Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Michael Mazenko vs. Sean Hannity

Michael Mazenko is a new entry into the educational blogosphere, and I, for one, welcome him. In a comment on a recent post of mine, Michael mentioned that he had written an editorial piece defending public education in the Denver Post. The piece was titled, "The Mis-education of Sean Hannity." I checked it out, and I thought it was excellent. Here is part of what Michael had to say:

"The government has ruined the education system."

Sean Hannity made this claim during a series of rants the other day as he argued down another liberal who was foolish enough to call in and debate him.

Ruined? The system may be troubled, inconsistent, inefficient, faltering, even damaged - but ruined? I have to disagree, and it's not just because I'm a teacher. As for the government being responsible, I was surprised by Sean's focus, as he usually blames the teachers and the unions.

The word "ruined" implies that at one time it was in good, even excellent, condition, but it no longer has any redeeming qualities. Both aspects of that assertion are flawed. In regards to past success, remember that Rudolph Flesch wrote "Why Johnny Can't Read" in 1955. Additionally, Harvard researcher Dianne Ravitch has documented the perpetual ups and downs of public education in "Left Back: a Century of Failed Public School Reform." Certainly, many schools in America have problems, and far too many inadequately educate their students. But ruined? No redeeming qualities? To quote Bill O'Reilly, "that's ridiculous."

There are countless examples of excellent public schools that are accomplishing more today with their students than I ever could have fathomed as a student twenty years ago - about the same time as the publication of that dire education warning "A Nation at Risk." I know this because I teach at one. Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is regularly ranked as one the top high schools in the nation. Cherry Creek has an incredibly successful student population. Its large percentage of students in Advanced Placement classes, for which many departments have pass rates on the national exam of 90% or more, regularly accomplish tasks I didn't see until graduate school. Sean might want to take a look at the AP Calculus or European History exams before he decides that the system is in a state of "ruin." Another example - a couple years ago two students at Cherry Creek were featured on ABC News for their work on a new treatment for muscular dystrophy. Their education is hardly in a state of "ruin."

I have to admit that part of the reason that I was so eager to check out Michael's article was that I can't stand Sean Hannity. When his face appears on the tube, I almost trip over myself in my hurry to get to the remote so I can switch channels. I wasn't at all surprised to see what he had said about public education, but one of the reasons I can't stand him is because I honestly believe that people like him are the ones who are putting our "nation at risk."

When I say "people like him," I'm not just talking about conservative blowhards--I'm talking about their liberal counterparts as well. Our country is becoming more and more split along partisan lines, and as a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. In order for our system to work, people with different views need to find common ground and work together. Compromise is a necessity. Right now we have issues that absolutely must be addressed, and they must be addressed now. We have to do something about social security. We have to do something about Medicare. We have to do something about immigration. We have to do something about our dependence on foreign oil. But talk-show ideologues like Hannity have turned the saying "Come, let us reason together," into "Come, let us scream at each other," and unfortunately they have done nothing but grow in popularity. I'm sure the dollars are rolling in for Sean Hannity because of what he does. But will either McCain or Obama be able to govern when one of them becomes president a few months from now? Quite frankly, in large part thanks to the growing list of blowhards like Hannity, I think the odds are against both of them.


Blogger mazenko said...


Thanks so much for the post. I am honored to be featured on your blog.


9/09/2008 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In order for our system to work, people with different views need to find common ground and work together. Compromise is a necessity."

For a number of the "big" issues, there isn't much (or any) common ground. Sometimes there isn't even much space to find a compromise.

We cannot, for example, compromise on abortion by only allowing abortions half the time. There just isn't much middle ground here between the two sides.

Historically, many of these decisions were pushed down to the states and one at least had some hope that people who thought about these things the same way might choose to live near each other and thus there could be a rough consensus.

Of course, one of the things that we got out of this arrangement was that a bunch of states decided that slavery was a good idea. Compromising didn't work, in the end, on that one.

Other issues, like Social Security and Medicare, are arguably simpler, but have the problem that *someone* is going to get screwed. Congress (the members who got there because *we* elected them ... well, not me, but you get the point) have simply promised people money that isn't going to be there given the current rules. So ... we can shaft the old people by not giving them the money that they were expecting. Or we can shaft the youngsters by telling them that the retirees elected people who lied to them, so it is time for the youngsters to pony up the money to cover the shortfall. A shortfall caused by officials elected by the people in trouble and over whom the youngsters had *no* control.

A compromise *is* possible here, but it is very hard to see anything even close to "fair" coming out of it. We could (and probably will) cut benefits slightly (or maybe start means testing), push out the retirement age slightly, and increase the SS tax on the working young. I'm pretty sure that the young who are handed a tax increase to make up for dishonesty by the people that their parents and grandparents elected won't see this as a "compromise," though. This isn't something like a contract negotiation where one party gives up 1% of raise in exchange for slightly better medical coverage.

Sean Hannity and co. make things even harder, of course, but I think that the differing constituencies are actually fairly far apart on a number of issues. In a "normal" contract-type negotiation, one simply disengages and finds a partner to bargain with who is closer to you (or, eventually, you change *your* terms) ... in most of the big political issues, disengagement is not possible. Thus the very high tensions.

Many people figure that they are going to get screwed, and they don't see any way to disengage ... we can't even stick to the status quo ("hey, why don't we just leave things alone, okay?") because the *ramp* makes that not feasible.

[NOTE: You can watch this play out on a smaller scale in California right now! In the late 1990s, California had a *huge* increase in income taxes collected. Partially because of the dot-com boom. The folks in Sacramento built the future budgets around the assumption that this level of taxes would be around forever.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the stock market mania ended. As did super-huge tax receipts.

So ... how to compromise? We could raise the income taxes on the people who have stopped seeing large gains from their stocks. Or we could roll the state budget back to the 1998 baseline and then increase it by population growth and inflation (this isn't even on the table) ... but that would really annoy some very powerful constituencies, including our teacher's unions. We could try to cut spending, but most of the state spending goes to either education or to giving money to poor people.

So ... split the difference? Raise the top tax rate to 12% (from the current 10.3) and cut back the budget by 5%? The teacher's don't want *any* cut in education spending, but it makes up over 50% of the state budget. We could gut the payments to poor people ... but that isn't nice either.

Live within our means? We had a state initiative a few years ago that would have required this. The taxpayers voted it down :-)

So ... where is the "compromise?" I don't see one ... I just see different groups losing :-(]

-Mark Roulo

9/10/2008 12:07 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Michael, once again, I thought your article was excellent, and it's my honor to be able to use it.

Mark, thanks for commenting. One thing I want to address is the blame you place on politicians. I really believe that WE are responsible--especially my generation.

We are the ones who put those politicians into office. We are the ones who demand that they tell us what we want to hear. We demand that they lie to us. We demand that taxes not be raised, and there will be hell to pay for any politician who dares to say differently. Look at what happened to Walter Mondale when he said taxes needed to be raised to stop the ballooning deficit in 1984. The worst electoral defeat in history. Look what happened when the Democrats voted to raise taxes for the richest Americans in 1993 and had the audacity to raise gas taxes by 4 cents. (Heck, gas prices go up 4 cents every time an Arab burps!) The Democrats were clobbered in the 1994 elections. Look what happened when John McCain said that he would allow payroll taxes to be put on the table in discussions about a solution to our Social Security problems. The media went on for days about a dreaded "flip-flop."

We also demand that our politicians cut spending--until we hear what specific programs might be cut. As soon as we hear that any programs that WE benefit from are getting cut, we are outraged.

My generation ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We have built up a 9 trillion dollar debt because we didn't want to pay for what we were getting. My high school students will be paying taxes to pay interest on that all their lives, and they will get absolutely nothing in return for it. There probably is still time to do something about Social Security and Medicare so our children don't get completely shafted by those systems. It sure is hard to be confident that we will, though. And once again, I truly believe that people like Sean Hannity and other ideologues on both the left and the right make it a lot harder than it would be otherwise.

9/10/2008 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis,

"One thing I want to address is the blame you place on politicians. I really believe that WE are responsible--especially my generation."

Actually, I *did* say this ... "the members who got there because *we* elected them" ... :-) I just didn't harp on it.

It sounds like we are mostly in agreement on the problem, but also both fairly skeptical about things being solved reasonably (we can use either the brake or the wall to stop ... I'm betting on 'wall').

Note also that our children may not be shafted. The elderly who haven't saved may be shafted. Or the elderly who *did* save may find that they are not eligible to collect (thanks for contributing, though!).

The government (elected by us!) has simply promised too many people cash money to be provided by others. Something is going to have to give. I don't see a 'compromise' here either, just a dockside fight with winners and losers (or maybe just losers!).

Sigh. Would it have been *that* hard to use actuarially (sp?) sound accounting? Probably not ... but it might have cost some congress-critters their jobs. I don't expect people to do things that hurt themselves, so here we are ...


-Mark Roulo

9/10/2008 4:53 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

It sounds like mere sophistry to me to argue about the word "ruined" when you'll accept "troubled, inconsistent, inefficient, faltering, even damaged".

Maybe you're just trying to put lipstick on a pig :-)

9/10/2008 7:04 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Darren, are you calling my wife a pig? I'm offended!

9/11/2008 4:28 AM  
Blogger Urban School Teacher said...

Dennis- As a regular visitor to your blog, I have come to value your opinion. Your views on my most recent blog effort - "My 50th post" - would be greatly appreciated.

9/11/2008 9:30 AM  
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