What’s Wrong with the World

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What need means

A Washington Post article noteworthy for its sensationalism reserves a most arresting revelation for the very last paragraph. It comes from the mouth of a man whose interest and perspective are commendably disclosed, by the very name of the organization he works for: the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. Here is a man who gives voice to the authentic view of the American public education establishment. Here is a man who shows us what they are thinking. His remarks that conclude this article are striking.

But first, the sensationalism.

Taking the “federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches” as “a rough proxy for poverty,” the article’s writer, Lyndsey Layton, citing the Southern Education Foundation, pronounces that “the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families.”

That “rough proxy” performs some wondrous expedients. It supplies the basis for ringing the tocsin, the doom of middle class education. Half of the students in America are poor!

Chuck DeVore shows here how misleading the rough proxy really is. In essence, the lunch-assistance proxy converts 20% poverty into 51% poverty. Voila! Student poverty has more than doubled.

Naturally, the writer does not linger on the details of this statistical legerdemain. She moves right on to the dire implications of the sensational headline stat:

The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive at school each day.

Readers may recall that an education reform bill bearing the names of Kennedy and Bush — scions of both national parties — became law some baker’s dozen years ago. In addition to the appropriation of new funding, the main provisions of that law concerned measurable classroom results, as estimated by standardized tests.

But things have changed. America is now gravely impoverished. The preponderance of poverty among public school students should persuade us to set aside results and consider need. The “federal focus on results, as opposed to need, is wrong­headed.”

And thus we arrive at the very revealing final quotation, from the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University:

We have to think about how to give these kids a meaningful education. We have to give them quality teachers, small class sizes, up-to-date equipment. But in addition, if we’re serious, we have to do things that overcome the damages of poverty. We have to meet their health needs, their mental health needs, after-school programs, summer programs, parent engagement, early-childhood services. These are the so-called wraparound services. Some people think of them as add-ons. They’re not. They’re imperative.

So this is what need really means. Poverty rates are largely irrelevant. Absolute measures of poverty are irrelevant. This is not poverty but the Fall. Prosperity is no surety against mental illness, or against poor health, or against parental disengagement. They are misfortunes of the human condition, which poverty may exacerbate but it does not create.

What is proposed here, for plenary disbursement by the public schools, is nothing less than the full vision of wraparound welfarism. Far from being about actual physical necessity, “need” means public schools supplying the entire panoply of social-democracy to all students, as an imperative duty of “meaningful” or “serious” education reform.

It’s very interesting to know that, in order to carry this case, in order to prick our cold American conscience, the social democrats feel they must call three out of ten Americans poor who are not poor.

Comments (12)

“What we know is that the mobility escalator has simply stopped for some Americans..."

This is another aspect of the lies here, Paul. Actually, there are two lies in this one sentence. The first is that word "Americans". If you look at the map, it is totally obvious that a large share of the poverty being tracked is that of immigrants. There is no other explanation for the distribution. Sure, the southeast has a fair amount, so the heavy concentration of blacks in the southeast comes into play - more blacks are poor. But that doesn't account for Virginia NOT being in the group, and 4 other states, Florida, S and N Carolina, and Alabama, whose poverty rate is high but not as high as the states centered around the Mexican border. Kids from illegal immigrant families are not Americans.

Secondly, virtually nobody in the left trumpeting poverty will ever volunteer up front to track the course of those who benefit from the escalator from those who don't. Last time I checked the statistics (which was several years ago so I don't know if this has changed), by and large people WERE moving up the ladder. A pretty good share of the people who had been poor 20 years earlier were no longer poor. What happened is that NEW poor came in to replace the previous cadre of poor. The fact that there is a rise in the poverty rate doesn't mean the escalator has stopped. The other thing to note is this: everyone knows that single-parent families, out-of-wedlock births, deadbeat dads, all contribute to the both the actual poverty of kids AND to the poor outcomes for those kids even adjusting for income level. Those are the kids who are not benefiting from the escalator - if they have intact families and are just poor, they actually ARE benefiting fairly well. But the very government that is being asked to "fix" the problem of the poor students is more than a little the cause of the broken families. Get the government turned around toward repairing families (that is, helping churches do it), and in one generation we would repair more of the broken kids and broken educational results than 10 times as much money spent on schools.

The other thing to note is this: everyone knows that single-parent families, out-of-wedlock births, deadbeat dads, all contribute to the both the actual poverty of kids AND to the poor outcomes for those kids even adjusting for income level.

You could scarcely create a more effective machine for creating social chaos than our current family law policy. Many of these things can't be fixed just by appealing to people's consciences. The state will have to get involved and probably ruthlessly so in certain sectors of our society.

This is not poverty but the Fall.

Directly or indirectly, all poverty is due to the Fall. It might be due to it through disability (natural evil, a result of the fall), mental illness, or injustice of various kinds, but after the Eschaton there aren't going to be any more poor people as we would ever understand that term.

Therefore, any time we try to oppose or fight poverty, by whatever means, we are trying to counteract _some_ effect, often very indirect, of the Fall.

So the problem here is, it seems to me, not so much a failure on the leftists' part to distinguish poverty from the Fall but rather a failure on their part to _identify_ poverty with the effects of the Fall. For if they did recognize the identity there, they would abandon the attempt to obliterate, wipe out, eradicate, etc., poverty and all its negative effects and consequences. They would realize that there is no way to do so, and they would have far less confidence in their "wraparound programs" and far more humility about the possible unintended negative consequences of implementing them. They would adopt what Thomas Sowell calls the Tragic Vision rather than the Vision of the Anointed. That doesn't mean, of course, abandoning attempts to ameliorate the effects of the Fall. But it does mean not thinking that if we only cared enough, if we only spent enough, if we only had enough programs of enough different kinds, we could Wipe Out Poverty.

The drive to "wraparound welfare programs for all" is a classic case of the Vision of the Anointed. The fact that the programs are often failures (as documented in numerous cases) doesn't stop the Anointed, _precisely_ because programs with a more realistic chance of achieving their own internal goals and at least doing some good without doing counterbalancing harm are going to be less ambitious from the start.

Tony and Lydia (and Paul),

I will add to your excellent comments (and Paul's excellent original post) a note about the elephant in the room: no matter how much we do to help some people, even private, church-run efforts to help the poor, there will be those who just don't do well in school. IQ is normally distributed. Ironically, that makes me agree with the left-wing nut-job quoted by Paul:

"We have to think about how to give these kids a meaningful education."

For me, however, this means thinking about alternatives to "college for everyone"!!! I'm interested in how to help the left-hand side of the IQ bell-curve. Vocational education, skilled trades, and ways to make those careers more viable for men who want to raise families (one hint: stop importing third-world peasants to compete for the manual labor jobs that do exist and bid down the price of that labor!)


College isn't for everyone, but those who are on the left side of the curve wouldn't make it into the skilled trades either. I would hazard a guess that it takes a higher IQ and work ethic to make it into most skilled blue collar professions than to pass many college programs today. In fact, some programs like "education" have been shown to be statistically so low on average IQ and test scores that the average student probably couldn't successfully do basic construction work.

Ok, they could probably do menial construction tasks, but anything that required independence and thought would probably be beyond them.


Well, they can do basic labor, as you suggest -- and having them compete for those jobs involving basic labor (picking crops, tough physical factory jobs, etc.) with immigrants is a bad idea.

Close the border!!!

In fact, some programs like "education" have been shown to be statistically so low on average IQ and test scores that the average student probably couldn't successfully do basic construction work.

Depends on the state. The state I'm completing college in has an extremely rigorous education program. It's probably a harder program than every subject but the STEM degrees, and depending on what subject you teach it can be COMBINED with a STEM degree. Different states have different requirements.

Of course, statistics show that that's largely a myth anyway.


I'm not singling you out Mike T, but in general: This is where a lot of teacher critics, particularly conservative critics, annoy me. They look at the problems and assume the reasons for them in advance, then propose policies trying completely useless solutions, all while the real numbers are right in front of us. The plain truth is that U.S. teachers aren't bad at all. This isn't teacher apologetics, it's bald fact.

Mike, in both the white collar and blue collar areas, there is a place for the analytical types that dig into a problem on their own initiative and solve it, and room for the types that wait for someone to tell them what to do and then they do it. You are correct that running your own business in the skilled trades requires a lot of mental horsepower. But being an apprentice plumber working at someone else's direction, or even a journeyman plumber working for a company and under the direction of a master plumber, takes considerably less. I won't try to estimate how much, it doesn't matter, it is just that there is plenty of room for non-brilliant people there.

The difference between the well-advised college-bound vs those who should not be headed there isn't essentially in the degree of smarts so much as temperament / personality type, although sheer horsepower is not insignificant. I know a couple brilliant people who cannot stand to be stuck behind a desk, they need to have tools in their hands making things work. One of them could easily have gotten a Ph.D. in engineering and has the knowledge that some Ph.D.s would envy. We are still seeing this in computers (less so now than 20 years ago) where some people who never went to college are making VP of major companies because they are brilliant and can apply their smarts in the right way in spite of not attending college. I know one who just did that last year. I also know a person who got basically C's straight through high school, worked docks for a few years and decided he wanted something requiring a brain, went to school for a technician-type job that now involves setting up, running, and repairing a million-dollar "tool". His motivation in college was more important to success than high school grades would indicate.

I agree that we should not be creating a "must go to college to get ahead" model of education. We should have a lot more variety of schooling options, including (just for example) things like hands-on training workshops being run alongside working for-profit shops where a blue collar guy can learn more without having to "clean up" for a class room. One of the real failures of our system is the difficulty of persons past the usual college and trade-school age to get training for a new, relevant position before his current job is completely obsolete but headed that way (or, equally, before his company closes a plant because they can't compete in that place or field).

While teachers may well be of a high standard, it seems to me that there are far too many going on to university-type education. There are certainly far more than used to be the case. It seems indisputable that mean intelligence must decline and, if so, it is impossible for even the best of teaching to compensate. The liberals, of course, assert that we are all equally intelligent but the quality of the graduates seems to give the lie to this. Sadly, many of the graduates are convinced of their great intelligence and find it frustrating when they are unable to convert their "qualifications" into success.

It is a fact that some people simply aren't as intelligent as others. This, in fact, is the main reason that U.S. public schools test badly, not teacher quality. We are more multicultural than most, and some races tend to produce more people of lower intelligence than other races - mostly minorities.

Of course Finland is kicking our butts in testing. They're far more homogenous racially.

Politically incorrect? Of course, but pretty much every statistic you'll ever find will bear this out.

Also, common core is an awful, horrible, evil abomination, and we should kill it with fire.

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