Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Our Illiterate News Writers

When it comes to watching local news on television, my wife and I seem to agree that ABC7 News is at least marginally a cut above the other networks. They seem to know how to keep the chatter-to-content ratio under control; and their reporters tend to be pretty good about convincing us that they understand what they are saying. The same, alas, cannot be said about what happens when those reporters create text for ABC7 Web pages.

Last night was a big local news night. A trial harvest of 850 pounds of Dungeness crab was about to be tested, first to determine whether the threat of neurotoxins had passed and second (and more subjectively) to assess quality and determine a fair price for product. Since Dungeness crab is one of my guilty pleasures, I have been following this pretty closely, more through the Web site than by watching television. Imagine, then, my surprise to encounter the sort of lead sentence that used to send the entire staff of The New Yorker into fits of uncontrollable laughter. The reporter was Melanie Woodrow; and, given current work practices, it is reasonable to assume that she typed this herself:
With their lively hoods on the line, crab fishermen are eagerly awaiting the results of a quality test that will determine the price set for crab.
Apparently, Woodrow is more accustomed to writing about fashion (What the well-dressed crabber is wearing?) than about quality of product. This would be a great excuse to joke about what happens when editors are no longer in the loop, but my guess is that neither Woodrow nor any of her colleagues care very much about the blooper that emerged from poor editing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Diane Ravitch Offers More Lessons that Those in Power will Willfully Ignore

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books has a particularly valuable article by Diane Ravitch entitled "Solving the Mystery of the Schools." On the surface it is a review of two books analyzing two projects to improve the quality of education in our country. The first book is about throwing money (much of it from Mark Zuckerberg) and rock-star enthusiasm (from Newark Mayor Cory Booker) at the Newark school system. The problem is that those with wealth and power saw no reason to bring those with hands-on experience in hands-on education into the planning meetings; so, as might be expected, the book is a chronicle of high hopes and dismal failure. This is coupled by a second book about more active classroom involvement by those knowing what they are doing, bringing about any number of positive results but failing to translate those results into better numbers on standardized tests. Taken together, these books provide object lessons about how ignorance in policy-making always seems to trump wisdom in practice.

The second book actually tries to diagnose this pathological precept. Ravitch quotes the author, Kristina Rizga on this matter:
Some of the most important things that matter in a quality education—critical thinking, intrinsic motivation, resilience, self-management, resourcefulness, and relationship skills—exist in the realms that can’t be easily measured by statistical measures and computer algorithms, but they can be detected by teachers using human judgment. America’s business-inspired obsession with prioritizing “metrics” in a complex world that deals with the development of individual minds has become the primary cause of mediocrity in American schools.
In other words our educational system is as flawed as our health care for exactly the same reason. Both are dominated by market-based thinking according to which each is to be viewed as an industry that needs to be efficiently managed for the sake of turning a lucrative profit. Never mind that only "the one percent of the one percent" ever really benefit from such thinking. If they are rich, then they must be doing the right thing.

This then takes us to Ravitch's own punch line, which she reserves for her final sentence:
As a society, we should be ashamed that so many children are immersed in poverty and violence every day of their lives.
The real shame is that we have entrusted that responsibility for "human judgment" to those whose only achievement is the creation of wealth. Because nothing else matters, we allow poverty to flourish at greater and greater levels as a corollary to the widening distribution of wealth. Is it any wonder that violence follows poverty as night follows the day? Perhaps this is what "the one percent of the one percent" actually want. Perhaps they figure that such a corollary of violence will eventually lead to poverty self-destructing, after which the super-rich can live in the happiness of their wealth without feeling guilty about any harsh realities. The only question they seem to have overlooked is whether or not they will be able to sustain themselves in such a world. Unfortunately, the rest of us will not be around to witness their encounter with that revelation.