Morning report: Dog whistle politics, Pussy Riot released, charter school messaging | Arkansas Blog

Monday, December 23, 2013

Morning report: Dog whistle politics, Pussy Riot released, charter school messaging

Posted By on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 at 7:28 AM

As expected, the week starts slowly and likely will get slower. Some items of interest to me:

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* HOW REPUBLICANS  BECAME THE  SOUTHERN WHITE MAN'S PARTY: Salon offers an extended excerpt from "Dog  Whistle  Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class." From Wallace to Nixon and Reagan and beyond, the book describes the transformation of Southern politics and the Republican Party, helped mightily by racism, though a more gentle form than the violent white supremacist variety. Timely, given that coded racial appeals undergird how the public has reacted to the great Duck Dynasty flap. Who but a Republican would argue that old times in the South were wonderful until civil rights and welfare ruined all those happy singing black people in the cotton fields? Lots of good quotes here, such as from defeated presidential candidate George McGovern:

"Defeated by the Southern strategy, McGovern neatly summed it up: 'What is the Southern Strategy? It is this. It says to the South: Let the poor stay poor, let your economy trail the nation, forget about decent homes and medical care for all your people, choose officials who will oppose every effort to benefit the many at the expense of the few—and in return, we will try to overlook the rights of the black man, appoint a few southerners to high office, and lift your spirits by attacking the "eastern establishment" whose bank accounts we are filling with your labor and your industry.'"

* SPEAKING OF CODED RACIAL APPEALS: I got in a little Twitter/Facebook debate last night with Gary Newton, the Walton-funded lobbyist for the effort to wreck the Little Rock School District with multiple new independent school districts known as charter schools. He labeled me a Faubus-style racist for saying that all the upper class white people in the Roberts elementary school who are lobbying for their own independent middle school (the proposed Quest charter school) could instantly turn one of the "failing" schools into a success by simply going to one of them.

My point, if not fully expressed in Twitter's 140 characters, is that it's economics, stupid. Demography is destiny. It is a rare school comprised primarily of middle- and upper-class kids (no matter the color) that "fails" by not achieving standardized test objectives. It happens that, disproportionately, the upper reaches of society are white and so is Roberts. Newton went silent after I simplified my core objection to Newton's trashing of the Little Rock School District. Is he really arguing that a swap of faculties between Roberts, Pulaski Heights, Forest Park, Jefferson and Fulbright with the "failing" inner city schools he loves to hate would produce a swap in test scores? Of course not. There are good faculties and bad faculties. It is also certainly possible that the schools with the most disengaged and poorest families have been neglected in supervision and staffing. But succeeding schools overwhelmingly tend to be products of their raw materials. It would take a leap of faith few will take, but if 300 of those "succeeding" products of Roberts would move en masse to nearby Henderson, I'd bet you'd see a striking turnaround in Henderson test scores. I also challenged Newton to get the Walton billionaires to test their charter school faith by taking over one of the worst Little Rock schools as it's comprised with neighborhood kids. Let the Texas charter school operators Newton wants to hire run it with all their supposed brilliance. Would they achieve miracles with impoverished children of struggling families? What does it tell you that they refuse to try such an experiment? No, they prefer to work with a stacked deck of engaged parents and the ability to weed out undesirables.

Meanwhile, Newton has also still failed to  show where he got the numbers that originally claimed his Quest charter school would be 78 percent comprised of children poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunches. They've lowered the estimate now to 50 percent, a figure they also are unlikely to reach with no transportation money to bring poor kids into one of Little Rock's wealthiest neighborhoods.  I also look forward to a deeper discussion before the state Board of Education of their chosen school operator's performance elsewhere, criticized in a national study as lacking, particularly when it comes to kids most in need of attention. (You can find its defense in my earlier writing here.) Of course, the audience targeted here isn't a needy or difficult sector.

* FREEDOM FOR PUSSY RIOT: Just in time for Christmas, two members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot have been released from prison under a new amnesty law. Maybe we could get Cracker Barrel to carry some of their recordings seeing as how they are almost as brave an example of free speech as Phil Robertson.

* WHAT'S THAT I SMELL ROLLLING DOWNHILL?: News headlines today include the expressed desire by some prosecutors to send parole violators back to prison for longer stretches and the shortage of financial support for the eternally crammed Pulaski County jail. The jail will get worse because the state will  continue to take pressure off its prisons by parking prisoners in county jails and reimbursing counties for only a fraction of the cost of holding the state's prisoners. When new state tax cuts take effect and the parsimonious Republican legislature refuses to pay for the added burdens it imposes on the criminal justice system through longer sentences, things will only get worse.

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