Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Saving Adolescent Degenerates, Conservative Style

It is of course pure coincidence that right before the House Republicans bring up a bill to help fund profiteering "charter schools" with taxpayer dollars, David Brooks writes a column about a three-year-old sociological study purporting to find that today's youth are degenerate, selfish and stupid. This sad state of affairs, he insinuates, results from those inept, unionized public schools falling down on the job. He conveniently fails to mention that the study and resulting book he so glowingly shills were funded by a major right-wing conservative "philanthropist."  He conveniently fails to mention the charter schools legislation coming up for a vote today.

The study Brooks touts was led by Christian Smith, professor of Notre Dame University, chronic and grateful recipient of much largesse from the Lilly Foundation, the charitable trust begun by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.  This foundation is a major funder of such right-wing think tanks as the Hudson Institute and The Manhattan Institute.  According to Right Wing Watch, the latter entity has among its many goals the funding and promotion of .... charter schools!  Entities embracing free market capitalism and evangelical Christianity are magnets for Lilly money. 

In his column, Brooks writes of the sociologists' brain-picking of 230 anonymous slackers:
Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.
Translation: today's youths are totally laid-back and just too cool with everything... gay rights, women's rights, immigrant rights, civil rights.  The public schools are simply not teaching them to be judgmental idealogues like David Brooks.  The callow young people must be carefully taught to develop prejudices and reactionary thought processes.  And their parents are just a bunch of lazy hippies to have raised such a generation of free thinkers.

Which brings us to H.R. 2218, The Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act.  This bill, coming up for a vote in the House today, will make it easier for the privatized, non-union Charter Schools to set up shop.  How it empowers parents is anybody's guess, but I think empowerment in GOP-speak means profits for charter schools.  Because without charter schools, the parents of David Brooks's addled imagination are a bunch of wet noodles, and his conservative friends cannot profit.

So when the Republicans bitch and moan that we have too much debt to fix up our crumbling schools and hire back all those laid-off teachers, it beggars belief that they would be willing to fund construction and renovation of charter schools.  Well, no. It doesn't.

Isaiah Poole of Campaign for America's Future explains it this way: 
It would give federal funding priority to states that repeal limits on the number of charter schools that can be chartered or the percentage of the state's school-age population attending charters. It would also give priority funding to states that finance charter schools at a level comparable to public school funding. And it contains assistance to charter schools to help with construction or repair costs.
We've had 20 years of experience in charter schools since the concept was born in Minnesota in the early 1990s, and what we've learned in that time is that charter schools are not a panacea. "The media regularly covers great charter schools, and news stories about low-performing public schools abound," notes the Education Justice website. "It would be easy to conclude that charter schools are, on average, better than public schools. It would also be wrong." 
Which brings us back to the David Brooks screed.  In his inimitable passive-aggressive oblique fashion, he is cheerleading the destruction of the public education system without coming right out and saying so.  He instead pretends to care about the angst of a new Lost Generation which needs to be brought out of its amoral darkness and into the bright light of capitalism, and taught how to be part of the greater society.  He just doesn't mention it's the Society of Elites and that their saviors are out to make a fast buck educating them the conservative way. Because greed is so damned good.

More Academic Fanfare for the Uncommon Man


Denis Neville said...

Another shot in the Republican war on public education by David Brooks. More social engineering, disguised as “school choice,” sponsored by the Right Wing billionaires and millionaires, who demonize public schools and teachers.

“Meet the Billionaires Who Are Trying To Privatize Our Schools and Kill Public Education,” Zaid Jilani, Think Progress @

What does all their money buy? Think tanks that are little more than public relations fronts that manufacture self-serving “scholarship” advocating the goals and objectives of their financial backers.

“The Charter School Hype and How It’s Managed,” Danny Weil, Counterpunch @


Separation of church and state be damned. The Christian Right are the enlisted foot soldiers in this GOP war. “Public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation's youth.”

“The GOP'S New War on Schools - The rise of Michele Bachmann reflects a shift in the party's education agenda” Dana Goldstein, Slate @ http://www.slate.com/id/2301852/pagenum/all/

But not only from the Right….

“Obama is clearly on record as a big time proponent of a national expansion of the charter school market. In fact, Obama is on record claiming “state limits on numbers of charter schools aren’t good for our children, our economy or our country,” and he echoed in his speech that day the repeated, yet unsubstantiated claim, that many of the innovations in education today are happening in charter schools.” – Danny Weil, Counerpunc, “Neoliberalism, Charter Schools and the Chicago Model/Obama and Duncan’s Education Policy: Like Bush’s, Only Worse” @


What is the future of public education? Charter schools? “…the charter school movement cannot hope to cure our nation’s ills and in fact can work to compound them. Charter schools…are based on a moral ethic of ‘go it alone individualism’, market fundamentalism, atomization and private choice. These moral values blur the distinctions between public and private efforts at school reform and in doing so charter schools as an educational reform movement create a constriction of democracy that delegitimizes democratic decision making in schools; it does not enhance it. This can hardly be said to be good for democracy, education or the future of our children.” – Danny Weil, Counterpunch, “The Future of Charter Schools” @


Anne Lavoie said...

Even Obama, a private school graduate, is a overt champion of charter schools. So is his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, another private school graduate.

There should be a study to see why the private school graduates have such a lack of morals so as to cause/excuse/support the greedy, remorseless near-collapse of our economy, the perpetuation of slaughter and destruction of foreign lands and people in endless wars, and degradation of our environment, all for profit. Private school education seems to me to go hand-in-hand with that amoral mentality.

That would be an area of fruitful study for researchers. It would certainly give them more material to work with rather than simply asking a few random young people what their morals are and then expressing shock or dismay at the lack of clarity. There are plenty of leaders to analyze whose actions speak loudly and clearly to their own morals every day. We could start by looking at who among them was educated in private vs. public schools.

In my opinion, the personal success of many of these private school graduates comes far too often at the expense of others, causing pain, suffering, destruction, and death, certainly leading to national deterioration, but also harming the entire world.

Now that our public school system is under attack, it would be the perfect time to study other outcomes of public vs. private school education, especially in terms of moral impact on the real world.

William said...

@Anne Lavoie,
Whenever I see Obama, Hillary, Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, David Brooks, any of the clowns on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc. etc., the only thing that goes through my mind is they ALL KNOW BETTER but just do not care even one little bit. I think they clearly see the Greed Monsters (Transnational Corporations, The Mega-Rich--all the usual suspects) have appetites that will never be satisfied until they have everything and the rest of us have nothing. It's a "We're screwed so every man/woman for himself" kind of thing. They all know if they don't play--and play well--their highly compensated parts in this shitty, boring, transparent game of Good Cop/Bad Cop, they will be summarily replaced with another soulless amoral jerk who will gladly step in to rake in the cash and lie through his teeth every single time he opens his mouth.

Quick example: Bill Maher. Smart, funny guy who for the life of him just can't figure out why Democrats are such pussies and let the Republicans walk all over them time and time again. Really, Bill?

Kat said...

Brooks decries "rabid consumersim".
"Tasteful consumerism" is what he can get behind.

Anonymous said...

Read the sentence quoted by Brooks, written by the author of 'the study' cited in the op-ed piece to which you refer.

Considered simply as English prose it is awkward and deficient in several ways, unimaginative in every way possible.

So then, we are to accept, concerning education in American schools where presumably English would be central to the curriculum, advise given by people who use the language in constructions so clumsy and shoddy as barely to qualify for credit for attendance at, much less mastery of secondary school?

meredith said...

karen, your excellent post in brook's comments--you reveal what's behind all this pious palaver that the super moralist of the times dishes out. It serves to distract us from the real issues of our immoral, unjust political culture. And he's on our public tv newshour yet.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Meredith. The trick to uncovering the Brooksian agenda is to simply Google the books and authors he blissfully cites, and follow the tortuous path to the conservative source. The guy is a fish in a barrel. His scales fall off quite easily.

Roger McCorkle said...

I rather suspect that a few people missed the story --on CBS & ABC TV -- on the Charter School in the a southwest suburb of Miami that was renting out the school on week-ends for "booty-parties." The kiddies on Monday were finding beer cans, cigarette butts, and worse in their class rooms.

All was ignored and denied until neighbors complained about the noise from the all night parties -- and footage of the festivities showed up on YouTube.

Ah yes!! Great moral example. The school had maintained that it only rented to a church group.

Anonymous said...

If you consider Brooks - the NYTs tame RINO - a "judgemental ideologue", what must you think of the rest of conservatism?

On second thought, don't answer that.

Just keep in mind (1) they're a good third (or more) of your fellow citizens and (2) they aren't going away any time soon (so don't hold your breath waiting for mass immigration or the Reconquista to redress what I'm sure you consider a demographic aberration).

Also, I'm puzzled by why you put 'philanthropist' in scare quotes.

Someone who gives his or her own money to promote values he or she supports and remedy what he or she believes is a social ill should be considered a philanthropist.

Unless, of course, you're one of those who refer to a group you agree with as "non-partisan activists" but one you disagree with a "lobby".

The best part of your blog post, though, was reading it and realizing that, without the snark and irony (and a few of the more negatively-connoted adjectives), I agreed with it.


Anonymous said...

A slightly more interesting (and constructive) thought:

While Brooks is reporting on (and reasoning about) this study and reporting on it in a conservative (sort of) way, what the authors seem to be saying is not that these twentysomethings are *immoral* but largely *amoral*. That, and they haven't been taught to think (critically or otherwise) about morality and how moral decisions are made.

It would seem that the "inept, unionized public schools" (as you put it) have not only failed to instill any kind of traditional morality, but apparently haven't managed to instill any kind of progressive morality (beyond "to each his/her own"), either.

Karen Garcia said...

I put philanthropist in quotes because I always thought philanthropy was defined as donating one's money for the greater good, not to fund partisan or ideological think-tanks. For example, when David Koch gives money to the Dana Farber Cancer Center, that is philanthropy because it promotes human health and welfare. When he donates money to Americans for Prosperity in order to bankroll an astroturf Tea Party group in order to spawn hate and elect extremists, that is the opposite of philanthropy.
David Brooks, in my view, is just more subtle than your garden variety Republican, because he couches his language in humanistic terms, thus disguising his true party line agenda.

MichaelStivic said...

On that sad day marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was reading the article "Dems Fret Aloud Over Obama's Re-Election" and all the comments in my NYTimes. It looks like a lot of fellow Democrats want to throw Obama under the bus and I can understand their frustration. The number of people Obama has thrown under the bus would give me carpa tunnel syndrome if I had to type them all!

I am really starting to get nervous that Rick Perry would run over Obama in the presidential election.

I think its time we started supporting Hillary to challenge Obama in a primary. I'm hoping we can start a grass roots movement in the blogosphere.

Let's face the facts fellow Democrats. Obama has really turned out to be a poor president who has been bought by the Multi-national banks and corporations. His only ability is to give smooth sounding speeches and campaign!

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note that, if you're going to jump all over David Brooks, you might want to get his positions correct. The first thing that you mention him supposedly worrying about that kids are "just too cool" with is gay rights. As it happens, Brooks is very cool with gay rights - and has been, very openly, for years: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/22/opinion/the-power-of-marriage.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

That's called Googling "David Brooks gay marriage." Took all of 30 seconds. There's a reason the conservatives consider him an apostate: to conservatives, Brooks himself is "just too cool" with pretty much everything you've mentioned him supposedly being upset about (hint: he's not upset about those things).

Alan Muller said...

Interesting conversation to tune in to. I read the Brooks column and, blissfully unaware of any of this conspiratorial background, thought it still had something meaningful to say about the state of today's youth, regardless of any hidden agenda. For what it's worth, in the university classrooms I teach in (business school, no less!) I find my students reasonably well able to be thoughtful about ethical and moral questions. What troubles me about this conversation here is that as far as I can see, no-one has brought in the role of the parents in offering moral guidance. I agree that schools have a part to play here in challenging students on moral dilemmas and critical thinking, but I think a much greater burden rests on us as parents to provide those foundations.

Karen Garcia said...

Nowhere in this piece do I accuse Brooks of being anti-gay rights. I am extrapolating from the skewed findings of the Notre Dame sociologist, who took a ridiculously small survey of young people to come up with his results. Notre Dame is a Catholic college and it famously put up a fuss over Roe v Wade to protest the Obama commencement address a few years back. The Catholic Church is also anti-marriage equality. The conservative/Tea Party movement as a whole is rabidly anti-gay rights. So if David Brooks is so pro-gay rights, why doesn't he come right out and condemn this hate crusade instead of unquestioningly parroting the results of some conservative-funded study? I don't care what his personal views are, but as a national pundit, he should be more vigilant over the provenance and quality of the "research" he publicizes.
I totally agree with you.

jhnad said...

I, too, loved your takedown of Brook's sources, Karen. When I read his column, I was struck with the notion that all the things Brooks decries—materialism, individualism, lack of social ethos- are actually signs of the triumph of Randian individualism. Brooks's sick society appears to be one in which John Galt, Ron and Rand Paul, Alan Greenspan, and Paul Ryan would feel right at home.