My Favorite Moments from Last Night

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Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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  1. Like Jason in his post, I was bothered by this martial language (or at least I see it as “martial”), although I think I draw slightly different conclusions from it than he does.  Whether it’s effective in helping Obama, I don’t know.Report

    • Avatar Just John in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Like many others, I believe there’s a lot of missing-of-the-point in most of the SOTU reaction I’ve seen. So I think the way you’ve expressed your response is pretty much on the money.

      I read this blog, as well as many others, for what I imagine to be essentially the same reason that any if its readers do:  I enjoy parsing ideas, analyzing the parts, assessing whole concepts parsed and unparsed, exploring the sources and foundations of concepts in our personal experience and perspectives, examining how our responses to ideas and concepts both resemble our responses to things-as-we-see them and transcend those responses.  I don’t believe that’s much shared much by the broad audience of the SOTU.

      Valid as the criticisms of the speech’s “mercantilist” agenda and “militarist” metaphorizing might be, the point of those heavy touches in the speech was not to outline what the federal government will do in the next year and beyond nor to tell the American people how they themselves should feel and behave.  It was to imply and then underline for the broad audience — swing voters, if you will, who are generally less informed about the specifics of the political and economic machinery than partisans — that their representatives and candidates of the Republican party are not for an economy that works in the national interest and do not put the national interest or the common good before their own.

      The statement was not that the tax code should be more complex and interventionist — though that’s what the specifics actually amounted to — but that it should be more concerned with the common good, and the specifics aren’t going to happen with the current Congress anyway, if only because Obama stated them.  Thus the target of the military metaphor wasn’t the people but Congress, and I think that’s what the general audience probably felt.

      Saying what you mean by saying what you don’t mean is a dangerous game, and it is actually the politics that we distrust, if not quite the politics that we revile.  The most charitable interpretation might be that Obama is starting again to weave a political poetics that will get him reelected, and he trusts that our political process itself will ineluctably move us to true progress.  The most uncharitable interpretation might be that Obama is invoking jingoist populism to stay in power and really doesn’t much care what happens on his watch or anyone else’s.  Neither of these is likely to be the whole truth, I think.  But I do think that those who watched who were looking to get a feeling that the president is on their side and that the Congress needs to take action got that feeling — and that Obama is probably saving real “speech-effectiveness” for the campaign.Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I did not see it- we don’t get reception. But it’s interesting to hear what parts of it you liked, since your perspective is likely different from that of Obama’s audience.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I was listening to it (thanks, NPR!) in the car last night and there were two main things I noticed:

    I had a visceral “YEAH STICK IT TO THEM” reaction when he started talking about companies exporting jobs overseas. We shouldn’t be giving them tax breaks! We should be giving tax breaks to our people giving jobs to our people!!! YEAH!!! YEAH!!! And then he started talking about the evils of other countries subsidizing their companies unfairly and I found my feet again.

    I also noticed, in the edumacation portion, that he talked about firing bad teachers.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

      I also noticed, in the edumacation portion, that he talked about firing bad teachers.

      I noticed that too. And I in a ‘you said that to liberals?’ sort of way. I think it’s good to get liberals and his caucus to start addressing the problem, even if a solution seems pretty far off.

      I also noticed that his ‘keep kids in school til their 18’ policy fell pretty flat with the crowd.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

        His education policy has actually been pretty damn good. He’s been basically right-of-center on most things and still managed to keep the support of teachers’ associations. Win/win.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          It’s good to hear you say that – I don’t really know anything about the specifics. I do know that being able to fire underperforming teachers is a legitimate gripe, one with all sorts of political implications. So addressing that issue is not only good politics, but good policy as well.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

            It’s mostly a myth, the Underperforming Teacher.   What we have is an epidemic of Underperforming Parents.   The only trend anyone can point to with any congruence with educational success is parental involvement.

            Been through this with a school in Illinois, hardscrabble dying town, Carpentersville.   Couldn’t meet its NCLB standards, state warned them, got rid of some folks.   Reaction:  the good teachers immediately left for other schools.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Isn’t that a different symptom of the same problem – that the feedback loops aren’t functioning properly?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

                No.   It’s not.  People just will buy into this Bad Teacher nonsense, as if there were any numbers to support it.  It’s all bullshit..  Teachers are tested and evaluated within an inch of their lives, ongoing education, hell, it’s very hard to get a teaching position without a Master’s degree in Ed and usually something else.

                Here’s reality.   People buy homes in good school districts and they’re willing to pay for them in property taxes.   Big hefty property taxes.   You’ll see the schools listed on the real estate flyer for the house.   People who give a damn about their kids will not move them into some crappy school district.

                Good school districts pay their teachers more.  They have nice amenities, a band, sports teams, orchestra, plays, field trips.   Bad school districts don’t.   The situation is so bad, the state has to intervene to pay, I shit you not, this is exactly what they call it — “combat pay” to bring in teachers to bad school districts.   But it doesn’t work, Stillwater.  They all leave within a few years, often enough they leave education entirely.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                IMO the problem isn’t bad teachers, it’s bad teaching methods. There’s a difference. The teachers are sold on ridiculous techniques by teaching programs who also have the ears of the board of education. That’s why our kids aren’t asked to memorize their multipication tables anymore and they spend half their time working on their writing portfolios.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Having become more intimately aware of how this works in public education over the last 10 years, I’m totally on board with “The Board of Education is a large part of the problem”.

                You see a lot of people run for Board of Education who serve for one or two terms and then run for City Council or State Assembly.  Board of Education seems to be the first step towards political office careerism.

                This is all well and good for people who want to be good representatives of the people (starting with education seems like a good idea), but the exception scenario is bad, bad news for public education.

                If people actually paid more attention to their local school board election than they do to the Presidential race, this problem would solve itself.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                It’s complicated, no? It seems that BP, JB, Mike D and you are all talking about really important problems with public education – but they’re all different!

                 Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Most of the other problems go away when the community actually pays attention.  They go to the school board meetings.  They shout at the idiots on the board.  They stump the farmer’s markets for votes.  They serve on the PTA, set up fundraisers for the schools, get support to the teachers, get a grant to pay for the librarian.  You can not only survive with cruddy support from the state, you can thrive… if the parents pick up the load.  And, for the most part, they will… if they can.

                The one major problem with school choice and/or private school is that the parents with the most resources go to the schools that need them the least.  This is one of those probably intractable problems.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Damned straight, Patrick.  There’s an overarching problem to all this, one without a clear cut solution.   Most schools are funded with property taxes.   The various states smear a little of the peanut butter around, the Feds kick in some, both want to grab the tiller and steer policy in return for their measly input into education, but the fact remains, good schools arise in districts with high property taxes and there’s no two ways around it.

                This doesn’t mean we can solve the problems with money, far from it.  Quite the opposite:  as you point out, once the parents start getting involved, things really do improve and every study I’ve seen has shown this to be true.

                But what can the school districts do when the voters won’t vote for sufficient property taxes to support the schools?   Several things are happening all at once:  the homeowners who once gave a damn about the schools because their kids were in them don’t care anymore.   Their kids are grown.   They’re not going to vote for property taxes.   If the district’s lost a major employer, who’s going to pick up the slack?   Hard to collect property taxes when there’s a foreclosure sign on the lawn.

                The cycle then picks up steam.   Because property taxes aren’t being collected, teachers are told to take pay cuts.   Programs get cut in the schools, the better teachers all leave in a huff if they’re not fired outright: art and music teachers, even science teachers leave if they can’t fund a science lab.   The union can’t help them:  what’s the union going to do about negotiating for a slice of a much-smaller pie?   Don’t ask the District to lay off employees, they’re not union, they’re management and their slice never goes down, those are patronage jobs anyway.

                There’s only so much parents can do.   A bake sale isn’t going to bring in enough money to hire back the science teacher.   He’s already left for private industry and is now earning three times more as a process chemist than he was as a teacher.   Oh, he misses teaching, he might do some teaching at the community college just to keep his hand in, but he really wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in kids’ lives.   Now he’s just another cog in the wheel.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I think the only possible solution to this problem, Blaise, is to cut the school off at the knees.  Take it out back and shoot it.

                If the popular support doesn’t exist to keep the school funded at an appropriate level, shut down the school and the town needs to pay to bus the kids to the next town (or district, or whatever) over.

                Yes, it’s a cruddy solution, but the alternative is to keep trying to keep a suffering school afloat with no resources and no local support, while its numbers start to plummet and the kids are coming out the worst of everybody.

                People fight to keep these schools open because they want *their* school.  They like *their* teachers.  I can sympathize with that, quite a bit, but if the old fogey who lives next door isn’t going to vote for a $50 parcel tax to support the schools, let the old fogey stand up and watch his property values go down when the town doesn’t have its own school any more and the kids are bussed 10 miles away.

                At least the kids get a school that has sustainability, from an economic standpoint, so they aren’t totally screwed in the meantime.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                We’ve tried that solution.  Euthanizing the school only further burdens the destination schools.   The problem is the revenue model and the accountability.

                The solution is pretty obvious;  if a school can’t support itself through the existing funding model, you pull it out of the district and put it in the hands of the town fathers and the parents.   Nobody gets any say in such a school but the parents and the teachers.  That puts the onus on the administrators to earn their keep.

                Though I’m not one to say technology is the solution to all of education’s problems, I contend most rote learning in schools could be done in technology.   Pretty much everything below 8th grade can be done in this manner.  Think Khan Academy on steroids.   The educational model hasn’t changed in a century and more.   Look at the hours and holidays for school, all geared to a farming lifestyle.   Same li’l classroom chairs, same old blackboard, sit down shut up raise your hand do your homework — what a manifestly stupid idea is homework!   The very idea is insane on its face in an era where we could get instant feedback from an online instruction-and-testing framework.

                And what about talented children?   We rope all these kids together like a party of mountaineers to take them up Mount Algebra.   About halfway up, a third of the climbers are already dead there’s no catching up because if you haven’t mastered the quadratic formula you’re gonna be losted at binomial theorem.   The kids who have mastered the material proceed at the same rate as those who haven’t and by the time the school year ends every single kid in that class absolutely hates algebra.  There’s no provision for individual instruction, such as we saw in the one-room schoolhouse, where older kids actually helped teach the younger ones.

                Heaven forbid the educational process might encourage kids to explore material interesting to them.

                Turn the schools over to the parents and they’ll manage this just fine.   Get it out of the hands of the bureaucrats of Carpet Land and the State Capitol:  if they understood they’d be losing control if those schools don’t do well, they’d be Highly Motivated to Perform.    Repeal NCLB immediately.   It’s nothing but so many hoops of fire through which only the well-trained poodle dog will ever jump.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                neh. I’ve heard of enough bad teachers to know what one looks like — and to know that they show up even in good school districts.

                Still, they aren’t the problem.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                @Mike: there’s no political ball quite so kicked around the block as educational policy.   Case in point:  special education.   SpecEd is what drags down NCLB numbers, so it’s become the painful hemorrhoid on the bunghole of education.  Every SpecEd kid gets an IEP, a customized plan, more convoluted than a convention of theologians.   Entire forests are leveled and thrust into the chippers to make the cellulose for all the IEP and its attendant paperwork

                But every year or so, the Powers that Be over in District Headquarters aka Carpet Land decide they need to change things.   Last year, it was Inclusion, which meant a half-dozen disruptive children were pushed into the regular classroom with the SpecEd teacher and her assistant to manage those kids.    Of course, the presence of the SpecEd kids meant the regular classroom was a tohu-bohu.

                But this year, at the last minute, the policy is now Segregation, where the SpecEd kids are in their own classroom.   But, you see, the IEP was set up for the Inclusion model.   Now what?

                Yanno what?   Maybe we need to put the teacher in charge of this situation.   Memorizing multiplication tables is sorta important, but that task could be handled in software, with immediate feedback for correct and incorrect answers.   Each kid could progress at his own rate and the teacher could intervene when a kid’s not mastering the material.   That’s how the old SRA models worked for reading back in the day and they produced literate children.   Sure, technology isn’t the answer for everything, but I’ve written training software which takes a kid through sums of integers less than 10 to polar coordinates.  Wrote it for my own kids and it’s still in operation in the school district.

                @Kim:  sure there are bad teachers, as there are bad people on a statistical basis in any work situation.   You gotta trust me on this, we’ve gone overboard on trying to flush them out.   We can get most of them but we can’t get all of them, because they can master the obstacle course which keeps them in place.   Again, this is no different than any other enterprise.   Surprisingly, it’s the other teachers who push the bad teachers out the door, not the Folks in Carpet Land.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              My sister and her husband are both teachers and I talk to them about this sort of thing periodically. They are both teachers on the good side of town (for example, my sister has spoken about the helicopter parents who have Ivy League Dreams for their pre-schoolers and how they are agitating to make sure that their precious little child will be in *HER* first grade classroom). At Thanksgiving they told me that Colorado has a law that says if you move from this school district to that one, you will start at that one with 3 years seniority. Tops. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got 37 years of experience in District 7, if you move to District 8, you will get there and have 3 years (this applies to such things as pay scale as well). They both had 5 or 6 years of experience in a school district on THAT side of the tracks when they were first starting and they told stories that… well, this is a family blog. The stories were harrowing. I wanted to buy a gun, after hearing them.

              They were more than happy to trade three years away and start over in their current school district with “only” 3 years seniority where they have been teaching happily for the last, oooh… almost a decade now.Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Last month I got to see the research of a Harvard economist (Raj Chetty) who was able to demonstrate that if you fired the bottom 5% of teachers based on a value-added measure after 3 years of teaching, you’d generate increases in lifetime income of $200,000 (in Present Value terms) per class.

              That’s sounds like an under-performing teacher problem to me.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

      Also: re: the tax breaks/outsourcing policies, I recall Hillary campaigning on just that policy proposal for like half a day before she gave it up. I wonder if the OWS stuff has made that topic more politically palatable.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, if we’re going to let the market drive education, heh heh, maybe we’ll have to pay for talent, like every other industry.   Oh noes!  This might imply teachers get raises.   Wherever shall we get the mon-ehh?   Taxes?   Never.

      So it’s back to demonising the teachers a-la our cretinous governor Walker here in the Land o’ Cheese.   I note Obama is all ’bout some Veterans Employment Thingie so’s our brave troops can become policemen and firemen.   Heh heh heh.  They have strong unions.  The states wouldn’t dream of taking on the cop shop in a political tussle.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        ya know, every month or two I get a spice catalog from wisconsin. It’s been fascinating to watch how upset they’re getting up there. I mean, for a businessman to start flying his political colors — in a catalog about spices?

        They’re doing it delicately too — all this talk about how their father/grandfather who fought in WWII would have something to say about people not paying their fair share — or not helping those that are hurting.Report

  4. Avatar Jeff says:

    My two favorite moments from the speech:

    “Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.”  A good riff on JFK.

    “Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”  Hoooorah!Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    My favorite moments were when John Boehner was forced to applaud, with the grimace on his face showing just how painful it was for him.Report