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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Coming to a theater near you. . ..

yesterday my wife and I drove/subwayed to Cambridge to see, orioginally, three movies. We wound up seeing only two, but they were in their way blockbusters, both documentaries: Waiting for Superman and Inside Job.

Waiting for Superman is about the collapse of American education and the charter school movement, towards which it is very favorable--perhaps too favorable. As my son, a charter middle school principal in Brooklyn, will tell you, charters remain an experiment, trying different recipes with different results, although some have indeed had amazing success. The film paid a good deal of attention to Michelle Rhee, the Gen X Superintendent of the Washington, D. C. schools, who tried to get the teachers' union to give up tenure in return for promising to double the salaries of effective teachers. They wouldn't do it. The movie appeared too early to report that Ms. Rhee is now the ex-superintendent as a result of the defeat of the mayor who was her patron. The movie did show, as my son has told me, what a horrible, painful process the lotteries to get into charters are--the vast majority of parents whose kids don't make it feel their kids have lost their only chance at a better life. And they are probably right.

Inside Job is even better and even more depressing, tracing the origins of the financial crisis, and the response to it, in devastating terms. It features long interviews both with ex-high officials, a few investment bankers, a few (almost invariably older) economists who had gotten it for a long time and saw the crash coming, and a lot of totally syncophantic economists. I did not realize, and thank the filmmaker for pointing it out, that the economists in our leading universities have been bought off by consultancies with hedge funds and banks. One of them has to explain, quite unashamedly, how he took $100,000 or so a few years ago to co-author a paper praising the Icelandic banking system. It is clear that everyone in the system is too drunk on money to think that anything could be wrong with it. There is now, of course, a revolving door between the top positions in Washington and the megabanks. Above all, the film shows how utterly naive--ridiculous, really--it was for people like me to think the Obama Administration would do anything meaningful. Re-appointing Bernanke was equivalent to keeping Admiral Kimmel in command of the US Fleet after Pearl Harbor. Larry Summers and Tim Geithner were also, of course, totally, deeply implicated in everything that had gone wrong. I feel fairly sure that within five years we will have another crash. The dreadful effects of allowing huge fortunes to accumulate was never more apparent. There are interviews with a few Europeans, particularly the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, who really stand out. They are grown-ups. The Americans are not. And the list of people who refused to be interviewed is very long.

In short, we saw two things: the failure of US education to help the poor (and increasingly, the middle class), and the devastation that the most highly educated sectors of our society have wrought. I did not emerge any more optimistic about the future. It is simply not clear where meaningful change could come from anytime soon.

Regular readers note: there was another new post yesterday.


Anonymous said...

Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee: We fought for D.C.
schools. Now it's up to you.


You can read more about the education reform in
D.C. and Michelle Rhee in the above article.

THOMAS said...

Why the gratuitous slur against Admiral Kimmel? If you would care to know the true reasons for the success of the Pearl Harbor attack, I would be most pleased to assist you. A good place to start would be my website:
Tom Kimmel

Anonymous said...

David, Here in New Zealand the business of buying up the experts and particularly those in academia is a well used tactic . Recently when a large state connected energy company wanted to ramrod a new hydro-electric project through the people in opposition found it very difficult to gain access to any qualified experts that were not already compromised by the energy company.

Anonymous said...

b. Run, do not walk, to see Waiting for Superman,
the movie about the crisis in education, and
teaching standards, in this country. Forget what
side of the fence you are on regarding unions, even
though this movie indicts the system that makes it
virtually impossible to fire bad unionized teachers and to reward great unionized ones. As in any walk
of life, there are good teachers and bad ones. Just
watch the movie to discover how sick our public
education system is, and how the lack of standards
is setting back kids nationwide every year.

Watching kids fail to get one of the very few spots
in proven charter schools, then having to trudge
back to underperforming neighborhood public
schools, is heartbreaking. The saddest part, to me,
was seeing a school administrator with a solid plan
to fix the Washington, D.C., academic standards,
Michelle Rhee, get shouted down at every turn
(she ended up resigning last week) and reach the
unavoidable conclusion that in too many city school
systems, it's more about adults keeping their jobs
than it is about kids learning from them.


Anonymous said...

Chalk up one win for your son!!!

Charter schools win wage battle in state's top court


Bozon said...


Many thanks for the great discussion of the media treatments of the financial crisis and the education crisis.

Americans, as well as most other modern denizens, have long been trained, and educated, to see these things, realms,

not as somehow connected to each other and to a political philosophical economic, etc., 'system', call it what you will,

but as academically and empirically isolable areas, suitable for isolated 'treatments', by specialists, of education (local school boards in the US case), or finance, or economics.

There was a time when they were more closely seen as integrated in a nation state commonwealth concept, associated not only with welfare and enrichment of the average citizen, but also with notions of national security;

universal education was at one time more closely associated with a cold war mentality, it had certain negative propaganda implications, but countervailing universalism of opportunity and funding, even though subject to wide discrimination in practice.

all the best GM

Anonymous said...

Former Washington D.C. schools chancellor hesitates
in accepting offer to become N.J. education chief


Anonymous said...

I would love to see your work more widely read.

3quarksdaily is looking for a new monday columnist.


Nur-al-Cubicle said...

So here we are on Day 2 post-election and the usual unknown perps are running up the price of petroleum.

I feel the same way on sacking Bernanke. I don't believe the Fed even gamed for a crash. If such a catastrophe happens on your watch, you're relieved, period.