Payzant and Cross on Reforming NCLB

by Harry on June 24, 2009

EPI is hosting an event tomorrow sponsored by the Broader Bolder coalition, on how to reform NCLB. Tom Payzant (former Superintendent in Boston and San Diego) and Christopher Cross (formerly of the Bush I administration) will present. I’ve seen the report, to be released at the event, and it is considerably influenced by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobson and Tamara Wilder’s recent book Grading Education (discussed here — Rothstein was a co-chair of the committee that wrote the report): a reduced, and more consistent, Federal role, using enhanced NAEP tests that resemble early NAEP and do not simply test basic skills (as someone recently said, “there’s a reason they’re called ‘basic’ skills”), improving disaggregation, and coordinating the states; and state-level policy which includes an inspection role, gathering qualitative and quantitative data (the inspection regime being modelled on the OFSTED regime that prevailed 1993-2005).

I’m curious where this will go. It seems like nobody’s eye is really on NCLB, and understandably so. The Secretary of Education, I note, was an initial signer of the Broader Bolder initial statement, so perhaps they have real influence. I hope so. I regret I can’t be at the event, but urge anyone who’s in DC to attend. I’ll link to the report when it goes public.

The futility of the humanities

by Michael Bérubé on June 24, 2009

Since I have to do one last gig before I take off on vacation, and since the gig happens to be a conference titled <a href=””>“Beyond Utility and Markets: Articulating the Role of the Humanities in the Twenty-First Century,”</a> I thought it would make sense to begin this post where I end my contribution to that symposium, namely, with the closing passage from <a href=””>William Deresiewicz’s recent <i>Nation</i> review essay</a> on the new wave of Darwinist literary criticism:

<blockquote>There is much talk among the literary Darwinists and their allies about not wanting to go back to the days of “old-boy humanism,” with its “impressionistic” reading and “belletristic” writing. (Only in English departments could good writing be considered a bad thing.) But no matter the age or gender of the practitioner, any really worthwhile criticism will share the expressive qualities of literature itself. It will be personal, because art is personal. It will not be definitive; it will not be universally valid. It will be a product of its times, though it will see beyond those times. It will not satisfy the dean’s desire for accumulable knowledge, the parent’s desire for a marketable skill or the Congressman’s desire for a generation of technologists. All it will do is help us understand who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. Until the literary academy is willing to stand up in public and defend that mission without apology, it will never find its way out of the maze. </blockquote>

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Utterly Gratuitous Sexism, Anyone?

by Belle Waring on June 24, 2009

Much digital ink has been spilled on Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t” Douthat’s review of Helprin’s “Digital Barbarism”, but no one–except sage Unfogged commenter Witt–has noted what may be the very most annoying part: the insertion of pointless sexism into a fine xkcd cartoon. A cartoon, I might add, that Douthat does not even bother to actually cite by name. Read the comic here. Now feast your eyes:

One of the more trenchant cartoons of the Internet era features a stick-figure man typing furiously at his keyboard. From somewhere beyond the panel floats the irritated voice of his wife.“Are you coming to bed?”
“I can’t,” he replies. “This is important.”
“Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

How, might I ask did Douthat know that the voice in question is that of an irritated wife? And what marks the stick figure as that of a man? Oh, right, the unmarked is always male, right? It’s true that xkcd often depicts female stick figures as having longer hair, but this is not invariably so. Verdict: douchebag.

UPDATE: my husband informs me that brilliant unsung CT commenters have been all over this is comments to his post. But the point stands.

In support of limited permanent copyright

by John Q on June 24, 2009

I doubt that this is exactly what Ross Douthat had in mind, but I have been thinking for a while about one version of extending the duration of a limited-scope copyright. I’d support a proposal that gave Disney unlimited duration ownership of Mickey Mouse and similar characters, both for economic and political reasons. The political reason is straightforward: if Disney got its own side deal, they would have no reason to keep up the push for indefinite extensions of copyright for books and other things I actually care about.

The economic reason is that Mickey Mouse is not a character in a black and white cartoon produced in the 1920s (and cribbed off someone else, IIRC), and his copyright protection does not (except incidentally) act to restrict people who want to reproduce or adapt Steamboat Willie today.

Mickey is, in the terminology of the industry, a franchise. Disney puts millions into producing and promoting Mickey every year, and reaps even more millions as a result. I think it’s plausible to claim that each individual franchise of this kind is a natural monopoly, and that we would be less well served with multiple Mickey suppliers, as opposed to competing franchises like Bugs Bunny (there’s an analogy here with the debate over sporting teams and leagues which I’m too lazy/busy to work out in full). So, I’d be happy to allow Disney, Warner Bros, DC, Marvel and so on to have permanent rights over their characters, as long as they kept on using them.

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Helprin has got a point after all

by John Holbo on June 24, 2009

To punish myself for panning Helprin’s book without reading, I decided to go back and reread the excerpt at least. And that old op-ed. And I’ve decided: there’s more merit here than I had realized. Let me lay it out for you. (But first, ask yourself: wouldn’t you rather be reading Squid and Owl? Isn’t that a more healthful use of your time?) [click to continue…]

Digital Barbarism: Afterthoughts

by John Holbo on June 24, 2009

Henry and a few others suggested I was a bit hard on Douthat for not being hard enough on Helprin. Douthat may be guilty only of the venial sin of obligatory civility in the face of a bad book, not the mortal sin of Higher Broderism. (Although one hopes the critic’s motto is not ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’) It really was his last paragraph that set me off, and it’s worth saying why. I’ll leave Helprin and even Douthat mostly out of it. [click to continue…]