Friday, August 5, 2011

Chapter 16: Shills and Their Agendas

Chapter Sixteen:  Stink Tanks

When pundits write about things that they know nothing about, besides making fools of themselves, they reveal that they’ve got hidden agendas.
Case in point: Michelle Malkin writes about education in the Aug. 5, 2011 edition of the NY Post: “Ignorant Matt: Damon’s silly teacher rant” (p. 31).  If there’s one thing Malkin knows, it’s how to rant.
Hey, Ms. Malkin, how many years have you spent teaching in public school classrooms?
The Damon rant that inspired this Malkin rant was about education.  That was convenient because one of Malkin’s hidden agendas concerns education.  Damon praised public school teachers, particularly those who empowered him to become the creative person that he is today.  Damon criticized the “teach to the test” mentality that is currently sweeping the nation as a result of the federal government dangling “race to the top” money-biscuits in the tongue-wagging snouts of cash-strapped states.  According to Malkin, Damon made these comments at a march in Washington, which I admit to missing altogether.  I never saw Damon’s rant, but I’ll take Malkin’s word for it that he said something like this.  There are some people out there who will speak up for what they believe even knowing that the pundit pit bulls will go on the attack.  His words were a biscuit Malkin couldn’t resist.
But this isn’t about Damon.  It’s about Malkin and ill-informed, sometimes dis-informed and dis-informing pundits in general, the know-it-alls who can turn any situation into a platform for their propaganda.  Referring to teachers as “uneducators” – maybe I should refer to her as an “undit” -  Malkin has this to say:

“What Damon’s superficial tirade lacked, however, was any real-world understanding of the deterioration of core-curricular learning in America.”

Hey, Ms. Malkin, how many years have you spent teaching in public school classrooms?

“Students can’t master simple division or fractions because today’s teachers – churned out through lowest-common-denominator grad schools and shielded from competition – have barely mastered those skills themselves.”

Hey, Ms. Malkin, how many years have you spent teaching in public school classrooms?
When people say, “Believe me,” you have to wonder if you weren’t supposed to believe everything else they’ve said.  I’m being frank now!  When a pundit calls someone else “ignorant”, they are usually diverting attention from their own ignorance.  Claiming that Damon has no “real-world understanding” of public education is again a ruse to draw attention away from her own lack of “real-world understanding”.  Malkin’s complete ignorance of what goes on in public schools is so obvious that she had no choice but to try to divert our attention from it.  What better way to divert someone’s attention than to point to a celebrity?  She knows very well that people would rather be thinking about Matt Damon than about anything she might have to say.  Hey!  I wonder if I can put Matt Damon’s picture in my column about education!  Nice red herring, Ms. Malkin.  You get an “A” for that one.
When pundits talk about things they don’t know anything about, you have to look for the agenda and one of her agendas is not even hidden in this case.  After surrounding that photo of Damon with some cheap shots at him, Malkin talks mostly about the need to abolish teacher tenure:

“Interminable tenure … has produced a rotten corps of incompetent (at best) and dangerous (at worst) educators coddled by Big Labor.”

Hey, Ms. Malkin, how many years have you spent teaching in public school classrooms?
One of the ways that pundits like Malkin make fools of themselves is to speak in broad generalities like this.  Up against someone who knows what they’re talking about, these broad generalities would dissolve like white bread in milk.  Hey, Ms. Malkin, where’s your competition?  You say you like competition.  Where is the other side of the story?  It’s easy to talk when no one is talking back.  Try getting away with that in front of 30 kids!
Here’s the other side of the story.  Of course, when you’re ranting about public school teachers but don’t know anything about what goes on in public schools, you have no choice but to speak in broad generalities.  As I’ve said in other places in this “memoir”, I’ve worked closely with 100 teachers in 10 years and know by acquaintance many more.  98% of these teachers are hard-working people who are dedicated to their job - like the teacher who spent his lunch hours tutoring a hyperactive kid who couldn't function in a group setting or the teacher who gave up his after school time to teach students how to play musical instruments because there was no band or chorus or the teacher who arranged for her students to visit the Bronx County Courthouse or the teacher who spent his after school hours helping students create original movies to enter into real-world contests for real-world money or the teacher who arranged for a student team to appear on a local t.v. station's student quiz show - a very time-consuming task - or the teacher who on his own time turned the book Monster into a stage play because he had kids yearning to perform but no other outlet or the teacher who single-handedly created a community service tutoring program where she took high school students after school to tutor middle school students in another building or the teacher who enabled students to do SAT prep with him on line at home - I could go on.  I’m a teacher myself, of course.  So am I lying to protect teachers or tenure or union benefits or something else?  That’s for you to decide but at least I know what I’m talking about and I’ve made my agenda in this “memoir” very clear from the start.
People like Malkin with their agendas that have nothing to do with education clutter the landscape and cloud the discussion.  This happened when people like her tried to claim that laying off teachers was about education when it was actually about economics.  They will make that claim as long as the economy is such that layoffs are possible.  If the time comes when there is no threat of layoffs, they will simply use some other pretext to pursue their agendas.  Their purpose is to cloud the discussion.  That is the point of disinformation.  Subjects like how to improve education are complex enough without having to wade through all the red herrings that pundits toss into the discussion specifically to obscure the facts.
They have to obscure the facts because the facts work against their agendas.  In this case, the red herring is teacher tenure.   The problem with low graduation rates and poor test results has nothing at all to do with teacher tenure.  To claim that it does is to cloud the discussion.  The problem is far more complicated but the Malkin agenda is as silly, simple-minded and “superficial” as she claims Matt Damon’s tirade to be.
This “memoir” is about the real problems in education and what to do about some of them.  It is about the best students in the NYC school system, the students who are being sacrificed for agendas like Malkin’s (or whoever is behind her).  It is about the very complicated issue of how to improve education in the NYC public schools and you can’t have that discussion in merely a few paragraphs – but, yes, good students are being sacrificed in the name of ending teacher tenure, scuttling seniority rules and finally sounding the death knell for public education, which is the real hidden agenda behind this column and many others like it.  If Malkin and other pundits spent some real time in real-world classrooms, they might begin to see what is really going on.  They might begin to get a “real-world understanding” of the problems in education.  If they did that, of course, if they suddenly knew what they were talking about, they’d have to retract most of what they’ve ever said about schools and education.  Then the disinformation stink tanks would find someone else to fill their ink blotters to continue the war on public education.
With apologies to excellent reporters like Phil Mushnick, interminable media outlets owned, like the New York Post, by respectable people and run by respectable people who would never do things like hack into the private email of private citizens in the name of getting a sensational scoop – but to paraphrase, interminable media outlets with hidden agendas have produced a rotten corps of incompetent (at best) and dangerous (at worse) pundits coddled by Big Management.  How many pundits – out of every thousand – lose their pens?
Hey, Ms. Malkin, how many years have you spent teaching in public school classrooms?
Hey, Michelle Malkin, why are you talking about public education when you know nothing about it?
Hey, Michelle Malkin, who are you really working for?  I’m sorry – for whom does your bell shill?

NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

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