Friday, May 25, 2012

Caring About Kids

When next the president pontificates on how we all need to do more to raise the educational achievement of our nation's children perhaps someone in the audience will burst out in a good horselaugh. Mr. Obama might care about children, but he appears to care much more about the opinion of the nation's teachers unions.

For example, Washington D.C., perhaps the most distressed city in the United States in terms of education - its schools rank 51st in state rankings for academic achievement, but first for school violence - has a federally funded scholarship program which provides the wherewithal for poor parents to send their children to private schools where they can learn without having to spend the entire day fearing for their safety. These are the schools the children of most Washington politicians, including the Obamas, attend.

According to columnist Mona Charen the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a small federal outlay that provides scholarships to some 1,600 students to attend private or parochial schools. Since the program’s inception in 2004, more than 10,000 families have applied to participate. The average income of OSP participants is $24,000.

It's a great chance for kids who want to succeed to be given a decent chance to escape the asylums to which they would otherwise be condemned, but Mr. Obama is trying to kill it. He did the same thing in 2011, but House Speaker John Boehner, one of those racist Republicans, managed to save it. Now Mr. Obama is again trying to deprive thousands of poor young black kids a chance to go to a school of the same quality as the one his own daughters attend.

Here's Charen on the administration's reasoning:
The administration claims that it “strongly opposes” the OSP because it “has not yielded improved student achievement.” But as the Black Alliance for Educational Options reports:
The most recent federal evaluation of the OSP showed that students who used their scholarships had a 91 percent graduation rate — 21 percent higher than those who were offered but did not use scholarships and more than 30 points higher than D.C. public school students. The program has also produced gains in reading.
Like a black Bull Conner, Mr. Obama is standing in the doorway of D.C. public schools, only instead of keeping black kids out he's keeping them in. As is his custom he proposes increasing spending on public schools, but as Charen points out, this is just a waste of money:
The District now spends $18,000 per student. More than 60 percent of District fourth-graders cannot read at grade level. Only 14 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading. The Washington Post reports that in math, the District has, “by a wide margin, the nation’s highest proportion of fourth and eighth graders in the ‘below basic’ category — and the lowest in proficient/advanced.” During the 2007/2008 academic year, police received more than 3,500 calls from public schools, 900 of them for violent incidents.
Mr. Obama seems unfazed. Teachers oppose private education. Teachers want the money for their schools and for themselves, and teachers vote. That seems to be the long and short of it.

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but if Mr. Obama really cared about kids he'd move heaven and earth to get them out of the hell-holes to which the Democratic party has condemned them.

Whenever I write about this I urge readers to watch the documentary titled Waiting for Superman. It's a vivid picture of how desperate some of these kids are to get scholarships like the OSP and to get a seat in a private school.


An essay by National Review's Victor Davis Hanson does a good job of describing the distressing shallowness of much of our cultural and political life. His column is titled The Power of Cool and it makes the point that what matters, at least for many people, especially those in the commentariat, is not one's behavior, ideas, competence, or ability to help the country, but rather the fashionableness of one's political positions and the personal chic with which they express them.

How one looks, speaks, and carries oneself, but most of all, the views one champions, matter far more among many of those who pontificate upon such things than the quality of those ideas and the character of the person who holds them.

If you hold the right opinions then you're immune from criticism. If you don't, then you can expect to be savaged by a culture and a media that worships ideological fashion. This is not something that others haven't commented upon before, certainly, but Hanson amasses so many instances of the phenomenon that it's almost stunning to be reminded how superficial, frivolous, and unfair the culture, particularly the major media, is.

After opening with some general examples Hanson turns his attention to the political sphere:
The power of cool is evident also in politics. State quite correctly that you can see Russia from parts of Alaska, and you are ditzy white-trash Sarah from Wasilla; state falsely that Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation on television in 1929, and you are just “good ol’ Joe Biden.”

John Kerry’s second married-into fortune probably dwarfs the one that Mitt Romney made himself, perhaps by a factor of ten. While we heard in 2012 that Romney wanted a car elevator in one of his many houses, we never heard much in 2004 of presidential candidate Kerry’s various mansions, boats, or assorted playthings, or how he proved to be a keen investor as a senator helping to set U.S. financial policy.

Kerry, you see, was cool. He windsurfed and wore spandex as he cycled, and found his exemption by championing the poor he rarely saw.

The same was true of John Edwards of “Two Americas” fame. Do we now recall how he ran to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, despite the $500 haircuts and the self-indulgent mansion, replete with “John’s room,” a hideaway with all sorts of adolescent toys? Edwards, remember, earned those spoils by charming juries in his smarmy style, and nearly destroyed the practice of obstetrics in North Carolina through his flurry of malpractice suits. No matter, Edwards was liberal, Kennedyesque, and cool — and he earned prophylaxis in the manner of JFK himself, of whose White House orgies we did not learn until a half-century later.

Likewise we have been taught that there is no “power imbalance” or “insidious asymmetry” when a “mentor” has sexual relations with his young intern — as long as he is a feminist like Bill Clinton.

What, then, exactly, is this cool that allows you to earn whatever you like without censure, and then to spend it as you please without fear of public scorn?

It would seem that the disconnect is liberal politics, the coin by which one buys a sort of medieval indulgence from liberal gatekeepers in the media, academia, the arts, and the foundations that permits one to continue the pursuit and enjoyment of lucre and to indulge the baser appetites without harassment — in the manner that the medieval moneylender or sexual zealot still got to heaven by buying marble for the cash-strapped cathedral.
Bill Clinton could sexually assault women and it didn't matter because he had the correct view on abortion. He was cool. The married Al Gore could urge a masseuse to release his "third chakra" and the media ignored the risible incongruity of the mental image it conjured because Al Gore was cool on global warming. Bill Maher can get away with the most vile, degrading discourse about women because, as everyone knows, Bill Maher is on the right side of the issues. He's cool.

Here's an example Hanson cites that I thought amusing:
We simply don’t mind that Google and Amazon rake in billions, but we despise Exxon and Archer Daniels Midland for doing the same. It is not that we need social networking and Internet searches more than food and fuel, but rather that we have the impression that cool zillionaires in flipflops are good while uncool ones in wingtips are quite bad.
Those of a certain age will remember how George H. W. Bush was mercilessly ridiculed for expressing surprise at how a laser scanner in the supermarket checkout worked and how Vice-President Dan Quayle become the object of derision for misspelling potato, yet no one on the left mocked Barack Obama for claiming to have campaigned in all 57 states nor have they found anything mirthful in any of Vice-President Biden's endless stream of howlers.

We live in an age when image, style, and holding whatever opinions the "enlightened ones" hold are all that matters. Those on the correct side of the ideological divide are cool and above any reproach, those on the wrong side are not cool and deserve scorn and ridicule.

All of which explains, I suppose, why some of us have never achieved the enviable state of utter coolness (nor hotness, for that matter).