Monday, May 05, 2008

A strange complaint about public schools

Yesterday morning I sitting at my desk working, and I had The Journal Editorial Report on the TV. It isn't unusual for someone on their esteemed panel to take a shot at American education during the show, and sure enough, as they were about to close, Jason Riley threw out a little blurb about people not realizing how much they are spending on public education. Paul Gigot then responded with what was the weirdest complaint I've ever heard about public schools.

Jason, on your point, another thing you see in polls is that most Americans think that their public schools are actually doing very, very well. It is everybody else's public schools that are really rotten. And that's also one reason you just can't get a lot of support for education reform.

Sometimes the written word doesn't convey the exact message that comes across when you actually see the person say it, and this is one of those cases. The feeling I got while watching Gigot say this was that he thinks the people who think their public schools are "doing very, very well," are really stupid.

There are two points this brings to mind. The first one is that I have said a number of times that, despite the scorn of the elite, public schools are basically giving the public what it wants. Obviously, no school will make every single parent happy, but public schools across the nation are basically doing what their particular publics want them to. Whether Gigot likes it or not, and whether many teachers like it or not, academic excellence is not high on the list of goals that most parents have for their children.

My second point is that I wonder if there is any institution in America that is doing a worse job than the American press. They have succeeded in turning us into a negative, cynical people. Why is it that almost all institutions in America that get any amount of coverage by the press have poor public approval ratings? The president has a horrible public approval rating. Congress has an even worse public approval rating even though most people think their own particular congressmen are very good. Public education has a low public approval rating, even though people are happy with their own schools--much to the chagrin of snobs like Gigot.

What all of these institutions have in common is that the American public gets their information about them from the press. Is it possible that the problem here is that the information we get about all these institutions is unfairly negative? I don't want to see any of our public institutions whitewashed, but I would like to see them covered in a fair enough way so that people can make reasonable judgments about them. Quite frankly, I think our press is doing a lousy job of that. Maybe we need journalistic reform.


Blogger CrypticLife said...

My second point is that I wonder if there is any institution in America that is doing a worse job than the American press.


Dennis, my mother, who works at a large newspaper, would likely agree with you. She has some real horror stories about the institutionalized, aggressive cynicism and politicization there.

"If it bleeds, it leads"

5/06/2008 6:31 AM  
Blogger Ray Weikal said...

I'm an education reporter and I agree, too. That's why I work for a small, community weekly. I believe that 99 percent of the people who work in education are diligent, intelligent and gave up more lucrative career paths. I enjoy being able to write stories about great people doing great things, or at least trying to do great things. Anyhow, great blog!

5/06/2008 7:26 AM  
Anonymous choller said...

Jay Mathews, an education reporter for the Washington Post, did a story in the Wilson Quarterly on public schools. The story confirmed my suspicions - most schools are fine, some are outstanding, and some are rotten. Check it out here:

5/07/2008 5:02 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

Interesting that you should mention journalism's failures. According to a recent survey here in Canada, journalists are respected by 49% of the population. Teachers, by 83% of people (tied with police officers).


5/07/2008 7:25 AM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

The president and congress richly deserve a poor public approval rating (actually they deserve a zero public approval rating). Anybody that approves of the job being done by the president and congress is nuts. The press should be hammering the president and congress every minute of every day. That should be their life mission, until the president and everyone in congress resigns, without replacements.

So, yes, the press is doing a lousy job.

5/08/2008 6:32 PM  
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5/09/2008 6:17 AM  
Blogger mybellringers said...

As the number of media ownerships decrease so that the gatekeepers of information become fewer, the more potential there is for information to be skewed.

Consumers of information need to be aware of who controls the gate. In a perfect world, those "gatekeepers" should be objective.

5/13/2008 9:42 AM  
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