Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Two Smart Things I Read in the Current Issue of Dissent

Michael Kazin on what the decline of unions has meant for the white working class:

"Of all the groups needed to forge a winning progressive coalition, white working-class people are the only ones who lack sturdy institutions that promote egalitarian ends. African Americans have the churches, the NAACP, and other groups, both formal and informal. Latinos have organizations, both secular and religious, that defend immigrant rights and push for greater power in the larger society and culture. Middle- and upper-class liberals have universities and friendly media, from the Times and NPR to such Web sites as the Huffington Post and Daily Kos. Lesbians and gay men have the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and a variety of local and regional networks...[In the absence of unions] white working-class men and women need new kinds of institutions that can speak to their discontents and offer compelling alternatives to the politics of anger and nostalgia...Don't mourn, organize."

And Joanne Barkan on the narrow vision (and specious claims) of education reformers:

"To justify their campaign, ed reformers [like Bill Gates] repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests...break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school...Students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math...But as the poverty rate rose higher, students ranked lower...Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American schools reflect this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty. And as dozens of studies have shown, the gap in cognitive, physical, and social development between children in poverty and middle-class children is set by age three."

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