The Big Lie about the Left in the U.S.

The Big Lie about the Left in the U.S. is that the Left exists in some substantial and influential way in the country.

The Truth about the Left in the U.S. is that the Left does not exist in some substantial and influential way in the country. Period.

The little lies that feed into the Big Lie include that universities and professors, K-12 public schools, the mainstream media, and Hollywood are all powerful instruments of liberal propaganda.

These little lies have cousins in the annual shouting about the “war on Christmas” and hand wringing by Christians that they are somehow the oppressed peoples of the U.S.

These lies little and Big are a scale problem in that the U.S. is now and has always been a country whose center is well to the right, grounded as we are in capitalism more so than democracy.

The U.S. is a rightwing country that pays lip service to progressivism and democracy; we have a vibrant and powerful Right and an anemic, fawning Middle.

Wealth, corporatism, consumerism, and power are inseparable in the U.S.—pervading the entire culture including every aspect of government and popular culture.

The Left in the U.S. is a fabricated boogeyman, designed and perpetuated by the Right to keep the general public distracted. Written as dark satire, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle now serves as a manual for understanding how power uses false enemies to maintain power and control.

Notably during the past 30-plus decades, conservative politics have dominated the country, creating for Republicans a huge problem in terms of bashing “big government.”

But dog-whistle politics grounded in race and racism benefitting the Right and Republicans have a long history.

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. confronted Barry Goldwater’s tactics foreshadowing Trump’s strategies and rise:

The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism…On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I have no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that does not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

Malcolm X held forth in more pointed fashion, but with the same focus:

Well if Goldwater ever becomes president one thing his presence in the White House will do, it will make black people in America have to face up the facts probably for the first time in many many years,” Malcolm X said. 

“This in itself is good in that Goldwater is a man who’s not capable of hiding his racist tendencies,” he added. “And at the same time he’s not even capable of pretending to Negroes that he’s their friend.” 

The Civil Rights icon concluded that should Goldwater be elected, he would inspire black people to fully reckon with “whites who pose as liberals only for the purpose of getting the support of the Negro.”

“So in one sense Goldwater’s coming in will awaken the Negro and will probably awaken the entire world more so than the world has been awakened since Hitler,” he said.

Mentioned above, the annual panic over the “war on Christmas” is a distraction from the fact that Christmas serves consumerism, the Right, and not religion—keeping in mind that Jesus and his ideology rejected materialism and espoused moral and ethical codes in line with socialism and communism/Marxism.

What remains mostly unexamined is that all structures are essentially conservative—seeking to continue to exist. Power, then, is always resistant to change, what should be at the core of progressivism and leftwing ideology.

Marxism is about power and revolution (drastic change, and thus a grand threat to power), but suffers in the U.S. from the cartoonish mischaracterization from the Right that it is totalitarianism.

So as we drift toward the crowning of the greatest buffoon ever to sit at the throne of the U.S. as a consumerocracy posing as a democracy, Education Week has decided to launch into the hackneyed “academics are too liberal and higher education is unfair to conservatives” ploy.

At the center of this much-ado-about-nothing is Rick Hess playing his Bokonon and McCabe role:

I know, I know. To university-based education researchers, all this can seem innocuous, unobjectionable, and even inevitable. But this manner of thinking and talking reflects one shared worldview, to the exclusion of others. While education school scholars may almost uniformly regard a race-conscious focus on practice and policy as essential for addressing structural racism, a huge swath of the country sees instead a recipe for fostering grievance, animus, and division. What those in ed. schools see as laudable efforts to promote “equitable” school discipline or locker-room access strike millions of others as an ideological crusade to remake communities, excuse irresponsible behavior, and subject children to goofy social engineering. Many on the right experience university initiatives intended to promote “tolerance” and “diversity” as attempts to silence or delegitimize their views on immigration, criminal justice, morality, and social policy. For readers who find it hard to believe that a substantial chunk of the country sees things thusly, well, that’s kind of the issue.

Conversational and posing as a compassionate conservative, Hess sprinkles in scare quotes while completely misrepresenting everything about which he knows nothing.

This is all cartoon and theater.

The grand failure of claiming that the academy is all leftwing loonies is that is based almost entirely—see the EdWeek analysis—on noting that academics overwhelmingly identify as Democrats.

However, the Democratic Party is not in any way a substantial reflection of leftist ideology. At most, we can admit that Democrats tend to use progressive rhetoric (and this is a real characteristics of professors, scholars, and academics), but that Democratic policy remains centrist and right of center.

A powerful example of this fact is the Department of Education (DOE) and Secretary of Education (SOE) throughout George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations.

For the past 16 years, education policy has been highly bureaucratic and grounded almost entirely in rightwing ideology—choice, competition, accountability, and high-stakes testing.

The only real difference between Bush’s SOE and Obama’s SOE has been rhetoric; yes, Duncan, for example, loved to chime in with civil rights lingo, but policy under Obama moved farther right than under Bush.

Now, let me end here by addressing the charge that college professors are a bunch of leftwing loonies.

I can do so because I am the sort of dangerous professor Hess wants everyone to believe runs our colleges and universities—poisoning the minds of young people across the U.S.

I can also add that I spent 18 years as a public school teacher before the past 15 years in higher education.

In both so-called liberal institutions—public education and higher education—as a real card-carrying Lefty, I have been in the minority, at best tolerated, but mostly ignored and even marginalized.

Public schools are extremely conservative, reflecting and perpetuating the communities they serve. In the South, my colleagues were almost all conservative in their world-views and religious practices.

My higher education experience has been somewhat different because the atmosphere has the veneer of progressivism (everyone know how to talk, what to say), but ultimately, we on the Left are powerless, unheard and often seen as a nuisance.

Colleges and universities are institutions built on and dependent on privilege and elitism. As I noted above, colleges and universities are not immune to the conservative nature of institutions; they seek ways to maintain, to conserve, to survive.

Colleges and universities are also not immune to business pressures, seeing students and their families as consumers.

Do professors push back on these tendencies and pressures? Sure.

But that dynamic remains mostly rhetorical.

The Truth is that colleges and universities are centrist organizations—not unlike the Democratic Party and their candidates, such as Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Some progressives in the U.S. play both sides to sniff at the power on the Right, and then the Right uses that rhetoric and those veneers to prove how the Left has taken over our colleges/universities, public schools, media, and Hollywood.

But that is a Big Lie about the Left in the U.S.

The Left does not exist in any substantial way, except as a boogeyman controlled by the Right in order to serve the interests of those in power.

“To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true,” Bayard Rustin warned.

Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle dramatizes this warning, and 50 years ago King and Malcolm X challenged us to see beyond the corrosive power of dog-whistle politics.

When the Right paints educational research as the product of corrupted leftwing scholars, you must look past the harmful foma and examine in whose interest it is that market-based education reform survives despite the evidence against it.

To paraphrase Gertrude from Hamlet, “The Right protests too much, methinks,” and we have much to fear from all these histrionics.

You Don’t Know Nothing: U.S. Has Always Shunned the Expert

Why did you listen to that man, that man’s a balloon

“Friend of Mine,” The National

My redneck past includes a childhood steeped, like the family formula for making sweet tea, in a demand that children respect authority—authority-for-authority’s sake, the status of authority despite the credibility of the person in that status.

And is typical in the South, these lessons were punctuated with refrains such as the one my mother launched at us often: “He’s a know-it-all that don’t know nothing.”

But the best laid plans of parents often go awry, and they certainly did for me because this aspect of my redneck past backfired big time, resulting in a life-long skepticism of authority as well as my own pursuit of expertise trumping status.

Among my most irritating qualities, I suspect, is I work very hard not to hold forth until I am well informed, but when I do hold forth, I am passionate and that passion often comes off as arrogance.

I have little patience with debating when the other side lacks credibility, and I also balk at the silliest of all—”We will agree to disagree, then.”

Well, no, since your position has no credibility.

So I am particularly fascinated with what I consider a parallel interest currently with fake news and post-truth, what Tom Nichols calls The Death of Expertise.

Nichols and his argument, coming from his conservative perspective, represent, I think, why expertise currently and historically has been marginalized in the U.S.

Pop culture, in fact, has documented well how the so-called average American finds expertise and being educated mockable—think Fonzie on Happy Days and Ross on Friends.

Uneducated Fonzie is always smarter than the educated, and Ross is a laughing stock among his friends, notably often one-upped by the very anti-intellectual Phoebe and Joey (I discuss the latter more fully in Belief Culture).

Nichols and I share a concern about how little expertise matters in political and public discourse as well as policy, but while he and I share some elements of being experts, we are divided by our essential ideologies.

This presents a paradox: The U.S. rejects a cartoonish and monolithic “expert class,” but most fields/disciplines have a fairly wide spectrum of stances within them (in other words, the “expert class” rejected by the U.S. simply doesn’t exist).

But even that is oversimplified. Let me return to my redneck past.

In the South specifically, rejecting expertise is often about traditional views of respecting authority, best captured, I think, in how Huck Finn’s father shames Huck for his book learning. Huck even confesses: “I didn’t want to go to school much, before, but I reckoned I’d go now to spite papa.”

One of my former colleagues recounted often that his own father identified sending my friend to college was the worst mistake his father ever made.

Perversely, many see being informed, knowledgeable as rudeness, disrespectful.

A better recent confrontation of expertise than Nichols’s, I think, is Freddie deBoer’s What Is Aleppo?, focusing on Gary Johnson:

I would like to nominate Gary Johnson’s infamous “What is Aleppo?” gaffe as the moment which, for me, most typifies 2016, at least as far as our intellectual culture goes.

Predictably, and deservedly, Johnson was raked over the coals for this. A major presidential candidate — one who had far more electoral impact than Jill Stein, for instance — not knowing about this important foreign policy issue was disturbing. But it’s essential to recognize what he actually got in trouble for. Johnson’s great failure, what actually fed his public humiliation, was not a lack of knowledge. It was a lack of knowingness. 

deBoer argues: “Ours is a culture of cleverness, not of knowledge, one that is far more comfortable in assessing wit than in assessing evidence.”

And here we may have a more accurate window into why someone who is not really an expert, such as Donald Trump, but is smug and cavalier about being smart, is more compelling in the U.S. than actual experts. Trump passes deBoer’s test:

That kind of thing: obviously smart but not, like, all tryhard about it. You are expected to work out relentlessly to train your body and to show everyone that effort, but your intelligence must be effortless, even accidental.

As I have argued, this is a very high-school popularity kind of dynamic in which bravado trumps credibility; again, think Fonzie’s allure in pop culture: “See, the drop-out is smarter than all those teachers!”

My own career as an educator has highlighted these exact patterns.

As a teacher of English, I am not credible in the field of English because I am just a teacher with an undergraduate, Master’s, and Doctorate in education (not English). However, to politicians and the public, I am routinely rejected in debates about education because my experience and expertise lie in education.

As a prelude to the rise of Trump, consider Arne Duncan, who has no degree in education and who has only experience in eduction as a political appointee.

Who do you think has more public and political influence on education—Duncan because of his statuses of authority or me with 33 years in education, an advanced degree, and a substantial publication history?

That question is nearly laughable in the U.S.

Let me end with a couple examples that are useful for a more nuanced consideration of the role of experts, grounded, I think, in deBoer’s discussion.

First, consider Joseph R. Teller’s Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong? and Doug Hesse’s We Know What Works in Teaching Composition, both published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I immediately blogged a rebuttal to Teller, and discovered through responses to my concerns that Teller has greater expertise in literature than composition (which I suspected).

Hesse’s rebuttal is grounded in his expertise in composition, his status of authority (president of NCTE), and his appeal to disciplinary authority (citing ample research that accurately reflects the field of composition).

None the less, Teller’s piece speaks to both an uniformed public and a click-bait culture, and it is likely, as John Warner mused, that Hesse’s better piece will not garner as many views or as much commentary as Teller’s.

This debate between experts serves to highlight, again, the failure of media in terms of honoring expertise, but it also demonstrates that expertise is often narrow and that disciplines are more often contentious than monolithic (although there are some things that are essentially settled and no longer debatable).

Bluntly, we must admit that simplistic resonates more than complex—and expertise is not only narrow but also complex.

Finally, to highlight that expertise is as much about wrestling with knowledge as having knowledge, I offer a debate in a guest co-edited volume of English Journal, centered on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

At one level, the experts included in this debate, in my informed opinion, are far more likely to have credible positions about the topic than people without degrees and experience in literature, the canon, race/racism, and teaching.

Yet, among these articles, you will find pointed disagreement—and as someone with expertise in these areas, I find myself siding with some, rejecting others, even as I respect the basic expertise among them all.

So in 2016, we are faced with a historical and immediate problem, one that could be solved if we reconsidered our cultural antagonism toward expertise and embraced a greater appreciation for informed stances, the realm of the expert.

As a critical pedagogue, I appease my skepticism about authority and quest for expertise by honoring being authoritative over authoritarian (see Paulo Freire).

It is ours to resist extremes, neither ignoring experts nor abdicating all authority to experts.

As cumbersome as it may seem, democracy that honors all voices works well only when we start with the most informed voices and then allow “all voices” to occur in an educated space.

Currently, we are prisoners to bravado drowning out expertise, and in that echo chamber, freedom cannot survive.

Don’t Count on Grading, Ranking Educational Quality

Having been a long-time advocate for and practitioner of de-testing and de-grading the classroom, I also reject the relentless obsession of mainstream media to grade and rank educational quality among states as well as internationally (see Bracey and Kohn).

As Kohn recognizes: “Beliefs that are debatable or even patently false may be repeated so often that at some point they come to be accepted as fact.”

And thus, with the monotonous regularity and mechanical lack of imagination of a dripping faucet, Education Week once again trumpets Quality Counts.

Like a college course no one wants to register for, Quality Counts 2017 gives the nation a C while no state makes an A or an F.

The appeal of all this much ado about nothing includes:

  • The U.S. has a perverse obsession with quantification that is contradicted by a people who are equally resistant to science and expertise.
  • People love the overly simplistic use of charts and interactive maps.
  • These grades and rankings always confirm the enduring narrative that public schools are failing.

However, the real problem is not how states and the nation rank, but that we persist at the grading and ranking as if that process reveals something of importance (it doesn’t) or as if that process somehow is curative (it isn’t).

How, then, does grading and ranking educational quality fail us?

  • As with regularly changing standards and high-stakes testing as part of accountability, grading and ranking educational quality is part of the larger failure of imagination, a belief in doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Media have been grading and ranking for decades, and the narrative of failing schools has continued; in other words, this process has no positive impact on education reform—but it feeds a media and social need to bash public schooling.
  • Anything can be quantified and ranked, and the statistics needed to quantify and rank are necessarily what drive both; thus, A-F grades and then extending the measurements so that ranking is possible become goals of the process that often distort the message of that process. For a simple analogy, in the 400-meter dash at the Olympics, the event creates finishers ranked 1-10; however, all of them are world-class and the distinction among them is minuscule, for all practical purposes irrelevant except for the need to declare winners and losers.
  • Grades and rankings of all kinds in education focus almost entirely on observable and measurable outcomes, glossing over or ignoring powerful influences on measurable student outcomes. Decades of research show that out-of-school factors account for 60-80+% of those measurable outcomes; and thus, outcome-based data of educational quality are more likely a reflection of social conditions than school-based quality. The inherent problem with using test scores, for example, for ranking and determining educational quality has been disputed by the College Board for years (see page 13).
  • Grades and rankings feed into a competition model as well as deficit ideology. These are both harmful in education because collaboration is more effective than competition and because our focus is on flaws (deficits) that we associate primarily with schools, teachers, and students, perpetuating a “blame the victim” mentality that ignores (as noted above) factors beyond the control of schools, teachers, and students (such as poverty, racism, sexism, etc.,—all of which significantly impact measurable learning outcomes).
  • And finally, grading and ranking fail because of a common misunderstanding about statistical facts as they contradict political and public expectations: large populations of humans (90% of students attend public schools) will always have a range of measurable outcomes (height, 40-yard dash times, test scores)—although also misunderstood, think the bell-shaped curve—which will appear to be a “failure” when posed against the political/public call for 100% proficiency by students. In other words, the U.S. demands that everyone be above average and then is disappointed when statistics show a range of human outcomes.

Since the mid-1800s, fueled by the Catholic church’s market fears, there has existed a media, political, and public obsession with bashing public education.

In this era of fake news and post-truth debate, as I have noted over and over, mainstream media are as culpable—if not exactly the same—as fake news and click-bait because practices such as Quality Counts by EdWeek are lazy and misleading, enduring, as Kohn noted, mostly because it is something media have always done and because these rankings feed into confirmation bias.

If quality counts, beating the grades-and-rankings drums is a sure way to insure that it will never be obtained.

If truth matters, a first step in that direction would include resisting the failed practice of grading and ranking educational quality.

When Fake Is Real and Real Is Fake: More on Crossing the Bigfoot Line

Soon after the accident when a car struck a pack of cyclists in which I was riding, the ride leader and another cyclist, both of whom were on the front of the pack and heard the crash unfold behind them, sent out emails to seek how we could reconstruct the events as soon as possible for insurance and any litigation.

What is disturbing about recreating the accident is that many of us share a distinct and common memory of noise. As both a victim and witness of the accident, I can offer two perspectives, but I share with everyone the anger and fear.

Concurrent with seeking reality among victims and witnesses, I saw on the news over the next few days several mainstream media stories about the accident, many of which were factually inaccurate, and several of which that spoke authoritatively about the victims—although not a single news outlet has ever spoken with me about the accident or my condition.

With the current focus on fake news and post-truth public discourse, and the renewed interest in postmodernism, this real-life experience for me has been and continues to be a cruel and painful example of that debate—notably how it reflects a basic tenet of postmodernism about the relative and power-based nature of reality, truth, and facts.

Human reality and facts are far more tenuous than we tend to admit in our day-to-day lives. 2+ 2 = 4 seems obvious and above any politics, but this formula is, in fact, relative to a base-10 math system, and that system has to be instilled and preserved by some power structure.

Yet, as some of the garbled efforts to co-opt postmodernism has shown, while truth and facts are bound and controlled by power, while truth and facts are often contestable, we are certainly not served well as a people to make wild claims that no facts can ever exist.

Like my accident and the all-too-slow recovery, the U.S. coming to terms with fake news and the post-truth debate is painful, and not easy.

And apparently, we continue to move in the wrong direction.

Crossing the Bigfoot Line

Consider these comments from journalists, one Tweet from 2014 and then one current news article directly about Trump:

Asked by host Chuck Todd whether he’d be willing to call out a falsehood as a “lie” like some other news outlets have done, [Wall Street Journal editor Gerard] Baker demurred, saying it was up to the newspaper to just present the set of facts and let the reader determine how to classify a statement.

“I’d be careful about using the word, ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead,” Baker said, noting that when Trump claimed “thousands” of Muslims were celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11, the Journal investigated and reported that they found no evidence of a claim.

Keeping these traditional and current standards of mainstream journalism in mind, now consider how the mainstream media are addressing fake news directly:

Established news organizations usually own their domains and they have a standard look that you are probably familiar with. Sites with such endings like .com.co should make you raise your eyebrows and tip you off that you need to dig around more to see if they can be trusted. This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos. For example, abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not, despite its similar appearance.

To be blunt, helping consumers of media distinguish between the reality of fake news (abcnews.com.co) and “a legitimate news source” (abcnews.com) fails miserably because in essence these two present us with a very dangerous paradox: fake news is real and real news is fake (with the WSJ’s odd twist on the false history of George Washington: “We cannot call a lie ‘a lie!'”).

Two ways this manifests itself are (1) mainstream media is rushing to cover fake news, but only to distinguish it from “legitimate” news, and (2) mainstream media’s refusal to take a stand on credible sources, warranted claims, and naming lies as “lies.”

In popular media, a phenomenon exists that speaks to what we are witnessing in mainstream journalism:

Jumping the Shark is the moment when an established long-running series changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realize that the show’s finally run out of ideas. It’s reached its peak, it’ll never be the same again, and from now on it’s all downhill.

However, in mainstream journalism we have crossing the Bigfoot line.

In other words, and as I have been documenting for years in edujournalism, mainstream journalism has adopted and embraced a pose that allows them to report on a real event without taking any stance on the finer elements of the event being reported.

As I noted before, just a few decades ago, tabloid journalism was distinct from mainstream journalism because tabloids used the “just reporting what we are being told” defense.

If a person came to a tabloid with images or video and a wild story about Bigfoot ransacking their camp site, the tabloid eagerly and with outlandish headlines reported the fact that this person told them the story—while taking the pose I shared above: “I’m not sure it’s my place to say whether the [story] is credible.”

There was a time when mainstream media balked at just reporting as fact that source A made claim X if the journalists found claim X to be lacking in credibility.

Political scandal from John F. Kennedy until Richard Nixon, in fact, was allowed to remain mostly hidden because the bar for credibility was so high that sources were routinely ignored, marginalized, and even victimized.

And while online click-bait has supplanted the outlandish grocery store tabloid in our increasingly virtual avenues for news and information, what is more troubling is that mainstream journalism has callously crossed the Bigfoot line, now brazenly using click-bait headline techniques and remaining entrenched in their “rigid refusal” to verify the claims of those about whom they are reporting.

While there exists a great deal of fretting about the future of the free press under Trump, we have ample evidence that mainstream media and journalists had cross the Bigfoot line long ago, and not at the hands of rising fascism, but willingly as a natural development of capitalism and consumerism.

The public in the U.S. and many voters hold provably false beliefs that guide how they live their lives and how they vote; this was pre-Trump, and this was in the context of how the media carelessly feed the masses.

Now that the Bigfoot line has been crossed by mainstream media, we have a troubling challenge before us.

Yes, the public needs much greater skills in critical media literacy, but those skills will mean little if we are left without a critical free press as an option.

As it stands, on the other side of the Bigfoot line is the new mantra of mainstream journalism: “We are not fake news.”

This is a mighty low and ultimately irrelevant bar.


See Also

How to Become a Famous Media Scholar: The Case of Marshall McLuhanJefferson Pooley

A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia, Kevin Carey

New York Times, Wall Street Journal editors take on Trump and the media, Hadas Gold

“Fake News” And How The Washington Post Rewrote Its Story On Russian Hacking Of The Power Grid, Kalev Leetaru

 

Mainstream Media and the Rise of Fake News

In response to my Crass Edupolitics, Failed Mainstream Media in South Carolina, Paul Bowers, education reporter at The Post and Courier, and Jason Emory Park, Interactive Editor at the P&C, offered a few key entry points into unpacking how mainstream media norms have contributed significantly to the rise of fake news and post-truth public discourse:

These challenges from Bowers and Parker—to a position I believe has been best examined by Chris Hedges, with whom I mostly agree on this analysis—present several key dynamics associated with understanding how media present facts and truth, and then how the public consumes and often misreads facts and truth:

  • Mainstream media and journalists are entrenched in a “both sides” mentality that they continue to defend as objective and fair.
  • As Hedges confronts, mainstream media have blurred divisions of media (such as the loss of the clear line between the news and entertainment divisions) and have suffered contractions as businesses that have weakened investigative journalism; and thus, “press release journalism” and business interests trumping the ethical grounding of the free press have come to characterize mainstream media.
  • Yes, as Parker argues, mainstream journalism, fake news, and post-truth discourse are distinct from each other, but my point is that they are subsets of the same problem and they each feed the other: a traditional and so-called objective mainstream news story provides the environment in which fake news thrives.

My blogging has catalogued for years how edujournalism represents the larger mainstream media failures (such as failing to refute Donald Trump) and how all of mainstream journalism has birthed fake news and post-truth discourse.

Consider these examples from edujournalism:

  • Search Education Week for hundreds of articles including something such as “teacher quality is the most important element in student achievement.” These stories depend on the fact that SOE Duncan or NCTQ or Michelle Rhee or Bill Gates or someone with implied authority makes that statement.
  • While these articles (to Bowers’s point above) are being factual about Person X or Y making the claim, they are using mainstream norms of journalism to abdicate the journalists’ professional obligation to identify the source’s credibility and the credibility of the claim itself.
  • A critical free press would have covered these years focusing on teacher quality differently by noting, for example, that when SOE Duncan claims teacher quality is the most important element in student achievement, Duncan was exposing his own lack of expertise and making a false claim since teacher quality accounts for only about 10-15% of student achievement; out -of-school factors remain the overwhelmingly largest factor in student achievement (60% or more), and even if we focus on in-school factors, teacher quality is no more important than other school factors and unexplained influences.

This same careless but normal process characterized the rise and fall of Common Core: advocates for new standards were allowed the prominent stage with edujournalists reporting that they were making Claims X, Y, and Z (again it was true they were making the claims), but those same journalists made little to no effort to report that research has shown that there is no correlation between the quality or even existence of standards and student achievement.

In other words, Common Core advocacy was much ado about nothing, expect wasted money.

Now, on the national stage, the parallel media pattern in terms of Trump is undeniable:

  • In his TV ads and speeches, Trump repeatedly claimed higher crime rates and unemployment—both refuted by facts.
  • The media, however, mostly reported the fact that Trump made the claims without challenging either Trump or the claims.
  • A critical free press would have reported Trump’s lies as a fact.

If we return to Parker’s insistence that we make fine distinctions about terms, then, we can agree that fake news and mainstream journalism are not exactly the same, but I must stress that as long as journalists refuse to see how they are culpable for fake news and post-truth discourse, as I have shown above, that distinction is merely academic.

For traditional journalists to use “we are not fake news” as a shield for refusing to investigate how they are failing their ethical responsibility as a free press is inexcusable.

As my blog post that prompted this exchange exposed, two major newspapers in South Carolina continue to give a primary stage to a bogus education organization and bogus leaders of that organization because the media remains mired in press-release journalism—reporting on what advocates feed them.

Trump has acquired the ultimate podium and will now garner a primary stage simply because he is president, not because he is credible, not because his claims are factual.

Will it be fake news to report the new SOE endorsing school choice? Will it be fake news to report President Trump taking credit for a booming economy before any of his policies have been implemented?

Well, let’s go back in time a bit: Then-SOE Margaret Spellings announced that NCLB had worked because test scores had increased; however, all the score increases for NAEP between 1999-2005 occurred before NCLB was implemented.

Thus, the press reporting on Spellings announcing NCLB’s success was factual. The rise in scores from 1999-2005 was factual.

However, press-release journalism allowed Spellings’s essential argument to slip by without noting it was a lie, a political lie.

So was that fake news? And does it matter what we call it?

I say it doesn’t matter because, to return to Bowers’s “I fail to see how reporting on the lobbying activity of charter advocates constitutes ‘fake news,'” media coverage of charter school advocacy perpetuates several false narratives about public schools, why student achievement remains inadequate, and the effectiveness of charter schools.

This coverage is not fake, but it is just as corrosive as if it were fake because it is misleading and misguided.

There was a time when The National Enquirer ran story after story about Bigfoot. To report that a person claimed to see Bigfoot while camping was not fake news if the person made these claims to the journalist.

In other words, it was a fact the person claimed to see Bigfoot.

There was a time when mainstream media drew a line at such stories because of the essential lack of credibility in the person making such claims and no evidence of Bigfoot existing.

Call it what you will, but that line no longer exists.

Crass Edupolitics, Failed Mainstream Media in South Carolina

An Op-Ed in The State and Paul Bower’s Charter school advocates shifting gears in South Carolina (The Post and Courier) inadvertently reveal the same message: South Carolina remains mired in crass edupolitics.

StudentsFirst and 50CAN have become SouthCarolinaCAN, but the merging and renaming hasn’t changed a truly ugly fact: these education advocacy groups across the US have no credibility and are created to provide individuals political platforms that benefit the so-called leaders and the pro-privatization forces funding and supporting these constantly morphing organizations.

Yet mainstream media continues to allow these groups and their leaders significant platforms for their misleading propaganda while educators are nearly absent from the public debate.

Crass edupolitical organizations are a sham, but as long as mainstream media continues to shirk their responsibility to support credible sources, it is the media who are at fault here.

Edujournalism has been and continues to be one of the elements contributing to post-truth fake news.

The crass edupolitics infecting SC remains committed to failed policies such as takeover districts, charter schools, and school choice because these organizations and their leaders are not concerned about education, but about their own political agendas.

Since I have addressed these issues repeatedly, I offer here a few posts below:

The Zombie Politics of School Choice: A Reader

Resisting Fatalism in Post-Truth Trumplandia: Charter Schools and the End of Accountability

The Post and Courier: Beware of ‘turnaround’ school districts

The media must choose credibility over press-release journalism if our public institutions, such as public schools, and our democracy has a chance to recover from post-truth fake news.


For Further Reading

‘Fake News’ in America: Homegrown, and Far From New

Edujournalism and the Continuing Adventures in Post-Truth: Technology Edition

Mainstream America appears, as usual, to be a bit behind the times, but in Trumplandia, there is a sort of shallow postmodernism going on (although postmodernism has been supplanted by post-postmodernism and a slew of other -isms since its heyday).

The media is, in fact, nearly consumed with a meta-analysis of itself as almost everyone has now confronted that the U.S. is a post-truth nation.

The handwringing is mostly shallow, mired in the false claims that post-truth is something new (the U.S. has always been post-truth) and that there are some fringe faux-news outlets (spurred by the evils of Social Media) that are spoiling the game for mainstream media (which ignores that mainstream media are just as complicit in post-truth as the extremes).

A subset of the failures of mainstream media is edujournalism, trapped in a both-sides mentality that masks its essential nature as press-release journalism.

Think tanks and entrepreneurs feed edujournalism, and edujournalism simply passes on the propaganda.

In post-truth Trumplandia, then, we now are confronted with what passes as credible edujournalism, an Orwellian formula that defies logic:

Earlier this week, Khan Academy, the College Board, and Turnitin released tools to give all students the chance to practice for the SAT without having to drop hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get the kind of relevant practice required. The companies have combined their technology tools to bring free Official SAT Practice to Khan Academy with added writing instructional tools provided by Turnitin. Read more details about the news here on The Tech Edvocate.

That’s right three discredited organizations—Khan Academy, the College Board/SAT, and Turnitin—have combined, according to Education Week to create equity because:

I’ve long been an outspoken advocate of technology tools for education. Technology can break down barriers, bring new materials and relevancy to instruction. It can excite students with its interactivity. It can help the teacher cut down on busy work and get right to the act of teaching and guiding students. And as in this case, technology–pretty exciting technology– is leveling the playing field for every student willing to invest their time in preparing for the SAT.

The basis for these grand, but false, promises is what can fairly be called post-truth—all belief not grounded in credible evidence.

Technology has been idealized for decades in education and has never fulfilled the educational promises, but has filled the coffers of technology commerce.

Edujournalists as willing propagandists for entrepreneurs fail education and equity, actually.

We would be much better served to listen to experts, such as Audrey Watters, who confronts the conventional wisdom:

And yet the dominant narrative – the gospel, if you will – about education and, increasingly education technology, is that it absolutely is “the fix.”

Education technology will close the achievement gap; education technology will close the opportunity gap. Education technology will revolutionize; education technology will democratize. Or so we are told. That’s the big message at this week’s ASU-GSV Summit, where education technology investors and entrepreneurs and politicians have gathered (registration: $2995) to talk about “equity.” (Equity and civil rights, that is; not equity as investing in exchange for stock options and a seat on the Board of Directors, I should be clear. Although I’m guessing most of the conversations there were actually about the latter.)

Watters, in fact, pulls the curtain back on the grand pronouncements of the Wizard:

Anyon’s work is critical as it highlights how students’ relationship to “the system of ownership of symbolic and physical capital, to authority and control, and to their own productive activity” are developed differently in working class, middle class, and elite schools. Her work helps us to see too how the traditional practices of school might be reinforced, re-inscribed by technology – not, as some like to argue, magically disrupted, with these hierarchies magically flattened. Menial tasks are still menial if done on a computer. To argue otherwise is ed-tech solutionism – dangerous and wrong.

And thus:

Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies are supposed to provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.

For example, we must ask, how will combining these forces eradicate the current and historical fact that the SAT reflects and perpetuates privilege, that the SAT is the antithesis of equity? (Hint: It will not and cannot):

Technology and edupreneurs as mechanisms for equity are post-truth mythologies, and edujournalism remains a willing accomplice in the sham propagated by the combined forces of the Khan Academy, the College Board/SAT, and Turnitin—none of which should be endorsed alone, much less heralded in combination as forces for equity.


Please read in full Ed-Tech’s Inequalities, Audrey Watters