. But I think that there is a pretty legitimate fear, on both sides, that the kids simply won’t read it critically enough. That they will accept it.

        And if you are of the mind that there is far more truth to one narrative than the other, then you understandably would prefer keep the other out of line’s sight. Because it’s wrong. And we don’t want to help people get wrong ideas, overconfident in their ability to suss out its flaws and limitations.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

          I agree with this entirely, and I would add this:

          I think it’s OK for a kid to get a whiff of something wrong headed from a teacher or TV show or what have you, hold it as his own for a while, and learn either quickly or over time that it is flawed.

          Recently my youngest (12 yr old) son has been saying that we should do away with money, and everyone should have common ownership. I talk with him to get him to see why it wouldn’t work the way he thinks it would, but I can see from his life experience it obviously would.

          Is it possible that some teacher said something that got him tracking in this direction? Sure, I suppose. But aside from having (as best I can manage) reasoned talks with him that are respectful, I am unsure what I can do to get him to see that he is overly naive. But he’s a smart kid, and I don’t worry that in six years he’s going to join some luddite cult in Northern California. He’ll figure it out.

          I actually think there’s something empowering about both holding on to your own belief that is different from your parents, and in discovering on your own that you were mistaken as part of your growing experience.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            I actually think there’s something empowering about both holding on to your own belief that is different from your parents, and in discovering on your own that you were mistaken as part of your growing experience.

            You’d think I would be done with that part by now. It’s taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Will Truman says:

              I’m reminded of something from Keillor’s “95 theses 95” bit, where the writer says “you said that the world was a square and north was west and two plus two made four; not right, but wrong in such a way that when I took the exact opposite position–the world is a circle, north is east–I was still wrong, and I spent years trying to figure out a sum for two plus two other than four.”Report

  13. Art Deco says:

    Just putting some dimensions on Jesse Ewiak’s claims.

    1. About 0.25% of the population is homeless.
    2. The latent poor (w/personal incomes below a federally-defined baseline absent social transfers) amount to about 25% of the population. They are disproportionately elderly and disabled.
    3. The remainder of the population have good years and bad. Working-aged and able bodied people circulate in and out of the population of the poor.
    4. There was a rapid expansion in the population on relief in this country between 1964 and 1973 (general economic prosperity and low unemployment notwithstanding). Still in all, about 94% of the population was not drawing from either Aid to Families with Dependent Children or General Relief. The AFDC clientele was bifurcated, with one set circulating on and off within a few years and one set for which welfare-dependency was life.
    5. About 3/4ths of the adult population lack a baccalaureate degree. Most of them are doing satisfactorily.
    6. A pair of married parents should be just about everyone’s birthright, and it just about was among my parents’ contemporaries. However, people do manage without it, as a rule.
    6. The per capita income of the United States has quadrupled since the year my father was born. Poor just ain’t what it used to be.Report

  14. A Teacher says:

    I’m afraid I don’t have a ton to contribute to the conversation because I fear that a proper statement would require a full blog posting of it’s own, not a comment to an already well reasoned commentary.

    Gentlemen (and gentle-ladies) I submit that some of you are a little naive as to just how much power a teacher ~does~ wield. Things we say, quite often, students don’t question nearly as much they do statements from other adults. It’s not the books you should fear: It’s how the teachers frame them that make all the difference.

    Think about. Let’s take a common piece of literature for all of us: Star Wars IV A New Hope. What is it a story about? Is it a hero’s coming of age story, where young Luke learns his place as one of the Saviors of the galaxy? Or is it a tale of corruption, where a young man, poised to join the cause of Law and Order instead is turned away from a righteous path and tricked through outright lies into joining an unlawful insurrection, one that leads directly to thousands (perhaps millions) of deaths?

    At the end of the day those questions are answered strictly by how the material is taught. A ~GOOD~ teacher will ask both questions. They will ask students to, for a time, take both view points and defend and then attack them. They will encourage students to find parallels to history. They will bring in other literature and challenge students to a) Identify Lucas’s inspirations, b) compare the variations between this story and others, c) Identify what what the themes are that they can identify with and d) look for a historical perspective around the creation of the literature (ie what current events may have influenced the story as Lucas told it?)

    A bad teacher, on the other hand, may only present one side, or may use the literature to constantly frame a singular view point. Sometimes that’s not a tragedy. My English teacher in HS rarely taught us more than one theme for a given novel. Moby Dick was about “The Universal Thump” that all men are screwed by fate. Lord of the Flies was that all men are naturally monsters and only the rules of society keep us from killing and eating each other. But these ideas themselves we could accept or reject in our own lives.

    Teachers have not failed you. Your expectations of what a Teacher can do given the time to do it, and the demands upon them within that time have failed you.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to A Teacher says:

      Yo, Teach. I think this is a pretty great comment, and I’m thinking of posting in up on the Off the Cuff section. Do you mind if I do?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to A Teacher says:

      I’m reminded of a lesson during Junior High–regrettably, told only to the Advanced classes, because apparently the proles needed to be kept dumb–where we read two articles about the Russian occupation of Warsaw during the 1950s, one by a Polish and one by a Russian reporter. The Polish article described the heroics of a scrappy band of freedom fighters whose improvised explosive devices blocked the advance of Soviet tank regiments and allowed thousands to escape the oppressors. The Russian article described how the mighty Soviet army rolled over the city with no significant resistance and was welcomed by the happy populace. The point was that whoever writes the story is the good guy–and the winner.Report

  15. Note: Comment removed. (Tod)Report

    • Impressive. I had always assumed there was no comment I would ever have to delete.

      reXteryalizer, this comment had the disadvantage of being spam, offensive and nothing remotely to do with this post or any of the conversation threads.

      Please refrain from doing this in the future.Report