Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

Bobo is now going to shine as he ‘splains education theory to us.  In “The Relationship School” he gurgles that the New American Academy in Brooklyn is an exciting experiment in education reform that centers everything around the teacher-student relationship.  It’s so exciting!  It’s so different!  It’s going to maybe succeed!  Of course, the example Bobo gives is of a group of 60 students being team taught by 4 teachers which works out to, lemme see, carry the 1, 15 students per teacher.  What public school teacher wouldn’t love to have a class with only 15 students?  Wotta boob…  Mr. Cohen, in “The False Iran Debate,” says after 30 years of dangerous non-negotiations, each side must make real concessions.  Prof. Krugman points out that “Paranoia Strikes Deeper,” and that gas prices are bringing out the crazy during this campaign season.  Here’s Bobo:

Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.

When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.

The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker, who grew up speaking Spanish in South America, became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, became an increasingly observant Jew, studied at yeshiva, joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became a public schoolteacher and then studied at the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former New York Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, founded to train promising school principal candidates.

Just another average résumé.

At first, he had trouble getting a principal’s job because people weren’t sure how a guy with a beard, kippa and a black suit would do in overwhelmingly minority schools. But he revitalized one of the most violent junior high schools in the South Bronx and with the strong backing of both Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, he was able to found his brainchild, The New American Academy.

He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.

He talks fervently like a guerrilla leader up in the mountains with plans to take over the whole country. For the grandly titled New American Academy, he didn’t invent new approaches, as much as combine ones from a bunch of other schools.

Like the Waldorf schools, teachers move up with the same children year after year. Like Hogwarts, students are grouped into Houses. Like Phillips Exeter Academy, students are less likely to sit at individual desks than around big tables or areas for teacher-led discussions.

The students seem to do a lot more public speaking, with teachers working hard to get them to use full sentences and proper diction. The subjects in the early grades (the only ones that exist so far) are interdisciplinary, with a bias toward engineering: how flight, agriculture, transportation and communications systems work. The organizational structure of the school is flattened. Nearly everybody is pushed to the front lines, in the classroom, and salaries are higher (master teachers make $120,000 a year).

The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.

For example, even though students move from one open area to the next, they line up single file, walk through an imaginary doorway, and greet the teacher before entering her domain.

The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.

Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student. By insisting on constant informal contact and by preserving that contact year after year, The New American Academy has the potential to create richer, mentorlike or even familylike relationships for students who are not rich in those things.

It’s too soon to say if it will work, especially if it’s tried without Waronker and the crème-de-la-crème teachers he has recruited, but The New American Academy is a great experiment, one of many now bubbling across the world of education.

15 students per teacher, AND crème-de-la-crème teachers?  Let’s try that elsewhere.  Oh, crap — somebody’d have to pay taxes to hire those teachers.  Oh, well…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has been perhaps the most vigorous, influential and informed voice relaying the view that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sees the Iranian leadership as a “messianic apocalyptic cult” and will bomb Iran to stop its nuclear program.

In an Atlantic cover story of September 2010, he predicted Israel would attack Iran with one hundred fighter aircraft in the spring of 2011. This month, after Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama, he wrote for Bloomberg that Obama’s words — “I have Israel’s back” — meant something but not “enough to stop Netanyahu.”

Then came the shift. Goldberg wrote a follow-up Bloomberg piece arguing that “Netanyahu could be bluffing.” All the Israel prime minister was really deploying was “huge gusts of words infused with drama and portents of catastrophe.”

The Goldberg variations, coming from a journalist who has interviewed both Netanyahu and Obama on Iran, are worthy of serious note.

I’ve never believed Netanyahu, going it alone without U.S. support, would attack an Iran whose stop-go nuclear program still stands some distance from the capacity to make — let alone actually produce — a bomb. The cost-benefit analysis does not add up: you don’t have to be the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan to see that.

Ignite a regional conflict, infuriate the United States, lock in the Islamic Republic for a generation, and take the modern state of Israel to war against Persia for the first time in order to set back a weakened Iran’s nuclear zigzag by a couple of years at best? Israelis are not crazy any more than Iranians.

On the other hand, it seems to me evident that if Iran ever did move out of its comfort zone (which is dilatory opacity), throw out the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors monitoring its uranium enrichment, combine the elements of its nuclear and ballistic research, and rush for a bomb, it would face assault from Israel and the United States together. Neither can permit such a decisive shift in the Middle East strategic equation. Obama means it when he says containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option.

In this sense, the whole Iran debate — with its receding “red lines,” its shifting “zones of immunity,” its threats and counter-threats, its bad metaphors and worse similes — is false. We know what will trigger a war and what won’t. At least we should. As the United States has learned this past decade, mistakes can happen in the form of politically driven irrational choices.

Now, after a buildup in Western sanctions, and after Arabs have done more than the West to undermine the Islamic Republic by demanding that democracy and faith go together, talks are to begin again April 13 between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. We’ve seen this bad movie before. If we don’t want the same ending (or non-ending), it’s worth trying to think big.

My sense of Iran’s psychology, based on five weeks spent there on two visits in 2009 and close observation since, includes these elements. The nuclear program is the modern-day equivalent of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s nationalization of the oil industry — an affirmation of Persian pride against the tutelage of the West and one it is determined will not end with a humiliation like Mossadegh’s overthrow in the British-American orchestrated coup of 1953.

It is a push for regional influence, a protest against double standards (nuclear-armed Israel, Pakistan and India), a nationalist cornerstone for a tired revolutionary regime and a calculated hedge — the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is “the guardian of the Revolution” and so must balance assertion with preservation, hence the brinkmanship that keeps Iran just short of steps that, it calculates, would trigger war.

You don’t spend long in Tehran without someone rolling up a sleeve, pointing to a horrific scar and saying “America.” The wound is from gassing during the Iran-Iraq conflict in which the West provided Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons. The generation of young officers who fought that 1980-88 war now runs Iran.

The war impacted them. As John Limbert, a former U.S. hostage in Iran, has observed, Iran sees America as “belligerent, sanctimonious, Godless and immoral, materialistic, calculating, bullying, exploitive, arrogant and meddling.” America, in turn, sees Iran as “devious, mendacious, fanatical, violent and incomprehensible.”

This is Ground Zero of the negotiations about to begin. It’s what you get after 30 years of dangerous noncommunication.

Is there a way out of the impasse? Perhaps not: Khamenei is a Brezhnevian figure with a locked-in world view of America as Great Satan. But perhaps yes, if real concessions are made by both sides and the nuclear issue is not taken in isolation.

The fundamental question the West must answer is how to satisfy Iran’s pride and usher it from historical grievance while capping its enrichment at a low, vigorously inspected level far from weapons grade (I can see no solution that does not allow some enrichment.) The fundamental question for the Islamic Republic is whether it can open itself to the West while preserving its system, a risk China took 40 years ago and won.

All the rest is no more than “huge gusts of words.”

What’s that phrase?  Oh, yeah — something about sound and fury signifying nothing.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Actually, it’s the noise a great political party makes when it loses what’s left of its mind. And it happened — where else? — on Fox News on Sunday, when Mitt Romney bought fully into the claim that gas prices are high thanks to an Obama administration plot.

This claim isn’t just nuts; it’s a sort of craziness triple play — a lie wrapped in an absurdity swaddled in paranoia. It’s the sort of thing you used to hear only from people who also believed that fluoridated water was a Communist plot. But now the gas-price conspiracy theory has been formally endorsed by the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Before we get to the larger implications of this endorsement, let’s get the facts on gas prices straight.

First, the lie: No, President Obama did not say, as many Republicans now claim, that he wanted higher gasoline prices. He did once say that a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “skyrocket” — an unfortunate word choice. But saying that such a system would raise energy prices was just a factual statement, not a declaration of intent to punish American consumers. The claim that Mr. Obama wanted higher prices is a lie, pure and simple.

And it’s a lie wrapped in an absurdity, because the president of the United States doesn’t control gasoline prices, or even have much influence over those prices. Oil prices are set in a world market, and America, which accounts for only about a tenth of world production, can’t move those prices much. Indeed, the recent rise in gas prices has taken place despite rising U.S. oil production and falling imports.

Finally, there’s the paranoia, the belief that liberals in general, and Obama administration officials in particular, are trying to make driving unaffordable as part of a nefarious plot against the American way of life. And, no, I’m not exaggerating. This is what you hear even from thoroughly mainstream conservatives.

For example, last year George Will declared that the Obama administration’s support for train travel had nothing to do with relieving congestion and reducing environmental impacts. No, he insisted, “the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” Who knew that Dagny Taggart, the railroad executive heroine of “Atlas Shrugged,” was a Commie?

O.K., this is all kind of funny. But it’s also deeply scary.

As Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” crazy conspiracy theories have been an American tradition ever since clergymen began warning that Thomas Jefferson was an agent of the Bavarian Illuminati. But it’s one thing to have a paranoid fringe playing a marginal role in a nation’s political life; it’s something quite different when that fringe takes over a whole party, to the point where candidates must share, or pretend to share, that fringe’s paranoia to receive the party’s presidential nod.

And it’s not just gas prices, of course. In fact, the conspiracy theories are proliferating so fast it’s hard to keep up. Thus, large numbers of Republicans — and we’re talking about important political figures, not random supporters — firmly believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists, not one of whom has broken the code of omertà. Meanwhile, others are attributing the recent improvement in economic news to a dastardly plot to withhold stimulus funds, releasing them just before the 2012 election. And let’s not even get into health reform.

Why is this happening? At least part of the answer must lie in the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did. Naturally, people who constantly hear about the evil that liberals do are ready and willing to believe that everything bad is the result of a dastardly liberal plot. And these are the people who vote in Republican primaries.

But what about the broader electorate?

If and when he wins the nomination, Mr. Romney will try, as a hapless adviser put it, to shake his Etch A Sketch — that is, to erase the record of his pandering to the crazy right and convince voters that he’s actually a moderate. And maybe he can pull it off.

But let’s hope that he can’t, because the kind of pandering he has engaged in during his quest for the nomination matters. Whatever Mr. Romney may personally believe, the fact is that by endorsing the right’s paranoid fantasies, he is helping to further a dangerous trend in America’s political life. And he should be held accountable for his actions.

 

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers

%d bloggers like this: